[OPE-L:5130] 2-some answers: beyond Colletti

riccardo bellofiore (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Tue, 27 May 1997 08:40:21 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

Let me go on. I think we could easily reach some conclusions,
basing ourselves on Colletti and Napoleoni but going beyond them:

(i) Colletti stressed the abstraction behind "abstract labour"; Napoleoni
stressed the nature of labour in "abstract labour". It is not *natural*
labour, quite the contrary, it is a *specific capitalist* labour *in
production*, as an activity. Moreover, only in capitalism we can say that
the (value) product *is* labour. Moreover, in Capital's logical development
general exchange as such is a presupposition posited by capitalist
production; and the abstraction of labour in exchange is posited by the
abstraction of labour in production.

(ii) the abstraction of labour in production, however, is not independent
from circulation: but the circulation which matters here is the *prior*
exchange of money capital with labour power prior to production proper:
capitalist abstraction of labour is included within the cycle of money as
capital. That is, if it is recognised that abstract labour in exchange is
posited by abstract labour in production, as the living labour of the wage
worker, that is as the activity extorted from the special commodity labour
power, we are simply remembering the essential capitalist sequence.

M-LP ... P...C...M'

(iii) in other words, abstract labour as the living labour of the wage
worker in production is homogeneous because of a monetary process, the
*prior* advance of money as capital on the labour market. Labour in
production proper is simultaneously concrete and abstract. Abstract labour
expended in production can be added and gives way to (potential) value and
surplus value *before* final exchange (but only because there has been the
monetary exchange on the labour market!).

(iv) this abstraction must be actualized on the market: but I accept
Moseley's point that Marx assumed thorughout Capital that potential=actual.

(v) the command over labour power and over living labour allowed by the
class monopoly of money capital is the same mechanism which allows the
capitalist class to decide, as a class, the *composition* of net output -
and hence the *real* consumption of the working class, whatever its money
income and whatever its choices about saving.

(vi) if we assume, as Marx, that there are social forces which assures that
the worker the *subsistence* real wage, the money wage may be translated in
a known real wage *before* production.

(vii) we may substract the necessary labour embodied in this real wage for
the working class from the living labour expended by this working class:
hence, necessary labour is determinate before production, surplus labour is
indeterminate before production and it depends on the actual ability of
capitalists to extract labour from workers within production. After
production, exploitation in 'labour values' terms is known, and we can
determine prices.

I ask to be pardonned if I go to stress some very quick conclusions:

A. Necessary labour is the labour embodied in the wage goods which the
capitalist class leaves to workers whatever the price system. Prices
divergent from values determines a profit/wage ratio different from the
rate of exploitation.

B. I disagree with Ajit on the irrelevance of money (here it is so relevant
that it *constitutes* the labour/capital class relation), BUT I agree with
him on the rate of exploitation, up to a point.

Ajit wrote: "Now, to the questions you have raised above. My position is
that Marx has chosen labor as his fundamental unit of measure for an
analysis of
capitalism because at the pivot of the system lies exploitation, which is
the extraction or streatching of labor beyond the necessary labor-time. This
particular aspect of the system is hidden because of the wage relation on
the one hand and capitalist competition on the other. I do not think that
Marxian exploitation can be understood as the laborer not getting his/her
whole produce. This is both the Sraffian as well as the Duncan Foley-type
definition of exploitation, and I disagree with this. In this case
exploitation is defined at the level of distribution, i.e. post factum,
after production is over. My position is that Marx's exploitation is defined
at the level of production."

I agree completely that exploitation is defined at the level of production,
from the macro point of view. But I disagree when he argues that capitalist
exploitation is like feudal exploitation. Quite the contrary: *only* in
capitalism the whole net product *is* labour; and only in capitalism what
is determinate a priori is what goes to workers (once one accepts the idea
of 'subsistence'). We may say that there is surplus labour before
capitalism as an analogy, simply because in those modes of production
technical change is very slow, and hence we may safely attribute the
surplus product to a surplus labour (qualitative statement); in capitalism
we rather need (Marx's labour) theory of value to speak of exploitation
properly, because now it is quite non-transparent that surplus value does
not come from, say, saving embodied in new and better machines, or whatever
different from labour. With Marx we can say (*quantitative* statement) that
what does not go to workers is a surplus labour extorted over and above
necessary labour.

C. I agree then with Foley that there is production of value, and then
realization of this value in circulation: value and value form must not be
collapsed entirely, both instantaneously created in exchange. BUT I think
this statement must be grounded seeing abstract labour as a notion *in
progress*, encompassing labour power-living labour in actu-objectified
direct labour. This notion in progress, note, follows the same path of the
monetary circuit of capital.

I understand that this is all very tentative. My opinion is that a Marxian
approach requires to ground abstract labour *before* final exchange, and as
a consequence to firmly establish exploitation in the class relation in the
double exchange (on the labour market and in production proper) between
labour power and capital *before* the commodity market. I think that the
labour theory of value loses all quantitative determinations if the
abstraction of labour is only grounded in exchange, and not traced back to
the deeper processes which posits that same abstraction in exchange, which
is essential but secondary, so to speak. If the abstraction of labour is
only grounded in exchange, the value-form approache must be followed to its
end, leaving Marx quantitatively indeterminate before final exchange. BUT
the abstraction of labour before production cannot be grounded in
production proper alone - either because labour is assumed to be 'simple'
because of natural/technical determinations or because of some historical
tendency to deskilling. The abstraction of labour before final exchange is
a complex class process involving circulation (exchange on the labour
market) and the immediate process of production.

Hope it is not too confused...