[OPE-L:7335] [OPE-L:865] Re: Re: Re: Re: abstract labour

Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 9 Apr 1999 00:13:28 -0400 (EDT)

Allin asks me to specify abstract labor: "What is "labor by its very
nature" as opposed to "abstract labor"? Or in other words, what sort of
labor falls outside of the category of abstract labor? The labor of bees?"

Perhaps we can work the other way. As Grossmann argued, the use values of
earlier historical periods are just as much the result of human labor as
the products of the epoch of commodity production. But it is only with the
latter period that products generally assume the mystifying character of
exchange value, a social hieroglyph as Marx refers to it. How could the
same source--labor--end up with such totally different results? It is not
sufficient to say that commodities are the products of labor, just as those
of earlier social systems were. Now this is one and only one way to infer a
specific kind of labor that is specifically exchange value positing:
abstract labor.

So to your first question, I would suggest that labor in historical
formations previous to the epoch of commodity production fell generally
outside of abstract labor.

>The situation where "the value of a commodity can only be
>represented by way of the use value of another commodity" is
>characteristic of commodity production, and the representation
>of value in the specific form of *exchange value*. But this
>implies that value "itself" is something that does not *have* to
>represented in the form of exchange value.

Our confusion is between labor and value. "Labor" does not have to be
represented by exchange value--on this we agree. But abstract labor as
exchange itself value positing labor can only be represented in the use
value of another commodity or money. Abstract labor produces a mass of
commodity value through the realisation of which (necessarily in money) the
mediation of the producer to social labor as a whole is achieved. As
Colletti realized, the theory of abstract labor is thus also the theory of
fetishism: "that objects are personified and people are represented by

It can, instead, be
>represented "directly", e.g. in the sums of direct-plus-indirect
>labor-time required to produce particular goods as recorded in
>the computers of a socialist planning system.

I'll have to study Marx's critique of Prodhoun and Darimon to get straight
why he thought impossible the elimination of the representation of social
labor time in money as long as capitalist relations of production held. All
very complicated indeed.

Yours, Rakesh