[OPE-L:7337] [OPE-L:867] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: abstract labour

Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 9 Apr 1999 07:43:34 -0400 (EDT)

Allin wrote:

>Do you mean that labor in these formations was not transferable
>between different productive tasks? (If you just mean that
>labor in those contexts did not produce commodities, that is
>unassailable by construction.)

Why couldn't Aristotle discern the mystery behind the equation of exchange
of two commodities: 5 beds=1 house?

Marx's answer: "Aristotle therefore himself tells us what prevented any
further analysis: the lack of a concept of value. What is that homogeneous
something--i.e., the common substance--whichthe house represents from the
point of view of the bed, in the value expression for the bed? Such a
thing, in truth, cannot exist, says Aristotle. But why not? Toward the bed,
the house represents something equal, in so far as it represents what is
really equal. And that is--human labour.
"However Aristotle himself was unable to extract this fact, that, in the
form of commodity values, all labor is expressed as equal human labour and
therefore as labor of equal quality, by inspection from the form of value
because Greek society was founded on the labor of slaves, and hence had as
its natural basis the inequality of men and of their individual labor
powers. The secret of labor because and is so far as they are human labor
in general, could not be deciphered until the concpet of human equality has
already acquired the premanence of a fixed popular prejudice. This however
becomes possible only in a society where the commodity form is the univeral
form of the product, hence the dominant social relation is the relations
betwen as possessors of commodities."

In "Critique of Economic Reason" in *Science in Context* 10,1(1997) pp. 171-198,
Gideon Freudenthal suggests an interpretation of this passage consistent
with Allin's emphasis on the mobility of labor.

"But suppose that in Aristotle's society beds are produced by slaves,
houses by freeman. Since slaves do not produce houses nor freeman beds, the
necessary ratio of beds to houses does not translate into a corresponding
ratio of labor time. No saving of masonry will increase bed producing
labor. Since Marx's concept of abstract labor contains as an essential
feature the mobility of labor power from one branch of proudction to
another, it follows that the the entity 'abstract labor' does not exist
under the conditions named there.
"Can we apply 'labor' in our analysis of the Greek economy? Suppose we
wanted to compare the productivity of labor in masonry and in bed
production in ancient Greece with that in our society. Since we are not
committed to the Greek categories, we could calculate the 'labor' (measured
in time units of 'human' labor) necessary for the produciton of one house
and one bed. Furthermore, we could explain consequent difficulties in
social reproduction by reference to the disproportion labo rpowre would
migrate from one branc to the other, then this would be a crude mistake:
the unit of calculation, 'labor time', does not correspond to the a
socially existing entity. No migration was possible, and the category would
thus prove inadequate for the social analysis of that ancient economy. The
conclusion to be drawn from these considerations is that the 'entity' labor
in the abstract existed in the *physical sense' in ancient Greece although
it did not exist as a social practice nor asa category of Greek thought.
Hence in our analysis of Greek economy we can use it for some purposes, but
not for all. However, the relation between the absence of the category and
the absence of the social entity and practice of abstract labor has yet to
be clarified."

Freudenthal's clarification is fascinating, but I'll leave it here for now.

>I'm sorry, I can't parse this -- unless it's saying "labor that
>can only be represented in exchange value can only be
>represented in exchange value". But that can't be what you're

Why can't I say that the value producing labor that produces the mystery of
exchange value can indeed only be or is indeed necessarily represented in
money? This enables Marx to argue that the replacement of money by time
chits is impossible as long as capitalist relations of production hold,
i.e., as long as it is only through abstract labor which produces a sum of
commodity value in any one of the branches of social production that the
producer can achieve mediation to social labor as a whole.

>OK, but that's not what I was talking about at the end of my
>posting -- I was talking about the representation of social
>labor time in a planned, socialist economy.

What do you think of Geoffrey Hodgson's criticism of your and Paul's ideas
about socialist planning in his latest book?

Yours, Rakesh