[OPE-L:7340] [OPE-L:870] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: abstract labour

Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 9 Apr 1999 14:20:22 -0400 (EDT)

Paul C wrote:
>This merely indicates that in Aristotles time the social ideology
>associated with slavery caused features of the economy to be
>hard to understand. This does not argue against the existence of
>abstract labour, merely against its recognition.

>If one confuses the existence of a thing with its recognition
>one falls into the most hopeless solipsism.

>Just as well as it is a complete fantasy when it comes to portraying the
>ancient economy. Slaves could be, and were, used for the production of
>many of the same goods as free citizens.

Certainly slavery put some constraint on the mobility of labor. Abstract
labor is both cause and consequence of the generalisation of commodity
production: only if labor can 'freely' move to any branch of commodity
production can all needs be met through commodity exchange. Moreover, labor
can so freely move only if it has been dispossessed of the means of
production which rendering the proletariat dependent on the market for its
means of subsistence itself provides the impetus to the generalisation of
commodity production. As Marx puts in volume I, the duality of labor only
becomes the key to the social formation upon exchange having acquired such
an extension that useful products are produced for the purpose of being
exchanged, and their character as value has therefore to be taken into
account beforehand during production.

Abstract labor only becomes a *real* accomplishment in modern society.
Mattick puts it well:

"The Physiocrats still considered agricultural labor the only kind of labor
that created value. With Adam Smith, however, it is already labor as such,
whether applied to manufacture, commerce, or agriculture, which yields the
wealth of nations. Wealth is brought forth by all kinds of labor, by labor
in general. From this it may appear, Marx wrote, 'that finally there haas
been found the abstraction expression for the simplest and oldest of social
production relations of general validity. In one sense this is true, of
course, but in another sense not, for the modern lack of interest regarding
specific types of labor presupposes the great and actual variety of the
labor activities of modern capitalism, of which none n particular can be
adjudged the ruling type of labor...Labor as such, labor in general, this
simple abstraction, which is the starting point and the high point of
bourgeois economy, appearas a *practical* truth only as a category of
political society, even though it also expresses an ancient and for all
social formations valid relationship." (quoting from Grundrisse in Mattick
and Keynes, p. 35--if I remember, Geoffrey Pilling has a nice discussion of
the concept of abstract labor in his book on Marx's Capital, will have to
revisit it)

In the already quoted passage, I think Freudenthal brings out quite well
both the transhistorical conceptual validity and specific historical
practical validity of abstract labor. Which is not to deny that the concept
of abstract labor which can be applied across historical formations can
only develop in determinate conditions--this seems to be Paul's point. It
is only to underline that abstract labor has a certain practical validity
only in capitalism.

>>What do you think of Geoffrey Hodgson's criticism of your and Paul's ideas
>>about socialist planning in his latest book?
>Could you give me a reference to his book?

Yes, it is in latest book from Routledge, 1999. Economics and Utopia.

Yours, Rakesh