[OPE-L:1766] Re: value form

Subject: [OPE-L:1766] Re: value form
From: Allin Cottrell (cottrell@ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu)
Date: Mon Nov 29 1999 - 16:43:49 EST

On Sun, 28 Nov 1999 coslap@aueb.gr quoted:

> I think that Paul's point, with which I agree, is that the
> concrete/abstract and private/social distinctions are
> orthogonal. Robinson's private labour takes a variety of
> concrete forms, but these concrete forms may be considered
> as particular dispositions of his total available (abstract)
> labour. The same goes for the social labour time in a
> planned economy.

and replied:

> I think this puts the problem across very neatly.
> Individuals, in my view, do not have a "total available
> (abstract) [and presumably private] labour" which they then
> proceed to apportion between different activities. This, if
> I may say, is quite neoclassical in spirit - an endowment of
> time (since labour must be counted in time units) allocated
> rationally among different tasks by its owner.

Robinson is not under factory discipline, and does get to
allocate his own time. Whether he allocates it rationally is
another matter (although Marx assumes he does, in the passage in
to which I was alluding).

> Individuals have a capacity to labour, which becomes a
> commodity in capitalism. All labour performed is immediately
> private and concrete...

Concrete, particular, specific, yes. But I don't see a
meaningful sense in which the labour of a wage-worker producing
a commodity for a capitalist is "private" (although its product
is the private property of the capitalist).

> For this particularity to disappear and labour to become
> homogeneous specific social conditions are necessary.

Do you mean, to be disregarded, or to be actually obliterated?
These are quite different things. In his analysis of the
commodity Marx is talking about the former (i.e. disregarding
the concrete differences between weaving and tailoring).

Here's a passage from Chapter 1 that sets out what I take to be
Marx's conception of abstract labour:

"If we leave aside the determinate quality of productive
activity, and therefore the useful character of the labour, what
remains is its quality of being an expenditure of human
labour-power. Tailoring and weaving, although they are
qualitatively different productive activities, are both a
productive expenditure of human brains, muscles, nerves, hands,
etc., and in this sense both human labour. They are merely two
different forms of expenditure of human labour-power.... [T]he
value of a commodity represents human labour pure and simple,
the expenditure of human labour in general."

As Marx puts it here, "human labour in general" has a biological
basis (in the evolution that has made of us "all-purpose
workers"). For this category to have a _social_ reality, an
additional condition is required: the biologically-based
flexibility of human labour time must not be interdicted by a
caste system that reserves particular sorts of work for
particular genealogically-defined categories of people. (For the
category of human labour in general to be explicitly recognized
at the level of social ideology, further conditions may be

Marx's account above has the virtue of making it plain that
"that which the value of a commodity represents", i.e. "human
labour pure and simple" is surely present on Robinson's island,
and will be present in a socialist planned economy. Only in
these cases it will not be represented by the exchange value of

Allin Cottrell.

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