Fri, 17 Dec 1999 20:32:53 +0000
I realised today that I had written but not actually posted a reply to
Allin's message on value-form of some time ago. Here it is, even belatedly.
At 04:43 PM 11/29/99 -0500, you wrote:
>On Sun, 28 Nov 1999 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
>> 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).
ALLOCATION OF TIME, AND MORE STRONGLY, ECONOMY OF TIME, MUST CHARACTERISE
ALL HUMAN LABOUR. THERE IS NO REASON FOR THEM TO BE LIMITED TO FACTORY
WORK. BE THAT AS IT MAY, ALLOCATION OF TIME SEEMS TO ME ENTIRELY UNRELATED
TO THE NOTION OF A TIME ENDOWMENT IN THE POSSESSION OF INDIVIDUALS.
>> 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).
LABOUR AS THE CONSCIOUS ACTIVITY OF A WORKER MUST BE PRIVATE - JOHN'S AND
JANE'S. THOUGH IT IS NOT THE WORKER'S PRIVATE PROPERTY. TO SAY THAT LABOUR
BECOMES SOCIAL IS NOT TO SAY THAT IT BECOMES SOCIAL PROPERTY.
>> 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
THIS SEEMS TO ME PROBLEMATIC ON TWO LEVELS. FIRST, IT SEEKS TO ESTABLISH
VALUE ON THE BASIS OF AN UNIVERSAL AHISTORICAL PRINCIPLE THAT MIGHT
EXCEPTIONALLY BE PREVENTED FROM OPERATING UNDER UNUSUAL SOCIAL CONDITIONS.
SECOND, IT MAKES IT HARDER TO RECOGNISE THE SPECIFICITY OF CAPITALISM AS A
SOCIAL SYSTEM THAT GIVES VALUE A SOCIAL REALITY AND BASES ITSELF ON IT.
>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
ON ROBINSON'S ISLAND THE CAPACITY TO LABOUR IS PRESENT BUT THERE IS
CERTAINLY NO SOCIETY. FOR ROBINSON, ABSTRACT LABOUR CAN ONLY BE A
THEORIST'S CONCEPT WITHOUT MATERIAL REALITY.
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