Re: Money, mind and the ontological status of value and abstract labor

From: Costas Lapavitsas (cl5@SOAS.AC.UK)
Date: Tue Jun 22 2004 - 12:05:49 EDT


It did, but it was not as bad as the version here.


At 11:43 22/06/2004 -0400, you wrote:
>Hi Costas,
>Did my post to you come through with the symbols breaking up the text as it
>does in your copy below?  If I know I can try to correct that.
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Costas Lapavitsas" <cl5@SOAS.AC.UK>
>Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2004 11:05 AM
>Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Money, mind and the ontological status of value and
>abstract labor
>Dear Howard,
>I don't really have much else to add to my previous posts, except perhaps
>three brief points.
>1.The example you give of 'funny walking' actually conveys quite clearly
>what I mean by transhistorical and metaphysical. You  are abstracting from
>the particularities of each form of such walking, hoping to arrive at a
>material substratum, a kind of 'funny walking in general'. This, by
>analogy, you also do for labour. I don't think that this is Marx's
>materialist method. Rather, it seems to me that Marx focuses on labour
>under capitalist conditions, extracts the theoretical content of abstract
>labour, and then often uses it to understand other forms historical forms
>of labour. He terminology is not always consistent when he does the last.
>2.On exchange value, I did refer to 'mock commodities' rather than
>commodities. But the point remains important: the form of value becomes
>attached to things or processes or even qualities that have nothing to do
>with the substance of value. The form of value is exchange value and, when
>more developed, price.
>3.On value, and this is also in reply to Paul C, it seems to me that it is
>vital to claim that value is actually produced, under capitalist
>conditions. Value is more than a statistical centre of gravity for price.
>If value is not produced, then surplus value is also not produced and the
>theory of exploitation goes out of the window. I don't think that this is a
>path that Marxist economics could or should take.
>At 11:56 21/06/2004 -0400, you wrote:
> >Hi Costas,
> >
> >
> >
> >Your post is very interesting and raises a couple of fundamental issues.
> >Let me start with a couple where I hope we can agree.
> >
> >
> >
> >1.         transhistorical.  How are you using that word?  I offered a
> >clarification on this before.  Are we in agreement with the clarification
> >not?  I suggested that I used the word ‚?~transhistorical‚?T to refer to
> >things
> >common across all history and that therefore I did not consider value
> >transhistorical even though I did think it was present in many
> >pre-capitalist economic formations.  We can use the word differently;
> >nothing turns on this.  Just so we are not misunderstanding one another.
> >You suggest that I want to establish the reality of value
> >According to the meaning offered above, I do not.   If you want to use
> >‚?~transhistorical‚?T to refer to something present in more than one
> >historical
> >period, but not necessarily all, please let me know.
> >
> >
> >
> >2.         You refer to a ‚?oconstant elision between what you [Howard]
> >and what you think Marx thinks.‚?Ě  As I explained to Paul Z at the very
> >beginning of our exchange, I am interested in interpreting Marx.  I am not
> >offering my own theories of history or economics.  However, the only access
> >I have to Marx‚?Ts thought is through what I think he thinks, and we are
> >faced, in evaluating others‚?T interpretations, with distinguishing what is
> >authentic from what is illicit.  You seem to be complaining that
> >parts of my interpretation of what Marx thinks are incorrect, introduce
> >things not in Marx, etc.   Then this is just error, and I welcome your
> >corrections.  I will work on being clear.
> >
> >
> >
> >3.         I think there probably is a metaphysical point on which we
> >differ ‚?" metaphysical in the sense of ontological.  Did you ever see the
> >Monty Python sketch about the Ministry of Funny Walking?  Imagine John
> >Cleese seriously applying himself to the social forms of funny walking.
> >People have walked throughout history.  When, by means of abstraction, I
> >refer to the material substratum of that activity without reference to the
> >diversity of its forms (e.g. I abstract from gender differences in the way
> >we walk) that doesn‚?Tt mean the referent of my reference is not real.
> >does that all the time.  In the chapter on the Trinity Formula he complains
> >that coupling capital with land and labor makes the error of mixing a
> >object that is the product of history with material objects that are the
> >substratum of all history.  Paul Cockshott‚?Ts translation of
> >‚?oindifferent to
> >form‚?Ě into the positive capacity for redeployment to different social
> >seems to me very good.  There is no production in general, Marx writes in
> >the introduction to the Grundrisse, but there are elements common to all
> >production, and it is not a false abstraction to refer to them as such.
> >
> >
> >
> >Think of what makes forms of law different from forms of production.  We
> >confront the same problem of abstracting in ‚?odepth‚?Ě to reach an object
> >presented phenomenally the way we want to consider it.  I take it that for
> >Marx, legal relations are relations of force.  Like social labor, relations
> >of force never occur in history except in particular social forms, but if I
> >abstract to the thing of which they are relations ‚?" ie I make force
> >than say labor the object of my study -- that doesn‚?Tt mean that I refer
> >something that isn‚?Tt real.
> >
> >
> >
> >4.         I understand your point about exchange value not being produced.
> >Exchange value is a form of manifestation, so to justify the use of
> >‚?~produced‚?T I think we‚?Td have to get into a causal theory of
> >reference, and
> >this was not your meaning or mine (just now).
> >
> >
> >
> >But in your response on the point you seem to treat anything in the market
> >with a price as exchange value.  Is that so?  Virgin land, honor, etc., all
> >have exchange value if they are offered for sale at a price.  Is that your
> >meaning?  Doesn‚?Tt Marx distinguish between price as the money name for a
> >weight of gold and exchange value?  In other words, once exchange is
> >established, gold can be exchanged for things without value or exchange
> >value, say, a promise, which clearly does not embody objectified labor.
> >these things will have a price.
> >
> >
> >
> >Perhaps others on the list might have an idea how we would evaluate
> >for ‚?opain and suffering‚?Ě or ‚?oemotional distress‚?Ě in a lawsuit?  Do
> >these
> >things have value? Or exchange value? Are they forms of social labor to
> >which large skill multipliers are attached?  My instinct has been to treat
> >them like ‚?~honor‚?T and to say they have a price but not value. Does
> >that seem
> >correct?
> >
> >
> >
> >5.         I‚?Tll take up the point about abstract labor in a separate
> >
> >
> >
> >Thanks,
> >
> >
> >
> >Howard
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >----- Original Message -----
> >From: "Costas Lapavitsas" <Cl5@SOAS.AC.UK>
> >Sent: Thursday, June 17, 2004 4:37 PM
> >Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Money, mind and the ontological status of value and
> >abstract labor
> >
> >
> >Howard,
> >
> >To avoid shadow boxing let me state what agree on. I have no disagreement
> >with value (abstract labour) being a real social substance, as well as
> >object of theoretical analysis. Nor do I have any difficulties with value
> >and capital being distinct social 'objects'. My bone is with your attempt
> >establish the 'reality' of value transhistorically.
> >
> >I noted a logical contradiction in your use of 'labour indifferent to
> >Your clarification is not persuasive. You agree that capitalist production
> >makes labour 'indifferent to form' but then attempt to generalise this
> >across history and establish it as common feature of all labour. It is
> >difficult to know exactly what your argument is because there is constant
> >elision between what you think and what you think Marx thinks, which Paul
> >has also noted.
> >
> > From what I can gather, the approach you adopt is a kind of metaphysics.
> >state that there is 'labour indifferent to form', which then takes a
> >of social forms across history. This is hardly compatible with your own
> >insistence on the 'reality' of the concept of abstract labour. If it is
> >'real', it must have been made so by social processes, as happens under
> >capitalist conditions. If it arises purely because the thinker has
> >abstracted from the particularities of many social forms of labour, it is
> >not real. On the contrary, it is transcendental and metaphysical.
> >
> >But you contradict yourself further in your attempt to clarify. In
> >attempting to show that abstract labour can exist without the form of wage
> >labour you argue that "Any production that is production for exchange value
> >is labor indifferent to form. This is where I was unclear." However, in
> >original message you argued that "Labor abstract in the sense that it is
> >indifferent to the utility of the product which it produces, commodity
> >producing labour, equal and homogeneous labour, is not at all necessarily
> >indifferent to the form of labour - Marx gives the example of guilds and
> >crafts which remained immersed in the particularity of labour". It seems to
> >me that you can't have both arguments. I suggest that the latter is
> >but this makes your clarifying argument logically problematic.
> >
> >Incidentally, in your last message you state that exchange value is
> >produced. This is clearly incorrect. Exchange value is an aspect of
> >commodities, an exchange property, and belongs to them whether they have
> >been produced (for instance, cars), not produced (for instance, land or
> >financial assets), or even if they are mock-commodities (for instance, a
> >favour, a bribe). What is produced is value (abstract labour) and only
> >capitalist conditions.
> >
> >To return to the point at issue, though, I have full sympathy with the
> >attempt to show that value is a real social substance. The point is that
> >this must necessarily be shown by elaborating the social conditions under
> >which labour takes place. These are capitalist conditions. Otherwise
> >abstract labour would simply be an ideal abstraction, which, incidentally,
> >neoclassicals could fairly easily shoot down. Establishing abstract labour
> >under capitalist conditions does not stop it from giving us insight into
> >non-capitalist forms of labour or commodities in non-capitalist modes of
> >production. But that is not the same as seeking a transhistorical
> >of abstract labour. Slaves, to conclude, most definitely do not represent
> >crystallisations of abstract labour.
> >
> >Costas
> >
> >-----Original Message-----
> >From: Howard Engelskirchen <howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM>
> >Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004 03:52:50 -0400
> >Subject: Re: Money, mind and the ontological status of value and abstract
> >labor
> >
> >Hi Costas,
> >
> >Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.
> >
> >I do not mean to say that wage labor goes into the making of a slave in the
> >ancient world.
> >
> >The problem is interpreting 'indifference to form.'  I think I was not as
> >clear as I could have been.  There are different ways of understanding
> >"indifference to form."  The significant thing about capitalist conditions
> >is that they strip labor to pure subjectivity, labor is denuded of all
> >objectivity, and as a result it becomes possible to think of labor as
> >"indifferent to form."  But because something becomes thinkable under
> >capitalist conditions does not mean that historically it only existed under
> >capitalist conditions.  This is the 'man is the key to the anatomy of the
> >ape' problem again.  We may recognize something in the ape because of and
> >once we have recognized it in a man.
> >
> >So can we identify 'indifference of form' independent of capitalist
> >conditions now that we are alerted to the significance of the concept?
> >
> >Think of Aristotle's  idea, taken over by Hegel, that "all matter is
> >indifferent to form."  Find an example of that.  You can't, because any
> >matter that actually exists is "en-formed."  Nonetheless, in order to get
> >clear on the significance of form we can start with a conception of matter
> >that abstracts from form.  This is the substratum that is then formed.
> >
> >My understanding is that Marx treats the activity of labor in this fashion.
> >He considers all labor throughout history, labor transhistorically, as
> >indifferent to form, and then traces the evolution of social production in
> >terms of the different social forms taken by labor.   He is able to focus
> >attention on distinct forms of social labor by abstracting from the labor
> >which it gives form.  What he abstracts from, something accessible only
> >conceptually, is un-en-formed labor, labor indifferent to form.
> >
> >One of the social forms of enforming labor that occurs historically is
> >exchange.  Exchange can attach to different dominant modes of production.
> >It does not itself become the dominant form of a mode of production except
> >as generalized commodity production, that is, where labor power is bought
> >and sold as a commodity.  But there can be the production of exchange value
> >without the buying and selling of labor power as a commodity, that is,
> >without wage labor.
> >
> >Any production that is production for exchange value is labor actually
> >indifferent to form.  This is where I was unclear.  But there are still two
> >such social forms.  In the one case the indifference of labor to form is
> >caused by exchange itself; it is exchange which renders labor
> >If I produce on my own small plot use values for the subsistence of my
> >family, but then have a surplus which I take to market, then to the extent
> >of the surplus I am indifferent to the particularity of the labor whose
> >product I offer to sell.  It exists for me only as a means to money -- I am
> >indifferent to my own labor and look upon it only as a means to a claim on
> >someone else's labor.  In exchange the labor I used equated with all other
> >labor in the market.  Nothing depends on whether anyone produced anything
> >means of wage labor.
> >
> >Capital is different.  the indifference of labor to form in the case of
> >capital is not generated by exchange but by the fact that labor is denuded
> >of all objectivity.
> >
> >So that's the difference I'm shooting for.  Chances are more clarification
> >would help, but that's a start.  Perhaps the following is a barrier to
> >interpreting what I've argued -- do you view value and capital as distinct
> >social objects?  I do.  I think often there is a tendency to view value as
> >just capital that is not quite ripe yet -- sort of like a green apple -- a
> >necessary analytical stage in order to present the concept of capital
> >clearly, but not a distinct social relation.
> >
> >Howard
> >
> >
> >----- Original Message -----
> >From: "Costas Lapavitsas" <Cl5@SOAS.AC.UK>
> >Sent: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 3:17 PM
> >Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Money, mind and the ontological status of value and
> >abstract labor
> >
> >
> >I cannot respond to Howard's message for a couple of days. But before
> >replying, I would like some clarification. I have isolated two paragraphs,
> >which seem to me important:
> >
> >"Labor abstract in the sense that it is indifferent to the utility of the
> >product which it produces, commodity producing labor, equal and homogeneous
> >labor, is not at all necessarily indifferent to the form of labor -- Marx
> >gives the example of guilds and crafts which remained immersed in the
> >particularity of labor.  Indifference to the utility of the product, the
> >thing that causes(!) recourse to exchange, does not at all imply or
> >presuppose indifference to the particularity of labor.  The conditions for
> >capitalist production do.  Labor as pure subjectivity, as the use value of
> >capital, labor indifferent to form, presupposes production for exchange
> >value, not for use."
> >
> >and
> >
> >"So, yes, slaves embodied abstract labor in the same way money or other
> >commodities did -- by the social substance formed of the union of labor
> >indifferent to form and the social form of the commodity."
> >
> >I read the first as saying that only labour undertaken under capitalist
> >conditions (wage labour?) is indifferent to form.
> >I read the second as saying that slaves embodied abstract labour as social
> >substance formed by the union of labour indifferent to form and the social
> >form of the commodity.
> >
> >Is there something wrong with my reading, or are you suggesting that there
> >was (is?) some sort of capitalist labour going into making someone a slave?
> >
> >Costas

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