Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Fri Jul 02 2004 - 18:41:14 EDT

At 9:45 AM -0400 7/2/04, Fred Moseley wrote:
>On Sun, 27 Jun 2004, Howard Engelskirchen wrote:
>>  Hi Paul,
>>  You wrote:
>>  Metrologists want a standard of weight that does not itself
>>  'contain' weight.
>>  My understanding is that the standard for measuring length is the wave
>>  length emitted by an isotope of krypton.  I haven't read the issue of
>>  Science you refer to, but my guess would be that if meterologists are able
>>  to define weight in terms of something that is not weight it will be because
>>  they can reduce weight to that property.  You might be able to avoid the
>>  problem of a mass absorbing mass from the atmosphere, but you won't avoid
>>  the problem that in comparing two things they must be comparable under some
>>  common aspect which they share.  Two things are distant from one another
>>  because they both have existence in space (Marx's critique of Bailey).  Two
>>  things are comparable in the property of what we now call weight because
>>  e.g. they both resist acceleration or whatever other common aspect turns out
>>  to solve the  kilogram problem.
>>  Howard
>Howard, are you suggesting that money as measure of value must be a
>commodity today?
>Comradely, Fred

I am. Some sum of money, say $1000, has to stay constant as a
quantity not of one commodity but a basket of commodities--e.g. x
barrels of oil, y oz of gold, and z bushels of grain. This is
probably what Greenspan aims to do more than maintain price stability
per se. And this is what Greenspan has to do if he wants the dollar
to remain the closest appromixation to world money (and thus preserve
the attendant privileges to the US financial sector and US govt).  So
just as Greenspan seems to be running a modified gold standard, I
subscribe to a modified Germer theory of commodity money. There can
at best be a partial dissolution of the fetishistic commodity basis
of money as long as capitalist relations of production prevail. To
maintain the commodity basis of and the constant value of the dollar,
Greenspan  has to sacrifice the economy at the altar not of gold but
a basket of things.

And at any rate, aren't we agreed on the basics?

Let me be very rough.

Working in Aristotelian dialectical terms, Marx begins with
conclusions of the highest authorities, e.g. Ricardo. He then
immediately uses a quasi Kantian transcendental deduction. If
commodities  exchange at value (and he never said that they do but
this is the prevailing opinion), this means that commodities exchange
one for another when they embody equal quantities of labor. But  the
equality of the quantities of labor implies  the qualitative equality
of labor which Marx expresses as abstract labor which is a
substance-- the divisible and homogeneous labor time available to
society (to the extent that labor through its mobility actually shows
its divisibility and homogeneity abstract labor achieves ever greater
practical validity, and it was exactly because abstract labor was on
the surface that the classical economists as they observed early
capitalism were able almost to conceptualize it without a quasi
Kantian deduction or without theory proper).

Abstract labor is thus a social and objective magnitude,it can broken
down into  aliquots of socially necessary average labor time, one
quota thereof identifical to the same quota thereof, hence the
equivalence in exchange of concretely dissimilar use values. The
essence of abstract labor does not lie in the subjective or personal
estimate of toil and trouble: equivalence is not established by
individual exchangers putting the same subjective value on the goods
that they exchange. Goods  have their respective values independent
of the evaluations of those directly involved in any one exchange;
value does seem to be an objective property of goods just as space
and time appear as objective properties of the physical world. Yet
the fetishistic illusion is in fact valid within certain boundaries
and cannot simply be dissolved through subjective change.  For Marx a
subjective and objective theory of labor was intertwined in Smith and
Ricardo. But for Marx value is in fact neither subjective nor
objective,  based on neither personal evaluations, however
aggregated, nor on the inherent properties of things. Value is thus
neither subjective nor objective; that is why we don't know where to
have it. Value is a social objectivity, a new kind of objectivity, a
fused category of objective idealism and physical realism. All
categories of thought have to be revised after Marx--causality,
objectivity, ideal, etc. Marx's Capital is the one of the greatest
works of philosophy ever written; yet it's philosophical revolution
has to be teased out. Althusser was right about this. One of the few
people who understood the immense importance of Marx to philosophy,
to metaphysics, to logic (thinking about thinking) is the left Austro
Marxist Max Adler, yet he remains almost completely unknown and
undiscussed today (including it seems in the German speaking world).

  At any rate, in a commodity producing society-- a society in which
individuated owners of property, fetishized as bearers of will, only
have contact through the things that they buy and sell--one commodity
has to be the immediate instantiation of that substance. Marx's
theory of abstract labor is thus his theory of money, as Backhaus
long ago argued.

Part I of Capital is not a theory of exchange ratios but an attempt
to conceptualize abstract labor and its representation in money
through a critique, Aristotelian and Kantian in form, of classical
economics. Whether we assume exchange at values (as did the
prevailing experts with whom Marx in Aristotelian begins his
critique) or prices of production; the form and content of exchange,
that is the exchange of all commodities against money at determinate
ratios,  is comprehensible once we understand both the nature of
abstract labor as a divisible and homogeneous social substance and

If one cannot explain the relations between value, abstract labor and
money, one has simply failed to understand Marx, whether one has
written a dissertation on Marx or not.


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