Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Fri Jul 16 2004 - 04:49:41 EDT

I understand what you are getting at, but I feel that the
essential point about money is that it is a command over
labour. Commodities are just the indirect means by which
that is accomplished. The fact that this power of command
was at times embodied in counters made of gold or silver
is not essential, since what is involved is essentially
a social relation, a power of one agent over another.

That power can as well be exerted through a technology of
record that is in no way dependent on any particular commodity,
as it is through the modern banking system.

In abstracting from relations of force, one is in danger
of abstracting from social relations of power, and as such
from what I would see as the essence of monetary relations.
Bourgeois economics strives to hide the power relations 
involved by fables about free and equal property owners
meeting in a market and choosing to exchange, and in the
process deciding to use one particular bartered commodity
as a numeraire. It seems to me that Marx makes a concession
to this view of the world in Capital since its purpose is
to be an internal critique of bourgeois political economy.
He wants to say something like ' Even if one accepts that
money is nothing more than the free development of voluntary
commodity barter, it develops, with the purchase of labour
power, into the untrammelled domination of one class over

However, one is not obliged to accept the starting point
of the commodity theory of money if one is trying to 
analyse what is really happening today, rather than have
a dialogue with early 19th century bourgeois economics. 

-----Original Message-----
From: OPE-L [mailto:OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU] On Behalf Of Howard
Sent: 16 July 2004 02:39
Subject: Re: measurement of abstract labor

Hi Paul,

You write:

PAUL:  "It is a matter of theoretical choice to abstract from force in
thinking of money rather than choosing to abstract from the use
of gold. In making the second choice one is going with the grain
of history, in making the former, one is not."

In considering the grain of history, I don't think you abstract from
one.  The point of conducting the thought experiment of "what if
credit, etc. were presented without stable relations of force" is to put
into relief the fact that non-commodity mechanisms of money work to
accomplish the exchange of values as long as such relations do exist.
If as
a matter of history non-commodity mechanisms have been able to
for gold it is precisely because we rely on stable relations of force.
don't consider that this equates with either abstracting from gold or
establishing a system that doesn't rest on a money commodity.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Cockshott" <wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK>
Sent: Thursday, July 15, 2004 6:09 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] measurement of abstract labor

I did not pitch the comments I made on the priorities of emergence at
level of historical development, so I'm quite happy to accept your
I think there is a real contribution critical scientific realism can
here.  If we study the real causal structures of things, that doesn't
we study their historical development.  So I can speak of causal
without having to map that also as historical priority.  As an analogy,
can study the way the lungs function in mammals and what their
are for other parts of the body structure without studying the
evolution of lungs in mammals.  In fact there's a way in which being
able to
do the latter depends on a good grasp of the former.

I think this explanation also responds to your point about "taking force
away" leading to the collapse of commodity production.  Without doubt
is correct at the level of actual historical events.  But if I am
the simplest determinations in the sense of the "Method of Political
Economy" I can take force away by means of abstraction and uncover the
simpler determinations of the underlying relations of production and

This is broadly a fair enough point.
But in dealing with the inter-relationship between force and commodity
exchange, one has to be careful about the form of abstraction
one is proposing.

It is a matter of theoretical choice to abstract from force in
thinking of money rather than choosing to abstract from the use
of gold. In making the second choice one is going with the grain
of history, in making the former, one is not.


I'm interested in your point that I have portrayed state money as on a
with private bills of exchange.  Can you give a fuller explanation of
problem you see here?

There are several answers to this.

1. The state is not just another actor like a private individual in
   the market, it is only such, to the extent that the political
   influence of sections of the bourgeoisie pressurise it to act
   in such a limited manner.
2. Bills of exchange are promises to pay state legal tender, they
   thus presuppose state legal tender. The same can be said of
   bank accounts, credit cards etc. State money is only a promise
   in a very limited sense - that the state promises to accept it
   in payment of tax debts. But these tax debts are fundamentally
   different from the commercial debts that give rise to bills of
   exchange. In the latter case, we have a conservation of property
   between the two agents in the relation. Cotton spinner x gives
   up yarn to weaving company y in return for a promise of cash
   in 90 days, the value of x's property does not change as a result.

   When the state tells x that he must render to the exchequer
   5000 pounds by the 31st of December, there is a decrease in x's
   property as a result. It is not an exhange of equivalents. Thus
   a conceptual apparatus that attempts to deduce money from the
   exchange of equivalents misses out on the basic non-exchange
   relation that generates the circulation of money in the first

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