Re: [OPE-L] Complex and simple labour: English trans. of French Capital I?

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Fri Jun 08 2007 - 01:35:57 EDT

The organization of the division of labor can be 
left to the market only if the labor available to 
society has become practically abstract and 
homogeneous. General commodity production is 
inherently anarchical and requires the continuous 
redeployment in light of price fluctuations of 
what has to have thus already become a 
homogeneous abstract workforce.  In this sense 
the Foucault who closed in on Marx the more he 
repudiated him may well be quite right about the 
autonomy of dispotifs: the economy has as its 
condition of possibility the social technologies 
required to produce such a workforce.   There is 
also unsurprising anxiety about the the 
averageness and levelling down of  mass anonymous 
society--that  any-one, das Man could (if 
motivated) quite easily do one's work with 
identical result.

As David Gleicher long ago argued, such a result 
depends on the general education of the 
workforce, the simplification of labor tasks, and 
the general mobility of  doubly free 
proletarians.  Simple abstract labor is simply no 
mental abstraction to the modern workforce.

Unlike value per se, simple abstract labor as the 
substance of value  is  not posited by  or 
brought into existence through exchange but the 
condition of possibility for anarchical commodity 
exchange relations to have become generalized in 
the first place. Simple abstract labor is a 
practical abstraction and a historical product. 
For those who perform it, it may well often be 
more central to their identity than any other 
life activity or social role; for those who do 
not, it has often been the object of either a 
radical aristocratic revulsion or what Luc 
Boltanski and Eva Chiapello call artistic 

There is no chance that bourgeois economists 
would allow a science of society to be built on 
such a humble, albeit solid, foundation and to be 
centered on questions of the (monetary) 
representation, allocation, employment levels and 
exploitation of simple abstract labor.

Now we can move to skilled labor which cannot be 
immediately  performed by simple average labor. 
But this labor is no different in qualitative 
terms:  it too must be trained and socialized, it 
too creates value in accordance with the 
expenditure of social labor time its work 
represents, it too is exploited, its high wages 
will also elicit greater competition (even if 
there is a delay for training); and the unit 
values of its respective products fall absolutely 
and possibly relatively as a result of both the 
rising productivity of qualified labor due say to 
CAD/CAM and the rationalization of its training 
(so that it 'embodies' less labor time and thus 
discharges less compounded labor in its work). 
The multiple at which a product of skilled labor 
exchanges against a product of unskilled labor 
changes behind everyone's back  but the dynamics 
find their cause in the law of value, in 
intersectoral variations in the rates of 
productivity growth.

At any rate, while wage differences may reflect 
differences in value creating capacity, they are 
not themselves the cause of those latter 
differences. It also goes without saying that we 
are talking about skilled labor, not "symbolic 
analysts" such  as qualified managers, legal 
counsel and creative CFOs of or for the 
capitalist class.

>Dear Rakesh,
>>I would like to read a copy.
>I'll send it to the list when it is readable.
>It's difficult to see what the problem
>>is once one remembers that for Marx commodities exchange in terms not
>>of the actual hours expended on their production but the socially
>>necessary time required for their reproduction. Marx carefully
>>undermined the individualist foundations of the classical labor
>>theory of value.
>I do not think the "labour reduction problem" is 
>directly connected to the "socially necessary 
>time" either production or reproduction. The 
>question Marx answers is if some types of labour 
>creates more value per hour than others - given 
>that the intensity is average, that the work 
>done is socially accepted etc. etc.
>>If society did not count products of complex
>>labor--say a report on a X ray or architectural blueprints--as some
>>multiple of simple labor, then the socially necessary supply of X ray
>>reports and blueprints would not be forthcoming.
>It is not clear to me that this example is really to the point.
>When Marx thinks that a brick-layer is simple 
>labour and a damask-weaver is complex labour, 
>that the spinner does simple labour and the 
>jeweler complex labour - the latter creating 
>2-3-6 times more value per hour - it means that 
>the "reduction coefficients" become important. 
>The relation between labour creating ability and 
>wages is also a very important question. Are the 
>observed wage differences a reflection of 
>differences in value creating ability, i.e. that 
>the rate of exploitation is uniform. Do top 
>managers deserve their wage? Do jewelers 
>compared to weavers?
>Marx was very critical of existing income 
>differences - and it is not clear what Marx 
>regarded as the just differences and what he 
>regarded as "blosse Illutionen" (pure 
>prejudices) - he gave no real criteria for 
>drawing that line.
>>However, to the
>>extent that the acquisition of such skills becomes rationalized and
>>democratized, the multiple declines over time. Which is what
>>Hilferding emphasized. Custom, monopoly, and intellectualist
>>prejudice cannot prevent such a leveling. The law of value regulates
>>exchange over time.
>Hilferding's solution - his answer to 
>Böhm-Bawerk merits a detailed analysis, but for 
>Marx democratization and rationalization is not 
>a primary issue. To Marx there are more 
>"delicate" professions and less "delicate" ones 
>- and that is independent of technological and 
>democratic changes.
>>But I look forward to hearing about Anders' analysis as well as
>>Makoto's. And then there are the older responses of Rowthorn,
>>Carchedi and Hilferding.
>Neither Carchedi - who has a lot of interesting 
>general, methodological comments - but no 
>solution. Hilferding has also a lot of insights, 
>but as Rosdolsky points out - does not really 
>hold water theoretically.
>As I said before - I think the only solution is 
>to make this a non-problem - abstract labour 
>abstracts from all specificities of labour - and 
>measure labour only in time - and then you 
>cannot reintroduce the complex/simple dimension.
>>Yours, Rakesh
>>>My own solution became different from Marx or 
>>>his followers, as you may be awa
>>>re of it in my paper 'Skilled Labour in Value 
>>>Theory' (in Capital and Class, 3
>>>1, Spring, 1987, and chap.6 of my book, The 
>>>Basic Theory of Capitalism, Macmil
>>>lan, 1988.). I shall be happy if I can hear your comments on it too.
>>>All the best,
>>>Makoto Itoh
>>>----- Original Message -----
>>>>Date:         Wed, 30 May 2007 20:15:56 +0200
>>>>From: Anders Ekeland <anders.ekeland@ONLINE.NO>
>>>>Subject: [OPE-L] Complex and simple labour: 
>>>>English trans. of French Capital
>>>>Dear all,
>>>>I am working on the problem of the reduction of complex to
>>>>simple/abstract labour. In the French edition of Capital Marx has a
>>>>somewhat different "solution" to the comlex/simple labour problem.
>>>>This is discussed by  French (and Russians, using the French edition)
>>>>Marxists, but generally overlooked in the English and German debate.
>>>>Is there an English translation of the French Capital?
>>>>Are anyone aware of authors discussing the different "solutions" in
>>>>the German and French editions?
>>>>Anders Ekeland

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