Re: [OPE] debates on whether value existed in pre-capitalist society

From: Dave Zachariah <>
Date: Fri Sep 03 2010 - 04:38:02 EDT

I feel Jerry's brief, axiomatic replies block any further probing into this
question, so let me move on to what Howard wrote.

> I have a problem with Dave Z's formulation that the abstraction of labor
> can
> occur outside the relations of production for market exchange. The problem
> here is that there is latent a fallacy of equivocation: we use a word in
> two
> different senses. When you ask if the abstraction of labor can occur
> outside the relations of exchange, the answer is yes, but the use of
> abstraction here is conceptual; it doesn't pick out anything historically
> or
> socially specific.

The question is whether abstraction processes can occur in other social
relations, i.e. whether some part of the population enters into relations in
which their individual labour is 'equalized' and managed in the abstract by
some process.

I have suggested one historically-specific context, the construction of
large-scale public works in ancient societies. One may also consider the
Soviet-type mode of production. Jurriaan has given some further points about
non-capitalist conditions where such processes could arise.

Let me emphasize that I have not claimed that the abstraction of labour is a
historically invariant property of all human societies. Rather I'm
suggesting that such processes have existed in different historically
specific forms of which the capitalist form is just one.

> You refer simply to the
> generality of using labor to appropriate nature to need. But as Marx says,
> there is no production in general and there is no labor in general either.
> But then if we use the term 'abstract labor' we do refer to a historically
> and socially specific configuration of social relations. We refer to a
> quite concrete social structure of labor.

If Marx meant the literally he was simply wrong. It may be true that
'production in general' or 'labour in general' could not be conceptualized
before capitalism, although Ibn Khaldun would suggest otherwise. This is no
different from saying out that 'energy (in general)' could not be
conceptualized before the advent of the steam engine.

But it is quite different from saying that "there is no such thing as energy
in general". Generality is embodied in the very concept, yet we observe
energy in specific forms as kinetic, potential, electrical energy,
etc. 'Production' and 'labour' are no different.

//Dave Z

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Received on Fri Sep 3 04:40:00 2010

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