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

From: Dave Zachariah <>
Date: Sun Sep 05 2010 - 18:36:58 EDT

  Hi Howard,

On 2010-09-03 18:43, you wrote:
> On your first point, though, I don't understand. I understand the
> mechanism that equalizes labor and renders it homogeneous when
> independent producers produce for private exchange. What are the
> comparable mechanisms you are suggesting by your examples. None come
> to mind for me. And what does "and managed in the abstract by some
> process" mean?

I'm suggesting that real abstraction processes, whereby concrete labours
are rendered into an abstract polymorphous quantitative resource, can
potentially arise in any mode of production in which several units of
production are interconnected and can transmit information about their
labour requirements (the information can be embodied in the form of
records on clay tables, market prices or electrical pulses in a
telecommunication network).

Consider large-scale public works involving tens of thousands of
labourers and administrators in ancient Egypt, performing a range of
concrete of labours, of individual variation. But in order to plan,
manage and execute such work the requirements were very likely broken
down into abstract quantities, thereby equalizing and rendering the
labour as homogenous. Of course the control mechanism here is
centralized rather than decentralized as in relations of market exchange.

Similarly, one may consider Marx's hypothetical 'community of free
individuals' for which the total product is a social product:

    Labour time would, in that case, play a double part. Its
    apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains
    the proper proportion between the different kinds of work to be done
    and the various wants of the community. On the other hand, it also
    serves as a measure of the portion of the common labour borne by
    each individual, and of his share in the part of the total product
    destined for individual consumption. The social relations of the
    individual producers, with regard both to their labour and to its
    products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and
    that with regard not only to production but also to distribution.
    (Capital, vol.1, ch.1)

This configuration implies a real abstraction of labour in order to
regulate quantities of social labour into various branches of production
according to planned and unplanned demands.

If I recall Rubin correctly he called the more general phenomena of
labour abstraction as 'socially equalized labour' based on Marx's
suggestion that

    This abstraction [of labour embodied in exchange-values], human
    labour in general, exists in the form of average labour which, in a
    given society, the average person can perform, productive
    expenditure of a certain amount of human muscles, nerves, brain,
    etc. It is simple labour [English economists call it “unskilled
    labour”] which any average individual can be trained to do and which
    in one way or another he has to perform. The characteristics of this
    average labour are different in different countries and *different
    historical epochs*, but in any particular society it appears as
    something given.
    (Critique of Political Economy, ch.1, emphasis added)

//Dave Z
ope mailing list
Received on Sun Sep 5 18:38:30 2010

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