Re: [OPE] Reply to critics

From: Paula <>
Date: Fri Oct 15 2010 - 20:38:26 EDT

Ian wrote:
> For Marx, that labor embodied in those goods *does* fall. I can
> provide quotations if you wish. But you hold that the labor embodied
> "can't possibly fall" because you interpret "embodied" to mean there
> is a "physical substance" that is literally "in the body" of the
> commodity.

Dave has similarly said that the notion of 'labor embodied' does not
correspond to Marx's theory; while Anders has argued against the 'very
un-Marxian view that there is some physical substance "labour" embedded in
the products'. Sure, we can all provide quotations, but we're still left
with the problem of interpretation. See for example Chapter 1 of Capital,
where Marx writes about the "unsubstantial reality in each, a mere
congelation of homogeneous human labour ... human labour is embodied in them
... The labour ... that forms the substance of value ...", etc. We could
interpret all this to mean that value is substantial, unsubstantial ... or
both, somehow, at the same time (I suspect the latter opens the way to a
more dialectical reading).

So let's proceed logically with a simple example. Suppose a worker turns a
pile of cotton into shirts within three hours. Then three hours of that
worker's labor are embodied in the shirts (as shirts, ie, abstracted from
the cotton, machines and tools used up, etc). And by 'embodied' I mean,
literally, that the shirts are the objective product of that worker's
expenditure of labor, they are his labor-time turned object, crystallized
into things. Once the shirts are made, once they acquire this objective
reality separate from the human labor process that produced them, we cannot
go back in time and reduce the amount of labor that it took to make them.
The three hours' labor are done. But of course the labor we're talking about
here is specific, concrete labor.

Now suppose the shirt factory is operating with outdated technology and
that, under standard conditions, it really should have taken the worker two
hours rather than three to make the shirts. Then the value of the shirts (as
shirts) is equal to two hours' average labor-time, even if the worker
actually labored for three hours. It is only now that the concept of value
is introduced, but if it can be introduced at all, it is because the
worker's labor had, in addition to its concrete, also an abstract aspect.
And both aspects are in fact embodied in the shirts, because both aspects
have contributed to the physical transformation of cotton, tools, etc into
shirts, ie, to the production of a new object.

In sum, it seems that the solution to the conundrum (how the labor-time
embodied in a commodity can fall and yet cannot possibly fall, or how there
can be different 'labor values', as Anders puts it) lies in the distinction
between concrete and abstract labor.

> > This is why Marx stresses that the labor embodied in commodities
> has a "purely social reality" ...

Labor (both in its concrete and abstract aspects) is never purely social, if
by 'purely social' you mean not physical. Labor is always physical - for a
simple experiment, try working without using your hands, eyes, and brains.
As I said earlier, 'social' and 'physical' are not mutually exclusive
categories, and what better example than labor, which is both physical AND

Jerry wrote:
> In any event - as far as I know - when he is talking about *productive
> labor* he is very clear: it is labor which is productive of surplus value.
> Insofar as the passage I cited, Marx leave no room for doubt as to his
> meaning.
He wrote: "The former's labour (that of the actors or a clown, JL) is
exchanged with capital, the latter's (jobbing tailor, JL) with revenue.

I'm afraid it's not as easy as that. For instance, in Vol III Chapter XVII
Marx writes about the labor bought by mercantile capital and says that it is
"immediately *productive* for it", in the sense that "it does not create
surplus-value but enables [the merchant] to appropriate surplus-value,
which, in effect, amounts to the same thing with respect to his capital". So
in the passage that you cited, the labor of the clown and the actor could be
*productive* in this same "immediate" sense. After all, the labor of
mercantile workers (as Marx explicitly notes) is also exchanged with
capital, not revenue.


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Received on Fri Oct 15 20:39:58 2010

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