[OPE-L:7248] [OPE-L:773] Re: abstract labour

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Fri, 26 Mar 1999 08:23:54 -0500 (EST)

Comments on Massimo's [OPE-L:755] and Paul C's [OPE-L:772]:

> >Of course only an economist qua economist could be satisfied with
> >the analogy between Watt's abstract work (horsepower per period)
> >and a concept of abstract labour build around human sweat, blood
> >and passions.
> >Massimo
> Speciesist! Do not horses toil and sweat.
> Paul Cockshott

I would like to intervene in this pleasant discussion among comrades. :-)

I agree with Paul C that horses toil and sweat. If you prick them, do they
not bleed?

Yet, I think it's pretty clear than Marx's concept of abstract labor
exclusively relates to human labor. And for good reason given the subject
matter at hand.

Note that Paul C didn't include "passion" in his (passionate) defense of

a) do horses have passion? I guess that depends on what you mean by that
term. I think that most of those who have had occasion to "know" horses
would say that horses do indeed have passion. This doesn't mean, though,
that horse passions are the same as human passions (although, there are
some similarities: e.g. both species have a sex drive). Nonetheless, I
would say that the Disney-like portrayal of animals (like Bambi) that
have human personalities is anthropomorphic and human-reductionist.

b) does the concept of abstract labor embody the understanding that human
laborers have passions and subjectivity (which, I think is Massimo's
point)? To the extent that the abstract labor performed is done by real,
living human beings then it is clear that passions and subjectivities are
***implicit*** in the nature of human labor in all its forms. Yet, this
is *not* developed in Ch. 1 by Marx ... and for a reason. The
presentation of abstract and concrete labor alike is a *one-sided*
presentation where laborers are considered only from the standpoint of
capital. (the subject, after all, of _Capital_ is capital, not
wage-labor). Thus, laborers *just like capitalists* don't have passion
and subjectivity at this level of the analysis. They, like capitalists,
wear "character-masks".

Of course, one could point to the many historical references to struggles
by workers in _Capital_, but these (as interesting and informative as they
are) are not central to Marx's attempt to draw out the logic of capital.
In other words, these historical references are more parenthetical than
central to the theory. (undoubtably, one major reason they were included
was in consideration of the audience of workers and socialist
intellectuals who were expected to read the work). From this perspective,
these references could be seen as "Vorstellung", which Tony S says can be
translated as "imaginative representation" or "picture-thinking".

Yet, although I disagree with Massimo on his reading of the meaning of
abstract labor in _Capital_, I *agree* that the subject of the
subjectivity of wage-labor has to be developed and incorporated into the
theory. There are, as Massimo knows, differences in perspective on this
topic within "Open Marxism". For instance, Toni Negri has argued in _Marx
Beyond Marx_ that the absence of an explicit analysis of worker
subjectivity was a failing of _Capital_, whereas Harry Cleever has argued
in _Reading Capital Politically_ that the subjectivity of workers
including political struggles was developed throughout _Capital_. At
issue, I think, is not *whether* subjectivity should be analyzed, but
*where* it should be analyzed. Mike L, in an interpretation closer to
Negri then Cleever (yet very distinct from Toni's interpretation), has
argued in _Beyond Capital_ that it should be developed in accord with
Marx's original plans -- as a separate book on Wage-Labour (Book 3) that
follows _Capital_ (Book 1).

I doubt very much, btw, whether Paul C would deny that workers have
passions. I am not sure, though, whether he thinks that this is not an
appropriate subject for political economy or whether the beginning of
_Capital_ is not the appropriate place to develop that theme.

In solidarity, Jerry