Subject: [OPE-L:1740] Re: value form
From: Paul Cockshott (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Nov 25 1999 - 05:29:34 EST
At 20:31 24/11/99 +0000, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
>First, if social labour is a reality in all societies, as you obviously
>think it is, what analytical gains are made by also introducing 'abstract
>labour'. Why don't we directly talk in terms of social labour?
It is possible to have abstract private labour as well as abstract social
In a previous mail a gave an example, were I a batchelor living alone, then
cooking a meal and sweeping the floor would be two different concrete
manifestations of my labour, abstractly they both constitute portions
of my labour time, and I can therefore consider my labour in abstraction
between these specific uses, but they remain private, it is my abstract
private labour that is taken up by these two activities.
>Second, variation in the distribution of social labour, if it is a
>principle applicable to all human societies, must have taken place through
>very different social mechanisms. Does this have a bearing on the
>ontological and analytical status of 'abstract labour'?
No. The ontological status is prior to an investigation of the specific
social mechanism regulating it. Further, and perhaps controversially,
I regard it as speciesist to assume that abstract social labour must be human.
Historical materialism is not in principle limited to the study of human
Should there exist societies on the planets of another star it should
be applicable to them too. It should even have something to say
about the labour arrangements of other societies on our own planet.
>Third, the form of value (price, money, etc) is also met in great many
>societies. Is this connected with abstract labour, in your view?
I believe it is connected with abstract labour, yes. As a working hypothesis
I would assume that prices in pre capitalist societies were also regulated,
more or less strictly, by a law of value.
>Fourth, as an example, Malinowski discussed thoroughly production
>activities in the Trobriands. Most production was extremely elementary
>agriculture. If we adopt your approach, we must recognise 'variation in
>social labour' - Trobrianders who scratched the earth with wooden sticks
>one week might fish with rough canoes the next and cut coconut trees with
>stone axes after that. Most output would be consumed within the family or
>given as gift along kinship lines. What exactly might be the social reality
>and the relevance of abstract labour in such a context?
Since Robinson Crusoe's experiences are a favourite theme with political
economists,(30) let us take a look at him on his island. Moderate
though he be, yet some few wants he has to satisfy, and must therefore
do a little useful work of various sorts, such as making tools and
furniture, taming goats, fishing and hunting. Of his prayers and the
like we take no account, since they are a source of pleasure to him, and
he looks upon them as so much recreation. In spite of the variety of his
work, he knows that his labour, whatever its form, is but the activity
of one and the same Robinson, and consequently, that it consists of
nothing but different modes of human labour. Necessity itself compels
him to apportion his time accurately between his different kinds of
work. Whether one kind occupies a greater space in his general activity
than another, depends on the difficulties, greater or less as the case
may be, to be overcome in attaining the useful effect aimed at. This our
friend Robinson soon learns by experience, and having rescued a watch,
ledger, and pen and ink from the wreck, commences, like a true-born
Briton, to keep a set of books. His stock-book contains a list of the
objects of utility that belong to him, of the operations necessary for
their production; and lastly, of the labour-time that definite
quantities of those objects have, on an average, cost him. All the
relations between Robinson and the objects that form this wealth of his
own creation, are here so simple and clear as to be intelligible without
exertion, even to Mr. Sedley Taylor. And yet those relations contain all
that is essential to the determination of value. (Capital I, chap I).
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