Subject: [OPE-L:1746] Re: Re: value form
Date: Fri Nov 26 1999 - 10:46:58 EST
Some brief remarks on Paul's message. In capitals for ease of reading.
>At 20:31 24/11/99 +0000, email@example.com 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.
I THINK THAT YOU MISUNDERSTOOD. MY CONCERN IS NOT TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN
PRIVATE AND SOCIAL LABOUR, THAT IS OBVIOUS. INCIDENTALLY, TO CLAIM THAT
COOKING A MEAL AND SWEEPING THE FLOOR ARE MANIFESTATIONS OF 'ABSTRACT
PRIVATE LABOUR' IS A BIT LIKE CLAIMING THAT HAVING A SANDWICH AND EATING A
CHOCOLATE ARE MANIFESTATIONS OF ABSTRACT SATIATION OF HUNGER.
MY POINT WAS THAT ABSTRACT LABOUR IS THE FORM NECESSARILY TAKEN BY SOCIAL
LABOUR IN CAPITALISM. WHAT I WAS ASKING WAS, IF SOCIAL LABOUR COULD EXIST
DIRECTLY, WHY USE THE CONCEPT OF ABSTRACT LABOUR?
>>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
>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.
I CANNOT CLAIM MUCH ABOUT OTHER ANIMALS, STILL LESS ABOUT OTHER PLANETS.
ONE THING THAT SEEMS CLEAR TO ME, THOUGH, IS THAT THE ONTOLOGICAL STATUS OF
A SOCIAL PHENOMENON CANNOT BE DECIDED PRIOR TO ITS ANALYSIS (WHICH MUST
INCLUDE THE MECHANISMS REGULATING IT). HOW CAN YOU KNOW WHAT A THING IS
BEFORE YOU KNOW WHAT IT IS?
>>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).
I'M NOT QUITE CERTAIN HOW SIMPLY QUOTING MARX'S COMMENT ON 'ROBINSONADES'
DEALS WITH MY QUESTION BUT, SINCE YOU SUGGESTED IT, LET ME TAKE IT A LITTLE
FURTHER. ONE FINE MORNING MAN FRIDAY ARRIVES AND ROBINSON GETS HIM DOWN TO
WORK. FRIDAY IS, OF COURSE, A NATIVE AND HAS NONE OF THE ANGLO-SAXON
SENSIBILITIES OF CRUSOE - HE WORKS A LITTLE NOW, TAKES A NAP, EATS
SOMETHING, HIS CONCENTRATION IS LOST WHEN THE BIRDS START SINGING. HE STILL
DOES THE JOB (OR SOME PASSABLE VERSION OF IT) BUT IN HIS OWN WAY. HE
CERTAINLY HAS NO NOTION OF KEEPING BOOKS, EFFICIENTLY SWITCHING BETWEEN
TASKS, AND THE LIKE. ROBINSON NOW HAS A PROBLEM - HOW TO ENTER FRIDAY'S
TIME IN THE LEDGER? HE COULD, OF COURSE, DO IT BY A PRIORI ASSUMPTION. HE
IS AN ENGLISHMAN, AFTER ALL, AND HIS LABOUR IS BOUND TO COUNT AT LEAST
THREE TIMES AS MUCH AS THAT OF THE NATIVE (OR SOMETHING LIKE IT). BUT MAYBE
HIS PATERNAL AFFECTION PREVAILS - HE IS NOT DOING SUCH A BAD JOB,
CONSIDERING, HE IS LEARNING QUITE FAST, REALLY. SO HE MIGHT ENTER IT AS
ONLY HALF HIS OWN TIME. AND NOW THE QUESTION IS, WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF
THIS FOR ROBINSON, OTHER THAN SATISFYING HIS NEED FOR KEEPING BOOKS? THE
ANSWER IS, NONE AT ALL. THE SUM TOTAL OF HIS OWN AND FRIDAY'S TIME AS THAT
APPEARS IN HIS BOOKS HAS ABSOLUTELY NO SOCIAL (HENCE OBJECTIVE) VALIDATION.
NOT ONLY THIS, BUT ROBINSON WILL VERY RAPIDLY DISCOVER THIS IN PRACTICE IF
HE TRIED TO BASE ANY KIND OF FORWARD PLANNING OF PRODUCTIVE ACTIVITY ON HIS
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