[OPE-L:1767] Re: Re: value form

Subject: [OPE-L:1767] Re: Re: value form
From: nicola taylor (nmtaylor@carmen.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Mon Nov 29 1999 - 13:11:33 EST

The discussion between Costas and Allin is interesting because it raises
the old question of what sort of relation exists between value and labour,
capitalism and socialism. Allin quotes a passage from Capital:

>Here's a passage from Chapter 1 that sets out what I take to be
>Marx's conception of abstract labour:
>"If we leave aside the determinate quality of productive
>activity, and therefore the useful character of the labour, what
>remains is its quality of being an expenditure of human
>labour-power. Tailoring and weaving, although they are
>qualitatively different productive activities, are both a
>productive expenditure of human brains, muscles, nerves, hands,
>etc., and in this sense both human labour. They are merely two
>different forms of expenditure of human labour-power.... [T]he
>value of a commodity represents human labour pure and simple,
>the expenditure of human labour in general."
>As Marx puts it here, "human labour in general" has a biological
>basis (in the evolution that has made of us "all-purpose
>workers"). For this category to have a _social_ reality, an
>additional condition is required: the biologically-based
>flexibility of human labour time must not be interdicted by a
>caste system that reserves particular sorts of work for
>particular genealogically-defined categories of people. (For the
>category of human labour in general to be explicitly recognized
>at the level of social ideology, further conditions may be
>Marx's account above has the virtue of making it plain that
>"that which the value of a commodity represents", i.e. "human
>labour pure and simple" is surely present on Robinson's island,
>and will be present in a socialist planned economy. Only in
>these cases it will not be represented by the exchange value of
>Allin Cottrell.

Agreed that all human labour (except perhaps that of a Robinson Crusoe) is
*social* rather than *private*, at least in the sense that the individual's
labour contributes to the reproduction of any society; social existence is
therefore necessarily dependent upon maintaining proportionate relations
between different sorts of labour. Of course this is also so under socialism.

However, distribution of useful labour under socialism is evident in its
immediate form (not mediated arbitrarily by the market). In contrast, the
production of commodities under capitalism is distinguished by a division
of labour that is not consciously regulated: as a result LABOUR APPEARS TO
BE PRIVATE. It follows that the social character of labour is only
expressed in mystified form as a relationship between things; or more
specifically, as a relationship between the prices of the products of labour.

So, it is true as you say that once we abstract from the particular useful
qualities of labour, nothing remains but the simple expenditure of labour
power ('physiologically equal labour' (to borrow a term from Rubin). But
it is not true to say that for Marx abstract labour is the same thing as
physiologically equal labour. Marx himself clarified this issue in a note
to the 1875 translation of *Capital* where he stressed that under
capitalism 'only exchange brings about this reduction'. Under a system of
production for exchange, the abstraction from concrete useful qualities of
labour comes about ONLY in the market.

Abstract labour is a category that describes this reduction under
particular social conditions. Abstract labour implies the expenditure of
labour power, but it is essentially an abstraction grasps the reduction of
labour which Marx considers to be taking place in reality within the
specific conditions of commodity production (albeit behind the backs of the
producers). He made this very clear in his Contribution to the Critique of
Political Economy:

"As useful activity directed to the appropriation of natural factors in one
form or another, labour is a natural condition of human existence, a
condition of material interchange between man and nature, quite independent
of the form of society. On the other hand, the labour which posits
exchange value is a specific social form of labour' (1859, p.56, L&W edition).

I consider the distinction between abstract labour (an abstraction that
occurs as the result of real exchange) and physiologically equal labour (a
mental generalisation that does not much interest Marx) to be critical to
the whole project of *Capital*. The concept of abstract labour is equally
critical to a the distinction between socialist and capitalist relations of
production. Useful labour as the physiological expenditure of energy to
produce use values and social labour which produces socially required use
values coincide under socialism. But in capitalism there is a divergence
between the natural (transhistorical) form of labour and the form in which
its social (historical) character is expressed.


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