[OPE-L] New article at artefact

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Feb 17 2006 - 18:09:58 EST

Interesting paper... a few short comments:

1) Economic exchange does not I think in principle presuppose any
"commensurability" principle, merely the willingness to exchange. Marx's
argument about abstract labor necessarily or logically being the "common
substance" in exchange is flawed, since we could just as well argue that the
"common factor" is the fact that the exchanged items both have prices, or
that both are expressible in quantities of any third (standard) commodity.
This is why e.g. Prof. Kozo Uno introduced the concept of abstract labour in
the context of the analysis of capitalist production, rather than in the
context of the analysis of commodity circulation - because the
universalizing abstraction of labor is contingent on the subordination of
the whole labor process to exchange relations.

2) Marx's theory of capital itself, I think, entails no specific ethical
theory of justice or injustice, beyond being a critique and a condemnation
of a class-based commercial order, and of the contradictions of bourgeois
morality that get in the way of the self-understanding of bourgeois society
(even if, arguably, Marx himself was committed to a particular view of
social justice). Considerations of justice or injustice could also equally
well apply not just to production, but also to distribution and consumption.
The substantive point, I think, is rather that markets do not supply any
specific morality of their own, intrinsically, beyond the obligations
necessary to settle transactions - this could be read positively, in the
sense that people can choose their own morality to a considerable extent in
exchanges ("free to choose" within legal constraints), or negatively,
insofar as moral considerations de facto can be, or are, disregarded (or
negated altogether) in exchanges. Hence also the institutional separation of
the economic (commercial) sphere and the legal spheres in bourgeois society.
Marx alludes to this idea already e.g. in the heavy rhetoric of the
Communist Manifesto: for example, on the one hand, "The bourgeoisie... has
left no other nexus between people than naked self-interest, than callous
"cash payment". It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstacies of religious
fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy
water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into
exchange value..." etc. etc. On the other hand, it has revolutionized the
productive forces and "man is at last compelled to face with sober senses
his real condition of life and his relations with his kind." Which is really
saying, that markets can have both liberating (humanizing) and oppressive
(dehumanizing) effects, portending both progress and regress, creating both
alienation and struggles to overcome alienation. What is characteristic of
"Marxism" is that it tries to graft a specific, partisan moral view onto
Marx's analysis of bourgeois society, and condemns markets as such. But that
may have little to do with what Marx's own views were.

3) It is quite possible for a longer-term quantitative proportionality to
exist between changes in the ratios in which commodities exchange, and
changes in the modal expenditures of labor-time required to produce them,
without this relationship being measurable with supreme accuracy, i.e. just
because it cannot be measured with great exactitude, does not automatically
mean the relationship is absent.


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