Re: [OPE-L] New article at artefact

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sat Feb 18 2006 - 11:51:35 EST

On Sat, 18 Feb 2006 00:09:58 +0100
  Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@TISCALI.NL> wrote:
>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.

Dear Jurriaan,

I sent something like this to you offlist. Your reply would doubtless
prove illuminating
to the list.

I wrote....

The capitalist circulation  of commodities is not barter which may not
presuppose any commensurability principle. But once the commodity
has become the general form of wealth, said principle is presupposed.
  The commodity owner does not alienate his commodity
to purchase directly this or that specific  use value but to accumulate value,
i.e. he is interested in his commodity insofar as it provides an abstract
claim on social labor time as such and thereby functions as a promiscuous
social mediation.

The surplus approach theorist will say that a capitalist commodity
owner only cares
about his share of the gross  product in whatever numeraire that share
is expressed. This seems to be your point above.

So the question is whether one can meaningfully speak of an abstract
share of something that is not itself a homogeneous substance. That
seems a logical
impossibility, and it is easy to see why Marx made the deductions that he did.
They do not seem to me to be invalid as Marx's critics--Austrians,
neo Ricardians,
value form theorists--seem to think.

If I have understood Ajit and Gil over the years, the fundamental
neo Ricardian point is
that this seemingly paradoxical, if not absurd, result is indeed
quite possible:
they say  that commodities are not of a homogeneous substance,
  but  each commodity nonetheless serves as a determinate abstract claim
(as expressed in a numeraire) on what is in fact an irreducibly
heterogeneous gross product.

Yet the neo Ricardian fantasy depends on simultaneous determination of prices,
absence of continuous technical change and innovation, perhaps unreal
about coordinated turnover time (as Fred is now arguing), and
perhaps an illicit smuggling in of the concept of abstract labor anyway
(as Alfredo Saad Filho has argued in Value of Marx).

In the real world the common substance of which commodities represent
respective aliquots is in fact social labor, no?

Of course this assumes that there is no so called transformation problem.

And around we go. On what seem to me to be metaphysical disputes--the nature
of quantity and quality, abstract and concrete, substance and its measure,
equivalence and equality.

So the philosophers cannot be kept at bay.

On a different note, I have not understood the self proclaimed anti humanist
attempt to do away the putative deification of labor.
  Machines, raw materials, land and draught animals are not even factors of
production unless they are understood
  and activated as such by social labor which itself has to be
organized to do so.
  In terms of human production,
the primacy of active social labor over the in themselves inactive
factors of production is obvious. How can one question the ontological primacy
of social labor in the process
of production? Is this what Andrew Brown has been saying?

No natural laws can be done away with: Social labor has to be
allocated in certain
proportions and its internal relations determined (relations being mediated
by commodities the question arises then of the social labor time a
commodity allows its owner to claim by virtue of the social labor time
the commodity itself represents). This is what price relations
establish--the distribution of social labor and its internal relations,
and it is the task of value theory to analyze how and to what effect price
relations do exactly this.

And thereby to decipher the hieroglyphics of price.

Yours, Rakesh

>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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