[OPE-L] New article at artefact

From: Hans G. Ehrbar (ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Wed Feb 22 2006 - 14:07:54 EST

Rakesh wrote:

> To put it awkwardly (just don't have the time), it seems to me that the
> condition of possibility of general commodity exchange by
> which each is measured, as an aliquot, in terms of an identical measure
> must be the existence of an at least conceptually
> homogeneous substance in terms of which commodities
> can be such abstract, only quantitatively differentiated, parts.
> (Of course I agree with Marx that with the development
> of capitalism social labor becomes more practically homogeneous.)

I agree with this paragraph if the phrase "condition of
possibility" is understood in a specific manner.  Of course
it is possible to exchange products of labor even if the
labor producing them is not equal (the ancient Greeks did
that), or to exchange things which do not have
exchange-value (wife-swapping).  The issue is not whether it
is possible to exchange things.  People have free wills and
they can exchange whatever they please.

As I understand Marx's reasoning, his premises for the
conclusion from commodity exchange to labor are much more
stringent.  Rakesh's formulation "conditions of possibility
of *general* commodity exchange" suggests to me that he is
thinking along similar lines as what I am going to say now.
Three steps are involved:

(1) In capitalism, all relations of production are filtered
through the market.  This is not a historical accident but
the market is obviously an essential aspect of capitalism.
The mediation through the market is not an alien element
but fits together perfectly with the social organization of
production in a capitalist society.  This is the first step
of the syllogism: the market and capitalist relations of
production fit together.

(2) In the market, things are treated as equals.  Everything
can be bought by the same thing, money.

(3) A mediating interface which treats everything as equal
can only then fit together with the underlying relations of
production if in production itself these things indeed count
as equals.  Otherwise the market equality would be a social
fiction which would interfere with production itself, and
markets could not be as tightly connected with capitalism as
they indeed are.  This equality in production is the
centrality of labor in capitalism: all things count as
congealed abstract labor.  Supply is adjusted to demand by
shifting labor around.  Labor is the last resort which
everybody has to sell if they have no other resources.

Hans G. Ehrbar

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