Re: [OPE-L] New article at artefact

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sat Feb 25 2006 - 12:55:36 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

Yet even if labor is unequal in status or juridical right,
it still represents some fraction of the social labor time
available to a society for its reproduction. If for reasons
of status one kind of labor is more highly valued (say in
the context of a caste system merchant activity to pollution-removing
work such as haircutting or leather working), then that kind of labor
lays a relatively greater claim on social labor time.
In other words, labor need not be equal in status for
social labor time to be the substance in terms of which
different products represent aliquots thereof. Status
affects the distribution of claims to social labor, not
the substance in terms of which they are commensurated.
For example, the products of women's labor  may be devalued
as a result of sexism (say child care services provided by a
private company employing mostly immigrant women--in
the American context Alice Kessler Harris has studied the devaluation
of women's labor), but those commodities still are commensurable
with other commodities in that they share the same substance.

I heartily agree with the rest of the illuminating post, Hans.

Yours, Rakesh

>  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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