Some Discussion of Labour…

JC: Labour in general and labour within capitalism. Here we could talk about the way Marx distinguishes between the long view historical generalities and the short view of what applies in capitalism. So Labour in the long view is useful activity, in capitalism it is labour that is treated as some generic instance of labour. Chapter 7 Vol. I. the distinction between labour as an ‘eternal natural necessity’ and valorisation Human activity that capital counts as socially valid counts as labour within capitalism. Living Labour and dead labour (dead labour is value – I only just worked that out as I was typing this! is this correct? (yes, -Sam) A means of production isn’t physically labour, only given capitalism is it treated as containing past acts of labour, and these past acts that are congealed in the means of production – which is a mass of commodities – are value, isn’t that what value is? acts of labour objectified in things?)

SAM: Response (Sam): value is _also_ still the use-values.  Value is in antagonistic contradiction with the use-value embodied in it.  That’s why realisation of value in circulation is important, why we can’t dig a hole and fill it in again.  This contradiction finds its apotheosis in war production (Sector IV I believe in a 4 sector scheme) and Sector III (waste).  Both of these achieve a useless realisation on the market, their use-value is socially recognised wastefulness!  The new trend sweeping America: Wasting Food!  The meaning of the use-values and utility of having produced value is lost, forever!  But for normal commodities the value circulates as congealed acts of past labour, at each moment of circulation the validity of the labour can be contested.  Over night people no longer want Pogs.  Despite circulating as M…M’ as usuary or C…C as direct exchange, their validity can be continually contested.
JC: Value isn’t the use-values, but is expressed in them – an important separation of concepts, in the way that exchange value is the name of this expression, and isn’t value.
SAM: For the dialectic here check V1 Ch1 Sect 1 ¶10-11 “Along with the useful qualities of the products themselves…social substance, common to them all, they are – Values.”  It is a slippery game Marx is playing demonstrating the commonality of exchange-values as crystalised human labour as a “consideration”, rather than a derivation (the deriving, is of course, the rest of Capital).  Value, as in exchange-value, cannot obtain its social meaning without the utility of a commodities use-value.  Use-values don’t determine the magnitude of value, merely, its capacity to be realised.
JC: I’m not sure about ‘Sectors’? It is important, I think to sustain Marx’s two-department model. The reasons is that it shows that all of the use-value in Dept I are only of use for capital – they are means of production; this means that the phyical division of use-values is determined by class: two classes, two departments. (for trivia: in Marx’s manuscript for Vol II – he calls Dept I means of subsistence and Dept II means of production; that fucking bastard :) Engels reversed these.)
SAM: I’ve only encountered such a 4 sector model (I – production, IIa &b consumption, III waste, IV war) in post 1930s political economy.
JC: Is the validity of labour ‘contested’? It seems more like a belief that some labour was valid is shown to be false. Thus there is an epistemic problem – there is an uncertainty, a void that disrupts capital. I think it is important to allow as much of capitalism to happen, without the intervention of politics – this means we can separate out as clearly as possible exactly what the political moment is – I think it is the action of  subject… is the action of subject ‘contesting the validity of labour’? resisting the relations of production? Or are these just normal aspects of a system built on the opposition between classes? capitalism is the struggle that constitutes it – the political moment has to be an action against this whole struggle, not a ‘side’ within it.
SAM: Decent enough question, but yes.  Capitalism is [in my reading] a constant imposition, none of Marx’s categories in Vol 1 are complete in and of themselves except as social relations.  Social relations exist in the reality between subjects.  Refusal by the subject is a coming into history, not complete as it doesn’t exist within social relations of actual human history, but it is an expression of active subjectivity.  For example, the “work in” is a refusal of the imposition of manager’s right to manage, wage labour, and the factory system.  Work ins within capitalism obviously don’t by themselves throw off the totality of social relations, but, as a part of that totality they contest capitalism as pre-figurative forms of future human relations.  There is no structuralist totalisation of a social formation, as in the last instance, social relations are produced immediately by people.  This then lets us get at ideas of struggles that are non-transformative (ie: the length of the working day) or struggles that are transformative (the abolition of “work” as such in capital) or may be transitionally transformative (a demand for a working day so short that it would threaten capital’s reproduction).  Some struggle is comprehensible within Capitalism as a social relation: trade unions for example.  Some struggles negate not only capitalism in an immediate sense, but threaten to negate the antagonism of capital by transcending it.  Why does there have to be an especial “political” moment if I’m taking politics-vs-economics correctly here.
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2 Responses to “Some Discussion of Labour…”


  1. 1 Jonathon Collerson 4 July 2010 at 6:14 am

    1. I generally agree with your comments on use-value, in your reply. I don’t think there is any disagreement there. But I think we should underline that use-values are not values in Marx’s sense.

    2. Hmmm. Post 1930s Political Economy. I can imagine all sorts of Sectors with all sorts of names and numbers. I think the attempt to say Marx didn’t give enough depatments demonstrates a misunderstanding of the political in Capital II – the supposed non-(or less)-political volume of capital.

    3. I think reality is a constant imposition. I think the issue here isn’t, is capitalism ontologially a political – not ‘economic’ – object, but instead what are subjects and who has capitalism imposed on them, and who recreates the relations of production and so on. Who are we talking about? For exampleyou say: “Social relations exist in the reality between subjects.” What do we mean by ‘subject’ here? My view is that the idealist interpretation says “we are all subjects” as though subjectivity is some inherent property of being human (a particular sort of animal). I think the materialist interpretation of the subject says that a subject is something between us – entre nous. I is something that exists separately to our animality. More later.

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