Capital Vol 1 Reading Group: Chapters 1-2

137 posts / 0 new
Last post
xslavearcx's picture
xslavearcx
Offline
Joined: 21-10-10
Jul 29 2011 13:09

OK sorry to be away from this again. i think the strategy of me basicilly copying the book down and then pasting it here is unsustainable. So instead im going to just go over the basic ideas and bring up points where i need clarification.

Section 3 - basicilly describes the evolution of the money form as a commodity. this is done through demonstrating how the exchange relationship between 2 commodites reveals the value of the first one. this relationship is called relative (commodity a) whose value is expresssed in commodity b which is called the equivalent. Essentially marx gives a description of how as society develops into one whereby exchange becomes the norm that one commodity becomes the universal equivalent. in the society where he is writing this hapens to be gold which he goes on to explain in chapter 2 as to how it is a good material for doign so.

Section 4 - this is where im running into real problems, on commodity fetishism. So can if someone could give me a basic definition of it please? I've read the section a few times and i still dont think i get it..

L bird - im finding this idea of private labour being cojoined into general labour difficult to get my head round (as evidenced above). Is this what the term social value would help ie. to explain how private labour is in fact social through exchange?

Angelus Novus
Offline
Joined: 27-07-06
Jul 29 2011 14:02
xslavearcx wrote:
basicilly describes the evolution of the money form as a commodity.

No.

Quote:
Essentially marx gives a description of how as society develops into one whereby exchange becomes the norm that one commodity becomes the universal equivalent.

Again, no.

That section is not intended as a historical account of the emergence of money. It's Marx's attempt to demonstrate -- contra Ricardians, Proudhons, classical political economy -- that labor-time in commodity producing society can only be measured in money.

On why Marx's value-form analysis is not historical, see this here.

On Marx's theory of money, see this.

For a PDF of the English translation of Hans-Georg Backhaus's "Dialectic of the Value Form", which deals a bit more in depth with what distinguishes Marx from classical political economy on value and labor, contact me.

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Jul 30 2011 07:49
xslavearcx wrote:
L bird - im finding this idea of private labour being cojoined into general labour difficult to get my head round (as evidenced above). Is this what the term social value would help ie. to explain how private labour is in fact social through exchange?

I'm not sure that either I understand the question or that I'm the right person to answer it.

As far as I can tell, 'private labour' is not 'cojoined into general labour'.

'Private labour' (concrete labour?) is something done by individual humans.

'General labour' (abstract labour?) is a social category, like language, or an ideology like 'nationalism'. Both language and nationalism are not 'real', but human constructs. It seems to me that my social-value (Marx's 'value') is a liberatory idea, a way of understanding the social world from the perspective of the international proletariat, a social relationship, an explanation of exploitation.

'Private labour' is 'true', it happens to a physical object, and is done by a physical human.

'General labour' is no more 'true' than language. If one is French, 'French' is true; if one is proletarian, 'Value' is true. If one is German, 'French' is meaningless; if one is bourgeois, 'Value' is meaningless.

But, as usual, I'm prepared to be corrected...

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Jul 30 2011 12:16
LBird wrote:
But, as usual, I'm prepared to be corrected...

LBird, I think you are conflating two different levels or "determinations" of labor. Let me try to state how I see it. In my view, there are two distinct pairs of categories:

- concrete labor and abstract labor
- private labor and social labor

Marx introduces the second pair in the analysis of the form of value in section 3 of Ch1 (see the few paragraphs about the three "peculiarities" of the equivalent form). It has been the subject of a lot of debates, to my knowledge especially in the anglophone milieu. I think some of the confusions were the results of poor English translations of Vol. 1. (On this, Chris Wright wrote a well-argued article criticizing the late Cyril Smith, I think it's somewhere around on libcom.)

Concrete labor is individual labor, the result of which is a use-value. As such, it is a transhistorical category. This labor is a necessary condition of human existence, regardless of the specific social circumstances it takes place in.

Abstract labor is what concrete labors are reduced to by exchange in a commodity-producing society, and what manifests itself as the value of commodities. This reduction of is necessary if the different concrete labors and their products are to be commensurable (see Marx's argument in the early part of Ch1). Now, how this reduction takes place in practice and how economic agents perceive it (i.e. how is it observable empirically) is dealt with only in Vol 3. That's why, in my view, the first three chapters are so notoriously difficult. Anyway, there are different interpretations regarding the historicity of abstract labor (ie. wheter it's a category historically specific to commodity production and capitalism, or not), but let's not get into that now.

Labor is private if it's carried out by an independent, "atomized" producer in a division of labor based on private property. As such, it should not be identified with concrete labor. Concrete labor is transhistorical – humans need to produce use-values as soon as they are humans – but whether it takes place as private labor depends on specific social circumstances. The labor of a medieval family which grows food, sews clothes, breeds cattle, works the commons etc. is concrete, but unless this family is an economic agent in a setting of other private proprietors (presupposing certain legal framework etc.), it is not private labor. Private labor is thus a historically specific category.

Social labor is the aggregate labor carried out in the reproduction of a society. I may not be 100% correct on this point, but I think Marx considers all human labor social, as taking place in a social setting. In each society, people produce, the difference being in the specific forms this social reproduction is achieved, i.e. how this social labor is allocated, divided, commanded, by which relationships (including legal and political – like servitude in feudalism) it's mediated etc. But social reproduction always has to be achieved (through individual, concrete labors of the working members of the society) if society is to even exist. As such, the category of social labor as this very general and abstract concept is transhistorical.

Putting it all together, in capitalist society, due to the division of labor into atomized producers, most of social reproduction is only achieved through the exchange of products on the market, in which concrete labors are reduced through a complex mechanism of competition to abstract labor. Thus, the private labors of individual producers only become recognized as parts of social labor through the act of exchange. Therefore, in capitalism, social reproduction takes place in a sort of roundabout way: social labor is not allocated directly (through violence, tradition and command, as in feudalism, or through conscious rational planning, as in communism), but divided into a myriad of units of private labor, only to be reconstituted as social labor through exchange.

The trick is, in exchange it turns out that not every private labor has the privilege of becoming a part of social labor. Whether a particular concrete labor of a private producer can attest itself as a valid part of total social labor depends 1. on whether it was expended in a useful manner and represents a use-value for someone (in other words: whether there is effective demand for its product) and 2. on the value of the product. So some of these private labors, if they were expended in a non-useful way or if their expenditure exceeds socially necessary labor time, are discarded and do not count as parts of social labor. That of course has consequences for the producers and for the "next round" of social reproduction. The constitution of total social labor (or, which is the same: the reproduction of society) in capitalism is anarchic, uncoordinated – to be more precise, there is some coordination, but it only takes place post festum, in exchange, after the labor is already expended and crystallized in products.

To this one has to add another thing, that the activity of those economic agents who in capitalism have the power to decide what is produced and in what quantities, is not motivated by the goal of reproducing society, but the goal of achieving at least the average profit. This egoistic activity of a private producer, combined with the same egoistic activity of all other producers, constitutes social labor as it exists in capitalism. You can see how this, again, is "roundabout" and topsy-turvy: because we have this system of private property and division of labor, social reproducion has to be mediated by profit and not by needs (more precisely, it's goal are needs only to the extent that their satisfaction can yield a profit).

What communists want to do away with is private labor and abstract labor, i.e. all the anarchy, roundaboutness and profit-motivation of social reproduction.

I hope this makes sense wink.

(Edited for more clarity.)

xslavearcx's picture
xslavearcx
Offline
Joined: 21-10-10
Aug 4 2011 16:58
Angelus Novus wrote:
xslavearcx wrote:
basicilly describes the evolution of the money form as a commodity.

No.

Quote:
Essentially marx gives a description of how as society develops into one whereby exchange becomes the norm that one commodity becomes the universal equivalent.

Again, no.

That section is not intended as a historical account of the emergence of money. It's Marx's attempt to demonstrate -- contra Ricardians, Proudhons, classical political economy -- that labor-time in commodity producing society can only be measured in money.

.

Fair enough, actually ive had problems understanding this chapter when trying to view it as an actual historical account rather than as an ideal model for the workings of capitalism. Thanks for those links too. smile

xslavearcx's picture
xslavearcx
Offline
Joined: 21-10-10
Aug 4 2011 17:05

Thanks for that jura, that was a really helpful summary there to make me feel confident enough to move onto chapter 3. Just started there and will be posting on that in due course.

Thanks L-bird as ever for labouring with me and being patient at my general slowness on this.

Dave B
Offline
Joined: 3-08-08
May 23 2012 23:13

ahah

Quote:
Labor is private if it's carried out by an independent, "atomized" producer

Yes well OK so far.

Quote:
in a division of labor based on private property.

Oh err?

Maybe a division of labour based on a division of concrete labour perhaps, like maybe you are a blacksmith and I am a goose herder etc.

OK so your blacksmith's private property with anvils and hammers and what not is concretely different to my private property in geese and handlooms.

But we both have ‘abstract’ private property in common, not that they probably thought much about that.

As it was more a matter of the ‘concrete’ I am Jones the blacksmith and he is Silas the Weaver.

And even named themselves according to their concrete labour.

Quote:
As such, it should not be identified with concrete labor. Concrete labor is transhistorical –

Cough, splutter!

I am the tran-historicalist, but; where is the trans-historical concrete labour of the handloom weavers, blacksmiths and candlestick makers now?

Quote:
humans need to produce use-values as soon as they are humans –

Let that one go.

Quote:
but whether it takes place as private labor depends on specific social circumstances.

True for example as now, or err, I am struggling now, domestic window cleaners, bicycle repair shops.

Handy man plumbers and plasters, au pair work, no, that is a bit tricky.

Move on;

Quote:
The labor of a medieval family which grows food, sews clothes, breeds cattle, works the commons etc. is concrete,

An idealised multi tasking medieval family I suspect.

And it produces whatever to sell it in Stourbridge market to exchange their cattle for trousers, shoes and goose eggs in as ‘economic agents’ in a ‘market town’ and a ‘setting of other private proprietors’?

Quote:
but unless this family is an economic agent in a setting of other private proprietors[Stourbridge Market] (presupposing certain legal framework etc.), it is not private labor.

Private labor is thus a historically specific category.

So then was Silas Marner The Weaver of Raveloe's labour private labour?

the 'presupposing certain legal framework etc' was good tho.

There was a great prog from the bbc on that with a medieval simple commodity producer called Christina being hammered by the feudallegal frameworks, being a woman didn’t help

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
May 24 2012 06:27
Dave B wrote:
Cough, splutter!

I am the tran-historicalist, but; where is the trans-historical concrete labour of the handloom weavers, blacksmiths and candlestick makers now?

A firm grasp of Marxian categories you have there.

Marx wrote:
So far therefore as labour is a creator of use value, is useful labour, it is a necessary condition, independent of all forms of society, for the existence of the human race; it is an eternal nature-imposed necessity, without which there can be no material exchanges between man and Nature, and therefore no life.

I'm not bothering with the rest, sorry.

Klaus
Offline
Joined: 27-04-10
Jan 9 2013 19:10

Not sure this belongs here or not (admins: please delete if OT), but my capital reading group recently did a review session on chapters 1 and 2 and the notes for that session are on

http://readingcapital.tumblr.com/