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Abstract labor vs. concrete labor?

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yoda's walking stick
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Apr 6 2011 22:42
Abstract labor vs. concrete labor?

can someone explain the difference between these two like I'm five years old? I mean, really, truly, condescend to me.

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Khawaga
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Apr 6 2011 22:49

concrete labour refers to the use-value that is made. so the concrete labour of shoe-making makes a use-value in the form of a shoe. general/abstract labour is labour in general, i.e. labour without reference the concrete activity of labour (now I am sure others can give a better and more detailed version). the important bit is that abstract labour is to value what concrete labour is to use-value. without abstract labour there would be no capital.

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Steven.
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Apr 7 2011 07:40
Khawaga wrote:
concrete labour refers to the use-value that is made. so the concrete labour of shoe-making makes a use-value in the form of a shoe. general/abstract labour is labour in general, i.e. labour without reference the concrete activity of labour (now I am sure others can give a better and more detailed version). the important bit is that abstract labour is to value what concrete labour is to use-value. without abstract labour there would be no capital.

Booya.

LBird
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Apr 7 2011 08:58
yoda's walking stick wrote:
can someone explain the difference between these two like I'm five years old? I mean, really, truly, condescend to me.
Khawaga wrote:
concrete labour refers to the use-value that is made. so the concrete labour of shoe-making makes a use-value in the form of a shoe. general/abstract labour is labour in general, i.e. labour without reference the concrete activity of labour (now I am sure others can give a better and more detailed version). the important bit is that abstract labour is to value what concrete labour is to use-value. without abstract labour there would be no capital.

If yoda understands Khawaga's simple explanation for five year olds, I obviously need the eighteen-month-old, barely-off-the-teat version.

I'd prefer one that uses Janet and John, say, like:

Janet spends 10 hours making a pair of shoes. John spends 5 hours making a box of cakes.

Is the 'concrete labour' 15 hours? Or is it an average like 7.5 hours?

And what is the 'abstract labour'? Or does that require a third character, like Jeremy the Boss, to explain an exploitative relationship?

I know this sounds like a piss-take, but I'm deadly serious. I'm sure many others hesitate to ask these questions about Marxist economic categories, for fear of looking stupid.

Well, I'm fearless. But stupid, nevertheless. I, for one, need your educational efforts.

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Steven.
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Apr 7 2011 09:21

In that example Janet and John are both expending concrete labour- a specific type of labour of a specific person.

The concept of abstract labour requires a third character: the entire working class. I.e. the abstract labour of the working class as a whole creates everything. With the amount of abstract socially necessary labour time corresponding to the value of goods created.

You see what we mean?

LBird
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Apr 7 2011 09:44
Steven wrote:
The concept of abstract labour requires a third character: the entire working class.

Right, so to continue the 'Janet & John' theme, if we let J&J stand for the entire working class, and give J&J the surname 'Smith', then 'abstract labour' relates to 'the Smiths', not J&J as individuals.

Steven wrote:
With the amount of abstract socially necessary labour time corresponding to the value of goods created.

So, the value of goods created by the two workers, J&J, was by 15 hours 'concrete labour'.

And... the Smith family created 15 hours of 'abstract labour'.

Hmmm.... I am missing something? It doesn't seem too profound to me.

I think you know personally, Steven, from other threads, that I am serious about this problem. If you remember, I likened 'value' in Marx's ideas to 'grace' in the Catholic church.

I want to be wrong about Marx, and I'm even prepared to accept that I have a particular blindspot about this issue, but I'm still keen to seek the 'revealed truth'!

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Steven.
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Apr 7 2011 10:00
LBird wrote:
Steven wrote:
The concept of abstract labour requires a third character: the entire working class.

Right, so to continue the 'Janet & John' theme, if we let J&J stand for the entire working class, and give J&J the surname 'Smith', then 'abstract labour' relates to 'the Smiths', not J&J as individuals.

exactly, and not just to the labour of shoemaking in particular but any labour.

Quote:
Steven wrote:
With the amount of abstract socially necessary labour time corresponding to the value of goods created.

So, the value of goods created by the two workers, J&J, was by 15 hours 'concrete labour'.

And... the Smith family created 15 hours of 'abstract labour'.

Hmmm.... I am missing something? It doesn't seem too profound to me.

yes, you are missing something. Because of course Janet and John are not the entire working class.

If Janet spends 10 hours making a pair of shoes, they do not have 10 hours of value in them necessarily. The value they embody is the amount of abstract socially necessary labour which makes them up. So if most shoes are made using machines, only requiring in total 30 min of average labour time, they embody the value of 30 min labour, not 10 hours.

You dig?

Quote:

I think you know personally, Steven, from other threads, that I am serious about this problem. If you remember, I likened 'value' in Marx's ideas to 'grace' in the Catholic church.

I want to be wrong about Marx, and I'm even prepared to accept that I have a particular blindspot about this issue, but I'm still keen to seek the 'revealed truth'!

yeah, I think you misunderstand a couple of aspects.

I think what capital volume 1 does very well is explain how labour is the source of value, and how basically capitalism is entirely based on the exploitation of workers, following the violent creation of a dispossessed working class.

LBird
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Apr 7 2011 10:32
Steven wrote:
yes, you are missing something. Because of course Janet and John are not the entire working class.

But for the purposes of this explanation, why can't the concept of 'the Smiths' represent the collectivity of the proletariat?

Steven wrote:
If Janet spends 10 hours making a pair of shoes, they do not have 10 hours of value in them necessarily. The value they embody is the amount of abstract socially necessary labour which makes them up. So if most shoes are made using machines, only requiring in total 30 min of average labour time, they embody the value of 30 min labour, not 10 hours.

You dig?

No, I understand that if someone else, say Janet's cousin Jacqui, has a sewing machine, then Janet's 10 hours do not produce 10 hours of value. But, for the purposes of this discussion, why introduce the complexity of a sewing machine?

Surely, if Jacqui and her sewing machine don't exist, thus leaving the original two-member Smith family, one can still use the concepts of 'concrete' and 'abstract' labour to say something?

I'm still digless, I'm afraid.

Steven wrote:
I think what capital volume 1 does very well is explain how labour is the source of value, and how basically capitalism is entirely based on the exploitation of workers, following the violent creation of a dispossessed working class.

Yeah, I agree labour is the source of value, that capitalism is the structural exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, and I know about the clearances and enclosures.

What I don't get is Khawaga's explanation that "the important bit is that abstract labour is to value what concrete labour is to use-value".

Why can't the simple Smith family model be used to explain the relationship between abstract/concrete labour and value/use value?

The more people have to add greater complexity to a simple question, the more I'm reminded of the introduction of eccentrics, epicycles and equants into the defence of the Ptolemaic geocentric model.

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Apr 7 2011 10:49
LBird wrote:
Steven wrote:
yes, you are missing something. Because of course Janet and John are not the entire working class.

But for the purposes of this explanation, why can't the concept of 'the Smiths' represent the collectivity of the proletariat?

unfortunately the real world is more complicated than the workings of two people.

However, if you want to shoehorn this discussion into these two people then you have to use the example of say Janet making shoes by hand in 10 hours, and John making one with a machine in an hour- both would embody the same value, as value is determined by socially necessary labour time.

Quote:

No, I understand that if someone else, say Janet's cousin Jacqui, has a sewing machine, then Janet's 10 hours do not produce 10 hours of value. But, for the purposes of this discussion, why introduce the complexity of a sewing machine?

because the real world has sewing machines in it.

Quote:
Surely, if Jacqui and her sewing machine don't exist, thus leaving the original two-member Smith family, one can still use the concepts of 'concrete' and 'abstract' labour to say something?

yes - as explained above.

Quote:
Steven wrote:
I think what capital volume 1 does very well is explain how labour is the source of value, and how basically capitalism is entirely based on the exploitation of workers, following the violent creation of a dispossessed working class.

Yeah, I agree labour is the source of value, that capitalism is the structural exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, and I know about the clearances and enclosures.

that being the case, I don't see your issue with Marx's concept of value. He demonstrates and evidences this clearly. So I don't understand your Catholicism references and general antipathy. But maybe that's for another thread

Quote:
What I don't get is Khawaga's explanation that "the important bit is that abstract labour is to value what concrete labour is to use-value".

Why can't the simple Smith family model be used to explain the relationship between abstract/concrete labour and value/use value?

I think it can, as I did above. However, a two-person model isn't adequate in order to fully grasp the ramifications for the working class as a whole.

Quote:
The more people have to add greater complexity to a simple question, the more I'm reminded of the introduction of eccentrics, epicycles and equants into the defence of the Ptolemaic geocentric model.

again I don't get what you mean here. The problem is you seem to have misunderstood something. You state:

Quote:
So, the value of goods created by the two workers, J&J, was by 15 hours 'concrete labour'.

And... the Smith family created 15 hours of 'abstract labour'.

What you missed was that the concrete labour was not 15 hours concrete labour as such but 10 hours shoemaking, and 5 hours cake making. Or 15 hours abstract labour. Furthermore, the ramifications of the difference between abstract and concrete labour do not become clear until you look at a bigger population.

LBird
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Apr 7 2011 11:42

Steven, I'll leave the rest of your comments to one side, because we both know that the world is more complex than two people, and it does your argument no favour to pretend, for rhetorical purposes, that I don't know that the world has sewing machines in it.

And if you can't see the relevance to this discussion of the Catholic concept of 'grace' (which can't be calculated or evaluated in the real world, and so leaves us at the mercy of experts like priests or CC members) with our present problems with 'value', then I'll leave it alone as an example.

More promisingly,

Steven wrote:
What you missed was that the concrete labour was not 15 hours concrete labour as such but 10 hours shoemaking, and 5 hours cake making. Or 15 hours abstract labour.

So, and I didn't know this, we can't calculate, according to the theory you're defending, 'concrete labour' by adding together actual examples of concrete labour, like shoe- and cake-making?

If so, I don't agree. Let's see if I can illustrate what I think you're saying:

Janet: 10 hours handmade shoes (= 1 pair);
John: 10 hours best-pratice cakes;
Jacqui: 10 hours best-practice shoes(=10 pairs).

To me, this gives us 30 hours 'concrete labour' but only 21 hours of 'abstract labour'.

But, for any individual to know what 'value' they'd created, they would have to consult collectively. That is, the 'extended Smith family' meeting, otherwise known as a Workers' Council.

Thus, 'value' can't be decided by any individual with reference to their own isolated practice. Thus it places 'value' as a category at the social level, and thus re-introduces what I've called in other posts 'Political Economy' (although I'm aware that other posters dislike this term; if for historical reasons it should be called something else, I've no problem) in place of 'Economics'.

Value is a collective, democratic discussion, not an individual decision.

I'm sorry if this seems a bit disjointed, but your last statement triggered off a lot of thoughts.

Steven wrote:
Furthermore, the ramifications of the difference between abstract and concrete labour do not become clear until you look at a bigger population.

But surely we can use simpler models to help explain, even if, and I agree, reality is much more complex?

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Steven.
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Apr 7 2011 12:12

Hi, sorry I think that I'm not going to respond to that post here, as above a poster was asking a question and I don't want to confuse the issue. Hopefully the initial response will satisfy his question, but if you want to discuss value more generally I would suggest starting a new thread. Cheers,

LBird
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Apr 7 2011 12:21
Steven wrote:
Hi, sorry I think that I'm not going to respond to that post here, as above a poster was asking a question and I don't want to confuse the issue. Hopefully the initial response will satisfy his question

Right, point taken.

Although, I must say that I see this discussion as entirely relevent to yoda's OP.

Perhaps we'll leave it to yoda to decide whether the five-year-old's explanation was sufficient, or whether they'd like us to resume this discussion along the lines it has taken. I have to say, as a self-declared eighteen-month-old, I still don't understand.

Thanks anyway, Steven.

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Bill Shatner
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Apr 7 2011 13:01
yoda's walking stick wrote:
can someone explain the difference between these two like I'm five years old? I mean, really, truly, condescend to me.

Sure mate:

Blah, blah, blah meets blah, blah, blah......

And that's how I ended my thesis at UCL.

Best fucking bit of the whole 500 page lot I say.

Your best option is to throw all that bollocks away and start over. But this time with LIBERTY in mind.

Angelus Novus
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Apr 7 2011 14:54

I don't much like the explanations above, too "substantialist" for my taste.

Here's my take:

in the act of exchange, various products of concrete labour are reduced to the status of being products of human labour in general. In other words, they are made commensurable. As opposed to various sorts of "mental" abstractions, such as calling dogs, cats, and humans "animals", or pines, lindens, and beeches as "trees", this reduction of various products of concrete labour to abstract human labour is a "real" abstraction, consummated in the act of exchange.

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Apr 7 2011 15:50

Angelus your take is good, but (probably like mine) too "adult" and "abstract". Makes perfect sense if you've read a ton of Marx, but if I were a first time reader of Capital I would probably reply "WTF?".

I don't want to derail as per Steven's suggestion, but I'll just add this (and Steven if you see it appropriate, why not split it up. I could I guess, but I don't want to take the decision).

LBird wrote:
What I don't get is Khawaga's explanation that "the important bit is that abstract labour is to value what concrete labour is to use-value".

You've kinda explained it yourself:

Quote:
Thus, 'value' can't be decided by any individual with reference to their own isolated practice. Thus it places 'value' as a category at the social level, and thus re-introduces what I've called in other posts 'Political Economy

'

The distinction only makes sense socially. If you produce for yourself, e.g. the Smiths making shoes for themselves only use-value, i.e. the concrete activity is of relevance. It's only when something is produced for exchange that something can have value (which is only socially valid). When a capitalist produced s/he is only interested in value really (i.e. abstract labour; which is the condition for exploitation), but the commodities produced must have a use-value for someone.

And yeah, Marx's entire Capital is all about political economy. It is titled A Critique of Political Economy after all.

LBird
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Apr 7 2011 19:11

Angelus, Khawaga, thanks for taking the time to help me with trying to understand this.

Khawaga wrote:
Angelus your take is good, but (probably like mine) too "adult" and "abstract". Makes perfect sense if you've read a ton of Marx, but if I were a first time reader of Capital I would probably reply "WTF?".

Yes, unfortunately I'm still not in a position to judge whether (as I would like to be able) Angelus' 'take is good' or not. Clearly, still in a state of 'childhood' on this so far.

Khawaga wrote:
The distinction only makes sense socially. If you produce for yourself, e.g. the Smiths making shoes for themselves only use-value, i.e. the concrete activity is of relevance. It's only when something is produced for exchange that something can have value (which is only socially valid).

So, would I be right in suggesting that 'use-value from concrete labour' could be seen as 'individual-value', while 'value from abstract labour' could be seen as 'social-value'?

I have further questions, to help me make sense of the real complexity of which we're all aware, but if I start with the one above and you confirm it so far, at least then I'll know I'm on the right track. I'll move onto capitalists, commodities and exchange-value when I've grasped the basics.

Khawaga wrote:
And yeah, Marx's entire Capital is all about political economy. It is titled A Critique of Political Economy after all.

Yeah, I know - it's on my desk in front of me!

But, in comparison with the marginalist revolution (ie. 'Economics'), which really only got going after Marx's death, what are we to call our activity, if not 'Political Economy'? After all, a 'critique' doesn't necessarily mean a rejection, does it? I'm open to your suggestions on this one - but I like to give it a name, as shorthand to contrast it with the 'Economics' with which people have been brainwashed all their lives.

Please bear with me - I really do want to understand - but I'm wary of bullshit, because it's only because of that socially-developed 'bullshit detector' that I've got this far. This is why I've likened 'value' to 'grace'. I'm not going, ever again, to accept a priest's word for anything. If something can't be properly explained by me to others, I'm not going to be able recommend it as explaining anything, am I?

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Apr 7 2011 19:38
LBird wrote:
So, would I be right in suggesting that 'use-value from concrete labour' could be seen as 'individual-value', while 'value from abstract labour' could be seen as 'social-value'?

You could, but in order to not be confused when reading Marx you should just have once conception of value, which can only be social. Marx typically refer to use-value as wealth (material wealth; actual things rather than value, which is completely abstract). Because the thing is use-value is also "social"; in the sense that if nobody sees the need for say shoes (so that they would never use them for anything), then the shoes have no use-value. But I think, in order for you to grasp these concepts, it's as good a start as any.

Quote:
After all, a 'critique' doesn't necessarily mean a rejection, does it? I'm open to your suggestions on this one - but I like to give it a name, as shorthand to contrast it with the 'Economics' with which people have been brainwashed all their lives.

You're right. Marx does not reject e.g. Ricardo. He takes what is useful, discards the crap and argues why certain things are crap with the mainstream pol. ec. of his time. Indeed, Marx would likely be not surprised at all with the marginalist revolution; he more or less saw it coming. So we can call what "we" are doing political economy, or perhaps more correct critical political economy (or Angelus Novus' cumbersome political-economy-in-the-traditon-of-Marx's-Capital).

Quote:
This is why I've likened 'value' to 'grace'.

I think an important thing to grasp about value is that it is the self-valorization of value (i.e. the compulsion to increase value) that is sort of the hidden puppet master in capitalism. It compels people to act in certain ways; both capitalist and workers. Now, self-valorizing value comes a bit later in capital, so let's not get into it now.

My general suggestion for reading Marx is kinda to just go for the ride. The first three chapters are very hard to get through, but after that it's much much easier. Marx's expository style is very pedagogical. He always reminds the reader of the important argument/concepts when he introduces new concepts and/or arguments.

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Apr 7 2011 21:02
LBird wrote:
I'm sure many others hesitate to ask these questions about Marxist economic categories, for fear of looking stupid.

Thanks for having the courage to ask - I'm just as foggy on the difference between concrete and abstract labour. This discussion has been very enlightening. I eagerly await further installments.

Would I be right in saying that concrete labour is to abstract labour as use value is to exchange value?

Abstract labour, then, would be expressed simply as hours worked, regardless of what the labour was producing; concrete labour would be expressed as hours worked producing A or B, and because the units are now different, you can no longer add or subtract these measurements. Is that it?

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Apr 7 2011 21:22
Rabbit wrote:
Would I be right in saying that concrete labour is to abstract labour as use value is to exchange value?

Partly correct: concrete labour maps on to use-value (so you got that right), but abstract labour maps on to value. Exchange value is the ratio in which a quantity of use-values is exchanged for another quantity (but both these quantities have the same value contained in them).

Quote:
Abstract labour, then, would be expressed simply as hours worked, regardless of what the labour was producing; concrete labour would be expressed as hours worked producing A or B, and because the units are now different, you can no longer add or subtract these measurements. Is that it?

Again, partly correct. The measure of value is labour time, so abstract labour is hours worked. However, with concrete labour you don't really care about the time spent, but rather the actual use-values produced. If you were producing for yourself you'd be more interested in the actual stuff you created, rather than the time you spent on them (unless your Robison Crusoe). If you were to measure concrete labour you'd be more likely to count the items produced, coz in the end that's what matters. So value is all about quantity, whereas use-value is all about quality.

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Apr 7 2011 21:40
Khawaga wrote:
So value is all about quantity, whereas use-value is all about quality.

I disagree, first of all for Marx "use-value.. is... determined not only qualitatively but also quantitatively." We have certain socially and historically established standards of measurement which we can use to compare different use-values such as bytes of data or miles per gallon. With regards to exchange-value, Marx states that it "at first sight, presents itself as a quantitative relation", however, thus considered "exchange value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in terms." That different items are quantitatively comparable presupposes that they have already been reduced qualitatively to the same standard of human labour in the abstract.

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Khawaga
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Apr 7 2011 23:05
Quote:
I disagree, first of all for Marx "use-value.. is... determined not only qualitatively but also quantitatively."

Sure, if you read my post closely that's actually what I said. But try to bear in mind that I am trying to explain this stuff to folks that haven't read as much Marx as some of us. Thus, quantity/quality is a good shorthand for the contradiction of and value/use-value (until it becomes necessary to complicate it) and also the difference between M-C-M and C-M-C.

What I said was:

Quote:
If you were to measure concrete labour you'd be more likely to count the items produced, coz in the end that's what matters.

Just the same as saying that "use-value.. is... determined not only qualitatively but also quantitatively."

Quote:
That different items are quantitatively comparable presupposes that they have already been reduced qualitatively to the same standard of human labour in the abstract.

Again I agree, but no need to muddy the waters at this moment. Marx is all about contradiction, but keeping all of them in mind is really, really confusing at first. So baby steps for now.

LBird
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Apr 8 2011 04:48
LBird wrote:
So, would I be right in suggesting that 'use-value from concrete labour' could be seen as 'individual-value', while 'value from abstract labour' could be seen as 'social-value'?
Khawaga wrote:
You could, but in order to not be confused when reading Marx you should just have once conception of value, which can only be social.

Khawaga, I'm confused by your comment here, because in my tentative statement I actually say 'value' is 'social-value' (and contrast it with 'use-value', which is 'individual-value). So, I only have 'one conception of value' in this statement, which is 'social'.

To be clear, I am missing something? Bear in mind that I think you are correct to remind Zanthorus that you are 'trying to explain this stuff'. We are all aware that, eventually, we'll move onto the real, complicated issues involved. Stick with the simple 'stuff' for now, and hopefully later Zanthorus and others will be able to introduce the complexities of Marx's thought.

I'm aware I haven't (yet) discussed 'exchange-value', 'commodities' et al, but its best to be clear on each little 'baby step'.

So, does my statement quoted above stand as I wrote it, or is there something missing which I need to be aware of at this stage of the explanation?

I can't stress enough, I'm not trying to 'catch anyone out'. If I build upon your earlier answers, and with hindsight you realise that you missed something, we can revert to an earlier stage, take on board your later correction, and then move forward again.

Rabbit wrote:
Thanks for having the courage to ask - I'm just as foggy on the difference between concrete and abstract labour. This discussion has been very enlightening. I eagerly await further installments.

No, thank you, Rabbit, for letting me know that there are others reading this 'stuff' that are as ignorant as I am about this subject! It makes me feel a bit better about asking these basic questions.

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Apr 8 2011 05:30
Quote:
Khawaga, I'm confused by your comment here, because in my tentative statement I actually say 'value' is 'social-value' (and contrast it with 'use-value', which is 'individual-value). So, I only have 'one conception of value' in this statement, which is 'social'.

Sorry, it's just me confusing you. Value is always social. I was just trying to say that rather than using "individual-value" as a term, adopt wealth. It's more "correct" when thinking about use-value as wealth in terms of Marx's own terminology, but...

Quote:
does my statement quoted above stand as I wrote it, or is there something missing which I need to be aware of at this stage of the explanation?

Nope, so just stick with the terminology that makes sense to you for now.

Quote:
I can't stress enough, I'm not trying to 'catch anyone out'.

I don't think you are at all. If I did that I wouldn't bother answering and take you for a troll wink

Btw, I don't think it's ignorance anyone's suffering from. Marx's political economy is tough. God knows how many times I tried to get through the first three chapters before it finally clicked (and only really after the first reading group I participated in). A lot of my understanding has been sharpened by hanging around on libcom; it's a good place to ask questions about Marx. So don't be shy smile

LBird
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Apr 8 2011 12:33
Khawaga wrote:
Nope, so just stick with the terminology that makes sense to you for now.

Khawaga, thanks for clarifying that point. I wasn't sure if some subtle point was being made which I hadn't picked up on, and would come back to bite me on the arse later.

First, I would like to return to a post I made earlier, both to keep it in view and for you to consider.

LBird, post #9 wrote:
Janet: 10 hours handmade shoes (= 1 pair);
John: 10 hours best-pratice cakes;
Jacqui: 10 hours best-practice shoes(=10 pairs).

To me, this gives us 30 hours 'concrete labour' but only 21 hours of 'abstract labour'.

But, for any individual to know what 'value' they'd created, they would have to consult collectively. That is, the 'extended Smith family' meeting, otherwise known as a Workers' Council.

Thus, 'value' can't be decided by any individual with reference to their own isolated practice. Thus it places 'value' as a category at the social level, and thus re-introduces what I've called in other posts 'Political Economy' (although I'm aware that other posters dislike this term; if for historical reasons it should be called something else, I've no problem) in place of 'Economics'.

Value is a collective, democratic discussion, not an individual decision.

So, I presume you accept, as far as it goes, this post I made earlier in reply to Steven?

If so, your agreement will allow me to move onto a further question, posed earlier by Rabbit, regarding the 'expression' or measurement of 'value' (ie. from 'social abstract labour').

Rabbit wrote:
Abstract labour, then, would be expressed simply as hours worked, regardless of what the labour was producing; concrete labour would be expressed as hours worked producing A or B, and because the units are now different, you can no longer add or subtract these measurements. Is that it?

I am right in saying that to try to measure 'individual concrete labour' is not possible, that it can't be evaluated? This is because measurement requires a comparison, a 'thing' to measure against, and as 'concrete labour' is individual and subjective (it's 'what someone thinks'), there can be no measure, because a measure must be a social 'thing'?

As you go on to say, in reply to Rabbit:

Khawaga wrote:
The measure of value is labour time, so abstract labour is hours worked. However, with concrete labour you don't really care about the time spent, but rather the actual use-values produced. If you were producing for yourself you'd be more interested in the actual stuff you created, rather than the time you spent on them (unless your Robison Crusoe). If you were to measure concrete labour you'd be more likely to count the items produced, coz in the end that's what matters. So value is all about quantity, whereas use-value is all about quality.

So to summarise, 'value', the product of 'social abstract labour' can be measured, but only by society, but 'use-value', the product of 'individual concrete labour' cannot be measured (how can we 'measure' a quality like 'love', for example?).

If you agree so far, Khawaga, on my next post I'll reintroduce our Smith family into the discussion, with some more questions.

Once again, thanks for your perserverance.

PS. And I'll adopt your suggestion of 'Critical Political Economy' for our activity.

PPS. If anyone else is trying to follow this discussion, and doesn't follow any of the steps being taken, please post and ask questions before we go any further.

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ocelot
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Apr 8 2011 12:27

I think an easier starting point would be a historical one.

Concrete labour is people doing work on their environment to achieve stuff, whether it be gathering, catching or growing food, building shelter, making fire, etc.

Concrete labour has been part of being human ever since homo sapiens appeared in the Great African Rift Valley 200,000 years ago.

We live in modern times, in a capitalist society. If we are not careful we tend to assume the things that are ever-present in our daily lives, were also present in people's daily lives in the past, like money and value. But our idea of "value" is a modern idea, it does not apply to the builders of Stonehenge, the Pyramids, or Macchu Picchu.

So it is confusing to say that concrete labour somehow relates to "individual value" as opposed to abstract labour relating to "social value".

If concrete labour has always been with us, and always will be. Abstract labour is a relatively very new thing and is specific to capitalism. Before capitalism there was no abstract labour, and neither will there be any after capitalism.

Abstract labour and the thing it creates - value - should not be confused with money and buying and selling things. Even though the complex and developed economies of the societies that built the Pyramids (~2,500 BC) and Macchu Picchu (~1450 AD) did not use money (in the first case, because it hadn't been invented yet), money and buying and selling things, and people making things not for themselves, but in order to sell them, has been also around a lot longer than abstract labour.

Abstract labour really depends on having the majority of the direct producers of the concrete labour that society requires, doing other stuff than making food. Up until now (and until real communism) this means the majority of the workforce has to sell their labour to get the money to buy the food they need to live - because part of the actual history of how people producing food were turned from a majority of society into less than 1 in 20 (in more developed societies) was of people being separated from the land.

But the whole story of abstract labour, is really worth a book (or at least a pamphlet) and if you're already reading a book (Capital vol 1) on it, the question is, how to best visualise it?

Imagine you are in charge of a disaster relief effort in the wake of a major disaster. As you get word of emergency relief workers coming in, in say squads of 100 at a time, your job is to allocate them to different tasks to best progress the relief effort. If you allocate too many to one particular task, you could be wasting available labour that could be better used elsewhere (in marginalist speak, we could talk about the marginal productivity of labour). The end result is a particular distribution of labour into particular activities - call this a social division of labour. Here you are indifferent to the particular strengths or skills of individual workers, you just have an estimate of how many hundred units (or workers) you need to meet a certain need (setting up tents for a refugee camp for 100,000 people for example) with current techniques, machinery etc. This is roughly like abstract labour. Given a particular division of labour in a mainly wage-earning society, the proportion at which the products produced by the workers in the different branches of industry must exchange with each other, for the social accounts to balance, must be in a similar proportion to the proportions of total available social labour allocated to each branch of industry (There's a Marx quote on this from a letter, possibly quoted in Ron Meek, iirc?).

So abstract labour has this reference to the social distribution of total labour, in a wage-labour society.

But I'm sorry, it is no more possible to explain political economy to a hypothetical 5 year old
than it is to explain brain chemistry or quantum mechanicsm, at least imo.

edit: Cool article on how pyramid builders were organised and paid, in the absence of money.

LBird
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Apr 8 2011 12:53
ocelot wrote:
But I'm sorry, it is no more possible to explain political economy to a hypothetical 5 year old
than it is to explain brain chemistry or quantum mechanicsm, at least imo.

This, then, makes it rather difficult for this self-confessed 18-month-old (with regard to abstract and concrete labour) to even try to appraise your, what appears on the surface, very interesting post.

Before I try to understand what you've written, I think I'll wait and see what comes of Khawaga's very reasonable attempt to try and educate me in the arcane ways of 'Critical Political Economy'.

But I should say that I think your conclusion is not just educationally questionable, but also poor political practice. We should, as Communists, be doing our best to explain our ideas to all workers, even to the dullards at the back of the class, like me.

[throws paper aeroplane at Rabbit, who sniggers and pulls a face behind Mr. Ocelot's back]

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Indigo
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Apr 8 2011 15:19

Like a lot of other folks i found capital a bit of a struggle.
I've been going through a series of lectures on reading capital that can be found on google vedio by david harvey and I've found it much easier actually having someone explain what he's on about in more straight forward language,
with regards to concrete and exchange value he touches on that in the first lecture which is here --> http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5820769496384969148#
I think he starts covering it around the 1:15 mark but if you have the time its worth watching it all, it helped me a lot anyway. I've been thinking recently that it would be really useful to have somewhere on libcom where people could put links to useful videos they find online, like a video library of some kind, this is probably for a different thread though!

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Apr 8 2011 15:24

Fine, so long as you understand that 'value', like 'grace' is a historically specific category inseparable from a particular set of social relationships, that of capitalism in the first instance (involving the separtion of political and economic authority) and the catholic church in the second (involving the separation of political and religious authority). That is, that abstract labour cannot be 'abstracted' from its historical context. It is not valid for Jack, Jill and the Smiths in any society other than a capitalist one.

In other words, it is not a category that can be discussed or understood sub specie aeternitatis

LBird
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Apr 8 2011 15:44

Ocelot, I know you're trying to be helpful, but to a beginner like me your post assumes too much knowledge. Things have to be explained in terms that the learner understands, not those that the instructor understands.

On a better note, I followed your link, and found:

Joyce Tyldesley wrote:
The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the Great Pyramid was built by 100,000 slaves who 'laboured constantly and were relieved every three months by a fresh gang'. He is, however, wrong.

Isn't it strange that every ruling class sees the past through its own ideas? With Greece being a slave-owning society, it could only imagine that same society in its own past.

Our rulers today do exactly the same thing themselves: they always see the past through their own eyes, which is why they make crap historians.

Joyce Tyldesley wrote:
But, in a complete reversal of the story of oppression told by Herodotus, Lehner and Hawass have suggested that the labourers may have been volunteers...
Mark Lehner has gone further, comparing pyramid building to American Amish barn raising, which is done on a volunteer basis. He might equally well have compared it to the staffing of archaeological digs, which tend to be manned by enthusiastic, unpaid volunteers supervised by a few paid professionals.

God save us from bourgeois ideology, eh? From 'slave' labour to 'free' labour. Nothing ideological there, eh, Dr. Joyce!

Thanks for the link (and laugh), ocelot.

LBird
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Apr 8 2011 15:50
ocelot wrote:
In other words, it is not a category that can be discussed or understood sub specie aeternitatis

No, I agree, it must be understood from the perspective of the proletariat, that of Communism.

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Apr 8 2011 16:06
Quote:
I am right in saying that to try to measure 'individual concrete labour' is not possible, that it can't be evaluated? This is because measurement requires a comparison, a 'thing' to measure against, and as 'concrete labour' is individual and subjective (it's 'what someone thinks'), there can be no measure, because a measure must be a social 'thing'?

and

Quote:
So to summarise, 'value', the product of 'social abstract labour' can be measured, but only by society, but 'use-value', the product of 'individual concrete labour' cannot be measured (how can we 'measure' a quality like 'love', for example?).

You could measure concrete labour. After all, you could just count the number of shoes you've produced, how many feet of yarn spun, how many potatoes plucked etc. But the issue is that since these are qualitatively different use-values you can't easily compare them; they're not commensurable. If you need shoes, yarn and potatoes for you, all of these, as use-values, have the same "individual-value" (to use your terminology). The problem comes when exchange enters the picture.

It is only in exchange, however, that value really exists. It's that act that makes value socially valid. And in exchange, there is something in the commodity (a thing made for sale and it's also useful for someone) that makes qualitatively different use-values commensurable; and this something is value. And the exchange is based on the time it took to produce the commodities.

ocelot wrote:
Fine, so long as you understand that 'value', like 'grace' is a historically specific category inseparable from a particular set of social relationships, that of capitalism in the first instance (involving the separtion of political and economic authority)

Ocelot raises an extremely important point here. Categories like value and commodity are historically specific to capitalism. So when you write

Quote:
But, for any individual to know what 'value' they'd created, they would have to consult collectively. That is, the 'extended Smith family' meeting, otherwise known as a Workers' Council.

it wouldn't be a Workers' Council that "measured" the value; it's the law of exchange established in the market place (something that occurs "behind the backs" of individual producers). The political significance of the category of value and the commodity is that as communists we want to get rid of them. It is value and the commodity form that enslaves the working class.

In a workers' council it would be more of a logistical affair, matching use-values* produced with those than need/want them.

*having said that, even use-value could be considered a capitalist category, though Marx seems to think that use-value, like work (known as concrete labour in capitalism) is transhistorical.

I think I might've introduced a few new things here so please let me know if I muddied things for you (though I am sure you would regardless).