But this interpretation seems to me too farfetched. I think it is necessary to add a certain qualification to the formula that social equation of labour occurs in any social form of production. I think that in the ancient family, for instance, where the labour was divided between man and woman and was tied to the representative of each sex, where the change from male labour to female did not exist and was even forbidden, the process of social equation of labour could not take place, even in embryonic form.
Further, in social organisations which were based on extreme inequality of the various social strata e. Even the concept of labour as such, as social function, could not be acquired in this kind of society. If we then leave aside social organisation which was based on extreme inequality of the sexes or of individual groups, and turn to a large community with division of labour, e.
It becomes all the more necessary in a large socialist community. But this process of the equation of labour in an organised community differs essentially from the process which occurs in commodity production. Let us actually imagine some socialist community where labour is distributed among the members of the society. A determined social organ equates the labour of different kinds and of different individuals, since without this organ there could be no economic planning.
But in a community of this kind the process of equation of labour is secondary and only complementary to the process of socialisation and division of labour. Labour is primarily social and divided. The characteristic of socially equalised labour belongs here as derivative or supplementary.
The main characteristic of labour is its social and divided aspect and its socially equated aspect is an additional feature. I may take this opportunity to say that for the sake of clarity I would find it useful to distinguish between three concepts of equal labour:. The physiological homogeneity of the various modes of labour existed in all historical epochs, and the possibility that individuals may change over from one occupation to another is the prerequisite for any social division of labour. Socially equated labour is characteristic for all systems with the social division of labour, that is not only for commodity production, but, for instance, for a socialist community.
Finally the third concept of labour, as abstract universal, is characteristic only for commodity production. We will come onto this concept. So far we have only discussed the second concept of labour as socially equated and divided. Let us take a look at the changes which will take place in the organisation of labour in our community, if we imagine it not in the form of an organised whole, but in the form of a combination of individual production units of private commodity producers, that is, in the form of commodity production.
In commodity production we also find the social characteristics of labour, specified above, which we observed earlier in an organised community. Here too we will find social labour, divided labour and socially equated labour; but all these socialisation processes, processes of equation and division of labour, occur in a totally different form. The interrelation between the three characteristics is now completely different, primarily because in commodity production the direct social organisation of labour is missing, and labour is not directly social.
In commodity production, the labour of an individual, a single commodity producer, is not directly regulated by the society, and in itself, in its concrete form, it does not yet belong to social production. Labour only becomes social in commodity production when it assumes the characteristic of socially equated labour; the labour of every commodity producer only becomes social by virtue of the fact that his product is assimilated with the products of all the other commodity producers, and the labour of a specific individual is thus assimilated with the labour of all the other members of the society and all the others kinds of labour.
There is no other characteristic for the definition of the social character of labour in commodity production. There is no previously conceived plan for the socialisation of the division of labour, and the only indication that the labour of a particular individual is included within the social system of production is the exchange of the product of a specific labour for any other product. So in comparison with the socialist community, the characteristics of social labour and of equated labour have exchanged roles in commodity production. Previously, the characteristic labour as equal or equated was the result of the secondary process, of the derived act of a social organ, which socialised and distributed labour.
Three Essays on Marx’s Value Theory
Now labour only becomes social in the form in which it is equated with all other kinds of labour, and becomes thus socially equated labour. And so in commodity production the emphasis of the social characteristic of labour shifts from the attribute of socialised labour to that of equal or socially equated labour, which only becomes socially equalised labour through the equation of the products of labour. The concept of the equality of labour plays an important role in Marxian value theory precisely because in commodity production labour becomes social only in its quality of being equal labour.
Like the characteristic of social labour the characteristic of divided labour also follows from the equality of labour in commodity production. The division of labour in commodity production does not consist in its conscious distribution corresponding to determined, previously expressed needs, but is regulated by the principle of the equal advantage of production.
The division of labour between individual branches of production takes place in such a way that in all branches of production, the commodity producers receive an equal sum of value through expenditure of an equal quantity of labour. We established the three characteristics of labour as being social labour, socially equated labour and divided labour. All these characteristics also appertain to labour in a socialist society, but completely change their character and their interrelationship as compared with commodity production.
The three characteristics of labour which we listed here are the basis from which the three aspects of value develop. Marx considers value as the unity of the form of value, the substance of value and the magnitude of value. The unity of the form, substance and magnitude of value reflects the unity of labour as social, socially equated and quantitatively divided.
The threefold character of labour, which we have suggested, helps us to explain the relationship which exists in the Marxian system between form, substance, and magnitude of value. Secondly, with regard to that which forms the ground-work for the quantitative determination of value, namely, the duration of that expenditure or the quantity of labour, it is quite clear that there is a palpable difference between its quantity and quality.
In the three points quoted, Marx indicates that we can observe the three characteristics of labour, social, equal and quantitatively divided, not only in commodity production, but also in other forms of production. In these three points Marx already speaks of the substance, the magnitude and the form of value. In the second edition the comments referring to the substance, magnitude and form of value are apparently omitted by Marx. In reality they were only deferred. We have now reached the conclusion that equal labour can mean firstly physiologically equal labour, which we have only briefly considered; secondly it can signify socially equated labour, and this kind of labour exists not only in commodity production, but also, let us say in a socialist community or another large community which is based on the social division of labour; and finally there is abstract universal labour, that is, socially equated labour in the specific form appropriate to commodity production, labour which becomes social and divided only by the process of social equation.
Only this socially equated labour can be described as abstract or abstract-universal. Marx does not draw any absolutely clear distinction it is true, but we should point out that he does distinguish three terms: human labour, equal and abstract universal labour. I would not maintain that these three terms coincide with those which we characterised earlier as physiologically equal labour, socially equalised and abstract labour, but there are some points of contact nevertheless.
In dealing with the problem of abstract labour, we cannot therefore stop at the preliminary characteristic of labour as physiologically equal, nor the characteristic of labour as socially equated. We have to make the transition from both these characteristics to a third, and investigate that specific form of equated labour which is peculiar to commodity production, that is, the system of the social division of labour based on exchange.
Consequently, not only are the followers of the physiological conception of abstract labour mistaken in our opinion, but also those comrades who understand abstract labour in general to mean socially equated labour independent of the specific social form in which this equation occurs. We must add, that the two concepts of labour, physiologically equated and socially equated, are frequently confused, and not distinguished from one another sufficiently clearly.
The concept of abstract universal labour naturally implies the physiological equality and the social equation of labour, but apart from these it also contains the social equation of labour in the quite specific form which it takes in commodity production. We could give many quotations from Marx himself to show how he is crudely misconstrued by the followers of the physiological conception of abstract labour.
I should like to read just one very characteristic quotation here. It is obvious here that Marx is contrasting abstract labour with abstract universal labour. The abstract universal labour which is embodied in value is the labour which is specifically appropriate to commodity production. We now reach the conclusion: that if we analyse the problem of the relation between labour and value from the standpoint of the dialectical method as well as the analytical, then we must take the concept of labour as the starting point and develop the concept of value from it.
If we follow the analytical method, start out from value and ask ourselves what lies beneath this concept, we can certainly say that physiologically equal labour and socially equated labour are concealed beneath the value of products. But neither answer will be adequate, since there is no way to make the transition from physiologically equal labour or from socially equated labour to value.
In order to arrive at the concept of value dialectically from the concept of labour, we must also include in the concept of labour those features which characterise the social organisation of labour in commodity production and necessitate the appearance of value as the particular social form of the product of labour. Consequently this concept of abstract universal labour must be far richer than both the concept of the physiological equality of labour and the concept of the social equation of labour in general.
We moved from physiologically equal labour to socially equated labour, and from socially equated to abstract universal labour. We enriched our definition of labour by new characteristics in the three stages of our investigation and only when we moved on to the third stage and defined labour as abstract universal, from which the category of value must necessarily follow, was it possible for us to move from labour to value. Abstract labour is the designation for that part of the total social labour which was equalised in the process of social division of labour through the equation of the products of labour on the market.
I think it is necessary to add that the social nature of abstract labour is not limited by the fact that the concept of value necessarily follows from this concept. As I have already outlined in my book, the concept of abstract labour leads unconditionally to the concept of money also, and from the Marxian standpoint that is entirely consistent.
In reality we defined abstract labour as labour which was made equal through the all round equation of all the products of labour, but the equation of all the products of labour is not possible except through the assimilation of each one of them with a universal equivalent.
Consequently the product of abstract labour has the ability to be assimilated with all the other products only in the form that it appears as universal equivalent or can potentially be exchanged for a universal equivalent. There Marx approaches the study of abstract labour as follows. Critique p. As we can see, Marx links the category of abstract labour inseparably with the concept of the universal equivalent, or money. We therefore have to carry the social characterisation of abstract labour still further and deeper, and not confine ourselves to the assimilation of labour through the equation of its products.
We must add that labour becomes abstract through being assimilated with a particular form of labour, or through the assimilation of its product with a universal equivalent, which was therefore regarded by Marx as the objectification or materialisation of abstract labour. From this standpoint, an interesting parallel between Marx and Hegel opens up here. The distinction between the two can be reduced to the fact that the concrete universal does not exclude the differences between the objects which are included within this universal aspect, while the abstract universal excludes such differences.
In order to understand why Marx describes the equated labour of commodity producers as the abstract universal, we have to compare the process of equation of labour in a socialist community with the process of equation of labour in commodity production. We will notice the following distinction. Let us assume that some organ compares the various kinds of labour one with another in a socialist community. What happens here? This organ takes all these kinds of labour in their concrete useful form, since it links them in precisely this form, but it abstracts one of their aspects and says that these kinds of labour are equal to each other in the given circumstances.
In this case the equality appears as a characteristic of these concrete kinds of labour, as a characteristic which was abstracted from these forms; but this universal category of equality does not destroy their concrete difference, which manifests itself as useful labour. In commodity production comparison of this kind is impossible, since there is no organ which consciously equates all these kinds of labour. The labour of a spinner and that of a weaver cannot be equated, so long as they are concrete useful labour.
Here there is a paragraph which reads:. This inversion, by which the sensibly-concrete counts only as the form of appearance of the abstractly general and not, on the contrary, the abstractly general as property of the concrete, characterises the expression of value. At the same time, it makes understanding it difficult.
To decipher this statement by Marx, we must say that in commodity production the abstract universal really appears not as characteristic or attribute of the concrete, the sensuous-real i. The concrete kinds of labour are therefore not assimilated one with another through abstraction of some universal characteristics, but through comparison and equation of each of these kinds with a particular determined concrete kind which serves as phenomenal form of universal labour.
The particular interest is expressed as the general interest and the general as the dominant German Ideology, I. Collected Works Vol. To conclude the problem of abstract labour, I must take up two criticisms, which have been made against me, in the article by Daschkowski  , and by various other comrades. The first criticism was that I apparently seek to substitute for abstract labour the process of abstraction from the concrete characteristic attributes of labour, that is, that I seek to replace abstract labour with the social form of the organisation of labour.
Admittedly, a substitution of this kind, if it had really occurred, would deviate from Marxist theory. We could also explain why a product of labour assumes the form of a commodity which possesses a value. But we would not know why this product assumes this given quantitatively determined value in particular. In order to explain value as the unity of the form of value, the substance of value and the magnitude of value, we have to start out from abstract labour, which is not only social, and socially equated but also quantitatively divided.
One can find formulations in Marx himself, which, if one chose, would be sufficient reason to say that Marx substituted the social form of labour for labour itself. Since it would be tedious to refer to the various points in Marx, I should just like to mention one passage which, if written by anyone but Marx, would sound heretical. In the same place Marx says in a footnote that value is the social form of wealth. If one combines these two statements, then instead of the thesis that labour creates value, we have the thesis that the social form of labour produces the social form of wealth.
Some critic would well say that Marx replaces labour completely with the social form of labour: which Marx obviously did not intend. I should now like to turn to the second criticism. It has been said that my explanations give rise to the impression that abstract labour is only produced in the act of exchange. This touches on the profound and critical problem of the relations between production and exchange. How can we resolve this difficulty? On the one hand value and abstract labour must already exist in the process of production, and on the other hand Marx says in dozens of places that the process of exchange is the precondition for abstract labour.
Allow me to quote a few examples. I should like to come back to Franklin. This is not a question of an isolated comment by Marx. Quite the contrary: whenever, by an exchange we equate as values our different products, by that very act, we also equate as human labour, the different kinds of labour expended upon them.
In the second edition Marx altered the sense of this sentence completely, fearing that he would be understood to mean that we consciously assimilate our labour as abstract labour in advance, and he emphasised the aspect that the equation of labour as abstract labour only occurs through the exchange of the products of labour. This is a significant change between the first edition and the second. He corrected the text subsequently for the French edition of , and wrote that he was making corrections which he was not able to make in the second German edition.
Capital I p. Kapital p. This insertion is highly indicative and shows clearly how far removed Marx was from the physiological conception of abstract labour. How can we reconcile these observations by Marx, of which there are dozens, with the basic thesis that value is created in production? This should not be too difficult. The point is that the comrades who discussed the problem of the relationship between exchange and production did not in my view distinguish sufficiently clearly between the two concepts of exchange.
We have to distinguish exchange as social form of the reproduction process from exchange as a particular phase of this reproduction process, which alternates with the phase of direct production. At first glance, exchange seems to be a separate phase in the process of reproduction. We can see that a process first takes place in direct production and is then followed by the phase of exchange. Here, exchange is separate from production, and counterposed to it. But exchange is not only a separate phase in the process of reproduction, it stamps the whole process of reproduction with its specific mark and represents a particular social form of the social process of production.
Production based on private exchange: Marx frequently characterised commodity production with these words. Here too we find a statement which explains why Marx regarded exchange as a social form of labour:. Let us ask now in exactly what form the labourer acquires his means of subsistence in commodity production. We repeatedly find the following answer to this question in Marx: In commodity production the only form of appropriation of products is the form of their alienation and, because the form of the appropriation of products is the form of social labour, so alienation, exchange, is a determined form of social labour which characterises commodity production.
When Marx constantly reiterates that abstract labour only results from exchange, he means that it is the result of a given social form of the production process. Labour only takes the form of abstract labour, and the products of labour the form of values, to the extent that the production process assumes the social form of commodity production, i.
Thus exchange is the form of the whole production process, or the form of social labour. As soon as exchange really became dominant form of the production process, it also stamped its mark on the phase of direct production. In other words, since today is not the first day of production, since a person produces after he has entered into the act of exchange, and before it also, the process of direct production also assumes determined social characteristics, which correspond to the organisation of commodity production based on exchange. Even when the commodity producer is still in his workshop and has not yet entered into a relationship of exchange with other members of the society, he already feels the pressure of all those people who enter the market as his customers, competitors or people who buy from his competitors, and ultimately pressure from all the members of the society.
This link through production and these production relations, which are directly regulated in exchange, continue to be effective even after the specific concrete acts of exchange have ceased. They stamp a clear social mark both on the individual and on his labour and the product of his labour. Already in the very process of direct production itself the producer appears as producer of commodities, his labour assumes the character of abstract labour and the product assumes the character of value. Here it is necessary to guard against a mistake which is made by many comrades. Many think that because the process of direct production already has a particular social characteristic, the products of labour, and labour in the phase of direct production, must also possess precisely these social characteristics which they possess in the phase of exchange.
Such an assumption is totally false, even though both phases production and exchange are closely connected to each other, nevertheless the phase of production does not become the phase of exchange. There is not only a certain similarity between the two phases, there is still a certain distinction too. In other words, on the one hand, we recognise that from the moment when exchange becomes the dominant form of social labour, and people produce specifically for exchange, that is in the phase of direct production, the character of products of labour can already be regarded as values.
The same is also true of labour. We know that commodity owners in their acts of production take the state of the market and of demand into account during the process of direct production, and from the start produce exclusively in order to transform their product into money and thus also transform their private and concrete labour into social and abstract labour.
But this inclusion of the labour of the individual in the labour mechanism of the whole society is only preliminary and tentative. Marx argues there is no evidence that the profit accruing to capitalist owners is quantitatively connected to the "productive contribution" of the capital they own.
In practice, within the capitalist firm, no standard procedure exists for measuring such a "productive contribution" and for distributing the residual income accordingly. In Thurow's theory, profit is mainly just "something that happens" when costs are deducted from sales, or else a justly deserved income. For Marx, increasing profits is, at least in the longer term, the "bottom line" of business behaviour: the quest for obtaining extra surplus-value, and the incomes obtained from it, are what guides capitalist development in modern language, "creating maximum shareholder value".
That quest, Marx notes, always involves a power relationship between different social classes and nations, inasmuch as attempts are made to force other people to pay for costs as much as possible, while maximising one's own entitlement or claims to income from economic activity. The clash of economic interests that invariably results, implies that the battle for surplus value will always involve an irreducible moral dimension; the whole process rests on complex system of negotiations, dealing and bargaining in which reasons for claims to wealth are asserted, usually within a legal framework and sometimes through wars.
Underneath it all, Marx argues, was an exploitative relationship. That was the main reason why, Marx argues, the real sources of surplus-value were shrouded or obscured by ideology , and why Marx thought that political economy merited a critique. Quite simply, economics proved unable to theorise capitalism as a social system , at least not without moral biases intruding in the very definition of its conceptual distinctions.
Hence, even the most simple economic concepts were often riddled with contradictions. But market trade could function fine, even if the theory of markets was false; all that was required was an agreed and legally enforceable accounting system. On this point, Marx probably would have agreed with Austrian School economics — no knowledge of "markets in general" is required to participate in markets. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of The Theory of Capitalist Development. Cambridge Journal of Economics. International Journal of Political Economy. Related topics. Evolutionary economics Classical economics Marxism Marxist sociology Neoclassical economics Perspectives on capitalism Political economy Schools of economic thought Socialist economics Critiques of capitalism.
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