Thursday, December 4, 2014

Notes on Chris O'Kane's "Fetishism and Social Domination in Marx, Lukacs, Adorno and Lefebvre", Part 2

Good quote in letter to Kugelmann.
“It is self-evident that this necessity of the distribution of social labour in specific proportions is certainly not abolished by the specific form of social production; it can only change its form of manifestation. Natural laws cannot be abolished at all. The only thing that can change, under historically differing conditions, is the form in which those laws assert themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself in a state of society in which the interconnection of social labour expresses itself as the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange-value of these products.127”

Still think that since O’Kane follows Heinrich in misunderstanding the structure of Marx’s work (it is a Phenomenology pace Pepperell), and so is going to read each step in Chapter 1 incorrectly as Marx’s contradictory views, rather than as a working up of the contradictory moments.

[Rumination provoked by page 50
It occurs to me that the reason that human labor is able to be abstract, and thus to produce value, is that human labor in the abstract becomes the only thing in common between unlike use-values.  Their ability to be abstractly commensurate relies on the ability to abstract human labor temporally into a purely quantitative form.  Machines cannot do this because machines as such are inherently concrete, use-value producing.  They can only pass on the abstract human labor already embodied in them.  Only human labor can exist as labor power and as abstract labor.  There is no such thing as abstract machine activity.  Of course, there is also the later point that the wage-form conceals that the worker never receives the total of their labor-time back in the wage, but only a part of the time.  Machines cannot be subjected to the wage-form, and again, as such can only be bought more or less at their value and used as such.  There is no way to exploit a machine, to make it work for more than it materially requires to keep going.]

“Abstract labour is not generated by concrete production nor is this abstraction carried out conceptually prior to the act of exchange. Rather, it is an abstraction that stems from atomised production and is realised in exchange.”

As usual, I feel like this misses the fact that labor power is always-already exchanged prior to production.  That the first use-value of which Marx speaks is the one that walks itself to the market: labor power.  Labor never reaches production without already having been commodified.  Marx can only take this up later once he enters production, but that only means that this section cannot be read as finished.  Rather, it exists to some extent in the way that the first three chapters of the Phenomenology function, as prior to self-consciousness.  It is with wage-labor and entering the abode of production that we enter into the realm of self-consciousness.  Prior to that, we are looking at mere Consciousness.

The sentence itself has an odd aspect to it: “it is an abstraction that stems from atomized production…”  What is this “stems from”?  And then “is realized in exchange” does not mean that is it produced in exchange. From what I can see, abstract labour is not generated anywhere in this schema, it “stems from” whatever that means, and then is realized, though how something that does not exist can be realized is a question. 

There is no doubt that exchange determines the validity of the labor time expended in production, that is, whether or not and to what extent the labor power expended qua labor time is socially necessary.  Whether or not this is what constitutes labor as abstract is a different question.  I think that for both Postone and Pepperell, this is not the case.  Postone might even argue that this is once against a theory of value operating at the level of exchange relations, i.e. distribution, rather than in production relations.

[Rumination provoked by this section in general
If I was going to level a critique of the money theory of value interpretation of Marx, I guess it would start with the idea that their analysis misses the presumption of Marx’s critique: that there is a use-value that walks itself to the market, which is already a commodity, which is already bought by the user and sold by the owner, but the sale of which does not result in any surplus-value for its owner, only the buyer, which is to say, labor power.

Value as social form most certainly exists prior to the sale of the commodity which is not labor power because the commodity which is sold is the sum of previously purchased 1) means of production, 2) raw materials, 3) labor power.  Thus, the producer already has made a wager that the amount spent on those three items will be less than what the number of products can be sold for.

Now, this does introduce a loop insofar as we have something of a chicken and the egg scenario, except that, IMO the purchase of labor power, not the money form, is what is here determinate because it is the only commodity sold which does not produce a possible surplus-value for its owner.  Rather, it goes only towards the purchase of means of consumption.  Therefore, broadly speaking, neither the social form nor the value are determined in the act of exchange, but rather we see the validation or not of the social form and the actualization (realization) or not of the value.  The form and content determinations both precede the act of exchange of the commodity that results from the labor process qua valorization process and is only validated and realized through exchange, that is, the transformation of C into M'.  this is why Marx calls the book Capital and not Money or Value.  Capital is the totality.]

NEW NOTE[12/13/2014]
I think that my position is very similar to Patrick Murray, "The New Giant's Staircase" Historical Materialism 13:2, in his reading and critique of Chris Arthur's notion.

This in particular sums up the issue:
"(iii) Marx’s theory insists on the inseparability of value, whose substance is congealed  abstract labour  of  a  particular  social  type,  ‘practically  abstract’ labour (labour that is socially validated – in commodity exchange – as abstract), from money, which is value’s necessary form of appearance. (Consequently, though time is the ‘inner’ measure of abstract labour, value can be observedonly in the movements of price.) According to Marx’s theory, the qualitative and quantitative determination of value overlaps production and exchange (in keeping with the inseparability of production and exchange), so that value is ‘latent’ in the sphere of production; it can be actualised only by being sold. 54  Value and price, though bound in a causal nexus, are not related as independent to dependent variable, respectively. (iv) Arthur’s position is close to Marx’s in  that,  in  the  end,  he attributes  the  quantitative  determination  of  value – still necessarily actualised by money and exchange – to (socially necessary) abstract labour. Closer to the Eldred position is Arthur’s insistence that the value-form  itself  is  determined  exclusively  in  exchange,  independently  of labour and the sphere of production. For Arthur, value is a pure, contentless form,  which  necessarily  subsumes labour,  whereas,  for  Marx,  we  cannot abstract the value-form from a peculiar social type of labour." (pp. 72-3)

I do not necessarily agree with his explanation of the "heuristic representative-part strategy" (p. 77), elucidated further here:
"In  a  second  objection  to  Marx, Arthur  argues  that  the  provisional  nature of the early stages in a systematic-dialectical presentation keeps Marx from proving,  at  the  conceptual  level  of commodity  circulation,  that  value  must exist  as  distinct  from  exchange-value.  I  believe  that Arthur  wrongly  makes proving something at an earlier stage depend on grounding it at later stage.
Arthur seems to think that, because the reality of value can be grounded only once the concept of capital has been introduced (a point I accept), no proof of  value  can  be  offered  at  the  level  of commodity  circulation. 71 But  we  can accept the early proofs and still grant, in the context of the full presentation, that they are provisional. They may be provisional in the manner discussed above: truths  about  heuristic  representative  parts  are  superseded  by  more differentiated truths (as prices of production supersede values). Or, they may be  provisional  in  the  sense  that  the  earlier  truths incorporate  terms  that function as placeholders – as ’socially necessary’ functions in the definition
of value-producing labour – whose meanings are specified in the course of the presentation. Systematic dialectic builds truth on truth, not on a scaffold of ‘maybes’. 72" (p. 78)

My issue follows Pepperell's suggestive reading of the initial treatment of the commodity in the manner of Hegel's treatment of the first three defining concepts in the Phenomenology of Spirit.  The rationalist, empiricist and objective idealist explanations of value are given, and each is only partially true, and thus to some extent also false.  Part of this falsity is their insufficient determinacy, they are so far too abstract.  They cannot, in fact, at this point in the presentation be sufficiently concrete as other elements have to be developed.  This is why Capital forms a whole in which the starting point is justified in the end.

51 n132
“Marx uses some unfortunate physiological metaphors when describing abstract labour in later editions of Capital. But the majority of his other descriptions counter these clunky metaphors. These descriptions show that abstract labour is not a substance that is produced by the burning of calories, nor is it a purposive mental operation. As Marx states later, ‘not an atom of matter’ enters into this process of abstraction in which ‘value is realized only in exchange, i.e. in a social process.’ (Marx 2009, 105) Later, while discussing the three peculiarities of the equivalent form, Marx further clarifies the specific social character of these categories by stating that the ‘objective character as values is purely social and that this objective character only appears in ‘the social relation between commodity and commodity.’ (Marx 2009, 110) Finally, in the French edition, Marx unequivocally states that ‘[t]he reduction of various concrete private acts of labour to this abstraction of equal human labour is only carried out through exchange, which in fact equates products of different acts of labour with each other.’”

Again, see Pepperell.  Since Marx is presenting the logic of other analyses of value in the first chapter, he must of course present them “warts and all”, including their physiological dimensions.  “Spirit is bone” is very much at play here, as “value is physiological labour”.  The impoverished, unsophisticated, unliterary, scientistic reading of Marx (words one cannot use in relation to Marx’s writing ever, btw) takes postiviely what should be read dialectically, even speculatively.  A major problem of not comprehending this is that Marx’s categories are thought to be adequate at any given moment, when in fact they are necessarily incomplete at any given moment, that is, lacking in some level of concreteness, qua outcome of many determinations, and they may not represent Marx’s actual thoughts.  One has to pay close attention to the footnotes in the work because they often give crucial indicators as to whether or not Marx is having a go at some concept.

This reference to the French edition is not helpful insofar as I don’t know the context of the quote.  Like Adorno, quoting Marx out of context is risky, as it threatens to hypostatize a dynamic thought.

The whole paragraph here overlooks that the as-yet-unrealised value and thus the commodity and the labor power that went into it has to already have the form of value in order to be in the position to be realized.  The entire dynamic of potential and actual is lost, and thus the realization of value makes the value-form magically appear where it had not previously been.  That what we have is a capital circuit which is a circuit of valorization in toto, not merely at M’.

O'Kane does not make the same mistake almost everyone makes regarding the 3 peculiarities of the value-form.  His translation is much better.  Here he grasps that private labor is the form of social labor, as opposed to the normal English translations which treat social labor as the social form of private labor in capitalism.

‘private labour becomes the form of its opposite, namely labour in its immediately social form.’

“Instead, the wage form only pays proletarians enough to reproduce themselves at the bare minimal[italics mine – CDW] social average.”
Really?  Does anyone believe this is actually the case since at least the end of WWII?

So if I understand his approach, O’Kane is arguing that Marx's analysis has two separate elements: one comprehends valorization qua money theory of value (the “analysis of the socially specific manner in which capital allocates labour”), which explains the capital circuit and exploitation and the other comprehends “the way in which the collectively constituted forms of value function as the autonomous entities of personified things that invert, compel and dominate individual actions.”

However, the fetish-characteristic forms are already interior to this part and not a second, separate element.  The class relation, here poorly explicated as the relation between the capitalist class and the working class, when in fact it is the relation of labor to capital.  As always, the contingent personification of capital vis-à-vis a capitalist class is missed, so that the asymmetry of the class relation is missed.  Labor’s personification is necessary, but capital’s personification is contingent.  The class relation and the specific manner in which capitall allocates labor is already autonomous and impersonal.

For O’Kane, I assume following Heinrich, Marx is a dualist.  Or it is a side-effect of the method of presentation. According to the last para on 56, the Trinity Formula brings the two modes together.

I do agree, and this is the most important part of this thesis, that “these fetish-characteristic forms are not aspects of a mode of false consciousness but rather of the social character of capitalist labour. They pertain to the sense in which the manifestations of abstract social labour, as bearers of value, function as personified autonomous entities that dominate and compel the actions of the individuals who collectively constitute them.”

Marx Capital Vol. 1, 209 “Immanent in the commodity…”

Fetish character of the commodity is the beginning, not the final, form of the fetish.

“It is important to stress here that this fetish-characteristic form of the commodity is described as ‘the personification of things’ or as relations between personified things. This is because the personification of the fetish-character of commodities refers not to how labour is transformed into things but to Marx’s discussion of value and the value relation, which takes place in exchange in the relations between things. The fetish-character of the commodities – like the peculiarities of the equivalent form – therefore refers to properties that stick to
commodities by virtue of the process of atomised production and exchange, and through the value form, which make commodities the bearers of value.”

Something about this bothers me.  It is the part I have italicized.  It is the pushing of the value-form again into the exchange relation: "value and the value relation, which takes place in exchange in the relations between things."

Doesn't the sentence quoted and then the other version in fn 165 not indicate that the fetish character is found in the social character of labor, specifically “the special social character of labour which produces commodities and the corresponding peculiar social relation of the commodity producers.”  This would seem to undermine the idea of the value-form being in exchange.

According to p 61, not so, and yet what it would seem to indicate is that the “special social characteristics of private labour appear only within this exchange.”  That is, the special social characteristic is already there as potential to be realized, to be made actual.  Essence must appear, but this does not entail a flattening of essence to appearance, and it this latter which O’Kane, following Heinrich, does.  Therefore I disagree with assessment that “the practical activity of atomised production’s realisation in exchange is constitutive of the practical abstraction of value.”

Find that quote on page 169.  The […] always worries me.  Besides, is the emphasis on their becoming values or on acquiring a uniform social objectivity?  It is that acquisition of uniform social objectivity that is at work here.  Prior to exchange, that is, the completion or not of the capital circuit, that their value is made actual.  This is not the same as saying that they do not have the form of value.

I feel like the use of the term "producers" here is not really grasped by O’Kane.  Marx’s producers in the first couple of chapters are not per se workers, but capital.  Capitalist producer sells to valorize value, laborer sells labor as a means to consumption.

I also disagree with fn 175 that mystification qua naturalization only applies to political economists.

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