Re: real and virtual worlds

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Fri Jan 09 2004 - 15:06:53 PST

Abstract labor is not only the exhange value of labor, but also a
description of the conscious appreciation of labor in capitalist economies.
I think Marx puts this most succinctly in his introduction to Grundrisse:

"It was an immense step forward for Adam Smith to throw out every limiting
specification of wealth-creating activity-not only manufacturing, or
commercial or agricultural labour, but one as well as the others, labour in
general. With the abstract universality of wealth-creating activity we now
have the universality of the object defined as wealth, the product as such
or again labour as such, but labour as past, objectified labour.... Now, it
might seem that all that had been achieved thereby was to discover the
abstract expression for the simplest and most ancient relation in which
human beings-in whatever form of society-play the role of producers. This is
correct in one respect. Not in another. Indifference towards any specific
kind of labour presupposes a very developed totality of real kinds of
labour, of which no single one is any longer predominant. As a rule, the
most general abstractions arise only in the midst of the richest possible
concrete development, where one thing appears as common to many, to all.
Then it ceases to be thinkable in a particular form alone. On the other
side, this abstraction of labour as such is not merely the mental product of
a concrete totality of labours. Indifference towards specific labours
corresponds to a form of society in which individuals can with ease transfer
from one labour to another, and where the specific kind is a matter of
chance for them, hence of indifference. Not only the category, labour, but
labour in reality has here become the means of creating wealth in general,
and has ceased to be organically linked with particular individuals in any
specific form. Such a state of affairs is at its most developed in the most
modern form of existence of bourgeois society-in the United States. Here,
then, for the first time, the point of departure of modern economics, namely
the abstraction of the category 'labour', 'labour as such', labour pure and
simple, becomes true in practice. The simplest abstraction, then, which
modern economics places at the head of its discussions, and which expresses
an immeasurably ancient relation valid in all forms of society, nevertheless
achieves practical truth as an abstraction only as a category of the most
modern society. One could say that this indifference towards particular
kinds of labour, which is a historic product in the United States, appears
e.g. among the Russians as a spontaneous inclination. But there is a devil
of a difference between barbarians who are fit by nature to be used for
anything, and civilized people who apply themselves to everything. And then
in practice the Russian indifference to the specific character of labour
corresponds to being embedded by tradition within a very specific kind of
labour, from which only external influences can jar them loose. Marx, Karl
1857 Outline of the Critique of Political Economy (Grundrisse) 1.
Production, Consumption, Distribution, Exchange (Circulation (3) The Method
of Political Economy

The only additional information to be added to this is the observation that
the growing importance of information management has compromised
considerably the viability of the concept of abstract labor as regards human
work. So long as labor involves minimal training and experience and is
mostly about the activities of the productive machine/machine operator
combination, the measurement of labor can be expressed as a function of
easily measured units of production such as energy, number of useful items
produced, or both of these relative to time and space, the abstract concept
of labor is a relatively accurate basis for measuring labor value. This
changes when labor becomes mostly information acquisition and management.
"How can one compare the value of the labor of a punch press and its
operator who put out so many worked pieces an hour at such and such a cost
in energy and materiel with that of a machinist whose bright idea how to
solve a difficult and costly probelm will increase that punch-press and its
operator's work by 20, 50, 100%? The problem here is that information
acquisition and management involves activity -work - that is nearly
impossible to measure surely, and whose measured relation to other forms of
work; energy expenditure and transformation (ordering) of raw materials is
close to chaotic.

This, by the way, is not only a problem for Marx's critique of capitalist
political economy, but also the accurate measure of the value of labor in
any economy.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Steve Gabosch" <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, January 09, 2004 11:56 AM
Subject: Re: real and virtual worlds

> Hi Victor, glad you wrote. No problem at all about taking time.
> Speaking of time - labor time in this case - before I comment on some of
> your remarks, I need to understand more clearly what you are saying about
> abstract labor, as in " ... it's becoming ever more difficult to measure
> labor abstractly ..." and " ... The basic fact [is] that labor can no
> longer be measured in abstraction ...". Are you saying that abstract
> (exchange value) is no longer the basis of the current mode of production
> and exchange of today's world; that abstract labor (socially necessary
> labor time) is no longer the basis for exchanging commodities; and (by
> implication) that Marx's law of value (the labor theory of value), while
> correct in the 19th Century, has become invalid in our modern era?
> Thanks,
> - Steve
> At 12:10 PM 1/7/04 +0200, you wrote:
> >Steve,
> >Sorry for the delay, but here's my response anyway: see below.
> >
> >Regards,
> >Victor
> <snip>

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