Re: real and virtual worlds

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Tue Jan 13 2004 - 13:40:36 PST

Hi Victor,

Paul's excellent paper got me a bit fired up, reminding me of my
proletarian and not just academic roots. Please forgive the somewhat
sharper tone in my responses below - I just want to get to the core of the
matter, labor versus capital.

At 02:10 PM 1/13/04 +0200, you wrote:
>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 ...".
> If labour was truly abstract, i.e. measurable solely by minimal
>conditions for its reproduction (which under conditions of de-skilling would
>mean that all labor has more or less the same reproduction cost) and the
>socially necessary labor time for producing use value,

In my opinion, the phrase "if labour was truly abstract" does not reflect
Marx's concept of abstract labor. Labor cannot be "truly abstract" because
at the same time it must also be concrete. The abstract labor contained in
a product refers to a social relationship that humans have learned and
agreed to exchange, especially under the capitalist mode of production: the
socially necessary labor time required to make that kind of product. All
exchangeable products contain abstract labor because humans calculate and
measure the average labor time required to make them, and use this
measurement as a basis for determining exchange value. I suggest that
there is no change whatsoever from Marx's time in the ability of humans to
measure socially necessary labor time in producing products in our modern
world, and that Marx's version of the labor theory of value holds up very
well to scrutiny.

>then we would expect
>that wage and salary scales would be a simple matter of determining a
>minimal subsistence budget and then marketing jobs to the lowest bidders -
>whatever the particular position or positions to be filled.

This is what we should expect, and what we all see every day. It is the
historic power of the working classes to organize unions and demand
governments to enforce decent living standards that makes the difference -
a struggle for human dignity that is only partially successful in only some
places (for the "high proletariat", what I sometimes call the "upper
working class," and what others have called the labor aristocracy). As we
all know all too well a look around the world reveals at least a third or
more of the world population living in intolerable poverty, on worse than
minimal subsistence budgets. In my opinion this is capitalism and the law
of value at work.

> Those hired
>would then be paid a flat rate in accordance with the amount of time they
>take to produce a standardized unit of use value (market value as measured
>by that universal commodity we call money).

The term "standardized unit of use value" is not the market value of a
commodity. Perhaps you meant to say exchange value.

> I don't think that it is really
>necessary to prove that this relation has undergone considerable
>modifications in the last 100 years!

In my opinion, it is. Marxists argue that this essential relationship
between labor and value has not changed.

> Modern wage and salary scales are
>considerably biased by considerations that have nothing to do with either
>subsistence or with the labor time invested to produce standardized units of
>use value;

It appears that you did mean to say "standardized units of use value"
above; you've used this phrase again. I don't know what a standardized
unit of use value is. Speaking roughly, money is the standardized unit of
exchange value. But I am not familiar with such a concept for use values.

>the rise of a large, and well-organized population of working
>professionals, the formation of powerful labor organizations of high skilled
>workers and technicians, and the complementary avoidance of local class
>struggle by exporting businesses and industrial operations to the third
>world (formation of a priveledged working class in the metropolis).

These are listed as considerations for how wages and salaries are
determined that have nothing to do with subsistence or labor time, but they
could also be seen as examples where issues of subsistence and labor time
(including schooling in the case of the highly skilled) are precisely the

> I do not, by the way, argue that Marx's law of value (the labor theory
>of value), while correct in the 19th Century, has become invalid in our
>modern era is all wrong or that it may not become a more salient feature of
>labour value at some future time. When we examine global political
>economies Marx's law of value becomes a much more powerful tool for
>explanation than it is for that of the metropolis.

Marx's law of value, where it is invalid, needs to be replaced by
something. What?

>Outscourcing, imported
>foreign labor, and exportation of industry into the third world all reflect
>the attraction of the cheapness of truly abstract labor for capitalist

Here is that term "truly abstract labor" again, used in a way Marx never did.

>Also, as I mentioned earlier some of the effects of
>socialization of labour described by Paul and illustrated by your last
>message may serve capital as a means for "democratizing" what were once high
>grade jobs particular to the metropolis and reducing them to the level of
>abstract labour - not de-skilling but with very similar effect - thereby
>countering the diversification of the proletariat discussed in the message
>you quote.

Yes, many of your observations on the democratization of labor are very

As I see it, the way you use the phrase "reducing [jobs] to the level of
abstract labor" is another unusual use of this Marxist term.

> Still, as I wrote to Paul, I'm still not convinced that Lean
>Production, CMM, AQ and so on have effectively ended the diversification of
>the proletariat into different conflicting sub-classes.

True, it can't. Lean Production and all these other methods of organizing
labor will only be used to continue to divide and conquer, exploit and
profiteer. The essential point Paul makes is that the socialization
process these methods represent also creates capitalism's gravedigger, a
socialized proletariat.

> His writing on this
>issue is far from decisive. What he has shown is that cookie-cutting
>sub-professionalism has great potential for combining increased proletarian
>control of productive processes, higher socialization of work, and more
>democratization of skills to the point of sending the proletarian "middle
>classes" back to the "black hole" of undifferentiated labor.

Yes, but also the increased socialization raises workers to new levels of
skill - social skills, and general technical skills.

The term "undifferentiated labor" sounds like way you use the term
"abstract labor." When one is laboring, it is neither abstract nor
undifferentiated. It is when we measure the socially necessary labor one
has put into a product that the labor becomes abstract and undifferentiated.

> In this vein
>check out this article on surveillance at the workplace: "The discipline of
>teams: the control of team-based industrial work through electronic and peer
>surveillance".(Special Issue: Critical Perspectives on Organizational
>Control) Administrative Science Quarterly, June, 1998, by Graham Sewell

Thank you, I will take a look.

> In conclusion, if the socialization of labour (including the
>surveillance issue) envisioned by Adler is in fact the future of all
>production, then it would seem to me that the proletarian revolution will
>eventually evolve towards a socialist solution.

Thank you. On this we agree, although I must add the socialization process
in the working classes also and predominately takes forms such as
unionization, politicization, social activism, etc., and not just
participating in lean production projects or improved teaming
methods. Paul's paper is impressive because it points so well to the
socialization process under capitalism, an historic process that is
creating a world working class capable of organizing a much more rational
and socially just place for all humans to live as we should.

(Hops down from soap box),
- Steve

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