Mark Jones' excellent quotes and the class struggle for shorter work TIME as a transitional measure......

Mark Jones markjones011 at tiscali.co.uk
Sun Dec 15 04:13:25 MST 2002


Mike Ballard wrote:
>
> If you return to page 171 of the GRUNDRISSE you find
> the following description of a socialist society:

But it isn't that! This is not at all what Marx is doing in the passage Mike
quotes (from p.172 of Grundrisse).  It is a disservice to his ideas to
suggest that this could possibly be Marx's theoretical anticipation of
socialism or communism.

There is often a lack of clarity in the Grundrisse in Marx's formulations
and the development of his ideas. But when he speaks here of a communal
society, it is actually _capitalism_ he is referring to. This is implicit in
the logic and thrust of his argument, which however he further confuses
presentationally by using examples drawn not only from capitalism but from
precapitalist communal forms of production, from early pastoral and early
settled farming.

On the basis of this quotation alone, it may seem hard to be sure, but this
elliptical approach is characteristic of the Grundrisse as a whole which, as
I say, is not a work prepared or intended for publication but is merely work
in progress, the direct and immediate flow of Marx's thoughts and
reflections during which he constantly re-examined the same themes from
different angles. It is a whole iterative process in the course of which
Marx only belatedly arrives at the conclusions that the proper
starting-point for his theoretical (and didactic) exegesis of capitalism is
not "production" but "the commodity".

The confusion arises as the result of a continuing lack of conceptual tools,
which Marx is only here elaborating for the first time. Thus, in this
passage as in much of the Grundrisse, he uses the term 'exchange-value' and
to mean both 'value' and 'exchange-values' meaning 'commodities'. This dual
use is a  form which he later abandons (at the end of Grundrisse he begins
to speak only of 'value'.) In Capital Vol I he makes a clear distinction
between exchange-values and values, and this is a profound methodological
step which has not yet been fully made in the Grundrisse. But only when he
has clearly differentiated value as both a logical and a real historical
abstraction, from the particular exchange-value of particular commodities,
does Marx finally clarify the crucial differences between capitalist
commodity production and simple commodity production. In this section from
the Grundrisse, he is still only groping for these sharp conceptual
discriminations.

Precapitalist communalism, so-called "primitive communism", did prefigure
social forms which actually can only happen far in the future and by means
of the prior and immense, all-round development of its antithesis, namely,
commodity-producing society. But this is not what interests Marx here. The
whole thrust of the discussion in these pages is about identifying the
difference between capitalism and its precursors.

Wwhat is central for Marx, and crucial for us, is not vague prefigurings of
possible alternative futures, but the concrete analysis of capitalist
society, and the emergence of the capitalist mode of production from its
concrete historical predecessor, the epoch of simple commodity production.
What we are doing here is eavesdropping on Marx's thought process in one of
the first and still tentative attempts not only by Marx but by _anyone_ to
grasp the emergence of industrial capitalism from the womb of artisanal and
rural commodity production. We should therefore not to be misled by his talk
of 'economy of time'. Here, too, Marx is specifically and ONLY referring to
the capitalist labour process and the specifically (and historically
unprecedented) capitalist division of labour, the division of the economy
into many sectors, many branches of industry, each with qualitatively
different forms of labour and very different organic compositions of
capital.

A constant theme throughout Grundrisse is precisely Marx's bitter and
devastating criticism of the idea that there can ever be a 'direct'
commensuration (comparison) between labour-times, and his central conclusion
is that any form of social production which embodies a highly developed
division of labour is going to have to have some mechanism such as exchange,
money and markets to make the commensuration between different kinds of
labour, because it can never be done directly. This applies a fortiori to
any postcapitalist, communist future based on still-mode advanced and
specialised means of production, sciences and technologies than are
available even to capitalism. Marx is scathing in his attack on all schemes
for the 'direct measurement and comparison' between different kinds of
labour, which he constantly derides as delusions, preposterous etc.

Thus when Marx says:

>  "Instead of a
> division of labour, such as is necessarily created
> with the exchange of values, there would take place an
> organization of labour whose consequence would be the
> participation of the individual in communal
> consumption."

He is specifically NOT comparing capitalism with the future communist
society. He IS comparing precapitalist divisions of labour based on the
artisanal production of individual producers, with what he here calls "the
participation of the individual in the communal world of products". It's the
use of the word "communal" which causes the confusion, but what he is
talking about--the comparison he is making--is between the world of
individual artisanal producers who sell their immediate products on the
market, on the one hand, and factory labour, on the other. In the factory
the mass of workers co-operate together in a "communal" labour process,
working with large-scale machinery and they do not sell their immediate
product to their neighbour, the next person down the assembly-line. That is
what he is talking about. This is the only logical way to read the passage,
because it simply makes no logical or theoretical sense as an anticipation
of a communist futureworld where 'labour is directly commensurated'. Marx's
subject here is the historical emergence of a mass waged proletariat, of a
labour-market for undifferentiated labour-power sold as a commodity, ie for
wages.

To see just how down on such schemes as direct-labour-time measurement Marx
was, look at his scathing dismissal of the 'chitmen' only a few pages
earlier (and passim!). Boy, was he down on those time-chitters:

"The first basic illusion of the time-chitters consists in this, that by
annulling the nominal difference between real value and market value,
between exchange value and price -- that is, by expressing value in units of
labour time itself instead of in a given objectification of labour time, say
gold and silver -- that in so doing they also remove the real difference and
contradiction between price and value. Given this illusory assumption it is
self-evident that the mere introduction of the time-chit does away with all
crises, all faults of bourgeois production. The money price of commodities =
their real value; demand = supply; production = consumption; money is
simultaneously abolished and preserved; the labour time of which the
commodity is the product, which is materialized in the commodity, would need
only to be measured in order to create a corresponding mirror-image in the
form of a value-symbol, money, time-chits. In this way every commodity would
be directly transformed into money; and gold and silver, for their part,
would be demoted to the rank of all other commodities. " (p140)

Labour time, Marx argues, as the measure of value exists only as an ideal,
and it cannot serve as the matter of price-comparisons. Time-chits (ie, the
'direct calculation of labour-time') would inevitably either become real
money, or disappear as being worthless:

"The time-chit, representing average labour time, would never correspond to
or be convertible into actual labour time; i.e. the amount of labour time
objectified in a commodity would never command a quantity of labour time
equal to itself, and vice versa, but would command, rather, either more or
less, just as at present every oscillation of market values expresses itself
in a rise or fall of the gold or silver prices of commodities.

The constant depreciation of commodities -- over longer periods -- in
relation to time-chits, which we mentioned earlier, arises out of the law of
the rising productivity of labour time, out of the disturbances within
relative value itself which are created by its own inherent principle,
namely labour time. This inconvertibility of the time-chits which we are now
discussing is nothing more than another expression for the inconvertibility
between real value and market value, between exchange value and price."
(p139)

If the quotation on p.172, was seriously meant to be Marx's commitment to a
future communist utopia where labour-time is 'directly' commensurated, then
it is a mistaken argument, one that falls under the hammer of Marx's own
devastating criticism of all such illusions. In fact Marx is here comparing
precapitalist modes of production with capitalism--and nothing else.

Mark Jones


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