Marx on wealth and freedom

Here is Marx pointing beyond the bourgeois form of social wealth (‘value’) and to the reduction of necessary labour and the expansion of freedom (cf. Gorz’s  ‘realm of heteronomy’ and ‘realm of autonomy’).

“…when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc., created through universal exchange? The full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature as well as of humanity’s own nature? The absolute working-out of his creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the previous historic development, which makes this totality of development, i.e. the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick? Where he does not reproduce himself in one specificity, but produces his totality? Strives not to remain something he has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming? In bourgeois economics – and in the epoch of production to which it corresponds – this complete working-out of the human content appears as a complete emptying-out, this universal objectification as total alienation, and the tearing-down of all limited, one-sided aims as sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end.” (Grundrisse Ch.9)

“…the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production. Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilised man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these wants also increase. Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working-day is its basic prerequisite.” (Marx, Capital Vol.3)

Comment on abstract labour and the method of abstraction

I tried leaving this as a comment on ‘The Real Movement‘ but for some reason WordPress mangled it so here it is in full. It relates to my previous notes on Marx’s method of “rising from the abstract to the concrete.”

I agree, Heinrich’s conflation of wealth with value isn’t particularly helpful, but looking at his Introduction to capital (p.68), it may be justified:

“Whereas the various commodities in their material existence repre­sent particular use values and their value (“abstract wealth”) can only be imagined, real money is the “material being of abstract wealth” (MECW, 29:358, corrected translation).”

He seems to be quoting Marx (“abstract wealth”) and interpreting it as “value” (seems fair enough to me), of which money is the material form or “being”. From this, abstract labour can be said to be the substance of (abstract) wealth or value.

On another of your points, you say:

“By inventing an additional category distinct from value, called abstract labor, Heinrich does not have to address Marx definition of value.”

I don’t think that Heinrich has invented an additional category. Marx uses the category of ‘abstract labour’ on a number of occasions, as you know. By calling abstract labour the ‘substance’ of value, the relationship is clear. It’s not distinct. It’s the substance of value. It’s “congealed”, “jelly”, a reduction into “a definite quantity of equal, general, undifferentiated, social, abstract labour”; or, “labour pure and simple, abstract labour; absolutely indifferent to its particular specificity.”

Here’s a nice, helpful riff from Marx:

“The coat is value only to the extent that it is the expression, in the form of a thing, of the human labour-power expended in its production and thus insofar as it is a jelly of abstract human labour – abstract labour, because abstraction is made from the definite useful concrete character of the labour contained in it, human labour, because the labour counts here only as expenditure of human labour-power as such.”

He’s saying:

Value ← abstract labour ← concrete labour ← labour ← labour power

So, we have value, which is derived from abstract labour, which is derived from concrete labour, which is derived from labour, which is derived from labour power. In his analysis, Marx starts with the abstract to arrive at the concrete.

Expressed the other way, we have:

Labour power → labour → concrete labour → abstract labour → value

As Marx indicates elsewhere, depending on which way you think it through, abstract labour might be seen as the expression of labour power, or labour power might be seen as the expression of abstract labour: “concrete labour becomes, therefore, the medium for expressing abstract human labour”.

To arrive at something that is “abstract”, is the result of “abstraction” i.e. abstract thinking. It is not just a category of thought but also a method for Marx, “rising from the abstract to the concrete.

‘Abstract labour’ is not a substance in the sense of a kernel or essence of a thing, it’s a way of articulating something socially active that normally goes unspoken, so that we understand capital better. Because Marx’s approach is historical materialist, thought is understood to be derived from the real experience of life rather than existing independently. In that sense, abstractions are “real abstractions” and the meaning of “abstract labour” is a matter of life and death.