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On the labor market

My reading group is taking a look at Harry Cleaver’s essay on the development of Marx’s conception of financial crises that was put up in The Commoner in 2002. It’s a quick read, and a nice exegesis; Cleaver certainly draws a neat line from Marx’s earlier take of crises being a result of overproduction to his later understanding of them as a result of underconsumption. Some of his argumentation relating to the imposition of work, however, seems to me to be a bit flat, or maybe just a bit too abstracted.

The theory of value cannot, I believe, be separated from the generalized imposition of wage labor.  The “value” of things that Marx is analyzing all throughout Capital, and the way that it contributes to the relation between the rich and the poor within commodity producing societies, is sustained by the process of paying a given sect of society an amount of money with the understanding that another sect will make more money in the act. (The actual status of money in this scheme, as measure of value, is also important, and not to be taken at its face.) Outside this specific regulation of social relations in order to achieve this end — specific regulation that is often crassly violent and crudely oppressive — there is no “value,” in the market sense, as such.

I don’t think this comes across with Cleaver writes the following:

Given that value is an accounting tool to keep track of whether or not capital is successfully expanding its social control through the imposition of work, it should be hardly surprising that Marx’s “theory of value” is a “labor” theory. For Marx, the object of the value analysis, and thus its substance, is  work (in its quality as means of social control or “abstract labor”); its measure is time (socially necessary labor time); and its form is exchange (exchange value). The value concept allows the comparison and measure of all kinds of work, by abstracting from specific differences (23).

To put it more precisely: value is not some much a “concept” as a hegemonic social measure that is remade in every signing of a contract for a day’s wage, reconstituted in every salary agreement, throughout the entire scope of a given society.

Categories: Notes.

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