A note on Chris Arthur's 'dialectics of negativity' (1).

Author:Carchedi, G.
Position:Polemic
 
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In Arthur's words, 'My position is quite different from that of the orthodox tradition, which sees labour creating something positive, namely value, then expropriated'. Rather, it is capital that produces value and it 'can produce value only through winning the class straggle at the point of production', by overcoming the workers' recalcitrance 'to capital's efforts to compel their labour' (2000, pp. 30-31). (3) What kind of labour is this 'effort'? It cannot be concrete labours. They are different by definition and thus can exchange for each other in definite proportions only if they have something in common, Something that makes them comparable Arthur makes this clear in his critique of Braverman: 'the distinction between abstract and concrete cannot be collapsed' (2001, p. 22). It has to be, then, abstract labour, However, Arthur's abstract labour is not Marx's notion, the 'expenditure of human brains, nerves, and muscles' (Marx, 1967, p. 44) irrespective of the concrete activities one engages into (concrete labours). Rather, for Arthur, labour is abstract 'in virtue of its participation in the capitalist process of valorisation' (2001, p. 23), i.e. because concrete labours are equally exploited 'regardless of their concrete specificities' (p. 20). (4) Then, the labour that produces value, and thus the labour time that counts for the measurement of value, is, in Arthur's view, the labour (time) during which the capitalists force the labourers to labour, i.e. the labour (time) during which the capitalists perform what Marx calls in Capital III the function of capital. In fact: 'The magnitude of value is determined by the socially necessary exploitation time' (Arthur, 1999, p. 160). (5) In my opinion, this is an even greater step away from Marx than Arthur's previous stance. But faithfulness is not the point of this brief note. Rather, the purpose is to stress two orders of logical mistakes, one concerning the concept of value and the other that of exploitation.

Let us begin with the notion of value. For Arthur it is the labourers who (are forced to) labour and yet it is the capitalists who are the producers of value. Arthur's reasoning is as follows: 'Since all ... contribute piecemeal to the process of production, the whole is not constituted as their productive power but as that of the capital hiring them. This means not only that each individual does not produce a commodity but that since the collective labourer is set up under the direction of capital it is hard to say that the collective does either. It seems more reasonable to say that capital produces the commodity than that labour does' (2001, p. 25). But, if capital is the producer, why does it need the labourers? Arthur's answer is that it needs them in order to appropriate their productive powers, and it is because of this appropriation that capital, and not labour, is productive (of value). In short, 'value commensurates the expropriated labours out of which capital produces commodities' (2001, p. 33). Notice that we deal here with the first of Arthur's two kinds of exploitation, exploitation in production, which 'in its effects is not dissimilar to alienation' (2001, p. 33). The labourers are exploited because they are forced to labour (and thus are expropriated of their productive powers) and capital is the exploiter (because it forces the labourers to work) and the producer of value, because it appropriates the workers) productive power. The second kind...

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