Indirectly Social Labor notes. Capital Fetishism section
In the Fetishism section of chapter one, volume one of Capital Marx makes a comparison of different modes of production, arguing that the fetishism of commodities only arises in the capitalist mode of production. I think that the same logic which Marx uses in these pages also applies to the concept of “indirectly social labor”. A comparison of different modes of production reveals how labor is only indirectly social in a capitalist society in which most production is commodity production. Though Marx is only explicitly dealing with fetishism in this passage I think it is quite reasonable to see his arguments applying equally to indirectly social labor, so that when he says, “The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour as long as they take the form of commodities, vanishes therefore, so soon as we come to other forms of production….” the same logic holds for indirectly social labor.
The reason the two categories map onto each other is that it is only in a society of indirectly social labor that the social relations between producers are mysterious and not immediately apparent. It is only because private labor must take the form of commodity value in order to be social that we have commodity fetishism. “Nevertheless, when the producers of coats and boots compare those articles with linen, or, what is the same thing, with gold or silver, as the universal equivalent, they express the relation between their own private labour and the collective labour of society in the same absurd form.”
Thus, Marx’s comparison of modes of production allow us some insights into how we can better understand the concepts of direct and indirectly social labor.
Commodity fetishism and indirectly social labor vanish in non-capitalist social formations. Marx moves through several examples of directly social labor, an isolated Crusoe, medieval production, the patriarchal peasant family, and a communist society of free individuals. One point he makes is that in each mode of production labor time is still used as a measure of one’s input into the total social labor. Each mode of production uses some form of what might be called “labor-time accounting”. Yet this alone does not make labor indirectly social.
The Robinson Crusoe example, in addition to serving as a parody of bourgeois writers, shows that Crusoe’s activity contains all of the determinants of value yet there is no value creation, all of his labor is directly part of the total product, and there is no fetishism of commodities. Crusoe plans: “His stock-book contains a list of the objects of utility that belong to him, of the operations necessary for their production; and lastly, of the labour time that definite quantities of those objects have, on an average, cost him.” There is labor-time accounting and this planning happens through a consideration of average labor times, yet there is no value creation and thus no indirectly social labor. Why is this the case? The reader might at first assume that this is because Marx is dealing with an economy of one person and thus his labor is automatically directly “social”, or directly counted as part of the total product, because he does not exchange his labor with a larger society.
But in the examples that follow Marx shows that this is not the reason. In the relations of personal dependence that characterizes the European middle ages labors are just as well measured by time. Yet these labors do not take the form of objectified value in the form of commodities. “Here the particular and natural form of labour, and not, as in a society based on production of commodities, its general abstract form is the immediate social form of labour.” By this Marx means that each individual’s labor, just like each of Crusoe’s different forms of labor, immediately counts as part of the social product without needing to take the form of money, the general abstract social form of value, in order to be validated as social labor. If a peasant works 5 days on the landlords land, and 2 on his own, those five days of work are directly part of the landlord’s wealth. The peasant’s labor does not have to be related to a socially necessary labor time and then take the money-form of value in order to be social. It is immediately social in its concrete, particular form.
The interior relations of the peasant family also serve as a social unit, the individual labors of which are all directly social, not needing to be mediated through socially necessary labor time and money in order to be socially valid. That means that if Peasant A produces corn less efficiently than Peasant B this doesn’t mean that Peasant A’s labor is wasted, or that some of his/her labor does not count as social. Everything that Peasant A creates is part of the total product consumed by the family. “The labour power of each individual, by its very nature, operates in this case merely as a definite portion of the whole labour power of the family, and therefore, the measure of the expenditure of individual labour power by its duration, appears here by its very nature as a social character of their labour.”
The labor of the members of the communist society in Marx’s last example is directly social for the same reason: Each person’s labor is immediately counted as a portion of the total social labor rather than the averaging that is required for private labor to become social in a capitalist society. “All the characteristics of Robinson‘s labour are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual.”
To further clarify Marx points out that labor-time accounting could take two roles in a communist society in both planning of production and serving as a way of distributing consumption goods. Though distribution could be handled different ways Marx shows an example in which an hour of work entitles one to an hour of consumption goods: ” On the other hand, it also serves as a measure of the portion of the common labour borne by each individual, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption.” Of course, in a capitalist society an hour of work does not directly entitle us to a proportionate share of the social product. Rather, on a socially average hour of work does so. Marx makes this clear earlier in the chapter in his discussion of the English hand loom weavers.
This last examples is very much in the same spirit as Marx’s discussion of the lower phase of communist in the Critique of the Gotha Program. There he says:
“Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society — after the deductions have been made — exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another….” “Hence, equal right here is still in principle — bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case.”
Just as Crusoe uses average labor times as a basis for planning his work so too a communist society with directly social labor would use averages to plan production. But this averaging is not the same as the averaging that happens with socially necessary labor time in a capitalist society. In the latter case sub-average labor does not count as fully social. If the SNLT is 1 hour and it takes me 3 hours then only one of my hours counts as social. In the directly social labor of a communist society all 3 my hours would be social because I have the right to an hour of consumption goods for every hour that I work. My labor time has cost society more because all of my labor is social.
This also means that labor in a communist society is not abstract but rather only concrete. An hour of one person’s labor is not the same, is not interchangeable with another’s, in the way it is in capitalism.