Postone on the value of the commodity in capitalism

From my last post, I asserted, following Postone’s reading of Marx, that the categories of capital are specific to capital, but what does this mean? If I am correct in my restatement of Postone in this post, the answer will surprise you as much as it did me.

Let’s take this passage from Postone, for instance:

At the heart of this analysis is a distinction Marx explicitly draws between value – as the historically specific, structuring form of wealth and social mediation in capitalism – from what he calls material wealth, which is measured by the amount produced and is a function of knowledge, social organization, and natural conditions, in addition to labor. Material wealth is mediated by social relations extrinsic to itself. Value, according to Marx, is a self-mediating form of wealth, and is essentially temporal. It is constituted solely by the expenditure of socially necessary labor-time.

I had to read this passage several time, almost word by word, before Postone’s argument made sense to me. To demonstrate his argument let me paraphrase it as I have done before by substituting “wages” for the term “value”:

At the heart of this analysis is a distinction Marx explicitly draws between [wages] – as the historically specific, structuring form of wealth and social mediation in capitalism – from what he calls material wealth, which is measured by the amount produced and is a function of knowledge, social organization, and natural conditions, in addition to labor. Material wealth is mediated by social relations extrinsic to itself. [Wages], according to Marx, is a self-mediating form of wealth, and is essentially temporal. [Wages are] constituted solely by the expenditure of socially necessary labor-time.

Following Postone, I argue that the commodity is not the commodity as it is understood in various commodity producing societies, but is specific to capital, i.e., when we speak of the commodity in capitalist society, we refer solely to labor power, the specific form of the commodity native to that society. Likewise, this means that value is not value as it is understood in various value producing societies, but is specific to capital, i.e., when we speak of value in capitalist society, we refer solely to the value of labor power or wages, the specific form of value native to that society.

Marx, says Postone, explicitly draws a distinction between wages as “the historically specific, structuring form of wealth and social mediation in capitalism – from what he calls material wealth, which is measured by the amount produced and is a function of knowledge, social organization, and natural conditions, in addition to labor.”

On the one hand, material wealth, as it is understood generically, is mediated by wages; on the other hand, wages are a self-mediating form of wealth, constituted solely by the expenditure of socially necessary labor-time.

To put this in the simplest possible terms, the value of generic commodities is measured in terms of the wages expended on their production; while the wage itself is solely measured by the socially necessary labor time required for its production.

This has such fucking deep implications that it would be impossible to address them all fully here.

Essentially, Postone is saying that in the capitalist mode of production, the idea that the value of a generic commodity is equal to its socially necessary labor time may be mistaken. In fact, in the capitalist mode of production labor power may be the only commodity whose value is equal to the socially necessary labor time required for its production.

I think that this would be in keeping with Postone’s argument that the abstract and general character of commodities are valid in their abstract generality only for capitalist society.