Brendan Cooney, you’re gonna need a re-write on that book

by Jehu

I received this reply from Brendan Cooney, who appears to be very miffed because I criticize him for spreading confusion on the question of abstract labor:

I don’t discuss labor power or surplus value in this chapter because this is a chapter about abstract labor. Similarly, Marx develops the concept of abstract labor in chapter 1 of Capital, but waits until later chapters to develop Surplus Value and Labor Power. However, my chapter does discuss the fact that in a capitalist society workers are developed for their general capacity to do any labor, rather than for specific labors, which is related to the concept of labor power.

However, I really can’t respond to any of your criticism as it is a constantly moving target. First you say that I neglect to say that labor-power and abstract labor are the same concept. Then, when pressed for a citation of this, you provide a citation which does not prove your claim. When I point out the logical fallacy of your claim, you now change your argument to be that I should have “mentioned labor power”, without explaining why this is necessary in order to explain the concept of abstract labor. You have never responded to my criticism of the idea that labor power cannot be the same thing as abstract labor. Then you leap to the claim that I have argued that surplus value can be produced with out producing value… I don’t see the connection. Then onto something about Christopher Arthur, which is completely irrelevant and has nothing to do with my original post.

Oddly, Brendan asserts he does not discuss labor power in his post because he is discussing abstract labor.

Of course, my original criticism of his post is that he neglected to mention that that labor power is what Marx meant when he referred to “human labor in the abstract”. As I pointed out in my response to his criticism, Marx defines abstract labor this way:

“Let us now consider the residue of each of these products; it consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homogeneous human labour, of labour power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure. All that these things now tell us is, that human labour power has been expended in their production, that human labour is embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all, they are – Values.” [My emphasis]

I offered this citation to Brendan, who nevertheless accuses me of never responding to his criticism. He then accuses me of being a moving target, of offering no citation to support my claim that in Marx’s theory abstract labor is synonymous with labor power, and even of changing my argument. His single response to my substantive argument is that:

“If that was the case, then the value of commodities is formed by the ability of people to work. Saying that the value of commodities is formed of labor which has been performed is different than saying that value is formed by the capacity to perform labor.”

I direct the reader’s attention to the above passage from Capital. Does Marx assert that the value of commodities is formed by the ability of people to work? Certainly, I can be criticized for truncating Marx’s argument in my original comment. It is true that in my original criticism of his text, I state that abstract labor is synonymous with labor power, but where in the text I cited from Capital does Marx suggest that value is formed by the capacity to perform labor? Marx clearly argues that the expenditure of labor power in production creates the values embodied in commodities.

Brendan is clearly trying to change the subject from the substance of value as defined by Marx in the actual text of Capital to my poor paraphrasing of Marx’s argument.



As we all know the workers sells her labor power to the capitalist. The employment of her labor power in production is the source of surplus value and thus profit in Marx’s labor theory of value. But, for some reason, it remains a great mystery among Marxist theorist today where value itself comes from in Marx’s theory. If these Marxists are to be believed surplus value comes from the expenditure of labor power, but value itself comes from the expenditure of abstract labor.

Other than one being the source of value and the other being the source of surplus value, how does abstract labor differ from labor power? Labor power is a commodity that is bought and sold in the market. It is thus specific to the capitalist mode of production. But this can’t be right, because, as Brendan tells us, abstract labor is also “the result of specific [capitalist] social relations, and not an eternal category of all human history.”

So it would seem that both labor power and abstract labor are specific to the capitalist mode of production and could not have arisen prior to this epoch. Which makes this statement by Marx very bewildering:

“Money may exist, and did exist historically, before capital existed, before banks existed, before wage labour existed, etc. Thus in this respect it may be said that the simpler category can express the dominant relations of a less developed whole, or else those subordinate relations of a more developed whole which already had a historic existence before this whole developed in the direction expressed by a more concrete category. To that extent the path of abstract thought, rising from the simple to the combined, would correspond to the real historical process.” Marx, Grundrisse

If money existed prior to the capitalist mode of production what specific social relations did this money express? It could not have expressed capitalist social relations because those social relation obviously did not exist. Yet, if we are to believe Marx, money expressed the value of commodities, it was the phenomenal form of this value expressed in their exchange. Each exchange told us that the commodities contained a common social substance, that human labour power has been expended in their production.


We are thus left with a riddle for you Marxist theorists, Brendan: if labor power is specific to the capitalist mode of production, how is it that money, the phenomenal expression of the production and exchange of the products of human labor power arose prior to the capitalist mode of production?

How does this relate to Chris Arthur, Brendan? You should get out more. Like you, Arthur asserts the categories discussed here are specific to the capitalist mode of production. You have already swallowed three-fourths of his value-form argument. You need to rethink this chapter of your book before you swallow the rest.


EDIT: For purposes of clarity, I feel it necessary to add that labor power (abstract labor) is in no way specific to the capitalist mode of production. What is specific to the capitalist mode of production is the buying and selling of labor power as a commodity. In both simple commodity production and capitalist production proper, the expenditure labor power is the source of value. In the capitalist mode of production, where labor power is sold as a commodity, the expenditure of labor power becomes, in addition to the source of value, the source of surplus value.