Thursday, April 9, 2009

Universal Labor Mix (Marx Is So Hot Right Now)

Boing Boing...what can you say? They rule to where this humble blog runs the risk of becoming simply a place where I go "oooh, aaah" over their latest posts. But c'mon now, you gotta love a post called Marx was Right!

And indeed, as Marxism might have it, it is the people (and their comments) that bring the post to life, so do read those if you go.

Reading Capital is a real devotion. It's worth it, but it isn't easy. Not for me anyway, so I'm going to take Richard Metzger's tip and I'm going to read it with David Harvey. Won't you join me? C'mon, a Capital reading group featuring the lads of free jazz bloggery.

Because really, how can you deny passages like these:

Finally, however, it is only the experience of the combined worker that discovers and demonstrates how inventions already made can most simply be developed, how to overcome the practical frictions that arise in putting the theory into practice--its application to the production process, and so on.

We must distinguish here, incidentally, between universal labour and communal labour. They both play their part in the production process, and merge into one another, but they are each different as well. Universal labour is all scientific work, all discovery and invention. It is brought about partly by the cooperation of men now living, but partly also by building on earlier work. Communal labor, however, simply involves the direct cooperation of individuals.

All this receives fresh confirmation from certain facts that have frequently been observed:

(1) The great difference in costs between the first construction of a new machine and its reproductions. See Ure and Babbage*

(2) The much greater costs that are always involved in an enterprise based on new inventions, compared with later establishments that rise up on its ruins, ex suis ossibus.** The extent of this is so great that the pioneering entrepreneurs generally go bankrupt, and it is only their successors who flourish, thanks to their possession of cheaper buildings, machinery etc. Thus it is generally the most worthless and wretched kind of money-capitalists that draw the greatest profit from all new developments of the universal labour of the human spirit and their social applications by combined labour.

* This is Charles Babbage (1792 - 1871), best remembered as the inventor of the first calculating machine. Marx refers to his book On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, London, 1832. The work on the same subject by Andrew Ure (1778-1857), The Philosophy of Manufactures, published in 1835, Marx considered the best work of its time on large-scale industry, and he makes frequent use of it in Volume 1 of Capital
** from its bones

Marx, Karl. Capital. The Transformation of Surplus-Value into Profit, Economy in the Use of Constant Capital, p. 199. (Penguin Classics)

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Did you pick up on the part about Babbage and the calculating machine? I heard that the Sumerians had an abacus in 2700 BC. Don't you do calculations on an abacus? What am I not understanding about the meaning of words?

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Is music a "universal labor" or is it a "communal labor" that only sometimes dips into "universal labor?" Does it (our beloved improvised music) fall under the heading of "all discovery and invention?" Does it fall under the heading of "science?" Is it none of those things? It has to be something. I know that much.

If it is "the most worthless and wretched kind of money-capitalist" that preys upon the "universal labor of the human spirit," then what kind of money-capitalist preys upon definitely-not-universal-labor-music-but-music-just-the-same music?

And what is that music? Is that the symphony orchestra? Is that the "tribute" band? Is it less worthless and wretched to prey upon non-universal-labor-music because their job is somehow easier? Is it "easier" being in a pre determined right-and-wrong musical situation, or is it "easier" to be in a make-it-up-on-the-spot musical situation? I suppose they both have their attendant nightmares. Has anyone else ever heard of musicians in pit bands (on Broadway, for example) bringing books with them to read while they aren't actively playing? Inspiring, no?

These are all questions...not super important ones, but questions just the same.