Marx’s Deployment Of The Term Abstraction

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The term abstraction manifoldly pervades Marx’s writing. The heterogeneity of its meaning is related to the fact that Marx understands production within a system of capitalism to be a totalizing process which presides over the finiteness of the individual mind and therefore determinations, particulars and forms must be understood as relations in an ongoing process and they can only be considered in isolation as abstractions. Nevertheless, these abstractions are real insofar as they constitute the spaces, actions and behaviours of concrete social reality for individuals whether they are experienced as such or not. Using Roberto Finelli’s response to Chris Arthur’s work on abstraction, this essay will focus on a particularity drawn out by Marx in the Grundrisse related to the engagement of exchange and from this, will elaborate on Marx’s deployment of the term abstraction in his critique of political economy. In The Chapter on Capital, Marx considers the nature of the putative social relations into which individuals must enter in order to engage in exchange. Before particularizing the moment of exchange, Marx tactfully draws our attention to the perceptual limitations induced by the totality of capitalist production, where the subject holds that “a social relation, a definite relation between individuals…appears…as a purely physical, external thing which can be found, as such, in nature and which is indistinguishable in form from its natural existence.” (Marx, 1993, p.240) Marx rejoins this faulty apprehension with the simple fact that “Nature does not produce money, any more than it produces a rate of exchange or a banker.” (Marx, 1993, p. 240) In this discreet move through which the concrete given of social reality is revealed to be the hidden operations of capital, Marx offers an early indication of his method for interrogating abstraction as a way of life. Looking at the form in which the moment of exchange realizes itself, Marx distinguishes an equality brought to bear on the individuals involved in exchange. The expression of exchange value in commodities through the labour time spent in their production means that the moment of exchange, no matter the use values being compared, rearticulates that equivalence and in so doing transforms the individuals involved in the exchange into equivalent exchangers. Both the exchangers and the commodities they exchange, are by the logic of exchange value, equal; “The subjects in exchange exist for one another only through these equivalents, as of equal worth, and prove themselves to be such through the exchange of the objectivity in which the one exist for the other.” (Marx, 1993, p.242) The content outwith the act of exchange, the natural differences between the exchangers (needs, production, wealth etc.), does not alter the state of equality enshrined in the act of exchange. Rather, it is the natural differences of exchangers outside the act that are the very precondition of the equality expressed in the exchange. The social relation within which individual exchangers find themselves in the act of exchange is one predicated on the fact that each individual needs something from the other and has produced something the other needs in return,

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