In a recent article in this journal, Werner Bonefeld (2010) raises some criticisms of my position on abstract labour (Carchedi, 2009). Bonefeld quotes Rubin to the effect that, 'it is not possible to reconcile a physiological concept of abstract labour with the historical character of the value which it creates' (Bonefeld, 2010: 258). Bonefeld agrees, and finds an ambiguity in Marx because Marx supposedly holds both a physiological and a social/historical notion of abstract labour. Clearly, the supposed ambiguity arises because one clings for some reason to the notion that abstract labour must be either one thing or another, and cannot be both at the same time. However, as I submit, for Marx, 'value is the specific social dimension of a material reality. It is neither only physical nor only social, it is both' (Carchedi, 2009:154). Notice that even if this notion were not Marx's own, it is one that fits perfectly well into his theory, and does away with the ambiguity Bonefeld claims to have found in Marx.
Is this notion a Ricardian one? Bonefeld seems to think so (Bonefeld, 2010:274 18ff.). But then he should indicate where in Ricardo's work a notion of abstract labour as both material and historical (class-determined) can be found. As long as no theoretical proof or textual evidence is provided, the charge of Ricardianism can be easily dismissed. But this aside, the denial of materiality to abstract labour before exchange is absurd, given that any labour (including mental labour) is an expenditure of human energy, and given that any expenditure of human energy is material. If it is material, it is quantifiable, as my example of human metabolism indicates. And there is no question that labour, abstract and material, is also socially or class determined (has a social dimension) already in the process of production.
Bonefeld's critique is based on a misrepresentation of my position. First of all, mine is not a 'physiological definition of abstract labour' (Bonefeld, 2010: 274). It is evident that for me (following Marx), abstract labour is both physiological and social, with a class content (see below). Second, I do not submit that 'calories are the measure of value' (ibid.). I have been at pains to stress that the example of calories is just that--an example meant to show that abstract labour is both material and measurable, as it is evident if one chooses, for example, calories as a unit of measurement.
Concerning the physiological aspect...