Part 1 is “Commodities and Money.” Chapter 1 is “Commodities.” Section 1: “The two factors of a commodity: use-value and value (the substance of value and the magnitude of value)”
Page 35: “The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities,’ it’s unit being the single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.”
The first sentence is especially obvious if we know that money is a commodity. This will be established later; for now I think we can accept it on faith. And, even if we don’t accept it, one need only consider the existence of the warehouse to see the point. At least, I don’t believe the warehouse (as distinct from, eg, the silo and the smokehouse) existed before the domination of a market economy.
“A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside of us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference. Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or indirectly as means of production.”
Okay, I think that’s clear enough. One aspect of a commodity is that people want it. If no one wants it, it isn’t a commodity. Hence, for example, whatever else my puppy is, he is not a commodity. Nor, is a dinner date with Howard Stern, 8-track tapes of me doing Gregorian chants, or literary criticism by Sarah Palin.
“Every useful thing, as iron, paper, &c., may be looked at from the two points of view of quality and quantity.” What are the particular properties of the thing, and how much or how many are there? This seems trivially obvious, but it’s going to be important later.
Page 36: “The utility of the thing makes it a use-value.” Here we are introducing the term use-value, which becomes important when distinguished from exchange-value. To pick an example at random, if someone were to write out for me a scrap of paper indicating I’d taken first place in a footrace in which I had, in fact, placed third, this item would have no use-value for me. This is important, because English uses the word “value” to mean different things that, in fact, have significantly different meanings.
“A commodity, such as iron, corn, or a diamond, is therefore, so far as it is a material thing, a use-value, something useful. This property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful qualities.”
That seems clear enough. The cost of a thing (we’ll slip over, for the moment, the relationship between cost and amount of labor) may determine whether I acquire something, and perhaps even how much I value it, but once I have it, its usefulness to me is independent of its cost.
“When treating of use-value, we always assume to be dealing with definite quantities, such as dozens of watches, yards of linen, or tons of iron. The use-values of commodities furnish the material for a special study, that of the commercial knowledge of commodities (footnote by Marx: In bourgeois societies the economic fictio juris prevails, that everyone, as a buyer, possesses an encylocpaedic knowledge of commodities).”
I’m getting ahead of myself here, but the point, I think, is this: the use-value of a commodity is a quality, (ie, the particularities of that item), but it only exist as definite quantities. That is, it is possible to speak about n reams of paper, but when the paper actually exists, there is an actual number of reams.
“Use-values become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth. In the form of society we are about to consider, they are, in addition, the material depositories of exchange-value.”