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Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 2 Post 2


Page 42: “In the use-value of each commodity there is contained useful labour, i.e., productive labour of a definite kind, and exercised with a definite aim.  Use-values cannot confront each other as commodities, unless the useful labour embodied in them is qualitatively different in each of them.”

Right.  As we were discussing in the last post.  The emphasis here should be “cannot confront each other as commodities.”  That is, we are able to compare commodities and exchange them with each other as commodities because different sorts of labor are embodied in them.  It’s also worth noting that intention comes up here and there in significant ways.  We know that one thing that defines a commodity is that it is produced with the intention of exchanging it; and here Marx seems to emphasize that when we speak of particular kind of labor, we’re speaking of labor that is performed with a particular intention.  It’s easy to see that in day-to-day life; commodities are not produced by accidental labor.  I don’t know why Marx wants to emphasize that, but what strikes me is that it is part of what defines labor.  Human activity with a certain intention has to be part of the definition, which means human thought, human will, human imagination is part of what makes certain kinds of activity labor.

“…in a community of commodity producers,” [ie, a capitalist society] “this qualitative difference between the useful forms of labour that are carried on independently by individual producers, each on their own account, develops into a complex system, a social division of labour.”

Social division of labor, at its most basic, would be, for example, the farmers producing food to feed the workers who build the implements used in by the farmers.  In a capitalist society, these relationships become very complex.

“Anyhow, whether the coat be worn by the tailor or by his customer, in either case it operates as a use-value.  Nor is the relation between the coat and the labour that produced it altered by the circumstance that tailoring may have become a special trade, an independent branch of the social division of labour.  Wherever the want of clothing forced them to it, the human race made clothes for thousands of years, without a single man becoming a tailor.  But coats and linen, like every other element of material wealth that is not the spontaneous produce of Nature, must invariably owe their existence to a special productive activity, exercised with a definite aim, an activity that appropriates particular nature-given materials to particular human wants.”

Here, of course, we are speaking of human activity, human labor, in general–not the peculiarities of capitalist production, but the general form of all production.

“So far therefore as labour is a creator of use-value, is useful human labour, it is a necessary condition, independent of all form of society, for the existence of the human race; it is an eternal nature-imposed necessity, without which there can be no material exchanges between man and Nature, and therefore no life.”


Author: corwin

Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.


  1. Okay… So labor, in and of itself, can technically be separated from commodity production, or economic systems, being a necessity of the human condition. Commodities, on the other hand, cannot be separated from labor and economic systems as they require both to exist.

  2. Ensley: Good summary. Yeah, that’s how I read it.

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