Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 3A

This subsection is called, “Elementary or Accidental form of Value”

Page 48:  “x commodity A=y commodity B, or
x commodity A is worth y commodity B, or
20 yards of linen= 1 coat, or
20 yards of linen is worth 1 coat.”

Subsection 1: The two poles of the expression of value: Relative form and Equivalent form
“The whole mystery of the form of value lies hidden in this elementary form. It’s analysis, therefore, is our real difficulty.”

Intuitively, this makes sense. That is, if we say 20 yards of linen = 1 coat, we’re saying 20 yards of linen can be exchanged for one coat.  It makes sense that we can get from there to money.

“Here two kinds of commodities (in our example the linen and the coat), evidently play two different parts.  The linen expresses its value in the coat; the coat serves as the material in which that value is expressed.  The former plays an active, the latter a passive part.”

Right.  By saying 20 years of linen = 1 coat, then we are defining the linen in terms of the coat, or, we’re saying, “How much coat is needed to express the value of 20 yards of linen.”

“The value of the linen is represented as relative value, or appears in relative form.  The coat officiates as equivalent, or appears in equivalent form.”

The value of the linen is relative to the coat.

“The relative form and the equivalent form are two intimately connected, mutually dependent and inseparable elements of the expression of value; but, at the same time, are mutually exclusive, antagonistic extremes–i.e., poles of the same expression.  They are allotted respectively to the two different commodities brought into relation by that expression.”

Mutually dependent opposites, like positive and negative poles of a magnet.

“It is not possible to express the value of linen in linen.  20 yards of linen = 20 yards of linen is no expression of value.  On the contrary, such an equation merely says that 20 yards of linen or nothing else than 20 yards of linen, a definite quantity of the use-value linen.  The value of the linen can therefore be expressed only relatively–i.e., in some other commodity.  The relative form of the value of the linen pre-supposes, therefore, the presence of some other commodity–here the coat–under the form of equivalent.  On the other hand, the commodity that figures as the equivalent cannot at the same time assume the relative form.  That second commodity is not the one whose value is expressed.  Its function is merely to serve as the material in which the value of the first commodity is expressed.”

In order to express the value of a commodity, another commodity is required.

Page 49: “No doubt, the expression 20 yards of linen = 1 coat . . .implies the opposite relation: 1 coat = 20 yards of linen…But in that case I must reverse the equation, in order to express the value of the coat relatively; and, so soon as I do that, the linen becomes the equivalent instead of the coat…whether, then, a commodity assumes the relative form, or the opposite equivalent form, depends entirely upon its accidental position in the expression of value–that is, upon whether it is the commodity whose value is being expressed, or the commodity in which value is being expressed.”

Okay, yeah, I think I got that.  It caused me to do some serious thinking about the equal sign, which actually contains a lot more implied complexities than I’d ever realized.  But it does make sense.

Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 3

This section is called “The form of value or exchange-value”

Page 47: “Commodities come into the world in the shape of use-values, articles, or goods, such as iron, linen, corn, &c.  This is their plain, homely, bodily form.  They are, however commodities, only because they are something two-fold, both objects of utility, and, at the same time, depositories of value.  They manifest themselves therefore as commodities, or have the form of commodities, only in so far as they have two forms, a physical or natural form, and a value-form.”

Lurking within the physical form of a commodity is a value form; that is, it is an expression of value.  It has value and may be treated (indeed, is treated, and was produced to be treated) as a container of value.  Not all things that have value are commodities (ie, undeveloped land); but all commodities have value.

“The value of commodities is the very opposite of the coarse materiality of their substance, not an atom of matter enters into its composition.  Turn and examine a single commodity, by itself, as we will, yet in so far as it remains an object of  value, it seems impossible to grasp it.  If, however, we bear in mind that the value of commodities has a purely social reality, and that they acquire this reality only in so far as they are expressions or embodiments of one identical substance, viz., human labour, it follows as a matter of course, that value can only manifest itself in the social relation of commodity to commodity.”

Value is meaningless in a single, isolated commodity.  It becomes important when that commodity is placed beside another of a different kind; then they enter into a relationship based on their values.  The relationship is, to be precise, exchangeability.

“Everyone knows, if he knows nothing else, that commodities have a value-form common to them all, and presenting a marked contrast with the varied bodily forms of their use-values.  I mean their money-form.”

Check.  Even the most stubborn, ignorant adherent to the Chicago School is aware that commodities are traded for money, and (though he may never have thought about it) that money has little in common with the physical form of the commodity it is buying.

“Here, however, a task is set us, the performance of which has yet even been attempted by bourgeois economy, the task of tracing the genesis of this money-form, of developing the expression of value implied in the value-relation of commodities, from its simplest, almost imperceptible outline, to the dazzling money-form. “

Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 2 Post 4

Page 44: “Just as, therefore, in viewing the coat and linen as values, we abstract from their different use-values, so it is with the labour represented by those values: we disregard the difference between its useful forms, weaving and tailoring.  As the use-values, coat and linen, are combinations of special productive activities with cloth and yarn, while the values, coat and linen, are, on the other hand, mere homogeneous congelations of undifferentiated labour, so the labour embodied in these latter values does not count by virtue of its productive relation to cloth and yarn, but only as being expenditure of human labour-power.”

My impression is that Marx is taking the same point he made before, and simply coming at it from another angle, much like a mathematician might try to prove a conclusion in several different ways.  The point is still this: that by abstracting from commodities the particular characteristics to leave only value, we are also abstracting the particular sort of labor that created them, leaving only human labor in the abstract.  If there is another point here, I’m missing it.

Page 45: “Coats and linen, however, are not merely values, but values of definite magnitude, and according to our assumption, the coat is worth twice as much as the ten yards of linen.  Whence this difference in their values?  It is owing to the fact that the linen contains only half as much labour as the coat, and consequently, that in the production of the latter, labour-power must have been expended during twice the time necessary for the production of the former.”

Note that labor-power expended is how we get labor.  Intuitively obvious, but worth paying attention to.  I have the ability to labor, but it doesn’t actually change anything until I exert myself.  Once I have done so, that labor, if it isn’t wasted, does something.  Just as an electrical current through a working incandescent bulb transforms itself into light and heat, labor-power, when expended, transforms itself into something else–namely, value.

“While, therefore, with reference to use-value, the labour contained in a commodity counts only qualitatively,  with reference to value it counts only quantitatively, and must first be reduced to human labour pure and simple.  In the former case, it is a question of How and What, in the latter of How much?  How long a time?  Since the magnitude of the value of a commodity represents only the quantity of labour embodied in it, it follows that all commodities, when taken in certain proportions, must be equal in value.”

Any commodity can be exchanged for any other because, with the correct adjustment of quantity, they can be made equal.

Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 2 Post 3

Page 43: “The use-value, coat, linen, &c., i.e., the bodies of commodities, are combinations of two elements–matter and labour.  If we take away the useful labour expended upon them, a material substratum is always left, which is furnished by Nature without the help of man.  The latter can work only as Nature does, that is by changing the form of matter.  Nay more, in this work of changing the form he is constantly helped by natural forces.  We see, then, that labour is not the only source of material wealth, of use-values produced by Labour.  As William Petty puts it, labour is its father and the earth its mother.”

Labor, then, is useful and purposeful activity expended upon substances provided by nature in order to change their form.  And, as we’ve seen from before, if we abstract from a commodity the particular material substance, and the exact form of the labor, what is left is human labor in the abstract.

The point is that, for now, we will refer for the sake of simplicity to labor, rather than doing the reduction of skilled labor to simple labor, as this will not change anything for this part of the investigation.

“So far as they are values, the coat and the linen are things of a like substance, objective expressions of essentially identical labour.  But tailoring and weaving are, qualitatively, different kinds of labour.  There are, however, states of society in which one and the same man does tailoring and weaving alternately, in which case these two forms of labour are mere modifications of the labour of the same individual, and no special and fixed functions of different persons.; just as the coat which our tailor makes one day, and the trousers which he makes another day, imply only a variation in the labour of one and the same individual.  Moreover, we see at a glance that, in our capitalist society, a given portion of human labour is, in accordance with varying demand, at one time supplied in the form of tailoring, at another in form of weaving.”

Again, different kinds of labor, insofar as they are labor, can be equated as quantities; this is how commodities can be exchanged.

Page 44: Productive activity, if we leave out of sight its special form, viz., the useful character of the labour, is nothing but the expenditure of human labour-power.”

To get an idea of what Marx means by labor-power, it is useful to consider the difference between  potential and kinetic energy.  Labor-power is the ability to labor–when labor-power is expended, it becomes labor.  So far, what we have read is little more than what has been discovered by earlier political economists (albeit expressed with exceptional clarity and precision); the important distinction between labor and labor-power constitutes one of the most important discoveries by Marx.  In retrospect, of course, it is obvious: the ability to take an action is not the same as the action.  But uncovering this distinction was as important to economics as changes in the form of energy was important to physics.

“The value of a commodity represents human labour in the abstract, the expenditure of human labour-power in general.  And just as in society, a general or a banker plays a great part, but mere man, on the other hand, a very shabby part, so here with human labour.  It is the expenditure of simpler labour-power, i.e., of the labour-power which, on an average, apart from any special development, exists in the organism of very ordinary individual.  Simple average labour, it is true, varies in character in different countries and at different times, but in a particular society it is given.  Skilled labour counts only as simple labour intensified, or rather, as multiplied simple labour, a given quantity of skilled labour being considered equal to a greater quantity of simple labour.  Experience shows that this reduction is constantly being made.  A commodity may be the product of the most skilled labour, but its value, by equating it to the produce of simple unskilled labour, represents a definite quantity of the latter labour alone.”

Here Marx inserts a footnote to remind the reader that, when we speak of skilled or simple labor, we are not speaking of the cost of that labor–ie, wages; which we’ll be getting to later.

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.”