Page 38: “If then we leave out of consideration the use-value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour. But even the product of labour itself has undergone a change in our hands. If we make abstraction from its use-value, we make abstraction at the same time from the material elements and shapes that make the product a use-value; we see in it no longer a table, a house, yarn or any other useful thing. Its existence as a material thing is put out of sight. Neither can it any longer be regarded as the product of the labour of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other definite kind of productive labour. Along with the useful qualities of the products themselves, we put out of sight both the useful character of the various kinds of labour embodied in them, and the concrete forms of that labour; there is nothing left but what is common to them all; all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract.”
Whew! Okay, let’s see what we have here.
We have established the each commodity has the following properties: It satisfies a human want (a use-value), and it can be exchanged for other commodities (exchange-value). Removing from consideration the particularities of that commodity, we are left with all commodities being products of labor. Fine. But if we removed the particularities of the use-value, we must also remove the particularities of the labor that produced it. That is, if we are considering an abstract commodity, we must also consider the labor that produced it to be equally abstract.
While this appears at first to be a flight of fancy, in fact it seems to be quite true, and an important revelation about the working of the market. While each commodity is, in fact, the product of particular labor to produce a particular use-value, these things, under certain circumstances, really do vanish. That is, the form of labor that produced the broom is unimportant to someone who wants to sweep; and the use to which the purchaser plans to put the broom is unimportant to the individual who wants to realize it’s exchange value.
But even more important is this: If exchange were based on exchanging the labor of the cabinet-maker with the labor of the farmer, we would be living in a drastically different world. That isn’t how things work. Instead, the product of the cabinet-maker is exchanged with the product of the farmer. This exchange works because we are exchanging things with a common element in them, and that is, not the particularities of different kinds of labor, but what is common to them–that they are labor. Thus we speak of human labor in the abstract.
I have no idea if my restatement has made this clearer, or less clear, or made no difference; but it helped me get a handle on it, which was the point of the exercise.
“Let us now consider the residue of each of these products; it consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homogeneous human labor, of labour-power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure. All that these now tell us is, that human labour-power has been expended in their production, that human labour is embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all, they are–Values.”
And here I run into a brick wall.
I understand what Marx means by use-value; that seems a clear, unambiguous, and useful term. I also understand what he means by exchange-value; that makes sense too. But what in the Hell does he mean by “Values.” Can anyone help? I hesitate to continue until someone can help me make sense of this.