Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 2 Post 1

Section 2 is “The two-fold character of the labour embodied in commodities”

Page 41: “At first sight a commodity presented itself to us a complex of two things–use-value and exchange-value.  Later on, we saw also that labour, too, possesses the same two-fold nature: for, so far as it finds expression in value, it does not possess the same characteristics that belong to it as a creator of use-values.”

In other words, when we abstracted use-value from the commodity, we were left with exchange-value; to put this in practical terms, when we ignore the particular things a commodity can be used for, we are left with the fact that it can be exchanged for other commodities.  In the same way, human labor can be divided: if we ignore the particular sort of labor (machine-tool operating, baking, &c), we are left with human labor in the abstract.  On the one hand, it produces a particular sort of thing; on the other hand it produces value.

“Let us take two commodities such as a coat and 10 yards of linen, and let the former be double the value of the latter, so that, if 10 yards of linen=W, the coat=2W.”

Take a moment to get used to this coat and the linen, because we’re going to be spending a lot of time with them.

“The coat is a use-value that satisfies a particular want.  Its existence is the result of a special sort of productive activity, the nature of which is determined by its aim, mode of operation, subject, means, and result.  The labour, whose utility is thus represented by the value in use of its product, or which manifests itself by making its product a use-value, we call useful labour.  In this connection we consider only its useful effect.”

So far as I can tell (I’m liable to be missing something), Marx is simply establishing here that useful labor (as opposed to wasted labor) of  a particular kind is what produces particular use-values.  Remember that by use-value we mean the properties of a commodity that make it satisfy a particular human want–it’s shape, size, weight, composition, function, &c.  A particular sort of labor produces use-values, human labor in the abstract produces value.  These things, of course, happen at the same time.

“As the coat and the linen are two qualitatively different use-values, so also are the two forms of labour that produce them, tailoring and weaving.  Were these two objects not qualitatively different, not produced respectively by labour of different quality, they could not stand to each other in the relation of commodities.  Coats are not exchanged for coats, one use-value is not exchanged for another of the same kind.”

Right.  Okay.  The key here is “stand in relation to each other as commodities.”  What does that mean?  It means they can be exchanged, I think.  If the same sort of labor produced them, they would be the same commodity, which means they couldn’t be exchanged (or exchanging them would be meaningless).  So exchange takes place between the products of different sorts of labor.  For the nitpickers out there, yes, of course I might exchange my heavy winter-coat for a snazzy lighter one, but those are different sorts of coats, which means different sorts of labor were expended on them; that we might refer to both forms of labor as “tailoring” or even “coat making” only shows that, for most practical purposes, those of us not in the coat-making industry ignore the subtle distinctions in how coats are made, because, for most purposes, that doesn’t interest us.  Marx could as easily have used 1 Type A coat = 2 Type B coat, but it would have introduced confusion for no gain in understanding, which is something we leave to the post-structuralists.

Page 42: “To all the different varieties of values in use there correspond as many different kinds of useful labour, classified according to the order, genus, species, and variety to which they belong in the social division of labour.  This division of labour is a necessary condition for the production of commodities, but it does not follow, conversely, that the production of commodities is a necessary condition for the division of labour.  In the primitive Indian community there is social division of labour, without production of commodities.  Or, to take an example nearer home, in every factory the labour is divided according to a system, but the division is not brought about by the operatives mutually exchanging their individual products.  Only such products can become commodities with regard to each other, as result from different kinds of labour, each kind being carried on independently and for the account of private individuals.”

I believe that, for our purposes in this case, a corporation counts as a private individual.  What we’re doing here, then, is being clear on just what we mean by commodities, and pointing out that division of labor is vital to their production.  It is interesting to contrast this with Adam Smith, who began his work with division of labor, and, I think, took commodity production as a given.  Marx’s point about the factory is that there is division of labor there: different parts to a greater whole are produced, or a single part is worked over by different people doing different things, or some combination: but they are not producing different commodities.  Until we actually have an object that satisfies a human want and can be exchanged at the market, we have not produced a commodity.  In practical terms, the guy who puts together the front passenger door for the 2010 Prius is not producing a different commodity from the guy who attaches that door to the Prius’s frame.

Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 1 Post 5

Page 39: “We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production.  Each individual commodity, in this connexion, is to be considered as an average sample of its class.  Commodities, therefore, in which equal quantities of labour are embodied, or which can be produced in the same time, have the same value.”

This is probably a good place to drop in an historical note: Up until this point, what we have is clear statement of something that the serious political economists of the time (Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Benjamin Franklin, &c &c) would have agreed with.   The stumbling block to political economists, was this: If commodities all sell at their value, and value is determined by the amount of labor embodied in it, and labor is a commodity–where does the profit come from?  Smith, as we know, invented “ordinary profits of stock” to sidestep the issue.  Franklin simply ignored it, and Ricardo, from my limited understanding (I haven’t read him), expresses the problem in the clearest terms without solving it.  In the footnotes, there are quotes of various efforts to solve this, my favorite being the guy who explained that profit comes from capitalists denying themselves luxuries.  I kid you not.

Page 40: “The value of a commodity would therefore remain constant, if the labour-time required for its production also remained constant.  The latter changes with every variation in the productiveness of labour.  This productiveness is determined by various circumstances, amongst others, by the average amount of skill of the workmen, the state of science, and the degree of its practical application, the social organization of production, the extent and capabilities of the means of production, and by the physical conditions.”

The more productive a given form labour is, the lower the value of the commodity produced by that form of labour.  This will become very important later.

“For example, the same amount of labour in favorable seasons is embodied in 8 bushels of corn, and in unfavorable seasons only in four.  The same labour extracts from rich mines more metal than from poor mines.  Diamonds are of very rare occurrence on the earth’s surface, and hence their discovery costs, on an average, a great deal of labour-time.  Consequently much labour is represented in a small compass.”

I think there was a question earlier about diamonds &c, and there’s the answer.  Makes sense to me.  What I don’t understand is why “8” is given as a numeral, and “four” is spelled out.  But this mystery may be less important, in the cosmic scheme of things, than others, so we’ll pass over it.

“A thing can be a use-value, without having value.  This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour.  Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, &c.  A thing can be useful, and the product of human labour, without being a commodity.  Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, indeed, use-values, but not commodities.  In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others, social use-values. ”

This is followed by a parenthetical comment about medieval peasant’s quit-rent-corn and tithe-corn, which is, in turn, followed by a footnote by Engels; the point being that not all use-values produced for others are commodities; they must be produced for exchange to be commodities.

Page 41: “Lastly nothing can have value, without being an object of utility.  If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it: the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value.”

And here, at lest, we have reached the end of Section 1.  Huzzah.

Capital Interlude: Brust's Law

Brust’s Law is as follows: Truth is counter-intuitive.

I remember the first time a teacher explained to me that a gas took up more volume per weight than the same substance as a solid.  That was obviously ridiculous; gas is malleable, so clearly it can be pressed into a smaller space than a solid would.  Right?  Of course, further explanation  clarified the matter.

I remember Clausewitz explaining that wars are always started by the defender, which is blatantly absurd–and also true.  The one who attacks doesn’t want a war, he wants, for example, to conquer territory, or control resources, or subjugate a population.  If the one who was attacked simply permitted this to happen, there would be no war.

It is absurd to think that a single cell organism could, over eons, evolve into a human being.

It is preposterous to think that an object heavier than air could fly.

But, there it is, truth is counter-ntuitive, and it only becomes intuitively obvious when we begin to understand the subject well enough to change our intuitions.

It seems intuitively obvious that, if you raise the labor cost (ie, wages) of a commodity, the price of the commodity will rise.  Intuitively obvious, but wrong (even the bourgeois economists stopped trying to sell “the wage-price spiral” after about 1977).  Why?  Don’t worry, we’ll get there.  But for now, as we go through Capital, when something strikes you as counter-intuitive, that means it is something to pay close attention to, not a reason to shut down your brain.

Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 1 Post 4

We now have three concepts: use-value, exchange-value, and value.  (I’m not sure under what conditions Marx capitalizes the V in value; it seems inconsistent, but I’m guessing there is a reason for it somewhere).

Use-value refers to the material particulars of the commodity; size, weight, chemical composition, shape, &c.  Exchange-value refers to the quantity of that commodity that can be exchange for given quantities other commodities.  Value refers that which is carried by the commodity that permits it to be exchanged for definite quantities of other commodities; we might say that exchange-value is the reflection of value, or how value is expressed in the market.

Value, in other words, is the expression of human labor in the abstract– by abstract, we mean that, when discussing value, we no more care about the particular nature of the labor that produced the commodity, then we care about the use-value.

Page 38: “We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange-value manifests itself as something totally independent of  their use-value.  But if we abstract from their use-value, there remains their Value as defined above.  Therefore, the common substance that manifests itself, whenever they are exchanged, is their value.”

“A use-value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because human labour in the abstract has been embodied or materialized in it.  How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured?  Plainly, by the quantity of the value-creating substance, the labour, contained in the article.  The quantity of labour, however, is measured by its duration.”

Well, okay, that makes sense.  But what if the labor is, well, badly done?  How do you derive value from shoddy work (unless you’re Microsoft)?

Page 39: “Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle and and unskilful the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time would be required in it’s production.  The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour-power.  The total labour-power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced that society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour-power, composed though it be of  innumerable individual units.  Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it has the character of average labour-power of society, and takes effect as such; that is, so far as it requires for producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average, no more than is socially necessary.  The labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time.”

So then: the value of a commodity is determined by the amount of labor necessary for it’s production, not the amount that, in a given case, it actually took.  If it takes me twice as long to make a brick as it takes most people,  it doesn’t mean my bricks are worth twice as much, it means I’m about to be fired from my job as a brick-maker.

But this brings up the next question: How do we compare the labor of me, an humble brick-maker, with that of, for example, the architect who created the blue-prints for these townhouses my bricks will be used on?  He is paid a great deal more than me, presumably his labor is worth more.

Glancing ahead, it seems we will be getting to that.  For now, I will quietly mediate on socially necessary labor time.

Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 1 Post 3

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.