Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 1 Post 2

Page 36: “Exchange-value, at first sight, presents itself as a quantitative relation, as the proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for for those of another sort, a relation constantly changing with time and place.”

Since I was just discussing this with Scott in the previous post, I’ll quote myself, so I don’t have to look up more prices:  “If we speak of the EXCHANGE-value of the Rubbermaid Stain Resistant Bristles Angle Broom, we can put a number to it: $12.99 when expressed in U.S. Dollars, or 2.5 if expressed in gallons of whole milk, or .144 if expressed in Capital EXILIM 10.1 Megapixel digital cameras.”  In other words, yes, exchange value presents itself as two sets of numbers in relation to each other.  And, as Marx said, they change with time and place.  Those were today’s values at, respectively, Office Max, H.E.B., and Best Buy.  In a week they might well have changed, and if I checked another site, they would very likely be different (although not significantly).

“Hence exchange-value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrisic value, ie, an exchange-value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in terms.  Let us consider the matter a little more closely.”

Here I should digress to a discussion of Brust’s Law; but maybe I’ll make that a separate post.  Forget I said anything.

Page 37: “A given commodity, e.g., a quarter of wheat is exchanged for x blacking, y silk, or z gold, &c.–in short, for other commodities in the most different proportions.  Instead of one exchange-value, the wheat has, therefore, a great many.  But since x blacking, y silk, or z gold, &c., each represent the exchange-value of one quarter of wheat, x blacking, y silk, z gold, &c., must, as exchange values, be replaceable by each other, or equal to each other.  Therefore, first: the valid exchange-values of a given commodity express something equal; secondly, exchange-value, generally, is only the mode of expression, the phenomenal form, of something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it.”

Okay, let’s slow down.  In my example above, one broom can be exchanged for 2.5 gallons of milk, or .144 digital cameras (I’m ignoring money for now).  These things can, therefore, all be exchanged for each other.  In order for them to be exchangeable, there must be something in them that can be expressed as an equivalent.  No matter how you juggle numbers, purple cannot be exchanged for a dozen eggs; nor oxygen for philosophy.  For an expression of equivalence to be possible, there has to be something in common.  Exchange-value, then, expresses something that exists in all commodities, and permits quantitative assessment–ie, a number can be assigned to this common element in a broom and compared to the common element in a gallon of milk, producing the relationship 1 broom = 2.5 gallons of milk.

Marx uses corn and iron as his examples, saying 1 quarter corn = x hundredweight iron.  “What does this equation tell us?  It tells us that in two different things–1 quarter of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quantities something common to both.  The two things must therefore be equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other.  Each of them, so far as it is exchange-value, must therefore be reducible to this third.”

Now Marx is just restating what I already told you.  Fie on him.

“A simple geometrical illustration will make this clear.  In order to calculate and compare the areas of rectilinear figures, we decompose them into triangles.  But the area of the triangle itself is expressed by something totally different from its visible figure, namely, by half the product of the base into the altitude.  In the same way the exchange-values of commodities must be capable of being expressed in terms of something common to them all, of which they represent a greater or lesser quantity.”

Right.  I get it.

“This common  ‘something’ cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any other natural property of commodities.  Such properties claim our attention only in so far as they affect the utility of those commodities, make them use-values.  But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterized by a total abstraction from use-value.  Then one use-value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient quantity…As use-values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange-values they are merely different quantities, and consequently do not contain an atom of use-value.”

In order to find the common element contained in all commodities that permits their exchange, we abstract from them their utility–what it is about them that makes them useful, and in fact all their particular qualities; in just the same way, in order to determine how many insects I have in my house, I abstract from the insects all of their peculiarities, leaving only their number, and I am thus able to count them.  (The bug guy was, by the way, unimpressed with my diligence in this matter).

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.”

Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 1 Post 1

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.”

Capital Volume 1 Prefaces and Afterwords

Volume 1 of Capital was first published in 1865.  I am using the 1967 edition by International Publishers Co, Inc., including the changes made by Engels for the fourth edition, 1887.  LofC# 67-19754, ISBN 0-7178-00170-2.

Volume 1 is: “A critical analysis of capitalist production”

The first requirement for human history is human beings.  That is, we must exist.  In order to exist, we must live and reproduce.  To live, we must, like any animal, find or wrest food and shelter from nature.    Therefore, history resolves itself, first and foremost, into the question: how do we go about providing the necessaries of life?   Being born premature, it is the nature of our species to form societies so that the young may be provided for during the many years before they can provide for themselves; therefore we provide the necessaries of life socially.  Hence the understanding of the different social methods and systems of production and distribution of necessities becomes critical to understanding history.  Marx begins, therefore, with analyzing production and distribution in contemporary (for him, and also for us) societies.

From the preface  to the first German edition.  Page 10:  “In the domain of Political Economy, free scientific inquiry meets not merely the same enemies as in all other domains.  The peculiar nature of the material it deals with, summons as foes into the field of battle the most violent, mean and malignant passions of the human breast, the Furies of private interest.  The English Established Church, e.g., will more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on 1/39 of its income.  Now-a-days atheism itself is culpa levis, as compared with criticism of existing property relations.”

From the afterword to the second German edition.  Page 15: “With the year 1830 came the decisive crisis.  In France and in England the bourgeoisie had conquered political power.  Thenceforth, the class-struggle, practically as well as theoretically, took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms.  It sounded the knell of scientific bourgeois economy.  It was thenceforth no longer a question, whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient or inexpedient, politically dangerous or not.”

From the preface to the French edition.  Page 21: “In this form the book will be more accessible to the working-class, a consideration which to me outweighs everything else.”