(Obligatory Routine Introduction: For reasons explained here, I’m in the process of slogging through Marx’s Das Kapital. The plan is to read it in conjunction with watching David Harvey’s free on-line lectures about the book. I’ll be posting notes and initial impressions as I read. This will be an extremely long-term project.)
Today: Vol. I, Book I, Part I, Chapter I, Section 3(a). “The Elementary or Accidental Form of Value”
Vol. I, Book I, Part I, Chapter I, Section 3 – being an examination of the form of Value, or “exchange value.”
--Marx reiterates that commodities have “a physical or natural form” (their “use-value”) and a metaphysical Value form (which is measured by the exchange value; it is the latter he wishes to discuss here); Marx argues that this Value cannot be located in the physical commodity itself, but that because it is a social value, i.e., it is an embodiment of the social substance viz., human labor, it can manifest itself only in the “social relation” of commodity to commodity;
--Marx’s goal in Section 3 is to trace the “money form” of commodities, i.e., how it is the money form of commodities arises;
Subsection (a) – The Elementary or Accidental Form of Value (Revealed by an Exchange of Commodities)
Sub-subsection (a)(1) – Intro. to Relative and Equivalent Form of Value – here Marx introduces what he calls the relative and the equivalent forms of a commodity’s exchange value; it appears to be a lot of semantics, really;
--suppose 20 yds of linen is worth 1 coat; the linen expresses its value actively, as a relative value or relative form; the coat is passive, it serves as the material in which the value of the linen is expressed; the coat, as the equivalent of the linen, is the equivalent form of the exchange value (of course, if one wants to know what the coat is worth then it is worth 20 yds of linen and – asked that way – the linen becomes the equivalent form and the coat the relative form of the exchange value); “whether, then, a commodity assumes the relative form, or the opposite equivalent form, depends entirely upon its accidental position in the expression of value”
Sub-subsection (a)(2) – The Relative Form of Value
Sub-sub-subsection(a)(2)(a.) – the Nature and Import of the Relative Form
--Marx here proposes to examine the qualitative nature of the relative form without regard to its quantitative nature;
--in our example, the coat is the product of the concrete labor of tailoring, the linen the product of the concrete labor of weaving; each may be reduced to abstract human labor;
--human labor creates Value, but is not Value unless it is congealed in a commodity; to express the Value of the linen, that Value must be expressed as having an objective (but non-material) existence, common to the linen and to all other commodities; the coat, as the equivalent of the linen (in Value), is the measure of the Value (?) of the linen; “the coat officiates as the form of Value” for the linen and thus the linen acquires a value-form different than its physical form;
--by bringing these two commodities together into an exchange relationship, the equivalent form (the coat) allows the relative form (the linen) to express its value by communicating that it, like the equivalent (the coat) is an abstract of human labor; “the bodily form of commodity B becomes the value form of commodity A.” Commodity A’s exchange value, which cannot be expressed absent a Commodity B, is thus revealed as the “use-value” (physical manifestation) of Commodity B.
NOTE: as I understand it, what Marx is saying is that the immaterial Value of Commodity A is, by the process of exchange, realized as the physical “use-value of Commodity B.
Sub-sub-subsection(a)(2)(b.) – Quantitative Determination of Relative Value
--if 20 yds of linen is worth 1 coat, then what we are saying is that the socially useful labor time invested in the weaving of 20 yds of linen is the same as the socially useful labor time invested in the tailoring of 1 coat; but labor time varies with every change in productivity for weaving and tailoring, so Marx wants to examine the influence of changes in productivity on the relative expression of value;
--essentially, if the labor required to produce 20 yds of linen doubles but the labor required to produce a coat remains the same, then the relative value of linen expressed as commodity B (the coat) will double so that 20 yds linen = 2 coats;
--and if the labor required to produce 20 yds linen stays the same, but the labor to produce a coat doubles, then the relative value of linen expressed as commodity B (the coat) will halve, so that now 40 yds linen = 1 coat; on the other hand, if the labor required to produce a coat is halved than the relative value of the linen as expressed by the coat doubles, so that that 20 yds linen = 2 coats;
--etc., etc., etc. The point here is that “real changes in the magnitude of Value are neither unequivocally nor exhaustively reflected in their relative expression.” (relative expression depends on relationship between labor expended on two exchanged commodities). The relative value of a commodity may vary, though its Value remain constant; its relative value may remain constant, though its Value varies; simultaneous variations in the magnitude of Value and in that of its relative expression by no means necessarily correspond in amount (because you must take into consideration the Value and relative value of the equivalent Commodity B).
Sub-subsection (a)(3) – The Equivalent Form of Value – Marx argues that when a Commodity B (the coat) is present in an exchange as the equivalent it tells us nothing about its own Value, but only measures the Value of Commodity A (the linen); one can say that the measure of the socially useful human labor that is congealed in Commodity A (the linen) is the coat, but the coat as a physical object cannot measure its own Value – only the Value of the Commodity A for which it functions as an equivalent;
--the coat thus, as an expression of Value of the linen, represents a non-natural property of both, something purely social: their Value
--the coat, as a material object, is the opposite of Marx’s metaphysical Value; but because the coat, a material object, is the equivalent of the linen’s metaphysical Value the coat becomes the form under which that metaphysical value manifests itself;
--similarly, the concrete act of weaving labor is the opposite of Marx’s notion of abstract human labor; but by opposing the weaving another form of concrete labor (tailoring) that produces the coat, the concrete act of weaving becomes the form by which the abstract notion of human labor manifests itself;
--finally, because the exchange of undifferentiated human labor manifests itself in the exchange of commodities produced by private individuals using different concrete means, “the labor of private individuals takes the form of its opposite, labor directly social in its form.” (Huh??)
NOTE: I confess I don’t follow this at all. I think the nearest I can get to it is that the Value contained in any commodity cannot be measured or determined except in reference to other commodities, which means that the Value created by private individual labor manifests itself only in a social exchange of commodities, which are – after all – only congealed human labor to begin with;
--interestingly, Marx goes back to Aristotle who attempted to explain how two very different physical items (5 beds and 1 house) could be exchangeable; Aristotle argued that to be exchangeable the house and the beds had to be qualitatively equal, but he could find no basis for that equality; Marx argues that this is because the social institution of slavery – which valued men and their labor unequally – prevented Aristotle from perceiving that the equivalent values of the beds and the house arose out of the equivalent in human labor necessary to create them;
--the secret that all forms are labor are equal and equivalent cannot be discovered until the notion of human equality ‘has already acquired the fixity of a popular prejudice.’
Sub-subsection (a)(4) – The Elementary Form of Value as a Whole – Marx revises his earlier statement. A commodity does not consist of a use-value (physical instantiation) and an exchange value. A commodity consists of a use-value and a Value, which manifests itself only in relation to another commodity, i.e., as an exchange value;
--more fundamentally, the form or expression of the Value of a commodity originates in the nature of Value (socially useful human labor); it is not the case that Value and its magnitude originate in the mode of their expression as exchange value. In other words, the form or expression of Value depends upon the socially useful human labor necessary to create the commodity – that Value always exists and does not originate only when exchanged for another commodity (although it will manifest itself only then).
--KEY POINT: Value exists separate and apart from the exchange of commerce. However, it cannot be known or experienced without the exchange of commerce. It is not the case that Value is created by exchange of commerce, only that Value is revealed by the same.
--for Marx, describing the Value of a commodity in relation to some other commodity is still only the Elementary Form of value, which still must undergo some steps before we can realize the “Price-Form” of a Commodity
Quote: The expression of the value of Commodity A in the terms of any other Commodity B, merely distinguishes the Value from the use-value of A, and therefore places A merely in a relation of exchange with a single different commodity , B; but it is still far from expressing A’s qualitative equality, and quantitative proportionality, to all commodities.
Next Up: Vol. I, Book I, Part I, Chapter I, Sections 3(b), (c) and (d). Gad! I can’t believe I’m still in Chapter 1.