The following text was written in November 2018 as presentation for a series of self-education discussions on the 1st volume of Capital organised at our local Workers’ Club. With this text, and the other presentations we’ll post in the future, we tried to keep a difficult balance: on the one hand, being a presentation of the subject-matter for people who are coming in contact with Capital for the first time and, on the other hand, having to offer some food for thought and discussion for people who are already familiar with Marx’s work.
Now if I wished to refute all such objections in advance, I should spoil the whole dialectical method of exposition. On the contrary, the good thing about this method is that it is constantly setting traps for those fellows [the vulgar economists] which will provoke them into an untimely display of their idiocy. (Karl Marx, “Marx to Engels, 27 June 1867” in MECW 42, p. 390)
The dialectical method of exposition used by Marx in Capital means, among other things, that while his argument is developing, so does the concepts he uses, acquiring new determinations. Thus, if we suppose that the question of the commodity is considered answered by Marx in the first chapter of the first volume of Capital, we would ourselves fall into the traps he set, together with his critics. The commodity (as well as the rest of the categories) continues to develop page by page in Capital, and it is only in the third volume that we can say that we overall see the commodity, only after the formation of prices has been discussed.
Why the commodity?
Capital is a theoretical attack on capitalism. Since capital is a social relation based on a particular form of exploitation of labour, a question arises: why Capital doesn’t begin with an analysis of the process of production but instead with its immediate product, the commodity? Capital, as a critique of political economy from within the political economy, begins with a usual starting point of the economics handbooks. Marx begins from common and generally accepted claims in order to, by developing his analysis, oveturn them, showing the ideological character of the claims of the political economy.
Something is missing from the above answer. It doesn’t answer why Marx chose the commodity and not some other of the usual starting points, e.g., the division of labour, the starting point of Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. The key for answering the question can be found in the statements of Marx himself: “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’; the individual commodity appears as its elementary form” (Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Penguin Books, 1976, p. 125). “What I proceed from is the simplest social form in which the product of labour presents itself in contemporary society, and this is the ‘commodity‘. This I analyse, initially in the form in which it appears“. (Karl Marx, “Marginal Notes on Adolph Wagner’s Lehrbuch der politischen Oekonomie” in MECW 24, p. 544). “Elementary form of wealth” and “simplest social form”. The elementary, simplest form which wealth takes is that of the commodity. Since the commodity is the simplest form with which capital is appearing, its in this form that we can find the simplest points to base the exhibition of more complex categories.
The last point for an interpetation of his choice of the commidity as the starting point goes beyond the limits of the economic theory and how a narrowly theoretical critique of it can be structured. The commodity, as the simplest, elementary form of wealth is the immediate object that people encounter in their daily lives under capitalism. People need various goods to fulfil their needs and desires. Under capitalism, these goods have taken the form of a commodity. In order for people to gain access to them, they need to possess money. If someone doesn’t have property of his own, he must work for someone else in order to gain money to exchange for these commodities. Therefore, since the social wealth has taken the form of the commodity, the disspossed have to become wage-labourers in order to acquire the commodities they need. The commodity, the simplest form of capital, is also the simplest form of class struggle:
In Marx’s view capital was above all a social relation, more specifically a social relation of struggle between the classes of bourgeois society: capitalist and working classes. If capital is basically the dynamic of the class struggle, then it would be reasonable to begin its study by examining the most basic characteristics of that struggle. Although that is exactly what Marx does, the relation between commodities and class struggle is not immediately obvious. To clarify this relation, it must be understood that the class struggle is over the way the capitalist class imposes the commodity-form on the bulk of the population by forcing people to sell part of their lives as the commodity labour-power in order to survive and gain some access to social wealth. In other words, the overwhelming majority of the people are put in a situation where they are forced to work to avoid starvation. The capitalist class creates and maintains this situation of compulsion by achieving total control over all the means of producing social wealth. The generalized imposition of the commodity-form has meant that forced work has become the fundamental means of organizing society – of social control. It means the creation of a working class – a class of people who can survive only by selling their capacity to work to the class that controls the means of production. (Harry Cleaver, Reading “Capital” Politically, AK Press, 2000, p. 81-82)
Of course, class struggle isn’t unilateral. The commodity is the way that labour is imposed, it’s an organ of class struggle from the side of capitalists. When the social wealth was starting to take the form of the commodity, the under-formation working class retorted to that. One of the first forms the social struggles took was the so-called food riots, the riots of the impoverished population expropriating food, destroying shops (e.g., bakeries) and demanding either decrease of the prices of the commodities or the restoration of the common lands where they could freely cultivate food.
Capitalism is a system for the exploitation of labour. But the same can be said about slavery, feudalism, etc. But the wage-labourer is neither a slave nor a serf, etc. We need to study the specifically capitalist features of the exploitation of labour. Wage-labour is imposed by the commodity-form the social wealth has taken, and the wage-labourer sells in the market the only commodity he owns, his labour power, i.e., his labour capacity. Thus, the commodity-form is the key for understanding the specifically capitalist exploitation and domination.
Commodities have a dual character, they are a use-value and a value. Use-value means that something (either material or immaterial) has a usefulness.
The usefulness of a thing makes it a use-value. But this usefulness does not dangle in mid-air. lt is conditioned by the physical properties of the commodity, and has no existence apart from the latter. It is therefore the physical body of the commodity itself, for instance iron, corn, a diamond, which is the use -value or useful thing. This property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful qualities. When examining use-values, we always assume we are dealing with definite quantities, such as dozens of watches, yards of linen, or tons of iron. […] Use-values are only realized [verwirklicht] in use or in consumption. They constitute the material content of wealth, whatever its social form may be. In the form of society to be considered here they are also the material bearers [Träger] of … exchange-value. (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 126)
Use-value has to do with the body of the thing. An apple is use-value, i.e., it’s useful, because of its body: it has some nutrients, it has a particular flavour, etc., which can fulfil some needs and desires of some people. A novel is use-value, i.e., it’s useful, because of its body: it narrates a story, it stimulates some emotions, etc., which can fulfil some needs and desires of some people.
Use-values have a social-historic character. In different societies and in different periods, something that was deemed useless may gain a utility, or its utility may change. We may consider a cow as use-value due to its meat that we turn into a meal. But a Hindu, who considers the cow as holy, cannot find it useful as food. Nowadays, a cow is, in general, useful as source of food (meat and milk) or of raw material (cowhide). But in the past, a cow was also useful for pulling carts, ploughs, etc. If we had a time-machine and went back in time to give a book to a caveman, he would either find it useless or he would find a different utility in it: maybe, e.g., he would discover that he can use it as fuel for a bonfire.
Nothing is useful in itself, nor there is an abstract relation of utility between a thing and Man. Something is useful for some particular people under some particular conditions. These particular people that are under some particular conditions find something to be of use for them, and “they call them ‘goods’ or something else which expresses the fact that they use these things in practice, that these things are useful to them, and they give the thing this character of utility as if it possessed it, although it would hardly occur to a sheep that one of its ‘useful’ qualities is that it can be eaten by human beings” (Marx, “Marginal Notes on Adolph Wagner’s Lehrbuch der politischen Oekonomie” in MECW 24, p. 539).
The fact that a commodity is use-value doesn’t mean that only commodities are use-values, not that it’s labour in general, a human’s activity, the only source of use-values. “Nature is just as much the source of use values […] as labour, which itself is only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labour power. […] And insofar as man from the outset behaves towards nature, the primary source of all instruments and objects of labour, as an owner, treats her as belonging to him, his labour becomes the source of use values, therefore also of wealth. The bourgeois have very good grounds for ascribing supernatural creative power to labour; since precisely from the fact that labour is determined by nature, it follows that the man who possesses no other property than his labour power must, in all conditions of society and culture, be the slave of other men who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labour” (Karl Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Programme” in MECW 24, p. 81).
Commodities have a dual character, they are a use-value and a value. We discussed use-value. The phenomenal form of the second characteristic of the commodities, value, is the exchange-value. Exchange-value is the form of appearance of value, the form with which value appears during the exchange of commodities. Since exchange-value appears only during the act of exchange, “exchange-value, without at least two of them, does not exist” (Marx, “Marginal Notes on Adolph Wagner’s Lehrbuch der politischen Oekonomie” in MECW 24, p. 533). Thus, an exchange-value never appears alone, there always appear at least two of them, depending on the number of commodities being exchanged. But what’s the exchange-value?
Exchange-value appears first of all as the quantitative relation, the proportion, in which use-values of one kind exchange for use-values of another kind. This relation changes constantly with time and place. Hence exchange-value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e. an exchange-value that is inseparably connected with the commodity, inherent in it, seems a contradiction in terms. (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 126)
Now, let’s investigate exchange-value more closely:
A given commodity, a quarter of wheat for example, is exchanged for x boot-polish, y silk or z gold, etc. In short, it is exchanged for other commodities in the most diverse proportions. Therefore the wheat has many exchange values instead of one. But x boot-polish, y silk or z gold, etc., each represent the exchange-value of one quarter of wheat. Therefore x boot-polish, y silk, z gold, etc., must, as exchange-values, be mutually replaceable or of identical magnitude. It follows from this that, firstly, the valid exchange-values of a particular commodity express something equal, and secondly, exchange-value cannot be anything other than the mode of expression, the “form of appearance”, of a content distinguishable from it. (Ibid, p. 127)
How can two amounts of different commodities be equated, i.e., exchanged one another in the market, since they’re disparate? The only possible answer it that these two disparate things can be equated with a third thing. Therefore, two disparate commodities must be reducable to a third thing. What’s this third thing that’s common for both commodities?
The common for both commodities cannot be a physical quality of the commodities, since they’re different. Their physical qualities concern their use-values, and it’s precisely those that make them two disparate objects. Exchange-values “do not contain an atom of use-value” (Ibid, p. 128). Therefore, if we ignore all the physical qualities of a commodity, its only feature that remains is that it’s a product of labour. And indeed, this is common for all commodities. Since we deal with commodities as just products of labour, we abstract their concrete physical qualities, their use-values. Therefore, we don’t deal with the labour that produced them as being concrete, as a human activity that followed a concrete process, some concrete steps, in order to produce a concrete result. We deal with labour in an abstract way, as an abstract labour regardless its concrete practical process. Thus, the third thing common to commodities is the expenditure of human labour. We call this third thing “value”, and exchange-value is just the expression of value during the exchange.
We found the third thing that’s common to all commodities, it’s abstract labour. In order to complete this quest we have to find the way that this labour is quantified so that quantitative comparisons are made during the exchange of commodities. As we have seen, by regarding labour as the common between the commodities, we abstracted the concrete aspects of labour. Hence, the only thing left to quantify labour, to measure it, is its temporal duration. But, which time are we measuring?
It might seem that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour expended to produce it, it would be the more valuable the more unskilful and lazy the worker who produced it, because he would need more time to complete the article. However, the labour that forms the substance of value is equal human labour, the expenditure of identical human labour-power. The total labour-power of society, which is manifested in the values of the world of commodities, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human labour-power, although composed of innumerable individual units of labour-power. Each of these units is the same as any other, to the extent that it has the character of a socially average unit of labour-power and acts as such, i.e. only needs, in order to produce a commodity, the labour time which is necessary on an average, or in other words is socially necessary. Socially necessary labour-time is the labour-time required to produce any use-value under the conditions of production normal for a given society and with the average degree of skill and intensity of labour prevalent in that society. The introduction of power-looms into England, for example, probably reduced by one half the labour required to convert a given quantity of yarn into woven fabric. In order to do this, the English hand-loom weaver in fact needed the same amount of labour-time as before; but the product of his individual hour of labour now only represented half an hour of social labour, and consequently fell to one half its former value. (Ibid, p. 129)
Therefore, the magnitude of the value of a commodity is the socially necessary labour-time for the production of this kind of commodity. If the socially necessary labour-time for the production of a kind of commodity changes, then also changes the value of those commodities. The greater the productivity of labour, the shorter the socially necessary labour-time for the production of a kind of commodity, hence the smaller the value of those commodities, and vice-versa. “This [productivity of labour] is determined by a wide range of circumstances; it is determined amongst other things by the workers’ average degree of skill, the level of development of science and its technological application, the social organization of the process of production, the extent and effectiveness of the means of production, and the conditions found in the natural environment” (Ibid, p. 130).
The dual character of commodities is also reflected in the labour which produces them. We thus distinguish in the same labour two different aspects, a concrete and an abstract one. We saw that human labour produces use-values. We call this aspect of labour “concrete, useful labour”. A labour aiming at producing a concrete result, a concrete use-value, must follow a concrete process, some concrete steps. Someone will follow one process to make a table and another, different process to make a software. The use-value that people find in an object has to do with the physical qualities of this object. If we want to produce an object with some concrete physical qualities, then the labour we’ll execute must have some concrete qualities in order for its result to be the object with the concrete physical qualities that we had in mind. Therefore, labours producing different use-values are qualitatively different labours.
Since useful labour is the aspect of labour regarding use-values, and since for the equation of commodities in exchange we abstract their use-values, then as a result we must also abstract the useful character of the labours that produced them. We call the labour from which we abstracted its concrete, deliberate characteristics, “abstract labour”. The only characteristic of abstract human labour is time, in order to be the comparative magnitude for the equation of commodities in the market. That way, we don’t equate only the commodities. The equation of commodities results from the equation of the labours that produced them.
[T]he value of a commodity represents human labour pure and simple, the expenditure of human labour in general. […] It is the expenditure of simple labour-power, i.e. of the labour-power possessed in his bodily organism by every ordinary man, on the average, without being developed in any special way. Simple average labour, it is true, varies in character in different countries and at different cultural epochs, but in a particular society it is given. More complex labour counts only as intensified, or rather multiplied simple labour, so that a smaller quantity of complex labour is considered equal to a larger quantity of simple labour. […] A commodity may be the outcome of the most complicated labour, but through its value it is posited as equal to the product of simple labour, hence it represents only a specific quantity of simple labour. The various proportions in which different kinds of labour are reduced to simple labour as their unit of measurement are established by a social process that goes on behind the backs of the producers; these proportions therefore appear to the producers to have been handed down by tradition. […] While, therefore, with reference to use-value, the labour contained in a commodity counts only qualitatively, with reference to value it counts only quantitatively, once it has been reduced to human labour pure and simple. In the former case it was a matter of the “how” and the “what” of labour, in the latter of the “how much”, of the temporal duration of labour. (Ibid, p. 135 & 136)
Naturally, this temporal duration is altered with the change of the productivity of labour (technological progress, workers’ average degree of skill and education, natural conditions, etc.). The productivity of labour affects both the quantities of commodities produced and their values. The greater the productivity of labour, the greater the quantity of commodities produced in a given period of time, and the smaller the value of each individual commodity, i.e., the smaller the labour-time represented in each individual commodity.
[A]n increase in the amount of material wealth may correspond to a simultaneous fall in the magnitude of its value. This contradictory movement arises out of the twofold character of labour. By “productivity” of course, we always mean the productivity of concrete useful labour; in reality this determines only the degree of effectiveness of productive activity directed towards a given purpose within a given period of time. Useful labour becomes, therefore, a more or less abundant source of products in direct proportion as its productivity rises or falls. As against this, however, variations in productivity have no impact whatever on the labour itself represented in value. As productivity is an attribute of labour in its concrete useful form, it naturally ceases to have any bearing on that labour as soon as we abstract from its concrete useful form. The same labour, therefore, performed for the same length of time, always yields the same amount of value, independently of any variations in productivity. But it provides different quantities of use-values during equal periods of time; more, if productivity rises; fewer, if it falls. For this reason, the same change in productivity which increases the fruitfulness of labour, and therefore the amount of use-values produced by it, also brings about a reduction in the value of this increased total amount, if it cuts down the total amount of labour-time necessary to produce the use-values. The converse also holds. (Ibid, p. 136-137)
Before finishing, we’d like to make some further clarifications regarding the categories of abstract labour and value.
Abstract labour isn’t a separate activity from concrete labour. They’re distinct, but not separate. Suppose there’s a furniture maker employed by a boss. Suppose that his job for today is to make a chair. The furniture maker executes only one, singular labour: he makes a chair. But this singular labour, precisely because he’s empoyed by a boss who will take the chair and sell it in the market, takes simultaneously two distinct forms: a concrete and an abstract one. One the one hand, the chair he produces has a concrete usefulness, his labour thus produces a use-value. On the other hand, the chair he produces belongs to his boss, who will sell the chair in the market for profit, thus his labour produces value. “From the above follows that there are, precisely speaking, not two kinds of labour in the commodity, but that the same labour here contradicts itself, depending on whether the same labour refers to the use-value of the commodity as its own product, or the value of this commodity as its purely objective expression”. There’s no two different labours, but the same labour which is characterised by two contradictory determinations.
Although labour can produce value only if it’s abstract, not every labour is value-producing to the extent that we can conceive it abstractly. Only the “practically abstract” labour produces value, i.e., the labour which is dealt with in practice as abstract. If we identify abstract labour with value-producing labour and also persist that value-producing labour is a historically particular social labour, then we must affirm that abstract labour is historically particular. The concept of abstract (“metabolic”) labour abstracts the real human labour, which is always consciously deliberate (concrete labour). This concept of abstract labour as a simple mental abstraction, an abstraction in thought, of the concrete qualities of the real, actual, concrete labour, is a generally applicable concept for abstract labour. We can make this mental abstraction for any historical form of human labour, so it isn’t a concept that can serve as the basis for a truly social theory of value and is of no particular difference from the Ricardian labour theory of value. On the contrary, the “practically abstract” labour is the labour which society itself deal with as abstract in their daily practices – even if the individuals aren’t consciousness that they do it, but this is a point for another time, when we’ll discuss the commodity fetishism.
We find this “practically abstract” labour only under capitalism, with its universal commodity production. We must never forget that the commodities Marx talks about in the first chapter of Capital are capitalist commodities. Lets repeat the opening phrase of Capital: “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’; the individual commodity appears as its elementary form”. The commodity we’ve been discussing this whole time wasn’t a commodity in any time in history, it’s the product of capital. “[A] highly developed commodity exchange and the form of the commodity as the universally necessary social form of the product can only emerge as the consequence of the capitalist mode of production” (Karl Marx, “Results of the Immediate Process of Production” in Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 949).
Let’s think this through. On the one hand, we have the commodity, something moving in the market, and, on the other hand, the production of the commodity. Value as “practically abstract labour” is constituted parallelly in both these moments. “A moment is an element considered in itself that can be conceptually isolated and analyzed as such but that can have no isolated existence” (Geert Reuten, “The Difficult Labor of a Social Theory of Value” in Fred Moseley, ed, Marx’s Method in “Capital”: A Reexamination, Humanities Press, 1993, p. 92). “There is no value without the qualitative transformation of privately undertaken labour into socially valid labour, and that transformation cannot be completed in the sphere of production: to complete the circuit of value, commodities must be sold” (Patrick Murray, The Mismeasure of Wealth: Essays on Marx and Social Form, Brill, 2016, p. 212). The commodity is capitalistically produced and is channeled into the capitalistic market to be sold. Let’s return to the furniture maker and his chair. The chair wasn’t produced to fulfil the needs of the producer (neither of the direct producer, the furniture maker, nor of the owner of the chair, the furniture maker’s boss), but to fulfil the needs of a third individual, the buyer of the chair. The chair’s use-value is social, it’s not aimed at the producer but at the society. If noone buys the chair then, on the one hand, the labour that produced the chair is judged as socially useless and unnecessary, superfluous, and, on the other hand, the labour-time consumed for its production didn’t got expressed in money, in exchange-value, thus the chair, not being sold, is devalued, it loses its value. “In order to become a commodity, the product must be transferred to the other person, for whom it serves as a use-value, through the medium of exchange. Finally, nothing can be a 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” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 131). During the production of the chair, its value was still only a potentiality, a possibility: by not being sold, the value failed to be expressed. The chair was never sold, the labour for its production was judged in the market as useless, so the chair’s value was never realised.
When we occupy ourselves with abstract labour we are confronted with the Rubin’s dilemma:
One of two things is possible: if abstract labor is an expenditure of human energy in physiological form, then value also has a reified-material character. Or value is a social phenomenon, and then abstract labor must also be understood as a social phenomenon connected with a determined social form of production. It is not possible to reconcile a physiological concept of abstract labor with the historical character of the value which it creates. (Isaak Illich Rubin, Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value, Black Rose Books, 1990, p. 135)
Marx uses the term “abstract labour” to describe both of the above-mentioned: both the expenditure of human energy in physiological form and the value-producing labour. In order to escape Rubin’s dilemma we must admit that Marx had faced a problem in defining some of the concepts he was describing. He tried to articulate something that classical political economy had never grasped, and in various points we find him struggling to express what’s in his mind with “borrowed” terms. Althusser describes this very graphically:
[T]he cause of the limitations to his conceptual expression of a revolution which affects the theoretical through the discovery of a new science does not lie in personal circumstances or in a “lack of time” alone: it may lie above all in the degree to which the objective theoretical conditions which govern the possibility of the formulation of these concepts are realized. Indispensable theoretical concepts do not magically construct themselves on command when they are needed. The whole history of the beginnings of sciences or of great philosophies shows, on the contrary, that the exact set of new concepts do not march out on parade in single file; on the contrary, some are long delayed, or march in borrowed clothes before acquiring their proper uniforms – for as long as history fails to provide the tailor and the cloth. In the meantime, the concept is certainly present in its works, but in a different form from that of a concept – in a form which is looking for itself inside a form “borrowed” from other custodians of formulated and disposable, or fascinating concepts. This goes to show that there is nothing incomprehensible in the paradoxical fact that Marx treated his original method of analysis as a method that already existed even in the instant when he invented it. (Louis Althusser, “From Capital to Marx’s Philosophy” in Althusser, Balibar, Establet, Macherey & Rancière, Reading Capital: The Complete Edition, Verso 2015)
Although Marx understood the novelty of his theoretical discoveries, he never fully grasped the reality of his distance from the theoreticians on the shoulders of whom he was standing, mainly the distance separating him from Ricardo and Hegel. He ended up in a theoretical uncharted area of which he drew the first charts. Hence, we can understand why he gave the same name to two different things, knowing himself that they’re two different things. He called abstract labour the simple expenditure of human energy in physiological form. He also called abstract labour the fact that under capitalism, people in their daily practice, the buying and selling of commodities, are dealing with labour as being the simple expenditure of human energy in physiological form. To distinguish between the two concepts, for the latter concept we borrow from Patrick Murray the term “practically abstract labour”.
If we didn’t see the value-producing labour as “practically abstract” labour but as the “abstract labour” to which we end up with the simple concept of mental abstraction, as the labour in general, as the “expenditure of human brains, muscles, nerves, hands etc.” for the metabolism of nature, then we would end up to a transhistorical concept for value, with the human activity in general being value-producing, under any social conditions. Value wouldn’t be a specifically capitalist social form but a reified characteristic of the products of human activity in general; we would be conceiving, against Marx’s warning, labour as possessing a “supernatural creative power”. Following this logic, a caveman making a spear by processing a wooden stick and a rock would be producing value embodied in that spear. However, “if we speak of productive labour, we speak of socially determined labour, labour which implies a very definite relation between its buyer and its seller” (MECW 34 p. 447). Value-production is the economic expression of the capital relation of domination of capitalists over proletarians, not the content of labour activities themselves. Thus, value is the economic form of the specifically capitalist exploitation of labour, not a characteristic of the products of labour in general.
1. For these riots at the beggining of the formation of market and capitalism, see Joshua Clover, “The Golden Age of Riot” in Clover, Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings, Verso, 2016, and E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century”, Past & Present 50, February 1971.
2. “When, at the beginning of this chapter, we said in the customary manner that a commodity is both a use-value and an exchange-value, this was, strictly speaking, wrong. A commodity is a use-value or object of utility, and a ‘value’. It appears as the twofold thing it really is as soon as its value possesses its own particular form of manifestation, which is distinct from its natural form. This form of manifestation is exchange-value, and the commodity never has this form when looked at in isolation, but only when it is in a value-relation or an exchange relation with a second commodity of a different kind” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 152).
3. Of course, there are commodities that aren’t the products of capitalist labour or aren’t products of labour at all. However, Marx noted that since a good enters the market and a price is posed to it, this good is equated with a particular amount of labour, and it’s dealt with the same way as the capitalist produced commodities, being incorporated in the circuit of total social capital. See Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 2, Penguin Books, 1978, p. 189-190.
4. From the French edition of Capital, vol. 1. As far as we know, there’s no English translation of the French edition, so we translated this quote in English from a Greek translation: Karl Marx, Το Κεφάλαιο, τόμος πρώτος, ΚΨΜ Press, 2016, p. 953, extract Γ1.
5. See Patrick Murray, “Marx’s ‘Truly Social’ Labour Theory of Value” in Murray, The Mismeasure of Wealth: Essays on Marx and Social Form, Brill, 2016.