Capital Reading Group: Chapter 1 - The Commodity - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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#13389579
Discussion for Chapter 1: The Commodity

Content:

  • Section 1 - The Two Factors of a Commodity: Use-Value and Value
  • Section 2 - The twofold Character of the Labour Embodied in Commodities
  • Section 3 - The Form of Value or Exchange-Value
  • A. Elementary or Accidental Form of Value
    1. The Two Poles of the Expression of Value: Relative Form and Equivalent Form
    2. The Relative Form of Value
    a. The Nature and Import of this Form
    b. Quantitative Determination of Relative Value
    3. The Equivalent Form of Value
    4. The Elementary Form of Value Considered as a Whole
  • B. Total or Expanded Form of Value
    1. The Expanded Relative Form of Value
    2. The Particular Equivalent Form
    3. Defects of the Total or Expanded Form of Value
  • C. The General Form of Value
    1. The Altered Character of the Form of Value
    2. The Interdependent Development of the Relative Form of Value, and of the Equivalent Form
    3. Transition from the General Form of Value to the Money-Form
  • D. The Money-Form
  • Section 4 - The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret thereof

Reading Material Online: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/wo ... 1/ch01.htm
David Harvey Lecture: http://davidharvey.org/2008/06/marxs-capital-class-02/

Please refer to which section/subsection you have been reading up to since we may all be reading at different paces.
By Sybil
#13393025
ok. At the risk of sounding like an idiot, I'll make the first post. ;)

Capital - Chapter 1, Section 1

The commodity satisfies human wants.

In this section, Marx lays out some very important definitions which he will use in the rest of the book. At its foundations, he describes the two main types of value: use-value and exchange-value. Something has a use-value if it is useful. The exchange-value is basically the price at which something can be exchanged for something else. The exchange-value has to be reduced to some abstract form which does not take into account the use-value. I guess this is to make things easier when using the exchange values in formulas. With this one can compare x quantities of one commodity with y quantities of another.

He then goes on to talk about human labour (or magnitude of value of a use-value?) and how that relates to exchange-value. It is also an abstract quantity like the exchange-value. He explains that the amount of time needed to produce an item is reflected in price/exchange-value. This is some sort of average social labour time of which he speaks and not the product of very lazy or inefficient individuals.

How does he resolve the matter then of people in this day and age who pay a large amount for custom made goods from boutiques and small scale producers? I suppose it does make sense because there is a scarcity and they take more time to make. But he also says that hand weavers will get less for their products after the introduction of steam power in the textile industry. As with many of the political-economic principles I have come across they seem to be highly relavent only to their time periods on some points. Or perhaps, he was just talking about basic goods and not the end products?
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By Le Rouge
#13396963
I'm slowly trudging through the first chapter (again). I'm trying to take extensive notes this time.

Here are my observations / notes / questions about the first three paragraphs.

Q:Does the use of 'prevail' entail that societies may have two or more different modes of production?
A: I think so, I think there is a distinction between 'societies were capitalist mode of production exists', 'societies were capitalist mode of production prevails', and 'societies were the mode of production of is entirely capitalist'.

Societies where capitalist m-o-p prevails 'present its wealth'--presents how? (ideology)--as a composite of units, that unit being the commodity. Capitalist wealth = the mass of commodities.

Marx isn't taking the way capitalism is (not its historical character) as his starting point but as the way it presents itself.

Is this a simple 'essence-appearance' dialectic or something more complex? Either way, I think it's interesting that Marx opens with presenting the commodity as a unit (part) of a capitalist wealth (whole... or aggregate?) and then begins with analyzing the part and not the whole. I think he's setting up his methodological framework at an early point. (Appearance of the whole, parts of the appearance, investigation of the part). It's also not without interest, at least I think, that the German word Marx uses for “investigation” also translates as 'fact-finding' and 'inquiry'.

“A useful thing...” not things. The use of “thing” is both singular and abstract. Marx isn't even talking about commodities yet. Useful things can be viewed as quantities and qualities. Useful things are not an absolute reduction of the material world for Marx. He further breaks down useful things into “an assemblage of many properties”. Furthermore, the discovery of the utility of things is a historical task determined by what determines history. This is Marx's recuperation of utility from the hogwash of the utilitarianism. Societies recognize standards of measure for the quantities of these useful objects. This task too is the work of history. The historical diversity of these measures derive from (a) the nature of the objects (essence) and (b) convention (circulating practice).
By anticlimacus
#13409744
It's been a bit since I've looked back at Capital, but I think it's important to ask the question, Why does Marx begin with commodities? I don't think it's because commodities = wealth as was suggested above. It's because commodity production is key to understanding the capitalist mode of production. Commodities are essentially use values that go on the market to be exchanged for a certain price, to be determined by a nother more universal use-value: money. Thus rather than production going to the producers and being controlled by the producers for the sake of making use values; production is controlled and directed by those who have an interest in exchange value and the products are alienated from those who produce them. Thus with commodities we already have a basic social distinction between capitalists and laborers, based on a separation of capital from labor. What bourgeois economists ignore, according to Marx, is that commodity production is actually a social process that has become abstract--"exchange," "labor," "contract" are all abstractions. Rather than beginning with the bourgeois presuppositions of these abstractions that takes commodity exchange as an independent system with its own internal laws, Marx reveals the social relations upon which these abstractions are based. Commodities are not things in themselves--they are based upon social relations, social relations that depend upon the capitalist mode of production.
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By Eauz
#13410247
anticlimacus wrote:Why does Marx begin with commodities?
He starts from commodities, as they are the smallest form of the capitalist production process. From there, as you work through the book, they moves further and further into the whole picture of the system.
By anticlimacus
#13410276
He starts from commodities, as they are the smallest form of the capitalist production process. From there, as you work through the book, they moves further and further into the whole picture of the system.


This may be part of it; but I was thinking it might be more because commodity production is what makes "reification" possible: making the buying and selling of goods, labor, and land appearing to be completely indepedent and self-sufficient system, existing as an end in itself. Marx wants to dig into the social relations of commodity production, to explain how concrete relations are transformed into abstractions through commodity production. No?
By Bounce Widdit
#13423220
The question as to why marx begins with the commodity is very interesting one, with a variety of opinions.

For example David Harvey has dismissed it as an 'arbitrary choice' - a viewpoint with some substance considering Marx toyed with the idea of starting with labour, or money.

An alternative opinion close to what Eauz said is put forward by Alex Callinicos. He suggests that the method present in Capital is one of non-deductive reasoning that progressively introduces more complex and more concrete determinations. What Marx is aiming toward (in a narrow sense of this chapter) is the labour theory of value (LTV), through which it is possible to uncover the fundamental contradiction in capitalism: that between capital and labour. So Marx proceeds from commodity to use-value/exchange-value; to concrete labour/abstract labour; to value as socially necessary labour time and LTV. So the commodity -an axiom posited (seemingly) a priori - is the 'simplest concept' without which the more complex analyses would not be possible.

I prefer Callinicos' account over Harvey's personally.

Because of this Anticlimacus, I generally agree with what you are saying, and certainly it is through the circulation of commodities that 'social relations appear as things'. And Le Rouge, I think you are right in suggesting Marx starts with the commodity because wealth in the capitalist m.o.p. 'presents itself as an immense accumulation of commodities'. It is precisely on the basis of this self representation that the reification anticlimacus is talking about is possible. In other words I would say you are making the same point!

Anticlimacus - I would be careful with the formulation that 'commodities are essentially use-values' - this is ultimately the viewpoint of the bourgeoise economists Marx is criticizing (Adam Smith for example). A key part of this chapter is understanding commodities not soley as bearers of use-values, but also exchange-values. This is what distinguishes commodities from other products (for example, those that might exist in precapitalist or postcapitalist modes of production). If we understand commodities as 'essentially use-values' we overlook or obscure 'the immense accumulation of commodities' as historically specific to capitalism. Or perhaps I have misunderstood you.
By anticlimacus
#13424221
Anticlimacus - I would be careful with the formulation that 'commodities are essentially use-values' - this is ultimately the viewpoint of the bourgeoise economists Marx is criticizing (Adam Smith for example). A key part of this chapter is understanding commodities not soley as bearers of use-values, but also exchange-values. This is what distinguishes commodities from other products (for example, those that might exist in precapitalist or postcapitalist modes of production). If we understand commodities as 'essentially use-values' we overlook or obscure 'the immense accumulation of commodities' as historically specific to capitalism. Or perhaps I have misunderstood you.


Certainly, I agree one has to be as careful as you say. But this is a misunderstanding of what I said:

Commodities are essentially use values that go on the market to be exchanged for a certain price, to be determined by a nother more universal use-value: money


In other words commodities are use-values, but not only this; they are use-values that go on the market to be exchanged for the most basic/abstract use-value: money. Without the market there are no commodities. This exchange on the market determines a commodity's exchange value, and the market hides the relations of production via exchange value: all there is, is a buyer and a seller mediated by money. This latter point may be what Le Rouge was getting at--if something different that we are missing, perhaps Le Rouge could share.

In sum I agree: commodities are both bearers of use-values and exchange-values.
#15092238
I like Andy Blunden’s explanation of Marx’s beginning with the commodity along the already mentioned point of the simplest unit from which to explain the complex whole as derived from Goethes romantic science. Hegel then appropriated this and turned it into his idea of the concrete universal and with Lev Vygotsky it is called the basic unit of analysis.

https://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/chat/index.htm#unit

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