• fdrake
    2.4k
    The two earlier forms (A,B) either express the value of each commodity in terms of a single commodity of a different kind ( A ), or in a series of many such commodities (B) . In both cases, it is, so to say, the special business of each single commodity to find an expression for its value, and this it does without the help of the others. These others, with respect to the former, play the passive parts of equivalents.

    The passivity ascribed to commodities in forms A and B is a reference to their status as networks of 'accidental' exchange, commodities are traded for each other when they are worth each other, but this worth does not have a universal standard; the value forms A and B are 'deficient in unity' because...


    The general form of value, C, results from the joint action of the whole world of commodities, and from that alone. A commodity can acquire a general expression of its value only by all other commodities, simultaneously with it, expressing their values in the same equivalent; and every new commodity must follow suit. It thus becomes evident that since the existence of commodities as values is purely social, this social existence can be expressed by the totality of their social relations alone, and consequently that the form of their value must be a socially recognised form.

    the valuations they consist of do not form an integrated system of exchange or of a notion of value ascription which applies over all such trades. Moreover, they generally will have the form of barter - any good for any good in A, or any good for an important good in B - as contrasted to C. In C, all commodities express their value in a single commodity; and the logic works for any commodity. Which is to say that the notion of value in C forces every commodity to express the value of every other commodity relative to it; any can be elected as a universal equivalent. The ascription of a universal equivalent (linen in Marx's example, a in my mathematical note) is the distinguishing characteristic of the general form C, but it is not solely a conceptual ascription, the way value works economically must be consistent with C and reproduce it. Which is to say, all commodities must have value in a univocal sense and this sense must be expressed as the value of any commodity, and that understanding of value should be carried forth by the social circumstances embodying it.

    All commodities being equated to linen now appear not only as qualitatively equal as values generally, but also as values whose magnitudes are capable of comparison. By expressing the magnitudes of their values in one and the same material, the linen, those magnitudes are also compared with each other. For instance, 10 lbs of tea = 20 yards of linen, and 40 lbs of coffee = 20 yards of linen. Therefore, 10 lbs of tea = 40 lbs of coffee. In other words, there is contained in 1 lb of coffee only one-fourth as much substance of value – labour – as is contained in 1 lb of tea.

    This section diagnoses the transitivity of 'is worth' as an essential constituent of the value form, roughly why this is required is because it allows the formation of a universal equivalent and the equivalence classes of value that equivalent represents in a definite quantity. It is at this point that the social relationships between the commodities which affix their exchange ratios are given summary through and embodied fully in each and every commodity. If this is reminiscent of commodity fetishism - in which the social relations between people appear as material relations of things -, it should.

    The general form of relative value, embracing the whole world of commodities, converts the single commodity that is excluded from the rest, and made to play the part of equivalent – here the linen – into the universal equivalent. The bodily form of the linen is now the form assumed in common by the values of all commodities; it therefore becomes directly exchangeable with all and every of them. The substance linen becomes the visible incarnation, the social chrysalis state of every kind of human labour. Weaving, which is the labour of certain private individuals producing a particular article, linen, acquires in consequence a social character, the character of equality with all other kinds of labour. The innumerable equations of which the general form of value is composed, equate in turn the labour embodied in the linen to that embodied in every other commodity, and they thus convert weaving into the general form of manifestation of undifferentiated human labour. In this manner the labour realised in the values of commodities is presented not only under its negative aspect, under which abstraction is made from every concrete form and useful property of actual work, but its own positive nature is made to reveal itself expressly. The general value form is the reduction of all kinds of actual labour to their common character of being human labour generally, of being the expenditure of human labour power.

    Another argument from structural symmetry (see here for summary diagram), since every commodity manifests in a universal equivalent, the concrete labours in each only matter in terms of the abstract labour they embody. Marx sees forms A, B and C as developments of intensity of the dominance of abstract over concrete labour (of value over utility as determinants of economic worth), and C is the first structure which exhibits the total dominance of value over utility.

    This perspective dominates the social function and perception of labour when form C is operative.

    'Do you like your job?'
    'No.'
    'Why do you keep doing it?'
    'It pays the bills'

    As Marx puts it:

    The general value form, which represents all products of labour as mere congelations of undifferentiated human labour, shows by its very structure that it is the social resumé of the world of commodities. That form consequently makes it indisputably evident that in the world of commodities the character possessed by all labour of being human labour constitutes its specific social character.

    The social function of labour becomes equated with its value creative component.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    The next subsection 'The Interdependent Development of the Relative Form of Value and the Equivalent Form of Value' sets out the conceptual character of the progression from elementary to expanded to general forms of value. It is not, strictly speaking, a historical account, its emphasis is more on stating how the elementary form can expand to the expanded form, then how the expanded form can condense itself into an equivalence relation of commodities.

    The degree of development of the relative form of value corresponds to that of the equivalent form. But we must bear in mind that the development of the latter is only the expression and result of the development of the former.

    I think this is a bit of conceptual book keeping, the idea of one thing expressing its value in another is conceptually (and historically) prior to both being seen as equivalent expressions of value magnitudes. This means that the elementary relative form of value is as old as exchange, and the others occur as historical developments suggested by possible social developments of exchange networks prima facie compatible with the elementary form; though that compatibility still allows room for social and metaphysical tensions inherent in the more developed value forms with the elementary form which is their basis.

    The primary or isolated relative form of value of one commodity converts some other commodity into an isolated equivalent. The expanded form of relative value, which is the expression of the value of one commodity in terms of all other commodities, endows those other commodities with the character of particular equivalents differing in kind. And lastly, a particular kind of commodity acquires the character of universal equivalent, because all other commodities make it the material in which they uniformly express their value.

    As said many times before, the primary or isolated form of relative value is obtained by dealing with specific pairs of commodities which are exchanged within a social system of exchange. The individual pairs of Xs and Ys such that (X is worth Y) and (Y is worth X) together are considered as separate relations of trade; these are incidental in character, and the relation which binds X to Y alone does not have to share the same character as that relation which holds between A and B when they too are traded. The aggregation of these trade relations together with no additional structure; when a social system of exchange becomes the means by which most needs, wants and utilities are satisfied and apportioned; is the character of the expanded form (without restriction to one commodity).

    The antagonism between the relative form of value and the equivalent form, the two poles of the value form, is developed concurrently with that form itself.

    The first form, 20 yds of linen = one coat, already contains this antagonism, without as yet fixing it. According as we read this equation forwards or backwards, the parts played by the linen and the coat are different. In the one case the relative value of the linen is expressed in the coat, in the other case the relative value of the coat is expressed in the linen. In this first form of value, therefore, it is difficult to grasp the polar contrast.

    Form B shows that only one single commodity at a time can completely expand its relative value, and that it acquires this expanded form only because, and in so far as, all other commodities are, with respect to it, equivalents. Here we cannot reverse the equation, as we can the equation 20 yds of linen = 1 coat, without altering its general character, and converting it from the expanded form of value into the general form of value.

    Finally, the form C gives to the world of commodities a general social relative form of value, because, and in so far as, thereby all commodities, with the exception of one, are excluded from the equivalent form. A single commodity, the linen, appears therefore to have acquired the character of direct exchangeability with every other commodity because, and in so far as, this character is denied to every other commodity.[26]

    Marx's reference to the inability to 'reverse the expanded form' without changing its' general character' refers to the duality referenced before between choosing a representative from an equivalence class and presenting those things which are equivalent to it. The first takes an equivalent network of commodities and maps it to a particular equivalent, the second takes a particular equivalent and maps it to its network of commodities which allow that equivalent's relative value to be expressed.

    Formally speaking, the previous characterisation in terms of choosing a representative is a function which maps an equivalence class of commodities to a single one of its members, and presenting those things which have their relative value expressed in the representative choice is taking that function's pre-image from the representative element.

    eg4i0245lp4ikmf2.jpeg

    Fixing a specific type of commodity whose amounts uniquely represent every value equivalence class renders that commodity as a universal equivalent.

    The commodity that figures as universal equivalent, is, on the other hand, excluded from the relative value form. If the linen, or any other commodity serving as universal equivalent, were, at the same time, to share in the relative form of value, it would have to serve as its own equivalent. We should then have 20 yds of linen = 20 yds of linen; this tautology expresses neither value, nor magnitude of value. In order to express the relative value of the universal equivalent, we must rather reverse the form C. This equivalent has no relative form of value in common with other commodities, but its value is relatively expressed by a never ending series of other commodities. Thus, the expanded form of relative value, or form B, now shows itself as the specific form of relative value for the equivalent commodity.

    With reference to the previous discussion about whether X is worth X, Marx agrees that it alone does not assure the expression of the value of X, and also agrees that it is a tautology. Even when X is worth X however, the value expressive part of the relation for the universal equivalent; the set of commodities which serve as the above pre-image; is the total expression of relative value for the universal equivalent.

    This means that the expanded form is contained within the general form (with its universal equivalent and transitive closure properties) precisely as the relative form of value for the universal equivalent.
  • unenlightened
    3.7k
    I might be stating the obvious or wildly off base... It seems to me that commodities arise iff the labour value of 'his daily bread' is less than a day's labour; otherwise we starve. This allows the commodification of the labourer as the difference between his production and consumption. Apart from the obvious application to the slave trade and the asset-stripping labour camp, this roots value in surplus production and explains the source of the value in commodities in a non-arbitrary way.
  • fdrake
    2.4k


    Yep! That comes later. The account so far tries to give a meaning to value pertaining to commodities, how they can come to have prices, how one magnitude of a commodity can be worth a different magnitude of another and so on. The creation of profit for Marx, as you diagnosed, comes from selling the product of someone's labour for more than its cost of production; this is termed the extraction of surplus value by exploitation. The worker's lack of ownership and inability to determine what happens to what they produce is called alienation. Alienation and exploitation make sense upon the background of a societal division of labour in the production of commodities, and a system where needs are met through purchase of goods and services. All together that gives whoever owns the product of the worker's labour more value than they started with and sets up a feedback loop that by and large keeps people as workers if at any point that don't have much money.
  • unenlightened
    3.7k
    The creation of profit for Marx, as you diagnosed, comes from selling the product of someone's labour for more than its cost of production; this is termed the extraction of surplus value by exploitation.fdrake

    That's not quite what I meant. On an individual level, my hunting and gathering sufficient to sustain myself for a day takes less than all day, and leaves me time to knapp a flint into a spearhead. That in turn makes me more productive as I can hunt more efficiently. That you can also gather sufficient to sustain yourself in less than a day means that you can gather some extra and exchange with me so that I can knapp another flint and you can have a spearhead too. So from the beginning, it is the spare time, spared from basic sustenance, that allows the extra production that creates commodities to exchange, and makes room for professionalisation. The exploitation comes later, but is also only possible because production is greater than consumption on the individual level. That this allows exploitation is secondary.
  • fdrake
    2.4k


    This makes sense.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    Long break, but the next section is short: 3. Transition from the General form of value to the Money form (form D)

    The universal equivalent form is a form of value in general. It can, therefore, be assumed by any commodity. On the other hand, if a commodity be found to have assumed the universal equivalent form (form C), this is only because and in so far as it has been excluded from the rest of all other commodities as their equivalent, and that by their own act. And from the moment that this exclusion becomes finally restricted to one particular commodity, from that moment only, the general form of relative value of the world of commodities obtains real consistence and general social validity.

    The particular commodity, with whose bodily form the equivalent form is thus socially identified, now becomes the money commodity, or serves as money. It becomes the special social function of that commodity, and consequently its social monopoly, to play within the world of commodities the part of the universal equivalent. Amongst the commodities which, in form B, figure as particular equivalents of the linen, and, in form C, express in common their relative values in linen, this foremost place has been attained by one in particular – namely, gold. If, then, in form C we replace the linen by gold, we get,

    In passing from form A to form B, and from the latter to form C, the changes are fundamental. On the other hand, there is no difference between forms C and D, except that, in the latter, gold has assumed the equivalent form in the place of linen. Gold is in form D, what linen was in form C – the universal equivalent. The progress consists in this alone, that the character of direct and universal exchangeability – in other words, that the universal equivalent form – has now, by social custom, become finally identified with the substance, gold.

    In terms of the algebraic structure of value, the money form is a particular instance of the general form of value - namely when a privileged representative has emerged which takes on all the social functions of the universal equivalent. IE, expressions of value are now expressions in terms of a particular commodity - the money commodity - and the customs of value expression have become associated with that commodity.

    Gold is now money with reference to all other commodities only because it was previously, with reference to them, a simple commodity. Like all other commodities, it was also capable of serving as an equivalent, either as simple equivalent in isolated exchanges, or as particular equivalent by the side of others. Gradually it began to serve, within varying limits, as universal equivalent. So soon as it monopolises this position in the expression of value for the world of commodities, it becomes the money commodity, and then, and not till then, does form D become distinct from form C, and the general form of value become changed into the money form.

    This transforms the nature of the commodity which functions as money, it becomes the lubricant of exchange and the unit of value expression.

    The difficulty in forming a concept of the money form, consists in clearly comprehending the universal equivalent form, and as a necessary corollary, the general form of value, form C. The latter is deducible from form B, the expanded form of value, the essential component element of which, we saw, is form A, 20 yards of linen = 1 coat or x commodity A = y commodity B. The simple commodity form is therefore the germ of the money form.

    At this point, when the social customs of valuation have concentrated around a particular commodity: the money commodity, the expression of the value of a commodity in terms of that money commodity is called the price form. This grounds the possibility of the usual functions of money -a medium of exchange (the regulator of the social customs of exchange; goods and services for money or money for goods and services) a measure of value (expression of one commodity's value in the money commodity), a standard of price (the ascription of a unit to every valuation facilitating calculations and transformations of relative price magnitudes) and a store of value (any pile of commodities is equivalent to a pile of gold).
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    Last section: The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof

    A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying human wants, or from the point that those properties are the product of human labour. It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than “table-turning” ever was. [26a]

    Whatever the fetishism of commodities is, it can't be characterised by analysing use value alone. Rather, the fetishism of commodities arises when the social conditions of production and exchange are configured through exchange values; that is, there is a market of produced goods exchangeable for money and produced for profit.

    The mystical character of commodities does not originate, therefore, in their use value. Just as little does it proceed from the nature of the determining factors of value. For, in the first place, however varied the useful kinds of labour, or productive activities, may be, it is a physiological fact, that they are functions of the human organism, and that each such function, whatever may be its nature or form, is essentially the expenditure of human brain, nerves, muscles, &c. Secondly, with regard to that which forms the ground-work for the quantitative determination of value, namely, the duration of that expenditure, or the quantity of labour, it is quite clear that there is a palpable difference between its quantity and quality. In all states of society, the labour time that it costs to produce the means of subsistence, must necessarily be an object of interest to mankind, though not of equal interest in different stages of development.[27] And lastly, from the moment that men in any way work for one another, their labour assumes a social form.

    The fetishism thus arises from the configuration of effortful time expenditure in capitalist production; that is, when productive labour is characterised as social labour; which is value creative. This is another of those moves Marx makes to transform questions about the relationships of commodities into questions about the configuration of labour which created them. Unsurprisingly, then, beginning the analysis with an indication that fetishism (still not defined) arises out of social structures underpinning exchange value ultimately leads to situating fetishism in the very relations between labour and produced goods; and moreover their dual notions of human labour in the abstract/social labour and goods produced to realise value - for profit. So...

    Whence, then, arises the enigmatical character of the product of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities? Clearly from this form itself. The equality of all sorts of human labour is expressed objectively by their products all being equally values; the measure of the expenditure of labour power by the duration of that expenditure, takes the form of the quantity of value of the products of labour; and finally the mutual relations of the producers, within which the social character of their labour affirms itself, take the form of a social relation between the products.

    when economic life seen through the prism of value, the goods produced obtain social relations concerning them. Which is a strange distortion, a necessary elision of the specificity of work when the value produced matters more than the good which bears its stamp. The fetishism here is quite commonplace and intuitive to us - if we consider pricing a good which will be sold for profit, it will be assembled from other goods with their own prices, there are assembly prices for all goods involved; in this manner the social configuration of labour which produces a good is seen as a supply chain within a logistical framework, rather than as a product of disciplined labour. The depoliticisation of economic concerns has its roots in commodity fetishism; as commodity fetishism is the elision of the specificities of human labour in production and the concurrent framing of production in terms of good-good, value-good or value-value relations.

    The formulae C-M-C' and M-C-M' developed in the next chapter thus indicate the social coordination of exchange and profit through the value relations of commodities, rather than the social relations of their producers, purchasers and investors. Of course, such social relations do play into the real economy as prices are negotiated and calculated by humans and not the commodities themselves. The most bizarre feature of this is that good-good, value-value and good-value relations obtain real causal efficacy and are granted such in our conceptions of the economy, despite that the material constituents (use values) of goods are developed by human agents and their exchange values are negotiated by humans. That 'the market' is seen as a self regulating system of purchases and production is an extreme exemplification of this equation of humanity with capitalist economic activity. We are the selves that regulate the market, but are thus the market itself.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour.

    The social character of labour being the production of goods which satisfy needs for sale; then the magnitude of value, arising from the relationship of productive labours, is stamped onto the commodity as the capacity for price. Another way of putting it is that value-value relations obtain between commodities rather than the labours which produce them - and good-good relations are mediated by value. Marx condenses this in passing to form a tighter characterisation of commodity fetishism:


    This is the reason why the products of labour become commodities, social things whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses. In the same way the light from an object is perceived by us not as the subjective excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of something outside the eye itself. But, in the act of seeing, there is at all events, an actual passage of light from one thing to another, from the external object to the eye. There is a physical relation between physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the things quâ commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

    From the bolding, commodity fetishism is when the economic relationships between people become the value (or monetary) relationships between things. The sense of this 'become' is important to attend to, as Marx sees it as a necessary feature of commodity production:

    This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.

    The inseparability arises from that goods are produced for exchange, and in order to enter into exchange the good must relate to all other goods in some manner to ground its value relations; in this manner the relationships between goods which fix their relative values (and monetary expressions), despite being nothing more than the result of an aggregate of negotiations of prices and constraints of production - of human labour and its social form -, are treated as relationships between the produced items - of human labour congealed into the commodity as value -. The concrete acts of production's subordination to abstract labour occurs due to the exchange relations and their underlying value relations between commodities. In order for these relationships to be subordinated to commodity-commodity relationships, labour must be differentiated under a social division of labour which isolates expenditures of labour power through the goal of producing different commodities. IE, the social division of labour is just as necessary as the emphasis of value over use value in producing commodity fetishism. As previously suggested, a social division of labour coordinated through value production is a necessary companion of the production of commodities, and from above suffices to produce the fetishism of commodities. Thus, commodity fetishism is more than simply a widely held mental state, it is a necessary expression of a social division of labour mediated through commodity production; which is ultimately the production of value. While it influences how we think about capitalist production, that influence is an internal moment of the social structures supporting capitalist production.

    I view it as no coincidence that Marx's discussion of commodity fetishism culminates his initial discussion of value theory and immediately precedes the discussion of commodity circulation. Commodity fetishism's explanatory role here is why capitalism appears firstly as 'an accumulation of commodities' and then, only under analysis, finds that such an accumulation requires a specific organisation of social and economic life to occur. Moreover, the social relationships between people finding expression in the value relation of things sets up the discussion of the circulation of commodities and money; Marx's emphasis on labour utilises commodity fetishism in reverse to summarise features of capitalist production through commodity relationships; which then can be unpacked into their grounding constraints on production.

    M-C-M' and C-M-C' are more informative than people-people-people-people-people precisely because of their leverage of the idea of commodity fetishism.
  • unenlightened
    3.7k
    I'm struggling a bit here. Is this a preparation for an explanation of why footballers are rich and nurses are poor, despite the former being useless and the latter vital? Hopefully the next chapter will illuminate.
  • fdrake
    2.4k


    I don't think you'll find that in Capital unfortunately.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    A general note on Marx's methodology first, after exhibiting the underlying structures of value, its relationship to labour, and the various forms in which value expresses itself, he takes his previous exegesis and sews it in the place of his original target of analysis; commodity production and exchange. I've put this previously as using his account of commodity fetishism in reverse; taking the mode of appearance of socioeconomic reality and analysing its structure (the account so far, including of commodity fetishism), he then pivots on this revealed structure and embeds it in the mode of appearance of socioeconomic reality.

    A reasonable analogy here might be in terms of modular programming. You have a big task to do, you break it up into little components which are easier to solve, solve the components and substitute the solved components into the overall logic linking them. The overall logic linking them in my analogy is the structure of commodity production and value in capitalism (the topic of chapter 1), the components here are the duality of use and exchange, the consequences of this duality in terms of the social structure of labour, the distinction between abstract and concrete labour, the value forms and commodity fetishism (the broad subtopics the chapter deals with); all of these subtopics are 'passed' to the overall logic of the account and will be referenced as modules to be called upon later in the book, and checked for required modifications.

    The subsequent account these modules and logic facilitate is that of the circulation of commodities and money; setting out the semantics for x is worth y in terms of the value forms, use and exchange, labour power and abstract labour, interface with agents in exchange networks as different facets of the process. For the workers, C-M-C', the expenditure of labour power in the production of a commodity becomes codified in the relationship between a labourer and their place of work - as a wage labourer. Providing the semantics for labour as a commodity in C. Exchange of (supposed) equivalents then forms the semantics for the transition from C-M (it is an act of exchange, being payed for your work) and from M-C (an act of exchange, using wages to buy goods and services).

    The top down perspective, from exchange to labour, becomes codified in the moments M-C-M', the dashes are given a meaning through Marx's account of exchange and the value forms, and starting from M rather than C is viewing the perspective from the acquisition of labour (ownership!) rather than its expenditure.

    So, with that note on broader context and methodology out of the way...

    Marx characterises commodity fetishism from a slightly different angle next, from the perspective of the constitutive producers of commodities rather than top down from exchange. From the next paragraph we get the often quoted 'material relations between persons become social relations between things'. He also re-emphasises the necessity of the social division of labour in producing commodity fetishism, and gives a brief characterisation of how the social division of labour actually facilitates commodity fetishism.

    As a general rule, articles of utility become commodities, only because they are products of the labour of private individuals or groups of individuals who carry on their work independently of each other. The sum total of the labour of all these private individuals forms the aggregate labour of society. Since the producers do not come into social contact with each other until they exchange their products, the specific social character of each producer’s labour does not show itself except in the act of exchange. In other words, the labour of the individual asserts itself as a part of the labour of society, only by means of the relations which the act of exchange establishes directly between the products, and indirectly, through them, between the producers. To the latter, therefore, the relations connecting the labour of one individual with that of the rest appear, not as direct social relations between individuals at work, but as what they really are, material relations between persons and social relations between things.

    The first sentence, 'as a general rule... other' summarises the previous developments of the section, commodities are useful goods that are produced for exchange', and it is because they are produced for exchange that 'the private individuals' who work on them encounter others' labour as their resultant goods rather than the workers who are producing them. This also uses the previous established idea that production for exchange levels all commodities to the structure of their value alone without their material constitution - as Marx puts it (with my comments in brackets) 'the specific (concretely useful) social character of each producer’s labour does not show itself except in the act of exchange (as raw social labour)'.

    One way of summarising the economic relationships between groups of commodity producers is that they only encounter the product of other groups' labour in terms of the finished product in the market. Commodity fetishism, then, is the peculiarity that the only social engagement producers have with other groups of producers, vis-a-vis production, is place the product has in a shop.

    This is also echoed in C-M-C' as the facets of circulation that wage labourers have access to are their own labour power (the original C) and the goods and services they buy with it (C'). IE, workers are isolated from each other through the exchange abstraction, and only meet as the commodities they produced being held on a shelf.

    So, despite Marx's characterisation of commodity fetishism as mysterious, and as a 'theological subtlety', it's nevertheless a real part of capitalist production. For Marx, it really is the case that workers from different factories only encounter different worker groups' labour through the market. That is, commodity fetishism is (again) not simply a psychological state of over-emphasis on commodities or arbitrary desire for useless tat, it has the specific meaning of social relationships between worker groups being mediated by exchange - through the market.

    Marx then takes a step back and relates commodity fetishism to the more central feature that commodity production is capitalism is structured to create value rather than satisfy needs (exchange value vs use value):

    It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire, as values, one uniform social status, distinct from their varied forms of existence as objects of utility. This division of a product into a useful thing and a value becomes practically important, only when exchange has acquired such an extension that useful articles are produced for the purpose of being exchanged, and their character as values has therefore to be taken into account, beforehand, during production. From this moment the labour of the individual producer acquires socially a two-fold character. On the one hand, it must, as a definite useful kind of labour, satisfy a definite social want, and thus hold its place as part and parcel of the collective labour of all, as a branch of a social division of labour that has sprung up spontaneously. On the other hand, it can satisfy the manifold wants of the individual producer himself, only in so far as the mutual exchangeability of all kinds of useful private labour is an established social fact, and therefore the private useful labour of each producer ranks on an equality with that of all others. The equalisation of the most different kinds of labour can be the result only of an abstraction from their inequalities, or of reducing them to their common denominator, viz. expenditure of human labour power or human labour in the abstract.

    Again, this makes sense as a remark which attempts to frame workers' economic relationships with each other on a produced good to produced good basis (material relations between people turn into social relations between things), only now it emphasises the role that the notion of universal equivalent (money) plays in the satisfaction of want. The genericness of C-M-C' only makes sense if indeed there is a universal equivalent M which workers can use to satisfy their wants and needs (C') and that commodities are produced which satisfy those wants and needs (social division of labour).

    The two-fold social character of the labour of the individual appears to him, when reflected in his brain, only under those forms which are impressed upon that labour in every-day practice by the exchange of products. In this way, the character that his own labour possesses of being socially useful takes the form of the condition, that the product must be not only useful, but useful for others, and the social character that his particular labour has of being the equal of all other particular kinds of labour, takes the form that all the physically different articles that are the products of labour, have one common quality, viz., that of having value.

    This bit links commodity fetishism to the theme of alienation, not broached yet in the book. The link here is 'In this way, the character that his own labour possesses of being socially useful... takes the form of condition...of having value', the economic role that a worker's skills play is only the value which is created through their application and the exchange value of their labour power (their wage). The only way you matter is your productivity, not the skill which makes your productivity possible, or the social roles your skills could facilitate.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    Marx continues, reading the fetishism of commodities further back towards the foundations of his analysis; the distinction between abstract and concrete labour and the social division of labour which comes along with this.

    Hence, when we bring the products of our labour into relation with each other as values, it is not because we see in these articles the material receptacles of homogeneous human labour. Quite the contrary: whenever, by an exchange, we equate as values our different products, by that very act, we also equate, as human labour, the different kinds of labour expended upon them. We are not aware of this, nevertheless we do it.[28] Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic. Later on, we try to decipher the hieroglyphic, to get behind the secret of our own social products; for to stamp an object of utility as a value, is just as much a social product as language. The recent scientific discovery, that the products of labour, so far as they are values, are but material expressions of the human labour spent in their production, marks, indeed, an epoch in the history of the development of the human race, but, by no means, dissipates the mist through which the social character of labour appears to us to be an objective character of the products themselves. The fact, that in the particular form of production with which we are dealing, viz., the production of commodities, the specific social character of private labour carried on independently, consists in the equality of every kind of that labour, by virtue of its being human labour, which character, therefore, assumes in the product the form of value – this fact appears to the producers, notwithstanding the discovery above referred to, to be just as real and final, as the fact, that, after the discovery by science of the component gases of air, the atmosphere itself remained unaltered.

    A lot of this is a restatement of the previous analysis of commodity fetishism, but interpreted into the relationship between abstract and concrete labour. Such a relationship is accompanied by a form of value, of which Marx has already characterised, and a social coordination of labour - independent production of commodities for profit. But I think the special emphasis in this part is on the mediating role value plays in economic and social life.

    Value, therefore, does not stalk about with a label describing what it is. It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic.

    We can only imagine the complexities hidden under the decisions to price commodities for sale. The specific price obtained must weigh the costs accrued in the supply chain, the logistic efficiency and its costs, forecasted demand, how much purchasers are willing to spend, a weighing of required profit margins per unit sold and the affordability of those units. Not to speak of competitors selling competing goods, forecasted revenue from advertising, efficiency gains from outsourcing... Or of the concrete labour done by those who produce these goods in the first place. While we may disagree with Marx on his account of value, it seems to me difficult to disagree that labourers who produce commodities for the most part interact with economic life only through the their value productivity - of the costs of labour versus the profits of sale. In this manner, the price tag on a good in a supermarket represents a catastrophic condensation of human life into, first, the economic analysis of price, and then finally into a single number.

    Psychological interventions are often scored on operationalised scales, how sad do you feel on a scale of 1 to 10? These are rightly seen as quite ridiculous, and at least are a terribly lossy representation of mood, not to speak of how feelings relate to lifestyles. One wants to say a single number should not bear such a burden of complexity - that we can say the same for prices is an indication that commodity fetishism is actually operative in our lives.

    Though, the opacity of the conditions which produce every good has become a talking point in recent years, through the problematisation of climate change and pollution accrued to put an item on a shelf, and of ethical ('fair trade') which allows the creation of premium goods through the transparency of their supply chain. All facilitated of course through the evocation of moral consumption by advertising campaigns. Which goes to show, even the formal structure of commodity fetishism can be repurposed for the creation of revenue.

    Still, for the most part the price is all we see.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    There are two notes in the next paragraph, the first analyses the relationship of socially necessary labour time (SNLT) to commodity fetishism, the second is an update of the concept of SNLT in the light of a (slightly) more realistic depiction of exchange.

    What, first of all, practically concerns producers when they make an exchange, is the question, how much of some other product they get for their own? In what proportions the products are exchangeable? When these proportions have, by custom, attained a certain stability, they appear to result from the nature of the products, so that, for instance, one ton of iron and two ounces of gold appear as naturally to be of equal value as a pound of gold and a pound of iron in spite of their different physical and chemical qualities appear to be of equal weight. The character of having value, when once impressed upon products, obtains fixity only by reason of their acting and re-acting upon each other as quantities of value. These quantities vary continually, independently of the will, foresight and action of the producers. To them, their own social action takes the form of the action of objects, which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them. It requires a fully developed production of commodities before, from accumulated experience alone, the scientific conviction springs up, that all the different kinds of private labour, which are carried on independently of each other, and yet as spontaneously developed branches of the social division of labour, are continually being reduced to the quantitative proportions in which society requires them. And why? Because, in the midst of all the accidental and ever fluctuating exchange relations between the products, the labour time socially necessary for their production forcibly asserts itself like an over-riding law of Nature. The law of gravity thus asserts itself when a house falls about our ears.[29] The determination of the magnitude of value by labour time is therefore a secret, hidden under the apparent fluctuations in the relative values of commodities. Its discovery, while removing all appearance of mere accidentality from the determination of the magnitude of the values of products, yet in no way alters the mode in which that determination takes place.

    The first part situates value in the context of exchange, aiming at exhibiting how value clings to commodities so tightly it has been interpreted as a material innate/internal property rather than a socially constructed external/emergent one. The mechanism which does this must 'fix' values relative to each other in a total fashion, so that upon encountering an arbitrary good in the act of exchange we treat it as if its value is an innate property of the good rather than in terms of its social construction.

    The idea here is that value determinations must act upon each other in a good-good fashion, internalising commodity fetishism as a procedural component of capitalist production. What is required is an account of how agent-agent relations of politically mediated producers take on the character of good-good relations of market values. In other words, values come to relate to each other as magnitudes over and above their structure of abstract labour; material relations of people become social relations between things.

    What sets the ball rolling in the account are aggregate properties of labour fixing SNLT, but this is only an initial impetus of value dynamics in the market - the market in reality is reflexive, it perpetually reacts to itself and not just the structure of labour which underpins it...

    The character of having value, when once impressed upon products, obtains fixity only by reason of their acting and re-acting upon each other as quantities of value.

    which changes the account of socially necessary labour times determinately fixing prices;

    Because, in the midst of all the accidental and ever fluctuating exchange relations between the products, the labour time socially necessary for their production forcibly asserts itself like an over-riding law of Nature.

    now, rather, fluctuations in relative value occur around the socially necessary labour time; relative values - what was once a deterministic output of a regime of production, are now a regulator of a stochastic process of relative value fixing. In essence, the socially necessary labour times make commodity values (as stochastic processes) float around their value magnitude obtained deterministically from the structure of labour. SNLC no longer operates in a manner of strict conversion of quantities from time to value (which Marx explained using raw proportions), is now an attractor for values induced by the social structure of labour.

    Marx has employed the Aristotelian dichotomy between essence and accident - the essence of value magnitude is socially necessary labour time, the accidents are market fluctuations in relative value. This invites considering this essence as expectation (mean) and accident as variance of the stochastic process of values.

    This reflexivity, coming about by the fact that value relations are grounded in labour relations, makes the market appear as a system independent of labour:

    To them, their own social action takes the form of the action of objects, which rule the producers instead of being ruled by them

    and moreover as independent from the decisions of agents. I touched on this in the last post, so I won't go into more detail here. Marx is also using fetishism to take potshots at other economists, but I don't think (their alleged) mystification by commodity fetishism matters much for my exhibition here.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    Marx continues on this theme of the reflexivity of the market (more precisely the reflexivity of value relations) and attempts to tease out how this reflexivity annihilates the political and historical character of our economic relations. A typical 'moment' in economic life is an encounter with a commodity (even if it's exchanging one for money), and this renders the interaction of agents which produced that commodity opaque. Rather, then, the capacity for having a value gets aligned with market fluctuations; and the relation of supply and demand of pre-established commodities get equated with its monetary expression.

    Man’s reflections on the forms of social life, and consequently, also, his scientific analysis of those forms, take a course directly opposite to that of their actual historical development. He begins, post festum (after the fact), with the results of the process of development ready to hand before him. The characters that stamp products as commodities, and whose establishment is a necessary preliminary to the circulation of commodities, have already acquired the stability of natural, self-understood forms of social life, before man seeks to decipher, not their historical character, for in his eyes they are immutable, but their meaning.

    As CEO Nwabudike Morgan from Alpha Centauri puts it (from the bourgeoise immutable self regulating system perspective):

    Our first challenge is to create an entire economic infrastructure, from top to bottom, out of whole cloth. No gradual evolution from previous economic systems is possible, because there is no previous economic system. Each interdependent piece must be materialized simultaneously and in perfect working order; otherwise the system will crash out before it ever gets off the ground.

    Now, Marx begins to transition from discussing SNLT as a mediating feature of value to phrasing things in terms of money itself; a physical expression of value.

    Consequently it was the analysis of the prices of commodities that alone led to the determination of the magnitude of value, and it was the common expression of all commodities in money that alone led to the establishment of their characters as values. It is, however, just this ultimate money form of the world of commodities that actually conceals, instead of disclosing, the social character of private labour, and the social relations between the individual producers. When I state that coats or boots stand in a relation to linen, because it is the universal incarnation of abstract human labour, the absurdity of the statement is self-evident. Nevertheless, when the producers of coats and boots compare those articles with linen, or, what is the same thing, with gold or silver, as the universal equivalent, they express the relation between their own private labour and the collective labour of society in the same absurd form.

    It is the actual use of money as a universal equivalent which sets up this cyclical/reflexive annihilation of politics and agency from the market. So long as money works as it does we will end up with commodity fetishism; we end up entering the social relations we have with the producers of our needed goods solely through their resultant products.

    The absurdity Marx notes here is that commodities really do behave in this fetishised manner; the price of a commodity is simultaneously derived from the aggregate of labour conditions but hides those conditions by coalescing them in a priced object. It is as if 'the kidney' was an organ of the body, or 'the animal' walked among animals. In using money we are influenced by the global conditions of production, the whole world is in every commodity, but precisely because of that we cannot see it.
  • unenlightened
    3.7k
    That last paragraph actually made me understand something about 'fetishisation' at last. Cheers!
  • fdrake
    2.4k


    I'm surprised you've continued reading the section on fetishism if my explanations are that bad!
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    Christmas is busier than I thought it would be.

    It's worthwhile to linger here for a bit to gather the various uses Marx is making out of commodity fetishism, and how that relates to the maxim 'the material relations between people become social relations between things'.

    Firstly, we have that labourers typically only influence labourers in general through the commodities they produce (or the services they give). In this way, the social division of labour leads to a political division of production. Economic life for the labourer typically will not include economic negotiations between them and labourers in different places of work, this is done by the wage payers rather than the wage workers. So, workers in one workplace typically relate to workers in different workplaces only through the use of workplace services. As a corollary, the political agency of people in determining their own conditions of work and influencing workplaces is diminished relative to their wage payers, whose job it is (partially) to make those negotiations. Labourers stand in relation to value and exchange as producers rather than coordinators. The material relations of people = the sphere of relevant economic events to their lives, the social relations of things - exchanging money for goods and services.

    Secondly, we have the 'universal equivalent' - money - acting as a unified medium for the relationships of labourers. Everyone needs access to money to satisfy their wants and needs, and we have access to goods whose prices (values) embody their production - so that the material objects (goods, use values) are made parasitic upon their production for profit (money, exchange values). The logic of the universal equivalent is that it summarises all things relevant to the ascription of price through the value that becomes attached to a product, but as soon as that attachment occurs and the commodity is for sale, the deliberations and political events which gave rise to its price become altogether inaccessible epistemically (without independent effort to produce transparency).

    Thirdly, we have the first two parts (previous 2 paragraphs in this post) in tandem casting shadows on intellectual analysis of capitalism. From the first part; all the political and historical specificity gets drained out of commodity production, they become numbers related to other numbers as far as the economy is concerned. Every externality, like starvation, freezing to death, shelter, is 'external' to the conceptualisation of the market, and the social costs become addressable only through coordinated patterns of investment; a more extreme version of this error is treating capitalism itself as a necessary material/natural thing rather than a contingent/historical social organisation. From the second part; the relations between people that give rise to prices are secreted away within the commodity. This can introduce two linked errors, one is that it is easy to make the conceptual leap from the materiality of a commodity (its use value; its capacities for desire satisfaction) directly to its prices (through calculations of supply and demand), without the analysis of where value (the capacity to be bought and sold) comes from conceptually and historically. Secondly, the withdrawal of the world which influenced the ascription of a price to its commodity is highly suggestive of the removal of political agency from forming prices. If we start from social relations between things, it will appear all the economy's constitutive social relations are relations between things (insofar as we're talking about the economy). So we assume too much unanalysed context, posing our inquiry badly. Marx discusses these errors in terms of Robinson Crusoe later in the chapter.

    The material relations of people - acts of valuation and production which give commodities their price, physical characteristics and social roles - become social relations between things - mediated by valuation, or directed towards price/profit production.

    The categories of bourgeois economy consist of such like forms. They are forms of thought expressing with social validity the conditions and relations of a definite, historically determined mode of production, viz., the production of commodities. The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of labour as long as they take the form of commodities, vanishes therefore, so soon as we come to other forms of production.

    Marx is emphasising the historical specificity of capitalism, rather than treating it as a necessary social formation. Other than that, this is a preparatory remark whose themes I broadly covered above.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    Marx addresses the 'Robinson Crusoe Economy' here, which has been used as a thought experiment for assessing how value and labour relate. The overall thrust of the argument is (1) to highlight problems in using this thought experiment to analyse capitalist production and exchange relationships and (2) to use commodity fetishism; in the sense of the character of capitalist production being 'hidden in' value; to explain why it's a popular example.

    Since Robinson Crusoe’s experiences are a favourite theme with political economists,[30] let us take a look at him on his island. Moderate though he be, yet some few wants he has to satisfy, and must therefore do a little useful work of various sorts, such as making tools and furniture, taming goats, fishing and hunting. Of his prayers and the like we take no account, since they are a source of pleasure to him, and he looks upon them as so much recreation. In spite of the variety of his work, he knows that his labour, whatever its form, is but the activity of one and the same Robinson, and consequently, that it consists of nothing but different modes of human labour. Necessity itself compels him to apportion his time accurately between his different kinds of work. Whether one kind occupies a greater space in his general activity than another, depends on the difficulties, greater or less as the case may be, to be overcome in attaining the useful effect aimed at. This our friend Robinson soon learns by experience, and having rescued a watch, ledger, and pen and ink from the wreck, commences, like a true-born Briton, to keep a set of books. His stock-book contains a list of the objects of utility that belong to him, of the operations necessary for their production; and lastly, of the labour time that definite quantities of those objects have, on an average, cost him. All the relations between Robinson and the objects that form this wealth of his own creation, are here so simple and clear as to be intelligible without exertion, even to Mr. Sedley Taylor. And yet those relations contain all that is essential to the determination of value.

    The thing to notice is that Marx highlights that the division of labour works a lot differently in Crusoe's island. Instead of having groups of people producing different things to be put on the market and later bought with currency when they satisfy a need/want, Robinson Crusoe apportions his time directly to satisfy his needs and wants. Keeping a ledger of how long it takes him to do certain things really adds very little to this 'one person economy', as there is no notion of exchange to buttress the formation of capitalist value forms. Moreover, Crusoe is only dependent upon himself for the satisfaction of his wants/needs; this also means that his labour is not social - it does not relate to a grander system of wants and needs over and above the requirements of Mr Crusoe. Nor is it social in the capitalist sense as it is not value productive (profit-motivated).

    Let us now transport ourselves from Robinson’s island bathed in light to the European middle ages shrouded in darkness. Here, instead of the independent man, we find everyone dependent, serfs and lords, vassals and suzerains, laymen and clergy. Personal dependence here characterises the social relations of production just as much as it does the other spheres of life organised on the basis of that production. But for the very reason that personal dependence forms the ground-work of society, there is no necessity for labour and its products to assume a fantastic form different from their reality. They take the shape, in the transactions of society, of services in kind and payments in kind. Here the particular and natural form of labour, and not, as in a society based on production of commodities, its general abstract form is the immediate social form of labour. Compulsory labour is just as properly measured by time, as commodity-producing labour; but every serf knows that what he expends in the service of his lord, is a definite quantity of his own personal labour power. The tithe to be rendered to the priest is more matter of fact than his blessing. No matter, then, what we may think of the parts played by the different classes of people themselves in this society, the social relations between individuals in the performance of their labour, appear at all events as their own mutual personal relations, and are not disguised under the shape of social relations between the products of labour.

    Marx moves onto a brief characterisation of European middle ages economies. The distinction he draws between this and capitalist ones is that the interdependence of people's labour takes the form of overall production for need satisfaction, including elements of barter without regulating value. This characterises the European middle age economy as an interdependent network of concrete labour and incidental acts of exchange done by human agents unmediated by a well developed exchange system, where money takes a secondary role to labour and has no 'mystical' fetish character. Emphasising the presence of concrete labour without its capitalist dual (abstract labour), Marx continues:

    For an example of labour in common or directly associated labour, we have no occasion to go back to that spontaneously developed form which we find on the threshold of the history of all civilised races.[31] We have one close at hand in the patriarchal industries of a peasant family, that produces corn, cattle, yarn, linen, and clothing for home use. These different articles are, as regards the family, so many products of its labour, but as between themselves, they are not commodities. The different kinds of labour, such as tillage, cattle tending, spinning, weaving and making clothes, which result in the various products, are in themselves, and such as they are, direct social functions, because functions of the family, which, just as much as a society based on the production of commodities, possesses a spontaneously developed system of division of labour. The distribution of the work within the family, and the regulation of the labour time of the several members, depend as well upon differences of age and sex as upon natural conditions varying with the seasons. The labour power of each individual, by its very nature, operates in this case merely as a definite portion of the whole labour power of the family, and therefore, the measure of the expenditure of individual labour power by its duration, appears here by its very nature as a social character of their labour.

    the social character of labour is indexed to localised social interactions; like family units; and 'abstract labour' in the capitalist sense Marx exhibited earlier is not part of work. As he says, the articles produced are not commodities - not because they do not have use, but because they do not have exchange value and its derivative abstractions.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    Marx moves on to considering a freely associating group of producers whose production aims to satisfy collective need, and their share of the distribution of goods is proportionate with that need.

    Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour power of the community. All the characteristics of Robinson’s labour are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labour, and therefore simply an object of use for himself. The total product of our community is a social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently necessary. The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive organisation of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers. We will assume, but merely for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labour time. Labour time would, in that case, play a double part. Its apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains the proper proportion between the different kinds of work to be done and the various wants of the community. On the other hand, it also serves as a measure of the portion of the common labour borne by each individual, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption. The social relations of the individual producers, with regard both to their labour and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and that with regard not only to production but also to distribution.

    While this is a rather twee picture, it is quite relevant. Freely associating individuals, that is, individuals which choose their work partners and acquaintances, being apportioned produce in relation to how hard they work... Looks a lot like the ideology we heard from free market libertarians. The idea that people choose their workplace and what that entails, and people take part in the coordination of the total social product through purchase, is an extremely distorted conception of working life under capitalism. The distortion arises by assuming individuals as free associators attempting to produce for their needs directly rather than through the medium of value/monetary exchange and commodity production. The division of labour looks more like a spontaneous development of politically independent agents rather than a historically influenced matching of worker competence/availability considerations/requirements to a job; it makes it appear that workers have dominion over their own workplaces and workplace policy, rather than needing to organise independently of their managerial staff to obtain some modicum of influence. Each person as a Robinson Crusoe removes all the relevant social texture that makes capitalism capitalism.

    Edit: Just to draw out an implication here: Marx does not see the above quote as a good description of capitalism, by way of contrast the description has: worker control of total production, worker control of association, payment in proportion to need and payment in proportion to effort. By structural symmetry then, Marx sees that the worker under capitalism has limited control of total production, limited control of association, reward in disproportion to need and reward in disproportion to effort. It is as if the economy runs people.

    Edit2: Another implication, Marx sees that removing the value abstraction also removes commodity fetishism. People's interactions need to be mediated by the market for commodity fetishism to take hold, and free association does not have this mediation.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    Marx takes a tangent next, relating religious belief to capitalism. Specifically, he diagnoses that religions which have a structural symmetry with the metaphysics of capital he's developed; the forms with a universal equivalent and resultant commodity fetishism; have their styles of belief promoted. Beginning:

    The religious world is but the reflex of the real world.

    Which is quite a bold assertion, but it is likely that Marx believes it is justified by the preceding stages of argument about commodity fetishism. So we can expect Marx to analogise some 'moving parts' of his brief analysis of religion to his analysis of value. The statement alone, however, characterises religions as reactive to the conditions of life in which they develop - taking an anthropological or descriptive stance towards them rather than a theological one. Marx elaborates:

    And for a society based upon the production of commodities, in which the producers in general enter into social relations with one another by treating their products as commodities and values, whereby they reduce their individual private labour to the standard of homogeneous human labour – for such a society, Christianity with its cultus of abstract man, more especially in its bourgeois developments, Protestantism, Deism, &c., is the most fitting form of religion.

    which draws the prefigured analogy between concrete labour being a bearer of abstract labour, and money's reifying power towards the social relations underlying its function. To borrow from Discworld cosmology, Marx probably sees Christian God(s) as anthropomorphic personifications of humanity itself. To arrive at a God, strip away all the base and fleshy worldliness of our bodies and wants, and in doing so eviscerate humanity to a ghostly form. Attribute the material and social relations which we value, what finally remains of a human when all their bodily organs and social necessities are removed, to the attitudes and attributes of a God. This is quite similar to the removal of all specificity of work when a product enters exchange; the transition from concrete to abstract labour. To repurpose Hamlet:

    What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!

    we should not be surprised to find Gods who exonerate the good in man, as they are embodiments of that good seen in reverse. It has been said that morality flows from God, more accurately God flows from humanity.

    More importantly, though, what this comment emphasises is a materialist view of religion; religions as a social construct with an internal logic that adapts itself to the conditions of life surrounding it. For an example, Franciscan monks still take a vow of poverty, but now that vow of poverty allows computer access - even the monasteries need PR.

    Marx continues his elaboration on the theme of the reactivity of religion, drilling down to its core:

    In the ancient Asiatic and other ancient modes of production, we find that the conversion of products into commodities, and therefore the conversion of men into producers of commodities, holds a subordinate place, which, however, increases in importance as the primitive communities approach nearer and nearer to their dissolution. Trading nations, properly so called, exist in the ancient world only in its interstices, like the gods of Epicurus in the Intermundia, or like Jews in the pores of Polish society. Those ancient social organisms of production are, as compared with bourgeois society, extremely simple and transparent. But they are founded either on the immature development of man individually, who has not yet severed the umbilical cord that unites him with his fellowmen in a primitive tribal community, or upon direct relations of subjection. They can arise and exist only when the development of the productive power of labour has not risen beyond a low stage, and when, therefore, the social relations within the sphere of material life, between man and man, and between man and Nature, are correspondingly narrow. This narrowness is reflected in the ancient worship of Nature, and in the other elements of the popular religions. The religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish, when the practical relations of every-day life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature.

    Religion then is a sign of an immature humanity mystified by its relation to nature and its relations with itself. Mysticism fills the spiritual, explanatory and political gaps in the world. The spiritual void between works and grace reflects the material conditions of the working poor and the workless rich, where works diminish in importance relative to grace as wealth increases. The explanatory hole between the worker and the systems they partially constitute but are constrained by engenders a powerless trust and trust in our own powerlessness; the desolation of shared social life manifests in a faith in the interconnection of everything. The absence of political power the worker has relative to all economic life relevant to their welfare manifests in valuations where a person is judged on their ability to lead a happy life rather than a meaningful one. Faith grows in these holes like scar tissue on our body politic, reconnecting essentially what has only been contingently severed. Only when humanity has mastery of itself and accommodates reasonably to nature will we have no wounds for religion to heal.
  • fdrake
    2.4k
    Marx concludes this line of thought on the development of humanity:

    The life-process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan. This, however, demands for society a certain material ground-work or set of conditions of existence which in their turn are the spontaneous product of a long and painful process of development.

    saying that a society which does not have all the above socio-economic-political growing pains will only come out of a similarly painful process of development.

    He then concludes the section on commodity fetishism, and Chapter 1, with a discussion of the image of capitalism in economic thought in his time and how that image relates to commodity fetishism. Much of it is minor elaboration and summary.

    Political Economy has indeed analysed, however incompletely,[32] value and its magnitude, and has discovered what lies beneath these forms. But it has never once asked the question why labour is represented by the value of its product and labour time by the magnitude of that value.[33] These formulæ, which bear it stamped upon them in unmistakable letters that they belong to a state of society, in which the process of production has the mastery over man, instead of being controlled by him, such formulæ appear to the bourgeois intellect to be as much a self-evident necessity imposed by Nature as productive labour itself. Hence forms of social production that preceded the bourgeois form, are treated by the bourgeoisie in much the same way as the Fathers of the Church treated pre-Christian religions.[34]

    The take home message here is that Marx believes it is very common for economists to inappropriately retroject commodities with the social form they have under capitalism into precapitalist modes of production; summarising his analysis of Robinson Crusoe like scenarios.

    To what extent some economists are misled by the Fetishism inherent in commodities, or by the objective appearance of the social characteristics of labour, is shown, amongst other ways, by the dull and tedious quarrel over the part played by Nature in the formation of exchange value. Since exchange value is a definite social manner of expressing the amount of labour bestowed upon an object, Nature has no more to do with it, than it has in fixing the course of exchange.

    Moreover, Marx believes it is common for economists to believe that exchange value rises out of natural properties of produced goods, rather than out of the relationship of their having utility and only being available through purchase. IE, he thinks that people treat use value and exchange value in an inverted way, use deriving from social custom and exchange deriving from physical property.

    The mode of production in which the product takes the form of a commodity, or is produced directly for exchange, is the most general and most embryonic form of bourgeois production. It therefore makes its appearance at an early date in history, though not in the same predominating and characteristic manner as now-a-days. Hence its Fetish character is comparatively easy to be seen through. But when we come to more concrete forms, even this appearance of simplicity vanishes. Whence arose the illusions of the monetary system? To it gold and silver, when serving as money, did not represent a social relation between producers, but were natural objects with strange social properties. And modern economy, which looks down with such disdain on the monetary system, does not its superstition come out as clear as noon-day, whenever it treats of capital? How long is it since economy discarded the physiocratic illusion, that rents grow out of the soil and not out of society?

    Marx notes that the value form in capitalism contained its seeds in precapitalist value forms, some of which are analysed. He leaves a question hanging, whether the analysis he's developed so far is really appropriate for the full complexity of observed economic development (spoilers: almost everything here is an oversimplification in some regard).

    But not to anticipate, we will content ourselves with yet another example relating to the commodity form. Could commodities themselves speak, they would say: Our use value may be a thing that interests men. It is no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong to us as objects, is our value. Our natural intercourse as commodities proves it. In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange values. Now listen how those commodities speak through the mouth of the economist.

    “Value” – (i.e., exchange value) “is a property of things, riches” – (i.e., use value) “of man. Value, in this sense, necessarily implies exchanges, riches do not.”[35] “Riches” (use value) “are the attribute of men, value is the attribute of commodities. A man or a community is rich, a pearl or a diamond is valuable...” A pearl or a diamond is valuable as a pearl or a diamond.[36]

    From the perspective of commodity-commodity relations, they are mediated by value, so through the 'eyes of the commodity' see only values rather than uses (which are not realised in exchange). From the perspective of the commodity, then, other commodities appear as price stamps alone mediated through exchange, rather than a composite relationship of the market and labour to commodity production and the political structures which facilitate this (like the social division of labour).


    So far no chemist has ever discovered exchange value either in a pearl or a diamond. The economic discoverers of this chemical element, who by-the-bye lay special claim to critical acumen, find however that the use value of objects belongs to them independently of their material properties, while their value, on the other hand, forms a part of them as objects. What confirms them in this view, is the peculiar circumstance that the use value of objects is realised without exchange, by means of a direct relation between the objects and man, while, on the other hand, their value is realised only by exchange, that is, by means of a social process. Who fails here to call to mind our good friend, Dogberry, who informs neighbour Seacoal, that, “To be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune; but reading and writing comes by Nature.”[37]

    Marx concludes the section by attempting to show that commodity fetishism invites the inversion of use an exchange as abstractions. Exchange appears natural, use appears incidental, which ties together with the previous theme of inappropriate retrojection of capitalist commodities into pre-capitalist production.

    Now I'm at where I said I'd stop. I might return later to continue, or write summaries, highlights and reference more contemporary things.
  • frank
    2.8k
    This is an example of finding value in labor time:



    We ask why the tunic was left behind because we recognize that it must have been time consuming to make it. If the tunic was sold in a market, another kind of value would be attached to it. That the tunic represents a lot of labor would be only one component of market value.
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