Class 02 Reading Marx's Capital Vol I with David Harvey

Uploaded by readingcapital on 16.01.2011

» NEIL SMITH: What I remember from those days is how textual
the discussion was.
And my sense from talking with students here
is that while that's still a core of what you're trying to do with the book,
that the
way you're teaching it has really evolved
and changed in its own way.
And, in one sense it's a much larger, it's no longer just around a small seminar table
where you're having a reading group, it's a much larger group. You've certainly got a lot of the same mix of
academics, students, faculty, activists, and so on who are involved in it.
But at the same time my sense is that your approach to the
book has changed somewhat too. So I wonder if you might want to try and
spin that out a bit. » DAVID HARVEY: One of the great things about doing this all this time-
and when you think about it,
teaching the same book for nearly forty years sounds like an incredibly boring thing to do.
And most people, if they taught the same course for forty years,
would go nuts
just doing it. But
every time I go through it I find a fresh angle on it.
And the fresh angle is sometimes something I didn't see in the text before which now jumps out
at me as being very significant.
And the other thing that happens is that circumstances change,
people's interests change,
the intellectual background with which they come to
Capital changes, so
actually taking this text and sort of,
putting it with
the changing historical and geographical circumstances is actually… actually in itself,
a very interesting exercise. I've always found a great deal of excitement about that.
But the other thing that happens is that,
there are many things I see in the book now which I didn't see before - in part
because I've gone through it with so many different people seeing it from different angles,
that I start to see it from their angle, and then and I see things that I didn't see before.
But partly also because I think my own intellectual interests have grown and shifted
and therefore,
in a sense I'm
changing the way in which I think about Capital and teach Capital, depending very much on
the kind of circumstances that I'm writing about today.
I'm curious to know how many of you
actually read these two chapters?
Wow. How many didn't?
Don't do it again.
One of things I suggested last time was,
a good idea when you're looking at
a particular section, to
go over what the main idea is, because that way you can chart your way
through what's going on.
And last time we dealt with
section one
of Chapter One
and I suggested that you could decompose this into a very simple
sort of structure
which looks like this.
Marx starts with the commodity
as the foundation
for his investigation of a capitalist mode of production,
immediately suggests
it has a dual character: it has a use-value
and it has an exchange-value.
The mystery about the exchange-value was that the tremendous heterogeneity which existed
of use-values is somehow or other rendered
compatible, commensurable.
And so
Marx argues there must be something that lies behind
exchange-value which explains that commensurability.
And what it is that lies behind is the notion of value.
And he defines that as
socially necessary labour time.
In order to be socially necessary
the labour expended on something has to be a use-value for someone.
So Marx reconnects
to use-value and so you start to see value
as a coming together of both use-value and exchange-value in the concept of social necessary labour time.
Now if you ask yourself this question of what is the structure of the
next two sections,
they go something like this:
He concentrates on
labour time.
He's already
distinguished between
the tremendous variety of labour times that might be actually spent
and something which he calls abstract labour.
So here he takes a concept which was just simply
referred to in the first section
and splits it out and says, well, socially necessary labour time
has two aspects:
concrete labour
and abstract labour,
and he talks about the difference between the two.
But in the end there's only one labour process, it's not as if one labour process is doing the concrete
and one's doing the abstract.
No, there's one labour process and it has this dual character.
It is both concrete, and it is abstract.
The question is how do you find out
what the abstract value is in the commodities which you've produced?
And the answer to that can only be found at the moment when
abstract and concrete labour come together at the moment of exchange.
So we're now going to look at exchange and the way in which exchange generates a way
of expressing value,
representing value, because we know that value is a social relation,
therefore it's immaterial.
So what we got out of exchange, coming out of exchange, is
a duality again.
Relative and equivalent forms of value.
And these relative and equivalent forms of value eventually coalesce at the end of this
long, and in my opinion and somewhat turgid, third section
into the idea that there is
a way in which value gets expressed.
And it gets expressed
in the form of a money commodity.
You want to take this further into the next section, the money commodity conceals something,
it conceals the social relations.
So the next section is about
the way in which
there are social relations between things, and material
relations between people.
Now you can see a certain pattern
emerging here in the nature of the argument.
There is an unfolding going on.
There is an expansion of the argument going on.
And actually if you look at the logical structure
of the argument in Capital you see it is in continuous expansion of this kind.
Now the classic way of thinking of the Hegelian logic is of course
But these are not synthetic points.
These are points which internalize a tension,
a contradiction
that needs to be
further expanded and looked at.
In this section, the first section,
we have the argument that there is a distinction between abstract and concrete labour, but now
we expand it.
And out of that comes an understanding of how
exchange processes produce a representation of value
in the money commodity,
the money form,
the universal equivalent, as he puts it.
So you see how this process
of representation unfolds in Capital.
But of course at each point
in this he's going to make many other observations.
This, if you like, is the sort of
skeletal structure of the argument. But as he built his argument he builds in
extra elements.
And as those extra elements are built in,
so what we see is a gradual
expansion not only in the terms of this kind of linear way that it sort of expands
in this way as well. It goes from
a very narrow conception of the commodity to a broader and broader and broader conception
as he works through these different elements.
So let's look very concretely then at
this section two.
He starts off on page hundred and thirty-two
where he makes the very modest claim that "I was the first
to point out and examine critically this twofold nature of the labour contained in commodities.
As this point is crucial to an understanding of political economy, it requires further elucidation."
This is a polite way of saying:
to the degree that classical political economy never made this distinction,
they got their political economy all wrong,
and I'm going to get it right because this distinction is fundamental.
Now the first part looks at concrete labour
and in much the same way that he's looking at the heterogeneity of use-values,
he's looking at the immense heterogeneities of
concrete labour processes,
producing different items- shirts and shoes and apples and pears
and all the rest of it,
different skills involved
different techniques involved, different raw materials involved,
and, therefore, the labour process is itself heterogeneous.
It is not simply that you're producing heterogeneous products
you're also witnessing a heterogeneity of labour processes,
spinning and weaving,
shoe making and bread baking and all the rest of it, call for different skills that
the heterogeneity of it is simply stunning.
So he goes over that heterogeneity.
In the process however
he makes one move to broaden the argument.
And that move is, I think, of singular importance
and this move occurs at the bottom of page hundred and thirty-three,
well about halfway down, he says:
"Labour, then, as the creator of use-values as useful labour
is a condition of human existence
which is independent of all forms of society."
Now, usually you don't
find Marx saying that in Capital, because he's interested only in how things work under
capitalism. But here he is saying
use-values have to be produced no matter what kind of society you're in.
He says "it is an eternal natural necessity
which mediates the metabolism between man and nature and, therefore, human life itself."
What we're doing here
is at this point, we're introducing
the whole idea of a metabolic relation to nature
as being something which has to be integrated into the argument,
integrated into the analysis.
He doesn't pay that much attention to this in Capital, but
the point of him making this statement here is to say:
there's no way which you can examine
this whole process without actually looking at this
metabolic relation to nature.
And he goes on to explain a little bit, "the physical bodies of commodities
are combinations of two elements: the material provided by nature
and labour.
If we subtract the total amount of useful labour of different kinds which is contained
in the coat, linen etc, a material substratum is always left.
This substratum is furnished by nature without human intervention.
When man engages in production he can only proceed
as nature does herself."
That is you have to proceed in accordance with natural law.
You "(…)can only change the form of materials. Furthermore,
even in this work of modification he is constantly helped by natural forces.
Labour is therefore not the only source of material wealth, i.e. of use-values(…).
As William Petty says, labour is the father of material wealth,
the earth is its mother."
That gendered metaphor is very common of course from
seventeenth-century onwards, and so Marx is simply repeating
something that had been there from the Enlightenment onwards.
But, notice something here:
material wealth is not the same as value.
Material wealth,
it's going to be the total quantity of use-values available to you.
The value of those use-values
can vary in all sorts of ways.
You can have a lot of use-values
and very little value because there's very little labour input,
or you can have
very few use-values and a lot of labour input, so the relationship between wealth
and value is not one-on-one at all.
So, Marx's conception of wealth
is about the material assemblage
of use-values which are available to us.
He then goes on to make some comments.
This heterogeneous labour contains a bit of a conundrum.
Different skills, different capacities for productivity
of different labourers,
and we have to look at that which he does over the next two pages.
And he says in order to really advance his analysis,
what he has to do is to create a simple standard of value.
And this standard is going to be called, as he says on hundred and thirty-five,
"simple average labour".
Now simple average labour,
is not constant, he points out: "(…)it is true it varies in character in different countries
and at different cultural epochs,
but in a particular society it is given."
This is a move that Marx will often make.
For purposes of analysis I'm going to assume it's given, even though I know it varies
all over the place.
But for purposes of analysis I'm going to assume there's something there
called simple average labour,
which is what the abstraction of value is about.
Furthermore, what I do is I take the issue of skills
and complex labour, and simply say:
"More complex labour counts only as intensified, or rather multiplied simple labour,
so that a smaller quantity of complex labour is considered equal to a larger quantity
of simple labour."
He then adds: "Experience shows that this reduction is constantly being made."
He doesn't tell us what experience it is that shows us this.
This is actually a rather problematic argument and it goes under the title of
'the reduction of skill to simple labour problem' in a lot of marxian theorizing.
And it poses certain difficulties for the way in which certain people have used Marx's
value theory. I want to signal
the fact that this passage conceals
something which is a bit problematic
and which is being a matter of some controversy
in the field of Marxian studies.
What i'm going to do, therefore, is to
ask the question
which we have, I think, have to ask of this. What experience is it
that shows this reduction
is being made?, and how is that reduction being made?
And we will come across some examples where we will find
that argument laid out.
So on the bottom of that paragraph he says: "In the Interests of simplification, we shall henceforth
view every form of labour power directly as simple labour power;
by this wish shall simply be saving ourselves
the trouble of making the reduction."
As I've indicated, this is
a strategy that Marx sometimes uses. He hits a complication,
says: okay I recognize the complication, I going to simplify it away,
and for purposes of argument go on as if
this datum of simple average labour is adequate
to my argument.
On page hundred and thirty-six/ hundred and thirty-seven
he starts to talk more about the
abstract qualities of labour.
He shifts from the examination of the concrete,
both looking at the relation to nature and the problem of skills,
and goes to look more concretely,
if I can put it that way, at the abstract side of this argument.
And of course in the abstract side we´re dealing with a quantitative relation.
And he has to say certain things about the temporal duration of labour,
how the temporal duration of labour works.
And the first thing he notices on the top of hundred and thirty-seven
is that, right at the bottom hundred thirty six, is that "(…)an increase in the amount of material
wealth may correspond to a simultaneous fall in the magnitude of its value."
Value is dependent upon human productivity.
Highly productive people can produce a large amount of material wealth
very quickly.
And they can work less hours, so actually the amount of
value that they make can be very low but the amount of material wealth they generate can
be enormous.
So again, he's going to emphasize that distinction between material wealth
and value.
And he goes on to point out that while changes in productivity
affect material wealth, they don't necessarily have any effect at all
on value creation.
We will see instances where this is the case but,
nevertheless, the change in productivity
is itself not directly connected to transformations in value.
That leads into the bottom of hundred thirty-seven, to a definition:
"…all labour is an expenditure of human labour-power, in the physiological sense,
and it is in this quality of being equal, or abstract, human labour that it forms the value
of commodities.
On the other hand all labour is an expenditure of human labour-power in a particular form
and with a definite aim,
and it is in this quality of being concrete useful labour that it reproduces use-values."
Just simply means that if it takes so many hours of
simple labour to produce a coat,
and you produce ten coats,
the amount of value is ten.
If you produce fifteen coats it's fifteen.
»STUDENT: But the value per coat remains the same. »HARVEY: The value per coat remains the same.
He then goes on to talk about what happens when the value per coat goes down
which is why the changing productivity then comes in.
Section three: the value form,
or exchange-value.
Again, what we see is
an opening argument which
specifies the nature of a problem.
And he begins with this discussion about the objectivity of commodities
and the fact that, even though they have objective qualities,
nevertheless, he says about the middle of page hundred and thirty-eight,
"Not an atom of matter
enters into the objectivity of commodities as values;
in this it is the direct opposite to the costly sensuous objectivity of commodities
as physical objects."
He then goes on to say: "(…)let us remember that commodities possess an objective character as values only
insofar as they are expressions of
an identical social substance, human labour,
that their objective character as values is therefore purely social.
From this it follows," he says,
"that it can only appear in the social relation between commodity and commodity."
Now, this is a little bit strange,
in the sense that Marx is saying
that the value of a commodity is immaterial.
Not an atom of matter enters into the value of a commodity.
Marx's foundational concept- value
is immaterial,
but objective.
This doesn't fit very well with the image of Marx, right, as someone who kind of is a
grubby materialist for who everything has to be sort of fixed and material and if it's not material
then it's nothing.
Here is his fundamental concept of value
which is immaterial but objective.
And it's immaterial because it's a social relation.
Can you see social relations?
Can you actually have iotas or atoms or molecules of social relationships?
You can't trace them that way,
yet we know that social relationships are objective.
There's a social relationship between you and I
and you could look at what's going on in the room and say: okay there's a social relationship
between teacher and taught.
And you can talk about it and it has objective consequences in the grade you get and all that
sort of stuff, but
you can't actually measure it in terms of atoms, and movement and you can't actually find the molecules
floating through the air, you know,
from my brain into your brain or from wherever you know.
It's not like that.
It's immaterial but objective.
So Marx is saying: value is immaterial and objective like that, it's a social relation which becomes
objectified in the commodity.
And that process of objectification
is of course also an objectification of a process
in a thing
because the process is socially necessary labour time.
So the process is objectified in the thing.
How it is objectified in the thing
is a matter of some considerable interest.
And furthermore: how the commodity expresses
that value relation objectively, as a thing.
And Marx's answer to that is:
you cannot go to a commodity
this table
and dissect it and get the chemical composition and everything else, you can't go to this table
and find out what its value is internal to the table.
You only find out what the value of this table is, when it is put in an exchange relation with
something else.
Later on he will actually use the notion of gravity
as a similar example.
it's very difficult, impossible in fact, to take a stone
and dissect it and find gravity inside of it.
You can only find gravity when you put the stone in relationship to another stone, it's
only a relationship between bodies.
So it's immaterial but objective.
So this is Marx's fundamental concept and it's very important that you
you recognize this at the outset.
So when somebody comes along and says: well, Marx is just one of those boring materialists who doesn't
have any…well, how come?
His foundational concept is immaterial but objective
and what is this about.
And the immateriality is of course
socially necessary labour time.
But in order to figure out what socially necessary labour time is you've got to have a
form of appearance.
So, on hundred and thirty-nine, again he makes the modest claim:
"Now, however, we have to perform a task never even attempted by bourgeois economics.
That is, we have to show the origin of this money-form, we have to trace the development
of the expression of value contained in the value relation of commodities
from its simplest almost imperceptible outline
to the dazzling money-form.
When this has been done, the mystery of money will immediately disappear."
What then follows is, I think,
a very boring exegesis of how this works.
And we can simply go over the general line of argument in order to
actually look at some very important, again,
seeming sidebars like the relation to nature which actually now going to become integrated
into the argument.
The argument goes like this:
I have a commodity,
I don't know what its abstract value is.
I'm desperate to know and have a measure of the abstract value
in my commodity.
You have a commodity.
So I say: Okay,
I'm going to measure the value,
abstract value of my commodity in terms of your commodity. You have the equivalent form,
I have the relative form.
If we were in a barter situation
you would have the relative form, relative to my equivalent.
There are as many equivalents as there are commodities, and as many relatives as
there are commodities as well.
So this is the simple version
that kind of says:
I only find out
what this table is worth when it's exchanged with something else,
and therefore it is your labour input which is going to be the measure
of abstract labour in mine.
He then expands it and he says: Well, what happens when, for example,
I have shoes and you don't want shoes, but on the other hand
I want the shirt you have. So I trade my shoes for your shirt, and then you take the shoes that you've traded
and trade them on, in other words, you can imagine
something going on and on and on and on…like that.
or you could also imagine somebody sitting there with
cans of tuna and they're the only person who've got cans of tuna.
And everybody wants to trade with cans of tuna, so suddenly cans of tuna turn out to
be very significant and therefore
multiple commodities are exchanging with the same thing.
So Marx goes through these various
forms of this
and at the end of the day we start to see crystallizing out
the idea that there is one commodity,
or a particular bundle of commodities which start, actually,
to be a stand-in
for the equivalent.
And out of that we see crystallizing the universal equivalent.
One commodity becomes
the central equivalent for all exchanges,
and that one commodity
we call the money commodity and the most obvious
one to look at would be gold.
So one commodity crystallizes out.
There are a number of points which have to be made about this and Marx is going to make
this point several times.
In order for this to happen,
exchange has to become generalized,
it has to become, what he calls, a 'normal social act'.
It can't be just an occasional exchange,
it has to be generalized and it has to be systematic.
If it's not generalized or systematic then
it's unlikely that
gold is going to emerge as the universal equivalent.
But what you can see him doing here
is very different from the argument
of classical political economy. He's saying that the money form
arises out off the exchange relation.
It's not superimposed from outside.
It's not that somebody had a good idea and said: oh let us have money.
Nothing of that kind,
no, it arises, in Marx's view, out of
simple acts of exchange which gradually expand
to the point where they become generalized
for the whole of society.
Now, there's an interesting question here:
Is this a historical argument or a logical argument?
Actually we're often going to find that arising in Capital, and it's something you
should think about.
In the nineteenth century there was a tendency sometimes to interpret Marx as making a historical argument
as well as a logical argument.
I think most people who are familiar with
works in archaeology and anthropology and history and all the rest of it would now kind of say
you can't really treat this as a historical argument.
There are too many
symbolic systems like coins and so on, floating around, of various kinds, historically and archeologically,
and all the rest of it,
in the absence of kind of clear exchange relations of this sort.
So, it's probably best not to treat this as a historical argument.
But what it does do, and I think
this is the way to look at it is:
It actually constructs a logical argument
about the relationship between the money form and commodity exchange
and what that would say historically would be this:
that while there may have been all kinds of different
systems, that you might call monetary systems
floating around, exchange of
cowry shells or stories or whatever,
while there may have been all kinds of systems of that kind
floating around to the degree that
capitalist commodity exchange becomes generalized so it disciplines all of those forms
to this singular relationship between
the money form
and the commodity form.
So in that sense you could kind of say: the logic of capitalism,
and a capitalist system, would say that, as
exchange proliferates and becomes a normal social act,
what this means is that
money and commodities will move into this kind of relation,
no matter what the original
foundation of the monetary form may have been.
But then there are some very specifics about this argument.
And I want to just pay attention to
occasional bits of language which I think are significant.
On hundred and forty-two for example,
in the middle there,
he's talking about human labour in general, however he goes on to say: "(…)it is not enough
to express the specific character of the labour which goes to make up the value of the linen.
Human labour-power in its fluid state(…)"
Now, I've often and will often
draw your attention to the way in which Marx concentrates on the fluidity of things.
"(…)human labour-power in its fluid state, or human labour, creates value, but is not itself value.
It becomes value in its coagulated state, in objective form", through objectification.
So again, there's this process-thing relationship.
And that is always kind of lurking
and you'll always find passages where Marx
will be re-emphasizing that.
But then there's something odd about
the way in which these
relative and equivalent forms of value work together.
And he identifies three peculiarities: the first is identified on page hundred and forty-eight:
"The first peculiarity which
strikes us when we reflect on the equivalent form is this:
that use-value becomes the form of appearance of its opposite, value."
That relation is entailed in the very beginning of this argument.
It's the use-value you have which is the equivalent of
my relative.
And it's that use-value, it's not the generality, it's just that use-value,
and we can never going to escape from that
That a specific use-value,
in the end of the day it's going to be gold,
becomes a form of appearance of its opposite, value.
The result of that, on hundred and forty-nine.
is he starts to talk about the way in which
- and this is where you start to get a precursor of the fetishism argument -,
he says: "The relative [value-]form of a commodity, the linen for example, expresses its value existence
as something wholly different from its substance and properties,
as the quality of being comparable with a coat for example;
this expression itself therefore indicates
that it conceals a social relation."
Now in the fetishism section we're going to
be dealing a lot with the way in which things get concealed.
But here he is kind of saying: that concealing
goes on in this logical relationship which is being built up
between commodities
and their monetary expression, and he then goes on a bit further down that paragraph,
to say: "Hence the mysteriousness of the equivalent form,
which only impinges on the crude bourgeois vision of the political economist when it
confronts him in its fully developed shape, that of money."
He then goes on to sort of have a little
cut at the classical political economists for their failures.
So he says on hundred and fifty at the top:
"The body of the commodity, which serves as the equivalent, always figures as the embodiment
of abstract human labour and is always a product of some specific useful and concrete labour."
Specific concrete labour is what makes gold.
But gold is supposed to be an expression
of abstract human labour.
Second peculiarity at the bottom of that page:
"The equivalent form therefore possesses a second peculiarity: in it,
concrete labour,
becomes a form of manifestation of its opposite: abstract human labour."
Third peculiarity,
top of hundred and fifty-one: "(…)the equivalent form has a third peculiarity:
private labour takes the form of its opposite, namely labour in its
directly social form."
You can see all sorts of contradictions emerging out of this.
The expression of value is a particular commodity,
a particular use-value produced under particular concrete
conditions of labour, which is
in principle appropriable by any one individual,
at the same time, it's meant to be the general expression
of the whole world of commodity production.
Tension. Just to give you an example: you don't have to take
the private appropriation.
If gold is the money commodity, if gold is the one
commodity, which is the center of all of this,
then who are the producers of gold?
Now there was a very interesting moment towards the end of the nineteen sixties
when the two most important producers of gold in the world market were
the Soviet Union and South Africa.
Capitalism was not terribly happy.
I mean,
the Soviet Union and South Africa could actually mess up the whole gold supply system
by flooding the market or doing something or other, you know.
So, in a sense,
one of the reasons, one of the many reasons actually, that we went to a
de-metallic, a non-metallic
monetary base from the nineteen seventies onwards had everything to do with the fact
that the powers that be in Washington and London and Tokyo and all the rest of it, decided that,
hey, we can't keep gold as a base or other reasons why they couldn't keep gold as a base,
we can't keep gold as a base because
of the political liability that lies in. So these contradictions that he's talking about
here are likely to erupt,
in very specific ways,
who controls the money supply, who controls those use-values, what are the conditions
of labour?
What happens
as happened in eighteen forty eight when suddenly gold was
discovered in California,
and there's a flood of gold into the world market? What happened when
the Spaniards went into
South America and stole all the gold from the Incas and all the rest of it
and flooded Europe with gold
in the sixteenth/seventeenth centuries creating the grand inflation? You know, in other words,
the fact that a specific commodity
has this capacity to be the universal equivalent,
with all of those particularities about it,
creates a problem.
It is as it were a simple relationship between a particularity at an universal,
and the particularity
is standing in as a measure of the universal.
Tension, contradictions,
monetary contradictions fly all over the place later on in the analysis.
But what he's doing here is laying in
a little bit of a basis for that.
Also on hundred and fifty-one
he points out something else which is very important about exchange.
He is very fond of quoting Aristotle.
And he notices that Aristotle says:
well, if things exchange
there must be something equivalent
in the exchange.
So, that what Aristotle began to lay out was the notion that exchange implies equivalence.
But Aristotle couldn't have a labour theory of value.
Why not? Because of slavery.
No free market in labour, this kind of stuff.
So Aristotle saw something very significant about the nature of exchange
and about the nature of economies,
which is the equivalence principle.
It didn't necessarily mean there's equivalence between people but there's equivalence somewhere in the system
that says that is equivalent to that.
And that equivalence principle
is something which is going to be very significant in the way in which markets work.
So Aristotle,
on hundred and fifty-one, says: "There can be no exchange without equality (…) and no equality
without commensurability."
This is something
which is very important for how markets work.
Now, what happens
as this universal equivalent starts to become
more and more present in the argument is this:
and he points this out again on hundred and fifty-three towards the bottom,
he says: "The internal opposition between use-value and value, hidden within the commodity,
is therefore represented on the surface by an external opposition, i.e. by a relation
between two commodities such that the one commodity,
whose own value is supposed to be expressed, counts directly only as a use-value, whereas
the other commodity,
in which that value is to be expressed, counts directly only as an exchange-value."
That is: what we begin to see, is
the beginnings of an emergence of something which is going to be
crucial to the argument.
An internal opposition
within the commodity between
use-value and value
is eventually going to be expressed as an external opposition between the world
of commodities
and the world of money.
Those two worlds
suddenly become separate from each other.
And as they become separate from each other they can be antagonistic to each other.
in other words: you go from an internal opposition to an external
with the potentiality for an antagonism.
So, the end of the story then is about
how the expanded form of value
morphs into an universal equivalent.
And that therefore, what this means is that money becomes
the expression,
the money commodity becomes the expression of value.
He says on hundred and sixty, he says this, in the middle of the page:
a particular kind of commodity acquires the form of universal equivalent,
because all other commodities make it the material embodiment of their uniform and universal
form of value."
Then notice the next sentence: "But the antagonism between the relative form of value and the equivalent
form, the two poles of the value-form, also develops concomitantly
with the development of the value form itself."
And that takes us into the final section just on
the money-form.
What we've done here
is looked at the way in which
concrete and abstract come together in an exchange
how the relative and equivalent forms of value
build in certain ways,
generate this money commodity.
Then that leads us into fetishism, but
let's have any questions you have about this section and the preceding section.
»STUDENT: What's interesting, you asked about whether Marx is attempting,
or we can use this as either a logical or a historical argument, what's
interesting is that, people have come to apply this approach to a historical analysis
and they have this concept of, contingency and codification, so that capitalism develops as
a series of accidents (»DAVID HARVEY: yes), which become codified, and then there's also the question of consciousness.
And then also brings to mind, I think, this notion of the true in the form of the true and how,
what can we say about the social relations in the capitalist society when…in capitalism you have
expressions embodied in things that are in contradiction to something else,
like, for…, the expression of value is in a contradictory form in the particular use-value
of something, and this idea that truth is when representation and the thing itself coincide,
and are these the only ways to have absurdities in a society?
»DAVID HARVEY: Well they're not absurdities so much as I think Marx is all the time talking
about the internalizations of contradictions.
And those internalizations of contradictions also become generative.
And it is the tensions there…
And here we will get a kind of complicated
argument, which
I don't want to go into an any great depth but a complicated argument, which says:
you know, are we talking about Marx's mode
of representation here?
And his talking about contradictions? Or are we talking about real contradictions that exist?
Now, I've already indicated,
what I find fascinating about Marx is that he sets up,
just in this chapter, this notion of a contradiction within the money form.
And then when I'm looking at and kind of say: Well, why did they go off the gold standard
in the late nineteen sixties, you know, and then I kind of thought to myself:
Well, actually this helps me understand something about that.
And I think it was very real, and if you go to the literature you find: indeed it was real.
There was this nervousness about the empowerment of the
Soviet Union and South Africa.
So, you know,
the relationship between Marx's argument and the realities around us, and the tensions
we feel in our daily lives, is always a complicated one, and you have to
work that through for yourself,
and work it out for yourself. But what you have see in doing this: he is making
a logical argument here, where he's
talking about the way in which these contradictions get internalized.
In something like money, right, what _is_ money?
It's a very interesting kind of question, you know, I mean how many of you have thought about
what is money?, where did it come from?
And, if you go to Dickens' Dombey and Son, you know, there is this Mr. Dombey and
little Paul is dying and he kinda says:
Papa, what's money?
And Mr. Dombey, the great entrepreneur, can't give him an answer.
And little Paul's mother has died, so he says: Well, can money bring her back?
And Mr. Dombey doesn't know what to say.
What is money? What is it?
And we're with it all the time, we use it all the time, but it's deeply contradictory.
Also in terms of our relationship with it, in terms of the fetish.
I mean, even I wake up sometimes and sort of go and check what's happening to my
stocks in my pension fund, you know, sort of…
So we get a fetish about it, you know, well, what is it?, you know. Oh it went up by two
percent, yeah!, you know.
Or: it went down by ten, you go: oh my god!, you know, so I have a contradictory relation
to collapses of the stock market. On the one hand I like it politically,
on the other hand I hate it personally,
because there goes my pension fund, you know.
So, so these kind of contradictions and tensions are there all the time in our daily lives.
And so I think we need to think about them.
One of the interesting things about this section is, that is written in a completely
different style.
I mean, the last section is Marx with his dull accounting hat on, you know,
this equals that and that equals that.
This is Marx kind of
going off with
mysteries and…
werwolves and all the rest of it.
It's a very different writing style.
And one of the things that's happened as a result of that, is that
quite a lot of people actually regard this as some kind of extraneous piece of argument
in Capital, some sort of
thing, that's set off on the side.
And that therefore they don't take serious
note of it too much, when they're talking about the general theory
that Marx is laying out in Capital. The other
side kind of doesn't pay much mind to the general theory of Capital and treats the section on the
fetishism as the golden piece,
the golden nugget in Marx, and kind of
expands it into great social literary
theory and all the rest of it.
I think it's very important to recognize that
Marx imported this into the second edition from an appendix, as he did the third section.
He rewrote them and brought them into the second edition, and therefore it was a very conscious
move on his part
to do this. But it also says something about Marx's technique, that
he feels perfectly happy switching writing styles
as he moves from one kind of topic to another.
And he matches his writing style to what it is that he's really trying to convey.
So, I think one of the questions we have to
ask is: what is the
positionality of this
in Marx's general line of argument? And I think that the positionality
is already partially being revealed with
his talk of how things get concealed,
how things become mysterious, how
things get buried,
how we can't see quite what's going on, how
there is a complication of this contradiction between
the money form with its particularities and the universal equivalent, which it's
supposed to be functioning as.
So these kinds of relations
have already been set up in such a way that they start to become the focus, as happens
with all these other pieces of the argument. They become the focus.
Ideas which are being latent there, suddenly become the focus of general
kind of argument.
And what he's interested in here is really
two sets of things.
First is the unraveling of the,
the notion of fetishism of the commodity,
in which
an ordinary sensuous thing
gets transformed into something, which he says on the bottom of one hundred sixty-three,
that "transcends sensuousness".
Something which,
on hundred and sixty-five, he says: "(…)sensuous things, which are the same time suprasensible or social."
Now, the enigmatic character of a commodity,
as he puts it,
arises out of it's social character.
He says at the bottom of hundred and sixty-four: "The mysterious character of the commodity form consists therefore
simply in the fact
that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men's own labour
as objective characteristics of the products themselves, as the socio-natural properties
of these things."
A bit further down:
"What we find", he says is,
but this "is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves
which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form
of a relation between things."
And he then makes a brief sidebar about religion,
but then goes on to say: "I call this the fetishism
which attaches itself to the products of labour
as soon as they're produced as commodities,
And is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities."
This inseparability from the production of commodities is extremely important.
It says that fetishism is not something that
you can sort of just brush away.
It's not a a matter of consciousness,
it's a matter of
something that's deeply embedded in the way in which
commodities get produced and exchanged.
As he goes on to say,
right at the bottom, which is the,
of hundred and sixty five, which is the key passage really:
"In other words, the labour of the private individual
manifests itself as an element of the total labour of society
only through the relations which the act of exchange establishes between the products, and,
through their mediation, between the producers.
To the producers, therefore,
the social relations between their private labours
appear as what they are", note that, appear as what they are,
"i.e. they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work,
but rather as material relations between persons
and social relations between things".
Now, the argument in a way is simple enough.
People under capitalism do not relate to each other
directly as human beings.
They relate to each other through the myriad of products
which they encounter in the market.
But when we go into the market and we ask the question: Why does this cost twice as much as that?
What we're encountering is an expression of a social relation
which has something to do, in Marx's view,
with value, socially necessary labour time.
Now, what are the ramifications of this?
There are a number of ramifications.
First off,
we can't possibly know
about the conditions of labour
of all of the people who worked to put breakfast on our table.
We can't possibly know it.
It's so intricate, it's so far fetched, it's so far flung,
And when you take the inputs that are going into the inputs that are going to the inputs,
the coal that makes the steel that goes into the tractor that goes into…
Millions and millions and millions of people are involved in putting breakfast upon our table.
And the big question then arises: Well,
where does our breakfast come from?
I used to like to start my
introductory geography classes with that question: Where does your breakfast come from?
go and think about it.
And the first answer was: Well, it came from the supermarket. Well no, come on, go back a bit further than that.
And what do you know about the people who produced it? And by the time we got into about the third
week, people would say things like: I didn't have breakfast this morning.
I think it was a kind of sense of guilt that was kind of bubbling up, you know, and the typical response
is kind of something like that.
So, the point here is that
the social relations
between things
mediate between us and everything that is going on out there.
Now, Marx doesn't make this argument, but,
you know, I've had this argument for instance with
religious folk who insist upon, you know, good moral behavior or something of that kind and,
and it's always about face-to-face relations, I'm good with my neighbor and good with the person
next door,
I help the person on the street I see, this kind of stuff.
And you kind of say, well what do you do about all those people who are putting breakfast on your table?
What's your moral responsibility to all those people? And the answer is: "Well, no, I am not
interested in that." Well, that is where our real
social connectivity to the world of labour lies.
And it becomes a very complicated to find out, so occasionally we do find out that,
you know, this
product has been produced under appalling conditions of labour somewhere, so we should boycott this
product or boycott that product.
But you can see how
incredibly complicated this world is.
And how the market system, and in particular the money commodity, conceals from us
so much of what's going on in the world around us.
And so Marx is starting out by kind of saying: we've got to
confront the way in which that world works.
and recognize that it is concealed from us
by virtue of the way the market is.
And in so doing,
he comes back to…
going back over the idea that
commodities are objective,
they exist,
you can't go into the supermarket
and look at a lettuce and find out whether it has been produced under
conditions of exploitative labour or anything else, you can't do that.
So you have no means of knowing and if you do have a boycott of grapes from
this place
you find the grapes turn up as if they have been
produced in another place.
But then he goes on a bit further
and says this:
We have to understand, he says on the bottom of hundred and sixty-six, that "Men do not therefore bring
the products their labour into relation with each other as values
because they see these objects merely as the material integuments of homogeneous human
The reverse is true:
by equating their different products to each other
in exchange as values,
they equate their different kinds of labour as human labour.
They do this without being aware of it. Value, therefore, does not have its description branded
on its forehead;
it rather transforms every product of labour
into a social hieroglyphic."
Later on, he says, we try to
decipher what this hieroglyphic was.
But: "The belated scientific discovery that the products of labour, insofar as they are values, are merely
the material expressions of the human labour expended to produce them,
marks an epoch in the history of mankind's development,
but by no means banishes the semblance of objectivity possessed by the social characteristics
of labour."
Now, again what he's talking about here is the generalization of the exchange process,
…the global…,
the world of commodities, the global structure.
And again he's coming back to this idea that value does not walk around
saying what it is.
Value arises, the notion of value arises out of all of these processes.
It doesn't precede them, it arises out of them.
And the value relation is something which is produced
specifically within a capitalist society.
And it was a capitalist society that actually
unraveled the labour theory of value.
One of the first to actually
come up with some version of the labour theory of value was Hobbes.
And then we get a whole kind of line, of Locke and Hume and all these kinds of people talking about this,
and eventually
when you get to Adam Smith, you get a labour theory of value in Adam Smith and a labour theory of
value in Ricardo.
So the labour theory of value is not something that's been around forever, it is something which
essentially arose
with the rise of capitalism. But, as we've seen, the labour theory of value,
as classical political economy saw it, was
not socially necessary labour time, no distinction between concrete and abstract labour, all of
these things Marx has been talking about.
So the labour theory of value then, or the rise of the labour theory of value, was concomitant
with the rise of the bourgeois epoch.
And it follows from that,
that the destruction of a bourgeois
economy, the destruction of capitalism,
would require
the construction of an alternative value structure,
an alternative value system.
Or conversely, if you don't like the value system of capitalism and you want something
else, then you better become a revolutionary very fast
because, this is the dominant form of value which
operates in our society.
And it operates, as he says, behind our backs.
We don't see it, we don't understand its consequences.
We end up with schizophrenic forms of value,
like good face-to face relationships, but I don't give a hoot about what goes on through the
Those kinds of divisions.
And then we get the introduction of something
which is also going to become
very significant
in the next chapter.
At the bottom of hundred and sixty-seven
he talks about the way in which
proportions of products get exchanged.
And clearly, these exchange relations vary a lot.
"These magnitudes", he says, "vary continually, independently of the will, foreknowledge and
actions of the exchangers.
Their own movement within society has for them the form of a movement
made by things, and these things, far from being under their control, in fact control them."
That is: the producers.
Who's in control of this system?
The producers?
Or does the system control them?
Now, of course, the argument that the system controlled them,
is not unique to Marx.
The person who pushed it
most strongly was Adam Smith,
in the terms of the 'hidden hand of the market'.
It is the hidden hand of the market that guided things.
Individuals, in a properly functioning,
perfectly functioning market society would not have any kind of control over the system.
The market would be the controlling mechanism.
And it would be the hidden hand of the market that guided us
to the grand capitalist utopia.
But, says Marx,
within this market system,
a bit down on hundred and sixty-eight,
is that,
"The reason for this reduction
(…) is in the midst of the accidental and ever-fluctuating exchange relations between the products,"
you can treat that as
fluctuations of supply and demand,
"the labour-time socially necessary to produce them asserts itself as a regulative law of nature.
In the same way the law of gravity asserts itself when a person's house collapses on top of him.
The determination of the magnitude of value by labour time is therefore a secret
hidden under the apparent movements in the relative values of commodities."
By the ups and downs of the market.
"Its discovery destroys the semblance of the merely accidental determination of the magnitude
of the value
of the products of labour, but by no means abolishes that determination's material form."
So within all of these market fluctuations, and the hidden hand of the market, there is a
regulative principle which emerges,
and the regulative principle
is going to be that of socially necessary labour time,
embodied in commodities,
which establishes
the average exchange ratio with other commodities.
And this is going to be the regulative principle.
So this is, if you like, the first part
of the fetishism argument.
The second part begins immediately after,
when Marx takes it into the realm of thought.
How do we think about the world,
when the physical indicators
say: it looks like this,
when we understand it to be like that.
The notion of fetishism
suggests that there is
a deep way of looking at something,
which is other than it appears upon the surface.
And Marx somewhere else kind of made the comment:
that if everything were as it appears to be on the surface, there would be no need for science.
And he's trying to construct the science of political economy.
He's very serious about that science.
So he's trying to construct an apparatus
which is going to get behind
the fetishism, get behind the surface appearance. How do you do that?
And how have other people approached that question?
And what he finds, of course, is that many people have not approached that question, they've
been deluded by the surface appearances.
But, go back to that very crucial thing: they appear as they really are, the surface appearances
are not simply illusions.
Indeed we do go into a market/supermarket, indeed we do shop, we do put down money,
indeed we do all of those things.
That is what we do.
And we watch ourselves doing it, they're actions, it is real.
And you have to take account of that reality. In other words:
you have to deal with the reality at the same time as you're dealing with the underlying structure.
Now this is a familiar
way of proceeding in a lot of scientific endeavors.
What does psychoanalysis do if it's not about saying: Well look,
the surface appearance of behavior conceals something else.
Then a psychoanalyst wouldn't say:
Well, that person who is aggressive and wields a knife like that, he's just feeling insecure,
so don't worry about them wielding the knife.
You get out of the way.
You don't say this is an illusion,
no it's real.
But you do know that there's something going on behind it which is other than what it
appears to be on the surface. So Marx is making a similar kind of argument,
in fact he is a pioneer
of that mode of argumentation in social science.
And many people, I think, have taken
that ability from him.
But he then is interested in how
the surface appearances have been interpreted
in classical political economy.
And, as he says
on hundred and sixty-eight: "Reflection on the forms of human life,
hence also scientific analysis of those forms, takes a course directly opposite to their
real development.
Reflection begins post festum and therefore with the results of the process of development
ready to hand." That is:
we've got to understand the world we're now in and we have to work backwards to where it
all came from.
"Consequently," he says, "it was solely the analysis of the prices of commodities
which led to the determination of the magnitude of value…"
We started in the supermarket,
said, well, what's a common value?
"It is…precisely this finished form of the world of commodities - the money form - which conceals the
social character of private labour
and the social relations between the individual workers,
by making those relations appear as relations between material objects,
instead of revealing them plainly."
He then goes on to talk about the categories of bourgeois economics.
He says they "…consist precisely of forms of this kind. They are forms of thought
which are socially valid, and therefore objective, for the relations of production belonging
to this historically determined mode of social production.
…The whole mystery of commodities, all the magic and necromancy that surrounds the products of
labour on the basis of commodity production,
vanishes therefore as soon as we come
to other forms of production."
And he then has a great deal of fun with the Robinson Crusoe myth.
Robinson Crusoe myth was used
by the political economists of the time to fantasize about how somebody
operating in a state of nature would
decide on how to regulate their lives, how to regulate their relation to nature,
what to do, how to do it, all this kind of thing.
And Defoe had produced this kind of myth,
and actually the Crusoe-economy has been a very important aspect of the whole
of politically economic theorizing.
But what Marx does is have some fun with it and point out that
"Our friend Robinson Crusoe learns (…) by experience,
and having saved a watch, ledger, ink and pen from the shipwreck, he soon begins, like a
good Englishmen, to keep a set of books."
In other words, the fantasy was based on English political economic life,
and then what the economists did was to fantasize that this is how
a rational being in a state of nature would actually regulate
their lives. So, Marx is having kind of fun with this.
And he says, well let's go away from Robinson's island.
By the way, I think that the economists got the wrong Defoe novel, they should have
taken Moll Flanders,
it's much better, I mean, Moll is a classic kind of commodity character.
She actually moves around and speculates on the passions of everybody else,
and has everybody else speculate on her passions.
And there's this wonderful moment in Moll Flanders where
she spends all her last money and everything she's got to sort of hire a carriage and dress
very elegantly to go this ball, and she goes to this ball and she meets this guy,
and they both dance together and they decide to elope and get married, and they elope and get married,
and in a local inn they wake up the next morning and he says:
I hope you got some money because I'm dead broke.
And she says: I'm dead broke, too, and they both laugh and kind of leave, you know, it's
kind of a wonderful, kind of
moment of how, you know, commodity collisions can take place. And she goes to the colonies,
she goes to Virginia, she's in debtor's jail…
It would be a much better
metaphor for what capitalism is really about than Robinson Crusoe.
But anyway, we go from Robinson's island
and we go and we look at
a situation which is pre-capitalist.
The world of personal dependance in medieval europe.
He talks about the corvée,
and in which "…social relations", he says, "between individuals in the performance of their labour
appear at all events as their own personal relations,
and are not disguised as social relations between things,
between the products of labour."
If you're working for the lord, you know, you're working so many hours for the lord on
the estate.
That's it, I mean, there's a personal relationship of dependency.
So, there's nothing
obscure about that, nothing opaque about that, and he says the same thing about a
patriarchal rule, industry, a peasant family.
And he even then goes on and at the
bottom of the page hundred and seventy-one to talk about:
"Let us finally imagine,
for a change, an association of free men working with the means of production held in common,
and expanding their many different forms of labour power in full self-awareness
as one single social labour force."
This is one of the rare passages where Marx actually talks about some sort of fantasy
of socialism and what socialism would be about. And again,
he says: "All the characteristics of Robinson's labour are repeated here, but with the difference
that they are social instead of individual."
And he goes on to talk about
the way in which the social relations in a society of that kind
would, on hundred and seventy-two, be "…transparent in their simplicity, in production as well as in distribution."
So, he's talking about the very specific
quality, the opaque quality of social relations
as they emerge under capitalism, and contrasting them with alternative modes
of production, in order to highlight the specificity
of the world in which we have our being.
He then goes on to
make some comments which
are kind of interesting and controversial:
"For a society of commodity producers, whose general social relation of production consists
in the fact that they treat their products as commodities, hence as values,
and in this material form bring their individual private labours into relation with each other
as homogeneous human labour,
Christianity with its religious cult of man in the abstract,
more particularly in its bourgeois development, i.e. Protestantism, Deism, etc., is the most fitting
form of religion."
Now as you know, Max Weber reversed that thesis
much later, to say that capitalism was actually an expression of that religious belief, while
Marx is kind of saying:
actually that religious transformation was
a refraction, a reflection, if you like,
of these rising commodity relations, and the rise of the value theory
and the value of
human labour in the abstract, and all those kind of things.
And that the specific form of religious beliefs,
at some point or other, moves in parallel
with the transformations of the economic and political structure.
And he goes on to kind of comment: "In the ancient Asiatic, Classical-Antique, and other such modes
of production, the transformation of the product into a commodity,
and therefore men's existence as producers of commodities plays a subordinate role…"
And he talks about the impacts of
market exchange upon patterns of belief.
And those patterns of belief of course also
affect, what he calls on hundred and seventy three, "the umbilical cord of his natural
species-connection with other men, or on direct relations of dominance in servitude.
They are conditioned by a low stage of development of the productive powers of labour
and corresponding
limited relations between men within the process of creating in reproducing their
material life,
hence also limited relations between man and nature.
These real limitations are reflected in the ancient worship of nature…".
And he then goes on to talk, a bit further down, "The veil is not removed from the countenance
of the social life-process,…
until it becomes production by freely associated men,
and stands under their conscious and planned control.
This, however, requires that society possess
a material foundation, or a series of material conditions of existence,
which in their turn are the natural and spontaneous product of a long and tormented historical development."
This is Marx in his speculative mode,
talking about how ideas and beliefs
are not immune,
and that, of course, is something that carries over into the next two or three pages.
And, of course there's a lot of debate on
the degree to which we can
put credence upon this.
But it's very clear,
as he says at the bottom of hundred and seventy-five,
that he is reiterating
a reductionist argument, in effect,
when he says, in the footnote:
"My view is that each particular mode of production,
and the relations of production corresponding to it at each given moment, in short 'the
economic structure of society',
is 'the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure
and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness',
and that 'the mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political
and intellectual life."
Now this is the argument he laid out in
the introduction to
the Critique of Political Economy,
and he's sticking to it in Capital.
It's a reductionist argument
that says that
beginning with an understanding of the labour process
and the nature of the labour process, and what the labour process is about,
how human beings are organizing their production,
on that basis
you can say a great deal about
politics, about legal structures
patterns of belief and the like.
You may not like
the reductionist argument and you can disagree with it, but I think you should be very clear that
Marx is saying that,
that is what he believes, that's what he
thinks is significant.
My own view of it is that
it's an inspired idea,
but, like most reductionist arguments, ultimately it fails.
But by taking that reductionist position you start to see all kinds of things that you
wouldn't otherwise see.
And without that reductionist impulse, Marx would never
have understood all manner of things.
You'll find analogous kind of reductionism, by the way, going on in biological sciences,
where evolution gets reduced to, you know,
micro-physics and all the rest of it.
And again,
you could argue, well ultimately the attempt fails, but the fact is that, you know, evolution
and genetic histories and so on, are now sort of embedded in each other, and
the very search for the reductionism has actually produced incredibly important insights
in the biological field, in exactly the same way, that I would argue
that Marx's
holding to principles of reductionism here, plays a
very significant role in his
method of inquiry and his impulsion to inquire,
and one of the things that I get annoyed at, I have to say, is that people who kind of say: oh it's reductionist
therefore don't believe it.
If people were not prepared to be reductionist about things we wouldn't know, we would hardly
know anything about anything.
And in fact, a lot of the time we're constantly trying to reduce complexities
to simplicities.
And that has been a lot of what understanding and knowledge constructions have been about.
And ok, we understand the world's a very complicated place, on the other hand,
once you've got some of the simplicities,
there you can understand the complexities in a different kind of way, and that's what
Marx, I think, does for us. But he is
very up front here about, this is what he's doing, and in these passages
he's being very explicit
about how these belief patterns cannot be isolated
from the nature of the political economic process
which is being engaged.
But again, I want to emphasize,
the footnote on hundred and seventy-four,
towards the bottom, footnote thirty four,
is a very important footnote because there he goes over what he calls the chief failings of
classical political economy.
And, what he's pointing about here is
that we should not make the same mistake of treating
the value theory, the labour theory of value
as the eternal natural form of social production.
It is a historical construct,
and as such it can be historically deconstructed.
But the classical political economists treated
the labour theory of value as natural.
As something that was, and that's why you go back to sort of Robinson Crusoe.
What would a natural person do in a natural environment? Well, it would do what Robinson
Crusoe did. Which is what bourgeois
thought should be done, in the seventeenth century.
And as he says on hundred and seventy four:
Bourgeois political economy, he says, "…has never once asked the question
why this content has assumed that particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed
in value,
and why the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of the value
of the product.
These formulas, which bear the unmistakable stamp
of belonging to a social formation
in which the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite,
appear to the political economists' bourgeois consciousness to be as much a self-evident
and nature imposed necessity as productive labour itself."
This is a pretty devastating critic of classical political economy.
And in a sense it was so devastating that,
with all the fussing that went on after Marx,
economics had to find…,
had to abandon the labour theory of value.
So what the marginalist economists did in the middle of the nineteenth century was, faced with
this kind of criticism, they kind of said: the only way we can deal with this is
junk the whole labour theory of value.
And so we end up with a marginalist theory of value, which is, you know, a completely different
value structure.
And economics is reconstructed as a neoclassical economics, rather than classical
political economy.
But with this kind of thing going on, it's very hard to hang on to a labour theory of value.
And it had to be junked, or else, you know, you would end up being a Marxist,
and nobody wanted to be that, so, you know, classical political economists kind of
were thrown, were pushed aside, largely because Marx
produced the kind of critique that made it impossible to hold that positionality anymore,
without actually acknowledging the power of what Marx is saying.
And he goes on hundred and seventy-six to say this: "The degree to which some economists
are misled by the fetishism attached to the world of commodities,
or by the objective appearance of the social characteristics of labour, is shown, among other things,
by the dull and tedious dispute over the part played by nature in the formation of exchange-value."
This still goes on, of course.
"Since exchange-value is a definite social manner of expressing the labour bestowed on a thing,
it can have no more natural content than has, for example,
the rate of exchange."
And he goes on to talk about
the physiocratic illusion that ground rent grows out of the soil, not out of society.
And then some amusing ends
where he talks about
the way in which, if commodities could speak, what would they say. In fact, that
language of commodities has been
here and I haven't commented on it, but it's something which is a bit intriguing.
Ok, so that's the fetishism of commodities, has anybody got any
observations?, I mean, I don't want to debate too much Marx's major thesis, that we can do some other
time. I wanna get through chapter two,
so let's zip into chapter two.
Chapter two is, I hope, not too difficult.
What Marx is doing here is simply setting out
the conditions of exchange.
And he starts
by showing that, well, of course
commodities don't go to market on their own, they have owners.
So we have to say something, not about commodities, but about the relationship between commodities and their owners.
And what he does is to imagine
a society in which,
on the first page there, on hundred and seventy-eight, he says, "The guardians must therefore recognize
each other as owners of private property.
This juridical relation,
whose form is the contract,
whether as part of a developed legal system or not, is a relation between two wills which
mirrors the economic relation.
The content of this juridical relation (…) is itself determined by the economic relation.
(…) persons exist for one another merely as representatives"
and as he says, we're now going to look at "(…) characters who appear on the economic stage (…)" as
"personifications of economic relations."
Let's take the last bit first.
He's going to look right throughout Capital in terms of personifications
of social relations.
He's not going to be talking about individuals.
He's going to be talking about buyers and sellers,
capitalists and labourers.
He's going to be talking about people
in roles.
So the analysis is going to be
about what people do in those roles.
Individuals may adopt many different roles,
but it's a very familiar trope to
actually say, well, we're going to look at
roles rather than people.
And you wouldn't make the argument
that a discussion of the relationship between
drivers and pedestrians in the
streets of manhattan
is illegitimate because
people are both drivers and pedestrians.
And you're not talking about individuals.
You say, well, no it's still worth talking about relationships which are between
pedestrians and drivers
because there's something important going on there, and what you find of course is that,
on a given day, when you're the driver you cuss the pedestrians and when you're a
pedestrian, you cuss the driver, you know, so, this kind of,
so Marx is going to be talking about roles, he's going to be talking about that
all the time.
And he's not going to be talking so much about individuals, I mean,
occasionally he will, but, by and large, he's just going to be talking about roles.
And the roles, in this case, are strictly defined.
That he's recognizing individuals
who have private property relation over
the commodity they command,
and they trade it under non coercive conditions.
That is, there's a reciprocity of
respect for juridical rights of individuals.
And this is, actually, a description of the kind of legal and
political framework for properly functioning markets.
And in that context he points out:
The commodities are, as he says on hundred and seventy-nine,
"…born leveller(s) and cynic(s),
it is always ready to exchange not only soul but body with each and every other commodity…"
The owner is willing to dispose of it,
the buyer is willing to take it.
"All", as he says, "All commodities are non-use-values for their owners, and use-values for their non-owners.
Consequently they must all change hands."
Now again, his argument here is historically specific.
So he has a good ol' crack at Proudhon, in the footnote,
and the anarchist kind of vision,
because, basically he says, well what Proudhon did was to take the
notion of justice, the bourgeois notion of justice,
and the bourgeois notion of labour,
and labour input, as the basis
of the construction of an alternative society, which is, as far as Marx was concerned, was ridiculous,
because all you're doing was: taking
the pure form of bourgeois consciousness and
saying, this is the way in which to escape from
bourgeois society, and Marx kind of says: that's nonsense.
So, what we then go through, to some degree in here,
is a recapitulation of the way in which money crystallizes out.
As he says on hundred and eighty-one: "Money necessarily crystallizes out of the process of exchange(…)",
and "The historical broadening and deepening of the phenomenon of exchange develops the opposition
between use-value and value which is latent in the nature of the commodity." We've come
across this idea, this opposition, before.
He's now coming back to it, expanding it a bit.
"The need to give an external expression of this opposition for the purposes of commercial
intercourse produces the drive
towards an independent form of value, which finds neither rest nor peace
until an independent form has been achieved by the differentiation of commodities
into commodities and money."
In other words,
this, again is about the process of exchange
proliferating, generating, making that separation.
This separation, however, presumes,
he says on top of hundred and eighty-two, that we're dealing with individuals and
private owners,
and that "Things are in themselves external to man, and therefore alienable."
Alienable in this case means:
they're not part of my being, I can freely dispose of them.
And you can freely dispose of what you have. If you have some deep
attachment to something, you're not going to be able to dispose of it but, the assumption is that
all commodities are alienable in this way.
And he says in the middle of that page: we're talking here about "the constant repetition of exchange
[which] makes it a normal social process."
And this universal and social equivalent
starts to work its way through different social orders.
And on a hundred and eighty-three he talks about the way in which
"In the same proportion as exchange bursts its local bonds,
and the value of commodities accordingly expands more and more into the material embodiment of human
labour as such,
in that proportion does the money-form become transformed to commodities
which are by nature fitted to perform the social function of a universal equivalent.
Those commodities are the precious metals.
Gold and silver."
This then leads him, however, into some important reflection on hundred and eighty-one,
hundred and eighty-three.
Bottom of hundred and eighty four, sorry,
and hundred and eighty-five:
"We have seen that the money-form is merely the reflection thrown upon a single commodity
by the relations between all other commodities. That money is a commodity
is therefore only a discovery
for those who proceed from its
finished shape in order to analyze it afterwards."
This then leads him to talk a little bit about the way in which money can take on symbolic
forms. But he then goes on to say:
in a sense "…every commodity is a symbol…"
A symbol of what?, well, a symbol of value.
"…it is only the material shell of the human labour expended on it."
Now, frequently you find people talking about, you know, well, what do we do about symbolic
aspects of economies, how do symbolic economies work?
But what Marx's opening up here is a possibility to absorb that kind of analysis, and it would take
adjustments and all the rest of it, but you can absorb that kind of question into his analysis,
because he's very, very well aware
that from the very get-go
all commodities are symbolic,
symbolic of labour content.
Therefore, in a sense, we're dealing with symbolic economies all along.
The nature of those symbolic economies, however,
can be transformed and shifted.
And we could look at that in terms of our contemporary society.
But what we have to do,
however, is to be careful of
detaching the symbolic qualities from
its rootedness in the value theory.
And we always have to bring those symbolic qualities back to
this rootedness. And as he says,
at the bottom of hundred and eighty-six,
"The difficulty lies not in comprehending that money is a commodity,
but in discovering how, why and by what means
a commodity becomes money."
That's the conundrum he's been playing with right away throughout of these last
few sections.
So this leads into talk, hundred and eighty-seven, about the magic of money,
towards the bottom.
Then comes a very, very important sentence:
"Men are henceforth related to each other in their social process of production in a purely
atomistic way.
Their own relations of production therefore assume a material shape which is independent
of their control and their conscious individual action.
This situation is manifested first by the fact
that the products of men's labour universally take on the form of commodities.
The riddle of the money fetish
is therefore the riddle of
the commodity fetish, now becomes visible
and dazzling to our eyes."
What Marx is doing here
is accepting Adam Smith's vision
of a perfectly functioning market economy
in which the hidden hand guides decisions.
No one person is in charge,
no one person can command,
everybody has to function according to,
what Marx will later call, the coercive laws of competition in the market.
Now, Adam Smith's thesis was
that actually individual motivations of entrepreneurs and
autonomous individuals acting in the market
didn't matter, they could be greedy, they could be selfless, they could be whatever.
They could be nice, they could be horrible,
but at the end of the day, Adam Smith argued,
autonomous individuals, acting freely in the market,
following their own wants, needs and desires in whatever way they wanted,
would be led to produce a social result,
when mediated through the hidden hand of the market, that would redound to the benefit of all.
Marx is accepting that vision.
And I think it's very important to understand why.
Marx's Capital is a critique of classical political economy.
Classical political economy held
that if only you would let the market do its work,
everything would be great.
If only you would get the state out of the picture, if only you would eradicate monopoly control,
if only you would do all of those things, you would end up with a social order that would be
incredibly dynamic and socially just.
That was Adam Smith's utopian dream.
That was Ricardo's utopian dream.
That was the utopian dream of liberal theory.
Continues to be the utopian dream of neoliberal theory.
Only let the market do its work and everything will be okay.
Now, Marx, at this point, has a choice.
He could say either markets don't work.
We all know there is monopoly, there is power… and all the rest of it,
messing around and destroying everything, so,
I'm not even going to accept that utopian project as being ever possible.
Or he can, as he does here,
accept the conditions of that utopian dream,
and then ask the question:
is it really going to benefit everybody?
And the big thesis that is going to come out in Capital is: No!
It's just going to benefit the bourgeoisie,
It's just going to benefit the haute bourgeoisie,
and it's going to screw the workers,
left, right and center.
The closer you come
to implementing this utopian project of liberal theory, neoliberal theory,
the greater the levels of social inequality,
the greater the degrees of injustice in society,
and the greater the destruction
of both environmental qualities and labour qualities will ensue.
So Marx is accepting the terms of classical political economic debate
in order to show that, in their own terms, they are wrong about the outcome.
And he's going to prove it step by step by step.
But in so doing, he's going to confine himself
to the argument that the classical
conditions, which are laid out in Adam Smith's hidden hand,
are actually there, and have actually been achieved.
When we know, they've not been achieved and they never were achieved.
But we have gone through certain historical periods where people have tried to achieve them,
as over the last thirty years for example.
So what Marx is doing
is really trying to deconstruct
the classical political economic vision of the liberal bourgeoisie
in order to show that it's self-serving.
But, it puts him in a problem and it puts us in a problem.
When we're reading his analysis, we have to be very careful in saying: is he talking about a real
capitalist society, or this theoretical society
which Adam Smith dreamed of,
and the classical political economists dreamed of.
And sometimes those two things run interference with each other,
sometimes they mess each other up.
And we have to watch out for that. Sometimes he ends up saying things which are not unrealistic
precisely because of that presumption.
So that's where we are.
We're out of time.
Next week I want you to read the chapter on money,
the whole of the chapter on money.
Think about the structure.
It's a very difficult chapter,
it's the chapter that nearly everybody gives up on.
If you get through it,
you'll be…
you'll be okay.
So, we'll go through it next time, thanks.