Original title: Varan, värdet och kommunismen

From the commodity to communism

Peter Åström 1)

1 Introduction

Capital is self-expanding value, dead labour that enslaves living labour. It is therefore easy to see why some might wish to make value and abstract labour the main target of social critique. If abstract labour is the root out of which the categories of capital spring – wage labour, profit, modern land rent, accumulation, etc. – then it must be abolished for a classless community to be established. This could conceivably take place in a revolution where the means of existence are made available to all without restriction (gratis), since the compulsion to work for a wage then falls away. A social reorganisation that, on the contrary, relies on work as a distinct social activity, would retain abstract labour and thus constitute a dead-end. At least that was formerly the opinion of the undersigned.2)

Under the influence of the Arab Winter,3) I came to abandon this perspective which rests on a peculiar form of anti-capitalism.4) I became convinced that the positive side of the revolution must be emphasised, not dismissed as mere speculation. Calculation of productive resources including labour is crucial, for despite being completely unsustainable in the long term, the dynamic of the capitalist mode of production does in fact, in the normal case, satisfy basic human needs such as food, water and shelter. For communism to constitute a real alternative, it must therefore take seriously the question of how to secure material reproduction. If not, in the event of a social crisis, one or the other reactionary perspective will surely be put forward instead, for example nationalism or religious fanaticism.

When, in the light of this revaluation, I returned to Capital and other canonical writings, I realised something that should have been obvious from the very beginning: Marx does not take value as his point of departure but the commodity, which puts the question of the former in a very different light. The present article, taking the commodity form as its point of departure, is an attempt to summarise important parts of Marx’s analysis of capital so as to answer

  • what is value;
  • what does the abolition of capital imply; and
  • how can a communist reorganisation of social reproduction be envisaged?

The entire line of argument rests on logic reasoning, not because history is unimportant, but because the question of communism – as I will try to show – is intimately tied to the “internal organisation”5) of the prevailing mode of production.

2 The commodity

Marx begins his critical exposition in Capital and A contribution to the critique of political economy with an analysis of the commodity, more precisely “the commodity form of the product of labour”6). As pointed out by Ricardo, products of labour constitute by far the greatest share of all commodities, because “they may be multiplied […] almost without any assignable limit, if we are disposed to bestow the labour necessary to obtain them.”7) On a higher level, production, exchange and consumption of commodities is the specific way in which social reproduction takes place in the capitalist epoch.8)

2.1 Use value

A product of labour is, to begin with, the result of human activity which – together with a larger or smaller amount of natural substrates – turns it into something useful, a use value.9) Its character as a use value or its use-value form “is independent of the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful qualities”.10) On the other hand, a use value may be considered higher or lower depending on the degree to which other use values (and thus other labour processes) form a part of it as a precondition.11)

Products of labour that satisfy human wants can be found in all human societies; they are a necessary part of human existence.12) From this general point of view, the determination as use value “lies outside the sphere of investigation of political economy.”13) Marx therefore discusses the concept of use value primarily from the point of view of present social relations where the means of production are dispersed “among many independent producers of commodities”,14) the division of labour “is brought about by the purchase and sale of the products of different branches of industry”15) and where the products are consumed not by the producers themselves but by “consumers”. In order to be saleable, i.e. to function as a commodity in exchange, the product of labour must thus be useful to some buyer.16) The product of labour is not use value for the producer; its use value emerges only if and when it meets a buyer on the market.17) Finally, the use value only exists as an object for consumption and “is realised only in the process of consumption.”18)

2.2 The form of value

The seller’s use of the product of labour comes from what it can fetch by being exchanged – its exchange value.19) In this function it presents itself in a value form that is separate from its bodily form.20)

What interests us in this section is not any actual exchange of commodities – especially not barter where commodity is exchanged directly for commodity – but the expression of commodity value. In everyday life, the latter takes the form of money through the price form. This form is complicated, however, and requires its own explanation. We shall therefore begin by ignoring money and instead investigate how commodity value is expressed through other ordinary commodities.

The value form of a product of labour is completely absent when you look at it in isolation. Then only its bodily form, which gives it its specific properties of utility, appears. If placed in a relation of exchange to some other commodity-body, however, then it becomes apparent that the product of labour has something more to it.

Below follows a summary and interpretation of Marx’s value form investigation, from the simple form of value to the price form, without going into value as such. We assume, like Marx, that the commodity values are equal quantities, but what is important is that they are commensurable.

2.2.1 Simple form of value

20 yards of linen = 1 coat, or
20 yards of linen are worth 1 coat.

Here we see on the one hand a quantitative relation. On the other hand the value of 20 yards of linen is expressed in the use value of some other arbitrary product of labour, a coat. The latter is different from the point of view of use value but still interchangeable with the linen and therefore qualitatively equal to it. The relation expresses the commodity of the seller, 20 yards of linen, as specific coat value; its value appears in the shape of a coat. This may sound mysterious, but if we are to ignore the price form for now, then we cannot say that they both cost the same amount of money. We have only these two commodities – two use values and a relation of exchange that expresses some kind of value. The linen does not need the coat in order to see that it is linen, but when the relation to the coat shows to the linen that it is something more than just linen, i.e. a useful thing, then this happens in the form of exchangeability for coats; it does not know anything else.

2.2.2 Developed form of value

In the simple form of value, the value of linen was indeed expressed although in an insufficient manner, for coat value is not an expression of value or interchangeability in general but only in relation to some arbitrary commodity separate from itself.21) By placing the linen in the same kind of exchange relation to all other use values, however, this insufficiency is overcome and a new, developed form of value enters into it place.

20 yards of linen	=	1 coat or
				10 lbs of tea or
				40 lbs coffee or
				1 quarter wheat or
				2 ounces gold or
				½ ton iron, etc.

When the product of labour 20 yards of linen is valued in the bodily forms of all other commodities, it assumes, in addition to coat value, a tea-, coffee-, corn-value, etc. Here, the linen presents itself as interchangeable for every other commodity, but its expression is complicated and ungainly because the product of labour valued is placed next to “a many-coloured mosaic of disparate and independent expressions of value.”22) In addition, the expression of value grows longer over time as new types of commodities come into the world.

2.2.3 General form of value

If, at this point, the expression is reversed and we let the commodities individually be valued in linen, this new limitation is superseded.

1 coat			=	20 yards of linen
10 lbs of tea		=	″
40 lbs coffee 		=	″
1 quarter wheat		=	″
2 ounces gold		=	″
½ ton iron		=	″
x commodity A		=	″

Now the coats, tea, coffee, etc. each receive a simple as well as a common expression of value – in the shape of linen. This does not apply to the linen itself, but the body of the linen serves as a value mirror to all other commodities.23) Marx calls the specific role here assumed by the linen general equivalent in that the commodity presents itself as exchange value in general.24) This is also the final form of value if one disregards its specific expression (e.g. linen).

2.2.4 The money form

With the general form of value, the thing that expresses commodity value could be chosen arbitrarily. In practice, however, the role as universal equivalent is established by custom. Historically it came to be awarded things that, because of their specific properties, are well suited for it – the precious metals which can be formed into arbitrarily large pieces and fused together again without being destroyed.25)

20 yards of linen	=	2 ounces gold
1 coat			=	″
10 lbs of tea		=	″
40 lbs coffee 		=	″
1 quarter wheat		=	″
½ ton iron		=	″
x commodity A		=	″

or if 2 pounds sterling is the coin name for 2 ounces of gold:

20 yards of linen	=	2 pounds sterling.

By switching places between the 20 yards of linen and 2 ounces of gold, all commodities (except gold) can still be expressed in a simple and for all other commodities common form of value.

Now the specific type of commodity with whose natural form the equivalent form coalesces (verwächst) socially becomes the money-commodity or functions as money. Its specific social function and hence its social monopoly becomes the playing of the role of general equivalent within the world of commodities.26)
The exchange value of commodities thus expressed in the form of universal equivalence and simultaneously as the degree of this equivalence in terms of a specific commodity, that is a single equation to which commodities are compared with a specific commodity, constitutes price.27)

In its role as equivalent, a money commodity cannot express its own value, but if cast into developed form (2.2.2), its value appears in relation to all other commodities in definite proportions (2 ounces of gold = 20 yards of linen or 1 coat, etc.) Thus, the expression appears if you read commodity prices backwards.28)

By the early 1870s, the most important currencies were tied to the gold and it was therefore natural for Marx to assume gold to function as money-commodity throughout Capital.29) Today, the gold standard is abolished, but states can generally still uphold stable commodity prices thanks to their power of taxation and direct ownership of natural and industrial resources.30) Thus, it is not necessary for a specific product of labour to serve as measure of value and express commodity prices in a society, but this function of money is necessary and must be grounded in value relations.

There is an important point to be made by looking at exchange value from the simple form of value to the price form: The analysis shows that as soon as products of labour start to relate themselves to each other as commodities, the money form is a logical development. Commodity exchange without money is therefore an absurdity.31)

2.3 Value

The value form has now been analysed for itself. The next step is to determine the substance and magnitude of value.

2.3.1 The common third

In the foregoing analysis of the value forms of the labour product, nothing was said about “what lies beneath these forms.”32) But what is the value content that is equal in two mutually interchangeable commodities that belongs to each of them independently of their relation to each other?

For Samuel Bailey, no such thing could exist.33) According to him, Ricardo correctly spoke of relative value but then mistakenly came to treat value as something absolute – as the quantity of labour expended upon the production of two commodities, despite the fact that this labour quantity evidently may change for either one of them. If, for example, the value of commodity A increases, this only means that the value is estimated in exchange for B, C and so on in new proportions.34) But, Marx replies,

To estimate the value of A, a book for instance, in B, coals, and C, wine, A, B, C must be as value something different from their existences as books, coals or wine. To estimate a value of A in B, A must have a value independent of the estimation of that value in B, and both must be equal to a third thing, expressed in both of them.35)

The value of a commodity, Marx continues, is furthermore not something absolute but

is to such an extent relative that when the labour time required for its reproduction changes, its value changes, although the labour time really contained in the commodity has remained unaltered.36)

Marx thus subscribes, albeit critically, to the tradition which holds that the magnitude of value, or the proportions in which commodities are exchanged for one another, depends on the necessary quantity of labour.37) But how can A, a book, be equal to B, a certain quantity of coal, through their relation to labour which is the same, when we know that it is qualitatively different kinds of labour that produce the commodity-bodies book and coal, respectively?

We have seen (2.2) that commodities as useful objects are created by labour. From this aspect, the labour that is expressed or leaves its mark on the product is simply “useful”.38) Use value is however distinct from value and the body of the commodity as such cannot be considered equal to either money or any other type of commodity. The qualitative differences of the kinds of labour that created them are thus a condition of existence for commodity exchange as such.39)

In a community, the produce of which in general takes the form of commodities, i.e., in a community of commodity producers, this qualitative difference between the useful forms of labour that are carried on independently by individual producers, each on their own account, develops into a complex system, a social division of labour.40)

When production is based simultaneously on an advanced social division of labour and private property, it can be organised neither communally nor as islands of self-sufficiency. A bridge is needed between the social and individual spheres of the system. The various enterprises must, to be viable, find their niche in the social division of labour, so that the individual products of labour can be recognised as subsets of the total social product. They do that only by appearing as commodities and by being valued in money.41) Different kinds of products of labour can then be considered equally good from a social point of view. And when they have been realised in money (i.e. sold) the value equivalent in the seller’s hand does not reveal if it was weaving, tailoring or some other kind of labour that had shown itself to be a valuable contribution to society. Therefore, leaving aside for now those commodities where the price is far removed from the labour expended upon their production, we can say that a sum of money is labour in object form where the definite useful character is disregarded, labour in general.

Here we seem to have discovered the common third thing, which, however, is not a thing in the ordinary sense, but that which remains of a commodity after one has abstracted

from all that which makes it to be really a thing. Any objectivity of human labour which is itself abstract (i.e., without any additional quality and content) is necessarily an abstract objectivity – a thing of thought.42)

One can think of “labour in general” in the physiological sense since the human brain, muscles and so on are to some extent always consumed in the labour process, and requires rest, food and so on to be recreated,43) but it is not the individually perceived effort that determines the proportions under which different commodities are exchanged.44) On the contrary, these are “established by a social process behind the back of the producers, and appear to them consequently as given by tradition.”45) And not simply any social process:

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, and only exchange produces this reduction, by bringing the products of the most diverse kinds of labour into relation with each other on an equal footing.46)

2.3.2 The measure and double character of labour

The commensurability between different kinds of commodities is the result of equating qualitatively different products of labour. The definite proportions are the expression of a quantitative dimension of the labour expended.

The value form, as we have seen, represents value in bodies of commodities, and in units that are suitable for these – numbers of coats, yards of linen, tons of iron, gold and so on. If one of the bodies, for example gold, occupies the position of general equivalent, then all commodity values can be expressed in definite physical quantities of one and the same material. Money value is objectified labour but not labour itself. How is the latter measured?

The quantity of labour itself is measured by its temporal duration and the labour-time in turn possesses a measuring rod for particular segments of time, like hour, day, etc.47)

In order to use time as a measure of abstract commodity-producing labour, all hours or days of labour must be equivalent, otherwise they cannot be given a common expression of value and price, and labour productivity (the concrete output per unit of time) cannot be compared.48) Marx himself mentioned as one of his unique contributions that he was the first to critically demonstrate the double character of labour, that what appears in commodities as a double form – use value and exchange-value – is represented on the one hand by a concrete useful labour and an abstract value-forming labour, i.e. two aspects of one and the same labour.49) However, such labour is itself an abstraction – simple average labour. It “varies in character in different countries and at different times, but in a particular society it is given.”50) Simple labour (and Marx explicitly refers to the English term unskilled labour) can be performed with only basic skills.51) Moreover, the labour is assumed to take place under average intensity. That which is performed under higher or lower intensity must be multiplied by a factor to be transformed into simple labour. An hour of labour of say 20 per cent higher-than-average intensity that produces 20 per cent more use values of the same quality is then multiplied by 1.2. If this higher level of intensity becomes the norm in all branches of industry, however, then the factor must be reduced to 1, i.e. loses its significance, although it can still be regarded as more (or less) intensive “in an international application of the law of value”,52) corresponding to greater (or smaller) amount of money.

Different kinds of labour also differ in complexity, which has an impact on the magnitude of value. If we take a tailor’s shop as an example, we can assume that one part of the work is carried out by apprentices, another by journeymen and a third by the master tailor himself. Even if everyone works equally hard, the journeymen, who are fully trained in the trade, will on average get more done than the apprentices in the same period of time and the master probably even more. When differences in work performance is not due to labour-saving technology implemented in the objective conditions of labour but, as here, skill, i.e. a subjective factor, then the effect is the same as if work was performed with different intensity.53) There are tasks, however, that neither the apprentice nor the journeyman but only the master tailor can perform. As long as these constitute necessary labour there will be a need for such specially qualified labour.

Education or experience that contributes to a higher production output gets counted as more labour per hour, so to speak, but only if the labour power is used efficiently.54) So the apprentice, the journeyman and the master tailor not only receive different amounts of remuneration, but they also create different amounts of value in the same period of time. Labour power capable of performing complex labour has a higher, refined use value, just as dead things can have it (stainless versus ordinary steel, for example), and if its particular properties are socially necessary, then all the labour that is socially necessary for its reproduction must be included in its value.55) In the case of the price of labour power specifically, wages must be sufficient to purchase food, shelter, clothing and other articles necessary to perform labour of a particular kind, but it must also be sufficient for the production of the worker’s substitute.56)

2.3.3 Individual and social value

Properly speaking, all products of the same kind form a single mass, and their price is determined in general and without regard to particular circumstances. (Le Trosne, De l’intérêt social)57)

When Marx speaks of commodity value in general, i.e. without further specification, he refers to its real or social value. Its magnitude is determined by the labour time required on average for the production of one unit.58) This general (social) determination cannot come from nothing, however, but is itself determined with regard to the particular (individual) circumstances. In fact, there is usually a long range of independent production processes, each of which requires different amounts of labour to produce commodities of one and the same kind, and it is therefore analytically useful to also speak of their individual values. When these goods exist on the market they have the same value and also the same price (which may be different from the former) if regarded as identical from the point of view of use value. In order to calculate, in a particular case, the labour expended in the production of a commodity, we must therefore take the total quantity of labour consumed individually – both dead and living labour – and divide it by the volume of production.

The dead labour transferred to the product is determined by the consumption of its respective components during production, including the used up raw materials, waste, wear and tear as well as depreciation of fixed capital.59) None of this can be measured in labour time in a process of production where these products are expended as means of production, but we can assume a labour quantity corresponding to the purchase price. This is because the latter represents the number of simple hours of labour required by the producer to acquire the means of production, regardless of what may be socially necessary to reproduce them.60)

Let us take coat production as an example. We assume that all producers buy means of production at the same average market price but that there exist individual differences with regard to the relative efficiency of the processes of production. In this situation, the producer who has a particularly resource-efficient process can make do with relatively few yards of the raw material linen and thus transfer a relatively smaller amount of value to the product than the competitors. The per-unit price of the means of production is therefore given in advance, i.e. socially determined, but the quantity needed is determined by technical and organisational conditions at the level of the individual firm.

Also labour power is purchased at a socially determined price that can be assumed to represent the amount necessary to acquire the necessary means of subsistence. The size of the salary may differ depending on whether the labour capacity is of a simpler or more complicated kind, if for example it is that of a journeyman or master tailor. During the process of production, labour power is consumed, just like the raw materials, etc., but in contrast with the latter the labour power involved does not transfer its value to the product, but its labour creates a new value.61) A part of the new value covers the salary of the worker and the remainder constitutes surplus value.62) This labour could theoretically be measured in hours, days, etc, but not without an estimation of both its intensity and complexity as well as a conversion into simple hours of labour. It has already been mentioned however that in practice “only exchange produces this reduction” and the value contribution of living labour is therefore expressed in the price of the product.

Let us now look at how, on the basis of the specific cases, we can arrive at a general determination, i.e. how a number of individually produced articles form a general, social value. In the example below we assume social production of identical coats and that the entire market consists of three producers that supply the same number of items each. This production has a number of “value contribution categories” where the sum represents a coat’s total individual value. The mean value per category represents the socially necessary quantity of labour expressed in money and the sum consequently the social value.63) The latter is the real commodity value, since it represents the total quantity of labour divided by the total quantity of articles, i.e. the amount of labour it costs society to produce one specimen of the commodity in question.

Table 1. Individual and social coat value (pounds sterling)
Value contribution I II III Mean
Linen fabric 0.89 0.82 0.81 0.84
Fuel 0.14 0.09 0.12 0.12
Tool wear 0.26 0.27 0.25 0.26
Tailoring, journeyman 0.50 0.49 0.46 0.48
Tailoring, master 0.29 0.31 0.30 0.30
Total 2.08 1.98 1.94 2.00

None of the processes of production in our example result in an individual value per unit which corresponds to the social value; one of them is above and two below the mean. Each individual coat forms material for the “congelations of undifferentiated human labour”64) that flows down and crystallises into the coat form that on the market is equivalent to 2 ounces of gold.65) The coat value in money is thus 2 pounds sterling. What it corresponds to in hours we do not know, but under our assumption it is as many as required to produce, say, 20 yards of linen.66) If one would like to perform calculations in labour time, however, it is possible to assume a monetary value per hour, for example .1 pound sterling (2 shillings in Marx’s days), which gives 20 simple labour hours for one coat, 20 yards of linen or 2 ounces of gold.67)

If we assume that the three producers represent the conditions of coat production within a society, then these are reflected exactly in the value of the commodity. But what if e.g. producer III – all else being equal – withdraws its coats from the local market and sends them off to some other region? The same quantity of “undifferentiated human labour” will now, so to speak, flow down into two forms of coat instead of one – one in the region of production and another in the more distant geographic location. What will happen to the commodity value in the first case? The answer follows by taking the mean value of I and II: (2.08 + 1.98) / 2 = 2.03; it rises by 1.5 per cent.68) In the latter case, the commodity value is determined by the labour supplied by III together with all other coat producers that direct their output to the more distant market. If III happens to be alone here, then the (real) value of the coat is determined entirely by its individual value, i.e. 1.94. This example shows that, technically, the value of a commodity is determined not by the conditions of production of such articles within a society (producers I, II and III) but by the conditions of production of those firms from which the supply on a particular market originate (e.g. producers I and II only), constrained by demand on the same market.69)

The fact that the (real) value of a commodity exists on the market does not mean that “the act of sale” is required to make social the labour expended upon a single commodity.70) The latter does not have value because its owner happens to find a buyer, i.e. because of particular circumstances; it has value because there is demand in general for products of labour that can satisfy a particular social want. In other words, the (social) value is always identical for identical use values. Nevertheless, it is necessary to supply a finished product for the individual labour content to be recognised as socially useful. The stitches performed by the average tailor can therefore be considered socially useful and value producing only after they have been materialised in an actual commodity (a coat), not the moment they are performed. The individual labour that was expended in production thus becomes recognised as social labour of a definite quantity.71)

2.4 Production and redistribution of surplus value

Having investigated individual and social value, we shall now look closer at the components of the commodity with regard to the distinction between paid and unpaid labour, as well as the latter’s redistribution based on different forms of property.

The life cycle of an individual capital is best described from the point of view of the cycle of money capital, M – C – M′, that is from that a sum of money (M) is invested in the two commodity classes means of production and labour power (C) until a value in money form (M′) is realised that is greater than the amount originally advanced. Should the value not be increased, it would be irrational to convert money into factors of production, since the product is made only so that it can be sold. Return on capital comes from surplus value, but is in this specific form called profit.72)

We continue to use the coat industry and the producers I–III in our examples. In the following, we borrow from Table 1 (2.3.3) but create a new categorisation. The value of the product (individual and social) is denoted w. Dead (materialised) labour is represented under the category of constant capital, c, and the materialisation of living labour under new value, n. The latter is then divided into a paid part – variable capital, v – and two categories representing the unpaid part – produced surplus value, s, and realised profit, p. Here we also assume conditions in which the profit’s share of both the value and the price of the individual commodity coincides quantitatively with that of surplus value.73) The sum of c and v in a commodity is called the cost price, k, and represents the amount the individual article has cost the capitalist.74)

The rate of surplus value, s/v, is assumed to be 50 per cent and expresses that working conditions are the same across the three producers. The workers keep two-thirds of the individual new value in the form of wages. The profit, p, is determined by the selling price, which coincides with the commodity value of 2 pounds sterling, minus the cost price, k.

Table 2. Components of the coat value (pounds sterling)
Component I II III Mean
w 2.08 1.98 1.94 2.00
c 1.29 1.18 1.18 1.22
v 0.53 0.53 0.51 0.52
k 1.82 1.71 1.69 1.74
n 0.79 0.80 0.76 0.78
s 0.26 0.27 0.25 0.26
p 0.18 0.29 0.31 0.26

Table 1 showed that producer I “takes out” a smaller value than what it “puts in” while the reverse is true for producer II and III. From Table 2 it becomes clear how producer I can nevertheless realise surplus value in the form of profit because k is less than the selling price. The rate of profit, p/ (c + v), for the three producers is 10, 17 and 19 per cent respectively (15 on average).

Under unchanged conditions of production and demand this relationship could hypothetically be reproduced year in and year out, but as the commodity category itself reveals, the producers who contribute a relatively small (large) amount of value-creating labour per article are favoured (disadvantaged) when they sell it at the higher (lower) social value. Those who are relatively wasteful in expending labour even risk a devaluation of their capital, for if the selling price were to fall below the cost price, there would be no funds to support either the capitalist’s individual consumption or to pay the full cost of the means of production and wages. In the absence of a reserve fund, a temporary increase in the price of any input is sufficient to make the individual capital shrink immediately, and, as already mentioned, the purpose of production is lost if there is no profit to be made. There is therefore a double interest of every commodity producer in reducing the necessary labour time. Such a reduction takes place, among other things, by that the more efficient producers’ methods are adopted by the others and through research and development of entirely new ways of reducing the necessary labour. Normally, this leads to a levelling out of the differences in production conditions, but they cannot be completely eliminated.

We will now look at an example where a new category of unpaid labour is expressed in the price of the individual commodity – land rent. It appears when the existence of natural monopolies preserves differences in the conditions of production over time. It takes both dead and living labour to grow wheat for example, but some farmland gives a much higher yield at an equal investment than others. The same is true of mining, oil extraction, etc.75)

If demand is sufficiently high, agricultural land of even very low fertility can be exploited commercially. The average commodity price then comes close to the individual value of the producer with the lowest yield per labour input (dead and living, i.e. capital advanced, C). As long as this land is needed to cover the market’s entire demand for wheat – i.e. to supplement the supply from the others –, then the necessary labour of the producer who rents this particular piece of land will set the floor for how low the price can fall.76) This floor is then raised up a notch by the landowner who has no interest in letting the capitalist farmer make use of it gratis. The other landowners can then extract just as much land rent from their respective producers that the latter only make a normal (average) profit.

It was assumed above (2.2.4) that the value of 1 quarter of wheat is 2 pounds sterling and we shall keep this assumption in our next example, but we now say that its price is at 3 pounds. We also assume the same proportion of dead and living labour as for the coat but let the individual differences be greater. The differences in individual profits are now no longer assumed to be due to the relative skills of the producers (economy of labour) but are fully determined by the general rate of profit. The latter category follows by dividing the total surplus value by the total capital advanced in the whole economy, s / (c + v). Since we assume the same relationship between c and v as in the coat industry, and this happens to represent the average production conditions in society at large, we know that the general rate of profit is 15 per cent. Each individual profit is given by multiplying the individual capital advanced with the general rate of profit, i.e.

p = (c + v) • (s / (c + v)).

The price of production, P, is the price at which the commodity must be sold in order to replace both the means of production and the labour force as well as to generate the average profit, i.e. c + v + p. Ground rent, r, is then given by subtracting P from the price of the commodity (3 pounds).

Table 3. Components of the wheat price (pounds sterling)
Component I II III Mean
w 2.95 1.80 1.25 2.00
c 1.66 1.00 0.99 1.22
v 0.86 0.53 0.17 0.52
k 2.52 1.53 1.16 1.74
n 1.29 0.80 0.26 0.78
s 0.43 0.27 0.09 0.26
p 0.38 0.23 0.17 0.26
P 2.90 1.76 1.34 2.00
r 0.10 1.24 1.66 1.00

Agricultural producers I–III all make 15 per cent profit on their respective investments, which come from unpaid labour. Comparing the size of the last component, ground rent, with the total capital advanced, r / (c + v), we see that the mere ownership of land yields about 4, 80 and 143 per cent (58 per cent on average) return on capital invested by other people in the three plots.77) The value produced in the sector is just enough to provide wage-earners and capitalists with a normal income. Ground rent must therefore, in this example, come from other industries, which is possible because the price of the commodity wheat exceeds the price of production.78)

Should the price of wheat fall to 2.9 pounds, ground rent disappears completely for landowner I. It is then in his interest to demand rent at the expense of a part of the profit and otherwise terminate the lease. Should the price rise, then all lands become more profitable, but especially those of the poorest quality. If this situation persists for some time, it leads to poorer, unused agricultural land being brought into use.

With new technical innovations, labour productivity can increase also in industries where ground rent plays a major role, but they cannot eradicate differences in natural fertility and therefore not rent as an entirely passive source of income.

The identity of the market price for commodities of the same kind is the manner whereby the social character of value asserts itself on the basis of the capitalist mode of production and, in general, any production based on the exchange of commodities between individuals. What society overpays for agricultural products in its capacity of consumer, what is a minus in the realisation of its labour time in agricultural production, is now a plus for a portion of society, for the landlords.79)

It is the surplus labour in commodity production, not the land itself, that makes the land owner rich. The latter can therefore “spend his whole life in Constantinople, while his estates lie in Scotland.”80) The situation is similar for those who sell the commodity money capital to industrialists at an interest, i.e. provide loans,81) but even the owner of entrepreneurial capital can live a life without economic hardship when the shares are spread out between different industries and management has been handed over to paid agents with a mandate to reinvest (capitalise) part of the profits.

A not insignificant part of the value of a commodity is thus made up of unpaid labour which falls to the owner of the means of production.82) A part of it is consumed unproductively as revenue, in the form of servants, vehicles, jewellery, real estate, etc., while another is converted into additional capital. But whether the rate of surplus value is low or high, for example 30 or 300 per cent, the real wealth of society depends on labour productivity, i.e. “how much use value […] [is] produced in a definite time, hence also in a definite surplus labour time.”83)

2.5 Competition and accumulation

It is up to the owner of an enterprise if he wants to consume all the profit as revenue, but in that case he will eventually cease to be a capitalist, because competition between firms encourages accumulation.84) Let us see why with another example.

It has already been mentioned (see 2.4) that it is in the interest of every commodity producer to adopt the most successful methods of production. So far the implicit assumption has been that this is possible on the basis of the existing scale of production.

There is room for many different kinds of improvement that reduce necessary labour without involving any additional costs, for example in the choice of input components or making the organisation of labour more efficient. However, it is often possible to quickly achieve productivity gains by investing in new instruments of production or founding entirely new factories.

In the following example, we start from Table 2 and our coat producers. Previously, we assumed that all three supplied the market with an equal number of commodities and therefore the total investment and production volume was not of interest to us. They will be now, when we shall assume that producer III increases his capital with new modern sewing machines and additional hands to operate them. Let’s say that the original production volume was 100 coats per producer. III is now assumed to increase the output by 20 per cent but his constant and variable capital grows by only 10 and 5 per cent respectively. At the same time, producers I and II carry on with the existing productive capital and production volume. In addition, we assume that the market is able to absorb the industry’s much larger total product at the new slightly lower price of production.

In the table below, q represents the production volume (number of coats) and C the total capital advanced, c + v. The variables w, s, n, P and p represent, as before, commodity value, surplus value, new value, price of production and profit. We assume that the industry as a whole yields an average profit of 15 per cent. This allows us to determine the total quantity of p and P in the same way as in Table 3. In Table 4, the individual price of production is determined by the producer’s share of the total production volume of the industry multiplied by the total price of production. In other words, all commodities are sold at the same social price. The individual profit is then determined by subtracting the capital advanced from the individual price of production, i.e. p = P - C.

Table 4. Components of the coat industry (q = production volume; the rest = pounds sterling)
Component I II III Sum
q 100.00 100.00 120.00 320.00
c 129.00 118.00 141.60 388.60
v 52.67 53.33 53.29 159.20
s 26.33 26.67 26.60 79.60
n 79.00 80.00 79.89 238.89
C 181.67 171.33 194.80 547.80
w 208.00 198.00 221.40 627.40
P 196.89 196.89 236.27 630.06
p 15.23 25.56 41.47 82.26

Now, dividing the components in Table 4 by the production volume, Table 5 representing the price components of the individual coat can be compiled.

Table 5. Components of the coat price (pounds sterling)
Component I II III Mean
c 1.29 1.18 0.18 1.21
v 0.53 0.53 0.44 0.50
s 0.26 0.27 0.22 0.25
n 0.79 0.80 0.67 0.75
k (=C) 1.82 1.71 1.62 1.71
w 2.08 1.98 1.85 1.96
P 1.97 1.97 1.97 1.97
p 0.15 0.26 0.35 0.26

The value and the price of production represented in the commodity have fallen from 2 to 1.96 and 1.97 pounds respectively (compared to Table 2). The investment by producer III in a relatively large amount of constant capital in relation to variable has the effect of bringing the value composition of the industry above the social average. This means that the profit and thus also the production price (which we here assume coincides with the selling price) is slightly greater than the surplus value and value. Unaltered conditions of production here causes the rate of profit for producer I to fall from 10 to 8 per cent and for producer II from 17 to 15 per cent. For producer III who increased his capital, it rises from 19 to 21 per cent. For the industry as a whole, the rate of profit remains the same.

If all 320 commodities (q) cannot be sold at the price of production but just below it, III still has much to gain from his investment. He can, for example, sell at a price that gives him the same rate of profit as before but results in a larger mass of profit. This gives him both a stronger position on the market and a larger fund for individual consumption. Producers I and II will still be able to sell their coats at a profit but their maneuvering room – in both investment and individual consumption – will be substantially reduced. Producer III may also aim to drive I and II out of the market by temporarily dumping the commodity price to a level just above the individual cost price (e.g. £1.65), which means that for producers I and II it falls below it (and their capitals start to shrink). Since no producer can expect the others to refrain from accumulating, the safest bet is to reinvest at least part of the profits.85)

2.6 Summary

The commodity has been examined from both a qualitative and quantitative aspect. The commodity form of the product of labour expresses a unity of opposites: use value and value. The former represents need satisfaction and the latter abstract human labour whose magnitude is determined by the total amount of necessary labour divided by the volume of production. As a consequence of differences in individual conditions of production but sameness in the social determination of value, commodity producers are led to reduce the necessary labour time and thus the magnitude of value in relation to the quantity of use values. We also saw how productive labour becomes a source of surplus value for the owners of the means of production and finally how competition forces producers to transform part of this surplus value into capital. The commodity form is thus the bearer of a historically specific social relationship.86)

3 Capitalism and communism

In this concluding part capitalist production will be discussed in more general terms, from the perspective of the reproduction and accumulation of the total product. Then follows a discussion on how a transformation of society might take place under conditions where the economic laws of capital have been abolished: under communism, socialism or the “free association of produces”.

3.1 The society of labour and its guarantors

Since the interest in reducing necessary labour is built into the capitalist mode of production, it will affect the conditions of production in all industries. The result is a general increase in labour productivity in any society dominated by this mode of production. Still, the total amount of labour performed does not decrease accordingly. The working day in the developed countries is shorter now than it was two hundred years ago, but the requirement to work for a wage (or to get an education to become employable) continues to dominate the lives of the majority of people. In addition, the number of workers has constantly increased, partly due to population growth, partly at the expense of other modes of production. At the same time, therefore, there is a tendency to conserve value-creating labour as the pillar of social production. In the capitalist epoch, commodity producers are driven to accumulate at least part of the realised surplus value and to increase the scale of production (2.5). An increase in labour productivity in one sector may therefore coincide with a maintained or temporarily increased demand for both dead and living labour. Despite of this, in the slightly longer term, fewer workers will be required in relation to the population as a whole to meet the demand for a specific kind of commodity. This does not lead to chronic unemployment – we have seen historically – but to so-called structural transformation where workers that have been made redundant in one sector are reabsorbed and put to work under new circumstances. In broad terms, capitalist societies have moved from engaging labour in agriculture to shifting it increasingly towards first manufacturing and then services.

The re-employment of redundant workers is far from an automatic process. A fundamental precondition of capitalist production is that the immediate producers (the workers) are propertyless, i.e. separated from the means of production so that they cannot survive without selling their labour power to the owners of capital; this is what it means to be a proletarian. The state stands as guarantor of the continued ownership of the means of production by the non-workers. Unemployment creates incentives to find employment, and as long as surplus value can be generated by putting proletarians to work, there will be a demand for their labour power.

The following table is an attempt to illustrate in a schematic way capitalist reproduction in terms of both value and use value. t represents time (in calendar years), c and v the total social capital, i.e. the amount of labour invested in the form of means of production and labour power in all branches of production; w and s the total value and surplus value respectively; q the volume of production and l the working population. The initial values are chosen arbitrarily. Both the population and the social capital are assumed to grow by 1 per cent per year, the volume of production by 2 per cent, and both the rate of surplus value, s/v, and the value composition, c/v, are kept at 100 per cent.

Table 6. Accumulation (t = years; c, v, s, n, w = labour hours; q = production volume; l = number of working people in the population)
t c v s n w q l q/l (%) n/l (%)
0 20.00 10.00 10.00 20.00 40.00 40.00 20.00 200.00 100.00
10 22.00 11.00 11.00 22.00 44.00 48.00 22.00 218.18 100.00
20 24.20 12.10 12.10 24.20 48.40 57.60 24.20 238.02 100.00
30 26.62 13.31 13.31 26.62 53.24 69.12 26.62 259.65 100.00

The choice of numbers and rate of change can be debated, but here at least we get the picture of a mode of production that constantly puts an equal proportion of the population to work despite the fact that a smaller one would have been sufficient to maintain the level of production, adjusted for population growth.

In capitalist commodity production, productive labour creates an abstract form of wealth – commodity value – the realisation of which provides an income for the various classes of society. At the same time, production is geared towards making this labour superfluous in each individual case. Technologies are continuously developed which are ever more efficient. They could be employed to reduce pollution and the extraction of resources, but the drive to constantly expand the total social product leads instead to catastrophic over-exploitation of the earth’s ecosystems. This is how society evolves when the satisfaction of needs is merely a means to achieve the goal of a constant expansion of value.

3.2 The lower phase of communism

The commodity form carries the capitalist society within it, but also the seed of an entirely different kind. Capitalist expansion has swept away all previous modes of production and made humanity dependent on a world-wide network of production and communication. Production of commodities is now the obvious way to organise human labour and distribute its products, yet this takes place behind the backs of the producers. Taking conscious control of material production must entail that humanity establishes new social relations that abolish the logic of the commodity form. No one can say exactly what these will look like, but some general principles can be established on the basis that the profit motive and the compulsion to accumulate come to a halt. If this becomes a reality, the level of productivity achieved under capitalism and previous epochs could for the first time in history contribute to the liberation of humanity from the compulsion to work and at the same time put an end to the destructive exploitation of the natural environment. This requires, initially, that labour be reorganised on the basis of the existing technical conditions. Thus far, the productive powers have been used to keep humanity down in a contrived existence of necessity, but can now become a vehicle for emancipation.87) As soon as the means of production come under the control of the associated producers and the obligation to accumulate is lifted – not in one country but on a world scale – a fundamental rupture with the old society has taken place and communism is established, no matter how much or little labour is still required for production. And no matter how the fruits of labour are distributed, there will be, as Marx said, inevitable defects “in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society.”88)

The existence of labour and surplus labour is not capitalism per se, any more than production of things is the same as production of commodities. However, many of the forms of labour developed within capitalism are harmful to both the individual and society; they could be carried out under much freer forms. The notion of a product is hardly harmful in itself; that, however, is the case for many of the actual products of modern society whose production better stop or be radically transformed. Production as a whole will have to be reorganised. Some things need to be made in greater quantities – especially in the poorest regions of the world –, but on the whole, a controlled “downsizing” of the economy is what needs to be put on the agenda. That is also what is required to stop global heating and the extinction of species. To illustrate such a transformation from the perspective of the total economy, we can continue the series above (Table 6), but assume that accumulation and population growth come to a halt. Since the additional capital and luxury consumption of the former property owners fall away we can assume a much lower rate of surplus labour, say 1/3.89) The remaining surplus labour is what is needed to support the children, the elderly, administrative activities and so on.90) This means that the annual labour time, as well as the means of production measured in the same unit, can in our example be cut to two thirds in one stroke, as illustrated in Table 7 below.

Table 7. Accumulation halted and surplus labour reduced (t = year; c, v, s, n, w = labour hours; q = volume of production; l = number of working people in the population)
t c v s n w q l q/l (%) n/l (%)
40 17.75 13.31 4.44 17.75 44.37 48.38 26.62 181.76 66.67

A conscious and efficient management of labour will be crucial to accomplish such a reorganisation of production. It will undoubtedly be very different compared with that which takes place in a capitalist society. Without commodities and money, there is no obvious mechanism for reducing complex labour to simple. The future society can, however, estimate the amount of necessary labour in both concrete and abstract sense. It can see that particular forms of labour are needed in definite quantities to achieve particular results and draw certain conclusions about the amount of labour will then be expended in general, including the cost of education. It can also, conversely, start from the total amount of socially available labour time and evaluate the potential useful effects.91) Abstraction from the concrete side of labour therefore continues to take place, not just in thought but also practically in the planning of social production.92)

There is no reason to believe, however, that decision-making on the basis of relative labour time costs alone can replace all the functions of money prices. The former will be one very important factor, another will be the relative scarcity of various natural resources, for even if two means of producing an article may be equivalent in terms of labour expenditure, one may be more sustainable or otherwise preferable than another.93)

3.3 Developed communism

Freedom in this field [physical necessity] can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working day is its basic prerequisite.94)

With the means of production held in common and the livelihood of the human species secured, it should be possible to go forward with a plan of de-accumulation or disinvestment.95)

Let’s continue the series beyond the step illustrated in Table 7 but now assume a negative rate of accumulation, say -1 per cent. Continued technological advances will gradually reduce the workload further, although perhaps not as quickly as under capitalism. Let’s assume that labour productivity increases by half a per cent per year. The result is shown in Table 8, where we use the same denominations as before.

Table 8. De-accumulation (t = year; c, v, s, n, w = labour hours; q = volume of production; l = number of working people in the population)
t c v s n w q l q/l (%) n/l (%)
50 15.97 11.98 3.99 15.97 31.94 45.72 26.62 171.76 60.00
60 14.37 10.78 3.59 14.37 28.75 43.21 26.62 162.31 54.00
70 12.94 9.70 3.23 12.94 25.87 40.83 26.62 153.39 48.60
80 11.64 8.74 2.92 11.64 23.29 38.59 26.62 144.95 43.74
90 10.48 7.86 2.62 10.48 20.96 36.46 26.62 136.98 39.37

With the development of communist production through the process of de-accumulation, the necessity of performing labour in the service of society, can be reduced considerably. It would completely revolutionise today’s notions of work/leisure and production/consumption. As Marx put it:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and thereby also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of common wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!96)

In terms of the end result, this perspective is no different from that championed by the communisation current. However, the path to this end is different. The communisers, because of their particular notion of value, seem to identify the perpetuation of socially organised labour with the perpetuation of capital. This poses extremely high demands on what a communist revolution must entail, since it implies an immediate leap to the higher phase of communism. Marx’s analysis of the capitalist mode of production does not impose such a requirement on future society however. If his theory is incorrect, it should of course be corrected, but the arguments put forward in that direction are not very convincing in my opinion. For example, according to Endnotes, the second phase of communism is “more attractive” than the first.97) That may well be the case, but isn’t it also somewhat “attractive” to secure food supplies, health care, etc. which are dependent on complex production and distribution networks? Henriksson warns of “a state-planned economy, where socialist engineering, rationality and instrumentality, instead of capital, rules and dominates the individuals, specifically the immediate producers.”98)

This is a risk that should not be dismissed, but hopefully it could be reduced over time as the number of concerns that must be dealt with by the community decreases.99) The individual is not free if one’s life is subordinated to society – whatever the degree of democracy – but life outside of society is humanly impossible. One way or another, therefore, a new social organisation is bound to step in when the old one has reached the end of the road.

3.4 Value without commodities?

It has been much debated in various circles whether or not the nominally “socialist countries” such as the Soviet Union were governed by the capitalist mode of production. After the October Revolution, the state, the classes and the wages system were not merely left intact; the modern proletariat was forcefully created out of an otherwise mostly agrarian population. Mass industrialisation began at the end of the 1920s, not because it responded to the inhabitants’ self-defined need for modernisation but it was brutally imposed from above in the name of “national interest”. The directors of the state-owned enterprises were expected to expand production and the immediate producers work and shut up. The development was therefore essentially the same as in Table 6, not Table 8. Some still argue that production was not at all governed by the same logic as that prevailing in the West, because of the extent of state ownership and the absence of independent enterprises and competition.100)

State ownership by itself does not stand in the way of capitalist development, as the fundamental character of social reproduction is determined not by who the owner is but by the economic laws at work. What about the absence of independent enterprises? Well, if abstract labour and value are to be understood exclusively as a “substance held in common by one commodity with another commodity”,101) existing only in products of private labour made social by being exchanged for money on a market – then these categories probably did not exist within the Soviet Union, and consequently neither did surplus value and its sub-categories of profit, interest and rent.

If the substance of value is understood more broadly as labour in general, however, existing in the social product controlled by the bureaucracy, it can be argued that the means of production and the labour force constituted a social capital.102) As for competition, foreign trade was limited, but the country as a whole was engaged in fierce military competition with the outside world and this required the development of a modern industry. From this point of view, production was oriented towards the self-expansion of value and thus (state) capitalist. As Aufheben103) argues, however, the state enterprises were not driven by profit but by production targets and if the “Soviet system” was in some sense capitalist, it may therefore be more adequate to analyse it from the point of view of the circuit of productive capital. If we use the formula P … C′ – M′ – C′ … P′,

Capitalism […] appears not so much as ‘production of profit’ but ‘production for production’s sake’. Capitalist production is both the beginning and the end of the process whose aim is the reproduction of capitalist production on an expanded scale. The commodity circulation (C′ – M′ – C′) now appears as a mere mediation. A mere means to the end of the relentless expansion [of] capitalist production.”104)

In contrast with Western capitalism, sale (C – M) and purchase (M – C) were not decided on the market but by the central plan.

Marx did not foresee the possibility of a state-capitalist development, but on at least one occasion he actually employed the concept of value when discussing the regulation of labour time under communism.

[…] after the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, but still retaining social production, the determination of value continues to prevail in the sense that the regulation of labour time and the distribution of social labour among the various production groups, ultimately the bookkeeping encompassing all this, become more essential than ever.105)

Using the concept of value in this sense, however, could only work for the total social product,106) for

Within the collective society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of the total labour.107)

In his “1857 Introduction”, Marx states that “the abstract category ‘labour’, ‘labour as such’, labour sans phrase”, although existing in all societies, became “true in practice in this abstract form only as a category of the most modern society.”108) We saw above (2.3.1) that commodity exchange effectuates the reduction of particular forms of labour into “human labour in the abstract”.109) In the Introduction, Marx discusses the category of labour in general from the point of view of modern wage labour “in which individuals easily pass from one kind of labour to another, the particular kind of labour being accidental to them and therefore indifferent.”110) Dashkovsky argues that since this would be the case also in socialism, abstract labour would continue to exist in the future society.111)

In any case, as Marx stressed in one of his last writings, his analysis does not proceed from the concept of value but from something tangible, the commodity.112) It is the internal contradiction of the commodity between use value and value which defines the law of movement of the currently existing societies and which I have tried to outline in this text. It may well be the case that the terms abstract labour and value should be reserved for the analysis of the capitalist mode of production.113) It does not follow from this, however, that the existence of labour in general implies commodity production, compulsory accumulation or wage slavery.

February 2023

This is an extended version of “Varan, värdet och kommunismen”, riff-raff no. 10, April 2022. Exact copies may be shared in accordance with CC BY-ND 4.0. Many thanks to GE, HJ, AW, ALB, SF and AK for comments and suggestions.
See e.g. Peter Åström, “Crisis and communisation”, Sic no. 1, 2011.
That is the counter-revolution in the Middle East and North Africa that began in 2012. See Arab Winter, Wikipedia.
One of its more extreme proponents, the author of “The suspended step of communisation”, saw the introduction of communism necessitating a situation of “chaos” in which “all book-keeping is abolished, since accounting for ‘products’ in itself supposes the separation between production and consumption.” Sic no. 1, 2011, pp. 154, 165.
Karl Marx, Marx’s Economic Manuscript of 1864–1865, Leiden 2016, p. 898
Marx/Engels Collected Works (henceforth MECW) 35, p. 8
David Ricardo, On the principles of political economy and taxation (London 2002 [1821]), p. 6.
See for example MECW 28 p. 26 and “Notes on Wagner’s Lehrbuch der politischen Oekonomie” in MECW 24, pp. 531–559.
9) , 38)
MECW 35, p. 51
MECW 35, p. 46. Things can thus be useful without being products of labour.
See MECW 30, p. 58.
“As the former of use-values, as useful labour, labour is thereby the precondition of existence for man – independent of all social forms – and an eternal necessity of nature for the sake of mediating the material interchange between man and nature (i.e., human life).” From the first chapter of the first German edition of Capital. See Albert Dragstedt, Value: Studies By Karl Marx, New Park Publications, London, 1976, pp. 7–40.
MECW 29, p. 252. This is further developed on p. 270.
MECW 35, p. 361
MECW 35, p. 360
“Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, indeed, use values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use values, but use values for others, social use values.” MECW 35, p. 51
“To become a use value, the commodity must encounter the particular need which it can satisfy. Thus the use values of commodities become use values by a mutual exchange of places: they pass from the hands of those for whom they were means of exchange into the hands of those for whom they serve as consumer goods. Only as a result of this universal alienation of commodities does the labour contained in them become useful labour.” MECW 29, p. 283
MECW 29, p. 269
Use value as an active bearer of exchange value becomes a means of exchange. Here the commodity is a use value for its owner only in so far as it is an exchange value.
“Commodities come into the world in the shape of use values, articles, or goods, such as iron, linen, corn, etc. This is their plain, homely, bodily form. They are, however, commodities, only because they are something twofold, both objects of utility, and, at the same time, depositories of value. They manifest themselves therefore as commodities, or have the form of commodities, only in so far as they have two forms, a physical or natural form, and a value form.” MECW 35, p. 57.
See “Ergänzungen und Veränderungen zum ersten Band des Kapitals”, in MEGA II.6, p. 25.
MECW 35, p. 74
“By counting as the form of value of all other commodities the natural form of the body of the commodity linen is the form of its property of counting equally (Gleichgültigkeit) or immediate exchangeability with all elements of the world of commodities. Its natural form is therefore at the same time its general social form.” Karl Marx, “The Value-Form: Appendix to the 1st German edition of Capital, Volume 1”, Capital and Class, No. 4 Spring 1978 [1867], pp. 130–150 <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/appendix.htm>.
In the first edition of Capital I – subsequently omitted – Marx makes the obscure statement that here “the form of value corresponds with the concept of value”. Karl Marx, “The Value-Form: Appendix to the 1st German edition of Capital, Volume 1”, Capital and Class, No. 4 Spring 1978 [1867], pp. 130–150 <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/appendix.htm> or MEGA II.5, p. 43
MECW 35, p. 100
Karl Marx, “The Value-Form: Appendix to the 1st German edition of Capital, Volume 1”, Capital and Class, No. 4 Spring 1978 [1867], pp. 130–150 <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/appendix.htm>.
MECW 29, p. 305
MECW 35, pp. 104–105
Strictly speaking, they were tied to the pound sterling which in turn was tied to gold.
See Duncan Foley, “Marx’s Theory of Money in Historical Perspective”, in Fred Moseley (red.), Marx’s Theory of Money: Modern Appraisals, pp. 36–49. See also the Two per cent inflation target by the European Central Bank.
“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.” MECW 35, p. 81
MECW 35, p. 91
MECW 32, pp. 312–314.
MECW 32, p. 316
MECW 32, p. 316
MECW 32, p. 316. Here Marx refers to the individual commodity. What it “actually contains”, both in terms of the footprint of the labour expressed in the body of the commodity and the labour time actually expended during its production, cannot change as long as the use value remains unaltered. If the necessary labour time changes for the commodity in question, then the value will change, since the arithmetic mean of all commodities now actually contains a different quantity of labour. See 2.3.3 below.
Or rather, the labour time required at any one time, on the average, to produce a new commodity. See e.g. MECW 28, p. 533.
“Coats are not exchanged for coats, one use value is not exchanged for another of the same kind.” MECW 35, p. 52
MECW 35, p. 52
“[I]t is only on the basis of capitalistic production that products take the general and predominant form of commodities” MECW 35, p. 582.
Albert Dragstedt, Value: Studies By Karl Marx, New Park Publications, London, 1976, pp. 7–40. <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/commodity.htm>.
See MECW 35, p. 54; MECW 28, pp. 226–227.
There is a connection between physical and mental exploitation of the human organism and the value substance itself – otherwise commodity value would not be limited to products of labour –, but it is impossible to estimate value creating labour by measuring for example the heart rate or the calorie consumption. First of all, the effort itself is only value creating if it is shown to be (or validated as) useful to others and otherwise simply a waste of energy. Secondly, different kinds of labour differ with regard to the kinds of bodily and mental abilities that are actually put to use, and therefore they cannot constitute the common third. For the latter point, see Michael Heinrich, How to read Marx’s Capital, 2021, p. 84. Human labour pure and simple must therefore be an abstraction also from specific physiological processes.
Albert Dragstedt, Value: Studies By Karl Marx, New Park Publications, London, 1976, pp. 7–40. <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/commodity.htm>
Cf Le Capital. Traduction de M.J.Roy, entièrement revisée par l’auteur. Paris 1872–1875, MEGA II.7, p. 55 or “Ergänzungen und Veränderungen” in MEGA II.6, p. 41. In the second German edition of Capital (and the English translations based upon it), this paragraph ends with “in the abstract”, see MECW 35, p. 84. The English translation of the continuation was taken from Isaak Rubin, “Abstract Labour and Value in Marx’s System”, Capital and Class 5, Summer 1978 <https://www.marxists.org/archive/rubin/abstract-labour.htm>.
Albert Dragstedt, Value: Studies By Karl Marx, New Park Publications, London, 1976, pp. 7–40. <https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/commodity.htm>
“It is often difficult to ascertain the proportion between two different sorts of labour. The time spent in two different sorts of work will not always alone determine this proportion. The different degrees of hardship endured, and of ingenuity exercised, must likewise be taken into account. There may be more labour in an hour’s hard work than in two hour’s easy business; or in an hour’s application to a trade which it cost ten years’ labour to learn, than in a month’s industry at an ordinary and obvious employment. But it is not easy to find any accurate measure either of hardship or ingenuity.” Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (New York 1991), p. 27.
See MECW 35, pp. 51–56 or the corresponding pages in Le Capital, pp. 25–29.
MECW 35, p. 54. On the contrary, Smith believed that labour is equal and comparable between entirely different periods of history. Cf. The Wealth of Nations, pp. 31–32.
According to the ISCO-08 system, e.g. “Vehicle, Window, Laundry and Other Hand Cleaning Workers”, “Food Preparation Assistants” and “Labourers in Mining, Construction, Manufacturing and Transport”, belong to “Major Group 9: Elementary Occupations”. See “ISCO-08 Structure, index correspondence with ISCO-88” <https://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/stat/isco/isco08>. In the EU-27 group of countries, 8.5 per cent of occupations belonged to this group in 2021. In Sweden, it was just 4.2 per cent (Ekonomifakta <https://www.ekonomifakta.se/fakta/arbetsmarknad/sysselsattning/lagkvalificerade -jobb-internationellt>).
Le Capital, p. 453
See Le Capital, in MEGA II.7, p. 27, MECW 35, p. 54 and MECW 33, pp. 384–385.
“All labour of a higher or more complicated character than average labour is expenditure of labour power of a more costly kind, labour power whose production has cost more time and labour, and which therefore has a higher value, than unskilled or simple labour power. This power being of higher value, its consumption is labour of a higher class, labour that creates in equal times proportionally higher values than unskilled labour does.” MECW 35, p. 208. A master tailor creates more value exactly in his role as tailor master but not as a hand packer of finished trousers.
See MECW 28, p. 249.
See MECW 35, p. 182 and MECW 30, pp. 42–50. In a country like Sweden, highly qualified workers receive a relatively small monetary wage compared with other developed countries, e.g. the United States. An important reason for this is that in the former case, education and healthcare are financed by taxes to a much greater degree and must therefore not be paid for by the worker directly.
Quoted by Marx in MECW 35, pp. 49–50.
“The real value of a commodity is […] not its individual value, but its social value; that is to say, the real value is not measured by the labour time that the article in each individual case costs the producer, but by the labour time socially required for its production.” (MECW 35, p. 322); “The labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. The introduction of power-looms into England probably reduced by one-half the labour required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth. The hand-loom weavers, as a matter of fact, continued to require the same time as before; but for all that, the product of one hour of their labour represented after the change only half an hour’s social labour, and consequently fell to one-half its former value. We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour time socially necessary for its production. Each individual commodity, in this connection, is to be considered as an average sample of its class.” (MECW 35, p. 49).
Fixed capital is the part of capital advanced that can be reused over multiple periods of production, e.g. machines and buildings. The remaining part (raw materials, labour power, etc.) is called circulating capital. See Capital, Volume 2, department 2.
Cf Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital (Lanham 2006), p. 34. This assumption is part of the temporal single-system interpretation (TSSI) which is a reading of Capital that avoids the so-called transformation problem.
See MECW 35, pp. 321–324.
The wage relation does not affect the character of new value but only its division between worker and non-worker. Someone who produces commodities by employing their own means of production owns the entire product – use value and value, including surplus value – but the laws of competition will make sure that the amount realised will differ from what was individually produced.
If we had assumed that they supplied different quantities of commodities then the value contributions of the three producers would have had to be weighted. One such example is provided under section 2.5.
“In the expression of relative value: 20 yards of linen = 1 coat (or, x linen is worth y of coat), one must admit that the coat counts only as value or coagulation of labour, but it is precisely through that fact that the coagulation of labour counts as coat, and coat as the form into which human labour flows in order to congeal.” Albert Dragstedt, Value: Studies By Karl Marx, New Park Publications, London, 1976, pp. 7–40.
Even if we could provide the number of man-hours and the exact level of intensity and complexity for each category, e.g. time spent sowing and harvesting flax, making shovels, etc. we would have difficult regression problems, because a shovel embodies a certain amount of labour that went into mining and processing iron, which in turn was made possible because of a long series of other labour processes.
This form of expression (money per hour) is called MELT (Monetary Expression of Labour Time) and has become a popular method for converting between money and labour time. “Multiplying labor-time figures by the MELT, we get dollar figures; dividing dollar figures by the MELT, we get labor-time figures.” Andrew Kliman, Reclaiming Marx’s Capital, pp. 25–26.
The market price will likely rise even more, because of the imbalance between supply and demand, which, for reasons of space, we cannot go into here. It should be noted, however, that value in this case has nothing to do with market value. The latter is a price for which a commodity may be sold if it lies within the interval of (the individual values of) those producing under the most and the least favourable conditions (see MECW 37, pp. 177–184). A market value that coincides with something other than the weighted average of the individual values constitutes a “false social value”. Karl Marx, Marx’s Economic Manuscript of 1864–1865, Leiden 2016, p. 817.
Only in this sense is value fully determined already at the level of production (cf. Andrew Kliman, “On Capitalism’s Historical Specificity and Price Determination: Comments on the Value-Form Paradigm”, in Critique of political economy, vol. 1, September 2011).
Cf Patrick Murray, “Avoiding bad abstractions”, in Critique of political economy, vol. 1, September 2011.
“The point of departure is not the labour of individuals considered as social labour, but on the contrary the particular kinds of labour of private individuals, i.e. labour which proves that it is universal social labour only by the supersession of its original character in the exchange process. Universal social labour is consequently not a ready-made prerequisite but an emerging result.” MECW 29, p. 286
Profit is divided between interest and profit of enterprise and the latter category into industrial profit and commercial profit. See Capital III, parts 4 and 5. For the sake of simplicity, we shall in all examples assume that profit is equal to industrial profit and that the capital advanced is provided by the industrialist himself.
We assume that the capital composition of the industry, i.e. the cost distribution between labour power and means of production, coincides with the composition of total capital and that all capitals turn over in the same period of time. The latter assumption implies that differences in depreciation cost (referred to above as “tool wear”) merely represent different degrees of efficiency with regard to fixed capital use.
See Capital III, chapter 1. The sum of c and v as capital advanced is usually referred to as C. In all examples provided here, C and k happen to coincide quantitatively, but it is important to be aware of the difference.
See Capital III, departments 2 and 6 as well as MECW 31, pp. 250–389 and 457–551.
Capitalists expect an average profit from their investment. When the profit is low, capital migrates to industries where it is higher, equalising the profit rate. This also applies to capitalists engaged in agriculture.
Land owners can be capitalists at the same time and, so to speak, lease the land to themselves, but that does not make land ownership disappear as a distinct form of property.
For surplus value to flow out of an industry, it is sufficient that surplus value exceeds average profit and that the commodity is sold at a price below its value.
MECW 35, p. 654
MECW 35, p. 612
Cf Capital III, chapter 24
In this discussion we have left out the costs of circulation (buying and selling, bookkeeping, etc.), but these also require their share of the surplus value contained in the commodity.
MECW 35, p. 807
“Except as personified capital, the capitalist has no historical value […]. And so far only is the necessity for his own transitory existence implied in the transitory necessity for the capitalist mode of production. But, so far as he is personified capital, it is not values in use and the enjoyment of them, but exchange value and its augmentation, that spur him into action. Fanatically bent on making value expand itself, he ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for production’s sake; he thus forces the development of the productive powers of society, and creates those material conditions, which alone can form the real basis of a higher form of society […]. Only as personified capital is the capitalist respectable. As such, he shares with the miser the passion for wealth as wealth. But that which in the miser is a mere idiosyncrasy, is, in the capitalist, the effect of the social mechanism, of which he is but one of the wheels. Moreover, the development of capitalist production makes it constantly necessary to keep increasing the amount of the capital laid out in a given industrial undertaking, and competition makes the immanent laws of capitalist production to be felt by each individual capitalist, as external coercive laws. It compels him to keep constantly extending his capital, in order to preserve it, but extend it he cannot, except by means of progressive accumulation.” MECW 35, pp. 587–588
According to the historian David Landes, in the period after the Napoleonic Wars, entrepreneurs in France, Belgium and Germany were sometimes reluctant to adopt the latest production equipment. The cost of investment was greater than what an individual entrepreneur could afford or was willing to pay. Instead, inferior equipment was purchased, sometimes second-hand, which was a contributing factor to Britain retaining its leading position. See David S. Landes, The unbound Prometheus: Technological change and industrial development in Western Europe from 1750 to the present, Second edition (Cambridge 2006), pp. 146–147.
Cf MECW 30, pp. 38–39.
Cf MECW 37, p. 807.
Karl Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, in MECW 24, p. 87.
The products of the soil will cost society substantially less labour when land rent is abolished: “The determination of the market value of products, including therefore agricultural products, is a social act, albeit a socially unconscious and unintentional one. It is based necessarily upon the exchange value of the product, not upon the soil and the differences in its fertility. If we suppose the capitalist form of society to be abolished and society organised as a conscious and planned association, then the 10 quarters would represent a quantity of independent labour time equal to that contained in 240 shillings [instead of 600]. Society would not then buy this agricultural product at two and a half times the actual labour time embodied in it and the basis for a class of landowners would thus be destroyed. This would have the same effect as a reduction in price of the product to the same amount resulting from foreign imports. While it is, therefore, true that, by retaining the present mode of production, but assuming that the differential rent is paid to the state, prices of agricultural products would, everything else being equal, remain the same, it is equally wrong to say that the value of the products would remain the same if capitalist production were superseded by association.” MECW 37, p. 654
See Karl Marx, “Critique of the Gotha programme”, in MECW 24, p. 85.
Cf Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring, in MECW 25, pp. 294–295.
See Isaak Dashkovsky, “Abstract labour and the economic categories of Marx” <https://libcom.org/library/abstract-labour-economic-categories-marx-isaak-dashkovskij>.
Cf David Ramsay Steele, From Marx to Mises (1999) which contains many interesting reflections on the so-called economic calculation problem.
MECW 37, p. 807
See Amadeo Bordiga, “The immediate program of the revolution” [1953], in The science and passion of communism. Selected writings by Amadeo Bordiga (1912–1965), Chicago 2021, pp. 476–480. Camatte, inspired by the former, uses the term inversion. Bordiga’s list of measures were meant to be taken immediately after “the future taking of power in a country of the capitalist West” (ibid.). My view is that a programme of disinvestment will be difficult to put into action before the introduction of socialism. See also the “degrowth movement” (“décroissance” in French). Just like the “globalisation movement” at the turn of the millennium, this movement carries some communist tendencies within it.
MECW 24, p. 87. Henriksson criticises me for stepping back to “a revolutionary programme of 1920” (see “Communist values. Or a positive theory of socialism?”. The Swedish original appeared in riff-raff no. 10, 2022). The main inspiration, however, is to be dated 1875.
“Communisation and value-form theory”, Endnotes no. 2, 2010, p. 96
In his criticism of the views of the undersigned anno 2013, Henriksson conflates the categories of surplus value and additional capital (section VII). He therefore does not see before him how it’s possible for the total surplus labour (or surplus value) to decrease from one year to the next, for example from 4 hours of surplus labour out of a total of 8 in year one to 3 hours of surplus labour of a total of 6 in year two.
This includes several value-form theorists who are strongly influenced by Rubin. See e.g. Michael Heinrich, Introduction to the three volumes of Marx’s Capital (Monthly Review Press, 2012), chapter 12 and Christopher Arthur, “Epitaph for the USSR: A clock without a spring”, in The New Dialectic and Marx’s Capital (Leiden/Boston 2004). Both argue that the capitalism was abolished by the Bolsheviks but that it was never replaced by socialism/communism. Arthur takes the position of Hillel Ticktin that the Soviet Union was an inherently unstable “non-mode of production”.
Karl Marx, “Value-Objectivity as Objectivity Held in Common”, in Michael Heinrich, How to read Marx’s Capital (2021), p. 377.
As Engels noted in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific: “The modern State, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers – proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with.” MECW 24, p. 319.
MECW 37, p. 838
This is also the context of the former quote. See MECW 37, pp. 818–819.
Karl Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, in MECW 24, p. 85
108) , 110)
MECW 28, p. 41
See also the Grundrisse: “For the person who produces an infinitesimal part of a yard of cotton, it is not a formal definition that it is value, exchange value. If he had not produced an exchange value, money, he would have produced nothing at all. Hence, this determination of value presupposes a given historical stage of the social mode of production and is itself a historical relationship arising out of that stage.” MECW 28, p. 183.
“The absence of any specific dominant type of labour, easy transfer from one type of labour to another, loss of the connection of the labour process with determined individuals – all this occurs under socialism in its highest development.” Isaak Dashkovsky, “Abstract labour and the economic categories of Marx” <https://libcom.org/library/abstract-labour-economic-categories-marx-isaak-dashkovskij>.
De prime abord, I do not proceed from ‘concepts’, hence neither from the ‘concept of value,’ and am therefore in no way concerned to ‘divide’ it. What I proceed from is the simplest social form in which the product of labour presents itself in contemporary society, and this is the ‘commodity’. This I analyse, initially in the form in which it appears. Here I find that on the one hand in its natural form it is a thing for use, alias a use-value; on the other hand, a bearer of exchange-value, and from this point of view it is itself an ‘exchange-value’. Further analysis of the latter shows me that exchange-value is merely a ‘form of expression’, an independent way of presenting the value contained in the commodity, and then I start on the analysis of the latter.” Karl Marx, “Notes on Wagner’s Lehrbuch der politischen Oekonomie” in MECW 24, pp. 544–545.
“[W]e can see that in communist operational life, the amount of work required for the production of individual objects of daily use means something quite different than ‘value’. And now it is quite possible […] that in common usage, the ‘value’ of goods in communism is spoken of, although the term has acquired a completely different meaning. Here […] we do not want to set a bad example by using an old word for a new term, […] so we speak of the production time of the goods.” Group of International Communists, Fundamental principles of communist production and distribution, Hamburg 2020 [1935], p. 108.