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Capital: A Critique of Political Economy
by Karl Marx
1867
Volume One: The Process of Capitalist Production
Part One: Commodities and Money


Chapter One 
:  Commodities



Section One: The Two Factors of a Commodity: Use-Value and Value
(The Substance of Value and the Magnitude of Value)


1-1 The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of
production prevails, presents itself as "an immense accumulation
of commodities,"(1*) its unit being a single commodity. Our
investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a
commodity.

1-2 A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a
thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort
or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they
spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference.(2*)
Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies
these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or
indirectly as means of production.

1-3 Every useful thing, as iron, paper, etc., may be looked at
from the two points of view of quality and quantity. It is an
assemblage of many properties, and may therefore be of use in
various ways. To discover the various uses of things is the work
of history.(3*) So also is the establishment of
socially-recognised standards of measure for the quantities of
these useful objects. The diversity of these measures has its
origin partly in the diverse nature of the objects to be
measured, partly in convention.

1-4 The utility of a thing makes it a use value.(4*) But this
utility is not a thing of air. Being limited by the physical
properties of the commodity, it has no existence apart from that
commodity. A commodity, such as iron, corn, or a diamond, is
therefore, so far as it is a material thing, a use value,
something useful. This property of a commodity is independent of
the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful
qualities. When treating of use value, we always assume to be
dealing with definite quantities, such as dozens of watches,
yards of linen, or tons of iron. The use values of commodities
furnish the material for a special study, that of the commercial
knowledge of commodities.(5*)
Use values become a reality only by use or consumption they
also constitute the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the
social form of that wealth. In the form of society we are about
to consider, they are, in addition, the material depositories of
exchange-value.

1-5 Exchange-value, at first sight, presents itself as a
quantitative relation, as the proportion in which values in use
of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort,(6*) a
relation constantly changing with time and place. Hence exchange
value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and
consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange-value that is
inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a
contradiction in terms.(7*) Let us consider the matter a little
more closely.

1-6 A given commodity, e.g., a quarter of wheat is exchanged for
x blacking, y silk, or z gold, etc.-- in short, for other
commodities in the most different proportions. Instead of one
exchange value, the wheat has, therefore, a great many. But since
x blacking, y silk, or z gold, etc., each represent the
exchange-value of one quarter of wheat, x blacking, y silk, z
gold, etc., must, as exchange values, be replaceable by each
other, or equal to each other. Therefore, first: the valid
exchange-values of a given commodity express something equal;
secondly, exchange-value, generally, is only the mode of
expression, the phenomenal form, of something contained in it,
yet distinguishable from it.

1-7 Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The
proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those
proportions may be, can always be represented by an equation in
which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of
iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron. What does this equation
tell us? It tells us that in two different things -- in 1 quarter
of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quantities
something common to both. The two things must therefore be equal
to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other.
Each of them, so far as it is exchange-value, must therefore be
reducible to this third.

1-8 A simple geometrical illustration will make this clear. In
order to calculate and compare the areas of rectilinear figures,
we decompose them into triangles. But the area of the triangle
itself is expressed by something totally different from its
visible figure, namely, by half the product of the base into the
altitude. In the same way the exchange values of commodities must
be capable of being expressed in terms of something common to
them all, of which thing they represent a greater or less
quantity.

1-9 This common "something" cannot be either a geometrical, a
chemical, or any other natural property of commodities. Such
properties claim our attention only in so far as they affect the
utility of those commodities, make them use values. But the
exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterised by a
total abstraction from use-value. Then one use value is just as
good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient
quantity. Or, as old Barbon says, "one sort of wares are as good
as another, if the values be equal. There is no difference or
distinction in things of equal value... An hundred pounds' worth
of lead or iron, is of as great value as one hundred pounds'
worth of silver or gold."(8*) As use-values, commodities are,
above all, of different qualities, but as exchange-values they
are merely different quantities, and consequently do not contain
an atom of use-value.

1-10 If then we leave out of consideration the use-value of
commodities, they have only one common property left, that of
being products of labour. But even the product of labour itself
has undergone a change in our hands. If we make abstraction from
its use-value, we make abstraction at the same time from the
material elements and shapes that make the product a use-value;
we see in it no longer a table, a house, yarn, or any other
useful thing. Its existence as a material thing is put out of
sight. Neither can it any longer be regarded as the product of
the labour of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other
definite kind of productive labour. Along with the useful
qualities of the products themselves, we put out of sight both
the useful character of the various kinds of labour embodied in
them, and the concrete forms of that labour; there is nothing
left but what is common to them all; all are reduced to one and
the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract.

1-11 Let us now consider the residue of each of these products; it
consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere
congelation of homogeneous human labour, of labour-power expended
without regard to the mode of its expenditure. All that these
things no tell us is, that human labour-power has been expended
in their production, that human labour is embodied in them. When
looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them
all, they are -- Values.

1-12 We have seen that when commodities are exchange, their
exchange-value manifests itself as something totally independent
of their use value. But if we abstract from their use-vale, there
remains their Value as defined above. Therefore, the common
substance that manifests itself in the exchange-value of
commodities, whenever they are exchanged, is their value. The
progress of our investigation will show that exchange-value is
the only form in which the value of commodities can manifest
itself or be expressed. For the present, however, we have to
consider the nature of value independently of this, its form.

1-13 A use-value, or useful article, therefore, has value only
because human labour in the abstract has been embodied or
materialised in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to
be measured? Plainly, by the quantity of the value-creating
substance, the labour, contained in the article. The quantity of
labour, however, is measured by its duration, and labour-time in
its turn finds its standard in weeks, days, and hours.

1-14 Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is
determined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle
and unskilful the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity
be, because more time would be required in its production. The
labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is
homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour-
power. The total labour-power of society, which is embodied in
the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that
society, counts here as one homogeneous mass of human
labour-power, composed though it be of innumerable individual
units. Each of these units is the same as any other, so far as it
has the character of the average labour power of society, and
takes effect as such; that is, so far as it requires for
producing a commodity, no more time than is needed on an average,
no more than is socially necessary. 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
powerlooms into England probably reduced by one half the labour
required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth. The
handloom 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,

1-15 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.(9*)
Each individual commodity, in this connection, is to be
considered as an average sample of its class.(10*) Commodities,
therefore, in which equal quantities of labour are embodied, or
which can be produced in the same time, have the same value. The
value of one commodity is to the value of any other, as the
labour time necessary for the production of the one is to that
necessary for the production of the other. "As values, all
commodities are only definite masses of congealed
labour-time."(11*)

1-16 The value of a commodity would therefore remain constant, if
the labour time required for its production also remained
constant. But the latter changes with every variation in the
productiveness of labour. This productiveness is determined by
various circumstances, amongst others, by the average amount of
skill of the workmen, the state of science, and the degree of its
practical application, the social organisation of production, the
extent and capabilities of the means of production, and by
physical conditions. For example, the same amount of labour in
favourable seasons is embodied in 8 bushels of corn, and in
unfavourable, only in four. The same labour extracts from rich
mines more metal than from poor mines. Diamonds are of very rare
occurrence on the earth's surface, and hence their discovery
costs, on an average, a great deal of labour time. Consequently
much labour is represented in a small compass. Jacob doubts
whether gold has ever been paid for at its full value. This
applies still more to diamonds. according to Eschwege, the total
produce of the Brazilian diamond mines for the eighty years,
ending in 1823, had not realised the price of one-and a-half
years' average produce of the sugar and coffee plantations of the
same country, although the diamonds cost much more labour, and
therefore represented more value. With richer mines, the same
quantity of labour would embody itself in more diamonds, and
their value would fall. If we could succeed at a small
expenditure of labour, in converting carbon into diamonds, their
value might fall below that of bricks. In general, the greater
the productiveness of labour, the less is the labour time
required for the production of an article, the less is the amount
of labour crystallised in that article. and the less is its
value; and vice versa, the less the productiveness of labour, the
greater is the labour time required for the production of an
article, and the greater is its value. The value of a commodity,
therefore, varies directly as the quantity, and inversely as the
productiveness, of the labour incorporated in it.

1-18 A thing can be a use-value, without having value. This is the
case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour. Such are
air, virgin soil, natural meadows, etc. A thing can be useful,
and the product of human labour, without being a commodity.
Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own
labour, creates, indeed, use-values, but not commodities. ln
order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use values,
but use values for others, social use values. (And not only for
others, without more. The medieval peasant produced
quit-rent-corn for his feudal lord and tithe corn for his parson.
But neither the quit rent corn nor the tithe-corn became
commodities by reason of the fact that they had been produced for
others. To become a commodity a product must be transferred to
another, whom it will serve as a use-value, by means of an
exchange.) Lastly nothing can have value, without being an object
of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained
in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates
no value.

NOTES:

1. Karl Marx, "A Contribution to the Critique of Political
Economy" 1859, London, p. 19.

2. "Desire implies want; it is the appetite of the mind, and as
natural as hunger in the body... The greater number (of things)
have their value from supplying the wants of the mind." Nicolas
Barbon: "A Discourse on coining the new money lighter, in answer
to Mr. Locke's Considerations" etc. London, 1696, p. 2, 3.

3. "Things have an intrinsick virtue" (this is Barbon's special
term for value in use) "which in all places have the same virtue;
as the loadstone to attract iron." (l.c. p. 6). the property
which the magnet possesses of attracting iron, became of use only
after by means of that property the polarity of the magnet had
been discovered.

4. "The natural worth of anything consists in its fitness to
supply the necessities, or serve the conveniences of human life."
(John Locke, "Some Considerations on the consequences of the
lowering of interest, 1691," in Works Edit. London, 1777. Vol.
II, p. 28.) In English writers of the 17th century we frequently
find "worth" in the sense of value in use, and "value" in the
sense of exchange value. This is quite in accordance with the
spirit of a language that likes to use a Teutonic word for the
actual thing, and a Romance word for its reflexion.

5. In bourgeois societies the economical fictio juris prevails,
that every one, as a buyer, possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge
of commodities.

6. "La valeur consiste dans le rapport d'echange qui se trouve
entre telle chose et telle autre, entre telle mesure d'une
production, et telle mesure d'une autre." (Le Trosne: De
l'Interet Social. Physiocrates, Ed. Dalre, Paris, 1846, p. 889.)

7. "Nothing can have an intrinsick value." (N. Barbon, l.c., p.
6) or as Butler says --
"The value of a thing
Is just as much as it will bring."

8. N. Barbon, l.c., p. 53 and 7.

9. "The value of them (the necessaries of life), when they are
exchanged the one for another, is regulated by the quantity of
labour necessarily required, and commonly taken in producing
them." (Some Thoughts on the Interest of Money in general and
particularly in the Publick Funds, etc., London, p. 36) This
remarkable anonymous work, written in the last century bears no
date. It is clear, however, from internal evidence, that it
appeared in the reign of George II, about 1739 or 1740.

10. "Toutes les productions d'un meme genre ne forment proprement
qu'une masse, dont le pris se determine en general et sans egard
aux circonstances particulieres." (Le Trosne, l.c., p. 893.)

11. K. Marx, l.c., p. 24