[OPE] How to read Capital

From: dogangoecmen@aol.com
Date: Thu Apr 03 2008 - 04:14:23 EDT


If indeed it was true that "the contradiction
between use-value and exchange-value" 

is the "fundamental
contradiction" to which all other contradictions can be

why then does Marx hardly discuss use-value at all?


Paul C
That is a fair point, and how indeed is
one supposed to deduce all the other contradictions 
of capitalism from this,
unless by sleight of hand one sneaks in other initial conditions.


It is indeed a fair and good point - a very important question that brings back the old perpetual question of how to read *Capital*.
To answer this question we have turn to methodological questions Marx raises in the Introduction to *Grundrisse*. 

There he says:

"When we consider a given country politico-economically,
we begin with its population, its distribution among classes, town,
country, the coast, the different branches of production, export and
import, annual production and consumption, commodity prices etc.

 It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the concrete,
with the real precondition, thus to begin, in economics, with e.g. the
population, which is the foundation and the subject of the entire
social act of production. However, on closer examination this proves
false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example,
the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an empty
phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest. E.g.
wage labour, capital, etc. These latter in turn presuppose exchange,
division of labour, prices, etc. For example, capital is nothing
without wage labour, without value, money, price etc. Thus, if I were
to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception [Vorstellung] of the whole, and I would then, by means of further determination, move analytically towards ever more simple concepts [Begriff],
from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I
had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the journey
would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived at the population
again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a
rich totality of many determinations and relations. The former is the
path historically followed by economics at the time of its origins. The
economists of the seventeenth century, e.g., always begin with the
living whole, with population, nation, state, several states, etc.; but
they always conclude by discovering through analysis a small number of
determinant, abstract, general relations such as division of labour,
money, value, etc. As soon as these individual moments had been more or
less firmly established and abstracted, there began the economic
systems, which ascended from the simple relations, such as labour,
division of labour, need,  exchange value, to the
level of the state, exchange between nations and the world market. The
latter is obviously the scientifically correct method. The concrete is
concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence
unity of the diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore,
as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of
departure, even though it is the point of departure in reality and
hence also the point of departure for observation [Anschauung]
and conception. Along the first path the full conception was evaporated
to yield an abstract determination; along the second, the abstract
determinations lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of

As a result of these consideration Marx prefers to start with the analysis of commodity. 

Let's look to the first paragraph of *Capital*. It goes as follows: 

"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." 

Marx speaks elsewhere of commodity as a *cell* or (perhaps) *cell-form* of capitalist mode of production, I think, which I cant find just now. In above-quote Marx is suggesting that to understand the contradictory nature of the wealth of capitalist mode of production we have to analyse the contradictory nature of an, say, abstract commodity. After having analysed the contradictory nature of a commodity in the first section he makes in the first paragraph of the second section following statement:

"At first sight a commodity presented itself to us as a complex of two
things – use value and exchange value. Later on, we saw also that
labour, too, possesses the same twofold nature; for, so far as it finds
expression in value, it does not possess the same characteristics that
belong to it as a creator of use values. I was the first to point out
and to examine critically this twofold nature of the labour contained
in commodities. As this point is the pivot on which a clear
comprehension of political economy turns, we must go more into detail."

I highlighted the word *complex* and *twofold nature* of the labour because  I am not sure whether the translation gives  the right meaning of what Marx says in German edition. In German edition he uses the word "Zwieschlächtiges" and "zwieschlächtige Natur". These expressions imply the concept of contradiction. In the original version it reads as follows:

"Ursprünglich erschien uns die Ware als ein Zwieschlächtiges,
Gebrauchswert und Tauschwert. Später zeigte sich, daß auch die Arbeit,
soweit sie im Wert ausgedrückt ist, nicht mehr dieselben Merkmale
besitzt, die ihr als Erzeugerin von Gebrauchswerten zukommen. Diese
zwieschlächtige Natur der in der Ware enthaltenen Arbeit ist zuerst von
mir kritisch nachgewiesen worden.(12)
Da dieser Punkt der Springpunkt ist, um den sich das Verständnis der
politischen Ökonomie dreht, soll er hier näher beleuchtet werden."

Please bear in mind that Marx speaks of commodity as an ensemble of social relations. (Bear also in mind how  he explains the genesis of money as form of social relation.) The production of commodity requires already division of labour, i.e. the separation of labour from the means of production. This turns the labour into commodity too. This, in turn brings, brings the relationship of labour and capital into existence. So when Marx speaks of mutual negative relationship of use-value and exchange-value he speaks at the same time of the contradictory relationship of labour and capital, or if you like, one can say that the contradictory relationship of labour and capital is already contained in the *zwieschlächtige Natur* of commodities, which is also expresses itself in the contraditory relationship between concrete and abstract labour.

This is my short admittedly superficial answer to your question. A further elaborations requires a long essay which I cant produce here.


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