Das Kapital
📖 eBook - ePub

Das Kapital

A Critique of Political Economy

Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Friedrich Engels

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📖 eBook - ePub

Das Kapital

A Critique of Political Economy

Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Friedrich Engels

About This Book

One of the most notorious works of modern times, as well as one of the most influential, Capital is an incisive critique of private property and the social relations it generates. Living in exile in England, where this work was largely written, Marx drew on a wide-ranging knowledge of its society to support his analysis and generate fresh insights. Arguing that capitalism would create an ever-increasing division in wealth and welfare, he predicted its abolition and replacement by a system with common ownership of the means of production. Capital rapidly acquired readership among the leaders of social democratic parties, particularly in Russia and Germany, and ultimately throughout the world, to become a work described by Marx's friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels as 'the Bible of the Working Class'.

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PART I
Commodities and Money
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CHAPTER I
COMMODITIES

SECTION 1—THE TWO FACTORS OF A COMMODITY: USE-VALUE AND VALUE (THE SUBSTANCE OF VALUE AND THE MAGNITUDE OF VALUE)

The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities,” its unit being a single commodity.
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. 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.
002
The utility of a thing makes it a use-value. 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 labor 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 commodities. 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.
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, 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.
003
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.
004
This common “something” cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any other natural property of commodities. Such properties claim our attention only insofar as they affect the utility of those commodities, make them use-values. But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterized by a total abstraction from use-value.
005
If then we leave out of consideration the use-value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labor. But even the product of labor 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 labor of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other definite kind of productive labor. Along with the useful qualities of the products themselves, we put out of sight both the useful character of the various kinds of labor embodied in them, and the concrete forms of that labor; there is nothing left but what is common to them all; all are reduced to one and the same sort of labor, human labor in the abstract.
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 labor, of labor-power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure. All that these things now tell us is, that human labor-power has been expended in their production, that human labor is embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all, they are—Values.
We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use-value. But if we abstract from their use-value, 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.
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006
A use-value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because human labor in the abstract has been embodied or materialized in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? Plainly, by the quantity of the value-creating substance, the labor, contained in the article. The quantity of labor, however, is measured by its duration, and labor-time in its turn finds its standard in weeks, days, and hours.
Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labor spent on it, the more idle and unskilful the laborer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production. The labor, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous human labor, expenditure of one uniform labor-power. The total labor-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 labor-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 labor-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 labor-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.
007
We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labor socially necessary, or the labor-time socially necessary for its production. Each individual commodity, in this connection, is to be considered as an average sample of its class. Commodities, therefore, in which equal quantities of labor 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 labor-time necessary for the production of the one is to that necessary for the production of the other.
008
The value of a commodity would therefore remain constant, if the labor-time required for its production also remained constant. But the latter changes with every variation in the productiveness of labor. This productiveness is determined by various circumstances, among others, by the average amount of skill of the workmen, the state of science and the degree of its practical application, the social organization of production, the extent and capabilities of the means of production, and by physical conditions. For example, the same amount of labor in favorable seasons is embodied in eight bushels of corn, and in unfavourable, only in four. The same labor 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 average, a great deal of labor-time. Consequently much labor is represented in a small compass. In general, the greater the productiveness of labor, the less is the labor-time required for the production of an article, the less is the amount of labor crystallised in that article, and the less is its value; and vice versa, the less the productiveness of labor, the greater is the labor-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 labor incorporated in it.
A thing can be a use-value, without having value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labor. Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, etc. A thing can be useful, and the product of human labor, without being a commodity. Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labor, 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. Lastly, nothing can have value without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labor contained in it; the labor does not count as labor, and therefore creates no value.

SECTION 2—THE TWOFOLD CHARACTER OF THE LABOR EMBODIED IN COMMODITIES

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 labor, too, possesses the same two-fold 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 two-fold nature of the labor contained in commodities. As this point is the pivot on which a clear comprehension of political economy turns, we must go more into detail.
Let us take two commodities such as a coat and 10 yards of linen, and let the former be double the value of the latter, so that, if 10 yards of linen=W, the coat=2W.
The coat is a use-value that satisfies a particular want. Its existence is the result of a special sort of productive activity, the nature of which is determined by its aim, mode of operation, subject, means, and result. The labor, whose utility is thus represented by the value in use of its product, or which manifests itself by making its product a use-value, we call useful labor. In this connection we consider only its useful effect.
As the coat and the linen are two qualitatively different use-values, so also are the two forms of labor that produce them, tailoring and weaving. Were these two objects not qualitatively different, not produced respectively by labor of different quality, they could not stand to each other in the relation of commodities. Coats are not exchanged for coats, one use-value is not exchange for another of the same kind.
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To all the different varieties of values in use there correspond as many different kinds of useful labor, classified according to the order, genus, species, and variety to which they belong in the social division of labor. This division of labor is a necessary condition for the production of commodities, but it does not follow conversely that the production of commodities is a necessary condition for the division of labor.
009
To resume, then: In the use-value of each commodity there is contained useful labor, i.e., productive activity of a definite kind and exercised with a definite aim. Use-values cannot confront each other as commodities unless the useful labor embodied in them is qualitatively different in each of them. 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 labor that are carried on independently by individual producers, each on their own account, develops into a complex system, a social division of labor.
Anyhow, whether the coat be worn by the tailor or by his customer, in either case it operates as a use-value. Nor is the relation between the coat and the labor that produced it altered by the circumstance that tailoring may have become a trade, an independent branch of the social division of labor. Wherever the want of clothing forced them to it, the human race made clothes for thousands of years, without a single man becoming a tailor. But coats and linen, like every other element of material wealth that is not the spontaneous product of nature, must invariably owe their existence to a special productive activity, exercised with a definite aim, an activity that appropriates particular nature-given materials to particular human wants. So far therefore as labor is a creator of use-value, it is useful labor, and it is a necessary condition, independent of all forms of society, for the existence of the human race; it is an eternal nature-imposed necessity, without which there can be no material exchanges between man and nature, and therefore no life.
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The use-values, coat, linen, etc., i.e., the bodies of commodities, are combinations of two elements—matter and labor. If we take away the useful labor expended upon them, a material substratum is always left, which is furnished by nature without the help of man. The latter can work only as nature does, that is, by changing the form of matter. Nay more, in this work of changing the form he is constantly helped by natural forces. We see, then, that labor is not the only source of material wealth, of use-values produced by labor.
Let us now pass from the commodity considered as a use-value to the value of commodities.
By our assumption, the coat is worth twice as much as the linen. But this is a mere quantitative difference, which for the present does not concern us. We bear in mind, however, that if the value of the coat is double that of 10 yds. of linen, 20 yds. of linen must have the same value as one coat. So far as they are values, the coat and the linen are things of a like substance, objective expressions of essentially identical labor. But tailoring and weaving are, qualitatively, different kinds of labor. There are, however, states of society in which one and the same man does tailoring and weaving alternately, in which case these two forms of labor are mere modifications of the labor of the same individual, and not special and fixed functions of different persons; just as the coat which our tailor makes one day, and the trousers which he makes another day, imply only a variation in the labor of one and the same individual. Moreover, we see at a glance that, in our capitalist society, a given portion of human labor is, in accordance with the varying demand, at one time supplied in the form of tailoring, at another in the form of weaving. This change may possibly cause friction, but take place it must.
Productive activity, if we leave out of sight its special form, viz., the useful character of the labor, is nothing but the expenditure of human labor-power. Tailoring and weaving, though qualitatively different productive activities, are each a productive expenditure of human brains, nerves, and muscles, and in this sense are human labor. They are but two different modes of expending human labor-power. Of course, this labor-power, which remains the same under all its modifications, must have attained a certain pitch of development before it can be expended in a multiplicity of modes. But the value of a commodity represents human labor in the abstract, the expenditure of human labor in general. And just as in society, a general or a banker plays a great part, but mere man, on the other hand, a very shabby part, so here with mere human labor. It is the expenditure of simple labor-power, i.e., of the labor-power which, on average, apart from any special development, exists in the organism of every ordinary individual. Simple average labor, it is true, varies in character in different countries and at different times, but in a particular society it is given. Skilled labor counts only as simple labor intensified, or rather, as multiplied simple labor, a given quantity of skilled labor being considered equal to a greater quantity of simple labor. Experience shows that this reduction is constantly being made. A commodity may be the product of the most skilled labor, but its value, by equating it to the product of simple unskilled labor, represents a definite quality of the latter labor alone.1 The different proportions in which different sorts of labor are reduced to unskilled labor as their standard, are established by a social process that goes on behind the backs of the producers, and, consequently, appear to be fixed by custom. For simplicity’s sake we shall henceforth account every kind of labor to be unskilled, simple labor; by this we do no more than save ourselves the trouble of making the reduction.
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Just as, therefore, in viewing the coat and linen as values, we abstract from their different use-values, so it is with the labor represented...

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APA 6 Citation
Marx, K. (2012). Das Kapital ([edition unavailable]). Gateway Editions. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/784600/das-kapital-a-critique-of-political-economy-pdf (Original work published 2012)
Chicago Citation
Marx, Karl. (2012) 2012. Das Kapital. [Edition unavailable]. Gateway Editions. https://www.perlego.com/book/784600/das-kapital-a-critique-of-political-economy-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Marx, K. (2012) Das Kapital. [edition unavailable]. Gateway Editions. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/784600/das-kapital-a-critique-of-political-economy-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Marx, Karl. Das Kapital. [edition unavailable]. Gateway Editions, 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.