SIS 705 – Social Theory January 20th, 2011
Namalie Jayasinghe

Karl Marx, Capital and the Value of Commodities
In Lemert, pgs. 51-60

Marx’s critique of the political economy, focusing on commodities, labor and value. Discusses useful labor as a necessary condition for the existence of the human race – “it is a eternal nature-imposed necessity, without which there can be no material exchanges between man and Nature, and therefore no life” (56).
  • A commodity is something useful – satisfies human wants of some sort or another
  • As values, all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labor-time and nothing can have value, without being an object of utility.
  • Two-fold nature contained in commodities – both as objects of utilities and depositories of values
  • Value can only manifest itself only in the social relation of commodity to commodity

  • Use value is the utility of a thing, and use-value has no existence apart from the commodity
  • A use-value has value only because human labor in the abstract has been embodied in it – so how do you measure this value? By the quantity of the labor contained in the article.
    • Abstract vs. concrete human labor – “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” (53)
  • The use-value of each commodity contains useful labor, which is a productive activity of a definite kind and exercised with a definite aim
  • Does this mean that an unskilled laborer, who takes a lot of time to create something, creates something of high use-value? Not so, because have to think of labor as more of a uniform labor-power – homogenous – so no more time is needed than is socially necessary. Therefore what determines the value is the amount of labor socially necessary for its production.

Exchange Values
  • Exchange value is the only form in which the value of commodities can manifest itself or be expressed – it is the proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort (i.e. how many bushels of corn can I get for 10 yards of linen?)
  • Exchange value of commodities must be capable of being expressed in terms of something common to them all
  • To become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it will serve as a use-value by means of an exchange
Discussion Questions
  • What is the two-fold nature of capital? He talks mostly about the two-fold nature of labor and commodities so how does this relate to capital (which he doesn’t mention explicitly in these essays)?
  • How to best understand the concrete vs. abstract forms of labor?
  • How does one figure out the amount of social necessary labor needed to produce a commodity? And what does congealed labor-time actually mean?