from the books: Capital, vol. 1, 1867, Ch. 1, Karl Marx and A Companion to Marx’s Capital, 2010, David Harvey


Key: (page numbers for Penguin Classics edition of Capital), [page numbers for David Harvey’s Companion to Capital]


Chapter 1, section 1


  • (126) It is the commodities’ physical bodies that are the useful things, or use-values
  • Commercial knowledge of commodities: special branch of knowledge grounded in use-value of commodities
  • Use-values are only realized in use or consumption
    • Use-value is material content of wealth
    • Also, in capitalist mode of production, use-values are the material bearers of exchange-value
  • (127) From the fact that a quarter of wheat is exchanged for x polish, y silk, and z gold
    • the valid exchange values of a particular commodity express something equal
    • exchange-value is only the mode of expression (i.e. the form of appearance) of a content distinguishable from it
    • If I can exchange one quarter of corn for x cwt of iron, then there exists a third thing of identical magnitude (to each commodity) that is signified in the equation, “1 quarter corn = x cwt iron”
      • This thrid thing is not the one nor the other
  • [17] “The commensurability of commodities is not constituted out of their use-values”
    • (128) Remove use-value and you are left with one thing or property: that of being products of labor
      • [17] This is another crazy a priori leap
      • [18] All commodities have in common the fact they are bearers of the human labor embedded in their production
  • (128) All useful distinctions of labor are extinguished and reduced to the same human labor in the abstract when use-value is eradicated
  • Residue of products of labor
    • Phantom-like objectivity
    • Only congealed quantities of homogenous human labor
    • I.e. human labor-power expended without regard to form of its expenditure
  • Commodity values
    • the crystalized, abstract values embodied in commodities as objects for commensurable exchange and not use-value
    • Exchange-value is necessary mode of expression (form of appearance) of value
  • (129) Nature of value independent of exchange-value (i.e. form of appearance)
    • How is value quantified? By means of quantity of “value-forming substance” or labor, contained in the article
    • Crystalized labor is determined by duration: labor-time (hours, days, etc.)
  • Each unit of labor-power is the same as any other to the extent it has the character of a socially average unit of labor power and acts as such
    • Socially necessary labor time: the labor-time required to produce any use-value under the conditions of production normal for a given society with the average degree of skill and intensity of labor prevalent in that society
  • Any article’s magnitude of value is determined by the amount of labor socially necessary, or labor-time socially necessary for its production
  • (130) The individual commodity counts as average sample of its kind
    • Commodities containing equal quantities labor (produced in same amount of time) have same value
    • Since a commodity’s value is determined by the labor-time that congeals in it, and since labor productivity is increasing with technology, commodities’ values are dropping
  • Productivity of labor conditioned by:
    • Worker’s average degree of skill
    • Development of science/technology
    • Social organization of process of production
    • Extent and effectiveness of means of production
    • Conditions found in natural environment
  • (131) Summary: “The value of a commodity varies directly as the quantity , and inversely as the productivity, of the labor which finds its realization in the commodity”
    • Value’s substance: labor
    • Value’s measure of magnitude: labor-time
    • Value’s form: ?, but it stamps value as exchange value
  • In order to be a commodity, the article must produce use-value for others and be transferred to the other person through the medium of exchange
    • If thing is useless, so is labor contained in it


Chapter 1, section 2: The Dual Character of the Labor Embodied in Commodities


  • Labor finds expression in value and no longer has the same characteristics as when it is the creator of use-values
  • E.g. 10 yards of linen = W; Coat = ZW
  • “Useful labor” = labor whose utility is represented by the use-value of its product
    • [27] This is heterogeneous, concrete labor (tailoring, shoemaking, spinning, weaving, farming, etc.)
    • The above is required for exchange and social division of labor
  • (132) You can have social division of labor without commodities but not vice versa
    • E.g. social division of labor in tribe without commodity
    • “Only the products of mutually independent acts of labor, performed in isolation, can confront each other as commodities” — i.e. workers in the same factory cannot produce the heterogeneity of products necessary for commodity exchange
  • (133) “Labor, as the creator of use-values, as useful labor, is a condition of human existence which is independent of all forms of human society. It is an eternal natural necessity, which mediates the metabolism between man and nature, and therefore human life itself”
  • (134) Will now go from “commodity as object of utility” to value of commodities
    • As values, coat and linen have same substance, in other words, they are the objective expressions of homogeneous labor
      • But tailoring and weaving are qualitatively different forms of labor
      • Sometimes, however, the capitalist mode of production requires the same individual alternate between these forms of labor
    • If we leave aside the useful character of labor (the heterogeneous quality of labor), we’re left with the fact that all labor is simply the expenditure of human labor-power
      • (135) The value of a commodity represents human labor pure and simple (generally, homogeneously)
  • Simple average labor varies in character in different countries and at different epochs
    • Intensified/multiplied simple labor = complex labor
      • Small amount complex labor = large amount simple labor
        • In use-value: labor contained in a commodity counts only qualitatively (how and what)
        • In value: labor counts quantitatively once it’s reduced to human labor pure and simple (how much)
    • Since magnitude of value of commodity is quantity of labor embodied in it, then all commodities in certain proportions are equal in value
  • [27] back to “metabolism” above: with labor mediating between human existence and nature, this is central to Marx’s historical-materialist argument
  • [28] Difference between wealth (total use-values at one’s command) and value (socially necessary labor time these use-values represent)
  • (136) An increase in quantity of use-values is an increase in material wealth
  • (137) “The same labor performed for the same length of time always yields the same amount of value, independently of my any variation in productivity”
    • But it provides different quantities of use-values during equal periods of time; more if rising productivity/ fewer if falling productivity
    • Same change in productivity that increases fruitfulness of labor and its produced use-values also brings about a reduction in the value of this increased total amount (if it cuts down total labor-time necessary to produce the use-values)
  • Concluding dialectical contradiction:
    • One hand: All labor is a physiological expenditure of human labor-power. In this sense, it is abstract, homogeneous, and forms the value of commodities
    • Other hand: All labor is an expenditure of human labor-power in a particular form and with a definitive aim. In this sense, it is concrete, heterogeneous, and produces use-values


Chapter 1, Section 3: The Value-Form, or Exchange-Value (i.e. taking the commodity into the marketplace)


  • Commodities only come to be by virtue of their duality:
    1. Natural form: object of utility
    2. Value form: bearer of value
  • (139) Since commodities express an identical social substance, human labor, their objective character as values is purely social
  • To show the origin of the money-form of commodities
    1. The 2 poles of the expression of value: the relative form of value and the equivalent form
      • {x commodity A (20 yards linen)} (relative/active) = {y commodity B (1 coat)} (equivalent/passive)
      • The order of this equation matters for Marx’s point; it’s sequential — if I wanted to determine how much a coat was worth, I’d have to reverse the equation to express it as a relative form of value in relation to linen, which would hold the equivalent form
    2. (140) Relative form of value
      1. The content of the relative form of value
        • The expression of value lies hidden in the value-relation between commodities because people compare commodities with monetary value and not socially necessary labor time required to produce them
  • (142) Human labor-power in its fluid state, or human labor, creates value but is not itself value
    • It becomes value in its coagulated state, in objective form
  • [27] “All Marx really wants to show here is that the act of exchange always has a dual character–the poles of relative and equivalent forms — in which the equivalent commodity figures ‘as the embodiment of abstract human labor'”
    • The antinomy of use-value and value, up to now internalized in the commodity, gets represented on the surface by an external opposition between a commodity that’s a use-value and another that represents its value in exchange
  • (144) (ii) The Quantitative Determinacy of the Relative Form of Value
    • Some math… seems legit
  • (147) (iii) The Equivalent Form
    • Magnitude of coat’s value is determined by labor-time necessary for its production, independently of its value-form
      • But as soon as coat takes up the position of equivalent in the value expression, the magnitude of its value ceases to be expressed quantitatively — on the contrary, the coat now figures in the value equation merely as a definitive quantity of some article
  • (149) E.g. of sugar-loaf weight in relation to iron weight as embodiment of abstract, pure weight
    • Same with linen to coat, with latter taken as abstract value alone
    • Analogy ceases here, though, because in the expression of value in the linen, the coat represents a supra-natural property: their value, which is something purely social
  • The equivalent form of value (e.g. coat) consists in this: that the material commodity itself expresses value just as it is in its everyday life, and is therefore endowed with the form of value by nature itself
    • properties of a thing don’t arise from its relation to another thing, but get activated by such relations
    • Hence mystery of equivalent form to bourgeois vision as money
  • (150) the equivalent form’s second peculiarity: in it, concrete labor becomes the form of manifestation of its opposite, abstract human labor
  • (151) third peculiarity of equivalent form: private labor takes the form of its opposite, or labor in its directly social form
  • (152) Aristotle discovered a relation of equality in the value-expression of commodities, but fell short of understanding that equality as human labor-time due to the historical limitations of slave labor and an inability to attribute value to it
  • [31] My relative value commodity can sync up with countless equivalent values of others and vice versa
    • an increasing complexity of exchange relations produces an “expanded form of value”
    • This morphs into a “general form” of value
    • This crystalizes ultimately into a “universal equivalent”
    • Therefore, the “money commodity” that is this universal equivalent arises out of a trading system (market) and does not precede it
    • Market exchange both serves as prerequisite for money and also can’t function without it
  • [32] Marx is likely incorrect about the rise of the money form. But he’s right in this: “under capitalism, the money-form has to be disciplined to and brought into line with the logical position that Marx describes such that the money-form reflects the needs of a system proliferating exchange relations”
    • But by the same token, it is the proliferation of commodity exchange relations that disciplines any and all preceding symbolic forms to the money-form required to facilitate commodity-market exchange
    • The precursors of the money-form must conform to this logic, as they are necessarily take up by capitalism and made to perform the function of money
    • But, we must be clear that the market could not have evolved without that disciplining taking place
  • [33 on (138)] Value is immaterial, but objective; it is a social relation
    • Marx proposes: values, as immaterial, cannot exist without a means of representation
      • Ergo, the rise of the money-form as a tangible expression makes value (as socially necessary labor time) the regulator of exchange relations
      • But the money-form gets increasingly closer to expressing value only as commodity-exchange relations proliferate
  • Rise of monetary exchange leads to socially necessary labor-time becoming guiding force with a capitalistic mode of production
    • Therefore, value as socially necessary labor-time is historically specific to the capitalist mode of production — it arises only in a situation where market exchange is doing the requisite job
  • Two conclusions and one question from Marx’s analysis here:
    • Conclusion 1: Exchange relations are not mere epiphenomena expressive of a deep value structure, but exist in a mutually-constitutive, dialectical relation with values
    • Conclusion 2: confirms immaterial (phantom-like), but objective status of value concept; all attempts to measure value directly will fail
    • Question: How reliable/accurate is the money representation of value? Or, how does the relation between immateriality (value) and objectivity (as captured by the monetary representation of value) actually unfold?
  • [34-35] Problem is this: how does value, this ‘thing which is materially different from linen,’ get represented?
    • Answer lies in money-commodity form
    • But there are three peculiarities in the relationship between value and its expression in the money-form
      1. a particular use-value becomes the form of appearance of its opposite, value, and this conceals a social relation
      2. concrete labor becomes the form of manifestation of its opposite, abstract human labor
      3. private labor takes the form of its opposite, labor in its directly social form
  • (156) It is not the exchange of commodities that regulates the magnitude of their values, but rather the magnitude of the values of commodities that regulates the proportion in which they exchange



Chapter 1, section 4: The Fetishism of the Commodity and its Secret


  • (163) So far as it’s a use-value, the commodity makes perfect sense: humans expend labor to reconfigure natural material into objects of use to them — a table is still wood, still sensuous
  • But once it emerges as a commodity, it transcends sensuousness: “It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas far more wonderful than if it were to begin dancing of its own free will”
  • (164) Mystical character of commodity does not arise from its use-value or its value (as socially necessary labor time), but from its form
    1. the quality of the kinds of human labor takes on a physical form in the equal objectivity of the products of labor as values
    2. the measure of labor-time/power takes on the form of the magnitude of the value of the products of labor
    3. the relationships between producers, within which the social characteristics of their labors are manifested, take on the form of a social relations between the products of their labor
  • (165) Summary: mystery of commodity-form lies in the fact that the commodity reflects the social characteristics of men’s own labor as objective characteristics of the products of labor themselves, of the socio-natural properties of these things
    • The commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labor within which it appears have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this
    • It is nothing but the definite social relations between men themselves which assume here, for them, the fantastic form of relations between things
    • Fetishism: attaches itself to the products of labor as soon as they are produced as commodities
      • i.e. the mystification and autonomization of the commodity as a social relation
      • Arises from peculiar social character of the labor that produces them
  • Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of the labor of private individuals who work independently of each other
    • Private individuals only interact through exchange of their independently produced objects of labor
    • I.e. “the labor of the private individual manifests itself as an element of the total labor of society only through the relations which the act of exchange establishes between the products and, through their mediation, between the producers”
    • To producers, the social relations between their private labors appear as what they are: material relations between persons and social relations between things
  • (166) “…by equating their different products to each other in exchange as values, they equate their different kinds of labor as human labor. They do this without being aware of it.”
    • (167) Value transforms every product of labor into a social hieroglyphic
    • Later, men try to decipher the hieroglyphic to get behind the secret of their own social product: for the characteristic which objects of utility have of being values is as much men’s social product as is their language
  • [39] On section 4
    • E.g. buying head of lettuce in supermarket
      • To buy it, you put down a certain sum of money
      • the material relation between the money and the lettuce expresses a social relation because the price — the “how much” — is socially determined, and the price is a monetary representation of value (or socially necessary labor-time)
      • Hidden in this market exchange of things is a relation between you (consumer) and the direct producers–those who labored to produce the lettuce
        • Not only do you not have to know anything about the labor or laborers, but certain complex systems of exchange actually render it impossible to know, which is why fetishism is inevitable in the world market
      • Result: our social relation to the laboring activities of others is disguised in the relationship between things
  • [41] Marx’s concern here is not ethical/moral, but rather to show how the market system and the money-forms disguise real social relations through the exchange of things
    • This disguise, fetishism, is more than an illusion; what you see in the supermarket is the lettuce, your money, “how much,” and from that you make tangible decisions
    • This is what “appear as what they are” means
  • On pp. 166: again, we see that values arise out of exchange processes even as exchange relations increasingly converge to express value as socially necessary labor-time
    • But “producers do this without being aware of it”
  • (169) On Robinson Crusoe
    • (170) Independent man and clear relations to the objects he produces via different kinds of labor
    • Now to medieval Europe: everyone is dependent on each other
      • Labor is particular, concrete
    • (171) E.g. of labor in common, or directly associated labor: peasant family that produces all the objects they need
      • Products of collective labor do not confront each other as commodities
      • Rather, the different kinds of labor are already in their natural form social functions
  • “Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labor power in full self-awareness as one single social labor force”
    • All of characteristics of Robinson Crusoe’s labor are reproduced here, but socially instead of independently
    • (172) the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his/her labor-time
    • Labor-time plays double role:
      1. Its apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains the correct proportion between the different functions of labor and the various needs of the association
      2. Also serves as a measure of the part taken by each individual in the common labor, and of his/her share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption
  • Christianity, with its religious cult of man in the abstract, is fitting for the society that makes commodities of its products
  • [42] Classical political economy failed to see the gap between immateriality of values as congealed socially necessary labor-time and values’ representation as money –> ergo, it failed to understand the role that the proliferation of exchange played in consolidating the value form as something historically specific to capitalism
    • Hence, Marx embarks on his attack on liberal concept of freedom:
      • “freedom” of the market is not freedom, but fetishistic illusion
      • Supply and demand fluctuations generate price fluctuations around some norm, but can’t explain why (e.g.) a pair of shoes trades for 4 shirts
  • Within the chaos of the marketplace, “the labor-time socially necessary to produce [commodities] asserts itself as a regulative law of nature” –> Marx goes on to compare value with gravity; both are relations and not things, and both have to be conceptualized as immaterial but objective
  • [44] Marx shows that Robinson Crusoe (and his use by political economists) is of bad faith: sure, he starts his own little self-sustained existence, but he’s saved clothing, a pen, etc. from the ship wreck
    • The story’s use as a thought experiment only naturalized capitalism
    • It is Marx’s project to show how capitalism is historically contingent
  • [46] Bourgeois political economists are guilty of treating value as a fact of nature, not a social construction arising out of a particular mode of production
    • Marx is interested in a revolutionary transformation of society, therefore to overthrow the capitalist value-form, to construct an alternative value-structure, to build an alternative value-system that doesn’t have the character of that under capitalism
      • People too often believe that Marx universalizes/naturalizes the notion that value derives from labor input; this is incorrect — it’s a historical social product
    • The goal of communists, socialists, anarchists, etc. ought to be to find an alternative value-form that will work in terms of the social reproduction of society in a different image

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