from the books: Capital, vol. 1, 1867, Ch. 2, 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 2

  • [47] Marx’s purpose: define socially necessary conditions of capitalist commodity exchange and create a firmer ground to consider the money-form in chapter 3
  • (178) The “guardians” of commodities must place themselves in relation to each other as persons whose will resides in those objects in order for those objects to enter into relations as commodities
    • The guardians must therefore recognize each other as owners of private property (a juridical relation)
  • The content of this juridical relation (or relation of two wills) is determined by the economic relation
    • These persons exist for one another only as representatives and owners of commodities
    • (179) Moving forward, it will be shown that people (“characters,” in Marx’s words) who appear on the economic stage are merely personifications of economic relations
    • It is as bearers of these economic relations that they come into contact with one another
  • Difference between the commodity and its owner?
    • For the commodity, every other commodity matters only insofar as they are the form of appearance of its own value
    • Owner makes up for the lack in the commodity of a sense of the concrete, physical body of other commodities by his/her own 5+ senses
  • All commodities are non-use-values for their owners, and use-values for their non-owners (in market relations)
    • Commodity must change hands
    • Change of hands makes up commodities’ exchange, and this puts them in relation with each other as values and realizes them as values
    • Therefore, commodities must be realized as values before they can be realized as use-values
  • On the other hand: commodities must stand the test as use-values before they can be realized as values
  • (180) Commodities don’t confront each other as commodities, but as products and use-values only
    • because for each owner of a commodity, all other commodities are universal equivalents and vice versa
  • [47] Because commodities don’t take themselves to market, Marx wants to look at the relations between commodities and their owners (or those who take them there)
    • guardians of commodities recognize each other as owners of private property
    • This is a contract; a juridical relation that is a mirror between two wills which mirrors the economic relation
    • In this relationship, the persons exist for one another as (not people), but representatives or owners of commodities
    • It is only as the bearers of these economic relations that we come into contact with each other
  • [48] Marx is concerned not with the individuals, but the roles that those individuals fill within the market web
  • [49] David Harvey goes on about Marx’s critique of liberal bourgeoisie and its grounding of capitalism
    • Marx takes Proudhon, the anarchist, to task for merely reinscribing bourgeois legal and economic relations into “new” theories of society
    • The above critique is directly applicable to today’s rise of a more broad-based liberal human rights politics as a supposed antidote to the social and political ills of contemporary capitalism
    • “The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 is a foundational document for a bourgeois, market-based individualism and as such cannot provide a basis for a thoroughgoing critique of liberal and neoliberal capitalism”
  • Marx recaps how money crystallizes out of exchange relations
    • Money is “the historical broadening and deepening of the phenomenon of exchange” that “develops the opposition between use-value and value which is latent in the nature of the commodity”
  • (182) As soon as products have become commodities in the external relations of a community, they also, by reaction, become commodities in the internal life of the community
    • Quantitative exchange-relation is at first determined entirely by chance
    • Products become exchangeable through the mutual desire of their owners to alienate them
    • Meanwhile, the need for others’ objects of utility slowly establishes itself through repetition, which makes it a normal social process
    • Things start to get made purely to exchange, and use-value and exchange-value is clearly distinguished
  • (183) “Although gold and silver are not by nature money, money is by nature gold and silver”
    • (184) So far, we are acquainted with one function of money: to serve as the form of appearance of the value of commodities; or, as the material in which the magnitudes of their values are socially expressed
    • On the other hand, since difference between magnitudes of value is purely quantitative (socially necessary labor-time), the money commodity must be capable of purely quantitative differentiation
      • Must be divisible at will
      • Must be possible to assemble it again from its component parts
      • Ergo, gold and silver are perfect
  • Money commodities’ dual use-value
    1. Special use-value (teeth-fillings, luxury articles, etc.)
    2. Formal use-value: arises out of its specific social function
  • All other commodities are particular equivalents for money, while money is the universal equivalent for all commodities
    • We’ve seen that the money-form is merely the reflection thrown upon a single commodity by the relations between all other commodities
    • (185) The process of exchange gives tot the commodity which it has converted into money not its value, but its specific value-form
    • The fact that money can be replaced by symbols of itself led folks to wrongly assume that money is itself a mere symbol
  • (185) Difficulty lies not in comprehending that money is a commodity, but in discovering how, why, and by what means a commodity becomes money
  • (187) All other commodities express their value in a particular commodity because it is money
    • We’ve already seen from the simplest expression of value (x commodity A = y commodity B) that the thing in which the magnitude of value of another thing is represented appears to have the equivalent form independent of this relation, as a social property inherent in its nature
    • There was a process by which this false semblance became firmly established
      • i.e. the process which was completed when the universal equivalent form became identified with the natural form of a particular commodity and thus crystallized into the money-form
  • [49] The economic relation between things implies (probably bad) outcomes for relations between people
    • Economy of market exchange: we are dealing with the “private owners” of “alienable things”
      • This implies: we have “persons who are independent of each other”
      • Alienable: things are in themselves external to humans, or freely exchangeable
      • This implies that the owners are free of any personal attachment to things they own
      • Which finally implies: social relationships of “reciprocal isolation and foreignness” that are unique to capitalism and a concomitant of juridical ownership of commodities
  • On page 183 in Capital, Marx makes a point about the patriarchal family, Inca state, ancient India commune getting broken down by market exchange via repetition of exchange
    • David Harvey remarks about these historically dubious claims again, but “its logical content is important” for demonstrating that what is socially necessary is “an adequate form of appearance of value”
    • This “appearance of value” form is best served by precious metals like gold and silver by virtue of their natural qualities
  • Money commodity internalizes a duality because it is both:
    1. A commodity in the ordinary sense of being the product of labor, and
    2. It acquires a formal use-value, arising out of its specific social function
      • In this formal social function, “the money-form is merely the reflection thrown upon a single commodity by the relations between all other commodities”
  • The Symbolic economy
    • [51] Marx opens the door for this current topic when he states it is possible to replace money commodity by mere symbols of itself
  • “The Magic of money”
    • (on 187) Once money exists, then commodities find a means of measuring their value easily to hand as if the fold drawn “from the bowels of the earth” is “the direct incarnation of human labor”
  • [52] Finally, a last point is when Marx refers to human’s relation as “purely atomistic” and that “their own relations of production assume a material shape which is independent of their control and their conscious individual action”
    • This sounds a lot like Adam Smith’s vision of a perfectly functioning market whose hidden hand guides individual decisions
    • Smith’s ideal: State would create institutional framework for perfectly functioning markets and private property and then watch as its and the people’s wealth sky rocket
      • Personal intention (greed, social mission, etc.) didn’t matter because the hidden hand of the market would do all the work
  • Conundrum, then: Marx attacks Proudhon for acceptance of bourgeois liberalism while he seemingly accepts the liberal theory of property ownership, the reciprocity and equivalence of non-coercive market exchange between juridical individuals, and even the hidden hand of the market
    • But, because he’s doing a critique, he must accept the theses of liberalism in order to show that the classical political economists were profoundly wrong even in their own terms
    • So, instead of showing that the system is broken by political forces, he shows that even if the economy functioned perfectly the way the liberal economists have it, it would only enrich the wealthy and oppress the poor

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