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Old 07-07-2017, 01:19 PM   #1
einbert
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Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx



This discussion series works to serve alongside a reading of Capital by Karl Marx. You can obtain a copy at your local library or bookstore, or online bookseller. You can also access the text online for free here:

Capital by Karl Marx
https://www.marxists.org/archive/mar...c1/ch01.htm#S1

In the first lecture, there is one hour dedicated to introducing the work including explaining the structure and method of Marx. The ideas behind Capital are that we can scientifically analyze the system of capitalist production by deconstructing it into various dialectical relationships. Here is one example of how that works, from Chapter One:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chapter One
1. The two poles of the expression of value. Relative form and Equivalent form

The whole mystery of the form of value lies hidden in this elementary form. Its analysis, therefore, is our real difficulty.

Here two different kinds of commodities (in our example the linen and the coat), evidently play two different parts. The linen expresses its value in the coat; the coat serves as the material in which that value is expressed. The former plays an active, the latter a passive, part. The value of the linen is represented as relative value, or appears in relative form. The coat officiates as equivalent, or appears in equivalent form.

The relative form and the equivalent form are two intimately connected, mutually dependent and inseparable elements of the expression of value; but, at the same time, are mutually exclusive, antagonistic extremes – i.e., poles of the same expression. They are allotted respectively to the two different commodities brought into relation by that expression. It is not possible to express the value of linen in linen. 20 yards of linen = 20 yards of linen is no expression of value. On the contrary, such an equation merely says that 20 yards of linen are nothing else than 20 yards of linen, a definite quantity of the use value linen. The value of the linen can therefore be expressed only relatively – i.e., in some other commodity. The relative form of the value of the linen presupposes, therefore, the presence of some other commodity – here the coat – under the form of an equivalent. On the other hand, the commodity that figures as the equivalent cannot at the same time assume the relative form. That second commodity is not the one whose value is expressed. Its function is merely to serve as the material in which the value of the first commodity is expressed.

In the second hour, the first chapter, Commodities is examined. The chapter largely consists of defining and exploring some of the key terms related to the capitalist method of production, starting with commodities. Use-value, exchange-value, value, and many other terms are introduced which Marx will use to build his framework.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBazR59SZXk

On technology and the time value of labour:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chapter One
Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it, the more idle and unskilful the labourer, the more valuable would his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production. The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogeneous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour power. The total labour 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 labour 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 labour 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 labour 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. The introduction of power-looms into England probably reduced by one-half the labour required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth. The hand-loom weavers, as a matter of fact, continued to require the same time as before; but for all that, the product of one hour of their labour represented after the change only half an hour’s social labour, and consequently fell to one-half its former value.

We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour time socially necessary for its production.[9] Each individual commodity, in this connexion, is to be considered as an average sample of its class.[10] Commodities, therefore, in which equal quantities of labour 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 labour time necessary for the production of the one is to that necessary for the production of the other. “As values, all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labour time.”[11]
You can see how the power of the latest information revolution and economic globalization movements of trade and technology have amplified this effect, far more than power-looms could ever have hoped to. Workers are now more productive than ever but they are experiencing extreme stagflation due to a number of factors including lack of labor representation in the political sphere in the United States.


http://www.epi.org/publication/colle...ivity-pay-gap/

On skilled labour versus unskilled labour:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chapter One
Productive activity, if we leave out of sight its special form, viz., the useful character of the labour, is nothing but the expenditure of human labour 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 labour. They are but two different modes of expending human labour power. Of course, this labour 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 labour in the abstract, the expenditure of human labour 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,[14] so here with mere human labour. It is the expenditure of simple labour power, i.e., of the labour power which, on an average, apart from any special development, exists in the organism of every ordinary individual. Simple average labour, it is true, varies in character in different countries and at different times, but in a particular society it is given. Skilled labour counts only as simple labour intensified, or rather, as multiplied simple labour, a given quantity of skilled being considered equal to a greater quantity of simple labour. Experience shows that this reduction is constantly being made. A commodity may be the product of the most skilled labour, but its value, by equating it to the product of simple unskilled labour, represents a definite quantity of the latter labour alone.[15] The different proportions in which different sorts of labour are reduced to unskilled labour 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 labour to be unskilled, simple labour; by this we do no more than save ourselves the trouble of making the reduction.
I think this is a critical distinction that is really lost on modern Americans. Middle class people living a comfortable lifestyle see themselves as aligned with the owning class, even though their interests really lie in solidarity with the working class which provides a stable, strong environment for all. In fact, skilled laborers are losing even more value of their labor to the owning class.

Use-value versus exchange-value:
Quote:
The utility of a thing makes it a use value.[4] 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 labour 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 of commodities.[5] 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,[6] 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.[7] Let us consider the matter a little more closely.


A given commodity, e.g., a quarter of wheat is exchanged for x blacking, y silk, or z gold, &c. – in short, for other commodities in the most different proportions. Instead of one exchange value, the wheat has, therefore, a great many. But since x blacking, y silk, or z gold &c., each represents the exchange value of one quarter of wheat, x blacking, y silk, z gold, &c., must, as exchange values, be replaceable by each other, or equal to each other. Therefore, first: the valid exchange values of a given commodity express something equal; secondly, exchange value, generally, is only the mode of expression, the phenomenal form, of something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it.

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.

A simple geometrical illustration will make this clear. In order to calculate and compare the areas of rectilinear figures, we decompose them into triangles. But the area of the triangle itself is expressed by something totally different from its visible figure, namely, by half the product of the base multiplied by the altitude. In the same way the exchange values of commodities must be capable of being expressed in terms of something common to them all, of which thing they represent a greater or less quantity.

This common “something” cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any other natural property of commodities. Such properties claim our attention only in so far as they affect the utility of those commodities, make them use values. But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterised by a total abstraction from use value. Then one use value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient quantity. Or, as old Barbon says,

“one sort of wares are as good as another, if the values be equal. There is no difference or distinction in things of equal value ... An hundred pounds’ worth of lead or iron, is of as great value as one hundred pounds’ worth of silver or gold.”

As use values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange values they are merely different quantities, and consequently do not contain an atom of use value.

If then we leave out of consideration the use value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour. But even the product of labour 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 labour of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other definite kind of productive labour. Along with the useful qualities of the products themselves, we put out of sight both the useful character of the various kinds of labour embodied in them, and the concrete forms of that labour; there is nothing left but what is common to them all; all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract.
https://www.marxists.org/archive/mar...-c1/ch01.htm#8

There's more good stuff in Chapter One, those are just the items that jumped out to me on first read. I didn't even touch on the Fetishism of commodities, which is obviously a very pertinent issue with modern culture and modern consumerism. Post your thoughts on Chapter One: Commodities and your impression of Capital in general so far, and I'll do a writeup of Chapter Two: Exchange in about a week (so I'll try to post around 7/14/17).

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in Marx or economics. I do have some background studying economics and business topics at the undergrad level (not majoring in them though) but I highly encourage you to grapple with the material and come to your own conclusions. Hopefully we can get some good positive discussion going as well. I'm stretching it out so there's no need to rush, but I'm open to feedback on how to proceed going forward.

Last edited by einbert; 07-07-2017 at 01:32 PM.
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Old 07-07-2017, 03:56 PM   #2
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Let's not. Bring back Richard Marx imo:

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Old 07-07-2017, 06:33 PM   #3
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Holy **** thank god grunge happened.
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Old 07-07-2017, 06:35 PM   #4
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

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Old 07-07-2017, 06:59 PM   #5
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Never read Capital, though have read other Marx and many later Marxists, like Gramschi. It's on my list of books I should probably read but will die not having read.
Reading Marx can be illuminating. Reading lesser intellects argue about about marx is as exciting as obscure theological debates.
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Old 07-07-2017, 07:31 PM   #6
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

This OP is a tortured analysis. The last paragraph in chapter 1 basically sums it up and is really all that needs to read to understand what the chapter is discussing:
Quote:
A thing can be a use value, without having value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour. Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, &c. A thing can be useful, and the product of human labour, without being a commodity. Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, 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. (And not only for others, without more. The mediaeval peasant produced quit-rent-corn for his feudal lord and tithe-corn for his parson. But neither the quit-rent-corn nor the tithe-corn became commodities by reason of the fact that they had been produced for others. To become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it will serve as a use value, by means of an exchange.)[12] Lastly nothing can have value, without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value.
Nothing deep or profound actually.
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Old 07-08-2017, 03:47 AM   #7
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

In. Good idea
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Old 07-09-2017, 02:45 AM   #8
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

einbert,

If you really want other people to read along and talk about it as we go, we'll need more notice and for a pace to be set more or less. I might do it, but I'm in the middle of one book and am kinda set on the next two.
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Old 07-09-2017, 03:11 AM   #9
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

never read the original, but will change that.

no time this week though, will join next week.
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Old 07-09-2017, 05:12 AM   #10
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Quote:
Originally Posted by microbet View Post
einbert,

If you really want other people to read along and talk about it as we go, we'll need more notice and for a pace to be set more or less. I might do it, but I'm in the middle of one book and am kinda set on the next two.
Actually yes, 2 weeks to read and discuss chapter 1 would be better. Not read it for years and didn't understand it.
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Old 07-09-2017, 07:06 AM   #11
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Quote:
Originally Posted by adios View Post
This OP is a tortured analysis. The last paragraph in chapter 1 basically sums it up and is really all that needs to read to understand what the chapter is discussing:
Nothing deep or profound actually.
loooooooooooooool.

That paragraph sums up basically nothing.
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Old 07-09-2017, 07:12 AM   #12
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

One of the most interesting ideas in Des Capital is fetishisation of capital.

Capital is not a thing of itself, it is a relationship between men mediated through things.

Yet capital seems to take on an objective existence independent of this relationship (reification), to the extent that capital can create itself via interest.

If you want to get to the knub of Marxist sociology read what he says about capital and interest in the context of social relations.
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Old 07-09-2017, 07:50 AM   #13
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Quote:
Originally Posted by O.A.F.K.1.1 View Post
loooooooooooooool.

That paragraph sums up basically nothing.
Looooool at you because actually it does. Chapter 1 is about, a whole lot of nothing. No comments from you on Einbert's OP I notice highlighting all the insightful and profound discussion. Please enlighten us with your in depth analysis.

Last edited by adios; 07-09-2017 at 07:57 AM.
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Old 07-09-2017, 08:22 AM   #14
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Quote:
Originally Posted by adios View Post
Looooool at you because actually it does. Chapter 1 is about, a whole lot of nothing. No comments from you on Einbert's OP I notice highlighting all the insightful and profound discussion. Please enlighten us with your in depth analysis.
Thinking that paragraph sums up anything is just pure absolute cool story bro.

You obviously dont even have the beginning of an inkling of a clue what it is you are reading.

You do realise that only a small amount of Chap 1 is posted inline right?

If you want a paragraph that sums up Chap 1 (which is silly becasue no single paragraph will) very arguably the best shot is this:

Quote:
It is, however, just this ultimate money form of the world of commodities that actually conceals, instead of disclosing, the social character of private labour, and the social relations between the individual producers. When I state that coats or boots stand in a relation to linen, because it is the universal incarnation of abstract human labour, the absurdity of the statement is self-evident. Nevertheless, when the producers of coats and boots compare those articles with linen, or, what is the same thing, with gold or silver, as the universal equivalent, they express the relation between their own private labour and the collective labour of society in the same absurd form.

Last edited by O.A.F.K.1.1; 07-09-2017 at 08:32 AM.
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Old 07-09-2017, 08:44 AM   #15
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Listened to first half of Harvey lecture, an excellent introduction, really helps to place the initial parts of the book about production of commodities in the wider global capitalist landscape, looking forward to actually completing the book and seeing the whole thing in context.

Started on the very first part of chapter 1.
To explain the labour theory of value he uses the example of diamonds being v difficult to obtain and requires a huge amount of labour time, hence they have great value. So the value of a commodity is dependent on the amount of socially necessary labour time required to produce it. That labour time is transferable to any other commodity, hence exchange value doesn't have 'value' it is a comparison of the social labour time between commodities being exchanged... I think.
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Old 07-09-2017, 09:20 AM   #16
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value.

How would 'uselessness' be defined in the above, what examples would apply here?
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Old 07-09-2017, 09:28 AM   #17
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Quote:
Every one knows, if he knows nothing else, that commodities have a value form common to them all, and presenting a marked contrast with the varied bodily forms of their use values. I mean their money form. Here, however, a task is set us, the performance of which has never yet even been attempted by bourgeois economy, the task of tracing the genesis of this money form, of developing the expression of value implied in the value relation of commodities, from its simplest, almost imperceptible outline, to the dazzling money-form. By doing this we shall, at the same time, solve the riddle presented by money.
.
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Old 07-09-2017, 10:05 AM   #18
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati_Time_Store

Regarding the labor theory of value, this is pretty interesting. An Anarchist in 1827 had a functioning time store that traded hours of labor.

IRL I have a labor trading arrangement. Yesterday I was helping someone replace his roof. He sometimes helps me on my job.
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Old 07-09-2017, 01:57 PM   #19
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomj View Post
If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value.

How would 'uselessness' be defined in the above, what examples would apply here?
Harvey answers, anything that can't be sold basically.
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Old 07-11-2017, 05:41 PM   #20
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Having now listened to the Harvey lecture in full and returning to relative/equivalent value, it is indeed understandable when thought of in dialectic terms. I think it's worth trying to write this in my own terms to help understand it and provoke some discussion.

To expand a little on einbert's quotation in the OP: Marx uses the example of linen and coat. These 2 inseparable commodities are brought together by labour processes. The value of the linen is expressed in the coat - the linen takes the relative form in this case. Here I would consider this as historical labour contained 'within' the coat, a residue of previous labour. The coat appears dormant, passive, and so takes the form of equivalent value. However since the 2 commodities are wound up within the same expression, ie. 20 yards of linen = coat, Marx reverses the equation. Here is his proof that the 2 commodities are polar opposites and are mutually exclusive, one must be equivalent, one relative. When reversed, the linen now takes the equivalent form and the coat the relative form. This seems a little odd, historically we expect value to flow from linen to coat where the coat assumes the value of the linen. But when looked at dialectically, it makes sense because there are in fact 2 commodities, the coat isn't simply linen with extra labour value added. Note the term 'accidental position':

Whether, then, a commodity assumes the relative form, or the opposite equivalent form, depends entirely upon its accidental position in the expression of value – that is, upon whether it is the commodity whose value is being expressed or the commodity in which value is being expressed.

Had to read the last sentence several times.
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Old 07-12-2017, 07:29 AM   #21
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Human labour power in motion, or human labour, creates value, but is not itself value. It becomes value only in its congealed state, when embodied in the form of some object. In order to express the value of the linen as a congelation of human labour, that value must be expressed as having objective existence, as being a something materially different from the linen itself, and yet a something common to the linen and all other commodities. The problem is already solved.

My interpretation here is the objectification of labour arises as commodities are brought to market. The value created by labour only exists in a comparative form, as a means of exchange with other values created by equivalent labour. Hence the social character of capitalist production. Value is market value and as Harvey points out, it is this value system that is to be over turned if alternative value systems are to exist.
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Old 07-12-2017, 03:02 PM   #22
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Re: Let's Study: Capital by Karl Marx

Exchange value is a representation of something else, but one of the key elements of Marxist sociology, and its much better to think of Marx as a sociologist, is how this representation become the object in capitalist social relations.

The representation or mitigation supplants the thing it represents, and men externalise it and see it as fundamental part of reality that is utterly independent of themselves even though in every way it is a symbol/creation of men relative to a time and place of men. This is the fetishisation of capital.
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