My Personal Very Own Introduction to Capital, Volume 1
Not that anyone asked me, and particularly not that anyone not asking me has ever stopped me from doing anything, but I thought I would provide my own introduction to Volume 1. The usual disclaimers apply-- I'm right, or pretty close to right, or closer to right than anyone else, or almost anyone else. Those who really understand Marx will agree that I'm right, or pretty close to right, or closer to right than almost anyone else, except, of course themselves. And I agree with them. All of them.
When Marx is going through all the iterations of value, of the exchange forms, relative and equivalent, what is he doing? He is engaging, in essence, a single question: "How is it that the usefulness of an object, a use-value, gets translated into, and expressed as, the exchangeable value of all other objects?"
How does this occur? What makes this process "work"? What property do all these articles have that makes them exchangeable, that is expressed in the process of exchange? Well, we can say, these are all products of human labor. Indeed. But not just any human labor; not just any human labor is associated with production not just of , but for exchange?
We are asking what makes them "equivalent" or "equivalentable"? And that is human labor expressed as labor-time. For value, for production of all objects as commodities, as values to occur, labor itself must be socially organized as value-producing.
Now if labor is organized as value-producing, as itself a value, and commodities can exchange based on the labor-time required for their production, or reproduction, then labor also exchanges for values equal to its own time of reproduction.
Yet, the characteristic of the human labor process is that it can produce surplus, more than is required for its simple subsistence, its maintenance, in a "laboring day." So in exchanging the means of reproduction for this human labor, the capitalist obtains "free" the power of labor to produce surplus values, value greater than that needed to reproduce the laborer as a wage-laborer.
Marx repeatedly makes the criticism that political economists never ask why, how labor presents itself, is forced to present itself in just that form-- as a commodity, as a value-producing commodity, that has no use for the laborers other than its use in the exchange process.
Indeed, the political economists couldn't ask that without engaging the historical process of turning labor into wage-labor, and without encountering the limits to capitalist accumulation intrinsic to the existence of capital itself.
And then, as they say in the racing business, "They're off. It's a run for the roses."
August 26, 2012