1. For all the complexity in and of those awe and fear inspiring first chapters of Capital, Marx really isn't trying to complicate matters. He's engaged in a radical distillation, almost but not quite a simplification, of the moments of value expression; of the commodity as the condition of social labor.
Marx is not engaged in creating an abstract model of capitalism; Capital is no thought experiment. The method, the examination of capital as it comes into being is more of a decomposition, a pulling apart, both rending and rendering the tissues of accumulation, by "pushing" the commodity through the iterations of the forms of value-- forms that can only be expressed in and to the universe of commodities; a universe where value and the expansion of value are the organizing principles of social reproduction; a universe such as ours.
Much has been made by many of Marx's method of abstraction, some of it has been made by Marx himself. However, the "abstraction," such that it is, exists in and only because of its concrete expression in the conditions of production. If the production of commodities as useful objects is a complex product, developed and refined through the applications of research, technique, energy, the production of the commodity as value is but a single process, the appropriation of human labor power in its acute, clarified manifestation as time. Abstract labor is the concrete of capital.
From this fusion, this "two-fold" configuration of labor, Marx draws two definitions, two practical measures of wealth: "An increase in the quantity of use-values is an increase of material wealth," and (in his Economic Manuscripts) "wealth is the disposition over time."
2. The question, or one of the questions, Marx uses as scalpel in his exploration is: How is it that the use value of an object can be expressed as the value in exchange with all other objects? What generates, not simply equivalence, but transformation of use into exchange, of each into the other? One answer Marx gives is that all the commodities share a common trait, a common quality, which provides a platform for measurement, ratios, exchange-- human labor.
It's not just human labor that endows these objects with the powers of exchange. It's the condition of that labor itself, as deprived, dispossessed; as useless other than as a means of exchange; useless other than as value exchanged for the commodities necessary to its subsistence, the conditions of its own reproduction as a commodity.
This leads Marx, as opposed to political economists, to identify the real task of critique-- to expose "Why labour is represented by the value of its product and labour time by the magnitude of that value."
Marx gets there from here where he states: "Every product of labour is, in all states of society, a use-value; but it is only at a definite historical epoch in a society's development that such a product becomes a commodity, viz., at the epoch when the labour spent on the production of a useful article become expressed as one of the objective qualities of that article, i.e. as its value."
Then the production of useful articles, material wealth, is subjugated to the need for the accumulation of value, time claimed, time sold, time absorbed. The aggrandizement of labor-time pulls the expansion of material wealth along in its wake, yet the wealth is always produced in an inadequacy of time, in the diminishing of time, in its loss.
The material objects carry the accumulation of value through the only process by which that value can be expressed-- in exchanges with other commodities. Value eats time.."the appropriation of ever more and more wealth in the abstract becomes the sole motive of his operations."
We move from the commodity as the condition of living labor to labor-commodity as the determinant of value. We get the means of production organized as capital, appropriating labor-time's capacity for surplus as a "self-expansion," as valorisation, as accumulation of nothing other than the alienated essence of time, money. We've reached M-C-M'. We are ready to begin.
October 15, 2013