Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter I: Commodities

I. Use-value and exchange-value. —The substance of value. —Magnitude of value, labor-time socially necessary.
II. Two-fold aspect of labor. —Two-fold social character of specific labor. —Reduction of all labor to a certain quantity of simple labor.
III. Value, a social reality, appears only in exchange. —The form of value.
IV. The material appearance of the social character of labor.

The commodity, that is to say, an object that, instead of being consumed by the producer, is destined to be exchanged, to be sold, is the elementary form of the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production reigns. The analysis of the commodity must, consequently be the starting point of our study.

I.—Use Value and Exchange Value.

Let us take two objects, a table and some wheat, for instance. By reason of their particular qualities, each of these two objects serves to satisfy distinct needs, both then are useful to the man who utilizes them.

To become a commodity, an object must be, first, a useful thing, a thing that contributes to the satisfaction of human needs of one sort or another. The utility of a thing, utility which springs from the natural qualities of the thing, and appears in its use or consumption, makes of that thing a use-value.

Destined by him who manufactures it to satisfy the needs or the convenience of others, any object whatsoever is turned over by the producer to him to whom it is useful, to the one who wishes to use it, in exchange for another object, and by that act it becomes a commodity. The varying ratio, in which commodities of different kinds exchange for each other, constitutes their exchange-value.

The Substance of Value.

Let us consider the exchange-relation of two commodities—75 pounds of wheat, I assume are equal to 100 of pounds of iron. What does this mean? That in two different objects, wheat and iron, there exists something in common.

This common "something" cannot be any natural property of the commodities. No account is taken of their natural qualities, except in so far as these qualities give them utility, which makes them use-values; in their exchange, and it is this which characterizes the exchange- relation, men pay no heed to their respective utility, but only ask if each is present in sufficient quantity. As use-values, commodities are, before all, of different qualities; as exchange-values they can only be of different quantities.

If, then, we leave out of consideration the natural properties, the use-value, of commodities, they have only one quality left, that of being products of labor.

And so, at this stage of our analysis, in looking at a table, a house, a sack of wheat, etc., we must leave out of consideration the respective utility of these objects, their particular useful form; we have not to concern ourselves with the special productive labor of the cabinetmaker, the mason, the plowman, etc., which has given them this particular form. Disregarding thus in these forms of labor their peculiar outward appearance, there is left to them for us only their common character; they are, from this point, all reduced to an expenditure of human labor-power, that is to say, to wear and tear of man's organism, without regard to the particular form in which this power has been expended.

Results of the expenditure of human power in general, types of the same undifferentiated labor, commodities now manifest but one thing, which is that in their production labor-power has been expended, that labor is accumulated in them. In so far as they are materializations of this labor, without regard to its form, they are values. The "something" common which manifests itself in the exchange-relation or in the exchange-value of commodities, is their value.

Magnitude of Value, Labor-time Socially Necessary.

The substance of value is labor, the measure of the quantity of value is the quantity of labor, measured by its own duration, by labor-time.

The labor-time that determines the value of an article is the time socially necessary to its production, that is to say the time necessary not in a particular case, but on the average. It is the time required by any task executed with the average degree of skill and- intensity, and under the normal conditions of the given socia1 environment.

The magnitude of value of a commodity would not change, if the time necessary for its production remained constant. But the latter varies with every modification of the productiveness of labor, that is to say, with every improvement made in the processes or the external conditions by aid of which labor-power manifests itself. The productivity of labor depends then, among other things, on the average skillfulness of the workmen, on the extent and efficiency of the means of production, and on circumstances purely natural. For instance, the same quantity of labor in favorable seasons is embodied in eight bushels of wheat, and, in bad seasons, only in four.

In general, if the productiveness of labor increases, the time necessary for the production of an article diminishing, the value of that article diminishes, and inversely, if the productiveness diminishes, the value increases. But, no matter what the variations in its productiveness may be, the same labor functioning during the same time, always creates the same value; but it furnishes, in a given time, more or less use-values, objects of utility, as its, productiveness increases or diminishes.

If there are produced in the same time, thanks to a development of productiveness, two coats instead of one, each coat will continue to have the utility that it had before the rate of production was doubled; but with these two coats two men can be clothed instead of one, so that there is then an increase of material wealth; nevertheless, the value of the sum of the objects of utility thus doubled, remains constant. Two coats made in the same time that one was formerly, are worth no more than the one was before.

A variation in productivity, which renders labor more fruitful, increases the quantity of articles turned out by it, and, consequently, increases material wealth; but it does not change the value of this quantity thus materially increased if the total labor-time employed in its manufacture is the same.

We know the substance of value: it is labor.

We know its measure: it is the duration of labor.

A thing may be a use-value and not be a value. This is the case when it is useful to man without being the result of his labor. Examples of this are, the air, natural meadows, virgin soil, etc. A use-value has value only so far as human labor is stored up in it. For instance, the water that flows in a river, although useful in many ways to man, has, nevertheless, no value; but if, by the use of buckets or pipes, it is raised to the fifth floor, it at once acquires value, because to bring it there, a certain quantity of human strength has been expended.

A thing may be useful and a product of labor without being a commodity. Any one who, by his product, satisfies his own needs, creates only a use-value for himself. To produce commodities, it is necessary to produce use-values with the object of turning them over to the consumption of others by the medium of exchange.

Finally, no object can be a value if it is not useful; if an object is useless, the labor that it contains, having been uselessly expended, does not create value.

II.—Two-fold Aspect of Labor.

The labors of the cabinet-maker, the mason, the plowman, etc., create value by virtue of their common quality of being human labor; but they form a table, a house, wheat, etc., in a word different use-values, only because they have different qualities.

Every kind of labor is, viewed from one side, a physical expenditure of human strength and forms, by virtue of this identity of nature, the value of commodities. Viewed from the other side, every kind of labor is an expenditure of human strength under such or such a productive form determined by the particular object to be attained, and, by this quality of being diverse useful labor, it produces use-values or useful things.

Two-fold Social Character of Labor.

To all the different kinds of useful objects necessitated by the variety of human needs, there correspond as many different kinds of labor. To satisfy the divers needs of man, labor presents itself, now under one useful form, now under another, and thus we have an innumerable multitude of industries.

Although carried on independently of each other, according to the will and for the private account of their producers, without apparent connection, these various specific kinds of useful labor manifest themselves as mutually supplementary parts of labor in general destined to satisfy all social needs. The individual trades, each of which corresponds at most to a single category of needs and the indispensable variety of which is not the result of any arrangement, form, taken as a whole, as it were, the links in the chain of the social system of the division of labor adapting itself to the infinite diversity of human needs.

In this way, with men working for each other, their specific kinds of labor assume, by virtue of that fact alone a social character; now these specific kinds of labor also have a social character on account of their mutual resemblance due to their quality of being human labor in general, this resemblance appearing only in exchange, that is to say in a social relation that makes them confront each other upon a footing of equivalence, in spite of their natural differences.

Reduction of all Labor to a Certain Quantity of Simple Labor.

The various transformations of natural substances and. their appropriation to various human needs, which constitute the whole task of mankind, are more or less toilsome in the doing. The different kinds of labor that result require more or less skill.

But when we speak of human labor, from the point of view of value, we regard it only as simple labor, that is to say, as the expenditure of simple labor-power, the power that any ordinary man, without special training, possesses in his organism. Simple average labor, it is true, varies in character in different countries and at different times; but it is always fixed in a given society. Superior labor is only simple labor multiplied; it may always be reduced to a greater quantity of simple labor: a day, for instance, of superior or skilled labor to two days of simple labor.

Experience shows that this reduction of all labor to a certain quantity of one homogeneous labor is made everywhere, every day. Commodities varying the most widely are uniformly expressed in money, that is to say, in a certain mass of gold or silver. By so expressing them, the different kinds of labor of which these commodities are the products, however skilled the labor may be, are reduced, in one ratio or another, to the product of one identical kind of labor, the labor that furnishes gold or silver, which are represented by all, the difference being in quantity only.

III.—Value, a Social Reality, Appears Only in Exchange.

Commodities are commodities only because they are two things at once, objects of utility and embodiments of value. They can then enter into circulation only when they appear in a two-fold form, their natural form and their value-form.

Taken by itself, a commodity, in so far as it is an object of value, remains intangible; we may go on, repeating, indeed, that it is human labor materialized, but though we reduce this value to a mere abstraction, not an atom of matter will be found in it; afterwards as before, it has only one palpable form, its natural form as an object of utility.

If we remember that the reality of commodities in so far as they are values, consists in this, that they are expressions of one identical social substance, human labor, it becomes evident that this reality, being purely social, can manifest itself only in social transactions. The character of value appears in the mutual relations of commodities, and in these relations only. It is in exchange that the products of labor manifest a social existence, as values, under one identical form, distinct from their material existence, under various forms, as objects of utility. A commodity expresses its value by the fact that it appears capable of being exchanged for another commodity, by the fact, in a word, that it appears as an exchange-value, but it expresses it in this way only.

If value manifests itself in the exchange relation, it is not because exchange begets value; it is, on the contrary, the value of the commodity which controls its exchange-relations, which determines its relations with other commodities. A comparison will make this clear.

A sugar-loaf is heavy, but its appearance in itself does not indicate that it is heavy, and still less does it tell us what its weight is. Let us take various pieces of iron of ascertained weight. In itself, the material form of the iron is as little indicative of weight as is that of the sugar. Placed in the balance with the sugar-loaf, these pieces of iron will make its weight known to us. Thus, the magnitude of its weight, which did not appear when we considered the sugar-loaf by itself, manifests itself when it is brought into relation with the iron; but it is not the relation between the weight of the sugar and the iron that is the cause of the existence of the weight of the sugar; it is, on the contrary, the weight that determines this relation or ratio.

This relation of the iron to the sugar is possible only because these two objects, so different from the point of view of their utility, have a common property, weight; and, in this relationship, the iron is regarded as a body that represents only weight. No regard is paid to its other properties. It serves only as a measure of weight. Just so, in an expression of value, such as, 20 yards of linen = 1 coat, the second commodity represents only value; the particular utility of the coat is, in this case, left out of consideration, and it serves only as a measure of value of the linen. Here, however, the resemblance ceases. In the expression of the weight of the sugar-loaf, the iron represents a quality common to the two bodies, but a natural quality, their weight; in the expression of value of the linen compared to the coat, the coat represents indeed a quality common to the two objects, but this is not a natural quality—it is a quality whose origin is purely social, their value.

A commodity which is a two-fold thing, an object of utility and a value, appears then to be what it is, a twofold thing, only when it is no longer considered in isolation, only when through its relationship with another commodity, by means of the possibility of being exchanged, it gives to its value a perceptible form, the form of exchange-value, distinct from its natural form.

The Form of Value.

In so far as they are values, all commodities are expressions of one identical substance, human labor, and are replaceable the one by the other. A commodity is, consequently, exchangeable with any other commodity whatever. In practice; the immediate exchange of all commodities is impossible. One commodity alone is found to be immediately exchangeable with all others. Everybody knows that commodities have a particular value- form, the money-form.

This money form rises from the simple form of the exchange-ratio, which is 20 yards of linen = 1 coat, or 75 pounds of wheat = 100 pounds of iron, etc.

In the beginning, any commodity whatever is thus exchanged for any other and different commodity. This is the fact in the case of isolated exchanges, where one commodity accidentally expresses its value in any other. Then, one particular commodity is exchanged, no longer by chance for one other commodity, but regularly for various others. 20 yards of linen, I assume, are equal, alternately, to one coat, 75 pounds of wheat, 100 pounds of iron, etc.; one commodity then expresses its value in a series of commodities, while before it expressed it in one only.

Up to this point, it is always one commodity only which expresses its value—in the first case in one other commodity, in the second case in many others. Each commodity has to find its own form or forms of value; there is not as yet one form of value, or value-form, common to all commodities.

In the preceding formula, we see that 20 yards of linen = 1 coat, or 75 pounds of wheat, or 100 pounds of iron, or ...., etc. The commodity, whose value is to be expressed, does not change,—it is always linen,—but the commodities that express its value vary,—it is now a coat, now some wheat, now some iron, etc. One single commodity, linen, may have as many mirrors of its value as there are other different commodities. And, therefore, should we wish, on the contrary, one identical mirror to reflect the value of all commodities, let us transpose our example. We now have: 1 coat = 20 yards of linen, 75 pounds of wheat = 20 yards of linen, 100 pounds of iron = 20 yards of linen, etc. This formula, which is only the preceding formula reversed, and the preceding formula being only the development of the simple form of the exchange-relation, this gives us at last, for all commodities, a uniform expression of value. All now have one common measure of value, linen, which, being immediately exchangeable with them, is for all the form in which their value is incarnated.

Commodities, from the point of view of value, are purely socially things, and so their value-form must assume a form socially valid. And the value-form has attained stability only from the moment when it has become attached to one special kind of commodities, to a unique object universally recognized. This unique object, the official value-form, might, theoretically, be any commodity whatever. The special commodity, with the natural form of which value has gradually become identified, is gold. Let us substitute gold in our last formula for linen, and we get the money form of value. All commodities are reduced to a certain quantity of gold.

Before Its historical conquest of this social monopoly of the value-form, gold was a commodity like all others. It functions to-day as money confronting all other commodities, only because it formerly played, beside them, the role of a commodity. Like them all, it appeared at first accidentally in isolated exchanges. Little by little it came to function, within broader or narrower limits, as a general measure of value. At the present time, it is exclusively by the use of it as a medium, that the owners of commodities exchange their products for others.

The money form of value now seems to be its natural form. If we say that wheat, a coat, or boots have a certain relation to linen, as the measure of value, as the general incarnation of human labor, the striking strangeness of this proposition is at once obvious. When the producers of these commodities, instead of comparing them to linen, compare them, though it comes to the same thing, to gold or silver, the thing is no longer astonishing. A commodity does not appear to have become money because other commodities express their value in it, but, quite the opposite, commodities appear to express their value in it because it is money.

IV.—The Material Appearance of the Social Character of Labor.

This money form or money tends then to give a false idea of the relations of the producers of commodities. These relations appear as relations of the products that are brought together to be exchanged. For this purpose their values are compared, that is to say the labor that they embody, though of different kinds, is compared by virtue of its quality as homogeneous human labor. Thus there is attributed to these various kinds of labor and their products a social outward appearance distinct from their natural appearance.

And the products of labor which, in themselves, are things simple and easy to understand, become complex, full of subtleties, enigmatical, as soon as they are regarded as objects of value apart from their physical nature, as soon as, in a word, they become commodities.

Exchange-value, which is in truth only a particular social manner of estimating the labor expended in the making of an object, and which has, consequently, only a social reality, has become so familar to everyone that it seems to be, like the money-form, in the case of gold and silver, an essential property of objects.

Appearing in the historical period in which the mercantile mode of production holds sway, the character of value has taken on the appearance of a material element of things, inseparable from them and eternal; while the fact is there are modes of production in which the social form of the products of labor is identified with their natural form instead of being distinct from it, in which products appear as objects having various uses and not as commodities reciprocally exchangeable.

This material appearance disguising a purely social character, this illusion that it is a natural property of things to exchange for each other in definite proportions, transforms, in the eyes of the producers, their own social movement, their personal relations, relations assumed with a view to the exchange of their products, into a movement of the things themselves, a movement that leads them, so far are they from being able to control it. Production and its relations, creations of man, rule man instead of being ruled by him.

An analogous fact may be found in the hazy region of the religious world. There, the products of the human brain become Gods and assume the aspect of independent beings, provided with particular bodies and in communication with men and with each other. It is just the same with the products of man's hands in the mercantile world.