Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter II: Exchange

The relations of the owners of commodities, and the conditions of these relations.—The exchange-relation involves necessarily the money-form.—The money-form attaches itself to the precious metals.

The Relations of the Owners of Commodities and the Conditions of these Relations.

Commodities cannot go to market all alone and conduct their own exchanges. In order that these objects may enter into relation with each other as commodities, their owners or guardians must place themselves in relation to one another as persons, and must act in such a way that each does not appropriate the commodity of the other, and part with his own, except by means of an act done by mutual consent. For this alienation to be reciprocal, they must then tacitly recognize each other as the private proprietors of the things alienated. This juridical relation, which takes the form of a contract, is only the relation between two wills, and is the reflex of the economic relation. The persons here exist for one another merely as representatives of the commodities they possess.

For the owner of a commodity who wishes to exchange it for another, this commodity is not a use-value, an object of utility; if it was useful to him he would not seek to get rid of it. The only utility the trader finds in his commodity is that it is capable of being useful to others, that it is, in consequence, an instrument of exchange, that it is a depository of value. He wishes, therefore, to exchange it for other commodities whose use-value is capable of satisfying his personal needs.

All commodities are non-use-values for their owners, and use-values for those who do not own them, and so they must change hands. This changing of hands is exactly what constitutes their exchange. Now the latter brings them into relation with each other as values. Only after their exchange do they become use-values for their new owners, who have taken them with a view to their utility. Hence commodities must manifest themselves as values before they can be realized as use-values.

On the other hand, their use-value must be demonstrated before they can be relized as values; for they are realized as values only because it is demonstrated that the labor expended in their production has been put forth under a form useful to others; and this is demonstrated only when they are brought face to face with some one desirous to own them with a view to their utility; this is demonstrated, in one word, only by their exchange.

To sum up, it is only when they have utility that commodities can appear as values. But, they must have already appeared as values before manifesting their utility. How can these contradictory conditions for the owners of commodities be satisfied?

The Exchange-Relations Involves Necessarily the Money-Form.

In this situation, commodities can show their value and their quantity of value, only when they are placed upon a footing of equality with a certain quantity of a useful thing whose value is already demonstrated. Two commodities manifest their value by their comparison with a third commodity whose utility, already recognized, gives bodily form to the value of the two others. This third commodity, the value-form of the others, becomes money, as we have seen in the preceding chapter. It is the exchange-relation which necessarily involves the money-form.

The historical development of production and exchange has imprinted, more and more, upon the products of labor the character of commodities, of things produced for others; a larger and ever larger portion of useful objects has been produced intentionally to be exchanged, that is to say that the objects have been regarded, not from the point of view of their utility, but merely as values, even in their production. In order to effect the exchange with a view to which they were made, it must be possible to compare their respective values, and this comparison can be made only by the aid of another commodity. The requirements of commerce have thus given birth to a palpable form, enabling us to compare objects as values.

This palpable form which has attached itself, first to one commodity, then to another, has ended by attaching itself exclusively to one particular kind of commodity. By common consent, one special commodity has been set apart from all others, and serves as an exponent of their values. The natural form of this commodity is socially established as the incarnation of value. It functions as money, it becomes money.

The Money-Form Attaches Itself to the Precious Metals.

Chance decided in the first place the kind of commodity in which the money-form fixed itself, but this form soon attached itself to commodities whose natural properties fitted them for this social function, that is to say, to the precious metals. In fact, all the different pieces or samples of these metals are identical in their material qualities, and they alone of such substances are capable of being prepared in such forms (coins) as are adapted to the manifestation of value, fitted to serve as palpable images of homogeneous human labor. Moreover, as commodities differ as values only in quantity, in order to adapt itself to every slightest variation in quantity, the money commodity must be susceptible of quantitative differences; now, gold and silver are divisible at will.

The use-value of the gold and silver transformed into the money commodity, becomes two-fold—besides their utility as commodities (gold serves as the raw material for many articles), they have, in consequence of their role as money, a peculiar utility.

The social relation of exchange, which transforms gold and silver into money, does not give them their value, which they had before becoming money, but only gives them this special value-form. Because we know that gold has this special value-form, the money-form, which renders it immediately exchangeable for all other commodities, we do not on that account know, for instance, how much twenty francs in gold are worth. Like every other commodity, gold can express its own quantity of value only in other commodities. By reading an ordinary market report from right to left we find the quantity of value of gold expressed in many other commodities.