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Leftypol

Capital I — by admin at 2022-04-30 (Sat) 21:38:22

The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself
as “an immense accumulation of commodities,”1 its unit being a single commodity. Our
investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.

A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies
human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring
from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference.2 Neither are we here concerned to know
how the object satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or indirectly as
means of production.

Every useful thing, as iron, paper, &c., may be looked at from the two points of view of quality
and quantity. It is an assemblage of many properties, and may therefore be of use in various ways.
To discover the various uses of things is the work of history.3 So also is the establishment of
socially-recognized standards of measure for the quantities of these useful objects. The diversity
of these measures has its origin partly in the diverse nature of the objects to be measured, partly
in convention.

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.

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