Eldred/Roth: Guide to Marx's Capital (1978)
The Analysis of Commodities and Money
We suggest that you make a list of all the things that you used today. Which of them are produced by yourself? Which of them had to be bought as commodities?
What impact would it have on everyday life (ours and that of people around us) if one had to renounce those products of labour that are available only as commodities (SG 1)?
We assume that the "Analysis of Commodities and Money" is followed only by people in whose life commodities play an indispensable role. These people - i.e. we - experience a twofold relationship to commodities in everyday life: we satisfy wants with these products of labour and since they are commodities we are forced to buy them before we can use them.
In the process of inquiry Marx came to see that the connection between commodities, money and productive activity (SG 2) can only be demonstrated if the systematic presentation starts from the exchange relation (SG3) of industrial commodities, and if the mediation by money is neglected in the first part of the analysis. To begin with, it is a fact commonly known in our everyday life that commodities (as mediated by selling and buying) are in a relation of exchange to one another:
X commodity A is exchanged for y commodity B (where commodity A is any industrial commodity and commodity B is another one. 'x' and 'y' count units - litres, tons, pieces, etc. - of the sorts of commodities A and B). x commodity A is in an exchange relation not only with one other commodity but with all other commodities:
x commodity A is exchanged for:
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y1 commodity B1
x commodity A does not only have one, but many "exchange-values" (SG4): yl commodity B1, y2 commodity B2 , … , yn commodity Bn. These exchange-values differ (otherwise it wouldn't be many, but only one). Yet in exchange relation their differences do not count. All the various commodities count as the same when they function as one of the exchange-values of x commodity A.
We find in the exchange relation of commodities what could be called a "factual reduction". For y1 commodity B1, y2 commodity B2 , … yn commodity Bn are products of different kinds of ("concrete") labour (SG 5) and they are products of different private labours (SG 6), but nevertheless (definite quantities of) these different commodities express equally well what x commodity A "is worth". If we call "value" that which different exchange-values have in common, our next task is to state explicitly the determination of value.
For this purpose we have to articulate the reduction, which in fact takes place in the practice of commodity exchange in our society. The question is not whether labour determines the value of commodities, the question is rather; what is the specific character of that labour, which determines value?
In the exchange-relation "one use-value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient quantity” (CI 45). Therefore the concrete type of labour is indifferent with respect to creating value (SG 8) Labour in this indifference can be characterised as "abstract labour". Moreover different exchange-values are not only different use-values (SG 9) but frequently are "products of the activity of different individuals" and again in the exchange-relation the individuality of the labour is indifferent with respect to creating value. Labour in this indifference towards the individuality of the labourer can be characterised as "general labour".
The human activity that results in industrial commodities has hereby been analysed as "abstract general labour" (SG 7), social labour as "abstract general labour" (SG 7), social labour of a determinate form. In contrast to the various "forms of appearance" this may be called the "substance of value" (SG 10).
In the exchange relation each of the commodities x commodity A, y1 commodity B1, y2 commodity B2 , … yn commodity Bn has a natural form (as a certain use-value) and a value-form (SG 11) within the exchange-relation.
We will now make an attempt to understand money on the basis of a closer analysis of the value-form of commodities. The exchange relation we have dealt with up to now can be grasped as an "expanded expression of value" (SG 12).
x commodity A is exchanged for:
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y1 commodity B1
Herein x commodity A is in the position of "relative value form" (SG 13) with respect to y1 commodity B1, y2 commodity B2 , … yn commodity Bn which on their side are in the position of "equivalent value-form" (SG 14). Let us now switch the perspective. From the point of view of the commodities y1 commodity B1, y2 commodity B2, … yn commodity Bn, there exists a 'general expression of value' (SG 15);
y1 commodity B1
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x commodity A
In this expression of value x commodity A is in the position of "equivalent form of value" to all commodities (itself excluded) and is therefore the general equivalent form of value (SG 16). All other commodities express their value relative to that equivalent-commodity.
The stable privilege of a particular commodity to serve as equivalent for all other commodities makes that particular commodity the "money-form of value".
From now on we can distinguish between the commodity-form and the money-form of value (SG 17). In the commodity-form value is fixed to the position of relative form of value, and correspondingly in the money-form value within the expression of value. Commodities are not directly exchanged for one another but each of them is exchanged for money (SG 18).
y1 commodity B1
y1 commodity B1
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X money serves as "means of circulation" (SG 19) in the (thus mediated) exchange of Ym commodity Bm for yn commodity Bn. This exchange process has the structure:
Commodity - Money - Commodity (abbreviated: C - M - C) and consists of the two phases C1 - M and M - C2 looked at as a whole, though from the point of view of the commodities there are only isolated acts of selling.
We can call C - M - C (or more explicitly: C1 - M/M - C2) a "form of circulation" of value. Another form of circulation of value can easily be constructed by putting together the elements the other way around: M - C2/C1 - M, or for short: M - C - M. There are different commodities, but there is just one money. The only difference between money and money can be a quantitative one. As C - M - C only makes sense read as C1 - M - C2 likewise M - C - M only makes sense as M - C - M1 (where M is less money than M1).
This brings us to the end of the introductory part of the analysis, in which commodities and money have been analysed as forms of value in order to enable us to articulate: Is capital (SG 20) conceivable as M - C - M1, that is as value that increases in the course of its circulation starting from its money-form, changing into the commodity form and changing further (and back again) to its money-form? Is this the way to understand capital as a specific form of human activity and can the secret of capital's apparent activity, to make more money out of money, be resolved by tracing back the line to abstract general labour?
Up to now our analysis has been purely qualitative. But dealing with M - C - M forces us to take the quantitative aspect of value into account also. We already did so in making the difference between M and M1 which is of a purely quantitative nature. M - C - M1 now raises in turn the question whether there is a quantitative change (we could also say: a change in the "magnitude of value"), combined with the change of value-form that is expressed by ' - ' in the formula (M - C - M1 ) above.
We could just as well ask: can the difference between M and M1, can the "surplus-value" (SG 21) be explained as stemming from circulation? Can we grasp capital as buying something and selling it dearer? This may be the case with an individual capital but the increase of the total capital (SG 20), the social surplus-value can not be conceived as springing from unequal exchange. If the same commodities are bought cheaper and sold dearer this can only result in a different distribution of wealth but not in an increase of the total value. But it is the course of total surplus-value as such which has to be grasped (SG 22). The consequences for the next part of the analysis is that surplus-value must be understood even if no change in magnitude of values accompanies changes of value-form.
If that is so circulation of value as capital can only have the form M —C2/C1 - M1 (where C2 and C1 denote different commodities). Because it is an assumption of the presentation that they are both bought and sold at their value we can only understand capital if we find a process in which C2 is replaced by a C1 that has a greater magnitude of value. Such a process which creates value must be a labour process (SG 23), for the substance of value has been determined as labour. And at the same time this process that creates C1 must be a process that can be understood as a consumption of C2.
The natural form of C1 is obviously that of industrial commodities, products of the labour process that has C2 as its elements of production (SG 25). Among them is human labour power which is not directly an industrial commodity but is reproduced (partially) by means of industrial commodities. Strictly speaking, labour-power has no value in itself but has a price which is an expression of the value of the industrial products that are sustenance ("means of life" (SG 36)) for the industrial labourer. Labour-power is a "second-order" commodity (SG 24).
The main question remains unanswered: How can a process of "productive consumption of commodities" create a surplus-value? We shall only be able to answer that question if we definitely leave the sphere of simple commodity-circulation (SG 20) and enter the sphere of capitalist production (SG 26), a process that starts from a set of commodities C2 and results in a set of commodities C1, so that M - C2/C1 — Ml is executed.
Remarks on Capital, Vol. I, chps. 1-6
Our suggestion is not to follow Althusser's suggestion to skip Part I of Capital, Vol.I in a first reading.
In our opinion Parts I and II of Vol. I (which are dealt with in Paper 1) together form a systematic introduction to the central topic of Capital Vol. I: surplus-value production. Hence the categories in which questions and answers of the subsequent analysis of surplus-value (and the immediate process of capitalist production where it springs from) are articulated, are provided in the systematic introduction; so our advice is to read the 1st section of Ch. 1 Vol. I very carefully. The "qualitative" reading that is outlined in Paper 1 and that stresses the value-form approach to the general analysis of the capitalist epoch is far from being undisputed. Usually a quantitative reading is suggested. Cutler/Hindess/Hirst/Hussain (1977) give an exposition of such a quantitative reading just to point out the problems of Marx's fundamental concept 'value' when it is determined as social labour-time (of a determinate form). The readers may judge whether the objections raised by them merely show that a quantitative reading of this systematic introduction is not adequate, (although Marx himself did a lot to mislead in that direction)
A careful reading and discussion of Chapter 1, Section 1 can be carried out in a session of approximately 3 hours. Chapter 1, Section 2 could be read in between the sessions and questions raised at the beginning of the next session.
A new step in the presentation is reached in the third Section of Capital, Vol. I, Ch 1: "The Form of Value or Exchange Value". Here the aim is to relax the assumption of presentation according to which the mediation of the exchange of industrial commodities by money is left aside. Now it is the double existence of social labour in the commodity form and in the money-form that is explicitly dealt with. (This section has been recently referred to as the "Value-form Chapter"). We would like to give some more detailed advice for reading through the Value-form chapter, because we regard it to be indispensable for an adequate understanding of the argument.
First of all it is to be noted that Marx's terminology in Section 3 is inconsistent. He uses the term 'form of value' to refer to both a form of expression of value (such as general and expanded expressions of value) and for the positions within that expression (the relative value-form and the equivalent value-form). We reserve the term 'form of value' for the latter and use the term 'expression of value' for the former.
In line with our insistence that a commodity has not one but many exchange-values (cf. SG 4), we see no special virtue in analysing the 'Elementary or Accidental Form of Value' separately from the Expanded Expression of Value. Nothing extra is gained in a separate analysis which would not be dealt with under Expanded Expression of Value. The Elementary Form merely anticipates the Price-Form which arises out of the Money Expression of Value (cf. SG 16).
We see the step from the General Expression of Value to the Money Expression of Value not as an historical step, where money historically evolves as the Universal Equivalent, but as a systematic step signalling a change in level of presentation from commodity exchange without the mediation of money to a money economy.
The "Fetishism chapter" is one of the most prominent parts of Capital. -In the first edition (1867) there was no such section in ch 1 but the appendix The Value-Form (Die Wertform) was added at the end of the book as it was written by Marx when proof-reading Capital.-At the end of this GUIDE we are re-publishing the Appendix "The Value-Form" (Die Wertform).)
We take the view that the systematic argument is not furthered in the Fetishism Section, but that the consequences of social labour taking the form of a thing are looked at. Similarly we regard Section 2 as another look at the subject matter of Section 1 from the viewpoint of the commodity producers' labour, (at this stage of the analysis there can be no distinction made between immediate producer and capitalist).
The most Important aspect of the 2nd chapter, which is highlighted in its German title "Der Austauschprozess" is omitted in the Progress-publishers translation "Exchange" (instead of "The Process of Exchange"). Some of the formulations that Marx uses right at the beginning have been used for inferring a materialist theory of law and bourgeois state. They should be treated with great care, if the systematic order of analysis of the capitalist mode of production (as "basis") and the analysis of the bourgeois state (as "superstructure") is not to be confused.
The 3rd chapter seems to start where chapter 1, section 3 ended: money as the measure of value. A warning here too: The third chapter might be misunderstood by taking it as presenting "the Marxist theory of money". Our view is that a theory of money can only be given on the basis of an analysis of credit, so that the chapter on money is out of place here. We suggest that the reading be restricted to the central aim of this initial part of Capital: to enable the readers to understand the opening question of the analysis of the capitalist production: the question concerning surplus-value.
A careful reading of the 4th, 5th and 6th chapters (which are one chapter in the Original) is suggested, because the systematic presentation definitely proceeds in this part of Capital and fundamental assumptions for the following analysis are argued for.
Marx has to give his reasons why he treats industrial capital as the ground form. According to our present understanding it is only here that a consideration of "quantities" comes into systematic account. But this again is done under an assumption of presentation that commodities are exchanged at their values which is only relaxed later on in Capital, Vol. III in several steps.
 Foreword to the 1969 edition of Capital in French, see: Lenin and Philosophy, Monthly Review Press, New York and London, 1971, p.81, 88
 This translation by Roth/Suchting was first published: Capital & Class, Issue 4 (1978), 134-150
 Paschukanis, Eugen, Allgemeine Rechtslehre and Marxismus, Vienna - Berlin 1929.