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I’m too pressed to update the dictionary right now, but I hope to do so next time, or at least when we’re done with the discussion on the equivalent form of value in the value expression x Commodity A = y Commodity B, with Commodity A being the relative form and Commodity B being an embodiement of its value equivalent. Value in its equivalent role/form.

In the equivalent form of value the commodity takes a form in which it is directly exchangeable with other commodities, as does our computer in the value expression

100,000 pencils = 1 computer

The magnitude of the value of computer ceases to be expressed, it is the expressor. 2 computers express the amount of value of 200,000 pencils, but 2 computers never expresses its own value. The equivalent form always takes the form of a quantity of use-value, but contains no determinant of value in and of itself. ‘Use-value becomes the form of appearance of its opposite, value. The natural form of the commodity becomes its value-form’ (148). This brings us to the peculiarities of the equivalent:

Peculiarity 1: Inasmuch the equivalent can only exist in relation to another commodity (the equivalent cannnot be its own equivalent) it ‘therefore must make the physical shape of another commodity into its own value form’. Take for example a system of measuring weight in which a particular use-value, say specific amounts of iron, serves as one possible method of measuring of weight. Iron plays the role of ‘the form of the manifestation of weight’ only within this relationship. Iron itself is nor more or less ‘the form of manifestation of weight’ than any other mass.

In the value expression the equivalent represents not its particular use-value(s) but rather value alone, value being a ‘purely social’ thing. With value embodied in the equivalent form; taking on the form of appearance of that particular thing, the material, the thing itself as the ‘expressor of value in everyday life’ seems endowed by nature itself as having the singular ability to serve in this role.  

Of course this cannot be the case. No one use-value is intrinsically more or less endowed to serve as the equivalent in the value relation. In other words, all commodities have the property of being able to serve as the equivalent for any and all other commodities; this property of equivalence does not arise from a commodity’s relation to other things rather this property is activated by these relations which are nothing other than social relations. 

In short, the use-value occupying the equivalent form only appears to be endowed by nature for its quality of direct exchangeability. In fact, this quality is socially constructed.

“Hence the mysteriousness of the equivalent form, which only impinges on the crude bourgeois vision of the political economist when it confronts him in its fully developed shape, that of money. He then seeks to explain away the mystical character of gold and silver by substituting for them less dazzling commodities, and, with ever-renewed satisfaction, reeling off a catalogue of all the inferior commodities which have played the role of equivalent at one time or another. He does not suspect that even the simplest expression of value, such as 20 yards of linen = 1 coat, already presents the riddle of the equivalent form for us to solve” (150).

Because the commodity serving as equivalent is itself both an embodiment of abstract human labor and product of some concrete useful labor this particular form of concrete labor then becomes the expression of abstract human labor. If the computer as equivalent is only the realized form of abstract human labor, the particular forms of labor that produced it; are realized in it, ‘is only abstract human labor’s form of realization’. 

‘The usefulness of computer making consists now not in making machines, and thus also people, but in making a physical object which we at once recognize as value, as a congealed quantity of labor, therefore, which is absolutely indistinguishable from the labor objectified in the value of the 100,000 pencils’.

‘In order to express the fact that pencil manufacture creates the value of pencils through its general property of being human labor rather than in its concrete form as pencil manufacture, we contrast it with the concrete labor which produces the equivalent of the pencils, namely computer manufacture. Computer manufacture is now seen as the tangible form of realization of abstract human labor.’

This puts us perfectly in place to deal with the second peculiarity of the equivalent form next time.

Extended break there was. Had to travel to Loerrach, Germany, to help my partner’s parents prepare to move house. It appears the discussion was broken off last post at the begining of the exploration into the relative form of value and its content. In order to make this exploration Marx approaches the concept independent of its quantitative aspect. This can be done because

“nothing is seen in the value-relation but the proportion in which definite quantities of two sorts of commodity count as equal to each other” (140). How many pencils for how many computers, or whatever. Again, it cannot be stressed more that these different commodities are comparable quantitatively because they are reduced to a common denominator, and therefore imply that these magnitudes of value are expressions of the same unit. Also let it be reinforced that the relative value stands opposed to its equivalent in the isolated expression of value; each commodity simultaneously plays both roles.

In our example the computer, as the equivalent form of value,  occupies the role of the objectification (material embodiment) of value. Because the labor created value is objectified in the computer can it be exchanged with so many pencils or whatever else. Or to put it another way, the existence of pencils as value can only be if there are the computers to stand opposed as value equivalents. 

The values of commodities emerge through their relation to each other as quantities of socially necessary labor, which is in fact the relation of any number of people in any number of fields. In the same way that this is an expression of equivalencies of different commodities, it is an expression of equivalencies of the types of labor that went into making the computer and the pencils. Here labor is factored commonly through its value creating characteristic.

It is important not to abbreviate this. Labor /is/ not value. Labor creates value. Labor can only become value if it obtains an objective form, a body.  

Here we can interpolate this into the working definition of commodity: “a thing in which value is mainfested, or which represents value in its tangible natural form” (143). As a use-value a computer is a computer, in the exchange relation with pencils the computer is a body of value.

‘The computer cannot represent value towards the pencils unless value, for the latter, simultaneously assumes the form of a computer.’ In the value relation two different use-values count only as value toward each other. As use-values the computer and pencils are tangibly different. As values the pencils and computer are identical. Here, in the isolated exchange relation, use-value ≠ use-value but value = value.

The physical body of commodity B becomes a mirror for the value of commodity A. (Body of computer becomes mirror of the value borne by the 100,000 pencils). The value of one commodity expressed in the use-value of another.

In the exchange relation the form of value does not only express value in general, but a magnitude of value quantitatively determined by a definite quantity of human labor. Of course, we already know that this quantity is socially determined as socially necessary labor time, and as a variable changes with every change in a society’s level of productivity. Changes in the productivity of a society influences changes in the expression of value and value’s relative form.

Suppose the value of pencils fluctuates while the value of computers remains the same. If the socially necessary labor time for pencils doubles so will the value. 100,000 pencils would then have an equivalent value in 2 computers. If the socially necessary labor time for pencils halves, so will their value. One would then need 200,000 pencils to exchange for 1 computer.

Suppose the value of pencils remains constant while the value of computers fluctuates. If the socially necessary labor time for computers doubles it is the same as if the labor time socially necessary for pencils was halved, i.e. now it takes 200,000 pencils to relate to 1 computer. If the socially necessary labor time for computers halves, it is the same as if the labor time necessary for pencils was doubled, i.e. 100,000 pencils has an equivalent value in 2 computers.

A change in the magnitude of value in the relative form can be caused by a fluctuation in value of either the commodity in the relative or equivalent form.

Suppose the value for pencils and the value for computer fluctuates simultaneously in the same direction and in the same proportion. The changes in value are then invisible unless compared to a third commodity whose value has remained constant.

If the value of all commodities rose or fell at the same time and in the exact same proportions, the relative values would remain unchanged. While an exchange relation of 1 to 10 is less than one of 10 to 100 in absolute terms, the two rates of exchange are identical relative to each other -as ratios. One could work out all the permutations possible by all the different directions and proportions of fluctuations, but it is not really necessary for grasping the concept.

Once again it is time for some caveats and essentials lest we become too mechanistic or conflate value with value in its relative form.

1. The relative value of a commodity may vary even though its real value remains constant.

2. The relative value may remain constant even though its real value varies.

3. Simultaneous variations in the real and relative values do not have to correspond.

Next time we will move on to probe the equivalent form.

I realized a need to revise the titling strategy somewhat. We’re still on track. Scanning real quick it appears we have the following concepts to add to the glossary:

Complex labor: simple labor that has been intensified or multiplied in some manner so that a smaller quantity of it is considered equal to simple labor.

Division of labor: the totality of heterogenous forms of useful labor of a given society, differing in order, genus, species, and variety. A precondition of commodity production.

Labor: The substance of exchange-value, and therefore value in the capitalist mode of production.

Productivity: The degree of effectiveness of productivity directed towards a given purpose within a given period of time.

Simple Labor: The expenditure of labor power posessed in the bodily organism of every ordinary person of a given a society.

Useful Labor: Productive activity of a definite kind carried on with a defnite aim. The element of labor that corresponds to the use-value of a commodity as it is the kind and aim of useful labor which realizes the commodity as an object.

Previously we discussed capitalism as an economic system structured upon the production and exchange of commodities. Each commodity posesses certain uses (use-values) which can all be exchanged with each other because they posess something similar in that they are all products of labor -each commodity comes to be a carrier (a carrier because exchange-value is not a property intrinsic to the object) of exchange value. Exchange value is a social substance, and so is its objective character which can only appear in the social relations of people as carriers of commodities.

Today we start to explore exchange value, the value form of the commodity, which when objectified becomes what we all must learn to love (or else)… money. But how does this objectification come to take place? To learn the origins of money one must analyze the idea of exchange value from the start, from the:

Simple, Isolated, or Accidental form of Value

x pencils is worth y computers, or (x commodity A = y commodity B)

This expression of value is bipolar. There is a relative form of value (100,000 pencils) and its equivalent form (1 computer). This is what is happening here:

1. The 100,000 pencils express their value in the computer; the computer serves as the material through which that value is expressed. The relative commodity, the pencils, is said to play the ‘active’ role and the equivalent (computer) a ‘passive’ role in the relationship. The relative and equivalent forms of value representing their value through each other expresses also a relation of mutual exclusivity. One must be the relative form of value in relation to the other as equivalent.

For this relationship to be apparent it must involve different commodities. That 1 computer has an equivalent in 1 computer is clear, but then these two do not stand opposed and represented as commodities, they are then simply 2 computers. In short, the relative form of value (x commodity A) cannot be its own equivalent form (y commodity B).

Of course the exchange of pencils for computer, is for another the exchange of computer for pencils -but more on that at a not much later time! For now just note that whether a commodity is in the role of relative or equivalent depends upon its place in the bipolar relation, commodity A or commodity B.

There is a lot that needs to be said about this relationship and its elements. The relative form of value itself is an involved discussion which I will start next time. I’m going to look online for a good (free) translation of capital and get a link set up so that those who do want to read along or review the original text can do so with more convenience.

Next time the relative form of value…

Labor is embedded in products and ultimately finds its expression as value – a language of the exchange of commodities. Labor here takes on a characteristic other than when it is simply the creator of a product. In order to create a product the labor is and must be applied with particular tools and a particular activity set to achieve particular results. This aspect of labor Marx calls ‘useful labor’ – ‘labor for whose utility is represented by the use-value of the product’. Whenever we see a coat that implies a process of textile production, we might imagine a person and a sewing machine; when we run a computer application that implies a process of software design and computer manufacture.

Is there maybe a better term than ‘useful labor’? The term implies the existence of a ‘useless labor’, which is not really the case and not, I think, an intended implication. The closest thing I can imagine coming to ‘useless’ labor in the jargon of political economy would be ‘unproductive labor’ by which is meant labor that does not produce commodities and therefore does not produce surplus-value (we’ll get to this term later), such as domestic servants. I am at a loss for a better term, but at any rate this is the aspect of labor related to the use-value of the object produced.

If we take all these different types of labor as a totality we wind up with a particular division of labor, the distribution of people producing throughout time, space, and task. Division of labor is a precondition for commodity production. Once the division of labor is such that something like tailoring becomes a special trade the relationship between the coat and the labor that produced is altered.

“Labor, as useful labor, is a condition of human existence independent of all forms of society; it is an eternal natural necessity which mediates the metabolism between man and nature, and therefore human life itself” (133).

The physical bodies of commodities are made of two things: material and labor. The use-value of the commodity is a result of both the labor and the material upon which the labor worked. In most cases labor applies itself to an object which has been worked on before. A coat and fabric have different use-values and exchange values as does a computer without programming versus a consumer ready PC. Depending on the division of labor, the type of labor that made the fabric or the coat/the computer with and without programming could be performed by the same person or by any number and distribution of workers. Furthermore, there is an element of demand in the level of supply of some types of labor.

Whether the coat or computer were made by one person or by many, it is clear that the ‘more complete’ commodity will carry a higher value. But the quality, the particular usefulness of the labor objectified in the commodity, is not relevant to this movement from a lesser to a greater value. The linen and the coat; the two types of computers will still exchange each one for any other in the right quantities. Again, we are brought back to the fact that all of these commodities represent an expenditure of human labor power.

“Tailoring and weaving, although they are qualitatively different productive activities, are both a productive expenditure of the human brains, muscles, nerves, hands, etc., and in this sense both human labor. They are merely two different forms of the expenditure of human labor-power” (134). All labor has it in common that it structures part of the concentration and consumption of our organism.

We must make a distinction, however, between two types of human labor-power: simple labor and complex labor. The distinction is fairly clear. Simple labor is the (potential) expenditure of labor power possessed in the organism of every ordinary person of a given society. Complex labor is simple labor intensified or multiplied in some manner. When dealing with value at the present level of abstraction we pressuppose a common denominator between the value of/created by the simple and complex. For the time being all forms of human-labor power will be considered simple labor. If both the fabric and the coat take the same amount of time to produce the coat will have twice the value of the fabric.

Labor, in reference to use-value, ‘useful labor’, counts only qualitatively; with reference to (exchange) value it counts only quantitatively when it is reduced to simple labor. Since the amount of value represented by the commodity is the common factor of simple labor all commodities can exchange in the right proportions. One would need a lot of pencils to buy a computer, but that does not change the fact that pencils and computers do in fact exchange for each other albeit via money metamorphosis. Clearly more pencils and more computers means a greater accumulation of use-values as commodities and therefore an increase in material wealth, HOWEVER, this may correspond to fall in the rate of value. If there are a lot more coats it implies something changed regarding the productivity of labor.

Labor then comes to have this twofold character:

1. An increase in productivity reduces the value of a commodity

2. A decrease in productivity increases the value of a commodity

“On the one hand, all labor is an expenditure of human labor-power, in the physiological sense, and it is in this quality of being equal, or abstract, human labor that it forms the value of commodities. On the other hand, all labor is an expenditure of human labor-power in a particular form and with a definite aim, and it is in this quality of being concrete useful labor that it produces use-values” (137).

Next time…’the value form, or exchange value’

Things ended short last week, which is well because it gave us a chance to reflect over the material already introduced. It occurred to me that it might be beneficial to just jump ahead for a moment to talk about the the distinction Marx makes between value and price. The two terms are not synonymous in this analysis. We’ll encounter this in some detail later, and in the meantime can take into consideration that here price is the money name for the exchange-value believed to be contained in the object, and that the prices of commodities do not always equal the exchange-values they bear.

Elsewhere in the old business… One new concept last post. I promise I will get the glossary up today. Just like the posts, feel free to add your comments to the glossary.

Socially necessary labor-time: The labor-time required to produce any use-value under the conditions of production normal for a given society and with an average degree of skill and intensity of labor prevalent in that society.

For use values to be commodities and commodites being defined principally as bearers of exchange-values there has to be some thing by which to govern the rate of exchange of each commodity with the other. This third thing is the social variable of value as an estimation of the amount of abstract socially necessary labor contained within commodity x in relation to commodities y, z, a, etc.

Clearly this socially necessary labor time is variable. Value is therefore also variable, and circumstances that change the former will change the latter as well. Socially necessary labor is actually a multi-variate concept constituted of the five sub-variables:

1) worker’s average degree of skill

2) level of scientific development

3) level of technological application

4) social organization of the process of production

5) environmental conditions

All of these cause the rate of value to fluctuate.

“In general, the greater the productivity of labor, the less the labor-time required to produce the article, the less the mass of labor crystallized in that article, and the less its value” (131). And vice versa.

Now it is time for some caveats. First, something can be a use-value without being a value. This is generally the case when the utility is not mediated through labor, like finding a wild fruit. Also, a thing can be a use-value and be a product of human labor without being a commodity. For example, satisfying ones own needs with the products of their own labor. To be a commodity the thing must not only be given to another, but it must be done so through the medium of exchange. Sharing and downlaoding media content and tools of the software and media production process is another example of use-values freed from the commodity character.

However, nothing can be a value without being a use-value. If a thing is useless so is the labor within it. The labor does not count as socially necessary labor and therefore does not count as value. This is why most of us can’t make money playing video games or by having ourselves filmed making maccaroni and cheese.

Next time… ‘the dual character of the labor embodied in commodities’

  

In the words of an Irish Lit. professor I once knew, let’s take care of some ‘old business’, which here I do with definitions. We are about to be inundated with terms. In order to cope with this I will convert one of the pages I’m not really using to a glossary. That way the definitions from previous posts (like commodity and use-value) will be there for easy reference and will not need to be inserted at the start of every post, a place which is reserved for reviewing material from the immediately preceding post. And in the last post we covered the following terms:

Exchange-value: The quantitative relation through which use-values of one kind exchange for another. The mode of expression of abstract social labor.

Abstract social labor: The disappearance of specific types of labor into use-values. The ‘common element’ of all commodities that equalizes their individual exchange-values into value. Abstract social labor constitutes value (technically abstract social value).

Value: The quantity of abstract social labor congealed in a product; the common factor in the exchange-value of commodities.

“A use-value…therefore, has value only because human labor is objectified or materialized in it.” So how is value then measured? ‘By means of the quantity of the labor contained in the article, measured by its duration. The labor-time itself is measured on a particular scale of hours, days, etc.’

However, this is not to say that a pencil that took 1 hour to make exchanges at a lower value than the same pencil that took another worker 5 hours because they were lazy or lacked the skill or machines of the 1 hour worker. When defining the magnitude of value of a commodity as the amount of abstract human labor embedded in it, it is measured not as individual labor-time but by the socially necessary labor-time.

Say that it takes 2 hours to produce a pencil under the conditions of production prevailing in a given society. The exchange value of pencil is determined by this average, the socially-necessary labor time. When the 1 hour pencil and the 5 hour pencil go to market the former will exchange above its ‘actual’ value and the latter will exchange below. Both the 1 hour and 5 hour pencils will be treated just as if they took 2 hours to produce.

More on socially necessary labor time…next time.

Last time we were introduced to two basic concepts, commodity and use-value. So far the definition of each looks something like this:

commodity: An object of consumption or a means of production (an object of productive consumption) produced specifically to exchange for its value. Definite quantities of congealed labor-time, the objective form of exchange-value. Commodity production forms the basis of the capitalist mode of production.

Use-value: 1. The physical properties, qualities, of a commodity that make it useful, and that are realized in use or consumption; the body of the material form of wealth, which in capitalism is expressed as exchange-value. 2. A piece of natural material adapted to human needs by means of a change in its form.

Woo-hoo! What wonderful definitions these are turning out to be, and we’re only a couple pages into chapter 1. The next matter to discuss is clear. If the expression of wealth in the capitalist mode of production is exchange-value and if use-values constitute ‘the body of the material form of wealth’ expressed, then what is exchange-value? 

“Exchange-value appears first of all as the quantitative relation, the proportion, in which use-values of one kind exchange for use values of another kind” (126).

Exchange-value is how one commodity relates through exchange to any another commodity. This is expressed as a quantity. n paper will exchange for x pencils, y chocolate bars, or z liters of cola. A commodity then has many exchange-values, and these ‘relations change constantly with time and place.’ Nevertheless, all these varying exchange values (the paper to chocoloate, the chocolate to pencils, the paper to pencils, etc.) express something equal. All commodities have the same exchange value in the right quantities.

“…the valid exchange-values of a particular commodity express something equal, and secondly, exchange-value cannot be anything other than the mode of expression, the ‘form of appearance’, of a content distinguishable from it.”

Exchange-value is not a property intrinsic to the commodity, it exists by virtue of a third thing. If we say that 1000 pieces of paper = 10 chocolate bars “It signifies that a common element of identical magnitude exists in two different things….Both are therefore equal to a third thing, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of them…must therefore be reducible to this third thing” (127).

“…the exchange relation of commodities is characterized precisely by its abstraction from use-values. Within the exchange relation, one use-value is worth just as much as any other, provided only that it is present in the appropriate quantity.”

“As use-values, commodites differ above all in quality, while as exchange-values they can only differ in quantity, and therefore do not contain an atom of use-value” (128).

Abstracting from use-value and exchange-value all that is left of the commodity is that it is a product of labor. Abstracted as well, in this process, are the specific forms of labor that went in to producing the commodity.

“It is no longer a table, a house, a piece of yarn or any other useful thing. All its sensuous characteristics are exinguished. Nor is it any longer the product of the labor of the joiner, the mason or the spinner.”

At this level, they are all reduced to the same type of labor –abstract human labor, “human labor-power expended without regard to the form of its expenditure”. Commodities tell us that human labor-power was expended in their production, and that human labor is accumulated in them. ‘As crystals of this social substance common to them all they are values -commodity values.’

“The common factor in the exchange relation, or in the exchange value of the commodity, is therefore its value.”

And there we will stop until next time.

What is a commodity?

1. ‘The commodity is, first of all, an external object, a thing, which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind’ (126). Whether these ‘needs’ arise from the stomach or mind makes no difference.

2. It also makes no difference wether the thing is used as means of production or means of subsistence, i.e. as tools or resources to make something else, or to consume and destroy (over a longer or shorter period) in consumption.

3. ‘The wealth of capitalist societies exists as an ‘immense collection of commodities’. The individual commodity is the ‘elementary form’ of this wealth.

This multiple definition will be refined and complicated further as the text proceeds

What is a use-value?

We take a commodity and we say that it is useful because it possesses so many ‘useful’ qualities. This is not to be conflated with ‘useful’ in the utilitarian sense. A piece of paper is useful not only for keeping notes or records (a ‘utilitarian use’ I suppose) or to make a paper airplane from the thing (not very utilitarian at all, but totally fun!). At this level of abstraction, both are useful qualities of the paper commodity. They are both use-values.

Though there is clearly a qualitative difference as to whether the paper is used as an airplane or for record keeping, we are concerned here with the use-values of commodities as quantities of use values (we always assume that use-values exist in varying quantities). That is, with x of paper commodities we can make y paper airplanes or print z characters.

This is merely a method of abstractions and not intended to brush aside the individual qualitative, relational, or symbolic properties of commodities as ‘mere use-values’.

‘…use-value does not dangle in mid-air. It is conditioned by the physical properties of the commodity, and has no existence apart from the latter. It is therefore the physical body of the commodity itself…which is the use-value of a useful thing. This property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labor required to appropriate its useful qualities.’

For example, the fact that one can make a paper airplane with the paper is incidental to the fact it takes v hours of labor time to make the sheet of paper in question – of course one is probably less inclined to go the airplane route if v is higher than lower, and one must be able to ‘discover’ the properties and means of making paper ‘fly’, but these latter two points are outside the present scope.

In addition to existing in definite quantities, ‘Use-values are only realized in use or consumption. They constitute the material content of wealth [the ‘body’ of wealth], whatever its social form may be.’ That objects have qualities which make them useful is not particular to any one type of society -though of course the types of things that have uses or the types of uses which are realized may change over time. 

What is distinctive about use-values in a capitalist mode of production is that they are ‘material bearers of…exchange value’ (126).

Exchange value, of which much more will be spoken next time and many times after that.  

Today I am detetmined to punch out of the preface material material so that tomorrow (or the next time I post) it will be at the start of Capital v.1 proper.  

Contuning with the Postface…

Here is a quote from what Marx terms a ‘generous’ review of his method followed by a short comparison and contrast of his dialectic method to that of Hegel.

“It will be said…that the general laws of economic life are one and the same, no matter whether they are applied to the present or the past. But this is exactly what Marx denies. According to him, such abstract laws do not exist…On the contrary, in his opinion, every historical period has its own laws…As soon as life has passed through a given period of development, and is passing over from one given stage to another, it begins to be subject also to other laws….Marx denies, for example, that the law of population is the same at all times and in all places. He asserts, on the contrary, that every stage of development has its own law of population….from this point of view, he is only formulating…the aim that every accurate investigation into economic life must have…The scientific value of such an inquiry lies in the illumination of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development and death of a given social organism and its replacement by another, higher one. And in fact this is the value of Marx’s book’ (101-102).

Of course, we know better than to assume that the next stage of development will be a ‘higher’ one; know that the dominant concepts of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ stages are socially shaped and shaping relative concepts.

Marx appreciates this generous review, “But what else is he depicting but the dialectical method?”, he says. And now we’re on to his self-summarized relationship to Hegel. One can certainly reference Marx’s earlier works like The German Ideology, or Critique if Hegel’s Doctrine of the State to get the more nuanced versions.

This is on the level of ontology.

“My dialedtical method is, in its foundations, not only different from the Hegelian, but exactly opposite to it. For Hegel, the process of thinking, which even he transforms into an independent subject, under the name of ‘the Idea’, is the creator of the real world, and the real world is only the external appearance of the idea. With me the reverse is true: the ideal is nothing but the material world reflected in the mind of man, and translated into forms of thought.”

“The mystification which the dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general forms of motion in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.”

“In its mystified form, the dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and glorify what exists. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to the bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire spokesman, because it includes in its positive understanding of what exists a simultaneous recognition  of its negation, its inevitable destruction; because it regards every historically developed form as being in a fluid state, in motion, and therefore grasps its transient aspects as well; and because it does not let itself be impressed by anything, being in its essence critical and revolutionary” (103).

The remaining preface material, “Preface to the French Edition”, “Postface to the French Edition”, and then Engels’ “Preface to the Third Edition”, and “Preface to the english Edition” mainly have to do with editorial commentary regarding changes/additions/translations to the volumes. I feel this passage of Engels’ from the “Prefaqce to the English Edition” sets the proper tone for the rest of the book.

“Every new aspect of a science involves a revolution in the technical terms of that science….Political economy has generally been content to take, just as they were, the terms of commercial and industrial life, and to operate with them, entirely failing to see that by so doing it confined itself within the narrow circle of ideas expressed by those terms…It is…self-evident that a theory which views modern capitalist production as a mere passing stage in the economic history of humankind, must make use of terms different from those habitual to writers who look upon that form of production as imperishable and final” (111).

Next time we enter Part One – ‘Commodities and Money’!

I’ve been trying to think about other angles of relevance in terms of this discussion about the relationship between the practice of a science and the social context in which the science develops/is placed.

Science is a socially situated practice -and political economy, sociology, anthropology (whatever) especially. It seems Marx was both aware, and trying to make his readers aware, of this through the German example.

Political economy, whether bourgeois or socialist, is not equipped to totalize. Nevertheless the ‘science of capitalism’ (if you will) and later on the ‘science of socialism’ (if you will) did just that, and to a certain extent applied a total analysis/explanation on particular societies in particular phases of their development.

Even though capitalism is now total, its expression is not, and the analysis, crtique, and reaction we bring to it cannot be satisfied with (reduced to) a totalizing approach. We must always bear in mind, in science, the particular historical, material, cultural -social contexts.

For example, today I had a conversation about communism’s many failures, and in particular Cuba. Do we point to Cuba and say ‘communism doesn’t work!?’ Or do we look at Cuba and try to assess and understand the path it took in relation to its particular historical and social conditions?

In a sense we are anticipating elements of ‘post-modernism’, though I would never be so vulgar as to suggest Marx was ‘post-modern’.