3 Mar 2017

Marx's Capital

Critisticuffs has a Capital Reading Group on the first six chapters of Volume 1.

The Penguin Classics edition translated by Ben Fawkes is at KarlMarxCapitalVolumeIPenguinClassics where it can be downloaded in PDF, Epub or viewed in a browser.

The original German edition is at www.mlwerke.de/me/me23/me23_000.htm

The 2017 Capital reading group began on Monday 20 February at Red Lion (Upstairs), 41 Hoxton Street, London, N1 6NH

I'd like to set out the apparent contradiction in Capital that I raised at the Monday 10 April meeting.

1. The material wealth of any society is composed of use values, ie the useful products of human effort that satisfy human needs. In a capitalist society these use values (apart from a tiny minority of items that an individual produces for him or herself like vegetables grown in the garden) confront each other in the market place as commodities. They do so because they are exchange values at the same time as being use values. They constitute social wealth because they are exchange values. Ergo material wealth equals social wealth (again ignoring the home-grown vegetables, etc, because they are relatively insignificant).

2. Marx defines value in a peculiar way. He says its substance is abstract labour and its magnitude is time. David Harvey renders the definition as 'socially necessary labour time' (SNLT). The beautiful advantage of Marx's definition of value is that it avoids the problem that value would otherwise depend on productivity. However productive a society is, its SNLT stays the same (assuming the population of working people stays the same). The horrible contradiction of the definition of value, however, is apparent when you realise that it also equates to social wealth.

3. Marx's contradiction, it seems to me, is to say that value, which is always the same, is equal to social wealth, which in capitalist societies is always growing.

NB - I note that 'wealth' has not been defined so far. I think we have assumed a common sense meaning, eg that it is the total value of all the useful stuff in our society. In conclusion I believe it's essential to have clear definitions of value and wealth before moving on.

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