In this blog post, we will be re-examining our initial understanding of manifest and latent qualities of the commodity as presented through the structure of capital. Instead of drawing connections to alternative articles, we would like to clarify and deepen our analysis of the concepts we raised in the first blog post. Previously, we only unpacked the two most manifest qualities of the commodity, use- and exchange-value, but now given our deeper and more thorough understanding of its latent qualities we will discuss how they are altered in the production of capital.
In the real world, the consumer is most interested in the use-value of an object when engaging in the capitalist market, thus the use-value is manifest to the consumer through consumption of a good or service. However, from the perspective of the capitalist, the exchange-value acts as the driving force for the production of a given commodity. In order to participate in the circulation and augmentation of capital, the capitalist employs the M-C-M’ cycle.
“Now in the circulation M-C-M, or the circulation of capital, suddenly presents itself as an independent substance, endowed with a motion of its own, in which money and commodities are mere forms which it assumes” (335).
Here, Marx states that money and commodities are simply forms of appearance for capital. If the capitalist is interested in the increase of his capital, he makes use of these forms to do so. In the M-C-M process described by Marx, the capitalist employs his money to purchase and subsequently change a commodity in order to augment his capital. To understand how he is able to alter the commodity to produce more capital from materials which have a set value, we must understand the latent qualities of the commodity:
- Use-Value is the form of appearance for Exchange-Value (which we examined in depth in our initial post)
- Exchange-Value is the form of appearance of the expenditure of Abstract Human Labor
- Abstract Human Labor is the crystallized form Value
- Value is then determined and regulated by what is considered the average Socially Necessary Labor Time
Having already understood how use-value and exchange-value are connected in our previous post, we now turn to the deeper connections. Exchange-value is a form of appearance for something which Marx dubs “Abstract Human Labor”. We turn to Marx in order to understand what this concept is and how it is further employed in his analysis of the commodity:
“It consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homogeneous human labour, of labour-power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure… When looked at as crystals of this social subsistence, common to them all, they are — Values” (305).
From this, we can draw two important points about this new idea of Abstract Human Labor. First, it is described as a “congelation of homogeneous human labour”–that is to say, it is some common quality inherent in the production of any commodity without regard to the quality or type of labor. This allows for equal exchange of commodities of different qualities–thus allowing us to use exchange-value in the market. Second, this abstract human labor is crystallized in the concept of “Value.” Value itself, as the crystallization of this labor, has a magnitude, which is determined by Marx’s final piece of the puzzle of the commodity: Socially Necessary Labor Time. In Marx’s theory, society has determined an average labor time that is necessary for the production of any particular commodity. The amount of time spent laboring on a commodity is used as the magnitude of this value.
These qualities–particularly how value is derived from labor–are especially important for the capitalist in his quest to augment his capital through the production of surplus-value.The capitalist has purchased labor-power and other raw materials (we assume from here on that a laborer has sold his labor-power as a commodity in the market). He must first produce commodities that equal the cost it takes for the worker to reproduce himself, or to expend his labor-power. For example, he purchases the labor-power of one laborer in order to make shirts. The laborer must produce enough shirts that can be sold to equal the amount it cost the capitalist to purchase his labor-power. Let us assume that the laborer can do this in six hours. That implies that six hours is sufficient for the production of shirts for the laborer. However, his labor-power has been purchased by the capitalist, who can use the worker’s time however he pleases. So, the capitalist requires the worker to work for longer than six hours, and thus produces surplus-value to increase his profit. In summation, he uses his money to purchase commodities such as raw materials like cotton in order to increase the value by applying labor upon it, and resell this commodity in the form of shirts at a higher price than what the cotton originally cost. By purchasing labor-power, he uses labor-time to increase the value of the initial commodity–and thus the capitalist has changed the “C” (a commodity) in order to produce “M’.”
The process of M-C-M’ has a quantitative end goal of producing surplus value, during which the commodity acts as a mediator for the augmentation of money. The process first requires the creation of a surplus value and then its endless movement: M’, which is the original money plus the newly added surplus value, is thrown back into the market to create M’’, and so on, for the continuous growth of money. The form that money and commodities take during this process is “capital”, and the circulation of M-C-M is the equivalent of “the circulation of capital…endowed with a motion of its own”, that is, there is capital only when surplus value is being continuously created (335).
While the collector of any rare commodity (i.e. Beanie Babies) is not a direct replication of Marx’s capitalist, modern-day collectors do engage in the M-C-M’ model. Unlike the Marxist capitalist who exploits human labor to generate profit by transforming raw materials into a new commodity, when collectors reach the C phase of M-C-M’ they apply the passage of time to their collectible to increase its value. Whereas a capitalist invests his funds in raw materials and human labor, a collector makes an initial investment in a commodity and once that commodity is purchased, he invests time into the commodity, which grows increasingly valuable as the quality of the collectible remains intact despite the extended passage of time. Collectors can also invest in human labor like a capitalist, by purchasing the labor of restoration and preservation, thus acting upon the commodity which should produce surplus value for the collector once the collectible returns to market. Another reason the collector is an indirect comparison to the capitalist is that collectors can often engage in the C-M-C process because the driving force in desiring a collectible can be the act of owning it, rather than generating profit by reselling the collectible.