A Brief Exposition of Socialist Theory. (Continued.)



A commodity has two forms—a physical form (coat, basket, spade, and so forth), and a value form (its worth—though not necessarily its price). As we have already seen, it is a useful article and a valuable article. Its valuable property is made evident in exchange relations. Exchange is very complex now (as witness the recent clear understanding of it can be obtained by voluminous literature on currency), but a examining, in the first place, the simplest form of exchange—or value relation, and then progressing through the more complex forms to the modern price form.


The simplest value relation is the relation of one commodity to another one of a different kind. Let us take Marx’s illustration. Suppose we assume that


20 yards of linen equals 1 coat;
now let us analyse this simple relation.


The first thing we learn from it (arising out of what we have previously learnt) is that the same amount of energy was used up in producing the 20 yards of linen as was used up in producing the coat. In other words, the same quantity of the same underlying substance is contained in each of these physically different objects. Value is hidden underneath the value relation. In order to elucidate this point it is necessary to forget, for the moment, the quantity side of the matter (20 yards equals 1) and examine the quality side (linen equals coat). It is obvious that “the magnitude of different things can only be compared quantitively when those magnitudes are expressed in terms of the same unit.” The basis of the relation we are examining is the essential equality of the linen and the coat as products of human energy.


In the linen equals coat value relation the two articles take entirely different, in fact opposite, parts. In putting them into such a relation to one another an essential peculiarity becomes clear; and that peculiarity is that only the value of the linen is being stated—and it is being stated under the disguise of the physical form of the coat. The coat is giving a visible form to the invisible value hidden in the linen. The human energy that was used up in the manufacture of the linen is now represented by the coat itself. The coat as a coat is of no interest to us, we are only concerned with it as solid value, the representative of the value contained in the linen.


If the foregoing is clear, then it must be obvious that if we wished to state the value of the coat it would be necessary to reverse the positions of the two articles in the relation, e.g.,


1 coat equals 20 yards of linen.


We have already pointed out earlier in our investigation that human energy can only be measured when it is used up—when it is represented by some object that has been produced. In other words, tailoring or weaving cannot be collected in jugs, although the tailor and weaver have given away something the loss of which makes them feel tired, and necessitates the taking in of more replacing material in the form of food. Further, human energy can only be measured relatively—the product of one man’s work with the product of another man’s work; or the product of the same man’s work in different kinds of articles; finally, the proportions of the total energy of society employed in producing different objects. In the example quoted we have the point illustrated—the quantity of human energy employed in the production of linen is compared with that employed in the production of coats. Appearance tends to hide this fact more and more with the growing complexity of exchange.


From the simplest form of value relation it will be seen that in expressing the value of one article in another each takes up opposite positions in the form of expression. The coat, in the expression 20 yards of linen equals 1 coat, occupies the position of equivalent, i.e., the equal to the value of the linen; the linen, on the other hand, occupies the position of relative, i.e., the article whose value is being expressed in its relation to that of the coat. The linen is only linen in this example, but the coat is value itself; 20 yards of linen, for instance, is 1 coat’s worth of linen in the case in question.


As these two articles take up opposite positions in the above relation, an effect in one direction on one of them affects the other in the opposite direction. If some new method were devised whereby 40 yards of linen could be produced with the same expenditure of energy as it formerly took to produce 20 yards, then the value relation would be (other things remaining the same) :


40 yards of linen equals 1 coat,
or 20 yards of linen equals ½ coat.


A fall in the relative value of linen and a rise in the relative value of coats. If, on the other hand, there were a reduction by half in the energy cost of production of coats the relation would be :


20 yards of linen equals 2 coats,
or 10 yards of linen equals 1 coat.


A fall in the relative of coats and a rise in the relative value of linen.


It is apparent, then, that one article cannot occupy both positions in the same value expression ; it cannot be at the same time relative and equivalent—i.e., the article whose value is being stated, and also the object in which that value is being stated. In other words, in a particular value expression an article that occupies one side is thereby excluded from occupying the other side. As Marx puts it :—


  ”The relative form and the equivalent form are two intimately connected, mutually dependent and inseparable elements of the expression of value ; but, at the same time, are mutually exclusive, antagonistic extremes—i.e., poles of the same expression.”


By putting the linen and the coat into the above value relation we are, in reality, illustrating the fact that value-making labour is simple abstract labour. Although the linen and the coat are produced by different kinds of work (weaving and tailoring), and perhaps work of different degrees of skill, yet they are, at bottom, the product of just definite quantities of general labour, and hence they can be put into a relation based upon their equality. Weaving, so far as it produces value, is the same as tailoring.


Perhaps an illustration may make this point clearer.


The making of a coat is one particular form in which a tailor uses his energy ; the making of a pair of trousers is another and different particular form, yet coat-making and trouser-making are only different forms of the general activity known as tailoring. Similarly, all productive activity, no matter what particular form it may take, is simply different forms under which human energy is used up.


From the above analysis of the simplest form in which the value of a commodity is made evident, it will be seen that value does not originate in the value form (20 yards of linen equals one coat), but, on the contrary, this form of expression can only exist because commodities contain value—the form arises out of the nature of value. In other words, value does not originate in exchange, as the advocates of capitalism would have us believe, but value must exist before the exchange relation can arise; production precedes exchange; articles must be produced before they can be exchanged. An article exchanges—or is a commodity—because it possesses value; it does not possess value because it exchanges. It is by taking the form of exchange value—entering into a value relation—that the value of a commodity is given an independent and definite form—in our example the form is that of the coat.


As we have already shown, there is no opposition contained in each commodity between use-value and value. This opposition is given an objective or obvious existence when we put two commodities into an exchange relation, one appearing simply as a use-value (the linen) and the other as value itself (the coat). Consequently, the simple form of value—the one we are examining—is that in which this opposition or contrast is clearly demonstrated.


The form of value we have analysed Marx describes as the “elementary or accidental form of value.” It is defined as “accidental” because the position of a commodity on one or the other side of the relation (as relative or equivalent) depends entirely upon accident, whether it is the one whose value is being expressed or the one expressing value.


Throughout all history the articles obtained by the expenditure or human energy have been use-values—i.e., useful articles— but it was only at a definite point in social development that such articles became commodities—i.e., useful articles produced for exchange. That point was the period when the human energy used up in their production expressed as objective qualities of these articles—as their value. Consequently, the simple form of value is also the earliest historical form under which a product of human energy appeared as a commodity. The earliest form of exchange was primitive barter on the boundaries of ancient territories or during the accidental meetings of peoples on the march. We will make a more detailed examination of the historical development of exchange later on.


(To be continued.)