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Simon Clarke’s Guide to Capital: All Three Volumes


Simon Clarke’s homepage / publications. Guide to Capital as doc / pdf

Capital, volume 1, Chapter 1.


The first chapter of Capital is both the most important, in that it introduces the basic concepts of Marx’s theory of value, and the most difficult.

Marx first began to work out his theory of value in the Grundrisse (1857), but the discussion there is very convoluted and incomplete. The first version of Chapter One of Capital is to be found in the Critique of Political Economy (1859), whose first chapter is in many ways the best introduction to Chapter One of Capital. The discussion of the Critique differs in a number of ways from that of Capital:

  1. In the Critique Marx does not make the fundamental distinction between value and exchange-value that is made in Capital
  2. in the Critique the argument has a much more ‘Hegelian’ flavour: the argument is entirely formulated in terms of the development of the contradiction between (exchange)-value and use-value
  • the logical and historical development of the argument are both present, but are separated: a logical analysis is followed by a historical one, whereas in Capital the two are more closely integrated
  • Marx devotes much more attention to money in the Critique (and in the Grundrisse) than he does in Capital, (the discussion of money in Capital refers the reader back to the Critique)
  1. The explanation of the theory of value in the Critique is rather different from that in Capital. In the Critique the discussion of commodity fetishism is more closely integrated into the discussion of the theory of value and it is clear that for Marx it is the ‘qualitative’ rather than the ‘quantitative’ dimension that is important: i.e. the theory of value is a theory of the way in which, through money and exchange, private labours are brought into social relation with one another. In Capital the exposition emphasises the quantitative dimension first: the theory of value as a theory of the ratio in which commodities exchange, before discussing the qualitative dimension.

The version of the first chapter of Capital in the English translations is a revised version that first appeared in the third German edition. In the first two editions the first chapter was shorter (roughly the first two sections of the later version and shorter versions of the third and fourth sections), and there was also an Appendix on ‘The form of value’ that was integrated into the third section in the rewrite. The change was made in an attempt to make the first chapter more comprehensible but it does introduce some differences in emphasis. (A translation of the first version of Ch. 1 and the Appendix is published, in a very tortuous translation, in Value Studies by Marx (A. Dragstedt, ed.). A much better translation of the Appendix has been published in Capital and Class, 4, 1978.)

Chapter One of Capital offers us a sociological theory of the market. Marx does not see the market simply as an institution in which individuals meet to exchange commodities, to be understood in isolation from the production of commodities, for exchange itself has implications for production. It is through the price mechanism that apparently independent producers are persuaded to produce in accordance with social needs: if too much of a commodity is produced, the price falls and less will be produced: producers will direct their labour into the production of other goods. If a producer is inefficient he or she will not get full recognition in the market for the work he or she has done, and so will be compelled to increase efficiency. Thus the market is the place in which the labour of individual producers is brought into relation with that of other producers, and so of society as a whole. The market is a particular way of allocating social labour, appropriate to a particular kind of society in which individuals work independently of one another to produce goods for the use of others. Thus the relation between individual producers in a commodity producing society is not directly recognised as a social relation – the producers do not get together to plan production as interdependent members of society. Instead the social relation between these producers takes the form of a relation between things, between the goods they exchange for one another. The exchange ratio, or exchange value, of commodities, is not, therefore, merely a relation between inanimate objects, but it expresses the relation between the labours of the individuals who have produced those commodities. This idea is the basis of Marx’s theory of value.

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Art and Value

Tate Modern Launch The Damien Hirst Retrospective

Review of Dave Beech, Art and Value: Art’s Economic Exceptionalism in Classical, Neoclassical and Marxist Economics

by Jasper Bernes and Daniel Spaulding, RP 195 (Jan/Feb 2016) 

Dave Beech’s fundamental claim is that art is not a standard commodity. Art is, rather, ‘exceptional’, in the sense that its production, circulation and consumption follow patterns that are aberrant from the perspective of capital accumulation. The authors of the present review are in complete agreement with this claim. Indeed, after reading the book, we find it hard to imagine how anyone could not be. It suffices to observe – as Beech does, at length – that works of art are not produced as a result of the outlay of capital, that artists are not wage-labourers, and that the market price of art commodities is not established through competition as it is with other commodities. The case for art’s exceptional status vis-à-vis typical commodity production therefore seems open and shut. Alas, the (art) world is not so simple. Confusion reigns on this point, even – or especially – among Marxists.

Beech’s accomplishment is to have irrefutably demonstrated artistic production’s difference from capitalist production, and to have done so in a text that is distinguished by a higher level of erudition than anything heretofore published on the topic. Art and Value is the definitive retort to congeries of speculation on the commodity character of art – a morass, to be sure, in which a basic handle on the critique of political economy goes a long way towards clearing the air. This is terrain where even specialists lose their way. Consider a 2012 article in the online journal by the literary scholar Nicholas Brown, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Its Real Subsumption under Capital’. The title gives the game away, of course. And the first sentence makes it explicit: ‘Whatever previous ages might have fancied, we are wise enough to know that the work of art is a commodity like any other.’

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Michael Heinrich Understands Marx

Michael Heinrich: Value, fetishism and impersonal domination

Public Discussion With Michael Heinrich


Michael Heinrich: The bourgeois state: class domination on the basis of freedom and equality

Traditional Marxism, the New Reading of Marx and the Critique of Capitalism





Advertising doesn’t impose false desires. So when I tell you that I prefer to gaze upon the florid arabesque pattern on the yellow wallpaper you must understand — I don’t feel good — don’t bother me.

Stop and consider for a moment the Darstellungsform of commodity society — that is, the appearances of value that can only be expressed through the phenomenal identity of the exchange relation. Bring to attention here the ontological status of appearances. As Hegel was well aware, reality does not exist independently from its appearance, but is rather constitutive of social existence. “The essence of the world coincides with the statistical law by which its surface is classified.” This appearance of reality as reality does not take place in isolation, but contains its own negativity. An appearance is not something that appears, but rather an appearance for-another, an appearance that is other than. Activity, in its appearance, therefore must calculate how it can distinguish itself among others, while retaining an independence less precise than termination.

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