Two factors of a commodity: Use-value and value (substance of value and magnitude of value)

Notes from Das Kapital. I will be going through each section and chapter and taking notes on them. Feel free to ask questions at any stage. This is for learning purposes – for me and for anybody else who desires to engage. 


Section 1. The Two Factors of a Commodity: Use-value and Value (the Substance of Value and the Magnitude of Value)


  • Commodities are objects outside us 
  • Irrelevant whether it is for satisfying a need from your stomach or from ‘fancy’ such as a luxury item is irrelevant
  • The utility of a ‘thing’ makes it a use-value  (such as a hammer, use value)
  • Physical properties limit a commodity, that is to say it does not exist outside of those properties (such as a tree, a precious metal, etc) 
  • Labour appropriates the useful qualities of a commodity and therefore gives it a new value 
  • Use values only become reality by use or consumption
  • Commodities also constitute the ‘substance of all wealth, depending on social factors
  • Exchange value is a “quantitative” relation, how much of X can be traded for Y
  • Exchange value is a fluctuating and relative value of commodities, it can also be contradictory because what people trade for one item or another can be artificially inflated)
  • Use value is determined by another variable among commodities 
  • If for example corn and iron are traded, besides an ‘intrinsic’ value to these items, what else contributes to determining why a proportion of corn is equated and exchanged for a proportion of iron 
  • This common value that gives proportion to the commodities and therefore meaning to exchange value cannot be chemical, physical or geometrical as this third and common value does not affect the utility of those items 
  • If you have 1 quarter of corn 1 quarter of iron, how do you determine their value? There is a third common denominator at play: the process of labour that went into extraction and exchange and it is the only common denominator between the two items
  • The product of labour has made the commodity undergo a change in our hands and arguably (relatively to conditions) an increase or decrease in value 
  • Useful productive labour is abstract from the production of commodities because there is an abstraction from the material elements and shapes the product 
  • Human labour becomes abstract as a result 
  • Labour-power (human labour) is expended in the production of all commodities and products 
  • Exchange value is something that is independent of use-value, it takes place totally abstract from by a total abstraction from use value 
  • A use value, or a useful commodity-article, has value because human labour has been input into it. 
  • How is the magnitude of its value measured? By the quantity of the value-creating substance, the labour, contained in the commodity-article 
  • It might be thought that the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour but less skilled labour would and often does produce more valuable commodities 
  • Labour-power is homogeneous, comprising all the individual units of society
  • The total labour power of society is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society. For example, virtual wealth exceeds 10 times all commodities ever produced by humans, so where does it come from?
  • Each of these units is the same as any other so far as it has the character of the average labour-power of society and takes effect as such – as it takes no more time than average or socially necessary 
  • The labour-time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity relevant to the time 
  • Industrialization changes this subjective amount of socially necessary time and intensity for ex. Power-looms reduced by one half the amount of labour required to weave linen 
  • The value of an article-commodity is determined therefore by the amount of socially necessary labour for production 
  • As ‘values’ all commodities are only definite masses of congealed labour-time i.e determined by the amount of labour-power input into them 
  • If labour-time required for production of a commodity remained constant, its value would remain constant 

“all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract”

  • But the labour-time is not constant and changes by various circumstances, average skill of workers, scientific development, degree of practical application (industrialization, mechanization, etc) social organisation of production (collectivization of farms for example increases output and efficiency alongside industrialization and mechanization)
  • Example; 8 bushels of corn are acquired faster in good season / harvest while only 4 are acquired in poor harvest / bad season   
  • Same labour extracts more metal from rich mines than from poor mines 
  • For example, diamonds are harder to find therefore their discovery costs a greater deal of labour time therefore more labour is represented 
  • Example, in 1823, 80 years of diamond digging had not realised a year and a half worth of sugar-coffee plantations of the same country (Brazil) 
  • With richer Diamond mines, the same quantity of labour would yield more diamonds, therefore their quantity would be expected to fall 
  • In general, the more productive labour is, the less labour there is in an article-commodity therefore the value is expected to fall 
  • This also works vice versa,   the less labour is productive, the greater is the labour-time required for the production of an article and the greatest is its value expected to be
  • The value of a commodity therefore, varies directly as the quantity and inversely as the productiveness, of the labour incorporated in it 
  • A thing can be a use value without having ‘value’ this is the case where the utility to man is not due to labour input 
  • Whoever satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, use values but not commodities 
  • In order to produce commodities, he must produce use-values for others, social use values. 
  • Nothing can have value without being an object of utility, if the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it, the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value