The Two-fold Character of the Labour Embodied in Commodities

  • At first examination, commodities seem to only two qualities: use value (a utilitarian application) and exchange value (a trading value that’s real, or imagined),
  • Labour also possess a use value (immediate use) and an exchange one, because labour is infused into commodity production and therefore can be traded
  • Example: A coat and 10 yards of linen, one coat is worth 20 yards of linen
  • The coat is a use value that satisfies a particular want, it exists because of a special sort of productivity, the nature of which is determined by its aim, mode of operation, subject means, and result.
  • We call labour that contributes to the usefulness of the coat, useful labour because we consider its useful effect i.e the wearing of a coat
  • The coat and linen are qualitatively different (they serve two different functions)
  • The labour that produces linen and coats, is also different (tailoring versus weaving)
  • If the two items were not produced by labour they would be incomparable, but they are
  • To all the different items of use that there exist, exist as many different kinds of labour processes used to manufacture and create them
  • This division of labour (different workers producing different things) is necessary for the production of commodities
  • However, this does not mean that the production of commodities is a necessary reason to divide labour
  • An example is given where primitive Indian communities enjoyed a social division of labour but did not produce any commodities
  • Another example is that in a factory, there is a system to divide labour, but this division is there in order to transform the products collectively into a commodity
  • Whether the tailor or the customer wear the coat, it’s irrelevant, it still has a use value as a coat
  • The relationship between the coat and the labour is not altered even if tailoring has become a trade and independent branch of the division of labour
  • Humans have always created clothes for wear, but coats and linen, like every other element of material wealth that is not the spontaneous produce of Nature; must invariably owe their existence to a special productive activity: work and labour
  • The activity takes what nature provides and repurposes them to human wants
  • Labour therefore also creates use value as it transforms items that exist in nature into items that we can use, if we can use them then we can also exchange them
  • This is a natural sequence of events, if labour does not transform items from nature into those with use value then humanity cannot continue
  • Commodities are combinations of two elements: matter and labour.
  • If labour is taken away from this combination, a material combination is left that was provided by nature
  • Nature also changes the material substance that it produces from time to time which means that labour itself is not the only source of wealth
  • William Petty: Labour is its father and the earth is its mother
  • Coats and linen are objective expressions of identical labour, but tailoring and weaving are qualitatively different kinds of labour
  • There are instances where the same worker does both weaving and tailoring  – these are modifications of the labour of the same individual
  • Human labour according to capitalist demand is varied
  • Productive activity is the expenditure of human labour power
  • Even though tailoring and weaving are qualitatively different productive activities but ultimately entail the same brains, nerves, muscles and amount to the same process: human labour
  • The value of commodities represents human labour in the abstract, the expenditure of human labour in general
  • Average labour power varies from country to country and place to place, but is ultimately the same process
  • Skilled labour counts only as labour intensified or as multiplied simple labour
  • i.e the more skilled you are the more you produce
  • A different quantity of productive activity (greater) is considered skilled and a lesser quantity is known as unskilled
  • A social process done behind the backs of workers and consequently seems to appear as ‘custom’
  • All labour will be referred to as unskilled
  • As we abstract from the different use values of coat and linen,  the same we do wit the labour represented by those use values; we disregard the difference between weaving and tailoring
  • Despite tailoring and weaving being necessary factors in the creation of use values, coat and linen, but are ultimately determined as being products of expended human labour power
  • Coats and linen are not merely values, of values of definite magnitude, and according to the assumption above, the coat is worth twice as much as the ten yards of linen.
  • The difference is that the linen contains only half as much labour as the coat and therefore twice as much labour power was expended for the production of the coat
  • Labour contained in a commodity counts only qualitatively, with reference to value it counts quantitatively and must be reduced to human labour
  • In the case of use value, its a matter of How and What, in the case of exchange value, How much and How long a time?
  • Magnitude of the value of a commodity only represents the quantity of labour embodied in it
  • It follows then that in certain proportions all commodities are equal
  • If the quality of labour has remained the same, and the coat remains the same in terms of use value, but assume that the amount of quantity of labour for the production of a coat has halved or doubled,
  • An increase in the quantity of coats is an increase in material wealth, but it is also a decrease in the cost of the coat itself
  • The contradiction is that if human labour output increases the quantity of the use values it decreases the ‘cost’ of the use values if the amount of labour time expended is shortened, and vice versa
  • The more you produce something / bulk production the cheaper it has to be sold as the more efficient your production of it is

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