Friday, 10 August 2012

Capital I Chapter 3 - Part 3

The Metamorphosis Of Commodities Continued

When the commodity is exchanged for money, money is at the same time exchanged for the commodity. The commodity becomes Exchange Value, but the Money becomes Use Value . The linen goes out of the hands of its owner, and money comes in. But, likewise, the owner of the money gives it up in return for the Use Value of the linen. What appears as one exchange is in reality two: (C-M) and (M-C), if viewed from both standpoints.

But, the owner of the money only obtained it by themselves selling a commodity, so what here appears as M-C, is in reality just the last part of another series of transactions (C-M-C). The only exception to this is the gold producer, who exchanges gold (money) directly for other commodities.

So, the way commodities metamorphose, to use Marx's term, in a money economy, comprises two stages. The first stage is that the owner of a commodity C sells it for money M. The second stage is that they buy another commodity C using the money they have received from the sale. So, the two stages can be summed up as C-M and M-C.

In reality, the seller will sell a lot of a single commodity C, and will use the money M to buy many different commodities to meet their range of needs. But, while the first part of the transaction C-M, is the first stage for the seller, for the buyer, of the linen, it is the second stage. For them it appears as M-C. They have given up money (Exchange Value) to acquire the commodity linen whose Use Value they wish to consume. Similarly, the seller of the linen, in the second stage, where they hand over the money they have received for the linen, in order to buy a bible, complete, for the seller of the bible, the first stage. The bible seller sees things as C-M. They, in turn, can use the £2, received for the bible, to buy a bottle of brandy for £2. To them this is the second stage, M-C, whereas for the brandy seller it is the first stage C-M, and so on ad infinitum.

In other words, the market place is not made up of one group of sellers and one group of buyers. Everyone occupies the role of buyer and seller alternately. The owners of commodities “metamorphose” the commodities they own, into the commodities they desire, by continual acts of buying and selling. Money intervenes in this process as the transient equivalent form.

If we put together these two stages by which one commodity is metamorphosed into another we get a circuit C-M-M-C. The commodity begins in its commodity form (linen) which comprises its two contradictory elements (Use Value and Exchange Value). For the owner it has no Use Value (that is why they want to sell it). In the process of selling, the linen becomes money, i.e. its Use Value is stripped away, leaving only its quantity of Exchange Value, which then takes the physical form of money.

Because it has no Use Value for the owner it only exists as Exchange Value. The example of light can again be useful here. Light can be considered either as a wave of energy or as a particle. The Exchange Value can be though of as a wave of energy, and the thing it takes shape in as the particle. The wave is energy and the photon the particle. As energy it is manifest through the other bodies it energises. As matter it is light incarnate. The same with the Exchange Value. It is manifest as it “energises” different commodities, as money it is materialised Value incarnate. In the money the Exchange Value simply takes a different shape to that it had in the linen. Or another non-scientific way of viewing it might be that the Exchange Value is like a spirit, which possesses a different body.

But, money stands in the opposite position. It is pure Exchange Value, with no Use Value of its own. Its Use Value is contained not in itself, but in all the commodities it can buy. When it is exchanged for the bible, therefore, the buyer realises that Use Value.

The totality of all these circuits constitutes the circulation of commodities. At first sight, it might appear that all that the introduction of money has done here is to make the process of exchange easier than it would have been by direct barter. But, Marx shows that a much more significant change than that has occurred. Under barter, the linen seller could only have exchanged it with the bible seller, if the latter wanted linen rather than brandy! In fact, a whole series of exchanges have been made possible that otherwise could not have occurred. At the same time, a new set of dependent relations are established. The brandy seller can only sell it, if the bible seller sells his bible to the linen seller, who can only buy the bible if they sell their linen and so on.

But, these new relations mean that the constraints on exchange and the circulation of commodities are lifted. Barter meant exchange was necessarily limited by individual and personal relations, which meant such exchanges would be geographically confined, i.e. limited to local trades. Now, money means buyers can be found far and wide, and money can be used to source purchases in a similar manner. A whole new series of social relations are developed as a result of the introduction of money.

Under barter, the exchange completes the circuit of the commodities. With money, the completion of one circuit merely opens another. Each time a commodity disappears from the circuit (when it is consumed) its place is taken by money, which never disappears from the circuit.

However, this fact, that every sale is at the same time a purchase is not an acceptance of “Say's Law”. Supply does not create its own demand. As Marx says,

Nothing can be more childish than the dogma, that because every sale is a purchase, and every purchase a sale, therefore the circulation of commodities necessarily implies an equilibrium of sales and purchases. If this means that the number of actual sales is equal to the number of purchases, it is mere tautology. But its real purport is to prove that every seller brings his buyer to market with him. Nothing of the kind. The sale and the purchase constitute one identical act, an exchange between a commodity-owner and an owner of money.. Hence the identity of sale and purchase implies that the commodity is useless, if, on being thrown into the alchemistical retort of circulation, it does not come out again in the shape of money; if, in other words, it cannot be sold ... No one can sell unless some one else purchases. But no one is forthwith bound to purchase, because he has just sold. Circulation bursts through all restrictions as to time, place, and individuals, imposed by direct barter, and this it effects by splitting up, into the antithesis of a sale and a purchase, the direct identity that in barter does exist between the alienation  of one’s own and the acquisition of some other man’s product... If the interval in time between the two complementary phases of the complete metamorphosis of a commodity become too great, if the split between the sale and the purchase become too pronounced, the intimate connexion between them, their oneness, asserts itself by producing — a crisis. The antithesis, use-value and value; the contradictions that private labour is bound to manifest itself as direct social labour, that a particularised concrete kind of labour has to pass for abstract human labour; the contradiction between the personification of objects and the representation of persons by things; all these antitheses and contradictions, which are immanent in commodities, assert themselves, and develop their modes of motion, in the antithetical phases of the metamorphosis of a commodity. These modes therefore imply the possibility, and no more than the possibility, of crises. The conversion of this mere possibility into a reality is the result of a long series of relations, that, from our present standpoint of simple circulation, have as yet no existence.” (pp 114-5)

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