Class 01 Reading Marx’s Capital Vol I with David Harvey


» NEIL SMITH: Well, you’re in for a treat today. We’re going to be talking
with David Harvey on the lectures that he’s been giving now for almost forty years, I think, on Capital. My name is Neil Smith. I teach in Anthropology and Geography at the
City University of New York and David has been a colleague of mine
since he came here but before that, a long time before that,
more than thirty years I was a student of David’s at Johns
Hopkins in Baltimore, and that’s where I first became not aware of Capital as a book, but
that’s where I first read through it and did so indeed with David.
David what inspired you to start to want to read Capital back,
presumably, in the very early 1970s? » DAVID HARVEY: It was one of those historical moments where it seemed right to do it. I arrived from England, fresh off the boat in the summer of ’69. I arrived into the city, Baltimore where in 1968 there had been a tremendous
eruption of violence in the city in the wake of the
assassination of Martin Luther King, the civil rights questions in the city were blatant, the racism in the city was blatant, the Vietnam War was on, and all the war protests were hotting up, and it was a very, very confused time… And I remember in, I think, December of ’69 Fred Hampton got assassinated in Chicago, a Black Panther leader, and shortly after that, in May ’70, there were the killings at Kent State. Huge student strike, millions of
students all over the country just went on strike. And then after that
there were killings at Jackson State. So this was this was a very, very,
very upset time. And I think, for me, anyway, there was also a sense
that we didn’t quite know how to handle, or how to explain this. And I’ve been trained as a sort of social scientist,
thinking about things, and I couldn’t find a framework
that would really encompass all that was going on. So I said to a few graduate students:
‘Hey why don’t we just read Capital? Since it’s a book we haven’t read, maybe there’s something in there that would work.’ And so a few of us sat down and
we ran a reading group on it. And that’s how it all began. And then
having done it once and completely misunderstood the book, completely misunderstood it.
Now I look back, I’d be embarrassed to listen to what we
were saying about this book in the first year. You know, it was the blind leading the blind through
this enormous text, you know. And we didn’t know what we were doing
and then we thought: ‘Well we’ve done it once, we better do it again because we obviously
haven’t got this quite right.’ But one thing that I did learn
at that point, from that was: you only really begin to
understand Capital when you get to the end. It’s very hard to start off with a… » NEIL SMITH: Yeah. » DAVID HARVEY: …sort of clear kind of understanding. So the second year we decided
to have another go at it, and we had another go at it. And I thought to myself: Well, this is interesting, now, I began to see a
framework emerging that could help me explain what was going on.
So I thought: Well, I should keep at it. And there were people around, like me, who kind of felt they needed
a framework and so, step by step I started to say:
well, I’ll do this every year. And of course one of the things that
happens when you do that, is that you suddenly find
yourself called a Marxist. I had no idea what a Marxist was,
and I really didn’t care too much initially, but suddenly,
just because you’re reading the book and taking it seriously, and you want to know more about how to
understand the world through these lenses, you suddenly find yourself in this
political corner. And after a bit you say: I guess if that’s who I am, then
that’s who I am, you know. So.. » NEIL SMITH: Well, I think it might be useful,
since the lectures are coming, if you give us a bit of an overview, a bit of a discussion of what you think are the high points of
the chapters in Volume 1 of Capital. » DAVID HARVEY: One of the things that
I think is really good to do, and one of the reasons I’ve got a great deal of pleasure out of
teaching this course in this way, is that many people have taken courses
where they’ve done a little bit of Marx, a little bit of Weber, Durkheim, this kind of stuff,
they’ve read excerpts from Marx or something like that, but they’ve never actually read it as a book, and it’s a fantastic literary construction.
So, one of the things that I really want to highlight is what a good read it is! Once you get past the difficulties of the
language and grappling with all these kinds of concepts and so on, it’s a really, really
dynamic piece, it flows very well. And it flows from the beginning point
which is just about a simple idea of a commodity. You go into a supermarket, you find a commodity,
you buy the commodity, you take it home, you eat it, or wear it, or whatever, and, and just beginning with that thing, which we
all know about, it takes you step by step by step right the way through, unraveling how a capitalist economy works. And then it builds around that sort of
insights, stunning insights, as to why we have unemployment, or why there is a struggle over time, why is it that capitalists are always trying to snatch time away from you, why do we live a life where our world is kind of orchestrated around a
certain kind of concept of temporality, and what the oppressions are
which exist with all of that. So, I think it’s incredibly revelatory in what it does. So, the aim of this course is to get you to read this book, and to do it as well as
you can in Marx’s own terms, which may sound a bit ridiculous because, since you haven’t read the book, you won’t know exactly what his terms are. But one of his terms is that you read, and therefore you’ll get a lot
more out of this class if you read the assigned readings before you come to class,
than if you just come along and listen. There’s another reason
for that, which is that You have to struggle, always, with understanding something. And in struggling with it yourself you can come to your own understanding of what Marx stands for and what it means to you. So it’s an
engagement between you and this book, you and this text, that I want to encourage. In doing that, however, there is a complication
which arises from the fact that it’s very hard to approach this without
some preconceived ideas. Everybody has heard of Karl Marx and everybody knows the
term Marxism and Marxist, and there all kinds of connotations that go with those words. So, what I have to ask you at the
beginning is to try to lay aside a lot of those preconceptions, a lot of those things you think you know about
Marx and just try to read the text, to find out what it really
was he was trying to say. And that, of course, is not easy for a bunch
of other reasons, which I want to talk about by way of introduction. One of the other preconceptions
with which we tend to approach a text of this kind is out of our particular kind of
intellectual history, and our own particular intellectual formation, and for people who are
graduate students, for example, this intellectual formation is very often
governed by disciplinary apparatuses, disciplinary considerations, disciplinary concerns. And so the tendency is to sort of read it from
your disciplinary standpoint. Well, one of the great things about Marx is
he would never have got tenure in any discipline, and if you want to read him right, then
you’ve got to forget about getting tenure in your discipline; not in the long run of course but at
least for the purposes of this course. You have to think about what it is that he is saying, independent of the disciplinary apparatus with
which you start to think about things. Now, the other reason for saying that
is actually this turns out to be an astonishingly rich book in terms of its references. References to Shakespeare,
to the Greeks, to Balzac, references to all of the the
political economists, to philosophers, to anthropologists and all
the rest of it. In other words, Marx draws upon an immense array of sources, and as he does so it might be really
exciting for you to kind of figure out what some of those sources are, and actually some of them quite hard to track
down, and I’ve been looking at this for a long time. But it really is kind of
very exciting when you start to see some of the connections. For instance, when I first
started reading this, I had not read many of Balzac’s novels, then I’m reading
Balzac’s novels and I say to myself: ‘Oh that’s where Marx got it from!’ and then you kind of suddenly see all the
ways in which he’s drawing upon a whole experiential world, full of Goethe, full of
Shakespeare, you know, all the rest of it. So, it’s a very rich text in that kind of way,
and you start to appreciate it, I think, more if you stop saying to yourself: ‘Well, who is he referring to in history?’, or ‘Which economist is he talking about?’ and so on. And the other thing that will come
across, if you read it that way, is you’ll actually find this a very interesting book. It’s a fascinating book, and here of course we come across
another set of preconceptions, because many of you will already have encountered some of Marx in your reading. Maybe you read the Communist
Manifesto in high school. Maybe you went through one of those
wonderful courses which is called ‘Introduction to social theory’,
where you spent two weeks on Marx, you know, two weeks on Weber, a few
weeks on Durkheim and all the other kind of characters. And maybe you read
some excerpts from Capital. But reading excerpts from Capital is
entirely different from reading it as a book, because you start to see these bits and
pieces that are excerpts as, somehow or other, playing into a much grander
and broader narrative, and what I think I’d like you to really try to
get out of this, is some sense of what that grander narrative is, and what that
grander conception is, because that is, if you like, how Marx, I think, would
want to be read. He would hate it if somebody said: ‘Hey, you’ve got to excerpt this chapter’,
or ‘You’ve got to do this chapter’, and you can understand Marx that way. And he would certainly hate it if he knew he
was being given three weeks in an introduction to social theory class. And I think you should hate that, too, because you get a certain
conception of Marx from that, which is radically different from the kind of
conception you get from reading a book like Marx’s Capital. Now the other thing that happens,
of course, from the disciplinary standpoint is that very often people
start to re-orchestrate their understandings around that disciplinary
standpoint. That is, you say: ‘Well, I’m not a good economist, I don’t
get the economics in here at all, so I’m not going to be bothered to
follow the economic argument, I’m just going to follow the philosophical argument’. And actually, it’s very interesting reading Marx in that perspective. Now, I’ve taught this course
now every year since 1971, except one. Some years I’ve taught it twice,
some years I even taught it three times. And in the early years I
used to teach it to all kinds of different groups. One year it was the whole philosophy department
from what was called Morgan State College at the time, Morgan
State University. Another time it was all of the graduate students in
the English program at Johns Hopkins. Another year it was economists, and this kind of thing.
And actually, what was fascinating to me was, each time you read it with a different
group, they saw different things in it. And actually, I learned a great deal about
the text from going through it with these very different disciplinary groups. Sometimes it drove me
crazy, but I learned a great deal. One year, for example, I ran it with a group of people from
the comparative literature program at Johns Hopkins, about seven of them. And we got onto chapter one, and we spent the whole semester on chapter one. It drove me nuts. I was saying: ‘Look, we’ve got
to get onto the working day’, you know, and things like that, very important issues
of this kind, and they’d say: ‘No, no, we’ve got to get this right, we’ve got
to get this right’, you know. ‘What does he actually mean by value? What is
actually this money commodity? What is fetish about? What is this really all about?’ And it turned out… I said: ‘Why are you doing all of this?’
They said: ‘Well, we’re working very much in the tradition of…’ somebody I’d never
heard of at the time, and thought was obviously an idiot, because
he was producing this kind of thing, a man called Jacques Derrida, who spent a lot of time at
Hopkins during the late 1960s, early 1970s. And so actually was very influential in the
comparative literature program. Now, one of the things I actually afterwards thought about this was… What they taught me was to pay
very careful attention to Marx’s language; what he says, and how he says it, and what
he means, and maybe what he’s missing out, and that is also terribly important. And so, actually, I learned…
and I’m very grateful to that group now, apart from the fact that I no longer
sound myself like an idiot for saying I don’t… I’ve never heard of Jacques Derrida, you know. So it was just very influential to have a group of that kind sort of take
me through just chapter one with a fine-toothed comb, going through almost every word,
every sentence, every connection with the sentences, and so on. Yes, indeed, I want to get you to the
working day. Yes, indeed, I want to get you through the volume, so we’re
not going to spend all of the time on chapter one, but this is the kind of thing that different
disciplinary perspectives can open up. Because Marx actually wrote this text from those many different
standpoints that I’ve indicated. And I think that we have to recognize how those different standpoints
intersect within the text. There are in fact three major areas of inspiration for this work, and they’re all powered forward by a deep commitment, in Marx’s case, to critical theory, to a critical analysis. When he was relatively young he wrote a little
piece to one of his sort of editorial colleagues at a German journal. The title of the piece is :
‘For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing’. A very modest piece, and I
suggest that you actually go read it, because it’s fascinating. What he does there is, he doesn’t say everybody is stupid, I’m going to trash everybody,
I’m going to criticize everybody out of existence. No. What he says is, there are a lot of serious people
who really thought about the world very hard. And they’ve seen certain things about
the world, and what they have seen is our resource. What the critical method does
is to take what they have seen, and to work on it and to transform
it into something different. And one of the things he later said,
which I think captures his method admirably, is: he says the way in which you
do that transformation is you take radically different conceptual blocks and you rub them together,
and you make revolutionary fire. And that is in effect what he’s doing.
He is taking very, very different traditions, pushing them together, rubbing them together, and creating a completely
new framework of knowledge. And as he says in one of his introductory prefaces, he says: if you’re trying to
create a new system of knowledge, then you’ve got to reshape the whole conceptual apparatus. You’ve got to reshape the whole method of inquiry. Now, the three conceptual blocks
that he rubs together in Capital are really these: First there is the conceptual block of political economy. Eighteenth century, early
nineteenth century political economy. This is mainly English. Not solely English, but it’s from Locke and Hobbes and Hume to, of
course, Adam Smith and Ricardo and Malthus. And a host of other figures,
like Steuart, and minor figures. And he subjected all of these people to a deep, deep criticism, in three volumes called ‘Theories of Surplus Value’. He didn’t have a photocopying machine
and he didn’t have the web and all those kinds of things, so he
laboriously copied out by hand long passages from Adam Smith, and then wrote a commentary on them. Long passages from Steuart, again, long sort of commentaries on them. In fact what he was doing there
was what we now call deconstruction. And one of the things I learned from going through ‘Theories of Surplus Value’ was how to deconstruct arguments this way. In effect, what he does is to say: ‘Adam Smith makes this argument. What is he missing out? What is the absence? What is the missing piece in this, that really helps pin it all together, and when we put it in there,
transforms the argument?’ So political economy is really quite strong as one of the.. …one of the pieces in the story. Now, I know political economy pretty well.
I’ve read a lot of that stuff and I feel fairly familiar with it. Maybe it’s
because I come out of the English tradition and all the rest of it,
that I feel fairly comfortable with it. And so when we’re going through, I’ll give you quite a bit of the materials coming
out of that, in terms of where Marx is getting his inspiration from, because he doesn’t always cite it in Capital. An idea comes up, which is clearly taken from one place, and is very significant, but Marx doesn’t always cite it. There are, of course, also some other theorists, even in
the United States, but primarily French. So there was a French tradition of
political economy, too, rather different. Marx makes reference to that, but that
is one, if you like, one of the big areas of his…of his discussion. The second area is German classical critical philosophy, which stretches back to the Greeks. Now, Marx wrote his dissertation on Epicurus, so he was very, very
familiar with Greek thought, and of course the
way in which Greek thought came into the German
philosophical critical tradition, Spinoza, Leibniz, and of course Hegel, and many others, that kind of tradition
is also extremely significant, and so in many ways he’s using
the German critical philosophical tradition in relationship to political
economy. He’s putting them together. And he also drew heavily, in lots of ways, upon Kant. So that tradition is also very significant. I’m not very familiar with that tradition. I’m not
deeply trained in that tradition, so those of you who have a deeper training in that tradition than I do,
will probably spot things that I’m going to miss. This is one of the things I learned when I worked with a group of philosophers who were steeped in Hegel, and all that
kind of stuff, so I got a very Hegelian kind of view, of how Marx is
proceeding. I know some of it, but I’m not so strong on it as I would want to be. And I have to say, early
on I had some sympathy with the British economist Joan Robinson when
she said she really objected to the way in which Hegel was putting his nose
in between her and Ricardo in Marx’s work. I had sympathy with… …with that, and so some of the… …the problems I have with sort of
becoming familiar with Hegel, I kind of have, I have some sympathy with. In fact, I jokingly say, and I probably shouldn’t
say it, and I’ll upset all the Hegelians around, actually, one of the best things
about reading Hegel before you read Marx, is it makes reading Marx pretty easy. So get yourself a dose of Hegel before
you do Marx and everything will be okay. The third tradition that he uses, and appeals to a lot, is the utopian socialist tradition. Now, this is primarily French, although there’s Robert Owen, and some of the
British, and of course Thomas More, in the British tradition, who crops up every now
and again in the text, but the big socialist thinkers – there was this tremendous burst of utopian
thinking in the 1830s and 1840s in France. People like Etienne Cabet, who created a
group called the Icarians, who came here and settled in the United States after 1848. Proudhon. Saint-Simon. Fourier. Marx was very, very familiar –
he spent some time in Paris – very familiar with their works, and if you read the Communist Manifesto,
you find that he’s a bit frustrated with their works. He doesn’t like the way in which the utopians are actually configuring some
ideal society over there, without any idea of how to get from here to there. For Marx, what he wants
to do is to try to convert the socialist project
from an utopian socialist project into a scientific socialist project. But in order to do that,
he just can’t take English empiricism, English
political economy, those kinds of things. He has to recreate, reconfigure what scientific method is all about. And his scientific method is therefore predicated very much on this interrogation of, if you like,
the mainly English tradition of classical political economy, with the mainly German
tradition of critical philosophy, with, if you like,
the utopian impulse, asking: what is communism?
What is a socialist society? How can we critique capitalism? as, if you like, the third
strain which is impelling him forward. I’m pretty familiar with the French socialist tradition,
particularly of that period, of the utopian tradition of that period, and have even written about it so, so… You know,
I’ve read a lot of those people, like Fourier, Saint-Simon, and, and Proudhon,
in particular, and I think, actually, what happens is that Marx often draws
from them more than he wants to acknowledge, since he kind of wanted
to distance himself from that overt utopian tradition that was there in the 1830s and
1840s, in which he, in many ways, saw as part of a chronic
failure of the revolution of 1848 in Paris. Since he wanted to distance himself
from all of that, what he did was to say: ‘Okay, I’m not going to acknowledge them very
much at all’, but in fact he makes a great deal of use,
particularly of Saint-Simon, but also, by negation, Fourier.
In fact, a lot of his ideas are kind of the negative of Fourier. So you can’t really understand him
without understanding who he’s negating, and he’s negating Fourier, in the same way that he negates several of the political economists kind
of outright, particularly Malthus, who he had a particularly hard time accepting. So, those are, if you like, some of the main
threads that come together in this book I suggested however
that we should be reading it in Marx’s own terms but that also poses a whole set of difficulties and Marx
himself was aware of this. He interestingly commented in one of his prefaces, particularly the preface to the French edition, when there was a suggestion that the
French edition should be brought out as a serial – you know the French
like to publish things as feuilletons, that’s sort of – a paper comes out
and it’s the first two chapters… and the next week…sort of a serialized kind of publication. And what Marx writes (this is in 1872), (He) says, “…I applaud your idea of publishing
the translation of Capital as a serial… …In this form the book will be more
accessible to the working class… …a consideration which to
me outweighs everything else. That is the good side of your suggestion. But here is the reverse of the medal. The method of analysis which I have employed… …and which had not previously been
applied to economic subjects… makes the reading of the first chapters rather arduous and it is
to be feared that the French public…” (and that will include you) “…always impatient to come to a conclusion,
eager to know the connection between general principles and the immediate questions
that have aroused their passions may be disheartened because they will
be unable to move on at once. That is a disadvantage I am
powerless to overcome, unless it be by forewarning and forearming those readers who zealously seek the truth. There is no royal road to science and only
those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.” So since you’re all here zealously concerned to pursue the truth, I have to warn you, yeah, indeed the reading of the first few chapters is
particularly arduous. It’s particularly difficult. And there are a number of reasons for that. One of the reasons is his method,
which we’ll talk about in a minute. The other reason has to do with the particular way in
which he’s setting up his project. His project is to understand how a capitalist mode of production works. And he has in mind that this
is going to be a huge, huge project. In order to get that project underway, he has to develop a conceptual
apparatus which is going to help him understand all the complexity that exists under capitalism. And, again, in one of his introductions he talks about how he’s going to go about that. He says: “The method of presentation”, and we’re now dealing
with the method of presentation, this is in the post-face
to the second edition, “The method of presentation must
differ in form from that of inquiry. “The latter”, that is,
the process of inquiry, “has to appropriate the material in
detail to analyze these different forms of development, and to track
down their inner connection. Only after this work has been done can
the real movement be appropriately presented. If this is done successfully, if the life of the subject matter”, that is, the capitalist mode of production, “is now reflected back in the
ideas then it may appear as if we have before us an a priori construction.” What Marx is talking about here is his method of inquiry is
different from his method of presentation. His method of inquiry starts with
everything that exists- everything that’s going on. You start with reality
as you experience it, as you see it, as you feel it. You start with all of that. You start with descriptions of the reality by the political economists,
by novelists, by everybody. You start with all that material and then you search in that material for some simple concepts. This is what he calls
the ‘method of descent.’ The method of descent from the reality which you find, going down, looking for some foundational, fundamental concepts. And once you’ve uncovered and
discovered those fundamental concepts, you then come back to the surface and you look at what’s going
on around in the surface and you see that behind the world of
appearance that you started out with there is another way to
interpret what’s going on. In effect Marx is a
pioneer in a method which if you, you know, if you’re familiar with
psychoanalysis you would also, I think, understand. That you start with surface behaviors
and you look for some, you look for conceptual
apparatus like Freud did. You come up with a conceptual apparatus
and then it brings you back and you could explain, ‘Ah! That person is acting that
way and it looks like this but in fact it’s a representation of that.’ Marx is doing the same sort of
thing. In fact Marx is pioneering this method in social science: Start with the surface appearance;
find the deep concepts. In Capital he’s going to start with
the deep concepts. He’s going to start with the conclusions of his inquiries. ‘What are my basic concepts?’ And he lays these basic concepts out, very simply, very directly, and indeed it looks like an a priori
construction. When you first read it you say, ‘Where is all this stuff coming from?’ ‘Where’d he get it from?
Why is he doing that?’ And half the time you have no idea what
he’s talking about with these concepts. But then bit by bit, as you move on, you start to see how these
concepts are illuminating things going on around us. So after a while you start to say, ‘Ah! ‘So that’s what ‘value theory’ really means.’ ‘That’s what the value argument is all about.’ ‘Ah! That is what this
fetish is all really all about.’ ‘That is what these concepts are doing for me.’ But in effect you only
understand how these concepts work by the time you get
to the end of the book. Now that’s a very unfamiliar strategy. I mean, we’re familiar with strategies
where people people hammer into you: ‘Get the concept straight and then you go
on to the next one.’ It’s like you build brick by brick by brick by brick. Marx is more like, you know, dissecting an onion.
I use this metaphor and it’s an unfortunate one because as somebody pointed out, you know, when you dissect an
onion it usually reduces you to tears. But what he does in effect is
to start from the outside of the onion, go to the center of the onion, find
out what makes the onion grow, and then come back to the surface. So you only understand, at
the end of the day, what he’s about, when he comes back to the surface. And his argument about what makes it
grow… when you start from the inner and you work outwards
in these sort of layers… and that’s what you do.
You perpetually enrich the concepts. Something that seems like a very stark and very abstract concept gradually gets richer and
richer and richer as you go on. It’s an expansion of these concepts. It’s not a brick by brick approach at
all, and most of us are not used to that, so one of the things you’ve got to
get used to is that this is what’s going on. What that means for you is you’ve got to hang on like crazy
for the first three chapters, at least, because you probably won’t really get the
sense of what it’s all about very well until you get further on down into the text,
and then you start to see how these concepts are working, and how they… and then, if you like, the proof of the pudding is in the eating,
that by the time you start to actually derive some of the consequences that Marx lays out then, of course, you get somewhere. Included in this is his
choice of starting point. As you will see, he starts
from the standpoint… from the concept of the commodity. Now, this is a very
strange starting point. I mean most of you, when you think of Marx,
will think of phrases like ‘all history is the history of class struggle’. So you think: ‘Well, Capital
should start with class struggle’. I don’t know, it takes to about page 300
before you get to any class struggle in Capital. Very frustrating for those
of you kind of really want to get in there and think about the class struggle. Why doesn’t he start with money? Actually, in his early
preparatory investigations, he wanted to start with money, but then he found it was more
and more impossible to start with money. Why didn’t he start with labour? You know, he could have started in all
kinds of different places, but he decides to start with the commodity. And if you go back and you read his preparatory
writings, you see there was a long period, about 20 or 30 years, where he
was struggling with the question. What’s the best starting point to really go after this? What’s at the centre of this
onion, if you want to call it that, when I analyze it, it really allows me to understand how the whole thing works? And he decided to start with the commodity. It’s an arbitrary starting point. You don’t get its logic. He doesn’t
explain it. He doesn’t even bother to try and persuade you about it.
He just says: ‘This is where I start. This is how I
start to think about it. These are the concepts I’m going to use.’ Very cryptic kind of beginning to the whole
thing. He doesn’t attempt any kind of persuasion at all. At that point you kind of say: ‘Well, you know, if
there’s no justification for this, why don’t I lay the text aside?’ Then the thing starts to
get a little complicated. By the time you get to chapter three, which
is where most people who read Capital stop reading it, if they’re trying to read it on their own, by the time you get to chapter three,
you kind of say: ‘This is impossible. This is not going anywhere.’ So it’s really hard,
for those kinds of reasons. The other reason it’s hard is because, as I suggested, the
conceptual apparatus is meant not just to deal with Capital Volume 1. It’s meant to take him all the way, in terms of all the
other things he wanted to think about. Now, you’ll be distressed to know
that there are three volumes of Capital. So if you really want to
understand the capitalist mode of production, you have to read the three volumes of Capital. Volume 1 is just one particular perspective on the capitalist mode of production, but even worse, the three volumes of Capital
are only about an eighth of what he had in mind. Here’s what he wrote in
a text called the Grundrisse, which is a preparatory text, where
he’s setting out various designs for Capital. He says: ‘Okay, what I’m going to do is to go through the analysis as follows: We’re going to deal with: “1) The general
abstract determinants which obtain more or less in all forms of society. 2) The categories which make up the
inner structure of bourgeois society, and on which the fundamental
classes rest: capital, wage labour, landed property, their interrelation. Town and Country. The three great social classes; exchange between them. Circulation. The credit system.” Good topic right now. “Private. 3) Concentration of bourgeois society in
the form of the state, viewed in relation to itself. The unproductive classes. Taxes, State debt. Public credit. The population. The colonies. Emigration. 4) The international relations of
production, international division of labour, international exchange, export and import, rate of exchange,” another good topic. “Fifth,” excellent topic, “The world market and crises.'” So this is, if you like, the panorama he laid out in the
Grundrisse of what it was he wanted to do. This is what he had in mind, that he was going to do, when he wrote Capital. He never finished it. He never took up most of those topics. So what you have in Capital is the beginning of this massive kind of project, a massive project which he hinted at in lots of places about, you know, how to
understand the state, how to understand civil society, how to understand
emigration, how to understand currency exchanges, and things like that. So, here too, we have to understand both that the conceptual apparatus at the beginning, is… he’s really trying to design it in such
a way that it bears the burden of all of that, but in fact, what it then does, is it provides the
framework within which Volume 1 operates, and Volume 1 is just one single piece of this whole puzzle that he’s laid out. Volume 1 is really essentially
looking at the capitalist mode of production from the standpoint of production, not of the market, not of global trade, but
the standpoint of production. So you’re going to have to recognize
that what you’re going to get out of this course is an analysis, by Marx, of a capitalist mode of
production from the perspective of production. Volume 2 does the perspective of exchange. Volume 3 does materials about crisis formation, and also rules of distribution, interest, rent, taxes, those kinds of issues. But then comes the method, the other part of the method, which is very important in terms of the
method of presentation and the method of inquiry. And that is Marx’s use of dialectics. What he says, again in his preface, is that in dialectics we find a completely different concept of analysis. You’ll find hardly any causal language
in Marx. Marx doesn’t say, ‘This causes that.’ He nearly always says that ‘This is dialectically related to that.’ And a dialectical relation is an inner relation, not a causative external
relation. It’s an inner relation. And he talks about this dialectical method again in the postface
to the second edition. He says: ‘Okay, I took up some ideas from Hegel. “But,” he says, “my dialectical
method is, in its foundations, not only different from the Hegelian,
but exactly opposite to it.” There are ways in which, I think, we’re going to find that’s not exactly true. That, in fact, Marx revolutionized the dialectical method;
he didn’t simply invert it, as is sometimes said. He then goes on to say this: “I criticized
the mystificatory side of the Hegelian dialectic nearly thirty years ago.” What Marx is referring to here is his tract called A Critique
of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy
of Right, whichever the title is, and I think that that critique played a very foundational moment in which Marx defined his relationship to the Hegelian dialectic. So he goes on talking about this mystificatory aspect. And the way in which this
mystified form of the dialectic as purveyed by Hegel, became the fashion in Germany, and why it was that he had to reform it in such a way as so it could take account of every historical developed
form as being in a fluid state, in motion. He had to re-figure it
so that it could grasp the transient aspects of
a society as well. And he then goes on to
talk about this as being, “This dialectical method does not
let itself be impressed by anything, being in it’s very essence critical and revolutionary.” Now, what he’s talking about here is, he’s going to use a
version of dialectical method to establish relations between elements within his system. but he is going to do it in such a way as to capture fluidity and motion. Marx above all is incredibly, incredibly impressed with the fluidity and the dynamics of capitalism. Now this is very weird,
because Marx is often talked about as if he is a static, structural analyst. The weird thing is, when you read Capital,
you realize he sees the motion. He sees the movement all of the time. He is constantly talking about that movement and that
movement is a dialectical movement. So one of the ways in which also you have to read Marx in Marx’s
own terms is to try to grapple with what he means by dialectics. Because the problem is he never wrote a tract on dialectics. He never said: ‘Okay, this is my dialectical method’. There are hints of it. If you really want to
understand his dialectical method, you read Capital. That’s the best place to get it. And when you’ve read
Capital very carefully you will come out with a sense of how dialectical method works. But again, this is going
to be a bit confusing because you’re probably not yet used
to dialectical reasoning, and the curious thing about academia is that the more
well trained you are in a discipline, probably less used you are to dialectical method. In fact young children are very dialectical. They see everything in motion. They see contradiction everywhere
and they are quite contradictory about everything. Every contradiction goes
into everything else and your kids say all kinds of wondrous contradictory things to you. And you kind of say ‘Now you stop
thinking about that. You have to think rationally’. So, actually, we train people out of being good
dialecticians almost from day two. But in fact dialectical method
is intuitively very, very powerful. And in a sense what
Marx is doing is recovering that incredibly intuitive
dialectical method and putting it to work, both in terms of an
analytic schema, as we will see, but also in terms of understanding that everything is in process. Everything is in motion. Everything is defined in those terms. He doesn’t talk about labour. He talks about the labour process. Capital is not a thing; it is a process; it is in motion. Value does not exist unless it is in motion. When things stop, value disappears, and the whole system comes tumbling down. And those of you who remember very well what
happened in the aftermath of 9/11. Most things stopped. Motion stopped. Planes stopped flying. You
couldn’t get through the bridges, everything, and then in three days suddenly everybody realized that
capitalism would collapse if things didn’t get in motion again,
so suddenly, you know, Giuliani comes on and says: ‘For god’s sake, get out
your credit cards and go shop. Go back to Broadway. Go back
and do this kind of stuff; go back.’ Bush even appeared on a TV
ad for the airline industry, saying: ‘Get back and start flying. Get back in motion.’ You know. In other words, capitalism is, as
Jack Kerouac would say, ‘perpetually on the road.’ And if it’s not always
on the road, then it’s nothing. So Marx is incredibly
appreciative of that. And it’s very strange to find him so
often depicted as this static figure who’s got it all worked out.
No, it’s in motion and it’s changing, perpetually in motion. So here, I think, too, what Marx is trying to do
is to find a conceptual apparatus that would help you to understand that motion. And so, some of his concepts are formulated in such a way that they’re about relations;
they’re about transformative activity. This is like this at this moment;
and it’s like that in the next moment. And this can get quite confusing, but what he’s trying to do is to get
behind the confusion, come up with a conceptual apparatus, a deep structure, if you like, which is going to help you understand all of that motion which
is going on around us perpetually. And, particularly, the way in which motion is actually instantiated within a
capitalist mode of production. So, one of the ways
in which I think you have to try to understand Marx is by appreciating his dialectical method. Now there are a lot of people, including
many Marxists, who really don’t like his dialectics. There is a whole sphere called ‘analytical Marxism,’ for example, which kind of says:
‘You know, all of that dialectics…’ They actually like to call themselves ‘no bullshit Marxists,’ because they just basically say:
‘All that dialectics is just B.S.’ And then there are actually other people who want to somehow or other
take something that’s very dialectical and turn it into a causative structure. And in fact there’s a whole positivist version
of what Marx says; that is, strip away the dialectics. Now, this may be perfectly correct; I mean,
I’m not making an argument, saying, you know, the analytical Marxists are wrong. I’m not going to make an argument,
saying that people who turn it into a positivist mathematical model are wrong. Maybe they’re right. But what you have to do if you’re
going to understand Marx’s text in Marx’s terms: you’re going to have to
grapple with the dialectic. And it’s fine afterwards
if you want to say ‘Marx is wrong the dialectic is wrong, I don’t like it,
it doesn’t work’, this kind of thing. That’s fine. But before you say that you’ve got to
understand what it is and how it is working. So part of what we want to do is to spend some time recognizing that dialectical aspect of Marx, and seeing how it works. Now there is one final point before we get to the break. I asked to try to read Marx in
Marx’s own terms but obviously I am your guide. And so you going to read it with my help and my terms
are going to be very important. So one of the things I want to
say here is that of course my interest in urbanisation, in uneven
geographical development, imperialism and all those kinds of things, that my interests have actually become very, very important in terms of affecting the way in
which I read this text. In other words, I’ve been through 30 odd years
of dialogue between me and this text. And one of the reasons
I like to teach it every year is: every year I ask to myself: ‘How I’m
going to read it differently this year? What about will strike me
that I didn’t notice before?’ And new things strike me because
new events crop up, that is history and geography change. And so, there are certain things which arise,
and I can come back and I can look at Marx and say: ‘Well, does he have anything to say about this?’,
and sometimes you find something really acute which he has to say about it, sometimes not at all. So, I have been through a long dialogue and I used this way of thinking many of these conceptional
apparatuses all of the time in the work I do. And in the process, of course, I changed
the way in which I understand the text. I suspect that if you could
get a recording of this class from twenty five years ago, you would find me saying very different things
from what I’m saying now. For a variety of reasons both the historical climate has changed,
the intellectual climate has changed. All sorts of issues have cropped
up which didn’t exist before. Therefore, you read it in a different way. Interesting point: in one of the prefaces Marx talks
about that process, about how bourgeois theory understood the world in a certain way
and then history moved on to make that theoretical formulation redundant, and that therefore ideas had to change as circumstances change. Or ideas had to be reconfigured. So you’re going to get some of my reading in it, too. And there’s no way you
can avoid that, but at the end of the day, what I want you to do, is to come
to your own reading of it, that is, engage with the text in
terms of your experience, both intellectual, social, political, and have a good time talking to the text, and letting the text talk to you, and appreciating the way
in which Marx tries to understand the world. Because above all I think this text is a
wonderful, wonderful exercise in seeking to understand what appears almost impossible to understand. So from this standpoint you have to engage with the text.
And okay I’m going to be in your way a little of the time, but I hope not too much
because at the end of the day it is your business to really translate what’s going on in this text into meaning in your own life. That’s what this book is so great at. I think it will
speak to you in some way. Probably not in the same way to you as it does to me. And that is perfectly valid and perfectly reasonable.
And I’d like therefore for you to confront it in that kind of spirit. Okay that’s all I want to
say by way of introduction. What I thought would be very useful
to do is just to read through this first section with you and
try to give you an idea what I mean about method and all the rest of it. Okay, he starts off simply saying: “The wealth of societies in which
the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an immense
collection of commodities; (…)individual commodity(…)” (…)elementary form. Our analysis therefore begins with the commodity.” Okay, this is the a priori beginning point which
we’ve already mentioned. But notice something about the language: “appears”. Always watch out when
Marx uses the word “appear”. “Appears” is not “is”, “appears” means that
something else is going on, and you better watch out and figure
out what that “something else” is. And notice also that he is exclusively concerned with the “capitalist mode of production”. He’s not concerned with ancient
modes of production or socialist modes of production or even hybrid modes of production.
He’s going to be concerned with a capitalist mode of production in a pretty pure form. And I think that is a very important thing to remember when
we’re reading through this text. So this is a beginning point. Now, when you think about it, it’s actually a very good beginning point. Why? …How many of us in this room have never had
any experience of a commodity? Everybody has experiences of commodities. Did you see one today? Did you see one yesterday? Are you constantly shopping for them?
Are you constantly wandering around looking at them? The thing there is that
of what he’s done is to really choose a common denominator, something that is common to us all, something we know about. We go into the shop, we buy it and it’s absolutely
necessary for our existence. We can’t live without consuming commodities. We have to buy
commodities in order to live. It’s a simple relation as that,
so we start with that, and the other great thing about it is, and again I’ll probably get
some flack for saying this, is: it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man
or a woman or a Japanese or an ethnic or a religious or
whatever it is, in other words: this just very simple kind of economic
transaction which you are looking at. And then he says: Well, what kind of
economic transaction is it? Well, the commodity is something, he says, which meets a human want or need. and he says: I’m not interested… and this is the cryptic
form of that … he says in the next paragraph… OK, something external to us which we then make ours in a way. And it “satisfies human needs of whatever
kind. The nature of these needs whether they arise, for example from the
stomach, or from the imagination, makes no difference.” In other words: he is not really interested in
psychologizing about it, he’s laying it all aside. Saying: I’m not really interested in why people buy commodities.
They can buy it because they want it, they need it, they desire it. I can buy it for fun or
out of necessity or whatever. I’m not interested in talking about all of that.
All I’m interested in is the very fact of simply somebody buying a commodity. And he then goes on and says: Well look at this. How many commodities are there in the world? Well, there are millions of them,
all made up of different qualities, and we all kind of assess them in
terms of different quantitative measures. And he again shunts this aside
and says: “The discovery of these ways and hence of the manifold uses
of things is the work of history. So also is the invention of socially
recognized standards of measurement for the quantities of these useful objects. The diversity of the measures for commodities arises in part from the diverse nature of
the objects to the measured, and in part from convention. The usefulness of a
thing makes it a use-value.” First big concept: use-value. It’s useful to you. I’m not interested in
discussing how it’s useful to you. I’m not interested in discussing
the history of use-values or anything of that kind, or the way in which they
measure this kind of thing. All I’m interested in is the concept of use-value. Notice how he’s abstracting very fast. And he talks in one of the prefaces about the problem for a social scientist, like himself, is that you can’t go into a labouratory
and isolate things and run experiments. So what you have to do
in order to run an experiment is to use what he calls:
‘The power of abstraction.’ And you see immediately: the commodity is central. I’m abstracting from human
wants, needs and desires. I’m abstracting from any
consideration of this specific properties of things. I’m just going to home in on the fact that in some sense this commodity has something called a use-value. And this then immediately leads him into, by the middle of page hundred and twenty-six, he says: “In the form of society
to be considered here” – i.e. within a capitalist mode of production – “they are also the material
bearers of exchange-value.” Again… watch this word “bearers”, a commodity is a bearer of something. It’s not to say: it “is” something. It is a bearer of something which we have yet to define. And how do we think about it? Well, when we look at exchange processes, geographically, temporally, what we find is an enormous kind of process of exchange, of market exchange. We see different ratios occurring between shirts and shoes depending
upon the time, depending upon the place. We see different quantitative
relations between bushels of wheat and pairs of shoes and tons of
steel and that kind of thing. So the first sight, what
we see in the world of exchange is exchange-values which are
incoherent, they’re all over the place. As he says: “exchange-value appears to be something
accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic
value, i.e. an exchange-value that is inseparably connected with the commodity, inherent in it, seems to be a contradiction in terms.” We noticed something about this world of exchange. That everything is in principle exchangeable
with everything else. And what this immediately implies,
as he says at page hundred and twenty-seven, is that you are always in a position
having exchanged something for something else to then exchange what you’ve
just got for something else. In other words: You can just keep on exchanging. So a thing can keep on moving. So it can be exchanged for all
the other commodities at some point. And if that’s the case, he then says on hundred and twenty-seven, “It follows from this that, firstly,
the valid exchange-values of a particular commodity express something equal and secondly, exchange-value cannot
be anything other than the mode of expression, the form of appearance of
a content distinguishable from it.” That is: if I have a commodity in my hand, I can’t dissect it and find out that element
inside of it that makes it exchangeable. It’s something else. No. It is exchangeable for something else
and I can’t find out what makes it exchangeable just by looking at the commodity. I have to look at the commodity in motion. This is where
we start to get in motion, in movement. I have to look at it. And as it moves, it is obviously expressing something about exchangeability, a commensurability in exchange. It means that all things
are commensurable in exchange. Why are they commensurable?
And what is that commensurability made up of? Where does it come from? How is it defined? And the commodity is the
bearer of that something. But it is not inside of the commodity. It is borne by the commodity. It’s a relation inside of the commodity, not a material thing. He then goes through corn and iron and gets into one of his geometrical examples, but says crucially right
by the middle of the page: “Each of them, so far as it is exchange-value, must therefore be reducible to
this third thing,” whatever it is. And “this common element cannot
be a geometrical, physical, chemical or other natural property of commodities,”
he says further down the page. We’re hitting something
here that is rather significant. Marx is often depicted as some sort of grubby materialist.
You know: Everything has to be material. But here what we’re seeing immediately: he’s not
talking about the materiality of the thing at all. You can inspect the materiality of the
commodity all you like, and you won’t find out the secret of its commensurability and its exchangeability. You won’t find it. And then he goes on to the
next page, hundred twenty-eight, to say: “As use-values, commodities differ above all in quality, while as exchange-values they
can only differ in quantity,” that is: how much of this
exchanges for how much of that, “and therefore do not
contain an atom of use-value.” The commensurability that
he’s talking about is not constituted out of the utility of something. Then he goes on to say: “If then we
disregard the use-value of commodities, only one property remains…” and here
we’re going to have another a priori leap. What’s the property? They are all products of human labour. That is what they have in common and what exchange- and use-values
are bearers of is that quality of being products of human labour. But, he then immediately goes on to say: What kind of labour is it? Well, it can’t be based on the fact that
if I’m lazy and I take, you know, fifteen days to make a shirt,
then indeed, you should pay, you know, the equivalent… should be fifteen days of your labour, when I can go and find somebody who has made a
shirt in three days, you know, I would exchange it with somebody for 3 days of labour. So he says on the bottom of that passage: “They can no longer be distinguished, but are all together
reduced to the same kind of labour, human labour in the abstract.” Well, this is moving very fast, very cryptic. Use-value, exchange-value, human labour in the abstract. And here it comes: “Let us now I look at the residue of the
products of labour. There is nothing left of them in each case but the same phantom-like objectivity;” Marx loves all this stuff about phantoms and werewolves and all that kind of
stuff. So you’re gonna get a lot of that. He’s a great admirer of Shelley and
Frankenstein and all the rest of it, so you’ll get a lot of
that kind of language. It’s great. “they are merely congealed
quantities of homogeneous human labour, human labour-power expended without
regard to the form of its expenditure. (…)As crystals of this
social substance which is common to them all, they are values, commodity values.” Okay, he’s taken four pages to lay out three fundamental concepts. Use-value, exchange-value, value. Value is what is passed on in the process of commodity exchange. It’s the hidden element in a commodity that makes all commodities in principle
exchangeable with each other. So he then goes on to say:
Well, having abstracted from use-value then we go back and
look again at exchange-value. We then see exchange-value, as he says,
on the bottom of page hundred and twenty-eight, “as the necessary mode of expression, or form of appearance, of value.” Appearance, form of appearance; but
this time you’re looking at it the other way. That is there is something mysterious about
the exchangeability of all of those commodities. There is something mysterious
about the way in which all of those commodities could
be commensurable with each other. And the mystery is that they’re values, But values are represented now by exchange-value, so exchange-value, i.e. how much you are actually get for the product in the market, is a representation of value, is a representation of labour. Now, when you go to the supermarket, can you see the labour in the commodity? But it has an exchange-value, right? Again, Marx’s point is: Yeah, they are products of
labour but you can’t see the labour, you can’t see the labour on the commodity. But you get a sense of what it is
because it is represented by its price. So that is, if you like, exchange-value is a
representation of something else. Now again: to say something is a
representation of something is not to say “is”. Because, as anybody would quickly tell you, the difference
between the representation and what actually something is, there can be quite a gap.
And Marx is going to spend quite a bit of time talking about the nature of that gap between value and its representation. On hundred twenty-nine he says: “A use-value, or useful article, therefore, has value only because
abstract human labour is objectified or materialized in it.” Objectified – a very important kind of concept. A process, in fact a labour process,
becomes objectified in a thing. This is an idea that’s going to
become very important in Marx. You have a thing and then there is a labour process. What’s the relationship then between the process and the thing?
This is going to come up again and again and again in the text. Processes and things, the thing is a representation of the process. You want a simple example of that? If I set an examination right now, I made you write out little
paper about what these concepts mean. And then I graded you. I’ll be grading you on the thing. What would it have to do with the
process that’s going on in here? I mean you might feel very, very outraged when I graded you C or D or F, or something
like that, because you haven’t quite got it yet. When in fact you’re struggling in the process, the intellectual labour-process of trying
to command on what the hell is going on in this text. It’s a very important thing. But if I try to test it as a thing…and actually, education is full of this kind of problem. Education is about a process, it’s about people learning things,
it’s about process, thinking, all this kind of stuff. And we are constantly testing how good
people are in terms of that process by the things they make. Dissertations, essays, papers, multiple choice questions, all the rest of it. So what Marx is doing here
is to say: Well, the representation, i.e. the exchange-value, is something which you can
really see, but it is representing something which is value. And as we will see, value is always in motion. And that means that a
process is objectified in a thing. A labour process, a potter making a pot is finally objectified in a thing. And
it’s the thing which is sold in the market, not the process. But the thing would not
exist without the process. So the process has to be objectified. There are some people who would
love to write a dissertation without ever actually producing the thing. You may come an say: Oh the process is great! …Ah, yeah okay, PhD immediately… …but of course, no, you’ve got to objectify it… And as everybody knows who’s
gone through this to some degree, you can have great ideas and think it is
fantastic, and when you try to objectify it on paper you say:
good god, what nonsense this is! And so, you’ve got to… so Marx is talking about that relationship. That’s right in… that’s implied in this, immediately in this notion of objectification. Human labour is objectified, materialized in this thing called a commodity. But then inside of that thing, the quantity is measured by the duration
of the labour which is put into the thing. But… And that itself has measures, which he said… scale of hours, days etc. Again, there’s a reference here, a coded reference,
if you like, to the the way in which capitalist mode of production
sets up a certain notion of temporality. Time, how does the capitalist mode
of production structure time? And Marx is going to make an argument,
saying: you’ve got to understand that a lot of it has to do with
the fact that time is money. Time is connected to value in
a certain kind of way, and therefore even our measures of time start to take on a certain kind of allure, simply because of the way in
which it capitalist mode of production works. He then comes, down this paragraph, to say this: “I’m really looking at
the total labour power of society which is manifested in
the values of the world of commodities.” Now, where does this society exist,
and where does this world of commodities prevail? Here you’re not looking at just one particular place, you’re
actually looking at a global situation. The world of commodities, where is the world
of commodities right now? It’s in China, it’s in Mexico, it’s in Japan, it’s in Russia… It’s a global thing. And he’s looking at society, in a sense, the whole of the capitalist world. So he’s looking at the notion of labour, and the measure of value,
if you like, is going to be judged against that whole world,
it’s not the specific activity of a particular labour in a
particular place and time, now it’s a whole world. A global situation, even at this point, and actually, there’s a brilliant sort of description of globalization, if
you want to call it that, in the Communist Manifesto. Where Marx talks about the impulsions
of the Bourgeoisie to create the world market and the consequence of making that, in which old industries get destroyed,
new ones get created, there’s tremendous kind of fluidity. Marx was writing this in a context
where the world was opening very fast- through the steamship and
the railways and all this kind of stuff to a global economy. And he understood very well the
consequences of that, which meant that value was not something that was
determined in our backyard, but was something which was determined
in the world of commodities. And the result of that
is that we end up as he says: “Each of these units,” that is of homogenous labour-power, “each of these units is the same as any
other to the extent that it has the character of a socially average unit of labour-power and acts as such(…)” And here comes the crucial definition: “Socially necessary labour-time is the labour-time required to produce any use-value under the conditions
of production normal for a given society and with the average degree of skill and
intensity of labour prevalent in that society.” This is his first cut definition of value. Value is socially necessary labour-time. One of the reasons, I think, Marx thought
he could get away with this very cryptic presentation of use-value, exchange-value and value was because anybody who read Ricardo would say: ‘Yeah, this is pure Ricardo.’ And it is pure Ricardo, with however
one exceptional insertion. Ricardo used the concept
of labour-time as value. Marx uses the concept
of socially necessary labour-time. And you should immediately
ask yourself the question: What is ‘socially necessary’? How is that established? He doesn’t give any answer to it here. And you only begin to get the
sense of the answer of that, when you are way on the way through Capital. In other words, what Marx has done here, is simply set up the
Ricardian conceptual apparatus. Repeat it, and in a sense say:
‘Ricardo missed something out.’ It is not adequate the call value labour-time. We have to insert that question mark: What is socially necessary labour-time? How is it determined? Who determines it? And that is the big issue. And I would submit it actually continues to
be the big issue in global capitalism, who and how is value established? I mean we all like to think we have our
own values and this kind of stuff, and everybody likes to go on talking about values. But Marx is kind of saying: ‘Look,
there is a value which is being determined by a process that we do not understand.’ And it’s not our choice, it’s something that is happening to us. And how it is happening has to be unpacked. If you
want to understand who you are, and where you stand in this maelstrom of churning values and everything.
What you’ve got to do is to understand how value gets created, how it gets produced and with what consequences, socially, environmentally, all the rest of it. And if you think you can solve the environmental
question of global warming and all that kind of stuff without actually confronting the whole kind of question of
who determines the value structure and how is it determined by these processes, then you got to be kidding yourself. So what Marx in effect is saying: You got to understand
what social necessity is. And we’ve got to spend a lot of time looking at what is socially necessary. He immediately points out however that value is not fixed. I’ve mentioned already, he’s
always on about the fluidity of things. He says: Of course value changes with productivity. “The introduction of
power-looms into England, for example, probably reduced by one half the
labour required to convert a given quantity of yarn into woven fabric. In order to do this, the
English hand-loom weaver needed the the same amount of
labour-time as before; but the product of his individual
hour of labour now only represented half an hour of social labour, and consequently fell to one half of its former value.” Okay, so value is in
the first instance extremely sensitive to revolutions in technology, revolutions in productivity. And much of Capital is going to
be taken up with the discussion of those revolutions in productivity, those revolutions in value-relations. This leads into the conclusion then, on the bottom of one twenty nine: “What exclusively determines the
magnitude of the value of any article is therefore the amount
of labour socially necessary, or the labour time
socially necessary for its production.” There’s your definition. “The individual commodity counts
here only as an average sample of its kind.” Then he re-iterates. You often find Marx doing this, by the way. He repeats himself. He kind of…figures if you didn’t get the hand-loom, the power-loom example, so he is going to hammer it home by pointing out that the value of the commodity does
not remain constant, he says on hundred and thirty: “…if the labour-time required for its
production also remained constant. But the latter changes with every variation
in the productivity of labour.” He then goes on to talk about this. But, notice: “This is determined by a
wide range of circumstances; it is determined amongst other things by
the workers average degree of skill, the level of development of
science and its technological application,…” Marx is very hot on the significance of
technology and science to capitalism. “…the social organization
of the process of production, the extent and effectiveness of the means
of production, and the conditions found in the natural environment.” Vast array of elements
which can impinge upon value. Transformations in the natural
environment mean revolutions in value. Technology and science, social organization of production, technologies, all the rest of it… So, in fact, we’ve got value which is subject to a powerful
array of forces, and he’s not here attempting a definitive categorization
of all of them, he just simply wants to alert us, that this thing we’re
calling value is not constant. It is subject to perpetual
revolutionary transformations. But then a peculiar thing happens. Right in the last paragraph
on hundred and thirty one he suddenly says: “A thing can be a
use-value without being a value.” Okay, we can all agree on that. We breathe air and so far we
haven’t managed to bottle it, although, we’re beginning to, I guess, so… A thing can be useful and
a product of human labour without being a commodity. I grow tomatoes in my
backyard and I eat them… Lots of people, even within capitalism, actually produce a lot of things for themselves. With a little help
from DIY and all the rest of it. “In order to produce the latter,” that is commodities, “he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others.” Furthermore, just not simply
use-values for the lord, as a serf would do, but use-values which are going
to go to others through the market. So it’s use-values which you are producing,
which are going to be sent to market. “Finally”, he says, “nothing can
be a 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.” Now he seems to dismiss
and abstract from use-value earlier on. Saying: ‘I’m not concerned with use-values, I’m not
interested in them, etcetera. I abstract from them, I get to
exchange-value, and that gets me to value. But now I’ve got
value, but now I’m saying: it doesn’t matter what kind of labour went
into something, if somebody doesn’t want it if it doesn’t meet a human
want, need or desire, then it ain’t value.’ So value is also dependent
upon it being a use-value, for somebody, somewhere. You have to be able to sell it.
So what he has done is to suddenly bring
back use-value into the idea of value. Now, there’s a very interesting kind of a structure that goes on here. Goes like this: And this is what I would like you to do: at
the end of almost every section you read think about how the conceptional
apparatus is constructed, and how it hangs together. What we’ve got here is
something that goes like this: We’ve got the commodity. And we said, actually, the commodity has a dual character. It has a use-value. It also has an exchange-value. exchange-value is a
representation of something. What is it a representation of? It’s a representation of value. But value doesn’t mean anything unless it connects back to use-value. What is value? Socially necessary labour-time. Now, if you own a house, are you more
interested in its use-value or its exchange-value? Yeah, you’re interested in both,
you’d like to have your cake and eat it. Right? This is sort of opposition here. If you want
to realize the exchange-value of something, you can’t have the use-value of it. If you have the use-value of it then
it’s difficult to get the exchange-value, unless you do a reverse mortgage, or, you know,
all those kinds of things that people did over the last few years. But notice the structure: Commodity, a singular concept which has two aspects. Now when you look at a commodity, can you actually divide it in half and say:
that’s the exchange-value and that’s the use-value? No, there’s a unity. But within that unity
there is a dual aspect. And that dual aspect allows us to define something, called
value, as socially necessary labour-time. Which is what the use-value of a
commodity is a bearer of. That’s what it is a bearer of. But, in order to be a value,
it has to be useful. And of course, on this link we’ll see all kinds of
issues arising about supply and demand. If the supply is too great, the value will go
down, if the supply is too little, the value will go up. So there is an element here of
supply and demand involved. Marx is actually not
terribly interested in that. As he will say at various points, as he goes on, what I’m interested in is, what happens when supply and demand are in equilibrium. When they are in equilibrium
I have to have a different kind of analysis and the value of the commodities is fixed by this socially necessary
labour-time, whatever that social necessity is. So what you’ve got here is something of this form,
which then allows us to talk about the value of a commodity. We can talk about commodity values. We’ve got to the point where we understand: commodity values are constituted as socially necessary labour-time. Now this is partly, what I would suggest, is Marx’s dialectical method working here. Would you say that exchange-values cause value? Would you say exchange-values cause use-value, or use-value
is caused, or anything is caused by anything else? This is an analysis which is not causal. It’s about relations, about dialectical relations. Can you talk about exchange-value
without talking about use-value? No you can’t. Can you talk about value without
talking about use-value? No you can’t. In other words, you can’t talk about any
one of these concepts without talking about all of the others. This is what I mean about, you know,
beginning to sort of work through the conceptual apparatus of the onion. It’s an organic, hanging together,
a set of relations, between these concepts. But we’ve also seen, that we’ll be going to be talking about motion, about movement, about the making of things, about labour processes, which become objectified in use-values, and which become represented by exchange-value. So we’ve got a very interesting kind of conceptual framework here,
which is not about causality at all. It’s about inner relations. And by understanding then we start to see also
certain tensions I’ve already mentioned. That yes, it’d be very nice to have use-value and
exchange-value at the same time. But a lot of time we
are faced with a difficult choice. Do I have the use-value, or do I realize the exchange-value? Or do I give up the
exchange-value and get the use-value? And those are the daily decisions we
have to make when we go into the market, right? Do I give up the exchange-value…
money for this or do I not..? Do I hang on to the money or what do I do? So Marx has set up something,
that is explaining something, OK, already. And even as he explains however,
he is not saying: this causes that. So it’s not a causal analysis. This is where I’m beginning to…
what I want you to start to think about, is a dialectical mode of argument. Which is already revealing something about the kinds of choices you
make when you go into the supermarket. And the kinds of things
you see in the supermarket. You’re going to get a representation of
human labour in the supermarket. You’re not going to see the human labour.
You’re going to get a representation. You’re gonna have to to deal with the
representation as it is objectified, and as its value is represented, and then you have to make a
decision about use- and exchange-value. So this is a way of situating
what people do on a daily basis. And you can see that
this apparatus, although Marx doesn’t take it in the
way that I’m taking it, but if you think about it you see
immediately what this can help you understand. So you just don’t learn it as a formal abstraction. You try to put sort of meat on the bones of this,
by sort of thinking through. Well, what does that actually mean? How does that help me
understand things that are going on around me? This is the kind of crucial sort of question which this form of analysis sets up. So my purpose reading through this first section is
to give you some idea about, if you like, create a model of
how you should try to read this. It won’t always work for you. But what you should do at the end of every
section is: draw back, say: all right, what kind of relationships
was he talking about here? What do those relationships tell me both about all of this stuff,
but also tell me about what’s going on? In my daily life, in other people’s daily life,
what’s going on in the market and all the rest of it? What does it tell me? Is it telling me anything? And initially it will be very
hard to see what it might tell you, as you go on Marx will start to tell
stories coming out of these relationships and he’ll spin outwards from this into a far, far greater
understanding of the dynamics of this. So this is the way in which he’s working. And I think what I suggested to you is that you should go back over this section and look carefully at the way in which
these concepts unfold and how they work in these sorts of terms. Now generally speaking, I’ve been talking all the time on this occasion, as an introductory thing. Rather necessary I
found out of bitter experience. But I would like, actually, to try to get
you to engage a little bit, so in the future, precisely because you’ve
read the text very carefully in advance, you doubtless come with
all kinds of questions in your mind. And so when I’m talking about something and you don’t
get it because it doesn’t fit with what you got, then interrupt me, Ok. That’s fine, but interrupt me about the text. As he says about this in his
introduction to the French edition, you know, people very often want to talk politics in here, I love to talk politics. But sometimes if you talk
all politics you forget the text, and actually the politics
of this class is to get you to read the text and understand the text. If you want to discuss politics we go
down to O’Reilly’s bar on 35th street afterwards and discuss as much politics as you like, over several beers and that’s part of the joy of this course. This is…,
in here we wanna try to keep it with the text. But there are instances of the
sort that I sort of indicated here where people might have a particular kind of
experience which actually is illuminated by the framework of analysis.
And that’s extremely helpful. When people can kinda say:
yeah, that reminds me off, you know, when I was working for
AT&T this happened etc, you know, and this happened and this happened, and it is
exactly what Marx is talking about. In other words: there are constant ways in which this refers to experience. I don’t
mind some of that, in fact, that’s always very, very useful, but really, what we’re trying to do
is try to make sure we get through to the text, and we have also a little bit more fluidity, so that
I’m not just preaching all the time and telling all the time, a
little bit more fluidity so that you can get into discussing some things. Now, we have about ten minutes left
so if anybody wants to raise some issues about what we’ve done? »STUDENT: I was just wondering, because I think that,
in the philosophical tradition, when we speak of value, you usually have this conception
of something that is absolute or that has an independent existence grounded in reality, and I’m wondering, whether
we can understand Marx’s definition of value as
socially necessary labour-time, as itself, something that is socially
conditioned, and is there any way that is totally outside,
might there be a social configuration that we can imagine in which value is, actually itself its representation, when those two things are reconciled. Or is value always, inevitably kind of a chimera? »HARVEY: No, I think you gotta understand: Marx’s concept of value is something which is internalized in the
processes of a capitalist mode of production. And what he will say to you is: you may
have alternative values, and that’s fine. And you can dream about
them and want them, this kind of stuff. But they don’t mean very much,
unless you can transform the real value system which is
governing our daily lives which is this one. So Marx is not against, necessarily,
thinking about alternative values. And in fact, I think, one of the big issues which we face right now, is
precisely about what alternative values we would like to see operating in in the global marketplace. Values of fairness… and this is particularly coming up in
the environmental issue, for example. People want to talk about
environmental values which should be part in this. And the
answer again, as I suggested, is: Marx would say: that’s fine. Well, he might not say that’s fine, he had a
particular kind of aim of where he wants to go. But I think, theoretically he would say: that’s fine. But in order to
make your notion of value work you have to confront the one which is actually dominating us in terms of what’s going on in the supermarket, how we’re
living our daily lives and all the rest of it. And we’re talking about a value theory which is implicated inside of a capitalist mode of production. Now, there’s been a
categorical mistake in many instances, precisely because value is located
in relationship to labour and labour processes, that there’s been a lot of
thinking in socialist societies of taking Marx’s labour theory of value
also almost as a normative device to think about how socialism should work. But this is not what
Marx is saying, he’s saying: value is inherent within a capitalist mode of production. And we have to come to terms with what that value is. Now, there are alternative value theories. And you know, you can philosophize about them, think
about them and worry about them, socially, politically, all the rest of it… But his point is, as I suggested, you’ve always got to come
back to confront this one, because this is very basic to how
capitalist mode of production works. And if you wanna instantiate a different set of
values, then you’ve gotta overthrow a capitalist mode of production. And that’s his revolutionary intent. Sorry, there was a question here. »STUDENT: Yeah, I just was wondering if
you could talk a little bit about how we should think about objectification. Because, I know, the
preconceived notion I bring to it is much more static in terms of, as labour is objectified, it
moves away from the labourer and there’s this separation. How can I think about that in terms of, more process oriented? »HARVEY: Well, again…
the thing is not… …is not…, for instance: Just to give you an example: Let’s suppose that labour produces a house. Okay the labourers that
produced the house move away from it, then maybe other labourers move in to it. And then there’s the issue of: is that
house then fixed forever in terms of its value? Well, given the way
he set it up, the answer is no. Because let’s suppose
there are revolutions in technology which suddenly make housing
production much easier. Then you can go away from, I don’t know,
shanty towns to sort of housing of a different kind, and therefore there’s a dynamic involved in this, and therefore, you know, this gets back to the fact that something like a house has a use-value and
the use-value remains a long time and you can still trade its exchange-value,
so it has a residual exchange-value. So…, so again there’s a dynamic here, so the thing and the qualities of things are not fixed. In fact, again, there’s a lot of dynamism in this. But again Marx,
by and large, is not going to be concerned about that in Capital. He’s going to sort of say: OK, I’m gonna assume it’s fixed for the moment. But nevertheless, what
he’s saying here is: watch out!, it’s always in motion,
it’s never fixed, it’s always changing, it’s a dynamic concept, not a static one.
And the objectification is there, but again, the meaning
of the objectification itself changes over time and according to place. So you know there are all those elements within it. » STUDENT: This particular vision of the capitalist world that Marx deals with diverges, I mean obviously diverges with the modern day… Specifically with the way in which laws, and
you know, create a proprietary… you know only certain companies
can make one thing, and then, corporations sort of dominate the scene. It’s not a free market- protectionist laws, …does that… affect the values being purely
about the socially necessary labour-time. »HARVEY: Well that’s one of the
questions which you have to ask about. What is socially necessary labour-time? How is it determined? To what degree is there a monopoly
power in the market which is determining it? To what degree is there imperialist
politics which is determining it? To what degree is there colonial enslavement which is determining it? In other words: those are open questions. And Marx is very much open to discussing those sorts of questions in principle. But again, what
we’re going to look at is Marx’s conception of a pure
capitalist mode of production. Which in many ways, as we will see,
is guided by the vision of classical political economy. In other words: classical political economy assumes there were going to be perfectly
functioning markets and the state power is going to be out of the way,
and there’s gonna be no monopoly. So Marx tends to say:
okay, let’s assume that the classical political economists are
correct and that’s how the world is. We will see examples where that presumption gets him into difficulties. But actually, there’s nothing in this conception that says you can’t
consider all those things, because, for me anyway, the category socially necessary is something which is perpetually open, is constantly changing. What is socially necessary now? as opposed to what was
socially necessary in 1850. Very different. And so you know, I would want you to think about this as having a flexible reading in this,
but realize that Marx is using it in a very specific way, in a very specific situation for very specific purposes. »STUDENT: Does socially necessary
imply the amount of labour required for a labourer to reproduce him- or herself? »HARVEY: Socially necessary can include that kind of question. As many socialist feminists pointed out in the debates of the nineteen
sixties/nineteen seventies, the whole question of socially necessary, has to take into account certain basic costs of reproduction
that are born inside of the household and which may be
disproportionately born by women. Even though, actually, if you look
at the whole history of the industrial revolution, it was women’s labour in the factories that was
fundamental, as it is today. And most of the global proletariat right now is women. So the kind of social
reproduction aspect of it, and how to integrate that into
socially necessary, has been a contentious issue amongst Marxists. And what you have to
remember by the way, is that Marx was a little skeptical of this
term “Marxist”. He once said: ‘I am not a Marxist.’ What he meant by that, was, there
were a lot of things being said in his name, that were not exactly what he had to say. So again, that’s one of the reasons
why I want you to think about this in Marx’s own terms. Because, you know, it’s very, it’s very important to realize how he expands this
notion of social necessity, we will see. How you might want to expand it,
is again something that is open to discussion and debate. How we should expand it, in terms of a socialist project, or
socio-ecological project, or a social- feminist project, or whatever. How we should expand it, again, is something very much up to us. And I don’t think Marx would want to be read as someone providing a
gospel within which you can find yourself. It’s not about confining mode of
argument, it’s a matter of liberating you to think about
all kinds of possibilities, all kinds of alternatives, all kinds of ways to go. Just one more. »STUDENT: Could you just
clarify very specifically the difference between
use-value and exchange-value? »HARVEY: Use-value is a shirt or a shoe, whatever you use. The exchange-value is: shirts and shoes in the market,
and about the prices on them, put very simply. And it’s… I don’t like to use the word price at this
point, because we haven’t talked very much about money. But when you get
further down the line you see it’s really about prices realized
in the market, and exchange-value is the price of a commodity. Okay, we should leave it there.
So thanks very much. We don’t meet next week, right?,
because…What is it? » STUDENT: Labour Day.
» DAVID HARVEY: Oh, Labour Day, what a good idea. Next time I want you to read the rest of chapter one, and chapter two. So we will get to the end
of chapter two. Chapter two is pretty short. The rest of this chapter is very
curious for a variety of reasons. I mentioned Marx’s literary style. His
literary style changes from crisp analytic, like you’ve seen here,
and that goes on for the next one, to what I can only call
his kind of ‘accountancy style’, which is deadly boring. Where: ‘this is worth two shillings and that’s worth three shillings, and that’s worth two and a half pence.
And if we add this to that we will end up with…’ Deadly boring. So the third section is rather long and rather boring of that style. And he could have done
it much quicker in my view. But it has some very important
insights in it. And so you’re going to find yourself struggling. The last section of chapter one is the
fetishism of commodities, where it’s about werewolves and Robinson Crusoe, in an incredible kind of literary
style. So you suddenly find in this chapter you’re going to have a big
sample of Marx’s different writing styles. And they are all together. Now, if you wrote a PhD that way, people
would say: For god’s sakes!, smooth this out, you can’t do that. Which style you’re gonna write in?
But he writes in different styles. And he enjoys it. And it’s fun, actually, because you starts to say: How on earth does this relate to that? And what does this really mean?
So anyway, chapter one is like that. Chapter two is relatively short, and again fairly analytic. Key concepts are laid out a bit like here. So
it’s a step further along the conceptional apparatus. Okay? So chapters one and two for next time.




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