Chapter 2: The Commodity-Form

Why does Marx begin his study of capital with the analysis of commodities -- of useful products of human labor that are bought and sold? He gives us one answer in the very first two sentences of Chapter One: "The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as 'an immense collection of commodities,' the individual commodity appears as its elementary form. Our investigation therefore begins with the analysis of a commodity."1 He begins with the commodity because it is the elementary form of wealth in capitalist society. When we read the rest of Capital we discover why it is that all wealth takes the commodity-form in bourgeois society. That knowledge makes even clearer why we should begin with commodities: because the commodity-form is the fundamental form of capital. It is my purpose in this chapter to clarify this fundamental point by specifying those basic aspects of capital that Marx designates by "commodity-form" and by sketching the historical development of capital in terms of that form. Capital is about capital. But what is capital? In Marx's view capital was above all a social relation, more specifically a social relation of struggle between the classes of bourgeois society: capitalist and working classes. If capital is basically the dynamic of the class struggle, then it would be reasonable to begin its study by examining the most basic characteristics of that struggle. Although that is exactly what Marx does, the relation between commodities and class struggle is not immediately obvious. To clarify this relation, it must be understood that the class struggle is over the way the capitalist class imposes the commodity-form on the bulk of the population by forcing people to sell part of their lives as the commodity labor-power in order to survive and gain some access to social wealth. In other words, the overwhelming majority of the people are put in a situation where they are forced to work to avoid starvation. The capitalist class creates and maintains this situation of compulsion by achieving total control over all the means of producing social wealth. The generalized imposition of the commodity-form has meant that forced work has become the fundamental means of organizing society -- of social control. It means the creation of a working class -- a class of people who can survive only by selling their capacity to work to the class that controls the means of production.

It may sound paradoxical to say that capital is the struggle between capital and the working class. How can something be the struggle between itself and something else? Simply because the working class, as long as it works for capital, is not "something else" -- it exists as labor power within capital. Does that mean capital is both the whole and a part? No, it is always the whole, and that is the difficult point, because the working class finds itself opposed by the whole, including itself in a very special sense. Under the reign of capital, labor creates useful goods, commodities, revenue, and ultimately surplus value, or profit, that in turn, as managed by the capitalist class, are used to dominate labor -- and ever more labor to boot. Thus, through the commodity-form, labor in the alienated "dead" form of the products and value it creates dominates itself ("living labor") as capital. In this sense we can also see capital within labor as a particular kind of social distortion in which a very specific kind of social activity -- work -- takes on a zombie-like existence in its dead form and dominates all social activity by imposing ever more labor. In fact, we can define capital as a social system based on the imposition of work through the commodity-form. Because of the way in which dead labor not only dominated living labor but in that domination also sapped the latter's life force for its own expansion, Marx often referred to capital as being "vampirelike."

This understanding of the nature of capital is obviously markedly different from that of bourgeois economics and some interpretations of Marx, which see capital in a reified manner, that is, as simply things: means of production, profit, investable funds. These are indeed moments in the organization of the social relation but must not be mistaken for the relation itself. This point should be easy to remember if we keep in mind Marx's formulation of capital as a curricular, self-reproducing set of relations that include all these aspects:

M - C (LP,MP) . . . P . . . . C' - M'

In this formulation, where dashes represent exchange relations and ellipsis points represent production relations, we can see how investable funds (M) purchase the commodities (C) used in production (means of production, MP and labor-power LP) in order to set them to work (P) producing commodity-capital (C'), which can be sold for revenue (M') that yields a profit (M'-M). All are moments of the totality which is capital. An examination of each aspect of this totality is taken up in Volume I, although the analysis of the form of this process is most fully developed in Volume II of Capital, in which Marx analyzes the circuits of reproduction in terms of each of these moments.2

If the commodity-form is the fundamental form of the class relation of capital, and if that form consists of the forcible creation of a situation in which the only access to social wealth (food, clothing, etc.) for workers is through the selling of their labor-power, then it follows that all the products of labor must perforce take on the commodity-form. This is simply because they must be sold to the working class to ensure its survival and growth. Since wealth for capital is nothing but the accumulation of labor and the products it produces, and since both labor and those products take the commodity-form in capital, then the individual commodity appears as the elementary form of that wealth.3

The commodity-form is thus a set of power relations. Whether and how it is imposed depend on capital's power, vis-ˆ-vis the working class. The commodity-form is not some apolitical concept which simply describes or denotes a set of relations in capitalist society. Capital's power to impose the commodity-form is the power to maintain the system itself -- a system in which life for most people is converted into labor-power. Herein lies the importance of the distinction between labor-power and working class. When it functions as part of capital the working class is labor-power, and capital defines the class by this fact. This can be clarified by using Marx's distinction between working class in itself and for itself. The working class in itself is constituted of all those who are forced to sell their labor-power to capital and thus to be labor-power. It is a definition based purely on a common set of characteristics within capital. The working class for itself (or working class as working class -- defined politically) exists only when it asserts its autonomy as a class through its unity in struggle against its role as labor-power.4 Paradoxically, then, on the basis of this distinction, the working class is truly working class only when it struggles against its existence as a class. The outcome of the dialectic of working class in itself and for itself is not the creation of a pure working class after the revolutionary overthrow of capital but rather the dissolution of the working class as such.5

When we study the commodity-form that is imposed on the working class, it is important not to equate that imposition with the imposition of the money wage. This is the error of those who read Marx too narrowly and define the working class only as wage labor. To say that the working class sells its labor-power to capital must be understood broadly: the working class includes those who work for capital in various ways in exchange for a portion of the total social wealth they produce. As Marx pointed out in his discussion of wages in Part VI of Capital, and as the Wages for Housework Movement has emphasized, the money wage represents payment only for a part of that work. In the factory the unpaid and unwaged part counts as surplus value; the development of the analysis of the social factory (see Introduction) has brought out how capital is able to force the working class to do unwaged work for it in many other ways. The most closely analyzed aspect of this is the work involved in the training and upkeep of labor-power itself -- work performed by the wage worker but also by unwaged household workers -- mainly wives and children. Other formally unwaged work includes such things as travel to and from the job, shopping, and those parts of schoolwork, community work, and church work that serve to reproduce labor-power for capital. Unwaged work is not unpaid; rather it is at least partially sold to capital in return for nonwage income. The important point here is that the analysis of the commodity-form in the class relation must include this kind of exchange as well as the direct exchange of wages for labor-power.

If the commodity-form is the basic form of the class relation, then its study is fundamental to the understanding of the character of the class struggle in any historical period of capital, including the present. This is not to say that understanding the basic determinations of the commodity-form is sufficient for comprehending the struggle, only that it is necessary. There are obviously many more determinations that must also be grasped to see the historical specificity. But to see this fundamental importance is to see why it is so vital to understand the seemingly arid abstractions of Chapter One. To drive this point home I will sketch the history of the class struggle as it is outlined in Capital in terms of the omnipresence of the commodity-form.

Primitive Accumulation

In Part VIII of Volume I of Capital, Marx shows us how capital originally imposed the commodity-form of the class relation. He shows how what he calls primitive accumulation was basically the original creation of the classes of capitalist society through the imposition of work and commodity exchange. In Chapter 27 he shows that the secret of this original imposition of the commodity-form was exactly that "historical prices of divorcing the producer from the means of production" (basically the land) which meant that workers would have to sell their labor-power to capital to obtain the means of subsistence, and that all the products of labor would thus have to take the form of commodities. In Chapter 28 Marx describes how the peasantry was driven off the land and into the city, where, along with ex-feudal retainers, they formed a potential source of labor-power for capital. Yet, Chapter 28 shows that this expropriation of the land, the source of food and clothing, was not enough to drive people into the factories, as many preferred vagabondage or a life of "crime" to the oppressive conditions and low wages of capitalist industry. Their struggles against the new discipline of the capitalist organization of work forced those in power to enact "bloody legislation" to force them into the factories. "Thus were the agricultural people, first forcibly expropriated from the soil, driven from their homes, turned into vagabonds, and then whipped, branded, tortured by laws grotesquely terrible, into the discipline necessary for the wage system."6 In the Grundrisse manuscripts Marx had described the dilemma facing capital as follows: "They must be forced to work within the conditions posited by capital. The propertyless are more inclined to become vagabonds and robbers and beggars than workers."7 As we see in Chapters 29 and 30, the counterpart of this creation of a working class compelled to sell its labor as a commodity was the emergence of the capitalist class responsible for this imposition -- first agrarian and then industrial capitalists. Although this "primitive" creation / accumulation of a working class was first carried out in a massive way in England and Western Europe (the "rosy dawn" of capitalism), it was also rapidly undertaken everywhere in the world. Capital, as it expanded, restructured the existing society in order to expropriate its wealth and to gain control over the labor of its population. Marx analyzes this extension of primitive imposition of the commodity-form in Chapters 31-33. Over and over we see how the key to capitalist colonial expansion, beyond the initial rape of local wealth, lay in its ability to separate labor from the land, and other means of production, and thus create a working class, both waged (working in the factories, on the plantations, etc.) and unwaged (working to reproduce itself as a reserve vis-ˆ-vis the waged). In some cases the creation of waged labor was entirely marginal. Capital often either reinforced existing forms of social control and production (e.g., indirect rule) or transformed existing societies into new forms that did not use wage labor yet were well integrated into capital (e.g., sixteenth-nineteenth century slavery; sharecropping after the Civil War). Such unwaged sectors of the working class formed a vital portion of capital's new, world-wide labor force. "The veiled slavery of the wage-workers in England," Marx wrote, "needed, for its pedestal, slavery pure and simple in the new world."8 The ways in which the work performed by these unwaged workers has been important to capital have varied greatly, ranging from simple self-maintenance as a latent reserve army to the production of food and raw materials vital to capital's entire world order, as in the case of cotton slavery.

During such periods of original accumulation, the struggle between the emerging classes was about whether capital would be able to impose the commodity-form of class relations, that is, whether it had the power to drive peasants and tribal peoples from the land, to destroy their handicrafts and culture in order to create a new class of workers. It is important to see that this was indeed a matter of struggle and not a one-sided manipulation. Not only did the struggles of prospective workers make it difficult for capital through crime, vagabondage, uprisings, and wars of resistance, but also capital did not always "win." It never was, for example, able to convert the mass of American Indians into a sector of its working class. It could only eliminate them as a race through genocide and import black slaves and white immigrants to replace them.

The Struggle over the Working Day

Where the possibilities of avoiding capital were reduced or eliminated, the struggle shifted from whether the commodity-form would be imposed to how much it could be imposed. In other words, the new class of workers, unable to avoid all work for capital, nevertheless fought to limit that part of their lives and energies which they had to give up in order to survive. The struggle over how long work would be became central. Marx's analysis of the history of conflict over the length of the working day in Chapter 10 of Volume I shows clearly how the struggle over the degree of imposition of the commodity-form continued even after its existence was no longer in question. In Marx's analysis of this struggle there are only two actors: capital and the working class. In Section 5 of Chapter 10, he shows how in England, for a long time during its rise, capital sought to impose, often through the state, an ever lengthening working day on its growing labor force. During this time workers' efforts were directed at limiting and stopping this increasing drain on their time and energy. It was thus no easy matter to squeeze these additional hours out of the working class. As Marx points out, it took "centuries of struggle between capitalist and labor" before the latter "agrees, i.e. is compelled by social conditions to sell the whole of his active life, his very capacity to work, for the price of the necessaries of life, his birthright for a mess of pottage."9

At the beginning of the colonial period capital had to use force to make the indigenous populations accept the commodity-form at all. In the face for continuing resistance to regular and extended labor, the colonial governments were repeatedly forced to use such means as massacre, money taxes, or displacement to poor land to force these populations to work enough to bring capital a profit. This refusal of work was naturally called "backwardness" by economists of capital (who developed a "backward-bending" supply curve of labor to describe it), and the use of force was justified by bourgeois political scientists with appeals to the necessity of "civilizing" primitive peoples.10 This problem has always been most acute where land is plentiful (Western Hemisphere, Africa) and the "backward" natives can flee to the hinterland. This flight to avoid capital must not be seen as simply an avoidance of "capitalist" work and a preference for "self-control" of work. But rather it must be recognized, as some recent anthropological work has shown (e.g., Marshal Sahlins' work on the "original affluent society"),11 that "self-control" of work really meant less work and more time for other social activities. Today, we can rediscover Marx's awareness of this: "The most developed machinery thus forces the worker to work longer than the savage does."12 As Marx's analysis of E. G. Wakefield's theory of colonialism in Chapter 33 shows, it was where the availability of land made such escape possible that the ideologies of capital saw its nature most clearly and thus most coherently enunciated the need to restrict that availability.

Under these conditions the class struggle presented itself as the contradictory combination of two active classes. The capitalists tried to shape and expand this new form of social control. The working class tried to escape and then to limit the imposition on their lives. Since capital had the initiative during this period it can correctly be seen as on the offensive and the working class as resistant and defensive in its attempts to set limits to its exploitation.

Yet as capital developed rapidly during the industrial revolution and the working class grew in size and strength, the latter's activity became increasingly aggressive; it began to assert its own autonomous demands against capital. At this point the recent work that brings out the notion of working-class autonomy also helps redirect our attention to certain aspects of Marx's analysis of the past. We can rediscover that Marx analyzes how the struggle to limit the working day succeeded and, passing over to the attack, the workers sought to shorten that day -- asserting an autonomous demand for less work. In Sections 6 and 7 of Chapter 10, Marx paints one of his most vivid analyses of the class struggle, outlining the growth of a working-class power militancy which forced capital, via the state, to repeatedly shorten the working day. Here it is not capital but the working class whose rising power gives it the initiative. It passes from resistance over to the attack. Marx shows how, faced with this working-class offensive, "the power of capital gradually weakened, whilst at the same time the power of attack of the working class grew." This growing power repeatedly pushes down the workday from fifteen or more hours to the eight or so hours we consider "normal" today. It also reduced the workweek from seven days to five, creating the weekend in the process. Thus, Marx shows us how the determination of the time period over which the commodity-form is formally imposed, how the "creation of a normal working day," was "the product of a protracted civil war more or less dissembled between the capitalist class and the working class."13

This analysis of the time element of the commodity-form that shows how the official "legally sanctioned" structure of the normal working day emerged is invaluable in helping us understand what Marx meant when he spoke of the "laws" of the capitalist mode of production. Referring to those legal laws that regulated the time structure of work, Marx says "these [legal] minutiae . . . were not at all the products of Parliamentary fancy. They developed gradually out of circumstances as natural laws of the modern mode of production. Their formulation, official recognition, and proclamation by the State, were the result of a long struggle of classes."14 These "natural laws" are hardly the metaphysical, unexplained regularities usually evoked by traditional Marxists. The "laws of motion" of capitalist society are the direct product of the class struggle and denote only what capital has had the strength to impose, given the rising power of the working class. They occur "behind the backs" of the actors only in the way they are the unforeseeable outcome of the confrontation of the two classes' power.

Moreover, we also discover the development of working-class power in the way it is also successful in maintaining and ever increasing its share of social wealth at the same time it works fewer hours. The working class can be seen, in effect, to have used capital to provide its needs at the same time it worked less. This is one phase of that long process Marx described in which the development of capital is also the development of the material foundation on which the working class can eventually move beyond capital.

Although the discussion of those periods in the history of the class struggle concerning the question of how much the commodity-form will be imposed has so far been couched in terms of how long, it should also be clear that it equally involves the questions of how hard and under what conditions work will be performed. The struggles over these questions are taken up by Marx in a number of places. In Chapter 10, on the working day, it is shown how the struggle over the length of the day is also, to a degree, a struggle over the conditions of work -- for example, in Section 4 on day and night work. But the most detailed analysis of the questions of how hard and under what conditions appears in the analysis of Chapter 15. There, Marx demonstrates how the development of machinery, which proceeded rapidly as workers forced down the length of the working day, turned out to be not only a means of raising productivity but also a means of vastly increasing the speed and intensity of work. In Section 3, part c, Marx shows how machinery imposes on the worker "increased expenditure of labor in a given time, heightened tension of labor-power, and closer filling up of the pores of the working day, or condensation of labor."15 This speed-up, he goes on to show in Sections 5, 9, and elsewhere, produces new kinds of struggles by the working class, from Luddite sabotage of machines to the longer-term struggles against capital to limit and reduce the intensity of labor and to improve its conditions. All these struggles over the length, the intensity, and the conditions of work concern the labor-power which the working class is forced to sell to the capitalists. They are quantitative questions of how much the commodity-form will be imposed. As Marx says, "The duration of labor and the degree of its intensity are two antithetical and mutually exclusive expressions for one and the same quantity of labor."16

The Struggle over Productivity and the Value of Labor-Power

The success of the working class in reducing work historically created a profound crisis for capital and forced it to seek new strategies. One response to a decrease of unpaid work in the factory was to extend the unwaged workday outside the factory. The analysis of the social factory has brought out how the shortening of hours and the exclusion of women and children from factory labor -- a tendency which began after Marx wrote Capital -- was partly offset for capital by an increase in work done in the home and in the school to maintain or improve the quality of labor-power. But given that these increases could not completely offset the decline in factory hours, a different kind of shift was needed. The other major way that capital found to maintain, reproduce, and expand its control was, as we have just seen, to substitute machinery for labor, so that less human labor would still produce as much or more than before. It is important to see that the attempt to raise productivity was not simply another aspect of capitalist exploitation but was a shift in capital's strategic plan forced on it by the growth of workers' power. For Marx there was no doubt about this: "So soon as the gradually surging revolt of the working class compelled Parliament to shorten compulsorily the hours of labor, and to begin by imposing a normal working-day on factories proper, so soon consequently as an increased production of [absolute] surplus value by the prolongation of the working-day was once for all put a stop to, from that moment capital threw itself with all its might into the production of relative surplus value, by hastening on the further improvement of machinery."17 At that point the struggle passed over from being one primarily concerned with how much the commodity-form will be imposed to one primarily concerned with at what price it will be imposed. The working class puts up with the commodity-form but demands a larger share of social wealth, that is, a higher price for its commodity, labor-power. Unable to offset a secular increase in the price of labor-power by an increase in the working day, capital turns to increased productivity as the only means both to pay the higher price and to maintain and increase profits. This is the relative-surplus-value strategy whereby it is possible for the wealth and hence the power of both capital and labor to grow absolutely: while the value of labor-power falls relative to surplus value thus raising profits, the absolute amount of use-values acquired by the working class can still rise.18 The changing relation between price and productivity determines the relative distribution of that power. In Marx we see that this relation emerged first through the separate efforts of individual capitals. Thanks to the work by Panzieri, whose rereading of Capital rediscovered the organization of work as a planned organization of the working class, and thanks to the work of Tronti and others on the Keynesian period, we can also see how capital tried to institutionalize relative surplus value through union contracts and the Keynesian "productivity deal" in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.19 What a careful study of Capital brings out is how this possibility is inherent in the relative-surplus-value strategy. It also, I might add, finally brings post-Marx Marxism up to date with bourgeois economics, which has long grasped, albeit in a distorted way, both the essence of relative surplus value (the linking of wages to marginal productivity in neoclassical microeconomic theory) and, even more coherently, the essence of production as corporate planning of the power relations between the classes (the domain of both efficiency engineering and labor management generally).

By linking wages and productivity, capital tries to create a situation in which working-class struggle over the price of the commodity-form becomes the very motor of capital's growth in a new way. Just as working-class success in shortening the working day forces capital to develop new strategies, so also does the pressure for rising wages in the factory (and for rising income outside it) force capital to develop science and technology so that it can raise productivity apace. This occurs partly through the individual corporation's efforts to raise its own profits directly, as in Marx's day, and increasingly, as the pressure of the working class forces the capitalists to become conscious of their common class interests, through the combined efforts of the capitalist class as a whole -- through the state as planner -- through both the government and private planning institutions, such as the National Planning Association.20 Each working-class attack becomes a spur to new forms of capitalist growth. To the degree that the strategy works, this phase of the struggle over the commodity-form sees two active parties using each other for their own development.

The working-class position, however, is ambiguous. While on the one hand it increasingly gains power -- more wealth on which to base its struggle -- and on the other accepts the commodity-form in a way that also permits capital's expansion, its activity is not against capital but for it. The struggle for a shorter workday presented a direct attack on capital's profits and control as unpaid labor time was reduced relative to paid labor time. But the productivity deal ensures capital's continued profits and power. Working-class struggle (as organized by labor unions) develops capital and, as it does, increases the intensity of work as well as expanding its imposition to new sectors.

Here we have a strange situation. The essential meaning of rising productivity (increased output in a given time) is that one gets more product with less work, but under the reign of capital productivity increases are transformed into more, rather than less, work: "Hence, too, the economic paradox, that the most powerful instrument for shortening labor time [machinery] becomes the most unfailing means for placing every moment of the laborer's time and that of his family, at the disposal of the capitalist for the purpose of expanding the value of his capital."21 So much for the dreams of Aristotle, who Marx cites as having visualized the development of tools to such a point that "there would be no need either of apprentices for the master workers, or of slaves for the lords."22 So much, too, for the working class, whose struggles have been largely dedicated to reducing the amount of work they have to do. This social paradox of increasing work at the same time as increasing productivity can only make sense from the point of view of a class whose basic means of social control is the imposition of work.

Yet, as the working class uses capital for its own development, it comes to see that exactly because of the incredible rises in productivity the social wealth which it desires decreasingly requires its labor. It sees that the evolution from labor-intensive methods of production (e.g., textile factories of Marx's day which required vast numbers of workers) to highly "capital"-intensive methods (e.g., the petrochemical refineries of today which require very few) has been increasingly based on the development of science and technology by capital -- under the pressure of working-class demands. Marx perceived this general tendency over a century ago: "But to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labor time and on the amount of labor employed than on the power of the agencies [machinery, etc.] set in motion during labor time, whose 'powerful effectiveness' [of those machines, etc.] is itself in turn out of all proportion to the direct labor time spent on their production, but depends rather on the general state of science and the progress of technology."23

But the measure of capital's imposition of work is value and the index of its control is surplus value. If the development of machinery proceeds to the point where it eliminates the need for work, then capital is faced with a fundamental crisis. "Capital itself is a moving contradiction, (in) that it presses to reduce labor time to a minimum, while it posits labor time, on the other side as the sole measure and source of wealth. . . . it wants to use labor time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created."24 The crisis appears because capitalist production is not concerned with production as such but with social control through the imposition of work through the commodity-form and thus the realization of value. But if "labor in the direct form" ceases "to be the great well-spring of wealth, labor time ceases and must cease to be its measure and hence exchange-value (must cease to be the measure) of use-value."25

Marx saw in the development of this contradiction the growing potential for workers to liberate themselves from work and for the overthrow of capital. He saw that it would become increasingly difficult for capital to find ways of imposing work as productivity grew and that it would be increasingly obvious to the working class that work should be decreasing rather than increasing. With the growing contradiction between the rising level of social productivity and capitals continuing insistence on more work, working-class struggle has more and more taken on the character of a struggle against work. In the terms I have used here, this amounts to a reopening of the question of whether capital has the power to impose work through the commodity-form -- at any price. Thus the depth of the current crisis. What is in question is the very survival of the system. Either capital finds new ways to impose work and hence realize value, or the working-class struggle against work explodes the system and founds a new one.

Today the creation of a new social order no longer requires a return to the land and handicrafts, as some socialists -- romantic or scientific -- think, but rather includes the fuller development of a highly productive social system of adequate wealth and of work which decreases, rather than increases, as productivity grows. In such a system, as Marx so brilliantly foresaw a century ago, "the measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labor time, but rather disposable time."26 Thus the development of capital, driven on by working-class demands, has created the real material foundation to go beyond "the reduction of necessary labor so as to posit surplus labor" to a system devoted to "the general reduction of the necessary labor of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific, etc., development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them."27

The foregoing classification of the class struggle by questions of whether, how much, and at what price the commodity-form will be imposed is both historical and analytical. While there is some general historical trend of development as Marx outlines, in which one or the other type dominates, it is also evident that these struggles are always mixed together. The point I want to emphasize is that in each case and throughout each period the struggle between capital and the working class is always about the commodity-form because it is always about work, and work in capital is imposed through the commodity-form. This is why a detailed dissection of the commodity is of interest today. It provides a point of departure for understanding the nature of the class struggle in the present crisis. Furthermore, if it is true that the very essence of the system is at stake in the present crisis, then we have all the more reason to be clear about just what the fundamental characteristics of that system are.

Marx's presentation of the fully dissected commodity in Chapter One begins with the apparent commodity-form, passes through a carefully organized and extremely detailed exposition of the nature of the substance, the measure, and the form of both the use-value and the value aspect of the commodity, and terminates in the money-form (see Figure 1). As indicated in the Introduction, there is a definite logic to the mode of presentation used by Marx. After an initial analysis of the commodity into use-value and exchange-value, of use-value into a qualitative and a quantitative side, and of exchange-value into its qualitative essence (value), he then presents a synthetic progression in the exposition of the nature of value from relatively simple categories of few determinations (e.g., abstract labor) to increasingly complex categories (e.g., value forms), which are more concrete because they are syntheses of more and more determinations and therefore represent "the unity of diverse aspects." The substance of value is first discussed isolated from measure and form (Section 1). Its measure is then discussed related to substance (Sections 1 and 2). Form is then the developing expression of both substance and measure (Section 3). Moreover, the relations between the increasingly concrete concepts are "dialectical" in that they reproduce particular aspects of the dialectical relations of capital. The presentation thus appears as an "a priori construction," which Marx hoped "ideally reflects the life of the subject matter" -- the class struggle -- even though it was arrived at by years of painstaking analysis and piece-by-piece reconstruction.28 As I have also indicated in the Introduction, the kind of reading which I do here requires the integration of the material in Chapter One with that in other parts of Marx's work. To the extent then that I bring to bear on the interpretation of certain passages material from other parts of Capital, or from other works, I do so with the aim of grasping Chapter One within the larger analysis, rather than reconstructing the evolution of what Marx wrote and thought.


1 In the traditional Moore and Aveling English translation from the third German edition, the first sentence reads, "The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as 'an immense accumulation of commodities,' its unit being a single commodity" (my emphasis). The new Ben Fowkes translation, from which the passage in the text is taken, translates the German "elementarform" more accurately as "elementary form." In the preface to the first German edition, in which Marx talks about the method he uses in this chapter, he refers to the commodity-form as the "cell-form": "Moreover, in the analysis of economic forms neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of assistance. The power of abstraction must replace both. But for bourgeois society, the commodity-form of the product of labor, or the value-form of the commodity, is the economics cell-form. To the superficial observer, the analysis of these forms seems to turn upon minutiae. It does in fact deal with minutiae, but so similarly does microscopic anatomy" (Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, translated by Ben Fowkes, p. 90). 2 It is in Volume II, Part I, "The Metamorphoses of Capital and Their Circuits," that Marx analyzes the circuits of money-capital, (M), productive capital (P), and commodity-capital (C'), both separately and together.

3 In Chapter One of Volume II, Marx makes this point explicitly. "On the other hand if the wage-labourers, the mass of direct producers, are to perform the act L-M-C, they must constantly be faced with the necessary means of subsistence in purchasable form, i.e., in the form of commodities. . . . When production by means of wage-labour becomes universal, commodity production is bound to be the general form of production" (Capital, Volume II, Chapter 1, Section 2, p. 33. All page references to the second and third volumes of Capital will be to the International Publishers edition. To facilitate finding quotes in other editions, I will also specify chapter and sections).

4 Marx's classic discussion of this distinction between class-in-itself and class-for-itself is to be found in his analysis of the French peasantry. He finds that they formed a class the way a sackful of potatoes form a class. That is to say, they all had the same characteristics and were a class-in-itself, but because they failed to act together politically they did not form a class-for-itself. See Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," in Surveys from Exile, ed. David Fernbach, pp. 238-239.

5 This basic point, that the working class struggles to end its existence as such, must be kept in mind in all discussions of "Communism." The fact that the revolutionary overthrow of capital will mean the end of the working class as such does not mean that class cannot fight together against capital, as Jean Cohen has recently suggested in his review of Agnes Heller's book, The Theory of Need in Marx. Cohen argues that the working class, as a class created within capital, cannot have demands or "interests" which go beyond capital, and that the only such demands, which he would call "radical needs," that threaten capital can come from individuals "who challenge their status as workers and oppose the reduction of their needs, personality, activity, and individuality to the imperatives of class relations" (Telos 33 [Fall 1977]: 180). But the point is that those individuals do face capital as a class-in-itself -- they all have the same basic characteristics vis-ˆ-vis capital -- and the only way they can obtain the power necessary to overthrow its system is by acting together as a class-for-itself. Once they have burst the doors and escaped the social factory, then the opposition to capital which presently binds them together will be gone and post-capitalist society can be created, as Marx said, for "the free development of individualities" (Grundrisse, Notebook VII, p. 706).

6 Marx, Capital, Volume I, Chapter 28, p. 787 (International Publishers edition).

7 Marx, Grundrisse, Notebook VII, p. 736.

8 Marx, Capital, Volume I, Chapter 21, pp. 759-760 (International Publishers edition).

9 Ibid., Chapter 10, Section 5, p. 271.

10 The "backward-bending" supply curve of labor is based on a trade-off between wages and "leisure." At low wages, workers will work more as wages rise, but if wages rise beyond some point, they will begin to substitute "leisure," and the number of hours worked will fall. In the colonies the response was often to set a "hut tax," or a given money payment that had to be paid by the indigene to the colonial government. Since working in a mine or plantation was the only way to obtain money, indirectly forced labor was the result. Keeping the wage rate very low forced the local workers to work many days in order to gain the money necessary to pay the tax.

11 See Marshall Sahlins, Stone-Age Economics.

12 Marx, Grundrisse, Notebook VII, pp. 708-709.

13 Marx, Capital, Volume I, Chapter 10, Section 6, p. 296 (International Publishers edition).

14 Ibid., p. 283.

15 Ibid., Chapter 15, Section 3, part c, p. 410.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid., p. 409.

18 See Chapter IV below, last section, for further discussion of relative surplus value.

19 Panzieri, "Surplus Value and Planning"; Tronti, "Workers and Capital."

20 For a brief introduction to the various institutions of capitalist planning, see William Domhoff, The Higher Circles.

21 Marx, Capital, Volume I, Chapter 15, Section 3, part b, p. 408 (International Publishers edition).

22 Ibid.

23 Marx, Grundrisse, Notebook VII, pp. 704-705.

24 Ibid., p. 706.

25 Ibid., p. 705.

26 Ibid., p. 708.

27 Ibid., p. 706.

28 Marx, Capital, Volume I, "Afterward to the Second German Edition," p. 19 (International Publishers edition).

Outline and Commentary

Outline of Discussion "Capital" and "class" (pp. 71-75) Capital = social relation between classes Capital = an antagonistic social relation, i.e., dynamic of class struggle Capital = the antagonism is the result of the imposition of work which results in resistance and aggressive struggle for other ways of life, thus: Capital = capitalists and their "capital" (factories, money, etc.) + working class and the working class is part of capital, and people are part of capital, in so far as they sell their labor power and work for capital, this is why: Capital = "a social system based on the imposition of work through the commodity form" "The commodity form" = the major form through which capital dominates labor, which is to say, exchange, i.e., people are forced to sell their abilities as "labor power" as a commodity in exchange for a wage or other income "The commodity form" = "a set of power relations", the form of the imposition of work

Class in-itself = group defined as a class by having a shared set of characteristics Class for-itself = group defined as a class by struggling together in their collective self interests, therefore:

Working Class in-itself = people shaped into a class of workers by capital Working Class for-itself = people acting together against capital and in their collective interests, i.e., struggling against being a working class

Capitalist Class in-itself = those who impose work through the commodity form Capitalist Class for-itself = those who fight to impose and maintain the capitalist way of life against workers' resistance and demands

Primitive Accumulation (pp. 75-77) Sketch of Pt. VIII of Capital which depicts original creation of the classes of capitalism -main point is that class structure was imposed, people had to be forced into the working class, e.g., ch. 27: forced off the land, ch.28: forced into the factories through bloody legislation Therefore: this was the historical period in which the central social conflicts were over whether capital would be able to impose work through the commodity form -capital appears as active, shaping the social order -people appear as resistant to being shaped

Struggle over the Working Day (pp. 77-80) Once work was successfully imposed, and the class relations shaped, the antagonism did not disappear, but shifted from whether work could be imposed, to how much work could be imposed -the initial, central conflict was over how long workers could be forced to work -capitalists sought the longest day possible -workers sought to to limit the amount of their lives given up for a wage -this is subject of ch.10 of Capital -over time the initiative shifted from the capitalists to the workers as the latter were able to stop the lengthening of the working day and then shorten it -capital then tries to make work more intense in order to impose more -therefore, two active classes in contention, conflict determines "laws of motion" Struggle over Productivity and the Value of Labor Power (pp. 80-85) Successful working class struggle to limit and then reduce the working day forces a shift in capitalist strategy. Unable to impose as many hours of work, capital seeks changes in technology which raise productivity and reorganize the work force so it can increase intensity of labor. This response is reinforced by workers' demands for higher wages. -increased productivity allows both higher wages and higher profits -thus, the struggle becomes, in part, one of at what price the commodity form can be imposed -this is "relative surplus value" strategy discussed in ch's 12-15 of Capital -this is eventually institutionalized in post-WWII period in response to struggles of the 1930s that forced the 40-hr week and the creation of the weekend -thus, workers' struggles for more money and less work spur technological change, more profits and capitalist development, workers drive capital -but ever more machinery means ever less need for human work, which undermines capital as a social system based on the imposition of work -while at the same time, creating more opportunity for less work with high productivity -struggle against work "reopens" the question of whether work can be imposed through the commodity form -declining need for work makes possible "disposable time" as basis of "value" Commentary Within the context of this course, this chapter serves as an analytical summary of the section on primitive accumulation as well as a evocation of its relationship to the rest of the book. In the section on primitive accumulation we have seen how capitalism was created as a new society based on a new set of social relations -relations which had to be imposed and were thus antagonistic. The chacteristic form of those relations was exchange: people were forced into the labor market where they had to sell their talents and abilities in order to survive. Thus the centrality of the "commodity form" of the class relation. However, the first thing you should note is that even though the "commodity form" has been the most general and therefore characteristic form of the imposition of work in capitalism, it has never been universal and has always been accompanied by its absence. That is to say, while most peope have been forced into the labor market to work for a wage, many others have either been unsuccessful participants (i.e., unable to get jobs and therefore unemployed) or not participants in the labor market (not looking for work) and working for no wage at all. We would have to say they were outside the commodity form, except that taken at the level of the class relation (as opposed to looking at the situation of individuals) the commodity form has never existed without both waged and unwaged and therefore the unwaged cannot be considered "outside." At the same time, as we saw in the discussion of Pt.VIII, a great many people around the world have successfully resisted being forced into the labor market --for greater or shorter periods of time-- though they have been less successful at avoiding being caught in the nets of capitalist social relations more generally (e.g., they have been exploited through agricultural markets, served as part of the latent reserve army).

Concepts of Class The concepts of class delineated in this chapter are two: class in-itself and class for-itself. These concepts are designed to distinguish between two kinds of "classes" or groups of people: those who simply have similar characteristics, and can therefore be "class-ified" together, and those who act together collectively in their own interests, i.e., those who struggle as a class. The concepts are similar to the way French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre uses the concepts of being in-itself (l'être en-soi) and being for-itself (l'être pour-soi) in his work Being and Nothingness (L'Être et le Neant) and in his fiction. In Sartre's case he wants the concepts to spell out the distinction between human "being" and non-human "being." Very much within the tradition that came through Hegel and Marx, Sartre sees non-human being as essentially unable to change itself, as given, and therefore as being in-itself defined by whatever set of characteristics it had at the outset (see my notes on ch.7 of Capital). Human being, on the contrary, is defined by being able to change itself, by being able to be something other today than it was yesterday. It is thus, a being for-itself capable of acting in its own interests and reshaping itself. (Humans who lose this ability, for Sartre, lapse tragically into a kind of non-human or dead being in-itself, e.g., the villagers in his play The Flies whom Orestes --the personification of being for-itself-- tries to rescue.)

Applying this way of looking at these two categories to that of class, the distinction between class in-itself and class for-itself seems clear enough. The former denotes a kind of static, sociological set of characteristics but lacks the dynamic collective self activity we associate with class for-itself. How such a concept can be useful can be seen in Marx's analysis of the French peasantry in the early 19th Century.

The small-holding peasants form, Marx argued, a vast mass, the members of which live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with one another. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. The isolation is increased by France's bad means of communication and by the poverty of the peasants.He wrote:

"In this way the, the great mass of the French nation is formed by simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. Insofar as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond and no political organization among them, they do not form a class. They are consequently incapable of enforcing their class interests in their own name, whether through a parliament or through a convention." (Karl Marx, "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte," in K. Marx and F. Engels Collected Works, Vol. 11, New York: International Publishers, 1979, p.187. Originally published in 1851.)

Unlike this kind of application, to large numbers of similar but not yet collectively organized individuals, there is another way of using such a concept in which what is done is not only the "class"-ification of individuals or small groups according to a set of characteristics but also to judge them according to "class" criteria independently of the specifics of the individual case. This is the kind of notion of class we might associate with Madame Defarge in Dicken's Tale of Two Cities, i.e., a knitted list of names of the nobility who are to be beheaded at the guillotine. Such use of the concept of class is thus like labels on a set of boxes and one proceeds by sorting individuals, families or groups out, dropping some in this box (the people) and some in that box (nobility). In Dicken's book the Defarges and their friends keep track of the crimes of the nobility -gathering information from witnesses and passing judgement on who deserve to die for their crimes against the poor. In the following passage, they have just heard one such story and the question is whether the noble in question be "registered", i.e., listed among along with others of his class and condemned to punishment? "How say you, Jacques?" demanded Number One. "To be registered?" "To be registered, as doomed to destruction," returned Defarge. "Magnificent!" croaked the man with the craving. "The château, and all the race?" inquired the first. "The château, and all the race," returned Defarge. "Extermination." The hungry man repeated, in a rapturous croak, "Magnificent!" and began gnawing another finger. "Are you sure," asked Jacques Two, of Defarge, "that no embarassment can arise from our manner of keeping the register? Without doubt it is safe, for no one beyond ourselves can decipher it; but shall we always be able to decipher it - or, I ought to say, will she?" "Jacques," returned Defarge, drawing himself up, "if madame my wife undertook to keep the register in her memory alone, she would not lose a word of it - not a syllable of it. Knitted, in her own stiches and her own symbols, it will always be as plain to her as the sun. Confide in Madame Defarge. It would be easier for the weakest poltroon that lives, to erase himself from existence, than to erase one letter of his name or crimes from the knitted register of Madame Defarge." (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities,Garden City: Doubleday, 1960, p. 163. The whole of Book II, Chapter 15 "Knitting" from which this is taken is available on-line. )

As Dickens makes clear, such an approach to the definition of class which allocates a "class identity" to individuals in terms of a set of characteristics can be both unjust and lethal. The crime of one individual provides the justification for the assignment of both class identity and the death penalty to "the château and all the race" even if some individuals do not fit the criteria chosen or play roles quite contradictory with their assigned "class status".

Years later, after the Russian revolution, a similar approach would be used by Stalinists to identify and persecute "kulaks" (i.e., supposedly rich, quasi-capitalist peasants). As in the case of A Tale of Two Cities, that approach supported a kind of vicious political "cleansing" of perceived political enemies in which all members of a family would be condemned for the crimes -real or imagined- of the patriarch-landowner. Similarly, during the Chinese Revolution, Mao drew up a set of criteria to distinquish among "classes" of peasants as a guide to who should be rooted out and who should be spared.(Mao, "How to Differentiate the Classes in the Rural Areas," October 1933, in Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Volume I, pp. 137-139.)

The concept of class for-itself, on the other hand, appears as one which denotes a much more dynamic activity -one that designates people in collective motion. So, for example, workers only constitute themselves as "working class for-itself" when they come together and struggle collectively against capital. In a polemic against the French socialist-anarchist Proudon, Marx spelled out this difference quite explicitly, refering here to England where primitive accumulation was more advanced than in France:

"Economic conditions had first transformed the mass of the people of the country into workers. The domination of capital has created for this mass a common situation, common interests. This mass is thus already a class as against capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle, of which we have pointed out only a few phases, this mass becomes united, and constitutes itself as a class for itself. The interest it defends become class interests. (my emphasis)(Karl Marx, "The Poverty of Philosophy," in K. Marx and F. Engels Collected Works, Vol. 6, New York: International Publishers, 1976, p. 211. Originally published in 1847.)

In the case of workers, some Marxist theorists have made the distinction between in-itself and for-itself in terms of the concepts "labor power" and "working class" where the former denotes people working for capital (working class in-itself) and the later is reserved for those same people when and if they struggle together(working class for-itself). On some of the ambiguities of applying these concepts to groups of workers who have only been partially "accumulated" or who succeed in breaking out of their class roles, see the excerpts from my letter to George Rawick on Argentine Gauchos. In a parallel manner, perhaps capitalists only constitute a class for-itself when they cooperate to impose or maintain their kind of social order. There are ambiguities, however, in applying these terms to the analysis of the capitalist class.

On the one hand, it seems reasonable to distinguish in the manner indicated between capitalists who are just capitalists, who just run their businesses, and capitalists who band together, formally or informally, loosely in associations or tightly through the state, to achieve their collective ends. Certainly there are plenty of examples of such collaboration to frame policy issues, shape laws that favor business, get rid regulations previously imposed by workers, and so on.

On the other hand, at a more abstract level it is not clear how meaningful this distinction is for defining capitalists as a class because businessmen are always acting to maintain their control and profits. Moreover, it is not obvious that capital (or capitalists) per se can ever properly be given the designation "for-itself." As becomes clear in Marx's analysis of capital throughout his work, capital is "dead labor" a kind of unchanging relation which, at best, only undergoes metamorphosis under pressure from workers but is really unable to mutate into anything else -without ceasing to be "capital." As we will see, while the "commodity form" of capital has a whole series of "sub-forms" (e.g., money, commodities, machinery, labor power), these are all different forms of the same relation of imposed work. To the degree to which these sub-forms change (e.g., cash to demand deposits as the form of money, traditional looms to power looms in textile factories) and in relation to one another (e.g., changes in the wage form and forms of payment), those changes derive essentially from workers' struggles which undermine them and force their metamorphosis. In this sense "capital" only acquires a "for-itself" character to the degree that it internalizes the living human activity (self-changing) it seeks to dominate.

Challenges to the Concept of Class There is another kind of ambiguity about the concepts of working class and capitalist class which also needs to be addressed. Modern mainstream sociologists in the United States have long critiqued the applicability of Marx's concepts in the 20th Century, especially in the U.S., because of the rise of what they call the "middle class." Even if a two-class analysis was applicable at one time, say in the 19th Century when the existence of a bi-polar social opposition was clear, they say, the rise of the middle class has made such an analysis obsolete. From such a point of view, one should either reserve the term "working class" for the traditional industrial waged labor force and be prepared to identify several other classes (starting with the middle class and the capitalist class perhaps) or abandon the notion of "class" in favor of something like income strata This kind of empirical attack on Marx's analysis was related to an effort to find some list of characteristics which would allow one to identify the class character or social status of individuals. The major such indicator that came to be widely used was money income and sociologists and economists have studied the distribution of income from the very low to the very high and observed that there is no obvious bi-polarity, only a continuum of strata. This has justified a substitution of "stratification theory" for "class theory" by many.

This theoretical shift was accompanied by another in political science from the study of "class antagonism" to that of more or less equal, but competing "interest groups" which may be defined by income strata or some other set of characteristics (e.g., organized labor, retired people, hunters, environmentalists). This change, like the one in sociology, has played an essential role in excluding Marxist theory from the academy and in justifying electoral democracy as a place where various "interest groups" come together to work out their differences. From the point of view of Marxist theory these shifts appear primarily to be mostly self justificatory ideology (in the worst sense of the word) designed to hide both the nature of capitalism and the irresolvable antagonisms which characterize it.

Recognizing the ideological character of the operation, however, does not relieve Marxists of the responsibility of confronting the empirical changes which have been identified by mainstream sociologists and economists. There was a "filling-in" of the middle in terms of income; at least some parts of the world are less obviously organized in terms of two groups, rich and poor, than they once were (although the social policies of the Reagan-Bush era have been such as to lead some sociologists to speak of the disappearance of the middle class and the reemergence of bi-polarity). Moreover, a graphic map of income strata (a wall hanging of such is available somewhere) where each strata is given a width proportional to the share of population with that income has come to look less like a coke bottle and more like a pear.

The most obvious Marxist response to such objections, however, is that the Marxist concept of class was never specified in terms of income and therefore can't be falsified by changes in the distribution of income -despite the fact that "capitalists" have tended to be better off and "workers" less well off in income terms. In fact, Marx himself recognized the growth of the "middle class" and considered it as an integral part of capitalist development. For example, in the midst of a critique of the classical economist David Ricardo, he wrote:

"What he forgets to emphasise is the constantly growing number of the middle classes, those who stand between the workman on the one hand and the capitalist and landlord on the other. The middle classes maintain themselves to an ever increasing extent directly out of revenue, they are a burden weighing heavily on the working base and increase the social security and power of the upper ten thousand." (K. Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968, Volume II, Chapter 18, section B, subsection 1d, p. 573.) The issue of class for Marxists has been rather one of the role played by various groups in the imposition of and resistance to a certain social order. Capitalists are those who impose that order; workers are those who have it imposed on them and struggle against it, regardless of their income. Moreover, it has always been true, and Marx recognized this quite explicitly in Capital and elsewhere, that the working class has always been organized by business in an hierarchical manner -one where wage (income) differences played as big a role as the distinction between waged and unwaged. From this point of view, the rise of the middle class is merely one way of characterizing a further widening of the wage hierarchy and redistribution of the share of workers occupying various positions in that hierarchy. The rise in the proportion of workers with average or slightly better than average incomes can be seen historically as the result of the uneven ability of different groups of workers to fight for and win wage increases. Those who had more ability came to consitute the so-called "middle class;" those who had less found themselves stagnating and slipping down the hierarchy proportionately. Another argument against the Marxist concept of class concerns changes in the structure of capitalism. Orthodox Marxists long maintained that the capitalist class was defined in terms of the ownership of the means of production (rather than in terms of the imposition of work as I have been doing). But, the rise of the limited liability, stock issuing company in the 19th Century --which became the dominate form of business in the 20th-- has meant that control over corporate capital has come to be divorced from ownership because ownership is widely dispersed among thousands, even millions of stockholders. Such changes, it has been argued, further undermine the Marxist concept of class. Today, it is pointed out, virtually everyone is waged (or unwaged) including those who run the corporations. Who then are the capitalists? Some have said society has evolved into a kind of people's capitalism by defining the millions of owners of stock (and thus, legally, of corporate capital) as capitalists. Others have pointed out that the vast majority of stock owners exercise no control and that ownership has simply been divorced from control --which is the real issue and which is in the hands of a managerial elite (which is often able to control corporations by owning only a few percentage of total stock).

In the terms I have been using above, I would agree that "control" is indeed the real issue and that "ownership" is much less essential to that control than it once was. But the juridical relation has always been secondary to that of control --especially once we define control in terms of the social relations of imposed work. Marx, who had already observed the rise of what he called the "joint stock company," refered to those with control as the "functionaries" of capital. That is to say the defining issue in identifying the capitalist class is that of the imposition of work. Those who impose work are acting as the "functionaries" of capital, of the social order, regardless of whether their income takes the form of the wage or income from stocks. Those who have work imposed upon them and who struggle against it, regardless of the level of their wage, are workers and part of the working class.

There is, nevertheless, another problem with this way of defining the classes. Not only is virtually everyone in the corporate structure today waged, but it is also true that to some degree everyone is involved both in imposing work on others and having it imposed on themselves. At first glance, it would appear that only the very top and bottom are exempt, i.e., those at the bottom don't have anyone to impose work on, and those at the top have no one above them to impose work on them.

But this is an illusion because at both the very top and very bottom we find an internalized psychological mechanism whereby people impose work on themselves. Thus, both workers and managers drag themselves from bed in morning, pump themselves with drugs (caffeine at the least), dress themselves for work, and head off for the office or factory without anyone directly coercing them to do so. But, along with all the built-in coercive mechanisms (such as supervisors, quotas, piece-work, competition, and so on) everyone has the same experience, no matter where their job falls in the hierarchy. I think recognizing all this forces us to see that the Marxist concept of class is one that designates the contradictory roles and behaviors people adopt within capitalism. To the degree that people have work imposed on them (even through the internalized values of the system) they are workers (working class in-itself) regardless of their income (so this may include higher waged managers). To the degree that they struggle against this imposition, they are part of the working class for-itself (even if they are managers). To the degree that they act in ways that impose work on others (including themselves) they are acting as "functionaries" of capital (even if they are lower waged factory or service workers). Through all this we can see that the class roles that a given individual may play in the "class struggle" can change radically --from one which perpetuates the system to one which undermines it, or visa versa. What is at issue in "class" and "class struggle" is the antagonism over the preservation or transcendence of the social relations characteristic of capitalism. The point is not to slap "class" labels on individuals -like Madame Defarge- but to understand the key antagonisms of society and be able to evaluate the actions of individuals (including yourself) and groups in relation to them.

Yet another attack on the Marxist concept of class has come from those who see the so-called "new social movements" (e.g., of students, of feminists, of particular racial groups, of environmentalists) as defined by other issues than "class" and therefore requiring a different conceptual apparatus. To my mind, there is both truth and error in this way of looking at these struggles. The error lies in not seeing how all of these movements concern social and natural relations which have been constructed within and as an integral part of capitalism. The structure of the educational system and the ways it pits young people against each other and deprives them of the possibilities of self-discovery and self-valorization were shaped by business in its struggle with workers. The particular roles of women, the kind of work they do and the kinds of limitations they face, as well as their opportunities have also been shaped by the constraints of capitalist society. The same is true of racial groups. As far as environomental movement is concerned, many already recognize that the destruction of nature which they so abhore is integral to capital's rapacious attitude toward all of life, both human and non-human.

The truth lies in the needs of the various groups which transcend this particular kind of class society. Youth, women, racial minorities and nature have all been mistreated under several kinds of society, and the need to end such mistreatment will not end with capitalism. Patriarchy and racism obviously predate capitalism. Feminists and minorities are therefore quite correct to want to make sure that they do not survive it. It makes sense that women and minorities, who have been the victims of imposed gender and racial hierarchies, should focus on the specifics of the mechanisms which have enslaved and constrained them. Moreover, it also makes sense that such groups should be actively involved in the struggle to create new, non-oppressive forms of social relations --forms whose specificity derive from those being fought against. Thus feminists may seek to create androgeny to replace patriarchal, gender dichotomies. Blacks may valorize and develop many aspects of culture which are specifically devalued by dominant white society.

But neither the mechanisms of domination nor the projects of liberation are separate from capitalism and its relations of class. The position of women and of racial minorities is a subaltern one within the class structure. On the average not only do men have more power than women, whites more than blacks or hispanics, and so on, but that power is defined by the capitalist hierarchy of wages and command. There are particular dynamics to gender and racial oppression within capitalism. To refuse to see them by dismissing the significance of class is to blind ones-self to what is certainly the best organized and most self-conscious force of domination in modern society. A Marxist analysis which ignores issues of gender or race clearly would fail to grasp essential aspects of domination in today's society. A "post-Marxist" analysis which sees only such issues but is unable to situate them within the dynamics of capitalism would be just as limited.

From this perspective, we must then ask ourselves whether, and to what degree, the class antagonisms were and continue to be as omnipresent as Marx thought they were. It is imaginable that they might have passed away, or been, to some degree or another, replaced by other kinds of relations. Marx's concepts are, after all, only concepts; either they are very appropriate to a social reality and help us understand it, or they are less so and therefore of less use. Part of what you must do during this course is to think about Marx's theory within the context of his world --how appropriate was it. Partly you must examine the world around you and determine the degree to which contemporary social dynamics continue to have the characteristics Marx identified in his time. To the degree that they do, then you may find that his concepts of analysis continue to be useful in your attempts to deal with the world today.

Class Consciousness I want to raise a final issue in the Marxist analysis of class: that of what is called "class consciousness" -the consciousness people have of belonging to one class or another. For some Marxists, this has always been the key issue, especially whether workers are conscious of their class position. Because political action against capitalism has always been the object of Marxist theory and practice, and because it has often been assumed that workers would only take anti-capitalist action if they were self-consciously "working class", the presence or absence of a "working class consciousness" has been considered the fundamental question of "class".

Two conclusions have been drawn from this view. First, if workers are not judged to have a "working class consciousness" they are seen to have a "false consciousness" and second, under such circumstances, the most important political role enlightened intellectuals can play is combat such false consciousness by teaching workers their true "class interests" and thus "raise" their consciousness. Such reasoning has been produced by the Marxists of "critical theory" as well as by those of the Leninist Party. It is a reasoning which obviously privileges the role of intellectuals -those whose theoretical grasp of "class relations" allows them to understand things hidden to most workers trapped in the mire of day-to-day conflict and limited to only narrow visions of their own self-interests. This view also implies that there is some "class interest" which transcends the particular "economistic" interests of various individuals and groups of workers and which intellectuals are more likely to recognize. Finally, it has generally been associated with a concept of "class interest" that goes beyond opposition to capitalist domination and includes some unified project of post-capitalist social reconstruction (socialism or communism).

I have considerable problems with all this kind of reasoning and have discussed some of them in my letter to George Rawick on Argentine gauchos. In all my discussion above on the concept of "class" you will note that I have focused on what workers (and capitalists) do, not how they feel about it or how they conceptualize it. It is quite clear that workers can struggle against capital, even so successfully that they throw it into crisis, without ever having what is called a "working class consciousness" --this has been particularly obvious in the case of the United States where Marxists have always played relatively minor roles in workers' struggles.

At the same time, it is not at all clear that there is some transcendent "class interest" that all workers share beyond their common opposition to being dominated by capital. In particular, I see no reason to accept the idea that such a "general interest" includes a unifed project of post-revolutionary reconstruction. On the contrary, it seems to me that one of the reasons for the inescapable antagonism of class relations is precisely that capital seeks to impose such a unified social project on a population which has many different ideas about how to live and diverse projects for doing so. From this point of view there is often more richness in the supposedly narrow "false consciousness" of the struggles of particular groups than there is in the most sophisticated intellectual vision of a working class future. We must never forget that the concept of the "working class" is only meaningful because such a class has been produced by capital; it is a category of the capitalist social relations and must therefore be limited in its usefulness for the effort to transcend them.

At the same time, I would not argue that the issue of "consciousness" is unimportant. Clearly, what people think about what they do, their goals, their struggles, their enemies, and so on, matters, both to them and to others who might ally with them or oppose them. This is true for the individual and for the group. Moreover, in a world in which capital dominates social organization, blindness to the methods and madnesses of that domination is crippling to those who want and need to escape it. What Marxism provides is a clear understanding of the patterns of capitalist domination from the point of view of fighting against it. It is possible to struggle against it without understanding it, but the likelihood of such struggles being successful are probably less than they might be with understanding.

Most of what Marx wrote concerned those patterns of domination at a social level, the level of classes. He rarely addresses the situation of individuals, mostly making reference to them only as exemplars of class forces. However, in the 20th Century, there has been considerable effort to draw lessons from his analysis for the individual --at the level of action and at the level of psychology, i.e., of consciousness (and unconsciousness). Much of this last effort has involved attempts to draw upon major works in the fields of philosophy, psychology and psychiatry. Some, like Jean Paul Sartre, R.D. Laing and Richard Cooper, have attempted to elaborate an existential psychology interwoven with a Marxist analysis of class. Others, like psychiatrists Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm, have sought to integrate the insights of Marx on class with those of Freud on the individual psyche. And then there are the post-Freudian, post-structuralists such as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatari who have worked at developing a theory of the contradictions between the autonomous generation of desire and the imperatives and constraints of capitalism --understood in large part in Marxian terms.

In terms of the forgoing discussion, it is interesting to try to think about individual consciousness in terms of the kinds of contradictory class roles. Because these are roles, and not fixed characteristics, the individual may play out and consciously experience more than one. For example, any worker can have the experience of desiring to refuse work (e.g., skip class and go sailing) and at the same time, experience an internal compulsion to work (and subsequent guilt if it isn't listened to) acquired through years of internalizing exteriorly imposed behavior patterns and values. These kinds of dual tendencies, which have traditionally been treated metaphorically as a moralistic duel between the good "ought" and the evil "temptation", are common in a social order which depends as much on the internalization of its rules as on exterior compulsion (e.g., the whip of hunger).

Similarly, it is also true that individuals' consciousness may be only partly shaped by the class forces within which they are emeshed -including such forces as gender and racial prejudice. They may also be, to some degree, self-constructed to contain ideas, ideals, dreams and projects incompatible with and transcendent of capitalism. The struggle against capitalism can generate new alternatives in peoples minds -witness not only utopian projects but less integrated collective efforts to develop new kinds of attitudes and relationships. As I argued above in the previous section, those new alternatives have characteristics which develop from the specifics of struggle (e.g., feminist efforts toward androgency, toward new, more equal kinds of interpersonal relations). It is clear enough that to understand ourselves, and others, we must try to grasp as much of the constellation of forces at work in the shaping of our lives as possible. Marxism, to my mind, is no cosmology designed to explain everything. It does provide us with tools to understand capitalist domination which has tendentially sought to subordinate all other kinds of relations to its own needs. It is therefore indispensible to any project of liberation --personal or social-- as long as that kind of domination prevents our autonomous development.

Recommended Further Reading On the Marxian concept of class there is really no substitute for studying the totality of Marx's analysis of the dynamics of capitalist society --not just passages where the subject is dealt with directly, such as those cited above-- but with the whole. It will be found that class is not only central, and not just a sociological category that concerns groups of people but everything appears as a moment of class relations --of the antagonisms flowing from the imposition of work-- including money, production, machines, exchange and so on. The issue of class, however, has been a constantly debated one among Marxists throughout the 20th Century. Virtually every well known Marxist theoretician has written on the subject. Among relatively contemporary treatments you might look at that the neo-orthodox, structuralist approachs of Étienne Balibar, "The Basic Concepts of Historical Materialism" in Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital, New York: Pantheon, 1971 and Nicos Poulantzas, Classes in Contemporary Capitalism, London: New Left Books, 1975 where the distinction between class in-itself and class for-itself is dismissed as a Hegelian survival. For a critique of Poulantzas, but still within a structuralist framework see Erik Olin Wright, Class, Crisis & the State, London: Verso, 1978. For a different kind of approach, more in keeping with the my discussion above, see the introduction to Edward P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, New York: Pantheon, 1963 as well as the body of his text.

The beginnings of sociological attack on Marxian class theory can be found in the classic texts of Max Weber and Émile Durkheim and the continuation in such modern works as those of Talcot Parsons. As examples of contemporary attacks on the centrality of class, along with almost any sociology textbook, see: Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy and Ernesto Laclau, "Post-Marxism without Apologies," New Left Review, #166, November-December 1987.

On the issue of the middle class, two classics not mentioned above are: C.Wright Mills, White Collar: The American Middle Class, New York: Oxford, 1951 and Milovan Djilas, The New Class, New York: Praeger, 1957. See also: Nicholas Abercrombie and John Urry, Capital, Labour and the Middle Classes, 1983, Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, 1974 and the collection-debate Pat Walker (ed) Between Labor and Capital, Boston: South End Press, 1979 which begins with Barbara and John Ehrenreich's essay on "The Professional-Managerial Class".

Finally, of the debates over class consciousness after Marx, you might want to look at such orthodox writings as Karl Kautsky, The Class Struggle {1890} Chicago: Kerr, 1910 and V.I. Lenin, What is to be Done? {1902} Collected Works, Volume 5, which founded the political practices of the 2nd and 3rd Internationals. But you should then look at the very influential work by Gyorgy Lukács, History and Class Consciousness, Cambridge: MIT, 1971 (originally 1923) and perhaps István Mészáros (ed) Aspects of History and Class Consciousness, 1971 and Michael Mann, Consciousness and Action Among the Western Working Class, 1973.

Concepts for Review capital capitalism middle class commodity-form commodity class forced work dead labor ownership and control living labor circuit of capital class interest working class labor power new social movements class-for-itself class consciousness the unwaged laws of motion false consciousness productivity struggle against work indiv. psychology and class

Questions for Review (An * means that one possible answer to that question can be found at the end of the study guide.) 1. Discuss: "we can define capital as a social system based on the imposition of work through the commodity-form." What is a social system? What does imposition mean here? What is the commodity-form?

*2. What are the two ways we use the word "capital"?

3. Explicate: M-C (LP,MP) ...P...C'-M'.

4. Why must all, or at least most of, the products of labor take the form of commodities under capitalism?

*5. Explain the difference between seeing people as labor power and as working class. Also explain the distinction between class-in-itself and class-for-itself using first the working class and then the capitalist class as examples. Under what conditions does the working class or the capitalist class manifest itself most fully as a class?

6. What is the relationship between the wage and the commodity form? What do you think of the argument that the unwaged may form a part of the working class? Explain your thoughts.

*7. How does primitive accumulation involve an initial imposition of the commodity form? How do you know it is an imposition? Did the end of primitive accumulation mean an end to the struggle over "whether" the commodity form would be imposed?

8. What kinds of struggles are included in the conflict over "how much" the commodity form would be imposed? Are you ever involved in such struggles in the university? Describe them.

*9. Discuss the notion of "initiative" in the class struggle. How is it integral to the concept of class-for-itself? How has initiative generally evolved over the history of the class struggle within capitalism?

10. What is meant by the "laws of motion" of capitalism? How do they come about? What determines their evolution?

11. What sense does it make to say that capitalists "use" workers for their own purposes? Is there any sense in which workers use capitalists?

12. How was the capitalist strategy of raising productivity forced on it by workers' struggles? How does increased productivity allow capital to pay higher wages and yet make more profits?

13. What is the economic paradox of rising productivity under capitalism? What promise does it, hold, what new world does it make possible which capital frustrates? What makes it more and more difficult for capital to prevent the realization of this new world? How does the struggle against work fit in here?

14. How does the struggle against work constitute a fundamental threat to the system? How does capital speed those struggles along and make them seem reasonable?

15. Explain the argument tht the historical rise of the middle class invalidates the Marxist theory of class. Give a Marxist response. Evaluate it.

16. How and under what circumstances is ownership of the means of production a relevant criteria for defining the capitalist class? When is it not, and why?

17. In what senses are most individuals "members" of both classes?

18. Discuss the relationship between "new social movements" and the Marxian concept of class. Take one such movement, e.g., feminism, and discuss how it concerns relate to capitalism, go beyond it.

19. Discuss the concept of "class consciousness". How central to you feel it is to the concept of class tout court? to the concept of "class for-itself"?

20. What might one object to the concept of "class interest"?