The meta-economic ground of the economy. The dialectic of
use-value and exchange-value
Inasmuch as economic reality is the becoming-other of reality, or, more precisely, the substitution for reality of a reality of another order, of an ontological nature which is different from it and opposed to it—that is, an ideal entity—it appears in the first place that, considered in itself reality is nothing economic. We must denounce and set right here the monumental error and the completely mistaken interpretation with regard to Marx’s thought, that is, the well-known thesis upheld by “Marxism” according to which reality, at least the reality which is to be found at the base of human societies as that which englobes them and determines them, is precisely economic reality. Along with this is also rejected the classic Marxist opposition between structure and superstructure, to the extent that the first is considered an economic structure capable of producing and determining the second, namely all of the systems of representation. Stricto sensu, the “economic” is constituted by ideal representations, by abstract realities such as “labor,” “value,” “money,” etc. Far from being the principle of a genesis, it is its product, the product of the transcendental genesis of the economy as this has just been presented.
Marx’s fundamental and repeated assertion is indeed that reality considered in itself is by no means economic. Reality is the movement of life transforming nature in order to satisfy its need; it is praxis. It is what Marx, after The German Ideology, calls production; it is what Capital names the labor-process. But regardless of the name given to this fundamental process, it is what, for Marx, constitutes reality; this is why it is constantly described as “real” or again as “material.” Because it constitutes reality, a process such as this is omnipresent, and this signifies: (1) that it founds and determines every form of society, every historical formation, and can do so because it first of all founds society and history as such, because it defines the transcendental condition of their possibility; (2) that it continually produces itself and never ceases to be produced: as such the process of production is at one and the same time a process of reproduction. “Whatever the form of the process of production in a society, it must be a continuous process, must continue to go periodically through the same phases. A society can no more cease to produce than it can cease to consume. When viewed, therefore, as a connected whole, and as flowing on with incessant renewal, every social process of production is, at the same time, a process of reproduction. The conditions of production are also those of reproduction.”1 The reason for this is that because the process of production is continuous, so, too, are its elements, the relations they maintain among themselves inasmuch as, like raw materials for example, they are fused in the product or, like the instruments of labor, they maintain, on the contrary, their autonomy with respect to labor and, consequently, their own form: “These different ways in which means of production are consumed to form the product, some of them preserving their independent shape vis-à-vis the product, others changing or losing it entirely—this difference pertaining to the labor-process as such and therefore just as well to labor-processes aimed at satisfying merely one’s own needs, e.g., the needs of the patriarchal family, without any exchange, without production of commodities.”2
Capital describes as follows the elements which compose every labor-process, whatever it may be: “l, the personal activity of man, i.e., work itself, 2, the subject of that work, and 3, its instruments.”3 The three elements which compose the labor-process are not, however, of the same nature; the reality that they define can itself be divided along two essentially distinct lines. If “the word ‘process’ . . . expresses a development considered as it is situated within the totality of its real conditions,”4 if the labor-process thus forms a whole, one cannot fail to distinguish within it, on the one hand, its means and its object and, on the other, labor “properly speaking.”5 The instrument and the object of labor belong to the materiality of beings, understood in the “Theses on Feuer-bach” as objectivity; labor itself “properly speaking” is subjective. Talking about the elements of the labor-process that the capitalist will purchase on the market, Capital says, touching on the essence of the matter: “. . . all the necessary factors, the means of production, as well as its subjective factor, labor-power.”6 It is precisely because it is subjective that labor properly speaking is described in the text cited above as “the personal activity of man.” Speaking of the production of real wealth, that is to say, precisely, of the real labor-process which is the object of political economy and the continuous element of history, the Grundrisse state no less categorically: “Political economy has to do with the specific social forms of wealth or rather of the production of wealth. The material of wealth, whether subjective, like labor, or objective, like objects for the satisfaction of natural or historical needs, initially appears as common to all epochs of production.”7 The ontological opposition, within material reality, between labor understood as the subjective essence of activity and, on the other hand, the instrument and the object of labor understood as its objective conditions is reaffirmed by another text in the Grundrisse, just when the relation of the first to the second is grasped not as a theoretical relation but as this practical activity itself and as constituted by it, in such a way that—and this reaffirms the decisive theses of the first part of The German Ideology—the “world” is originally nothing other than the object, that is, the result of this praxis: “The real appropriation takes place not in the mental but in the real, active relation to these conditions—in their real positing as the conditions of his subjective activity. It is thereby also clear that these conditions change. Only when tribes hunt upon it does a region of the earth become a hunting domain, only cultivation of the soil posits the land as the individual’s extended body.”8
The subjective character of labor results from the fact that it is the actualization of the labor-power, which in its turn is nothing other than the subjectivity of the individual, what in him is most alive, what defines him, what constitutes his personality. The labor-power of a man is quite simply what is alive in him as an individual. In reference to labor-power, Capital will state “. . .labor-power as it exists in the personality of the laborer.”9 It is precisely because labor-power is subjective, possessing a subjectivity defined by its radical immanence, that “this power exists only in him,” and that when the laborer is forced to sell it, he is unable, precisely, to separate himself from it as from a commodity which is alienated and he must therefore, as we have seen, sell himself. This is why Marx also says of labor: “But could the laborer give it an independent objective existence, he would sell a commodity and not labor.”10 Because selling his labor-power, the laborer sells himself; he would be no more than a slave if the period during which he is allowed to sell this power were not limited. “What the working man sells is not directly his labor, but his laboring power. ... If allowed to do so for any indefinite period whatever, slavery would be immediately restored.”11
The subjective character of labor is also brought out by its opposition to the objective result of its process, which lies in the form that this labor has imparted to the substance. “The real use value is the form given to the substance. But this form itself is only static labor.”12 It is noteworthy that just when, as a vestige of Hegelianism, Marx terms objectified labor the objective modification stamped on beings, the actual act of labor is clearly understood in its opposition to the objectivity produced—or rather modified—in this way, as belonging to the form of a monadic subjectivity of which it is the actualization, the living present. This essential text, which must be taken literally, is written as follows: “The only thing distinct from objectified labor is non-objectified labor, labor which is still objectifying itself, labor as subjectivity. Or, objectified labor, i.e. labor which is present in space, can also be opposed, as past labor, to labor which is present in time. If it is to be present in time, alive, then it can be present only as the living subjectivity in which it exists as capacity, as possibility; hence as worker.”13 In a language addressed to the general public, Capital will say the same thing.14 The opposition between labor grasped in the present of its subjective realization and its result as an objective form of transformed nature will be thought of by Marx in terms of an opposition between living labor and dead labor, and this opposition will play a decisive role in the subsequent economic analysis.
Now, the following point must be firmly established if the economic analysis is to be intelligible: none of the real or material elements of the labor-process which we have just examined in the light of the fundamental philosophy of praxis, none of its subjective or objective elements, consequently, is in itself an “economic” element. Inasmuch as it is subjective, labor is only a moment of life. Labor, Marx says concisely, is “the existing not-value.”15 As we have seen, economists have fallen prey to an illusion, retroactively projecting economic determinations on the original reality and, essentially, on living praxis, and believing that one or another of the modalities of this praxis can, by itself, be an economic modality: “Or the modern economists have turned themselves into such sycophants of the bourgeois that they want to demonstrate to the latter that it is productive labor when somebody picks the lice out of his hair, or strokes his tail.”16 By productive activity, one is to understand, according to the economists’ illusion, activity which produces value, “labor” in the economic sense. The Grundrisse tell us that only labor which produces value is productive.17This is why, in answer to the objection raised by Senior regarding living praxis and the condition proper to it—“But doesn’t the pianist produce music?”— Marx replies: “He does indeed: his labor produces something; but that does not make it productive labor in the economic sense; no more than the labor of the madman who produces delusions is productive.”18
The illusion of the economists who imagine that living activity as such is part of the economy can be seen in Adam Smith’s conception of labor as sacrifice. It should be noted that a conception such as this, despite its moral appearance inherited from the past, is tied to a precise economic thesis, namely that labor never varies in value, that an hour’s labor is always an hour’s labor and that for this hour of labor one will always obtain the same value—whether this value is represented by many or few products; this depends solely on the productivity of this hour of labor. In other words, in order to obtain the equivalent of this value, a person must always give an hour of labor and, in Adam Smith’s own words, “give up the identical portion of his tranquillity, his freedom, and his happiness.”19 Thus, “one must always pay the price,” and labor is precisely the price one pays for everything one obtains. To consider labor in its relation to the value which it itself defines or which stands as its equivalent—the things it enables one to buy—is precisely no longer to consider labor in itself, in its subjective reality, and to be thoroughly mistaken about it. This is just what happens when labor is declared to be a sacrifice, when it is seen simply as the counterpart to the value of the product: one forgets what it is in itself, namely a determination of living praxis possessing its own end, its problems, its difficulties, and, above all, its internal positivity, its tonality, which is identical to the experience of the activity that is being performed as it overcomes the difficulties that it encounters, difficulties which are the corollary to its free exercise: “But Smith has no inkling whatever that this overcoming of obstacles is in itself a liberating activity—and that, further, the external aims become stripped of the semblance of merely external natural urgencies, and become posited as aims which the individual himself posits—hence as self-realization, objectification of the subject, hence real freedom, whose action is, precisely, labor.”20
This is why labor cannot be opposed to rest as the negative to the positive, because the former is just as positive as the latter, because activity is an integral part of organic subjectivity as one of its essential potentialities and as its need, just as—and no doubt even more than—rest itself. “‘Tranquillity’,” says Marx, “appears as the adequate state, as identical with ‘freedom’ and ‘happiness’. It seems quite far from Smith’s mind that the individual, ‘in his normal state of health, strength, activity, skill, facility’, also needs a normal portion of work, and of the suspension of tranquillity.”21 This certainly does not mean that work is easy, “that it becomes mere fun, mere amusement, as Fourier, with grisette-like naïveté, conceives it. Really free working, e.g. composing, is at the same time precisely the most damned seriousness, the most intense exertion.”22 But considered as effort, work is no different from existence in its original condition, prior to all economic determination. In fact, Smith’s negative assessment of work is suitable only for “forced labor,” that is, labor grasped within a certain economic system. “A. Smith, by the way, has only the slaves of capital in mind. For example, even the semi-artistic worker of the Middle Ages does not fit into his definition.”23 Smith, then, confuses the tonality proper to the activity as effort, the ontological tonality belonging to it by reason of its essence, with the more peculiar determinations characterizing this tonality when existence is placed within conditions which, like slavery, serfdom, or the wage system, give activity its “repugnant” character. The fact that this character attaches to practical existence in accordance with the play of economic determinations but that this occurs on the basis of the fundamental tonality proper to this existence, that is, on the basis of its essence, shows precisely that activity, which is a mode of life, is originally and in itself nothing of an economic nature. Capital will twice reaffirm the positivity and the original living specificity of labor as activity, beyond all of its economic determinations: “he [Smith] has a pressentiment that labor . . . counts only as expenditure of labor-power, but he treats this expenditure as the mere sacrifice of rest, freedom, and happiness, not as at the same time the normal activity of living beings. But then, he has the modern wagelaborer in his eye.”24
Marx’s notes on economics which were collected by Engels in Book Two of Capital give an absolutely general import to the critique of Adam Smith: the entirety of the real elements of the labor-process, both subjective and objective, labor itself on the one hand and the instruments of labor on the other, are clearly designated as noneconomic in the original and characteristic reality, as “personal” and “material,” whereas the economic determinations they receive when they become “wage-labor” and “capital” in the market system and, more precisely, in the capitalist system, are designated no less clearly as heterogeneous, synthetic adjuncts and, as such, as masks concealing the primitive noneconomic reality. Here before our eyes stands one of Marx’s decisive themes, namely that the economy and, in particular, every economic system is nothing but the appearance and, precisely, the mask of reality. “Adam Smith identifies the production of commodities in general with capitalist commodity production; the means of production are to him from the outset “capital”, labor is from the outset wage-labor. ... In short, the various factors of the labor-process—both objective and personal—appear from the first with the masks characteristic of the period of capitalist production.”25 Not only subjective labor, consequently, but also its objective conditions, its instruments and materials are in themselves foreign to the economy. A published text of the lecture “Wage Labor and Capital” includes the remark “So say the economists” and continues: “A Negro is a Negro. He only becomes a slave in certain relations. A cotton-spinning jenny is a machine for spinning cotton. It becomes capital only in certain relations. Torn from these relationships it is no more capital than gold in itself is money or sugar the price of sugar.”26 The parallel established between the subjective and objective factors of the labor process, despite their essential difference, which will be asserted later, is due precisely to the fact that, considered in themselves, they are foreign to the economic determinations that they possess, for example, in the capitalist system. “The means of production do not become the material forms of productive capital, or productive capital, until labor-power, the personal form of existence of productive capital, is capable of being embodied in them. Human labor-power is by nature no more capital than are the means of production. They acquire this specific social character only under definite, historically developed conditions. . . ”27
No more than the subjective and objective elements of the process is the product itself to be considered economic: “3 bushels of rye are in themselves no value; rather, rye filling up a certain volume, measured by a standard of volume.”28 This is why the product enters the sphere of the economy only to the extent that it becomes other than itself and is expressed in this alienated form, namely in the economic form as such: “If a bushel of wheat has the price of 77s.7d., then it is expressed as something else, to which it is equal.”29 The original relation to things is not an economic relation; it is a practical, living relation, and in this relation the thing or the product receives its original, noneconomic determination; it is use-value not exchange-value. The noneconomic character of the product is asserted straightforwardly: “. . . the use value, i.e. the content, the natural particularity of the commodity has as such no standing as an economic form.”30 This is why economic exchange will have the nature of a formal metamorphosis external to real exchange, while the latter, the physical exchange of products, will itself remain foreign to the economic process.31 Once the content of a product stands for itself, has value in and of itself, once, placed in relation with life, it enters into the cycle of consumption, the superstructure constituting the economic relation vanishes.32 On the contrary, it is necessary to abstract from the reality of the product in order to find the economic “reality” and, when this abstracting is complete, in order to find the economic determination in the pure ideal form of money: “If we abstract from the material substance of the circulation of commodities, that is, from the exchange of the various use-values, and consider only the economic forms produced by this process of circulation, we find its result to be money. . . .”33 It is precisely because, considered in itself, the product is not of an economic nature that its determination as value does not appear as long as the product is considered in isolation.34 On the contrary, its value can be assessed only when it is placed in relation with another product and only inasmuch as this relation, which in its own economic reality is foreign to both of the commodities, is but the objectification of a reality of a different order.35 In Capital the problem of value begins with the analysis of its relative form because the economic existence of use-value lies solely in a relation unconnected to their substantive reality. The noneconomic character of the real process of production and of the real product to which it leads is categorically asserted in this text from the Grundrisse: “. . . exchange value expresses the social form of value, while use value no economic form of it whatever. . . .”36
Confusing the economic form with reality, when they are not purely and simply held to be identical, is what Marx calls fetishism. “Furthermore this brings to completion the fetishism peculiar to bourgeois Political Economy, the fetishism which metamorphoses the social, economic character impressed on things in the process of social production into a natural character stemming from the material nature of those things.”37 Inasmuch as it confuses the material properties of things with the ideal determinations they take on as they represent a reality of a different order, fetishism is at one and the same time a materialism or, if one prefers, an idealism; the identity between materialism and idealism is reaffirmed here with regard to the economy and is once again rejected. “The crude materialism of the economists who regard as the natural properties of things what are the social relations of production among people, and qualities which things obtain because they are subsumed under these relations, is at the same time just as crude an idealism, even fetishism, since it imputes social relations to things as inherent characteristics, and thus mystifies them.”38
The transcendental genesis of the economy has shown that, far from being identified with reality, economic reality is, on the contrary, abstract and is constituted as its ideal equivalent. As “abstract, ” economic reality has no self-sufficient being, no ontological autonomy, and is unable to subsist by itself. There is no economic structure. The lack of autarchy characterizing economic reality does not only signify that it presupposes something prior to itself, an “origin,” something from which it has been abstracted, from which it derives. Instead, this derivation is never ended; this origin is not a temporal origin which once was active and since has disappeared. Rather, this origin remains within economic reality as that which bears it and gives it its being. The origin of economic reality is its ground. The transcendental genesis of the economy has the following radical meaning: reality, which in itself is noneconomic, is the reality of economic reality.
From this stems the twofold movement and the very sense of Marx’s entire problematic. Abstracted from reality, founded on it and by it, economic reality unceasingly refers to it and is carried back to it. This is why the analysis of economic reality is not situated within it and does not consider it to be what it is on its own level, in its specificity; instead the analysis cuts through the economic element in order to move back to its source, to its true substance, to its real determining factors. And in every case it appears that these real determining factors of the economy are not themselves of an economic nature, but must instead be conceived of as noneconomic, as an extra-economic reality, to borrow Marx’s expression. The resolution of each problem, each difficulty, in particular of each aporia belonging to classical political economy, will consist in this return to an origin, to a region of being different from that of the economic, although it serves to found the economic. Henceforth, the economic element, just as it cannot be the place where reality is to be found, is also incapable of being the place of truth, the place of ultimate explanation. Quite the opposite, the economic is presented as an appearance, as an enigma, and, finally, as a mystification. And the analysis that cuts through this appearance, resolves this enigma, and clears up this mystification is no longer an economic analysis, properly speaking, but rather a critique of political economy, a philosophy of the economy. The philosophy of the economy does not appear in Marx simply in the form of this questioning moving backwards toward the founding origin; it is realized in the inverse movement. Inasmuch as economic reality is grounded in the noneconomic reality of the labor-process, the latter must be shown to be the condition for the former. To display the lack of autarchy of economic reality is at one and the same time to show that the economy is radically determined by life.
This backwards reference of economic reality to reality is first formulated in the dialectic of exchange-value and use-value. The substitution of the first for the second has been understood as constituting the dimension proper to the economy, but it would be a mistake to believe that once this substitution has been made, we then find ourselves confronting an autonomous universe, that of the market economy, from which use-value is now excluded or, at any rate, in which it no longer plays any role. This was exactly the mistake Ricardo made.39 The reference of the exchange-value to the use-value is instead categorically affirmed: “Value exists only in articles of utility, in objects: we leave out of consideration its purely symbolical representation by tokens.”40 The essential character of use-value in opposition to the inessential character of exchange-value is brought to light through an eidetic analysis: use-value can exist without being an exchange-value, whereas exchange-value cannot exist unless it is first of all a use-value. Capital formulates two interrelated assertions: “A thing can be a use-value, without having value.” “. . . nothing can have value, without being an object of utility.”41
To the fact that use-value is indifferent with respect to exchange-value, the transcendental genesis of the economy has now opposed, it is true, the fact that exchange-value is indifferent with respect to use-value.42 But this indifference is by no means the counterpart to the first; it signifies instead the ontological heterogeneity of economic existence as an ideal, formal existence in relation to the substantive existence of use-value which designates reality; in no way does it signify the independence of the former with regard to the latter. This is why, even when the teleology of life is reversed in the teleology of commodities and when it is of no matter what is produced—provided only that money is produced—this elimination of use-value is only part of the illusion whereby capitalism represents things and its own activity to itself. The indifference of exchange-value with respect to use-value cannot break the tie that makes use-value the support and the ground of exchange-value. “Value is independent of the particular use-value by which it is borne, but it must be embodied in a use-value of some kind.”43 Indeed, even in exchange, where it unfolds and appears to activate the entire process, exchange-value displays its ultimate subordination to use-value. It is as exchange-value that the commodity is produced, and it can be useful to someone, be a use-value, only if in the process of exchange it is first torn away from its producer. This is Marx’s great reproach, the fact that in the market economy the condition for appropriation lies in alienation.44 Thus the use-value can be realized, can attain life, only inasmuch as it becomes exchange-value and is realized as such. But the reversal of the teleology of life in economic teleology is, in its turn, reversed. The realization of exchange-value itself poses a problem: it no doubt depends upon economic conditions but, above all, upon a fundamental condition which simply expresses its ultimate structure, the fact that it is only the formal existence of use-value and that its substance and its very possibility are to be found in use-value. Since exchange-values are what they are only if they are first use-values, they are exchanged, precisely, only if their usefulness has been recognized. “. . . they must show that they are use-values before they can be realized as values.”45 The economic form never ceases to presuppose what it has abolished. “The alienation of a commodity as a use-value is only possible to the person for whom it is a use-value, i.e., an object satisfying particular needs.”46 This is the reason why the substantive diversity of use-values is continually apparent in the economic form of exchange; why exchange, which continually arises and is abolished in the gap between need and use-value, is precisely no more than a form. Whether this form appears or disappears, the content remains intact, and it is a living process; the relation between the product and life never ceases to exist.47
As we have seen, exchange-value is only the objectification of social labor, whereas use-value is the product of useful labor. The inevitable reference of exchange-value to use-value is at one and the same time that of abstract labor to real labor. The movement of commodities is governed by their destination, by the fact that they continue to pass into the hands of those for whom they are useful. This movement, which takes on the appearance of economic exchange and which constitutes it, is at the same time that through which abstract labor— by virtue of which commodities are exchanged—proves that it is in every case useful labor and that it is actually for this reason that there is an exchange. “Thus the use-values of commodities become use-values by a mutual exchange of places: they pass from the hands of those for whom they were means of exchange into the hands of those for whom they serve as consumer goods. Only as a result of universal alienation of commodities does the labor contained in them become useful labor. Commodities ... in the course of their mutual relations as use-values. . . .”48 How it is that the referral of the exchange-value back to the use-value is at one and the same time the referral of general labor back to useful labor, how the latter is clearly designated in this referral—is stated once more in the following text: . . the commodity as it comes into being is only materialized individual labor-time of a specific kind, and not universal labor-time. The commodity is thus not immediately exchange-value, but has still to become exchange-value. To begin with, it can be materialization of universal labor-time only when it represents a particular useful application of labor-time, that is a use-value.”49
The foundational character of use-value in relation to exchange-value is obvious if one makes the trivial, yet decisive, remark that a commodity loses all value when its use-value is destroyed.50 Once this is recognized, the whole of economic circulation is found to depend on use-value and on its specific properties: “if they [commodities] are not productively or individually consumed within a certain time, depending on what they are intended for, in other words, if they are not sold within a certain period, they spoil and lose with their use-value the property of being vehicles of exchange-value.”51 The fact that value is determined by use-value is shown not only on the level of circulation but, in a more essential way, within the process of production. Within this process raw materials are transformed, and the use-values tied to their original properties are thus abolished; their exchange-value should be abolished as well by virtue of the axiom repeated in Capital —“If therefore an article loses its utility, it also loses its value”52—and would be unable to be transferred to the product. If this is not the case, if the value of the instruments of labor is not destroyed, it is because their use-value is not destroyed either: it appears in a new form in the product. The possibility belonging to the product by which it repeats the value of its conditions is inherent in the becoming of use-value and presupposes its conservation or its development. From now on, we can perceive in the process of realization* an essential dependence with respect to the real process.53 And this is not the case only for raw materials; the instruments of labor themselves can transfer their value to the product only to the extent that their use-value is preserved. What will preserve this use-value will also preserve their value, namely capital itself. Speaking of the conservation of the use-values of raw materials and of instruments, the Grundrisse state in a proposition whose essential character will soon be apparent: “. . . since every use value by its nature consists of transitory material, but since exchange value is present, exists, only in use value, therefore this maintenance = protection from decay and ruin, or negation of the transitory nature of the values owned by the capitalists; hence, this maintenance means to posit them as values-for-themselves, as indestructable wealth.”54
The use-value not only determines the process of realization, of “valorization”; it also makes this process at the same time a process of devalorization. The process of realization, no doubt, has certain specific laws which are economic laws; and the limits which it encounters that are external to it are in part, it is true, economic limits: the values that are produced must be able to be realized, that is, be convertible into money, which presumes that this money exists. But realizing the exchange-values of commodities presumes first of all, as we know, that the latter have a use, correspond to a need. With regard to the process of realization Marx says: “Its first barrier, then, is consumption itself— the need for it [the commodity].”55 Need sets an absolute limit on the indefinite realization process of capital, not only because it is located outside this process but, for a more essential reason, because in itself it is limited, qualitatively determined, as has been stated; because, as a determination of life, need is determined by it: “Use value in itself does not have the boundlessness of value as such. Given objects can be consumed as objects of needs only up to a certain point. . . . But as soon as it ceases to be a use value, it ceases to be an object of circulation. . . .”56 In this way life abruptly displays its strength in the face of the economic process. The object of need reaches us only on the condition that it enter into exchange and become value; it is then merely a question of producing this value in ever greater quantities. However, the exchange-value is only the value of the use-value, whose quantity is determined by this value itself: it is this use-value that decides under what conditions and in what quantities it can become value. “What is posited now is that the measure of its availability is given in its natural composition itself. In order to be transposed into the general form, the use value has to be present in a limited and specific quantity; a quantity whose measure does not lie in the amount of labor objectified in it, but arises from its nature as use value, in particular, use value for others.”57 No doubt economic production attempts to stimulate consumption by raising it to its own level, by imparting to it an infinite development: “Firstly quantitative expansion of existing consumption; secondly: creation of new needs by propagating existing ones in a wide circle; thirdly: production of new needs and discovery and creation of new use values.”58 This is what today is called the “consumer society.” But this reasoning, which is called for by the process of realization, is not determined by it, by the exchange-value, by abstract labor; it is the increase and the diversification of needs and of the objects suited to satisfying them; it finds its law in the exploitation of nature and of subjectivity: “Hence exploration of all of nature. . . .”59 But nature, just as subjectivity itself, is finite; both are foreign to value.
We have seen that the economy finds its pure form in money, and that money is constituted through a series of abstractions starting from reality. In the final analysis, money stands for itself, has value in and of itself, and its production is the goal of the entire process. Money’s standing for itself is value’s standing for itself. However, the pure economic element cannot maintain itself by itself; money has only an illusory autonomy. “Its independence is a mere semblance.”60 There are two reasons for this. Just as the exchange-value of each commodity is inseparable from its use-value, so money only appears to represent exchange-value in its pure state: of all commodities it is the one whose reference to use-value is the most obvious. For every commodity satisfies only one need, represents only one use-value. With money, on the contrary, one can obtain the totality of use-values, and money signifies wealth only because it adds to the formal concept of economic wealth, namely value as such, the material concept of real wealth, which is nothing other than all products useful to life. “But money satisfies any need since it can be immediately turned into the object of any need.”61
The illusory character of the autonomy of the economic element when it has attained the pure form of money becomes obvious not only in the fact that money itself has value simply as the equivalent of the whole of the use-values existing at a given moment in a society. As money, and to the extent that it obeys its own dialectic, that is, the law of indefinite quantitative growth, it must continually be exchanged in use-values which enable it in the first place to maintain itself and then, precisely, to increase. The fact that money, exchange-value, rests on use-value now signifies that the money process cannot unfold without continually giving rise to a real process which is that of use-values, with regard to which money simply expresses the value. Whereas the process of use-values is directed exclusively at value, at its production, and its growth, this growth (to begin with even the simple maintenance of value) demands that it be continually sacrificed to the real elements of the process. The paradox of value which, just when it claims to stand for itself, cannot be separated from the substance of the commodities but must, on the contrary, be situated within this substance—this is the truth of capital. Capital is value standing for itself, possessing intrinsic worth, abandoned to itself and to the law of realization. As such it, precisely, cannot exist as money, that is, in the form of the economic element, but, on the contrary, must be embodied in the material reality of use-values. “Capital is by definition money, but not merely money in the simple form of gold and silver, nor merely as money in opposition to circulation, but in the form of all substances—commodities. To that degree, therefore, it does not, as capital, stand in opposition to use value, but exists apart from money precisely only in use values.”62 Existing only in use-values, capital becomes dependent on them; it subsists only inasmuch as they are preserved. Here, then, is capital under attack, obliged not only to invest itself in use-values but to take action to preserve and to renew them, in such a way that the principle of its action lies outside itself, in the particular nature of the use-values to which it is referred. “The greater or lesser perishability of the commodity in which value exists requires a slower or faster reproduction; i.e. repetition of the labor process. The particular nature of use value, in which the value exists, or which now appears as itself a determinant of the form and of the action of capital; as giving one capital a particular property as against another; as particularizing it.”63 In being referred in this way to a reality which determines it, capital has lost its indifference with respect to any determinate form of use-value; it is already in contradiction with itself.
Capital’s backwards reference to use-value takes on its decisive meaning, however, only when the concept of use-value is thought in its fundamental ambiguity. For use-value does not designate first of all in Marx simply the product of useful labor, the natural element that is transformed and made adequate to living subjectivity. What is intended is purely and simply living subjectivity as such. The fundamental use-value is praxis as the possibility included within monadic subjectivity and as identical with it; the use of this “value” is its actualization in effective labor, and this actualization is its “consumption.” Capital states: “The capitalist buys labor-power in order to use it; and labor-power in use is labor itself. The purchaser of labor-power consumes it by setting the seller of it to work.”64 It is only on the basis of this fundamental meaning of the concept of use-value that one then passes to its customary meaning: “In order that his labor may reappear in a commodity,” the text continues, “he must, before all things, expend it on something useful, on something capable of satisfying a want of some sort. Hence, what the capitalist sets the laborer to produce, is a particular use-value, a specific article.” The production of use-values capable of satisfying needs is in itself, as the use of labor-power, the fundamental use-value, which differs from the other use-values in that, since it is radically subjective, it has not the objective existence they have and is instead identified with the life of the worker. “The use value which the worker has to offer to the capitalist, which he has to offer to others in general, is not materialized in a product, does not exist apart from him at all, thus exists not really, but only in potentiality, as his capacity . . . this use value exists as the worker’s specific, productive activity; it is his vitality itself, directed toward a specific purpose and hence expressing itself in a specific form.”65 It is this use-value which alone, finally, is of importance to capital; its essential reference to use-value is co-extensive with it. “As use value, labor exists only for capital, and is itself the use value of capital, i.e. the mediating activity by means of which it realizes [verwertet] itself.”66 And again: “. . . labor confronts capital not as a use value, but as the use value pure and simple.”67 It is because use-value ultimately designates living labor and subjectivity itself that its concept is the referential concept of capital, the fundamental concept of the economy.
Fundamental use-value: the critique of circulation and the
“exchange ” of capital and labor
The fact that capital refers to fundamental use-value is behind the entire economic analysis; in the first place, it determines the critique of circulation. The latter is based on the reversal of the living teleology of exchange, when the formula M-C-M is substituted for the form C-M-C. Now Marx shows, on the one hand, that M-C-M is actually M-C-M’ (where M’ designates the amount of money initially advanced plus an increase, or M + ᐃM) and that this process is meaningful only if the final amount of money is greater than the initial amount, only if it is a process of increasing value; on the other hand, Marx shows that this process is without end since each new quantity of money has the same need to increase as the preceding quantity. But what characterizes this boundless increase of value from an economic standpoint is that it is related to value itself; of itself as if by its own effort, capital never ceases to grow out of new surplus-value. This appearance, it is true, is due to the nature of circulation and is produced within it. Indeed, in circulation, value never ceases to possess worth through its various metamorphoses; money and commodities are merely forms it assumes and which are subordinate to it. This is why, to begin with, value is preserved in circulation because it is never a matter of anything else, because the purchase and sale of money, of commodities, of labor are never anything but the diverse moments and the diverse forms of its existence. “The first quality of capital is, then, this: that exchange value deriving from circulation and presupposing circulation preserves itself within it and by means of it; does not lose itself by entering into it; that circulation is not the movement of its disappearance, but rather the movement of its real self-positing [Sichsetzen] as exchange value, its self-realization as exchange value.”68
Inasmuch as circulation is but the existence of value which is preserved and continued throughout its different forms, everything that occurs within it—not simply these different qualitative forms, but also the quantitative differences of value—must be carried back to it; it is the value itself that increases. The surplus-value which is produced by it is but the development of its own substance, its autonomous and spontaneous proliferation: “In truth, however, value is here the active factor in a process, in which, while constantly assuming the form in turn of money and commodities, it at the same time changes in magnitude, differentiates itself by throwing surplus-value from itself; the original value, in other words, expands spontaneously. For the movement, in the course of which it adds surplus-value, is its own movement, its expansion, therefore, is automatic expansion. Because it is value, it has acquired the occult quality of being able to add value to itself. It brings forth living offspring. . . .”69 The self-positing of value, that is, the economic element itself as such, which signifies at one and the same time its self-growth, is capital: “value therefore now becomes value in process, money in process, and, as such, capital.”70
The critique of capital, that is, of economic reality in its claim to substantiality and to autonomy, first takes the form of the critique of circulation because this is where value presents the appearance of self-realization, where M becomes M’. What this critique shows is precisely that circulation by itself is incapable of producing a new value, any sort of surplus-value. Incapable, by definition. For circulation is nothing but the exchange of commodities, and it has been shown that the condition of the possibility of exchange is the equal value of the commodities exchanged. Because the exchange concerns only commodities which have the same value, this value is preserved, identical to itself, in the exchange. A given exchanger originally had x A commodities on hand; he now has y B commodities, but the exchange assumes that x A c = y B c; he thus has, in the form y B c, the same value as that he had before in the form x A commodities. This is the reason why commodities and money finally appear as forms of value, because it is precisely one and the same value which by turns takes these different forms and which remains identical throughout them. One cannot, therefore, wish that a surplus-value be produced in circulation: it is circulation which would immediately become impossible.
The powerlessness of circulation to produce by itself an increase of value is repeatedly asserted by Marx. Capital brings to light the identity of value throughout the different forms in which it is embodied by assuming the standpoint of the exchanger: whether it is a matter of the commodity that he has produced, of the money which is its equivalent, or of the commodity that he can buy with this money, what he holds in his hand is always, as the principle of all of these possible exchanges, the same value.71 Nor can one take into account the trivial objection that an exchanger could sell his commodity for more than its value and thereby make a profit. It is Marx’s constant thesis that the price of commodities is governed by their value and that, contrary to a widespread opinion, in a society products are only very rarely sold for a value greater than their real value; rather, the opposite is most often the case. However, if one were to leave the level of eidetic regulations in order to consider accidental and circumstantial exchanges, tied to the personality of the exchangers, the conclusion would still be the same. Let us assume, with Marx, that “A may be clever enough to get the advantage of B or C” and manages to exchange wine worth £40 for wheat worth £50. In his hands, it is true, a certain quantity of money has become a greater quantity of money. The total value in circulation, however, has not changed; it £90 after the exchange just as before it, and the exchange itself has produced nothing. “The value in circulation has not increased by one iota. . . .”72
One might then ask why circulation occurs if it is a mere tautology in which the same value is indefinitely repeated. The reason for this is, as we have seen, that the exchangers exchange their products not for their value, which by definition is identical, but for their use-values, that is, in relation to the needs they have. Here again the economic element can be preserved and circulation can take place only against the backdrop of the underlying reality of life.73 The capitalist, nevertheless, differs entirely from the ordinary exchanger whom we have just discussed. On the one hand, the use-value of commodities is of absolutely no interest to him, for it is not use-value that can give him, like Condillac, the illusion of “gain.” On the other hand, this gain is now real; it concerns the exchange-value, which, at the end of the circulation process, is presented with an increased quantity. It is precisely due to this surplus-value that the capitalist decides to place a certain value into circulation in order to take out a greater value. And this occurs in the following way: with a certain sum of money the capitalist buys the things necessary to manufacture a product, with the aim not of manufacturing it but of selling it and with this sale of acquiring a greater sum of money than that originally invested. After the question of value, that is, of economic reality and of its status, the second fundamental question raised by Capital is that of the origin of surplus-value. This question places us face-to-face with the aporia of circulation: no surplus-value can emerge from circulation and yet outside of circulation, that is, outside of “the mutual relations of commodity-owners,” there is none. Consequently, the quantitative metamorphosis of value—and what results from it: surplus value— “must take place, both within the sphere of circulation and without it.”74 The resolution of this aporia gives us the ultimate signification of Marx’s economic philosophy and enables us to understand what forms the reality of economic reality.
How can the realization, the increase of value—that is, the very possibility for capital to express itself in the form M-C-M’ as a form of circulation—emerge from circulation? In the second part, C-M’ of this form, namely the resale of the commodity, there is no change in value; the value simply passes from the commodity form to the money form. In the first part, M-C, by which the capitalist buys a commodity, the exchange is also between equivalents, the simple metamorphosis of value which this time passes from the money form to the commodity form. No increase in value is possible. Or this increase in value, which is impossible on the level of value itself and of its circulation, would have to come from the use-value of the particular commodity purchased by the capitalist. This would have to be an extraordinary commodity, a reality which, when put into effect, when used, would be able to produce value and, consequently, to provide its user with a greater exchange-value than that he gave to obtain it. A reality such as this does exist; it is the fundamental use-value which we have recognized as being that of the labor-power constituted by individual, organic subjectivity. Let the capitalist seize this power and he will be able to create value, and the process of realization that constitutes capitalism will itself be possible. The thesis of Capital is contained in the following proposition: “In order to be able to extract value from the consumption of a commodity, our friend, Moneybags, must be so lucky as to find, within the sphere of circulation, in the market, a commodity, whose use-value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labor, and, consequently, a creation of value. The possessor of money does find on the market such a special commodity in capacity for labor or labor-power.”75
When the enigma of increased value becomes the object of radical elucidation, this elucidation appears to consist in an abrupt shift in level, in moving from the level of exchange-value to that of use-value. This shift is identical to the shift from economic reality to monadic subjectivity, inasmuch as the use-value that is to be substituted for the exchange-value which the capitalist has just purchased from the worker is precisely nothing other than the actualization of his labor-power, the use and enjoyment of this labor, or what Marx called, by analogy with subjectivity, wherein use-values in general are realized, its “consumption.” Speaking of the use-value that the worker offers to the capitalist, Marx says: “The use-value which the former [the purchaser] gets in exchange, manifests itself only in the actual usufruct, in the consumption of labor-power.”76 The use of individual labor-power is given unequivocally as creating not only the material reality of the objects produced in the real labor process but also the surplus-value which the capitalist will be able to realize by selling them: “The consumption of labor-power is at one and the same time the production of commodities and of surplus-value.”77 To refer the production of surplus-value to the actualization of the potentialities found in individual subjectivity is to leave the economic level of the circulation of commodities in order to inquire into an entirely different region of being, no longer that of economic objectivity but the secret region where, alone with itself, the body develops its powers in the silent interiority which marks its radical individualization. And because it is this effort alone, this labor performed in the secret laboratory of the body, which produces surplus-value, the comprehension of capital, not of the existing capital which is presupposed in its structures and in its productions, but the comprehension of the production of capital itself necessarily implies this conversion by which the scientific attitude which develops the theory of economic regulations becomes the transcendental attitude which grasps, under this apparent and noisy sequence of visible events, the genesis, no longer of value but of surplus-value, that is to say, precisely, of capital. In a programmatic definition of the very project of Capital, and right after declaring that it is the consumption of labor-power which produces surplus-value, Marx adds these truly essential lines: “The consumption of labor-power is completed, as is the case of every other commodity, outside the limits of the market or of the sphere of circulation. Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labor-power, we therefore take leave for a time of this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in view of all men, and follow them both into the hidden abode of production. . . . Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is produced.”78 “Accompanied by Mr. Moneybags and by the possessor of labor-power”: it is not only on the level of theoretical analysis that there is a shift from the sphere of objective economic circulation to that of the subjective reality of the actualization of labor-power; this also occurs in practice as that which takes place on the level of the reality of capitalism providing its definition and constituting it.
We now understand how surplus-value can arise in circulation and at the same time not arise from it. Surplus-value stems from circulation to the extent that it results from the purchase of the worker’s labor-power by the capitalist, a purchase which by definition belongs to the sphere of circulation, which, as Marx states, takes place “in its midst.” However, as we shall see, this purchase in itself creates no value at all and, a fortiori, no surplus-value. It is for this reason that surplus-value, in reality, does not come from circulation and does not arise in it. Where does it come from? From the “consumption” of labor-power, from its actualization, which no longer takes place within the sphere of circulation but within that of production. It is the latter, or rather it is, in it, the actualization of labor-power, it is living labor and it alone, which creates surplus-value. Surplus-value, the realization and increase of value, is the transformation of money into capital. Summing up his analysis, Marx says with regard to the genesis of capital: “This metamorphosis, this conversion of money into capital, takes place both within the sphere of circulation and also outside it; within the circulation, because conditioned by the purchase of the labor-power in the market; outside the circulation, because what is done within it is only a stepping-stone to the production of surplus-value, a process which is entirely confined to the sphere of production.”79
Thus, there are two spheres, a sphere of objective appearance, where everything takes place “on the surface and in view of all men,” and, on the other hand, the secret sphere of subjectivity, that of the actual production of surplus-value, where, before it produces, capital is itself produced. The sphere of circulation is apparent not as an economic determination opposed to another determination, but inasmuch as it is objective and as such neither contains nor exhibits that which, belonging to subjectivity and to it alone, nevertheless determines the entire system. The sphere of circulation is that of right, but the critique of right has already shown that there is no equal standard, no objective standard for what is subjective. With regard to the fundamental problem that concerns us, the problem of the capitalist’s purchase and the worker’s sale of his labor-power, what radically prevents the subjectivity of this labor-power, of its actualization in production, from complying with a fixed unit of objective measurement will be submitted to a twofold critique—on the one hand, to the critique of the pseudo-“exchange” which occurs between the worker and the capitalist and, on the other hand, to the critique of variable capital. The elucidation of the “exchange” of capital and of labor, however, runs up against an initial problem. Does not the crucial thesis by means of which Marx thinks he is able to resolve the aporia of circulation, namely the affirmation that only the use of labor-power is capable of producing surplus-value, contradict another thesis which is no less fundamental—because it is one of the major elements in the transcendental genesis of the economy—that value is created not by real labor but by abstract labor? For the use of labor-power is nothing other than real labor, and what it produces, surplus-value, is, according to a specific assertion made by Marx, ontologically of the same nature as value itself, surplus-value being simply a new value added onto a previously existing, yet itself created, value. This final point has first to be established. This text from the Grundrisse, which formulates briefly although in an especially enlightening way the critique of circulation, sets us on the right track. “The act of exchange is thus value-positing in so far as values are presupposed to it; it realizes the value-character of the subjects of exchange. But an act which posits a commodity as value, or, what is the same, which posits another commodity as its equivalent—or, again the same, which posits the equivalence of both commodities, obviously for its part adds nothing to value, as little as the sign ± increases or decreases the number coming after it.”80 It follows from this that circulation is itself incapable of increasing the value of the commodities that are exchanged in it, not primarily because, as circulation, it never involves anything other than the exchange of equivalent goods—this is the thesis expressed in Capital —but for the decisive, albeit implicit, reason that it only uncovers certain values, that it finds them, instead of being able to create value. Circulation is limited to realizing the value of commodities, a value which already exists in them before they enter into circulation. “The act of exchange is thus value-positing in so far as values are presupposed to it.” This means that the values have already been produced, produced outside of circulation, by production. What is shown, therefore, is not the inability of circulation to produce surplus-value, but its more general inaptitude to produce value, to the extent that it presupposes the existence of the values it is content to compare and exchange, being itself this very exchange. Thus, exchange does not create the values that are exchanged; its role is limited, as the Grundrisse text clearly states, to placing them in contact with one another and observing their equality. Radically powerless with respect to surplus-value, circulation displays the same feature first of all with respect to value itself.
What we are then given to understand is that the origin of surplus-value, which lies outside circulation, is to begin with the origin of value and hence one and the same, and this is why value and surplus-value are of the same nature, the second being only, as has been stated, the addition of a new value. The ontological identity of value and surplus-value against the backdrop of the identity of their production is explicitly formulated by Marx: “If we now compare the two processes of producing value and of creating surplus-value, we see that the latter is nothing but the continuation of the former beyond a definite point. If on the one hand the process be not carried beyond the point where the value paid by the capitalist for the labor-power is replaced by an exact equivalent, it is simply a process of producing value; if, on the other hand, it be continued beyond that point, it becomes a process of creating surplus-value.”81The difference between value and surplus-value will be clarified. Here, it is enough to observe that, against the backdrop of the ontological identity of their production and, consequently, of their nature as the pure result of this production, the modalities of value, precisely, cannot be connected to two principles that are as distinct and, what is more, as heterogeneous as reality and irreality. Surplus-value cannot originate in living labor if value in general is the result of abstract labor. Now, not only did Marx explicitly connect the production of surplus-value to the actualization of labor-power, to its effective use, but, in the same stroke, he was obliged to do the same thing in the case of value itself, as this text from the Grundrisse shows unequivocally in its critique of circulation, adding an essential remark: “Exchange as the positing of equivalents cannot therefore by its nature increase the sum of values, nor the value of the commodities exchanged. (The fact that it is different with the exchange with labor arises because the use of labor is itself value-positing, but is not directly connected with its exchange value.)”82
Engels’ question: “What sort of labor creates value?” is thus posed once again and, with it, the question of the very sense of Marx’s entire problematic is put to us anew and demands an ever more radical elucidation. It is a matter of determining whether the lack of autarchy of the economy is a provisional, and finally inexact, result—for, if abstract labor creates value, it also creates surplus-value. But abstract labor is an economic determination. The reference of surplus-value to abstract labor signifies, then, that it results from an economic determination, that realization, the increase in value, and finally capital itself can be explained economically, in short, that the economic determinations in their mutual interrelation form an autonomous totality. What is in question here, or rather what suddenly appears contradictory, is the transcendental genesis of the economy in its positing of the lack of autarchy of economic reality, since it has also, it seems, following not just Engels but Marx as well, referred value to abstract labor and not to real labor.
Or perhaps the transcendental genesis of the economy, on the contrary, does not enable us to overcome this contradiction, to consider it to be merely apparent? Indeed, what it has established—and this is a constant thesis in Marx—is that there is only one labor, the oneness of the process of production, which is at once the production of use-value and of exchange-value: “Just as commodities are, at the same time, use-values and values, so the process of producing them must be a labor-process, and at the same time, a process of creating value.”83 The fact that one and the same labor creates use-value and exchange-value is reasserted in a text which is all the more remarkable in that it posits the unity of these two aspects of labor at the same time as it affirms their difference—their unity being what immediately overcomes their difference. This unity, moreover, is also affirmed in the case of the process of creating value as well as in that of creating surplus-value, thereby corroborating the ontological unity of value and surplus-value against the backdrop of the unity of abstract labor and useful labor: “. . . the difference between labor, considered on the one hand as producing utilities, and on the other hand, as creating value . . . resolves itself into a distinction between two aspects of the process of production. The process of production, considered on the one hand as the unity of the labor-process and the process of creating value, is the production of commodities; considered on the other hand as the unity of the labor-process and the process of producing surplus-value, it is the capitalist process of production, or capitalist production of commodities.”84 It is this unity of useful labor stricto sensu and of labor as value-creating which allows Marx, in Capital, to speak of the twofold utility of labor, the property of satisfying need and that of creating value.85 This is why, just when the identity of labor and of surplus-labor is established in Capital with regard to the serf who works three days for himself and three days for his lord, the identity of this labor in relation to use-value and to exchange-value is also affirmed. “Both his voluntary labor for himself and his forced labor for his lord are equally labor; so far as this labor is considered with reference to the values, or to the useful articles created by it, there is no difference in his six days of labor.”86
It is enough to keep in mind the sense of abstract labor in order to reply clearly to the question: “What sort of labor creates value?” If, properly speaking, there are not two types of labor,87 as Capital affirms in significant passages already quoted; if abstract labor is no more than real labor “opposed to itself,” that is to say, represented; if, more precisely, and as the problematic has established, abstract labor is only the representation of the common essence which is found in every form of real labor, namely the actualization in it of labor-power, then it is in reality labor-power which creates value; it is living labor and the actualization of life in organic subjectivity which is the source of value. Let us state this most clearly: it is not the representation of labor that can create any sort of value; only the actual labor that effectively produces an object can produce at the same time the value of this object, can create value. This is why the thesis that it is abstract labor that creates value is inexact if it is taken literally. It is the use of labor-power that creates value and this use has nothing abstract about it. Abstract labor is related to value only to the extent, precisely, that it represents the real essence of actual labor, to the extent that it represents the source of value. And this relation to the source of all value on the one hand and to value itself as such on the other, must be understood and has been understood. Living labor considered, indeed, not in its particular form as the labor of the potter, of the peasant, of the weaver or the spinner, but as the actualization of labor-power, creates value; whereas the determination of this value, which is a magnitude of some sort—consequently, its quantitative determination—is impossible because, as subjective, the actualization of labor-power is not a quantity and cannot be reduced to it. This is why—and this is the transcendental genesis of the economy, the construction of the possibility of exchange—one substitutes for the unquantifiable subjective actualization of the living bodily power a representation of this power which places it within the objective coordinates of the universe, coordinates which are measurable and which permit it to be measured: the day, the hour. On the other hand, as we have seen, this living labor is compared with ideal norms which are then substituted for it under the pretext of evaluating it and, in fact, in order to be able to do so. Abstract labor is the set of representations whose theory has been expounded and which are intended to measure that which, in itself, escapes measurement and to calculate that which does not allow itself to be subsumed under a formula. It is because abstract labor is the inevitable mediation by means of which to calculate the living labor-power that produces value that it appears finally as the substance of value: it is the only means, if not to produce value, at least to determine it. “This calculation by working days, and labor time as the only substance of value. . . .”88 It is to be noted that wherever abstract labor seems to be presented as the substance or the source of value, it does no more than provide a measurement, an instrument invented by men to do this. “To measure the exchange-value of commodities by the labor-time they contain, the different kinds of labor have to be reduced to uniform, homogeneous, simple labor. . . ”89 “The magnitude of this value is measured by the amount of labor expended.”90 The fact that the latter, abstract labor, is nothing other than the labor that creates use-values and exchange-value as well—or rather the quantifiable and quantified form that is substituted for it in order to determine on the basis of this the magnitude of the value produced, the fact that this substitution is that of the objective time of labor for the concrete subjective temporality of its immanent actualization, and that this substitution is intended only to enable making an account of living labor-power—all of this is contained in the following text:
If we . . . compare the process of producing value with the labor-process, pure and simple, we find that the latter consists of the useful labor, the work, that produces use-values. Here we contemplate the labor as producing a particular article; we view it under its qualitative aspect alone, with regard to its end and aim. But viewed as a value-creating process, the same labor-process presents itself under its quantitative aspect alone. Here it is a question merely of the time occupied by the laborer in doing the work; of the period during which the labor-power is usefully expended. . . . They [the commodities] count merely as depositories of so much absorbed or materialized labor; that labor, whether previously embodied in the means of production, or incorporated in them for the first time during the process by the action of labor-power, counts in either case only according to its duration. . . . Moreover, only so much of the time spent in the production of any article is counted, as, under the given social conditions, is necessary. 91
Thus it becomes apparent that the economic determination, far from being substituted for the real process, is merely the objective framework within which living labor has to be set so that, measured in terms of this framework, it can in turn measure the value it alone is capable of producing. “At the end of one hour’s spinning, that act is represented by a definite quantity of yarn; in other words, a definite quantity of labor, namely that of one hour, has become embodied in the cotton. We say labor, i.e. the expenditure of his vital force by the spinner. . . .”92
Certain decisive texts unconditionally ascribe the creation of value to living labor. For example, the following text, which is all the more revealing in that, by distinguishing between labor-power—that is, subjectivity itself—and its actualization in effective labor, it ascribes to the first the capacity of being this power in act; this actual or potential creation of value is as such the condition and the ground of the entire economic process: “. . . labor-power preserve[s] its property of producing value only so long as it is employed and materialized in the labor-process; yet this does not argue against the fact that it is potentially, as a power, an activity which creates value, and that as such it does not spring from the process of production, but rather antecedes it.”93 Another text concerning the problem of preserving and creating value is no less explicit: “The property therefore which labor-power in action, living labor, possesses of preserving value, at the same time that it adds it. . . .”94 A text in Book Three, belonging to a more complex problematic which will be presented later, speaks of “. . . living value-creating labor-power. ”95
Attributing the creation of value to living labor is the only way of making sense of the fundamental analysis of the relation between capital and labor. For this relation consists in the fact that the capitalist gives to the worker the exchange-value of his labor-power in order to receive in return its use-value. It is precisely with this, with living labor, that he will produce the value that constitutes the goal of his entire enterprise. Before we submit this to a profound examination, it is certainly appropriate to recall that the exchange of capital and labor obeys historical or, if one prefers, social conditions. Moreover, these conditions appear to make the exchange seem not really to be an exchange at all.96 Why? Because, it seems, the exchangers, just when they are about to perform the exchange, are no longer on equal terms; one is already a worker and the other already a capitalist. The first is already a worker because, when he is separated from the objective conditions of his labor, he cannot, as we have seen, produce anything himself but must offer his labor-power to the one who possesses these conditions. The second is already a capitalist since the one who purchases this force is, as the possessor of the objective conditions of its realization, the possessor of this realization itself and of what it produces, of value. “The class relation between capitalist and wage-laborer therefore exists, is presupposed from the moment the two face each other. . . .”97 As we see, the prior conditions which from the outset disturb the alleged equality of the exchange correspond to the break of the direct tie which formerly joined the worker to his instrument, a break which, finally, constitutes at one and the same time the definition of the two basic classes which are found in Capital: the proletariat is characterized by subjectivity reduced to itself, lacking the objective conditions for its realization, whereas capital, as a class, results from holding a monopoly on these conditions.98
However, the fact that the worker, who is separated from the means of realizing his labor-power, is forced to sell this labor-power to the capitalist, who does possess the means, no doubt shows the inequality of their social conditions at the time of the exchange, but it explains nothing about the inequality which has corrupted this exchange itself. What is more, by affirming a preexisting inequality, one loses sight of that which will emerge out of the exchange; the second inequality is confused with the first, the inequality which constitutes the principle of production with the social inequality resulting from it. For, in reality, the social classes do not precede capitalism in order to make it what it is; instead capitalism, on the contrary, determines the social classes, and this is because in the exchange between capitalism and labor, or as its direct result, an essential phenomenon will be produced, one that will act as the creative force, the naturans, for the entire system. As always, one is mistaken in hypostatizing classes, structures, objective ensembles in order to make them into explanatory principles, whereas they themselves have to be explained. The classes are not simply the historical, occasional cause of the exchange between capital and labor; they are actually the result of this exchange. Here again they must be grasped in terms of their genealogy, which Marx will now show is identical to the transcendental genesis of surplus-value, that is, of capitalism itself. It is in this way that economic determinations govern social determinations: against the backdrop of their own determination grasped as meta-economic.
With brilliant conciseness, a passage in the Grundrisse —the book Marx wrote for himself before writing Capital with other people in mind—posits the identity of the social genealogy and of the transcendental genesis of capitalism, and at the same time formulates the ultimate nature of this genesis. With respect to the alleged equality between the exchange of capital and of labor, it states: “In fact this equality is already disturbed because the workers relation to the capitalist as a use value, in the form specifically distinct from exchange value, in opposition to value posited as value. . . .”11 This, then, is what the exchange between capital and labor is reduced to, what the relation between the classes amounts to: to the fact that opposite an exchange-value, a use-value is posited. Now positing a use-value opposite an exchange-value is not itself an exchange, Marx says, because it takes into account only the value of the commodities exchanged and is by its nature indifferent to their use-value. This is the reason why, in the text we have just discussed, the relation between the capitalist and the worker is outside the category of exchange: “thus, he already stands in a . . . relation outside that of exchange, in which the nature of the use value, the particular use value of the commodity is, as such, irrelevant.”100 The collapse of the concept of exchange as the direct result of the fact that what is thematized in the “exchange” between capital and labor and what determines it is a use-value, is a constant assertion throughout Marx’s analysis and his definition of capital. For money becomes capital only when it is exchanged, not for another value, but precisely for a use-value, for the use-value of labor-power, that is to say, for labor itself. It is for this reason, first of all, that the worker’s money, for example, is not capital; its condition of value will serve to buy the necessary means of subsistence, that is, will be exchanged for other commodities of equivalent value according to the laws of circulation.101 What will make capital of this money is, on the contrary, its exchange for labor considered in itself not as value—the equivalent of the sum of money—but as a use-value, for actual labor and, consequently, for living labor. “. . . the saved up money would itself have to become capital, i.e. buy labor, relate to labor as use-value.” In order to participate in this pseudo-exchange constituted by the relation between capital and labor, and in order to define it, labor must then confront capital, that is, confront value, as use-value, that is, as not-value, as not-capital. “In order to become capital, it itself presupposes labor as not-capital.” This means that capital cannot confront itself, that a value opposite a value cannot define the capitalist relation, which nevertheless seems to be a pure economic relation, and this is so because capital is capital only when placed opposite the fundamental use-value, labor. “But capital, too, cannot confront capital if capital does not confront labor.” And again, in a thoroughly explicit manner: “As capital it can posit itself only by positing labor as not-capital, as pure use value,”102 so that confronting industrial capital “labor must exist as pure use value.”103
Placing the concept of exchange out of bounds in this way, the fact that for the homogeneity of the terms exchanged—a homogeneity which permits their equality—is substituted a glaring heterogeneity, the confrontation of two ontologically different realities is visible in many different ways. On the one hand, we find ideal economic determination, value, and on the other, use-value and, more precisely, the use-value of labor-power, that is, subjectivity itself and its actualization. This is first visible in the gap that opens up between the actualization of each of the terms in the exchange. With respect to the exchange-value of labor-power, it is determined straightaway. Moreover, and in this it resembles the values of all commodities, this value is fixed even before entering into circulation since it results from the amount of labor necessary for the production of the commodity. On the contrary, what is given to the capitalist by the worker in exchange for this already determined value, which is the exchange-value of his labor, is its use-value, which, as the unfolding of the potentialities of organic subjectivity, has its own immanent temporality, which passes away as it does, which thus occupies a certain duration.104 In this way, for the determined value of labor-power is substituted the use of this power in the hands of the capitalist; that is, something whose product is still undetermined is neither measured nor taken into account in the exchange at the time of the exchange.
The heterogeneity of the terms of the exchange, which breaks apart the concept of exchange, is made apparent in another way as well. The value that the worker receives in exchange for the use of his labor-power enables him to buy what is necesssary for his subsistence. These goods are consumed, and in the same stroke their value disappears, so that the worker has nothing left, neither value nor use-value, and this is why he continually returns to the labor market. What the capitalist gets out of this, on the contrary, does not vanish, for it is the power that the worker has just given to him, no longer a limited or diminishing reality, even less something that disappears, but a power, a creative possibility capable of producing and of giving rise to a number of results. On the one hand, the disappearance of a use-value sacrificed to the maintenance of life and, on the other hand, the disposition of a productive activity which, as such, continues as power, origin, and source of new production—this is the figure describing the heterogeneity of the terms between which the exchange breaks apart.105
However, this is the time to make the essential remark that the heterogeneity of the terms of the exchange between capital and labor, which makes this exchange an illusory appearance, is not absolute and, quite the contrary, coincides with that which reestablishes the relation of homogeneity between these terms. Indeed, let us not forget the fundamental thesis which we have shown to be that of Marx, namely that it is the use-value of labor-power which creates value. Henceforth, for the exchange-value of the worker’s labor-power the capitalist receives, along with this force, something which, as real, is certainly not of the same nature as economic value, but whose use has, precisely, as its result the production of economic value. The recourse to the living power of subjectivity which took us out of the economic circle of circulation—and which breaks this circle—does not prevent the circle from closing again, if indeed it is true that in exchange for a certain value the capitalist will finally obtain, through the use of the labor-power that he has secured and as its result, a value, one greater than the initial value.106 An essential text in the Grundrisse establishes in succession: (1) that what the capitalist obtains from the worker in exchange for a certain value in the material form of the means of subsisting is his labor time, his living labor time, which functions not as exchange-value but as use-value, as the actualization of his subjective power—“The living labor time he gets in exchange is not the exchange value, but the use value of labor capacity”; (2) that the act of this living subjectivity is what produces value— “But the use value of the value the capitalist has acquired through exchange is itself the element of realization. . . .”107
Now, it is at the moment when the use-value received in exchange by the capitalist is understood as the power of realization, thus leading us back to value, that is, at the moment when the terms of the exchange permit the principle of a possible homogeneity to be glimpsed, namely their expression in terms of value—and this despite their radical heterogeneity—that this heterogeneity is once again manifested. For, considering things from the standpoint of value, there is a difference—and even, as has been shown, an ontological difference—between the value given to the worker, namely labor in the materialized form of the goods he will be able to buy with his wages, and, on the other hand, what he gives to the capitalist, namely no longer materialized labor but living labor, no longer a value but the element which creates, produces, and multiplies value. With regard to this new formulation of the inequality of the two terms in the exchange, Marx says in a text which is all the more noteworthy in that the connection between the critique of exchange and the thesis that it is living labor and living labor alone that creates value becomes evident here: “. . . because it is given in exchange as objectified labor, while its use value, by contrast, consists of living labor, i.e. of the positing of exchange value. The turn into its opposite arises from the fact that the use value of labor capacity, as value, is itself the value-creating force; the substance of value, and the value-increasing substance.”108 In this way, the dissimilarity of the terms in the exchange takes the form, in the relation to value or rather to the power that produces value, of an opposition between this value, itself understood, precisely, as a product, an effect, and this power grasped, on the contrary, as the generating power, the source and the cause of value. “He [the worker] sells himself as an effect. He is absorbed into the body of capital as a cause, as activity.”109 And it is this dissimilarity which is immediately given as the origin of the inequality which turns the exchange into its opposite at the same time as it overturns the entire ideology that political economy had based on exchange. “Thus,” the text continues, “the exchange turns into its opposite, and the laws of private property—liberty, equality, property. . . .”
The fact that a fixed value, that of the means of subsistence, is exchanged by the capitalist for the very source and the creative power of value, for a power whose existence will, in his hands, lead to the creation of a new value—this by no means shows, however, in what way and for what reason the value resulting from this process is greater than the initial value given to the worker in the form of wages. Why, indeed, would the value produced not simply be equal to, or even less than, the value advanced initially? Now it is not by analyzing the value itself, whether the initial or the final value, that one will be able to reply to this question and to determine their relative magnitude, to note, for example, a surplus-value obtained at the end of the process. Just when the crucial phenomenon of realization constituting the essence of capitalism is about to be circumscribed, it appears that its principle cannot be sought, is by no means to be found on the economic level. And this must be understood in a radical sense. For it is no longer a matter of establishing that this level is not the only one and that, in order to be intelligible, it must be related to a reality of another order, namely, the living subjectivity that creates it. Up to now, the analysis of the relation between capital and labor has been limited to this—which is not to be underestimated—since it has shown that in exchange for the value paid to the worker, that is to say, for an economic determination, what the capitalist obtains is a real determination, the determination in terms of which Marx defines reality. Thus the inequality that corrupts the exchange has been unequivocally referred to the ontological heterogeneity of its terms, to the opposition between the economy and life. Yet, once again, the examination of these two terms, the initial value on the one hand and, on the other, the actualization of labor-power or rather that to which it directly leads, the value produced by it—this analysis by no means permits us to conclude that these two values are unequal, and the enigma of surplus-value remains intact. The reason is that in order to resolve this enigma, however strange it may seem, one must in fact leave the level of value, place the whole economic dimension out of bounds, and restrict oneself to the sphere of life and to it alone. It is no longer of value that one must speak, but of reality, of which value is a possible manifestation.
What is made manifest by the value paid to the worker is the amount of labor contained in the means of subsistence required by life for its continuance. Determined by the needs of life and by these alone, the quantity of these goods has nothing to do with the quantity of labor required to produce them. What is manifested by the value created at the end of the process through the actualization of the worker’s labor-power is the use-values created by it, or more exactly, it is the quantity of labor that they “materialize,” that is to say, precisely, the actualization of the labor-power during the time that it took to produce them. Now, just as the quantity of supplies needed by the worker is in no way connected to the quantity of labor necessary for their formation, to their value, neither is the quantity of use-values resulting from the actualization of labor-power during one day connected in a basic way to the problem of their value. No doubt it is the actualization of this power, it is the amount of labor expended by the worker that creates the value of the use-values produced, but this real production of use-values could very well occur—and it actually does occur in many instances, in the family “economy” for example—without the question of value ever arising. Let us therefore abstract from the question of value in order to consider only the realities that remain once this abstraction has been made. On one side, we have the use-values required to maintain the labor-power for, let us say, one day, and, on the other side, the actualization of this labor-power and the use-values that it produces during this same day. We are remaining within the living sphere which defines reality and it is on this level, irrespective of any economic consideration, that inequality arises: it is the inequality between the use-values that labor-power is capable of producing and the use-values that are necessary for maintaining labor-power itself during the time of this production. For example, a use-value produced over a half-day will be able to keep an individual alive and, consequently, enable him to work for a whole day. And, as a result, the time that he is actually producing will be only half that during which the use-value enables him to produce. Now, this essential relation between use-values, their capacity to maintain life and to permit production on the one hand and, on the other, the time of production proper to each, is entirely independent of all questions concerning value, although it founds them all. “First of all, a product which has cost only half a working day may suffice for me to live and work a whole day. Whether or not the product possesses this quality depends not on its value, i.e. the labor time bestowed on it, but rather on its use value. . . . ”110
Therefore, if we go back to what is really produced in the exchange between capital and labor, we then see that in fact there is nothing economic in this exchange, no exchange-value enters into it originally; the exchange is not an exchange of value, and it is for this reason, in reality, that it is not an exchange. Rather we have, on one side, the use-value of individual labor-power and the use-values it is capable of producing in one day and, on the other side, the use-values required to maintain this labor-power during the same day. Now these use-values—those it needs, those it is capable of producing—are determined only by it, that is to say, by the nature of life, by its own needs and its own capabilities. “... the exchange which takes place in this regard between living labor and the product of labor is not an exchange between both as use values, but rather their relation lies on the one side in the use value of the product, on the other side in the conditions of the existence of living labor capacity.”111 It is precisely the relation between the use-value necessary for life and those it is capable of producing which establishes the original and decisive inequality, namely the vital fact that in actualizing its subjective potentialities life produces more use-values than it requires to maintain its existence. A fact such as this, which is completely foreign to the economy and which is meta-or extra-economic, also signifies that the individual, producing more than he consumes, does not need his entire labor time in order to produce the goods necessary for his existence and that, beyond this necessary labor time, he is therefore able either to rest or to perform surplus-labor, a labor producing use-values that exceed his consumption and that will remain at the end of the process as a surplus. Although it is part of a polemic against Proudhon, the following text is nevertheless the most important one written by Marx on the subject, since it reveals the principle and the secret of capitalism, just as, moreover, of any possible system. “The only extra-economic fact in this is that the human being does not need his entire time for the production of the necessaries, that he has free time at his disposal above and beyond the labor time necessary for subsistence, and hence can also employ it for surplus labor.”112
This decisive property of life must no doubt be understood in the same way as all the properties of life, as a potentiality. This signifies, first of all, that it might not be actualized. It can be actualized, labor-power can be activated in order to produce more use-values than those necessary for subsistence, only if the latter have already been provided. Thus the individual is forced to consume before he produces: every life requires an initial credit. This necessity becomes precisely, at the dawn of the modern age, one of the historical conditions of capitalism, since it was when he was deprived of the means of subsistence to which he had been naturally bound that the peasant, driven off his land, had to pawn his labor. However, when the conditions for the actualization of labor-power are fulfilled, when vital needs are satisfied and the individual is able to work, the ways in which living subjectivity develops its fundamental property of producing more than it requires are most diverse. Fragile at first, when the means of subsistence are minimal and, correlatively, the production of labor-power is still limited, the historical manifestation of life’s property of contributing more than it has been given finds in capitalism, which rests on it and which consciously pushes it to its furthest point, a spectacular accomplishment. With respect to the worker considered in his power to go beyond his needs, Marx says: “. . his necessaries are small to the same degree that his labor power is in a primitive state. But wage labor as such enters only where the development of the productive force has already advanced so far that a significant amount of time has become free; this liberation is here already a historic product.”113 And it appears once again here that, in Marx, the philosophy of history is subordinated to a metaphysics of life, that in every case accidents are explained in terms of essence, that what occurs is never anything but the actualization of potentialities to be found within the metahistorical nature of existence and their progressive realization—in the case that concerns us here, the realization and the actualization of the most ultimate of life’s possibilities, that of surpassing its own conditions, of being the power of growth which makes it precisely, in the face of everything confronting it in the world, life itself.
It is, in any event, to this fundamental possibility that we must refer if we are to understand what now occurs on the economic level as its simple consequence and as one illustration among other equally possible ones. When we recall the theory of value, namely the production of value through the use of labor-power, realization appears as the direct correlate and the ideal expression of the power of life. In the same stroke, the exchange between capital and labor becomes transparent from an economic standpoint. Expressed as values, the terms of this exchange allow their ideal quantitative inequality to appear as the simple consequence of their real inequality. We now have once again, on one side, the value of labor-power, that is, the amount of labor required to produce the goods that are indispensable to preserve this power, and, on the other side, to begin with, the use of this force that has been acquired by the capitalist, a use that has no limits and no laws other than those belonging to the power of life itself. “The value of the laboring power is determined by the quantity of labor necessary to maintain or reproduce it, but the use of that laboring power is only limited by the active energies and physical strength of the laborer.”114 Again we find the disparity distinguishing a value from a use-value; but the latter, the use of labor-power, is in its turn, in accordance with the law of value, value-creating. To say that this use is independent of the amount of labor required for the production of necessary goods therefore means that the amount of labor in which labor-power is actualized is independent of the amount of labor necessary for its preservation and its reproduction: “The quantity of labor by which the value of the workman’s laboring power is limited forms by no means a limit to the quantity of labor which his laboring power is apt to perform.”115 In a lecture he gave, Marx was to employ numbers in order to allow the imagination to grasp this truth which belongs to another order, and this use of numbers was indeed justified since value is itself nothing but a figuration of this sort, the ideal figuration of living praxis. Let us imagine, then, a spinner who works six hours a day in order to produce the goods he needs, and let us ascribe to these a value of three shillings; nothing prevents him from working another six hours to produce an additional value of three shillings, and this is what he does in the hands of the capitalist. In this way, “over and above the six hours required to replace his wages, or the value of his laboring power, he will, therefore, have to work six other hours, which I shall call hours of surplus labor, which surplus labor will realize itself in a surplus value and a surplus produce.”116 If we now put ourselves in the place of the capitalist, we then have to say: “By advancing three shillings, the capitalist will, therefore, realize a value of six shillings, because, advancing a value in which six hours of labor are crystallized, he will receive in return a value in which twelve hours of labor are crystallized. ... It is this sort of exchange between capital and labor upon which capitalistic production ... is founded. . . .”117 Just as whenever an ultimate principle of explanation is reached, and because this principle, as a principle, never ceases to produce its effects, we encounter the idea of an indefinite repetition of the system whose naturans has just been revealed. The wage system “must constantly result in reproducing the working man as a working man, and the capitalist as a capitalist.”118 However, the system’s self-reproduction cannot be considered as an internal causality, or even a self-positing of the system itself, except inasmuch as the crucial phenomenon of individual praxis—which, with its specific life properties, is the principle of reiteration—itself continues to be overlooked.
The problem of the conservation of value
The problem of the increase of value is decisive, and yet it has helped to mask, not for Marx but instead for his commentators, another problem which in a sense is even more fundamental, that of the conservation of value. For, in the course of the process of production, value can grow in the form of a surplus-value only if it is first preserved, only if the values present at the start of this process in the elements employed are capable of reappearing at the end of the process in order to form together the value of the product. However, let us first see why, despite this self-evidence, the problem of the increase of value tends to mask that of its conservation. This is because it is introduced into the problematic of Capital in the form of a critique of circulation. To circulation is accorded the capacity to conserve value, since exchange is characterized by the fact that the same quantity of value is maintained. If there is no increase of value in the exchange, neither is there any possible decrease: the conservation of value is implied in circulation as its very definition. And this is also true, naturally, for exchanges surrounding the material process of production: a certain amount of money has been converted into raw materials, instruments of labor; the sum of the values of these elements reappears in the product, which can then be exchanged for an equivalent amount of money.119 And it is in this way that value appears as a constant, identical to itself throughout all the phases in the process and indifferent to these phases, as to the use-values that determine them.120 It is only when an unexplainable variation suddenly appears on the level of value itself and of its circulation, that is to say, of its indefinite tautological repetition, that Marx’s problematic shifts to a different level, leaving behind that of the exchange-value, which, although capable of explaining its own conservation, cannot explain its growth. It is then that a reality of another order is taken into consideration, the use-value of labor-power, which alone is capable of producing a new value greater than its own value. Surplus-value, and it alone, is behind the substitution of the analysis of production for that of circulation, inspiring the backward questioning moving from the economic toward its own origin and toward life.
Presented in this form, the critique of circulation which plays an undeniably didactic role in the discussion in Capital runs the risk of provoking serious confusions, even outright errors. It is important, first of all, to distinguish between the maintenance of value on the one hand, and, on the other, what could be called the tautological repetition of value in exchange. It is clear that if a commodity has a certain value, this value is identical whether it is expressed in the form of this commodity or of a corresponding quantity of money. Exchange presupposes this identity and demonstrates it. If I exchange forty dollars’ worth of tea for forty dollars and then for forty dollars’ worth of coffee, the value I have in hand remains the same, it is “conserved.” But here we are considering a specific exchange and the commodities exchanged in the instant in which they are exchanged. It is at the precise moment that this quantity of coffee is worth forty dollars that I can exchange it for a given quantity of tea which at this precise moment is also worth forty dollars. There can be no delay, for the coffee beans could split open, the tea mold, or the currency be devaluated. The entire problematic of value has shown its fundamental reference to use-value, which serves as its “support”: if the properties of use-value are changed, its value disappears as well. And even on the plane which we can now call economic in appearance, on the plane of exchange-value considered in its relation to the abstract labor that it represents, the stability of this value is not to be taken for granted. Is it not, however, the objectification of a certain quantity of labor, that which was required for its production? Is not this quantity, which is fixed in the commodity, determined once and for all and the value as such “invariable”? But we know that the value of a commodity is not determined by the quantity of labor that it has cost but by that which would currently be necessary to produce it: should a modification in productivity occur, the value of the commodity will thereby diminish by the same amount. This condition may only intervene from time to time in determining the value of commodities intended for immediate consumption, but it is decisive for those that are destined for productive consumption, notably for the components of fixed capital. In modifying fixed capital, just as in modifying productivity, the entire scale of “invariable” values shifts and begins to slip, as if caught up in a vast current of actual production and carried along by its whirlpools. The stability of value, in reality, exists only within the relation between the commodity and its own value, and this is the case only for a given instant. It is for this reason that this stability is but a tautology. It expresses the fact that the exchange-value of a commodity can still take on an autonomous form over and against the commodity itself, as in the case of its price; and there is, of course, an identity between the value of the commodity and this value considered in itself as money. Indeed, this identity is the basis for exchange, since, before being exchanged for another, every commodity is in a way exchanged with itself and reveals its value in a pure form. It is precisely when the pure value of two commodities is identical that they can themselves be exchanged. But this basis for exchange is as yet simply ideal; it represents the eidetic possibility, not a real condition. In order that the exchange of two commodities take place, the needs of the exchangers must require the exchange. And even when it is a matter of the self-relation of a commodity’s exchange-value, as in its price, we have seen that this relation can take on a contradictory form: in a period of crisis, this value, precisely, cannot be realized. This signifies once again that the tautological identity of the value that founds the exchange is a purely ideal condition and that ideality as such is never operative. But the real conservation of value takes place outside the process of circulation; just as the production of value, its conservation refers to use-value and, moreover, to the specific use-value of labor-power. As a result, it is not simply the process of realization which forces us to leave the sphere of circulation in order to enter into the secret laboratory of production; the simple conservation of value cannot itself be explained economically, and so we are forced to refer back to living subjectivity. What Marx will establish is that living subjectivity founds the entire process of value—its realization, of course, but first and foremost it conservation.
But, here again, if we want to avoid confusing matters, we must follow his analysis step by step. When the powerlessness of circulation has been revealed, both with respect to the simple conservation of value and to its creation, the elucidation of the process of value is henceforth conducted within the process of production. It is then quite remarkable to see that, in his effort to grasp the real origin of value, of its conservation or its growth, Marx radically challenges the distinction, which had been suggested by the critique of circulation, between the problem of value which is found to be quantitatively identical to itself at the end of the process, and the value which, on the contrary, appears there as an additional quantity, namely as surplus-value. The division, precisely, does not fall between value which remains quantitatively the same and surplus-value; besides, the value that remains the same is not the value that has been preserved. Let us consider a capital of one hundred thalers divided as follows in the production process: fifty thalers for cotton, forty for wages, and ten for instruments; to simplify we are also to suppose that the entire instrument of production is consumed in the course of production and, on the other hand, that the labor-power, covering a time of surplus-labor equal to the time of necessary labor, produces, in exchange for the forty thalers in wages, a value of eighty thalers.121 In place of the one hundred thalers invested in this process, the capitalist receives one hundred and forty, and one could think that the problem is to found, on the one hand, the conservation of the value of the one hundred thalers and, on the other, the appearance of the new value of forty thalers, that is, of the surplus-value. Now, Marx’s analysis rejects this dissociation of one hundred thalers on one side and forty thalers on the other, that is to say the representation of circulation as M-C-M’ where M’ represented M + ᐃM, where the value is maintained identical to itself and, on the other hand, surplus-value: 100 + 40. This is, precisely, because circulation explains absolutely nothing about the phenomenon we have to analyze, for it entirely escapes the economic sphere and its laws and, consequently, is not subject to any sort of economic explanation.
Indeed, in this process we already know how to account for the production of the eighty thalers by means of the realization of labor-power. The latter produces during the first half of the day—the time of necessary labor—a value of forty thalers, which is equal to its own, to the value paid in wages; it is said to be “reproduced. ”During the second half of the day—the time of surplus-labor— labor-power produces a new value of forty thalers, which defines surplus-value, and this new value is “produced” stricto sensu. In this way the homogeneity of the production of value and of surplus-value is reaffirmed as a production whose sole origin and whose essence is to be found in living labor. But then a question arises: because the totality of the value produced by living labor, it also amounts, in our example, to eighty thalers. Now, one hundred thalers were initially put into the process, so does the process finally amount to a deficit of twenty thalers? There is, in fact, a third problem that has to be taken into consideration, that of the conservation of value, which concerns solely the value of the raw materials and of the instruments of labor. A definition such as this is not merely conventional; it is an integral part of the analysis and signifies that the problem of the conservation of the value of the objective conditions for the production process must be distinguished from that of the creation of value by labor-power: it is here then that we find the division imposed by Marx, no longer between maintaining a quantity of value identical to itself and, on the other hand, surplus-value, but between the production of value—which is the reproduction of the value paid in wages and production of surplus-value—and what can aptly be opposed to it here, the mere conservation of value, which is by no means a production of value and which is the conservation of the value of the raw materials and instruments—in our example, fifty thalers’ worth of cotton and ten of instruments. Now this conservation of value is no less essential; it alone enables the process to lead to a final value of one hundred forty thalers and thus to an actual surplus-value. In what then does this conservation consist?
Although it is a matter of a simple conservation of value at the end of which this value is found to be identical to itself, this phenomenon has nothing to do with the tautological repetition of exchange. This is why, just as its production, the conservation of value is foreign to circulation and cannot be explained by it. This is why, just as its production, the conservation of value requires that in the problematic the economic level be replaced by that of reality and by the analysis of reality. The analysis in the Grundrisse, which here again plays the role of a guideline for the comprehension of Marx’s thought, is situated straightaway within the reality of the process of production. The real process of production includes the objective conditions of labor and, confronting them, living labor. Each of these elements has its own value, and it is precisely the conservation of this value, at least that of the objective conditions of the process, which must be founded. But this question can be resolved only by abstracting from all of the economic determinations, from all of the values that enter into this process. However paradoxical this may seem, it is when the value of the elements included within and constituting the real process is set out of bounds that the value of its objective conditions can be, and effectively is, conserved. This is not a reduction performed by the mind which will permit an understanding of what occurs in the real process; this is a real reduction, namely the fact that all the elements in the process are carried back to their condition of use-value and are involved in the process solely under this aspect. It is precisely in this that the reality of the process lies, in the fact that the raw materials and the instruments are in it no longer values but rather use-values and offer themselves as such to the use made of them by labor-power, that is, to the action of living labor. “Now, in the realization process, the value components of capital—the one in the form of material, the other in the form of instrument—confront the worker, i.e. living labor . . . not as values, but rather as simple moments of the production process; as use values for labor, as the objective conditions of its efficacy, or as its objective moments. ” 122 The use-values that have been worked over in this way are thus preserved, if need be in a modified form, by this action, and it is this action of living labor which, by preserving the use-values upon which it works, preserves in the same stroke the quantity of labor that was included in them, that is to say, their value. The conservation of values in the production process is nothing other than, and indeed is founded upon, the labor of the use-values whose value is thus preserved, founded upon the subjectivity of the worker and upon his living praxis. “The quantity of objectified labor is preserved in that its quality is preserved as use value for further labor, through the contact with living labor.”123 And again: “this natural animating power of labor—namely that, by using the material and instrument, it preserves them in one or another form, including the labor objectified in them, their exchange value. . . .”124 Thus the economic process rests entirely upon the real process since it is the action of living subjectivity on use-value, that is to say, on unformed matter, which assumes and maintains this form, that is to say, the past labor objectified in it, in other words, its value. “The preservation of the quality of previous labor in the simple production process—hence of its material as well—becomes, in the realization process, the preservation of the quantity of labor already objectified. ”125
From the standpoint of value, that is, of capital, it must then be added that its conservation, the preservation of the quantity of labor materialized in the objective conditions of the real process, is realized through this process, whereas from the standpoint of living labor, it finds before it nothing but use-values, with which it works and to which it adds, by means of this work, a new quantity of labor, hence a new value. “For capital, this preservation is the preservation of the amount of objectified labor by the production process; for living labor itself, it is merely the preservation of the already present use value. Living labor adds a new amount of labor. . . . ”126 But here intervenes the radical distinction which Marx believed had to be made, no longer that between the preservation and the growth of value, but that between the production of value in general on the one hand and its simple conservation on the other. The text continues: “. . . however, it is not this quantitative addition which preserves the amount of already objectified labor, but rather its quality as living labor, the fact that it relates as labor to the use values in which the previous labor exists.” Marx loses no time in drawing the conclusion that the wage, which expresses only the quantity of labor necessary for maintaining living labor-power, thereby fails to take into consideration not only the surplus-labor that this power may perform but also the specific quality by virtue of which living labor preserves the value of the use-values of labor, and this, due to the sole fact that labor is applied to them, that is, by reason of its very nature. “But living labor is not paid for this quality, which it possesses as living labor . . . rather, it is paid for the amount of labor contained in itself. ... It does not receive payment for its specific quality of adding new amounts of labor to the amounts of labor already objectified, and at the same time preserving labor which is already objectified as objectified labor; and this quality does not cost the worker anything either, since it is a natural property of his laboring capacity ” 127
But why separate the production from the conservation of labor if both are the work of living labor? This inevitable question—inevitable even if it were never raised or perceived—implies an awareness of the ultimate level where Marx’s meditation and his own specific theme are developed: living subjectivity and its actualization in living labor. And this question leads to a further elucidation of the essence of living labor. For, on the one hand, labor is a process which unfolds in accordance with the movement of its immanent temporality, in such a way that it depends on what is to be done and thus is determined in its duration. It is this concrete determination of labor, of a specific type of work, which is at the origin of the objective standard of measurement to which one tries to submit it and which allows it to be expressed in the form of a certain “quantity of labor” and thus of a value. This is the aspect through which living labor produces value before determining it as abstract labor. Moreover, when living labor is performed, and inasmuch as in this it makes use of certain use-values, manipulates them, modifies them, and shapes them in this or that way, it thereby maintains them in their capacity of use-value. This property has nothing to do with the duration of this or that particular work, or of labor in general as it adapts itself to the form of the object to be created and is determined by it; it belongs instead to labor itself inasmuch as it is applied to matter and, by thus retaining its form, thereby preserves its use. It is by revealing a general essence of labor—one which has nothing to do with “general labor,” whose value is its objectification, but which designates the very fact of working and that in which it consists, the concrete essence of any and every sort of practice—that the Grundrisse reply to the question of how living labor preserves the labor that is already objectified in raw materials and in the instrument: “[this] ... is a result not of the quantity of labor, but of its quality of being labor as such; and there is no special payment for this, its general quality, for the fact that labor, as labor, is labor. . . . .”128 It is because this specific quality, by virtue of which living labor preserves value, is independent of its duration, which itself is essential for the production of value, that one can say, as Marx does in the manuscripts constituting Book Three of Capital: “The mass of capital set in motion by the laborer, whose value he preserves by his labor and reproduces in his product, is quite different from the value which he adds to it.”129 And in this, one sees how a decisive property of the capitalist economy—namely that a certain kind of labor is, in itself and regardless of its duration or its quantity, capable of preserving more and more value and, finally, the enormous masses of value of fixed capital—has its origin and its possibility in the essence of a specific determination of individual subjectivity.
Employing a traditional terminology, Marx attempted to express this capacity of living labor to preserve the value of an object by preserving its use-value. Living labor is understood as an act that imprints a certain form upon a material substance, and objectified labor is this form as it subsists in matter and makes it suitable for a certain use, ready to offer itself to a new act of shaping which will be based on it in order to produce a new, more complex form starting from the previous form. However, this form which is imprinted upon the substance does not inhere in it because of its own properties, or because of the properties of the substance; the form is not preserved in and of itself but tends to become ineffective, “indifferent,” says Marx, to the substance which it determines for a particular use, so that this use in its turn tends to be lost, along with the value that it carried. This process of deterioration and of becoming indifferent by which a form becomes external to its object and ceases to qualify it, characterizes objectified labor and makes of it dead labor. Over and above its conceptual formulation, the analysis of objectified labor which has just been made leads us to the essential dialectic in Marx of dead labor and living labor. For it is precisely living labor which, by integrating objectified labor within itself, by uniting with it, preserves it from death; it is the act of imprinting a form which meshes with the old form, prevents it from separating from the substance, where, once having become indifferent to its substance, it would then be lost along with the substance. “There is an indifference on the part of the substance [Stoff] towards the form, which develops out of merely objectified labor time . . . no immanent law of reproduction maintains this form. . . . However, when they are posited as conditions of living labor, they are themselves reanimated. Objectified labor ceases to exist in a dead state as an external, indifferent form on the substance, because it is itself again posited as a moment of living labor; as a relation of living labor to itself in an objective material, as the objectivity of living labor (as means and end [Objekt], (the objective conditions of living labor).”130
Here a new and absolutely original sense of the concept of labor as objectification is revealed to us. To say that labor “is objectified” does not mean that its essence consists in the process through which it becomes an object—more precisely, in the form that is given to the object and which would be its objectification in the object—it does not mean that labor is real as objectified labor, in and through objectivity. Substantiality is no longer, as in Hegelianism, ascribed to exteriority, and it is false to claim that the theses of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, notably those concerning labor, are to be found again in the Grundrisse just as they were in the former. This is to fail to see that, under the continuity of a terminology from which Marx, it is true, never managed to free himself totally, a radical mutation has taken place, a new philosophy has been born. Far from holding that labor, as simple subjective virtuality and as empty and, finally, illusory interiority, attains actuality only in the work accomplished by it, in objectified labor, it is, instead, objectified labor which is torn from the jaws of death only by the action of living subjectivity and only inasmuch as this action never ceases to be realized. It is no longer the instrument which confers being upon labor; it is living labor which wrests the former from rust and the dustbin. The Grundrisse text contrasts term by term with the text of the Iena manuscripts that Hegel wrote in 1803-1804, just as it does with Marx’s own 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. Just how far this opposition, which challenges the ultimate categories of Western thought, extends can be seen in the fact that, for Hegel, faced with the disappearance of subjectivity as it is lost in its own night,131 the only being that remains is what is stable and permanent, and it is objective being which defines this permanence and constitutes its form. And time itself is but the unfolding of this objectivity. Before saying that in the world of culture, “if men die, institutions remain,” we must recognize the original advent of this permanence in the living process of need: here, the thing that is made and the instrument are the primary figures and the condition for the subsistence of being. But, for Marx, the matter and form of the instrument subsist only when they are taken hold of in the act of praxis. Subjectivity is no longer the principle of what is swallowed up; instead it is what keeps all things from being swallowed up, and objectivity itself would be nothing without this grasp which prevents it from slipping away into nothingness, for the world is the world of praxis. It is true that men die, but this is because the power that maintains all things in being is itself perishable; it is life and its history is contingent. It is within this temporality of life and through it that all subsistence is finally maintained. This ultimate metaphysics holds that that which is most perishable and which can cease at every instant, living labor, extends its power over all that is; this metaphysics is not affirmed abstractly by Marx; instead it is grasped just where, before any conceptualization—that is, at the very heart of the production process—it appears precisely as the law of being. And it is, in truth, for this reason that a process such as this is made the theme of the problematic, not, let us repeat, because the economy would be substituted, with the advent of a positive age, for a metaphysics that lacked any object, but because this metaphysics stipulates the object for any inquiry that would deem itself essential. Within the process of production the fragile power of life shines forth as a glowing fire which shapes matter and breathes into it the form that preserves it and maintains it. “The transformation of the material by living labor . . . thus preserves the material in a definite form, and subjugates the transformation of the material to the purpose of labor. Labor is the living, form-giving fire; it is the transitoriness of things, their temporality, as their formation by living time.”132
These decisive themes from the Grundrisse are also present in Capital, where are asserted in turn:
(1) The essence of production, namely the determination of being not by the stable objectivity of the product, but by its integration in the process of living subjectivity as a simple function and factor in this process—“whenever ... a product enters as a means of production into a new labor-process, it thereby loses its character of product, and serves as a mere objective factor of living labor.”133
(2) The fallenness that characterizes being when it lies outside the grasp of living praxis, an abandonment to which labor itself is condemned when it assumes the instrumental form of objectified labor, so that, confronting that which is held far away from it in the death-like void of this distance, subjectivity appears as a genuine power of resurrection: “A machine which does not serve the purposes of labor . . . falls prey to the destructive influence of natural forces. Iron rusts and wood rots. Yarn with which we neither weave nor knit, is cotton wasted. Living labor must seize upon these things and rouse them from their death-sleep, change them from mere possible use-values into real and effective ones. Bathed in the fire of labor, appropriated as part and parcel of labor’s organism, and, as it were, made alive for the performance of their functions in the process, they are in truth consumed. . . .”134 And again: “In so far then as labor is such specific productive activity ... it raises, by mere contact, the means of production from the dead, makes them living factors of the labor-process. . . .”135
(3) The fact that at the very contact of living labor and through this contact, this resurrection of dead labor objectified in the conditions of the process is precisely nothing other than the conservation of their use-value and, consequently, of their value—”If then, on the one hand, finished products are not only results, but also necessary conditions, of the labor-process, on the other hand, their assumption into that process, their contact with living labor, is the sole means by which they can be made to retain their character of use-values, and be utilized” 136—and that it is first of all because it assures that the elements of the production process are maintained in being that the capitalist purchases living labor as the living ferment of these elements and the condition for this process: “By the purchase of labor-power, the capitalist incorporates labor, as a living ferment, with the lifeless constituents of the product.”137
We have seen that Marx distinguished in an essential manner between two types of factors necessary for the completion of the labor-process, the objective factors and the subjective factor. However, by themselves the objective factors would be no more than inert terms, left to die; they become elements of production only if, poured into the crucible of production and consumed by it, turned as if into liquid by the fire of living labor, they are, due to living labor alone, given a new form which restores them to being. The objective factors and the subjective factors are thus by no means on the same level. The objective factors of production are unable to produce anything and do not produce anything. Of one and the same nature as praxis, production is the consequence of subjectivity and of it alone; the objective conditions of production become effective in production itself; living labor is the condition for the entire process and for its objective conditions which, like the world in general, belong to praxis.
The dialectic of dead labor and living labor—the fact that the second, by its embrace, keeps the first in being—constitutes the ultimate motive behind the critique of capitalism. At the original, ideal stage of man’s presence on earth, of man as living on and as owner of the earth, there is an immediate unity of labor and of what is worked on and, above all, of that with which man works, unity of labor, instrument and material. In the dialectic of dead labor and living labor this unity receives a new sense, no longer that of a mere life phenomenon, not to say a biological phenomenon, analogous, for example, to the unity which makes the swelling of the mother’s breast related to and complementary to the infant’s hunger, making both participate as such in one and the same “life cycle.” Over and beyond a mere complementarity or an objective connection, the living unity of subjective labor and its conditions signifies a necessary condition on the ontological level, the fact that these conditions come into being, understood as production, only, precisely, as they participate in this unity with production, in their tie to living labor which gives them life, inasmuch as living labor unites with them in the embrace of living fire. It is in this way that the separation of living labor and its conditions no longer exists in production, because these conditions have being and are productive only in and through living labor. Now, it is this fundamental unity of productive praxis that capitalism, paradoxically, breaks. “Within the production process, the separation of labor from its objective moments of existence—instruments and material—is suspended. The existence of capital and of wage labor rests on this separation.”138
However, if the unity of subjective labor and its objective conditions has an ontological meaning, if it confers being upon the latter, how could this unity be broken; how is the capitalist able to damage it? This union “takes place ... in the process of work itself, during production.”139 This capacity to unite with instruments and materials and to make of them, in this union, the instruments of production —this, Marx reminds us, is characteristic of living labor as such: “This is part of the material role which labor plays by its nature in the production process; of its use-value.”140 What then occurs is clear: far from breaking the unity of labor and the instrumental conditions of production, which are such only within this unity, capital seizes control of it and of what founds it, of labor as living labor, as use-value. “But as use value, labor belongs to the capitalist; it belongs to the worker merely as exchange value. Its living quality of preserving objectified labor time by using it as the objective condition of living labor in the production process is none of the worker’s business.”141 The conclusion of this entire analysis forcefully repeats the denunciation of capital inasmuch as it claims to separate, and actually does separate, on the ideal level of economic and legal ownership that which, on the order of being, is united, namely the instrumental conditions of the production process, conditions that are presented in a striking manner as the material mode of existence of living labor, as the body for which living labor is the soul, awakening it from the dead: “This appropriation, by means of which living labor makes instrument and material in the production process into the body of its soul and thereby resurrects them from the dead, does indeed stand in antithesis to the fact that labor itself is objectless, is a reality only in the immediate vitality of the worker—and that the instrument and material, in capital, exist as beings-for-themselves [für sich selbst seiende].” 142
The fact that living labor, which produces and reproduces value, preserves it as well, preserves the value of the means of production, to the extent that by maintaining the effectiveness of these means, it first preserves their use-value—this shows in a precise way how the process of realization, that is, capital itself, rests entirely on the production process and finds its own ground in the latter and in its founding essence, in living labor. “The process of the realization of capital proceeds by means of and within the simple production process, by putting living labor into its natural relation with its moments of material being.”143 The fact that the process of realization reposes entirely on the production process and, through this, on that which founds the latter in its turn, on living labor, lays bare the abstraction of economic reality as such and, along with this, the reality of that which founds it. Because the process of realization reposes entirely on the subjective essence of production, it is also determined by it, as will be shown by the problematic of variable capital and, in a general manner, by the radical reduction of capital to subjectivity.
*Process of realization is the standard English translation of Verwertungsprozess, which in French is rendered as procès de valorisation. The term valorisation includes both the notion of realization or completion and that of enhancement, of increase of value. This twofold sense should be kept in mind whenever this term appears in Henry's text.— TRANS.