Capital 1. Chapter 2: The Process of Exchange

This chapter moves from the abstract analysis of ‘things’, and the relation between one commodity and others, to the more concrete social level, people and the market place – the conditions of exchange. Demonstrates the development of money in a concrete form, and the social dimensions to this. This chapter gets beyond the fetish of the commodity analysed in chapter one, and concludes with the point that even in an ideal capitalist market, the atomisation of people and their relationships is unavoidable – relations of production and exchange create material context of life beyond the control of producers.

  • Commodities cannot take themselves to market, and perform exchanges in their own right.” (p178)

Whilst the previous chapter referred often to commodities ‘doing this’ or ‘doing that’, this chapter begins with the move to analyse the roles of people in the process of exchange. This is a first step beyond the fetish of the commodity, to the “guardians, who are the possessors of commodities”.

  • In order that these objects may enter into relation with each other as commodities, their guardians must place themselves in relation to one another as persons whose will resides in those objects, and must behave in such a way that each does not appropriate the commodity of the other, and alienate his (sic) own, except through an act to which both parties consent. The guardians must therefore recognise each other as owners of private property.” (p 178)

This captures the basic ideal model of the liberal political economists, free owners of commodities bringing them to market (although Marx pointed out earlier that one can use force), this is stated clearly again at the conclusion of the chapter, whereby Marx assumes the model of the functioning free market as the point of departure from which to mount critique. The content of above quote manifests as the juridical relation, in the form of the contract, which “is a relation between two wills which mirrors the economic relation. The content of this juridical relation…is itself determined by the economic relation.” This again points towards the social relations at work behind the appearance, and the structural implications of commodity production. In the footnote Marx attacks Proudhon, whereby Proudhon essentially accepts the bourgeois concept of ideal of justice, which corresponds to the juridical relations of commodity production, and seeks reform of production of commodities based upon the ideal of justice, thus attempting to reach a conditions based upon an ideal concept without recognising the material conditions and relations underscoring the juridical relation.

On another note, obviously bound up in this is the condition of labour and its commodification. The ‘freeing’ of labour in order for it to be taken to market as a commodity. The juridical relation and its form of the contract here might provide a topic for our discussion: how have these contracts looked? What are the forms of contract that we face in our daily live in the sale of our labour-power? Perhaps a question of class composition can be posed here? Etc.

  • What chiefly distinguishes a commodity from its owner is the fact that every other commodity counts for it only as the form of appearance of its own value” (p179)

The owner adds concreteness to the analysis, as they are interested in specific exchanges, rather than the commodity, which will always exchange all of itself with any other commodity (Cleaver).

  • All commodities are non-use-values for their owners and use-values for their non-owners. Consequently they must all change hands. But this changing of hands constitutes their exchange and puts them in relation with each other as values and realises them as vales. Hence commodities must be realised as values before they can be realised as use-values.” (p179)

Here there is the opposition articulated earlier. This is the contradiction and opposition between the forms that a commodity takes, and the metamorphosis through the process of exchange. Yet, as Marx goes onto say, commodities must also “stand the test as use-values before they can be realised as values”. That is, a commodity must be a value before it can be realised as a use-value, and must be a use-value before it can be realised as a value. In order for it to be a complete commodity it must fulfil these conditions. This is the tension already embodied in the commodity articulated in chapter one.

  • The owner of a commodity is prepared to part with it only in return for other commodities whose use-value satisfies his own need.” (p180).

For the owner of a commodity the exchange process is both an individual process and a general social process, but “the same process cannot be simultaneously for all owners of commodities both exclusively individual and exclusively social and general.” One can see here the problem of equivalence.

  • To the owner of a commodity, every other commodity counts as the particular equivalent of his (sic) own commodity. Hence, his own commodity is the universal equivalent for all the others. But since this applies to every owner, there is in fact no commodity acting as universal equivalent, and the commodities possess no general relative form of value under which they can be equated as values and have the magnitude of their values compared. Therefore they definitely do not confront each other as commodities, but as products or use-values only” (p180).
  • They (owners) can only bring their commodities into relation as values, and therefore as commodities, by bringing them into an opposing relation with some other commodity, which serves as the universal equivalent…But only the action of society can turn a particular commodity into the universal equivalent” (p180)

This was dealt with abstractly in chapter one, but here Marx adds crucial point, which gets beyond the fetish of the commodity. This is, namely, the action of society to turn a particular commodity into the recognised universal equivalent – social relations rather than abstract relations between things. “Through the agency of the social process it becomes the specific social function of the commodity which has been set apart to be the universal equivalent. It thus becomes – money.”

  • Money necessarily crystallises out of the process of exchange…The historical broadening and deepening of the phenomenon of exchange develops the opposition between use-value and value which is latent in the nature of the commodity.” (p181)

This notion of contradiction and dualism arose in the previous chapter. The specific historic context of production for exchange gives rise to the money-form. This necessary crystallisation again demonstrates why it is impossible to abolish money, or the ‘antagonism between commodities and money’.

Pages 182-183 give a brief overview of the development of the money form out of the process of exchange. As Cleaver points out, whatever the accuracy of this account, the key methodological point of this chapter, particularly the pages concerning the historical emergence of money, is that of the necessity of locating this in the ‘real world of exchange, and not to succumb to an equally erroneous fetishism of money as is attached to commodities as such.

  • In the same proportion as exchange bursts its local bonds, and the value of commodities accordingly expands more and more into the material embodiment of human labour as such, in that proportion does the money-form become transferred to commodities which are by nature fitted to perform the social function of a universal equivalent. Those commodities are the precious metals.” (p183)

In this section there is an interesting discussion of the means and reasons ‘the precious metals’ fulfil the function of and conditions of the universal equivalent, the money-form. This relates to the qualitative and quantitative dimensions of gold and silver. However, the first part of this quote also raises interesting points which might be worth talking about, namely the expansion of exchange, and the bursting of the local bonds… what implications are there for contemporary capitalism, Debord’s spectacle, and the conditions of immaterial production come to mind here for me…

  • The money-form is merely the reflection thrown upon a single commodity by the relations between all other commodities…The process of exchange gives to commodities not their value, but their specific value-form” (p184-185)
  • In this sense every commodity is a symbol, since, as value, it is only the material shell of the labour expended on it.” (p185)

Confusion over the characteristics of money arise from the first of these quotes, leading to the assumption that the value of money is imaginary. However, Marx reflect also that the error lead to a further insight concerning symbols, and could be extended into an analysis of symbolic economies in the current context. The importance however, seems to be in not succumbing to the mere symbolism of money and other commodities, but rather recognising the link between the symbolic dimension and its rootedness in the material…

  • The difficulty lies not in comprehending that money is a commodity, but in discovering how, why and by what means a commodity becomes money.” (p186)
  • This physical object, gold or silver in its crude state, becomes, immediately on its emergence from the bowels of the earth, the direct incarnation of all human labour. Hence the magic of money. Men (sic) are henceforth related to each other in their social process of production in a purely atomistic way. Their own relations of production therefore assume a material shape which is independent of their control and their conscious individual action. This situation is manifested first by the fact that the products of men’s (sic) labour universally take on the form of commodities. The riddle of the money fetish is therefore the riddle of the commodity fetish, now become visible and dazzling before our eyes.” (p187)

These points seem fairly straight forward, I think though I may be missing something, but I think it is maybe again useful here to move into the question of the development of money, and its part in the process of creating a material situation beyond the control of producers – how process of exchange relates to totality… The theory of class composition might again be used as a way to engage with the forms of this process…

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4 Responses to “Capital 1. Chapter 2: The Process of Exchange”


  1. 1 jonathon 9 February 2010 at 4:41 am

    “This notion of contradiction and dualism arose in the previous chapter. The specific historic context of production for exchange gives rise to the money-form. This necessary crystallisation again demonstrates why it is impossible to abolish money, or the ‘antagonism between commodities and money’”

    It is impossible to abolish money within the “specific historic context”. But abolishing the “specific historic context” removes the necessity of money. Marx’s critique of popular political economy is that it doesn’t remove itself from the boundaries of capitalism, it is sort of insular. The last pages of Chapter One placed capitalism in relation to other historical modes of production and also communism as a speculative mode of production. Abolishing money in the end is the abolition of capitalism.

  2. 2 mark 9 February 2010 at 5:08 am

    hey, ‘yeah sorry, should have added abolish money without abolishing commodity production, or the specific historic context…

  3. 3 jonathon 9 February 2010 at 6:47 am

    I thought that was the case. I just wanted bring out this point because it is at the heart of debates about whether or not capitalism is the end of history, the realisation of world spirit and all that (not besmirch Hegel, but rather Francis Fukuyama).

    In defense of money, or the necessity of markets, huge numbers of former Lefties have turned to the notion that there is no alternative, even though they will rhetorically denounce Thatcher’s line. Eric Aarons, former Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia, or example is on to his second book on the supposed political neutrality of Friedrich von Hayek’s argument for the market.

  4. 4 blackberry 17 July 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Interesting blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog shine.
    Please let me know where you got your design. Kudos


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