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K. Marx_Contribution_to_the_Critique_of_Political_Economy

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of labour; he is often inconsistent in the details of his exposition
and he mistakes the objective equalisation of unequal quantities of labour forcibly brought about by the
social process for the subjective equality of the labours of individuals. [15] He tries to accomplish the
transition from concrete labour to labour which produces exchange-value, i.e., the basic form of
bourgeois labour, by means of the division of labour. But though it is correct to say that individual
exchange presupposes division of labour, it is wrong to maintain that division of labour presupposes
individual exchange. For example, division of labour had reached an exceptionally high degree of
development among the Peruvians, although no individual exchange, no exchange of products in the
form of commodities, took place.
David Ricardo, unlike Adam Smith, neatly sets forth the determination of the value of commodities by
labour-time, and demonstrates that this law governs even those bourgeois relations of production which
apparently contradict it most decisively. Ricardo's investigations are concerned exclusively with the
magnitude of value, and regarding this he is at least aware that the operation of the law depends on
definite historical pre-conditions. He says that the determination of value -by labour-time applies to
"such commodities only as can be increased in quantity by the exertion of human industry, and on the
production of which competition operates without restraint". [16]
This in fact means that the full development of the law of value presupposes a society in which
large-scale industrial I production and free competition obtain, in other words modern bourgeois society.
For the rest, the bourgeois form of labour is regarded by Ricardo as the eternal natural form of social
labour. Ricardo's primitive fisherman and primitive hunter are from the outset owners of commodities
who exchange their fish and game in proportion to the labour-time which is materialised in these
exchange-values. On this occasion he slips into the anachronism of allowing the primitive fisherman and
hunter to calculate the value of their implements in accordance with the annuity tables used on the
London Stock Exchange in 1817. Apart from bourgeois society, the only social system with which
Ricardo was acquainted seems to have been the "parallelograms of Mr. Owen". Although encompassed
by this bourgeois horizon, Ricardo analyses bourgeois economy, whose deeper layers differ essentially
from its surface appearance, with such theoretical acumen that Lord Brougham could say of him:
"Mr. Ricardo seemed as if he had dropped from another planet."
Arguing directly with Ricardo, Sismondi not only emphasises the specifically social character of labour
which creates exchange-value, [17] but states also that it is a "characteristic feature of our economic
progress" to reduce value to necessary labour-time, to
"the relation between the needs of the whole society and the quantity- of labour which is sufficient to
satisfy these needs". [18]
Sismondi is no longer preoccupied with Boisguillebert's notion that labour which creates exchange-value
is distorted by money, but just as Boisguillebert denounced money so does Sismondi denounce large
industrial capital. Whereas Ricardo's political economy ruthlessly draws its final conclusion and
therewith ends, Sismondi supplements this ending by expressing doubt in political economy itself.
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Since the determination of exchange-value by labour-time has been formulated and expounded in the
clearest manner by Ricardo, who gave to classical political economy its final shape, it is quite natural that
the arguments raised by economists should be primarily directed against him. If this polemic is stripped
of its mainly trivial [19] form it can be summarised as follows:
One. Labour itself has exchange-value and different types of labour have different exchange-values. If
one makes exchange-value the measure of exchange-value, one is caught up in a vicious circle, for the
exchange-value used as a measure requires in turn a measure. This objection merges into the following
problem: given labour-time as the intrinsic measure of value, how are wages to be determined on this
basis. The theory of wage-labour provides the answer to this.
Two. If the exchange-value of a product equals the labour-time contained in the product, then the
exchange-value of a working day is equal to the product it yields, in other words, wages must be equal to
the product of labour. [20] But in fact the opposite is true. Ergo, this objection amounts to the problem, --
how does production on the basis of exchange-value solely determined by labour-time lead to the result
that the exchange-value of labour is less than the exchange-value of its product? This problem is solved
in our analysis of capital.
Three. In accordance with the changing conditions of demand and supply, the market-price of
commodities falls below or rises above their exchange-value. The exchange-value of commodities is,
consequently, determined not by the labour-time contained in them, but by the relation of demand and
supply. In fact, this strange conclusion only raises the question how on the basis of exchange-value a
market-price differing from this exchange-value comes into being, or rather, how the law of
exchange-value asserts itself only in its antithesis. This problem is solved in the theory of competition.
Four. The last and apparently the decisive objection, unless it is advanced -- as commonly happens -- in
the form of curious examples, is this: if exchange-value is nothing but the labour-time contained in a
commodity, how does it come about that commodities which contain no labour possess exchange-value,
in other words, how does the exchange-value of natural forces arise? The problem is solved in the theory
of rent.
1. A comparative study of Petty's and Boisguillebert's writings and characters -- apart from illuminating
the social divergence between Britain and France at the close of the seventeenth century and the
beginning of the eighteenth -- would explain the origins of those national contrasts that exist between
British and French political economy. The same contrast reappears in Ricardo and Sismondi.
2. Petty treats the division of labour also as a productive force, and he does so on a much grander scale
than Adam Smith. See An Essay Concerning the Multiplicetion of Mankind, Third Edition, 1686, pp.
35-36. In this essay he shows the advantages which division of labour has for production not only with
the example of the manufacture of a watch -- as Adam Smith did later with the example of the
manufacture of a pin -- but considers also a town and a whole country as large- scale industrial
establishments. The Spectator of November 26, 1711,refers to this "illustration of the admirable Sir
William Petty". McCulloch's conjecture that the Spectetor confused Petty with a writer forty years his
junior is therefore wrong. (See McCulloch, The Literature of Political Economy, a Classified Catalogue,
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London, 1845, p.102.) Pctty regards himself as the founder of a new science. He says that his method "is
not yet very usual", "for instead of using only comparative and superlative Words, and intellectual
Arguments", he proposes to speak "in Terms of Number, Weight or Measure; to use only Arguments of
Sense, and to consider only such Causes, as have visible Foundations in Nature; leaving those that
depend upon the mutable Minds, Opinions, Appetites, and Passions of particular Men, to the
Consideration of others" (Political Arithmetick, etc., London, 1699, Preface). His audacious genius
becomes evident for instance in his proposal to transport "all the movables and