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K. Marx_Contribution_to_the_Critique_of_Political_Economy

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of labour-time can it become the equivalent of other commodities, but as a result of
changes in the productivity of concrete labour, the same amount of labour-time is embodied in unequal
volumes of the same type of use-values. The valuation of all commodities in terms of gold -- like the
expression of the exchange-value of any commodity in terms of the use-value of another commodity --
merely presupposes that at a given moment gold represents a definite quantity of labour-time. The law of
exchange-value set forth earlier applies to changes occurring in the value of gold. If the exchange-value
of commodities remains unchanged, then a general rise of their prices in terms of gold can only take
place when the exchange-value of gold falls. If the exchange-value of gold remains unchanged, then a
general rise of prices in terms of gold is only possible if the exchange-values of all commodities rise. The
reverse takes place in the case of a general decline in the prices of commodities. If the value of an ounce
of gold falls or rises in consequence of a change in the labour-time required for its production, then it will
fall or rise equally in relation to all other commodities and will thus for all of them continue to represent
a definite volume of labour-time. The same exchange-values will now be estimated in quantities of gold
which are larger or smaller than before, but they will be estimated in accordance with their values and
will therefore maintain the same value relative to one another. The ratio 2:4:8 remains the same whether
it becomes 1:2:4 or 4:8:16. The fact that, because of the changing value of gold, exchange-values are
represented by varying quantities of gold does not prevent gold from functioning as the measure of value,
any more than the fact that the value of silver is one-fifteenth of that of gold prevents silver from taking
over this function. Labour-time is the measure of both gold and commodities, and gold becomes the
measure of value only because all commodities are measured in terms of gold; it is consequently merely
an illusion created by the circulation process to suppose that money makes commodities commensurable.
[1] On the contrary, it is only the commensurability of commodities as materialised labour-time which
converts gold into money.
The concrete form in which commodities enter the process of exchange is as use-values. The
commodities will only become universal equivalents as a result of their alienation. The establishment of
their price is merely their nominal conversion into the universal equivalent, an equation with gold which
still has to be put into practice. But because prices convert commodities only nominally into gold or only
into imaginary gold -- i.e., the existence of commodities as money is indeed not yet separated from their
real existence -- gold has been merely transformed into imaginary money, only into the measure of value,
and definite quantities of gold serve in fact simply as names for definite quantities of labour-time. The
distinct form in which gold crystallises into money depends in each case on the way in which the
exchange-values of commodities are represented with regard to one another.
Commodities now confront one another in a dual form, really as use-values and nominally as
exchange-values. They represent now for one another the dual form of labour contained in them, since
the particular concrete labour actually exists as their use-value, while universal abstract labour-time
assumes an imaginary existence in their price, in which they are all alike embodiments of the same
substance of value, differing only quantitatively.
The difference between exchange-value and price is, on the one hand, merely nominal; as Adam Smith
says, labour is the real price of commodities and money their nominal price. Instead of saying that one
quarter of wheat is worth thirty days' labour, one now says it is worth one ounce of gold, when one ounce
of gold is produced in thirty working days. The difference is on the other hand so far from being simply a
nominal difference that all the storms which threaten the commodity in the actual process of circulation
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centre upon it. A quarter of wheat contains thirty days' labour, and it therefore does not have to be
expressed in terms of labour-time. But gold is a commodity distinct *from wheat, and only circulation
can show whether the quarter of wheat is actually turned into an ounce of gold as has been anticipated in
its price. This depends on whether or not the wheat proves to be a use-value, whether or not the quantity
of labour-time contained in it proves to be the quantity of labour-time necessarily required by society for
the production of a quarter of wheat. The commodity as such is an exchange-value, the commodity has a
price. This difference between exchange-value and price is a reflection of the fact that the particular
individual labour contained in the commodity can only through alienation be represented as its opposite,
impersonal, abstract, general -- and only in this form social -- labour, i.e., money. Whether it can be thus
represented or not seems a matter of chance. Although, therefore, the price gives exchange-value a form
of existence which is only nominally distinct from the commodity, and the two aspects of the labour
contained in the commodity appear as yet only as different modes of expression; while, on the other
hand, gold, the embodiment of universal labour-time, accordingly confronts concrete commodities
merely as an imaginary measure of value; yet the existence of price as an expression of exchange-value,
or of gold as a measure of value, entails the necessity for alienation of commodities in exchange for
glittering gold and thus the possibility of their non-alienation. In short, there is here contained in latent
form the whole contradiction which arises because the product is a commodity, or because the particular
labour of an isolated individual can become socially effective only if it is expressed as its direct opposite,
i.e., "abstract universal labour. The utopians who wish to retain commodities but not money, production
based on private exchange without the essential conditions for this type of production, are therefore quite
consistent when they seek to "abolish" money not only in its palpable state but even in the nebulous,
chimerical state that it assumes as the measure of value. For beneath the invisible measure of value lurks
hard money.
Given the process by which gold has been turned into the measure of value and exchange-value into
price, all commodities when expressed in their prices are merely imagined quantities of gold of various
magnitudes. Since they are thus various quantities of the same thing, namely gold, they are similar,
comparable and commensurable, and thus arises the technical necessity of relating them to a definite
quantity of gold as a unit of measure. This unit of measure then develops into a scale of measure by
being divided into aliquot parts which are in turn subdivided into aliquot parts. [2] The quantities of gold
themselves, however, are measured by weight. The standard weights generally used for metals
accordingly provide ready-made standard measures, which originally also served as standard measures of
price wherever metallic currency was in use. Since commodities are no longer compared as
exchange-values which are measured in terms of labour-time, but as magnitudes of the same
denomination measured in terms of gold, gold, the measure of value, becomes the standard of price. The
comparison of commodity-prices in terms of different quantities of gold thus becomes crystallised in
figures denoting imaginary quantities of gold and representing gold as a standard measure divided into
aliquot parts. Gold as measure of value and as standard of price has quite distinct specific functions, and
the confusion of the one with the other has led to the most