The foundations of speculation

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Speculation is the offspring of the relationship between concrete work and its metamorphosis into abstract work.

The dialectic of the socialization process of private work

Commodity production only becomes the dominant form of social wealth when the social division of labor has already reached a high level of development and complexity. After all, the different products of work can only be confronted as commodities, because they are products of specific work, socially distributed among the different spheres of the economy.

That the social division of labor is a constitutive determination of human activity as such, Marx leaves no room for doubt. Resorting to the historical development of production, he shows that, “[…] in the ancient Indian community, work is socially divided without products becoming commodities. Or, to cite a closer example, in each factory labor is systematically divided, but this division does not imply that the workers exchange their individual products. Only products of private work, separate and mutually independent of each other, confront each other as commodities” (MARX, 2017a, p. 120).

Even though the production of goods is the product of different private works, these are necessarily linked together by the invisible bonds of the social division of labor. A coat producer, for example, depends on a series of other producers, even if he doesn't know them or have direct relations with them. Thus, in order to make his merchandise (coat), he needs to dispose of the labor product of those who produce thread, fabric, buttons, etc.

Even if these different jobs are links in the social division of labor, this is not enough for them to become socially recognized by society. Hence the criticism that Benetti and Cartelier level at Marx: “[…] how can it be conceived that things are as such socially useful, therefore already social, before they have their social form?” (Benetti and Cartelier, apoud FAUSTO, 1987, p. 92.

At first glance, the answer is seemingly simple. In chapter 3 of book I, the author of The capital (MARX, 2017b) shows that, although each individual, singular work (which Marx calls concrete work), is an eternal link of the social division of work, this, however, is not enough for its products to become work for others. Indeed, “[…] even if the work of our linen weaver […]”, says Marx, “[…] is a permanent link in the social division of labor, this is by no means guaranteed [the sale of the ] use-value of your 20 fathoms of flax.” (MARX, 2017a, p. 180).

For the different concrete works to be socially recognized by the market, that is, for their products to be bought by others, it is necessary, first, that these different works are reduced to simple, equal, social work, that is, to become abstract work, which differs only quantitatively from one another. There is only abstract work, therefore, when a qualitative and quantitative reduction is operated at the same time.

But how is the reduction of the different concrete works to directly social work, to abstract work, effected? The answer is simple: through a process of abstraction that converts the different singular works to their form of abstract work, to their universal, directly social form of work.

The way in which Marx presents this process of abstraction in The capital it seems to refer to a purely subjective reduction, as it is in Kant. This philosopher understands that for the production of universal and necessary concepts “[...] it is necessary, therefore, to be able to compare, reflect and abstract, as these three logical operations of understanding are the essential and universal conditions for the production of every concept in general. I see, for example, a pine, a willow and a linden tree. Comparing, first of all, these objects with each other, I observe that they are different from each other with regard to the trunk, the branches, the leaves themselves, and, if I abstract from the size, the shape of the same and so on , I obtain a concept of a tree” (KANT, 1992, p. 112).

A careful reading of this passage reveals two things: a) that experience shows a diversity of trees of different sizes, shapes, etc., b) that only through thought is it possible to abstract away the differences that make each tree a unique type, and, thus, arriving at the concept of this object apprehended by the knowing subject. As it is impossible to verify and compare all the existing trees in the world, experience only teaches “[...] that something is constituted in this or that way, but not that it cannot be differently.” (KANT, 1989, p. 37-38). Therefore, “[…] experience never grants its judgments a true and rigorous universality.” (KANT, 1989, p. 38). As a result, observation offers “[…] only supposed and comparative universality (by induction), so that, in truth, I should rather say: as far as we have been able to verify so far, there are no exceptions to this or that rule. .” (KANT, 1989, p. 38).

Hence, for Kant (1989, p. 38), empirical universality is nothing more than “[...] an arbitrary extension of validity, in which the validity of the majority is transferred to the totality of cases.” But if experience can never grant a truly rigorous universality to its judgments, reason remains as the only source of universal and absolutely necessary propositions. Does this mean then that reason does not depend at all on empirical reality to produce its concepts? The answer found in Kant (1980, p. 93) is direct and objective: “[…] thoughts without content are empty […]”, because without the help of experience, reason would not be able to dispose of objects, to produce their representations about the world of men.

Proof of this is the criticism that Kant (1980, p. 93) directs at the defenders of dogmatic idealism, for whom all knowledge obtained by “[...] the senses and experience is a simple illusion.” Against this conception of knowledge, Kant (1980, p. 93) cries out loud and clear: “[…] the principle that governs and constantly determines my idealism is, on the contrary: 'all knowledge of things, drawn solely from pure understanding or of pure reason, is nothing more than an illusion, only in experience is there truth'.”

This radical rebuke by Kant to dogmatic idealism, accusing it of moving exclusively in the field of thought, as the sole producer of knowledge, recalls Marx's struggle against Bauer and his associates, almost 60 years later. He is known to all as the young Marx (2009), in A Holy Family, destroys the mystifying idealism of these so-called left-wing Hegelians, by forcing them to recognize that their conception of universality ends up leading them to successive and inevitable contradictions. In a joking way, Marx resorts to a banal example, which shows how the general concept of “fruit” is born. This concept is obtained through a purely mental process, which consists of identifying the characteristics common to apples, pears, strawberries, etc. Speculative mystification happens when one takes the opposite path, that is, when one starts from fruit, as a substance, to arrive at pears, apples, almonds, etc., as modes of existence of that substance.

This is where the whole process of mystification of knowledge begins. Indeed, these Young Hegelians, who called themselves Critics of Critics, have no way of arriving at real fruits, apples, pears, almonds, etc., starting from the general representation “the fruit”. The way back from substance to real fruits is only possible if one abandons the general representation of “the fruit”. After all, as Marx (2009, p. 73) says, “[...] everything that is easy in the act of arriving, starting from the real fruits to arrive at the abstract representation “the fruit”, there is something difficult in the act of engendering, starting from from the abstract representation “the fruit”, the real fruits. It even becomes impossible to arrive at the opposite of abstraction when starting from an abstraction, when I do not give up this representation”.

In order not to give up the abstraction “the fruit”, the speculative idealists make use of the most absurd intellectual juggling, but they always end up hostages of their mystical mental mischief. In an extremely mocking way, Marx thus sums up such incidents: “[…] the common man does not believe he is saying anything extraordinary when he says that there are apples and there are pears. But the philosopher, when he expresses the said existence speculatively, says something extraordinary. He performed a miracle, he engendered from the bosom of the unreal intellective being “the fruit”, the real natural beings apple, pear, etc.; that is, he created these fruits from the bosom of your own abstract intellect, which he represents to himself as an absolute subject outside himself – in this concrete case as “the fruit” – and in each existence he expresses he carries out an act of creation” (Marx, 2009. P.74-75) .

Unlike Kant, for whom reason can only know what exists in reality, and exists there for perception, for Critical Critics, as Engels recognizes, “[...] criticism reaches completeness by reaching that height of abstraction in which sometimes considers 'something', sometimes as 'everything', exclusively the creations of his own thought and generalities contrary to all reality”. That is why, for these so-called left-wing Hegelians, “[…] the worker does not create anything, because he only creates “units”, that is, physical, tangible objects, devoid of spirit and criticism, objects that are a true horror to the eyes. of pure criticism. Everything that is real, everything that is alive is uncritical, massive and therefore “nothing”, whereas only the ideal and fantastic creatures of Critical Criticism are “everything” (MARX & Engels, 2009, p. 29) .

Although Marx does not make direct reference to the author of the Critique of Pure Reason, by recognizing the development of the active side of knowledge as a legacy of German idealism, Marx dialogues critically with this tradition, which had in Kant not only one of its most illustrious representatives, but its founder, because, by placing the problem of the thing in itself, he also founds this tradition. Marx's critique of Hegel is, in part, a critique of the critique of "critical philosophy", for this is how Hegel referred to Kant's philosophy and, at least in that sense, he is unavoidable.

As for Bauer and his associates, Marx makes no concessions to them. His devastating criticism of these young philosophers, as Lukács understands, does not simply aim to destroy the empty idealist conceptions of universality, but, above all, “[...] to reestablish this category, formulated in an exact way in its dialectical, fair and scientific application .” (LUKÁCS, 1970, p. 80). And truth! However, this dialectical understanding of universality had to wait a long time yet. It only came when Marx, after a long period of divorce from Hegel, was forced to recognize that the Hegelian dialectic was fundamental to his critique of Political Economy and, by extension, of capitalist reality.

The 1857-1858 manuscripts seal Marx's definitive commitment to the Hegelian dialectic, even though he makes a point of emphasizing that he refuses its mystical side, which consists, according to him, in making thought the demiurge of reality. The dialectical understanding of universality, in the introduction to the manuscripts, stands out when he says that “[...] production in general is an abstraction, but a reasonable abstraction, insofar as it effectively highlights and fixes the common element, saving us of repetition.” (MARX, 2011, p. 41). To this end, he warns that it is necessary to pay attention to the determinations that are “[...] common to the modern and the most ancient times [...] The determinations that are valid for production in general have to be correctly isolated so that, in addition to the unity – arising from the fact that the subject, humanity, and the object, nature, are the same –, the essential difference should not be forgotten.” (MARX, 2011, p. 41). Without specifying, therefore, what is proper to each social form of production, the capitalist relations of production end up being perpetuated. Universality without the contribution of particularity is reduced to a mere abstraction devoid of meaning.

What follows makes all this clearer. For the author of The capital, the great merit of Adam Smith was that of having recognized the category of work as an activity in general, such a category is apprehended by the author of The wealth of nations as an “[…] abstract expression for the simplest and oldest relationship in which human beings – whatever the form of society – appear as producers.” That”, says Marx, “[…] on the one hand, is correct. On the other hand, no (2011, p. 57).”

However, what does it mean to say that Adam Smith is right on the one hand and wrong on the other? He is right in conceiving work as the simplest and oldest relationship between human beings. As creators of use values, of things destined to meet a certain social need, “[…] work is, like this […]”, says Marx (2017a, p. 120), a perpetual “[…] condition of existence of the man, independently of all social forms, eternal natural necessity of mediation of the metabolism between man and nature and, therefore, of human life.” This condition presupposes “[…] an equally diversified set, divided according to genus, species, family and subspecies, of different works.” (MARX, 2017a, p. 119-120). However, that's not all. Productive activity, regardless of the historical form of production, is always an expenditure of human labor power in a physiological sense.

These general, universal determinations (social division of labor, measurement of working time, physiological expenditure of energy) are constitutive of work as an eternal condition of human existence. In this sense, Smith is right when he claims, in his The wealth of nations, that work is the most general, most abstract category of human life. Not without reason, for him, “[…] work was the first price, the original purchase money that was paid for all things. It was not for gold or silver, but for labor, that all the wealth of the world was originally purchased; and the value of that wealth, to those who have it, and desire it.” (SMITH, 1985, p. 87-88).

If Smith is right in conceiving work as the most general category, as a universality that equally governs all historical forms of production, what is his mistake, since, for Marx, on the one hand, he is right; on the other, no? His error is much more a methodological issue than an ideological one. This is what can be deduced from the criticism that Marx directs at him and at Ricardo. In Theories of surplus value, Marx (1985) states that the great merit of Classical Political Economy consists in having reduced, through analysis, the different forms of wealth (wages, profits, income and interest) to their internal source, to work. However, “[…] in this analysis […]”, says Marx “[…] classical economics contradicts itself at certain points, often directly, without intermediate links, tries to undertake this reduction and demonstrate that the different forms have the same font. But this is a necessary consequence of the analytical method with which criticism and understanding must begin. Classical economics is not interested in analyzing how the different forms are born, but in converting them, through analysis, to their unity, since it starts from this form as a given assumption. But analysis is the indispensable requirement to reveal the genesis, to understand the real process of formation of the different phases. Finally, classical economics is flawed and lacking in conceiving basic form of capital – production aimed at appropriating other people’s work – not as a form of History and yes how natural form of social production, and its own analysis paves the way for this conception to be destroyed (Marx, 1985, p. 1538).

This is the reason why Smith was not capable of thinking about the dialectic between work, as a universal activity, and work, in its particular context, that is, in the way in which those general determinations are set and realized. The particular form assumed by work in capitalist society, continues Marx (2011, p. 57-58) in his dialogue with Smith, is “![…] the indifference to a certain type of work, none of which predominates over others. too much. Therefore, the most general abstractions only appear with the richest concrete development, where an aspect appears as common to many, common to all. In that case it ceases to be thought exclusively in a particular form. On the other hand, this abstraction from work in general is not just the mental result of a concrete totality of work. Indifference to specific work corresponds to a form of society in which individuals move easily from one job to another, and in which the specific type of work is contingent and therefore indifferent to them. In this case, work became, not only as a category, but in effectiveness, and a means for the creation of wealth in general and, as a determination, it ceased to be linked to individuals in a particular way”.

It is this indifference with regard to the type of work to be carried out that characterizes the capitalist form in which the different jobs – reduced to simple, equal and social work – are equalized with each other in the market. Like this? When commodity owners “[…] equate their products of different kinds to each other in exchange, as values, they equate their different labors to each other as human labor. They don't know it, but they do.” (MARX, 2017a, p. 149).

In the process of exchanging commodities, different types of work are made equal to each other. But this is only possible because the different jobs are, first of all, reduced to average work, to simple work, which differ only quantitatively. The abstraction of the constitutive differences of specific works does not arise from a simple abstract sum of dead singular traits, present in each different type of work, such as, for example, the expenditure of muscles, brain and nerves. If so, then abstract labor would be nothing more than a purely conceptual form of universality; an abstraction that only sustains itself by annulling the singularities, since this type of generalization requires leaving out the differences, to keep only the identity, that is, what is common in each specific type of work.

Well, to think of abstract work as an abstraction that cancels singularity would be the same as eliminating the basic social relationship of capitalist society: the exchange of goods. Why? Because if these things “[…] were not qualitatively distinct use-values ​​and, therefore, products of qualitatively distinct useful works, these things could in no way be confronted as commodities.” (MARX, 2017a, p. 119). Exchange would therefore be impossible, since “[...] a use value cannot be exchanged for the same use value” (Marx, 2017, p.119).

Now, yes, one can understand, once and for all, why abstract work does not come from a subjective abstraction, because, in this type of abstraction, the moment of singularity is eliminated. Now, if singularity is annulled, the process by which different works are equated with each other is eliminated.

Eliminating the singularity is the same as denying the existence of commodity exchange. Hence why, in For critique of political economy, Marx (1982, p. 33) makes a point of emphasizing that abstract work “[…] appears as an abstraction, but it is an abstraction that is practiced daily in the social process of production. The resolution of all commodities into labor time is no greater or less real abstraction than that of all organic bodies into air.” Not satisfied, Marx (1982, p. 33) highlights this process of resolving all commodities in labor time, that is, the measurement of the labor time contained in them: “[...] the work that is measured in this way, that is, is, through time, appears not as the work of different subjects, but, on the contrary, the different individuals who work appear as mere organs of work. That is, work, as it is presented in exchange values, could be expressed as general human work”.

In this passage, Marx makes it clear that the different individuals who work independently of each other, performing their jobs privately, only perform their jobs as individual members of this abstract labor totality. They are private jobs, but at the same time, they are all jobs immersed in the social totality of the market. Conclusion: singular or concrete work is private work, but work immersed in the totality of social work, abstract work. The private is part of the social.

There is the answer to the question raised earlier that asked how Marx could conceive that things that are already socially useful, therefore, already social, still have to become social things.

About the relationship between concrete work and abstract work

After this long and time-consuming journey, it is worth making a few more considerations about the nature of abstraction, abstract work carried out as Marx understands it. That this is not an abstract generalization, merely subjective, is demonstrably obvious. In effect, to suspend differences to keep only what is common in singularities is to ignore the fact that use values ​​can only be confronted as commodities because they are products of singular works, of different works. Consequently, generalization cannot nullify differences. And it cannot because, in that case, the exchange of commodities would be impossible, since the products of labor can only confront each other as commodities because they are products of different labors.

The abstraction of work in general cannot therefore be a mental abstraction. On the contrary, abstract work is an abstraction that is practiced daily in the production process. Proof of this is the indifference of individuals in relation to the type of work they perform. Such indifference presupposes a form of society in which no type of work predominates over others. Therefore, says Marx (2011, p. 57) that “[…] the most general abstractions only arise with the richest concrete development, where an aspect seems common to many, common to all.” Now, it is in capitalist society that the different jobs have been so simplified that individuals do not find it difficult to carry out any occupation. That is why, says Marx (), the reduction of different jobs to abstract work “[…] exists in the average work, which any average individual in a given society can perform; a definite productive expenditure of muscles, nerves, brain, etc. And work simple, to which any individual can be trained, and which he must perform in one way or another […]. Simple work constitutes by far the greater part of the total work of bourgeois society, as can be seen from any statistics” (Marx, 1982, p. 33).

The reduction of different types of work to simple work, which on average any individual can easily perform, is a creation of capitalist society. Not without reason, Adam Smith was already aware of this phenomenon. Taking pin manufacture as an illustration, he shows that this form of activity “[…] is carried out today, not only does the whole work constitute a specific industry, but it is divided into a series of sectors, of which, in turn, the greater part also probably constitutes a special craft. A workman unwinds the wire, another straightens it, a third cuts it, a fourth makes the ends, a fifth sharpens it at the ends to place the head of the pin; to make a pinhead 3 or 4 different operations are required; assembling the head is a different activity, and shooting the pins another; the packaging of the pins itself is also an independent activity. Thus the important business of making a pin is divided into about 18 distinct operations, which, in some factories, are performed by different persons, while in others the same workman sometimes performs 2 or 3 of them. , p. 1985).

Referring to the manufacture of needles, Marx (2017a, p. 418) shows that this activity “[…] produces articles that pass from interconnected stages of development, a sequence of gradual processes, such as wire, which, in the manufacture of needles sewing, passes through the hands of 72 – and even 92 – specific part-time workers.” The worker is trained to simply execute and, the more automaton he becomes, the more productive he is for the industry. Hence, the more ignorant, the less use he makes of his imagination, the more he produces. That is why “[…] ignorance is the mother of industry as well as superstition. Reflection and imagination are subject to error; but the habit of moving the foot or the hand does not depend on one or the other. For this reason, manufactures prosper most where they most dispense with the spirit, so that the workshop may be considered a machine whose parts are men” (FERGUNSON, 1767, p. 280 apoud MARX, 2017a, p. 435).

Comparing manufacturing with large-scale industry, Marx shows that, in the passage from the first to the second, there is a radical inversion in the relationship between the worker and the work instrument. In manufacturing, as a less developed form of surplus value production, says Marx (2017a, p. 494) that “[...] the worker uses the tool; in the factory, it serves the machine. There, the movement of the working medium departs from him; here, on the contrary, he is the one who has to follow the movement. In manufacturing, workers are members of a living mechanism. In the factory, you have a dead mechanism, independent of them and to which they are incorporated as living appendages”.

This degradation of the worker to a mere living appendage of the machine is inscribed in the very logic of capital. In fact, in the capitalist mode of production, says Marx (2017a, p. 382) that “[...] the means of production immediately become a means for the suction of other people's work. It is no longer the worker who employs the means of production, but the means of production which employ the worker. Instead of being consumed by it as material elements of its productive activity, they are the ones who consume it as the ferment of their own life process, and the life process of capital is nothing more than its movement as a value that values ​​itself.

And it could not be otherwise, since it is the worker who “[…] serves the needs of valuing existing values, instead of objective wealth serving the worker's development needs. Just as in religion man is dominated by the product of his own head, in capitalist production he is dominated by the product of his own hands” (MARX, 2017a, p. 697).

In such a world, individuals only exist as producers of things to be sold. As such, “[…] people exist for each other […]”, says Marx “[…] as representatives of the commodity and, consequently, as the owner of commodities.” Therefore, people, continues Marx, (2017a, p. 160), “[...] are nothing more than personifications of economic relations, and that people face each other as supporters of these relations (Marx, 2017, p. 159).” Therefore, people only make social contact “[…] through the exchange of their work products, the specifically social characteristics of their private work appear only in the context of this exchange. Or, to put it another way, private labor only effectively acts as a link in total social labor through the relations that exchange establishes between the products of labor and, through them, also between the producers” (MARX, 2017a, p. 148).

Now everything clears up once and for all. Different private jobs only assert their effectively social character when they are integrated, through exchange, into the totality of social work. In other words, they become abstract work, which is work in its directly social form. This is what Marx says in a passage in Chapter I, Book I, of The capital, in which he once again shows the reduction of private work to work as an expenditure of human labor power, that is, as abstract human work. Granting him the floor, he argues that “[…] only within their exchange do the products of labor acquire an objectivity of socially equal value, separated from their objectivity of use, which is sensibly distinct.” Thus, “This splitting of the product of labor into a useful thing and a thing of value only takes place in practice when exchange has already gained sufficient scope and importance for the production of useful things destined for exchange and, therefore, the value character of the exchanges. things came to be considered in the very act of their production. From that moment on, the private works of the producers took on, in fact, a double social character. On the one hand, as determined useful works, they have to satisfy a determined social need and, in this way, preserve themselves as links in the total work, in the natural-spontaneous system of the social division of labor. On the other hand, they satisfy the manifold needs of their own producers only insofar as each private and useful labor is exchangeable for every other kind of private and useful labor, that is, insofar as the one is equivalent to the other. the equality toto coelo [fullness] of different jobs can only consist in an abstraction of their real inequality, in the reduction of these jobs to their common character as an expenditure of human labor power, as abstract human labor” (MARX, 2017a, p. 148-149).

Two soul mates daughters of simple circulation

A careful reading of this quotation may lead one to think that abstract work only exists in exchange. After all, admitting that exchange is the moment in which the works spent in production are converted into abstract work, would it be to accept that the products of work only become merchandise through the action of exchange, that is, of commerce? Far from it! In the act of production, the products of labor are already born as commodities. It is not exchange that enables the product of labor to assume the form of a commodity. Marx makes a point of emphasizing this in Chapter 20 of Book III, in which he presents some Historical considerations on commercial capital. There, he shows, from the moment that exchange assumes the strength of a popular prejudice, that it is “[...] the produced commodity that, through its movement, gives rise to commerce [...]”, that is, the generalized exchange of goods (MARX, 2017b, p. 372). The products of labor are therefore born as commodities.

Regarding this, Marx leaves no doubt when he states that “[…] the value character of things came to be considered in the very act of their production.” (MARX, 2017a, p. 148). But production and exchange are spatially and temporally distinct moments of the global process of production and reproduction of social wealth. And it is precisely for this reason that commodity producers become hostages to the moods of the market, even though they are already permanent links in the social division of labor. Exchange is the moment when the value of your commodities will have to jump from the body of the commodity in which it is inserted to the body of gold, that is, of the general equivalent. It is this leap in value from the body of the commodity to the body of the general equivalent (gold) that Marx calls “[…] somersault mortale [mortal leap] of the merchandise. If that leap goes wrong, it is not the commodity that crashes, but its owner.” (MARX, 2017a, p. 180).

Marx takes a little longer to analyze the possible causes that explain the fate of the owner of a commodity when he goes to the market to sell it. Nothing guarantees you that the jump in the value of your commodity into the body of another commodity will succeed or fail. There is no guarantee that his expectations will be confirmed as expected by him, because, says Marx, “[…] the social division of labor makes his work as unilateral as his needs are multilateral.” He is just one among thousands of other competitors who, just like him, dispute among themselves “[...] the universal equivalent form, socially valid, existing in money [...]”, which is found “[...] in someone else's pocket. ” (MARX,). In order to seize money, his commodity needs, first of all, “[...] to be a use value for the owner of money, so that the work expended on it is incorporated in a socially useful form or is confirmed as a link in the social division from work.” (Marx, 2017a, p. 180). But that alone is not a sufficient condition for him to be able to really get hold of the money that is in the pocket of any buyer.

Nor could it, continues Marx, since “[…] the division of labor is a natural-spontaneous organism of production, whose threads have been and continue to be woven behind the backs of commodity producers. Perhaps the commodity is the product of a new way of working, which is intended to satisfy a newly emerging need or intends to engender a new need itself. What until yesterday was one function among many of one and the same commodity producer, today can generate a new particular modality of work, which, separated from this set, autonomous, sends its product to the market as an independent commodity. Circumstances may or may not be ripe for this separation process. Today the product satisfies a social need. Tomorrow it is possible that it will be totally or partially displaced by another type of similar product. Even if the work of our linen weaver is a permanent link in the social division of labor, the use value of his 20 fathoms of flax is by no means guaranteed. If the social demand for flax – and this demand, like other things, has a given measure – is satisfied by competing weavers, our friend’s product will be surplus, superfluous and therefore useless […]” (Marx, 2017a, p. 180-181)

Marx is not yet satisfied. Imagine what could happen to the fabric producer if he (the weaver) had spent only the socially necessary average working time on his product. However, without authorization and behind our weaver's back, the production conditions for flax weaving, which had already been established for a long time, came to a boil. What until yesterday was socially necessary labor time for the production of 1 fathom of flax, today ceases to be so, as the possessor of money readily demonstrates when he shows the weaver the price quotations of his various competitors. Unfortunately, there are many weavers in the world (MARX, 2017a).

Hence, there is no other inference to be made other than the fact that the commodity form, assumed by the product of labor, obliges producers to behave speculatively. And it couldn't be any different, because their luck depends on a series of circumstances over which they have no control. Though the commodity loves money, the course of that love is never smooth; it is marked by surprises. Such are the relations between commodity owners. Such relationships are “[…] as naturally contingent as the quantitative nexus of the social organism of production, which presents its disject member [amputated limbs] in the division of labor system. Our commodity owners thus discover that the same division of labor which makes them independent private producers also makes the social process of production and their relations in that process independent of them, and that the independence of people from one another is consummated in a system of material dependency [factual] and universal”. (MARX, 2017a, p. 181-182).

This is how the logic of the commodity imposes itself on the owners of commodities: with the force of a natural law that obliges them to enter into a fierce competition to attract the money that is in the pockets of buyers. The strength of this logic is felt by them in the same way that the “[…] law of gravity imposes itself when a house collapses on someone’s head.” After all, the value of commodities “[...] is fixed only through their performance as value magnitudes [...]”, says Marx, and then adds that these magnitudes “[…] vary constantly, regardless of the will , the prediction and action of those who carry out the exchange (Marx, 2017a, p. 150).”

In such a world, in which economic agents do not have control over their actions, they can only act speculatively. Such behavior is inscribed in the mortal jump of merchandise, which opens the door for speculation to force commodity owners to become gamblers. This is said by Marx (2011, p. 146-147, emphasis added), for whom “[...] the separation of exchange into buying and selling makes it possible for me to only buy without selling (hoarding of goods), or to only sell without buying (accumulation of money). Makes speculation possible. It makes the exchange a private business; ie, found the estate of merchants. This separation made possible a mass of dummy transactions. Now it becomes evident that what appeared to be an essentially split act is an essentially related act, in reality it is essentially split. At times when buying and selling assert themselves as essentially different acts, the general depreciation of all commodities takes place. At times when it becomes evident that money is only a medium of exchange, the depreciation of money takes place. General decline or rise in prices”.

This state of affairs is a consequence of the fact that with the development of the division of labor comes the need for a universal medium of exchange, a specific medium independent of the production of each producer. According to Marx (2011, p. 146), the more products are particularized, “[…] they diversify and lose autonomy, the more necessary a universal medium of exchange becomes […] In money, the exchange value itself becomes a thing, or the exchange value of the thing acquires an autonomous existence outside the thing.

The more complex the division of labor becomes, the more money develops as a universal medium of exchange; from the status of servant in the purchase and sale of goods, he becomes the lord of the circulation of goods. As Marx (1982, p. 92) would say, “[…] from his servant figure, in which he manifests himself as a simple means of circulation, he becomes […] lord and god in the world of commodities.” With that, the conditions are in place to transform the trade of goods into a business in which speculation reigns, since its producers lose any and all control over the things they produce. They have no choice but to bet that their product will find someone willing to buy it.

Merchandise owners are led to perceive their activities as a real casino. In the very act of production, they assess the risks, analyze and bet their chips, that is, their good money that they hope to receive back with a greater value than the one they spent to produce and resell their goods. If your bets are confirmed, the mortal jump of their respective goods will be successful. Otherwise, they will be the ones who will have to bear the losses.

This is what Marx makes clear in the passage that follows. In it, he shows how a fraction of the class is born, which specializes in earning money through trade. Giving him the floor, he exposes this possibility as follows: “[…] a moment of circulation is that merchandise is exchanged for merchandise through money. But, in the same way, the other moment takes place, in which not only merchandise is exchanged for money and money for merchandise, but in which money is also exchanged for merchandise and merchandise for money; in which, therefore, money is mediated with itself by the commodity and appears, in its course, as a unit enclosed in itself. In this way, money no longer appears as a means, but as an end of circulation (as, for example, in the commercial establishment) (in commerce in general). If circulation is considered not only as an incessant alternation, but in the circuits that it describes in itself, this circuit appears double: commodity-money-commodity; on the other hand, money-commodity-money; ie, if I sell to buy, I can also buy to sell. In the first case, money is just a means to obtain a commodity and the commodity the end; in the second case, the commodity is only a means to obtain money and money the end. This simply results when the moments of circulation are taken together. Therefore, considering simple circulation, it must be indifferent what point I take to establish as a starting point”. (MARX, 2011, p. 147-148).

It is, therefore, within the circulation of commodities that a class fraction is born whose occupation is exclusively buying to sell. The commerce that arose finds in money, as a means of payment, a vehicle to expand its business without limits. Indeed, with the development of trade in goods, credit instruments are born that allow merchants to have the means to create a fictitious demand, insofar as they can buy before they even sell. With the unfolding of money as a means of payment in credit securities, such as the so-called bills of exchange, for example, “[...] the trader does not find any barrier in his own production or he finds only a very elastic barrier. In addition to the MD and DM separation, which derives from the nature of the merchandise, a fictitious demand is therefore created here. Despite its autonomy, the movement of commercial capital is never anything other than the movement of industrial capital within the sphere of circulation. However, thanks to its autonomy, it moves, to a certain extent, independently of the barriers of the reproduction process and, in this way, pushes the latter beyond its own limits. Internal dependency and external autonomy push commercial capital to a point where the internal connection is forcibly re-established through a crisis”. (MARX, 2017b, p. 347).

But this connection between the simple circulation of commodities and commodity trading capital is a subject to be explored in another text. By now, it is hoped that it will have been demonstrated, even at the level of the simple circulation of commodities, that speculation is the soul of capitalism. It is born from the incessant quest of individuals, who act privately and independently of each other, to transform the product of their concrete work into work for others. Simply and directly: speculation is the offspring of the relationship between concrete work and its metamorphosis into abstract work. The simple circulation of commodities is the cradle of speculation. However, she cannot live there forever. It overcomes all the barriers it finds there until it reaches its definitive forms of existence in the credit system, leveraged, firstly, by commercial capital and interest-bearing capital, and then by fictitious capital. Without this last form of credit, which allows capitalists to bet big, says Marx (2017a, p. 703), “[…] the world would still lack railroads if it had to wait until accumulation made it possible for some individual capital to build them. of a railroad.”

*Francisco Teixeira He is a professor at the Regional University of Cariri (URCA). Author, among other books, of Thinking with Marx: A critical-commented reading of Capital (Rehearsal).


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