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[Norm’s note: ( 15 April 2018) I only just discovered this piece by Patrick Murray, “Avoiding Bad Abstractions:  A Defense of Co-constitutive Value-Form Theory,” and though I’ve only just started to read it, already I note enough consonance between it and what I contend in what follows that I’m reassured that my first attempt at reading and understanding Marx on the issue of the “value-form” wasn’t completely beside the mark. But I haven’t yet finished Patrick’s piece, so who knows what surprises await me. At the moment, however, it appears to me our interpretations are close approximations to one another. ]

[Also related: Marx’s dialectic – Paul Mattick Jr. | libcom.org]

According to Marx, or perhaps not according to Marx, but according to the scholarship that has followed in the train of Marx’s theorizing, ‘labour’ determines the ‘exchange-value’ of commodities in a non-arbitrary manner.  I admit at the outset that I have not finished reading Capital, Volume 1, something that I am in the middle of doing.  I have therefore not yet come across anything in Capital, Vol.I –  or anywhere else, for that matter – that I could point to and say that ‘this’ is an adequate demonstration of how ‘labour’ informs or determines the magnitude of all ‘exchange-values.’  Nevertheless, I feel that I have already read enough of Capital to be able to anticipate how Marx might demonstrate that influence and determination, despite a slew of other factors actually contributing to temporary price fluctuations away from  a theoretically deduced ‘labour-determined’ mean to which ‘exchange-values’ will tend to revert or around which they must oscillate within predetermined limits.

What is ‘exchange-value?’

At first blush it is the ‘price’ that a commodity fetches in the market.  On one side, you have someone willing to pay a ‘price’ for a commodity; on the other, you have someone willing to part with the commodity for a ‘price.’

In our consumer society, the consumer is confronted by prices that are set and demanded by the retailers and wholesalers; the retailers and wholesalers, seeking to make a profit, are willing to part with their commodity for a ‘price’ slightly or greatly above the costs that were involved in getting hold of or producing the commodity in the first place.  Setting aside for the moment the fact that under recessionary conditions, the market tends to favor the interests of the buyer and that therefore sellers do not always manage to dictate the ‘price’of their commodities in their favor, by and large, we can make the observation that the vast majority of consumers are actually held to ransom, that if they wish to purchase a commodity, they must pay the ticket ‘price.’  On the flip side, however, retailers and wholesalers are not entirely free to dictate their price: if they ask too much, consumers may decide to shop elsewhere or it might be that they simply don’t have the money to meet the sought after price.  There is therefore an element of price constraint on both sides of the exchange which neither the consumer nor the seller appears to control. ‘Price’ is not entirely arbitrary, constrained as it is within very definite limits set by, on one side, competition in production and distribution, and on the other, the willingness of the consumer to buy and how much he can really afford to pay.

‘Price,’ then, in the minds of both the consumer and the seller of a thing, corresponds to the money ‘value’ of a commodity as dictated by market forces, or in Marxist lingo, to its ‘exchange-value.’  A commodity is worth so many ‘dollars.’  “Money” is the ‘value’ of commodities – or so it tends to be thought.

But if I ask you what the value of ‘one dollar’ is, you are apt to reply that it is ‘one dollar.’  But to say that ‘one dollar’ is worth ‘one dollar’ is really to say nothing at all about the ‘exchange-value’ of the dollar; that is, this tautology tells you nothing about the ‘value’ of the token of ‘money’ under consideration.

To be able to say anything about the ‘value’ or ‘exchange-value’ of ‘one dollar,’ you must point to the range of commodities that ‘one dollar,’ or any number of ‘dollars,’ will obtain for you.  Likewise, to state the ‘value’ or ‘exchange-value’ of a commodity is to point to the ‘value’ of the commodity in terms that are distinct from the commodity itself: ‘dollars’ on one side of the ‘value-expression’ are not anything like the actual commodity on the other side.  Commodities and dollars need one another to express anything at all about their ‘exchange-value.’

‘Exchange-value’ deemed as ‘value,’ Marx would say, is therefore not an idea that stands on its own.  It is not ‘intrinsic’ to anything, not a property or aspect of anything at all.  Rather, ‘exchange-value’ deemed as ‘value’ is really a ‘relation.’  It is akin to, you might say, the concept of velocity.  For most people, velocity is just ‘speed,’ the ‘speed’ at which something goes along, kind of like ‘one dollar’ being just ‘one dollar,’ or ‘value’ being just ‘value.’ But velocity carefully thought through is really a ‘relation:’ it is a given measure of distance travelled in a certain amount of time, expressed as the ratio of distance over time.  Velocity (V) is equal to Distance (D) divided by Time (T), or otherwise expressed symbolically as “V = D / T.”

Similarly, ‘exchange-value’ is a ‘relation’ that relates ‘things’ in a certain way to ‘express’ their relative ‘value,’ or rather, to ‘express’ their ‘relation’ as ‘value.’  But it isn’t just that a “commodity A equals so many dollars,” though it may appear that way to someone for whom buying and selling commodities in dollar terms is quite customary and habitual.

To understand this relation, what Marx terms the “value-relation,” a bit of schematized history, borrowed from Marx, is in order:

Originally, so goes the tale of the pre-history of how the world of commodities and money came into existence, people did not have ‘money’ as an intermediary for trading goods though they did have goods that they traded.  The trades were direct swaps of objects understood mostly in terms of their ‘use-values’ for those who needed or coveted them, on one side giving up a superfluous object for which one did not have a need as pressing as for the object for which one traded, and conversely.  In time, this type of exchange became increasingly common and widespread, and people, not being completely without a sense of their own interest, had an eye to the ‘fairness’ of the swaps.  Utility was paramount, but the ‘cost’ in resources and effort in the production of the objects being traded did not go without consideration.  Traders established by custom ‘equivalencies’ of ‘value’ between objects of utility frequently traded, so that in time everyone involved in exchange ‘knew’ that a given quantity of a given object was a fair trade for another kind of object in a given quantity.

This particular ‘relation’ of barter we can express to ourselves in the following terms: so much of object ‘A’ is worth or equal to so much of object ‘B.’ Or otherwise expressed, “ x A = y B .”  This simplified schematization of the matter at hand, Marx calls the “simple form of the ‘value-relation’ of exchange.”

Of course, in the days of barter, though the range of objects being exchanged was of necessity limited, there was nevertheless more than just a few items, and the list did increase in proportion as the practice became increasingly widespread and common. That significantly increased volume in trade eventually entailed a historically specific state of affairs that Marx schematically refers to as the “expanded form of the ‘value-relation’ of exchange,” and it looks like the “simple form,” but the “simple form” expanded into a series:  x A = y B or v C= u D or q E = r F, and so on for the entire range of objects that were being customarily traded.

People, not being more bereft of intelligence then as now, began to wonder why it was that objects of long established traditions of barter traded with one another in the proportions that they did.  Aristotle, for example, put the problem to himself in this way: ‘what is the essence of the commensurability of objects of exchange that determines their relative proportions in exchange?’  Why so many chairs for so many tables, and so on?  Aristotle did not manage to solve that riddle to his satisfaction and put it all down to custom.  In other words, he could not but see the definite proportions between the objects of exchange as being other than ‘arbitrary’ and thus as a matter of tradition, which it may well have been to a large extent “in the beginning” and in his time.

As time wears on, however, and barter increasingly becomes systematic to the point where a significant proportion of what people or a village or a tribe produce is increasingly being set aside specifically for exchange, the thought becomes increasingly common that ‘labour’ – which produces the objects of exchange, and to put it in Aristotelean terms – is the solution to the riddle of what might be ‘the essence of commensurability’ between objects of trade.  But this idea doesn’t really take hold, in Marx’s view, until the practice of exchange – schematized first, as the “simple form of the ‘value-relation,’ then as the “expanded form of the ‘value-relation’ – transmutes under the pressures of history into what he terms the “equivalent form of the ‘value-relation of exchange.”

Increasingly, traders come to regard ‘labour’ as the ‘value’ that is the ‘equivalence’ in objects being traded.  But as Marx puts it, quoting Goethe’s Faust, “in the beginning was the deed.” (Capital, V. I, Vintage, August 1977, p.180.)  In other words, the thought emerges more out of current, established practice, than as an insight driving that practice, though as it becomes an ex post facto element of common sense, it does help to drive or influence the technical aspects of the mechanics of trade as such into a more definite direction.

But not to get too far ahead of Marx, the situation that arises on the heels of the era of the “expanded form of the ‘value-relation,” begins to look like this: x quantity of commodity A trades for y quantity of commodity B; but x quantity of commodity A also trades for u quantity of commodity C; and x quantity of commodity A also trades for z quantity of commodity D – and so on, for the entire set of all commodities excluding commodity A, but in relation to which all other commodities can be said to be worth so much in terms of commodity A.

Thus it is that time and again in history, where ‘one’ particular commodity circulated widely, it could be used by someone as a sort of stopgap or intermediary for the purpose of unloading an object he could not trade for something he really wanted, and thereby to acquire another object he knew he could trade for what he definitely wanted or needed.  Cattle, for example, once served that purpose, as an intermediary between trades that in a two-step if indirect fashion helped one to finally obtain what might otherwise have been unobtainable.  And we recognize this ‘form’ of exchange for what it is: a trade involving ‘money.’  Consequently, Marx says, ‘money’ derives from the long ago germ of a practice in which the participants understood rather well what he himself calls the ‘equivalent form of the ‘value-relation’ of exchange.’

That ‘relation,’ which Marx also calls the ‘money form,’ can be expressed as follows: where commodity A is excluded for practical purposes from the set of all commodities different from it so as to function as an intermediary for exchanging objects, commodity A is to all intents and purposes what we, today, can understand and recognize as being ‘money.’  And back in the day, schematically speaking, the situation, that is, the form of the historically specific ‘value-relation’ at hand, looked like this: x A  (the ‘money’ equivalent or what Marx specifically designates as the “general equivalent”) is equal to and can substitute for any element in the set of ‘all’ other commodities expressed in definite proportions, that ‘set’ itself being symbolically expressed as {y B =  u C =  z D = q E =  etc.}.  Otherwise illustrated: x=  {y B =  u C =  z D = q E =  etc.}, where A’  is excluded from the {…set of all other commodities…}.

Before proceeding with our exposition, Marx would have us make a crucial observations about this “equivalent form of the ‘value-relation’:” where commodity ‘A’ is the designated “equivalent” in terms of which all other commodities find the expression of the magnitude of their ‘exchange-value,’ any other particular commodity could be substituted, since in definite proportions they are all in value-relational terms equal to one another.  You could have, for example: y B =  { x=  u C =  z D = q E =  etc.}, where ‘B’ is excluded from the {…set of all other commodities…} – and so on for every other discrete item in the set of all commodities.

From this schematically represented historical state of affairs, it is only one very short leap to what Marx calls “the universal equivalent form of the ‘value-relation’ of exchange,” or to the era of the rule of what we would consider to be ‘real money.’

As trade deepens in historical terms, as the production and exchange of commodities develops and broadens in extent, and on the basis of practices already established, driven by the desire to find ever more efficient means for conducting commerce on an ever expanding scale, people in control of the activities of trade eventually settle upon one type of commodity over all others, on account of its singular practicality and suitability to serve the function of ‘money,’ the commodity that comes to occupy in a ‘permanent’ way the place of the ‘general equivalent’ in the ‘form of the ‘value-relation’ of exchange:’ precious metal (gold coinage or silver specie, or their paper substitutes or tokens).  History has at this point, properly speaking, arrived in an epoch ruled by ‘money,’ where commodities find their value-expression in units of currency.  It is the time, Marx might have said, of “the universal equivalent form of the ‘value-relation’ of exchange.”

Of course, along with the evolution of trade or commerce from simple barter to the large scale mercantilist operations of the middle of the last millenium, a parallel, concomitant and interdependent process of evolution occurred in the manner of producing goods destined solely for market exchange wherein ‘profit’ was being realized.  We will not dwell too long on how that long and cruel period of history resulted in land enclosures, the seizing of vast tracts of formerly communally owned property, and the outright dispossession of the overwhelming majority of the people who as peasants formerly had been able to fend for themselves more or less unmolested by their barons and lords, in a way that had been stable and predictable and lifelong.  Rather, the change that did occur, however it might have, and that is pertinent to the purpose of this exposition, is the emergence of a way of both thinking about and treating what we ordinarily understand as ‘labour’ and to which we have already alluded.

As mentioned above, by the time that ‘money specie’ becomes socially entrenched, and certainly by the time it is the legislated ‘medium of exchange,’ ‘labour’ is already deemed to be the thing that confers ‘value’ to commodities and money.  Aristotle’s failure to solve the mystery of the commensurability between objects of trade is by now presumed to be resolved: ‘labour’ is the answer to the riddle of the commensurability of commodities to each other.  But what is not understood and is being wrestled with well into the era of entrenched capitalist domination, is the mystery of ‘how’ labour manages to transmit what is thought to be its own value to the realm of commodities, of how its own ‘value substance,’ so to speak, is transmuted into becoming the ‘value substance’ of commodities and money.

Here, we may note that the economists who wrote in the tradition of Ricardo and Smith, and whose theories Marx is critiquing, are of a mindset that tends to lapse into ‘metaphysical’ modes of explanation (i.e. it searches for ‘laws of nature’ that are eternal and independent of what men may believe about ‘reality’); it is a mindset, therefore, that is also susceptible to reification, or to what Alfred Whitehead has called the “The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness:” it takes ‘notions’ that it itself has concocted on the basis of observation and regards them as the ideational counterparts to ‘real’ or ‘self-subsistent’ relations eternally embedded in the texture of the bedrock of nature. And one of the things which it reifies is the idea of ‘value’ as expressed in commodity exchanges mediated by ‘money.’  In other words, to this mindset, ‘value’ is something that is ‘intrinsic’ to ‘things.’   It forgets that value is a ‘relation’ in the sense that Marx clearly takes it to be and as we have already shown.  The consequence of this ‘forgetting’ taken together in conjunction with the metaphysical turn of mind is that ‘value’ is taken to be an essence or substance that can somehow or other migrate or be transmitted from one thing to another, as is, for example, instantiated in the idea that the standalone ‘value’ of a commodity is really the ‘inherent’ value of labour having been ‘transferred’ to the commodity.

And so we get this language about the ‘value’ of commodities being the hidden but ‘true value’ inherent to a commodity, and it is presumed by the dominant ideology of the 18th Century that it is the truth of the matter because, after all, the commodity was produced or created by nothing other than the labour of a man or men.

So this language finds its way into Marx’s exposition, and at times this language comes across as if Marx himself was under its spell, but clearly this is not the case.

For on the one hand, Marx does not theorize from a ‘metaphysical’ standpoint: he theorizes from a ‘historical’ standpoint, taking what appear to be the ‘laws’ governing the patterns of ‘social relations’ in capitalist society to be ‘real’ but most emphatically as transitory phenomena specific only to the historical ‘era’ of capitalism, an ‘era’ that happens to be in full bloom, but that, like all other historical ‘epochs,’ will surely in the fullness of time come to pass, in the same manner, that is, that all other historical ‘eras’ of civilization that have preceded it eventually subsided.  On the other hand, Marx does not hypostasize ‘value’ as being intrinsic to anything, as we have already seen, but clearly understands that it is a relational ‘form’ that ‘expresses’ proportionate ratios between commodities in exchange, regardless of the manner in which those proportions might be established in practice.

To return to the issue of demonstrating how it is that ‘labour’ underpins the ‘value’ of commodities in exchange, of how it comes to be that ‘labour’ actually ‘determines’ the ‘magnitude’ of exchange values, for Marx, I believe, the answer lies in unveiling the fact that ‘labour’ in capitalist society is an objectified, abstract commodity like any other.

Marx noticed that the bourgeois economists of his day, ideologically representative of their class, held to a twofold if not quite distinctly articulated concept of ‘labour.’  There was the idea of ‘labour’ as being a thing that was concrete and particular: the actual work that a person did, for example, be it shoveling coal into a boxcar or weaving linen into cloth, and so on.  Looked at from this angle, a given type of ‘labour’ which was specific to a concrete outcome in terms of the goods or services it created was in this ‘mode of appearance’ clearly different from and irreducible to all other different types of labour.  ‘Labour’ looked at in this light, Marx called ‘concrete labour.’  And we may note that this ‘concrete incommensurability’ of any given type of labour to any other finds its analogue in the concrete ‘use-value’ of any commodity produced by labour and that in this ‘form’ is analogously incommensurate to any other commodity different from it also in terms of its ‘use-value.’

On the other hand, the bourgeois economists also spoke and wrote about ‘labour’ as though there was something about all the irreducible and incommensurate types of ‘concrete labour’ that was common to all of them, and that therefore made all the different types of ‘labour’ really of one and the same kind.  ‘Labour’ was an abstract category, Marx observed, to which all the actual concrete manifestations of ‘labour’ were reduced and rendered equivalent in both qualitative and quantitative terms: one man’s labour, regardless of what he did, was deemed to be no different from what any other man did, at least in so far as both types of ‘labour’ were being performed for an equivalent wage, a wage identical in qualitative and quantitative terms. And both types of labour received the same wage because, quite obviously, they were of the same ‘value’ in their magnitude. Thus it was that two concretely different individuals performing two concretely different kinds of jobs could be paid, and were indeed paid, the same wage for the same amount of time spent in toil, for the work they performed, however different the one job may have been from the other, the work having been deemed to be of the same substantial kind and thus deserving of the same remuneration.  And we can note, here, that this ‘abstract labour’ finds its analogue in the commodity which it produces,  but that commodity looked at from the point of view of its ‘exchange-value,’ in contrast to its ‘use-value,’ which then makes it appear as an ‘abstract thing’ considered to be the ‘equivalent’ of every other commodity produced by human labour, but in so far as these other commodities are also looked at only from the standpoint of the magnitudes of their ‘exchange-values,’ that is, from the standpoint of the ‘money’ each of them can fetch in the market.

It is true, of course, that the bourgeois economists and Marx made a distinction between ‘skilled’ and ‘unskilled’ labour, something that we ourselves distinguish without difficulty. So it would seem as though the bourgeois economists did not regard all types of labour as being of one and the same ‘abstract’ kind.  However, even here Marx notes that since ‘skilled labour’ is remunerated in the same spirit and with the same kind of money as ‘unskilled labour,’ the former’s pay being but a product or ratio of the latter’s pay, these two categories of ‘labour’ are really nothing but an expression of one and the same abstract ‘essence,’ that is, of labour conceived in the abstract – because otherwise, the ‘equivalence’ could not be made.

The reason, then, that, according to my reading of Marx, bourgeois economists thought about ‘labour’ in a twofold sense – as being, on the one hand, ‘concrete’ and incommensurate, and on the other hand, ‘abstract’ and commensurate – is precisely the same reason for thinking about commodities in a twofold sense, as being, on the one hand, ‘concrete’ and incommensurate ‘use-values,’ and on the other hand, ‘abstract’ and commensurate ‘exchange-values:’  it is because, on the one hand, both ‘labour’ and the ‘commodities’ labour produces are ‘useful’ to very specific and incommensurable ends; and on the other hand, it is because both ‘labour’ and the ‘commodities’ labour produces are both ‘exchange-values,’ the one in the ‘labour market,’ the other in the ‘commodity market.’  ‘Labour,’ to put it simply if bluntly, in a capitalist society, is but one ‘commodity’ amongst so many others, a thing that is bought and sold and exchanged.

But if ‘labour’ is but one ‘commodity’ amongst so many others, it follows from Marx’s analysis of the commodity ‘value-relation,’ wherein any commodity in the set of all commodities is as good as any other for the purpose of serving as the ‘general equivalent,’ that ‘labour’ itself can serve this purpose.  Otherwise said, as a term in the “general form of the ‘value-relation’ of exchange,’ ‘labour’ can indeed and formally speaking be the ‘measure’ of the magnitude in terms of which all other commodities find the ‘expression’ of their relative ‘exchange values.’

The attentive reader will immediately notice, however, that just because Marx’s analysis of the ‘value-relation’ explains how ‘labour’ can be, formally speaking, the measure of the ‘exchange-value’ of all other commodities, this does not solve the problem that had occupied economic thinking from the time of Aristotle onward, namely, of how the magnitude or proportionality of one commodity to another could be anything but arbitrary.  The problem of the non-arbitrary commensurability of ‘exchange-values’ remains as impenetrable a mystery as it was for Aristotle ((**) Capital, Volume I, p. 60).

It is at this point in my exposition that I leave the ground of my reading of Marx to attempt to deduce from what I think I already know about Marx’s analysis of the ‘commodity,’ how it is that ‘labour’ actually does determine in a non-arbitrary way the magnitude of the ‘exchange-value’ of all commodities.

‘Labour’ under the regime of capitalism is bought and sold like any other commodity.  What it receives is ‘money’ or a ‘wage.’  The ‘wage’ paid to labour is a function of ‘labour-time:’ so much money for so much time labouring.  From this, it follows that the ‘magnitude’ of the ‘value’ of labour is its ‘labour-time.’  And this magnitude is converted into an ‘expression’ of ‘value’ in money terms, that is, the wage which ‘expresses’ the ‘value’ of ‘labour-time.’  But here we notice that we are thrown back once again upon the rusty rack of the mystery inherent to the ‘value-relation,’ because the terms ‘labour-time’ and ‘wage’ are nothing but the terms of the commodity ‘value-relation’ that holds sway in capitalist society.  That is, a ‘wage’ for so much ‘labour-time’ may be little more than a matter of custom and therefore purely arbitrary.  For there is nothing about the ‘value-relation’ itself that can fix in a determinate and necessary way the proportions of the terms it relates.

However, there is an exit out of the logically untenable circularity of the ‘value-relation:’ no wage paid to labour can fall below what labour needs in order to subsist.  If wage earners cannot with their wages get enough to keep body and soul together, they perish.  And if they perish, the economy as a whole becomes impaired beyond repair.  Now, therefore, we have at least one ‘value-relation,’ the terms of which rest upon a floor below which the ‘value expression,’ the nominal expression of the wage in ‘money terms,’ cannot go.  The circle of arbitrariness of the ‘value-relation’ is here finally broken upon the rock of necessity.

But the original claim of this exposition was that ‘labour’ determines the ‘exchange-value’ of commodities in a non-arbitrary manner, and not that the requirement of subsistence sets a non-arbitrary floor to the wage that ‘labour’ receives.  The original contention, then, remains to be demonstrated, and here it is: the wage received by ‘labour,’ since the workers who toil are in their disproportionate numbers also at one and the same time the primary and overwhelmingly determinant consumer base in capitalist society, represents all of the purchasing power in capitalist society available to purchase the goods or commodities of production.  All that gets sold on the market and for the amount of money for which it gets sold, rests upon the totality of wages paid out to the working class.  If the capitalists are to sell their commodities, they must adjust their prices to the effective demand for their commodities, an effective demand constrained, by necessity, by the collective purchasing power of the working class, a thing that is itself constrained by the totality of the wages earned, which is itself determined, at bottom and in a non-arbitrary fashion, by the cost of subsistence — quod erat demonstrandum.

We might also note, here, an observation that naturally emerges from the foregoing conclusion, an observation that is really a demonstration of why capitalism as a mode of economic sustenance is destined for ruin, or at the very least, why it is impossible for it not to endemically lurch from one economic crisis to another: capitalism is production for profit; wages are a cost of production but in their totality also represent the total sum of the money available for the purchase of goods and services; but if all of the goods and services put up for sale by capitalist enterprises can only be sold at a profit if there is enough purchasing power to cover both their costs of production and their sacred profit margin, then, because purchasing hinges on the sum of all wages, a sum that as a cost of production must fall short of covering costs of production, let alone a profit over and above costs, some businesses somewhere will of necessity fail to sell their goods and services, not make a profit, and eventually go out of business.  Corresponding to these closures, unemployment must rise, and the available overall purchasing power driving the economy will shrink, further compounding the original and inherent discrepancy between overall production and the collective wherewithal to purchase that output.  Vicious cycles of economic contraction and stagnation are therefore and of necessity endemic to the capitalistic mode of production and distribution.


At around the age of seventeen, one of my sons (I have twins) more or less put it this way, as I’m paraphrasing: if the colossal, unconscious, and dumb machine that is Capitalism could speak, this is the kind of deal it wants to make with you and which it does make with you: “Here is a sum of money that I give to you for having produced this chair in my shop and that I now own, say, $50.00; now with that $50.00 I just gave you, I want you to pay me $51.50 for my chair, which as it happens is actually a bit less than the current market price for that chair the last time I checked.  I know, it makes no sense, but I’m in business to make a profit.  And if you don’t pay me my $51.50 for my chair, well I’m going to have to lay you off.”  He got it then.  I wonder if he still gets it at twenty (now almost twenty one).  I’ll have to ask.


Capital, Volume I, p. 60:

There was however an important fact which prevented Aristotle from seeing that to attribute value to commodities is merely a mode of expressing all labour as equal human labour, and consequently as labour of equal quality. Greek society was founded upon slavery, and had therefore, for its natural basis, the inequality of men and their labour powers. The secret of the expression of value, namely, that all kinds of labour are equal and equivalent, because and so far as they are human labour in general, cannot be deciphered, until the notion of human equality has already acquired the fixity of a popular prejudice. This, however, is possible only in a society in which the great mass of the products of labour takes the form of commodities, in which consequently, the dominant relation between man and man is that of owner of commodities. The brilliancy of Aristotle’s genius is shown by this alone, that he discovered, in the expression of the value of commodities, a relation of equality. The peculiar conditions of society in which he lived, alone prevented him from discovering what ‘in truth’ was at the bottom of this equality. (Capital, Volume I, p. 60)


This essay is as yet unfinished.  I must eventually reference or footnote those sections where I attribute ideas or propositions to Marx.  But if a person were to read Chapter One of Capital, she would have no problem at all recognizing the source of most of what I state here.