About the “Dual Character of Labour”: A Reformulation of Marx’s Commodity Theory

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In a letter to Engels (24 August 1867), Marx says that the best of his book (Capital) are (i) the “dual character of the labour embodied in commodities” and (ii) the surplus value theory. Marx’s vindication of first point is the subject of the present article. We contend that the “dual character of the labour embodied in commodities” is a fundamental and specific property of a commodity society. Marx is right when he calls our attention to it.

The “dual character of labour” is the logical consequence of Marx’s definition of a commodity division of labour. It is a way of pointing to the most fundamental characteristic of commodity production, namely the dual evaluation – private and social – of commodity. Marx may be credited for the special emphasis on that specificity. His definition of commodity production makes it very specific, opposed as it is to other types of social division of labour, viz. that of the “primitive Indian community”: “Only the products of mutually independent acts of labour, performed in isolation, can confront each other as commodities” (Capital, p. 132).

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