Form of exchange-value

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In a society that produces value, the form of exchange-value is said to be one in which exchange-value (usually in terms of a money-price) expresses more than its intrinsic use-value.

Distinguishing characteristics

Distinguishing characteristics of the form of exchange value include:

  • The form of exchange-value takes precedence over the form of use-value in a capitalist mode of production, because due to abstraction it comes to act independently of use-value.
  • This, more clearly, takes place because exchange-value is what is most evident to humans phenomenologically. Hence, we say the form of exchange-value is a "phenomenal form".
  • The "sufficient quantity" is the utility of the form of exchange-value which is identifiable by social standards. It becomes known whenever this abstraction occurs. Thus, the excess comes from the "outside" of the use-value itself.
  • In the same way, abstract labour tends to dominate concrete labour and for the same reasons of abstraction. This is one additional underlying framework or "behind the scenes" which may further lead to the previous points.


“Therefore, first: the valid exchange-values of a given commodity express something equal: secondly, exchange-value, generally, is only the mode of expression, the phenomenal form, or something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it. […] the exchange-values of commodities must be capable of being expressed in terms of something common to them all, of which thing they represent a greater or less quantity.

This common ‘something’ cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any other natural property of commodities. Such properties claim our attention only in so far as they affect the utility of those commodities, make them use-values. But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterized by a total abstraction from use-value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient quantity.” [Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1, p.47]

"Hence, we may understand the decisive importance of the transformation of value and price of labour-power into the form of wages, or into the value and price of labour itself. This phenomenal form, which makes the actual relation invisible, and, indeed, shows the direct opposite of that relation, forms the basis of all the juridical notions of both labourer and capitalist, of all the mystifications of the capitalistic mode of production, of all its illusions as to liberty, of all the apologetic shifts of the vulgar economists." [Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1, "Chapter Three: Money, Or the Circulation of Commodities"]

See also