Quick Note #2

Notes on Greenspan’s interpretation of Marx

Evan Jack
2 min readDec 21, 2021

Commodities are objects that are both qualitative and quantitative. Quality is expressed through use value and quantity through exchange value.

Exchange relations take the form of x = y which therefore requires a necessary third term in order to compare these two things in the form of an exchange ratio. This third term must be necessary to all commodities. Marx identifies a single common social substance: (human) labor.

Now, labor here isn’t specifically the laborer, but rather labor as something abstract yet immanently real to the production process.

In this sense, Marx affirms a labor theory of value. Quantifying labor, the element of time is interested into the equation. Labor time is the key for Marx.

Greenspan identifies that “[t]ime, then, is the means through which abstract labour is quantified. It is the form or standard which serves to calculate exchange value, and is thus the means through which objects are transformed into commodities.”

Surplus value is really about surplus time.

Ultimately, then, the synthesis that Marx supposes is one of time and money. But specifically clock time. What if we measured labor time by years!

Supporting quotes from Marx (quotes indicated in double quotations, everything else is taken from Greenspan):

Commodities or “external objects” can be “looked at from two points of view of quality and quantity.”

As quantities, however, commodities cease to be determined by the uses they fulfill and become instead “the material bearers of exchange value.”

According to Marx, the exchange relation necessarily takes the form of the equation x = y (i.e., 100 loaves of bread is equal to 1 coat). What, this equation signifies, he writes, “is that a common element of identical magnitude exists in two different things… Both are therefore equal to a third thing, which is in itself neither the one nor the other. Each of them, in so far as it is exchange value, must therefore be reducible to some third thing.”

This “standard measure”, writes Marx, cannot “be a geometrical, physical, chemical or other natural property of commodities” since these concrete qualitative characteristics belong to the commodity as use value and, as we have seen, commercial exchange occurs through a process of abstraction in which commodities are extracted from their particular use or function.

It is important to note that labour is here understood not according to its concrete manifestation (the labourer as farmer, baker, smith etc.) but is seen instead as “human labor in the abstract.”

“The quantity of labour,” writes Marx, “is measured by its duration,” or, even more emphatically, “the measure of labour is time.”

To quote Marx: “As values, all commodities are defined only as definite masses of congealed labour time.”

To quote Marx, “the fact that half of a day’s labour is necessary to keep the labourer alive during 24 hours, does not in any way prevent him from working a whole day.”



Evan Jack

How sweet terror is, not a single line, or a ray of morning sunlight fails to contain the sweetness of anguish. - Georges Bataille