Writing About Academic Labour

This essay calls for a return to the labour theory of Marx, or rather to Marx’s negative critique of labour and its “pivotal” role in comprehending the political economy of higher education. It argues that a critique of capitalism and its apparent complexity must be undertaken through an immanent critique of labour, rather than from the standpoint of labour as has been the case in both Marxist and non-Marxist traditions of labour studies. Through a review of exemplar articles on ‘academic labour’, the essay draws attention to the fundamental importance of employing Marx’s method of abstraction so as to understand the concrete social world of capital. Finally, it proposes that the future of academic labour is to be found in its negation and overcoming rather than in efforts to resist the ‘logic’ of valorisation.

Download the full article from Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labour.

This article has been translated into Polish and published in a special edition of PRAKTYKA TEORETYCZNA 4(18)/2015. This special issue focuses on ‘Labour and Production in Higher Education’ with special attention given to Student as Producer. It includes work by Sarah Amsler, Richard Hall, Krystian Szadkowski and Mike Neary.

Is student learning a form of labour?

My question is: In undertaking a degree, does a student exchange their labour power for anything? i.e. Is student learning/studying a form of labour? These are just some initial notes. Comments welcome.

Quoting from Chapter 6 of Capital: ‘The Sale and Purchase of Labour-Power’. Translation of online version differs from Penguin Classics/Fowkes version below. My commentary in [parentheses].

“We mean by labour-power, or labour-capacity, the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality, of a human being, capabilities which he sets in motion whenever he produces a use-value of any kind.”

“But in order that the owner of money may find labour-power on the market as a commodity [from the standpoint of the buyer], various conditions must first be fulfilled. In and for itself, the exchange of commodities implies no other relations of dependence than those which result from its own nature. On this assumption, labour-power can appear on the market as a commodity only if, and in so far as, its possessor, the individual whose labour-power it is [now, the standpoint of the seller – it appears on the market as a commodity but was already a commodity as defined above: as the capability/capacity to produce use-values], offers it for sale or sells it as a commodity. In order that its possessor may sell it as a commodity [implies that labour power is a commodity if the owner is in a position to sell it – not that they do sell it], he must have it at his disposal, he must be the free proprietor of his own labour-capacity, hence of his person. [As the ‘free proprietor’ of his own labour-capacity, the student can choose to give her labour power away for free – sell it for nothing – and even pay the owner of another commodity to assist in enhancing her labour power through education; this is rational under the given circumstances] He and the owner of money meet in the market, and enter into relations with each other on a footing of equality as owners of commodities [money and labour power are both commodities prior to the act of exchange – they both have a value which is measured in socially necessary labour time], with the sole difference that one is a buyer, the other a seller; both are therefore equal in the eyes of the law [this remains true of the student and the teacher]. For this relation to continue, the proprietor of labour-power must always sell it for a limited period only, for if he were to sell it in a lump, once and for all, he would be selling himself, converting himself from a free man into a slave, from an owner of a commodity into a commodity. [The student is an owner of a commodity, not simply a commodity, so they are ‘free’ to dispose of it as they see fit] He must constantly treat his labour-power as his own property, his own commodity, and he can do this only by placing it at the disposal of the buyer, i.e. handing it over to the buyer for him to consume, for a definite period of time, temporarily. In this way he manages both to alienate his labour­ power and to avoid renouncing his rights of ownership over it. [The student alienates their labour power for a given period during their education and then withdraws it at the end of their education so as to sell it/alienate it on the labour market for a potentially higher price than before their education. We are regularly told that the income of a graduate will be more than the income of a non-graduate over the person’s lifetime and as such, the student will be ‘paid’ for their education].

The second essential condition which allows the owner of money to find labour-power in the market as a commodity is this [again, from the standpoint of the buyer], that the possessor of labour-power [now, standpoint of seller], instead of being able to sell commodities in which his labour has been objectified, must rather be compelled to offer for sale as a commodity [it’s already a commodity before being actually sold – it takes the form of a commodity, regardless of what price/wage it fetches if any] that very labour-power which exists only in his living body [prior to sale, it is objectified as something for sale but not yet alienated; once purchased it is objectified and alienated].

In order that a man may be able to sell commodities other than his labour-power, he must of course possess means of production, such as raw materials, instruments of labour, etc. No boots can be made without leather. He requires also the means of subsistence. Nobody – not even a practitioner of Zukunftsmusik – can live on the products of the future, or on use-values whose production has not yet been completed; just as on the first day of his appearance on the world’s stage, man must still consume every day, before and while he produces. If products are produced as commodities, they must be sold after they have been produced [same with labour power – it must first and always be (re)produced in order to sell], and they can only satisfy the producer’s needs after they have been sold. The time necessary for sale must be counted as well as the time of production. [time studying for the student is (re)productive time as they enhance their labour power]

For the transformation of money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must find the free worker available on the commodity-market [note: not ‘labour market’ since labour-power is simply a commodity, albeit a ‘special’ commodity; the labour market is a commodity market]; and this worker must be free in the double sense that as a free individual he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity [the student is ‘free’ to dispose of their labour power in whatever way it may benefit them], and that, on the other hand, he has no other commodity for sale, i.e. he is rid of them, he is free of all the objects needed for the realization of his labour-power. [the student is ‘free’ of the means to enhance their labour power in the way that they deem necessary. Should the means for self-education and social validation become available to them, they may freely choose not to go to university e.g. self-directed learning]

… In order to become a commodity, the product must cease to be produced as the immediate means of subsistence of the producer himself. [here, referring to the production of food, shelter, etc. Historically, such products of labour were not commodities. Higher education enhances labour power; individuals can subsist without it]

… The appearance of products as commodities requires a level of development of the division of labour within society such that the separation of use-value from exchange-value, a separation which first begins with barter, has already been completed. [what was subsistence labour becomes, in an advanced capitalist society, the labour power commodity due to the division of labour/private property]

… This peculiar commodity, labour-power, must now be examined more closely. Like all other commodities it has a value. How is that value determined?

The value of labour-power is determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction, of this specific article. In so far as it has value, it represents no more than a definite quantity of the average social labour objectified in it. [education adds value, measured by average socially necessary labour time] Labour-power exists only as a capacity of the living individual. Its production consequently presupposes his existence. Given the existence of the individual, the production of labour-power consists in his reproduction of himself or his maintenance. For his maintenance he requires a certain quantity of the means of subsistence. Therefore the labour-time necessary for the production of labour-power is the same as that necessary for the production of those means of subsistence; in other words, the value of labour-power is the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of its owner. [hence exploitation being the production of value by labour-power above – surplus to – the necessary labour of the individual] However, labour-power becomes a reality only by being expressed; it is activated only through labour. But in the course of this activity, i.e. labour, a definite quantity of human muscle, nerve, brain, etc. is expended, and these things have to be replaced. Since more is expended, more must be received. If the owner of labour-power works today, tomorrow he must again be able to repeat the same process in the same conditions as regards health and strength. His means of subsistence must therefore be sufficient to maintain him in his normal state as a working individual. [a student must also meet their means of subsistence, the only way being through the sale of their labour power or from gifts, loans, grants, etc. During their education, some students work, most take loans, some use savings, etc. By and large, their subsistence is either based on the sale of past labour power (savings) or future labour power (loans). Full-time study represents a continuity of the expenditure of labour power, despite a suspension of immediate payment for it]

… In contrast, therefore, with the case of other commodities, the determination of the value of labour-power contains a historical and moral element. [the individual is not entirely ‘free’ – the value of their labour power is determined for them and thus the means by which to live] Nevertheless, in a given country at a given period, the average amount of the means of subsistence necessary for the worker is a known datum.

… In order to modify the general nature of the human organism in such a way that it acquires skill and dexterity in a given branch of industry, and becomes labour-power of a developed and specific kind, a special education or training is needed, and this in turn costs an equivalent in commodities of a greater or lesser amount. The costs of education vary according to the degree of complexity of the labour-power required. These expenses (exceedingly small in the case of ordinary labour-power) form a part of the total value spent in producing it. [higher education (re)produces labour power of a developed and specific kind and this has a cost which must be met with an equivalence of other commodities, usually money, though it could be met by an aggregation of different sources]

The value of labour-power can be resolved into the value of a definite quantity of the means of subsistence. [like any individual, a student’s labour power is worth the value of subsistence. How they achieve an exchange for that value is a different matter] It therefore varies with the value of the means of subsistence, i.e. with the quantity of labour-time required to produce them.

… Some of the means of subsistence, such as food and fuel, are consumed every day, and must therefore be replaced every day. Others, such as clothes and furniture, last for longer periods and need to be replaced only at longer intervals. Articles of one kind must be bought or paid for every day, others every week, others every quarter and so on. But in whatever way the sum total of these outlays may be spread over the year, they must be covered by the average income, taking one day with another. [people can subsist for periods of time without the sale of their labour power e.g. loans, charity, but generally speaking these are interim periods made possible by hoards of money – savings/loans – which represent the value of their past/future labour power]

… The ultimate or minimum limit of the value of labour-power is formed by the value of the commodities which have to be supplied every day to the bearer of labour-power, the man, so that he can renew his life-process. That is to say, the limit is formed by the value of the physically indispensable means of subsistence. [again, the student’s subsidized life – gifts, grants, etc. – lessens the value of labour power required for subsistence to the point that its necessary sale can effectively be suspended or covered through part-time work] If the price of labour-power falls to this minimum, it falls below its value, since under such circumstances it can be maintained and developed only in a crippled state, and the value of every commodity is determined by the labour-time required to provide it in its normal quality.

… When we speak of capacity for labour, we do not abstract from the necessary means of subsistence. On the contrary, their value is expressed in its value. If his capacity for labour remains unsold, this is of no advantage to the worker. He will rather feel it to be a cruel nature-imposed necessity that his capacity for labour has required for its production a definite quantity of the means of subsistence, and will continue to require this for its reproduction. Then, like Sismondi, he will discover that ‘the capacity for labour … is nothing unless it is sold’. [A capacity for labour has to be (re)produced one way or another. If it’s not sold today, it must be sold tomorrow or whenever charity/loans are absent. The non-sale of labour power doesn’t negate its existence as a use-value that has an exchange-value i.e. a commodity]

One consequence of the peculiar nature of labour-power as a commodity is this, that it does not in reality pass straight away into the hands of the buyer on the conclusion of the contract between buyer and seller. Its value, like that of every other commodity, is already determined before it enters into circulation, for a definite quantity of social labour has been spent on the production of the labour-power. But its use-value consists in the subsequent exercise of that power. The alienation of labour-power and its real manifestation i.e. the period of its existence as a use-value, do not coincide in time. But in those cases in which the formal alienation by sale of the use-value of a commodity is not simultaneous with its actual transfer to the buyer, the money of the buyer serves as means of payment.

In every country where the capitalist mode of production prevails, it is the custom not to pay for labour-power until it has been exercised for the period fixed by the contract, for example, at the end of each week. In all cases, therefore, the worker advances the use-value of his labour-power to the capitalist. He lets the buyer consume it before he receives payment of the price. Everywhere the worker allows credit to the capitalist. That this credit is no mere fiction is shown not only by the occasional loss of the wages the worker has already advanced, when a capitalist goes bankrupt, but also by a series of more long-lasting consequences. [in the case of the student who receives a loan it is still credit at work but the other way around. The lender allows credit to the student so as to enhance their labour power based on a contract to repay the loan. The contract is based on the student being a private individual who possesses the labour power commodity and therefore is likely to repay the loan. If the student is unable to pay back the loan on the agreed terms, then the lender suffers the consequences]

… Whether money serves as a means of purchase or a means of payment, this does not alter the nature of the exchange of commodities. [student loans and wages for academic labour are both means of payment rather than purchase] The price of the labour-power is fixed by the contract, although it is not realized till later, like the rent of a house. The labour-power is sold, although it is paid for only at a later period. [reinforces the idea that money does not need to be exchanged directly or simultaneously for the expenditure of labour power as a commodity]

It will therefore be useful, if we want to conceive the relation in its pure form, to presuppose for the moment that the possessor of labour-power, on the occasion of each sale, immediately receives the price stipulated in the contract. [as is often the case, Marx is discussing capitalism in its ideal or ‘pure form’ so as to understand its fundamental workings. On the surface, things are more complex – a ‘noisy sphere’ – and it is the job of theory to abstract and bring clarity to complexity]

We now know the manner of determining the value paid by the owner of money to the owner of this peculiar commodity, labour­power. The use-value which the former gets in exchange manifests itself only in the actual utilization, in the process of the consumption of the labour-power. The money-owner [i.e. capital represented by the State and the University] buys everything necessary for this process, such as raw material, in the market, and pays the full price for it. The process of the consumption of labour­power is at the same time the production process of commodities and of surplus-value [the university is a means of production]. The consumption of labour-power is completed, as in the case of every other commodity, outside the market or the sphere of circulation. Let us therefore, in company with the owner of money and the owner of labour-power, leave this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in full view of everyone, and follow them into the hidden abode of production, on whose threshold there hangs the notice ‘No admittance except on business’. Here we shall see, not only how capital produces, but how capital is itself produced. The secret of profit-making must at last be laid bare. [the next chapter explains the valorization process which I am not concerned with here. I just want to establish the existence or not of the value-form of the commodity of student labour power]

The sphere of circulation or commodity exchange, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. It is the exclusive realm of Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom,because both buyer and seller of a commodity, let us say of labour ­power, are determined only by their own free will. They contract as free persons, who are equal before the law. Their contract is the final result in which their joint will finds a common legal expression. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to his own advantage. The only force bringing them together, and putting them into relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interest of each. Each pays heed to himself only, and no one worries about the others. And precisely for that reason, either in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an omniscient providence, they all work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal, and in the common interest. [this paragraph represents the ‘vulgar’ view of capitalist social relations from the ‘noisy’ perspective of the sphere of exchange, i.e. not Marx’s view.]

When we leave this sphere of simple circulation or the exchange of commodities, which provides the ‘free-trader vulgaris’ with his views, his concepts and the standard by which he judges the society of capital and wage-labour, a certain change takes place, or so it appears, in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He who was previously the money-owner now strides out in front as a capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his worker. The one smirks self-importantly and is intent on business; the other is timid and holds back, like someone who has brought his own hide to market and now has nothing else to expect but – a tanning.”

[when students study at university and learn from/study with academics, they do so through the exchange of their labour: the commodity of labour power]

Illustrating the value-form of the commodity i.e ‘the economic cell-form’

As I noted recently, Marx explicated the ‘value-form’ in four published texts. Although the texts can be demanding of the reader at times, the resulting theory is relatively straightforward. When discussing Marx’s work, some writers try to illustrate the progression of his argument, which I think is a good idea. Here are three illustrations I’ve come across. Let me know of any more.

This illustration of the ‘simple value-form’ is from Milios et al (2002: 25). I really like it.

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This next illustration is quite different because it’s trying to show the unfolding of Marx’s argument (which includes the above ‘simple value-form’) in the first chapter of Capital. It’s from Harvey (2010: 26).

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Harvey’s illustration is very high-level. My preference is for that of Cleaver (2000: 93). Again, it’s an illustration of the unfolding of chapter one of Capital, but provides just the right balance of abstract overview and essential detail so as to remain useful. It offers both the detail of Milios and the overview of Harvey. It’s also copyright free, so unless I come across a better version, I will be using it in my article.

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Bloody genius!

Four versions of the value-form of the commodity i.e ‘the economic cell-form’

This week, I’m reading as much value-form theory as I can in preparation for an article I want to write on the ‘Student as Consumer’. Marx’s theory of the “value-form of the commodity” was developed over four different published texts. I have linked to them below in chronological order. It’s very interesting to read them in succession in terms of how Marx tried to make it easier for the reader. There’s something to be gained from using each text and as such a later version does not necessarily supersede the former. My preference is to usually use the third version (the appendix to the first German edition of Capital) because it is structured in a very pedagogical manner, unlike the first version which is especially dense reading.

Always keep in mind Marx’s own reflections on this body of work, too:

“Every beginning is difficult, holds in all sciences. To understand the first chapter, especially the section that contains the analysis of commodities, will, therefore, present the greatest difficulty. That which concerns more especially the analysis of the substance of value and the magnitude of value, I have, as much as it was possible, popularised. The value-form, whose fully developed shape is the money-form, is very elementary and simple. Nevertheless, the human mind has for more than 2,000 years sought in vain to get to the bottom of it all, whilst on the other hand, to the successful analysis of much more composite and complex forms, there has been at least an approximation. Why? Because the body, as an organic whole, is more easy of study than are the cells of that body. In the analysis of economic forms, moreover, neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The force of abstraction must replace both. But in bourgeois society, the commodity-form of the product of labour — or value-form of the commodity — is the economic cell-form. To the superficial observer, the analysis of these forms seems to turn upon minutiae. It does in fact deal with minutiae, but they are of the same order as those dealt with in microscopic anatomy.”

It would seem that the anatomy of capitalism is laid out in these four texts…

  1. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) (Chapter 1)
  2. Capital (1867) 1st German edition (Chapter 1) See Preface, paragraph 3 & 4.
  3. Capital (1867) 1st German edition (Appendix)
  4. Capital (1873) 2nd German edition (Chapter 1) See Afterword, paragraph 2.


Slides for ‘Academic Identities’ conference

Here are our slides for the Academic Identities conference, 8-9th July 2014, Durham. The abstract is also below. A paper will follow sometime this summer.

Download these slides.

In this paper we analyse ‘academic labour’ using categories developed by Marx in his critique of political economy. In doing so, we return to Marx to help understand the work of academics as productive living labour subsumed by the capitalist mode of production. In elaborating our own position, we are critical of two common approaches to the study of academic labour, especially as they emerge from inside analyses of ‘virtual labour’ or ‘digital work’ (Fuchs and Sevignani, 2013; Newfield, 2010; Roggero, 2011).

First, we are critical of efforts to define the nature of our work as ‘immaterial labour’ (Hardt and Negri, 2000; Peters and Bulut, 2011; Scholtz, 2013) and argue that this category is an unhelpful and unnecessary diversion from the analytical power of Marx’s social theory and method. The discourse around ‘immaterial labour’ raised by the Autonomist or Operaismo tradition is thought-provoking, but ultimately adds little to a critical theory of commodity production as the basis of capitalist social relations (Postone, 1993; Sohn-Rethel, 1978). In fact they tend to overstate network-centrism and its concomitant disconnection from the hierarchical, globalised forces of production that shape our objective social reality (Robinson, 2004).

Second, we are cautious of an approach which focuses on the digital content of academic labour (Noble, 2002; Weller, 2012) to the neglect of both its form and the organising principles under which it is subsumed (Camfield, 2007). Understandably, academics have a tendency to reify their own labour such that it becomes something that they struggle for, rather than against. However, repeatedly adopting this approach can only lead to a sense of helplessness (Postone, 2006). If, rather, we focus our critique on the form and organising principles of labour, we find that it shares the same general qualities whether it is academic or not. Thus, it is revealed as commodity-producing, with both concrete and abstract forms. By remaining focused on the form of labour, rather than its content, we can only critique it rather than reify it.

This then has implications for our understanding of the relationships between academics and virtual work, the ways in which technologies are used to organise academic labour digitally, and struggles to overcome such labour. It is our approach to conceive of ‘academic labour’ in both its concrete and abstract forms and in relation to a range of techniques and technologies. The purpose of this is to unite all workers in solidarity against labour (Krisis-Group, 1999), rather than against each other in a competitive labour market.


Camfield, D. (2007) The Multitude and the Kangaroo: A Critique of Hardt and Negri’s Theory of Immaterial Labour. Historical Materialism 15: 21-52.

Fuchs, C. and Sevignani, S. (2013) What Is Digital Labour? What Is Digital Work? What’s their Difference? And Why Do These Questions Matter for Understanding Social Media?, tripleC, 11(2) 237-292.

Hardt, M. and Negri, T. (2000) Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Krisis-Group (1999) Manifesto against labour. Krisis.

Newfield, C. 2010. The structure and silence of Cognitariat. EduFactory webjournal 0: 10-26.

Noble, David F. (2002) Digital Diploma Mills. The Automation of Higher Education. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Peters, Michael A. and Bulut. E. (2011) Cognitive Capitalism, Education and Digital Labor. New York: Peter Lang.

Postone, M. (1993) Time, Labor and Social Domination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Postone, M. (2006) History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism, Public Culture, 18(1).

Robinson, W.I. (2004) A Theory of Global Capitalism: Production, Class, and State in a Transnational World. Baltimore, MA: John Hopkins University Press.

Roggero, G. (2011) The Production of Living Knowledge: The Crisis of the University and the Transformation of Labor in Europe and North America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Scholtz, T. (2013) Digital Labour. The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York: Routledge.

Sohn-Rethel, A. (1978) Intellectual and Manual Labour. New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. London: Bloomsbury.

Co-operative labour attacks the groundwork of capital

Below is a section from Marx, written around the same time that Capital Volume 1 was published (1866/7). It is a useful reminder of Marx’s own activism at a time when he was also writing the most remarkable theoretical work, too.

It is awkwardly titled: ‘The Different Questions‘, written for the International Workingmen’s Association, as ‘Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council’. It’s a short document that touches on a number of things: The importance of gathering reports and statistics about the international struggle between labour and capital; limiting (reducing) working hours; ensuring that child labour (aged 9yrs onwards) is combined with education; the role of Trade Unions, which should be to act “against the system of wage slavery itself” rather than get caught up in local issues; taxation (“No modification of the form of taxation can produce any important change in the relations of labour and capital.”); the army; and co-operative labour:

“Co-operative labour

It is the business of the International Working Men’s Association to combine and generalise the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinary system whatever. The Congress should, therefore, proclaim no special system of co-operation, but limit itself to the enunciation of a few general principles.

(a) We acknowledge the co-operative movement as one of the transforming forces of the present society based upon class antagonism. Its great merit is to practically show, that the present pauperising, and despotic system of the subordination of labour to capital can be superseded by the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers.

(b) Restricted, however, to the dwarfish forms into which individual wages slaves can elaborate it by their private efforts, the co-operative system will never transform capitalist society. to convert social production into one large and harmonious system of free and co-operative labour, general social changes are wanted, changes of the general conditions of society, never to be realised save by the transfer of the organised forces of society, viz., the state power, from capitalists and landlords to the producers themselves.

(c) We recommend to the working men to embark in co-operative production rather than in co-operative stores. The latter touch but the surface of the present economical system, the former attacks its groundwork.

(d) We recommend to all co-operative societies to convert one part of their joint income into a fund for propagating their principles by example as well as by precept, in other words, by promoting the establishment by teaching and preaching.

(e) In order to prevent co-operative societies from degenerating into ordinary middle-class joint stock companies (societes par actions), all workmen employed, whether shareholders or not, ought to share alike. As a mere temporary expedient, we are willing to allow shareholders a low rate of interest.”

On the ‘abolition of labour’

First, from Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution, pp.292-3

“The labor process itself is the life of the proletariat. Abolition of the negative ordering of labor, alienated labor as Marx terms it, is hence at the same time the abolition of the proletariat.

The abolition of the proletariat also amounts to the abolition of labor as such. Marx makes this an express formulation when he speaks of the achievement of revolution. Classes are to be abolished ‘by the abolition of private property and of labor itself.’ Elsewhere, Marx says the same thing: ‘The communistic revolution is directed against the preceding mode of activity, does away with labor.’ And again, ‘the question is not the liberation but the abolition of labor.’ The question is not the liberation of labor because labor has already been made ‘free’; free labor is the achievement of capitalist society. Communism can cure the ‘ills’ of the bourgeois and the distress of the proletarian only ‘by removing their cause, namely, “labor.”

These amazing formulations in Marx’s earliest writings all contain the Hegelian term Aufhebung, so that abolition also carries the meaning that a content is restored to its true form. Marx, however, envisioned the future mode of labor to be so different from the prevailing one that he hesitated to use the same term ‘labor’ to designate alike the material process of capitalist and of communist society. He uses the term ‘labor’ to mean what capitalism actually understands by it in the last analysis, that activity which creates surplus value in commodity production, or, which ‘produces capital.’ Other kinds of activity are not ‘productive labor’ and hence are not labor in the proper sense. Labor thus means that free and universal development is denied the individual who labors, and it is clear that in this state of affairs the liberation of the individual is at once the negation of labor.

An ‘association of free individuals’ to Marx is a society wherein the material process of production no longer determines the entire pattern of human life. Marx’s idea of a rational society implies an order in which it is not the universality of labor but the universal satisfaction of all individual potentialities that constitutes the principle of social organization. He contemplates a society that gives to each not according to his work but his needs. Mankind becomes free only when the material perpetuation of life is a function of the abilities and happiness of associated individuals.”

Marcuse is mainly drawing from Marx and Engel’s The German Ideology, where they discuss in detail the relationship between the division of labour, private property and its necessary overcoming as the historical task of the proletariat. For example:

“In all previous revolutions the mode of activity always remained unchanged and it was only a question of a different distribution of this activity, a new distribution of labour to other persons, whilst the communist revolution is directed against the hitherto existing mode of activity, does away with labour, and abolishes the rule of all classes with the classes themselves, because it is carried through by the class which no longer counts as a class in society, which is not recognised as a class, and is in itself the expression of the dissolution of all classes, nationalities, etc., within present society;” (MECW Vol. 5 p. 52)

“The separate individuals form a class only insofar as they have to carry on a common battle against another class; in other respects they are on hostile terms with each other as competitors. On the other hand, the class in its turn assumes an independent existence as against the individuals, so that the latter find their conditions of life predetermined, and have their position in life and hence their personal development assigned to them by their class, thus becoming subsumed under it. This is the same phenomenon as the subjection of the separate individuals to the division of labour and can only be removed by the abolition of private property and of labour itself. We have already indicated several times that this subsuming of individuals under the class brings with it their subjection to all kinds of ideas, etc.” (ibid, 77)

“The transformation, through the division of labour, of personal powers (relations) into material powers, cannot be dispelled by dismissing the general idea of it from one’s mind, but can only be abolished by the individuals again subjecting these material powers to themselves and abolishing the division of labour. This is not possible without the community. Only within the community has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom becomes possible only within the community. In the previous substitutes for the community, in the state, etc., personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed under the conditions of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class. The illusory community in which individuals have up till now combined always took on an independent existence in relation to them, and since it was the combination of one class over against another, it was at the same time for the oppressed class not only a completely illusory community, but a new fetter as well. In the real community the individuals obtain their freedom in and through their association.” (ibid 77-78)

“Thus, while the fugitive serfs only wished to have full scope to develop and assert those conditions of existence which were already there, and hence, in the end, only arrived at free labour, the proletarians, if they are to assert themselves as individuals, have to abolish the hitherto prevailing condition of their existence (which has, moreover, been that of all society up to then), namely, labour. Thus they find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consists, have given themselves collective expression, that is, the state; in order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the state.” (ibid 80)

“Only at this [post-revolutionary] stage does self-activity coincide with material life, which corresponds to the development of individuals into complete individuals and the casting-off of all natural limitations. The transformation of labour into self-activity corresponds to the transformation of the previously limited intercourse into the intercourse of individuals as such. With the appropriation of the total productive forces by the united individuals, private property comes to an end. Whilst previously in history a particular condition always appeared as accidental, now the isolation of individuals and each person’s particular way of gaining his livelihood have them- selves become accidental.” (ibid 88)

“The modern state, the rule of the bourgeoisie, is based on freedom of labour. The idea that along with freedom of religion, state, thought, etc., and hence “occasionally” “also” “perhaps” with freedom of labour, not I become free, but only one of my enslavers—this idea was borrowed by Saint Max himself, many times, though in a very distorted form, from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. Freedom of labour is free competition of the workers among themselves. Saint Max is very unfortunate in political economy as in all other spheres. Labour is free in all civilised countries; it is not a matter of freeing labour but of abolishing it.” (ibid 205)

“It follows from what was said above against Feuerbach that previous revolutions within the framework of division of labour were bound to lead to new political institutions; it likewise follows that the communist revolution, which removes the division of labour, ultimately abolishes political institutions ; and, finally, it follows also that the communist revolution will be guided not by the “social institutions of inventive socially-gifted persons”, but by the productive forces.” (ibid 380)

“We have already shown above that the abolition of a state of affairs in which relations become independent of individuals, in which individuality is subservient to chance and the personal relations of individuals are subordinated to general class relations, etc.—that the abolition of this state of affairs is determined in the final analysis by the abolition of division of labour. We have also shown that the abolition of division of labour is determined by the development of intercourse and productive forces to such a degree of universality that private property and division of labour become fetters on them. We have further shown that private property can be abolished only on condition of an all-round development of individuals, precisely because the existing form of intercourse and the existing productive forces are all-embracing and only individuals that are developing in an all-round fashion can appropriate them, i.e., can turn them into free manifestations of their lives. We have shown that at the present time individuals must abolish private property, because the productive forces and forms of intercourse have developed so far that, under the domination of private property, they have become destructive forces, and because the contradiction between the classes has reached its extreme limit. Finally, we have shown that the abolition of private property and of the division of labour is itself the association of individuals on the basis created by modern productive forces and world intercourse.” (ibid 438-9)

From an interview with Moishe Postone, whose basic argument has been reformulated in his numerous publications, and is nicely encapsulated here:

“My reformulation of the central categories of Marx’s critique of political economy was influenced in part by the massive global historical transformations since 1973. Retrospectively, from the vantage point of the early 21st century, we can see more clearly that capitalism has existed in a number of different historical configurations – for example, 19th century liberal capitalism, 20th century state-centric “Fordist” capitalism and, now, neo-liberal global capitalism. This indicates that capitalism’s history cannot be adequately grasped as a linear development. It also, more importantly, indicates very strongly that capitalism’s most basic features cannot be identified completely with any of its more specific historical configurations.

I attempted, through a close reading of the most fundamental categories of Marx’s critique of political economy, to grasp the most basic features of capitalism – those that characterize the core of the social formation through its various historical configurations. On that basis I argued that traditional Marxism took basic features of liberal capitalism – the market and private ownership of the means of production – to be the most fundamental features of capitalism in general. Relatedly, it regarded the category of labor as the standpoint from which capitalism was criticized. Capitalism became identified with the bourgeoisie; socialism with the proletariat.

According to my interpretation, however, far from being the standpoint of the critique of capitalism, labor in capitalism constitutes the central object of Marx’s critique and is at the heart of Marx’s core categories of commodity and capital. I argued that, at the heart of the social formation is a historically specific form of social mediation constituted by labor – namely, value. This form of mediation (which is also a form of wealth) is at the same time a historically specific form of domination that can be expressed through, but is not identical with, class domination. It is abstract, without any specific locus, and is also temporally dynamic. This form of domination, which appears as external necessity, rather than as social, generates both the mode of producing in capitalism as well as its intrinsically dynamic character. It is, of course, impossible to even begin to go into the complexity of the issues involved, but several important implications are that industrial production, which historically comes into being under capitalism, does not represent the foundation of socialism, but is intrinsically capitalist; that the problem with growth in capitalism is not only that it is crisis-ridden, but that its very form of growth itself is problematic; that the existence of the bourgeois class is not the ultimate defining feature of capitalism and that state capitalism (briefly described by Marx as early as 1844) can and has existed; finally, that the proletariat is the class whose existence defines capitalism , and that the overcoming of capitalism involves the abolition, not the glorification, of proletarian labor.

Traditional Marxism had already become anachronistic in a variety of ways in the 20th century. It was unable to provide a fundamental critique of the forms of state capitalism referred to as “actually existing socialism.” Moreover, its understanding of emancipation appeared increasingly anachronistic, viewed from the constituted aspirations, needs, and motivating impulses that became expressed in the last third of 20th century by the so-called “new social movements.” Whereas traditional Marxism tended to affirm proletarian labor and, hence, the structure of labor that developed historically, as a dimension of capital’s development, the new social movements expressed a critique of that structure of labor, if at times in an underdeveloped and inchoate form. I argue that Marx’s analysis is one that points beyond the existing structure of labor.”

Academic labour, students as consumers and the value form

Engels: “the philistine is not accustomed to this sort of abstract thought and certainly will not cudgel his brains for the sake of the form of value.” (Marx and Engels Collected Works, 1987, vol. 42, p.381)

Marx: “As to the development of the value-form I have and have not followed your advice, in order to behave dialectically in this respect as well; i.e. I have: 1. written an appendix in which I present the same thing as simply and pedagogically as possible, and 2. followed your advice and divided each step in the development into §§, etc. with separate headings. …Here not merely philistines are concerned but youth eager for knowledge, etc. Besides, the matter is too decisive for the whole book.” (Marx and Engels Collected Works, 1987, vol. 42, p.385)

In a car factory, each worker labours alongside each other, combining their labour power with the means of production, in a social, cooperative, productive whole. The product of their labour (cars) is exchanged for money, a universal commodity owned by the consumer.

On a trawler ship, each worker labours alongside each other, combining their labour power with the means of production, in a social, cooperative, productive whole. The product of their labour (fish) is exchanged for money, a universal commodity owned by the consumer.

In a university, each worker labours alongside each other, combining their labour power with the means of production, in a social, cooperative, productive whole. The product of their labour (knowledge) is exchanged for money, but also consumed for the reproduction of both the teacher’s and student’s labour power commodity. Research, teaching and learning is at once a productive and reproductive process that engages the consumer (student) in the process of production. As such, the student also produces knowledge that engages the consumer (academic) in the process of production. The exchange between academic and student takes place alongside the productive process, on its opposite pole.

When knowledge is produced as a commodity, labour-power is also re-produced as a commodity. As bearers of the labour-power commodity, what is the social relationship between academic and student when knowledge is produced?

In what follows, I have taken Marx’s “pedagogical” appendix to the first German edition of Capital and used it to theorise the reproduction of knowledge and academic and student labour power. In Marx’s original text, he uses the two groups of: ‘commodity A’ / linen / weaving, and: ‘commodity B’ / a coat / tailoring as his standard points of reference throughout. In the work below, I have replaced them respectively with: “commodity A” / “academic labour power” / “teaching”, and: “commodity B” / “student labour power” / “learning”. It is my argument that we can use Marx’s theory and method of the value form in exactly the same way to analyse knowledge production in a university.

As such, you should understand that all sentence length quotes below are likely to have been modified so as to illustrate this point while, I believe, not undermining Marx’s original explication. I encourage you to study Marx’s original text.

What I hope this exercise offers is a more substantive, critical examination of the actual social relations of higher education than our work on Student as Producer has so far offered. As a critique of those social relations, Neary’s work on Student as Producer has most recently developed a critique of its own productivist foundations but it has not, in my view, adequately revealed the political economy of higher education. My notes below are an attempt drill deeper into the circuit of value production in the university at the centre of which is the social, co-operative labour of academics and students. In doing do, I believe that Neary’s and also Moten and Harney’s argument for the ‘student as producer’ can be more rigorously grounded. Through Marx’s dialectical method of rising from the abstract to the concrete, we find that the ‘logic’ of teaching and learning in higher education is itself an expression of the value form of capital.

1. What is a commodity?

The commodity form is two-fold: use value and value. Use value is the form of the commodity’s “tangible, sensible form of existence”;  the “natural form” of the commodity. Opposed to this is the value form of the commodity, which is its “social form”. Linen and coats are commodities. They both have a utility and they are both exchanged for other commodities (e.g. money) resulting in the production of value.

The primary commodity that an individual owns is their labour power. 1)See Glenn Rikowski’s excellent chapter on labour power in The Labour Debate. See also, ‘What is academic labour? Like linen and coats and any other commodity, labour power is a commodity with a use value and a value that is realised in exchange.

2. Whose labour power commodity?

A typical university brings together thousands of individuals’ labour power, each of which have different use values categorised by various contracts (e.g. lecturer, catering assistant, IT officer, professor, undergraduate students, post-graduate student, research assistant).

A lecturer is only designated a ‘lecturer’ by their contract with the university and they are paid a wage (value in the form of money) in exchange for their labour power which itself has a use value that must meet the expectations of that contract. The use value of their labour is combined with the means of production (prior knowledge, facilities, technologies, etc.) to create surplus value (profit).

A student is only designated a ‘student’ by their contract with the university and tuition fees are paid (value in the form of money from the individual, their family, through loans, or through general taxation) in exchange for participation in the labour process of knowledge production i.e. research, teaching and learning, and its accreditation. 2)What is truly remarkable is that increasingly, students themselves are paying to engage in this productive process, yet without students, the production of surplus value in a university would plummet as would the value of academic labour. The role of the student in higher education seems to exceed even the exploitation highlighted by social wage campaigns such as ‘Wages for Housework‘. Such a critique implies that student should actually be paid to study, not pay to study.

Although the student brings their money commodity to the university in exchange for teaching, assessment, accreditation, etc. they also bring the use value of their own labour power and exchange it as a commodity when they consume the use value of their teachers’ labour. Although there is no direct exchange of money in the classroom (that is taken care of elsewhere), the exchange of teacher and student labour power as a commodity does take on the characteristics of the value form i.e. its social form, as we will see below.

“Consider the following questions: Where is the site of production in the classroom? What is produced? Who pro­duces, who consumes, who circulates? Any answer appears to confuse not only the point of production but also the bearers of labor power by generalizing production through consumption and circulation. The pro­fessor produces the lecture but tries to realize its value in the quality of the questions he receives after. The students consume the lecture but generate questions. The professor circulates already produced knowledge that he has consumed for his lecture notes. The students produce knowl­edge on exams and circulate the knowledge of the professor through these exams. The professor consumes the knowledge of the student on the midterm exam in order to produce a new exam at year’s end. At no point is any producer not simultaneously a consumer, and at no point is production not subject to the immediacy of circulation. Most important, if value is being realized in any of this circulation, then it is being real­ized in all of this circulation. The argument could thus be made that both professor and student (not to mention the absent labor of the graduate tutor) are coworkers in the production of knowledge, and that all are involved realizing the value of this work” (Moten and Harney, 1998: 167)

Each classroom discussion, each exam paper, each essay, is simultaneously a moment of production and consumption for the academic and for the student. Both are producers and both are consumers of each other’s (intellectual) labour power and its (knowledge) product. Both bring their physical and intellectual labour power to the university so as to produce knowledge and exchange it and produce it and exchange it and so on. I am reminded of Marx’s notes in his manuscripts: 3)The quotation is from the section, ‘Consumption and Production’, in the so-called ‘Introduction’ to the Grundrisse. As Nicolaus states in his Foreword (pp.13, 38-41), it is questionable whether Marx regarded these particular notes as satisfactory. Nicolaus suggests that Marx dropped the use of these notes and addressed the ‘immediacy’ of production and consumption elsewhere (pp.401-58). Indeed, what Marx  describes in the section on ‘Consumption and Production’, is a ‘vulgar’ image of political economy. In other notes (pp.401-58), he goes into much more analytical detail about the production of use values and their exchange in the realisation of value, showing how the apparent unity or immediacy of capitalist production and consumption is much more contradictory and volatile than earlier political economists assumed. The later, published appendix on ‘Value form’, which I discuss here, can be read as the systematic distillation of Marx’s critique of ‘Consumption and Production’ in that the value form contains within it, the “reciprocally conditioning and inseparable” exchange relation of relative and equivalent use values, the “two poles of the expression of value”. As such, it is not simply that there are individual producers and consumers who exist in a relationship of immediacy, but rather the capitalist value form itself, and therefore the money form, ‘contains’ the dialectical relationship of the production of use values and their consumption through exchange. This should become apparent as I work through the text in these notes.

“Production, then, is also immediately consumption, consumption is also immediately production. Each is immediately its opposite. But at the same time a mediating movement takes place between the two. Production mediates consumption; it creates the latter’s material; without it, consumption would lack an object. But consumption also mediates production, in that it alone creates for the products the subject for whom they are products. The product only obtains its ‘last finish’ in consumption.”

What differentiates the labour power commodity of the academic and the student is its perceived social quality at the moment of exchange. In this context, the labour power of the academic is usually perceived to be of ‘higher’ quality than the labour power of the student as determined by their respective experience and accreditation. Both are the possessors of the  same ‘labour power’ commodity but they are, at that time, of different qualities, which can determine the quantities being exchanged. In this respect, academic labour power differs from student labour power. They are different, apparently unequal types of the ‘labour power’ commodity. They are not naturally different – each is indeed labour power, the potential to perform labour of a particular kind – but they are socially deemed as different commodities.

As well as these ‘simple’ exchanges of the use value of labour power between academic and student in the classroom, in tutorials, marking essays and exams, etc., money in the form of tuition fees, wages and surplus value/profit circulates, too, expressing a different appearance of the simple exchange relation. As Marx did, we can analyse production and consumption in the university in its simple, expanded, general and money forms. What is unusual about this analysis here is that I am referring to labour power as something exchanged between teacher and student, apart from the university/employer/wage/tuition fee exchange. This is possible because of the universal character of the money form, which is present at all times in the teaching and learning context, but remains largely unacknowledged in the classroom.

3. How is the value of a commodity expressed?

How does the value of the academic and student labour power commodity “acquire a form of appearance of its own”?

“Through the relation of different commodities” of different qualities: academic and student labour power. Our analysis starts from their simplest configuration:

3.1 Simple value form

Marx said that “the secret of the entire value form must be hidden in this simple value form.”

The “two poles of the expression of value”: are relative value form and equivalent form.

In the simple form, two commodities simultaneously play two different roles. Commodity A is the commodity “which expresses its value in the body of a commodity different from it”, commodity B.

Commodity B “serves as the material in which value is expressed. The one commodity plays an active and the other a passive role.”

“Now we say of the academic labour power commodity (commodity A) which expresses its value in another commodity: its value is represented as relative value, or is in the relative value-form. As opposed to this, we say of commodity B, here student labour power, which serves as the material of the expression of value: it functions as equivalent to the first commodity or is in the equivalent form.”

The two forms are “inseparable”.  “Relative value-form and equivalent form are moments of the same expression of value, which belong to one another and are reciprocally conditioning and inseparable.”

The “two forms are mutually excluding or opposed extremes, i.e. poles, of the same expression of value. They are always distributed amongst different commodities”.

“The value of commodity A can thus only be expressed in another commodity, i.e. only relatively. The relative value-form of commodity A thus presupposes that that some other commodity confronts it in the equivalent form. On the other hand, this other commodity, B, which figures as the equivalent of commodity A is thus in equivalent form, and can not be at the same time in the relative value-form. This commodity does not express its value. It furnishes only the material for the expression of value in another commodity.”

The equation ‘commodity A = commodity B” can be stated conversely: “commodity B is worth commodity A”. The equation is reversed “in order to express the value of commodity B relatively, and once I do this commodity A becomes the equivalent instead of commodity B.”

“The same commodity therefore cannot make its appearance in the same expression of value at the same time in both forms. Rather, these exclude one another in a polar manner.”

Person A says: X amounts of my commodity is worth Y amounts of your commodity.

B agrees: Yes, Y amounts of my commodity is worth X amounts of your commodity.

“Here, as commodities, both academic labour power and student labour power are at the same time in relative value-form and in equivalent form…for two different persons and in two different expressions of value, which simply occur at the same time. For the academic, her commodity is in relative value-form – because for her the initiative proceeds from her commodity – and the labour power commodity of the other person, the student, is in equivalent form. Conversely from the standpoint of the student. Thus one and the same commodity never possess, even in this case, the two forms at the same time in the same expression of value.”

“Relative value and equivalent are both only forms of commodity-value. Now whether a commodity is in one form or in the polar opposite depends exclusively on its position in the expression of value. As regards the content, the two expressions:

1. X amount of commodity A = Y amount of commodity B or X amount of academic labour power is worth Y amount of student labour power.

2. Y amount of commodity B = X amount of commodity A or Y amount of student labour power is worth X amount of academic labour power.

are not at all different. As regards the form, they are not only different but opposed.”

“In expression 1 the value of academic labour power is expressed relatively. Hence it is in the relative value-form whilst at the same time the value of student labour power is expressed as equivalent. Hence it is in the equivalent form. Now if I turn the expression 1 round I obtain expression 2. The commodities change positions and right away student labour power is in the relative value-form, academic labour power in equivalent form. Because they have changed their respective positions in the same expression of value, they have changed value-form.”

3.1.1 The relative value form

The relative value form is a “relation of equality”, of “equalisation” between commodity A which expresses its value in relation to commodity B. Therefore, we can in fact say: academic labour power = student labour power; that is, in the act of exchange, both use values ‘owned’ by the academic and student are reduced to the same thing: value.

“We overlook that for the most part, because attention is absorbed by the quantitative relation, i.e. by the definite proportion, in which the one type of commodity is equated to the other. We forget that the magnitudes of different things are only quantitatively comparable after their reduction to the same unit. Only as expressions of the same unit are magnitudes with the same denominator and hence commensurable. Academic labour power thus relates to student labour power as something of its own kind, or student labour power is related to academic labour power as a thing of the same substance, as the same in essence. The one is therefore quantitatively equated to the other.”

“The relation of equality is thus a value-relation… As use-value, or body of the commodity, academic labour power is distinguished from student labour power. But its existence as value comes to light, is expressed in a relation, in which another commodity-type, student labour power, is equated to it or counts as the same in essence.”

“Student labour power is value only to the extent that it is the expression, in the form of a thing, of the human labour-power expended in its production and thus insofar as it is a jelly of abstract human labour – abstract labour, because abstraction is made from the definite useful concrete character of the labour contained in it, human labour, because the labour counts here only as expenditure of human labour-power as such. Thus academic labour power cannot relate to student labour power as a thing having value, or cannot be related to student labour power as value, without relating to it as a body whose sole substance consists in human labour. But as value academic labour power is a jelly of this same human labour. Within this relation student labour power as a thing thus represents the substances of value which it has in common with academic labour power, i.e. human labour. Within this relation student labour power thus counts only as shape of value, hence also as the form of the value of academic labour power, as the sensible form of appearance of the value of academic labour power. Thus by means of the value-relation the value of the commodity is expressed in the use-value of another commodity, i.e. in the body of another commodity different from itself.”

A “definite quantity of human labour is objectified” in a commodity. This is clear when comparing academic and student labour power.

“In the value relation of academic labour power to student labour power the commodity-type ‘student labour power’ is hence not only quantitatively equated to academic labour power as bodily form of value as such, i.e. as embodiment of human labour, but a definite quantity of this bodily form of value, 1 x student labour power, not 1 dozen, etc, insofar as in 10 x student labour power, there is hidden precisely as much value-substance of human labour as in 1 x academic labour power.”

Academic and student labour power are equivalent as value. They are also equated as values which embody quantities of human labour  and thus are equated as definite magnitudes e.g. the labour power of one academic is equivalent to the labour power of 10 students.

“Thus through the relative value-expression the value of the commodity acquires, first, a form different from its own use-value. The use-form of this commodity is academic labour power. But it possesses its value-form in its relation of equality with student labour power. Through this relation of equality the body of another commodity, sensibly different from it, becomes the mirror of its own existence as value, of its own character as value. In this way it gains an independent and separate value-form, different from its natural form. But second, as a value of definite magnitude, it is quantitatively measured by the quantitatively definite relation or the proportion in which it is equated to the body of the other commodity.”

3.1.2 The equivalent form

“As values all commodities are expressions of the same unit, of human labour, which count equally and are replaceable or substitutable for one another.”

Value is the form through which different use values of different commodities are regarded as equivalent and can be exchanged. Academic labour power “does not need to take on a form different from its immediate natural form in order to appear as value for another commodity, to count as value and to act on it as value”.

Equivalence between commodities is not concerned with “quantitative definiteness”. Equivalence does not at first come about through a judgement of e.g. 1 x commodity A is worth 10 x commodity B. Prior to this quantitative definiteness, a more basic equivalence occurs between commodities. They are both equated as value:

“Equivalent means here only something equal in magnitude, both things having been silently reduced in our heads to the abstraction value.”

The equivalent form of value is “peculiar” in that “use value becomes the form of appearance of its opposite, of value.” That is, the use value of academic labour power takes on the value of that which it can be exchanged with: student labour power.

“In itself, considered in isolation, student labour power is only a useful thing, a use-value, just like academic labour power, and hence its student-labour-power-form is only the form of use-value or natural form of a definite type of commodity. But since no commodity can relate to itself as equivalent and therefore also cannot make its own natural hide an expression of its own value, it must relate itself to another commodity as equivalent or make the natural hide of the body of another commodity its own value-form.”

The equivalent value form is also peculiar because “concrete labour becomes the form of appearance of its opposite, abstract human labour.”

The concrete labour of the academic and student is useful. It is the labour of teaching, of learning, of researching, of writing, of marking, etc.

“The definite concrete useful labour, which produces the body of the commodity which is the equivalent must therefore, in the expression of value, always necessarily count as a definite form of realisation or form of appearance, i.e. of abstract human labour. Student labour power, for example, can only count as the body of value, hence as embodiment of human labour as such, in so far as the labour of learning counts as a definite form, in which human labour-power is expended or in which abstract human labour is realised.”

“Within the value-relation and the value expression included in it, the abstractly general counts not as a property of the concrete, sensibly real; but on the contrary the sensibly-concrete counts as the mere form of appearance or definite form of realisation of the abstractly general. The labour of learning, which, for example, hides in the equivalent ‘student labour power’, does not possess, within the value-expression of academic labour, the general property of also being human labour. On the contrary. Being human labour counts as its essence, being the labour of learning counts only as the form of appearance or definite form of realisation of this its essence. This quid pro quo is unavoidable because the labour represented in the product of labour only goes to create value insofar as it is undifferentiated human labour, so that the labour objectified in the value of the product is in no way distinguished from the labour objectified in the value of a different product.

This inversion by which the sensibly-concrete counts only as the form of appearance of the abstractly general and not, on the contrary, the abstractly general as property of the concrete, characterises the expression of value.”

The equivalent value form is also peculiar because “private labour becomes the form of its opposite, labour in immediately social form.”

“[The] material social interconnection of private labours carried on independently of one another is however only mediated and hence is realised only through the exchange of their products. The product of private labour hence only has social form insofar as it has value-form and hence the form of exchangeability with other products of labour. It has immediately social form insofar as its own bodily or natural form is at the same time the form of its exchangeability with other commodities or counts as value-form for another commodity. However, as we have seen, this only takes place for a product of labour when, through the value relation of other commodities to it, it is in equivalent-form or, with respect to other commodities, plays the role of equivalent.

The equivalent has immediately social form insofar as it has the form of immediate exchangeability with another commodity, and it has this form of immediate exchangeability insofar as it counts for another commodity as the body of value, hence as equal. Therefore the definite useful labour contained in it also counts as labour in immediately social form, i.e. as labour which possesses the form of equality with the labour contained in another commodity. A definite, concrete labour like the labour of learning can only possess the form of equality with the labour of a different type contained in a commodity of a different kind, for example academic labour power, insofar as its definite form counts as the expression of something which really constitutes the equality of labours of different sorts or what is equal in those labours. But they are only equal insofar as they are human labour as such, abstract human labour, i.e. expenditure of human labour-power. Thus, as has already been shown, because the definite concrete labour contained in the equivalent counts as the definite form of realisation or form of appearance of abstract human labour, it possesses the form of equality with other labour, and hence, although it is private labour, like all other labour which produces commodities, it is nevertheless labour in immediately social form. Precisely because of this it is represented in a product that is immediately exchangeable with the other commodities.”

The equivalent value form is also peculiar because “the fetishism of the commodity-form is more striking in the equivalent form than in the relative value-form.”

In day-to-day life, the products of labour (software, journal articles, books, linen, iron, wheat) relate to one another as commodities. They are values, they are measurable as magnitudes of value, and their common character of being values puts them into a value-relation to one another. Now the fact that, for example, ‘1 x academic labour power = 10 x student labour power’ or ‘1 lot of commodity A is worth 10 of commodity B’ only expresses the fact that:

  1. the different types of labour necessary for the production of these things count equally as human labour;

  2. the fact that the quantity of labour expended in their production is measured according to definite social laws;

  3. that academics and students enter into a definite social relation of production.

“It is a definite social relation of the producers in which they equate their different types of labour as human labour. It is not less a definite social relation of producers, in which they measure the magnitude of their labours by the duration of expenditure of human labour-power. But within our practical interrelations these social characters of their own labours appear to them as social properties pertaining to them by nature, as objective determinations of the products of labour themselves, the equality of human labours as a value-property of the products of labour, the measure of the labour by the socially necessary labour-time as the magnitude of value of the products of labour, and finally the social relations of the producers through their labours appear as a value-relation or social relation of these things, the products of labour. Precisely because of this the products of labour appear to them as commodities, sensible-supersensible or social things.”

The main product of labour in the university is knowledge which is ‘reinvested’ into the labour power of academics and students, as well as exchanged for grants, patents, consultancy, etc. The socially necessary labour time required to acquire a level of knowledge which meets the requirements of the academic employment contract exceeds that of the socially necessary labour time required to acquire a level of knowledge which meets the requirements of entry into a university as a student. The magnitude of value of academic labour power, measured by socially necessary labour time, is therefore greater than the magnitude of value of student labour power. Although both are ‘labour power’ commodities, they are qualitatively different, yet in practice they are brought together for exchange by being relative and equivalent to each other as values. As a value relation, it is therefore a social relation.

“the commodity-form and the value-relation of products of labour have absolutely nothing to do with their physical nature and the relations between things which springs from this. It is only the definite social relation of people itself which here takes on for them the phantasmagoric form of a relation of things. Hence in order to find an analogy for this we must take flight into the cloudy region of the religious world. Here the products of the human head appear as independent figures endowed with a life of their own and standing in a relation to one another and to people. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of the human hand. This I call the fetishism which clings to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities and which is therefore inseparable from commodity- production.”

The product of the exchange of academic-student labour power appears as knowledge, embodied in their respective labour power commodity, objectified in the classroom, essays, exams, journal articles, books, etc. It is the university campus, the lecture hall, the seminar room, the exam, the book, the article, etc. which seemingly bring academics and students together and construct relations between them, when in fact behind this is the commodity form and the value relation of labour power itself and the products of labour power. The university is a fetish.

3.1.3 Exchange value

“The expression of value has two poles, relative value-form and equivalent-form. To start with, what concerns the commodity functioning as equivalent is that it counts for another commodity as the shape of value, a body in immediately exchangeable form – exchange-value. But the commodity whose value is expressed relatively, possesses the form of exchange-value in that:

  1. its existence as value is revealed by the exchangeability of the body of another commodity with it;
  2. its magnitude of value is expressed through the proportion in which the other commodity is exchangeable with it.

The exchange-value is hence the independent form of appearance of commodity- value.”

Academic labour power and student labour power both exist simultaneously and immediately as opposite poles of relative value form and equivalent form. As equivalent form, student labour power is the shape of value of academic labour power. As relative value form, the shape of value of student labour power is academic labour power. There is unity in their opposite. This is not concerned with the magnitude of value, which is determined by the socially necessary labour time expended to re-produce their respective labour power up to the moment of exchange. It simply refers to the existence of exchange value, which is not to be confused with the ‘price’ of a commodity and certainly not the surplus value or ‘profit’ which may be produced through the exchange. Exchange value is the value expressed by one equivalent commodity relative to another commodity.

The magnitude of value of academic and student labour power is expressed through the degree of knowledge and subsequent physical and mental skills, which the academic and student respectively embody in the moment of exchange. This is tested socially through the exchange of labour power with other commodities. Can the student learn the same thing from another student as effectively in the same amount of time as they can from an academic? Can they learn it from the Internet as effectively in the same amount of time? Can the academic produce the same amount of knowledge as effectively and in the same amount of time if they don’t teach at all? Can the academic produce the same amount of knowledge as effectively and in the same amount of time simply through ‘independent’ research (to the extent that research is ever independent of existing social relations).

“In the relation of value of academic labour power to student labour power the natural form of academic labour power counts only as the shape of use-value, the natural form of  student labour power only as value-form or shape of exchange-value. The inner opposition between use-value and value contained in a commodity is thus represented by an external opposition, i.e. the relation of two commodities, of which the one counts immediately only as use-value, the other immediately only as exchange-value, or in which the two opposing determinations, use-value and exchange-value, are distributed in a polar manner among the commodities.

If I say: As a commodity academic labour power is use-value and exchange-value, this is my judgement about the nature of the commodity gained by analysis. As opposed to this, in the expression ‘the labour power of one academic = the labour power of 10 students’ or ‘one academic is worth 10 students’ the academic labour power itself says that it

  1. is a use-value (academic labour power e.g. to teach, to research);

  2. is an exchange-value distinct from that (something equal to student labour power); and

  3. is the unity of these two differences, and thus is a commodity.”

“The product of labour in its natural form brings with it into the world the form of a use-value. Therefore it requires further only the value-form in order for it to possess the commodity-form, i.e. for it to appear as a unity of the opposites use-value and exchange-value. The development of the value-form is hence identical with the development of the commodity-form.”

Labour power in all its expressions (teaching, research, learning, bricklaying, etc.) is the product of the social re-production of labour power which reproduces itself as intelligent, strong, skilful,  useful human labour. For whatever reason, when it enters into an exchange relation it acquires the value form and hence the commodity form: “a unity of the opposites use value and exchange value.”

Commodities exist in “a relation of qualitative equality and quantitative proportionality” to each other. For example, let’s say that the labour power of 1 academic is equal to the labour power of 10 students. 4)We must remember that academics produce value in more ways than the teaching and learning process alone, but here I simplify things by focusing solely on the teacher’s responsibility to students


1 academic is worth 10 students


1 academic = £20,000 (in student ‘contact time’ alone)


1 academic is worth £20,000

From this, we can see that the money form (e.g. £20,000) “is nothing but the further development of the simple value form of the commodity, and therefore of the simple commodity form of the labour product.” The simple commodity form undergoes a “series of metamorphoses” to start from ‘the labour power of 1 academic is equal to the labour power of 10 students’ to “take on the shape”, ‘1 academic is worth £20,000’.

“The expression of value in student labour power gives academic labour power a value-form by virtue of which it is distinguished simply as value from itself as use-value. This form also puts it only in relation to student labour power, i.e. to some single type of commodity different from itself. But as value it is the same as all other commodities. Its value-form must hence also be a form which puts it into a relation of qualitative equality and quantitative proportionality to all other commodities – to the simple relative value-form of a commodity corresponds the singular equivalent-form of another commodity. Or the commodity, in which value is expressed, functions here only as singular equivalent. Thus student labour power in the relative expression of value of academic labour power possesses only the equivalent-form or the form of immediate exchangeability with relation to this single type of commodity, academic labour power.”

4. Total or Expanded Value form

“The simple value-form requires the value of one commodity to be expressed in only one commodity of another sort, though it does not matter which.”

In this way, academic labour can be understood relative to student labour power, or to another commodity such as a computer, a bag of wheat, a drum of oil, etc. It follows then that if a single commodity can be relative in value to another single commodity, then it can also be relative to any other commodity, rather than in isolation with just a single other commodity.

“There exists the possibility that it has just as many different simple expressions of value as there are different sorts of commodities. In fact, therefore, its complete relative expression of value consists not in an isolated simple relative expression of value but in the sum of its simple relative expressions of value.”

Thus we obtain:

1 x academic labour power = 10 x student labour power or = 40 computers or = 1000 bags of wheat or = 40 drums of oil or = etc. 5)These numbers are not accurate equal values but intended to illustrate the point of expanded equivalence.

“This series of simple relative expressions of value is in its nature constantly extendible or never concludes. For there constantly occur new types of commodities and each new type of commodity forms the material of a new expression of value.”

“The value of a commodity, for example academic labour power, is now represented in all other elements of the world of commodities. The body of each other commodity becomes the mirror of the value of academic labour power. Thus only now does this value itself appear truly as a jelly of undifferentiated human labour. For the labour which constitutes the value of academic labour power is now expressly represented as labour which counts equally with any other human labour whatever natural form at all it possesses and hence whether it is objectified in student labour power or wheat or iron or gold, etc. Hence by virtue of its value-form academic labour power now stands also in a social relation no longer to only a single other type of commodity, but to the world of commodities. As a commodity it is a citizen of this world. At the same time there is inherent in the endless series of its expressions the fact that the value of commodities is irrelevant with regard to each particular form of use-value in which it appears.”

Marx identified the “deficiencies” of the expanded value form as:

  1. It never concludes in a final commodity and expression of value.
  2. The value of a commodity is only ever expressed in a limited number of equivalent commodities while excluding others.
  3. Human labour is only ever expressed in a particular form of commodity, rather than a unified form.

The commodity “is a citizen of the world”, meaning that the magnitude of value of a commodity can be expressed relative or equivalent to any other commodity. Because of this, Marx argues, just as we moved from an analysis of the simple form to the expanded form, we must also move from the expanded form to the ‘general value form’. In this overall transition from the simple to the expanded to the general and eventually the money form, we move to an overall more social form of commodity exchange, which can only operate through increasing levels of ‘real abstraction’ in daily life.

5. General value form

“The relative value-form now possesses a completely changed shape. All commodities express their value:

  1. simply, namely in the body of one other single commodity,
  2. in a unified manner, i.e. in the same other body of a commodity.

Their value-form is simple and common, i.e. general. Academic labour now counts for the bodies of all the different sorts of commodities as their common and general shape of value. The value-form of a commodity, i.e. the expression of its value in academic labour, now distinguishes the commodity not only as value from its own existence as a useful object, i.e. from its own natural form, but at the same time relates it as value to all other commodities, to all commodities as equal to it. Hence in this value-form it possesses general social form.

Only through this general character does the value-form correspond to the concept of value. The value-form had to be a form in which commodities appear for one another as a mere jelly of undifferentiated, homogenous human labour, i.e. as expressions in the form of things of the same labour- substance. This is now attained. For they are all material expressions of the same labour, of the labour contained in academic labour power or as the same material expression of labour, namely as academic labour power. Thus they are qualitatively equated.

At the same time they are quantitatively compared or represented as definite magnitudes of value for one another i.e.:

10 student labour power = 1 academic labour power


40 drums of oil = 1 academic labour power


10 student labour power = 40 drums of oil

Or in 1 drum of oil there hides only a quarter as much of the substance of value, labour, as in 1 student labour power.”

At this point, the equivalent form becomes further developed to the “general equivalent form; or the commodity in equivalent form is now general equivalent.” As a general equivalent, the natural form of the commodity “is therefore at the same time its general social form.”

“For all other commodities, although they are products of the most different sorts of labour, academic labour power counts as the form of appearance of the labours contained in them, hence as the embodiment of homogenous undifferentiated human labour. Teaching – this particular concrete type of labour – counts now by virtue of the value-relation of the world of commodities to academic labour power as the general and immediately exhaustive form of realisation of abstract human labour, i.e. of the expenditure of human labour-power as such.

For precisely this reason the private labour contained in academic labour power also counts as labour which is immediately in general social form or in the form of equality with all other labours. If a commodity thus possesses the general equivalent-form or functions as general equivalent, its natural or bodily form counts as the visible incarnation, the general social chrysalis of all human labour.”

It is at this point that we can begin to read Marx’s work on the value form without interpretation since we have shown how the labour power of academics and students take on general value form which is relative and equivalent to all other commodities.

“The simple relative value-form expresses the value of a commodity only in a single other type of commodity, no matter in which. The commodity thus only acquires value-form in distinction from its own use-value form or natural form. Its equivalent also acquires only the singular equivalent-form. The expanded relative value-form expresses the value of a commodity in all other commodities. Hence the latter acquire the form of many particular equivalents or particular equivalent-form. Finally, the world of commodities gives itself a unified, general, relative value-form, by excluding from itself one single type of commodity in which all other commodities express their value in common. Thereby the excluded commodity becomes general equivalent or the equivalent-form becomes the general equivalent-form.”

“The polar opposition or the inseparable interconnection  and at the same time constant exclusion of relative value-form and equivalent-form implies:

  1. that a commodity cannot be in one form without another commodity being in the opposite form; and
  2. that as soon as a commodity is in the one form it cannot at the same time, within the same expression of value, be in the other form.

Now this polar opposition of the two moments of the expression of value develops and hardens in the same measure as the value-form as such is developed or built up.”

Note how, in the following summary, Marx demonstrates his method of “rising from the abstract to the concrete”. Although it begins with the ‘simple form’, which might be mistaken as the ‘concrete’ operation of commodity exchange, in fact he shows that the simple form is actually an abstraction intended to reveal the nature of the money form, which does have a concrete existence in our social lives.

“In form I [simple form] the two forms already exclude one another, but only formally. According to whether the same equation is read forwards or backwards, each of the two commodities in the extreme positions like academic labour power and student labour power, are similarly now in the relative value-form, now in the equivalent. At this point it still takes some effort to hold fast to the polar opposition.

In form II [expanded form] only one type of commodity at a time can totally expand its relative value, i.e. it itself possesses expanded relative value-form only because and insofar as all other commodities are in the equivalent-form with regard to it.

Finally, in form III [general form] the world of commodities possesses general social relative value-form only because and insofar as all the commodities belonging to it are excluded from the equivalent-form or the form of immediate exchangeability. Conversely, the commodity which is in the general equivalent form or figures as general equivalent is excluded from the unified and hence general relative value-form of the world of commodities. If the academic labour – i.e. any commodity in general equivalent-form – were also to participate at the same time in the general relative value-form, then it would have had to have been related to itself as equivalent. We then obtain:

5 x academic labour power = 5 x academic labour power

a tautology in which neither value nor magnitude of value is expressed. In order to express the relative value of the general equivalent, we must reverse form III. It does not possess any relative value-form in common with other commodities; rather, its value expresses itself relatively in the endless series of the bodies of all other commodities. Thus the expanded relative value-form or form II now appears as the specific relative value-form of the commodity which plays the role of the general equivalent.”

It is this analysis of the “transition” of the forms of value that prompts us to ask: “Is ‘the student as producer’ a tautology?” The answer is “No!”. A student who is a producer remains a student. Their labour power remains contractually defined by their institution and their past accreditation (socially recognised evidence of its magnitude of value) as ‘student labour power’. To call the labour power of a student, ‘academic labour power’, would, under the logic of commodity fetishism, be a tautology that expresses no value.

Might this then be the key to undermining the capitalist production of value in knowledge production along the lines of Neary’s anti-productivist critique of the ‘student as consumer’? To actually reconceive the labour of academics and student as qualitatively the same labour power, only of recognisably different individual magnitudes, where they are not exchanged on the basis of their relative and equivalent value, but rather “from each according to their ability to each according to their need.” Such a move would entail a different type of reciprocity among people. One which Marx discusses in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. There, he argued that:

“Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.”

In that late text, Marx explains why the idea of equality is a bourgeois concept: Individuals are different but under the capitalist mode of production we are regarded fundamentally as equivalent workers. A communist society would recognise and compensate inherent ‘inequalities’.

“But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only — for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal… In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

In the existing relationship between academics and students, the magnitude of their respective labour power is ‘equalled’ by the general equivalence of the money commodity. It ‘balances’ the reciprocal value form relationship.

“The general value-form is the developed value-form and hence the developed commodity-form. The materially quite different products of labour cannot possess the finished commodity-form, and hence also cannot function in the process of exchange as a commodity, without being represented as expressions in the form of things of the same equal human labour. That means that in order to acquire the finished commodity-form they must acquire the unified general relative value-form. But they can only acquire this unified relative value-form by excluding from its own series a definite type of commodity as general equivalent. And it is only from the moment when this exclusion is definitely limited to a specific type of commodity that the unified relative value-form has won objective stability and general social validity.

Now the specific type of commodity with whose natural form the equivalent form coalesces socially becomes the money-commodity or functions as money. It specific social function and hence its social monopoly becomes the playing of the role of general equivalent within the world of commodities.”

1 x academic labour = 10 x student labour = 40 x drums of oil = £20,000

6. The money form

“The progress consists only in the fact that the form of immediate general exchangeability or the general equivalent-form has now, by virtue of social custom, definitely coalesced with the specific natural form of the body of the commodity gold. Gold confronts the other commodities as money only because it already confronted them before as a commodity. Like all other commodities it also functions as equivalent, either as singular equivalent in isolated acts of exchange, or as particular equivalent beside other commodity-equivalents. Little by little it functioned in narrower or wider circles as general equivalent. Once it has conquered the monopoly of this position in the expression of value of the world of commodities it becomes the money-commodity, and from the moment when it has already become the money- commodity, form IV distinguishes itself from form III, or the general form of value is transformed into the money-form.”

[It is of no concern here that the gold standard of monetary exchange was abandoned in the 1970s and replaced by fiat money.]

Marx concludes his elucidation of the value form with the final sub-section: ‘The simple commodity form is the secret of the money form’. Here he repeats how he has moved from an abstract analysis to the concrete conditions of capitalist social relations. All the ‘complexity’ of the money form are resolved in the move to simple abstraction.

“We see that the money-form proper offers in itself no difficulty at all. Once we have seen through the general equivalent-form it does not require the least brain-fag to understand that this equivalent-form fastens on to  a specific type of commodity like gold, and still less insofar as the general equivalent-form in its very nature requires the social exclusion of a definite commodity by all other commodities. It is now only a matter of this exclusion winning an objectively social consistency and general validity, and hence does not concern different commodities in turn nor possesses a merely local reach  in only particular areas of the world of commodities. The difficulty in the concept of the money-form is limited to comprehending the general equivalent-form as such, form III. However, form III in turn  resolves itself into form II, and the constitutive element of form II is form I:

1 x academic labour power = 10 x student labour power
x commodity A = y commodity B.

Now if we know what use-value and exchange-value are, then we find out that this form I is the simplest, most undeveloped manner of representing any product of labour, like academic labour power for example, as a commodity, i.e. as a unity of the opposites use-value and exchange-value. At the same time we easily find the series of metamorphoses which the simplest commodity-form

1 x academic labour power = 10 x student labour power
must run through in order to win its finished shape
1 x academic labour power = £20,000

i.e. the money-form.”

This analysis suggests that a post-capitalist university is one where the labour power of individuals is not measured relative or equivalent to each other according to the magnitude of its socially determined value, represented by the universal commodity: money.

Their respective labour power is understood qualitatively in terms of their individual experience, skills and knowledge of the social and physical world: their ability or capacity as social human beings, and it is not deemed deficient during acts of ‘unequal’ reciprocity. In a post-capitalist university, social relations would accept absolute difference between individuals, rather than acknowledge difference while at the same time organising our social lives around an objective form of equivalence: money.

In a capitalist university, students’ and academics’ labour power are qualitatively different use values brought into an exchange relation, yet it is a distinctive relationship because it is at the same time co-operative and productive. It produces knowledge, which might be sold directly through consultancy, patents, etc. or through its role in the reproduction of labour power, it will be sold elsewhere by the student for a wage.

Neary posited the student as producer without analysing the student’s role as consumer. Moten and Harney argue students are producers through social, cooperative production. As I have tried to show, this social co-operation is expressed as the relative and equivalent poles of the value form, in which the producer and consumer are immediate to one-another at all time in a unity of opposites, dominated by the money-form.

References   [ + ]

1. See Glenn Rikowski’s excellent chapter on labour power in The Labour Debate. See also, ‘What is academic labour?
2. What is truly remarkable is that increasingly, students themselves are paying to engage in this productive process, yet without students, the production of surplus value in a university would plummet as would the value of academic labour. The role of the student in higher education seems to exceed even the exploitation highlighted by social wage campaigns such as ‘Wages for Housework‘. Such a critique implies that student should actually be paid to study, not pay to study.
3. The quotation is from the section, ‘Consumption and Production’, in the so-called ‘Introduction’ to the Grundrisse. As Nicolaus states in his Foreword (pp.13, 38-41), it is questionable whether Marx regarded these particular notes as satisfactory. Nicolaus suggests that Marx dropped the use of these notes and addressed the ‘immediacy’ of production and consumption elsewhere (pp.401-58). Indeed, what Marx  describes in the section on ‘Consumption and Production’, is a ‘vulgar’ image of political economy. In other notes (pp.401-58), he goes into much more analytical detail about the production of use values and their exchange in the realisation of value, showing how the apparent unity or immediacy of capitalist production and consumption is much more contradictory and volatile than earlier political economists assumed. The later, published appendix on ‘Value form’, which I discuss here, can be read as the systematic distillation of Marx’s critique of ‘Consumption and Production’ in that the value form contains within it, the “reciprocally conditioning and inseparable” exchange relation of relative and equivalent use values, the “two poles of the expression of value”. As such, it is not simply that there are individual producers and consumers who exist in a relationship of immediacy, but rather the capitalist value form itself, and therefore the money form, ‘contains’ the dialectical relationship of the production of use values and their consumption through exchange. This should become apparent as I work through the text in these notes.
4. We must remember that academics produce value in more ways than the teaching and learning process alone, but here I simplify things by focusing solely on the teacher’s responsibility to students
5. These numbers are not accurate equal values but intended to illustrate the point of expanded equivalence.

Michael Heinrich on Marx’s revolution in science

Around 14 minutes in, Heinrich, a Prof. of Economics, talks about a Marx’s work as a “scientific revolution in the history of science”. This revolution was characterised as a questioning of concepts that were taken for granted, so much so that those concepts had been naturalised and were no longer discussed. Marx criticised not only particular theories in political economy but the whole approach to political economy. In summary, he made a scientific break with the following four classical assumptions:

  1. Human essence. In modern economics, the human is always seen as a utility maximiser. Marx argued there is no human essence.
  2. Individualism. Marx argued against methodological individualism i.e. starting from the individual from whom you construct social relations.
  3. Empiricism. Marx was a forerunner of using empirical data but argued that scientific understanding of political economy requires much more. Society is not a transparent thing that data alone can reveal. There are mystifications, fetishism, and so on.
  4. Historicism. Mainstream economics is still an ahistorical science. Neo-classical economics see problems the same across time. Marx argues there are very different historical logics of society and economy.

All of this was (and is still) taken for granted but was put into question by Marx.

Heinrich’s introduction to Capital is very good.

Is the worker co-operative form suitable for a university? (Part 3)

In some earlier notes, I asked whether the worker co-operative form is suitable for a university in light of how the international co-operative movement defines the ‘character’ of worker co-operatives and the re-conceptualisation of academic labour that this organisational form would imply. I asserted that the university is already a means of production which capital employs together with academic labour to re-produce labour in the form of students, and value in the commodity form of knowledge. A worker owned co-operative university would therefore control the means of knowledge production and potentially produce a new form of knowledge.

I also summarised the values and principles of the co-operative movement as a whole, noting that they are (for most individuals) aligned with academic values and principles. I highlighted the emphasis among worker co-operatives on ‘common ownership’ as a form of property relations which overcomes the distinction between ‘public’ and ‘private’ to produce an ‘academic commons’. I pointed to the ways in which such a worker co-operative university might be governed, the integration of co-operative values and principles into the curriculum and other organisational practices (cf. Facer (2011)) and outlined three ‘routes to co-operation’: conversion, dissolution, creation. Finally, I suggested that the distinction between teacher and student would necessarily be dissolved and with it the division of labour, too. Assuming this was the case, a radically different method of curriculum development and pedagogy would be required. Drawing on Kasmir’s reflections on Mondragon, the Spanish worker co-op, that we should “be skeptical of models that make business forms rather than people the agents of social change”, it follows that the organisational form of a ‘co-operative university’ should itself be derived from the pedagogical relationship between teacher-student-scholar-members i.e. ‘scholars’. I suggested that the basis of this pedagogical relationship might be work I have been involved in referred to as ‘Student as Producer’.

 Student as Producer

“The idea of student as producer encourages the development of collaborative relations between student and academic for the production of knowledge. However, if this idea is to connect to the project of refashioning in fundamental ways the nature of the university, then further attention needs to be paid to the framework by which the student as producer contributes towards mass intellectuality. This requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organizing principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced.” (Neary & Winn, 2009, 137)

In these notes I want to review the work of my colleague, Mike Neary, who conceived and developed ‘Student as Producer’ and has subsequently led a project to implement research-based teaching and learning across our entire institution. Here, I want to focus on the theoretical development of Student as Producer and consider its suitability and utility as the pedagogical basis on which a worker co-operative for higher education might be developed. In order to do this, I work my way chronologically through several substantive pieces of writing about Student as Producer.

In each reading, I try to glean specific features of Student as Producer as it has developed, which seem relevant to my overarching question: ‘Is the worker co-operative form suitable for a university?’ I do not attempt to fully answer the question in this series of posts, but rather identify points, issues, questions and considerations for further exploration.

Linked to this blog post are seven subsequent sets of notes, covering seven of Neary’s articles and one keynote transcript. Click on the article title to go to each set of notes. It amounts to around 15,000 words and so it may be preferable to read it in PDF format. If you wish to cite them, please treat them as “preliminary notes”. Thank you.

1a. Neary, Mike (2008) Student as producer – risk, responsibility and rich learning environments in higher education. Articles from the Learning and Teaching Conference 2008. Eds: Joyce Barlow, Gail Louw, Mark Price. University of Brighton Press. Centre for Learning and Teaching

1b. Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. Eds. Bell, Neary, Stevenson. Continuum, London, pp. 192-210.

2. Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010) Pedagogy of Excess: An Alternative Political Economy of Student Life. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Eds. Molesworth, Scullion and Nixon. Routledge, Abingdon, pp. 209-224.

3. Neary, Mike (2010) Student as Producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde; or, how do revolutionary teachers teach? Learning Exchange, Vol. 1, No. 1. 

4. Neary, Michael (2012) Teaching politically: policy, pedagogy and the new European university. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10 (2). pp. 233-257.

5. Neary, Michael (2012) Student as producer: an institution of the common? [or how to recover communist/revolutionary science]. Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences.

6. Neary, Mike and Amsler, Sarah (2012) Occupy: a new pedagogy of space and time? Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10 (2)

7. Neary, Mike (2013) Student as Producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde; or, how to revolutionary teachers teach? [v2] Paper presented at Walter Benjamin, Pedagogy and the Politics of Youth conference, London. [unpublished]