Use-Value Essay

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There are many things in the world; each is a concrete object with physical properties determined in the natural order. Some things have no apparent use while others are useful. Although ”use” and ”use-value” seem the same conceptually, they are not. Use-value applies to commodities and differentiates them from non-commodity things.

A commodity is a particular thing; it is secured or produced to enter a social relation of exchange. It is a qualitatively distinct, concrete object with a particular use; this is its form. That form simultaneously constitutes the material embodiment of the abstract, socially necessary labor – the value -entailed in its procurement or production. Thus, a commodity is and has use-value. The use-value’s form is concrete and centers on use; its substance is social and abstract and centers on its value. Commerce must attend to the concrete use and abstract value of a commodity to secure profit.

The capacity to do work, in general, is not a commodity (or use-value) although it has onto-logical significance for humankind and is used in one’s private activities. As a qualitatively unique, concrete capacity, engaged in social labor that is congealed in a product that will enter the social relations of exchange, the capacity to labor is a commodity. It has a concrete, human form and potentially calculable, abstract, social substance (the value required to restore labor-power after a period of expenditure). Labor-power is a unique use-value because, under given conditions of social production, it can produce more value than needed to replace it. Marx argued this was the unique source of surplus-value – hence profit.


  • Marx, K. (1976) [1890] Capital, 4th edn., vol. 1, trans. B. Fowkes. Penguin, Harmondsworth.

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