Marx has been looking at some other modes of production (feudalism, clan-based society, Robinson Crusoe/an individual producer) so as to contrast these with capitalism and highlight how commodities, including the money commodity, take on their ‘mysterious significance’ and become fetishised.
Marx is going to do something now that he does surprisingly little of: he’s going to present a model of a socialist society.
People might expect Marx, given the social and political upheavals that his work inspired, to be big on grand socialist visions of society, but he isn’t. He is not a utopian thinker, and much of his work is critical of, and in direct response to, utopian socialist thinkers whom he did not really resonate with. Marx saw the fact that a socialist society could not fall from the sky but would have to evolve from current, concrete conditions as a development in a real historical process. The bulk of his criticism is about examining, in a precise and ‘scientific’ way, the conditions and dynamics of capitalism to this end.
“Let us now picture to ourselves, by way of change, a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour power of the community.”
In this society the producers/workers own all the factories and shops and mines etc. collectively, and consciously work for the needs of the community as a whole.
“All the characteristics of Robinson’s labour are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labour, and therefore simply an object of use for himself.”
Like Robinson Crusoe on his island, the producers are only making use values, things that people want and need, there is no abstracted exchange value needed because the community is producing directly for itself, and nothing is produced, or overproduced, solely for profit.
“The total product of our community is a social product. One portion serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another portion is consumed by the members as means of subsistence. A distribution of this portion amongst them is consequently necessary. The mode of this distribution will vary with the productive organisation of the community, and the degree of historical development attained by the producers. We will assume, but merely for the sake of a parallel with the production of commodities, that the share of each individual producer in the means of subsistence is determined by his labour time.”
Marx theorises that in this society the producers will get ‘paid’ in the means of subsistence directly related to how much they work. Note that he includes this only as a parallel to the production of commodities – his idea of a socialist society seems an open question (it hadn’t happened widescale by his time!) to be determined by the level of historical development attained by the society. In reality, a society such as a technologically advanced Western country could produce much more than would be needed by the population with very little work required.
“Labour time would, in that case, play a double part. Its apportionment in accordance with a definite social plan maintains the proper proportion between the different kinds of work to be done and the various wants of the community. On the other hand, it also serves as a measure of the portion of the common labour borne by each individual, and of his share in the part of the total product destined for individual consumption.”
Labour time, in this example, would have to be planned to meet consumption needs, and would also act as a value which the worker could redeem in quantities of the products of the society.
“The social relations of the individual producers, with regard both to their labour and to its products, are in this case perfectly simple and intelligible, and that with regard not only to production but also to distribution.”
So this picture is much clearer than the capitalist mode where the value created by workers/producers is split up into wages for working and prices for buying and where this obscures the fact that, socially speaking, workers are effectively buying back the value that they have themselves created, with the value that they themselves have created, from people who are already making a profit on their labour.