Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
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Hugo Gellert: Karl Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs

page 21. COMMODITIES
The Two Factors of a Commodity: Use-value and Value
(substance of value, magnitude of value)


COMMODITIES: The Two Factors of a Commodity
Use-value and Value (substance of value, magnitude of value)

In the ratio of exchange between commodities, their exchange-value seemed to us something that was completely independent of their use-values. Ignoring the use-value of the labor products, we arrived at their value in the sense above defined. The common element disclosed in the exchange-ratio or exchange-value of the commodities is, in fact, their value. The course of our investigation will show that exchange-value is the necessary phenomenal form of value, the only form in which value can be expressed. For the present, however, we have to consider value itself, independently of this mode of expression.

A use-value or a good [a useful good] has value solely because abstract human labor has been embodied or materialized in it. How are we to measure this value? In terms of the quantity of "value-creating" substance it contains -- the quantity of labor. This is itself measured by its duration; and labor-time, in turn, is measured by hours, days, etc.

Now, if the value of a commodity be determined by the amount of labor expended in its production, it might seem at first glance as if the value would be greater in proportion as the worker who made it was lazier or more unskilled, because idleness or lack of skill would increase the time needed for production. But the labor which creates the substance of value is homogeneous human labor, the expenditure of a uniform labor power. . . .

Commodities which contain equal quantities of labor, or can be produced in equal periods of labor time, have therefore the same magnitude of value. The ratio between the respective values of two commodities is identical with the ratio between the periods of necessary labor-time occupied in their production.

"As values, commodities are nothing but particular masses of congealed labor-time."

The magnitude of value of a commodity would thus remain constant, if the labor time needed for its production were constant. But this latter changes with every change in the productivity of labor. The productivity of labor is determined by various circumstances, among which may be mentioned the worker's average skill, the development of scientific theory, the degree to which this theory is applicable in practice, the social organization of production, the supply and the efficiency of the means of production, and certain physical conditions. For example, a specified amount of labor will, in a favorable season, be represented by eight bushels of wheat and in an unfavorable season by four. . . .

A thing may be a use-value though it has no value. That is the case when its utility to mankind is not the outcome of labor. Instances are: air, virgin soil, prairie, primeval forest, etc. A thing may be useful and the product of human labor without being a commodity. He who satisfies his wants with the product of his own labor makes a use-value, but does not make a commodity. To produce commodities he must produce not use-values merely but use-values for others -- social use-values. [Nor does it suffice to say that he produces "for others" without further qualification. The medieval peasant produced cense-corn for the seigneur and tithe-corn for the priest; but the fact that they were produced for others did not make commodities of cense-corn and tithe-corn. To become a commodity, a product must pass by way of exchange into the hands of another person for whom it is a use-value.]

Finally, nothing can have value unless it has utility. If it is useless, the labor embodied in it has been useless; such labor cannot be counted as labor, and therefore cannot produce value.