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

Twofold Character of the Labor Embodied in Commodities

COMMODITIES: twofold character of the labor embodied in commodities

Even though a commodity be the product of the most highly skilled labor, its value can be equated with that of the product of simple labor, so that it represents merely a definite amount of simple labor.

. . . In what follows we shall, for simplicity's sake, regard every kind of labor power as simple labor power, thus saving ourselves the trouble of making the reduction.

When we consider coat and linen as values, we ignore differences in their use-values. In like manner, when we consider the labor embodied in these values, we ignore the differences in the kind of utility as between the two forms of useful labor, tailoring and weaving. . . .

Coat and linen, however, are not merely values in a general sense; they are values of a definite magnitude. According to our primary assumption, the coat is worth twice as much as ten yards of linen. Whence does this difference in their values arise? It is due to the fact that the piece of ten yards of linen embodies only half as much labor as the coat. . . .

Whereas, then, in respect of the use-value of a commodity, the labor embodied in it counts qualitatively only; in respect of the magnitude of its value, the labor counts only in a quantitative sense, after it has been reduced to human labor pure and simple. In the former case, we are concerned with the how and the why of the labor. In the latter case, we are concerned with the duration of the labor and must answer the question "How long?" Since the value of a commodity represents only the amount of labor which the commodity embodies, it follows that suitable proportions of various commodities will have values of equal magnitude.

. . . If one coat represents the labor of x days, two coats will represent the labor of 2x days, and so on. Now let us suppose that the amount of labor needed for the production of a coat is doubled or halved. If it be doubled, one coat will now be worth twice as much as two coats were worth before; if it be halved, two coats will now be worth only as much as one coat was worth before. Yet in either case a coat does the same service as before, and the useful labor embodied in it is just as good as it had been before. What has changed is, the amount of labor expended in the production of a coat.

An increase in the quantity of use-value is an increase in material wealth. Two coats are more than one. Two coats serve to cover two men; one coat can cover only one man. Nevertheless, an increase in the amount of material wealth may take place while the magnitude of the value of this wealth falls.

Such a contradictory movement is the outcome of the twofold character of labor. Productive power is, of course, in all cases the productive power of useful concrete labor; in actual fact it determines only the efficacy of purposive productive labor in a given space of time. Thus useful labor becomes a more abundant or a less abundant source of products, according as its productive power rises or falls.

On the other hand, no change in productive power can, by itself, affect the labor that is embodied in value.

Since the productive power appertains to the concrete useful form of labor, it cannot have any bearing on labor when labor is considered in the abstract, apart from its concretely useful form. In equal spaces of time, the same labor always generates equal magnitudes of value, however much of the productive power may vary. But in equal space of time, the same amount of labor generates varying amounts of use-value; more when productive power rises, less when it falls. The same change in productive power which increases the yield of labor, and therefore increased the amount of use-values it generates, diminishes the magnitude of the value of this increased total mass if it lessens the sum-total of the labor time necessary for its production. The converse is equally true.

On the one hand, all human labor is, physiologically speaking, the expenditure of human labor power; and thus, as homogeneous or abstract human labor, it creates the value of commodities. On the other hand, all labor is the expenditure of human labor power in a special, purposive form; and thus, as concrete useful labor, it creates use-values.