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

page 28. TRANSFORMATION OF MONEY INTO CAPITAL
Purchase and Sale of Labor Power

TRANSFORMATION OF MONEY INTO CAPITAL: purchase and sale of labor power

. . .Moneybags must be lucky enough to find somewhere within the sphere of circulation, in the market, a commodity whose use-value has the peculiar quality of being a source of value; a commodity whose actual consumption is a process whereby labor is embodied, and whereby therefore value is created. Our friend does actually find in the market such a specific commodity. He finds it in the capacity for labor, or labor power. . . .

But in order that the owner of money may find labor power offering itself for sale as a commodity in the market, various conditions must be fulfilled. . . . The seller of labor power and the owner of money meet in the market and enter into mutual relations as commodity owners having equal rights, distinguished only by this, that one of them is a buyer and the other a seller; so that they are equal persons in the eye of the law. Such a relation can persist only on the understanding that the owner of labor power sells that labor power for a definite time and no longer; for if he should sell it once and for all, he would sell himself, would change himself from a freeman into a slave, from an owner of a commodity into a commodity. . . .

The second essential condition, if the owner of money is to find labor power in the market, is that the worker, the owner of labor power, shall be one who, instead of being able to sell commodities in which his labor has already been embodied, has to offer for sale his labor power itself, something which does not exist apart from his living personality. . . .

This peculiar commodity, labor power, must now receive closer attention. Like all other commodities, it has a value. How is this value determined?

The value of labor power, like that of every other commodity, is determined by the labor time necessary for the production, and consequently for the reproduction as well, of this specific article. In so far as it has value, labor power itself represents nothing more than a definite amount of average social labor which has been incorporated in it. . . .

The owner of labor power is mortal. Consequently, if he is to be perennially present in the market, as is essential to the continuous transformation of money into capital, the seller of labor power must perpetuate himself "in the way that every living individual perpetuates himself, by procreation." The labor power withdrawn from the market by wear and tear and by death must be continually replaced by at least an equal quantity of new labor power. Hence the sum total of the means of subsistence necessary for the production of labor power, includes the means of subsistence of those who will replace labor power, that is to say the worker's children. . . .

The lowest limit, or the minimum of the value of labor power, is determined by the value of a quantity of commodities short of a daily supply of which the owner of labor power, the human individual, cannot renew his vital processes; it is determined, that is to say, by the value of the physically indispensable means of subsistence. If the price of labor power falls to this minimum, it falls below its value, seeing that labor power can on these terms only maintain and develop itself in a blighted form. But the value of every commodity is determined by the labor time required to produce it in a normal quality.

. . . In countries where the capitalist method of production has become established, labor power is paid for only after it has functioned throughout the period specified in the contract; for instance, at the end of the week. Everywhere, therefore, the worker advances to the capitalist the use-value of his labor power; the seller of labor power allows the buyer to consume its use-value before the seller gets the price; everywhere the worker gives credit to the capitalist.

. . . We will follow the owner of money and the owner of labor power into the hidden foci of production, crossing the threshold of the portal above which is written: "No admittance except on business." Here we shall discover, not only how capital produces, but also how it is itself produced. We shall at last discover the secret of the making of surplus value.

. . . He who came to the market as the owner of money, leaves it striding forward as a capitalist; he who came to the market as the owner of labor power, brings up the rear as a worker. The former, self-important, self-satisfied, with a keen eye to business; the latter, timid, reluctant, like a man who is bringing his own skin to market and has nothing to expect but a tanning.