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

page 50. TRANSFORMATION OF THE VALUE, OR THE PRICE, OF LABOR POWER INTO WAGES


TRANSFORMATION OF THE VALUE, OR THE PRICE, OF LABOR POWER INTO WAGES

. . . What actually confronts the owner of money in the market is not labor, but the worker. What the worker sells is his labor power. As soon as his work really begins, it has already ceased to belong to him and can therefore no longer be sold by him. Labor is the substance and the immanent measure of value, but it has itself no value.

In the phrase "value of labor", the concept of value is not merely expunged, but is transformed into its opposite. It is an expression as imaginary as when we speak of the value of the earth. Yet these imaginary expressions arise out of the very relations of production. They are categories for the phenomenal forms of essential relations. The students of other sciences are familiar with the fact that phenomenal things often appear in inverted forms; political economists are the only students of science who do not know this. . . .

Since the value of labor is only an irrational expression for the value of labor power, it is self-evident that the value of the labor must invariably be less than the value it creates, for the capitalist always arranges that labor power shall continue in operation for a longer time than is necessary for the reproduction of its own value. . . .

. . . In slave labor, even that part of the working day in which the slave is merely replacing the value of his own means of subsistence, and during which, therefore, he is really working for himself, assumes the aspect of work for his master. All his labor seems to be unpaid labor. In the case of wage labor, on the other hand, even surplus labor or unpaid labor appears to be paid. In one case, the property relation hides the fact that the slave works part of his time for himself; in the other case, the money relation hides the fact that the wage worker works part of his time for nothing.

Hence we can understand the decisive importance of the transformation of the value and the price of labor power into the form of the wages of labor, or into the value and the price of labor itself. Upon this phenomenal form, which renders the real relation invisible and brings its very opposite to light, are grounded the juridical concepts entertained alike by the worker and the capitalist, all the mystifications of the capitalist method of production, all its illusions of freedom, all the apologetic artifices of the vulgar economists.

Nothing can be easier to explain why this is so, why this phenomenal form is necessary -- even though history has taken so long in solving the mystery of wages. . . .

The capitalist . . . wants to get as much labor as possible for as little money as possible. The only thing, therefore, which interests him in practice, is the difference between the price of labor power and the value which its function creates. But he tries to buy all commodities as cheaply as possible, and invariably explains his profit to himself as due simply to buying cheap and selling dear, to buying a thing below its value and selling it above its value. He therefore fails to realize that if such a thing as the value of labor really existed, and he really paid this value, no capital could exist, for his money could not be transformed into capital. . . .

Capital, therefore, is not only what Adam Smith calls it, the command over labor. Fundamentally it is the command of unpaid labor. All surplus value, whatever the form into which it may subsequently become crystallized -- as profit, land-rent, interest, etc., -- is, substantially, the materialization of unpaid labor time. The secret of the self-expansion of capital finds its explanation in this, that capital has at its disposal a definite quantity of other people's unpaid labor. . . .