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

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)

The wealth of societies in which the capitalist method of production prevails, takes the form of "an immense accumulation of commodities," wherein individual commodities are the elementary units. . . .

A commodity is primarily an external object, a thing whose qualities enable it, in one way or another, to satisfy some human want. The nature of these wants, whether for instance they arise in the stomach or in the imagination, does not affect the matter. . . .

Every useful object, such as iron, paper, etc., must be regarded from a twofold viewpoint, that of the quality and that of quantity. . . .

The utility of a thing makes it a use-value. But this utility is not a thing apart. Being determined by the properties of the commodity, it does not exist without them. The commodity itself, such as iron, wheat, a diamond, etc., is therefore a use-value or a good. . . .Use-value is realized only in use or consumption. Use-values comprise the substance of wealth, whatever its social form may be. In the form of society we are about to examine, they constitute likewise the material depositories of exchange-values.

Exchange-value presents itself primarily as a quantitative ratio, the proportion, in which use-values of one kind are exchanged for use-values of another kind, a ratio continually varying in time and place. Exchange-value thus seems to be something fortuitous and purely relative, and an exchange-value immanent in commodities (intrinsic value) would consequently appear to be a contradiction in terms. . . .

The obvious characteristic of the exchange ratio between commodities is precisely this, that their use-values are not considered. From this viewpoint one use-value is just as good as another, if there be enough of it. . . .A hundred pounds' worth of lead or iron is of as great value as one hundred pounds' worth of silver and gold. Regarded as use-values, commodities are, above all, of different quality; regarded as exchange-values, they can merely differ in quantity, for from this point of view they have no use-value at all.

When the use-values of commodities are left out of consideration there remains but one property common to them all, that of being products of labor.

But even the product of labor has already undergone a change in our hands. If, by our process of abstraction, we ignore its use-value, we ignore also the material constituents and forms which render it a use-value. It is no longer, to us, a table, or a house, or yarn, or any other useful thing. All the qualities whereby it affects our senses are annulled. It has ceased to be the product of the work of a joiner, a builder, a spinner; the outcome of some specific kind of productive labor. When the useful character of the labor products vanishes, the useful character of the labor embodied in them vanishes as well. The result is that the various concrete forms of that labor disappear too; they can no longer be distinguished one from another; they are one and all reduced to an identical kind of human labor, abstract human labor.

Let us now consider the residuum of labor products. Nothing is left of them but the before-mentioned unsubstantial entity, a mere jelly of undifferentiated human labor, this meaning the expenditure of human labor power irrespective of the method of expenditure. All that now matters in the labor products is that human labor power has been expended in producing them, that human labor power is stored up in them. As crystals of this social substance common to them all, they are values -- commodity values.