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

We saw at the outset that a commodity is compounded of two things, use-value and exchange-value. Subsequently it became clear that labor, too, in so far as it finds expression in value, acquires characteristics differing from those of labor as the producer of use-values. I was the first to point out and discuss this twofold character of the labor embodied in commodities. Since it is upon this that the understanding of political economy turns, we must look into the matter more closely.

Let us take two commodities, such as a coat and ten yards of linen. The former, we will suppose, to be worth twice as much as the latter, so that, if ten yards of linen = W, the coat = 2W.

Just as the coat and the linen are qualitatively different use-values, so are the forms of labor which respectively produce them (tailoring and weaving) qualitatively different. Were not the two things qualitatively different use-values, and therefore the products of qualitatively different forms of useful labor, they could not confront each other as commodities. Coats are not exchanged for coats, a use-value is not exchanged for another use-value of the same kind.

. . . But the existence of the coat, of the linen, of every constituent of material wealth (other than those freely provided by nature), must be brought about by a special, purposive, productive activity; one which adapts particular gifts of nature to particular human wants.

As creator of use-values, as useful labor, labor is a necessary, condition of human existence, and one that is independent of the forms of human society; it is, through all the ages, a necessity imposed by nature itself, for without it there can be no interchange of materials between man and nature -- in a word, no life.

The use-values coat, linen, commodities in general, are compounded of two elements: matter and labor. . . .In the process of production, man can only work as nature works -- by changing the forms of matter. Nay, more, in this work of changing the forms of matter he is continually aided by the forces of nature. We see, then, that labor is not the only source of the use-values it produces, is not the only source of material wealth. As William Petty phrases it, while labor is the father of material wealth, the earth is its mother.

Let us now pass from commodity regarded as an object possessing utility, to consider the value of the commodity.

In our example we assumed the coat to be worth twice as much as the linen. This, however, is merely a quantitative difference, which does not here concern us. Let us bear in mind, however, that, if a coat be worth twice as much as ten yards of linen, then twenty yards of linen will have the same magnitude of value as one coat. As values, coat and linen are the same substance, are the objective expressions of one and the same kind of labor. Tailoring and weaving are, however, qualitatively different kinds of labor . . . and, though qualitatively different productive activities, are, both of them, productive expenditure of the human brain, muscle, nerve, hand, etc., and in this sense are both of them human labor. They are merely two different ways of expending human labor power . . . simple labor power, such as that with which, on the average, the ordinary man is equipped in his bodily organism, without any special development of faculty. Simple average labor doubtless varies in character as between one country and another, and as between one cultural epoch and another; but in any given community it is a constant. Skilled labor counts only as intensified, or rather multiplied, simple labor, so that a smaller quantity of skilled labor is equal to a larger quantity of simple labor.

Experience shows that skilled labor can always be reduced in this way to the terms of simple labor.