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

Price of Land


The fact that capitalized ground rent represents itself as the price or value of land, so that the earth is bought and sold like any other commodity, serves to some apologists as a justification of private property in land, seeing that the buyer pays an equivalent for it, as he does for other commodities, and that the major portion of the property in land has changed hands in this way. The same reason would, in that case, serve also to justify slavery, since the returns from the labor of a slave, whom the slave holder has bought, represent merely the interest on the capital invested in this purchase. To derive from the sale and purchase of ground-rent a justification of its existence signifies to justify its existence by its existence. . . .

It should be remembered in the study of the various forms which appear as ground-rent, that is, of the lease money paid under the name of ground-rent to the landlord for the use of the land for the purposes of production or consumption, that the price of things which have in themselves no value, not being the products of labor, such as the land, or which at least cannot be reproduced by labor, such as antiquities, works of art of certain masters, etc., may be determined by many accidental combinations. In order to sell a thing nothing more is required than that it may be monopolized and alienated.

. . . Wherever natural forces can be monopolized (and thereby guarantee a surplus profit to the industrial capitalist using these forces, whether it be waterfalls, or rich mines, or waters teeming with fish, or a favorably located building lot), there the person who by his or her title to a portion of the globe has been privileged to own these things will capture a part of the surplus profit of the active capital by means of rent.

Concerning mining lands . . . This form of rent is distinguished . . . by the most shameless exploitation of poverty . . . and by the tremendous power wielded by private property in land when united with industrial capital in the same hand and used for the purpose of practically excluding the laborers in their struggle for wages from the earth as a place of domicile. One section of society thus exacts from another a tribute for permission to inhabit the earth.

Private property in land implies the privilege of a landlord to exploit the body of the globe, the bowels of the earth, the air, and with them the conservation and development of life. . . .

The title of a number of persons to the possession of the globe which enables them to appropriate a portion of the surplus labor of society to themselves, and to do so in an increasing extent with the development of production, is concealed by the fact that the capitalized rent, this capitalized tribute, appears as the price of the land, and that the land may be sold like any other article of commerce. The buyer, therefore, does not feel that his title to the rent is obtained gratis . . . but rather that he has paid for it with an equivalent. . . .

From the point of view of a higher economic form of society, the private ownership of the globe on the part of some individuals will appear quite as absurd as the private ownership of one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all societies together are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its users, and they have to hand it down to the coming generations in an improved condition, like good fathers of families.