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

The Mystery of the Fetishistic Character of Commodities Exchange

COMMODITIES: the mystery of the fetishistic character of commodities exchange

. . . Thus the determination of the magnitude of value by labor time is a secret hidden away beneath the manifest fluctuations in the relative values of commodities.

. . . When I say that coats or boots or what not are related to linen as the general embodiment of abstract human labor, the statement seems manifestly absurd. Yet when the producers of coats, boots, etc., bring these commodities into relation with linen as the general equivalent (or with gold or silver as the general equivalent, for the nature of the case is just the same), it is precisely in this absurd form that the relation between their own private labor and the collective labor of society discloses itself to them. . . .

True that political economy has now achieved an analysis, however incomplete, of value and the magnitude of value, and has discovered the content hidden within these forms. But the economists have never even mooted the question why the content should assume these forms; why labor should be represented by the value of the product of labor, and the quantity of labor (as measured by its duration) by the magnitude of the value of that product. It is writ large on the face of these formulae that they belong to a type of social organization in which the process of production is the master of mankind, and in which mankind has not yet mastered the process of production. To the bourgeois mind, however, they seem as self-evident as, and no less a natural necessity, than, productive labor itself.

. . . Nothing but a substance whose every specimen has identical and uniform qualities can serve as an adequate phenomenal form of value, or as the embodiment of abstract and therefore uniform human labor. On the other hand, since the difference between magnitudes of value is purely quantitative, the commodity which is to function as money must be susceptible of purely quantitative differentiations, this meaning that it must be freely divisible at will, and yet capable of being reassembled out of the parts into which it has been divided. These qualities are among the natural attributes of gold and silver.

The use-value of the commodity which functions s money is twofold. In addition to its particular use-value as a commodity (gold, for instance, can be used for filling teeth, as a raw material of articles of luxury, and so on), it acquires a formal use-value, arising out of its specific social functions.

. . . When we know that gold is money, and is therefore directly exchangeable for all other commodities, this does not carry with it the knowledge what the value of, say, 10 lbs. of gold may be. Like every other commodity, gold can only express the magnitude of its value in the form of a relation to other commodities. Its own value is determined by the amount of labor time needed for its production, and that value secures expression in the quantum of any other commodity in which an equal amount of labor time is congealed.

. . . Without any cooperation on their part, commodities find their own form of value ready-made in the shape of another commodity that exists outside and beside them. These things, gold and silver, as they come out of the bowels of the earth, are simultaneously the direct incarnation of all human labor. Hence the magic of money.

In the form of society now under consideration, the behavior of men in the social process of production is purely atomic. Hence their relations to each other in production assume a material character independent of their control and conscious individual action. These facts manifest themselves at first by products taking the form of commodities. We have seen how the progressive development of a society of commodity-producers stamps one privileged commodity with the character of money. Hence the riddle presented by money is but the riddle presented by commodities; only it now strikes us in its most glaring form.