[OPE-L:297] on the conceptualisation of money

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Fri, 20 Oct 1995 12:44:42 -0700

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I've generally resisted jumping into a discussion from the programme of
the day but can rationalise commenting upon Paul C's note on the
conceptualisation of money because he posed it as an open question in
I agree strongly with Paul's point about the need to go beyond archaic
forms of money. However, I would stress that such a development to
non-archaic (ie., non-commodity) forms of money should be demonstrated to be
already present (latent?) in Marx's concept. If it is not, then there may be
inadequacies in Marx's concept of money.
In fact, I think that such a development is present in Marx's concept.
Certainly, we are introduced to money as a commodity, as gold. However, the
essence of money--- as the form of value, as the representation of the
social labour of society is always paramount.
We need to understand, too, that in a dialectical development the first
form in which a category is introduced is always partial, one-sided and
inadequate; it is only in the further development that it takes on new
sides. Thus, we clearly see the commodity initially as containing a specific
quantum of social labour but by the end of Vol I we see it as a product of
capital, as containing both paid and unpaid labour, ie as C' rather than C,
as result rather than mere premise (cf Results, Vol I, Penguin/Vintage,
949ff). (We also see reinforced in II what was always present at the
outset-- that it is only the commodity in motion with money, ie., the
commodity which succeeds in making the mortal leap from C'-M', which is a
true commodity rather than would-be commodity, mere product.)
Much the same development occurs in CAPITAL with respect to money.
Although money is initially identified with gold as such, by the end of Vol
II with the reproduction models we understand (or should if that unfinished
portion of II had been adequately developed and theorised) that money is not
merely a premise and presupposition, there to buy commodities but that it is
a *result*. In the reproduction model, the M which stands opposite C is M in
the hands of capitalists and workers; it is M which is the result of C'-M'
and M which is the result of the sale of labour-power. That is, it is the
gross income of capitalists (their surplus value and the money needed to
replace constant capital) and it is the income of workers. This is the M'
which stands opposite the value of commodities in the two departments of
production and which determines the total amount of value to be realised. In
short, money in the circuits of capital must be understood as a result: the
money that people possess is produced within the very process of capitalist
production and circulation. It is not--- in any way--- a thing. Although we
see it initially as a particular use-value,gold, which serves as
equivalent,etc, now we see that money (gold and its representations) is just
(!) a form of value produced within capitalist production. To continue,
then, to talk about money as gold (and its forms of representation) is to
fetishize the form and not recognise the essence (which becomes clearer in
the course of completing the concept of capital). So, in this respect, I
would argue that the movement beyond archaic forms of money to
more direct forms of value, representations of society's labour, is already
present in CAPITAL.
Further, insofar as gold is indeed the initial form of representation of
total social labour, its inadequacy as such a form is manifest (as Steve
notes) precisely because it is itself a commodity and thus changes in its
own production (eg., productivity changes) affect its ability to perform its
social role. In this respect, the movement to more pure forms of value as
capitalism develops may be seen as implicit.
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 255-0382
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e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca