[OPE-L:2412] RE: commodity money in Marx's theory

Michael Williams (100417.2625@compuserve.com)
Wed, 29 May 1996 15:47:26 -0700

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In a reply to Duncan

Unless the unit of account is linked to a real commodity even if in
imagination, how can the money represent abstract labor? A mere linking to
the state does not seem enough to represent the abstract
labor. I accept one dollar note because I surely know it is linked to
what I am going to buy (not because the state issued it). In your
position, the value of money is predetermined independently of
labor values. How can it be expected as linked to the labor value of
commodities? Yes, it could be linked to a specific kind of concrete labor
like a token. The token is not a money, however.

Here we get to the nub of the disagreement between value-form and commodity
notions of money. It lies in the metaphysics implied in this kind of argument.
The linkages to which you refer have, for your commodity-money view, to be
cashed out in terms of a real underlying value substance, measurable in
quantities of abstract labour, common to everything (money as well as - other -
commodities) which enter sytematic exchange. And this system somehow is to exert
ultimate determining force, which can only temporarily be bucked by market
participants, and (even more so?) the state.

The metaphysical commitment of the value-form account is quite different. It is
to an interlinked social and economic system of generalised capitalist commodity
production and exchange. Money is not independent of values, because their only
quantitative expression is as systematic money prices. For well known reasons,
labour is the sole necessary primary factor of production of surplus-value - and
both the abstraction from specific and differentially skilled labours to
abstract labour, and the money expression of labour are real outcomes of the
operations of that, market reproduced, system.

I do not foresee agreement between us on such ontological commitment. I used to
accept something like the commodity view, largely because that is what my elders
and betters, back to Marx himself, seemed to believe. Now, I find it difficult
to even conceive of this murky stuff, a value substance, and see no reason as a
critical political economist, or as a revolutionary socialist, to try. You
several times claim that money cannot be pure quantity - but give no reason why
not? I argue it can be, because niether the labour-time, nor the costs more
generally of production of any (immediate or underlying) money object seem to me
to have anything whatsoever to do with the relation between money and the
generality of commodites, or any individual commodity, or more generally with
the ability of money to perform its various functions.

I still owe you replies to outstanding points from older posts - I will get
round to them eventually.

Comradely greetings

Michael W.