[OPE-L:5227] Re: Metal money

Mon, 9 Jun 1997 20:18:34 -0700 (PDT)

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Thanks to Jerry and Mike W. for their last posts. The matter is so
appealing that I decided to sacrifice 30 minutes (in the middle of
my awful work) to say something about this.

1. My problem with what we can call the "money-commodity approach" is
that it reduces the complex category of MONEY to a common, commodity.
Let us say, Marx's "gold" is conceived as something practically equal
to sugar, linen or cotton. This is usual in the arithmetical or
algebraical exercises coming from Tugan and Bort. "Money" is simple a
numeraire, a scale to measure prices.

2. But, it seems to me, that the category "money" in Marx's text is
much more complex than this, even in Vol. I, Ch. 3. First of all, it
is almost obvious that the presentation of the 3 categories
"commodity-money-capital" has some "dialectical character". In
particular, money appears to be the NEGATION of commodity. When we
say "GENERAL commodity", I think, we should understand that this
GENERAL is the **negation** of the PARTICULAR commodities. There is a
logical step here that we miss if we think in money is simply a
commodity as any other. The adjetive GENERAL (before COMMODITY)
needs some thinking, some explanaition in terms of Marx's method.

3. Marx says (I think Ch. 2, I dont have the book right now) that
when gold becomes MONEY, it has only a FORMAL use-value. This
"formal" comes from the fact that it is the FORM OF VALUE. So,
insofar as gold becomes money, it ESSENTIALLY has a SOCIAL,
determination, it performs a SOCIAL FUNCTION, given by the peculiar
characteristics of commodity producing society. Gold-money has no use-
value in the sense of any other commodity has: we cannot satisfy any
human need by means of gold-money. To say that its "use value" is,
e.g. BUYING commodities is wrong because whereas "use value" is a
characteristic of the wealth in diverse economic organizations,
"buying" is only a particular feature of a commodity producing society.

Moreover, in money we have one of the poles of the commodity:
commodity is a unity of use-value and value, but in the process of
exchange this polarity "splits" in terms of, on the one hand,
commodities and, money, on the other. Money becomes the absolute
representation of social labor-time and, therefore, its nature as
use-value vanishes. In this perspective, it is not surprising that
the thing that is socially recognized as representation of social
labor-time evolves up to the point of being a purely social object.
This is true even in the case of the "gold" Marx **assumes** to be
money in Vol I, Ch. 3.

Regarding this essentially social character of money I would want to
emphasize a piece of the passage Jerry cites: "As long as the
*social* character of labour appears as the *money-existence* of
commodities, and thus a *thing* external to actual production, money
crises ... are inevitable." Marx defines here money as "A *THING*
EXTERNAL TO ACTUAL PRODUCTION", i.e. as a non-commodity. Of course,
money can be also "produced thing" but this is not necessarily its

4. Re Jerry's comment on my previous post I want to say:
a) I dont think that Marx "gives up" gold as money in that text. The
problem is what is the *conceptual meaning* of this "gold".
b) My original problem was that some issues in Marxian monetary
theory which could appear as "modern problems" are already drafted in
Vol. III.
c) Regarding the particular text originally quoted, it seems clear to
me that Marx is commenting not the possibility, but the reality, of a
*domestic* monetary system without "metal". This piece could help to
rethink the generalization made on the basis of Ch. 3.

5. In more general terms, I think that the essential funcion
performed by money in Marx's theory is that of representing social
labor-time. Any kind of money (credit-money, paper-money, commodity-
money, etc.) is fundamentally an autonomous, objective, representation
of social labor- time. Marx doesnt describe explicitly this function
in Ch. 3, but he mentions that in Ch. 2 and its a necessarily
corollary of his theory of value. This function can or cannot be
performed by a commodity.
Regarding the specific point of the "ghost of gold", I think that the
simplest monetary system that one can conceive on the basis of Marx's
theory involves at least 2 kinds of money: what I call the "reserve
money" (which is the "gold" of Ch. 3, which main conceptual property
is to represent labor-time in a "stable way") and the "symbol money"
presented in Ch. 3 too, under the form of "coin", paper money etc.
Money is the unity of both types of money, not one or another
isolated forms.
Marx assumes the quantitative relation between both types of money to
be constant, but this assumption is not a necessity of the theory.
So, when I read the passage in Kuhne's book I didnt think that this
was a "proof" that Marx was "giving up" gold. "Reserve money" is a
necessary form of money whether or not is performed by "gold".
Capitalism cannot "give up" some kind of "reserve money"; money
cannot be reduced to a "symbol". The interesting point of the
analysis (in the whole passage cited by Jerry) is precisely the
analysis of the relation between the "reserve money" (also here
assumed as "gold") and the "symbol money" (in that case = credit
money) and how one of the functions of capitalist State is to
maintain some kind of "convertibility" between both forms to
represent social labor-time.

Time over

Alejandro R.