[OPE-L:7374] [OPE-L:904] Re: abstract labour

Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Thu, 15 Apr 1999 04:11:03 -0400 (EDT)

Ajit, you are a stronger person than I. The heat renders me dysfunctional
even in early Spring usually for a couple of weeks. Do remember though it
is only April!

Now for an expert you should know that Marx's own term was not 'mumbo
jumbo' but 'phrase mongering' at least as translated by Liebknecht.

OK we are arguing about your interpretation of the opening chapters of Das
Kapital I.

I have suggested that an important key to Marx's argument esp in the third
chapter on money is the section from TSVII on Ricardo's denial of the
possibility of overproduction. You remain as unconvinced by me as ever.

You underline that the possibility of a general glut cannot be derived
from the formula for the circulation of commodities C-M-C which (you
claim) Marx analyzes in Part I of Capital I. This seems to be your main

But...that circuit is not strictly followed in capitalism in which credit
has ascendend to predominance, allowing for the circulation of an immense
accumulation of commodities.

Use values are transferred NOT via money (that would slow things down
quite a bit) but on the basis of a promise to pay. If in the consumption of
the transferred use values new commodities are not produced and realized
*in a given period of time* to honor past obligations, there can then be a
general demand for money, i.e., a crisis. Here we have a rupture in the
circulation of commodities. The beauty of the prose makes it no burden to

"But when actual payments have to be made, money does not come onto the
scene as a circulating medium, in its merely transient form of an
intermediary in the social metabolism, but as the individual incarnation of
social labour, the independent presence of exchange value, the universal
commodity. This contradiction bursts forth that aspect of an industrial and
commercial crisis which is known as a monetary crisis. Such a crisis occurs
only where the ongoing chain of payments has been fully developed, along
with an artificial system for settling them. Whenever there is a general
disturbance of the mechanism, no matter what its cause, money suddenly and
immediately changes over from its merely nominal shape, money of account,
into hard cash. Profane commodities can no longer replace it. The use value
of commodities becomes valueless, and their value vanishes in the face of
their own form of value. The bourgeois, drunk with prosperity and and
arrogantly certain of himself, has just declared that moneyis a purely
imaginary creation. 'Commodities alone are money,' he said. But now the
opposite cry resounds over the markets of the world: only money is a
commodity. As the hart pants after fresh water, so pants his soul after
money, the only wealth. In a crisis, the antithesis between commodities and
the value form, money, is raised to the level of an absolute contradiction.
Hence money's form of appearance is here also a matter of indifference. The
monetary famine remains whether payments have to be made in gold or in
credit money,such as bank notes."

In a footnote, Marx quotes from the Critique of Political Economy:

"In times of actual monetary crisis, a contradiction appears which is
immanent in the development of money as a universal means of payment. It is
not required as measure; nor as coin...; but as exchange value become
independent, as the physically available universal equivalent, as the
materialisation of abstract wealth, in short, entirely in the form in which
it is the object of actual hoarding, as money."

So your point about the non possibility of a general glut in the formula
for the circulation of commodities may be true, but Marx's argument in PART
ONE is based on the inapplicability of that simple formula for the
specifically capitalist circulation of an immense accumulation of
commodities. Capitalist circulation is inherently credit driven, and this
creates the possibility of crisis--that is, the mad pursuit of money to the
exclusion of all other commodities (a dichotimisation in and of commodity
space that itself needs to be explained). I should only add that in this
same part one Marx is also concerned to show that a physical shortage of
the money commodity is not the effective cause of a rupture in circulation;
this conclusion follows from the critique of the quantity theory of money.
Marx is building the foundations of his crisis theory from the very

Yours, Rakesh