(OPE-L) "Marx on the Origin of the Money-Form" (1 of 2)

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sat Jun 05 2004 - 07:40:39 EDT

I am going to forward four recent messages (3 by Walt Sheasby and
1 by Matt Forstater) to the "Kapital_Gang" list (a low-volume 'yahoo' list)
because they seem to be relevant to our own discussions on the
emergence of money. The message below was posted on 5/25/04.
In solidarity, Jerry



 Phoenicians bartering with early Britons. Painting in the London
 Exchange  by Lord Leighton [reference to photo in orginial
post, JL]

 By Walt Contreras Sheasby

    By roughly 700 BCE, barter between communities took
 on an unprecedented volume of trade. Marx argued that
 *Direct barter, the spontaneous form of exchange, signifies
 the beginning of the transformation of use-values into
 commodities rather than the transformation of commodities
 into money (Marx, 1970: 50).

    Marx proposed a distinct source for the origin of
 the money-form: *Nomad races are the first to develop
 the money-form, because all their worldly goods consist
 of moveable objects and are therefore directly alienable;
 and because their mode of life, by continually bringing
 them into contact with foreign communities, solicits the
 exchange of products* (Marx, 1976: 183F; 92M).

     This hunch about the prehistoric past was based on a
 theoretical supposition that Marx presented as certainty:
 *In fact, the exchange of commodities evolves originally not
 within primitive communities, but on their margins, on their
 borders, the few points where they come into contact with
 other communities* (Marx, 1970: 50).

     According to Marx, who had read the available classical
 Greco-Roman accounts more closely than any of the political
 economists, a pattern was clear: *This is where barter begins
 and moves thence into the interior of the community, exerting
 a disintegrating influence upon it. The particular use-values
 which, as a result of barter between different communities,
 become commodities, e.g., slaves, cattle, metals, usually
 serve also as the first money within these communities*
 (Marx, 1970: 50).

    Current archeological research bears out the ideas Marx
 drew from classical accounts, but the explanations are
 more complex. The focus is on the Scythian, Sarmatian,
 Sakas, Massagetae, Ta-Yueh-Chi and early Mongolian nomads
 who inhabited the Eurasian steppes during the first millennium
 BCE. The men rode on horseback, the women on cattle-
 drawn wagons on which their felt tents were set.

[photo in original post, JL]

            *The first of these mounted nomads to attract the
 attention of historians were the Scythians. If the Scythians were
 not  the first to domesticate the horse they were among the
 earliest, if not the first of the Central Asian people to
 learn to ride it.* http://www.silk-road.com/artl/scythian.shtml

     As Marx would undoubtedly appreciate, the new tools
 ushered in with the Iron Age (bridles, iron plowshares, sickles
 and scythes appear) had a profound economic impact, leading
 to an agricultural revolution associated with plow technology,
 human population growth and migration, and the explosive
 growth of cattle-breeding. There was a final separation of
 tribes of wood and steppe zones to main types of economy.
 Traditional cattle pastures were soon becoming overgrazed,
 forcing the herders to travel further from the agricultural
 settlements in the great river valleys. What emerged was
 a nomadic way of life, of constant movement to and from
 winter pasture to summer pasture.

 Beginning in about 1000 BCE and continuing to nearly 1000
 CE, many tribal peoples of the Central Asian steppe changed
 over to nomadic migration as a way of life. Moreover, during the
 sixth century BCE to fourth century CE, major climatic changes
 may have led to a deteriorating steppe ecology that increased
 population pressure toward a nomadic way of life for many.

 With the widening orbit of grazing and bartering, the nomadic
 tribes brought formerly disparate communities into a complex
 exchange process. As the Russian historian (Nabatchikov, 2001)
 says, *The unlimited stretches of steppe instead of being a
 separating factor became the uniting factor.*

[another photo in original, JL]
 An elephant with a humped bull on reverse. From King
Azes II, Scythia rule in Pakistan 35 BCE to CE 5.

     Scythian art tells a story of interaction with the Greek world,
 which eagerly purchased grain, furs and amber from the Scythians.
 Profits from this trade brought Scythians the wealth to indulge
 their taste for elaborate objects ranging from torques to horse
 decorations. As an exhibit of nomad gold (designed by Alex
 Castro (200) points out, the Scythians grew rich on trade with
 the Greeks, and commissioned lavish gold objects for
 adornment, ceremony and battle, drawing on their own ancient
 artistic traditions and employing the finest Greek goldsmiths of
 the age.

[another photo, JL]
 Two Maenads, one holding hide the other leg portion.
IV cenury BCE Scythian plaque.

 In the process, the exchange of animals, hides, and other
 products for Grecian gold established the relative values of
 various commodities. Ultimately, the very process of barter
 is undermined by its success as the focus shifts from the
 use-value or utility of objects to the exchange value of the key
 commodities that serve more and more as a medium of
 exchange. As Marx states, *The gradual extension of barter,
 the growing number of exchange transactions, and the
 increasing variety of commodities bartered lead, therefore,
 to the further development of the commodity as exchange-
 value, stimulates the formation of money and consequently
 has a disintegrating effect on direct barter* (Marx, 1970: 50).

 As we will see in the next message, the actual invention of
 standardized coinage in about the 6th Century BCE took place
 at the intersection of the trading routes that had grown up over
 centuries of nomadic commerce. *Slaves, cattle, metals,* as
 Marx puts it, were all to play a role in the evolution of the


 Map of the Scythians' domain.

 Castro, Alex (2000),  Gold of the Nomads.

 Marx, Karl, Capital, Vol. 1 (1976), London: Penguin Books;
 (1987), New York International Publishers.

 Marx, Karl (1970), A Contribution to the Critique of Political
 Economy, New York: International Publishers.

 Nabatchikov, Prof. (2001), Introduction, Art of the Caucuses,

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