[OPE-L:5802] Re: commodity money

Massimo De Angelis (M.Deangelis@UEL.AC.UK)
Tue, 9 Dec 1997 15:03:07 GMT0BST

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Two points.

First, I detect in Alfredo's reply to my previous post (see below)
the attempt to split politics from theory regarding the question of
money. It seems to me that if some theoretical category is political
then this is indeed money. The money-form could not be conceived
without referring to what it is about (the external expression of
social labour, and therefore a "thing" that serves for its
regulation). Furthermore, a theoretical reading of money along the
line of Marx's ***critique*** of political economy can conceive what
money is about only with respect to a social function that instead
belongs to an association of free producers (this is of course a
political standpoint). Money, in other words, is an alienated
expression of the "polis", if you allow me the metaphor. This is true
to the extent pieces of paper and/or gold/silver etc. do
express/represent and regulate in whatever way social labour, that
is, this is true independently of the fact that we have commodity
money or fiat money. For Marx, it is the point of view of the
transcendence that gives us the theoretical yardstick to define what
is the (alienated) nature of any category in contemporary capitalism.

Second, it seems to me that the question of how commodity-money turns
into unconvertible paper is **both** a historical and theoretical
question. The open question for us would be
to identify within the form of (commodity-money) general equivalent
the seed for its transformation into paper-money general equivalent,
and at the same time to be able to see how this was
transformation was historically possible.

On this point, I propose two set of questions I hope someone would
like to answer for me, starting from Marx's discussion of general

A) the general form of value "gives to the world of commodities a
general social relative form of value, because, and in so far as, all
commodities except one are thereby excluded from the equivalent form.
A single commodity, the linen, therefore has the form of direct
exchangeability with all other commodities, in other words it has a
directly social form because , and in so far as, no other commodity
is in this situation." (1867: 161)

Questions: To what extent this is different from a statement like: a
piece of paper called money (stlg5; $10, etc.) is able to give "to the
world of commodities a general social relative form of value", that
is making them directly exchangeable with all other commodities? Is
the difference due to the fact that a certain amount of labour is
embodied in gold, but not in paper? What to say then about
debasement, a constant feature of commodity-money economy? What to
say then about prices never correponding to their values? Also in
both these cases, although to a less of an extent than in the case
of paper money, we have a disporportionality between the value
embodied in a piece of gold and the amount of social labour this
same amount of gold claims to represent. Shouldn't our "Theory" then
start from this incongruent reality of commodity-money rather than
directly from paper money? And isn't this incongruent reality of
commodity-money a key feuture of the money form in general, whether
it is commodity bases or paper (fiat) based?

B). "The development of the equivalent form is only the expression
and the result of the relative form" (1867: 160). What has happened
in the relative form of value (that in in the imposition of abstract
labour) that can be associated to the development of equivalent form
up to the point of paper money?



> In response to Massimo's recent message:
> By 'not important' I mean gold is not important as measure of value. It can be
> used as an anchor to the price system. How we explain these issues is a
> theoretical problem (in other words, the theoretical problem is how do we
> explain the process of price-formation under capitalism). This has nothing
> directly to do with the practical use of gold as reserve value, or its
> political importance in times of crisis.
> Let me give one example in order to reinforce the separateness of the two
> issues. In the 1920s the British establishment forced the return of the
> country to the gold standard. In essence, this was not because they had
> realised that a developed capitalist economy needs a commodity-based monetary
> system in order to have a meaningful price system. And it was clearly not
> because they thought capitalism would collapse without convertibility into
> gold. Quite the opposite. The return to the gold standard was a political
> weapon in the struggle for the dominance of the international financial system
> against the rising power of the US, especially New York.
> Alfredo.