[OPE-L:5810] Re: Re: commodity money

James Heartfield (James@heartfield.demon.co.uk)
Wed, 10 Dec 1997 17:16:17 +0000

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In message <Pine.GSO.3.96.971209211203.2832C-100000@acnet>, Gerald Levy
<glevy@pratt.edu> writes
>Massimo wrote on Tue, 9 Dec:
>> [...] It seems to me that if some theoretical category is political
>> then this is indeed money. [...]
>> 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. [...]
>Regarding the first two sentences that I excerpted above: I doubt if any
>of us would disagree. (of course I could be wrong. do others
>disagree?). Regarding your "open question": it seems to me that the
>further development of the money-form presupposes and requires the further
>theoretical development of the *state-form*. For instance, the development
>of paper-money is both historically and logically linked to the role of
>the capitalist state. Thus, perhaps the reason why your open question
>is an open question is that the state-form was abstracted from in
>_Capital_ (even though there are parenthetical/historical comments
>related to the role of the state: examples perhaps of what Tony called
>"Vorstellung") to be taken-up and systematically developed in Book IV (in
>the 6-book-plan).
>In solidarity, Jerry

I've always felt a bit unsure of this particular part of Marx's
argument. In the telling he is convincing on the elaboration of the
money-commodity out of the value form.

Necessary components of this argument are that money is a commodity and
that it has value, all quite persuasive.

However, with the development of paper, and other kinds of
representative money, the possibility opens up for a deviation of the
value the note purports to represent and what lies behind it. As I
understand it, the current value of paper money in circulation exceeds
by many times the value of the reserves behind it.

One solution is Lipietz's. In his allegory 'reflections on a tale' money
has a conventional value, ie by common agreement. It has to be said that
Marx anticipates the argument that money is a rational construction,
whose character as value is simply fictitious and rejects it. But the
perception that money has value only by agreed social convention is very
strong, and reinforced by the action of the state as guarantor of
money's value.

I am interested to know any answers, since I am just reading George
Simmel's Philosophy of Money, which, rather to my surprise is a line-by-
line assault on the concepts of Capital (though with all the refernces
taken out). Simmel is particularly animatd in his insistence that money
does not really have value, though it does measure value - at which my
instincts are to defend the orthodoxy.

(I seem to recall that this was a point of honour between followers of
Mandel and Healey, the latter earning themselves the name of 'goldbugs'
for their orthodox defence of Marx's theory of money.)

Any views?

James Heartfield