In a previous post (Economics for Social Democrats–but Not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of the Social Democrat Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part One), I questioned Mr. Stanford’s theory of money as purchasing power, as well as his implied reduction of Marx’s critical dual or twofold theory of commodities to a labour theory of value. I showed that Mr. Stanford fails to explain why money has a monopoly power of immediate purchasability.
In a subsequent post, I also showed how Stanford’s inadequate theory of money leads him to assume a “real economy” that is somehow independent of the process of producing value (and surplus value) and consequently his false conclusion that there is not a trade-off between the economy and the health of workers (in the context of the pandemic, but this trade-off applies generally in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers). (See Economics for Social Democrats–but not for the Working Class, Part Three: The Health and Safety of Workers and an Economy Dominated by a Class of Employers Are at Loggerheads).
In this post, I will further develop the importance of the nature of money as “purchasing power,” in particular how this power (and the lack of such power at the level of commodities) involves or entails a process that escapes the control of the participants in the exchange process.
The Expression of the Dual Nature of the Commodity Requires a Double Movement of Sale and Purchase
I will assume the reader has read the first post on money and therefore is familiar with the dual nature of both the labour that produces commodities and the dual nature of commodities.
The real expression of the dual nature of commodities is expressed in a dual movement, from commodities (represented by C) exchanged for money (represented by M), which is the realization of the value of the commodity, and the opposite movement of the conversion of M into C, which is the realization of the use value, not of the original commodity, but of use values for the original owner of the commodity. The whole movement is thus: C-M, and M-C, or C-M-C, where the dash represents an exchange.
From Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1:Capital, pages 199-200:
Let us now accompany the owner of some commodity, say our old friend the linen weaver, to the scene of action, the market. His commodity, 20 yards of linen, has a definite price, £2. He exchanges it for the £2, and then, being a man of the old school, he parts for the £2 in return for a family Bible of the same price. The linen, for him a mere commodity, a bearer of value, is alienated in exchange for gold, which is the shape of the linen’s value, then it is taken out of this shape and alienated again in exchange for another commodity, the Bible, which is destined to enter the weaver’s house as an object of utility and there to satisfy his family’s need for edification. The process of exchange is therefore accomplished through two metamorphoses of opposite yet mutually complementary character – the conversion of the commodity into money, and the re-conversion of the money into a commodity. The two moments of this metamorphosis are at once distinct transactions by the weaver- selling, or the exchange of the commodity for money, and buying, or the exchange of the money for a commodity – and the unity of the two acts: selling in
order to buy.
The end result of the transaction, from the point of view of the weaver, is that instead of being in possession of the linen, he now has the Bible; instead of his original commodity, he now possesses another of the same value but of different utility. He procures his other means of subsistence and of production in a similar way. For the weaver, the whole process accomplishes nothing more than the exchange of the product of his labour for the product of someone else’s, nothing more than an exchange of products.
The process of exchange is therefore accomplished through the following changes of form:
As far as concerns its material content, the movement is C-C, the exchange of one commodity for another, the metabolic interaction of social labour, in whose result the process itself becomes extinguished.
The Escape of the Whole Process of Simple Circulation from the Control of the Participants with the Emergence of Money
In the external measure of the value of commodities via money as measure, there is, indeed, all commodities on one side and money on the other side, but in the actual exchange of commodities with money (money as a means of purchase or as a means of circulation) this is not the case; on the contrary, there is necessarily a separation in space and time between the act of sale (realization of the value of the commodity in money) and the realization of money in various use values (purchase).
The unity of value and use value, hidden in the commodity, is expressed as mutually exclusive and external forms of sale and purchase so that crisis becomes a possibility as the gap between the realization of the value of a commodity and the realization of use values of an equivalent value becomes intensified. The whole process is what Marx calls simple circulation, and this process escapes the control of the participants in the exchange process.
To make the following a little easier to follow, we can consider the following:
- The owner of linen wants to sell the linen in order to buy a Bible.
- The owner of money who buys the linen obtained the money by selling wheat.
- The owner of the Bible sells the Bible to the former linen owner in order to buy brandy (but the brandy does not directly figure in the total metamorphosis or total exchange of the linen for the Bible since we end with the Bible owner possessing money and the linen owner possessing the Bible.
- At the beginning of the total exchange process, the linen owners owns the linen (a use value for others) but does not want it.
- At the end of the total exchange process, the former linen owner now owns a use value useful to her (and the linen also is useful for the farmer, the former owner of wheat).
- The money stops circulating for the moment at the end of the process with the former owner of the Bible aiming to purchase some brandy (but not yet doing so).
Pages 207- 209:
The circulation of commodities differs from the direct exchange of products not only in form, but in its essence. We have only to consider the course of events. The weaver has undoubtedly exchanged his linen for a Bible, his own commodity for someone else’s. But this phenomenon is only true for him. The Biblepusher, who prefers a warming drink to cold sheets, had no intention of exchanging linen for his Bible; the weaver did not know that wheat had been exchanged for his linen. B’s commodity replaces that of A, but A and B do not mutually exchange their commodities. It may in fact happen that A and B buy from each other, but a particular relationship of this kind is by no means the necessary result of the general conditions of the circulation of commodities. We see here, on the one hand, how the exchange of commodities breaks through all the individual and local limitations of the direct exchange of products, and develops the metabolic process of human labour. On the other hand, there develops a whole network of social connections of natural origin, entirely beyond the control of the human agents. Only because the farmer has sold his wheat is the weaver able to sell his linen, only because the weaver has sold his linen is our rash and intemperate friend able to sell his Bible, and only because the latter already has the water of everlasting life is the distiller able to sell his eau-de-vie. And so it goes on.
The process of circulation, therefore, unlike the direct exchange of products, does not disappear from view once the use-values have changed places and changed hands. The money does not vanish when it finally drops out of the series of metamorphoses undergone by a commodity. It always leaves behind a precipitate at a point in the arena of circulation vacated by the commodities. In the complete metamorphosis of the linen, for example, linen-money-Bible, the linen first falls out of circulation, and money steps into its place. Then the Bible falls out of circulation, and again money takes its place. When one commodity replaces another, the money commodity always sticks to the hands of some third person. Circulation sweats money from every pore.
Circulation bursts through all the temporal, spatial and personal barriers imposed by the direct exchange of products, and it does this by splitting up the direct identity present in this case between the exchange of one’s own product and the acquisition of someone else’s into the two antithetical segments of sale and purchase. To say that these mutually independent and antithetical processes form an internal unity is to say also that their internal unity moves forward through external antitheses. These two processes lack internal independence because they complement each other. Hence, if the assertion of their external independence proceeds to a certain critical point, their unity violently makes itself felt by producing – a crisis. There is an antithesis, immanent in the commodity,
between use-value and value, between private labour which must simultaneously manifest itself as directly social labour, and a particular concrete kind of labour which simultaneously counts as merely abstract universal labour, between the conversion of things into persons and the conversion of persons into things*; the antithetical phases of the metamorphosis of the commodity are the developed forms of motion of this immanent contradiction.
A Limitation of Stanford’s Definition of Money as Purchasing Power: A Lack of Control Over the Total Social Process of Exchange
Stanford, by not linking the purchasing power of money to the dual oppositional nature of labour and commodities characteristic of a capitalist society, fails to address the loss of control over the total process of exchange by the participants in exchange. This loss of control is linked to what Marx called commodity fetishism, where things produced by workers gain independent power over the producers.
The issue of commodity fetishism will, however, be addressed in another post in this series. Commodity fetishism is both a process of the exchange process becoming independent of the participants in that process and the resulting independence not only appearing to be attributes of things rather than social attributes originating from the producers themselves but actually being social attributes. The issue also has to do with the further development of commodity fetishism in the forms of money fetishism and capital fetishism, where the process increasingly takes on an independent form that not only escapes the control of workers but increasingly controls their lives. The internal opposition between abstract labour and concrete labour then becomes a nightmare for workers as their own working lives are used against them to exploit and oppress them.
This commodity fetishism is a process of the products of social labour coming to dominate the producers rather than vice versa. This appears to be and in some senses is independent of the workers.
Hence, Stanford, by failing to link his definition of money to a dual theory of labour and commodities, fails, in other words, to understand the essential relation between the nature of money as purchasing power and the domination, oppression and exploitation of workers on the basis of their own social labour becoming independent of them in exchange and ultimately controlling them at work.
Mr. Stanford’s theory of money as “purchasing power” is inadequate because it fails to deal with the dual nature of labour and the dual nature of commodities, and this dual nature generally involves a temporal and spatial split between the realization of the value of the commodity and the realization of the use value of the commodity (in the form of many use values). This split leads, in the first instance, to the creation of an exchange process that escapes the control of the participants in that process; it also leads to the possibility of an economic crisis.
Ultimately, it leads to a production process that not only escapes the control of the participants in exchange but also of the producers, leading to their domination and exploitation. That may be shown in further posts, however.