I am still looking for a good formulation of the idea that Washington is using the dollar to control all capital in the world market.
And it ain’t easy.
I think the elements of the basic argument can be found in Anitra Nelson’s, Claus Germer’s and Suzanne de Brunhoff’s chapters in “Marx’s Theory of Money“. The three together establish that insofar as labor theory is concerned the dollar is not money; doesn’t behave like money; and doesn’t serve any of the functions of money. At best the dollar can be considered a token of money with the caveat that tokens do not behave like money, nor do they fulfill any of the functions of money beyond that minimum required as medium for the circulation of commodities.
The first point is obvious: the dollar is not a commodity, nor does it possess anything more than a negligible value of its own. This fact is aggravated by such glaring problems as that a sheet of one dollar bills requires no less time for production than a sheet of twenty, fifty, or one hundred dollar bills. The problems is further aggravated by the instantaneous creation of any quantity of dollars at a computer terminal. (During the recent crisis, for instance, Bernanke showed the television audience that he simply created the currency to bail out the banks at a computer terminal.) This suggests not only is the labor time required for the creation of a dollar negligible, it is, in addition, indeterminant.
The second argument — the dollar does not behave like money — is equally easy to establish. In labor theory, the circulation of money is merely a reflex of the circulation of commodities. This reflexive movement is not the least bit true for any fiat currency at present, including the dollar. Although this might seem to be a small point, it is, in fact, quite significant, since it implies the dollar is not a medium of circulation. As medium for the circulation of commodities, money no more explains the movement of commodities than water explains the movement of fish. This argument, of course, does not deny that money, like water itself, is subject to forces that influence the movement of commodities, as water might for fish, but it suggests the effect on their movement is secondary. It is altogether the opposite with fiat dollars otherwise how could fascist state monetary policy exist at all?
The third argument is that fiat dollars neither can serve as measure of value nor standard of prices as money does in labor theory. I would argue that it is not as if these two core functions of money are separate: no money can serve as a measure of value if it cannot serve as a standard of price. Although as measure of value the function of money is merely an ideal one, this ideal function must be grounded in some actual relationship between the socially necessary labor time contained both in the money and in the commodity.
Assuming for the sake of this argument that these three problems of fiat currency are settled in labor theory, what then is fiat currency? I would argue 99% of the problem Marxist academics encounter with fiat money in labor theory is that they have no explanation for it if fiat dollars are not money. We are, in effect, dealing with an economy that functions entirely without money — which appears absurd. So far as labor theory is concerned, a moneyless economy is incompatible with capitalist relations of production. Since we are apparently dealing with a capitalist economy, the default theoretical position must be that fiat dollars are money unless proven otherwise. Continue reading “Follow the money …”
5. Marxism after the death of money?
Think of it this way: If Marx was wrong about money, he is just another dead guy whose significance is highly over-rated. Things continue much the same way as they did before. However, if Marx was right, the entire system of commodity production no longer exists and the fascist state is running the entire economy as if it were the floor of some factory.
When Nixon closed the gold window in 1971 and severed the dollar from a definite standard of prices, the consequences of this act were not as simple and straightforward as commonly assumed. It is true there is a danger of hyperinflation, financial crises and currency crises always lurking in the wings, but these minor, secondary, issues should not concern us at all, as they are mere symptoms of a much more profound crisis.
Nixon’s act did not simply sever the connection between the dollar and gold, but also severed the connection between prices — denominated in dollars — and values — expressed in some definite quantity of a commodity money. A number of consequences result immediately once currency is severed from a commodity that can serve as the measure of value and standard of prices — these consequences profoundly effect not just money itself, but every category Marx initially analyzed in Capital. Moreover, it is precisely the expansion of capital that undermines money and all the categories that serve as the premises of capital itself. I will turn to describing a few of these implications now.
In the first part of this series, I make the following statements:
- The role of a commodity money in labor theory analysis is not determined by the material the state designates as money in the territory under its control, but by society.
- Gold (commodity monies generally) still performs the function of measure of value and standard of price despite this function not being recognized by any state within the world market.
- It is critical to labor theory analysis that commodity money is recognized as the only money that can serve as measure of value in analysis.
- There is an institutional bias, however, within Marxist scholarship, produced by decades of empirical research based on the mistaken idea fiat dollars are money in the full sense of the term and can serve as money in labor theory analysis. This fallacy serves to block recognition of commodity money as the only measure of value appropriate to labor theory analysis.
- Thus there has been a complete failure on the part of Marxists academics to recognize the significance of the collapse of Bretton Woods in 1971.
- Even a cursory examination of the empirical data using gold as measure of value and nominal measures of economic activity produce starkly different results that have yet to be explained by Marxist academics.
These starkly different results demonstrate that state issued fiat money does not behave at all like commodity money and, moreover, there is no research (nor could there ever be research) that demonstrates state issued inconvertible debased fiat created out of nothing (“fiat” for short) can ever behave like commodity money for the ridiculously simple reason that while no institution in society determines what serves as money, the state alone creates fiat and forces it into circulation.
Money does not simply manifest the production relations of individuals engaged in a certain sort of social production, it implies those production relations are outside the control of the individuals creating them. Because the production relations individuals enter into are not mastered by them, these relation’s manifest themselves as an independent force standing over against them in the form of money.
It follows from this that gold did not formerly play a role in managing national or international transaction, as Caffentzis argues, but, rather, expressed the fact the relations of production and exchange were entirely unregulated.
1. Was Marx fundamentally wrong in his theory of money
Does the end of Bretton Woods and of the gold standard invalidate Marx’s argument on money? (When I say ‘gold’ in this case, of course, I mean any commodity serving in the role of money.) This is the question raised by George Caffentzis, in a 2009 paper, Marxism After the Death of Gold. Caffentzis writes:
“Marx clearly argues that gold is necessary for the functioning of capitalism; but since Nixon’s decision to “shut the gold window” on August 15, 1971, gold has played a peripheral role at best in the managing of national or international transactions. The last thirty-seven years have seen many crises in capitalism without, however, a crisis of capitalism (to use Lebowitz’s distinction) (Leibowitz 2003). Capitalism is surviving without the working class’s “cross of gold” in the same way it survived the end of chattel slavery. What might have seemed essential at one point in capitalist history has been shown to be a mere “accident” in the case of chattel slavery. Does the same error apply to gold as money? I.e., does the end of gold (and indeed of any precious metal) as the money commodity constitute the crucial negative experimental test of Marxism?”
This begs a question for labor theory analysis of post-1971 economic events: Who said gold was no longer a commodity money? It is by no means unprecendented to have an entire territory where an inconvertible debased state issued fiat created out of nothing serves as the currency of that territory. Indeed, inconvertible fiat dates at least to 13th century China.
“The most famous Chinese issuer of paper money was Kublai Khan, the Mongol who ruled the Chinese empire in the 13th century. Kublai Khan established currency credibility by decreeing that his paper money must be accepted by traders on pain of death. As further enforcement of his mandate, he confiscated all gold and silver, even if it was brought in by foreign traders.”
Did the establishment of inconvertible paper currency in China displace gold as a money commodity? Of course not. So the argument Caffentzis makes in his paper must be that because all nations have dispensed with commodity money as the standard of price, somehow this makes gold no longer a commodity money. Nothing happened to gold in the interim, the only change was what nation states defined as currency in the territories they control.
Restated, the argument that gold is not money means the fascist state determines what is money. This proposition is not consistent with labor theory. Mr. George Caffentzis, however, thinks labor theory must be ‘stretched’ to include the possibility of non-commodity money in analysis. He does not explain why this has to be done, however.
7. The Centrality of Labor in Marx
At the start of this series I noted that, according to Elmar Flatschart, wertkritik states the abolition of labor is not the same as social emancipation. In his view, the abolition of value is only a condition of social emancipation, but social emancipation itself is a more complex problem.
At first glance this conclusion might be seen as very pessimistic, since it implies that even in the absence of any material need for labor, the great mass of society might still be trapped in compulsory labor and the debilitating division of labor to the sole benefit of an ever diminishing group of exploiters.
This is not a minor point. The concept of the abolition of labor is central to Marx’s and Engels’ theory. Uri Zilbersheid calls the abolition of labor one of Marx’s most important ideas; he notes the concept is central at least in “his early writings and to some degree in his later writings”. Yet, Zilbersheid observes, the abolition of labor receives little attention from Marxists:
“the radical Marxian vision—the abolition of labour—has not gained due recognition. Marxian thought is devoted to liberating humanity from all kinds of servitude, and the abolition of labour constitutes a major aspect of this liberation.”
Certain Marxists have their own weasel words to cover their statist inclination. Unless pressed to demonstrate it, they routinely refer to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (as one person stated to me) as “a ruling class’ instrument of the suppression of class enemies”. The employment of coercion against the capitalists, they assert, means the association of the working class is a working class state.
This idea is not to be found in Marx or Engels writings and it isn’t even in the anarchist criticism leveled against Marx by Bakunin.
This really makes it appear as if the difference between working class association and a bourgeois state is who gets suppressed by violence. It poses the problem of association in a way that isn’t even close to understanding how association differs from the state.
In one of my earlier posts, I accused some Marxists of being fascists. Needless to say this did not go over well with those Marxists who might fall into the category of people who, although claiming to be communists, nevertheless believe any attempt to actually dismantle the present state amounts to a neoliberal assault on the so-called ‘social safety net’ allegedly provided by some fascist state spending.
One person on reddit who might fit the description of a statist communist responded to my argument this way:
1. That’s a lie; 2. Even if that were true, that analysis is bollocks.
Congratulations, you have posted something which does not actually raise any questions but instead goes on about Communists being fascists without any material analysis of what either is.
And aside from all that, all the article really does is state a fact, a fact that we are well aware of and spend our time actually analysising in a Marxist framework. The article does not analyse it in any framework, it just states it and rubbishes Communism at the same time. Absolutely useless.
Here’s a criticism: you are full of shit. Fuck you, fuck off.
Okay fine. I guess this writer and I aren’t going to find any common ground soon.
5. Capitalistically Determined, Materially Determined and Superfluous labor times
If I understand Postone’s argument in his book Time, Labor and Social Domination, (and he can speak to this if I am misreading him) in the capitalist mode of production value (i.e., ‘socially necessary labor time’) appears in not one, but two distinct, historically determined forms. So far as I know, Postone is the first theorist since Marx and Engels to show how these two forms of labor time are embedded in the capitalist mode of production itself. He defines the two forms of value for us as,
“the total labor time determined as socially necessary by capital, on the one hand, and the amount of labor that would be necessary … were material wealth the social form of wealth, on the other”.
There is, as Postone explains, a duration of socially necessary labor time that arises from the material needs of the social producer, the combined body of all workers engaged in social production, and a distinct and separate duration of socially necessary labor time that arises from the needs of the capitalist mode of production itself. I will refer to the total labor time of society as the capitalistically determined labor time and the amount of labor that would be necessary if material wealth were the social form of wealth as the materially necessary labor time.
There is nothing to say that these two durations of socially necessary labor time must be the same. In fact, the recurrent crises of the capitalist mode of production is nothing more than the forcible adjustment of these two durations of socially necessary labor time. Moreover, as Postone shows in his reconstruction of Marx’s category of superfluous labor time, the aim of capitalist production is the constant and ever increasing extension of labor time beyond that duration required for the needs of the social producers. Which is to say, the aim of the mode of production is to maintain and increase, by all means at its disposal, an imbalance between the two durations of socially necessary labor time — to constantly generate labor that is completely superfluous to society.