“Money has no master.”
Why is money such a powerful thing in society?
It’s not necessarily supposed to be taken as a particularly profound philosophical question but neither can we merely pretend that it’s a stupid matter of petty interests and stereotyped self-seeking. You know damn well what happens when you don’t pay your rent and that there are currently millions of Americans out there who are sifting through your garbage in search of sustenance. And perhaps you have already been forced to learn the hard way that you have to make ends meet to stay alive, and that just because there is so much competition to get money doesn’t mean it’s all therefore just a game.
As far as the scientific editors here at Selecting Stones are concerned, Alexander Spirkin is absolutely correct: “Nothing in the world is more complex or more perplexing than a human being.” Indeed the problem of the human being is even more complicated than the mere matter of money’s significance within natural history as a totality. We therefore reject the position of the petty-bourgeois in all its impotence, i.e., the urge to “know that you have as much money as you have power; for the extent to which you can assert yourself determines how much you are worth.”
Do we really have to prostitute ourselves just so Bill Gates can live on a private island and play god with the lives of Africans?
As always, the latest monetary crisis has raised inconvenient questions about the causes of pecuniary embarrassment, the contradictions of democracy, etc.
It is already clear to basically everyone, then, that the material power of money is most strikingly revealed during a monetary crisis, but exactly how and why is this so? What causes this sort of crisis situation to arise so religiously every decade or two?
Although for the vast majority the monetary crisis is indeed experienced as a struggle to make payments, the problem is not simply that there is a sudden scarcity of money, which from the petty-bourgeois standpoint seems to force the struggling individuals to adopt an even more determinedly egotistical attitude towards getting paid. Indeed, this superstitious belief in the power of money – that “it is not money that harms you but your inability to attain it” – reflects a profound ignorance of its nature and historical development (i.e. as the universal means of exchange, general representation of wealth, individualized exchange value, etc.).
Let us briefly recall in passing how modern industrial society opened with a general greed for money among both individuals and states, how the hunt for gold led to the discovery and foundation of new states, to the expansion of the range of commodities entering circulation, to the formation of new needs and wants, to the development of new social classes and sharpened class antagonisms. Let us recall, furthermore, how this totality of development brought all hitherto remote corners of the world into the process of exchange and the interchange of matter, thereby transforming money into the real universality of exchange value both in respect to material and space.
Since he is someone who has risen above this world and who has managed to find a place for himself in opposition to its pettiness, and since he is such a striking example of an egoist fully in agreement with himself, let us also lend a careful ear to Sancho for a moment. Money, says Sancho, is a commodity, and indeed it is an absolutely indispensible means or faculty, “for it protects wealth against ossification, keeps it fluid and effects its circulation.” Although the ignorance of Sancho’s fetishism ultimately contains the most fatal poison of all, it is nevertheless to his credit that he at least tries to posit the money riddle directly: “If you know of a better means of exchange, all right; but it too will be a variety of money.” Will Sancho ever actualize his vulgar fantasy of permanent self-enjoyment?
Marx once noted quite profoundly that “nothing is easier than to call equality and inequality, similarity and dissimilarity, determinations of reflection,” and indeed more often than not this is sufficient for earning a PhD from an American university, especially one that is wealthy enough to buy a spot atop the US News and World Report rankings. Why, then, is it so damnably difficult to explain the developmental process whereby money becomes “the common measure for all, even the most heterogeneous things”? If money is “the pimp between man’s need and the object, between his life and his means of life” – if money is “that which mediates my life for me…[as well as] the existence of other people for me” – then why is it illusory to maintain that the extent of my money is therefore necessarily the extent of my power? How can these contradictory determinations constitute both the real nature of money and an unavoidable illusion at one and the same time?
But I beg your pardon – how can anyone sincerely believe that Islam is giving away virgins so indiscriminately and with such ease?
It hardly needs to be pointed out here that in order to answer these questions we must radically penetrate the very roots of bourgeois society, which is merely in keeping with its most elementary precondition: namely the direct production of exchange value (i.e., money) by labor. For the Christian it was the Eucharist; for the Mongol it was the horse. Insofar as the purposes of the bourgeois egoist are concerned, however, money is the only thing capable of binding individuals to a real community. Without money a person tends to be either homeless or at best parasitical.
Yet to the extent that the problem confronting us here must in the final analysis be reduced to the mediation of the means of subsistence by a social process – or to put it another way, how a relation between people is mistaken for a relationship among things – or formulated for yet a third time, the basis in material reality of the absurdity of present-day social relations – we must not spare any effort in our attempt to explain, on a scientific basis, the concrete assumptions and practical implications of these mystifying abstractions whose ultimate purpose, as we see in Sancho, is to promote an apologetic utilitarianism: i.e. whose purpose is “to prove that under existing conditions the mutual relations of people today are the most advantageous and useful.”
Once money covers the whole earth as a means of comparison acquiring an independent existence in practice, this illusory aspect of money (i.e. money as the medium that makes opposites embrace) becomes a natural force which is altogether inherent to its physical or ontological determination. There is no cynicism powerful enough to penetrate the magical endowments of money in its determination as the universal form of exchange value separating commodities from their substances. It doesn’t matter if this madness is accomplished in plain sight or behind our backs; either way individuals must keep earning wages just to keep living in hell, and not the other way around.
But if it is money that conjoins individuals in a real community of men and women within bourgeois society, so also do we find that “in money…[there resides] a mere abstraction, a mere external, accidental thing for the individual, and at the same time only a means for his satisfaction as an isolated individual.”
How do nations create wealth? Only the question of truth has been pursued with more half-hearted rigor by philosophers. It is for this reason that we are now focused instead on the question: why is communism necessary?
The bourgeoisie rules as a class.
Let’s trespass against them!