Marx, Harvey, and Engels – Is Money a Fatal Error?

In thinking about materialist theories of technology, a conscious effort to remember the Darwinian model of evolution is essential, especially for the work of Marx. David Harvey points out the total-system approach that lies beneath the detailed writings in Capital about labor, technology, class struggle, and nature. In “The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man” Engels provides an even more easily digestible explanation of how this total-system approach accounts for the origin of modern humans – an origin that, Engels argues, is causally linked to labor. Engels begins by stating “labour created man himself.” With the freedom to use their hands, early humans developed the ability to create tools, which led to use complex sounds for cooperation and sophisticated cognitive processes for planning. (This being the result of what he calls the “law of correlation of growth.”)

With these unique capabilities, man became master over nature. But, as tools evolved and themselves became increasingly sophisticated, the relationship between man and the process of production changed dramatically: a social division of class separated those who owned the means of production (capitalists) and those who provided the necessary labor for the creation of commodities (workers). This division was caused not by machinery but, rather, by the use of money as a store of value, which allowed capitalist to transform labor from the defining human characteristic by which subsistence is assured into a mechanism that fed itself on surplus value and profit through the exploitation of the working class.

Does Marx view money as a virus that has infected the Hegelian “totality” to which Harvey alludes? Or, is it an unexpected outcome of man’s mastery over nature produced by the law of correlation of growth? I cannot see a reasonable place for money as it exists in a capitalist society within a materialist view of human history; It occurred like a glitch in a computer system, focusing all attention – and intention – towards the repeated task of generating wealth ad infinitum with only momentary crashes that serve as system reboots. Marx would argue that this is how capitalist society becomes unsustainable eventually leading to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. But, the power that money holds and its effect on the system as a whole calls into question the validity of using a materialist theory as a framework for understanding the process of production.

2 thoughts on “Marx, Harvey, and Engels – Is Money a Fatal Error?

    • From my limited knowledge of Marx, I view commodities — not money — as “congealed labor value.” This is because the commodity is a direct result of labor thus infusing it with the value of that labor. Commodity for commodity exchange (C – C) works on the basis of the labor value in the goods being exchanged. Money enters this system of exchanges as a means to create a universally salient commodity (C – M – C).

      Because of its universal salience, money is disconnected from labor-value. If, for example, the value of labor in the agriculture industry plummets due to the introduction of highly efficient machinery, the value of the money that this industry generated prior to this shift remains unaffected. In Vol. 1, Part II, Chapter 4 ( Marx identifies how this salience is also responsible for the “occult” property of money as capital. There he says “It is constantly changing from one form to the other without thereby becoming lost. […] It is under the form of money that value begins and ends, and begins again, every act of its own spontaneous generation.” Money, for Marx, is not capital, or a commodity, or a store of value but is all three; It is a means of circulation within a system of exchanges, and the form it takes is capable of changing for the purpose of storing value or releasing value. This pattern of taking on value and releasing it occurs repetitiously without expiration. Thus, if money was congealed labor value, it would expire (as commodities do) rather than return into circulation ready to be spent again.

      What is money, and, furthermore, does it have a place in his materialist theory of social change based on labor and exchange? As he himself claimed, capital is imbued with an “occult” property, which dissolves the structural elements within a system of exchange into a fungible alloy, i.e. money. What is the effect of money as a universal quantifier on Marx’s materialist model?

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