Money and currency in Karl Marx

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Francisco Teixeira & Fabiano Santos*

A commentary on Marx's exposition of the money-form in three mature works: For the critique of political economy, Capital and floorplans.

The purpose of this text is to investigate the category of money and its various forms of existence. The novelty of this analysis, with all the audacity that is peculiar to those who venture to “do science”, consists in the effort undertaken by the authors to accentuate the difference between money and the form of money, not always taken into account by those who study money in Marx. With that in mind, we decided to examine how Marx exposes the category of money throughout the three main works that deal with this category: For the Critique of Political Economy, Capital and his study book, which is generally recognized as the source of both works, the floorplans.

Along the way, the reader will have the opportunity to understand how Marx exposes the determinations of the money category. Without much intellectual effort, he will realize why only in the Review… and The capital he was finally able to definitively present such determinations.

Furthermore, attention is called to the fact that this investigation does not go beyond the sphere of simple circulation. But it is in this sphere that the reader will discover the embryonic forms of credit money and how the forms of money as treasure and money as means of payment already anticipate how capital overcomes the limits to its expansion, as such limits are placed as barriers , that is, as needs that he constantly seeks to master and overcome.

This is the initial key point that prepares the reader to enter the sphere of credit money, the object of investigation in Book III, by The capital, which these authors later intend to explore how the updated forms of this type of money are placed in contemporary capitalism.

Marx and the inversion of the Hegelian dialectic                                                

Os Economic Manuscripts of 1857-1858 (Grundrisse) are essentially made up of two large parts: the first on money and the second on capital. The latter is subdivided into three large sections: the first presents the determinations of production; the second those of the circulation of capital and the third those of the transformation of surplus value into profit. A comparison with the texts For the Critique of Political Economy and The Capital shows that the method of exposure in floorplans is strongly anchored in Science of Logic of Hegel, which makes this text extremely dense and difficult to understand.

if in The capital Marx confesses that he has been “dating here and there his [Hegel's] peculiar modes of expression”; us floorplans,this courtship was not a mere flirtation. And truth. So much so that he, in the chapter on the presentation of money, at a certain point in his presentation, realizes that “it will be necessary later on, before abandoning this issue, to correct the idealistic method of presentation that produces the appearance that it deals with conceptual determinations and the dialectic of these concepts.

Above all, therefore, the cliché: the product (activity) becomes merchandise; the commodity exchange value**; the exchange value, money”. (G. 2011., p. 100)

This promise would only be fulfilled with the writing and publication of For Critique of Political Economy. To produce this text, Marx profoundly modified the floorplans from which it originated. If in the latter he starts with the category of money, in the Criticism …, also made up of two chapters, begins with merchandise and only later, chapter II, presents the category of money. These are the first two chapters of section I of The capital. Both in this work and in Criticism …, the method of presenting its object no longer produces the appearance of dealing only with a “dialectical exposition of concepts”.

notably in The capital, where Marx makes a point of drawing the reader's attention to bear in mind that exposing the determinations of capital presupposes a long and time-consuming research activity, whose objective is to “appropriate the matter [Cloth] in its details, analyze its different forms of development and trace its internal nexus”. Without this research work, he prevents that the exposition of capital determinations could be taken as a mere construction "beforehand”. (C. 2017, p. 90) Then, he once again warns of the need to demystify Hegel's dialectic, “to turn it around, in order to discover the rational core within the mystical envelope”. (idem, ibib., p. 91) 

But what does this inversion consist of? Would assuming the research method as the basis for the exposition be enough to demystify the Hegelian dialectic? It seems not. It would be the same as inverting the relationship between material base and thought, to destroy the idea that the latter is the creator of reality. This simple exchange would only invert “the order of the real, but the dialectical form would be the same: it would be the method of discovering contradictions and their categorical presentation”. (Grespan, 2002, pp. 30-31).

In this case, content and form would be separated “and conceived in a non-dialectical dichotomy, in which the 'inversion' of content does not imply that of form, as if both were different, unrelated aspects of one another.” (Id, Ibid., p. 31) Thus, the Hegelian dialectic would become, in the hands of Marx, a mere application of a system of logic to the understanding of the economy, whose implication is not difficult to infer: “the materialist dialectic could not be precisely called the dialectic, and Marx would have constructed his materialism by sacrificing it. (Id., Ibid., p. 31)

What then to do to demystify the Hegelian dialectic? Apparently, the answer is simple: rethink the concept of negativity in Hegel. But what does negativity consist of? To answer this question, the most direct way is to start from the problem faced by him of the split between being and thinking, which has its culmination in Kant.

In a simplified way, it can be said that Hegel takes the Kantian dualism as the central issue of his critique, expressed in the thing-in-itself, which has in external reality the limit of knowledge. For that philosopher, this would not only be the expression of confession of a certain incapacity of reason in the face of the world, but the very impossibility of the modern project as a consequence, that is, the denial of the construction of a rational world in the image of the man idealized by the Renaissance.

The Hegelian absolute, unity of his philosophical system and of the world itself, according to him, would then be, from the point of view of Logic, overcoming the separation established by modernity between being and thinking, a barrier not overcome by Kant or by the subjective idealism of Fichte and Schelling. From the point of view of historical reality, it would be modernity itself at its birth, as a milestone in the development of humanity. But since, for Hegel, historical reality (and its logical foundation) could only be thought of as movement, as development, it is from there that, for this philosopher, one can apprehend the importance of dialectics.

According to Stein, for Hegel, “It is through contradiction that thought evolves and, with it, reality: thought is objective”. (Stein, 2002). After all, for the German philosopher, in everything there is feeling, science, knowledge, will, instinct; in all this there is thought. Man is a thinking being. As such, to know the world, the only thing it uses is reason.

This is “substance as infinite force, is itself the infinite matter of all natural and spiritual life, and also the infinite form [whose] realization [is] its own content (…). It is the infinite content, all essence and truth, the very matter it furnishes for the elaboration of its own activity, for it does not lack, like the finite act, external materials and given means to provide it with food and objects (…) . Thus, it itself realizes its purpose and makes a passage from the inside to the outside, not only in the natural universe, but also in the spiritual universe – in universal history”. (Hegel, 2008, p.17).

If reason, as Hegel says above, is the very matter it offers to elaborate its own activity, in the phenomenology of the spirit this is already established insofar as, in this work, the German philosopher demonstrates that the only possible approach to knowledge elaborated by consciousness is an examination of itself as the matter of its knowledge. In fact, this is where Hegel exposes the journey of the spirit in search of itself. To undertake it, the spirit assumes the different figures of consciousness, starting from the most immediate and abstract sensible knowledge, until culminating in mediated absolute knowledge.

Along this path, at each stage, consciousness questions what it previously held to be true, and so it proceeds until there is no longer any uncertainty. It is then when all the contradictions in which consciousness has found itself entangled are overcome, that is, eliminated, to give way to the absolute unity of the spirit, which at the end of its journey knows itself as consciousness that produces itself.

Without the work of the negative, therefore, the spirit would not have undertaken the long journey in search of itself. At each stage reached along its path, consciousness advances through its self-denial, “in which what is not yet true, what is inessential is denied in its truth”, until only the absolute identity of the spirit with itself remains; until all the contradictions in which consciousness has been entangled are eliminated, or reconciled under the unity of absolute knowledge. “Negativity is thus the productive mediation of consciousness itself. Such a movement of self-production is what Hegel calls negative power and work”. (Barbosa, 2010, p. 71).

In Marx, on the other hand, the work of the negative is the reverse of what it is in Hegel. The latter finds the positive present in every negative, since at each stage of the spirit's evolution the contradictions in the previous stage are overcome to give way to other contradictions which, in their turn, are overcome again until all of them are reconciled under the same umbrella. unity of the absolute spirit. In Marx, the work of the negative does not eliminate contradictions. In effect, the exposition of capital's determinations reveals that such determinations are social forms pregnant with “contradictory” relations. Let him say so himself: referring to the metamorphosis process of commodities, he states that “commodity development does not eliminate these contradictions, but creates the form in which they can move”. (C., Liv. I., 2017., p. 178)

This is how the author of The capital exposes the determinations of capital. It begins with the category of merchandise, a unit of opposites (use value and value) that mutually include and exclude each other. This internal contradiction generates a social form within which it can move: money. The latter, by externalizing this internal contradiction of the commodity in exchange, breaks its internal unity into two spatially and temporally separated acts. Indeed, the act of selling to buy (MD) can be interrupted insofar as the first metamorphosis of the commodity does not necessarily imply that the money acquired from the sale of M is immediately spent on the purchase of other commodities (DM).

That is why the interchangeability of money for other goods will depend on a series of circumstances, which will decide when and where its owner will and will be able to buy other goods. This interruption of the circulation process, argues Marx, is the germ “of commercial crises, but only because the opposition between the commodity and money is the general and abstract form of all the oppositions contained in bourgeois labor. Monetary circulation can take place without crises; but without monetary circulation there are no crises”. (Critique, 1982, p. 75)

In addition to being a vehicle that externalizes the internal contradiction of the commodity, money is a unit of opposites: quantitatively it is always a limited sum; qualitatively, it has no limits, since it can be exchanged for any goods.

How is this contradiction resolved and developed?  

With the transformation of money into capital. In addition to being a historical-social relationship, capital is movement, a process with different phases that encompasses three particular forms of existence, as different moments of the same process: money capital, productive capital and commodity capital. If it is not exercised in the form of money capital, capital congeals and is transformed into treasury; it will not be able to convert itself into means of production and labor power and, thus, exercise the function of productive capital. In turn, if it does not perform the proper function of commodity capital, commodities become unsellable and their accumulation will not allow capitalists to repay the advanced capital plus profit.

This succession of metamorphoses of capital in motion leads each capitalist, considered in isolation, to compare the advanced primitive value with its magnitude at the end of each cycle. It is a comparison that arises from the very nature of capitalist production. Indeed, as the objective that moves the actions of each capitalist is profit, the greater the difference in value between what he advanced and what he received back, the greater his gains will be. As a result, everyone is pushed to constantly revolutionize production conditions, which ends up transforming them into prisoners of the need to accumulate for the sake of accumulating. However, the more they surrender to this race for valorization, the more the movement of capital imposes itself as an autonomous entity in confrontation with the predictions and calculations of the individual capitalist. And so capital acquires an independent existence all the more, to the point of transforming itself into something identical to itself, which compares itself with itself in the different phases of its cyclical movement.

Capital is not only this process of self-valorization that transforms it into an automatic subject; he is, at the same time, a usurping subject of the process of its production and valorization. Without the purchase of labor power, the only commodity capable of generating a value greater than its own value, capital is not valued, it does not increase in value. Hence his avidity for work, since capital “is dead labor, which, like a vampire, lives only by sucking in living labor, and lives all the more the more living labor it sucks in”. (C., Liv. I., 2017, p. 307). As a result, capital is hungry for work.

This “vampire hunger” of capital leads it to break with all the barriers imposed on its process of self-valorization. His avidity for work develops his condition as a usurping subject to the maximum, to the point of exhausting the source from which he feeds: living work. For this reason, the process of self-valorization of capital is itself a contradiction in process, insofar as it “seeks to reduce labor time to a minimum, while, on the other hand, it posits labor time as the only measure and source of wealth”.

Therefore, “the productive forces and social relations (…) appear only as means for capital, and for it they are exclusively means to be able to produce from its narrow foundation. In fact, however, they constitute the material conditions for making it fly through the air”. (G., 2011, pp. 588-8). Once surrendered, therefore, to its own internal logic, this is the final result that capital arrives at in its self-valorization movement. The exposition of this movement reveals that capital develops to the point of creating the material conditions that could make it “fly through the air”; not as an imposition of a blind and absolute necessity, since Marx, in several places, confesses himself radically against the idea of ​​taking The capital, for example, “as a general historical-philosophical theory, whose supreme virtue consists in being suprahistorical”. (Review, 1982, p. 168)

It can be seen, therefore, how his conception of dialectics is very different from that of Hegel, in which the work of the negative begins with immediate consciousness and leads it to pass through an innumerable number of mediations until it reaches absolute knowledge, which is the conciliatory unit. of all contradictions denied along the journey of the spirit in search of itself. In Marx, the work of the negative does not, therefore, lead to the overcoming of contradictions, as conceived by Hegel. For that author, the negative intensifies the contradictions that drive capital, his object of investigation, to the extent that its development is based on the irreconcilable antagonism of its opposites.

To speak with Cressoni, Marx “constructs an architecture that dissolves the appearance of a unity of the real to show a negativity that underlies all social reality”. This is exactly how Marx undertakes the inversion of the Hegelian dialectic, “to discover”, he says, “the rational core within the mystical envelope”. Hence the reason for stating that, “in its mystified form, the dialectic was the German fashion because it seemed to make the existing sublime”, precisely by reconciling contradictions in a superior synthesis, which is absolute knowledge.

Now, the work of the negative destroys this sublime character of the dialectic, insofar as it, “in its rational configuration” (…) constitutes a scandal and a horror for the bourgeoisie and its doctrinal spokespersons, since, in the intellection of the existent, includes, at the same time, the intellection of its negation, of its necessary perishing. Furthermore, it apprehends every form developed in the flow of movement, therefore including its transitory side; because he is not intimidated by anything and is, in his essence, critical and revolutionary”. (C., 2017., p. 91)

If in its mystified form, the dialectic finds the positive present in every negative, in its rational configuration, Marx finds the negative present in the positivity of the existing. Therefore, it is not enough just to desecrate the Hegelian dialectic by rising from earth to heaven instead of heaven descending to earth. More than that, for Marx, it was “necessary to dissolve the ontological unity of the real, to find there the negative within its identity – hence the sense of “turning inside out”. Thus, Marx was in possession of the instruments that would open the doors to finding in the concept of negativity the definitive overcoming of Hegel's dialectic. (Cressoni, Op. Cit.)

money and currency

We floorplans

Em For the Critique of Political Economy (CEP) and The capital, the presentation of the money category follows the exposition of the determinations of the commodity category. This is the starting point of exposing the determinations of capital. And it could not be otherwise, since money is more complex than merchandise. After all, in a dialectical exposition, as Marx himself insists on emphasizing, the categories must be exposed according to the “relationship they have with each other in bourgeois society (…). It is their hierarchy within modern bourgeois society.” (Criticism, 1982, p.19).

Consequently, the category of money is deduced from the internal dialectic of the exchange process, since each commodity owner considers every other commodity as a particular equivalent of his own commodity. “But since all commodity owners do the same,” says Marx, “no commodity is a general equivalent, and therefore, neither do commodities have any general relative measure of value in which they can be equated as values ​​and compared with one another. others as magnitudes of value”. (C., Liv. I., 2017, p. 161).

How then is this contradiction overcome? In the same way as real contradictions are resolved. Marx quotes in passing that “it is a contradiction, for example, that one body constantly falls into another and just as constantly flees from it. The ellipse is one of the forms of movement in which this contradiction is both realized and resolved”. (Id., Ibid., p. 178). In the social world, in turn, the contradiction created by the exchange process is unraveled, generating a form within which it starts to move and develop, as already explained in section I of this text.

Thus, each commodity owner cannot want the exchange of his commodity for others to be, at the same time, an individual and generally social process. And so this contradiction is only resolved with the creation of the social form of money. This form emerges from the world of commodities as the universal representative of all exchange values. As Marx says elsewhere, money “is a commodity like the others and at the same time not a commodity like the others”.

Here, it is important to observe the rigor of Marx's exposition of the Critique and Capital. As for this, it is known that not without reason he refuses Mr. Maurice La Châtre, to publish Book I of The capital in fascicles. First, he recognizes that this proposal has a good side: making this work “more accessible to the working class”. However, he says, it is necessary to consider the reverse side of the medal. He feared that the “French public, always impatient to arrive at a conclusion, eager to know the relationship of general principles with the immediate questions that arouse their passions, will become discouraged by the fact of not being able to move forward immediately”. (C., 2017, p. 93).

The Marx of 1857-1858, on the other hand, was driven by political pressure which, more often than not, prevented him from rigorously following the dialectical requirements of a presentation in accordance with the precept of “patience of the concept”. His revolutionary spirit spoke louder and the passion for the immediate issues that afflicted him required him to take an urgent political position, so that he could not leave unanswered the conceptions about money defended by the utopian socialists, notably those of Messrs Darimon and Proudhon.

It is from this critique of the Proudhonians that Marx undertakes his investigation of the determinations of money as found in the Grundrisse.This is not without the strong influence of Hegel and the lack of rigor typical of a study book.

Darimon's theses focus on a critique of the role of money in circulation – more specifically its “privilege” in relation to commodities. In his proposal to reconfigure the use of credit, he suggests that gold and silver be dethroned from their status as money. He imagines that by doing so he can put an end to the evils of capitalism. Nothing could be more absurd, protests Marx.

After all, it is nonsense to imagine, as that author does, that “gold and silver are commodities like any other. Gold and silver are not commodities like other commodities: as instruments of universal exchange, they are privileged commodities, and they degrade other commodities precisely because of this privilege. This is the last analysis to which Darimon reduces antagonism. Suppress the privilege of gold and silver, degrade them to the status of all other commodities, Darimon ultimately decides. In that case, you will not retain the specific evils of gold or silver money, or notes convertible into gold and silver. You will have suppressed all evils. Or, rather, elevate all commodities to the exclusive monopoly hitherto enjoyed by gold and silver.” (G., 2011, p. 78).

Now, argues Marx, “the real question is: does not the bourgeois system of exchange itself make a specific instrument of exchange necessary? Doesn't it necessarily create a particular equivalent for all values? May one form of this instrument of exchange or equivalent be more practical, more appropriate, and involve less inconvenience than others (…)?

Naturally, Darimon glosses over this issue with enthusiasm. Suppress money and don't suppress money. I suppress the privilege that gold and silver have by virtue of their exclusiveness as money, but it makes money out of all commodities, ie, confers to all, together, a property that, apart from exclusivity, no longer exists”. (Id., Ibid)

Even so, Marx still decides to follow Darimon's line of reasoning to investigate the possibility of dethroning money from its position as a special commodity. An alternative would be to keep gold and silver as monetary materials, but in such a way that they directly represent the labor time embodied in them.

But this does not hold up to a more critical scrutiny, for, says Marx, “the determinant of value is not the labor time embodied in the products, but the labor time required at a given time. Consider the pound of gold itself: be it the product of 20 hours of labor time. Suppose, further down the line, under whatever circumstances, it takes 10 hours to produce a pound of gold. The ounce of gold, whose title indicates that it is = 20 hours of labor time, would now only be = the 10 hours of labor time, given that 20 hours of labor time = 2 ounces of gold (…); so 1 ounce of gold can no longer be exchanged for 20 hours of work.

Gold money with plebeian title: x hours of work, would be subject to greater fluctuations than any other current money; because gold cannot increase or decrease relative to gold (it is equal to itself), but the past work time contained in a given quantum of gold must continually increase or decrease in relation to present living labor. To keep the convertible quantum of gold, the hourly productivity of labor should be kept stationary”. (Id., pp. 85-86)

To avoid this inconvenience, caused by the increasing productivity of work, how about replacing this metal, which should be accepted as a title of working hours, with paper money, as a simple sign of value? This is what Marx supposed afterwards, concluding that this would be of no use. Indeed, says Marx, “if the hour of labor were made more productive, the piece of paper representing it would increase its purchasing power, and vice versa, just as today a £5 note has purchasing power more or less at As the relative value of gold rises or falls in comparison with other commodities.

According to the same law, where golden labor-money suffered constant depreciation, paper labor-money would enjoy constant appreciation” (Id., p. 86). Well, this is all that the Prodhonians would have wanted, precisely because they understood that workers could appropriate the growing productivity of work. But if this were really possible, certain difficulties would arise that would prevent workers from appropriating this increased productivity. In the first place, says Marx, “if we assume money, even if it comes from hourly bonuses, we must also assume the accumulation of that money and the contracts, obligations, fixed charges, etc., that would be contracted in the form of such money. . Accumulated bonuses would constantly increase in value as much as newly issued ones, so that, on the one hand, the growing productivity of labor would benefit non-workers and, on the other hand, contracted charges would follow the same pace as the increase in labor income. ” (Id., Ibid.).

The implementation of the hourly paper bonus, therefore, would not solve the problem of increasing labor productivity, since the appreciation of paper money would only be a problem, says Marx, “if the world could be restarted at every moment” (Id., Ibid.), that is, if the obligations contracted before each increase in productivity remained unchanged. In other words, if the face and real value of the bonds did not change with the appreciation of money.

Since you can't start all over again at any moment, and Proudhon and his associates certainly knew this, what is, therefore, the cause of the failure of the hourly bonus? Why did Marx consider this Proudhonian proposal a utopia? Because it would only be sustained if it were founded on a false assumption: the equality between price and value. That's what he clarifies next. Although he still does not clearly distinguish between value and exchange value, Marx was able to demolish the Proudhonian utopia because it considers that the difference between the value of commodities and their prices is only a nominal difference.

Now, he argues, “the value (the real exchange value) of all commodities (including labor) is determined by their cost of production, in other words, by the labor time required for their production. Its price is its exchange value expressed in money” (Id., p. 87). Hence the fundamental illusion of hourly bonus supporters. These, says Marx, do not realize that "the average working time, would never correspond to effective working time and it would never be convertible into it; ie, labor time objectified in a commodity would never command an amount of labor equal to itself and vice versa, but a greater or lesser quantity, in the same way that today every oscillation of market values ​​is expressed in a rise or fall of their values. prices in gold or silver.” (Id., p. 89)

The Proudhonian utopia of hourly bonuses would only be sustained if one elided, as the adepts of the labor-money theory do, the nominal difference between real value and market value, between exchange value and its price expressed in money. Only in this way could they (the Proudhonians) maintain that the introduction of hourly bonuses would eliminate all crises “all anomalies of bourgeois production. The money price of commodities = their real value; the demand = the supply; the production = the consumption; money is simultaneously suppressed and conserved; the labor time, of which the commodity is a product, which is materialized in the commodity, only needs to be verified in order to generate a corresponding counter-image in a sign of value, in money, in hourly bonuses.

Every commodity would thus be transformed directly into money, and gold and silver, in their turn, would be relegated to the rank of all other commodities.” (Id., pp. 88-89). Thus, the Proudhonians performed a feat without equal in the world: “they guillotined the pope to put an end to religion”. They eliminated money to banish the evils of capitalism. They only forgot one thing: they let the commodity, the matrix of money, subsist. After all, it is the double character of the commodity, use value (its particular nature) and value (something different from that particular determination) that makes money a necessity, since value (objectified labor time) needs to assume a monetary form to realize the interchangeability of goods.

The genesis and forms of existence of money

In the passage dedicated to the genesis and essence of money, Hegel's influence on Marx's reasoning is more present than in other texts. Here we Grundrisse, reinforce yourself, the dialectic of concepts is precisely the way in which your thinking moves. The result of this, in turn, and due to the very nature of the text, is a problematic exposition, as it leaves a series of determinations of money undeveloped – which will be better explored in the next section. Review and The capital – when it does not precisely specify the difference between value and exchange value, as already mentioned.

With regard to this last point, it seems that the Marx of these writings had not yet arrived at the notion of abstract labor, so that his most insistent definition of the category of money is precisely that of the “exchange value outside and alongside of the commodity”. In the same way, the determinations of money are thought of in reference to this limitation. Thus, starting from the statement that “as values, all commodities are qualitatively identical and quantitatively different, therefore, they all measure each other reciprocally and replace each other (if they are exchanged, they are mutually convertible) in determined quantitative relations” (G., p. 91). ), concludes that “value is its social relationship, its economic quality” (ibid.).

But the aforementioned economic quality, at this stage of his research, being identified only with exchange value, leads him to the decisive point of stating that “all properties enumerated as particular properties of money are properties of the commodity as exchange value” . (Ibid. – emphasis added) These properties, Marx identifies as being “1) the measure of commodity exchange; 2) medium of exchange; 3) representative of the goods (and, therefore, as the object of the contracts); 4) universal commodity together with particular commodities – all of which result simply from their determination as objectified exchange value and separate from the commodities themselves” (Id., p. 95).

Therefore, here, it is not considered necessary to go further on this point. What is really important is to pay attention to the still immature stage of Marx's own understanding of money, without thereby disregarding how much the floorplans may be illuminating with regard to this issue, if read in the light of later works. In these, it is where, in fact, money is found, as a category, full of determinations – which, in turn, could only be presented in the light of the his dialectical method of exposition.

Em For the critique of political economy and The capital***

a) Genesis of the money form

It is in chapter I, item 3, of Book I, of The capital, which Marx exposes the genesis of the money form. It begins with the presentation of the determinations of the simple value form, individually ou occasional, expressed in the equation of exchange of two goods xA = yB. In this relationship, the two equalized goods play different roles: good “A” expresses its value in good “B”; therefore, in this relationship, it plays an active role as it makes the body of commodity “B” the mirror of its value.

But how can linen and coat, which are commodities of such a different nature, be made equal? - Simple. Both are crystallized “amorphous masses of human labor”. When comparing commodity “B” (coat) with commodity “A” (linen) as things of value, says Marx, “the work contained in it is equated with the work on linen” (C., Liv. I, 2017 , pp. 127-128). In this value relation, “A” assumes the relative form of value and the commodity “B”, the equivalent form. These two forms of value (relative and equivalent) are poles of a relationship in which they imply and exclude each other. Indeed, commodity "A" cannot express its value in itself, since xA = xA is no value expression: xA is not worth more than xA. To express its value, therefore, “A” has to enter into a relationship with “B” (coat), which is the commodity that serves as its equivalent. Outside this relationship, neither “A” nor “B” can express a value relationship. “A” needs “B” to mirror its value; “B”, like “A”, is also a product of human work in general. “Despite its appearance”, says Marx, “buttoned, the linen recognizes in it the beautiful soul of value that is originally common to them” (Id., p. 128). Therefore, “in the value relation in which coat is equivalent to linen, the form coat counts as a form of value.” (Id., Ibid.)

A simple way of value, xA = yB, in fact, is the germ of the price form. At this stage of the presentation, this form proves to be insufficient, insofar as the determinations carried out by A and B are accidental. This simple form of value therefore has to pass through a series of mediations until it reaches the universal form of value and from there to the form money. To do so, the first step is to unfold the simple form of value. This form presupposes that the expression of commodity “A” in any commodity “B” distinguishes the value of “A” from its own use-value and thereby places it in an exchange relationship with any commodity of another type. Thus, commodity “A” can be exchanged for “B”, “C”, “N” etc. "A" can therefore express its value in an infinite series of other simple forms of value, as, for example, xA = yB; xA = zC. Commodity “A” can now reflect its value on any other commodity and not just on “B” and thus enters into a social relationship with all other commodities; with the world of commodities. It is then that the simple form of value becomes the total value form ou unfolded. In this last form, an infinite number of simple expressions of value can be converted into an ever-expanding series of their different expressions.

This series of simple expressions of value has no end, that is, it never concludes. This is the first insufficiency of the total or unfolded form of value. On the other hand, its second shortcoming springs to the eye when it is observed that “if the relative value of each commodity”, says Marx, “be properly expressed in this unfolded form, the relative form of value of each commodity will be an infinite series of expressions of value, different from the relative form of value of any other commodity.” (Id., p. 140) More than that, commodity “A” now has a series of equivalents. As these are products of different types of particular work, here we have a nuanced mosaic of innumerable forms of equivalents that, therefore, are mutually exclusive. Or, as Marx puts it, “since the natural form of every kind of individual commodity is here a particular equivalent form alongside innumerable other forms of particular equivalents, it follows that there are only limited, mutually exclusive forms of equivalents. ” (Id., Ibid.)

But this insufficiency of unfolded form of value brings in itself its overcoming. Indeed, if the owner of commodity “A” (linen) can exchange it for any other commodity and, therefore, express its value in a series of other commodities, the other owners of commodities do the same: they express the value of their commodities in commodity “A” which now serves as an equivalent for the other commodities that are exchanged for it. This commodity is thus transformed into the general equivalent form. It takes no effort to realize that this transformation is already contained in the unfolded form of value itself.

And so the unfolded form becomes the form universal value.

Now, says Marx, “commodities express their values ​​1) simply, because in a single commodity, and 2) in a unitary way, because in the same commodity. Its form of value is simple and common to all, and therefore universal” (Id., p. 141). This universal form of value presupposes several mediations. In fact, the “simple or isolated form of relative value of a commodity transforms another commodity into an individual equivalent. The unfolded form of relative value, that expression of the value of one commodity in all others, impresses on the latter the form of particular equivalents of different kinds. Finally, a particular type of commodity takes the form of a universal equivalent because all other commodities make it the material of their universal unitary form of value.” (Id., p. 143)

The universal value form is thus transformed into the form form-money. And the metals, notably gold, are the merchandise that assumed, through the social habit, that form of direct and general interchangeability or the form of universal equivalent. As a general equivalent, the gold commodity, at first, takes the form of measuring values, in such a way that a ton of soybeans = 2 kilograms of gold, could be expressed as 1 ton of soybeans = 2 pounds.

The monetary designation of the money-form is thus transformed into the price-form of commodities. 

Having deduced the genesis of the general equivalent form, or money-form, Marx, in Chapter III, of Book I, of The capital, is faced with the task of presenting the different forms or functions of money as a general equivalent. To this end, he begins by exposing the gold commodity as a measure of values, and then analyzes how it becomes a price standard. Only then, the author of The capital can maintain that the money-form is the price-form of commodities, despite the quantitative incongruity between value and price.

Forms of existence (or determinations) of money

I. Measurement of Values ​​and Price Standards

Assuming the monetary determination that gives exchange values ​​their price form, commodities are therefore ready to circulate in the market to be sold, exchanged for money, which, in turn, is spent on the purchase of other commodities. But in that sphere where everyone sells to buy – to then go back to selling to buy again, in a perpetual mobile – peeks into a world full of obstacles and uncertainties. In effect, the MDM circuit splits into two temporally and spatially separated acts, and as a result the general possibility of commercial crises arises; “but only because,” says Marx, “the opposition between commodity and money is the general and abstract form of all oppositions contained in bourgeois labor.” (Id., p. 75) Such a possibility arises whenever “the stomach of the market” fails to absorb the quantum of labor represented by the price of commodities. And then, they and their owners fall out of favor. The uncertainty that accompanies them, from the birth of the merchandise to its arrival on the market, takes its toll. The popular proverb applies to both: “caught together, hanged together [mitgefangen, mitgehangen]'.” (C., Liv. I, 2017, p. 181)

Speculation is, therefore, constitutive of the commodity production mode!

But you have to go slow...

The general equivalent can exercise its function of measuring values ​​only because gold assumes the form of a standard of prices, which is the proper form in which commodities can express their exchange values. It is not difficult to understand this mediation. In a way, it has already been advanced here. It is already known that commodities, in order for them to appear in circulation as prices, are presupposed as exchange values. After all, the general metabolism of exchange requires that exchange values, as an expression of the values ​​(of socially necessary labor time) contained in them, mirror their values ​​in one and the same commodity – gold as a general equivalent. Assuming this process, exchange values ​​begin to express their prices in ideal amounts of gold of different magnitudes. Thus, any commodity, “A”, reveals its exchange value in “x” amounts of gold, such as 2 units of “A” = 1 ounce of gold. Another commodity, “B”, in turn, is equated to “yamounts of gold, like 2 ounces, and thus each commodity equals so many other amounts of gold. “As such different amounts of the same thing, gold”, these, says Marx, “equalize, compare and measure one another, and thus the necessity develops technically of relating to a certain amount of gold as a unit of measurement. which thus rises to a standard, of which the commodities form aliquot parts, and these in turn are subdivided into aliquot parts. Now, amounts of gold as such are measured by weight. The standard is already ready in the general measures of weight of metals, which are used in all metallic circulations, and for this reason they were originally used also as a standard of prices. When commodities are related to one another, no longer as exchange value that must be measured by labor time, but as nominally equal magnitudes, measured by gold, gold is transformed from a measure of values ​​into a standard of prices. (Critic., 1982, p. 59)

It is now understood why “instead of saying (...) that a bushel of wheat is equal to an ounce of gold, it would be said in England that it is equal to 3 pounds, 17 shillings and 10 ½ pence. The same denominations thus serve to express all prices. The particular form in which commodities give their exchange values ​​is transformed into monetary names, by which they mutually express what they are worth. Money, in turn, becomes the currency of calculation.” (Id., p. 61)

II. Currency (= means of circulation)

Indeed, as a currency of calculation, no crumb of gold will be needed to express the value, for example, "of a thousand bales of cotton". After all, “money, as a currency of calculation, can exist only ideally, while the money that actually circulates is minted on an entirely different standard.” (Id., Ibid) This happens as circulation becomes dominant. The more exchange is generalized as a basic social relationship, the difference between the nominal content and the metallic content of metal coins is widened, to the point of evolving to its absolute split.. It is then that “the monetary name of money is detached from its substance and begins to exist outside it, printed on worthless pieces of paper”. In its own course, gold-money becomes “its own symbol, first in the form of worn out gold, then in the form of subsidiary metallic coins, and finally in the form of worthless paper tokens, that is, in the form of simple sign of value” (Id., p. 86).

This is how money takes the form of currency. As money, therefore, it is a means of circulation or a means of exchange..

By separating itself from its golden substance, gold throws its body away, leaving only its shadow to subsist. Indeed, “the longer a coin rotates at a stable speed, or the more active its circulation in the same period of time, the greater the separation that is produced between its way of being as a coin and its way of being metallic, of gold or silver. What's left is magninominis umbra (the shadow of a great name). The body of the coin is nothing more than a shadow (…). If other beings lose their idealism with the shock with the outside world, currency, on the contrary, is idealized by the praxis, is transformed into a mere apparent way of being a golden or silvery body. This second idealization, that of metallic money carried out through the circulation process itself, that is, the separation that is produced between its nominal content and its real content, is exploited partly by governments, partly by private adventurers, who counterfeit the coins. in different ways.” (Id., p. 83 – emphasis added).

III. Money

a) From coin to money: from servant to master of the world of commodities

Why can gold be “replaced by simple signs of itself devoid of value?” asks Marx at the end of his analysis of money as a sign of value.

The answer is not difficult.

A closer reading of the process of metamorphosis of goods, MDM, reveals that it is a continuous alternation of the process of metamorphosis of goods: one sells to acquire money and with this to buy new goods. In this process, merchandise is confronted with money, only to soon disappear again; leaves circulation to fall into the sphere of consumption. As Marx describes it, “the autonomous existence of the exchange value of the commodity is here only a fleeting moment. Soon after, it is replaced by another commodity. So the mere symbolic existence of money is enough in this process to make it pass from one hand to another.” (C., Liv. I, 2017, p. 202)

Even if this continuous process of changing hands allows money to circulate as a mere sign of value, that still doesn't say it all. It is not enough to deal with a process in which gold is idealized as a sign by praxis; by the metabolism of the general exchange of commodities. In order for all commodity owners to accept money spontaneously only in the form of a sign or as money (means of circulation), it “needs its own objectively social validity, and this is conferred on the paper symbol through its forced circulation. . This state obligation holds within the limits of a community or within the sphere of internal circulation, but it is only here that money fully fulfills its function as a means of circulation or currency and can thus assume a role in paper money. merely functional mode of existence, separated from its metallic substance.” (Id., pp. 202-203 – emphasis added)

In the sphere of the circulation of purchases and sales of goods, goods are exchanged for goods through money. This is but a mere means of exchange; as a servant of circulation. But it is in this same sphere that the process of the insurrection of money takes place: its passage from servant to master of the world of commodities. Indeed, the MDM circuit is composed of two moments. One, where you sell to get money to buy other MD goods; another, where one buys solely for the purpose of selling to obtain money, DM. The latter is the moment of the second metamorphosis of the MDM cycle. In this second moment, “money is mediated with itself by the commodity and appears, in its course, as a unit closed in on itself. In this way, money no longer appears as a means, but as an end of circulation” (G., 2011, p. 147). This is what is observed when circulation is taken not only as a circuit of incessant alternation of exchange of goods, but rather as a circuit composed of different moments: on the one hand, MDM; on the other, DMD; as Marx explains, “selling to buy; I can also buy to sell. In the first case, money is just a means to obtain a commodity, and the commodity the end; in the second case, the commodity is only a means to obtain money, and money is the end. This simply results when the moments of circulation are taken together. Therefore, considering simple circulation, the point I take to establish as a starting point must be indifferent” (Id., p. 148).

Money, therefore, assumes the form of money simply because it is “unit of measure of value and means of circulation, or put another way, money is the unit of measure of value and means of circulation”. Marx makes a point of stressing that money, as the unit of these two functions, “still has an autonomous existence that is distinguished from its mode of being in both functions. As a measure of value, gold is nothing more than ideal money, or ideal gold; as a simple means of circulation it is symbolic money and symbolic gold, but in its simple symbolic embodiment gold is money, that is, money is effective gold” (Crítica., 1982, p. 92) It is this autonomization that allows money to transforms itself from a mere means of exchange into an end in itself. After all, gold “is the compendium of social wealth. By its form it is the immediate embodiment of general work, while it is, by its content, the aggregate of all real works. Money is universal wealth in its individual aspect. In its role as mediator of circulation, it suffered all sorts of outrages: it was corroded and crushed until it became a mere symbolic role. But like money, it is restored to its golden splendor. From servant to master. From a simple servant of goods, he becomes their god.” (Id., Ibid.)

b) Hoarding

The first form that money assumes when it passes from being the servant of circulation to that of the absolute master of commodities is that of money as treasure. This passage is inscribed in the simple circulation itself. In fact - we insist again -, already there, in that sphere, money can take the form of currency because it is a unit of measurement of value and a means of circulation. As seen just now, money, because it has an autonomous existence that distinguishes it from its mode of being in these two functions, can, at any moment, interrupt its course and become suspended currency, whose purpose is its transformation into a means of circulation in end of itself; its accumulation as treasure. Every time the process of metamorphosis of commodities is interrupted in its course, money is withdrawn from circulation and remains in the form of money; as such, it passes into the state of a golden chrysalis. After all, “gold and silver, immobilized in the form of money, constitute treasure.” (Id., Ibid.)

But the simple accumulation of gold and silver as treasure would be useless if the suspension of money from its function as currency were not in constant tension with the unbridled rage to transform it into metals. This tension imposes limits, since, as Marx clarifies, “the treasure would be a simple useless metal, its soul – the money – would have abandoned it, and now only its caput mortuum (its chemical residue), the cooled ash of circulation, if it were not in constant tension with him", because, "the quantitative limit of exchange value contradicts its qualitative generality, and the hoarder resents this limit, which fact becomes a qualitative barrier and converts the treasure into a limited representative of material wealth”. (Id., Ibid). However, “the movement of exchange value as such, like an automaton, cannot aim at anything other than going beyond its limits. But exceeding a quantitative limit of the treasure gives rise to a new barrier, which in turn needs to be overcome. It is not a certain limit of the treasury, but any limit of it that appears as a barrier. Hoarding therefore has neither immanent law nor measure in itself, since it is an endless process that, in each of its results, finds a reason to start over. If the treasure only increases as it is preserved, equally it is only preserved as it increases” (Id., pp. 96-97)

c) Means of payment

If the treasure form is born from the suspension of money as currency, therefore, from its withdrawal from circulation; as a means of payment, money expands the purchasing power of money, as sellers dispose of their goods in exchange for a promise to receive their price at a future date. The buyers, in turn, assume the commitment to settle the price of the debt contracted between them on the agreed date. Only now, “instead of being, as before, the sign of value, it is now the buyer himself who symbolically represents money. But, just as before the general function of the symbol as a sign of value required the guarantee and forced tender imposed by the State, the personal symbolic function of the buyer now calls for the constitution of private contracts, obligations supervised by the laws, between the owners of goods. ” (Id., p. 102)

Seller and buyer now confront each other, metamorphosed into the characters of creditor and debtor. “If the owner of goods, in his role as guardian of the treasure, was a comic figure, he now becomes a terrible character, since it is no longer himself but his neighbor that he apprehends as a way of being of a determined sum of money , making him, and no longer himself, the martyr of exchange value. From a believer he becomes a creditor, and leaves religion to fall into jurisprudence.” (Id., Ibid.)

If, in circulation, buying and selling had their limits determined by the sum of prices to be realized, these limits are transformed into barriers for money as a means of payment.. As to this, Marx leaves no room for doubt when he states that “this barrier ceases to exist for money in its function as a means of payment (…). The sum of money required as a means of payment will be determined, not by the sum of the prices of the payments that must be made simultaneously, but by their greater or lesser concentration, and by the magnitude of the balance, which remains after the reciprocal neutralization of the positive and negative magnitudes. .” (Id., p. 105)

If one pays attention to the fact that it is within the circulation of goods that a class fraction is born whose occupation is exclusively buying to sell, the commerce that emerged finds in money, as a means of payment, a vehicle to expand its business without limits. With the development of trade in goods, credit instruments are born that allow traders to have the means to create a fictitious demand insofar as they can buy before they even sell. With the unfolding of money as a means of payment in securities, such as the so-called bills of exchange, for example, “the trader does not find any barrier in his own production or he only finds a very elastic barrier. In addition to the MD and DM separation, which derives from the nature of the merchandise, a fictitious demand is therefore created here. Despite its autonomy, the movement of commercial capital is never anything other than the movement of industrial capital within the sphere of circulation. However, thanks to its autonomy, it moves, to a certain extent, independently of the barriers of the reproduction process and, in this way, pushes the latter beyond its own limits. Internal dependency and external autonomy push commercial capital to the point where the internal connection is forcibly re-established through a crisis.” (C, Liv.III, 2017, p. 347).

But what about gold as the basis of the credit system? Wouldn't this metal be a barrier, which imposes insurmountable limits to the expansion of the system? I say not. Klagsbrunn is aware of this, as he infers, appropriately, from the process of self-valorization of value, that “the form that money takes, in general, is not relevant; what matters is that they are forms that allow and speed up the process of their valorization. Therefore, the central requirement is that money be a means of valorization and not a store of value. The clamor for the general equivalent in metallic form is not characteristic of capital and, therefore, in circulation, metallic money tends to be replaced by signs of value. The constitution of the payment and credit system, as well as its compensation constitute the most developed and necessary social product, precisely because it meets that requirement” (Klagsbrunn, 1992).

This question is outside the scope of this work...

d) world money

As world money, the general equivalent form again imposes itself absolutely, as in this sphere gold and silver once again reign as the universal means of payment, “universal means of purchase and the absolutely social materiality of universal wealth. What predominates is its function as a means of payment for the adjustment of international balances.” (C., Liv. I., 2017, p. 217) With this, the presentation of the forms of existence of money can be concluded. It is only worth noting the fact that these forms of existence of money are not characteristics that can be separated as if there were no logical connection between them. On the contrary, every effort developed here has tried to be as faithful as possible to Marx's exposition of the forms of money, which excels in showing the dialectical unity of the functions of money.

*Francisco Teixeira is a retired professor at the State University of Ceará (UECE) and is currently an adjunct professor at the UniversidadCariri Regional Authority (URCA);

* Fabiano dos Santos he is a doctoral candidate at the interinstitutional doctoral program of URCA and UFF (DINTER).


** Here, as throughout the chapter, Marx confuses value with exchange value. This distinction is not very clear. It, indeed, is implied; don't post.

*** By way of warning, it is important to bear in mind that the exposition that follows is that of the dialectical materialist method itself, where the presentation (presentation) is a fundamental part, as well as the specificity of the object of analysis. Therefore, any limitation of the apparent freedom of the Hegelian method and its dialectic of concepts is overcome, since the determinations of the object are exposed after a long process of investigation of its intimate nature - in this case, capital, understood in its logical connection . Furthermore, we condense the expositions of the Review quality The capital, by understanding them as complementary, in the same way that Marx himself understands them

Bibliographic references

CRESSONI, André Goes. Negativity and inversion of Hegel's speculative dialectic: notes on the theoretical development of Karl Marx. Available at:

FAUSTO, Ruy. Marx: logic and politics. Volume I. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1983.

GRESPAN, Jorge. The reverse dialectic. In: Revista Marxista, n° 14. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2002.

HEGEL, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Philosophy of History. 2a edition. Brasilia: Publisher of the University of Brasilia, 2008.

Klagsbrunn, Victor Hugo. Credit money category considerations. (Internet)

MARX, Carl. Grundrisse: economic manuscripts of 1857-1858: sketches of the critique of political economy. Editorial supervision: Mario Duayer. Translation by Mario Duayer, Nélio Schneider (in collaboration with Alice Helga Werner and Rudiger Hoffman). São Paulo: Boitempo, 2011.

___________The capital:critique of political economy. Book I: the capital production process. twoa Edition. Translation by Rubens Enderle. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2017 (Marx-Engels)

___________ The capital:critique of political economy. Book III: The Global Process of Capitalist Production. 1a Edition. Translation by Rubens Enderle. Edited by Friedrich Engels. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2017. (Marx-Engels)

___________ For the critique of political economy; Salary, price and profit; Income and its sources: the vulgar economy. Introduction by Jacob Gorender; Translations by Edgar Malagodi et al. São Paulo: Abril Cultural, 1982. (The Economists)

ROSDOLSKY, Roman. Genesis and structure of capital.Translation by César Benjamin. Rio de Janeiro: EDUERJ/Contraponto, 2001.

STEIN, Sofia Inês Albornoz. Hegel's dialectical movement: a reflection on the Science of Logic. In: Revista Philósophos, 2002.2. Available in:

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