The Power of Money (Marx)

Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844

“By possessing the property of buying everything, by possessing the property of appropriating all objects, money is thus the object of eminent possession. The universality of its property is the omnipotence of its being. It is therefore regarded as an omnipotent being. Money is the procurer between man’s need and the object, between his life and his means of life. But that which mediates my life for me, also mediates the existence of other people for me. For me it is the other person”.

“That which is for me through the medium of money – that for which I can pay (i.e., which money can buy) – that am I myself, the possessor of the money. The extent of the power of money is the extent of my power. Money’s properties are my – the possessor’s – properties and essential powers. Thus, what I am and am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality. I am ugly, but I can buy for myself the most beautiful of women. Therefore I am not ugly, for the effect of ugliness – its deterrent power – is nullified by money. I, according to my individual characteristics, am lame, but money furnishes me with twenty-four feet. Therefore I am not lame. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor. Money is the supreme good, therefore its possessor is good. Money, besides, saves me the trouble of being dishonest: I am therefore presumed honest. I am brainless, but money is the real brain of all things and how then should its possessor be brainless? Besides, he can buy clever people for himself, and is he who has [In the manuscript: ‘is’. – Ed.] power over the clever not more clever than the clever? Do not I, who thanks to money am capable of all that the human heart longs for, possess all human capacities? Does not my money, therefore, transform all my incapacities into their contrary?

If money is the bond binding me to human life, binding society to me, connecting me with nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds? Can it not dissolve and bind all ties? Is it not, therefore, also the universal agent of separation? It is the coin that really separates as well as the real binding agent – the […] [One word in the manuscript cannot be deciphered. – Ed.] chemical power of society”.

via Posterous and Joss Winn’s Things that stick

A neoliberal budget for business and marketisation?

It looks like it. I’ll keep some sort of a record of business and private sector benefits from the budget although, if this is the intention of the budget, there is plenty of scope for it to shoot business in both feet. Generally the outcome of an economic recession seems to be the increase and consolidation of the wealth of the few at the expense of the many. So far there is little reason to suppose that this one will be any different. What follows are random jottings as things emerge.

Academies and Free Schools

Chains and brands will develop. Management tasks will be consolidated. It makes no sense for every school to be a procurement agent, every school to have an account with a stationer. Some of the tasks of consolidation that have been poorly discharged by local education authorities (LEAs) will be taken over by charitable foundations, by co-operatives of teachers and, in time, by private companies.

Transfer of public sector services to the private sector. There seems to be a presumption that, by reducing public sector costs (and therefore reducing services) and promoting the private sector, the private sector will step in and offer the services the public sector will no longer provide. I’m sure I have heard this explicitly stated by the ConDem govt. but will need to check.

On the radio this morning it was reported that Pickles will introduce some controls over free local council free local newspapers. The argument is that these are often propaganda publications and they are unfair competition to privately owned ‘independent’ local papers that are suffering loss of circulation and advertising.

Liquid histories

I was impressed with the thinking behind Sekula’s approach to documentary photography and film that I posted on a little while ago ( and have been thinking about how these ideas could be used to write a sort of material and economic history of an everyday object that would reveal in detail the process of its conception and production and the material and social relations that constructed it both as a material object, as a commodity and as a instance in the flow of capital. The idea goes something like this, imagining for instance a commemoration mug of some sort. It can be shown as a moment, a temporary coalescence, in the flow of time, space and human history. The origin of its potentiality and subsequent actualisation is in the Big Bang. Materially its substance is the product of the transformation of geology brought about by the appearance of life,  i.e.  chalk, clay, oxygen. The energy used by its manufacture is also the product of geology and life processes  (oxygen and fossil fuel).  It is also the product of a particular human and social history. The story of its conception and manufacture as a commodity is told in terms of human and cultural development, within  the development a globalising capitalist system of labour relations and commodification.   The mug will no doubt eventually break and possibly over 100s of years return to something like an aggregate of its physical components. If the whole process could  be speeded up the mug may well appear as a brief eddy, a fleeting shape shift,  in the flow and whirl of material processes (within which humanity makes a brief appearance) that have, on a different time scale, many of the characteristics of a flowing river in which temporary liquid structures are formed and dissipated in response to external, internal and contingent influences and events.  In terms of society, some aspects of the modern phase of this process have speeded up enough to become visible even on a human time scale, prompting  Zygmunt Bauman to introduce the concept of ‘liquid’ as a major component of his diagnosis of late modernity and a little earlier Marshal Berman to take Marx’s phrase All That Is Solid Melts into Air as the title of his book about the self-destructive nature of capitalist modernization and its relations to contemporary forms of consciousness.

Following  Sekula, the story of the mug would be a short segment of the story told above and told in terms of the labour relations embedded in the mug via its production under the conditions of globalising capitalism. David Harvey focusses on the impersonal flow of value and capital that privatises and commodifies all within its grasp under the ceaseless compulsion to accumulate and achieve 3% growth through and beyond each successive systemic crises, a feature of the capitalist economic system. He also sees commodities as the embodiment of social relations that produce value.

“But what kind of social relation is presupposed here? Value is an internal relation within the commodity. It internalises the whole historical geography of labour processes, commodity production and realization, and capital accumulation in the space-time of the world market” page xx in the introduction to the 2006 edition of The Limits of Capital, Verso.

I think this is pretty close to what Sekula attempts to make visible in his documentary photographs and films.

The normative basis of critical theory

What values are the basis of critical theory’s a) negative critique of the (capitalist) status quo and b) whatever else it proposes as the ideal society to be achieved?

My starting points for a discussion of normativity:

1. There is no god so any normative position based on a religion is non-starter, for me at least.

2. The universe has no meaning or purpose other than that constructed by human beings who, through the evolution and development of consciousness is ‘nature becoming conscious of itself’ in the words of Marx.

3. Any normative discourse is a human creation/social construction.

4. There is no transcendental normative position that exists or can be grounded in any supposed pre-human or pre-social nature. Nature is both red in tooth and claw no doubt but it also provides many examples of symbiotic and apparently ‘altruistic’ behaviours. Ecological systems can have aspects construed and socially constructed under either heading. Neither is more real or authentic than the other ofrany possible interpretation and construction in between.

5. Democracy, equality, freedom, justice or any other normative term has no independent ontological reference or grounding.

6. All such terms, to the extent they have the empirical correlates, are partial. All freedom is within constraints. All democracy has asymmetries of power and influence. All equalities are formal and constructed.

7. All normative positions are matters of convention, negotiation, and in some way or another human made, elaborated and implemented.

8. This is an uncomfortable position in the sense that it asserts a radical normative relativism but is is encouraging as it does not hide from confronting the necessity for a political and social process to establish the normative basis of society.

9. Freedom equality and democracy, if agreed upon, are therefore achievable though action.

So critical theory’s normative basis is grounded in a Marxist analysis of capitalism and notions of equality, freedom and democracy. Can critical theory operate on the basis of the Marxist account of capitalism without also taking on its normative basis? Are the two inseparable anyway? Is an objective account of how capitalism works compatible with a variety of different normative bases?

If capitalism is criticised in terms of the distorted democratic systems, and the inequalities and unfreedoms it produces, then presumably the distortions are at least implicitly measured against ideal forms of democracy, equality and freedom. It is these specifications of the ideal that are the normative base. These, it could be argued, are transcendental. But do they have to be? For instance, as Sen points out, we do not need a philosopher’s specification of ideal equality to know that, in some places and at some times, some women are more equal than their mothers and grandmothers, or that the condition of some black Americans are in some important aspects more equal and free than their slave ancestors? Or am I wrong about this? Surely a critical theory can be built on this approach to looking at changes in freedom and equality? But if this is the case, then the normative discourse could be built on other approaches to critical theories not based on Marxism perhaps.

Sen? Norbert Elias? Who else?

Corporations have the same rights as individuals

There is an interesting article published by Yes! magazine Real People v. Corporate “People”: The Fight Is On reproduced on the web site. It refers to the dispute over major corporations in the US having the same constitutional rights as individuals to freedom of speech. Under a recent Supreme Court ruling this means that they can spend unlimited money promoting an economic interest or political position. According to the Court, if human beings are allowed an unrestricted right to free speech, then corporations must have the same right. According to David Harvey in his book A brief History of Neoliberalism this obviously undemocratic principle was consolidated during the period of the consolidation of neoliberal hegemony and the triumph of the related ‘business ontology’ back in the 1970s.

A crucial set of Supreme Court decisions began in 1976 when it was first established that the right of a corporation to make unlimited money contributions to political parties and political action committees was protected under the First Amendment guaranteeing the rights of individuals (in this instance corporations) to freedom of speech. Political action committees (PACs) could thereafter ensure the financial domination of both political parties by corporate, moneyed, and professional association interests (page 49).

Who is running GM food policy?

This has been a busy week for reporting on GM food issues. It started on the 2nd June with the announcement of the resignation of Professor Brian Wynne from his position as Vice Chair of the Food Standards Agency Steering Group on GM food. Brian Wynne is an acknowledged expert on the sociology of science and on the public understanding of science. This announcement was closely followed on the 4th June with a report that the new Secretary for the Environment, Caroline Spelman, supports the introduction and development of GM crops in the UK (Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman backs GM crops).

The FSA Steering Group Brian Wynne sat on has the brief to “shape and manage a public dialogue on food and the use of genetic modification..” (Food: The Use of Genetic Modification – A Public Dialogue). The gist of his complaint and the main reason he resigned was that the “shape” of the public dialogue was being heavily influenced towards a pro GM stance despite the Group’s Terms of Reference stating that no interest should be allowed to dominate and, according to the Group’s Agreed Aims and Objectives, no particular conclusions and outcome should be presumed. In practice the orchestrated and manipulated public dialogue will amount to vast sums of public money being spent to bring the public round to accepting GM foods and the biotechnology industry’s version of their safety for humans and the environment and their benefits for food production.

One of Professor Wynne’s closely related criticisms of the process is that the narrow scientific framing of GM issues ignores the important social, political and ethical aspects of the GM debate. “Genetically modifying food is having devastating impacts in parts of the developing world like South America, where rain-forests and communities are being wiped out to make way for vast GM soy plantations that provide animal feed for UK factory farms.” The scientific framing of the issues tends to focus on field and laboratory trials, local ecological impacts and possible consequences for human health (not that these are in anyway settled yet) rather than, for instance, the consequences of a small number of large corporations having private control of the global food chain (for instance through the patenting and ownership of the technology) or the geographically dispersed political and cultural impacts.

An even more recent report (Sunday 6th May GM lobby helped draw up crucial report on Britain’s food supplies) may well add substance to Brian Wynne’s concerns. It is claimed that there has been close collaboration with powerful biotechnology interests in the production of the FSA’s 2009 GM Crops and Foods document that led to and shaped the terms of reference of the Public Dialogue initiative. The Guardian report also claims the GM interests may have been involved in choosing the membership of the Steering Group.

In his letter of resignation Brian Wynne is incensed that the Chair of the FSA, Lord Rooker, (apparently a GM enthusiast) condemned both the critics of the FSA’s position on GM and the general public (who are to be engaged in unbiased, open and transparent dialogue) as “unscientific”. Apart from betraying the bias of Lord Rooker, this belittles concerns over the social and ethical consequences of the development of GM crops and allows the ‘science’ to dictate – explicitly and implicitly – the political and social policy debates. It seems the Public Dialogue project may well become an example of this process and be worth keeping an eye on, given the Chair of the FSA’s and the Secretary for the Environment’s expressed views in advance of the public dialogue and any public consultation.


The new Secretary for the Environment, Caroline Spelman, recently resigned as a director of the food and biotechnology lobbying company Spelman, Cormack andAssociates which she started with her husband in 1989. It doesn’t appear to have a web site.

Brian Wynne was a key speaker at the BSA President’s event last February, Putting Society into Climate Change. His presentation, although not about GM crops specifically, does give GM science based policy as an example why environmental issues cannot be seen as purely technical and scientific issues. With hindsight you can hear the concern that led to his resignation today. The podcast of his BSA presentation is available from the BSA PG Forum: The BSA Presidential Event was the subject of a post on this blog – How to put society into climate change. The post contains a short description of Brian Wynnes’s talk and the point he made about science based GM policy.

The full text of Brian Wynne’s resignation from the FSA GM Steering Group

Caroline Spelman’s former directorship of the food and biotechnology lobbying company Spelman, Cormack and Associates.
Spelman, 52, set up the firm with her husband, Mark Spelman, in 1989.

History and Heteronomy: Critical Essays

Published by the University of Tokyo Centre for Philosphy

Table of Contents, Copyright
Preface: Yasuo Kobayashi : Download

Reconfiguring Historical Time: Moishe Postone’s Interpretation of Marx
Viren Murthy : Download

1. Rethinking Marx’s Critical Theory
Moishe Postone : Download

2. Critical Theory and the Twentieth Century
Moishe Postone : Download

3. The Subject and Social Theory: Marx and Lukács on Hegel
Moishe Postone : Download

4. Theorizing the Contemporary World: Robert Brennet, Giovanni Arrighi, David Harvey
Moishe Postone : Download