MONEY OR THE MONEY-FORM : The commodity chosen to function as the universal equivalent for all other commodities. The actual form of money is a "matter of accident," Marx explains: In the development of society, "The money-form comes to be attached either to the most important articles of exchange from outside, which are in fact the primitive and spontaneous forms of manifestation of the exchange-value of local products, or to the object of utility which forms the chief element of indigenous alienable wealth, for example cattle" (183). Capitalist society turned to gold and silver because precious metals fulfill the necessary functions of the universal equivalent: "Only a material whose every sample possesses the same uniform quality can be an adequate form of appearance of value, that is a material embodiment of abstract and therefore equal human labour." Also, "the money commodity must be capable of purely quantitative differentiation"; it "must therefore be divisible at will, and it must also be possible to assemble it again from its component parts. Gold and silver possess these properties by nature" (184). Once gold and silver take on the role of money-form they are separated from their real use-value (e.g., as filling in teeth or as raw material in luxury goods) and function almost exclusively as exchange-value; it becomes an ideal value, which is why it is so easy for this function to be taken over by paper money (though paper is, in and of itself, useless). Money performs a similar function on all things exchanged for it: "Money is the absolutely alienable commodity, because it is all other commodities divested of their shape, the product of their universal alienation" (205). In other words, money is the means by which material use-values are "transubstantiated," as Marx sometimes put it, into exchange-value, thus alienating all commodities from the labour that really gives value to commodities. See the module on commodity fetishism.
Visits to the site since July 17, 2002