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Marx and the Magic of Money: Towards an Alchemy of Capital

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image of Historical Materialism

We live in an age dominated by money. As capitalism has intensified and expanded as a social form, money has increasingly colonised the production and reproduction of the human condition. We live in an age of monetarism: an age in which social and political regulation are increasingly subordinate to the dictates of ‘sound money'. We live in an age of national lotteries: an age where millions attempt each week to garner enough money to ‘free’ themselves from the grinding agony of wage labour. We live in an age in which people increasingly grasp the alienation inherent in the domination of society by money and attempt to reassert a sense of human community through the introduction of local currency and barter schemes. But we also live in an age where Marxism is supposedly dead; where we can only gaze in ironic postmodern wonder at the increasing domination of the human condition by money and its social forms. In this paper we go beyond this postmodern orthodoxy to suggest that it is not only possible to develop a historically materialist analysis of money and its social forms but also that this project is essential if we are to reclaim our humanity from the deadening alienation of money and its social forms. We explore the magical qualities of money, the qualities which have enthralled and transfixed bourgeois social science from the classical economy of Adam Smith to the present day postmodernists. We argue that the lasting legacy of Marx was to uncover the historical materiality underlying the magical appearance of money: a discovery of the alchemic properties of money capital through which money becomes more money and which involves the material subordination of living labour to the valorisation of money capital.


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