We can all see that money has power in society, but where exactly does it come from? More specifically, how do we Marxists see where the power of money comes from? There are many differing opinions on this, the most famous one being the religious idea that money is the root of all evil. But of course this doesn’t tell us very much.
Money has power in society, but where does this power come from? The desire to obtain money is an end in itself. It takes on all things in society, class status, symbol of prestige and social power. It appears as though money has a power onto itself. Money seems to have a will and consciousness of its own. This phenomenon where objects have social power or will of their own is called “the fetishism of commodities” by Marx.
In this context Marx uses the term “fetishism” in the original religious meaning. It’s the view that inanimate objects hold power, or that these powers are attributed to them. Commodities and money can seem to have the same power, but really they are only expressions of our own labour.
People produce things in a work place; people directly interact with one another during their production. The organizations of work, the division of labor, are direct social relations between people. When something needs to change in the process someone from management walks in and tells everyone what is up, or a collective decision is made.
This is different in the market; instead there are indirect social relations that are the exchanges of commodities. The things that happen in the market place feed back to the act of production itself i.e. make more, make less or make them differently.
Farmers, people who make cars, people who make furniture interact through the market place when their products meet each other. We see only exchanges of value. These social relations are indirect as they interact only through their commodities. In a single factory we have material relations, in the market those material relations are replaced with a social relation between things. This process of social relations between people manifesting as a relations between things, Marx called “reification”.
When we purchase a commodity we are experiencing a commodity not the social relation behind it. Even if we know that there is a network of social relations there we still do not experience them. In this we understand that every economic relation is experienced via a commodity.
This act of exchanging all things in society is where money gets its power from. The value of all commodities is expressed through money. The social labour that goes into the production of a certain commodity is expressed as a particular amount of money. As a result of this process of manufacture and exchange, money itself becomes the source of social power. The act of exchange gives it this power because it is an expression of social relations. The market is a collection of social relations, the more money you have the more social power you have.
Thus we see the source of the power money has.