Book Review: ‘Marx on Money’

‘Marx on Money’, by Suzanne de Bronhoff, Urizen Books (New York). 139 pages. Paperback £2.70, hardback £4.70. (Republished in 2015)

This book attempts to bring together and comment on Marx’s writings on money and credit, and to relate them to other monetary theories.

It can serve a purpose to students of Marx who are already familiar with his main economic theories but it suffers from two defects, one of presentation and the other an astonishing omission.

All of the numerous references and quotations are related to particular editions of Marx’s works, for example to the International Publishers’ 1970 edition of Capital. Consequently the page numbers are different, often widely different, from those in several other editions. This difficulty would have been lessened if, instead of merely giving the page numbers, it had also included Chapter and Section headings of the works referred to.

The Preface by Duncan K. Foley, claims for the book that it will help the working class because “Inflation and unemployment are . . . major issues over which class struggle is fought out”. But there is almost nothing in the book to justify the claim, and occasional brief references are misleading. On page 37 there is reference to “the inadequacy of Marx’s explanation” of “paper money”, and on page 84 [there] is a somewhat obscure passage which appears to say that Marx did not deal with monetary theory in relation to “the general price level”.

In fact the author appears not to know that Marx did deal with this. Most of her references are to money, banking and credit in Capital Vol. III, but she had not noticed that Marx was there writing only about conditions in Britain under the gold standard, with its full convertibility of Bank of England notes into gold. As Engels pointed out (Capital Vol. III, “Currency Under the Credit System”, p. 615 in Kerr edition), inconvertible notes were not dealt with in Vol. III but in Vol. 1, Chapter III.

For the past forty years there has been an inconvertible paper currency, and what Marx wrote about the general price level in Vol. III has little bearing. What he put forward in Vol. I was both adequate and definite, namely, that if an inconvertible paper currency is issued in excess (the meaning of “excess” being precisely defined) prices will rise correspondingly, as has in fact happened.

If the author holds that Marx’s explanation was “inadequate” or unsound there is a simple challenge she has to meet. Let her tell us of any occasion when an inconvertible currency was issued in excess and prices did not rise.

There is nothing in the book to indicate that the author appreciates that the workers’ struggle should go beyond reacting to “inflation and unemployment”, with the purpose of achieving a system of society as envisaged by Marx, in which there will be no production for the market, no price system or wages system, and therefore no monetary problems or unemployment problem.

Edgar Hardcastle

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