Karl Marx was a 19th-century German thinker who devised the ideology of communism. He criticized emerging capitalism harshly and urged a revolution that would, after a “dictatorship of the proletariat” period, equalize society. In this short essay, he presents money as a major capitalist vice—one that alienates people from their true natures, economically as well as morally and psychologically.
- Money is the ultimate manifestation of private property, “the object of eminent possession.” Because it can buy everything, it becomes the “omnipotent” being in capitalist society. It mediates all of human life and therefore shapes us fundamentally.
- Human beings are primarily social beings, so money’s social power ontologically transforms its possessors: “Money’s properties are my—the possessor’s—properties and essential powers.”
- Even if I am a wicked person, the positive moral status of money transforms my social standing into something good: “I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honoured, and hence its possessor.”
- Money also transforms other people from my perspective—others become money-or-not-possessing beings: “But that which mediates my life for me, also mediates the existence of other people for me. For me it is the other person.”
- Marx and Ayn Rand are clearly opposites: For Rand (as in Francisco’s Money speech), human beings give value and meaning to money through creative action, while for Marx, money’s social power determines the image of its possessors.
- Money thus transforms all human qualities to their contraries—it makes “brothers of impossibilities.” It alienates humans from their true natures by intermixing appearances and reality, breaking all ties and making unnatural new ones.
- Thus, Marx portrays money as the unnatural power behind the contradictions that make the capitalist “world upside-down.” It is not a virtuous tool for trading values but a destructive force that poisons human beings’ entire lives.
Read Karl Marx’s “The Power of Money in Bourgeois Society” here. Also available in the second edition of Robert C. Tucker’s The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 101–105. Summary by Andrei Volkov and Stephen Hicks, 2019.