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making others do something 7

bare life and money

It is true that of all the desires it harnesses, capitalism begins
with money or rather with bare life, life in need of reproduc-
tion. For, in a decentralised economy with a division of labour,
material reproduction passes through the gateway of money.
Tis mediation is not purely a capitalist invention: the division
of labour, and the monetary market exchange that accompa-
nies it as it deepens beyond a certain threshold, have developed
slowly over centuries. Capitalism inherited this layering of
markets that evolved over the long term. But it could only truly
take form by closing of the last avenues of independent indi-
vidual or (small-scale) collective production, thus raising
material heteronomy to an unprecedented level. Te full
dependence on the market division of labour is its condition of
possibility. Marx and Polanyi among others have amply shown
how the conditions for proletarianisation emerged, notably
through the enclosure of the commons. In the wake of that act
of the most complete, organised immiseration, people were lef
with only one option, the sale of their undiferentiated
It is tedious to have to repeat such trivial and obvious facts,
yet necessary inasmuch as contemporary fctions, built on
work enrichment, participative management, employee
em power ment and other programmes of self-realisation are
successfully erasing the memory of that original truth about the
employment relation: that it is a relation of dependence, a rela-
tion between agents in which one holds the conditions for the
material reproduction of the other, and that this is the perma-
nent backdrop and the immoveable foundation for anything
that unfolds on top of it. Without being reducible to it, the
employment relation is only possible when the mediation of
money becomes the obligatory gateway, the exclusive gateway,
through which the basal desire for material reproduction must
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8 willing slaves of capital
pass. As employees repeatedly discover, all the incentives that
the capitalist employment relation successively put on stage in
order to enrich its scenery and elicit more refned interests in
the workplace interests such as advancement, socialising,
fulflment can collapse at any moment, leaving only the inde-
structible foundation of material dependence, a stark backdrop
of menace hanging over life newly made bare.
Since the mediation of money functions as an obligatory
gateway, the dependence on the provider of money is inscribed
in the strategies of material reproduction from the outset, and
as its most fundamental fact. Yet in a capitalist economy there
are only two providers of money: the employer and the fnan-
cier. For the employee, it is the employer; later it will also be the
banker, but only marginally and on condition of a repayment
capacity backed by pre-existing remuneration. Pushed to its
limit, material heteronomy namely, the inability to indepen-
dently supply the necessities of ones reproduction as labour-
power (and simply as life), and therefore the need to participate
in the market division of labour makes access to money
imperative and money the cardinal object of desire, the desire
that conditions all or almost all others. Money, writes Spinoza
in one of the rare passages in which he addresses economics,
has become a digest of everything, and that is why its image
usually occupies the mind of the multitude more than anything
else. For they can imagine hardly any species of joy
without the accompanying idea of money as its cause.
Spinoza by no means excluded himself from the common lot
with this sharp observation.
Before engaging in philosophy,
4 Ethics, IV, Appendix 28. [Te translation here follows the French trans-
lation of Ethics. (Trans.)]
5 And a distinction should be made between the common lot that is
unable to escape the necessities of material reproduction through the exchange of
money, and the multitude, defned by the fact that its spirit is occupied by the
image of money more than anything else.
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making others do something 9
he had to polish lenses. A citizen of the United Provinces at the
height of their economic power, he was well placed to identify
the mutations that the deepening of the division of labour and
the market-based organisation of material reproduction induced
in the order of desires and collective afects: money, as the almost
exclusive mediation of material strategies, the digest of every-
thing, became the object of meta-desire the obligatory gateway
through which all other (market) desires must pass.
currency-relation, money-desire
Incidentally, this is the moment to make a conceptual distinc-
tion between two terms, currency and money, that are intui-
tively grasped as interchangeable and which few see the utility
of disentangling. Why then have two words for a single thing?
Pepita Ould-Ahmed, one of the frst to properly examine this
lexical diference, very correctly sees in it the efect of distinc-
tive disciplinary appropriations money for the anthropolo-
gists (and sociologists), currency for the economists and ulti-
mately a mere variation in perspective relative to what remains
fundamentally one and the same object.
We can however
extend this analysis, and qualify this variation in perspective
conceptually by making currency the name of a certain social
relation, and money the name of the desire to which this rela-
tion gives birth.
Michel Aglietta and Andr Orlan made the decisive
contribution of refuting the substantial (intrinsic value) and
the functional (convenient means of exchange) approaches to
understanding currency, seeing it rather as a social relation,
buttressed in institutions, and as complex as the social
6 Pepita Ould-Ahmed, Monnaie des anthropologues, argent des
conomistes : chacun le sien?, in E. Baumann, L. Bazin, P. Ould-Ahmed, P.
Phlinas, M. Selim, R. Sobel (eds), Largent des anthropologues, la monnaie des
conomistes, LHarmattan, 2008.
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10 willing slaves of capital
relation of capital.
Currency is thus not a value in itself but
the operator of value. Above all, it is fundamentally the efect
of a collective belief in its ef cacy as a means of repayment,
since everyone justifes accepting the monetary sign by the
fact that everyone else is equally and reciprocally willing to
accept it. Te production of this common acceptance of a
sign, which is ultimately perfectly arbitrary since it lacks any
intrinsic value, is the monetary question par excellence. Tis
essentially fduciary nature of currency, long occluded by the
illusions of metallic fetishism, must be brought to light if one
is to grasp that it has no substantial character and is funda-
mentally interpersonal in other words, that at the scale of
the whole society it is a social relation. Monetary institutions
have no other function than to produce and reproduce that
social relation of shared recognition and trust which, attached
to some sign, establish it as a universally accepted means of
Currency is only (re-)produced, or destroyed,
together with this relation. Tat is why, far from being reduc-
ible to dyadic interactions, money imposes itself (when it
imposes itself ) with a sovereign force, and at the level of the
whole community whose collective power it in some way
If currency is the means of payment as a social relation,
7 Michel Aglietta and Andr Orlan, La violence de la monnaie, PUF,
1982; (eds), La monnaie entre violence et confance, Odile Jacob, 2002; (eds), La
monnaie souveraine, Odile Jacob, 1998.
8 On the forms of monetary confdence and their institutional arma-
tures, see Bruno Tret, La monnaie au prisme de ses crises dhier et dau-
jourdhui, in B. Tret (ed.), La monnaie dvoile par ses crises, ditions de
lEHESS, 2007.
9 On the idea of the sovereignty of the currency as manifestation of the
power of the community, see Frdric Lordon and Andr Orlan, Gense de
ltat et gense de la monnaie: le modle de la potentia multitudinis, in Y. Citton
and F. Lordon, Spinoza et les sciences sociales. De la puissance de la multitude
lconomie des afects, ditions Amsterdam, 2008.
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making others do something 11
money is currency grasped from the standpoint of the subjects,
namely, currency as object of desire this digest of everything
without whose accompanying idea as cause no joy exists.
Money is the subjective expression, in the form of desire, of the
monetary social relation. Tis social relation produces the
common acceptance of the monetary sign and therefore turns it
from the perspective of individuals into an object of desire,
or meta-desire, since this particular object is the general equiv-
alent that gives access to all (material) objects of desire. Tis
relation and its institutional framework is thus responsible for
producing one of the most powerful attractors of an economy
of desire structured by the commodity. We can clearly see here
both the diference between, and the complementary nature of,
the respective analytical registers of currency and money: on
the one hand, the institutional and social mechanisms that
produce a collective belief-trust, and on the other, the mystif-
cation of individual desire. What is undoubtedly needed is not
to disqualify one perspective with the help of the other, but
rather to use both together in order to take full stock of the
monetary object, exactly in the manner of Bourdieus objection
to the false antinomy between objectivism and subjectivism.

Te former is only interested in structures, dismissing agents as
their merely passive bearers, whereas the latter ignores struc-
tures on the ground that nothing exists except the lived experi-
ence of individuals; both are thus equally incapable of thinking
the expression of structures in and through the individual
psyche, namely, the presence of structures inside the subjects
themselves, but in the form of dispositions, desires, beliefs and
10 Pierre Bourdieu, Choses dites, Minuit, 1987.
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