An old computer console and landline telephone. Hands type on a small keyboard

A text on money and magic, published anonymously in the 11th issue of L'encyclopedie des Nuisances, dated June 1987. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! October 2006. All footnotes by the translator.

Submitted by Fozzie on December 10, 2022

In the 14th Century, the Archpriest of Hita had already said that money had the power to "make truths into lies and lies into truths." Today, fully developed in the spectacle, where exchange-value is present everywhere (and so it is almost useless to represent it in a monetary form), this power even permits one to speak of a "society without money." The economic abstraction, which carves monetary values into all sacrificed life, envisions that electronic money will allow it to accede to autonomous functioning, the pure accountability of the administration of reified things and people, and the direct expression of a measure of the subjection that abolishes the agitational power of money.

An advertising campaign that pushes upon us, under the name LIBERTEL,[1] "a new art of experiencing the bank," tells us: "Magic is finding money in a minute without asking anyone for anything." One has known since Marx that the magic of money lies in dissolving the social yield into the formation of value, and that money appears as the "immediate incarnation of all human effort."[2] If one can now add to this ancient magic a new one, it is only that the opacity of social relations is still thick and that the alienated appearance of the totality of human effort in money tends to dissolve, in its turn, so as to leave room -- in bureacratized management and its electronic instrumentation -- for a total alienation without appearance. The general equivalence incarnated in money, and manifesting a general interdependance, becomes -- in the form of information stockpiled in the machines of power -- the object of a particular activity, less and less controlled by its nominal "owner." The salaried employee then sees the price of his work, as well as his work itself, escape from him so as to circulate (far away from him) among the diverse bureaucracies that manage his survival. And the abstraction thus rendered even more abstract by being reduced to the pure quantitative is, in a certain fashion, in its electronic circulation, good for the abolition of the need for money, which is "the true and unique need produced by political economy," but through a heavier constraint in which money, the power of all reduced to an abstraction, defines its own needs in an authoritarian fashion.

Elsewhere, all this is proclaimed loudly and clearly by advertising, if one knows how to listen. Those who can, thanks to the magic of LIBERTEL, "find money in a minute without asking anyone for anything" are the executives [le cadre], the model employees, those to whom one no longer needs to guarantee anything, since one already knows everything about him, about his "cash on hand" [encaisse]: he has actually sunk [encaisse] and is so completely surrendered to those who hold his purse-strings that he is no longer certain who "to ask." His margin of liberty is calculated by his just price, by the pro-rata of his submission: "On 20 January you will obtain your LIBERTEL reserve. We suppose that it will rise to 40,000 Francs about two months after your revenues . . . " This reserve, having been liberally accorded to him so that he could frolic in the luxury of permitted consumption (". . . the due-date for your taxes has arrived, your Christmas vacation was costly and the balance of your checking account is quite modest"), our executive tries to respond to the agonizing question that is posed to him by those who are careful to pressure him more scientifically: "How are you going to manage without disorganizing your budget?" It will suffice for him to manage at home, on his Minitel, his "treasury," his "finances," that is to say, it will suffice for him to calculate himself to what degree he will be eaten, how much this "deficit" [decouvert] (as one would have said in a less free era) will cost him. Henceforth, dressed [couvert] in the exact limits of his integration, he can instantly report each thing -- a trip to Egypt, a session of wind-surfing -- one at a time: his work time, his "income." Because he must do all for his benefactors, including the satisfaction of being able to lighten their tasks a little, by organizing the reordering of his debts himself, so as to ineluctably end up in the definitive crash that will represent the discarding of his work-force. In brief, this "new art of experiencing the bank" is only a survival that is more narrowly controlled by the economy, in which one inhabits a computer terminal and in which, by fits and starts, one circulates thanks to electronic "chips," as a function of the motive force through which one's plastic money has been credited.

To find money in a minute, without having to furnish a commodity (his work in general) in exchange: this is what is quite extraordinary. And if this becomes common, it can only be because all social relations, of which money is the measure, have collapsed and that, before one loses even the memory of the old alienation, one will play in the streets with the fetish that has become derisory. But beyond the advertising proclamation of LIBERTEL communism, we possess enough supporting indications as to be assured that this world has not begun to organize the gratuity in abundance (see the article "Abundance"[3]). The society "without [bank]notes" (the cashless society[4]), the beauties of which one describes to us, is thus merely a society in which the capillary penetration by computerized networks have attained such a degree that, with respect to the omnipresence of the instruments of market calculation, the fugitive materialization of money in currency henceforth appears as an obstacle that slows down its circulation and declines to the profit of electronic accounting, in which exchange is no longer anticipated (as in the monetary form) but controlled in "real time." However, it isn't data processing that, with it immaterial electronic money, renders commodities instantly commensurable (between them, that is to say, for each has its own price, its salary) without them needing to have their respective values represented outside of themselves, in hard cash [especes sonnantes] or at least in palpable cash. On the contrary, it is the occupation of social space-time by the commodity that permits one to directly bring back all commodities to their shared value, the time of work; that they can measure altogether their value without passing for money. The time-commodity of production is thus stripped of its diverse consumable disguises (services, diversions) so as to crudely manifest its "essential characteristics of exchangeable, homogenous unities and the suppression of the qualitative dimension" (The Society of the Spectacle).[5] And the "real time" of informatics, at first used as a particular technique of control over market flows, now finds its field of application in all of society.

Thus, what one has here is a manner of bureaucratic realization of the utopia of the "good timetables of work," to which Marx objected that it is impossible to abolish money insofar as exchange-value remains the social form of products. With its delirium of electronic money, the spectacle seeks to prove that it is at least possible to abolish the appearance of money, the sign of the socially alienated community, to the profit of its own network of hierarchical signals. But to prove this, the spectacle must conform point-by-point to the description made by Marx of the banking system, which the Saint-Simonians would have liked to make the "papacy of distribution." If only to make the asses who treated Marx like an old dog bray, when they weren't agitating about the gulags, we would thus quote at length from the pages of the Manuscripts of 1844 in which the emaciated Marxology of a Rubel[6] sees a "vehement charge" rather than a "scientific analysis"; because these manuscripts clearly show that there is more science in this vehemence than there will ever be in all of the professorial excuses and prudences.

Marx remarked at the beginning that -- deceived by the disappearance of the materiality of the "strange power," alienation -- the Saint-Simonians saw in the "banking system," in credit, "a progressive abolition of the separation of man and objects, capital and work, private property and money, money and man -- the end of the separation of man from man." Today, this illusion of disalienation is no longer the hobby-horse of a sect, but finds itself propagated by all of the spectacular pharmacies that press everyone to invest and improve themselves in all the coarse advertising of its inversion into "a dehumanization much more infamous and exhaustive because its element is no longer the commodity, the metal, the paper, but the moral existence, the social existence, the intimacy of the human heart itself; because, under the appearance of the confidence of man in man, it is supreme distrust and total alienation." It is the usage that the economy makes of him, the guarantee that his non-life offers to his exploiters, that is at every instant calculated and recalculated by the machines of market abstraction, the credit accorded to each person. And Marx exclaimed, unfortunately almost obsolete in his appeal to indignation: "Think of what there is of abjection in the fact of estimating[7] a man in [terms of] money, as is the case with credit." Today, man is estimated by pushing abjection to the point of making him display his price himself, with the pride of the executive who exhibits his rosary [chapelet] of credit cards, the amulettes that assure that he is counted part of the Elect of the Kingdom of the Commodity. But in any case no one can dream of shrinking from this "judgment that political economy pronounces on the morality of a man"; he must apply himself to all the levels of the hierarchy of dispossession, because -- confronted with the bureaucratic concentration of social richness -- there are only debtors and credit is everywhere presented as "the convenient intermediary of exchange, that is to say, money itself elevated to a completely ideal form."

Thus a work that describes the dematerialization of money for the benefit of the "Bank Card Group" can envision that, in the near future, the "card with a chip" will become "the obligatory intermediary for all of our dialogues with the environment" (Invisible Money: The Era of Electronic Flows). It is assuredly not the obligatory character that will be lacking from this intermediary, but, whatever technical procedure is adopted, the dependance created will, in any case, only be a new form of the mutual and generalized dependance of indifferent individuals that is the content of money. If this expresses itself electronically as information about each consumer, it is that, with the generalization of the salariat and the concentration of economic decision-making, the management of credit can itself be centralized. "It isn't money that abolishes itself in man at the heart of the system of credit; it is man himself who changes himself into money, in other words, money incarnates itself in man." How much each incarnates money, that is to say, how much social labor can he exchange himself for: this is what credit estimates and puts on to cards. And "as far as he has no credit, he isn't simply judged to be poor, but also morally, as someone who neither merits, nor trusts, nor estimates; as a pariah, a wicked man"; in brief, as a traitor to the economy. He must submit himself to "the humiliation of lowering himself to beg for credit from the rich," under the diverse, impersonal forms that are today adopted and that are expected to objectively measure if there is still some profit to be extracted from him. So as to find grace in the economy, it is necessary to enter into the system of reciprocal deception and to make of his entire existence an advertisement for his market value. Because each person is accountable for all the moments of his life in their economic estimation: "Thanks to the completely ideal existence of money, man is in a position to practice counterfeiting, not only in another matter, but concerning his own person: forced to make false money with his own person, he must simulate, lie, etc., so as to obtain credit; thus credit becomes -- as much on the side of he who accords trust as he who solicits it -- an object of illegal trade, deception and reciprocal abuse." Our readers will easily recognize here all of the door-mats who, thinner than the thin wall-to-wall carpeting that flaps at La Tapie, must ceaselessly bluff so as to support the rate of their fiduciary value. Finally, "it appears with a burst that, at the basis of what political economy calls confidence, there is mistrust, the distrustful calculations that reveal if it is necessary or not to accord credit; the spying upon the secrets concerning the private life of the borrower, etc." And, by describing in detail the instruments with which this police control is today endowed, one adds nothing essential to this conclusion.

Nevertheless, the magic of monetary value, the total value of its immaterial life -- if it has had a sordidly repressive and police-like development -- has also had, as compensation, its dream-like and almost poetic development. Because, after banking at home, it is now the stock exchange that invites itself even more informally and comes to haunt those who decidedly are not part of it at home and at home less than anywhere else. The salaried employee, already relieved of his pennies, and the care of having to find out how to dispense them, thus sees himself telematically plugged into the most vast financial flows and can thus participate in the global circulation of capital by generously pouring into it the remainder of the accountable signs that the automatic deductions have eventually left to him. The same computerized financial pumps permit him -- after having it pass before his eyes, so as to respect the forms, the price of his work -- to instantly mobilize his evanescent nest-egg (he himself also being evanescent). Because when one knows a little of what today is the financial market, such a proposition must rather be welcomed with fright, if something like the good sense of the petite-bourgeoisie is retained by the executive. Nevertheless, the aberration has its logic and it is quite normal that the loss of control over the signs of the computerized general equivalent is completed, for the privileges of dispossession, by an enthusiastic contemplation of the endless round that makes these signals travel [tourner] across the world. The telematic racket[8] that envisions scientifically raking in what can no longer be called savings can thus be accepted as progress, thanks to which each person knows, sitting in front of his or her screen, the ecstasy of the stock-market crash. There is obviously never a question about being amazed by the crash.

Beyond democratized dabbling in the stock market, this progress in the circulation of abstraction actually has a more sincerely cheerful aspect, that of amplifying -- with its speculative effects reverberating from one end of the planet to the other -- a monetary instability that has irrepressably grown since 1971, the year that the convertibility of the dollar [into gold] was abolished and that -- for the first time in times of peace -- one has assisted in the disappearance of all international money of reference. The monstrous coupling of telematics and the flows of capital is not simply a technique of marginal collection, but is at the center of this "financial revolution" that has, for several years now, permitted the birth of the only perfect market that one has ever seen: a global market in dematerialized capital. This perfection has already displayed a few of its beauties; one has the right to hope for others.[9] And perhaps even the savory spectacle of a global financial shipwreck. The same magic that permits us to find money in a minute without asking anything of anyone apparently functions so as to permit others to make money disappear in huge quantities, without anyone being able to understand exactly how. Thus, one learned one fine morning that the Volkswagen company lost, in a single blow, the equivalent of its annual revenues due to a swindle that was in fact an unfortunate speculation upon the dollar. This limited case of the volatility of capital (to the point of its pure and simple valorization) illustrates quite well -- with the fantastic piracy of the Wall Street "raiders"[10] -- the type of perfection of a market in which arbitrariness is the norm and in which capital, rather than depositing itself in investments, prefers to ceaselessly travel across the globe in search of speculative profits.

In the same way that the degradation of nature is much more profound than what one has been left to suppose, the decay of the mechanisms that used to regulate intercapitalist relations is much more advanced than what one would like us to perceive. Because, here as well, those who know do not speak, and those who speak know nothing. Yet the agonizing confidences concerning the uncontrollable reality of the international financial system that must be the guarantee and the measure of all the economic processes more and more often slips out from the "deciders." One of these experts sighs that "one no longer knows with certitude who borrows from whom, nor who loans to whom" (quoted by H. Bourguinat, The Vertigo of International Finances). Another expert improves upon this: "Everyone exchanges debts, and one ends up no longer knowing who is at the end of the chain, who is the creditor and who is the debtor" (Dynasteurs, March 1987). Here is an ignorance from which several financial adventurers can advantageously draw profit, but to which no one really puts an end: the inextricable entanglements of debts and the ultra-rapid electronic circulation of credit, of which no one can guarantee the clear expression in the language of a financial pathology that is informatically equipped. This is a forward flight that is comparable, in what concerns the forced course of economic abstraction, in the order of its authoritarian materialization, to the development of a nuclear industry. The ideal form of money, credit experiences an inflation that is in itself "ideal," the nominal illusion of the richness that capitalism gives to itself. The artificial multiplication of speculative profits rests or, rather, skids upon a boom in the deficit that the system is forced to accord to itself, always more liberally, so as to compensate for the profits that it cannot attain in the circulation of commodities.

In a situation in which the general abstract equivalent of social richness becomes even more abstract, because this richness is itself quite doubtful, a financier can remark with an air of chagrin that the first function of money must be to "facillitate exchanges and not to dominate them," and that "the sign (money) and reality (the commodity, the product) henceforth obey different laws" (J. Peyrelavalde, President of the Stern Bank, Le Monde, 17 April 1987). These groans of an anarchronistic bourgeois realism -- like all lamentations that denounce the too-flagrant unreality of the financial boom[11] -- want to be ignorant that this in fact expresses the most profound economic reality, the outrageousness of a concentration of the social richness that pushes itself beyond all usage, which obeys the foolish laws that prescribe the perpetual domination of exchange-value. What the currect director of the International Monetary Fund calls "the enormous surplus of a proliferating financial sector that recoups the real economy from its shadow" (Dynasteurs, March 1987) is thus, rather, the enormous surplus of a market economy that recoups real life from its shadow, that is, when it doesn't crush it by plummeting head-long. So as to relocate a measure, a social usage that has been defined in an authoritarian manner -- so as to restore laws that are capable of judging all of this -- the reformers must turn one more time to the State, the "savior of last recourse." But who will save this savior, when the States themselves -- like the borrowers and investors -- are buried up to their necks in waves of indebtedness that permit the artificial auto-valorization of the monetary abstraction? In his time, Hegel had already seen the commodity, the autonomous movement of the non-living, "as the wild beast that calls for the firm hand of a tamer." Since then, one has seen on the historical stage a number of apprentice tamers (or at least learned experts in taming), the instruction of whom is well summarized by Keynes when he declared that the totalitarian bureaucratic system "neither holds nor knows how to hold, in what concerns economic technique, any useful element to which we might have recourse, if we ever decide to do so in the framework of a society that conforms to the ideals of the British bourgeoisie" (Laissez-faire and Communism, quoted by Paul Mattick, Marx and Keynes). The ideals of the British bourgeoisie were in fact nothing, but -- although this isn't the place to attempt to precisely evaluate the current relations between the wild beast and its governmental [etatique] tamer -- it is certain that they have sometimes thought that it is, rather, the senile hand of the one that calls for the jaws of the other. In any case, the image that contains this confused mixture hardly resembles the ideal portrait of the bureaucracy as the "universal class," which, "disengaged from work directed towards needs," "occupies itself with general interests, with social life." Instead it evokes, in the manner of the end of Animal Farm, a danse macabre of the State and the commodity in which one no longer knows very well who is the wild beast and who is the tamer . . . but in which one still knows who is endlessly trampled upon.

The confusion of Statist politics and their erratic economic order is such that a mediocre commentator can remark on the occasion of the most recent of the "summits" periodically charged with putting an end to this confusion: "One wants to stimulate domestic demand in the United States thanks to the diminution of public expenditures (and thus the loans to finance them). One presses the Federal Republic [of Germany] and Japan to revive their respective economies by an augmentation of budgetary expenditures (and thus loans). No mediatic[12] operation can exhaust this contradiction" (Paul Fabra, Le Monde, 7-8 June 1987). Thus one understands that a system henceforth incapable of understanding itself prefers to contemplate the machines that represent the magic of its uncontrollable functioning as pure rapidity of the circulation of abstraction, for which all human perception is deficient: "Certain days, the computers themselves must work at different speeds. When the fever seizes the market, they inscribe themselves in the phase of the 'accelerated market' (fast market[13]): the exchanges are so rapid that the prices appearing on the screens only announce approximations" (Le Monde, 21-22 December 1986).

If the power of money is not abolished here, where one says it is abolished, but, on the contrary, is reinforced as a police constraint, then money encounters -- in its very autonomy, as the bureaucratic calculation of planned survival -- its limits and contradictions. Its arbitrary appearance [eclate] at the most elevated level of abstraction, in the dementia of the financial fiction in which what is rationalized (that is to say, repressed) at the basis of society reappears as global irrationality. Because all the progress and all the inconsequences of such a system can only be a new regression and the new consequence of dispossession.

[1] Still offered by HSBC France: "With Libertel credit, you benefit from a permanent reserve of money: you utilize it when you wish and then you reconstitute your reserve through the reimbursement by your due dates."

[2] Karl Marx, "The Power of Money," in Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.

[3] In issue #11 of L'encyclopedie des nuisances.

[4] English in original.

[5] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (1967): Thesis 149 in Chapter 6, "Spectacular Time."

[6] See, for example, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, edited by Maximilien Rubel and John Crump (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987).

[7] Note that estimer can mean both "to estimate" and "to esteem."

[8] English in original.

[9] Four months after this text was published, that is, on 19 October 1987, there was a terrible crash: $500 billion was lost in one day.

[10] English in original.

[11] English in original.

[12] The French word used here is mediatique, for which there is no equivalent in English.

[13] English in original.