Cash Nexus

A Discussion of the Term Coined by Thomas Carlyle and Popularized by Marx

A hand giving a paycheck symbolizes Marx's concept of the "cash nexus."
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"Cash nexus" is a phrase that refers to the depersonalized relationship that exists between employers and employees in a capitalist society. It was coined by Thomas Carlyle, a nineteenth-century Scottish historian, but is often erroneously attributed to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It was, however, Marx and Engels who popularized the concept in their writings and fueled use of the phrase within the fields of political economy and sociology.


Cash nexus is a phrase and concept that became associated with the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels because it perfectly encapsulates their thinking about the alienating nature of the relations of production within a capitalist economy. While Marx critiqued the social and political impacts of capitalism at length in all of his works, in particular in Capital, Volume 1, it is within The Communist Manifesto (1848), jointly written by Marx and Engels, that one finds the most referenced passage relating to term.

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

A nexus, simply put, is a connection between things. In the passage quoted above, Marx and Engels argue that in the interest of profit, the bourgeoisie--the ruling class during the epoch of classical capitalism--had stripped away any and all connections between people except for "cash payment." What they refer to here is the commodification of labor, whereby the labor of workers is effectively sold and bold on the capitalist market.

Marx and Engels suggested that the commodification of labor makes workers interchangeable, and leads to workers being viewed as things rather than people. This condition further leads to commodity fetishism, wherein relations between people--workers and employers--are viewed and understood as between things--money and labor. In other words, the cash nexus has a dehumanizing power.

This mindset on the part of the bourgeoisie, or among today's managers, owners, CEOs, and shareholders is a dangerous and destructive one that fosters the extreme exploitation of workers in the pursuit of profit across all industries, locally and around the world.

The Cash Nexus Today

The effect of the cash nexus on the lives of workers around the world has only intensified in the more than a hundred years since Marx and Engels wrote about this phenomenon. This has happened because controls on the capitalist market, including protections for workers, have been progressively dismantled since the 1960s. The removal of national barriers to relations of production which ushered in global capitalism was and continues to be disastrous for workers.

Workers in the U.S. and other Western nations saw production jobs disappear because corporations were freed to pursue cheaper labor overseas. And beyond the Western world, in places like China, Southeast Asia, and India, where most of our goods are made, workers are forced to accept poverty-level wages and dangerous working conditions because, like commodities, those who run the system view them as easily replaceable. The conditions faced by workers throughout Apple's supply chain are a case-in-point. Though the company preaches values of progress and togetherness, it is ultimately the cash nexus that determines its impact on workers of the world.

Updated by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.

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Your Citation
Crossman, Ashley. "Cash Nexus." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Crossman, Ashley. (2020, August 27). Cash Nexus. Retrieved from Crossman, Ashley. "Cash Nexus." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).