Abolish Money?

John Steinsvold

Hobgoblin 2009

Following our call to “get real” about “alternatives to capitalism” John Steinsvold drew our attention to his "utopian" article in American Daily, entitled "Home of the Brave?" In it, he says “The advantages of a way of life without money stagger the imagination; but they are real and cannot be disputed. Perhaps it is time for us to grab the brass ring.” First, David Tate assesses the arguments, then John Steinswold responds.

As the USA goes to the poles to decide a new president, the fact remains that the socio-economic problems currently faced by working people in America will not be solved by either Barak Obama or John McCain. The problems was summed up in an article by John Steinvold in of the conservative daily American Daily, in which he angrily describes the horror that is the daily fate of America’s workers

“Needless poverty, unemployment, inflation, the threat of depression, taxes, crimes related to profit (sale of illicit drugs, stolen IDs, muggings, bribery, con artists, etc.), conflict of interest, endless red tape, a staggering national debt plus a widening budget deficit, 48 out of 50 states in debt, cities in debt, counties in debt, skyrocketing personal debts, 50% of Americans unhappy at their work, saving for retirement and our children's education, health being a matter of wealth, competing in the ‘rat race’, the need for insurance, being a nation of litigation, being subject to the tremors on Wall Street, fear of downsizing and automation, fear of more Enron’s, outsourcing, bankruptcies, crippling strikes, materialism, corruption, welfare, social security, sacrificing quality and safety in our products for the sake of profit, the social problem of the ‘haves’ vs. the ‘havenots’ and the inevitable family quarrels over money.” [online: www.americandaily.com/article/12389 ]

For Steinsvold the root of all these evils facing America is not capital as a socio-economic force; rather, it is money. Only when money is abolished in America, he argues, will there be tranquillity and social peace. By abolishing money, in Steinsvold’s case American currency, he thinks that all of the problems associated with modern living he outlines earlier would be abolished at the drop of the hat. Even better, production for profit would be abolished and co-operative production would replace profit. What he does not see is that money, whilst appearing to be an objective force in its own right, is in fact nothing more than another commodity, just like bread, cars, housing etc. In my view it is not money that needs abolishing but the production of Value, as defined by Marx, the abolition of which can only be carried out by the conscious activity of workers. Marx called this action “revolution in permanence” and the “negation of the negation.”

Before looking at some of the more interesting issues in Steinsvold’s utopian analysis, it is interesting to note that he is quiet on how the changes he advocates will come about. Will the abolition of money rely on some presidential candidate being elected on a platform of abolishing money? Or will it rely on a nationwide plebiscite posing the question? If the latter the will the turnout have to be close to 100% and if so will 50+1% be sufficient to abolish money? Will it be a sudden scrapping of money or will it be more drawn out? How will he deal with the elite, whose power and sense of themselves are tied up so fundamentally with being so obscenely rich. It’s difficult to believe that they will suddenly wake up and think: Hey the world would be a better place if money is abolished.

Also he does not address what form of currency and renumeration will take the place of exchange of commodities through money. After all at no time does he suggest scrapping the capitalist mode of production. In fact he says towards the end of the article, “Our government will remain the same. Our free enterprise system will remain in place as it is today.”

While there is a fundamental flaw in Steinsvold’s answer to the malaise of contemporary America it still does not stop him raising a few issues that, as Marxist-Humanists, we would well do to consider and try to answer. I think that one of the primary issues he raises relates to how goods and services would be distributed in a future post-money society. He asks “Can we learn to distribute our goods and services according to need (on an ongoing basis) rather than by the ability to pay?” While of course it’s impossible to decide how future resources will be allocated we can, I believe, recognise that in a future society free from exploitation, oppression, we will have for the first time a truly human consciousness that will experience the benefits of ensuring that all our needs are met as well as yet unformed needs. The present system is geared up to ensuring that a scarcity amidst plenty exists. This scarcity influences perceptions and in times of recession makes it easier for scapegoats to be created.

In relation to the distribution of goods and services, Steinsvold asks, who would do the ‘menial’ jobs in society. As he does not go beyond capitalist society the only answer is a system of perks for those workers who volunteer to do these jobs. He says:

“A perk can be of various forms such as front row season tickets to the opera or to his or her favorite sports team. Can you imagine an NBA basketball game where the celebrities are sitting in the back rows while the dishwashers and janitors are at courtside? (My apologies to Spike Lee & Jack Nicholson!) Or the perk could be the latest model boat or sports car which would not be immediately available to the public.”

Unfortunately he does not also seem to see that such ‘perks’ could quickly develop into a form of money and could either be saved and traded: in other words become a commodity. It seems to me that what would occur is either the ‘menial’ jobs would be automated with new forms of technology, or the labour necessary for each job would be fairly proportioned.

On the new institutional framework required to administer his new post money society, Steinsvold says:
“Our federal needs, which would be similar to the federal budget we have today, will be resolved by an economic body comprised of representatives of the various branches of government, our industrial & labor resources, research (in medicine, education, science & space), our environment, conservation, importing & exporting, and now, national security and whatever facet of our way of life should be represented. This economic body will arrange for the labor and material resources necessary to meet the economic needs of our nation.”

Steinsvold is unable to recognise that his plan would simply re-create a new form of money. And there is confusion in his thinking when he correctly argues for a new set of institutions relevant to a post money society, for at no point does he stipulate what type of economic responsibility would be in the hands of these new bodies. He is not for abolishing commodified exchange relations of; contra Marx, who in the Grundrisse argued. “it is impossible to abolish money itself as long as exchange value remains the social form of products [p145].”
Marxist-Humanists today are in a better position, through historical experience to see what processes have to take place and what will come to replace the existing set of institutions.

The Paris Commune of 1871 through to the workers councils in Hungary 1956 showed that workers, when in motion on a society-wide basis, quickly saw that working bodies were required, not only to feed and clothe them but also to ensure basic services. What quickly develops in such situations is a dual power where the previous institutions are called into question and it is soon obvious that there cannot be two forms of government. When this is arrived at what occurs is either a revolution where the new institutions become dominant or hegemonic.

While Steinsvold does not consider the specific forms of economic needs the questions he raises are important for socialists. For what would be the institutional forms be of a socialist society and what would the reciprocal relationship be between various bodies? After all while we talk about workers councils/soviets as the administrative bodies we are less clear about what responsibility each will have. How would the interplay between the various levels should be played out? How would conflicts between groups be resolved - would a simple voting majority be sufficient? Also one of the questions that was never solved during the Russian Revolution was: How do we ensure that these organisations encourage the maximum involvement in decision making of the mass of workers?Clearly, for Steinsvold’s proposal to succeed then the abolition of money must in some way address some deep longing in the human psyche and not only in the American psyche. However such a proposal seems to belong in some utopian future and as such incapable of being realised. While the article may have been tongue in cheek it does raise a few important issues which I hope to have touched on. It also highlights the opportunities for Marxist-Humanism in the coming decades. I believe that the globalised economic system is being seen to fail and that with housing repossessions, unemployment etc. it will also fail ideologically. That is it will come to have less of an ability to attract workers into believing that there is no alternative to capitalism. Which means that we can begin to utilise the increasing ideological space to persuade people that socialism is not only the only realistic alternative in organising society but that it is also the most humane and that for socialism to be made real then a libratory alternative to forms of state nationalisation will have to be both articulated as well as being able to win support through workers across the world. Of course as globalisation continues to fragment then not only will there be the alternatives put forward by the Left but also from other quarters, ranging from regressive nationalism to populist utopianism like Steinvold’s. Our challenge is to be able to make sure that at least the human species has a chance to continue rather than meeting an end reminiscent of the Norse Gotterdamrung.

5 September 2008

Comment From John Steinwold 15 October 2009

In some respects, our economy will be the same. Our free enterprise system will remain in place as it is today; but no money will be exchanged. Profit will no longer be a factor and cooperation will replace competition. Government, industry and the people will work together as a team toward common goals.Yes, the administration of a way of life without money is a huge problem. As proposed in my essay, a web of "economic bodies" would be created; one for the federal, one for each state and one for each local level. These economic bodies will coordinate the economic traffic in our nation. They will interact with each other as much as modern technology will allow. A balance of supply and demand will be achieved taking every conceivable factor into consideration including conservation and our environment as well as the needs of the people and their craving for luxuries.In short, these economic bodies will be coordinating what is now our free enterprise system to fulfill the economic needs of our nation.It is also the purpose of these economic bodies to help people find the work they want to do and yet be productive in our society. These economic bodies will determine the economic needs of our country and call for volunteers to meet these needs. There will be no coercion. These economic bodies will be servants of both the nation and the people. Yes, if everyone is free to do their "thing", how can we satisfy the labor needs of our country particularly if shortages exist in various occupations? However, it takes only a small percentage of our work force to provide the necessities and luxuries for the now 300 million Americans and that percentage is constantly decreasing due to automation and advances in technology.There are people who love to farm. There are people who love manufacturing products. There are people who love being storekeepers and being behind a counter to serve people. There are people who love to bake. There are people who love being carpenters, plumbers, mechanics, farmers and yes, even janitors. There will be people who love bringing the necessities and luxuries to your local store so you can help yourself. Today, 50% of Americans are unhappy at their jobs. In a way of life without money, these unhappy people will be free to find the work they love doing. They will be free to "follow their bliss". I believe everybody has some kind of talent or ability they wish to use for the benefit of society. If I'm wrong, a way of life without money will fail. Gaining the proper balance between work and pleasure is essential to a complete life.What if there is an oversupply of doctors? Perhaps some doctors would love to take time out from doctoring and get out and do some work on a farm for a year. If a person wants to be a comedian, he would probably wait until there is an opening for one. If it turns out that the comedian is a flop, he and his family will still eat and he can continue searching until he finds something he is good at and likes to do.Also, it is essential that a balance of power is maintained. These economic bodies will be empowered and controlled by Congress from above. The media, as it does today with government officials, will monitor the individual performance of each member from below. If the public is not satisfied with the performance of a member of an economic body, a method must be devised to have him or her replaced. This could be accomplished simply by voting. Also, remember that the almighty dollar will not be around to be waved to gain favoritism. (I am thinking of our present day lobbyists.)

John Steinsvold

The Hobgoblin 2008