In its Review section of 17 December the Guardian invited various artists and others to design new banknotes. The subject was introduced by the anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber who broached the question, “what will money look like ‘after the revolution’? How will it function? Will it exist at all?” He wrote that with the exception of Pol Pot “no state socialist regime ever attempted to eliminate money”, adding, “none, in fact, even attempted to eliminate wage labour.” Which is true enough (though we’d call them ‘state capitalist’).
Graeber blames this on Marx:
This is indeed what the rulers and supporters of these state capitalist regimes thought. But it wasn’t Marx’s view. His Labour Theory of Value was a theory to explain how capitalism works, not a model for a post-capitalist, socialist society. He did ague that work was the source of all economic value and that this was measured and represented by money. But he regarded this as arising only where wealth is produced for sale, as under capitalism. In socialism, where there would be production directly for use, there would be no economic exchange value and so no money.“For Karl Marx, money ultimately represented the value of human labour, of those energies through which we create the world. It was a way of measuring and parcelling it out, though, in the process, allowing those who controlled the resources to play all sorts of tricks and games. Since socialist systems insisted that labour was indeed sacred and the source of all value, it would have been hard for them to simply stop paying people for their work. The usual idea was to keep the money, just remove the games.”
No doubt in a socialist society people will produce ‘whimsical stuff’ for each other, but why would they want to issue and be paid in circulating chits? Why would they not apply the ‘generalised reciprocity’ that anthropologists define as “the exchange of goods and services without keeping track of their exact value”?