Monday, June 20, 2016

The abolition of money (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

At first it is hard to envisage a world without money. It requires a considerable jump of the political imagination to think of life without banks, wallets, coins, bills, cheque books or financial worries. From birth to the grave, workers’ lives are conditioned by money. Without it we starve; because of it we are poor; to get it we are forced into wage slavery; if we steal it we can be locked away; people grow old before their time because of it.

In Robert Tressell's classic socialist novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, the socialist, Owen, explained to his workmates the nature of money:
“Let us begin at the beginning”, continued Owen . . .“First of all, what do you mean by Poverty?”
“Why, if you’ve got no money, of course,” said Crass impatiently.
The others laughed disdainfully. It seemed to them such a foolish question.
“Well, that’s true enough as far as it goes,” returned Owen, “that is, as things are arranged in the world at the present. But money itself is not wealth: it’s of no use whatever.”
At this there was another outburst of jeering laughter.
“Supposing for example that you and Harlow were shipwrecked on a desolate island, and you saved nothing from the wreck but a bag containing a thousand sovereigns, and he had a tin of biscuits and a bottle of water.” “Make it beer,” cried Harlow appealingly.
"Who would be the richer man, you or Harlow?” (p. 29)
In short, it is not money as such which can satisfy needs, but money as a medium of exchange. According to Owen, "Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour” (p. 209). The significant point is that Tressell (or Robert Noonan, as he was really called) was not considered strange for making his socialist character advocate the abolition of the monetary system. At the turn of the century, when the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed, socialists were frequently heard advocating a moneyless society. After all, how could one logically speak about a system of common ownership without referring to its logical consequences?

These days, those who pose as socialists, but in fact have no other purpose than to reform the capitalist system, are never heard to refer to the abolition of money. Benn, the SWP, the Communist Party and Co. are all united in their dismissal of the possibility of a moneyless society. The celebrated Clause Four of the Labour Party constitution states its aim as “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. The illogicality of such an objective betrays the Labour Party’s profound confusion about the nature of socialism: if resources are commonly owned, who is going to need money to buy anything and who will be selling it? The abolition of all property and the introduction of common ownership necessarily does away with the anachronistic social relationships of buying and selling. The confusion of the Communist Party of Great Britain is clearly demonstrated in its pamphlet. Time to Change Course; in the section headed “Where Will The Money Come From?” (p. 81), we are told about financing socialism:
Under socialism, with all the main industries, land, resources and financial houses publicly owned, it is from these sources that the main forms of revenue will be derived. Personal taxation will be simple and not too arduous for the majority of people. Indirect taxation would be kept to a minimum. The present rating system would go. Local authorities would rely on other steps to raise local revenue.
Clearly, the Communist Party has failed to liberate itself from the ideological assumptions of the money system. Its members would do well to read Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in which he states that Communists (or socialists) stand for “the abolition of buying and selling”. This revolutionary objective is a hallmark of any principled socialist. Anyone claiming to stand for socialism who rejects the need for a society without money (or the possibility of attaining it) is not a socialist and should be treated as an opponent.

Great ideas are of social origin and never the product of just one brain. In the months before Marx’s Communist Manifesto was published in English (in November 1850), a number of workers in Britain were discussing the idea of abolishing money. The correspondence on the subject, which appeared in the Chartist journal, The Red Republican, has never before been seriously examined by historians. Presumably, most of them have dismissed the correspondence as an insignificant exchange of views between harmless economic eccentrics; in fact, it is a highly significant discussion, showing that there were workers discussing the case for a moneyless society before the Socialist Party of Great Britain began to advocate it.

The first letter, from George Smith of Salford, was published in The Red Republican on 27 July 1850, under the heading “ABOLITION OF MONEY”. He argues that
. . . in order . . . to prepare the way for the absolute supremacy of the working classes, preparatory to the abolition of the system of classes, what should be done? Evidently something more than getting possession of political rights, or even destroying those twin monsters, rent and usury; for had we possession of the one and had successfully destroyed the other, there would yet remain in existence a monster which would reproduce its kind to torment humanity; and that monster is money! Sir, in my opinion, so long as mankind will agree to have a circulating medium — will allow everything in life to be measured by money — so long will they suffer the evil consequences springing therefrom . . .
By 10 August, Smith’s letter had provoked a response. The writer, who signed himself “A Wage Slave”, opposes the need to abolish money, stating that “What society wants is just social institutions”. He argued that capitalism survives because workers are not paid the full value of their labour power and that the real need is for an equitable distribution of money. (The modern Left, one hundred and thirty years later, has not advanced beyond such theoretical fallacies.)

The Red Republican of 24 August contains two letters on the money question, taking up three columns. The first is from RPP, who states that the abolition of money “is the most important subject for discussion at the present time”. He goes on to agree that money should be abolished:
I would root out and abolish a system that compels man to give the sweat of his heart’s blood to the great money-mongers, wasting his own time, strength and happiness, as wealth may command. It is the slavery of the many for the sake of the few. Such a state of things must no longer exist, for man was made to enjoy all things equally with his fellow-man.
But — just as the reader is thinking that the correspondent has hit the nail very close to its head — RPP proceeds to argue that “the working classes must return to barter”. The second letter is from George Smith, who initiated the correspondence, and contains some excellent answers to the arguments of “Wage Slave”:
Strange, that in the 19th century, any wage slave should be found to advocate the continuance, in any shape, of that which, whilst it shall last, must perpetuate his vassalage, to its “fortunate possessors”. Does not my friend see both the craft and the hellishness of money? Who produces everything which sustains life, and feeds our desires for luxuries? The workers! Through the instrumentality of their labour, and by no other means can these things be produced. Then by what chicanery do those who “work not, neither do they spin” obtain all they want to superfluity, whilst those who produce are kept almost without? Why, by the crafty invention and use of money, with which they, like true “philanthropists”, come to the producer, and assure him that the food he is taking home is not “the stuff of life” but that which they will give him in return for his food is the real sustainer of existence, and thus he is cheated out of his produce for a shadow.
Smith rather confuses cause and effect — it is not money which produces class division, but the other way round — but nevertheless he is clearly moving in the direction of the ideas later to be elaborated by Marx. Responding to “Wage Slave’s” advocacy of a “just commercial system”, Smith rightly states that:
For a man to dispose (or sell) of his labour at the “public mart” presupposes a buyer of that labour, and, according to our friend’s just commercial system, I am afraid that no buyers would purchase unless they could live out of such purchases. To live by buying and selling is to live nefariously.
“Wage Slave” replies on 7 September, stating that he can now see the importance of Smith’s idea, but doubts whether everyone else will be intelligent enough to live in a moneyless society. (A familiar argument from modern Leftists.) “Why propose to do that which is impossible at the present time?” asks “Wage Slave”. This question was asked of the SPGB when it was formed in 1904 and it was for this reason that our members were labelled “the impossibilists”. If those who took this view in 1850 and 1904 had spent less time running away from the need to convince people of a good idea, and telling its advocates that they were wasting their time, we would have achieved the seemingly impossible long ago.

On 14 September Alexander Bill contributed a letter to the correspondence, in which he argued (rather confusedly) that he was opposed to “the total and unconditional abolition of money”, although he did agree with Smith “when he says that our present monetary system is the basis of all those social evils under which we labour”. His answer was to introduce a “prohibition of private trading” and “the establishment of public marts”. Effectively, this was an argument for state capitalism.

The final letter on the subject was published on 28 September and came from George Smith. To “Wage Slave’s” claim that workers could not arrive at the point of intelligence which would make a moneyless society possible, Smith responds:
Intelligence! What is it? Walker says intelligence is “perception, understanding”. Now, will my friend say that it is impossible for the intelligent to excite the perception of the, at present, ignorant, and give them understanding?
No further letter appeared on the subject. Smith’s question remained unanswered. But since 1850, the post-Chartist Left has responded to the question in the negative. While claiming to be fully committed Marxists, they refuse to advocate the case for the abolition of money because they consider the working class too stupified by capitalist conservatism ever to accept or understand it. Instead, they argue in favour of state capitalism. It is because of this that socialists are fundamentally hostile to the left-wing parties and groups.

Genuine socialists stand for a society in which all factories, farms, offices, docks, mines — indeed, the entire means of producing and distributing wealth — will be owned by the entire world community. The resources of the earth will belong to everyone. No laws will exist to preserve the right of one section of society to use things and another section to be denied the use of them. World socialism will be a social order based on free access for all people to all the goods of the earth. In such a society money would by an out-dated relic. Nobody will buy anything or sell anything or pay for anything. Those who cannot easily imagine such an arrangement should remember that people in pre-capitalist societies would have found our present social order equally difficult to comprehend. Those who have made the mental leap from the prison of the money system to the freedom of world socialism are urged to join us now in our struggle to create the society of tomorrow. The objective is urgent; we have waited for too long.
Steve Coleman

Give Us the Vote (2016)

The Material World column from the June 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The right to vote matters little if you can’t cast your vote. On the basis of its claim to be defenders of democracy one would expect the United States of America to be in the forefront of encouraging participation in the electoral process since voting is held up as the foundation of democracy. Over 100 million Americans will cast a ballot in November’s presidential election but many will face disenfranchisement — those without IDs, those convicted of crimes, those that need to work, those that can't find childcare, those that can't travel, and often this disenfranchisement is deliberate. In 2008, the Supreme Court opened the door to more restrictive voting procedures when it upheld an Indiana law that required all voters casting a ballot in person to present a federal or Indiana photo ID. Since 2010, many other states have either introduced restrictive voter procedures or tightened up those in operation. Events are, of course, currently unfolding as legal challenges are being made to restrictive laws.
The American Civil Liberties Union noted that new restrictions on voting will affect up to 80 million and critics argue that photo ID laws create a financial barrier to the ballot box. Former Attorney General Eric Holder compared the laws to a poll tax during the ‘Jim Crow Era’ when Southern states imposed voting fees, to discourage blacks from voting. About 11 percent of U.S. citizens, or roughly 21 million citizens, don’t have government-issued photo ID and many people in rural areas have trouble accessing ID offices. Obtaining photo ID can be costly and burdensome. While many states with strict laws offer a free state ID, these require documents like a birth certificate that can cost up to $25. Researchers found that states with a strict photo ID law saw a significant decrease in turnout among minority and immigrant voters and an increased gap between white and non-white voters.
Some states are also trimming back or eliminating measures which bolster electoral participation by minority and younger voters. Eight states have enacted new laws cutting back on early voting days and hours.  In 2013, North Carolina reduced early voting days from 17 to 10, ended the ability to register and cast a vote on the same day and abolished a pre-registration programme for 16- and 17-year-olds. But one of the major barriers to universal suffrage is the disenfranchisement of ex-prisoners.
The Constitution permits states to adopt rules about disenfranchisement ‘for participation in rebellion, or other crime’ [our emphasis], by the Fourteenth Amendment. Individual states themselves decide which crimes could be grounds for disenfranchisement so laws vary from state to state. There were 1.2 million in 1976 denied the right to vote due to felony disenfranchisement. In 2008 over 5.3 million people. Nationally in 2012, an estimated 5.85 million Americans are denied the vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions.
Due to the racial disparities in the criminal justice system, this has resulted in one in every thirteen African Americans unable to vote. The disenfranchisement of felons was used by Southern states combined with other tactics to neutralise the black electorate, in the wake of the Fifteenth Amendment, which ostensibly guaranteed African Americans the vote. A study found that the larger the state’s black population, the more likely the state was to pass the most stringent laws that permanently denied people convicted of crimes the right to vote. In three states (Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia) by 2014, more than one in five black adults were disenfranchised. Very different from Maine and Vermont where there is no significant black population and who have placed no restrictions on voting rights for people convicted and actually allow inmates to vote from prison (something the UK still doesn’t.)
Felony disenfranchisement is an obstacle to participation in civic life. Conditions have improved for at least 200,000 Virginian ex-felons who have served their time and had their right to vote restored by the Governor. He explained, ‘These individuals have completed their sentences. They have atoned for their actions. They live, work and raise families in communities all across the commonwealth, and they will continue to contribute to our communities, but they now will do it with the full rights of citizens.’
The socialist position upon all this is that we can fully expect sections of the ruling class to gerrymander elections to protect their interests but as long as the system is sufficiently democratic to provide a mandate from the majority and reflect the will of the majority then we will make use of what exists, warts and all.

Heralding 1984 (1958)

Editorial from the February 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Daily Herald, early in January, ran a series of articles by “experts” to answer the question whether 25 years ahead we shall be living in George Orwell’s nightmare, “with common man enslaved by the State” or will 1984 “be a year of dazzling brilliance of scientific promise—with common man enjoying the new fruits of the earth?” (Daily Herald, 6/1/58). Sir Miles Thomas foresees that travel will be faster, cheaper and safer. Sir Adolphe Abrahams does not think we shall have the 3½ minute mile; but football will still be the top national game, we shall still have the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race and the Cup Final will still be at Wembley. Jane Drew, “leading woman architect” thinks houses and streets will be more attractive, houses won’t be cold, and the “the TV set will take the place of the fireplace as the centre of the family circle.”

The Anti-Utopia Builders
Now the Herald is the organ of the Labour Party and claims to be socialist and the reader might well have expected to be told that 1984 would have seen the introduction of Socialism. The articles did not say that Socialism would be here or that it wouldn’t be here— the subject was just not mentioned. Several of the “experts” have either never heard of it at all, or, they think that it has nothing to do with their specialist subject; which goes to show just how little they know about Socialism.

In each of their supposedly isolated worlds the choice is between capitalism and socialism, there isn't any neutral no man's land. The kind of house you live in, the kind of vehicle you travel in and the kind of entertainment and sport you enjoy will depend on your position in society. If you are a wage-earner in a capitalist 1984 what you get will be what you can afford. All of this is a closed book to the Herald's writers and obviously doesn't have any importance for the Editor, or he would have directed his inquiries to the real question, whether Socialism will be here by then.

Capitalism, 1984 Variety
But one of the writers, Mr. Harry Nicholas, assistant secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, stands out from the rest, for he mentioned the word “socialist” His article, on the job situation, was the most deplorable of the lot. He answers the question very clearly, though without knowing he answers it. Capitalism it will be, with not a single essential feature altered. Not that Mr. Nicholas is pessimistic about it. He does not think “we will have any unemployment in the next 25 years, provided we have sanity in the financial sphere.” (He has clearly never examined the financial system if he thinks it isn't inherently idiotic). Automation, he says, will create jobs and markets. We shall be charitable and “in a good socialist way” we shall assist the backward countries and thus “create markets which will absorb the products of our industries” There will be fewer “'unskilled'” and more “skilled” workers, and higher standard rates of wages and less piecework. There will be more Company pension, sickness and other benefits to supplement the State schemes. Evidently Mr. Nicholas' optimism does not extend to the elimination of the wars that go with the struggle for markets. All he says in this field is that “because of the changes likely to take place in weapons of attack and defence, many of our Royal Ordnance factories and naval dockyards will have to be utilized for peacetime production.” He does not risk a forecast about the kind of weapons the other factories will be producing.

We may wind up by saying that while most of the contributions were useless, because the writers don't even know about the capitalist world we live in, Mr. Nicholas is pernicious as well because he has obviously heard about capitalism but sees no reason why or how or when it should be abolished: just like the Herald, and the Labour Party for which it speaks.

Capitalism, war and recession (1991)

Editorial from the March 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

A famine threatens in Sudan and Ethiopia. But has a mass airlift of food, tents and medicines been organised? Has the production of useful things been increased to meet this obvious need? Not at all. The only airlift that has been organised is one of troops and armaments to the neighbouring Arabian peninsula in order to wage a hi-tech war. And manufacturing output in countries like Britain and the US is actually falling as their economies enter the recession phase of the business cycle.

Over the past ten years capitalism has had a comparatively good press. Words like profit, competition and enterprise have become catch-phrases to express something desirable. The desirability of what they denote is a matter of opinion but they do describe the key features of capitalism. Under capitalism economic activity is governed by a competitive struggle for profits amongst rival enterprises. Defenders of capitalism say this is good as it leads to more and cheaper goods being produced. We are now seeing what it also means: war and recession.

Under capitalism decisions as to what, how and when to produce are taken by firms which are all competing to make profits. A recession develops when this anarchic struggle for profits leads, after a period of expansion, to a key industry overproducing in relation to the market for its goods and this having a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy. This is where we are now in Britain, the US and a growing number of other countries. Output, investment and market demand are falling while unemployment and bankruptcies are rising. It's the old story of poverty amidst plenty being solved by abolishing the plenty rather than using it to abolish poverty. But this is how it must be under capitalism, where the profit motive means that production is not and cannot be geared to meeting needs.

On the world scale the struggle for profits is not just a peaceful, economic struggle between rival firms from different states in which those selling the best product win. It is much more than this, since not just firms are involved. States are and, as states have armed force at their disposal, this gives the struggle a completely different dimension. When states feel that their "vital" economic interests are threatened by some other state, they are always prepared to use armed force as a last resort. This is the cause of modern wars, to which the present war is no exception.

This is why no conference of capitalist states, such as that proposed for the Middle East, can remove the threat of war. The most such a conference could do would be to negotiate a new balance of armed force, an armed truce between the states competing in the region. The only way to prevent wars is to abolish capitalism on a world scale.

What is required is indeed a "new world order", though not Bush’s mad dream of a permanent and unchallenged American world domination. Oil and all other productive resources must become the common heritage of all humanity, not the property of multi-national corporations and national states. Nothing less can provide the framework within which the problems of world poverty, disease and pollution can be tackled and finally solved. Only then can production be geared to meeting people’s needs. Only then can the obscenities of war and famine be banished for ever.