Cooking the Books column from the March 2010 issue of the Socialist Standard
The on-line Guardian (25 January) put up a video “The No Money Man” about Mark Boyle who has chosen to live without money. Last year the (London) Times (24 November) in an article “Living without Money” featured “former teacher Heidemarie Schwermer” who “has lived without money in Germany for 13 years”. Both Boyle and Schwermer are associated with schemes which want people to help each other without using money. Boyle calls his “Freeconomy Community”; Schwermer’s is called Gib und Nimm (“Give and Take”).
Such groups are one way of surviving under capitalism, but they are not the solution to the social problems of poverty and environmental degradation which they are set up to mitigate. Although socialists want a moneyless society, living without money now, under capitalism, is not want we advocate.
Actually, socialists don’t want to “abolish” money. What we want is to see established a system of society where money would become redundant, as it would in a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means for producing wealth. In such a society the principle “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” could apply. People would cooperate to produce what was needed to live and enjoy life and then have free access to this.
Life without money under capitalism, where most things have to be bought, is pretty austere. Here’s how a sympathiser describes Boyle’s lifestyle:
“He lives in a small camper, makes or scavenges everything he uses on a day-to-day basis . . . He takes solar showers . . . To eat he practices the fine art of Dumpster diving and cooks on a hyper-efficient rocket stove.”
Schwermer “lives – a week at a time – in the spare rooms of members of the Tauschring [the Give and Take scheme], cleaning or working in return for accommodation.”
Very few people (in fact, to tell the truth, only a few, eccentric individuals) would be prepared to live like this. In any event, the whole of society could not. However, this is not the only way to live without money and be part of genuine cooperating community where the links between people would be human not commercial. Socialism offers this possibility without involving giving up such amenities as hot and cold running water in a warm, permanent home. But it’s a society-wide change not an individual lifestyle choice.
With the elimination of the waste of capitalism, not just in arms production, wars and preparations for war but also in the whole superstructure of buying and selling, socialist society will be able, using modern technology and socially cooperative labour on a world scale, to provide these amenities and comforts for everybody everywhere without over-burdening the environment.
We don’t want to be churlish but we must point out that both Boyle and Schwermer, and Boyle in particular, rely on what the cooperative labour of the rest of society is able to provide using modern technology. For instance, Boyle’s camper and solar panels (bought before giving up money) and what he scavenges from skips, and the heated and lit houses which Schwermer uses as temporary accommodation.
Living without money doesn’t have to involve wearing a hair shirt and using old newspapers for toilet paper. And won’t in socialism.