From the February 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard
It was probably a rich person who devised the saying, "Money can't buy happiness". But there is more truth in the cynical retort that at least it allows you to be miserable in comfort
Money, is portable wealth, a universal medium of exchange that gives its possessor the power over most things. It is the ultimate commodity, the embodiment of capitalism. The poet Shelley put it rather well:
"Paper coin, that forgery
Of the title-deeds which weHold to something of the worthOf the inheritance of earth."
Marx in an early essay on the subject said, "That which exists for me through the medium of money, that which I can pay for, i.e. which money can buy, that am I, the possessor of money… If money is the bond that ties me to human life and society to me, which links me to nature and to man, is money not the bond of all bonds?" (Money, Paris Manuscripts. Original italics).
Money in various limited forms existed for hundreds of years before the advent of capitalism but because it is an indispensable element in the workings of capitalism its general usage expanded universally with the development of that system. For a start, it is the device whereby capitalism separates the worker from the fruits of his or her labour; an indispensable part of the process whereby a minority class of capitalists ration the consumption of the great majority who as workers of one sort or another produce all the real wealth of society.
Real wealth, the essential goods and services used to sustain society, is not produced in Stock Exchanges. Stock exchanges are simply commercial casinos where capital is gambled on the products of labour. Not a single iota of the necessities of life is produced in these palaces of speculation nor in the board rooms of companies and corporations where production and distribution is planned solely on the basis of anticipated profit.
So money is at the core of human activity from the cradle to the grave. It dominates all of our lives and it is the master plan, the implacable, limiting paradigm, within which political parties administering the political and economic affairs of capitalism must work.
Within capitalism wealth is produced in the form of commodities, that is goods and services with a real or imagined use value produced for the market with a view to profit. This wealth is created, and can only be created by the application of human labour power to the resources of nature. In other words, the totality of real wealth is produced by the working class in exchange for a wage or salary that generally reflects what may from time-to-time ensure to the individual worker a sufficient ration of those necessities of life that is consistent with the prevailing rate for his or her employment. Enough to allow for existence between pay-days but insufficient to allow the worker to live without continuing to sell his or her labour power.
We are not immediately concerned here with the fraudulent process by which the wages system works to ensure that those who produce wealth at best 'get by' while the non-producing class of capitalists accumulate greater and greater wealth.
Our intent, rather, is to look at the appalling waste capitalism's money system involves in both its productive and distributive processes; to look at the vast armies of wage and salary workers who spend their lives carrying out functions made necessary only by commodity production. Thereafter we might look briefly at how socialism would operate and how society would benefit from the monumental reduction of labour time and waste that would result from the direct production of human needs solely for use as opposed to the current system of production for profit.
The waste makers
Some appreciation of the extraneous functions that capitalism's buying and selling system involves can be gained from the movement of workers in towns and cities in the morning and evening of the 'working week'. Apart from the mass of shops and stores duplicating each other's activities in a competitive melée for sales, there are usually towering office blocks where masses of clerks and sales personnel work.
Banks, financial services, insurance offices, advertising agents, solicitors, brokers, security staff, estate agents; check the functions of the masses of offices on the main arteries of any town or city and you will find the overwhelming majority of them pursue functions directly or indirectly concerned with trade or commerce or with other activities peculiar to a buying-and selling economy. Indeed in many places today the number of workers 'servicing' capital and capitalism exceeds the numbers engaged in the actual production of goods and services.
Even the poverty that capitalism creates as a result of inadequate incomes, unemployment, sickness and infirmity has to be policed and serviced by vast numbers of people checking, spying, filing, form filling and forced to make brutal and dehumanising decisions. Not only are these multifarious functions wasteful and without a useful end product for those spending their lives performing them, but they in turn have to be transported, housed and provisioned by legions of other workers.
Then there is the crime business which apart from judges, lawyers and criminals engages tens of thousands of police personnel as well as prison staff. Crime in capitalist society is a vast business and like the rest of the enterprises created by capitalism has, in turn, to be provisioned by further extensive ancillary services.
The 'defence' industry
The so-called defence industry and its mammoth support services employs most of the world's scientists. These are usually highly specialised people employed in the business of devising ever more sophisticated means of slaughtering human beings or frustrating the work of other scientists rivalling their work for other governments. Worldwide, military establishments employ millions of men and women as armed forces as well as vast numbers of civilian employees while millions more are engaged in producing armaments and other needs of the killing industry. Additionally, of course, the activities of these military establishments foster imitative resistance, or terrorist movements which governments respond to with a financial priority beyond that of the social needs of their citizens.
The legend is that this vast vortex of destructive wealth exists for the defence of the citizen but the average citizen of one country does not threaten the average citizen of another country, The 'average citizen' of most of the developed world is a member of the working class who does not possess anything that might encourage aggressive tendencies by those of similar status in another area of the world.
The truth is that armaments, armed forces, diplomacy and all the other things associated with war have nothing whatsoever to do with the working class and the problems of that class - other than the fact that it is workers who will do the fighting and the killing. Otherwise, the ordinary citizen is not consulted when alleged democratic governments decide to engage in armed conflict. Wars and the incredible destruction of human life and property are about the wealth of the capitalist class; in fact it is the predatory conflicts of the marketplace spilling over on to the battlefield.
An obscene aspect of the system of social organisation we are told represents the pinnacle of capitalist civilisation is the actual distribution of wealth globally and nationally. A United Nations report featured in the Guardian (6 December) reveals the depravity of the system by telling us that: "The first ever study of global household assets shows that half of the world's adults own just 1% of the world's wealth while the world's richest 1% own 40% of all wealth. "
This is why we have world hunger; why we have poverty and insecurity; why we have terrorism, wars, appalling social problems like alienation and crime and this is the justification for the frightening threat to the our environment. This truly bears testimony to the utter absurdity of capitalism and the mode of life it imposes on society.
The irony of capitalism is that it is maintained and sustained on the credulity and ignorance of its victims, the working class. Not only does the working class produce capitalism's vast wealth but it is conditioned by the existing educational processes, by the media and by politicians to believe that there is no rational alternative to the system of capitalism.
This does not mean that the workers are contented and docile or that they approve of the way capitalism functions. On the contrary, dissatisfaction and alienation are rampant. Resistance to wars and cynical, reckless market globalisation has become a universal protest against aspects of world capitalism and everywhere the value systems that maintained a quiescent working class are breaking down.
In the UK, for example, crime figures soar, more than 80,000 people are in prisons in Britain and new prisons are urgently required. A large section of the population are on anti-depressants and, if the media tell it right, the use of hallucinatory drugs has reached epidemic levels. Vandalism and anti-social behaviour especially among the young evidence a marked degree of alienation and the escalation of the suicide rate, again especially among the young, demonstrates the lack of social cohesion within our rat-race society
Continually, the capitalist controlled media tells us that there is no poverty now and it is true that an explosion in productive capacity wrought by new technologies has banished much of the old hard-core destitution that was prevalent in the first decades of the last century. But poverty is a relative condition not a comparative one; it is an inevitable aspect of social inequality and has to be measured against prevailing conditions and relatively speaking poverty is still rampant even in the most highly developed nations of world capitalism.
And whereas in the past the dispossessed could see hope in the massed political formations of Labour and Social Democratic parties and many were imbued with the belief that the Bolsheviks were building a future of hope, today those illusions have been banished by time and the realities of the system. The dream of applying rational solutions to the anarchy of capitalism and its wages and money system has been shattered.
Whether these illusions were part of a necessary process of social education is open to doubt but at least now we know from our experience that neither political parties nor armed insurrectionists can create a truly social democratic society while leaving the structures of capitalism like its money trick and its wages servitude intact. Today we have to face the fact that we live with capitalism and its appalling problems or move forward to its logical alternative: Socialism.
Socialism will be a system of social organisation that, by its nature, can only be brought about by overwhelming democratic consensus. It will involve the political disestablishment of the concept of ownership in society's means of life - the land and the instruments for producing and distributing all the things human beings need as the material basis of a full and happy life.
Essentially, socialism will be a voluntary association of free people cooperating in creating at regional and global levels the goods and services they need and availing of those goods and services as required.
Even such a brief statement clarifies the fact that all the wasteful functions we have referred to and which are essential within a market economy will disappear, freeing hundreds of millions of human beings from the demeaning servitude of functions associated only with the machinery used by our masters for our exploitation.