From the November 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
We live in a society where almost everything is bought and sold. That which you need in order to live is a commodity; you must buy it from someone who will make a profit out of selling it to you. Our minds are dominated by money. It is our passport to existence. No money, no access to what we need. Too little money, no comfort. Money drives people crazy: contrary to the words of the song, money does not make the world go round—money makes the world go mad.
It turns the white-coated scientist into the unprincipled servant of commerce. It converts the caring doctor into the grasping private practioner. Money makes pathetic liars out of salesmen and robotic paper counters out of bank clerks. Money leads young men to beat up old women. Money is the source of the poor man's scheme to have a fat wallet which ends too often in a cold prison cell. Money is the rich man's god. Children beg for money. Not a day passes when we do not think about it. Have I enough money for . . . If only this cost less . . . I must now pay my money for . . . Bills, tokens, threatening reminders, final demands, security locks, bank queues, exchange rates, newsreaders announcing that the pound has fallen, as if it is the sun which has fallen out of the sky. It is a vast, mentally corrupting, emotionally destructive money madness.
Money is the universally accepted means of exchange. It is a universal equivalent. Instead of me giving you three toasters for your armchair, I pay in an accepted, legal currency. Sounds sensible. Who wants to return to the awkward system of bartering goods? It seems sensible as long as we have a property-based system of society where wealth is owned by some and sold to others.
The two main uses of money by most people are for food and housing. You need money to buy food from the corner store, or, more probably, the supermarket. In effect, you are paying the owners of food production for the right to have access to what they possess. These millionaire food manufacturers did not produce the food. But you must buy if from them so that they may profit. You pay money for housing to the landlord or the building society. They own the land that you live on and they own the means of producing the buildings in which you dwell. Directors of building societies are not to be found on building sites making houses. They are too busy getting drunk in their clubs or playing golf.
Now, imagine that all these things that you need were owned and controlled in common. By everyone. All of us—you included. There is nobody to buy food from—it is common property. There are no rents or mortgages to pay because land and buildings belong to us all. There is no need to buy anything from any other person because society has done away with the absurd division between the owning minority (the capitalists) and the non-owning majority (the workers). You would not need money. In a society of common ownership money would have no role. It would be like the tramlines in a city which has done away with trams. No longer would money exist.
The money test I
"But we need money—couldn't live without it". That is what most well-conditioned readers will say. In our society people learn to turn money into a fetish. In primitive societies certain objects were invested with magical powers. For example, in Ancient Egypt cats were regarded as sacred animals which had to be treated with great respect or they would turn the world upside-down. Modern people are taught to believe that money contains intrinsic powers. Where would we be without it? Beware of dethroning the money-god. Let us put this to the test.
Take a pile of money. Three fivers and a couple of pound coins. Leave them in a dark room and see what happens. Will they dig coal? Will factories be built or homes furnished? Well. at least they could cook you a good dinner: you can get good food for seventeen quid. Nothing will happen. Humans make money powerful. Left to itself it is just a pile of tokens of no worth. Even the picture of the Queen is ugly.
The money test II
But is money that important to you? Perhaps it is less intrusive in your daily life than has been suggested. Try one more test.
Stop selling yourself for money for three months. That is what you do every time you go out to work in return for a wage or salary. You put yourself on the shelf along with the baked beans and the canned tuna fish and you say 'Buy me!'. The wages system, which turns the vast majority of people into exploited workers, is a process of selling your mental and physical energies in return for some money. For most of us, if we do not sell ourselves we will have little or no access to what we need in order to live. We devote most of our waking lives to trying to obtain money. Our work is devalued by money: if we enjoy working, the pleasure is diminished by the knowledge that we are only really engaging in a sordid transaction—and how many workers hate the miserable work that they are forced to do in order to get money?
Give it a try: stop selling your labour power for money. You will give up on the test long before three months—or three weeks—or even three days. Most wage slaves are too petrified of losing their jobs—their chance to be bought for money—to even contemplate such an exercise. And rightly so, for under the wages system we are lost if we do not sell ourselves for money.
Socialists stand for a world without money. All wealth will be commonly owned, so there will be no body to buy what you need from. The right to live, and to be comfortable and happy, will not depend upon your pocket-book. Freedom will not be costed by accountants who will only give you liberty if you can pay for it.
In a socialist society people will work according to their abilities and take according to their needs. Who will decide what their needs are? Not their bosses or the state or a cunning advertising industry—none of these will exist. People will decide for themselves. Who but humans ourselves are able to decide what we need?
There will be no "socialist market". Contrary to the economic babble of certain "theorists" on the Left, it is quite obvious that the market, which is a mechanism for buying and selling commodities and realising a profit for the sellers, will have absolutely no function in a community where nobody is buying or seiling or making profits. In a society where production is solely for use people will have free and equal access to take what they need from the common store.
Are people capable of living in a society of free access without making a mess of it? Will they take too much? Will they all refuse ever to work? Will they go to sleep for a thousand years and refuse to move a muscle? These are the fears about the nature of human beings that we in this money-mad society are urged to have. Socialists do not share such fears. We know just how co-operative and sharing and intelligent workers are capable of being. After all, we are a party of workers.
Given a society of moneyless, free access men, women and children will co-operate together to make and to take what they commonly need and desire. They will do so democratically. And we could do so tomorrow if the vision of a moneyless society grabs hold of enough imaginations and penetrates the consciousness of enough of those millions of workers who are currently crying out, openly or quietly to themselves, under the strain of the enormous and often unbearable pressures of the money system. Without money, humans will be free to relate in ways which we have forgotten or only half-remember. The banks can close down, the cash machines put in museums and the children who cry because their parents have too little money to pay for them to grow up can stop.