The Cooking the Books Column from the October 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘Islamic State reveals new gold coins in bid to break the “enslavement” of capitalism’ was the headline of a Yahoo! News (tinyurl.com/oo3e9gn) report on a propaganda video IS released at the end of August. Entitled The Rise of the Khalifah and the Return to the Gold Dinar, the video announced the Islamic State’s plan to introduce a new currency in the areas of Iraq and Syria under its control, or, rather, to reintroduce the currency that had circulated there over 1300 years ago. The gold dinar will weigh the same as then, about 4.25 gm, and according to the video will be worth about $139, or £91. As this will be of no use for everyday transactions there will also be a silver dirham, worth $1, and various small denomination copper coins.
The video wasn’t just about returning to the past. It also contained a criticism of the financial system that has developed over the past three or four hundred years in the West and elsewhere. By all accounts, this criticism echoes familiar currency crank objections to ‘money as debt’, fractional reserve banking and the US Federal Reserve, which the video denounced as ‘satanic’. It is this system that it describes as ‘capitalist’ and ‘enslaving’ people and depriving them ‘of their due’.
In short, it echoes the currency crank theory that we are exploited today by banks by having to earn money to pay interest to them. The Islamic State is ‘anti-capitalist’ only in this limited and misleading sense. They are not opposed to capitalism in the more meaningful sense of production for profit based on the exploitation of wage-labour for surplus value. Far from it. Sharia Law accepts the private ownership of means of production and permits and encourages profit-making, and has developed various convoluted ways of paying the equivalent of interest.
Nor is capitalism incompatible with the circulation of gold and silver coins. Until WW1 this was generally the case. And there are open supporters of capitalism – Ron Paul springs to mind – who, while not wanting to go back as far as 713, still want to go back to 1913.
Meanwhile in another part of Syria something quite different is reported to be happening. In the mountains in the North controlled by the YPG, an affiliate of the Kurdish Nationalist PKK, they are said to be implementing ideas developed latterly by the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and introducing a system there where ‘the concept of money is internally redundant’. An enthusiastic supporter writes (tinyurl.com/obnyq6m):
‘The economic needs of the inhabitants of the KCK [Union of Communities in Kurdistan] system are internally supplied through a communal management of resources.
Although money is utilised in economic dealings with external systems, internally the concept of money is inconceivable. No person or community within the KCK system feels the need to build a surplus of goods or resources. Surpluses are constantly redistributed, therefore, viably consumed. Reminiscent of pre-hierarchical and pre-exploitative societies, the KCK system adopts a culture of gifting, rather than a culture of exchange. The communal organisation of agriculture ensures a self-sufficient production and consumption of resources, therefore deeming surplus, exchange value and the commodification of goods irrelevant.’
We don’t know if this really is happening but it sounds better. Rather forward, on a world scale and in conditions of abundance, to a society where money is redundant than backward to a time when gold and silver used to circulate as money.