1960s >> 1962 >> no-700-december-1962
This Money Business
Some of the many people who don’t think that Socialism is a good idea declare that our objective—a world commonwealth in which money and a lot of other things would not be required—is impractical because some sort of money is a necessary part of all human societies, even the primitive ones. Without it. they say, no society could hope to work.
They are wrong.
Even today there are races and tribes who conduct their affairs quite satisfactorily without money. In any case, to try to draw a parallel in this argument with past societies is impossible, because capitalism has given money a distinct function.
Primitive peoples used a variety of objects, some of practical use, some ornamental, which through a loose definition of terms have sometimes been described as money. In Fiji, for example, they used sperm whale teeth; in Eastern New Guinea shell armlets and large stone axe blades. The Abyssinians used rock salt. The natives of the Melanesian Islands consider that strings of shell discs are their most important item of wealth and a lot of labour power is used up in producing them. The purchasing power of these discs varies with their length and colour. Red ones arc worth the most because of the scarcity of the shells from which they are made. These strings are sometimes used in settlement of social obligations. But none of these objects perform the true function of money.
In any society an article is money only when it acts as a medium of exchange and as a measure of value and when it contains within itself the social embodiment of human labour power. It must also be able to measure and to equate all and any commodity against any other. This, of course, eliminates the shell discs which, although they are a form of wealth to the Fijian native who will use them to pay for a canoe or trade them against each other, do not express the market value of all other goods. Such an object—modern, developed, defined, all powerful money—is a typical product of capitalism.
As capitalism moves in on the primitive tribes, building its factories and establishing its other features, a fully fledged monetary system will came into being there. The native will find that he is living under the same conditions as wage workers elsewhere. In order to live he will be compelled to sell his working ability to an employer for a wage which will be based upon what it costs to keep him in a state of working efficiency.
It will make no difference to him whether or not he is skilled, whether he is paid a weekly wage or a monthly salary, whether his employer is the state or some private company. He will be a member of a class which has no economic security and which is cruelly subject to all the anomalies and contradictions of capitalism.
The change from private to common ownership—from Capitalism to Socialism —will mean that as trade and markets cease to exist so also will the need for a multitude of currencies, indeed, for any currency at all. Money could not be of any use in such a commonwealth, unless perhaps as museum relics of a past inglorious chapter in man’s history.