No Prices – No Money – No Wages 2/3

No More Buying and Selling

When people first hear of how radically different society is being proposed, with all work being voluntary, and free access to whatever a person needs, most will immediately view this as bizarre and impossible. Unsurprising, given that we have spent our entire lives being brainwashed and conditioned by the education system, by the media, by politicians and employers, into swallowing capitalism’s propaganda that this is the natural way of things. For those who can get beyond the initial shock of first hearing about money-free real socialism, by simply comparing what both the present and new system offer the majority of us, it should be obvious that outdated capitalism must be scrapped and replaced with the real socialist alternative. It is quite difficult to envisage a world without money. It requires a considerable imagination to think of life without financial worries about paying the next bill. From birth to the grave, workers’ lives are conditioned by money. People grow old before their time because of it. Without money we starve,  because of it, we are poor,  to get the money we are forced into wage slavery, if we choose to steal it we get locked away. Capitalism is a buying and selling society in which the human ability to work is bought and sold and results in the capitalist firms that employ them appropriating a surplus from their work, a surplus which takes a monetary form and most of which is re-invested as more capital.

It cannot be stressed enough, that without a widespread and clear idea among workers of what a socialist society entails, it will be unattainable. The reason is simple. The very nature of socialism — a money-free, wageless world of free access to the goods and services provided by voluntary cooperative effort — necessitates understanding. There is absolutely no way in which such a sweeping fundamental transformation of social relationships could be thrust upon an unwilling, unknowing majority by some minority, no matter how enlightened or well-meaning.

The World Socialist Movement is for the abolition of private property and the implementation of one of the oldest customs and traditions humanity has developed for its collective survival, the principle “from each according to ability, to each according to need.”, an end of the exchange economy and the introduction of free access which leads to the abolition of wage and money and all those occupations related to commerce. We stand for the free commonwealth or as another put it

“Store-houses shall be built and appointed in all places, and be the common stock…And as every one works to advance the common stock, so every one shall have a free use of any commodity in the store-house, for his pleasure and comfortable livelihood without buying and selling or restraint from any.” – Gerrard Winstanley in the 17thC.

What we propose is that the whole system of money and exchange, buying and selling, profit-making and wage-earning be entirely abolished and that instead, that instead community as a whole should organise and administer the production of goods for use only, and the free distribution of these goods to all members of the community according to each person’s needs. Since money would not exist, and wealth could not, therefore, be measured in terms of money, no person could say that he or she owned a share of such-and-such value in the people’s means of production.

Although money will disappear in socialism this does not mean that there will no longer be any need to make choices, evaluations and calculations. Our argument is that these evaluations and calculations, including those conceding the non-monetary “cost” of objects in terms of the effort and materials used to produce them, will be done directly in kind, without any general unit of account or measurement, neither money nor labour-time. Wealth will be produced and distributed in its natural form of useful things, of objects that can serve to satisfy some human need or other. Not being produced for sale on a market, items of wealth will not acquire an exchange-value in addition to their use-value. In socialism their value, in the normal non-economic sense of the word, will not be their selling price nor the time needed to produce them but their usefulness. It is for this that they will be appreciated, evaluated, wanted and produced. So estimates of what is likely to be needed over a given period will be expressed as physical quantities of definite types and sorts of objects. Decisions apart from purely personal ones of preference will be made after weighing the real advantages and disadvantages and real costs of alternatives in particular circumstances. The belief that without money nothing can work is flawed. The truth is that production is carried out by people, not money. Problems are solved by human beings, not money.

So perverse are the arguments presented by opponents of socialism being free access that they uncritically project into socialist society the same kind of atomistic self-interested outlook that prevails in capitalism forgetting that we are talking about quite a different kind of society, altogether. In fact, free access is the most complete example of what is called a “gift economy” in anthropological terms. It is based on the principle of “generalised reciprocity” and the clear recognition of our mutual inter-dependence. It is not economic restrictions in the form of some kind of rationing that we should be focussing on but, rather a radical reconfiguration of the relationship between the individual and society and the realisation of human beings as truly social individuals (a social individual is an individual who realises his or her needs are part of a collective process of development and stimulation and thus has no need to hoard, monopolise, accumulate objects, articles for purposes other than that of use.) Critics of free access need now to fundamentally question and reassess the assumptions upon which they base their criticisms. The time is long overdue to restore and reassert the vision of higher communism as the explicit goal of revolutionaries everywhere. Anything short of that has either failed dismally or been found wanting. Revolutionaries today, 150 years after Marx, should NOT be advocating questionable stop-gap measures that have long been rendered obsolete by technological development. We should be hell-bent on getting the real thing – a society based on the principle “from each according to ability, to each according to need”.

Of course, we cannot have socialism right now because the conscious majority support for such a system simply does not yet exist. You can’t have socialism without a large majority wanting and understanding it. The ends and the means have to be in harmony. There is absolutely no way you can force socialism on a reluctant population that doesn’t want or understand it. They are required to understand what it entails. They will realise very well that with a system of voluntary labour we will each depend upon one another for a communist society to function properly. The point is that in communism, unlike in capitalism, we shall have a genuine vested interest in promoting the well-being of others – if for no other than reason than that our own welfare is bound up with theirs.

 Socialist writer Keith Graham has written:
“…the very nature of the future society is such that it must be sustained by people clearly aware of what they are doing, actively and voluntarily cooperating in social production. It is literally unthinkable that a population should organise its affairs according to such principles without being aware that this is what they are doing. People can be coerced or duped into doing what they themselves do not comprehend or desire but they cannot be coerced or duped into doing what they voluntarily choose to do.”

 Socialism exhibits key features:

 Free access to goods and services – no buying and selling. No barter. You simply go to the distribution point and take what you require according to your self-determined needs. This depends on there being a relatively advanced technological infrastructure to produce enough to satisfy our basic needs. Such a possibility already exists. Capitalism, however, increasingly thwarts this potential. In fact, most of the work we do today in the formal sector will be completely unnecessary in a communist society – it serves only to prop up capitalism. What possible use would there be for a banking system under communism, for example? We could effectively more than double the quantities of resources and human labour-power available for socially useful production by scrapping capitalism. Communism will destroy the need for greed and conspicuous consumption

  •  Voluntary labour. Your contribution to society is not coerced. There is no wage labour or other forms of coerced labour. You can do as little or as much work as you choose. And you can do as many different kinds of jobs as you want, too. The presumption is that people would freely choose to work under communism for all sorts of reasons:

    – the conditions under which we work will be radically different, without an employing class dictating terms work will become fulfilling and pleasant
    – we need to work, to express ourselves creatively
    – with free access to goods, conspicuous consumption will be rendered meaningless as a way of gaining respect and social esteem. Which leaves only what we give to society as a way of gaining the respect of our peers. This should not be underestimated; it is one of the most important motivational drives in human beings as numerous studies in industrial psychology have confirmed.
    – socialism depends on people recognising our mutual interdependence. There is, in other words, a sense of moral obligation that goes with the territory
    – socialism will permit a far greater degree of technological adaptation without the constraints of the profit system. Intrinsically backbreaking or unpleasannt work can be automated. Conversely some work may be deliberately made more labour intensive and craft based.
    – Even under capitalism today most work is unpaid or unremunerated – the household economy, the volunteer sector and so on. So it is not as if this is something we are unaccustomed to. Volunteers moreover tend to be the most highly motivated as studies have confirmed; they don’t require so called external incentives
    – We will get rid of an awful lot of  pointless jobs that serve as a disincentive to work
    – since we would be free to do any job we chose to what this means in effect is that for any particular job there would be a massive back-up supply of labour to cover it consisting of most people in society. In capitalism this cannot happen since labour mobility is severely restricted since if you have a job you cannot just choose to abandon it for the sake of another more urgent job from the standpoint of society

    With these two core characteristics of a socialist society – free access to goods and services plus volunteer labour – there can be no political leverage that anyone or any group could exercise over anyone else. The material basis of class power would have completely dissolved. What we would be left with is simply human beings being free to express their fundamentally social and cooperative nature

    Free access socialism is not going to be brought to the point of collapse by the fact that we cannot all have a Maserati parked in the drive of our mansion in Mayfair.

Instead, imagine what it could be like without a boss class on our backs?

Imagine what our workplaces could become without the cost-cutting constraints of capitalism and having the freedom to decide on these matters ourselves.

Imagine not being tied down to one single kind of job all the time but being given the opportunity to experiment with different jobs, to travel abroad to work in new places, to taste new experiences. Imagine a money-free socialist world in which most of the occupations that we do today – from bankers to pay departments to arms producers to sales-people – will simply disappear at a stroke releasing vast amounts of resources and, yes, human labour-power as well for socially useful production.

Kropotkin was quite right. We don’t need the whiplash of the wages system to compel us to work. The mere fact that we recognise our mutual interdependence in a society in which we will fully realise our social nature will suffice to impose upon us a sense of moral obligation to contribute to the common good of our own free will. Indeed we already, to some extent, do this today even under capitalism, given that fully half of all the work that we do today is completely unremunerated. How much more conducive will a socialist economy be to the performance of unremunerated work is not hard to see.

When we meet these preconditions then people will fully appreciate, their mutual interdependence and the need to pull together for the common good.

You cannot just simply project into a socialist society the same kind of behavioural assumptions that underlie this dog-eat-dog capitalist society. Human behaviour and human thinking is at least in part a product of the kind of society we live in. Critics illegitimately project into communism, the behaviour patterns and modes of thinking that pertain to capitalism – including, its atomised individualistic way of looking at things. Capitalist competition fosters egoism. This is why narrow economically-focussed criticisms of a socialist society fail miserably every time because they take no account of the fundamentally different sociological framework within which a communist society will operate. Free-access socialism eliminates the need for greed and removes the rationale for acquiring status through the accumulation of material wealth. The only way in which one can acquire status and the respect of one’s fellows – a hugely powerful motivator in any society – would be through one’s contribution to society, not what one takes out of it. Critics of free access or higher communism have fallen into the same erroneous way of looking at the matter like the bourgeois economists with their taken-for-granted assumptions about human nature being inherently lazy or greedy. Remember the myth about The Commons? How The Commons were destroyed by the ignorance, the democracy of the commoners, ruining the land through over-grazing; without taking proper steps to conserve fertility; through, according to our mythologists, that combination of greed, stupidity, and laziness that the bourgeoisie project unto everybody else when in fact it describes them to a T? But it was a myth. The Commons were not destroyed by either ignorance, abuse, or laziness of the commoners– they were managed quite well, and democratically by the commoners, who willingly worked out the terms of shared use and proper conservation. The argument that says “Oh, if human beings can just have free access to things, they’ll act like locusts” has at its base, a version of that same myth