Couldn't We Live Perfectly Well Without Money?
public forum, Melbourne Town Hall, 15 September 2000
Talk by Albert Langer

Michael Cathcart

And the final speaker is Albert Langer, one of Australia's best known and most unorthodox Marxists, can he imagine living without money?

Albert Langer

Well, I think most people can already imagine living without money, they do live without money. A very small handful of people own the wealth of the world, and the rest of us only work here.

I think that the problems with money are more or less self-solving. Marx explained this long ago, that the whole development of commodity production leads to the development of wage labour and capital, which leads to a deeper and deeper concentration of property in the hands of a few, and a larger and larger working class which has no stake in the present society and nothing to lose but their chains. That is the history of modern capitalist development, and it is the history of why Marx was so enthusiastic in his praise for the corrosive effect of money on the old communities.

And we see today this reaction against the inevitable logic of capitalism, of reactionaries advocating some kind of retreat to smaller autarchic communities, you see protests against globalisation, the demands - and even the anti-capitalist wing of the protest against globalisation, whose demand is to "stop the world and get off", because it's so obviously heading for a world in which a dangerous class is arising, already the majority of the population of the planet, who have every stake in globalisation, but no stake in a world run by the sort of people that run it today, and if you look at the attempts to foist the reactions programs. ... in a perfect climate for it, there hasn't been any marxism around in the western world for several decades now, all you've had are the various lemmingist sects that we constantly mix up the names of, but even in such a perfect environment, even with a target like the World Economic Forum, which is ideally suited to making it an anti-globalisation protest, if you look at the actual content of what people were saying, what they were protesting about, very few of them were carrying the "Fair Trade not Free Trade"-type banners. Most of them were putting forward in fact, confused, vague, pretty hopeless in fact, but rebellious demands of a global character. They were consciously part of a globalist movement, that wanted some kind of global change, and were not part of a movement which was genuinely what many of the so-called "internationalists" amongst them wanted, trying to stop globalisation. They're trying to push globalisation.

I personally can't imagine a future world that is organised on money. I mean even if you watch fairly mediocre science fiction programs like Star Trek, you can't really imagine them going off to the commissariat to pay for their canteen supplies, or being paid for ‘going where no-one has gone before’. It just doesn't make sense. How can you conceive of it?

As far as complexity's concerned, the most complex, advanced, large-scale, global and socialised productive forces today, are those involved in software development. Now, free software drives the internet. It's produced on the communist basis of "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need". It's done in people's free time, even people who still have to earn their living as wage workers, have organised themselves globally to transform the basic infrastructure of modern society, in ways that most multi-national corporations today still haven't figured out how to adapt to.

Private property, such as copyright, simply got in the way, and you can talk to any reasonably competent software engineer and they'll tell you that it just doesn't make sense to try to pay people to produce software that gets sold for money in the same sort of traditional way as other commodities, but what makes sense is to share your ideas, work cooperatively on achieving something, and publish what you've got and make it freely available. And at the very minimum it's a technical necessity these days, just to get the maintenance done!

That recognition results, amongst that most advanced, most complex, and incidentally, best paid section of the work-force, a total contempt for marketing, as an activity performed by “suits” - these are terms of contempt - marketing and “suits” are obstacles to getting things done. They are a fetter on the most advanced productive forces today.

So, imagine a world in which that sort of conception of things is normal. All our time is free time, because nobody owns the means of production, everything produced is produced by people who want to produce it, not for sale, and not because they are paid to do so, a world without the obstacles created by marketing and “suits”, a world, in short, of free enterprise.

You've just imagined a world without money. The next step to get there is to take possession of the world from those who now own it. We obviously can't buy it from them, since we don't have the money, so we'll just have to take it.

Now that is a big step. It cannot be achieved by looking backwards to some mythical, romantic golden age. The necessity of a world without money grows out of the realities of modern socialised industry. Capitalism has not triumphed and history has not ended. Capitalism is completing its progressive historic mission of unleashing modern productive forces, by separating producers from the means of production.

The corrosive force of money has battered down the old communities, and prepared for building a new, global community. Resistance to that, whether described as "anti-globalisation" or "anti-capitalism" is purely reactionary. That is emphasised by the use of the prefix “anti-”. Reactionaries are, by definition, always against the trends of modern society, but have no positive program.

The only positive program which makes sense today which was set out in the Communist Manifesto more than one and a half centuries ago, far from opposing the creative destruction of capitalist free trade, the Manifesto (as was mentioned by an earlier speaker) sang a hymn of praise to it, compared to which, the most enthusiastic pronouncements from the World Economic Forum sound like mealy-mouthed apologetics, from people who have forgotten that the bourgeoisie ever was radical.

Just compare this, from the Melbourne WEF promo:

“Participants will have the opportunity to meet key leaders from business, politics and academia at a time when the eyes of the world will be fixed on Australia, and they may coordinate their participation in the Summit with the Olympic Games opening on Friday 15 September.” ...

These are the sort of people who have a historic mission to spread capitalism in Asia, and they're coming to Melbourne instead of Hong Kong or Singapore, so they can get to the Games!

“Asia is back. The economic and business climate is positive and improving, albeit with a realistic picture of the challenges still facing governments and business alike. The hope is that the renewed growth in the region is of a systematic nature, the first results of much-needed and heralded structural reforms” ...

These people couldn't globalise their way out of a paper bag!

Compare it with the Manifesto:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the means of production, and thereby, the relations of production, and with them, the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for the earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionisation of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away. All new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air. All that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life, his relations with his kind.
“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of the instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draw all - even the most barbarian - nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery by means of which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production, it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image.
“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns, it has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.
“Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West, ...”

and on it goes! Now that's somebody who's for globalisation! These guys are pathetic.

Those who want to go back to the idiocy of rural life, those who want to live a simpler life, in smaller village cooperatives, and visualise doing without money to achieve that, should of course be free to do so. But it is a delusion of no interest to the millions escaping from rural idiocy who prefer the worst urban slums to the narrow cramped life-style of the villages. Those who want to slow down the world so they can get off should be assisted to find some more suitable planet. The rest of us will need to built the space ports and space fleets from which they can embark. We will need to build those facilities anyway, to explore the Universe and we have no reason to deny their use to people who just want to settle down and vegetate somewhere.

Of course it would be impossible for Greenies to purchase what they need for the life-style they want to lead on Earth, but terraforming a suitable planet filled with wilderness areas and all the wonders of Nature and a suitable climate for people who want sustainable rather than ever-expanding development, would probably be an interesting project which some collective could be persuaded to take on.

Accommodating the present owners of the globe would of course be more difficult, since their aspirations require that the rest of us spend our lives working for them instead of for ourselves, but there are so few of them left now, that we can afford to be generous, once they have been compelled to stop trying to beat us into submission. Perhaps a historians collective could organise a roster for people to occasionally spend an entire eight-hour day, or even a week at a time, doing whatever crap some former owner of the planet wants them to waste their life on, so as to better appreciate the social system we once lived under.

I have absolutely no doubt that it is impossible to imagine that humanity, in a thousand years time will live under money. It's up to us whether we're still living with money in a hundred years' time.

Thank you very much.