One of the most common difficulties encountered by anyone attempting to form an idea of life under Socialism is that connected with the necessary disappearance of money. People who are ready enough to agree with us in our criticism of capitalism and its effects become frankly incredulous when we point out that the abolition of production for profit will involve the end of commerce and its instruments, i.e., coin of the realm, bank and treasury notes, bills of exchange, and practically the entire machinery of the civil law which regulates contracts. Yet they can suggest no logical alternative.
So-called "Socialists" (such as George Bernard Shaw, for example, in "The Intelligent Woman's Guide," etc.), who propose a form of "Socialism" in which money would continue to be used, merely surrender to unthinking prejudice in favour of the most deeply rooted economic institution of capitalism. Their excuse is that money is needed to give people a choice of the varied products of modern industry. They ignore the fact that when the means whereby industry is carried on become the property of society then the members of society will simultaneously enter into possession of the products.
Under such conditions individuals desiring to satisfy their wants (whether of food, clothing, shelter, amusement, travel or education) will no longer have to deal with private concerns (whose interest is financial in character), but with the social group of which they are themselves members. It will be the special business of public bodies democratically controlled to organise the production and distribution of as wide a variety of articles and services as may be desired by society. This form of organisation will take the place of the existing Government or State whose special function is to protect the property of the capitalist class.
Every man and woman will be provided with the opportunity to take part in this organisation, and the results will depend upon the energy and intelligence displayed by the members of society as a whole. The greater that energy and intelligence the greater will be the variety from which all will be able to choose.
Under capitalism choice depends quite obviously upon depth of purse. The greater the quantity of money an individual possesses the less he is called upon to think or exert himself in the task of producing his needs. To pretend that the wages of the workers enable them to choose what clothes they shall wear or what kind of houses they shall live in is to display either ignorance or hypocrisy. The wages of the workers are determined by the standard necessary to enable them to live and produce profits for their masters. Before one can be said to have a choice of the enormous variety of goods produced at the present time, one must, therefore, have a quantity of money large enough to lift one out of the working class and enable one to exist not merely in luxury but idleness. Socialism will certainly abolish this form of choice.
Shaw and others suggest that Socialism will accomplish it by means of equal incomes. A money income implies either that one sells something or that something is being sold upon one's behalf. Money is meaningless apart from buying and selling. If, therefore, people under Shaw's "Socialism" are to be dependent upon money, what are they going to sell, and to whom? There will be no capitalists owning the products of labour and placing them upon the market. There will be no wage-workers selling their productive abilities to capitalists. One can only imagine, therefore, that (in the brains of the men of "genius," like Shaw) the people will spend their time buying things from and selling them to themselves!
We suggest that they will have something better to do. The allotment holder and his family do not need money to enable them to decide whether they will have cabbage for dinner or kidney beans; and when the workers collectively own and control the earth they will decide with similar freedom the details of distributing the fruits of their labour upon it.
It may be thought that the question of money under Socialism is, after all, merely an academic one; but a little reflection should show that this is by no means the case.
The Labour Party, for example, has recently advanced a policy for dealing with the banks, which implies the continuation of these institutions. The reason is simple. In spite of its use of Socialist phraseology on occasions, the Labour Party stands for the retention of capitalism, and consequently must retain the institutions upon which it is based, banks included. It is the habit of politicians of every shade to try and persuade the workers that their interests are bound up with the financial system, e.g., that inflation or deflation is necessary to "prosperity," in which the workers are supposed to share.
The Socialist recognises that the only thing he has to sell is his capacity to work and, therefore, produce a profit for a boss; and that all he can buy simply goes in restoring that capacity day by day. He is not interested in "financial stability" or "cheaper credit." These are phrases which have a practical meaning only to different sections of the class which lives by buying labour power and selling its products. Hence the Socialist is not to be misled into giving support to National Governments with the idea of "saving the Gold Standard!"; nor to replacing them by Labour Governments who want to "control the banks!" Slogans like these succeed in duping those who do not understand the existing social system and the part played by money.
Socialists point out to the workers that they possess, as a class, all the needed energy and intelligence to erect a new social system based upon the common ownership of the means of life, in which system they will no longer need to sell themselves piecemeal as articles of merchandise. They will be free to enjoy to the full the results of their collective labour.
(Socialist Standard, February, 1934)