Sabine Kradolfer, an anthropology and sociology researcher, says swap exchanges were set up in Argentina after the 2001-2002 crisis. While the gratiferia (free fair) may be a cousin of swaps, Sabine Kradolfer says that these free fairs do not arise from that crisis nor from the current economic situation, which is more stable in Argentina than in Europe. "But there is a vision of society that underlies all these movements," she adds. "It is the idea that humans are not selfish individualists, alone and separated from society, as expected by neo-conservative economics. Instead they feel part of a vast group, the local and global community. By giving, people feel that they are linked."
The gratiferia concept originally comes from Argentina and then expanded to neighboring countries and all of Latin America. The idea was quickly taken up in the U.S. and Canada, and this year, it has arrived in the Old World. This free fair aims at "liberation from materialism," with the goal of leaving behind "the oppression of the economic system."
However, the goal of a gratiferia is not just to get rid of your possessions, but to have the experience of giving them up and donating to others. Céline, who already exchanged things with friends, is happy at the notion that this "innovative concept" could "shake up European thinking, because it's free."
Christine Muller, a member of the green Ecolo party in Hannut, Belgium, shares her feelings. The party organized its first gratiferia in July. "We wanted to give a real meaning to 'free,' and show that not everything is about money," she explains.
“Our mission is to nurture and expand a timebanking movement that promotes equality and builds caring community economies through inclusive exchanges of time and talents.”
Matching people up based on who needs what and who can provide what is a different approach to an economy. It’s an understanding that everybody has needs and everybody has assets. Also, you don’t have to wait to have money to pay for a service you need.
The norm in this society is that we have a human-service kind of economy through charity. There’s a group of people who serve and a group of people who are served. Timebanking takes the approach that we all engage, as equals, based on what we have to offer and what we need.
It’s also really good at connecting people who wouldn’t otherwise meet. As a community-building and community cohesion tool, it’s excellent. It helps people get past barriers that they’ve grown up with, whether it’s racism, or classism, or ageism. It really helps people get to know each other across demographic and geographic boundaries.
About 40 counties around the world have timebanks. In the US, our best guess is that there are between 200 and 300, with more being created regularly.
What has any of this to do with socialism one may ask. From swap to share, exchange to participate, give to partake, the lexicon is about building strength in and between individuals and communities for the good of the whole. Ways of improving quality of life and bringing organisational skills to achieve results not satisfied by current policies, putting possibilities of people power into more hands – what are these and similar movements offering to communities big and small if not the opportunity to reassess the established reality of life in a capitalist world? Here are people around the world working in different ways against the established system, showing others the shortfalls, and proving in different ways that growing numbers are dissatisfied, unrepresented and seeking a radically different way of organising and living their lives.
'Everybody has needs and everybody has assets' – to each according to need from each according to ability. From these few samples above of people's attempts to work outside of the system, to offer an alternative approach, we can recognise the unsuppressed willingness of humankind to cooperate .
Give and take, however one interprets it, needs to be reclaimed by all of us on the road to socialism.