Monday, January 03, 2022

Free Access Means


Socialism is not about "setting prices at zero". 

It is about doing away with the whole notion of price and exchange value so that the very concept of "setting prices at zero" is a meaningless one as far as communism is concerned. To talk of setting prices at any level presupposes still a capitalist framework If the supermarkets tomorrow said 'All cans of beans are free' the shelves would be cleared in hours. But if they said the same the next day, and the next, it would become pointless to go and fill your arms with cans of beans, and easier to just go and take a reasonable stock to keep close to hand. That is, money (likewise price) is not abolished, but the need for money is rendered redundant. Just because individuals in a free access economy are not restricted by money or labour vouchers from taking what they want does not mean they will want to take everything they can possibly lay their hands on. As for labour vouchers. Similarly just because these same individuals will not be externally compelled to work by the fact that their consumption is explicitly linked to their work contribution does not mean they will not contribute to the work. The point about a communist society proper - or higher communism - is that there is no objective or external economic mechanisms - like money or labour vouchers - mediating between the individual and his or her needs or wants. This includes the desire to work which would become as Marx put it in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, "life´s prime want". A means by which we express ourselves, our individuality. Kautsky has the right take on that, why bother mimicking the pricing mechanism when there is already a perfectly good way of doing that?

Money is a social relationship. It links buyers and sellers in a market and therefore presupposes these things. But communism implies common ownership of the means of production. Where everybody owns the means of production it is not logically possible to have economic exchange. Exchange implies owners and non-owners. When I exchange something with you I am exchanging property title to this thing for some other thing. If you own a factory producing widgets you can sell these widgets on because you own them by virtue of owning the factory that produced them. It follows that if everyone in society owned the factory there would be no one to whom these widgets could be sold or exchanged. If there is no economic exchange then there is no reason to have a means of exchange - money. Money is a means of exchange amongst other things and what it implies is the existence of an exchange economy that is completely incompatible with the idea of your "public" owning the means of production. Exchange denotes a transfer of ownership rights of the things being exchanged. This cannot happen where everyone owns the means of production, common ownership rules out the exchange of products and hence money. Logically then if you advocate the use of money and hence exchange, this means you advocate a system based on sectional or private ownership of the means of production - not common ownership. Money is not some kind of neutral tool of administration; it is fundamentally a social relationship between people. Of course, money existed before capitalism but, in its generalised usage, it corresponds to, and demonstrates, the existence of capitalist relations of production as a monetised economy par excellence. Since there will be no economic exchange transactions in socialism - socialism being based on common ownership of the means of production - this reason falls away along with the need for money.

This is why socialists totally reject the idea of using money not only - obviously - in a communist society but in any supposed transition to such a society. A transitional stage that continued to use money would not be a transition at all. It would still be a capitalist society based on generalised commodity production. That is why Marx advocated labour vouchers - which we reject as too as both unnecessary and far too cumbersome - precisely because it was not money.

Many leftists have aligned themselves with the argument of the arch pro-capitalist Ludwig von Mises in asserting the need for a common universal unit of accounting. According to this argument, only by means of such a unit can we directly compare different bundles of inputs and thus supposedly select the "least cost "combination. For Mises this unit is money; for some so-called leftists labour values. The purpose of a common unit of account is to expedite economic exchange - what communism will lack - rather than the actual efficient deployment of resources as such. Having a common unit of account has nothing to do with the technical organisation of production itself and everything to do with capitalism's own priorities such as the need to determine profitability and the rate of exploitation.

Free access communism is a form of "generalised reciprocity" par excellence, a “gift economy”, which as the term itself suggests denotes the absence of any kind of quid pro quo set up.

1) The amount of work that needs to be done by comparison with today will be much less because of the elimination of all that socially useless labour that only serves to prop up the capitalist money economy - from bankers, pay to tax collectors and a thousand and one other occupations. Less work means a much reduced per capita workload on average which, in turn, means less resistance to working since our attitude to work is partly conditioned by how much time we are required to do it. If you only have to do 2 hours per week on a boring job you are going to regard it differently than if you have to do it for 20 hours

2) A volunteer economy means that we are not stuck with just one job but can try a variety so there is a labour reservoir in-depth for any particular job - even the most onerous or boring - and to an extent that is simply not possible under capitalist employment.

3) With free access to goods and services there is only one way in which you can acquire status and the respect and esteem of your fellows - through your contribution to society. Conspicuous consumption and the accumulation of private wealth would be rendered meaningless by the simple fact that all wealth is freely available for direct appropriation

4) The terms and conditions of work will be radically different without the institution of capitalist employment. It is often these terms and conditions - in particular the authoritarian structure of the capitalist workplace - that is the real problem rather than the work itself

5) Without the profit motive there will be far greater scope to adapt technology to suit our inclinations. Some work might be subject to greater automation; other work might be made more artisan or skilled-based

6) In a communist society our mutual interdependence will be much more transparent and the sense of moral obligation to give according to one's ability in return for taking according to one's need will correspondingly be much more sharply defined and enhanced as a motivating factor

7) A communist society cannot be introduced except when the great majority understand and want it. Having struggled to achieve it can it seriously be maintained that they would willingly allow it to be jeopardised? The reductio as absurdum argument

8) Work, loosely defined as meaningful productive activity is actually a fundamental human need, not simply an economic requirement. Try sitting around on your ass for a week doing nothing and you will soon find yourself climbing up the wall out of sheer boredom. Prison riots have been known to break out on occasions when frustrated prisoners are denied work opportunities and even under the severe conditions they have to contend with.

9) Even under capitalism just over half of the work that we do is completely unpaid and outside of the money economy. This is by no means just confined to the household sector - think for example of international volunteers such as the VSO - and it gives the lie to the capitalist argument that the only way you can induce people to work is by paying them to do it

Since you don't have a quid pro quo set up with free access socialism, individuals are free to do whatever work they chose. What work needs to be done as explained can be readily communicated through the appropriate channels such as job centres, online facilities and so on. You don't have the same kind of dichotomous view induced by a quid pro quo set-up that pits your self-interest against the interests of others. So social opinion become a much more powerful force in society. Work that needs to be done most urgently and is not perhaps being done to the extent required - e.g. garbage collection - gains in status to the extent that it remains undone. People work for all sorts of reasons not just because they "like it". This is why we find the usual objections to free access communism being trotted out to be simplistic and reductionist. Labour at this higher stage is no longer coerced labour in the sense that an individual's access to goods (via their "income") is made dependent upon his or her contribution. On the contrary, the labour of freely associated individuals becomes life's "prime want". It becomes entirely voluntary labour, freely offered. The compulsion to produce without which human life could not continue will then operate exclusively on the social plane and not directly upon individuals who, nevertheless, will have realised their full social nature in a communist society and respond accordingly to the requirements of society to produce and reproduce its own means of existence. This is what constitutes the essence of communism - the realisation of our true social nature and of the need to contribute to society's maintenance and wellbeing.

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