The question of transition and the role of money

A paragraph of my previous post about an article from Michel Bauwens in we_magazine lead to heavy reactions of Michel, cross-posted here and in Oekonux mailing list. Since some posts only go to the mailing list, I re-publish one of my responses here again. Here we go:

Hi Michel,

I try to answer your questions as best as I can, but I also take the freedom to question your questions, because they base on assumptions I don’t share.

On 2009-02-23 17:57, Michel Bauwens wrote:

Sorry, but I have not heard any consistent arguments about why it is better to keep using ‚capitalist money‘ in the transition.

The same holds for me on the topic on your side how to finally get rid of the money aka capitalist system at all. You see? There are different premisses. In my view, my question is prior, because I don’t want to reproduce „the old shit“.

But back to the question: I did never said, that it is better to keep using ‚capitalist money‘ than ’non-capitalist money‘ (what ever this may be) or vice versa.

The direct mediation of peers in free software works, …

Yes, great! I am eased, that your previous opposite statement was simply a falsity (which can happen).

…but is only an insufficient start, as long as the material means of production are not in the hands of producers.


As we discussed often here, it needs to be complemented with a direct link with material production, and while we are making advances, we are not there yet, and the ultimate solution, or phase transition, may (will) not come without accompanying political change.

In my view, political changes follow, but will not bring us any solution. It is the wrong field, but this is not the main point here.

Do I have a full strategic answer, no, but who has?

Ok, we are in the same situation.

So. my provisional conclusion is to work ‚integrally‘ on different fronts at the same time, building the alternative social life, based on direct mediation between peers as much as we can, while also building the underlying infrastructures: ICT for communication, distributed grids for energy, distributed material production facilities, new forms of ownership, distributed capital formation through mutual credit and social lending, but also, „peer to peer money“, i.e. a financial infrastructure that is not under the control of capital, but of the associated producers themselves.

Ok, lets walk through the points you mention as „fronts“. My question is: What do we need to build new? I want to use „commonism“ for the wanted new and free society beyond capitalism. So, what do we need for commonism?

  • building the alternative social life: YES
  • direct mediation between peers as much as we can: YES
  • building the underlying infrastructures: YES
  • ICT for communication: YES
  • distributed grids for energy: YES
  • distributed material production facilities: YES
  • new forms of ownership: YES
  • distributed capital formation through mutual credit and social lending: NO!
  • „peer to peer money“: NO!
  • financial infrastructure that is not under the control of capital, but of the associated producers themselves: NO

Ok, seven Yes‘ and three No’s. Why YES and why NO? Because YES means, that we need exactly the given points and much more for a commonist society, and NO, because it is by no means any element — moreover: it is the opposite — of commonism, simply because there is no capital.

Then you would argue, that „alternative money“ (which ever) is only a means, and would „withering away“ over time. This is exactly the same argument traditional marxists and real-socialist countries gave: „We want to abolish state and the suppression of the individual, but given the world it is, we have to strenghen the state and suppress all individuals, who are not on the right (=our) side. And of course our state and our suppression is not the capitalist one, it is alternative, because we doing it for the good.“

Thus the question to me remains: Can we use a means, that we want to abolish in the long run? I am not sure, you want it at all. But if you want it, can you use money in order to abolish money? And if so, how? In my view, means must be in accordance with goals.

Then you would say, that „alternative money“ is not that bad as „capitalist money“. This is a theoretical question. And my answer, which I explained earlier here, is, that „money“ is only the symbol for the underlying mechanism of „equivalent exchange“. Equivalent exchange is only necessary in a society, where separated producers have to exchange their products on markets and find a way to make this exchange just. And in the average markets enable this just way of exchange, and the result is the value representing the societal average of work sticking into the product on the given level of global productivity.

Therefore, I would separate this central field of societal mediation, which is another word for this problem, into three parts:

  1. equivalent exchange
  2. non-equivalent exchange
  3. non-exchange

While in (1) and (2) giving and taking is coupled, number (3) is free of this coupling. Commonism must base on mode 3, in my view.

Free software falls into the third category, it is commonism in a germ form, it represents a direct social mediation between peers, where giving and taking is completely decoupled.

Any money system falls into the first category, be it local money, state money, capitalist money, social lending and so on — it enables the mode of equivalent exchange and all the dark followers like alienation etc. This is the reason, why no money system is an option for me.

For me any alternative approach must at least base on non-equivalent exchange, if non-exchange is not possible today. Only if you have non-equivalence built-in, you can open rooms for subjective social goal setting. Equivalent exchange always enforces the objective exchange relations against social voluntary deviations. Equivalence acts as a natural law, although it is societally performed (some call it „second nature“). We need voluntary deviations from equivalence following our priorities.

The non-equivalent character is the very reason, why I support the peer economy model of Christian Siefkes, because it can play the role of a transition form to the free mode of commonism. Some critics did not see this transition character, others defend it as the final solution and some ignore it more or less (including you, Michel).

Neither of these partial aspects is sufficient by itself, and all of them will not be sufficient without access to the material means of production, but as we prepare for the phase transition, strengthening these interconnected aspects of alternative social life, is all we can and must do.

I hope I have shown, that the character of these partial aspects you mention is not entirely the same. You have two types: new forms and old means.

Changing all the aspects, but leaving capital in the hands of Finance, doesn’t sound like a sensible thing to do.

We can’t do anything against it, really. Or do you assume, that social lending or anything else take the capital out of the hand of Finance? What indeed takes the capital out of their hands is the crisis, not our activity.

Changing different aspects of protocollary power, but leaving the central one intact …

The things get even more dangerous, if you accept, that money (as a symbol for equivalent exchange) indeed is the central aspect. Again, we can’t do anything against its „intactness“, but this crisis will do, and this is nothing nice. Preparation for total break down is one question.

Now, as long as you use pejorative words like ‚money juggling‘ and ‚money trickery‘, to intervene in a serious debate, you will understand that I fail to see serious arguments.

Please for a second try to take my position: This is not a serious debate, and I don’t have the feeling that you take my arguments into account. You simply walk over them: Not practical enough. For me it is a dangerous debate what you are promoting. This does not help.

Innuendo will not do.

Pol Pot even not.

I seriously propose you and Stefan would produce a FAQ like document laying out your argumentation.

StefanMn and me share some views and others not. Please don’t put us into the same box. I try to answer your questions, HTH.

In particular, you need to explain the transition strategy between the situation today, and full mediation between peers that should include material production.

Taking your words: Do I have a full strategic answer, no, but who has?

Should that transition use capitalist monetary systems, or not.

We are not in the position to stay away from it. Each of us must reproduce its life by using capitalist monetary system, social lending, gifts, funding, mutual support etc. etc. what ever is applicable. But, there is no strategic solution in it.

If not, if immediate and total direct mediation is not possible, what exactly will you use for exchanges that take place?

Today we can’t escape from equivalent exchange in the average, but the perspective must be to establish a system of non-equivalent exchange as a transition mode to completely escape from exchange at all.

My reference to Pol Pot is not gratuitous: if you do not respect the freedom of those who do not want, or cannot, enter into direct mediation, you can only use coercion. If you do not want to use coercion, you need a means of exchange. Which will that be?

My reference to money juggling is not gratuitous: If you ask the question as you do it here, you are creating your own trap where only wrong answers are possible: Playing which money, but leaving the principle of equivalent exchange untouched.

Finally: I am not against any means you propose of making our living. But I am against the elevation of such proposals as „the“ or „any part of a“ solution: They are simply not. But the proof is not on my side, it is on your side, and I can’t see it.

Michel, I don’t want to convince you. I can accept your position although — concerning the money topic — I do not share it. I hope you can accept my position as valid as yours, although you will not share it.


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