Startseite Krise und Kritik der Warengesellschaft


Robert Kurz

The utopian thought always toyed with the idea of abolishing money. In general, however, such reasoning fell short of its object because money is just the surface phenomenon of a determinate social form. Money, according to Marx, is the appearance of a social essence, that is "abstract labour", and of value (the valorisation of value). Any attempt only to do away with the superficial phenomenon without touching the fundamental deep structure will cause havoc rather than liberation. If in a commodity producing society money is divested of its co-ordinating capacity, let alone money is abolished as such, its regulative function has to be replaced by a totalitarian bureaucracy. In the more recent past, under the Pol Pot regime, the most atrocious consequences of such project came true; the socialist and state-capitalist regimes of national development, however, showed some of these features as well. Other approaches to the abolition of money, barter pools for instance, have to dispense with the advantages of a highly integrated society. Moreover, they are confined to issuing substitutes for money ("achievement slips" etc.) and will certainly fail in the end as it was just the case in Argentina.

By and large, as it seems, the utopian energy is on the wane anyway. Under the global reign of neo-liberal economic radicalism, the monetary subjectivity is as unchallenged as never before, even in the slums. Paradoxically yet, capitalism itself is setting out to abolish money as the general form of social mediation. What is not meant, is the superficial technological phenomenon that banknotes are replaced by non-material electronic entries and internet-based monetary transactions (electronic banking), just as paper money took the place of precious metals in the past. Rather one has to set one’s sight on the fact that in the wake of the crisis of the 3rd industrial revolution of microelectronics, more and more people are unable to participate in the general money economics. In those regions of the world that are already uncoupled from the world economy, money circulation shrinks dramatically. It may happen to you in rural Brazil that half the residents of a village must be called for help to enable the local shopkeeper to give change for a banknote with the equivalent of roughly € 20. Half the South-African adults don't have a bank account. 2.8 billion people, almost half the global population, live on less than $ 2 per day.

Long since, this trend penetrated into the Western World. In the US more and more full-time workers fall beneath the poverty line, whereas, at the same time, anybody who pays in cash instead of paying by credit-card might be considered to be some sort of a crook. In this country as everybody knows, banks only reluctantly grant bank account to people on social welfare. In many Western countries a new mass phenomenon spreads: Those, who have no bank account are most often neither eligible for Medicaid, nor are the on the telephone, let alone on the internet. In discount shops people calculate their "buying decisions" exactly by the Cent. Amidst a money economics of seemingly full-scale electronic money transactions, an ever larger section of the population has no access to means of payment. The gigantic debt bubbles correspond with a rapidly growing "penny economics".

In public debate, this dimension of the monetary crisis, which is in fact a crisis of "abstract labour", is rather suppressed. The capitalist crisis administration, however, responds to the decrease in general money circulation in a way not very different from the earlier state-capitalist regimes of a totalitarian utopia: bureaucratic abuse of the involuntary "de-monitarised" people. At the same time, instead of proceeding to an emancipatory critique of the system, in a climate of Angst about means of payment, racist and anti-Semitic ideologies of "good and honest" money for "good and honest" labour are hatched. Who might have thought like that: capitalism is about to become negative-utopian.

German original Eine Welt ohne Geld, published in Neues Deutschland 15.10.2004

Translation into portuguese:

Translation into Spanish: Contracorriente, m.vallseca +

Translation into English: Claudia Régissaert/Petra Haarmann