How can we arrive at common decisions on what is to be valued? Do we value personal bonds or do we value anonymity? Do we value community or do we value individuality? Is there a way to bridge these apparent opposites or dissolve their inherent contradictions, or will they forever be in conflict? What do we value about ourselves? What do we value about others? What do we value in nature, in work, in leisure? And how can we embed these values — both moral and economic — in the very money-form? Ultimately, if we are talking about creating a radically different society, the question of value will have to somehow be detached from money.
This is our second excerpt from Jerome Roos’ review of the MoneyLab conference, the first time progressive forces squarely tackled the issue of currency and monetary transformation.
“Hearing some of the speakers at MoneyLab, another danger I think we need to beware of is the romanticization of crowdfunding as a revolutionary revenue model that will somehow set artists and other creatives free from the stifling necessity of grant-applications and private gifts and loans. One speaker, a self-declared “crowdfunding consultant”, kept talking about “crowdfunding your dreams,” while another referred to Kickstarter as “the anarchist welfare state”. The danger here is that we end up idealizing necessities and mistaking them for solutions. In the age of austerity, where grants and subsidies are increasingly being cut and the money that’s still allocated tends to become more and more concentrated in projects with greater perceived market value and name recognition, crowdfunding is often the only option left for creative projects that — despite possibly being valuable — simply do not possess any obvious exchange value, and hence cannot compete for scarce subsidies or investments.
Another risk is that, by narrowly emphasizing the crowdfunding success stories, we end up reproducing certain ideological mechanisms that sustain the hegemonic definition of success as an entrepreneurial virtue — obscuring the exploitation intervening in the process. Is the idealized vision of “crowdfunding your dreams” not a brilliant way of reinventing the American Dream for the emerging creative class? A quick glance at the IndieGoGo website reveals the sad reality behind crowdfunding: on the front page, we are presented with numerous successful projects, unwittingly generating a creeping expectation among prospective crowdfunders that “if they can do it, we can do it too.” However, scroll a little further into the different campaign categories and you will see numerous projects that will never even come close to making their target. Insofar as these projects generate any revenue at all, they are effectively raising money for the platform and perk fulfillment agencies. At rock bottom, those who do not possess marketing skills and access to large and wealthy networks are marginalized anew. The “anarchist welfare state”, then, is not really all that egalitarian — and the surplus it generates ultimately ends up in the private pockets of the platform owners.
Besides, it turns out that the “crowd” in crowdfunding often doesn’t really exist. The vast majority of Kickstarter’s revenue comes not from the “big hits” (which merely help draw attention to their brand, serving as a sort of marketing ploy) but from the massive amount of smaller projects. These small projects, in turn, depend crucially on family and friends to reach their set targets. What this means is that the so-called “anarchist welfare state” is in fact community support transformed into a source of profit for the crowdfunding platforms. The mutual aid of your family and friends ends up being conscripted into the process of capital accumulation. Crowdfunding, in a word, exploits a necessity (for creatives to find new ways of raising funds in the age of austerity) in order to enclose a common solution (mutual aid) and turn it into a commodity. Where the traditional welfare state retreats, the community steps in, and a private company subsequently manages to wring profit from our altruism.
It’s crucial not to fetishize money!
The observations above therefore seem to point in the same direction: while coining alternatives to the capitalist money-form will be key to building autonomy from the state-finance nexus and regaining control over our lives, there is a grave risk that our professed solutions end up being conscripted into the logic of the present monetary and financial system and turned into yet another source of speculation, appropriation and accumulation. It is therefore absolutely crucial not to fetishize alternative currencies and revenue models. Building autonomy and challenging the state-finance nexus requires a multidimensional struggle that targets all levels of capitalist social relations. If we fail to reclaim the means of production, bring democracy into the workplace, organize ourselves at the national and global level, develop new models of decision-making, rebuild trust in our communities and beyond, find ways to defend ourselves from state repression, etc., alternative currencies will ultimately be little more than an impotent expression of an admirable but ultimately harmless desire for social change. Our long-term political project is to break the power of capital and radically democratize society from below. If we lose sight of this broader horizon in which the quest for monetary alternatives is ultimately embedded, we are doomed to fail.
The real challenge is to redefine value
While in the coming years the money question is likely to assume central importance in the emerging anti-capitalist movement, we should also be extremely careful not to fall into the messiah syndrome that sometimes characterizes recent “converts” to the cause. Upon first realizing that money is created by private banks, and that interest-bearing debt continuously feeds the need for economic expansion at the heart of the capitalist system, many people have a eureka moment — I’ve figured it out! Money is the root of all evil! Let’s create an alternative currency and change the world! — that temporarily blinds them to the other fundamental contradictions of the system (a theme taken on by David Harvey in his forthcoming book). It cannot be emphasized enough that money is just an element (a core element to be sure, but just an element) in a process of valuation and a mode of production and accumulation that is extremely complex and that cannot simply be reduced to its constituent parts. For one, a crucial challenge — one that forever lurks behind money’s superficial forms — is the one raised by Max Haiven in his presentation and his new book, Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power: we now need to start collectively re-imagining and materially re-defining not only what value actually is, but also what it is that we value.
Here, at last, we reach the terrain of politics: How can we arrive at common decisions on what is to be valued? Do we value personal bonds or do we value anonymity? Do we value community or do we value individuality? Is there a way to bridge these apparent opposites or dissolve their inherent contradictions, or will they forever be in conflict? What do we value about ourselves? What do we value about others? What do we value in nature, in work, in leisure? And how can we embed these values — both moral and economic — in the very money-form? Ultimately, if we are talking about creating a radically different society, the question of value will have to somehow be detached from money. Exchange value is one thing; use value, as Marx pointed out, is quite another (not even mentioning the cultural, aesthetic and ecological importance of non-use value). Would it be possible to organize society on the basis of use (and non-use) value, rather than exchange values? What would such a society look like? How do we get there? Would we even be able to trust in each other’s good intentions and our sense of common purpose as we squabble and fight over the possible answers?”