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I've thought about this before, but never heard any explanation as to how this works.

My understanding of communism is:

  1. Everyone works.
  2. Everything is rationed out equally.
  3. Since there is no private property, everything is borrowed. So if you want to take a boat out on a lake for instance, you simply schedule a time that you can.

Given this situation, and the fact that there's no private property - wouldn't currency be obsolete? I mean, maybe you'd need something to prove that you've worked a full time job or something - but if everything is public/shared/rented - what would the point of currency be?

  • Is everything really shared equally? I thought that in the worker's paradise there was such a super abundance that everyone could have as much as they wanted without worrying about their neighbor's overindulgence. – emory Nov 4 '17 at 9:51
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    In worker's paradise you don't need to schedule a boat, there just exists a boat at the time and place you want it. – emory Nov 4 '17 at 9:51
  • If you have to work a full time job, then it is not a "worker's paradise." – emory Nov 4 '17 at 9:53
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    In workers' paradise, boat takes you out. – Bob Stein Nov 4 '17 at 13:20
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    Also consider checking the philosophy regarding the notion of private property and personal property. This is extremely relevant from the point of view of Anarchism and is a very common misconception (yet another) people seem to have about these systems. – armatita Nov 6 '17 at 9:25
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Officially no; in some systems possibly yes; and in practice yes.

By currency in the term of legal tender, a fully-communist system should not have currency for the reasons that you point out. That is how the system is designed. Private property is completely abolished.

In some systems that are/were considered communist (depends who answers), the Soviet Union had and Venezuela and Cuba have currency. Some consider Venezuela socialist, not communist. Some consider Venezuela communist - whether we agree or disagree, it comes down to a person's view. Some consider Cuba communist. Still, some may disagree with these views that they are/are not socialist/communist and they both had/have currency. You can even buy old Soviet currency at some places.

By currency in terms of an exchange of value, in practice, yes currency exists. If you know how to produce your own food, even if there's a shortage of food, you may be able to have more access to resources than others without their knowing it. Just like money is not evenly distributed in systems, skill isn't either. Skill is private property and this cannot be redistributed, especially when it's not known.

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    USSR wasn't communist in the meaning that they had communism as state model - they certainly did not. It was communist in the sense that they were ruled by Communist Party that wanted to build communism - somewhere far in the future, no one knows when. USSR was socialist, and surely had currency (apart from brief period of "war communism" in 1918-1921 where having currency wouldn't do you much good and sometimes got you shot, and resources were allocated mostly by conquest and central planning. Soviets abandoned it very quickly though). – StasM Nov 3 '17 at 0:24
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    Neither USSR nor Venezuela were communist in any way shape or form, even on paper. The constitution officially called them socialist, the actual form of the state was socialist. – user4012 Nov 3 '17 at 1:35
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    I was born in soviet satellite state. I wouldn't call USSR socialist even. Economy was more like "state-owned-capitalism" whereas politic-wise it was dictatorship. – el.pescado Nov 3 '17 at 8:31
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    You need a citation for implying that some consider Venezuela as communist. – gerrit Nov 3 '17 at 11:34
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    The third paragraph starts with a falsehood and then tries to justify it. It doesn't really add anything to the answer though. I suggest removing it entirely. The rest of the answer is great. +1 if you edit. Just kudos otherwise. – user16214 Nov 3 '17 at 19:43
30

Engels wrote:

Finally, when all capital, all production, all exchange have been brought together in the hands of the nation, private property will disappear of its own accord, money will become superfluous, and production will so expand and man so change that society will be able to slough off whatever of its old economic habits may remain.

That pretty definitively means Marxism Communism is not expected to have money once mature.

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    It should be noted that in this context, private property referred to means of production. Nowhere did Engels mean you can't own a photograph of your daughter with no production value. – gerrit Nov 3 '17 at 11:34
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In a true communist society (which has never existed above the commune level), individuals would own nothing. Society would own everything. There would be no need for currency.

From each according to ability. Each individual would be assigned tasks and expected to complete them. It's much how salaried personnel work. Each person would be responsible to that person's supervisor for getting work. That supervisor would in turn be responsible for the production of the team to the supervisor's supervisor. So on and so forth until some supervisor (who might be called a minister or cabinet secretary or something else) is responsible to society.

You wouldn't have to prove that you worked. Everyone works. If you didn't work, your supervisor would come and tell you to work. What happens if you refuse? Theory remains vague on that point, which is part of why we've never had a real communist society.

To each according to need. So you would go to a supplier and demonstrate a need. Again, how that works is a bit undefined. But someone, would determine for your individual case if you needed e.g. a package of toilet paper. Using too much? Perhaps they might ask you to consult a doctor for diagnosis.

Again, if you work as e.g. a cable technician, this process will be familiar. You go to the supply clerk and ask for cable fasteners. The supply clerk looks on the computer and sees if you are on schedule. If you are using too many, the supply clerk may refer you to someone else. You can then explain why you need more than most people.

This kind of stuff works at the corporate level because if a company does it badly, another company can do it better and therefore more cheaply. We use money to give people control over that. My job pays me money which I then pay to companies so that they can pay their employees. If one company is inefficient, they raise their prices. I switch to a different company. The first company goes out of business (assuming most others switch too). The surviving companies expand, hiring many of the workers of the bankrupt company.

Communism (and government in general) has been less successful about coming up with a replacement for that process. National democracy doesn't work for things that are inputs to other products. Too many people will know nothing about the issue. You need something controlled more locally to the industry involved. But what about things that are end products? They are consumed nationally even if produced locally. How to balance the national consumer interest with the local production interest?

The free market response is to allow each individual to control their own consumption and production. The combined decisions of everyone form the market. Communism has yet to develop a practical replacement that works.

The result is that in practice, every communist government (e.g. the Soviet Union) has still had currency. So they haven't been true communist societies as envisioned by Engels, et. al.

Perhaps the answer is that Engels was wrong in how to achieve his goals. Perhaps the true system that meets the goals of communism is the one used by Denmark. Denmark has money and private property, but it also has a substantial welfare state. And many services are provided out of tax money rather than through purely private transactions. Or as hybrids. Individual transactions subsidized by the government. It's not clear that Engels would agree though. And Denmark does not think of itself as a communist system.

Perhaps the real answer is that the theoretical model of communism is impossible to implement. A new model would have to be proposed. Since it hasn't yet, we can't really say if it would have currency or not.

In my opinion, Denmark is closer to meeting the goals of communism than any actual communist state. I.e. the poorest person in Denmark enjoys more access to resources than the average person in the Soviet Union did. So if you throw out how Engels, Marx, et. al. thought that communism would work and instead set a variety of measures, Denmark's system outperforms any actual implementations of communism. So Denmark may better represent the "victory of the proletariat" than any communist country.

  • I think most communists (certainly Engels) would call it a process. Denmark may be further advanced in this direction than most, but I think it is premature to call it true communist. – user9389 Nov 2 '17 at 19:34
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    yeah i don't know how any serious person could say that denmark is communist, or that from their policies we should assume that communism is their goal. – Justin Beagley Nov 2 '17 at 19:46
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    "Socialism" and "Communism" are not even remotely the same thing, but especially Libertarians tend to confuse or conflate them. – Shadur Nov 2 '17 at 22:29
  • Actually it did exist in a communist society one level above commune. Israeli Kibbutzes were a communist society each with a few hundreds members. In the beginning, and to some degree even today, members were expected to contribute to their best and get all their needs, money was used when necessary for example to buy goods outside of the Kibbutz. In modern Kibbutzes members get some kind of personal allowance, and sometimes a budget to buy food in the Kibbutz grocery, but all their basic needs are taken care of. – Rsf Nov 3 '17 at 8:38
  • @shadur Actually that's not very accurate (or at the least exaggerated). There are notable similarities / overlaps between the two terms, particularly common ownership of means of production. The meanings of both terms have both changed a lot over time with lots of overlaps, and even swapping places with one another. E.g. see here (hit Ctrl-F and type the word "communism" and read the etymology section with that word highlighted). – JBentley Nov 3 '17 at 17:15
5

There are different ways it can be imagined, however, in the USSR, where I spent my childhood, at least while I was growing up, the permeating ideas as they were presented to children ran approximately thus:

  1. When "true full communism" is achieved it will be a post-scarcity world. Everyone will be able to afford anything material (I presume within reason, although it was never specified). And no, money would not be needed.

This was supposed to happen due to ever more increasing work productivity and heavy mechanization (later on robotization) of all enterprises, among other things.

I think I read somewhere that in the 50ies or 60ies Khruschev promised that in 20 years time "we would be living in communism", however, obviously this never got nearer and by the end of 70ies it was an underground joke.

  1. Difference between socialism (in which the USSR considered it lived) and communism in common terms was usually expressed with two slogans:

"In socialism, from each according to his ability, to each according to his work"

"In communism, from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"

  1. The main idea to support all this was that the human nature would change, often unspecified how, but generally there was a perception that this is happening all the time, because of the ongoing education in true communism spirit; this change would be helped by material abundance (I do not remember, perhaps, it was Marx's thesis that if you change the material environment of man, you change him). This changed human (a true communist) would have no moral flaws and thus would also implicitly not be greedy, hedonistic or overindulgent in material goods.

There were a number of articles and fiction during the various periods of the USSR, which discussed how people would be living in communism, those I have seen, as far as I remember, describe communism without any money and any need for it.

Update:

Yes, it seems also to have ran close to Marx's depiction of communism:

From each according to his ability to each according to his needs:

Marx delineated the specific conditions under which such a creed would be applicable—a society where technology and social organization had substantially eliminated the need for physical labor in the production of things, where "labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want".[12] Marx explained his belief that, in such a society, each person would be motivated to work for the good of society despite the absence of a social mechanism compelling them to work, because work would have become a pleasurable and creative activity. Marx intended the initial part of his slogan, "from each according to his ability" to suggest not merely that each person should work as hard as they can, but that each person should best develop their particular talents.

4

Even in a completely communist society, with no private ownership, money can still serve a purpose of regulating consumption of luxuries.

Imagine a communist community, where members own nothing and have no economical connections to the outside world. They get all they need, not all they want. For example, they want vacations.

The community can afford, say, one vacation week per year per person (pre-paid in an all inclusive hotel, so you don't need any money). Alternatively it can afford 10 dinner&movie nights.

A simple way to manage it fairly is to give each member 10 'vacation points' per year, and let members spend them as they wish.

These points are no different from money. The community can keep track of them in a file, or can give physical tokens to represent them, which are currency.

Note that no capital is ever owned by the members, despite the use of money.

  • sure - but in this sense, money doesn't mean the same thing as it does under capitalism. it's not a measurement of 'if you have this much money, you have the privilege of buying this' (capitalism) - currency under communism would be more of 'we can't allow someone to come in and eat all of the chicken' - it would be a method of organizing how things are rationed. Not whether something gets rationed or not depending on how much money you've earned. – Justin Beagley Nov 2 '17 at 20:06
  • That's exactly the question that I wanted to post (+1) - rationing of resources, where pieces of paper are as good a way as any of organizing things. If we posit that not everyone can have everything, these pieces of paper represent "choice" of which resources you want to have. – Mawg Nov 4 '17 at 9:07
  • Why would someone living in a worker's paradise want a "vacation?" In a worker's paradise every day is a holiday. – emory Nov 4 '17 at 9:48
  • @emory, If every day is a holiday, people will want a boring day at the office. – ugoren Nov 4 '17 at 17:00
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    This is socialism, not communism. – Anixx Nov 6 '17 at 2:49
1

Not going into details of defining what communism is or should be and taking the assumptions @Justin Beagley gave, I'd like to give some real life examples from eastern Europe under socialism (we may assume period of 1950-1989) - that I think would be interesting in scope "Everything is rationed out equally" rule.

  1. System of exchangable coupons existed. Coupons (paper document, which could be exchanged for a certain type of good) were issued to citizens by public authorities and had some characterstics of fiat currency - they had no material values themselves but had an exchange function.

So instead of rationing everything out equally, which would be logistically impossible, we could say that special type of currency was issued.

  1. Coupons existed along with fiat currency, however there were types of (scarce) goods that could not be bought with fiat currency. Examples of such goods were oranges or chocolate.

So we could say that public authorities tried to give equal access to goods (but of course it was the authorities fault that most kinds of goods we have today were not accessible).

  1. Possesion of foreign currency was forbidden and penalized (even death penalty could be sentenced for trading currencies).

So we could say that authorities brutally enforced that only one currency existed in the system, a currency that they could control (so no one could possibly be better of than others).

Going back to question: what would the point of currency be? - I think that:

a. logistic issues (some types of goods would be impossible to ration and we would need some form of exchange tool)

b. Control over the flow of goods - currency is an effective tool and given that currency was abolished, people would probably set up a new one pretty quickly (not being controlled by authorities and therefore not ensuring that everything is rationed out equally).

PS. I'm not an adherent of Communism and I will never be

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