KARL Marx advocated for a classless, stateless, money-less Communist society – so what would he have thought of Bitcoin?
The libertarian case for cryptocurrency is well laid out. Take out the middle man, remove the role of the state, and, for many investors, cash in.
But, as previously discussed on Redaction, there’s a strong case for the Left to harness blockchain technology for the public good.
[READ MORE: Cryptocommunism? Why Bitcoin isn’t only for right wing libertarians]
In many ways, the question is unfair. Fiat was the only realistic currency in his time (and for centuries after, for that matter) – but it’s the technology that’s interesting to think about.
Dr Matthew McKeever, an executive associate editor at Inquiry who wrote ‘The Socialist Case for Cryptocurrency’ in 2019, told Redaction Politics that a modern-day Marx would have engaged with blockchain.
“What is certain is that Marx would have been paying extremely close to Bitcoin (and MMT). Marx would be reading the FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) minutes, nerding out about the repo market, and so on.
“More generally, I think it’s not at all implausible to think that a contemporary Marx would be spending a lot of his time on monetary policy and less on class struggle and labour, simply because the ‘financialisation’ of the economy leftist economic commentators talk about is surely an extremely important feature of contemporary economic/political life.
“More generally, if I had one thing I’d want to tell leftists, the sort of leftists who I count among my friends, it would be: pay attention to money! Even if you have to hold your nose, read the econ textbooks! It’s what Marx would have wanted.
“In a sentence: while it’s too difficult to say, Marx would definitely have been interested in Bitcoin and alternative monetary theories, and left wing politics would be invigorated were more interested in the topic.”
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency have a lot of aspects that may endear them to Marxists.
First, they’re decentralised. Like the libertarian argument outlined above, this means the central bank is cut out. Instead, people who join the Bitcoin network become the customers and owners of the bank and mint, as Nathaniel Popper pointed out in Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story.
This also means it’s an inherently more democratic currency – tracked and controlled by the people, preferably in the interests of the people.
Secondly, it’s limited. The fact there are only 21 million Bitcoin in existence means that the chaos of debt, subprime mortgage investments and general economic chaos may not occur at all. Would the 2008 financial crash really have happened if the world ran on cryptocurrency?
There are, naturally, problems that immediately crop up. Inequity already exists with Bitcoin; how many working class people struggling to pay bills own a fraction of one?
There’s certainly debate among the ‘cryptoleftist’ community on the matter.
Last month the Blockchain Socialist told us that that Mark Alizart, the author of ‘Cryptocommunism’, said that likely would not have cared for Bitcoin as he was sceptical of all the other alternative money proponents in his day – but he thinks that he would be interested in Ethereum because of it’s use of “gas” for transaction fees.
And Ben Arc, who has been pushing mainstream leftist economists such as Yanis Varoufakis to engage with Bitcoin, told Redaction Politics that “if Marx could overlook the superficial trading-centric news cycle”, he would naturally be drawn to Bitcoin.
He added: “Marx believed a good money should be a commodity like gold, he would also very much approve of decentralised control, and likely share my interest in how the consensus process in bitcoin, and technology like digital keypairs, could be applied to decentralising decision making in broader mode of production such as a cooperative.”
Dr Matthew McKeever is an academic philosopher, currently working as an executive associate editor at Inquiry, & as a research assistant for The University of Oslo’s ConceptLab.
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