INTRODUCTION TO NAM

Kenta Ohji


NAM (New Associationist Movement) is an association of individuals who take the task of organizing effective and non-violent counter-actions to capitalism and the State. Founded by Kojin Karatani in Japan last year, NAM proposes a simple theoretical schema for the critique of capitalism, nation and the State, as well as a practical form of activism in several spheres. Currently, NAM numbers about 600 members, each of whom belongs to at least three sections, according to social category, region and main-interest. Members of diverse ages come from all over Japan and there are twelve regional sections as including that of overseas. The sections of main interest are agriculture, architecture, art, computer, cooperative, education, environment, gender and sexuality, labor, law, LETS, minority, third-world, theory and welfare, etc.

From the debates and discussions made in each section by way of mailing-lists, some concrete action projects have been launched: a project of the education section is now waiting for the legal registration for establishment of New School; a project of the agriculture section is working on the boycott of genetically-modified products, and the third world section is preparing the immigrant workersí association. Hihyokukan, [Critical Space], a philosophical quarterly edited by two members of NAM, Kojin Karatani and Akira Asada, has been launched by a new publishing company, founded with the view towards a future transformation into a cooperative of producers. But at this time, the main project of NAM is "Q project", formed to establish an internet-run LETS (Local Exchange Trading System): Ippei Hozumi, a system engineer and member of NAM, has already developed the systemís prototype (WINDS). We consider the creation of multi-LETS networks as the first step toward the development of a non-capitalist market based on exchanges without the creation of surplus or the fetishization of money.

The phrase "market economy" is often used to conceal the reality of capitalist accumulation behind it. Capital consists of the movement from M (money) to C (commodity) to Mí(more money). From a skewed perspective, it seems to consist only of separate individual exchanges, C-M or Mí-C. Those who worship the market economy see only these isolated moments, and are blind to the way in which exchanges are carried out only as components of the movement of Capital. The self-reproduction and self-expansion of Capital through the movement MĖC-Mí is possible only when surplus value can be appropriated. The surplus value appropriated by industrial capital arises from the differences in value that exist when workers buy back the (direct or indirect) products of their own labor. But this requires the creation across time of new value systems through technological innovation (Marx's "relative surplus value"). Because Capital constantly travels the world over in search of cheap labor, surplus value cannot be thought of in terms of an individual corporation or a single nation-state. It must be seen as the total surplus value in global capitalism. Accordingly, surplus value itself remains invisible at the level of a single corporation or state, as if it were locked away in a black box. The only form that people can know empirically is profit. A "profit" that is inseparable from its by products: class divisions, wars, pollution.

The secret of Capital lies in the process M-C-Mí - consequently, the phase of resistance to Capital should shift from production to distribution, from workers-as-producers to workers-as-consumers. In its movement, Capital encounters two critical moments: when commodified labor power is purchased and when the products are sold back to the workers. If a failure occurs in either of these moments, Capital is unable to appropriate surplus value - it is unable to function as capital. Workers can counteract capital at either of these two phases. In the first, they can adopt the strategy proposed by Antonio Negri: "Donít work" - which can mean nothing other than, "Donít sell your labor power! Donít perform waged labor under capitalism!" Or in the second, they can follow Mahatma Gandhiís suggestion: "Donít buy the products of capitalism!" Both of these "boycotts" are carried out from positions in which laborers can become active "subjects." But to make it possible for workers-as-consumers to choose not to work and not to buy, an alternative form must be available that can allow them to work and buy in order to live. An exscendent form of activism that aims to go beyond the limits of capitalism by creating non-capitalist forms of production and consumption - such as the non-capitalist market founded on the Local Exchange Trading System and the formation of cooperatives of producers and consumers in that market - is an indispensable complement to the immanent activism that takes place within the capitalist economy. The immanent activism centered on boycotts is also necessary to help push capitalist corporations to reorganize themselves into non-capitalist forms.

Marx sought to unveil the secret of money. But what sort of counter-measures become possible by his analysis of money-form? Engels and Lenin sought to abolish capitalism through state regulation and through a centralized planned economy, which resulted in the abolition of the market economy of free exchanges between individuals and in the withering away of freedom. They overlooked the specific function that characterizes money. Money is not simply an indicator of value; it actively coordinates the value systems of all products and production as they are exchanged through it. Money functions as the unavoidable medium of this system of relations - it plays an indispensable role. The superiority of market economies over planned economies is due to this function of money; planned economies which hope to establish their value systems without money can't but result in an enormous concentration of power in the hands of the State. In the capitalist market economy, of course, a substanceless money becomes substantialized as a principal object of desire, which results in money fetishism and the movement of capital as the self-reproduction of money. But to abolish the market economy on the grounds that its money transforms into capital is to throw out the baby with the bath water. To echo the antinomy of Marx's Capital: we canít live with money, and we canít live without it. The question is how to overcome the money-form while simultaneously conserving a market that permits free exchanges between individuals.

LETS (Local Exchange Trading System), a proposal initiated by Michael Linton, creates a multilateral balance-of-payments system, under which each participant maintains an individual account. The goods and services that each participant can provide are listed in a catalog, which members use to carry out voluntary exchanges through negotiation of the price; the results of the exchanges are recorded in the accounts of the participants involved. The currency used in LETS is different from the forms of cash issued by various national central banks, in that with each exchange, the currency is issued anew by the purchaser. The sum total of debits and credits in all the accounts of all the participants remains at zero, based on the principle of mutual cancellation between buyer and seller. Although this system may undergo future technical revisions, its basic concept already holds the key to resolving the antinomy of money.

Comparisons with the reciprocal gifts carried out within a closed community and with the capitalist economy highlight the distinguishing features of LETS. LETS resembles a system of reciprocal gifts within a closed community, but its exchanges could occur across a wide area and involve complete strangers (especially when administered on the internet) and the value of goods and services exchanged is not predetermined by communal system of value, but by the negotiation of individual seller and buyer. In this sense, it differs from a closed system of gifts and more closely resembles the characteristics of a market system. But it also differs from a capitalist market economy because LETS currency cannot function as capital. This is not just because it does not bear interest, but also because of the principle of zero-sum (mutual cancellation between assets and expenditures) for the system as a whole. No matter how actively exchanges are carried out, the final result will always be a canceling out of all currency.

This suggests an answer to the inherent antinomy of the money form: under the LETS system, money simultaneously exists and does not exist. LETS currency functions as a general equivalent, but only as something that enables the relation between services and goods. It has no independent existence beyond that relation, consequently, money fetishism cannot arise. When currency exists only as the condition of possibility for exchange, it becomes meaningless to hoard it, nor is there any need to fear mounting debt. LETS currency enables a relational system of exchange for goods and services, but does reduce it to "commensurability." This means that LETS realizes the possibility of exchange between qualitatively different goods and services without enclosing them in one system of value which is regulated by money in capitalist market. As each member is capable of issuing the currency as s/he wants, and as the price of the goods and services could vary according to each negotiation between individual buyer and seller. In the non capitalist market of LETS, a good or service could have different price according to each exchange that takes place, and the members themselves create the terms of the exchange - the capacity of evaluation (of creating a standard of value) remains in the hands of buyer and seller.

LETS is well-suited to the principles of our association in NAM, which are not merely economic but also ethical. While a reciprocal exchange system within a closed community requires accepting perpetually the jurisdiction of that community that issues the currency, the social contract implemented under LETS is similar to what Proudhon called "associations" based on the contract between individuals. All individual members are free to leave the LETS network, just as they are also free to belong simultaneously to more than one LETS network (multi-LETS), a development that will be facilitated through an internet system of exchanges. Unlike the single currency issued by a nation-state, the currency in LETS is plural and heterogeneous. And, most importantly, unlike other alternative local currencies, in LETS each individual member has the right to issue currency (in the form of entries into her or his account). As one of the sovereign rights of a state is the right to issue currency, this amounts to a popular sovereignty that goes beyond lip service: it genuinely makes each individual into a sovereign of currency. In this sense, LETS is not simply an alternative local currency, nor simply an economic movement, it crosses into a political dimension.

Since LETS is situated in the distribution and circulation phase, workers as consumers can take the initiative with it. Whereas ordinary cooperatives of producers/consumers are immediately forced into competition with capitalist corporations, LETS is structured to enable them to develop freely and under the self-determination of the individual participants. And itís also well-suited to a gradual creation of a non-capitalist market, as it initially allows a mixed use with national currency (for instance, 50% of the price of a commodity could be paid with LETS, while the other half could be paid with the national currency). Through this form of incremental changes, LETS permits the development of a non capitalist-market to grow out of the midst of the capitalist market.

But no matter how much LETS expands, by itself it cannot halt the self-reproduction of Capital. It remains in the end a complement to the market economy, and its impact is limited. To actualize the potential of LETS requires a movement to be linked with counteractions in various forms against the trinity of Capitalism-Nation-State. An exscendent activism outside the limits of capitalism is insufficient without counteractions immanent to the capitalist economy. The two forms of activism can meet in the distribution phase of the market, where workers take up the position of consumers. We do not want to deny the necessity of traditional forms of counter-acts against capitalism such as labor movements based on workersí unions, but it is also clear that these movements themselves cannot stop the movement of Capital as long as they are separated from each other and opposed to its patron in the determined relation of production. But, as Marx said, when the worker appears in the position of a consumer, he is emancipated from all his determinations as a worker. In other words, it is in this position that the worker appears as an individual subject, and that s/he could actively counter-act the movement of Capital (M-C-Mí), and it is from this position that the worker could seek an escape from the cycle of the self-reproduction of Capital. The counter-acts that we propose to organize against capital must be based on the ethical and subjective choice of individuals.

As a young movement, NAM is developing gradually, sometimes in small steps, but effectively. It is not our aim to expand the organization of NAM itself; the only thing of importance is that "NAM-like" counter-actions take root in reality, in diverse places, in diverse forms, and that together, these find a way of communicating with and linking to each other through mutual exchanges and cooperation, thus extending the sphere of non-capitalist and non-statist society.


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