A few weeks ago, I came across a rather heavily commented on Facebook post regarding the Venus Project in my Facebook news-feed. I have heard on the Zeitgeist/Venus movement for some time now, but I had never really looked into it seriously. What motivated me to launch a more thorough investigation was a comment posted about how ‘airtight’ the arguments are in favor of the Venus Project. This commenter mentioned how he had never seen anyone present any solid arguments against the Venus Project. Case closed apparently. Such self-assured comments are suspicious because I have never seen any social science debate that is ‘airtight.’ Social science debates normally are quite passionate and quite divisive and are not normally settled in any way. Consequently, I launched this investigation into the Venus Project. I wanted to see whether this ‘airtight’ claim could stand up to a thorough criticism. My conclusion is that it cannot be considered ‘airtight’ because the arguments are all unconvincing. There are also many issues I have with the logic of their arguments, and with the historical accuracy of what they say. I also wanted to see if I could figure out the ideology driving this project. My conclusion is that it is a form of global communism mixed in with anarchist rhetoric, or some sort of global anarcho-communism system.
The Venus Project flatly denies my claims that they have anything to do with communism. Here are some quotes from their website where they explicitly reject my linking of their project to communism, to Karl Marx, etc.
This first quote is the first half of their answer to Question 55 “How does The Venus Project Compare with Communism?”
Communism being similar to a resource-based economy or The Venus Project is an erroneous concept. Communism has money, banks, armies, police, prisons, charismatic personalities, social stratification, and is managed by appointed leaders. The Venus Project's aim is to surpass the need for the use of money. Police, prisons and the military would no longer be necessary when goods, services, healthcare, and education are available to all people.
This second is part of their answer to Question 54 “Is this what Karl Marx advocated?”
Although Marx was a brilliant man for his time, he did not foresee the methods and advantages of a high-tech resource-based economy. Communism used money and labor, had social stratification, and elected officials to maintain the communists' traditions. Most importantly, Communism did not eliminate SCARCITY nor did they have a blueprint or the methods for the production of abundance.
The global nature of this plan is stated explicitly in their answer to Question 2 entitled “What is a Resource-Based Economy?”
To transcend these limitations, The Venus Project proposes we work toward a worldwide, resource-based economy, in which the planetary resources are held as the common heritage of all the earth's inhabitants. The current practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant, counter-productive, and falls far short of meeting humanity's needs.
Simply stated, a resource-based economy utilizes existing resources - rather than money - to provide an equitable method of distribution in the most humane and efficient manner. It is a system in which all goods and services are available to everyone without the use of money, credits, barter, or any other form of debt or servitude.
One of the major problems is that the terms ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ and even the terms ‘communist’ and ‘socialist’ have historically had inconsistent meanings. Initially, these terms were all synonymous. However, over time, shades of difference in meaning of all of these four terms emerged. Part of the reason for this has to do with changes in tactical issues pertaining to how to implement communism or socialism. One view held that communism would come about inevitably and would be achieved in a manner independent of the wills of individuals. Another view held that communism had to be achieved by revolutionary means. A further view held that communism had to be achieved through parliamentary means because it was important that the public supported the cause. Moreover, further refinements in terminology differentiated between an early stage and a late stage with socialism being the early stage and with communism being the later stage. Further hairsplitting could be raised over whether a proposal should be classified as ‘interventionist’ or ‘petty bourgeois’ or whether it is legitimately communist or socialist. Furthermore, the history of communism and socialism is full of examples of one communist party accusing other parties of not being ‘true’ communists or being sellouts to capitalism.
To address these issues, I will try to add modifiers to my use of the terms socialism and communism. So for example, if I am alluding to revolutionary communism, I might add in a modifier such as the Bolshevik or Leninist or Sorel approach. My plan is to keep these terms as clearly differentiated as possible. This will not only cut down on confusion but it will also help classify what the Venus Project is and what it is definitely not.
Analysis of Question 55:
The Venus Project states that it is not communism because, unlike communism, the Venus Project does not have police, prisons, and military. All that has been proven is that the Venus Project is not planning for revolutionary communism. It opposes the Leninist Bolshevik brand of communism. The Venus Project openly rejects the George Sorel approach of ongoing bloody riots and violence. I conclude that the Venus Project is not revolutionary communism.
But this is insufficient proof for the Venus Project to go on to claim that their non-violence makes them non-communists. Take for example Ludwig von Mises’s 1947 work entitled Planned Chaos (which appears as an appendix to his larger treatise Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis.) Back then, the socialist authors that Mises was debating against said exactly the same thing the Venus Project says today. Mises writes on page 521 (Emphasis is mine.):
Socialism, they asserted, will bring true and full liberty and democracy. It will remove all kinds of compulsion and coercion. The state will “wither away.” In the socialist commonwealth of the future there will be neither judges and policemen nor prisons and gallows.
Of course, this 1947 quote does not conclusively prove that the Venus Project is socialist. Moreover, Mises does not specify which socialist authors he is alluding to in this quote so I cannot give any modifying phrase here. In fact, one could easily quote modern day anarcho-capitalists who vehemently attack the state as a tool of coercion and compulsion. This is not surprising given their openly anarchistic views as espoused especially by Murray Rothbard. Furthermore, one could also quote a classical liberal, such as Mises himself to support this claim. Mises said in Liberty and Property that, “Government is essentially the negation of liberty.” (Classical liberals call for the ‘minimal state’ that would be restricted to a narrow range of activities usually only the protection of life, liberty, and property.)
However, neither a classical liberal nor an anarcho-capitalist would ever advocate for the abandonment of money. The advocating for the elimination of money by the Venus Project is, however, a staple of communist literature. Here are three historical examples of communist experiments that all tried to eliminate money.
Murray Rothbard’s book, Economic Thought before Adam Smith, discussed, what he called the totalitarian communism of Munster. Munster in northwest Germany in the 1530s provides a nice historical lesson of an early attempt at money-less communism. From page 153 (Emphasis is mine.):
After two months of severe and unrelenting pressure, a combination of propaganda about the Christianity of abolishing private money, and threats and terror against those who failed to surrender, the private ownership of money was effectively abolished in Munster. The government seized all the money and used it to buy or hire goods from the outside world.
Rothbard’s essay entitled The Myth of Monolithic Communism points out the failure of the Soviet’s experiment with abolishing money. They quickly learned from experience that the plan to abolish money is impracticable even in a fairly economically backward nation, i.e., 1917 Russia. One has to wonder how this plan could ever be applied to an advanced capitalistic nation. (Emphasis is mine.)
When the Bolsheviks assumed power in late 1917, they tried to leap into full "communism" by abolishing money and prices, an experiment so disastrous (it was later dubbed "War Communism") that Lenin, always the supreme realist, beat a hasty retreat to a mere semisocialist system in the New Economic Policy (NEP).
Finally, in his book entitled Classical Economics, Murray Rothbard provides, on page 333, historical information on the Pol Pot attempt to abolish money in order to abolish the division of labor (i.e., specialization in production). To abolish the division of labor is also a rather typical Marxian theme mainly because capitalist production is based on the division of labor. (Emphasis is mine.)
Perhaps the closest approximation was the short-lived communist regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia which, in attempting to abolish the division of labour, managed to enforce the outlawry of money - so that for their tiny rations the populace was totally dependent upon the niggardly largesse of the communist cadre.
Obviously, this does not prove that the Venus Project will turn into the totalitarian dictatorships that appeared in Munster, in Bolshevik Russia, or in Pol Pot’s Cambodia. The Venus Project certainly could turn into a global totalitarian dictatorship especially because of their global common holding of property idea. The point is that historical examples do not prove future events. They do, however, suggest that communist regimes have a tendency to favor plans that will abolish money. A capitalist regime can never suggest a plan that would abolish money because money facilitates indirect exchange. Indirect exchange (i.e., trading goods and services for payment in money) exists because of the division of labor. The division of labor is specialization in production and so requires exchange between the different specialized producers. These exchanges are facilitated by the use of a medium of exchange, i.e., by money.
The Venus Project is correct when it asserts that communism tends to lead to social stratification. In Planned Chaos, page 506, Stalin’s regime suffered from the creation of a small ruling elite that lived very well while the masses of people lived in horrific poverty.
Stalin finds it necessary to explain to the vast majority of his subjects why their standard of living is extremely low, much lower than that of the masses in the capitalist countries and even lower than that of the Russian proletarians in the days of Czarist rule. He wants to justify the fact that salaries and wages are unequal, that a small group of Soviet officials enjoys all the luxuries modern technique can provide, that a second group, more numerous than the first one, but less numerous than the middle class in imperial Russia, lives in “bourgeois” style, while the masses, ragged and barefooted, subsist in congested slums and are poorly fed.
The Venus Project’s assertion that communist leaders are appointed is questionable. Lenin did not get appointed; he seized power from the Constituent Assembly at gunpoint (see Planned Chaos, p. 502). Stalin moreover eliminated his competitor, Trotsky, by forcing him to have to flee the country (see Planned Chaos, p. 514). Historically speaking, these communists are not appointed; they like to appoint themselves.
Analysis of Question 54:
Question 54 begins by asserting that Marx was a brilliant man. Given the historical context, this is probably a fair statement to make. In the Preface to the Second German Edition of Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, Mises (pages 5-6) points out that socialism was basically a dead philosophy by the middle of the nineteenth century and that Marx successfully resurrected it.
Thus, about the middle of the nineteenth century, it seemed that the ideal of Socialism had been disposed of. Science had demonstrated its worthlessness by means of strict logic and its supporters were unable to produce a single effective counter-argument. It was at this moment that Marx appeared.
Then, this Venus Project quote mentions that Marx’s major failure was that he did not anticipate a high-tech economy. However, this claim is contradicted by Rothbard’s discussion on pages 327 to 328 in his book Classical Economics. Although not technically from Marx, this quote is from Marx’s collaborator, Engels. Notice that Engels, like the Venus Project, links a discussion of the use of new technology with a discussion of the abolishment of scarcity and the creation of superabundance to satisfy the needs of everyone. (Emphasis is mine).
Furthermore, in 'The Principles of Communism', an essay written in late 1847 that became the first draft for the Communist Manifesto, Engels laid bare one of the crucial, usually implicit, assumptions of the communist society – that superabundance will have eliminated the problem of scarcity:
Private property can be abolished only when the economy is capable of producing the volume of goods needed to satisfy everyone's requirements...The new rate of industrial growth will produce enough goods to satisfy all the demands of society... Society will achieve an output sufficient for the needs of all members,
This superabundant production somehow will have been achieved by a wondrous technological progress that would eliminate the need for any division of labour.
The Venus Project laments the fact that communist failed to eliminate scarcity. Ironically, on page 54 (everything is 54 I guess in this section!), George Reisman, in is treatise entitled Capitalism, explains that it is impossible to eliminate scarcity. As he says, “The desire for goods will always remain far greater than the ability to produce them.” In his book, Young Lessons for the Young Economist, Robert P. Murphy that scarcity means that at any particular point in time we have limited resources but unlimited desires and so tradeoffs have to be made. Reisman does differentiate between pre-capitalistic (i.e., food, clothing, and other necessities) and capitalistic definition of scarcity (e.g. I do not want to take the bus, now I want a car). At first, I thought that maybe the Venus Project was using a pre-capitalistic definition of scarcity as opposed to the capitalistic definition and that a terminological issue existed. It is certainly possible to eliminate the pre-capitalistic version of scarcity. However, the Venus Project seems to go beyond the pre-capitalistic definition and wants to provide a superabundance of all goods. This then makes the wishes of the Venus Project unattainable. You cannot eliminate the capitalistic version of scarcity because the invention of any new technology creates even more desires on the part of individuals and so desires will always be greater than the ability to produce them.
To conclude my analysis of Question 54, the Venus Project said that communism did not have a plan for the creation of superabundance. This is not historically accurate. The revolutionary communists certainly had plans. The Soviet Union was notorious for having Five-Year Plans. It seems contradictory to me to claim that communism, which has always been about central planning, does not have any plans for abundance.
Analysis of Question 2:
Question 2 begins by admitting openly that the Venus Project is global communism. To abolish private ownership of the means of production is the essence of all socialist and communist plans (and interventionist plans as well.) Going back to Rothbard’s historical Munster example, from page 153 of Economic Thought before Adam Smith, we clearly see that communist experiments eliminate private property, want to redistribute everything equitably, and also plan to eliminate manual labor. (Emphasis is mine).
This compulsory communism and reign of terror was carried out in the name of community and Christian 'love'. All this communization was considered the first giant steps toward total egalitarian communism, where, as Rothmann put it, 'all things were to be in common, there was to be no private property and nobody was to do any more work, but simply trust in God'. The workless part, of course, somehow never arrived.
The Venus Project is global anarcho-communism. They certainly are not calling for revolutionary communism because of their views against violence and against government coercion that comes in the form of police and prisons. They are also not for the parliamentary version of socialism because they do not want any government at all (I took this fact from some of their other frequently asked questions—they explicitly state that they want to abolish all government). I suppose that this makes them orthodox Marxians—that is, they think that global communism is inevitable. Or in the Venus Project’s case, this new technological revolution is inevitable and so their global communist scheme is therefore inevitable. But they certainly are kidding themselves if they think they are not communists. They want to eliminate prices and money—that is pure communism. They want to hold all property in common—that is pure communism on a global scale. They want to distribute all goods equitably—that is communism. They want to somehow violate all known laws of economics and abolish scarcity—that is communism. They want to create superabundance through all this new radical technological innovation—that is communism. They want to eliminate manual labor—that is communism. Everything that they want is some variation of communism of ideology. Therefore, I conclude that the Venus Project is global communism and is most consistent with the orthodox Marxian version of the inevitable communism.