Many bitcoiners are individualists and libertarians with little or no support for socialist agenda. However, the cryptocurrency can also be perceived as a tool for creating new world based on social solidarity.

Bitcoin has been ostensibly presented as a tool to help the unbanked population of the third world. But are these hopes justified? Brett Scott, the author of the working paper created for the UN Research Institute for Social Development, carefully examines both pro-bitcoin and anti-bitcoin narratives. Cryptocurrency supporters claim that bitcoin facilitates cross-border remittances in developing countries and small-scale international trade, can serve as a quasi-bank account for unbanked, providing financial services to those who in ordinary life do not have any access to them, and even be used as a replacement money in countries where national currencies are unstable.

However, critics argue that in fact bitcoin has not proven itself very useful to people in poor countries. Sure, it can help some, particularly those who already have education and money and wish to bypass weak local institutions. But it “does little to empower the broader social majority who remain reliant on the existing systems” and can make their life even worse if it succeeds in undermining these systems.

Moreover, according to some critics, the whole bitcoin discourse has some “neolocolonial” tinges: “it is imagined that the problems of people in ‘poorer countries’ would be solved by the optimistic entrepreneurial drive of American Stanford graduates.” Bitcoin is certainly an alternative, but what does it bring along – a profitable technological solution preserving the current unequal economic system or a creation of new institutions based on principles of social solidarity?

According to the author, individualist libertarians see the bitcoin technology, all with blockchain and smart contracts, “not just as a way to stop abusive people who control central institutions, but as a way to once-and-for-all resolve the problem of how to establish contractual relationships between untrustworthy human beings who seek out their self-interest.” He offers an opposing view: blockchain as a base for non-hierarchical solidarity-based systems. Distributed ledgers, according to Scott, “offer a vision of large-scale egalitarian self-organization far beyond the scale of ordinary anarchist attempts at building cooperative communes.”

Scott’s paper comes as a part of a broader discussion whether bitcoin is there for the triumph of capitalism or socialism. An article published by the news outlet of the French Communist Party calls the changes brought in by digital technologies, peer-to-peer networks, bitcoin and blockchain “revolutionary” but it is hesitant to conclude if this revolution would bring any good to the working masses. For instance, from the point of view of the author, such services as Uber are “digital predators” destroying wage earners. The only hope, according to the article, is “the resistance that organizes itself around cooperative platforms and the fight of workers who participate in such platforms for their rights.”

Another leftist view of bitcoin was proposed in an article published 11 February in a Huffington Post blog. The author, Eleanor Moss, suggests that bitcoin can be used as a tool to build meritocracy. Right now, according to her, however talented you can be, too many things depend on your background. And the main reason of disparity is money. Proposals for a “basic income” voiced by such countries as Finland or Switzerland are not really practical because governments can print as much money as they as they wish. On the contrary, the supply of bitcoins is finite and that is why the cryptocurrency is an ideal tool of social justice. Ms Moss believes that distributing equal amount of bitcoins to every person in the world can provide for their basic needs and give them real equal opportunities.


Alexey Tereshchenko