Friday, December 20, 2013

D. H. Lawrence and the abolition of money

From the Winter 1985-6 issue of the World Socialist

The novelist and poet, D. H. Lawrence, who died in 1930, was born one hundred years ago, on 11 September, 1885. He was not a socialist and did not profess to be one, but there can be no doubt that he possessed some excellent ideas about what was wrong with the money-wages-profit system and what sort of society would be fitter for humans to live in.

Certain rather foolish literary gentlemen and superficial Leftists have described Lawrence as a fascist. There is no evidence to support this claim, and we would argue that it is a label mainly put about by Stalinists who resented Lawrence for having been a non-conservative who was totally opposed to the state-capitalist dictatorship of the Russian Empire. In the 1930s to have taken up such a position, even if you were in favour of social transformation, meant that the so-called Communists would call you a fascist in the hope of discrediting you. In the case of D. H. Lawrence, who wrote explicitly about why he opposed fascism, the label struck and the smear has no doubt led many people to dismiss the social and political context of his poetry. To do so is to dismiss some of the most forcefully revolutionary poems ever written in English, a selection of which we publish below. They were written in 1929 and are taken from the second volume of Lawrence's selected poems published by Heinemann (the book is deceptively called Pansies, but we can assure you that it is not about flowers).

Why did Lawrence take up some of the ideas expressed in these poems? Reading them, one might think that he was acquainted with the Socialist Party of Great Britain, but there is no evidence to show that he was. More likely, Lawrence picked up the socialist content of his thinking as a result of visiting the home of his girlfriend until 1912, Louise Burrows, whose father was a committed socialist who possessed the socialist writings of William Morris and spent his time talking with Lawrence about the case for socialism whenever the young writer visited his house. The connection between William Morris and D. H. Lawrence is rarely made, and shallow critics would have it that the former was a romantic revolutionary while the latter was a fascistic reactionary (both utterly mistaken observations): in fact, it will be seen from the poems published here that Lawrence too shared a passion to change the insane society of capitalism, and that, if anything, his poetry was more expressive in its simplicity. Moreover, it is known that he had read Morris' News From Nowhere, and was inspired by its depiction of a socialist society. 


Money is our madness, our vast collective madness.

And of course, if the multitude is mad
The individual carries his own grain of insanity around with him.

I doubt if any man living hands out a pound note without a pang;
And a real tremor, if he hands out a ten-pound note.
We quail, money makes us quail.
It has got us down, we grovel before it in strange terror.
And no wonder, for money has a fearful cruel power among men.

But it is not money we are terrified of,
it is the collective money - madness of mankind.
For mankind says with one voice: How much is he worth ?
Has he no money? Then let him eat dirt, and go cold -

And if I have no money, they will give me a little bread,
So I do not die,
but they will make me eat dirt for it .
I shall have to eat dirt, I shall have to eat dirt
if I have no money

It is that I am afraid of.
And that fear can become a delirium.
It is fear of my money-mad fellow-man.

We must have some money
To save us from eating dirt.

And this is wrong.

Bread should be free,
shelter should be free,
fire should be free
to all and anybody, all and anybody, all over the world.

We must regain our sanity about money
before we start killing one another about it .
It’s one thing or the other.

Kill Money

Kill money, put money out of existence .
It is a perverted instinct, a hidden thought
which rots the brain, the blood , the bones, the stones , the soul.

Make up your mind about it all:
that society must establish itself upon a different principle
from the one we’ve got now.

We must have the courage of mutual trust.
We must have the modesty of simple living.
And the individual must have his house, food and fire all free—like a bird.

O! Start A Revolution

O! start a revolution, somebody!
not to get the money
but to lose it forever.

O! start a revolution, somebody!
not to install the working classes
but to abolish the working classes forever
and have a world of men.


The wages of work is cash.
The wages of cash is want more cash.
The wages of want more cash is vicious competition.
The wages of vicious completion is - the world we live in .

The work-cash-want circle is the viciousest circle
that ever turned men into fiends.

Earning a wage is a prison occupation
and a wage - earner is a sort of gaol-bird
Earning a salary is a prison overseer’s job,
a gaoler instead of a gaol-bird.

Living on your income is strolling grandly outside the prison
in terror lest you have to go in .And since the work-prison covers
almost every scrap of living earth, you stroll up and down
on a narrow beat, about the same as a prisoner taking his exercise .

This is called universal freedom.


Why have money?
Why have a financial system to strangle us all in its octopus arms?
Why have industry?
Why have the industrial system?
Why have machines, that we only have to serve?
Why have a soviet, that only wants to screw us all in as parts of the machine?
Why have working classes at all, as if men only embodied jobs?
Why not have men as men, and the work as merely part of the game of life?

True, we’ve got all these things
industrial and financial systems, machines and soviets, working
But why go on having them, if they belittle us ?
Why should we be belittled any longer?

How Beastly The Bourgeois Is

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species -

Presentable, eminently presentable -
shall I make you a present of him ?

Isn’t he handsome? isn’t he healthy? Isn’t he a fine specimen?
doesn’t he look the fresh clean englishman, outside ?
Isn’t if god’s own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball ?
wouldn’t you like to be like that, well off, and quite the thing ?

Oh, but wait !
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another man’s
let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life face him with
a new demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue .
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species -
Nicely groomed like a mushroom
standing there so sleek and erect and eyeable -
and like a fungus, living on the remains of bygone life
sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life than his own .

And even so, he’s stale, he’s been there too long .
Touch him, and you’ll find he’s all gone inside
just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow
under a smooth skin and an upright appearance.

Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
rather nasty -
How beastly the bourgeois is!

Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp England
what a pity they can’t all be kicked over
like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly
into the soil of England.

The Mosquito Knows

The mosquito knows full well, small as he is
he’s a beast of prey.
But after all
he only takes his bellyful,
he doesn’t put my blood in the bank.

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Hat tip to Alan J for originally transcribing the poems.