Friday, June 19, 2015

Letter From Europe: Money must go (1982)

From the September 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following article recently appeared in the Luxemburg journal, News Digest.

Those who follow the adventures of the spacewoman Axa in the Sun will remember that when in March she arrived in the City of Artisans the following conversation too place:
Artisan: You're hungry.
Axa: Yes, but I've no money to pay for food.
Artisan: Money? We never use it! Take what you want and eat!
Axa: If your people don't use money they must be happy.
Presumably Axa based this conclusion on her experience of other planets, such as Earth, where money is used and where you do go hungry of you don't have any. In any event she raises an interesting point: would we on Earth also be happy if we didn't use money?

I remember about ten years ago buying a paperback on Euston Station entitles Who Needs Money? The book so intrigued me that I contacted the author who was called, I think, Herbert Lomas. He told me that there was a conspiracy to prevent his idea of abolishing money getting out as his publisher had not printed enough copies of his book and wasn't advertising it properly. I put this down to the paranoia sometimes associated with people who have seen the Light and found the Truth and can't understand why others don't too. After all, the publisher did publish his idea and so did help to spread his idea.

But, conspiracy or no conspiracy, Bertie Lomas at least did not have to suffer the fate of one of his more illustrious precursors as an advocate of abolishing money. Sir Thomas More, the man who inspired the film A Man for All Seasons, had his head chopped off by Henry VIII, not, I agree, for advocating the abolition of money but for remaining loyal to the Pope of Rome, though I'm sure Henry found both these opinions equally obnoxious.

More, who has the unique distinction of having a place both in the Marxist Hall of Fame and as a Catholic Saint on the right hand of God, expressed his ideas in a book entitled (some would say appropriately) Utopia which was first published in Louvain in 1516. It was written in Latin so it can't have had much of a readership at the time, but it has since been translated into many languages and must be the most read book by someone arguing for the abolition of money. In fact since More introduced the word "Utopia" into English (and into most other languages too) a money less society can be regarded as the genuine, original Utopia.

But to return to our question: would we on Earth be happy if we didn't use money? Well, one group who on the face of it would have no reason to be happy would be those whose jobs depend on the existence of money. People who work for banks are an obvious example, but they are not alone. There are also those who work in insurance, in advertising and marketing, those who calculate our wages, pensions, family allowances and all other payments, those who issue, collect or punch holes in tickets, shopkeepers, shop assistants, tax inspectors, accountants, Securicor, salesmen and buyers of all kinds. In fact in an administrative and financial centre like the town of Luxemburg well over half the population must be directly dependent on work connected with the use of money for their livelihood.

Only a minority are actually engaged in the work of producing the useful things or of performing the useful services we need to live. I'm thinking of the street cleaners, the building workers, those in the Arbed factory in Dommeldange and those making lavatory bowls and urinals at Villeroy and Boch — though in More's Utopia even these latter would be out of a job since he suggested that chamber pots should rather be made from the gold which would no longer be needed as money.

I hasten to add that this is not meant as a criticism of those employed in these non-productive functions connected with money (my own job wouldn't be above such a criticism either). I'm merely noting a fact and am fully aware that people have to find work where they can since without a job, they would have no money and without money . . .

But if there's no money, how would you distribute goods and services? "Take what you want and eat", as the Artisan said to Axa. Which seems a good enough to me. After all, you would have thought it unchallengeable that food should be grown to be eaten and not to be stockpiled as butter mountains and wine lakes or worse destroyed — which is what happens today when food is produced to be sold for money.

So the alternative to money would not be a return to barter, nor even equal shares for all, but free access for all to what they needed to live and enjoy life. As in More's Utopia: "When the head of a household needs anything for himself or his family, he just goes to one of these shops and asks for it. And whatever he asks for, he's allowed to take away without any sort of payment, either in money or in kind. After all, why shouldn't he?" Because, some would no doubt reply, there'd be chaos, it would be worse than Harrods on the first day of the sales; people would grab more than they needed. Or would they?

I once heard a Hyde Park orator deal with this particular objection to a moneyless society. He pointed out that even today certain things are free, either completely like the air we breathe or at least at the time of use like the water from the taps in our homes, yet you don't see people going around hoarding air or water; we only use water when we need it for drinking or cooking or washing.

I can give you another example. Down in Vittel in the Vosges there are public drinking fountains from which you can draw without paying the same water for which you pay a ridiculous price after it has been put in bottles. The locals use these fountains regularly nut, once again, take any one time only as much as they need. Sir Thomas More realised the reason for this as long ago as 1516: "There's more than enough to go round, so there's no risk of his asking for more than he needs—for why should anyone want to start hoarding, when he knows he'll never have to go short of anything?"

But back to Hyde Park. A heckler interjected that if things were freely available there'd be no incentive to work so that the stores could not be kept  continuously stocked with plenty of what people needed; therefore a moneyless system couldn't work. Q.E.D. I can't remember how the orator dealt with this point, but it didn't appear to be a problem in the City of Artisans. There people worked because they liked working:
Axa: You work for fun, then, in this City of Artisans.
Artisan: Stupid to work for anything else! 
Why indeed work for any other reason if you've got the choice? Today most people work at boring jobs in offices and factories not because they like the work (masochism is only a minority deviation) but because . . . they need money.

If you think about it, the abolition of money would mean other changes too and the disappearance of a whole host of problems we have to put up with today. There'd be no inflation, no taxes, no devaluations, no theft, no robbery, no muggings, no strikes, no riots, no blackmail, no corruption, no alimony, no poverty, no wars. But in case his paranoia gets worse, let's leave the last word to poor old Bertie Lomas, on the back cover of his book: "If money is the root of all evil why not abolish it and give mankind a new deal?"
Adam Buick

Reformers and Revolutionaries (1995)

Theatre Review from the October 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Machine Wreckers by Ernst Toller, National Theatre, Cottlesloe

Socialists are likely to find The Machine Wreckers, a play about the English Luddites, of interest—though they may be surprised to discover that its author was a German expressionist playwright, Ernst Toller, most of whose plays were written whilst he was in prison.

Toller was associated with an attempt to set up a Soviet-style republic in Bavaria at the end of the First World War, and when this failed he was sentenced to five years for treason. Whilst in prison he read widely. As he wrote in his biography:
"I read Marx, Engels, Lassalle, Bakunin, Mehring, Luxemburg, the Webbs . . . In my prison cell I discovered socialism, and for the first time I saw clearly the true structure of society today, the conditions that make war inevitable, the terrible perversity of the law that allows the masses to go hungry while a few go rich, the true relationship between labour and capital, the historical significance of the working class" (I Was A German, translated by Edward Crankshaw, 1934).
Toller had clearly read Lord Byron's passionate speech against the Frame-Work Bill (1812), which made the breaking of machine-frames, used in the textile industry, a hanging offence. The Machine Wreckers begins with an imaginary exchange in which Byron's humanity is set against Lord Castlereagh's Statesman's voice. Quoting Malthus Castlereagh chillingly argue that since the miseries of plague, war and family are "God-ordained":
"The more the infant ranks are thinned by Death
The better for our children and our land."
Toller shows us what such sentiments meant for working-class life in Nottingham in the early years of the nineteenth century. But more than this he examines working class responses to the introduction of machines and the dehumanising excesses of early capitalism. Should the workers die with the rebellious John Wibley who wants to destroy the machines, or the revolutionary Jimmy Cobbett who asks, "what if you laboured to produce for all, and not for Mammon—for service, not for gain?", and imagines a world in which the machine is "no more your enemy but your helper."

Writing about The Machine Wreckers Toller is clear that the clash between reformers and revolutionaries is at the heart of the play, and perhaps significantly it is the reformer Wibley who engineers the death of Cobbett by conspiring with the factory owners.

The play works best when it shows, in naturalistic fashion, the monstrous slavery and poverty which were the lot of many workers in the early nineteenth century. At this level, as one newspaper critic has it, the play shocks and grips. Ironically, the expressionistic devices—a blindman lead by a deaf mute, the character of Old Reaper supposedly representing suffering humanity seeking God, and the attack of the off-stage machine all stroboscopic light and hissing steam—dilute the impact and make the play seem dated and often pedestrian.

The playing is unambiguously first class and if some of the author's stylistic devices—here faithfully reproduced by the director—are a source of weakness, the blazing vitality of the dialogue (particularly the exchange between Cobbett and the factory owner), the continuing relevance of most of the major themes, and the entirely appropriate rage which Toller clearly feels when depicting the grim reality of working-class life, make this a compelling piece of political theatre.
Michael Gill

See also:

Pope Francis and the Devil (2015)

The Halo Halo! Column from the June 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard

We don’t know whether Satan employs a spin doctor, or has his own PR team to boost his image and keep himself in the public eye, or how many believers he actually has these days; but if he does, they haven’t been doing a very effective job for, well, the last couple of hundred years at least. Now though, his public image is taking a sharp upturn. The devil, apparently, is enjoying a sudden surge in notoriety, if not in popularity, and believe it or not, it’s all down to the Pope.

According to the Independent (14 April) a recent gathering of exorcists in Rome have concluded that Pope Francis has prompted a rise in the number of Catholics who believe themselves to be possessed by the devil. Most recent popes, it seems, were in the habit of treating Satan like an embarrassing and rather dodgy uncle who was never to be mentioned outside the family, and only in very hushed tones – a bit like a randy Catholic priest – only worse. Francis, however, has no such inhibitions about Old Nick and apparently keeps banging on about him in front of anyone who happens to be listening.

He recently informed a delegation from Mexico that the Mexican drug wars were due to the Devil’s influence. The conflict in the Middle East too, he announced was all down to Satan. And if visitors express surprise at his views he sternly warns them ‘Look out, because the Devil is present’.

And so much faith do Catholics have in their leader that the demand for more exorcists is sharply on the rise. The Rome diocese has doubled the number it provides, Milan has increased its number from five to twelve, and even in Britain, bishops who have previously not bothered to keep an exorcist on the books are now trying to fill the vacancies.

But maybe there’s some method in the Pope’s madness. They can’t afford to let the devil die out can they? What would happen to the church if suddenly there was no more Satan, and therefore no more sin for them to save us from? Not only do they need him, they should put him on the payroll. As Satan’s own website says ‘Satan has been the best friend the Church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years!’(Nine Satanic Statements).

When we last visited Satan’s website (see Halo Halo January 2012), to be frank he did seem a little bit mad; liable to attract entirely the wrong type. Now, although there is no mention of this new understanding he has with the Catholics, he does seem a bit more restrained in his aims and claims. (Although he does still advise ‘When walking in open territory, bother no one. If someone bothers you, ask him to stop. If he does not stop, destroy him’ (Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth). That one seems a bit harsh, even from Satan.

And unlike the Catholic Church, he does seem to be trying to get out of the 17th century. The old membership application form with questions such as – ‘Are you satisfied with your sex life?’ – ‘How many years would you like to live?’ – ‘Do you feel oppressed or persecuted in any way?’ has gone, and is replaced by a simple requirement for applicants to send a cheque for $200. The Pope would be proud of him.

Obituaries: Jimmy Banks, David Lamond and Helen Chesher (1967)

Obituaries from the February 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with great sadness and great regret that we recently learned of the deaths of three members.

Jimmy Banks joined the Party in 1916 and was soon an active propagandist, speaking on Clapham Common regularly. He was a conscientious objector in the 1914-1918 war and was sent to Dartmoor. Immediately upon his release he was actively propagating socialism in South West London. Of recent years we saw him only at Conference and Party meetings, which he frequently attended despite his failing health.

David Lamond, who died in November, was a staunch member for many years in Edinburgh where for many years he worked to spread the Party's message. He organised and spoke at meetings on the Mound in Edinburgh. Although for long periods he worked alone, he did much for Socialism.

Helen Chesher, who died after a long illness, joined Lewisham Branch in 1958 and despite ill health supported outdoor meetings and Party rallies. Helen worked behind the scenes at Conferences especially with the catering.
Phyllis Howard

Marx on Money (1977)

Book Review from the November 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx on Money, by Suzanne de Bronhoff, Urizen Books (New York). 139 pages. Paperback £2.70, hardback £4.70.

This book attempts to bring together and comment on Marx's writings on money and credit, and to relate them to other monetary theories.

It can serve a purpose to students of Marx who are already familiar with his main economic theories but it suffers from two defects, one of presentation and the other an astonishing omission.

All of the numerous references and quotations are related to particular editions of Marx's works, for example to the International Publishers' 1970 edition of Capital. Consequently the page numbers are different, often widely different, from those in several other editions. This difficulty would have been lessened if, instead of merely giving the page numbers, it had also included Chapter and Section headings of the works referred to.

The Preface by Duncan K. Foley, claims for the book that it will help the working class because "Inflation and unemployment are . . . major issues over which class struggle is fought out". But there is almost nothing in the book to justify the claim, and occasional brief references are misleading. On page 37 there is reference to "the inadequacy of Marx's explanation" of "paper money", and on page 84 [there] is a somewhat obscure passage which appears to say that Marx did not deal with monetary theory in relation to "the general price level".

In fact the author appears not to know that Marx did deal with this. Most of her references are to money, banking and credit in Capital Vol. III, but she had not noticed that Marx was there writing only about conditions in Britain under the gold standard, with its full convertibility of Bank of England notes into gold. As Engels pointed out (Capital Vol. III, "Currency Under the Credit System", p. 615 in Kerr edition), inconvertible notes were not dealt with in Vol. III but in Vol. 1, Chapter III.

For the past forty years there has been an inconvertible paper currency, and what Marx wrote about the general price level in Vol. III has little bearing. What he put forward in Vol. I was both adequate and definite, namely, that if an inconvertible paper currency is issued in excess (the meaning of "excess" being precisely defined) prices will rise correspondingly, as has in fact happened.

If the author holds that Marx's explanation was "inadequate" or unsound there is a simple challenge she has to meet. Let her tell us of any occasion when an inconvertible currency was issued in excess and prices did not rise.

There is nothing in the book to indicate that the author appreciates that the workers' struggle should go beyond reacting to "inflation and unemployment", with the purpose of achieving a system of society as envisaged by Marx, in which there will be no production for the market, no price system or wages system, and therefore no monetary problems or unemployment problem.
Edgar Hardcastle

A Slice of the Cake (1962)

From the February 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

The National Cake this expression often crops up in newspapers and in the mouths of politicians. At first sight it seems like a convenient and homely figure of speech, giving a rough idea of the truth. Not so. Like the other myths employed as propaganda for capitalism, it is false at its very roots.

What it is meant to convey is that there is a certain total of earnings—the national income—out of which both wages and profits have to be allocated. Often this idea is put forward by writers and speakers who claim to have working-class interests at heart. In this case they complain that the workers are not getting a large enough share of the mythical cake; and many workers are deceived by this sympathy into thinking in these terms themselves. They see that profits are rising and they demand their 'share'. And so it is easy for the capitalists, or their managers or politicians, when they can manage to show that the 'cake' has decreased in size, to make an attack on wages or to resist demands for rises. The recent 'wage pause' is a case in point.

It also helps them to persuade workers to work harder: 'Our standard of living can only be raised if we increase our earnings overseas' and so on. It is an idea that has gained strength from the fact that standards of living are relatively higher in countries like the U.S.A. where productivity is high. It has become an extremely powerful idea, favoured especially by so-called 'socialist' parties like the British Labour Party; and many people take it for granted. Yet it is a completely anti-socialist myth.

Unfortunately, the truth is not nearly so simple or so homely. But the whole business reminds one of that problem about the three men who were overcharged in a restaurant and the waiter who kept two bob for himself. It is not a problem at all, really: it's a matter of considering the wrong set of figures. The point is that there is no such thing as a national cake; or of there is—if the total annual national profit can be called a cake—then the workers have no part in it at all. Their wages certainly do not come out of it.

Wages have to be paid before the capitalist handles any profit at all—sometimes a long time before. They are paid out of capital, just as are other production costs like raw materials, machinery, fuel and rent. And they are usually 'fair' wages; that is to say that, on average, capital usually buys workers' abilities at a price close to their real value. Profit is not mainly made by underpaying the workers (although much more could be said on this). Profit is made because work done on raw materials adds more value to them than the value of the labour power used up in the work.

It is when these commodities are sold, and not until, that the capitalist really handles his profit. He has converted his capital back into money once more—and a larger amount of money than he started with. This surplus, if anything, can be called cake—and it is cake for capitalists only. The majority of it is re-invested automatically to pay more workers and buy more materials, to bring in more cake—to build up, in fact, a veritable layer-cake.

So that almost everywhere a worker turns his eyes he sees property owned—not by himself or his kind who produced it all—but by a small minority—the ones who can really talk about 'our' country and mean what they say—the ones for whom it really is 'a piece of cake'.
S. Stafford

Gorbachev and Socialism* (1990)

From the May 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

*This untitled block quotation from Vitali Vitaliev was attached to the unsigned article 'Is Socialism Dead?
"The main mistake of Western analysts trying to assess Gorbachev's career is the attempt to treat him as a kind of God-sent Messiah who emerged to save Russia from 'socialism'. Nothing can be further from reality. Throughout his political career Gorbachev was part and parcel of the apparat. He came not to dismantle 'socialism' but to preserve it.
    I am putting 'socialism' into inverted commas because there has never been anything of the kind in Russia. No other country is so far from the ideas of equality and fraternity as the Soviet Union. If there was a socialism, or even a Communism at all, it was only for the ruling elite who lived and are still living in a separate world.
    It is a world of privileges, starting from birth (special maternity homes) going on all through their lives (special shops, hospitals, hairdressers' salons, canteens, toilets and what not) and not ending even with the end of their physical existence (special cemeteries). Yes, yes, special cemeteries for the rulers of 'the first working-class State in the world', where workers are not supposed to be buried."
—Soviet journalist Vitali Vitaliev (Observer, 11 March)

English Hypocrisy and the Russian Outrage. (1905)

From the March 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

The huge wave of indignation that has lately been sweeping over the country on account of the massacres in Russia is typical of the hypocrisy of the capitalist-class and the ignorance of the man in the street. Big headlines and stirring articles have proved effective in arousing a strong and quite unjustified feeling against Russia. The English attitude towards Russian affairs has long been intensely pharissical, and its real origin, imperial and commercial jealousy in Asia, has been quite lost sight of by the public. First of all, at the beginning of the war, there was a popular expression of sympathy towards Japan, as being the "little nation,"—England's treatment of "little nations" has been exemplified in South Africa! Next came a patriotic frenzy because some panic-stricken Russian seamen saw visions and killed or wounded a few defenceless fishermen: the killing and wounding of thousands of defenceless men, women and children by defective machinery, deliberate starvation and disease brought on by neglect, barely call forth any protest, save occasionally for political purposes. Finally, we have now a great shriek of horror arising because the capitalist and bureaucratic-class in Russia is determined, as it is in every country, to use every means to keep the working-class in subjection.

This feeling is quite unjustified from a capitalist point of view, and further it is only hypocritical, for no one, except a Socialist, can with honesty support the working-class in its efforts towards freedom. Yet we find the same people that would cheerfully starve out English strikers or shoot them down if more convenient, that ignored the fearful outrages in Colorado, and that approved the recent shooting of strikers in Italy, pretending to be horrified at the actions of their fellow-capitalists in Russia!

Perhaps it may be argued, as in the "Daily Mail," that the Russian worker is more down-trodden than the English, and that, moreover, it is not a working-class revolt. But the fact that the Liberals use the present time to put forward their political claims, does not detract from the fact that it is the Russian worker who is revolting and suffering for it; and, as regards the Russian being more down-trodden, he only lacks the political freedom of his English fellow, and that political power used, as it is in England, to strengthen the hands of his masters, counts for nought, and only leads the worker to a false sense of liberty, for the economic slavery remains as binding in England as in Russia.

This pretended sympathy is therefore arrant humbug or cant, calculated only to dupe the British worker and reconcile him to his slavery. It is quite time that he should realise that he is being deceived and that the aims of the working-class are the same all over the world.

If any worker is really anxious to support his class in Russia, England, or any other country, let him declare his allegiance to working-class politics and join The Socialist Party of Britain.
Sydney Chase.

Working to live or living to work? (1999)

From the January 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard
Have you ever felt like reporting in sick?
At 8.15 I had convinced myself not to go to work. I plucked up courage, coughed to check I really was unable to function and phoned in my excuse. I had wandered for several minutes, nervous, guilty and had insisted on total silence from the children at the breakfast table. By 9 o'clock it was too late to reverse the situation. All guilt had evaporated and I was feeling much better. That was it. The only remedy for that sick feeling that precedes going to work was not going to work.
Work in modern society defines you. If someone asks you what do you do you tend to answer with the nature of your job. Too many of us do not leave our work at the workplace but carry it round wherever we may be, it lurks and inhibits what is known as leisure time. In fact a lot of so-called leisure time is simply time spent getting ready to go back to work. Clothes are got ready for the next day. Sandwiches need making, an evening shave saves time in the morning. We have early nights despite wanting to stay up for that great film on television because we have to be able to function properly for work. Work structures our lives.
Whilst plenty of people get some sort of fulfilment, job satisfaction, enjoy the company of their fellow workers and so on it is surely not something we would choose to do for so long a period of time. For a lifetime of work means just that. There is an old story about Pandora opening a box which contained all the evils in the world. On opening the box she released ponos the Greek word for work from which we derive our word punishment.
There is a saying that a hard day's work never did anyone any harm. Well that's not exactly true. Whilst I wouldn’t sniffle at the odd hard day I would argue that a lifetime of hard days has a nasty cumulative effect. Why else are so many days "lost" through sickness real—or, as in my case, imagined? Up pops guilt once again! Our working lives have impacted on the way we live when not physically at the place of work. We all know the fear of oversleeping, of being late and the headlong rush to be there on time. Witness the antics of normally calm, rational human beings on their daily commute to work, charging along to speed through traffic lights. Cutting each other up, fighting over ownership of a few precious yards of road, cocooned in the modern-day suit of armour, the car.
Our eating habits have changed. Real food is becoming a luxury, replaced by packaged, frozen, tinned, oven-ready instant meals. We have instant coffee. Whatever happened to the coffee bean, the smell of roasting beans? Instant potato that could be used for filling in holes in the walls. Meals have to be quick and easy to prepare for the simple reason that most of us don’t have the time to prepare them.
We come close to telling lies to get the job in the first place. We appear groomed and well-mannered. We give the answers we think the interviewing panel want to hear. We are not ourselves.
Just as dogs can be trained to leap gracefully through a hoop in return for a tasty titbit and seals will juggle balls in return for some tasty fish so we do that which we find unpleasant in return for money. If we didn’t get the money we would very quickly find that we would be unable to maintain the acceptable standards necessary to get the money.
Jobs need doing but . . .
It is self-evident that to maintain an effective modern society, one in which we continue to eat, have clothes to wear, somewhere fit to live and so on that a certain amount of work is necessary. Jobs need doing. I never heard of a house that built itself or of a cabbage that was self-planting, self-cultivating and somehow managed to get itself to a greengrocer's. But it is the difference between work and employment that throws up the dilemma. I would define work as socially necessary, needed for the functioning of society and the people that make up that society. Employment is what jumped out of Pandora's box and when you think about it is what gives rise to instant potato and getting up in what appears to be the middle of the night for three months of the year and going to a place you don’t want to go to do something you don’t want to do. You wouldn't treat a dog like that.
I am making the assumption that most people if given the chance would be able to give you plenty of examples of how their life could be improved. That society could in fact be organised in a way that actually improved the quality of our lives. To assume that, you have to consider changing things. Change is not something to fear and it is change that has enabled humanity to mould and shape the world that we live in. If you do not accept change then we are no more advanced than the dinosaur. It is as good a time as any to contemplate the possibility of doing jobs that need doing and of stopping doing jobs that are in fact only keeping us in a position that we do not in fact really approve of.
Society has evolved to a point where we can produce an abundance of what we need. Technology gives us the possibility of having less work and more possible leisure. But only if we concentrate on what needs doing and discard that which simply preserves and maintains the status quo. John Lennon summed it up beautifully in his song Imagine. Humanity possesses not only the imagination but also the physical ability to make such a society possible. A society that only produces goods and services if they can be sold for a profit is an anachronism for it creates injustice and suffering on a scale that beggars belief. Have you nothing better to do with your life?
Andy Pitts