Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Cooking the Books: Islamist Gold (2015)

The Cooking the Books Column from the October 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
‘Islamic State reveals new gold coins in bid to break the “enslavement” of capitalism’ was the headline of a Yahoo! News ( report on a propaganda video IS released at the end of August. Entitled The Rise of the Khalifah and the Return to the Gold Dinar, the video announced the Islamic State’s plan to introduce a new currency in the areas of Iraq and Syria under its control, or, rather, to reintroduce the currency that had circulated there over 1300 years ago. The gold dinar will weigh the same as then, about 4.25 gm, and according to the video will be worth about $139, or £91. As this will be of no use for everyday transactions there will also be a silver dirham, worth $1, and various small denomination copper coins.
The video wasn’t just about returning to the past. It also contained a criticism of the financial system that has developed over the past three or four hundred years in the West and elsewhere. By all accounts, this criticism echoes familiar currency crank objections to ‘money as debt’, fractional reserve banking and the US Federal Reserve, which the video denounced as ‘satanic’. It is this system that it describes as ‘capitalist’ and ‘enslaving’ people and depriving them ‘of their due’.
In short, it echoes the currency crank theory that we are exploited today by banks by having to earn money to pay interest to them. The Islamic State is ‘anti-capitalist’ only in this limited and misleading sense. They are not opposed to capitalism in the more meaningful sense of production for profit based on the exploitation of wage-labour for surplus value. Far from it. Sharia Law accepts the private ownership of means of production and permits and encourages profit-making, and has developed various convoluted ways of paying the equivalent of interest.
Nor is capitalism incompatible with the circulation of gold and silver coins. Until WW1 this was generally the case. And there are open supporters of capitalism – Ron Paul springs to mind – who, while not wanting to go back as far as 713, still want to go back to 1913.
Meanwhile in another part of Syria something quite different is reported to be happening. In the mountains in the North controlled by the YPG, an affiliate of the Kurdish Nationalist PKK, they are said to be implementing ideas developed latterly by the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, and introducing a system there where ‘the concept of money is internally redundant’. An enthusiastic supporter writes (
‘The economic needs of the inhabitants of the KCK [Union of Communities in Kurdistan] system are internally supplied through a communal management of resources. 
Although money is utilised in economic dealings with external systems, internally the concept of money is inconceivable. No person or community within the KCK system feels the need to build a surplus of goods or resources. Surpluses are constantly redistributed, therefore, viably consumed. Reminiscent of pre-hierarchical and pre-exploitative societies, the KCK system adopts a culture of gifting, rather than a culture of exchange. The communal organisation of agriculture ensures a self-sufficient production and consumption of resources, therefore deeming surplus, exchange value and the commodification of goods irrelevant.’
We don’t know if this really is happening but it sounds better. Rather forward, on a world scale and in conditions of abundance, to a society where money is redundant than backward to a time when gold and silver used to circulate as money.

Between the Lines: Parsons, Baker & Quayle (1992)

The Between the Lines Column from the November 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Culture and Chips

"The trouble with the working class today is that they're such peasants."

So began Tony Parsons's thirty-minute moan about lager louts, football stadiums and dogs called Tyson. (The Tattooed Jungle, C4, Monday, 5 October, 9.30pm). The same night, before watching this poor man's Matthew Arnold vent his frustration against the karaoke culture which he lacked the intelligence to connect with the cash-and-flog-it standards of capitalism, I watched Noel Edmonds present that hateful half-hour of working class self-abasement, Telly Addicts (BBC1, 7pm).

In this quiz for couch potatoes, families with scholarships in TV drivel compete to prove who can remember the most inanities, banalities and famous names. It is knowledge diluted to the purest spectacle: you don't need to have been anywhere or read anything to win Telly Addicts, but you need to have a fine-tuned memory for what imaginary one-dimensional TV stars have done, said or hummed as their theme tunes. The proles as peasants? A case could be made.

Tony Parsons makes the case very poorly. Parsons is the essential Essex Man. He romanticizes "the good old working class" who loved Churchill, went in for (k)nobbly knees contests in holiday camps and passed away the time scrubbing doorsteps and working diligently. Parsons bemoans the rise of the lager-lout patriots and the boneheads with tattoos who never read books. He is too stupid to realize that nationalism thrives upon the irrational callousness which he deplores; the two go together. And perhaps the lack of book reading is a result of half the libraries being shut and schools having only one book between five pupils.

In fact, in Britain today far more workers visit museums every year than go to football matches - and the vast majority of football spectators are neither drunk nor violent. Modern Britain is not filled with workers who never read: despite the overwhelming financial advantage of the film and video industry, it is still the case that millions of workers regularly read books, journals and newspapers which are not tabloids; only a minority of wage slaves read the Sun and get off on Rambo movies.  

Could it just be possible that, like the vicars whose bleak view of human life is derived from the nasty circles they mix in, Parsons's conception of the proletarian peasant is derived from spending too much time staring angrily into the mirror and seeing what Basildon has done to him? Like a black lackey supporting slavery, Parsons the Conservative called in Auberon Waugh (the voice of the modern slave owners) to add his sneers to Parsons's vitriol.

Waugh hates the working class for not knowing their place. Our place, in case anyone wants to know, is trembling in fear at the innate superiority of the inherited privilege of Waugh and his indolent, mind-stunted class of legalized thieves, but at least Waugh's hatred is against a class which is a real potential threat to him. (Stated plainly, a socialist majority will have no time to entertain the snobbery of old Auberon - we shall undoubtedly declare war on Waugh).

Tony Parsons's nostalgia for 1950s' conservatism is not only without taste or sense, but is the moronic cry of a slave for his chains to be tightened. And when he stated of workers that "If you treat them like animals they act like animals, if you treat them like humans they still act like animals" what is that but an inelegant chant of the stale old human nature myth? Danny Baker, who earns a fortune pretending to be a good old cockney lad, explained violence on the football terraces as coming from the same source that causes wars; healthy young hetero males like a good old punch-up, don't they John? Tony Parsons has reason to feel anguish, for when he looks to the future the prospect of a TV peasantry with Danny Boy Baker as the Pearly King and himself as the proley court jester-cum-philosopher is a nightmare worse than being in an Indian restaurant in Basildon on a Friday night after closing time.

By the time that you read this you will know whether Dan Quayle has been re-elected as American Vice-President, White House dope and speller-in-chief of very short words. If he is defeated it will have no small relationship to the attack made on him on the networked US sit-com, Murphy Brown. To be precise, the first attack was made by Quayle when he made a speech appealing to the Christian loonies calling for imaginary TV characters to act more responsibly and set the nation a better moral example. The example he gave was Murphy Brown who decided to go ahead with a pregnancy even though she was not married. Quayle's attack backfired when the show's makers broadcast an episode in which the fictitious character, watched on TV the Quayle speech attacking her conduct and them proceeded to tear to pieces his moral self-righteousness.

The episode of the show drew the biggest audience on US TV since the episode of Dallas in which J.R. was shot. So now elections are won and lost in America by TV-style politicians debating with non-existent TV characters - and the invisible debaters win! All they need  to do now is to have a fictitious TV audience (paid extras to fill a vast Oprah Winfrey studio, perhaps?) and the whole election could be run on TV without real life having to intervene at all.
Steve Coleman