Money Gets in the Way

Arriving from Glasgow Central on the 6.15am train into Euston, I cursed at my second-class seat which was too uncomfortable to sleep on and too boring to sit up in. I had finally nodded off at 3.45, only to be nudged by the ticket collector who, contrary to description, does not collect tickets, like some people collect model soldiers, but walks around the train picking up all the tickets only in order to deposit them in a bin and destroy them. Clearly, the ticket is of no intrinsic value; one does not see the collector rushing to the driver to pass him the precious ticket fuel. Scraps of old paper which to me represent a passport back to London: no money, no ticket; no ticket, no travel. What was that about the freedom of movement which British workers are supposed to be grateful to possess?

Off the train and straight into a queue for a new ticket. My underground trip will last twenty minutes. In less than half an hour I could be where I want to be, but . . . secure barriers obscure my access to the trains. I fumble for the right coins to put in the ticket machines, but fail and fall victim to a twelve minute queue: it takes 60 per cent as long to buy my way on to the train as to travel on it. I mention to the man in front of me how strange it is that the public are supposed to own the railways yet we have to pay to travel on them. Imagine if you owned a bicycle and you had to pay the government every time you had a ride on it — then it would not be yours, just as the “public services” do not belong to the public. The man in front of me asks me something in Swedish (the way to Pimlico, I think), and as I search my briefcase for an SPGB Swedish introductory leaflet I notice an old man sitting on the floor playing a mouth organ to the tune of his own misery. It is usual to call such men tramps and to hope that they will not come near you. A few travellers threw pennies into his hat, but it was easy to see that money was the disease from which this man was suffering, not the cure. “There’s your Victorian values for you” I muttered to the incomprehending Swede, and “Highbury and Islington” I shouted through the glass at the bored-looking London Transport coin collector.

Having exchanged metal for paper I am free to travel. The ticket office could close tomorrow and the trains would still run on time. On the platform I am confronted by an array of wallposter women who offer me everything from the chance to get rich when I’m dead (Life Insurance) to stereo systems which have a different knob for every reason why I can’t afford them.

Arrive; throw the indispensable ticket on the floor. I think of my breakfast and reach to my wallet so see how big my appetite is. My stomach presents me with a comprehensive menu, but my wallet is on a diet. Given the choice between chewing into my remaining pound note or exchanging it for some food I decide to give the Queen’s head a miss and opt for something tastier.

Sitting in the grubby cafe in Upper Street, Islington, I wonder where all the greedy people are — the ones who opponents of free access seem to know so well. The two Securicor men at the next table, who guard gold and eat the cheapest food, do not appear to be indulging in a banquet of gluttony. I ask the Greek proprietor whether he knew any cases of people eating ten or twenty dinners a day. He wishes that he did — such greed would be good for business. Lack of money prevents many workers from getting enough to eat, but where is the evidence that people with free access to food would eat until they were sick? And the so-called lazy people — where are they? Through the window I see hundreds of wage slaves rushing to work. Apart from the odd yawn, probably inspired by the monotony which is to come for many of them, the men and women in the street seem eager to get to work. How much more eager they would be if their incentive was the knowledge that they were running society for the sole benefit of satisfying human needs, including their own. Over the road a queue is forming outside the busiest shop in the street: the Job Centre. The wasteful scene of a queue of men and women who want to work, but are locked out of productive activity because there is no money to be made in employing them.

I turn to the taller of the Securicor men and mention how much saner it would be to live in a world without money. Spitting small lumps of tea-covered bacon into my face as he speaks, Brother Securicor explains the facts of life:

“We’ve always had money”.

“No, we haven’t”. Now, this throws him. I point out that money is a relatively new invention, arising out of property society.

“Look mate, money makes the world go round. How would you get things without money?”

“But people starve and go homeless and are refused medical attention in a world of potential abundance simply because they lack money”. By now I detect that look in my listener’s eye which indicates that he thinks I’m mad or — as I like to think — his imagination is being aroused by the idea of a world of common ownership and democratic control. The questions pour out as if they have been waiting to be asked for years, and the answers are responded to with a nod which represents a uniquely human recognition of rationality. I am definitely getting through to this one. After a while Securicor Two, who has been listening and reading the Sun at the same time, begins to become restless: how dare some loud-mouthed crank, without so much as a degree in economics to his name, sit in a cafe and re-organise the world over breakfast. His mate refuses to desist: his brain has shifted from automatic to self-drive and now there is no stopping him. We discuss all the useless jobs which the money system creates: insurance salesmen, cashiers, ticket collectors, bank staff, moneylenders, accountants, security guards. Then we go on to the problems caused by money: no money and starve; can’t pay the rent and you’re homeless; nearly every worker on earth suffers in one way or another because what he or she needs is beyond his or her monetary reach. During the course of the conversation Comrade Securicor cursed as he recalled his old friend who had been made an invalid while defending diamonds for some idle parasite. Money is dangerous: one only has to think of the victims of muggings whose faces are slashed for five quid and the victims of legalised mass muggings called wars who die for the patriotic plunder of their masters.

In a society where the earth’s resources were owned commonly and controlled democratically — socialism — wealth will not be bought and sold. Envisage a moneyless world community where production is for use and access to the common wealth is the equal right of every human being. My friend in the cafe ponders in this thought and, convinced, for the moment at least, that socialism is worth aiming for, he takes a copy of the Socialist Standard and promises to read every word of it. Then he goes off to waste his day risking his life to secure someone else’s money.

So satisfied am I with my success at socialist persuasion that I decide to visit the library until it is time to enjoy and early drink in the Cock Tavern. Standing before the bar my thirst grows as I survey the variety of drinks on offer. “What’ll it be?” asks the barman. “Nothing” I reply, suddenly remembering that my wallet had taken the pledge. Money makes the world go round? Well, it’s about time we let it go round in the other direction.

Steve Coleman

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