1990s >> 1992 >> no-1054-june-1992

Book Review: Who needs money?

Money & Survival. By Melvin Chapman. Third Millenium Press. £5.85.


The basic proposition of this book is that money is the organising force in society but that it is inefficient, wasteful and inhumane and should be dispensed with before nuclear war or ecological disaster overwhelm human beings.


Many of the topics Melvin Chapman deals with, such as education, crime, human nature, production for need, and the wastefulness of the financial system are familiar to socialists. What they will find lacking, however, is any acknowledgement of the historical development of capitalism which gave rise to the universal power of money with which he is so concerned; any examination of the class structure of modern society which has been responsible for the unsatisfying and mainly unhappy lives of most of the population—the working class.


A disproportionate amount of space (twenty-two pages) early in the book is devoted to an examination of the social losses resulting from the running down of the railway system in Britain. Many readers (including this one) will be unable to judge whether his figures for tonnages of freight carried and passenger miles travelled help to justify his conclusions that the British transport system has been less efficient overall as a result. And the impact of the chapter is further weakened by his use of the term “money” to cover almost every aspect of capitalist economics. What he is trying to show, presumably, is that profitability is not the same thing as efficiency and often works against it, in spite of the loud claims made by politicians and economists. But he should have said so.


A similar obscurity or reticence blunts many of the other points made in the book. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of acute perception here of the workings of modern society and the way in which life would change when money was no longer regulating production, consumption and behaviour.


In not giving any attention to the fact that society’s means of production and distribution are owned and controlled by a small section of the population, Melvin Chapman helps to make his arguments for a moneyless society seem unrealistic, and that is a pity. When he deals with the question of property he considers little other than personal property and sees no reason why the owners of fortunes should not be allowed to keep them. He does not seem to realise that the poverty and the drudgery of the working class is caused by the profits, rents and interest extracted by these fortunes from unpaid labour. Nowhere, in other words, does he consider the nature of capital.


Without this class dimension, Melvin Chapman has no suggestion of a social force to bring about his moneyless society other than the power of a “good idea”. Subscribing, if only tacitly, to the myth that ours is a united society with common interests, he lays the responsibility for the piecemeal removal of money upon “The Government”, without questioning how it is that governments have never yet made the economy operate in the interests of the whole population.


Money & Survival is interesting to socialists in that it makes a wide-ranging indictment of capitalist society without, apparently, owing anything to the Marxian tradition. But it demonstrates, yet again, how crucial was the contribution of Marx and Engels in identifying and analysing the class nature of capital.


Ron Cook