Sunday, December 31, 2023

Yet more ahistorical nonsense

The following is taken from an article titled Darwinism Is The Daddy Of Communism And Other Evils

'In a previous essay, we briefly mentioned that the theory of evolution had spawned some very evil progeny such as communism and Nazism.  It is imperative that folks grasp the truth of that (we will discuss this point further near the end).  To help them do so, we are going to look more closely at the effects of the theory of evolution – Darwinism – on key actors who developed and implemented these demonic ideologies.

Karl Marx, who is most responsible for socialism/communism and its murderous revolutions, will be first.  Dr. Jerry Bergman in a journal article writes,

Born in 1818, Marx was baptized a Lutheran in 1824, attended a Lutheran elementary school, received praise for his ‘earnest’ essays on moral and religious topics, and was judged by his teachers ‘moderately proficient’ in theology (his first written work was on the ‘love of Christ’)8,9,10 until he encountered Darwin’s writings and ideas at the University of Berlin.'

Ignoring the usual gross tropes, we offer the ignorant writers concerned the correct timeline concernng Marx:
October 1843, seeing that further political activity in Germany is impossible, Marx moved to Paris.
21 February 1848 Communist Manifesto is published.
Early June 1849 Marx moved to London, where he would remain based for the rest of his life.
1860 Marx reads  On the Origin of Species for the first time.

Read more on Darwin and his work from a socialist perpective here.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Who's kidding who?

End of year quizzes are popular. You decide which, if any, of these ten war propaganda “justifications” are relevant to any of the current conflicts taking place at the present time. Or put them on your ‘bingo’ card for future use. Conflicts under capitalism will never end until the end of capitalism itself.

From the Socialist Standard October 2002

1. “We don’t want war”
Arthur Ponsonby had already pointed out that, before declaring war or when they are making the declaration of war, the statesmen of all countries, at least in modern history, always solemnly proclaim that they did not want the war. War and its train of horrors are rarely popular a priori and it is thus good taste to present yourself as a lover of peace.

2. “The opposing side is solely responsible for the war”
Arthur Ponsonby had already noted the paradox in the First World War, which could also no doubt be found in many previous wars: each side proclaims that it was f
orced, to declare war to prevent the other side from putting the planet to fire and sword.

3. “The enemy has the face of the devil”
You can’t hate the whole of a human group, even when it is presented as the enemy. It is thus more effective to concentrate hatred of the enemy onto the opposing leader. The enemy thus has a face and this face is evidently odious. War is not carried on against the “Boshes” or the “Japs” but more precisely against Napoleon, the Kaiser, Mussolini, Hitler, Nasser, Gaddafi, Khomeiny, Saddam Hussein or Milosevic. This odious bogeyman disguises the diversity of the population they lead, amongst the ordinary citizen might find a counterpart to identify with.

4. “We are defending a noble cause not particular interests”
Wars generally have as their motive a desire for geopolitical domination, accompanied by economic reasons. But such motives for war cannot be admitted to public opinion. Modern wars, however, are only possible with the consent of the population, if only because parliaments have in principle to give their agreement to war being declared. This consent is easily obtained if the population thinks that their independence, their honour, their freedom, or their lives, depend on the outcome of the war and that the war is the bearer of indisputably moral values. Propaganda has therefore to disguise certain aims and get other aims believed in.

5. “The enemy knowingly commits atrocities; if we blot our copybook it’s involuntarily”
Stories about atrocities committed by the enemy are an essential element of war propaganda. Obviously this doesn’t mean that atrocities don’t take place in wars. On the contrary, assassinations, armed robberies, burnings, looting and rape seem rather to be — unfortunately — current in all war situations and the practise of all armies, from ancient times to the wars of the 21st century. What is specific to war propaganda is getting people to believe that only the enemy is in the habit of doing these things, while our own army is at the service of the population, even the enemy’s, and is loved by them. Deviant criminality becomes the very symbol of the enemy army alone, composed essentially of bandits without law or faith.

6. “The enemy is using unauthorised arms”
This principle is a corollary of the previous one. Not only do we not commit atrocities but we make war in a chivalrous way, respecting the rules — as if war was a game, certainly tough but manly. Obviously this is not the case of our enemies, who refuse to abide by the rules. In reality, the outcome of wars can depend on the strategic skills of the generals or on the motivation and courage of the participants but also — mainly? — on the clear superiority of the arms of one of the sides.

7. “We suffer very few losses, the enemy’s losses are enormous”
With only rare exceptions, humans generally prefer to be on the winning side. In the case of war the support of public opinion depends on the perceived results of the conflict. If the results are not good, propaganda must hide our losses and exaggerate those of the enemy.

8. “Artists and intellectuals support our cause”
Propaganda, like all forms of advertising, is based on emotion. It is the lever used permanently to mobilise public opinion; it can even be said that propaganda and emotion have always been of the same nature. However, to arouse emotion you can’t rely on civil servants. You have to call in either advertising professionals — which the Kuwait lobby did in calling in Hill and Knowtown who concocted for them the touching story of babies torn from their incubators by Iraqi soldiers—or to artists and intellectuals, who are professionally trained to arouse emotions.

9. “Our cause has a sacred character”
If our cause is sacred we are
obliged to defend it, if necessary with arms. But this sacred character can be taken either in a literal or a broader sense. Taken literally, this would mean that, if the cause is religious, the war is a crusade from which nobody can opt out. And in fact the religious argument has been used in war propaganda. Pithy formulations such as Gott mit Uns, In God we trust, or God save the King will be recalled which often accompanied the combatants and still do.

10. “Those who question the propaganda are traitors”
Lord Ponsonby had already noted that any attempt to cast doubt on the stories of the propaganda services is immediately considered as a lack of patriotism or rather as treason.

(Translated from Principes élémentaires de propagande de guerre by Anne Morelli, Editions Labor, Brussels, 2001)

Friday, December 29, 2023

Housing Two: Owning

 Your home as ‘fictitious’ capital

In more recent times the opportunities to ‘make money from money’, so to speak, have expanded for the ordinary person.  For example, the 1980 Housing Act introduced by the Thatcher government in the UK gave council house tenants the legal right to buy their council homes at a discounted price. This combined with the introduction of mortgage interest relief significantly impacted on the property market and widened popular participation in it. Around the time of the First World War three-quarters of the UK population rented their homes; by the early 2000s the situation had reversed with over 70 percent of the population nominally owning their homes – although the percentage has since declined due to the increasing difficulty of would-be first time buyers to get on the housing ladder. 

While rising house prices might put the idea of owning a home beyond the reach of some would-be first time buyers it is, paradoxically precisely these rising house prices that makes the idea of buying a house such a financially attractive proposition. While houses prices as a multiple of average earnings fell during the late 19th century (which explains why rented accommodation was such a widespread phenomenon in the early 20th century Britain), that trend has reversed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, boosted by the relative stagnation in wages. The benefit of owning a home, steadily appreciating in value, instead of paying ‘dead money’ for some over-priced rental property is all too obvious.

A few people with the financial resources to engage in the ‘buy to let’ business might find themselves in the position where they can comfortably live off the rents of their tenants. However, for the vast majority who have purchased a home, renting it out is simply not an option.  Even taking in lodgers would be impractical in many cases.

Consequently, most homeowners continue to depend absolutely on some form of paid work since, with home-ownership, comes financial commitments such as mortgage repayments. True, you might manage to sell your home and realise a capital gain (particularly if the property market is booming) but you still have to find somewhere else to live. It is this makes the idea of treating one´s home as (fictitious) ‘capital’ – as some commentators do – somewhat problematic.  You cannot be without a home since it is a basic human need (unlike other forms of fictitious capital). 

If you do sell your house at a time when house prices are rising then you have the problem of having to pay more for some other house you may subsequently wish to purchase. On the other hand, as well as going up, prices can also come down as occasionally happens after a property boom. Having to sell your property in a slump could very well plunge you into dire financial difficulties that you may never recover from, financially speaking.

The above qualifications notwithstanding, it is nevertheless the case that a fairly large percentage of the working class do indeed engage in the speculative buying and selling of property at some point in their lives.  Normally, the primary means of purchasing a property is via a loan (mortgage) from a bank.  Bank loans (in this case for consumption as opposed to the production of commodities) is, as we saw, a classic example of fictitious capital. 

In the past, at least in the UK, it was building societies (or ‘mutuals’ controlled by their members) that had a virtual monopoly in the issuance of mortgages. This changed in a big way in the 1980s with banks entering the mortgage market and offering a variety of different mortgages to suit different customers. Mortgage loans as a percentage of total bank loans has subsequently grown very significantly. 

These are ‘secured’ loans inasmuch as your home serves as collateral , meaning that if you fail to keep up with your mortgage repayments the bank can take possession of your home. The same is true of auto loans.  However, there are also various kinds of unsecured loans where collateral is not required such as personal loans, student loans and credit cards. These are riskier from the standpoint of the lender and for that reason sometimes attract a higher rate of interest. With the growth in the both the volume and diversity of consumer debt the exposure of working people to the machinations of fictitious capital has increased greatly in recent years.  

However, when we are talking about fictitious capital what more likely springs to mind is not so much our monthly mortgage repayments or our credit card bills but an institution like the stock market. Most ordinary people would have little, if any, direct experience of dabbling in the buying and selling of shares. Essentially the stock market is the domain of the wealthy private investor or else (and to an increasing extent), institutional investors. However, what happens here is in principle no different from what happens when you place a bet on a horse in your local betting shop after having studied its ‘form’.  

It is speculative gambling but on a vastly larger scale, of course. The stupendous wealth that can be made on the stock market rams home the point, again and again, that it is not through hard work that one can become incredibly wealthy. This breeds a kind of cynicism towards work born out of the belief that what is officially supposed to motivate us to work is precisely the lure of money.  If we go along with that belief, how could we not feel cynical, when we see fortunes being made by others who don’t have to lift a finger to do that? When we struggle to pay the bills on the meagre wages we earn it is perhaps understandable that some might feel resentment.

Sometimes, this can be misconstrued as ‘envy’. However, the ‘politics of envy’, as it is called, is an ideological snare and a trap for the unwary. To ‘envy’ someone is to covet what they have and, indeed, to want to become like them (and hence to perpetuate the very system they benefit from). However, it is structurally impossible, not to say nonsensical, for the majority in a capitalist society to come to find themselves in the same economic position of the minority of being able to live off the unearned income that this majority, after all, provides them with. It is not envy that this majority should feel but, rather, outrage.


Thursday, December 28, 2023

Housing One: Renting


The Guardian reports that:’ Illegal evictions in England hit record high, but less than 1% of landlords convicted.’ The piece documents the abuse suffered by tenants who have been illegally evicted by private landlords.

A Marxist-Leninist-Maoist comments: ‘The landlord is one of the last vestiges of feudalism still holding power in (now, even late) capitalist society. But because financial capitalism has overrun and conquered industrial capitalism, in this the era of late imperialism, the problematic and fully parasitic existence of the landlord is just another welcome tool of wealth extraction in the capitalist arsenal. It’s a particularly nasty method of wealth extraction, to boot, as evictions will frequently leave former tenants homeless and on the street ,or worse. Just as the serfs in the times of feudalism had to give some fraction of their grain (or other labours) to their lords, so too do renters have to give some fraction of their income — the wealth that they produced at work during the month to their landlords, or be removed from the premises. Yes, modern landlords are literally that, lords of the land, and we still haven’t abolished this wretched vestigial feudal appendage.

A Trotskyist comments: ‘Along with bankers and capitalists, the landlord class is especially despised. They are regarded very much as greedy speculators, rack-renting owners, who force up rents at the earliest opportunity and cream off a section of the surplus-value created by the working class. It is clear why disdain for them is rising. In Britain alone, rents and housing costs account for up to a half – sometimes more – of the disposable income of working people, which has become an intolerable burden, especially for those who live in the capital.’

Both the Maoist and the Trotskyist have got the wrong end of the stick. They have confused “ground rent” paid to the owner of the land with “house rent” paid to owner of a house as the price of something the house-owner is selling as a commodity, viz, house-room. Those letting out house-room are not members of a “landlord class” left over from feudalism, though the aristocrats and others who own the land in the centre of London might be described as such but even they have long since used the ground-rent they extract to turn themselves into capitalists and so are now part of the capitalist class in their own right. The landlord and capitalist classes of the 19th century have long since merged into a single capitalist owning class.

But why do so many people in this country have to pay rent for their homes? It is an ignominy that is taken for granted: a weekly fee for living in someone else’s house, with the assurance of being able to stay a matter of the temper of parliamentary Acts. The answer to the question is that under capitalism you get only what you can buy, and an increasing number of the population can buy only the use of a house week by week. Not that the alternative, owner-occupation, gives exemption from the problem. For most people it means crippling mortgage repayments for the greater part of their working lives, and the same shadow always there: if you can’t pay, you’re out.

In 1872 Engels wrote, in The Housing Question: “But one thing is certain: there are already in existence sufficient buildings for dwellings in the big towns to remedy immediately any real ‘housing shortage’, given rational utilization of them.” This is at least equally true today. Of course the implication— that the two could tidily be brought together, in society as it is— is fatuous. The more important implication, however, is that capitalism’s sovereign remedy of continually building more houses is no remedy at all.

Given houses built to the cheapest standard, whose maintenance is a matter of their profitability as investments, there is no end to the housing problem. As in Engels' day, the clearance and replacement of run-down houses is their being “. . . not abolished; they are merely shifted elsewhere! The same economic necessity which produced them in the first place, produces them in the next place also.” Thus, legislation like that which the Guardian says is not been enforced is inescapable under capitalism, but it cannot answer the problem inherent in the way society is organised.

Bricks and mortar are of vital importance to human beings. Housing is involved in innumerable social and personal questions: health, sex, the facilities for both privacy and sociability, education, recreation. Nor is bad or good housing a matter simply of the building by itself. Underlying it all under capitalism are the coercions of the society which produces only for profit. One may compare the technical possibilities of our civilisation with the way people have to live, and see that in this regard as in all others Socialism offers what capitalism cannot.

‘Here's a health to everyone of you who earns your weekly rent;
Bad luck to every landlord and the landlord's government;
Good luck to everyone of you who wants to lend a hand,
To speed the time that's coming when the people own the land.

Bye, bye, greedy landlord,
Bye, bye, greedy landlord, oh!’

That Greedy Landford    Karl Fred Dallas

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Socialist Sonnet No. 128



From all the deadly calculus of war,

With mounting tolls that are so horrific

They become just a gruesome statistic,

Let this accounting be for one, not more.

Focus on a single obscenity,

What should be an unimaginable fact,

A child killed through a deliberate act

In vain pursuit of national liberty.

When pulling the trigger is justified

As self-defence, which partial god or creed

Can be invoked to excuse such a deed,

By laying the guilt on the other side?

The gains of war cannot be reconciled

With loss of a man, a woman, a child.


D. A.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

A socialist in the making?

Which mainstrean journalist quotes Wilde on charity approvingly?

Oscar Wilde once said of charity that it “is not a solution [to poverty]: it is an aggravation of the difficulty. The proper aim is to reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.” This rings out in my head like the tolling of some monotonous perpetual bell whenever I see glossy, curated footage of celebrities engaging in charitable pursuits, seemingly unable to anticipate anything other than fawning gratitude from their audience.

Doubles down on the futility of reformism?

We are putting the world's most expensive plaster on a wound which will continue to rip itself open without the appropriate stitching.

And concludes:

When the cameras stop flashing and the interviews are concluded, the people featured in the press will still be experiencing homelessness, as will thousands of other people whose faces we might never see.    Poverty and structural inequality prevail, while the grotesquely wealthy head home, PR opportunity secured and conscience appeased till the next time?

Note to Head Office: please send Lennie Pennie, a columist for The Herald (Scotland) 3 free Standards!

Monday, December 25, 2023

A Slight Christmas Carol


A Short Story from the December 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Scrooge buttoned his overcoat and picked up his Chronicle, said goodnight to the office and left. This was not the Ebenezer Scrooge who said “ Humbug ” and disliked Christmas but later had a change of heart and died in the workhouse through giving all his money away: this was Stan Scrooge, who travelled on the Northern Line.

He walked home briskly from the station, pleasurably noting seasonable signs everywhere; the inviting tins of pudding and turkey in the grocers’ and the sprigs of mistletoe round the price-tickets, dear old Santa Claus in the Coop doorway, Frankie Laine singing “Silent Night ” in the radio shop in the next street. There was a fresh, crisp layer of snow, and at the corner by the loan-office it was patterned with innumerable converging footprints, as though a pageant of sainted Wenceslases had passed, full of optimism and inspiration. For it was Christmas Eve, the time when men the whole world over feel the warmth of peace and goodwill towards one another. Scrooge passed a paper-boy. The lad, with his glowing cheeks and bright eyes, was the incarnation of the Christmas spirit; his voice fairly rang with it as he shouted, “Thirty more terrorists killed! Read all about it!”

Yes, it was a season of enchantment, Scrooge thought as he let himself into his lodgings. Three Christmas cards, and toad-in-the-hole for dinner; then he put on his slippers and sat by the fire to read his paper. The fire made him drowsy. He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands. In a few moments he was asleep.

When he awoke, the fire had burned down. Scrooge looked at his watch; it had stopped. At that very moment, the clock in the hall began to strike. He counted the chimes—twelve o’clock! Fancy sleeping all that time! Scrooge would have leaped from his chair in dismay, but another sound caught his attention. It was the sound of clanking chains.

Scrooge did not immediately think of ghosts. He had read books published by the Rationalist Press, and therefore despised superstition. In fact, he wondered why his landlady was up so late, and what she was doing. His emotions asserted themselves, however, when the noise ascended the stairs and entered his room. The chains were attached to a shrouded figure which pointed at Scrooge. He suddenly remembered something.

“This happened to someone in my family,” he said. “ Heard my grandfather talk about it. You’re the Ghost of Christmas Past.”

The ghost inclined it’s head.

Scrooge sniffed. “Well, I’m nothing like him, you know. Not much to unearth from my past. A girl or two and that’s all.”

As far he could judge, the ghost shrugged its shoulders before it beckoned him to the window. To Scrooge’s surprise, the window was open; to his greater surprise, the two of them floated out. Astonishment over, it seemed a quite natural way of travelling—certainly a satisfactory one, because in seconds they descended several miles away, at a place Scrooge recognised immediately. The biggest football ground in London; broad daylight, 60,000 people, and one team breaking away down the centre. The ghost pointed to a spot in the crowd and drew Scrooge towards it. Half a dozen young men, enjoying one another's’ company as well as the game.

“Why,” said Scrooge, “ that’s me! And old Johnny Dunn! And—why it’s that match against the Germans: those are the German chaps we got talking to! My word, that’s a few Christmases ago! Before the war, that was.”

The ghost put a finger to its lips. The game was nearly over. They watched the lively conversation, listened to the warm farewells at the end and the two young Englishmen talking as they went off together. They heard Johnny Dunn praise the Germans as decent fellows, and Scrooge saying well, they were human beings just the same, weren’t they? Johnny said that if you thought about it you could see the ordinary people of the world wanted to live in peace. And Scrooge said that was it; the politicians began wars and the common people had to fight them.

It was pretty to hear them. The older Scrooge, slightly puzzled, was led away by the ghost, over rooftops again until they came to a red brick building in a main road. A lot of young men were walking in and out of the building, or talking on the pavement. Among them, Scrooge saw himself.

“I know that,” he said. “ It’s the first Christmas of the war. Just before Christmas, really—when I went to register for the army. And look—that’s just what happened! That fellow talking to me outside the Labour Exchange—I remember him well. Wouldn’t go in the army—just said he wouldn’t kill other working men. Bit queer, he was.”

They drew near. Scrooge saw that he was talking excitedly. "Ordinary people like us? Don’t talk rubbish!” he was saying. “Nothing like us, the Germans aren’t. Arrogant and domineering, that’s their national character. Didn’t you hear on the wireless last night . . .” The other man looked sad rather than angry, and Scrooge felt rather uncomfortable. He felt the ghost was looking at him oddly too, and was glad when they passed on.

A recent Christmas, and Scrooge again condemning a nation—quoting books as well, sitting in his penultimate fiancee’s parlour. This time the Russians, and Joan was full of admiration as he explained about Pan-Slavism, the Russian character, and the menace of Marxism. The spectator Scrooge felt rather proud of himself.

“There,” he said to the ghost, “nothing unreasonable about that, anyway. And you can’t see me fraternizing with any ruddy Russians!”

The ghost took his arm. A few moments, and they were in a theatre. Christmas 1943: Scrooge, on leave, was in the stalls. A fat comedian in lounge suit and panama was speaking solemnly from the footlights. Our gallant allies; their courage, the bond between our two nations; in their honour, and by special request, he would sing “My Lovely Russian Rose.” Scrooge watched himself applauding enthusiastically. As the scene faded, he turned to the ghost.

“You’re too clever," he said indignantly. “ I’ve a good mind . . . ” 

The ghost held up its hand, and again took him by the sleeve. He did not know the time of the scene he was now shown. It was a street of houses, almost totally enclosed from the light, the sky like a strip of faded bunting. The people were ill-clothed and wretched, their children underfed and joyless; dankness and grime so pervaded the whole surrounding as to form a grey texture on the hopeless faces. Scrooge had never known hunger, and he was horrified. He turned to speak to the ghost. It had gone. He turned again, and the narrow street, too, had gone. He was in his own room, standing near his chair. Bewildered, he sat down and, without intending, fell asleep almost at once.

He was awakened again by the clock. As he opened his eyes, he saw that someone was standing there, huge and jolly, holding a flaming torch.

“ Ah! Awake at last!” said the ghost paternally.

“ Christmas present?” asked Scrooge.

“The very same.”

“ More levitation?” said Scrooge.

It shook its head. “A view from the window, that’s all: a mere glimpse of the world around us.”

The window was open again. With the ghost at his elbow, Scrooge looked out. He saw a church hall, drab and bare as those places are. It was snowing slightly, powdering the people who stood in a shuffling, shabby line at the door. Most—not all—of them were elderly. Inside the hall, they advanced one by one to a desk where a man was giving money away. A card said: “ Welfare Officer.”

“What’s this?” said Scrooge.

“ Ah,” murmured the ghost, “you don’t recognize the name. The Welfare Officer—otherwise known as public assistance, the R.O., and even—disrespectfully, of course —the bunhouse.”

“I thought you were showing me Christmas Presents?” said Scrooge.

“Indeed I am.”

“Get away” said Scrooge. “This is what your silent partner was showing me last night. Years ago, this. You don’t hear of people being on the R.O. nowadays.”

“My word,” said the ghost heartily, “ you don’t know much, do you? Thousands of ’em—thousands.” ’“Really?” asked Scrooge. “ But I thought things had improved.”

“You’d be surprised” said the ghost “ A good hundred thousand still call at the R.O. You’d better see this, too.”

It flashed its torch. For a moment Scrooge was dazzled. When he recovered, he saw a bleak, sombre group outside a bleak, sombre building. He asked the ghost if it were a workhouse.

“Dear me, no,’ said the ghost. “ These are free men with money—a little, at any rate—in their pockets.

“ I don’t know it,” said Scrooge.

“ Of course you do,” said the ghost. “ Ever hear of good beds for working men? This place is full of ’em.” 

Scrooge stared. “ Do you mean . . . ” he began to ask. 

“Sure,” said the ghost. “ And the firm which owns this lot pays very handsome dividends, especially .nowadays. . . . We’ve hardly started yet, though. ’ I’ll show you something else.”

He did. He showed Scrooge poverty he never knew to exist, housing he never knew to stand. Sordidness, wretchedness, degradation—Christmas Present could show them all. Scrooge felt in turn horror, incredulity and anger. Finally he forgot the ghost’s presence, and was scarcely aware when the window closed and he was led back to his chair. Before he fell asleep, he saw the ghost beaming at him and heard it saying: “If it gets you like that, you ought to find the cause, you know . . .” But Scrooge was too tired to hear. He fell asleep.

He dreamed that he talked with the Ghost of Christmas Present What was the point of this harrowing panorama? Scrooge demanded. Because you’re going to change it, said the ghost. By myself? said Scrooge. You and millions more, replied the ghost. But what causes all this? Scrooge asked. You tell me, said the ghost. A lot of it’s’ human nature, said Scrooge. Human nature changes, the ghost replied. I suppose part of it’s the system, Scrooge said. What do you know about the system? asked the ghost. Not much, said Scrooge; was me and the Germans a part of the system? Your nationalism, yes, said the ghost And the bunhouse, the squalor and the wars; you don’t know it yet, and things won’t change much till you do know it. All right, said Scrooge, maybe you’re right: what can I do about it? You must first understand, said the ghost. Scrooge repeated himself: What can I do? Understand, said the ghost Understand, understand, understand . . . 

The clock struck twelve, and Scrooge awoke from his dream. Before him stood the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come. It moved aside, and Scrooge was alarmed. His room had gone, and he, his chair and the ghost seemed suspended above a crowd of people. The ghost’s touch reassured him, and he looked down.

The people looked different, strikingly yet in a way that Scrooge could not identify for a time. His final realization came so suddenly that he burst out: “ Why, don’t they look happy!”

“They do, don’t they?” smiled the ghost.

“ Look as if they've all become millionaires,” Scrooge went on.

“ Strangely enough, they have no money,” said the ghost.

“No money?” Scrooge was disbelieving. “Get away—they’re not poor.”

“Indeed they are not. But they have no money.”

“Go on with you,” said Scrooge impatiently.

The ghost pointed, singling out a man. Scrooge watched him. "Why,” he said indignantly, “he’s pinching a pair of shoes. He walked into that shop-place and took them—bold as brass, too!”


“They are his,” said the ghost calmly.

Scrooge sat open-mouthed with bewilderment. The ghost pointed to a place where a few men and women were working. “ Ah,’” said Scrooge, “ that’s good stuff they’re making. Taking their time, though. Which one’s the foreman?”

“Everyone makes good stuff,” said the ghost firmly. “ And there’s no foremen.”

“No foremen? But they'd do what they liked!” cried Scrooge.

“They are doing what they like. They are making good things.”

Incredible, Scrooge thought. He wondered if everyone had sufficient, but the evidence was before him. Nobody was opulent, but everyone was prosperous; nobody superior, but everyone satisfied. He asked question after question of the ghost; the answers were shown, not told him. The language itself had changed through the disuse of innumerable words. Worship, sell, steal, envy, profit—hundreds of words that Scrooge heard every day were archaisms to the people he watched now. Others, like war and business, were preserved only for the convenience of historians and word-spinners, as are chariot-racing and alchemy in Scrooge's day.

He realized suddenly that the scene began to fade. Clutching the ghost’s sleeve, he begged an answer to only one more question. They began to descend through space, and the uprush of air made speech difficult. Shouting, leaning on the ghost, Scrooge demanded: “What Christmas Present said—something I can do to bring it nearer?”

The ghost’s voice was becoming distant, but still was clear. "Understand—first you must understand,” it said. Scrooge pressed closer. “What can I do—do?” he bawled. The voice floated back, as the floor of Scrooge’s room rushed towards him.

“Understand . . .  understand . . .  understand!”

Robert Barltrop