Communism (Part 2)
“Money doesn’t talk, it swears.” (Bob Dylan)
I encourage those who have not yet read Communism (Part 1), and the earlier articles linked within it, to do so before going any further.
In a previous article, which you can find here, I alluded to a poem entitled ‘Money-madness’ by English writer D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930). In his poem Lawrence described in a few vivid lines how money affects us.
We quail, money makes us quail.
It has got us down, we grovel before it in strange terror.
And no wonder, for money has a fearful cruel power among men.
Even allowing some latitude for ‘poetic licence’, wasn’t Lawrence correct in suggesting that money exerts a mesmeric, or even mystical, effect on us - that sometimes it can overwhelm our senses?
Lawrence deplored our dependence on money, even for life’s essentials. His alternative?
Bread should be free,
shelter should be free,
fire should be free
to all and anybody, all and anybody, all over the world.
Those who might infer from this that Lawrence was a Marxist would be mistaken. In a letter he sent in December 1928 to a left-wing journalist named Charles Wilson, Lawrence made his scepticism about Communism clear.
The dead materialism of Marx Socialism and Soviets seems to me no better than what we’ve got. What we want is life and trust: men trusting men, and making living a free thing, not a thing to be earned. But if men trusted men, we could soon have a new world, and send this one to the devil.
If D. H. Lawrence believed that his dream of “men trusting men” could not be found in either Capitalism or Communism, what was his remedy for our ‘money-madness’?
What we want is some sort of communism
Not based on wages, nor profits, nor any sort of buying and selling
But on a religion of life.
Throughout history there have been numerous attempts to create Lawrence’s small ‘c’ communism. I wrote about one of those here. Another is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP). Its members collect donations from those who can afford to give something and distribute the money to the needy. Is there a more practical and straightforward example of everyday communism in today’s world?
The SVP has about 11,500 members in Ireland and is one of the country’s best-known voluntary organisations. Although the SVP helps Christians and non-Christians alike, the society has always had strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church. These ties are made clear in a recent SVP publication.
The work of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is carried out in accord with the teaching and the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church.
When in 2018 the Irish government announced its intention to remove the ban on abortion from the Constitution, some members of the SVP expected the organisation to oppose the plan. This expectation arose from the Catholic Church’s longstanding opposition to abortion.
However, in an open letter, the president of the Irish branch of the SVP declared that the Society would not be advising the general public or its own members to vote against abortion in the forthcoming referendum. As the letter explained:
It should…be understood that the Society of St Vincent de Paul is a registered charity and is therefore constrained by law from involvement in political campaigns which are not aligned to our charitable objectives.
The law referred to in the letter is the Charities Act of 2009. The main purpose of the Act was to set up a new body known as the Charities Regulator, which would “establish and maintain a public register of charitable organisations operating in Ireland”. The Charities Regulator’s stated mission is
To regulate the charity sector in the public interest so as to ensure compliance with the law and support best practice in the governance, management and administration of charities.
The Act itself is a lengthy document (82 pages) so the Regulator distilled its terms into reasonably plain English. Here is what the Regulator’s summary had to say about the legal constraint mentioned in the SVP letter:
The use of charitable funds and resources by a charity for the purpose of engaging in activities to promote a political cause is only permissible if it can be shown that the activity is directly advancing or supporting the charitable purpose of the charity.
The Regulator went on to explain the consequences for any registered charity that broke the law.
An existing registered Irish charity risks breaching the Charities Act 2009 and losing its charitable status where it seeks to promote a political cause which does not directly advance its charitable purpose.
The SVP seems to have decided that expressing its views on the government’s intention to permit abortion would amount to “promot[ing] a political cause which does not directly advance its charitable purpose”, i.e. alleviating poverty, and therefore would be illegal.
According to the Charities Act, losing its charitable status would make the SVP an “excluded body”, and it would be removed from the Regulator’s register.This would have devastating consequences for the charity. Not only might a senior officer like the president face a fine of up to €300,000 for speaking out against what the Act described as “public policy” - in this case the legalisation of abortion - the SVP itself could suffer a huge hit to its finances.
At this time the SVP received fifteen per cent of its yearly income from the government. This amounted to about €12m per annum. Here are the figures for 2017-2019:
As an “excluded body” the SVP would be prohibited from communicating with the public, thereby undermining its raison d’etre, i.e. receiving money from those who have it and giving it to those who need it.If that happened, it is hard to see how the government could continue to provide financial support. Without all that money, the SVP would go out of business.
In reality the risk of the SVP “losing its charitable status” was slim. A scenario in which the government would take on a beloved organisation like the SVP in a public battle - a battle it could hardly hope to win – is difficult to envisage. Yet, as far as the SVP was concerned, the threat of becoming an “excluded body” was real enough to keep it out of the abortion debate.
On May 25th 2018 the constitutional amendment to permit abortion was passed by a huge majority of Irish voters. Would the outcome have been different if the SVP had campaigned openly against the government? Perhaps, who knows?
As I asserted in Part 1, those behind the “long march” strategy have sought to pervert the sense of communal trust at the heart of our humanity. Money has been a key component of their efforts – the problem is proving it. There is no paper trail, no archive of documentary sources, no hard evidence that the researcher can access to reveal the activities of the “long march” strategists. Those who have infiltrated the political, religious, and commercial life of this country were never going to leave traces of their true purpose behind. So whether the case of the SVP and the abortion referendum is an unforeseen consequence of a law enacted a decade earlier, or an example of the “long march” strategy being put into action, is a matter for the reader to decide.
Sometimes I think art or poetry is a better way to expose the money trap than historical research. The Bob Dylan song, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, first appeared on the LP Bringing It All Back Home, released in March 1965. This extract suggests that the writer was close in his thinking to that other poet, D. H. Lawrence.
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony
As I have argued, our money system corrupts and corrodes the instincts and feelings that make us fully human. This is true even when it is used with the best intentions, as Francis of Assisi discovered. So if our dependence on money is the problem, is the goal of trying to redistribute it more fairly, as the SVP does, actually counter-productive?
It seems to me that it is akin to offering a heroin addict a methadone substitute as a safer alternative. Surely it would be far better to help the user end his/her dependence on drugs altogether?
But when we are all hooked, who will intervene to save us?
More in Part 3.
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‘Money-madness’, D. H. Lawrence, The complete poems of D. H. Lawrence (New York 1977), pp. 486-7.
Ibid., p. 1003 (emphasis in original).
‘The root of our evil’ , Complete poems, pp. 482-3.
International Confederation of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, ‘Should our assistance be on-going, and only for Catholics?’, 19 Aug 2019 [https://www.ssvpglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/29.-Should-our-assistance-be-on-going-and-only-for-Catholics.pdf], 13 Oct. 2022.
Irish Catholic, 3 May 2018 (emphasis added).
Charities Regulator [https://www.charitiesregulator.ie/en/who-we-are/what-we-do], 8 Oct. 2022.
Charities Regulator, Guidance on Charities and the Promotion of Political Causes (Sep. 2021), p. 7 (emphasis added).
Ibid. Charities Act 2009, Part 1, Section 2, p. 10.
Charities Act 2009, Part 1, Section 10, p. 15.
Ibid, Part 3, Section 46 (2), p. 39.
Bob Dylan (official web site) [https://www.bobdylan.com/songs/its-alright-ma-im-only-bleeding/], 14 Oct. 2022.