Friday, February 24, 2012

Discussion groups

At our first six Australian events, three prompted interest in starting discussion groups on ideas like ours. We have been asked to provide some basic advice on starting such discussion groups. Our response follows.

The co-editors of Life Without Money have both participated in discussion/reading groups before. A few decades ago Frans was involved in the Melbourne Marxian Discussion group which met weekly and went for ten years. Not many groups are that successful over such a long period. Like many groups they usually rely on one or a couple of instigators, and attract quite a few people many of whom drop by the way side through differences or lack of interest.

Frans' group was started by four or five people and grew to 55 by the end of the first year, then splintered into a whole series of disputing factions. In the end about 12 people remained. Frans thinks 8 is ideal for a discussion group, 12 at the most. But a handful of keen people is all that is needed to start with.

Meeting weekly is pretty full on. Fortnightly is more practical. Some groups every three or four weeks. How much reading you can do for a session often depends on the amount of time you leave between meetings. A chapter or article or two is often ideal for detailed discussion though sometimes a book might be devoured at a time.

Through the women's movement in the early 1970s, I was involved in 'consciousness-raising' groups, which sometimes functioned as reading groups. However, because these groups focused on personal and intimate de-briefings of everyday challenges to women, working out ways to 'confront the patriarchy', they weren't purely or in many cases at all, reading groups. One that I was involved in had a reading bent because she edited a feminist journal and another woman participating was one of a feminist publishing collective, so for them reading was part of everyday life. It depends on the people attracted to the reading group how much it functions specifically on reading and ranges round people's thoughts about how they are experimenting with change in their everyday lives.

In terms of starting up a group we think that the best way is with a loose reading agenda for a series of meetings and then everyone can decide what you do next. For instance, you might set Life Without Money for a chapter by chapter analysis over 11 to 12 weeks, identifying another reading to complement each chapter too (say those that appear in footnotes and/or sources of the extracts in boxes throughout the book).

Frans's group used to spend quite a bit of time deciding on their reading for the next 6 to 12 months. Everyone needs to be fairly comfortable with the agenda so they keep motivated to be involved and often there needs to be give and take.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pics and Graeber

This post features some pics that comrade Peter Love took at our Readings Carlton (Melbourne) book launch on 3 February. At the left is Jeff Sparrow, who launched it.

I've just finished reading David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011, Melville House Printing, New York). I was particularly interested to read it because my interest in the concept and function of money partly evolved as I studied Mexico's foreign public debt in the early 1980s, which forced me to think a lot about debt and, by implication, money. The final chapter of Graeber's book covers the period since 1971, when the USA moved away from the gold standard. Graeber argues that our household debt generates compulsion to work for money, that say through superannuation schemes we have been 'encouraged to buy a piece of capitalism' (p. 376) and that our 'new global currency is rooted in military power even more firmly than the old was' (p. 368).

In the last few pages Graeber talks about the need for 'jettisoning of much of our accustomed categories of thought' or 'we're likely to destroy everything' and that we need 'to move toward a society where people can live more by working less', talking about the 'non-industrious poor' in much the way we have in our book 'as pioneers of a new economic order that would not share our current one's penchant for self-destruction' (p. 384). Again, in the last paragraph, the pointer is (unconsciously) in our direction, as Graeber decides that freedom is 'the ability to make real promises' determined in values of our own making rather than in abstractions, such as money (p. 391).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Gleebooks at Dulwich Hill and more

Last night we launched Life Without Money in Sydney at gleebooks at Dulwich Hill. Again we had a great turnout. However, Green Bans, environmental and union activist Jack Mundey had to pull out of launching it due to serious hearing problems. He told us to remind the punters that he was 82 years old now. So Frans read out his apology and testimonial on the book, and I, Ariel Salleh and Terry Leahy all spoke to the themes in the book and its making.

Meanwhile I have been re-reading Holloway's Crack Capitalism and thought some passages worth quoting:

It is not the state that creates the social synthesis that surrounds us, although it often presents itself as doing so... The real force of cohesion stands behind the state: it is the movement of money... More precisely, the social synthesis is established through that which is expressed in money: value.

Value is what holds society together under capitalism... Capitalism is composed of a huge number of independent units which produce commodities that they sell on the market... Value (manifested in money) constitutes the social synthesis in capitalist society, that which holds together the many different, uncoordinated activities... the state is dependent on money and can do little to influence its movement.

... Money is the fine spider's web that holds us entrapped.

John Holloway (2010) Crack Capitalism, Pluto Press, London: 65–6

Also, note the short review of our book by Roger Fletcher in the Morning Star, 'the only English-language socialist daily newspaper published in the world' and 'the only newspaper in Britain owned by its readers'. The Morning Star started out as the Daily Worker issued by the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Melbourne events

On Friday 3 February the great storyteller Jeff Sparrow spoke eloquently at our launch at Readings Carlton playing to a crowd of around 50 before we signed copies of the book and talked with friends, colleagues and others we'd just met. The next day, Saturday 4 February, Sharne Vate was MC with environmental and political activist Julia Dehm conversing with us about the main themes in our book in another packed room at the New International Book Shop discussion space. There was much lively talk about the necessity and possibility (or not) of weaning our society off money as its organising principle.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

House of a Billion Euros

Stephanie Hegarty's Outlook article, 'The house that a billion euros built' is available in text and podcast through the BBC World Service News Magazine. It begins:

'This is an unlikely consequence of the Irish economic crisis. Artist Frank Buckley decided to express his anger about the property boom and bust by building a house from more than a billion euros of decommissioned notes...
'The money, which forms a pulped brick of shredded notes, is part of an art installation - and home - built by unemployed Dublin-based artist Frank Buckley.

'Mr Buckley has invited strangers into the space in the hope that it will inspire debate on the state of Irish national debt and the meaning of currency...
'He decided to create art that would bring the absurdity of the Irish economic situation to light and made paintings from the shredded notes and coins which he exhibited towards the end of last year.
'Then the idea came to him to build a house..'
It's worth a read and reminds me of a favourite Thames and Hudson book, Money (Katy Siegel and Paul Mattick), which brings together lots of examples of artworks on the topic, including a chapter on 'Alternatives'. Check it out at your local library.

On 26 March 2012 the New York Times wrote a piece on Frank Buckley's house and the issues it raises too. You can find the electronic version here.