The Great Money Trick

An edited version in play format, by Graham Stevenson, of a section of Tressell’s book, for use by political groups as an educational tool….

Narrator: It seemed as if they regarded their own children with a kind of contempt, as being only fit to grow up to be the servants of the children of such people as Rushton and Sweater. But it must be remembered that they had been taught self-contempt when they were children. In the so-called ‘Christian’ schools. they attended then they were taught to ‘order themselves lowly and reverently towards their betters’, and they were now actually sending their own children to learn the same degrading lessons in their turn! They had a vast amount of consideration for their betters, and for the children of their betters, but very little for their own children, for each other, or for themselves. That was why they sat there in their old clothes and ate their coarse food, and cracked their coarser jokes, and drank the dreadful tea, and were content! So long as they had Plenty of Work and plenty of – Something – to eat, and some ragged clothes to wear, they were content! And they were proud of it. They gloried in it. They agreed and assured each other that the good things of life were not intended for the ‘Likes of them’, or their children.
 One of the men, sat on the upturned pail in the corner: ‘Wot’s become of the Professor?’
Harlow: ‘P’raps ’e’s preparing ’is sermon,’ ending with a laugh.
Easton: ‘We ain’t ’ad no lectures from ’im lately, since ’e’s been workin’ on that speshul job away in that top room. Ave we?’
Sawkins: ‘Dam good job too! It gives me the pip to ’ear ’im, the same old thing over and over again.’
Harlow: ‘Poor ole Frank. ’E does upset ’isself about things, don’t ’e?’
Bundy: ‘More fool ’im! I’ll take bloody good care I don’t go worryin’ myself to death like ’e’s doin’, about such dam rot as that.’
Harlow: ‘I do believe that’s wot makes ’im look so bad as ’e does. Several times this morning I couldn’t help noticing the way ’e kept on coughing.’
Philpot: ‘I thought ’e seemed to be a bit better lately. More cheerful and happier like, and more inclined for a bit of fun.’
Bundy: ‘He’s a funny sort of chap, ain’t he? One day quite jolly, singing and cracking jokes and tellin’ yarns, and the next you can’t hardly get a word out of ’im.’
Man on the pail: ‘Bloody rot, I call it. Wot the ’ell’s the use of the likes of us troublin’ our ’eads about politics?’
Harlow: ‘Oh, I don’t see that. We’ve got votes and we’re really the people what control the affairs of the country, so I reckon we ought to take some interest in it, but at the same time I can’t see no sense in this ’ere Socialist wangle that Owen’s always talkin’ about.’
Crass (with a jeering laugh): ‘Nor nobody else neither.
Man on the pail (profoundly): Even if all the bloody money in the world WAS divided out equal, it wouldn’t do no good! In six months’ time it would be all back in the same ’ands again.’
Everybody: ‘Of course.’
Easton: ‘But ’e ’ad a cuff the other day about money bein’ no good at all! Don’t you remember ’e said as money was the principal cause of poverty?’
Owen (who entered at that moment): ‘So it is the principal cause of poverty.’
Philpot: ‘Hooray! (leading off a cheer which the others take up and then announcing like a master of ceremonies.) ‘The Professor ’as arrived and will now proceed to say a few remarks.’
(Roar of merriment from all)
Harlow: with mock despair: ‘Let’s ’ave our bloody dinner first, for Christ’s sake.’
Owen, having filled his cup with tea, sits down in his usual place.
Philpot (rising solemnly to his feet, looking round the company): ‘Genelmen, with your kind permission, as soon as the Professor ’as finished ’is dinner ’e will deliver ’is well-known lecture, entitled, Money the Principal Cause of being ’ard up, proving as money ain’t no good to nobody. At the hend of the lecture a collection will be took up to provide the lecturer with a little encouragement.’
Philpot resumes his seat amid cheers.
The company make to finish their eating, making impromtu remarks about the lecture. Owen laughs, continuing to read the piece of newspaper that his dinner had been wrapped in.
Harlow: ’Let’s oot ’im.’
The suggestion is immediately acted upon; howls, groans and catcalls fill the air, mingled with cries of ‘Fraud!’ ‘Imposter!’ ‘Give us our money back!’ ‘Let’s wreck the ’all!’ and so on.
Philpot: putting his hand on Owen’s shoulder: ‘Come on ’ere. Prove that money is the cause of poverty.’
Crass (sneering): ‘It’s one thing to say it and another to prove it.’
(We see that he is holding secretively a cutting from a newspaper.)
Owen: ‘Money is the real cause of poverty.’
Crass: ‘Prove it.’
Owen: ‘Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labours.’
Crass: ‘Prove it.’
Owen slowly folds up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and puts it into his pocket.
Owen: ‘All right. ‘I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.’
Owen (opening his dinner basket and taking from it two slices of bread): `Has anyone any bread left?’
They give him assorted pieces, which he places in a heap on a clean piece of paper.
Owen:`And your pocket knives?’
Easton, Harlow and Philpot hand them over.
Owen: `These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created by nature for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun.’
Harlow (winking at the others): ‘You’re about as fair-speakin’ a man as I’ve met for some time.’
Philpot: ‘Yes, mate. Anyone would agree to that much! It’s as clear as mud.’
Owen: ‘Now, I am a capitalist; or, rather, I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present argument how I obtained possession of them, or whether I have any real right to them; the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the Landlord and Capitalist class. I am that class: all these raw materials belong to me.’
Philpot: ‘Good enough!’
Owen: ‘Now you three represent the Working class: you have nothing – and for my part, although I have all these raw materials, they are of no use to me – what need is – the things that can be made out of these raw materials by Work. Now, I have invented the Great Money Trick to make you work for me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins’ – taking three halfpennies from his pocket – ‘represent my Money Capital.’
He eyes the assembled group,
‘But before we go any further, ‘it is most important that you remember that I am not supposed to be merely “a” capitalist. I represent the whole Capitalist Class. You are not supposed to be just three workers – you represent the whole Working Class.’
Crass (impatiently): ‘All right, all right. We all understand that. Git on with it.’
Owen (proceeding to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.): ‘These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent – a week’s work. We will suppose that a week’s work is worth – one pound: and we will suppose that each of these ha’pennies is a sovereign. We’d be able to do the trick better if we had real sovereigns, but I forgot to bring any with me.’
Philpot: ‘I’d lend you some, ‘but I left me purse on our grand pianner. Here, let’s use a few coppers instead.’ (They all throw a few pennies on the table.)
Owen: ‘Now this is the way the trick works —’
Philpot (interrupting, mock apprehensively): ‘Before you goes on with it, don’t you think we’d better ’ave someone to keep watch at the gate in case a copper comes along? We don’t want to get runned in, you know.’
Owen: ‘I don’ think there’s any need for that. There’s only one force that would interfere with us for playing this game, and that’s Police Constable Socialism.’
Crass, irritably: ‘Never mind about Socialism. Get along with the bloody trick.’
Owen: ‘You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you Plenty of Work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week’s work is – you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each receive your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine, to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week’s work, you shall have your money.’
They pretend to set to work, and Owen sits down to watch them. As soon they finish, they pass the nine little blocks to Owen, who places them on a piece of paper by his side and `pays them their wages’.
Owen: `These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can’t live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is – one pound each.’
Narrator: `As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the kind Capitalist’s terms. They each bought back and at once consumed one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks…’
(Owen eats the bread)
`…and so the net result of the week’s work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of the things produced by the labour of the others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound’s worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they started work – they had nothing.’
The players respond appropriately to all this.
`This process was repeated several times: for each week’s work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pile of wealth continually increased. In a little while – reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each – he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended upon it. After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased…’
The company laugh and act jovially.
`…when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound’s worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools – the Machinery of Production – the knives away from them…’
Owen (grabbing the pocket knives): I regret to inform you that, due to Over Production all my store-houses are glutted with the necessaries of life. I have decided to close down the works forthwith.
Philpot (vexed): ‘Well, and wot the bloody ’ell are we to do now?’
Owen: ‘That’s not my business. I’ve paid you your wages, and provided you with Plenty of Work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at present. Come round again in a few months’ time and I’ll see what I can do for you.’
Harlow: ‘But what about the necessaries of life? We must have something to eat.’
Owen (affably): ‘Of course you must, and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.’
All but Owen: ‘But we ain’t got no bloody money!’
Owen: ‘Well, you can’t expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn’t work for me for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!’
Philpot, Harlow and Easton look blankly at each other, saying variously: `Eh?’, `Yer what?’, `Howsat?’ and so on. But the rest of the company, except Owen, only laugh at them. Then the three `unemployed’ begin to abuse Owen, in his role as the `kind-hearted Capitalist’, using extempore mild curses. `Bloody ‘ell’, `bollocks’, `bugger me’ and the like:
Philpot: `Give us some of them necessaries of life.’
Harlow: `Yus, them that you’ve got piled up in yer warehouses.’
Easton: Can’t we come back to work, so we can make more things for our fam’lies? their own needs. Owen stares blankly at them, impassive.
Philpot: `Ere, we could just take them things, if yer don’t let us `ave `em.’
Harlow (menacingly): `Yes, could force yer. ‘
Owen: `Don’t be so insolent! You working people have to learn the importance of honesty and respect for property. If you’re not careful I’ll have you locked up, the police won’t worry about knocking you about a bit when they throw you in a cell. If you riot or act up, I’ll get the army called out. You could be shot down like dogs, just as I had done at my mills in Belfast.’
They look at each other as Owen continues..
‘Of course, if it were not for foreign competition I should be able to sell these things that you have made, and then I should be able to give you Plenty of Work again: but until I have sold them to somebody or other, or until I have used them myself, you will have to remain idle.’
Harlow: ‘Well, this takes the bloody biskit, don’t it?’
Philpot (mournfully): ‘The only thing as I can see for it, is to ’ave a unemployed procession.’
Harlow: ‘That’s the idear.’
Philpot, Halrow and Easton march about the room in a line, singing:
`We’ve got no work to do-oo-oo’!
We’ve got no work to do-oo-oo!
Just because we’ve been workin’ a dam sight too hard,
Now we’ve got no work to do.’
As they march around, the rest of the company jeer at them, making offensive remarks, half in jest but with an edge of seriousness.
Crass: Anyone can see that they’re a lot of lazy, drunken loafers. Never done a fair day’s work in their lives and never intend to.
Philpot (to Harlow and Easton): ‘We shan’t never get nothing like this, you know. Let’s try sympathy.’
Harlow: ‘All right. Let’s sing for our supper. What shall we give ’em?’
Philpot (after a moment’s deliberation): ‘I know! We’ll sing `Let my lower lights be burning.’ That always makes ’em cough up.’
 They pretend to act the part of beggars, singing in the street.
‘Trim your fee-bil lamp me brither-in,
Some poor sail-er tempest torst,
Strugglin’ ’ard to save the ’arb-er,
Hin the dark-niss may be lorst,
So let try lower lights be burning,
Send ’er gleam acrost the wave,
Some poor shipwrecked, struggling seaman,
You may rescue, you may save.’
Philpot (removing his cap and addressing the crowd): ‘Kind frens. We’re hall honest British workin’ men, but we’ve been hout of work for the last twenty years on account of foreign competition and over-production. We don’t come hout ’ere because we’re too lazy to work; it’s because we can’t get a job. If it wasn’t for foreign competition, the kind’earted Hinglish capitalists would be able to sell their goods and give us Plenty of Work, and if they could, I assure you that we should hall be perfectly willing and contented to go on workin’ our bloody guts out for the benefit of our masters for the rest of our lives. We’re quite willin’ to work: that’s hall we arst for – Plenty of Work – but as we can’t get it we’re forced to come out ’ere and arst you to spare a few coppers towards a crust of bread and a night’s lodgin’.
Narrator (as this is read, the company act out the action); ` Philpot held out his cap for subscriptions, some of them attempt to spit into it, but the more charitable put in pieces of cinder or dirt from the floor, and the kind-hearted capitalist was so affected by the sight of their misery that he gave them one of the sovereigns he had in his pocket. But, as this was of no use to them, they immediately returned it to him in exchange for one of the small squares of the necessaries of life, which they divided up and greedily devoured. They gathered round the philanthropist and sang, ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow,’ and afterwards Harlow suggested that they should ask him if he would allow them to elect him to Parliament. ‘
The scene ends with the whole company gathering around Owen, singing:
`For he’s a jolly good fellow,
`For he’s a jolly good fellow,
And so say all of us….
As they sing Owen produces a large red rosette from his pocket and pins it on himself, waving to the audience in imitation of a smiling election candidate….
`For he’s a jolly good fellow,
`For he’s a jolly good fellow,
And so say all of us….
The end
Characters and approximate number of lines of dialogue
Frank Owen                         72
Narrator                                52
Philpot                                   25
Harlow                                   16
Crass (foreman)                  7
Man on pail                            5
Easton                                    5
Bundy                                     3
Sawkins                                 1