2 Why I Am Not a Social Crediter
In making this personal statement I seek to support Brian Leslie in his campaign against the fabrication of untruthfulness which has descended upon the Green Party of England and Wales. The truth may at times be uncomfortable, even inconvenient, but it is never harmful. Suppression of debate, on the other hand, can serve no useful purpose: in politics, debate should always be open and above board. There is no reason why this rule should fail to apply in Green Party today. As Voltaire so rightly said, "I abhor what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". Following the recent events, in which the discussion of ‘social credit’ ideas has featured, it becomes necessary to explain my position.
After decades of campaigning for peace, co-operation, green politics, women’s rights, third world issues, education, local political autonomy, international understanding environmental issues and justice generally, at the age of fifty I became a post-graduate student in the Department of Economics at Bradford University. I reasoned that although each issue was rich in its own literature, no substantial changes in policy were forthcoming because one factor overarched policy-making in each subject area – the economy. I was advised by Mary Mellor, whom I had met at a ‘red-green’ gathering in Manchester, to put my general reading onto a more formal footing.
Having located a tutor – Brian Burkitt, Senior Lecturer in Economics at Bradford – and paid the registration fees, I was left with a problem. What should I research? The whole of economics was too tall an order. At the time, I was standing in local elections as a Green Party candidate. When I discussed Green Party policies with my elderly neighbour, Tommy Tinkler, he said that concerns about protection of the environment, notions of sufficiency as opposed to unfettered economic growth, and basic income were nothing new. It had all been said before in the 1930s by "Major Douglas and social credit". Through University Extra-Mural classes and a local social credit study group which met weekly, he had studied alternative economics, including social credit in such detail that he was able, fifty years later, to provide me with an outline of the basic ideas from memory. He gave me The Monopoly of Credit by C. H. Douglas, some copies of the national weekly The New Age, and of a bi-monthly newsletter of the ‘Northern Greenshirts’, printed in Keighley. Social credit was to become the subject of my research for the next fifteen years.
Over a lifetime of study of the social sciences, politics and economics, I had never heard mention of social credit. Hence from the very outset of my research there were unanswered questions. Tommy Tinkler was astounded that I knew nothing of the subject. Yet when I mentioned it to my father, retired senior lecturer in economics, and to my tutor, both knew what I was talking about immediately, though both declared that "all that crank nonsense was over years ago." Which it was. Douglas had been dead forty years. Repeatedly, over the years, I was advised, in a kindly sort of way, not to pursue the subject. I took no heed.
In those pre-internet days obtaining information on obscure topics was tricky. Through the library system I located three books on social credit published between 1953 and 1972. All three authors focused on political events in Alberta, Canada, in the late 1930s, giving virtually no indication of what social credit economics was about. Since no list of his books appeared, it was clearly assumed that the reader already knew what ‘social credit’ was about. I collected copies of all Douglas’ books and articles written between 1918 and 1924. Having analysed these works I set out the economics and philosophy of social credit. It all made very good sense. Here was an alternative to business-as-usual, ‘I’m alright, Jack!’ growth-based, environmentally destructive capitalism and socialism ‘as-we-know-it'. I went on to study the world-wide debate between Douglas and leading policy-formers in the early 1930s. And finally I looked at the events in Alberta in 1935 when the election of a Social Credit government brought social credit onto the political arena.
Throughout my research I was sustained by the guiding hand of Brian Burkitt, who is an authority on radical economics in the inter-war years (see Brian Burkitt, Radical Political Economy Harvester 1984). Nothing would have come of my rambling researches without his firm discipline, fund of knowledge, constant support and sparkling sense of humour. Ten years ago, our findings were published in The Political Economy of Social Credit and Guild Socialism (Routledge 1997), a refereed publication.
Once published, the book would, I thought, be snapped up by green campaigners everywhere. And indeed, the review published in Resurgence (No. 190, September/October 1998, pp64-65) indicates, I was justified in my opinion that we had presented a readable and relevant account of the story of social credit. However, the book was so highly priced that it disappeared onto the shelves of university libraries, and nothing more was heard of it in the popular alternative press.
I continued my researches, writing two more books and working with different co-authors. In the ten years following from 1993 I gave papers at sixteen conferences in ten different countries, and had eleven papers published in refereed journals. Although I worked with academics and alternative thinkers in the voluntary sector, nobody was prepared to step outside the mould of conventional economics. By the time the ‘post-autistic economics’ students started their enthusiastic attack on the logical inconsistencies of neo-classical economic theory (c2000/1), I was beginning to lose heart.
In the meantime, with Brian Burkitt’s help, I put together a module entitled "An Institutional Analysis of Money" for second and third year economics undergraduates. Based on the work of Clifford Hugh Douglas and Thorstein Veblen, it proved very popular with the students. The course contrasted the orthodox approach to economics teaching, which is ‘institution free’, with the realities of economic life where economic agents operate within a network of man-made laws and institutions. When it was suggested that the course could form the basis of a book, Mary Mellor and Wendy Olsen offered to help with the writing. In due course The Politics of Money: Towards Sustainability and Economic Democracy was published by Pluto Press in 2002. Although it received very few reviews, it is now sold out.
In writing about social credit I had inadvertently, become caught up in another agenda. In June 2002, as we were on the point of sending the final draft of The Politics of Money to the publishers, a draft paper was circulated to the three of us and to all with whom we were in professional contact. The paper, by Derek Wall, currently Principal Speaker of the Green Party, entitled "Social Credit: The Ecosocialism of Fools," was a collection of untruths juxtaposed with emotive non-sequiturs. The gist of the paper was that Douglas and all social crediters were anti-Semitic. Therefore greens and all respectable academics should drop the subject if they did not want to blight their careers by being labelled ‘anti-Semitic’. With great difficulty I persuaded Mary Mellor to continue with the book, promising that I would research the allegations fully. The quality of the Wall paper was such that I felt certain it would never appear in a respectable journal. I was wrong. For whatever reasons, the editorial board of Capitalism, Nature, Socialism published the paper, under the same title, in September 2003 (Vol. 14, No. 3, pages 99-122).
In 2001, I had been landed with the editorship of The Social Crediter, a periodical founded by Douglas in the 1930s, and the Chairmanship of the Social Credit Secretariat, set up as an educational body to promote study of Douglas social credit. (Douglas was firmly opposed to propaganda: social credit spread through weekly study groups and guided coursework. See The Political Economy of Social Credit and Guild Socialism.) When I took over, the Secretariat had a tidy sum of money left in legacies, but my predecessor, Alan Armstrong, found himself unable to enlist support for his work from politicians – because of circulars making unfounded allegations of anti-Semitism.
By now, I was thoroughly curious myself. A body of economic theory presenting a sane alternative to rampaging consumerism, disseminated through study groups across the world, was to be studiously avoided because it was - anti-Semitic? It just did not begin to add up. Were the editors of academic journals, their referees and the organisers of international conferences on economics playing with fire when they accepted my/our work for publication and discussion? One journal, the Political Quarterly, is read by any social scientist and politician worth their salt. Were its editors failing in their duty to protect the public from unsavoury material when they published "The Contemporary Relevance of Clifford Hugh Douglas" by myself and Brian Burkitt, in the October-December 1999 issue (Vol. 70, No.4, pages 443-451)? Would the study of social credit really lead impressionable people into setting up Nazi-style death camps? I was, and remain, puzzled.
In the early years of the 21st century, people continue to air their views and/or campaign on a whole range of single issues: anti-war, anti-nuclear weapons, animal rights, organic/local agriculture, fair trade, slow/safe food, debt, poverty, racism, feminism, conservation, ecology, alternative medicines, education, diseases and disabilities which have struck their own families – the list is endless. Some pick up on Basic Income, Credit Unions, LETs schemes, Grameen Banks and the like as ways out of specific pockets of economic disorder. However, unless and until there is a radical re-think about the operations of the institutions of banking and finance which now regulate all human co-operative activity, the over-arching problems will continue to grow at a far faster rate than individual solutions will be able to solve. Social credit offers a starting-point – it was never more than that – for a healthy debate about ways forward into the future.
Although I advocate the study of Douglas’s writings on social credit, and the study of the story of the Social Credit movement, I do not claim to be a ‘social crediter’, as this would imply the bigoted advocacy of an unscholarly collection of dogma. On the same basis, I do not claim to be a feminist, pacifist, ecologist, economist or Marxist. What I do advocate most urgently is the study of the works of leading writers on feminism, pacifism, ecology, economics, including especially Douglas, Thorstein Veblen, Karl Marx and many others (see my published works for introductory comment on the work of leading thinkers).
Until the early 1990s the Green Party was at the forefront of debate on coherent alternatives to business-as-usual capitalism and labourism. Only through open discussion between people within and outside the Green Party who have indeed studied the works of leading thinkers across a range of writings in economics will a sound, sensible and sustainable economics policy platform emerge once again in the Green Party. I have long admired Brian Leslie’s dedication to the cause of engendering open-minded debate. He has, as ever, my full support. I urge all who share these concerns to back Brian Leslie in his campaign to have Sustainable Economics re-instated as the Newsletter of the Green Party Working Group of the Green Party of England and Wales.
Frances Hutchinson April 2007
In addition to having published numerous articles and reviews in academic and other journals, Frances Hutchinson is the author (with Brian Burkitt) of The Political Economy of Social Credit and Guild Socialism (Routledge, 1997) (Reprinted by Jon Carpenter, 2005), (with Andrew Hutchinson) of Environmental Business Management (McGraw-Hill, 1997), of What Everybody Really Wants to Know About Money (Jon Carpenter, 1998), and (with Mary Mellor and Wendy Olsen) of The Politics of Money: Towards Sustainability and Economic Democracy (Pluto Press, 2002). She edits The Social Crediter.