I said in the preface that Marxism set itself the task of liberating humanity from the oppression that the capitalist market visits upon it. In illustration of that oppression I close this book by relating a true short story about my father whose name was Morrie.
Morrie began his working life at the age of fourteen in 1925. He worked in a factory as a dress cutter and he retired fifty-five years later in 1980 at the age of sixty-nine at which point he was still working in a factory as a dress cutter. For a couple of years toward the end of the 1940s he tried with one partner to run a small dress factory of his own. That business failed largely I believe because Morrie was unable to bring himself to make the workers in his little factory work fast enough so that the dresses the factory produced could be priced sufficiently low to match the competition. I am not ashamed that he was for that reason unable to prosper as a businessman.
I want to tell you how Monies factory career ended. One December day in 1979 the boss of the factory in which he was working called three dress cutters into his office: Morrie and two younger ones. The boss told them that there was not enough work to keep them on and that he would therefore have to let them go. So Morrie thought that his working life which was also the matrix of his social life had instantly come to an end.
But this turned out to be untrue because a few days later on what was the following Sunday the boss rang Morrie at home and told in that he had reassessed the position and that Morrie should return to work on Monday.
So Morrie came back to the factory. He noticed that the younger cutters who had been dismissed when he was dismissed were not there. Perhaps the boss had never intended to release Morrie permanently (Morrie was a particularly good cutter) but had found it difficult to fire the younger men while being seen to keep on an older man with fewer family responsibilities a man for whom suddenly being fired could be regarded as less awful. Perhaps then Morrie's original dismissal was just a smokescreen.
Soon after Morrie's return to the factory the boss was doing the rounds making sure that everybody was working hard enough. Morrie paused in his own work and asked the boss: “Where do I stand now? I mean am I back for good now? What's the position?” And the boss replied “Don't worry about it Morrie don't worry about it don't worry about it Morrie.” He did not say whether that meant that Morrie shouldn't worry about the question or that he shouldn't worry about its answer. Morrie sought clarification but the boss stonewalled. He did not answer Morrie's question. And a few weeks later the boss nine up to Morrie and said “OK Morrie that's it.” And that indeed was it. (Either the boss had originally miscalculated how much labor he needed or commercial conditions had changed.)
The capitalist market does not of course require people to handle people roughly but the boss's manner is not the main point of the story; its point is that the market does require people to handle people to man age them in a particular sense. The story would lose little of its force if the boss's manner had been more suave.
Morrie was dismissed because it no longer paid the boss to pay him The dismissal of Willy Loman by his boss in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman was more brutal than Morrie's dismissal and similarly instructive. Willy's boss says “It's a business kid and everybody's gotta pull his own weight.… ‘Cause you gotta admit business is business.” And Willy admits it. “Yes” he says “business is definitely business.”
Business is among other things people treating people according to a market norm—the norm that says they are to be dispensed with if they cannot produce at a rate which satisfies market demand. Of course that promotes “efficiency” but it also corrupts humanity. Business turns human producers into commodities. Nor does it spare their employersם “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).