Bank Failures by B. Traven

First published in Die weiße Rose, Berlin: Büchegilde Gutenberg, 1929, pp.94-95. This translation has been typed out from Anton Kaes, Martin Jay and Edward Dimendberg, The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995, pp.74-75.

Rushes on the banks are beginning. Savers have been seized by panic. They fear, no, they are certain that their money, for which they have saved and slaved, is lost. They stand as early as midnight in endless lines to be the first when the cash drawers open. The earlier one arrives the better the chances of still saving something. The ordered life of the banks is being torn apart. All personnel must be mobilized to disburse payments. No one makes deposits. All credit is being called in. Banks in other countries are receiving imploring cables to help out with fluid money and with checks. All the reserves of the national banking association are being called up. But the lines in front of the banks grow longer.

And then the banks begin to crash, because they cannot make the payments. The money has been lent out; for when the bank is not able to make loans then it cannot pay interest to its small savers. The little banks crash first. The larger ones still get by, limiting banking hours first to two hours, then to one. Then the larger banks begin to crash.

And behind all of this chaos is no sudden disappearance of a continet, no gigantic natural catastrophe that destroys values irretrievably. Behind this whole collapse of economic order and economic security, which is under constant threat by agitators, is nothing other than the disrupted notions of those who have something, the suddenly insecure hope of those who possess much, and of those who possess little. Everything that is now taking place on Wall Street is based on nothing but the fact that thoughts have suddenly, too suddenly, taken an unexpected turn. Mass hypnosis. Mass suggestion. The suggestion, the notion: ‘I can lose!’ tears this beautiful economic system, willed by God, blessed by God, protected by God, to shreds. And nonetheless all values remain the same. Values have not changed. There is just as much cash in the world as before. All the money is still there, and not a single cent has fallen off the globe into space, where it cannot be fished back onto land. All the buildings are still standing. All the forests. All the waterfalls. All the oceans. All the railroads and the ships remain intact. And hundreds of thousands of strong and healthy people are willing to work and to produce and to increase the available wealth of the world. Not a single engineer has lost the ability to design new machines. No vein of coal has been hidden by the forces of nature. The sun rises bright and warm in the sky as always. It rains as always. The grain waves in the fields and ripens as always. The fields of cotton extend in splendor. Nothing has changed in the available value of earthly riches. People, seen as a whole, are just as wealthy as yesterday. And for the simple reason, and only the simple reason, that the property of individuals is in danger of changing and shifting does a catastrophe overtake humanity as a whole […]

An economic system, an economic order, created by people who claim to possess intelligence. People, however, who, despite all the highly developed technology they created, have still not overcome primitiveness as far as a studied and well-regulated economic system is concerned.


About anti

Anthony Iles is currently a doctoral candidate at the School of Art & Design, Middlesex University. A founder member of the Full Unemployment Cinema. A contributing editor with Mute / Metamute since 2005. He is the author, with Josephine Berry-Slater, of the book, No Room to Move: Art and the Regenerate City (Mute Books, London 2011), contributing editor to the recent publications, Anguish Language: writing and crisis (Archive Books, Berlin, 2015), and Look at Hazards, Look at Losses (Mute/Kuda, 2017) and a contributor to Brave New Work: A Reader on Harun Farocki’s Film A New Product. Recent essays have been published in Mute, Radical Philosophy, Rab-Rab: Journal for Political and Formal Inquiries in Art and Logos.
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