The Queer side
Socialists have been frequently met with the taunt that they are going to “break up the home” (for firewood?), “destroy the sacredness of the family hearth,” “invade the innermost secrecies of the family life,” etc., etc. How this desperate invasion was going to occur our opponents (in their usual clear-headed way) were not quite sure ; but somehow or other the State (metaphysical muddle heads must have Gods, you know) was going to walk in through the door (without knocking) and tear children from their parents and wives from their husbands to make them economically independent of each other, thus destroying the calm security (!) and harmony (!!) of the family circle. (Sometimes we are told that pa comes home blind drunk and beats his wife—but I forget, that is when another thesis has to be proved.)
This view receives the pious support of wealthy men doubtless from the knowledge that the economic independence of working women will mean the end of their present paradise, in which they enjoy (like their prototypes, the beasts) the almost unlimited satisfaction of their sexual appetites. An examination of the true facts of the case, however, shows the hollow hypocrisy of the plea.
The average working-class family of the past century and a half has been composed of wage-workers— from the child of 8 or 10 who sells papers and delivers milk, to the father and mother who work in the factories, sometimes alternately—the one through the day and the other through the night.
The number of females who have appeared upon the labour market has grown year by year. Every year sees fresh branches of industry open to women, and the ties of the family are insensibly loosened, to be eventually torn asunder, not by the growth of Socialism, but, by the iron hand of modern industrial conditions.
Women are more submissive, more long-suffering, and more economical wage-slaves than men, and are therefore introduced wherever possible by our philanthropic and tender-hearted masters. In the early development of machinery the workman saw in the machine his mortal enemy, and the smashing of the machine instead of the smashing of the system was the order of the day, as witness the historic Luddite Riots. Now that the greater number of the workers have become operators of machinery, their antipathy to the “iron man” has died, although quietly and insidiously the machine is rendering unnecessary larger and larger proportions of workers in every department of capitalism. Now that women are replacing men in their various spheres the enmity of the men is directed toward the women instead of against the system that breeds such conflicting tendencies.
Another asset of the present war to the capitalist class has been the opportunity offered to experiment in the introduction of women into departments of work which they were hitherto supposed to be physically incapable of performing. The following extract from the “Daily Mail” (16.9.15) will illustrate the point:
“The great movement among women toward filling up gaps in labour is shown in all classes of work ; but nowhere more strikingly than in the big munitions iron works. That woman’s work in this new sphere is satisfactory is acknowledged by works managers and foremen. Asked if a motor cylinder would offer greater difficulty than a shell to bore one of these men said, ‘Hardly any.’ ‘A woman, then, could go in for ordinary industrial steel working,lathe work, screw-cutting, and the like, just as well as a man ?’ ‘Certainly, for the general run of work.’ ”
A quotation from the same paper of another date (10.9.15), dealing with the interim report of the committee appointed by the British Association is also enlightening :
“In some cases the experience gained during the war had shown that certain jobs could be more efficiently done by women than by men.
The great increase of women’s employment could hardly fail to have permanent results, and it might be anticipated that after the war the proportion of women in industry would be greater than before and the competition of men and women would increase.”
Now what about the sacred family circle ? The wave of female labour is to be converted into a torrent, and the war-worn warriors who return from the battle-fields (poor crippled, broken wrecks) will find a labour-market choked with women competitors, the standard of living lowered, and the general conditions of the workers worse than before the war commenced. A splendid reward for all your hardship and sacrifice, ye poor deluded, fellow-workers.
Of course, the “family hearth” ghost is easily laid by the worker who reflects on his present penurious and work-weary condition ; and the prospect of that mythical sacredness being violated under Socialism has no terrors for him. I may suggest, however, that the love which is born of economic necessity can neither be so deep nor so lasting as that which exists between those who are economically independent of each other and who seek each other’s company and affection purely from mutual esteem.
The Socialist, in promoting the common-ownership and democratic control of all that nature, ingenuity, and human energy can produce—in suggesting the equitable distribution of the burdens as well as the pleasures of life—is also giving the opportunity for human affection to develope to its highest and purest form.
Whilst turning out an old drawer the writer came upon the following quotation from “Lloyd’s Weekly” (31.3.12). It is worth treasuring.
“Arrangements are being made at Lyons to celebrate next year the centenary of the birth of the inventor of the sewing machine, Barthelemy Thimmonnier, who died in 1857 an abject poverty.—Reuter.”
The above fate has been the reward of the majority of the brilliant thinkers who, applying their brains to the various spheres of production, have assisted largely in the rapid evolution of modern industry, in which those wonderful machines and processes operate to enslave the ignorant masses.
For the present the wealthy shareholders of the Singer Sewing Machine Company and their international fellow capitalists reap the fruits of the inventor’s teeming brain. But when the worker awakens and hails the dawn of freedom with open clear eyes, those same mighty brains and marvellous machine will be converted into a means to lighten labour and increase the sum total of human happiness.
In the days that are to come, fellow workers, remember the annals of your class. Remember the bloody massacres of your fellows upon the industrial and political battlefields. Remember the sweating and the destruction of child life, and the violation of womanhood. Remember !—and proceed unswervingly upon your course. Do not be deterred from prosecuting the war of your class by the sentimental humbugs who regard the destruction of vermin as a crime against “God’s creatures,” and are for ever trying to divert the attention of the workers from the main issue—their emancipation from wage-slavery.
The war between the exploiting and exploited classes can only end with the extinction of one or the other. The “war that will end war” is the war waged by the down-trodden, masses against their task-masters ; and victory will signify the abolition for ever of privilege, private property, and its accompanying oppressions. The place for all working men who would play a man’s part in the struggle of their class is under the red banner of Socialism, sounding the tocsin of the Revolution. There they will ally themselves with comrades worthy of their aid.