1920s >> 1924 >> no-239-july-1924

The Revolution in Home Life

The assertion that Socialism will destroy the home is a pretty stale one, and, in view of the wholesale disintegration since the war of anything approaching home-life (as one time understood), it is hardly worth treating seriously. Perhaps, however, it may be worth while to review the changes in the domestic sphere that have taken place and still are taking place, since out of the present the future will grow; while the social revolution can leave no phase of social existence untouched.

What is to be the future of the home, family life, the relationship between men and women, parents and children, and so on? These are questions which force themselves on thinking minds, pressing for an answer. On the positive side we cannot be too careful of making rash assertions. The basis for the new social life has yet to be established. We are not prophets, but we may usefully reflect on the new elements now developing in society which will burst their bonds.

What are these new elements? The germ of the social revolution is the industrial revolution; the change from petty handicraft and small manufacture to large scale industry based upon mechanical appliances is the vital force which has come into conflict with established institutions in every sphere of life. In the realm of production itself the machine has welded the workers into huge masses struggling against the dominion of capital. No longer scattered in small villages, hopelessly ignorant and detached from one another, but thrown together, willy-nilly forced into common thought and action. Politically the concentration of the population in the industrial centres has shifted the balance of power. No longer do the propertied class manipulate the machinery of government without consulting their slaves. At every turn the wealthy minority is dependent upon the political support of the workers. The slaves are enfranchised. While in the field of speculation religion dies a lingering death before the onward march of science, organised knowledge, handmaid of industrial progress. Is the home alone to escape unscathed and unaltered?

What is the home? To-day for the wealthy it may be any one of two or three or more places. A town house, a country seat, a villa by the sea, a mere temporary resting place to be occupied at intervals in the ceaseless round of pleasure-hunting, sport, and what not. For the workers is it ever much more than a den in which the man retires to sleep and eat while the woman wears her fingers to the bone and her nerves to shreds in the vain effort to make ends meet?

The sentimentalist, the moralist, and the religionist all draw us their pictures of what home is, or rather what they think it ought to be. But ask yourself, fellow-worker, is not the picture I have drawn the true one?

Is the picture to remain the true one, fellow-worker? The answer lies with you! The home, like all else, has had its evolution, its growth from primitive origins, and we have not yet reached finality. You, fellow-slaves, can make it something better than it has ever been.

Consider! In the dim past the hunters wandered from place to place after the wild animals, little better organised than the animals themselves. Men lived in herds. Individuality had yet to be born. Home-life was of a primitive communal character.

From this state emerged by slow stages and revolutions the patriarchal family. The domestication of animals provided the economic groundwork for this form of home-life, and as men accumulated wealth in the form of chattels, so women passed into a similar state of domestic subordination. This arose mainly out of the division of labour adopted, hunting and pastoral pursuits being confined to the men, the women specialising in cooking, cloth-making, etc.

With the advent of slavery and agriculture the position of women underwent still further degradation. Rigid discipline and seclusion of the married women took the place of the comparative freedom of savage custom, and through the whole of history that position of subjection has taken various forms, but not yet has it been fundamentally altered. 

The homes of the Roman Patrician, the feudal baron, and the modern bourgeois all contain the essential element, predominance of the male over the female. The ancient world accepted the position for what it was, a form of slavery. The medieval world sentimentalised and romanced about it, consecrated it with holy water and the prayers of Mother Church. The modern world hides its cynicism behind a veil of cant. It disguises its legal and financial motives behind an avowed concern for the highest morality.

For the wage-slave who thinks, however, the march of modern industry tears all veils asunder. He sees how little regard his masters have for morality where profits are concerned, and so he smiles at the superior notions possessed by his Press-doped slaves concerning their relation to their “unpaid- housekeepers.”

In spite of the fact that men and women of the working class alike (whether they toil for the boss directly in the factory or not) are all slaves of the boss class, one still finds numbers of men who imagine themselves “small employers of labour” because they are married, and women who are prepared to accept that position.

Where the women are themselves openly employed in industry, etc., this attitude becomes hopelessly absurd and gradually yields to the facts. Yet, though not apparent in reality, it is no less absurd even in cases where the woman remains at home. What woman can make ends meet for a family or even for a couple on the average man’s wage? How many are forced to ” take in lodgers” or dressmaking, or make petty slaves of themselves in one way or another, in order to buy the clothes they need? The economic dependence of woman becomes less and less a dependence on the individual man, and more and more upon society at large.

Time was, in the medieval handicraft period of production, when the home was the centre of industry. The wife and daughters of the peasant and the craftsman carried on numerous occupations for the family use that now form the basis of large-scale industry. The old technical basis of the home has gone, and with it the last justification (in the historical sense) for male dominance and control.

The male worker has now no property to leave to his children. From their earliest years they must go out and be exploited in return for their bread. The old paternal ties are broken. All are equally slaves to the class that owns the means of life.

The social revolution spells the doom of class ownership. It means the world for all the workers, male and female, young and old. In such a world what ties can hold, on what basis can the home rest? Private property in the means of life will be gone, legal authority of individual over individual will have disappeared. Greed and force can no longer operate under such conditions. Is it too much to believe that affection will develop in their place?

The modern powers of production can supply the wants of all. With common ownership and democratic control of those powers the last cause of individual antagonism in the economic sphere will have vanished. The economic sphere is the basic sphere. As the roots are, so shall the tree be. Leisure, education, opportunity for self-development, these shall be yours, fellow-workers, when you have shaken off your fetters. To-day your masters can call the world their home. Yet your class has made it what it is! Why not call it yours?

Eric Boden

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