From the September 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard
I have a doleful tale to unfold. A most depressing discovery has lately been made by a learned and inspired prophet (I had nearly said profits!) of our masters. The discovery is (Woe is me!) that we, the workers, are limiting our families! Think of it! The beasts of burden are refusing to manufacture future beasts of burden fast enough for the convenience of their good, kind masters!
This doleful discovery has been made by Monsignor Brown of Southwark, and is set forth in an illuminating, (!) article in the “Evening News,” 10.7.16.
“Our Colonies” (bugs and fleas, no doubt— they are the only colonies we own, as far as I know), “depend upon the home country for a flow of new population,” says “his Rivirence,” and we, the providers for the industrial scrapheap, are disappointing by limiting our children to a paltry two or three!
Poor old Brown finds, after investigation, that “it is mainly an economic question; a matter of having enough means, not only at the time of childbirth, but for equipping the children for the struggle of life.”
And what is his remedy? Listen, for heaven’s sake listen!
That without some State help the average parent is going to sacrifice himself at the call of patriotism in order to maintain a high birth-rate I do not for a moment believe. Unless the conscience of the individual is reached by some spiritual appeal I believe these practices of restriction will continue, and become even more prevalent.
Observe how the dealer in metaphysical trash keeps within the bounds of his function! The spiritual appeal is the thing. Keep our eyes skyward and we won't examine earthly affairs too closely. Farther on in his article he suggests State aid for children. We are to receive doles in respect of each child for education, etc. Thus our masters will be given a splendid handle wherewith to control the child’s education—with-holding the dole at will to bring us to bed like dogs—holding it over our heads like the sword of Democles. Those who receive allowances from Church orphan bodies and similar institutions will realise the force of this point. They will know how their own actions are governed in order to ensure receipt of the periodical payment. It is like a National Insurance Act for children.
One point, however, Brown admits (a point we Socialists have been hammering home to the reformers for years). He says:
The Education Acts, the Factory Acts, the laws regarding the employment of children even out of school hours, the prevention of over-crowding, have all made the cost of bringing up children greater than it used to be. . . . The truth is that while these reforms are excellent in themselves, they have been effected without any substantial increase in real wages.
In other words reforms have rendered the worker’s lot harder instead of lightening it.
Brown concludes by pointing out that “Grave, serious, anti-communistic politicians and business men . . . demand that the growers of sugar beet in England shall get State aid, and this for national purposes. I would put bounties for babies before bounties for sugar beet.” In other words, as a commodity labour-power is more importence than sugar.
In their wild lust for the largest share of the world's wealth the capitalists of Europe have been recklessly pouring out the life-blood of their slaves, and now the appalling destruction of the wealth producers is causing a mild panic. The signs portend a shortage of labour-power and a drying-up of the future supply, as after the Black Plague, and again during the early years of the factory system. Our masters are getting anxious as to whether there will be a diminution in the supply of milch cows in the future.
But now let us turn to another phase of the question. Let us examine the present position of women, who are to be the bearers of the future generation, and are declining to bear the large families which are so ardently desired by our bosses.
An article in “The Quiver” (April, 1916) by A. C. Marshall gives us some information on the matter and I shall submit copious quotations from it.
The writer of the article in question estimated that the war alone had already called into the labour-market two million women workers, and that as successive Derby Groups were called up there would be employment for a further quarter of a million women. Women are now replacing men in all kinds of occupations, from portering and 'bus-conducting to engineering and billposting, working long and arduously. Regarding their work and its effect on future generations the above writer speaks as follows:
You may take away the men and still have a home, but with the women absent the home no longer exists as a home; in the great munition centres home life is almost as extinct as the dodo, for even the grandmothers, the maiden aunts and the widows, are finding the call to work too insistent to be disregarded. . . .
The whole point is the constant standing, and the gentle sex is not built physically to bear long, tedious hours in an upright position.
It is not many years ago that legislation was introduced to provide seats for girl assistants in shops, and this physical reason was one of the strongest brought forward to prove necessity. Quite apart from the delicate organs of womanhood, lengthy standing brings in its train to women venous trouble and other physical difficulties, yet of the two million women workers the war has mobilised it is probable that half of them stand at their work—in most cases for ten hours a day; in others for twelve hours a day and in a few instances through the long night hours, for the Home Office restrictions are waived in these times and the writer knows of girls who toil from the early evening until six or seven in the morning. ...
Personally, as one who has spoken to war workers in every big centre, I must set aside finally the parrot cry that it is patriotism that calls women to the work. In the cases into which I have made direct enquiry the money has been the magnet and guiding principle. The fact that the cost of living has been raised by 35 per cent, at least has had its own influence, and the opportunity of balancing shortage by working at enhanced wages has been eagerly seized—often at a personal and future cost that it is impossible to estimate. . . .
The total abandonment of home by literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of women ; the complete severance of domestic culture; the buying of partly or ready cooked food, which entails denial of the more wholesome and nutritions home-prepared provender; the grief and sorrow at the loss of loved ones; the absence of desire and opportunity for little ones that must inevitably follow the breaking of home ties; impaired health through overwork and worry; premature age through working in unhealthy surroundings with too much standing and too little fresh air; the fact that females will be out of proportion to males for many years —these are some of the items to be entered as woman's price for war, and a little analysis will show effects that will linger so long as life itself lasts.
Is it any wonder that capitalists are getting apprehensive as to the future supplies of labour-power? Add to the above total the myriads of women that are habitually employed in peace times in the factories, mills, and offices and an appalling total is reached, few of the female population of the working class being free from wage-labour.
When speaking from our platforms in the past, we of the Socialist Party have been frequently reproached with the parrot-cry that we were out to break up the home and destroy family life. Who are the destroyers of home life now ? Where are our homes ?
The article from which the above quotations have been taken is a record of the universal destruction of home life, of the general misery of women's lot, and of ills whose effects will far outlast the present generation. As the present writer perused the article in question his mind travelled back to the cries that spurred young British manhood to join the army. They were told they would be fighting in defence of their homes. What is the position now? The alleged enemy is supposed to be losing ground daily, but where are the homes we are supposed to be defending ? Our mothers and sisters have been driven forth to earn a miserable living, their health and vitality broken by industrialism. Our fathers, brothers, and sons are killed or crippled on the battlefield.
In conclusion, poor old Brown may rest assured that it will take quite a lot of "State help,” and a "spiritual appeal” of enormous dimensions, to arrest the steadily dwindling birthrate as it is borne in upon men and women of the working class that the supreme value of their increase is as machine food in time of peace and cannon fodder in time of war.