Saturday, September 24, 2022

Letter: A Talk to Wives and Mothers. (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the November 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Criticism and a Reply.

To the Editor, Socialist Standard.

Dear Sir,

We women are always being; taught by the Socialist Standard that the mistake made by all other parties except the Socialist Party was to evolve a scheme first in which all the evils of Capitalism were omitted and then to attempt to carry it out by the power of the vote. I refer to those schemes made without regard to the trends of social development. You call it Utopian, when systems of collectivism, collective eating, collective working, collective playing, etc., are worked out in the minds of men and then, because they seem “good” as opposed to the “bad” system of Capitalism are advocated as practical politics by those men.

You tell us that the Socialist believes that the normal development of Capitalism will provide the institutions which will be used by people after the revolution in the material basis of society has been brought about. As an example, it is explained that the growth of the Modern Credit System will produce the very means whereby centralised administration in the field of production will be carried on under Socialism —possibly.

It is surprising, then, to hear Mrs. Gilmac advocating the idea of collective cooking and eating as a reason for adopting Socialism. Surely she knows, as every other woman knows, whether among the “wives and mothers,” or among those women who are neither wives nor mothers, that “feeding the brute” is one of the pleasures of love. Woman is built for feeding; she does so continuously from the day she places a baby to her breast to the day she packs a man’s lunch-basket. When a woman marries the man she loves, some of that maternal attitude enters into her outlook upon him.

The future modification of family life does not imply that under Socialism we shall turn back to barbaric tribal groups with their ritual of collective cooking and eating. It seems more probable that under Socialism the family will be, though different from the modern family, essentially similar in that it will form on the basis of the mutual love of a woman and a man.

This follows because Socialism is the child of Capitalism and hence somewhat like its mother, because though a revolution means a radical change in the basis of society, it only occurs because, while the method of production is in one stage the other material factors in society evolve step by step until the disharmony between the foundation of society and its roof produces a collapse.

The family seems to evolve gradually; it is not fundamental, like private ownership of tools, etc. There is, therefore, no reason to suppose that communal cooking or communal eating will be any more practicable or desirable than it is to-day. To-day we occasionally go to a restaurant for a change from drab surroundings. It will not be necessary to escape from such surroundings under Socialism.

Mrs. Gilmac knows that it is not possible at restaurants to get always what one might want.

My husband likes his food cooked in a particular way sometimes, and it is generally a way which no restaurant could readily provide. Surely there must be thousands like him? Does Socialism entail the abolition of private home life? Mrs. Gilmac could not have been thinking of many thing’s when she said that we “prefer to enjoy ourselves collectively,” because that is absurd. To me and to millions of women, communal cooking is undesirable. We should be more pleased to know that our houses were to be made hygienic, with healthy windows, no corners nor dirt-collecting niches, and adequately supplied with electric cooking and cleaning apparatus, than to know that we could go to a place where it was all done for us. The trouble about feeding is that one cannot feed oneself sufficiently in three days to last three months. The best methods of collective industry may not apply to cooking, therefore.

I do not suggest that there will he no communal festivity under Socialism, my point is that systematising of any kind as regards the untouched future is rash and unscientific, since what will and will not be practicable is a question which can only be solved in its own time.

However, we are justified in provisionally prophesying the future on the grounds of present trends. And on those grounds I think that Socialism will leave us the family without the slavery conditions that make it unhappy, it will leave us women the pleasure of feeding those whom we love without the drudgery of cooking and serving in the environment of smutty fires, greasy ovens, dirty walls and stinking air.

The reason for working women to accept Socialism to-day is not for the sake of a possible communal cookery centre in the future, but to make a scientific fight against what is hurting us now.

To plead for posterity is sentimental and consistent with womanly feelings, but it is not Socialism.

We owe nothing to posterity. It is of ourselves we must think.

Nevertheless, it is nice to know that the “S.S.” is devoting some of its valuable pages to the women.
Yours truly,
Mrs Betts.

The Reply.
The trend of social development is towards having meals away from home and the breaking up of the old-fashioned hearth generally. Therefore my suggestions were not Utopian, but quite in keeping with present tendencies, and were an appeal to the housewife to hasten the day when she would be able to take full advantage of freeing herself from her round of unnecessary toil.

The mistake some make is to endeavour to carry out Utopian schemes that are contrary to the advantages made possible through Capitalism,

For example, we do not call it Utopian to improve on the partly existing schemes of collective activity. Utopian refers to ideas out of touch with reality.

The method of cooking and distributing food in vogue when Socialism replaces Capitalism may be much more centralised than we, at present, can imagine, just as the present manner of producing and delivering food differs from that of a hundred years ago. This is shown by the selection of prepared foods now in common use. It is no longer “natural” to bake our own bread when it is so easily obtainable from the bakery, and so with many other things which at one time seemed “natural” for the housewife to do.

The “natural” pleasure of love, that of “feeding the brute,” ceases with the ceasing of putting a baby to the breast. The rest is a matter of circumstance.

Surely the majority of women, if they were economically free would prefer to dine out with “him” than spend much unnecessary time preparing meals, etc.,—if they think about it at all? Just as she wishes for relief from the “natural” duties connected with the constant attention to children.

Why it is supposed to be “natural” for every woman to prefer home duties any more than for every man to be an engineer rather puzzles me.

We are so steeped in tradition that we imagine that what is the outcome of woman’s bondage or man’s economic condition is a natural function.

As to collective action, if to eat and cook collectively is bad because it was done during barbarism, then surely it is also barbaric to eat at all. Why eat? Why eat in restaurants? All relics of barbarism are not worse than the present habits.

The future form of family life may be somewhat like its present Capitalist form. Unions of short duration are becoming general, as is shown by the divorce courts, etc. Another instance of economic conditions where free love is only for those who can afford it. The mutual love of a man and a woman, even freed from the present economic dependence, may not last for a lifetime.

The remarks about the family not being fundamental like private ownership are not at all clear. What do they mean? What is fundamental? Is not the family?

The family evolves along with economic conditions, and is now, in many respects, different from the family of old, as is instanced by the growing tendency to dine out, to travel, etc., to develop industrially. Woman’s position since the War started has shown that that was, need not always be. If she is wise she will endeavour to take steps to free herself of unnecessary drudgery instead of imagining that it is natural for her to be cooped up in solitude ; a thousand mothers cooking in a thousand rooms, and washing thousands of saucepans. As to our critic’s husband, I hardly know whether to take these remarks seriously. If he cannot get his particular dish at present-day restaurants, perhaps under a more sane system of society he may have more leisure to wait for its preparation, unless it is so appetising that others will also require it and it will always be at hand and involve much less labour if done collectively.

But joking aside—of course, if women prefer to spend so much time preparing food, etc., and all that it involves (and may involve even under Socialism), she would no doubt be allowed to do it all herself. But I was suggesting the possibility of collective cooking and distribution of food as being in harmony with collective production generally, with a view to reducing all work where possible and leave both sexes more leisure.

Under such conditions a woman may be able to develop other talents, she may possess to further advantage, whether it is a “masculine” or “feminine” occupation.

“Does Socialism entail the abolition of private home life?” our critic asks. Personally I hope so, the present sort, anyway, since to me, and to many others, it is too private for the woman.

I happen to be, like most of us, a social being, and would as well dine out as stay at home preparing meals and thereby losing the opportunity of social intercourse, of travel, concerts, etc., etc., although I am prepared to do my quota of work while others prepare my food, or vice versa. This need not necessarily mean giving up private home life, but will enable us to make it a matter of choice instead of necessity.

Public restaurants are very much taking woman’s “natural” job out of her hands already, and she has not risen up in arms against it, and it is not “natural” for the “elite” to cook their husbands’ dinners, which seems to suggest this cooking, etc., is an economic problem. Does it not?

My critic, having made definite remarks about the future mode of family life, etc., has herself seen that to do so is rash and unscientific.

However, if I may prophesy provisionally, I can do so on the basis of present trends—i.e., as I said before, not home¬-made bread, etc., but collective cooking and collective dining, perhaps.

Collective schooling—board and otherwise, are already the thing, so why not collective nurseries, laundries, etc?

The reason for women to adopt the principles of Socialism is to get the best the community can offer, so that if a few can prepare meals for the many while the latter are doing other work, then communal cooking may be part of the scientific scheme.

The remarks about posterity, etc., are strange, coming from one so concerned about family life. To plead for posterity is to endeavour to improve the lot of our descendants, which is in accordance with human instinct. Sentiment in the sense of feeling is a part of our general make-up, masculine as well. Were it not so we would scarcely put up with the struggle so complacently, but would “let our children,” to quote Heine, “go beg for bread.” But do we?
(Mrs.) H. Gilmac.

“Modernism” v Materialism, (1928)

From the November 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

In our pamphlet “Socialism and Religion” (p. 23) we make the claim that, “In contrast with science, . . . religion decreases in volume, cohesion and definiteness.” Evidence in support of this view was amply provided at the recent Church Congress at Cheltenham, and it is significant that whereas the Capitalist Press treated the confabulations of the British Association with deferential respect, the outpourings of the Episcopalian “soul” met with somewhat critical, if not impatient, patronage.

The differences between the Anglo-Catholics and the Evangelicals, serious enough in themselves, paled into insignificance beside the virulent attack upon the “Modernists” by the English Church Union; which prompts the reflection that it is only a few hundred years ago since respectable pillars of society such as Dean Inge and the Bishop of Birmingham would have been burned at the stake by their Christian brethren.

Canon B. H. Streeter, one of its champions, states that “Modernists are a group of persons who look round on a civilisation that is likely to perish for lack of a religion, and wish to offer it a religion that is intellectually a possible one.”
“Compulsory education has created a position in regard to religion which is really new. In all ages among the educated few a certain amount of sceptical rationalism has flourished ; but heretofore the mass of the uneducated has always taken for granted the existence of a God or gods, and therefore the necessity for some kind of religious observance. The new thing in the modern situation is the spread of the spirit of criticism and enquiry … to the masses of the people. … In their minds Christianity is associated with a political and economic status quo, which many view with hostility, and few with more than tolerance. It is the religion professed by classes with whom they are in constant economic conflict.”
Thus the Modernist appears to be sufficient of a materialist to recognise the existence of the class struggle and that the fate of religion is bound up therewith. Canon Streeter, however, concludes as follows :—
“What I wish to insist is that under modern conditions, if the Church desires to speak to the world with the voice of authority, it must first compel outsiders to recognise that there is within the Church a body of investigators who are in no way bound to defend established positions, but are free to follow truth” (“The Church of England Newspaper.” p. 18, 5/10/28).
Just how far the Modernists are prepared to follow truth may be gathered from the speeches of the prelates above referred to. Bishop Barnes is convinced, not only that “Darwin conclusively demonstrated man’s similarity with the rest of creation,” but that “all the higher faculties of man had their beginnings in lower forms of life.”
“We cannot, he says, separate mind and body ; they are two aspects of a single unity. How then, it may be asked, can we continue to believe in the existence of human personality after bodily death ? I would answer that our belief …. is bound up with our conception of the nature of God. . . . We cannot believe that he will allow anything of value to be destroyed. . . . How man’s personality will be preserved we cannot say.”
If the right reverend gentleman had stopped here we could forgive many Christians for losing their tempers with him. Few materialists have put matters more bluntly. Even Marx and Engels, summarising Hobbes in “The Holy Family,” could only say, “It is impossible to separate thought from matter that thinks. . . . We cannot know anything about the existence of God.” (Quoted by Engels in his Introduction to “Socialism : Utopian and Scientific.”) But the Bishop is merciless.

He proceeds :—
“A generation ago it was customary to say that Heaven was a state and not a place, the implication being that the life after death was temporal but not spatial. Einstein has, however, demonstrated that space and time form a single complex which we break up, arbitrarily, in our thought. We have no right to postulate that in the world to come part of this complex will be destroyed while the other part remains intact. In fact, with regard to time and space in the Kingdom of Heaven very much the same difficulties arise as with regard to body and personality. In neither case can natural science give effective guidance” (“Church of England Newspaper,” p. 12, 5/10/28).
Comically enough, the Bishop’s partner in crime, Dean Inge, tries to use this same demonstration of Einstein’s as a proof of the “uncertainty” of science. He refers to “old pre-suppositions of scientific thought, which have been almost unchallenged since Newton and Descartes, are being assailed from all sides.” Yet, nearly forty years ago, Engels pointed out in the above quoted preface that Kant and Laplace had superseded Newton’s “eternal system” by an evolutionary conception, which Darwin supplemented in biology, thus exploding Descartes as Bishop Barnes shows.

The Dean also comes to grief over his generalisations upon Evolution, which he assures us “cannot have created our awareness of itself.” Yet, as his colleague, already quoted, points out, the highest faculties of man have evolved, and it is by these faculties that the idea of evolution is framed.

Again, he tells us that “God can in no sense be a product of Evolution,” yet further on admits that “Religion itself no doubt is evolving with those who possess it.” Neither Dean nor Bishop endeavour to offer any objective evidence of the existence of God. They are too consistent to their scientific education for that.

The individual mind, like the individual body, dissolves at death. For it, so far as we know, “absolute” and “relative” alike lose interest, but the world goes on. That which does not change is the process of change.

The Dean concludes “that Evolution is only the method by which the Eternal God carries out most of His purposes in the world. … I do not think that the existence or attributes of God are involved in it at all.”

Such a profound philosopher should have recognised long ago that every particular attribute is finite and implies its opposite, as whiteness is opposed to and excludes blackness, goodness badness, and so forth. All our knowledge is based upon the evidence of our senses; in other words, our minds are inseparable from organic bodies in a material world. An unchecked or disordered imagination can evolve all manner of fantasies which do not correspond with external reality. They may be real enough to those who indulge in them or are their victims. They may lead to actions, but the devotional observances of the Christian are no more proof of the object of his faith than the similar observances of the pagan and the savage before him.

The dipsomaniac who sees variegated livestock on the walls has just as much evidence of the soundness of his convictions as the religious fanatic. The important difference lies in the social character of religion. In its primitive form it expressed man’s desire to control his environment by efforts of his imagination, and its evolution is explicable only by the evolution of the environment.

This evolution has harnessed man’s mind to the task of production. Instead of trying to rule Nature by magic, mankind has learnt to utilise Nature’s own forces. Scope for the imagination has been found in the realm of invention, and as fast as man follows this line of action he forsakes the dead ritual of the past.

By changing his surroundings man has changed himself. The superstitious savage has gone. In his place stands the scientific worker.

The process, however, is far from complete. As yet, science has grasped only the technical side of social life.

The organisation of society itself on rational lines awaits the social revolution, i.e., the disarmament and dispossession of the Capitalist ruling class. It is in the interests of this class that the Church exists. Belief in God and respect for ruling-class “authority” go hand in hand.

The revolutionary workers have no use for a creed which is the mere ghost of past social life. They require a clear outlook, free from superstition of every kind, from the crude and gross to the elaborate and refined. Hence the subtleties of modernist parsons fail to lure us back to the fold. “God’s in His Heaven?” All right ! Let Him stop there ! We want the world for the workers.
Eric Boden