The Anarchist Township

Fight the war, fuck the norm!

Month: May 2014

Why I am Not a Communist, by Karel Čapek

Nick’s Notes: This article is not by an anarchist but I like it for its anti-communism and the way it is written. And most importantly it is hard to find online. So I figure I will make it a bit more accessible. That is the anarchist thing to do!

Karel Čapek

Why I am not a Communist (December 1924)

Karel Čapek

Translated by Martin Pokorny

This question appeared out of the blue among a group of people who were normally inclined to do anything else rather than to busy themselves with politics. It is certain that nobody among the present would raise the question “why I am not an Agrarian”, or “why I am not a Social Democrat”. To be no Agrarian, by itself, signifies no definite view or life belief; however, to be no communist means to be a non-communist; to be no communist is not a simple negation but rather a certain credo.

For me personally the question brings relief, since I have been under great need, not to start polemics with Communism, but rather to defend myself in my own eyes for not being a communist and why I cannot be one. It would be easier for me if I were one. I would live thinking that I contribute in a most intrepid way to the redemption of the world; I would think that I stand on the side of the poor against the rich, on the side of those in hunger against bags of money; I would know what to think about this and that, what to hate, what to ignore. Instead, I am like a naked man in a thorny bush: with my hands bare, not covered by any doctrine, feeling my impotence with respect to helping the world and often not knowing how to protect my conscience: If my heart is on the side of the poor, why the heck am I not a communist?

Because I am on the side of the poor.




I have seen poverty so painful and undescribable that it has made bitter to me everything I am. Wherever I have ever been I ran from palaces and museums to see the life of the poor, in the humiliating role of a helpless spectator. It is not enough to see and it is not enough to sympathize; I should live their life, but I am afraid of death. This biting, inhuman poverty is not borne on the heraldry of any party; as for these terrible slums with neither a nail to hang oneself nor a dirty rag to lay on, communism tries to reach them with its cry from a careful distance: the social order is to blame; in two years, in twenty years, the flag of the Revolution will unfold, and then —

What, in two years, in twenty years? Are you capable to admit so indifferently that one should live like that even two more winter months, two more weeks, two more days? Bourgeoisie that cannot or does not want to help here is a stranger to me; but equally strange to me is Communism that, instead of help, brings the flag of the Revolution. The final word of Communism is to rule, not to save; its gigantic slogan is power [moc], not help [pomoc]. As Communism sees them, poverty, hunger, unemployment are not unbearable pain and shame but rather a welcome reservoir of dark powers, fermenting by lots of anger and resistance. “The social order is to blame.” No, rather all of us are to blame, whether we stand over human poverty with hands in our pockets or the flags of the Revolution in our hands.

Poor people are no class, they are precisely the declassed, excluded and unorganized ones; they will never dwell on the steps to the throne, whoever sits on it. The hungry ones do not want to rule but to eat; with regard to poverty it is indifferent who rules; the only thing that matters is how we, human beings, feel. Poverty is neither institution nor a class, it is a disaster; looking for an appeal to immediate humane help, I find only the cold doctrine of class rule. I cannot be a communist because its morality is not the morality of help. Because it preaches abolition of the social order [rad] and not abolition of the social crime [zlorad] that is poverty. Because if it wants to help the poor at all, it does so conditionally: first we have to rule and then (perhaps) it will be your turn. Unfortunately, not even this conditional salvation is guaranteed by the writ.




Poor people are not a mass. A thousand workers can help one worker in his struggle for existence; but a thousand poor people cannot help one poor to get even a piece of bread. A poor, hungry, helpless person is absolutely isolated. His life is a history for itself, incompatible with others; it is an individual case because it is a disaster, though it is similar to other cases like a rag to a rag. Turn the society whichever side up, the poor will fall to the bottom again, most often joined by others.

I am not a scratch of an aristocrat but I do not believe in the value of masses. After all, nobody, I hope, maintains seriously that masses will rule; they are just a material instrument to attain certain goals; they are simply political material in a much harder and more ruthless sense than the party-members of other colors are. It is necessary to press people into a kind of shape so that they become a mass material; it is necessary to give them a uniform made out of certain cloth or certain ideas; unfortunately, one can seldom take the uniform made of ideas off after eighteen months. I would begin to respect communism deeply if it came to the worker and told him honestly: “There´s something I ask of you but I do not promise you anything; I ask that you be an item, a unit, a material for me, just as you are an item and material in the factory; you will obey and remain silent, just as you obey and remain silent in the factory. As a reward, you will one day, when everything changes, remain what you are; you will fare worse or better, whether this or the other I cannot guarantee; the order of the world will be neither more generous nor kinder to you, but it will be juster.” – I think that most workers would quite hesitate to accept this offer – and yet it would be supremely honest, and who knows whether for highly moral reasons it might not be more acceptable than all offers presented so far.

To feed poor people with promises is to rob them. Perhaps life is easier for them when you paint fat geese on the willow for them;1 but in practical respets, today just like one hundred years ago the sparrow in one´s fist2 is better than a pigeon on the roof3 of the government building and a fire in one´s oven is better than the red cock on the rafters of palaces which are, moreover, much less numerous here than what would think a person who is being forced to accept class consciousness instead of one´s own eyes – since, apart from a few exceptions, we are, as to life standards, a not very well-off nation, a fact one usually fails to mention. Usually one says that the poor have nothing to risk; but on the contrary, whatever happens the poor are those who risk the most because if they lose something they lose the last bit of bread; with the poor´s bread one should not experiment. No revolution will be realized on the backs of a small number of people, on the contrary – it will be on the backs of the highest number of people; whether it is war or currency crisis or anything else it is the poor who bear the earliest and heaviest consequences; quite simply, there are no limits and no bottom to poverty. The most rotten thing in the world is not the roof of the rich but the roof of the poor; shake the world and then look and see who it is that has remained in the rubble.

So what is to be done? As for me, I do not take much consolation in the word “evolution”; I think that poverty is the only thing in the world that does not evolve but rather just grows chaotically. But it is not acceptable to postpone the issue of the poor until the establishment of some future order; if they are to be helped at all, one has to start right away. It is open to doubt, however, whether the world of today still possesses sufficient moral means for that task; communism says it does not; well, it is just this refusal in which we differ. I do not mean to say that there are enough perfectly just people in this social Sodoma; but in each of us Sodomites there is a bit of the just and I believe that after some sustained effort and some substantial waving of hands we could agree on quite decent justice. Communism says, however, that an agreement is excluded; apparently it doubts the human value of most people as such, but of that thing I will treat later. The present-day society did not tumble down when it brought about some or other protection of the unemployed, aged and sick; I am not saying that it is enough but the important thing for both the poor and me is that that much has been possible to do today, on the spot, without irritated waiting for the glorious moment when the flag of the Revolution will unfold.

To believe that the issue of the poor is the task of the present and not of the upcoming order means, however, to be no communist. To believe that a piece of bread and fire in the oven today is more important than Revolution in twenty years is the sign of a very non-communist temper.




The strangest and least human element of communism is its weird gloominess. The worse the better; if a biker hits a deaf granny it is a proof of the rottenness of the present order; if a worker sticks his finger in between the wheels of the machine, it is not the wheels that will mash his poor finger but rather the bourgeois, and will do so with bloodthirsty pleasure. Hearts of all people who for some or other personal reasons are no communists are beastly and repulsive like an ulcer; there is not one smittereen of good in the entire present order; whatever is is bad.

In a ballad of his, [the communist poet] Jiri Wolker says: “In your deepest heart, you poor, I can see hatred.” It is a horrible word but the curious thing is that it is completely improper. At the bottom of poor people´s hearts there is rather an amazing and beautiful gaiety. The worker by the machine will crack a joke with much more enjoyment than the factory-owner or the director; construction workers at the site have more fun than the building-master or the landlord, and if there is a person singing in a household then it is definitely more often the maid wiping the floor than her mistress. The so-called proletarian is naturally inclined to an almost joyful and infantile conception of life; the communist pessimism and melancholy hatred are artificially pumped into him, and through unclean pipes. This import of desperate gloom is called “the education of masses towards revolutionarism” or “strengthening of class consciousness”. The poor, having so little, are being bereft even of their primitive joy of life; that is the first payment for a future, better world.

The climate of communism is ghastly and inhuman; there is no middle temperature between the freezing bourgeoisie and the revolutionary fire; there is nothing to which a proletarian could dedicate himself with pleasure and undisturbed. The world contains no lunch or dinner; it is either the mouldy bread of the poor or the gorging of the overlords. There is no love, for there is either the perversity of the rich or the proletarian conceiving of children. The bourgeois inhales his own rottenness, the worker his consumption; thus, somehow, the air has disappeared. I do not know whether journalists and writers have persuaded themselves to believe this absurd image of the world or whether they consciously lie; I only know that a naive and inexperienced person, such as the proletarian usually is, lives in a terribly distorted world which really is not worth anything else for him than to be undone and uprooted. But since such a world is just a fiction, it would be very timely to undo and uproot this ghostly fiction, for instance by some revolutionary deed; in that case, I am enthusiastically supportive. There is no doubt that in our tearful valley there is far too much undescribable disaster, excess of suffering, not quite enough well-being and very little joy; as far as I am concerned, I do not think I am inclined to depict the world in too rosy colors but whenever I come across the inhuman negativity and tragic of communism I feel like shouting in an appalled protest that it is not true and that in spite of everything it does not look like this. I have met very few people who would not deserve a crumble of salvation for an onion; very few of those onto whom the Lord, being just a little sober and generous, could spit fire and sulphur. The world contains much more narrow-mindedness than real vice; but there is still sympathy and trust, friendliness and goodwill enough so that one cannot break the stick over the world of humans. I do not believe in perfection of either present or future humankind; the world will become a paradise neither by persuasion nor by revolution, not even by annihilation of the human race. But if we could somehow gather all the good that is, after all, hidden in each of us sinful human beings, then, I believe, one could build on this a world kinder yet than the one so far. Maybe you will say that it is just a simpleton´s philanthropy; well yes, I do belong to those idiots who love human beings because they are human.

It is very easy to say that, for instance, the forest is black; but no tree in that forest is black, rather it is red and green, because it is simply a pine or a fir. It is very easy to say that the society is bad; but go and find some essentially evil people there. Try to judge the world for a moment without brutal generalizations; after a while, there won´t be a grain left of your principles. One premise of communism is an artificial or intended ignorance of the world. If someone says they hate Germans I would like to tell them to go and live among them; in a month´s time I would ask them whether they hate their German landlady, whether they feel like cutting the throat of their Germanic radish-seller or strangling the Teutonic granny who sells them their matches. One of the least moral gifts of human mind is the gift of generalization; instead of summarizing our experiences, it simply strives to supplant them. In communist papers you cannot read anything else about the world but that it is worth nothing through and through; anyone for whom opinionatedness does not represent the peak of knowledge won´t think this quite sufficient.

Hatred, ignorance, essential distrust – this is the psychical world of communism; a medical diagnosis would say that it is pathological negativism. If one becomes a mass, one is perhaps more easily accessible to this infection; but in private life, it is not sufficient. Stand for a moment next to a beggar at the corner of the street; try to notice who are the pedestrians that most likely spin out the penny from their pockets; in seven cases out of ten they are people who live themselves on the border of poverty; the remaining three cases are women. In all probability, a communist would deduce out of this fact that the bourgeois has a hardened heart; but I deduce something more beautiful, namely that the proletarian has usually a soft heart and is substantially inclined to kindness, love, and dedication. Communism with its class hatred and resentment wants to make this person a canaille; the poor does not deserve such a humiliation.




The world of today does not need hatred but rather good will, readiness to help, consensus and co-operation; it needs a kinder moral climate; I think that with a bit of simple love and sincerity one could perform wonders. I defend the present world not because it is the world of the rich but because it is also the world of the poor and then also of those in the middle, of those who nowadays, ground between the mill-stones of capital and class proletariat, maintain and save, with more or less success, the largest part of human values. I do not really know those proverbial upper ten thousand, thus I cannot judge them; but I have judged the class which is called bourgeoisie in such a way that it has brought me the indiction of dirty pessimism. I say it so that it gives me more right to defend, to a degree, those to whose failures and crimes I am certainly not blind. Proletariat cannot substitute this class but it can enter it. Despite all programmatic swindles there is no proletarian culture; nowadays there is on the whole no folk culture either, no aristocratic culture, no religious culture; all that is left of cultural values depends on the middle class, the so-called „intelligentsia“. If only proletariat claimed its share in this tradition, if only it said: Okay, I will take over the present world and manage it with all the values that are in it – then perhaps we could shake hands and give it a try; however, if communism pushes forth by immediately refusing, as useless camp, everything that is called the bourgeois culture, then goodbye and farewell; then everyone with a bit of responsibility starts to take into account how much would go wasted.




I have already said that real poverty is no institution but a disaster. You can reverse all orders but you will not prevent human beings from strokes of bad luck, from sickness, from the suffering of hunger and cold, from the need of a helpful hand. Do whatever you like, disaster presents human beings with a moral, not a social task. The language of communism is hard; it does not talk of the values of sympathy, willingness, help and human solidarity; it says with self-confidence that it is not sentimental. But this lack of sentimentality is the worst thing for me, since I am just as sentimental as any maid, as any fool, as any decent person is; only rogues and demagogues are not sentimental. Apart from sentimental reasons you will not hand a glass of water to your neighbor; rational motives will not even bring you to help and raise a person who has slipped.




Then, there is the issue of violence. I am no spinster to make the sign of the cross whenever I hear the word “violence”; I admit that sometimes I would quite enjoy beating up a person who produces a series of wrong reasons or lies; unfortunately it is impossible because either I am too weak to beat them or they are too weak to defend themselves. As you can see, I am not exactly a bully; but if the bourgeoisie started to shout that they go hang the proletarians then I would certainly get up and run to help those who are being hanged. A decent person cannot side with the one who threatens; whoever calls for shooting and hanging disrupts human society not by social revolution but by offending natural and simple honesty.

People call me a “relativist” due to the singular and apparently rather heavy intellectual crime that I try to understand everything; I spend my time with all doctrines and all literatures including negro tales and I discover with a mystical joy that with a bit of patience and simplicity one can reach some agreement with all people, whatever their skin or faith. It seems there is some common human logic and a reservoire of shared human values, such as love, humour, enjoying good food, optimism and many other things without which one cannot live. And then I am sometimes gripped by horror that I cannot reach agreement with communism. I understand its ideals but I cannot understand its method. Sometimes I feel as if I spoke a strange language and its thought was subjected to different laws. If one nation believes that people should tolerate each other and another nation believes that people should eat each other, then this difference is quite pictoresque but not absolutely essential; but if communism believes that to hang and shoot people is, under certain circumstances, no more of a serious matter than to kill cockroaches, it is something that I cannot understand though I am being told it in Czech; I have a terrible feeling of chaos and a real anxiety that this way we will never agree.

I believe till this very day that there are certain moral and rational chuttels by means of which one human being recognizes another. The method of communism is a broadly established attempt at international miscommunication; it is an attempt to shatter the human world to pieces that do not belong to each other and have nothing to say to each other. Whatever is good for one side cannot and must not be good for the other side; as if people on both sides were not physiologically and morally identical. Send the most orthodox communist to handle me; if he does not knock me down on the spot then I hope I will reach personal agreement with him on many things – as long, however, as these do not concern communism. But communism principially disagrees with the others even in points that do not concern communism; talk with communism about the function of the spleen and it will tell you that this is bourgeois science; similarly there is bourgeois poetry, bourgeois romanticism, bourgeois humanism and so on. The firmness of conviction that you find in communists in every detail is almost superhuman: not that the conviction were that exalting, rather that they do not get fed up by it at the end. Or perhaps it is no firmness of conviction but rather some ritual prescription or, after all, a craft.

But what I especially regret are exactly proletarians who are thus cut off from the rest of the educated world without getting any other substitute than the attractive prospects of the pleasures of the Revolution. Communism shuts down a cordon between them and the world; and it is you, communist intellectuals, who stand with colorfully painted shields between them and all that is ready for them as the share for newcomers. But there is still a place for the doves of peace – if not in your midst then above your heads, or directly from above.


I feel lighter after having said at least so much, though it is not all; I feel like after having confessed. I do not stand in any herd and my argument with communism is not an argument of principles but rather of personal conscience. And if I could argue with others´ conscience and not with principles I believe it would not be impossible at least to understand each other – and that, by itself, would be a lot.

1 I.e., when you promise something attractive but irreal.

2 I.e., the lesser but real reward.

3 I.e., the bigger but illusory reward.

The Case of Woman vs. Orthodoxy, by Voltairine de Cleyre (1896)

(With thanks to the now out of use Voltairine de Cleyre Tumblr)

The Case Of Woman VS. Orthodoxy -Voltairine de Cleyre (1896)

“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thy desire shall be unto thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”

Thus descended the anathema from the voice which thundered upon Sinai; and thus has the curse gone echoing from away backthere in the misty darkness before the morning of history rose upon men. Sorrow, sorrow, sorrow—and oh! how many million voices wail, wail endlessly.

“Sorrow is my portion and pain is my burden; for so it was decreed of the Lord God, the Lord God who ruleth and whose creature am I. But oh, the burden is heavy, very heavy. I have been patient; I have borne it long; I have not complained; I have not rebelled; if I have wept, it has been at night and alone; if I have stumbled, I have gone on the faster. When I have lain down in the desert and closed my eyes and known no more, I have rebuked myself. I have remembered my mother, and been patient and waited, waited. But the waiting is very long.”

This is the cry of the woman heard in the night of the long ages; ghostforms flitting through the abyss, ghost-hands wrung in the ancient darkness come close and are laid upon the living, and the mournful cadence is reintoned from the dead by the quick, and the mournful, hopeless superstition which bound the hearts and the souls of our foremothers, lengthens out its weary chain and binds us, too. Why it should be so, why it has done so for so long, is one of the mysteries which a sage of the future may solve, but not I. I can see no reason, absolutely none, why women have clung to the doom ofthe gods. I cannot understand why they have not rebelled. I cannot imagine what they ever hoped to gain by it, that they should have watered their footsteps with tears, and borne their position with such abnegation. It is true that we are often offered explanations, and much force may be in them, but these explanations may serve only to account for the position. They do not account for woman’s centurian acceptance of, and resignation to, it. Women are, we know, creatures of their environments, the same as are men; and they react on their environment in proportion to their capacities.

We know that women are not now, and, with some few tribal exceptions,probably never were, as strong as men are physically. But why in commonsense sorrow should therefore be their lot, and their husbands should rule over them, and why they should uncomplainingly accept this regime, is one of the, to me, incomprehensible phenomena of human history. Men,enslaved, have, to speak expressively, “kicked”—kicked vigorously, even when the kicking brought to them heavier chains; but we have never, till very recently, had anything like a revolt of women. They have bowed, and knelt and kissed the hand which smote them. Why? Notwithstanding all of its pretensions to be the uplifter and the glorifier of women, there ever has been, there never will be, anything for them in orthodoxy but slavery. And whether that slavery is of the sordid, gloomy, leaden, work-a-day sortor of the gilded toy-shop variety, whether it be the hard toil and burden of work women or the canary-bird style of the upper classes, who neither toil norspin, the undertone and the overtone are still the same: “Be in subjection;for such is the Lord’s will.” In order to maintain this ideal of the relation of master and of subject between men and women, a different method of education, a different code of morals and a different sphere exertion were mapped out for women, because of their sex, without reference to individual qualifications. If a horse is designed to draw wheels because it is a horse,so have women been allotted certain tasks, mostly menial, because they are women. The majority of men actually hold to that analogy, and without in the least believing themselves tyrannical or meddle-some, conceived themselves to be justified in making a tremendous row if the horse attempted to get over the traces.

That splendid old veteran of Freethought, George Jacob Holyoake, in a recent article, one of a series running in the Open Court, has pertinently observed that the declaration that thought is by its very essence free is an error, because as long as speech, which is the necessary tool of thought, is not free, the intellect is as much hampered in its effort to think as a shoemaker without tools is in attempting to make a pair of shoes. By this same method, viz., the denial of the means of altering it, was the position of woman sustained, by subordinating her physical development to what was called delicacy, which ought to have been called by its proper name, weakness, by inculcating a scheme of morals which made obedience the first virtue, suppression of the will in deference to her husband (or father, or brother, or,failing these, her nearest male relative) the first deduction there from, by a plan of education which omitted all of those branches of knowledge whichrequire the application of reason and of judgment, by all of these deprivals of the tools of thinking the sphere was circumscribed and guarded well. And by the penalties inflicted for the breaking through of these prescriptions,whether said penalties were legal or purely social and voluntary, the little spirit which was left in woman by these limitations was almost hopelessly broken. It is apparent, therefore, that if in all these ages of submission have hopelessly accepted that destiny, if they have never tried to break these forbidding barriers, they will not do so now, with all of theiradded centuries of inheritance, unless the relentless iron of circumstance drives them across. (Later, it will be my endeavor to show that this iron is already pressing down).

It may not be flattering to have this conviction thrust upon us; but it may be less disagreeable if I explain what I mean. In former times, when people trod upon the toes of gods every time they turned about, moral ideals and social ideals were looked upon as things in themselves descended from on high, the gift of the gods, Divine patterns laid down without reference to climate, to race, to social development, or to other material things, matters of the soul without relation to bodily requirements. But now that gods speaking the tongues of men have vanished like vapors at sunrise, it is necessary, since it is evident that morality of some sort exists everywhere,of very different sorts under different conditions, to find some explanation of these psychic phenomena correlated with the explanation of physical phenomena. For souls are no longer perceived as monarchs of bodies laying down all manner of laws for the bringing into subjection of the physical members, but rather soul, or mind, or whatever name may be given to the psychological aspect of the bundle called an ego, is one with the body, subject to growth, to expansion and to decay, adapting itself seasonably to time and to circumstances, modified always by material conditions, intimately connected with the stomach, indissolubly related to the weather, tothe crops, and to all other baldly commonplace things. In contemplating this revised version of the soul one will, according to the bent of one’s nature,regard this view as a descent from spiritual heights, rendering things coarse and gross, or, on the other hand, he will see all things clothed in the gloryof superb equality, he will not say: “I am sunken to the indignity of a cabbage,”but “this common plant is my brother and the brother of things greater than I, serving equally well his part; there is no more or less, smalleror greater; Life is common to us all.”

Now, therefore, upon this basis, the basis of the perpetual relation between physical foundations and ethical superstructures, it is seen that if this be an acting principle now, so it has ever been, and will be as long asmind and matter constitute reality. Hence the ethics said to have been delivered by Jehovah upon Sinai was truly the expression of social ideas compatible with the existing physical conditions. Not less so the ethics of bees, of ants, of birds, and of the Fiji Islanders; and not less so the ethics of to-day, which, despite the preservation of the outward shell of the decalogue,are indeed vastly changed.

The conclusion to be drawn from the foregoing in regard to the status of woman is this:—Material conditions determine the social relations of men and women; and if material conditions are such as to make these relations impossible of maintenance, they will be compelled to assume others. This is the explanation of the expression, “driven across the barriers.” What no amount of unseasonable preaching can accomplish material necessity will force even in the face of sermons to the contrary. Not that I undervalue the service of the advance guard, the preaching of new thought. On the contrary, the first and best of praise is due to the “voice crying in the wilderness.” And I say that such a voice is the first faint vibration of the world-soul in response to the unease of world-body created by the shifting of conditions,—whether it so proclaims or not, whether it cries wisely or not. I say that those who call for the breaking of the barriers will always precede the general action of the masses; but I add that were it not for the compulsion of material necessity the preaching would be barren. What I wish to express in order to illustrate my point clearly is, first, that the orthodox view of the ethics of woman’s relations and her social usefulness was a view compatible with a tribal organization, narrow geographical limits,the reign of muscular force, the necessity of rapid reproduction; second,that those conditions have given place to others demanding an utterly different human translation.

Before the invention of the means of transportation, when, according to the story, it took forty years for the Israelites to explore a tract some 300 miles in length (though one may perhaps venture to credit them with better time than they credit themselves with), when, at any rate, a high mountain was a serious obstacle and a good-sized river a natural boundary for tribal wanderings, people were necessarily very ignorant of the outside world. Within the limits valuable pasture and farm lands were debatable grounds, debatable by different tribes, in terms of hue and cry, of slingshot and arrows, and other such arguments. War was a constant condition, the chief occupation of men. Now we who are evolutionists know that those tribes and species survived in the world which obeyed the fundamental necessity of adaptation; and it is easy to see that with a rapid rate of mortality and anon-correspondent rate of increase a tribe must have rapidly gone to the wall. Any nation which might have put its mothers up in battle would have been weeded out simply because the part played by the mother in reproduction requires so much longer a period than that played by the father. To produce warriors—that was the chief purpose of a woman’s existence! Nothing in herself, she became everything when regarded as the race preserver.Therein lay her great usefulness; and in reading the sometimes nauseating accounts of the behavior of women in ancient times in Judah, the phase of human development in its entirety should be borne in mind. The mothers of Isaac and of Ishmael, Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah, the daughters of Lot, should never be viewed from the standpoint of nineteenth century morals, but from that of the tribal organization and the tribal necessities, which forced upon them the standard of “Multiply and replenish the earth” as the highest possible conception of conduct.

Yet, singular to observe, co-existent with this very ideal and with the very polygamous practices of the patriarchs, are found records of the most horrible punishments inflicted upon women for the breaking of the seventh commandment. As may be seen in the story of Tamar and Judah, the punishment to be inflicted upon her was burning alive, though nothing is said of Judah’s. The Talmud has many accounts of tests by “the bitter water” for women, while men were subjected to nothing more than a fine. (Bitter water was simply poisoned water; the innocent were supposed not to be injured, the guilty to fall dead in the market-place, exposed to the public gaze.) Nevertheless, such was the stringent necessity for rapid reproductions that women defied danger and instinctively continued to fulfill that race-purpose, though the law of Moses, already codifying the conditions of peace (not as yet existent), recognized war and its accompaniments as transient, and giving place to a stricter moral behavior.

As I said before, I do not perceive for the life of me what the women saw in all of this for them; I don’t see why they should have been interested in the tribal welfare at all, or in the dreary business of bearing sons for other women’s sons to slay. But since the war-environment was the one underwhich they were born and reared, since no other purpose for them had ever been thought of, by either the dead or the living, it is not surprising that they did not see matters at all as I do. Nowadays, that the majority of English and of French speaking peoples at least see that the requisite ethics is the limitation of population within the means of subsistence, these direct descendants of the Judaic ideal are subject rather to a jest among the enlightened of their own race. Thus Zangwill, in the “Children of the Ghetto,” puts this speech in the mouth of one of the Jewish grandmothers: “How is Fanny?”inquired the visitor. “Ah, poor Pesach! He has never done well in business! But blessed be He. I am soon to have my seventh grand-child.” How fearfully potent is the force of heredity may thus be seen, since to this day these women walk through your streets, wan, faded, humped, distorted, hideous women—women all bone and jaw and flabby flesh, grotesque shadows from the past, creatures once trim and beautiful, but whose beauty went long ago to fulfill the order of the Lord of Sinai.

The primal division of labor is thus seen to have been one of sex. The business of men was to fight, of women to produce fighters. To men were the arts of war; to women were those of peace. Later in the time of Solomon, when material conditions among the Jews had already altered, we see the effect of the continuance of this division beyond the epoch which created it. Already monadism has been abandoned; and the settled mode of life has been begun. The conditions of war, though still often maintaining, bore no comparison to former prevalence; and the aforeward warrior was hence frequently idle. Was it thus with woman? Oh, no,

Men may come and men may go,
But she goes on forever

With her work.

Listen to this delectable account in Solomon, said to be the opinion of King Lemuel concerning a truly blessed woman; behold how her duties have gone on increasing. ’Tis the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs; and let no one with an appreciation of the humorous miss it. It begins rather inconsequently with something about wine-drinking, and runs into the question at issue in the tenth verse; just why, no one is able to understand. It bears no relation to what has preceded it. Here it is:

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.”(You’ll be convinced of that before you’ve done;—diamonds either.)

“The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.” (They don’t generally need much of that if Lemuelmeans the sort of “spoil” which most modern husbands get.)

“She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.” (That’s in general; what follows is specific.)

“She seeketh flax and wool, and worketh willingly with her hands.”(So much for clothes; victuals now.)

“She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth food from afar.” (Goes where she can get it cheap, of course.)

“She riseth also while it is night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.” (Careful that they should not overeat andget sluggish. It is well to keep the girls tolerably hungry if you want them up before daylight.)

“She considereth a field and buyeth it; with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.” (Trades, too, see?)

“She girdeth her loins with strength and strengtheneth her arms.”(Nowadays she’d do that with a bicycle instead of a plow.)

“She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; her candle goeth notout by night.” (That means that she works all night, too; for she wouldn’t burn candles for nothing, being economical.)

“She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.”(The woman is all hands!)

“She stretcheth out her hands to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.” (Hands again!)

“She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.” (How Mephistophelian the whole household must have seemed.)

“She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.” (The woman must have had forty days in a month and thirteen months in a year.)

“Her husband is known in the gates when he sitteth among the elders of the land.” (I thought that he’d be up somewhere about the gates! I thought that he wouldn’t be having much to do but to sit with the elders! I thought that he’d not be stopping about the house much!)

“She maketh fine linen and selleth it, and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.” (I should think that she might send him around delivering.)

“Strength and honor are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come.” (There is certainly not much chance for her to rejoice in the time which has already come.)

“She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” (Verily, I should have expected her to be shrewish.)

“She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” (This paragraph was unnecessary; we had reached that conclusion before.)

“Her children arise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.” (Well, in all conscience, ’tis as little as he could do; and heought to do it well, since there is a deal of fine rhetoric usually going about among the elders and around the gates; and he has plenty of leisure to “get onto it.”)

“Many daughters have done virtuously; but thou excellest them all.”(“Sure.”)

“Favor is deceitful and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth theLord, she shall be praised.” (That is to console her for getting ugly with all of that work.)

“Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.” Oh, thou who hast bought and planted and reaped and sold, spun and woven and girdled and clothed, risen and travelled and gathered and given, borne all, done all, ordered all, saved all, we will “give thee of the fruit of thy hands,” and prate about it up at the gates! Verily, verily, the woman is far above rubies.

But alas for Lemuel and for Solomon, conditions then were also mutable. And perhaps a friend of mine who has expressed herself upon this passage, is right in her judgment that, as men never exalt a thing until it is beginning to wane and to vanish away, therefore it must have been that this sort of woman was on the decrease before Solomon began to repeat Lemuel. It does not lie within the scope of my lecture to trace the economic development which multiplied the diversion of labor, creating classes having separate and conflicting political interests, which will continue to clash until the process has either, by being pushed to its extremity,destroyed itself and reaccomplished independent production, or until some more correct political solution be found than any at present existing. What I wish to observe is merely that up to the dawn of the Revolutionary period this manifold splitting of humanity’s occupations did not affect the primal division of the complementary labors of the sexes. Within the limits set by the original division, however, classes did arise. Among women these classes were principally two; the overworked drudges of the poor, andthe pampered daughters of wealth. Is it not possible to say whose condition was the most lamentable. For to both was still maintained by preacher, by teacher, by lawyer and by doctor the old decree: “Thy husband shall rule over thee.” Of the latter class there were but few previous to the Revolution. The rugged condition of pioneer life in the New World afforded small opportunity for the growth of a purely parasite class; that has arisen since. But in the Old World the women of the landed aristocracy, as likewise those of the developing mercantile class, constituted, though not a majority, yet a good percentage of the whole sex. So large a portion, in fact, that a whole stock of literature, which might have been labelled, “The Gospel of Jesus specially adapted to the use of society women,” arose and flourished; preachers busied themselves with it; doctors wrote scores of verses on the preservation of the beauty and the delicacy of the lazy; rhetoricians frilled and furbelowed the human toy by way of exercising their art; lawyers rendered learned opinions upon “lovely woman”—they all took their turn and they all did her a bad turn. The entire science of life, as laid down in this literature for these women, was to make husband-traps of themselves. Their home training and their educational facilities were inline there with. Nothing solid, nothing to develop or even to awaken thelogical faculties, everything to develop the petty and the frivolous. The art of dressing, the tricks of assumed modesty, the degradation of intellect by continually curbing and straining it in to fit the patterns of God and of his servants—that the servant said that is was God’s pattern—such was the feminine code.

About this time there arose the inevitable protest which conditions were bound to force. It was all very well for the dumb drudges and the well-fed toys; but society has ever between its extremes a middle product which fits in nowhere. This is recruited from both sides, but, at that time mostly from the upper classes being squeezed down into the ranks of the non-possessors. There were women, daughters of the formerly well-to-do, incapable of the very laborious life of the lowly, unable to reascend to their former superior position; upon these were forced the necessity of self support. Most of them regarded it as a hard and bitter lot, and something tobe ashamed of. Even literature, now considered a very fine source of support for women, was then a thing for a woman to keep still about if she engaged in it. The proper thing to do was to lay hold of an honorary sort of husband, support one’s self and him, and pretend that he did it. So disgraceful was social usefulness in woman! Such was the premium on worthlessness!

Now, out of this class one who did not do the proper thing, one who protested against the whole scheme arose,—the woman whose name many now delight to honor as the author of the “Vindication of the Rights of Women,”—Mary Wollstonecraft. One of her biographers, Mrs. Pennel, states that she was the first woman in England who openly followed literature as a means of livelihood. (It is worthy of note that Mr. Jonson, heremployer, was one of the Freethinkers of the time, Paine’s printer, as well as Mary Wollstonecraft’s.)

Nowadays the idea conveyed by the expression, “Women’s Rights” is the idea of casting a ballot. Then it meant the right to be treated as serious beings having some faint claim to comprehension. The orthodox code never had, never has, admitted, and never will admit, anything of the kind until it is forced to do so. It is not surprising, therefore, to know that this woman was not orthodox. She found out that if ever a woman expected to have rights she must first pitch the teachings of the priests overboard. And not only priests, but their coadjutors, men of the scientific “cloth” indeed,who see that priestcraft is all wrong for them, but all right for women—men who hunt scientific justifications for keeping up the orthodox standard.

For a long time the seed sown by the author of the “Rights of Women” lay on seemingly barren ground; and the great prophet of the coming woman was, as usual, maligned, travestied, hissed and hooted, save by the select few. The reason for this is now apparent. Conditions had not so far developed as to create a class of women having none to depend upon except themselves; there were only sporadic specimens here and there, thence the old traditions fortified by the ancient possibilities remained firm. But now that the irresistible tide of economic development is driving women out of the corner wherein they lay drifted for so many thousand years, the case is different. And I, for one, bless the hour when a stinging lash drove women forth into the industrial arena. I know that it is the habit of our labor reformers to bewail the fact that men can no longer “support their wives and their daughters”; it is held up as the chief iniquity of the capitalist that he has broken up the poor man’s family life; the “queen,” poor tinsel queen, has been taken from her realm, the home, into the factory. But while I credit the capitalist with no better motive than that of buying in the cheapest market, I bless him from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot for this unintentioned good. This iron-shod heel has crushed the shell of “woman’s sphere”; and the wings will grow—never fear, they will grow. No one will accuse me of loving the horrors of modern society, no one will suppose that I want them to continue for one moment after the hour whenit is possible to be rid of them. I know all of the evils resultant to woman from the factory system; I would not prolong them. But I am glad that by these very horrors, these gigantic machines which give to me the nightmare with their jaws and teeth, these monstrous buildings, bare and many windowed, stretching skyward, brick, hard and loveless, which daily swallow and spew out again thousands upon thousands of frail lives, each day a little frailer, weaker, more exhausted, these unhealthy, man-eating traps which I cannot see blotting the ground and the sky without itching to tear down, by these very horrors women have learned to be socially usefuland economically independent—as much so as men are. The basis of independence and of individuality is bread. As long as wives take bread from husbands because they are not capable of getting it in any other way, so long will the decree obtain: “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee,” so long will all talk about political “rights” be empty vagaries, hopeless crying against the wind.

There are those who contend that once the strain and the stress of commercialism are over, women will resume their ancient position, “natural,”they call it, of child nurses and home-keepers, being ruled and protected.I say, NO: the broken chain will never be re-forged. No more “spheres,” no more stops or lets or hindrances. I do not say that women will not be nurses and home-keepers at all; but I do say that they will not be such because they have to, because any priest so reads the ancient law—because any social prejudice checks them and forces them into it rather than allowing full, free development of natural bent. I say that the factory is laughing at the church; and the modern woman, who grasps her ownself-hood, is laughing at the priest. I say that the greater half of the case of Orthodoxy vs.Woman is won—by woman; through pain, and misery, and sweat of brow and ache of hand, as all things worth winning are won. I don’t mean that nothing remains to be done; there is as much in pursuing a victory as in winning it in the first place. But the citadel is taken—the right of self-maintenance—and all else must follow.

From the aforetime sterile ground the seeds are springing green. This is the season to pluck life from the tombs, the time of transfiguration when every scar upon the earth changes to glory, when before the eyes of man appears that miracle, of which all traditions of resurrection and of ascension are but faint, dim images, figures passing over the glass of the human mind, the projection of man’s effort to identify himself with the All of Nature. This miracle, this blooming of the mold, this shooting of greenpeas where all was brown and barren, this resurrection of the sunken snowin tree-crowns, these workings, these responses to the knocking of the sunlight, these comings forth from burial, these rendings of shrouds, these ascensions from the graves, these flutterings, these swift, winged shadows passing, these tremolos high up in the atmosphere,—is it possible to feel all of this miracle and not to dream? Is it possible not to hope? The very fact that every religion has some kind of symbolic festival about the returning time of the green, proves that man, too, felt the upspringing in his breast—whether he rightly translates it or not, ‘tis sure that he felt it, like all organic things. And whether it be the festival of a risen Christ, or of the passage of Judah from the bondage of Egypt, or the old Pagan worship of light, ‘tis ever the same—the celebration of the breaking of bonds. We, too,may allow ourselves the poetic dream. Abroad in the April sunlight we behold in every freedom-going spark the risen dead—the flame which burned in the souls of Hypatia, Mary Wollstonecraft, Frances Wright, Ernestine L. Rose, Harriet Martineau, Lucretia Mott, that grand old negress, Sojourner Truth, our own brave old Lucy N. Coleman, and all of the beloved unknown whose lives ingrafted on the race what their tongues spoke. We, too, proclaim the Resurrection.

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