Published in The Tablet (English, I think), Jan. 3, 1914, this reflection provocatively notes that all the bad things socialists are said to favor have been visited upon us by non-socialists.
C.S. Lewis commended the reading of old books because, if nothing else, the biases of the authors aren’t the same as our own biases (which we not only can pick up without reading modern books, but which it’s darned hard to avoid picking up just be walking around). He remarked how the bitterest of historic adversaries may appear to us, oddly, to share some premises we’re inclined to reject.
In this case, 96 years is old enough:
(3) A further argument against Socialism is that it would degrade women by taking women out into the spheres of public work.
But statistics are at hand to prove that women workers are to be found in almost every sphere of labour; moreover, they have often been employed because being non-unionised they could be forced or persuaded to accept a lower rate of wages than men. This is most strongly confirmed by all kinds of investigators. Recently the Municipal Vice Commission of Chicago found that a great deal of the prostitution in their rich city was due to the abnormally low wages paid to girls in a number of employments. The present state of women is such a matter of shame that many of the arguments against the suffrage movement are pointless.
But what has Socialism had to do with the degradation of women? And if Socialists are not to be absolved for a crime they have not committed, why may absolution be granted to those by whom the crime has been either committed or approved?
Note the shared premise, just 96 years ago: putting women in the workplace was a bad idea. It was a reason to oppose socialism — but it was happening anyway, without socialism.
Indeed, the American history of women working in factories, offices, and such is one in which the manipulative hand of big business is quite visible, and it has more than a bit to do with the “wage slavery” we continue to experience. Books will be written someday on how today’s immigration policy was maintained by the collusion (at least tacit, though perhaps there’s a “smoke-filled room” somewhere) of various people ** who wanted the benefit of having a sub-class who had to work dirt cheap or not work at all: cheap fast food; cheap nannies; cheap gardeners; cheap vegetable-pickers; cheap factory workers (for our few remaining factories).
One thing connects to another, to be sure. As divorce became more common, it became prudent for a woman to prepare for a career and then to pursue it. So my father-in-law wanted my wife to major in education for that reason — and his first encounter with me did not reassure him that his advice had been bad. (38 years later, he may be softening.) But if you start with a culture where divorce is rare, and then throw in other factors like downward pressure on wages, and you might conclude that the second wage, institutionalized nationwide, isn’t such a great idea after all.
(5) Lastly, and this is perhaps the most urgent of all the pleas against Socialism, it is said that Socialism would destroy the inborn and inalienable right of property.
But if the right of property means, not that some men shall own all property but that all men shall own some property, one asks ‘Where is the right of property existing in the world today?’ Is the inalienable right of property kept in a state of things where vast numbers of work-folk have not a square yard of land and are never even more than a month from destitution? Is this inalienable right a fact in a state of things where by the testimony of a Pope ‘a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the labouring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself,’ and where there are ‘two widely differing castes…one which holds power because it holds wealth and which has in its grasp the whole of labour and trade, on the other side there is the needy and powerless multitude, broken down and suffering so that ‘some remedy must be found, and found quickly, for the misery (i.e. want) and wretchedness pressing so heavily and so unjustly on the vast majority of the working classes’. (Rerum Novarum).
It is evident that this state of injustice whereby the vast majority of the working classes are in a position of misery is not exactly a state based on the right of property.
For injustice is the forcible taking or holding of property. And it is evident that this state, based on the violent interference with the right of property, is not in any measure due to the political party called Socialism. It must therefore be due, either in its rise or maintenance, to the other political parties which Catholics freely enter without dread of being refused absolution.
I commend to you the thought-provoking articles of The Distributist Review, at its redesigned website (which has, alas, an annoying method for printing articles).
*Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: An epigram by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in the January 1849 issue of his journal Les Guêpes (“The Wasps”). Literally “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.” Somehow it seems less hackneye in French.
** Various people = almost all of us, right?