Pictures of the Socialistic Future
I HAVE had rather a bad time of it to-day with my two women folk, my wife and Agnes. It was mother's birthday, a day whose return I have for the last twenty-five years greeted with joy. On the present occasion, alas! there was nothing but heaviness in our hearts. To-morrow Franz is to set out for Leipsig, and on the same day we must yield up our other two children. Grandfather is to remove into the Refuge for People of Advanced Years.
It will readily be understood that there was more thought of all these matters than of the birthday. My wife's heart was full to overflowing, especially at the sight of grandfather. "Socialism," said he, "is a calamity for all of us; I have foreseen this all along." I tried to comfort him by describing to him the easy, agreeable life he would lead at the Refuge.
"What is all that to me?" he cried, full of impatience. "When there I shall have to live and sleep and eat with strangers. I shall no longer have my daughter about me to look after me. I shall not be able to have my pipe whenever and wherever the humour takes me. I shall be no longer able to have games with Annie, or to listen to the tales Ernst brings home from school. I shall never hear how things are going on in your workshop. And whenever I become ill I shall be left quite to myself. Old trees should be left where they are, and never be transplanted. And I am sure the end won't be long in coming to me."
We tried to reassure him by promising to visit him very often.
"Such visits," said he, "are only a doing of things by halves. You are never alone and really at your ease, and you are constantly getting disturbed by other people."
We got little Annie, grandfather's pet, to do the best she could, in her confiding way, to solace him. The child was the only cheerful member of the company. Somebody had told her a lot of tales of all the cakes, pretty dolls, clever dogs, picture-books, and similar delights which were to be had at the Children's Homes. So she was never tired of talking of these things.
Franz manifests resignation, and quiet, firm resolution. But I don't like to see this in him. It looks to me as though he were devising some plans or other which he is determined not to betray. Whatever such plans may be I trust they are not at variance with our socialistic principles.
My second son, Ernst, does not much betray what his thoughts and feelings are. Towards his mother, however, he has been especially tender, and this as a general thing is not at all his way. We had meant to apprentice him to some trade now, and he had looked forward to this with much pleasure. He has a skilful hand, and would push his way onwards at a trade; but he has not made all the progress in school matters that one could have wished. But now it must be otherwise, as lads of his age, one and all, have to be kept at school a few years longer before they can receive a technical training.
Upon everyone of her birthdays mother treats us to a prime, juicy loin of veal, which Franz playfully calls our historical joint.
"When you come to see me, as I hope you will soon," said my wife, sadly, as the joint appeared on the table, "I shall not be able to set roast veal before you, for I shall then no longer have a kitchen of my own."
"I have the greatest respect imaginable for your roast joints," I replied; "but it would never do to give up our ideals on such grounds. So far from there being any lack of roast joints in the future we shall have them even more frequently than hitherto, and many another delicacy in addition."
"True enough," she answered; "but we shall not enjoy these things together. One gets his meals here, another there. The distress caused to the individual heart by all this tearing asunder is poorly compensated for by knowing that the public at large live better. I don't care a straw about the joint, but I do care about the social life of the family."
"Ah, I see," I said jocularly. "It is not for the sake of the pennyworth of cake, but only for the kind regards which accompany it. Never mind, old lady; rest assured we shall not have any the less regard for one another in the future, and we shall have more leisure to show it than we have had so far."
After a short silence, she asked, querulously:
"What I want to know is, why must things be so?"
And Agnes, who always seconds my wife when she gets on to such subjects, repeated the question even more querulously. Whenever these two talk a duet there is very little chance left for me, especially when Franz remains neutral, or, what is worse still, keeps nodding approval to Agnes."
"Have you then so entirely forgotten those delightful lectures by Miss W.," I asked, "those lectures on the emancipation of women, and on the equality of women's rights in all respects with the rights of men? You found those lectures at the time as inspiring as Bebel's book."
"Oh, Miss W. is an old maid," they replied, "who has never had more than her one furnished room."
"She may none the less on that account be in the right," I answered. "The principle of equal rights, equal obligations, irrespective of sex, constitutes the basis of the socialistic Community. Our platform is the total independence of the wife from her husband, and this end is to be obtained by securing to women an equal and independent income for services done away from their own homes: no more household serfs, and no more slavish services on the part of wives or servants. Hence we endeavour to reduce all household work to a minimum by transferring this as far as possible to great central establishments conducted by the State. We must have no children and no elderly persons about the homes, so that these, by their varying number in different families, may again give rise to all the gradations of wealth and poverty. These are the doctrines which Bebel taught us."
"I daresay all that is very nicely and mathematically worked out," said grandfather; "but it can never bring happiness. And why not? Because humanity is something more than a flock of sheep."
"Grandfather is quite right," cried Agnes. And then she clasped Franz round the neck, and hung upon him, and said she never had the least wish to be emancipated from him.
Under these circumstances there was at once an end to all reasonable argument.
But, after all, I wish to-morrow, with all its part ings, were well over.
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