Thursday, 15 July 2021

The Household Under Capitalism

In 1988 I was involved with an interlinking network of researchers, activists and writers campaigning for peace, economic justice and ecological sustainability. In those circles there were Marxists in plenty, but followers of John Ruskin and William Morris were few and far between, and followers of Rudolf Steiner were neither to be seen nor heard. As a teacher, social worker and parent I was concerned at the lack of debate on issues of child care, care of the sick and elderly, food, farming, care of the land, and home making in general. I wrote a short article entitled "The Midas Touch". Following its publication in Contemporary Review, I was encouraged to return to post-graduate study with a view to answering the questions raised in the article. Thus I embarked upon a career of research and writing. This resulted in a series of books and articles on economic history and the social order, many of them co-authored and/or refereed by academics. Much of this material, including "The Midas Touch" and "The Child - as Father and Mother?", is available on the RESOURCES\FRANCES HUTCHINSON page of

Central to my work was the study of the Douglas Social Credit movement, and that came about as follows. As I discussed the policies of the then emerging green movement, with my elderly neighbour, he pointed out that it had all been said before. In the 1930s he, along with other working class men and women, had attended a series of WEA (Workers Educational Association) and University Extension classes on the Social Credit movement that was sweeping across Canada, Australia and the UK. He talked of the mass of literature available at the time, produced some examples, and gave me a fair introduction to the issues covered by the movement.

Meanwhile, The Catholic Worker movement was spreading a very similar philosophy in the United States. Peter Maurin's Easy Essays are designed to be an easy introduction to the setting up of round table discussions, houses of hospitality and agronomic (care of the land-based) universities. He explains the history of capitalism, as it progressed through its five stages. In the beginning consumers sought out the producers able to supply them with the goods and services they wanted. They met and exchanged face to face, without the intervention of a middle man. Under Mercantile Capitalism the producer sold to the middle man, who sold on to the consumer, breaking the link between consumer and producer. The functional society faded away and the acquisitive society came into existence.

Factory Capitalism grew as the middle men built factories and took the crafts men out of their craft shops. Men, women and children became factory hands, working outside the home on terms decided by the factory owner. As a result, there was nobody at home to mind the young children and tend the land.

Monopoly Capitalism followed as the firms of the middle men became larger and more centralised, and took legal control over resources of land, labour and capital. The debt-financing of production enabled Finance Capitalism to hold sway. And, in the final stage of State Capitalism all economic activity came to be supervised by State bureaucrats. Deprived of "personalist vision", the workers were deprived of the means to take the personal responsibility necessary for dynamic democracy.

In Peter Maurin's view,: The world would be better off * if people tried to become better. * And people would become better * if they stopped trying to become better off.

It is now necessary to build a new society within the shell of the old. "Man was placed here [on earth] with talents, to play his part, and on every side he saw the children of this world wiser in their generation than the children of light. They built enormous industrial plants, bridges, pipelines, skyscrapers, with imagination and vision they made their blueprints, and with reckless and daredevil financing made them actual in steel and concrete. Wheels turned and engines throbbed and the great pulse of the mechanical and physical world beat strong and steady while men's pulses sickened and grew weaker and died. Man fed himself into the machine." Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness.

Reflecting on their work together, Dorothy Day noted that Peter Maurin was a peasant, while she was a city product. "He knew the soil; I, the city. When he spoke of workers, he spoke of men who worked in agriculture, building, at tools and machines that were the extension of the hand of man. When I spoke of workers I spoke of factories, the machine, and man the proletariat, the slum dweller, and so often unemployed." Peter saw "only the land movement as the cure for unemployment and irresponsibility". The good society would not come from better conditions under capitalism, but from a good society where people took the responsibility to generate informed discussion, to house the homeless and to create 'agronomic universities'.

COMMENT: See for Yorkshire Educational Association material, and a range of articles on related issues. With due acknowledgement, material can be downloaded and printed out without charge for study purposes.

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