Woman and Socialism. August Bebel
The Socialisation of Society

Chapter XXVI.
Literature and Art in Socialistic Society.

When, in the new society, the young generation has come of age, the further education will be every person’s own concern. Every one will do whatever his inclinations and talents prompt him to do. Some will devote themselves to one or another branch of the natural sciences that will be more and more fully developed: Anthropology, zoology, botany, mineralogy, geology, physics, chemistry, the prehistoric sciences, etc. Others will take up history, etymology, or the history of art. Some will become musicians, others artists, sculptors, actors. In the future there will be neither “corporate” artists and scientists nor corporate mechanics. Thousands of brilliant talents that have so far been suppressed will develop and will prove their knowledge and ability wherever an opportunity presents itself. There will no longer be professional musicians, artists, actors and scientists, but these will be all the more inspired by enthusiasm, talent and genius. Their achievements are likely to excel present-day achievements on these fields as vastly as the industrial, technical, and agricultural achievements of future society will excel those of modern society. An era of art and science will arise such as the world has never known, and the achievements that will have created it will be correspondingly great.

The coming renaissance of art that will result from the introduction of conditions more worthy of human beings, has been foreseen by no less a man than Richard Wagner, who expressed himself on this subject as early as 1850, in his book on “Art and Revolution.” This book is especially noteworthy because it was published right after a revolution that had been beaten down and in which Wagner himself participated. In this book, Wagner predicts what the future will bring. He directly turns to the working class, who must help the artists to establish true art. Among other things, he says: “When, for the free human beings of the future, it will no longer be the purpose of life to obtain the means of subsistence, but, as a result of a new belief, or rather, knowledge, they will be certain of obtaining the means of subsistence in return for an appropriate natural activity, when, in short, industry will no longer be our mistress, but our servant, the true purpose of life will become the enjoyment of life, and by education we will endeavor to make our children capable of its real enjoyment. An education founded on the exercise of strength and the care of physical beauty, will, owing to the love for the child and the joy at the development of its beauty, become a purely artistic one, and every human being will, in some way, be a true artist. The diversity of natural inclinations will develop the most manifold tendencies in an unthought of wealth.” This is a thoroughly Socialistic conception and coincides with our description.

In the future, social life will become ever more public. Its trend of development can be best Judged by the completely altered position of woman. Domestic life will be limited to what is absolutely essential, while the desire for sociability will be given the widest field. Large meeting halls for lectures and the discussion of public affairs – that will in future be decided upon by the people at large – dining-halls, reading-rooms, libraries, play-grounds, concerts, theaters, museums, gymnasiums, public baths, parks and promenades, institutions of education and learning, laboratories, etc., all splendidly equipped, will afford ample opportunity for entertainment and sociability, and will enable science and art to attain the highest degree of development. In the same way the institutions for the care of the sick, the infirm and the aged will meet the highest demands.

How petty will our present age seem in comparison! This fawning for favors and good-will from above, this servile disposition, this envious struggle against one another for the best place, carried on by the lowest and most spiteful means, and, at the same time, suppression of one’s true convictions, concealing of good qualities that might displease those whose favor it sought, emasculation of character, the feigning of opinions and feelings that one does not possess – all these qualities that may be termed cowardice and hypocrisy, are daily becoming more pronounced. Qualities that are truly ennobling, self-confidence, independence and incorruptibility of one’s opinions, are usually turned into faults and short-comings under present-day conditions. Persons who cannot suppress these good qualities are often ruined by then). Many are so accustomed to their degradation that they do not even perceive it. The dog regards it as a matter of course that he has a master who is sometimes ill-tempered and whips him.

The altered conditions of social life will also thoroughly revolutionize our literature. The theological literature, which furnishes the largest number of works in the annual catalogues of literary productions, will be eliminated, together with the judicial literature. For the one there will be no more interest, and for the other no need. The products that have reference to the struggles over institutions of the state, will also be eliminated, because these institutions will no longer exist. They will assume the character of historical studies. The numerous literary products of a highly superficial nature, which are just a proof of bad taste and sometimes are made possible only by a sacrifice of the author’s pride, will be dropped. Even from the present point of view, we may say that four-fifths of all literary products might disappear from the market without a loss to one single interest of civilization, so great is the mass of superficial or harmful products and obvious trash on the field of literature.

Fiction and the press will be affected in an equal measure. There is nothing more superficial and insipid than the greater part of our journalistic literature. If our standard of civilization were to be estimated by the contents of our newspapers, it would be deemed a low one, indeed. People and conditions are judged by the opinions of past centuries that have long since been proven untenable by science. A great many of our journalists are persons who, as Bismarck correctly said, have missed their vocation, but whose standard of education and salary are in keeping with the bourgeois interest in their trade. Moreover, the newspapers, as well as a majority of the magazines, have a very unworthy mission in their advertising sections, and their reports of the money-market serve the same interests on a different field. The material interest of the publishers determines the contents. Modern fiction is, on an average, not much better than journalistic literature. It cultivates the excesses of sexual relations. It either renders homage to superficial enlightenment, or to antiquated prejudice and superstition. The purpose is to let the bourgeois world appear as the best of worlds, regardless of the numerous short-comings that are, to some extent, admitted.

On this wide and important realm future society will have to clear up thoroughly. Science, truth, beauty and the conflict of opinions as to what is best, will alone control it. Every person of talent and ability will be enabled to participate. The writer will no longer depend upon the favor of the publisher, financial interest or prejudice; he will depend upon the judgment of impartial experts whom he will help to select and against whose decisions be may appeal to the community – all of which is impossible to-day with a publisher or the editor of a newspaper, who only take their private interest into consideration. The naive conception, that a difference of opinions would be suppressed in a Socialistic community, can be maintained only by those who consider the bourgeois world a perfect state of society, and, out of hostility to Socialism, seek to slander and belittle it. A society founded upon perfect, democratic equality, will bear no oppression. Only perfect freedom of thought makes uninterrupted progress possible, which is the principle of life for society. It is a gross misrepresentation to depict bourgeois society as a defender of real freedom of thought. Parties that represent the interests of the ruling classes will only publish that in the press which is not adverse to class interests, and woe to him who would do otherwise! His social ruin is certain, as every one knows who is acquainted with conditions. The writers know how the publishers treat literary works that do not suit them. Finally, the press and criminal laws betray what spirit dominates the ruling classes. True freedom of thought appears to them as the most dangerous of all evils.