Mary E. Marcy

Economic Determinism
and Sacred Cows

(June 1910)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 10 No. 12, June 1910, pp. 1063–1064.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

WHEN an economic need of anything arises, that need has to be satisfied. Sometimes we grow impatient and say that events move slowly, but when economic pressure becomes strong enough all things yield.

Put the army of a civilized country without food on an island of barbarians, and in a short time you will find them descending to cannibalism, with tongues full of excuses for their deeds. The heathens refused to feed us, they will tell us, they strove to drive us away. We were compelled to fight them. Many were killed and the food supply was destroyed. So, we ate them. The conditions were deplorable, we will admit, but we made the best of them.

Behold the nations in need of expansion. Their territory is teeming with men and women. They need room for this population to grow. The islands to their left will support millions of people. In one way or another a quarrel arises between the island people and the big country. The island people are whipped and the overflow population flocks into the new country and another province has been added to the home country. And the home country tells the world how it has carried civilization into darkest Manchuria.

In China we see how the rulers of the Empire have recognized the need of industrial development. If China was not to be wholly overrun by the Foreign Invaders, she had need of adopting the methods of production of her enemies. Prejudices gave way. Superstitions and old religious beliefs stepped aside before the new necessity and modern industry was encouraged. Now China is saying, “The old way was wrong; but the new way is the right way.”

So, it was with the sacred cattle of the Malay Peninsula. Here, as in holy Benares, for hundreds of years the sacred cows have been fed upon rose buds and garlanded with flowers. All that was asked of them was that they eat of the dainties provided by their humble servants, the natives, and chew their cuds in philosophic content, as sacred cows.

But England has invaded the Malay Peninsula. Great roads have been laid through the jungles. Trees have been cut down and 10,000,000 rubber trees have been planted in their beds. The tin and gold mines were opened for exploitation and the export trade last year amounted to over $400,000,000.

Singapore has become a melting pot for the Eastern peoples. Here toil laborers of every shade of yellow, black and brown. And the wonderful white man comes also. Chinese there are, strong and bare of shoulder. And hairy Klings as straight as pine trees and darker than the blackest coal. Turbaned Indians and Mohammedans work side by side with the gaily dressed Japanese, and every boat brings Italians, Spaniards, Germans and Americans.

Old ideas are being displaced by new ones. Strange words are heard from the mouths of strange peoples. And every day these people are clothing themselves in new ways.

Amid all this medley of peoples, and the constant need for mules, the fall of the sacred cows was inevitable. Doubtless, it was some sacrilegious son of Britain, who first suggested pressing them into service to haul the rude carts. Possibly it was the Black Sheep of some respectable Malay family, who committed the first outrage. At all events, the beautiful, strong-limbed, snow-white, rose-eating sacred cattle have passed away. To-day they are white oxen drawing rude carts filled with dirt from the new docks in Singapore.

Probably, for this is usually the case, the Old Folks have become accustomed to the ways of the younger generation and have learned to regard with equanimity the wild innovations of their sons.

Someday, we suppose, the Beef Trust will reach out into the Far East. We are beginning to think at last that “Nothing is certain but Death and the Beef Trust.”

And so, it is easy to foretell the ultimate end of the sacred cows. When they become too old and sick and stiff to longer pull the carts of their new masters, when they become valueless for anything save the cannery – But why harrow ourselves further! The lesson of the sacred cattle is plain to all. This it is.

Before Economic Necessity all men bow. Kings abdicate; religious fade away; the Holy of Holies is eaten for lunch and Gods are harnessed to supply the need. Before Economic Necessity nothing is fixed. Nothing is evil. Nothing is sacred!

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Last updated on 31 May 2022