Women and Marxism Archive

Rose Pastor Stokes

Bread and Roses

Published: The Communist, November 8, 1919.
Transcribed: for marxists.org in August, 2002.

"Wear a red flower, tonight."

This was his invitation to the thousands of conscious workers who flocked to hear Gershuni a few years ago, Gershuni, the Russian Revolutionist, who escaped from Siberia, arrived in New York and was to speak in Carnegie Hall that night--but a short while before he returned to the land of the Tzar; to die.

"Wear a red flower, tonight."

And when Gershuni stood before his vast audience in the evening, and saw Nature flaunting her scarlet beneath the multitude of pale faces raised eagerly for his message; he said:

"I wanted you to wear this symbol of the joy and the beauty of life because we demand not only bread, but roses."

Yes, Bread and Roses! When the Revolution was successful, did our fellow workers think only of bread? No. Great and terrible as the need was, they lost no time securing to themselves: in the fullest measure possible--Roses! Roses! The flowers of Song, the Dance, the Opera, Drama, the flowers of Science--of Knowledge.

The Orchid of Culture, a hot-house plant nurtured exclusively for the Few, has been transplanted in Russia to the fields and the meadows, where it blooms freely as the common daisy for all the common folk to pluck at will.

The king and queen of Belgium visited the United States. There is a great stir of interest in the ranks of the exploiters. The Opera House here makes a gala night of their visit to that temple of music.

The Workers take control of Russia. Their Opera becomes the Soviet Opera. There is a great stir among the common folk. The workers fill the Opera House. It is a gala night.

Just as it is natural for Capitalist America to give a special performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in honor of the king and queen--charging incredible prices for seats; so it is natural for Soviet Russia to give Opera daily for the Russian worker--where he is entitled to a seat by virtue of his useful labor.

The masses, lovers of song, inspirers of all the great music that has ever been written--it is for them that the great artists of the Moscow Opera vie with one another to give their best. For are they not themselves sprung from the people? And are not the people at last masters of all life? Tzars and Empresses, drainers of the people's life-blood are no more! and no more do they "grace" the "royal" box. All space is the people's. They grace the house from pit to gallery. The sparkle of diamonds and precious stones, symbol of tears and slavery, have given place to sparkle of happy eyes, new-lit with the fires of liberty.

Not alone in music may the Russian worker now satisfy his hunger. Imagine yourself quitting after a half of a short day's work to hear a great singer of the people's songs--in your own factory, now become a fit place to learn and enjoy, as well as to work in! Or to get the instruction and entertainment of an illustrated lecture; or perchance it is a fete where you recreate body and spirit in the joy of the dance. Or maybe a troupe of Soviet players whose itinerary includes your factory, arrive to entertain or instruct you through the drama.

This is but a hint of what the workers are doing for themselves in Soviet Russia. All who have anything of art or science or general knowledge or literature to give, are giving freely to the people and the people in turn support them in security. The doors are opened wide to the vast treasure house--the doors that once were slammed in the workers' face! The priceless gifts that the workers in bent backs have painfully piled up, that the parasites have abused for the creation of a false and narrow culture, are now the heritage of all, to be used in the creation of a true and general culture.

Libraries, traveling on swift wheels to every village and hamlet in Soviet Russia. Books, books, books! brought to the doors of all! Traveling instructors, lecturers, professors and teachers giving courses in even the remotest parts, bringing knowledge to the workers far from the permanent centers of learning. Traveling picture galleries, theatres, concerts, touching the humblest in the land with the fairy-wand of Art. True Art, not that tawdry, cheap thing that parades in her name to corrupt the common taste in every commercial country in the world. Thus the masses, through their own government, are developing in themselves the highest possible conception of art, the keenest possible appreciation of true culture.

Art institutes endowed as never before by any government, in which the talented spirits among the masses receive the training they craved vainly for in the past; research laboratories open to all who show any real interest in using them; Universities no longer exclusively the province of the exploiter's son. The common school becoming the universal school, the college and university becoming the common school, the higher culture the general culture. Is it any wonder that Soviet Russia is spending more on education than any country in the world?

Industry, agriculture, yes. Bread, security, yes. But Roses, Roses, yes, a thousand times yes! Are we workers hungry for joy and beauty for art and culture? Today, Russia answers for us until the day when we shall answer for ourselves. The worker, starved through the centuries amidst the very plenty he created, is satisfying his hunger at last--in Russia. Having taken control of his own industrial and social destiny, he has in that same moment grasped with all of a creator's enthusiasm the tools of the old bourgeois culture with which he is already modelling for himself the art forms that will express the new culture--that of the Communist society, the Workers' Commonwealth.

Surrounded as she is by world-capital's armies, fighting for her very life on every front of her vast territory, Russia is still able, by virtue of working class rule to give to Art, Truth, Beauty a freedom they have not known and do not know in any other land on the face of the earth. And we workers are invited, by every subtle blandishment, to join with our capitalist Governments in a war of extermination against our fellow workers of Russia.

We may not do the shooting ourselves, but we are no less guilty if their freedom is lost through the guns we make. Longshoremen load the guns on ships, railroad men bring them to the piers, sailors, workers too; carry them over seas, and soldiers, (also workers) receive them and use them to shoot down Bolshevist workers, (but what workers!) fighting in the front trenches of the world in the cause of the Social Revolution that will set the world's workers free! Yet despite this tragedy, than which there can be no greater in all history, the Russian worker, wounded, bleeding, half blinded with blood and tears; still marches erect, bearing aloft the standard upon one side of which is inscribed the appeal "Workers of the World, unite!" (This side faces outword to the fighting front). An on the other (facing in toward Soviet-Russia) the inscription "Art, Truth, Beauty!"

They are dying for us, and we are killing them for Capitalism! If the Russian workers and their culture are destroyed by us, we shall not only have played the Judas to our own Comrades, but we shall also by that same act bare our backs to the lash of exploitation for a period that Hope dare not contemplate! A lash that will be laid on with a more cruel hand than Master has ever laid on Slave before. And who shall then say that we are not receiving justice!

But this surely will not be! Everywhere the workers are awaking to consciousness In Italy the workers forced their Capitalist Government to recall their troops from Russia. The transport workers refused to load the ships with goods or guns for use against Soviet Russia. In France and in England there is an awakening: here too, though less thorough, the protest is being made effective. There are workers everywhere who are refusing to destroy their own Hope of emancipation by destroying the freedom of the Russian Working Class. We are learning that if we rise to power, we rise by Russia, even as Capitalism has learned that it falls if Soviet Russia stands! The Associated Press and the Associated Powers may combine to lie about the Soviet-Government until they make old Annanias sound as truthful by comparison as a wireless message from Moscow. It will help them not one iota. If the Allies' workers stand by Russia, Russia stands--lied about or not. If Russia stands, Capitalism falls and the workers everywhere rise to power.

Stand by Russia, Workers of America. Stand by your own cause. The issue is joined; the fight is on. Unite; use your power. For Russia--for ourselves--For Bread and Roses!