Pictures of the Socialistic Future

Richter, Eugene
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
Henry Wright, trans.
First Pub. Date
London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd.
Pub. Date
Introduction by Thomas Mackay.
15 of 40

Chapter XI


THE universal dwelling-house lottery has taken place, and we are now in possession of our new home; but I cannot exactly say that we have bettered our position. We used to live S.W., at the front of the house, on the third storey. Oddly enough, a dwelling has fallen to our lot on the very same premises, only it happens to be at the back of the house, and quite in the back-yard, in fact. It is likewise on the third storey. My wife's disappointment is considerable. She had given up all thought of a small villa, but she still clung to the hope of getting a neat suite of rooms on an elegant flat.


I have always been rather choice in the matter of having a nice home. Hitherto we have had two good-sized rooms, two smaller ones, and the kitchen, for our family of six persons. True, the two smaller chambers in which grandfather and the children used to sleep can now be dispensed with, and the kitchen is now no longer a necessary part of a dwelling, inasmuch as the State cookshops are on the eve of being opened. But I had none the less ventured to hope that at least two or three neat and pretty rooms would fall to our share; but instead of this, we have got only a small room with one window, and a little poky garret similar to those in which servants used to sleep. The rooms are, too, somewhat darker and lower than our old ones. This is the whole extent of the accommodation.


Not that I would by any means convey that there has been the least unfairness. Our municipal body is quite straightforward, and none but rogues can give more than they are possessed of. It was set forth only yesterday, at a meeting of the Council, that our city has only one million rooms for its two millions of inhabitants. But the demand for space for various public and benevolent purposes has, in the socialistic Community, immensely increased, and the space hitherto employed for such purposes only suffices to cover a small fraction of the present requirements. In the first place, room had to be found, in schools and various houses of maintenance, for a million of people, young and old. Furthermore, accommodation has been provided in hospitals for 80,000 people.


But it is clear that such public interests must take precedence of private ones. Hence it is only natural and right that the best and largest houses, more particularly at the West End, have been appropriated to these purposes. In the inner city, shops and magazines are crowded together, and many of the basements of these are fitted up as State cookshops for the million inhabitants who are not consigned to public institutions. Back-yard premises in suitable situations are being adapted as central wash-houses for this million. It will thus be seen that the setting apart of so much separate space for separate purposes has had the effect of materially curtailing the accommodation for private dwellings.


At the commencement of the new regime it was found, as already stated, that in round numbers one million rooms were at the disposal of the authorities. Of these, after deducting the requirements of the various public institutions, some 600,000 more or less smallish rooms remain, to which, however, must be added several hundred thousand kitchens (now become superfluous), attics, and garrets. As there are one million persons to provide for, it is at once seen that the space allotted is about one room per head; and in order to observe the utmost impartiality in the disposal of these rooms, they were assigned by lottery, each person from the age of twenty-one to sixty-five years, irrespective of gender, receiving a lottery ticket. And, indeed, this system of raffling is an excellent means of regulating the principle of equality wherever the essential features are disproportionate. The social democrats in Berlin, even under the old regime, had introduced this system of raffling for seats at the theatres.


Upon the completion of this casting lots for residences, exchanges of the rooms that had fallen to the various ticket-holders were permissible. Those persons who desired to remain together, such as married couples, for instance, but who had got their quarters in different streets, houses, or storeys, were allowed to exchange as best they could. For my part, I had to put up with a tiny room, a mere cupboard of a place, adjoining the room which had fallen to my wife's lot, and, in order to get this cupboard, I had to give up my nice room in a neighbouring house to a young man to whom the cupboard had fallen; but the main thing, after all, is that we do not get separated.


Not that all married couples have, by any means, yet been successful in obtaining a satisfactory exchange of rooms. There may be even some who do not take any particular pains to secure this end. Marriage is a private affair; and, therefore, officially, there can be no lotteries of larger dwellings for married people, and of smaller ones for those who are single. Were such the case, then, the termination of a marriage contract, for instance (which ought to be attainable at any moment), might have to be put off until single rooms for the individuals concerned were procurable. As it now is, each compound dwelling formed by the two halves to a marriage contract can, at a moment's notice, on the termination of the contract, be resolved into its original halves. All you have to do is to make a division of the furniture, and the thing is settled.


Thus we see that everything in the new Community has been settled in a logical and sagacious manner. All the arrangements guarantee full personal liberty to every man and every woman; and how humiliated must those feel who used to maintain that Socialism meant the subjugation of the individual will.


Not that considerations of the above kind are personally of any moment to my better half and me; whether happiness or sorrow comes we shall stick together to the end of life's journey.


On our removal here we had, unfortunately, to leave a number of our things behind us. The new quarters were too small to stow away even the remnant that had been left to us after the day of the furniture-vans. As a matter of course, we have stuffed our little place as full as it will hold, so that we can scarcely move about. But the fact is, this old servant's closet of mine is so wretchedly small that it is precious little that I can get into it. It has fared no better with numerous persons. At the general removal vast numbers of things were left standing in the streets, for the simple reason that their owners could find no room for them in their new dwellings. These things were collected and carted away in order to augment as far as possible the still sparse outfit of the numerous public institutions.


However, we do not allow this to distress us in the least. The problem is to supersede the old-fashioned system of limited and meagre private existences, and to organise, in the new society, the life of the general public on such a vast and grand scale that all those bodily and mental good things, which were once only enjoyed by a favoured class, shall now be within the reach of everybody. The opening of the State cookshops to-morrow is to be followed by the opening of the new popular theatres.

15 of 40

Return to top