A Marxist Interpretation
IT is symbolic of the decay of capitalist culture that one of the outstanding bourgeois magazines has been able to think of no weightier subject for a prize competition than ‘Hot Water.’ With great themes lying all about us — such as the Economic Interpretation of History, Marx’s Debt to Hegel, and Stakhanovism — it is significant of the palsy of liberal thinking that its disciples are content to exercise their intellects on so feeble a concept as this.
However, it would be a great mistake to assume that because so trivial a subject was chosen the motive behind this contest was trivial. The careful Marxist, trained to discover fascism in the most innocent-appearing schemes, will easily see through the pitiful camouflage of this newest, attack on the Soviet Union. For the Atlantic Monthly, backed no doubt by powerful industrialists, is endeavoring to shatter the hardihood of the American worker and lessen his revolutionary zeal by centring his attention on the enervating comfort that is symbolized by hot water.
Hot water is most often associated with the Saturday night bath, which is counter-revolutionary in its implications. It is not a Group Activity. One bathes alone, in the privacy of a single room, in a bathtub designed with capitalistic ingenuity to prevent more than one person from occupying it with safety or comfort. Sharing the bath is almost impossible. In the cold communal water of the ocean one can bathe with one’s fellow men, rejoicing that others are privileged to be clean. If this is not feasible because of climate or location, the loyal Marxist may use a private bathtub, but he must do the task quickly, with cold water, to show that his purpose is cleanliness only, with no thought of selfish gratification.
The Comrade who is beguiled by this hot-water propaganda is taking the first step away from the fold — facilis descensus Averno. While he lies bark drowsily in the hot luxurious water, is he thinking of the Communist Manifesto and the Eighteenth Brumaire? As he fumbles lazily for the soap, is he endeavoring to master the theory of surplus value? Is he humming the martial strains of the ‘Internationale’? Does he rise from his hot-water bath ready with clenched fist to loose his chains? Alas, is he not rather enervated, sleepy, comfortable, thinking of cool sheets and a soft pillow instead of the class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat? Is he not more inclined to reach for the Daily News or the radio than plunge into the theory of rent, interest, and profit in Das Kapital? And the song on his lips is not the clarion call of ‘Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!’ but the degraded romanticism and base profit motive of
With plenty of money and you!
Workers of the world, beware of hot water. Do not be caught on Der Tag, bathing while Rome burns.
‘OF HOTTE WATER’
OF divers wayes whereby Men doe gladde their Senses melikes none better than to lie a-soak in a Tubbe of Hotte Water. Hee say’d truly in the line of Poesie:
Men know not what goods Water’s worth.
In especial Hotte Water. It hath befal’n me whilst endenizened in Tobago to bathe in a Hotte Tubbe, a wonderful curious contrivance in some sort Comicke. Yet was its commodiousnesse much commended to me in retrospeckt when fayring thence to Guadeloupe it hap’d that for four daies I needs must wash mee in Vichy for want of any other kynde of water soever hotte or colde. In such fashon hath Fortune ever belaboured my insensibilitie.
For I am of a sottishe humour and do much remynde mee of a Catte. I love to be warm and solitarie: and no vegetarian I. Red Meate I love and commonly take it and other delightsome things both of the Bodie and the Soule nor question whence they come. Nathless a thankfull Man meseemes a marvellous civill wight.
I speake not of Gratitude, a word I much mistrust; a fool’s word (the Cinick say’d) found in the Dictionary but not in the hart of Man. And Bonaparte: Harder to beare than the reverses of Fortune is the base, hideous ingratitude of Mail. A great Simplicitie (in my poore Judgment). In such wise commonly speake back-scrachers. Æsop beleeved even a Mice hath Gratitude, but loe that is a meere fable.
What? Doe wee not know Men who would liefer bee shott with an Harquebuss than axeept a favour? It is an Humiliation which the sooner forgot the better. But it Is no Humiliation to thank a dead man or an unknowen, or the Bridge that takes us crosse the Streeme.
Such is thankfullnesse: a gentle, worshipful affection of the Minde which renders Men sensible of their dependence on universell Bountie. A moitie (as I percecve) animal joie, and a moitie cognizance that we have not ourselves but an infinite many of Men dead and alyve to thank for those goodos, phisickall and spirituall, deem’d necessary to a prop’r lyfe. A great civilitie (in the Greekes conceipt) the Mother of all Vertue.
An I could give an accompt saies Goethe of what, I owe my predescessors and contemporaries, there would be but a smal remaynder. And Einstein: My inner and outer lyfe are built on the labour of my Fellowes. So doe such geants owne their Cosmick Dette: in large coyne they paie.
Now returne wee to our theame. Sithen I am in everywise a seely, slothfull creature, I shal never paie my universall dette: wel I wot. Yet an I did what coyne would I ehuse? Why that genial commodotie of which wee speake. For cold doth spight and quaile the Fleshe, alike (I doe thinke) of Noble as of Hind.
ELAINE WARD COGSWELL