Bebel’s Women and Socialism, Justice, 17th August, 1895, p.2 (Review).
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
The twenty-fifth or “Jubilee” (why “Jubilee”?) edition of Bebel’s Die Frau und der Socialismus has just been published. We have not read the intervening editions that have appeared since the first, but the present is certainly an improvement on the book in its original form. For one thing, there seems less “Frau” and more “Sozialismus” in it. At the same time, the conventional jeremiad over the vileness of man, and the hymn of praise to woman’s perfections, strike us as being sung in a rather more subdued tone. At all events, owing perhaps to the proportionate increase of other matter, this element is less obtrusive. Without being able to lay claim to any special originality, the book, in its present shape, contains a quantity of industriously-collected material, of use to Socialists, on a variety of economical and social topics, and, as a compilation, is in many respects good. The parts marshalling the arguments for Socialism as against its opponents should especially be useful to some of our speakers and lecturers in the matter of points and references.
For the rest, the main argument is a piece of special pleading based on a theory of the identity of object of the Proletarian movement and the so-called Woman’s movement. (The classing together of the Proletariat and women, by the way, was, we believe, originated by Auguste Comte.) As I and, doubtless, others have pointed out, there is absolutely no single feature of analogy between the position of the working class and that of the female sex. In the first place, the distinction between the working class and the capitalist class is an economic and social distinction, whereas the distinction between man and woman is organic and structural, which of itself suffices to place the proletarian and woman questions in different categories. In the second place, even if labouring under certain formal political disabilities, woman is, at least in all Anglo-Saxon countries, entrenched, in a citadel of material privilege and social domination, to increase which, under cover of removing the aforesaid disabilities, is the real object of the (so-called) Woman’s Rights movement. On the other hand the workman is nowhere privileged, and the object of the Proletarian movement is an emancipation from material subjection, which, in the end, means the abolition of all privileges.
These two contentions which knock the bottom out of his main assumption our friend Bebel has always taken precious good care not to deal with. How purely sentimental is the Bebelian view is amusingly demonstrated on p.272, where the author, referring to the duty of women in matters of military defence (so long as such continues necessary) observes: “We also believe that it is a useful division of labour, if the defence of the country is left to men and the care of the hearth and home to women,” Of course! The tender creatures must be preserved from the dangers and discomforts of warfare! And this, although in another part of the book when it suits his purpose, Bebel adduces an array of arguments with the object of showing that the difference of muscular strength between the sexes is by no means essential, and that, under certain conditions, women may even be stronger than men. I am not disposed to dispute its being a “useful division of labour” that women should be relieved from the task of defence. I would, however, ask our friend Bebel why the foregoing opinion is admissable while it is blank reaction and male prejudice to say, “We believe it is a useful division of labour if the regulation of public affairs is left to men, and the care of the hearth and home to women”?
Bebel – in answering criticisms, be it observed – for the most part carefully confines himself to the easy task o£ refuting capitalist criticisms of his Socialist position. The statement (foot of p.268 and top of p.269) as to the recognition of the equal criminal responsibility of women with men is one which everyone who has ever read an English newspaper (at least) must know to be a direct misstatement on a matter of fact.
E. Belfort Bax
1. Dietz, Stuttgart.
Last updated on 4.2.2005