August Bebel. Woman and Socialism
Woman at the Present Day
The part played by church and state in this sort of “sacred marriage” is not a worthy one. The state official or the officiating clergyman whose task it is to perform the marriage ceremony, never pauses to consider by what methods the couple he is about to join in wedlock have been brought together. It may be quite evident, that the two are in no wise mated either in regard to their ages or in regard to physical and mental qualities; the bride may, for instance, be twenty and the groom seventy, or vice versa; the bride may be beautiful and full of vitality, the groom may be old, cross and inflicted with infirmities, it makes no difference to the representative of state and church. The marriage is consecrated, and the consecration is most solemn in character where the monetary reward for this “holy function” is most generous. But when such a marriage turns out to be an exceedingly unhappy one, as could have been foreseen by anybody, and frequently was foreseen by the unfortunate victim itself – the woman generally being the victim – and when one or the other party then seeks separation, both church and state place the greatest difficulties in their way. Yet neither church nor state questioned in advance whether love and moral sentiments, or shameless, coarse egotism brought about the union. Moral revulsion is not considered sufficient cause for separation; obvious proofs are demanded, proofs that will degrade one or the other party in public opinion, to make divorce possible. That the Catholic Church does not permit divorce at all, except by special permission from the pope, which is very hard to obtain, makes conditions particularly unfavorable among the Catholic population. The German code of civil law has also made divorce much more difficult. Thus divorce by mutual consent, that had been permitted by Prussian law, was abolished. Many divorces had been granted under this law, some for more serious reasons that were concealed out of regard for the guilty party. In Berlin, for instance, there were 5,623 divorces from 1886 until 1892; 1,400 of these, approximately 25 per cent., were granted upon mutual consent. In many cases divorce is granted only then, when the party seeking divorce does so within six months after discovery of the cause for divorce. According to Prussian law, the time limit is one year. Take, for example, that a young wife discovers soon after her marriage, that she is tied to a man who is no husband to her at all. It is asking a great deal that she should determine on divorce within six months, a step that requires a considerable amount of moral strength. To justify the increased difficulty in divorce, the following argument is advanced: “Only by making divorce increasingly difficult, can the advancing disruption of the family be counteracted and the family bonds be strengthened.” This argument is a contradiction in itself. A disrupted marriage is not made bearable by forcing husband and wife to continue living together in spite of their inward estrangement and mutual aversion. A condition of this sort, maintained by law, is profoundly immoral. The result is that in a large number of cases adultery is made a cause for divorce, since this cause cannot be ignored by the law; neither the state nor society are improved by this process. It must also be regarded as a concession to the Catholic Church, that in many cases separation takes the place of divorce which was formerly not the case according to civil law. It is no longer considered a cause for divorce, when through the fault of the one party, a marriage remains childless. The new German code of civil law contains the following paragraph: “The religious duties in regard to marriage are not touched upon in the rules laid down in this paragraph.” This likewise is a concession to the church. It is merely ornamental in character, but it is characteristic of the spirit still prevailing in Germany at the beginning of the twentieth century. For our purposes the admission is important, that divorce was made more difficult to counteract the advancing disruption of the family.
Human beings then remain chained to one another for lifetime against their will. One party becomes a slave to the other and is forced in fulfillment of “matrimonial duties,” to endure intimate embraces that perhaps seem more loathsome than harsh words and ill treatment. Rightly Mantegazza says: “There is no greater torture than to suffer the caresses of an unloved person Is such marriage not worse than prostitution? Even the prostitute has a certain degree of liberty of withdrawing from her abominable trade, and if she is not the inmate of a public brothel, she may refuse herself to a man she does not wish for some reason or other. But a woman sold in marriage must endure the embraces of her husband, even though she have a hundred reasons to hate and despise him.
If the marriage has been contracted from the outset and by mutual understanding, as a mere marriage of convenience, matters are not quite as bad. Mutual obligations are considered and a bearable mode of life is found. Scandal is avoided, especially out of consideration for the children, where such exist; and yet it must be said that the children are the ones to suffer most when their parents lead a cold, indifferent life, devoid of love, even if it does not deteriorate into a life of open hostility. More frequently yet an agreement is accomplished to avoid material loss. Usually the husband’s misbehavior is the cause of trouble in marriage; that may be seen from the divorce cases. When a man remains dissatisfied with his marriage his domineering position enables him to find compensation elsewhere. The woman is far less inclined to go astray, firstly because physiological reasons make a transgression much more dangerous in her case, and secondly because when she is the one to break the marital vow, it is considered a crime that society will not condone. The woman alone – be she wife, widow or maiden – has “fallen”; the man, when he commits the same sin, has, at the worst, behaved with impropriety. The same action then is judged by entirely different standards, according to whether it has been committed by a man or by a woman, and the women themselves are often most bitter and unmerciful in their condemnation of a “fallen” sister.
As a rule, women will seek divorce only in cases of flagrant infidelity or gross ill-treatment, because they are in a dependent position and are obliged to regard marriage as a means of subsistence; also because the social position of a divorced woman is not an enviable one. She is regarded and treated more or less as a cipher. If in spite of all this women constitute the majority of plaintives in divorce cases, this goes to prove what moral tortures they must endure. In France, even before the introduction of the new divorce laws, by far the most proceedings for separation were instituted by women. Until 1884 a woman in France could sue for divorce only in case her husband brought the woman with whom he maintained an intimate relation into the domicile of his wife against her will. Thus proceedings for separation were instituted annually by:
Not only were the majority of proceedings instituted by women, the figures also show that their number steadily increased. By information gathered from reliable sources it may be seen, that elsewhere also the greater number of actions for divorce and separation are instituted by women, as the following table shows:
|PERCENTAGE OF NUMBER OF PLAINTIVES.|
During the years.
|England & Wales||1895-1899||60.4||39.6||..|
|England & Wales||1895-1899||3.0||97.0||..|
In the United States, where the divorce statistics cover a period of forty years, we find the following ratio:
|1867-1866.||P. C.||1887-1906||P. C.||1906.||P. C.|
The above table shows that in more than two-thirds of all divorce cases women were the plaintiffs.
In Italy we find a similar ratio. During 1887 there were 1,221 divorce cases; 593 of these were instituted by wives, 214 by husbands, 414 by both husbands and wives. In 1904 there were 2,103 cases; 1,142 by wives, 454 by husbands, and 507 by both.
Statistics teach its that the majority of divorces are sought by women, and they furthermore teach us that the number of divorces is rapidly increasing. Since the introduction of the new divorce law in France in 1881, the divorces have increased from year to year, as follows:
In Switzerland, too, the divorce-rate is increasing. From 1886 to 1890 there were 882 divorces. From 1891 to 1895 there were 898 divorces; in 1897, 1,011; in 1898, 1,018; in 1899, 1,091; in 1905, 1,206; in 1906, 1,343. In Austria during 1899 there were 856 divorces and 133 separations. In 1900 there were 1,310 divorces and 163 separations. In 1905 there were 1,885 divorces and 262 separations. The number of divorces and separations have been doubled during a decade. In Vienna there were 148 divorces in 1870 and 1871; they increased with each succeeding year until in 1878 and 1879 there were 319 cases. Vienna being a Catholic city, divorces are not easily obtained. Nevertheless, a Viennese judge exclaimed during the eighties: “The charge of broken marriage vows is as frequent as the charge of broken windows.”
The following shows the increasing divorce-rate in the United States:
If the number of divorces in relation to the population had remained the same in 1905 as in 1870, the exact number of divorces in 1905 would have been 24,000, and not 67,791, as actually was the case. The total number of divorces from 1867 to 1886 was 328,716; from 1887 to 1906, 945,625. The United States have the highest divorce-rate. For every thousand marriages there were the following number of divorces: In 1870, 81; in 1880, 107; in 1890, 148; in 1900, 200. Why is divorce more frequent in the United States than in any other country? Firstly, because in some of the states the divorce laws are less rigorous than in most of the other countries, and, secondly, because women enjoy a freer, more independent position than in any other country of the world, and are accordingly less willing to submit to the tyranny of husbands.
The following shows the number of divorces in Germany from 1891 to 1900:
We see that from 1899 to 1900, the number of divorces have decreased by 1,635, because on the first of January, 1900, the new code of civil law went into effect which made divorce more difficult. But life is stronger than law. After there was a decrease in the divorce-rate from 1900 to 19o2, there has been a rapid increase ever since, as the following table shows:
In Saxony, too, in spite of various fluctuations, there has been a steady increase, as may be seen from the following table: For each 1,000
For each thousand marriages in Prussia there were the following number of divorces: 1881 to 1885, 67.62; 1886 to 1890, 80.55; 1891 to 1895, 86-77; 1896, 101.97; 1905, 106; 1908, 121. That is a tremendous increase. The increase of divorce is not a national but an international symptom. For each thousand marriages there were the following number of divorces in:
|1876-1880.||1881-1895.||1886-1890.||At the close
of the century.
|England & Wales||6.5||7.4||7.0||10.6|
It would be a great mistake to draw conclusions from these widely diverging figures about the moral status of the various countries enumerated above. No one would claim, that cause for divorce is four times greater among the Swedish people than among the English people. The laws must be taken into consideration that make divorce more or less difficult as the case may be. The moral status, that is, the causes making divorce appear desirable to either man or woman, are a secondary consideration. But the figures show, that the divorce-rate is increasing more rapidly than the population; that is increasing, in fact, while the marriage-rate is decreasing. We will return to this phase of the question later on. Great differences of age between husband and wife play a considerable part in divorce. That is shown by the following table gathered from official statistics in Switzerland:
|NUMBER OF DIVORCES FOR EACH 1,000 MARRIAGES
WITH SAME DIFFERENCE OF AGE.
|Man older; 26 years and more||271||328|
|Man older; 11 to 25 years||189||198|
|Man older; 1 to 10 years||193||181|
|Husband and wife of same age||195||190|
|Man younger; 1 to 10 years||226||226|
|Man younger; 11 to 25 years||365||431|
|Man younger; 26 years and more||759||870|
The following statistics from Saxony during 1905 and 1906, and from Prussia from 1895 to 1905, show the divorce-rate in its relation to the various strata of society:
|ANNUAL DIVORCES FOR EACH 100,000 MARRIED MEN.|
|Public service and learned professions||346||165|
In Saxony divorces were most frequent among officials and professional men. In Prussia they were most frequent among those employed in commerce. In Saxony those employed in commerce came second; in Prussia, officials and professional men. Men employed in industry come third; 220 in Saxony, and 158 in Prussia. Those employed in agriculture furnished the lowest figures. When we compare the growing number of divorces in the cities with those among the rural population, we are led to the conclusion that the rapid development of industry, accompanied by an increasing instability of public life, makes the marriage relation more unfavorable, and adds to the factors that make for the disruption of marriage. On the other hand, the growing divorce-rate shows, that the number of women are increasing who resolve to cast off a yoke that has become unbearable.
The corruption of marriage increases at the same rate at which the struggle for existence grows more severe, making matrimony more and more an object of mercenary speculation. As it is becoming increasingly difficult to support a family many men choose to refrain from marrying, and so the declamations about it being woman’s duty to practice her natural profession of wifehood and motherhood, are just so many meaningless phrases. On the other hand, these conditions are bound to foster illegitimate relations and to increase the number of prostitutes; they also increase the number of those who fall victims to an unnatural satisfaction of the sexual impulse.
Among the ruling classes the wife is frequently degraded, just as she was in ancient Greece, to the mere functions of bearing legitimate children, acting as house-keeper, or serving as nurse to a husband ruined by a life of debauchery. For his amusement, or to gratify his desire for love, the man maintains courtesans or mistresses who live in elegance and luxury. Others who do not have the means of maintaining mistresses, associate with prostitutes during marriage as before marriage, and a number of wives are sufficiently corrupted to consider such relations quite proper.
In the upper and middle classes of society the chief evil in marriage is its mercenary character. But this evil is still heightened by the mode of life that prevails among these classes. That applies to the Women as well as to the men, since they frequently lead lives of idleness or devote themselves to corrupting occupations. The society woman’s spiritual nourishment usually consists of the following: Reading ambiguous novels, visiting frivolous plays, enjoying sensuous music, resorting to intoxicating stimulants, and indulging in scandal-mongering. Idleness and ennui frequently entice her into love-intrigues, that are sought more eagerly still by the men of her circles. In the mad pursuit of pleasure she rushes from one banquet and entertainment to another, and in summer she goes to watering-places and summer resorts to rest from the exertions of the winter and to seek new amusement. Scandals are a daily occurrence with this mode of life; men seduce and women allow themselves to be seduced.
Among the lower classes mercenary marriage is practically unknown. The workingman generally marries for love, but nevertheless many harmful and destructive influences exist in the proletarian marriage also. Blessed with many children, cares and worries ensue, and all too often bitter poverty prevails. Disease and death are frequent guests in the proletarian family, and unemployment heightens the misery. Many are the factors that lessen the workingman’s income and frequently deprive him of that meagre income altogether. Hard times and industrial crises throw him out of employment; the introduction of new machinery or of new methods of production, makes him superfluous; wars, unfavorable tariff and commercial treaties, the imposition of new indirect taxes, or black-listing by his employers as a result of his political convictions, destroy his means of subsistence or gravely injure them. From time to time one or another thing occurs that entails a longer or shorter period of unemployment with its accompanying misery and starvation. Uncertainty is the mark of his existence. Such vicissitudes are productive of ill temper and bitter feelings that most frequently lead to outbursts in domestic life where demands are made daily and hourly that cannot be satisfied. This leads to quarrels and harsh words and eventually to a rupture in the marriage relation.
Frequently both husband and wife must work for a living. The children are left to themselves or to the care of older brothers and sisters, who are still in need of care and education themselves. The noon-day meal, usually of the poorest quality, is devoured in utmost haste, provided that the parents have time to come home for this meal. In the majority of cases this is impossible, owing to the distances between homes and factories and to the brevity of the time allowed for rest. Weary and worn, both parents return at night, Instead of a cheerful, pleasant home to come to, theirs is only a small, unsanitary dwelling, frequently wanting in fresh air and light and devoid of the most elementary comforts. The scarcity of available lodgings with all the resulting evils, is one of the darkest phases of our social system that leads to countless vices and crimes. In spite of all attempts at relief, the housing problem is becoming more serious every year in all the larger centers of industry; and other strata of society, such as professional people, clerks, officials, teachers, small dealers, etc” are affected by it. The workingman’s wife who returns to her “home” at night exhausted from a day’s hard labor, must begin work anew. She must toil in feverish haste to attend to the most necessary details of housekeeping. After the children have been put to bed, she still continues to mend and sew until far into the night. Rest and recuperation are unknown to her. The man often is ignorant and the woman still more so, and the little they have to say to one another is quickly said. The man goes to a saloon where he at least finds some of the comforts that he lacks at home; he drinks, and no matter how little he spends, he is spending too much for his income. Sometimes he falls a victim to the vice of gambling, that claims many victims in the upper strata of society also, and then still loses more than he spends on drink. Meanwhile the woman is brooding at home full of grudge. She must toil like a beast of burden, there is no rest or recreation for her; but the man enjoys the liberty that is his, just because lie had the good fortune of having been born a man. Thus discord arises. If the woman is less conscientious; if she, too, seeks pleasure and diversion when she has returned from a hard day of work, to which she is surely entitled, her household goes to ruin and the misery becomes greater still. Nevertheless, we are living in “the best of worlds.”
Thus marriage is constantly being disrupted among the proletariat also. Even favorable periods of employment often have a detrimental influence, for they involve over-time work and sometimes also work on Sunday, thereby depriving the worker of the little time he is able to devote to his family. Often the distances from the workingmen’s homes to their places of employment are so great, that they must leave at day-break, when the children are still soundly asleep, and do not return until late at night when they are sleeping again. Thousands of workingmen, especially those connected with the building trades, remain away from home during the entire week and only return to their families on Saturday night. How can family relations prosper under such conditions? At the same time the number of women workers is constantly growing, especially in the textile industries, for thousands of spinning-machines and power-looms are being tended by women and children, whose labor is cheap. Here matrimonial relations have been reversed. While the wife and the children go to the factory, the unemployed man not infrequently, remains at home performing the domestic duties. “In a number of cloth factories in Chemnitz we find women who are employed there only during the winter months, because their husbands who are road-builders, masons or carpenters, earn little or nothing in winter. During the absence of the women, the men attend to the housekeeping." In the United States, where capitalism has developed so rapidly, that all its evils are manifest on a much larger scale than in the industrial countries of Europe, a characteristic name has been coined for this state of affairs. Industrial centers where women are mainly employed while men remain at home, have been called “she-towns.”
At present it is generally conceded that women should be admitted to all trades. Capitalistic society in its mad chase of profits has long since recognized, that women can be more profitably exploited than men, since the), are by nature more pliant and meek. Accordingly the number of trades in which women may find employment are increasing with every year. The constant improvement of machinery, the simplifying of the process of labor by an increased division of labor, and the competitive warfare among individual capitalists, as also among rival industrial countries – all favor the steady increase of woman labor. The phenomenon is common to all industrially advanced countries. As the number of women in industry increases, the competition between them and the male workers grows more severe. The reports of factory inspectors and statistical investigations prove this.
The position of women is especially unfavorable in those trades in which they predominate as, for instance, the clothing trades, and particularly in those branches in which the workers perform the work in their own home. Investigations concerning the condition of women workers in the manufacture of underwear and the clothing trades, were made in Germany in 1886. This investigation showed among other things that the miserable pay these workers received frequently drove them to prostitution.
Our Christian government, whose Christianity is sought in vain where it is really needful, but is met with where it is superfluous – our Christian government is like our Christian bourgeoisie, whose interests it serves. This government finds it exceedingly difficult to decide upon the enactment of laws which would limit the work of women to a bearable degree and prohibit child-labor entirely. This same government also fails to grant a normal work-day and sufficient rest on Sundays to its own employees, thereby harming their family relations. Frequently men employed in the mail and railroad service and in prisons must work many hours overtime without receiving adequate remuneration.
As the rents are also far too high in comparison with the incomes of the workers, they must content themselves with the poorest quarters. Lodgers of one sex or the other, sometimes of both, are taken into the workingman’s home. Old and young of both sexes live together in a small space and frequently witness the most intimate relations. How modesty and decency fare under such conditions, has been shown by horrible facts. The increasing demoralization and brutalization of the young that is being discussed so much, is partly due to these conditions. Child-labor, too, Las the worst possible influence on children, both physically and morally.
The increasing industrial activity of married women has the most detrimental effect during pregnancy and at child-birth and during the early babyhood of the children, when they depend upon the mother for nourishment. During pregnancy it may lead to a number of diseases that are destructive to the unborn child and harmful to the organism of the woman, and bring about premature births and still-births. When the child has been born, the mother is compelled to return to the factory as soon as possible, lest some one else take her place. The inevitable result for the poor, little babes is neglect and improper or insufficient nourishment. They are given opiates to be kept quiet; and as a further result of all this, they perish in masses or grow up sickly and deformed. It means race degeneration. Frequently the children grow up without ever having experienced real parental love. Thus proletarians are born, live and die; and society and the state marvel at it that brutality, immorality and crime are increasing.
During the sixties of the last century the cotton industry in England almost came to a standstill, as a result of the Civil War that was being waged in the United States. Accordingly, thousands of working-women were unemployed, and among them physicians made the astounding observation, that in spite of the existing want, infant mortality was decreasing. The reason was that the babies now were being nursed by their mothers and more care was bestowed on them than ever before. During the crisis of the seventies of the last century similar observations were made in the United States, especially in New York and Massachusetts. Unemployment enabled the women to devote more time to their children. The same fact was noted during the general strike in Sweden in August and September of 1909. The mortality in Stockholm and other large Swedish cities had not been as low for many years as during the weeks of this giant strike. One of the eminent medical authorities of Stockholm declared that the low rate of mortality and the general state of good health was in close connection with the great strike. He pointed out that the out-of-door life which was being led by the army of strikers was chiefly responsible for this satisfactory state of health, for no matter how extensive the sanitary regulations might be, the air in the factories and workshops was always more or less detrimental to the health of the workers. The same medical authority pointed out, furthermore, that the prohibition of the sale of intoxicating drinks during the great strike, also tended to improve the state of health.
Domestic industry, which is depicted so alluringly by the romancers among political economists, is not more favorable to the workers. Here man and wife both toil from dawn to darkness and the children are trained as helpers from their earliest childhood on. The entire family and perhaps some assistants live together in closest quarters among rubbish and disagreeable odors. The bedrooms are similar to the workshop, usually small, dark spaces with insufficient ventilation, detrimental to the health of the persons who are obliged to sleep in them.
The struggle for existence that is growing increasingly difficult, also sometimes compels men and women to commit acts that they would loathe under different circumstances. It was shown in 1877 in Munich that among the prostitutes entered on lists by the police, there were no less than 203 wives of workingmen and mechanics. Many more married women are driven to occasional prostitution by need, without submitting to police control that deeply degrades all modesty and human dignity.
1. “The Physiology of Love.”
2. Alexander Dumas correctly says in “Monsieur Alphonse”: “Man has created two standards – of morality – one for himself. and one for woman, one that permits him to love all women, and another that permits woman as a compensation for her lost freedom, to be loved by but one man.” See also Marguerite’s self-accusation in “Faust.”
3. George v. Meyr: “Statistics and Social Science.”
4. Marriage and Divorce. 1887-1906 Bureau of the Census, Bulletin 96, p. 12. Washington, D. C., 1908.
5. In England divorce is a privilege enjoyed by the rich. The cost of a trial is so exorbitant, that divorce becomes almost impossible to people of moderate means, especially as it necessitates a journey to London. In the whole country there is only one divorce court, which is situated in London.
6. In his book on “The Woman Question in the Middle Ages,” that I have frequently quoted, Buecher laments the dissolution of marriage and the family. He condemns the employment of women in industry, and demands that woman should return to her “particular sphere,” the only one where she creates “real values,” the home and the family. The aims of the modern woman movement appear “amateurish” to him, and he expresses the hope that “a better way may be found.” But he fails to point out a successful way. From his bourgeois point of view it would be impossible to do so. The matrimonial conditions as also the position of women in general, are not the result of wilful creation. They are the natural product of social evolution, and this social evolution is consummated in accordance with inherent laws.
7. Technics and Political Economy.
8. The following clipping taken from an American newspaper in 1893 gives an adequate description of a “she-town”: “A singularity that is met with in the factory towns of Maine, is a class of men who may rightly be called housekeepers. Any one visiting some of these workers’ homes shortly after the noon hour, will find the men, wearing an apron, washing dishes. At other hours of the day they may be seen making the beds, dressing the children, scrubbing or cooking. ... These men do the housekeeping for the simple reason that their wives can earn more in the factories than they, and it is more economical for them to remain at home while the women work.”
9. “Mr. E., a manufacturer. informs me that he employs only women at his power-looms. He prefers married women and especially those who have a family at home depending upon them. They are much more attentive and docile than unmarried women, and are obliged to exert themselves to the utmost in order to earn the necessary means of subsistence. Thus the peculiar virtues of woman’s character are turned to her own detriment, and the gentleness and decency of her nature become a means of her enslavement.” From an address by Lord Ashley on the ten-hour bill, 1844. – Karl Marx, “Capital,” second edition.
10. The Prussian census of 1900 has shown that in Prussia there are 3,467,388 persons not related to tire families in whose midst they live In the entire state about one-quarter of these non-related members of the households consisted of strange boarders and lodgers; in the rural districts they constituted only one-seventh, but in the cities one-third. and in the capital, Berlin, more than one-half. – G. v. Mayer, “Statistics arid Social Science.”