Woman and Socialism. August Bebel
The Socialisation of Society

Chapter XXV.
The Socialist System of Education.

The late member of the German diet, Dr. Lasker, delivered a lecture in Berlin, during the seventies, in which he arrived at the conclusion that it is possible for all members of society to have an equal standard of education. But Dr. Lasker was an anti-Socialist, a rigid upholder of private property and capitalism, and the question of education under present-day conditions is pre-eminently a question of money. Therefore an equal standard of education for all is impossible at present. Some may attain a higher education even under unfavorable circumstances, by overcoming many difficulties and by applying an amount of energy that few possess. But the masses can never attain it so long as they must live in a state of social dependence and oppression.[1]

In the new society the conditions of existence will be the same for all. The requirements and inclinations will differ and will always continue to differ, since these differences are rooted in the nature of man. But each individual will be able to develop under conditions equally favorable to all. The uniform equality, imputed to Socialism, is like so many other imputations, sheer nonsense. It would be useless, indeed, if Socialism should strive for uniform equality, for it would then come into conflict with human nature itself and could not hope to see society develop in accordance with its principles.[2] Indeed, if Socialism should succeed in forcing society into unnatural conditions, these new conditions would soon make themselves felt as shackles that would be torn asunder, and Socialism would be doomed. Society develops by innate laws and acts accordingly.[3]

A proper education of the young must be one of the chief tasks of the new society. Every child that is born will be a welcome addition to society. In the child society beholds the possibility of its own continuity, its own further development. Therefore it will also recognize the duty of amply providing for the new being. The first object of its care must, accordingly, be the child-bearing woman, the mother. Comfortable homes, pleasant environment, institutions of all kinds suited to this stage of motherhood, considerate care for her and for the child – these are the first requirements. It is self understood that women will be enabled to nurse their children as long as necessary and desirable. Moleschott, Sonderegger, all hygienists and physicians are agreed that no other nourishment can fully substitute the mother’s milk. Those who, like Eugen Richter, grow indignant at the suggestion that young mothers shall give birth to their children in a lying-in-hospital, where they will be surrounded by every care and comfort that only wealthy persons can afford to-day, and that even they cannot obtain as perfectly as it can be provided in institutions especially equipped for the purpose, should remember that at present at least four-fifths of all children who come into the world are born under the most primitive conditions that mock civilization. Of the remaining one-fifth of our mothers again only a small minority are able to enjoy the care and the comforts that should be bestowed upon every woman in this condition. Even to-day some cities have splendid provisions for child-bearing women, and many women gladly make use of these institutions when they feel their time approaching. But these institutions are so expensive that only few women are able to make use of them; others, of course, are prevented by prejudice. Here again we have an example how the bourgeois world everywhere contains the germs for future transformation.

Motherhood among women of wealth and fashion becomes rather peculiar by the fact that these mothers transfer their maternal duties as soon as possible to a proletarian wet-nurse. It is well known that the Lausitz (Spreewald) is the region that supplies the bourgeois women of Berlin, who do not or cannot nurse their infants, with nurses. “The breeding of nurses” is carried on as a trade, since country girls do not hesitate to become pregnant, because they find it profitable, after the birth of their babies, to hire out as nurses to rich families in Berlin. It is not an unusual occurrence that girls have three or four illegitimate children in order to hire out as nurses, and if they earn enough money by this trade they are regarded as desirable wives by the young men of the Spreewald. Regarded from the view-point of bourgeois morality, such actions are despicable; but regarded from the view-point of the family interests of the bourgeoisie, they become praiseworthy and desirable.

As soon as the child will have outgrown infancy it will join companions of its age in common play under common care and direction. Everything needful or desirable for the child’s physical and mental development will be supplied. Every observer of children knows that they can be most easily educated in the company of other children. This quality can be successfully applied to the system of education.[4] The play-halls and the kindergarten will be succeeded by a playful introduction into the rudiments of knowledge and the various industrial tasks. They will be succeeded by appropriate mental and physical work, combined with gymnastic exercises and unrestricted motion on the playground and in the gymnasium, the skating-rink and the swimming-pool. There will be exercises, drills and wrestling-matches for both sexes, for the aim will be to bring up a healthy, hardy race that will be normal both physically and mentally. Step by step the children will be initiated into the various practical activities, horticulture, agriculture, manufacture, the technics of the process of production. Mental education in the various realms of knowledge will not be neglected.

The system of education will be purified and improved, just like the system of production. Many antiquated, superfluous methods and subjects, which only serve to hamper the child’s mental and physical development, will be dropped. The knowledge of natural things, adapted to the child’s understanding, will incite a far greater desire for study than a system of education where one subject conflicts with and contradicts another; for instance, when, on the one hand, children receive religious instruction as taught by the Bible, and, on the other, are taught science and natural history. The equipment of the schools and the methods and means of education will be in keeping with the advanced stage of civilization of the new society. All the books and objects required for education and study, food and clothing, will be furnished by society; no pupil will be at a disadvantage with the others.[5] This is another chapter that causes indignation among our bourgeois “men of order.” [6] They claim that Socialists seek to turn the school into barracks, and to deprive the parents of all influence over their children. Socialists do not aim at anything of the sort. In future society, parents will have far more time at their disposal than the great majority of parents have to-day. We need but point to the fact that at present many workingmen are employed ten hours daily, and even longer, and that many employees in the postal and railroad service, prison and police officials., etc., as well as mechanics, small farmers, merchants, military men, physicians, etc., must devote an equal length of time to their occupations. In future parents will be able to devote themselves to their children in a measure that is quite impossible to-day. Moreover, the parents will control the educational system and will determine the measures and methods that are to be adopted and introduced. For then society will be thoroughly democratic. There will be boards of education consisting of parents – men and women – and of the educators. Does anyone presume that these will act contrary to their sentiments and interests? That is done in present-day society, where the state carries out its ideas of education contrary to the wishes of most parents.

Our opponents pretend that it is one of the most agreeable things to parents to have their children about them all day and to be constantly occupied with their education. As a matter of fact, this is not so. Every parent knows that the education of a child is no easy task. Several children facilitate education, but they cause so much work and worry, especially to the mother, that she is thankful when they are old enough to attend school, and she is relieved of their care for a part of the day. Moreover, most parents can educate their children but insufficiently, because they have no time. The fathers are engaged in their trades or professions and the mothers in their household tasks, and sometimes the mothers are breadwinners, also. But even those parents who have sufficient time usually lack the ability. How many parents are able to follow up the mental development of their children at school and to assist them? Mighty few. The mother, who, in most cases, might be best enabled to render such assistance, rarely has the ability, because she has not been properly trained herself. Moreover, the methods and subjects are changed so often that they are foreign to most parents. For most children the facilities at home are so insufficient that they have no proper order, comfort or peace for doing their home-work, nor art they helped by anyone. Often the home is small and overcrowded; the entire family are huddled together in a few small rooms, the furniture is scanty, and the child wishing to study lacks every comfort and convenience. Not infrequently light, air and heat are wanting. The books and school supplies are either wanting entirely or are of the poorest quality. Frequently also the little ones are tortured by hunger, which destroys all inclination for study. Hundreds of thousands of children are put to work at all kinds of domestic and industrial occupations that rob their childhood of its joy and incapacitate them for mental work. Sometimes children must contend with the opposition of narrow-minded parents, who object to it that the children devote time to their studies or to play. In short, there are so many obstacles that it is to be wondered at that the young are so well educated. This is a proof of the health of human nature and of its innate desire for progress and perfection.

Bourgeois society itself recognizes a number of these evils and facilitates the education of the young by introducing free public instruction and, here and there, by also furnishing the school supplies. As late as the middle of the eighties the then Minister of Education of Saxony, designated both these institutions as “Socialistic demands.” In France, where public education had long been neglected and then progressed all the more rapidly, progress has advanced still further; at least, this is the case in Paris. Here the public-school meal, at the expense of the municipality, has been introduced. Poor children are given the meals free of charge, and the children of parents who are in better circumstances must pay a nominal sum into the municipal treasury. Here we behold a communistic institution that has proved. entirely satisfactory to parents and children.

The insufficiency of our present educational system – it often fails to accomplish the moderate aims it has set for itself – becomes evident from the fact that thousands upon thousands of children are unable to get along at school on account of insufficient nourishment.

Every winter there are thousands of children in our cities who come to school without breakfast. Hundreds of thousands of others are chronically underfed. To all these children public feeding and clothing would be a blessing. In a community that will, by proper care and nourishment, teach them what it means to be human, they will not become acquainted with a house of “correction.” Bourgeois society cannot deny the existence of this misery, and so compassionate souls unite to found free-lunch establishments and soup-kitchens, to perform, as a charity, what ought to be performed by society as a duty. Recently a few municipalities have undertaken to feed poor children at public expense. But all this is insufficient and must be accepted as a charitable gift, while it should be demanded as a right.[7]

It is well that the amount of home-work is being reduced in our schools, since the insufficiency of home facilities has been recognized. The child of wealthy parents is at an advantage over his poorer schoolmate, not only because he is privileged by outward circumstances, but also because he is helped at home by a governess or a tutor. On the other hand, laziness and carelessness are fostered in the child of wealthy parents, because their wealth makes study appear superfluous to him, and because demoralizing examples are frequently placed before him and he is approached by many temptations. He who learns daily and hourly that rank, position and wealth count for everything, acquires a peculiar conception of human duties and of the institutions of state and society.

When we examine this question more closely we find that bourgeois society has no reason to become indignant over the communistic methods of education aimed at by Socialists, for it has itself introduced such methods for privileged classes, but in a distorted manner. We need but point to the cadet schools, the seminaries and colleges for the clergy. Here thousands of children, some of them belonging to the upper classes, are trained in the most absurd and one-sided way and in strict monastic seclusion for certain occupations. Many members of the better classes, like physicians, clergymen, officials, manufacturers, large farmers, etc., who live in small towns where there are no higher institutions of learning, send their children to boarding-schools in large cities, and do not see them during the entire year, except at vacation time. It is a contradiction, then, when our opponents decry a communistic system of education and estrangement between parents and children, and at the same time introduce a similar system of education, only in a wrong, insufficient and distorted manner, for their own children. Only too frequently are the children of the rich not educated by their parents at all, but by nurses, governesses and tutors. A special chapter might be written on this subject that would not cast a favorable light on the family relations of these classes. Here, too, hypocrisy prevails and conditions are anything but ideal, both for the educated and the educators.

In accordance with the entirely altered system of education that aims at the physical and mental development and culture of the young, the teaching force must be increased. The training of the rising generation should be provided for in the same way as the training of the soldiers is provided for in the German army. Here one officer has charge of from 8 to 10 men. If in future a similar number of pupils will be placed under the guidance of one teacher, the desired aims will be attained. Introduction into mechanical activities in the splendidly equipped workshops, and into horticultural and agricultural activities, will also constitute an important factor in the future education of the young. Everything will be taught with a proper variation of occupations and without over-exertion, in order to educate harmoniously developed human beings.

Education must be the same for both sexes and must be given in common to both. Separation of the sexes is justifiable only in cases where the differences of sex make it absolutely necessary. In this manner of education the United States is far advanced over Europe. Here education has been introduced from the primary school to the university. Not only is education furnished free, but the school supplies also, inclusive of the tools for manual training, lessons in cooking, and articles used by the pupils in the study of chemistry and physics. Many schools are equipped with gymnasiums, swimming-pools and playgrounds. In the higher schools the girls are trained in gymnastics, swimming, rowing, running, etc.. – as well as the young men.[8]

The Socialistic system of education will attain still higher results. Properly regulated and ordered and placed under able control, it will continue until the age at which society declares its young men and women to be of age. Then the members of both sexes will be fully prepared to perform all duties and to enjoy all rights.

Then society will be certain of having educated capable, fully developed members, human beings to whom nothing human is foreign, who are as familiar with their own nature as they are with the nature and condition of society, into which they forthwith enter, enjoying full equality. So the excesses of our modern youth that are daily increasing, and that are a natural product of our disintegrating social conditions, will disappear. Unruliness, lack of self-control, immorality and brutal sensuality, which characterize the modern young men at our higher institutions of learning, our colleges and universities, and that are the result of domestic demoralization and unrest and of the baneful influences of social life, will not mark the young men of the future. The evil influences of the factory system and the congested dwellings, that cause young people to be self-assertive and unbridled at an age when human beings are in the greatest need of education and of being trained to exercise self-control, will also disappear. Future society will avoid all these evils without being obliged to resort to compulsory measures. The social institutions and the resulting intellectual atmosphere that will dominate society will simply make the existence of such evils impossible. In society, as in nature, diseases and the destruction of organisms take place only where a process of decay has set in.

None will deny that our present system of education is afflicted with great and serious defects, and, as a matter of fact, these defects are more marked with the higher schools and institutions of learning than with the lower ones. A village school is a model of moral healthfulness compared with a college; a sewing school for poor girls, a model of morality compared with a number of fashionable boarding schools. It is not hard to find the reason for this. Among the upper classes of society every striving after higher aims has been smothered; they are devoid of ideals. Owing to the lack of ideals and loftier aspirations, the unbounded love of enjoyment and the inclination to excesses are disseminated, with their resulting physical and moral deterioration. How can young persons, growing up in such an atmosphere, be different?

A purely material enjoyment of life, carried to extremes, is all they see and know. Why should they strive after higher aims when the wealth of their parents makes every endeavor appear superfluous? The maximum education of the great majority of sons of the German bourgeoisie, consists in their passing the examination for one year’s voluntary service in the army. When they have attained this aim, they believe that they have absorbed all knowledge worth knowing and regard themselves as demi-gods. If they have obtained a reserve-officer’s certificate, their conceit and arrogance knows no bounds. The influence exercised by this generation, most of whose members are weak in character and knowledge, but strong in servility, characterize the present period as the “age of reserve officers.” Its peculiarities are: Ignorance, lack of character, and a servile disposition. Men fawn on their superiors, and are arrogant and brutal to their inferiors. Most of the daughters of the upper classes are trained to be society ladies, walking fashion plates and silly dolls. They rush from one enjoyment to another, until they grow weary with the boredom of their empty lives, and fall victims to many real and imaginary diseases. When they grow old they become religious fanatics, spiritualists and faith healers, who turn up their eyes at the wickedness of the world and preach asceticism. In regard to the lower classes, efforts are being made to further diminish their standard of education. The fear prevails that the proletarian might become too wise, that he might tire of his subjection and rebel against his earthly gods. The more ignorant the masses are, the more easily can they be governed and controlled. Large landowners from the East-Elbe province have repeatedly declared in their meetings: “The most stupid workingman is the one most welcome to us.” An entire program is contained in this one sentence.

So present-day society is as helpless and aimless in regard to the question of education as it is in regard to all other questions. What methods, then, does it resort to: It calls for punishment and preaches religion; that is, it preaches submissiveness and contentment to those who are far too submissive and contented already; it teaches abstinence, where poverty compels people to abstain from the very necessities of life. The), who brutally rebel against this state of affairs are placed in so-called “reformatories” that are generally controlled by religious influences. That is the limit of the pedagogical wisdom of our society. The vicious methods of education applied to neglected and demoralized proletarian children become manifest by the frequent cases of abuse and ill-treatment committed by the directors, overseers, etc., in these “homes"(!) Here it has been shown time and again how religious fanatics of the deepest dye have, with a perverted pleasure, ill-treated poor, helpless children with unspeakable brutality; and how many of these horrors may never become known!


1. “A certain degree of culture and well-being is a necessary external condition for the development of the philosophic spirit.. .. . We, therefore, find that only such nations begin to philosophize who had attained a considerable degree of well-being and culture.” Tenneman, quoted by Buckle. – “Material and intellectual interests go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. There is a connection between them as between body and mind. To separate them means destruction.” v. Thuenen, “The Isolated State.” – “The best life, both for the individual in particular and for the state in general, is one in which virtue is sufficiently endowed with external possessions, that participation in good and virtuous deeds becomes possible,” Aristotle, “Politics.”

2. Mr. Eugen Richter, in his “False Doctrines,” reiterates the worn-out phrase: the Socialists wish a coercive state. That there will eventually be no state ought to be clear to the readers of our book, He assumes that society would introduce a state or a social order that would be averse to its own interests.. But no new social order or state differing fundamentally from the preceding one could be arbitrarily created. That would be in opposition to all the laws according to which state and society develop. Mr. Eugen Richter and those who share his views may find consolation in this: if Socialism really pursues the foolish aims that they impute to it, it will die off without any effort on their part. – Equally untenable is Richter’s remark that for a social condition like the one aimed at by Socialists, men must be angels. To begin with, there are no angels, and we do not need any. Man is influenced by circumstances, but circumstances are also influenced by man, and the latter will be the case more and more, as men become better acquainted with the nature of society, which they constitute, and apply their experiences consciously to their social organization.. We do not need different human beings, but we do need more intelligent and rational human beings than the majority are today, and to make them more intelligent and rational, we agitate and publish books like this one.

3. When we consider the boundless stupidity of our opponents, it seems marvelous that no one has as yet asserted that under Socialism all would be given the same quantity of food and underwear and clothing of the same size to crown the system of “uniform equality.”

4. Fourier has accomplished this brilliantly, even though in carrying out his ideas, he approached the utopia. Bebel, Chas. Fourier, His Life and His Theories, 3rd ed. Stuttgart, 1907,

5. Condorcet postulates in his educational plan: “Education must be general, free of charge, equal to all, physical, mental, industrial and political, and must aim at true equality.” Likewise Rousseau in his “Political Economy:” “Especially must education be public, equal and common, to educate human beings and citizens.” Aristotle also demands: “Since the state has but one object, it must give all its members one and the same education, and the care for them must be a public, not a private, matter.”

6. Thus Eugen Richter in his “False Doctrines,”

7. “At present 20 districts of Paris have established school-kitchens, where the children are given a noon-day meal consisting of meat and vegetables. Only this meal is obligatory, but in several districts the children can obtain breakfast and afternoon-tea also.” Helene Simon – School and Bread. Hamburg, 1907. It is due to the initiative of the Labor Party that a bill providing for the feeding of school children in England was turned over to a committee in 1906.

8. Professor Dr. Emit Hausknecht – “The American Educational System.”