E. Belfort Bax

Immorality in the Potteries

(30 January 1904)

Immorality in the Potteries, Justice, 30th January 1904, p.6 (letter).
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


That comrade Cross’s able and conclusive letter on the above subject should encounter opposition from half-baked “brethren” was, I suppose, only to be expected, though I am glad to see that Mr. Hart is not a member of the SDF. The prejudice and surviving superstition on the sex question is so inveterate, however, that I doubt whether some remains of it may not be found even in our own body. In any case it is encouraging to see that we have men in the organisation like comrade Cross, who have the courage and straight-forwardness not merely to hold, but to express without wavering the only logical and consistent Socialist view on this subject, regardless of the “question-begging epithets” (as Mill called them) which are sure to be liberally hurled at them to consequence.

Mr. Phipson’s letter is in some respects typical. In the early days of railroads it was proposed to construct a line across Chatmoss in Lancashire. When the Bill came before Parliament, an eminent forensic magnate of the period in a speech occupying two whole days, conclusively showed (not the undesirability on, aesthetic or other grounds), but the physical impossibility of the undertaking. Within two years from that time, I believe I am correct in saying, the projected railway was a going concern. Many of our readers will doubtless recall political, social and religious changes now long since come to pass, the opponents of which, like the anti-Chatmoss railway gentleman, proved, with a plausibility sufficient to satisfy most reasonable persons of their day, to be either impossible or, if carried out, to inevitably involve the instantaneous dissolution of all human relations. I think, at one time, widespread doubts as to the Noachian deluge, and certainty as to the historical accuracy of the first chapters of Genesis, were shown to necessarily bring universal manslaughter and social chaos in their wake. In. fact, I will almost undertake myself to prove the same thing of any social or other change which has not actually been brought about, and therefore of which we have had no direct experience. For nothing is easier or cheaper than to formulate paper objections in cases of this kind. The manufactured difficulties and imaginative misgivings of otherwise sensible and emancipated persons like Mr. Phipson, at the notion of any change in the relations of the sexes as such, seem to me to belong to this order of thought, and if I may say so without offence to be hardly worth detailed examination.

Mr. Hart’s attempt to play to the Feminist gallery by trotting out the old legend of the perfidious male monster and the guilelessly innocent and “wronged” female angel, is I trust and believe, a little too thin to wash, even with the most rabid of the Feminist band who call themselves Socialists at all. Mr. Hart details a catalogue of evils which he alleges to result from what he is pleased to term “Factory immorality” (some of them, by the way, it is difficult to see how he can possibly deduce front the sex relations referred to even at their worst). He then asks of these evils – “Are they to be commended?” Similarly an opponent of the compulsory legalised monogamy which I suppose Mr. Hart champions might retort as follows with a counter-list: brutality to wives, wife-murder, husband-murder, wretched homes, blighted lives, the evil example to children of quarrelling between parents of incompatible temper, the wearing misery of cohabitation become obnoxious to one or both parties, &c., and might in his turn ask respecting these evils, “Are they to be commended?” All these things undoubtedly follow and inevitably follow – I will not say from monogamy – but from a legally compulsory monogamy such as obtains to-day. And here we have the kernel of the whole matter. What reactionists in this question really mean at the back of all their twaddle about “animalism” and all the rest of it, is to bolster up the present system of compulsory legal marriage. No, this is an issue as to which I contend, with the consistent Socialist, there should be no paltering. The present marriage system is the infame which has to be crushed at all costs. Its evils are real and crying. Whereas even the most apparently obvious dangers conjured up in the vivid imagination of sexual reactionists, for aught anyone can tell, may, when the dreaded change is in actual operation, resolve themselves into the moonshine that similar anticipated evils have in similar cases, done before in the course of the world’s history. – Yours,


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 15.6.2004