E. Belfort Bax

Socialism and the Family

(26 January 1907)

Socialism and the Family, Justice, 26th January 1907, p.10. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DEAR COMRADE, – In a letter addressed to Justice a week or two ago our comrade Kerr suggests that I was wrong in maintaining that Socialism is, in principle, neutral in the matter of “free love.” The attraction of variety, he says, is natural in sexual as in other matters, and hence he thinks that, given the removal of the arbitrary and artificial restrictions in our existing social system – restrictions inherent in its economic, juridic, and moral structure – which must ensue under Socialism, everyone would at once adopt the practice of what is known as “free love.” To this proposition I must demur. There is, I believe, a not inconsiderable section of persons (though possibly a minority) who are undoubtedly monogamic by temperament, and for whom the sexual variety spoken of by Kerr has no special attraction, and in some cases even the contrary. Now, I cannot see it is any business of Socialists to counsel free love as doctrine any more than to preach strict monogamy as doctrine. It is, I take it, essential to Socialism to defend the right, materially and morally, of each to live his or her life in this matter according to temperament (subject, of course, to the necessary regulation of the question of offspring). Hence, any self-righteous “see-what-a-brave-boy-am-I” attitude on the part of the monogamist as against the free-lover would undoubtedly be discountenanced in a Social-Democratic society. But, beyond ensuring this freedom of the individual sexually, I fail to see that Socialism as a theory of life has anything to say in the matter. It is one of those private questions which must be left for individual taste and inclination.

As for Mr. Wells, your criticism of his latest lucubrations offers little to add. The epithet, “palaeo-Socialist,” as applied to myself, leaves my withers utterly unwrung. I suppose it is the Wellsian idea of a brilliant tu quoque for my having pointed out the crude fatuity of the view by which he thinks to whitewash himself of the terrible charge of favouring “free love.” For the rest, we all know this sort of bombast from the would-be smart bureaucrats and litterateurs of the Fabian Society for the last three-and-twenty years. They have been at it, gibing at us as the “old guard,” etc., and sneering at the superannuated Marx, ever since 1884. Mr. Wells is a new hand at it, that is all. For my part I should certainly have given Mr. Wells credit for more sense of humour than to care to make a fool of himself by trumpeting forth his own personal opinions with comic bumptiousness, as he has done, as the divine oracle of Socialism for the acceptance of a credulous world. If he thinks to emulate Shaw he should remember the one step from the sublime to the ridiculous. For, even though it may be an open question whether Shaw’s jocular arrogance is precisely sublime, there can hardly be two opinions as to Mr. Wells’s smug conceit being ridiculous in comparison.

But what, then, is this “neo”-Socialism, that is, we are assured, going to take the world by storm? When closely examined it has a way of looking not so very “neo” after all. For example it generally bears a striking family resemblance to our old friend Bismarckian State-Socialism, one of its real objects being apparently’ the curtailment of liberty. The more coercion the purer the Socialism with “Socialists” of this type. Latterly, this kind of superior person seems to have taken up with some form of the human stud-farm theory, called variously Stirpiculture, Eugenics, or what-not, a theory in its original form dating from the late estimable Dr. Noyes, of Oneida Creek celebrity, who promulgated it in the forties of the last century. No, no, Mr. Wells, it is the tide of our Palaeo-Socialism that is sweeping all before it, not the soap-bubbles of your Neo-Socialism! The more you confine yourself to writing good stories rather than bad essays the greater the service you will render your day and generation. – Yours fraternally,


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 15.7.2004