August Bebel 1879
First Published: Die Frau un der Sozialialismus, Berlin, 1946, S. 463-624;
Source: Society of the Future, Progress Publishers, 1971;
Translated: from the German by Don Danemanis;
Transcribed and HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.
In the seventies, Dr Lasker, the late Reichstag deputy, delivered an address in Berlin, in which he arrived at the conclusion that an equal level of education for all members of society was possible. Dr. Lasker, however, was an anti-socialist, a rigid upholder of private property and capitalism. Today the question of education is first and foremost a question of money. Under these circumstances an equal level of education for all is impossible. Individuals, living in relatively favourable circumstances, can, by overcoming many difficulties and exerting great energy, which not many possess, succeed in acquiring a higher education. The masses will never be able to do so as long as they live in a state of dependence and in conditions of social oppression.
In the new society the conditions of life are equal for all. Men's needs and inclinations differ and these differences, being rooted in man's very nature, will continue to exist, but every individual can develop in keeping with the conditions of life that are identical for all. Like so much else, the uniform equality imputed to socialism is nonsense. Even if socialism were to strive for it, it would be unreasonable, for it would conflict with the nature of man and would have to abandon the itlca of seeing society develop accortling to its principles. Yes, even if socialism should succeed in taking society unaware and forcing on it such unnatural conditions, within a very short time these new conditions, felt to be shackles, would be bioken and cast off and socialism would he doomed for ever. Society develops according to its immanent laws, and acts accordingly.
The proper education of the rising generation must be one of the principal tasks of the new society. Every newly born is a welcome addition to society, for society sees in him the prospect of its continuation and its own further development and, therefore, also feels the duty to defend the new human being to the best of its ability. Hence, the prime object of its care is she who gives birth, the mother. Comfortable housing, pleasant surroundings, all sorts of provisions necessary to this stage of motherhood, careful nursing for her and the child, are the first requirement. It is self-evident that mothers should breast-feed their babies for as long as is possible and necessary. Moleschott, Sonderegger, all hygienists and doctors agree that nothing can fully substitute mother's milk.
Those who, like Eugen Richter, are indignant at the idea of every young mother coming to a lying-in establishment, where she will have everything that today is accessible only for the very wealthiest--and even they cannot furnish what specially appointed institutions could--should be reminded that at present at least four-fifths of the human race are born in the most primative conditions, which are a disgrace to our civilisation. And from among the remaining fifth of our mothers again only a minority can enjoy. some of the care and comfort that should be enjoyed by a woman in that condition. Indeed in cities with excellent provisions for maternity care, these are today a good number of women who, as soon as they feel their time approaching, go to such institutions and await their confinement there. But the fees at such institutions are very high and therefore only few women can afford them, while still others are held back by prejudice. Thus, here agan we have an example of how in everything bourgeois society carries in its womb the seeds of the institutions of the future.
Motherhood of most women of the upper classes acquires a unique flavour owing to the fact that they transfer their maternal duties at the soonest possible moment to a proletarian wet-nurse. It is well known that Wendish Lusatia (Spreewald) is the region from which the women of the Berlin bourgeoisie, who themselves are unwilling or unable to nurse their babies, draw their wet-nurses. The "raising" of wetnurses , which consists in the girls of the district allowing themselves to become pregnant in order to be able after the birth of their children to hire themselves out as professional wet-nurses to well-to-do Berlin families, is practised there on a professional basis. Girls who have given birth to three or four children out of wedlock in order to be able to hire themselves out as wet-nurses are no rarity there, and their eligibility as brides for the young men of the Spreewald depends on the size of their earnings in this business. From the viewpoint of bourgeois morality this is reprehensible behaviour, but from the viewpoint of the family interests of the bourgeoisie it is considered commendable and desirable.
As soon as the child grows up, it begins to play with other children of its age, under common supervision. All that can be done for his mental and physical development, given his particular intellect and requirements, is provided. Who has watched children knows that they are best brought up in the company of their equals, because sociability and the instinct to imitate are strongly developed in them. Small children are particularly inclined to take the example of older ones and follow them rather than their parents. These qualities can be turned to advantage in education. Playgrounds and kindergartens are followed by an introduction through play to the rudiments of knowledge and various manual occupations. Then comes moderate mental and physical work, combined with gymnastic exercises and free movement on the play- and sports ground, on the skating-rink and in the swimming pool; drill marches, wrestling and excercise for both sexes follow and supplement one another. The aim is to raise a healthy, hardy, physically and menntally well developed generation. Various practical activities, gardening, agriculture, industry, the technology of production are introduced step by step. Mental development in diverse fields of knowledge is not neglected.
The hygiene measures and improvements in the education system will be similar to those carried out in the sphere of production. A mass of obsolete and superfluous methods and subjects hampering mental and physical development will be dropped. The knowledge of natural phenomena, adapted to fit children's mental capacities, will do more to spur on the desire for knowledge than a system of education in which one subject is incompatible with another and undermines its influence, as is the case, for instance, when, on the one hand, religion is taught on the basis of the Bible, and, on the other, the natural sciences and natural history. The equipment of schoolrooms and educational establishments and the teaching aids will all be in keeping with the high cultural level of the new society. Study equipment and materials, clothing and maintenance will be provided by society, and no pupil is at a disadvantage with respect to another. This is another issue which arouses the indignation of our bourgeois "champions of law and order". Our opponents cry out that schools are to be turned into barracks and parents deprived of all influence over their children. All that is out of the question. Since parents in the future society will have infinitely more leisure than most have today--we need but recall the ten-hour and longer working day of most workers, of the post, railway, gaol wardens and police officers, and the demands made upon the time of the handicraftsmen, small farmers, tradesmen, the military, many doctors, etc.,--it follows that they will be able to devote themselves to their children to an extent impossible today. Moreover, the parents themselves will have the regulation of the education system in their hands, for it is they who will determine the measures and arrangements that shall be adopted and introduced. We shall then live in a genuinely democratic society. the education committees, then functioning, will be made up of parents--of both sexes--and professional educationalists. Does anyone imagine that they will act against their sentiments and interests? That happens in present-day society, where the state implements its interests in the educational field against the wish of most parents.
Our opponents make it appear that it is one of the greatest pleasures of parents to have their children about them all day long in order to educate them. In actual practice just the opposite is true. The difficulties and effort involved in the education of a child can best be judged by those parents who themselves are or have been in such a situation. To be sure, when there are several children in a family this facilitates education, but it also involves so much work and effort that the mother, who bears the main brunt of this task, is glad when the children reach school age and the house is rid of them for part of the day. Also, most parents are able to give their children only a very imperfect education. The vast majority do not have the necessary time; the fathers have their business to attend to, the mothers their housework, if they do not have to go out to earn themselves. But even if they have the time for education, in innumerable cases they lack the ability. How many parents are able to follow their children's course of instruction at school and to give them a helping hand? Very few. The mother, who in most such cases has more time, seldom has the ability, having herself received insufficient training for it. All teaching methods and syllabuses change so frequently that parents find them unfamiliar.
Also, the home conditions for the vast majority of children are so poor that they have neither the comfort and order nor the quiet necessary for them to do their homework, nor do they find the necessary encouragement. Often even the minimum essentials are lacking. The home is too small and overcrowded, everybody is moving about in this confined space, the furniture is insufficient and ill-adapted to the needs of the child who wants to work. Not infrequently light, air and heat are inadequate; the materials for study and work, if there are any available at all, are of the worst quality; frequently hunger is gnawing at the stomach of the child as well, making it impossible for him to concentrate on or take any pleasure in his work. Besides, many hundreds of thousands of children are sent out to work in domestic service or industry, which mars their youth and prevents them from coping with their very limited schoolwork. Also, children often have to overcome the opposition of narrow-minded parents when they try to spend time on their schoolwork or play. In short, the obstacles are so numerous that it is surprising young people are as well educated as they are. This is proof of the healthy essence of human nature and of its inherent striving for progress and perfection.
Bourgeois society admits some of these evils and endeavours to facilitate the education of the young by introducing free education and sometimes supplying the necessary books and equipment free of charge, two things, which as late as the mid-eighties the then Minister of Education of Saxony, opposing the socialist Landtag deputies, described as "Social-Democratic demands" In France, where after long neglect popular education has made all the more progress, things have been taken, at least in Paris, one step further, for school-children are receiving meals paid for out of public funds. The poor receive their meals free of charge and the children of more well-to-do parents have to pay a minimal fee to the municipal treasury. That is already a communistic arrangement that has proved satisfactory for parents and children alike.
Further proof of the inadequacy of the present school system, which is often unable to fulfil the moderate tasks it sets itself, is the fact that thousands of children are unable to fulfil their school duties owing to insufficient food. No winter passes without thousands of children in our towns going to school without any breakfast. The nourishment of hundreds of thousands of others is insufficient. For all these children meals and clothing at public expense would be a great boon; they will not regard as a workhouse a community which teaches them by providing them with proper food and clothing what it means to be a human being. Bourgeois society cannot deny the existence of this misery, and compassionate souls, therefore, get together to found breakfast and soup kitchens in order by menas of charity to do at least in some measure what society should do as its duty. of late a number of municipalities have taken measures to provide poor children with the essential minimum of food out of public funds. All this is insufficient and what should be theirs by right is granted as charity.
So-called homework is being reduced in our schools to a minimum, and rightly so, since the inadequacy of the work done at home has been acknowledged. Pupils from well-to-do families have an advantage over poorer ones not only by virtue of their conditions but also because they frequently have governesses and private teachers to assist them in their studies. On the other hand, however, laziness and slovenliness are more likely to be found in rich pupils, because the riches of their parents make studies seem superfluous to them, and they are often confronted with the most immoral examples and are exposed to strong temptation. He who every day and every hour hears and sees that rank, position and wealth mean everything, acquires abnormal conceptions of man and his duties and of state and social institutions.
Strictly speaking, bourgeois society has no cause to be indignant at the communist education of children, which the socialists aim at, for it has itself partly introduced it for the privileged classes, only in a distorted mannner. Look at the cadet corps, army orphanages, boarding-schools, seminaries, theological colleges, and so on. Many thousands of children, some of them from the upper classes, are educated in these institutions in a one-sided and wrong manner and in monastic seclusion, and are trained for certain specific occupations. Many members of the more well-to-do classes--doctors, clergymen, civil servants, factory owners, landowners, rich peasants, etc.--who live in the country or in small towns where there are no higher educational establishments--send their children to the larger cities to boarding-schools and barely get a glimpse of them, except possibly during holidays.
There is accordingly a contradiction between the indignation of our opponents about a communistic education for children and about "the estrangement of children from their parents", on the one hand, and the fact that they have introduced similar education for their own children, only in a bungled, false and inadequate manner, on the other. A whole chapter of its own could be written about the education of the children of the well-to-do classes by wet-nurses, nursery nlaids, governesses, private tutors, one that would throw a strange light on their family life. It would emerge that here, too, hypocrisy often reigns and that conditions for teachers and pupils alike are anything but ideal.
In order to meet the demands of the totally transformed system of education, aiming to promote both the physical and the mental development and training of the younger generation, the number of teachers will have to increase. In the education of society's rising generation, the same concern must be shown that is given in the army to the training of soldiers, where a non-commissioned officer is appointed for every eight to ten men. In future, when there is a teacher to instruct a similar number of pupils, the necessary objective will be achieved. Also, the introduction to mechanical work in well-equipped training workshops, to gardening and agricultural work, will constitute a good part of young people's education. This will all be organised so that pupils' courses are varied and do not overtax them, in order to educate as harmoniously developed people as possible.
Education must also be equal for both sexes and mixed. Their separation is justifiable only in cases where the difference of sex makes such separation absolutely necessary. In this type of education the United States is far ahead of us. There, education is mixed from the primary schools right through to the university. Not only instruction is free but also educational aids, including articles required for needle work and domestic science, and also for chemistry, and physics, and those needed for experiments and at the work-bench. Most schools have gymnasiums, baths, swimming pools and playgrounds attached. In secondary schools girls are taught gymnastics, swimming, rowing and marching.
The socialist system of education will achieve even more. Properly regulated and organised and placed under adequate control, it will continue to the age when society determines that its youth has attained majority. From then on both sexes will be fully qualified to exercise all rights and fulfil all duties in any field. Then society will be certain that it had reared only able, harmoniously developed members, people to whom nothing human is alien, who are as familiar with their own nature and their own condition as they are with the nature and condition of the society they join as members enjoying full rights.
The daily increasing depravity of our modern youth, which is the natural consequence of the present rot and decay of society--the unruliness, lack of discipline, immorality, and coarse pleasure-seeking, such as are especially pronounced among young people in our higher educational establishments, gymnasla, polytechnical schools, universities, etc., vices that are caused and aggravated by the looseness and unrest of home life and the poisonous influences of social life-will vanish. The adverse influence of the factory system, of inadequate housing, that dissoluteness and self-assurance of the young at an age in which man most needs reins and education for self-discipline and self-control, will also come to an end. Future society will avoid all these ills without having to resort to force. The social institutions and the Inoral atmosphere that will spring from these and dominate society will make them impossible. As in Nature disease and the destruction of organisms can appear only when decay sets in, so likewise in society.
No one will deny that there are serious defects in our present system of education and instruction, and that the secondary schools and higher educational establishments suffer more from them than the primary ones. A village school is an example of moral health as compared with a gymnasiunl and a handicrafts school for girls from poor families a model of morality as compared with a large number of exclusive boarding-schools. The reason is not difficult to iind. In the upper classes of society all striving for higher aims has been stifled, they have no ideals any more. Owing to the lack of ideals and of higher purposeful endeauour, pleasure-seeking and the taste for indulgence with its physical and moral abuses have spread. How can young people growing up in this atmosphere be anything other than what they are? Material indulgence which knows no moderation and no bounds is what they see and grow accustomed to. Why strive for anything when the wealth of their parents makes such striving seem superfluous? The summit of education for a large majority of the sons of our bourgeoisie consists in passing the examination needed to obtain a certificate qualifying folone year's service as a volunteer in the German army. Once this has been achieved, they believe they have climbed Pelion and Ossa, and regard themselves as demi-gods. If they have a reserve officer's certificate in their pocket their pride and arrogance know no bounds. The influence exercised by this generation--most of whose members are weak in character and possess but scant knowledge, while they are strong in loyalty and ambition--leads to the present period being characterised as "the age of the reserve officer". The reserve officer's distinctive feature is that he has no character and little knowledge, but plenty of loyalty; he is servile towards his superiors and arrogant and brutal towards his inferiors.
Many daughters of the upper classes are trained as showpieces, fools of fashion and salon habituees, who chase one enjoyment after another and, finally satiated, suffer from boredom and all sorts of imaginary and real illnesses. When they grow old, they hecome bigots, spiritualists and faith healers who turn up their eyes at the corruption of the world and preach ascetism.
Attempts are being made to lower the educational level of the lower classes. The proletariat may become too clever, too knowing, might refuse to tolerate any more its state of servitude and rebel against its earthly gods. The stupider the masses, the more easily they put up with control and rule. "The stupidest worker is our favourite worker," the big landowners from the estates East of the Elbe reiterated at their meetings. This single sentence implies a whole programme.
Thus, modern society when confronted with the question of instruction and education is just as aimless and bewildered as in relation to all other social problems. What does it do? It calls for the rod and preaches religion, that is, submissiveness and acquiescence to those who are much too submissive and acquiescent as it is; it teaches abstinence where due to poverty abstinence in the bare essentials of life has become a necessity. Those who because of the coarseness of their nature revolt, are taken to so-called reformatroies, where a pious atmospere reforms. This is the sum of our society's wisdom in matters of education. The whole depravity of the educational methods applied to the children of proletarian families living in reduced circumstances can he seen from the numerous cases of ill-treatment perpetrated by the staff in charge of so-called educational homes, which lead to criminal proceedings being instituted against them. These revealed how fanatical bigots acknowledged themselves guilty of hair-raising abuses with sadistic joy. And how many such horrors are never made public!