August Bebel. Woman and Socialism
Woman in the Past


While in the Roman empire the marriage and birthrate were permitted to decline more and more, the Jews maintained far different customs. The Jewess was not entitled to choose her own husband; he was chosen for her by her father. But she regarded marriage as a duty which she faithfully performed. The Talmud advises “When thy daughter has attained maturity, set one of thy slaves free and betroth her to him.” The Jews likewise faithfully obeyed the commandment of their God: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Accordingly the Jews have steadily increased in spite of persecution and oppression, they are staunch opponents of Malthusianism. Tacitus said of them: “They firmly hold together and readily assist one another, but are hostile and full of hatred against all others. They never eat or sleep with enemies, and though very much inclined to sensual passion, they refrain from pairing with foreign women. Yet they are eager to increase their tribe. To destroy their offspring is a sin to them; and the souls of those who have been killed in battle or executed, they consider immortal. Therefore they combine love for propagation with a contempt for death.” But Tacitus hated and despised the Jews because they, regardless of their paternal creed, eagerly accumulated wealth. He calls them “the meanest people,” “an ugly nation.”

Under Roman rule, the Jews became more and more closely linked with one another, and during the long time of suffering they were doomed to endure from this time on through the entire middle ages, that intimate family life developed among them, which still is regarded as a sort of model by bourgeois society. In Roman society meanwhile, that process of decay and dissolution took place that brought the empire to an end. The debauchery bordering on madness was opposed by the opposite extreme, rigorous self-denial. Asceticism now assumed religious forms, as the debaucheries had previously done. Eccentric fanaticism made propaganda for it. The boundless luxury and extravagance of the ruling classes was in striking contrast with the want and misery of the millions and millions of people who were brought to Italy into servitude by the conquering Romans from all the countries of the world known at that time. Among these there also were ever so many women, torn from their homes, their parents, their husbands and children, who were most deeply afflicted by their misfortune and longed for liberation. Many Roman women who were thoroughly disgusted by what was going on about them, were in a similar mental state. Any change in their position seemed desirable. A profound longing for change, for redemption, manifested itself in wide circles, and the Redeemer seemed to approach. The conquest of the Jewish realm and Jerusalem by the Romans, resulted in the destruction of national independence, and brought forth idealists among the ascetics of that country who predicted the coming of a new kingdom with freedom and happiness for all.

Christ came and Christianity developed. It personified opposition against the beastly materialism that prevailed among the rich and mighty ones in the Roman empire; it represented rebellion against the oppression and disdain of the masses. But since it sprang from Judaism that knew woman only as an oppressed being, and since it was biased by the biblical conception that she is the source of all evil, it preached the disdain of woman; it preached abstinence and destruction of the flesh, that was sinning so much at the time, and with ambiguous expressions pointed to a coming kingdom – conceived by some as a celestial, by others as an earthly kingdom – that would bring universal peace and justice. In the mire of the Roman realm, the seeds of these doctrines were planted in fertile soil. Woman, hoping for liberation and redemption from her position like all the other unfortunates, gladly and eagerly embraced the new faith. Until this day no great and important movement has taken place in all the world in which women did not figure as heroines and martyrs. They who praise Christianity as a great achievement of civilization, should not forget that to woman it owed many of its victories. Her eagerness to make converts played an important part both in the Roman empire and among the barbarian peoples of the middle ages. Through her efforts those in power often were converted. Thus, for instance, it was Chlotilde who induced Chlodwig, King of the Franks, to embrace Christianity. It was Bertha, Queen of Kent, and Gisela, Queen of Hungary, who introduced Christianity in their countries. The conversion of many prominent men was due to the influence of women. But Christianity rewarded woman poorly. Its doctrines contain the same disdain of woman that is met with in all the religions of the Orient. It commands her to be an obedient servant to man, and even to-day women must promise obedience to their husbands before the marriage altar. Let us hear how the Bible and Christianity speak of woman and marriage.

The ten commandments of the old testament are addressed exclusively to the man. In the ninth commandment the woman is mentioned together with the domestic servants and domestic animals. The man is warned not to covet his neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is his neighbors. Woman then is an object, a piece of property, that man should not desire if in someone else’s possession. Jesus, who belonged to a sect that maintained rigorous asceticism and practised voluntary emasculation, when asked by his disciples whether it were well to marry, replied: All men cannot receive this saying save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb; and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.

According to this, then, emasculation is agreeable to God, and renunciation of love and marriage is a worthy deed. St. Paul, who may be called the founder of Christianity even more so than Jesus himself, St. Paul, who removed this creed from the narrow Jewish sectarianism and gave it its international character, writes to the Corynthians: Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife and let every woman have her own husband.

“Matrimony is a degraded station; to marry is good, not to marry is better.” “Walk in the spirit and resist the temptations of the flesh.” “The flesh conspires against the spirit and the spirit conspires against the “flesh.” They, whom Christ has won, have crucified their flesh with all its, passions and desires. —

He was true to his own views and refrained from marriage. This hatred of flesh is the hatred of woman, but also the fear of woman, who is represented as man’s seducer. In this spirit the apostles and fathers of the church preached; in this same spirit the church used its influence during the entire middle ages, by establishing monasteries and introducing celibacy of priests, and it is still using its influence in the same direction.

According to Christianity woman is impure. She is the seducer who brought sin into the world and wrought man’s destruction. Therefore the apostles and fathers of the church regarded marriage as a necessary evil, as prostitution is regarded at present. Tertullian exclaims: “Woman, you ought to go about clad in mourning and rags, your eyes filled with tears of remorse, to make us forget that you have been mankind’s destruction. Woman, you are the gate to hell!” And: “Celibacy must be chose, even though the human race should perish.” Hieronymus says: “Matrimony is always a vice, all that can be done is to excuse it and to sanctify it; therefore it was made a religious sacrament.” Origines declares: “Matrimony is impure and unholy; a means of sensual passion.” To escape the temptation he emasculated himself. Augustin teaches: “The married people will shine in heaven like radiant stars, while their parents (their procreators) will be like dark stars.” Eusebius and Hieronymus are agreed that the teaching of the Bible: “Be fruitful and multiply,” is no longer suited to the times, and does not concern Christians. Hundreds of similar sayings by the most influential teachers of the church might be quoted, to prove that they all taught in the same spirit. By their continuous teaching and preaching they have disseminated those unnatural views about everything pertaining to sex and the sex relation, which after all is a law of nature, and the fulfillment of which is one of the most important duties in the plan of life. Modern society is still suffering from the effects of these doctrines, and is but slowly recovering from them.

St. Peter exclaims with energy: “Wives, obey your husbands!” St. Paul writes to the Ephesians: “The husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.” And to the Corinthians: “The man is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of the man.”

According to this any fool of a man may deem himself better than the most excellent woman, and as a matter of fact it has been so in practice until this day. Against tile higher education of women St. Paul also raises his Voice. In the first Epistle to Timothy 2, 11, etc., he says: “Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness” ; and in the Epistle to the Corinthians. 14, 34 and 35: “Let the women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak. But let them be in subjection as also saith the law. And if they would learn anything let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for a woman to speak in the church.” St. Thomas of Aquino (1227 to 1274) says: “Woman is a rapidly growing weed, an imperfect being. Her body attains maturity more rapidly only because it is of less value, and nature is engaged less in her making. Women are born to be eternally maintained under the yoke of their lords and masters, endowed by nature with superiority in every respect, and therefore destined to rule.”

Such doctrines are not characteristic of Christianity only. As Christianity is a mixture of Judaism and Greek philosophy, and as both are rooted in the more ancient civilizations of India, Babylon and Egypt, the inferior position alloted to woman by Christianity was common to all the civilized nations of antiquity after the passing of the matriarchate. In the Indian book of laws of Mann we find the following: “The cause of dishonor is woman; the cause of hostility is woman; the cause of worldly things is woman; therefore woman should be shunned.” Beside the degradation of woman, the fear of woman is repeatedly naively expressed. Thus it is further stated in Mann: “Women are ever inclined by nature to seduce men; therefore a man should never, even in the company of his closest female relative, sit in a lonely spot.” The Indian conception, the old testament, and the Christian conception, all unite in declaring woman the seducer. Every condition of oppression entails the degradation of the oppressed. The oppression of woman has been maintained until this day; but among the Oriental peoples, whose social development has been retarded, it has been maintained more rigorously than among the Christian nations. Yet the factor that made for improvement in the position of women among Christian nations was not Christianity itself, but the civilization of the Western countries attained in the struggles against the Christian conception.

Christianity is not the cause that woman’s position is superior to-day to what it had been at the time of the origin of Christianity. Only reluctantly has it been compelled to abandon its true attitude toward woman. They who are enthusiastic over the “redeeming mission of Christianity,” of course, hold a different view. They claim that Christianity has liberated woman from her former degraded position, and they base this claim especially upon the cult of the Holy Virgin, which they consider a token of respect for woman. The Catholic Church which maintains this cult, might hardly share this opinion. The above-quoted savings of the saints and the fathers of the church which could easily be multiplied, all express hostility to woman and marriage. The Council at Macon during the sixth century, which indulged in serious discussion as to whether woman had a soul, and finally decided in her favor by a majority of one, also disproves the claim that Christianity was favorable to women. The introduction of celibacy of priests by Gregory VII,[1] the purpose of which was to create a power by having an unmarried priesthood that would not be withdrawn from the service of the church by any family interests, was made possible only by that fundamental view of the church, that all desires of the flesh are sinful. Many reformers, especially Calvin and the Scotch ministers, have raved so vehemently against the “lust of the flesh,” that they left no doubt in regard to the hostile attitude of Christianity toward, women,[2] By introducing the cult of the Virgin Mary, the Catholic Church, with wise calculation, merely put this cult in place of the cult of the ancient goddesses, that existed among all the peoples who were converted to Christianity at that time. Mary replaced Cybel, Mylitta, Aphrodite and Venus among the Southern nations, and Freia, Frigga and others among the German tribes. She was only endowed with a Christian, spiritual idealism.


1. Among others the parish priests of the Diocese of Mayence thus protested against this ordinance: “You bishops and abbots possess great riches, elegant hunting outfits and enjoy royal banquets; we poor, simple priests have but a wife for our comfort. Abstinence may be a virtue, but it is forsooth severe and hard.” – Yoes Guyot, “Les Theories sociales du Christianisme.”

2. A great many instances in evidence of this are furnished by Buckle in his “History of Civilization in England.”