August Bebel. Woman and Socialism
Woman at the Present Day

Chapter VIII.

1. — Marriage as a Profession.

“Marriage and the family are the foundations of the state. Whoever, therefore, attacks marriage and the family, is attacking society and the state and undermining both.” Thus exclaim the defenders of the present order. Monogamic marriage as has been sufficiently shown, is the outcome of the system of gain and property that has been established by bourgeois society, and therefore undoubtedly forms one of its basic principles. But whether it is adapted to natural needs and to a healthy development of human society is a different question. We will show that this marriage, which depends upon the bourgeois system of property, is a more or less forced relation, having many disadvantages, and frequently fulfilling its purpose only insufficiently or not at all. We will, furthermore, show that it is a social institution which is and remains inattainable to millions of persons, instead of being a free union founded on love, the only union suited to nature’s purposes.

John Stuart Mills says in regard to modern marriage: “Marriage is the only real bondage recognized by law.” According to Kant’s conception man and woman together constitute the perfect human being. Upon a normal union of the sexes the healthy development of mankind depends. Satisfaction of the sexual impulse is essential to the sound physical and mental development of both man and woman. But man has gone beyond the animal stage, and so is not contented by the mere physical satisfaction of his sexual impulse. He requires intellectual attraction as well, and the existence of a certain harmony between himself and the person with whom he enters into union. Where such intellectual harmony fails to exist, the sexual intercourse is purely mechanical and thereby becomes immoral. Men and women of refinement demand a mutual attraction that extends beyond their sexual relations, and that shall have an ennobling effect upon the new beings which may spring from their union.[1] The fact that such a standard of ideals fails to exist in countless present-day marriages caused Varnhagen von Ense to write: “Whatever we saw about us both of marriages already contracted, and of marriages about to be contracted, was not likely to implant in us a good opinion of such unions. On the contrary; the entire institution which is supposed to be founded on mutual love and respect and is instead founded on anything but that, seemed coarse and despicable to us, and we fully agreed with Friedrich Schlegel, whose opinion on this subject we found expressed in the fragments of ‘Antheneum’: Almost all marriages are concubinages; they are at best remote approaches to the true marriage, which should be a blending of two persons into one.” This is quite in keeping with the views of Kant.

The joy in having progeny and the responsibility toward same makes the relation of love existing between two persons one of longer duration. A couple desirous of entering marriage should therefore carefully consider whether their respective traits of character are suited to their union. The answer to this grave question ought to be unbiased. But that is only possible by the exclusion of every other interest that has no direct bearing on the purpose of the union, satisfaction of the sexual impulse and propagation of one’s own personality by means of propagation of the race, guided by a certain measure of insight that controls blind passion. As these conditions fail to be observed in a tremendous number of cases in present-day society, it is evident that modern marriage frequently fails to fulfill its true object and that we are not justified in regarding it as an ideal institution.

How many marriages are contracted on an entirely different basis than the one described above cannot be demonstrated. The parties concerned like to have their marriage appear different from what it really is. Here a condition of hypocrisy presents itself, such as no previous social period has known in a similar degree. The state, the political representative of society, has no inclination to institute investigations that would cast an unfavorable light upon society. The state itself marries its officials and servants according to maxims that cannot be measured by the standard that should constitute the foundation of true marriage.

2. — Decline of the Birthrate.

Marriage, in order to realize the purpose of nature, should be a union founded on mutual love. But this motive is rarely met with unalloyed under present conditions. To the great majority of women, marriage is a means of livelihood that they must obtain at any cost. On the other hand, a great many men regard marriage from a purely commercial point of view, weighing and considering its material advantages and disadvantages. Even those marriages that are not based on selfish, sordid motives, are frequently marred and broken up by the harsh realities of life. Only rarely those hopes are realized that were held by a man and woman prior to their marriage. That is only natural. For in order to lead a contented married life not only mutual love and respect are required, but economic security as well; that is, a certain measure of the necessities and comforts of life in order to satisfy the needs of man and wife and their children. Material cares and the cruel struggle for existence are destructive to marital contentment and happiness. But these material cares increase with the increasing number of offspring; in other words, the better marriage fulfills its natural object, the greater become these cares. The peasant, for instance, takes pleasure in every new calf that his cow brings forth, he cheerfully counts his stickling pigs and relates the good news of their arrival to his neighbors. But he looks somber when a new baby is added to the number of children that he feels able to support without care — not a large number, forsooth — and he looks doubly somber if the newly-born babe has the ill fortune of being a girl.

We may say then that both marriages and births are controlled by economic conditions. This is especially evident in France where agriculture is carried on by a division of the land into small lots, the products of which are not sufficient to support a large family. The famous, or notorious, French system of having no more than two children, a system that has developed into a social institution in France, is the result. In many provinces the population is accordingly almost stationary, while in others there has been a marked decline. The same results that the methods of farming have produced in the rural districts, have been produced in the cities by industry. In fact, the birthrate is declining even more rapidly in the cities.

The number of births is constantly decreasing in France, in spite of the fact that the number of marriages is increasing. This is true not only of France, but of the majority of civilized countries. This fact points to a development produced by our social conditions that should make the ruling classes think. In T881, 937,057 children were born in France; in 19o6, 806,847, and in 1907, only 773,969. In 1907, 163,088 fewer children were born than in 1881. It is a noteworthy fact that the number of illegitimate births did not decrease. There were 70, 079 of these in 1881; during the period from 1881 to 1890 they attained their highest figure, 75,754, and in 1906 there still were 70,866. The decline of the birthrate then was confined entirely to the legitimate births. During the entire century a decline of the birthrate was noticeable. The following table shows the number of births for every thousand inhabitants of France during more than a century:

1801-1810 332 1841-1850 273 1891-1900 221
1811-1820 316 1851-1860 262 1905 206
1821-1830 308 1861-1870 261 1906 206
1831-1840 290 1881-1890 239 1907 197

This represents a decline of 135 births for every thousand inhabitants from 1801 to 1907. It is natural that this symptom is a cause of much concern to French statesmen and economists. But the problem is not confined to France. Since a long time the same phenomenon may be observed in Germany, especially in Saxony, where the decline of the birthrate has been even more rapid. In Germany there were the following number of births for every thousand inhabitants:

1875 423 1890 370 1905 340
1880 391 1895 373 1906 341
1885 385 1900 368 1907 332

The majority of the other European countries present a similar condition, as the following table shows:


For every 1,000 inhabitants
England & Wales 35.4 32.5 29.9 28.1 26.3
Scotland 34.9 32.3 30.2 28.9 27.0
Ireland 26.5 23.4 23 23.2 23.2
Sweden 30.5 29.1 27.2 26.1 25.5
Italy 36.9 37.8 34.9 32.6 31.5
Austria 39.0 37.9 37.1 35.8 35.0
Hungary 44.3 44.0 40.6 37.2 36.0
Belgium 32.3 30.2 39.0 27.7 25.7
Switzerland 30.8 28.1 28.1 28.1 26.8
Netherlands 36.2 34.2 32.5 31.5 30.0

The decline of the birthrate then is a general one, and though France and Ireland show the lowest figures, the decline is most rapid in England, Germany and Scotland. We meet with the same phenomenon in the United States and Australia. The fact presents itself still more strikingly if we proceed to compare the number of births with the number of married women between the 15th and 49th year of age:

DECADES Eng. & Wales Scotland Ireland Denmark Norway Sweden Finland Austria Hungary Switzerland
1876 to 1885 250 271 250 44 262 240 59 246 234 239
1886 to 1895 259 255 245 235 259 231 246 250 235 230
1896 to 1905 203 235 264 217 246 219 244 242 216 225
DECADES German Emp. Prussia Bavaria Saxony Wurttemberg Baden Netherlands Belgium France Italy
1876 to 1885 268 273 276 267 288 266 293 264 167 248
1886 to 1895 258 265 263 250 259 248 286 236 150 249
1896 to 1905 243 250 259 216 262 251 272 213 132 225

The above enumerated facts go to prove that the birth of a human being, “God’s image,” as religious persons say, is, on an average, estimated below the value of a newly-born domestic animal.

In many respects our views differ but slightly from those of barbarian people. Among the latter, newly-born children were often killed. This fate especially befell the girls. Among some living savages the same custom still prevails. We do not kill the girls; we are too civilized for that, but frequently we treat them as parias. Man, being the stronger, everywhere represses woman in the struggle for existence, and if she still persists in the struggle, she is often persecuted by the stronger sex as an undesirable competitor. Men of the upper classes are especially bitter against female competition. Among workingmen the demand to exclude women from the trades is voiced only rarely. When a resolution formulating such a demand was presented at a congress of French workingmen in 1876, it was voted down by a large majority. Since that time the conviction that the working woman is a fellow being entitled to equal rights and privileges, has grown among the class-conscious workingmen of all countries. The resolutions passed by international workingmen’s congresses prove this. The class-conscious workingman knows that present industrial conditions compel woman to enter into competition with man. He also knows, that an attempt to exclude woman from industry would be as futile as an attempt to forbid the use of machinery. Therefore he endeavors to instruct woman in regard to her position in society and to enlist her aid in the struggle for freedom of the proletariat against capitalism.

3. — Mercenary Marriage and the Matrimonial Market.

Modern society has undoubtedly advanced beyond any previous stage of development, but our conceptions concerning the relation of the sexes has in many respects remained unchanged. In 1876 Prof. L. v. Stein published a book on “Woman in the Field of Political Economy,” that is not suited to its title, since it merely draws a very poetically tinted picture of marriage. But this picture clearly shows the submissive position of woman in her relation to the “lion,” man. Stein writes: “Man desires a being who not only loves him but also understands him. He seeks one who is not only devoted to him, but whose soft hand smoothes the wrinkles on his forehead; who brings into his life peace, calm, order, gentle self-control, and all the many little comforts of life to which he returns daily. He needs some one to enhance all these things with the inexpressible charm of womanliness, imparting warmth and joy to his home.”

Beneath this apparent praise of woman lurks her degradation and the egotism of man. The professor depicts woman as a dainty creature, endowed nevertheless with the needful knowledge of arithmetic to keep the household accounts well balanced, caressing like a gentle spring breeze the master of the house, the ruling lion, and with her soft hand smoothing the wrinkles from his forehead, that perhaps have appeared there from brooding over his own stupidity. The professor depicts woman and marriage such as barely one among a hundred actually exist.

About the many thousand unhappy marriages, about the great number of women to whom it is never given to attain marriage, and about the millions of women who must slave beside their husbands from morning till night to earn their daily bread, he seems to see and know nothing whatever. All these marriages are stripped of poetry by the harsh reality of life, more quickly than a careless hand strips the colored dust from a butterfly’s wing. One glance at those countless women sufferers would have greatly marred, the professor’s poetically tinted picture.

The women he observes only constitute a small minority, and it is doubtful whether they represent an advanced type.

There is a frequently quoted saying, that the degree of civilization attained by a nation may be measured by the position of its women. We uphold the justice of this saying. But upon applying this standard we find that our highly lauded civilization does not amount to much. In his book on the “Subjection of Women” — the title shows the conception of the position of woman held by the author — John Stuart Mills says: “Men have become more domesticated. Increasing civilization has put more fetters on man in regard to woman.” That is true to some extent wherever an honest marriage relation exists between husband and wife. But to a considerably large minority it does not apply. Intelligent men will recognize, that it is to their own advantage, if women are drawn out into the world from their narrow domestic sphere, and are given an opportunity to become acquainted with the great problems of the day. The “fetters” that are thereby placed on him, are not hard to bear. On the other hand, the question arises whether modern life has not brought new factors into the matrimonial relation that are more apt to destroy marriage than any previously known.

Marriage has become an object of material calculation in a marked degree. The man who wishes to marry, in seeking to obtain a wife , also seeks to obtain property. That was the chief reason why daughters, who were at first excluded from the right of inheritance when the patriarchal system came into power, were at an early period reinstated to this right. But never before was the marriage market as openly and cynically displayed as to-day; never before was marriage regarded in the same degree as a simple speculation, a mere financial transaction. At present match-making is frequently carried on so shamelessly, that the often-repeated phrase about the “sanctity of marriage” becomes a farce. Still, for this fact, as for all others, an explanation can be found. At no previous time was it so difficult for the great majority of people to accumulate a modest fortune, as it is at present, and at no previous time was the striving for a decent livelihood and the enjoyment of life so general. Those who do not attain the aim they have set for themselves feel their disappointment all the more keenly, because all believe to have the same right to enjoyment. No formal difference of class or caste exists. Everyone hopes to attain some aim that seems attainable in accordance with his station in life. But many are called and few are chosen. In order that one may live in comfort, twenty others must live in want; and in order that one may revel in luxury, hundreds or thousands must dwell in poverty. But everyone is eager to be one of the favored few, and accordingly resorts to all means that are likely to lead him to his goal. One of the simplest and most accessible means of attaining a privileged social position is a mercenary marriage. In this way the desire for money, on the one side, and the desire for social rank and title, on the other, obtain mutual satisfaction among the upper classes of society. Here marriage is degraded to a business transaction. It becomes a conventional union that both sides respect outwardly, while secretly both all too often follow their own inclinations.[2]

In every large city there are certain places where upon definite days members of the upper classes come together, chiefly for the purpose of match-making. Rightly have these reunions been called the “matrimonial market”; for just as on the stock market, speculation and barter dominate, and not infrequently fraud and deception enter into the dealings. Here we find officers of the army, over head and ears in debt, but possessing some ancient title of nobility; roués, weakened by a life of debauchery, who seek a wife to nurse them and hope to mend their shattered health in marriage; manufacturers, merchants and bankers, who are at the verge of bankruptcy, sometimes at the verge of imprisonment and who wish to be saved, and public officials who have prospects of promotion, but are in need of money; here they come as customers and conclude the marriage bargain. In these marriages it frequently is deemed quite immaterial whether the future wife is young or old, pretty or ugly, well-built or deformed, educated or ignorant, pious or frivolous, a Christian or a Jewess, provided that she has money. Money redeems all faults and compensates for the lack of anything else. According to the German law, procurers are severely punished by imprisonment. But when parents or guardians barter their children or relatives to some unloved man or woman for life, for the sake of wealth, social position or some other advantage, no public prosecutor may interfere, and yet a crime has been committed. There are many well-organized matrimonial agencies, and any number of procurers and procuresses who are searching candidates for the “sacred wedded state.” These transactions are especially profitable when performed in the interest of members of the upper classes. In 1878 a procuress was tried in Vienna who had been accused of being an accomplice in murder, and was finally sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment. Among other things the trial revealed that the former French ambassador to Vienna, Count Banneville, had paid this woman 22,000 guilders for procuring a wife for him. Other members of the aristocracy were also involved in this trial. For years the authorities had permitted this woman to ply her criminal trade unmolested. In the capital of the German Empire similar occurrences were reported. They are met with wherever there are persons seeking to contract mercenary marriages. During the last few decades the daughters and heiresses of American millionaires have become special objects of desire to the pauperized European nobility. These American women, on the other hand, have exchanged their millions for the rank and title that are unknown in their own country. A number of communications, published in the German press during the fall of 1889, contained some characteristic information on this subject. According to this a German nobleman living in California had offered his services as a match-maker by advertising in German and Austrian papers. The offers he received in return clearly show the conceptions prevailing in the circles concerned, in regard to the sanctity of marriage and its ethical side. Two Prussian army officers, members of an ancient nobility, sought his services, and frankly stated as the reason of their doing so, the fact, that together they owed over 15,000 dollars. In their letter to the procurer they literally wrote: “It is self-understood that we cannot pay anything in advance. You will receive your remuneration immediately after the wedding journey. Only recommend ladies to us whose families are in no wise objectionable. We would also consider it very desirable to meet ladies who are particularly good-looking. If required, we will give your agent our photographs, who can also give us further details, show us the ladies’ photographs, etc. We regard this whole transaction as an affair of honor (!) and expect the same of you. We expect an early reply through your agent on this side.

“Baron v. M ... ...
“Baron v. W ... ...
“Berlin, Frederick St. 107, Dec. 15, 1889.”

A young German nobleman, Hans v. H wrote from London that he were five foot ten, of ancient nobility, and employed in diplomatic service. He confessed that his fortune had been greatly diminished by unsuccessful betting at the races, and that he was there fore compelled to seek a rich wife. “I am prepared,” he wrote, “to come to the United States immediately.” The German-American nobleman asserted that besides a number of counts, barons, etc., he had counted among his customers three princes and sixteen dukes. Some men who were not the proud possessors of a title bargained for American heiresses likewise. An architect, Max W. from Leipsic, asked for a fiancée who must be rich, beautiful and cultured. A young manufacturer, Robert D., from Kehl on the Rhine, wrote that he would content himself with a fiancée owning 100,000 dollars, and promised in advance that he would make her happy. But we need not took far to find further instances of this sort. We need but glance at the matrimonial advertisements in many of our capitalistic papers to recognize them as the outward signs of degrading views. The prostitute who plies her trade as a result of bitter need is morally superior to these marriage seekers. The editor of a Socialist paper who should venture to publish such advertisements would be expelled from his party. The capitalistic press does not hesitate to publish such advertisements, because they pay. But that does not prevent this same press from railing against the Socialistic principles as being destructive of marriage. No age has been more hypocritical than ours. Most of these newspapers are nothing more or less than matrimonial agencies. One might fill entire pages with clippings taken from leading newspapers on a single day. Sometimes the interesting fact is revealed, that even ministers are sought in this way and that ministers also resort to this method to seek wives. Sometimes the applicants even consent to overlook a moral blemish, provided that the girl is rich. The moral degradation of certain strata of society could not be more vividly exposed than by this sort of marriage.


1. “The sentiments and feelings with which husband and wife approach one another undoubtedly have a decisive influence upon the effects of sexual intercourse and transmit certain traits of character upon the being that is coming into existence.” Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. “The Moral Education of the Young in Relation to Sex.” — See also Goethe’s “Affinity,” where he distinctly shows the effects of the feelings that prompt two human beings to intimate intercourse.

2. For the sake of completeness we must also mention marriage for political reasons as contracted in the highest circles. In these marriages the right is also silently conceded to the man to follow his own inclinations outside of his marriage. There was a time when rulers considered it good form, a sort of royal attribute, to have at least one mistress. Thus, according to Sherr, King Frederick William I of Prussia, otherwise noted for his temperate life, maintained an intimate relation with the wife of a general. It is well known that King August of Poland and Saxony had almost 300 illegitimate children, and that King Victor Emanuel of Italy left 32 illegitimate children. In the picturesquely situated little capital of a German principality there still stood not many years ago about a dozen beautiful villas that had been erected by the ruler for his abdicated mistresses. One might write volumes on this subject; in fact, an extensive collection of books exists that deal mainly with these piquant occurrences. In view of these facts it is indeed very necessary that sycophantical historians should strive to present the various fathers and mothers of their countries as models of domestic virtue, as faithful husbands and devoted mothers. The augurs are not yet extinct. They fatten, as in the days of Rome, upon the ignorance of the masses.