August Bebel. Woman and Socialism
State and Society

Chapter XVI.
The Class-State and the Modern Proletariat.

1. – Our Public Life.

The development of society has been a very rapid one in all civilized states of the world during recent decades, and any new achievement in any realm of human activity still hastens this development. Thereby our social conditions have been put into a state of unrest, fermentation and dissolution, the like of which had never been known before. The feeling of security of the ruling classes has been shaken, and the institutions are losing their old stability whereby they might resist the attacks that are made upon them from all sides. A feeling of discomfort, insecurity and dissatisfaction has taken possession of all strata of society, the highest as well as the lowest. The tremendous exertions made by the ruling classes to re move this unbearable state of affairs by patching and mending the body social, prove useless because they are insufficient. They only increase their sense of insecurity and heighten their discomfort and unrest. They have scarcely inserted one beam into the dilapidated structure in the form of some legislation, when they discover a dozen other decayed spots that require repairs stilt more urgently. At the same time they have constant quarrels and serious differences of opinion among themselves. A measure introduced by one party to appease the growing dissatisfaction of the masses, is condemned by the other party as an unpardonable weakness and leniency that is bound to stimulate a desire for still greater concessions. That is clearly seen by the endless discussions in all parliaments, whereby new laws and institutions are constantly being introduced without attaining any state of rest and satisfaction. Among the ruling classes themselves certain extreme differences exist, some of which are insurmountable, and these still intensify the social conflict.

The governments – and not only those in Germany – sway to and fro like reeds shaken by the wind. They must lean on something, for they cannot exist without a support, and so they incline first toward one side and then toward another. There is hardly a progressive state in Europe in which the government can count upon a permanent majority in parliament. Social extremes break up the majorities; and the constant fluctuations of the market, especially in Germany, undermine the last remnant of confidence that the ruling classes still placed in themselves. To-day one party is in control and tomorrow another. What the one has constructed with much difficulty is torn down by the other. The confusion increases, the dissatisfaction becomes more lasting, the struggles multiply and wear out more human strength in a few months than formerly in an equal number of years. Besides, the material demands, in the form of various taxes, are constantly increasing, and there is no limit to the public debts.

The modern state is by its very nature a class-state. We have seen how it became necessary to protect private property and to regulate, by means of laws and institutions, the relations of the proprietors to one another and to the non-possessors. Whatever forms the appropriation of property may assume in the course of historical development, it is established by the very nature of private property that the greatest proprietors are the most powerful persons in the state and shape it in accordance with their interests. It is, furthermore, established by the nature of private property that an individual can never obtain enough of same and employs all available means in order to increase it. He therefore endeavors so to shape the state that it may best enable him to attain his ends. Thereby laws and institutions of the state naturally develop into class laws and class institutions. But the powers of the state, and all who are interested in maintaining the present order, would not be able to uphold it long against the mass of those who are not interested in its maintenance, if this mass would recognize the true nature of existing conditions. This recognition must therefore be prevented at any cost. The masses must be maintained in ignorance concerning the nature of existing conditions. They must be taught that the present order has always existed and will always continue to exist, that seeking to overturn it, means to rebel against the institutions of God himself. That is why religion is made to serve this purpose. The more ignorant and superstitious the masses are, the more favorable are the circumstances to the ruling classes. To maintain them in ignorance and superstition is in the interest of the state; that is, in the interest of those classes who regard the state as an institution to protect their class privileges. These are, besides the propertied class, the hierarchy of church and state, who all unite in the common task of protecting their interests.

But, with the endeavor to win possessions and with the increased number of possessors, the general status of civilization is raised to a higher level. The circle of those increases who seek to participate in the fruits of progress and who succeed in so doing to a certain degree. A new class arises on a new basis. It is not regarded by the ruling class as being entitled to equal rights, but is prepared to venture anything in order to attain equality. Finally new class struggles arise and even violent revolutions, whereby the new class obtains recognition and power. Especially by espousing the cause of the mass of the oppressed and exploited, it attains the victory with their aid.

But as soon as the new class has come into power it unites with its former enemies against its former allies, and after some time class struggles begin anew. The new ruling class has meanwhile imprinted the entire body social with the character of its means of subsistence; but as it can increase its power and its possessions only by letting a part of its achievements fall to the share of the class that it oppresses and exploits, it thereby heightens the ability and understanding of that class. By so doing, the ruling class furnishes the oppressed class with the weapons that shall achieve its own destruction. The struggle of the masses now becomes directed against all class rule, in whatever form it may exist.

This last class is the modern proletariat, and its historical mission will be not only to achieve its own liberation, but also the liberation of all who are oppressed, which includes the liberation of woman.

The nature of the class state not only involves the political oppression of the exploited classes, it also involves that they are made to bear the heaviest burdens for the maintenance of the state. That is made easy when the burdens are imposed in such a manner that their true character is concealed. It is obvious that high direct taxes must foster a rebellious spirit if the income of those on whom they are imposed is a small one. Wisdom therefore bids the ruling classes to be moderate in this respect, and to introduce a system of indirect taxation instead by placing a tax on the most necessary commodities. Thereby the taxes are paid for in the price of the commodities in an invisible way, and the majority remain ignorant as to the amount of taxes that they actually pay. To what extent the consumer is taxed on bread, salt, meat, sugar, coffee, beer, oil, etc., is difficult to calculate, and most persons have no idea to what extent they are fleeced. These taxes weigh heaviest on large families; they are therefore the most unjust form of taxation imaginable. On the other hand, the possessing classes pride themselves on the direct taxes that they pay, and by the height of these taxes they measure the political rights that they enjoy and that they withhold from the non-possessing classes. Moreover, the possessing classes provide aid and assistance from the state for themselves by means of the tariff and other institutions that amount to millions of dollars annually at the expense of the masses, The masses are furthermore exploited by the increased cost of living as a result of capitalistic organization and the formation of trusts; these the state either favors by its policy or suffers to exist, and in some cases it even supports them by actual participation.

As long as the masses can be kept in ignorance concerning the nature of all these measures, they in no way endanger the state or the ruling social order. But as soon as the exploited classes become conscious of their exploitation – and the growing political education of the masses enables them to become so – the glaring injustice of these measures arouses bitterness and indignation. The last spark of confidence in a sense of justice of the ruling powers is destroyed. The true nature of the state that resorts to such measures, the true nature of the society that favors them, become recognized. The struggle for the ultimate destruction of both is the result.

In their endeavor to do justice to the most conflicting interests, state and society organize one institution upon another, but no old one is thoroughly removed and no new one is thoroughly carried out. Half measures are resorted to that fail to satisfy anyone. The new requirements of civilization that have grown up among the people require some consideration, if the powers that be are not to risk everything. To meet these requirements even insufficiently entails a considerable expense, all the more so because there are a number of parasites everywhere. But alongside of these new institutions all the old institutions that are averse to the purposes of civilization are maintained. As a result of social extremes they are even expanded and become all the more troublesome and oppressive, because increasing knowledge and judgment loudly proclaim them to be superfluous. The police department, the army, the courts, the prisons, all are extended and become more expensive; but thereby neither the outward nor the inward security is strengthened; rather the contrary takes place.

A highly unnatural condition has gradually developed in regard to the international relations of nations to one another. These relations increase with the growing production of commodities, with the increased exchange of commodities that is constantly made easier by improved methods of distribution, and by the fact that economic and scientific achievements are becoming the common property of all nations. Trade and customs treaties are made, and, with the aid of international means, expensive thoroughfares are constructed. (The Suez Canal, the St. Gothard Tunnel, etc.) Individual states support steamship lines that help to increase the traffic between various countries of the globe. The Postal Union was formed – a marked progress in civilization – international congresses are held for various practical and scientific purposes; the mental products of the several nations are disseminated among all the civilized nations of the world by translation into their respective languages, and by all these international activities the ideal of the brotherhood of man is fostered and increased. But the political and military condition of Europe and the rest of the civilized world forms a striking contradiction to this development. jingoism and national hostilities are artificially fostered here and there. Everywhere the ruling classes seek to maintain the belief that the people are brimful of hostile feeling toward one another and are only waiting for an opportunity to attack and destroy each other. The competitive struggle of the capitalist classes of the various countries among themselves, becomes international, and assumes the character of a struggle of the capitalist class of one country against the capitalist class of another country. This struggle, supported by the political blindness of the masses, causes the nations to vie with one another in warlike preparations the like of which the world has never seen before. This rivalry created armies of a prodigious size; it created tools of murder and destruction for warfare on land and sea of such perfection, as could be made possible only by our age of advanced technical development. This rivalry creates a development of the means of destruction that finally leads to self-destruction. The maintenance of the armies and navies necessitates an immense expense that grows with every year and is ultimately bound to ruin the wealthiest nation. During the year 1908 Germany alone spent over 15 million marks ($3,750,000) for its army and navy, including the expenses for pensions and the interest on the national debt, as far as same had been contracted for military purposes, and this sum is increasing annually. The following list, compiled by Neymarck, shows the combined military expenses of the European states:

1866. 1870. 1887. 1906.

Army and navy 3,000 3,000 4,500 6,725

National debts 66,000 75,000 117,000 148,000

Interest 2,400 3,000 5,300 6,000[1]

As shown by this list, Europe spends 6,725 million francs ($1,362,000,000) annually for armies and navies, and 6,000 million francs (1,215,000,000) interest on debts that have mostly been incurred to serve warlike purposes. A fine state of affairs, indeed!

America and Asia have begun to follow the example set by Europe. The United States spent $967,000,000 in 1875, and $3,592,250,000 in 1907 and 19o8. In Japan the expenses for army and navy, including the pensions, amounted to $51,250,000 in 1875 and to $551,000,000 in 1908 and 1909.

As a result of these expenses objects of education and civilization are grievously neglected. The expenses for external defense predominate and undermine the true purpose of the state. The growing armies comprise the healthiest and strongest elements of the nation, and for their education and training all physical and mental forces are employed, as if training for wholesale murder were the most important mission of our age. At the same time the tools of warfare and murder are constantly being improved. They have attained such a degree of perfection in regard to speed, range, and force of destruction, that they have become a terror alike to friend and foe. If this tremendous apparatus should be set in motion – which would imply that the warring European forces would take the field with from 16 to 20 million men – it would be seen that it has become uncontrollable and indirigible. No general can command such masses; no battlefield is large enough to draw them up; no administration can provide for their maintenance during any length of time. In case a battle had taken place there would not be sufficient hospitals to care for the wounded, and to bury the dead would become almost impossible. If we furthermore take into consideration what disturbances and devastations would be wrought by a European war on the field of economics, we may say, without fear of exaggeration: The next war will be the last war. The number of failures in business would exceed all previous records. The export trade would come to a standstill and thousands of factories would accordingly be forced to shut down. The supply of provisions would run short, whereby the cost of living would be enormously increased. It would require millions of dollars to support the families whose bread-winners had gone to war. But whence should come the means to meet all these prodigious expenses? At present the German empire alone spends from eleven to twelve million dollars daily to maintain its army and navy in readiness for war.

The political and military status of Europe has taken a trend of development that may easily end with a catastrophe by which bourgeois society will be engulfed. On the height of its development this society has created conditions which make its own existence untenable. Itself the most revolutionary society that has hitherto existed, it has furnished the means for its own destruction.

In a great many of our municipalities a desperate state of affairs gradually begins to prevail, since it becomes almost impossible to satisfy the annually increasing demands. These demands are especially heavy in our rapidly growing large cities and industrial centers, and most of them cannot meet the demands made upon them in any other way than by raising the taxes and by borrowing. Schools, building of streets, illumination, water-works, sanitation, educational and welfare work, police and administration entail constantly increasing expenses. Besides, the well-to-do minority makes very heavy demands on the community. Higher institutions of learning are demanded, the building of museums and theatres, the laying out of fine residential districts and parks, with appropriate illumination, pavement, etc. The majority of the population may object to these privileges, but they are an innate part of the nature of conditions. The minority are in power and they use this power to satisfy their requirements of civilization at the expense of the community. These increased requirements are justified, too, for they represent progress. Their only shortcoming is that they are mainly enjoyed by the possessing classes alone, while they ought to be for the common enjoyment of all. Another evil is that the administrations are often expensive without being good. Not infrequently the officials are incompetent and lack proper understanding; while town or city councillors are generally so much engaged with the care for their private existence that they are unable to make the sacrifices that a thorough performance of their duties would require. Often public positions are used to further private interests to the detriment of the community. The tax-payers must bear the consequences. A thorough and satisfactory reform of these conditions cannot be attained by present-day society. In whatever form the taxes may be levied, the dissatisfaction increases. In a few decades most of the municipalities will be unable to satisfy their demands by the present form of taxation and administration. In the municipalities, as in the state, the need of a thoroughgoing transformation becomes manifest. In fact, the greatest demands for purposes of civilization are made upon them; they form the nucleus from which the social transformation will proceed as soon as the will and power for such transformation exist. But how shall this be attained while private interests control everything and public interests are of secondary importance?

This is, briefly stated, the condition of our public life, which is but a reflection of the social condition of society as a whole.

2. – Aggravation of Social Extremes.

In present-day life the struggle for existence is becoming increasingly difficult. The war of all against all – is raging and is waged relentlessly, often without any discrimination in the methods employed. The French saying: “Ote-toi de la, que je m’y mette” (get out of there that I may take your place), is practiced in actual life. The weak must make way for the strong. If the material force of money, of property, does not suffice, the meanest methods are resorted to that a desired aim may be attained. Lies, fraud and deception, forgery and perjury, the worst crimes are committed for this end. As one individual is arrayed against another in this warfare, thus we find class against class, sex against sex, age against age. Advantage is the only arbiter of human relations; every other consideration is set aside. As soon as advantage requires it, thousands upon thousands of workingmen and women are cast out into the street, and become public charges or enforced vagabonds. In masses workers wander from place to place through the length and breadth of the land, and society fears and despises them more and more as the duration of their unemployment makes their external appearance more shabby, and, eventually, also demoralizes their character. Respectable society does not know what it means to do without the simplest requirements of order and cleanliness for months, to wander about with an empty stomach, and to reap nothing but ill-disguised disgust and contempt from those who are the upholders of this system. The families of these unfortunates suffer the hardest privations and become dependent on public charity. Sometimes despair drives parents to awful crimes against their children and themselves, to murder and suicide. Especially during hard times these deeds of despair increase to an appalling degree. But the ruling classes are not perturbed by such occurrences. The same editions of the daily papers that report such deeds, caused by poverty and despair, also contain reports of festive revelries and glittering official pageants, as if there were joy and abundance everywhere.

The general need and the increasingly difficult struggle for existence drive more and more women and girls into lives of degradation and ruin. Demoralization, brutality and crime increase, while the prisons, the penitentiaries and the so-called reformatories can hardly contain the mass of their inmates.

Crime is closely connected with social conditions. Society does not wish to admit this fact. Like the ostrich, that conceals its head in the sand not to see approaching danger, we deceive ourselves in regard to these conditions that should lead to self-accusation. We try to persuade ourselves that it is all due to laziness, love of pleasure and lack of piety on the part of the workingmen. This is self-delusion and hypocrisy of the worst kind. As social conditions grow more unfavorable for a majority of the population, crimes become more numerous and more severe. The struggle for existence assumes its most cruel and violent. form and creates a condition in which men regard one another as mortal enemies. Social bonds are severed and human beings treat each other with hostility.[2]

The ruling classes who do not see, nor wish to see, to the bottom of things, seek to remedy these evils in their own way. When poverty and need increase, and, as a result, demoralization and crime increase likewise, the source of the evil is not sought out in order to plug up this source, but the products of these conditions are punished. As the evils grow and the number of evildoers increases, persecutions and penalties are made more severe. The belief seems to be that the devil can be driven out by Satan. Even Professor Haeckel deems it justifiable to punish crime with severe penalties and to resort to capital punishment.[3] On this point he is fully agreed with reactionaries of all shades who otherwise are his mortal enemies. Haeckel holds the opinion that incorrigible criminals and wrong-doers should be exterminated like weeds that rob the plants of air, light and the soil to grow in. If Haeckel had devoted himself partly to the study of social sciences instead of devoting himself to the natural sciences exclusively, he would know that these criminals could be transformed into useful members of human society, if society would offer them the needful conditions of existence. He would know that the extermination of individual criminals would no more prevent the perpetuation of new crimes, than weeds could be prevented from growing while their roots or their seeds remained. Man will never be able to prevent absolutely the formation of harmful organisms in nature. But he will be able so to improve the social order that he himself has created, that the conditions of existence shall be favorable to all, that each individual shall be enabled to develop freely, and shall no longer be.. compelled to satisfy his hunger, his desire for possessions, or his ambitions, at the expense of others.[4]

They who seek to remove crime by removing its causes cannot favor violent methods of repression. They cannot prevent society from protecting itself in its own way against criminal., – whom it can, of course, not give free scope, but they demand all the more urgently a transformation of society that would mean a removal of the causes of crime.

The connection between social conditions and misdemeanors and crimes has frequently been shown by statisticians and political economists.[5] One of the most frequent misdemeanors, that is regarded as a misdemeanor by our society, in spite of all its Christian teachings about charity – is mendicancy. In connection with this subject the statistics of the Kingdom of Saxony teach us that the increase of the great crisis that began in Germany in 1890, and attained its height from 1892 to 1893, the number of persons punished for mendicancy increased likewise. During 1890 the number of persons punished for this misdemeanor was 8,815; during 1891, 10,075, and during 1892, 13,120. Similar facts were observed in Austria, where, during 1891, 90,926 persons were convicted of mendicancy and vagrancy, and 98,998 persons during 1892.[6] This is a considerable increase.

Pauperization of the masses on the one hand and increasing wealth on the other is the stamp of our period. The trend of present-day development may be well judged from the fact that in the United States five men – John D. Rockefeller, the late Harriman, J. Pierpont Morgan, W. K. Vanderbilt, and G. J. Gould – in the year 1900, owned together over 800,000,000 dollars, and that they possessed sufficient influence to control the economic life of the United States and partly also that of Europe. In all civilized countries the large combinations of capitalists form the most noteworthy phenomenon of the recent period and are constantly gaining more social and political importance.


1. A. Neymarck – “La Statistique internationale des valeurs mobiliers.” “Bulletin de l’institut international de statistique.” Copenhagen, 1908.

2. Plato already recognized the results of such conditions. He wrote: “A state in which classes exist is not one single state but two. The poor form one, and the rich form the other. Both dwell together, but always way-lay one another. Finally the ruling class becomes unable to wage a war, for then it depends upon the masses whom, when armed, it fears more than the enemy.” – Plato, “The State.” Aristotle says: “Widespread poverty is an evil, for it can hardly be prevented that such persons become promoters of disorder.”

3. “Natural History of the Creation.”

4. A similar thought is expressed by Plato in his “State”: “Crimes are caused by ignorance, by bad education and institutions of the state,” Plato was better acquainted with the nature of society than many of his learned followers two thousand and three hundred years later. That is not very encouraging.

5. M. Sursky – “New facts concerning the economic causes of crime.” “New Era.”

6. H. Herz – “Crime and Criminals in Austria.” The author says: “The prevailing economic status must be taken into consideration in the judgment of crime. The organization of production and consumption and the distribution of wealth has a marked influence on crime in many ways.”