Woman and Socialism. August Bebel


We have shown, in the course of our argumentation, that the realization of Socialism does not imply arbitrary destruction and construction, but a process of historical evolution. All factors active in the process of destruction, on the one hand, and in the process of construction on the other, act as they are bound to act. Neither “brilliant statesmen,” nor “demagogues who incite the people,” can direct matters at their will. They believe that they are pushing, and are being pushed, themselves. But the day of fulfilment is not distant.

In the course of these expositions, we have frequently referred to an over-production of goods that leads to crises, a phenomenon peculiar to bourgeois society, that was not met with at any previous stage of development.

But bourgeois society does not only create an overproduction of goods and workers, but also an over-production of intelligence. Germany is the classic land where this over-production of intelligence takes place on a large scale, intelligence that the bourgeois world no longer knows how to employ. A condition that has for centuries been regarded as a misfortune to German development, has been instrumental in producing this phenomenon. It was the great number of small states that impeded the development of capitalism on a large scale. The large number of small states decentralized the intellectual life of the nation by creating many small centers of intellectual life, that exercised their influence upon the whole country. In comparison with a single central government the numerous states required a very large official apparatus, for whose members a higher education was needful. So a larger number of high schools and universities sprang up than in any other European country. The ambition and jealousy of the various governments played an important part in this development. It was the same when some of the governments began to introduce obligatory public education. In these instances the desire not to be excelled by the neighboring state has had a good effect. The demand for intelligence rose when increasing education, hand in hand with the material advance of the bourgeoisie, awoke a desire for political action, for popular representation and self-government. The governmental bodies were small and represented only small countries and districts, but they caused the sons of the upper classes to covet seats in them and to adapt their education accordingly.

As it was with science, so with art. No other country of Europe has, in proportion to its size, so large a number of artists, so many art-schools and technical schools, so many museums and art collections, as Germany. Other countries may have a greater accumulation of art in their capitals, but no other country possesses such a distribution of art throughout its entire realm. Only Italy can vie with it.

This entire development led to a deepening of the German intellect. The absence of great political struggles gave people time and leisure, as it were, to lead a contemplative life. While other nations wrestled for the control of the world market, divided the earth among themselves, and carried on great internal political struggles, the Germans quietly remained at home, dreaming and philosophizing. But this dreaming and philosophizing, favored by a climate that necessitated hard work and a domestic life, gave the Germans that keen, observing intellect that distinguished them after they had awakened. While the English bourgeoisie had won a determining influence over the state as early as the middle of the seventeenth century, and the French bourgeoisie had come into power at the close of the eighteenth century, it was not until 1848 that the German bourgeoisie succeeded in winning a very modest influence over the powers of the state. But the year 1848 was the year of birth of the German bourgeoisie as a self-conscious class, that entered the arena as an independent, political party, represented by “liberalism.” Here, too, the peculiar nature of German development manifested itself. The leading men were not manufacturers, merchants, men of commerce and finance, but chiefly professors, writers, jurists and doctors of all academic faculties. They were the German ideologists, and their work was shaped accordingly. After 1848 the bourgeoisie was, for the time being, silenced politically; but they employed the time of political graveyard tranquility during the fifties to promote their task all the more thoroughly. The outbreak of the Austro-Italian war, and the beginning of the Regency in Prussia, caused the bourgeoisie again to reach out after political power. The movement for national unity (“Nationalverein”) began. The bourgeoisie was too far developed to tolerate any longer the numerous political barriers, that were also economic barriers, between the various states. They threatened to become revolutionary. Bismarck grasped the situation, and made use of it in his way to reconcile the interests of the bourgeoisie with the interests of the Prussian monarchy, toward which the bourgeoisie bad never been hostile, as it feared the revolution and the masses, Finally the barriers fell that had prevented its material development. Aided by Germany’s wealth in coal and minerals, and by the presence of an intelligent, but easily contented working class, the bourgeoisie, within a few years, attained such a gigantic development, as has not been attained by the bourgeoisie of any other country in an equally short time, with the exception of the United States. Thus Germany quickly came to hold the second place in Europe as an industrial and commercial state, and she is anxious to obtain the first.

But this rapid material development has its dark side also. The system of seclusion that had existed among all German states, until national unity was established, had insured the existence of a very numerous class of small mechanics and farmers. When all protective barriers were suddenly torn down, this class was confronted by the unbridled development of the capitalistic process of production. As a result their position became a desperate one. The period of prosperity at the beginning of the seventies made the danger appear less great at first, but it became all the more noticeable when the crisis set in. The bourgeoisie had utilized the period of prosperity for its fullest development, and by excessive production created a ten-fold pressure. From now on the chasm between the propertied and the non-propertied classes was rapidly and tremendously widened. This process of absorption and decomposition, that is accomplished more and more rapidly, favored by the increase of material power on the one hand, and by a decline of the power of resistance on the other, is intensifying the distress of entire strata of the population. They find their position becoming more and more precarious and their ruin certain.

In this desperate struggle many seek salvation in a change of their profession. The old people cannot accomplish this change any more, and only in rare cases are they able to leave a fortune to their children, so they make desperate efforts and employ their last means to obtain for their sons and daughters positions with a fixed that require no capital. These are the civil service positions in the empire, states and municipalities, teaching, positions connected with the postal and railway service, the higher positions in the service of the bourgeoisie in offices, stores and factories as clerks, managers, chemists, technicists, engineers, constructors, etc., and also the so-called liberal professions: jurists, physicians, theologians, writers, artists, architects, teachers, etc.

Thousands upon thousands who would formerly have taken up a trade, now seek professional positions, because there is no longer any possibility of maintaining an independent and decent livelihood by practicing a trade. All strive for learning and a higher education. High schools, colleges and polytechnical institutes spring up like mushrooms, and the existing ones are overcrowded. In the same measure the number of students at the universities increases, and the number of scholars in physical and chemical laboratories, in art schools, in trade and commercial schools, in the higher institutions of learning for women, etc. All departments, without exception, are over-crowded, and the stream is still rising. New demands are constantly being made for the establishment of colleges and higher institutions of learning, to accommodate the large number of pupils and students. Officials and private persons issue warnings upon warnings, now against the study of one subject and then against the study of another. Even theology, (that formerly threatened to dry out on account of a lack of candidates) now receives its share of blessings from the abundance and finds its positions filled again. “I will preach belief in ten thousand gods and devils, if required, only give me a position that will support me,” is the general cry. Sometimes the respective ministers even refuse to give their consent to the establishment of new educational institutions, “because the ones in existence amply supply the demand for candidates in all departments.”

This state of affairs is rendered more severe by the fact that the competitive and destructive struggle of the bourgeoisie among themselves, compels many of their sons to seek public positions. Moreover, the steadily growing standing army, with its mass of officers, whose promotion is exceedingly slow during a long period of peace, causes many of them to be pensioned during the best years of their lives, and these, aided by the state, seek employment in all kinds of official positions. The great number of candidates for civil service positions, from lower grades of the army, rob other strata of their living. To this must, furthermore, be added that the swarm of imperial state and municipal officials of all degrees, educate, and must educate, their children mainly for professions, like the ones enumerated above. The social position, education and requirements of these classes make it necessary to withhold their children from the so-called lower occupations, but these, as a matter of fact, are over-crowded also. The system of one-year voluntary service in the army, that, upon the attainment of a certain degree of education and a certain material sacrifice, permits young men to complete their military service in one year instead of in two or three, also increases the number of candidates for offices and positions. There are, especially, many sons of wealthy peasants who do not care to return to their native villages and the professions of their fathers.

As a result of all these circumstances, the proletariat of scholars and artists and of the so-called liberal professions, is more numerous in Germany than in any other country. This proletariat is constantly increasing, and is bearing the fermentation and dissatisfaction with existing conditions into the highest strata of society. This youth is aroused and incited to a criticism of the existing order, and helps to hasten the general decomposition. So these conditions have brought about that the German Social Democracy took the leadership in the gigantic struggle of the future. German Socialists were the ones to discover the laws underlying modern social development, and to, demonstrate scientifically that Socialism will be the coming form of society. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels took the lead. They were followed by Ferdinand Lassalle, whose agitation fired the masses. German Socialists have also been the pioneers of Socialistic thought among the workingmen of other countries.

Half a century ago, Buckle wrote, as a result of his studies of German education and culture, that Germany possessed a number of the greatest scholars, but that in no other country, the gulf between the class of scholars and the mass of the people were equally great. This was true of Germany, as long as science was limited to that circle of scholars who stood aloof from that practical life. But, since Germany has been revolutionized economically, science has been pressed into the service of practical life. Science itself became practical. People began to recognize that science attained its full value only when it helped to promote the comforts of life. The development of capitalistic production on a large scale forced this recognition upon us. As a result, all branches of knowledge have been democratized in Germany during the last decade. The great number of young men trained for the practice of learned professions, have helped to carry science among the people, and the general education, that has attained a higher degree in Germany, than in most other countries, has disseminated many products of the intellect among the masses. But the Socialist movement, especially, with its literature, its newspapers, its societies and meetings, its parliamentary representation and its constantly practiced criticism on all fields of public life, has considerably raised the intellectual level of the masses.

The exceptional laws enacted against the Social Democrats (from 1878 to 1890) have in no wise changed this. They merely hemmed in the movement to some extent, and slackened its pace. But they also helped to make the movement more profound, and to arouse much bitterness against the ruling classes and the powers of the state. The final repeal of the exceptional laws was only due to the development of the Social Democratic Party, under these laws, and to the economic development of the nation. Thus the movement is progressing, as it must progress, under the given circumstances.

As the Socialist movement has progressed in Germany, it has also progressed, beyond all expectations, in other states of the civilized world. The international congresses of labor, whose attendance is constantly increasing, furnish an eloquent proof of this progress.

So the great war of the minds has begun in all civilized countries of the world, and is being waged with the greatest ardor. Beside the social sciences, the wide realm of the natural sciences, hygiene, history and philosophy, furnish the weapons for this war. The foundations of existing conditions are attached on all sides, and the strongest blows are directed against the pillars of the old regime. Revolutionary thoughts penetrate the most conservative circles, and create confusion in the camp of our enemies. Artisans and scholars, farmers and artists, merchants and officers, even manufacturers and bankers, in short, men of all positions, join the workingmen, who form the bulk of that great army that is striving for victory, and is bound to win it. All mutually support and supplement each other.

Woman, too, and especially the proletarian woman, has been called upon, not to lag behind in this struggle that is being fought for her liberation and redemption also. It is up to her to prove that she has recognized her true position in the movement, and in the struggle of the present for a better future, and that she is determined to participate. It is the duty of the men to help her to cast aside all prejudices and to take part in the great struggle. Let no one underestimate his strength, and think that his help is of no consequence. In the struggle for the progress of mankind, no power, not even the weakest, can be spared. The steady fall of drops will finally hollow the hardest stone. Many drops make a brook, the brooks make a river, and the rivers make a stream. Finally, no obstacle is strong enough to hem the stream’s majestic course. It is the same with the development of man. If all who feel called upon devote their whole strength to this struggle, the ultimate victory will be certain. This victory will be all the greater, the more eagerly and unselfishly each one pursues the mapped out path. Doubts, whether the individual for all his sacrifices, toils and efforts, may still live to see the dawn of a new, more beautiful period of civilization, must not effect us, nor must they prevent us from pursuing the chosen path. We can neither determine the length, nor the nature of the phases of development, that this struggle for the highest aims must still pass thru; we can do this as little as we have any certainty in regard to the duration of our lives. But as we are dominated by the joy of living, so may we also cherish the hope that we may five to see this victory. We are living in an age that rushes forward “with seven league boots,” and that makes all enemies of a new, higher order of society tremble.

Every day furnishes new proof of the rapid growth, and the tremendous spread of Socialist thought. Everywhere there is motion and progress. The dawn of a better day is drawing nigh. So let us struggle and strive onward, regardless of “where” and “when” the boundary-posts of a new and better age for mankind will be raised. If we should fall in the course of this great struggle for liberation, others will take our place. We will fall with the consciousness of having done our duty as human beings, and with the conviction that the goal will be attained, no matter how the powers hostile to humanity may oppose and resist the triumphal march of progress.

The future belongs to Socialism, that is, primarily, to the worker and to woman.”