Edward Aveling and Eleanor Marx-Aveling

“More Socialist Personalities: The Women Delegates at the International Congress”

Source: Westminster Gazette, Saturday 19 August 1893, page 3
Transcribed: by Graham Seaman;
Note: This is one of a pair of articles describing the delegates to the 1893 Congress of the 2nd International held at Zurich.



It is a truism, and therefore it is constantly repeated, that no social movement is worth much until it has enlisted the sympathies, aesthetic and practical, of women. The Socialists are constantly preaching this obvious doctrine. They are constantly appealing to women, not on the basis of woman's rights as against man's, but of the rights of men, women, and their children of the working classes as against the capitalists. That is the essential difference that marks off the women's rights movement on the one hand, and the socialist movement of men and women together on the other. Before giving a few descriptive notes of the 19 women delegates attending the Zurich Congress, it may be well to remind English readers that there is a very considerable middle-class women's rights movement on the Continent. It is, as a matter of fact, much more considerable than English people think, and, according to the testimony of such women as Clara Zetkin in Germany, and Louise Kautsky from Austria, is largely made up of women of the type of Mrs. Fawcett and Miss Lupton, who are not unwilling, like these two ladies, to head a deputation opposed to the shortening of the hours of working-women.

Taking the nationalities in alphabetical order ─ German alphabetical order ─ we notice first that the solitary Australian-Italian-cosmopolitan. Sceusa, brought his wife over-seas with him. She was not, as a matter of fact, a delegate, but in her quiet, not ineffective, way appeared to have not only an interest in the proceedings, but some effect upon them through the medium of her husband.

The two Belgian women, Mdlle. Eugenie Claeys and Madame Belle van Kol, were of the transition type referred to above. Mdlle. Claeys is well known in and around Brussels as an earnest and energetic lecturer upon social questions with advanced answers. Madame van Kol is the wife of Henri van Kol, who was one of the attendants at the Congress with a double delegation ─ from Ghent and from Amsterdam. Her husband aways voted in the Dutch section only, and was one of the solid minority of one-third of the total delegation who opposed Domela Nieutwenhuis and his works. The two Belgian women delegates who sat upon Committee V., dealing with Protective Legislation for Women, were the only members of the Committee who spoke and voted against any such protective legislation. They made several suggestions distinctly valuable in themselves, but not coming within the scope of protective legislation, such as the establishmmt of communal kitchens to save part of the women's housework, and technical education for women. Upon the other hand they were dead against any legislation interfering with women's working in unhealthy callings, with the hours of labour of women in a word, with the "freedom" of women to allow themselves to be exploited to the top of the capitalistic bent.

A strong contrast to these ladies was Clara Zetkin, the only woman representative of Germany. Her position as delegate is well defined by the fact that whilst she was sent by the Social Democratic women of Mannheim, she was at the same time one of the great group of delegates sent by the party as a whole from Berlin. There is in that double delegation the whole question in a nutshell. Under the capitalist system women are used as weapons against men, and therefore her delegation from the women has its significance. Under the Socialist ideal women and men are to be coequal workers, and therefore her delegation from the Party has still greater significance. Madame Zetkin's position on the question at issue was very clearly defined in her sharp, incisive manner, not only on the committee of which she was president, but in the Congress itself. She is not what you would call a great, or perhaps even a good speaker in the ordinary oratorical sense. But her absolute clearness, her earnestness, her complete conviction as to what is right, a conviction founded upon a very thorough study of economics, her personal charm without her being what is commonly called "a charming woman" ─ all these carry her audience with her much further and much more durably than any fine display of fine speaking.

Of the two French women, one was a silent member of the Congress; the other, a rather noisy one. The silent one was entered in the list of delegates as "Citoyenne Marianne." She is the wife of Argyriades, who was nominated president one day by the French. Extremes meet. Argyriades, the Greco-Frenchman, is a stout, heavy-sided man. His wife is a small, neatly-built woman, who represented her, husband's paper, "La Question Sociale." Citoyenne Eugénie Collot chiefly distinguished herself as opportunity offered by shouting "Vive l'Anarchie" especially when the German "Unabhagige" and the beautiful little Polish woman were excluded from the Congress as delegates.

Apropos of the little Polish woman, whom some call beautiful, others modifying the phrase into beauté du diable, others fascinating, it should be noted that these are the qualifying phrases of the men. Her advent and her unsuccessful attempts to get into the Congress formed certainly one of the sensations of the week. She came "unheralded and unsung" by anything or anybody except an unsigned credential, and the first number of a paper without any editor. She went unwept by the whole of the Polish section, and by everybody in the Congress who was not susceptible enough to have his judgment overrun by his feelings. The sturdy sense of the Britishers, even if one or two of them looked with admiring eyes at la belle Polonaise, rebelled against the idea, under any circumstances, of admitting a delegate absolutely without any credential whatever.

From Great Britain came four women delegates. Of these, one signs this article, and represented at the Zurich Congress the women members of the National Union of Gas Workers and General Labourers, a union chat admits women upon a basis of equal rights and privileges with men, even to the extent of women sitting upon its executive. Another was Mrs. May Morris Sparling, representing the Hammersmith Socialist Society and the Bedford Park Fabians. Judging from her votes, one would say she was more representative of the latter society than of the former. She sat, voted, and generally foregathered with the Fabian element of the British delegation. In this last but one connection, that of voting in committee, Mrs. Sparling was wholly in favour and helped in the drawing up of the uncompromising resolution in favour of legislative protection for women. But, unless we are much mistaken, in Congress she voted against this resolution. Miss Margaret Irwin, representing the Women's Provident and Protective League of Scotland, was also in favour of the committee's resolution, and was even more consistent than the Scotch always are when they are abroad. She supported it to the end, although, besides giving a number of most interesting statistics, she pleaded for and obtained a slight modification of the paragraph, pointing out that middle-class women's rights women were opposed to protective legislation for working women. Miss Irwin wanted it to be understood by the Congress that some at least of the women born into the bourgeois class are heart and soul with their working-class sisters in their demands for protective legislation. It goes without saying that all those who are in favour of this last are also in favour of equal political rights with men. The second Scotch and the fourth British woman delegate, Miss Ogilvy, was during the sittings of the Congress, as newspaper reporters say, "conspicuous by her absence." On the other hand, the fifth British woman, Mrs. Haldane-Smith, who came with her husband from Scotland, a Swiss-born woman, was most regular in her attendance at the Congress, and took a most intelligent part in all its votes.

One of the great jokes of the Congress, which, with all its seriousness, was by no means devoid of humour, was the resolution, that, alas! never came to the vote, of Mr. Bernard Shaw. There it was in cold, merciless print, "the same protective legislation for men as for women." And one of the chief points in the resolution carried was "prohibition of work at least two weeks before and four weeks after confinement." The humorists of the lobby of the Congress would have it that Mr. Shaw had been taking historical counsel of his supporter Mr. Belfort Bax and that they had in mind the well-known anthropological fact that in some barbarous tribes the man lies in bed during certain domestic events.

Italy sent two delegates, Rosa Genoni, a young. very striking-looking girl, who for Italy played the same part as Mrs. Haldane-Smith. Her companion in arms and in sex was the well-known Dr. Anna Koulischoff, Russian born, educated in Geneva and Zurich, practising her profession for some years past in Milan. Dr. Koulischoff, who with Turati, the Milan advocate, played a very prominent part in the Italian delegation, played in the Congress itself the prominent part of president on the last day. And it is our firm conviction that if the bureau, and secretaries, and certain irresponsibles had not persistently, with the best intentions of the world, hampered her, her presidentship would have been even more markedly what it was─one of the best of the seven. Anna Koulischoff understands French and German. has a self-possessed, firm manner of her own, a telling voice, and a face, figure, and personality calculated to dominate any assembly of human beings.

Louise Kantsky, who is well known to London audiences in Hyde Park, the East-end, and the Communist Club, was one of the representatives of Austria, sent, like Clara Zetkin, as a representative of the Social Democratic Party as a whole. She was the reporter for the Committee so often referred to that dealt with women legislation. Another was the well-known factory girl Adelbeid Dworak, who led the recent woman's strike in Vienna, edits with Louise Kautsky the Vienna "Arbeiterinnen Zeitung," and made one of the most telling speeches of the Congress, with the eloquence of a born orator, made more intense by the fact that the speaker had herself suffered, and spoke very literally in the name of her class.

Also in the list of the Austrian delegates, but under a special heading of the Tchechs, or Bohemians, figures josefine Scalond, from Prague.

Among the ten Poles was Marie Mendelson, almost as well known in London now as she was before her exile in Paris. Her strong and clear putting of the position, the dangerous position, of the Poles had a very great deal to do with the ultimate decision of the Congress to exclude the doubtful delegate.

For the rest, the Swiss 118 delegates included four women — three married — who also had their husbands with them as delegates — Frauen Conzett, Egli, Manchli, and one, Fraulein Wahlen, from Basel. These four Swiss women, with the good breeding that leaves to visitors most of the speaking in one's own house, forbore to make speeches at the Congress, but they had done much to set that house in order for the reception of their visitors.

These, then, were the women delegates to the Socialist Congress at Zurich. Their presence, and the presence in the ranks of the Socialist movement of hundreds of other women, shows that that movement has reached the historical stage where women become actively part and parcel of it. And the wonderful demonstration on the first Sunday in Zurich, in which troops of boys and girls took part, with their white dresses, red scarves, and red flags, shows that the movement has reached the further historical stage of getting hold of the children. Some of the papers were quite angered at this early debauching of the child mind. The obvious answer of the Socialists is that they arc learning from their enemies. As the latter from the cradle imbue the minds of the children with the ideas of capitalism and religion, so the Socialists are determined to imbue the minds of their children with the ideas of the economic creed that is also their religion.