Eleanor Marx-Aveling 1895

Exchange with Bax

The following exchange with Bax arose out of the Edith Lanchester affair and an attempt by Bax [see “Free Love and Socialism – A Critique,” 9th November 1895] apparently to defend Lanchester against an editorial of JUSTICE, unsigned but perhaps by Hyndman. The editorial had suggested that Lanchester’s behaviour had been provocative but that she should be defended against her totally unreasonable male family members. Eleanor Marx seems to have been infuriated that Bax, whom she knew to be such a misogynist, should present himself as a progressive on the Sex question.

Source: Justice, 16 November 1895, p.5;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

DEAR COMRADE, – As JUSTICE, “the Organ of the Social-Democracy,” appears to adopt comrade Bax as the exponent of its views on the sex (not woman) question, and as the subject is certainly one worthy consideration and debate, I desire, through your columns, to challenge my friend Bax to a public debate with me on the subject. The debate to take place in some hall in London before the end of the year, so that the proceeds of it (whether from payments for admission or collection on the evening) may be handed over to H. Quelch, hon. treasurer of the Zurich Committee (or the International Trades Union and Socialist Workers Congress, 1896). The debate to follow the usual lines, say 30 minutes on each side, and then two quarters of an hour for each speaker consecutively. Bax, as propounder of the general proposition, to open. Chairman to be mutually agreed upon. – Fraternally yours,

Eleanor Marx Aveling.

Justice, 23 November 1895, p.8.

In reply to Mrs. Aveling’s challenge to debate, published in last week’s JUSTICE, E. Belfort Bax writes :

DEAR COMRADE, – I shall be very pleased to accept a written discussion (on the lines of my debate with the late Charles Bradlaugh on Socialism) with Mrs. Aveling on the “Woman Question.” or the “Sex Question,” which ever she likes to term it. I would suggest three articles apiece, she to begin. I cannot think that Mrs. Avsling will refuse this perfectly fair offer, and decline to discuss except under physical conditions where I should be at an obvious disadvantage. Arguments are arguments, whether spoken or written – Yours fraternally,

E.Belfort Bax.

Mrs. Aveling sends us the following for publication: –

National Liberal Club,
Whitehall Place, S.W.

DEAR MRS AVELING, I am perfectly ready to undertake a debate on the woman question in writing with you or any other accredited representative of “Woman’s Rights,” but I am too little au fait with oratorical tricks and platform claptrap to be able to successfully defend the most simple and obvious propositions under the conditions proposed even if there were no shrieking crowd against which my voice would find it impossible to contend.

I will enter upon a literary debate on similar lines to that I had with Bradlaugh on Socialism, and shall be pleased to arrange for such a discussion. My weapons in this controversy are fact and argument and not ill-manners and name-calling either direct or indirect. This being so I naturally prefer the written method, when fact and argument are “ausschlaggebend.” – Yours sincerely,

E.Belfort Bax.

To the above the following reply has been sent: -

Green Street Green,
Orpington, Nov. 19, 1895.

DEAR BAX, – I am in receipt of your letter (undated). I offered to debate with you on the Sex Question. I am, of course, as a Socialist, not a representative of “Woman’s Rights.” It is the Sex Question and its economic basis that I proposed to discuss with you. The so-called “Woman’s Rights” question (which appears to be the only one you understand) is a bourgeois idea. I proposed to deal with the Sex Question from the point of view of the working class and the class struggle.

I may remind you that “tricks” and “claptrap” are not confined to the platform. There are, as you know, literary tricks and journalistic claptrap. With a fair and able chairman there would be no shrieking crowd ; and you have no more right to assume that those holding the views I should attempt to put forward would “shriek” than I have to assume that your supporters would howl. I remind you that you recently gave an address, followed by an open debate, upon this very subject, at Essex Hall, Strand. I fail to see, therefore, why you do not take up my challenge now. I here repeat it, and will, if you wish it, debate at Essex Hall. And if you still refuse I shall give a lecture, probably at the Athenaeum Hall, Tottenham Court Road, some Saturday in December, on “Mr. Bax and the Sex Question.” The proceeds of this lecture will be given to the Zurich Committee Fund for the International Socialist and Trades Union Congress to be held in London in 1896. – Yours faithfully,

Eleanor Marx Aveling.

E Belfort Bax’s Response: The Debate on Women Or Sex, 7 December 1895