Eleanor Marx Aveling 1896

The Gotha Congress.

Source: Justice, 31 October 1896, p. 5;
CopyLeft: this text is free of copyright restrictions;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford;

Although, with one exception, no questions of such great general importance as some of those dealt with at the Frankfort and Breslau Congresses were discussed at Gotha, the Congress has been an exceptionally interesting one, worthy of far closer attention than has so far been given it. Of course, the “exception” referred, to is the debate on the attitude of Social-Democracy towards working women. To this debate I shall return later.

The Gotha Congress has been an essentially busy one, and a careful study of its labours would do no harm even to our superior “thoroughly-practical-men-of-business-and-no-damned-foreign-nonsense-about-us” trade unionists of the Mawdesley-Holmes-Knight type.

No more striking proof of real strength, with the jolly good-humour that always accompanies real strength, could be given than was given by the Gotha Congress. It is only a strong party that can afford so publicly to discuss its own affairs; it is only men and women conscious of the strength of their party who can venture upon such frank discussion, such ironical chaff, such outspoken criticism of one another and of their work.

For years now before every German Social-Democratic Congress, the German middle-class and official press has solemnly announced that a “split “ was certain to take place in the Party. And after every Congress the same press has announced with equal solemnity that the “split” had taken place, and that therefore the Socialists of Germany were, as a party, done for. And the respectable British press has duly chronicled the comforting news. And surely we need not grudge our opponents this small satisfaction. It apparently pleases them, and it certainly does not hurt us. Indeed, if one thing is certain, it is that the German Social-Democratic Party cannot be “split up.” The Junge Unabhangige tried “Where is that Party now?” A poor little tail wagged by the police-engineered Anarchist body. (I was going to say “dog,” but I know such-really honourable doggies that I don’t wish to be rude to them.) No. The German Social-Democrats cannot be broken either from without or within. As Bebel said, “No individual, be he Liebknecht or Bebel, Singer or Auer, or who you will, can ‘split’ the Party to-day. It stands ‘four square to all the winds.'” And that is why it discusses its private affairs publicly, and why its members are not afraid to rail at one another in good set terms.

In a great party it would be a serious symptom, indeed a sure sign of decay, if no one member differed from his fellow upon any subject. It is important truly that all should be agreed upon fundamental principles, but these were never even under discussion. On other matters there were differences which, translated into bourgeois wishes, became “furious personal attacks,” while the veriest chaff became “violent dissensions.” The German Socialists are so unanimous as to principles that life would be unendurable for them if they could not fall out over side issues.

The “furious personal attacks” which Reuter gleefully announced as having been made on Liebknecht on consideration resolve themselves into a very sensible debate upon the editing of the central official organ of the party, Vorwärts. Many complaints were made [the editor of JUSTICE, if no one else, will understand what that means], and innumerable suggestions, for undoubtedly required Improvements, were made. Frankly, many of the complaints seem to me quite just. The “central organ” is not all it might and should be. But as to the “furious personal attack “ upon Liebknecht, it was a mere recognition by the Congress that one man – even Liebknecht – cannot possibly do half a dozen things at the same time. The Congress recognised that no one – not even Liebknecht with all his marvellous energy – can lecture all over Germany (and out of Germany!), address meetings, attend sittings of the Reichstag and of the Party, write leaders for and edit a large daily paper! In a word, the Congress recognised that there is a limit to Socialist exploitation, and that henceforth Liebknecht should be expected only to do about half as much again as he ought. “What pluralists these Socialists are” says the enemy. Alas they are not pluralists but sorely overworked labourers, for all these many “jobs” bring in the “jobbers,” but a living wage – and not an over good one at that. The middle-class politician and the Mawdsley trade unionists will certainly think this devotion and self-sacrifice ridiculous, even wickedly “unpractical.”

The lively Vorwärts discussion made one fact clear. The German Socialist press is undermanned. The press has grown so rapidly, so enormously that it is impossible to supply men and women enough to do the required work. No doubt there are plenty of middle class failures, bounders and wastrels of all kinds ready to will their “services.” But such as these are not for the German Socialist market. So it is being understood that men must “bind their hands” to the trade of journalism as to every other. To drive the quill is nearly as difficult as to drive the plough; and there is just now rather a dearth of competent quill drivers. However, this will right itself in good time.

The other press debate was even more interesting than the Vorwärts one It shows us quite a new side to the Socialist movement – an intense, passionate interest in art and literature, as such, hitherto undreamed of. The discussion turned upon the Neue Welt (not the Neue Zeit). The Neue Welt is a literary, artistic, “family” paper, issued weekly by all the dailies as a sort of supplement. It has an immense circulation. It used to be so decorously dull that its readers rebelled, and demanded something less soporific, and the editorship was entrusted to E. Steiger. It is generally admitted that the paper is better and less dull; but, on the other hand, many contended that it was now indecorous. Anyhow, there was a battle royal about it, and the debate is one that deserves careful consideration. It showed that the German workers are keen critics, and what a healthy, splendid interest they take in these literary-artistic questions. It showed, too, that if the party counts many artistic stormy petrels, it has also its fair share of artistic philistines; but, above all, it showed that the compact majority is not necessarily stupid and prejudiced. For the majority proved eminently clear-headed. If it declared against what is sometime, called “naturalism” – presumably because it is mostly so unnatural – it declared just as emphatically against canting, fig-leaf morality. Altogether, a most interesting debate.

Bebel gave in the report on the International Congress. A very excellent one, on the whole; but it is a pity Babel repeated a statement that has been shown by facts and figures to be incorrect. He spoke of the Socialist bodies voting down and dealing unfairly by the great trade unions. If the old trade unionists did not even take the trouble to attend the meetings of the British section and vote for their own nominees – as shown by the recorded votes – this can hardly be counted as a sin to the Socialists. Nor do I think that Babel quite understood the S.D F. resolution with regard to the next Congress. It was not – at least as I understand it – for an instant meant to “exclude English trade unions from future International Congresses.” It was only meant to be a safeguard against admitting Anarchists under false pretences. If everyone labelled “Trade unionist” may come in we shall inevitably have the old Anarchist game played over again. The Anarchists in the French and other sections for the most part came to London as trade unionists, and once the principle of admitting every trade unionist is accepted we shall be in just the same position as the London congress was. It is true Bebel was speaking only of the British trade unionist. But sauce for the British unionist goose is sauce for the French union gander – and what a fearsome fowl that may be we have seen at Zurich and at London, and would rather not see again. That the trade unions are becoming more Socialistic is perfectly true; and this is due to those very Socialist bodies that are supposed to have behaved so ill to them during the international Congress! In the course of his report Bebel referred to Burns as now hopelessly lost to the movement, and finally he seemed certain that a spot of German ground would be found for the next International Congress, which the German Social-Democrats will organise.

In the debate on the relation of Socialists to trade unions, all were unanimously of the opinion that the two movements, political and economic, must go hand in hand. With the “Workingwomen” debate I will deal next week. The impression made by the whole Congress is one of which our German comrades may well be proud. When we compare their thoughtful, earnest discussion with the twaddle talked by other parties, we are able to recall to mind the words of Thoreau about John Brown “On the one side half brutish, half timid questioning; on the other, truth, clear as lightning, crashing into their obscene temples.”


Source: Justice, 7 November 1896, p. 8.

The debate on “Frauenagitation” (i.e. propaganda amongst women) referred to last week, was interesting for many reasons. To begin with, the theoretical sides of this very contentious “woman” question, as well as its merely practical issues, were more thoroughly and adequately dealt with by Clara Zetkin than have ever been dealt with at any former Socialist Congress – whether national or international. And there were neither stupid old jokes nor other absurdities. Another proof that when working men and women discuss their own affairs there is no room for what our friend Sanial calls “middle-class molasses.”

Clara Zetkin was the “Reporter” on the subject, and the value of the “Report” is shown by the fact that the Congress there and then decided to have it printed in pamphlet form. If I am not mistaken this is the first time a German Social-Democratic Congress has ordered anything of the sort. Frau Zetkin, starting with a quotation from Engels “in the family the man is the bourgeois, the woman represents the proletariat,” went on to show how a “woman question” in the present acceptation of that term was impossible in pre-capitalist times. So long as the old family existed the domestic activity of the woman was productive, was in no way small or degraded, and because the woman was a producer the social inequality of her lot did not weigh upon her, although the conditions of her existence may have had a narrowing influence. “The time of the Renaissance was the storm and stress period in the awakening of individual personality in the modern sense, .... and, in those days of giants we find women as the pivot of social, artistic, and political life. And yet there is not the trace of a woman movement. This is the more remarkable that as the family was being broken up, thousands upon thousands of women had to find some provision for themselves outside of the family life ..... But at this time women were provided for in convents, conventual homes, religious orders. Then machinery, the modern methods of production, undermined domestic production, and not a few thousand, but millions, of women found themselves face to face with the question how they could find a living, economically, socially, mentally ... and from the home they had to seek this economic and mental food, the modern woman-movement began. How economic conditions further this movement a few figures will prove: In 1882, out of 23 million women in Germany, 5½ were working – i.e., almost a fourth could no longer find support within the family. Since then the percentage of women workers has gone up in purely agricultural labour by 8 per cent.; in mixed agricultural and other labour, 8 per cent.; while the increase of men thus employed was 4 per cent. In industry and mining, employment of women has increased 35 per cent.; in trade, over 94 per cent.; that of men, 38 per cent. These dry figures speak more eloquently for the need of solving the woman question than the most eloquent declamation.”

But the woman question, as such, Clara Zetkin went on to show, was only to be found in classes that are themselves the product of capitalist production. “There is a woman question for the proletariat, the small middle and ‘educated’ class, the upper class.” The woman of the upper ten thousand, thanks to her property, can develop her own individuality. Truly, as a wife she is still dependent upon the man .... What capital has joined together sentimental morals shall not part asunder. So that marriage-morality may be summoned up as two prostitutions equal to one virtue. ...” Then, after a brilliant picture of the upper ten wife, mother, woman, Frau Zetkin passed on to the middle and petty middle-class woman. Here comes the true struggle against man. Here the educated woman – the doctor, the clerk, the lawyer, is the antagonist of man. The women of this class are sick of their moral and intellectual subjugation. They are Noras rebelling against their doll’s homes. They want to live their own lives, “and economically and intellectually the demands of the middle-class women are fully justified.”

Then comes the proletarian woman. She is drawn into the vortex of capitalist production because she is cheap to buy. But her position is not merely reactionary, it is also revolutionary. She began by wanting to bring a little help to stave off the misery of the family; and she was forced to bring into that family only greater misery. Machinery replaced muscle, and women became cooperative with men .... “And so the proletarian woman has gained independence. ... But truly she paid the price! ... If the man had – I refer you to the Bavarian law – the right to ‘occasionally chastise a woman with a whip’ – assuredly capitalism has flayed her with scorpions ..... And that is why the working woman cannot be like the bourgeois woman who has to fight against the man of her own class. .... The objections of the bourgeois man to the rights of women are only a matter of competition ..... With the proletarian women, on the contrary, it is a struggle of the woman with the man of her own class against the capitalist class. She has no need to fight the men of her class in order to break down the barriers that shut her out from free competition. The greed of capital and the development of modern industry have relieved her from this strife ..... For her, on the contrary, it is a necessity to build up new barriers against the exploitation of the proletarian woman, and to secure her rights as wife, and as mother. Her end and aim are not the right of free competition with men, but to obtain the political power of the proletariat. Truly the working woman approves the demand of the middle-class women’s movement .... But only as means to the end that she may be fully armed for entering into the working-class struggle along with the man of her class.”

After a most admirable examination of the working woman’s position, as witty as it was thorough, Clara Zetkin concluded by pointing out that systematic propaganda among women (i.e. working women) was an absolute necessity for the proletarian movement. She discussed the various practical means for best carrying out the propaganda, and ended her brilliant speech – I wish it could be published verbatim in England – as follows:

“A Socialist society alone can solve the conflict brought about to-day by the economic activity of women. When the family as an economic unit shall disappear to make way for the family as a social unit woman will become the equal of man, producing, striving side by side with him; will become his comrade, both living their lives as human beings; and then, too, she will be set free to fulfil her highest duties as wife and as mother. In the society of the New Hellenism it will also be possible for her to shape her life into one harmonious whole, to give it artistic completeness. And this society will spread the world over; it will not be founded upon the slavery of men, it will be built upon the slavery of steel and iron; it will have at its command the forces of nature. And the Social-Democrats are marching on; but only when the mass of women are with them will they be able to say, ‘The people are with us – ours the victory!”

The result of this speech is best shown by the fact already given that the Congress unanimously demanded its publication as a pamphlet.