Eleanor Marx-Aveling 1896

The Proletarian in the Home

Source: Justice, 21 November 1896, p.6;
CopyLeft: this text is free of copyright restrictions;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

DEAR COMRADE – In summarising Clara Zetkin’s Gotha speech for JUSTICE, November 7, I pointed out that at this great Socialist Congress there had been no room for “middle class molasses” on the subject of propaganda amongst women (Frauenagitation). I had also written that in the discussion upon comrade Zetkin’s speech there were “neither stupid old jokes nor Baxian absurdities.” The Censor, however, altered “Baxian” into “other absurdities.” I am glad to see that you, comrade editor, in this week’s JUSTICE, November 14, at once mark your disapproval of such censorship, and kindly justify my adjective by publishing Bax’s letter on the “Proletarian in the Home.”

I do not know whether Clara Zetkin will answer the wild and whirling Bax. But meantime I point out that at the mere mention of women poor Bax so entirely loses all self-control that he cannot even read. At least, I assume, he was too excited to read my summary, because the only alternative is to assume that he deliberately misquotes. “In the report of Clara Zetkin’s paper,” says Bax, “it appears she alleged woman in the present day to occupy the position of the proletarian in the home.” The report says nothing of the sort. The report says: “Frau Zetkin, starting with a quotation from Engels, ‘in the family the man is the bourgeois, the woman represents the proletarian” went on to show,” &c. As Bax is quite capable – where women is concerned he would out Habbakuk Habbakuk – of saying my summary is wrong. I give the official German report: “In dieser sozialen Rechtlosigkeit liegt nach Engels eine der ersten und ältesten Formen der Klassenherrschaft; er sagt;in der Familie ist der Mann der Bourgeois, die Frau dagegen repräsentirt das Proletariat.'” So it is not the woman, Clara Zetkin, whom Bax is controverting, but the man, Frederik Engels. Now Bax has recently referred in JUSTICE to Engels as an authority. It is as well, therefore, that readers of JUSTICE should know Engels by no means agreed with Bax’s morbid views about women. As to Bax himself, he surely does not need to be reminded of what Engels thought of his womenphobia. -Yours fraternally,

Eleanor Aveling Marx
Sydenham, November 16, 1896.

[There is no point in Mrs. Aveling’s reference to the alteration of “Baxian” to “other” in her report. Any expression of the kind in anything but a letter is obviously, and as Mrs Aveling well knows, not permissible. In a letter, no one but the writer being responsible, no alteration can be made, it must be either inserted in toto or rejected. – Ed.]

E Belfort Bax’s Response, 28 November 1896
The Late Friedrich Engels and the Woman Question.

Source: Justice, 28 November 1896, letter p.3;
CopyLeft: this text is free of copyright restrictions;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

COMRADE. – In a letter entitled “Proletarian in the Home” in JUSTICE, November 14, E. Belfort Bax ridicules the epithet “Proletariat in the Home” which was given to the female worker by Clara Zetkin in her report on the woman’s question at the German Congress at Gotha. It seems that Belfort Bax finds it more convenient to apply this epithet to the man rather than to the woman.

I do not know whether the English proletarian, or even the bourgeois woman can avail, and is really availing herself, of the use of those magnificent laws which, says Belfort Bax, allow her “assault, wound or even kill a husband” with impunity and which compel the latter for fear of “hard labour” to “submit meekly to any amount of insolence or violence on the part of a malignant shrew (poor unfortunate creatures are we men) but I do know that in France, for instance, the husband sometimes really exercises his lawful right to kill his wife when taken in adultery, whilst at the same time allowing himself the joy of more than one mistress, provided he does not keep his sweetheart under the same roof with his legitimate wife. In the same France the woman has no right to dispose of her own property without the permission of her husband, father, or guardian. All this, however, concerns rather the bourgeois woman; and since Clara Zetkin dealt mainly with the work-woman question, we will turn rather to her.

The writer of these lines does not know whether Belfort Bax has ever had the opportunity of observing the daily life of the working classes on the spot, of studying a posteriori the relations between the sexes prevailing among them, but he (the writer of these lines) has had that opportunity; he has had the possibility to acquaint himself with the life of the work-woman not only in highly industrial England, but also in barbarous Russia and civilised France, in democratic Switzerland and bureaucratic- proletarian Germany; he has had occasion to see how the drunken husband generally beats and maltreats his wife not only in the far East, in Russia, but also in the West, in England. He has seen in France the emaciated, hungry faces of women who stood on Saturdays at the doors of the factories waiting for their husbands in order to get from them a part at least of their wages for the sake of their hungry children. In Switzerland he has known work-women who, after having worked for eleven hours at a stretch in the mills, on coming home do housekeeping, cooking, and sewing for their husbands and children, after which they sit up till late at night at some needlework intended for sale; the wages in the factories are so small and the mouths of the little children so large! If Belfort Bax ever ventures into the ill-smelling streets of the East-End of London and goes up the dirty stairs of the workers’ dwellings, he will see there the thin, wrinkled facts of the women, grown old and grey-haired at thirty, by endless toil from early morning till late in evening, while their husbands – at least to a certain extent – rest and recreate themselves at meetings and clubs, if not in public houses. Is Belfort Bax not aware that there are many, many workwomen who would also go to meetings, would also join unions and Socialist societies, but for the egotism of their husbands, who are reluctant to stay one evening at home to take care of the children.

Belfort Bax thinks that the husband “is slaving to maintain her.” I may tell him that I know personally, and I have heard and read of many cases, where the woman is slaving to maintain him. Belfort Bax is a scientific Socialist and cannot be unaware of the tendency of the capitalist production to let go the male half of the working population and, like a sponge, to absorb the female half. He ought to know that there are many trades based exclusively on the exploitation of female labour, that, for instance, the great majority of workers in the matchfactories, which is one of the most detrimental to the health of the worker, are women, that in the textile industries of all countries more than 50 per cent., on an average, of the employed are women; that in the clothing industries of England, Germany and France women’s labour is sweated more than that of men. He must know also that the number of women in different industries earning by the sweat of their brows not only their own bread, but often that of their old and invalid parents, their little children and their unemployed husbands, is about 4½ million in England, 3¾ millions in France, 3½ in Italy, over 5 Germany, 3½ in Austria-Hungary, i.e., more than 20 millions or about ¼ of all the female population in these five States. Does, then, Belfort Bax think that all these women are unmarried or that they have no fathers, brothers, sons, or any other relation who entirely or partly live on the earnings of these women? But besides this factory and other wage-labour the women have also to do their housekeeping work. I know that Belfort Bax or others of his opinion, can point out that the capitalist industrialism has freed the woman of many important functions which were once the duties of a housekeeping women; that she has not any more to knit socks, to sew linen, etc, for the home; and that other housekeeping functions of hers have decreased to a minimum; still, there is some housekeeping yet to do, such as cleaning, washing, cooking, &c. Capitalism has not yet invented housekeeping machinery, and has not at the same time “domesticated” the unemployed husband to such a degree as to make him take care of the house and children, and thus free his wife of a part of her burden. Yes, comrade Belfort Bax, Clara Zetkin had a full right to say, with Engels, that the woman is a “proletarian in the home.” She ought to have rather said that the woman, under our capitalist regime, is a double proletarian – she has two kinds of work to do, the work of a producer in the factory and the work of a housekeeper, wife, and mother in the home. On one hand her muscles and blood are spent for the immediate profit of the capitalist, and on the other for his future profit – in bearing and feeding up a new generation of proletarians. Toil there, toil here! Do you seriously think, comrade Belfort Bax, that the proletarian woman finds in marriage besides work also some material or moral pleasure and advantage?

But fortunately, that same capitalism which frees the man from “slaving to maintain her,” that is to say, emancipates the woman economically, frees her also of the necessity to be a proletarian in the home,” that is to say, emancipates, and will emancipate her in the family and politics. Only when this process will be well nigh completed, only when a great number of women-proletarians will become conscious of their right to stand on the side of man and not behind his back – only then will there be an end to her being also a proletarian out of the home, and the transition to a new social order be possible. Without a conscious participation of the women in the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie you will never see, comrade Belfort Bax, the realisation of Socialism.

Yours fraternally,
International Notes.