August Bebel. Woman and Socialism
Woman in the Past
Following the example set by Louis XIV of France, most of the princely courts, that were very numerous in Germany in those days, indulged in an extravagance of outward display, especially in the maintenance of concubines, that were in no relation to the size and productiveness of their small domains. The history of the courts of the eighteenth century constitutes one of the ugliest chapters of history. One ruler tried to excel the other in hollow conceit, mad extravagance and costly military sport. But it was especially in the affairs with their courtesans that the wildest excesses were indulged in. It is hard to tell which of the many German courts excelled in this extravagant mode of living that had a corrupting influence on public life. It was one to-day and another to-morrow. None of the German states were spared this disgrace. The nobility imitated the sovereigns and in the capitals the bourgeoisie imitated the nobility. If the daughter of a bourgeois family was fortunate enough to please one of the gentlemen of the court or His Serene Highness himself, in nineteen cases out of twenty she considered herself highly favored, and the family willingly consented to her becoming a princely or royal concubine. Among the families of the nobility the same was the case if one of their daughters found favor with the sovereign. Wide circles were dominated by an utter lack of character and modesty. It was worst of all in the two chief cities of Germany, Vienna and Berlin. Although during a great part of the century Vienna was ruled by Maria Theresa, known for her moral austerity, she was powerless against the doings of the rich, profligate nobility and an eagerly imitative bourgeoisie. By establishing purity commissions, that resulted in an extensive system of espionage, she caused much bitterness and made herself ridiculous. The results amounted to nothing. In frivolous Vienna during the second half of the eighteenth century, proverbs were circulated like the following: one should love one’s neighbor like meself; that means, “one should love one’s neighbor’s wife like one’s own”; or, “If the wife turns to the right the husband may turn to the left; if she takes to herself a man servant, let him take a lady friend.” How frivolously marriage and adultery were viewed at that time, may be seen from a letter written by the poet Christian von Kleist to his friend Gleim in 1751. It contains the following passage: “I suppose you heard of the adventure of the landgrave Henry. He has sent his wife to his country seat and intends to get a separation from her because he found her with the Prince of Holstein. The margrave would have acted more wisely if he had kept the affair secret instead of causing all Berlin and half of the world to speak of him. Besides, one should not judge a natural occurrence so severely, especially one who is not over virtuous himself. Disgust is bound to result in matrimony, and by their acquaintance with other amiable persons all men and women are induced to be faithless. How can we be punished for something we have been forced to do?” In 1772 the British ambassador, Lord Malmesbury, wrote the following in regard to conditions in Berlin: “moral depravity prevails among both sexes of all classes. To this is added a general insufficiency of means, due partly to the heavy taxes imposed by the king, and partly to the love of luxury introduced by his grandfather. The men lead a dissolute life notwithstanding their limited means, and the women are shameless harlots. They deliver themselves up to the one able to pay the highest price; modesty and true love are foreign to them.”
The worst conditions existed in Berlin during the rule of Frederick William II from 1786 to 1797. He set his people the worst possible example. His court chaplain, Zoellner, even degraded himself by marrying the king to his courtesan, Julie von Voss, although he had another wife; and when she died soon after in childbirth, Zoellner again consented to marry the king to another one of his courtesans, the Countess Sophie von Doenhoff. Other rulers had set an equally bad example at the beginning of the century. In July, 1706, Duke Louis of Wurtemberg married, as an additional wife, his courtesan, Gravenitz, the “corrupter of the country,” as she is still called in Wurtemberg. His cousin, Duke Leopold, still excelled him in profligacy, for he had three wives simultaneously, two of which were sisters. Of his thirteen children he joined two in marriage. The doings of these sovereigns caused much comment among their subjects, but that was all. The marriage of the Duke of Wurtemberg with Graevenitz was annulled by imperial intervention. But she entered into a mock marriage with a profligate count, and thereupon remained for twenty years more the duke’s concubine and the “corrupter of the country.”
The increasing power of sovereigns and the formation of larger states had led to the institution of standing armies. These standing armies and the extravagant mode of life indulged in at most of the courts, could not be maintained without heavy taxation, and to make such taxation possible a large, taxable population was required. Therefore governments from the eighteenth century on, especially those of the larger states, adopted measures for increasing the population and for heightening the taxability of the inhabitants. The foundation for such measures had been established by the social and economic transformations referred to above, i. e., the discovery of America, the discovery of the passage to India, and the circumnavigation of Africa. This transformation first manifested itself in Western Europe, but later in Germany also. The newly opened thoroughfare had created new commercial relations of an extent undreamt of until then. Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and England were the first to profit by the transformation; but France and eventually Germany also were benefited by it. Of all these countries Germany was most retarded in development, as a result of the numerous religious wars and its political disunity. The establishment of a world market and the constant opening of new markets for the products of European industry, not only revolutionized
the methods of production, but also revolutionized the views, sentiments and conceptions of the European nations and their governments. The former mode of production, destined to supply only the daily needs of a given center and its immediate vicinity, was superseded by manufacture on a large scale, which implies the employment of a large number of workers and an increased division of labor. The merchants possessing large financial resources and broadness of perception, became the leaders along these new lines of industry that partly replaced and partly abolished the old handicrafts and put an end to their guild organization. Thereby a period had been ushered in which made it possible for woman to resume her industrial activity. The textile industries, cloth manufactury and the manufacture of laces opened up to her new fields of activity. At the close of the eighteenth century we already find 100,000 women and 80,000 children employed in the textile and printing trades of England and Scotland, unfortunately under conditions, both in regard to wages and hours of work, that were simply appalling. Similar conditions prevailed in France at the same time, where also tens of thousands of women were employed in various manufactures.
This economic development demanded more people, and as the population had been greatly diminished by the wars of conquest in Europe during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and by the expeditions of discovery beyond the seas, the more advanced governments found it necessary to facilitate marriage and the right of settling. Spain, that by its imperialistic policy had become greatly depopulated, was obliged as early as 1623 to pass a law exempting from taxes for a number of years all persons who became married between the ages of 18 and 25. Poor persons were even given a dowry from public funds. Parents who had six or more male children were entirely exempt from taxes. Spain also encouraged immigration and colonization.
King Louis XIV of France, who had decimated his people by his numerous wars, found it necessary to counteract this devastation by exempting from taxes for from four to five years all taxpayers, who constituted a great majority of the population, if they became married before the twentieth or twenty-first year of age. Complete exemption from taxes was, furthermore, guaranteed to all who had ten living children, provided that none of these had become a priest, a monk or a nun. Noblemen having the same number of children, provided that none of them had become priests, monks or nuns, received an annual pension of from 1,000 to 2,000 livres. Citizens not subject to taxation under the same conditions received one-half of this amount. Marshal Maurice of Saxony even advised Louis XV not to permit marriages to be contracted for a longer period than five years.
In Prussia, by laws enacted in the years 1688, 1721, 1726 and 1736, and by various government measures, endeavors were made to encourage immigration; especially were the immigrants welcomed who had been subjected to religious persecution in France and Austria. The theories in regard to population maintained by Frederick the Great were expressed with brutal frankness in a letter written by him to Voltaire on the 26th of August, 1741. He wrote: “I consider men as a herd of deer in the deer park of some great lord, having no other task but to populate the park.” By his wars he certainly made it necessary to have his deer park repopulated. In Austria, Wurtemberg and Brunswick immigration was also encouraged and there, as in Prussia, emigration was forbidden. Furthermore, in the course of the eighteenth century, England and France removed all obstacles to marriage and settlement, and other nations followed their example. During three-fourths of the eighteenth century political economists as well as the governments considered a large population the greatest good fortune to the state. Only at the close of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century a reversion of opinion took place. This was due to economic crises and to warlike and revolutionary events, that continued during the first half of the nineteenth century, especially in Germany and Austria. The age at which marriage was permitted was raised again, and proofs were required showing that the contracting parties were assured of a certain amount of wealth or a secure income, and could maintain a given standard of living. To the destitute, marriage was made impossible, and the municipalities were given a great influence in determining under what conditions marriages might be contracted. Occasionally peasants were even forbidden to build their little homes, or compelled to tear them down when they had been built without princely permission. Only in Prussia and Saxony the marriage laws remained comparatively liberal. Since human nature will not be suppressed, the result of all these hindrances to marriage was, that in spite of all the harrassing and persecution, illicit relations greatly increased, and that in some German states the number of illegal children was almost as great as that of the legal ones. Such was the fruit of a paternal government that prided itself on its Christian morality.
In those days the married woman of the middle class lived in severe domestic retirement. The number of her domestic duties was so large, that it was necessary for the conscientious housewife to be at her post from morning till night, and frequently she could accomplish all her tasks only with the aid of her daughters. It was necessary to perform not only those daily domestic tasks that are still performed by the present-day housekeeper. but also many others from which modern woman has been freed by the industrial development. She had to spin, weave and bleach, cut and sew all the garments, manufacture tallow-candles and soap, and brew the beer. She was indeed a perfect Cinderella and her only relaxation was going to church on Sunday. Marriages were contracted only within the same social circle. A severe and ridiculous caste feeling dominated all social relations. The daughters were educated in the same spirit and were maintained in close domestic confinement. Their education was insignificant, and their intellectual horizon did not extend beyond the commonplace domestic relations. To this was added an empty superficial formality, that was supposed to make up for the lack of intellect and education, making woman’s life a sheer treadmill. The spirit of the reformation had degenerated into the worst kind of pedantry; the most natural human desires and the joy of life were crushed beneath a mass of apparently dignified, but soul-killing rules of behavior. Emptiness and narrow-mindedness dominated the middle class, and the lower classes lived under a leaden pressure and in wretched conditions.
Then came the French revolution. It swept away the old political and social order in France, and also wafted a breath of its spirit to Germany, that could not long be resisted. French rule especially had a revolutionizing effect upon Germany; it swept away what was old and decrepit or, at least hastened its destruction. Though strenuous efforts were made during the reactionary period after 1815 to turn the course of development backward, the new conceptions had become too powerful and were victorious in the end.
Guild privileges, lack of personal freedom, market privileges and proscription were gradually laid on the shelf in the more advanced states. New mechanical inventions and improvements, especially the invention of the steam engine, and the resultant cheapening of commodities, provided employment for the masses, including also the women. Capitalistic industry was born. Factories, railroads and steamboats were built, mines and foundries, the manufacture of glass and china, the textile industry in its various branches, manufacture of tools and machinery, the building trades, etc., rapidly developed. Universities and polytechnical institutes provided the intellectual forces required by this evolution. The new class that had come into existence, the capitalist class, the bourgeoisie, supported by all those who favored progress, insisted upon the abolition of conditions that had become untenable. What had been shaken by the revolution from below during the movement of 1848 and 1849, was finally abolished by the revolution from above in 1866. Political unity, according to the desire of the bourgeoisie, was established, and this was followed by the final overthrow of all the remaining economic and social barriers. Freedom of trade, right of settlement and emigration, and the repeal of laws restricting marriage followed, creating those conditions that capitalism needed for its development. Besides the workingman, woman was the one to profit chiefly by this new development, since it opened up to her new avenues and brought her greater freedom.
Even before the new order had been introduced by the transformations of the year 1866, several German states had removed a number of the old, rigid barriers, which caused pedantic reactionaries to predict the destruction of decency and morality. In 1863 the Bishop of Mayence, von Ketteler, lamented that “to abolish the existing barriers to marriage meant the destruction of marriage itself, since now married couples were enabled to leave each other at will.” This lament contains the unintentional confession that in modern marriages the moral bonds are so weak, that man and wife can be kept together only by force.
Since marriages now were contracted much more frequently than before this period, a rapid increase of population resulted. This fact, and the fact that the new, rapidly developing industrial system created social problems that had not previously existed, caused the fear of over-population to spring up again, as it did in former periods. It will be shown what this fear of over-population amounts to; we will test its true value.