Jeremy Corbyn lures students into communism

Marx, Engels and their struggle for women's liberation

First published in English in International Socialism 166— Translated from the English by Rosemarie Nünning.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were great advocates of women's liberation - in terms of theory development and practice, both publicly and privately.1 Important works have been published, and by them, on Marx and Engels' writings on women and the family The theoretical foundations created were developed into a more systematic understanding of women's oppression.2 This article is intended to supplement the work with the question of what Marx and Engels' practice looked like, how they lived and how they organized themselves. As August Nimtz wrote, there are a lot of misrepresentations of what Marx and Engels thought about women, but “nobody bothered to look at their practice” .3 This article is also intended to help correct this imbalance.

Throughout their political lives, Marx and Engels worked with women and men to build opposition to emerging capitalism. In the 1830s, when Marx and Engels embarked on their revolutionary careers, women joined utopian socialist organizations and made their own demands for equality.4 In the 1840s, women in Britain organized, rioted in the streets, demonstrated and performed the mass campaign for the six demands of the Chartist movement on strike. In 1848 a wave of revolution swept across Europe and women not only built barricades and took up arms to overthrow kings and their empires, but also created their own organizations to claim their rights. Even during the Paris Commune of 1871, women formed their own organizations and fought to the point of defending their short-lived workers' government in the city. In Britain in the 1860s, Irish Republicans supported militant actions against British supremacy in Ireland. Marx and Engels maintained contact with activists from these struggles. Women influenced the development of Marxism, just as Marxism influenced some of the most dedicated socialist women.

Today Marx and Engels are accused of publicly preaching emancipation, but privately behaving like typical Victorian male chauvinists. One of Marx's biographers writes: “For all his ridicule for bourgeois morals and manners, Marx remained in his heart an exceedingly bourgeois patriarch.” 5 Former New Labor MP, historian Tristram Hunt, claims “strong, intelligent women who neither pretty were still called Marx, were instinctively treated as misogynist by Engels ”.6 It might be tempting, in response, to apologize for the prejudices of the great men of the past. Each period of history has its own way of formulating ideas in a language that is itself shaped and reshaped through political struggle. But at all times there are those who reinforce the hypocrisy and repression of the ruling class and those who oppose it. In their private correspondence, both Marx and Engels made offensive comments about women and their appearance, especially women whom they viewed as political opponents. But in their everyday lives and in their political organizations, Marx and Engels radically broke away from prevailing ideas about women - ideas that constrained and stifled the lives of middle-class women, while women workers were ruthlessly exploited in a variety of ways.

In the international socialist movement there were people who combined criticism of capitalism with reactionary ideas about women. The leading French anarchist and revolutionary Pierre-Joseph Proudhon strongly opposed women becoming politically active beyond their domestic duties, and viciously ridiculed women who aspired to participate in public life. Marx associated with Proudhon when he was living in Paris in the 1840s, but broke with him and became his fierce opponent in terms of theory and practice. With regard to women, Marx saw himself closely linked to another French socialist tradition: that of the utopian socialists, who believed that the family was not the natural place for women, but the source of women's oppression. In the “Holy Family” Engels and Marx quoted the utopian socialist and women's rights activist Charles Fourier: “The change in a historical epoch can always be determined from the relationship between women's progress and freedom […]. The degree of female emancipation is the natural measure of general emancipation. ”7 Marx, Engels and their circle not only created the theoretical basis for understanding the oppression of women; they also built organizations that showed how women could achieve their liberation.

At home with Marx and Engels

Marx and Engels biographers tend to reinforce the very sexist stereotypes they allegedly expose by adding clichés when describing the lives of women alongside the two communists. Marx's wife Jenny von Westphalen was not a depressed, neglected housewife, even though she was subjected to political persecution, the death of four children and abject poverty. Her letters show how she tried to reconcile her newly formed family and her political commitment, a frustrating affair that was familiar to many socialist women. During the February Revolution of 1848, Jenny wrote to Joseph Weydemeyer from Paris that she would like to “write more of the interesting local goings-on, which is getting more and more moving by the minute (this evening 400,000 workers are pulling outside the hôtel de ville), the attroupements are increasing again, alone I am with the house and yard and the three worms […] ”. 8 On two occasions politics broke into Jenny's home in a dramatic way and she was suddenly at the center of events. In 1852, after the uprising of 1848 against the revolutionaries in Cologne, a show trial attracted a great deal of public attention. Jenny described how the entire household was turned into a large organization in her defense:

We have now established an entire office. Two, three write, others run, the others scrape up the pennies so that the scribes can continue and provide evidence of the most outrageous scandal against the old official world. In between my 3 happy children sing and whistle and are often run into hard by their mister papa. This is a hustle and bustle. 9

A similar household effort occurred in the summer of 1871, when thousands of refugees from the depressed Paris Commune poured into London. Jenny played an essential role in setting up the Marx household to provide practical support to these refugees. There was always at least one Communard staying with the Marxens, and many others knocked on their door. Around 22 years earlier, Jenny herself had arrived in London as a penniless refugee, and after the violent suppression of the commune, she now gave the communards every possible help

When it could be arranged, Jenny took part in political events, sometimes she also took the children with her, and in her letters she always referred to political debates, strikes, socialist conferences and new radical movements. In a letter from 1866, she described taking her children to an evening lecture by secular freethinkers in London's St. Martin's Hall, which was “packed ”.11 In 1872 the entire Marx family, including their daughters and their lovers, traveled together with Engels at a congress of the First International in The Hague. Jenny was so absorbed in the course of the session that one delegate believed it was Jenny who introduced Marx to radical politics

Jenny also dealt with the theoretical aspects of Marx's work. She advised a correspondent struggling with the dialectical subtleties of “Das Kapital” to “read those [chapters] on primitive accumulation of capital and modern colonization theory first. […] It [was] no small matter to bring the astonished Philistine to the dizzying heights […] through statistical facts and dialectical maneuvers. ”13 The publication of“ Capital ”was no small matter for Jenny either, because she transmitted the original German Manuscript into a legible version by hand, for which she had to decipher Marx's terrible handwriting.14 During their entire life together, Jenny and Karl Marx were emotionally and politically closely connected.

Marx has been accused of behaving like a Victorian patriarch towards his daughters. A recurring example is Marx ’hostility towards Eleanor’s first lover, Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, a charismatic socialist who defended the Paris Commune on the barricades, then had to flee and find accommodation in Marx’s home. The middle daughter, Laura, had a relationship with the French student and activist Paul Lafargue as early as 1866. Marx was not happy about the relationship and wrote to Lafargue:

You know that I have sacrificed all my fortune to the revolutionary struggle. I'm not sorry. On the contrary. If I had to start my life all over again, I would do the same. I just wouldn't get married. As far as I can, I will save my daughter from the cliffs where her mother's life has been shattered

Marx's power was apparently limited because both he and Friedrich Engels were best witnesses at Laura's and Paul's wedding in April 1868. The eldest daughter, Jenny, usually called Jennychen, became engaged in March 1872 to Charles Longuet, another refugee from the Paris Commune. Jenny as well as Karl Marx were of the opinion that Longuet was lazy and useless, but Jennychen prevailed and married him in October.The wedding was delayed out of consideration for the death of Laura's last surviving child. She buried her three children at the age of 26. So Marx's concerns stemmed more from concern for his daughters than an attempt at patriarchal control.

Some biographers saw Marx’s opposition to Eleanor’s engagement to Lissagaray as a selfish takeover, and they described him as a “loving fatherly tyrant.” 16 But there are many other explanations for Marx’s hostility as well. Lissa, as Eleanor called him, was another impoverished activist who also feuded bitterly with Laura and Paul Lafargue. Eleanor was 17 and he was 34 when she met him. During these years Eleanor suffered repeatedly from psychological problems and Marx took her on trips to convalesce. When the Communards were granted amnesty in 1880, Lissagaray returned to Paris and his relationship with Eleanor ended.

Marx recognized the link between mental health and family from an early age. In 1846 he was engaged in a French study of suicide committed by women, examining how ideas of virtue and "fatherly authority" affected the lives of women. Referring to the French Revolution of 1789, he wrote: “The revolution did not overthrow all tyrannies; the evils accused of arbitrary violence persist in the family; they cause crises here, analogous to those of the revolutions. ”17

Understanding the continued domestic tyranny did not mean that Karl, Jenny, or their daughters could escape it. It was a tragic irony of history that Eleanor committed suicide when she was 42 and that Laura and her husband Paul committed suicide together when Laura was 66.

The demand for better education for women was an ever-present topic in radical thinking in the 19th century. Marx's daughters were encouraged to study things for which women were considered unsuitable - such as history and politics. And Marx often took them to the reading room of the British Library, which few women dared to enter. They were also encouraged to take part in the political discussions that were at the heart of domestic life. You grew up among the leading socialists of the time. Jennychen could claim to be the only member of the family who had direct influence on government policy. In a series of articles for the French Republican newspaper The Marseillaise Jenny Marx reported on the arrest, incarceration and torture of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and other Irish Republican activists by Gladstone's Liberal government. In his election campaign Gladstone had promised amnesty for the Irish prisoners, but remained inactive after his election. Within weeks of Jenny's articles appearing, Rossa and the others were released. 18

Laura and Paul Lafargue were both active in the French socialist movement and Laura wrote for European socialist magazines. A letter from Engels to Laura, written during the London dockers' strike of 1889, shows how closely Laura followed the development of the strike movement.19 In 1904 Paul Lafargue published a pamphlet entitled “The Women’s Question,” in which he explored the contradiction between examined the entry of women into the labor market and domestic ideology: “Capitalism did not snatch women from the domestic hearth and throw them into social production in order to emancipate them, but to exploit them even more cruelly than men. That is why one has also been careful not to tear down the economic, legal, political and moral barriers that had been set up in order to keep them in seclusion in the common household. ”20 The married couple Laura and Paul Lafargue were very respected by the international socialist movement, and Lenin gave the eulogy in Paris in 1911.

Eleanor Marx, also known as Tussy, was an extremely effective political activist among the exploited workers of the London East End and the most capable organizer of the “new trade unions” .21 In 1891 Engels wrote to Natalie Liebknecht: “Tussy has a not entirely undeserved reputation, directing the union of gas workers and day laborers […]. ”22 Tussy initiated discussions on the attitude of the British and international socialist movement towards women's liberation and met with leading activists. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, sister of suffragette Millicent Garrett Fawcett, was Tussy's doctor and a regular visitor to the Marxens' apartment

One incident sums up Karl and Jenny Marx's relationship with their daughters. When Paris was taken over by the Commune, Jennychen and 16-year-old Eleanor insisted on visiting their sick sister Laura, who had just had a child and lived in Bordeaux. The authorities arrested everyone who sympathized with the Communards, they also tried to arrest Laura's husband, but the couple fled to Spain. Jennychen and Eleanor were arrested, Jennychen carrying a letter from Gustave Flourens, a leading Communard and friend of the family. Had the letter been found, the women would certainly have been taken to a penal colony, but Jennychen managed to hide the letter in an old book at the police station.24 After telegraphing back and forth for a long time, the two young women were finally released again.

Critics of Marx like to point to his relationship with Helena Demuth as evidence of his exploitative attitude towards women. In 1851, when Jenny visited her mother in Germany, Marx and Helen slept together; she became pregnant and Engels pretended it was his child. In this context, the biographer Rachel Holmes rejects the stereotype of the abused, loyal servant and examines how “bread, revolution and the general politics of the household” coincided in Humuth's “extraordinary life and personality.” 25 A friend of the Marxian family remembered that Helen "had reserved the right to 'speak her mind straightforward", not least to the worthy Doctor [Marx]. Her opinion was received with respect, even gentleness, by the whole family [...]. ”26 Humility was Marx's political confidante, and Engels recalled that Marx spoke of her“ not only in difficult and complicated party questions, but even in relation to his economic writings “took advice” .27 She helped Engels in the editing of Marx's works and he paid her great appreciation for it: “As far as I am concerned, all the work that I have been able to do since Marx's death, I am grateful Part of the sunshine and the help of her personality in my house. ”28

Engels is often portrayed as a womanizer who abused his power to take advantage of women. Biographer Terrell Carver writes: "When it came to love, Engels apparently wasn't looking for women of his own intellectual equality." 29 Hunt tells us that Engels urged two workers, Mary and Lizzie Burns, into sexual relationships with him : “Engels had once castigated the tendency of the mill owners to take advantage of the female workforce; but here he did it himself. ”30 The portrait of the Burns sisters as passive victims of Engels’ Lust and intellectually inferior to him says more about the author's laziness than about the impressive sisters. Engels ’relationship with Mary Burns lasted twenty years and her influence on Engels and communism has been completely underestimated.31 The Burns sisters had great influence on Engels when he was sent to Manchester by his wealthy Conservative family in December 1842. The sisters were daughters of Irish immigrants who lived in Manchester's overpopulated slums. Engels may have met Mary in the Hall of Science in Manchester, so she may have been a radical.32 Without the Burns sisters who introduced him to the slums, Engels would probably not have been able to personally drive the “Endeavors to get to know its sorrows and joys ”of the proletariat, as he wrote in his famous work on the“ situation of the working class in England ”. In this book he also dedicated a chapter to the life of Irish immigrants in Manchester.33 The book was first published in German in 1844, where it had a great influence on socialist feminists like Louise Otto, who in turn used it as the basis for her novel “Schloß and factory ”. 34

When Engels traveled to Brussels in 1845, Mary Burns followed him shortly afterwards and the couple lived next to the house of the Marx family. After Engels had defended the barricades in the German Revolution in 1848, he returned to Manchester in 1850 and tried to live with Mary and Lizzie as inconspicuously as possible. In May 1854, in a letter to Marx, he complained that “the Philistines had discovered my coexistence with Mary,” and he was forced to move out.35 Some of the more respectable rebels also found it a little “overbold” of Engels, Mary den To allow workers' meetings to be attended as they could be accused of immorality.36 In contrast to these philistines, many radical friends accepted the fact that they lived unmarried as husband and wife, which was not unusual in the working class at the time. For example, the Chartist leader George Julian Harney wrote to Engels in 1846 and ended his letter with "Greetings to Mrs. Engels". In 1856 the couple toured Ireland and were able to see for themselves the devastating consequences of the great potato famine. Mary died in 1863 at the age of only 42, and Engels and Lizzie became lovers. Lafargue wrote that Lizzie "was in continuous contact with Irishmen, of whom there were many in Manchester, and kept abreast of their plots" .37 In 1870, Engels and Lizzie moved to London, where they were near the Lived home of the Marx family. These two households were dominated by politics and culture - and strong, eloquent women.

1848: women on the barricades

The revolutions of 1848 sparked a variety of women's activities and socialist and women's rights ideas. Some leading German revolutionaries belonged to Marx ’and Engels’ circles. Mathilde Anneke was 19 years old when her broke father married her to a wealthy merchant and drinker who mistreated her. She fought for her divorce for six years and married a socialist, Fritz Anneke, in June 1847. In Cologne, the couple joined radical circles. Mathilde was the only female member of a political club under Marx ’leadership who wrote for a radical democratic newspaper in the city at the time.38 Marx’ newspaper reported on Fritz's arrest for sedition. While Fritz was in prison, Mathilde gave birth to a son, but continued to work on the revolutionary newspaper they founded. In order to be able to reconcile the care of her child and the publication of the newspaper, Mathilde moved furniture and carpets and set up a printing press in her salon.39 When the newspaper was banned, she founded the first German women's newspaper to encourage women for the cause of the revolution 40 In the spring of 1849 Mathilde and Fritz fought together against the advancing soldiers in the Baden constitutional struggle. When the uprising was suppressed, they fled to the United States, where Mathilde became a celebrated speaker and published a socialist newspaper for German-speaking women.

Another woman from Marx's circle was the Jewish socialist Emma Siegmund. The French Revolution of 1830 had inspired the young people and she wrote:

I read French revolutionary history and was driven by a volcanic glow, now glowing, now half frozen. - How, however, if a time came [...] when the overall education would be so omnipotent that man only saw the brother in the other, where only merits would be recognized [...]; would those kings still be needed? 41

In 1842 she met the radical democratic poet Georg Herwegh, who was about to be deported. She traveled to Zurich and Michail Bakunin, a Russian anarchist, was her best man. The couple settled in Paris and became close friends with Jenny and Karl Marx. Another German socialist refugee, Arnold Ruge, suggested that his family, the Herweghs and the Marxens could live a “piece of communism” together in one house. Emma refused, but the Marxens made a brief attempt.42 The Herweghs remained close friends with the Marx family during their time in Paris. Emma ran a political salon that attracted many of the leading radicals of the time, including Victor Hugo, Ivan Turgenew, Franz Liszt, and Georges Sand. When the news of the German Revolution of 1848 reached Paris, the Herweghs organized an armed band of radicals to march into Baden, and Emma went with them. After the suppression of the uprising, the Herweghs and their four children were able to flee back to Paris.

Engels and the Marx family were forced to leave Germany, and they settled permanently in England, where they also frequented circles in which oppression of women was a major issue. In the early 1840s, Engels had several articles for the newspaper founded by Robert Owen The New Moral World which also offered anti-capitalist women's rights activists such as Anna Wheeler and Emma Martin a platform. Marx and Engels were in contact with radicals and women's rights activists who gathered in the Unitarian Church on South Place, including Sophia Dobson Collet, her chartist brother Collet Dobson Collet and his daughter Clara, also a women's rights activist. 43

Marx and Engels became friends with many leading Chartists such as Helen MacFarlane, both of whom they admired very much.44 In December 1850, Jenny sent six copies of the New Rheinische Zeitung, Marx's newspaper, to Engels with a request to pass one on to MacFarlane.45 Although the newspaper had been closed a year earlier, older editions were of interest to those who wanted to understand the failure of the revolutions. MacFarlane had witnessed the revolution in Vienna in October 1848 and came to the conclusion: “People are determined not to live with lies any longer. And how do people come to realize that the old forms of society are worn out and worthless? By the emergence of a new idea. ”46 MacFarlane helped spread these new ideas when they published them for Chartist magazine in November 1850 Red Republican took over the translation of the Communist Manifesto into English. In the same year the Austrian field marshal Julius Jacob von Haynau came to London. He was notorious for crushing the Hungarian Revolution and for publicly stripping and whipping female insurgents. Workers at the Barclays, Perkins & Co. brewery on London's South Bank tried to drown the general in a beer kettle, then chased him down Borough High Street, shouting "Down with the Austrian executioner". MacFarlane wrote in defense of the workers: “Some Austro-Russian press representatives were amazed that low-ranking people like beer-coachmen, boiler-heaters and so on could know all about continental affairs. [...] But they are people, and thinking people at that. I honor them and I congratulate them with all my heart. ”47

The women who built the First International

The activism of so many women that Marx and Engels saw in the 1840s and 1850s prompted them to include women in building their organizations. When the First International was formed in London's St. Martins Hall in 1864, many French socialists and British trade unions protested against women's membership. In contrast, Marx encouraged Lizzie Burns and other women to join the International independently of their husbands.48 Marx even boasted of the election of the freethinker Harriet Law to the organization's general council.49 He supported Harriet's suggestion that state schools should be owned by the church 50 and began his speeches by addressing workers and workers.51 Marx wrote jokingly to Ludwig Kugelmann, who had not answered him: “[…] Frau Goegg […] has sent an epistle to the Brussels Congress , with an inquiry whether the ladies can also join us? Of course, the answer was politely in the affirmative. So if you continue your silence, I will send your wife power of attorney as a correspondent for the General Council. ”52

The industrial revolution created conditions in which women and children could perform tasks previously reserved for better-paid workers. Many in the labor movement declared that wages could only be maintained if women were excluded from the world of work. Only the boldest took the view that wages could also be protected by equal pay for women. In 1866, Marx opposed a resolution calling for women to be excluded from wage labor. Four years later, Marx wrote:

[It] shows very great progress in the last Congress of the American "Labor Union" in the fact that it treats the female workers with full parity, while a narrow-minded spirit in this regard is a burden to the English, but even more to the gallant French falls. Anyone who knows anything about history also knows that great social upheavals are impossible without the feminine ferment. Social progress can be measured precisely by the social position of the fair sex (including the ugly) .53

In that context, it is not very likely that Marx's comment is an example of occasional sexism. Rather, it was probably a sarcastic comment on the very sexist idea of ​​a "fair sex". Thanks to the efforts of Marx and his followers, the First International attracted some of the most radical women of its time. The seamstress and socialist Jeanne Deroin was one of the great figures of the 1848 French Revolution. She organized workers and demanded political and social rights for women. She founded the newspaper with others La Voix des femmes (The voice of women) and sold them on the streets of Paris. When Deroin was the first woman to run for the National Assembly in 1849, the French socialist Proudhon scoffed at the fact that a female MP was about as useful as a male nurse. Deroin then asked what specific male organ Proudhon considered necessary for the task of a member of parliament.54 After the defeat of the revolution, Deroin and her ally Pauline Roland were imprisoned. From their cell they wrote to the American Women's Rights Assembly of 1851:

Sisters of America! Your socialist sisters in France are united with you in defense of the right of women to civil and political equality. We are also deeply convinced that only through the power of solidarity - through the unification of the working class of both sexes to organize work - can civil and political equality of women and the social rights of all be achieved.55

Pauline Roland was deported to Annaba in Algeria. She was released after two years but died on the way back to her children. Deroin was released in August 1852 and sought refuge in London. We know that she became a member of the First International because the General Council read out a letter from her on October 3, 1865, with which she very likely reminded the Council of its commitment to gender equality.56 On August 2, 1886, she joined Eleanor Marx and William Morris elected to the Socialist League.

In 1866 a small group of women, including veterans from 1848, organized a socialist-feminist association in Paris. This group included the teacher Louise Michel, Paule Mink, a seamstress of Polish origin, and André Léo, a writer.Mink and Léo joined the First International. Another member became the combative bookbinder and strike leader Nathalie Lemel. The women of the International were decisive in ensuring that women's demands were at the center of the emerging workers' democracy in the Paris Commune. When the French government tried to disarm the citizens of Paris, they rose and for two months “the insurgent women throughout the city carried out, inspired, theoretically led and led the revolution”. 57 women with small children in their arms flocked to the city countless political clubs that were springing up like mushrooms all over town.

A well-known figure in the political clubs was the Russian socialist Elisabeth Dmitrieff. Dmitrieff had spent three months in London and had intense discussions with the Marx family. Marx sent the then 21-year-old Dmitrieff to Paris as the official envoy of the International; she repaid him for the trust placed in her by becoming one of the best leaders of the Commune. In Paris, Elisabeth met another Russian socialist, Anna Jaclard, a leading member of the Montmartre resistance committee that fought for women's rights. When the commune published an appeal for aid, Jaclard's committee announced: “Inspired by the revolutionary spirit, the women of Montmartre want to show their commitment to the revolution through their actions.” 58 Jaclard also founded a socialist newspaper and corresponded regularly with Marx.59 Dmitrieff , Lemel, Léo and Mink founded the women's organization Union des femmes with the aim of organizing support for the commune among working women, and took care of those wounded in the street fighting. The Union also advocated equal pay, girls' education, women's rights to divorce and to work. It created democratic structures and every member had to join the First International. In the short-lived Paris Commune, women did not get the right to vote - in fact, it did not happen until 1945 - but radical socialist women sat on the commune's committee for women's rights.

When the commune was attacked militarily by the national government, the Union issued the following appeal: “We have reached the crucial moment when we must be ready to die for our nation. No more weaknesses! No uncertainty! All women to arms! All women on duty! ”Dmitrieff, Lemel, Michel and many other women fought at the barricades for days when the city was shelled. Around 25,000 children, women and men were shot in Paris. Jaclard and her husband were captured, but they were able to escape to London, where they found accommodation with the Marx family. Lemel was deported to New Caledonia. Dmitrieff fled to Russia and left no further traces.

Lissagaray wrote the history of the Paris Commune in 1876, which Eleanor Marx, who was then related to him, translated and published. In this book he pays tribute to Léo and her “eloquent pen”, Michel who became “a lioness for the cause of the people”, and Dmitrieff who recalled a fighter of the French Revolution of 1789. These women, he wrote, formed a central committee that published "ardent proclamations":

It is a matter of victory or death. You who say: What do I care about the triumph of our cause if I have to lose my loved ones, know that there is only one way to save your loved ones if you throw yourselves into battle

Marx drew important conclusions for the question of organization from the actions of the militant Communard women. At the Congress of the International of 1871 he presented a resolution in which he called for the formation of "female sections" in order to reach women workers, although he stressed that these "of course not oppose the composition of branch societies made up of workers" 61 In 1880 Marx wrote an introduction to the program of a new socialist party in France, which stated that “the emancipation of the class of producers [includes] all people, regardless of gender or race” .62 Marx and Engels made sure that the most militant women found a home in the First International and other socialist parties, and these women proved in the great uprising of the Paris Commune what women's activism was worth.

Women organize for equality and socialism

The First International collapsed after the defeat of the Commune and was replaced by the Second International in 1889. The Marxists were the ones who most consistently urged the acceding parties to advocate equality for women. At the founding congress of the Second International, which was held in Paris, the resolution was passed: “The congress further declares that it is the duty of the workers to include workers as equal in their ranks, and as a matter of principle demands: equal wages for equal work for workers of both sexes and regardless of nationality. ”63 In 1891 the Second International instructed its member parties to work for equality for women.64

Friedrich Engels and August Bebel, both leading personalities of the International, promoted the development of the largest women's movement in Europe. The women's department of the International, which was based in Germany, organized its own conferences, carried out a campaign for the right to vote, and launched International Women's Day.65 Clara Zetkin headed the International Women's Secretariat from 1907. From 1892 she was editor-in-chief of the newspaper The equalitywith which women workers should be reached. The newspaper had a circulation of 70,000 copies in 1906.66 Many women in the women's secretariat were later prominent opponents of the First World War and supported the revolutionary uprising that ended the war.

Engels understood how important it was to encourage young women to become self-confident socialist organizers. Adelheid Popp grew up in great poverty and worked as a seamstress and factory worker, in 1889 she joined the Social Democratic Workers' Party in Austria.67 She was the first woman to give lectures in the party and she became the editor-in-chief of the influential socialist party Workers' newspaper.68 In her autobiography, Popp remembers her first encounter with Engels as a teenager, which her mother did not like at all:

Since there were still few women working in the party at that time, but the leaders considered the cooperation of women to be useful, Friedrich Engels was also interested in my development. [...] With August Bebel he came to my modest suburban apartment. They wanted to make the old woman understand that she should be proud of her daughter. But my mother, who could neither read nor write and who had never heard anything about politics, showed no understanding for the good intentions of the two leaders. Both were famous all over Europe, their revolutionary literary and oratory activity had set the authorities in motion all over the world, but they had left the poor old woman untouched. She didn't even know their names. 69

Adelheid's mother desperately hoped that she would bring home a young man fit for marriage, and was completely unimpressed by the visit of the two venerable socialists.

Theories of Emancipation

Women's autobiographies show that many came to socialism after reading Marxist approaches to women's oppression. The first of these writings, "The Woman and Socialism" from 1879, came from August Bebel, expanded in 1883 to include findings from Engels' "Anti-Dühring". Engels ’wrote the second with“ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State ”from 1884, which Bebel also took up for an expanded edition.

Like many socialists and women rights women of his time, Bebel argued that men and women were fundamentally different in nature, but that they should have the same rights and freedoms. He wrote:

Of all the parties, the Social Democratic Party is the only one that has included full equality for women, their liberation from all dependency and oppression in their program, not for agitational reasons, but out of necessity. There is no liberation of mankind without social independence and gender equality.70

"Die Frau und der Sozialismus" appeared in 53 editions by 1913, was translated into 20 languages ​​and several hundred thousand were sold despite temporary state censorship.71 According to library directories, it was one of the most frequently loaned books.72

Ottilie Baader was a German worker who resisted the social and family constraints that were imposed on women. When she was 13 she had to find work as a seamstress, and she wrote outraged about the subordinate role of women. She described the dramatic effect Bebel's book had on her in the equality:

The bitter misery of life, the excess of work and the bourgeois family morality had killed all joy in me. Resigned, hopeless, I lived there, bent over the machine from early morning until late at night. To me and to the thousands who lived just as lonely and hopelessly, the news of the wonderful book that the turner August Bebel, the revolutionary, the social democrat, had written like a lightning bolt. The book had to be obtained. It was forbidden. Although I did not yet commit to social democracy myself, I had friends who belonged to that party. It was through her that I received the precious work. I read it at night. [...] Neither in the family nor in public I had heard talk of all the sufferings that women as a sexual being have to endure. […] Bebel's book courageously broke with the old secrecy […]. The book was not read through once, ten times. Because everything was so new, it took some inner effort to come to terms with Bebel's views; I had to break with many things that I had previously thought to be right. 73

After Marx ’death, Engels wrote a materialistic declaration of the family based on his work, published in 1884 as“ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State ”. In this groundbreaking work, he refuted the idea that the family is natural and immutable. He showed that the oppression of women was not inevitable. How societies were organized depended on the “production and reproduction of immediate life ”.74 He defied traditional ideas and emphasized that women and men of the future would find their own attitude towards sexuality. The book was published in several editions and has been translated into six European languages. 75

Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling wrote the brochure "Die Frauenfrage", with which they wanted to defend Engels ’work and make it better known. In this booklet you compare the position of women in relation to men with the position of the working class in relation to the bourgeoisie. In doing so, they express their unreserved support for the struggle of all women against any expression of male domination.

Engels' correspondence proves that he took women as authors and activists very seriously. In 1885 Engels corresponded with the German socialist feminist Gertrud Guillaume-Schack, who wanted to know whether the program of the Workers' Party of France, in which the demand for equal wages for women was made, had been written by him and Marx. Engels replied: "As far as I know, equal wages for both sexes are required of all socialists for the time when wages have not yet been abolished." 76

He debated revolutionary strategy with Vera Sassulitsch, who belonged to the first generation of Russian revolutionaries, and discussed with her the translation of his writings and that of Marx. Engels wrote to her: "It will be a fine day for me as well as for the daughters of Marx, on which the Russian translation of 'Misery of Philosophy' will appear." Ideas were involved. 77

Engels discussed literary criticism with the German novelist Minna Kautsky, mother of the socialist Karl Kautsky. He discussed realism in the novel with the British novelist and socialist Margaret Harkness, who had sent him her novel "A City Girl"

Engels also corresponded with Florence Kelley, a US reformist who led a campaign for the eight-hour day and for children's rights. In their letters they discussed, among other things, a US edition of "The Condition of the Working Class in England," which Kelley translated. No man would have written these long, respectful, and serious letters if he only had a weakness for pretty, but not for intellectual women.

Women, work and emancipation

The concrete experiences of women and men of the working class formed an essential part of the theoretical insights of Marx and Engels. Great Britain saw unprecedented industrialization in the 1830s and 1840s, starting with the cotton industry in Lancashire, transforming the methods of production across the country. Most women had worked in the past, running the family businesses and farms and making goods in their homes, the industrial revolution radically transformed women's work. A huge, impersonal market created greedy but unstable demand for goods, and many women had to submit to the brutal discipline of factory manufacturing, with dire consequences for their health and that of their children. The entrepreneurs built on pre-existing attitudes towards women, according to which they were worth less than men, in order to replace male workers in the mechanized industries with low-paid women’s work and to sow division in the workforce. Marx wrote of the workers, but included women, for example in this paragraph:

The technical subordination of the worker to the uniform course of the work equipment and the peculiar composition of the working body of individuals of both sexes and of the most varied of ages create a barrack-like discipline that develops into a complete factory regime and the above-mentioned work of the superintendent, i.e. at the same time the division of the workers fully developed into manual workers and labor overseers, into common industrial soldiers and industrial NCOs. 79

In “Das Kapital”, Marx described the devastating effects of the machinery on the textile industry, where the “revolutionary” sewing machine represented an attack on the countless branches of the industry, the hat and clothes makers, the seamstresses, glove makers and shoemakers: “It was just that the cheapness of human sweat and human blood transformed into goods, which constantly expanded and expanded the sales market every day [...]. "80 women and children were exposed to toxic substances in the printing works, also known as" slaughterhouses ", as well as in the brick factories. Marx called the sorting of rags "one of the most infamous, filthiest and worst-paid jobs, for which young men and women are used with preference" .81 Women clothing makers were dependent on the unpredictable rhythm of the London "season". They were overworked and worked until they dropped when demand was high. Marx cited a newspaper report of the death of Mary Anne Walkley, a twenty-year-old milliner, from overwork. When demand collapsed, these workers plunged into complete misery. Around 150,000 women and children were involved in lace making. They usually started at the age of six, and when demand was high, they worked in “stinky work holes” from 6 or 7 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m. These were the young, female workers with zero-hour contracts of the time.

Because of the contradictory nature of capitalism, entrepreneurs revived old forms of patriarchal control to enable new methods of production. The introduction of machinery meant that labor became cheaper and the man's wages could not support the family. The whole family had to work to survive. Marx stated that the capitalists bought labor from children and treated them like slaves: “The worker used to sell his own labor, which he had as a formally free person. He is now selling wife and child. He becomes a slave trader. ”83 Marx categorically condemned the way in which the employer enabled workers to exercise authority over their families.

Some feminist critics have claimed that Marx could explain exploitation in the workplace, but not the oppression of women in the family. What Marx and Engels describe is precisely how capitalist relations of production change every aspect of life. Engels' entire book, The Condition of the Working Class in England, is steeped in understanding and compassion for women workers. He describes how mothers had to leave their babies with their older siblings while they worked in the factory from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the milk flowed from their sore breasts.84 He describes the sexual assaults of the factory owners on women workers under threat of the Dismissal and that they “did not allow themselves to be disturbed by anything in the exercise of their 'well-acquired' right” .85

Traditional family relationships were even turned upside down as women found work in the factories while their husbands were laid off. For Engels, this development revealed that the oppression of women was a result of society, not nature:

[...] we have to admit that such a total reversal of the position of the sexes can only come from the fact that the sexes were wrongly placed against each other from the beginning. If the rule of the woman over the man, as it is necessarily brought about by the factory system, is inhuman, then the original rule of the man over the woman must also be inhuman.86

Engels does not want a return to a male-dominated family, but the abolition of the family itself.

Without a welfare state or education system, the large-scale employment of women outside the home appeared to be incompatible with the existence of private family units. Many commentators were shocked by the breakdown of the family, which they viewed as a microcosm of the state in which the man exercised his rightful authority over his wife and children. Marx and Engels belonged to the radical socialist tradition that saw the family as the reason for women's oppression and the source of male tyranny over women. Utopian socialists had gone to great lengths to create collectivity-based alternatives to the family in their communities. By the 1840s, almost all of the utopian communities founded in England, France and the United States had collapsed, leaving socialists with two options: either fighting to ensure that women could work on equal terms with men, or they organized campaigns for the family wages and the withdrawal of women to the home. Marxists opted for the former, but they also saw the apparent dissolution of the family as a contradicting process.

The working conditions for women in the factories were terrible and Marx was appalled by the “immense mortality of working-class children” .87 Marx and Engels saw women entering the labor market as a means of their own emancipation. Marx wrote:

As terrible and disgusting as the dissolution of the old family system appears within the capitalist system, it is nonetheless created by great industry with the decisive role it assigns to women, young people and children of both sexes in socially organized production processes beyond the sphere of the domestic system new economic basis for a higher form of the family and the relationship between the two sexes. 88

Why, despite the horrors that working life held in store for women and children, were Marx and Engels so convinced that wage labor was the key to women's emancipation? For them it was not just about ending the material dependence of women on men, even if that was part of their considerations. A second reason was that women worked together and that they developed their own culture of togetherness, going out, drinking and political debate, much to the displeasure of Victorian commentators. More importantly, where women worked, they organized collectively, sometimes with men and sometimes independently of them.

Focusing on the workplace did not mean that Marx and Engels ignored the potential for mobilization in the community. In 1855, Marx stated that the English Revolution broke out when protests broke out in London against new laws on the serving of beer and Sunday trading: pubs and shops were to close on Sundays and workers were deprived of their only opportunity to buy fresh groceries and go out to drink. Marx described how “zealous Chartists rummaged through the masses and handed them leaflets during the three hours ”.89 But it was the work-related struggles that offered the best opportunity to overcome deeply ingrained prejudices about women.

The relationship between the sexes and the labor movement in the 1830s and 1840s was controversial at the time and remains so by historians to this day.90 There were many strikes demanding the exclusion of women from certain industries, and women's labor was systematically devalued.91 At the same time but there were examples of solidarity between men and women and also the formation of joint trade unions. In the General National Consolidated Trade Union, a trade union association founded in 1834, men and women were organized together, which was not achieved again until the 20th century

The driving force of the labor movement in Marx ’and Engels’ times was the Lancashire cotton industry, which was characterized by the large number of women employed on the same terms as men and with the same piece-rate. Most of the women spent most of their lives in the factory and were active participants in union building and strikes.93 Women played an important role and outstanding in the radical movements from Peterloo (1819) to the Reform Act and Chartism of 1832 involved in the strikes that struck Lancashire in 1842. Women were involved in the Preston Lock Out when entrepreneurs resorted to mass lockout in 1853/54. Marx recognized the role of women when he wrote: “[…] over the past eight months this town has seen a strange spectacle - funded by unions and workshops throughout the UK, there was a standing army of 14,000 men and women set out to fight a tremendous social struggle with the capitalists for power, while the Preston capitalists were in turn assisted by the Lancashire capitalists ”94

Cotton mill workers generally sided with the North in the American Civil War, despite the major ruling class support campaign for the South and the great hardship caused by the blockade of the South by the North, what is known as the "cotton famine" in history 95 Marx wrote that the “heroic resistance of the English working class” against the “criminal folly” of the ruling classes had saved Western Europe from a “transatlantic cruise for the perpetuation and propaganda of slavery ”.96 Women also took an active part in this, also at the great workers' meetings in support of the north. 97

Lancashire women were also prominently involved in the socialist revival of the 1880s and the suffragette movement for women's suffrage in the early 20th century.98 The position of women as workers meant that they were able to stand up in the interests of their class and theirs Organize sex collectively. 99

Criticism and conclusions

Marx and Engels developed their own approach to the oppression of women, which both attracted criticism and was and is still being expanded in the same tradition

In a recent essay, Tithi Bhattacharya criticizes Marx, Bebel and Engels for seeing the root of women's oppression in their exclusion from wage labor and the resulting dependence on men. Bhattacharya argues that this analysis leads to the wrong conclusion that the family cannot survive women's entry into the labor market, and points out that women have always worked outside the family without being liberated. She adds that with the explanatory approach of “dependence” the family is seen externally as social production and shaped by social production, rather than as an equivalent component of this social production.101

There is no denying that the family was more permanent than Marx and Engels could imagine. When capitalism stabilized in the long economic boom of the 1860s and the workers' revolts subsided, the working class family emerged as the only institution available to care for children. Marx then began to examine the historical development of the family, a task that Engels completed after Marx's death. In “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” Engels repeated Marx's argument that women can only achieve equality when “both are legally fully equal. It will then be shown that the first prerequisite for the liberation of women is the reintroduction of the entire female sex into public industry, and that this again requires the abolition of the individual family as an economic unit of society. ”102 Crucial for the emancipation of the She was employed because she would have ended the privatized family. He was wrong on this question, but he was right that social production and the creation of alternatives to the family was the only way to free women.

There are many joint struggles that can deal a blow to capitalism, and women have always played an important role in rent strikes, land occupations, riots, and campaigns in the community. But the relationships in the company depend in a special way on being collectively organized. By fighting together, women and men can overcome the backward and divisive ideas that they had accepted for years and become aware of their own power to shape the system themselves. A strike calls into question the conditions of exploitation, but it also has the potential to replace competition, prejudice and narrow-mindedness with solidarity.

The exploitative relationship between capital and labor arises in the company, but is not limited to the world of work. One result of the economic structures of capitalism is the alienation that affects every aspect of our life, the workplace and the home, the public and the private. The capitalist mode of production captures every individual, family and social need and subjects it to the production of profit. Fighting against exploitation can become the basis for creating the collective organization of workers. This in turn can become the basis of a new, higher form of democracy and the replacement of alienation with the conscious, communal control of the relationship between nature and one another.

Perhaps the most important confirmation of Marx and Engels 'arguments is the tremendous accomplishments of the only successful workers' revolution in history, which occurred in Russia in 1917. Under the most difficult conditions, the revolutionary government invested precious resources in setting up communal canteens, kindergartens and laundries in order to free women from the burden of the family and enable them to participate in public life without restriction. The Russian revolutionary Inessa Armand wrote in 1919: “All the interests of women workers, all the conditions for their emancipation are inextricably linked to the victory of the proletariat, without which they are unthinkable. But this victory is unthinkable without their participation in it, without their struggle. ”103


Judy Cox is a teacher in East London. She is doing her PhD on women in the Chartist movement from the University of Leeds. She is also the author of The Women’s Revolution: Russia 1905–1917 (Haymarket, 2019).