Woman & Socialism

It is often asserted by our opponents, whenever hesitate to stoop to any and every means to divert the attention of the working class from their only path to emancipation, that Socialism would inevitably lead to community of wives ; in fact, one anti-Socialist went so far as to declare that “it would lead to universal prostitution.” It is doubtful whether this is the honest opinion of these critics, or written against their opinions simply to


of the people in an endeavour to prejudice them against Socialism. It may be that these superficial observers, having heard of the community of wives or group marriage under primitive communism, honestly believe that, as Socialism is the common ownership of the means of life, it will necessarily result in community of wives.

Of course, the intelligence of these would-be critics has not risen above the old conception of the inherent inferiority of women, believing that they exist simply to satisfy the desires of men. That women will some day be on an equality with men is beyond their comprehension, and doubtless against the wish of those who to-day are able to take advantage of women’s economic inferiority.

That the sexual relationship will change with the metamorphosis of the economic basis of society no Socialist will deny, or any keen student of ancient history seriously dispute, for a study of ancient society and the corresponding forms of society still in existence, shows conclusively that the sexual relations have followed the different stages of economic development.

Let us glance at two or three of the most salient forms of sexual co-habitation. The history of these forms is not merely a chronology of different marriage systems that evolve out of preceding forms, and the development of which would remain inexplicable but for the fact that a close analysis of a very remote system


to the solution of this all-important problem.

The now universally accepted theory of the descent of mankind from the anthropoid apes leads to the conclusion that promiscuous sexual intercourse would have been practised by the human race in its earliest stage, although it is possible that mankind brought with it from our anthropoid ancestors a recognised form of sexual relationship ; and again, no strict line of demarcation could have been drawn between these two species of animals. But according to Prof. L. H. Morgan (“Ancient Sooiety”) there exists a community of people who still practise a form of sexual co-habitation very remote from that arrived at in highly developed countries at the present time.

Among the Kamilaroi of Australia there exists, or did until recently, a very primitive form of group marriage, under which a group of men and a group of women are husbands and wives. No man, therefore, can say “This is my wife,” but could only refer to the whole group of women as “our wives,” and the converse is true of the women. Although this is a very low form of sexual relationship, it is a great advance on promiscuity, for it is so organised as to preclude the intermarriage of


While it is not intended to give the history of even the most prominent forms of sexual co-habitation that have evolved, yet as the system practiced by the Kamilaroi forms the basis, from which the higher systems have evolved, we will outline its salient features.

These people are divided into eight groups—four male and four female—which we will number from 1 to 8, using the odd numbers to denote the male and the even numbers the female groups.

All the members of groups 1 and 8 are husbands and wives, and their progeny belong, not to the group of the mothers or fathers, but to groups 5 and 6. The men of 3 and the women of 6 are also husbands and wives in common, and their offspring belong to 7 and 8. The children of 5 and 4 belong to 1 and 2, and those of “7 and 2 to 3 and 4. Although we call this form group marriage, they are not necessarily clustered together, but geographically distributed as their means of gaining a livelihood dictate. But wherever they meet they greet each other as husband and wife.

It will be seen that the system precludes the intermarriage of brothers and sisters.

Under any form of group marriage it was impossible for any man to say with any degree of certainty “this is my child.” The nearest approach to this would have been “these are our children.” The laws of inheritance of modern society would have been unintelligible under such a system. In the early days of the gens we find descent is in the female line, all the members of a gens assuming descent from a common female ancestor. But later descent is transferred to the male line—not any individual father, but to the gens or group of the father.

We have later the syndyasmian or pairing family. Here the co-habitation of one man and one woman was continued only during the pleasure of both.

The establishment of the monogamian system was due to the


It has its roots in chattel slavery. The very word “family” is derived from the Latin word “fam,” meaning a slave. Under this system the definite parentage of the child was ascertainable. But this system brought with it the further degradation of women, for while under the group form of marriage the woman was dependent upon no particular man for existence, for property was held in common, the reverse was the case under Monogamy.

In the incipient stages of the monogamian system the patriarch of Rome had power of life and death over his wife and children (O sacred rights of private property !), and Lecky tells us in his “History of European Morals” that : “The child was indeed the absolute slave of his father, who had a right at any time to take away his life and dispose of his entire property. He could look to no time during the life of his father in which he would be freed from thraldom ; the man of fifty, the consul, the general, or the tribune was, in this respect, in the same position as the infant, and might at any moment be deprived of all the earnings of his labour, driven to the most menial employments, or even put to death by the paternal command.” And this is the system in which our boasted form of the family has its origin !

But monogamy at this period of history belonged almost exclusively to the


and among men only nominally, whilst among the slaves (who formed the vast bulk of the popu¬lation) there was no legal form of marriage. Monogamy, therefore, was confined to a small minority of the people.

The wives of the patriarchs had more liberty than wives in Greece. The latter led a life of seclusion, rarely coming into contact with men, excluded even from their husbands’ tables when they were entertaining friends. They spent their time in domestic work, and had the intellectual development of children. What a contrast to the “free” women of the same country, who have been held up as the ideal of female intellectual and physical development ! But these were women who, seen through Christian spectacles, were the most immoral women on earth.

It must not be imagined that this is an exhaustive survey of even the most notable features in the evolution of the sexual relationships. But it is sufficient to show that the present monogamian marriage is but a development from other forms.

Each transformation is due, as with all other social institutions, to the changing economic conditions, while the present form arises out of individual private property.

While the working class are to day dependent upon the capitalist class for their livelihood, the women of this class have to depend to a large extent


for their living. Though many women are now engaged in production, it is obvious that the vast majority must be child-bearers if the human race is to continue. Where women are employed it is chiefly before marriage, although there are thousands who have to slave in factories when they should be nursing the rising generation.

The prohibition of legal marriage among the poor, with a view to restricting the population, has often been suggested as a remedy for poverty. But the adoption of this suggestion in Munich resulted in 50 per cent. of the births in that city being illegitimate. (Spencer Essays.)

The inability of women to find employment at wages sufficient to keep them and their children when the “breadwinner” has gone drives them into a life of prostitution. Lecky says: “The statistics of prostitution show that a great proportion of those who have fallen into it have been impelled by the


in many instances verging upon starvation.”

The Press can publish and the clergy echo, harrowing tales of the “decoying of innocent girls,” as if this was the cause of prostitution. But the root of the evil lies in the private ownership of the means of life. And we of the Socialist Party alone have the remedy. It is that all the means necessary for the production and distribution of wealth shall be owned and democratically controlled by the whole community.

The Suffragettes may continue their fight for the “emancipation” of women, but even if they achieve the limits of their aspirations, the political equality of men and women, they will still remain economically inferior to men.

The social war to-day is not a sex but a class war. It is a war between the capitalist class, who own the means of life, and the working class, who, divorced from the means of production, are forced to sell themselves to the capitalist class in order to subsist. The abolition of the private property basis of society will end this war, and the establishment of the co-operative commonwealth will at one stroke sweep away all preventable social evils. Prostitution implies sale, and under Socialism buying and selling cannot exist. Hence Socialism presupposes the abolition of the buying and selling of women, as of all other pillars of capitalist society.

The establishment of Socialism will remove the shackles from mankind without distinction of race or sex. The wealth of society being


women will have equal right to it with men. In this they will find their economic emancipation, for they will no longer be dependent upon any individual men for their living. Then, with the pecuniary basis of marriage swept away, true love will have an opportunity to flourish. Men and women will cohabit for love and for love alone. And when love no longer remains, instead of being tied to each other in hate, they will be free to terminate their co-habitation—for the necessity of the compulsory tie goes with the passing of the economic conditions that gave rise to it.

But as Engels says in his “Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State” :

“What we may anticipate about the adjustment of social relations after the impending downfall of capitalist production is mainly of a negative nature and mostly confined to elements that will disappear. But what will be added ? That will be decided after a new generation has come to maturity : a race of men who never in their lives have had any occasion for buying with money or other economic means of power the surrender of a woman ; a race of women who have never had any occasion for surrendering to any man for other reason but love, or for refusing to surrender to their lover from fear of economic consequences. Once such people are in the world, they will not give a moment’s thought to what we to-day believe should be their course. They will follow their own practice and fashion their own public opinions about the individual practice of every person—only this and nothing more.”


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