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A Paper Read by


To the Conference of Women belonging to the Social-Democratic Party held
at Mannheim before the opening of the 1906 Annual Congress of the German

Twentieth Century Press, Limited (Trade Union and 48 hours), 37A,
Clerkenwell Green, E.C.

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A Paper Read by


To the Conference of Women belonging to the Social-Democratic Party held
at Mannheim, before the opening of the Annual Congress of the German

Comrades,—The decision to discuss the question of Woman Suffrage at this
Congress was not arrived at from any theoretical considerations, or from
any wish to point out the advisability of such a measure. This
desirability has long been acknowledged by Social-Democrats, and by the
women who work with them for the attainment of their aims. We have been
much more interested in the tactics and in the historical events about
which I am now going to speak. There never was greater urgency than at
the present time for making the question of Woman Suffrage one of the
chief demands of our practical programme in politics. It is well for us,
therefore, to be clear that we are on the right lines, and in what
conditions and in what ways we should conduct the agitation, the action,
the struggle for Woman Suffrage so as to bring it before the public as a
question of intense practical activity for all. But we should not be
what we are, we should not be working-class women agitators who base
their demands on the ground of a Socialist demand, if we did not, when
seeking on the right lines, with all our strength, for this right, at
the same time show why we base our claim for this reform, and how we are
totally separated from those who only agitate for this from the point of
view of middle-class women. We take our stand from the point of view
that the demand for Woman Suffrage is in the first place a direct
consequence of the capitalist method of production. It may seem perhaps
to others somewhat unessential to say this so strongly, but not so to
us, because the middle-class demand for women’s rights up to the present
time still bases its claims on the old nationalistic doctrines of the
conception of rights. The middle-class women’s agitation movement still
demands Woman Suffrage to-day as a natural right, just as did the
speculative philosophers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We,
on the contrary, basing our demand on the teachings of economics and of
history, advocate the suffrage for women as a social right, which is not
based on any natural right, but which rests on social, transient
conditions. Certainly in the camp of the Suffragettes it is also
understood that the revolution which the capitalist method of production
has caused in the position of women, has been of great importance in
causing many to agitate for their rights. But this is not given as the
most important reason, the tendency is to put this in the background,
and, as an illustration of this, I would refer, for example, to the
declaration of principles which the middle-class international
association for the attainment of Woman Suffrage formulated at its first
Congress in Berlin, in June, 1904, when the constitution of the society
was drawn up. In this declaration of principles there are stated
firstly, secondly, and thirdly, considerations from a purely
natural-right point of view, which were inspired from a sentimentalist
standpoint due to idealistic considerations, and it will need other
grounds of action, other considerations, other ideals if the masses are
ever to be reached. It was only when they came to the fourth clause,
after talking about the economic revolution of society, that they began
to think about the industrial activity of women. But in what connection?
There it was stated that Woman Suffrage is required, owing to the
increase of wealth, which has been attained by the labours of women.
Comrades, I declare that the strongest and greatest demand for women’s
rights is not due to the increase of wealth among women, but that it is
based on the poverty, on the need, on the misery of the great mass of
women. We must reject with all our might this middle-class agitation of
women, which is only a renewed idle prattling about national wealth. If
you simply argue from the point of view of natural rights, then we
should be justified in adapting the words which Shakespeare puts into
the mouth of Shylock. We might say, “Hath not a woman eyes? Hath not a
woman hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and
summer as a _man_ is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle
us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” But, comrades,
though these questions might be of momentary use, yet in the struggle
for social rights they are like a weapon which breaks as soon as it is
used in fighting.

The right to Woman Suffrage is based for us in the variation of social
life which has come about through the capitalist methods of production,
and more especially through the fact of women working for their living,
and in the greatest degree through the enrolment of working women in the
army of industry. This has given the greatest impetus to the movement. I
agree that there are facts which appear to go against this movement. It
is a fact that the agitation for Woman Suffrage, though in a weakened
form, already existed in many countries before capitalist production had
become more important than anything else, before it had reached its
highest point, and had been able to attain its greatest development
owing to the exploitation of women’s labour. In Russia, in the village
communes, women were able to take an equal share with men, in certain
cases, in the government of the communes. This is an old custom, which
has been duly recognised by Russian law. But this right is due to the
fact that in Russia the old customs of the rights of mothers have lasted
for a longer time than in the West of Europe, and that there women enjoy
this right not as persons or as individuals, but as guardians of the
household, and of the common property which has lasted longer there. In
many other States, as well as in many provinces, of Prussia, there is
still a species of woman suffrage. In the seven eastern provinces, as
well as in Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein, the women in the country
districts have votes for the local bodies. But under what conditions?
Not every woman has the right of voting, but it is restricted to those
who own land and pay taxes. The same rule obtains not only in the
country but also in the towns, in part of the Palatinate, and in other
places. In Austria, too, the women in the country districts have the
right of voting for the members of the local district authorities, but
only in so far as they are owners of land and inasmuch as they are
taxpayers, and it is thought that they will soon be able to vote for the
election of members of the local diets and of the Reichsrath. And the
consequence is that, in many Crown lands of Austria there are women who
are indirectly electors for the Reichsrath, because they are allowed to
vote for the delegates who choose the representatives for that body. In
Sweden women who fulfil the same conditions of property are also allowed
to vote in the elections for local bodies. But when we carefully
consider all these cases, we find that women do not vote because they
are women; they do not enjoy, so to speak, a personal vote, but they
only have this right because they are owners of property and taxpayers.
That is not the kind of Woman Suffrage which we demand; it is not the
right we desire to give a woman, as a burgess of the State, it is only a
privilege of property. In reality, all these and similar schemes stand
out in marked contrast to the demand for Woman Suffrage which we
advocate. In England we find, too, that women may take part in elections
for local bodies; but this again is only under conditions of owning a
certain amount of property or paying a certain sum in taxes.

But when we demand Woman Suffrage, we can only do so on the ground, not
that it should be a right attached to the possession of a certain amount
of property, but that it should be inherent in the woman herself. This
insistence of the personal right of woman to exercise her own influence
in the affairs of the town and the State has received no small measure
of support, owing to the large increase in the capitalist methods of
production. You all know that already in the beginning of the capitalist
development these thoughts found their first exponents among members of
the middle-class democracy. There is no need for the middle-class to be
ashamed of this, that they—in the time of their youth—still dreamed
their dreams, and that their more advanced members were brave fighters
in the struggle for women’s rights. We see, moreover, people in England
arguing in favour of Woman Suffrage as a personal right. We see them
also striving like the French middle-class, which achieved their
political emancipation over the body of Louis Capet.

We see that they fought with great energy during the struggle in North
America for the abolition of slavery. Briefly, in all those periods in
which the middle-class agitated for the complete attainment of
democratic principles as a means of effecting its own political
emancipation and securing power, it also fought for the recognition of
equal rights for women. But with whatever zeal and whatever trouble and
whatever energy this question of the rights of women was demanded by the
middle-class, yet it was not till the advent of Socialism that the
struggle began in earnest. Already in 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft, in her
celebrated work, “The Claims of Woman,” already in 1787, Condorcet, in
his Letters from a Citizen of Newhaven,[1] had claimed equal rights for
women; and the cause also received an impetus from the French
Revolution. The demand for Woman’s Suffrage was inscribed among the list
of reforms desired by some electors at the French Revolution, and a
petition asking for it was also presented to the National Assembly. But
this body contented itself by issuing a platonic declaration that it
relegated the question to the consideration of mothers and daughters.
But in 1793 the Committee of Public Safety, on the motion of Amar,
dissolved all the women’s organisations, and forbade their meetings.
Then the French middle-classes gave up the struggle for Woman Suffrage;
and the first Socialists—the Utopians—Saint Simon and Fourier, and their
disciples, took up the cause. In 1848 Victor Considérant, in 1851 Pierre
Leroux, agitated concerning this question. But they received no
encouragement, and their arguments were received with scorn and
derision. In the English Parliament in 1866 a numerously signed petition
in favour of Woman Suffrage was first presented by John Stuart Mill, one
of the most enlightened minds of the democratic middle-class.

Footnote 1:

“Letters from a Citizen of Newhaven to a Citizen of Virginia on the
Uselessness of Dividing the Legislative Power in Several Bodies.”

These struggles for the emancipation of women have indeed secured some
concessions, and many advantages have been gained; but the political
emancipation of the female sex to-day, and especially in industrial
lands, is as far off as ever, while the most stalwart exponents of
middle-class democracy for men, having attained most of their demands,
are no longer clamouring, as during the fight, for equal rights for
women. The preliminary condition for success is that there should be a
great increase in capitalist production. It stands in the closest
relation with the revolutionising of the household. With the increase of
industry, which in primitive conditions was carried on in the family,
and when that family carried out industrial operations as a whole in the
home, there was not then a demand for the emancipation of woman from the
family and the household, and women did not then, always living at home,
feel the need for political power. The same machinery which drove with
decisive power the home industries from the family, allowed woman to
become an active worker outside the home, and her advent on the labour
market produced not only new economic, but also new social, effects. The
destruction of the old middle-class woman’s world has created, of
necessity, a new moral purpose in women’s lives, in order to secure to
them new advantages. Therefore, the middle-class woman’s world was
compelled to recognise the necessity of advocating the political
emancipation of women as a precious and useful weapon, and with its help
to endeavour to procure changes in the law, so that man should no longer
enjoy a monopoly, and prevent women from earning their living. In the
proletarian women’s world the need, so far from being less, was indeed
much greater to obtain political power, and they advocated complete
political emancipation. Hundreds of thousands, nay millions, of women
workers have been exploited by capitalist methods. Statistics are there
to show how in all capitalist countries women are more and more going
into the labour market. In Germany, the last census (that of 1895) gives
the number of women working as 6,578,350, and of these the workers in
factories, etc., were no less than 5,293,277. In Austria, in 1890, there
were 6,245,073 women working, and of these there were 5,310,639 working
in factories; in France, in 1890, the numbers were 5,191,084 and
3,584,518; in the United States, in 1890, 3,914,571 and 2,864,818; in
England and Wales, in 1891, 4,016,571 and 3,113,256.

This I only give as an illustration, not only to show that women deserve
the suffrage, but also to show what importance the labour of women has
attained. It is evident that the question of woman’s rights must be
greatly influenced, owing to the fact of so many women being in the
labour market. Hundreds of thousands of working women who labour with
their brains are just as much exploited by the action of capitalists and
middle-men as the millions of women who work with their hands, because
the whole capitalist class hangs together, and defends its interests. By
this economic process, women have also been taught to think and act for
themselves. And they now demand Universal Suffrage as a social necessity
of life as the aim and means which will give them a stimulus to obtain
protection and improvement by obtaining an improvement in their economic
and moral interests. But when we place the demand for Woman Suffrage in
the front as a social necessity, we also argue that it should be granted
to us as a self-evident act of justice. Woman is not only now
emancipated from the family and the home, but she is determined to use
the activity of her brain and hand in order, just as man, to improve her
mental and social position, for the clear light which the furnace of
great factories has thrown on the path of woman has made her conscious
of the social worth of her activity, and has directed it into other
channels. It has taught her the great social importance and the great
social worth of her career as a mother and the educator of youth. For
the multitude of women who go to factories will generally become wives;
they then will become mothers and bear children, and they know that the
care which they give to their new-born children, the zeal with which
they discharge their duties in training children, shows that the service
rendered by the mother in the home is no private service simply to her
husband, but an activity which is of the highest social importance.

Because millions are condemned, not through their own fault, not through
a want of their motherly instinct, but owing to the pressure of
capitalist influence, to forego their bodily, spiritual, and moral good,
then, as a consequence, there is a great increase in infant mortality,
and children do not receive proper attention in their tender years. All
this proves the high social worth of labour which woman performs in the
producing and rearing of children. The demand for Woman Suffrage is only
a phase of the demand that their high social worth should be more
adequately recognised.

But they base this right also on the ground of the democratic principle
in its widest bearing, not only on the fact that the same duties demand
equal rights, but we also say that it would be criminal for the
democracy not to use all the strength which women have in order that by
their work of head and hand they may take part in the service of the

We do not maintain, like certain advocates of women’s rights, that men
and women should have the same rights because they are alike. No; I am
of opinion that in bodily strength, in spiritual insight, and in
intellectual aims, we are very different. But to be different does not
necessarily imply inferiority, and if it be true that we think, act, and
feel differently, then we say that this is another reason which condemns
the action of men in the past, and a reason why we should try and
improve society.

From this point of view of history, we demand the political equality of
women and the right to vote as a recognition of the political rights due
to our sex. This is a question which applies to the whole of women
without exception. All women, whatever be their position, should demand
political equality as a means of a freer life, and one calculated to
yield rich blessings to society. Besides, in the women’s world, as well
as in the men’s world, there exists the class law and the class
struggle, and it appears as fully established that sometimes between the
Socialist working women and those belonging to the middle class there
may be antagonisms. For women the Suffrage has practically an entirely
different meaning according to the conditions under which they live. It
may indeed be said that the value of the Suffrage depends, in most
cases, on the property they possess. If women happen to have a large
property, the sooner they can hope to attain political rights, because
they can bring more pressure to bear by the very fact of being rich. The
question is also one of great importance for the women of the middle
class. A large number of them are not in the same pleasant position as
their richer sisters who have not to get their living by their own work.
Often, however, they do not depend so much on their work for a means of
living, but they engage in work rather to increase their wealth.
Naturally, they think a great deal of their class and their position,
and do not imagine that by any possibility they might become working
women, either employed in factories or the land, because they are
earning their bread in so-called free or liberal callings. The same
equality of opportunity with man, and the possibility of exercising
these callings will often, as far as women are concerned, be hindered by
social customs if not by legal impediments. Therefore, it behoves the
women of the middle classes, women living in fair comfort, to agitate
for the possession of the Suffrage in order to pull down the legal
fetters which in some way hinder their development or cripple their
energies. This middle class should agitate for the Suffrage, not only in
their own interests, in order to weaken the power of the male sex, but
they should also labour in the cause of the whole of social reform, and
give what help they can in that matter. But while we are ready as
Socialists to use all our political might to bring about this change,
yet we are bound to notice the difference between us and them. The
middle-class women really wish to obtain this social reform, because
they think it is a measure which will strengthen and support the whole
of middle-class society. The working women demand the Suffrage, not only
to defend their economic and moral interests of life, but they wish for
it not only as a help against the oppression of their class by men, and
they are particularly eager for it in order to aid in the struggle
against the capitalist classes. And they ask for this social reform not
in order to prop up the middle class society and the capitalist system.
We demand equal political rights with men in order that, with them, we
may together cast off the chains which bind us, and that we may thus
overthrow and destroy this society. These reasons show us clearly why,
up till now, the middle-class women have not been in favour of
universal, equal, secret, and direct voting for all legislative bodies
without distinction of sex. Besides, as soon as this simple principle of
Woman Suffrage is adopted, then all the nonsense about the weakness of
woman falls to the ground. The difference of social classification has
been the cause that the middle class demand for women’s rights has never
really fallen into line with the majority of the women workers who
demand the Suffrage, because the upper ten thousand have never really
been anxious to obtain political equality with man. Much less is it
right that the middle-class women’s movement should calmly and placidly
be enthroned in the clouds, far above party strife, in the clear heights
of blameless rectitude and freedom from party spirit. The world congress
for women’s rights has yielded a fine crop of fallacies. Carefully have
its members embarked on a sea of perplexities, and have declared in a
spick and span manner what kind of Suffrage they wished for. The
President of the Society of German Women has indeed revealed herself
more radical than the women of the radical middle class, for she at all
events has said that she not only wanted a vote, but that she was in
favour of universal, equal, secret, and direct Suffrage for both men and
women. Of the other middle-class women groups, not one has shown itself
in favour of this cardinal point of the Suffrage. For while not a single
one of these ladies has discussed the question of Universal Suffrage,
the President of the united organisation has declared, personally, that
she is only in favour of a vote which shall be the same for men and for
women. This declaration certainly honours the person who made it, but it
cannot alter our position with reference to the middle-class women who
are in favour of obtaining the vote. It cannot be otherwise as long as
these women will not fall into line and advocate the measures of which
we are in favour. I remember how, in the winter of 1901, the Radical
Women’s Union, “The Welfare of Women,” sent in a petition to the
Prussian Landtag asking that the right of voting for that body might be
granted to women, but only to those who had qualified by living for one
year in the constituency, and who paid a certain sum, however small, in
direct taxation. The meaning of that is clear, that for this, as for
other bodies, the franchise should only be granted to ladies and not to
the working women, who are without property. As you know, many people
would be in favour of that; and not only would working women not get the
vote, but the next step would be to deprive men of their vote, for that
is what is behind that idea of granting votes only to people who pay
taxes. Yet such a scheme is palpably absurd, for I would ask—do not the
poor pay taxes? They do, and it is the ruling classes who receive them.

The Radical Women’s Union, to which I have referred, have shown that
they are not in favour of Woman Suffrage as we understand it, because,
in 1903, when there were elections to the Reichstag, their union worked
for middle-class Progressives and Liberals, and opposed the Socialist
candidates. I will not here argue the question any further. The fact
has, moreover, been admitted on the middle-class side, and the
middle-class woman’s union has been guilty of the shameful fact of
supporting, in Hamburg, the middle-class candidate, though his opponent

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Online LibraryKlara ZetkinSocial-Democracy & Woman Suffrage → online text (page 1 of 3)