Social-Democracy & Woman Suffrage A Paper Read by Clara Zetkin to the Conference of Women Belonging to the Social-Democratic Party Held at Mannheim, Before the Opening of the Annual Congress of the German Social-Democracy
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Title: Social-Democracy & Woman Suffrage
A Paper Read by Clara Zetkin to the Conference of Women Belonging to the Social-Democratic Party Held at Mannheim, Before the Opening of the Annual Congress of the German Social-Democracy
Author: Klara Zetkin
Release Date: July 10, 2018 [eBook #57474]
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PRICE ONE PENNY.
Social-Democracy & Woman Suffrage.
Comrades,—The decision to discuss the question of WomanSuffrage at this Congress was not arrived at from any theoreticalconsiderations, or from any wish to point out the advisability ofsuch a measure. This desirability has long been acknowledgedby Social-Democrats, and by the women who work with them forthe attainment of their aims. We have been much more interestedin the tactics and in the historical events about which I am nowgoing to speak. There never was greater urgency than at thepresent time for making the question of Woman Suffrage one ofthe chief demands of our practical programme in politics. It iswell for us, therefore, to be clear that we are on the right lines,and in what conditions and in what ways we should conductthe agitation, the action, the struggle for Woman Suffrage soas to bring it before the public as a question of intense practicalactivity for all. But we should not be what we are, we shouldnot be working-class women agitators who base their demandson the ground of a Socialist demand, if we did not, when seekingon the right lines, with all our strength, for this right, at thesame time show why we base our claim for this reform, andhow we are totally separated from those who only agitate for thisfrom the point of view of middle-class women. We take ourstand from the point of view that the demand for WomanSuffrage is in the first place a direct consequence of the capitalistmethod of production. It may seem perhaps to others somewhatunessential to say this so strongly, but not so to us, because themiddle-class demand for women’s rights up to the present timestill bases its claims on the old nationalistic doctrines of theconception of rights. The middle-class women’s agitation movementstill demands Woman Suffrage to-day as a natural right,2just as did the speculative philosophers in the eighteenth andnineteenth centuries. We, on the contrary, basing our demandon the teachings of economics and of history, advocate thesuffrage for women as a social right, which is not based on anynatural right, but which rests on social, transient conditions.Certainly in the camp of the Suffragettes it is also understoodthat the revolution which the capitalist method of production hascaused in the position of women, has been of great importancein causing many to agitate for their rights. But this is notgiven as the most important reason, the tendency is to put thisin the background, and, as an illustration of this, I would refer,for example, to the declaration of principles which the middle-classinternational association for the attainment of WomanSuffrage formulated at its first Congress in Berlin, in June, 1904,when the constitution of the society was drawn up. In thisdeclaration of principles there are stated firstly, secondly, andthirdly, considerations from a purely natural-right point of view,which were inspired from a sentimentalist standpoint due toidealistic considerations, and it will need other grounds of action,other considerations, other ideals if the masses are ever to bereached. It was only when they came to the fourth clause, aftertalking about the economic revolution of society, that they beganto think about the industrial activity of women. But in whatconnection? There it was stated that Woman Suffrage isrequired, owing to the increase of wealth, which has been attainedby the labours of women. Comrades, I declare that the strongestand greatest demand for women’s rights is not due to the increaseof wealth among women, but that it is based on the poverty, onthe need, on the misery of the great mass of women. We mustreject with all our might this middle-class agitation of women,which is only a renewed idle prattling about national wealth. Ifyou simply argue from the point of view of natural rights, thenwe should be justified in adapting the words which Shakespeareputs into the mouth of Shylock. We might say, “Hath not awoman eyes? Hath not a woman hands, organs, dimensions,senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt withthe same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by thesame means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summeras a man is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickleus, 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 whichbreaks as soon as it is used in fighting.
The right to Woman Suffrage is based for us in the variationof social life which has come about through the capitalist methodsof production, and more especially through the fact of womenworking for their living, and in the greatest degree through theenrolment of working women in the army of industry. This hasgiven the greatest impetus to the movement. I agree that thereare facts which appear to go against this movement. It is a3fact that the agitation for Woman Suffrage, though in a weakenedform, already existed in many countries before capitalist productionhad become more important than anything else, before ithad reached its highest point, and had been able to attain itsgreatest development owing to the exploitation of women’s labour.In Russia, in the village communes, women were able to takean equal share with men, in certain cases, in the governmentof the communes. This is an old custom, which has been dulyrecognised by Russian law. But this right is due to the fact thatin Russia the old customs of the rights of mothers have lastedfor a longer time than in the West of Europe, and that therewomen enjoy this right not as persons or as individuals, but asguardians of the household, and of the common property whichhas lasted longer there. In many other States, as well as inmany provinces, of Prussia, there is still a species of womansuffrage. In the seven eastern provinces, as well as in Westphaliaand Schleswig-Holstein, the women in the country districts havevotes for the local bodies. But under what conditions? Notevery woman has the right of voting, but it is restricted to thosewho own land and pay taxes. The same rule obtains not onlyin the country but also in the towns, in part of the Palatinate, andin other places. In Austria, too, the women in the country districtshave the right of voting for the members of the local districtauthorities, but only in so far as they are owners of land andinasmuch as they are taxpayers, and it is thought that they willsoon be able to vote for the election of members of the local dietsand of the Reichsrath. And the consequence is that, in manyCrown lands of Austria there are women who are indirectlyelectors for the Reichsrath, because they are allowed to vote forthe delegates who choose the representatives for that body. InSweden women who fulfil the same conditions of property are alsoallowed to vote in the elections for local bodies. But when wecarefully consider all these cases, we find that women do notvote because they are women; they do not enjoy, so to speak, apersonal vote, but they only have this right because they areowners of property and taxpayers. That is not the kind ofWoman Suffrage which we demand; it is not the right we desireto give a woman, as a burgess of the State, it is only a privilegeof property. In reality, all these and similar schemes stand outin marked contrast to the demand for Woman Suffrage whichwe advocate. In England we find, too, that women may takepart in elections for local bodies; but this again is only underconditions of owning a certain amount of property or paying acertain sum in taxes.
But when we demand Woman Suffrage, we can only do so onthe ground, not that it should be a right attached to the possessionof a certain amount of property, but that it should be inherentin the woman herself. This insistence of the personal right ofwoman to exercise her own influence in the affairs of the townand the State has received no small measure of support, owing4to the large increase in the capitalist methods of production.You all know that already in the beginning of the capitalistdevelopment these thoughts found their first exponents amongmembers of the middle-class democracy. There is no need forthe middle-class to be ashamed of this, that they—in the timeof their youth—still dreamed their dreams, and that theirmore advanced members were brave fighters in the struggle forwomen’s rights. We see, moreover, people in England arguingin favour of Woman Suffrage as a personal right. We see themalso striving like the French middle-class, which achieved theirpolitical emancipation over the body of Louis Capet.
We see that they fought with great energy during the strugglein North America for the abolition of slavery. Briefly, in allthose periods in which the middle-class agitated for the completeattainment of democratic principles as a means of effecting itsown political emancipation and securing power, it also foughtfor the recognition of equal rights for women. But with whateverzeal and whatever trouble and whatever energy this questionof the rights of women was demanded by the middle-class, yetit was not till the advent of Socialism that the struggle began inearnest. Already in 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft, in her celebratedwork, “The Claims of Woman,” already in 1787, Condorcet, inhis Letters from a Citizen of Newhaven, had claimed equalrights for women; and the cause also received an impetus fromthe French Revolution. The demand for Woman’s Suffragewas