Just a quick message to welcome you all to our new website, which we have launched to celebrate one of the many achievements of revolutionary social democracy: International Women’s Day (IWD)! Whether you are already familiar with our content via Patreon, the platform through which we have been publishing our content since Autumn 2022, or whether you are visiting us for the first time, we hope you like what you see. Feel free to browse through our translation archive and let us know if you have any questions/spot any gremlins on the new page.
Please note that the ‘Shop’ feature is not quite ready yet, but in future will allow you to purchase cheap PDF versions of some of the translations without becoming a monthly subscriber. In the future we also plan on printing books of the translations, which will be sent free of charge to all ‘Die Neue Zeit’ Patrons (10GBP/month or more) and of which all Patrons will receive free weekly translations of the material. For IWD 2022 we have also produced an audiobook of August Bebel’s 1891 speech ‘The Social Position of Women Today’, which is available on all of our audio platforms and is the first such narrated translation, which will be a feature of the site alongside our podcast series. Please subscribe using the socials linked on the right.
The first Marxism Translated book project is Clara Zetkin’s pamphlet ‘The (Working) Women’s Question of Our Time’. We hope that the pamphlet can spark some discussion, as even though it has largely been forgotten for over 130 years, it must rank among the more authoritative discussions (Engels, Bebel, Krupskaya, Kollontai et al) of the women’s question in the Second International. Below you will find the first section of the pamphlet. For further sections, please consider becoming a Patron of this page from just 2GBP/month.
Apart from during those periods and among those peoples where ‘Mother Right’ granted women a dominant position of power within society, the situation of the female sex has always been that of the oppressed, of second-class people, of beings of a subordinate type. The selfishness of the man and the brutal violence of the physically stronger held women and their social influence within iron chains, with the generally accepted hypocrisies of sentimental poetic fripperies about the wealth of woman’s inner life and the empty talk of the ‘dignity of the housewife’ seeking to trick women about this state of affairs.
The situation of women always corresponded to that of the mass of the people engaged in productive activity: both were dependent and devoid of rights. In essence, the rights and duties of the Greek and Roman ‘Matrons’ corresponded to those of the domestic slaves of Antiquity. During the Middle Ages, a woman’s role as the ‘amiable lady of the house’ [‘minnigliche Herrin’], the chaste housewife, was essentially the same as that of the serfs who were the maids in her household. Modern women are in no respects better off, and in many respects worse off, than modern wage-workers. Like the male workers, these women are exploited and devoid of rights – indeed, in most cases they are doubly exploited and devoid of rights.
This cannot be otherwise, for the position of women does not arise from certain eternally valid ideas, or from women’s unchangeable calling to carry out the ‘natural profession of the eternal female’ – this was an invention of sentimental longing. No, the position of women is a result of the social conditions of a given time based on the relations of production. These conditions, which assign a certain position to women in the various periods of history due to economic necessities, then in turn simultaneously draw on certain ideas about the social role of the female sex; ideas that simply have the purpose of glossing over what actually exists, of showing that what exists is eternally necessary, and of maintaining this state of affairs in the interests of those who benefit from it.
The subordinate position of women in society dates from the time when the conquering warrior made the woman that he had stolen his first piece of private property, his most distinguished instrument of labour and productive force. Under the pretext of offering protection for her during pregnancy and breastfeeding, he thereby took sole responsibility for providing for them both and for shaping the woman’s relationship to the surrounding environment. The man thus laid the foundations of both the economic and social dependence of the woman, as well as of the division of labour, which develops out of the contradiction between activities associated with acquiring, conquering and defending (the man), and those associated with maintenance and production (the woman). This was the source of that long outdated but firmly rooted prejudice that ‘man’s home is the world, woman’s world is the home’.
Religion and tradition did not hesitate to bless what was created by violence as an everlasting right. Over the centuries, the weaknesses and backwardness of women were elevated to a social dogma, to an irrefutable fundamental outlook on which an entire system of physical, mental and moral oppression was built.
Just as the teleological conception of the world held that the Creator made the ox to enable man to eat steaks and wear leather boots, so the wise philosophers and legislators saw no other purpose for the development and role of women than to be the best at being there for the convenience of other human beings, i.e. the men, by taking on the role of reproducing and carrying out domestic servitude.
The entire development of the woman strove one-sidedly towards one exclusive goal: the activities caried out under the protection and responsibility of the man within and for the benefit of the family.
Within this strictly limited sphere of the household, the woman was the most important productive force and was overloaded with tasks geared towards the prosperity and development of the family. However, she was only assigned the duties associated with this position and none of the rights. The man was, as it were, the responsible employer within the family, exploiting the woman’s labour-power in exchange for providing her lifelong upkeep.
As long as production was dependent on the old and flawed instruments of labour, the woman was unable to expand her sphere of activity. The primitive division of labour had tied her to the home; the mode of production kept her tied to it.
The old way of producing was so laborious, time-consuming and unproductive that the woman’s time and energy were completely taken up with producing most of the articles of daily use that were necessary for the family’s upkeep. The esteem in which the old housewife was held, despite being devoid of rights in public life, can thus also be explained with reference to economic motivations. Such esteem was also completely justified, because it did not apply to the woman as such, but to the woman as the outstanding, indispensable source of labour power in the family, producing goods that back then could not be produced by other workers.
It is these conditions that account for the fundamental difference between the role of the housewife in the past and that of the housewife today. The modest role played by the former was justified by the old economic living conditions, whereas the role of the latter has long become an economic anachronism that lacks any justification, because with the change in the mode of production quite different roles fall to the man and the woman inside the family and outside of it in economic life.
The fact that female productive power within the family was indispensable to the production of consumer goods also explains why in the past there was no such thing as a women’s question and that there could not be such a question as long as the old conditions of production prevailed. In the past, there could be talk of gradually improving the position of women in this or that respect, but not of the women’s question in the modern sense of the term, of a shaking up of the entire basis of their position in society, because back then such a transformation would have shaken life and ‘culture’ as a whole to the core. As with the modern workers’ question, the women’s question is in fact a child of large-scale production and industry that has been revolutionised by electricity, mechanical tools and steam power. Although the women’s question includes moral and political elements, it is neither a political nor a moral question, but an economic one.