Sunday, 24 February 2013

Feminism, socialism, anarchism

For this post I have used Michael Rapport's Nineteenth-Century Europe (Palgrave, 2005) and A Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century History, ed. John Belchem and Richard Price (Penguin, 1994). I have found the latter a very useful work of reference though the entry on Bismarck is disappointingly short.

The nineteenth century saw the advancement of political rights for men but the emancipation of women was hampered by the doctrine of separate spheres and by the double standard of sexual morality. This was attacked in John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869), the key feminist text of the 19th century.

However, in many parts of Europe women gained more rights in the family. The Custody of Infants Act in Britain (1839) allowed a separated wife to claim custody of a child under seven. From 1857 women in England and Wales were allowed to divorce their husbands, though not for adultery alone. From 1870 a series of Married Women’s Property Acts recognized the independent legal existence of married women. Similar laws were passed in France and Germany. From 1912 French women were able to sue fathers for financial support.

The sexual double standard received official sanction in a series of acts regulating prostitution. The Contagious Diseases Acts in Britain provided for the compulsory examination of prostitutes (or women thought to be prostitutes) in naval and garrison towns. They were only abolished after a prolonged campaign in 1885. There was a similar campaign in Germany in the early 1900s.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847-1929)
In 1867 John Stuart Mill introduced an unsuccessful clause in the Reform Act of that year that would have allowed women to be given the vote on the same terms as men. In 1897 Millicent Garrett Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies to campaign peacefully through books, pamphlets and public meetings. Her work is commemorated today in the Fawcett Society.

However, from 1903 the suffragists (as they were called) were outflanked by the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (named 'the suffragettes' by the Daily Mail).

There was much less pressure for women's suffrage in France, where politicians of Right and Left were united in their desire to prevent women getting the vote: the Right because they believed that woman's place was in the home, the Left because they saw women as priest-ridden and innately conservative. However, in 1883 Hubertine Auclert (1848-1914) formed Women’s Suffrage, which urged women to go on a tax strike. In 1909 the French Union for Women’s Suffrage was established.

In Germany the Union of German Women’s Organizations was formed in the 1890s to campaign for the vote and against the regulation of prostitution.

In the 1905 Revolution in Russia women became involved in political meetings and in organizing strikes.

But women’s suffrage was not widely supported. Many women were opposed and formed anti-suffrage organizations. The movement for women’s suffrage was especially weak in France where politicians of the Left and Right argued (for different reasons) against giving the vote to women.

However in many areas women were gaining more rights. Millicent Fawcett’s sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, was the first woman doctor to practise in England. British women could vote in local elections from 1907. Technology opened new occupations for women as typists and telephone operators. The expansion of primary education provided a significant career opening for women.

The term emerged as popular usage during the 1830s though the genesis can be seen during the later years of the French Revolution with Gracchus Babeuf’s Conspiracy of Equals. Socialist ideals were propagated by the manufacturer Robert Owen, the owner of the mills at New Lanark, the count de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and Charles Fourier (1772-1837). Their idealistic doctrines were a response to the harshness of industrialization. They envisaged a new type of society organized along collectivist and communal lines.

These thinkers were labelled ‘Utopians’ by the two founders of ‘scientific socialism’, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In his works, notably The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867) Marx argued that the nature of society was determined by man’s relationship to the means of production. Through the process known as the dialectic, aristocratic society is replaced by bourgeois society, but this is overthrown by the proletarian revolution. Marx believed that as Britain was the most advanced bourgeois capitalist society at the time, it would be the first to fall to the proletarian revolution.

In 1864 delegates from across Europe founded the First International, an attempt to organize international co-operation among working-class organizations. Although it included liberals as well as socialists, it soon came under the influence of Marx and Engels and became more openly socialist. In 1872 it transferred to New York and ceased to be effective in Europe.

From 1873 the European economies suffered a series of slumps and this enabled socialist ideas to gather support among the working classes, especially in Germany. On 23 May, 1863 Ferdinand Lassalle founded a party under the name Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein (ADAV, General German Workers' Association). In 1869, August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht founded the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei (SDAP, Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany), which merged with the ADAV in 1875, taking the name Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (SAPD).

The party was outlawed in 1878 by Biskmarck’s anti-socialist law which outlawed socialist newspapers, shut down socialist societies and arrested leading socialists. But its thriving subculture of reading groups, sports and leisure societies ensured its survival in strongholds such as Berlin, Frankfurt and Leipzig. In 1890 the laws were relaxed and at the Erfurt Congress in 1891 it adopted the name Social Democratic Party (SPD) and committed itself to a Marxist analysis of society and the pursuit of revolutionary goals. In1890 it attracted close to 1.5 million votes and elected 35 representatives to the Reichstag.

In 1912 it had over a million members and the support of a third of the electorate, making it the largest party in the Reichstag. By this time it was the largest socialist party in the world. This seemed to show that socialists could reach the threshold of power by legal means. By 1914 also Germany had the largest trade union movement in the world, with a quarter of the workforce unionized. Not all unions were socialist – some were Catholic.

Jean Jaurès (1859-1914)
The first French socialist party was founded in 1879 in Marseille but divisions between the moderate Proudhonists and the Marxists were too deep to enable unity to be sustained. However in 1881 the first socialist was elected to the National Assembly, which had a 12-strong labour group by 1889. Socialists were able to work with radicals in promoting secularization and income tax reform. But following a wave of strikes in 1900-2 the Socialists split again.

The dispute was between reformists under Jean Jaurès and revolutionaries. But in 1914 Jaurès tried to adopt the anarcho-syndicalist tactic of the general strike in order to stop the war. This contrasted with the Socialist deputies in Germany who voted to support the war, which they saw as a crusade against repressive Tsarist Russia.

The British labour movement predated the spread of socialist ideas and its character was reformist rather than ideological. In the 1870s British trade unions were organizations of skilled craftsmen who regarded themselves as the ‘aristocracy of labour’. In 1871 and 1875 Liberal and Conservative governments allowed peaceful strikes and gave protection to the funds of trade unions.

The 1880s saw the spread of the ‘new unionism’ which recruited from the unskilled and was more socialist in ideology. The great triumph of the ‘new unionism’ was the London Dock Strike of 1889, which secured the ‘dockers’ tanner’.

The Marxist Social Democratic Federation was founded in 1884, but the bulk of British trade unions did not adopt Marxist theory. In the same year the Fabian Society, composed of middle-class radicals, advocated gradual and peaceful reform. In the election of 1892 Keir Hardie and two others won seats for ‘labour’. In 1993 the Independent Labour Party was founded. On 27 February 1900 delegates from the socialist societies and several trade unions founded the Labour Representation Committee. After winning 29 seats in the general election of 1906 the party changed its name to the Labour Party.

Russia’s main socialist party was the peasant-based Socialist-Revolutionaries. But they were challenged by Marxists, many of them in exile. In 1903 Russian Marxists held a conference in London. The delegates split between those who advocated a broadly based party (Mensheviks –' minority') and the Bolsheviks ('majority') who argued for a small cadre of committed revolutionaries. From 1912-14 the Mensheviks played a role in organizing a wave of strikes in the Lena gold fields. On the eve of war St Petersburg workers demonstrated against the brutal suppression of a strike in the Baku goldfields. The strike was defeated by lock-outs and police action in the middle of July.

On 14 July 1889 the socialist parties across Europe gathered in Paris to found the Second International (a title given to it by historians), which continued to meet every year until July 1914. For an English translation of the Socialist anthem the Internationale, see here. For the history of the anthem see here.

From 1889 to 1914 socialist parties grew in strength in every country, benefiting from the expanding trade union movement and the extension of the franchise.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Europe was hit by a series of strikes. The miners' strike of 1889 was the greatest stoppage in German history. In Britain in 1911 the dockers, seamen, and railwaymen went on strike. One of the most militant areas was South Wales. In 1912 there was a successful national miners' strike over a minimum wage.

Artist's conception of the shooting of President William McKinley, September 1901

Anarchism is the theory that conceives of society without government. Late 19th century anarchism was the product of a debate about the inherent nature of man: did he need government in order to restrain his unruly impulses or did government disrupt the naturally harmonious relationships between people? Although it came to be associated with bomb-throwing and terrorism, in essence it sprang from the optimistic belief that human beings were innately good and peaceful. Two of its leading exponents were the Russians, Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) and the novelist, Tolstoy.

Anarchists differed from liberals because they did not believe in market forces or private property. Like socialists, anarchists rejected capitalism but they did not share the socialist belief that the state was a necessary agent of social and political emancipation. Divisions between socialists and anarchists were to divide the left at the end of the 19th century.

The first person to propound a theory of anarchism was William Godwin (1756-1836) in his Political Justice (1793). The most important anarchist thinker was the French Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809-65), who in his What is Property? (1840) popularized the phrase ‘property is theft’ and was the originator of the idea of workers’ control of industry. He became a journalist during the Second Republic and attempted to form a popular bank in 1849 but this collapsed after his imprisonment for press offences.

The revolutionary strain in anarchism was represented by Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), who argued that the control of the state could only be broken by violence. In his Reaction in Germany (1842) he coined the anarchist slogan: ‘The passion for destruction is also a creative one’. He had played a leading part in the 1848 revolutions, had been arrested and sentenced to death, had been exiled in Siberia from where he escaped via Japan and America to western Europe. In 1868 he quarrelled with Marx and was expelled from the First International.

His successor as a leading anarchist was Kropotkin . He was arrested and imprisoned in the 1860s, escaped to Switzerland from where he was deported in 1881 for spreading revolutionary propaganda, and settled in England. He rejected Bakunin’s violence and returned to Proudhon’s concept of mutual aid and co-operative labour.

At the end of the century anarcho-syndicalists, drawing on the thinking of the revolutionary socialist August Blanqui, argued the necessity of direct action and general strikes. France saw a wave of strikes in the early years of the twentieth century. Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau responded to the general strike threat in May 1906 by massing 35,000 troops in Paris and arresting the leaders of the syndicalist CGT (Confédération géneral du travail). Following this membership of the anarcho-syndicalist unions declined. This was only partly due to government action. France was still a country of farmers and small shopkeepers and traders and trade unionism was weaker than in the more highly industrialized Britain or Germany. But anarchists mounted bomb attacks in Paris in 1893 and assassinated President Carnot at Lyon in 1894

Anarchism was especially strong in Italy where many artisans drew inspiration from the Paris Commune. In 1878 there was a failed assassination attempt on King Umberto and two people were killed by a bomb in Florence. In 1900 Umberto was finally assassinated.

In Spain more than twenty people were killed at a theatre bombing and ten at a religious procession. In Barcelona’s ‘Tragic Week’ in 1909 anarchists burned 50 churches, monasteries and Catholic schools. Government troops restored order killing over 100 people and arresting 2000. Seventeen people were executed including the innocent Francisco Ferrer Guardia, ‘the Spanish Dreyfus’. In June 1912 the Spanish Prime Minister José Canalejas was assassinated.

Violent anarchists advocated the ‘propaganda of the deed’. A good example was the attempt to bomb the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. This was immortalized in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, the first novel I know of to figure a potential suicide bomber.

A prominent victim of the ‘propaganda of the deed’ was the beautiful Empress Elizabeth of Austria. On September 10, 1898, she was stabbed to death in Geneva with a needle file by a young anarchist named Luigi Lucheni. who afterward said,
‘I wanted to kill a royal. It did not matter which one.’
In September 1901 President William McKinley was shot by the Polish anarchist Leon Frank Czolgosz while attending the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He died on 14 September eight days after the attack. The newly-developed X-ray machine was displayed at the fair, but doctors were reluctant to use it to search for the bullet because they did not know the side effects. The assassin was executed by the electric chair. His last words were
I killed the President because he was the enemy of the good people – the good working people. I am not sorry for my crime.'