School and War, by Madeleine Pelletier

[From a French original made availble on Marie-Victoire Louis’ blog originally published in La Fronde, 31/12/1926]

School and War
Madeleine Pelletier
La Fronde

Mr. Herignhoc, a professor at the Law Faculty in Toulouse, has just written an article, in the journal “Scientia”, about “The Rational Organisation of the Society of Nations”. He would like it to organise, on top of its organisms of direct defence against war, world education, by example by fighting illiteracy.
That is all well and good, but I think we could go further along this path of civilisation.

The mass of workers and peasants is infected with jingoism. To assert this, you only have to try and have a discussion in a foreign language in a workers’ cinema or any other popular setting. Immediately, you will attract disparaging remarks: “What are they mumbling there! Couldn’t they stay in their countries!”, etc.
This xenophobia of the people doesn’t grow unaided; obviously, tradition transmits it, but school, as it is today, only intensifies it.

History should be entirely reformed. It centres, as we know, around wars; we could even say, according to primary school history books, that history is only a succession of wars and treaties.

We must write a history which speaks less of kings, of their ministers and of their generals and more about the people. How people lived in the olden days, how work was organised, what the living conditions of workers and peasants looked like. How people lived, their food, their clothes, their houses, their furniture. What women’s conditions were, how were families organised, what influence religion had, what people did for leisure, etc.

Even for small children in primary school, it could draw an abridged picture of every nation on earth, with their language, their governments, their customs.

To talk about wars would be necessary, but only to condemn them; we could say who made up armies; how recruitment was made; what the life of a soldier, a life of looting, a given death sentence; say how little human life was worth.

After such an education, people would no longer believe that foreigners are savages and that only France is civilised.

In the school courtyard, war-like games would be banned. We could replace them, for example, by something of the same kind, but with a benevolent idea: make kids play firemen, rescuers, etc.

I think it wouldn’t be hard, with a ministerial decree, to ban the selling of any military toy: no more guns, swords, helmets, uniforms or tin soldiers. We could replace tin soldiers with, for example, football players, or athletes doing exercise.

Nothing pops into the brain which doesn’t come from senses.

When all jingoism will be banned from education, it will disappear from people’s mentalities.

Woman must work, by Madeleine Pelletier

Woman must Work
Dr. Madeleine Pelletier
Le Libertaire

The Woman’s Voice published the summary of an article from the Rote Fahne (The Red Flag) from Vienna on women’s labour.

It offers the old Socialist idea of the situation of women; an idea which is primarily antifeminist since, by advocating to keep women at home, it perpetuates their slavery. However, we can see some progress. The Austrian Socialist understands that by closing the factory gates to women, he turns her into an enemy of socialism, and he concludes in favour of women’s labour.

It is annoying to see that, in matters of women’s rights, it is the working class who proves most reactionary. Workers might want to free themselves from the bourgeoisie, but they intend to remain masters of their wives, maintain her in her economic dependency, in such a way that she is forced to submit to sexual slavery in order not to starve. It is in progressive groups that we can most often hear the old clichés on women’s intellectual inferiority, her “special nature” which would ban her from work, etc.

Women are weaker than men but this is of no concern for society. Far from protecting women’s weakness, as it hypocritically pretends, society only increases this hypocrisy, by taking away from the female sex the means to live.

Weak or strong, women are individuals who have the right to live as they wish.

During the massacre which just ended, we saw that only age-old prejudice banned women from some professions. By opening these jobs to them, we saw that they are able to do them. Their average ability did not equal those of men, but it does not matter. It was still far from null, since capitalists kept working women and even paid them wages as they had never had before.

We always remain focused on the issue of equality or inequality which, actually, does not have to be raised. Equality does not exist among men in intelligence or strength; there are strong people, weak people and average people in either domain.

Women will do what they can, and as long as the current society exists, working women must fight to make bosses pay her labour as dearly as possible.

Financial emancipation of women is not only justice, it is the real interest of men. If most men do not think so, it is because they are traditionalists. They want to live like their fathers and grandfathers. Revolutionary as far as society is concerned, they do not want revolution to enter their homes, but it must.

Housewives are the worst enemies of the revolution. Limited to their kitchens, they do not know anything about the outside world, and she has an instinctive fear of everything which threatens its peace and quiet. To have a man who brings back good weekly and monthly pays, but who doesn’t drink too much, who doesn’t hit her when the soup is not good, that is her ideal.

In politics, she is reactionary because she is attached to her “home”, just like the bourgeoisie is attached to their capitals. She hates strikes and hates the unions who prepare them; she hates the groups which incite her husband to forge what she considers wild dreams. To her, an “honest man” is a quiet man, who doesn’t go out, who likes to stay at home.

Superficial minds concluded from this very real psychology of the housewife that women are incorrigible reactionaries. Housewives only have the mentality of their state. She is like the artisan of the old days who, confined at home where they worked on their own, had no idea about social change.

It is the factory which made Socialists and Anarchists. Factories and workshops will do to women what they did to men. And we will then see that women don’t lag behind. The evolution which we indicate has already started actually. The industrialisation of women will bring about the revolution.

Feminism and the Working Class, by Madeleine Pelletier

Feminism and the working class
Madeleine Pelletier
July 1912
La Suffragiste

The working-class will be last to come round to feminism. It is natural: ignorant people only respect brute force and it is a waste of time to try to interest them by showing them female genius crushes by man’s rule.

If I am a Socialist, it is because I passionately love justice. I cannot stand that, as soon as they are born, we draw distinctions between individuals, raising one to lead, and the other to obey. I am in favour of everything: enlightenment, power, well-being being accessible to everyone and of the most worthy being given the highest rank.

But liking the working class as it currently is, no! A thousand times no!

I declare these principles to the readers of “La Suffragiste” because I have just read an article by Pouget1 which I am sure will they won’t like any more than I did. Comrade Pouget, one of the leaders of the CGT, writes about the milliners’ union which was just created. Naturally, he happy about this union victory, but he fears for the future. Female unions, he observes, do not last, they are a short-lived flash in the pan. They are formed around some industrial event or other: a strike, some obviously unfair treatment which managed at some point to raise some indignation. Then, straightaway, they fall. At first, it is the main part of the troops which stops showing up, then it is the militants themselves, discouraged by the absence of members.

Why is that? Pouget observes: it is because of housework. Once the working day over, the male worker is free, while the female worker is not: she must on top of everything do her housewqork, and therefore she has no time to attend union meetings. However, Mr. Pouget would like her to attend union meetings. It is through unions that male workers have gained wages which, although low, allow them to live. If female workers do not earn enough to live independently, it is because they are not organised. So what can we do?

I assure you I would have found the answer straightaway. I would have told male workers: my dear comrades, when you are alone to work to fund your household, it is fair that your wife who does not work takes care of the housework. But when she works all day just like you do, it is your strict duty to help her. She is not your servant, but your equal, just like you, she needs to inform herself, get to know the causes of her poverty, learn to organise to defend herself against the ruling class. She must therefore have time to do so, and therefore you need to do your share of household chores.

That is how I would have solved the problem, and I assure you I take no glory in such a discovery: to reach it, no need for a transcendental intellect, a simple sense of justice is enough.

However, such a simple solution is not mentioned by Mr. Pouget. You don’t say, tell male workers to help their wives with housework, but that would be a crime of lèse-masculinité! And for women to be able to attend union meetings, he demands, guess what… the five-and-a-half-day week. I am not against this reform, mind you. And day and a half of rest a week, Saturday afternoons and Sundays off, is not too much for people who work 10 or even 12 hours a day. But waiting for this fair reform to be granted, Mr. Pouget should have given male workers the advice I indirectly give them.

On top of this, a reduced working week would not be enough to get the result for which Mr. Pouget wishes that is, female union attendance. In half a day, you can wash your floor, do the dishes, clean, you still have the mending of socks, cooking which needs to be done every day; female workers would benefit from the extra half a day, but it won’t give them enough free time to become militants.

My advice, if it was put into effect, would allow them to become militants, since on top of the material reduction of work, women would understand that they are also human beings and social individuals. If they saw their husbands do their share of housework, they would see him no longer as a master, but as an equal. They would then, understanding that they are sincerely invited, do the work of militants of their class. Then, female unions would bloom and we would see, among the mass of female workers, energetic militants appear who would be able to rouse their comrades.

The male worker who denounces injustice within society wants to keep acting unjustly within his own family. Slave to his boss, he wishes to be a master to his wife. Fortunately, the fairness of things punishes him. Women, in their ignorance, soon desert the union which they joined with enthusiasm the day before. And, workers or housewives, they remain, although their hostility is unvoiced, the worst adversaries of the workers’ movement. They are the real strike-breakers. They do more with discouraging words to their husband on strike than socially reactionary ministers can do with the guns of their regiments.

It is only fair, the proletariat only gets the women it deserves.

Marriage or Free Love, Madeleine Pelletier

Marriage or Free Love

Dr Madeleine Pelletier

Le Libertaire


In “La Voix des Femmes”, Madeleine Vernet talks about the disadvantages of free love for women. “Men”, she writes, “who advocates free love. The male sees, in this theory, a way t satisfy his instinct which drives him towards change. Women, on the contrary, is despoiled, since if there are children, they remain her burden. Even without children, she is still despoiled since, while men’s love is first of all sensual, while women’s love is mostly sentimental; when she is abandoned, she always suffers. It is therefore with reason that women envision suspiciously some ideas which are beautiful only as long as they are detached from reality.”

All this is true, but are the realities of marriage much better? That is not sure.

Those men who, like dogs or cats, only wish to leave, once their passion is quenched, legal union manages to keep them, most of the time. But when the chains feel too heavy on them, they express their discontent, at home, without any reason, through sweet and sour words, often through insults and even blows.

Every household is not like that; it happens that friendship survives love in couples. And this friendship can only be owed to the legal ties; without marriage, the man would have left his partner, but he has a commitment, so he stayed, and, with habit, he ended up liking the home which was first a burden to him.

All things considered, however, the life of married women in the working class is far from enviable; they stand their condition however because they have children to feed and above all because she has been brought up in the idea that she cannot survive on her own. She believes that there are no means of existence for her without support.

Women get attached, obviously; she has been fed illusions. She has been made to believe that friendship is the rule when it is only an exception; we must teach women, as well as men by the way, to be self-sufficient, both morally and materially.

Family, despite the praises it gets, s far from bringing ideal happiness. It is only good among the bourgeoisie, where people know how to stand each other. Among the working-class, family is considerably reduced and the protection it offers is very often an illusion.

The young woman who wants to practice free love must first get rid of all her old ideas: the nest, the home, the strong shoulder to lean on, etc. If that is what she is looking for, she’s making a mistake, she should marry.

But if a good worker, clerk, teacher, etc. has a trade which ensures her existence, she can easily look for men, like men look for women.

She won’t be cheated, or at least not much if she’s only looking for comradeship with a little extra something in her relations.

Women are cheated because they make a huge deal from sexual union which is only a small thing. They build their whole lives around it, whereas, in life, everyone only has themselves to rely on.

What about children? Obviously, a woman who practices free love would better not have any. Children, on top of being a burden, have the great disadvantage to limit freedom; for them, women would do anything.

But when a woman reaches the age of 27 or 28, it is not a bad idea for her to have a child. She will be alone to raise them, but whatever; it will cost her a little money but she will save on other things.

In her mature years, the child will be a consolation to her; she will be less alone and they will give a sense of purpose to her life.

All of this is transitory; free love will only fully bloom when society substitutes family in raising children.

The Wall of Private Life, Madeleine Pelletier

The Wall of Private Life

Dr Madeleine Pelletier

Le Libertaire


According to the old political cliché, people must never go beyond the wall behind which politicians hide their private lives.

Politicians have until now almost always been rich bourgeois. Those who were not already had become rich bourgeois: a Paris councillor, a member of parliament, a minister, are wealthy people.

When a man has money, he wants to enjoy life, and, since the idealists are rare, rulers, like other men, look for happiness in satisfactions of an inferior order: good food, fine wine, easy women; the beast is never far away.

Soon bored of pleasures which are by nature little varied, they ask for anomaly, most easily masquerade, as a necessary spice… So and so asks for the… subjects to be dresses as young girls for their communion; another wants seminar students.

Most of the time, the wall of private life only hides dirty things, but since wolves don’t turn on each other, and virtue is the exception, there is a silent agreement to cast a veil on common weaknesses.

From what was only a practical modus vivendi, some have made a doctrine, and they managed to convince the masses that the private life of a public man had no importance.

In a recent article, Mr. Vaillant-Couturier seems to want to re-examine this classic idea. He approves the anarchists for giving importance to the individual; he says that revolutionaries must apply themselves to surround themselves only with people whose lives are clean. He also says that revolutionaries must refrain drinking alcohol, especially in the provinces where people still drink way too much.

The private life of a sincere revolutionary has no walls, since they have nothing dirty to hide.

The duality between the public and the private an is a fiction; the individual is one, and someone who is bad in private is not worth much either as a revolutionary.

“We are no saints” Jaurès said a while ago, a sentence to which the reaction did not fail to play against him.
Obviously not, we are no saints, and as long as they make no-one cry, everyone has the strictest right to choose their pleasures. But the men who pretend transforming society must be an elite. What is acceptable for anyone is not acceptable for someone who wants to take place among the promoters of the future society. Because we cannot love several things with passion; passion is exclusive. The real scientist only loves their laboratory; outside the subject of their research, everything is a burden to them: they are bored in society, the obligations of material life annoy them.

A revolutionary worthy of the name is the same: outside the idea, the propaganda, nothing interests them.

I must say I would never trust a revolutionary who would also be very sexual. I would think that the man might be sincere, but that he prefers love to revolution. If a tempter shows up, the sexual man will cede because with the money, he will be able to follow his passion which is the main thing in his existence. Mirabeau, Danton, and how many thousands since have sold themselves in this way.

The only person who is incorruptible is the one who loves their idea above all else.

War and Feminism, Madeleine Pelletier

War and Feminism
Madeleine pelletier
La Suffragiste

Our small “Suffragist” was not published during the war.

A wind of madness blew over Europe; men believed they had nothing left better to do than to kill each other.
Cheap authors used, in order to feed hatred, their talents which did not increase for it; scientists worked to discover the product which would kill most assuredly and quickly the largest number of people possible. We achieved to be able to kill you from a three hour train journey away.

What chances did the cry for justice of the individual oppressed by society in the name of a stupid sex prejudice have to be heard?

But wars have proved many calculations wrong, and, at this game, the ruling classes have not won. The proletariat was becoming unruly; throughout Europe, its organisations were growing and the bourgeoisie, worried by nature, had even greater fear than there was danger for them. During a couple of years, war was prepared, and a futile pretence, when compared to its consequences, triggered the cataclysm. The proletariats which had sworn to stand united let themselves be led once more to carnage by their masters. French people shouted “A Berlin!” Germans shouted “Nach Paris!” Guillaume invoked his old God; our priests held mass on the front line and international capitalism salivated, sure that the good old days would come back, with its cheap labour, and workers back on the deserted pews of the Church.

Workers’ demands are now more demanding than ever. The people was shouting, but it was afraid of battle; the bourgeoisie taught it to kill. War overthrew kings, it unleashes social revolution everywhere and obtains for women both fundamental demands of our “Suffragist”: the right to vote and the right to work.

War needed women. In days of old, wars only took from the nation a tiny part of its producers; the need for a labour fore was hardly felt, therefore, wives could use their time tearing sheets to make bandages. This time, whole nations had to be enrolled, and since, even to kill, people must live, eat, be dressed, etc., production demanded from women the contingents it no longer had.

It is certainly with a heavy heart that rulers agreed to it; on this issue, our self-proclaimed avant-garde nation was very inferior to the hated Germany. About driving tramways, people have recycled the old objections of my youth to female medicine students: women have no self-control, they will have accidents, and so on.
Women gave the tempo: the long “Montrouge-Gare de l’Est”, the huge “Malkoff-Les Halles” obeyed the moves of the frail female tramway drivers, graceful hands seized the heavy hands of the signal box and the freeing hook of the famous breakdown.

Those who were believed to be only good to mend rags have forged iron; the turned the heavy bombshells; fearless, they combined picric acid to turn it into the terrible melinite, and passers-by could see them walk the street all in yellow.

Less demanding jobs which men had kept to themselves, not wanting to share the money given by independence, had to be offered to women because of the circumstances. We saw some graceful post-women with their red-brim caps, female gas controllers, delivery girls in the right uniform in department stores. In a hostile society, women conquered their place bit by bit; the female worker succeeded to the housewife and the courtesan.

There are however a couple of dark spots on this encouraging picture. The courtesan is too old not to reappear from time to time under the worker, some hospitals had the appearance of brothels; civil servants spent their work time flirting and powdering themselves, to the great joy of anti-feminists. The female workers, suddenly astonished by fantastic wages, not really knowing what to do with this money which was suddenly available to them, like in fairy tales, spent it any old way: expensive shoes, perfume, silk tights, the old feminine vanity; men would have spent it on gambling or cheap wine. Only the elites are worthy of freedom; the mass, who only knows its instincts, always starts with excesses; in the long run, however, it all balances out. Therefore, we must not focus on these details, as bad as they can seem: only the larger picture matters.

The feminist conclusion of this war, is that women can accomplish in a satisfactory manner any intellectual or manual work. She only has to be freed: she will be, because people will be forced to free her.