The Issue of Sex, by Hertha Barwich

The Issue of Sex
Hertha Berwich
1929
Der Frauen-Bund

 

At the centre of a truly socialist education will be sexual education, the prevention of sexual debauchery and the development of sensual love. On all these issues, bourgeois education answers with a great silence. The attitude towards gender in the current social order has until now prevented the development of any more emancipated ideas. Women are in every relationship subservient to men. In contrast, men are the lords and owners of women. In this sense, bourgeois education works towards making girls good housewives and maids, and to educate me to be real men. Girls’ games, girls’ company and girls’ tasks are degrading for them. Consciously and unconsciously, the ruling instinct over the female sex is developed in boys. With such an education, marriage can have no meaning for men, they look for their satisfaction in alcohol and brothels. Capitalist exploitation has destroyed not only proletarian marriage, but also petty bourgeois marriage. Socialism demands the equality of the sexes, and workers understand this demand the fastest. Necessity and class interest force them to recognise women as colleagues and comrades. Such comradeship will only be possible if we totally get rid of the bourgeois moral lies about intercourse. The liberation of sexual life holds the danger of unrestrained intercourse. We don’t want to and can’t fight this danger with another system of constraint, complete education will prevent any misunderstanding and any wandering off from the natural way of morality. We refuse the current bourgeois concepts of morality. Natural morality is an egalitarian relationship between the sexes which finds its expression in companionate marriage. Maturing youths find in the anarcho-syndicalist youth movement a community of joyous comradeship, ideal enthusiasm, and serious work. The blooms which flourish in a decaying society cannot thrive in them. The class-struggle organisation is the best system of defence against youthful excesses. The love between man and wife is no longer a forbidden fruit for the socialist youth, it is the fulfilment of true comradeship. The solution to the issue of sex is true community between the sexes on the same work, the same worries, the same fights, joys and victories. Marriage is no longer legally-sanctioned prostitution, but a bond of friendship which is agreed upon with full conscience. In the anarcho-syndicalist youth movement, young men and women find the way to class struggle, to the liberation of their minds and the solution to the issue of sex. Through social revolution, in which men and women stand side by side in true comradeship, we will achieve the economic, moral and mental liberation of everyone and start to build a world of freedom, love and prosperity in common solidarity.

Marriage or Free Love, Madeleine Pelletier

Marriage or Free Love

Dr Madeleine Pelletier

Le Libertaire

1921

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 “victorious” murderer, Henriette Marc

The “victorious” murderer
Henriette Marc
1922
La Revue Anarchiste

It is particularly interesting for women to know how war modified men’s characters. Did it send them back to their lives more violent or more weary? This is the issue that several books published since the end of the war tried to solve, among which, recently, The Pleasure Of Killing, by André Dax.

Put in such general terms, the question is badly phrased: most of the true warriors, violent males driven by their instincts, have died in the war – and that’s for the best – and as for the others, their ability to forget, without which we could not live, gave them back to their partners as they were, quite mediocre.
However, we cannot deny that war imprinted the minds – of those who think, at least – so deeply that many works reminds us of it.

The Pleasure Of Killing is still full, if not of facts of war, of its consequences, my colleague in charge of the book review section will forgive me if I tell I a few words what this book adds to the answer to the earlier question.

War, André Dax proves, wakes up in men its instincts for cruelty, the call to murder remains heard, and the gesture which was a habit during these long years can never be forgotten.

His main character, Michel, after having gotten a taste for women and sex in the tranches, gradually feels the taste for murder rise in him, and, cheated, kills his rival in an almost automatic gesture, as if to pierce the flesh and make the blood of the enemy flow was still something normal and sanctioned by the law.
However, once the crime is committed, he regains consciousness. Should he give himself up to the justice of men? Who is worthy of judging him? But he will expiate his crime by going to the Far East, far away from any civilisation, to live a harsh and difficult life which will redeem himself in his own eyes. Later, the woman he has never ceased to love, as a soldier and as a criminal, will meet him there, and, thanks to love, he will tame the evil beast we all carry within ourselves.

There are in this book many digressions, among other things about the survival of the souls, which, according to Michel, survive generation after generation, offering to men the violent or beneficial heredity of their ancestors.

This book, written in a pleasant if slightly monotonous language is worth to read. André Dax has observed and thought before he wrote. The pages in which he describes the miserable future of Europe, destined to unavoidable decadence, are deep and beautiful. His views on Christianity, which “in nineteen centuries failed its founding goal three times” are right. We can only wish a bit more rationalism from this probably young author, and that, in later works, he base his thesis on more solid scientific grounds.
His theory is right: war brought the old man back to life: these multitudes of heredities which the appearances of civilisation had pushed back deep into our unconscious during this upheaval, like in the aftermath of any exterior and interior turmoil. There is no need for the souls of our predecessors on this earth reincarnate in us to explain this. Soul is a meaningless word. The holdovers from brain and nervous system cells is largely enough, thanks to the heredity of acquired characteristics, to transmit throughout the centuries visions of murder and the aptitude to renew them. This is also accompanied with ancestral terrors which created gods, souls and all metaphysics. As for violent jealousy which André Dax tells us about, how could we be surprised to see it reborn in organisms unbalanced by war, and sent back by it into primitive barbarity?

Among the first men, war, or more precisely fights, between tribes or between animals were intimately linked to the sexual instinct. Carpentier proved this in a thorough study, “War and sexual instinct” – what François de Curel calls the “dance in front of a mirror” is nothing else than the need for the male to look stronger in front of the female he chose. In time of peace, this instinct changes, and it is moral or intellectual supremacy which men aspire to in order to win women over; but, with such violent tremors as those caused by a war of this magnitude, the varnish which Christianity, moralists and philosophers of all kinds tried to apply on the human machine peels off and the old instincts are uncovered.

It would be childish to be surprised or outraged against such obvious facts, we will only ever be poor beings, full of contradictions and doomed by our very nature to sudden returns to the quasi-animality which was our fate.

I know, among the people, women who complain about the unfortunate change that war brought to their partners’ characters. It is as late as it is useless to lament, it would have been much better to prevent and help the future soldier to be a deserter, logically revolted against the cruel and idiotic order which attempted to make him forget the dearly acquired notions of love and gentleness which made lecherous anthropoids into civilised and loving men.

Let’s hope the “next one” won’t find them in the same state.

The Female Ego, Eugénie Casteu

The Female Ego

Eugénie Casteu

La Revue Anarchiste

1923

For a while now I have been meaning, comrade who signs “A Rebel Woman”, to point out the tendency of your articles to exalt the sacrifice of women in favour of men. If such is your revolt, I think it is a pretty dangerous one for our female comrades.

I quote, from n°13 of the Revue:

“The role of the woman, a difficult and magnificent role, is not only to share, through understanding, the intellectual life of man; but, through her constant and discreet love, to give him courage, to rekindle, if necessary, his self-confidence and fertile enthusiasm. When we truly love, everything becomes easy, the greatest sacrifices are accepted with joy.”

Thank you very much, we just had some: a Catholic, or Protestant, or “secular” preacher does not speak differently. In short, women must be the intellectual servants, the reflections of their men. You tell us about the “role of the woman”. I don’t know of any other than to be herself. A “role”, exterior to her individual longings, can only bring her, like for men, disappointment.

What! You then set as an example “Carlyle’s wife who, still young and admired, went to bury herself with him in a harsh and hostile retreat, accepting the hardest work, so that he, in necessary solitude, could accomplish his writer’s work.”

But such a woman is a monster, in my opinion; a person who abolishes herself, who renounces to herself, who mutilates herself for someone else, who is already stronger than she is!

You will object that Carlyle was a brain who… a brain whom… well, a bloke, socially more useful than his boring and overly devoted partner maybe. And then what?

Let’s suppose that it happened, happens, the other way round, that a woman is a fascinating, superior as they say, guy, superior especially to her man… That is where I wonder: in your opinion, should the man erase himself like Carlyle’s wife did, devote himself body and soul to the work of his partner?

If you tell me “no”, the matter is settled: you therefore admit the sacrifice of ordinary women to superior men, but not that of ordinary men to superior women; that you are among the supporters of men, the masculinists.

Or you tell me: “yes, I accept that an ordinary man sacrifices himself to ensure the cerebral production of his superior partner”, and then, your case is even worse, my lovely comrade, who call yourself a rebel and an anarchist… It means you accept that the weaker and poorer person sacrifices themselves to the person whom nature gave more! That you find fair the voluntary sacrifice of the weak towards the strong.

And I know nothing as pernicious as such an idea, not in the brain of the strong (where it doesn’t matter), but in the brains of the weak who want to give themselves to be eaten alive by the strong they love!
When I find on my way – and I found too many of them – some “Carlyle’s wife”, I hate them and I denounce them, I tell my younger female comrades: “look at this goose admiring her swan: do you know anything more sickening?”
It saddens me and outrages me to see a woman – who was not, obviously, from the start, a very strong personality – voluntarily resorb herself, fade away with pleasure in the overbearing, monopolising personality of so-called genius she “loves”.

This “loved one”, as great as they might seem to you, o dear comrade, appears to me like a murderer, of the same kind as the car-driver who runs over, at night or in speed, a pedestrian: he crushed a personality; maybe she was tiny, but he reduced her to mush.

And you would give those poor women the pride of sacrifice, the pride of nothingness, the pride of death?
No, no, and no! I shout at them: “Are you not ashamed of kneeling in front of this great man and his works? Instead of striving to understand him, try to protect yourself from his rays, to remain yourself; and if your ambition is to be his living reflection, let me tell you, o you superior caste of slaves, that I despise you!”

If we favour the absorption of the weak by the strong, by the regeneration of the old Salomon by his young girls (be it for blood or intellect), then we are aristocratic, but not anarchists. We do not want the tyranny of the weak either, of course: we want for each their share of the sun, without oppressors nor oppressed.

I know it, a strong personality has a tendency to suck energy from the meek, annex them, and it might be the most poisonous, the best hidden, the hardest to detect source of authority! But to glorify in words this sadly natural phenomenon, dangerous to the lives of both individuals and peoples, no! No deification of individual imperialism!

You tell us that poetry sang of the voluntary sacrifice of women?

Of course, poetry also sang kings, gods, wars… It often sang gestures accepted as custom, this old cow true to her stable, to the fenced off pastures, to the common watering hole!

Maybe one day it will sing the beauty of the novel gesture, the gesture which breaks the chains, which breaks ancestral habits of resignation and more or less enthusiastic servitude?…

As for me, I prefer, rather than the distinguished “Carlyle’s wives”, the plebeian women full of instinct, who tell their dear great man to go to hell and break away from his orbit. “Maybe to go to the cinema?” you’ll say bitterly.

Maybe; and if this agrees on that night with their nature, in reaction against the ethereal splendours of the great loved one? Isn’t that a sweet misery!

I know full well that not every revolt is an ascension; but I prefer a donkey who rebels than a dog who follows. How smart and how devoted is the dog, isn’t he? Well, I don’t love the slaves of love, even the very refined ones.

My dear young comrades, I beg you, be yourselves, don’t immolate yourselves on the altars of male genius, do not be trusting dogs, or “Carlyle’s wives”! Let him be free, and remain free yourself!