Saturday, 25 February 2017

Feminism, socialism,anarchism


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 nineteenth century.

Mill was a Liberal, who propounded an individualistic concept of feminism. In 1879 the German socialist leader, August Bebel published Woman and Socialism, which set out a utopian view of a future classless society in which 'bourgeois' marriage and family life would no longer exist. This embarrassed some of his colleagues.

By 1870 both France and Germany had universal male suffrage. This was introduced in Austria in 1907. In Italy in 1912 a law was introduced to include all literate men of twenty-one or older, or who had served in the armed forces. These advances made women’s exclusion from the franchise all the more striking. 

Hubertine Auclert (1848-1914)
Public Domain

The movement for women’s suffrage was strongest in Britain. It was more difficult in France because of the combined opposition of Republicans and conservatives. Nevertheless a female suffrage movement emerged in 1876. In 1880 its leading figure Hubertine Auclert launched a tax revolt, arguing that without representation women should not be subjected to taxation. 

In February 1881 she launched a monthly periodical, La Citoyenne, arguing for women’s enfranchisement. In early 1885 she and her supporters held a shadow election in which fifteen women stood, though they did not gain admission to the Assembly. In 1904 she led a feminist demonstration in Paris in which she tore up a copy of the Code Napoléon. From a balcony she launched balloons on which were written the words: 
‘The Code crushes women: it dishonours the Republic.’ 
In 1908 she invaded the Chamber of Deputies with twenty followers and threw leaflets at the politicians. In the same year she and her companion invaded a polling booth and overturned ballot boxes. But the movement was weak compared with its British counterpart. A rally held early in July 1914 attracted only 6,000 people.

The largest women’s suffrage movement outside Britain was in Germany. In 1894 the Federation of German Women’s Associations was set up to campaign for the vote and against the regulation of prostitution. But the movement was split between the conservatives, who had limited aims and the radicals who campaigned for the rights of unmarried mothers and for access to abortion, and this division severely limited its effectiveness. However, by 1908 all German universities were open to women.

In the 1905 Revolution in Russia women became involved in political meetings and in organising strikes. The All-Russian Union of Equal Rights for Women was set up in protest that the Tsar’s October manifesto contained no reference to women. But feminists faced opposition from Socialists and from conservatives in the Duma as well as growing police harassment. However, after 1905 they were allowed to take state university examinations.

Women’s suffrage saw most progress in Scandinavia. In 1905 Norway saw complete independence from Sweden. Its new constitution included a limited right to vote for propertied women in 1907 and in 1913 full and equal suffrage was introduced.

The first female parliamentarians in
Finland, 1907.
Public Domain

Although part of the Russian Empire, Finland had retained its own political institutions, including the traditional Estates. Feminism was closely bound up with nationalism. In 1872 women gained the vote at municipal level. In 1892 the teacher Lucina Hagman founded a Union of Women’s Societies to campaign for full political equality. In 1905 when the Tsar reluctantly conceded full civil liberties across the Russian Empire, a national legislature replaced the older Estates. In 1906 it introduced universal adult suffrage for men and women. Over the next few years, Nicholas II withdrew many of his concessions, but in 1909 equal rights for women were enshrined in the Finnish constitution. But this was exceptional.

‘Female suffrage was democracy’s final frontier, but though the feminists had made some advances as democracy’s challenge to existing political systems mounted, there still seemed a long way to go by the time the war came.’ Richard J. Evans, The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815-1914 (Penguin, 2016), 547.

However in many areas women were gaining more rights. By 1914 there were women doctors and university graduates.  Technology opened new occupations for women as typists and telephone operators. The expansion of primary education provided another significant career opening for women. 

From March1911 women celebrated International Women's Day

German poster for International
Women's Day, 1914
Public Domain


The term emerged as popular usage during the 1830s when the count de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and Charles Fourier (1772-1837) proposed an idealistic solution to the harshness of industrialisation. They envisaged a new type of society organised 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. 

The First International: In 1864 delegates from across Europe founded the First International, an attempt to organise international co-operation among working-class organisations. 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. It was formally dissolved in 1876, the victim of internal dissention and the repression following the Paris Commune.

Socialism in Germany: 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 Bismarck’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 the now legalised party adopted the name Social Democratic Party (SPD) and committed itself to a Marxist analysis of society and the pursuit of revolutionary goals. But the revolution would not be brought about by violence. Following the logic of Marxist economic determinism, the revolution would come of its own accord.

The Erfurt Programme, 1891

In 1890 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 with 110 seats. 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 unionised. Not all unions were socialist – some were Catholic.

Socialism in France: In France 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 secularisation 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 1905 Jaurès managed to unite the socialist factions as the French Section of the Workers' International.

Jean Jaurès, Socialist opponent
of the First World War
Public Domain

As a result, French Socialists doubled their membership to more than 90,000 by 1914, though this was less than a tenth of the membership of the German SPD. 

The movement faced its greatest crisis in 1914 when Jaurès tried to adopt the anarcho-syndicalist tactic of the general strike in order to stop the war - and was assassinated by an extreme nationalist. His pacificism contrasted with the nationalist enthusiasm of most of the Socialist deputies in Germany who voted to support the war, which they saw as a crusade against repressive Tsarist Russia. 

Socialism in Russia: 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 organising 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. 

The Second International: Socialism was becoming a Europe and North-American internationalist movement. 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 the history and an an English translation of the Socialist anthem, the Internationale 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. In the same year Russian miners went on strike in the Lena goldfields - after which many were shot.

The Lena Massacre, 1912
Wikimedia Creative Commons


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

Anarchism is the theory that conceives of society without government. Late nineteenth-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, Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy in 1908, the first
colour photograph in Russia

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 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. 

At the end of the century anarcho-syndicalists 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 industrialised 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. 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 immortalised 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  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.’

An artist's rendition of the stabbing of Elisabeth
by the Italian anarchist Luigi Lucheni
 in Geneva, 10 September 1898
Public Domain

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.'


  1. Europe before 1914 was a troubled continent. 
  2. Education and living standards were improving but many women and working-class people felt excluded from the political process.
  3. However, women had gained many rights they had not possessed in 1800, and new left-wing parties had been formed to represent working people.
  4. Political leaders were threatened by violent anarchists. 

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