August Bebel, Woman Under Socialism


An excerpt from
August Bebel, Woman under Socialism, 1883
scanned from the edition of 1904, New York Labor News Co.,
English translation from the German by Daniel De Leon,
pages 288-293

An aspiration, deeply implanted in the nature of man, is that of freedom in the choice and change of occupations.

As uninterrupted repetition renders the dantiest of dishes repulsive, so with a daily treadmill-like recurring occupation: it dulls and relaxes the senses. Man then does only mechanically what he must do; he does it without swing or enjoyment.

There are, latent in all men, faculties and desires that need but to be awakened and developed to produce the most beautiful results. Only then does man become fully and truly man. Towards this satisfaction of this need of change, Socialist society offers, as will be shown, the fullest opportunity. The mighty increase of productive powers, coupled with an ever progressing simplification of the process of labor, not only enables a considerable lowering of hours of work, it also facilitates the acquisition of skill in many directions.

The old apprentice system has survived its usefulness; it exists today only and is possible only in backward, old-fashioned forms of production, as represented by the small handicrafts. Seeing, however, that this vanishes from the new social order, all the institutions and forms peculiar thereto vanish along with it. New ones step in. Every factory shows us today how few are its workingmen still engaged at a work they have been apprenticed in. The employees are of the most varied, heterogeneous trades; a short time suffices to train them in any sub-department of work, an which, in accord with the ruling system of exploitation, they are then kept at work longer hours, without change or regard to their inclinations, and, lashed to the machine, become themselves a machine.

Such a state of things has no place in a changed organization of society. There is ample time for the acquisition of dexterity of hand and the exercise of artistic skill. Spacious training schools, equipped with all necessary comforts and technical perfections will facilitate to young and old the acquisition of any trade. Chemical and physical laboratories, up to all the demands of these sciences, and furnished with ample staffs of instructors, will be in existence. Only then will be appreciated to its full magnitude what a world of ambitions and faculties the capitalist system of production suppresses, or forces awry into mistaken paths.

It is not merely possible to have a regard for the need of change; it is the purpose of society to realize its satisfaction: the harmonious growth of man depends on that. The professional physiognomies that modern society brings to the surface - whether the profession be in certain occupations of some sort or other, or in gluttony or idleness, or in compulsory tramping - will gradually vanish. There are today precious few people with any opportunity of change in their occupations, or who exercise the same. Occasionally, individuals are found who, favored by circumstances, withdraw from the routine of their daily pursuits, and, after having paid their tribute to physical, recreate themselves with intellectual work; and, conversely, brain workers are met, off and on, who seek and find change in physical labors of some sort or other, handwork, gardening, etc. Every hygienist will confirm the invigorating effect of a pursuit that rests upon alternating physical and mental work; only such a pursuit is natural. The only qualification is that it be moderately indulged, and in proportion to the strength of the individual.

Leo Tolstoi lashes the hypertrophic and unnatural character that art and science have assumed under the unnatural conditions of modern society. He severely condemns the contempt for physical labor, entertained in modern society, and he recommends a return to natural conditions. Every being, who means to live according to the laws of nature, and enjoy life, should divide the day between, first, physical field labor; secondly, hand work; thirdly, mental work; fourthly, cultured and companionable intercourse. More than eight hours' physical work should not be done. Tolstoi, who practices this system of life, and who, as he says, has felt himself human only since he put it into practice, perceives only what is possible to him, a rich, independent man, but wholly impossible tot he large mass of mankind, under existing conditions. The person who must do hard physical work every day, ten, twelve or more hours, to gain a meager existence, and who was brought up in ignorance, cannot furnish himself with the Tolstoian system of life. Neither can they, who are on the firing line of business life, and are compelled to submit to its exactions. The small minority who could imitate Tolstoi have, as a rule, no need to do so. It is one of the illusions that Tolstoi yields to, the belief that social systems can be changed by preaching and example. The experiences made by Tolstoi with his system of life prove how rational the same is; in order, however, to introduce such a system of life as a social custom, a social foundation is requisite other than the present. It requires a new society.

Future society will have such a foundation; it will have scientists and scientists of all sorts in abundance; but all of them will work physically a part of the day, and devote the rest, according to their liking, to study, the arts, or companionable intercourse. The existing contrast between mental and manual labor - a contrast that the ruling classes seek to render as pronounced as possible, with the view of securing for themselves also the intellectual means of sovereignty - will likewise be removed.

It follows from the preceding arguments that crises and compulsory idleness are impossible in the new social order. Crises arise form the circumstance that individualist, capitalist production - incited by profit, and devoid of all reliable guage with which to ascertain the actual demand - brings an overstocking of the world's market, and thus overproduction. The merchandise feature of the products under capitalism, of the products that their owners endeavor to exchange, makes the use of the product dependent upon the consumer's capacity to buy. The capacity to buy is, however, limited, insofar as the overwhelming majority are concerned, they being under-paid for their labor, or even wholly unable to sell the same if the capitalist does not happen to be able to squeeze a surplus value out of it.

The capacity to buy and the capacity to consume are two wholly distinct things in capitalist society. Many millions of people are in want of clothes, shoes, furniture, linen, eatables and drinkables, but they have no money, and their wants, i.e., their capacity to consume, remains unsatisfied. The market is glutted with goods, but the masses suffer hunger; they are willing to work, but they find none to buy their labor-power, because the holder of money sees nothing to "make" in the purchase.

"Die, canaille; become vagabonds, criminals! I, the capitalist, cannot help it. I have no use for goods that I have no purchaser to buy from me with corresponding profit." And, in a way, the man is right.

In the new social order, this contradiction is wiped out. Socialist society produces, not "merchandise," in order to "buy" and "sell;" it produces the necessaries of life, that are used, consumed, and otherwise have no object. In Socialist society, accordingly, the capacity to consume is not bounded, as in bourgeois society, by the individual's capacity to buy; it is bounded by the collective capacity to produce. If labor and instruments of labor are in existence, all wants can be satisfied; the social capacity to consume is bounded only by the satisfaction of the consumer.

There being no "merchandise" in Socialist society, neither can there be any "money." Money is the visible contrast of merchandise; yet itself _is_ merchandise! Money, though itself merchandise, is, at the same time, the social equivalent for all other articles of merchandise. But Socialist society produces no articles of merchandise, only articles of use and necessity, whose production requires a certain measure of social labor. The time, on an average requisite for the production of an article is the only standard by which it is measured for social use. Ten minutes social labor in one article are equal to ten minutes social labor in another - neither more nor less. Society is not "on the make"; it only seeks to effect among its members the exchange of articles of equal quality, equal utility. It need even set up a standard of use value. It merely produces what it needs.

If society finds that a three-hour work day is requisite for the production of all that is needed, it establishes such a term of work. If the methods of production improve in such wise that the supply can be raised in two hours, the two-hour work day is established. If, on the contrary, society demands the gratification of higher wants than, despite the increase of forces and the improved productivity of the process of labor, can be satisfied with two or three hours work, then the four-hour day is introduced. Its will is law.

How much social labor will be requisite for the production of any article is easily computed. The relation of the part to the whole of the working time is measured accordingly. Any voucher - a printed piece of paper, gold or tin - certifies to the time spent in work, and enables its professor to exchange it for articles of various kinds. If he finds that his wants are smaller than what he receives for his labor, he then works proportionately shorter hours.

If he wishes to give away what he does not consume, nothing hinders him. If he is disposed to work for another out of his own free will, so that the later may revel in the _dolce far niente_ - if he chooses to be such a blockhead, nothing hinders him. But none can compel him to work for another; none can withhold from him a part of what is due him for labor performed. Everyone can satisfy all his legitimate desires - only not at the expense of others. He receives the equivalent of what he has rendered to society - neither more nor less, and he remains free from all exploitation by third parties.