Preface to the Book Society and Motherhood
Among the numerous problems raised by contemporary reality there is probably none more important for mankind, none more vital and urgent than the problem of motherhood created by the large-scale capitalist economic system. The problem of protecting and providing for the mother and young child is one that faces social politicians, knocks relentlessly at the door of the statesman, engages the health and hygiene specialists, concerns the social statistician, haunts the representative of the working class and weighs down on the shoulders of tens of millions of mothers compelled to earn their own living.
Side by side with the problem of sex and marriage, enveloped in the poetical language of the psychological suffering, insoluble difficulties and unsatisfied needs of noble souls, there is always to be found the majestic and tragic figure of motherhood wearily carrying her heavy burden. Neo-malthusians, social-reformers and philanthropists have all hastened to provide their own particular solution to this thorny problem, and all sing the praises of their own method of restoring paradise lost to mothers and babies.
Meanwhile the number of children’s corpses grows and grows, and the unruly birth rate, instead of ‘sensibly’ rising to the level that would meet the requirements of the state, reveals an unpleasant tendency to steady decline. The prosperity of national industry and the development of the national economy depend upon a constant supply of fresh labour; the military might of the nation is ensured by the continual increase in the able-bodied male population. What should be done if the population growth not only diminishes with every decade but, as is the case in France, repeatedly drops below replacement level? Disturbed by these worrying symptoms, the state authorities in one country after another are joining the ranks of the defenders of young children and are turning to a principle alien in spirit to the modern order – the principle of state maternity insurance, a principle in sharp contradiction with the present social structure as the latter undermines the basis of marriage and violates the fundamental concepts of private-family rights and relationships. However, if, in the name of ‘higher’ considerations of state and under the pressure of necessity, the state authorities have been compelled to advance and implement a measure so at odds with the prevailing spirit of the representatives of the bourgeois world, at the other end of the social scale, among the working class, the principle of providing for and protecting mother and child is welcomed with enthusiasm and sympathy.
The demand that the social collective (the community) provide maternity insurance and child protection was born of the immediate and vital needs of the class of hired workers. Of all the strata of society, this class is the one which most requires that a solution be found to the painful conflict between compulsory professional labour by women and their duties as representatives of their sex, as mothers. Following a powerful class instinct rather than a clearly understood idea, the working class strove to find a way of resolving this conflict.
It was only feeling its way forward, and did not immediately choose the right path, but nonetheless it was without doubt the organised section of the working class that called for the defence of motherhood when the representatives of other classes were still denying the existence of the very problem, and when the measures suggested to solve it were looked upon as childish utopianism. As early as the first congress of the International in the late 1860s, the socialists raised the question of the protection of women workers as mothers and representatives of their sex. Since then the organised representatives of the working class have constantly returned to this question. The measures originally proposed by the workers were, it is true, somewhat inconsistent and contradictory, and did not correspond to the basic tendencies within the workers’ movement. However, as the close link between the working-class movement and the trend of increasing female professional labour became clearer, the basic demands of male and female workers on this issue were gradually defined.
The demands at present being put forward by socialists for the protection of and provision for mother and child are fully in accord with the overall tasks of the socialist movement. The evolution of social relations is clearly demonstrating that in this area the dominant trend is towards the transfer to the social collective (community) of those tasks and duties that hitherto were considered to be the inalienable functions of the members of individual families.
Thus it has come about that, approaching this issue from different points of view and basing themselves on different reasons, both the state authorities on the one hand and the socialist parties on the other have arrived at one and the same conclusion, namely the need for state protection and provision for motherhood. The difference of opinion that now exists concerns not the recognition of the principle of maternity insurance, as was the case until fairly recently, but rather the application of this socio-political measure, its scope and implementation. Even in those countries that have already taken the first steps towards providing maternity insurance, the state authorities are seeking to limit themselves to the minimum, making concession after concession to a disapproving bourgeois world. The representatives of the working class, on the other hand, are demanding radical measures and are subjecting to merciless criticism the inadequate reforms introduced by the present governments, who are attempting to defend the mother and child with one arm, while upholding with the other the very system of exploited hired labour which leads to the destruction of both.
The question of protecting and providing for motherhood via state insurance is one that arose only recently. Moreover, one of the most characteristic features of this social measure is that, here, practice preceded theory. The first step to protect the mother by legislation was taken in Switzerland in 1878, when an eight-week maternity leave for the working mother was made compulsory. State maternity insurance first began in Germany when, in 1883, a special clause on assistance for nursing mothers was included in the law on health insurance. Neither of these measures was dictated primarily by humanitarian considerations or the interests of working mothers. They were both prompted by the same phenomena, which for the first time were causing concern among state authorities: the horrific level of infant mortality in industrial areas (it had reached 65 per cent in the industrial districts of Germany by the 1870s), and the growing shortage of army recruits.
However, while the state authorities were taking the first practical steps towards protection and provision for mother and child, they, together with the representatives of the bourgeois world, were drowning with their cries of disapproval the first apostles of the concept of comprehensive maternity insurance, such visionary philanthropists as Jules Simon, Felix Poussineau, the famous French gynaecologist Adolphe Pinard, the theoreticians Louis Frank in Belgium and Paulina Schiff in Italy, Ellen Key in Sweden and, later, Ruth Bré in Germany, all of whom advanced this idea in the name of ‘humanity’ and ‘justice’, in the name of the health and viability of the nation, in the name of the reassertion of the oldest of women’s rights – the right to motherhood. While giving way to necessity, the state authorities attempted for some time to preserve outward decorum and to give the impression that the practical recognition of the principle of maternity insurance in no way contradicted the inviolability of the private family unit. Thus governments constantly emphasised that provision for nursing mothers is not a maternity payment, but simply a payment made during enforced unemployment.
Despite their inconsistency, the state authorities are being compelled in practice to move further and further along the road of state protection and provision for mothers. Whereas, only some twenty years ago, the idea of state maternity insurance was looked upon as utopianism, now such insurance is a practical reality included among the urgent socio-political tasks facing any ‘far-sighted’ government.
All those measures to protect and provide for mother and child which are now being implemented by the authorities with extreme caution and circumspection are, of course, very far from adequate. They are, as yet, nothing more than the first uncertain steps on the long and difficult path that leads to the realisation of the ideal: the transfer of the task of caring for the new generation, so precious to mankind, from the shoulders of private, individual parents to the whole community. What has been done so far in this area is nothing more than the proclamation and recognition of the principle – but this itself is of major importance and brings with it many implications.
Over the last ten years, i.e., in the first decade of the 20th century, an important step forward has been taken on the question of maternity insurance. In recent years this issue has not only been raised at workers’ congresses, but has also come to the attention of the broad public and aroused interest among public hygiene experts and physicians, statisticians and social politicians. In a number of countries it has remained constantly on the parliamentary agenda. It provoked heated debate in the German Reichstag (the 1910-1911 session), while the French Assembly and Senate have discussed the question several times during recent years (1908-1913), and the English Parliament touched upon it during the debate of the national insurance bill (1909 and 1913). It has been debated in the Italian parliament (1905-1910), in the Swiss Federal Assembly (1906-1911), the Austrian parliament (1909-1913), in the Norwegian Storting (1909-1911), in the national parliaments of Sweden, Finland Rumania and Serbia, and at the Third State Duma in Russia during the elaboration of legislation on health insurance (1909-1912). The result has been the introduction of state insurance for nursing mothers in eight European states (Italy, France, Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Rumania, England, and Serbia-Bosnia-Herzegovina) and Australia, and also the extension of insurance legislation covering working mothers in those countries that had already introduced this form of social insurance (Germany, Austria, Hungary and Luxembourg).
Nonetheless, despite the indisputable signs of growing interest in the question of providing for mother and child, this task, which is of the utmost importance for the state, is still receiving too little attention even in countries which are leading the way in terms of social legislation. The state authorities are doing all they can to limit themselves to reforms in the narrow sphere of direct protection for nursing mothers, leaving the working mother to spend the rest of her life subjected to precisely those deleterious living and working conditions which render normal motherhood impossible. What is more, the question of provision and protection for mother and child is an aspect of social policy which cannot be arbitrarily separated off from other, closely related reforms affecting the labour and living conditions of the working class. Will the mother and child gain any significant benefit from the introduction of relatively comprehensive protection if the working woman is subjected for the rest of the time to unrestricted exploitation by capital, if her working day is so long as to sap her strength, and the whole of the working class exists permanently on the edge of starvation?
If the problem of protection and provision for mother and child is to receive a solution that is in any way satisfactory, this can only be achieved by the simultaneous introduction of a complex system of radical financial and economic reforms, which all state authorities are so reluctant to accept. The ruling circles prefer to stretch out their protecting arm to the woman of the working class only at the moment when she is providing the state with a new member, while for the rest of the time it leaves her in the grip of merciless exploitation by capital. This same mistake is repeated by the social-reformers when they suggest the implementation of isolated solutions to the problem of motherhood, rejecting all those fundamental demands advanced by the organised working class in behalf of the working woman both as a member of the working class and as the bearer of the future, as a mother.
Protection and provision for mother and child constitute an integral part of the total network of social reforms indicated by the working class, and this is the chief merit of those measures to protect mothers proposed by the Social-Democrats. These measures make up, as it were, consecutive rungs in the ladder which leads to the ideal-aim that beckons us to follow in pursuit – the comprehensive solution of the problem of motherhood. This problem is closely bound up with basic class objectives and cannot be solved if the ultimate aim of that class is not realised. However, it is precisely because the issue of maternity insurance constitutes an integral part of the socialist programme and is inseparable from it, it is precisely because this problem affects as no other the interests of the working class, that one cannot but be surprised that socialist thought has done so little as regards the theoretical elaboration of the question of provision for mothers and protection for young children. There is no issue of social policy so scantily represented in socialist literature as this fundametal and complex issue of motherhood, so important for the future.
Practice has here, once again, outstripped theory, and the very demands made by the socialists in the sphere of protection and provision for mother and child are still in the process of taking shape. There is as yet no work imbued with the spirit of socialism which provides a serious and in any way comprehensive analysis of this section of the working-class programme and examines to what extent the practical measures and demands put forward correspond to the aims of the class and the interests of the movement, and this despite the fact that such a question merits more serious attention on the part of those who represent the class that is most affected by it. Does not this issue touch upon the most fundamental essentials of modern society? Does not directly affect the fate of the family? Does it not alter the very nature of marital relations? Does it not constitute an important element in the foundations of the proposed future social structure? Is it not time to correlate the demand for comprehensive maternity insurance with the basic objectives of the working class, to clearly recognise the position occupied by this part of the socialist programme in the total majestic plan of social transformation? Socialist literature still does not provide a clear, theoretically substantiated answer to the following important question: which of the existing forms of maternity insurance most corresponds to the interests of the working class and comes closest to meeting its basic objectives? Is the spread of that form of maternity provision which comprises insurance for expectant and nursing mothers within the health insurance system – the form adopted by the government in Germany and taken as a model by many other governments – in fact desirable from the point of view of the workers? Should it not rather serve merely as a transitional stage in the move towards a more complete, a more comprehensive system of maternity provision which, in view of the scale of the task itself, should become part ofa social insurance system founded upon a different principle?
The answers to these questions depend on the way maternity insurance is to be defined and the attitude to the function of child-bearing. There exist three different points of view on this subject.
If one adopts the point of view of the German legislators and equates giving birth with a pathological phenomenon, an illness resulting in enforced unemployment, against which the woman is insured, then the fact that maternity insurance and health insurance are treated as one appears logical. But does this identification meet the interests of the working class? And can any comprehensive maternity provisions be brought within the narrow, already clearly defined framework of health insurance? The very legislators who introduced this identification are compelled, even given the present modest scale of maternity insurance, to go beyond the confines of health insurance and append supplementary paragraphs on working mothers. Unwilling to recognise maternity insurance as an independent branch of social insurance, the legislators are opting for a middle path and converting maternity provision into a function of the health insurance system that is conceptually distinct from ordinary sickness benefit.
However, there is another view of maternity provision supported mainly by the Romance countries: maternity is viewed as a particular social function, and the assistance given to the working mother is treated as a reward for the service that the mother is performing for the state. Such a point of view results in the formulation of a different principle of maternity insurance that is not connected with illness and enforced unemployment, and which makes it possible to separate off maternity provision as a special and independent branch of insurance. Is this viewpoint acceptable for the working class? Does it meet the interests of the movement. This is another question to which no direct answer is to be found in socialist literature.
Finally there is the third view of maternity provision as one of the means of lightening the burden of motherhood for the woman worker, as a transitional stage on the way to a situation in which concern for the new generation will cease to lie with individuals and will be handed over to society. That this last view comes closest to meeting the interests of the working class can be seen from the fact that it most fully corresponds both to the ideal of the future relationship between the sexes and to the mutual obligations of the community and the individual which are to underlie a social system built upon a different labour principle. In formulating the social measures which are designed to protect motherhood, the organised working class must proceed on the basis of this ultimate ideal-aim, which promises fully to resolve the problem of motherhood. This fundamental proposal and ideal must also serve as the criterion when Social-Democracy is choosing between different systems of maternity insurance.
However, in order to choose correctly between these forms of maternity provision, one must carefully examine the third of the points of view cited above in order to judge to what extent it does, in fact, correspond to the general plan for the future development of society and to those socialist ideals that follow therefrom.
That view of maternity insurance which sees it as a measure to lighten the burden of motherhood for the working-class woman and, at the same time, as a measure encouraging the transfer of concern for the new generation from private individuals (parents) to the community, is acceptable only if one admits that the present form of the family will inevitably collapse and disintegrate in the course of the future historical evolution of society. While the family was strong, stable, viable, while the woman lived and worked exclusively within the family, the question of protecting and providing for motherhood could never arise.
The problem of motherhood is an offspring of large-scale capitalist production, as are a number of other urgent social ills which together compose the social question facing modern society. The problem of maternity came into existence together with the labour problem, has existed since the women of the deprived strata of society have been compelled to tear the child from the breast and take their labour to the labour market.
The tremendous evolution of economic relations that, over the last hundred years, has overturned all the foundations of previous socio-economic relations, has directly affected the organisation of the family and caused its previous forms to disintegrate. The family as it has come down to us was based on specific economic principles. It rested on production relations which at that time bound the members of one family more firmly than could even the closest blood ties. In the days when the family was an economic unit, the smallest economic unity of the community, and moreover nbt merely a consumer but also a producer, a creative unit, the family (gens) was able, thanks to its joint use of what was then the major tool of production – land – to produce all that was necessary for its members; care for the young, their material support, upbringing and training were part of its natural and inalienable obligations. In order to flourish (both economically and socially), the family required new members, a constant inflow of fresh labour. It is not at all surprising that responsibility for the new generation then lay with the family, and that the family alone carried the full burden of the support and upbringing of the younger generation.
Today, however, when the family as a specific social unit has no production functions within the bourgeois order, with its widespread division of labour and individualistic principle of production, there are no longer any positive arguments that can justify leaving all responsibility for the new generation with this private unit.
The family of tribal life, the family as a productive unit providing its members with all the essentials of life, has passed into history. Now not only the fathers but increasingly the mothers also are working not within and for the family, but outside the family, on and for the market, serving with their labour not their blood relatives but strangers who are consumers on the commodity market. Now the constant inflow of fresh labour, necessary to ensure the further development of the productive forces, is no longer needed by the family, by a self-enclosed, small, private unit, but by the whole of the social collective.
Logically it would appear that responsibility for the new generation should lie with that economic unit, with that social collective which has need of that generation for its own future existence. Once the family has actually ceased to exist as an economic unit, once it has ceased to require an influx of fresh labour, once the adult receives what he needs to live not from the family but from the wider community, the care of young children and the mothers who give birth to them should also be the responsibility of this community. Such an argument, however, is acceptable only to a society that is genuinely concerned to care for the interests of the entire ‘whole’ entrusted to it… Present state authorities on the other hand, who serve only the interests of the monopolists, seek to make use of the ready-made labour force while freeing themselves of all responsibility for the life of the children and mothers, preferring to impose on the individual private family those obligations which it once bore at another, earlier stage in human economic development. Such an inappropriate and contradictory state of affairs could only arise historically, but history is called upon to correct this unreasonable situation by gradually increasing communal concern over the fate of children and their mothers.
The thoughtlessness and indifference shown by modern society towards this important question of the fate of mothers and children will appear as gross negligence to future generations. Today we are in no way surprised that the state assumes responsibility for the sick, the handicapped, the insane, that it builds schools and universities and maintains public libraries and museums. On the contrary, we would be amazed if the public authorities suddenly declared that the upbringing and education of young people was a matter not for the state but for the family, pointing to the fact that once, in tribal life, all the knowledge a man acquired he acquired within the self-contained family unit. The people of the future will be no less amazed at the present common assertion that concern for the fate of mother and child is not an obligation of the community.
If the state finds it to its benefit to assume responsibility for the upbringing and education of youth, surely it should view it as even more important to save the hundreds of thousands (and in Russia more than a million) children who perish as a result of inadequate protection and the total lack of provision for motherhood. These hundreds of thousands of children are, after all, not only future producers, but also the future tax-payers so desired by’ the state and, moreover, also possible recruits!
The attempt to preserve the former obligations of the family on the basis of its outmoded form has the most regrettable consequences highly damaging to the interests of the whole of society: it leads to the deliberate lowering of the birth rate and increases infant mortality.  With the full weight of responsibility for children lying on the individual family, those families that belong to the most deprived section of the populaton find children such an intolerable burden, find that they bring such worry, difficulty and sorrow, that a neo-Malthusian approach seems the only solution. If the worker has managed, by overcoming enormous difficulties, to attain a certain level of economic security and cultural development, then the only way he can safeguard this precious achievement on getting married is to remain childless. On the other hand, the lack of provision for motherhood, the lack of the necessary protection of the interests of the mother, leave the woman entirely in the power of those production relations which destroy both her and her child.
The lack of provision for millions of mothers, and the lack of concern for young children on the part of society, are the cause of the present bitter conflict over the incompatibility of female professional labour and motherhood, a conflict which lies at the heart of the whole problem of motherhood. This conflict has only two possible solutions: 1) either the woman must be returned to the home and forbidden any participation in national economic life or 2) such social measures, including comprehensive maternity insurance and provision for young children, must be implemented as will enable the woman to fulfil her natural calling without abandoning her professional obligations, without losing her economic independence, and without withdrawingfrom active participation in the struggle for the ideals of her class.
As the wheel of history cannot be turned back at will, the first I solution must be discarded. Even if it proved possible forcibly to remove women from all the spheres of economic life in which her labour is now widely and regularly used, these measures would still be incapable of preventing the further disintegration of the family. Thus a woman with a child who was returned to the dying family hearth would have even less provision against the deprivation, care and sorrow caused by the burden of numerous children than she has in the present set of transitory circumstances.
There therefore remains only the second solution advanced by the organised working class. This solution means that the question of insurance must be approached from the point of view of lightening the burden of motherhood for working-class women by gradually increasing social concern for the fate of young children and providing comprehensive protection of the interests of the mothers themselves. Basing oneself on the general pattern of the future historical development of social relations, one cannot but conclude that maternity insurance must be viewed not as mere assistance rendered necessary by temporary unemployment and inseparable from health insurance, nor as a reward paid to mothers for the service they have rendered to the state, but as a step forward in the process of transferring care of the next generation into the hands of the community, as one of the measures leading to female emancipation.
Such an approach to the question of maternity insurance follows from the very principle underlying the socialist movement, and fully corresponds to that new morality in the sphere of relationships between the sexes that is gradually taking shape among the working class in the very course of the class struggle.
Statistics from every country show one and the same picture: the age at which people, even from the working class, are entering into marriage is constantly rising. Previously, workers married at the age of 20-22 years; now they marry at the age of 27-29 years. Low wages on the one hand and increasing cultural requirements on the other do not permit the worker to assume all the responsibilities of married life at an early age. However, neither the heart nor physiological needs take into account the size of the weekly wage… The rusult ‘irregular relationships’ and, as the novelists call it, ‘free love’; and this free cohabitation leads to free motherhood, the full burden of which falls upon the woman.
Free motherhood, the ‘right to be a mother’, fine words, and what woman’s heart does not respond to this natural requirement? However, in the present circumstances, ‘free motherhood’ is a harsh right which not only does not liberate the woman, but is the source of endless shame, humiliation, and dependence, the cause of crime and death… Is it then surprising that in such abnormal circumstances the woman does all she can to bind to her the man who is the father of her child in order to transfer to his shoulders the expense of providing for the child? For his part, the man concedes, i.e. agrees to the legislation of their relationship, often not so much out of love for the woman and child, but out of a sense of duty. If there had been no ‘consequences’, those who had come together freely would separate on friendly terms to go their different ways, but the child exists, and the ‘guilty’ man considers it his duty to lead the woman down the aisle in order to share the burden of family care.
How often is it that the ceremony of marriage, even among the working class, is a funeral service said over the corpse of dead feelings… Is it then surprising that fear of the consequences obliges the workers to be wary as regards relations between lovers, and to have recourse more and more frequently to neo-Malthusian practices.
The problem is also not solved when the man, having refused to marry, agrees to pay child maintenance to the woman who has had his child. Economic dependence is always felt to be oppressive, burdensome and humiliating. It is particularly burdensome for a working woman accustomed from her youth to economic independence, even from her parents. This work-based economic independence gradually moulds the woman into a fellow comrade, an active and conscious member of her class. The fact of receiving ‘financial support’ from a comrade-in-arms is so unpleasant, so bitter, that it may completely warp the most sincere and friendly of relations, while at the same time it reinforces the material dependence of the woman on the man and violate s the principle of the equality of all the members of one and the same class.
How different would be the relations between the sexes in the working class if the question of ‘consequences’ was not the determining factor in deciding whether to marry, and if it did not join by force in a situation where the whole value of the relationship is based on inner freedom. However, there is only one way to free marriage of the calculations that have become a part of it and which have nothing to do with love, but result from the pressures imposed by the family as it now exists, and that is to advance the principle of general and comprehensive provision for motherhood.
If every working woman was guaranteed the possibility of giving birth to her child in healthy conditions, with the appropriate care for herself and her child, the possibility of looking after the child during the first weeks of its life, the possibility of feeding him herself without the risk of loss of pay, this would constitute the first step to the designated end. If, in addition, the state and the community would undertake to build refuges for expectant and nursing women, to provide medical consultations for mother and child, and to supply high-quality milk and a layette, if there was a broad network of creches, nursery schools and children’s centres where the working mother could leave her child with a quiet mind, this would be the second step towards the designated end.
If social legislation attached due importance to the protection of female labour, established a short working day, break periods for nursing mothers and a shortened day for young girls, took steps to replace harmful production methods with techniques less injurious to female physiology, prohibited a number of dangerous labour practices, etc., this would be the third step towards the designated end.
Finally, if the community – i.e. the state – would guarantee to mothers during pregnancy, birth and the cursing period material assistance sufficient to meet the needs of both her and the child, this would be the fourth and most important step forward.
The working class now faces the following task: to achieve everywhere the implementation of those reforms and social measures which would not only take from the shoulders of women burdened with professional labour the main load of motherhood, but would also guarantee the necessary care for the new-born child, thus saving this young life, that has barely started on its way, from the jaws of premature death. The problem of motherhood is closely linked to the fate of the working class, and both its sexes, women and men, have an interest in its solution. Only if the whole of society implements the principle of rationally providing for the mother and protecting the child can relations between the sexes among the working class be cleansed of that bourgeois grime which now besmirches them. Only this will facilitate the emergence of the new morality and the new relations between men and women required by the movement: the increase in comradeship between the two sexes with their total economic independence the one from the other.
From whichever angle one approaches the question of maternity insurance, from a point of view limited strictly to considerations of state, from a class point of view or from the point of view of the interests of mankind as a whole, the conclusion remains one and the same: maternity insurance is a social policy issue requiring immediate attention and must be further developed and improved.
The more completely and comprehensively this problem is solved within the framework of modern production relations, the shorter will be the path to the new ‘era’ of human history…
1. ‘The principle of laying the economic burden of the upbringing of children upon the private households responsible for bringing them physically into the world,’ says Doctor Schmidt, ‘is so unreasonable, such a mad idea … that our descendants will be totally unable to understand the outlook of an age to which this principle appeared normal and self-evident.’ Dr. Kaspar Schmidt, ‘Die Mutterschafts-ver-sicherung als Grundlage einer mutterrechtlich-polygamischen Sexualordnung’ in Politisch-Antropologische Revue, No. 5, 1906, S. 283.