In 1883 the German socialist August Bebel published Woman under Socialism. The book helped spread a socialist message to many thousands of men and women. It was the most-read book in the German socialist movement’s large network of workers’ libraries. By 1895, 25 editions had been printed in Germany alone.
Bebel argued that the social emancipation of women is an integral part of transforming social relations and overthrowing capitalism.
In this extract he talked about how education in a socialist society will be different to bourgeois society. An enlightened humanist socialist education system will help children grow into fully rounded individuals.
Many of these ideals were incorporated into western education during the 20th century, but they have always been attacked from the right, as they are today.
In the new society the conditions of life are equal for all. Men’s needs and inclinations differ and these differences, being rooted in man’s very nature, will continue to exist, but every individual can develop in keeping with the conditions of life that are identical for all. Like so much else, the uniform equality imputed to socialism is nonsense.
The proper education of the rising generation must be one of the principal tasks of the new society. Every newly born is a welcome addition to society, for society sees in him the prospect of its continuation and its own further development and, therefore, also feels the duty to defend the new human being to the best of its ability. Hence, the prime object of its care is she who gives birth, the mother.
Comfortable housing, pleasant surroundings, all sorts of provisions necessary to this stage of motherhood, careful nursing for her and the child, are the first requirement. It is self-evident that mothers should breast-feed their babies for as long as is possible and necessary…
At present at least four-fifths of the human race are born in the most primitive conditions, which are a disgrace to our civilisation. And from among the remaining fifth of our mothers, again only a minority can enjoy some of the care and comfort that should be enjoyed by a woman in that condition.
Playgrounds and kindergartens [will be] followed by an introduction through play to the rudiments of knowledge and various manual occupations. Then comes moderate mental and physical work, combined with gymnastic exercises and free movement on the play- and sports ground, on the skating-rink and in the swimming pool; drill marches, wrestling and exercise for both sexes follow and supplement one another. The aim is to raise a healthy, hardy, physically and mentally well developed generation.
Various practical activities, gardening, agriculture, industry, the technology of production are introduced step by step. Mental development in diverse fields of knowledge is not neglected.
The hygiene measures and improvements in the education system will be similar to those carried out in the sphere of production. A mass of obsolete and superfluous methods and subjects hampering mental and physical development will be dropped. The knowledge of natural phenomena, adapted to fit children’s mental capacities, will do more to spur on the desire for knowledge than a system of education in which one subject is incompatible with another and undermines its influence, as is the case, for instance, when, on the one hand, religion is taught on the basis of the Bible, and, on the other, the natural sciences and natural history.
The equipment of schoolrooms and educational establishments and the teaching aids will all be in keeping with the high cultural level of the new society. Study equipment and materials, clothing and maintenance will be provided by society, and no pupil is at a disadvantage with respect to another.
This is another issue which arouses the indignation of our bourgeois “champions of law and order”. Our opponents cry out that schools are to be turned into barracks and parents deprived of all influence over their children. All that is out of the question. Since parents in the future society will have infinitely more leisure than most have today — we need but recall the ten-hour and longer working day of most workers, of the post, railway, gaol wardens and police officers, and the demands made upon the time of the handicraftsmen, small farmers, tradesmen, the military, many doctors, etc. — it follows that they will be able to devote themselves to their children to an extent impossible today.
Moreover, the parents themselves will have the regulation of the education system in their hands, for it is they who will determine the measures and arrangements that shall be adopted and introduced. We shall then live in a genuinely democratic society. The education committees will be made up of parents — of both sexes — and professional educationalists. Does anyone imagine that they will act against their sentiments and interests? In present-day society the state implements its interests in the educational field against the wish of most parents.
Strictly speaking, bourgeois society has no cause to be indignant at the communist education of children, which the socialists aim at, for it has itself partly introduced it for the privileged classes, only in a distorted mannner. Look at the cadet corps, army orphanages, boarding-schools, seminaries, theological colleges, and so on. Many thousands of children, some of them from the upper classes, are educated in these institutions in a one-sided and wrong manner and in monastic seclusion, and are trained for certain specific occupations. Many members of the more well-to-do classes — doctors, clergymen, civil servants, factory owners, landowners, rich peasants, etc — who live in the country or in small towns where there are no higher educational establishments — send their children to the larger cities to boarding-schools and barely get a glimpse of them, except possibly during holidays.
In order to meet the demands of the totally transformed system of education, aiming to promote both the physical and the mental development and training of the younger generation, the number of teachers will have to increase.
Education must also be equal for both sexes and mixed. Their separation is justifiable only in cases where the difference of sex makes such separation absolutely necessary. In this type of education the United States is far ahead of us. There, education is mixed from the primary schools right through to the university. Most schools have gymnasiums, baths, swimming pools and playgrounds attached. In secondary schools girls are taught gymnastics, swimming, rowing and marching.
The daily increasing depravity of our modern youth, which is the natural consequence of the present rot and decay of society — the unruliness, lack of discipline, immorality, and coarse pleasure-seeking, such as are especially pronounced among young people in our higher educational establishments, gymnasia, polytechnical schools, universities, etc., vices that are caused and aggravated by the looseness and unrest of home life and the poisonous influences of social life will vanish. The adverse influence of the factory system, of inadequate housing, that dissoluteness and self-assurance of the young at an age in which man most needs reins and education for self-discipline and self-control, will also come to an end. Future society will avoid all these ills without having to resort to force. The social institutions and the moral atmosphere that will spring from these and dominate society will make them impossible. As in Nature disease and the destruction of organisms can appear only when decay sets in, so likewise in society.
Attempts are being made to lower the educational level of the lower classes. The proletariat may become too clever, too knowing, might refuse to tolerate any more its state of servitude and rebel against its earthly gods. The stupider the masses, the more easily they put up with control and rule. “The stupidest worker is our favourite worker,” the big landowners from the estates East of the Elbe reiterate at their meetings. This single sentence implies a whole programme.
Thus, modern society when confronted with the question of instruction and education is just as aimless and bewildered as in relation to all other social problems. What does it do? It calls for the rod and preaches religion, that is, submissiveness and acquiescence to those who are much too submissive and acquiescent as it is; it teaches abstinence where due to poverty abstinence in the bare essentials of life has become a necessity.