‘Socialist and Feminism: A Reply to E. Belfort Bax’ by Maud Thompson from New Review. Vol. 2 No. 8. August, 1914.

Maud Thompson takes apart E. Belfort Bax’ misogyny Maud Thompson in an argument that has returned; biological differences between men and women, socialism and feminism. Maud Thompson was a member of the Socialist Party, a leading feminist, and an Classicist who received her doctorate from Wellesley exploring property rights among Athenian women. She was married to international editor of ISR, William E. Bohn.

‘Socialist and Feminism: A Reply to E. Belfort Bax’ by Maud Thompson from New Review. Vol. 2 No. 8. August, 1914.

It need not surprise us to find over the signature of one who calls himself a Socialist the same arguments used by the advocates of chattel slavery, the opponents of popular government, and the critics of Socialism. For every social movement, especially after it is in full swing, draws to itself those who see of it only the segment which suits their temperament. They conceive of a social revolution as altering a single political or economic system without transforming those social, moral and intellectual conditions that adhere to our economic system as the flesh to the bones of the living creature. So we have in the Socialist movement some who do not believe in political democracy, some who cling to their race prejudices, and some who oppose sex equality.

For instance, in Mr. Bax’s article (“Socialism and Feminism,” NEW REVIEW for May) we find the suggestion that intellectual or moral inferiority to the ruling class (judged, of course, by the ruling class) is sufficient reason for excluding a group from any share in the government. The Internationalist may note also the inference that Socialism concerns itself only with nations and races “on approximately the same level of development.” These notions make an excellent setting for anti-feminism, but there is no grouping that would include them in any comprehensive view of Socialism.

It is probably quite futile for their own sake to answer these fragmentary thinkers, for the other Party members it is unnecessary, but for the masses outside the movement, whose notion of Socialism is vague at best, we must reject the segments offered under the name of the whole.

The argument of Mr. Bax’s article is that feminism is not an essential part of Socialism, because Socialism implies economic and political equality between classes and nations, not between sexes. As proof of his argument, he refers (1) to the contrast between the way class differences and sex differences have arisen; (2) to the difference in goal between the movement for sex equality and the movement for class equality.


Differences between classes, he says, were “created by economic conditions and social environment”; between the sexes “we are concerned not with a sociological but with a biological difference.” The difficulty here is merely a lack of definition. Sex differences which are biological are differences of sex function. Sex differences which are sociological are “created by economic conditions and social environment.”

The only important difference in sexual function is that the woman bears and nurses the child. It is recognized now that the physiological differences which accompany this function are in healthy women of slight import as far as their effect on the physical or mental powers goes. Such physiological differences may, therefore, be disregarded in considering woman’s social or political functions. There remains the one supreme difference of biological function, the power to bear and nurse a child. Whatever difference in social function there is between the two sexes must connect with this.

Sex privileges doubtless arose in a savage and warlike society from the unequal ability of the two sexes (due to this one difference in sex function) to adapt themselves to that form of society. Unequal physical strength can scarcely have determined the difference in the social functions of the sexes, for there are tales enough of warrior women to show that woman was not regarded as incapable of defense or even of attack. But better proof of her physical endurance is found in the heavy burden of labor which she bore throughout the ages and still bears.

Nevertheless, her sexual function did, in primitive society, limit her social functions. She who bore and nursed the children had to stay within reach of nest or lair or home. No hunt far afield for her, no long trails after the foe. To her fell naturally the agricultural and industrial duties close to home.

But among primitive people community service and the power that springs from opportunity for service was largely that of the hunt and the chase. It was with later civilization that agriculture, industry and the home became community affairs. Government has not only come home now from the battlefield and the hunt, it isin part the home. So complex have our civic duties become, so efficient our means of communication, that every citizen, whether kept at home by a baby or at the shop by business, can do her or his full duty through some of the many channels of community life.

Yet the old alignment persists. And it will persist, like the alignment of economic class, until a social revolution casts society anew. It is the business of Feminism to adapt law and convention to the new community life and community service. And this is the business of Socialism too.

But the goal of Socialism is not merely equal opportunity, not merely the abolition of classes. So that if the abolition of classes still left any group of the people deprived of social opportunity, the goal of Socialism would not be attained. But a group of people who are deprived of the same social opportunities through exclusion from the same social privileges do constitute a subject class. In the case of woman, the dependent position of woman in the family has relegated the various members of their class to the different economic classes to which the heads of their families belonged. These cross-currents of family and social organization have separated women from each other by barriers of differing economic conditions, but brought them together again in a common economic dependence on men. This is their economic class, the class whose common economic status is a dependence within the family. To deny the possibility of more than one kind of economic class, or of a double economic dependency, is to construct a paper society on lines of theoretical simplicity instead of analyzing society as it really exists. Only by abolishing special privilege in all classes, not merely between two classes, can Socialism reach the goal of equal opportunity.

Mr. Bax’s argument as to goal is as follows: Socialism aims at the extinction of classes, feminism does not aim at the extinction of sex; therefore they are not identical in goal. If goals are to be used as tests of identity, it does not seem logical to compare what one goal is with what another goal is not. The goal of feminism is not a negative. It aims at the abolition of sex privilege. The aim of Socialism is to abolish all class privilege. Feminism aims at removing one barrier to equal opportunity, Socialism at removing all. Feminism is, then, a part of Socialism, though Socialism is more than Feminism. And as Feminism means much more than the enfranchisement of women, draws in its train, in fact, all the liberty that frees the woman socially, sexually, intellectually, as well as politically and economically; so Socialism means not merely the removing of political and economic barriers that now keep men from their true opportunity, but the opening of the gates of individual opportunity to all humanity.

The New Review: A Critical Survey of International Socialism was a New York-based, explicitly Marxist, sometimes weekly/sometimes monthly theoretical journal begun in 1913 and was an important vehicle for left discussion in the period before World War One. Bases in New York it declared in its aim the first issue: “The intellectual achievements of Marx and his successors have become the guiding star of the awakened, self-conscious proletariat on the toilsome road that leads to its emancipation. And it will be one of the principal tasks of The NEW REVIEW to make known these achievements,to the Socialists of America, so that we may attain to that fundamental unity of thought without which unity of action is impossible.” In the world of the East Coast Socialist Party, it included Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Herman Simpson, Louis Boudin, William English Walling, Moses Oppenheimer, Robert Rives La Monte, Walter Lippmann, William Bohn, Frank Bohn, John Spargo, Austin Lewis, WEB DuBois, Arturo Giovannitti, Harry W. Laidler, Austin Lewis, and Isaac Hourwich as editors. Louis Fraina played an increasing role from 1914 and lead the journal in a leftward direction as New Review addressed many of the leading international questions facing Marxists. International writers in New Review included Rosa Luxemburg, James Connolly, Karl Kautsky, Anton Pannekoek, Lajpat Rai, Alexandra Kollontai, Tom Quelch, S.J. Rutgers, Edward Bernstein, and H.M. Hyndman, The journal folded in June, 1916 for financial reasons. Its issues are a formidable and invaluable archive of Marxist and Socialist discussion of the time.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/newreview/1914/v2n08-aug-1914.pdf

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