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Marx & Engels On "Woman"

edited 8/19/11

Close collaborators in both the development of social philosophy and the pursuit of radical agitation, Marx and Engels became the chief theorists of modern socialism exerting an enormous influence on world history. Together they developed a new political-economic system informed by dialectical materialism, which asserted that every social order based on class division contains the germs of its own destruction. They perceived the world in terms of class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and they prophesied the ultimate victory of the latter.

In spite of their championing of women’s liberation, both Marx and Engels displayed male chauvinist tendencies. Marx, a family man, bemoaned the fact that one of his offspring was a daughter, and not, as he put it, “a garcon.” He also spoke of “the folly of women,” while venting his anger about womankind caused by repeated tearful sessions with his wife that, according to him, “often lasted long into the night.”

Unlike Marx, Engels remained a bachelor, but he had a long-term semisecret relationship with Mary Burns, a poor Irish textile mill worker. She was the source of personal conflicts between the two friends, inasmuch as Marx’s wife, Jenny, refused to accept this “fallen woman” into her home. Upon Mary’s death, much to the added dismay of the Marx family, who accused him of projecting the wrong image to the proletariat, Engels consoled himself with her sister Lizzy. Engels finally married Lizzy on her deathbed. The Marx-Engels collaboration reached truly remarkable dimensions, when the former persuaded the latter to assume responsibility for the pregnancy of his housekeeper, whom Marx himself had impregnated. The ever-faithful Engels agreed, and the child was given his Christian name.

On a theoretical level, Marx and even more so Engels, understood the nature of woman’s sufferings and oppression. Their private lives, however, tell another story.



Karl Marx (1818-1883) {and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) not pictured} -- German social philosophers, social reformers, and co-founders of communist revolution


Women obviously always need a guardian!
-- Marx, Letter, July 22, 1869

Great social changes are impossible without the female ferment. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social status of the beautiful sex (the ugly ones included).
-- Marx, Letter, December 12, 1868

In the family, he [the husband] is the bourgeois; the wife represents the proletariat.
-- Engels, Origin of Family, Private Property and State

The bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion than that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women. -- The Communist Manifesto

The emancipation of women and their equality with men are impossible and must remain so as long as women are excluded from socially productive work and restricted to housework, which is private. The emancipation of women becomes possible only when women are enabled to take part in production on a large, social scale, and when domestic duties require their attention only to a minor degree.
-- Engels, Origin of Family, Private Property and State

The unmarried women, who have grown up in [textile] mills, are no better off than the married ones. [They] . . . prove wholly inexperienced and unfit as housekeepers. They cannot knit or sew, cook or wash, are unacquainted with the most ordinary duties of a housekeeper, and when they have young children to take care of, have not the vaguest idea how to set about it.
-- Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England

In many cases the family is not wholly dissolved by the employment of the wife, but turned upside down. The wife supports the family, the husband sits at home, tends the children, sweeps the room and cooks . . . Can any one imagine a more insane state of things? And yet this condition, which unsexes the man and takes from the woman all womanliness without being able to bestow upon the man true womanliness, or the woman true manliness--this condition which degrades, in the most shameful way, both sexes, and, them, Humanity, is the last result of our much-praised civilization, the final achievement of all the efforts and struggles of hundreds of generations to improve their own situation and that of their posterity.
-- Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England

Religious independence of mind is an awkward matter for women . . . . It is only too easy for doubt to corrode the feminine mind and raise the intellect to a power which it ought not have in any woman.
-- Engels, Landscapes

What for a woman is a crime entailing dire legal and social consequences, is regarded in the case of a man as being honourable or, at most, as a slight moral stain which one bears with pleasure.
-- Engels, Origin of Family, Private Property and State

Woman [is] the prey and the handmaid of communal lust.
-- Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts