German Social Democracy was conciously feminist. Here one woman
recounts her reasons for her socialism.
When I am asked what brought me in touch with socialism, I must refer back to my childhood [to begin my answer]. My father was a weaver, my mother a spooler, and other than that, they worked at whatever they could find. I am the youngest of 12 children and I learned very early what work is all about. When other children were out playing in the street, I would watch them with envy from the window until my mother would slap me to remind me that I had to work. It is easier [for a mother] to discipline a child than for a child to understand why she is being disciplined. When one thinks that at six, a child has to give up all the pleasures of youth. That is a lot to ask! When I went to school my only desire was to learn. But that desire was an illusion because I had to get up at 5 o'clock, do some spooling and then run off to school poorly dressed. After school I had to run home in order to do some more spooling before lunch. Then after school in the afternoons I had to spool again. I was able to accept that, but not being kept home from school to help with the uork. But all the begging and crying in the world didn't help. I had to do what my mother said. When I was older and wiser, I often cursed all the splendours of nature because they had never meant anything to me.
When I turned thirteen my mother took me by the hand and we went to see the manager of a tobacco factory to get me a job. The manager refused to hire me but my mother begged him to change his mind, since she explained, my father had died. I was hired. When I was getting ready to go to work the next day, my mother told me that I was to keep quiet and do what I was told. That was easier said than done. The treatment you received in this factory was really brutal.Young girls were often abused or even beaten by the older women. I rebelled strongly against that. I tried anything that might help improve things for me. As a child I was very pious and used to listen enthusiastically to the priests telling stories from the Bible. So, when things were going badly for me [at work], I would go to church on Sundays where I prayed so intently that I saw or heard nothing going on around me. When I went back to work on Monday, things were not any better and sometimes they were worse. I asked myself: Can there be a higher power that rewards good and punishes evil? I said to my self, no, that cannot be.
Several years went by. The Women Workers' Newspaper [Arbeiterinnen Zeitung] began to appear and a few issues were smuggled into the factory by one of the older women. The more I was warned to stay away from this woman, the more I went to her to ask her if she would lend me a copy of the newspaper since I didn't have enough money to buy my own. At that time work hours were very long and the pay was very low. When my friend lent me a copy of the newspaper, I had to keep it hidden and I couldn't even let my mother see it if I took it home. I came to understand many things, my circle of acquaintances grew and when a political organization was founded in Sternberg, the workers were urged to join-only the men, the women were left out. A party representative came to us since I was already married by then. When he came by for the third time I asked him if I wasn't mature enough to become a member of the organization. He was embarrassed but replied: "When do you want to?" So I joined and I am a member of the party to this day.
I attended all the meetings, took part in all the demonstrations
and it was not long before I was punished by the manager of the
factory. I was taken off a good job and put in a poorer one just
because I had become a Social Democrat. Nothing stopped me though;
I said to my t self, if this official is against it, out of fear
to be sure, then it can't be all bad. When the tobacco workers'
union was founded in November 1899, I joined and we had some big
battles before we were able to make progress. Through these two
organizations I have matured into a classconscious fighter
and I am now trying to win over mothers to the cause so that future
children of the proletariat will have a happier youth than I had.
From Eleanor Reimer and John Fout, eds., European Women: A
Documentary Hzstory 17891945 (New York: Shocken Books,
1980), pp. 9395. Copyright t 1980 by Shocken Books, Inc.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997