February 1927 issue of the Socialist Standard
A correspondent complains of his inability to understand the attitude of the Socialist Party towards “free love.” The following is an attempt to make matters a little plainer to him and possibly to others.
"Free love” is one of those terms like Atheism, Republicanism, etc., which are used by the professional anti-Socialists as a means of arousing the prejudices of their listeners, or readers, as the case may be, and rendering the calm and intelligent consideration of the subject more difficult on their part. As a rule the anti-Socialist has only to deal with the so-called “Socialist” who supports the Labour Party and who meets his opponent either with a mere denial of their charges or with a retort upon the lines of “You’re another!" For nothing is easier than to show that there are supporters of capitalism, naked and unadorned, who claim to be Atheists, Republicans, Free Lovers, etc. This, of course, merely dodges the issue; but the Socialist Party has, necessarily, something more to say on the subject.
Marriage as we know it to-day is a legal contract whereby the man assumes the responsibility of maintaining the woman and acquires certain rights over her person. The State enforces the terms of the contract where possible, but its ability to do so depends,' in practice, upon the social position of the couple concerned. In the case of members of the capitalist class who possess definite and relatively secure means of livelihood, all is plain sailing. The woman, if necessary, can obtain effective security and the man can proceed for divorce and damages against the usurper of his rights.
In the case of members of the working-class, their economic circumstances alter the position, although in theory the same law applies to all. The working man’s wages are, in numerous cases, quite insufficient for the maintenance of a wife and family, and even where they are sufficient, their permanence is uncertain. Hardly any sections of the workers are free from the haunting menace of unemployment. Under such circumstances it is obvious that the legal regulation of marital relations becomes a mere matter of form. Married or unmarried, the woman of the working-class has to work in order to maintain herself and her children; while the latter are also under the necessity of contributing to the family income as soon as possible.
Modern industry has wiped out the property of the peasants and the handicraftsmen, and has therefore wiped out the economic basis of marriage as far as the workers are concerned. Property and security are concentrated in the hands of the capitalist class, and as a consequence it is only among them that the legal contract retains its meaning. This, of course, does not prevent the religious and moral sentiments associated with the institution continuing to influence the minds of the workers.
Just as the workers accept the guidance of their masters in the political sphere, so in the realm of domestic life it is left to the Socialist to strip the veil of illusion from the hideous reality.
The parsons, and other hirelings of Capital, pretend that marriage is necessary for the protection of women. They have never yet explained, however, how it is that thousands of women of the working-class, married and unmarried, have had recourse to some form or other of prostitution in order to supplement their inadequate earnings or to escape for a time from the foul and squalid environment in which they have found themselves entrapped. Nor have they shown how the institution of marriage helps the girl who is confronted with the unwelcome attentions of her foreman, manager or other superior who holds her livelihood in his hands.
Sexual servitude is, in fact, but one of the inevitable aspects of the servitude of a class. Its form has changed with the changing of the forms of society. The feudal knights of the Middle Ages who played the part of gallants towards the women of their own class regarded the womenfolk of their serfs as legitimate prey. The patriarchs of ancient times were not content with numerous wives, but took to themselves concubines from among their slaves.
These various forms of sexual relationship | took their rise from the property basis of society prevailing at the time. In more primitive times, however, before property had developed and assumed basic importance, other forms of the relationship existed in which women enjoyed a position of equality. Morgan, in his “Ancient Society,” for example, has shown how the institution of marriage arose and developed along with the changing conditions of obtaining a livelihood.
The effect which the social revolution will have upon marriage can, of course, only be dealt with in a general way. We are not prophets and do not profess to know just exactly how the men and women of the future will order their lives. It is not for slaves to make plans in advance for those who will be free.
This much, however, is plain. When the means of life become the common property of society, every individual will enjoy economic security which they will inherit from society as a whole. The present-day dependence of individuals upon others for their subsistence will disappear. As a consequence, the relationship between the sexes and between parents and children can then only be based upon mutual feeling.
We can, therefore, only surmise that the legal contract will vanish along with the economic necessity upon which it is based. The distinction between married and unmarried mothers or between legitimate and illegitimate children will simply become meaningless, along with all other distinctions which arise from the institution of private property.
Socialism, in short, will provide for the free development of each and all.