Margaret Sanger’s “The Pivot of Civilization” Reviewed

Margaret Sanger and the Forced Sterilization of Americans


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Critics have often been puzzled by the tremendous vitality of this work. Its prediction s have never, despite the claims of the faithful, been fulfilled. Instead of diminishing, the spirit of nationalism has been intensified tenfold. In nearly every respect Marx’s predictions concerning the evolution of historical and economic forces have been contradicted by events, culminating in the great war. Most of his followers, the “revolutionary” Socialists, were swept into the whirlpool of nationalistic militarism. Nevertheless, this “Bible of the working classes” still enjoys a tremendous authority as a scientific work. By some it is regarded as an economic treatise; by others as a philosophy of history; by others as a collection of sociological laws; and finally by others as a moral and political book of reference. Criticized, refuted, repudiated and demolished by specialists, it nevertheless exerts its influences and retains its mysterious vitality.

We must seek the explanation of this secret elsewhere. Modern psychology has taught us that human nature has a tendency to place the cause of its own deficiencies and weaknesses outside of itself, to attribute to some external agency, to some enemy or group of enemies, the blame for its own misery. In his great work Marx unconsciously strengthens and encourages this tendency. The immediate effect of his teaching, vulgarized and popularized in a hundred different forms, is to relieve the proletariat of all responsibility for the effects of its reckless breeding, and even to encourage it in the perpetuation of misery.

The inherent truth in the Marxian teachings was, moreover, immediately subordinated to their emotional and religious appeal. A book that could so influence European thought could not be without merit. But in the process of becoming the “Bible of the working classes,” “Capital” suffered the fate of all such “Bibles.” The spirit of ecclesiastical dogmatism was transfused into the religion of revolutionary Socialism. This dogmatic religious quality has been noted by many of the most observant critics of Socialism. Marx was too readily accepted as the father of the church, and “Capital” as the sacred gospel of the social revolution. All questions of tactics, of propaganda, of class warfare, of political policy, were to be solved by apt quotations from the “good book.” New thoughts, new schemes, new programs, based upon tested fact and experience, the outgrowth of newer discoveries concerning the nature of men, upon the recognition of the mistakes of the master, could only be approved or admitted according as they could or could not be tested by some bit of text quoted from Marx. His followers assumed that Karl Marx had completed the philosophy of Socialism, and that the duty of the proletariat thenceforth was not to think for itself, but merely to mobilize itself under competent Marxian leaders for the realization of his ideas.

From the day of this apotheosis of Marx until our own, the “orthodox” Socialist of any shade is of the belief that the first essential for social salvation lies in unquestioning belief in the dogmas of Marx.

The curious and persistent antagonism to Birth Control that began with Marx and continues to our own day can be explained only as the utter refusal or inability to consider humanity in its physiological and psychological aspects—these aspects, apparently, having no place in the “economic interpretation of history.” It has remained for George Bernard Shaw, a Socialist with a keener spiritual insight than the ordinary Marxist, to point out the disastrous consequences of rapid multiplication which are obvious to the small cultivator, the peasant proprietor, the lowest farmhand himself, but which seem to arouse the orthodox, intellectual Marxian to inordinate fury. “But indeed the more you degrade the workers,” Shaw once wrote,[3] “robbing them of all artistic enjoyment, and all chance of respect and admiration from their fellows, the more you throw them back, reckless, upon the one pleasure and the one human tie left to them— the gratification of their instinct for producing fresh supplies of men. You will applaud this instinct as divine until at last the excessive supply becomes a nuisance: there comes a plague of men; and you suddenly discover that the instinct is diabolic, and set up a cry of ‘over-population.’ But your slaves are beyond caring for your cries: they breed like rabbits: and their poverty breeds filth, ugliness, dishonesty, disease, obscenity, drunkenness.”

Lack of insight into fundamental truths of human nature is evident throughout the writings of the Marxians. The Marxian Socialists, according to Kautsky, defended women in industry: it was right for woman to work in factories in order to preserve her equality with man! Man must not support woman, declared the great French Socialist Guesde, because that would make her the PROLETAIRE of man! Bebel, the great authority on woman, famous for his erudition, having critically studied the problem of population, suggested as a remedy for too excessive fecundity the consumption of a certain lard soup reputed to have an “anti-generative” effect upon the agricultural population of Upper Bavaria! Such are the results of the literal and uncritical acceptance of Marx’s static and mechanical conception of human society, a society perfectly automatic; in which competition is always operating at maximum efficiency; one vast and unending conspiracy against the blameless proletariat.

This lack of insight of the orthodox Marxians, long represented by the German Social-Democrats, is nowhere better illustrated than in Dr. Robinson’s account of a mass meeting of the Social-Democrat party to organize public opinion against the doctrine of Birth Control among the poor.[4] “Another meeting had taken place the week before, at which several eminent Socialist women, among them Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin, spoke very strongly against limitation of offspring among the poor—in fact the title of the discussion was GEGEN DEN GEBURTSTREIK! ‘Against the birth strike!’ The interest of the audience was intense. One could see that with them it was not merely a dialectic question, as it was with their leaders, but a matter of life and death. I came to attend a meeting AGAINST the limitation of offspring; it soon proved to be a meeting very decidedly FOR the limitation of offspring, for every speaker who spoke in favor of the artificial prevention of conception or undesired pregnancies, was greeted with vociferous, long-lasting applause; while those who tried to persuade the people that a limited number of children is not a proletarian weapon, and would not improve their lot, were so hissed that they had difficulty going on. The speakers who were against the...idea soon felt that their audience was against them....Why was there such small attendance at the regular Socialistic meetings, while the meetings of this character were packed to suffocation? It did not apparently penetrate the leaders’ heads that the reason was a simple one. Those meetings were evidently of no interest to them, while those which dealt with the limitation of offspring were of personal, vital, present interest....What particularly amused me—and pained me--in the anti-limitationists was the ease and equanimity with which they advised the poor women to keep on bearing children. The woman herself was not taken into consideration, as if she was not a human being, but a machine. What are her sufferings, her labor pains, her inability to read, to attend meetings, to have a taste of life? What does she amount to? The proletariat needs fighters. Go on, females, and breed like animals. Maybe of the thousands you bear a few will become party members....”

The militant organization of the Marxian Socialists suggests that their campaign must assume the tactics of militarism of the familiar type. As represented by militaristic governments, militarism like Socialism has always encouraged the proletariat to increase and multiply. Imperial Germany was the outstanding and awful example of this attitude. Before the war the fall in the birth-rate was viewed by the Junker party with the gravest misgivings. Bernhardi and the protagonists of DEUTSCHLAND-UBER-ALLES condemned it in the strongest terms. The Marxians unconsciously repeat the words of the government representative, Krohne, who, in a debate on the subject in the Prussian Diet, February 1916, asserted: “Unfortunately this view has gained followers amongst the German women....These women, in refusing to rear strong and able children to continue the race, drag into the dust that which is the highest end of women—motherhood. It is to be hoped that the willingness to bear sacrifices will lead to a change for the better....We need an increase in human beings to guard against the attacks of envious neighbors as well as to fulfil our cultural mission. Our whole economic development depends on increase of our people.” Today we are fully aware of how imperial Germany fulfiled that cultural mission of hers; nor can we overlook the fact that the countries with a smaller birth-rate survived the ordeal. Even from the traditional militaristic standpoint, strength does not reside in numbers, though the Caesars, the Napoleons and the Kaisers of the world have always believed that large exploitable populations were necessary for their own individual power. If Marxian dictatorship means the dictatorship of a small minority wielding power in the interest of the proletariat, a high-birth rate may be necessary, though we may here recall the answer of the lamented Dr. Alfred Fried to the German imperialists: “It is madness, the apotheosis of unreason, to wish to breed and care for human beings in order that in the flower of their youth they may be sent in millions to be slaughtered wholesale by machinery. We need no wholesale production of men, have no need of the ‘fruitful fertility of women,’ no need of wholesale wares, fattened and dressed for slaughter What we do need is careful maintenance of those already born. If the bearing of children is a moral and religious duty, then it is a much higher duty to secure the sacredness and security of human life, so that children born and bred with trouble and sacrifice may not be offered up in the bloom of youth to a political dogma at the bidding of secret diplomacy.”

Marxism has developed a patriotism of its own, if indeed it has not yet been completely crystallized into a religion. Like the “capitalistic” governments it so vehemently attacks, it demands self-sacrifice and even martyrdom from the faithful comrades. But since its strength depends to so great a degree upon “conversion,” upon docile acceptance of the doctrines of the “Master” as interpreted by the popes and bishops of this new church, it fails to arouse the irreligious proletariat. The Marxian Socialist boasts of his understanding of “working class psychology” and criticizes the lack of this understanding on the part of all dissenters. But, as the Socialists’ meetings against the “birth strike” indicate, the working class is not interested in such generalities as the Marxian “theory of value,” the “iron law” of wages, “the value of commodities” and the rest of the hazy articles of faith. Marx inherited the rigid nationalistic psychology of the eighteenth century, and his followers, for the most part, have accepted his mechanical and superficial treatment of instinct.[5] Discontented workers may rally to Marxism because it places the blame for their misery outside of themselves and depicts their conditions as the result of a capitalistic conspiracy, thereby satisfying that innate tendency of every human being to shift the blame to some living person outside himself, and because it strengthens his belief that his sufferings and difficulties may be overcome by the immediate amelioration of his economic environment. In this manner, psychologists tell us, neuroses and inner compulsions are fostered. No true solution is possible, to continue this analogy, until the worker is awakened to the realization that the roots of his malady lie deep in his own nature, his own organism, his own habits. To blame everything upon the capitalist and the environment produced by capitalism is to focus attention upon merely one of the elements of the problem. The Marxian too often forgets that before there was a capitalist there was exercised the unlimited reproductive activity of mankind, which produced the first overcrowding, the first want. This goaded humanity into its industrial frenzy, into warfare and theft and slavery. Capitalism has not created the lamentable state of affairs in which the world now finds itself. It has grown out of them, armed with the inevitable power to take advantage of our swarming, spawning millions. As that valiant thinker Monsieur G. Hardy has pointed out [6] the proletariat may be looked upon, not as the antagonist of capitalism, but as its accomplice. Labor surplus, or the “army of reserve” which as for decades and centuries furnished the industrial background of human misery, which so invariably defeats strikes and labor revolts, cannot honestly be blamed upon capitalism. It is, as M. Hardy points out, of SEXUAL and proletarian origin. In bringing too many children into the world, in adding to the total of misery, in intensifying the evils of overcrowding, the proletariat itself increases the burden of organized labor; even of the Socialist and Syndicalist organizations themselves with a surplus of the docilely inefficient, with those great uneducable and unorganizable masses. With surprisingly few exceptions, Marxians of all countries have docilely followed their master in rejecting, with bitterness and vindictiveness that is difficult to explain, the principles and teachings of Birth Control.

Hunger alone is not responsible for the bitter struggle for existence we witness to-day in our over-advertised civilization. Sex, uncontrolled, misdirected, over-stimulated and misunderstood, has run riot at the instigation of priest, militarist and exploiter. Uncontrolled sex has rendered the proletariat prostrate, the capitalist powerful. In this continuous, unceasing alliance of sexual instinct and hunger we find the reason for the decline of all the finer sentiments. These instincts tear asunder the thin veils of culture and hypocrisy and expose to our gaze the dark sufferings of gaunt humanity. So have we become familiar with the everyday spectacle of distorted bodies, of harsh and frightful diseases stalking abroad in the light of day; of misshapen heads and visages of moron and imbecile; of starving children in city streets and schools. This is the true soil of unspeakable crimes. Defect and delinquency join hands with disease, and accounts of inconceivable and revolting vices are dished up in the daily press. When the majority of men and women are driven by the grim lash of sex and hunger in the unending struggle to feed themselves and to carry the dead-weight of dead and dying progeny, when little children are forced into factories, streets, and shops, education—including even education in the Marxian dogmas—is quite impossible; and civilization is more completely threatened than it ever could be by pestilence or war.

But, it will be pointed out, the working class has advanced. Power has been acquired by labor unions and syndicates. In the beginning power was won by the principle of the restriction of numbers. The device of refusing to admit more than a fixed number of new members to the unions of the various trades has been justified as necessary for the upholding of the standard of wages and of working conditions. This has been the practice in precisely those unions which have been able through years of growth and development to attain tangible strength and power. Such a principle of restriction is necessary in the creation of a firmly and deeply rooted trunk or central organization furnishing a local center for more extended organization. It is upon this great principle of restricted number that the labor unions have generated and developed power. They have acquired this power without any religious emotionalism, without subscribing to metaphysical or economic theology. For the millenium and the earthly paradise to be enjoyed at some indefinitely future date, the union member substitutes the very real politics of organization with its resultant benefits. He increases his own independence and comfort and that of his family. He is immune to superstitious belief in and respect for the mysterious power of political or economic nostrums to reconstruct human society according to the Marxian formula.

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