By John Barker
In the ‘Old Testament Bible with its resentful, authoritarian and distinctly masculine God, the character Lot escapes Sodom and ends up in a totally isolated a cave with his two daughters They have seen their town, their world destroyed, and in their in their abrupt isolation come to believe that for lack of reproduction the human species will die out. To prevent this they, one by one seduce their father having got him drunk. The father then is innocent, is not aware of what’s going on unlike the paedophile fathers of Austrian cellars or USA farmsteads, and gets a Not Guilty while the women do what is their duty, to avert a demographic crisis. And this after he has offered up the two of them to the men of the town who have demanded access to Lot’s male guests, and this after their poor mother has been turned into a pillar of salt for a final glance “At the square where you sang, at the courtyards where you spun/at the empty windows of the tall house in which you bore children for your dear husband.” Yes she has done her duty, borne children but still must be punished for that glance because dictatorial God has decided that Sodom must be destroyed. Whether or not the town is punished because of its xenophobia towards those guests or, more conventionally because there are too many homosexual men in Sodom indulging in non-functional sex, not doing their demographic and patriarchal duty is of secondary importance. What matters is that the daughters have done their duty without the father showing any sexual desire, and so broken no taboo. The lack of desire, even male desire, crucial to the separation of pleasure and procreation.
The story assumes as natural the hierarchic superiority of men over women, and the privileges and entitlements that go with it. The starting point of this look at the politics of demography is that hierarchies of gender, race/, class and other species class pre-existed Capitalism which then extended Hierarchy over other species in to one over the whole non-human planet. Since then they have been a snug fit, a smug and shitty couple Hierarchy&Capitalism. At present, 2023 any challenge to the hierarchies of class, race, gender and the natural world are producing a hysterical reaction now assembled in a contrived package called the “Culture Wars” which aim to restore any hierarchic inequalities perceived to have been lost.
Until recently the dominant demographic ‘discourse’ has been of world over-population as first laid down by the English Reverend Malthus at the end of the 18th century.. A resurrected Malthusian view of the world coincided with the post-colonialism world, – however nominal the idea that colonialism was and is ‘over’ – in which too many people existed for too few resources. In the present an equal long-running concern shared by the shitty couple of Hierarchy(ies)&Capitalism is that the right kind of women are not having enough of them or any at all. One consequence of this perceived demographic “crisis” is a callous migration politics; it makes obvious the capitalist and social need for labour from the poorer areas of the world and its therefore “inferior” peoples to the richer areas of the world but which provokes another Hierarchic hysteria, that of race/ethnicity and the notion of racial hierarchies being challenged by this need. Such a contradiction like all those of Hierarchy&Capital can only be solved by violences, deaths by drowning, in deserts or on the fences of Selective Entitlement.
In the week after the US Supreme Court’s attack on women in overturning Roe vs Wade and the right to abortion, Abebe Aemro Selassie, director of the IMF’s Africa department argued that …
“ Failure to invest and support the continent was shortsighted and detrimental to the global economy, as half of the new entrants into the global workforce over the next decade would come from sub-Saharan Africa.”
This logic rather like the social-democratic enlightened self-interest of Willi Brandt’s 1970s plan for greater equality between regions of the planet will have little traction in a world of Hierarchy&Capital. Besides, the climatic emergencies that are a consequence of Capital’s omnivorous attitude to the natural world -as an endless freebie – are predicted to make for 1.7 billion climate refugees which can only see those violences on an unprecedented scale of callous inhumanity.
The overturning of Roe vs Wade comes when a demographic “crisis” has been declared in countries of the West and of East Asia which alarms Capitalist minds -thinking of a potential relative shortage of labour in relation to capital, while the misogyny of gender Hierarchy’s violence against women is on the rise everywhere: ‘domestic’ violence and murder; strategic rape as warfare normal; sexualised workplace bullying; the hatefulness of the personal degrading attacks on Irene Montero Spanish feminist minister; of specific attacks on childless women parliamentarians as “chickens without eggs squawking too much”─ puts all the responsibility for this “crisis” on the selfishness of women. This has consequences: the right to abortion is tightened from Russia to the USA and China -where so much of the world’s surplus value is made by workers however distributed in international profits; in “secular” Britain, a woman is imprisoned for a late abortion under a 19th century law; in Catholic Christian Poland where a government minister urged Polish women to “breed like rabbits”, a woman has just died, irrevocable death, because a hospital did not tell her that an abortion could save her life. This is not El Salvador where a court recently sentenced a woman to 30 years in jail because she suffered an obstetric emergency that ended her pregnancy, but the same dynamic is at work and must be stopped.
These attacks on women are a constant even while it is broadly accepted that the process of urbanization is bound to reduce birth (“fertility”) rate on the grounds that children as an asset in an agricultural world become an expense in the urban. A bit reductionist perhaps but then Hierarchy&Capital are regular users of Selective Fatalism themselves, mixed with individualized blame in which they and their treasonable clerks are specialists, in this case of women. It is not new, as from the 18th century cool capitalist rationaliser Adam Smith …
“Barrenness so frequent among women of fashion, is very rare among those of inferior station. Luxury in the fair sex, while it Inflames perhaps the passion for enjoyment, seems always to weaken, and frequently to destroy altogether, the powers of generation”
The class/eugenic tone will reappear as a constant from the voice of Hierarchy&Capital ─the right kind of women not having children . In the 20th century up until the Nazis made it unpalatable − Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West (a constant notion in HIerarchist views of the world) was a big portentous hit amongst Hierarchists who constantly give big licks to Civilization.
”At that point begins prudent limitation of the number of births. The primary woman, the peasant woman, is mother. The whole vocation towards which she has yearned from childhood I included in that one word…now emerges the Ibsen woman…Instead of children she has could conflicts…they all belong to themselves and are unfaithful…At this level Civilization enters upon a stage of appalling depopulation.”
The woman as selfish consumer described by Adam Smith is another repeated Hierarchist notion.
By the 1930s English eugenicist In 1933 entwining this with class eugenics D. Ward Cutler a zoologist addressing the British Hygiene Council said only the most “thriftless” classes are reproducing while “the better classes prefer to invest on motor cars rather than baby citizens.”
And the US demographer Warren Thompson, though admirably anti-racist blamed a “lack of family pride coupled with a self-destructive love of luxury.
In 1983 LeeKwan Yew, Hierarchy&Capital’s authoritarian leader of Singapore foresaw a catastrophe. It was not so much that Singaporeans were not reproducing enough but that …
“intellectually superior’ citizens were not reproducing adequately.”
In the 1950s the “Centrist” and Hierarchist&Capitalist polymath Raymond Aron declared …
“The civilization of self-centred enjoyment condemns itself to death when it loses interest in the future.”
IN November 2022 the governing party of Poland’s leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, claimed excessive drinking by young women was to blame for the country’s low birth rate; selfishness and pleasure all in the one go
It was the falling birth rate too that Aron had in mind though he was equally at home in articulating the Over-population slogan of his class …
“’Malthusian action is most necessary where it is most difficult, that is, among the poor populations loyal to tradition, which know no other joy than those of family and which receive them as a sign of divine favour.”
Even then there are poor populations and poor populations while Tradition is wholly malleable: good when maintaining Hierarchist “Values”; an obstacle when resisting capitalist land grab portrayed as resistance to modernity. Any sign of population decline in China is a worry since so much Surplus Value is extracted there even if by an “inferior”” race” and even though there is a Hierarchic concern with the prowess of this “race”; whereas from India with now the world’s biggest population there is less surplus value to extract, and is therefore, a problem.
The Rockefeller Foundation which preceded the Gates Foundation as the capitalist money dominating world public health policy and was active in India stated clearly that its funding of public health programs in poorer countries had as its goal …
“To raise the productivity in undeveloped countries and to reduce the cultural resistance of backward and unCilvilized people to the domination …[of]industrial capitalism.”
Oscar Hakevy of the Ford Foundations was equally clear that though this was the laudable aim, India was a hopeless case. It was …
“Utterly unable to cope with the growth of its population.”
Modernity and Civilization were summoned by President of Turkey in 2014, the language of the secular Attaturk used by the politically anti-secular Erdogan.
“One or two children is not enough. To make our nation stronger we need a younger and more dynamic and younger population, we need this to take Turkey above the level of modern civilizations. In this country opponents have been engaged in the treason of birth control for years and sought to dry up our generation.”
At the same time Western Hierarchists engaged in duplicitous self-praise have frequently posed as champions of poor women of “inferior” peoples as with Lord Cromer, who as British Consul-General of Egypt 1883-1906 declared the veiling of women to be the “fatal obstacle“ to the Egyptian‘s „attainment of that elevation of thought and character which should accompany the introduction of Western Civilization“. The Egyptians should be „persuaded or forced“ to become „civilized“ by disposing of the veil. On return to Britain the same man headed the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage. In our time invasions of Afghanistan have been made in the name of women’s rights. This double standard is most clear with the reproduction of labour-power which is in effect a freebie for capital counting on the free labour of parents, grandparents and mothers most of all. At its most graphic Chinese mothers working in the Italian textile industry have their own children being brought up by relatives in China, while it is, to say the obvious again, universally women who bear children. It has to be said whatever the sociological trend of urbanization and now of ‘service’ economies that this is still the case when say from the texts of Malthus seen as a ‘father’ of demographics you would hardly know women were involved at all. Or where acknowledged, denigrated as from the pretentious US Hierarchist Philip Bobbit’s boasting of his bog standard meanness dressed as the ‘market-state concept’ in which the interests of Hierarchy and Capital are very much as one …
“it plays itself in all sorts of policies: in welfare programmes, where you try and put people back to work rather than subsidise them for simple child-raising”
The ‘simple’ is a dead giveaway, it’s not like that as anyone bringing up children on little money knows. Bobbitt is not a person one is likely to see struggling on to a crowded bus with a distressed child or making those tough decisions, which Hierarchy claims for itself never having been confronted with them in their own lives, when faced with a weekly shop on an impossibly low budget while having to supplement inadequate public education in minimal ‘spare time’.
Bobbit’s kind of filth has to be confronted without stop when the ‘right to choose’ is under attack from so many patriarchal directions. It involves confronting a masculinist class politics for which the fact that there are “bourgeois feminists” means that feminism is inherently bourgeois. There are equally bourgeois socialists. There can be no pick’n choose between the hierarchies of Hierarchy&Capital. This masculinist ”socialism” is liable to applaud when leaders of states where gender Hierarchy is entrenched as it has been in China play on the many foul impositions of European colonialism to dismisses feminism as a “western import”, doubly demeaning to Chinese women, proletarians and peasants alike, asserting their push for gender equality.
Aron does not spell out what “Malthusian” “anti-natalist” action would entail –“persuasion or force” as with Mrs Indhira Gandhi’s hierarchic ‘family planning” measures in India or the “one-child” policy of the Chinese state showed. Measures in tune with the notion of Hierarchy&Capital that it was not the dynamics of capital accumulation and the exploitation of people, natural resources and other species that caused existential environmental and climate damage, but that it was and is because of overpopulation amongst the “backward” poor. Following 1973 Club of Rome’s report on the environment and its limits this took on a ‘green’ tinge The view was so dominant that a feminist’s assertion of a woman’s right to choose at a UN conference in 1975, did “not deny that world population trends are likely to exert considerable pressure on resources and institutions by the end of the century.” A strong and well-financed view represented in the present by the Optimum Population Trust, given BBC airtime as neutral experts, which does not, or cannot bring itself to see the dynamics of capital accumulation and the exploitation of people, natural resources and other species as causative of existential environmental and climate damage. Instead the individual must be blamed, the individual woman or any migrant who can be defined as a “people smuggler”
Meanwhile the “Ibsen women” in general so hated by grandiose Hierarchist Spengler at the start of the 20th century has taken on new forms, whether consumerist or not, selfish and/or unpatriotic or more bizarre from a Member of Parliament of the ruling party in Britian as a sucker for “Cultural Marxism”. Such exhortations, duty rather than desire, are misogynistic, born out of a perpetuated Hierarchy of gender, when it is women who are ‘child-bearers’ and ‘child-rearers.’ Whereas, to repeat, reading the Reverend Malthus and Malthusian demographers you would be hard pushed to know that women were involved at all in the matter of fertility. A position taken by the Labour MP Kevin McNamara during the UK Parliamentary debate on the Abortion Act of 1967….
“Who is the mother to make the judgment?”
Underneath the eugenic varieties, and despite all the promises of robotisation and AI there exists a fear of too small a ‘labour force’ tipping the power of workers in its favour against that of capital. Or that there will be a surplus of ‘unproductive’ persons in relation to those who work for a wage or salary. Or, that hierarchical racism to the fore, those who work will need to be supplemented by lower ethnicties/races. The concern as Gerda Neyer describes it is not only ‘ageist’ but connected to Eurocentrism and the myth of ethnic homogeneity as is so clear in the politicization of migration. In the week after the US Supreme Court’s attack on women in overturning Roe vs Wade a British demographer, Paul Morland was calling for a negative income tax on childless couples in the interests of making sure that demographic needs with reference to an ageing population would be met from within Britain. It was without reference to either class or the ‘ethnic’ composition of the country but assumed that immigration was inherently ‘a bad thing’ .
That income tax was to be the chosen “pro-natalist tool” goes back to the first instance of British state child support in 1909 whereby the discount was all the greater the richer you were. It came with the recognition that the population decline that began in the 1880s was continuous and therefore a trend. From this it followed that the State controlled by Hierarchy&Capital ought to intervene with aims that were both complicated by its conceptions of class and gender – the high rate of infant mortality as a consequence of ‘bad’ mothers – while being time-based, dependent on comparative shifts in the general downward trend. Such interventions, usually financial are called “pro-natalist” when actively encouraging more births but often involve the disciplining of “bad” mothers.
Much is rhetorical only as with the present Fascist Prime Minister of Italy making increased birth rate a priority to fill those “Empty Cribs” made in a statement with Pope that talked also of a “demographic winter”, but doing nothing to lift rock bottom wages for potential mothers; removing unemployment pay to those considered “able to work”, hitting young mothers again; and as in England in 1909 providing financial support in the form of tax relief and thus reinforcing Class Hierarchy.
The rhetoric like hers often faux folksy as with Peter Costello former Treasury chief of Australia from 1996 to 2007 urging parents to have…
“one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country.”
Which echoes the grotesque mantra aimed at soldiers going to fight in World War I and then directed at the airforce and navy whose mortality rates were higher in World War II …
“If they leave a widow, they should also leave a mother”
This when even the English eugenicists were more concerned with population size than with its class composition. Thus the repulsive Hierarchic “scientific” socialism of the Webbs and their Fabianism of the time with the usual dodgy botanical analogies it indulges in …
“… the most valuable of the year’s crops , as it is the most costly, is not the what harvest or the lambing, but the year’s quota of adolescent young mem and women enlisted in the productive service of the community.”
Not at the service of Capital but of the “community”, that most slippery of words. Despite the promise of robotisation Capital is constantly aware of its dependence on Labour and the balance of forces between them. What happened in the years following the Black Death in Europe when workers and peasants had never had it so good is ingrained in Hierarchy&Capital’s psyche. The Black Death when….
“confronted with the possibility of sudden death people no longer cared to work or abide by social or sexual regulation and tried to have the best of times.”
And did so even when the possibility of sudden death was no longer present as they took advantage of the shortage of labour. The same for Capital’s Colonial accelerator; demographics are always closely observed by colonialists. In the very early years, Haiti in 1515 a priest is already complaining not of abortion plants but that the Taino
“are people by nature idle and vicious, doing little work. For a pastime many killed themselves with venom so as not to work, and others hanged themselves with their own hands.”
The callousness of colonialism would be unimaginable if not spoken by itself. Soon its took a new demographic concern. The genocidal diseases they had brought were a gift from God when it came to the ease of conquer but in 1525
“It will soon however be impossible for the gold to be taken from the mines here from want of labour.”
And so it continued, the same worry in 1576 Mexico …
“If the pestilence goes on who will pay tribute? If the plague does not stop who will sow these fields? Who will spin and weave in the workshops? Who will build cathedrals?”
The need for labour was recognised in backhanded fashion by several of the vicious vicars cited by Marx for the surplus demanded by Capital that they would produce while in the process reproducing Hierarchy as expressed without the usual flim-flam by the instigator of the first police force, that at the London docks, Patrick Colquhoun
“Poverty is that state and condition in society where the individual has no surplus labour in store, or, in other words, no property or means of subsistence but what is derived from the constant exercise of industry in the various occupations of life. Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of Civilization. It is the lot of man. It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.”
In our own time 2015 the Hamburg Institute of International Economics declared in 2015 that Germany’s birth rate had fallen to the lowest in the world and that labour shortages would damage ‘the economy’. Arno Probst of the corporate governance working group of the IDW (German Institute of Public Auditors) said German employers faced higher wage costs as a result. Though it was a risky political decision by Mrs Merkel, the admission of a mass of Syrian refugees in addition to the mass of already imported East European workers filled the gap. There are now a million documented Ukrainians in Germany just as Ukrainian labour has been so crucial to the modern Russian economy.
It was from the converse position that the German SPD party at the time of Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin debated the notion of a Birth Strike and something similar was suggested by the overly-maligned USA birth-controller Margret Sanger who at around the same time early in the 20th century
talked of how women …
“were inadvertently perpetuating exploitation of the working class by flooding the market with new workers.”
Such a “birth strike” was in effect practiced by women in slave conditions while the capitalist concern with reproduction was especially acute amongst invader-colonists, slave owners most of all. Maria Sibylla Merian, the prodigal botanist, described in her 1705 Metamorphosis of the Insects of Surinam, how slave and Indian populations in the Dutch colony used the seeds of the peacock plant as an abortifacient …
“The Indians and Africans, who are not treated well by their Dutch masters, use the seeds [of this plant] to abort their children, so that their children will not become slaves like they are . . . . They told
me this themselves.”
One outcome was a grim accountancy as to whether it was cheaper for enslaved women to be ‘breeding machines’ or to do business again in Africa, kidnapping people getting on with their lives and forcing them to work in an unknown place, on a faraway continent after a horrendous sea crossing. By and large the ‘South Atlantic system’ failed to produce a self-sustaining slave population in the tropical Americas as a result of the agency of the women Maria Sybilla talked to along with the gross and inhuman exploitation of working bodies and the high death rate of enslaved people. Capitalism being characteristically opportunist in its accountancy in the years leading up to the official/nominal abolition of slavery found the in situ reproduction of its workers had greater cost benefit. “Slave women, whom planters had used primarily as “work units,” became increasingly valuable to planters as “breeders” as abolitionists in Europe threatened to shut down the slave trade.”
Maria Sybilla does not say if it was the woman alone who made the abortion decision but where patriotic, religious or seemingly neutral blame for ‘low fertility’ is attached, it is invariably directed at women. That’s clear from the supposed open-minded and scientific Alexander von Humboldt, an icon of the scientist explorer, who deplored young Amerindian wives who did not wish to become mothers and their “guilty practice . . . of preventing pregnancy by the use of herbs.” Something similar was taking place in 19th century Georgia southern USA in the words of a physician…
“As the planters believe, the blacks were possessed of a secret by which they destroy the fetus at an early stage of gestation … All countries practitioners are aware of the frequent complaints of planters (about the) unnatural tendency in the African female to destroy their offspring”
In the 20th century Elena Krause, the historian whose question forms the title of this text, argues that poor Italian women having few children during the previous “Mussolini” fascist period may have been a form of resistance to fascism but that it might also have been due to the trauma of having grown up poor themselves as peasant sharecroppers.
The converse, in the words of a 42 year old Jamaican sugar cane cutter is …
“If your children are hungry then you’ll cut the canes. You’ve got to feed dem pickney.”
Though socialist feminists of the 1970s demonstrated that women were reproducing labour-power for capital and being unpaid for it and regardless of long-term demographic trends, having a child/children is still an intensely a personal decision, of the mother, of both parents ,whether biological or not in many parts of the world though we know that in others debt slavery and bonded labour still exist where and when personal decision-making is limited and lop-sided. . What the campaigns and fights for improved contraceptives and then for abortion rights did was to allow it to be a decision while at the same time having a child is …
“a matter of the deepest recesses of human motivation -albeit these feeling are affected by economic, social and religious influences – and in the end it escapes historical analysis,” writes a sympathetic male historian.
Elena Krause talks honestly of herself and on the matter of planning/or not ‘family’ planning, that what turn out to be welcome ‘accidents’ happen…
“It’s a major inconvenience to admit , but even very modern people in the context of lowest-low fertility are nor completely ‘rational’ They also feel things and act spontaneously..”
Thoughts of fulfilment, of the pleasures of a very particular kind of intimacy as a parent over time, of its joys are very real. Looked at from outside parents are bearing a large part of the cost of the reproduction of labour and so maintaining the exploitations, damage and injustices of Capitalism. Equally Hierarchy&Capital would like to regulate the rate and composition of the reproduction of humans but the matter of ‘fertility’ is not comprehensible without the desires and hopes of parents. At the same time the ‘agency’ of prospective parents -and-lovers is aided by all forms of contra-ception as well as assessments about the future; as to what public financial and facilities support there will be; and now the genocidal consequences of climate change are especially pressing. Until the synthesizing of the pill -made by men but with the drive of Margaret Sanger and the financial backing of her supporter Katharine Dexter McCormick – contraception was very much the work of women themselves. In the violences of Hierarchy that constituted the counter revolution against the good years for the Lower orders that had followed the Black Death making the way for the marriage of Hiearchy&Capital – women and their power over conception were targeted. Midwives and ‘wise women’ were singled out. They were not alone in being accused as witches, old women with land or conversely having no productive value were also targeted, but their role in childbirth and not-childbirth made them into ‘persons of interest’. That this is strategic is evident from how from the 10th up to the end of the 14th century it was the belief in the existence of witches as a superstition that deserved to be punished.
The ideological shift whereby belief in the very existence of witches was a sin, to the persecution of women as witches becomes official policy is an opportunistic “U-turn” regression extraordinary in its speed and scale and which coincided with the emergence of the Devil as a significant force in Christian theology. From the violences of the time opportunistic ideologies coalesced as Mercantilism then saw new born children as an asset that would become wage labour and an asset to ‘commercial states’. A woman was burned to death in Hamburg in 1477 “because she had instructed young females how to use abortion medicines. In 1532 Holy Roman Empire legalised such local actions by declaring abortion or assistance in it as homicide. Two propagandists of the 1580s introduce sorcery and the devil into the attack. In Europe the devil who had from relative insignificance in Christian theology been resurrected as a powerful figure, was used to attack indigenous Americans and midwives specifically. Henry Boguet in the Examen of Witches had it that …
“those midwives and wise women who are witches are in the habit of offering to Satan the little children which they deliver, and then of killing them …They do even worse; for they kill them while they are yet in their mother’s wombs’. This practice is common to all witches.”
And not to be outdone Jean Bodin in his Demonology of Sorcery sees them as a threat to the security of the state and its economy which depended on a flourishing population. This mix of vicious patriarchal prejudice and class interest transfers back and forth between Europe and the ‘New World’ of the Americas whose silver and gold gave such an impetus to mercantilist capitalism and further imperialist expansion. There the Devil was a constant battering- ram used with mixed success in colonial attacks on Amerindian culture and its sophisticated knowledge of plants, both otherworldly and medicinal some of which, including the peacock flower, were passed on from Ameridians to the enslaved Africans, though despite knowledge of it by Europeans like Humboldt it did not reach Europe.
What was common was not just use of the ideological use of the Devil in both Europe and the New World but a particular dual iconography of women. Transferring back from European fantasy images of the Americas of cannibal feasts in which Amazonian women were prominent, witches could assumed to be cannibals as in de Lery’s account of the siege of Sancerre where it is the old woman who encourages the eating of a dead 2 year old by the starving parents. There is an equal obsession with women and “sagging breasts” that crop up in European accounts of vampires, witches and demons which is translated to African and Amerindian women by the engraver de Bry . Here an Old World narrative of witches is projected on to the “New World”.
In reality complex knowledge was needed for these natural birth control products in both worlds. In Europe use of tansy or pennyroyal to work as antifertility agents is complex and was not easily learned. Midwives had to know how and when to harvest a plant and most of all the right dosage, “different plants ‘having their own secrets’”. The use of ergot in midwifery too and in this instance some 300 years later a unique recognition of the knowledge involved was made by Dr John Stearns in the USA early in the 19th century …
“It is much to be regretted that scientific physicians have generally held in contempt every medicine that quacks have been in the habit of administering. When we reflect that accident has given origin to the use of our most active medicines and that we are indebted to empiricism for a knowledge of their most useful quality, we should certainly neglect no opportunity of deriving aid to science from this source.”
Back in Europe the accusations aimed at midwives are clearly linked to ruling class population concerns as in 18th century France where unlike fast growth in England it was static and clear that the masses of women had discovered contraceptive. It led the Baron de Montyon in 1778 to denounce the “pernicious secrets, unknown to all animals save man” that women used to avoid children and that “it is time to halt this secret and terrible cause of the depopulation.” It is that this was secret women’s knowledge that so freaked out patriarchal power and pushed it, and still does, to control women’s bodies when it comes to childbirth.
The terror aimed at midwives and then the male professionalization of largely ignorant medical practice squeezed out this knowledge over a long period of time. In the English pro-Republican Culpepper’s Directory, the of the mid 17th century gave a limited version of that knowledge while at the same time he could say in his book especially for midwifes that who gave ‘menstrual stimulators’ were ‘murderers’. By the end of the 18th century anything describing wabortion techniques was dropped from printed works. Yet the use of herbs had not been completely lost according to the 1789 diary of the midwife Martha Ballard women continued to use natural drugs got contraception and abortion. At the same time in Germany Hanover outlawed the use of ergot, and the police ripped up juniper and cypress trees which can only mean they were in use.
The loss required that of another source, the degree to which it had been left to women themselves to determine and declare their pregnancy and its stage; a shift in the Church’s position on the fetus; and a consequential reliance on male physicians. A French royal edict of 1556 required women to register pregnancy and similar demands made in 17th century England though it‘s not clear how effectively this was policed . when “if physicians could not unequivocally declare a woman pregnant, she could not be tried for terminating a pregnancy. “Nevertheless “In France and Germany midwives had to become spies for the state of they wanted to continue their practice without persecution. “ At the end of the 18th century the Prussian Allgemeines Landrecht was one of the first to negate a woman’s traditional prerogative to determine for herself when she was pregnant. At the same time the Church renounced its belief that a fetus did not have a soul until the moment of ‘quickening’ in pregnancy -around 20 weeks. In East Asia the sacredness or fetishization of the fetus did not exist and in Europe and the USA is has been a modern development.
This ideological development made it easier for 19th century for lawmakers -when across Europe with its old and new nationalisms and dominance of world manufacture and trade requiring mass labour; Napoleon’s dictum that wars were won by the big battalions”; that and a Hierarchy&Capital interest in population− to remove self-distinction of the stages of pregnancy and in a British law of 1837, abortion was described as the elimination of pregnancy regardless of its stage. Courts start to see the fetus as a person. In the patriarchal Christian and fascistic opportunism of the anti-abortion movement in the USA of now, the fetus is fetishized while nothing is done for the living children of the not-privileged.
If late 19th century Britain is anything to go by, despite all this, women of all classes were as far as was possible ensuring some control over conception suggesting that the knowledge described by Martha Ballard at the end 18th century had not been entirely lost and the coming into existence of the rubber condom. Into the 20th century contraception became not just tools for planning but in the interests of heterosexual women’s sexual pleasure; pleasure of a kind disturbing to Hierarchy while Capital needs the reproduction of labour-power to match its needs The novelist Céline’s to-the-point …
“Every desire a poor man has is a punishable offence.”
Is doubly so for the poor woman so that the political radicals Annie Besant and Chrles Bradlaugh were put on trial for publishing a book of Charles Knowlton that described contraceptives methods that could be used. At a time when there was a morbid and sordid campaign during World War I to persuade mem to marry and have children before they left for war; when a demographer stressed need for men to have at least one child before being killed –specialist birth control clinics were opened in the early 20th century organised specifically by women. In the Anglo-Saxon world fought for by very differing women like Margaret Sanger, Stella Browne and Marie Stopes, the first two from the socialist movement, the latter a distinctly racist eugenicist, but they all shared the same desire and demand for sex as pleasure for women. In Sanger’s 1916 trial, Comstock laws still in place, for spreading knowledge of contraceptive, the Judge made it clear what they were up against his declaration that women did not have “the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception.” Stella Browne alone went further in campaigning for the legalisation of abortion from the 1920s with full knowledge that the existence contraception was not a guarantee and of the fatal consequences of ‘back-street’ abortions. Like Sanger she too insisted on contraception being open to all women not just to those who were married. As it became more institutionalized “Family Planning” made it suitably respectable and sensible.
Versions of eugenics are threaded through the history and into the present of contraception including abortion. Versions which include not just the Hierarchy-friendly notion of inherited intelligence propagated by Hierarchics of class but also sadly by certain “progressives” from HG wells to JD Bernal as exhaustively described by Diane Paul). In reverse it was “ableist” or more broadly “productionist”. At its crudest and most callous this was discredited by the partial revelation of Nazi experimentation and liquidation of the “disabled” but it has taken thousands of unsung class warriors to challenge the Reverend Malthus- “father” of demography’s though at least partially conscious of class difference in the reference to parents, can say that if a man couldn’t be supported by them
“and if society does not want his labour, he has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and in fact has no business to be where he is.”
In German Thought in the World 1912, long before the Nazis and already practiced by Colonial powers Paul Rohrbach writes …
“Existencies, be they peoples or individuals who do not produce anything of value, cannot make any claim to the right to exist.”
This kind of filth though overthrown by thousands of unsung heroes and heroines still has a ghastly life post-the Nazis as was shown on -and-off by political action and inaction during the still existent Covid pandemic and in Welfare policies; and the persistent use of IQ as a phony racist weapon.
The third ‘version’ is a mix of the ethnic and racial often under the banner of the nation but which finds a positively weird bunch of claims and accusers. Thus both Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court which reversed Wade v Roe and ex-US Vice President Mike Pence argue that abortion, the right to abortion is eugenicist. Thomas originally from the position exhaustively described by Melinda Cooper that it would lead to the extinction of Afro-Americans; Pence from a semi-respectable version of Great Replacement theory, a hysterical fear characteristic of settler colonial societies; the fear that the “Higher” colonial race will be outnumbered by Hierarchically “Lower” ones and come to lose its privileges. IT has had earlier manifestations in Bell Curve racism – and that Afro-American children were inherently criminal backed by welfare attacks on their mothers. It has a much longer history with the Adam Smith/Ibsen woman a target. In the early 20th century when White birth rate was falling in the USA Theodore Roosevelt, Nobel Prize winner and soon to be President admonished those who…
“engaged in wilful sterility – the one sin for which the penalty is national death, racial suicide”
The “Replacement” hysteria of now caused by the very possibility of the loss of privilege emanating from a nurtured and naturalized sense of superiority, has also been prompted by a historically low birthrate in the country since the 2008 financial crash.
In other settler colonies the response, as in the north of Ireland, Israel and apartheid South Africa, is inevitably violent but women have been encouraged to do their ethnic/racial duty. The dramatic demographic change in South Africa …
“took place despite white immigration and feverish official attempts to encourage large families among whites and contraception among Africans [blacks] (Iliffe, Africans, p. 281).
1991 South Africa had twice as many family planning clinics as health clinics’ . For a long period -with additional murderous violence – the circle was squared for labour by the importing of Mozambicans to work in the mines without South African citizenship and whose reproductive cost was met by their Mozambican families as described by Ruth Furst. A similar circle is squared in analogous fashion in China where the hokou system denies rights to migrant labour. In Israel systematic violence against Palestinians shifted up another level when the capital accumulated from Palestinian labour was used to create an economy whereby they were less needed at a time of the mass immigration of digitally skilled Russian Jews. At the same time
Israelis in competition with Palestinians meant that Israel
“has the highest relative in vitro fertilisation rate in the world; the largest number of fertilisation clinic per capita; is the only state in the world that fully subsidises fertilisation treatment; and allows wives or life partners to have sperm from a deceased man removed without prior written consent.
A new demographic shift in the country is taking place …
“Ultra-orthodox jews once a trace in Israel pop they now make up one third of its schoolkids.”
This it has been argued is of a worldwide trend of fundamentalist monotheists -Christian, Jewish and Islamic -gender Hierarchists to a man, to have especially high birth rates. But what does this do? Put another pressure, this time on the “Ibsen woman” and the consumer-woman to do their secular duty when already they may be especially cautious in face of the non-stop motion of the climate emergency. When there are limits to the Right To Choose contraception offers when …
“Choice is not extended to the right to the survival of children and the quality of their lives”
The Climate Emergency has given an is giving the lie to the to the pretensions of Class Hierarchists when it comes to “tough decisions” and the future. Such pretensions are a constant. Writing of the “early modern” period of England Lawrence Stone comments …
“The culture of poverty did not encourage foresight or providence, since the lives of those on the margins of existence were too much at the mercy of sheer chance – a bad harvest, unemployment or sickness – to justify rational calculation of the future. They were therefor improvident in begetting children, with no thought of how they were going to be nursed and fed, and improvident and careless in disposing of them once they had arrived; easy come, easy go.”
Other historians Keith Wrightson and David Levine show to the contrary poor people adjusting their marriages and childbearing to evert shift in their welfare and pooling their meagre resources to keep the family enterprise going, one adjustment being “late marriage” as a phenomena that resonates in past and present. The ideological core of Stone’s comment is shamefully repeated by the supposedly social democratic Mass Observation in its Britain and Her Birth Rate …and after the horrors of Nazism were known …
“the sad truth today is that children are distributed in inverse ratio to knowledge and desire to assimilate facts….have we to rely on the improvident and the wishful-thinking for the perpetuation of the race?”
Lee Kwan Yew former authoritarian exemplar of Hierarchy&Capital as leader of Singapore it may be remembered foresaw a catastrophe in 1983. It was not so much that Singaporeans were not reproducing enough but that
“intellectually superior’ citizens were not reproducing adequately.”
Now in the 2020s the Singapore state is worried about general population decline for workers are needed to do those “servile” jobs and is rolling out a pro-natalist policy and budget.
There are both contradictions, strategies and real limits in how Hierarchy&Capital using the levers of the nation State and international institutions to influence the very personal decisions to have children via their expectation of the financial and infrastructural public support for children. with pro- and anti-natalist policies. In countries with a special Hierarchist hostility to migrants, pro-natalism is expected to be strong but this is not always the case as some like the Meloni government in Italy do not put their money where their mouth is, neither are results guaranteed when it is.