NEUE EINHEIT Internet-Statement  #11/98
A document  of  Ed. Bernstein
An interesting document of revisionism by which much
can be learned - by negative example.

In the following the short article by Eduard Bernstein "The assessment of the sexual intercourse against the normal" of May, 6, 1895, is published which then appeared in the magazine "Neue Zeit". As far as we know it is the first time that it is published in English. 

Although cautiously worded, it is already in this article that Bernstein formulates for the first time the demand for the so-called emancipation of the "sexual intercourse against the normal", taking the case of Oscar Wilde as an occasion. This article in its own fashion is documentary material for our statement "Historic Ties Brought to the Public - About the aggressive Homosexualism". It was carried out at the same moment when Bernstein launched also other revisionist attacks, as for example the deliberate alteration of the introduction for "The class struggles in France" by Friedrich Engels, by which Engels‘ introduction was adapted to the wishes of the bourgeoisie. 

In this article the components are brought together in a confined space which we know also today, that is to say the so-called alternative ideology which makes technology and higher civilization appear as something unnatural, and simultaneously the emancipation of queerness. Instead of directing the attacks against the bourgeoisie and the social conditions, they are directed against the economic and technological basis. In short, here you have already the substance with which the revisionists subsequently make their appearances. 

So far, unfortunately, there has not been a resonance especially to the subject revisionism which we addressed in our article; in the Re-articles exactly this question is not being asked. We shall, however, shortly go into these inquiries to our article of 1st Dec. 

Editorial staff of Neue Einheit      98/12/10 


The Assessment of the Sexual Intercourse Against the Normal
By Ed. Bernstein,      London, May 6, 1895

The "case Wilde" has not come to its judicial end yet but, the jury not being able to reach agreement on an essential point of the questions presented to it, was referred to another jury before which it is to be heard already during the next days. The division within the jury very well reflects the mood which in the meantime has come over the public. After in the first moment it had not been able to shout "Crucify!" loudly enough, the number of those was increasing who in the face of the quality of the witnesses for the prosecution wish Wilde‘s acquittal, even in case he actually should have had committed the actions of which he is accused. And a clergyman - a Christian-social one, though, the reverend Selwyn Image - even found the courage, in a letter to the "Church Reformer", to call the whole law pernicious because of which Wilde is accused, and to demand its abolition. 

Among the few countries where the offense Wilde is accused of is persecuted by criminal law, is also Germany, which in general with regard to moral hypocrisy probably is hardly second to England. But to stay with this special case, there is very far-reaching disagreement also within social democracy exactly with regard to the question which position society should take to those sexual acts which fall beyond what is believed to be normal in this sphere. However strongly the party otherwise strives to meet the questions of public life with the freedom from prejudice necessary for scientific assessment, if questions of sexual life come into view there is little to be noticed of the effort to achieve and consistently maintain a standpoint firmly grounded in modern knowledge. There is more condemnation than assessment, and an extreme concept of freedom borrowed from philosophical radicalism is alternating with an almost pharisaical ultra-puritan moralism. However subordinate the importance of the subject of sexual life may be viewed with regard to the economic and political struggle of social democracy, it is not useless, though, to find a standard of assessment, also with regard to this side of social life, which is based on scientific knowledge and method instead of more or less arbitrary moral concepts. Today the party is strong enough to influence the shaping of written law, by its speakers and its press it influences public opinion even beyond the circles of its followers and thus has a certain responsibility for what happens already today. So in the following an attempt shall be made to pave the way for such a scientific way of looking at the problem. 

At first a remark about the expression chosen by us: "sexual intercourse against the normal". The common expression is "against nature", as it is known. [Translators-remark: The German terms used by Bernstein are "widernatürlich" and "widernormal", clearly stronger expressions than "unnatürlich" (unnatural) and "unnormal" (unnormal). So we choose "against nature" and "against the normal" in spite of its being a little bit clumsy.] But this alone is already misleading. How many things are against nature! Our whole cultivated life, our way of living from the morning to the evening is a permanent violation of nature, of the original preconditions of our existence. If it was only the natural what matters as the standard, the worst sexual excess was no more condemnable than, for instance, the writing of a letter, because communication via the written word means by far a greater removal from nature than any form of satisfying the sexual drive which up to now is known. Anyhow, in animals - usually in domestic animals, though, or in animals in captivity, which however are much closer to nature than man - practices of satisfying the sexual drive have been observed which actually belong under the category of what is usually called against nature in common language. The conventional way of expression here is as illogical as the common judgement itself; to criticize that means already criticizing a piece of this. 

Therefore the word against the normal seems much more appropriate to us than the expression against nature. The concept of the normal, with regard to the subject given, includes as much of the concept of the natural or the appropriate to nature as is required for its proper reflection, but it is more flexible than that, and its use corresponds better to the fact that the moral ideas are historical phenomena which do not go by what may have been in the state of nature but by what is in a given stage of development of society, for which the things that correspond to itself are the normal. 

To this it is in no way a contradiction that during all ages the form of actuation of sexual life which corresponds to the task of reproducing the species has been regarded the normal one by the people. So far, men are simply tied to what has been set by nature. But there have been epochs, conditions of culture, when that task was hardly more than a concept without essence for large classes of the population, when that what is set by nature ceased to be the norm for them; and this much can be said about today‘ s cultivated world, that with most of the nations belonging to it the so-called act of copulation in an increasing number of cases not only does not serve the reproduction of the race, but on the contrary, this effect connected to it is regarded a very unwelcome one and if possible is prevented. Formally, the original act of copulation is upheld as a norm, actually, the sexual act is a pure act of pleasure, and, as it is emancipated from generating, is to a high degree unnatural and even against nature; but morals and law don‘t ask for that but ostracize resp. punish only certain ways of sexual intercourse in which even the appearances of union on behalf of generating are lost - which simply are not only against nature but also against the normal, against the norm still fictionally being upheld. But is this a standpoint which is to be maintained? 

Our knowledge about the relation between the state of society in general and the shaping of sexual life in particular is on the whole not yet very developed. What Morgan achieved with regard to throwing light upon the relation between the development of production and the form of the family, nobody so far has attempted - to our knowledge - with regard to this subject, however much may have been written about the subject of forms of sexual life. Anthropologists and ethnographers report about savage and semi-savage people in which sexual excesses of any kind are practised without punishment and inhibition, and about others where they are atoned for by punishments which go as far as capital punishment. It is almost obvious that conceptions about the permitted and the forbidden in sexual life which are so different must be rooted in correspondingly different conditions of sexual life, but generally one has been satisfied with constating the fact, without further asking for its cause. Such phenomena as, for example, sodomy to be found preferably or almost exclusively in pastoral people and peasants, could of course not escape observation, and equally it is commonplace that with increasing wealth and luxury also the sexual excesses increase. But already the last sentence again needs great reservations. Wealth is formed under very different conditions and under very different states of society, by commerce and by piracy, by industry, with the help of slave economy and under exploitation of free workers. Depending on that, different conditions for the shaping and satisfaction of sexual pleasures against the normal already are given. The ancients whose wealth was based upon slave economy and trade seemingly attempted everything what imagination is able to conceive in this realm, so that a modern advocate of sexual freedom, referring to the Hermaphrodit by Antonius Panormita - a compilation of pornographic passages from the works of the ancients, written in the 15th century -, felt compelled to say that they "have not left much to posteriority to add." ( footnote 1)  Actually experiments with slaves or slave children as the Romans of the imperial era permitted themselves are simply unthinkable today. They presuppose a disregard for the human life which only can be found with semi-morones yet. This without forgetting the sacrifices still today being offered upon Mammon‘s altar, and which are to be found in a different chapter. Incidentally, one should compare the moral conditions in a modern trade city with those of our industrial cities. Not necessarily there happen less sexual excesses in the latter as compared with the beforementioned, but how different are they and the whole shaping of the sexual intercourse. 

On the whole, however, there is an ever stronger balancing out of the social physiognomies in the countries of modern culture. The tremendous facilitations of traffic, the competence carried to the extremes cause a blurring even of the deepest-rooted differences. 

Wandering back to the subject: the Greeks went ahead the Romans, the Egyptians and various Asian peoples went ahead the Greeks in the cultivation of sexual pleasures against the normal. How they came up first, about that we depend on supposition. It is indicated by probability that a lack of chances for sufficient satisfaction of the sexual drive in the normal way has driven to acts of sexual pleasure against the normal, and such a lack can be caused by all kinds of conditions. However, we cannot further follow this question here but have to be satisfied with the conclusion that sexual intercourse against the normal is as old, as spread, can be found on as different stages of culture, that one cannot say with certainty about any cultural stage of mankind that it was free of this phenomenon. In the same way the wide-spread opinion does not stand firm, which attributes a stronger occurrence of sexual intercourse against the normal only to periods of decay. Of course, when Hellmann, who was quoted before, offers the age of Perikles as an evidence to the contrary, this example will be very misleading because exactly the age of Perikles introduces the decay of Athens; the heyday of arts then represented by Athens may not deceive that, besides arts have always been a treacherous yardstick of a people‘s vigour. But the Athenians practised boy love long before the time of Perikles, it did not prevent their national upturn and also among other peoples this and similar habits were in use during epochs of real upturn. 

More is known about the combat against sexual pleasure against the normal than about its coming up, at least among the civilized peoples. And there one phenomenon is very characteristic. 

We already mentioned that the sexual intercourse required for impregnation always was regarded as the normal one, i.e. the sexual union of two mature individuals of different sexes. But since very early times we find, apart from masturbation, other organs being made a subject for sexual pleasure than the ones being physiologically destinated for the sexual act, it might be the body of an individual of the other sex or the body of a member of the same sex. As for the kinds of sexual intercourse against the normal belonging to the first rubric the legislation up to now practically did not care and also does not care about it today. As it is nearly exclusively a question of the use of the female body on the part of male, it would not be too much said, that the female body is recognized by law as something - with the exception of rape and bodily harm - that cannot be sexually abused. Also the practice of the female homosexuality nearly always has been and nearly everywhere is ignored by the law. Another question is the homosexual intercourse between members of the male sex. This case is strictly punished among different peoples of negroes, Moses forbid it to the Jews (Third Book Mos., Chapter 18, 20), Solon to the Slaves, in the Roman Empire its punishment begins under Justinian, and finally the lex Carolina makes practising paedicatio (misuse of the anus) with man resp. with boys punishable by death, which rule has been valid from the middle-ages up to current times. 

In a text, being with us, by the Professor v.Krafft-Ebing from Vienna: "Der Konträrsexuale vor dem Strafrichter", [The Contrary-Sexual standing trial]  (footnote 2)  from which we are taking the last mentioned facts, the author expresses himself in the way that they are including a preferential treatment to the female sex, at least he talks only about the unfairness of the punishment of male homosexual acts , in view of the fact that women go unpunished. We are regarding the matter in a different way. It seems to us that the release of the female body rather expresses the disregard of woman, which spreads with the coming up of the patriarchal family. It is quite comprehensible that a later rationalizing time figured this difference out in the way it seemed to Krafft-Ebing in the light of the modern books of criminal law, but this rationalistic interpretation does not avoid, that the existing rules themselves are rests of a disregard of woman, according to which her body was a subject of man. Are we really far beyond that in practice today? Mr. v. Krafft-Ebing at another place is saying very rightly that the Prussian practice of law is slapping in its own face, when it is taking the moral standpoint and "wants to protect the moral substance of man against his own immorality", when sexual acts against the normal from male to male are to concern, but then permits paedicatio at women unopposedly. Concerning aesthetics and morality the latter does not range higher than the so-called pederasty, but on the contrary in the majority of cases it ranges very much deeper. Once man-love given, pederasty is a quasi necessary completion. But nobody will claim that for the love from man to woman and about paedicatio with woman. 

Why does society not take action against these and other excesses against the female body? Not that it does not know about that. We do not want to talk about what happens in such marriages where the system of two children is followed, but only mention the female prostitute as an example. At the body of the prostitute everything is allowed, which does not cause a grave bodily harm. The considerations which are forbidding to force an entry into the mysteries of married life do not rule here, the state supervises the public life of the prostitutes and cares for their state of health - no, for the state of health of her sexual organs. What the man who buys her carrys on with her does not worry the state, only if the man infects her with a veneral disease, it puts away - the prostitute. 

But if the freedom of contract between man and woman is standing so high that every sexual pleasure is legitimated, for which the female sells her body, then a sensible reason cannot be seen why a similar contract between man and man should be punished by law. All of the medicine authorities explain that paedicatio, which, though, happens in the least of the cases of man-love, is physically unobjectionable, so only the influence on the morality of those offering themselves has to be considered. But now all of the law-experts are in agreement that the state and the penal code are not the guardian of morality and cannot be that. One only needs to imagine to what an attempt, aiming on that, would have to lead, for realizing the impossibility. If the law protects the upgrowing male youth, like in France, it fits for its tasks. With no argument the criminal punishment of man-love can be justified as long as the female body is declared to be outlawed. Who still could dare to proclaim that what happens in the brothels and in the caves of prostitution, every day and under the eyes of the police, is less destructive for moral life than practising man-love. By the way, in nearly all of the countries the sections which are threatening it are only written on the paper, concerning 99 of 100 cases, and in the hundredth case they are a premium for the highly moral business of blackmail. Especially Berlin can talk about that, and the concerning section of the imperial criminal law book is an heritage from Prussia. In those countries where the concerning sections of the penal code are repealed, there is no longing for their re-establishing. 

So much for that question as seen from the side of the penal law. It only rests to discuss, how the public opinion ought to take a stand on cases of man-love, how to assess it from the moral viewpoint. Mr. v. Krafft-Ebing, whose book is a plea for the repeal of the sections directed against it in the current Austrian penal code, wants it to be predominantly concerned as pathological, and that also is the standpoint of nearly all of the psychiatrists. However so much is right, that in no way it is always a sign of a depraved cast of mind, of decrepitude, of a bestial craving for pleasures and more of such kind. The one who always immediately is handy with such epitheta takes the standpoint of the most reactionary penal laws, which even by their authors only can be excused by pointing at the once existing popular prejudice, which they allegedly have to take into account. On the contrary in every case it is to decide if it is rude debauchery or an invincible love towards the own sex, which should not be judged by the moralist but the pathologist. 

On the other hand there must be a warning not to push too far the pathological explanation. Finally everything can be represented as psychological compulsion, and especially sexual life offers the best occasion for that. As it can be seen in the fauna the periods of reproduction in fact are times of an abnormal, pathological resp. psychotical state of the animal. But though the sexual life of human beings offers analogies to that, the actions of human being are also influenced by other factors than rutting resp. heat drives and other immediate impressions: public opinion, what is stemming from morality and what is seen as right by the individual have an influence on will and on action, and at least the intimates in this way have a chance to counter those practices of sexual pleasure which lead to the enervation of the one concerned. That is quite all one can do at present. As long as social conditions are ruling which quasi threaten the natural sexual pleasure with punishment, as long as our whole way of life is a steady hurt of the demands of the body‘s and the mind‘s hygiene, also the sexual intercourse against the normal will not come to an end, on the contrary it will tend towards becoming the normal. 

footnote 1:     Hellmann, Geschlechtsfreiheit, S. 197      back to text 

footnote 2:     Leipzig und Wien, Franz Deuticke, 1894, 38 S. gr. 8,o      back to text 


Copyright for the translation 1998    Verlag NEUE EINHEIT  (Inh. H. Dicke), Berlin
Remark: There has been a transmission error at the beginning of the article. The sentence in the second paragraph beginning with "However strongly ..." was not complete. We corrected this error imediately. Friday, Dec.11th, 16.00 gmt+1.