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Propaganda in Austria

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Propaganda in Austria


Ferch, Johann
Malthus, Thomas Robert
Austrian Law Code, Paragraph 144
Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference, New York (1925)


Paper delivered by Johann Ferch to the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference in New York, about propaganda efforts in Austria, Austrian law on birth control, Malthusianism, and over-population.


Ferch, Johann


Ferch, Johann, "Propaganda in Austria," International Aspects of Birth Control, ed. Margaret Sanger (New York, 1925), pp. 94-101.


American Birth Control League




Hajo, Cathy Moran (metadata)
De Bel, Heather (transcription)


American Birth Control League became Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1939. Contact Planned Parenthood for permission to reprint.








Vienna, Austria

Text Item Type Metadata



By Johann Ferch

Many years have passed since Malthus stated the theory, in which since that time, interest has never ceased. Faculties of medicine, law, political economy and theology have always been preoccupied with Birth Control, while the common masses did not deal with or were not interested in this problem.

Particularly in medical and legal circles the tendency has been to investigate the problem of overpopulation and to point out its importance, especially in the direction of crime (miscarriages). Also a number of experts on political economy very soon recognised that unlimited increase in population is bound to lead to catastrophe. But these few voices had no weight compared with the cry for quantity. Wrongly understood ideologists and misled patriots, as well as profits endangered by a control of the birth rate, remained the victors. Finally, Malthusianism was forgotten, whereby also the penal legislation has been freely used for protection against advocates of Malthusianism.

However, as it is well-known, laws of evolution cannot be stopped or denied by paper laws made in legislatures. The demographic idea and the education of the people made great strides during each decade. Problems which could not be discussed, or discussion of which were suppressed previously, gradually forced their way to the front, and Neo-Malthusianism became mightier than its opponents. Today we are already far enough along to fight decisive battles. However, as we got more powerful our opponents collected all their forced in order if possible to defeat us.

Please allow me to make a few remarks about our fight, which is similar in all countries. Supporters of unlimited increase in population recognise that they cannot agitate any more with militaristic catchwords. Their agitation for more children for the battlefields would be answered with curses by the mothers. Also the demand for an increase of laborers is not very seasonable at a time of fearful unemployment. There in very pathetic words our opponents try to express the means to happy family life, particularly the danger to the nation, to the race and even the danger to civilisation. A certain class of scientific men do not hesitate to speak of the extinction of the ancient world. "Birth-controlled Rome was defeated by the great child-bearing barbarians." They speak in this way, and always add: "This always has been the fate of those nations which have been enemies of the children."

These people, of course, are not in a position to name these nations, and they always avoid revealing the real reasons for the decay of the nation, namely felonious dynasties, aristocratic rule or a certain class of hierarchy, usurpation of the rights of the people, and wars serving the aims of the upper classes.

The fraudulent cry of distress about the "danger to civilisation," suicide of mankind, "depopulation" and the like, solely serve to keep up and nurse ideas of force and profit.

These and many similar reproaches are put in our way; they are protected by the state and thoughtless people who do not care to recognise the difficulty of the problem of children. A little thinking will result in the conception that the limitation of creation of children is thoughtlessly passed by. The nonsense, namely impediment to the conditions of existence and increase of population, refutes every argument of the population-politicians, raised against the demand for a sensible control of birth. This has become a command of a human right to exist, as it is not a question of working against the decline of the birth rate, but a question of mitigating the senselessness of over-population. The latter has to be reduced. There is no doubt that the problem of motherhood and childhood occupies the mind of the thinking people of the world.

All these important arguments have to be brought to the knowledge of the masses. Also of great importance is the conversion of influential people, and our work should not be confined to the thinking people alone, but has to be known also to the broad masses of people.

Our victory in the near future is possible only when we inspire the minds of the many millions with our ideas.

All of us are convinced of the difficulty of our fight. Our opponents in every country have at their disposal government papers, newspapers supported by industrial concerns and capitalism, the nationalist press, and the laws of the countries. The old world with its out-of-dates laws supports the same.

Everyone of us is aware of the great and false defamation and misrepresentation of out cause. Most people are wrongly informed about our intentions and have to be pulled out of their indifference and laziness to think. We have never to forget that these people who are badly or not at all informed of the real aims of our cause are the voters, and that it lies in their hands to remoce legislative difficulties.

I believe that I shall at first be in opposition with some of the ladies and gentleman if I declare that our principal agitation has to be extended to the broad masses of people. We can gain their support more by a sentimental than by a sensible explanation and by a vast international propaganda, which generally ought to be of an international and in particular of a national character according to the conditions of each country.

In my opinion our principal work of propaganda ought to be expanded on newspapers, literary work and public meetings and lectures.

Up to a few years ago it has been considered sufficient to insert into a newspaper at intervals of a few months a scientific report about the necessity of limiting the rae of birth. However, this did not make a stir in view of the other daily news and did not result in producing a great effect.

Today we have to work with other methods; we have to make use of journalistic experience. At every opportunity we have to see to it that an article about Birth Control, written in simple language, appears in newspapers. Our problem and ideas have to be hammered into the mind of the people by always referring to Birth Control. For this object not only scientific and daily papers, but every paper, no matter what its political opinion is, ought to be taken advantage of, if opportunity arises. For instance, in Vienna no week passes in which not at least one , but mostly a number of papers deal with Birth Control, and in Austria there is no newspaper which has not printed articles about the same. The increase in the economical crisis through which we are passing the scarcity of houses, suicides, unemployment, divorces, diplomatic quarrels, the considerably reduced value of our money, many law cases, crimes and so forth are made use of for pointing out the population problem.

Particularly the discussions in parliament about different economic problems give an opportunity to discuss the question of over-population in the newspapers, whereby the people of classes become acquainted with our aims from different points of view; and this continuous reminding finally causes the people to think about our aims; and the result is an increase in the number of our supporters.

It does not matter greatly if the papers of our opponents strongly oppose our cause. The principal Austrian paper of the clericals wrote very strongly some time ago against the American Birth Control movement. This gave me an opportunity to write nine articles in other papers, in which I pointed out the international importance of our movement. I am even very much indebted to the clericals for such assaults, as by doing this they discuss Birth Control; and this is the main thing.

There is no single paper into which an article about our cause cannot be inserted with ease. The papers even like to take such articles, as these impress strongly the mind of the reader.

Also of the greatest importance is the treatment of Birth Control in novels, by which particularly many feminine supporters are gained. It is obvious that the greatest effects are obtained by stories and plays By these we also reach the broad masses of those people who are not interested in any other kind of enlightenment. My plays about motherhood have been and are being played by many big as well as little theatres. Also a moving picture play of mine is proving a great means of agitation for our cause.

Scientific works are incontestably very necessary for supporting our cause, but we have to keep in mind that by this means only a very limited number of people are enlightened. Short books and pamphlets produce the greatest stir, of which hundreds of thousands of copies can be sold at a small price. In this respect I draw your attention to the exhibited books, pamphlets, newspapers and pictures.

Finally remains enlightened by words, as this is the most direct and effective means of influencing the people. this opens a very large field of agitation, particularly when calling on clubs to work in conjunction with us, ir when speaking at public meetings. Thereby lantern slides may be advantageously employed and to this I may be permitted to draw your particular attention. The spoken words alone will never show up the contrasts as effectively as when they are supported by pictures.

Our experience in the last two years clearly shows that words properly supported by pictures are the proper thing. The pictures particularly react on the womanly instinct, and thus our opponents at such meetings are at the end of their wits. The interest in lantern slide lectures is far greater than in ordinary lectures. Our lectures in Austria are attended by greater crowds than it is the case with other lectures; they are packed with people as the subject is of the greatest interest. In the fifteen hundred lectures, of which about three hundred were lantern slide lectures, I have easily defeated every opponent. No opponent dared to stand up in the lantern slide lectures. The facts of the pictures did not allow this.

Many clubs, particularly workmen and pacifist clubs, asked for our lectures. During these lectures a very large number of our pamphlets are sold. The best of it is that these lectures do not cost us any money, on the contrary we ask and generally get voluntary gifts, and our women clinics are kept going by many lantern-slide lectures.

Of course these lectures are not of a purely scientific, but of a popular character. Also the sexual life has to be slightly mentioned. Therefore, however thoughtful discretion has to be taken into consideration. The humane importance has to be mentioned frequently. In this manner hundreds of thousands and even millions of people and many opponents are won for our cause.

In Austria five years ago the word New-Malthusianism was practically unknown, Birth Control never spoken of openly and very seldom Paragraph 144 of the Austrian criminal law, according to which persons, even suffering persons, can be convicted to five years penal servitude for artificial miscarriage. Today every grown-up Austrian knows the aim of Birth Control, a heavy fight against the law is going on, street demonstrations against this law were and are held, and today the usual conviction for committing an offence against Paragraph 144 is not five years penal servitude, but eight days qualified sentence, which means the sentence does not have to be served except on repetition. At present one of the government offices is working out an amendment of the Paragraph 144. This has been accomplished as a result of our agitation, and the consequent pressure exerted by the masses of the people. And we have very powerful opponents, namely the clericals and nationalists. This shows that, by a little agitation, the practically impossible has been made possible!

These three ideas of propaganda possess, of course, international value, and although employed differently in the different countries, always lead to success. Our work has been to act from the bottom to the top and not the other way. It is an irony of the present conditions that our motto "Quality, Not Quantity," cannot be made true in the fight for victory. However, we need the masses in order to defeat the spirit of the past in the imperialistic, capitalistic or theologically directed law of the states.

In this respect the various states support each other. My lantern slide lectures, our books and pamphlets work for the movement also in Czecho-Slovakia and Germany.

I may perhaps depreciate the difficulties in other countries, but I am of the opinion that what is possible in Austria should be likewise possible in other countries. The firm conviction that we must triumph and serve a most sensible and moral cause imbues us with power and endurance. The motto of the people as well as our motto is 'Knowledge is Power." We shall convince the masses with our idea and the power will be ours, because in the end common sense always defeats stupidity.

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