Books and Booklets. The Citizenship of Women (Kier Hardie)

THE CITIZENSHIP OF WOMEN—is the latest pamphlet from the pen of Mr. Keir Hardie, and within its covers are probably all the few arguments that can be adduced by the supporters of what is known as the Limited Franchise Bill for Women. Its chief value, however, lies in the fact that it emphasises the back-door and step-at-a-time (the smaller the better) methods which find favour in the sight of Mr. Hardie’s I.L.P. Thus :—

“Once women are admitted to citizenship and some women become voters, the male mind will insensibly accustom itself to the idea of women citizenship and the way be thus prepared for adult suffrage complete and unrestricted.”

The same writer recently gave it as his opinion that Socialism would probably come as a thief in the night, and it is not extraordinary to find the same argument being used in regard to an alleged step that was used in regard to the ultimate object of that step. But to the man who understands that the first postulate of Socialism is the existence of a class-conscious and well organised proletariat whose every step towards emancipation must be taken with eyes wide open, Mr. Hardie’s position is grotesque.

If Mr. Hardie and the I.L.P. hold that the only way for the workers lies in the unconscious absorption of these alleged preliminaries to Socialism, obviously their duty to themselves and to the workers is to ensure that the process shall be unconscious. Because clearly if the workers have their suspicions aroused by the clumsy administration of an overdose, they may on the one hand do themselves an irreparable injury by refusing to acquiesce in a measure designed to benefit them, and on the other, summarily and ignorantly, seal the fate of the I.L.P. that to-day trembles in the balances. Therefore the course Mr. Hardie should adopt in this matter of the enfranchisement of women, is to reduce the persons immediately affected by the measure to the lowest possible minimum. Let it embrace the wives of, say, dukes only, and let it be smuggled through if possible without fuss and under some other guise by someone who cannot be accused of sympathy with the working-class. Thus a commencement will have been made, and the principle, which is to have such beneficial and far-reaching effects upon working-class life and outlook, will have been conceded, and, before the male worker who, according to Mr. Hardie, “will not lightly or all at once part with the authority which has so long been his, and admit that the wife of his bosom is his political equal,” will have awakened to the fact that his authority has been weakened, his mind “will have accustomed itself to the idea of women citizenship and the way will have been, prepared for complete adult suffrage.”

Really one would think from a perusal of Mr. Hardie’s pamphlet that the extension of the franchise to women was a matter of the first importance. The fact is, of course, that to-day the working-class have sufficient political power to do pretty much as they like. Unfortunately they like to return the Liberal or Tory or bogey Labour man. The reason they like to do that is because they do not know how to use their power. And they have failed to understand largely because reformers, with the best of intentions maybe, have worked upon the untenable assumption that the average mind is not capable of taking a grip on the whole Socialist position and have so omitted to tell the whole truth. While the workers do not know the whole truth they cannot understand, and while the mental activity they can spare is harnessed to and expended upon, attempts at altogether ineffectual reforms, they never will.

The pamphlet is prefaced by a character sketch of the author by W. T. Stead.


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