The Enfranchisement of Women

To the Editor of “The Socialist Standard.”

Dear Sir,—May I appeal to your readers, men who have fought and won a great victory for Labour, to stand by the women who have now begun in earnest their struggle for political existence?
Working women realise at last that just as Labour men had to agitate and fight to secure their right to be represented in the State, so they must now agitate and fight to win their enfranchisement, for the sake of their homes and their children—for the sake of justice and honour.
Our experience of every agitation for a wider suffrage is that at the last moment women have been left out of the question. We want first to get sex disability abolished, and then to work with all those who desire a broader basis of democratic representation, and a fuller measure of social reform. We shall welcome very gladly all the help we can get from men, and we hope to collect a fund that shall enable us to carry out an organised, vigorous campaign.
Yours etc,
Hon. Treasurer,
Women’s Social and Political Union.
Central London Committee.


We do not hold the recent election of “Labour” men to Parliament to be a victory for Labour. In our March issue it was shewn to be a victory for confusion.

For the rest Mrs. Pethick Lawrence has reversed what we regard as the correct order of things, and it is for precisely this reason that we are opposed to all the reform school of politicians, whose method is to focus attention upon some supposed ameliorative measure in the hope that by it they may be advanced one step, more or less short, on the road to a more or less distant goal. The goal is subordinate to the steps. We claim that by crystallizing attention on the goal, the possibility of losing our way among a multitude of stops is obviated. It is the goal that matters.

On the question of women’s franchise, for instance, it is the step that concerns Mrs. Lawrence. The goal is a very indistinct and shadowy “fuller measure of social reform.”

Our goal is Socialism. We know that the working class cannot obtain Socialism ’til they understand their class position and the reasons why Socialism alone will materially benefit them. It is our business, therefore, to instruct them so far as we may in their class position and in Socialism. When they understand ; when they are class-conscious, they will fight with us for Socialism. Short of that there is nothing that will avail. The fact that they strive for something less is proof positive that they are not class-conscious. We have therefore class-un-conscious workers to deal with, and if we harness their untutored spirit of revolt to the chariot wheel of reform, we are simply deluding them and wasting energies which might just as well and just as easily be focussed upon the essential—Socialism.

Therefore we are not concerned with electoral reform, howbeit we are of necessity Universal Adult Suffragists. The present franchise which gives the male workers sufficient power to effect any purpose, has been utilised to maintain capitalist domination in politics. That is to say the working-class vote has been used by the working classagainst working-class interest—why? Because, of working-class ignorance. To an ignorant working class, therefore, the weapon of the vote is useless. Only an intelligent working class can use that weapon to working-class advantage. Why are the workers ignorant? We reply because to a considerable extent wtheir energies have been consumed in unimportant reform agitations such as this of the women’s franchise. How may their ignorance be dispelled ? We answer, by Socialists telling them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth particularly the whole truth.

And the whole truth is that the extension of the franchise to women is not an important matter ; that the important matter is working-class-consciousness—the full appreciation of the absolute and irreconcilable hostility of interest existing between the capitalist class and the working class. When that has been achieved and the workers have organised themselves into a political force translating their industrial antagonism to the capitalist class into political antagonism to all the political forces of capital (which would, of course, be the necessary and inevitable result of class-consciousness), the extension of the franchise to cover women workers and that great body of at present vote-less males, will be effected without difficulty— if, indeed, in the process of organisation, the capitalist class, dismayed by the determination of a rapidly growing working-class party to be satisfied with nothing less than the extinction of capitalism itself, have not enacted a measure of complete enfranchisement in the hope that it might side-track the movement, or at any rate, stay its progress temporarily. If there is one fact that obtrudes upon the attention of students of industrial history more than another it is that the larger the demand preferred by organised determination, the larger the concessions made. We do not, therefore, demand the half-loaf (if it is a half-loaf) of a woman’s vote, nor even the whole loaf (as they regard it) of the more advanced reformer. We demand the whole baker’s shop of Socialism, and it is our business to endeavour to harness the might of the working class to our demand. We have hitched our waggon to a star, and we do not propose to uncouple.

The text for Mrs. Pethick Lawrence and for all who earnestly desire working-class emancipation should be, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Socialism and its righteousness, and all the other things will be added unto you.”

We hope we have without offence made it clear why we cannot respond to the appeal made for help. We have important work to do.

Leave a Reply