A Query for the Girls. Suffragism or Socalism?
One of the prominent boasts of the ruling class of Great Britain during the present conflict has been the “unity of all parties in the national cause.” From the extreme Tory to the leaders of the B.S.P.—all are out to “crush Prussian militarism !”—all except the Socialist Party.
Remarks to Start With
Engineers on the bonnie banks o’ Clyde, miners in Wales, and others have, indeed, acted in anything but a “patriotic” manner; but they, like the Socialist Party, belong to the working class, and unfortunately, unlike the Socialist Party, not being politically organised, they don’t count in the estimation of the hireling journalists whose business it is to give expression to the above-mentioned boasts.
The treachery of the Labour Party (and other falsely so-called working-class bodies) to international democracy has already been exposed in these columns ; but what strikes the present writer as equally significant is the farcical change of face of the so-called Woman’s Movement, as represented by the erstwhile “revolutionary” window smashers, the “militant” Suffragettes.
Male tyranny apparently has evaporated into thin air in face of the fact that nearly every male in Europe who can be possibly cajoled or forced into shouldering that expression of sweet reasonableness, a rifle, is doing so. Possibly dear ladies like Mrs. Pankhurst, Mrs. Drummond, and other fashionable “recruiting sergeants,” imagine that when the male sex has by mutual effort annihilated itself, the fair ones will have the world in peace to themselves. If so I can only wish them joy. In any case the fiery purge of an unprecedented crisis has left them sorted out among the dross—the stuff that supports organised mechanical murder.
Innocent readers might ask “why?” Did they not assure us that war, like all other social evils, was the outcome of masculine brutality, destined to disappear when gentle woman shared the hold of the political reins ? Alas for idealism ! It is for ever playing the will-o’-the-wisp, landing its dupes deeper into the bog of confusion ; it is ever an alluring mirage—but it never fails to reveal at last the bleached bones of previously misled travellers. A scientific analysis of the “militant” position, years before the war, was sufficient to indicate to the S.P.G.B. that when the time came the “rebels” (with votes or without) would “cease fire” against the Government in order to take their stand alongside of all other upholders of the private property regime. He that is not with us is against us, and the mere fact that tne Suffragettes, with all their talk of equality, left unchallenged the basis of class distinctions, proved that with them the capitalist control of society and the exploitation of the workers was sacrosanct, mansion burning notwithstanding.
Class, Not Breeches, is the Question
Consequently, when the German bogey finally materialised, threatening with much rattling of loose iron to upset the balance of power, including Britain’s rule over the waves and other things of commercial importance, it was but the natural thing that political rights of sex should be deemed less urgent than the preservation of property ; for what are the former worth except as instruments wherewith to acquire or defend the latter.
By this same token the Suffragettes are branded as the enemies of the working class, who have no property or trade to defend against German aggression, and who consequently can afford to declare no truce in the struggle with their masters, either on the political or on the economic field. This brings us to another point in our indictment.
Throwing Themselves at the Masters
Not content with the merely passive abandonment of “militancy,” the “feminist” leaders have openly and actively supported the substitution of cheap female labour for men’s in “war work” and essential industries, etc. Of old, “equal pay for equal work” was the slogan ; but so direly in earnest are the master class engaged in a life and death struggle for plunder, that work at any price for women, so long as it frees a man for the carnage, is the present “emancipated” philosophy. What matters it that this process involves a reduction in the number of working-men who are able to maintain wives outside the labour market, the increase of competition among women themselves, the lowering of wages all round, and the increase of prostitution? Aye ! what, when the glorious ideals of British honour and freedom are at stake? This appears to be the attitude of the “advanced” to the additional working-class misery caused by the war.
In view of the above facts are we not justified in asking such of our sister-workers as have followed the lead of the suffrage party to reconsider their position, and give a little deeper study to their conditions of existence as working women ? Hitherto they have confined their attack to certain distinctions between the sexes in the social and political sphere. Let us see how much practical significance these distinctions possess.
In the first place, it has already been observed that they possess very little for the wealthy feminist leaders themselves when confronted with a peril to their wealth as well as men’s. So long as their power to plunder the working class is secure they will tussle with all their might against the powers that be for political rights and social recognition of the equality of their wealth with that of men ; but let danger threaten their class (whether from outside the country or within) and their sex becomes of minor importance. Whether they enjoy the power to rob directly as independent property-owners, or whether they do so indirectly through their husbands or fathers is a detail. They belong to a decadent parasitic class, and can be trusted to show “practical business acumen” when the need arises. The sex equality they advocate is but the right of all capitalists, irrespective of sex, to exploit and dominate the lives of the workers, also irrespective of sex.
The Matter in a Nutshell
Turning to distinctions based on sex between the workers, it is diffcult to discover any save the purely political one. In earlier forms of industry and agriculture the handicraftsman and the peasant owned-the means of life not only of themselves, but of their wives and children, thus holding the latter in a chattel relationship which survived to some extent even through the early stages of capitalist manufacture. No sooner, however, did machinery, the great leveller, sound the death-knell of the old division of labour and the advent of modern industry, than domestic relations all through society commenced to undergo a revolution.
Along with the emancipation of the capitalist from the necessity of any form of personal labour proceeded the releasing of his wife from household duties, which more and more devolved upon hired servants. Likewise the divorce between ownership and work made it easier for such women to inherit property direct with all the advantages of the same. Hence their modern demand for political influence.
On the other hand, a similar equalising of the sexes took place among the workers. Deprived by machinery of the market value of his skill and muscular power, the handicraftsman was replaced by the wage-labourer, who owned no means of life but was compelled to sell himself to toil for another ; his women-folk therefore became, in reality, dependent, not on him, but upon the capitalist, while his family authority as father or husband degenerated into an obligation to send his wife and children out to earn wages in order to restore, however partially, the family income to the level his former position had enabled him to maintain. Thus the male labourers are compelled to cut their own throats, so to speak, for the employment of women and children, once established, tends progressively to supplant the labour of men along with the advance of machinery. Whereas formerly the man was the bread-winner-in-chief, now the whole family offers itself for the consumption by Capital of its productive efforts.
Perfect Equality is Already Attained
Thus modern industry has abolished economic distinctions between the sexes of the working class, not by raising woman to man’s level, but, by the abolition of his property, reducing him to hers’, worsening the conditions of both to an intense degree. In addition, the increased hold of the master class upon the working women is manifested sexually as well as economically in the form of modern prostitution, a corollary of female low wages ; and so far from this latter being an advantage to working men due to their having a vote, it is, on the contrary, a most distinct curse, as male unemployment is sufficient to prove. In short, men and women are already equals in the working class—equals in slavery.
There remains the vote to consider ; and there is at least as much confusion abroad concerning the real meaning of political action as on any other single phase of working-class existence. Many so-called philosophers have indulged in a large amount of dubious eloquence on the abstract value of its exercise.
In the first place, the mere possession of a vote does not necessarily give an individual any control of government. In voting he has the choice of certain candidates nominated by different parties, but assuming that he is not a member of any of these parties, and that his interests are not represented by any one of them, then he might as well have no vote. For although the modern politician will go a long way to secure the suffrages of his constituents, he nevertheless has his limits in the nature of the party to which he belongs. He obviously cannot represent in practice interests which are directly opposed to one another. Concrete politics therefore resolves itself into a conflict between parties, and so far as actual power goes, an individual can only count as a member of a party. A knowledge of the actual constitutions and objects of the parties in the field form the basis for an intelligent interest in politics, whether the person interested be male or female.
It is common knowledge that the working class have only been enfranchised to any extent during the last half-century. When members of the historic Liberal and Conservative parties boast of giving us the vote, it is well to ask them who they represented at that time. Broadly speaking, the line of division between them then was the division of their respective economic interests as manufacturers, etc., on the one side and landed proprietors on the other. The sharp edges of this distinction may have become rounded off, but it still remains true that the parties mentioned represent sectional interests among the capitalist class. Taken together they represent that class as a whole, and are always ready, when occasion arises, to unite in their common interest ; the present coalition government being a striking example of this. Various parties claiming to represent working-class interests exist, but all save the S.P.G.B. are guilty of compromise with the parties of the masters.
Indeed, a little thought reveals the fact that any party whose programme implies the continuance of capitalism in any form is foredoomed to compromise sooner or later ; for no sooner does any legislative measure become practical from a capitalist point of view than the master-class parties annex the said measure as part of their programme, thus “dishing” the “independence” of so called reformers. Seeing the majority of the working class are unorganised politically, and vote, if at all, for representatives of parties which are either avowedly or by implication constitutional, the exercise of their “democratic privilege” is nothing more than a formal sanction given to their own enslavement. Not merely does capitalism involve their increasing exploitation, but the masters’ nominees never dream of consulting them on any actual measure they desire to pass–e.g., the declaration of the present war.
How, then, does it stand with the working women ? When they obtain the vote their choice will simply lie, as now, between the existing social order and revolution—the parties of the masters and the Socialist Party. On the one hand the Suffragettes have yet to show what earthly advantage working women have to gain by the further development of capitalism ; on the other, it is plain that the object of the S.P.G.B., i.e., the emancipation of all mankind, irrespective of race or sex, by the conversion of the means of life into common property, will remove all obstacles to the free development of women as of men. The S.P.G.B. a political party—is the weapon by which that emancipation will be secured ; the vote of the workers will be its expression. The course of working women is therefore to join the S.P.G.B. It by no means follows that because they are at present voteless they will be useless or powerless within the Party—far from it. All members of the Party, irrespective of race, sex, or age, have equal voice in its control, equal scope in its activities. Capital exploits them all ; against capital they are all organised to fight.
To the Utopian party of Woman, irrespective of class, we oppose the party of the workers.
For the rest the worth of a weapon depends on the use of it. The possession of a revolver is a dubious advantage if it be turned on oneself instead of on the enemy ; yet this is the nature of working-class political action at present. Is it the ambition of working women of the “advanced” school merely to imitate the men ?