Dora Montefiore Justice 1910
Source: Justice, Our Women’s Circle, p. 5, April 9, 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Now that the women’s branch of the Socialist Union of Great Britain is organising a course of instruction classes for canvassers in preparation for the next General Election, it behoves the Socialist women in our Circles to concentrate their attention on the best way to meet and counter both the implied and the openly stated misrepresentations with which our propaganda is assailed. Now, the two principal outspoken lies used against us Socialists are that our teaching is anti-Christian and anti-marriage; and the insidious misrepresentation of our ideal of a revolutionised Society is that “it is based entirely on a materialistic ideal.” The reason given by Sir William Bull for stating that our teaching is anti-Christian, and for continuing to make the statement after facts to the contrary have been laid before him, is that Socialists, with Radicals, with many Liberals, and with some Unionists, stand for secular education in our Council schools. The reason for this plank in our educational platform is not far to seek. The Council schools are supported by public rates; the ratepayers include Church people, chapel people. Roman Catholics, members of the Greek Church, Jews, Armenians. Mahommedans, and Freethinkers. They have each their own interpretation of the “why” the “whence” and the “whither” of the Universe in which the human race finds itself: and they have each their own shade of morality based on the teachings of that special interpretation.
In the past the holders of these various and different interpretations fought among themselves for supremacy, and the worst deeds done on the face of the earth have been done in the name of religious sectarianism. Of late years a more instructed and philosophic mind has prevailed on these subjects, and men and women have come to agree that religion, or the inward beliefs and interpretations that inspire a man or woman’s outward morality and conduct, are entirely a matter of private judgment. When Disraeli was once asked what his religion was, he replied: “It is the religion of every wise man.” And when pressed to say what the religion of a wise man was, he replied: “The wise man never tells.” That should be the philosophic attitude of every adult who does not care to wear a little label saying what place of worship he attends on Sunday, and to which interpretation of the universe he is pledged. But the fighting between sects is by no means over when it is a question of teaching children whose education is paid for out of public rates. There is then an attempt by the majority in this country to crush out the intellectual and spiritual rights of the minority. The battle for the rights of the minority has been fought and won in most European countries, in our colonies of Australia and New Zealand, and in America, where secular education — that is, the imparting to the children of a form of positive knowledge only — on which we are all agreed — is the rule. That does not mean that all those Countries and colonies are anti-Christian; but it does mean that they have developed to the point that they not only look upon religious sectarianism as a matter of the private concern of the individual, but that they consider the teaching of religious sectarianism to children is the private affair of parents. We know, moreover, those of us who have read the history of the recent past, that this ignorant outcry of “atheism” and “anti-Christian teaching” was used against the “Radical” advanced thinkers, just as it is now being used against Socialist advanced thinkers; and those who swelled the outcry in the past, or do so now, count deliberately on the lack of instruction, and of the rudiments of the critical faculty in the mass of English people; so that a misrepresentation of this sort, once started, spreads like a poisonous fungoid growth through the swampy darkness of unenlightened minds.
Naturally, the same process of misrepresentation on the Socialist attitude towards the present form of marriage is based on the same presumptive ignorance of the history and evolutionary aspect of the marriage state. To read and hear anti-Socialists, one would think that they believed as an article of faith that our present marriage laws were always what they are now, and would always .be so in the future. It is not Socialists, but sociologists, who have proved over and over again that there have been as many forms of marriage as there have been forms of religion and that the basic reasons for this variety of forms were varying economic conditions.
We Socialists point out that the highest and most spiritual basis of the marriage contract should be mutual affection; and we strive towards an economic and social ideal when there shall be no compulsion, other than this mutual affection, for entering into or remaining in the bonds of matrimony.
And new one word about the insidious and oft repeated lie that our ideals are purely materialistic. I would ask first what are teachings either of Protection or of Free Trade? Are they spiritual? Have they any ideal beyond material conditions? I was asked one day when taking the chair at an outdoor election meeting, when we were speaking for adult suffrage, to introduce a speaker as a “Christian Socialist.” Certainly, I replied, if the following speakers will allow themselves to be introduced as “Jewish Tariff Reformers” or “Christian Free Traders.” That, it appears to me, should be our attitude on the whole question as to whether our political propaganda is or is not purely material — Will our political opponents kindly explain where the spirituality lies in their political propaganda? But on the educational side I claim that we Socialists have a broad and, very deep spiritual outlook. We believe, and believe intensely, in the struggle for the higher and the spiritual life, and we desire to raise all to the possibility of that struggle. Under present economic conditions the struggle for the lower life — the struggle of those who produce the means of life, but are shut out from any decent share of the use of the means of life — is so fierce, insistent, and intense, that the mass of mankind are shut out by material conditions from the struggle for the higher life of intellect and of spirituality. Our fight, therefore, must be necessarily at present on the material plane; but when the revolution is and wealth is produced for the use of all, and not for the profit of a few, then, and then only, our spiritual ideals will be possible of realisation, and the race as a whole will begin its upward and conscious struggle for the higher life.