Dora Montefiore The Call October 1916

An Open Letter to the Primate
on the occasion of his opening of the National Mission for Repentance and Hope


Source: The Call, 11 October, 1916, p. 4;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


My Lord Archbishop,

I have read in The Times what is given as your sermon in full on the subject of the spiritual awakening of our nation, to which end you are calling men and women to repentance and hope. It seems to me, my Lord, if may say so with all respect that you must have left your audience somewhat bewildered, as you tell them towards the end of your sermon that if the nations of the earth had possessed the qualities and virtues you desire that they should have, “the gladness of self-sacrifice, of unsullied purity of aim and practise, of loyal and eager service for one another’s sake, it would have made this war impossible.” But are we not told on all hands that these are the very virtues the war has called forth; and are these not the outstanding attributes of our warriors in whatever part of the world they are fighting? Is it not “the gladness of self-sacrifice” when young men in their millions enrol themselves voluntarily to fight in the king’s army? Has not “the purity of aim and practice” of this country in taking up the sword been proved in every newspaper and every pulpit of the Empire? And is not “the eager service for one another’s sake” which you preach, being practised by every woman who takes up a man’s job, so as to set him free to go and fight, and also by those who in return, for the insignificant dividend of 5 or 6 per cent. pour their money into the Treasury coffers so as to finance this gigantic crusade in the defence of the territorial integrity of Belgium and of France? If these are the virtues your National Mission stands for, my Lord Archbishop, surely, you are but preaching to the converted!

I am not, my Lord, a professing Christian, I am only a poor despised Socialist; but I also have seen a vision, and that a spiritual one of better and fairer days to dawn upon the earth, when men shall no longer in their madness destroy the accumulated work and beauty of centuries, and when women shall so consciously reverence the “life” which it is their function to nurture and cherish that by no act of theirs would they help in the wholesale destruction of the sons of other women. Those days I know can only dawn when the People, not only of this country, but of other countries, have seen the vision that we Socialists see, and have acted on the economic interpretation of existing social conditions which Socialism offers them. One of the pleasantest pieces of reading that has appeared lately in a capitalist paper is the letter of the Bishop of Winchester to The Times under the title “Reprisals of the Good.” He describes in this letter not only the work of the Society of Friends and others in this country, who since the outbreak of war two years ago have been bringing help to those men and women of enemy nationality remaining among us, upon whom the war has brought suffering, but he tells also how early in the war a group of Germans came together in Berlin and determined to start a similar work. The news of what was being done by the British Committee soon reached them, and made them increase their efforts. Since then the two bodies have been in close communication, and each has endeavoured to see what is done for “alien enemies” in one country is promptly repeated in the other. These good folk both in Germany and here are, like us international Socialists, doing their best indirectly to undermine and disintegrate the forces of militarism, and to put in their places the spiritual forces of human co-operation and of active sympathy.

A woman poet has written, my Lord, that “It takes a soul to move a body”; and though we Socialists know that before we can destroy militarism, capitalism and competition must give way to co-operation and industrial freedom, yet we know also that the international soul has to be formed, which will make the new order both possible and acceptable. Before the war we had international congresses of doctors, scientists, social reformers, of women pioneers, of Trade and Industrial Unions, all tending to form an international soul; each country bringing what was best in its nationalism as a contribution to the general human intellectual and spiritual whole. But the horror of actively warring national capitalist interests has cut through that triumphant pathway of human progress, has blurred its land-marks, and dimmed its beacon lights.

Yet, my Lord, in spite of the fact that militarism is everywhere triumphantly paramount, and that neither you nor the Church of which you are Primate, attack it as the enemy, the super-enemy of the best progress of mankind, I venture to believe, and to be able to give proofs for my belief, that it is the active spread of the Militarist spirit which is accountable for most of the moral and social evils for which your mission is calling men and women to repentance. The Bishop of London attacks especially unclean livers, and what he pleases to call “race suicide.” Has he forgotten that when Nietzsche wrote “Man is made for war” he added “and women for the relaxation of the warrior.” And did he not so write because as a philosopher, studying militarism under the microscope, he saw now the taking away of men forcibly from their homes, from the sanctions of their villages or their neighbourhoods, and herding them in camps or barracks, was the supreme breaking down of home life, was the ultimate degradation of the function of woman from that of home maker to that of temporary associate in feverish hours of release from galling military discipline?

As regards the so-called “race suicide,” on the subject of which both Bishops and the Press lay the lash on the shoulders of women, I would retort, my Lord (and I would that your Church with its immense influence would call a National Mission of repentance and amendment on this subject alone), what about the wholesale murder and mutilation of the children that are born, but which, in a country which can spend 6,000,000 a day on war, are done to death before they are a year old for lack of the food, clothing, shelter and care which, should be the birthright of every child born in the community. Women, I maintain, my Lord, are not guilty, who say we will not help willingly to create life in a world where we are not granted the power to maintain and nourish that life.

“Reprisals for good” we Socialists would wish to see, my Lord, not only in international but in national relations; and we maintain that therein only can lie any hope for national reconstruction on a better plane. We demand from the privileged the land, the tools of production and of distribution, and above all the means of education which, at the present time, are all shut away from the unprivileged. We demand that women shall have equal pay with men for equal work, so that they may not be forced by the pressure of economic conditions which gave (before the war) to the woman working in industry an average wage of 10s. 101/2d. a week – to supplement such a wicked pittance by the barter of their bodies. We demand that the official torture of conscientious objectors to military service should cease, and we request you, my Lord Archbishep, to ask yourself on your knees by whose side the man whom you call “Master” would have stood, whether by the side of Norman and Dukes when they were being beaten, kicked, spat upon and despitefully treated, or by the side of their torturers acting in the name of a cowardly Government?

My Lord Archbishop, if you would indeed revolutionise the moral and spiritual life of England, help its men and women to free their minds from hypocrisy and cant; teach them to look below the surface for the root causes of the evils you deprecate; do not deal in generalities, but point out burning instances of injustice, corruption, of lack of moral fibre, of individual and of national crushing down of the unprivileged. Let this endless teaching in the Press of hatred and malice cease; and let “Reprisals for Good” be the watchword of the generation which has been chastened by the personal and national losses of this most frightful of wars. Thus and thus only, my Lord, can we leave behind the struggle for the lower life – the struggle for food, clothing and shelter – and enter on the struggle for the higher life – the intellectual and spiritual struggle upon which the nations of the world, in their spiritual blindness, have hitherto been too preoccupied to enter.

I am, my Lord Archbishop,
Your obedient servant,

DORA B. MONTEFIORE.