Dora B. Montefiore February 1901

A Bundle of Fallacies

Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. V No. 2, February 15, 1901, pp. 48-49;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

IN the January number of the SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT Mr. Belfort Bax presents its readers with what he is pleased to name “A Bundle of Fallacies,” and my attention has been called to one item in the bundle which seems to have got in through some misapprehension on the part of the writer, as it ought surely to belong to someone else’s’ bundle, and not to that of a logical and consistent member of the S.D.F.

Mr. Bax seems to wish to prove that women suffrage (or to use a term which seems less open to misunderstanding, adult suffrage) “is in no way – whatever necessarily involved in a political democratic or Social-Democratic programme.” I have read and re-read carefully the reasons adduced by Mr. Belfort Lax in refutation of the supposed fallacy involved in the belief that adult suffrage, which would include adult women voters, is a necessary part of a democratic programme – and I must confess my failure to follow his line of argument. No one in their senses doubts that “sex distinctions as such are based on organic or biological differences” (though we might have wished he had said and biological differences), but what has that scientific and biological fact to do with the political function of recording a vote Again, we will all admit with Mr. Belfort Bax “that the workman has essentially the same bodily and mental organism as his employer” when that employer is a man; but Mr. Belfast Bax seems to assume that all employers like all political voters are males, and this I must remind him has yet to be proved. He writes vaguely of “problems raised by the sex question,” but what have these problems got to do with adult suffrage’? They are problems which will resolve themselves evolutionally after the great economic revolution has been accomplished to which all Socialists look forward; and Mr. Belfort Bax will only complicate matters in the minds of those he is wishing to instruct by mixing up such problems with the exercise of the functions of a citizen. Sex has no more to do with the exercise of the suffrage than it has to do with the infelicitously chosen parallel of the writer – the exercise of the functions of employer and of employed. If Demos means anything, it means the men and women of a country as humans and citizens, and has nothing to do with their relations as husbands and wives or as parents and children. This clears the ground of all “sex problems” and “women questions” when democracy is under consideration, and justifies the resolution lately passed at the International Socialist Congress in Paris placing adult suffrage on the international programme.

Emile Vandervelde, when writing last year in the Peuple, stated that when the resolution was passed an English delegate near him remarked, “We are asking for women suffrage, but, for the love of heaven, let us hope they will not give it us; it would throw our ideas back for half a century.” I do not believe this is the spirit of English Social-Democracy, though it may be the spirit of one or two members whose minds are incapable of studying a question historically and judging it fairly. That Vandervelde and his colleagues are more open-minded and more truly democratic we see by the active political propaganda which is being carried on in Belgium amongst working women – a propaganda which is already strengthening the hands of Socialism in that country, and will every year strengthen it more and more. No movement of the present day can be vitally effective if women lag behind, and it has been abundantly proved after each extension of the franchise that a sense of political responsibility and the exercise of that franchise are to be, numbered amongst the best educative forces.

No doubt, as Mr. Belfort Bax sapiently remarks, “sex-equality differs in mind from that of class equality, and cannot be logically deduced from the latter,” but it might be useful if he would explain how he proposes giving class equality to the male sex without extending it to the female sex. It would be awkward surely after belted dukes and earls had settled down into plain citizens, and when Tom, Dick and Harry shared with them that title, and all the privileges which citizenship under collectivism would offer, if duchesses and countesses were still to flourish in the land, and trample on the aspirations towards equality of Mrs. Tom, Dick and Harry.

Individual members of the S.D.F. are, of course, free to hold individual opinions as to the meaning and scope of democracy; but the International Socialist movement, as a logical and integral movement, interprets democracy rightly as referring to the people, irrespective of sex, just as education is given irrespective of sex, as taxation is applied irrespective of sex, and as the civil and criminal law is enforced irrespective of sex. The exercise of the franchise is not a right of citizenship, but one of its functions and the citizen who fails, either through negligence or through enforced disability to record a vote for the legislation of his or her choice fails in a public duty.

Women, says Emile Vandevelde, must awake to political life, and that awakening must come through Socialist propaganda. “How does it come to pass,” he asks, pertinently, “that all reactionaries combat women suffrage, while all Socialists agree at least in principle in demanding it?” And he concludes: “Let the apprehensions, therefore, of our adversaries dissipate those of our friends, and let the timid and hesitating, who would still keep one half of humanity outside of our struggles and of our hopes, remember the strong and just saying of Bebel “No great movement has ever been accomplished in the world without women having played in it an heroic role as combatants and as martyrs,’”

Dora B. Montefiore