Dora B. Montefiore Justice 1907

Women Should Vote

Source: Justice, p.4, March 30, 1907;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

“L'Humanité” of March 23 heads its leading article. “La Femme doit Voter,” and I translate the following extracts from that article to show English comrades the lead that the Social-Democratic organisation in France is giving on the subject: –

“There may be seen at this moment on the walls of Paris huge posters bearing the legend which gives the title to this article. It sets forth the object of a large meeting organised for to-night at the Salle des Omnibus by the Group of the Solidarity of Women. This meeting is only the first of a series. For the women citizens who have organised the group propose to carry on their agitation all over Paris and it the provinces.

“This agitation comes appropriately, as being a continuation of the manifestations of the English ‘Suffragettes,’ who are working towards the same goal. .... Its special feature is the number of working women who are taking part in the campaigning. Among the latest arrests in London are numbers of textile workers. A proof of the interest which the proletariat takes in the question of Woman Suffrage.

“Another proof is the constant support given to the ‘Suffragettes’ by the various sections of the English Socialist Party. Many of the best known workers in the Independent Labour Party and the Social-Democratic Federation have been among those who have appealed to the Government and lobbied members of Parliament.

“France is not behindhand in this respect. The Socialist Party has resolutely sided with the women who are demanding the right to vote. At the Limoges congress, after an excellent speech from our comrade Madeleine Pelletier, the party decided with the whole International, not only to give its adherence to the principle of Universal Suffrage, but to begin positive action with a view to obtaining it.

“A Bill to extend the right of voting to women will shortly be introduced into the Chamber by the Socialist Party. Landrin, Marchand, Berthaut, Socialist Municipal Councillors, and the Deputy Déjeante will be present this evening at the Belleville meeting.

“The fact is that the question of ‘Votes for Women,’ which, for some time, has been on the programme of the various feminist groups, has only gained real strength since it has become a demand of the working classes. And this demand has come about quite naturally, for the actual conditions of capitalist production have placed working men and working women side by side in industry.

“With its perfected machinery, which displaces human arms and substitutes for them arms of steel, capitalist employers have introduced women into the workshop, and have made of her a working woman.

“By destroying the old tradition of the family, by ruining the domestic hearth, by throwing woman among the exploited wage-earners, and by making her compete with men, capitalist production has enabled her to live by her work as does a man, and to live without the help of a man.

“The economic reasons which led great departments like those of the post office, telegraphs, and telephones, and railways, to employ women, have by so doing transformed, not only their existence, but their mentality.

“Since the woman has become, like the man, one of the wheels in the machinery of production, she intends to be like him, a citizen. Sooner or later, and sooner perhaps than some of us expect, she will succeed in her intention. It is entirely to the interest of the workers that the demand of the women should be successful.

“The woman elector is before all things the woman of the proletariat united with the rest of the workers in that class organisation from which emancipation is to arise.

“At the present time it must be acknowledged it is not only, the workman who, by reason of a tradition which he is unable to analyse, is too anxious to restrict the woman to her supposed domestic work, to her cooking and her stocking-mending, but the woman also looks askance at her husband’s absence at trade union or Socialist meetings.

This is because she does not, as he does, realise the necessity of class struggle against the employer and the capitalist middle class.

When she is an elector she will cease to look upon ‘politics’ as a strange or hostile field. She will wish to make use of her new weapon. She will think, she will learn.

some still think that by investing women with electoral power, the political clock will be put back. The fear is a needless one; the working woman is the equal in intelligence of the working man. Perhaps even her more intuitive judgment may discern more easily where her real interest lies. The experiments already made show, in fact, that this danger – which at the worst would be only temporary – need not be feared. In several of the American States women vote for the ‘legislature.’ I New Zealand women have the vote. Far from having put back reform, the women voters have, on the contrary, helped forward the policy of the ‘Left.’

“The other day in Finland, women voted under the new order of Universal Suffrage; as a result the Socialist Party has been the gainer.

“What is the reason of this? The very novelty of her prerogative causes the woman to think seriously about it. She has not already been drilled into a bourgeois mould of thought; she decides for herself. She is also grateful to the party which has helped her to work out her own freedom.

“The more the working-class, as a whole, forms the propagandist field of Socialism, the more it will group around it the necessary elements for its defence, and for its attack on the present murderous and repressive form of society.

“The woman elector will be the working woman belonging to her trade union. Too often, as Madeleine Pelletier remarked in her recent Report, the working woman is unwilling to enter a trade union because it means being forced to take an interest in politics.

“She will now no longer fear this; and she will walk, let us hope, by the side of the worker towards the emancipation of the whole human race.”

I have quoted these extracts from the article in “ L'Humanité,” not because the facts are always correct, or the ideas particularly new, but because the facts that the Report of Madeleine Pelletier was received by the Socialist congress at Limoges in a different spirit from that in which similar Reports have been received in the past, and that, as a practical result, a Bill for the enfranchisement of women is shortly to be introduced by the Socialist Party into the French Chamber, point to a new phase in the question of Votes for Women. We English Socialist women are waiting for a similar lead on the part of the Socialist Party in England. We have brought the agitation of “Votes for Women” up to a certain point at which, if the democratic organisations, who possess, already political power, have the understanding and the goodwill to take the flowing tide, they can transform the agitation into “Votes for all men and women.” My personal experience is that when I have asked Radical and Liberal Members of Parliament to ballot for a Bill for “Votes for Women,” I have met with a refusal because they have assured me they were only in favour of Adult Suffrage. I rejoiced to find so much verbal sympathy with the ultimate aim of our agitation. I should much like to test that sympathy. The Socialist members, we know are pledged by their programme to work for Adult Suffrage; I should much like to see that plank in their programme consolidated in an Adult Suffrage measure. Could not the S.D.F. which is the pacesetter of the English Socialist movement, prepare a concise and satisfying measure, removing sex-disqualification and property qualification, and get the Radical and Socialist groups in Parliament to force it on next Session as a Government measure? We could meanwhile carry on such an agitation throughout the country as would materially help our supporters in Parliament, and thus wrest from a Liberal Government a really democratic and far reaching measure of political liberty.