Dora Montefiore Justice 1910
Source: Justice, Our Women’s Circle, p. 5, January 29, 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
For some time past the question has been agitating the minds of Socialist women comrades in the States — “Should they, or should they not, join forces with the middle-class woman’s movement in their demand for Woman Suffrage?” I need scarcely explain to our women comrades here that the problem for our American comrades is slightly different from what ours is, for over there there is no question of asking for a limited measure, but, as men have manhood suffrage, all the women, bourgeois and Socialist, are asking for womanhood suffrage. In the columns of the “New York Call” the question has been ably and brilliantly discussed from both points of view by women whose ardent souls see the fairer vision of the future, when men and women workers shall not only own the means of life, but own themselves; and, as a result of this fair and open debate, it was decided almost unanimously, at the Women’s Conference of December 19, “that the work of Socialist women for the suffrage must be carried on along separate and independent lines, by and through the political organisations of the working class.” Our comrade Anita C. Bloch. who edits so capably the “Woman’s Sphere” column of the “Call” thus sums up the situation!” The great fact remains that society to-day is divided along class lines, and not along sex lines, despite the seemingly contradictory fact that all women, regardless of class, are deprived of the right of suffrage.” “Woman is a sex slave because she is an economic dependent,” said Mrs. Carrie W. Allen at .the Conference; “but to this fact the suffrage movement seems to be entirely blind.” “If the suffrage question is only a sex question,” asked Dr. Anna Ingerman, “how can you explain the fact that women once had the suffrage? Women lost the suffrage when economic work ceased to be public work, and was brought into the home. Did not men lose their votes, too, for economic reasons? And, again, it was through economic causes that men won their votes back; and it is economic causes that are behind woman’s demand for the vote to-day.” That point about men losing their votes for economic reasons ought to “touch the spot” here in England, where thousands of men are disfranchised during the present election because they have been forced by economic pressure to accept relief work in order to keep the wolf of hunger and cold away from the home. And yet we can get no adequate support from any of the Socialist organisations to keep alive the Adult Suffrage Society, which is the only society in England standing for the democratisation of the franchise, and the abolition of the sex disability. Our annual meeting has, in consequence of the elections, been postponed till February, and if between now and then Comrades fail to come forward with financial support and promises of help as speakers and workers, this organisation, . which has kept the flag of Adult Suffrage flying uncompromisingly for the last five years, will be forced, when victory should be so near, to wind up its affairs and cease its fight against the reactionary suffrage demand.
In the columns of “Gleichheit,” the German Socialist women’s organ, our comrade Clara Zetkin reviews the work of the various German Socialist Women’s Conferences, and forecasts an international gathering of Socialist women at the Copenhagen Congress this year. She tells how the German women comrades have, through their organised agitation, forced forward legislation protecting children employed under capitalism, and have obtained protection through State insurance of mothers, widows, and orphans; and she writes of the fight that is approaching in the Socialist demand for universal suffrage. That struggle, according to the official political parties, “is a class struggle, in which the proletariat has as its opponent every reactionary power in the kingdom.” These official parties point out that the demand for womanhood suffrage is embodied in the proletarian electoral reform programme, and Clara Zetkin calls on the women comrades to show themselves equal to the occasion, and to make every sacrifice and effort that lies in their power to force, by the weight and unanimity of their demand, the hands of the reactionary Government.. Our comrade also writes me, as Recorder for the British Section of the Socialist Women’s International Bureau, which represents all British Socialist organisations, with the exception of the women of the Independent Labour Party, to gather up through our Bureau; the links of the various questions and resolutions that women comrades would wish to have discussed. The Conference at Copenhagen will have, as Clara Zetkin reminds us, a valuable influence in linking, up regular communications between Socialist women of Scandinavian and other countries; and I can promise our English women comrades that they will find much to admire and to learn in the Scandinavian Socialist organisations. Meanwhile, I shall be glad to hear from Socialist women in England what subjects they consider of most vital importance, either from an economic, social, or political point of view, for us to discuss at Copenhagen from an international standpoint. Such replies as I consider of value I shall be glad to publish in this column, and discussion may help to bring forward fresh points of interest.
I have culled this “Ballad of the Shop-Girl” from the “New York Call,” and ask our editor to give it space in our Women’s Circle column, because I believe its litany of terror is one that will be repeated with a sob wherever Capitalism gives its grudging weekly dole to the. young girl worker, and wherever the English language is read.
BALLAD OF THE SHOP-GIRL.
The Wolf of poverty follows me on
Through the dingy streets of town;
So close beside that his shaggy hide
Might almost brush my gown;
And after him thrust the wolves of lust
Come eager to drag me down.
And body and soul have a scanty dole.
From the pittance that I earn;
And cold as the breath of the wind of death
Are the lessons that I learn;
With a pitfall dug for my weary feet
And a trap at every turn.
And ever a tempter is near at hand
To lure with a Judas kiss,
And lead me away if be led I may
To the depths of the black abyss,
Where in serpent guise old memories rise
And over the fallen hiss.
I never may know surcease from woe,
But I know of fortune’s frown;
I am one of a score of thousands more
Who toil in the cruel town;
And the wolves of lust and poverty
Are waiting to drag us down.
And the Christ that the Bible teaches of
For only men did die;
Or He else would heed in this dreadful need
My bitter, despairing cry;
And the Creeds always for the heathen pray
And the Christians pass me by.
And many and fast the days whirl past
While early I work and late;
And around my path for the aftermath.
The basilisk watchers wait;
And civilisation bids me choose
The grave, or a harlot’s fate.
And I dread the light of to-morrow’s dawn
And the weight of the future years;
My life is blurred by a hope deferred
And my heart is numb with fears;
And my eyes that rise to the sullen skies
Are wet with a woman’s tears.