Dora Montefiore Justice 1910
Source: Justice, Our Women’s Circle, p. 5, February 12, 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
In the daily press of February 4 the Lady Mayoress appeals for contributions from the public for the relief of “God’s Poor,” who, she states, “are wanting food and warmth, and even suffering the pangs of hunger.” It might be interesting to hold a Socratic argument with the Lady Mayoress and folk of her way of thinking, and elicit from their own inner consciousness what is their conception of the “God” who apparently owns and is responsible for these “poor.” Someone has truly said, An honest God is the noblest work of man “; and, after reading the letter headed “God’s Poor” one might equally truly remark: “A decently moral God would be an ideal for men to aspire to in the future.” A God who can deliberately create complex and sensitive human beings, and then place them in such conditions that they are shut out from any possible share of the material necessaries of life in a climate like ours, is on a par with the Juggernaut, who demands human victims to satiate his pride and cruelty. The God who so arranges the distribution of the means of life that hundreds of thousands of his poor are forced either to starve or to accept the crumbs of charity that fall from the overladen table of a Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress is a “God” with the soul of a bourgeois and the mental capacity of a cretin. Gustave Flaubert, one of the most intellectual and brilliant French writers of the last century, attacks this purely mediaeval attitude of mind which continues to prevent the free development of both art and science. “The Revolution of ‘89,” he writes, “was a failure because the minds those who helped make it were not sufficiently scientific, were not completely freed from those thousand and one philosophic and religious prejudices transmitted to them by twenty centuries of atavism. .... The way in which all religions speak of God is revolting; they every one of them treat this subject with assurance, with levity, and with familiarity .... The goodness of God, the anger of God, offending God — that’s the way they talk. They seem to look upon him as a man — and, what is worse, as a bourgeois.” Surely the logical reply to the letter signed “Edith Knill” is that if the people she is begging for are “God’s Poor,” then if, as the priests teach, that same God is omnipotent and very merciful, let him have the first chance of caring for them. But if the poor, as we see them to-day in the land, are the result of an unjust and unequal list distribution of the wealth of the land, then let us call to our help the best that human knowledge and science can offer us to break down and revolutionise this false and impious system of distribution, and give to all, according to their necessities, access to their “daily bread.”
Women comrades should follow very closely what is going on in the political struggle with regard to the principle of “the Right to Work,” which principle was embodied in the Right to Work Bill brought before the House two years ago by the Labour Party — the party supposed to represent the class-conscious aspirations of the workers, and to be independent in its principles and action of any other party. That Right to Work Bill (which Liberals, Radicals, and Tories united against the workers to throw out) contained a clause demanding the right either to work or to be maintained, and if Victor Grayson had had a backing that clause might have become law, and have been the workers’ charter of the future. If the workers had indeed believed in the cry of “Work or Maintenance,” and had insisted on their representatives in Parliament believing in it likewise, they could never have at been betrayed as they are now by politicians; and their Right to Work Bill, which contained a principle, and could have become a charter and would never have fizzled out in Labour Exchanges, Labour Insurance and the Development and Road Improvement Act. Mr Philip Snowden, M.P., and Mr. P.W. Wilson sing a duet in the columns of the “Daily News” on the virtues of the Liberal Government’s scheme for the relief of unemployment. “The Government,” warbles Mr: Snowden “has outlined a scheme of treatment of the unemployed problem which is practical, scientific, and statesmanlike. We have constituent parts of the whole scheme in the Labour Exchanges and the Development Act. We have the promise of further instalments in the insurance proposals. The Labour Party’s Right to Work Bill is conceded in these reforms.” (I have allowed myself italics when quoting this last remarkable utterance.) Mr. P.W. Wilson carols in exultant notes of “the several occasions on which he has heard from Mr. Churchill’s own lips a full and intimate explanation of the schemes of insurance which were only interrupted by the dissolution.” In these schemes “women as well as men are included”; that is why I want women specially to watch these politicians and their Labour Exchanges, painted green — “the colour of hope, don’t you know.” It is through these Labour Exchanges that the Government says it expects to obtain reliable figures about unemployment, and then invite women as well as men to register; but in their insurance scheme the principle of compulsory insurance is only introduced in three trades — building, shipbuilding, and engineering — which trades include a million of workers. The unemployed women may well exclaim, “Where do we come in?” And, as usual, the reply is: “In the promises and ‘schemes’ of politicians; besides, as you have no votes, and no organisation worth speaking of, you don’t count. But it looks well on paper to say you are included in the scheme.” Mr. Wilson also assures us that “the Labour Exchanges are striking the imagination,” and that “the Labour Party’s Right to Work Bill has become, by subsequent legislation, irrelevant.” I don’t know about the Labour Exchanges “striking the imagination,” but I do know that they give me a heartache every time I go past them and see the rows of patiently waiting men and women standing with their feet in black slush and their heads in the rain; and I mutter to myself William Morris’s really pathetic words: “The slow-foot hope of the poor.”