Dora Montefiore Justice 1910
Source: Justice, Our Women’s Circle, p. 5, April 16, 1910;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
I observe that 15,000 persons, are required during May, June, and July for the “Pageant of Empire” at the Crystal Palace. Fifteen thousand persons who can, as the notice says, “arrange to pay for their own costumes,” who, naturally, must have the leisure, day after day, to rehearse and practice their parts; who must have the means, when the time comes, to convey themselves to Norwood and back for the interminable calls of this three months’ orgie of pageanting!
And for what purpose all this one-sided and vulgarly blatant interpretation of the evolution, culmination, and responsibilities of Empire? To record deeds of filibustering and of crime; to recapitulate in word and gesture and act the sad old story of might too often beating down and enslaving right; to illustrate once more by object-lesson, which shall be understanded even by the contracted intellects that crave for pageant tabloid doses of Imperial history, how “Right has been for ever on the scaffold, and Wrong for ever on the throne.” I would suggest that Socialists who are interpreting existing industrial conditions in the light of the exploitation and degradation of the masses of our population should hold nightly during the months of May, June, and July, on the Thames Embankment, “A Pageant of the Heart of the Empire,” in which the actors should be the unemployed men and women of this city, the underfed children, the homeless wanderers, whom the stress of competition and the daily increasing pressure of industrialism have thrust outside the pale of society. They would form a realistic pageant in the early hours of the creeping dawn (as the June sun makes a glory on spire and dome, and reddens the murky water of the Thames), which Americans and Japanese and dwellers on the Continent of Europe should come and study, and take to heart. This — this is the heart of the great and boastful Empire! For this we struggle, and slay, and compete, in order that wealth may choke and debauch a few, whilst it crushes and starves and brands as outcasts the many!
I have spent a June night wandering among those casual workers, sleeping in the shadow of stone steps, so as to be ready to snatch the coveted “job” in the morning; and those outcasts snatching intervals of rest and oblivion on an Embankment seat, between the coming and going of the policeman on duty, whose orders are to arouse all sleepers and make them “move on.”
I have heard the weak cry of the hungry babe drawing the empty breast, and have noted the look of anguish in the eyes of the mother as she draws the shawl round herself and babe and staggers forward to meet another day of hunger and contumely and despair. I have seen these sights, and heard these sounds, and I have no use for “Pageants” until we, have all the people of the Empire housed and clothed and fed and made to feel like self-respecting citizens. Nero is said to have fiddled while Rome burnt. The bourgeoisie of the United Kingdom “pageant” while degeneration, hunger, and anguish bleed white the lives of the hapless workers.
“Punch” has a most excellent cartoon this week of the House of Lords, represented by a trembling and cowering Peer, standing with his back against the wall, while enemies throw knives (with more or less skill) at his shrinking form. Campbell-Bannerman’s knife quivers in the wall not far from his shoulder; Bright’s, Gladstone’s, and Redmond’s knives, though not threatening vital parts, are yet well aimed to wound and harass. But the knife that was evidently thrown with no aim and no serious skill, but which sticks harmlessly in the wall, with its blade turned away from the coronet and ermine, is the knife labelled “Labour” — the very knife which, had organised Labour sent class-conscious representatives with a Socialist programme to Parliament, should, have been the deadly weapon aimed at the heart of landlordism and privilege. But then we know the boast of the Labour Party is that they have no programme, and, it would seem by recent events, neither have they any principles. Considering how important to the workers is the question of a pure milk supply in a town like London, one would have thought it would have been worth while for the representatives of Labour to have turned up in the House last week and voted for the LCC Bill. If Radicals and Labour men had taken the least interest in the Bill they could easily have secured its passing but the division list easily shows that it was well supported by Unionist members, and was only defeated by 85 to 81. This is the third time the L C.C. has attempted to give legislative effect to its proposals for the prevention of milk contamination; and it is the third time that a Parliament representing purely masculine interests continues in its irresponsible ignorance to allow thousands of infants to be slowly poisoned by an irritant like boracic acid. It is a pity the public does not know all the truth about its milk supply; if it did, it might strive to protect itself against disease and filth; even though the statistics of infant mortality fail to affect it. But those who have sent “Labour” representatives to Westminster might inquire of them why they did not do their best to protect at least some of the children of the workers from milk produced and distributed for profit, without any regard to use.
The same lack of principle characterised the utterances of Mr. Philip Snowden at the International Women’s Suffrage Club dinner on April 8. There were speeches from Adult Suffragists, who recognise that a Bill enfranchising men and women on a residential and not a property qualification is the only democratic way to give the vote to women; but, as is well known, Mr. Snowden’s sympathies are all with the limited Bill; which its own supporters acknowledge would only enfranchise about a million and a half rent-paying and rent-receiving women. Yet he stated in his after-dinner speech that this measure of Women’s Suffrage was “the grandest cause that ever demanded the enthusiasm of its devotees.” It is interesting to note that this “grandest cause,” which arouses such enthusiasm in the breasts of a Labour M.P. and his wife, is also the cause of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association, who have as Clause I. in their rules: “To form a bond of union between all Conservatives and Unionists who are in favour of removal of sex disqualification and the extension of the franchise to duly qualified women.” And in Clause V.: “To maintain the principles of the Conservative and Unionist Party with regard to the basis on which the franchise should rest, and to oppose universal suffrage in any form.” These are the rules that Mr. Snowden, the “Labour” representative, is carrying out. He advocates the removal of the sex disqualification, and the extension of the franchise to property-qualified women, and from his pulpit in a weekly Nonconformist paper he denounces Adult Suffrage as a dream, and reiterates that there is no demand for it in England. Let us hope some day Mr. Snowden’s constituents may call upon him as a democratic representative to help to make that demand, instead of reasserting ad nauseam that it does not exist.