Dora B. Montefiore 1917
Source: The Call, 12 April 1917, p. 3
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
I have been reading Mr. John Masefield’s story of “Gallipoli,” one of the most poignant (perhaps because, from a literary point of view, one of the best written) accounts of the disastrous venture of the Allies to reach Constantinople by way of the Dardanelles Peninsula. As I closed the book a passage from Oscar Wilde’s “Soul of Man” came into my mind. He had been writing about the freeing of slaves in America, and how, at the close of the Abolitionist War, many of the slaves bitterly regretted the new state of things. And then he adds: “To the thinker, the most tragic fact in the whole of the French Revolution is not that Marie Antoinette was killed for being a queen, but that the starved peasant of the Vendée voluntarily went out to die for the hideous cause of feudalism.” In my mind I paraphrased this passage: To the thinker, the most tragic fact in the whole of this foolishly designed, and callously carried out failure, was not the reckless waste of young, beautiful and vigorous life, but that the exploited workers of Britain, France and Turkey went out voluntarily to die for the hideous cause of capitalism. That is how the women and men of the future, standing in the light of the “socialisation of achievement” will look back at this dark and blood-stained spot in the world’s history. These years which are the calvary of the world, when mankind hangs pierced, faint and bleeding on the cross of suffering, while the war profiteer’s pile up their profits at the foot of the cross and slink off with bulging money bags gained by market-gambles with the food of the starving people.
And then the thought of what is going on in Russia comes warm to my heart, and the blessed word “Revolution” (which even the capitalist newspapers now have to print with some show of respect) leaps to my lips. Has capitalism during these last three years really been digging its own grave, and are the martyred millions of Russia to have the honour to be the first to throw on the corpse the shovelful of cold clay which is the symbol of its unhonoured and unregretted suicide? I believe no revolutionary comrade throughout the world would have it otherwise; for is not “the Roll of Honour” of the Russian comrades who have fallen in the great cause of Freedom the longest and the most tragic? It is an army of girls and of women, of boys and of men; it is an army that has been flogged with the knout, tortured in underground dungeons, frozen on the plains of northern Siberia; which has worked in salt mines, has marched hundreds of miles in clinking, galling chains, has rotted in the damp cells of the fortress of Peter and Paul; it is an army the women of which have, by official order, been outraged by diseased officers; have, old and young, borne the same personal degradations, tortures and hardships as have the men; it is an army of such idealism, such enthusiasm, such conscious scientific understanding of the goal towards which their battered bodies march that they fulfil Swinburne’s magnificent prophecy in his “Marching Song”: “The light they walk in darkens sun and moon and star.”
The capitalist Press writes: “The Revolution was fortunately accomplished with very little bloodshed.” But the revolutionaries who planted the Red Flag on the flag post, where a few moments before the Imperial standard had been waving, who tore open the prison doors and set free the political prisoners, would doubtless have a different tale to tell. They have not forgotten that Black Sunday when the people came peaceably to the Palace of their “Little Father, the Czar,” to ask for reforms, and were shot down by the troops in hundreds. When I was in Petrograd some ten years ago I was shown the trees in front of the Palace into which the little boys from the crowd had climbed to get a better view of the great holiday procession. When the volleys which were the “Little Father’s” answer to his people were fired, the bodies of the small boys dropped from the trees on to the heads of the crowd below. They also died that Russia, should be free!
And now, though much that is going on is withheld from us, it would seem as if Russia were pointing the way to the proletarians of the world. What are the workers in Britain doing to show their fellowship with, and their understanding of, the great adventure on which the Russian organised workers are entering? The British organised workers have themselves chosen and sent to a capitalist Government four little Czars with, plenary powers to put on the brake whenever things seem to be moving a little faster than the capitalists like. So well do these little Czars understand their job that they have even backed down from the demand for universal adult suffrage which the organised workers have had on their programme for the last 40 years. Now, universal suffrage was inscribed on one of the banners borne by the men, and women who organised the peaceful demonstration held in August, 1819, in St. Peter’s Fields, Manchester. The long Napoleonic Wars had lately come to an end, but famine, high prices, corruption and starvation forced the people to demonstrate, to demand from the Government the means to administer democratically their own affairs. The Government’s answer was to make the Yeomanry drunk and to turn them on to the unarmed populace. Our present Government is more astute; it uses the workers’ chosen leaders to head back the demand for universal suffrage, and these leaders have hoodwinked their followers into the reactionary position of asking that only women representing some form of property in bricks and mortar should be enfranchised. The young women are to work, are to help win the war; the elder women are to vote!!
And it is nearly a hundred years since men and women died at Peterloo for the democratisation of the Franchise!
And the Russian Revolution, in which all their institutions and their electoral machinery are being. democratised, is now at the present moment being accomplished!
And the “tragic fact” remains that in Britain men and women seem, at present, more willing to work and die for capitalism than to work and to die for revolution!
But the end is not yet.
DORA B. MONTEFIORE