‘Suffrage and Socialism’ by Maud Thompson from The Progressive Woman. Vol. 7 No. 71. May, 1913.

Another fine article by comrade Thompson, this on one of the foremost debates withing the movement of that time; the attitude of Socialists towards the campaign for women’s suffrage. Maud Thompson was a member of the Socialist Party, a leading feminist, and an academic who received her doctorate from Wellesley exploring property rights among Athenian women. She was married to international editor of ISR, William E. Bohn.

Socialist Party contingent in the March, 1913 Suffrage march on Washington, D.C.
‘Suffrage and Socialism’ by Maud Thompson from The Progressive Woman. Vol. 7 No. 71. May, 1913.

WHEN the conscious part of the labor movement, which is Socialism, began to grow in the minds of men, there was no woman movement. Here and there for more than two thousand years individual reformers had pleaded and argued for the rights of women, but philosophers had told them that it was contrary to nature, theologians had declared it contrary to the will of God, and the rest of the world had laughed.

The great democratic movement of the eighteenth century was bounded by the ”rights of man.” The women of the French revolution guided political parties, led mobs and went unflinching to the guillotine, but when they petitioned the constitutional convention for suffrage, suggesting that those who helped create the republic should vote in it, the advocates of democracy were so busy creating a state of “perfect equality” that they could not listen to the women’s plea.

But the German thinkers who were the founders of the modern Socialist movement, were neither philosophers, nor theologians, nor idealists. Therefore, when they turned their attention to the status of women they did not devise a place for her to suit their conception of the universe, nor assign her a corner in heaven, nor question whether she was enough of a human being to share the rights of man. They were scientists, and as such they looked for facts.

They looked about them to find out what women were doing. For action is the test of capacity and function. They saw women toiling in the mines and mills of England, and in the factories of America, producing the clothes and tools necessary for the life of mankind. They saw women toiling in the fields. of France and of Germany, producing the food that sustained mankind. They saw women in the shops of England and France, distributing the products of labor. They saw women as producers directly subject to every law which can affect the life of the worker.

1910 D.C. Suffrage protest.

But, unlike our amateur democrats, they saw beyond the wage-earning woman. They saw two-thirds of womankind toiling in the homes, producing, repairing, distributing material things. They saw, too, that this woman labor was never paid for in that measure of value which was current in the market place of men, money.

Maud Thompson.

So they began to inquire what was this moneyless system under which most women labored. And again they searched for facts. This time they had to go to history to trace the changes which had left married women in a different economic world from men. They found that women, bound by motherhood to the isolated home, were carrying on the odds and ends of production under the same primitive, moneyless system under which all mankind once worked. But they saw that the modern woman in her primitive work was not subject to the laws of a primitive community, but was indirectly controlled by the laws of the modern industrial system that surrounded her.

These, then, were the two contributions of Socialism to the woman movement: that part of womankind are producers in modern industry subject to industrial and political laws, and that the rest of womankind are nonindustrial producers in the homes, at the mercy of industrial laws beyond their control.

Socialism, therefore, formulates no laws for women as women. Nor does it make any concessions to women as women. It sees women as workers, expects from them every service that a worker gives, and. demands of them every power that the worker needs. So the rallying call of Socialists was, from the beginning, addressed not to men, but to workers: “Workers of the world, unite!” And the women, too, have answered the call.

It would be as absurd to say that the Socialist party favors woman suffrage as to say that it approves of democracy. Both are essential to its very existence. There is a woman movement outside of the Socialist party, but there can be no Socialist triumph without the emancipation of the women workers. The Socialist party declares for woman suffrage on exactly the same grounds that it is now fighting in England, in Austria and in Germany for man suffrage.

The women of the Socialist party have certain important privileges over their sisters who are working for their emancipation in other organizations.

Women suffragists demonstrating for the right to vote at the March, 1913 suffrage protest.

In the first place, they enter into their political privileges at once, as far as the law of each land permits. They nominate candidates, hold office in the party and help direct its national and international policies. All this is not only comforting to their self-respect, but training for citizenship.

Moreover, in the Socialist party we are fighting with men, not against them, for our emancipation. Together, Socialist men and women comrades are fighting the forces of ignorance which postpone a complete democracy.

But the greatest privilege of Socialist women is that they fight for their own emancipation while fighting for the greater freedom. The person who has not backbone strong enough to fight for her own rights will make a weak soldier in the social struggle. But the person who fights only for her own rights is a blind fighter, and likely enough to strike a comrade in the fray. In the Socialist party we women strike a blow for human freedom with every blow we strike for our own enfranchisement.

1910 New York Suffrage Day demonstration.

We who make the material things the world needs, we who bear the men the world needs, march to our rights as workers. We have stopped begging for our bread, and we will not beg for the ballot.

Progressive Woman replaced The Socialist Woman. The Socialist Woman was a monthly magazine edited by Josephine Conger-Kaneko from 1907 with this aim: “The Socialist Woman exists for the sole purpose of bringing women into touch with the Socialist idea. We intend to make this paper a forum for the discussion of problems that lie closest to women’s lives, from the Socialist standpoint”. In 1908, Conger-Kaneko and her husband Japanese socialist Kiichi Kaneko moved to Girard, Kansas home of Appeal to Reason, which would print Socialist Woman. In 1909 it was renamed The Progressive Woman, and The Coming Nation in 1913. Its contributors included Socialist Party activist Kate Richards O’Hare, Alice Stone Blackwell, Eugene V. Debs, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and others. A treat of the journal was the For Kiddies in Socialist Homes column by Elizabeth Vincent.The Progressive Woman lasted until 1916.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/socialist-woman/index.htm

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