Saturday, February 25, 2017

Women's Freedom (1935)

From the June 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

How many of the slaves who sing with swelling breast that "Britons never never” ever give thought to what they mean by freedom. It is a word that is given a different interpretation as many times as it is used. Thus the capitalist free trader desires freedom to sell his goods in every market of the world regardless of the fettered millions who have produced them. Freedom to him means freedom to trade and make profit. The so-called free worker under capitalism finds that his freedom leaves him free to starve when he cannot find a boss. The “down and out” under a recent Act of Parliament is now free to sleep under the stars without incurring the wrath of the powers that be and without the doubtful hospitality of a police cell that used to be free to him. The suffragettes fought for the freedom of the vote so that they could have their say in the laws governing their property. The position of millions of working class women who had no property and were, in fact, bound hand and foot by their economic dependence upon the employer directly or upon some employed male relative did not rouse the ire of the suffragettes. Obtaining the vote has done nothing to alter that. Only when working class women learn their true position in society will they know how to use their vote wisely, and for this the suffragette movement had no time. Wilberforce, who was the champion of the black slaves' freedom, was one of the stoutest supporters of the combination laws which forbade trade unions and were designed to keep the white slaves of this country in subjection. The pious utterances of the dealers in cant and humbug stand for nought when we discover how far their principles of freedom take them. The Labour Party, the self-styled champion of the poor and oppressed, supported when in office the killing of natives who were misguided enough to believe that they, too, were fighting for their native freedom. The Labour Party soon taught them, however, that there is no such thing as freedom when capitalist interests are at stake.

Truly “it is a mad world, my masters,” but there are none so mad as the members of the working class who will not use their one freedom, their freedom to think and act in their own interests. The freedom upon which all freedom rests is the economic freedom of a class in society from the domination of another class.

This freedom is the object of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and is the only freedom worth fighting for, because it embraces all liberty that is possible for all mankind without distinction of race or sex. Working class women as well as men will find their political expression in the S.P.G.B. The so-called woman question is no different from any other working class problem. Working women are either in economic bondage to an employer or to their husbands, and Socialism ends both states of bondage. The petty tyrannies of domestic life are often the shadows of those in the industrial world. The worker eats, sleeps, and takes his leisure at the dictates of his job. His life is moulded round his job. In other words, while producing everything worth while in life his ability to enjoy life is regulated by the meagre amount of wages he receives. The man, then, should regard his wife as a partner and as a comrade to let off as lightly as possible and with whom to fight jointly against capitalism. Instead of this he sometimes assumes in his turn the role of master and initiates a fresh set of petty tyrannies. It is useless for women to fight against these various effects of the one great evil. They must break the economic stranglehold which holds the man, and they can only do this by breaking the economic stranglehold of capitalism upon the whole of the working class. On, then, with the fight for freedom, but let us first realise what we mean by freedom.

Primitive society knew no private ownership in the means of production. Nor will Socialism. The means and instruments for producing wealth must be the common property of the whole of society. It will then be out of the power of any person to coerce by threat or promise of material gain, any other person. Personal property suited to the taste and needs of individuals remains untouched, and fresh supplies being always available nobody will covet anybody's things, nor want to hoard up supplies for themselves. Freedom for the first time will be effectively realised and break its own shackles. The worker must first, however, use the faculty that he proudly claims distinguishes him from the brute. He must stage an intelligent revolt against the conditions that keep him as dull as a cow in a field. Then will he become really free.
May Otway

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

May Otway signed her articles as 'Mrs O'. She was a member of the SPGB from 1924 to 1942, resigning in some acrimony in '42.