e-book Sylvia Pankhurst: Sexual Politics And Political Activism (Womens and Gender History)

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Desperate and unwilling to deal with the basic demand for the vote, the Government then began force feeding read torturing the women. Not all women campaigning for the vote were middle or upper class. Suffrage in Edwardian England was gender, class and empire based. The majority of unskilled male workers in England and colonial subjects could not vote. All the women scrub. All the bosses are men.

She embodies the experiences most working women faced and face today — the double shift: low and unequal wages, long hours, backbreaking labor, sexual harassment and dangerous working conditions. She comes home to a tiny, dingy poorly lit, badly heated flat to shop, cook, clean and take care of a husband and son. She ends up testifying about the horrendous working conditions women face in the East End, joins demonstrations and attends meetings.


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She experiences the horrors of prison when arrested for participating in demonstrations. She meets other WSPU comrades, but finds herself ostracized by some East End co-workers and friends; her husband kicks her out of their home and takes away her son. But Maud finds sisterhood and comradeship in the WSPU and the struggle, even as the WSPU moves away from mass militancy and more toward individual acts of property destruction. There were no dry eyes in the theater. As an historian of the British suffrage movement, I could quibble with some of the historical inaccuracies.

I wish the filmmakers could have better portrayed the extraordinary diversity of the East End, a community including Jewish, Irish, Syrian, Italian immigrants — all deemed as racial outsiders and outliers by the English. Such a depiction might have offset some of the criticism of the film being too white.

I also wish the film showed the support by working-class men, especially dock workers and gas workers given to East End suffragettes.

Suffering for suffrage

Pankhurst herself was becoming more involved with the class struggle throughout the country and developed closer relations with other revolutionaries, notably John Maclean and the SLP. However, her world view was still essentially social democratic - with the attainment of full democratic rights within capitalism seen as the key to both ending the war and the establishment of socialism itself. Over the next two years that world view was to dramatically change under the impact of the Russian Revolution and the revolutionary wave that followed in its wake.

However, the social democratic outlook did not disappear overnight. The educational value of a programme Without the knowledge that such study will bring them, revolution would only mean a change of master The Russian problem is our problem: it is simply whether the people understand Socialism and whether they desire it. Winslow notes in passing that Pankhurst was a member of this committee when it met on January 12th in Battersea Town Hall and "pledged to strike" towards this end [p. The government recognised the threat to its authority and quickly introduced rationing to avoid the threat becoming a real challenge.

At the same time Pankhurst was developing links with the revolutionary movement outside of Britain and using the Dreadnought to publicise news and political articles on issues of international significance for the working class. Pankhurst could also boast that the Dreadnought was the first in Britain to welcome the formation of the 3rd International and in she wrote four articles for its official journal, Communist International.

The last of these, Winslow states, was printed anonymously. As Lenin argued in his reply, the issue in itself was a secondary one which did not justify delaying It was not until October , after a full balloting of its membership, that the BSP, which was affiliated to the Labour Party, decisively came out in favour of joining the 3rd International. Before then it was revolutionaries like John Maclean, the SLP and then Pankhurst herself who were seen as the kernel of a future revolutionary party in Britain by Lenin and the Bolshevik leadership.


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  6. In fact the WSF had already pronounced itself for the 3rd International and adopted the title of Communist Party only to delay the use of the name pending the outcome of the unity negotiations In the meantime Pankhurst embarked on a political trip through Europe. It is difficult for me to understand how you can possibly make propaganda to win seats in parliament - a body which you mean to abolish in a few months - when you ought to be absorbed in the work of revolutionary preparation and when the most urgent need is to convince workers that the time for Parliament has passed.

    February saw her alongside J. Back in Britain the question of communist regroupment became reduced to one of affiliation or otherwise with the Labour Party.

    The fact that the BSP was affiliated to the Labour Party no doubt encouraged Lenin in his illusion that it was possible for a Communist Party to work within Labour without losing political independence. An essential condition of victory It is worth quoting Pankhurst at length here to show that her arguments were not always the semi-anarchistic or syndicalist one of the corrupting effect of parliamentarism or the need to do away with leaders and led.

    The social patriotic parties of reform, like the British Labour Party, are everywhere aiding the capitalists to maintain the capitalist system; to prevent it from breaking down under the shock which the Great War has caused it, and the growing influence of the Russian Revolution.


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    The bourgeois social patriotic parties, whether they call themselves Labour or Socialist, are everywhere working against the Communist revolution, and they are more dangerous to it than the aggressive capitalists because the reforms they seek to introduce may keep the capitalist regime going for some time to come. The British Labour party It is for the Communists to build up the forces that will overthrow the social patriots, and in this country we must not delay or falter in that work.

    We must not dissipate our energy in adding to the strength of the Labour Party; its rise to power is inevitable. We must concentrate on making a Communist movement that will vanquish it. The Labour Party will soon be forming a Government; the revolutionary opposition must make ready to attack it. As usual with Pankhurst, hers was not just an argument based on theory but on her own experience of the Labour Party.

    In , for instance, she had been the mover of a resolution at the Labour Party Conference, ironically on behalf of the BSP, demanding that Labour withdraw from the coalition government. As Winslow admits,. Pankhurst herself, however, realised that communists can influence workers in the Labour Party without affiliating to it:.

    War and Revolution: The End of the Old World Order

    For these reasons then, when the BSP refused to accept unity on anything but an affiliation with Labour basis the WSF withdrew from the unity negotiations and called its own conference. The seven conditions for membership were published in the Dreadnought on July 10th. They were acceptance of,.

    Shortly afterwards Pankhurst set off for Moscow and the 2nd Congress of the International to argue her case against Lenin. Whether the reason for this precipitate action was to try and force the International into accepting communist unity on non-affiliation terms or whether from the start Pankhurst was thinking of organising as a faction inside the new Party, Lenin was unimpressed and condemned the formation of the CP BSTI.

    His Left-wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder , with arguments against both the German Left and Pankhurst, was already in circulation and distributed to all the delegates at the 2nd Congress. Typically, Winslow mentions this but makes no comment. Strangely, Pankhurst apparently made no links with Bordiga who was also at the Congress.

    Pankhurst herself was serving a prison sentence for sedition in the run-up and during the unity conference but she thought she had secured a future for the Dreadnought by maintaining it as a publication outside of the control of the new Party,. When she refused to do so she was expelled. Since the Third International is firmly bound to the Soviet government and the Russian Party; since a Moscow Executive wholly dominated by Russian policy controls the action of all the National Parties affiliated to the Third International; since every day this policy becomes less revolutionary, the rise of a Fourth International has become inevitable.

    But if it is true that Russian policy was daily becoming less revolutionary, what seemed obvious to the German Left and Sylvia Pankhurst from their own experience, was not yet actually true for the International as a whole: The Moscow Executive did not yet control the action of all the national parties. While Pankhurst was declaring that:.

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    We are happier in the young rebel Fourth International than we should be in the Third, which has gone back on itself into a premature decay. By then the prematurely declared 4th International had sunk into oblivion under the weight of its own confusions and the growing isolation imposed by the encroaching counter-revolution. The Dreadnought was also an important, if not the only, source of information on communist and other opposition groups in Russia. One of the last articles published by the Dreadnought was a letter protesting about the imprisonment of Miasnikov and other left communists in Russia.

    No wonder that the paper remained proscribed reading for CPGB members! Politically, however, it was losing its way.

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    There is no doubt that she was in breach of party discipline here - although, as Raymond Challinor, the historian of the SLP points out, it was a discipline not invoked against R. Palme Dutt when he set up his own paper, Labour Monthly. Winslow informs us that in the run-up to the final unity conference there was considerable unease and acrimony inside her own organisation over the role of the shadowy Italian anarchist, Silvio Corio 15 , in the financial and political running of the Dreadnought and the associated Agenda Press.

    Basically the membership were questioning why someone who was not a member of the organisation and not a communist should have such a key role, even acting as editor, up to the point that:. I would therefore ask you to remove from the Dreadnought Not so Barbara Winslow. This latest of her biographers is critical from a different angle: socialist feminism. From this stance Winslow cannot understand that Pankhurst the revolutionary wanted to remain so, despite the period of working class retreat which, perhaps surprisingly, she recognised as early as Winslow notes that:.

    Pankhurst pointed out in the Dreadnought that, because of the economic depression and the defeat of the working class movement, revolutionary activity was becoming more or less impossible. Her response? By this she means the revolutionary programme should have been abandoned altogether. If true, this was a serious misjudgement but then Winslow thinks advocating abolition of the wages system is also rather barmy. This had been formed by G.

    Sylvia Pankhurst: The Real Meaning of the Revolutionary Years

    Soderberg who had split from the Communist Party. Winslow remarks in astonishment that:. Winslow gets herself tied in knots when she tries to illustrate the sectarianism of Pankhurst and her ilk with the tale of what happened to or so UWO protesters when they demonstrated at the Poplar Board of Guardians for a restoration of the winter coal allowance and an increase for single people.

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    Following the tradition of John Maclean in Scotland, the protesters went along to the Council meeting, locked themselves in the building and occupied the Council chamber. The outcome? Their demands were refused and the police were called to forcibly oust them. Forty were seriously injured. A typical episode in the class war: The only difference being that the Chairman of the Board of Guardians, Edgar Lansbury, was a Communist Party member; the Guardian who moved that the police be called, A. Watts belonged to the Communist Party; the mayoress who seconded the motion, Julia Scurr, was in the ILP; ditto her husband and mayor of Poplar, John Scurr, who later on told a meeting of unemployed workers in Poplar Town Hall that cutting unemployment relief was the only way to keep the rates down.