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Monday, 24 May 2010

Did Lenin arrange the killing of Rosa Luxemburg?

In 1902 Lenin published a pamphlet, “What Is To Be Done?”, where he argued for a party of professional revolutionaries dedicated to the overthrow of Tsarism. He continued to argue the case for a small party of activists with a large fringe of non-party sympathizers and supporters at the Second Congress of the Social Democratic Labour Party held in London in 1903.

His long-time friend, Jues Martov, disagreed believing it was better to have a large party of activists. Martov won the vote 28-23 but Lenin was unwilling to accept the result and formed a faction known as the Bolsheviks. Those who remained loyal to Martov became known as Mensheviks.

Lenin’s main critic was the Marxist philosopher, Rosa Luxemburg, who was based in Germany. In 1904 she published “Organizational Questions of the Russian Democracy”, where she argued: "Lenin’s thesis is that the party Central Committee should have the privilege of naming all the local committees of the party. It should have the right to appoint the effective organs of all local bodies from Geneva to Liege, from Tomsk to Irkutsk. It should also have the right to impose on all of them its own ready-made rules of party conduct... The Central Committee would be the only thinking element in the party. All other groupings would be its executive limbs." Luxemburg disagreed with Lenin's views on centralism and suggested that any successful revolution that used this strategy would develop into a communist dictatorship.

Lenin and Luxemburg came into conflict again on the outbreak of the First World War. Luxemburg, were opposed to Germany's participation in the war. In December, 1914, she joined with Karl Liebknecht, Leo Jogiches, Paul Levi, Ernest Meyer, Franz Mehring and Clara Zetkin to establish an underground political organization called Spartakusbund (Spartacus League).

In 1915 Luxemburg wrote about the war in her highly influential pamphlet, “The Crisis in the German Social Democracy”. Luxemburg rejected the view of the Social Democratic Party leadership that the war would bring democracy to Russia: "It is true that socialism gives to every people the right of independence and the freedom of independent control of its own destinies. But it is a veritable perversion of socialism to regard present-day capitalist society as the expression of this self-determination of nations. Where is there a nation in which the people have had the right to determine the form and conditions of their national, political and social existence?"

Luxemburg also pointed out that Germany was also fighting democratic states such as Britain and France: "Germany certainly has not the right to speak of a war of defence, but France and England have little more justification. They too are protecting, not their national, but their world political existence, their old imperialistic possessions, from the attacks of the German upstart." To Luxemburg, this was an imperialist war, not a war of political liberation.

In the pamphlet Luxemburg quoted Friedrich Engels as saying: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” She added: "A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism.... The world war today is demonstrably not only murder on a grand scale; it is also suicide of the working classes of Europe. The soldiers of socialism, the proletarians of England, France, Germany, Russia, and Belgium have for months been killing one another at the behest of capital. They are driving the cold steel of murder into each other’s hearts. Locked in the embrace of death, they tumble into a common grave."

Luxemburg argued that it was important to stop the First World War through mass action. This brought her into conflict with Lenin who had argued that "the slogan of peace is wrong - the slogan must be, turn the imperialist war into civil war." Lenin believed that a civil war in Russia would bring down the old order and enable the Bolsheviks to gain power. Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches took the side of the Mensheviks in their struggle with the Bolsheviks. As a result Lenin favoured the Polish section led by Karl Radek over those of Luxemburg.

On 1st May, 1916, the Spartacus League decided to come out into the open and organized a demonstration against the First World War in Berlin. Several of its leaders, including Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were arrested and imprisoned. While in prison, Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia. Luxemburg, like most leading Marxists, condemned Lenin’s actions. While in prison Luxemburg wrote “The Russian Revolution”, where she criticized Lenin for using dictatorial and terrorist methods to overthrow the government in Russia. "Terror has not crushed us. How can you put your trust in terror."

Once again this work showed that she was opposed to the activities of the Bolsheviks. She quotes Leon Trotsky as saying: "As Marxists we have never been idol worshippers of formal democracy.” She replied that: "All that that really means is: We have always distinguished the social kernel from the political form of bourgeois democracy; we have always revealed the hard kernel of social inequality and lack of freedom hidden under the sweet shell of formal equality and freedom – not in order to reject the latter but to spur the working class into not being satisfied with the shell, but rather, by conquering political power, to create a socialist democracy to replace bourgeois democracy – not to eliminate democracy altogether."

Luxemburg went onto argue: "But socialist democracy is not something which begins only in the promised land, after the foundations of socialist economy are created; it does not come as some sort of Christmas present for the worthy people who, in the interim, have loyally supported a handful of socialist dictators. Socialist democracy begins simultaneously with the beginnings of the destruction of class rule and of the construction of socialism. It begins at the very moment of the seizure of power by the socialist party. It is the same thing as the dictatorship of the proletariat. Yes, dictatorship! But this dictatorship consists in the manner of applying democracy, not in its elimination, but in energetic, resolute attacks upon the well-entrenched rights and economic relationships of bourgeois society, without which a socialist transformation cannot be accomplished. But this dictatorship must be the work of the class and not of a little leading minority in the name of the class – that is, it must proceed step by step out of the active participation of the masses; it must be under their direct influence, subjected to the control of complete public activity; it must arise out of the growing political training of the mass of the people."

Luxemburg was not released until October, 1918, when Max von Baden granted an amnesty to all political prisoners. In Germany elections were held for a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution for the new Germany. As a believer in democracy, she assumed that her party would contest these universal, democratic elections. However, other members were being influenced by the fact that Lenin had dispersed by force of arms a democratically elected Constituent Assembly in Russia. Luxemburg rejected this approach and wrote in the party newspaper: "The Spartacus League will never take over governmental power in any other way than through the clear, unambiguous will of the great majority of the proletarian masses in all Germany, never except by virtue of their conscious assent to the views, aims, and fighting methods of the Spartacus League."

On 1st January, 1919, at a convention of the Spartacus League, Luxemburg was outvoted on this issue. As Bertram D. Wolfe has pointed out: "In vain did she (Luxemburg) try to convince them that to oppose both the Councils and the Constituent Assembly with their tiny forces was madness and a breaking of their democratic faith. They voted to try to take power in the streets, that is by armed uprising. Almost alone in her party, Rosa Luxemburg decided with a heavy heart to lend her energy and her name to their effort."

The Spartakist Rising began in Berlin. Friedrich Ebert, the leader of the Social Democrat Party and Germany's new chancellor, called in the German Army and the Freikorps to bring an end to the rebellion. By 13th January, 1919 the rebellion had been crushed and most of its leaders were arrested. This included Rosa Luxemburg who was arrested with Karl Liebknecht and Wilhelm Pieck on 16th January. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered while be taken to the prison. It is interesting that Pieck was spared. He was a Lenin loyalist. He was released and in 1918 he helped to establish the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The KPD was completely under the control of Lenin and later Stalin. After the Red Army occupied Eastern Germany at the end of the Second World War, Pieck was appointed President of the newly-established German Democratic Republic (GDR).

Is it possible that Lenin was working with the German authorities in order to get rid of his difficult German Marxists? It would not be the first time he worked with the secret service to get rid of his enemies. See my posting on Roman Malinovsky and the Russian Secret Service (1912-1918).

On the 1st March, 1917, the Tsar Nicholas II abdicated leaving the Provisional Government in control of the country. Lenin was now desperate to return to Russia to help shape the future of the country. The German Foreign Ministry, who hoped that Lenin's presence in Russia would help bring the war on the Eastern Front to an end, provided a special train for Lenin and 27 other Bolsheviks to travel to Petrograd. This move benefited both parties. Lenin took over the government and he then withdrew the Russian Army on the Eastern Front.

We also know that Lenin used whatever methods necessary in order to maintain his position as dictator of the Soviet Union. Unlike Stalin, he was willing to arrange the deaths of women. After the revolution Lenin was having difficulty with Angelica Balabanoff, the secretary of the Comintern. She was complaining about the way that Lenin was dealing with his critics in the Communist Party. A document was recently released that showed that in 1922 Lenin was planning to send Balabanoff to Turkestan, “where cholera was raging”. This never happened because she sensibly decided to resign and escape to Western Europe.

John Reed was not so lucky. In 1917 Reed was a journalist in Russia during the Bolshevik uprising. Reed's experiences in Russia were recorded in his book, Ten Days That Shook the World (1919). Lenin later claimed it was the best book written about the Russian Revolution.

Reed returned to America and in 1919 helped form the Communist Party of the United States. Reed returned to Russia in 1920 and attended the Second Congress of the Communist International in Moscow. According to the author of Strange Communists I Have Known (1966): "The order of business for the Second Congress had been determined by Lenin. Having concluded that the great push for world revolution had failed, and with it the attempt to smash the old socialist parties and trade unions, Lenin set it as the task of all revolutionaries to return to or infiltrate the old trade unions. As always, Lenin took it for granted that whatever conclusion he had come to in evaluation and in strategy and tactics was infallibly right. In the Comintern, as in his own party, his word was law."

Reed and other members of the Communist Party of the United States and the Communist Party of Great Britain disagreed with this policy and tried to start a debate on the subject. To do so, they needed to add English to the already adopted German, French and Russian, as an official language of debate. This idea was rejected. Reed became disillusioned with the way Lenin had become a virtual dictator of Russia. His friend, Angelica Balabanoff later recalled: "When he came to see me after the Congress, he was in a terrible state of depression. He looked old and exhausted. The experience had been a terrible blow."

Lenin arranged for Reed to visit Baku after the conference that was suffering from an outbreak of typhus. Reed caught the disease and died on 19th October, 1920.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Was Lenin working with Russian Secret Police?

In 1912 Lenin met Roman Malinovsky for the first time at a party conference in Prague. Lenin was impressed with Malinovsky and invited him to join the Bolshevik Central Committee. Some party members opposed this move, claiming that there were rumours that Malinovsky was an Okhrana agent. He refused to believe the charges and advocated that Malinovsky should also be a Bolshevik candidate for the Duma. After being elected in October, 1912, Malinovsky became the leader of the group of six Bolshevik deputies. Malinovsky became known as an eloquent and forceful orator. Before making his speeches he sent copies to Lenin and S. P. Beletsky, the director of Okhrana.

Malinovsky had a long prison record and while he was in prison in 1910 he agreed to become an undercover agent for the Russian secret police. For 100 roubles a month Malinovsky supplied reports on Bolshevik members, locations of party meetings and storage places for illegal literature.

In 1911 Malinovsky began working for S. P. Beletsky the head of Okhrana. Beletsky later admitted that: "Malinovsky was given the order to do as much as possible to deepen the split in the Party. I admit that the whole purpose of my direction is summed up in this: to give no possibility of the Party's uniting. I worked on the principle of divide et impera." Beletsky ordered Malinovsky to "attach himself as closely as possible to the Bolshevik leader (Lenin)". Beletsky later testified that, in view of this important mission, he freed his agent at this time "from the further necessity of betraying individuals or meetings (though not from reporting on them), as arrests traceable to Malinovsky might endanger his position for the more highly political task."
After being elected to the Duma in October, 1912, Malinovsky became the leader of the group of six Bolshevik deputies. Lenin argued: "For the first time among ours in the Duma there is an outstanding worker-leader. He will read the Declaration (the political declaration of the Social Democratic fraction on the address of the Prime Minister). This time it's not another Alexinsky. And the results - perhaps not immediately - will be great."

Malinovsky was now in a position to spy on Lenin. This included supplying Okhrana with copies of his letters. In a letter dated 18th December, 1912, S.E. Vissarionov, the Assistant Director of Okhrana, wrote to the Minister of the Interior: "The situation of the Fraction is now such that it may be possible for the six Bolsheviks to be induced to act in such a way as to split the Fraction into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Lenin supports this. See his letter (supplied by Malinovsky)".
Rumours began to circulate that Malinovsky was a spy working for Okhrana. This included an anonymous letter sent to Fedor Dan about Malinovsky's activities. When Elena Troyanovsky was arrested in 1913 her husband wrote a letter claiming that if she was not released he would expose the double agent in the leadership of the Bolsheviks. Beletsky later testified that when he showed this letter to Malinovsky he "became hysterical" and demanded that she was released. In order that he remained as a spy Beletsky agreed to do this.

According to Bertram D. Wolfe in 1913: "He (Malinovsky) was entrusted with setting up a secret printing plant inside Russia, which naturally did not remain secret for long. Together with Yakovlev he helped start a Bolshevik paper in Moscow. It, too, ended promptly with the arrest of the editor. Inside Russia, the popular Duma Deputy traveled to all centers. Arrests took place sufficiently later to avert suspicion from him... The police raised his wage from five hundred to six hundred, and then to seven hundred rubles a month."

Another Bolshevik leader, Nikolai Bukharin, became convinced that Malinovsky was a spy. David Shub, a member of the Bolsheviks, has argued: "There was a wave of arrests among the Bolsheviks in Moscow. Among those rounded up was Nikolai Bukharin... Bukharin, then a member of the Moscow Committee of the Bolshevik Party, had distrusted Malinovsky from the start, despite the latter's assiduous attempts to win his confidence. For Bukharin had noticed several times that when he arranged a secret rendezvous with a party comrade, Okhrana agents would be waiting to pounce on him. In each case Malinovsky had known of the appointments and the men whom Bukharin was to meet had been arrested."

Bukharin wrote to Lenin claiming that when he was hiding in Moscow he was arrested by the police just after a meeting with Malinovsky. He was convinced that Malinovsky was a spy. Lenin wrote back that if Bukharin joined in the campaign of slander against Malinovsky he would brand him publicly as a traitor. Understandably, Bukharin dropped the matter.
Nadezhda Krupskaya later explained: "Vladimir Ilyich thought it utterly impossible for Malinovsky to have been an agent provocateur. These rumors came from Menshevik circles... The commission investigated all the rumors but could not obtain any definite proof of the charge." Instead of carrying out an investigation into Malinovsky, Lenin launched an attack on Julius Martov and Fedor Dan, who he accused of acting like "gossipy old women".

In June 1914 Lenin published an article in Prosveshchenie: "We do not believe one single word of Dan and Martov.... We don't trust Martov and Dan. We do not regard them as honest citizens. We will deal with them only as common criminals - only so, and not otherwise... If a man says, make political concessions to me, recognize me as an equal comrade of the Marxist community or I will set up a howl about rumors of the provocateur activity of Malinovsky, that is political blackmail. Against blackmail we are always and unconditionally for the bourgeois legality of the bourgeois court... Either you make a public accusation signed with your signature so that the bourgeois court can expose and punish you (there are no other means of fighting blackmail), or you remain as people branded... as slanderers by the workers."

On the outbreak of the First World War Malinovsky resigned from the Duma and against the orders of the Bolsheviks he joined the Russian Army. He was wounded and captured by the Germans in 1915 and spent the rest of the conflict in a prisoner of war camp. Surprisingly, in December 1916, the Bolshevik newspaper, Sotsial Demokrat, reported that Malinovsky had been "fully rehabilitated" for his past crime of "desertion of his post".

On 2nd November, Malinovsky crossed the Russian border and turned up in Petrograd. He visited the Smolny Institute, the Bolshevik headquarters, on three days running, demanding to be taken to see Lenin. On the third day, Gregory Zinoviev saw him and ordered his arrest. He was taken to Moscow for trial and Nikolai Krylenko was appointed as prosecutor.

At his trial Malinovsky admitted he had been a spy and commented: "I am not asking for mercy! I know what is in store for me. I deserve it." After a brief trial was found guilty and executed that night. The historian, Bertram D. Wolfe, has asked the following questions: "How much did Lenin know of Malinovsky's past? Why did Lenin exonerate Malinovsky in 1914, against the evidence and against the world? Why did he rehabilitate him in 1916? Why did Malinovsky return to Russia when Lenin was in power? Did he count on Lenin? Why did Lenin then not lift a finger to save him?"

Malinovsky clearly returned to Petrograd because he believed Lenin would protect him. Lenin clearly knew that Malinovsky was working for Okhrana. Lenin used Malinovsky to get rid of Bolsheviks who opposed his dictatorship of the party. This was encouraged by S. P. Beletsky as he thought this would weaken the Bolsheviks as a revolutionary movement. All it did was remove the moderate elements and made Lenin’s work easier.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Nick Clegg as Prime Minister

The media over the weekend have been pressurizing Nick Clegg and the media to do a deal with David Cameron. They have presented the case as one of being a choice between a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition or a Conservative minority government. Yet, I cannot see how either proposal could possibly work in the interests of the Liberal Democrats. Even if Cameron promised a referendum and legislation on proportional representation, he could never deliver it as it is unacceptable to the vast majority of his MPs. It is possible that Cameron might persuade the Tory MPs to pretend to go along with the deal. Then, say in six months, before the legislation is passed, he could resign and call another election. As a result, the Liberal Democrats will lose the support of those people who voted for them in order to keep the Tories out. The Liberal Democrat vote will collapse and Cameron will get an overall majority and he could govern without the need to appease anybody.

The possibility of changing the voting system only exists in the present. It might never happen again. Clegg has to make sure he gets a deal that will really bring about a democratic revolution. The solution is fairly simple. Clegg has a meeting with the leaders of the Labour Party and suggests the following: Clegg will become the prime minister in a grand coalition that includes representatives of the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party, the Scottish Nationalists, the Welsh Nationalists and the Green Party. A referendum on the reform of the House of Commons and the House of Lords will be held within six months, with the idea of legislation within six months. An emergency budget would be introduced that was ensure a fair tax system, high-tax rates (95%) on bonuses over £50,000, a mansion tax and other redistributive taxes. Legislation should also be introduced to prevent the corrupt funding of political parties and a clean-up of political lobbying. MPs should also be denied the right to do second jobs.

The Labour Party could then elect a new leader and Gordon Brown could be allowed to work in the charity sector (that is what he told a television presenter what he really wants to do). A election under the PR system for the House of Commons and the House of Lords should be held within a year. By that time Cameron will be ousted and the right-wing Tory Party will do badly at the polls.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Why the Conservative Party lost yesterday?

In the 1980s and for some of the 1990s the UK experienced what is what like to be governed by a right-wing, free-market, Conservative Party. Although the British people took too long to realise it, by 1997, the population had moved to the left and Tony Blair was elected to power. To the dismay of those on the left, Blair continued many of the policies developed under Margaret Thatcher. Despite his many failings he was able to win two more elections. The reasons for this was that the British electorate had moved to the left and in our absurd first-past-the-post system, we had to put up with a right of centre New Labour Party governing the country.

The Conservative Party tried three different leaders but they were unable to come close to removing Tony Blair from power. A combination of Thatcher and Blair had created a desire for a more liberal and equal society. To be fair to Blair, his government did create a society that was more tolerant towards minorities. Attitudes towards the gay community definitely improved during this period. The more extreme kinds of racism and sexism also became more unacceptable in society.

After its third defeat in a row, David Cameron came up with a new strategy. He concluded that the electorate had indeed moved to the left and that unless it changed the Tories would never gain power. On the surface, most Conservative MPs, accepted this argument and he was allowed to develop policies that reflected the UK’s more liberal society. The chairman of the party admitted that in the past, the Tory Party had been in reality the “Nasty Party”. However, that was the past and the new Conservative Party was going to be a “liberal” party.

Of course, the wealthy elite in the UK were not interested in bankrolling this new party. After all, they were getting what they wanted by funding New Labour (PFI and government contracts, honours and places in the House of Lords, low-taxes on high-earners, tax evasion loopholes, etc.). However, all this changed when the public opinion polls showed that the New Labour government had become unpopular as a result of the mismanagement of the economy and its disastrous policy on Iraq and Afghanistan. Money now began flowing into the Conservative Party. Much of this came from multimillionaires like Lord Ashcroft who were based in tax-havens and feared that New Labour might close these loopholes. The Christian Right were also busy providing money to Cameron’s new Conservative Party. They had previously been willing to fund Tony Blair’s New Labour Party and his disastrous Academy schools programme. As John Gray has pointed out: “There can be little doubt that Christian fundamentalism has become a growing force in the (Conservative) party, and the strand of thinking that is emerging has much in common with the theo-conservatism that has divided and paralysed the Republicans in the US.”

David Cameron public views were not shared by most active members of the Conservative Party. For example, a recent poll showed that 94% of Conservative Party candidates in the General Election disagreed with his policy of not cutting overseas aid. When questioned about this he said that the policy shows that the party under his leadership had changed from its more illiberal past. However, the poll shows that this is window-dressing and that the party has not really changed at all.

Cameron had another problem. After the defeat of Alec Douglas Home (the former 14th Earl of Home) by Harold Wilson in 1964 it was argued that Britain would never again have a prime minister who had a public school education. The Conservative Party seemed to agree with this assessment and they had a succession of “grammar school” leaders until they elected the Eton educated David Cameron to the post. Would Cameron become the 19th Eton educated prime-minister in our history? As has happened in the past, Cameron immediately surrounded himself with his schoolmates as advisers and members of his shadow cabinet, including George Osborne, the shadow chancellor. This move is reflected in the fact that in yesterday’s election, 17 men educated at Eton became Conservative MPs (up from 14 in 2001). A total of 43% of the winning candidates were educated privately. Is it possible for this privileged elite to understand what it is like for the vast majority of people to have their public services or pension benefits cut? When George Osborne says “we are all in this together”, we know that is not the case.

With Britain having one of its most unpopular prime ministers in his history and undergoing its worse financial crisis since the 1930s, it was expected the Cameron’s move to the centre would pay dividends in yesterday’s election. However, he failed to gain an overall victory, winning only 36% of the vote. What yesterday’s election showed is that the UK now has a “left of centre” majority. As long as the Labour Party can elect a moderately reasonable leader, it could remain in power for the foreseeable future.

Cameron has offered Clegg a deal in order to gain power. If this deal is accepted, Clegg will split the Liberal Democrats is such a way that the party will disintegrate. Instead, he should do a deal with the Labour Party in order to establish a grand coalition that would include the Scottish Nationalists, the Welsh Nationalists and Caroline Lucas, our first Green MP. This would have to be done under the leadership of someone other than Gordon Brown. The new prime minister should then announce a referendum of parliamentary reform that would take place within 6 months. This should be combined with a promise of legislation that would enforce the decision of the referendum within 12 months. This would keep the coalition together until the next election could take place. Meanwhile, Cameron would be ousted as leader and the Conservative Party would become a party of the extreme-right, destined to be in permanent opposition.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Birth Control in the UK: 1850-1925

Most people take birth-control for granted. However, in the UK, it only came about after some of its advocates were sent to prison.

Working class women were expected to work until they had children. These women tended to have more children than upper and middle class wives. In the middle of the 19th century, the average married woman gave birth to six children. Over 35% of all married women had eight or more children.

The Church was totally opposed to the use of contraception to control family size. Several people, including Richard Carlile had been sent to prison for publishing books on the subject.

In 1877 Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh decided to publish The Fruits of Philosophy, written by Charles Knowlton, a book that advocated birth control. Besant and Bradlaugh were charged with publishing material that was "likely to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to immoral influences". In court they argued that "we think it more moral to prevent conception of children than, after they are born, to murder them by want of food, air and clothing." Besant and Bradlaugh were both found guilty of publishing an "obscene libel" and sentenced to six months in prison. At the Court of Appeal the sentence was quashed.

After the court-case Annie Besant wrote and published her own book advocating birth control entitled The Laws of Population. The idea of a woman advocating birth-control received wide-publicity. Newspapers like The Times accused Besant of writing "an indecent, lewd, filthy, bawdy and obscene book".

In 1918 Marie Stopes wrote a concise guide to contraception called Wise Parenthood. Marie Stopes' book upset the leaders of the Church of England who believed it was wrong to advocate the use of birth control. Roman Catholics were especially angry, as the Pope had made it clear that he condemned all forms of contraception. Despite this opposition, Marie continued her campaign and in 1921 founded the Society for Constructive Birth Control. With financial help from her rich second husband, Humphrey Roe, Marie also opened the first of her birth-control clinics in Holloway on 17th March 1921.

The 1923 Dora Russell along with Maynard Keynes, paid for the legal costs to obtain the freedom of Guy Aldred and Rose Witcop after they had been found guilty of selling pamphlets on contraception. The following year, Dora, with the support of Katharine Glasier, Susamn Lawrence, Margaret Bonfield, Dorothy Jewson and H. G. Wells founded the Workers' Birth Control Group. Dora also campaigned within the Labour Party for birth-control clinics but this was rejected as they feared losing the Roman Catholic vote.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Why Women Should Vote on Thursday

It is claimed that a significant proportion of the British electorate will not vote on Thursday. For those women contemplating the possibility of not voting, I would ask them to consider the sacrifices made in order to get them the vote.

In 1866 a group of women from the Kensington Society organised a petition that demanded that women should have the same political rights as men. The women took their petition to Henry Fawcett and John Stuart Mill, two MPs who supported universal suffrage. Mill added an amendment to the Reform Act that would give women the same political rights as men. The amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73.

Members of the Kensington Society were very disappointed when they heard the news and they decided to form the London Society for Women's Suffrage. Similar Women's Suffrage groups were formed all over Britain. In 1887 seventeen of these individual groups joined together to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

By the end of the 19th century the NUWSS had about 100,000 members but women were no closer to gaining the vote. Emmeline Pankhurst was a member of the Manchester branch of the NUWSS. By 1903 Pankhurst had become frustrated at the NUWSS lack of success. With the help of her two daughters, Christabel Pankhurst and Sylvia Pankhurst, she formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).

By 1905 the media had lost interest in the struggle for women's rights. Newspapers rarely reported meetings and usually refused to publish articles and letters written by supporters of women's suffrage. In 1905 the WSPU decided to use different methods to obtain the publicity they thought would be needed in order to obtain the vote.

During the summer of 1908 the WSPU introduced the tactic of breaking the windows of government buildings. On 30th June suffragettes marched into Downing Street and began throwing small stones through the windows of the Prime Minister's house. As a result of this demonstration, twenty-seven women were arrested and sent to Holloway Prison.

Marion Wallace-Dunlop was one of those arrested. Christabel Pankhurst later reported: "Miss Wallace Dunlop, taking counsel with no one and acting entirely on her own initiative, sent to the Home Secretary, Mr. Gladstone, as soon as she entered Holloway Prison, an application to be placed in the first division as befitted one charged with a political offence. She announced that she would eat no food until this right was conceded."

Marion Wallace-Dunlop refused to eat for several days. Afraid that she might die and become a martyr, it was decided to release her after fasting for 91 hours. Soon afterwards other imprisoned suffragettes adopted the same strategy. Unwilling to release all the imprisoned suffragettes, the prison authorities force-fed these women on hunger strike.