Sunday, March 06, 2016

Remembering Sylvia Pankhurst

Model of the proposed statue of Sylvia Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the suffragette movement, and her eldest daughter Christabel are commemorated by a statue and plaque at the entrance to Victoria Tower Gardens on the south-west corner of the houses of parliament, no such honour has been bestowed on Sylvia, who broke with her family over her opposition to the first world war and pursuit of socialist ideals. The House of Lords – an institution Pankhurst vowed to tear down in a coming revolution – has over the years repeatedly blocked proposals for a memorial near parliament, despite the granting of planning permission by Westminster council. 

The TUC and City of London Corporation are to launch a joint campaign to erect a statue on Clerkenwell Green in Islington in time for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which first gave the vote to some women. The City of London Corporation is providing a grant of £10,000 and has set the TUC the challenge of finding £70,000 to get the project off the ground. The Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee will be announcing two new patrons – the actress Maxine Peake and the former union general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe – to help drum up support for the cause. Megan Dobney, a founder member of the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee and a TUC official, said the Clerkenwell statue would constitute welcome recognition. “They have had this for many years but the proposed statue of Sylvia has always been rejected. The reason was that she did not fit in with the establishment of the time by opposing the war. And she was a socialist and an anti-racist campaigner. This statue will correct the historical record.” She also said, “Sylvia would not have liked a memorial, but as a symbol of the unsung heroism of thousands of working-class women who fought for the franchise some kind of recognition is long overdue.”

What the Socialist Party says is long overdue is the socialist society that Sylvia Pankhurst tried to achieve.

  “Socialism means plenty for all. We do not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance.Our desire is not to make poor those who to-day are rich, in order to put the poor in the place where the rich now are. Our desire is not to pull down the present rulers to put other rulers in their places.
We wish to abolish poverty and to provide abundance for all.
We do not call for limitation of births, for penurious thrift, and self-denial. We call for a great production that will supply all, and more than all the people can consume.
Such a great production is already possible, with the knowledge already possessed by mankind…
… Under Socialism the land, the means of production and transport are no longer privately owned: they belong to all the people. The title to be one of the joint owners of the earth and its products and the inheritance of collective human labour does not rest on any question of inheritance or purchase; the only title required is that one is alive on this planet. Under Socialism no one can be disinherited; no one can lose the right to a share or the common possession.
The share is not so many feet of land, so much food, so many manufactured goods, so much money with which to buy, sell, and carry on trade. The share of a member of the Socialist Commonwealth is the right and the possibility of the abundant satisfaction of the needs from the common store-house, the right to be served by the common service, the right to assist as an equal in the common production…
 … Since production will be for use, not profit, the people will be freely supplied on application. There will be no buying and selling, no money, no barter or exchange of commodities.”

 "The words Socialism and Communism have the same meaning. They indicate a condition of society in which the wealth of the community: the land and the means of production, distribution and transport are held in common, production being for use and not for profit.
Since we are living under Capitalism it is natural that many people’s ideas of Socialism should be coloured by their experiences of life under the present system. We must not be surprised that some who recognise the present system is bad should yet lack the imagination to realise the possibility of abolishing all the institutions of Capitalist society. Nevertheless there can be no real advantage in setting up a half-way-house to socialism. A combination of Socialism and Capitalism would produce all sorts of injustice, difficulty and waste. Those who happen to suffer under the anomalies would continually struggle for a return to the old system.
 Full and complete Socialism entails the total abolition of money, buying and selling, and the wages system. It means the community must set itself the task of providing rather more than the people can use of all the things that the people need and desire, and of supplying these when and as the people require them.
 Any system by which the buying and selling system is retained means the employment of vast sections of the population in unproductive work. It leaves the productive work to be done by one portion of the people whilst the other portion is spending its energies in keeping shop, banking, making advertisements and all the various developments of commerce which, in fact, employ more than two-thirds of the people today…”

And in the year of the 100th anniversary of the abortive Dublin Easter Uprising we should remind ourselves of Sylvia’s comments in 1922
“The Communist Party of Ireland, Third International, through its organ, The Workers’ Republic, puts forward a programme for an Irish Republic This programme is not a Communist one: we urge the Irish Communists to withdraw it and put forward a genuine Communist programme in its place.”
And the programme Sylvia Pankhurst suggested included:
The abolition of Dail Eireann; the creation of workers councils; abolishing all private property in land, and in the means of production, distribution, transport, and communication; the abolition of money and the free use by all of the common products and possessions according to need and desire; as well as the abolition of all forms of buying, selling, and barter of goods and services.  

Creating such a society should be our homage to Sylvia Pankhurst and many other socialist activists who will not be honoured by any statue.   


Sid Knee said...

Great article, I knew about her as a suffragette but I didn't realise she held such revolutionary ideas. Thanks

ajohnstone said...

Perhaps it is better to think of women *suffragettes* as those who wanted votes for women on the same terms as then for men, i.e. who wanted votes for rich women only and of *suffragists* such as Sylvia who wanted universal suffrage for all men and women.