Document 6: National Convention of the Socialist Party, "Majority Report of Women's Committee," 17 May 1908, William R. Perkins Library, Duke University (Socialist Party of America Papers microfilm, reel 76), pp. 301-06.
When the 1908 national convention of the Socialist Party of America was held in May, the responsibility of getting socialists involved in an active campaign for woman suffrage fell upon the newly created National Woman's Committee. The growing popularity and cross-class appeal of the suffrage movement in the U.S., and the absence of limited suffrage strategies biased against working women, may explain why the Committee emphasized pragmatic reasons for launching an active suffrage campaign, especially "increases [in] the party membership." Not all members agreed with the committee's recommendation, however. The following document presents the debate between those in favor of active participation in the woman suffrage movement under the direction of the National Woman's Committee (the majority report) and those who were against it (the minority report).
MAJORITY REPORT OF WOMEN'S COMMITTEE.
"The National Committee of the Socialist Party has already provided for a special organizer and lecturer to work for equal, civil and political rights in connection with the Socialist propaganda among women, and their organization in the Socialist party.
"This direct effort to secure the suffrage to women increases the party membership and opens up a field of work entirely new in the American Socialist party. That it has with it great possibilities and value for the party, our comrades in Germany, Finland and other countries have abundantly demonstrated.
"The work of organization among women is much broader and more far-reaching than the mere arrangement of tours for speakers. It should consist of investigation and education among women and children, particularly those in the ranks in or out of labor unions and to the publications of books, pamphlets and leaflets, especially adapted to this field of activity.
"To plan such activity requires experience that comes from direct contact with and absorbing interest in the distinct feature of woman's economic and social conditions, and the problems arising therefrom.
"For this reason, the committee hereby requests this convention to take definite action on this hitherto neglected question. We ask that it make provision to assist the Socialist women of the party in explaining and stimulating the growing interest in Socialism among women, and to aid the women comrades in their efforts to bring the message of Socialism to the children of the proletariat we recommend the following:
"1st. That a special committee of five be elected to care for and manage the work of organization among women.
"2nd. That sufficient funds be supplied by the party to the committee to maintain a woman organizer constantly in the field as already voted.
"3rd. That this committee co-operate directly with the national headquarters and be under the supervision of the national party.
"4th. That this committee be elected by this national convention, its members to consist not necessarily of delegates to this convention.
"5th. That all other moneys needed to carry on the work of the woman's committee outside of the maintenance of the special organizer, be raised by the committee.
"6th. That during the campaign of 1908 the woman appointed as organizer be employed in states now possessing the franchise.
MILA TUPPER MAYNARD,
WINNIE E. BRANSTETTER,
JOSEPHINE R. COLE,
GERTRUDE BRESLAU HUNT,
DEL. GROESBECK (Wyo.): As the representative of a jurisdiction both territorial and state, that has recognized women for thirty-eight years, the state of Wyoming, where woman suffrage is an accomplished fact and recognized by all parties, I take pleasure, as one of the delegates coming from that state, the pioneer state of woman suffrage, in moving the adoption of the report of this committee. (Seconded.)
DEL. MAYNARD: You anticipated my statement that one member of the committee desires to make a minority report, Comrade Payne of Texas.
DEL. LAURA B. PAYNE (Tex.): Comrades, a committee was appointed to ascertain what relation the women bear to the Socialist movement. That was the way the question was stated here, and that was the idea I had of it; and I was surprised that they brought up any such questions as are contained in the majority report, and I was surprised that they appointed me on the committee, for on the committee I seemed to be the only dissenting voice. I may be wrong, but I am going to read my minority report, with your consent, and you can do with it what you please. But I want to say to you now that I hope you will consider this thing clearly before you adopt the majority report, for it contains more disasters to our movement than you have imagined.
MINORITY REPORT OF WOMEN'S COMMITTEE
"The Socialist movement is the political expression of the working class regardless of sex, and its platform and program furnish ample apportunity for propaganda work both by and among men and women when we are ready to take advantage of it. The same blow necessary to strike the chains from the hands of the working man will also strike them from the hands of the working woman.
"Industrial development and the private ownership and control of the means production and distribution of wealth have forced women and children into the mills and factories, mines, workshops and fields along with the men, dependent for job and wage on the master class. Into that mart of trade they go to sell their labor power, and when for no reason whatever they cannot find a market for it, they must seek other means of support. Driven to the last resort, men often become criminals or vagabonds, while women, for food, clothing and shelter, sell themselves and go to recruit the ranks of the fallen.
"Whether it be economic slavery to this extent -- or whether it be within the bounds of the possibility of an honorable life -- the cause is the same, namely, the private ownership of the means by which they must live.
"It is contended by some that women because of their disfranchisement and because of their economic dependence on men, bear a different relationship to the Socialist movement from that of the men. That is not so. The economic dependence of our men, women and children - whether to a greater or less extent -- can be traced to the same cause, which Socialism will alone remove."
DEL. PAYNE (pausing in the reading): Now, I wish to say right here, because of what was said by our comrade in moving the adoption of the majority report, it was explained here that we would not raise the question of woman suffrage, but that question was raised all along in the discussions in our committee: and in my report, which I think is the correct report regarding the question up for discussion. I think that that comes in and you cannot discuss this question without it. As the women are discussing it everywhere, I think since we have brought it upon the floor of this convention the best thing to do is to get a correct understanding of it now, and that is the point we don't want to leave out.
(The reading of the report was resumed.)
"In regard to the ballot in some of our states the men are disfranchised, or practically so, by property qualifications and other requirements for voting, and it seems to this committee that you would just as well waste time in trying to regulate those things as in waging a special suffrage campaign for women at this time."
DEL. PAYNE: That discussion came up in committee while we were discussing these things.
"There is one thing and one thing only that will remove these evils and that is Socialism, and the nearest way to it is to concentrate all our efforts -- men and women working together side by side in the different states and locals, with an eye single to the main issue, The Class Struggle.
"Therefore, my comrades of this convention, I respectfully submit the following resolution:
"Resolved, That there be a special effort on the part of the speakers and organizers in the Socialist party of America to interest the women and induce them to work in the locals of the respective states, side by side with the men as provided in our platform, and constitution, and, be it further,
"Resolved, That great care shall be taken not to discriminate between men and women or take any steps which would result in a waste of energy and perhaps in a separate woman's movement.
"LAURA B. PAYNE"
DEL. BANDLOW (Ohio): I move the adoption of the minority report. (Seconded.)
DEL. KONIKOW (Mass.): For the majority report I would like you to give attention and understand this minority report in the right way. We divided the report into three parts. The first part was a general statement that the majority of the committee should accept a general statement about women taking some position in the party and that the economic condition of women will be solved only with the coming of Socialism. No one disputes that, and we accepted it fully.
The second part is a statement of great importance. It commits the party to an entirely new policy which really would demand a reconsideration of the statements and declaration of principles already adopted in our platform. The party has accepted in the general declaration of principles the following: "Unrestricted equal suffrage for men and women, and we pledge ourselves to engage in an active campaign in that direction." Now, the minority report opposes that statement; I do not know whether you realize it. The minority report really states that no special effort in the direction of woman suffrage should be taken at the present time. The minority report states that women cannot get the suffrage until Socialism will be a reality. Now, Comrade Payne takes the stand that there is no use for us Socialists to do anything in the direction of woman suffrage; that woman suffrage will only come with Socialism, and therefore that we should concentrate all our effort only upon the realization of Socialism and pay no attention at all to the demands of hundreds and hundreds of women to do something now if possible for us to get the suffrage. Now, comrades, I am afraid you may be caught by some general phrases in the minority report which are of no importance at all, because those general phrases cover our point. I want you to understand the real important point of the difference between Comrade Payne and us. It is, do we intend to do something for woman suffrage, or do we intend to wait until Socialism comes? If you accept the minority report, it means that we decide to do nothing at all for woman suffrage; that is, that we will wait till Socialism shall be realized. Now, I, in the name of hundreds and hundreds and thousands of women, protest against such a position for the Socialist party. If you want to get the women interested in the party you should do something for us today and give us a chance to work for woman suffrage, just as you decide to work for the suffrage of men now. Give all the same rights. I am afraid you do not understand the Payne minority report, and I ask Comrade Payne if I do not state everything right.
DEL. PAYNE: That is one of the main things.
DEL. KONIKOW: That is one of the main things. You see that the minority report means no woman suffrage until Socialism has come to be a real thing. If you assume to adopt the minority report with such things, adopt it, but you will not have the sympathy of the women workers with you.
The third part of it is that part in which Comrade Payne appeals that nothing should be done for woman, that woman is in the same condition as man, and that we should just do the same old way we have done until now, just go ahead in the same old way of neglecting the work until this time. I am afraid Comrade Bandlow, who moved to adopt the minority report, was confused by the phrases, because I cannot believe any comrade should not realize that it is time to do something for women, and inasmuch as we have appointed a committee on the Farmers' Program, and appointed a committee on the union question and committees on many other questions -- that it is at least time that we should pay enough attention to work among women to give them a chance to do something in that direction. Any one who listened to the report of the minority will understand that, for we thought it over carefully. We decided to have a committee of five under the direction of the National Committee. We ask you to have women on the committee, but I would be willing to have men on too, but we want on that committee only comrades who really have an interest in that work and will have some concern in that work, just as we have on other committees. When you selected the Farmers' Committee you wanted to select farmers. When you selected the Committee on Labor Organizations you selected a committee who were experienced and interested, and so we should have a committee of people who have had experience in the same line of work.
DEL. MAY WOOD SIMONS (Ill.): Eleven years ago, when I was new in the work in the Socialist movement and had had little experience, I might have taken the position that is taken by the minority report. Today, when I realize that the Socialist movement, if it is to amount to anything, must deal with conditions as they are today, I know that we cannot ignore the question of how to carry on the propaganda among women. (Applause.) If you will recall, our comrade across the ocean, Keir Hardie, when the proposition was put to him, made the statement that while Socialism came first for the working class, first for the men in the working class, that suffrage was an all important question for the women, and he threatened then to leave if the Socialist party did not endorse the suffrage for women. Now, your majority report simply asks that the question of suffrage for women shall be emphasized. It does not ask for any separate organization. If any one comes before this convention and says that the economic condition of men and women is identical, I must say that that person has had little experience in conditions as they actually are. (Applause.) Now, I ask you this afternoon to adopt the report of the majority of the committee.
You cannot ignore this question any longer, and I believe that if you go out of this convention hall having ignored it, you will have put yourselves on record as not having any appreciation for all the work that has been done across the water by our comrades in Europe. They are recognizing this. The women in Finland and the women in various other countries of Europe have received -- or rather those in Finland have received -- the ballot, and they are more efficient workers in the Socialist party than they were before.
Now, the only thing I want to say is that I believe women and the men who have formulated the majority report have seen years of experience in the Socialist movement, and they know that we must have a definite plan of propaganda among women.
A motion to lay the minority report on the table was made and lost.
DEL. FIELDMAN (N.Y.): I want to discuss the majority report. To begin with, I want to emphasize the statements made by Comrade Konikow and Comrade Simons, for we thoroughly agree with the preamble of the minority report. But I do not think it necessary for us to define the relation of men to women and of women to men. We believe that we understand that relation. We do not believe that the Socialist movement needs to waste its energy in order to define that relation. We understand that the only difference between men and women in America is that men have got votes and the women have not, and therefore it is necessary that we should make a special effort, particularly as a working class movement, as a Socialist movement -- we must make a special effort to secure the vote for women now under the capitalist system and the same rights that men now enjoy. (Applause.) Therefore, while we recognize the principles that are expressed in that minority report, we do not agree with the stand that the reporter of the minority report has taken. Let me show you the stand that the comrade has taken.
From the very first day, from the very first until the very last meeting of that committee, Comrade Payne did not make one motion; Comrade Payne did not submit a single motion; Comrade Payne did not amend a motion; Comrade Payne did not object to anything that we did the shape of constructive work. Comrade Payne simply said, "I am going to bring in a minority report;" it was a minority report, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. We have accepted the nomination on the committee in order to do the work of the committee, in order to bring in a constructive program to this convention and to the Socialist party of America. We did not accept, any of us outside of Comrade Payne, the nomination that was offered to us, in order to block the work that the committee was elected for the purpose of accomplishing. It was the business of Comrade Payne on that committee to advise that committee and assist in its work by her work and her vote, but all that Comrade Payne did was to say, "I shall bring in a minority report." Comrade Payne is a brilliant person, and --
DEL. MILLER (Colo.): A point of order. He is not discussing the minority report.
THE CHAIRMAN: Your point is well taken.
DEL. FIELDMAN: I agree that the chairman has ruled correctly, because the chairman did not understand the spirit in which I offered this criticism. There is no person in this convention that admires the brilliancy and the ability of Comrade Payne any more, perhaps not as much as I do. I am not saying this in order to attack Comrade Payne. My point is that our business was to do real work, and that is what the committee did. The committee recognizes the necessity of not only declaring for these things that we need, but of organizing so that the things that Comrade Payne stands for herself might be carried out. We know that because the Socialist movement, in addition to being a revolutionary movement, is first of all a political movement; that without being political it cannot carry out its revolutionary program; and because the women have no political and civic rights, therefore, the Socialist movement in America has elected women on the committee. That is why we have them, and we ask them that they shall not neglect the work that the men in the party have neglected. (Applause.)
Del. Payne took the floor.
DEL. GOEBEL: If you give her the last speech I move the previous question. (Carried.)
DEL. PAYNE: I want to say one word in starting. Comrade Fieldman says that when we met in our committee meeting, I was the dissenting voice in the report. I did not accept any part of it, and when he undertook to explain my reasons I forgot I was a woman and forgot everything else but one thing for which I am striving and for which we are all striving, and that is the emancipation of the working class.
I deny this everlasting nonsense about trying to organize the women in the Socialist movement. You seem to think, some of you, that the one who brought in the minority report has had no experience in the work. I dislike to refer to my own work, but for the last three years I have been constantly in the field. I do not speak only once or twice a week, but every night, and I speak to both men and women, and I have no time to do separate work for women, and I never say anything about it being a woman suffrage movement, nor do I want anything separate for women.
In regard to that committee that they have advised be appointed, we already have them because we have a National Committee and also a National Executive Committee[sic], and what is the use of any more committees? And as my Comrade Fieldman says, there is no difference in condition between men and women, I agree with him that there is not, and so what is the use of all this discussion?
I want to say this much on the subject of the woman suffrage movement. We have had a woman suffrage movement in this country for years, but we have not done much. In the states where they have woman suffrage they still have capitalism and they always will have capitalism. If we could have woman suffrage in this country I would be glad to get it. I wish women had the ballot, but since they haven't got it, by the time that we do get it with all the efforts we would make in a campaign for woman suffrage, the great system of capitalism which is already going to pieces and is falling by its own weight, would have been swept away. (Applause.)
DEL. JOSEPHINE R. COLE (Cal.): A point of order, that the comrade speaking is not talking on our report or presenting a proper minority report, but is talking on a plank in the platform already accepted by this convention, a plank in the platform which declares that we will take immediate steps to gain the suffrage for women. She is not presenting a proper minority report.
THE CHAIRMAN: I cannot see that that is a point of order.
DEL. PAYNE (resuming): I agree that if woman suffrage would do any good or avail under present conditions I would say, let us have it. But you know it would not do any good. It would do very little good under capitalism if we had it, and I know from every reasonable standpoint we would never get woman suffrage under capitalism. (Applause.) Sometimes I find where they understand just a little about Socialism, they talk about the Socialist suffrage movement. It always makes me sick. Sometimes when I go to cities to discuss Socialism I find the women gathering around in parlors and having these little pink teas. I believe in going among the ranks of the women workers anywhere and everywhere. I admire the Wisconsin people, for they have got grand leaders. They are educators. They distribute literature and educate the people, and that is the thing to do. If the Socialist movement is not to educate the people as to class consciousness, then what in the name of common sense is it for? Let us join the woman suffrage movement and whoop her up for a woman suffrage movement. (Applause.)
DEL. HANFORD: A question of information. I would like to inquire of the speaker who has just closed if it is not a fact that in every country on earth where the working man is disfranchised we have to make a struggle for the ballot?
A DELEGATE: A point of information. The working men are being disfranchised in this country. Let them make a struggle here.
The question was then put on the adoption of the minority report by show of hands, and resulted 35 for 70 against; so the minority report was rejected.
DEL. M'DEVITT: I move the previous question on the majority report. (Seconded. Carried.)
DEL. MAYNARD: I will not take your time in this convention, since it is rather late. It would seem from some of the discussion so far that some of you had no idea what you were doing. As a matter of fact, we have already settled, both by vote of the National Committee prior to the convention and by the action of the Platform Committee and in your convention by your adoption of its report, that the Socialists of America are committed to the enfranchisement of women in the same positive, unequivocal manner that the international movement is committed to the suffrage of all people. That much is settled. We do not intend to re-open the question. All that we have provided for is a means by which you can increase the propaganda of our principles among women; these principles to be both the political principles and the general principles of Socialism and the general matters of organization. It also provides that this be done by a committee, this committee to give attention to children the same as to women.
One word as to the principle involved. The question is, shall we devote ourselves to congratulating ourselves on how logical we are, how finely we can pronounce a priori statements of theory, no matter how they will work. If we can only prove ourselves logical Marxians, then practical programs may be ignored, and the enfranchisement of women will be as though it did not exist[sic], and then we may fold our hands as if we were in the library or the academy and be perfectly content. The position of this party at this convention, I am thankful to say, is that we are outlining a definite program. It is a program that you all know ought to be fulfilled, and the reason why we can hope to fulfill it as no other party can, is because our demand for all these things and our demand for the suffrage is backed up by a working class party that knows what it wants and has the power to enforce it.
All these matters that you call in a way opportunism are virtually practical ways of reaching our end. And they would be futile, they would be useless as we know only too well where reforms have proved to be utterly nothing and worse than nothing, were it not that they are backed by a revolutionary party that can enforce its demands by its whole organization, by the whole philosophy of a party that means victory in the end. We are not asking that the old theoretical arguments for suffrage shall go on interminably, but that by the power of the working class the great half of the working class shall be put on an equality in political power with their brothers. (Applause.)
The motion was then put on the adoption of the majority report, and it was adopted.
DEL. SLOBODIN (N.Y.): A word as to the question of the woman's committee. I move the following resolution: "Resolved, That the Woman's Committee report annually to and its members may be removed or vacancies filled by the National Committee." (Seconded. Carried)
The convention then elected the Woman's Committee as follows: May Wood Simons, Antoinette Konikow, Winnie E. Branstetter, Meta Stein and Marguerite Prevey.