Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

by law.

It would perhaps be more correct to say that theoretically women are an integral factor of the Social Democratic party, for practically their active importance has as yet been very little. This is, of course, largely owing to the restrictions imposed on them

If it is hard for middle-class women to find a legal means of carrying on agitation, it is doubly hard for the women of the proletariat. Magistrates and police are always combined to give unjust interpretations of the Coalition Law, where Social Democrats are concerned, and they are especially active in seizing every possible pretext for closing women's associations and meetings. In Berlin, for instance, a number of different associations having been dissolved one after the other, the women formed a small committee of five for purposes of agitation, hoping that a committee could not be interpreted as an association. But the police thought differently, and, after searching the houses of the members of the committee for compromising documents, they had them all brought up and fined in court last May for belonging to a political association. Even a children's Christmas party, only the other day, during the present very severe persecutions of Social Democrats, was forbidden because it was given by Social Democrats and might be considered a meeting of a political association. The agitation is therefore obliged to restrict itself now to the distribution of literature and to the organisation of public meetings. These must always be called by a single person; and the police, one or two of whom are always present on the platform, may limit the speeches and the discussions which follow according to their discretion. If anything is said which they consider illegal, they can, by standing up and putting on their helmets, dissolve the meeting.

But the law cannot be made altogether responsible for the small number of women who, as yet, take an active interest in the political and labour movements. In Hamburg, for instance, where the law is much less strict, though we do indeed find a certain number of women as members of the political associations, yet the number of those who take a part in public life is very small, and they do not form a centre, as would have been expected, of eager interest and agitation, and especially of Trade Unionism, which is particularly powerful in Hamburg. As a matter of fact, and as the numbers show, it seems almost impossible to rouse the women in Hamburg or in other parts of Germany to take a real interest in Trade Unionism. Only 5,251 women are members of Trade Unions, and these figures are very discouraging to the leaders who have been working since the early eighties to rouse the women of their class from the apathy bred of a feeling of helplessness. The leaders themselves are lamentably few, and most of them, being obliged to work long hours to support themselves, are not able to concentrate all their energies on agitation; and, though their personal character and hard-working enthusiasm cannot be too highly estimated, their lack of education hinders them from taking the large sympathetic view of the movement on which a leader's inspiration depends. It is a great pity that the idea of Klassenkampf, a principle held rigidly by every Social Democrat rather to the bewilderment of an English person, makes it impossible for them to work with the thoughtful earnest leaders of the middle-class woman's movement, many of whom would be only too glad to co-operate with the working women to bring about certain reforms desired by all women. For instance, there is at present under discussion before the Reichstag a draft for a new code of Civil Law for the Empire, which has been compiled by legal experts with a view to unifying the laws of the different states. In adopting that form most widely prevalent and involving the least alteration of existing conditions, they have not realised that reactionary laws are not in accordance with the modern spirit, and they have made the position of women in some points worse than hitherto, The women of the middle classes and the women of the proletariat have organised meetings of protest, and have sent in petition after petition, begging that the new laws might be drafted on new principles, but the lack of unity between them has deprived the movement of that strength which only absolutely solid organisation can give. Again, in the question of factory laws and factory inspection, the middle-class women, unlike the Liberal women of England, have done all that lay in their power to promote the extension of the factory acts, and to have women factory inspectors appointed. All Social Democrats are anxious to promote these laws, believing them to be necessary for the health and for the moral improvement of the working people, and their programme demands a maximum eight hours' day, prohibition of night-work, and of the employment of children under fourteen. And Social Democratic women, preferring the interests of labour to their own narrower interests, are willing therefore, though it may to some extent injure their unrestricted competition with men, that the laws should be made first for themselves, believing that in time they will be extended to men also. Their immediate wish is that the present maximum work-day of eleven hours for women should be reduced to ten, and that women should not be employed in trades injurious to their health ; already women are not allowed to work for four weeks after confinement, nor for the fifth and sixth weeks unless approved by a doctor. But even in the matter of these laws they are not willing to work with the middle-class women. They feel that, though they may both agitate for the same practical reforms in the laws regarding women, yet their own expectations are founded on changes which the middle-class women do not wish for, far more sweeping and fundamental than can be effected by any such surface alterations. They believe that there is and must be war between the classes of society, that their interests must for ever clash, and that the position of working women, as well as of working men, can only be radically improved when the private ownership of capital is abolished and the means of production are owned collectively.

[graphic]

It is very natural that the middle-class women, while sincerely wishing to improve the economic position of working women, cannot conscientiously agree with this revolutionary doctrine, or that, if able to accept it, they may dread the far-reaching consequences to themselves of joining the Social Democrats. By becoming Social Democrats they would lose their position in society, any situation or paid employment they might have, and, above all, their entire influence with the women of their own class. They would no longer be able to write for the papers of middle-class women, nor speak at their meetings, nor be members of their societies. They would be, in fact, déclassé, and obliged to associate only and entirely with Social Democrats. Το any English person, accustomed to meeting Socialists and even anarchists in the most commonplace and bourgeois drawing-rooms, such prejudice and persecution hardly seem possible. And yet they do exist, and necessarily exercise an intimidating influence on the bourgeoisie, though at the same time they are the means of drawing the Social Democrats closer together. But that the antiquated intolerance of German public opinion is responsible for such injustice does not make it any easier for the individual middle-class woman to take the only step that will span the bridge between herself and the women of the proletariat, and a belief that she can do more for these women by working and agitating through her own class can hardly be characterised as cowardice.

But the future of the woman movement in Germany undoubtedly lies with the Social Democratic party, the only strong political party in the world that demands the full equality of the sexes.

When the middle-class women make demands, they have no political party to represent them; when the working women wish to agitate for anything, they have forty-seven members of the Reichstag to push their claims. Led by Wilhelm Liebknecht—the friend and one of the earliest disciples of Karl Marx, who has lately, at the age of seventy, been most unjustly condemned to three months' imprisonment—and by August Bebel, the author of Woman, a book which has had enormous influence in Germany, and which has gone through twentyfive editions since its first publication in 1879, the Social Democratic party, though it has not yet attained any of those reforms at which it aims, will undoubtedly control the future developments of German Radicalism, and will never rest until it has secured for German women the most thorough and complete emancipation that they can possibly desire.

ALYS RUSSELL.

1896

ALVAR NUÑEZ

AFTER that God our Lord was pleased to take Alvar Nuñez Cabeça de Vaca out of captivity and from the hardships which he endured ten years in Florida, he came to these kingdoms (the Spains) in the year fifteen hundred and thirty-seven, where he remained till the year forty, in which year there came to this court of your Majesty (Madrid) people from the Rio de la Plata, to tell his Majesty of what had happened to the fleet which Don Pedro de Mendoza had sent, and in what straits the survivors were and to ask him to rescue them. This being known to his Majesty, he made an agreement with Alvar Nuñez to go and succour them.

A most gentlemanlike, Christian, and, above all, a most Castilian way to begin a book. Just sufficient references to his perils and sufferings to show that he was no mere courtier. Enough touch of faith to prove that he was grateful for his deliverance. Withal an air of conscious and dignified pride that he was what God had made him. Such a pride Cervantes exhibits in his noble introduction to the second part of Don Quixote when he says: “If my wounds do not shine in the eyes of those who see them, they are valued at least in the estimation of those who know where they were received (Lepanto); for a soldier looks better dead on the field of battle than safe in flight. Valdivia, Balboa, Ojeda, Pizarro, Cortés, and almost all the * conquistadores" displayed a similar noble self-consciousness. It seemed to sit upon them as easily and becomingly as their invariable black cloaks and doublets. Indeed, mankind is generally as tolerant of the personal pride of the man of action as it is intolerant of the conceit of intellectual superiority. Pride and conceit' are essentially

qualities; one is only a sort of foil to valour, the other à making plain of a weakness in ourselves, which not unnaturally does not appeal to our forgiveness.

Of all the conquistadores' of America, Alvar Nuñez and his rival, Domingo de Irala, were the only two who seemed to have realised that the Indians had any rights at all. Father Charlevoix, in his History of Paraguay, says that in his

three propositions were very generally discussed in

different

[ocr errors]

time (1756)

1 Some excellent men of business have never been able to distinguish between between 'pride' and conceit' is also inexplicable. wit' and 'humour;' and therefore to them it is not unlikely that the difference

reference to the Conquest of America. First, had Europeans any right to conquer America ? Secondly, if the conquest had been beneficial to Europe ? Lastly, if the conquest (except as regards religion) had been of advantage to the Americans themselves ? 2 As regards the first proposition, the general consensus of opinion appears to be that the inhabitants of Europe not only had, but still have, a right to conquer the inhabitants of any country whose arms are inferior to their own.

This I deduce from the fact that at the present moment, and for the last fifty years, a similar 'conquest' is taking place in South Africa to that which took place in America in the sixteenth century. The only difference appears to be that the modern conquest'is infinitely more sordid and even less justifiable than the conquest of America. In the one case a real and even lunatic fervour to extend the Catholic faith was observable in almost all the conquerors. Few will pretend that an earnest and overpowering desire to spread the principles of Wesleyanism, or primitive Methodism, has animated the 'conquerors' of the luckless South Africans. In both cases the desire for personal gain and the thirst for gold has been equal.

It may, however, be put down to the credit of the Spanish * conquistador' that, in order to enrich himself, he generally had to imperil his private fortune and to run incredible hardships; for, as civilisation was not then so far advanced, it was impossible to be, as at present, a vicarious conqueror,' and to spoil the Indians, safely ensconced within the Cadiz Stock Exchange.

Cortés was indeed as avaricious as he was religious and valiant, and though, like a certain conqueror' of South Africa, he had some tincture of letters— speaking in Latin [as Bernal Diaz del Castillo writes], answering those who spoke to him in that language, and even making verses '- yet he endured the defeat and perils of the Noche Triste, and the eventful march to Guatemala. Even the owner of the good horse 3 Motilla, Gonzalo de Sandoval—whose exploits aroused the curiosity of that Prince of Light Horsemen, the Emperor Charles the Fifth-never exposed his life more readily.

Alvar Nuñez was of illustrious birth; his father was 'that Pedro de Vera who won Canaria,' and his mother Doña Teresa Cabeça de Vaca, a noble lady of Jerez de la Frontera. According to the Spanish fashion, he used the name of both his parents.

Only Columbus and Bartolomé de las Casas are to be compared to him in his regard for and treatment of the Indians. Columbus, indeed, seems always to have endeavoured to protect the Indians, and

? Charlevoix, Histoire du Paraguay, vol. i. cap. i.

3 Bernal Diaz often mentions Motilla, and tells us he was the best horse both in Castille and Mexico. His colour was chestnut- chestnutted' (castaño acastañado) -with a white star on the forehead and one white foot; and he was the best bitted horse who 'passed to the Indies.'

« AnteriorContinua »