Australians owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Vida Goldstein for her tireless work in improving the lot of women through universal suffrage. Not only did the group she led achieve universal suffrage in Australia–well before the better-known Emmeline Pankhurst did in the UK–but it opened the way for women to be elected to parliament. In this achievement, Australia led the New Zealand movement.
Although Vida Goldstein was belatedly honored by the naming of a Victorian seat of federal parliament in her name, to this day her whole-hearted commitment to world-leading socio-economic reform remains largely unacknowledged.
Goldstein’s primary goal was woman’s suffrage, of course. It is less well known that she also shared Henry George’s idea that land can never be ‘private property’. Land was humanity’s common inheritance.
The following article provides Vida Goldstein’s views on ‘Socialism’.
The West Australian, Friday May 25, 1906
Socialism from a woman’s point of view
Address by Miss Vida Goldstein
Miss Vida Goldstein, the Victorian lady-suffragist at present visiting this State, fulfilled her desire to address a Perth audience on “Socialism” last night in St. George’s Hall. The audience, which was a good one, mainly consisted of ladies but there was a goodly sprinkling of men. Mr. R.H. Hall, president of the A.N.A., occupied the chair.
Miss Goldstein said she felt particularly interested in so many women coming to hear what she termed “a fair and impartial consideration of socialism,” especially as in the Eastern States an attempt was being made to enlist the aid of women in the anti-socialistic movement.
No one could, with a mind above paltry and selfish consideration, be other than a supporter of the movement in favour of altering the present social system. She had seen herself too much misery to be other than a supporter of some alteration. Socialism was in ethics an economic problem. The system, as held by some in its application to marriage and religion, was apart. There were anti-socialists in those ranks as well. The simple fact was that the present social condition must be altered.
She briefly cited the views of writers and thinkers with respect to the misery that existed today. It did not follow that because most of her quotations were based on old-world conditions that they were applicable only to the old world. Some urged that the conditions were altogether different in Australia, where life was freer and wages better. But those who said this only looked at life from the attic window. Let them go and see the misery in Australia, and they would agree with her that a change was required even in this new world.
It was said Australia was a working paradise. Let them look at facts on pounds, shillings and pence lines and take a man with a wife and five children earning 37s. 6d. a week, which it was said was a living wage. A list of bare living expenses she had compiled showed that he would really require £2 18s. 6d., and at that he would have to be a non-smoker and non-drinker. In the absence of this wage he must always be in debt and want and become a burden to the State. That was how it worked out in New South Wales, and she did not think her case had been overstated. (Hear, hear!)
Socialists contended that this would be remedied if property and the means of production were divided amongst the people. It was said that, if so, equality would result whether men were workers or not. That was not so. Under the system he who would not work could not eat. Every care was being taken to develop scientifically the vegetable and animal life of the world. But man was a lawless part of the world, and the individualists had attained a position which had become intolerable in every country. Could anyone conceive of the God-made law of supply and demand shutting out millions of tons of food and clothing, from starving and shivering millions. The God-made law meant equal supply and equal demand. The world’s law was really the devil’s law. (Hear, hear!)
The working man had all down the ages, been taught to work in support of others. Now, as the result of legislation, he was a voter and a legislator in fact. Of course, those who disliked restriction upon capital objected to the reforms these legislators had introduced and carried into law. But the conditions of the people had demanded them. In America capitalists poured fortunes into their pockets from the efforts of little children seven and eight years of age. That was sufficient to condemn capitalism root and branch. (Applause.)
The socialistic efforts in Australia had to some extent obviated the existence here of the American crime. But she could give some heart-rending accounts of the existence of hundreds she had personally met in Victoria and New South Wales and to whom the few laws already passed did not apply. Adulteration, which was the result of competition, also condemned capitalism. Anti-socialists put adulteration down to the great demand of the people for cheaper goods. It was the dealer who created this taste, in his desire to compete, to the detriment of his fellow-dealer. And so the people, believing they were getting the same article, and being enticed to buy it at a cheaper rate than before, bought adulterated goods. Dishonesty was an essential part of present-day commercialism. (Hear, hear!)
Trusts were a form of co-operation for the benefit of the capitalist; socialism was a form of co-operation for the benefit of the worker. (A Male Voice: “Oh !”) Collectivism, she had no doubt, would come in the form of public ownership of utilities and then the bigger industries, and she believed land would be the first of the former. In this connection she was glad to see that in Western Australia they had made greater strides than had been the case in other States.
As things were, the landowner sat down and watched his labourers increasing the value of his property, and year by year he raised the rent. Railways came, and he raised the rent. Towns grew up around, and once more the rent went up. But still he sat down.
Anti-socialists had made an attempt, said Miss Goldstein, to hoodwink the women into joining their ranks by pointing to the abolition of the marriage tie and religion. Quotations had in support been taken from articles written in Victoria and Queensland socialist organs. By themselves they were blasphemous and scurrilous, but taken as a whole they simply preached against the growing “churchianity” of the Church. (Hear, hear!)
The ethics of Christianity and the ethics of socialism were the same. Socialism, in fact, had its foundation in the Sermon on the Mount. Then what about the sanctity of the home and the abolition of the marriage tie? What about it now, in a system which allowed a double standard of morality in men and women, and even encouraged it in the divorce court, which allowed it in the giving away of daughters to titled roues; which allowed ten people of different sexes to sleep in one room? Would they like to go back to the old conditions when a man could sell his wife? That had been changed. Then followed other conditions; but women were still always held in bondage. But, with still further economic changes, women had begun to win independence, but so far only a little independence. She thought nothing was more degrading than for a woman to have to marry for a home. Love should be the sole reason. (Applause.)
Surely, those with a brain to think, eyes to see, and a mind to reason must realise that the capitalist system must cease and a co-operative system prevail in its place. She urged all women not to take any notice of the old interpretation of natural laws that would be dangled before them. Let them read and look for themselves. She fully believed that socialism would be the next development in society. There would be failures, no doubt, but out of these a success would evolve. The final socialism must rest firmly on the principle of love of God and love of man. Everybody would have equal opportunities with everybody else, till the final consummation came—a grand brotherhood of man. (Applause.)
A discussion followed Miss Goldstein’s address.