Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gladstonian Ghosts - The Fetish of Free Trade

Let it not be supposed that I propose to argue the eternal Fiscal Question here. For the last twelve-month and more we have had quite enough flinging backward and forward of childish platitudes, scraps of obsolete economics, and masses of irrelevant and ill-digested figures by both parties to the controversy. You are quite safe from figure-shuffling as far as I am concerned, and you are equally safe from bodiless a priori economics. For me, indeed, the question is not one that can ever be decided on general principles.' To ask whether nations ought to adopt Protection is exactly like asking whether men ought to wear over-coats. Obviously in both instances the answer depends on a number of attendant facts not stated on the weather, the constitution of the men, and the thickness of the coats in the one case, on the character of the people, the distribution of their wealth, the state of their commerce, and the character of the proposed tariff in the other. Tell me that you wish in certain specified circumstances to impose protective duties on certain specified imports, and I am willing to examine the evidence and express an opinion. But so long as you put the issue as one of abstract principle, I must ask to be excused from indulging in what seems to me an utterly barren and profitless exercise in immaterial logic.

Of course, as I have already insisted, there is a sense in which every Socialist is of necessity a Protectionist and Preferentialist. As Mr. Bernard Shaw once expressed it, (I quote from memory) he believes that the highest wisdom of governments is to know "what to protect and what to prefer." For him the Utopia of "economic harmonies" is a foolish and mischievous dream. He knows that the commercial instinct unless subjected to energetic and un- sparing state supervision, is certain to become a cause of ruinous social disorder. His whole mind will be set to the task of regulating it, directing it, curbing its excesses, and protecting the public interest against it. In a word the advanced social reformer of the new school is necessarily an emphatic Protectionist, only differing from Mr. Chamberlain and his supporters in that he gives to the word "Protection" a wider scope and a fuller meaning than they.

Now it inevitably follows that there is not and cannot be any kind of objection from his point of view to a protective tariff on grounds of principle. The theoretic objection which used to be urged against such a tariff was founded on the assumption that Adam Smith, Bastiat and others had demonstrated the futility and peril of all legislative interference with commerce. Cobden put the whole case as he and his party saw it in one phrase of one of his ablest speeches, when he declared that you could not by legislation add anything to the wealth of a nation. That is a doctrine which no one (save perhaps Mr. Auberon Herbert) now holds; which no one who approves for instance of any kind of factory legislation can possibly hold. And that doctrine once fairly out of the way, the question becomes simply one of expediency and the balance of utilities.

But, when we come to the balancing, another point of divergence instantly arises. The Socialists' conception of utilities differs in essence from that of Free Traders and Protectionists alike. For Mr. Chamberlain, for Mr. Morley, for the Tariff Reform League and for the Cobden Club, the aim of commercial statesmanship is simply and solely to increase the aggregate commercial wealth of the country. But this is by no means what the Socialist is mainly concerned about. His object is not so much to increase the sum total of such wealth as to secure its better distribution and more socially profitable use. He sees that the economic struggle between nations is by comparison a matter of surface fluctuations, while the economic struggle between classes is an enduring and essential feature of our social system. And whether or no he likes the old Marxian phrase "Class War," he is bound to recognise the existence of a class antagonism cutting right across society as a fact without the understanding of which the structure of capitalist civilisation is unintelligible. This implies that the Socialist, whether he be a "Free Trader" or no, has to dismiss as untenable practically the whole of the old economic case for Free Trade. Adam Smith did doubtless prove that under a system of absolutely free exchange, every country would tend to engage in those trades which were (for the moment at any rate) most commercially profitable to it ; but he never proved or attempted to prove that these would be the trades which were most socially beneficent. It might, for example, happen that the White Lead trade proved the most commercially advantageous industry in which English- men could engage. But would any modern reformer say that in that case it would be well for us to abandon all our other industries and take to the manufacture of white lead with all its inevitable concomitants. It may be urged that such a case is not likely to occur. But cases differing from it only in degree may very well occur have indeed occurred already. Such a case is the decline of our agriculture and the consequent flooding of the towns with cheap unskilled labour; such also is the tendency already more than faintly visible for small trades, largely unskilled and often sweated, to supplant our staple industries. And these things, though they are the inevitable consequence of unrestricted competition and though Cobden would have regarded them with complete equanimity, are the very things against which social reformers have for years been fighting a long and apparently a hopeless battle. No Socialist can give them a moment's toleration. Whether Socialists will think Mr. Chamberlain's remedy adequate is another thing. For Mr. Chamberlain's point of view a purely commercial one is at bottom identical with that of his Cobdenite opponents.

And it is just this that makes mere statistics of trade and comparisons between imports and exports so barren and misleading. What we want to know is not how much tribute the capitalist gets out of our foreign trade, but what wages the labourer gets, what are the conditions under which he works, and what is the amount of employment available. Thus for instance foreign investments pay the capitalist as well as British investments and are accordingly highly esteemed by the Cobdenites as "invisible exports." But they are not equally satisfactory to the workman who loses his job and drifts into the ranks of the unemployed. From this point of view Protection if it kept capital in the country and even attracted foreign capital might be eminently beneficial to the workers, even though the aggregate of national wealth were thereby diminished.

Now we have reached two conclusions. Firstly that Socialists will approach the tariff question with an open mind; secondly that they will approach it mainly from the standpoint of its effect upon the social condition of the people and upon the distribution of wealth. That, I say, is what one would naturally expect Socialists to do. What the English Socialists and the leaders of organised labour in this country have actually done is to fling their Socialism and their "class-consciousness " to the winds, to stampede once more into the Liberal camp (as they did before over South African affairs), to sing pious hymns in honour of the memories of Bright and Cobden, oblivious of the former's opposition to factory legislation and the latter's freely expressed detestation of trade unionism, to trot out for the confusion of Mr. Chamberlain the very doctrines which Socialist economists have spent the last fifty years in riddling with destructive criticism, and generally to devote their energies to the hopeless task of strengthening the ruined fortifications which protect Liberalism from the attacks of the time-spirit.

When the Fiscal Question first began to agitate the minds of Englishmen the new-born Labour Party was in an unusually strong position. It was as yet uncommitted on the subject, and both sides would willingly have paid a high price for its support. Nothing strikes one more in Mr. Chamberlain's early speeches than his evident anxiety to gain at all costs the sympathy of Labour. And the Liberals were at that time equally anxious. Had the leaders of British Trade Unionism followed the excellent example set them by Mr. Redmond and the Irish Nationalists, had they held their hands and said frankly to both combatants " What social reforms will you give us as the price of our support ? " what unprecedented pressure might they not have been able to exert ! To Mr. Chamberlain they might quite fairly have said "You say that all is not well with British Trade": we agree with you, we have been saying so for years. But before we accept your proposed remedies we want reliable guarantees that the working classes shall not be the sufferers. Tack on to your programme a maximum price for bread (or some system of municipal bakeries which would achieve the same object) and a minimum wage for labour, and we will consider them." To the Liberals again they could have said "You tell us that Mr. Chamberlain's policy will not remedy the evils to which he rightly draws attention; granted, but what is your remedy? If we help you to resist these proposals what drastic measures are you ready to pro- pose for dealing with the unemployed and kindred problems?" Had they taken this line, they might have achieved much. But, having the game in their hands, the labour leaders deliberately threw all their cards away. Directly the question of fiscal reform was mooted, without waiting for any pledge from either party, they began to violently espouse one side and violently denounce the other. By this they fruitlessly abandoned their excellent strategic position. Mr. Chamberlain, seeing that he had nothing to hope from them, treated them as enemies and organised the Tariff Reform movement frankly as a purely capitalist affair, leaving Labour out of account in the formation of his celebrated Commission as completely as Cobden himself left it out of account in the formation of the Anti-Corn Law League. The Liberals on the other hand are not so foolish as to give pledges to those who do not ask for them, so that the opposition to Mr. Chamberlain is as completely capitalist- ridden as is his own propaganda. Thus, instead of standing to win either way, Labour now stands to lose either way. Should Mr. Chamberlain succeed, as he very well may, if not at this election at the one after it, his tariff will be framed by powerful organisations representing capital and finance, who will naturally follow their own pecuniary interests. Should the Opposition triumph they will come into power quite unpledged, save to Lord Rosebery's programme of "commercial repose" which is the newest name for our old friend "laissez faire." And we shall be unable to make use of the stir made by Mr. Chamberlain's agitation, as we might well have done had we acted wisely, in order to get measures which we really do want and which are in some sense of the nature of counter-remedies the nationalisation of railways, an imperial shipping fleet with preferential rates, and the re-organisation of our agriculture by state aid and state supervision.

But there are reasons other than tactical ones why Labour should have refused to adopt the Liberal attitude of non-possumus in regard to fiscal reform. Whether or no Mr. Chamberlain's tariff scheme would have been favourable to the interests of labour,* there are a great many proposals which are clearly and unmistakeably in its interests which are yet in their nature protectionist even in the narrow sense in which that word is ordinarily used.

*Lest I should be accused of "sitting on the fence" (a phrase much beloved by those who always want to have judgment first and evidence afterwards) I may as well state definitely that in my opinion a protective tariff, if framed by genuine reformers solely in the public interest, would be decidedly advantageous to Labour.

It is characteristic of the Liberal party that even when it has dropped accidentally across a right conclusion it invariably seizes with great eagerness upon the wrong reasons for supporting it. The most striking example of this is to be found in the case of Chinese Labour. For myself, I detest Chinese Labour, and am prepared to go, I fancy, a good deal further than the Liberal front bench in fighting it. But then I am a Protectionist; and I believe that a plentiful supply of cheap labour is the worst curse with which a nation can be visited. The Liberals and their Labour henchmen, precluded by reason of their Free Trade orthodoxies from taking up this sane and tenable position, have to devote their energies to denouncing the "slavery" involved in the conditions of the Ordinance. Now no Socialist can be expected to get very excited on this point. He hates slavery, but he recognises that in one form or another it is an inherent part of the capitalist system, and the difference between telling a man that he must work for his master or be imprisoned and telling him that he must work for his master or be starved, can hardly seem to him important enough to make all this fuss about. Moreover "forced labour" is implicit in the Socialist ideal, though most of us would prefer to begin by applying it to the Rand shareholders. As a matter of fact the conditions of the Ordinance are a mitigation of the evils resulting from Chinese Labour, not an aggravation of them. They serve to circumscribe to some extent the limits of the damage which the imported Chinaman can do. My objection to them is that I do not for one moment believe that they can be made effective. But the danger of denouncing the conditions of importation instead of denouncing the importation itself, is that one of these days our Hebrew masters will say to us: "Very well. You object to conditions; you shall have none. We will import Chinamen freely and without restriction, and they shall supplant white men, not in the mines only, but in every industry throughout South Africa. We shall reap still larger dividends, and the danger of a white proletariat will be still more remote. Now we hope you are satisfied." What will our Free Trade Labourites say then?

A less serious but more amusing example of the shifts to which trade union leaders are sometimes reduced in their efforts to reconcile the obvious interests of the workers with their holy and sacred "Free Trade Principles" was afforded by an episode which took place at the Leeds Trade Union Congress last year. It appears that in certain mines in these islands the capitalists have taken to employing foreign un- skilled labour. Their motives are doubtless the same as those of the Rand magnates, namely to bring down the price of labour all round by the competition of indigent Poles and Italians with the fairly well-paid workers of this country. It was a very natural thing for capitalists to do; it was an equally natural thing for workmen to resist. They are resisting and a resolution was proposed at the Congress condemning the employment of foreign unskilled labour in the mines. So far so good; but now comes the comedy of the situation. To exclude the foreigner as a foreigner is clearly protection of the most barefaced kind; and the proposal had to be recommended to a body which had just declared in favour of unmitigated Free Trade. Then some genius had an almost miraculous inspiration. It was suggested that the foreigner ought to be excluded, not because he was a foreigner, not even because his labour was cheap, but because he could not read the Home Office regulations which are hung up in the mines. The plea was eagerly clutched at, and seems to have been received with all solemnity. The correspondent of the Daily News who had at first regarded the resolution with natural suspicion felt all his scruples vanish, and actually hailed the declaration as proof of the unflinching Cobdenism of the workers. Now what I want to know is does anyone, does the Daily News correspondent himself really believe in the sincerity of this ridiculous excuse? Would the British miners have been satisfied if the regulations were printed in Polish or Italian? Or, supposing this to be impossible, would they be satisfied if the immigrants learnt enough English to read them? Of course they would not. The objection to foreign unskilled labour is a purely protectionist objection, as inconsistent with Free Trade as anything proposed by Mr. Chamberlain. I may add that it has my entire sympathy.

Very soon, much sooner I think than they suppose, the leaders of organised labour will be forced by the sheer pressure of events to throw "free trade principles " over-board and find another foundation for their economic faith. For buying in the cheapest market clearly implies buying labour in the cheapest market; and the capitalists will not be slow to grasp its consequencesat a time when the expansion of European civilisation is every day throwing new drafts of cheap labour on the market. Less developed races with a lower standard of life are exceedingly useful weapons to the hand of the capitalist eager to force down wages. Already the appearance of the Chinaman in South Africa is parallelled on the other side of the Atlantic by the employment of negro blacklegs to defeat the Colorado strikers. What has happened in Africa and America may happen is indeed beginning to happen here. Are the labour leaders prepared to go on defending Free Trade, if Free Trade should prove to mean the free importation of great masses of cheap blackleg labour from Poland, Italy and China? And, if they so far abandon Free Trade as to shut out such labour, what about the goods which it produces? Suppose the capitalist, forbidden to bring the Chinaman here, take to exploiting him in his own country, relying on our policy of free imports to secure the admission of his sweated goods. Will not the champions of labour begin to regard the question of free imports in a different light? The slope is steep and slippery and the end is Protection!

Yes the Labour party will have in the end to become protectionist. Already progressive municipalities do not buy in the cheapest market but in the best market, regard being had to the remote social consequences of the purchase. And since the home market is the only one where they can exercise any real or effective supervision over the conditions of production, we have the curious spectacle of local bodies with a big Liberal majority forced into what is in effect a policy of Protection by the protests of unimpeachable Free Trade Labourites such as Mr. Steadman. Of course the new Protectionism will not be that of Lord George Bentinck or even of Mr. Chamberlain. It will "protect" not the landlord or the capitalist but the labourer and if to this end import duties are found useful it will make no more fuss about imposing them than any other necessary piece of state intervention.

Gladstonian Ghosts - "Militarism and Aggression"

We are continually being told by Socialists of the hazier sort that Labour has no concern with the question of national defence. We have had recently a considerable ebulition of this particular form of imbecility provoked by the efforts of one who has always seemed to me quite the sanest and most far- sighted of English Socialists, Mr. Robert Blatchford, to draw general attention to the importance of the subject. Mr. Blatchford is in controversy very well able to take care of himself, and in this instance he has overwhelmed his critics with such a cannonade of satire, eloquence, indisputable logic and inspired common-sense that it would be quite impertinent of me to offer him my support. But the episode is so very typical of the ineffable silliness of "advanced" persons that I cannot pass it by without comment.

As to the contention so much favoured by those who have been assailing Mr. Blatchford's "militarism" that England is not worth defending and that a foreign invasion would be no evil to the bulk of the people, the position has been so thoroughly dismantled by "Nunquam's" heavy artillery that I need hardly trouble about it here. As Mr. Blatchford says, a few weeks of Prussian or Muscovite rule would probably be the best cure for reformers of this type. But the whole argument is on the face of it absurd. That your country is badly governed is an excellent reason for changing your present rulers. But it is no reason at all for welcoming (patriotism being for the moment set on one side) a cataclysm which would destroy good and bad alike the good more completely than the bad and would inevitably throw back all hope of reform for at least a century. As well might a man say that, since London was admittedly in many ways an ugly and horrible place, he proposed to vote for the abolition of the fire-brigade.

So also with the very popular platitude which asserts that a peaceful and unaggressive people need not fear attack, and that, if we refrain from injuring our neighbours they will refrain from injuring us, (unless presumably we happen to be North Sea fishermen). The obvious controversial retort is that the people who maintain this doctrine are for the most part the very same who a little while ago were never tired of maintaining that the Boers were peaceful and unaggressive and lamenting that in spite of this their country was attacked conquered and annexed by a powerful neighbour. Of course I do not accept this account of the Boers, whom indeed I respect far too much to accuse of Tolstoian proclivities. But the point is plainly unanswerable for those who do accept it. In any case the whole of the above lofty generalization is flatly contradicted by history and experience. Indeed, if the strong will not wantonly attack the weak, then is our preaching vain! Why are we Socialists? What is the good of Trade Unionism? The humane capitalists will not attack us if we remain "peaceful and unaggressive" Perhaps not. As Mr. Hyndman (I think) once said: One does not muzzle sheep! But, if there is anything which the whole history of human institutions proves, it is this, that the people that does not know how to defend its liberties will lose them, and that it is not the strong and aggressive nation but the weak and defenceless nation that has cause to dread aggression from its neighbours.

In a word the doctrine of non-resistance and its consequence, the abolition of armaments, is good Anarchism and may therefore in a sense be called good Liberalism. But Socialism it is not and cannot be.

There is however, a position sometimes maintained by controversialists rather saner than those dealt with above. It is suggested that, while it may be admitted that an army of some sort is necessary, there are plenty of people already concerned with the promotion of its efficiency, and that Socialists, having other and more important work to do, had much better leave the question alone, intervening only to restrain the militarists when their demands become excessive.

Now to this contention there are as it seems to me three complete answers. By far the most important objection to such a policy is that it would make it permanently impossible for us to gain the confidence of the electorate. The people of Great Britain (especially the working classes) will always demand as the first condition of supporting any government that it shall be able and willing to defend the country against foreign aggression. No party which was not thought to fulfill this condition would find it possible to achieve or retain administrative power. And those of us whose desire is not to sit in arm chairs and read Tolstoi and congratulate ourselves on the non-conformity of our consciences, but to get some sort of socialism put into bricks and mortar, must feel the urgent necessity of convincing the voters that we are trust- worthy in this respect.

Moreover if you leave the discussion of army reform to the representatives of the landed and capitalist classes, such reforms as we get will be carried out exclusively in the interests of those classes. At present our military and naval forces are officered and controlled by one class; they are an appendage of that class and will always, so long as this is so, be employed successfully to protect its interests. So long as the English people are asked to choose between such class army and the risk of a German invasion, they will choose the former, but it by no means follows that they would do so were a practicable alternative placed before them.

And this brings me to my third point. It so happens that for the purpose of formulating an alternative. Socialists are in an exceptionally favoured position. Our army has by common consent broken down. It is not even effective for the purposes for which the capitalist classes want it. It is not only, as foolish people suppose, the War Office that is decadent and inefficient; the army is decadent and inefficient. Our soldiers are perhaps the best raw material in the world, but the whole machinery of war and defence is eaten up by a corruption which is all the worse for being largely careless and unconscious The two worst enemies of the British Army are the power of money and the power of caste. These are our enemies also. We Socialists alone are in a position to see what is really wrong. Would it not be worth our while to bring our best brains to bear upon the subject and see whether our Socialism cannot provide us with a remedy.

In spite of the unfortunate prevalence of the sort of sentimentalism referred to above, there have always been in the socialist movement witnesses to the common-sense view of militarism. Here and there throughout this volume I have been obliged to criticize the attitude of the Social Democratic Federation; I therefore admit the more gladly that on this question that body has indubitably led the way. Its views are obtainable in the form of a remarkably able pamphlet* from the pen of Mr. Quelch, wherein the old Liberal Quakerism is thrown completely overboard and the institution of universal citizen service on something like the Swiss model put forward as the socialist solution of the problem of national defence. The Fabians followed in "Fabianism and the Empire," adopting a suggestion of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb's that the half-time age in factories and workshops should be raised to 21 and the time thus gained devoted to training in the use of modern weapons. Finally there is Mr. Robert Blatchford, whose plan is too elaborate to be detailed here I refer my readers to his articles in the Clarion during July, August and September last year and to his forth- coming book on the subject but whose cardinal demand is for an immense increase in the numbers and efficiency of the volunteers, who are to form a citizen force of almost national dimensions. Of course the Fabian programme and, I gather, Mr. Blatchford's also imply the existence of at any rate a small professional army in addition.

Now it seems to me that the one defect of the S.D.F. plan is that, if I understand Mr. Quelch's pamphlet rightly, it professes only to provide a militia for the defence of these islands. That is to say it does not provide for the defence of our possessions in different parts of the world nor for any aggressive movement against the territory of the power with which we chance to be at war; while even for purely defensive purposes it is open to the grave military objections which can always be urged against relying solely on irregular troops.

I have already discussed the question of Imperialism and I need not go into it again. But I suppose that all but the most fanatical Little-Englanders, whatever their views on expansion, would admit that it is both our right and our duty to assist in the protection of our fellow-citizens in other parts of the world against unprovoked attack. If, for example, Germany were to make a wanton attack on Australia, or Russia on India, or the United States on Canada, I suppose that every sensible Englishman would admit that we ought to come to the assistance of our fellow-countrymen. But in that case we shall want an army for foreign service as well as for home defence.

The other point needs rather more explanation because it is constantly misunderstood by people who will not try to comprehend the nature of war. Such persons are always confusing aggresssion in the political sense as the cause of war with aggression in the strategic sense as a method of conducting it. A war may be waged solely for defensive purposes, yet it may be the right course from a military point of view to take the offensive. France found this in the wars of the revolution; and Japan fighting (as I believe) for no other purpose than the protection of her own independence against the lies of Russian diplomacy and the brutalities of Russian power, has yet been obliged to conquer Korea, invade Manchuria, and lay siege to Port Arthur. Similarly we might easily find ourselves engaged in a purely defensive war with France or Germany, in which it might be still the only safe policy to raid the territory and seize the over-sea possessions and especially the coaling-stations of our enemies.

As a matter of fact the distinction so often made between offensive and defensive war is more theoretic than practical. It is seldom possible to say in the case of a modern war that either side is unmistakably attacking or defending. Which side was the aggressor in the Crimean or Franco-German wars? Are the Japs aggressors because it was they who actually declared war or are they only defending their country? The real question to be asked is not which side is the aggressor, but which nation is so situated that its triumph will be beneficial to mankind as a whole.

Lastly there are the serious disadvantages from a military standpoint of trusting to a citizen force alone. Experience seems to prove that such a force is suitable only to a certain kind of warfare. The example of the Boers to which Mr. Quelch appeals so confidently tells directly against him. The Boers doubtless did wonders in the way of guerrilla fighting and in the defence of strong positions, but they never followed up their successes effectively, and they had to waste a great deal of time, when time was of the utmost value to them, in sitting down before Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking when a professional army of the same size would have taken all three by assault.

It seems to me that we can get an excellent military policy for Socialists by a judicious combination of the three suggestions to which I have referred. Taking Mr. Webb's plan first, let us by all means by a modification of the Factory Acts (much needed for its own sake) train the whole youthful population in the use of modern weapons and not in the use of modern weapons alone but in the best physical exercises available and above all in discipline, endurance and the military virtues. Then, following Mr. Quelch and the S.D.F. we might keep them in training by periodic mobilizations on the Swiss pattern without subjecting them to long periods of barrack life. From the large citizen force so formed we ought to be able to pick by voluntary enlistment a professional army which need not be very large, but which should be well-paid, efficiently organised and prepared for any emergency. Another and larger professional army would be needed for the defence of distant dependencies such as India.

These forces must, of course, be constituted on a basis of equality of opportunity, efficiency and reliability and capacity to command being the only passports to promotion and no bar being placed between the most capable soldier, whatever his origin and the highest posts in the army. From the purely military point of view this would be an enormous improvement on the present system, It is worth noting that the two armies which, organised in an incredibly short space of time out of the rawest of materials, broke in pieces every force which could be put into the field against them, the army of Cromwell and the army of the First Republic, were alike based on the principle of the "career open to talent." So the policy which I suggest would, I sincerely believe, convert our impossible army into one of the best fighting machines in the world. Not only would the officers under such a system be more capable than some of the fashionable commanders, whose glorious defeats and magnificent surrenders we were all eulogising five years ago, but better chances and a higher rate of pay would attract to the ranks of the professional army the very best type of man for the purpose, which the present system can hardly be said to do.

Beyond this we want an effective General Staff and an Intelligence Department not only alert but strong enough to enforce its demands on the government, as well as a complete overhauling of our war-machine both on its civil and military side. But there is no space for details here ; Socialists could hardly do better than leave them to Mr. Blatchford to work out*

* There is one of Mr. Blatchford's proposals to which I feel the strongest possible objection; that is the suggestion that those who do not volunteer for his citizen force should pay extra taxation. This sounds fair enough, no doubt, but its effect would clearly be that the rich could escape service and the poor could not which is hardly a Socialist ideal. Surely 'it is sounder policy to make such citizen training as you give compulsory for all able-bodied citizens.

No one who thinks seriously of the consequences of such a policy can doubt that, if it could be carried out, it would effect a greater transference of real power to the democracy than any Reform Bill. The objection which most reformers instinctively feel to any proposal to increase military establishments rests, I fancy, at bottom on their sense that such establishments are organized by a class to protect its narrow class interests. So it is that British troops are found useful to British governments not only in Egypt and South Africa but also at Featherstone and Bethesda. With such a military organisation as I have suggested this menace would disappear. Nay, the weights would be transferred to the other scale. Nothing, I conceive, is so likely to put a little of the fear of God into the hearts of our Liberal and Conservative rulers as the knowledge that they have to deal with a democratic army and a democracy trained in arms. This, I know, will sound shockingly heterodox to idealistic persons who are fond of repeating (in defiance of universal human experience) the foolish maxim of John Bright, the Quaker apologist for plutocratic Anarchism, that "force is no remedy," and the equally unhistorical statement that "violence always injures the cause of those who use it." But practical men pay little attention to such talk, knowing that nothing helps a strike so much as a little timely rioting and that the most important reforms of the late century were only carried when it was known that the mob of the great towns was "up." As a matter of fact, force is the only remedy. If Socialism comes about, as I think it probably will in this country, in the constitutional Fabian way, this will only mean that the Socialists will themselves have captured the control of the army and the police and will then use them against the possessing classes, forcing them to disgorge at the bayonet's point. And, if it does not superficially wear this aspect, that will merely be because the latter, seeing how invincible is the physical force arrayed against them, may very likely surrender position after position at discretion until they find that they have no longer anything to defend.*

*Since these pages were sent to the press a striking confirmation of my view has been furnished by recent occurrences in Russia. There, it will be remembered, the populace (acting on strictly Tolstoian principles) marched unarmed to lay their grievances before their Sovereign. We all know what happened. They were shot down and cut to pieces by Cossacks. One hopes that the survivors will be less faithful to Count Tolstoi's gospel in the future, and will perhaps realise that "moral force" is an exceedingly poor protection against bullets and bayonets.

It may be remarked incidentally that social reform would receive a considerable impetus from such a policy.

Not only would periodic mobilizations take the workers for a time out of the foetid atmosphere of their slums and factories and perhaps make them less contented to return, but the heads of the army would themselves be compelled to become social reformers and insist on some decent minimum of housing and factory conditions in order to keep up the physical efficiency of the material of which they would have to make soldiers. Herr Molkenbuhr the German Social- Democrat pointed out to the Socialist Congress at Amsterdam this year that this had happened in Germany even under an undemocratic and often really oppressive form of conscription. An immense impetus given to housing and factory legislation would be among the by-products of Army Reform, if carried out on the right lines.

I have left myself no space here to deal adequately with the Navy. I will therefore pass it by here with the remark that an invincible navy is absolutely essential to the welfare of the workers of this country, whose food comes almost entirely from overseas, and that the navy has never been like the Army a menace to popular liberties. It is generally thought that our navy is in a much more efficient state than our army is known to be in ; but a thorough overhauling would do it no harm and might expose weaknesses which we do not suspect. At any rate any attempt to weaken our naval predominance should be resolutely opposed by all Socialists as by all sensible men.

Of course an effective army and navy will cost money. But the Socialist will be by no means so frightened of high estimates as the old Radical who regarded all taxation as being of the nature of a compromise with Satan. The Socialist knows that at least 600,000,000 a year goes at present into the pockets of landlords and capitalists and shareholders generally, and, until this is absorbed, the cry of "ruinous expenditure" cannot be expected to appall him.

Works Cited by Chesterton:

Social Democracy and the Armed Nation
Twentieth Century Press, 373 Clerkenwell Green,
E.C. id.

Fabianism and the Empire,
edited by Bernard Shaw, the Fabian Society, 3, Clements Inn, W.C. 3d.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gladstonian Ghosts - National Penrhynism

As I have already suggested the subservience of Socialists and Labourites to the traditions of Liberalism, so far from showing any signs of abating gets worse every day. It has been getting markedly worse since the beginning of the new century. It was the South African War more than anything else which captured the English Socialists and swept them into the most reactionary wing of the broken forces of Liberalism. Since then the Radicals have always been able by raising the cry of "No Imperialism!" to bend the Socialists to their will. Hence Mr. MacDonald's amazing indiscretion quoted in my last chapter.

I think it was Mr. Ben Tillet who alluded to the owner of the Bethesda Slate Quarries as "Kruger-Penrhyn."

I am not sure that Mr. Tillet or indeed anyone else realised the full accuracy of this description. For not only was there a very striking resemblance between the virtues and faults of Mr. Kruger and those of Lord Penrhyn but there was an even more remarkable analogy between the claims which the two men put forward and the arguments by which those claims were attacked and upheld.

The friends of the Welsh quarrymen said in effect to Lord Penrhyn: "You are conducting your business improperly; your narrow obstinacy is dangerous to the community and an obstacle to progress; your conduct towards your employees is unfair and oppressive. We demand that you either mend your ways or go." Similarly the British government said in effect to Mr. Kruger "You are conducting the government of your country badly; your narrow obstinacy is an obstacle to progress and is creating a situation dangerous to the peace of the world; your conduct towards your subjects is unfair and oppressive. We demand that you either mend your ways or go."

And the answer is in each case the same "Shall I not do what I will with my own?" "Are not the quarries mine?" asks Lord Penrhyn: "Is not the Transvaal ours?" demanded Mr. Kruger. "If my workmen do not like my management they can leave" said Lord Penrhyn; "If the Outlanders do not like my government they need not come," said Mr. Kruger.

Now, granting the premises of these two eminent men their conclusions certainly follow. Indeed the popular case against both was clearly untenable. From the Liberal point of view Lord Penrhyn was as right as Mr. Kruger ; from the Conservative point of view Mr. Kruger was as right as Lord Penrhyn. It is only by assailing the fundamental assumptions of both that we can make out any fair case against either. The only possible answer to the positions stated above is the Socialist answer: "No; the quarries do not really belong to Lord Penrhyn; the Transvaal does not really belong to Mr. Kruger or to the Boers. Their title depends on the use they make of them. Private property, whether of individuals or of nations is subject ultimately to the claims of public necessity."

I have dwelt on this point at some length because, as I have already said, it was unquestionably the South African War which more than anything else rivetted on our Socialist and Labour parties the chains of Liberalism. It is perfectly natural that Liberals should champion the " rights of nationalities,' since they are the chosen champions of the rights of property. But what have Socialists to do with either except to challenge them whenever they conflict with the general well-being? How can Socialists accept the claim of a handful of settlers to set up a ring-fence round a certain portion of the earth's surface and declare it their property any more than the claim of a landlord to enclose commons?

Note that I am not by any means saying that no Socialist could consistently oppose the South African War. There are many plausible grounds upon which he could oppose it. He could oppose it for example on the ground that the two Republics would in course of time have been peaceably absorbed into the Empire, and that the attempt to hurry the process by war was in every way a disastrous blunder. Or again he could take the ground that the war dangerously strengthened the already too powerful financial interests of the Rand and paved the way for such reactionary measures as the introduction of Chinese labour. I will not discuss here whether such arguments are sound or unsound. I only say that the particular ground of debate chosen, the inalienable "right" of a people to do what it likes with its own, is one that no Socialist can take without self-stultification.

The manner in which the leaders of the English Labour movement with a few exceptions flung themselves recklessly into the most unintelligent sort of pro-Krugerism is one example and one very disastrous in its consequences of the extent to which they have allowed themselves to be saturated with the Liberal theory of wholly irresponsible Nationalism. But it is by no means the only one. The parallel case of Ireland is in many ways even more curious.

In considering the eternal Irish question from a Socialist standpoint there are four dominant facts to be kept always in mind. The first is that Nationalism in the Irish sense is not a Socialist ideal in any sense, but is merely a kind of very narrow parochial Jingoism, The second that the Irish Nationalist party is preeminently a Parti bourgeois drawing its main strength from the middle orders small tradesmen, tenant farmers and publicans, and that its political and economic ideas are those generally characteristic of that class rigid individualism, peasant proprietorship and the like. The third that it is a clericalist Party, representing not the enlightened Catholicism of the Continent but the narrowest kind of political Ultramonanism* The fourth that Mr. Gladstone's adoption of the Home Rule cause was a deliberate move on his part intended to stave off economic reforms in this country.

*Note for example the action of the Irish Members in securing the exclusion of Convent Laundries from the operation of the Factory Acts action of which every enlightened Roman Catholic, to whom I have spoken of it, has expressed strong disapproval.

Now in these circumstances it would seem almost incredible that Socialists should feel any kind of sympathy with Irish Nationalism. Yet apparently they do feel such sympathy. Mr. Gladstone indeed builded better than he knew. He doubtless believed that by espousing Home Rule he could "dish" Mr. Chamberlain and draw the attention of young Liberals and Radicals away from social questions in which they were beginning to take a languid interest; but he could hardly have expected to effect this in the case of the Socialists and Labour leaders themselves. Yet to a great extent his policy has achieved this, and we actually find Socialists clamouring for the retention of Home Rule in the Liberal programme, though they must know perfectly well that its retention means the indefinite postponement of industrial matters.

There is no kind of excuse for the Nationalist partialities of Socialists because they know or ought to know that the theory that England oppresses Ireland is a radically false and untenable one. That Ireland is oppressed one need not deny; but it is not England that oppresses her. It is capitalism and landlordism that oppress Ireland as they oppress England. If the S.D.F. means anything at all by its "recognition of the Class War" it ought to recognise this. And recognising it, it ought to set its face like flint against a policy of disunion and racial antagonism and teach the proletarians of Ireland and England to "unite" (that is to be Unionists) according to the old Socialist formula instead of encouraging the proletarians of Ireland to regard those of England as aliens and tyrants.

To say the truth I am a little tired of the wrongs of Ireland. I am quite willing to admit that she is an "oppressed nationality" with the proviso that this phrase is equally applicable to England, France, Germany, Italy and the United States. But one is tempted to point out that concessions have been made to the Irish peasantry such as no one dreams of making to the workers of Great Britain. How much "fixity of tenure" has the English labourer in the wretched hole which his masters provide for him? Do we sign away millions of British money and British credit to save him from the oppression of his landlord? Not at all. But then he does not shoot from behind hedges; nor has he as yet had even the wisdom to organize a strong and independent political party whose support is to be obtained for value received.

In a word I contend that the association of English Socialism and Labourism with the aspirations of Irish Chauvinists is theoretically meaningless and practically suicidal. It is our business to meet the old Gladstonian cry that everything else must wait because "Ireland blocks the way" with a counter-cry, "It is Ireland's turn to wait; Labour blocks the way."

All this does not of course mean that no kind of devolution is practicable or desirable. There is a sense in which I am myself a convinced "Home Ruler." I believe that a number of causes (quite independent of Irish Jingoism) are combining to make a vast extension of our system of local government imperative. Mr. H. G. Wells has shown that the administrative areas of our local authorities are at present much too small, and the authorities themselves are quickly rinding this out from practical experience. Parliament is overwhelmed with business which intelligent local bodies could transact much better. Imperial Federation, when it comes, will of necessity entail a large measure of local autonomy. Altogether some scheme of provincial councils seems less fantastic to-day than it did when Mr. Chamberlain outlined it in the 'eighties. But there is no earthly reason for conceding to the least trustworthy and most militantly provincial part of the United Kingdom anything more than you give to the rest. Ireland should get such autonomy as we might give to the north of England and no more. Ireland is no more a Nation than Yorkshire, but there is every reason why both Ireland and Yorkshire should be taught to manage their purely internal affairs to the best of their ability.

But, if exclusive Nationalism is essentially unsocialistic, what are we to say of Imperialism? The answer is that there is nothing wrong with Imperialism except the name which suggests Louis Bonaparte and the dragooning of subject peoples. With the thing, in its British sense, Socialists have no kind of quarrel. Indeed if Socialists would only give up their vague invectives against " Empire," which lead in the long run to nothing more than the unmeaning backing of the effete anti-imperialist, anti-socialist, anti- Church-and-State Radicalism current fifty years ago, and seriously face the problems raised by British expansion from an unswervingly Socialist stand- point, we might get on a good deal faster. The problem of Imperialism (" Federationism " would be a better word) may be briefly stated thus : How can we consolidate the widely scattered and variegated dominions which fly the British flag into one vast Commonwealth of practically inter- national extent ? Have Socialists any answer to this question? Or are they to be content with the old Radical answer that this cannot or should not be done?

That any Socialist should return such answer is to me I confess astounding. To say that such a practically international commonwealth is impossible is to say that a fortiori the international commonwealth of which Marx and Lassalles dreamed is impossible. If the proletarians of England and Ireland, Australia and South Africa, India and Canada cannot unite, what hope is there that those of France and Germany, Russia and Japan will do so. Surely it is a curious way of showing your enthusiasm for the Federation of the World to break up all existing federations into smaller and smaller divisions The practical Socialist policy in relation to the Empire is clearly not to destroy it, but to socialize it that is to prevent its exploitation by capitalist cliques and financial conspiracies, to organise it in the interests of its inhabitants as a whole, and to use its power to check the evil force and cunning of cosmopolitan finance.

For indeed the dark of deeds such finance can only, as we Socialists believe, be checked by the political force of the community. And in order to check it at all effectively the community must be operative on a scale as large as its own. That is why the older Socialists were internationalists; that is why so many of the more thoughtful of modern Socialists are imperialists. Mr. Wells has pointed out at what a serious disadvantage municipalities find themselves in dealing with private monopolies since the latter can operate over any area that is convenient to them, while the operations of the former are confined within the narrow and arbitrary frontiers drawn by Acts of Parliament. Exactly the same is true in international affairs. Mr. Beit and Mr. Eckstein can safely snap their fingers at small nationalities, however progressive. Against a Socialistic British Empire they would be utterly powerless.

And as the organization of the Empire can be made the most powerful of Socialist weapons if we can once get control of it, so the popular sentiment of Imperialism can be used for the purposes of Socialist propaganda if we know how to turn it to account. For we Socialists alone possess the key to the problem the key for which non- socialist Imperialists are looking. It is to be noted that as soon as the ordinary Imperialist gets anywhere near the solution of an imperial question he gets unconsciously on to the Socialist track, as for instance in the growing demand for the imperialisation of our great carrying lines. Even Mr. Chamberlain's propaganda, though Socialists can- not think it sufficient, is a sort of groping after the socialist solution, an admission of the necessity of intervention by the united British Commonwealth to check and regulate the disintegrating anarchy of commercial competition. In fact our word to the stupid and thoughtless Imperialism of the streets is in reality the word of St. Paul to the Athenians: "What ye ignorantly worship that declare we unto you!"

The same general line of thought has its application to the problems of foreign policy. The old Cobdenite doctrine of non-intervention in the affairs of other nations had its origin in Cobden's general view of diplomacy as existing only to promote the interests of trade by which of course he meant the interests of the merchant, manufacturer and capitalist. That cannot possibly be our view. For Socialists to accept the Liberal doctrine of non-intervention would amount to a denial of that human solidarity of which they have always considered themselves the especial champions. In point of fact Palmerston is a much better model for Socialists in regard to continental affairs than Cobden or Bright or even Gladstone. For, though Gladstone was certainly not a non-interventionist, his anti-Turkish monomania made him blind to the evil power of Russia, whose existence is a standing menace to liberty and progress, and whose power and vast resources make her a more formidable enemy of all that we value than Turkey could ever be if she tried. Socialists should press not merely for the protection of our "proletarian" fishermen against the freaks of tipsy or panic-stricken Russian admirals, but for a steady policy of opposition to Russia all over the world and the support of any or every nation, Japs, Finns, Poles, Afghans and even the "unspeakable" Turk against her. During the perilous days through which we have recently passed, it must have occurred to many that our position would have been much stronger if we could have counted on the support of Turkey, as we could have done had we never abandoned, in deference to Mr. Gladstone's theological animosities, the policy of Palmerston and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe the policy of first reforming Turkish rule and then guaranteeing it against Muscovite aggression. The only difference between our policy and Palmerston's should be this, that while Palmerston confined himself to the encouragement of political liberty, we ought to aim at the promotion of economic liberty also. We should in fact try to put England at the head of the Labour interest throughout the world as Cromwell put her at the head of the Protestant interest, and Palmerston of the Liberal interest. And in doing this we should be prepared to make full use of those weapons which neither Cromwell nor Palmerston would ever have hesitated to employ.

Gladstonian Ghosts - "What Portion Have We In David?"

The ordinary man conceives of a Socialist as a kind of very extreme Liberal or Radical, a man who pushes Radical doctrines further than most Radicals dare push them. Indeed many Socialists conceive so of themselves. Yet it is obvious that, if there is any truth at all in what I have just written, this must be regarded as a complete misconception.

Socialism and Collectivism are names which we give to the extreme development of that tendency in political thought which has proved so fatal to Liberalism, which is indeed a reaction against Liberalism. Karl Marx himself, revolutionary though he was, admitted that the English Factory Acts were the first political expression of Socialism; we have already seen that they were the death warrant of consistent and philosophic Liberalism. Every piece of Socialistic legislation is in its nature anti-Liberal. There is no getting away from the truth of Herbert Spencer's taunt when he called Socialism "The New Toryism." Epigrammatically ex- pressed, that is an excellent and most complimentary description of it. Socialism is an attempt to adapt the old Tory conceptions of national unity, solidarity and order to new conditions. Our case against Toryism is that its economic and political synthesis is no longer possible for us. But we can have no kind of sympathy with Liberalism which is the negation of all synthesis, the proclamation of universal disruption.

It is therefore particularly disheartening to find that "Liberal principles" are apparently as sacrosanct in the eyes of many Socialists as in those of the Liberals themselves. That Socialists also denounce the idea of a State Church, that Socialists also rail at Imperialism and condemn " bloated armaments," that Socialists also proclaim the universal holiness and perfection of Free Trade this is the really extraordinary and disturbing fact.

This, though none seems to see it, is the real root of the difficulties which be- set every attempt to form an independent Socialist or Labour Party. You cannot have an independent party with any real backbone in it without independent thinking. And, omitting pious platitudes about " the socialization of all the means of production, distribution and exchange" there does not seem to me any perceptible difference between the way in which the Independent Labour Party (for example) thinks about current problems and the way in which the Liberals think about them. They may think differently about economic abstractions, but they do not think differently when it comes to practical politics. Consequently when- ever a question divides the Liberals and the Tories, the I.L.P. always dashes into the Liberal camp at the firing of the first shot without apparently waiting to consider for one moment whether perhaps Socialism may not have an answer of its own to give which will in the nature of things be neither the Liberal nor the Tory answer. And then the I.L.P. and their allies of the Labour Representation Committee boast proudly of their "independence" because they are not allowed to speak on Liberal plat- forms. Of what avail is that prohibition if the platform on which they themselves stand is in its essence a Liberal platform. A little while ago the leaders of the I.L.P. were extremely indignant because three L.R.C. representatives were said to have spoken at a by-election in support of Liberal candidates. The defence was that the three leaders in question spoke, not in support of the Liberal candidate, but in opposition to the Licensing Bill and other measures of the Conservative Government. Now it seems to me that this puts the whole question of Socialist and Labour independence in a nutshell. If Socialists and other champions of labour have really nothing to say on the Licensing Bill, Education, Tariff Reform, Chinese Labour and other topics of the hour other than what all the Liberals are saying it seems very difficult to understand why it is so very wicked of them to support Liberal candidates. If on every question which is really before the country they agree with the said Liberal candidates it would seem the obvious thing to do. At any rate I feel quite certain that they will go on doing it, directly or indirectly, in spite of all the waste paper pledges and resolutions in the world, until they get a political philosophy of their own, when they will realize that the Socialist (or if you prefer it the "Labour") view of the licensing question, the fiscal question and the South African labour question is and must be fundamentally different from the Liberal and Radical view.

And indeed for want of such realisation the rush of the Labour men into the Liberal camp becomes more headlong every day. It began with Radical Trade Unionists newly converted to the idea of independent labour re- presentation. But the Socialist wing has not shown itself a whit steadier in its allegiance to the doctrine of real independence. If you doubt this charge, turn to an article contributed by Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald to the Speaker on the subject of the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam. The Speaker if one of the ablest is one of the most thoroughly obscurantist of Liberal papers, holding fast and without shame by the traditions of Cobden and Gladstone. Mr. MacDonald has been in the past one of the most uncompromising of the leaders of the I.L.P. and is at this moment Secretary of the Labour Representation Committee. He seems to claim, in the passage I am going to quote, to speak for his party, and, as far as I am aware, none of the leaders of that party have ventured to repudiate him.

This is what he says: "If, for instance, in the next Liberal Cabinet the Rosebery faction were strongly represented, and if no satis- factory pledges were given upon the Government's intentions regarding Trade Union legislation, the Labour Party would be perfectly justified in supporting a vote of censure or what would amount to that on the first King's Speech; but on the other hand, if the Cabinet were anti- Imperialist, and were sound on Trade Union legislation, the Labour Party would be justified in giving it general support and in protecting it from defeat."

It is hardly necessary to point out that here Mr. MacDonald gives the whole I.L.P. case hopelessly away. None reading the above passage could suppose for a moment that it was written by a Socialist. Observe that the writer does not ask for a single item of socialist or semi-socialist legislation. He is silent about Old Age Pensions, about an Eight Hours Day or a Minimum Wage, about a Graduated Income Tax, about Housing or Factory legislation in a word about everything that could by any possibility be called Socialistic. For what does he ask? Firstly for anti-Imperialism? Now is anti-Imperialism the same as Socialism? Is there any reason for supposing that the anti-Imperialist wing of the Liberal party will do more for labour than the Imperialist wing? Is Sir Henry Camp- bell-Bannerman a Socialist or a Labourite? Is Mr. John Morley, who for years has absolutely blocked the way in regard to social reform, a Socialist or a Labourite? Why should the Labour Party support the hopelessly outmoded rump of Little- England Radicalism without at any rate making a very stringent bargain with them? As to trade union legislation, every Socialist would doubtless support it, but it is not in itself a Socialist measure; it is merely what everyone supposed that the Unions had obtained thirty years ago with the assent of Liberals and Tories alike. It therefore comes to this that Mr. Mac- Donald has declared himself as regards practical issues not a Socialist at all, but an anti-Imperialist Radical who is in favour of improving the legal position of trades unions. Then why, in the name of heaven form an independent party at all? He and those who follow him are clearly in their right place as an insignificant section of the Radical "tail." And that is how both Tories and Radicals will in future regard them.

But there is one Socialist sect in England from which we might at least expect freedom from Liberal tradition. The Social Democratic Federation is never tired of boasting of its independence, its "class-consciousness," its stern Marxian inflexibility of purpose. Yet, when it comes to practice, it is only a trifle less enslaved by Liberal ideas than the I.L.P. itself. During the South African War the S.D.F. went one better than the Liberals in its narrow pro-Boerism. Its members rallied to the support of the late Mr. Kruger (surely the strangest leader that Social Democracy ever boasted!) and backed up the Radical Krugerites without apparently asking any questions as to their policy on labour matters. Later, on the education question, they again rallied to the Radical standard (the standard of 1870!) and, like so many Liberal Nonconformists, broke into ecstatic worship of the "ad hoc" principle, denouncing as "undemocratic" the socialistic policy of municipalized education which the Tory government had borrowed from the Fabian Society. Moreover, glancing at the S.D.F. programme I find among the "palliatives" disestablishment of the church and abolition of hereditary monarchy. How the economic condition of the people is going to be "palliated" by these measures I do not profess to know; I will only remark that the " palliation " does not seem very visible in the United States at the present time. But what I want to insist upon is the utter futility of playing thus into the hands of the champions of capitalism by helping to impress workmen with the idea that their misfortunes are wholly or in part due to those purely constitutional causes concerning which Radicals and Conservatives are at war, while all the time we at least know that they are due to the economic structure of society which Radicals and Conservatives alike support.

I agree with the S.D.F. in thinking that a Labour party must have some sort of doctrinal basis. An old party can live for a long while on catchwords and prejudices, but you cannot build a new party up without some definite political ideas. But these doctrines and ideas must not be a mere re-hash of exploded Liberal doctrines and ideas plus a theoretic belief in "the socialization of all the means, etc." The new party need not call itself Socialist, perhaps had better not do so, but its attitude to- wards practical matters must be effectively socialistic. It must stand for the rights of the community as emphatically as the older Liberalism stood for the rights of the individual. It must work for the state control and regulation of industry as Liberalism worked for its liberation from state interference. In a word, it must be Protectionist in a more far-reaching sense than that in which the word is applicable to Mr. Chamberlain or Mr. Chaplin. So that its political philosophy will be emphatically anti- Liberal and may sometimes (though but accidentally) have to be pro-Tory.

Moreover, even if a Labour party could be a Labour party and nothing more, there would always be a tactical as well as a philosophic reason for clearing our movement of all complicity with the ideas of Liberalism. During the first half of the nineteenth century it was always supposed that the working classes of this country were generally, if not exclusively Radical. Possibly at that time they were, but since their enfranchisement in 1867 they have proved themselves overwhelmingly and unrepentantly Tory. The history of the decades which have intervened since then has been the history of the gradual capture by the Tories of all the great industrial districts where the working-class vote is most powerful. Politicians of the 'forties spoke of the "Conservative Working Man" as incredulously as men would speak of a white negro. Yet events have proved not only that such a person exists, but that he can by his vote control the politics of nearly every great manufacturing town in England.

Now the Conservative working man has no fundamental objection to Socialism. The word no doubt displeases him, partly because of its foreign origin partly from its vaguely revolutionary associations, but on the practical application of Socialism he looks with very decided favour. In fact it is not im- probable that the conversion of the labouring classes to Toryism was in part at least due to the fact that during the sixties and seventies the Tories had for a leader Mr. Disraeli, whose quick Hebraic imagination and insight made him perceive the significance of the social problem, while the Liberals were led by Mr. Gladstone, who regarded all social reform from the first with supreme indifference which in his later days deepened into a hostility so intense and deep-rooted that he was ready to shatter his party and his own career over Home Rule, if by so doing he could stave off economic questions. But to return to the Tory workman. I have said he has no objection to applied Socialism. It would be a comparatively easy matter to secure his support for a programme of advanced industrial re- form, were he not required to swallow first a number of Liberal doctrines which have no relation to his class interests and to which he really has a strong objection anti-Imperialism, the reduction of armaments, doctrinaire republicanism and Irish Home Rule. Once cut the Labour party free from these things and the increase of its electoral power will be enormous.

Before proceeding to a more detailed examination of the Liberal attitude towards current problems and its relation to the genuinely progressive attitude, let me sum up the conclusions already reached.

There is no philosophic ground for identifying Socialism with extreme Liberalism or Radicalism. The philosophies of Liberalism and Socialism are not merely different but directly antagonistic.

There is no historical ground for regarding the Liberal party as the friend of the working classes. The Liberal party is historically an essentially capitalist party; as a matter of fact the Tory party has carried more drastic and valuable social reforms than its rival.

There is no tactical advantage to be gained by committing the new-born Labour party to the specific doctrines of Liberalism. The working classes of this country have no enthusiasm forany of these doctrines and have a marked dislike for some of them.

Therefore the Labour party or Socialist party or whatever the new movement cares to call itself must if it is to succeed fling all its Liberal lumber overboard and start afresh. It is not enough that it should be independent of Liberal money and Liberal organisation. All this matters little. What is essential is that it should be independent of Liberal ideas.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Glastonian Ghosts - Liberalism and the Zeitgeist

It was the custom of Macaulay and other representative writers of the Dark Ages to speak of the mediaeval era in Europe as one of savage and unenlightened barbarism. There is something particularly amusing to the twentieth century observer in the patronizing tone adopted by men, who lived in what could hardly be called a community at all, in writing of the splendid civilization which flourished under Frederick II. and St. Louis. For it is becoming obvious to us all now that the great movement of the world from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century was not a movement towards civilization but a movement away from it. Civilization does not imply a collection of mechanical contrivances brought to a high state of perfection it may or may not possess such contrivances. But it does imply a Civitas, a commonwealth, a conscious organization of society for certain ends. This the age of St. Louis had, and the age of Cobden had not. The great movement which we roughly call "Liberalism" may therefore be very properly described as a reaction against civilization. I do not say it was wrong. Let none suppose that I have any share in the factitious dreams of the "Young England"enthusiasts or their con- temporary imitators. I know that Feudalism died in the fifteenth century of its own rottenness, and that its revival is as hopeless and undesirable as the revival of Druidism (much favoured I believe in some literary quarters just now) would be. I recognise that Liberalism in getting rid of its obsolete relics did good and necessary work and cleared the way for better. I merely state the case historically because it is impossible to understand the present position and prospects of Liberalism without realizing that Liberalism is in its essence destructive and in the strict sense of the word anti-social.

Look at the track of Liberalism across English history. It begins practically with the Reformation and the Great Pillage, wherein it showed its true character very vividly in the combination of a strictly individualistic religion with the conversion of communal property into private property for the benefit of the new "Reforming" oligarchs. Then it appears in the Civil War, which we are beginning to under- stand better than the Whig historians of the late century understood it. On its economic side Puritanism was the seventeenth century counterpart of Cobdenism a middle-class movement striking at once at the old aristocracy, whose lands it confiscated and divided, and at the proletariat, whom it robbed of what was left of their common heritage and to whom it denied their traditional holidays, avowedly on religious grounds but pratically in the interests of the employing class. One could continue the story further if it were necessary. But all that need be said is that in the middle of the nineteenth century we find Liberalism everywhere dominant and victorious with the result that Englishmen had practically ceased to form a community at all.

It is a common taunt in the mouths of Tariff Reformers just now that Cobden and Bright opposed the Factory Acts; and Liberals, driven into a corner on the subject, generally affect to regard this as an unfortunate and unaccountable lapse from grace on the part of the two Free Trade Apostles. Of course it was nothing of the sort: it was the only possible line for them to take as honest men and consistent political thinkers. The matter of the Factory Acts does not stand alone: state education, when first proposed was met with Radical opposition of a very similar kind. If anyone will look through the speeches of the opponents of the early Factory Bills he will find that they were attacked, just as the present government's Education Bill was attacked, not as revolutionary but as reactionary measures. They were constantly compared to the Sumptuary Laws and to the statutes regulating the position of apprentices which figure in mediaeval legislation. And the comparison is a perfectly fair one. Cobden and Bright were fundamentally right in their contention that Factory Acts were contrary to the first principles of Liberalism. Such acts were only passed, because the application of Liberal principles to the questions involved had resulted in a welter of brutality, child torture and racial deterioration, so horrible that no decently humane man, no reasonable enlightened citizen could think of Lancashire and its cotton trade without a shudder. When the Sovereign gave her assent to the first effective Factory Bill she passed a prophetic sentence of death on Liberalism and the Liberal Party.

Doubtless the execution of the sentence has been long deferred and may yet be deferred longer. But the backbone had been taken out of Liberalism as soon as that concession had been made. It could not claim any longer to have a coherent or intelligible political philosophy. For the arguments used by the Manchester School against import duties were precisely the same as those used against factory legislation. The two propositions were based upon the same axioms and postulates; if one was wrong, why not the other? And if the worship of "doing as one likes" were unsound in the region of economics what reason was there for supposing it to be sound in the region of politics?

If Free Contract were an untenable foundation for society, what became of Free Trade? And, if Free Trade were to go, might not the demand for a Free Church have to follow? The fortress of Liberalism still looked imposing enough, but the foundations were sapped and there were ominous cracks and fissures in the walls.

Indeed the passing of the great Factory Acts marks the turning of the tide. It was the public confession of the English nation that Cobden's and Bastiat's Utopia of 'economic harmonies ' was a foolish and impossible one, based on bad economics and worse history. It was the beginning of the reaction in favour of what I have called civilization, that is of the conscious and deliberate regulation and control of commerce in the public interest. Everything that has been done since in the way of industrial reform Housing Acts, Public Health Acts, compulsory and free education, municipal ownership and municipal trading has proceeded in this direction. We are working towards what Herbert Spencer called "The New Toryism," that is back to civilization.

It is no matter for surprise that most of the measures mentioned above have been the work of Tory governments. Doubtless the Tories are stupid and ineffectual enough, doubtless they are too much controlled by landed interests and capitalist rings, to deal with social evils very courageously. But at least they have this great advantage over their enemies, that they are not obliged to reconcile everything they do with the exploded economic dogmas of Benthamism, so that the insight and progressive instincts of their abler leaders have been able to force them farther along the path of progress than the sheer pressure of political necessity has been able to force the equally reluctant Liberals. So long as social reform remains a matter of pickings, we shall get the best pickings from the Tories.

But if, as I have suggested all meaning has long ago gone out of Liberalism, how does it come about that Liberalism insists on surviving? Are we not all expecting a big Liberal majority at the next General Election, and would not such a majority prove that Liberalism was very much alive? My answer is that it would not. Doubtless the Liberals will win at the polls next year; probably they will get a good majority. But this will prove nothing as to the spiritual vitality of the thing they represent. It will prove that the people of this country are annoyed with the present government and want a change. It will not prove that they are in any real sense of the word Liberals; still less that Liberalism has anything vital or valuable to say in relation to current problems.

The fact is that a party which has parted with its convictions may continue to exist for a long time by living on its prejudices. This is the ordinary history of movements, whether political, social or religious, during the period of their decadence, and it is briefly the history of Liberalism during the last fifty years. The Factory Acts, by their obvious necessity and their equally obvious indefensibility from the Liberal stand- point, knocked the bottom out of Liberalism and made a consistent Liberal philosophy impossible for the future. But only new and growing movements require a philosophy. When a movement has been going long enough to accumulate a fair number of catch-words and a collection of common likes and dislikes, it can make enormous use of these and even win great electoral triumphs on the strength of them long after they have become completely separated from the doctrines from which they originally sprang, and indeed long after these doctrines have become so obsolete as to be universally incredible. An almost exact parallel may be drawn between the recent history of Liberalism and the recent history of Nonconformity. English Nonconformity was founded on the doctrines of Calvin as English Liberalism was on those of Lock and Adam Smith. Where are the doctrines of Calvin now ? I do not suppose there is one chapel in London perhaps in England where the doctrine of Reprobation is taught in all its infamous completeness. The ordinary London Nonconformist minister at any rate is the mildest and vaguest of theologians, and talks like the member of an Ethical Society about little but "Truth and Righteousness." So far from preaching Calvinism with its iron and inflexible logic and its uncompromising cry of " Come out and be ye separate! " he is the first to tell you that the age of dogma is gone by and that modern religion must be " undenominational." Yet, in spite of the complete disappearance of its intellectual basis, Dissent remains powerful enough to thwart the execution of great reforms and wreck the careers of great statesmen. And if you ask what (if not a common theology) holds the Nonconformists together and makes. them so potent a force, the answer will be a common stock of prejudices a prejudice against Catholic ritual, a prejudice against horse-racing, a prejudice against established churches, a prejudice against public houses and music halls, a prejudice in favour of Sunday observance. All these (except in the case of church establishment where the prejudice is the result of a political accident erected into a religious dogma) are natural consequences of the Calvinist theology, but in that theology the modern Dissenter does not believe. Nevertheless, the foundation gone, the prejudice remains, and may be found strong enough among other things to destroy the value of one of the most beneficent reforms which the last thirty years have seen.

Now what has happened in the case of Nonconformity has happened also in the case of Liberalism. The philosophy of Bastiat has followed the philosophy of Calvin into the shades of incredibility. Yet the prejudices born of that philosophy remain and can still be played upon with considerable effect.

They may briefly be summarized as follows : A prejudice against peers (though not against capitalists), a prejudice against religious establishments, a prejudice against state interference with foreign trade (the case of home industry having been conceded), a prejudice against Imperialism, a prejudice against what is vaguely called "militarism" that is to say against provision for national defence. Add prejudices borrowed from the Nonconformists against publicans and priests and you have the sum total of modern Liberalism.

Now I regard all these prejudices as mere hindrances to progress. I wish to show in the pages which are to follow that they are not, as the enthusiastic Radical imagines, the very latest manifestations of " progressive thought," but that on the contrary they are the refuse of a dead epoch and an exploded theory of politics, that considered as a message for our age they are barren and impossible, that a party dominated by them is unfitted for public trust, and that, unless newer and more promising movements can emancipate themselves from their influence, they are likely to share the same ultimate fate.

Peel is said to have caught the Whigs bathing and stolen their clothes. But the present apparel of the Liberals is not such as to tempt any self-respecting party to theft.

Gladstonian Ghosts - Dedication

My dear Jepson,

If (with your permission) I dedicate this essay in political criticism to you, it is because I know that, though you parade it less, your interest in the science of politics is fully as keen as my own. In point of fact there is no- one whose judgment in these matters I would trust more readily than yours. You are a philosopher; and the philosopher's outlook in politics is always clear, practical and realistic as contrasted with the thoroughly romantic illusions of the typical party man. That, by the way, is why Mr. Balfour, the philosopher, has in the domain of parliamentary and electoral strategy hopelessly outwitted Mr. Chamberlain, the "man of business and busy man" to quote his own characteristically poetic phrase.

As a philosopher you are able to see what no "practical statesman" on either side of the House seems likely to perceive that social and economic politics are the only kind of politics that really matter, and that the "chicken- in- the-pot " ideal of Henri Quatre is after all the primary aim of all statesmanship. Three centuries of anarchic commercialism have left us a legacy of pauperism, disease, famine, physical degeneracy and spiritual demoralization, which in another century will infallibly destroy us altogether if we cannot in the mean time destroy them. And I think you share my impatience when our Radical friends insist on discussing Irish Home Rule, Church Disestablishment and the abolition of the House of Lords, as if such frivolities could really satisfy the human conscience faced with the appalling realities of the slums.

When therefore I speak of your interest in politics I am not thinking of that rather exciting parlour game which they play at Westminster during the spring months. In this you probably take less interest than I ; for I must confess (not altogether without shame) that the sporting aspect of politics has always fascinated me. You, on the other hand, have Bridge to amuse you; and, when you are brought to the bar of the Nonconformist Con- science on this count, you may fairly plead that any man who played Bridge with the peculiar mixture of ignorance, stupidity, criminal laziness and flagrant dishonesty with which the Front Benches play the game of politics, would infallibly be turned out of his club and probably cut by all his acquaintances.

It may seem surprising that, taking this view of contemporary party warfare, I should have troubled to write a book in criticism of it. To which I can only reply that the parliamentary bridge- players are unfortunately staking on their pastime not their own money but my country's interests; so that the incidents of the game become important despite the frivolity of the players, and it seems to me that we are on the eve of a turn of luck which may prove not only important but disastrous.

I suppose that we are not unlikely to have a General Election within the forthcoming year; and many indications appear to point to the probability of a sweeping Liberal victory. I want you to consider carefully what a Liberal victory means for us and for all serious reformers.

A Liberal victory means one of two things; either six years of government by the Whigs or six years of government by the Nonconformists. There is no third alternative, for neither the old destructive Free-thinking Radicalism of the late Charles Bradlaugh and the al- most extinct Secular Society, nor the new sentimental High Church Radicalism of my excellent friend C. F. G. Masterman and his associates of the Common- wealth has the slightest hold on any section of the electorate that counts politically. If you doubt this, it is because you did not follow Masterman's campaign at Dulwich as closely as I did. Vehement Catholic though he was, he was forced to accept all the political shibboleths of Nonconformity on pain of certain annihilation ; yet, even after he had gone to the very verge of what his conscience would permit to conciliate his sectarian masters, this did not save him from a crushing defeat. An excellent candidate, an eloquent and effective speaker with real civic enthusiasm, he met the same fate which overtook Bernard Shaw at St. Pancras, when he stood for the L.C.C. And that fate will continue to overtake all who rely on Radical support without first making their full submission political, theological and moral to the Vatican of Dissent.

The Radical wing of the Liberal Party has degenerated into a political committee of the Free Church Councils; even the Liberal League cannot get on without making some acknowledgement of Nonconformist authority. But the "Imperialist" section is of course less absolutely under the control of Salem Chapel than its rival; is it fundamentally any more progressive?

It is pathetic in the light of subsequent events to read again the admirable article (to which by the way I am indebted for the title of this book) contributed by Mr. Webb to the Nineteenth Century three years ago. Mr. Webb was so simple-minded as to suppose that Lord Rosebery's talk about "national efficiency" really meant something, and that "Liberal Imperialism" was a genuine attempt to form a party of progress free of Gladstonian tradition. Sancta simplicitas! We can see now clearly enough that the Liberal Imperialists were for the most part mere squeezable opportunists with all the effete prejudices of the Pro-Boers minus their sturdiness of conviction, men who wished to snatch a share in the popularity of the South African War, but had not the slightest intention of abandoning a single Mid-Victorian nostrum, which could still be used to catch a few votes. On the Education Bills, Tariff Reform and Licensing, they have Gladstonised, Miallised, Cobdenised and Wilfred- Lawsonised with the best. And now that the Fiscal Question seems likely to drive back into the ranks of the Liberal Right " such men as Lord Goschen and the Duke of Devonshire the very men who were frightened to death of Mr. Chamberlain's " Socialism " as far back as 1885 all hope of reform from that quarter is at an end. A " Liberal Imperialist " government means Lord Rosebery orating nobly about nothing in particular, Lord Goschen and the Duke of Devonshire acting up to their self-constituted function of " drags upon the wheel," and Sir Henry Fowler once more sitting heavily on all enlightened municipal enterprise in the interests of piratical monopolists. I see that the Whigs are already crying out for " Free Trade concentration," which will I imagine prove an excellent excuse for doing nothing for the next half decade. And yet, I fear, we shall have to accept the Whigs as the lesser of two evils. At least their offences will in the main be negative, while the victory of the Nonconformists means a period of legislation so disastrous that you and I and all advanced reformers will be obliged to cling to the House of Lords as our only bulwark against the appalling flood of reaction. For some time the Nonconformists have been clamouring for the repeal of the admirable Education Acts of 1902-3. They have now begun to clamour for the repeal of the Licensing Act as well. Now, quite apart from the merits of these measures, it is as clear as daylight that all progress will be impossible if every government devotes its time and energies to repealing the measures of its predecessor. This disastrous precedent will be but the first-fruit of a Dissent-driven ministry. Meanwhile our refreshments, our amusements, even our religious observances will be subjected to silly sectarian taboos. Social reform will be hopelessly neglected, while we may have to face a revival of the foolish agitation in favour of Church Disestablishment which even Mr. Chamberlain's marvelous genius for electioneering could not persuade the country to take very seriously in the eighties.

"The Whigs are a class with all the selfish prejudices and all the vices of a class ; the Radicals are a sect with all the grinding tyranny and all the debasing fanaticism of a sect." Those words are as true to-day as they were when Lord Randolph Churchill spoke them nearly twenty years ago. Indeed all that has happened since has tended to make the Whigs more selfishly "class-conscious" and the Radicals more debasingly sectarian.

It may be retorted that the Tories are no better equipped for the art of statesmanship. I assent; but I say that on the whole they are less positively dangerous. For one thing the very cloudiness of their political outlook renders them to a great extent amenable to skilful and systematic pressure from genuine reformers. It is often possible to get them to pass good measures without knowing it, as Mr. Webb and Mr. Morant are supposed to have induced them to pass an Education Bill which would have been rejected with unanimity by the Cabinet, the Conservative Party, the House of Lords and all three Houses of Convocation, had its real excellence been perceived by those bodies. Also the Tories have not always in their pockets that dilapidated bundle of red herrings (the Church, the Lords, etc), which the Radicals produce periodically whenever the electorate has to be deluded. But, when all has been said, it must be confessed that there is little to be hoped from the Tories just now. They had their chance in 1895, when they came into power on the cry of "Social Reform." Had they fulfilled their pledges then, we should never have had to face the terror of a Gladstonian resurrection. But they failed ; and the great Tory revival which Randolph Churchill inaugurated has ended in a pageant of fashionable incompetence above, and frivolous Jingoism (inexpressibly disquieting to serious Imperialists) below, the wires being pulled vigorously meanwhile by the unclean hands of Hebrew Finance a sight that would have made Churchill sick at heart.

There remains the Labour Party which I discuss fully elsewhere. Here I will only say that, while I believe that the only hope for England and the Empire is in Socialism, I confess that, if I am to trust to Socialists as I see them at present (outside our own Fabian Society) I feel the hope to be a slender one.

To conclude: if you and I vote (as I expect we shall) for Tory candidates at the next election, it will not be from any admiration for the present government, rather it will be from a very natural fear lest a worse thing befall us. I have written this book for the same reason; it may be taken among other things as a word of advise to my fellow- citizens to weigh carefully, before re- cording their verdict on their present rulers, the respective merits of the frying pan and the fire.

The warning, I think you at least will agree with me, is by no means superfluous.

Yours sincerely,