Sunday, July 13, 2008
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
Successive Reform Acts have so widened the basis of the franchise in this country that the working man has now the issue of the great majority of elections in his hands. By the working man I here mean the manual labourer who earns weekly wages; the definition is not scientific, but it is I think effectively descriptive. It is difficult to define a working man, but people know him when they see him, as Mr. Morley said of a Jingo. The manual labourer then is master of the situation; and it becomes a matter of primary importance for any party which wishes for a parliamentary majority to consider what manner of man he is, and what kind of policy is likely to receive his favour.
Now I have no sympathy at all with the contemptuous tone adopted by most Socialists towards the working man. This scorn of the average artisan or labourer may be regarded as the connecting bond between all schools of modern Socialism in this country, the one sentiment common to Mr. Hyndman and to Mr. Bernard Shaw. Were that scorn just, its expression would be imprudent; for John Smith of Oldham, however stupid he may be, is, as Mr. Blatchford has remarked "very numerous," and in a country ruled by the counting of heads it would be good policy to treat him with respect and good humour. But it is not just. As a matter of fact, the working man is by no means the slavish imbecile that some Socialists seem to think him. The fact that he has built up with iron resolution, in the face of stupendous difficulties, and at the cost of terrible sacrifices, the Trade Union system of this country perhaps the noblest monument of the great qualities of the British character that the century has seen might well protect him from the sarcasms of wealthy idealists. If he is not a Socialist, is that altogether his fault? Or is it by any chance partly ours?
The British workman is not, as I have said, by any means a fool. He does not enjoy being sweated; he is not in love with long hours and low wages; he does not clamour for bad housing or dear transit. On the contrary, when sufficiently skilled and educated to be capable of effective organisation, he is a keen trade unionist, ready to stand up promptly and with conspicuous success for the rights and interests of his class; and he has shown himself able and willing to support legislation for his own benefit and that of his fellows. The Socialists have in him excellent raw material of which a most effective fighting force could be made. How do they use him?
The first thing that a Socialist of the old school does, when brought face to face with a working class audience, is deliberately to insult it. I heard of one Socialist orator who began his address to an
I am aware that there has been of late in Socialist circles something of a reaction against this sort of thing, as also against the futile Marxian prophecies to the effect that "economic forces" would produce a "Crisis" which would have the effect of abolishing the capitalist system whether anyone wanted it abolished or no. But the reaction has taken an entirely wrong turn. It has resulted so far in nothing better than an outburst of, sheer sentimentalism as unacceptable to the hard conservative common-sense of the workers as the doctrinaire revolutionism that preceded it. The chief expression of this sentimentalism may be found in the repudiation of the Class War by the leaders of the I.L.P. and the substitution of vague talk about Universal Love and the Brotherhood of Man. Now here the I.L.P. leaders have got hold of quite the wrong end of the stick. The existence of the class war is a fact of common observation. A short walk down any street with your eyes open will show it to you. Indeed it is obvious that there is and must be a permanent antagonism between the buyers and sellers of labour or if our hyper-economic critics prefer it of "labour-power." And moreover this fact of the class war is a fact, which every workman (as also every capitalist) recognises in practice, if not in theory. All trade unionism is built upon his recognition of it; so is the demand for a labour party. The error of the S.D.F. did not lie here.
The Marxians were not wrong in saying that there was a class war; there is a class war. They were not wrong in saying that the worker ought to be educated in class-consciousness; they ought to be so educated for their class-consciousness is the best foundation for our propaganda. Where the Marxians were wrong in regard to the class war was in their tacit assumption that "class-consciousness" was identical with Socialism. It is not. Socialists and Trade Unionists are alike in their recognition of the class war, but they differ widely in their attitude to-wards it. The Socialist wishes so to organise society as to bring the Class War to an end; the Trade Unionist wants the war to go on, but he wants his own class to get better chances in it than they get at present. As regards practical matters the path of the two is for the present largely identical. Extended factory legislation, old age pensions, housing, the municipalisation of monopolies are desired by Socialists and Trade Unionists alike, though not entirely for the same reasons. Here and there, on Trade Union Law, on Compulsory Arbitration in industrial disputes, in some instances on Child Labour, the attitude of the two may appear different, but it only requires the better economic education of the unions to bring them into line with the Socialists on these points. Nevertheless, the distinction as well as the relation between the two must be kept constantly in mind, if the attitude of the typical manual worker towards Socialism is to be understood.
I confess that it strikes me as a little absurd that the very wing of the Socialist army which most enthusiastically defends the obviously sensible policy of forming an alliance with the Unions without asking its allies to swallow imposing Socialist formulae, should be the one to throw over the one effective link between Socialism and Trade Unionism, the recognition of the Class War. The result of this repudiation and of the high-sounding humanitarian rhetoric with which it is accompanied has been to hopelessly estrange the I.L.P. from the Trade Union movement, so that it is now hardly more influential in that direction than the S.D.F. itself. The I.L.P. does indeed to some degree enlarge its boundaries, but the type of man it now principally attracts is not the trade unionist or the labourer. The sort of person who finds the I.L.P. creed as mirrored in the utterance of Messrs. Keir Hardie and Bruce Glasier exactly to his taste is the wavering Nonconformist in process of ceasing to believe in God who is looking about for something "undenominational" to believe in. Universal Love, Brotherhood, Righteousness all that sort of thing suits him down to the ground. The phenomenon is no new one in history.
Just the same kind of sentiment underlays the political propaganda of Isaac Butt, of Vergniaud, of Sir Harry Vane. Its track is across history; its name is Girondism, and its end has always been futility and disaster. The pious Girondins were shocked at Danton's declaration "terror is the order of the day," just as the I.L.P. rhetoricians are shocked at the recognition of the Class War, because it contradicted their sentimental assumptions. But Terror was the order of the day, and it was only because Terror was the order of the day that
But, if the worker really does recognise the class war and if the path of Socialism is for the present along the lines of the class war, why does the worker distrust the Socialist? I have hinted at my answer in a previous chapter, but I will take the present opportunity of elaborating it a little. When Socialists of either of the above types leave German dialect and Girondin declamation, which he does not understand and come to practical business which he does, they give the working man very little that he values and much that is profoundly distasteful to him. When for example they touch on war and foreign politics they give him, under a veil of specious rhetoric which does not convince him, the general impression that they want to see
If all this anti-patriotic sentiment, which disgusts and repels the workers so much, were an essential part of Socialism we might have to accept our unpopularity as the inevitable penalty of our convictions and make the best of it. But, if I have not proved that it is nothing of the sort, this book has been written in vain. Anti-patriotism, anti-imperialism, anti-militarism, these are not Socialist doctrines but the faded relics of a particularly debased form of Liberalism. There is nothing in Socialism to prevent us from appealing to the passionate patriotism of the masses; there is much in it to give point to such an appeal.
The workman is a Tory by instinct and tradition. He is a Jingo a much healthier and more reputable Jingo than his brother of the stock-exchange, but still a Jingo in the most emphatic sense. I am moreover convinced that he is at heart a protectionist. He dislikes the idea of a tax on bread, especially as Mr. Chamberlain gives him no really convincing guarantee of better industrial conditions to follow; but I believe, and I note that I have the support of so irreproachable a Liberal and Free Trader as Mr. Brougham Villiers in this belief, that, if at any time during the last quarter of a century the protection of manufactures alone had been offered to the working classes, they would have accepted it with the utmost eagerness. It is noticeable that as soon as the workman goes to the Colonies he becomes an out and out Protectionist. This would hardly happen if he had imbibed the pure milk of Cobdenism with as much relish as the Liberals would have us believe.
Here then is your Tory Jingo Protectionist working man. What are you going to do with him? It is easy enough to abuse him, but he is your only possible electoral material, he is the man by whose vote you have got to establish Socialism if it is to be established at all. There are much fewer Liberals than Tories among the workers and such as there are will much less readily join you, for they represent generally the un- compromising individualist Radicalism which spread from the middle orders down through the upper ranks of the artizans during the dark days of Manchester ascendancy. It is from the Tory much more than from the Liberal worker that the Labour party gets its votes,* even now, while its still burdened with a dead weight of senseless Liberal traditions. How much greater would its expansive force become if once this burden was removed.
What deduction must we draw from these things? Surely this; that we must appeal to the working classes on a double programme of practical and immediate industrial reform at home and at the same time of imperial federation, a spirited foreign policy and adequate provision for national defence. I believe this experiment would succeed, at any rate it has never yet been effectively tried. When Mr. Bernard Shaw taunts the workers with their steady Tory voting, one feels disposed to ask him what he expects. Surely he would not have them vote Liberal? And if he replies that they should vote Socialist, one may throw down this direct challenge Would Mr. Shaw himself (the most brilliant, the most acute and the most sincere of English Socialists) vote for a good many of the Socialist and "Labour" candidates who have from time to time presented themselves before the British electorate? Would he not himself often prefer a Tory? But is there any reason to suppose that if a leader came to us with the specific talent and temperament of the demagogue (the value of which to a politician Mr. Shaw knows as well and regards as highly as I do) and made his appeal on the Fabian programme plus a vigorous and intelligent Imperialism, the people of England would refuse to return him? I think not.
If the Labour party could only be persuaded to make such an appeal it might yet redeem its mistakes and become a dominant force in politics. If not, if we go on as we have been going on in the past, if the S.D.F. goes on pelting the "class-conscious proletariat" with multi-syllabled German metaphysics, if the I.L.P. continues to give altruistic and humanitarian commonplaces to those who ask for bread, if some of the brilliant intellectuels, of middle class Socialism continue to treat the working classes as if they did not matter and could be trapped into Socialism against their will, if in a word we go on insulting and bewildering those whom we wish to convert, addressing them in all the unintelligible tongues of Babel and forcing down their throats doctrines which they detest, then we shall never lead the workers. And if we do not lead them someone else will. Yes someday we shall be faced in this country by the appearance of a man who understands the working classes and can make them follow him. All parties will look at him askance the Labour party most of all. He will be called "Jingo," "Reactionist," "Taker of Tory Gold," But he will have the people of
*A good illustration of this may be obtained by comparing the two by-elections which have taken place since the present parliament was elected, in North-East Lanarkshire. In both cases a typical orthodox Unionist and a typical orthodox Labourite were in the field. But the Liberal candidates were of a very different type in the two cases. In September 1901 (while the South African War was still in progress) the Liberal candidate was Mr. Cecil Harmsworth, of the "Daily Mail," an Imperialist of so pronounced a kind that all the organs of the Anti- Imperialist press and many of the Leaders of Anti-Imperialist Liberalism advised the electors to vote for the Labour candidate. This year on the other hand the Liberal candidate was a strictly orthodox Liberal who succeeded in uniting all sections of the party. I give the figures for both elections.
Sir W. Rattigan (U) 5673
Mr. C. Harmsworth (L) 4769
Mr. R. Smillie (Lab) 2900
Mr. Finlay (L) 5619
Mr. Touch (U) 4677
Mr. Robertson (Lab) 39&4
The noticeable thing about these figures is the enormous increase in the Labour poll. It may reasonably be supposed that the fulminations of a large section of representative Liberal opinion against Mr. Harmsworth produced some effect on the voting, and one may therefore take it that a fair number of electors, who voted for Mr. Smillie in 1901, voted for Mr. Finlay in 1904. Yet Mr. Robertson's gain is far greater than Mr. Finlay's. This can only mean that a large number of working men. who, in time of war voted for the Tory Imperialist candidate, voted for the Labour candidate in time of peace.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
In previous chapters I have generally begun by criticising the Liberal policy in relation to the matter to be discussed. It would seem natural in this chapter to deal with the Liberal policy in relation to social reform. But in that case the essay would be an exceedingly short one. There is no Liberal policy in relation to social reform.
The nearest thing to a least common denominator which I can find after searching diligently the speeches of the Liberal leaders and their backers is that most of them are in favour of doing something to the "land monopoly." Exactly what they propose to do to it I cannot quite discover. "Over-throwing the land monopoly" may mean Leasehold Enfranchisement; it may mean the Taxation of Land Values; it may mean Small Holdings, Free Sale or the Nationalisation of Land. The last suggestion may be dismissed; we are certainly no more likely to get that from the Liberals than from the Tories. Small Holdings are excellent things, but the principle has been conceded, and we are as likely to get a further extension of it from the Tories as from the Liberals, in any case this policy does not touch the essence of the social question. Leasehold Enfranchisement, Free Sale, etc., are sham reforms of middle-class origin of which we now hear little. There remains the Taxation of Land Values.
The Taxation of Land Values is very popular with the Liberals just now. Whether it would be equally popular with them were they in office is perhaps a matter for legitimate speculation. It will be remembered that it was part of their programme in 1892, and is to this day faintly discernable on the newly cleaned slate of the party. As however it is re-emerging into prominence it may be well to say something in reference to it.
A good deal of confusion is inevitable concerning this particular proposal, arising from the fact that it may be regarded in two entirely different lights. It may be considered simply as one way among many others of raising revenue to meet necessary public expenditure, or it may be regarded as a practical application of the economic doctrines associated with the name of Henry George, who taught that all revenue should be raised by a single tax (or more properly rent) on the site value of land. Now Georgian economics have made practically no headway in this country; their a priori logic their reliance on abstract assumptions rather than on history and practical experiment, their rigidity and inflexibility of application, are exasperating to a people naturally impatient of metaphysics but keenly alive to immediate social needs. People who begin their economic speculations, as the Georgites generally do, by discussing what are the natural rights of man and deducing from this an ideally perfect system of taxation and government put themselves out of court with practical men. There are no natural rights of man; there is no abstractly perfect economic of political system; we are painfully struggling by means of many experiments and many failures towards something like a decently workable one.
But, though Georgism is a horse so dead that to flog it would be profitless malignity, the taxation of land values, conceived not as the only means of raising revenue, but as an additional means of doing so, is very much in favour both with some of the leaders and with the whole rank and file of the Opposition. Nor is the reason far to seek. The misery and waste produced by our present social system are so patent and terrible that a vague feeling that "something must be done" has been spreading rapidly through all classes, and even Liberals have caught the infection. Most drastic reforms however are impossible for them because such reforms would clash with the interests of the capitalists and traders who form the backbone of the party. To them therefore the proposal to tax land values comes as a special inter- position of
I am for getting the last farthing of unearned increment wherever it can be got. But I can see no earthly reason for taxing unearned increment from land more than any other kind. What we really want is a heavily graduated income tax with a discrimination against unearned incomes. This would hit the landlord and the capitalist equally hard, and is therefore not likely to find favour with the Liberal party.
But even if the taxation of land values were as perfect a method of raising revenue for public purposes as its advocates assert, it would still be necessary to insist that no alteration in the incidence of taxation will ever solve the problem of poverty. Suppose that you have got every penny of unearned increment into the public treasury, the question then arises: What are you going to do with it? If you keep it locked up in a box, the last state of the people will be worse than the first. If it is to be of benefit to anybody this revenue must be used by the State as industrial capital. That is to say the socialisation of industry must go hand in hand with the reform of taxation.
Now what the Labour party really wants just now is two or three genuine installments of Socialism on which to concentrate its energies. A party without a programme is always an absurdity; a labour party without a programme is an absurdity passing the just limits of farce. It is futile to think that you can keep a party together much less build up a new one, with no common basis save the desire to amend trade union law, which appears to be the only demand on which the L.R.C. is united at present.
And the programme of the Labour party must, for reasons already cited, be a Socialist and not a Liberal programme. I do not mean that the whole party should call itself Socialist or should be committed to Socialism as that term is understood by the S.D.F. We have been surfeited in the past with abstract resolutions in favour of "the socialisation of all the means of production, distribution and exchange." But I do maintain that the programme must be collectivist in tendency and must have the organisation of industry by the state and the abolition of industrial parasitism as its ultimate goal. Also it must as far as possible appeal directly to the interests of the people for with all his great qualities the British workman is constitutionary defective in the capacity for seeing far before his nose, and will not readily grow enthusiastic about the soundest economic measure which does not obviously improve the position of his class. At the same time the labour party would do well to avoid too much narrowness of outlook, since there are, as we shall see, some measures which do not appear at first sight to benefit the worker directly, but which are indispensable conditions of his ultimate emancipation. Such measures should therefore be put along side of the more patently beneficial one and their connection with these as far as possible made plain to the electorate.
The greatest strides which applied Socialism has made during the last twenty years have been made in connection with the municipalities. The best proof that can be given of the immense and salutary growth of municipal activity in recent years is to be found in the angry panic which this growth has produced among the financial exploiters of public needs. The latter, having at their back boundless wealth and influence, a powerful and lavishly endowed organisation, a vast army of lecturers and pamphleteers, and the greatest and most weighty of British newspapers, opened a year or so ago a fierce campaign against what they called "Municipal Socialism." Never did so potent an army suffer so humiliating a reverse. On the progress of municipal trading the attack made no impression whatsoever. The public at large saw through the game and gave the public-spirited authorities their generous and energetic support. The municipal movement has received no check; it has gone on more triumphantly than ever. Energetic local bodies have pushed their activities further and taken the satisfaction of public needs more and more out of the hands of private speculators, vesting it in those of responsible public officials. But the opponents of municipalism are still active, clever and unscrupulous; and we cannot afford to leave the public interest at any disadvantage in dealing with them. It is unquestionably at such a disadvantage at present, partly on account of the inconveniently restricted boundaries of local areas, partly because of the anti-progressive bias of the Local Government Board, and partly because of the state of the law in regard to the powers of local authorities. The first point has been discussed so excellently by Mr. H. G. Wells and others that I need do no more than allude to it here; with the second I shall deal later. But the third is of special importance.
In the present state of the law a private individual or a collection of private individuals may do anything which the law does not expressly forbid; but a municipality or local body of any kind may only do what the law expressly permits. Thus for instance the London County Council has by law the power to run trams, but when it attempted to run an omnibus line to and from its tram terminus, the private omnibus companies successfully invoked the law against it. This is absurd; it is intolerable that a public authority should not be permitted to supply what its constituents definitely demand with- out going to a largely indifferent and largely hostile parliament for permission to do so. Broadly speaking County and Borough Councils at any rate should have power to do anything that the nation through the national legislature does not definitely prohibit. It would be well for the Labour party in Parliament to demand a free hand for progressive municipalities such as can only be secured by legislation on these lines. The Housing Question connects itself closely with this matter, for its only possible solution will be found to be along the lines of municipal activity. But, in addition to a free hand for municipalities to build houses when and where they like, it would be well to consider whether in the face of the present house famine it is wise to raise our local revenues by what is in effect a heavy tax on houses. The payment of say half the rates on well-built and sanitary working-class dwellings out of the proceeds of government grants would give a much needed impetus to both municipal and private enterprise in this direction.
Meanwhile the Labour men on municipal bodies should make the fullest use of such powers as they already possess and push forward vigorously with their campaign of municipal socialism in such a manner that the workman may perceive its direct benefits. His Housing should be visibly cheaper and better, his trams visibly quicker, less expensive and more comfortable, his gas and water supply visibly improved on account of their transfer to a public body. At the same time of course the labour employed by the municipality in conducting these industries should receive what we may call (to borrow a phrase from diplomacy) "most favoured employe" treatment. It may be remarked that it is not desirable that municipal undertakings should aim at large profits. Theoretically this is indefensible for it means that the consumer pays more than his fair share of the rates; practically it is undesirable, since it tends to obscure the real benefits of municipal enterprise.
In national affairs the progress of definite socialism cannot perhaps be so rapid. But the Labour party might well press for the nationalisation of mines, especially of coal fields (already demanded by the Trade Union Congress), the state regulation and ultimate nationalisation of railways, canals and other means of transit, and should insist on government departments doing their own work wherever possible and paying not less than the standard rate of wages.*
But legislation of this kind has only an indirect effect upon the real problem that confronts the people of this country, the people of all countries which have developed along the lines of industrial civilisation. With the appalling evidences of physical degeneration confronting us, we cannot, whether we are Socialists or Labourites or only decently humane and patriotic Englishmen, do without a social policy. In the last resort, all progress, all empire, all efficiency depends upon the kind of race we breed. If we are breeding the people badly neither the most perfect constitution nor the most skilful diplomacy will save us from shipwreck.
What are we to do with the great masses of unskilled, unorganised labour in our big towns? That is the question which intelligent thinkers are now asking themselves; and, as Carlyle said "
Well, the first thing we must do is to try to save the next generation if we cannot save this one. The child at any rate must be protected. One of the first and most urgent of the social re- forms needed is the feeding of children in public elementary schools. To teach unfed or underfed children is a sheer piece of profitless brutality. Compulsory and free feeding is as necessary to us as compulsory and free teaching more necessary in fact for more could in the long run be made of an ignorant people that was fit and healthy physically than of a race of white-faced cripples, whom society had crammed with book- learning to satisfy its theories as barbarously as it crams geese with food to satisfy its palate We are entitled therefore to demand the free feeding of all children attending Public Elementary Schools. Of course all sorts of less drastic proposals will be made proposals for feeding destitute children only, or for making a charge, or for recovering the cost of the meals from the parents. Some of these proposals will be better than others, and we must take the best we can get. But none of them will solve the problem. Nor will the problem be solved by any merely permissive legislation, giving local authorities the power to feed children without compelling them to use it. A local authority has no more right to underfeed its children than a parent has. All local authorities must be held responsible for the proper feeding of school children with their areas of administration, as they are already held responsible for their proper instruction.
At the same time another policy might be adopted the results of which would indirectly be of perhaps still greater value. I suggest that while these experiments are proceeding there should be a periodical physical examination of all the children in the elementary schools by duly authorised medical officers. This would be a good test of the success of the new feeding policy and might form the basis for an extension of the principle of grants in aid to encourage those municipalities which were most zealous in looking after the physical well-being of the children. But its usefulness would not end there; it would provide us with what we most want a really reliable collection of socialogical data upon which future reforms could be based.
But when the child leaves school the need of protection by no means ceases. Our factory code already recognises that the setting of children to hard commercial work before their minds and bodies have had time to develope is as wasteful (from a national point of view) as it is inhuman. But the application of the principle is still half-hearted. Children over eleven can in some parts of the Kingdom be employed in factories provided that they put in one school attendance per day; the age at which even this provision ceases to operate is fourteen, after which the children are held to become "young persons," and may work sixty hours or more per week. This is clearly very little security for the physical and moral development of the race. No child should, under any circumstances whatever, be allowed to work for wages until he or she is say fourteen. From fourteen to twenty the "half-time" arrangement might be made to apply, and, as has already been suggested, we could use the time so gained in order to give the young people effective technical, and, in their latter years, also military training, thereby immensely improving their physique and at the same time forming a national reserve of almost invincible strength.
But after all most social problems come back in the end to the wages problem. If the workers received better wages many of the questions which now perplex us would solve themselves. And here we are brought directly to what Mr. Sidney Webb has called "the policy of the National Minimum." The principle of the national minimum has been long ago embodied in legislation, and is in reality the root idea of factory acts, public health acts, restrictions on over-crowding and most other social reforms of the last century. But its possibilities are by no means exhausted. We must develop it further along the same lines until it gives us what we most want, a statutary minimum wage for labour. This has been partially established in a few of the most prosperous of our staple industries by the development of Trade Unionism. Its much needed application to the unskilled trades where the rankest sweating abounds can only be made possible by the exertion of state authority. To those who are soaked in the Liberal tradition of "free contract" of course the legal minimum wage will seem a piece of odious tyranny, but there is, as it seems to me, no essential difference between the fixing of maximum hours by law and the fixing of minimum wages. It is at least as important to the community that its citizens should not be underpaid as that they should not be overworked.
The Trade Unions to which we owe nearly all that betterment of the condition of the workers which Liberals absurdly attribute to Free Trade, cannot possibly be allowed to remain in the impossible position in which recent legal decisions have placed them. But that is no reason for agitating for what is called the status quo ante, which is neither practicable nor desirable. The sound demand is that the law should be made clear; that it should put single employees and combinations of workmen on an equal footing; that legal disabilities of Trade Unions should be removed; and that the liability of Trade Unions should be definitely confined to those authorised acts of its servants or agents for which a corporate body may fairly be held responsible. This on the face of it is reasonable, and should be applicable to employers' associations also, so that when the time comes for the enactment of a Compulsory Arbitration Law (as in
Then there is the perennial and apparently impenetrable problem of the Unemployed. This is one of the problems which in all probability cannot be finally solved except by a complete reorganization of society. But, wisely handled, it can be palliated and reduced to more manageable proportions. In discussing this question a distinction must always be made between the temporary unemployment to which all workmen are liable, and the permanent or chronic unemployment of the great masses of the unfit which our social system is always throwing off. These poor wretches are no more to be blamed for their idleness and worthlessness (from the social standpoint) than the rich shareholder is to be blamed for his. But their presence unquestionably complicates the problem and their treatment must inevitably be different. The first thing to do is to get at the facts. For this purpose there should be a Labour Bureau in connection with every considerable local authority which should keep a record of the state of the labour market from time to time. These bureaus should be in constant communication with a Department of Labour at
Less obvious but not less certain is the connection between all these problems and the decline of our agriculture. It is the decline of agriculture which has driven into the towns the masses of unskilled labour with which we have to deal. Indeed the Liberals foresaw and deliberately planned this, when, first by the Poor Law and afterwards by the Repeal of the Corn Laws, they drove labour off the land in order to obtain it cheaply in the great industrial centres. And that is how the situation has worked out, so that it is important, no less in the interest of the town proletariat than in that of the country, that we should re-organise the first and most necessary of our staple industries. The idea apparently entertained in some Liberal circles that this can be done by the taxation of land values is, as Mr. Brougham Villiers has pointed out in "The Opportunity of Liberalism" (not altogether I should suppose to the gratification of his Liberal friends), on the face of it absurd. The end at which we are aiming is not that the state should own the ground rents but that it should own the land and the capital used to develop it, and it is to- wards this end that our policy should be directed. To this end we want an energetic system of state aid to farmers such as that already inaugurated by Sir Horace Plunkett and others in
But there is one question to which Socialists ought to devote a great deal more attention than they show any signs of devoting at present. Lord Randolph Churchill, the ablest and most far-sighted of modern party leaders, saw its importance twenty years ago, and put it in the fore-front of his programme. That question is the reform of government departments. Until this is honestly faced and dealt with, the Individualist will always have a powerful controversial weapon against Socialist propaganda. When the Socialist demands that the state shall undertake more duties, his opponent has only to point to the duties it has already undertaken and ask if he wants any more duties performed like that! A national system of transit run as the War Office is run would hardly be an unqualified blessing and would probably produce a reaction of the most damaging kind. The only answer is to reform the government departments and make them workmanlike and efficient bodies. Until this is done we shall be checked at every point every time we want a measure involving state ownership carried. Moreover we shall find it impossible to give effect to our policy of state regulation. The War Office has on the whole been most unfairly treated in being gibbetted as the supreme type of red tape and inefficiency. In neither respect is it really worse than most other branches of our administration not so bad for example as the Local Government Board, which is so hopelessly understaffed and so miserably ineffective that it is obliged from mere instinct of self-preservation to oppose every forward movement in municipal politics lest it should be over- burdened still further. It matters little who is its representative in the Cabinet. It is the Board itself and not its President for the time being that obstructs progress. Yet an efficient Local Government Board, encouraging progressive local bodies and harrying up backward ones, is an essential part of the "national minimum" policy. From every point of view therefore it is essential that our departments of state should be put on a new and better footing. A businesslike Home Office and a businesslike Local Government Board would do more for social reform than many acts of Parliament.
* The Labour Party might also take up the question of the development of Crown Lands (especially those containing minerals), to which Mr. Sheridan Jones has lately been drawing public attention.
Who could have believed five years ago that we should ever have heard again, from any quarter more deserving of notice than the foolish and impotent Cobden Club, the almost forgotten cry of "Peace, Retrenchment and Reform" That it has become once more the rallying cry of the whole Liberal party is significant, as nothing else could be, of the extent to which that party has moved backwards during the last decade or so. So far from the Liberal party having been "permeated" with Socialism since 1885, everything that has happened since then has tended to weaken the progressive collectivist element in its ranks and to strengthen the reactionary individualist element. We bear nothing now of the well-meant if somewhat amateurish attempts at social reform which were popular with the followers of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain twenty years ago, nothing of "ransom" or of "three acres and a cow." As little do we hear or see of the Collectivist-Radical ideals of the early nineties, of which the Star and the old Daily Chronicle were once such vigorous exponents. Not only do the leaders of Liberalism care for none of these things, but those who professed such enthusiasm for them speak of them less and less. Mr. Massingham now-a-days appears to have eyes and ears for nothing but the diabolical wickedness of Imperialism. Dr. Clifford, once the rising hope of collectivist Dissent, is now too busy promoting sectarian anarchism to pay any perceptible attention to the "condition-of-the-people" question. It used at one time to be said that Mr. Gladstone's stupendous authority made it difficult for the party to become definitely Collectivist while he led it; but when he retired the new era was to begin. Well, Mr. Gladstone is dead; but where is the new era? Mr. Gladstone's place has been taken by men who have inherited all his obsolete prejudices only lacking his abilities; the "left wing" of the Liberal party on which so many hopes were built is weaker and less disposed to a forward movement than ever. The consequence is that since 1895 we have seen nothing but Ghosts ghosts of dead things which everyone thought to have been nicely nailed down and buried long ago. The South African War raised the ghost of
Since this dilapidated Manchester sign-post has now become the meeting point of all sections of the Liberal party, Radical and Whig, Imperialist and Little Englander, and since some of the leaders of Labour and even (strange to say) some of the Socialists are taking up their places in the shadow, it becomes imperative to ask what meaning exactly the words are intended to convey. With "Peace" I have dealt fully already, and have endeavoured to define the Socialist attitude towards it. But "Retrenchment and Reform" demand further examination.
No surer proof of the utter emptiness of what is called "Liberal Imperialism" can be advanced than the manner in which its leaders have joined in the demand for retrenchment. I can understand the position of those who manfully opposed the South African War; I can understand the position of those who manfully supported it. Both are honest and consistent and worthy of all respect. But surely there never was a meaner spectacle than this of eminent and influential politicians shouting vigorously with the Mafficking crowd while war is popular, and then, when the brief season of ultra-patriotic excitement is over, grumbling and whining when presented with the inevitable bill of costs. It is equally absurd and unworthy. If we want an Empire, if we want a strong foreign policy, if we want vigour and efficiency we must be prepared to pay for it. If we think the price too high, then, in heaven's name, let us be honest and admit that the Little Englanders were in the right all along. Do not let us court an easy but most contemptible popularity by swaggering as Imperialists, when what we really want is all the sweets of Empire but none of the burdens. That is what "Liberal Imperialism" seems to mean. Indeed Liberal Imperialism has proved nothing better than a fizzle. Three years ago we thought that there might be something in it. So far-sighted a reformer as Mr. Sidney Webb celebrated in a memorable magazine article "Lord Rosebery's Exodus from Houndsditch," expressing the hope then widely entertained that the Liberal Imperialist movement meant the final laying of Gladstonian Ghosts and the creation of a Progressive party alive to the needs of the new time. That hope is at an end. Lord Rosebery and his retainers have re-entered Hounds ditch with triumphal pomp and ceremony, and are now distinguishable from their frankly Gladstonian colleagues only by the greater fluidity of their convictions.
But expenditure on offensive and defensive armaments, though a most necessary item, is by no means the only item in our national accounts. We spend a great deal of money on education; we ought to spend more. We spend a great deal of money on Home Office matters factory inspectors and the like; again we ought to spend more. We want to spend money in a variety of other ways upon the improvement of the condition of the people. We want Old Age Pensions, we want free meals for school-children, we want some sort of provision for the unemployed, we want grants in aid of housing and other forms of local activity. How are we to get these things and yet retrench. Will not better education cost money? Will not more efficient factory inspection cost money? Will not Free Feeding cost money? Does not almost every kind of social reform mean increased expenditure? It is significant that the demand for "retrenchment," which is the Liberal cry in national affairs, is in local affairs the cry of the "Moderates," that is of the magnates and monopolists who wish to exploit the public. But Liberal or Moderate it is always a reactionary cry. If we are to do our duty by the people, we cannot retrench.
And indeed why should we want to retrench we I mean who profess ourselves Socialists? Our complaint is not that too much of the national revenue goes into the coffers of the state, but that too little finds its way thither. Too much of it goes to swell the incomes and maintain the status of a wealthy class of idle parasites. The more we can get hold of and use for public purposes the better. And the more we pile on taxation (always supposing we pile it on in the right place) the nearer we approach to the Socialist ideal. Retrenchment of public expenditure and the reduction of taxation to a minimum is essentially an individualist policy. The socialist policy is to pool the rents and profits of industry and devote the revenue so obtained to useful public work.
But, if retrenchment is an inadmissible policy for Socialists, what about reform? I can only say that I wish all such words as "reform," "progress," "advanced" etc. were at the bottom of the sea. They are mischievous because they lend colour to the vague idea which exists in the minds of so many "moderns" that if we keep on moving fast enough we are sure to be all right. It never seems to occur to people that something depends on the direction. What I want to know about a man is not whether he is "progressive" or "advanced" or "modern" or "a reformer," but whether he wants to do the same things that I want to do. If he wants to do the exact opposite the less "advanced" and "progressive" he is the better. When therefore amiably muddy-minded people talk about "Reform" all we have to ask them is, "What reform?" What did Cobden and Gladstone mean by "reform?" What do the present-day Liberals and Radicals mean by it? One thing is certain; neither has ever meant social reform the only kind that seems to me to matter; or, if the thought of social questions ever crossed their minds at all, at least neither has ever meant collectivist social reform the only kind that in my view can ever be effective. What the Liberals meant and mean, so far as they now mean anything at all, was and is political reform and political reform along certain defined lines.
The old Radical programme of political change is worn so threadbare that it is hardly worth discussing at this time of day. As however, in the general resurrection of Gladstonian Ghosts, which we are now witnessing, a very attentuated spectre of the Old Radical-Republican propaganda of the 'sixties seems disposed to put in an appearance, it may be worth while to say a word or two about it.
As to Republicanism itself it hardly demands attention in the twentieth century. No-one except Mr. John M. Robertson even professes to think it important. The S.D.F., it is true, still puts the abolition of monarchy in its programme of palliatives, but that I imagine is merely a comparatively harmless concession to revolutionary tradition. Doubtless hereditary monarchy is theoretically illogical; but the time has gone by when men deduced perfect theories of government a-priori from the Social Contract or the Natural Rights of Man. What we now ask concerning an institution is does it obstruct the execution of necessary reforms? Now no one can seriously maintain that the British Monarchy obstructs anything. The power of the Crown, such as it is, has, since the accession of the present Sovereign at any rate, been used almost entirely in the interests of genuine progress. Hereditary monarchy supplies us on the whole with a very convenient method of obtaining a representative of the nation who shall not, like a President, be the nominee of a political party. A great deal of national veneration and sentiment has grown up round the Throne, and it would be foolish to waste time in attacking an immensely popular institution which does no harm and has its decided advantages.
The old outcry against Royal Grants so dear to the heart of Mr. Henry Labouchere may be similarly dismissed. It was never likely to be popular with a people averse above all things to the suspicion of meanness ; and it has now become hopelessly obsolete, partly because of the general collapse of republican sentiment, and partly because people have begun to realise that it is a little ridiculous to get violently excited because the King is given a few thousands in return for certain services, some of which are decidedly important and all of which the nation really desires him to perform, while we allow landlords, capitalists and financiers to pocket many hundred times as much in return for no services whatsoever.
The question of the House of Lords appears at first sight a more serious one. But, when examined closely its importance is seen to be much exaggerated. In order to make out a case strong enough to induce us to turn aside from our more urgent tasks and spend weary years in agitating for the disestablishment of the Upper House, Radicals must show that the Lords are in the habit of rejecting measures of great intrinsic importance to the people at large and really demanded by them. Can they show this? I think not. The only measure of importance which the Lords have rejected during the last thirty years has been the Home Rule Bill, and a subsequent appeal to the people proved conclusively that the Lords were right in so rejecting it that the people of Great Britain were not as a whole really in favour of it, in fact that there was no such effective demand as there ought clearly to be before so great a change is made in the constitution of the realm. Even if the Radicals had the solid democracy at their back (as they certainly have not and are not in the least likely to have) it would still take some ten years to disestablish the Lords. On the other hand, if we have the democracy at our back in support of any particular reform that we want, it will not take much more than ten weeks to intimidate or circumvent them. The Lords are too acute and too careful of their own interests to resist for any length of time measures upon which Englishmen have once made up their minds firmly. As a matter of fact the objection to the House of Lords is not a reformer's objection but a Liberal partisan's objection. The existence of the Second Chamber, as at present constituted, undoubtedly hampers the Liberal party in its competition with the Tories, because the Tories can get more drastic measures of reform through the Upper House than they can. But with us to whom it is a matter of supreme indifference by which party reforms are carried this consideration need not weigh. It cannot of course be denied that the present constitution of the Upper House is a flagrant anachronism. The structure of our society is no longer feudal, and government by a hereditary territorial aristocracy is therefore out of date. Moreover there are practical disadvantages in the present system, since, though the Lords do not reject anything which the people really want, they do sometimes mutilate valuable measures in the interest of property owners. If therefore it be found possible without wasting too much valuable energy to introduce new elements into the composition of the Second Chamber, one would not refuse to consider the idea. This is in fact almost certain, to be done some day probably by the Tories anxious to strengthen the Upper House. The inclusion of elected representatives from the Colonies might be a very good way to begin.
With the Disestablishment of the Church the case is rather different. The abolition of hereditary aristocracy, though difficult and not particularly urgent, might be a good thing in itself. Church Disestablishment on the other hand would, I am convinced, be not only a waste of time and energy, but a most undesirable and retrograde step. Surely it is not for us Socialists to agitate for the desocialisation of national religion and for the transfer of what is now in effect national property to private and irresponsible hands. Moreover the denationalisation of the Church would be from a tactical point of view a most fatal step. I say this without reference to the question (upon which Socialists will hold all sorts of divergent opinions) of the truth of the doctrines of the Church of England or indeed of any form of Christianity or Theism. It has been often pointed out that the Church has shown itself more easily permeable by the Socialist movement than have any of the Dissenting bodies. Many reasons have been suggested to account for this, and no doubt there is an element of truth in all of them. Without doubt the Catholic and Sacramental system of theology blends more easily with Socialism than the Evangelical theology does. It is also unquestionably true that the feudal traditions which still linger in the
As to the elective franchise and kindred questions they can hardly be regarded as any longer pressing. It would be a good thing, I do not deny, if our conditions of registration were simplified, but that is not a question upon which the people feel or can be expected to feel very keenly. No class is now intentionally disfranchised, it is only a matter of individuals. In other words, though there are anomalies and inconveniences in our electoral system, there is no longer any specific grievance. Women might perhaps have a grievance if any large number of them demanded the right to vote, but until this is so politicians cannot be expected to pay much attention to the matter. There is a stronger case for redistribution, but this (owing to the gross over-representation of
The only political reform that seems at all worth fighting for is the payment of members. This is really desirable and important, and should be pushed to the front when political questions are under discussion. For not only would it open Parliament more freely to the representatives of the workers, but it would also make the position of an M.P., a more responsible one. A paid representative, it may reasonably be supposed, would take his profession more seriously, and would at the same time be looked after more sharply by his constituents. We have on the whole quite enough gentlemanly and well-meaning amateurs in politics to whom legislation is a harmless hobby, and who are readily enough outwitted and captured by the keen and energetic representatives of finance who do take their business seriously and mean to win. Therefore if we are to have any political changes at all let us go straight for payment of members.