Fabian Essays in Socialism

Edited by: Shaw, George Bernard
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
H. G. Wilshire, American editor.
First Pub. Date
New York: The Humboldt Publishing Co.
Pub. Date
Collected essays, various authors. Includes "Industry under Socialism," by Annie Besant.
12 of 12

The Transition to Social Democracy
The Outlook

by Hubert Bland


MR. WEBB'S historical review brought us from the "break up of the old synthesis" (his own phrase), a social system founded on a basis of religion, a common belief in a divine order, to the point where perplexed politicians, recognizing the futility of the principle of Individualism to keep the industrial machine in working order, with "freedom of contract" upon their lips spent their nights in passing Factory Acts, and devoted their fiscal ingenuity to cutting slice after slice off incomes derived from rent and interest. His paper was an inductive demonstration of the failure of anarchy to meet the needs of real concrete men and women—a proof from history that the world moves from system, through disorder, back again to system.


Mr. Clarke showed us, also by the historic method, that given a few more years of economic progress on present lines, and we shall reach, via the Ring and the Trust, that period of "well defined confrontation of rich and poor" upon which German thought has settled as the brief stage of sociological evolution immediately preceding organic change.


The truth of this postulate of Teutonic philosophers and economists no one who has given to it a moment's serious thought is likely to call in question. Nor does anyone who has followed the argument developed in these lectures believe that the transition from mitigated individualism to full collectivity can be made until the capitalist system has worked itself out to its last logical expression. Till then, no political or social upheaval, however violent, nay, even though the "physical force revolutionists" should chase the Guards helter-skelter down Parliament Street and the Executive Committee of the Fabian Society hold its meetings in the Council Chamber of Windsor Castle, will be anything more than one of those "transient riots," spoken of by Mrs. Besant, which "merely upset thrones and behead monarchs."*53 All sociologists I think, all Socialists I am sure, are agreed that until the economic moment has arrived, although the hungry or the ignorant may kick up a dust in Whitechapel and make a bloody puddle in Trafalgar Square, the Social Revolution is impossible. But I, for my part, do not believe in the even temporary rout of the Household Brigade, nor indeed in any popular outbreak not easily suppressible by the Metropolitan police; and I shall waste no time in discussing that solution of the social problem of which more was heard in the salad days of the English Socialist movement—in its pre-Fabian era—than now, viz., physical force employed by a vigorous few. The physical force man, like the privileged Tory, has failed to take note of the flux of things, and to recognize the change brought about by the ballot. Under a lodger franchise the barricade is the last resort of a small and desperate minority, a frank confession of despair, a reduction to absurdity of the whole Socialist case. Revolutionary heroics, natural and unblameable enough in exuberant puerility, are imbecile babblement in muscular adolescence, and in manhood would be criminal folly.


Let us assume then that the present economic progress will continue on its present lines. That machinery will go on replacing hand labor; that the joint stock company will absorb the private firm, to be, in its turn, swallowed up in the Ring and the Trust. That thus the smaller producers and distributors will gradually, but at a constantly increasing pace, be squeezed out and reduced to the condition of employees of great industrial and trade corporations, managed by highly skilled captains of industry, in the interests of idle shareholders.


In a Parliamentarian State like ours, the economic cleavage, which divides the proprietors from the propertyless, ever growing wider and more clearly defined, must have its analogue in the world of politics. The revolution of the last century, which ended in the installation of the Grand Industry, was the last of the great unconscious world changes. It was helped by legislation of course; but the help was only of the negative and destructive sort. "Break our fetters and let us alone," was the cry of the revolutionists to Parliament. The law-makers, not knowing quite what they were doing, responded, and then blythely contracted debts, and voted money for commercial wars. Such a sight will never be seen again. The repeated extension of the suffrage has done more than make the industrial masses articulate, it has given them consciousness; and for the future the echo of the voices of those who suffer from economic changes will be heard clamoring for relief within the walls of St. Stephen's and the urban guildhalls.


Thus the coming struggle between "haves" and "have nots" will be a conflict of parties each perfectly conscious of what it is fighting about and fully alive to the life and death importance of the issues at stake.


I say "will be;" for one has only to read a few speeches of political leaders or attend a discussion at a workman's club to be convinced that at present it is only the keener and more alert minds on either side which are more than semi-conscious of the true nature of the campaign of which the first shots may even now be heard at every bye-election.*54


But as nothing makes one so entirely aware of one's own existence as a sharp spasm of pain; so it is to the suffering—the hunger, the despair of to-morrow's dinner, the anxiety about the next new pair of trowsers—wrought by the increasing economic pressure upon the enfranchised and educated proletariat that we must look to awaken that free self-consciousness which will give the economic changes political expression, and enable the worker to make practical use of the political weapons which are his.


The outlook then from the point of view of this paper is a political one—one in which we should expect to see the world political gradually becoming a reflex of the world economic. That political should be slow in coming into line with economic facts is only in accordance with all that the past history of our country has to teach us. For years and decades the squirearchy retained an influence in the House of Commons out of all proportion to its potency as an economic force; and even at this moment the "landed interest" bears a much larger part in lawmaking than that to which its real importance entitles it. Therefore we must be neither surprised nor dispirited if, in a cold-blooded envisagement of the condition of English parties, the truth is borne in upon us that the pace of political progress has no proper relation to the rate at which we are traveling toward Socialism in the spheres of thought and industry.


This fact is probably—nay almost certainly—very much more patent to the Socialist and the political student than to the man in the street, or even to him of the first class railway carriage. The noisy jubilation of the Radical press over the victory of a Home Ruler at a bye election, at a brief and vague reference to the "homes of the people" in a two hours' speech from a Liberal leader, or at the insertion of a "social" plank in a new annual program, is well and cleverly calculated to beguile the ardent democrat, and strike cold terror to the heart of the timorous Tory. But a perfectly impartial analysis of the present state of parties will convince the most sanguine that the breath of the great economic changes dealt with in Mr. Clarke's paper has as yet scarcely ruffled the surface of the House of Commons.


When the syllabus of this course of lectures was drawn up, those who were responsible for it suggested as the first sub-heading of this paper, the well worn phrase, "The disappearance of the Whig." It is a happy expression, and one from the contemplation of which much comfort may be derived by an optimistic and unanalytical temperament. Printed are at this disadvantage compared with spoken words, they fail to convey the nicer nuances of meaning bestowed by tone and emphasis; and thus the word "disappearance" meets the eye, carrying with it no slightest suggestion of irony. Yet the phrase is pointless, if not "meant surcarstic;" for so far is the Whig from "disappearing," that he is the great political fact of the day. To persons deafened by the daily democratic shouting of the Radical newspapers this assertion may require some confirmation and support. Let us look at the facts then. The first thing which strikes us in connection with the present Parliament is that it no longer consists of two distinct parties, i.e., of two bodies of men, differentiated from each other by the holding of fundamentally*55 different principles. Home Rule left out,*56 there remains no reason whatever, except the quite minor question of Disestablishment, why even the simulacrum of party organization should be maintained, or why the structural arrangements of the House of Commons should not be so altered as to resemble those of a town hall, in which all the seats face the chair.


But fifty years ago the floor of the House was a frontier of genuine significance; and the titles "Whig" and "Tory" were word-symbols of real inward and spiritual facts. The Tory party was mostly made up of men who were conscientiously opposed to popular representation, and prepared to stand or fall by their opposition. They held, as a living political creed, that the government of men was the eternal heritage of the rich, and especially of those whose riches spelled rent. The Whigs, on the other hand, believed, or said they believed, in the aphorism "Vox populi, vox Dei;" and they, on the whole, consistently advocated measures designed to give that voice a distincter and louder utterance. Here, then, was one of those fundamental differences in the absence of which party nomenclature is a sham. But there was another. In the first half of this century the Tories, hidebound in historic traditions and deaf to the knell of the old régime tolling in the thud, thud, of the piston rods of the new steam engines, clung pathetically to the old ideas of the functions of the State and to territorial rights. The Whigs went for laissez faire and the consequent supremacy of the business man. I am making a perfectly provable proposition when I say that all the political disputes*57 which arose between the Revolution of 1688 and the enfranchisement of the £10 householder by Disraeli had their common cause in one of these two root differences. But the battle has long ago been lost and won. The Whigs have triumphed all along the line. The Tories have not only been beaten, they have been absorbed. A process has gone on like that described by Macaulay as following on the Norman invasion, when men gradually ceased to call themselves Saxon and Norman and proudly boasted of being English. The difference in the case before us is that while the Tories have accepted the whole of the Whig principles they still abjure the Whig name.


No so-called Conservative to-day will venture on opposing an extension of the Franchise on the plain ground of principle. At most he will but temporize and plead for delay. No blush of conscious inconsistency suffused Mr. Ritchie's swarthy features when introducing his "frankly democratic" Local Government Bill. And rightly not; for he was doing no violence to party principles.


In the matter of the functions of the State the absorption of the Tory is not quite so obvious, because there never has been, and, as long as Society lasts, never can be, a parti sérieux of logical laissez faire. Even in the thick of the Industrial Revolution the difference between the two great parties was mainly one of tendency—of attitude of mind. The Tory had a certain affection for the State—a natural self-love: the Whig distrusted it. This distrust is now the sentiment of the whole of our public men. They see, some of them perhaps more clearly than others, that there is much the State must do; but they all wish that much to be as little as possible. Even when, driven by an irresistible force which they feel but do not understand (which none but the Socialist does or can understand), they bring forward measures for increasing the power of the whole over the part, their arguments are always suffused in a sickly halo of apology: their gestures are always those of timorous deprecation and fretful diffidence. They are always nervously anxious to explain that the proposal violates no principle of political economy, and with them political economy means, not Professor Sidgwick, but Adam Smith.


The reason why this unanimity of all prominent politicians on great fundamental principles is not manifest to the mind of the average man is that, although there is nothing left to get hot or even moderately warm about, the political temperature is as high as ever. It is not in the dust of the arena, but only in the repose of the auditorium that one is able to realize that men will fight as fiercely and clapperclaw each other as spitefully over a dry bone as over a living principle. One has to stand aside awhile to see that politicians are like the theological controversialists of whom Professor Seeley somewhere says that they never get so angry with each other as when their differences are almost imperceptible, except perhaps when they are quite so.


Both the efficient and the final cause of this unanimity is a sort of unconscious or semi-conscious recognition of the fact that the word "State" has taken to itself new and diverse connotations—that the State idea has changed its content. Whatever State control may have meant fifty years ago it never meant hostility to private property as such. Now, for us, and for as far ahead as we can see, it means that and little else. So long as the State interfered with the private property and powers of one set of proprietors with a view only to increasing those of another, the existence of parties for and against such interference was a necessity of the case. A duty on foreign corn meant the keeping up of incomes drawn from rent:*58 its abolition meant a rise of manufacturers' profits. "Free Trade" swelled the purses of the new bourgeoisie: the Factory Acts depleted them, and gave a sweet revenge to the rentdocked squire. But of this manipulation of the legislative machine for proprietors' purposes we are at, or at least in sight of, the end. The State has grown bigger by an immense aggregation of units, who were once to all intents and purposes separate from it; and now its action generally points not to a readjustment of private property and privileges as between class and class, but to their complete disappearance. So then the instinct which is welding together the propertied politicians is truly self-preservative.


But, it may be asked by the bewildered Radical, by the tremulous Conservative, by the optimistic Socialist, if the political leaders are really opposed to State augmentation, how comes it that every new measure of reform introduced into the House of Commons is more or less colored with Socialism, and that no popular speaker will venture to address a public meeting without making some reference of a socialistic sort to the social problem? Why, for instance, does that extremely well oiled and accurately poised political weathercock, Sir William Harcourt, pointing to the dawn, crow out that "we are all Socialists now?"


To these questions (and I have not invented them) I answer: in the first place because the opposition of the political leaders is instinctive, and only, as yet, semi-conscious, even in the most hypocritical; in the second place, that a good deal of the legislative Socialism appears more in words than in deeds; in the third place that the famous flourish of Sir William Harcourt was a rhetorical falsehood; and fourthly, because, fortunately for the progress of mankind, self-preservative instincts are not peculiar to the propertied classes.


For it is largely instinctive and wholly self preservative, this change in the position of the working people toward the State—this change by which, from fearing it as an actual enemy, they have come to look to it as a potential savior. I know that this assertion will be violently denied by many of my Socialist brethren. The fly on the wheel, not unnaturally, feels wounded at being told that he is, after all, not the motive power; and the igniferous orators of the Socialist party are welcome, so far as I am concerned, to all the comfort they can get from imagining that they, and not any great, blind, evolutionary forces are the dynamic of the social revolution. Besides, the metaphor of the fly really does not run on all fours (I forget, for the moment, how many legs a fly has); for the Socialist does at least know in what direction the car is going, even though he is not the driving force. Yet it seems to me that the part being, and to be, played by the Socialist, is notable enough in all conscience; for it is he who is turning instinct into self conscious reason; voicing a dumb demand; and giving intelligent direction to a thought wave of terrific potency.


There is a true cleavage being slowly driven through the body politic; but the wedge is still beneath the surface. The signs of its workings are not to be found in the reactionary measures of pseudo reform advocated by many prominent politicians; in the really Socialist proposals of some of the obscurer men; in the growing distaste of the political club man for a purely political pabulum; and in the receptive attitude of a certain portion of the cultivated middle class toward the outpourings of the Fabian Society.


This conscious recognition of the meaning of modern tendencies, this defining of the new line of cleavage, while it is the well-spring of most of the Socialist hopes, is no less the source of some lively fear. At present it is only the acuter and more far seeing of the minds among the propertied classes who are at all alive to the real nature of the attack. One has but to listen to the chatter of the average Liberal candidate to note how hopelessly blind the man is to the fact that the existence of private property in the means of production forms any factor at all in the social problem; and what is true of the rank and file is true only in a less degree of the chiefs themselves. Ignorance of economics and inability to shake their minds free of eighteenth century political philosophy*59 at present hinders the leaders of the "party of progress" from taking up a definite position either for or against the advance of the new ideas. The number of English statesmen who, like Prince Bismarck, see in Socialism a swelling tide whose oceanic rush must be broken by timely legislative break-waters, is still only to be expressed by a minus quantity. But this political myopia is not destined to endure. Every additional vote cast for avowed Socialist candidates at municipal and other elections will help to bring home to the minds of the Liberals that the section of the new democracy which regards the ballot merely as a war-engine with which to attack capitalism is a growing one. At last our Liberal will be face to face with a logical but irritating choice. Either to throw over private capital or frankly to acknowledge that it is a distinction without a difference which separates him from the Conservatives against whom he has for years been fulminating.


At first sight it looks as though this political moment in the history of the Liberal party would be one eminently auspicious for the Socialist cause. But although I have a lively faith in the victory of logic in the long run, I have an equally vivid knowledge that to assure the triumph the run must be a very long one; and above all I have a profound respect for the staying powers of politicians, and their ability to play a waiting game. It is one thing to offer a statesman the choice of one of two logical courses; it is another to prevent his seeing a third, and an illogical one, and going for it. Such prevention in the present case will be so difficult as to be well nigh impossible; for the Liberal hand still holds a strong suit—the cards political.


It is quite certain that the social program of our party will become a great fact long before all the purely political proposals of the Liberals have received the Royal assent; and the game of the politician will be to hinder the adoption of the former by noisily hustling forward the latter. Unfortunately for us it will be an easy enough game to play. The scent of the non-Socialist politician for political red herrings is keen, and his appetite for political Dead Sea fruit prodigious. The number of "blessed words," the mere sound of which carries content to his soul, would fill a whole page. In an age of self-seeking his pathetic self-abnegation would be refreshing were it not so desperately silly. The young artisan on five-and-twenty shillings a week, who with his wife and children occupies two rooms in "a model," and who is about as likely to become a Lama as a leaseholder, will shout himself hoarse over Leaseholds Enfranchisement, and sweat great drops of indignation at the plunder of rich West End tradesmen by rich West End landlords. The "out of work," whose last shirt is in pawn, will risk his skull's integrity in Trafalgar Square in defense of Mr. O'Brien's claim to dress in jail like a gentleman.


Of course all this is very touching: indeed, to be quite serious, it indicates a nobility of character and breadth of human sympathy in which lies our hope of social salvation. But its infinite potentiality must not blind us to the fact that in its actuality the dodgy Liberal will see his chance of the indefinite postponement of the socializing of politics. Manhood suffrage, Female suffrage, the woes of deceased wives' sisters, the social ambition of dissenting ministers, the legal obstacles to the "free" acquirement of landed property, home rule for "dear old Scotland" and "neglected little Wales," extraordinary tithes, reform of the House of Lords: all these and any number of other obstacles may be successfully thrown in the way of the forward march of the Socialist army. And the worst of it all is that in a great part of his obstructive tactics the Liberal will have us on the hip; for to out-and-out democratization we are fully pledged, and must needs back up any attack on hereditary or class privilege, come it from what quarter it may.


But, to get back to our metaphor of the card table (a metaphor much more applicable to the games of political men), the political suit does not exhaust the Liberal hand. There still remains a card to play—a veritable trump. Sham Socialism is the name of it, and Mr. John Morley the man to plank it down.


I have said above that the trend of things to Socialism is best shown by the changed attitude of men toward State interference and control; and this is true. Still it must not be forgotten that although Socialism involves State control, State control does not imply Socialism—at least in any modern meaning of the term. It is not so much to the thing the State does, as to the end for which it does it that we must look before we can decide whether it is a Socialist State or not. Socialism is the common holding of the means of production and exchange, and the holding of them for the equal benefit of all. In view of the tone now being adopted by some of us*60 I cannot too strongly insist upon the importance of this distinction; for the losing sight of it by friends, and its intentional obscuration by enemies, constitute a big and immediate danger. To bring forward sixpenny telegrams as an instance of State Socialism may be a very good method of scoring a point off an individualist opponent in a debate before a middle-class audience; but from the standpoint of the proletariat a piece of State management which spares the pockets only of the commercial and leisured classes is no more Socialism than were the droits de seigneur of the middle ages. Yet this is the sort of sham Socialism which it is as certain as death will be doled out by the popular party in the hope that mere State action will be mistaken for really Socialist legislation. And the object of these givers of Greek gifts will most infallibly be attained if those Socialists who know what they want hesitate (from fear of losing popularity, or from any more amiable weakness) to clamor their loudest against any and every proposal whose adoption would prolong the life of private Capital a single hour.


But leaving sham Socialism altogether out of account, there are other planks in the Liberal "and Radical" program which would make stubborn barriers in the paths of the destroyers of private capital. Should, for instance, Church disestablishment come upon us while the personnel of the House of Commons is at all like what it is at present, few things are more certain than that a good deal of what is now essentially collective property will pass into private hands; that the number of individuals interested in upholding ownership will be increased; and that the only feelings gratified will be the acquisitiveness of these persons and the envy of Little Bethel.


Again, the general state of mind of the Radical on the land question is hardly such as to make a Socialist hilarious. It is true your "progressive" will cheer Henry George, and is sympathetically inclined to nationalization (itself a "blessed word"); but he is not at all sure that nationalization, free land, and peasant proprietorship, are not three names for one and the same proposal. And, so far as the effective members of the Liberal party are concerned, there is no question at all that the second and third of these "solutions" find much more favor than the first. In fact, in this matter of the land, the method of dealing with which is of the very propædeutics of Socialism, the Radical who goes for "free sale" or for peasant ownership, is a less potent revolutionary force than the Tory himself; for this latter only seeks to maintain in land the state of things which the Ring and Trust maker is working to bring about in capital*61—and on the part which he is playing in economic evolution we are all agreed.


From such dangers as these the progress of democracy is, by itself, powerless to save us; for although always and everywhere democracy holds Socialism in its womb, the birth may be indefinitely delayed by stupidity on one side and acuteness on the other.


I have gone at some length into an analysis of the possible artificial hindrances to Socialism, because, owing to the amiability and politeness shown us by the Radical left wing during the last twelve months; to the successes which Radical votes have given to some of our candidates at School Board and other elections; and to the friendly patronage bestowed upon us by certain "advanced" journals, some of our brightest, and otherwise most clear-sighted, spirits have begun to base high hopes upon what they call "the permeation" of the Liberal party. These of our brothers have a way of telling us that the transition to Socialism will be so gradual as to be imperceptible, and that there will never come a day when we shall be able to say "now we have a Socialist State." They are fond of likening the simpler among us who disagree with them as to the extreme protraction of the process, to children who having been told that when it rains a cloud falls, look disappointedly out of the window on a wet day, unconscious that the cloud is falling before their eyes in the shape of drops of water. To these cautious souls I reply that although there is much truth in their contention that the process will be gradual, we shall be able to say that we have a Socialist State on the day on which no man or group of men holds, over the means of production, property rights by which the labor of the producers can be subjected to exploitation; and that while their picturesque metaphor is a happy as well as a poetic conceit, it depends upon the political acumen of the present and next generation of Socialist men whether the "cloud" shall fall in refreshing Socialist showers or in a dreary drizzle of Radicalism, bringing with it more smuts than water, fouling everything and cleansing nowhere.


This permeation of the Radical Left, undoubted fact though it is of present day politics, is worth a little further attention; for there are two possible and tenable views as to its final outcome. One is that it will end in the slow absorption of the Socialist in the Liberal party, and that by the action of this sponge-like organism the whole of the Rent and Interest will pass into collective control without there ever having been a party definitely and openly pledged to that end. According to this theory there will come a time, and that shortly, when the avowed Socialists and the much socialized Radicals will be strong enough to hold the balance in many constituencies, and sufficiently powerful in all to drive the advanced candidate many pegs further than his own inclination would take him. Then, either by abstention or by actual support of the reactionary champion at elections, they will be able to threaten the Liberals with certain defeat. The Liberals, being traditionally squeezable folk (like all absorbent bodies), will thus be forced to make concessions and to offer compromises; and will either adopt a certain minimum number of the Socialistic proposals, or allow to Socialists a share in the representation itself. Such concessions and compromises will grow in number and importance with each successive appeal to the electorate, until at last the game is won.


Now it seems to me that these hopefuls allow their desires to distort their reason. The personal equation plays too large a part in the prophecy. They are generally either not yet wholly socialized Radicals or Socialists who have quite recently broken away from mere political Radicalism and are still largely under the influence of party ties and traditions. They find it almost impossible to believe that the party with which they acted so long, so conscientiously, and with so much satisfaction to themselves, is, after all, not the party to which belongs the future. They are in many cases on terms of intimate private friendship with some of the lesser lights of Radicalism, and occasionally bask in the patronizing radiance shed by the larger luminaries. A certain portion of the "advanced" press is open to them for the expression of their views political. Of course none of these considerations are at all to their discredit, or reflect in the very least upon their motives or sincerity; but they do color their judgment and cause them to reckon without their host. They are a little apt to forget that a good deal of the democratic program has yet (as I have said above) to be carried. Manhood suffrage, the abolition of the Lords, disestablishment, the payment of members: all these may be, and are, quite logically desired by men who cling as pertinaciously to private capital as the doughtiest knight of the Primrose League. Such men regard the vital articles of the Socialist creed as lying altogether outside the concrete world—"the sphere of practical politics." Meanwhile the Socialist votes and voices are well within that sphere; and it is every day becoming more evident that without them the above-mentioned aspirations have a meager chance of realization. Now, from the eminently business-like Liberal standpoint there is no reason whatever why concessions should not be made to the Socialist at the polling booth so long as none are asked for in the House of Commons. And even when they are demanded, what easier than to make some burning political question play the part which Home Rule is playing now? Thus an endless vista of office opens before the glowing eyes of the practical politician—those short-sighted eyes which see so little beyond the nose, and which, at that distance only, enable their owner to hit the white.


The Radical is right as usual in counting on the Socialist alliance up to a certain point. For us the complete democratization of institutions is a political necessity. But long before that complete democratization has been brought about we shall have lost our patience and the Radicals their temper.


For as Mr. Hyndman tells the world with damnable (but most veracious) iteration, we are "a growing party." We recruit by driblets; but we do recruit; and those who come to us come, like all the new American newspapers, "to stay." Our faith, our reason, our knowledge, tell us that the great evolutionary forces are with us; and every addition to our ranks causes us, in geometrical proportion, to be less and less tolerant of political prevarication. Directly we feel ourselves strong enough to have the slightest chance of winning off our own bat, we shall be compelled both by principle and inclination to send an eleven to the wickets. They will have to face the opposition, united or disunited, of both the orthodox parties, as did the defeated Socialist candidates at the School Board election in November, 1888. And whether our success be great or small, or even non-existent, we shall be denounced by the Radical wire-pullers and the now so complaisant and courteous Radical press. The alliance will be at an end.


There is yet another way in which we may win the illwill of our temporary allies and, at present, very good friends. I have spoken above of certain reactionary items of a possible Radical program, which, although they have a grotesque resemblance to Socialism, are worlds away from being the thing itself. These proposals we not only cannot support, but must and shall actively and fiercely oppose. At the first signs of such oppositition to whoever may be the Liberal shepherd of the moment the whole flock of party sheep will be in full cry upon our track. The ferocity of the mouton enragé is proverbial; and we shall be treated to the same rancor, spleen, and bile which is now so plenteously meted out to the Liberal Unionists.


The immediate result of this inevitable split will be the formation of a definitively Socialist party,*62 i.e., a party pledged to the communalization of all the means of production and exchange, and prepared to subordinate every other consideration to that one end. Then the House of Commons will begin dimly to reflect the real condition of the nation outside; and in it we shall see as in a glass, darkly, or smudgedly, something of that "well defined confrontation of rich and poor," of which all who attend Socialist lectures hear so much, and to which, ex hypothesi, the world, day by day, draws nearer. Then, also, will begin that process which, I submit, is more likely than either the absorption of the Socialist or the prolonged permeation of the Radical: namely, the absorption of the Radical himself into the definitely pro-private capital party on the one side, and the definitely anti-private capital party on the other.


A really homogeneous Socialist party once formed, the world political reflects the world economic, and there is no longer any room for the Radical, as we know the wonder. Each fresh Socialist victory, each outpost driven in, each entrenchment carried, will be followed by a warren-like scuttle of alarmed and well-to-do Radicals across the floor of the House of Commons, which will once more become a true frontier; and, finally, the political battle array will consist of a small opposition, fronting a great and powerful majority, made up of all those whose real or fancied interests would suffer from expropriation.*63


Thus far the outlook has been clear and focusable enough; and it has needed no extra-human illumination to see the details. All that has been wanted has been normal vision and a mind fairly free of the idols of the cave. But here the prospect becomes dim and uncertain; and little purpose would be served by trying to pierce the mist which enshrouds the distant future.


Much, very much, will depend upon the courage, the magnanimity, the steadfastness, the tact, the foresight, and above all upon the incorruptibility of those whose high mission it will be to frame the policy and direct the strategy of the Socialist party in those early days of its parliamentary life. It will have sore need of a leader as able as, and more conscientious than, any of the great parliamentary figures of the past. The eye expectant searches in vain for such a man now among the younger broods of the new democracy. He is probably at this moment in his cradle or equitably sharing out toys or lollipops to his comrades of the nursery. And this is well; for he must be a man quit of all recollections of these days of Sturm und Drang, of petty jealousies, constant errors, and failing faith. He must bring to his task a record free from failure and without suspicion of stain.


But whatever may be the difficulties in store for us who name the name of Socialism, of one thing at least they who have followed this course of lectures may make quite sure. That, however long and wearisome the struggle, each day brings us nearer victory. Those who resist Socialism fight against principalities and powers in economic places. Every new industrial development will add point to our arguments and soldiers to our ranks. The continuous perfectioning of the organization of labor will hourly quicken in the worker the consciousness that his is a collective, not an individual life. The proletariat is even now the only real class: its units are the only human beings who have nothing to hope for save from the leveling up of the aggregate of which they form a part. The intensifying of the struggle for existence, while it sets bourgeois at the throat of bourgeois, is forcing union and solidarity upon the workers. And the bourgeois ranks themselves are dwindling. The keenness of competition, making it every year more obviously impossible for those who are born without capital ever to achieve it, will deprive the capitalist class of the support it now receives from educated and cultivated but impecunious young men whose material interest must finally triumph over their class sympathies; and from that section of workmen whose sole aspiration is to struggle out of the crowd. The rising generation of wage workers, instead of as now being befogged and bedeviled by the dust and smoke of mere faction fight, will be able at a glance to distinguish the uniforms of friend and foe. Despair will take sides with Hope in doing battle for the Socialist cause.


These lectures have made it plain enough to those who have hearing ears and understanding brains that mere material self-interest alone will furnish a motive strong enough to shatter monopoly; and after monopoly comes Socialism or—chaos. But the interest of the smaller self is not the only force which aids us in the present, or will guide us in the future. The angels are on our side. The constant presence of a vast mass of human misery is generating in the educated classes a deep discontent, a spiritual unrest, which drives the lower types to pessimism, the higher to inquiry. Pessimism paralyses the arms and unnerves the hearts of those who would be against us. Inquiry proves that Socialism is founded upon a triple rock, historical, ethical, and economic. It gives, to those who make it, a great hope—a hope which, once it finds entrance into the heart of man, stays to soften life and sweeten death. By the light of the Socialist Ideal*64 he sees the evil—yet sees it pass. Then and now he begins to live in the cleaner, braver, holier life of the future; and he marches forward, steeled and stimulated, with resolute step, with steadfast eye, with equal pulse.


It is just when the storm winds blow and the clouds lower and the horizon is at its blackest that the ideal of the Socialist shines with divinest radiance, bidding him trust the inspiration of the poet rather than heed the mutterings of the perplexed politician, bidding him believe that

"For a' that, for a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That man to man the world o'er
Shall brothers be for a' that."

Notes for this chapter

It is to the half conscious recognition of this generalization that the disappearance of militant Republicanism among the English working classes is owing.
The "hands," however, both in England and America, are learning fast. These are rapid times.—Am. Ed.
This also holds good of the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States.—Am. Ed.
The difference of principle here is more apparent than real. The Gladstonians repudiate any desire for separation, and affirm their intention of maintaining the absolute veto of the imperial Parliament; while the Unionists avow their ultimate intention of giving to Ireland the same powers of self government now enjoyed, or to be enjoyed by England and Scotland.
The battles for Catholic Emancipation and the removal of the religious disabilities were fought on sectarian rather than on political grounds.
This is perhaps not, historically, quite true; but the landlords believed that their own prosperity depended upon the exclusion of foreign corn, and that is sufficient for the purpose of my argument.
Cf. the speeches of Mr. John Morley on the eight hours' proposal and the taxation of ground rents. Also the recent writings of Mr. Bradlaugh, passim.
One of the most indefatigable and prolific members of the Socialist party, in a widely circulated tract, has actually adduced the existence of hawkers' licenses as an instance of the "Progress of Socialism!"
It is worth noting that those organs of the press* which are devoted more particularly to the landed interest have been the first to hint at the probable desirability of dealing with great industrial monopolies by means of legislation.

* This also true in America. The Farmers' Alliance organs are not averse to nationalizing capital as long as that invested in farming lands is left alone.—Am. Ed.

In the United States this party, the Socialist Labor Party, is already in the political arena and cast 14,000 votes in New York in 1890. Their organ The People is a weekly published in New York city.—Am. Ed.
This analysis of the English political future is suggestive, but not fully applicable to the American situation. At present the action of the farmers in attacking the prevailing economic position, may reveal the opposition at one point, and induce a political conflict all along the line, thus hastening the final issue.—Am. Ed.
See The Socialist Ideal—Art, by Wm. Morris. (Humboldt Pub. Co. No. 147.)

End of Notes


Return to top