« AnteriorContinua »
True, it runs counter to popular opin- tion of promises and expectations. But ion; but popular opinion was, and is, good judges were not taken in by the ill informed in two ways. The public rosy visions of reconstruction. More was first led into false anticipations, than five years ago - ten months beand then disillusion was unduly height fore the first Russian revolution and ened by a one-sided view of the actual eighteen months before the arrival of facts.
Bolshevism - I predicted, in the NineThe war was generally expected to teenth Century and After, great trouble lead straight into a sort of Utopia, in after the war. I said that it would be a which the lion would lie down with the severer trial than the war itself; that lamb and the prophecy contained in the the prospect was full of menace; and eleventh chapter of Isaiah would be at that everyone in a position to judge, least on the way to fulfillment. There with whom I had discussed the queswas no substance in this sanguine vi- tion, was of the same opinion. This sion; it was simply a nebulous hope, reading was based on solid facts, which born of war-excitement and fed by I elaborated a year later in the same replatform phrases, such as “a land fit for view. I gave reasons for anticipating heroes to live in and the blessed word 'revolutionary changes, not effected reconstruction.'
without much tribulation and a period I can remember no such prolific be- of adversity. getter of nonsense as this idea of recon- I recall this, not to vaunt my prestruction. All the socialists, visionaries, science, which was shared by everyone and reformers saw in it their oppor- who knew the real conditions and was tunity, and interpreted it in their own not blinded by illusions, but to show way; politicians hung their promises on that there is nothing obscure or mysit, and simple folk rose to it like trout terious about the present situation. It to a fly in May. It proved an irresisti- is due to forces recognized and underble lure and was in everyone's mouth. stood years ago. Those forces have since It created a fool's paradise, in which been stimulated by events at home and every wish was to be gratified. Under abroad. Bolshevism; high prices; the its influence grandiose schemes were spectacle of war-fortunes attributed to hatched and all sense of proportion profiteering and held to be the cause was lost. The alluring prospect took a of high prices; successive increases of thousand forms, but the general idea wages extracted by demonstrations of was that everyone was going to have a force; the rapid growth of trade-unionmuch better time after the war than ism; artificial prosperity created by ever before. In particular, industrial inflation of currency; war-time restricconditions were to be improved out of tions, especially of drink; revolutionrecognition; the standard of living was ary propaganda - all these have had to be raised; men were to work less and their effect, and superficial observers earn more; strife between employers have freely attributed the present sitand employed was to be banished; uation to the influence of one or another peace and prosperity were to reign; of them. and all this immediately. The illusion That is a mistake. The trouble is was too popular to be resisted; protest more deeply rooted in the past and canwas useless.
not be rightly understood without a The currency obtained by these no- knowledge of the historical evolution of tions is shown by the frequent refer- labor movements, which can be indiences in recent disputes to the falsifica- cated here only in brief outline.
procession of the generations, by which
the old gradually give place to the During the nineteenth century the young. The latter know nothing of the growth of industrialism was accom- struggles and exhaustion of the past; panied by the periodical appearance of they are fresh, full of energy and fight. an active ferment among the wage More than that, their standpoint is earners, at regular intervals of about different, their outlook wider, their twenty years. The outstanding dates, aspirations higher — or, if not highmarking the rise of active movement, er, more purposeful, because nearer to are 1831, 1851, 1871, 1889, and 1911. practical attainment. They start where It will be observed that but for 1889, the previous generation left off. This which a little antedated the lapse of development has been particularly twenty years, the succession has been noticeable in recent years. It is the reremarkably symmetrical. To enumer- sult of the many educative influences ate the signs of this ferment at each ap- that have been brought to bear, and of pearance would occupy too much space. the whole process of social change that I can say only that it took both politi- has permeated the population. cal and industrial forms, sometimes one The notion that class-differences and sometimes the other predominat- have widened is quite erroneous. In ing, with a sort of oscillating move- Great Britain, whatever may be the ment. It issued broadly in legislation case in other countries, there has been a and in the advance of trade-unionism great and multiform approximation of in numbers, organization, legal status, classes. I have witnessed it going on all and privileges. There were collateral my life and at an increasing pace. Those and associated movements, both prac- who do not know it are either bad obtical and theoretical; but I am concen- servers or too young to be able to comtrating attention on the points of great pare the present with the past. The est activity.
contemplation of figures showing the What is the explanation of this peri- extremes of nominal wealth and povodicity? The state of trade has some erty is misleading. It hides the approxithing to do with it. Each successive mation in real conditions. To take the time of ferment was associated with an most visible thing, no one even thinks upward movement of trade, following of building either the palaces or the a depression; but this alone will not ac- hovels that once regularly represented count for the phenomenon. For in each the extremes. The hovels are abolished, period of twenty years there have been the palaces are being abandoned, the intermediate terms of rising trade, dur- extremes have come much nearer toing which no corresponding advance gether, and the same process is going in the labor movement has occurred. on in all the things that matter. There In some of them a certain amount of has been a great diffusion of real wealth response was perceptible; but it was in comforts and conveniences, a great very small compared with the activity diffusion of knowledge and the means of the fermentative years enumerated. of self-improvement, a great diffusion These were followed in each case by a of political power and administrative period of apparent exhaustion, during functions. Men of all classes meet on which strength was gathered for a level terms in the council chamber and fresh advance.
on the magisterial bench; all classes The chief explanation of this, in my mingle on the railway platform, where opinion, is to be found in the natural millionaires not infrequently betake
themselves to a third-class, labor leaders from the old by making trade-unionism to a first-class, compartment.
the source, and not merely the instruEveryday life teems with such visible ment, of revolution. signs of the tendency toward the oblit- These ideas made little visible imeration of former distinctions; anyone pression at the time, and were ridiculed who looks can see it. Indeed, it is so by the advocates of State Socialism, to obvious that those who maintain the whom they were obnoxious; but they obsolete theory of a widening gulf have struck root and began to grow, chiefly to close their eyes to avoid seeing in Scotland and South Wales. They patent facts.
were a leaven, and their influence is But the appetite grows with what it seen in the marked prominence of those feeds on. Each rise in the standard of areas in the turmoil during and since living and social status becomes a the war. In 1911, however, the movestarting-point for a further advance, ment was still confined to the old tradewhich is actively entered upon when a union line of demanding advances of new generation, with fresh aspirations, wages and allied changes, and enforcing has gained sufficient strength, by the their concession by strikes. Employers, cumulative effect of growing up while blind to the new strength and vigor of the old dies off, to make the essay. the unions, adopted the fatal policy of This is, I believe, the chief explanation refusing legitimate demands, which of the periodical ferment.
they could well afford to concede, until The last manifestation began in 1911, a strike took place, and then promptly and several circumstances combined to giving way. The result was a series of give it a special character. Trade was strikes, unprecedented in number and rapidly improving, and wage-earners, magnitude, and for the most part sucmore strongly organized than ever be cessful, which had the effect of still fore, and more conscious of strength, further increasing the strength and had an unanswerable case for a larger self-confidence of the unions, enhancing share in the rising prosperity; for prices the prestige of an active policy, and had been going up, while wages were embittering the relations of employers stationary. By the formation of the and employer. political Labor Party, ten years before, There is always a see-saw going on the Socialist element had joined hands between industrial and political action, with some of the large trade-unions each having the ascendancy in turn. and had exercised increasing influence In the years preceding 1911, political in the joint councils of the party. The action was in the ascendant, but it had remarkable successes of labor candi- apparently exhausted its potency, and dates in the general election of 1906, a reaction had set in, which prepared the consolidated in those of 1910, had given way for another turn with the industrial a great stimulus to the movement on weapon. The striking success of the the political side and inspired it with latter in 1911-12 led, as usual, to overconfidence.
use and reaction. Strikes were still But still more conducive to a state very numerous in 1913, — indeed, they of active ferment was the spread of or- were more numerous,
but they were ganized revolutionary propaganda, and on a smaller scale and did not last so the introduction of new ideas, about long. this time or shortly before, -industrial Then, in 1914, the character of the unionism, syndicalism, and a little conflict began to change. There were later, guild-socialism, — which differed
which differed indications of declining trade, many
employers were awaiting an opportun- ditioned by war-psychology. But the ity to retaliate for the squeezing they usual influence of prosperity on the had undergone, and what would have labor market was rather heightened followed in the ordinary course was a than modified by the special circumperiod of renewed strife on the opposite stances, as the country settled down to line of employers' demands and work- the business of carrying on war with all mens' resistance.
its strength. The demand for labor reThis is the background to the present vived, unemployment diminished, wages situation. The prospect immediately rose, and strikes reappeared after some preceding the war was one of declining months of abeyance. trade and industrial conflict, waged This movement went on at an inwith stronger forces and more embit creasing pace during the early part of tered feelings than before. At the same 1915; but it was not until July of that time, it is to be noted that the period of year that organized labor began to realprosperity-strife had produced other ize the immense strength conferred on and contrary effects. It had led to a it by the emergency of war in indisbetter appreciation of the principle of pensable industries. conciliation and to the development of The occasion was a dispute in the conciliation machinery. In some quar- South Wales coal-mining district, where ters the relations between employers feeling between employers and emand employed had improved, and this ployed was already much strained, and element must not be overlooked; for it, revolutionary theories had for some too, plays no small part in the present years been actively propagated among situation. Still, the outstanding fea- miners, chiefly by the agency of the tures of the industrial position before Labor College. Originally they were in the war were a spirit of acute antago- the right. The standing agreement was nism and the prospect of a determined about to lapse, and they asked for a conflict, in which the trade-unions new one, with certain advances. The would probably have had the worst of owners boggled and put them off, until the encounter, with the result of re- the general mass of the miners, conaction against the industrial weapon and vinced that they were being tricked, recourse once more to the political. became exasperated and ripe for revolt,
regardless of the war. III
And here I may say that British
workmen · never did believe that the Now the broad effect of the war has Germans had any chance whatever of been to reproduce all these conditions winning, until their complacency was on a higher scale, or in a more acute somewhat shaken by the advance in form, together with the complications the spring of 1918. This accounts for introduced by government control, the their apparent indifference to the effect break-up of international economy, the of strikes upon the war: it was not due
, general impoverishment, and other ag- to lack of patriotism, but to complagravating circumstances. The economic cency. I found it out by going among process just outlined was short-cir- them in many districts, including cuited, so to speak; and a state of pros- South Wales. A young miner there, perity was restored by the war-demands whom I knew personally, told me that on industry. It was artificial, of course, they would have stopped out for six paid for by realizing capital assets and months rather than submit to injustice. mortgaging the future; and it was con- ‘But what about the war, then?'
‘Oh, if I was n't at work, I should overtaking, the rise in the cost of living. join the army and fight.'
That is doubtful, but, even if it is staThey never thought that there was tistically correct, it does not apply to any real danger of defeat, and conse- earnings, which increased far more quently were ready to accept the argu- through overtime; and it takes no acments pressed on them by revolution- count of family incomes, which swelled aries, pacifists, and pro-Germans, that out of all proportion through the unevery compulsory war-measure limited demand for boys and girls at really unnecessary, and that the war very high wages. was merely an excuse for the subjection The effect of all this was a general of Labor by 'Capitalism.' This belief state of prosperity never dreamed of was fostered by the ultra-patriotic, before. I witnessed it myself repeatedly bombastic prophets, who told them in all the large centres; and the unaniweek by week that the Germans were mous testimony of health-visitors, dispractically beaten and that wonderful trict nurses, midwives, and other perevents would shortly happen. They sons whose duties take them constantly readily believed this nonsense because into the poorest homes, confirmed this it was just what they wanted to hear; impression with a cumulative mass of and it played into the hands of those detailed evidence, to which the decline engaged in promoting trouble for their of pauperism gave statistical support. own ends.
The standard of living was visibly and In this mood the Welsh miners suc- generally raised to an artificial height, cessfully defied the government and the which made reversal proportionately law, and their success opened the door difficult when the economics of war, to all the trouble that followed. The carried on by an inflated currency and trade-unions learned that they would State loans, came to an end. The people get nothing unless they asserted them- were the less prepared for reversal beselves boldly, but that, if they did, they cause they were given very freely to were irresistible and could coerce the understand that the conditions of life government. Gradually the lesson sank were to be changed all round for the in by repeated experience in the three better after the war. The nonsense great indispensable industries - coal, about 'reconstruction,' 'a land fit for railways, and engineering. Employers heroes to live in,' and similar visionary fell into the background through gov- promises was taken seriously. ernment control, and the hostility of Prosperity did not produce contentlabor was transferred from them to the ment, because popular indignation was government, which inspired distrust continually aroused by the denunciaand lost authority by conceding to tion of profiteering,' which was held force what it refused to argument. up to the ignorant by the ignorant as
This policy discredited the moderate the sole cause of high prices. This put trade-union leaders who were unwill- a powerful weapon in the hands of soing to go to extremes from patriotic cial-revolutionary agitators, who made motives, and at the same time exalted the most of it. The same tendency the temper of the militant wing. The was promoted within the trade-unions trade-unions waxed mightily in strength by the success of militant tactics, while and self-confidence; unemployment fell the self-importance of labor leaders to zero, while wages rose continually. was fostered by incessant appeals, conIt has very often been asserted that the sultations, flattery, offers of minisrise of wages only followed, without terial jobs, and other marks of distinc