Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

THE IMPOTENCE OF SOCIALISM,

A REPLY

This Review for February contained a symphonie pathétique on the subject of Socialism. In his nervous outburst of unbalanced bemoaning, Mr. Hoare has stinted neither words nor imagination. Socialism is the riotous dethronement of reason. Under its reign of cynical, cruel craft, religion is to totter, the finite is no more to turn to the Infinite for comfort, the family is to crumble, individuality is to be expressed only by the possession of a tooth-brush and toothpick, and this survival of sanitary prejudice is to keep company with an imbecile, but humanitarian, dream of an unnatural equality of men as the only brightness in the dark picture of animalism and ruin which Socialism presents.

The stagey make-up of Mr. Hoare's criticism is too coarsely evident to create delusion. A modesty in exaggeration is necessary for the simulation of truth, and Mr. Hoare has fallen a victim to the temptation to throw that precaution to the four winds. He holds up, not Socialism, but Society to contempt; for if this earthquake amongst the virtues, the decencies, and the rationalities, is to be caused by the exercise of democratic power and not by the despotic decree of some diabolic person, the indictment is levelled, not against a propaganda or a political sect, but against a whole people. Mr. Hoare’s caricature is absurd, and if I continue to think of it, it will not be to follow in detail its dishevelled features, but to use some of them as opportunities for making a few comments, which, if unacceptable to all my readers, may, however, enable them to understand the point of view of the Socialist.

In the first place, to what motives and to what sections of the community do Socialists appeal ? To the base passions, to envy, to hatred, says Mr. Hoare, and he recounts in doleful sentences the way in which the expectations of the people are raised by unscrupulous Socialist wooers. Much of what he says is too true, but the deterioration had begun before a single Socialist candidate sought election, and since that time it has been carried on to a great extent by men and parties who have repeated Socialist promises-as Mr. Chamberlain

did old age pensions-without having much in mind except an immediate electoral success; and if the degradation in the character of public life has gone so far that sheer nonsense is being held out as a fly for catching votes, the amazing promises made by responsible men regarding the millennium which Tariff Reform is to inaugurate are as appalling examples of the betrayal of the ignorant by the unscrupulous as the wildest balderdash talked at street corners by irresponsible Socialist tub-thumpers.

If I were to state that the appeal of the Socialist is higher than that of other suitors for the public affection I could make out a good case for my assertion. The towns that are most poverty-stricken and where citizenship is most degraded are, as is well known in Socialist councils, not those that yield the best Socialist results. In selecting constituencies for candidatures, we invariably prefer those with a large population of skilled artisans. Our supporters are mainly drawn from that class. An active church and chapel organisation with guilds, brotherhoods, Sunday morning adult classes, is most advantageous to us, and institutions for higher democratic education are nurseries for our propaganda. An intellectual middle class, such as we find in many towns in the Midlands, carrying on artistic and other traditions, is also regarded by us as an important recruiting ground. In short, we never willingly touch a slum population, or one which has shown no signs of intelligent initiative, like trade unionism and co-operation. Our support has come hitherto from the more intellectual sections of the wage-earners and from the professional classes. Nothing surprised us more in the early days of our political contests than our failures in the poorer constituencies and our successes where selfish interests gave us but little assistance.

It is true to a certain extent that we have liberally appealed to the simple affections of the people, and it is just possible that we have awakened expectations which will not be fulfilled so quickly as those who entertain them expect.

But this is not a new phenomenon in politics, nor is it a bad one. We have made the moral sense bold. We have taught the moral imperative to assert itself as being greater than expediency. If in the midst of timorous counsels, warning us that to do right will bring ruin, we have dared to say that the economic interests are on a lower plane than the human interests, we may have given mistaken critics a chance of taunting us with a desire to rouse class hatred, but we have compelled our political opponents of all parties and every moral organisation in the country to concern themselves more than ever with the condition of the people and with the organisation of society. The existence of the Christian Social Union, the discussion of social questions at Church Congresses, Catholic Truth Societies, and Free Church Conferences are as much evidences of our work and indications of its character as the presence of the Labour Party in the present Parliament.

Vol. LXIII--No. 373

AA 2

I offer no apology for the fact that Socialism has its idealistic side which chafes impatiently at the slow pace of legislative change. That is as it should be. The political school which is no annexe to some worthy body of social idealism, reacting upon the moral formative forces in social evolution at the same time as legislation and administration are being changed, is foredoomed to barrenness. Nor do I feel called upon to offer an apology because Socialists confess that they have no immediate programme of proposals which settles every detail in the administration of their ideal State. If we dogmatised on such details we should be quacks of the first rank. It is true that the Utopian Socialists indulged in such speculations. But Darwin has lived since then, and Darwinism has modified the methods of those who believe in the conscious organisation of society to secure economic justice, as much as it has modified the conceptions of biology. The purpose of the Utopian Socialist was the same as ours.

. Both consider that social anarchy has as a necessary result individual misery, and that if society were organised so that its resources were available for all entitled by service to share in them, a substantial advance would be made in human progress. But the Utopian sought to carry out his idea like an individualist. He did not appreciate the force of historic continuity or the method of the evolution of social forms of organisation. He assumed that man could be regarded apart from his social medium, and so he planned his Phalansteries and New Harmonies; he built up his new Society from his own reason, and he came to grief and left behind him an inheritance of warnings and mistakes which his successors have had to live down.

The modern Socialist pursues a different course. He does not regard man as something living in a social vacuum. The individual is united to his society even more vitally than is the polyp to its colony. Social organisation is an historical growth, and change in it must be communal not sectional. It is the transformation of society as a whole with which we deal. We are not interested in Socialist settlements. The Socialist organisation grows, it is not created. It has begun already. What we, therefore, have to deal with are not the details of the future State which is still away in the future, but the practical aspects of the Socialistic proposals which we are prepared to urge for immediate adoption. The future will become clearer as we go on, and that would be an unsatisfactory position only if we proposed to establish Socialism by some sudden revolutionary act. Mr. Hoare, quoting from Mr. Hardie, says that the most that Socialists

can hope to do is to make the coming of Socialism possible in the full assurance that it will shape itself when it does come.' The last words ought really to have been 'as it comes,' but Mr. Hardie's meaning is perfectly clear. He is an evolutionist. Socialism is his working political hypothesis. He believes it is the type of organisation to which Society is approaching, and the sentence quoted shows

[ocr errors]

that he is aware of the method of social growth. But Mr. Hoare quotes the sentence to show that, because they adapt their methods to evolution and are agnostics when discussing the remote and the unknown, Socialists have no constructive genius,' and, because they do not fly in the face of nature, Mr. Hoare's comment on their wisdom is. O! sancta simplicitas !'

If the ideal of the Socialist was kept apart from the everyday work of politics, and was nothing but a revolutionary impulse, the complaint that the Socialist disregards the petty details of his ideal State—for instance, how bottle-washers are to be appointed—would be serious. But the ideal of the Socialist is a transforming influence acting upon existing social conditions. It guides him when he is proposing remedies for existing problems, like unemployment, pauperism, or intemperance; it enables him to draw up a practical programme for the day; it shows him a certain body of varied tendencies all making, however, in the Socialist direction ; it indicates to him how to organise these Socialistic tendencies and make them politically effective. The Socialist to-day is living in 1908 and his task is to get 1908 to make its contributions to the foundations of the coming Socialist State.

Thus the Socialist says that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned and controlled by the community, but he knows that all the means of production are not at the same stage in their evolution towards socialisation and national organisation. Gas, water, and trams are much riper for municipalisation than cotton mills ; railways are nearer nationalisation than hackney carriages ; coal-mines than the watchmaking industry. So the Socialist begins when and where the nature of industrial organisation invites him to begin. Just in so far as the use of some form of propertyfor instance, land-is essential to the well-being of the community, or just in so far as certain services—for instance, transport-are bound up in national efficiency, national control and organisation become imperative. Thus the provision of houses, of pure milk, of open spaces is becoming more and more a municipal undertaking; railways are approaching the nationalisation stage, and several municipalities are considering the advisability of acquiring coal-mines.'

Again, the Socialist contends that the experience of the past century has shown that if certain kinds of property—land, for instance—the use of which is essential to the community, is held by private individuals, the community will suffer, because naturally those individuals will make the pressing nature of the communal needs an opportunity for securing an increasing share of the national income for themselves. But he is not going to draw the line between

This is a mistake, as the coal supply should be treated as a national asset, but the municipalities are moving because they have experienced as users that private ownership of the coal supply involves the sacrifice of communal interests.

property of this kind and property the private ownership of which does not mean communal disadvantage, by theoretical deductions, but by experimenting with the municipalising or nationalising of the forms of property which, when held by private interests, have been shown by experience to make private property impossible for masses of other individuals. This is the Socialist method. It is the method of the scientific experimenter. It is the process of evolution as opposed to that of revolution.

How, then, do we propose to act immediately? In other words, what is the Socialist programme ? A series of twelve propositions was compiled by Mr. Hoare and presented as the immediate demands of the Socialist movement. Some of them are not immediate, some have never found place in Socialist programmes at all, some are garnered from the erratic and irresponsible utterances of odd Socialists. Out of twelve items thus set forth, not more than three are rightly placed, and upon none of them do Socialists lay very much stress except as part of mechanical, political reform—the abolition of the House of Lords, universal adult suffrage, and shorter Parliaments.

To construct an imaginary programme and then call it absurd and revolutionary may be a pastime, but it is not criticism.

The chief points in the Independent Labour Party programme the party which is far and away the most representative Socialist body in Great Britain, but which must not be confused with the wider Labour Party-are :

(1) An eight hours day; (2) A workable Unemployed Act; (3) Old age pensions ; (4) Abolition of indirect taxation, and the gradual transference

of all public burdens to unearned incomes ; (5) A series of Land Acts aimed at the ultimate nationalisation

of the land; (6) Nationalisation of railways and mines; and (7) Democratic political reforms.

For my present purposes I can leave the democratic political proposals out of account, as they are not special features of Socialism. For instance, the movement for the Referendum has been kept alive in this country mainly by the Socialists, and now the Spectator is supporting it on the ground that it is a Conservative safeguard. Other points, like a workable Unemployed Act and old age pensions, recently have appeared in the programmes of other parties. They are only noteworthy on our programmes now, because when we put them there, a dozen or fifteen years ago, every practical' man laughed at them.

The distinctive proposals are those dealing with nationalisation and taxation. Here also the Socialist propaganda is bearing fruit, and its foresight is becoming apparent. The policy of nationalisation is more or less familiar to everybody. It has been applied extensively

« AnteriorContinua »