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and England affords a pleasant residence for millionaires. Such will be the result of one-sided Free Trade, possibly a satisfactory one to the advocates of the system. The theory of Free Trade was sound in view of the predominant position of Great Britain and on the hypothesis of its universal adoption. It is sound still on the assumption that our manufactures are doomed, and that it is useless, and worse than useless, to struggle against inexorable fate. But will the manufacturing population accept this pessimistic and fatalistic view ? What is to become of them? With what sort of euthanasia are they to be provided ? These are questions for wage-earners to decide. There can be but little doubt as to the nature of their answer. They will make a sturdy fight for existence; they are not likely to 'take it lying down.' It is ardently to be hoped that they will consider the matter dispassionately, and that they will make up their minds upon it soon.
Violent change, due to some great catastrophe, is to be deprecated. The abolition of the Corn Laws was brought about by the terrible calamities of famine, and the pendulum swung too far. If the system of so-called Free Trade is shattered under the pressure of some period of deep depression the reaction will probably be too great. Fortunately abundant signs evidence the fact that we are perceiving the inapplicability of our theories to the actual needs of the people. Even the present Government, while clamorously worshipping the theory of Free Trade, are industriously violating it in practice. Their Small Holdings Bill involves protection, thinly disguised and in a rather objectionable shape. It is not only class legislation, but legislation for a class within a class. It subsidises part of an industry at the expense of the rates or of the State. I make no objections ; on the contrary, I welcome it as a wholesome violation of Free Trade. A Bill was passed last Session to the effect that holders of foreign patents in this country must manufacture in this country or forfeit their patents. That is protection in the crudest form and at the cannon's mouth, but I urge nothing against it. The object is good-encouragement of British labour under heavy penalties—another violent violation of Free Trade.
With all this before us, is it not about time that we ceased to humbug ourselves, and to render ourselves ridiculous in the eyes of foreign nations by endeavouring to humbug them ? Had we not better be honest and disestablish the worship of idols in which we have ceased to believe? With one great party pledged to a more rational fiscal system and the other great party practising crude Protection while damning it to save their face, might it not be well to abandon theories we know to be false, to raise this great national and imperial question above mere party politics, to accept the inevitable, and quietly and reasonably to set ourselves to devise a system designed to develop our own resources—the resources of our own Empire—and to give ners a fair chance ?
THE IMPOTENCE OF SOCIALISM
THE large majority of those who now sit on the Government side of the House of Commons are believed to be in substantial agreement with the party which sits facing them in desiring to preserve for us our present political State, and to preserve it in a form not essentially different from the form in which they have inherited it.
The Socialist group, on the other hand, make no secret of their desire gradually to destroy that State, and to replace it by something strange and new to us, which they call a co-operative commonwealth. Now these two aims are not merely divergent. They are so obviously incompatible that the adoption of the one involves the rejection of the other. But, if we may judge from speeches reported in the public press, Liberalism includes among its leaders some who look at the socialistic propaganda from a less positive point of view. It may be that it is tactically inconvenient to speak out. It may be that any such uncompromising attitude is thought to be premature. To declare themselves whole-hearted opponents of Socialism would be, so these politicians may feel, to admit that it had become a force among us which must now be openly reckoned with, and of this they appear to be in doubt. At any rate their advice is that for the moment we should approach the matter from the side of mythology. Socialism, they suggest, belongs to the spectre-haunted realm of Bogyphobia—if by a bogy we may understand something very terrible to look at but in reality nothing but a make-believe.
Ten years ago the Socialist party in this country had not a single representative in Parliament. If, for the purposes of a division in the House, we may include the Independent Labour Party, they have now over thirty supporters, and they are polling a heavier vote for their candidates at one election after another. Looked at as an international movement, Socialism, within the same period, is estimated to have more than doubled its collective vote. In London the two principal centres of the movement are the Fabian Society and the Social Democratic Federation. The former, which is at once literary and political, derives its name from the famous Roman general whose tactics of patient wariness and caution all but outwitted Hannibal. The Social Democratic Federation, which is probably the more
aggressively militant of the two, was founded rather more than twenty years ago, and has already more than forty metropolitan branches. It owns, moreover, a prolific printing press, exclusively devoted to the furtherance of the aims and objects of the Federation. Its members, like the Fabians, and like the members of the Independent Labour League, are strenuous men of action. If they are idealists they are also men with convictions, men with a hope, men with a determinate purpose, men with a widespread and growing organisation framed to give political effect to their aspirations. Through magazine articles, through the cheap press, by pamphlets, leaflets, and picture-postcards, which are circulating by thousands among the wage-earning classes, by lectures, and, last not least, by energetic personal canvass, and by combining to supply candidates for every parliamentary vacancy, they are daily doing all that they can to spread and popularise their views. Every week that passes,' wrote Mr. Macdonald, in the Independent Review for March 1906, 'the Labour party alone holds four or five score of meetings.' 'Nothing like this season’s propaganda,' cried the Labour Leader of the 16th of August 1907, ‘has ever been attempted by any political organisation in the country.' Similar evidence might be multiplied indefinitely, so that without attaching exaggerated importance to the preaching of socialistic doctrines at our street corners, it is impossible to remain blind to the fact that at the present time, as for many years past, the Socialist leaders are energetically and continuously engaged all over the country in making converts to their cause, while the Independent Labour Party have already established over 700 local branches, and are adding fresh ones every day.
It is true that since the Jarrow and Colne Valley successes Socialism has had a set-back. High rates, and public examples of wasteful and incompetent management, have apparently given to municipal electors a severe and wholesome fright. But if anyone is simple enough to imagine that any temporary reverse is likely permanently to disorganise the Socialist ranks, he is greatly mistaken. It may serve perhaps to remind those in command of their eponymous hero, Fabius, who fared all the better for not going ahead too fast. Wares, it may be, of a quieter and soberer hue will be advanced for the time to the front of the shop-window. But the goods momentarily withdrawn will remain somewhere safely stocked against the return of more favourable and brisker markets.
In these circumstances, plain folk, who watch with a citizen's personal interest the currents of contemporary life, and who appreciate the economic gravity of the fact that the very poor make up one-third or so of our total population, find it impossible to rest satisfied with the ' bogy 'theory of Socialism.
If they are under an illusion, if Socialism be indeed the mere bogy which our Liberal statesmen, or some of them, depict it to be, then it is certainly the most remarkable imitation of vigorous locomotive life that has ever yet been placed upon the stage.
But there is another attitude which is not unfrequently taken up towards Socialism as to which a few words may not be out of place. Socialism, we often hear it said, is a term so hopelessly vague and indefinite that to come to close quarters with it is out of the question. It is a sort of Proteus of economics which is always evading us by changing its shape. It is in fact not so much a political system as a particular sort of temperament and disposition.
Now in this contention there is doubtless a certain element of truth. For in one sense Socialism is an ideal, the dream-vision of a land very far off. No one can point to it as a settled polity and say 'lo! here,' or 'lo! there.' It does not yet exist for us in time and space. It is ‘ utopian,' a thing of nowhere. The stuff of which it is to be made may, for all that we can tell, be already on the loom of time, but the perfected pattern lies hidden away from sight in the dim recesses of the future. The nearest approach to it, though of course on an insignificant scale, has perhaps been realised in the administration of the Union workhouse.
In common, therefore, with other ideals, Socialism eludes the limitations of any hard-and-fast definition. Viewed as an aspiration only it is for its votaries as the lifting up of their eyes to the hills, and as the soaring of the spirit above all the inequalities, the injustices, and the anomalies of life.
Now the lot of the present generation has been cast in a period of general unsettlement. Look where we will, there is a pervading unrest, a sense of perplexity, a seething of external and internal disquietude. And out of all this disquietude it is but natural that the dreams of Socialism should come floating up before men's eyes, just as did the dreams of those other and earlier imaginations with which it has a kind of spiritual kinship. It was, for example, out of the instabilities of Greek political life and the decay of the old Greek spirit that the Republic of Plato was born. More's Utopia was the inspiration of a creative and compassionate mind moved to pity as it surveyed the woeful heritage of misery and poverty which the wars of the Roses had bequeathed to his country. In the Oceana of Harrington we seem to hear the literary echo of the civil convulsions by which England had been rent asunder in the days of Cromwell.
So far, then, as it remains merely an ideal Socialism cannot be fairly pressed to come down from the clouds and to prove itself a practical possibility for our workaday world. It is otherwise, however, when the ideal materialises into living and energetic Socialists, of human flesh and blood, with a published and well-advertised political propaganda. Yet even here it appears that much has at present to be left vague. And this for two reasons.
In the first place it is always a much easier undertaking to
pull down than to build, and up to the present Socialism has shown among its promoters but scanty indications of any considerable constructive genius. 'To dogmatise,' writes Mr. Keir Hardie in From Serfdom to Socialism,'' about the form which the Socialist State shall take is to play the fool. That is a matter with which we have nothing whatever to do. ... The most we 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.' O sancta simplicitas !
And in the next place, for electioneering and street preaching purposes it is the mark of an inferior artist to be the slave of detail. The true artist, on the contrary, is its master, and he has learnt to appreciate to the full the advantages of a judicious economy of truth. To take a homely illustration. The angler's business is to catch fish. Does he on that account feel constrained to attach every fly in his book to his cast? Not at all. He selects the fly that in his judgment will exercise the greatest attraction for his intended victim if deftly and warily presented to him. The demagogue's business is to catch men, or, in the particular case of which we are thinking, to catch voters. How is he to catch them ? By first formulating and rendering articulate for these unskilled labourers their material hopelessness and helplessness ; next, by proclaiming to them their one and only remedy; and lastly by persuading them that if returned to Parliament their Socialist friends will take care that their wounds shall be healed and their permanent welfare secured without delay. * De lui-même,' wrote Rousseau long ago, le peuple veut toujours le bien, mais de lui-même il ne le voit pas toujours. What could be more true ? Without proper guidance the masses cannot always see in what their good consists. The impressionist's occupation is accordingly to take care that he shall be on the spot to give the necessary guidance, and to open the eyes of the blind. Who are we that we should dictate to him his details? He knows his own business best, and his business is to make certain of his man.
If then Socialism can fairly be accused of vagueness it is only to the extent that it chooses to be vague. The writings of Marx, of Lassalle, and of Deville, are not vague, nor are the publications of their disciples in France and England. It may safely be asserted that complaints of vagueness can only come from people who do not care to be at the pains of consulting the literature of the subject.
But whatever may be the popular verdict as to vagueness we seem now to have arrived at the very heart of the whole matter. For however the academic Socialist of the ideal may remain engrossed in the contemplation of his final goal, his near kinsman, the political Socialist, has his eyes steadily fixed on the roads by which it may be best approached, and of these the most important road is that which