E. Belfort Bax 1897

Tom Mann on “Socialism in England.”

Source: Social Democrat, June 1897, pp. 178-179;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

We are pleased to find an excellent article by Tom Mann, on “Socialism in England,” in the April number of the Sozialistische Monatshefte. The tone of the article is optimistic, while not concealing the difficulties and drawbacks of the situation in England. Tom Mann, although an energetic member of the ILP, is studiously fair to the SDF, notably in the figures he gives. These, by the way, coming as they do from an important official of the ILP, will probably surprise some of our German friends when they compare them with the reports of “impartial” compatriots who profess to know something of English matters. The serried ranks of the Fabian Society, the ILP with their relatively colossal membership and influence, and the poor handful of hapless Social-Democrats, here resolve themselves into figures approximately representing the facts of the case. The membership, by the way, of the SDF is here stated by Mann at ten thousand. We believe we are not wrong in putting the actual number of paying members at somewhat over eleven thousand.

The whole tone of the article, written as it is by an indisputably practical, hard-headed, representative of British labour, must be rather a facer to these hard-riders of the Marxian formula about following “the general working-class movement” (Gesammte Bewgung) who would have English Socialist bodies grovel on their bellies before every whim of trade union reactionists, who would like to see the English Socialist movement piously bowing the knee to the general ruck of an up to now (alas!) ignorant and apathetic working-class. Gentlemen, for example, like Karl Kautsky, must perforce condemn the ILP and Tom Mann for fighting a forlorn hope for Socialism in Halifax, for in so doing they were obviously committing the sin of attempting to “schoolmaster” (to use Kautsky’s expression) the “general working-class movement,” as represented by its Broadhursts, its Fenwicks, and its Wilsons – that sublime movement as compared to whose insight unsere [sozialistische] Weisheit Einfalt ist. It is really extremely naive of certain of our friends in Germany to lecture us on the duty of not opposing but following the “general working-class movement” when their experience is exclusively confined to a state of things in which the “general working-class movement,,” is itself a product of the Social-Democratic movement. The absurdity of their position, when applied to a country possessing an old but in the main reactionary working-class movement embedded in a solid mass of apathy, only illustrates once more the danger of Prinzipreiterei. We give below an extract or two from Mann’s article, and can only say we wish our German comrades always got as good information concerning English matters as they have in this case.

Hear Tom Mann on the success of our socialistic agitation among the trade unionists – in other words, on the success of the so much despised “school-mastering” policy!

“It has been an extremely difficult task [agitation among the unions], and is so still, but without doubt it has been a great success, little as it may seem so to the casual observer, more especially if he be a foreigner. Ten years the Socialist unionists have been on the job, devoting special attention to certain societies, such as the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the London Society of Compositors, as well as to the general Trade Union Congresses. In none of these large combinations of workmen has a Socialist majority existed up to date, but it may nevertheless be confidently asserted that in some unions a third of the members would be prepared to declare in favour of scientific Socialism, and against any other system, whatever it might be. As regards the trade union movement in general-i.e., the million and a half of men who now constitute the membership of the various trade unions in Great Britain and Ireland – we need not hesitate in placing the number of Socialists at 25 per cent, This is obviously only a small percentage as compared with the Continent, but seven years ago it could not have been said that even 10 per cent. of the trade unionists of this country were Socialists”

We venture to regard Mann’s estimate of the number of Socialists among the trade unionists as somewhat too sanguine, though undoubtedly the last ten years has seen a large increase. But if the pace is to be quickened, this can assuredly only be done, as it has been in the past, not by blindly following the lead of the non class-conscious proletariat, but by a good deal more “school-mastering” of that entity (so holy to our neo-marxist pedants) called the “general working-class movement,” on the part of Social Democrats who understand the principles of their faith.

After deploring the paucity of Socialist organs in the English press as compared with that of the Continent, Mann concludes : “This will also be soon altered, and however hard the struggle is, and will be, those who were the first to proclaim revolutionary Socialism in this country twelve [? fifteen] years ago have every reason to be satisfied ... In all trade unions the Socialist members are gaining in influence, and branches of one or other of our Socialist organisations are to be found in half of the parliamentary electoral districts into which the country is divided. For such a capitalistic land as England this is surely not bad for twelve [? fifteen] years? We are going forward, and we shall go forward at an ever-increasing rate in conquering those powers which exploit, blood-suck, and oppress, and in furthering the onward movement of those principles destined to prepare the way for social conditions in which the requirements of existence are easily to be satisfied for all, and in which our conceptions of life have reached a higher and nobler level than is possible in a society based on a rapacious capitalism.”