Hyndman January 1881
Source: Nineteenth Century, January 1881, pp. 1-18;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
There have been several periods in the history of Europe when all thinking men have felt that remarkable events could not long be postponed. Even within the last hundred years the French Revolution and the great Continental movements of 1848 were preceded by changes which betokened a serious shock to existing institutions. Careful observers predicted the approach of both the one and the other, though neither took precisely the anticipated shape. But never, perhaps, has the certainty of approaching trouble, social and political, been more manifest than it is to-day. The issues are more complicated than ever before, and that they can be settled without grave disturbance is scarcely credible. Of the political dangers by which Europe is threatened we hear daily. They are serious enough. With the whole Eastern Question reopened in a moat dangerous shape – with Russian Panslavism and German ambition to reconcile – with Italian aspirations and French yearning for the lost provinces to gratify – all, the nations being armed for war as they never were before – it will be strange indeed if the next few years pass over peacefully. The era of redistribution of territory and power has perhaps even yet barely begun.
These matters, it is true, all lie on the surface, and are possibly susceptible of arrangement by mutual compromise or by general disarmament. But there is no appearance of this at present, and meanwhile the social danger which underlies and intensifies the political is becoming more difficult of solution each day. Those schemes for the reorganisation of society which Fourier, Saint Simon, Owen, Lassalle, Marx, and others propounded are no longer the mere dreams of impracticable theorists or the hopeless experiments of misguided enthusiasts; they have been taken down from the closet of the Utopian investigator into the street, and move vast masses of men to almost religious exasperation against their fellows. Ever and anon some accident shows what men are really thinking of; an election, a strike, a prohibited meeting give the opportunity, and we see what manner of difficulties those are which have to be faced by foreign statesmen, and which we in our turn may have to deal with here. For the questions now being discussed by hundreds of thousands on the Continent go to the very foundation of all social arrangements. It is no longer a mere barren argument about the rights of man to political representation: it is a determined struggle to change the basis of agreements which have hitherto been considered absolutely essential to the prevention of anarchy. What is more, those who hold these opinions are gaining in numbers and in strength each day, though the fear felt and expressed of their doctrines compels them to more or less of secrecy in the propaganda which they steadily carryon. Ideas which a few years ago would have caused laughter or contempt, now arouse fear and indignation, and to-morrow will stir up hatred and ferocity; for events move fast in these days, and alike in Germany, France, Italy, and Russia, not to speak of other countries, we can now see clearly that a large portion of the urban population are being surely if slowly indoctrinated with notions that cannot be put in practice save at the expense of those above and around them. Though the ideas vary with race and climate, the principle is everywhere the same, and it is one which, if pressed to its logical conclusions, must shake the whole structure of modern society.
Nor can we be altogether surprised that this should be so. In the machinery of our daily life the real producer has as yet counted for little. The crowded room, the dingy street, the smoky atmosphere, the pleasureless existence, the gradual deterioration of his offspring – these things are noted and brooded upon by men who are being steadily educated to understand the disadvantages of their position, and are also being drilled to right them. A self-sacrificing enthusiast like Delescluze does not deliberately throw away his life at the top of a barricade for nothing; even miscreants such as Hödel and Nöbiling stir men’s minds to ask why they thus put themselves forward as martyrs under circumstances where they could not hope for escape. Visionary and mischievous as are their opinions, we can at least recognise that they believed in the truth of that which they professed, and that the conditions of life for the multitude do need reform, even if it be brought about by some sacrifice of the ease and comfort now the sole appanage of the wealthier classes. Once more we are brought to consider the right of man to live, and that right being granted or confirmed, that he should have the further privilege to live in such wise as not to deteriorate himself or his progeny.
It can scarcely be doubted that, in Germany at any rate, there are all the elements of a conflagration ready to hand. This has of late been so apparent that we may fairly take it into account in estimating Prince Bismarck’s policy. But the growth of the party of the Social Democrats in Germany is in itself a remarkable fact in modern politics. For there alone have the theorists begun to organise themselves with a definite object, and there alone are they sufficiently educated, and, what is more to the purpose, sufficiently trained in military affairs, to be really formidable. This militarisation of the mob, however viewed, is a strange piece of business in itself. On the one hand, strong repressive measures have been passed which keep turbulent Berlin in a permanent state of siege, which render it impossible for workmen to form any union, to publish any paper, to hold any meeting to canvass for political purposes. At the same time, the factory laws which had been carried to restrain the undue employment of children, and to prevent abuse of their power by capitalists, have been gradually set aside. The pressure of the times has rendered the position still more grave than it would otherwise have been. And yet, with men thus exasperated at the denial of all freedom and the underhand suspension of laws passed with difficulty for their benefit, the military conscription is still in full force. The malcontents are passed steadily through the army exposed to the hated Prussian discipline at the hands of that hard-handed and hard-headed Junker class whom they are learning to look upon as more bitter enemies than any foreign foe, and return to their homes – such of them as do not seek refuge across the Atlantic – to remember that a million more trained soldiers hold the same opinions that they do, and await only a favourable opportunity to show their real strength.
At the polls they have been asserting themselves, and their successes are no longer confined to the capital or to the few manufacturing centres. Hartmann the shoemaker’s election at Hamburg, when he polled twice as many votes as his two competitors, was more remarkable even than the mere numbers showed, for his opponents were directly antagonistic to the Socialist laws, and were both Liberals. In the debates, Liebknecht, Bebel, Hartmann, and the other Socialist deputies, are now listened to with attention, as representing a force which has to be reckoned with henceforth as a strong political influence. They are the representatives not merely of their own cities, but of that revolt of industrialism against militarism which can in the end have but one result. Not even the Prussian bureaucracy, with its marvellous organisation, can in the long run make head against the growing discontent which is now finding voice in so many quarters. All the repressive measures in the world will not prevent men from voting under the ballot in accordance with what they really think. The desire of excluding from the polls all who had taken advantage of the free State education, did not prevent the Social Democrats from casting 600,000 votes at the last general election, nor will prevent them from largely increasing that number at the next. Persecution has but inflamed the enthusiasm of the whole party. They are now striving, not merely for the strange programme which their leaders put forward, but on behalf of that common freedom, that right to ordinary liberty, which can no longer safely be denied either to Catholics or Socialists.
But their objects are none the less clearly defined that for the moment they are hidden from our view by the blunders of the executive. That tyranny of capital which has so often been denounced as if it were an embodiment of the evil spirit in a new and dangerous shape, and which Lamennais inveighed against as the modern incarnation of the slave-driver without the slave-driver’s interest in the life of his property – this it is which the Socialists are striving to overthrow. Though they recognise, in Germany at least, the family ties, they are determined, when the opportunity offers, to do away with that vast influence of individual accumulation which they look upon as wholly harmful. Thus the State, the Republic, the Municipality, the Commune, each in its way is to be the sole capitalist acting for the benefit of all. A higher ideal of duty, a nobler view of the future of mankind, will thus be brought about when each is ready to use his faculties to the fullest extent for the benefit of his fellows; when, the privilege of individual inheritance being done away, the State shall be the universal legatee, and all shall work together and in concert, where now the general advantage is endangered by the perpetual occurrence of selfish conflicts. Then, too, the education of children from their cradle to their manhood shall no longer be an accident, in which the poor become more wretched and more ignorant, the rich more luxurious and more proud. In that reign of equality the full development of human energies shall be the sole object, and general advantage the common end. The wiser heads admit that the realisation of this their materialist Utopia must be gradual, that society is not as yet prepared to transcend all previous experience of human motives, and rise at one bound to this lofty conception of that which should be its aim. They would be content to proceed slowly, would look upon the recognition of their views as something other than mere dreams, as much already achieved. But this does not suit the fanatics of the new Socialist gospel. They hold that their day shall be to-morrow, and that the counsel to proceed slowly means at such a time mere cowardice. A social revolution, they urge, must work by violence to start with, if it is to achieve rest and thankful prosperity in the long run.
And will these more ardent ones not get the upper hand in the storms now perhaps very close in Germany? It would be hard to answer that question with decision in the negative. The prospect seems unfavourable to moderation. Alike in the cities and in the country the proletariat might become masters of the situation for a time. For the country population in large portions of Southern Germany are not a Conservative force; they too are disaffected, they too look hopefully towards the Communistic Utopia, they too have felt and feel the pressure of militarisation and the hardness of the times. That very emigration which since 1848 has been one of the great features of modern Germany is a revolutionary movement; for the men who go are chiefly of the moderately wealthy middle class. They leave, but they do not return. They and their children remain to strengthen and enrich the Republic beyond the Atlantic, where conscription is unknown, right of meeting unfettered, and Junkerdom abhorred. The memory of the Fatherland remains, but it is a memory only, not a living anxiety to return to help on its progress or to enhance its prosperity. But this exodus has been chiefly of the middle class, and the millions who have gone have but accentuated the difference between the toiling many and the bureaucratic, aristocratic, and military few who oppress them – have too left an almost impassable gap between the wealthy landlord and the small owner or labourer, between the hand-to-mouth workman and the capitalist class. The moderate Liberals, the progressive class of Germany, having been driven away to seek their fortune amid American liberties, those who remain look to revolution rather than to steady progress to remedy their present condition.
In a late debate in the German Reichstag, one of the Socialist deputies declared plainly that, failing to modify the laws which have been enacted to crush them for the next six years, they must be driven to try force. For the moment, every effort is being made to prevent émeutes even where the oppression is the greatest. When strikes occur, the Socialist leaders in Germany and abroad urge upon their followers caution – tell them their time is not yet. In home affairs, for the present they work, wherever practicable, for a policy of decentralisation as opposed to the centralising tendency now in favour, for individual liberty, for the fair treatment of municipalities, and the due regard to the working class in municipal affairs. But they have not much power in the Assemblies save in conjunction with those to whom in the end they must be bitterly opposed. So far it is the blundering of the Government rather than their own sagacity or political management which has improved their position. But the organisation is becoming more and more complete, and the action is taken in accordance with preconcerted arrangements. In foreign affairs, the policy of the party, with the exception of a watchful jealousy of Russia, is more sagacious than their scheme for human improvement would leave one to suppose possible. They opposed the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine not only on international grounds, as tending to perpetuate that bitter hatred between France and Germany which has for centuries been so injurious to the peoples of both countries, but also because the competition of the Alsace manufacturers would bring destruction upon the German industries, and throw more men out of work than could find employment elsewhere. The great indemnity exacted from France pushed these considerations aside for the time; but who can say now that their fears have not been realised? Even to-day the Social Democrats are probably the only people in Germany who see that it would be well for their country to make such peaceful terms with France as would result in the restoration, or at any rate the neutralisation, of the two lost provinces. Meanwhile, as has been said, education and militarisation go hand in hand together, Berlin and other cities are kept in a permanent state of siege, protection is fostered in every direction, and the very men who might be the support of the Empire are driven away or forced into secret hostility. And the man who is chiefly responsible for all this is regarded by some even in England as the greatest statesman of the age. Prince Bismarck has been called the greatest revolutionist of our time, and in so far as reaction can incite to revolution he is worthy of the title even in domestic affairs. His marvellous success in consolidating Germany has blinded men’s eyes to his incapacity for any real statesmanship in the wider sense. In place of helping the mass of the population to a better position, instead of teaching the upper classes and the royal family that the only hope of safety for his country in these days is to make common cause with the people, and lighten the burdens which grind them down, he has thought only of violence and aggrandisement, of territorial extension and military power. What is the result? Of all the nations of civilised Europe, Germany is that in which revolution seems nearest at hand, and will when it comes be most dangerous. The great minister of brute force seats himself by the shore of modern politics, and orders back in earnest the current of his time. The waves of the democracy he has dared to trifle with sweep away even now the sandy basis of his power!
Turning to France, can anything be more remarkable than the contrast between the position now and nine years ago? Then the horrors of the downfall of the Commune, the burnings, the destruction of public monuments, the murder of the generals, induced many humane people to overlook the hideous cruelty with which it was suppressed. Those days when the populace held sway – and Paris was not so badly governed during that remarkable time – opened the eyes of the comfortable classes all over the world to the possibility of similar occurrences nearer to themselves. It seemed like a social nightmare, and was attributed to a strange access of excitement due to the prolonged strain of the siege. And now we see the Commune day after day glorified in journals of the highest influence. The amnesty of the Communists was carried as preparatory to one of the greatest national fêtes that France has ever, seen. The returned political exiles and prisoners are regarded as the victims of the bourgeoisie, and the frightful scenes on the plain of Satory, the dreadful incidents of the voyage to New Caledonia, are remembered as the martyrdoms of the founders of the new social faith. Certainly, none could have anticipated that Communist principles would so soon make head again, not only in the capital but in the provinces. Yet we see they do. The denounced suspects of 1871 are the coming party of 1881, just as the ‘fou furieux’ of Theirs is for the moment master of France. The great meeting of the Socialists in Paris, when what we should consider the most subversive doctrines were openly promulgated, was significant enough. Their differences simply arose as to whether it would be advisable to attempt to carry out their programme by main force or allow legislative changes to work it out peacefully. As to the main objects to be aimed at there was practical unanimity, and the removal of private property as the basis of modern social life was the conclusion arrived at by all. Yet the Communism of France, though perhaps more outspoken, is not as a whole so dangerous to the existing principles which govern society as the Socialism of Germany. There are those of the extreme party, no doubt, who superadd to the theories of Lassalle and Marx the completest acceptance of doctrines which utterly destroy the most rudimentary ideas of family life, and regard the connection between the sexes as a matter to be ordered solely in accordance with the views of the persons immediately concerned. In purely political matters the Rappel, the Citoyen, the Mot d’Ordre, the Intransigeant, and even the Justice, go great lengths, whilst the revolutionary sheets of Marseilles and Lyons are even more pronounced. But the very openness of all these discussions tends to a less dangerous state of affairs, and so far the principal agitations have been directed towards obtaining those cardinal liberties which we ourselves have secured long ago. Still, the movement has been very rapid there too, and the cruel expulsion of the monks and nuns shows that true toleration is not fully understood by those who claim infinite latitude for themselves. The increasing confidence of the nouvelles couches sociales in their future is very apparent. The election of M. Beaurepaire at Besançon had much the same relation to French politics that the election of Hartmann at Hamburg had to German. It showed that men of more decided views were gaining ground on M. Gambetta, whose candidate was defeated, and that the French people were getting tired of an opportunism which had ceased to be opportune. Recent events have but enforced the hint then given. M. Clémenceau’s successful visit to Marseilles, and the defeat of M. Ferry’s Cabinet; are only straws which show the flow of French opinion; it is clear that the Conservative Republic in any very Conservative sense is at an end. Frenchmen are weary of the perpetual officialism which weighs upon them under the Republic as under the Empire; they long to feel that the Republic, which divides them the least, will no longer be afraid to trust them as Republicans. The advanced party, however, are ever on the watch, and when strikes occur the familiar Socialist catch-words are heard, showing that the ideas which brought about the national workshops of 1848 are ever in men’s minds. In France, too, the militarisation and education of the masses is going steadily on at the expense of the well-to-do classes. Men who consider Gambetta reactionary and Clémenceau a too reluctant Liberal are far advanced enough to try the effect of new theories to their fullest extent.
But the peasantry are distinctly Conservative, though increasingly Republican. That is true, and they may yet act as a drag upon the cities, though even so there is much more discontent in rural France than is commonly supposed, owing to the action of the mortgage companies and other credit organisations. A saviour of the society of small proprietors might still be welcomed, or a semi-Communistic Empire might come in to bridge over the transition period, if transition period it be. Seven millions of proprietors are not, however, likely to join in any loud cry for the division of goods with the prospect of having to divide again a few years later. Their thrift and industry have enabled them to make their life tolerably comfortable, and few people less understand the schemes of the agitators of the cities. It has been one of Gambetta’s titles to confidence that he convinced the peasantry that nothing of the kind was to be feared from the new Republic.
Meanwhile the State is taking the public works of the country more completely into control; the municipalities are more and more adopting the management of their own affairs, and thus the principle of joint control for the common good is being steadily introduced. Were it not for the religious difficulty, which has assumed so dangerous a shape it is still possible that France, which has previously been the originator of great revolutionary troubles, might on the present occasion suffer less than other nations. But the questions at issue are those which most stir men’s minds. Doubts as to the right of individual ownership, plans for the confiscation of all capital in order that an enormous experiment may be tried on the only scale which it is said will be successful, can scarcely be accepted without that sort of difference which ultimately leads to bloodshed. The heads of the French Republic are men of vigour and sagacity. But the power may pass from them to the hotter-headed orators who are now appealing to the passions of the poorer classes, successful though M. Gambetta seems likely to be at the present time.
As in Germany and France, so, though not to so noticeable an extent as yet, is it in Austria and Italy. In the former country decentralisation and home rule are carrying on a political struggle against the centralising plans which are thought necessary to keep the empire together, whilst below the social strain is beginning to be felt. The agrarian difficulties which were aggravated by the crisis of 1873 have not yet been overcome. Hungary itself is in a doubtful condition; throughout the empire, the evictions and the attempts to check emigration have produced a bad effect. Still, there is far more liberty than in Germany, and therefore, in spite of the pressure of the conscription and the bitterness felt in some instances against the aristocratic class, the danger to existing institutions is not nearly so great. Socialism is not yet an organised force. In Italy, notwithstanding the factious conduct of sections of the Republican party, of the Barsanti clubs, the Irredentist agitation, and the mad language of some prominent men, the same may be said. The troubles at present are likely to be more political than social, though one would affect; the other, and a stir in any other part of Europe would be felt there also. For we see that even in Norway and Sweden, where the bulk of the population is well-to-do, and in Denmark as well, no sooner does pressure come than Socialist agitators appear, and the regular Communist cries are heard. Of Russia it is needless to speak. There the revolution, if it comes, will probably take an agrarian shape, an outburst of Middle Age barbarism, which has little in common with the agitations of Western Europe. The Nihilism of Russia may possibly be the spark to fire the whole European magazine of combustibles, but the ignorance of the greater part of the population renders any comparison between the two states of society futile. The Socialist proclamations of the Revolutionary Committee are altogether premature. A despotism has to be destroyed, a people educated, and some idea of political life permitted to grow up before Russian Socialism can be really a practical subject for discussion in the German or French sense. The conspiracy is interesting on account of its determination and secrecy; the whole condition of Russia also is well worthy of study, but it is quite possible that the political, financial, and social anarchy there may after all work itself out for the time by disruption of the empire or foreign war. The idea of the corrupt and barbarous Slavonic power as a civilising agency is of course a grotesque paradox.
What, however, renders the situation in regard to all countries more hazardous than would otherwise be the case, is that remarkable facility of communication which has been the growth of the present generation. Railroads, telegraphs, cheap newspapers, may all be said to date for the Continent since 1848. As we see, excitement is now in the air. It is felt and communicates itself to vast masses of men without any apparent reason. A wave of political, social, financial disturbance passes from one great centre to another now as it never did before. And those who are concerned in Socialist manoeuvres are specially ready to take advantage of this. The two great centres of agitation are Geneva and London. There the exiled speedily come together. The Socialist from Germany, the Communist from France, the Nihilist from Russia, each betakes himself at first to his solitary garret; but all soon get known to one another, suggest ideas for common action, and keep one another informed as to the progress made in each country towards the common goal. Thus has been re-formed an International Organisation more formidable than that which fell into discredit by its participation in the Paris Commune. In this way the advance can be observed all along the line. If baffled in Germany, it is making head in France; if in France men’s minds turn from the new ideas, Austria or Italy affords encouragement. And thus poor men bound together by an enthusiasm for what is little more than an abstraction, resolve to carry out that programme which to most of us Englishmen seems a very midsummer madness, of elevating the whole race of civilised men by a complete change of the conditions in which man has yet been civilised. They resolve, I say, and when they see an opportunity they mean to execute. The condition of Europe may favour their plans.
But now comes what is perhaps the most remarkable feature in the whole of this Continental movement. Much has been said from time to time of the power of Jews in modern society. Lord Beaconsfield, always proud of his race, has pointed out their superiority in many directions, and all would admit that in money-getting and in music they are in some sort inspired. But the influence of Jews at the present time is more noticeable than ever. That they are at the head of European capitalists, we are all well aware. The fact that during a long period they were absolutely driven into money-dealing as their sole business, seems to have developed an hereditary faculty of accumulation which, money being the power it now is, gives influence in every direction. In politics many Jews are in the front rank. The press in more than one European capital is almost wholly in their hands. The Rothschilds are but the leading name among a whole series of capitalists, which includes the great monetary chiefs of Berlin and Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfort. They have forced their way into the nobility of every country, and in all the vast financial schemes of recent years the hand of the Jews has been felt both for good and evil. That their excessive wealth, used as it has been, acts as a solvent influence in modern society, cannot be questioned. The barriers of religion and caste prejudice melt away before it. But whilst on the one hand the Jews are thus beyond dispute the leaders of the plutocracy of Europe, holding in large as well as in small matters, in the great centres as well as in the villages of Russia and Roumania, the power of the purse, another section of the same race form the leaders of that revolutionary propaganda which is making way against that very capitalist class represented by their own fellow-Jews. Jews – more than any other men – have held forth against those who make their living not by producing value, but by trading on the differences of value; they at this moment are acting as the leaders in the revolutionary movement which I have endeavoured to trace. Surely we have here a very strange phenomenon. Whilst the hatred against one section of Jews is growing in Germany, Russia, Roumania, and indeed all through Eastern Europe, to such an extent that they are persistently persecuted, and the question even in educated Germany threatens to become a political danger, the more the others, remaining poor and trusting only to their brains for influence, are gaining ground on the side of the people. In America we may note a similar state of things; the dislike of the rich Jews is increasing among all the well-to-do classes, whilst the revolutionary Jew from Germany and France has been at work among the artisan class in the great cities. Those, therefore, who are accustomed to look upon all Jews as essentially practical and conservative, as certain, too, to enlist on the side of the prevailing social system, will be obliged to reconsider their conclusions. But the whole subject of the bad and good effects of Jewish influence on European social conditions is worthy of a more thorough investigation than can be undertaken here. Enough, that in the period we are approaching not the slightest influence on the side of revolution will be that of the Jew.
The position of Great Britain and her colonies, as well as the United States, differs from that of European countries inasmuch as the Anglo-Saxon communities have long had nearly all that the people of the Continent of Europe are still striving for. Rights of public meeting, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech, the fullest possible personal liberty – these have long been secured, and men of our race have so far been able to work out political problems without that dangerous excitement which has attended the endeavour to solve them elsewhere. It is the general belief that this steady progress will continue in England, and that although the social arrangements of English life may be greatly modified in time to come, yet that here, at least, we shall be able to satisfy the legitimate claims of the many without trenching upon the rights or the privileges of the few. But Communism in the sense of State and Municipal management is making head continuously, even in the sense of genuine Communism – that the well-to-do should provide for the poor certain advantages whether they like to do so or not. That competition is being given up as a principle in favour of organisation for the common benefit, is at any rate quite clear. The postal and telegraph arrangements are entirely under State management already, and sooner or later railways will fall under the same control. In municipalities the provision of gas and water, like the arrangements for street paving, sewers, or the removal of nuisances, is conducted more and more by the directly appointed agents of the towns themselves. For the principle of limited monopoly and regulated competition, we are steadily substituting State and municipal organisation and control. That the poor law is distinctly communistic has long been urged, and indeed it is difficult to see how any system could be more completely so in intention than that which puts it in the power of an able-bodied man to live upon the earnings or savings of others, because he has been unlucky or lazy himself. The argument that no man must be allowed to starve itself leads directly to Communism if strictly applied. But of course the free-school system, where it exists, is a still further step in this direction. Not only do ratepayers provide a good education for those who could not afford it themselves, but they give their poorer neighbours the advantage that their children, educated at the expense of the well-to-do, shall enter into competition in the battle of life with the children of those who have found the means to pay for their schooling. The Artisans Dwellings Act was a smaller step in the same direction; and the proposal not long since made that children should be fed in the Board schools at the expense of the ratepayers was Communism pure and simple. Thus whilst we are arguing about Communism, and in some directions upholding the old idea that competition, not State management, must be the rule, we ourselves are slowly advancing, without perhaps observing it, towards the system which when proposed in all its bluntness we denounce as a chimera under the present circumstances of mankind. Poor-law relief and the School-Board education are communistic in principle. The post-Office telegraphs and municipal management of gas and water involve the principle of the State or Commune’s control. Does not this, even in sober England, show the tendency of the time?
In our colonies we see this carried still further. In Victoria there is the most complete State control. Post, telegraphs, railways, public works, education, Crown lands, each and all are managed by bureaux, and there is no tendency whatever towards getting rid of this responsibility. In New Zealand the method is carried still further. There also the whole of these departments are carried on under State management, and besides the community is taxed in order to provide free or assisted passages for emigrants from England who cannot pay for themselves. Then comes a time of pressure such as has lately been seen, and the State has to provide what is to all intents and purposes national employment for the people thrown out of work. What is this again but the gradual establishment of a communistic method? Granted that assisted emigration has proved – as it has – successful when coupled with State works at which the emigrants are employed, we still have here the arrangement for which, in another field, the apostles of the new Socialism contend. The same reasoning applies to the municipal borrowing arrangements which are used in the general interest.
All this, however, merely shows that much is going on of a communistic tendency without being observed: the graver features in our home life, those which might under conceivable conditions lead to a struggle between classes on the rights connected with property, are far more worthy of consideration at the present time. My friends, Mr. Kebbel and Mr. Traill, have ably pointed out, in recent numbers of this Review, the serious political dangers which arise from the wide gulf between the upper and the lower classes, how the vote of the ignorant many is now the ultimate court of appeal, and how essential it is from their Conservative point of view that the aristocratic and the wealthy, the intellectual and the refined, should try to recover their waning influence by a closer connection with, and knowledge of, the people. Hitherto there has been nothing more noticeable in English society than the noble bearing of the people even under the greatest pressure. The Lancashire Cotton Famine, the late period of prolonged stagnation of trade, passed over with little or no disturbance. No other country in the world could in all probability have supported such a strain as the former without grave internal trouble. Men recognised the inevitable, and made up their minds to bear with it, at the same time that the well-to-do endeavoured to alleviate the distress. Nor is there in England that envy of wealth which is to be found elsewhere. If grand equipages or well-mounted horsemen were to pass through many parts of Paris or Berlin; they would scarcely escape without insult or probably injury. In London or most of our other great cities, there is not this feeling of hatred against the display of riches. The leaders of Continental Socialism themselves admit that they have made little way in England. Our long political history has not passed for nothing. The working classes, it is true, feel their own power more and more; but so long as they think they can see their way to what they want through constitutional means, they have no mind to try the subversionary doctrines of the Continental agitators.
A continuance of this attitude nevertheless depends entirely upon the amount of consideration which they receive. Let anyone look at the state of society in some of the great northern towns, and, leaving the misery of London aside, he will see that here are all the elements of the fiercest and, under certain conditions, of the most uncontrollable democracy the world has ever seen. For it may almost be said that there is no middle class to break the force of the collision between the capitalist and those whom he employs. This vast population of workers has grown up within the last fifty years. There is the employer, who for the most part lives out of the city, there are the mean dwellings inhabited by the hands, and the great factories in which they spend their lives. But all depends upon one or two trades: there is but little actually saved by the mass of workers, and, as certain indications have shown, the spirit of turbulence might again be awakened. When we reflect for a moment upon the disproportion of numbers, can we fail to be struck with the danger that might come upon all if some eloquent, fervent enthusiast, stirred by the injustices and inequalities around him, were to appeal to the multitude to redress their social wrongs by violence? When we hear or read of the organisation of the. rich, how is it that it so seldom occurs to us that the real capacity for organisation may lie below, that the hand-to-mouth labourer has little to lose, and may even think he has much to gain by a change in the conditions of his daily existence. The hope for the future lies in the fact that the rich are slowly beginning to perceive here both their dangers and their duties, and to understand that the privilege of possession now accorded to them by the consent of the majority, can only be retained by entering more fully into the daily life of the people, and remedying those mischiefs which are to be noted on every side. Those who best know the dangerous quarters of our great cities know well that there is a vast unruly mass of blackguardism which would take advantage of any break above to sweep away all barriers. Many theories are even now systematically discussed by the educated artisans which would savour of Communism to the upper class. But fortunately they are discussed, and therein is to a great extent safety. The large blocks of city property concentrated in the hands of individuals; the entire exclusion of the poor man from the possession of land; the manner in which in municipal arrangements the poorer quarters are sacrificed to the rich; the indifference too often shown to the interests of the wage-earning class when whole neighbourhoods are swept out of their place to benefit the community without proper provision for the housing of the inhabitants elsewhere; the impossibility of obtaining real consideration for the needs of the masses in the matter of recreation, fresh air, and pure water, especially where vested interests are involved; the general inclination to consider the ratepayer first and the benefit of the population afterwards; these and other like points are now being talked over by men who have experienced the evils of the present system, and are making ready by fair means to put an end to them. Granting that the English people are not democratic in the Continental sense, admitting that they do respect their natural leaders; and are ready to follow them politically and socially in orderly fashion, this presupposes that the upper classes are ready to lead, not for the selfish advantage of their own insignificant section, but for the benefit of that class which, as has been well said, is really the nation. The opportunity, and it is a glorious one, is now. We have shown the world how to combine social progress with the widest and soundest political freedom; we, as a nation, have laid the foundation of that great trinity of liberty – freedom of speech, freedom of trade, and freedom of religion – which will remain the title of England to honour and to reverence when all other smaller deeds are forgotten in the mists of antiquity. It remains for us too to lead the way with safety in that great social reorganisation which is the work of the immediate future to secure for all the same happiness and enjoyment of life which now belong to few.
When poverty and injustice rankle, there we, too, find the most subversionary ideas have free play under our rule. What can be more discreditable than the condition of Ireland? A long period of economical and political misdoing has produced its almost inevitable result – a result which we view, as a nation, with mingled feelings of anger and disgust. What we deplore is an agrarian strike aggravated by rattening and intimidation in their most atrocious form. A large proportion of the tenantry have some of their own free will, and many, in consequence of pressure, entered into a combination against the payment of what they consider excessive rents. This is nothing less than a social revolution, and the horrible murders and outrages on cattle by which it is accompanied ought not to distract attention for a moment from the original disease which has led to this climax. But no sooner does a real difficulty arise in applying the ordinary law of the country with vigour and effect than straightway a cry is raised for a suspension of the first guarantee of all liberty, and Parliamentary lynch law is proclaimed on the housetops as the highest statesmanship. Suspend the Habeas Corpus Act and run them all in – such is the political teaching of our very moderate men. That the landlords, whose ‘rights of property’ are thus set at nought, should call out to the majority of their fellow-subjects to secure for them, no matter how, that to which by the law as it stands they are entitled, is natural enough; but only the fact that for months past men have been engaged in examining the fundamental conditions of all civilised society, and are somewhat embarrassed by their investigations, can account for this desperate haste to recur to old despotic methods. The least that can be said on the other side is that, in order to calm dangerous dissatisfaction with existing laws, we must override some of the cherished theories of ordinary political economy. Thus, in the face of dangerous agitation, we, like others, find that the only sound means of maintaining order is by a combination of legal but almost revolutionary change with more or less pronounced despotism. The dangerous communism of the Fenians, who represent the extreme left wing of the Irish party, is as completely destructive of present arrangements as the purest socialism of Paris or Berlin. It is useless to shut our eyes to the facts, unpleasant as they may be. In stirring times the only safe policy is to recognise that what may have been wisdom yesterday becomes the height of folly to-day. If only the plain speaking about Ireland, which is now to be heard all round, had been in fashion a few years ago, we should not have to make up our minds to something not far short of a measure for compensated expropriation of landlords.
In England the land question has hitherto scarcely been entered upon. Economical causes are working a silent revolution, which will be far more complete than perhaps any of us have as yet fully understood. The longer an attempt at settlement is delayed, however, the greater way will be made among the agricultural labourers by those who are anxious to bring about a change at least as great as that which settled the French villeins in the possession of their holdings. Ideas move fast, and though tenant farmers may not reason to their own case from what is going on in Ireland, will anybody guarantee that this is so with all who are concerned with the land?
Fortunately we need but ordinary care and sagacity to pass through a period which might prove dangerous with benefit to ourselves. The English tendency is to build up from the bottom, to improve the conditions of life below. There has been much neglect, but it may be remedied. Meantime, we are at least not creating enemies to society by deliberate enactment, and then arming them so that they may be able to overthrow the whole structure. Our emigration is in the main beneficial to us. It affords a safe and honourable outlet for those adventurous spirits who might otherwise turn their energies into a dangerous channel. They go forth to America and our colonies, and those who succeed form on their return a progressive and yet in the best sense a conservative body at home. With us, therefore, the revolution involved in the change of the political centre of gravity may be peacefully worked out. What has occurred and what may occur again in America is, however, worth brief consideration. There, with endless land to fall back upon close at hand – which we, however much our land system may be modified, could never boast – the same agitation which threatens the. Continent has burst out into actual violence. The riots in Pittsburg and Baltimore are almost forgotten in this country, but the action then taken by the masses of the large towns was most significant. Thoughtful Americans are well aware that the outbreak was in the last degree dangerous, and that it might be renewed at a favourable moment. But for the resolute action of one or two private capitalists, the matter would have gone much further than it did. In any case hatred of the capitalist class is growing up among a certain section of the community, and Socialist ideas are promulgated in St. Louis and Chicago as well as in Pittsburg, Philadelphia, and New York. Even the Western farmers, who are the closest hands at a bargain, and assuredly have no avowed communistic views in regard to property in general, are not by any means disinclined to deal with railroads and all land but their own in a decidedly communistic fashion. If amid the favourable conditions for general prosperity to be found in America, these ideas can take root and spread, this is in itself good evidence that there exists at the present time a decided tendency towards attempting a new solution of social difficulties. Experiments in practical Communism, such as those of the Mormons, the Shakers, the Memnonites, and others are merely interesting as experiments. They are trifling matters when compared with an agitation like that in California, or a rising which at one moment bid fair to put the whole railroad system of the Eastern States at the mercy of a furious mob.
Thus whichever way we look, whether to the Continent of Europe or to newly-settled countries, we see plainly that the principle of State management, which is practical enough within certain limits, is making way at the same time that notions which extend to dealing with all property for the benefit of the mass, and not for the individual, are gaining strength and coherence. The former system may be peacefully and perhaps beneficially worked out; the latter must involve anarchy and bloodshed in the beginning, and can scarcely under any conditions we can at present imagine prove successful in the end. Yet at a period such as ours anything may be tried. One of the features of the time is the prevailing incredulity among the educated of all civilised communities. Religious sanctions are shaken in every country, political institutions are themselves in a state of fusion-for who shall say that Parliamentary government has proved fully successful ?-the growing knowledge and power of the masses leads them to consider more and more seriously the strange inequalities of our existing arrangements, the spread of ideas from one centre to another is so rapid as almost to defy calculation. Can it, then, be said that we are safe for any length of time from the shock of one of those convulsions which may change the whole social prospect? Those who condemn democracy, who look askance at the determination to give political power to every class in order that all may be able to insist upon their share in the general advancement, are but rendering more probable the overturn they dread. The old days of aristocracy and class privileges are passing away fast; we have to consider now how to deal with the growing democratic influence, so that we may benefit by the experience of others. This can only be done by a steady determination at the outset to satisfy the needs and gratify the reasonable ambition of all.
1. Since this was, written, Baron Hübner has delivered his remarkable speech in the Austrian delegations. From his ultra-Conservative point of view, he regards all Republican or Democratic ideas as proceeding direct from the Author of Evil and proposes an immediate renewal of the Three Emperor League, or Holy Alliance, to stem the flood of revolution ere it is too late: Has not the time almost gone by for this combination of Governments against peoples?
2. The treatment of the Social Democrats in Hamburg is a fair example of this. These people had violated no law whatever. However obnoxious their opinions, they were a peaceful, quiet, orderly folk. Prince Bismarck has made martyrs of them, and sent them adrift to preach their doctrines and parade their wrongs. No greater outrage upon liberal principles has been committed in our time.
3. The increasing famine in Russia must play into the hands of the revolutionary party. Hunger is ever the best insurrectionist, and unless the Government acts more wisely than at present the peasantry will become disaffected.
4. The facilities recently offered for saving, and the investment of small sums in Consols, tend of course to knit the thrifty of all classes closer to the existing form of Society or at any rate to render its modification, if ever it should prove admissible, less dangerous to the public peace.