H. M. Hyndman 1903

Liberalism and Labour.

Source: 1903 Liberalism & Labour, pamphlet with articles reprinted by Twentieth Century Press, 19pp. Copied from Bishopsgate Institute Library http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk/index.asp
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

In contributing my share to the discussion on Labour and Liberalism, I will say a few words to begin with on Mr. Maddison’s letter which appeared last week. He is not quite right in saying that the S.D.F. “declined to affiliate” with the Labour Representation Committee. That organisation did affiliate in the first instance, but withdrew when it discovered that the delegates would not adopt the main principles of Socialism, and even omitted to define what is meant by a “Labour” representative. The particular reason for withdrawal was that the S.D.F. might be committed to the support of candidates, whom, by its rules, it was bound to oppose; while it could not honestly accept aid for its own candidates unless it supported those favoured by the majority of the delegates. I have little doubt myself, however, that the Labour Representation Committee will, before long, be compelled to abandon its blow-hot-blow-cold tactics, and to adopt the Socialist programme. The voting at the last annual gathering was very close indeed. When the Socialists get the upper hand the S.D.F. will, I feel sure, rejoin, and possibly some uneducated Trade Unions will then withdraw in turn, only to come back again later.

What Mr. Maddison says about the views of the S.D.F. is, however, perfectly correct. We consider, in common with the Socialist party all over the world, that only definite class-conscious Socialists who accept the class war between the wage-earners and the capitalists as the main feature of our modern Society – and recognise that this inevitable antagonism will only be overcome by the nationalisation and socialisation of the means of producing and distributing wealth – can possibly represent the true interests of the labouring class, as well as the best interests of the whole community. What is more, we have not the least intention of hiding these opinions or of shirking the difficulties which their declaration may entail.

A Socialist Pocket-Handkerchief.

To pull down the red flag and use it as a convenient bandana pocket-handkerchief in order to cover up a lack of principle, seems to us a mean and contemptible policy, which cannot, in the long run, come to any good. If this open conduct brings us into conflict with genuine Labour men who are Liberals or Radicals we are sorry for it in the same way that I, for one, always felt very sorry when I found myself brought into conflict with that able representative of his class and judicious organizer, within the limits of Trades Unionism, the late James Mawdsley, who happened to be as good a Conservative as Mr. Maddison is a Liberal. It was just as natural, of course, for Mawdsley to support such a man as Lord Randolph Churchill, as certainly it was for Mr. Maddison to go down to Reading to back the richest capitalist and employer in that town, this personage being the Liberal candidate, against Quelch.

I have not the slightest doubt that Mr. Maddison did this in perfect good faith and, as he conceived, in the interest of the class to which he belongs. And yet I am unable to imagine by what process of reasoning any working man could convince himself that a member of the great firm of Huntley, Palmer and Co., Limited, which assuredly has never been distinguished for exceptional liberality to its “hands” (or even if it had been so distinguished), would better champion the claims of the workers on the floor of the House of Commons than my old friend Quelch, whose loyalty and devotion to the cause of the people, to say nothing of his far superior ability in every way to Palmer, Mr. Maddison would be the first to acknowledge. Perhaps some Liberal-Labour man who follows in this discussion will point what service Mr. Palmer, when elected, partly by Mr. Maddison’s help, rendered to the workers whose votes put him in as member for Reading?

Liberal Capitalists.

How, may I ask, can Liberal-Labour men believe that great Liberal capitalists, whose main object it is to get wages down as low as they can, without actually endangering efficiency, in order to obtain as much profit as they can, and who have never in their lives given the slightest evidence of any desire to make by far the most numerous and most valuable class in the country masters of their own destinies, are other than the direct enemies of the working class?

I am not speaking against individuals. I only took Mr. Palmer as an example because his was rather a glaring case. I might just as well have taken Sir Christopher Furness as a Liberal, or Sir William Houldsworth as a Conservative. However charming or benevolent these men may be in private life, they must, in their business, be in opposition to the workers as a class. Nor should we Socialists wish them, under existing conditions, to give up their respective occupations, even if they accepted our opinions. We should only ask them to use their wealth and influence, as some capitalists, happily, are doing to-day, in helping the workers to understand that not by Liberalism or Conservatism, but only by a complete transformation of Society from competition to co-operation, from company ownership to national ownership, is it possible for the labourers to be permanently benefited. It is not by denouncing individuals – though invective in this connection is often a great ornament to debate, I must admit – but by using political machinery in order to obtain possession of property that the nation will gain.

Labour’s Capital.

“A slave,” said old Cobbett, who imagined himself to be a Tory, “is a man who has no property.” The Chartists did their utmost to teach the same truth. Now the workers of Great Britain, as a class, have no property, though, as Cobbett also said, they enjoy a National Debt. That is to say, they may some of them have little savings, but the overwhelming majority, even of well-paid artisans, could not hold out against six months of enforced unemployment unless they received help from others. They have no property in the sense in which the well-to-do use that word. Therefore – as the founder of Reynolds’s Newspaper pointed out in 1850, in the first article which he ever wrote for that paper, and which I read for the first time the other day – their labour, or rather their power to labour, to use the more accurate phraseology of the father of modern scientific Socialism, is all that they have to dispose of, and they must sell it to their employers from day to day and week to week in order merely to live. No matter how enormously the social capacity to produce wealth may increase – and in many departments it has increased a hundred-fold and more within the lifetime of men now living – this necessity for advancing their expended labour to the capitalist class for a week or a fortnight before they get paid their wages, which represent only a fraction of the value of the work they have done, weighs ever upon them and continues so long as they are able to toil. All the rest of the value which they create goes from them to be divided up among the landlords, capitalists, bankers, money-lenders, distributors, and so forth. The increasing wealth of the nation, due to social causes, benefits them little, or not at all.

Production’s Dividends.

Our statistics of industry, manipulated by “experts” like Sir Robert Giffen, are still so faulty that we cannot tell even now precisely what proportion of the total wealth goes to the workers for their labour in production and distribution. But in the United States, where the statistical department is infinitely better managed, we know that the proportion of the value of the national product taken by the actual labourers has fallen from sixty-seven and a half per cent. in 1850 to less than seventeen and a half per cent. to-day. What is it here?

Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the nominal leader of the Liberal Party, admits that, after nearly sixty years of Free Trade in food and political liberty, 12,000,000 out of a population of 36,000,000 in Great Britain are on the border line of actual starvation. Mr. Charles Booth, Mr. Rowntree, and others, prove that thirty per cent. and more of the working class in our great cities do not earn enough wages to keep themselves and their families up to the lowest level of the physical health of workhouse inmates; and the physical degeneration of masses of the people in England and Scotland has become so terrible that even the House of Lords has begun to discuss it.

Liberal-Labour Men.

Now, what are the Liberal-Labour men like Mr. Maddison, Mr. Burt, and the rest of them – they muster, I believe, about twelve in all out of a total of 670 in the House of Commons – what are the Liberal-Labour men and the party which owns and controls them doing to remedy all this? So far, nothing. Worse than nothing. They have actually allowed the Lord Chancellor-made law in the Taff Vale case to strike at the very root of the Trade Unionism which they are supposed specially to represent; putting it in the power of the capitalist class to confiscate Trade Union funds on any miserable pretext whenever its chiefs think fit to do so. They have permitted Lord Penrhyn to exercise his feudal droits de seigneur against the workers at Bethesda after a mild protest. And they are now apparently going to allow Mr. Joseph Chamberlain to trick them into a bootless fiscal discussion, when they ought to be rendering all business impossible in the House of Commons, and getting themselves one and all locked up in the Clock Tower in order to rouse their class to a sense of the monstrous economic injustice they are suffering under.

That is what Michael Davitt would have done in like case. That is what old Joe Biggar, rich man as he was, would have done. Nay, that is what even Catholic reactionaries like O’Brien and Dillon would do. That, in fact, is what in one shape or another the Irish members have been doing for the past 20 years. I do not approve of all their proceedings by any means. Their conduct in the education controversy has, to my mind, been utterly despicable; but they have flouted the Liberals, and they have worried the Tories until they have compelled the latter party to buy out the landlords at our expense, while Home Rule is manifestly within hail. I say to the Liberal-Labour men, “Go and do likewise.” If the Irish members had bowed down to the Liberal leaders, they would have got what the Liberal-Labour people are getting – the minus side of nothing. The truth is that the Liberal-Labour members are too confoundedly respectable. They want to be “statesmen,” rather than militant champions of their class. By accepting Liberal leadership, they naturally and inevitably accept capitalist leadership as things stand to-day. And some of them – Mr. Richard Bell is the most recent example of this – bitterly resent, as a disgraceful imputation, the charge that they are opposed to the directors of the very companies that are sweating the workers who sent them to Parliament (and pay to keep them there) though carefully sequestrating their Trade Union funds at the same time. This, no doubt, arises from ignorance and a desire to promote – “good feeling” between all classes. But it is none the less fatal to the hope of benefiting the workers of Great Britain by peaceful action within any calculable period.

What is Liberalism.

For what is Liberalism? What are its principles? What is its programme? Who are its real leaders? Do you know? I am quite sure I don’t. Though Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman is the nominal leader – there are others! Whilst as to principles or programme, the whole party, from Dan (Lord Rosebery) even unto Beersheba (Lloyd George), is barren and destitute. They are all delighted to think that the cry of “Free Trade for Ever” will give them a chance to get into office while merely maintaining the status quo. Now, I say that any Labour man who accepts this as sufficient is betraying the interests of his class. What is more, it will not succeed, even temporarily and from the Liberal-Labour point of view. Protectionist-Imperialism is a shoddy policy at best, meaning as it does the perpetuation of domination abroad and of economic enslavement at home. But it is, at any rate, a policy, and there is something grandiose and imposing about it all. We have seen of late years that even the poorest electors are influenced by its glamour, and forget, in their excitement and illusion, the matters which directly concern themselves and their children. I hold, then, that the mere big loaf and little loaf propaganda is beaten before it takes the field, and that if this is to be the battle cry of the Liberals, and the compact between Liberalism and Labour is based only on Free Trade, the workers of Great Britain are literally “sold again.”

No, these are dangerous times for the people of these islands which we have now entered upon, and the old-world Liberalism of the last century has quite outlived its usefulness, as it has shown itself entirely wanting in foresight and vigour. Mere defensive tactics will avail nothing against the dexterous electioneerer who has taken control of the organisation and the funds of the Conservative and Unionist Imperialist party. Those who wish to win even on the lower ground of immediate political advantage must first take a much stronger line than any yet hinted at by the Liberal and Radical leaders. The social, not merely the fiscal, war must be carried right into the enemy’s country.

A Practical Policy.

A practical policy must be formulated for the British Islands and for the whole of our vast Empire, which, while remedying those existing defects in our Social system that are notorious, and checking the growing degeneration of our people by securing to their children, through collective and communal effort, good food, good clothing, good housing, good air, and good education shall, at the same time, hold up a high ideal of complete economic emancipation for the encouragement and uplifting of the whole community.

It is true, as our friend Belfort Bax said in his excellent article the other day on the “Entente Cordiale,” that we English are far behind our French neighbours in noble conception of what might be. But there have been times in our history when the men of this island have played a far greater part in the world than any which the most successful profit-mongering after the manner of Birmingham, or of Manchester, can possibly secure for their descendants. My hope and belief is that another still more splendid period lies ahead of us, and that the hundreds of millions now suffering under our flag may yet learn to respect and admire the Social-Democracy of Great Britain, which, while freeing itself by the socialisation of industrial forces from the tyranny of capital at home, will work heartily for equal freedom for their fellow-citizens all over the world. The economic and social development has brought us unconsciously, and through much of sorrow and misery, to the point where this transformation is possible. It is for us to benefit ourselves and others by understanding, and taking advantage of, the work which our predecessors have done.