Hyndman June 1921
Source: Nineteenth Century and After, June 1921, pp. 979-992;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
If the coal deadlock, the threat of a complete general strike and, at the time of writing, a still further extension of the hold-up of fuel, have done infinite mischief in many ways, they have done some good in others. They have awakened the whole community, except perhaps Ministers, to the fact that society in Great Britain has entered upon a very critical period. Class antagonisms, whose existence had been, until lately, altogether denied, or carefully filmed over, have made themselves felt in so formidable a shape that all at last recognise them. When a nation of 42,000,000 people is suddenly deprived of an absolute necessary of industrial life and domestic comfort, by the refusal of hundreds of thousands of skilled men to work; when the Army, Navy, Air Force, Reserves, Volunteers and Special Constables are mobilised for home service at vast expense; and when a considerable number of the most steady supporters of the Ministry in Parliament are compelled, for their own sakes, to revolt against the leaders of their party, in order to try to compose bitter class differences hat ought to have been foreseen and dealt with by the Government – then it is clear that we have arrived at a point where our social and political arrangements demand prompt and drastic transformation.
Men in authority have had plenty of warning about what was going on. Direct action is no new thing. A general strike has long been a possibility. The remarkable growth of solidarity, among the 7,000,000 of organised Trade Unionists, has been a matter of constant public criticism since the Armistice. Hitherto, however, the great majority of the wage-earners have been against using this solidarity for the purpose of holding up the trade of the country, as a step towards the social revolution. It is even certain that but for the sudden withdrawal of the national subsidy, and the attempt of the coalowners to reduce the wages of miners to a level relatively lower, in comparison to prices, than that which prevailed before the war, the miners themselves would not have resorted to their desperate protest at the present time. Yet it cannot be denied that an increasing proportion of the organised wage-earners of Great Britain are now looking to direct action as the best policy for them in the near future.
These men and women have lost all faith, not only in the pledges of the present Ministry, but in Parliament itself. They are not blind to the risks which direct action will entail for themselves and the community at large; but they prefer to run such risks rather than to go on as they are, and pass on a similar lot to their children. Fanatics of this creed of industrial upheaval and civil war against capital, believe firmly that it is their duty to overthrow, as soon as possible, what they regard as a bad social travesty of the old chattel slavery. If they are told ‘the resources of civilisation’ will speedily crush down such anarchical revolt as that which they advocate, and that no general strike has ever yet been successful in any country, they answer that this is because it has not yet been prepared on a sufficiently large scale or fought to a finish with enough vigour and determination. Moreover, they are convinced that, when the class struggle begins in earnest, on their lines, the men subsidised by the dominant class, to repress their fellow-citizens on strike, will not shoot down the unarmed wage-earners; and they even believe such troops would very soon turn their rifles, machine-guns, and air bombs against the other side.
Further, they contend that powerful as militarism may be., it cannot compel people in Great Britain to work who have made up their minds not to do so; and that, though force may check political, or religious, insurrections, no power on earth can head back such an economic development as that which is coming to a crisis in this island to-day. Victory for the proletariat, which now comprises all the really productive and distributive human elements in our country, is certain, and what may happen before it is achieved is of little importance. After what took place in the war abroad, bloodshed for a great cause at home does not scare the propagandists of civil war in the very least. ‘If anarchy has to come, as a prologue to freedom, let it come! We have had more than enough of the social tyranny and economic oppression which capital calls law and order.’
I have thought it well to put this view of direct action quite plainly, and just as I have often heard it asserted, in a good deal rougher form, by the men who are preaching the direct action doctrine, in season and out of season, throughout the factories, workshops and mines of Great Britain. Obviously, ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ means something very different here what it does in Russia. For here the proletariat is nearly, if not quite, a majority of our entire population: in Russia proletariat is an insignificant minority. The ethic of the movement at bottom, however, is that of Bakunine: ‘Whatsoever helps forward the Social Revolution is moral: all that hinders it is immoral’. Which translated into plain English means ‘Our ideas are all right: your notions are all wrong.’ Here argument ceases, and force from below meets force from above. And, above as below, combination not competition is the order of the day.
Now the only peaceful alternative to direct action is political and parliamentary action. Unfortunately, there is .a growing opinion that Parliament is generally incompetent, and, particularly, unable to cope with the difficult social problems ahead of us. This idea pervades not only those who are regarded by themselves and others as ‘extremists,’ though they are better entitled to be called reactionists, at the bottom, but also the administrators who are called reactionists, but may more truly be regarded as revolutionists, at the top. The very few successful social revolutions of force in history have been begun by statesmen who have attempted – as Protopopoff and Stürmer did in Russia in March 1917 – to repress the rise of a tide which cannot safely be dammed back. Politicians who imagine that democracy or representative institutions can be advantageously tampered with in the twentieth century, and oligarchy substituted, are more dangerous to society than direct actionists and subversionists themselves.
More dangerous still is any conduct by Parliament itself and its leaders which gives the impression that the institutions of many centuries growth cannot be brought into touch with the tendencies of the time and the aspirations of the people. Then, assuredly, the cataclysmic possibilities of chaotic revolution, which are gathering around us even as we discuss, may come upon the nation all at once. That is the peril which confronts us at this moment. That is why sane champions of the emancipation of the wage-earning class, who denounce direct action, and mere rebelry, divorced from constructive policy, look with alarm upon the decay of public respect for the House of Commons.
This had begun before the war. The doubt and transition era in economics and social affairs necessarily reflected itself in political matters. Huge party majorities on one side or the other, in an unwieldy House, gave a tone of unreality to debates, whose result had been definitely decided beforehand by the Government of the day. Argument ceased to influence votes. Independent private members, who, in the times when sound criticism and effective oratory still had their influence, brought the most valuable contributions to discussion, were simply snuffed out. The Labour Party did not fill their place. Elected by the manipulation of Caucuses, members fell more and more under the domination of Whips. This disciplinisation of what might have been intelligence became more marked during the four years of hostilities. Patriotism was supposed to demand personal effacement. It was hazardous to criticise, or even to speak, to the captain, the mates, or the man at the wheel. Hence independence in thought, or initiative in action, was not only discouraged but virtually suppressed. This may possibly have been advisable – though many doubt it – when the fate of the Allies hung in the balance. That the result was not advantageous in the long run is clear.
While the nation rejoiced at the Peace and hoped to witness active reconstruction as the outcome of the war, Parliament was afflicted by political shell-shock; and Ministers did and spent what seemed good unto them, subject to no restraint upon their policy or expenditure from any quarter. The snap election, with its overwhelming majority for the Government on a single issue made matters still worse. From that date deterioration of the National Assembly has gone on rapidly. Leaders were believed to be inspired: the sole duty of their followers was to vote: The inspiration has long since evaporated: the servility remains. With a crushing burden of debt and taxation paralysing industry and commerce, we have been committed, as a nation, without effective action by the House of Commons, to costly wars in Asia, which cannot in any conceivable circumstances benefit the people at large, who must pay for these immoral conquests and wholesale extravagance.
In Foreign Affairs similar fatuity has prevailed. No consistent line of action has ever been maintained in any quarter. Serious misunderstandings with our Allies have only been averted at the last moment by virtual surrender. Our good relations with the United States, in particular, have been quite unnecessarily imperilled to an extent unequalled since the American Civil War. In Home business – but this can be more conveniently dealt with later. Suffice it to say that in all these other matters of crucial import the House of Commons has counted for nothing. It has not been kept informed as to what was actually going on; but it has never resented its exclusion even from control of the public purse, until mismanagement has entailed enormous waste which had to be paid for but is not yet checked.
Worse than this, Ministers have been encouraged by the apathy and indifference of the House to erect mendacity into a political fetish, and to maintain that the convenient suppression of public documents of the last importance is the highest statesmanship. The thing is not even well done. Lying as a fine art has been degraded to the flaccid utterance of ‘terminological inexactitudes,’ and Coalition members never fail to support their Ministers and masters in their asseverations of the thing which is not. Sincerity, the foundation of all true oratory, has become to the majority of our present House of Commons manifest evidence of political incapacity; and good faith is for them a reprehensible form of conscientious weakness. Wit and humour n high places have faded out into the thinnest form of jocular platitude. Since official gambling and bureaucratic malversation are no longer any disqualification for public life, invective, that ‘great ornament of debate,’ has quite disappeared. Why should my representative of the people concern himself about such trifling matters, or disturb his nervous system by indignation at fraudulent contracts on a large scale? It is no business of his; and, if it were, ninety salaried members of his own party are always at hand to take care that there shall be no awkward vote and no public scandal. This forms part of the reasons why the existing House of Commons has earned, and thoroughly deserves, the distrust of the mass of Englishmen.
But Home Administration is, of course, most important of all, and here the House has got most out of touch with the people and has very seriously compromised itself. That on many important questions the public is apathetic is no excuse for neglect by the House of Commons. As matters are conducted to-day, and with so large a portion of the Press entirely subservient to the Government, it is difficult for people in general to understand what is going on. The more reason, therefore, for Parliament to bestir itself in order to keep them informed. But that is precisely what the House does not do. The Ministry is too powerful, their majority is too overwhelming, the Prime Minister and the inner Cabinet have things entirely in their own hands, the Party in office is quite content with the policy of its leaders, whatever it may be and however often it may vary, and the Opposition, besides being weak numerically, is not, as at present represented, intellectually or. oratorically influential. Hence the House as a whole has permitted things to be done, which, in days when the middle class was careful of its own dignity and cherished the freedom of the nation, would never have passed without furious challenge, if allowed to pass at all.
Thus we have seen ‘Dora’ continued long after the need for its maintenance had lapsed; an ‘Emergency Act’ put on the Statute Book to deal with offences that could easily have been punished otherwise; an Inquiry Bill, pushed through the House, in a surreptitious way, by Government pressure, that renewed in the twentieth century the most obnoxious features of Acts bitterly resented and condemned nearly three hundred years ago. Personal liberty has been thus infringed and the Habeas Corpus Act practically annulled by the popular Assembly without rousing anything at all approaching to the resistance that might have been expected from an Opposition which includes more than sixty Labour members. Yet the old Common Law is quite stringent enough to deal effectively with any of the offences which these new measures were designed to meet. When it comes to this, that the public and The Times itself are driven to appeal to the hereditary House of Lords, to protect our ancestral liberties against the despotic action of the elected representatives of the people, no wonder the House of Commons, as now chosen, constituted and handled has forfeited its reputation and lost its credit. Bureaucracy and tyranny grow by what they feed upon. We have examples in our own history to show it. Surrender of the right to control expenditure and to impeach for unconstitutional action opens the door to infinite mischief and endless extravagance. Yet the House of Commons has been guilty of both these serious malfeasances towards the nation.
And all these objectionable features of pseudo-democracy are intensified by the methods of administration. The Cabinet which is itself a body unknown to the Constitution, becomes more and more unconstitutional every day. Its members are not and never have been elected or controlled by the people. But the new arrangements that sanction the creation of an inner Cabinet leading to a private triumvirate, or duumvirate, and thence to the virtual dictatorship of the Prime Minister, do away with the last vestiges of popular influence. ‘Official secrets’ have taken a range never before heard of in our day and generation. Cabinet Ministers of the highest standing have themselves been excluded from knowledge of matters upon which, according to all precedent, they should have been fully consulted and exactly informed. Thus collective ministerial responsibility has been sapped, and the Prime Minister of the day has become the autocrat and ultimate court of appeal in every department. The withdrawal of the Premier from the Leadership of the House virtually keeps in his hands all the initiative in foreign and domestic business, while the shuffling of his subordinates about from place to place, as suits the political convenience of the moment, gives him an autocratic power hitherto quite unknown in our time. The Prime Ministership thus becomes as powerful as the American Presidency, or even more so, since there is no powerful Senate partially to check the decisions of the tenant of this supreme office. Thus the House of Commons, weakened by its own inefficiency, is still further crippled by the political despotism created without any reference to its members.
Other drawbacks relating to the House and its procedure are small in comparison with those already noted. Yet they are not altogether insignificant. The forms of procedure are cumbrous and antiquated. The Chamber itself is much too small, and very inconvenient, for the number of its members. That number is better suited to a public meeting than to a grave National Assembly, met for the purpose of serious debate. The accommodation for members themselves is far inferior to that provided on the floor of the House for representatives of much smaller countries. The old-fashioned style of ‘catching the Speaker’s eye’ is absurd compared with the natural plans adopted elsewhere. So many obstacles are placed in the way of constituents obtaining access to their members, and of the public hearing the debates, that, the House might be a close aristocratic convention, rather than the democratic Assembly which it is generally called. These are matters which concern the arrangements of the House and its precincts. But as a whole, or taken in connexion with many foolish old usages, they give the impression that our House of Commons has stuck fast in the ancient ways from which it ought long since to have emerged; and that, as at present constituted, its hoary antiquity is quite at variance with the needs of the time.
A greatly overpeopled Chamber conducted upon an undemocratic and anti-modern system is entirely out of place in England of the twentieth century. The mace, the wig, the fictitious line of three hundred years ago on the carpet, to step across which is against all order, the absurd ordinances about hats on and hats off, are so many outward and visible signs of inward and mental senility. ‘Who goes home?’ Let the whole of these absurdities go home together.
And that is not all by any means. The method of our elections for the House of Commons is quite behind the times. We talk of democracy and the rule of the majority. Yet, under existing regulations, a minority of the voters might quite easily control the nation for seven years, so unscrupulously are the constituencies gerrymandered. We see under our eyes at the present moment – it is admitted by the Coalition Party themselves – that Mr. Lloyd George’s Administration has three hundred more votes at its disposal in the House of Commons than it is entitled to by its political voting strength in the country; that the Labour Party has, on the same ground, little more than half the members in the House it ought to have, even on the basis of its votes polled, at the last grossly mismanaged election and that the poor ‘Wee Frees,’ for whom nobody nowadays, not even themselves, has much good to say, are considerably under-represented. All this, assuredly, is not political democracy.
Furthermore, the cost of elections and of the maintenance of the local party organisations, the habit of calling upon candidates to subscribe to all sorts of funds, from the Hospitals, the Christians of various sects, the Temperance Movements, the Licensed Victuallers, the ‘anti’ Leagues of every description, down to the Football Club, the Cricket Club, and any demonstration that is going on, tell in favour of the choice of rich men.
The effect of all this is bad and undemocratic in every way. Money tells all the time. It gives paid self-seeking wirepullers and other unscrupulous persons great political advantage. They are on the spot and at work throughout the year. The elections itself is a very serious handicap in the poll of the mass of the people, as can be seen in relation to the Labour Party. That Party is short of funds for the next General Election or any bye-election. What is the result? It is tempted to put forward as candidates men or women who have never until quite recently had any connexion with ‘Labour,’ or done anything whatever to help on the cause of the wage-earners – simply and solely because they can pay their own election expenses. Or, in another way, the issue is prejudiced in favour of an active local Trade Union Secretary, who, though by no means the best man for the House of Commons, from the national point of view, can command the pecuniary support of his comrades because of good service rendered in Trade Union affairs. It is the fact of having the necessary money behind him, not the fitness of the individual for the place that decides the choice. Such men so chosen are, as a rule, far too much taken up with trade questions and wages to put the cause of their class upon a high level in Parliament. There have been many instances in the House of Commons of the neglect by these representatives of their parliamentary duties during the present session. This, strange as it may seem, applies specially miners, who constitute nearly half the total number of Labour members in the House. They seem to consider, speaking generally, that they are sent to Westminster wholly and solely to look after the details of their own special business and nothing else. On one occasion, when the Labour Party brought forward a very important official resolution, affecting the interest of the whole working class of Great Britain, only fifteen members were present to vote in its favour, and I believe two or three of these were Wee Frees. Yet there are sixty-nine Labour Members in the House!
Naturally such neglect and indifference greatly strengthen the position taken up by the direct actionists, who declare against political and Parliamentary effort of every kind. Such men say, and say with some truth, that, if the workers, when they get into the House of Commons, are capable of no more assiduous attention to their duties, or vigorous assertion in Parliament of the claims of the people, than they have shown hitherto, then returning members to the National Assembly is a mere waste of time, enthusiasm and money that would be more advantageously used in other ways. That I do not myself believe: and I have more than forty years of continuous agitation and close association with the wage-earning class behind me. I am hopeful, on the contrary, that this temporary apathy of the Parliamentarians will soon disappear, and that the fervour of the new Bolshevik-Anarchists like that of the Anarchist-Communists will speedily exhaust itself.
But a good deal more than mere faith is needed to give activity and life to a great political party of the people, with noble ideals and high aspirations. Excessive moderation, such as that which is now regarded as a primary qualification for Labour Leadership, cannot by any possibility suffice in such a stirring period as this. The moderate man, wrote Dr. Rawson Gardiner, never goes to the bottom of any question. That is absolutely true. The English working class is a bourgeois class, said a famous French statesman, by no means a Socialist himself, to me. And that is still true. Our labouring countrymen, as a class, have not yet cleared their minds of the old bourgeois fetish of buy-cheap-and-sell-dear; of the notion that money is the root of all good; of the conviction that profit is derived, not from their own unpaid labour embodied in saleable goods, but from some strange social magic applied from above; or of the belief that high and ever higher wages is the great object to aim at, instead of the application of the almost infinitely increasing power of man over nature to the production of endless stores of wealth by the common labour of all for the enjoyment of all. True, the Labour Party has a grandiloquent programme of general nationalisation; but we hear little of this as a definite series of constructive proposals in the House of Commons, and still less at election times in the country.
Even the coalminers, during their weeks of terrible sacrifice and starvation, which have developed into a direct class war, still .failed to use their great opportunity. They have never really laid before the nation their contention, supported by the Report of the Sankey Commission, that coal will not be mined and used for the benefit of the mass of the community until the whole problem is regarded, economically and scientifically, as a matter which directly concerns every household in this island, not merely the remuneration or even the lives and limbs of the miners themselves. It is the long and wearisome argument on the plane of personal and trade advantage that has given a sordid aspect to the struggle: right as the miners have been in their refusal to accept a starvation wage for a section of their craft, for the gain of a small minority of mineowners.
The same applies in affairs remote from the economics of capitalism. Many years ago the Radicals would have put up a far more vigorous fight in Parliament against official butchery and arson in Ireland than the Parliamentary Labourists have ventured upon lately; they did indeed put up such a constitutional fight against coercion of a wonderfully milder type. More than this most of the Labour speakers in Parliament, have ‘caught the tone of the House.’ As I told the late Pete Curran when he was congratulated by General Seely upon having been thus afflicted, ‘I wish instead you had caught the plague.’ For that tone of the House at the present time sounds the cynical note of the profiteer, the millionaire, and the lawyer bent on using politics to help himself. So many of the Labourists have imitated it because they think more of the opinion of hundreds of their opponents in front of them than they do of the cause of the millions upon millions of their class behind them. Oastler and Sadler, Ashley and Cobbett and Cartwright rendered the diapason of the people on the floor of the House to much greater effect, in the face of more formidable antagonists, three generations ago. But the excuse given for this lack of determination and fire is that the time is not ripe for a relentless political fight; that, conducted on such lines, political victory seems hopeless. So it always does in an uphill battle. But leaders who never risk never win; on that point, if on no other, the direct actionists are right.
What then do we need at the present moment in order to achieve by political means the peaceful transformation which, if attempted by General Strike, must bring about long-drawn anarchy and national starvation in such a complicated industrial, commercial and financial social system as this of ours? Dependent as we still are for one-half of our total food and for six-sevenths of our bread upon supplies drawn from countries hundreds or even thousands of miles from our shores, how long would foreign producers continue to send us the necessaries for mere subsistence, when, owing to complete upset here, we should be unable to pay them either in cash or in goods? The same question applies with the like force to the raw materials for all our principal manufactures: to raw cotton, wool, hides, iron-ore, etc. How should we carry on without these? And would outsiders furnish them if we could not pay for them? Such matters are worth a little consideration even by Soviet-Bolshevik young men in a hurry who are eager to revolutionise Capitalism by anarchising at a blow all our methods of production, instead of taking them over in peaceable fashion by intelligent, political action.
Criticism however is of no use, unless followed by define proposals for ushering in the new period effectively. If – as the development of economic forces into great limited Companies and Trustified Monopolies, as well as the universal experience of the war, teaches us – we are proceeding to collective and national as opposed to individual and private industrialism and distribution, to co-operative order as opposed to competitive anarchy, then at the same time that we denounce the policy of huge strikes ruinous, we are bound to show that our antiquated Parliamentary system can and will be put into a completely workable and democratic shape. Mistaken as the Labour Party and Trade Unionists and Parliamentary representatives of labour may be in some of their tactics, deficient as they are in initiative and vigour, it is beyond all question that their power to represent, constitutionally but effectively, the views of the 7,000,000 organised wage-earners, whose spokesmen they are, is greatly hampered by the worn-out political arrangements that I have summarised.
What is the real object of all political machinery? To give full expression to the wishes and demands of the majority of the people, and to provide that majority with a means of putting its ideas into operation. There is no scientific, or ethical, sanctity in the decision of such a majority. But sober people accept it in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, as preferable to a resort to violence or civil war: waiting their turn to convert their minority into a majority by agitation and education. As a matter of fact, in most departments of human affairs, politics and economics not excluded, the small minority is always either very right or very wrong. Invention, discovery and solutions of social problems invariably came from a small minority, often from a minority of one. But that is no argument in favour of oligarchy, which could not apply its own or another’s genius to practical matters, unless the people were socially capable of carrying out its designs.
But I am not concerned to discuss here the foundations of democratic politics. Enough that the main body of adults in Great Britain have votes and that they are assumed to be able to guide the policy of their country by those votes, in home, colonial and foreign affairs. That, as we all really know, is an absurdly incorrect assumption at the present time. Our first task, therefore, if we desire to bring practice into harmony with theory, should be to democratise our political and parliamentary institutions, so as to give the mass of the people effective control over their own business.
The first essential step in this direction is the enactment of Proportional Representation as the rule of all elections. That is to say that, whether the appeal at a General Election be made to the country at large to vote upon a clear programme of policy directed to the whole nation, or by the same programme addressed to local constituencies as they are to-day, no man or woman should sit in the House of Commons who has polled less than the average number of votes allocated to each individual by dividing the number of the entire electorate by the number of the members to be elected to the House. In this way, whatever plan may be adopted for regulating the election itself, or for dealing with surplus votes for this or that candidate, it would be quite impossible for such preposterous discrepancies to exist between the strength of a political faction, represented by votes polled in the whole country, or the different constituencies the number of members elected to the House of Commons as occurred in the General Elections of 1906 and 1918. Proportional Representation, wherever it has had a fair trial, has proved a great success, both in State and Municipal Elections. In Belgium, according to the opinion of politicians best qualified to judge, it averted the danger of racial and religious warfare, which. at one time seemed not very remote. In Ireland, in most difficult circumstances, Proportional Representation also proved a very great success in municipal contests. The same elsewhere. The arguments brought against it have come mainly from men who, as wirepullers and organisers, are directly and pecuniarily interested in maintaining the present gambling and unsatisfactory methods.
As it is now quite clear that the questions to be settled in the immediate future will be chiefly raised on economic and social subjects, which directly affect the personal welfare of every member of the community, I submit that Proportional Voting and Representation can alone give stability to the decisions arrived at by the House of Commons.
2. An agreed proportion of the Electorate should have the right of Initiative in Legislation. That is to say that if on a poll called, one fourth, one third, or any other agreed fraction of the registered voters demand the introduction of a special measure into Parliament, a Bill to that effect should be brought in forthwith, or at the earliest possible date.
3. That no Act passed through the House of Commons, or the Constituent Assembly, shall become law until it has submitted for confirmation or rejection to the whole body of electors.
4. That General Elections should be held not less frequently than once in every two years.
5. That if a Second Chamber be needed at all it should be composed of senators directly nominated and elected by the whole Electorate.
6. That an end be put at once to Secret Diplomacy in our Foreign Relations; and that no Treaties be entered into or confirmed until they have been examined by a Committee of Affairs and submitted to the whole Electorate.
7. That the Executive Committee or Cabinet of the Ministry be nominated and elected by vote of the House of Commons or Constituent Assembly, every member being compelled to record his vote in regard to each person to be chosen.
That all costs of election be borne by the community and that no person be permitted directly or indirectly to spend more than such costs upon his or her election.
That the number of members of the new House of Commons or Constituent Assembly do not exceed 300: a total of members to which the existing Chamber could be easily and advantageously reduced in several ways.
10. Voting to be made compulsory.
By such a thoroughly democratic transformation of our belated House of Commons and effete political system the growing menace of direct action, a General Strike with no constructive programme, and probable Civil War, would be greatly lessened if not wholly averted. We must choose as a nation, and choose at once, between the two methods. The bitter class struggle, which has already begun, will not cease in deference to soft words or the repetition of stale phrases of bourgeois economics. Old objections to the perils of democracy, and the imprudence of trusting the people, will be swept aside as selfish cant, by men and women who have learnt their own strength and are determined in one way or the other to use it. Such objections can never be put more forcibly than in ‘Bobbie’ Lowe’s denunciation of ‘the barren desert of democracy where every molehill is a mountain and every thistle a forest tree.’ This was fifty-five years ago. The people are still ignorant and apathetic. Granted, but so are most of those who have had the vote for generations. New conditions are forcing new demands from another class and are rousing its members to greater efforts. They cannot do everything at once; but hitherto they have had no sufficient political outlet to enable them to do anything at all. Yet, whatever mistakes may be made, nothing can be worse for the country than the continuance of a polity which has landed us in such a condition of national ineptitude and paralysis as we are suffering from to-day. We are like a sailing ship ‘in irons.’
The people will learn, by frequent exercise of genuine democratic influence, how important to themselves are wide political powers, placed directly at their disposal. None can truthfully deny that in cases where workers have full control over their own business they manage exceedingly well. The great working-class Co-operative Societies, which supply between a fourth and a third of the population, the powerful Trade Unions, with their millions of organised members, the Clubs they own and control in every large industrial centre, the Labour Party, with all its shortcomings, conclusively prove that. The wage-earners of Great Britain, therefore, will certainly be as competent to handle our national affairs, in the near future, as our ‘highly instructed’ politicians have been during the past ten years. Nor need their lack of instruction debar them from showing sound common sense, intelligence and appreciation of their duty. A very prominent middle-class politician, whose general ignorance is one of the scandals of our time, said that he finds politics ‘damned interesting.’ So may they. We are entering upon a period when, given the opportunity claimed for them under the new political dispensation, the great mass of our own countrymen will rise to at least the same level. They will then discover that the health, strength, sustenance, surroundings, education, enjoyment and the general well-being of themselves and their children, are as exciting as football, racing, cricket, or the cinemas.
A much higher view of our future can be taken. With such opportunities for peaceful development at our command, with all our industries except agriculture in the form which lends itself most readily to the transformation from competition to co-operation, with the hereditary aptitude for political discussion and political action handed down to us through the centuries, with powers over nature wholly unparalleled in the history of the human race at our disposal – there is good ground for hope that our country, which led the world into the Malebolge of Capitalism, will yet guide and encourage the peoples in their advance to the enjoyment of infinite economic and social delight, possible only in the democratic Co-operative Commonwealth of free and equal men.
1. Since this article was in type proposals have been made by the Government that the £400 a year salary to members should be exempted from income-tax, and that free first-class railway passes should be granted to them to and from their constituencies. The first suggestion would create a very bad precedent. The second ought, surely, to be confined to third-class fares. On the other hand, if duties are assiduously performed, public service ought to be adequately remunerated by the community. Members of the House of Commons who attend regularly and whose constituencies and families are at a long distance from Westminster, cannot possibly carry on, without running into debt, on their present salary alone. The pound to-day is worth, in purchasing power, only 8s. 7d., and railway passenger fares have been doubled. This ought to be recognised at once. As matters stand, great hardship is inflicted on exceedingly useful members who have no means but their £400 year. French deputies receive 15,000 francs a year, and are not subject to any income-tax, none being generally levied.