Harry Quelch 1907

Monarchy and Debt

Source: Social Democrat, Vol. XV No. 12, December, 1907, pp. 711-715;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Eager as are the organisers of the anti-Socialist campaign to come to grips with the monster whose growth and progress threatens the very foundations of the existing social order, they show a most exemplary prudence when challenged to demonstrate their prowess. They prefer to evade the real issue – the incompatibility of existing economic conditions with human freedom and well-being and future social development; they will not contest the fundamental principles of Social-Democracy – primarily concerned, as these are, with the material conditions of existence – they prefer to create prejudice by loud denunciation of points in Socialist doctrine which are of quite secondary importance, but which are necessarily involved in that complete change of the very basis of society which Socialism connotes. Thus, instead of arguing in support of the class ownership of all the material means of existence, and the consequent enslavement of the mass of mankind, our enemies prefer to denounce the Socialist theory of the abolition of this class ownership, as an attack upon existing creeds, and the existing form of the sex-relation. Now it is quite certain that although Socialism has nothing whatever to say in regard to any man or woman’s religious belief, that a revolutionary change in economic conditions will have a profound effect upon religious beliefs in the future. We are not at all concerned with this, however. Our concern is with substituting the common social ownership of the means of life for the present system of class ownership, regardless of the modifications that will undoubtedly result in the general standpoint of man towards the universe. It is equally indisputable that this revolutionary change in economic conditions will involve profound modifications in the sex-relation, as well as in all other social relations, but we can have nothing to fear from the changes in these relations resulting from the substitution of social justice for the gross class injustice which exists to-day. The demand of the Social-Democrat is for such a complete change in economic conditions as will secure work for all, wealth for all, leisure for all, pleasure for all, and the opportunity for a higher development of the best and noblest faculties of humanity than any system of society has yet afforded. If we are told this means irreligion and atheism, we can only say that if that were the case so much the worse for the religion which can only flourish in the foul atmosphere of capitalism. If we are told that such a system involves Free Love, we agree, because it is inconceivable that there will be any kind of forced or compulsory “love,” when all men and women are economically free. We do not, however, put the cart before the horse; we believe that changes in religious belief and in social relations will be the consequences, not the causes, of economic changes. Therefore, we are directly concerned in attacking existing economic conditions, not the outward expression of those conditions, either in the form of religion or in that of the sex-relation.

In pursuance of their policy of attacking incidental rather than fundamental points of Socialist theory, our opponents have fastened on two items in the programme of the Social-Democratic Party for their special condemnation. These are the abolition of the Monarchy and the Repudiation of the National Debt. Now it is merely accidental that the first of these two items appears in the forefront of our programme. As may be gathered from what has already been said, the change of economic conditions is of infinitely more importance than any change in the mere outward forms or expressions, and therefore no Social-Democrat regards the abolition of the Monarchy as a matter of any immediate importance. On the other hand, Monarchy, as any other form of hereditary authority, is an absurd anachronism, entirely out of place in a free nation, and when capitalism is abolished the Monarchy will disappear with it, unless it has preceded it to an unhonoured grave. No Social-Democrat would care to raise a finger to abolish the Monarchy if everything else were to remain unchanged; but Social-Democracy with a Monarchy is unthinkable.

So, also, as regards the National Debt. It is a curious and noteworthy coincidence, by the way, that those Royalists who are so alarmed at the proposed abolition of the Monarchy should also be so anxious for the continuance of the National Debt. There appears to be a quite natural relation between Monarchy and debt. But just as no Social-Democrat would consider the abolition of the Monarchy of itself to be worth an effort, so, also, no Social- Democrat contemplates the repudiation of the National Debt while everything else remains as it is to-day. Nevertheless the repudiation of the National Debt must necessarily form a part of the Social-Democratic programme.

The maintenance of a National Debt as a means of extracting unearned incomes from the people is as unthinkable under Social-Democracy as is any other form of interest or profit-making. As to the morality of repudiation there can be no question, although this is the chief objection generally seized upon by our opponents. The people who are now called upon to bear the burden of this debt had no more voice in incurring it than had our prehistoric ancestors. There can be no moral obligation upon any people to discharge a debt or carry out a bargain in the contracting of which they never had a voice and were never consulted. Moreover, this debt has been paid over and over again, and, whatever the people of this generation may do, it is not conceivable that future generations will continue patiently to pay interest on a debt which, as a matter of fact, has been long since extinguished by repayment.

The relation between Monarchy and the Debt, it may be observed, does not merely exist in the minds of our opponents. It has not always been the “National” Debt. Originally it was the “King’s Debt,” as contracted by Charles II., of pious memory, and his brother James II. But then it only reached the modest figure of 664,264. Dutch William, however, altered all that. As a constitutional Whig monarch, he evidently thought it unjust for the monarch to possess everything, and therefore, although as old Cobbett says, it was still His Majesty’s army and His Majesty’s navy, His Majesty’s ships and His Majesty’s men, His Majesty’s Government and His Majesty’s Opposition, it was the “National” Debt. It was such a pity for the monarch to have everything and the nation nothing!

Having so kindly made a present of the Debt to the nation, William had no compunction about increasing the nation’s obligation to him, and so at his death the Debt had swollen to the respectable figure of 12,750,000, involving an annual cost of 1,200,000, or an expenditure in interest every year of just about twice as much as the total debt amounted to when it was “Royal,” at William’s accession!

Good Queen Anne raised this royal gift to the nation to 37,000,000, or about three times as much as it was on the death of William; and from that time onward it increased by leaps and bounds. By the war with Spain the Debt had increased to 52,500000 at the death of George I., with a yearly cost of 2,360,000. The year before the American War of Independence it stood at 126,000,000; the year before the outbreak of the great royalist war against France, it amounted to 237,400,000, with an annual cost of 9,300,000, and the year after the battle of Waterloo, the Debt stood at 846,000,000 and its annual cost 32000,000. Since then there have been some reductions, and at the present time the Debt amounts to some 756,000,000, at an annual cost of 27,000,000, or 10s. 3d. per head of population. It is only necessary to calculate the enormous amount which has been paid as interest only since the battle of Waterloo, and to bear in mind that much of the Debt has really never been borrowed at all, to see that it has been repaid many times over, and that no moral obligation with regard to it rests upon the present generation.

There are, however, many who can offer no objection on moral grounds to the repudiation of the National Debt, but who condemn it because of the hardship it would inflict upon many comparatively poor people whose investments in Consols provide them with their only income. On that ground, however, all forms of capitalist property might be defended, and all investments for rent, interest or profit be regarded as inviolable. There is probably no form of capitalist enterprise in which some poor people – the “lone widow,” the thrifty “little man,” the “decayed gentlewoman” and the rest of those who are trotted out to evoke sympathy against “confiscation” – have not an investment, the loss of which would leave them penniless paupers. If that argument held good we could never establish Socialism because we could never abolish capitalism. But when capitalist property is abolished there will be neither poverty nor paupers, because those who are able to work will he provided with the opportunity of earning a good comfortable livelihood by their own labour, and those who cannot will be properly cared for by the community.

H. Quelch.