Eduard Bernstein

My Years of Exile

The socialist intellectuals in England

THE Socialist movement of our time derives its energy chiefly from two great arteries of social life. One is the class struggle of the modern workers for the improvement of their material, political, educational, and social standards; the other is the ideological school of thought which aims at social reform. Each of these arteries is to a certain, extent connected with the other, is influenced by it, and reacts upon it. But this connection is not always obvious; not infrequently it is misunderstood or even at times denied by the interested parties. The ideologists of speculative socialism, the Utopians, were, in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, and during some part of the nineteenth century, unfamiliar with the class conflict of the progressive proletariat, and were repelled by the crudities and inequalities of the latter. Those engaged in the class conflict, on the other hand, looked down upon the ideologists as well-meaning but unpractical reformers. Only in the nineteenth century did the parties concerned become increasingly conscious of a mutual penetration, which according to the doctrine of Marx and Engels, finds its theoretical justification in the mutual relation of the material and ideological forces in history.

But the synthesis here indicated is not immediately translated into practical reality. A certain divorce persists. Ideology and the class conflict do not follow precisely the same path; above all, the rhythm of their movement is not the same. Ideology is in itself inclined to outstrip the class conflict and to prescribe its path, appealing to it and diverting it from its goal. And since the class conflict is not immune from interruptions or from wandering for the time being into blind alleys, the ideologists are not always in the wrong.

This alternate association and separation, conflict and correction, may best be studied in the history of modern Socialism in England. As a class movement. it had already put up a good fight, and suffered defeat, while on the Continent Socialism was still a pure speculation. Hence the great Socialist class movement of 1837-48 in England which we know as Chartism was burdened even at the outset with the recollection of two significant defeats which the workers had suffered, which had more to do with the path which the movement followed, and its internal conflicts, than most authors who have written of it have realised. The defeat of Chartism itself, which as a political party completely disappeared from the stage in the fifties of the last century, had a depressing effect upon the working-class movement of the following decades, and deprived it of that element of independent ideology without which any movement is in danger of revolving in a circle and becoming the raw material of other activities. This limitation of the intellectual elasticity of the Labour movement in England increased when the International Workers’ Association, which seemed for a moment destined to resuscitate the movement, was dissolved in 1872-73. The class ideal fell into utter discredit, and the practical movement degenerated more and more into the most downright utilitarianism and opportunism.

But then, with the beginning of the eighties, the Socialist ideology received a fresh access of strength; not entirely, at first, nor even substantially from the militant Labour circles, but for some considerable time, and in a greater degree, from a portion of the “intellectuals” of the various strata of the middle classes. What was happening in England at that time reminds one in many respects of the St. Simonian movement in France about 1830. Officials, scientists, men of letters, artists, and scholars of either sex constituted a majority of the public at Socialistic lectures and debates, and the celebrated meetings in the Rue Monsigny, the Rue Taranne, and the Rue Taitbout in Paris -found a parallel in London. Here were the same enthusiasm, the same schisms, the same impregnation of public opinion as there; with the difference that while in Paris St. Simonism was an actual stumbling block to a Labour movement which remained immersed in small middle-class undertakings, and evaporated as a Socialist ideology, so that at last only a small group of Liberal politicians and writers were all that was left of the real school of St. Simon, in England the adepts of the new doctrine had to deal with an already existing, fairly powerful, and self-conscious Labour movement. In order to obtain influence over it they sought to permeate it with their inspiring range of ideas, and to a certain degree they did actually do so. On the other hand, in London as in Paris the new movement produced a considerable number of persons who in respect of their talents and capacities raised themselves far above the average of their class, and won their way to respectable positions in public life.

In earlier chapters of these memoirs I have already named some of the leaders of this new Socialist movement, and have said something of them. I think I shall be justified, however, in devoting a special chapter to the most noteworthy of its representatives with whom I have come into contact in one way or another. At the same time, it will be understood that I shall not stand upon the chronological order of my acquaintance with them, nor yet upon the order of their importance. At the same time, I will make a beginning with that one of the English Socialists who is to-day most widely known all the world over: George Bernard Shaw.

I first heard Shaw speak in the autumn of 1888, at a meeting in Willis’ Rooms, a fashionable hall in the neighbourhood of St. James’s. There the members of the Fabian Society gave lectures, in accordance with a prearranged plan, upon various aspects of Socialism, which were afterwards published in collected form under the title of Fabian Essays in Socialism. Shaw gave the first and the last lecture of the series, and also contributed to enliven the debates after the other lectures. Each lecture was of course subjected, the same evening, to an animated discussion, and among the Fabians it was quite good form to question the speaker, whoever he might be, in a thoroughly critical spirit. In this province of debate Shaw was a master. Although he had not yet come to the fore as a dramatist, he was already celebrated in Socialist circles, and beyond them, as an original thinker, and was a great favourite as a speaker. An evening on which he did not speak was regarded by a great part of the audience at the Fabian meetings almost as an evening wasted. Shaw is a tall man, and had (for it is now fairly grey) reddish fair hair and sharply-cut features. His voice is not particularly powerful, but he speaks in a clear tone, usually without emotion; yet he is often impressive, and as witty as he is knowledgeable. His chief defect is that he knows only too well that his hearers expect paradoxes of him; hence he is over-ready to indulge in them, so that those who do not know their man are easily led to believe that he is merely a cynical jester. And Shaw is anything but that. His is really a very serious nature, and he is a very conscientious worker. His essays, to which we must of course add the prefaces to his plays, betray a writer who is a penetrating thinker and an extremely well-read and scholarly man. For a long time he was a regular visitor to the British Museum, where one might often see him buried in books. Of the collected edition of the Fabian Essays, which Shaw saw through the press, Edward Pease, for many years the general secretary of the Fabian Society, writes, in his recently published History of the Fabian Society:

Bernard Shaw was the editor, and those who have worked with him know that he does not take his duties as an editor lightly. He corrected his own essays copiously and repeatedly, and did as much for all that he was responsible for. The high literary level which the Fabian Tracts maintain is largely due to continual revisions and corrections, which are principally due to Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw, even though the tracts thus corrected may be published as the work of another.

That Shaw’s advocacy of Socialism was serious he has proved by decades of activity on behalf of the movement as a helper in every possible kind of propagandist work. He considered nothing too good for it, and with friends of the same way of thinking displayed a great catholicity in respect of the conflicting groups and factions. They defended their own particular policy, but did not allow this to deter them from speaking for Socialist societies which professed a different policy, since to them the movement as a whole meant more than their own particular doctrines. “We did not keep ourselves to ourselves,” wrote Shaw in this connection; “we helped the Labour organisations in every possible way, and they were very glad to have us. As a matter of fact, the difference between us and them was that we were working for all and they were working only for their own associations.”

He also mentions, in parenthesis, the word “permeation,” whereby we are reminded that the Fabians regarded it as their especial function not to form a party of their own, but as far as possible to permeate the existing parties and political associations with Socialism as they understood it. To quote one of their publications, they wished to be “the Jesuits of Socialism.” “The real reason,” Shaw continues, “why we specialised in debate and literary work was this, that the workers could not keep step with us or could not tolerate our social customs.” The majority of the Fabians belonged, either by birth or by position, to the middle classes, and as they were accustomed to criticise the traditional Socialism, particularly the doctrine of Marx as then preached by Hyndman, Aveling, and others, in a somewhat superior tone, they were in bad odour with many of the representatives of proletarian Socialism, as drawing-room Socialists, who regarded themselves as “superior persons.”

For a long time I had a prejudice against the Fabians, and therefore refrained from personal relations with them. Their whole tone and method of procedure was so contrary to the spirit of the movement as I conceived it that when listening to their discussions I often felt somewhat chilled. So as long as I lived in England I had little personal intercourse with Shaw, and if for once we had some conversation together it soon became obvious that there was a lack of concord between us, as though inhabitants of two different worlds were indulging in a polite exchange of opinion without the advantage of a common terminology. One needs a great deal of time and a good knowledge of history before one can really understand another people. H.M. Hyndman, who for many a year was the sworn champion of Marx, striving to compel the English to acknowledge him, once told me that he did not believe that Marx had ever properly understood England, and it may well be a fact that the author of Capital, who knew so much of England, and excelled so many English writers in his analytical criticism of the social and political evolution of the English, never completely penetrated the English rational mind.

Often, of course, the contrast is more apparent than real, and many things contribute to the opposite misconception, that the ideas connoted by similar political expressions do not completely coincide.

Some little time afterwards, in Bradford, at a Congress established by the Independent Labour Party, at which we were both present, Shaw disconcerted me by remarking, in the course of a speech, that he did not believe in a class conflict on the part of the English workers. He had plainly stated, in Bradford, that the Fabians would not enter the Independent Labour Party, and I had interpellated him on that account. But before a year had elapsed the same Shaw wrote, in collaboration with Webb, the call to battle, “To your tents, O Israel!” which first appeared in the Fortnightly Review, and then a Fabian Tract, summoning the organised workers of England to turn their backs upon the Liberal Party and to form a great fund to facilitate the election of independent Labour candidates, and a little later the executive branch of the Fabian Society, to which Shaw belonged, advised the branch Societies in the provinces that when a branch of the Independent Labour Party existed in the same place they should join it, in order to avoid a division of forces, and give up their own organisation; To a great extent Shaw practised what we Germans understand as the class conflict, but did not accept name, because to him it had quite another connotation. To his mind the Socialist movement extends far beyond the class to which we look for its real supporters, and his faith in the self-sacrificing energy of this class is slight. He is conscious that he himself is a Socialistic ideologist, but his is too critical a mind to swear fealty to abstract ideas. In his ideology he is a realist; one might say, paradoxical though it may sound, a critical ideologist, and perhaps this paradox might serve as a key to many apparent contradictions in his behaviour.

As a writer Shaw won his spurs in the province of journalism, which has been the school of so many significant personalities in the world of literature, and is intrinsically more highly valued in England than in Germany. To begin with, he displayed his quality as a satirist. He was still a more or less unknown beginner when one day, at a meeting of the Shelley Society, taking part in the discussion after a lecture, and deriding the partial tone of the literary artist affected by the lecturer and the speakers in the debate, he explained, as an introduction, that he was not sure whether he was really justified in speaking before the Society, since he was a Socialist, an atheist, and a vegetarian – and it was well known that Shelley also was all three. His position in journalism was that of musical critic on the staff of a Radical evening paper, the Star, and his criticisms, signed “Corno di Bassetto,” were read with great enjoyment, not by lovers of music alone. But he struck a severer note as critic of the representative arts when he became dramatic critic for the Saturday Review. His campaign for the reform of opera, since Wilhelm Wagner had shown him the way, had only been the prelude to a campaign for the reform of the theatres in general, in which Ibsen was his standard-bearer. With relentless satire he took the field against the reign of the conventional upon the English stage, and he scourged the contemporary English dramatists, who surfeited the British public with discussions which did not strictly speaking touch upon any of the serious problems of the day. The most prominent English tragedian of the day, Henry Irving, because he confined himself to the production of the plays of Shakespeare and other poets who never went beyond the portrayal of humanity, found in Shaw an implacable, almost a cruel critic. I have a lively recollection of an article which Shaw entitled “Mr. Irving fakes Paregoric,” in which he attacked Irving for putting a pious and melodramatic curtain-raiser on the stage, in which he played the part of an elderly invalid with a bad cough. For such melodramatic effects, Shaw continues, one requires no theatre and no experienced actor; any beginner can produce them. In which he was assuredly and essentially right.

With his own plays Shaw conquered the English stage but slowly. The first of them was produced by the Norwegian, J.T. Grein, at the Independent Theatre, before an invited public, and it was the leading lady of a provincial company who first undertook to offer a play of Shaw’s to the great London public. This play, which draws its title Arms and the Man from the first line of the Eneid, is a satire on the romantic conception of heroism in war, which demands such innumerable sacrifices. Shaw intended originally to allow the action to take place in the theatre of some English war, but, in order that it should not be excluded from the English stage, he finally laid the scene of it in Bulgaria at the time of the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885. Thus it could be played in London, and it was accorded a favourable reception. But the author found a larger public for his play in the United States. There he was already a recognised dramatist at a time when in England he was only beginning to be accepted as such.

Yet Shaw can be wholly understood only in England, or by people who know England thoroughly. His plays apply the lash to conditions and habits for which analogies may be found all the world over, so that they find the sore spot everywhere. But they have, nevertheless, too much local colour to be understood correctly in all their subtleties. In a new edition Shaw described how he had been present of a representation of his Candida in Germany, and to his astonishment saw that the actor who played the part of Parson Morell did so in pastoral clothing, and had all the appearance of a clergyman, which was not at all in accordance with Shaw’s description of the parson. To me this seems comprehensible enough. The actor had read in the book that Morell was a Christian Socialist parson, and had therefore probably taken some German example as his model, and acting upon the conception of the English Church prevailing in Germany, he must have thought that he ought to allow the ecclesiasticism of the character to appear rather more plainly than in his prototype.

However erroneous this hypothesis was, I should like to make a few observations relating to these representatives of Christian Socialism in England. I had occasion to make their acquaintance, and I know from them that Shaw had had extensive dealings with them, and had co-operated with them.

The most remarkable personality among the Christian Socialists is the Reverend Stewart Headlam, now in his seventies, who is, if I mistake not, vicar of one of the London churches. Shaw had him in mind when he made Morell an active member of the Guild of St. Matthew, an association of clergymen interested in social reform, which was founded by Headlam toward the end of the seventies, and of which he is probably still the president. The life of this man, who was a pupil of the admirable Frederick Denison Maurice, has been a continual struggle for definite progress in the most varied departments of social life. For a long time he was deprived of the right to officiate by the Bishop of London, and only when the see was filled by a Liberal bishop was the ban removed. Headlam, when the Radical free-thinker Bradlaugh, with whom he had many a tussle on religious questions, was excluded from Parliament, because of his refusal to take the oath, and was to have been imprisoned by order of Parliament, energetically espoused his cause, and agitated for the abolition of the compulsory oath upon the Bible, and the penal laws against blasphemy. In 1888 he was elected to the School Board by a working-class district in the East End of London, since when he has sat upon it or its successor constantly as a member of the radical Progressive Party, working there and elsewhere for the secularisation of the schools. He is a warm advocate of the theatre, and has founded, with the help of his fellow-clergy, a “Church and Stage” Society in order to increase its value for the people. He has also spoken and written in support of the ballet as a means of training the sense of beauty of form and movement. “No man,” said the Socialist Labour Annual for 1895, “is more hated by sycophantic Bishops than he is, and no one has a profounder influence over the younger clergy.” No man, I may add from my own experience, displays less of the pastoral character in his appearance and conversation than this clergyman of the Established Church .of England.

Even before I came to make the acquaintance of Stewart Headlam, I had occasion to revise my ideas of the English clergyman in respect of one of his younger colleagues. In the winter of 1889-90 I received, through Eleanor Marx, an invitation to a “social evening” which was given for its members by a co-operative consumer’s society founded by the gasworkers in the remote East End of London – namely, in Canning Town. “The Reverend Morris will take the chair,” I read on the invitation card. I resigned myself to an address full of religious advice. But it was not at all what I expected. When the entertainment was about to begin there rose upon the platform, from the place appointed for the chairman, a slender, black-haired man about thirty-five years of age, who delivered a short address explaining the value of the organisation, just as any Socialist layman might have done. But the entertainment over which he presided consisted almost exclusively of recitations and songs of a hearty and humorous character, the refrains of these last being sung by all present, while “Brother Bob” beat time. “Brother Bob” was the name which the working men – why, no one rightly knew – had bestowed upon Morris, who in reality, like his famous namesake the poet, bore the Christian name of William. He had a better claim to the title of “Brother” than to the name of “Bob,” since among the members of the Radical “New Unions” of those days it was used in the same sense as “comrade” among our German Socialist working men. A thoroughly earnest supporter of the Labour movement, the Reverend William Morris was held in great esteem by the Socialist workers of London. After he had taken his degree at Oxford he was appointed curate in one of the lowest quarters of South London, where he lived in the midst of the poorest inhabitants, to whom he devoted all his energies. He founded a club whose members he won over to Socialism, and a tiny room partitioned off from the billiard-room, with just enough space for his bed and his books, was all his lodging. In this club the May-day demonstrations of the London workers, which had such important results in the early nineties, were first discussed and determined upon. The Club even published a Socialist newspaper, but was unable to carry it on. After ten years’ activity there Morris was appointed Vicar of St. Anne’s, Vauxhall. But his exhausting work among the poor seemed to have undermined his health. A strong man when I became acquainted with him, he died at a comparatively early age. The alliteration of Morris and Morell and the personal description of Morell in Shaw’s Candida, gave me the idea that the dramatist had taken “Brother Bob” as his model.

Another Christian Socialist, the Reverend Percy Dearmer, had nothing at all of the priest about him. I had the opportunity of observing him at several meetings of English Socialists. On the other hand, as a contrast to these and other clergymen, the great English freethinker, Charles Bradlaugh, the only time I heard him, gave me quite the impression of a clergyman.

It was at a very memorable meeting that I saw him. It was held in St. James’s Hall, Piccadilly, in the early summer of 1889, in the honour of the leader of the Irish Home Rulers, Henry Stewart Parnell, then at the height of his fame. He had just been acquitted, before a legal commission, of complicity in the assassinations committed by Irish revolutionists. Besides Parnell, a number of the best-known leaders of English Liberalism and Radicalism were to speak at this meeting, and in spite of the high price of admission the hall and the galleries were packed. I was able, for a shilling, to obtain standing-room right at the back of one of the upper galleries, and had to console myself with the fact that people who had paid ten times as much had to stand packed tight in the gangways below. But it was worth the trouble. I heard John Morley speak, who in August 1914 finally justified his nickname of “Honest John” by resigning his post as Cabinet Minister (his salary was £5000 a year) because he did not feel that he could share the responsibility for England’s entry into the war. His speech at this meeting culminated in a vindication of Parnell’s policy. Parnell, Morley declared, had been perfectly right when in 1888 he advised his party to vote especially against the Liberals, in order to make them dependent upon the votes of the Home Rulers.

That is, Money justified a policy which had been grievously injurious to his own party. However, the meeting took this in good part. As on his first appearance, so on the conclusion of his speech he received a great ovation. But this was of course not to be compared with the homage paid to Parnell when he came forward. I experienced for the first time what a superabundance of enthusiasm these English are capable of, whom we describe as “cold.” All rose from their seats, cheering over and over again, waving their handkerchiefs, and finally singing in unison, “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” to the tune which we know as that of “Malbrouck s’en va-t-en guerre.” This with outbreaks of cheering, was repeated again and again with indescribable jubilation. In the most striking contrast to the warmth of this welcome was the cool tone of the speech of the man who enjoyed it. Parnell accepted it unmoved, returned not a word of thanks to those who offered it, and spoke only of Ireland, of her grievances, her rights, and her demands. In accusation he occasionally raised his voice: otherwise it surprised me by its great monotony. Parnell was one of those people who are very seldom able to escape from their reserve. In appearance and in reality he corresponded to the picture that we Germans have conceived of the typical Englishman. His own Irish colleagues often complained of his unapproachableness. It is related that when one day a member of his Parliamentary party was eagerly informing him of an important division in the words, “Parnell, our motion has gone through,” the leader at first merely replied, almost in a tone of rebuke, “Mister Parnell, if you please.” This coldness in the relations between the leader and his party evidently goes a long way to explain why the majority of the party comparatively quickly decided to refuse to serve under him when, after the exposure of the O’Shea divorce case, Gladstone demanded his retirement from the leadership; otherwise .he, Gladstone, would be forced to withdraw from the Liberal Party and abandon the Home Rule campaign.

A play has recently been performed in Germany which deals with Parnell’s relations with Mrs. O’Shea and his repudiation by the English Liberals with whom he had bargained, which it criticises roundly as a characteristic example of “British hypocrisy.” England, however, is not the only country in which an affair that so sorely infringes the current morality as the adultery of a party-leader with the wife of a fellow-member of the party makes it impossible for the leader to retain his position: if not at first, when it is known only to a few of the initiated, at all events when legal procedure brings it to the knowledge of the community. Everywhere the condemnation of the great majority becomes apparent only “when it all comes out.”

Among the speakers at the above-mentioned meeting were a dissenting minister, the Reverend Berry of Wolverhampton, and Charles Bradlaugh, the atheistical free-thinker. They formed a curious contrast. The Nonconformists are regarded as the real hypocrites of England. But Mr. Berry and hypocrisy appeared to be strangers to one another. Extremely agile in his movements, he sprang to the speaker’s desk almost like an acrobat, and in his address he exhibited a liveliness which no layman could exceed. Bradlaugh’s entrance upon the scene was very different. A broad-shouldered, well-built man, there was, in his movements as well as in the rather emotional tone of his speech, a good deal of the sort of behaviour which one connects with the idea of a clergyman, so that an uninitiated person who heard him and the Reverend Berry in succession might very. well have concluded that he was the parson and the other the free-thinker. At all events there stood the man who had once, under the nom de guerre of “Iconoclast,” delivered his bold assaults upon the belief in God, the monarchy, the ownership of land and other privileges, and had cleared the way for many reforms, already in the evening of his eventful life; for he died less than a year after the meeting. In his earlier years he would have spoken in very different accents. But at that time his appearance disappointed me, while the meeting in other respects made an immense impression upon me, and gave me some idea of what political excitement really means in England.

In the Reverend Thomas Hancock I came to know a Christian Socialist of peculiar selflessness. A product of the school of Kingsley and Maurice, Hancock had early resigned his position as an officiating clergyman, and only occasionally preached a sermon, his principal activity being that of research in the great library of the British Museum. In particular he had devoted himself to the history of the great English Revolution, and by the labour of decades had amassed an enormous amount of material, of which he himself made no use as a writer, but was always ready to communicate to others. When I obtained an introduction to him, from Stewart Headlam, and sent him my treatise on Democracy and Socialism in the English Revolution, which was then in its first and as yet quite unfinished state, he got a common acquaintance to bring me to Harrow, where he was living, and on this occasion placed whole cupboards full of manuscript at my disposal, in order that I might go through it and make free use of it, so that I could work upon my treatise and amplify it, as I had planned. This offer overwhelmed me so by its magnanimity that I could not at once make up my mind to accept it. At first I merely thanked him, but neglected to make any sort of arrangement with him; and when Hancock died a few years later the manuscripts passed into the hands of his heirs. When my treatise appeared the President of the English Historical Society, Professor E.H. Firth, was likewise extremely obliging. He wrote me, although I was then completely unknown in England, a long letter, in which he expressed the wish to see the book published in English also, entered into several questions which I had touched upon, and a little later visited me and called my attention to all sorts of sources which were so far unknown to me. All this was done in such an unassuming manner that I was really surprised and most agreeably affected. In certain German newspapers one may read over and over again that the Germans are the only people who are willing to do a thing for its own sake; as though there were not in every nation workers in different spheres who forget themselves and their interests in the subject to which their energies are devoted. What other motives than interest in the subject itself could have induced Mr. Hancock and Professor Firth to have offered so handsomely to assist me in my literary work I will leave the psychologists to determine.

Eleanor Marx one day told me of an action similar to Mr. Hancock’s. No one had attacked the Fabian Socialists more violently, and in my opinion more unjustly, than she and her husband. One day at the British Museum she needed some books which had just been issued to another applicant, and she appealed to the Fabian, Graham Wallas, with the request that she might be allowed to look over his library on a given day, as she knew it to contain these books. Shortly after wards she told me – and I could see that she was touched by the Fabian’s generosity – that Wallas had written to her to the effect that he could not receive her on the day in question, as he would be away from home all day, but he had told his housekeeper to show her into the library, when she could take any books she needed.

Graham Wallas is a contrast to the Christian Socialists, being a confirmed secularist. Himself the son of a clergyman, and originally a classical philologist, in 1885 he resigned his position as schoolmaster because it involved the obligation to communicate. Since then, thanks to years of activity upon the London School Board, and in connection with the secondary education of the people, he has acquired great authority as an expert in the sphere of popular education, and belongs to various public examining bodies. He has published very valuable historical works, and of his writings on social psychology the arresting volume on Politics and Human Nature was translated into German (Diederichs, Jena). He is a very decided democrat, and when at the beginning of August 1914 it appeared that England was in danger of being drawn into the threatening European War, he immediately founded a “Committee for the Neutrality of England” of persons of his own way of thinking, which appealed to the English people, in an advertisement filling a whole page of the chief English newspapers, to oppose England’s participation in the war in the most energetic manner. Two days later England’s declaration of war upon Germany, as a result of the German invasion of Belgium, brought the activities of the Committee to a sudden end; but the failure of the enterprise does not diminish the good will of the founder. That German Social Democracy voted for the war credits must have been a great disappointment to Graham Wallas, for, as he wrote to me in 1911, he had the greatest hopes of this party as a guarantee of European peace. But however greatly the war may have shaken him, he never deviated from his opinions, which are those of a good European, as is proved by his articles in the Nation and similar publications. As a writer and politician, and also as a man, Wallas is an unusually sympathetic personality, extremely kindly in personal matters, and equally stead-fast in his opinions in questions of principle. Thus in ate year 1904 he withdrew from the Fabian Society because he could not approve either of its attitude towards the Conservative Government in respect of the educational question, or of the Society’s demonstration in respect of Protection. In both respects he felt that the Society’s attitude was too much that of the statesman or politician.

However, his withdrawal, writes Edward Pease, in the History of the Fabian Society, was “not accompanied by any of those personal and political bickerings which so often accompany the rupture of relations of long standing. Wallas remained a Fabian in all but the name. His friendship with his old comrades remains unaffected, and he has always shown himself ready to assist the Society, whether by lecturing at meetings or by sharing the exceptionally rich treasures of his special knowledge at its congresses.”

Wallas was introduced to the Fabian Society by one of its members, Sidney Olivier, who at that time was, with Sidney Webb, an official in the Colonial Office. Unlike Webb, Olivier has remained faithful to his official vocation, in which he has attained a very high position, which has not deterred him from joining the Fabian Society, and also the Socialist combatant organisation, the Social Democratic Federation, while, on other hand, the publicly known fact of his belong to these Societies has not prevented his promotion to such influential positions as those of Financial Secretary to and Governor of Jamaica. In this connection the following incident is particularly significant Olivier was already Financial Secretary in and enjoying a short period of leave in London, when in 1897 he strenuously protested, at a meeting of the Fabian Society, against the fact that the executive committee had contributed ten shillings, on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond jubilee, to a collection raised for the purpose of decorating the Strand, in which the offices of the Society were situated. It was not fitting that the Fabians, who professed republican principles, should take part in preparations in honour of the monarchy, declared the man whose official rank was equal to that of a Prussian Governor of a Province; and he further disallowed the excuse that the Committee had only provided the sum in dispute because it had made ten times as much by letting the windows of the Society’s offices to sightseers, so that under the circumstances it would have felt that it was mean to refuse a contribution to the cost of decorating the street. The spirit in which Olivier administered the island of Jamaica as its Governor may be gathered from his book upon the negro question, which appeared in 1910, under the title of White Capital and Black Labour, in the “Social Science Series,” edited by J. Ramsay Macdonald. Relying upon his experiences in the British West Indies, Olivier contradicted many current opinions respecting the negro’s capacities for development, and the effects of miscegenation. In Jamaica negroes filled positions as municipal authorities, justices of the peace, etc., in a manner which in every way redounded to their credit, and the existence of a stratum of half-castes, where they cannot be excluded from attaining a higher social position in the future, is not to the prejudice of a country with a large, negro population, but is an advantage. It is a pity that this book, with its interesting data, has not been translated into German. Jamaica is regarded as a model by many Americans, who have to reckon seriously with the negro problem in the United States.

Sidney Webb and his wife, Mrs. Beatrice Webb Potter, are well known in Germany through the translation of their classic work on English Trade Unions and the English Co-operative movement, and many biographical sketches of this husband and wife, who are comrades in research and political activity, have been published in Germany. As not seldom happens in the case of married couples who devote themselves to literary activities, it is often debated which of them is the more significant, which has made the greater intellectual contribution to their joint work; the ex-Civil Service official, Sidney Webb, who worked his way up, step by step, with iron perseverance, from humble circumstances, or Beatrice Potter, the daughter of a railway king, a member of the upper middle classes, whom Herbert Speneer first interested in sociological research, and who, having worked for a long time among the poorest inhabitants of the East End of London, in a spirit of love and charity, was one of the most valuable collaborators of the social statistician, Charles Booth, in his great work upon the life and the working conditions of the English poor. I have met various Englishmen who asserted that Beatrice Webb was intellectually superior to her husband, but I think this opinion is founded upon an impression which, while perfectly comprehensible, psychologically speaking, is nevertheless merely an impression, not an adequately founded opinion. People who from their youth upwards have enjoyed a superior education, as was the case with Beatrice Potter, exhibit as a rule, in intellectual matters, a manner which makes them appear superior to those who have obtained this education only in later years, although their knowledge need not on this account be more profound or abundant than that of the latter. I have repeatedly observed this phenomenon when mingling with academic Socialists and self-made intellectuals of the working classes. Something of this situation may perhaps have existed during the early years of the Webb-Potter collaboration. The tall, dark-eyed, highly-gifted Beatrice, with her finely-chiselled features, and her arresting conversational powers, certainly made a greater impression than Sidney Webb, who was barely of medium height, and, in his earlier years, rather dry in manner, and who took a long time to shake off the ex-bureaucrat. But that is a long time ago. For a long while now the intellectual relations of husband and wife have been those of mutual collaboration and completion, and if it came to an examination in general knowledge Sidney Webb would, I am convinced, beat his wife in various directions. He is absolutely a walking encyclopedia, a fact which is particularly to be remarked when he has to answer questions or is heckled in debate. To work up a lecture which surprises its hearers by its wealth of material data is not particularly difficult, if one has a certain knowledge of the literature of the subject. It is only by the manner in which he holds his ground in debate that one distinguishes the scholarly and experienced expert from the merely dexterous dilettante addicted to scholarly pursuits. Almost every time I have had the opportunity of attending a meeting of the Fabians Webb has compelled my admiration by the assured manner in which he has given replies based upon expert knowledge to the questions addressed to him, however remotely they might be connected with the subject under discussion. His is manifestly the most powerful brain to be found among the Fabians, and to-day he gives the full impression of being the man of learning that he is.

Since Beatrice Webb comes of a wealthy family, the two of them have been able to devote themselves completely to the study of social and political reform and to working for it, without having to accept anything from the movement. Except that he has been, since 1892, a member of the London County Council for a working-class district of East London, which regularly re-elects him, Webb does not hold any important political office, although he and his wife are continually being appealed to as experts in connection with important Parliamentary inquiries. They live in a pleasant house in Grosvenor Road, Westminster, which runs from the north bank of the Thames between Westminster and Chelsea, and, like so many London streets, changes its character in different sections. A visit to the Webbs quickly shows one that one is dealing with people whose chief delight is research-work. But they should not be regarded as closet-scholars. Their horizon has a wide range. Edward Pease writes of their joint labours that as regards their writings it is impossible to distinguish exactly between Webb and his wife. From 1905 to 1909 the latter, with the Socialist George Lansbury, was a member of a Royal Commission on poverty and unemployment, and the Minority Report which she published with two other members of the Commission, and which made a great stir by reason of the radicalism of its proposals, and was extensively utilised by the Labour Party in Parliament in connection with their legislative proposals, was regarded as chiefly the work of Mrs. Webb. But as a matter of fact, according to Pease, “the inquiry, the findings, and the final conclusions were in the fullest sense of the word the joint work of Mr. and Mrs. Webb,” and the manuscript copy at went to the typists was in Webb’s handwriting. “Frequently,” adds Pease, “Mrs. Webb gives lectures from manuscript in the unusually legible handwriting her husband; her own handwriting is in curious contrast to her character – indecipherable even by herself without long scrutiny.”

A similar relation to that between Mr. and Mrs. Webb existed also between James Ramsay Macdonald and his distinguished wife, Margaret Macdonald, who died some years ago. Here again the wife came from the wealthy classes, while the husband had worked his way up from the lower strata of the people. Here again it was the Socialist movement which brought the two together: Margaret Gladstone, a niece of the eminent physicist, Lord Kelvin (William Thompson), and, as her name denotes, a relation of the statesman, William Ewart Gladstone, and James Ramsay Macdonald, the self-made Scottish agricultural labourer; and in this case also the marriage meant community of Socialistic labours. Their work, however, was rather different in character from that of the Webbs. The work undertaken by the Webbs was and is rather work for the Socialist movement, while Margaret Macdonald and her husband devoted themselves chiefly to work of organisation, propaganda, and administration in the movement; although they did literary work for it as well. As everybody knows Ramsay Macdonald has achieved a prominent position as a Parliamentarian, who always has the ear of the “mother of Parliaments.” A resonant voice aids the great rhetorical gifts of this slenderly-built man, whose hair, originally black as the raven, is now thickly interspersed with grey. As leader of the Parliamentary representatives of the great British Labour Party, Macdonald for many years enjoyed great popularity, until his critical and hostile attitude in respect of the present war rendered him impossible to a considerable portion of the workers. However, his star is again in the ascendant. When, about a year ago, he ascended the platform to make a speech at a National Congress of the Labour Party, he was, despite his former popularity received with icy coldness. But it is a sign of his great gifts as a speaker that his hearers grew more enthusiastic, and when he had finished it seemed as though the applause would never end. A very impressive speech, too; was that in which Macdonald, as the spokesman of the Labour Party, replied to Sir Edward Grey, when, in the historical session of the 3rd of August 1914, the Foreign Secretary informed the House that England would be obliged to stand beside France in the war. When Grey pointed out that England’s honour was at stake, Macdonald made the striking rejoinder that there had scarcely been a war which had not been founded upon an appeal to honour, and in how few instances had History justified the use of the word! Macdonald has now been dispatched to a Socialist Peace Conference at Stockholm by the Independent Labour Party, of which he is also a member, and he will certainly be of those who are in favour of a peace without annexations, in which connection it must of course not be forgotten that in May 1916 he declared in Parliament that Belgium must be re-established with her original territorial area and her independence as a state undiminished. “The sooner Germany rids herself of any self-deception in that connection the better.”

Macdonald, who, as often happens in England, entered political life as the secretary of a Member of Parliament (the Liberal member, T. Lough), is the author of various volumes on sociological subjects, one of which, Socialism and Government, has been published in German (Diederichs, Jena). His wife, who died in 1913, having borne him four children, has been beautifully commemorated by her husband in a memoir which he first sent only to friends and political comrades but later on, by the wish of these friends, he allowed an enlarged edition of it to be published. In it he describes, with great warmth of emotion, and nobility of phrase, how strong was the intellectual community between him and his dead wife, and how much she had been to him as wife and collaborator, and to the movement as a self-sacrificing champion of the cause.

An enthusiastic socialist, Margaret Macdonald did indeed exhibit the most unselfish activity in the various provinces of social work, devoting herself with particular zeal to the Socialistic organisation of women workers. Her selfless readiness for work, combined with an extremely winning manner, which spoke of an inexhaustible kindness of heart, won her many friends, I have never heard her spoken of save with the greatest affection. This affection and admiration readily overlooked the fact that her absorption in her work for the Socialist movement made her unduly indifferent to externals of every kind, at home, and in respect of dress. Once, when I happened to call on her one morning two years before her death, on the occasion of a temporary sojourn in London, at her flat in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, I found her, at a table in the middle of a room which her children, playing around her, had reduced to a state of chaotic confusion such as beggars description, quietly engaged in literary work, as though the uproar all about her and the condition of the room were perfectly in order. It did not occur to her even to waste a word of excuse or explanation over the matter. She simply had no eyes for these things, but began at once to discuss with me the development of our party in Germany. As a striking example of her indifference to dress, Macdonald tells of her that once, when she had to play a leading part in an important deputation, her friends had the greatest trouble to induce her to get a new blouse for the purpose, but when on the appointed day Margaret Macdonald rose to address the Minister whom they were interviewing, they saw, to their horror, that she had put the new garment on inside out! She was very wide awake, however, to all that affected the community. The articles which she contributed to the column headed The Women Workers’ Movement, which she edited for a long time, gratuitously, for the Labour Leader, were not infrequently illumined by that delightful humour which only a sympathetic understanding of human weaknesses can give. Macdonald writes that the basis of her character was maternal feeling. It inspired all her actions, so that her admirers were certainly in the right when, in order to perpetuate her memory, they collected a fund to be applied to the foundation of a ward in a children’s hospital, which was to be named after her. In addition to this a memorial stone in the leafy square before the house in which she dwelt to the last shows the great esteem which her public labours had won for her.

The Macdonalds were fond of entertaining their friends. Their “at home” days were most enjoyable, and one always found people there who were well worth meeting. They proved their friendship for my wife and myself, when in January 1901 we interrupted our sojourn in London in order to return home, for they arranged a farewell evening for us in their flat. There was to have been present on this evening a woman who, according to the opinion which the world had long held of her, should have been the very antithesis of the gentle Margaret Macdonald, but in reality she shared even Margaret’s delicacy of feeling: I am speaking of the heroic Louise Michel, the revolutionist, capable of the most vehement ebullition, yet at the same time so unselfishly ready to give help where it was wanted. She was unable to come on this occasion, but sent my wife, as a memento, a poem, beneath which, in absence of mind, she wrote the name of the month and the date incorrectly – February 1801, instead of January 1901. However, it might just as well have been the former date. The poem breathes an atmosphere like that which inspired the poetry of the of the eighteenth century. One is put in mind of authoress of Corinna when one reads


From Louise Michel to Mrs. Bernstein.

Au revoir, ayez bon voyage,
Mais en entendant autres voix,
En songeant sur une autre plage
Pensez à Londres quelquefois.

A Londres ou vers la science
Les femmes prennent leur essor,
Ou l’art tente leur espérance
En chantant sur la harpe d’or.

Au revoir, Londres est cher aux femmes,
Toutes aiment y revenir,
On dirait qu’y rodent des êmes
Cherchant la légende à venir.


(Farewell: but when your journey’s o’er
And other voices greet your ear,
When dreaming on another shore,
Think now and then of London here.

London: for here are women bold
o soar toward knowledge, throned high;
Here, singing to her harp of gold,
Art lures their hopes toward her to fly.

Farewell. To women London’s dear
Absent, our hearts are all forlorn,
As though our souls were straying here
To seek the legend yet unborn.)

I should have to make mention of many more persons if I wished to include all the married couples and single men and women in the world of the Socialist “intellectuals” of England who have distinguished themselves by notable achievements. I have often spoken of that loyal Fabian, Edward R. Pease, so that I cannot refrain from devoting a few words to his wife, Marjorie Pease. What her husband has been to the Fabian Society, that she has been for many years to the “Free Russia” League, whose object is to collect funds to support the soldiers of freedom in Russia. There are those “intellectuals” who have become stalwarts of the Independent Labour Party: James and Catherine Bruce Glasier, F.W. Jowett, and Philip Snowden; there are the “intellectuals” gathered about Robert Blatchford of the Clarion, and many others. But I must pull up. For however great the share of the “intellectuals” in the awakening and intellectual fertilisation of Socialism in England, the most important element of the Socialist movement is nevertheless the working class, and I must try to do justice to it.>


Last updated on 29.1.2003