Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction/Chapter 8

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Since the writing of this book I have fought a Parliamentary election in Scotland, with a Liberal and a Socialist for my opponents. Of Liberalism there is nothing just now to be usefully said; a sturdy individualism will always be one of the elements of character in our British race, whatever the fate of the political party which was its nineteenth-century expression. But the ever-recurrent propaganda of Socialism is at present in a very significant phase. Mere Bureaucratic Socialism has been criticised by events of late; the more we know of the working of dominant officialdom during the War, the less likely, I think, are we to desire it for a permanent master. My Socialist opponent was out to take away property in land and to abolish interest on capital; in other words, he would begin with a confiscatory revolution; but that was not of the essence of his position. His supporters— young men with a burning faith in their eyes, though often without the full power of expressing their argument—were, at almost every meeting, boldly defensive of the Russian Bolsheviks. There are two sides to Bolshevism; there is the mere violence and tyranny of the Jacobin, upthrown at a certain stage of most great revolutions; and there is the 'Syndicalist' idealism. To do them justice, it is the latter aspect of Bolshevism which really attracts and holds my young Scottish antagonists. The Bolsheviks are in revolt against a Parliamentarism based on local communities or, as they would put it, on so many social pyramids each with its Capitalist at the top. Their ideal is of a federation of vocational soviets or unions—soviets of workmen, of peasants, and, if you will, of professional men. Therefore the Bolsheviks, both in Petrograd and Berlin, have consistently opposed the meeting of national assemblies for the purpose of framing Parliamentary constitutions on the Western 'bourgeois' model. Their revolt is towards an organisation by interests rather than localities.[1] For the reasons stated in this book, such an organisation would, in my belief, lead inevitably to the Marxian War of international classes, of Proletariat against Bourgeoisie, and finally of one section of the Proletariat against the other sections—already the Russian town-workers are at issue with the Russian peasants. The end could only be world-anarchy or a world-tyranny.

Thus I come back to the quiet of my library with the conviction that what I have written is pertinent to the hot currents of real life in this great crisis of humanity. Our old English conception of the House of Commons or Communities, the American conception of the Federation of States and Provinces, and the new ideal of the League of Nations are all of them opposed to the policies cast in the tyrannical moulds of East Europe and the Heartland, whether Dynastic or Bolshevik. It may be the case that Bolshevik tyranny is an extreme reaction from Dynastic tyranny, but it is none the less true that the Russian, Prussian, and Hungarian plains, with their widespread uniformity of social conditions, are favourable alike to the march of militarism and to the propaganda of syndicalism. Against this two-headed Eagle of land-power the Westerners and the Islanders must struggle. Even in their own peninsulas and islands modern methods of communication are so levelling natural barriers that organisation by interests constitutes a real threat. In the Heartland, where physical contrasts are few, it is only with the aid of a conscious ideal, shaping political life in the direction of nationalities, that we shall be able to entrench true freedom. If only as a basis for 'penetrating' this dangerous Heartland, the Oceanic peoples must strive to root ever more firmly their own organisation by localities, each locality with as complete and balanced a life of its own as circumstances may permit of. The effort must go downward through the provinces to the cities. East-ends and West-ends divide our cities into castes ; at whatever sacrifice we must tone away such contrasts. The country-side, in which the successful leaders visibly serve the interests of their weaker brethren, must be our ideal.

There was a time when a man addressed his 'friends and neighbours.' We still have our friends, but too often they are scattered over the land and belong to our own caste in society. Or, if they happen to be near us, is it not because our caste has gathered apart into its own quarter of the town? So was it in the early Middle Ages, when we are told that three men might meet in the marketplace the one obeying the Roman law, another the customs of the Franks, and a third those of the Goths. So is it to-day in India with Hindu, and Mohammedan, and Christian. So was it not either in fourteenth-century Florence, or Periclean Athens, or Elizabethan England.

With too many of us, in our urban and suburban civilisation, that grand old word Neighbour has fallen almost into desuetude. It is for Neighbourhness that the world to-day calls aloud, and for a refusal to gad ever about—merely because of modern opportunities for communication. Let us recover possession of ourselves, lest we become the mere slaves of the world's geography, exploited by materialistic organisers. Neighbourliness or fraternal duty to those who are our fellow-dwellers, is the only sure foundation of a happy citizenship. Its consequences extend upward from the city through the province to the nation, and to the world league of nations. It is the cure alike of the slumdom of the poor and of the boredom of the rich, and of war between classes and war between nations.

  1. The vocational soviet of the peasants is only incidentally local; it is not local in the fuller sense of combining various local interests into a community.