The International Socialist Review (1900-1918)/Volume 1/Number 1/England and International Socialism

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4134483The International Socialist Review (1900-1918), Volume 1, Number 1 — England and International SocialismHenry Mayers Hyndman


Social Democrats of all countries will gladly welcome the establishment in the United States of an International Socialist Review specially designed to keep up an intellectual intercourse between the revolutionary Socialists of the new world and the old. I say "revolutionary Socialists" deliberately, because, although I understand the new periodical is to open its pages to all schools of Socialist thought, it is quite certain that they, in America as elsewhere, must eventually control the whole. The hatred and fear of the word revolution is always to me the evidence of a weak mind. Evolution in all departments of nature inevitably leads to revolution—often in a cataclysmal shape— and revolution does but confirm and realize the results of evolution. Whether this fresh period of growth, and of renewed evolution in its turn, is attained peaceably or forcibly at the last matters no doubt a good deal to the men of the time when the revolution occurs; but it concerns future generations very little indeed; and "the sanctity of human life," about which so much nonsense is talked by bourgeois sentimentalists, counts for nothing to those who recognize that the faculties and lives of millions of human beings are being relentlessly crushed out under the capitalist system of our day. For myself, then, I am a revolutionary Social-Democrat and I write as such to the International Socialist Review. Nothing short of the complete control of all the ever-increasing powers of man over nature by the whole people in co-operative accord, bound together by common consent in national and international solidarity, can finally relieve humanity from the last and in some ways the worst form of slavery. The wage-system is doomed as chattel slavery and serfdom were doomed. The capitalist class which, with its hangers-on, deems itself to be everything today, will be absorbed in the collective organization of fully-developed and highly educated democracy tomorrow. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the great Republic of the United States. Your Rockefellers and Vanderbilts, and Pierpont Morgans, who imagine themselves to be men of genius and financiers of wisdom, are nothing more than the commonplace and rather unseemly tools which the unconscious social development of mankind is using in order to prepare through their trusts and combines and monopolies the glorious co-operative commonwealth for which we as Socialists are consciously making ready. In this new stage of development America manifestly leads the world. It is high time that the workers of the United States should understand the tremendous responsibility which thus lies upon their shoulders.

Standing as we do between two great centuries in the history of the race, the century of capitalism and the century of socialism,—the day before us and the night behind—it is essential that Social-Democrats in their respective countries should keep one another thoroughly well informed as to the progress of the cause. Sooner or later we must all act together if we are to take full advantage of the developments going on around us in order to avoid the dangers that might follow upon a general attempt at reconstruction without sufficient knowledge and full international agreement. So closely bound together are modern industrial communities that what seriously affects one cannot fail to influence the others—as international crises have shown us time after time. In the same way, therefore, that it is of the greatest importance to English Social-Democrats to know so far as it can be known, the truth about the industrial and social development of the United States, it is of no less significance to Americans to have correct information in regard to what is occurring here. Attempts to make out that either society is more advanced towards the next great stage in human evolution than it really is can only do harm and tend to arrest intelligent progress.

Now there has been a tendency of late for Americans who have come to England in order to study our social and economic conditions to exaggerate absurdly the work which has been done and to advance the point at which we have arrived. This arises from the fact that most of the visitors from the other side of the Atlantic have been "put through," to use an Americanism, by the Fabian Society. That collection of middle-class gentlemen and ladies has learnt that self-advertisement is far more useful than first-rate ability under existing conditions and they lose no opportunity of endeavoring to prove to visitors to our shores that they are controlling the issues in this England of ours with great capacity to nice bourgeois-Socialist ends. They are great on gas and water. Tramways and model lodging-houses move their very souls. The trade union and the co-operative store awaken their intelligence to a sempiternal contemplation of economic harmonies. The etherealization of the town council and the apotheosis of the municipality constitute their highest conception of the Socialist state. If Bastiat could be resuscitated in a municipal waistcoat and Schulze-Delitzsch could revisit the glimpses of the moon girt with a lord mayor's chain of office, you would have at once two of the ablest and most influential members of the Fabian Society. Now so long as these worthies kept their half-baked rubbish for home consumption no great harm was done, but when it is exported to America as genuine then some mischief follows. If a few eccentrics choose to make twelve o'clock at eleven the only result is they get their midday meal half cooked; but there is no reason that I know of why they should be allowed to palm off this patent formula for procuring indigestion on credulous Americans. It is usually taken for granted that there is quite enough home-grown dyspepsia in the United States.

Now the truth is that in spite of the influence of collectivism on Municipal Councils, School Boards, County and District Councils and Poor Law Guardians, which after all is mainly due to the work of Social Democrats, the condition of the mass of the people is in many respects very bad. In fact, it is doubtful whether in the great cities of any other civilized country the bulk of the population is so wretchedly housed and the children of the poor so shamefully neglected as they are in the great cities of Great Britain. Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Bradford, etc., are in these respects little, if at all, better than the metropolis. What is more, no great improvement can be made until the whole problem is dealt with from the national point of view by the agency of a really democratic State or rather Commonwealth. And of any attempt being seriously made in this way, there is at present no sign whatever. In like manner the question of the unemployed is persistently pushed aside to a more convenient season, so that when a period of depression comes there is no effective machinery whatever for dealing with the mass of workers who are thrown into hopeless poverty by no fault whatever of their own. Owing to these and other causes vast sections of our city inhabitants are undergoing steady physical deterioration; to such an extent, indeed, is this the case that it is not too much to say that the majority of the adult males are unfit for military service. In some of the districts of the North, where volunteering and recruiting have been going on during this shameful war in South Africa, as many as seventy-five per cent of those coming forward have been rejected as physically incapable. When to all this we add the testimony of the certifying surgeons in our manufacturing centres that the children exhibit less and less vigor and we know from middle-class statistics that a very large proportion of those who attend the Board Schools are insufficiently fed, it is scarcely necessary to cite further evidence in order to prove that mere municipalism and localism, however useful in some directions, has wholly failed to solve the pressing social problems of our modern capitalist. In Roubaix, Lille, and other French towns where the citizens have much greater power and use it with far greater effect than in any of our English cities, our French comrades of the Parti Ouvrier are under no delusions whatever as to the capacity and the limitations of mere municipalism.

Let it rather be frankly admitted that, notwithstanding the assiduous propaganda of the Social-Democratic Federation for the past twenty years and of other Socialist organizations more recently, England lags behind the rest of Europe in acceptance of Socialist doctrines as well as in some respects even in the practical application of Socialistic palliatives. That said we may reasonably look into the causes which head back progress in this densely-peopled and capitalist-dominated island. I can do no more in this article than give a summary of the conditions which, in my opinion, tell against the spread of Socialism in Great Britain and account for the backwardness of our party here.

1. The ignorance and almost worse than the ignorance, the belated instruction of the mass of the people. They are not trained, either mentally or physically, in any systematic way. Consequently, their habitual reading is of the most snippety character and largely made up of silly little stories.

2. The low standard of life of a large proportion of the working classes. Bad air, bad food, bad clothes, bad surroundings enfeeble intelligence and destroy initiative.

3. Fairly good wages and better conditions of life for the higher grade of artisans, thus separating them from their fellows living on a lower plane and rendering class combination difficult.

4. The Trade Unions tend in the same direction, being in England almost exclusively an aristocracy of labor. The Amalgamated Society of Engineers does not allow engineers' laborers who attend upon the skilled men to join the Society on any consideration I believe.

5. The heavy emigration and colonization of the past half-century have taken off, as they did in the case of Spain, the most adventurous and determined of the workers, leaving only the less energetic behind to propagate the race.

6. The complementary side to this: the return of wealthy men who have made their fortunes over sea to settle in England, and especially in London.

7. These millionaires are all conservative in the widest sense, and they use their wealth and influence, naturally enough, against Social-Democracy.

8. The growth of the huge parasitic class of children of the people, domestic servants, purveyors of luxuries, semi-artists and the like who, being dependent on their rich employers, adopt their opinions.

9. The pauper class of our great cities already referred to, called by the Germans "lumpen-proleteriat," which is frankly reactionary. During the outburst of piratical jingoism from which we have been suffering, the poorest quarters were most beflagged.

10. Liberty. Everybody is personally free. The police are very fairly impartial to protect all sorts and conditions of men and women indifferently. What more do you want than freedom to struggle and starve?

11. Patriotism. We have had about a thousand years of successful manslaughter and piracy continuously, conquering all but men of our own race. "Rule Britannia," "God Save the Queen," "There's a Land that Bears a Well-known Name," etc., etc. All this balderdash is absorbed and given out in large doses especially among the poor and ignorant.

12. Religion. The Church has still an excellent innings and uses the great Catholic cathedrals, which it has "conveyed," wholly in the interests of the possessing classes. What the Anglicans fail to accomplish in this direction the non-conformists fully achieve. The God of England is always the God of the rich.

13. Charity. This covers and is intended to cover a multitude of sins. It is twice cursed. It curses him who gives and him who takes. But helps to maintain class domination comfortably.

14. Absence of conscription. The freedom from this bloodtax, though beneficial from many points of view, helps to keep the people contented.

15. The national instinct for compromise due to our long parliamentary and constitutional history.

16. Our antiquated political arrangements. Our political forms are at least a hundred years behind our economic development. We have neither universal suffrage, one man one vote, second ballot, payment of election expenses and of members, nor any other complete democratic method of election.

17. Our wealthy political men deliberately debauch the poorer voters in the constituencies by indirect but continuous bribery, especially in hard times.

18. The English aristocracy are extremely dexterous and painstaking. They work together in the interests of their order. The poor English "love a lord."

19. There is in England to a larger extent than in any other country in the world a great buffer class, if so I may call it, whose members and their forbears have never from generation to generation taken part in direct capitalist exploitation at home. They have been landowners, professional men, officials, slave-owners, merchants, "squatters," etc. But they have never been actual wage-slave-drivers. Hence they have no active sympathy with the capitalists as a class and modify the direct class antagonism and class war.

20. Drink, betting, love of games. These are terrible agents of the dominant minority, which the majority use against themselves.

21. Bourgeois Socialism. The Fabian Society, and to a less degree the Independent Labor Party, have done much to persuade such workers as they could get at that we Social-Democrats [Socialists of the Marx school], though we constitute by far the strongest single political party in Europe, don't know what we are about. Mischievous work of this sort acting upon ignorance and apathy is even more injurious than downright opposition.

Now all who read carefully through that summary and take the trouble to reflect upon its various points will form a reasonable idea of the difficulties which we English Social-Democrats have to encounter and overcome. These difficulties are none the less serious because they do not take the shape of violent antagonism. Apathy and half-hearted agreement are harder to fight against, in a sense, than vigorous antagonism. Nevertheless, thorough-going scientific Socialism is making way. Our ideas and even our own phrases have made their way into the whole of the literature of the country. In every department of political and social advance Social-Democrats keep the initiative, and the Trade Unions, reactionary as they still are in many respects, are increasingly ready to follow our lead. In fact, as I have often said, Socialism in England is like a vessel filled with fluid in a laboratory. It is fluid as we look at it; but give it a rough jog and crystallization sets in almost immediately. That necessary shock may come at any moment. The awful catastrophe in British India, where we are deliberately starving millions of people to death while drawing 80,000,000 of dollars in gold from the famine-stricken country this very year on Government account alone; the condition of permanent unrest and disaffection which we have carefully created at enormous cost in Africa; the growing antagonism to Russia in China and to France in the basin of the Mediterranean; the certainty of a great industrial crisis at home at the end of this period of "boom"—any one of these causes, or all of them together, may precipitate the realization of the coming period. At any rate, we are working vigorously on, and I have no doubt that in the twentieth century England will do her share to bring about the great Industrial Co-operative Commonwealth.