« VorigeDoorgaan »
from their troubles which chance was to put into their hands. Be that as it may, the Labour leaders have learned now that, in the new era, the oldest and most persistent of British instincts-detestation of foreign interference and horror of revolutionary methods—is as strong as ever. They stirred it, and it has destroyed them. For the future, Labour will be indisputably and immovably a British, not a cosmopolitan, party. But while world events have been largely responsible for its international liaisons, the crucial question still presents itself-Is the Labour Party, in the new era, to remain a Socialist party?
No doubt, if they could shake themselves free of the Socialist theory, most of the parliamentary leaders of Labour would not grieve much. For they have seen how between February and July of last year their foreign policy, their finance, and, with some obvious qualifications, the general tone and character of their administration won golden opinions in the most various and unexpected quarters, and they know very well that by July the ordinary citizen had rejected the view that Labour'was not fit to govern.' These golden opinions were gained because the country realised with a shock of pleased surprise that the minority Labour Cabinet was doing its best to adopt a national not a sectional outlook, that it accepted the underlying unity of the national life as the basis of its administrative and legislative efforts, and tried, apparently, to keep steadily before its eyes the essential fact that, whatever are their points of difference or antagonism, the fate, for good or ill, of all classes, interests, and occupations in a community is inextricably interlaced and interlocked. The Labour Cabinet learnt much which their Parliamentary supporters did not learn. Their ability to learn was the measure, and the strict neaşure, of their success. But during that halcyon period there was only once or twice even the faintest suspicion of Socialism in their proposals. They realise—for they are able and astute-that the prestige of their party benefited enormously from the omission. And, so far as the onlookers could see, Mr MacDonald, none the less, in these months thoroughly enjoyed being a dignified Prime Minister, an interesting and successful Foreign Secretary; while Mr Snowden and
Mr Thomas seemed to support with equanimity their respective rôles of super-orthodox Chancellor and imperially-minded Colonial Secretary. But leaders, alas, must have followers, and it was only because their followers knew the Parliamentary situation prohibited Socialistic legislation that those happy halcyon days were permitted.
It is a different matter for the Labour Party in the country to abandon Socialism. The Labour Movement has been nurtured on Socialism, and from that source has drawn its positive thought, its special platform, whatever it has of constructive policy. Thousands of working-class intellectuals believe in Socialism as a cure for all their economic ills ; while every day it receives from the cultivated classes new recruits, who convince them. selves that the confusion, the waste, the friction of modern civilisation can be cured, but can only be cured, by an elaborate and powerful system of State organisation. For the Labour Party to abandon Socialism now would be to destroy its élan vital, its source of energy.
Yet Socialism will prove a fatal creed for Labour. Just as Internationalism destroyed the first Labour Government, so Socialism will destroy the second. The electors may give a Socialist party a parliamentary majority: they will never allow it to socialise Britain. If this be true, it might seem as if the country could well afford to watch Labour, at some future date, take a second plunge over a second precipice. But that is not so. It is of immense importance to the future of Britain that, within the next five years, Socialism should have been swept out of the field of practical politics. For if it survive, this danger survives with it. The British people will not tolerate more than two parties in the State, for they know that its political institutions are otherwise almost unworkable. Of the present three parties, Liberalism seems fated to be ground out of existence between the upper and the nether millstones, leaving Labour to form the alternative Government of the future. And as Governments and parties suffer defeat more from their own faults and failures than on account of the principles or promises of their opponents, some day, soon or late, the Labour Party will be swept into office on a wave of popular support. Labour's
adhesion to Socialism will not be a permanent bar to office, but the Socialistic experiments which will then be forced upon it will involve the country in a period of political and industrial confusion well fitted to undo the beneficial results which the electors confidently expect to reap from the years immediately ahead. If, then, it be the national interest to sweep Socialism out of the field of practical politics, and if, as seems to be the case, it be impossible for the Labour Party to do this, can it be done at all ?
To answer that question it is necessary to understand the elements from which Socialism draws its strength and its appeal. It is by its continuous and outspoken criticism of the defects of the existing industrial system that Socialism thrives. So much in sympathy with its criticisms are its supporters that the vast majority of them accept its positive proposals automatically. But the criticism would not be so favourably received unless to some extent it was both just and substantial. There must be some patent and serious defect in a system criticism of which strikes so responsive a chord. What, then, is the special feature in modern industrial conditions which gives validity and force to the Socialist attack? Why, in sober truth, should the wage-earner be attracted by the idea of making the State his employer and the community the universal master of the individual? The usual answer would, no doubt, be that the wage-earner imagines that from his labour vast concealed profits accrue to the employer, and believes, or at least accepts the view, that under a nationalised system of industry those profits would still be produced, but would be applied to increasing his wage. Such an answer is both superficial and incomplete. It leaves untouched the feature of modern industrial life which specially chafes and galls the wage-earner and, therefore, accounts for his confusion of Socialistic criticism with constructive statesmanship. The defect of the present system which touches the wage-earner on the raw is that under it he is industrially only a machine; that his wages are a mere part of the costs of production; that with the profits of the business in which he is employed he has no concern. He feels vaguely but deeply that it is antagonistic to democratic principles
and to human freedom that one man should, for another man's profit, act as a machine; that his hand should be on the same economic level as the tools it controls and works. And it is this deep but vague feeling which responds, and always will respond, when the Socialist says to hira, It is beneath your human dignity to be hired out as a machine to a fellow-citizen. Work perhaps you must, but you will regain your self-respect only if your master is the community and not an indi. vidual. The core of the problem is the status, not merely the remuneration, of the worker.
And that this is a feature of the modern system of industrial organisation is admitted, if not deplored, by all students of economics. It is a platitude to draw the contrast between the older system of the days before the industrial revolution, when not only were very many industries conducted by numbers of small independent men-the weavers, iron workers, etc.—but when there was in every industry almost a free passage from the position of wage-earner to that of employer, and the modern system, which has stereotyped the wage-earning class, closed that free passage, and enormously reduced the proportion of employers to employés. In fact, it is beyond denial that the industrial revolution in increasing the material prosperity of the wage-earner restricted his opportunities and lowered his status. And this defect in the industrial system has been thrown into the strongest relief by the democratic developments of the last fifty years, for in them education has given the wageearner intellectual liberation and status, the franchise has given him political freedom and status. Industrial status alone lags behind. So long as our system of private enterprise fixes a gulf between capital and labour, so long will Socialism-universal tyranny though it be-make an appeal to the wage-earners' instinct of freedom and self-respect. It is difficult for employers, perhaps, to realise how deeply an element so uncommercial enters into the industrial outlook of the wageearner. For the employer regards his business partly as a money-making concern and partly as a human relationship in which the responsibility for the welfare of his "hands' rests with him. There is no situation more tragic than that in which one man wears himself out in
the effort to fulfil his responsibilities to others, when all the time what they want is to have a status of their own. But it happens every day in family life: it has been a familiar enough feature in the political history of the last hundred and fifty years : to-day it is the essential element in our industrial life which must be faced and conquered.
The purely industrial results of this lack of status are, beyond doubt, disastrous. It accounts largely for the strike mood and the 'ca' canny' policy. Of the latter, indeed, it is the predisposing cause and main explanation, although the belief that ca' canny makes the work go round' has its influence also. And while some of the leaders are to-day apparently anxious to eradicate the strike and the ca' canny 'complexes,' their efforts, so long as the defect remains, will be of little avail and of less determination, for to their moderate counsels the unofficial strike' is the answer, and the 'unofficial strike,' which openly flouts their authority, undermines their position, and makes them ridiculous in the eyes of the outside public, is, to the leaders, the most haunting of terrors. Want of status bas indeed bitten deep. Is it not highly significant that the idea of ca' canny has taken the firmest root in the country where the freedom of the individual has the longest and most unbroken record ? It can hardly be otherwise than that ca' canny is the response of the specially independent character of the British wageearners to the main defect of the modern industrial system.
It is still possible, and as a contrast it is immensely instructive, to see the old system, with hardly a change, in operation in Britain to-day, and to observe bow profoundly it affects the outlook and the actions of the wage-earner and his relations with his employer. The most striking, perhaps the only complete, example is to be found in the agricultural industry of lowland Scotland. Its special characteristics are that all permanent workers on a farm are housed on the farm, near their animals, near their work, near their employers; that for their housing they pay no rent; that, if they are young, unmarried men, the farmer's wife or the farmer's servant looks after the bothy' in which they live; that often