FROM THE PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION;
The substance of the following pages was originally delivered as a lecture in Glasgow and Aberdeen as long ago as 1891; but the successive reprints called for seem to show that it still meets a need.
In view of the number of middle-class men who have all along been associated with the Socialist movement - which, in fact, was everywhere initiated by middle-class men - there is specious warrant for the view that Socialism is not at all necessarily a proletarian cause. But the proletariat does not mean merely the manual-labour class. It means all who get their living by labour - the work of their heads or hands or both. The middle-class men who have helped in the propaganda of Socialism mostly belong to the intellectual proletariat. They live on salaries rather than on rent, profit, or interest. They are wage-earners differing from the manual-labourer only in respect that their wages are better. Macaulay’s famous cheque for £20,000 from Longmans & Co. for his History of England, represented wages. It was the reward of many years’ work upon that particular job, plus, of course, exceptional ability and the reading and experience of a lifetime.
But while we gladly receive the help of professional men, the presence of these in our movement does not appreciably affect its class character. Socialism is an attack upon the only means whereby millions of men and women in the upper and middle classes live, and the whole lesson of history is that they will fight savagely for the retention of their rents, their interest, and their dividends.
It is true that men of the classes have helped to carry schemes of socialization whereby public enterprise has supplanted private enterprise. But it is the shareholder in a company rather than the man who has built up a business for himself who is supplanted. The mere investor, barred out in one direction, knows that as yet there are other fields for his capital, and he does not resent municipalization as the man will do who is driven to the wall by it in his own personal calling. Let the Socialists in Parliament and the local bodies introduce any clear general attack upon private enterprise, as they must sooner or later do when they are strong enough, and then we shall see war. If men fight for territory, the flag, or ‘patriotism,’ will they not fight with tenfold more tenacity for their living, even if that living be as ill gotten as the territory?
PREFACE TO THE EIGHTH EDITION.
In issuing an eighth edition of ‘The Class War’ so long after the date of its original publication, one might expect to find many changes on the face of the problem as here stated. But in essentials the more the position changes the more it remains the same.
The handful of Haves have more than ever; the vast multitude of Havenots have less; for prices have risen and wages at their highest during the war never kept pace with the cost of living. At the same time British Capital ‘does so well’ that it cannot find safe and profitable investment for the surplus. All ‘new issues’ are ‘over-subscribed within a few hours. In one year (1924) no less than £6o,000,000 of British capital was invested abroad, mostly on precarious security, and Mr. Keynes said that in 1923 we invested abroad about two-thirds of what passed through the investment markets, and probably between a half and a third of our total savings. Yet the investors talk of ‘foreign competition’! The national income of Britain in 1800 is put at £174,000,000. This had risen by 1920 to £4,000,000 - a twenty-four-fold increase. But the income per head of population had increased only five times - from £16 14s. per head in 1800 to £85 per head in 1920. Two and a half million breadgetters secure more than half of the national income. Seventeen and a quarter million breadwinners get less than half.
With the trade unionism of the inconclusive demand - the dog chasing his tail - too many workers are still content. Yet the unrest is permanent. Nothing is done to remove the fundamental causes of it. The strike remedy only increases the dis-ease, which is poverty; for it means an immediate loss of wages, and, if successful, a rise in the cost of living.
The strike method is destructive, and destruction may be the work of an instant. Socialism is constructive, and by its very nature the process is slow even if the human agents were willing. And they are not willing. Socialism is long and life is short. On the other hand, the workers strike with pleasure. The mine is a place of darksome misery and danger. The stokehold is a hell of torture. The noisy mill, the icy rigging, the stifling retort-house, the stuffy printing shop, the clanging shipyard, the fume-laden foundry are all places from which the workers are glad to escape, especially if there be the hope of better wages at the end of a brief holiday. The workers gladly respond to the call of the strike-leader to come out. That is where the dangerous power of Syndicalism lies.
But Socialism involves reading. It involves attendance at meetings. It involves committee work, electioneering, speech-making, canvassing. And when the Socialist representative is returned, he is only, after all, at the beginning of his work.
The one thing the working class has not tried on any scale is definite Socialist representation on all the assemblies its votes control, with a view to the steady socialization of industry. In State or Municipal employ alone are wages increased and price lowered.
This new edition is issued in the hope that the pamphlet will help towards a more general and fruitful realization of the irreconcilable antagonism that must exist between Capitalism and Labour, and the adoption of the idea and practice of Public ownership and Socialistic administration as the only possible basis of industrial ‘peace with honour.’
The Class War.
The wit of man can devise no scheme by which the poor can become less poor without the rich becoming less rich, - The Star.
The more there is allotted to labour the less there will remain to be appropriated as rent. - FAWCETT; Manual of Political Economy.
What agreement is there between the hyena and a dog? and what peace between the rich and the poor? As the wild ass is the lion’s prey in the wilderness, so the rich eat up the poor. As the proud hate humility, so doth the rich abhor the poor. – The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, xiii. 18-20.
A state in which classes exist is not one but two. The poor constitute one state and the rich another, and both, living in the closest proximity, are constantly on the watch against each other. The ruling class is finally unable to go to war, because to do so it requires the services of the mass, which, when armed, inspires it with terror than the enemy.- PLATO; The Republic.
Disguise it as we may by feudal benevolence or the kindly attempts of philanthropists, the material interests of the small nation privileged to exact rent for its monopolies, and of the great nation thereby driven to receive only the remainder of the product, are permanently opposed. – FABIAN TRACT; Facts for Socialists.
No man profiteth but by the losse of others; by which reason a man should condemne all manner of gaine. The Merchant thrives not but by the licentiousnesse of youth; the husbandman by dearth of corne; the Architect but by the ruine of houses; the Lawyer by suits and controversies between men; Honour it selfe, and practice of religious ministers, is drawne from our death and vices. ‘No physitian delighteth in the health of his owne friend, saith the ancient Greeke Comike; ‘nor no Soldier is pleased with the peace of his citie, and so of the rest.’ - MONTAIGNE; Essay XXI. (Florio’s Translation).
It was a safe thing for Jesus to say; ‘I come not to bring peace, but a sword.’ He that comes to the world with a message bearing in it the promise and potency of great and far-reaching changes is a revolutionist; and the methods of revolution are and ever must be of the nature of war. The war may not and should not be one of balls and bayonets; but the feelings evoked will not be less vengeful, and the efforts put forth not less strenuous, than in the case of actual physical conflict. The glory of victory will be there, the deep chagrin of defeat, the patient determination, the generalship, the heroisms of men in the ranks, the surprises, the invincible hopefulness of the opposing legions, the headlong partisanship, the impetuous devotion to leaders - nothing of all this will be awanting in the war which pioneers and prophets bring into the world,
The Victories of Peace.
‘Peace hath her victories not less renowned than those of war’ we are told; but the word ‘war’ is used there in the limited lethal sense. The so-called victories of peace have actually been won in battle with the hosts of ignorance, prejudice, and selfishness - the soldier of rationalism against the mercenary of superstition, the friends of freedom and justice against the trained bands of privilege, despotism, and hoary use-and-wont. The victories of peace are the increase of knowledge, the development of the arts, the application of the sciences the growth of liberty, the diffusion of happiness; and every step in the onward march has been hotly contested. The army of invasion has been met at every point; and the deeds done in the many fields of battle fill the brightest pages in history, and are the glory and the stimulus of every fighting, forward-looking spirit in the world to-day.
The greatness of a man’s message to the world is determined by the amount of good it is capable of doing to mankind; and the more it promises to better the lot of mankind in general the more it will threaten to disturb the interests of favoured classes in particular. The theory of Socialism is that the division of society into classes renders social warfare inevitable while the class divisions continue to exist. Socialism contends that the poverty of the poor is caused by robbery on the part of the rich. The mansion explains the hovel; Belgravia has its counterpart in Shoreditch. The factory, the foundry, the shipbuilding yard account for the shooting-lodge, the yacht, and the tours in foreign lands. The long day’s toil of one class renders possible the lifelong play of the other. The withdrawal from school at any early age of the worker’s son enables the gilded youth to put in years at college. If there were no antagonism between the classes, all members of the community ought to suffer by the loss of any one among them. As it is, one man’s loss is another man’s gain. If there were community of interests throughout society, fire, flood, or shipwreck ought to be disastrous to every member of society. But because the interests of the classes are not identical, the destruction of buildings by fire, the inundation of the wealthy quarter of a town, the loss of ships at sea, give employment to the artizan who repairs the loss and damage, and transform the hoard of the capitalist into the wage of the labourer.
Commonplaces of demagogues, you may say. No! For does not the political economist, and all who are of his way of thinking, contend that the class interests can be reconciled? Are there not millions of men - working men even - who accept the political economist’s view? Are there not scores of men in this hall at the present moment who believe that there is no necessary antagonism between landlord and tenant, between capitalist and labourer, between rich and poor? Who believe that the prevailing want of harmony between the classes arises from the individuals rather than the institutions? You are not all of you want to put an end to capitalism. Many of you believe that it would be stealing to take back your own country from the men whose ancestors stole it long ago. If the air were stored in tanks, or the sunshine bottled up, you would many of you accept the situation as a matter of course. You would pay for the air at so much per 1000 cubic feet - for the sunshine at so much per dozen beams in bottle.
And you will come out on strike again, many of you. You can’t get along with the capitalist; but you still think you couldn’t get along without him. When, in good times, your strike secures you an increase of a shilling or two in your week’s wages you imagine that you have acquitted yourselves nobly, and that the social problem is so much nearer solution. You leave out of account the fact that if good times bring you an extra shilling they bring your employer an extra sovereign; that, while you are absolutely getting more, you are relatively getting less. You will forget that if you get more wages while in employment, yet that employment is more insecure – that you or some of your comrades will be oftener among the unemployed – and that every year your labour becomes more and more intensified. You are content to mark time with Trades Unionism, instead of marching forward with Socialism. You vote for the nominee of the whisky ring. You work like little giants to secure the return to the Town Council or to Parliament of the man who has made his fortune by sending coffin ships to sea, and pocketing the insurance money. You prefer the man with money to the man with brains and good intentions. You snub your political friends, and send them away sick at heart, and despairing of you and your cause. It is little wonder if at times we get sick of you, get sick of talking to you, get sick of our own comrades-in-arms even, and take to ‘slating’ one another. Yet you pretend that you do not need us to preach the Class War to you! But we will preach, and you will hear us, and ultimately you will be forced to recognise that the Class War exists.
You say you recognise that already! Why, then, are so many of you there and not here? Socialists stand along among social reformers in recognising the existence of the Class War. Political Economists, mere Trades Unionists, and Liberals believe that the best way to bring good times to working men is to bring good times to their masters. They want to see Britain able to keep her markets. They believe in technical education as a thing that will enable them to beat the foreigner. When an employer voluntarily grants a reduction of hours, his Trades Unionist employees hasten to pass a vote of thanks to him for the concession; and if a Socialist reminds them that, after all, the employer is only neglecting an opportunity of taking that last ounce of his pound of flesh, with which he is already pretty well gorged at their expense, they turn on that Socialist and rend him. His alleged churlishness is the subject of talk with them for months, and they recriminated with dogged malice on the party to which he belongs.
When you start a trade union what do you take as your motto? Do you go to the Communist Manifesto for some of its barbed and glancing epigrams, or to Kropotkin’s ‘Appeal to the Young,’ or to some of the many revolutionary passages in Isaiah, James, or Paul’s Epistles? No. You print on your stationery an antiquated piece of bunkum which sets forth that you are ‘United to protect, but not combined to injure.’ As if the aim and end of the Labour movement were not to inaugurate a system of society in which the occupation and emoluments of the landlord and the capitalist would no longer exist! I have heard a titled person state that Trade Unionism, so far from being inimical to the interests of capitalists, was a good thing for them. And the working men present applauded the statements as though it were quite right and comforting that it should be so. When I pointed out, as I took occasion to do, that the only way to help the worker to the full reward of his labour was to make an end of capitalistic profits and of landlordial rents, the more Socialistic ones among them rode off on the plea that even that would be a good thing for the capitalists and landlords.
The Successful Business Man.
I advise you not to wait till you convince them of that! I meet capitalists in the cars, at public dining tables, and in their own homes sometimes, and I find that their faces are not set in the direction of ‘the cities of the Commune.’ They do not, like Falstaff, ‘babble of green fields,’ nor pine and sigh for liberty, equality, and fraternity. They have a good deal to say, though, about Copper and Rubber and Imperial Tobacco. At election time they manifest a bashful interest in municipal politics, as if they were ashamed to be detected taking any interest in such vanities; and it is easy to see that anything outside of business is outside their beat. They have a good-humoured contempt for politicians of all sorts; and for the enthusiastic politician their contempt is undisguised. A business man may drink and fornicate, may play billiards, shoot pigeons, bet on racehorses, spend his time and money on a hundred and one useless or positively hurtful things, and these will be regarded as the legitimate recreations, or, at worst, the excusable failings of a busy man. But let him dabble in politics, and immediately his business friends will begin to sneer and indulge in scornful head-tossings; and there will be a general agreement that it would become him better to attend to his business. Old Middlewick, in the play of ‘Our Boys,’ is a typical capitalist; and when old Middlewick was consulted on any question in art, science, or literature, you remember his answer always was – ‘Well, I don’t know anything about that; but you must allow that I’m an authority on butter!’ The leopard cannot change his spots, and even if the typical capitalist saw that capitalism were doomed, as it is, he must needs resist us.
I have known men retire from a distasteful business in which they had made enough money to enable them to spend the rest of their lives in comfort, even affluence. But so completely were they wedded to the ignoble excitement of money-getting that they had to return, like the sow that was washed, to their wallowing in the mire, Russell Sage, the mean millionaire who pushed another man in front of him to save him from the flying projectiles of a bomb, shortly afterwards closed his own magpie life of gathering, and left his millions to be fought over. What is said by these lunatics on behalf of their craze is that if those who come after them have as much pleasure in spending the money as they have had in making it, they are quite welcome. What an inversion of healthy sentiment is this! Many a jolly bagman who is pleased to book your order hates to collect the account on his next journey. He wants to give you discount, wants to make abatements if you grumble, offers to stand you your dinner or at least a drink, in return for favours conferred. But the typical successful man grabs your cash with an eager eye and a greedy, nervous hand; he grudges to give discounts; his ‘Thank you’ is cool and perfunctory; and he passes as promptly to the next deal as if he had conferred a favour on you instead of having enriched himself. And so soon as he has got his order or completed his bargain he is off for the next victim, hardly waiting to shake hands. What idea can such men have of the truth there is in the saying that it is more blessed to give than to receive? Yet so perversely are we constituted that some of us, worshipping success, can actually find in our hearts to admire this incarnation of calculating selfishness, recognising that if we could be equally bloodless and inhuman we also should ‘succeed’ as he does.
Take these men away from their stocks, their shares, their ledgers, and their economics, and you take the life interests away from them. Take them out of the harness of commercialism, and they will, as the tramp said, ‘be eternally blasted and knocked out of shape.’ The chances are that, as servants of a Socialistic Municipality which did not cheat anybody, they would pine and die under what would seem to them such degenerate conditions. So that on any understanding these men must suffer before we can secure the greatest good of the greatest number. Let us clear our minds of cant, then, and preach the Class war without holding any cards up our sleeve, and without bringing upon ourselves the necessity of ‘winking the other eye.’ Peasants and mechanics write immortal poems, and lead the people to great democratic victories. Though now
They toil in penury and grief,
Unknown, if not maligned,
Forlorn, forlorn, hearing the scorn
Of the meanest of mankind –
they will be remembered by posterity as men who did something to leave the world better that they found it. But the swag-bellied money lords, who have spent their lives in getting and hoarding, will go down voiceless to ignoble graves, and history will be read as if they had not been, and succeeding generations will know them not.
The Moralisation of Capital.
You probably have not heard the phrase, ‘moralisation of capital’ – used by the Positivists – but you believe in the thing which the phrase denotes. We hold that ‘moralised capital’ is of a piece with ‘honest stealing,’ ‘virtuous vice,’ ‘truthful mendacity,’ or ‘beautiful ugliness.’ The only way in which the capitalist can ‘moralise’ himself is by ceasing to be a capitalist altogether.
Capitalism is a fraud in its inception, and still more fraudulent in its subsequent workings. A man, by starving his mind and body, is able to save money. He borrows books instead of buying them. He starves his emotional nature by neglecting to go to the theatre, because to go to the theatre costs money. He doesn’t go to concerts because concerts cost money. He is a teetotaller, not so much because he wishes to keep his stomach clean and his head clear, but because his ideal men are teetotallers, gradgrinds who mortify the flesh in order to save. He doesn’t marry: he can’t afford it – yet. He either suppresses his natural desires – desires as healthy as the craving for food - or else, like a tom-cat, he prowls around at night. When he goes to the races or to some fête or fair he leaves his purse at home for he should be tempted to spend. When a subscription is being taken for a public purpose he does not approve of the object; or if it is for some unfortunate fellow-worker he thinks So-and-so has been careless, and doesn’t deserve help. While the flowers and the birds are arrayed more gloriously a Solomon, the saving man dons the ancient, verdant overcoat for another winter, sends his summer suit to the washtub, and continues to sport the hat that was in fashion, so to say, when George the Fourth was king. Thus stultifying his life, and by refusing to do his duty to himself and his fellows, he is able to save money. And the money is saved with a bad intention. The aim is either to start independently in business, or else to secure shares in the undertaking paying the highest dividends compatible with security. The object of this man is to leave his class behind him, and to live upon labour rather than by it.
But the working man can never save very much, let him be never so stingy. If he start in business he must necessarily do so in a humble way, and should he die rich his riches will represent, not his own savings, but surplus value of other people’s labour. We do not ask you to have an over-abundant respect for wealth so accumulated. The best men are not able to save money. The best men are not seldom in debt. The man who has store of money with a banker while men, women, and children are starving, and while great movements languish for want of money, is in need being of being experimented upon by Acts of Parliament taking the form of something different from an Income Tax.
The War in Operation.
‘The wit of man can devise no scheme by which the poor can become less poor without the rich becoming less rich.’ Men who tell you that you can be well off without hurting anybody’s pecuniary interests are either insincere or don’t understand the Social Question. Proper State Insurance would ‘rob’ the insurance societies. Temperance would ‘rob’ the publicans, pawnbrokers, distillers, and brewers. Saving would ‘rob’ the shopkeeping class in general. Vegetarianism would ‘rob’ the butcher in particular. Successful Co-operation in production and distribution would ‘rob’ the capitalist; partially successful Co-operation is already ‘robbing’ him. Shopkeepers and commercial travellers complain bitterly of how the ‘Co-op.’ ruins trade, which means that they are not able to get the profits they once could. Our objection to all these schemes is that they don’t ‘rob’ the ‘robbers’ enough. Socialism takes up the work where they leave it, and would ‘rob’ the monopolists of all power to take from the community rent, profit, interest, and ‘fancy’ salaries.
The Genus Flunkey.
There are those who deny the existence of a Class War, and claim that the antagonism is as keen between individuals within one class as between one class and another. As an example they cite the footman or valet, who has more contempt for Socialism and the useful worker, and stronger prejudices against both, than even his master has. But the lackey is perhaps the only case of a man belonging to the proletariat whose class feeling is thus perverted. All other men of the working class may feel that they could get on with the rich. Soldiers, men-of-war sailors, prison warders, policemen, often sympathise with Socialism. The flunkey never. Ignorant, gluttonous, unwholesome from confinement and the keeping of bad hours, the pasty-faced ‘buttons’ becomes in time the bottle-nosed butler. Taught no useful calling, repressed, drum-majored, segregated from the ordinary folk of their class, the gentry’s gentry must feel that with the rich they stand or fall. The flunkey’s position industrially - if his work can be called industry - is unique. He is the one exception to the rule of the Class War. The selection of this one declassed class calls attention to the fact that there is none other such. Other people work for the rich only because the poor cannot buy their products. The seamstress who makes court dresses could make frocks for our wives and daughters. The tailors who make clothes for ‘the nobility and gentry’ could make coats and breeches for us. The painters, gilders, and tile-fixers, the upholsterers, and workers in marquetry who put in so much time in the homes of the rich could be working in our homes. Let the rich take their hands out of our pockets, let our labour be properly organised instead of being wasted, and we should be able to employ, in work for ourselves, those who at present minister only or chiefly to the well-to-do. But there is no place for the flunkey at his work. No sensible man wants a valet to put on his clothes. No sensible man wants a boy in buttons to run his errands or a big man in silk stockings to open the door. A man of sense wants to be served at table by a deft-handed woman, not by a man in a swallow-tailed coat. The flunkey is usually neither strong enough nor game enough to act as waiter and chucker-out in a public house. Heaven knows what is to become of him unless he die out gradually as the expropriators are bit by bit expropriated.
The men of the first French Revolution saw that the lackey was a useless and mischievous creature, and they tried to abolish him by forbidding the wearing of liveries.
What the flunkey may think about Socialism, or how he may feel towards the workman, makes no difference to the existence of a Class War.
The Hatred that is based on Love.
There is no way in which the Class War can be avoided. You can’t have the reward of your labour and the idler have it too. There is just so much wealth produced every day. It may be more, it may be less; but there always is just so much; and the more the capitalist gets the less you will get, and vice versa. We preach the Gospel of Hatred, because in the circumstances it seems the only righteous thing we can preach. The talk about the ‘Gospel of Love’ is solemn rubbish. The hatred of stealing, lying, meanness and uncleanness, hypocrisy, greed, and tyranny means the love of the obverse of these. Those who talk about the Gospel of Love, with landlordism and capitalism for its objects, want us to make our peace with iniquity.
We don’t preach hatred of men, but hatred of systems and those features men’s characters which are the outcome of the false and bad in the systems. The rich are amiable; they have little call to be cross when all goes so well with them. They are good-natured because comfortable and not over-anxious for the morrow. They are pleasant companions because they are educated beyond the measure of letters accorded to workers. They have been accustomed to the society of men who are informed by reading, by travel, and by association with others like themselves. They have been fined by their intellectual, æsthetic, and generally pleasant social surroundings, and can afford to think well of the world since it has been so good to them. We don’t hate them. Indeed, we like and admire them often. We welcome one of their number when he comes among us, because we feel that he has had advantages not extended to us.
But unless we hate the system which prevents us from being what we otherwise might have been, we shall not be able to strive against it with the patient, never-flagging zeal which our work, to be well done, requires. And to keep alive and undimmed this flame of hatred, divine not diabolical, we require not only to look around us, but especially to look back upon the world as it has been, and to the example of those who have fought the good fight. To Socrates dying for the right to speak and reason on any subject under heaven or heaven itself. To him whose great career and tragedy the Christian world would render meaningless by calling them by the career and tragedy of a god. To Savonarola, brooking the power of gold in stately Florence, heedless of the consequences which might come to himself. To John Ball, Wat Tyler, and John Cade, in our land the first forerunners of Socialism. To Bruno and Vanini, holding aloft the light of reason in a land and an age of darkness and cruelty, and suffering the death agony with unexampled fortitude before an utterly hostile world. Then again, coming nearer to our own day, to Cromwell, Milton, Hampden, and Pym, to John Eliot, Harry Vane, and the many other doughty ones who defied and worsted the kingly power of the first Charles. Nearer still, to More and Baird and Andrew Hardie, to Ernest Jones, Bronterre O’Brien, and Robert Owen. Yet again - for the list is long, the company a goodly one - to Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet, to Allen, Larkin, and O’Brien, the ‘noble three’ of the Irish song and story; to Vera Sassoulitch, Marie Spiridonova, Sophia Perovsky; to Karl Marx, intellectually rigorous, morally incorruptible, living for the Revolution in days when the Revolution both seemed and was distant. To Henry Hyndman, who by the work of a lifetime, with voice and pen, has made the Revolution possible in Britain. To William Morris, the poet and artist-prophet of the new society. To Keir Hardie who engineered first great electoral victory of the Fourth Estate. To Robert Blatchford and Edward Bellamy who made Socialists by the million. How great is our inheritance! how illustrious those who have preceded us on this path!
You think we claim too much when we call some of these men our lineal predecessors? Hearken to what one of them, the so-called ‘mad’ priest of Kent, said more than five hundred years ago;-
Good people, things will never go well in England as long as goods be not in common, and so long as there be villeins and gentlemen. By what right are they whom we call lords greater than we? On what grounds have they deserved it? Why do they hold us in serfage? If we all came of the same father and mother, of Adam and Eve, how can they say or prove that they must needs be better than we, if it be not that they make us gain for them by our toil what they spend in their pride? They are clothed in velvet, and warm in their furs and ermines, while we are covered with rags. They have wine and spices and fair bread, and we oatcakes and straw, and water to drink. They have leisure and fine houses; we have pain and labour, the rain and the wind in the fields. And yet it is of us and our toil that these men hold their state.
An Opportunity Lost.
They ought to have settled the Class War in those days so far as England was concerned. The reason why they did not do so was because they did not cherish the class hatred as John Ball cherished it, and did not see as clearly as he saw what required to be done. They had 120.000 men in the field, London and all the southern and midland counties were at their mercy. But they trusted to a king to settle the problem which they could only settle themselves. They believed in Richard and neglected their own leaders, just as the working class reads and believes the Daily Mail and votes Tory to-day. The trouble is the same to-day. You are too humble, too easily satisfied. You don’t know what you are entitled to, even under the present system; and you haven’t settled in your mind what you want in a future system.
‘Man, Know Thyself!’
You must be more envious, more jealous; you must develop more needs, more tastes. You must read and listen, and then you know how ignorant you are. You must consort with your betters in education and refinement (and I can suggest no better company than the poets, historians, scientists, economists, and philosophers). Then you will realise the extent to which society has robbed you. You will feel what you might have been; and the iron will enter into your soul.
You must try to account for the vices and the failings of your comrades in this movement, and then you will be able to forgive almost everything except treason to the cause. You must seek your own good, not in saving, Friendly Societies, or the ‘main chance’ in any way, but in the general good - knowing that if all rise you must rise with the rest.
‘Born to be a Man.’
I want you to ‘realise’ yourself. You want to be happy; but it is not enough to be happy. A pig may be happy in its sty. You ought to want to be happy in the best possible way. The end before us is perfection of being, both physical and mental. What a wretched lot we are in this hall to-night! How many of us could ride a horse, row a boat without ‘catching crabs,’ swim across a river, rescue a drowning woman, fight a stalwart footpad who offered violence, deliver a coherent speech in public, or even write a correct and intelligible letter? You have read the epitaph – ‘Born to be a man, but died a grocer,’ and you have smiled at the expense of the man of cheese. But the rough epitaph might, with variation, go the round of the trades and professions. For there are many male children born into the world who never have an opportunity of becoming more than printers or carpenters, lawyers or pedagogues, parsons or touts. Unless man’s estate be something short of what I take it to be we are most of us minors - we are still in our pupilage.
When you realise this you will set your teeth for the Class War. You will go in for politics, become agitators more or less, and probably get an ill name. The things you will be working for, the jargon of which your speech will be full, will be something like this:- Shorter hours is the first thing I want, that the workless may get a hand in, and that the workers may have time to read and think and watch their children grow. Then a tax on landlords, by which we may recover as much as possible of what passes us as rent. Then abolition of the House of Lords and the monarchy. Then more Home Rule and more local Government, that town and county councils may cope with the greatly increased work devolved upon them. Then extension of municipal operations; the socialization of coal stores, dairy farms, bakeries, laundries, public-houses, the slaughter of cattle and the sale of butcher meat, the building and letting of houses - in short, the taking-over, by the local bodies, of as many departments of production and distribution as need be. By this time the Class War will be shaping for the last great engagement. So you will say.
How to Make Life Worth Living.
If you go in for this work the days will pass swiftly with you. Your lives will be full of interest. You won’t be at a loss to know how to spend your time. Your party will be defeated, and your hopes dashed again and again. The finger of scorn will he pointed at you. Newspaper editors will crow over your failures, and lay down the law in the oracular style we know so well. The boys will cry at you in the streets. The ignorant will laugh, the brutal will sometimes beat down your arguments by sheer vociferation; and often you will be plunged in momentary despair. But if you are of the right stuff you cannot let your hopes and your desires go. To leave Socialism would be to part with a portion of your being. Reverses, failures, desertions from the ranks, the indifference of your fellows - all this, if you are of the right sort, will only strengthen your determination to persist in the good fight whose termination in the triumph of your class has been the hope of the ages.
Let fate or insufficiency provide
Mean ends for men who are what they would be;
Penned in their narrow day no change they see
Save one which strikes the blow to brutes and pride.
Our faith is ours, and comes not on a tide;
And whether earth’s great offspring by decree
Must rot if they abjure rapacity,
Not argument, but effort shall decide.
They number many heads in that hard flock;
Trim swordsmen they push forth; yet try thy steel,
Thou fighting for poor humankind wilt feel
The strength of Roland in thy wrist to hew
A chasm sheer into the barrier rock,
And bring the army of the faithful through.
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