PART ONE OF TWO.
The Penalty now being paid
The Amazing Attitude of Youth.
The whole framework of Society, compared to what it might be, is as the hut of a savage to a Grecian temple. Sir J.R.Seeley.
Why should we make play any longer with empty fictions of Divine Right vested in families, class, and orders which are not morally respectable or intellectually adequate? It is not merely Republicanism but hatred of the unreal in general which is running over the world in the wake of the war. The Dean of Durham (Henry Hudson)
On the plane which has now been reached, official European diplomacy and statesmanship seem bankrupt, and it is to the Socialists that the people of Europe are increasingly looking as the only intermediaries who can prepare the way to a settlement. Aberdeen Free Press (Liberal)
Travelling the other day with a teacher who is something of an author, and a man of character besides, we naturally got on to the subject of the world-war. At one point he said:
‘I see a whole generation being wiped out. You older men don’t feel it so much. To you most of the men who are being killed off are only names. But they are contemporaries and in many cases my friends and acquaintances.’
I was in no haste to answer; though I knew, because I knew, what my answer must be. I have thought much about the matter since, as I had the previous conversation; and my opinion is as it was. I told him that the young men of Europe, and particularly of Germany, were suffering the penalty of having neglected politics. They had been absorbed in work and trivialities, with the result that the business of government had been left in the hands of men who were not fit to be trusted, not because of their lack of ability but because of their impossible ideas and ideals. On the one side was the Kaiser with his deadly theory of the Divine Right of Kings and his advisers with their theory of Divine Might. Austria also accepted the Divine Right superstition, and, for the rest, pursued the imperial policy of grab, representing Bosnia and Herzegovina while Serbia was busy with the Turk. On the other side (our own) was the theory of the Balance of Power, with the French hankering after revance and the reconquest of Alsace and Lorraine. On the part of Italy there was the desire for expansion by way of the reclamation, after fifteen centuries, of Italia irredenta – extensive rather than intensive progress. On the part of autocratic Russia there was as the only decent plea the protection of the Slavs (but what a protector!), and for the rest, mere greed of French money, secured, and to be secured, in loan after loan.
All this represents Individualism in international relations – the policy of grab and aggrandisement at the expense of one’s neighbours – just as truly as competitive pushfulness and profiteering represent Individualism in the domestic life of nations. All the while the social condition of the masses in all the belligerent countries – the most important asset they had – was deplorably neglected in varying degrees of callous disregard for the essential conditions of human wellbeing. For lack of perfectly simple safeguards, our railways were like a battlefield. From the same cause the lives of miners, chemical workers, potters, textile operatives, japanners, and makers of Lucifer matches were sacrificed in battues; and when the citizen had run the gamut of industrial perils, he fell a victim to cag-mag food and the general conditions of life in the mean street. Returning to Manchester after an absence of eleven years, I inquired after many acquaintances of former days in the printing trade – careful-living men in the thirties and forties of life – and I was startled and depressed to have the answer, in case after case, ‘He’s dead.’ ‘He’s dead – long ago.’ This in a thoroughly well organised trade, where intelligence has done what it can to extract the maximum of social amenity from Individualism at its best. The results thus vividly brought home to one in the concreted had previously been but figures in the life-table – the figures, namely, which show that the average duration of life of the working class is only half that of members of the leisured and comfortable classes.
Why the Young Men?
Well, my friend was shocked and offended at my answer; but I think it will hold. This mean and sordid life, against which all men must rebel who have any instinct for decent living – what is the attitude towards it on the part of our young men? I select the young men, not only because youth is the season of hope, courage, enthusiasm and generous feelings, but because young men are the majority. The students of the Latin Quarter of Paris and of the universities of Russia, and of Poland, have always been revolutionary. When Mazzini made his impassioned appeals to the manhood of his depressed and dismembered country it was to Young Italy he appealed, and he did not appeal in vain. There were even many young men in this country who generously responded to the appeal. When the Reaction followed the Terror in France it was the Jeunesse durle who led it. When Tory Democracy tried to flower at home in response to the glittering pinchbeck rhetoric of Disraeli, it was a Young England society that was formed to foster the efflorescence. Walt Whitman, with his sure instinct for the truth as seen by a poet, describes how, in the temporary eclipse of revolutionary movements, ‘the young men droop their eyelashes towards the ground when they meet.’ The Sinn Feiners are mostly young men, and the best of them gave their lives for Ireland – madly, but not in vain, for the Right does not conquer by direct, simple, and rational methods.
But our young men did not ‘droop their eyelashes to the ground’ for shame of the lives they led as the poor thralls of commerce, the bondmen of Piagnon with the Belly and the Cheque-Book. Albert and ‘Arry were to the fore wherever there was ‘sport’ to be had by baiting a suffragette or emptily laughing at a Labour candidate. For some years I acted as a ‘perpittal parson’ to a branch of the Independent Labour Party in a northern town. We had a large and cheerful room, well lit, seated, and warmed, with good music, hearty singing, lively readings, and lectures which were at least always carefully prepared, and were enlivened by the spirit of hope diffused by the Labour victories of 1906. Our members were largely a good class of men, with a sprinkling of attractive girls and women. We made strangers welcome. We took up local subjects, such as housing (and there was a house-famine in the town all the time), agitating the subject in the press and out of doors, while a deputation waited upon the Town Council, and presented a printed and unanswerable memorial on the question.
The young men came to the meetings, laughed at the jokes, listened to the lectures, and were quite respectful and well behaved in the merely passive scene; they must have largely understood and accepted the facts and arguments; but – they attended only on stormy days, when the weather prevented walking or hanging about out of doors. We brought lecturers including one brisk and capable M.P. to the town; and were in all respects a live political organisation. We even made an attempt at developing some sort of club life by the introduction of games and music on week-nights. But the young men held aloof – except when we had a social reunion and dance – and long before the war the branch had practically ceased to exist, owing to the departure from the town of some of us older men.
That is an experience which must have been repeated in hundreds of cases; and when the organisation has not actually petered out it has existed only in a languishing condition, the door being kept open, not by reason of the essential objects of the association, but because of a bar or billiard tables which the premises might contain. If you have given years of your life (and soul) to the fostering of political organization and education, and have given those years largely in vain, have you not rather a grievance against the young men?
Anyhow, the young men are now paying the penalty. We have no pleasure in their punishment. We would have saved them; would not only have averted war, but would also have made the world a gracious and beautiful place to live in. It is not we who have made the situation. It is inexorable fate. As I said here some time ago, ‘Duties neglected are as crimes committed, and may be even more deadly in their consequences.’ The Socialist movement has everywhere been initiated and kept alive by the older men. Henry Mayers Hyndman, the father of Militant Socialism in Britain, is over seventy. William Morris’s most active years as a propagandist were when he was in his fifties. For years Socialism was represented in Manchester by old Bill Horrocks, a labourer; old William Farres, a compositor; old George Evans, a tailor; and when the Clarion men took up the cause, and Nunquam first presided at a great public meeting in Hulme Town Hall, poor Evans wept tears of joy at what he regarded as the great awakening, at last, after years of neglect and occasional actions of ill-usage, as when old Massie, the banner-bearer from Salford, had been kicked across the market square of Blackburn.
The only steady and reliable men are still the old men, such as Dan Irving in Barnsley, Ben Turner in Batley, Riley and France Littlewood in Huddersfield, and Glasier, Tom Mann, and Benson in Manchester. Young men come in and flash, meteor-like, across the horizon of the movement for a brief spell. Then we no longer know them. One result of the long struggle which the older men have maintained is that many of them have become embittered, even when a measure of personal success has at last somehow overtaken them
The propaganda of collectivism is one of the most thankless branches of missionary effort upon which a hopeful man can enter, and the returns, when they do come tardily, and in smalls, are the least direct.
What about Germany?
But, it may be said, surely all this does not apply to the German Empire. Are not the Social Democrats, with their four and a half million voters, the largest single party in German politics? Have we not been told that, after the great German army, the Social-Democratic Party is the best organised aggregate in the Kaiser’s dominion? Are not Berlin and Potsdam represented in the Reichstag by Socialists? Is not the Social Democratic press – daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly – a powerful weapon? All that is true; but the fact remains that the Social-Democrats had no actual power. They were a very large minority, but still they were a minority even in the Reichstag; and even had they possessed an overwhelming majority there, they might still have been without effective control of the makers of war. We are fighting Germany because she is not a democracy, not a country in which the people control their rulers through their elected representatives. Four and a half millions represent, after all, hardly a third of the German electorate, and in Germany population and representation have less to do with each other than in most countries. It is the crime of the German nation that they are a notoriously non-political people. It is their crime that they were content, during centuries, to leave their destinies in the hands of rulers over whom they had no control. Alone now among the nations of Europe, the Austrians and Germans are not masters in their own house but are still ruled by two families, who derive this enormous and fatal privilege from ‘times of fetish fiction.’ Alone among the nations of the world, Germany has had no political revolution, and has not practised blood-letting at the expense of its kings, though the Austro-German States have had more than the usual proportion of madmen and bad men among their monarchs. Is it any wonder that German psychology is a puzzle to us? I have recently browsed the voluminous history of the Hohenzollerns in order to find out by what personal alchemy this extraordinary ordinary family had succeeded in hypnotising the Prussian people during so many generations; but not one of the line except Frederick the Great and his mad father seem to have deviated in any way from the well-known boorish Prussian type; and indeed Frederick William’s deviation only took the form of an exaggeration of the boorishness into positive savagery.
The only explanation of Germans tolerance of German princes is a singular incapacity for politics. The very word politics, from polis, a city, implies the participation of the citizens in government. Politics means ‘the science of government’ but what use would there be for a science of government if none of the divinely elected were to govern?
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