THE FINAL PART (IF NOT SOLUTION!)
We sometimes hear contemptuous references to Gas and Water Socialism, as if there could be no benefit and no progress in the part because it was not the whole. As if shorter hours, better pay, better and cheaper service, and vastly improved and beautified towns and cities were not worth having and not worth slaving for because the pay and the hours, the service and the amenities were not all they ought to be and will be under a further development of these institutions upon present lines.
Let those who were disposed to belittle the Socialism of the municipality bethink them of the attack which is being made on it at present by the Times, by Property Owners Associations, by economists of the British Association, by men like Mr Austin Chamberlain and Sir Alexander Henderson. These men know the significance of the principle underlying collectivist enterprises; they know that the success of public enterprise on a small scale is simply paving the way for the great all-embracing Co-operative Commonwealth, in which not only the local bodies will administer their own local services, but in which we shall have State railways, State canals, State mines, the telephone amalgamated with the post office; in a word, State control of all undertakings which can be better administered by the State than by either the local authorities or private enterprise.
This quiet municipal progress has been going on in spite of all the reaction manifested in Imperial politics. Indeed in some cases it has proceeded farthest and most rapidly where the people are most reactionary in Imperial politics. London and Glasgow have both voted Tory in Imperial politics, but both have returned progressive majorities to their local governing bodies, and the extension of communal collectivism goes on apace there .as elsewhere.
While this far-reaching progress has been going on, the forces of discontent have been latterly massing, and at last the Government seems to have dug its own grave. Emboldened by strength and long immunity from electoral punishment, the Government introduced an Education Bill whose impudent retrogressiveness fairly takes one's breath away. The Bill not only wiped out the School Boards, but public control of education altogether, the management being now vested in close corporations over looked by a powerless minority of ratepayers' representatives. The Bill ignored the success of secular education in Scotland. It ignored the steady growth of the Board School system in the English cities. It was drafted by people who do not seem to know that undenominational schools have flourished in Scotland for thirty years, producing results which England can nowhere touch. It was a priests' Bill- a Bill inspired by the conviction on the part of the English Church clergy that unless they catch the English man and woman as children, they will lose hold on them altogether, a psition which, so far as the cities are concerned, is already practically realised.
The Education Bill was surely one of the last spurts of the present reaction-and it will prove, I trust, as abortive, as shortlived, as it is audacious. How the Bill ran its course in Parliament with so little opposition from the Tories themselves and with so little effective opposition in the lobbies from the Liberals is not easy to say. It seems as if both Ministerialists and Opposition had been hypnotised by the success of Reaction out of all prudence and reason on the one hand and out of all courage and energy on the other. It seems perfectly clear that the Act is repugnant to the great body of English opinion. Recent elections have shown that. The decisions of Church councils, educational authorities, and the protests of some of the State clergy themselves have shown it. The great demonstration at Leeds showed it. And it is to the eternal disgrace of the Fabian Society that their leading spirits, Professor Sidney Webb and Mr George Bernard Shaw, should have defended and countenanced this Bill, which in motive and in form represents pure reaction, as we Scotsmen, accustomed to non-sectarian education, know perfectly well.
But here again, in connection with this reactionary measure there are several consolatory circumstances. One of these is the way in which the nonconformist clergy have risen to the attack. Reading the fulminations of Principal Fairbairn, Dr Clifford, and Dr Robertson Nicoll against the Bill, and the priestcraft which has inspired it, one realises with pleasure that, after all, there is a wide gulf between the proud priests who support the measure and the sturdy presbyters who oppose it, the latter spitting upon clericalism in education with a rancour which Mr Charles Bradlaugh himself could not well have outdone. Is it possible that Mr Balfour, bored to death with the cares and responsibilities of office held for seven years, devised this bill in the hope of securing a rest by bringing about the ultimate defeat of his Government!
It looked all the more like it when we consider that, as a Scotsman, Mr Balfour was bound to see that the system of education which is good enough for Scotland, Europe, and America ought to be good enough for England. For my part I should like to see the Scottish monopoly of education broken through. We are at present producing far too many clergymen, doctors, lawyers, and newspaper men, in Scotland, and far too few skilled workers and captains of industry. I am not unduly enamoured of captains of industry; but I do hold that for the sake of the Co-operative Commonwealth the economic development of Scotland must proceed much further and faster than it has done up to now.
In my adopted town I look round, and upon my word I see no industry that is worth the socialising unless it were to stop competition in it, and to develop and consolidate it as private capital will never do. We have municipal gas, baths, water, and a lodging-house, and now that these things have been conquered there is hardly any concern in the town which, as at present conducted, gives the proprietors more than a living wage, while at the same time their personal address and interest are largely accountable for the fact that they get anybody to send them orders to such an out-of-the-world place at all.
But if Mr Balfour would have welcomed defeat over the Education Bill, he has been disappointed. How could he or anyone else have known that the country would stand so much reaction. His Government has done its best to drive people and Parliament into revolt--by doles to priests and landlords; by taxes on sugar, coal, and corn; by subsidies to West Indian planters; by the Sugar Convention, which will mulch the public in ten millions a-year that the planters may have a quarter of a million, to the hurt of the great industry that has grown up in Britain as a result of cheap sugar. These are small things, it may be said. Yes; but they are reactionary small things. It is surely the most irritating waste of time, and worse, that the legislators of a nation, instead of going forward to the establishment of institutions that will endure, should hark back at every turn to destroy the good work of those who went before and establish tho.t which must in the near future be overturned. To persistently and mischievously do that which it ought not to do, and to resolutely leave undone that which ought to be done and which it promised to do-what in a Government can be more wickedly wasteful and irritating.
The economic development is hindered, and the conditions that produce Trusts and pave the way for the Co-operative Commonwealth are being avoided, by the constant drain of emigration to which our small towns are subject. The small business run by a hard-working tradesman hardly represents Capitalism as we understand it; and without large aggregations of population businesses must remain small, The small employer in most cases works as hard, displays more ability, and has much more anxiety about his work than has the workman-small blame to the latter. At the same time his income is not very much higher, and he has to keep up more "style." The paramount duty of the workman at present is to stay at home and help the development industrially, politically, and socially. But will he do it? Not he. He will leave his children, the lass whom he has made his wife, and the scenes which form his home, for 10s more a-week, making his home in city, foreign, and colonial hell-holes, leaving sentimental fellows to make a book, speak a word, or deal a blow for poor old Scotland's sake. The hog that he is, he is not worth working for if one could get better conditions for oneself.
But by the nature of the case the Co-operative Commonwealth is a one-and-all business. The true Socialist can have no pleasure save in the legitimate pleasure of all his fellows. A chivvied woman or a starved child gets on his spirits, and he cannot be happy unless he feels that all the others are happy too, and not only happy, but happy in the right way. And therein lies the punishment of being a Socialist. It is not enough to see people happy. A pig is happy in its stye, and the British workman is happy as a full-fed pig when he hears that a brave foe has been beaten in a righteous cause or that his favourite footbatll club has won a match. The Socialist looks to the kind of the happiness as well as to the degree of it. If the happiness is unworthy; if it is the happiness of a coward or a bully; if it is malicious glee at the defeat of the dreaded and hated just and brave man, then the happiness is of the devil devilish; it is the jubilation of hell hellish, and while the Socialist wishes no harm to the thoughtless man, the good but uninformed woman, or the innocent child, he could almost wish that a sign-were it even a devastating sign-might be vouchsafed to show that the rejoicing was unholy; for haply thereby might the progress of unreason be arrested.
If the lot of the emigrant were appreciably improved one might look on the exodus with pleasure. But we know that wherever monopoly and competition have set their twin foul feet the conditions of the proletarian must be the same. In leaving his own country he avails himself of the open safety-valve. While he does not always or necessarily improve his own position, he delays the work of redress and adjustment in his own country.
What we require in Scotland is that our people should remain behind and make the country worth living in economically, as it is already worth living in socially, scenically, as a matter of health, and as a matter of sentiment.
Socialists at least are under no obligation to be downcast. The present reaction is in the highest degree natural and explicable. More clearly than ever before has the class war shown itself. Trade unionism only sought to regulate the conditions of piracy and took no account of mismanagement. Socialism sought to put an end to piracy and mismanagement altogether. And the highly capable pirate mismanagers, recognising the nature of the issue, have rallied "all hands on deck to repel boarders." As the pirates belong to both parties, it is not wonderful that Liberals as well as Tories have ratted it within recent years. The wonder is, not that reaction has been in fashion of late years, but rather that a single member of the privileged and propertied classes has still found it possible to stand up against desertion by his friends and the steady attack of the Socialist enemies of monopoly and privilege.
I have no counsel and no encouragement to offer except the assurance that in my mind we who believe in the Co-operative Commonwealth are more absolutely right, have a more august, more rational, and more unassailable claim than any party which the whole history of the world can show. There is no royal road to the realization of the ends we have in view. But all roads did not so certainly lead to Rome as all roads lead to the Co-operative Commonwealth. Those who are working with that great goal in view have simply to continue the work they have been doing-m greater numbers, with greater intelligence, with more of the spirit of self-consecration and self-sacrifice. They must grudge no propagandist service, no committee work, no drudgery amidst obloquy and opposition upon those public boards where the important business of communities is more and more transacted. Those of you who would serve in this cause-you must make yourselves walking depositaries of the historians' and economists' facts and the statisticians' figures. You must equip yourselves to make speeches before threatening mobs and frowning assemblages of well-to-do people. You must be content to be the one man defending a certain view in an entire meeting. You must take all humane knowledge for your province. You must, as was said of Edmund Burke, adopt your views with the enthusiasm of a fanatic and defend them with the wisdom of a philosopher. You must make Socialism your politics, your philosophy, your religion, your heart's desire.
If you go in for this work, I can say, speaking from the experience of sixteen years of it, that the days will pass swiftly with you. Your lives will be full of interest. You will not be at a loss to know how to spend your leisure time. Your party will be defeated and your hopes dashed again and again. The finger of scorn will be pointed at you, and your names shall be pro-Boer, Socialist, and the man who quarrels with his bread and butter.
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 despair and doubt. But if you are of the right stuff, you cannot let your hopes and your desires go. To forsake your great hope and calling 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 triumph for your class has been the hope of the ages, the most important thing in the world.
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 degree,
Must rot if they abjure rapacity,
Not argument but effort shall decide.
They number many beads in that hard flock ;
Trim swordsmen they push forth :yet try thy steel,
Thou fighting for poor humankind wilt feel
The strbngth 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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