H.M. Hyndman

England For All

Chapter VIII
Foreign Affairs

The relation which England should bear to the nations of the Continent of Europe, and the action which ought to be taken in reference to foreign policy generally, would be very summarily settled by one party among us. Non-intervention is their sole idea of the management of such affairs. Let others do what they like to or with one another, we will severely mind our own business, look after our trade, and, secure behind the silver streak, amass money – for the comfortable classes of course – to our hearts’ content. Thus the individual selfishness, upon which they are content to rely absolutely for all management at home, is fitly supplemented by a still more thorough collective selfishness applied to affairs abroad.

Capital is timid, it is said, peace is our greatest interest, intervention means, sooner or later, war or threat of war. A soldier or a sailor therefore, in the opinion of these gentlemen, ought to be scouted as a pariah, though, as all save fanatics can see, our army and navy are as natural portions of our industrial organism in the present state of international morality and economical development, as our custom-house or excise. Only stand aside, such is the argument, and no one will harm you. A purely trading power will arouse no jealousies; and Europe will see in England a country which, in the plenitude of its strength, steps aside from all save commercial transactions, and is content to figure simply as a pattern to others. Now, few would doubt that if all were like-minded in this matter – if the lion of greed could indeed lie down with the lamb of wealth outside him, that here is the true industrial future for the human race. But we are, alas! far from such a happy state of things. No nation in existing conditions can thus safely boycott itself, without grave risk of being boycotted, or perhaps preyed upon, by others. And we, of all countries in the world, are the least capable of secluding ourselves, and enriching ourselves whilst others look on. Our flag floats on every sea; our trade competes with every nation; our absolutely necessary supplies, without which we should starve, come to us from far and near. [1]

A commercial country owning such extended territory is more open to attack than any other; and even on the ground of simple selfishness, some alliances should be made, and some preparations maintained against danger. But there are higher reasons even than those of expediency for taking part in the politics of the world. A great country has moral duties, as a man has moral duties; and these are not confined to simple business relations and trading for gain. We are, or might be, the leaders and protectors of freedom, independence, and true liberty in Europe, as we were in the time of the Great Protector. Our power, properly organized, and wielded with the consent of a united people, may suffice at no distant date to turn the scale in that great struggle between industrialism and militarism, between tyranny and freedom, perhaps between barbarism and civilization, now threatening on the continent. To stand aloof finally when such issues as these are being debated is not, as I venture to think, the nature of my countrymen. They have often fought in times gone by to save others from foreign domination; it maybe that in the near future a still greater task will be theirs.

The history of the modern connexion of England with continental affairs, may be said to begin with the accession of William III. That long policy of secret negotiations carried on by Elizabeth with the Protestant populations of Europe, had involved us in war with Spain; and the policy of the Stuarts had, after Cromwell’s short and glorious period of supremacy, made England subservient to France. But these wars and alliances had really as little to do with the events which followed, as the old wars in France under the Plantagenets. With William III, however, began that bitter rivalry with France which thenceforward became the mainspring of English foreign policy for at least five generations. Rivalry no doubt existed between Englishmen and Frenchmen when the Prince of Orange came to the throne, but thenceforward it spread from the people to the Governments, and the fierce struggle which followed spread to all quarters of the globe. William III, in fact, began a settled policy of interference in European State politics in the interest of Holland and Germany, as distinct from any cause which called us to take the field on our own account. As a consequence we were driven to fight foreign battles by means of subsidies and mercenary troops, instead of trusting to our power at sea, where lies our real strength.

For, strange to say, it never occurred to either the Plantagenets, the Tudors, or the Stuarts that it would redound to our credit and influence to carry on campaigns on land with German soldiers at England’s expense. William III, however, commenced the system, because it aided the policy of his own country laid down by himself – that of persistent opposition to Louis XIV and the French. The result has been a crushing load of debt, permanently imposed for foreign objects on the English people. For the House of Brunswick, confirmed and greatly extended the mischievous policy introduced by the Dutch king; and henceforth England became the citadel of German resistance to French attacks upon Germany. We no longer had a continental policy of our own; every step taken had reference to the relations and intrigues of other Powers, who came to look upon England and English Ministers as necessary supports of a system of international war and jealousy, with which, as a matter of fact, the English people had nothing whatever to do. The unquestioned facts that we fought bravely, won battle after battle, and acquired some magnificent colonies, are mere incidents of this State-system which blind us to the true bearing of the policy itself.

Had not the Dutch and German elements become paramount in the guidance of our foreign relations, there was no such necessary antagonism to France as has been pretended. Lord Chatham himself, whose management of our external affairs was the wonder of Europe, was vehemently opposed to the “German War,” which, having once commenced, not even his genius could clear us from. Thus England was dragged along at the heels of Frederick II the most unscrupulous adventurer who ever made a kingdom out of a province, and we of to-day have the privilege of paying, in the shape of interest on the national debt, for the position which Prussia holds in Europe. This went on, notwithstanding protests from patriotic men against this ruinous squandering of the resources of the country, until the time of the French Revolution, when our antagonism to France, already pronounced enough, was still further aggravated by the calculated panic of the governing and well-to-do classes. With the internal affairs of France we had no concern; and the mass of the people of England sympathized with the men who had overturned the meanest, and at the same time most galling tyranny that could oppress an agricultural people. The loss of the American Colonies, when Germans and Indians were used to shoot down and scalp men who were fighting for their rights, had opened the eyes of the poorer classes to the real bearing of the vicious mercenary system. A magnificent heritage had been lost, because the men at the head of affairs set aside the advice of Englishmen like Chatham and Burke, to pander to the prejudices of a German king and the aristocrats around him. France had now learnt something from America; and there was more admiration than ill-feeling to begin with on our side of the Channel.

But in all this the rulers of that day saw – and rightly saw – a grave danger to themselves. The rupture with France was made unavoidable by the counsel and support extended to her invaders. Once involved in the anti-revolutionary fever, nothing was easier than to inflame still further the national rivalry, until for nearly a generation the very name of Frenchman became obnoxious to English ears, and children grew up to be men believing that only by the destruction of France could England be made secure. The astounding career of Napoleon I, and the statecraft of his reactionary empire, gave our policy a further push forward in the same direction. England became the rallying-point of resistance to a military usurper, who evidently aimed at the dominance of Europe.

His answers to our persistent hostilities took the shape of a threat of invasion, and a continental blockade against English goods. The first of these two measures became hopeless after Nelson’s crowning victory at Trafalgar. The second was rendered futile – though the fact is not generally known – by the friendly policy of the Ottoman Empire. The remarkable geographical configuration of that State gave us an advantage which Napoleon was unable to overcome. The Turks opened their numerous ports, and Europe was flooded with smuggled English goods. Thereupon the blockade became useless; Power after Power withdrew from the league, and we were relieved from further anxiety in regard to the most dangerous plan of campaign ever formulated against us. As a natural sequence of our long opposition to France, we were driven more and more into alliance with the despotic powers of Europe. Those armies which overthrew Napoleon, were as much intended for repression at home as to repel the foreign invader; and Europe was prepared by the Treaty of Vienna for the supremacy of the Holy Alliance. The great name associated with all this policy is that of Castlereagh, who bound us hand and foot to Russia, and made us little better than a hanger-on to the Holy Alliance itself. Thus for thirty years England was linked on the continent of Europe with powers whose very existence depended upon the denial of freedom to the peoples.

Upon this phase followed a modification rather than a change of policy. The extravagant pretensions of the Holy Alliance with reference to Spain, and the absurd claim of its members to regulate the internal affairs of every kingdom of Europe, brought about the policy of which Canning became the chief exponent. This was the support of constitutionalism in Europe, as equally opposed to autocracy and to revolution. It was an attempt to trim between two irreconcilable opposites. Canning himself called into existence that remarkable New World to redress the balance of the Old which, since it first came above the political horizon in the House of Commons, has been wholly incapable of balancing even itself. The rest of the policy had as little solid foundation as this famous outburst. Constitutionalism did not thrive, in spite of English protection; and we gradually drifted into a defence of what appeared our most tangible, interest—that of the overland route to India.

Canning was followed by Palmerston and Russell. The episode of Navarino, which weakened Turkey without constituting a strong Greece, was merely a prelude to a definite championship of the integrity and independence of the Ottoman Empire, involving Lord Palmerston’s Syrian policy, and eventually leading up to the Crimean War. Jealousy of France, and desire to maintain the balance of power, still had a great influence. But capitalism was now beginning to assert its sway, and plain Whig principles meant compromise at home and selfishness abroad. There was not even the violent old Toryism of Pitt and Castlereagh to rouse opposition or stir enthusiasm.

The shake of 1848 brought the weakness of this whole system into clear relief. Unpleasant people, who thought a dungeon smelt quite as dank under “moderate constitutionalism,” as when kept exclusively at the service of autocrats, gave the constitutionalists many awkward misgivings. London at this time naturally became the headquarters of the constitutional monarchs, and the metropolitan bankers the custodians of their savings. We, however, in the struggle which followed, neither gained nor deserved the gratitude of either party. Opposed to autocracy, we showed a friendship for Hungary, for instance, which the horror of our middle classes for real revolution quickly induced us to betray. Matters were worse with Venice, Sardinia, and Sicily, when England deliberately abandoned people who had been induced by surreptitious assurances to rely upon her for assistance. “England wishes only for peace,” Pasini wrote, bitterly, to Manin; and that summed up, not perhaps Lord Palmerston’s own policy, but the policy of the capitalist class, now gaining power rapidly, and to which all Foreign Ministers have since been forced in some way to bow down.

But here, nevertheless, lay the true line for England. In 1848 she could have placed herself at the head of the enfranchised peoples of Europe, and lent her unrivalled naval power to support those who, with her assistance, could not have been subdued. The time however, was not ripe for so bold a policy; the dreaded principles of revolution were once more abroad. Chartism at home was affiliated to the accursed thing. So, without absolutely allying ourselves with the oppressors, Great Britain saw without regret the re-establishment of the autocracy, which to her self-seeking merchants was so far preferable to the rule of the people. Thus the general result of our moral support of constitutionalism and Liberal principles was the firm re-establishment of despotism in Europe. At this period too was shown fully that absolute agreement between Russia and Prussia which has been the key to continental policy since 1821. Russia came forward in 1848 as the protector of despotism in every country. Germany and Austria were completely under her thumb. Every petty princeling whose throne had been pulled from under him, stretched out his hands in prayer to the deity of St. Petersburg to set him up straight again; and Nicholas, to do him justice, did his king-making in fine old barbaric style. So long as these small fry, from the King of Prussia downward, obeyed his Imperial behests, and abstained from all tampering with liberalism or revolution he was content to support them for the mere gratification of the thing. The Power which held Poland could not afford that either freedom or the rights of nationalities should be discussed in her neighbourhood. It was a revival of the policy of the early portion of the century, in a more pronounced shape. An armed barbarism lent its aid to all the reactionary influences in Europe, and Liberal England was content to stand aloof and wish well to the oppressed nationalities, without raising a hand to help them. Had a more far-seeing plan been adopted, the Crimean War, with its unfortunate alliance with the Second Empire in France might have been unnecessary.

Turkey was saved from Russia by that war, at the expense of thousands of lives and a hundred millions of money to this country. But for twenty years, though the Liberal party was almost continuously in office, no steps whatever were taken to reorganize the Ottoman Empire, or to help the better elements to organize themselves, whilst we lent the corrupt clique of Pashas at Constantinople tens of millions, which were squandered in corruption and debauchery. The close of the Crimean War, however, was signalized by a treaty, which could only have been reasonably accepted by us if we had been defeated instead of victorious. Hampered by our alliance with the Government, and not with the people of France, we were constrained to make peace practically on the terms which suited our ally. A step also was taken, without any reference to the people of England, by the two English Plenipotentiaries, which sacrificed the only important weapon that an essentially naval power like ourselves has in a continental war. The history of the deplorable surrender is even yet not fully known; its effect we shall only feel when we are again opposed – as we may be at any moment opposed – by a European coalition directed against us.

During the long wars with France under the Republic and Napoleon we held one great advantage, but for which we could scarcely have faced the combination which that great genius contrived to work up against us. This went by the name of Maritime Rights. Supreme on the ocean, and able to cover the seas with a swarm of privateers, the carrying trade of the world was at our mercy. The Right of Search was the point on which this power hinged. This meant that if neutral vessels were carrying our enemies’ goods, we had the right, whether contraband of war or not, to stop those vessels and confiscate those goods. Thus we could rely upon our real arm, that which is given us by our geographical position and the hereditary capacity of our men – the knowledge and mastery of the sea. Time after time when the fortunes of the country had seemed at the lowest ebb, this power sufficed to turn the tide in our favour. Its possession made us a valuable ally to the most powerful continental state; whilst, as we have seen, with the friendly connivance of Turkey it enabled us to break up the famous continental blockade against our goods. Naturally this unequalled weapon, for a country of such wealth as ours, had been envied us by the continent ever since we began to use it, and constant efforts had been made by our rivals and enemies to deprive us of it. Up to the date of the Congress of Paris, however, all such pretensions had been scouted by English statesmen as absolutely inadmissible, and ruinous to our country. Nothing to the contrary of this had or has ever been shown. The cry of “free ships, free goods,” had been raised by those who wished the downfall of England’s influence; for once admitted, it reduced our fighting power to nothing.

All these facts notwithstanding, Lord Clarendon and Lord Cowley, acting in that spirit of the pure trading interest which had then become really paramount in English foreign politics, gave up by the Declaration of Paris, without argument, debate, or proper authority, those maritime rights which could alone enable the growing democracy of these lands to exercise due weight and influence in Europe. No such sacrifice has ever been made by any country. That we should permanently adhere to it is incredible. The United States was guilty of no such folly. Her statesmen declined to give up privateering, except under provisions which they knew would not be accepted. No long period can elapse before this whole question is again brought forward. When it is, the people of England should never cease to recall the fact that their position in the world awakens the jealousies of other nations, that these are the days of violent aggression and secret combinations, and that the weapon, the only weapon which nature has placed in our hands wherewith with perfect freedom to face and overcome the military despotisms of Europe, is that of being able to dominate the commerce of the globe.

Soon after the Treaty of Paris, the Indian Mutiny broke out. It ended in the handing over of India to the Government of the Crown. The effect of the conquest of India upon our foreign policy has been twofold. First, the direct necessity of taking certain strong places on the route to our great dependency, and our alliance with the Porte. From England to the East we hold a chain of posts which are essential to the safety of our communication, but which render us liable as time goes by to the maintenance constantly in the Mediterranean of a fleet at least equal to that of France and Italy combined. Secondly, our hold upon India has greatly increased our timidity in championing any great cause, and has turned our attention from the sea, where our real strength lies, to the land, on which our national aversion from conscription must always make us fight at a disadvantage. In India England is perforce a great military power; and this, which is wholly at variance with our traditions – for, as has been well said, we are a warlike, but not a military people – tinges the whole current of our foreign policy. Indian policy on more than one occasion has taken precedence of English; Asiatic ideas have had too great influence; we have, in short, what with fear of invasion, and dread of a rising in India itself consequent upon misfortune in Europe, lost all sense of proportion in considering the external relation of such a country as ours. Asiatic politics must inevitably enter largely into our calculations merely on the ground of our commercial interests; but India, with its 60,000 European troops, is, as at present governed, a source of increasing weakness to the people of these islands, who may find themselves seriously hampered at a great national crisis by the necessity for protecting their countrymen in Hindustan. This will become more clear now that our frontier all but marches with that of a great and troublous military power. India, consequently, will prove a more disturbing element in our foreign policy of the future than it has been in the past.

With the Treaty of Paris, however, England may be said to have entered practically on the stage of permanent non-intervention in continental affairs. Our efforts to preserve peace when it was once understood that under no circumstances whatever would we go to war, became futile and even ludicrous. This was apparent with regard to the French campaign against Austria. Had we proclaimed our intention of siding with either party, war would not have been declared. But the establishment of the independence of Italy, by French arms first, and by Garibaldi’s expedition afterwards, met with the cordial sympathy of the great mass of Englishman. Though the upper classes still clung to the Austrian alliance, the people were more clear-sighted, whilst Cavour’s happy moderation reassured the middle class. Thus, all rejoiced at the rise of Italy into a great power, and the extraordinary reception accorded to Garibaldi by the democracy of London, gave evidence that the real feeling of Englishmen is with the peoples of the continent, and needs but a proper occasion to manifest itself in full force. The contest between the North and the South in America, brought this truth into stronger relief. Once more the upper and middle classes, as in 1848 and 1859, linked themselves with the side of reaction, and that side, unfortunately for their credit and influence, was this time the weaker. Nothing finer is recorded than the behaviour of the Lancashire operatives during that awful period of continuous want. The capitalists who employed them showed no such real perception of the truth, and their selfishness appeared in protesting against any scheme which might remove the hands, and thus perhaps raise wages on the return of trade. That by the way. The fact that the working class saw the issue lay between freedom and despotism, and clung to their opinion under every discouragement, is evidence of a capacity which needs but education and organization to have a deep effect in other fields of foreign policy.

The hare-brained French expedition to Mexico was the outcome of the American Civil War, and this eventually brought the French Empire to destruction. For no sooner was the shameless attack upon Denmark by Prussia and Austria at an end – when German influence again appeared in our counsels – than the two great Powers who took part in that act of brigandage fell out themselves. The cooler-headed brigand fell upon his neighbour, and by the victory of Sadowa the supremacy of Germany was gained by Prussia. Here, of course, was an end of all international law. Thenceforward we have been living in an epoch of wrong and robbery. France, crippled by the Mexican campaign, could not afford to help Austria against Prussia and Italy – merely, in fact, displaying her weakness to a watchful enemy. England counted for nothing in all this, and the only benefit which accrued to the peoples from the bloodshed and treachery was the annexation of Venice by Italy. The extension of the power of military Junker-ridden Prussia over the pacific old Bund could only be viewed with satisfaction by those who, whilst pretending to be Liberals, secretly sympathize with brute force so long as it is organized against the mass of mankind. In any case Prussia, still closely allied with Russia, became the first Power in Europe, and the next move was merely a matter of time and opportunity.

By the year 1870 England had not only ceased to have a continental policy, but she positively had not the least idea of what was going on. It is really alarming, especially at a time like the present, to note the depth of ignorance in the English Foreign Office eleven years ago. At the very moment when the Frederick the Great of modern diplomatic Germany had made up his mind to strike France once for all, and had contrived to “localize” the war after his favourite fashion by arrangements with Russia and Italy, our Foreign Office had come to the conclusion that no elements of war, so much as remained in Western Europe at all. France was easily overthrown; and England, unfortunately for our credit and our interests, refused to help the Republic which rose upon the ruins of the Empire. Then, if the phrase ever meant anything, was the time to show the meaning of a real balance of power. France had been beaten; the Empire, with its wretched array of stock-jobbers and intriguers, had been swept away. So far we had no right to interfere; but the people of France were in nowise responsible for the errors of Napoleon; and a bold policy would have rallied Italy and Austria at once to our side, to prevent a brave nation from being crushed. That course was not adopted, and any remonstrance met with insolence from the German Government. Our position became indeed that for which our non-interventionists had striven. Of course further plots could be carried on independently of any consideration for the only Power in Europe which has no real interest except in fair play to the peoples.

It is needless to pass through the long and troubled period which began with the Austrian imperial intrigues in Bosnia and the Herzegovina, the Servian War, and can scarcely be said to have ended with the Treaty of Berlin. That a whole scheme was laid down for the partition of the Ottoman Empire by the renewed Holy Alliance, is clear. Russia, Germany, and Austria had each their portions assigned, whilst the advantages to be received by France and England were doubtless considered; perhaps the latter might be content with nothing at all. The Bulgarian atrocities helped Russia to carry out her part of the programme, though the weakness engendered by the war has certainly not been repaid by the advantages she has as yet secured. England’s part in the business has again been most unsatisfactory. A war in Europe was avoided; but a war in Asia was begun, which has saddled our impoverished dependency with a fearful expenditure. By showing, however, even a moderately bold front in Europe, the Conservative Government proved conclusively the influence which England could exert, if only casting aside all lust for territory, and all underhand intrigue, she stood once more with clean hands before the world as the resolute champion of justice and freedom, honesty and public faith. Then she could rally to her side the alliances of the future, beside which the possession of Cyprus, or even the control of Constantinople and Asia Minor would seem mean and contemptible. But the result of the game of brag which the last Government played was not creditable. Instead of holding forth a plain, intelligible policy to Englishmen, and appealing to them to stand by even a downright Tory self-assertion, there was a mixture of trimming and secrecy, of compromise and timidity, which spoke of divided counsels and irresolute minds. The people of England therefore refused to go “blind” into a business which combined secret agreements abroad with the threat of reaction in Ireland and at home. These, happily, are the days of democracy, publicity, and open speech. The statesman who is ambitious to lead England in such times must take the people into his confidence, and convince them that he is using their influence and their power not merely for selfish national interests, but for the best interests of Europe and the world.

That the result of our secret diplomacy and party foreign policy has not yet been fully seen is plain enough. Non-intervention to start with, and secret bargaining to end with, have landed us in a very unenviable position. The nation refused to countersign the policy of the Conservative Government, and the Liberals came in with the promise of a special understanding with France and perfect openness to the country. France has so far dissembled her love for the Liberal administration that she has kicked our Foreign Secretary downstairs at three bounds. Greece, the Commercial Treaty, and Tunis, are evidences of the perfect entente cordiale which exists. The last coup is the worst of all, for it came after assurances of the most solemn nature that nothing whatever was meant. Can we be surprised? A policy of pure selfishness has ended in our complete isolation. The behaviour of France is shameful, and contrary to her best interest. Granted. The treatment which we have received in the matter would in different times have led to a rupture of friendly relations between the two countries. But at this moment we cannot rely upon a single ally on the continent; and for all we know, arrangements may be contemplated which would occasion us very grave uneasiness.

For those who talk of non-intervention forget that we have entered into definite guarantees, which the least bellicose among us could not wish to shirk. The overthrow of international law, which is pretty complete now, would be fully accomplished indeed, if England were to withdraw from her defence of liberal little Belgium. We have had of late very valuable experience as to what the concert of Europe amounts to when booty is in the wind. It is more than probable that the redistribution of territory and power, which began in 1866, will not be confined to Eastern Europe. Should we desire, then, to see the same sort of morality, which is good enough for Turks, applied to Dutch, Belgians, and Swiss? The idea that justice influences either republics or empires in these days had better be laid aside for the present as the figment that it is. A power which could act as France has acted about Tunis, would have small scruple in using similar tactics nearer home.

But even more important to us than any bargaining which may be going on, is the general aspect of European affairs. We see four, not to say five, great Powers absolutely bowed down with the weight of their military expenditure; whilst the great country which in 1848 acted as the guardian of autocracy in Europe, hovers between bankruptcy and revolution. Whatever else may be doubtful, this is past all question, neither Germany nor Austria can permanently bear the strain of the tremendous armaments now kept up. For these armaments not only exhaust the resources of the several countries, but prepare the ground for internal revolution of the most serious character. It is not Russia alone which is honeycombed with secret societies and festering disaffection. There, indeed, the situation is graver than elsewhere. Over-taxation, the drain of produce to Western Europe, the influence of capitalism, and the break up of the Mir coming at a time of serious famine, have produced a state of affairs throughout the Empire which would probably lead to revolution in one shape or another, if the Nihilists had never been heard of. That extraordinary conspiracy is but the natural outcome of a still more remarkable condition below. Western civilization, with all its paraphernalia of stockjobbing, corruption, and extravagance, has been imposed on a country but just emerging from barbarism. Almost anything may occur in such circumstances. The murder of the late Czar shocked Europe: but the cruelties which led up to that crime were really even more shocking than the revenge. More people were swept off to Siberia without trial by the benevolent Alexander II than ever found their way thither within an equal period during the worst days of the reign of Nicholas. Now there is another Czar, who lives in constant fear for his life; and the recent changes seem to betoken a continuance of autocratic rule at home, combined possibly with a renewal of aggression abroad. Men live as in expectation of an earthquake; and the attacks upon the Jews and other money-lenders in Southern Russia look like the premonitory shocks.

If the disturbances do begin in earnest in Russia, they are almost certain to lap over into other countries. Already the grave social issues involved in the existing capitalist system as applied to agriculture and business are being debated with increasing earnestness all over Europe. In Germany the party of the Social Democrats has gained strength of late years to a surprising extent, notwithstanding the pressure of similar laws to those which we are now applying with such great success in Ireland. Conscription does but give the disaffected more confidence; and as they see that peaceful agitation is considered a crime, the propaganda might easily assume a more dangerous shape. A military system like that of Germany carries with it the certainty of its own destruction at no distant date. All Prince Bismarck’s unscrupulous energy will not suffice to stop the current of ideas which show men how and why they are robbed and oppressed. In Austria the agrarian difficulty is assuming daily a graver aspect. Nor is it the less serious because the people have not as yet dissociated the agitation from religion or loyalty. They scarcely understand themselves how it is that capitalism and difference of value impoverish them. In France a party holding similar views to that of the Labour party in Germany, has been formed, and they alone have had the courage to protest against the attack on Tunis, as contrary to the interest and the true sense of morality of the French people.

How far these various socialist bodies in Russia, Germany, Austria, France, and Italy, would act together in any general programme may be doubtful. But these organizations -consisting almost exclusively of working men – alone seem to have grasped the truth that the people of the various countries have nothing to expect from war but loss and suffering; consequently they alone are prepared to consider existing difficulties with a view to their peaceful settlement. Men who hold that their class is undergoing suffering and misery because the workers of all nations are not sufficiently at one, will not be likely to foment those national hatreds which are generally turned to the aggrandisement of individuals. But this rising feeling of democracy, this growing disinclination of the men who work to be handled any longer for the advantage of emperors, aristocrats or even bond-buyers, is viewed with very uneasy eyes by the military powers of Europe. It is not the assassination of the late Czar, or threats against the present, which are drawing together “saviours of society” on the continent. They see that, let affairs in Russia take what turn they may, another and more serious ’48 movement is going on below the surface, which they wish beforehand to encounter and defeat. Hence the attempts to bring about some understanding with reference to the surrender of political refugees, and the demands which have been made, or will be made, upon us.

Now arises an important question for us Englishmen – and especially for those of the working classes – to decide. Will they in the coming struggle between militarism and democracy lend their aid in any way to the former, or even stand aloof and see the peoples of Europe repressed as they were a generation since? I judge not. Jealousy of this or that nation there may be for a time, and French vanity and unfortunate spread-eagleism may render all combinations in Western Europe impossible. But with the rising feeling of democracy here at home, any understanding with reaction as in old days would be ruinous to the party which attempted it, as any effort to convert us into a military power may be fatal to our existing system of government. As time has passed on, it has become more and more clear that in the direction of the national inclination of the great majority of Englishmen lies at the same time the most advantageous policy for England. Lying apart from the continent of Europe, and practically free from the risk of invasion, we can not only shelter men who are driven from their country for mere political offences, but we can rightfully stand forth at the critical moment on behalf of those who at present think that England must necessarily range herself on the side of a conservatism which has come to be revolutionary. Each nation, doubtless, must work out its own social troubles; but a combination of despotisms can only be met and overcome by a combination of peoples. The true alliances for England in the future are the democracies of Europe, and her real strength is on the sea.


1. We have ordinarily less than three weeks’ supply of food at hand. A naval combination which could blockade our ports for a fortnight, could starve us out. Two powers, acting together could even now have a stronger fleet in the Channel than we could command.

Last updated on 30.7.2006