H.N. Hyndman in To-day, January 1884
Source: To-day, January 1884, pp.3-24;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Just three years ago an article of mine entitled, “The Dawn of a Revolutionary Epoch,” appeared in the Nineteenth Century, which though necessarily written from the middle-class point of view attracted some attention among men of advanced opinions on social matters as evidence that revolutionary ideas were slowly spreading even in England. The paper, of course, made no pretence to be more than a superficial survey of events which tended to show that in every European country, as well as here at home, a new era had begun, that the struggle for the emancipation of the people could not long be postponed, and that indeed it was going on already below the surface of commonplace political conflict. The upper and middle classes were then however, perfectly satisfied with the situation, and saw none of the dangers ahead which were thus briefly suggested. The few who were not indulging in the soothing dreams of a complacent optimism could at least comfort themselves with the fatalist assurance: “It will last our time.” But now that three years have passed it has become quite clear that the “it will last our time” sort of theory is but a poor consolation after all: for the Revolution long prepared in the womb of our society is manifesting itself in open and declared antagonism to the cherished arrangements which have so precisely suited the convenience of the luxurious, the ambitious, and the idle. This being clear to all, it has occurred to my friends, the editors and proprietors of the new issue of ToDay, that a similar survey might interest their readers at the present time. In complying therefore with their request to give in the opening number a sequel to my article of January 1881, I write of course avowedly as a Socialist rejoicing in the rapid growth of our cause, looking hopefully upon the spread of our ideas in every civilised country and feeling confident that in the near future Englishmen, Scotchmen, and Irishmen will join hands in a combined effort to set on foot an organised Social-Democracy in these islands.
Such an idea will appear chimerical to many even of our friends to-day. Will it to-morrow? In all revolutionary or evolutionary movements the real forces at work can be traced directly or remotely to economical causes. It is not, as superficial observers are apt to suppose, the action of one man or even of a body of men of strong opinions which stirs people to consider their surroundings, and arouses them to the necessity of class combination or class warfare in the hope of bettering their social position. No doubt the organised zeal and regulated enthusiasm of men and women who thoroughly believe in their cause and in themselves have often hastened on events which were certain to occur in any case; but they themselves have been moved by the current of the time, by the modification of methods of production below, by pressure of competition or conquest from without, in short, by the general development of mankind of which they themselves are but the unconscious exponents. Such changes are now going on more rapidly than at any period for the last hundred years, and those who imagine that they can take place without disturbing previous calculations, are themselves but the most hopeless of dreamers. The awakening promises indeed to take a shape which those who fail to consider the development of the forces around them may find a rather rude one.
A glance at the progress of the Irish movement in favour of national independence and the abolition of landlordism will give some notion of the pace at which affairs are moving. Only by looking back two or three years can we form any conception of the distance already traversed in action as well as in thought. It is a commonplace to say that men are generally most ignorant of the history of their own time; but assuredly never was this more true than now. The news of yesterday is so soon effaced by the more startling news of to-day, and the news of to-day leads so naturally to the expectation of further excitement to-morrow, that all record is lost, and things lose their due proportion in the constant rush of fresh intelligence. At the beginning of 1881 the Irish revolutionary movement had barely commenced. The Irish Home-rulers in the House of Commons still formed a portion of that sham Liberal party which Irish votes had so materially helped to place in power. True, the Compensation for Disturbance Bill had been thrown out, and there were not wanting symptoms that the people would not bear patiently a renewal of the horrible evictions of 1848-49. Famine threatened a large portion of the island, and the possibility of a rising, aided by Irish-American sympathisers was hinted at. But the Land League had yet to be thoroughly organised, assistance in the shape of money from the United States had yet to be obtained, the grave blundering and iniquitous tyranny of the English Government had yet to produce their effects. Any man who had then declared that Mr. Gladstone’s administration would introduce the most stringent Coercion Acts of this century; that the representatives of the Irish people would be turned out of the House of Commons for standing up resolutely for the freedom of their country against mechanical majorities composed of alien landlords and capitalists; that the leaders of this same Irish Parliamentary party, as well as the most influential men in Ireland itself, would be put in gaol for exercising their right of free speech and taking part in a peaceful class-combination analogous to the English Trades’ Unions, which was guilty of far fewer outrages, in proportion to their numbers than those Trade Unions had been guilty of under similar circumstances; that in a fit of blind panic the ancient Right of Asylum which Englishmen have maintained against all threats for generations would be tampered with that a Third Section of irresponsible secret police would be established in London; that Ireland would be kept under a state of siege month after month, occupied by 30,000 troops and 12,000 armed constabulary; and that all this would be done by a Liberal Government with an overwhelming majority, in order to collect the rents of, at the outside, 12,000 persons guilty, as was freely admitted, of cruel and oppressive exactions at the expense of 5,000,000 of people – any man I say who at the opening of the year 1881 had drawn upon his imagination to the extent of predicting the occurrence of such an amazing series of events would have run the risk of being locked up as a lunatic; while even now that they have taken place it needs an effort of memory to be, sure that the statements are correct.
Our procedure at home has in consequence been revolutionised alike inside and outside the House of Commons to an extent which we shall perhaps not fully understand until a reactionary and powerful minister obtains control of the repressive machinery which our cowardly Liberals and Radicals have so thoughtfully made ready to his hand. Let us hope at least that they may be the first victims to their own shameful contrivances. But if the rights of free men under the constitution have practically been set at naught and the middle-class Parliament rendered a common laughing-stock by what has been done, there is some compensation to Socialists on the other side, alike in Ireland and in England. Home Rule for Ireland, in some shape, has been made certain within the next few years; and the price which landlords can obtain for their properties, when they come into the market, shows pretty clearly that, though rents may be forced from the tenants at the point of the bayonet to-day, purchasers are well aware that the Liberal Land Act is not the last word on the Irish Land Question. Though the sacred ark of middle-class political economy, enclosing within its holy of holies the unapproachable laissez-faire mystery of true commercial Liberalism, has been banished to Saturn, the end is not yet.
The slightest sign of really serious foreign complications, and the consequent withdrawal of troops from Ireland, would soon show what the Land Act is worth, either as a protection to Irish landlords, or as a sop to the Irish peasantry. An agrarian revolution of the most thorough character is going on under our eyes, and needs but a favourable opportunity to be carried to the most completely successful issue. The peace of the moment has no permanence whatever. This all thoughtful men are perfectly well aware of; but in these mealy-mouthed days it is not quite convenient to state in plain words that if trouble with a European power or in India were to arise, and our infantine army were called upon for real work, Southern Ireland would be in the full blaze of insurrection; it is pleasanter to potter about as to whether an extended franchise should apply on the other side of St. George’s Channel or not. But the cry of the “Land for the People” means a good deal more than any Parliamentary tinkering will patch up. This is a social not a political, question, and sooner or later, in spite of the bitterness between Fenian and Orangeman, Protestant and Catholic, will necessarily involve a combination of the democracy in both countries; though Ireland may, like other countries, first pass through a period of mean bourgeois nationality.
Nothing, however, has been more remarkable than the rapid effect of the Irish agrarian agitation upon England, and the form which it has taken. It was of course impossible that such a movement should arise and come to a head across St. George’s Channel, and that it should form for a time almost the exclusive subject of discussion in Parliament and in the press, without leading to a stir among the people of Great Britain, shut out as they are more completely than the inhabitants of any other civilised country from participation in their own land. Yet so great has been the apathy and apparent hopelessness of the working classes since 1848, that serious agitation still seemed unlikely. At first indeed it is quite certain that the English and Scotch proletariat had not the slightest idea that the Irish peasantry were really fighting their battle about the land. Their feeling was all against the men who were waging a class war for economical and national freedom. Their attitude of indifference throughout the passing of the Coercion Acts showed that, as well as the simplicity with which the majority of them accepted every invention of the capitalist press about Land League atrocities, quite regardless of the far worse landlord outrages on the other side. But during the last eighteen months a great change has come over the people, in the cities at least. Nationalisation of the land has developed into a demand which is making itself heard, for the time being, over any other. The Land for the People, which in Ireland meant peasant proprietorship, in England means collective ownership by the people at large. Thus have the ideas of Thomas Spence in the last century, and of Bronterre O’Brien during the Chartist movement, sprung up afresh and with renewed vigour.
Moreover, the agitation thus started is opposed alike by the landlords who of course hold to their own right of private property, by the capitalists who desire only what they call free-trade in land, and by the bourgeois economists who think they have settled the whole question, instead of giving it a more directly serious and practical turn, when they prove conclusively that it would never, pay to “nationalise” the land by buying out or compensating the landlords. For among the people no such prejudices exist in favour of “vested interests,” and they accept the collectivist view with none the less alacrity because they see it opposed by those whom they are every day coming more and more to regard as their “natural enemies.” Nor of course does the agitation for revolutionary change stop at the land. As Mr. Frederic Harrison was the first of the bourgeois economists clearly to see and express, nationalisation of the land must almost necessarily involve nationalisation of the other means of production, and the most vigorous agitators push the collectivist view solely to this end. The great meeting at St. James’s Hall in November, when Michael Davitt spoke, was a marked evidence of progress in this direction. Every reference to capitalist robbery, as well as landlord robbery, was loudly cheered. No such distinctly revolutionary gathering has been held in London for more than five-and-thirty years. That a large English audience – for that only a minority present were Irish was at once apparent to anyone who knows the Irish population of London – should assemble to hear, and receive with the most extraordinary enthusiasm, a Fenian, a convict, and a ticket-of-leave man, whose character every effort had been made to blacken, was in itself a revolution of opinion betokening the approach of a still more remarkable revolution in the future. For similar meetings have been held with equal success, though without the same personal attraction, throughout the kingdom, and in every case the more distinctly socialist in tone were the resolutions and the speeches, the greater was the enthusiasm among the crowded audiences. The course taken by a great portion of the press of boycotting such meetings, as well as in shutting out reports of the revolutionary agitation among the Crofters in Scotland and elsewhere, is only evidence of fear of what the editors and proprietors know to be going on below the surface. To suppose that in these days of public lectures, pamphlets, fly-sheets, and the penny post a revolution can be kept back by fostering upper and middle-class ignorance is of course absurd.
Here, however, we come to the economical and social causes of this apparently sudden agrarian excitement. That the struggle between classes, between those who own the means of production and those who, by their labor, provide the wealth which the monopolists take, has long been prepared in the past, is well known to all thorough students of our economical history; but it might have been reasonably supposed that the opening attack would be made upon the capitalists rather than upon the landlords. It is here, however, that the effect of American influence, and still more of American competition has been felt, and, combined with bad seasons, has for the moment turned the current of popular indignation chiefly against the landowners. Hereafter it may be noted as a singular coincidence that money from the Irish in the United States supported the Irish agrarian revolution in its early stages; that a book by an American writer – Mr. George’s “Progress and Poverty"- gave the first serious public impetus since 1848 to the agrarian agitation in England; and that the cheap food sent over from the Far West of America should have rendered such agrarian agitation general throughout Europe. The discovery and conquest of America in the sixteenth century, together with the flood of precious metals poured thence into Europe, revolutionised the commerce of the world at that period. It is possible that we are looking on at an even greater economical revolution in the nineteenth century, of which we are now experiencing the earliest and simplest effects. Only by means of facts and figures can the truth about this be made plain. That grain and fruits, and to an increasing extent meat, in the shape of bacon or tinned meats, as well as live beasts and frozen carcases, are being produced and transported to England and Europe from America, more cheaply than they can be grown at home under existing conditions, is well known. Competing, as all English producers for profit do, in an open-world market, cheapness necessarily commands that market in the long run. I have myself watched the growth of this American competition since the year 1871, alike in England and in America, and I can no longer doubt that it threatens the very gravest results to the whole European system in the near future; nor in all likelihood, will the difficulties, as we shall shortly see; be confined to the field of agriculture.
To take this first, however, as, on the whole, the most important. When Messrs. Pell and Read were sent out as a commission to the United States in 1879, to inquire into the causes of American competition, they calculated the cost of transport from the Far West to England at 531/4 cents, or about two shillings and threepence, a bushel on the average. At present the average cost of transport, owing to improved communications, to the deepening of channels and canals, and to the combined action of the western farmers, has been reduced to something near one shilling and sixpence a bushel or a fall of just 33 per cent. Again Messrs. Pell and Read in the same year placed the average cost of production at not less than 84 cents the bushel, or about 3s. 6d. My friend, Dr. Rudolph Meyer, after a series of most careful calculations on the spot, aided by the officials of the Agricultural Department, places the cost of production at about half-a-crown the bushel. Thus whereas in 1879 these worthy English farmers thought that grain could not be landed at a profit in Liverpool at less than 5s. 9d. a bushel, or about 46s. a quarter. and that the cost of transport and cost of production would tend not to decrease but to increase, it is now ascertained that wheat can be delivered in Liverpool at a small profit at a dollar a bushel, or 33s. 4d. a quarter; whilst the cost of transport and production tends certainly to decrease and not to increase to such an extent that within the next few years wheat grown in the West of America will, almost without doubt, be profitably delivered in Liverpool at 30s. a quarter. It needs, I hope, but little comment to impress the importance of these calculations upon the mind of readers of ordinary common sense. This year we import fully two thirds of the food grain which we require for home consumption and to all appearance we shall become more and not less dependent upon foreign sources for our supply in future. Yet none but a free-trader run daft could contend that it is to the advantage of a country that its most important industry -for agriculture is still by far our most important industry – should be thus crushed by foreign competition.
If the cotton trade were thus overborne, as it is by no means certain it won’t be in the long run, by the cotton producing countries, if our iron trade were in process of extinguishment, we should soon hear of it from all quarters. But the farmers with capital who are flocking into America, the landlords and capitalists who are buying land there and developing it, are increasing the pressure of the competition more and more, just as centuries ago the Merchants of Venice lent their capital to help on the threatening commercial growth of Holland. Each year that passes renders the situation more dangerous so long as we permit our miserable old semi-feudal land-system to go on at home and look upon the production of food in our country as simply a means of obtaining profits for the farmer and rents for the landlords out of the ill-paid labour of the agricultural hind. During the past ten years there has been a steady decrease in the number of cattle and live-stock in Great Britain, as well as in the amount of acreage under tillage. In the meantime the course of events in the United States has been quite the reverse, and the skilled farmers, with capital just spoken of, who are now flocking into the West from England, Germany, Scandinavia, & c., are remedying by careful rotation of crops and thorough manuring that reckless overcropping for grain alone which our landowners and farmers had before reasonably reckoned upon to wear out the American soil and thus to reduce the severity of the competition in the near future. After feeding and clothing their families far better than they could feed and clothe them in Europe, such farmers year by year throw a larger and larger amount of grain, fruit and dead meat on to the food-market of the world; an amount which, as already shown, the constantly lessened rates for transport tends also to increase.
Only figures can give a conception of the progress which has been made. Thus, in 1870, there were 5,922,471 persons at work in agriculture in the United States, of whom 2,889,605 were dependents of one sort or another, and the remainder or 3,033,866, were independent self-supporting farmers. But in 1880 there were no fewer than 7,670,493 persons following agriculture as a business, or 1,750,000 more than in 1870, and of these 7,670,493, there were 4,343,511 independent self-supporting farmers, and only 3,326,982 dependents. That is to say, the independent farmers had increased by 1,200,000, while the labourers had increased by only 500,000; showing at the same time a great increase of the most sturdy portion of the population, and a large development in the use of machinery. Yet it is worthy of remark that the number of women at work on the soil in this family industry forms but a small percentage of this number of hands, being less than 600,000 out of the whole 7,670,000. It is true that the average return of bushels to the acre, 11 to 13, is low compared with ours; but then the grain area under cultivation is enormously greater beyond all comparison, and the cost of production is, as already seen, very low, and constantly falling as farming is more skilfully conducted, and machinery is more widely used.
The American farmer has besides no rents, no excessive amount of taxes, no big debt, no conscription, as on the Continent of Europe, to render bad seasons ruinous. As a result of these various causes, and the large scale on which the operations of transport and storage are conducted, they are enabled hopelessly to beat the European farmer, hampered as he is in every way. Moreover the habit of work in America tells sadly against a community such as ours, where lounging alone is thoroughly genteel. Out of 13,907,444 males between the ages of 16 and 59 in 1880, there were 12,986,111 actively engaged in work or business of some sort, but 921,333 wasting their time in “loafing around.” Of the 13,377,002 women however, only 2,283,115 were at work, the remainder being more usefully and fittingly occupied in household duties; though America, as every Englishman who knows the States at all is aware, is the country where women are most free to do what they please. Well may we ask how Europe, with its enormous standing armies, its constant war scares, its bitter race hatreds and pressure of landlordism and capitalism, is to make head against such advantages as the farmers of the United States possess. England, France, Germany, Austria, are all suffering from the effects of this competition, .and will continue to suffer until the home system of production is entirely changed. The agrarian troubles of which we hear throughout Germany and Austria, the pressure increasing upon the peasantry of France, are directly due to the reduction of the value of their products in the open market in consequence of this never-ceasing flow of cheaper grain and wheat from across the Atlantic. And since 1880 the pressure has increased for us as well as for them.
To this great economical cause then, which is in part aggravated by Australia and India, coupled with a succession of bad seasons, not to the insidious teaching of ignorant Socialist agitators – all Socialists are of course ignorant in the opinion of bourgeois economists – or the writings of Mr. George and Mr. Wallace do we owe the fact that at the present time the question of nationalisation of the land is being forced to the front in Great Britain. This indeed is the only means, combined with the simultaneous or prior nationalisation of capital, machinery, and communications to meet our own future wants in a greater degree at home, and to avert grave danger. The concentration of population gives us a great advantage, and the proper use of manure now wasted, the improvements in chemistry constantly going on, the employment of machinery on a larger scale, the combination of small farming for poultry and dairy purposes with larger developments where advantageous, might soon enable us to hold our own. But in the next ten years the American production will almost certainly increase, and the amount left over for export will swell more rapidly than during the past ten years. For as the population increases in that great country, so does the export grow, and the price of it fall; nor is there any reason whatever to believe that there will be any check to this process within calculable time.
Of course it is easy to say that protection would stop this competition. But protection under existing conditions, even supposing it were sound economically which, in this case, it certainly is not, would merely increase the profits of the farmers, or the rents of the landlords, without benefiting the agricultural labourers or the artisans of the cities one atom. On the other hand the capitalist free-traders who are merely anxious that the rate of wages should be kept low for the benefit of the manufacturers are manifestly going wrong. For the home market – which is by far the most important after all – is being ruined by agricultural depression; while Americans, Belgians, and even Germans are pressing us hard, or even beginning to beat us, in the foreign and colonial markets which we have hitherto absolutely controlled. But for a country to be able to import two-thirds of its necessary food supply without grave injury, it is clear that the means of payment must in the main be derived from the manufacture and sale of goods and ores, or coal. If the outlet for these is in any way checked, by other nations obtaining control of equal or superior machinery and then competing with us as at present, the situation at once becomes perilous in the extreme. Thus then the agitation for the nationalisation of the land now going on is a necessary result of the truth about the economical conditions being brought home gradually to the people: the only mistake made, being the foolish attempt to strike at the landlords alone, when they are of course, under the present system of production for profit, mere hangers-on of the capitalist class. The revolution in fact progresses steadily in our midst, and is pushed on by the action of our own landlords and capitalists; yet they wonder at the results which they themselves help to produce!
But while the agitation about the land has thus extended, and has taken such deep root that there seems at last some possibility that Englishmen will ere long endeavour to make themselves masters of their own country, the condition of the poor in our great cities has begun to attract attention. The housing of the artisan class and the “residuum” is the point on which most has been said and written. That a supercilious marquis and an ambitious manufacturer should both have suddenly condescended to notice that the mass of their townsmen are crowded together like pigs in a sty, has quite impressed the vulgar middle-class mind. If titled or rich people like these deign to take up such subjects, why it must be really respectable to seem to know something about the habits and housing of the workers. That the great landlord and the great capitalist however should come to loggerheads over the matter, is of course highly satisfactory to the Socialist. When Lord Salisbury also is found among the prophets who declare that laissez-faire should be cast to the winds, and Mr. Chamberlain avers (in italics) that the ground landlords must pay the entire cost of the rehousing of the people, it is evident that we have here the making of a very pretty quarrel indeed. If those who rob the labourers by rents, and those who rob the labourers by profits, will only battle seriously over the spoils the workers may come by their own before we think. So far has the matter gone that “society” even has taken up the subject: the “Bitter Cry” has wailed its wail in London drawing rooms, and the luxurious and over-fed have actually felt moved to be benevolent as a new sensation.
Fifteen or sixteen years ago a similar fuss was got up. Suddenly then too the West End of London, the highly-fashionable dwellers in Bayswater and Belgravia, South Kensington and Mayfair, allowed themselves to be roused to the fact that there were about 2,000,000 people living to the East of the Bank of England, and that many of them, owing to some breakdown of shipbuilding business, were really quite distressed. It became “the thing” to go down East. Guardsmen and girls of the period, prize philanthropists and prophets of Piccadilly betook themselves to the choice rookeries which are to be found along the river-side. My Lady Bountiful could be seen picking her way daintily through the unsavoury neighbourhood of Limehouse, chance encounters of high-born personages were frequent in Ratcliffe Highway, and more deliberate assignations were commonly made in the Poplar slums. Many a marriage in high life also was the result of these happy diversions in the unknown regions of the East. And that was the end of it. When the excitement was over, and benevolence became rather a bore, our exquisites returned West with their carriages and their footmen, and things went on as before. As it was yesterday so, as far as the rich are concerned, will it be to-day. The pastors and teachers no doubt will get a few churches and chapels built for them by men who wish to gain “influence,” or women who are solicitous about their immortal souls; but as to any permanent benefit from this source the very idea is absurd.
Happily, however, the working-classes already speak with contempt and hatred of their sham benefactors. Socialist literature is being distributed broadcast alike in London and in the great provincial towns of the North, wherein the Capitalists are plainly pointed out as the most infamous of all robbers, because they are the robbers of the labour of those who, as matters stand, are wholly unable to protect themselves. A totally different feeling from that of slavish subservience and submissive meekness is growing up among the workers. It begins to be clear, even to those who first began to handle this housing business, that there is a good deal more in the question than they thought, that to deal with it adequately in town and in country, we must cut at the very root of the competitive system, at the system of production for profit that is, and bare subsistence wages, on which we have been taught that the very greatness and glory of England must eternally depend. The workers, I say, and the poor unemployed, who are daily becoming more numerous, see this too.
Thus here again, we are brought face to face with revolution – a revolution alike of action and of thought, which must end either in frightful bloodshed and anarchy, or in a thorough reconstruction of the entire social fabric. Simple as it may seem to insist upon the right to good housing, good clothing, good food, and good education, for men who are willing to work, and their wives and children, this simple demand cannot be met without the complete overthrow of our present competitive society, and the consequent subjugation of the idle and profit-mongering classes. It is impossible indeed to meddle with any portion whatsoever of our modern social structure with a view to its improvement without becoming at once aware that the foundation itself is utterly rotten. It is at the same time amusing and instructive to note how, the moment they become aware of this fact our so-called statesmen, turn away from “revolutionary” to “moderate” measures, and proclaim that political and not social reforms are really needed, if indeed misery itself is not providentially decreed.
Thus in England which in 1848, the last great period of revolutionary movement, was one of the mainstays of conservatism and reaction, we have a distinct economic revolution being wrought in relation to the land and our complete command of foreign markets, which is reflected in the growing agitation for socialist action with regard both to land and capital. In the coming time of upheaval, England will certainly not act as a conservative, but rather as a perturbing element in European politics. For apart from the causes of trouble at home and in Ireland, our position in India is rapidly becoming such as to render it certain that in the course of the next few years our hold upon that country must be seriously shaken. All accounts agree that never since the Mutiny has the feeling between the natives and Europeans been so bad in the cities, as it has been since the agitation about the Ilbert Bill; while as to the agriculturists, they are manifesting in many districts a sullen discontent previously unknown since our rule was established. Whether the Native States are hostile or friendly to us we scarcely know; but, generally, there is a sensation of uneasiness throughout the empire which, unless I am altogether misinformed by men who have never before deceived me, betokens the approach of a serious movement of some kind. Now I am not of those who think that English influence in India must of itself be injurious. On the contrary, I hold most distinctly that English officials have in many instances enabled the natives to obtain a better government than they could otherwise have secured; I am of opinion also that if we were driven out of India as a government to-morrow, Englishmen as individuals would ere long reassert their influence in other ways.
But of late years the whole thing has been greatly overdone, and the country – I speak of the mass of people, not of the profit-mongering classes – has been fearfully impoverished. Once more an economical cause, the inordinate drain of produce to this country, is the chief reason of the growing difficulty. Without, however, entering further upon this question now, it is sufficient to point out that a large portion of our European army in India consists of little better than mere unseasoned boys; that even so it is 8,000 men under its complement; that any attempt to hold Egypt permanently in the face of the Mahomedan revival now going on will render the strain upon our inadequate military force still greater; and that – which is the most important point of all – if a serious rising took place the working-classes of this country have not the slightest intention of putting it down in order that the upper and middle classes who rob and oppress them at home, should continue to drag interest, pensions, profits, and home payments out of the starving ryots to the tune of nearly £30,000,000 a year. Let these facts once be thoroughly grasped and it will at once be understood how precarious is our hold upon that Eastern Empire, the retention of which is perpetually hampering our proper foreign policy in Europe, and retarding the advance of democracy at home. Every democrat and socialist must hope that the present system of government in India will shortly come to an end, if only for the sake of the change it would produce in England, apart from the monstrous injustice of maintaining our existing rule.
Of the grave results which might ensue from the threatening conflict between Europe and Asia as evidenced not only in India but by the probable loosening of the great Mongol avalanche owing to the French invasion, I have no room to speak. But those who have most knowledge of eastern nations, and especially of the Chinese, view with alarm the effect that may be produced by the rising power of these Asiatics, their growing confidence in their own capacity and their increasing ability to obtain and use modern implements of warfare; as well as the danger to be looked for in time to come from the commercial and industrial rivalry of these people, if the present competitive system and individual exchange are maintained. Enough to say now that in this direction also a revolution of the most decided character is going on among hundreds of millions of people, beside which our western difficulties by themselves may yet seem child’s play.
The points hitherto touched upon concern chiefly our own country, which as the centre of the commercial and industrial world, the nation where capital has obtained fullest development, will necessarily take the lead in the Socialist revolution and reconstruction; but it is impossible to doubt that events upon the continent of Europe may hasten on the development here more rapidly. The state of affairs among the great military powers is such that a continuance of the present unstable equilibrium is clearly impossible. For the time being actual war has been staved off, and Russia has been forced to assume an attitude of complacency and goodwill towards the German powers, whilst France has put herself out of the calculations by the incredible folly of her bourgeois government in the far East and Madagascar. But in every direction the elements of disorder still exist, both above and below. The hatred between German and Slav, and Magyar and Slav becomes more manifest each day. All the hobnobbing of monarchs and statesmen will not suffice to smooth down such a bitter race animosity as this, or to reconcile permanently interests so divergent. In Prague scarcely a day passes without some manifestation of Czechs against Germans, in Croatia the feeling against the Hungarians has recently been quite undisguised, and in Hungary itself the Slavs are showing that they have no regard for those whom they look upon as their oppressors. As an answer to Russian or Pan-Slavic intrigues in Austria-Hungary the most civilised Slav population in Europe has been stirred up to look again for national independence or national reunion, and the Polish question may once more be coming to the front in the politics of eastern Europe. But for the internal condition of Austria-Hungary it is almost certain that war would be a matter of months. It is the grave agrarian disaffection throughout that empire, due partly to the American competition already spoken of, and partly to the pressure of military conscription and excessive taxation, the spread of socialist doctrines in Vienna and other large towns, owing to the frightful poverty of the people there, as well as in the country districts, which have given pause to the bold schemes of forcible partition and reconstruction north and south of the Danube. What is done must be done by agreement among the original band of international robbers or not at all. Of the Russian position it is needless to speak. By this time it is well understood that a revolution is brewing in that empire which may be as dangerous to her neighbours as it would be fatal to the Romanoff dynasty. Wherefore the word is passed for an armed peace more dangerous and ultimately perhaps more serious than open war. For Germany who is popularly supposed to stand at ease among this throng of armed men, Germany, with her Emperor, her Bismarck, and her unrivalled army, is herself in grave danger. Probably no one is better aware of this than the statesman who is responsible for so much of the mischief; he at least must be convinced that in the long run military conscription under capitalist rule will mean the victory of the people. But the object is postponement of the inevitable in the hope that it may not come in his time, hence futile measures of protection, which merely enrich the large landowners and capitalists at the expense of the labourers, and silly schemes of State Socialism over which the people are to have no control. Prince Bismarck to-day is the first revolutionist in Europe. All the blundering of the French middle-class republic, all the agitations of French anarchists could not so happily hasten on the general overturn as the masterly economical incompetence of the monarchical league-maker of Berlin.
After all, however, we have enough for the moment to consider close at home. Though Socialists are necessarily internationalists, each nation must take account thoroughly of its own economical condition, and the strength of its oppressing class. For the first time then since 1641 London is taking the lead in our national movement, and this alone is significant that no half-measures will suffice to meet it. The Socialist movement which is becoming each day more clearly the real revolutionary force of the future began in London, has its head- quarters in London and has spread from London to the provinces. The failure of the Chartists was in great part due to the fact that they never were able to move the masses of this great metropolis, or thoroughly to frighten the men and women – for “society” even counts a little – who control the vast international banking, mercantile and industrial machinery which is centred here. Those mechanical provincial wire-pullers, who imagine that real revolutionary changes can be wrought while a nation city of nearly 5,000,000 people, containing the highest intelligence, the greatest wealth, and the most complete organisation in the world, remains unstirred and indifferent, simply display that want of imagination and deficiency of real knowledge, characteristic of the huckster politician. In order to break down the shameful capitalist domination which overshadows and crushes us, we must strike at the centre as well as at the circumference. The effect produced will be enormously increased by the reflex action of foreign peoples when they begin to feel that the great financial and commercial heart of Europe and the world is no longer safe from the direct attack of men who know their own minds, and have distinct views as to the re-organisation which they intend to bring about.
In five years we reach the date of 1889. Two hundred years before saw the middle-class monarchical revolution of 1689 in England; a century later came the first outbreak of the great French Revolution of 1789. That year 1889 will be celebrated by the workers in every industrial city throughout the civilised world, as the time for a new and strenuous effort, not in the interest of the “gamesters who play with one another for the labours of the poor,” not to continue power and luxury and ease to the meanest class that has ever held control in the history of human civilisation, but to conquer for the mass of mankind complete control over steam, electricity, and the other forces of nature, which the progress of science is placing at the command of the race. The development of these forces, and the influence which they exert, on the peoples of the world constitute the real Revolution of To-Day. It is for us to take full account of their action, to educate our countrymen around us to a knowledge of their growth and to organise without rest and without haste, that certain victory of the people which shall be the real Revolution of To-Morrow.
H. M. HYNDMAN.
1. Of the grave danger we run of being starved like rats in a hole at the opening of a war with a great naval power, or a combination of naval powers, it is not necessary to speak. We may think the more.
2. Of course I am perfectly well aware that a desperate class struggle threatens in the American cities. But this does not affect my present argument.
3. How is it, by the way, we never hear of the misery of the workers from the clergymen and ministers, except when some advertisement is to be gained by it? “Why” a boy was asked at a school examination, “Why did the priest and the Levite pass by on the other side without attending to the man who had fallen among thieves?” The boy reflected for two or three minutes and then replied, “Because, sir, he had been robbed already.”