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It may be of some service, then, to inquire whether it is safe to. regard the “revolt of labour” as a passing agitation or whether it
. is not something more. Evidently, it is a question upon which much might be said. What I should be inclined to say is, that whatever shape the “revolt " may take, or whatever may prove to to be its course and history, it does not promise to be a temporary movement. It would have that appearance much more if it arose in a time of industrial disappointment and distress, like that which ensued upon a long period of roaring trade and rising wages in 1874. But this is no such time. Too much poverty there is, yet nearly all trades are well employed, wages are better than they were in times of less complaint, there is more of leisure with good wages, and the supplies of the workman's home are cheapening daily. Since, however, nobody asserts that a sharper pinch of poverty has brought on the "revolt of labour"-since, indeed, its own preachers explain and justify the revolt by a different kind of provocation altogether—we need not dwell upon that point; only it should be observed that when we dismiss it we destroy what is probably the only reasonable ground of belief that our labour disturbances are of a merely temporary character. If these times were “bad times," that belief might be confidently held even though the spokesmen of the movement do proclaim that nothing less than a complete social revolution is intended ; for we know how ready these gentlemen are to interpret every motion of popular uneasiness into a sign that the day of wrath, their day of wrath, is at hand. We might then say that with the return of good times the social disintegrator would find his working-men friends too busy to attend to him. But as it is, exceptional poverty gives no ground for thinking that the present agitation is like others that have come and gone with periods of commercial distress.
Therefore it may be more persistent and more lasting; and if what I am about to suggest be true, it is impossible to conceive a stronger reason for concluding that the “revolt of labour ” will continue and increase.
What if it proceeds, not from a deepening distress and a more irritating sense of helplessness amongst the poor, but from the opposites of those provocations ? Most men who give their minds.
to public affairs must be conscious that that really is the case ; as many of them, I mean, as look beneath the uppermost questions of the day. But there are some things that we like not to see, and what we like not to see we are reluctant to bring into the light. Nothing, therefore, has yet been heard of the extreme probability that we are now about to witness the full consequences of fifty years of mighty change in every direction, all tending to good, or nearly all, and all a matter of general rejoicing. The full effects of fifty years of benevolent legislation, combined with the political consequences of a vast and sudden advance in whatever is most serviceable to commerce, industry, art, thought, are now about to be displayed for the first time. The change that has been made within the last two generations in every field of human aptitude and endeavour—everything on which the thought, the invention, the speculation, the hopes of mankind are employed, is prodigious; and now we are presented with the question whether not one but all of these changes—such as increased facility of communication, the cheapening of commodities, the diffusion of political power, the diminution of popular ignorance, the discoveries and the gifts of science, the purgation, limitation, or destruction of religious belief–have not been conspiring to produce a common result which few of them were supposed to attend to. For my part, it seems to me that they have. If we look into the matter we should find that discontent with the existing social order has either been fed, spread, armed, or organised by some one of the grand improvements and great reforms (it must not be imagined that I speak of them ironically) which have transformed the world within the last sixty years. And it further appears that to this result they have been secretly working in combination, while we were content to register the advance of each as an independent aid to human happiness, and therefore contributing to strengthen the foundations of established order.
It is always hazardous to venture observations of this kind, for they are easily misrepresented both in matter and spirit. The smartest criticism is that which travesties meaning most, and then traces it to some absurd belief or ridiculous sentiment ; and it is the kind of criticism commonly employed when political differences
seem to be involved in the question. Smartness will feel itself called upon to exclaim at this point, “ Here is a man-of course a Tory—who thinks it lamentable that the intercourse of men and nations should become more speedy and more free, food cheaper, luxuries more common, education more available, knowledge more complete and daring, than in the good old times: of our grandfathers; and above all, no doubt, that so many Reform Bills should have abolished privilege and provided for political enfranchisement. He sees nothing in the prodigious benefits of the century's invention and enlightenment but an organised discontent of the masses, and therefore they make him miserable.” (What easy work it is!) When Mr. Besant's Academy of Literature comes into existence, a law will be passed against such travesties and torturings of meaning; till then the only resource is to guard against them by prevision and protest. Therefore I protest that nobody is so foolish as to question the benefits of the century's invention, enlightenment, and liberality. But even while we banquet on the thought of these blessings, it can be asserted with truth that they have one and all combined to produce an unexpected result of great magnitude and doubtful promise.
That this is the case could easily be shown if we went in detail over the whole ground of modern change, scientific, industrial, educational, political. But it is not necessary to make sowide an excursion to illustrate my meaning, which will be doing enough.
When we speak of popular education, we speak of something that would lose more than half its value if it failed to arouse a rebellious loathing in the minds of the masses against the squalor in which they congregate. This, which is the first and most certain effect of popular education, is the one that educational reformers wish for most. Their hope of the results of popular education may be expressed in many ways, and it comprises many particulars; but this desire is always implied and never disappointed. Rebellion against abasement, emulation in the lowlier refinements of home life, the decencies elevated into sheer necessities of existence—this is the first best good that can come of "the education of the
masses,” and while it is the most desirable consequence it is also the most certain.
But we should remark that it is the same thing as the creation of tastes; and that in creating tastes education multiplies absolute wants, the satisfaction of which remains to be provided for. These needs, however, are supplied in some degree by the industrial enterprise that cheapens luxuries and enlarges the wage of labour ; thanks also to the mechanical invention of the age and the discoveries of chemical science. Here, then, we might come to a balance but for one thing : the disturbing element of “human nature." That being what it is, the luxuries of to-day are the merest necessaries of to-morrow. It would be all very well, perhaps, if an awakened craving for some share of the refinements of life never passed beyond a certain limit. But that is not the case. It is an appetite that grows with what it feeds on; and we are to remember that poverty is brought into closer view, day by day, of comforts unshared and the graces and delights of leisure. Therefore the craving extends, and still the creation of tastes multiplies absolute wants of which this is to be said : first, that they are not only acknowledged to be “ legitimate,” but in the highest degree beneficial to the whole community; and next, that the satisfaction of them remains to be provided for.
Now we come to the next point. We have seen that in establishing a beneficent scheme of popular education—a scheme by no means confined to the three R's, and immensely aided by another great engine of civilisation, a popular Press-Government has incidentally conferred on poor men a keener sense of privation, mental and material. But that is not all it has done. Incidentally again, progressive legislation of a different kind has brought another contribution to the grand result which seems now about to reveal itself in completion. In handing over to the masses full .command of the political machine, the State has given to them a direct means of insisting on the trial of any scheme which they can be persuaded will help them to satisfy their legitimate, their honourable, their salutary desires. But what then ? it will be asked. The masses are being taught other things besides a love of fresh linen, the moral influence as well as the general comfort of bright
homes, a neat table, books, pictures, music. Their better education, acting on their natural good sense, will restrain them from insisting on rash and violent experiments—such, for instance, as are manifestly opposed to the laws of political economy. This is the pedant's answer; satisfactory to himself, because he knows little or nothing of the sub-workings of cause and effect in the deep bulk of sentiment called the popular mind.
In truth, here comes in another of the triumphs of advancement, liberation, expansion, which distinguish the nineteenth century from most of its predecessors. This century has been remarkable for nothing more than the wholesale destruction of creeds and theories—the oldest, the newest, the most surely grounded on authority. Even the political economist himself has begun to admit that his adamantine laws are capable of liquefaction under influences that operate in a variety of unexpected ways, and that can neither be measured nor controlled. One thing is glaringly obvious, at any rate : the economic laws which are preached by the governing men of one nation are treated as figments by the governing men of others, who can pretend to quite as much knowledge and good sense. However, I do not speak of economy alone. What I would ask is, that with theories, systems, and beliefs going
every direction, who can wonder if the masses have become dubious of all authority, or if they are less inclined to heed the counsel which declares their own advancement at the cost of "the classes ” a scientific mistake? Taught by the crashing of all sorts of creeds to believe in nothing, what particular inducement have they to believe in that? They have no such inducement; and their own teachers tell them that their determination to have more of this world's goods is sanctioned by a truer science as well as a loftier morality.
So we might go on to show that all the grand movements and discoveries of the time have contributed to swell, consolidate, and organise the Revolt of Labour. Here we have been travelling on only one line of observation ; but thus far it appears that what has been equipped by Beneficent Legislation has been armed by Political Reform, and divested of scruple by the Intellectual Activity that fissures all belief—religious, moral, social, economical. Further in