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Parliamentary action is to be preferred to isolated trade combinations for the uplifting of labour to a higher standard of material prosperity.
It is the purpose of this article to discuss the attitude of the Liberal party in relation to Social Reforms, but before doing so it may be well to consider the nature and tendency of the Socialistic movement in England. Scientific Socialism has not hitherto made any appreciable progress among the English working class, nor is there any indication that it will do so ; its votaries are almost exclusively to be found among the French and German settlers in London and our large towns, and in a knot of middle-class men of easy circumstances and enthusiastic temperament. There has never been on their part any serious attempt to formulate for legislative purposes a scheme by which their conception of a perfect social state may be wholly or partially realised. True Socialism-as they for the most part frankly admit-has not progressed, nor will progress for many a long day, beyond the stage of “negative criticism.” The English working man has neither the patience nor the ideality to work out the problem how “private and competing capital” is to be transformed into a "united and collective capital”; but on the other hand he is keenly alive to every reform which may work improvement in his social condition, he readily appreciates fiscal changes which may lessen his burden of taxation or cheapen the cost of commodities, he extends his approval to schemes which may secure better remuneration for his labour or may add to his sum of material comfort. But he is far too practical to be content with an attitude of "negative criticism," or to postpone immediate benefits to the distant realisation of ideals. Possibly Mr. John Burns may be regarded as a fairly representative type of the English Socialist, but between his Socialism and that of Karl Marx or Lassalle there is absolutely nothing in common. Their Socialism is a system of social polity involving a complete recrganisation of existing economical conditions; the Socialism of his school leaves those economical conditions substantially unchanged, but by State intervention would regulate and modify their incidents and effects. In other words, English Socialism, or--as it may more properly be termed-Social Reform, is merely an expansion of the application of a principle fully established and by statesmen of both political parties recognised and accepted—namely, the occasional extension of legislative and administrative aid by the State to classes of individuals who may be at a permanent disadvantage in their contractual relations. The idea of Socialism in this modified form is widely diffused among the
masses; they have conceptions, crude and almost inarticulate, that it is within the power and is the duty of the State to protect the honest and industrious against poverty and to secure decent competence for old age or sickness. They pass their working lives in a weary struggle against the aggressions of competing or inflated capital upon their wages, and when the struggle is past there is no small proportion of them to whom the workhouse is the ante-chamber to eternity. They have learnt to recognise the truth of Mr. Ruskin's epigrammatic phrase in Modern Painters, “Government and co-operation are in all things the laws of life, anarchy and competition the laws of death."
In 1885 the Liberal party were returned to power by a splendid majority. That majority was secured by dazzling promises of social reforms. Mr. Chamberlain, then the young lion of militant Radicalismquantum mutatus ab illo !—in his preface to “The Radical Programme,” the electioneering manifesto of the Liberal party, stated that "new conceptions of public duty, new developments of social enterprise, new estimates of the natural obligations of the members of the community to one another, have come into view and demand consideration.” These "new developments," as foreshadowed in the “ Programme," transcended the hopes of the most visionary social reformer.
The country responded to the appeal with alacrity, the most democratic Parliament that ever sat at Westminster was returned, and, for the first time in the history of the House of Commons, a compact, though small, body of labour representatives was elected.
Home Rule blasted the hopes of the Social Reformer. With the defection of Mr. Chamberlain, the Radicals were unable to withstand the electoral effect of the wholesale exodus of the Whig section of their party. But after nearly seven years' “wandering in the wilderness” they again rallied to the appeal of the “Newcastle Programme,” although they generously conceded that Home Rule should precede all other legislation.
It must not be supposed that the “Newcastle Programme" kindled the enthusiasm or was calculated in its fulfilment to satisfy the aspirations of the people. It failed to deal with many questions of which social reformers demand solution, and where it was not silent it was vague and timorous; but they regarded it as a declaration that the Liberal party were prepared to set forth on the path of social progress.
The plain, simple question the Liberal party have to answer is this: Do they mean to follow in the old lines of laissez-faire-laisses-aller, or
to recognise, and endeavour to carry into effect, that the working classes. are henceforth to be the administrators of the wealth they produce ?
There are portentous indications that the Liberal party under its present leaders is not prepared to respond to this half articulate demand of labour. True it is, the constitution of the Liberal party has vastly changed; its exponents and directors have ceased to be the country gentleman and the Whig noble, but are to be found in the ranks of the journalist, the littérateur, the successful lawyer, and the college tutor. A Grey, a Granville, a Palmerston pass away to be succeeded by a John Morley, a Henry Fowler, a Professor Bryce. But it is not in the Liberal party alone that this change has been wrought : in a less but in a marked degree the character and personnel of the Conservative party have been transformed, and the old type of Conservative leader is giving place to the newest creation of Tory democracy. Hence the Liberal party have no monopoly of social reforms, and may find when too late that the Conservative party will rush in where they have feared to tread.
There are indications, I repeat, that the Liberal party is not prepared to proceed with the solution of those social problems which are agitating the minds of the people, characteristics of which from time to time sporadically display themselves in the form of a dockers' war against "casual labour” and a miners' strike for a “living wage.” Already the narrow patriotism of a powerful section of Scotch Radicals insists
a to the manifest discomfiture of the Liberal cause in Scotland—that Disestablishment of the Scotch Church shall form the first article in the Parliamentary programme after Home Rule. Nor will Wales be content if social reforms take precedence over similar treatment of the Welsh Church. To these measures the Government has promised an early place in its programme; and when one considers the large demands upon the time of Parliament that will be made by Irish legislation it is hopeless to anticipate that social reforms can receive serious consideration at the hands of the Government within any measurable limit of time.
But, apart from the engagements into which the Liberal leaders have entered, the prospects of social reforms are not encouraging. With the possible exception of one or two minor members of the Cabinet, the Liberal leaders are imbued with the traditions and training of the Manchester school ; the great capitalists of the country are powerfully represented in the Liberal party and exercise a dominating influence
over its policy; the labour representatives have not yet organised themselves into a distinctive party, and recognise no leader and formulate no policy. As the Irish agrarian struggle before the advent of Charles Parnell was fought out on the hillsides of Ireland, so the English labour conflict between employer and employed is waged with the remorseless engines of strikes and lock-outs; and yet, while Parliament is contemplating with self-satisfied complacency the institution of new Parliaments and the disestablishment of Churches, above the clamour of racial jealousy and sectarian pride there is rising the voice of industrial England, demanding that “equality of social conditions” which is the legitimate sequel to “equality of political rights."
It is the duty of the Liberal party to respond to that appeal, none the less real, none the less formidable, because it is unformulated and hardly articulate.
The Liberal party are prone to vaunt themselves on their historical position as friends of democracy. They have nearly outlived the benefits of that tradition. It lingers among the sturdy miners of the north, and in a less degree among the mill hands of Yorkshire, but elsewhere the constituencies measure the claims of political parties by the contemporary character of their political programme. London was partially quickened into political sympathy with Liberalism by the aggressive Socialism of the County Council, and though little practical legislation has been accomplished, the sentiment is not extinguished. But unless the Liberal party are prepared to diligently proceed with social reforms, the Conservative party will make still further progress with the constituencies. Unlike the Liberals, they are 110t under any responsibility in respect of organic political changes. Prior to the Reform Act of 1885, the Liberal party represented the cause of political equality, or democracy, as opposed to the Conservative party, the defenders of political inequality, or aristocracy; the Conservative party would appeal to the cupidity and timidity of the middle-class electorate against popular reforms, while the Liberals would rely upon the support of that section of the working class that was already enfran.chised, and such of the middle class as did not fear democracy. But that state of things is at an end. The working class are the political masters of this country. The Conservative party can no longer play off the middle and upper against the working class. They must possessor, at least, affect to possess—as much confidence in them and solicitude for their interests as their historical antagonists. Their very existence as a party in the State consists in their conciliating a sufficient proportion of the working class to secure them a prospect of success at the polls. They must bid farewell to political power if they are to continue the servants of the interests of land, capital, and privilege. Lord Randolph Churchill was the first Conservative statesman to give practical effect to this great historical fact—the change from the old order to the new He recognised that the mere vague professions of Parliamentary orators were not sufficient to secure the success of his party. He declared that the electorate would look to practical proof being afforded that the Conservative party would adapt their legislative and administrative actions to the requirements and aspirations of the people. It is true that at the outset his monitions were contemptuously disregarded and his attempts to put them into force incontinently crushed, but his vindication has been absolute, and the policy he advocated is now the propagandist creed of official Conservatism. Nay, more ; while the Conservative party as at present constituted is in no small degree the natural protector of wealth and privilege, we are not without signs that its personnel in Parliament is undergoing a significant change. Time was, and not very long ago, when, apart from a handful of political protegés, Conservative members were almost exclusively recruited from county magnates and opulent traders. All that is in process of change. The caucus system has struck its roots deep in the electoral organisation of both parties. Thus we find that the Conservatives have learnt that the sentiments of their party leaders in individual constituencies must be subordinated to the standard of party policy that obtains with official Conservatism, and the faithful party hack who waits in the anteroom of the Conservative "managers is preferred to the sturdy squire or self-opinionated manufacturer.
To enter upon an examination of the character of those social reforms which are destined to evoke the generous emulation of the two parties is beyond the possible scope of the present article. When one contemplates the issues that are involved in the vast field of economic change upon which legislative activity will be invited to enter, one can appreciate how distant will be the realisation of even a modest proportion of the remedial legislation which forms the copious material for party declamation.
L. A. ATHERLEY-JONES.