R. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) Ensor.

Modern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; online

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Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 29 of 35)
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being pursued.

The great Dock Strike of 1888 may be taken as the
starting-point of the new Labour movement, as, with the single
exception of John Burns, all the men who came to the surface
during that conclusive period were subsequently identified with
the inception and propaganda work of the Independent Labour
party. At the General Elections of 1892 a number of Labour
candidates were run by local organizations in various parts
of the country ; and, the year following, at a conference held
in Bradford in Yorkshire, at which one hundred and twenty
representatives of various Labour and Socialist organizations
attended, the Independent Labour party was definitely
launched, and entered upon its career.

At that time the Liberal party was in office, with a small
and precarious majority. Trade was much depressed, and tens
of thousands of workmen were roaming the country in fruitless
search for employment. As is usual at elections, great hopes
and expectations had been formed as to what would happen if
the Liberals were returned. In the very nature of things, it
was impossible that these hopes could be realized ; and as the
months slipped into years, enthusiastic Radicals, finding that


their party in office was apparently as unable or as unwilling
to do anything effective for Labour as their Conservative
opponents had been, deserted in thousands and cast in their
lot with the newly formed Independent Labour party. At
every by-election in an industrial centre the Independent
Labour party ran a candidate, with results which surprised
friends and opponents alike. In only one case did the Labour
candidate come within measurable distance of winning; but in
every case the number of votes polled showed the strength of
the feeling of discontent which existed in the constituencies.
In those days the hand of every man was against the Indepen-
dent Labour party, which had dared to set itself in opposition
to the cherished political traditions of the nation. The press,
the pulpit, and the platform fulminated and stormed against
the new movement; whilst the usual misrepresentations and
silly inventions were freely indulged in, and, of course, as freely
believed. The party, however, held on its way unswerving.
Its members were enthusiasts, but not mere theorists; there was
always a method behind their apparent madness. Inspired by
a Socialist ideal, they yet managed to keep their feet firm on
solid earth ; and the politicians learned that the British work-
man, despite his well-known proclivities, could be a practical
kind of idealist when properly led. At the General Election of
- 1895 the party ran twenty-eight candidates of its own, every one
of whom, including the present writer, was defeated. As showing
the state of feeling at that time, I may remark, in passing, that
the return of my Conservative opponent was announced, at
the National Liberal Club, as a Liberal triumph. The In-
dependent Labour party vote represented just under thirty
per cent, of the electoral strength in those constituencies which
its candidates had contested. In 1900 we had the Khaki
election, when, despite the fact that all its candidates were
Pro-Boers, and as such anathema to every *' patriotic " voter,
the party vote showed a largely increased following, and in one
• case — my own — won a seat from a Liberal who had given an
enthusiastic support to the war in South Africa.


Up to this stage, 1900, the idea of seeking to create a
Labour party had, in the main, been confined to the ranks of
the Independent .Labour party. Where a trade-union had
sought representation in Parliament, the candidate was put
forward as a working-man Liberal or Conservative, as the case
might be. Recent events, however, chiefly the decisions of
the law courts in trade-union cases, have led to a new and
startling development. The trade-unions have practically cut
themselves adrift from their old political moorings, and they
are heading direct for the open sea of Labour representation
and a Labour party. I have already indicated how the Houses
of Parliament gave full recognition and legal standing to the
trade-unions. For close upon thirty years the law was\
assumed to regard trade-unions as voluntary organizations, in
the nature of clubs, which could neither sue nor be sued, and
as not being entities known to the law, since they were not
an individual, a corporation, or a company. Picketing, it was
assumed, had also been fully legalized, including the power to
" peacefully persuade " men to abstain from working. The
strike in all its phases, it was supposed, had been legalized.
^The decisions of the law courts in recent cases have upset
these suppositions. Employers of labour have been able to sue
trade-unions as such and obtain damages from the funds, in
one case amounting to ;^2 3,000 for the alleged illegal acts of
the union officials. Peaceful persuasion whilst picketing has
been held to be clearly illegal, rendering the pickets liable to
imprisonment ; whilst the sympathetic strike has been once
again brought within the definition of the common law of
conspiracy. These facts have naturally alarmed the trade-
unionists and forced them into the political arena. With the
very existence of trade-unions imperilled, they instinctively
feel that they cannot trust either of the political parties to see
justice done them.

For years past the feeling in favour of a direct Labour
party has been making steady headway within the trade-union
movement, but it was held in check by the fact that the ranks


were about equally divided in their allegiance to the Liberal
and Conservative parties. Many of the leaders of the unions,
on the other hand, had been brought into political conflict
with the militant spirits of the Independent Labour party,
and, as a consequence, were none too well disposed towards
that movement. To the onlooker, the result seemed to be a
tangle, escape from which was almost hopeless. Where the
will exists, however, the way will usually be found ; and so,
when legal necessity compelled the trade-unionists to face
the situation, they resolved, at their annual congress in 1889, to
call an open conference of representatives of Trade-Unionism,
Socialism, and Co-operation, to consider what means could be
devised for securing more adequate representation of Labour
interests in the House of Commons. The conference was
held, and what has since been known as the Labour Represen-y'
tation Committee came into existence. Perhaps its objects will
best be defined by quoting from its constitution, as amended
by the annual meeting this year : —

'^ "i. The Labour Representation Committee is a Federation of
Trades-Unions, Trades-Councils, the Independent Labour party,
and the Fabian Society. Co-operative Societies are also eligible
for membership.

" Object 2. To secure, by united action, the election to Parlia-
ment of candidates promoted, in the first instance, by an Affiliated
Society or Societies in the constituency, who undertake to form or
join a distinct group in Parliament, with its own whips and its own
policy on Labour questions, to abstain strictly from identifying
themselves with or promoting the interests of any section of the
Liberal or Conservative party, and not to oppose any other candi-
date recognized by this Committee. All such candidates shall
pledge themselves to accept this constitution, to abide by the
decisions of the Group in carrying out the aims of this constitu-
tion or to resign, and to appear before their constituencies under
the title of Labour candidates only.

The Labour Representation Committee is financed by each
affiliated organization, paying ten shillings for each thousand


members. This is for working expenses. In addition, there
is a Payment of Members fund, to which each afifiUated
organization contributes one penny per member per annum,
and from which it is expected each member returned to Parlia- ,
ment, under the auspices of the Committee, will be paid ;^2oo'
a year.

That the time was ripe for this new movement is fully
evidenced by the fact, that in England and Wales — Scotland
having a separate organization — over 900,000 trade-unionistsV
are now affiUated. The movement, as stated above, is a
federation, the basis of which is, that each affiliated organization
shall finance its own candidates and become responsible for
their maintenance if returned to Parliament, each, however, com-
bining with the others to secure the return of their respective
nominees. Thus far, a considerable amount of success has
attended the new movement. Since the General Election, it
has fought four Parliamentary vacancies, two of its candidates
being successful and the other two just missing success. From
the outset it has assumed an attitude of rigid independence
towards the orthodox parties, with surprising results. The
Conservative working-men and their Liberal fellows are finding
in the new movement a platform upon which they stand whilst
working for the realization of an object common to both — the
protection of their unions and the promotion of their interests
as wage-earners. The financial difficulty, which at one time
bulked so large when the question of Labour representation
was being considered, has been solved by a contribution of
one shilling per member per ajmiim to a Labour Representation
Fund. By this means an annual income of not less than\
;^5 0,000 has been secured. All the principal trade-unions
have selected candidates, and these are being eagerly sought
after by industrial constituencies. The National Liberal
Federation, at its annual meeting a few weeks ago, fully
recognized the strength and importance of this new develop-
ment in Labour politics, and practically advised Liberal Associ-
ations in industrial constituencies to stand aside in favour of


Labour nominees when these were put forward. Unless the
election be rushed, it is a safe estimate that not less than fifty \
Labour candidates will enter the lists at the next General
Election, under the auspices of the Labour Representation
Committee, a fair proportion of whom are certain to be re-
turned. They will not all be Socialists, but they will all be
Labour members pledged to the formation of a Labour
party in the House of Commons, and to the raising of
the Condition of the People question as a distinct political

Circumstances are favourable to the development of the
new movement. Apart from the trade-union demands,
already referred to, wider issues of greater importance are
being opened up daily. The questions of the hour are no
longer political, but industrial and economic. The growth of\
the trusts, the precariousness of employment, the increased
cost of living, and the growing desire on the part of the work-
ing-class for a larger share in the prosperity of the nation, are
all tending to foment a spirit of unrest. Nor is this to be
wondered at. On every hand there is evidence of a surplus-
age of wealth, in which the worker lias little share. If there
has been a slight increase in wages, there has also been an
increase in house-rent and in certain articles of food, which
has more than redressed the balance. In the staple industries
of the country broken time has become almost chronic ; and,
whilst this does not diminish the nominal weekly wage, it plays
sad havoc with the actual income. Even for the well-to-do
artisan, therefore, there is much in his lot of which he has
good reason to complain. It does not help him at all to be
told that the wealth of the nation is growing at an unprece-
dented rate ; that last year the income of the rich, as shown by
the income-tax returns, was ^^40,000, 000 in excess of the
previous year ; or that in five years the revenue brought to the
exchequer from a penny rate on incomes of ;;^i6o and up-
wards has gone up by ;^6oo,ooo, or from ^^2, 000,000 to
_;!^2, 600,000. This may be evidence of national prosperity ;


but, as an individual, the wage-earner does not feel any the
richer, nor is his lot in life made any the more easy.

When we leave the skilled artisan, however, we begin to
sound an unfathomable depth of poverty. Wages of agricul-
tural labourers are returned by the Government as averaging,
for the whole of England and Wales, thirteen shillings and
eightpence per week. Out of this miserable pittance house-
rent has to be paid and a family maintained. Only in very
rare instances is the agricultural labourer permitted to eke out
this sum by the cultivation of a little plot of land. The farmers,
who have the control of the machinery by which the Allotments
Act could be put into operation, are strangely averse to giving
their labourers opportunities for improving their condition.
There are those who argue in favour of a protective duty on
corn, as a means of enabling the farmer to pay his labourer
better wages ; but these are forgetful of the fact that, in the
days of high protection in England, the agricultural wages
were little over half what they are now, and that, in common
with other workers, the labourer's lot, in so far as it has im-
proved, has done so under the operation of Free Trade. It is
not alone the agricultural labourer who is living on the verge
of starvation all the year round. Recent investigations, con-
ducted by merchant princes like Mr. Charles Booth in London,
and Mr. Seebohm Rowntree in York, the results of which have
been since given to the world with a wealth of detailed evidence
which permits of no dubiety as to the conclusions, prove that
close upon thirty per cent, of the working-class are not in
receipt of sufficient income to enable them to obtain, for
themselves and their dependents, the standard of comfort
which they would receive as paupers in the poor-house or as
criminals in gaol. This fact has startled and alarmed people.
The comfortable theory that formerly existed, that, but for
drunkenness and want of thrift, the working-class would all
be contented, prosperous, and happy, has been shivered to
atoms ; and, for the first time in her long career of self-
delusion, England has been brought face to face with the fact


that, despite her world-wide trade, her unparalleled wealth and
prosperity, her growing bounds of empire and her political,
mechanical, and intellectual progress, there is at the foundation
of her society an amount of misery and destitution, due to low
wages, which casts a dark shadow over the whole national life,
and shows how insecure are the foundations upon which the
whole structure of her wealth has been raised. Sir Henry
Campbell-Bannerman, the leader of the Liberal party, in a recent
speech, declared his belief that twelve millions of our population
were always living at or under the poverty line. In plain lan-
guage, this means that twelve millions of the British people are
improperly fed, insufficiently clothed, and inadequately housed.
The Census returns tells us that 480,277 houses of one room
are registered in England, Scotland, and Wales, and that these
contain a living population of 1,571,504. From one to two
rooms is a very short step in the social scale ; but, on the same
authority from which we have just quoted, we learn that forty-
four per cent, of the people in Scotland are accommodated in
houses of one or two rooms. Speaking with a good deal of
practical experience, I assert that, in three cases out of five,
the householder of two rooms will be found to be indulging in
one or two lodgers, from which it follows that a worse form
of overcrowding occurs than when there is only one apartment.
With this condition of things staring them in the face, with
no hope perceivable of any improvement, there is little wonder
that the more thoughtful leaders of the working-class have
made up their minds to see how far a Labour party can be
instrumental in securing reform. Many of them, although
not all, accept Socialism as being not only inevitable but
desirable. They reason that, if commerciaUsm, in the hey-
day of its prosperity, and with the markets of the world at
its unchallenged disposal, has produced such results as those
indicated above, it has little chance, now that it has passed
its zenith and is being faced with the ever-increasing compe-
tition from other countries, to succeed in the future where
it has failed in the past. To men who are Socialists, an


Independent Labour party is a logical outcome of their
economic faith.

But even those trades-union readers who are not Socialists
— and there are many — are equally convinced of the necessity
of the new departure. The break-up of the Liberal party has
been an important influence in leading them to this position.
Free Trade, despite Mr. Chamberlain, is at present the
accepted creed of both great parties. On the subject of
Imperial expansion, there is little to choose between the two
sides ; and it is doubtful whether, even with the Liberals in
office, the military and naval expenditure, which in a dozen
years has gone up from ;^28,ooo,ooo to ;;^7o,ooo,ooo a year,
would be materially lessened. There is no evidence whatever
that either party has the remotest idea of how to grapple with
the social problem and remove poverty from the land. Added
to all this, there is a growing feeling that the interests of Labour
cannot be adequately safeguarded or protected until there is
a Labour party charged with that particular responsibility.
Therefore it is that all true trades-union leaders who are not
Socialists are equally determined to wean Labour from its
political dependence on some other party, and to place it in a
position where it can formulate its own demands. These men
see how, in twenty years, an Independent Irish party has
succeeded in convincing, not merely the Liberals, but also the
Conservatives, of the justice of their claims. The Irish Land
Bill now before the House of Commons, pledging the credit
of the State to the extent of hundreds of millions of money to
enable the Irish farmer to buy out his landlord, is a standing
evidence of what can be done by an independent and resolute
party, knowing its own mind and acting entirely in the interests
of the classes it represents, and Labour leaders are determined
to make an effort to copy this example.

To conclude, the British working-man is for the movement,
thoroughly in earnest about the formation of a Labour party,
and he will not be easily turned aside from his purpose. He
is realizing as he has never done before, that, with seven-


tenths of the voting power in his hands, he is master of the
poHtical situation. With a party of his own, he will play
an ever-increasing part in the great drama of politics, and
be less easily led than heretofore by the charlatan and the



Voted at the Erfurt Conference, 1891.

The economic development of bourgeois society leads by
natural necessity to the downfall of the small industry, whose
foundation is formed by the worker's private ownership of his
means of production. It separates the worker from his means
of production, and converts him into a propertyless proletarian,
while the means of production become the monopoly of a
relatively small number of capitalists and large landowners.

Hand-in-hand with this monopolization of the means of
production goes the displacement of the dispersed small
industries by colossal great industries, the development of the
tool into the machine, and a gigantic growth in the productivity
of human labour. But all the advantages of this transforma-
tion are monopolized by capitalists and large landowners. For
the proletariate and the declining intermediate classes — petty
bourgeoisie and peasants — it means a growing augmentation
of the insecurity of their existence, of misery, oppression,
enslavement^ debasement, and exploitation.

Ever greater grows the number of proletarians, ever more
enormous the army of surplus workers, ever sharper the oppo-
sition between exploiters and exploited, ever bitterer the class-
war between bourgeoisie and proletariate, which divides modern



society into two hostile camps, and is the common haU-mark
of all industrial countries.

The gulf between the propertied and the propertyless is
further widened through the crises, founded in the essence of
the capitalistic method of production, which constantly become
more comprehensive and more devastating, which elevate
general insecurity to the normal condition of society, and
which prove that the powers of production of contemporary
society have grown beyond measure, and that private owner-
ship of the means of production has become incompatible
with their application to their objects and their full develop-

Private ownership of the means of production, which was
formerly the means of securing to the producer the ownership
of his product, has to-day become the means of expropriating
peasants, manual workers, and small traders, and enabling the
non-workers — capitalists and large landowners— to own the
product of the workers. Only the transformation of capitaHstic
private ownership of the means of production — the soil, mines,
raw materials, tools, machines, and means of transport — into
social ownership, and the transformation of production of goods
for sale into Socialistic production managed for and through
society, can bring it about, that the great industry and the
steadily growing productive capacity of social labour shall for
the hitherto exploited classes be changed from a source of
misery and oppression to a source of the highest welfare and
of all-round harmonious perfection.

This social transformation means the emancipation not
only of the proletariate, but of the whole human race which
suffers under the conditions of to-day. But it can only be
the work of the working-class, because all the other classes, in
spite of mutually conflicting interests, take their stand on the
basis of private ownership of the means of production, and
have as their common object the preservation of the principles
of conteniporary society.

The battle of the working-class against capitalistic exploita-


tion is necessarily a political battle. The working-class cannot
carry on its economic battles or develop its economic organiza-
tion without pohtical rights. It cannot effect the passing of
the means of production into the ownership of the community
without acquiring political power.

To shape this battle of the working-class into a conscious
and united effort, and to show it its naturally necessary end, is
the object of the Social Democratic party.

The interests of the, working-class are the same in all lands
with capitalistic methods of production. With the expansion
of world-transport and production for the world-market the
state of the workers in any one country becomes constantly
more dependent on the state of the workers in other countries.
The emancipation of the working-class is thus a task in which
the workers of all civilized countries are concerned in a like
degree. Conscious of this, the Social Democratic party of
Germany feels and declares itself one with the class-conscious
workers of all other lands.

The Social Democratic party of Germany fights thus not
for new class-privileges and exceptional rights, but for the
abolition of class-domination and of the classes themselves, and
for the equal rights and equal obligations of all, without dis-
tinction of sex and parentage. Setting out from these views, it
combats in contemporary society not merely the exploitation
and oppression of the wage-workers, but every kind of exploita-
tion and oppression, whether directed against a class, a party,
a sex, or a race.

Setting out from these principles, the Social Democratic
party of Germany demands immediately —

I. Universal equal direct suffrage and franchise, with secret
ballot, for all members of the Empire over twenty years of age,
without distinction of sex, for all elections and acts of voting.
Proportional representation ; and until this is introduced, redivi-
sion of the constituencies by law according to the numbers of
population. A new Legislature every two years. Fixing of
elections and acts of voting for a legal holiday. Indemnity


for the elected representatives. Removal of every curtailment

Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 29 of 35)