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The Labour Unrest

(May, 1912.)


Sec. 1

Our country is, I think, in a dangerous state of social disturbance. The
discontent of the labouring mass of the community is deep and
increasing. It may be that we are in the opening phase of a real and
irreparable class war.

Since the Coronation we have moved very rapidly indeed from an assurance
of extreme social stability towards the recognition of a spreading
disorganisation. It is idle to pretend any longer that these Labour
troubles are the mere give and take of economic adjustment. No
adjustment is in progress. New and strange urgencies are at work in our
midst, forces for which the word "revolutionary" is only too faithfully
appropriate. Nothing is being done to allay these forces; everything
conspires to exasperate them.

Whither are these forces taking us? What can still be done and what has
to be done to avoid the phase of social destruction to which we seem to
be drifting?

Hitherto, in Great Britain at any rate, the working man has shown
himself a being of the most limited and practical outlook. His
narrowness of imagination, his lack of general ideas, has been the
despair of the Socialist and of every sort of revolutionary theorist. He
may have struck before, but only for definite increments of wages or
definite limitations of toil; his acceptance of the industrial system
and its methods has been as complete and unquestioning as his acceptance
of earth and sky. Now, with an effect of suddenness, this ceases to be
the case. A new generation of workers is seen replacing the old, workers
of a quality unfamiliar to the middle-aged and elderly men who still
manage our great businesses and political affairs. The worker is
beginning now to strike for unprecedented ends--against the system,
against the fundamental conditions of labour, to strike for no defined
ends at all, perplexingly and disconcertingly. The old-fashioned strike
was a method of bargaining, clumsy and violent perhaps, but bargaining
still; the new-fashioned strike is far less of a haggle, far more of a
display of temper. The first thing that has to be realised if the Labour
question is to be understood at all is this, that the temper of Labour
has changed altogether in the last twenty or thirty years. Essentially
that is a change due to intelligence not merely increased but greatly
stimulated, to the work, that is, of the board schools and of the cheap
Press. The outlook of the workman has passed beyond the works and his
beer and his dog. He has become--or, rather, he has been replaced by--a
being of eyes, however imperfect, and of criticism, however hasty and
unjust. The working man of to-day reads, talks, has general ideas and a
sense of the round world; he is far nearer to the ruler of to-day in
knowledge and intellectual range than he is to the working man of fifty
years ago. The politician or business magnate of to-day is no better
educated and very little better informed than his equals were fifty
years ago. The chief difference is golf. The working man questions a
thousand things his father accepted as in the very nature of the world,
and among others he begins to ask with the utmost alertness and
persistence why it is that he in particular is expected to toil. The
answer, the only justifiable answer, should be that that is the work for
which he is fitted by his inferior capacity and culture, that these
others are a special and select sort, very specially trained and
prepared for their responsibilities, and that at once brings this new
fact of a working-class criticism of social values into play. The old
workman might and did quarrel very vigorously with his specific
employer, but he never set out to arraign all employers; he took the law
and the Church and Statecraft and politics for the higher and noble
things they claimed to be. He wanted an extra shilling or he wanted an
hour of leisure, and that was as much as he wanted. The young workman,
on the other hand, has put the whole social system upon its trial, and
seems quite disposed to give an adverse verdict. He looks far beyond the
older conflict of interests between employer and employed. He criticises
the good intentions of the whole system of governing and influential
people, and not only their good intentions, but their ability. These are
the new conditions, and the middle-aged and elderly gentlemen who are
dealing with the crisis on the supposition that their vast experience of
Labour questions in the 'seventies and 'eighties furnishes valuable
guidance in this present issue are merely bringing the gunpowder of
misapprehension to the revolutionary fort.

The workman of the new generation is full of distrust the most
demoralising of social influences. He is like a sailor who believes no
longer either in the good faith or seamanship of his captain, and,
between desperation and contempt, contemplates vaguely but persistently
the assumption of control by a collective forecastle. He is like a
private soldier obsessed with the idea that nothing can save the
situation but the death of an incompetent officer. His distrust is so
profound that he ceases not only to believe in the employer, but he
ceases to believe in the law, ceases to believe in Parliament, as a
means to that tolerable life he desires; and he falls back steadily upon
his last resource of a strike, and--if by repressive tactics we make it
so--a criminal strike. The central fact of all this present trouble is
that distrust. There is only one way in which our present drift towards
revolution or revolutionary disorder can be arrested, and that is by
restoring the confidence of these alienated millions, who visibly now
are changing from loyalty to the Crown, from a simple patriotism, from
habitual industry, to the more and more effective expression of a
deepening resentment.

This is a psychological question, a matter of mental states. Feats of
legal subtlety are inopportune, arithmetical exploits still more so. To
emerge with the sum of 4s. 6-1/2d. as a minimum, by calculating on the
basis of the mine's present earnings, from a conference which the miners
and everybody else imagined was to give a minimum of 5s., may be clever,
but it is certainly not politic in the present stage of Labour feeling.
To stamp violently upon obscure newspapers nobody had heard of before
and send a printer to prison, and to give thereby a flaming
advertisement to the possible use of soldiers in civil conflicts and set
every barrack-room talking, may be permissible, but it is certainly very
ill-advised. The distrust deepens.

The real task before a governing class that means to go on governing is
not just at present to get the better of an argument or the best of a
bargain, but to lay hold of the imaginations of this drifting, sullen
and suspicious multitude, which is the working body of the country. What
we prosperous people, who have nearly all the good things of life and
most of the opportunity, have to do now is to justify ourselves. We have
to show that we are indeed responsible and serviceable, willing to give
ourselves, and to give ourselves generously for what we have and what we
have had. We have to meet the challenge of this distrust.

The slack days for rulers and owners are over. If there are still to be
rulers and owners and managing and governing people, then in the face of
the new masses, sensitive, intelligent, critical, irritable, as no
common people have ever been before, these rulers and owners must be
prepared to make themselves and display themselves wise, capable and
heroic--beyond any aristocratic precedent. The alternative, if it is an
alternative, is resignation--to the Social Democracy.

And it is just because we are all beginning to realise the immense need
for this heroic quality in those who rule and are rich and powerful, as
the response and corrective to these distrusts and jealousies that are
threatening to disintegrate our social order, that we have all followed
the details of this great catastrophe in the Atlantic with such intense
solicitude. It was one of those accidents that happen with a precision
of time and circumstance that outdoes art; not an incident in it all
that was not supremely typical. It was the penetrating comment of chance
upon our entire social situation. Beneath a surface of magnificent
efficiency was--slap-dash. The third-class passengers had placed
themselves on board with an infinite confidence in the care that was to
be taken of them, and they went down, and most of their women and
children went down with the cry of those who find themselves cheated out
of life.

In the unfolding record of behaviour it is the stewardesses and bandsmen
and engineers--persons of the trade-union class--who shine as brightly
as any. And by the supreme artistry of Chance it fell to the lot of that
tragic and unhappy gentleman, Mr. Bruce Ismay, to be aboard and to be
caught by the urgent vacancy in the boat and the snare of the moment. No
untried man dare say that he would have behaved better in his place. He
escaped. He thought it natural to escape. His class thinks it was right
and proper that he did escape. It is not the man I would criticise, but
the manifest absence of any such sense of the supreme dignity of his
position as would have sustained him in that crisis. He was a rich man
and a ruling man, but in the test he was not a proud man. In the common
man's realisation that such is indeed the case with most of those who
dominate our world, lies the true cause and danger of our social
indiscipline. And the remedy in the first place lies not in social
legislation and so forth, but in the consciences of the wealthy. Heroism
and a generous devotion to the common good are the only effective answer
to distrust. If such dominating people cannot produce these qualities
there will have to be an end to them, and the world must turn to some
entirely different method of direction.


Sec. 2

The essential trouble in our growing Labour disorder is the profound
distrust which has grown up in the minds of the new generation of
workers of either the ability or the good faith of the property owning,
ruling and directing class. I do not attempt to judge the justice or not
of this distrust; I merely point to its existence as one of the striking
and essential factors in the contemporary Labour situation.

This distrust is not, perhaps, the proximate cause of the strikes that
now follow each other so disconcertingly, but it embitters their spirit,
it prevents their settlement, and leads to their renewal. I have tried
to suggest that, whatever immediate devices for pacification might be
employed, the only way to a better understanding and co-operation, the
only escape from a social slide towards the unknown possibilities of
Social Democracy, lies in an exaltation of the standard of achievement
and of the sense of responsibility in the possessing and governing
classes. It is not so much "Wake up, England!" that I would say as "Wake
up, gentlemen!"--for the new generation of the workers is beyond all
question quite alarmingly awake and critical and angry. And they have
not merely to wake up, they have to wake up visibly and ostentatiously
if those old class reliances on which our system is based are to be
preserved and restored.

We need before anything else a restoration of class confidence. It is a
time when class should speak with class very frankly.

There is too much facile misrepresentation, too ready a disposition on
either side to accept caricatures as portraits and charges as facts.
However tacit our understandings were in the past, with this new kind of
Labour, this young, restive Labour of the twentieth century, which can
read, discuss and combine, we need something in the nature of a social
contract. And it is when one comes to consider by what possible means
these suspicious third-class passengers in our leaking and imperilled
social liner can be brought into generous co-operation with the second
and the first that one discovers just how lamentably out of date and out
of order our political institutions, which should supply the means for
just this inter-class discussion, have become. Between the busy and
preoccupied owning and employing class on the one hand, and the
distressed, uneasy masses on the other, intervenes the professional
politician, not as a mediator, but as an obstacle, who must be
propitiated before any dealings are possible. Our national politics no
longer express the realities of the national life; they are a mere
impediment in the speech of the community. With our whole social order
in danger, our Legislature is busy over the trivial little affairs of
the Welsh Established Church, whose endowment probably is not equal to
the fortune of any one of half a dozen _Titanic_ passengers or a tithe
of the probable loss of another strike among the miners. We have a
Legislature almost antiquarian, compiling a museum of Gladstonian
legacies rather than governing our world to-day.

Law is the basis of civilisation, but the lawyer is the law's
consequence, and, with us at least, the legal profession is the
political profession. It delights in false issues and merely technical
politics. Steadily with the ascendancy of the House of Commons the
barristers have ousted other types of men from political power. The
decline of the House of Lords has been the last triumph of the House of
Lawyers, and we are governed now to a large extent not so much by the
people for the people as by the barristers for the barristers. They set
the tone of political life. And since they are the most specialised, the
most specifically trained of all the professions, since their training
is absolutely antagonistic to the creative impulses of the constructive
artist and the controlled experiments of the scientific man, since the
business is with evidence and advantages and the skilful use of evidence
and advantages, and not with understanding, they are the least
statesmanlike of all educated men, and they give our public life a tone
as hopelessly discordant with our very great and urgent social needs as
one could well imagine. They do not want to deal at all with great and
urgent social needs. They play a game, a long and interesting game, with
parties as sides, a game that rewards the industrious player with
prominence, place, power and great rewards, and the less that game
involves the passionate interests of other men, the less it draws them
into participation and angry interference, the better for the steady
development of the politician's career. A distinguished and active
fruitlessness, leaving the world at last as he found it, is the
political barrister's ideal career. To achieve that, he must maintain
legal and political monopolies, and prevent the invasion of political
life by living interests. And so far as he has any views about Labour
beyond the margin of his brief, the barrister politician seems to regard
getting men back to work on any terms and as soon as possible as the
highest good.

And it is with such men that our insurgent modern Labour, with its
vaguely apprehended wants, its large occasions and its rapid emotional
reactions, comes into contact directly it attempts to adjust itself in
the social body. It is one of the main factors in the progressive
embitterment of the Labour situation that whatever business is
afoot--arbitration, conciliation, inquiry--our contemporary system
presents itself to Labour almost invariably in a legal guise. The
natural infirmities of humanity rebel against an unimaginative legality
of attitude, and the common workaday man has no more love for this great
and necessary profession to-day than he had in the time of Jack Cade.
Little reasonable things from the lawyers' point of view--the rejection,
for example, of certain evidence in the _Titanic_ inquiry because it
might amount to a charge of manslaughter, the constant interruption and
checking of a Labour representative at the same tribunal upon trivial
points--irritate quite disproportionately.

Lawyer and working man are antipathetic types, and it is a very grave
national misfortune that at this time, when our situation calls aloud
for statecraft and a certain greatness of treatment, our public life
should be dominated as it has never been dominated before by this most
able and illiberal profession.

Now for that great multitude of prosperous people who find themselves at
once deeply concerned in our present social and economic crisis, and
either helplessly entangled in party organisation or helplessly outside
politics, the elimination and cure of this disease of statecraft, the
professional politician, has become a very urgent matter. To destroy
him, to get him back to his law courts and keep him there, it is
necessary to destroy the machinery of the party system that sustains
him, and to adopt some electoral method that will no longer put the
independent representative man at a hopeless disadvantage against the
party nominee. Such a method is to be found in proportional
representation with large constituencies, and to that we must look for
our ultimate liberation from our present masters, these politician
barristers. But the Labour situation cannot wait for this millennial
release, and for the current issue it seems to me patent that every
reasonable prosperous man will, even at the cost to himself of some
trouble and hard thinking, do his best to keep as much of this great and
acute controversy as he possibly can out of the lawyer's and mere
politician's hands and in his own. Leave Labour to the lawyers, and we
shall go very deeply into trouble indeed before this business is over.
They will score their points, they will achieve remarkable agreements
full of the possibility of subsequent surprises, they will make
reputations, and do everything Heaven and their professional training
have made them to do, and they will exasperate and exasperate!

Lawyers made the first French Revolution, and now, on a different side,
they may yet bring about an English one. These men below there are
still, as a class, wonderfully patient and reasonable, quite prepared to
take orders and recognise superior knowledge, wisdom and nobility. They
make the most reasonable claims for a tolerable life, for certain
assurances and certain latitudes. Implicit rather than expressed is
their demand for wisdom and right direction from those to whom the great
surplus and freedom of civilisation are given. It is an entirely
reasonable demand if man is indeed a social animal. But we have got to
treat them fairly and openly. This patience and reasonableness and
willingness for leadership is not limitless. It is no good scoring our
mean little points, for example, and accusing them of breach of contract
and all sorts of theoretical wrongs because they won't abide by
agreements to accept a certain scale of wages when the purchasing power
of money has declined. When they made that agreement they did not think
of that possibility. When they said a pound they thought of what was
then a poundsworth of living. The Mint has since been increasing its
annual output of gold coins to two or three times the former amount, and
we have, as it were, debased the coinage with extraordinary quantities
of gold. But we who know and own did nothing to adjust that; we did not
tell the working man of that; we have let him find it out slowly and
indirectly at the grocer's shop. That may be permissible from the
lawyer's point of view, but it certainly isn't from the gentleman's, and
it is only by the plea that its inequalities give society a gentleman
that our present social system can claim to endure.

I would like to accentuate that, because if we are to emerge again from
these acute social dissensions a reunited and powerful people, there has
to be a change of tone, a new generosity on the part of those who deal
with Labour speeches, Labour literature, Labour representatives, and
Labour claims. Labour is necessarily at an enormous disadvantage in
discussion; in spite of a tremendous inferiority in training and
education it is trying to tell the community its conception of its needs
and purposes. It is not only young as a participator in the discussion
of affairs; it is actually young. The average working man is not half
the age of the ripe politicians and judges and lawyers and wealthy
organisers who trip him up legally, accuse him of bad faith, mark his
every inconsistency. It isn't becoming so to use our forensic
advantages. It isn't--if that has no appeal to you--wise.

The thing our society has most to fear from Labour is not organised
resistance, not victorious strikes and raised conditions, but the black
resentment that follows defeat. Meet Labour half-way, and you will find
a new co-operation in government; stick to your legal rights, draw the
net of repressive legislation tighter, then you will presently have to
deal with Labour enraged. If the anger burns free, that means
revolution; if you crush out the hope of that, then sabotage and a
sullen general sympathy for anarchistic crime.


Sec. 3

In the preceding pages I have discussed certain aspects of the present
Labour situation. I have tried to show the profound significance in this
discussion of the distrust which has grown up in the minds of the
workers, and how this distrust is being exacerbated by our entirely too
forensic method of treating their claims. I want now to point out a
still more powerful set of influences which is steadily turning our
Labour struggles from mere attempts to adjust hours and wages into
movements that are gravely and deliberately revolutionary.

This is the obvious devotion of a large and growing proportion of the
time and energy of the owning and ruling classes to pleasure and
excitement, and the way in which this spectacle of amusement and
adventure is now being brought before the eyes and into the imagination
of the working man.

The intimate psychology of work is a thing altogether too little
considered and discussed. One asks: "What keeps a workman working
properly at his work?" and it seems a sufficient answer to say that it
is the need of getting a living. But that is not the complete answer.
Work must to some extent interest; if it bores, no power on earth will
keep a man doing it properly. And the tendency of modern industrialism
has been to subdivide processes and make work more boring and irksome.
Also the workman must be satisfied with the living he is getting, and
the tendency of newspaper, theatre, cinematograph show and so forth is
to fill his mind with ideas of ways of living infinitely more agreeable
and interesting than his own. Habit also counts very largely in the
regular return of the man to his job, and the fluctuations of
employment, the failure of the employing class to provide any
alternative to idleness during slack time, break that habit of industry.
And then, last but not least, there is self-respect. Men and women are
capable of wonders of self-discipline and effort if they feel that
theirs is a meritorious service, if they imagine the thing they are
doing is the thing they ought to do. A miner will cut coal in a
different spirit and with a fading zest if he knows his day's output is
to be burnt to waste secretly by a lunatic. Man is a social animal; few
men are naturally social rebels, and most will toil very cheerfully in
subordination if they feel that the collective end is a fine thing and a
great thing.

Now, this force of self-respect is much more acutely present in the mind
of the modern worker than it was in the thought of his fathers. He is
intellectually more active than his predecessors, his imagination is
relatively stimulated, he asks wide questions. The worker of a former
generation took himself for granted; it is a new phase when the toilers
begin to ask, not one man here or there, but in masses, in battalions,
in trades: "Why, then, are _we_ toilers, and for what is it that we
toil?"

What answer do we give them?

I ask the reader to put himself in the place of a good workman, a young,
capable miner, let us say, in search of an answer to that question. He
is, we will suppose, temporarily unemployed through the production of a
glut of coal, and he goes about the world trying to see the fine and
noble collective achievements that justify the devotion of his whole
life to humble toil. I ask the reader: What have we got to show that
man? What are we doing up in the light and air that justifies our demand
that he should go on hewing in narrow seams and cramped corners until he
can hew no more? Where is he to be taken to see these crowning fruits of
our release from toil? Shall we take him to the House of Commons to note
which of the barristers is making most headway over Welsh
Disestablishment, or shall we take him to the _Titanic_ inquiry to hear
the latest about those fifty-five third-class children (out of
eighty-three) who were drowned? Shall we give him an hour or so among
the portraits at the Royal Academy, or shall we make an enthusiastic
tour of London sculpture and architecture and saturate his soul with the
beauty he makes possible? The new Automobile Club, for example. "Without
you and your subordination we could not have had that." Or suppose we
took him the round of the West-End clubs and restaurants and made him
estimate how many dinners London can produce at a pinch at the price of
his local daily minimum, say, and upward; or borrow an aeroplane at
Hendon and soar about counting all the golfers in the Home Counties on
any week-day afternoon. "You suffer at the roots of things, far below
there, but see all this nobility and splendour, these sweet, bright
flowers to which your rootlet life contributes." Or we might spend a
pleasant morning trying to get a passable woman's hat for the price of
his average weekly wages in some West-End shop....

But indeed this thing is actually happening. The older type of miner was
illiterate, incurious; he read nothing, lived his own life, and if he
had any intellectual and spiritual urgencies in him beyond eating and
drinking and dog-fighting, the local little Bethel shunted them away
from any effective social criticism. The new generation of miners is on
an altogether different basis. It is at once less brutal and less
spiritual; it is alert, informed, sceptical, and the Press, with
photographic illustrations, the cinema, and a score of collateral
forces, are giving it precisely that spectacular view of luxury,
amusement, aimlessness and excitement, taunting it with just that
suggestion that it is for that, and that alone, that the worker's back
aches and his muscles strain. Whatever gravity and spaciousness of aim
there may be in our prosperous social life does not appear to him. He
sees, and he sees all the more brightly because he is looking at it out
of toil and darkness, the glitter, the delight for delight's sake, the
show and the pride and the folly. Cannot you understand how it is that
these young men down there in the hot and dangerous and toilsome and
inglorious places of life are beginning to cry out, "We are being made
fools of," and to fling down their tools, and cannot you see how futile
it is to dream that Mr. Asquith or some other politician by some trick
of a Conciliation Act or some claptrap of Compulsory Arbitration, or
that any belated suppression of discussion and strike organisations by
the law, will avert this gathering storm? The Spectacle of Pleasure, the
parade of clothes, estates, motor-cars, luxury and vanity in the sight
of the workers is the culminating irritant of Labour. So long as that
goes on, this sombre resolve to which we are all awakening, this sombre
resolve rather to wreck the whole fabric than to continue patiently at
work, will gather strength. It does not matter that such a resolve is
hopeless and unseasonable; we are dealing here with the profounder
impulses that underlie reason. Crush this resentment; it will recur with
accumulated strength.

It does not matter that there is no plan in existence for any kind of
social order that could be set up in the place of our present system; no
plan, that is, that will endure half an hour's practical criticism. The
cardinal fact before us is that the workers do not intend to stand
things as they are, and that no clever arguments, no expert handling of
legal points, no ingenious appearances of concession, will stay that
progressive embitterment.

But I think I have said enough to express and perhaps convey my
conviction that our present Labour troubles are unprecedented, and that
they mean the end of an epoch. The supply of good-tempered, cheap
labour--upon which the fabric of our contemporary ease and comfort is
erected--is giving out. The spread of information and the means of
presentation in every class and the increase of luxury and
self-indulgence in the prosperous classes are the chief cause of that.
In the place of that old convenient labour comes a new sort of labour,
reluctant, resentful, critical, and suspicious. The replacement has
already gone so far that I am certain that attempts to baffle and coerce
the workers back to their old conditions must inevitably lead to a
series of increasingly destructive outbreaks, to stresses and disorder
culminating in revolution. It is useless to dream of going on now for
much longer upon the old lines; our civilisation, if it is not to enter
upon a phase of conflict and decay, must begin to adapt itself to the
new conditions of which the first and foremost is that the wages-earning
labouring class as a distinctive class, consenting to a distinctive
treatment and accepting life at a disadvantage is going to disappear.
Whether we do it soon as the result of our reflections upon the present
situation, or whether we do it presently through the impoverishment that
must necessarily result from a lengthening period of industrial unrest,
there can be little doubt that we are going to curtail very considerably
the current extravagance of the spending and directing classes upon
food, clothing, display, and all the luxuries of life. The phase of
affluence is over. And unless we are to be the mere passive spectators
of an unprecedented reduction of our lives, all of us who have leisure
and opportunity have to set ourselves very strenuously to the problem
not of reconciling ourselves to the wage-earners, for that possibility
is over, but of establishing a new method of co-operation with those who
seem to be definitely decided not to remain wage-earners for very much
longer. We have, as sensible people, to realise that the old arrangement
which has given us of the fortunate minority so much leisure, luxury,
and abundance, advantages we have as a class put to so vulgar and
unprofitable a use, is breaking down, and that we have to discover a
new, more equable way of getting the world's work done.

Certain things stand out pretty obviously. It is clear that in the times
ahead of us there must be more economy in giving trouble and causing
work, a greater willingness to do work for ourselves, a great economy of
labour through machinery and skilful management. So much is unavoidable
if we are to meet these enlarged requirements upon which the insurgent
worker insists. If we, who have at least some experience of affairs, who
own property, manage businesses, and discuss and influence public
organisation, if we are not prepared to undertake this work of
discipline and adaptation for ourselves, then a time is not far distant
when insurrectionary leaders, calling themselves Socialists or
Syndicalists, or what not, men with none of our experience, little of
our knowledge, and far less hope of success, will take that task out of
our hands.[1]

[Footnote 1: Larkinism comes to endorse me since this was written.]

We have, in fact, to "pull ourselves together," as the phrase goes, and
make an end to all this slack, extravagant living, this spectacle of
pleasure, that has been spreading and intensifying in every civilised
community for the last three or four decades. What is happening to
Labour is indeed, from one point of view, little else than the
correlative of what has been happening to the more prosperous classes in
the community. They have lost their self-discipline, their gravity,
their sense of high aims, they have become the victims of their
advantages and Labour, grown observant and intelligent, has discovered
itself and declares itself no longer subordinate. Just what powers of
recovery and reconstruction our system may have under these
circumstances the decades immediately before us will show.


Sec. 4

Let us try to anticipate some of the social developments that are likely
to spring out of the present Labour situation.

It is quite conceivable, of course, that what lies before us is not
development but disorder. Given sufficient suspicion on one side and
sufficient obstinacy and trickery on the other, it may be impossible to
restore social peace in any form, and industrialism may degenerate into
a wasteful and incurable conflict. But that distressful possibility is
the worst and perhaps the least probable of many. It is much more
acceptable to suppose that our social order will be able to adjust
itself to the new outlook and temper and quality of the labour stratum
that elementary education, a Press very cheap and free, and a period of
great general affluence have brought about.

One almost inevitable feature of any such adaptation will be a changed
spirit in the general body of society. We have come to a serious
condition of our affairs, and we shall not get them into order again
without a thorough bracing-up of ourselves in the process. There can be
no doubt that for a large portion of our comfortable classes existence
has been altogether too easy for the last lifetime or so. The great bulk
of the world's work has been done out of their sight and knowledge; it
has seemed unnecessary to trouble much about the general conduct of
things, unnecessary, as they say, to "take life too seriously." This has
not made them so much vicious as slack, lazy, and over-confident; there
has been an elaboration of trivial things and a neglect of troublesome
and important things. The one grave shock of the Boer War has long been
explained and sentimentalised away. But it will not be so easy to
explain away a dislocated train service and an empty coal cellar as it
was to get a favourable interpretation upon some demonstration of
national incompetence half the world away.

It is indeed no disaster, but a matter for sincere congratulation that
the British prosperous and the British successful, to whom warning after
warning has rained in vain from the days of Ruskin, Carlyle, Matthew
Arnold, should be called to account at last in their own household. They
will grumble, they will be very angry, but in the end, I believe, they
will rise to the opportunities of their inconvenience. They will shake
off their intellectual lassitude, take over again the public and private
affairs they have come to leave so largely in the hands of the political
barrister and the family solicitor, become keen and critical and
constructive, bring themselves up to date again.

That is not, of course, inevitable, but I am taking now the more hopeful
view.

And then? What sort of working arrangements are our renascent owning and
directing classes likely to make with the new labouring class? How is
the work going to be done in the harder, cleaner, more equalised, and
better managed State that, in one's hopeful mood, one sees ahead of us?

Now after the experiences of the past twelve months it is obvious that
the days when most of the directed and inferior work of the community
will be done by intermittently employed and impecunious wage-earners is
drawing to an end. A large part of the task of reconstruction ahead of
us will consist in the working out of schemes for a more permanent type
of employment and for a direct participation of the worker in the pride,
profits, and direction of the work. Such schemes admit of wide
variations between a mere bonus system, a periodic tipping of the
employees to prevent their striking and a real and honest co-partnery.

In the latter case a great enterprise, forced to consider its "hands" as
being also in their degree "heads," would include a department of
technical and business instruction for its own people. From such ideas
one passes very readily to the conception of guild-managed businesses in
which the factor of capital would no longer stand out as an element
distinct from and contrasted with the proprietorship of the workers. One
sees the worker as an active and intelligent helper during the great
portion of his participation, and as an annuitant and perhaps, if he has
devised economies and improvements, a receiver of royalties during his
declining years.

And concurrently with the systematic reconstruction of a large portion
of our industries upon these lines there will have to be a vigorous
development of the attempts that are already being made, in garden
cities, garden suburbs, and the like, to re-house the mass of our
population in a more civilised and more agreeable manner. Probably that
is not going to pay from the point of view of the money-making business
man, but we prosperous people have to understand that there are things
more important and more profitable than money-making, and we have to tax
ourselves not merely in money, but in time, care, and effort in the
matter. Half the money that goes out of England to Switzerland and the
Riviera ought to go to the extremely amusing business of clearing up
ugly corners and building jolly and convenient workmen's cottages--even
if we do it at a loss. It is part of our discharge for the leisure and
advantages the system has given us, part of that just give and take,
over and above the solicitor's and bargain-hunter's and money-lender's
conception of justice, upon which social order ultimately rests. We have
to do it not in a mood of patronage, but in a mood of attentive
solicitude. If not on high grounds, then on low grounds our class has to
set to work and make those other classes more interested and comfortable
and contented. It is what we are for. It is quite impossible for workmen
and poor people generally to plan estates and arrange their own homes;
they are entirely at the mercy of the wealthy in this matter. There is
not a slum, not a hovel, not an eyesore upon the English landscape for
which some well-off owner is not ultimately to be blamed or excused, and
the less we leave of such things about the better for us in that day of
reckoning between class and class which now draws so near.

It is as plain now as the way from Calais to Paris that if the owning
class does not attend to these amenities the mass of the people, doing
its best to manage the thing through the politicians, presently will.
They may make a frightful mess of it, but that will never bring back
things again into the hands that hold them and neglect them. Their time
will have passed for ever.

But these are the mere opening requirements of this hope of mine of a
quickened social consciousness among the more fortunate and leisurely
section of the community I believe that much profounder changes in the
conditions of labour are possible than those I have suggested I am
beginning to suspect that scarcely any of our preconceptions about the
way work must be done, about the hours of work and the habits of work,
will stand an exhaustive scientific analysis. It is at least conceivable
that we could get much of the work that has to be done to keep our
community going in far more toil-saving and life-saving ways than we
follow at the present time. So far scientific men have done scarcely
anything to estimate under what conditions a man works best, does most
work, works more happily. Suppose it turns out to be the case that a man
always following one occupation throughout his lifetime, working
regularly day after day for so many hours, as most wage-earners do at
the present time, does not do nearly so much or nearly so well as he
would do if he followed first one occupation and then another, or if he
worked as hard as he possibly could for a definite period and then took
holiday? I suspect very strongly, indeed I am convinced, that in certain
occupations, teaching, for example, or surgery, a man begins by working
clumsily and awkwardly, that his interest and skill rise rapidly, that
if he is really well suited in his profession he may presently become
intensely interested and capable of enormous quantities of his very best
work, and that then his interest and vigour rapidly decline I am
disposed to believe that this is true of most occupations, of
coal-mining or engineering, or brick-laying or cotton-spinning. The
thing has never been properly thought about. Our civilisation has grown
up in a haphazard kind of way, and it has been convenient to specialise
workers and employ them piecemeal. But if it is true that in respect of
any occupation a man has his period of maximum efficiency, then we open
up a whole world of new social possibilities. What we really want from a
man for our social welfare in that case is not regular continuing work,
but a few strenuous years of high-pressure service. We can as a
community afford to keep him longer at education and training before he
begins, and we can release him with a pension while he is still full of
life and the capacity for enjoying freedom. But obviously this is
impossible upon any basis of weekly wages and intermittent employment;
we must be handling affairs in some much more comprehensive way than
that before we can take and deal with the working life of a man as one
complete whole.

That is one possibility that is frequently in my thoughts about the
present labour crisis. There is another, and that is the great
desirability of every class in the community having a practical
knowledge of what labour means. There is a vast amount of work which
either is now or is likely to be in the future within the domain of the
public administration--road-making, mining, railway work, post-office
and telephone work, medical work, nursing, a considerable amount of
building for example. Why should we employ people to do the bulk of
these things at all? Why should we not as a community do them ourselves?
Why, in other words, should we not have a labour conscription and take a
year or so of service from everyone in the community, high or low? I
believe this would be of enormous moral benefit to our strained and
relaxed community. I believe that in making labour a part of everyone's
life and the whole of nobody's life lies the ultimate solution of these
industrial difficulties.


Sec. 5

It is almost a national boast that we "muddle through" our troubles, and
I suppose it is true and to our credit that by virtue of a certain
kindliness of temper, a humorous willingness to make the best of things,
and an entirely amiable forgetfulness, we do come out of pressures and
extremities that would smash a harder, more brittle people only a little
chipped and damaged. And it is quite conceivable that our country will,
in a measure, survive the enormous stresses of labour adjustment that
are now upon us, even if it never rises to any heroic struggle against
these difficulties. But it may survive as a lesser country, as an
impoverished and second-rate country. It will certainly do no more than
that, if in any part of the world there is to be found a people capable
of taking up this gigantic question in a greater spirit. Perhaps there
is no such people, and the conflicts and muddles before us will be
world-wide. Or suppose that it falls to our country in some strange way
to develop a new courage and enterprise, and to be the first to go
forward into this new phase of civilisation I foresee, from which a
distinctive labouring class, a class that is of expropriated
wage-earners, will have almost completely disappeared.

Now hitherto the utmost that any State, overtaken by social and economic
stresses, has ever achieved in the way of adapting itself to them has
been no more than patching.

Individuals and groups and trades have found themselves in imperfectly
apprehended and difficult times, and have reluctantly altered their ways
and ideas piecemeal under pressure. Sometimes they have succeeded in
rubbing along upon the new lines, and sometimes the struggle has
submerged them, but no community has ever yet had the will and the
imagination to recast and radically alter its social methods as a whole.
The idea of such a reconstruction has never been absent from human
thought since the days of Plato, and it has been enormously reinforced
by the spreading material successes of modern science, successes due
always to the substitution of analysis and reasoned planning for trial
and the rule of thumb. But it has never yet been so believed in and
understood as to render any real endeavour to reconstruct possible. The
experiment has always been altogether too gigantic for the available
faith behind it, and there have been against it the fear of presumption,
the interests of all advantaged people, and the natural sloth of
humanity. We do but emerge now from a period of deliberate
happy-go-lucky and the influence of Herbert Spencer, who came near
raising public shiftlessness to the dignity of a national philosophy.
Everything would adjust itself--if only it was left alone.

Yet some things there are that cannot be done by small adjustments, such
as leaping chasms or killing an ox or escaping from the roof of a
burning house. You have to decide upon a certain course on such
occasions and maintain a continuous movement. If you wait on the burning
house until you scorch and then turn round a bit or move away a yard or
so, or if on the verge of a chasm you move a little in the way in which
you wish to go, disaster will punish your moderation. And it seems to
me that the establishment of the world's work upon a new basis--and that
and no less is what this Labour Unrest demands for its pacification--is
just one of those large alterations which will never be made by the
collectively unconscious activities of men, by competitions and survival
and the higgling of the market. Humanity is rebelling against the
continuing existence of a labour class as such, and I can see no way by
which our present method of weekly wages employment can change by
imperceptible increments into a method of salary and pension--for it is
quite evident that only by reaching that shall we reach the end of these
present discontents. The change has to be made on a comprehensive scale
or not at all. We need nothing less than a national plan of social
development if the thing is to be achieved.

Now that, I admit, is, as the Americans say, a large proposition. But we
are living in a time of more and more comprehensive plans, and the mere
fact that no scheme so extensive has ever been tried before is no reason
at all why we should not consider one. We think nowadays quite serenely
of schemes for the treatment of the nation's health as one whole, where
our fathers considered illness as a blend of accident with special
providences; we have systematised the community's water supply,
education, and all sorts of once chaotic services, and Germany and our
own infinite higgledy-piggledy discomfort and ugliness have brought home
to us at last even the possibility of planning the extension of our
towns and cities. It is only another step upward in scale to plan out
new, more tolerable conditions of employment for every sort of worker
and to organise the transition from our present disorder.

The essential difficulty between the employer and the statesman in the
consideration of this problem is the difference in the scope of their
view. The employer's concern with the man who does his work is day-long
or week-long; the statesman's is life-long. The conditions of private
enterprise and modern competition oblige the employer to think only of
the worker as a hand, who appears and does his work and draws his wages
and vanishes again. Only such strikes as we have had during the past
year will rouse him from that attitude of mind. The statesman at the
other extremity has to consider the worker as a being with a beginning,
a middle, an end--and offspring. He can consider all these possibilities
of deferring employment and making the toil of one period of life
provide for the leisure and freedom of another, which are necessarily
entirely out of the purview of an employer pure and simple. And I find
it hard to see how we can reconcile the intermittency of competitive
employment with the unremitting demands of a civilised life except by
the intervention of the State or of some public organisation capable of
taking very wide views between the business organiser on the one hand
and the subordinate worker on the other. On the one hand we need some
broader handling of business than is possible in the private adventure
of the solitary proprietor or the single company, and on the other some
more completely organised development of the collective bargain. We have
to bring the directive intelligence of a concern into an organic
relation with the conception of the national output as a whole, and
either through a trade union or a guild, or some expansion of a trade
union, we have to arrange a secure, continuous income for the worker, to
be received not directly as wages from an employer but intermediately
through the organisation. We need a census of our national production, a
more exhaustive estimate of our resources, and an entirely more
scientific knowledge of the conditions of maximum labour efficiency. One
turns to the State.... And it is at this point that the heart of the
patriotic Englishman sinks, because it is our national misfortune that
all the accidents of public life have conspired to retard the
development of just that body of knowledge, just that scientific breadth
of imagination which is becoming a vital necessity for the welfare of a
modern civilised community.

We are caught short of scientific men just as in the event of a war with
Germany we shall almost certainly be caught short of scientific sailors
and soldiers. You cannot make that sort of thing to order in a crisis.
Scientific education--and more particularly the scientific education of
our owning and responsible classes--has been crippled by the bitter
jealousy of the classical teachers who dominate our universities, by the
fear and hatred of the Established Church, which still so largely
controls our upper-class schools, and by the entire lack of
understanding and support on the part of those able barristers and
financiers who rule our political life. Science has been left more and
more to men of modest origin and narrow outlook, and now we are
beginning to pay in internal dissensions, and presently we may have to
pay in national humiliation for this almost organised rejection of
stimulus and power.

But however thwarted and crippled our public imagination may be, we have
still got to do the best we can with this situation; we have to take as
comprehensive views as we can, and to attempt as comprehensive a method
of handling as our party-ridden State permits. In theory I am a
Socialist, and were I theorising about some nation in the air I would
say that all the great productive activities and all the means of
communication should be national concerns and be run as national
services. But our State is peculiarly incapable of such functions; at
the present time it cannot even produce a postage stamp that will stick;
and the type of official it would probably evolve for industrial
organisation, slowly but unsurely, would be a maddening combination of
the district visitor and the boy clerk. It is to the independent people
of some leisure and resource in the community that one has at last to
appeal for such large efforts and understandings as our present
situation demands. In the default of our public services, there opens an
immense opportunity for voluntary effort. Deference to our official
leaders is absurd; it is a time when men must, as the phrase goes, "come
forward."

We want a National Plan for our social and economic development which
everyone may understand and which will serve as a unifying basis for all
our social and political activities. Such a plan is not to be flung out
hastily by an irresponsible writer. It can only come into existence as
the outcome of a wide movement of inquiry and discussion. My business in
these pages has been not prescription but diagnosis. I hold it to be the
clear duty of every intelligent person in the country to do his utmost
to learn about these questions of economic and social organisation and
to work them out to conclusions and a purpose. We have come to a phase
in our affairs when the only alternative to a great, deliberate
renascence of will and understanding is national disorder and decay.


Sec. 6

I have attempted a diagnosis of this aspect of our national situation. I
have pointed out that nearly all the social forces of our time seem to
be in conspiracy to bring about the disappearance of a labour class as
such and the rearrangement of our work and industry upon a new basis.
That rearrangement demands an unprecedented national effort and the
production of an adequate National Plan. Failing that, we seem doomed to
a period of chronic social conflict and possibly even of frankly
revolutionary outbreaks that may destroy us altogether or leave us only
a dwarfed and enfeebled nation....

And before we can develop that National Plan and the effective
realisation of such a plan that is needed to save us from that fate, two
things stand immediately before us to be done, unavoidable preliminaries
to that more comprehensive work. The first of these is the restoration
of representative government, and the second a renascence of our public
thought about political and social things.

As I have already suggested, a main factor in our present national
inability to deal with this profound and increasing social disturbance
is the entirely unrepresentative and unbusinesslike nature of our
parliamentary government.

It is to a quite extraordinary extent a thing apart from our national
life. It becomes more and more so. To go into the House of Commons is to
go aside out of the general stream of the community's vitality into a
corner where little is learnt and much is concocted, into a specialised
Assembly which is at once inattentive to and monstrously influential in
our affairs. There was a period when the debates in the House of Commons
were an integral, almost a dominant, part of our national thought, when
its speeches were read over in tens of thousands of homes, and a large
and sympathetic public followed the details of every contested issue.
Now a newspaper that dared to fill its columns mainly with parliamentary
debates, with a full report of the trivialities the academic points, the
little familiar jokes, and entirely insincere pleadings which occupy
that gathering would court bankruptcy.

This diminishing actuality of our political life is a matter of almost
universal comment to-day. But it is extraordinary how much of that
comment is made in a tone of hopeless dissatisfaction, how rarely it is
associated with any will to change a state of affairs that so largely
stultifies our national purpose. And yet the causes of our present
political ineptitude are fairly manifest, and a radical and effective
reconstruction is well within the wit of man.

All causes and all effects in our complex modern State are complex, but
in this particular matter there can be little doubt that the key to the
difficulty lies in the crudity and simplicity of our method of election,
a method which reduces our apparent free choice of rulers to a
ridiculous selection between undesirable alternatives, and hands our
whole public life over to the specialised manipulator. Our House of
Commons could scarcely misrepresent us more if it was appointed
haphazard by the Lord Chamberlain or selected by lot from among the
inhabitants of Netting Hill. Election of representatives in one-member
local constituencies by a single vote gives a citizen practically no
choice beyond the candidates appointed by the two great party
organisations in the State. It is an electoral system that forbids
absolutely any vote splitting or any indication of shades of opinion.
The presence of more than two candidates introduces an altogether
unmanageable complication, and the voter is at once reduced to voting
not to secure the return of the perhaps less hopeful candidate he likes,
but to ensure the rejection of the candidate he most dislikes. So the
nimble wire-puller slips in. In Great Britain we do not have Elections
any more; we have Rejections. What really happens at a general election
is that the party organisations--obscure and secretive conclaves with
entirely mysterious funds--appoint about 1,200 men to be our rulers, and
all that we, we so-called self-governing people, are permitted to do is,
in a muddled, angry way, to strike off the names of about half of these
selected gentlemen.

Take almost any member of the present Government and consider his case.
You may credit him with a lifelong industrious intention to get there,
but ask yourself what is this man's distinction, and for what great
thing in our national life does he stand? By the complaisance of our
party machinery he was able to present himself to a perplexed
constituency as the only possible alternative to Conservatism and Tariff
Reform, and so we have him. And so we have most of his colleagues.

Now such a system of representation is surely a system to be destroyed
at any cost, because it stifles our national discussion and thwarts our
national will. And we can leave no possible method of alteration
untried. It is not rational that a great people should be baffled by the
mere mechanical degeneration of an electoral method too crudely
conceived. There exist alternatives, and to these alternatives we must
resort. Since John Stuart Mill first called attention to the importance
of the matter there has been a systematic study of the possible working
of electoral methods, and it is now fairly proved that in proportional
representation, with large constituencies returning each many members,
there is to be found a way of escape from this disastrous embarrassment
of our public business by the party wire-puller and the party nominee.

I will not dwell upon the particulars of the proportional representation
system here. There exists an active society which has organised the
education of the public in the details of the proposal. Suffice it that
it does give a method by which a voter may vote with confidence for the
particular man he prefers, with no fear whatever that his vote will be
wasted in the event of that man's chance being hopeless. There is a
method by which the order of the voter's subsequent preference is
effectively indicated. That is all, but see how completely it modifies
the nature of an election. Instead of a hampered choice between two, you
have a free choice between many. Such a change means a complete
alteration in the quality of public life.

The present immense advantage of the party nominee--which is the root
cause, which is almost the sole cause of all our present political
ineptitude--would disappear. He would be quite unable to oust any
well-known and representative independent candidate who chose to stand
against him. There would be an immediate alteration in type in the House
of Commons. In the place of these specialists in political getting-on
there would be few men who had not already gained some intellectual and
moral hold upon the community; they would already be outstanding and
distinguished men before they came to the work of government. Great
sections of our national life, science, art, literature, education,
engineering, manufacture would cease to be under-represented, or
misrepresented by the energetic barrister and political specialist, and
our Legislature would begin to serve, as we have now such urgent need of
its serving, as the means and instrument of that national conference
upon the social outlook of which we stand in need.

And it is to the need and nature of that Conference that I would devote
myself. I do not mean by the word Conference any gathering of dull and
formal and inattentive people in this dusty hall or that, with a jaded
audience and intermittently active reporters, such as this word may
conjure up to some imaginations. I mean an earnest direction of
attention in all parts of the country to this necessity for a studied
and elaborated project of conciliation and social co-operation We cannot
afford to leave such things to specialised politicians and
self-appointed, self-seeking "experts" any longer. A modern community
has to think out its problems as a whole and co-operate as a whole in
their solution. We have to bring all our national life into this
discussion of the National Plan before us, and not simply newspapers and
periodicals and books, but pulpit and college and school have to bear
their part in it. And in that particular I would appeal to the schools,
because there more than anywhere else is the permanent quickening of our
national imagination to be achieved.

We want to have our young people filled with a new realisation that
History is not over, that nothing is settled, and that the supreme
dramatic phase in the story of England has still to come. It was not in
the Norman Conquest, not in the flight of King James II, nor the
overthrow of Napoleon; it is here and now. It falls to them to be actors
not in a reminiscent pageant but a living conflict, and the sooner they
are prepared to take their part in that the better our Empire will
acquit itself. How absurd is the preoccupation of our schools and
colleges with the little provincialisms of our past history before A.D.
1800! "No current politics," whispers the schoolmaster, "no
religion--except the coldest formalities _Some parent might object_."
And he pours into our country every year a fresh supply of gentlemanly
cricketing youths, gapingly unprepared--unless they have picked up a
broad generalisation or so from some surreptitious Socialist
pamphlet--for the immense issues they must control, and that are
altogether uncontrollable if they fail to control them. The universities
do scarcely more for our young men. All this has to be altered, and
altered vigorously and soon, if our country is to accomplish its
destinies. Our schools and colleges exist for no other purpose than to
give our youths a vision of the world and of their duties and
possibilities in the world. We can no longer afford to have them the
last preserves of an elderly orthodoxy and the last repository of a
decaying gift of superseded tongues. They are needed too urgently to
make our leaders leader-like and to sustain the active understandings of
the race.

And from the labour class itself we are also justified in demanding a
far more effectual contribution to the National Conference than it is
making at the present time. Mere eloquent apologies for distrust, mere
denunciations of Capitalism and appeals for a Socialism as featureless
as smoke, are unsatisfactory when one regards them as the entire
contribution of the ascendant worker to the discussion of the national
future. The labour thinker has to become definite in his demands and
clearer upon the give and take that will be necessary before they can be
satisfied. He has to realise rather more generously than he has done so
far the enormous moral difficulty there is in bringing people who have
been prosperous and at an advantage all their lives to the pitch of even
contemplating a social reorganisation that may minimise or destroy their
precedence. We have all to think, to think hard and think generously,
and there is not a man in England to-day, even though his hands are busy
at work, whose brain may not be helping in this great task of social
rearrangement which lies before us all.

H.G. Wells