chapter  XXIII
6 Pages

Mr. Gladstone and Labour

T h e information which Professor Beesly gave me concerning Morley’s refusal to grant space to a review of Marx’s Capital set me thinking. Morley was at that time in my calendar one of the saints of an uncompromising search for truth, and of the championship of heterodox views. The fifteen years that elapsed between Mill’s On Liberty and Morley’s On Com­ promise were the zenith of liberal thought and action. It was natural to think, therefore, that Morley would be the last to banish economic dissent. Beesly’s information whetted my curiosity to get a clear view of Morley, who became increasingly interesting to me through his publication, two years later, of the Life of Gladstone. I searched in those volumes for an exposition of Gladstone’s very remarkable relation to the Labour movement, and for the springs of his social conscience, which gave him such a hold on organized Labour. I searched in vain. Two of the outstanding charac­ teristics of Gladstone-his profound insight into the meaning and future of the Labour movement, and his Christianity as a motive of social action-were inaccessible to the intellect of his biographer. Morley was in this respect inferior to his younger colleagues,

such as Sir Edward Grey and Mr. (later Lord) Haldane. In November, 1889, Grey invited Morley to lecture in the Eighty Club on “ Liberalism and Social Questions.” All the leaders of British Liberalism attended. Grey, as chairman, expressed his opinion that Socialism was growing into an important problem. Morley delivered his lecture, which in print fills twenty-four octavo pages. He devoted about a dozen lines to saying that he was not a Socialist, but a good old Radical; he expatiated on anything which might interest an orthodox Benthamite, and passed lightly over the subject he was expected to shed

light on; it was simply foreign to his mind. Morley understood Cobden and the elder Mill, or-still better-any of the French Encyclopaedists, but not the social and economic critics. Not even Gladstone, whose constantly growing and developing political mind and social conscience comprehended all the movements of the best part of the nineteenth century. Morley, a philosophical Radical and brilliant litterateur, never changed. He gyrated within his sphere o f Liberal thought, sometimes nearing the circumference, but never overstepping it; while Gladstone was always changing and progressing, always a student, observing and learning in order to apply the new lessons to the actualities of politics. Change of opinions does not always imply inconstancy, and lifelong adherence to the same opinions is not synonymous with constancy of conviction. I was first induced to learn something of Gladstone during

my stay in Germany. I found that Gladstone was not liked there, and that Prince Bismarck used to discredit him by saying that Gladstone was of Jewish origin, and that his real name was Freudenstein. From this gibe I inferred that Gladstone must be a really great Liberal statesman. Since about 1878 Prince Bismarck began to hate Liberalism, which had so greatly assisted him for over ten years to make Prussia supreme in Germany and establish the Reich. And there was for him then no more popular means to discredit Liberalism than by identifying it with Jewry. Liberalism is an abstraction, and you can’t make the masses hate and persecute an abstract idea; but, when you point to a Jew as the concrete embodiment of it, you can easily persecute it. Anti-Semitism is essentially anti-Liberalism. Gladstone, as the greatest Liberal leader of the time, had to be made into a Jew. Still, this interest in Gladstone was a passing phase in my life. Out of Germany I forgot all about it. I was led to study Gladstone later on in his relation to the

British Labour Movement. On the occasion of a by-election in North-East Lanark, in the autumn of 1901, there appeared

in The Times (October 7, 1901) a long letter under the signature of the Master of Elibank (A. O. Murray), dealing with “ Liberalism and Labour.” He warned the Liberals not to think lightly of the political aspirations of Labour, and not to oppose a Labour candidate in a constituency with a pre­ ponderant working-class population, lest the cleavage between Capital and Labour should become too conspicuous and engulf the traditional party system. The Master of Elibank, who had been a great friend of Gladstone, then remarked that in former times, whenever Labour democracy raised its head in opposition, “Mr. Gladstone, with his wonderful intuition,” took it by the hand, and led it into gentler paths. My investi­ gations taught me that it was not mere intuition that dictated Gladstone’s activity, but a solid knowledge of the history of the British Labour movement of his time. Gladstone from 1832 up to his resignation in 1894, was one of the most prominent members of the House of Commons or of the various Governments of the day. The Anti-Corn Law and the Chartist movements ran parallel, and he kept both of them under his observation. The stormy years 1839-46, a period of much distress among the working people and of mass demon­ strations and general turn-outs, caused great anxiety to successive Governments. Especially 1842, when Gladstone was at the Board of Trade, proved to be-in the words of his colleague, Sir James Graham-of “painful and lamentable experience and of the utmost danger.” Troops were ready for action. “ For three months the anxiety which I and my colleagues experienced was greater than we ever felt before with reference to public affairs.” They saw the spectre of a Labour revolution, and they never forgot it. Gladstone saw the economic causes of that crisis, and was

not afraid to speak out. “ It is one of the melancholy features in the social state of the country,” he declared in February, 1843, in House, “ that we see beyond the possibility of denial that, while there is at the moment a decrease of the

consuming power of the people, an increase of privation and distress of the labouring classes, there is at the same time an enormous accumulation of wealth in the upper classes, a con­ stant increase of capital.” He never lost sight of the contrast between wealth and poverty, between Capital and Labour; his budget speeches gave him an opportunity to point this out to the nation. In his budget speech in April, 1864, he told the nation that, despite the wonderful increase of its foreign trade, life was in nine cases out of ten but a bare struggle for existence. “ The intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power is en­ tirely confined to the propertied classes.” Christian Socialists in the ’forties quoted Gladstone’s speeches, and Karl Marx quoted them in the ’sixties. Gladstone was the illustrious representative man of British middle-class civilization in the nineteenth century-its greatest period. He possessed a much more scientific view of the social question than Disraeli, who, on account of his social novels, is generally credited with great knowledge of them. Disraeli looked upon the Labour move­ ment with a naivete which was quite absent in Gladstone. The attitude of the former was that of the cultured landed aristocracy: the working people as servants ought to be humanely treated, their grievances looked into and mitigated or removed as the case might be, and their rebellions to be used as a leverage against the trading and manufacturing upstarts. He therefore gave them the vote in 1867, and most satisfactory trade union laws in 1875-76. Gladstone, however, had nothing of the social romanticism

which lent so much attraction to his great adversary. He perceived with the utmost clearness, in the rise of Labour as a class, a danger to the power of the middle classes. On the one hand, therefore, he encouraged the manufacturing, and generally the capitalist, class to allow the wage-earners a larger share in the national income, while, on the other hand, he went warily and acted parsimoniously when it was a matter of granting them political and economic rights. His policy was

directed towards their political education, with a view to giving them a middle-class outlook. It was Gladstone who raised working men to the rank of members of the Govern­ ment; and, whenever he saw Labour moving towards political class warfare, he spared no effort to lead it back to middle-class paths. And, when he finally perceived that the current of social life was stronger than political contrivances, he turned to the working classes with words of real human greatness-words to the moral grandeur of which neither Disraeli nor Bismarck nor Clemenceau, nor any other statesman of his generationexcept Abraham Lincoln-could rise. “ The true test,” he told the working classes in a speech delivered at West Calder (Midlothian) in 1889, “ the true test of a man, of a class, and the true test o f a people, is power. It is a small thing for a man to be good so long as he has not power. So long as the temptation is kept out of his way, it is a small thing that he should be tolerably just in his judgment. But it is when power has come into his hands that the trial comes. You will have temptations-you, the working people of this country-when you have become supreme to such a degree that there is no other power to balance and counteract the power which you possess. . . . You will have then to preserve the balance of your mind and character. When you have become stronger than the capitalists, stronger than the peerage, stronger than the landed gentry, stronger than the great mercantile class, when you have become in a sense their political masters, you will still have before you one achievement to fulfil, one glory to attain and appropriate to yourselves:— to continue to be just. I venture to give that warning for the future. It applies more to the coming days than to the days that are past, and I hope the mass o f this meeting will live into those days in increasing prosperity and happiness. And if they do so, I am sure they will remember with kindliness what was at all events a well-meant suggestion.” In the same year Morley spoke in the Eighty Club, saying

among other things that he disapproved of a legal eight-hour day, which meant State interference with the business of the manufacturers. He lived for another thirty-five years, up to the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century, as a solid mid-Victorian, while Gladstone was in 1889 already in the middle of the twentieth century. Well, a life of Gladstone has still to be written. Morley, the doctrinaire rationalist, failed even to account

for some of the peculiarities of English thinking. He is very severe on what he thinks to be a contradictory and illogical attitude of English modern thought, which, while it allows “ accurate thinking and distinct conclusions” in the sphere of physical science, practically denies in the sphere of morals and politics “ the strict inferences from demonstrated pre­ mises” (1On Compromise, pp. 18, 19). This is undoubtedly a true statement of the attitude of English thought. It indeed exhibits a dualism in respect to the role of reason in nature and in social life. But this dualism is the result of an uncon­ scious, or, perhaps, a conscious application of the recognition that in all matters of social life, that is, in morals and politics, life precedes reason, and that in the great crises of humanity reason has often been overborne by irrational elements. Hence the distrust of general principles in politics, which Morley censoriously deplores. The same consideration or unconscious mental attitude is, I believe, the main reason of the usual “wobbling” of English statesmanship even in urgent political questions, which do not yet appear to be ripe for positive decisions. This “wobbling” and “ drifting,” so exasperating to publicists and British allies and so cheering to British enemies, simply means that the Government declare: “We cannot rely on logical arguments; let life first do its work; we shall watch its working, and we shall act when we see our way.” This attitude in politics and social life, which, it may be

said, has some affinity with English Nominalism, is, to my mind, the result of the experience won in the years 1640-89.