chapter  XXV
9 Pages

Problems of United States and Britain

Of the other men whom I met, and who left a more or less vivid impression on my mind, a few may be dealt with in this chapter. In the summer of 1903 I published in the Neue Zeit a paper

under the heading, The Economic Interpretation of History by an Imperialist, reviewing, in the form of a middle article, the works of Brooks Adams (Quincy, Mass.). His broad generaliza­ tions from a vast mass of facts concerning trade routes, discovery, and the use of minerals, as factors in the formation, growth, and decay of empires, aroused my interest on account of their intrinsic historical value as well as of their being cognate to the philosophy of history o f modern Socialism. His clear, precise style, and lucid arrangement of economic data, indicated a trained, scholarly mind; and, though his studies contained nothing of a purely socialistic nature, I recommended them as worthy of the attention of Socialists. His books were well known in France and Germany, but were little read by Englishmen. I thought that the reason for English indifference to his work was his unfavourable forecast of the future of Britain, which he believed to have passed her culminating point, or the neglect by British historians of economic factors as some of the prime causes of great social movements and changes. British historiography was for a long time dominated by political and religious thought. About twelve months after the publication of my paper, I

received a letter, with the postmark “ London w.c.,” in which Brooks Adams informed me that he was staying for a short time in London, and would like to have a chat with me. His handwriting was as clear, and the letters as tidily formed, as his mind. I gladly accepted his invitation, and we met at his hotel in the Strand. He asked me to have a good old-fashioned

English lunch with him at the “ Cheshire Cheese,” where, as he told me, Dr. Johnson used to feed. Adams was still a son of Old England, though a stranger to the England of his day; throughout his conversation with me he always spoke of England, and never of Britain. He was a middle-aged man of medium height, refined features, and already grey-on the whole, of the type of an English university lecturer. He began to write books, he told me, when he was over forty years of age-a remark which made me say that I needn’t then lose hope of yet doing something in that line. He asked me about my political views; and, on my telling him that I was a Socialist, he was somewhat astonished, and said: “ I can understand being an Anarchist-individualist, but not a Socialist.” He then went on explaining to me that, while totally disagreeing with the Socialist solution, he liked, nevertheless, to read some of the better-class Socialist periodicals in French and German, containing, as they sometimes do, some acute analyses of Capitalist society. Capitalism in the United States was still in its infancy, the infancy of a Hercules, yet it exhibited already some disquieting features that needed watching, lest their full development should upset the social equilibrium of the democratic republic. The capitalists were getting control of the highways of the nation through their domination over the railways; they were getting control of the currency through Wall Street; and they were already fixing the prices through their trusts. And all that was just the beginning. They would soon form the State and possess the sovereign power-an irresponsible sovereign power, not entrusted to them by the people and not account­ able to the people. That was a big problem; the biggest, perhaps, since 1776. It took me some time to digest what he said, and particularly

his arguments. I felt that he used the critical apparatus of the Socialists, yet in a different manner and for a different purpose. He spoke, I ultimately came to think, as a constitu-

tional lawyer and statesman-a true son of the famous Massachusetts Adams family-who had also specialized in economics and sociology. In my Socialist way of thinking I replied: let the American people promote and strengthen the trade unions as a counterbalance and check to capitalist power; the English-speaking world liked such contrivances, constitu­ tional checks and balances. There were plenty o f them in the American Constitution. Adams smiled and said: No! that would be class-war; he

wanted nothing of the kind. Class-war, I replied, sounded terrible, but it meant nothing

more than serious party contests on fundamental questions about the economic and political organization of society, and there was good warrant for it in history that such contests, far from endangering a healthy State, stimulated its growth. A statesman like Macchiavelli, certainly not a demagogue, thought that the centuries of struggle in Florence between the commune and the popolo, the grandi and the arti, contributed a great deal to the development and prosperity of the republic. In my opinion, it was the long contest between the Patricians and Plebeians in Rome which developed in those rude, superstitious Latin peasants the capacity for statesmanship, and enabled them to conquer the world and build up the Roman Empire. And English history is one long argument in favour of my thesis. You may remember what Gardiner wrote about the rise of the English trading classes or, generally, the Commons. At the accession of the Tudors (1485), he remarked, they were a down-trodden portion of the people, maltreated by the aristocracy. With the influx of wealth through commerce, manufactures, and foreign adventure in the sixteenth century, the trading classes grew independent by the hardihood of their struggle for pre-eminence in social life, and at the death of Elizabeth they were almost identical with the nation itself; moreover, their aims and ideas began to govern political and economic thought. Gardiner is surely

not a revolutionist. The text to Gardiner’s reasonings is, in my opinion, to be found in the economic writers of the time, such as Misselden, Mun, and Roberts, all of them London merchants distinguished by astonishing erudition. They ably argued with the Stuarts that the aim and end of politics was not, and could not be, the enrichment of the Treasury, but national treasure by the increase of commodities and foreign trade. Misselden, who could quote Greek, Latin, and Rabbinic, told the Stuarts that commodities were the senior and money the junior partner, while they tried to reverse the order of things, like the Patriarch Jacob, who, when Joseph brought him his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim for blessing, crossed his hands and put his right hand on the younger and the left hand on the elder, which was a wrong procedure. And Roberts, in 1640, told Charles I that it was not the sword of the King that formed the strength and spread the fame of England in the world, but the activities, ships, and embassies of the merchants. And they all wrote in a humble way, as most obedient subjects of His Majesty. Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re. That’s the English way. And the fights and strikes of British Labour in the nineteenth century were always followed by new inventions and a better organization of production; besides, they were an education for the employers. Such con­ tests could only be dangerous when the social organism was in a condition of decay, as in the Greek city-states after the Pelo­ ponnesian War and during the subsequent rivalries between them for supremacy. Then, of course, they might spell ruin. But the United States was in full vigour, and class conflicts implied no danger whatever. Adams refused to follow me on this path. He declared, in

his clear, legal manner, that the remedy in the United States was to be sought in a strong Central Executive, in a reform of the judiciary and the whole administration, and in an enlightened public opinion. In later years he supported Mr. Theodore Roosevelt, and

would assuredly have acclaimed the acts of Mr. Franklin Roosevelt. At the end of our conversation he broached the question

of the decline of England, and wished to hear my opinion as to her future. I replied that, as a result of the tariff reform campaign set on foot lately by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, a good deal of material as to the economic condition of the country would be forthcoming. There was, of course, much talk about the decline of Britain, but such talk had been going on from time to time since the second half of the seventeenth century. Sir William Petty, I believed, wrote his Political Arithmetick (1671) partly with a view to refuting such rumours and complaints, and ten years later an anonymous writer published Britannia Languens, marshalling his facts in order to show that Britain was on the down-grade and was being beaten by the Dutch. In 1750, similar melancholy views were rife regarding the future of Britain, which was supposed soon to be eclipsed by the superiority of France; and Thorold Rogers related that in 1782 Benjamin Franklin, in order to annoy Edward Gibbon who had slighted him, declared that Gibbon had better collect materials for a book on the decline and fall of the British Empire. In 1850, Ledru-Rollin, a French Radical leader of 1848-49, and a refugee in London, wrote as London correspondent of a French paper a series of articles entitled La dicadence de VAngleterre, published also in book form. It might thus be seen that Britain had been going downhill since the Restoration, and at the same time building up her vast Empire and economic system. How she had succeeded in warding off all danger was a question difficult to answer in a few words. My own opinion was that she had managed it owing to the large fund of political wisdom accumulated throughout the centuries in all those class-wars which I mentioned before. Thanks to freedom of discussion, the great minds of the English had drawn their lessons from victories and defeats, successes and failures, and applied them

to the political actualities of the day. My experience was that, while the German studied and ruminated, the Englishman learned and used what he had learned. Freedom, adaptability, and a proper arrangement of productive work would keep any country alive and even prosperous for an indefinite time. We remained in friendly communication till about 1912. On my arrival from New York to take over the London

correspondence for the Vorwarts, I paid a visit to Henry M. Hyndman, the leader of the Social Democratic Federation (S.D.F.). As my predecessor, Herr Eduard Bernstein, in deference to Frederick Engels, had kept aloof from the S.D.F. and its leaders, Hyndman was visibly pleased with the attention I paid to him and his organization, and he asked me to call on him at Queen Anne’s Gate as often as I wished to do so. I was in friendly relation with him till 1907, when differences about the attitude of the S.D.F. to the Labour Party, and his anti-Jewish sentiments, separated us. Hyndman was in appearancea true Anglo-Saxon, and his

name, which signified Hundredman, bore testimony to his Germanic descent. Nevertheless, he was always anti-German and pro-Latin; his predilection for, and mental affinity with, Italians and Frenchmen was quite pronounced. In this respect he was typical of his class. English culture appears to me to be mainly Latin. The

Germanic inheritance has been so much diluted by Latin and Celtic elements that only few traces of it remain. In essence, English culture owes its qualities and its strength-(i) to the legacy left by the Roman occupation of Britain; (ii) to Roman Christian influences; (iii) to the Norman Conquest; and (iv) to the close contact of English learning and literature with Italy at the time of the Renaissance. I have thought a great deal on the question of the origin of English culture, and, after much vacillation, have finally arrived at the con­ clusion that its foundations are embedded in Latin civilization. Even in all the wars of the eighteenth century, up to 1815,

when the English and Germans fought side by side against France, the Englishman respected the Frenchman, and looked down upon the German as a hireling. Hyndman was a trained platform speaker, a fluent journalist,

eager for parliamentary honours, but on his own terms, which however he was not strong enough to obtain. He was quite switched off his political career in 1880 by accidentally getting into his hand Marx’s Capital. Quick of apprehension, endowed with a vivacious intellect, and driven by political ambitions, he was not long in attempting to form a Socialist Party. But he failed in his attempt, as he was bound to fail, since his whole outlook was that of a middle-class man off the rails, a deracine, which prevented his getting into sympathetic contact with the trade unions, the only elements potentially capable of forming the backbone of such a party. Though our conversations often turned on foreign affairs, of which he had only a newspaper knowledge, my main effort was to make him use his influence with the S.D.F. to reaffiliate to the Labour Representation Committee-later the Labour Party. His organization had originally belonged to it, but had left it in 1901, because the Committee rejected a Socialist resolution moved by the S.D.F. In vain did the Marxists argue with him that the business of Socialists was not to form a Socialist Party of their own, but to work within the Labour movement for Socialist views and measures. This was quite beyond the political horizon of Hyndman, wTho, as a middle-class politician, was thinking in terms of parliamentary parties, and not of Labour as a class acting through its own organizations. No wonder that he always failed at general elections; after his failure in Burnley in 1906 he was quite broken, and in my presence was moved to tears. Only after the War did he acknowledge that the disaffiliation from the Labour Party was a mistake; but at that time he was already an old man, an extinct volcano. I disliked his way of speaking of Disraeli as the “ old Jew,”

and his constant harping on the Jewry, and, in view of his stubborn refusal to influence his organization to rejoin the Labour Party, I stopped calling on him. The weekly paper of the S.D.F., that is, of Hyndman, was

Justice, and its editor was Harry Quelch, an English labourer, who by dint of self-education acquired a good English style. He brought to his office a knowledge of Labour problems and a robust sense of humour and capacity for work. I used to argue also with him in favour of reaffiliation to the Labour Party, but he was too much under the influence of Hyndman and Belfort Bax to adopt my views. In September, 1905, I submitted to him a full-length review of J. R. MacDonald’s Socialism and Society, in which the author, then the secretary of the Labour Representation Committee, gave a reasoned exposition of his social philosophy. Quelch was somewhat reluctant to accept it, thinking that I attached too great an importance to the author by giving his book a review which would fill a whole page of the paper. MacDonald, he said, owed his position to a misunderstanding. “ At the conference, which in February, 1900, established the Labour Representa­ tion Committee, a ‘Macdonald’ was proposed for the post of secretary. Most of the delegates, nearly all trade union representatives, understood that it was James Macdonald, secretary of the London Trades Council, who was nominated, and, knowing him well, voted for him, not for a James R. MacDonald, who was utterly unknown in the trade union movement. He was smuggled into office by the Keir Hardie clique. MacDonald now takes great care to make known that his name is J. Ramsay MacDonald, in order not to be confused with James Macdonald.” I replied that the whole of life seemed to be a chain of accidents, that those people were successful who understood how to turn an accident to their own benefit, and that MacDonald was not the man to let such an accident slip through his fingers. I finally prevailed upon Quelch to give space to the review. The following week

I called again, and he gleefully announced that large orders for that copy of Justice had been pouring in from Scotland and South Wales, so that a reprint might be necessary. Such a thing had hardly ever happened to Justice before. In my review of MacDonald’s Socialism and Society I

treated it seriatim as an important pronouncement by a man who exercised a great influence on the rising political Labour movement of Great Britain. I attempted to show that the author’s sociology, working with Spencerian analogies of organism and society, was nothing more nor less than Menenius Agrippa’s analogy between the human body and the body politic, by which the acute Roman Patrician desired to make the Plebs return to work, and to go on working for the Patricians. Applied to present-day politics, it meant that MacDonald was a middle-class journalist with evolutionary social views, but knowing nothing of the economics of modern society. MacDonald replied in the Labour Leader. I rejoined in

Justice, and the matter then dropped. Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald has not changed, and has

betrayed nobody. He remained in 1931 what he was in 1905. What has changed is the British Labour Movement. It has definitely abandoned the middle-class economic outlook.