“Unity” as a Habit in England

St. Vincent, Minn., Oct. 11, 1908.
Editor “Trades Unionist” :

Keir Hardie, following the fashion set by sundry British labor politicians, globe-trotting at the expense of capitalist newspapers, has again delivered himself of an athanema against the Canadian Socialist movement.

It is in the control, he says, of “the impossibilist element which


If there is any place on earth where the impossibilism so deprecated by Hardie is “downed” it is in the “‘Appy land of Hengland,” in the labor movement of which nation Hardie is one of the foremost leaders, and inasmuch as “a tree is known by its fruits,” we would reasonably expect to see a forward, harmonious movement as a result of this “downing” ; that is, if we were fools enough to be misled by the labor, even trade union, Christian, even free trade, even any old thing but impossibilist type of Socialist like Hardie and his ilk.

I am weekly in receipt of two old country Socialist papers, “Forward,” and the London “Clarion,” and there is never an issue but what is half full of “scraps” between these harmonious “compromisers” who are, unlike the Canadian Socialists, completely free from “this dogmatic and blighting creed of withering materialism.” In the last issue of the London “Clarion,” keeping faith with capitalist Liberals there is the Labor party executive in refusing to endorse Edward Hartley in Newcastle, who, mark you, is as immune from the suspicion of being an “impossibilist” as Hardie himself. The reason for which action, as alleged by the “Clarion” writer, is that in double constituences the Liberals and Socialist, even Labor, etc., candidates have


Hartley, by running at the request of the local I.L.P., S.D.F., Clarion Scouts and the numerous other organisations that go to make up the highly harmonious labor movement that Hardie thinks Canada needs so bad, has seriously imperilled this holy alliance of alleged Socialist leaders and Liberal capitalists ; hence Hartley must be “downed” too. And this is the working out of “modern Socialism,” which, Hardie says, Canadians know nothing of ! Here’s hoping they may long remain in ignorance of this Newcastle brand at any rate.

What is this term “impossibilism,” anyway, that falls so glibly from the lips of Hardie and his type ?

Will any of those “active Socialists ” Hardie refers to, who are repelled by this dreadful thing, kindly explain ? As one who has had this epithet fired at him times without number, and without—as is customary—any illuminating definition, I am naturally curious to know. Reasoning it out by comparing a known “irnpossibilist” with a gentleman known not to be such, I have reached this conclusion. An “impossibilist” is a Socialist who, knowing that in Socialism alone lies


of the workers, refuses to preach anything else, and refuses to stultify himself by saying so in one speech and saying something very different in another, and as a consequence is disliked by “practical” labor men.

A non-impossibilist can do both of these things and becomes very popular, a great labor leader, etc., etc.

An impossibilist, knowing that reforms where they do tempt one section of the workers, invariably do so at the expense of the others, says so; and as a consequence gets further castigation from the “practical” politician, whose stock-in-trade is reform.

The impossibilist is, however, reminded that there are reforms which, if enforced, would make matters more tolerable for the workers, but knowing the nature of the class in control, he


nor recommend them, because if they were put upon the statute book there would be nothing to them ; but the non-impossibilist, being of a practical turn of mind, spends a quarter of a century and untold energy in getting an old-age pension at an age when most working people are dead, and an Unemployed Bill on the statute book that might as well be off for all the unemployed would know about it.

The “impossibilist,” being a very unpractical fellow, foolishly reasons thus: As the workers get their eyes open to the working of the present system and the source of the strength of the capitalist—the political power they proceed to arouse their fellows to wrest the control of public power out of their masters’ hands. The more revolutionary the attitude of the workers the more sops are thrown to them, just, for instance, as a man in a desert, pursued by wolves, often delays pursuit by throwing his clothes to save his skin. If the wolves are wise they don’t waste time chewing indigestible rubbers—they


The non-possibilist dallies by the wayside.

But the non-impossibilist says, “these arguments are all right, but you fellows don’t get elected, and by the goddess of place-hunting you spoil oar chances too !” Aye, there’s the rub ! Get elected ! Make Socialists if you can, but get elected ! Never mind if you prolong the period ; the fool workers must stew and sweat and suffer, chasing up the blind alleys of reform into which you lead them. Never mind if thereby you play into the hands of the astute capitalists. You will reach the dizzy eminence of a great labor leader ; the masses will demonstrate about you and enthuse over you even if they go straight from your meeting after listening to your speech on reforms to vote the master class the right to rule and rob for another season. Also if you can write interesting “copy” wherein you denounce the “impossibilist” Socialist who is foolish enough to be a Socialist and nothing else, the “Daily Lyre” may also finance a trip around the world for you, so you can help to make as big a mess of the labor movement abroad as you have succeeded in doing at home, to the great delight of its middle-class readers. Of course, this sizing up of the “impossibilist” and the wiseacre who is not so is, no doubt, one of the “cruditites that


‘Tis passing strange that Hardie should refer to Marx and Engels as authorities at all, seeing he he has repudiated on more than one occasion their main propositions in which are embodied the doctrine of the class struggle and the materialist interpretation of history ; but in a sense the reason is not far to seek. This class struggle, when it reaches a certain stage, plays the very devil with the political ambitions of reformers, because it unites those wage workers whose position in human society is such that no reform in capitalism can benefit them and who have intelligence enough to see that the object for which these workers unite is not to dicker about the price for which they will sell themselves for given periods when their masters need them to work. They know that this price is fixed by conditions outside of themselves and circumstances over which they have no control. If the C.P.R. machinists had listened more to the Socialist “impossibilist” and less to the “get something now trade union reformer,” they would not have made such asses of themselves during the last nine weeks. They would have spent some of the money they lost in wages to dispute with the masters this fall, their title of ownership to that railway property that the working class created and alone give value to. Methinks if they had done that and spent the same energy they squanderd in bucking an overstocked labour market, in matching an empty stomach against a bank vault, they would have caused such a flutter amongst the dove-cotes of capitalism that the capitalists themselves would have set about


to the very limit, and that whether they elected their man or not. Incidentally they would have inspired other workers to follow suit, and, by the way, it is not yet too late. Never mine your compromising, place-hunting trade union leaders. If you knew as much as an owl you would refuse to vote for a man who was only a Socialist when not seeking office, and was afraid to label himself so when he was up for election. Wherever you see a Socialist candidate this fall who is “impossibilist” enough to make his campaign on this issue alone, viz., the


owners of our national industries and the vesting of the title of ownership in the community, with the elected representatives of the workers who operate those industries in control, vote and work for his election. Leave the compromisers at home. If he will compromise to get elected, he will sell you out to stay elected.

In conclusion, I would ask those who read Hardie’s anathema to re-read it and note where his sympathies really lie. Note the severity and contempt with which he handles his brother Socialists, who, at the worst, are merely using unwise methods of propaganda. And in contrast note his references to the “delightful experience” he had interviewing “the wealthy man who had worked his way up from poverty to affluence,” and who was so “sincere,” although the “unconscious humor” of his “poetic” declarations made Hardie smile, etc., etc. Go to, Hardie. Get back to ancient St. Stephens and have a cup of tea with King Ed and the rest of the “me, too” Socialists. Canadian Socialism is much too modern for you or any other British labor leader to catch up with.

—JOHN T. MORTIMER, in The British Columbian Trade Unionist, Vancouver, Nov. ’08.

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