Book review: Socialism and Democracy

“THE TRIAL OF DEMOCRACY.” An Address delivered in the Town Hall, Birmingham, by the Most Reverend the Lord Archbishop of York. 3d. Cornish Bros., Birmingham.

In this inaugural address as President of the Midland Institute, the Archbishop of York falls into the common error of thinking that democracy exists to day. He tells us that “Democracy has arrived,” and also that “full-grown Democracy is here.” He assumes the 1867 household franchise, with all its property qualifications and legal restrictions, to be “Democracy.” His task is to utter warnings and hints to the people to be very, very careful not to upset the time-honoured institutions and customs of the “British Empire” with their vote.

The Archbishop conceives two problems to be facing “democracy” now. The first is “The Problem of Empire,” which he defines as “the task of carrying on and cementing an Empire.” How truly imperialistic the gospel of the “lowly Nazarene” has become !

The second “problem” is “the Distribution of Wealth.” And of it the Most Reverend gent says :

“We are on the threshold of great danger. May we say broadly that the 19th. Century was concerned with the creation of wealth and that the 20th. will be concerned with its distribution ; and, gentlemen, there is none of us, whatever his political views, who does not feel that this is a problem that needs adjustment. We cannot but be, shall I say appalled ? by the contrast left to its after these years of unexampled prosperity, of great wealth and great poverty, of increasing luxury and continuing squalor. It is a contrast that I had almost said hits those of our visitors who come to us from across the seas. One who came from the great Empire of India at the last coronation, in answer to the question what he thought of London, gave the significant answer: ‘It is half wonderful, half terrible.’ And that contrast between the London of the West and the London that I know so well of the East, is a contrast that may be seen over the whole field of our English life. I do not wish this evening to use any language that is sentimental or exaggerated. I am trying to put great reserve upon my speech. But when I think of that great multitude of our working folk among whom I have laboured, whom I have learned to reverence, I cannot not see the picture of the monotony of toil which they are called upon to bear, of the uncertainty of employment that haunts them day by day, of the overcrowded houses in which we ask and expect them, to maintain British homes, of the mean streets from which not only the beauty of God’s earth, but of the comforts and conveniences that are common to others, is shut out—when I think of these things I know that there is a great social problem which during this century we are called upon to face.”

What an awful confession to make ! After 19 centuries of “Christian civilisation,” during which their religion has been preached throughout the globe, and has claimed greater influence than any other. Despite their proud boast that it has triumphed over vast areas and lived as an inspiration to man throughout the ages, they have to admit the terrible state of the people in the land of its greatest triumph. Christianity has had power and wealth greater than any religion. It has held sway over the minds of men and ruled their destinies. How has that power been used ? Consult its bloody history and you will find it everywhere linked itself with the ruling powers and helped to keep our class in subjection. Every step forward along the thorny road of social progress and mental freedom met with their fierce enmity. Allied with the State, it used the rack and the torture chamber, the stake and the dungeon, to drown men’s cries for light and liberty in blood and stifle them with fire.

And if other means are used to-day it is be­cause the knowledge of science, social and organic, gained in the teeth of the opposition of religious powers, has made their doctrines impossible.

The Lord Archbishop preaches “respect” and “humility,” and his fears of real democracy are grounded upon his knowledge of the fact that enlightened men and women would make short work of a parasite Church and the employing class on whom it levies tribute for stupefying the minds of the subject class.

How truly capitalist is his advice appears from this : “Every effort made, and rightly made, to keep up the general average of wages and to lower the general average of hours, if it is not to hurt both industry itself and the character of the worker, must be balanced by the honest desire to earn the higher wage and to work hard in the shorter hours.”

Could more damnable cant by put in so few words ? “The honest desire to earn the higher wage and to work hard in the shorter time.” The workers’ wage to-day is but a fraction of what they earn, so that higher wages under the most favourable conditions would but be getting a little more of their earnings. Why not say at once, “democratic” prelate, to earn higher profits for your paymasters the employers ?

Right through the brochure runs the statement that there is a social problem, but through it all appears the truth that the only problem the Most Reverend is concerned with is to secure that he and his class shall continue to sponge on the labour of the workers. So he is sorely troubled lest “democracy” lead to hasty action, thoughtless methods, and panic policies—lest ignorance triumph.

The Socialist knows the funky prelate has nothing to fear from these obsessions of his exalted imagination. Adult Suffrage, the Referendum, and the like, are but empty forms by themselves. They cannot harm capitalism or be of use to the workers while the latter are ignorant. Socialism alone, by removing the economic barriers that keep the toilers outside the pale of civilisation, will give democracy its true value and social importance. Bound down to unchanging and unceasing drudgery, men and women to-day often ignore politics, to the delight of those who rule.

Those who seek democracy in more than name, those who want an alert, enlightened society filled with useful men and women taking a living interest in life and its lessons, must become Socialists.

Those who don’t become Socialists will inevitably be wrecked, like our Most Reverend the Lord Archbishop, on the rocks ahead for “democrats” who give a weapon to the workers without the chance to learn how to use it in their own interests.


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