Book Review: The Rise of Democracy


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The Rise of Democracy, by Joseph Clayton, M. A. London: Messrs Cassell. 2s 6d nett.


We are informed in the preface to the above book that: “The aim of the present writer has been to trace the travelled road of the English people towards democracy, and to point to certain landmarks on that road, in the hope that readers may be turned to examine more closely for themselves the journey taken.”


The hope is barren. Far more important is it to-day to know why a particular road has been travelled, as, until this is done, the question of whether we shall continue on the old road or seek a new one cannot be answered.


Traced the road the author certainly has, but that is all. Nowhere does he go below the surface of things ; nowhere does he attempt to give the causes lying below the effects he pictures. And if it be pleaded that want of space is the reason, numerous passages dealing with unimportant details could have been deleted, and, above all, the fifteen or so pages of fulsome flattery of John Burns, Ramsay Macdonald, Keir Hardie and— in a lesser degree—Lloyd George, could have been reduced to the same number of lines to the benefit of the reader.


Whether from want of knowledge or want of courage, the author never leaves the beaten, respectable track. The landmarks are well chosen and the narrative often good, but the connection between them is seldom made, and is most often weak even when it is presented.


Democracy is defined as “government through elected representatives,” and some of the best work in the book is that showing the views of those wishing to elect these representatives.


How the working class were left out of all consideration by those calling upon that class to oppose kingly oppression is shown, not only in the early stages against the absolutism of the Crown, but equally so under the Commonwealth. “Democracy was never in the minds of men like Hampden, . . . and was utterly uncongenial to Cromwell and the Commonwealth men.”


“In all these changes,” says the author, dealing with the overthrow of Charles 1st and the reign of Cromwell, “the great mass of the people had neither part nor lot; and the famous leaders of the Parliamentary party, resolute to curtail the absolutism of the Crown, were no more concerned with the welfare of the labouring people than the Barons were in the time of John.”


The failure of all the popular risings is noted to show “the impossibility in England of acheiving democracy by the violent overthrow of Government” when as a matter of fact these failures show how necessary is the control of political power by any class wishing to accomplish its emancipation.


How chary our author is of seeking causes is further illustrated when referring to the Chartist movement. Although stating that “the lot of the labourer and the artizan was found to be worse than it was in the earlier years of the nineteenth century, before the great Reform Act was passed,” no word is given as to the reasons for this greater misery. The ruthless exploitation of men, women and children, by the canting capitalists, end more especially by the hypocritical Liberals conducting the Anti Corn-Law agitation, is not even referred to.


This may be because the author’s view—as shown when criticising Rousseau-—is that man “is not born free, but is born with a free will to work out political freedom or to consent to. servitude.” (Italics mine.)


How scientific ! No wonder that in giving a list of books on Socialism the names of the founders of it—Marx and Engels—are left out. Their clear and unrefuted, aye, irrefutable, exposition of the driving forces in the development of society would open the eyes of the readers to the danger of the peace and comfort of the ruling class.


On page 192 an illustration is given to show the absence of any essential difference between Liberal and Tory parties, even in ordinary political matters, for the Tories passed the County Councils Act (establishing among others the London County Council), the Liberals the Parish Councils, and the Tories the London Borough Councils Acts.


When dealing with present-day affairs some curious points are made. We are told on page 196 that “the arrival of the Labour members increased, rather than diminished, the good behaviour” of the House of Commons.


How interesting ! But what will those members of the I.L.P. think who fancy the “Labour” men are there to fight for the interests of the toilers to find this converted into lessons in good behaviour?


Of John Burns we are told that “his robust egoism”—what a gentle phrase for illimitable canting conceit!—”is largely a class pride” and “the motive power at work all the time in his career” is “the triumph of his class.”


It is difficult to find language to correctly characterise such statements. The capitalists to-day have no agent so ready to sneer and jeer at the working class as the empty braggart of Battersea. Everywhere he can he opposes any movement of the working class, however feeble, on its own behalf, and preaches reliance on the Liberals. When we are told that Burns “does not appreciate sufficiently that the gifts he possesses . . . are exceptional,” and that he “never admits he possesses health and vigour beyond the average,” we have only to attend one of Burn’s speeches—say in Battersea—to get full refutation of the ridiculous statement. The personal pronoun predominates all through. The listener soon learns that no statesman, no athlete, no mechanic, no orator that ever lived came nearer than just within nodding distance of the capabilities and powers of the ” Great I Am” —to give him the name by which he is so well known in Battersea—according to John Burns, at any rate.


Mr. Keir Hardie is said to have “striven to create a working-class party in politics independent of Liberals and Conservatives ” !


The Labour Party’s complete dependence on and alliance with the Liberal party to-day shows the ghastly failure of Keir Hardie’s “striving.” In dealing with Ramsay Macdonald, however, one or two truths leak out. For instance, the author says : “As an ordinary Liberal or Radical, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald would never have had the opportunities the Labour Party has given him.”


This is a most awkward admission for the “intellectual asset” of the I.L.P., and will go far to explain why he left one section of the Liberal party to become, first secretary, then chairman, of the other section.


The rank and file of the I.L.P. will no doubt be pleased to hear that Mr. Macdonald is “the controlling power in that organisation,” and that we may expect to see him “a Cabinet Minister in a Liberal-Labour Government.” The word “Labour” is doubtless introduced here to parry the action that Macdonald has threatened to take against anyone who says he is seeking office—probably because the seeking is over.


For one who admits that Social Reform “does not propose to remove the cause of poverty,” it seems curious to see the topsy-turvydom of his ideas regarding Socialism. On page 224 we are told that the “‘revisionists’ are gaining the mastery over the scientific Marxian Socialists in democratic politics” in seemingly blissful ignorance of the fact that it is the very growth of scientific Marxism that is driving section after section of the apologists for capitalism to take up the revisionist or social reform attitude to delude the working class. To talk of the “revisionists” gaining mastery assumes that the Marxists at some previous period were more numerous or more powerful than they are today—an assumption in direct contradiction to the facts. Marx and Marxists could be ignored even a few years ago. The so called “revisionist” movement is but the snarl of the apologists for capitalism who can no longer ignore, so attempt to misrepresent, Marx and his works.


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