Mr. Baldwin’s Utopia: Can Lions and Lambs Co-operate?
So many people have jumped on poor Mr. Baldwin for his recent appeal for an industrial truce, that it seems a shame to add to their number. He is such an “honest” man; so obviously well-meaning’; so kindly. His democratic tastes are illustrated by his addiction to the plebian pipe. In many of his speeches, how beautifully has he voiced his love of the English countryside; its farms, its hedgerows, its winding lanes and quiet villages. He loves the memory of the old days, when man and master were personal friends and the “sack” almost unknown. A man of simple tastes, with nothing of the “high brow” or superior person about him. If we were writing his life for a Sunday dope-sheet, we should describe him as “a plain, simple, home-loving Englishman; a lover of peace and tranquillity.” As we are writing for a Socialist paper, we have to take a wider view. We have to recognise that he is a big capitalist in a big essential industry. We must note that he is the elected head of a malignantly capitalist party. We must observe that he is speaking for the class that pays him and of which he is a representative member. This is not set down in any personal, malicious spirit, but as a plain statement of self-evident fact.
The speech itself was in no way remarkable. That it has occasioned such widespread controversy is an eloquent comment on the poverty of contemporary politics. One searches it in vain for a definite, tangible, constructive proposal upon which one can fasten and say, “Here is a gleam of hope for the workers.”’ It was thickly besprinkled with woolly phrases such as: “Suspicion must be removed”; “all must join hands to pull the country into a happier position”; “all concerned in industry should try and get to the root of this kind of thing” ; “all should take counsel together and see where and how improvement can be made in this country, to achieve the desired result ”; “a common desire to get at the facts and a common desire to help things”—and so on. Just strings of windy bubbles, floating on a morass of verbiage. One bubble was not so gaseous as its fellows, but Mr. Baldwin did not know it. It was the text of his discourse: “I want to plead for a truce.” This, beyond a doubt, is a direct admission of the existence of a state of industrial war. Socialists have been engaged in pointing this out for upwards of a century. We call it the class struggle. In spite of Mr. Baldwin’s candid admission, you will find its existence regularly denied at least once a week. For what is a truce? An agreed temporary peace between belligerents. And who are the belligerents? Mr. Baldwin defined them in his opening sentences. We should have said “Capital and Labour,” or the “Workers versus the Parasites,” the “Rich versus the Poor,” or something equally trite and explicit. Mr. Baldwin phrased it differently. He said, “This country would be confronted more and more with great combines and great aggregations of labour.” And now, he said, when there seemed a faint hope of revival, we were confronted with a gathering storm which, if it burst, would blot out all prosperity. “All prosperity”! So there is some prosperity about somewhere. Are we very far wrong in assuming that the struggle the truce is to suspend is concerned with this prosperity and its position on the wrong side of the line? We know it is not on the workers’ side. My. Baldwin, therefore, must be speaking for the other, the masters’. Behind the homely, pathetic figure of Mr. Baldwin we discern, without the aid of binoculars, the sinister figures of his employers. Ruthless, callous, malignant, and vindictive, the phalanx of capitalism is packed at his back. And having battered the workers to the edge of endurance, their spokesman suggests a truce. One feels tempted to reply:
Mr. Baldwin and Friends,—We are deeply touched by your moving appeal for a truce in our embittered relations. Naturally a peace-loving, easy-going crowd, we are not entirely unsympathetic. But there are certain facts which seem to have escaped your notice. We would remind you that in ten short years you have succeeded in burying a million of us beneath Flanders’ mud, and in maiming a further million or two preparatory to returning us to civil life. That civil life contains elements we do not consider altogether satisfactory. A million and a quarter of us seem condemned to perpetual unemployment. You endeavour to keep us from becoming troublesome by a niggardly, inadequate sum to which you attach the insulting term “the dole.” Those of us fortunate enough to find masters have had our wages battered down to a point inconsistent with a full and joyous existence. Your promise of a land fit for heroes was a mockery; of better education for our children, a bitter jest. You cannot even house us. Your pleas of poverty and lack of funds are falsified by the millions found for rebuilding banks, stores, and offices on the most valuable sites in London; by the millions found annually for battleships and armies; by the constant oversubscription of gilt-edged loans. And we are sick of it. We are tired at playing Lazarus at the feast we have provided. We are—
But we said one feels TEMPTED to reply in those terms. One quickly realises that he and his masters would be as deeply impressed by our oratorical flourishes as we are by theirs. We remember that “the rich will do anything for the poor, except get off their backs.” That is our sole concern—to get the rich off our backs. Speeches have their uses, but they will not do that. It is action that counts, and when’ the workers decide to act intelligently and with knowledge they will not be fobbed off with speeches. Prosperity for the rich and poverty for the poor are inseparable. The one is the consequence of the other. To talk of a truce in such circumstances is to imply that we enjoy being robbed. There can be no truce between those who live by robbery, and their victims. The only concession one can make is to recognise that the division of society into two warring classes does not proceed from human wickedness or simple perversity. But it has proceeded from traceable historic causes, and having discovered its laws of growth, we can now guide the progress of society into a more harmonious form, wherein classes shall cease to exist, and class-war have no place. This is the mission of the working class, and by joining the Socialist Party each can take a part in inaugurating the new human society.
W. T. Hopley