Letters: The Fall of Keir Hardie
Sir, I have stood by Hardie through the years. I have held him to be a man apart from the motley group of members and fakers of capitalism, to whom he has given political existence, and that he calls his Labour Party. I at one time allowed him to nominate me for membership of the National Branch, deciding that if his party was good enough for Hardie it should be good enough for me, and that if Hardie could do something with such elements I might. So I allowed myself to become a member of the Independent Labour Party, and have remained one up to within a week. I have hit out against the policy and tactics of the Party whenever I have occupied its platform, but I retained my membership simply because of my reverence for Hardie. Again and again I have contended with S.D.F. men: “Hardie is something bigger than these reform fellows. He means more than reform. He is a revolutionist—a kind of eagle among carrion crows.” But since last week I admit myself beaten. I have been sold. Most of the workers are sold many times. You knock down their idol and they instantly get another. I have not been sold many times, but I admit I have been once—in Hardie.
Edward VII by the grace of the god Capital, and, in obedience to its will, that he might secure for it some sort of a basis to contract a further loan with Russia, was deputed to go and kow-tow with the bloody Czar.
Hardie had an opportunity to bring home to the House of Commons the horrors of Russia, and to fix them upon the Czar, backed by his “black hundred.”
And Hardie got up his case well. Oh, yes, the facts were all right and the rhetoric also. Not for one moment do I think that I could have marshalled the facts as well, or have painted the pictures as vividly. He gave them the thousands that have rotted in Russian prisons during the last two years; he gave them the thousands that have been butchered by the emissaries of the “black hundred.” And he brought the whole of the atrocities hone to the Czar telling the “House” how the Czar had thanked the “black hundred” for murdering wholesale the people of Russia, under the cry that they were Jews, and adorning himself and his child with the badge of their order as a token of his appreciation of their services to Russia. Then Hardie was called upon by the Deputy-Speaker to withdraw.
Well, with such a case, with such an array of facts, themselves completely pointing the charge, one would have thought that the mere human instrument, called upon to belie himself and deny them would have refused with quiet scorn, and have surrendered himself to any consequences.
But Hardie did not do this. He lost touch with the murdered in Russia, and the thousands groaning in its prisons. He commenced melodramatic word-play with the politician, Emmett. He ducked and edged and quibbled, and allowed horrible facts to be smothered in a play of words between himself and the Deputy-Speaker. And then when the latter insisted that the charge be withdrawn, Hardie withdrew the charge so far as it referred to the Czar and his Government.
Like Dan ‘Connell, like Fergus O’Connor, like John Burns and a host of others—spouters, orators, fine rhetoricians, but not fighters, not revolutionists—so Hardie, when an opportunity arrived demanding that he should translate his speech into a bit of action, failed.
So Hardie has gone with the rest of them. The Socialist Movement has learnt that it must never trust him to use any great opportunity. Some of the papers had it that after “Artful Dodger” Asquith decided that he had bottled Hardie, he turned his face to his followers with a sardonic smile which said, “How’s that for diplomacy?”
But had Asquith’s man meant business, he might have retrieved his position even here, and the Whig lawyer might have had another unpleasant illustration of the fact that he who laughs last laughs best.
Had Hardie meant business, he might have proceeded with his speech, after the passage-at-arms with the Deputy-Speaker, he might have filled the ears of the “House” with the horrors of Russia; he might have piled fact upon fact proving what he had said, and then concluded: “the Russian Government is an autocracy, the Czar is a despot, and with these facts before me I say that the monstrous activities that I have laid before the “House” are the direct expression of the will of the Czar and his infamous Councillors, that he alone is responsible, being autocrat and despot, and I refuse to withdraw the charge.” Then “Artful Dodger” Asquith would have smiled quite another smile.
But Hardie didn’t mean business—and why? Was it his Parliamentary screw; or fear of not getting a seat in another Parliament, or fear of disrupting further that strange motley he calls the Labour Party, or what? It matters not. Once more some little political mote got into the popular leader’s eye and blurred his vision as to the great matter for which he was pleading.
Then there was Grayson. He tells the people he wanted to say something. Why didn’t he say it? Some of the papers say he was upon his feet before Henderson. Some of them say that the Deputy-Speaker called Grayson. Anyway, the pair got the floor pretty much together. Why did not Grayson proceed without it in the least recognising the existence of the man who had a compact with the Liberals to shut up the debate at a given time, or of it became in any way dangerous? Grayson may tell the mob outside, who have never been into the House of Commons, that he was prevented, but this will not go down with any man who has been into the Commons, and who knows that it requires a combination of circumstances rather more forceful than the ones of this debate to prevent a man in dead earnest from having his say in a hole like the House of Commons.
Anyhow, the debate upon the King’s visit to Russia has been fruitful of much good to the English workers. It has smashed some more idols for some of us. It has shown us that the Labour Party is not independent at all, that it does make alliances with the Liberal Party to shut up debates when they become over verile. All this is education.
If the English Government would only try Russian methods on our spouters ever so little it would still further educate. But British capitalists are too wise for this. You mustn’t frighten the popular idols of the people. Prospects of prison, disability, or banishment would turn most of these swans to geese. This would let people see too much. Disillusionment would set in fast. Therefore our Edward by the grace of Grab, going to one of Russia may say: “Behold I show thee a more excellent way to rule thy people. Do not murder and torture and crush in that old-fashioned way. Bamboozle thy people instead. Let them spout and have offices, and generally play the game, and soon you will find them so docile that, should any of their strong words annoy, you shall but threaten them with the least of these other things, so find them eager to withdraw. Tut, tut, man, the father who has a child well broken in doesn’t require to be always using the stick. He only requires now and then to show it, and this is more than sufficient.”
But they do tell me that in Russia the people have gone beyond this spouting and office-holding and political game-playing, and refuse to have it at any price. They say that they have sighted the slavery underneath it all, and prefer prison banishment and death to it. And if this is so I don’t know what Edward can say to Nicholas that will matter much. It seems to me that the same game played by both, with a people of this sort, must be nearly up. There are men and women in Russia of another sort than our Graysons and Hardies.