The Quarrel ‘Twixt Mr. A. And Mr. B.
“They were standing under a tree, each with an arm round the other’s neck, and Alice knew which was which in a moment, because one of them had ‘Dum’ embroidered on his collar, and the other ‘Dee.’ ‘I suppose they’ve each got ‘Tweedle’ round at the back of the collar,’ she said to herself. . . .
“Of course you agree to have a battle?’ Tweedledum said in a calmer tone.
“ ‘I suppose so,’ the other sulkily replied.’’
At the present juncture, now that the nerve-shattering crisis has at last arrived, it may be as well to think for awhile in what way working-class interests will be affected by the result of the present electoral struggle. The gauntlet has been thrown down by Mr. A. on behalf of his party, and has been eagerly taken up by the astute Mr. B. The leaders and their immediate followers are endeavouring to arouse the rank and file to a sense of the solemnity of the occasion. We are in the throes of a life or death conflict, the like of which has not been known for centuries. So we are told, at least. Yet, strange as it may seem, some few of us appear to care very little about this momentous issue. Whisperings have even emanated from certain sceptical quarters that the battle is not altogether genuine, that the Champion of Nonconformity and the Knight of Philosophic Doubt are not such implacable enemies as they pretend.
Perhaps, it all becomes a question of the point of view. The human race, as a whole, has developed, in a more or less perfect degree, the sense of sight. But very few of its members dare face, clear-eyed, the naked truth. Most men, fearful of blindness, and therefore, maybe, wise in their generation, prefer to examine all things through the blurred and smoky glasses of ignorance and prejudice. If the writer were a Liberal or Tory democrat, or, worse still, if he were a member of the I.L.P., he might imagine that the result of the 1910 General Election would change, for the better or worse, his present unenviable position in society.
But not belonging to either of the hybrid political types above mentioned, be entirely fails to see how the workers as a class ever have been, or ever can be, affected by the results of the various struggles for political supremacy which take place periodically between certain sections of the capitalist class. Liberals, Tories and Labour men are alike thundering from their platforms their party cries. “Down with the House of Lords!’’ “Tariff Reform forever!’’ “Long live the Budget! ” and so on. Perhaps some of these “leaders of the people” will give us a little information as to whether, for example, the abolition of the House of Lords will change those huddled backed wrecks of humanity, to be seen any night reposing on the Embankment seats, back into men and women; or whether Tariff Reform will stamp out anthrax from among the Bradford wool-combers; or whether even such a munificient measure as “the People’s Budget” will enable the people to live as human beings should live rather than to rot and seethe in the hell of modern industrialism.
All over the country at the present moment the workers are listening, open-mouthed and credulous, to the specious promises of Mr. A. and Mr. B. and their lieutenants. Mr. A. is telling us in his usual lawyer like phraseology, that steps must he taken to see that never again shall the House of Commons be subjected to the indignities to which it has been forced to submit; while the metaphysical Mr. B. is explaining how Tariff Reform is not Protection, but only an attenuated form of Free Trade. In a week or two we members of the working-class will be registering our votes for one or other of our respective candidates. We shall make our choice for many and varied reasons. One of us will vote in a certain way because the candidate has a pretty wife; another because “well, he might do something or other for us if we give the chap another chance.” We shall vote for any and every reason except for the one reason that really matters. What a tragic farce it all is!
The working-class voters of the country hold in their hands the absolute power to free themselves from the misery and poverty in which they live and by which they are surrounded. And yet, time after time, election after election, they follow the political will-o’-the-wisps dancing before their eyes, to find themselves at the end sinking deeper in the slough of Capitalism, almost without hope of ever altering their condition.
There may be certain critical apologists for Parliamentary procedure, who, on reading the above, will insist that we Socialists have no business to interfere with the freedom of the working class to vote. They will complain, perhaps, that we only listen to Liberal and Tory politicians in order to jeer at them, and that while we are quite at liberty to abstain from voting for any but Socialist candidates, we have no right to attempt to persuade others to do likewise. Well, business or no business, right or no right, we shall continue our tactics, we shall advise our fellow-workers to vote for no one but a Socialist. It is our class—the working class— that in every case puts these charlatans, these sham knights of a grail they have defiled, into political power.
That is the irony and the pity of it. Whether—by means of the working-class vote, be it remembered—the Liberals or the Tories are returned as a body, the conditions under which the workers exist will not be improved one whit. Unemployment, misery, poverty, intellectual and bodily degradation, will increase year by year whether Mr. A. or. Mr. B. is the titular leader of the House of Commons. Not until the workers understand their own position in society and in Nature will there be any chance of an improvement in their condition. Only when this knowledge dawns upon them, when, as a consequence, they join themselves together into a conscious political force to seize political power, in order to use that power in their own interests, will they be enabled, as a result of so doing, to stand erect, free men and free women, reaping and garnering for themselves the world-wide harvest of their mental and physical labour.
F. J. Webb