Page images

State control that existed in Great Britain and the United States. Nor has she, in the exultation of her marvellous growth of factory industry, neglected any measures deemed necessary for the improvement of agriculture by State aid in the direction of enhancement of production and cheapening of transport. Her landed proprietors have dominated the entire German national policy at home as abroad, and have taken care to fortify their position both economically and politically, not only by the application of science to agriculture but by protectionist duties and jerrymandered representation. The Social-Democratic Party, the largest single political party in Germany, played into the hands of this powerful reactionary element by their acceptance of the PanGerman Chauvinist cry of Deutschland über Alles,' and their shameful betrayal of their principles and pledges at the beginning of the campaign of aggression and atrocity started by the Central Powers. During the war, administrative collectivism has inevitably advanced even beyond the position it held before. But Germany's political forms, like our own, are many years behind her social and economic development; moreover, they are handled as to hinder all democratisation, however much they may facilitate the increase of State-administered Collectivism. Those who know Germany best may well doubt whether the Fatherland will be able to carry through the coming reorganisation, whatever it may be, without a desperate internal struggle. So long as the war lasts and the German armies are fighting on foreign territory there will be no possibility of revolution at home. But, when the Teutonic hosts are manifestly beaten, a very different spirit will be awakened against the caste which has inflicted such bootless ruin upon Central Europe. Bankruptcy and armed revolt will precede the inevitable political change, whatever form the economic conditions may take.

In that respect, defeated Germany will be at a great disadvantage compared with victorious though exhausted France. French political forms are far ahead of the French economic status. The real France is still rural France. Political France is democratic to a point that no country with so large an agricultural population has ever yet attained. France, therefore, which led the way

in 1789, will be the European country best placed for sober reconstruction in 1919. Her national position and confidence will be restored; her idealism, clarified, it may be, by the loss of her Russian investments, will fire her enthusiasm without shaking her judgment.

Great Britain stands in a more difficult yet more interesting and hopeful position than any European nation. The remarkable extension of State power in the course of the war, already referred to, has rendered the thorough-going revolution from capitalism to Cooperative Communism economically and socially far more easy than it would have been before. The economic forms are, in fact, ready for the change; only capable intelligence is needed to apply them. What Karl Marx truly said to me five-and-thirty years ago is, on this account, doubly true to-day. 'England is the one country in Europe where a peaceful revolution is possible; but,' he added, 'history does not tell us so.' If only our dominant class had been wise enough to make ready by a thorough-going reform of our Constitution in a democratic sense, while at the same time removing by sound education the ignorance of the mass of our people, the saving clause of Marx's forecast might have been expunged. As it is, our political institutions are at least three generations behind our industrial development.

Universal Adult Suffrage, Proportional Representation, The Initiative and Referendum, one effective National Assembly of moderate dimensions, a series of popularly elected Administrative Committees such organisation of democracy is still, according to our politicians, outside the domain of practical politics. Instead of this we have a vast mass of wasteful and incompetent bureaucratic departments piled on the top of one another, whose main object is, under an appearance of grudging Collectivism, to perpetuate the parasitic methods which must spell national ruin, come what may. Even now, with the millions of trained men who will return from the front to demand their share in the more generous national life which should be the outcome of their efforts, our ruling classes are thinking solely of their own pockets and their own future.

Here is danger, and danger of a very serious nature. Never before in our long history has the entire manhood

of this nation been liable to military service. Never before in any country have millions of trained soldiers, after being withdrawn from national industry, been returned to the old conditions. Never, certainly, has such a huge financial burden been laid upon the people as that which the workers of Great Britain, who have done most of the fighting and the producing during the war, will have to shoulder after the peace, if the existing financial organisation is maintained. Never at any period were legitimate causes of discontent more rife among our population at home, or likely to be more active among the men who return from abroad. Never was the outlook more unpromising for food prices, when all nations will be competing on the world-markets for any surplus of necessaries, and so little preparation has been made to increase production at home.

In such circumstances it is imperative that the old bourgeois notions of political economy should be relentlessly scrapped, as Americans and Germans scrap inferior machinery. This has been done during the war; it will be necessary on a much larger scale and as part of a complete policy during the peace. No greater or more inspiring opportunity has been offered us, in all our long and stirring history, of leading mankind in peaceful and orderly fashion towards the attainment of the Cooperative Commonwealth.



1. Reconstruction Committee. Sub-Committee on Relations between Employers and Employed: Interim Report on Joint Standing Industrial Councils. [Cd 8606.] Wyman, 1916.

2. Memorandum on the Industrial Situation After the War: The Garton Foundation. Harrison, 1916.

3. Labour and the New Social Order. A Report on Reconstruction. The Labour Party, London, Jan. 1918. 4. Self-Government in Industry. By G. D. H. Cole. Bell, 1917.

5. The Industrial Outlook.

Chatto & Windus, 1917.

Edited by H. S. Furniss.

6. Towards Industrial Freedom. By Edward Carpenter. Allen & Unwin, 1917.

7. The Trade of To-morrow.

Jarrolds, 1917.

By Ernest J. P. Benn.

8. Industrial Reconstruction. Edited by Huntley Carter. Fisher Unwin, 1917.


WHEN the word 'Reconstruction' first came into prominence as applied to the reorganisation of our national life, its meaning was, comparatively speaking, definite and limited. It implied, in the first place, the provision of adequate machinery for dealing with the problems of demobilisation; in the second place, a consideration of how the wastage and devastation caused by the war might best be made good; in the third place, due preparation for the intensified commercial competition which was foretold as the inevitable accompaniment of the return to peace. It was seen at once that all these questions were intimately connected with the general problem of industrial unrest, and that, unless some basis of cooperation between employers and employed could be discovered, there was little prospect of effecting the necessary readjustments, or of obtaining the desired standard of output. The improvement of industrial relations was accordingly indicated as a special object of study to the Reconstruction Committee; and this body appointed a sub-committee for the purpose, whose labours bore fruit in the Whitley Report.

So far the scope of reconstruction was rigidly limited to the industrial sphere, and its objects were almost exclusively economic; but it soon became evident that the exertions and sacrifices of the war had given birth to a new spirit of criticism and of aspiration, which was at work in every department of national activity. A mere desire to find the means of passing successfully through an economic crisis has been succeeded by a genuine, if at times a somewhat nebulous resolve to make the whole life of the nation more worthy of the blood which has been shed to preserve it, and to date from the conclusion of peace a new era in domestic as well as in international affairs. We have to deal, in fact, not with a mere question of 'reconstruction '-the adaptation of old machinery to new conditions-but with a renaissance, a quickening of the national spirit, concerned primarily not with machinery or systems, but with the lives and happiness of human beings.

It is in this spirit that every existing institution, social, political, educational, industrial, is being questioned; and almost every week sees some new project of reform put forward in the press or on the platform. Unfortunately it cannot be said that this criticism is always based on any well-considered standard, or that many of the programmes are inspired by a clear vision of the goal to be achieved. The conditions of modern life are not, in truth, favourable to deliberate action. The rapidity with which events succeed each other, the instantaneousness of communications, the triumphs of modern organisation and invention, have combined to produce an atmosphere in which stress is laid rather upon achievement than upon purpose. So long as the march of civilisation can be hastened, there are comparatively few who stop to consider the direction in which it is moving.

The danger of hasty and ill-considered action is at least not lessened by the spread of democracy in its present form. It is the weakness of democracies-especially of democracies in which education is at the same time universal and defective-to be impatient. And this impatience is very apt to take the form of demanding that something must be done,' without much consideration of what is possible or desirable, or of mistaking

« PreviousContinue »