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Art. 9.-WHAT LABOUR WANTS.
1. What We Want and Why. By Six Authors. Collins,
1922. 2. Post-Industrialism. By Arthur J. Penty. Allen &
Unwin, 1921. 3. Socialisation in Theory and Practice. By Heinrich
Ströbel. King, 1922. 4. England To-day. By Geo. A. Greenwood. Allen &
Unwin, 1922. EVER since we laid down our arms against the Central Empires, nearly four years ago, we have been somewhat monotonously exhorted by Parliament and the Press, and from countless pulpits and platforms, to win the Peace' -a headline only, devoid of inspiration-in the same spirit in which we were said to have won the Warby the sublimation of all sectional interests in a united national effort. The advice is cheap, and is generally tendered by people who deal in loose but large-scale heroics, and seem to imagine that to do were as easy as to know what to do.' As the inner records of 1914-18 leap to light it becomes apparent that the sublimation' theory did not work any too smoothly even in the years of war. It may, no doubt, be flattering to our collective vanity to be impressed by the notion that, during that period of struggle, we all, as Mr Lloyd George says,
pulled together as one man.' But a notion of this kind can only be indulged with complacency when the national adventure engaged in has turned out a success. It would have been equally true, or untrue, if the adventure had failed; and it was, beyond all question, quite as true in Germany where it did fail. But whereas the British people are urged to model their post-War ideals on that camaraderie of class and class which, we are told, carried them through to victory, the bitterness of defeat among our former enemies not unnaturally resulted for a long time in much searching of heart as to who or what was really responsible for losing the War. Every group—the military Higher Command, the politicians, the profiteers, the Trade Unions-was blamed; and similar recriminations would certainly have taken place here had it been our fate to mourn the loss of an Empire, instead of being able to stand unbroken before the world.
Such recriminations would have been as futile then as they are unnecessary now. But it is worth remembering, when the spirit of service' which won the war' is so frequently invoked, that our sectional antagonisms, on the industrial plane, at least—were only bought off at a tremendous cost to the State, and that the temporary truce between Capital and Labour was solely due to the fact that they had a bigger enemy to fight. The motives which governed that short-lived co-operation are, by the very nature of things, not the motives which will bring about the peace of nations and the coalescence of classes. The analogy between the corporate spirit which animated the soldiers, and that which, it is contended, should prevail among the ranks of industry, as at present organised, is even falser in its implications.
In the course of an address given to the British Legion a little while ago Earl Haig deplored the fact that the
brotherhood of the trenches' had not been maintained and extended to the field of work at home. It was a worthy, but, nevertheless, a vain regret. For there is no similarity whatever between the situation in which officers and men faced a common peril, and that in which masters and men engage to share the proceeds of industry. A military altruist may like to think that all ranks in the army of production ought to recognise that their interests are the same, and to act accordingly; but the fact remains that they do not. Certainly the principles on which industry is conducted resemble far too closely the principles of warfare; rightly or wrongly, the workmen are beginning to feel that the combat is less and less one between country and country, or even capitalist and capitalist, and more and more between class and class. The brotherhood of the trenches' returned home to take up their old positions in this warfare on opposite sides. Nothing short of a vast change in economic relationships -nay, a change in the very objective of industry itselfcould have made it otherwise. Almost as well might Earl Haig have complained that many Englishmen and Germans who were friendly with each other before the War failed to maintain that friendship when they met in France and Flanders! Though it may be naïve to expect that the Capital v. Labour feud can be brought to an early end on a mere note of good will,' it becomes increasingly
urgent to discover and, if possible, remove the obstacles which stand in the way of a fuller measure of industrial fraternity than we now enjoy.
What, then, does Labour want? Is it definitely aiming at setting up an entirely new framework of society by revolutionary means, or is it bent only on such economic readjustments as will ensure for it a security of livelihood, together with a more equitable portion of the fruits of industry? Can its ideals, as announced by its responsible leaders, be realised without a violent upheaval which would more deeply embitter our social relationships?
The chief difficulty in studying a question of this kind lies in the fact that the leaders themselves are in conflict over many essential points. And by this we do not mean that one stresses this item in the programme, and another that. They are at issue over fundamentals. Some, of course, do not worry overmuch about fundamentals at all. They voice the demands of their class for better conditions without showing any conspicuous interest in economic theories or in the technique of industrial organisation. Others, who may never have been near a workshop in their lives, are prolific of 'policies' for Labour, and may claim without fear of contradiction that they can always make two theories grow where only one grew before. But this sort of intensive culture has never greatly appealed to the average English working man-whatever may be said for the Scots and the Welsh. It is pretty certain that the less ‘intellectual' and doctrinaire among the Labour spokesmen have the larger following. The trouble with these, however, is that their ideas about what ought to constitute the Labour objective, and what the Labour Party when returned to power should begin to do, are often either too vague and general, or too greatly influenced by the needs of one particular section, to be of much service as a contribution to Labour philosophy as a whole. We know where we are with such theorists as Mr G. D. H. Cole and Mr Sidney Webb, Mr J. A. Hobson and Mr C. H. Douglas; but we feel that many of the Trade Union presidents and secretaries, who would surely have a strong footing in the first Labour Government, do not quite know where they are themselves.
Take, for instance, the various aspects in which the problem is presented in a symposium, published during the summer, entitled • What We Want and Why.' This book is the product of six writers on Labour topics, each of whom sets out a series of working-class demands which for the most part, it must be confessed, however “just' or 'expedient' they may be, make very barren reading. The whole contents of this volume, in fact, appear to have been strung together and thrown on the market, more because the subject of Labour's ideals' is 'up' than because the authors had anything fresh to impart. A good deal of it is atrociously written, and all of it (with the exception of a chapter by Mr Noah Ablett on the life of the miner) is deadly dull. The value of these essays is that they do, nevertheless, contrive to present the Trade Union point of view in the big key industries, although here and there—notably in the case of Mr Tom Mann, the General Secretary of the Engineering Unionthe writers exhibit a greater fondness for the methods of Communism than has hitherto been shown by the workers for whom they appeal. This, however, certainly cannot be said for Mr J. H. Thomas, M.P., who elsewhere has avowed himself as 'not a Socialist,' and in What We Want and Why' is concerned exclusively with stating the arguments for railway nationalisation.
The very first sentences in Mr Thomas's contribution betray an almost pathetic faith in the virtues of mere .co-ordination' and 'efficiency' for satisfying the aspirations of Labour on the railways. .There is nothing,' he remarks, that does not depend upon transport facilities,' and 'I think I can honestly say that the primary thing we want is a thoroughly efficient railway service.' Nobody will dispute that statement (except perhaps the people interested in other forms of locomotion); but somehow this ideal' strikes rather dully on the ear, and, in any case, we are in no danger of having a railway stoppage for such a mechanical object. Mr Thomas goes on to enumerate the various sources of waste in the management of our railways, and to point out how, by a root-and-branch scheme of linking-up, and a drastic reduction of Boards of Management, they could be organised far more cheaply and conveniently, both for the passenger and the trader. Naturally he is