Social Unrest in Great Britain


IT would be a mistake to attribute entirely to the war the great waves of Social Unrest which to-day are sweeping over Great Britain. It is true that this gigantic catastrophe has caused a larger upheaval in society, from base to summit, than any European event since the passing of the Middle Ages. But any close observer of events below the glittering surface of pre-war life could discern a movement and fermentation destined, sooner or later, to produceaclion. The appearances of this movement in the upper world were sporadic and uncertain, and always excited, in the minds of the observers, unaffected surprise. It was little augmented by abstract ideas. It possessed no great leaders. It worked toward no definitely desired end. It was as far asunder as the poles from the changes, for example, of the French Revolution — the effect of the teaching of Rousseau upon a bankrupt nation, and the vision, revealed to a wretched peasantry, of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.

The British labor disturbances before the war had no Rousseau. The idea and ideals of Socialism attracted but few adherents. The Independent Labor Party, which formed the intellectual basis of this doctrine, numbered but a few thousand members in a population of over forty millions. The political ‘Labor Party,’ in successive elections, returned an almost negligible minority of members to the House of Commons. Great communities of artisans like those of East London and Manchester, and the whole of industrial Scotland, voted almost solidly Liberal. Other great communities of artisans, like those of Liverpool and the district round Birmingham, voted almost solidly Conservative. Where Labor triumphed, as in certain mining districts, the representative was of a totally different type from that of the European ‘intellectual’ Socialist Deputy. He was generally a comfortable, substantial middle-aged person, who had spent many years as a tradeunion secretary, settling small disputes in his trade, collecting subscriptions, and preaching on Sunday afternoon at the local Primitive Methodist or Baptist chapel. In Parliament he settled down contentedly in his corner, wondering what it all meant, but well satisfied that he had got there, and occasionally interfering in debate when discussions arose on the mine or factory legislation of which he had knowledge. Public controversy raged about Home Rule for Ireland, the veto of the House of Lords, and Mr. Lloyd George’s attack on the British land system. None of these challenged, or even affected, the fundamental basis of the social order.

There were, however, underground indications that this condition of tranquillity was destined not long to endure. Curiously enough, revolt was arising, not so much on account of the poverty as on account of the wealth of Great Britain. It arose, not from the poorest, but from the best-paid elements of the labor world. In the first fourteen years of this century Great Britain was getting rich at a rate without any previous parallel. Her foreign trade was expanding by leaps and bounds. She was drawing ‘tribute’ from all the world on the goods pouring into all her harbors in payment for her investments abroad. The gold mines of South Africa, the practical monopoly of trade in India and the Far East, a considerable portion of the wealth of developing America, were sending up her standard of life to a degree which few would have prophesied in the previous century. That increasing standard of wealth was being revealed in the wildest extravagances of the few ‘at the top.’ And it was the extravagances of the few which were exciting discontent in the minds of the many. They contrasted this pursuit of feverish enjoyment with their own limited and uncertain lot: with long hours of toil at no satisfying wage; with unemployment always confronting them as a possibility; and an end with no visible progress in comfort and security. While a few thousand persons divided between them some hundreds of millions of the national income, more than ninety-five per cent of population died possessed of property so trivial in amount as not to be worth the cost of valuing for estate-duty taxation.

It was not oppression, or academic Socialism, or a gospel of hate which started the English Social Revolution. It was the high-power motor-car, the great country-house, feasting and pleasure-seeking, the new hotels and merchants’ palaces, the obvious contrast between the ‘monstrous inequalities of fortune.’ Every attempt to provide, out of this squandered wealth, the money for some mitigation of the lot of the poorest, was fiercely fought by those who possessed the land, the means of production, and the foreign ‘tribute.’ And the few millions of pounds exacted for old-age pensions or national insurance were the cause of greater controversies in time of peace than all the thousands of millions so lavishly scattered in time of war.

It was the comfortable and educated artisan to whom this contrast first appealed. The coal-miner, the railwayworker, the engineer, formed the flower of the British working-classes. They were, for the most part, an intelligent, well-paid body of men, who led not intolerable lives in large industrial communities. They were as far as the poles from any revolutionary ideals. Below them, in the silent and patient kingdoms of unskilled labor, scarcely a complaint emerged. The great and successful strike of the London Docks in 1886, led by Mr. John Burns for the ‘docker’s tanner’ of sixpence an hour seemed to have exhausted their energies. In the cities they festered and bred in some of the most wretched slum areas of the world. In the rural districts they were represented by a landless peasantry, receiving in wages actually less than the minimum standard for bare necessities of life, as calculated by economists and food experts.

This ‘unrest’ found expression in a series of strikes among the skilled workers. Each strike was for certain specific improvements in the condition of the particular trade affected. And each strike was concluded by negotiations which (as is the custom in British institutions) ended in a compromise. There was a strike on the railways in 1908 and again in 1911; a strike at the docks in 1911 and again in 1912; a strike of the coal-miners in 1912. Some of these were ‘settled ’ by negotiations between employer and employed, carried on by the government acting as friendly broker; some by definite Parliamentary action, as by the passage of the act giving the coal-miners a definite minimum wage. When the men had obtained something like compliance with the actual demands they had put forth, they returned cheerfully to work; and society, once more breathing freely, returned to its business and its pleasures. Cracks had been soldered up and holes repaired in the social edifice. Few realized that events were impending which might shake that whole social edifice into ruins. There were signs, however, just before the war, of renewed preparations, with better organization, of the ‘have-nots’ against the ‘haves.’ More especially, approaches toward united action by the members of the three ‘key’ industries of the country — miners, railway-men, dock and transport workers — were hardening into a ‘triple alliance’ which would be able, if firm in its decision to abandon work, to hold the whole community to ransom, and impose upon government and Parliament any demand it chose.


Upon this rather perplexed and divided attitude of Labor fell the sudden shock of the war. The history of Labor during the four years of conflict is the history of a passage from high hopes and keen patriotic emotion at the beginning, to one at the end of disillusionment, class-hatred, and bitter distrust of the government. It is this process of change which has been largely responsible for the seeming declaration of industrial warfare before the ink of the signatures to the Armistice was dry. In part, this change has been due to actual events, independent of man’s volition and but dimly understood even by those who suffered or benefited by them. In part, it has been due to government policy rising inevitably from the pressure of the war situation. And in part, it has been due to mistakes and mishandling of Labor by the government in a situation which required from day to day extraordinary tact and delicacy of management, and a frank honesty of dealing not always present. Promises made under certain circumstances were freely broken under altered circumstances. Instead of pleading that the circumstances had altered, it was often found more convenient to affirm that the promises were never given, or that tacit understandings did not possess the binding force of written agreements. The workmen were often scolded or bullied into submission, and whenever they revolted were accused of ‘ playing the enemy’s game,’ or refusing aid to, and so compassing the death of, our soldiers fighting abroad. By such means strikes were broken, and the workers, bowing to the force of public opinion, of the newspapers and the politicians, were driven back to work. But they returned to work with a sullen discontent, and a determination that, as soon as the war was over, they would try issue with a government and governing class which had thus tricked them by the exercise of unfair advantage and argument.

A short outline of this progress is necessary, in order that the position at the end may be understood. At the beginning, the war united all classes, here as abroad. International Socialists in Germany became Germans; Pacifist Internationalists in Paris became fighting Frenchmen. In Great Britain organized Labor universally responded to the call for recruits, and immense numbers of the miners and railway-men and skilled engineers fought their way into the recruiting stations. Quite early, indeed, the government had to prohibit further depletion of the trades necessary for munitioning and supply. The appeal for overtime work in the government and private shipping yards, and, indeed, wherever needed, met with immediate response, and numbers of men threw into their work such feverish energy as to wear out the bodily machine and cause unnatural nervous irritation. In August, 1914, the War Emergency Workers’ Committee was formed; and a little later, an industrial truce was declared.

But during the autumn two forces began to develop, which were soon to dominate the whole political situation. The one was the rise in the price of food, which in six months had increased nearly twenty-five per cent, and continued to increase until the end. The other was the evidence of the necessity of an enormous increase in output, especially in munitions, just at the time when industries had been in part depleted by the removal of some of the best of the workers by voluntary enlistment in the army. Such output could be secured only by the introduction of unskilled and partially skilled men using automatic machinery, by the introduction of women into trades hitherto denied to them, by the abandonment of the long-apprenticeship system, and a free application of the labor of boys and young persons. All these changes involved the abandonment of trade-union rules and customs which had been imposed on the employers in the struggle of half a century. The patriotism of the workers, however, was still strong. The great prestige of Lord Kitchener was introduced, to influence, by personal appeal, the rank and file of Labor. And early in 1915, after prolonged negotiation, the unions concerned agreed to waive during the war all their previous limitations, on condition that, after the war was over, their rules and customs should be restored to them by statute.

Meanwhile, however, the great employers, and especially the great munition firms, were being pressed, by the bitter necessity of the army fighting for its existence in Flanders and Gallipoli, to fulfill contracts they had hastily assumed at the outbreak of hostilities. They had made the mistake common to all such times of crisis. Each had entered into gigantic contracts which could not be fulfilled by all of them for lack of raw material; and they were competing, against each other and against the government, for the same limited supply of raw material. They laid the blame largely on the workmen; and they succeeded in persuading both the government and the military chiefs that the workmen were not doing their best. In the spring of 1915 Mr. Lloyd George, impatient of delay in delivery, accused the workmen of slackness and drunkenness, and announced to the shipbuilding employees that Drink was a more dangerous enemy than Germany or Austria. These accusations were fiercely resented by men, many of whom were indeed drinking to excess, but who were also laboring far beyond any normal or possible standard. And from that time the government commenced to drift away from the mass of the artisan leaders.

In addition to this there began to be visible the sinister figure of the profiteer. In all the big centres, and especially in those concerns working on government contracts, men of fortune were found to have immensely increased their fortunes in time of national calamity; and in every town cases were notorious in which men of no property and no particular talent or distinction, taking advantage of the national need, had suddenlyacquired enormous wealth. The workmen saw themselves laboring incredibly for the benefit of private exploiters, as much as for the nation. They saw the government apparently on the side of these exploiters, numbers of whom were providing ‘voluntary* services in government war departments at the same time that the firms and companies in which they were interested fattened on government contracts or private adventures. And in face of this they saw themselves held up to obloquy for drunkenness and deliberate limitation of output. And all the while, they saw prices, directed by some inexplicable force, rising steadily against them and eating away at their standards of life. At this time was kindled that discontent which smouldered, with occasional sparks, during the years of warfare, and at the end immediately burst into flame.


In July, 1916, the Munitions Act was passed, which allowed the government, under certain conditions, to ‘ proclaim’ strikes as illegal and to fine or imprison the strikers. A few days afterward a miners’ dispute came to a head in South Wales. A strike was ‘proclaimed ’ by the government. The proclamation was defied by hundreds of thousands of miners, who immediately ‘down-tooled.’ The government was impotent against such a demonstration. Mr. Lloyd George went down to Cardiff and gave the strikers everything that they had previously been refused. The lesson of combined threats and weaknesses was not lost upon the more defiant of the men’s leaders.

In September of the same year, Mr. Lloyd George suddenly appeared at the Trade-Union Congress, and roundly accused the workers — by the use of illustrative examples — of scamping their work and not doing their best to maintain output. Unfortunately, he had been badly briefed, and his illustrative examples, on examination, completely broke down. But the detailed reply of the Union leaders found few readers, and the friction was increased. That friction came to a head in the early winter, especially in the vast industrial region around Glasgow and on the Clyde, where a special and advanced form of revolutionary Socialism was being preached as a crusade by an ardent band of young Scottish ‘intellectual ’ workers. With his usual courage, Mr. Lloyd George himself went down to Glasgow to address the men on Christmas Day. But his reception was exceedingly unfavorable. Temper rose on both sides. The Socialist newspaper which gave a verbatim report of his speech and its reception was immediately suppressed, and the leaders of the movement were arrested and deported. A violent strike began, which lasted many weeks but was ultimately defeated.

Meanwhile, there were continual bickerings about the extension of ‘dilution’ in the skilled trades, accompanied by resentment of the older skilled workers at seeing the new ‘dilutees ’ receiving as much or more wages than themselves after a training of as many weeks as they had spent years in the trade. Continual efforts were also made in different trades by war ‘ bonuses,’ to buy off discontent arising from the cost of living. And a heavy home censorship — which included suppression of news in the public press, the interception of private correspondence, and the introduction of police spies — was utilized to prevent concerted industrial action.

A third cause of disagreement, in addition to the questions of food-prices and dilution, arose over the operations of conscription. The Trade-Union Congress had repudiated conscription with almost fierce unanimity. Some of the Labor leaders, such as Mr. J. H. Thomas, the secretary of the railway-men, threatened the House of Commons that the enforcement of conscription in the labor world would mean revolution. Yet when actually put into operation, not a sound of resistance was heard. This was due partially no doubt to the fact that the great munitioning industries were largely left alone, the ‘combing-out’ being applied to small shopkeepers, clerks, agricultural laborers, and miscellaneous trades.

In the autumn of 1916, a system of trade-card exemptions was established, whereby the officials of the Unions themselves ’badged’ those who should stay and those who should go. But less than six months afterward, in face of the pressing claims of the army, this trade-card system was repudiated by the government in favor of a protectedoccupations scheme. Thereupon began one of the most curious strikes in history. Hundreds of thousands of men ceased work in all the great engineering centres. The government was afraid to ‘proclaim’ the strike. It forbade the newspapers to mention the fact that the strike existed. It intercepted communications between city and city. It arrested and imprisoned the leaders. The workers replied by establishing their own system of communication, — fast motor-bicyclists carrying dispatches, — and by nominating a series of ‘relay’ leaders, each prepared to accept responsibility as soon as the previous batch had been swept away to jail. Feeling ran high for a time. A meeting at Leeds of the chief Labor leaders advocated soviets, — that is, workmen’s and soldiers’ councils, — and the more timid of the ‘bourgeoisie’ saw visions of the Russian Revolution being repeated in this country.

Fortunately, wiser counsels prevailed. The great tragedy of the 1917 campaign in France, with the British, amid enormous losses, hacking in vain against the unbroken German line, produced counsels of soberness. It was evident that this heroic army must have its munitions; and a more or less armed truce was arranged, which provided for the release without penalty of all the imprisoned leaders, including the Clyde ‘deportees’ of a year earlier. From this date until the signing of the Armistice, Government and Labor carried on a partially concealed contest. One or two attempted strikes were quashed by the threat of conscripting the strikers. It was evident that the authorities coidd always appeal against the skilled labor world to the mass of the population outside, and especially to the army. Skilled labor Avas earning enormous wages. Boys fresh from school could easily commence on thirty shillings or two pounds a week. Few persons outside took the trouble to examine its ‘grievances’; and all eyes were concentrated, with hope or anxiety, upon the last terrible stages of the struggle abroad.


Foiled in direct action, Labor turned toward the alternative — the capture of the machinery of government. Immense efforts were made by the political Labor Party hastily to improvise a political organization in all workingclass constituencies. Mr. Arthur Henderson, who had practically been turned out of the War Cabinet over the Stockholm Conference, took the lead in t he agilation for a Labor majority in the House of Commons. To many acute observers such a majority seemed inevitable. All these schemes were, however, brought to nought by the adroit action of the Prime Minister. A few hours after the Armistice, Mr. Lloyd George suddenly dissolved Parliament, and appealed to the country to support the government which had won the war. He had bought up the Tories by a promise of liberal gifts of office after the election, and by a system of ‘coupons’ by which supporters of the Coalition, Liberal or Tory, were recommended for reëlection against all Radical and Labor onslaughts.

The immediate effect of such strategy was a dazzling success. The country was numb, and the election was fought amid an unprecedented apathy. But those who did vote — and especially the women — voted for the government. A strong ‘patriotic’ and ‘khaki’ appeal was made by a united press. Such Labor leaders as remained in the government were withdrawn from it — some with great personal reluctance, for they were very happy there — by their unions and societies. Mr. Lloyd George retaliated by denouncing organized Labor as tainted with pacifism and Bolshevism, and by appealing against it for his ‘couponed’ Junkers and plutocrats. The result was a Labor débâcle. Of some 360 candidates whom they put into the field, nearly 300 went down in the fight. Practically only the miners succeeded in returning a solid bloc of miners’ representatives. The ‘intellectuals’ of the movement — Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, Mr. Snowden, Mr. Henderson, and the rest — were especially marked down for assassination. None survived.

The Liberal Party, or that predominant section of it. which had not bowed to the Coalition formula, or was for any reason distasteful to the Prime Minister or his wire-pullers, almost completely disappeared. A strange House of Commons, consisting of an overwhelming majority of Conservatives and no small proportion of plutocrats and profiteers, found itself installed in power, to confront the work of reconstruction after the war, and a Labor movement released from its shackles and pledges owing to that war’s conclusion.

The situation at the beginning of the year was, therefore, as follows. Organized Labor was ‘up against’ the government, and the classes which the government was supposed to represent. Its programme of social betterment had been held up for over four years. During those four years it considered that it had made considerable sacrifices for the welfare of the country, and that these sacrifices had been inadequately recognized. It had completely lost faith in the professions and promises of the government of the day. It had tried extra-Parliamentary action and it had failed. It had tried Parliamentary action, and had been destroyed in what it believed to be a ‘trick’ election. Confronting a government and Parliament which it could neither dislodge nor effectively criticize, it fell back on extraParliamentary action again.

Its leaders were faced by two difficulties. On the one hand, it was evident that they had no claim to speak for the mass of the working-people, or even for their own rank and file. For their candidates had been defeated by overwhelming majorities of workingclass votes. On the other hand, the movement of a minority of their own followers was driving them on from behind toward action of an almost revolutionary character. This minority of young, able, thinking skilled workers, mostly Scotch in origin, and with Glasgow as their Mecca and storm-centre, was infected by the ideals of social upheaval, largely communicated from the ‘success’ of the Russian Revolution, and the inauguration of the Social Democratic Republic in Germany. In and out of season they were preaching the class-war, the tyranny of the owners of capital, the infamy of the profiteer, the necessity and desirability of the complete overturning of the social order — the ineffectiveness of any social palliatives short of such a cataclysm. Through the influence of the ‘shop-steward’ movement they had largely captured the organization of many skilled trades. They despised all counsels of caution. They were ‘spoiling for a fight.’ They pressed the recognized leaders of Labor to the limits of possible demand; and when these leaders declined to advocate impracticable policies, they threw over these leaders themselves. And they preached their gospel to a population irritated by overwork, by the long strain of the war operating on tired nerves, by high prices, and, above all, by uncertainty as to their future position when the special work of making war-material should cease.

The outside public, therefore, knowing little of the forces operating in the world of Labor, and desirous of settling down comfortably after the prolonged tragedy of loss, suddenly found that at home the conclusion of the Armistice had brought, not peace, but a sword. Labor began to strike — in some cases blindly and almost without cause; in others, for the social revolution; in others, for specific individual gains in the way of better wages and shorter hours of work.

Of the first, a typical example was the strike of the electricians on the underground railways of London. For a week, these did not run. Hundreds of thousand of workers, men and women, found themselves compelled to plod three, five, or seven miles, from their homes in the suburbs to their work in the city; and this through unusually foul weather, and in the midst of a raging epidemic of influenza. And as they plodded to and fro, they cursed with heartfelt objurgations organized Labor and all its works. The government at first assumed an attitude of aloofness, refusing negotiations with men who had acted against their leaders. But when the strike-infection began to invade the great railways, it hastily abandoned this attitude and gave the men practically all they asked.

An example of the second sort was the strike at Glasgow and all the great shipbuilding and munitions workshops along the Clyde. The motive here was frankly revolutionary. The aims were not so much a programme of hours and wages as the general upsetting of society. Attempts were made, by missionaries and delegates scattered through similar centres, to produce a universal strike. The attempt failed. The leaders of the Union repudiated the strike. The government displayed firmness and exercised an unusual display of force. Soldiers, guns, tanks were poured into Glasgow, which presented the appearance of an occupied German town. There was rioting, and arrests of ringleaders, but no actual loss of life. The mass of the workmen got tired of striking for an abstract cause. The leaders saw that their action had been premature, and, with some good sense, declared the strike at an end.

Far more formidable, because based on definite demands which appealed to all, and directed by an inflexible will, was the action of the unions forming the ‘ Triple Alliance.’ They took up their programme as it had been left in the days before the war. They added to it special features to meet the grievances caused by the war’s disturbances. They presented it as an ultimatum. Briefly, this programme consisted of two parts. The one demanded more pay and shorter hours of labor. The other demanded nationalization of the industries concerned. The first appealed most strongly to the rank and file, especially to the miners who, from the first, led the movement. In the scattered colliery villages, it mattered but little to the worker in the mine whether the manager was responsible to a great colliery company or to a government department. What appealed to him was the hope of spending six hours a day, instead of eight, underground; and of having three shillings a day more to spend on enjoyment in this extra time he had obtained in the open air above.

The second appealed most strongly to the leaders, who were out for far more fundamental changes of society, of which the national ownership of mines and railways was only a beginning. With this double demand they approached the government. The heads of that government were mainly occupied with international questions and the difficulties confronting the Peace Conference. There was some unaccountable fumbling and delay. The menace of direct action was scarcely appreciated. Doubts were entertained of the power of the leaders to ‘deliver the goods.’ The weeks narrowed down to days and the days to hours. The country suddenly found itself confronting a catastrophe whose end no man could foresee. The triple strike would first have paralyzed all industry, and threatened starvation. The soldiers would have been called in to run the railways and to terrorize the miners. The result would have been rioting, bloodshed, and something nearly approaching civil war. Britain was never nearer internal collapse and destruction than in those fateful hours of the ‘ Ides of March ’ of 1919.

Just when all seemed lost, the government awoke to the magnitude of the danger, and Mr. Lloyd George intervened. A duel for position between the Prime Minister and Mr. Smillie, the miners’ leader, resulted in a first victory for the latter. To all the agility, fertility of resource, and efforts to find a verbal compromise which had served Mr. George so well in past conciliations, this most remarkable of British Labor leaders opposed an unyielding will, fortified by the knowledge that behind him wore the big battalions. The government was driven to appoint a public commission, under the chairmanship of a distinguished High-Court judge, and to give to the miners the right to nominate half the membership. It was forced to set an early timelimit on the work of that Commission, which was thus compelled to sit literally night and day. And it was practically forced to accept whatever conclusion the Commission might arrive at. The result was, of course, a foregone conclusion. On the specific question of work and wages, the miners won all along the line. Some small concessions were extorted from them, to save the face of the government. The advance in wages was a little less than the demand. The shortening of hours was delayed, although not denied. Simultaneously a settlement was effected with the railway and transport workers, mainly by throwing in large doles from the taxpayers’ money. The question of nationalization was referred to the future consideration of the Commission.

By April, the Triple Alliance had won all along the line. A plebiscite approved, by an overwhelming majority, the superb tactical ability of the leaders. Without the miseries of a strike, but purely by judicious use of the menace of it, Labor had achieved the greatest of all its victories. It had achieved it, however, at a double price — the subsidizing of these privileged and, for the most part, highly paid trades at the expense of the whole community, and the revelation of the impotence of the government and present Parliament in face of a demand, and of a threat to destroy that community, made by a definite class of workers, who thus showed themselves stronger than the elected representatives of the people.


The immediate danger seems to have passed. Society is breathing freely again, and hoping to hear nothing of social unrest. But the quiet is for a moment only, like the quiet at the centre of a cyclone. And no one who looks below the surface can anticipate any speedy or permanent return to tranquillity. As I write, the Coal Commission is examining the question of the nationalization of the coal mines. Economists whose opinions on the one side or the other have been known for decades are expressing their matured views on individualism or Socialism. The questions and arguments are entertaining. They have no more relation to the actual facts than would have the discussions of a similar commission concerning the truth or untruth of Christianity. One of the coal-miners’ representatives blurted out the truth when he bluntly asked if Mr. Harold Cox’s individualist philosophy ‘would stand against the determination of over a million men.’ The question will not be settled by the abstract determination of right and wrong, or efficiency against inefficiency. If over a million miners are resolved that the mines shall be nationalized, the mines will be nationalized, quite without regard to whether that process will develop or ruin the trade of Great Britain. The strength of Great Britain has passed into these great associations of wellpaid and well-organized artisans.

Against that strength the miscellaneous mob of junkers and plutocrats of whom the House of Commons is composed is impotent. Already by-elections have revealed that this Parliament has no moral authority, and that no supporter of the government possesses a safe seat. And the process of reaction against the gamble of last December is destined to gather in momentum as the difficulties of government increase. Commissions and committees meet almost daily, and produce a litter of reports on labor unrest and its remedies. Newspapers and publicists wildly protest that the interests of employers and employed are identical, and that each should love the other. There are promises of efforts toward appeasement of Labor’s demands, in the guaranty of a statutory minimum wage and a statutory eight-hour day. But. these efforts seem to be destined to the same fate as those organized by Ethelred the Unready to buy off the invasion of the Danes. A social programme, ambitious and well-boomed in the press, is to provide comfort and a career for the returned soldier and the dispossessed munition-worker. The country is gravely informed at intervals that so many millions of bricks have been ordered for the building of pleasant cottages for the working people; but no single cottage of the half million promised has yet arisen. There has been much agitation over promises to ‘settle’ soldiers on the land which they have preserved inviolate. But no such settlement on any satisfactory scale has been attempted; and the landed interests are demanding such inflated post-war prices for the monopoly in land which they possess, that it appears that the communiity will start the scheme with the certainty of enormous loss, or the settlers with the prospect of bankruptcy.

The financial chaos dominates the whole situation. There are over a million soldiers still undischarged, economically unproductive, whose upkeep is a heavy burden on industry. There are a million workers, not only unemployed, but drawing substantial government doles while they continue to be unemployed. And these doles can be paid only with borrowed money. The country is working, therefore, in a vicious circle. Trade refuses to march for lack of capital. In the absence of trade there is no work for the unemployed. The unemployed are therefore kept in idleness by expenditure of that very capital which might otherwise have been diverted into reëstablishing trade. So long as these doles continue, the raw edge of social discontent is blunted, and demands for social reconstruction lack the intensity of the clamant cries of hunger and cold. But the effect of prolonged idleness on smallish government weekly grants is itself a demoralizing one. And any attempts that may be made, say, next autumn, to cut out this cancer in some such forcible manner as that in which the state relief works were closed down in France in 1849 may produce a similar social revolution.

Europe after the war is a poor land. It is in the condition of a family whose house has been burned over its head, and which is now groping among the charred ashes to gather what remnant it can obtain from the ruins. But Great Britain, at least, has not yet realized its poverty. The cessation of hostilities has been followed by a wild outburst of extravagance. Never has the London ‘season ’ anticipated so brilliant a series of pleasure festivals. Never have the luxury trades encountered so heavy a demand, or reaped such enormous profits. The mind of men, suddenly released from a tense anxiety which was eating and corroding its energies and expansions, seems set on the enjoyment of the moment, and is prepared freely to expend the borrowed money upon which society is living. At the same time, the tornado of war has torn up from the roots great masses of men, filled them with new ideas, and driven home lessons of social equality which all the philosophers and preachers could not have taught in five generations of peace.

I remember returning from Verdun with a French poilu who had come straight out of a burning city for his ten days permission, and how he spoke the resolve of the soldiers struggling in that hell, in their demand for social equality if they survived. ’After the war, one will say to me, “I am rich”; another,

I have land another, “I am of high birth and breeding”; another, “I have knowledge and am wise.” And I shall say to them, “Yes, messieurs, these things may indeed be true; but I fought at Verdun!”'

A prominent French statesman, to whom I told this story, told me that he had no fear that such a spirit would upset the fabric of French society. The French army was in the main a peasant army. The French soldier would return to his little plot of land and the little house that he owns. And in his accustomed work on the soil, with his passion for thrift and his ant-like industry from dawn to sunset, social unrest would be allayed.

But the British soldier is not a peasant soldier. In so far as he comes from the rural districts, he comes from the condition of a day-laborer, owning neither cottage nor garden, and working for a mean and inadequate wage. In so far as he comes from the towns, he is a worker with nothing to sell but his skill or his muscle, both partially damaged in the war. New cities have arisen in his absence; other cities have decayed. Often his former home has vanished, and he has no new home to which to return. He is a wanderer on the earth, with no stake in the country which he is told that he has saved. While he was fighting abroad, the men at home were making high wages and profits, and lending to the government at a high rate of interest. He has no such capital investment. He will be compelled to work day and night to produce by his labor the ‘tribute’ necessary to pay the interest on that capital investment. Small wonder if, even in confused fashion, he surmises that something is wrong with the social order, and that — as in M. Viviani’s famous phrase — he is unable to reconcile his sudden descent from a god to a brute. At one moment, marching in uniform in procession through cheering crowds, he is extravagantly praised as the boy of the bulldog breed who has saved Europe from the barbarian. In the next, divested of his uniform, he is denounced as the ‘slacker’ who refuses to give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wages, and who is casting envious eyes on other people’s property.

And to men smarting under the indignity of such a contrast comes the teaching of the advocates of Social Revolution, telling him day after day, and in and out of season, that this ‘other people’s property ’ is in reality his own.


The shadows lie heavy on the hills. It will be years, it may be decades, before those shadows are dispelled. It may be that never will they be completely dispelled. These four years of mad destruction may have struck a blow at Europe’s prosperity from which it will never recover. Some of the greatest of the Dominion statesmen have expressed to me their conviction that the result will be a permanent change. They foresee a great and increasing migration from Great Britain, and indeed from all the war-tortured countries, of people fleeing from national bankruptcy in a region haunted by evil dreams. From such a migration they anticipate the building up of huge white communities in still unsettled lands, which will give a new orientation to the world’s future history. Canada, South Africa, Australasia, will take the place in this war which was taken by the West after the Civil War in America. However this may be, at home we are in for troublous times. Reconstruction far more vital and profound than anything contemplated by the present Parliament alone can ensure internal tranquillity. The day of the enjoyment of great fortunes, undisturbed by the State above or the proletariat below, has passed, and forever. The new idea of a new demand for social justice is knocking at the doors of all institutions supporting the present social order. There will be, first, a great advance toward equality and a great extension of state action. Whether such equality and socialization will mean in practice the death or departure of enterprise and ambition, only the future can decide. I do not anticipate the excesses of a French or even of a Russian Revolution. The wild charges of Bolshevism by which the newspapers brand any movement or teaching they dislike are born of ignorant or timid brains. But it is necessary to recognize that the old easy-going and prosperous days are over. Great Britain, in the aftermath of war, and amid a Social Discontent which its rulers can neither appease nor forget, is entering upon the ‘Iron Age.’