HC Deb 27 March 1912 vol 36 cc535-59

I beg to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, the growth and advocacy by certain labour agitators of an anti-social policy of Syndicalism based upon class warfare and incitement to mutiny constitute a grave danger to the State and the welfare of the community."

In rising at this unexpectedly late hour one cannot hope to have a very full discussion either of the theory or of the practical value of Syndicalism. Certainly we shall not have much time to discuss any of the Amendments or Amendments to Amendments put down to my Resolution. My Motion is purely academic, and is intended to be so. I view with considerable interest, and not a little amusement, the singularly verbose and rhetorical Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for East Northampton (Mr. Chiozza Money). The hon. Member describes my Resolution as empty, provocative and minatory. I do not understand how it can be both empty and minatory at the same time. My Motion has given rise to Amendments dealing with woman suffrage, Tariff Reform, free speech, and other matters which bear absolutely no relation to Syndicalism, and have nothing whatever to do with the subject of which I gave notice a fortnight ago. I have no desire to attack any individual, especially any individual in this House. I should have been content to have left the answer to the Syndicalist propaganda, as it was put in the singularly able and conclusive article written by the Leader of the Labour party, the hon. Member for Leicester, in the "Socialist Review" of last October, which article, I think, completely dealt with what I conceive to be the most dangerous form of Socialism that has yet shown itself. I gave notice of this Motion only because to my mind an enormous amount is being taught in the Press and in speeches by people who do not seem to understand the history of Syndicalism, or even the meaning of the word. Syndicalism is a form of Socialism—not the form of Socialism advocated by Members of the Socialist party in this House, but one advocated by certain members outside. What do I define as Socialism in that connection? I define it as the complete subversion of the economic basis of society as we know it to-day. All kinds of Socialism, Syndicalism, Collectivism Communism—have that in common. That is the one definition which combines all the various forms of Socialism. Socialism carries with it for its object the elimination of the principle of competition between capital and labour, and between capitalists and various individuals who give their labour. That is the root basis of these Socialistic proposals.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer recently said in this House that Socialism was the best policeman for Syndicalism. I beg most respectfully to disagree absolutely. The forces which help along Syndicalism and the forces which help along Socialism of all the forms—the Collectivism preached by the Labour party, or the Communism preached by Karl Marx—are one and the same thing. The destructive policy apart from the constructive policy of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite helps along Syndicalism just as much as it helps along Socialism. The only difference to my mind is a difference in objective. That is the whole point. Syndicalism has a new objective—new to this country, but not at all new as regards the experience of labour people in France—France being the home of Syndicalism. This objective has been very ably and carefully defined in a paper entitled "The Miners' Next Step." This pamphlet, which has been disseminated in very large numbers amongst the strikers in South Wales, is after all a document which must be treated quite seriously. The secretary vouches for the fact that members—lie says seven or eight—of the Miners' Executive in South Wales have deliberated, and that two of them have drawn, up this document. It preaches a doctrine and advocates an objective which I am sure would appeal to me in some ways, if I were a Socialist trade unionist, far more strongly than the intellectual theories of Collectivism preached by Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb. If we are to have Socialism in any form, I would far rather be governed by Tom Mann than by Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Webb. I would far rather have the clear issue of the fundamental breaking up of the basis of society by means of a general strike than by the gradual and evolutionary, as it is called, although it is by no means evolutionary, process of taxing everybody out of the private ownership of their existing possessions. It seems to me a more practicable and a more attractive ideal to set before a large number of men who are out on strike. The objective is first the elimination of the employer of all forms—the State as well as the individual and private employer.


Hear, hear.


I am glad there is one hon. Member prepared to stand up for the objective of Syndicalism. That is what I wished to know, whether there was anybody in this House prepared to create a real split in the Labour objective—one party going for the nationalisation of mines and the nationalisation of industry, and the other for the elimination of the employer, whether the State or companies or private individuals. What does this document say in regard to the nationalisation of mines:— The nationalisation of mines does not lead in this direction— —that is to say, the elimination of the employer— 'but simply makes a national trust, with all the force, of the Government behind it. …. Our only concern is to see to it that those who create the value receive it. And if by the force of a more perfect organisation and more militant policy we reduce profits, we shall at the same time tend to eliminate the shareholders who own the coalfield. As they feel the increasing pressure we shall be bringing on their profits, they will loudly cry for nationalisation. We shall, and must, strongly oppose this in our own interests and in the interests of our objective That is the complete opposite to Collectivism. They have another chapter, "Industrial Democracy the Objective," and they say:— To-day shareholders own and rule the coalfields. They own and rule them mainly through paid officials. The men who work in the mines are surely as competent to elect these as shareholders who may never have seen a colliery? Our objective begins to take shape before our eyes. Every industry thoroughly organised, in the first place, to fight, to gain control of, and then to administer that industry. The co-ordination of all industries on a Central Production Board, who, with a statistical department to ascertain the needs of the people, will issue its demand on the different departments of industry, leaving to the men themselves to determine under what conditions and how the work will be done. This would mean real democracy in real life. Any other form of democracy is a delusion and a snare. That is the objective; ownership of the mines, not by the State or by the men who have invested their money in sinking them, or who are running them, but ownership of the mines by the Miners' Federation, ownership of the railways by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants; any profit to go, not to the State or the community, or the people who have invested their savings in creating these industries, but to the employés who are employed as wage-earners by the central production bureau of their particular industry. That is to say, there is to be an absolute disregard of the community as a whole, an absolute disregard of all existing contracts, an absolute disregard of all existing interests or rights, and a complete overthrow of society by a much easier method than the Parliamentary method adopted by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite, and by the single stroke of a national general strike.

Let me examine this thing a little further. Syndicalism and Syndicalists are definitely anti-Parliamentary. They are against Parliamentary action. I have read various of the works of the leading exponents of Syndicalism in France. It appears that Syndicalism originated in conferences which were held in the early 'nineties—that is, 1894–95—at Nantes and Limoges by the advanced section of the trade unionists who were dissatisfied with the action of Parliament and of their Parliamentary representatives, and who wanted to go faster and to use more militant methods. A result of these conferences was the famous Conféderatian General de Travail and the issue of Sovel's "Reflexians aux la Violence." The first was really one of the chief forces organising the international railway strike in France in 1910. It is not composed of intellectuals, nor of recognised leaders, but of advanced men who are dissatisfied with their leaders, who work within the trade unions with a view to bring about by direct action and not by Parliamentary action the industrial revolution which we have been so frequently promised. That industrial revolution has been preached and advocated, and it was suggested that it was a long time coming. One of the reasons for the growth of Syndicalism in this or any other country has been the failure of the Parliamentary Labour parties to carry out their lavish promises, the failure of even right hon. Gentlemen to bring to the parched lips that refreshing fruit promised so easily on platforms.

I think I had better substantiate a few more matters in connection with this "Miners' Next Step." After all, what has been the chief action, the chief motive force of Syndicalism, both in this and other countries? It has been these recent strikes. They have produced Syndicalism, or I believe very largely have assisted its growth, because men are themselves led to believe that they will get more out of a strike than they can by Parliamentary action. This is what led really to the increase of power of Tom Mann after the Liverpool strike. What led to the foundation of the first Syndicalist paper in this country? It was the railway strike. The first number of the "Syndicalist Railway" was published last September immediately after the railway strike. What does the leading article on the first page of this first number says: The new paper will be a free and independent organ, serviceable as a means of expression of the new spirit so strikingly manifested in the recent strike, and also a relentless critic of that official policy which seeks to suppress us and to hold in check the new spirit which has arisen out of modern economic conditions. The great railway strike of last year produced this effect. A large number of strikers who were enthused by the strike went beyond their leaders, went beyond the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas), and were infused with this new spirit, which made them adopt a new revolutionary policy of direct action. That is the danger. These strikes—the coal strike, the railway strike, the transport workers' strike—bring in their train a large number of political evils. Anyone who has investigated the matter in any way as to what were the original causes of this strike will admit at once that it was not Syndicalism that started it. The demand for a minimum wage is part of the programme under Syndicalism, but the Syndicalist does not consider that that wage is the objective. That is not the aim! Syndicalists merely want the wage as a means to an end. They ask for a minimum wage, ever increasing, in order to extract the whole of the profits of industry, and so as to render capital absolutely valueless to those in whose name it stands. Then, the trade unions will take over a valueless property, and will administer it. The "Syndicalist Railway" was the direct result of the railway strike, was directly the result of the new spirit shown in that strike, of the new spirit which came into the men, who saw that by striking on a national scale, and by the sympathetic strike, by striking not for a particular grievance, or for a particular wage, but with a view to holding up the community to ransom, by enforcing their demands by the stoppage of the wheels of civilisation, they might extort, not merely a minimum wage, but practically any demand they liked to put forward. The strike, from that point of view, was a Syndicalist strike—that is the basis of Syndicalism—not a strike for a particular wage, nor to improve conditions, but to hold up the community in order to enforce demands, and to compel the surrender of existing capital.


What about Trusts?


I quite agree with the hon. Member in that observation. The Trust that holds up the nation ought to be treated in precisely the same way as those who engineer a general strike. I regard the Trust which holds the community up to ransom as as great an enemy to the body politic and to the State as Syndicalism. A great united combination of capital or a great united combination of labour are both opposed to the fundamental principle of individualism. They are against individualism, and it is on the individualistic basis that we oppose Syndicalism and similar trusts which hold the community up to ransom. I should be prepared to support the most drastic anti-trust legislation—even anti-trust legislation that would break up the Brunner-Mond Trust. Now, as to this pamphlet, which is the last and most interesting phase of Syndicalism. What is the origin of this pamphlet? The secretary gives his name as W. H. Mainwaring, Clydach Vale, Rhondda. He was interviewed by a "Western Mail" representative the other day. I take his word for granted, as I would take the word of any other man. He was asked:—

"What is the origin of Syndicalism?" and he said it was the Cambrian strike.

"When that commenced we took steps in the matter, because we were made to realise that the machinery and policy of the Fe[...]ation were responsible for our defeat, and that a change of tactics had to be performed. Consequently the progressive section of the men to-day in a large part of South Wales includes members of the executive council as well as members of the rank and file, and the result of our discussions is this pamphlet."

"How many members of the executive," asked the reporter, "took part in the deliberations?"

Mr. Mainwaring declared seven or eight.

"How many took part in preparing the report?"

"All of them did," answered Mr. Mainwaring.

He was then asked:—

"Are there only irresponsible people behind you?"

And his reply was:—

"You may take it from me that it would be unjust to describe them as irresponsible. As a matter of fact, it is the work of men who have been years in the Federation and who want to make it more efficient, and many officials on the executive council have taken part."

That evidence is proof that, as a result of the Cambrian strike and still more as a result of this strike, that there are a considerable body of responsible leaders in South Wales identified with Syndicalism. This pamphlet deserves very careful consideration in view of its origin and in view of the doctrine it proclaims in much more plain language, than either the Syndicalists of France, as to what the object is. Take their policy. They set their policy out under fourteen heads. The first section of it is that— The old policy of identity of interest between employers and ourselves lie abolished, and the policy of open hostility installed. That, after all, is the root policy of all Socialism. It is a policy of open hostility between existing employers, or private employers of all sorts and their employés. The idea of non-identity of interest is founded upon the doctrine of Karl Marx's in his great book, "Das Kapital." That is really the basis, and along these lines Syndicalism receives help and encouragement from any other form of Socialism or Collectivism. Their policy is this. Their object is to be carried out by a policy in favour of increasing the minimum wage and shortening the hours of work until they have exacted the whole of the employers' profits. That is interesting when we take into consideration the views of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Sir A. Markham), who the other day took 5 per cent. as being not an unreasonable reward for the money he invested in his coal mines. They wish to extract the whole of the employers' profits. Why? For the simple reason they see perfectly clearly that in countries when industries are nationalised the profits go to the State and not to them, and that the State employés are not so much better off after all than the employés of private individuals. They look at the railways of this country, and they compare them with the State railways of Italy, France, and Germany, and they say there is not so much to choose between them.

I am not producing figures, but if the hon. Member opposite is going to reply, as he is a great advocate of nationalisation, as a cure for all evils, he will very probably produce figures, but taking it broadly the position of the employés in. State mines, and employés in mints a run in many parts of this country to-day, would not be so great as if the Miners 'Federation owned the mines and transferred all the profits for the miners working in them. What are the main other points in connection with Syndicalism? I purposely avoided dealing at length with what is after all the critical point in connection with the methods of Syndicalism, because Tom Mann is now awaiting trial upon this very head, namely that the Syndicalists of this country know they can effect nothing as long as the Army in this country is the servant of the community and can be called out by the Government in the interests of the whole community. The one chance of Syndicalism is to get the Army on their side, and their one aim is direct action. No enforced violence alone can bring this about, for they know that as long at the interests of the community are protected by the Government they have as a last resource the troops and the Army at their back. The Syndicalists believe that if they are to succeed they must undermine the allegiance of the Army to the King and to the State and get the Army on their side. One of the most significant things in the whole of the Syndicalist propaganda is their attempt to subvert the Army. I have here the contents of the open letter to the soldiers, but as that matter is more or less sub judice, I do not intend to deal with it at any length tonight.

I put down this Resolution, which includes a reference to incitement before these arrests were made. I would certainly have withdrawn that reference if I had known in time what has since taken place. We must bear in mind that Syndicalism aims at the most fundamental right of the community being overturned. It is not Socialism in the interests of the community as a whole, but Socialism in the interests of particular groups of workmen federated in larger groups and the whole of society that lies outside labour is not considered as having any interest. I was very much struck by what was said so sensibly and ably by the hon. Member for Swansea the other day. You have only got to put the arguments against Syndicalism before the workers of this country and they will not accept it. I have brought this subject forward in order that it may be ventilated, and I hope the Collectivists, whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer said were the best policemen against Syndicalism, will not be afraid to stand up and condemn this anti-social policy of Syndicalism, which is against the best interests of the community. By getting the leaders of parties to condemn Syndicalism we should prevent its further growth in this country, which threatens so very seriously the industrial stability of France at the present moment. It has not grown very much. It has grown in the railway world, and it has grown in the mining districts as a result of strikes. If we have a strike of the transport workers I hope it will be made perfectly clear that the leaders will have nothing whatever to do with Syndicalism, and that Syndicalism will not be propagated even by the connivance and silence of those who lead the labour movement.

If this matter is put clearly before the working men of the country they will not entertain it for a moment, because the consequences of their direct action would be lamentable in the extreme. They cannot believe that that direct action could result in anything but the most awful carnage and bloodshed. The only way in which Syndicalism could be carried out would be if all the classes outside the trade union organisations were so absolutely supine that they would not stand up for their rights, and that is inconceivable. Syndicalism cannot be brought about by the socialisation of the workers in each particular industry, with no regard to existing contracts and capital and interests of the community. That cannot be brought about without seducing the Army or the most appalling scenes of carnage in the country and the utter ruin of industrial supremacy, based as it is upon credit and identity of interest between employer and employed, which is acknowledged and admitted by all the old trade unionists of this country. All the old school of trade unionist thought is opposed to Syndicalism. The whole basis of trade unionism is to get a fair wage and a fair share of the profits, and not the whole of the profit. It was a system of collective bargaining in order to improve the conditions of the workers. Those who created trade unionism regarded the sanctity of contract, and it was negotiated in a spirit consistent with good feeling between employer and employed, and not the kind of feeling which exists at strike times spread by violent agitators and Syndicalist leaders. We ought to be particularly careful to avoid the growth of this movement, which is the growth of a political theory subversive to the interests of society, and I hope that this House will pass unanimously, or with possibly the single exception of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), my Resolution which condemns the theory of Syndicalism, which I admit is academic and which is not meant in any personal manner to any hon. Member of this House.

10.0 P.M.


I wish to associate myself entirely with the opinion expressed by my hon. Friend in his desire not to deal with this question in a personal sense. I will further add that I have no wish, in the course of the few observations I shall make, to refer to the present disputes. We have just had under discussion in this House a most important new departure in policy, and it will certainly be my desire that that policy should have the fullest possible trial and co-operation to see whether it will contribute anything to the solution of this difficulty. My hon. Friend has gone so fully into the aims and objects of Syndicalism that I shall confine myself to one or two particular aspects, and, in particular, to what I may call revolutionary Syndicalism. Of course I do not accuse hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway of being Syndicalists. I do not think they are, and in any case I should accept the repudiation of the hon. Member for Leicester. The difficulty about hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway is that at the present time they entertain so many incompatible economic views. We have had a number of interesting arguments upon the minimum wage, and they are of an entirely different order. The minimum wage is a subject so outside the range of ordinary economic doctrine that I confess I am somewhat puzzled by all the series of arguments which have been used. Hon. Gentlemen opposite take certain views upon a subject of great interest which I do not wish to raise now—I mean our fiscal policy. Another object they constantly keep in view is the right to work. The right to work belongs to what I may call mediæval economics, and as long as it so difficult to estimate precisely where these hon. Gentlemen stand with regard to economic questions I do not see how we can deal with them. I do not accuse them of being Syndicalists, but I think I may say that for the most part these revolutionary doctrines do not originate with working men, but they nearly always originate with members of the middle classes.

I think hon. Members opposite will bear me out when I say that the British workman is exceedingly Conservative, with really very few points of contact with hon. Gentlemen belonging to the older Liberal school. It is largely by taking their older Conservative views, and giving to those views what I may call a Socialistic twist that hon. Gentlemen opposite have managed to get their support. When I come to my hon. Friends on the benches opposite, I am not so sure that they can be entirely free from censure in the matter of Syndicalism. For one thing, the policy they have consistently maintained during the last few years—I am not speaking of the policy of Free Trade, because they have not maintained that—but the policy of entirely ineffective action with regard to these great questions is, in my opinion, one of the main causes of the great discontent which we have in this country at the present time. I should like to go a little further into the matter than that. I am speaking, not of the kind of Syndicalism which results immediately in outrage and violence of the ordinary sort, but the kind of Syndicalism I have in mind is this revolutionary Syndicalism of the most dangerous type which is perfectly legal, perfectly constitutional, and perfectly peaceful. There is no sense of violating the law, and there is no sense of violating the rights which every man enjoys in a sense; and yet that kind of Syndicalism is the most dangerous type of all.

I should like to explain to hon. Gentlemen opposite why I think they are as much to blame as anybody in this country for the growth of these revolutionary doctrines. I take one of the fundamental assumptions of revolutionary Syndicalism. It is the complete isolation of what we may call economic interests. You take the members of your society, you take the citizens of the country, and you do not consider them as citizens in all the varied relations of our social life, but you regard them merely as economic men intent upon pursuing their economic interests. In the case of the Syndicalist, that extreme individualism takes the form of becoming identical with the interests of a large crowd moving in the same direction but there is no fundamental difference between the isolation of interests Which marks Syndicalism and the isolation of interests which marks every upholder of the ancient order of economics. Another characteristic assumption of Syndicalism is the negation, of patriotism. The working man has no country, says the Syndicalist. Is not that exactly what the economists say? Has it not been their pride and method from the earliest times right up to the more modern works on political economy to make abstraction of patriotism, abstraction of country, and to consider every individual as actuated by economic motives measurable in terms of money. At any rate, we may say that the conception of patriotism which holds its ground amongst the economic writers of that school ands its highest realisation in its complete negation. I do not mean for one moment that hon. Gentlemen opposite are not full of patriotic sentiment. You can have any amount of patriotic sentiment; but the point is, are you prepared to take your country or to take your Empire as the basis of your policy which you bring in and carry into effect?

The Syndicalist would have nothing whatever to do with religion. What place has religion in the economic side, which I am contesting at the present moment? It disturbs the exact calculation which the economist wishes to make. You may be religious, but you divide yourself into these several compartments, and, considering economic affairs constitute about nine-tenths of the affairs of ordinary human life, practically these other ideas have very little influence indeed. I take another point. Take the case of property. What is the attitude towards the right of property amongst my orthodox Friends? Of course, on our side the right of property is a real right, resting ultimately upon religious sanction. That is the ultimate test of that right. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is why you are religious."] On any other basis private property is a mere matter of expediency, and, therefore, of votes. We have had even the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister at any rate not withholding his blessing from fiscal measures specially designed to alter the distribution of property in the country. The Syndicalist takes class war as his basis. Class war has accompanied the development of the passing economist school all the way through, and the Syndicalists of that school pride themselves on their economic orthodoxy. I do not know any Socialists who do not pride themselves on their economic orthodoxy. Therefore it seems to me I have made out my case, that there is a kind of congruity of ideas between my hon. Friends opposite who accept economic Liberalism and those who carry these conceptions much farther than their logical conclusion and become revolutionary Syndicalists. Syndicalism is the child of the French Revolution. Socialists are intensely individualistic and selfish, and your revolutionary stage comes under the modern developments of industry. You have in every great town and in every industrial country these great crowds acting in accordance with these ideas and moving towards what they conceive to be the satisfaction of the economic interests of which they have been talking prospectively. What are the other ends? I leave my hon. Friends either to try and go back to a stage of the development of their ideas which is fast passing away or which has practically gone, or to advance upon the cause of Syndicalism. In any case, I think we can deal with them.

What does your revolutionary Syndicalist expect to achieve by legal, peaceful, constitutional methods? My hon. Friend who moved the Resolution explained that so fully and clearly that I need not go into it in detail. It is, roughly speaking, the expropriation of existing possessors and the substitution for them of groups of workers engaged in a trade or groups of trades. They rest on the essential antipathy between the employing class and the labouring class, and what they hope to achieve is the expropriation of the former and the substitution of the latter to carry out that object and to deal with that situation which ultimately arises. I am bound to say, as far as I know, the Syndicalists adopt excellent educational methods with a view of preparing for that time when their desires will be achieved. Strictly speaking, the Syndicalist proposes no end to himself. He has nothing to do with ideals of any sort. The Syndicalist is satisfied to embark upon a policy of mere destruction of the existing order, and he hopes when the existing order is destroyed that by some sort of revolutionary process acting from within the working people who then get control of the trade and the instruments of production will develop the powers and the capacity of carrying on society according to whatever ideas may occur to them at that time. I am reminded of this that there is a certain friendliness of feeling between some Syndicalists and Professor Bergsen's philosophy. If these are the objects of Syndicalism it is perfectly clear that any other group may employ and use the Syndicalist method so far as it may be held to promote the end that is in view, and there is no reason why Anarchism should not have a temporary alliance with Syndicalists or Socialists, or why it should not be allied at the time to Parliamentary action. I agree with my hon. Friend it is the failure of Parliamentary action which has led to the development of Syndicalism in recent years, and assuming it is intended to achieve this object—the destruction of the existing order, there is no reason why any other revolutionary party should not use it so far as it goes.

I suppose the most interesting part of the subject is as to how far the English trade unionist is going to be captured by Syndicalism. I doubt whether that will go very far. The English trade unionist is so Conservative, so attached to his ancient methods, that I doubt very much whether he will be attracted in the future by that kind of violence which consists of merely ceasing work on a large scale, of placing obstacles in the path of production, and of other methods which the Syndicalists adopt. My own impression is that during recent years there has been a very great change in trade unionism in this way, which has certainly favoured any design the Syndicalists may have in view. Trade unions during the last twenty or thirty years have been going away from all their democratic forms, and have been tending to concentrate more and more power an the hands of the executives. The fact that trade unionists do not at any moment trust the executive has nothing to do with the case. We often do not trust our Government, and I think it is absolutely true that throughout the trade union world there has been a steady decline of what we may call democratic methods, and there has been a steady growth of the power of the executive—giving a comparatively small number of men enormous powers in moving great numbers to carry out any object they may have in view. That growth of power indicated is not confined to the trade union wrold; it characterises our own Parliamentary institutions. Pure democracy is unquestionably very much on the down grade, and, that being so, we are apparently getting back to the stage where authority through the executive is exercised. Considering the facilities of modern production, that is a very great danger in regard to industrial disputes, and may easily lead to outbreaks which are very like pure revolutionary Syndicalism. On the other hand, you have the inveterate traditions of trade unionism and the faithfulness of trade unionists to ancient traditions, and I doubt very much whether they will regard with favour any development in the legislative sphere which must unquestionably follow further growth in the direction I have been criticising.

Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite have called in the power of the State. It is one thing to talk sentimentally about the functions of the State, but it is a very different thing to invoke the power of the State, and bring it to bear, as we are at the present time, upon industrial disputes. It is a very different thing, for this reason: that as soon as you bring in the power of the State to intervene in, direct, guide, and regulate the power of these subordinate societies—trade unions are subordinate societies—then the State and the interests of the State must unquestionably dominate those of the trade unions, and, if the interests of the trade unions conflict with those of the State, it is not the State that will go under. I have never been able to see why trade unions should encourage in any way the movement towards that invocation of the power of the State. I have gone very carefully, at one time or another, into the question of the regulation of the conditions of labour by the State, and I am bound to say this: that the result of my investigations, so far as I have been able to carry them, is that if you have not already obtained the growth of these subordinate associations like trade unions, you will not grow such associations when you have such regulation by the State. If you have such associations already in existence, they cannot continue for long side by side with State regulation. You have got to choose, therefore, whether the trade unions shall keep strictly within the sphere of their action, or whether the trade unions shall act, as they have acted for the most part in times past and up to the present time, with due regard to the interests of the community; or whether, going beyond that line and inflicting, through action which we may call Syndicalist action, injury on the great masses of their fellow-countrymen, the State will not then step in and control them.

I should regard with the greatest uneasiness the development of State action in such a manner as to injure or cripple the trade unions. I think, and I have always thought, that trade unions have been a great element for good in English industry, and I know that is the opinion which is exceedingly widely held by great employers of labour, who would certainly not disapprove of trade unions as we have known them up to the outbreak of the present disputes. I have seen evidence of that on a very large scale. I should be exceedingly sorry to see developments of legislation which would be likely to injure or cripple trade unions. But there is no doubt whatever that we cannot allow the great interests of the State to suffer merely for the sake of retaining, in its present form, the right of association amongst trade unions or any other bodies I hold the State absolutely supreme, and the industrial interests of the nation absolutely supreme. Undoubtedly we have to keep in view, but I look not to the development of direct enactments dealing with specific sides of trade union action to get us out of our present troubles; I look rather to the development of our public policy generally. Frankly, I say that I know no other alternative to revolution in this country except the fearless application of the conservative theory of society to the great problems of the day. I do not use the term "conservative" in a party sense, although it does so happen that, as things are growing and developing, the conservative theory of society is gradually becoming limited in its acceptance to what we know more technically as the Conservative party. I am sorry for that. There is no reason why that strictly conservative theory of society should not be held by hon. Gentlemen on the other side, and considering that that conservative theory represents, as any rate, principles which have been applied in every possible form of society in every age of the world, and that every revolutionary outbreak has in the long run only vindicated the accuracy and applicability of these principles. I may say that they are unchanging so far as we are concerned. I do not say there may not be some other principles involved in the course of human development, but, so far as we know the history of European communities every great change, every great revolution, every great movement, has simply vindicated the sanity of these great principles. What are they?

The first principle of all is the absolute and unalienable right of private property, more necessary in a way—certainly as necessary for the working part of the community as for the others. The working man has as much interest in the maintenance and the extension of private property as anyone else. I should say another conservative principle of society was the right to work, not the right to work in the sense that the individual has a right to come to the State and have employment guaranteed or found for him, but the right that the individual has to be properly protected by law in the carrying out of his own avocations, and the obligation which lies upon the State so to direct its policy that the maximum of work should be obtained. Similarly I might go through the others. There is the question of wages, there is the right to a living wage. That may be interpreted in the same way. These three principles are as old as the world. They have inspired our legislation in every age, and there is no possible escape from the conclusions that you have again to apply these principles fearlessly if you are going to make society intact. Another fundamental conservative principle is the solidarity of social interests, the solidarity of classes, and that is over against the principle of class wars which we find advocated at the present time. Another principle is that we are not parts of some great cosmopolitan society, but of an Empire. We are Englishmen, we belong to the British Empire, and I suggest to hon. Members below the Gangway opposite that really if they want to reform society, if they really want to take in hand great constructive efforts, is not the British Empire big enough for them? Why go to the human race when you have the British Empire?

I would apply these principles quite fearlessly. I would apply them to your social life of all grades. I would apply them in your trade policy. One of my complaints against hon. Gentlemen opposite is that they have not been able to do anything to carry out great schemes for increasing the well-being of the community by organising our trade and making the best of it upon national and Imperial lines. This country is not a mere geographical area where millionaires are kept rich. It is a great country, with very complex interests, and what we have to secure is such a balance of interests, such a solidarity between the different classes of the community that you get the highest efficiency and the greatest productive capacity and the greatest welfare of the whole. I take the theory away merely from the country in which we live. I take it and make it embrace the Empire. I have not time to go into details, but I do venture to ask hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway not to dismiss this conservative theory of society as something worthless. At any rate, it is the oldest thing you have. At any rate, it is a tried thing, and there is not one single idea beneficial to the community—I have told my Socialistic friends that they do advocate many beneficial ideas—which they have not taken, consciously or unconsciously, out of the ancient doctrine dictated by the principles I have tried to explain. Do not look merely at the history of our own country. Look at the great traditions we have inherited. Look at the legislation we have had in times past, and let us see whether by maintaining and continuing these principles we cannot make the Empire a place where Syndicalism is impossible.

The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Mr. Hobhouse)

I hope the House will allow me to say we have had two very interesting speeches from the Mover and Seconder of this Resolution. Like them, I shall not attempt to deal in any way with the personal side of the case, but I wish to state in a very few words the view which the Government take of this Resolution. We have had an admirable description of the aims and methods of Syndicalism from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) who opened the discussion and I shall not attempt in any way to trespass upon the ground he has covered. But there are two reasons, I think, why any House of Commons, composed in any proportions of different political parties which you like to imagine, could not possibly support the theories of Syndicalism as outlined by the hon. Gentleman. The first reason is that Syndicalism is the negation of Parliamentary action. The root idea of Syndicalism is that Parliamentary action has failed, and that, having failed, you must accept the gospel of Syndicalism instead of the policy of evolution. The second reason is that Syndicalism having for its objects the destruction of all capitalists, you have to remember that the greatest interest in the world for us is Great Britain, and that if you are to destroy individual capitalism you must also destroy other forms of capitalism. This country by individual capitalists has lent thousands and millions of money to many other countries, and the great proportion of the working classes of this country, as well as capitalists, live and have their interest in what other countries pay whether in the shape of food or actual interest in cash or of employment. If you once do away with the individual capitalist you hit at the national capitalist, and no nation stands to lose so much by the abolition of capital as this country. If there is not, and I do not think that there is very much, if any, superficial resemblance between the events of the last year, numerous strikes and labour disturbance's, and the doctrines which underlie Syndicalism. I think it is worth inquiring if there is any real resemblance between them, and whether Syndicalism, as this Motion suggests, has obtained any foothold in this country. In spite of the rather frothy publications which have been quoted in this House, and the notoriety and dissemination of which the more sober Press of this country is very largely responsible—and they have given these doctrines an advertisement which they certainly do not deserve—I do not believe that, the doctrines themselves have any real hold upon the working-class population of this country.

Syndicalism does not create unrest here. It is due to two reasons. First, looking back over a series of years there has been a much greater rise in the cost of living than in wages, and on the other hand, on the intellectual side, you had an increased mental sense of poverty among the working classes in this country, as compared with those more fortunate than they are, which has not been accompanied by any corresponding advancement in their material welfare. These are the two reasons if Syndicalism, or anything approaching it, has obtained a foothold in this country, why it has done so. In asking the House to consider what has brought this about, looking back over a period of some years, you have, first, great labour successes against unorganised capital. As an answer to that you had the organisation of capital and the failure of the smaller trade unions to stand against capital so organised. The answer of these smaller trade unions was to federate themselves in large bodies like the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and the railway servants, and to take advantage of their numbers to respond to the increased federating faction of the employers of Great Britain. In addition to that, you have these federated trade unions seeking Parliamentary action. Parliamentary action, as has been said by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, very largely failed from the point of view of the more advanced of the workers of this country. They have not got the full benefits that they thought they were going to get, and perhaps not unnaturally they turned elsewhere to look for more immediate action than Parliamentary action. If I am right in my view of the situation—and I think I am—you have causes at work which have laid a section of the working classes of this country open to influences which are represented by what is called the Syndicalists. You have got to remove those causes before you take away the effects of this propaganda. It is our duty—and we have endeavoured to do it, I think, in spite of the remarks of the hon. Member opposite—to try and remove those causes, and to try to give some opportunity to the working classes of this country to overcome the difficulties which have arisen in the new conditions of employment of labour in this country. We cannot, I think, accept this Motion as it stands on the Paper. There is an Amendment which comes afterwards which very much more nearly expresses the views which we hold, and which, if it is moved, or if it is discussed in this House, we shall be much more willing to accept than the actual Resolution standing on the Paper. I refer to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sherwell). Let me say, in conclusion, in regard to the concluding words of the Resolution, that the unrest and disturbance that are found in this country are found in nearly every other country all over the world. Knowing that the signs of unrest are universal, I think it almost stands to reason that the causes are universal too. Other countries have already caused inquiry to be made as to the causes and effects of unrest. In the United States they have gone a step further, and they have asked for an international inquiry, or rather the President has sent to Congress a message asking Congress to sanction an international inquiry into the causes of the high price of living and the effects and remedies. I personally welcome any such inquiry, if it be conducted throughout the world on the same lines, because unless it is conducted on the same lines, though not by the same agents, you cannot get the same world-wide response with regard to what is a worldwide evil at the present moment. The Government are prepared—indeed, have already begun—to make some limited inquiries as to the rise in prices and as to the cost of living in this country; but I think it would be much more satisfactory if we could get a far wider inquiry than that which has been carried out in other countries, and we should be prepared to assent to some far wider inquiry than is going on at the present moment. If my hon. Friend moves his Amendment we shall be prepared to accept it.


I shall not attempt to detain the House long in offering a few remarks on behalf of those with whom I am associated. I should be very much inclined, if I were a Syndicalist, to propose a hearty vote of thanks to the hon. Gentleman for putting the Motion down, for it certainly seems to me that action of that sort, combined with the publicity which is being given to this form of agitation in a large section of the Press, is a good thing for Syndicalism, giving it a consideration and attention to which its numerical strength does not entitle it. I am glad also to have the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Government that they are fully alive to the desirability of prosecuting further inquiries into the causes of the unrest that exists not only in this but every civilised country in the world. I think that the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Resolution, and the hon. Gentleman who seconded, both in interesting speeches, might very well have enlightened the House in better fashion respecting the causes of the unrest, of which Syndicalism is but one evidence. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman has remarked, that the unrest which prevails amongst the working classes throughout the world generally is due, in the first degree, to the spread of education, the possession of economic knowledge, and the acquaintance that they are making now with the circumstances of wealth production and distribution. And did I feel at all inclined to blame, I would have to say that it must undoubtedly rest in some measure upon those who have had the control of political power and the ability in the years gone by to inquire into and anticipate this unrest of which we are now complaining. After all, nearly every workman to-day has almost as much facility for education and reflection as was enjoyed by the well-to-do classes half a century ago. It is quite right that the working classes when they possess that intellectual equipment should ask themselves why it is that, after days of hard toil, they are only able to win such a miserable pittance for themselves and those who are dependent on them. I am not a believer in the doctrine of class war. I have no sympathy with Syndicalism. I have often, averred from the platform that I bear no hatred in my heart against any of the wealthy classes in the country, but I am bound to say that their indifference in respect of working-class conditions in the years that are gone by is very largely responsible for the deep dissatisfaction which exists amongst the working classes at the present time. The workman has as deep and perfect a love for his children as is exercised by those of any other class of society. Every one of us on these benches has had experience of what working-class trouble is, and appreciate why it is that some sections of our class, because of the hopelessness of the outlook, may become exasperated and may, perhaps, embark on enterprises which are not altogether defensible. Therefore it is not quite sufficient to draw attention to certain unpleasant incidents in recent agitation, but we have got to root out the causes and apply satisfactory remedies to them in order that we may remove from the lives of every one of our people that carking care and want which is, as I say, the real cause of Syndicalism and any other form of unrest.

We have recently been discussing the principle of the minimum wage. Every workman believes if he is prepared to render honest labour that he is entitled at least to such a sum as will maintain himself and his family decently. You may say that to establish that law arbitrarily runs counter to some economic laws to which you are giving adhesion, but, nevertheless, you cannot expect the working man when he is feeling the effects to pay any regard to your economic propositions which you place before him in this academic fashion. He can see that you divert economic laws whenever it serves a political interest. The mere establishment of a trust is in itself a diversion of economic law. The Mover of the Resolution charged Syndicalism with desiring to destroy competition. But Syndicalism is not the only element in society destroying competition. What happens in the railway world to-day? Fifty years ago, when legislation was promoted in this House dealing with railway conditions, the primary object was always advanced as that of stimulating and promoting competition between companies. But the whole railway case has altered to-day. Competition is no longer defensible or desirable. It is regarded as being wasteful, and as something which ought to be eliminated. I am inclined to agree with that. After all, I think that when we come to contemplate the social as apart from individual interests, the most scientific and economic forces of production and distribution are those that ought to be encouraged. Therefore I say that this charge cannot be alleged against Syndicalism alone. It is an inevitable form of capitalistic development. You find it in respect not only to our railway system, but also to many other forms of productive and distributive enterprise. The worst of it is that a trust, when established, has a greater power than that possessed by a working-class organisation When trusts desire to enhance prices they do not consult the consumer or the community. They simply say that from a certain day prices shall be enhanced, and the community are held up just as it is claimed the miners are holding up the community at the present time. There are some of these trustmongers to-day holding up stocks of coal, not for the benefit of the people—they know there is many a home anxious to have a fire—but for the sake of private profit. When you make charges against the miners you ought equally to have regard to the existence of some of these monopolistic evils which are, in my opinion, largely responsible for the unrest that prevails. It is quite true that, particularly in the early part of the last-century, some progress was made in the direction of increased wages and improved position, but during the last ten years wages have tended to become stationary, while the wealth production of the country has increased by leaps and bounds. Side by side with the stationariness of wages, you have the fact that the cost of living has enormously increased. It is often urged that trade unions desire to use their power in an arbitrary fashion. It is the real interest of every trade union official to prevent industrial strife. We have nothing to gain from strikes. We are constantly engaged in honest endeavours to prevent them. Nevertheless, when trade unions by peaceful endeavours have secured advances in wages they have found those increases rendered quite abortive because of some power in the community being able to take back to itself that which the workers have secured as the result of these honest and legitimate endeavours. That is to say, that the real value of wages is constantly diminishing. The workman now takes home a coin of the face value of a sovereign, but really only worth 15s. The trade unionist, knowing that, and now being a man who reads, asks himself: What is this cause, or causes, that are able to deprive me of the advantage that I have hitherto secured as a result of my trade unionist endeavour? He came to the conclusion a few years ago that if he was to protect the value of his wages that it was imperative that he should have some political control over those great factors—the incidence of taxation the tariff system, and other things that have a direct bearing upon wages. Therefore, quite legitimately, he considered he must embark upon political action, and have men in the House of Commons to protect his interests. As soon as he got there he found that he was tied up—that the great powers of the community have, by some method or another, been able to take from him the power which he regarded as offering him some protection in keeping the real value of his wages.

You are sitting on a safety valve, and there is bound to be that eruption. With intellectually equipped working classes you cannot possibly keep them back. You have gone before them a spectacle of leisured luxury. I say again that I am speaking without malice in my heart, but I know that. I have the experience of my own life. Of my poor old mother sitting up night after night in order to make us boys presentable for school. We have seen our father working into the night, in order that he might provide us with a little schooling so that we might get somewhat broader aspects of life. Those who are rendering, and willing to render, honest toil should be able to get a fair and decent livelihood. That is a question that you must ask yourselves, and that you have got to answer if you desire to get rid of this unrest which has manifested itself, as I recognise and regret, in a fashion that I do not sanction, which I strongly regret—the Syndicalism that has been made the subject of our speeches to-night. If we are to rid this nation of the enemy, as you have called it, of Syndicalism, you will have to remove its causes. Those causes are poverty, low wages, and those incidental miseries which affect the working classes at the present time. My colleagues and myself are prepared to associate ourselves with any party or any section of a party who are genuinely desirous of removing the causes that bring these things about, and that curse which does not fall upon the working classes because of inherent evil on their part, but because of conditions over which they have no control—I mean the curse of undeserved poverty.


Had time allowed I should have liked to move the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sherwell) or that in my own name, and I would have liked to have it accepted by the Government. But really I have only time to say that the mover and seconder in their most interesting speeches absolutely failed on one point: that was to prove that the Syndicalism which they complained of was any grave danger to the State. In fact, what both of them proved was that it had no hold. The hon. mover said that it did not cause the strikes from which we are suffering. All that the hon. Member for the Denbigh Boroughs tried to prove was that all Free Traders were Syndicalists without knowing it. How little we know of ourselves! He went on to say that it was quite impossible that the working men should really have a belief in it.

And it being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.