Imperialism and social reform english Social-Imperial Thought 1895-1914


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The growth of trade unionism and the establishment of the Labour Party were unhappy omens for the Tariff Reformers. The socialists of the Labour Party and the trade union leaders were firm believers in the gospel of internationalism shaped by both Cobdenite humanitarianism and socialist theory. They were anti-imperialist, anti-militarist, anti-protectionist. Their internationalism, furthermore, had the unpleasant bite of class antagonism: socialist doctrine, largely accepted by the Labour Party, proclaimed that 'there is no cause for quarrel' between 'the workers of the world,' and asserted that the real enemies of the working class were the capitalists of each country. 1 The organized British working class regarded imperialism as 'inimical to social reform and disastrous to trade and commerce,' 2 considered it absurd to expect a government engaged in the destruction of the homes of others, as the British government had been during the Boer War, to execute a domestic housing programme. 3

The Tariff Reformers feared that international socialism was making headway among the working classes. This is how Balfour, for one, interpreted the results of the election of 1906 in a letter to the King's private secretary in January of that year. 4 Faced with a growing socialist movement in Germany, Bismarck had compounded a system of protection, nationalism, and social reform to oppose it. The Tariff Re-



Labour Party, Report of the Tenth Annual Conference of the Labour Party ( London, 1910), pp. 94-95.


Labour Representation Committee, Report of the First Annual Conference of the Labour Representation Committee ( London, 1901), p. 20.


Report of the Eighth Annual Conference of the Independent Labour Party ( London, 1900), pp. 3-4.


Quoted in Halévy, op. cit., VI, p. 92.

formers, in imitation of Bismarck, portrayed their system as a rival to that of the socialists. They attacked the socialist doctrine of class conflict with the Tariff Reform concept of the common interests of employer and employed and asserted that an imperial policy was the one best calculated to promote the prosperity of the working class.

The chairman of the Tariff Reform League -- an organization which had been formed to support the Chamberlain proposals -- Viscount Ridley, in 1906, spoke of 'two parties in the State' which 'knew their own mind,' and identified them as the Tariff Reform Party and the Independent Labour Party. 5 Arnold-Forster, one of the more important leaders of the tariff movement, declared that only a policy of imperialism could satisfy British needs and presented such a policy as an 'alternative' to socialism. 6 Edward Goulding, another Tariff League strategist, declared in the House of Commons in 1908 that 'the greatest obstacle that could be erected against the policy of the Labour Socialist Party was the policy of tariff reform linked with Imperialism. . . .' 7 One Tariff Reform League publication quoted a section from an I.L.P. pamphlet with evident approval: Tariff Reform, the I.L.P. had declared, 'would knit whole trades, master and man, together in support of the present (capitalist) system.' That goal, the League asserted, was a sound one. 8

Consciousness of a common imperial patrimony, it was felt, would help to block antagonism between the classes. A Tariff Reform member of parliament addressed the House in these terms, on March 28, 1905:

'After all, the Empire belonged to the working classes just as much as to any class. Their grandsires spilt their blood to gain and keep it. Were they going to let their grandchildren say of them that, for a supposed mess of pottage, they deliberately threw away the greatest inheritance that had ever been left to any people?' 9



Quoted in The Times, October 9, 1906, 7 f.


H. O. Arnold-Forster, English Socialism of Today ( London: Murray, 1908), pp. 190-191.


Parliamentary Debates, Fourth Series, CLXXXVI, 1331, March 24, 1908.


E. Ashton Bagley, Question Time: Being a Series of Answers to Questions Asked at Indoor and Outdoor Tariff Reform and Unionist Meetings ( London, 1909), p. 39.


Parliamentary Debates, Fourth Series, CXLIII, 1490, March 28, 1905.

Fabian Ware, an influential Tariff Reform journalist, spoke of 'Imperial Democracy' which aimed at 'uniting all classes in the consolidation and defence of the Empire.' Imperial Democrats, although not socialists, wished, Ware added, to achieve 'national organization and unity,' and were 'determined to wipe out the greatest blot on the fame of England-the poverty which harbours vice and the distress which hovers on the verge of starvation.' 10


It was the Tariff Reform League -- as we have already indicated-which took the lead in the effort to wean the working class away from socialism. What was the nature of this organization? That shrewd statesman and long-lived observer of British politics, Winston Churchill, withdrew from the party of his father because of his disgust with the new imperial policies of Chamberlain. Churchill, a Free Trader, believed that the Tariff Reformers would destroy the Conservative Party as it was, 'with its religious convictions and constitutional principles.' The party which would take its place would be 'rich, materialist, and secular,' something like the Republican Party in the United States. 11 If the Tariff Reformers won, the Conservative party would become 'a party of great vested interests, banded together in a formidable confederation'; England would be reduced to dismal circumstances:

'corruption at home, aggression to cover it up abroad; the trickery of tariff juggles, the tyranny of a party machine; sentiment by the bucketful; patriotism by the imperial pint; the open hand at the public exchequer, the open door at the public-house; dear food for the million, cheap labour for the millionaire.'

These would be the result of the victory of the policy of irmingham. That policy, Churchill warned, must be vigorously opposed by the beneficent doctrines of Manchester. 12



Fabian Ware, "Unionist Opportunism and Imperial Democracy," in Nineteenth Century, 66:738-739, November 1909.


Parliamentary Debates, Fourth Series, CXXIII, 194, May 28, 1903.


Liberal Publication Department, Issues At Stake, A Speech Delivered by John Morley with One by Winston Churchill ( London, 1904), p. 19.

What had prompted Mr Churchill's prophecy were the early political activities of the Tariff Reform League. The League had been organized in 1903 'for the defence and development of the industrial interests of the British Empire,' by supporters of the fiscal programme advocated by the Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs. The first meeting of the League was held in London's Westminster Palace Hotel on July 21, 1903. Long-standing advocates of industrial protection like Claude Lowther and George Byng were present, as was the steadfast friend of agricultural protection, Henry Chaplin. The journalist and Coefficient L. S. Amery, Oliver Borthwick, the publisher of the Morning Post, and another Coefficient, the political economist and geographer H. J. Mackinder attended -Mackinder, indeed, newly converted to Tariff Reform, had at first been slated to direct the League-and were all elected members of the executive committee of the new organization. Conservative and Liberal-Unionist members of parliament like Griffith-Boscawen, Evelyn Cecil, and Sir Alexander Henderson likewise found themselves elected to membership on the T.R.L. executive. The usual assemblage of peers filled the lists of those elevated to office: the Duke of Sutherland was elected President of the League; the Duke of Westminster as Chairman of its Council, and Lord Willoughby de Eresby as a member of the executive. The aim of the new organization was to campaign in every constituency for the acceptance of Chamberlain's programme of imperial preference and Tariff Reform. The purpose of the group was underlined and its future methods forecast when Arthur Pearson, the proprietor of the Daily Express, was named to head the campaign to convert the nation. 13

Almost immediately after its organization, the Tariff Reform League named a Tariff Commission composed of some of the nation's leading industrialists and economists to hear evidence and to conduct an inquiry concerning the state of the chief British industries. The Tariff Commissioners were carefully selected by the League. Among them were Arthur Pearson, the sociologist Charles Booth, who had already publicly endorsed the tariff programme, the economic historian and Coefficient,



The Times, July 22, 1903, 7, ef; also addendum to Tariff Reform League, Tariff Reform By Pen and Pencil ( London, 1903 ?).

W. A. S. Hewins, who served as the Commission's secretary, and the author of Social Evolution, Benjamin Kidd.

Charles Allen, alphabetically the first member named to the Commission, a nephew of Bessemer, the great engineer and inventor, served as chairman of the firm of Henry Bessemer and Company and as managing director of Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company, Ltd. Sir Alfred Hickman, another Commissioner, was an ex-President of the British Iron Trade Association, Chairman of Alfred Hickman Ltd, and a member of the Council of the Iron and Steel Institute. Mr Arthur Keen was chairman of Guest, Keen, and Nettlefolds Ltd, and a vice-president of the Iron and Steel Institute. Sir W. T. Lewis, Bart., was a past president of the Mining Association of Great Britain and vice-president of the Iron and Steel Institute. These iron and steel men were joined by A. W. Maconochie, a large meat preserver and packer, and chairman of the Solderless Tin Company, Ltd; Sir Vincent Caillard, a director of Vickers, Sons and Maxim Ltd; J. J. Candlish, a Liberal glass manufacturer in Durham, who claimed still to maintain his Liberalism in all matters but the tariff; Hon Charles Parsons of the electrical and engraving firm of C. A. Parsons & Company; Mr J. Howard Colls, of Colls and Sons, builders and contractors; and Sir Charles Tennant, Bart., an octogenarian and former Gladstonian Liberal M.P. of the chemical manufacturing firm of Tennant & Sons. Iron and steel, tin, building materials, glass, and chemicals, all midlands products hard hit by German and American competition. These interests constituted the heart of the Commission and of the League itself. 14



The Times, December 18, 1903, 7, ef; The Annual Register; A Review of Public Events at Home and Abroad for 1903; 234-235; Directory of Directors: A List of the Directors of the Joint Stock Companies of the United Kingdom, and the Companies in Which They Are Concerned ( London, 1907), XXVIII, passim. The business interests of the Commissioners were shared by many other important members of the League itself. The Duke of Sutherland, the president of the League, was also a director of the Florence Coal and Iron Company Ltd., and the Stafford Coal and Iron Company. Sir Joseph Lawrence, an active League official, was chairman of the Dunderland Iron Ore Company, Ltd., chairman of the Edison Ore Milling Syndicate, Ltd., and chairman of Linotype and Machinery, Ltd. Pike Pease, MP, a prominent member, was a director of the Normanby Iron Works Company, Ltd., and Sir J. Randles, MP, another, was director of the Workington Iron Company, Ltd. Imperial

Woollen goods and cotton goods had, it ought to be noted, no representation upon the Commission. The Liberals were quick to note two other important omissions from the roster of the Tariff Reform League's Commission. Mr John Ellis, M.P. (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe) asked in the House: 'Why was it that not a single banker of repute sat on the Tariff Commission.' 15 Mr Beckett, an M.P. for Whitby, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, chided Chamberlain in much the same fashion. 'Wide as the right hon Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had spread his net, he had not been able to capture a single banker to serve on that committee of political blacksmiths who were engaged in forging fetters for British industry.' 16 Nor was there a workman on the Tariff Commission, a fact which allowed Lloyd George to exercise his parliamentary wit. 'Take this celebrated Tariff Commission. The right hon Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham would not put a workman on that Commission, because he could not afford to pay the expense.' Immediately there were cries of 'No, no!' from the majority benches. 'Was it wrong of him to quote the reason given by the right hon Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham,' Lloyd George snapped back. 'He was not criticising it.' 17

If we turn to consider the supporters of the Tariff Reform League in parliament, we are faced with the opinion of one authority that by the end of the nineteenth century 'there was no appreciable economic difference between the two great government-forming parties in the House of Commons.' How, then, can we explain the fact that nearly every member of the


interests -- especially South African interests-were well represented: F. Rutherford Harris, a member of the first Executive Committee, was a director of Cape Electric Tramways Ltd., the Capetown Consolidated Tramways and Land Company Ltd., and The Monomotapa Development Company Ltd.; Sir Henry Kimber, MP, the Chairman of the Wandsworth branch of the Tariff Reform League, was the director of eleven companies-all in either Africa or India -- and was the chairman of more than half of these; A. Fell, MP, an active League member, was director of six African, and two Canadian companies; Charles S. Goldman, a member of the Executive Committee of the League, was a director of twenty-three mining companies, mostly gold, and practically all in South Africa.


Parliamentary Debates, Fourth Series, CXXIX, 822, February 9, 1904.


Ibid., p. 1241, February 12, 1904.


Ibid., p. 954, February 10, 1904.

Unionist party in the House of Commons was associated with the Tariff Reform League? By 1900 many of the differences of interests between the Liberal and Conservative Parties had indeed disappeared. But certain differences persisted. A most significant one was the number of landlords in each of the parties in the parliament of 1900: 150 landlords in the Conservative Party to but thirty in the Liberal Party. 18 C. R. Fay, in commenting on an analysis of the vote on Corn Law repeal in 1846, has explained the what might have seemed surprising adherence of the 'railway interests' to the protectionist cause by citing the strong representation of landowners on railway directorates. Landowners had a real interest in whether fiscal needs were to be met by increased taxes on land or by tariff revenues -- witness the reaction of the House of Lords to the Lloyd George Budget. 19 One of the principal owners of booming London real estate was the Duke of Westminster, the Chairman of the Council of the Tariff Reform League. Another significant difference, this time principally of sentiment, was in the service representation: seventy army men in the Conservative party to ten Liberal army men; four Conservative naval men, where there were none among the Liberals.

Yet Unionist support for the Chamberlain programme was hardly unanimous. The leader of the Conservative party in the House of Commons, Arthur James Balfour, was planted midway between the all-out Tariff Reformers and the unreconstructed Free Traders; behind him was marshalled a sizeable portion of party sentiment. The Tariff Reformers never considered Balfour as one of their own. Austen Chamberlain described him as sympathetic to the idea of Tariff Reform but not a 'full-blooded Protectionist.' Balfour, he insisted, was really a 'fiscal reformer,' only interested in having at hand a weapon for use in commercial negotiations. 20 The Free Traders, on the other hand, believed Balfour had been won over for protection and preference, but was not revealing his hand in



J. A. Thomas, The House of Commons, 1832-1901: A Study of Its Economic and Functional Character ( Oxford University Press, 1939), p. 20. We have used the tables which appeared upon pp. 14, 15, and 21.


C. R. Fay, The Corn Laws and Social England ( Cambridge University Press, 1932), p. 102.


Austen Chamberlain, Down the Years ( London: Cassell, 1935), pp. 211-212.

the interest of party harmony. Shortly after the announcement of Chamberlain's 1903 proposals, Balfour exhibited himself in a position of neutrality by securing the resignations from the Cabinet of the leaders of both Free Trade and Tariff Reform sections of the party. Mrs Dugdale, Balfour's biographer and niece, has written of a conversation which took place between her and her uncle some years after the end of the tariff crusade:

'A.J.B.: ". . . Joe's was a new doctrine. Joe was becoming an Imperialist, and he saw that Imperialism was impossible on the bare naked Free Trade basis, -- or at any rate that it would lose half its strength."

Myself: "And you agreed with that?"

A.J.B.: "Yes I did -- I should say I did certainly".'

Balfour's many long hesitations, Mrs Dugdale has suggested, resulted from his not wishing to split the party. On one occasion, Balfour boasted that the continued unity of the Conservatives during this period was due to the success of his 'Fabian methods.' 21

The Tariff Reform League, however, did not share Balfour's scruples over splitting the party. Balfour was disturbed by many of the techniques used by the League to convert the country, and by their efforts to convert the party. Hewins reported him 'unduly sensitive to inaccuracies of expression' in the Tariff League propaganda. He was particularly irritated by what became the chief Tariff League slogan: ' Tariff Reform Means Work for All.' He felt there was no real basis for this claim. 22 Much to the discomfiture of the Unionist leader, the extreme Tariff Reformers even made attempts to purge the parliamentary party of those of its members who were at all opposed to the Chamberlain proposals. The most dramatic instance of such an effort to undercut Balfour's leadership of the party was the formation of 'the Confederacy.' In the words of one of the chief 'confederates,' the purpose of the group was 'to drive the enemies of tariff reform out of the Conservative Party.' The Confederacy was an intra-party conspiracy on the part of Tariff Reform League stalwarts designed to 'put the fear of the Confederacy into the hearts of all local



Quoted in Blanche E. C. Dugdale, Arthur James Balfour ( London: Hutchinson, 1936), I, pp. 344-345; II, p. 84.


Hewins, op. cit., I, p. 187.

Unionist Associations' so that no candidate who did not approve of the Chamberlain policy would be adopted. The members of the conspiracy were determined to fight constituencies in which such candidates were nominated even if this insured a Liberal victory. They preferred to have Liberal members seated rather than Free Trade Tories. 23 Austen Chamberlain has provided us with an example of the attempt of the Tariff Reformers to 'convert Lord Robert Cecil. The Tariff Reformers told Cecil, a Tory Free Trader, in early February 1909, that he would be opposed in the forthcoming election unless he promised not to oppose the Chamberlain programme. If Cecil refused, 'then frankly,' Chamberlain asserted, I would sooner the seat were given to the Radicals or, if that could not be and we could not win, that Bob came in against us as an open foe.' 24

But the most important job which the Tariff Reform League had set itself was not the 'purging' of the Unionist party, but the conversion of the British working classes.


The working class had received its education in economics from the writings of Harriet Martineau, the speeches of Richard Cobden, the pamphlets of the Anti-Corn Law League, and the parliamentary pronouncements of W. E. Gladstone. Free Trade had received the backing not only of nearly a century of Liberal statesmen, but even of Peel and Disraeli. To the British worker, Free Trade meant the cheap loaf, the 'free breakfast table,' and the banishment of the possibility of return to the 'hungry forties.' The leaders of the organized working class supported Free Trade not only as good economics, but because it was set in the political context of internationalism and peace. The Trades Union Congresses passed Free Trade resolutions, and praise for Free Trade came from socialist leaders like Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald, and Philip Snowden. The Tariff Reform League had undertaken



Brigadier-General Lord Croft, My Life of Strife ( London: Hutchinson, 1948), p. 43.


Chamberlain, Politics from Inside, pp. 138-140, 181.

no simple task when it set out to undermine the British worker's confidence in Cobdenism. Its efforts threw the nation into a gigantic economic debate comparable only to that which raged in the 'forties before the abolition of the corn laws. Every aspect of economic life was publicly dissected. At streetcorner meetings, all of labour's grievances-unemployment, the decline of wages, bad working conditions -- were explored by Tariff Reform speakers. The introduction of the Lloyd George budget of 1909 broadened and intensified the debate.

There had been no self-conscious working class in the socalled 'golden age' of Liberal Britain, between approximately 1850 and 1874. The trade unions of the period were wealthy friendly societies whose treasuries supported sick and burial funds and could not therefore be squandered in industrial strife. Inevitably they drew their members from the highly skilled, better-paid artisans. These unions identified their interests closely with those of their employers. The 'seventies and 'eighties saw the end of the idyll of master and man, arms linked. In the 'eighties, socialist societies were formed, and the Dock Strike of 1889 began the organization of the unskilled workmen. Socialist resolutions were passed by the Trades Union Congresses in the 'nineties, and the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner of the Labour Party, was set up in 1900.

Still the working class had not arrived at a state which a socialist would describe as 'class-conscious.' They struck at the call of their union; they hated the blackleg worker; they might look for a union label on a purchased article. At the polls, however, only a small number had yielded to the persuasion of their leaders that there was a working class political programme, and most of the working class continued to vote either Liberal or Conservative. There was, furthermore, an imperviousness to principle among the rank-and-file workers. They were not troubled, for instance, when their representatives, their paid union officials, voted for socialist resolutions -- of which they must have disapproved given their own contrary votes in parliamentary elections -- at Labour Party Conferences. However, when a resolution proposing the raising of the school-leaving age to 14 was moved at the Labour Party Conference of 1912, the officials of the textile and miners'

unions, who had previously voted for socialist resolutions without hesitation, understood that their constituents would not react kindly to their support of a proposal which would cut into family income. In spite of their admitted personal approval of the proposal, these union leaders voted against it, perceiving the primary importance to their workerconstituents of the regularity and size of the pay envelope. 25 The propagandists of the Tariff Reform League also understood what matters the English working man regarded as most important.

Between 1881 and 1891, the National Fair Trade League had worked to convert the nation to protection. (The use of the term 'fair trade,' like the subsequent use of 'Tariff Reform', indicated how odious was the word 'protection' -- especially to the working classes.) Like their successors at the Tariff Reform League, the Fair Trade Leaguers had fixed their sights upon the working classes. Their tactics, however, were most unsuited to the task. The workmen whom the League employed were frequently corrupt and dishonest, and the fact of their receiving substantial sums to do their jobs became known and seriously limited their effectiveness among the working classes. The Fair Traders employed the most questionable of tactics. For example, they hoped to intimidate believers in trade orthodoxy by inciting mobs of workers to violence, and they actually provoked and led street riots. They alienated the bulk of the organized working class by an attempt to 'pack' the Trades Union Congress with their cohorts. There was, however, much in the Fair Trade agitation which appealed to the working class. For example, the efforts of the 'sugar men' -- both British refiners and West Indian planters -to impose duties to offset the effect of bounties paid foreign sugar producers recommended themselves to part of the working class because of several thousand unemployed sugar refinery workers.

Many of the Trades Councils, during the 'eighties, including the London Trades Council, gave active support to this antibounty campaign. The Secretary of the London Trades Council, George Shipton, was a leader of the anti-bounty forces. Still, even these anti-bounty workers insisted that they were



Labour Party Conference ( 1912), p. 105.

not protectionists. An important limitation of Fair Trade efforts to convert the working class was unofficial talk among Fair Trade leaders of the need for increasing the hours of work and decreasing wages simultaneously with securing tariff protection. This could not be regarded as too auspicious by labour. The socialist union leader H. H. Champion believed that the workers could not hope for an eight-hour day 'without conceding to the principle of Fair Trade.' However, he insisted that the first step the Fair Traders must take must be to reduce the hours of labour. 'If you will do that,' Champion went on, 'and can thus persuade the workman that your real object is to improve his condition, and not to save the landlord's rent, the mine-owner's royalty, and the capitalist's interest, you will infallibly sweep the constituencies.' 26

Joseph Chamberlain and the Tariff Reform League tried to avoid some of the errors of their Fair Trade predecessors. For one thing, they linked protectionist proposals with the popular cause of imperialism, although this had a built-in stumbling block, for as devoted as the working man was to the empire, he was much more concerned with the 'cheap loaf.' Tariff Reform attempts to convince the working man that protection and preference was the 'poor man's programme,' were, furthermore, undermined by the hostility generated by the Taff Vale decision and the Tariff Reformers' position on the 1909 Budget, situations which were used by the Liberals to convince the working class of Tariff Reformer interest in 'the landlord's rent,' and 'the mine-owner's royalty.' But, on the whole, the campaign of the Tariff Reformers to convert the working man to protection was directed more intelligently than that of the Fair Traders. It was also more intensive. Many millions of leaflets were distributed. Many thousands of meetings-from those on street corners to those in Albert Hall-were held. The press blared daily the same terse message: ' Tariff Reform Means Work for All.' Local Tariff Reform Associations were formed in hundreds of constituencies to enlist the rank-and-file behind the Chamberlain programme. Tariff Reform teas were held and Tariff Reform pageants and plays were presented. Music hall ditties were



Quoted in Brown, op. cit., p. 30. See also pp. 29-39.

composed on the subject. Finally, the Trade Unionist Tariff Reform Association, with hundreds of local affiliates, was formed to enlist the working man to the cause.

Chamberlain tried to model the strategy of his campaign upon that of the Anti-Corn Law League. In a letter written late in 1903, he stated that 'at present my work is in the towns -- as Cobden's was in the first instance.' 27 And to the towns he went preaching the gospel of 'imperial-democracy.' If the strategy was to be that of the Anti-Corn Law League, the tactics were those of the high-pressure 'penny-journalist' Arthur Pearson, publisher of the Daily Express and chief mentor of the T.R.L. Chamberlain referred to Pearson as a 'hustler,' and the description was an apt one. Pearson introduced American political methods and tactics into the Tariff campaign and did so shrewdly. Every device was employed to bring the Tariff message to the electors. The gramophone was used to bring Chamberlain's voice to smaller audiences; 28 the music halls sounded to sprightly Tariff tunes; 29 the muse of political doggerels was invoked. 30 But most important were



Quoted in Lady St Helier, Memories of Fifty Years ( London, 1910), p. 288.


Sidney Dark, The Life of Sir Arthur Pearson ( London, 1922?), pp. 106-107. Pearson's biographer quotes a letter written by the publisher to Chamberlain on October 13, 1903:

Will you speak a twenty minutes' or half-an-hour's speech on the gramophone so that we can make its repetition a feature of our meetings. . . . A loud-speaking gramophone can be heard in quite a large hall, and your very clear enunciation would be all in favour of a good reproduction. . . . If you will fall in with this suggestion it will enable us to present a tremendous attraction to small audiences all over the country and will secure bumper attendances at all our meetings. Grover Cleveland made great use of the gramophone in its then still imperfect state of development during his last successful campaign.


One example of music-hall Chamberlainia is this bit from "The John Bull Store" quoted in Alexander Mackintosh, Joseph Chamberlain: An Honest Biography ( London, 1906), p. 330:

Our Joe is straight and square, and he's always played us fair

When we've trusted him with jobs before,
So we'll help him all we can, and we'll find that Joey's plan
Is the saving of the John Bull Store.


The movement had the services of 'poetess' Eva Bright, who dashed off such lyrics as:

When wealth and mirth refill the earth,

Let each man tell his neighbour,
All this we owe to Chamberlain!
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

the big guns of the penny-press. The largest Tariff Reform paper was Pearson own Daily Express. Even before the opening of the Chamberlain campaign, the Daily Express had proved its mettle by engaging Ernest Williams, a former Fabian and the author of Made in Germany, to write protectionist articles for it. Articles on the necessity of an Imperial Zollverein were also appearing regularly in the Express before 1903. Nevertheless, when Chamberlain made his proposals, Pearson, like his colleague Northcliffe of the Daily Mail, did hesitate. Northcliffe never fully supported preference; he feared and disapproved of the tax on food, the so-called 'stomachtax.' Pearson had similar reservations but was won over by the manoeuvres of Tariff Reform enthusiasts like Ralph Blumenfeld and J. B. Wilson of the Express staff and by the powerful charm of Chamberlain himself. The Express became the first London paper to back the Chamberlain proposals. 31

Ralph Blumenfeld, who had served his apprenticeship as a journalist on the sensational press of New York, directed the Tariff Reform campaign of the Express. Writing years afterward, Blumenfeld discussed the difficulties he had faced and described the solution. The Tariff Reformers-in mid-1903 -were met by a solidly hostile press. The Liberal newspapers had 'almost hypnotised a large section of the public into the belief that if tariffs were imposed on any kind of foreign goods, the British working man would starve.' Blumenfeld met the situation by hammering steadily and repeatedly at the same line. He described its formulation and execution as follows:

'We who believed in Tariff Reform produced, by means of constant iteration and reiteration, mass thinking on our side. Joseph Chamberlain said to me one day: "If you can only make working men understand that tariffs will give them more work, you will have done the trick." I then invented the famous slogan, "Tariff Reform


With potent words he'll plead our great FRATERNAL cause,
See written in a people's heart, 'REFORM OUR FISCAL LAWS';
Restore our waning Commerce, dispel a Nation's gloom.
One cheer, my lads! -- Joe Chamberlain! He'll gain that mighty boon!
That's the glad day coming, lads -- the glad day coming soon!
( Tariff Reform League Leaflet No. 63).


Dark, op. cit., p. 100; Ralph Blumenfeld, R. D. B.'s Diary, 1887-1914 ( London, 1930), pp. 194-196; Blumenfeld, R. D. B.'s Procession ( New York, 1935), pp. 197-198.

Means Work for All." We flaunted it day after day, week and week on the front page of the Daily Express. It was assailed as if it were a deadly plague. It focussed opinion, more than all the political speeches, on the point at issue.' 32

The slogan ' Tariff Reform Means Work for All' was the heart of the campaign to convert the working class. 'Work for All' was a slogan the British workman could well appreciate, and the Tariff Reformers played repeatedly upon this theme with numberless variations. Press support for Chamberlain increased rapidly. In 1904 the Conservative but Free Trade Standard was bought by Pearson and under the editorship of H. A. Gwynne, it became a leading Tariff Reform stalwart. By the time of Pearson's acquisition of the Standard, 15 of the 21 London daily and evening papers supported Chamberlain and only six opposed him. The publications of Pearson alone wielded immense influence and included not only the Standard and Express but also the Evening Standard, St James Gazette, Birmingham Daily Gazette, Birmingham Evening Dispatch, Leicester Evening News, North Mail, Midland Express, Newcastle Weekly Leader. 33

The press was not the only weapon of attack. The British worker was assailed from all sides with leaflets, pamphlets, posters, diagrams, cartoons, and sheets of statistics. Upholding Cobdenism in the leaflet war were the Cobden Club, the Free Trade Union, and the Liberal party. Pressing the attack for Chamberlain were the Tariff Reform Leagues of London and Birmingham. The battle of the pamphlets continued throughout the period between 1903 and 1910, gaining momentum until it reached its peak of intensity with the two elections of 1910. After 1910, the activities of both the Tariff Reformers and the Free Traders took a sharp drop. The record of the activities of the Tariff Reform League of London indicates the size of the struggle. It published not only leaflets and pamphlets but monthly notes for members of the movement, notes for speakers, editor's news sheets, and a Tariff Reformer's Pocket Book; all were issued in large editions. In 1906, 1,603,000 leaflets, pamphlets, and posters were issued by the League; by 1907 the previous year's total had doubled, reaching 3,225,-



Ralph Blumenfeld, The Press in My Time ( London, 1933), pp. 48-49.


Dark, op. cit., pp. 113-119, 123.

000; this last total almost doubled again when it reached 6,034,900 in 1908; between January 1909 and the end of the first election of 1910, the Tariff Reform League had distributed 53,169,716 leaflets, pamphlets and posters. 34

To help sell Tariff Reform to the working class, the T.R.L. organized a Trade Union branch. In the 'eighties, the Fair Traders had also made use of the services of members of the working class. The value of the protectionist agitators of the 'eighties was, however, as has been mentioned, severely undermined by their questionable character and by disclosures of large sums of money which they were paid. By the time of the Chamberlain crusade, the use of obvious renegades was unnecessary; many 'bona-fide trade unionists' were sincere advocates of the new fiscal policy. The term 'bona-fide trade unionist' appeared again and again in reports concerning the Trade Union Branch to emphasize the genuineness of the working class character of the organization, to stress that if the branch members did not, indeed, represent, in any official sense, trade union organizations, they themselves were at least members of trade unions.

The Trade Union Branch of the Tariff Reform League, later called the Trade Unionist Reform Association, aped the activities of the parent body on a much reduced scale. Branches of the Association were formed throughout Great Britain; a Scottish, a Yorkshire, and a Lancashire District Council were set up. 35 There seems to have been a rather large number of branches throughout the country; however, the number of members each branch possessed is more uncertain. At times the Association, in announcing to the press the formation of a new branch, would cite with satisfaction the number of members who had already joined. These figures ranged from the 'between 30 and 40' who joined the branch established at Merthyr Tydfil to the '100 trade unionists' who had become members of a newly organized branch at Redheugh. 36 The Trade Unionist Tariff Reform Association was entirely dependent upon the Tariff Reform League for pub-



Austen Chamberlain, Politics From Inside, p. 156; T. J. MacNamara, Tariff Reform and the Working Man ( London, 1910), p. 19.


The Times, September 26, 1907, 2e; June 21, 1906, 13f; October 4, 1909, 12d.


Ibid., May 29, 1907, 14a.

lished material, publishing nothing of its own. Its function was to hold meetings in working class districts and to supply trade unionist speakers when requested. A large number of meetings was held under its auspices. In May 1909 the Association claimed it was holding an average, each month, of 200 meetings and that all the speakers at those meetings were 'bona-fide' trade unionists. 37 During the intensive election campaign of January 1910, the Association announced its intention of holding two or three meetings a day at Wolverhampton and thirty to forty a week in London. 38

The president of the Association was F. Hastings Medhurst. The general secretary was Alderman G. K. Naylor of the London County Council, a member of the Electrotypers Union; the Association's central office was under Naylor's control. It cannot be said that any of the other members of the Trade Union Branch were at all prominent within the Labour movement. Some were officials in smaller amalgamated societies, others were officers in branches of the more important trade unions. At one of the conventions of the Trade Union Tariff Reform Association, those delegates who had also served as delegates to the Trades Union Congress were listed. These were, perhaps, the most prominent members of the Tariff League branch. They included W. Dyson of the Amalgamated Society of Papermakers; A. R. Jephcott, JP, of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers; S. Longville, vicepresident of the Cardiff Typographical Association; W. Queen, general secretary of the Edinburgh and Leith Carters' Association; R. Wilson, general secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Slaters and Tilers; H. T. Pollard of the Carpenters; J. Reid of the Engineers; and the League's general secretary, G. K. Naylor of the Electrotypers. 39

In spite of fairly energetic activities, it is doubtful that the Association was very effective in converting trade unionists to Tariff Reform. Its resources, both in finance and personnel, were too severely limited. Headed by a powerful trade union orator, it might have compensated for its lack of numbers



Ibid., May 25, 1909, 16d.


Ibid., December 10, 1909, 10b.


Ibid., September 8, 1906, 7f; Imperial Tariff Committee, Monthly Notes on Tariff Reform ( Birmingham, 1907), August 1907, p. 49.

and funds. Unfortunately, its general secretary, G. K. Naylor, had a bloated, boring, awkward style, unnecessarily complex for any audience. 40 Even if its secretary was not very effective in the field, the Branch still maintained its value as a demonstration of the existence of trade unionist Tariff Reformers, as 'proof that the support given by the Trades Union Congress to Free Trade did not represent the unanimous opinion of the British working class. 41 The Trade Union Branch worked hard to secure 'official' recognition as a 'bona-fide' trade union organization but its claims were consistently turned down by the Trades Union Congress. 42


The Tariff Reform League appealed to workers both as a class and in their position as producers with interests in particular trades. The technique was pretty much the same as that used at an open-air Tariff Reform meeting described by the Liberal M.P., T. J. MacNamara:

'My lads! You see those Works over yonder-closed, dilapidated, and fallen into decay. When you were boys, £200,000 a year wages was earned in those Works. What killed them? Foreign competition! What ought you to do? Keep the foreigner out; and once again happiness, prosperity, employment, and -- £200,000 a year wages!' 43



In a meeting at Limehouse in December 1904, Naylor fumbled in this manner:

I would tell the trade unionists of this country that they are fighting their battle of principle with the proverbial millstone of free imports tied round their necks, absolutely precluding them from many movements for reform in other directions.

How can trade unionists view with worse than practical indifference the dumping of goods into the home market, made under conditions that in their effect are equivalent in every respect to the introduction of cheap labour into this country?

(Applause). Quoted in Ibid., January 1905, p. 7.


See Ibid., December 1905, p. 197; November 1904, pp. 162-193; The Times, January 1, 1906, 15f.


Report of Proceedings at the Thirty-Eighth Annual Trades Union Congress ( London, 1905), pp. 98-100.


T. J. MacNamara, The Political Situation: Letters to a Working Man ( London, 1909), p. 7.

If 'those Works over yonder' were still open, they were described as being in great peril. Imposing statistical proof was offered. Virtually all British trades were considered by League publications. Special leaflets were prepared for railway workers, cotton operatives, agriculturists, agricultural labourers, as well as workers in the book trade, leather workers, glove makers, dock workers, woollen workers, small gardeners and market gardeners, fishermen, coal miners, grape growers, glass workers, pottery workers, iron and steel workers, wood workers, silk workers, lace workers, paper-makers, hat-makers, engineers, linen workers, slate workers, clerks, potato growers, the building trade, carpenters and joiners, dry goodsmen, millers, and even piano makers. 44 All these leaflets described the benefits in wages and the new security of employment which would result from Tariff Reform and depicted in awful terms the disastrous consequences of the failure to adopt the Chamberlain programme.

Both the leaflets directed toward the problems of a particular trade and those dealing with more general themes stressed the need of protection from the self-seeking, destructive foreigner. The foreigner assumed different shapes. Most often he was simply labelled the 'foreigner.' 45 At other times he appeared as a bloated ' Herr Dumper' who spoke in such unmistakable accents as 'hullo, mein freindt.' 46 At still other times the 'foreigner' took on a corporate shape: the American Beef Trust or the Chicago Meat Trust or the American Hop Trust. These American trusts were accused of conspiring to ruin British stock raisers and hop growers and to throw thousands of agricultural workmen out of their jobs. 47 The Tariff Reform League urged 'Fair Play for British Workers!' 48 and posed the alternative of 'Britisher or Foreigner? Free Trade means More Taxes and Less Wages -- Tariff Reform means British Work for British Workers.' 49 One leaflet proclaimed that 'Every Vote



Tariff Reform League Leaflets Nos. 26-28, 39, 40, 45, 46, 60, 69, 79, 81, 84, 105, 112, 115-117, 142, 143, 150-167, 170, 185, 190, 191, 199, 219, 221-226, 238, 243, 257, 267. In future notes, T.R.L.L. No. --.


T.R.L.L. No. 209.


T.R.L.L. No. 212.


de F. Pennefather, The Hop Trust, the Beef Trust, and Their Free Trade Allies ( Hereford: 1903), p. 3, and T.R.L.L. No. 233.


T.R.L.L. No. 217.


T.R.L.L. No. 215.

for Free Trade Means Work for the Foreigner and WANT for British Workmen.' 50 Another inquired 'What is Retaliation?' and answered 'Justice for the British Worker.' 51 Foreign labour, German labour in particular,was said to work long hours for low wages: 'why allow goods made by blackleg labour to come into this country free of duty AND ROB BRITISH WORKERS OF EMPLOYMENT & WAGES?' 52 A Tariff Leaflet spoke of the working class objection to the pauper alien because he accepted low wages and lowered living standards. 'You know this is bad for England, and your first duty is to your country,' it continued. 'But can you not see that it is worse to have him working against you abroad?' In England his labour at least helped to maintain the British Navy, 'in Germany it helps to build the German Navy, which we are really creating by our system of free imports.' 'Why not . . . make use of the Custom House officials to act as your pickets against the foreign blackleg?' 53

The Imperial Tariff Committee of Birmingham produced a leaflet headlined 'Your Wages in Danger' which discussed the imminent possibility that the United States Steel and Iron Trusts would flood Great Britain with cheap iron and steel:

'If the English iron and steel works shut down, there will be less demand for coal; and coal miners will have to be content with less wages; and the 100,000 men employed in iron and steel works will have to go elsewhere for their daily bread.

If you send steel made in England to Americay it has to pay a duty of 25s a ton. But the American can send his steel here for nothing and take away your bread. . . . Ask yourselves whether it is of any use to have cheap bread if you have no wages with which to buy the bread.' 54

The German too was pictured as trying to deprive the British workman of his loaf. In belligerent tones one leaflet asked: 'British Workmen, how much longer are you going to allow German Workmen to take the Bread out of your Mouths by Dumping their Untaxed Goods into this Country below Cost



T.R.L.L. No. 211.


T.R.L.L. No. 9.


T.R.L.L. No. 217.


T.R.L.L. No. 16.


Imperial Tariff Committee, Trade and the Empire ( Birmingham, n.d.), Leaflet No. 15.

Price?' 55 In sum the argument presented to the British workman was this: 'We are being unfairly beaten by the foreigner. Shall we take it lying down?' 56 It was a potent argument; it appealed to national pride, self-interest, and to canons of primitive justice. It undoubtedly had much success among the working class. A Free Trade journal discussed the Tariff Reform arguments in these hostile terms. 'The British workman,' it wrote, 'is essentially a bully, and nothing appeals more powerfully to him than the "hit-'em-back" and "take-it-lyingdown" arguments.' 57

Germany played a double role in the campaign of the Tariff Reformers. She was the enemy, the competitor who must be warded off British shores by a tariff, and she was the model, a nation in which the system advocated by Chamberlain was in effective and successful operation. It is not an infrequent occurrence in history that a nation prepares itself to meet its enemies by aping them. The Tariff Reformers pointed to the greatly expanded German industry and empire as proof of their contentions. The Free Traders placed their emphasis upon the condition of the German working class and were quick to point out that the German socialist party was the largest in Europe.

The facts of the German domestic situation became an important part of English politics. The diet of the German worker, for example, was debated by the Free Traders, who insisted that he ate horseflesh and black bread, and the Tariff Reformers who felt compelled to deny categorically that the German working man ate bread made of anything but the fine kernel of the wheat and to assert that if he purchased horseflesh it was but to feed his dogs. Furthermore, the Tariff Reformers argued, both bread and horseflesh could be bought more cheaply in Germany than in England. In April 1908, the Secretary of the Tariff Reform League took the Liberal Publication Department to task for a pamphlet which listed the price for a 3 1b. loaf of black bread, in Germany, as 6d. The Tariff League insisted that a 4 1b. loaf of bread, one-sixth rye



Tariff Reform League, Cartoon Series, Leaflet D.


T.R.L., Tariff Reform by Pen and Pencil, p. 28.


A Student of Public Affairs, "Mr Chamberlain's Future," in Fortnightly Review, 81/ 75:451, March 1, 1904.

and five-sixths wheat, cost but 5¼d. The Secretary of the Liberal Publication Department replied in rebuttal, a week later, citing The Economist. It was a grand debate. British estimates of the range of prices for a 4 1b. rye loaf in Berlin in February 1908, ran from the Free Trade Economist's 8d, to the Board of Trade's 7½d, to the Tariff Reform League's 5¼d. 58

Because of the difficulty of agreeing on figures, the Tariff Reform League arranged to transport English workmen to Germany where they could investigate German conditions for themselves. The 'tariff-trippers,' as these Tariff Reform workmen were called, returned to England full of information concerning the happy state of the German working class. They often reported the German situation with greater enthusiasm than accuracy and the results were sometimes embarrassing to the sponsors of their voyages. At a dinner at the Hotel Cecil, for instance, on April 14, 1910, Councillor Wilkinson, a recently returned 'tariff-tripper,' told the sixty-four working men luncheon guests of Viscount Ridley that in Germany black bread was baked only for horses, a fact which came as quite a shock to the attending Tariff Reform members of parliament who had just succeeded in introducing rye-bread at the House of Commons restaurant. 59 In sum, the British working man was told by his travelling co-workers that 'in our "Free Trade" country glaring evidences of misery and poverty are to be met with on all sides, but in German towns things are different.' 60 German workers were paid better wages and had more favourable conditions of employment. Free Trade, on the other hand, meant low wages and dear food: 'Your Cobdenism is costing you more.' 61 Working class and socialist leaders regarded the 'tariff-trippers' as traitors and renegades, men bought by their enemies, men 'worse than a woman who has sold her virtue,' as 'judases' 'canonised for having accepted five guineas a week.' 62

At the meetings of the Trade Union Branch, the socialimperial argument was dispensed in liberal draughts. At one



Liberal Magazine, June 1908, XVI, pp. 318-319; July 1908, p. 401.


Liberal Magazine, May 1910, XVIII, p. 241.


Tariff Reform League, 'Free Traders' and Germany ( London, 1910), p. 6.


Ibid., p. 48.


Socaliist Review, V, 243-244, June 1910.

meeting, for instance, the full gamut was run. The chairman of the branch, Medhurst, was the principal speaker; his subject was the eight-hour day. The Trades Union Congress, he declared, was in favour of an eight-hour day; so was the Trade Union Branch of the ' Tariff Reform League. 'If,' however, 'they wished to have an eight hours' day adopted, they would have to exclude from competition with our countrymen, who would work eight hours, the hand-work of foreigners who worked longer hours for less wages.' The remainder of the meeting consisted of bestowing praise upon the T.U.C. for having declared itself against the hiring of foreign fitters and joiners while their British counterparts were unemployed; a contention that the Labour Representation Committee 'was unconsciously on the way to tariff reform'; a citation of the colonial offer 'to give us trade and commercial advantages which would bring to us more profit and more money'; a motion by W. Dyson to end unemployment by revising the tariff system; and a declaration by a visiting Tariff Reform shipowner, J. H. Welsford, that 'there should be co-operation between capital and labour' and that, in view of the high rate of interest for capital abroad, 'industry must see that capital [at home] was made as productive and secure as it was abroad.' 63

The leaders of the Branch made every effort to prove that on the important questions 'they were at one with . . . the other trade union leaders.' 64 They were at times wonderfully shrewd in their statements and took care not to step too heavily on labour toes. One of their manifestoes on socialism and Tariff Reform read:

'Trade Unionists, and others out of employment through foreign competition, are offered by certain of their leaders an academic remedy in the shape of nationalization of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, as to the merits of which we offer no opinion. We firmly believe, however, that neither we nor our fellow workers can afford to wait for the millennium, and we have no alternative but to support the business-like fiscal policy which has been brought forward by Mr. Chamberlain. This policy will, firstly, safeguard our industries from illegitimate and an unfair foreign competition; secondly, safeguard the workers of this coun-



The Times, September 8, 1906, 7f.


Ibid., May 16, 1906, 12e.

try from having to compete with the products of sweated labour abroad; and lastly, by a reasonable businesslike arrangement with our comrades throughout the British Empire, secure British markets for British workmen.' 65

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