XII LORD ROBERTS AND ROBERT BLATCHFORD
When Baron Roberts returned to England in January 1901, he was greeted with a shower of praise and gratitude by his countrymen. He was received by Victoria who conferred upon him a new title-he became Viscount St Pierre and Earl Roberts of Pretoria. Roberts was admitted to the Order of the Garter and parliament granted him £100,000 for his services. The great hero of the British Empire was named Commanderin-Chief of the British Army. It was early in 1904 that Earl Roberts retired from active duty with the Army and set out on the last campaign of his fe.
It was an intensely personal campaign. Roberts delivered himself entirely to the cause and was regarded as somewhat of a crank as a result. One of his pet projects, for example, was the rifle club. In 1905, he urged the formation of rifle clubs by means of which Englishmen might become as skilled marksmen as their medieval ancestors, the bowmen victors of Agincourt. He toured the country warning his listeners that British security could only be protected by armed strength. South Africa had demonstrated the weaknesses of the Army. Would not action now be taken to raise the large numbers of trained, skilled soldiers which were needed to defend the country and the Empire?
Speakers were dispatched to all parts of the country by the National Service League to campaign in support of Roberts. Tours to study the Swiss system of national service were arranged by the League and special efforts were made to have Labour M.P.'s and trade union officials join these tours. Roberts' speeches were published and widely distributed. By the end of the decade, the League's and Earl Roberts' appeals appear to have been heard by many in the country despite the silence of the parliamentary politicians. By 1908, Roberts, as President of the Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs, was able to announce that more than 1,000 clubs, most of them new ones, had become affiliated to the national society. The Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and the Spectator were offering the National Service League their regular support. By 1909 the League, which had had but 4,000 members when Roberts had taken charge in 1904, had 35,000 members. 2
Roberts and the National Service League made special appeals to the working class, known to be especially antagonistic to conscription or any form of 'militarism.' Roberts warned the working man that his prosperity depended upon the import of raw materials for him to work up into finished goods and that he could not live without imported foodstuffs. Without a strong army and navy, he asserted, these necessary imports would be imperilled in the event of war. 3 This was no mere 'party question,' Roberts maintained, it was 'a National question': 'it is my absolute belief that, without a military organisation more adequate to the certain perils of the future, our Empire will fall from us and our power will pass away.' 4 In a famous speech delivered in Manchester, in October 1912, Roberts gave the working man a shrill warning concerning the danger of Germany: 'The German Socialist, it is said, will not make war upon his French or his English comrade,' Roberts began. This was nonsense. 'Gentlemen,' he continued, 'it is to the credit of the human race that patriotism, in the presence of such organisations, has always proved itself superior to any class or any individual.' The alternatives were simple: Englishmen must either 'abandon our Empire, and with it our mercantile wealth' or 'we must be prepared to defend it.' 5
Lord Roberts' strictures upon Germany in his Manchester address gave rise to much criticism of the Field Marshal himself, especially on the part of the Liberal press. It also provided the occasion for Robert Blatchford, a former noncommissioned officer in the British army, to comment in his socialist weekly, The Clarion, upon the campaign of the National Service League. ' Lord Roberts is a great general and an honourable man,' Blatchford wrote in a leading article on 'The Mis-Ruling Classes.' 'The sincerity of his patriotism is above suspicion. Logically, also, he is impregnable. He sees that in an armed Europe an unarmed England is a danger. He believes, and so do I, that the best way to preserve the peace is to be prepared for war. He sees that the Empire is threat-
ened; he knows that the Empire is not secure. . . .' Lord Roberts saw Germany as the force endangering the Empire. The real danger, however, Blatchford asserted, was that 'the masses of the people are anti-patriotic and anti-militarist.' Lord Roberts, therefore, 'might as well ask for the moon as ask for universal service.' Why was the working class opposed to conscription? 'The masses will not have it' because 'they do not trust the so-called ruling classes.' 6
Roberts felt obliged to reply to this assertion-and did so in good social-imperialist fashion. 'In a democratic nation,' Roberts wrote, 'the working classes are themselves the ruling classes,' and furthermore 'the interests of England and of the Empire are their interests.' Since this was the case, the English working classes must secure for themselves the historic 'right' and 'inalienable privilege' of all ruling classes -- 'service in war.' 'Such service,' Roberts concluded, sounding very much like the continental socialists and even like Blatchford himself, 'is the only mark of the true and perfect citizenship.' 7
This was not the first time that Earl Roberts had spoken such words. The previous year, 1911, he had written a letter to The Times urging the Unionist party to formulate a 'constructive policy' on 'Social Reform and National Defence,' two problems which were 'intimately connected,' and a 'satisfactory solution' of which had to 'precede any real strengthening of Imperial bonds.' 'The conditions amid which millions of our people are living,' he wrote, 'appear to me to make it natural that they should not care a straw under what rule they may be called upon to dwell, and I can well understand their want of patriotic feeling.' Could there be a more cogent expression of the fears of the social-imperialist?
Roberts called for the increase of the school-leaving age, for education in patriotism, for instruction in the habits of 'order, obedience, and discipline.' Such educational reform and 'Social Reform is a preliminary to any thorough system of national defence.' 'With how much more confidence," Roberts proclaimed, 'should we be able to appeal to the young men of this nation and the Empire to do their duty as citizen
soldiers if we had the certainty that they regarded England, not as a harsh stepmother, but as a true motherland . . . if we could further appeal to them to defend the nation and the Empire, because within its bounds they can live nobler and fuller lives than on any other spot on earth!' Yet 'to tens of thousands of Englishmen engaged in daily toil, the call to "sacrifice" themselves for their country must seem an insult to their reason; for those conditions amid which they live make their lives already an unending sacrifice.'
Roberts called to the Unionists to take the lead on this issue. 'No party,' he warned, 'can long continue in power which relies for its prestige solely upon fomenting class hatreds-that is, by dividing the State against itself.' 8 This was a warning not only to the Unionists, but to the Cobdenites and to the Socialists. One professed 'socialist,' Blatchford, enthusiastically agreed with Field-Marshal Roberts' views in practically every particular. In fact, he seemed to go far beyond Roberts in his appreciation of military virtues.
ROBERT BLATCHFORD -- SOCIALIST OF THE BARRACKS
In 1891, Robert Blatchford left the staff of the Sunday Chronicle, on which he had been employed since 1885, to found a new weekly paper, The Clarion. This journal was to become the most successful socialist publication in Great Britain during the period before the war of 1914, and its editor was the leading spokesman for the rank-and-file working-class socialists, a group whose interest in pub and track was at least as great as its resentment of 'the upper classes.'
An able, craftsmanlike writer, Blatchford wrote in short sentences and short paragraphs, with rhythm, with clarity, and with courage, all qualities which made instant appeal to his British working-man readers. His briefs for Socialism -- Merrie England, followed by Britain for the British -- were immensely popular. They were translated into many tongues and their sale in Great Britain and the United States alone reached a total of over two million copies. One of Blatchford's biogra-
phers has written that Merrie England alone 'has made more converts to English Socialism than all other Socialist publications combined.' 9 Another has described him as the man who created the army which followed the great leaders of British socialism. Blatchford, he continued, 'can manufacture Socialists more quickly than anyone else,' and makes 'more Socialists than any other rival establishment.' 10
Blatchford did not have any of the backgrounds that might customarily have been expected in a successful journalisteven a working-class journalist. A man of the people, Blatchford had had no formal education, and, most surprisingly, aside for a brief time in his youth when he worked as a brushmaker, he had not even experienced the life of the working classes. Before turning to journalism, he had served as an enlisted man in the British army, joining as a private and leaving as a sergeant of the 103rd Dublin Fusileers. In later life he confessed 'I had to go for a soldier; it was written,' and 'I love the Army. . . . I love a rifle as one loves a living thing. I was happy in the Army. . . . I got nothing but good by it. I really don't know how much I owe to it.' 11 Blatchford's view of the great influence of his military experience upon him was essentially a sound one.
Socialist though he was, Blatchford was one of the chief critics of the newly formed Labour Party. He disliked the complete subservience of the Labour Party leadership to Liberalism, especially in matters of international policy. For ex-soldier Blatchford, anti-patriotic, cosmopolitan Cobdenite Liberalism was an enemy of major proportions, was, in fact, the very antithesis of what he understood by 'socialism,' and he fought against it throughout his life. In the month before the first of the two general elections of 1910, Blatchford characterized both the Liberals and the leaders of the Labour Party as "hopeless.' 12 Two weeks earlier he had written that he would regard the return of a Labour majority as a 'calamity.' 13 After the election of 1931, Blatchford expressed his
pleasure at Labour's defeat because I believe they would have disrupted the British Empire. I dreaded their childish cosmopolitanism. . . .' 14 Blatchford had none of the illusions concerning the international brotherhood of workers that were the common property of his Labour party comrades, nor did he share their sentimental pacifism, their anti-imperialism, their noble, if futile, cosmopolitanism. 'We were Britons first and Socialists next,' was his frequent boast concerning himself and his Clarion colleagues. 15 In the course of the years, Blatchford revealed himself an advocate of economic nationalism, imperialism, militarism, jingoism, and an uncompromising opponent of parliamentarianism and the party system.
Yet all the while he regarded himself -- and was regarded by others -- as a socialist. Blatchford's special combination of hostility not only to capitalism but to such offshoots of bourgeois predominance as cosmopolitan anti-militarism and liberal democracy was not unusual on the continent. In France, for example, he would have found asylum with Maurras and L'Action Française -- he would probably have been an anticapitalist monarchist and undoubtedly an anti-Dreyfusard. In Austria, he would have joined the Christian Socialists of Vienna's Mayor Lueger in opposition to the Social-Democrats. But in England, he was a man of the 'left,' not perhaps by choice, but because the 'right' was not sufficiently broad-nor corrupt-to admit a man of his social background and sympathies. Unlike France, all classes in England had accepted the parliamentary regime of the limited monarchy, all classes had been won over by the basic precepts of 'liberalism,' even Labour party socialists and 'true blue' Conservatives. Not that
there were not men of the right, contemporaries of Blatchford, who had not tired of the parliamentary game. Viscount Milner, the hero of the South African War, was one of these. 16 There were, furthermore, others -- like Earl Roberts -- who came close to Blatchford's 'socialism of the barracks.' Yet there was a certain broad area of agreement in British politics which left Blatchford in a comparatively isolated position on many basic issues.
England experienced a great crisis of conscience at the turn of the century -- the Boer War. The left, almost to a man, under the leadership of two future Liberal prime ministers -Campbell-Bannerman and Lloyd George-defended the Boers against British imperialism. Not so socialist Robert Blatchford. In February of 1899, Blatchford assessed both imperialism, and what he called 'the Peace Palaver,' and concluded 'that Imperialism lives by deeds, while the Peace Palaver is all words.' Imperialism could point to impressive accomplishments: the greatest empire the world had ever known, peopled by hundreds of millions of subjects. The best qualities of the British nation had gone into the building of that empire. The peace palaver he judged as nothing but 'volumes of sermons, pious resolutions, and some miles of newspaper articles consisting chiefly of insincere fine writing.' What Blatchford urged was the necessity of 'a large and efficient fleet, of strengthening the defences of our empire, and of making our army as fit as science and discipline can make it.' 17 When the South African War began, in the latter part of 1899, exsergeant Blatchford rushed to the colours. He heaped scorn on the Cobdenites, his 'cosmopolitan friends, who are so cosmopolitan that they can admire every country but their own, and love all men except Englishmen.' He joshed the Socialists who, while 'despising military glory, are yet so eloquent over the marksmanship and courage of the Boers.' 18 They were 'smug, self-righteous prigs.' 19 These socialists had better understand that they could not have it both ways; they must either be willing to give up their colonies or to fight
for them. 'To give them up would be difficult and dangerous to us, and not good for the colonies.' To defend them, Britain must have a powerful army and navy, and 'if we have soldiers and ships it will not be wise nor just to call those soldiers murderers, nor to wish for their defeat, nor to grudge them thanks for their gallantry.' 20 Blatchford was an old soldier. His 'whole heart is with the British troops'; he loved Tommy Atkins. 'When England is at war,' he declared, 'I'm English. I have no politics and no party. I am English.' 21
The Liberals cherished the ideal of international Free Trade -- clearly practicable only in a peaceful world. The Labour Party-indeed all the principal European socialist parties -- supported international Free Trade. Blatchford saw no peace and seeing himself, here too, as 'English' rather than a cosmopolitan, espoused economic nationalism as the 'nobler' ideal. He devoted much of his two larger works, Merrie England and Britain for the British, to hammering at British Free Trade. One of his favourite arguments was that Free Trade had made it impossible for Britain to feed herself and that this boded ill for the preservation of the Empire. The logical and inevitable result of the Free Trade legislation, he wrote, had been the destruction of British agriculture. Buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest had robbed Britons of much more than the ¼d. they saved on each loaf of bread: 'We lose the beauty and health of our factory towns; we lose annually some twenty thousand lives in Lancashire alone . . . we lose the stamina of our people; and-we lose our agriculture.' 22 The last loss was especially serious in time of war, when despite the supremacy of the British fleet, England could be brought to the point of starvation because of her dependence for her food upon foreign nations. 23
During the tariff agitation initiated by Chamberlain in 1903 as part of a Bismarckian and imperialist programme for England, the position of Blatchford and the Clarion on the issue of protection was ambiguous. The Liberal Fortnightly Review, in an article hostile to Tariff Reform, tried to identify Tariff Paternalism and Socialism and affirmed that protection 'finds an enthusiastic supporter in Mr Blatchford, whose Socialist sermons in the Clarion are read by thousands of working men every week.' 24 In the House of Commons, Claude Hay, a prominent Tariff Reformer, quoted, with approval, a Clarion article written by R. B. Suthers-Blatchford's chief colleague and a frequent mouthpiece for Blatchford's views -- on the investment of British capital abroad. 25 Actually neither Blatchford nor the Clarion formally backed Joseph Chamberlain's tariff movement. The announced goals of the Tariff Reformers-the revival of British agriculture, a self-supporting British Empire, a producer-oriented rather than a consumeroriented economics -- met, however, with the Clarion's full approval. Considerably before the opening of Chamberlain's Tariff Reform campaign directed toward this very goal, Blatchford had urged that Britons work toward a selfsustaining Empire. 26 Nor had the Clarion any sympathy with 'the Fetish of Cheapness,' 27 the doctrine of low prices for consumers which the Cobdenites cited as one of the advantages of Free Trade. In Merrie England Blatchford had constructed this syllogism: 'Now cheap goods mean cheap labour, and cheap labour means low wages. You have nothing but your
labour to sell, and you are told that it will pay you to sell that Cheaply.' 28
' Tariff Reform, rightly used,' wrote R. B. Suthers, Blatchford's Clarion associate, 'might be a weapon. Yes, a Trusty weapon if you like, well worth our attention.' But the tariff must be formulated along 'national' lines and 'not by the votes and gold of interested individuals.' If there were a real Labour party, a party which truly represented the interests of all of labour, then it might be able, in a Tariff Reform parliament, to prevent the gerrymandering of the fiscal system. But there was no such party, only 'a sectional Labour Party professing to be guided by Socialists, and reclining in the arms of the Free Trade Party.' 29 Blatchford summed up the matter in the Clarion: 'I do not believe in Free Trade; and I do not believe in Tariff Reform -- as Tariff Reform will be applied by the Tories.' 30 On this great question the Tories were not to be trusted; but a socialist government would find a tariff a natural, efficient, and necessary instrument.
Blatchford -- like Earl Roberts -- devoted the years preceding the war to trying to arouse his countrymen against the German menace. Alarmed at German war preparations and at the failure of the British people to appreciate their significance, and convinced that Germany was aiming at nothing less than the destruction of the British Empire, which he regarded as the most serious calamity that could befall world civilization, Blatchford set out to warn Britons that Germany's goal was conquest and world-domination, a policy bound to clash with 'the traditional policy of Britain . . . the extension of the Empire and the maintenance of the balance of power in Eu-
rope.' 31 Yet, Blatchford inquired, what had been the reaction of the British people to this challenge? Sloth, apathy, factional dispute. The Liberals and the men of the Labour Party persisted in thinking of the Germans as 'pacific and dove-like.' 32 The socialists of the Labour party even went so far as to entertain a theory of joint action by the British and German working classes in case of war, a theory Blatchford called ,one of those harmless games with which some Labour statesmen amuse themselves in dull days.' 33 Someone had to sound the alarm, to state the case 'in the teeth of the anti-militarist and anti-patriotic masses.' In a series of articles, published by the Tory Daily Mail, Blatchford warned 'that unless the British people are ready to fight and pay and work as they have not fought and paid and striven for a hundred years-if ever -- the Empire will assuredly go to pieces and leave us beggared and disgraced under the conquest of a braver, better trained, and better organised nation.' 34
Why was it so difficult to arouse the government to this vital issue of survival? Government had been paralyzed by the party system. Ineffective factionalism was an inevitable part of parliamentary government. In saying this, Blatchford went far beyond Lord Roberts. The rejection of parties as 'purposeless factions,' of party politicians as frauds and cheats, of the parliamentary machinery as clumsy, inefficient, and in some mysterious way, undemocratic, were arguments characteristic of contemporary syndicalists, communists, and 'fascists' who preferred the operation of the leadership and plebescite principles to the parliamentary one. Such an attitude toward liberal democracy was found frequently among continental national socialists.
Fairly early in his journalistic career, Blatchford described himself as no Republican but a 'Democrat' which, he wrote, 'is much better.' 35 His 'Democracy' had a Rousseauian flavour. He had no use for parliaments or for parliamentary action which, he felt, 'is not worth the trouble and expense it will
entail.' 36 He sneered at manhood suffrage. 'For some reason not present to the practical Radical mind,' he wrote, 'votes seem to produce only representatives who are not representative, or carpetbaggers-with nothing in their bags.' 37 If he did not 'care a cigar stump for elections, nor for Parliament,' he was a strong advocate of the adoption of a system of Initiative and Referendum. 38 Only in that way could the clear collective-voice of the nation be heard and the will of Britons be done in Britain.
Before the election of January 1910, Blatchford wrote of his disgust with the failure of the Government to take effective action to meet an expanding Germany. 'I can recognize nothing but angry cries of Partisanship and class antagonism,' he complained. 'The Referendum would help to sort out the tangled issues. But we have no Referendum. Lacking that we have chaos.' 39 The party politicians, he believed, should not discuss such non-essential matters as the Budget, the House of Lords, Tariff Reform, or Free Trade. They ought to 'go to the country with a plain warning of a great impending danger' and ask for the public sacrifices which were vitally necessary 'for the safety of the Empire and for the preservation of our trade, our honour, and our independence.' He himself, were he a candidate for election, would campaign on a programme of 50 million pounds for the Navy, compulsory military service, elementary military training for all schoolboys over 10. He would appeal to all employers to hire British subjects in preference to foreigners. Party politics were so much talk. The empire was in danger and 'it cannot be saved by talk: it can only be saved by sacrifice and work.' 'This warning,' Blatchford concluded, 'is not written by a politician; it does not come from a Socialist, nor from a Liberal, nor from a Tory; it comes from an Englishman.' 40
If not parliamentary government, what? Blatchford's solution was one which was to become painfully familiar in the second quarter of the twentieth century. The nation, he wrote,
required a leader: 'What the British nation stands most in need of in this portentous hour is a man.' Looking about Blatchford saw nothing but party politicians and 'purposeless factions.' Germany-his enemy-was also his model: 'The German nation is homogeneous: organised. Their Imperial policy is continuous. . . . Their principle is the theory of blood and iron.' 41 They had their leader, their man. Blatchford had selected his 'man.' 'The man,' he wrote, 'is Lord Kitchener.' 42 It was, it seems, inevitable that ex-sergeant Blatchford's man should be a Field-Marshal of the British Army, Roberts' chief of staff in South Africa.
As a result of his Daily Mail articles on the 'German menace,' Blatchford was called 'Jingo' and 'scaremonger' by his internationalist-minded socialist comrades. The Liberals sneered at 'the Tories under their new Socialist leader' and accused Blatchford of treachery, of having 'sold out.' 43 This last charge was most difficult for Blatchford to swallow. He might be a 'jingo,' even though he persistently denied the justice of such an epithet. But traitor, and worse still, traitor to the Liberals? In the Clarion of December 31, 1909, he wrote:
'I have never been a comrade of the Liberals. I have never marched under the Liberal banner. I have always opposed the Liberals. I was' irreconcilably opposed to Liberalism before I became a Socialist. . . . I am Socialist. I believe that the nation should be a O family. . . . I ask my fellow-citizens to lay aside their Liberalism and their Toryism, and to deal with an Imperial danger as Britons.'
'Let us,' he concluded, 'first make the family safe as a family, and then we can settle our domestic differences within the shelter of the family defences.' 44
Blatchford indeed was no 'comrade of the Liberals.' He was an imperialist, a militarist, a nationalist, a protectionist everything the pre-war British Radical was not. He opposed even the political forms of Liberalism-parliaments and parties -- preferring referendums and strong men. Blatchford was a 'socialist' in that he wished to improve the condition of the
working class-but, it would seem, this so that England might be made stronger in struggling with foreign enemies. He believed, furthermore, that the British working class was dependent upon Britain's empire for its prosperity. In 1903, the Clarion had written that 'next to the question of the Condition of the Poor, that of our future relations with the British Empire beyond the Seas is the most important and vital to the British workers.' 45 What was good for the British Empire was good for the British working man. At times of national emergency, petty class interests must be forgotten, and all Englishmen had to close ranks and meet the common foe in battle. Blatchford set the ideal of the nation as a family against the atomistic cosmopolitanism of the Liberals. As an imperialsocialist he insisted that the need to protect the nation-family against other nation-families, principally Germany, was an object far more important than the class struggle of the international socialists.
He wished all Britons to develop a family spirit, a spirit of comradeship, and he believed that the only way in which this could be done was by means of a system of universal military training. What Lord Roberts had deemed necessary to meet an emergency, Blatchford erected into one of the positive goals of his socialism. Such a system of military training would be 'the salvation of the British race,' he expostulated. The Army, he wrote, 'trains men in comradeship, it infuses what I call the collective spirit.' 46 For Blatchford, Germany was a perfect example of what happened when the collective spirit was organized on a national scale, and Imperial Germany must be the model for Imperial Britain. The Germans had achieved this goal as a result of military training. This militarycollective spirit 'gives power and coherence to the people of Germany,' he maintained. 'The German nation is an army. The British nation is a mob of antagonistic helpless atoms.' The German nation was like a regiment, he wrote, and he added:
'A regiment is very much more than a crowd of men all dressed in the same uniform. It is a regiment. It has that which a mob never has: a collective mind, a collective soul. The 10th Infantry
Brigade is a very different thing from a crowd of 3,000 young men in khaki; it is an organism; all of its units are parts of a whole; all its units move and feel and act together. It is not what so many, civilians often call it -- a machine. A machine has no soul; but a brigade of soldiers has a soul. When it marches all its 6,000 legs move as one. When it charges all its bayonets are in line. When it sings it has one great thrilling voice. It is alive; it is an organism; it is the 10th Infantry Brigade.' 47
The British nation, Blatchford was convinced, must be constructed on the model of the 10th Infantry Brigade.
Blatchford's politics should be understood in the light of the military model of his socialism. His concern for British agriculture resulted from his desire that Britain achieve complete independence in case of war; an army must be certain of its supplies. Just as it would be impossible to run an army if it were divided into military factions, so parties only interfered with the efficient operation of the national army. A strong military leader, like Kitchener, was far superior to blundering, carpetbagging party politicians. The British nation must be like a regiment, it must be a living, breathing organism, with a collective mind and a collective soul. It must be a strong, welldisciplined army, ready to meet the challenge of other strong national armies.
In fighting for socialism, ex-sergeant Blatchford was not suggesting mutiny. He was simply voicing a non-commissioned officer's cynical disrespect for bumbling majors and colonels -- though not necessarily for generals like Kitchener-and demanding bigger rations and greater liberties for the great mass of enlisted men of the 10th Infantry Brigade. The sum of Blatchford's message was this: 'The masses must be better educated, better governed, better trained and better treated, or the Empire will go to pieces . . . when the poor rot, the Empire is rotten. We cannot make soldiers and sailors out of weeds. . . . If the Empire is to stand we must have a healthy, and an educated and a united people.' Only in this way, Blatchford concluded, 'can we maintain an Empire upon which the sun never sets.' 48
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