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

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In England, by 1914, the working classes found themselves relatively prosperous, and, after years of close collaboration with the Liberal party, fairly well protected by laws which not only guaranteed trade union security, but also provided national insurance and old-age pensions. In this way, the British working classes were 'nationalized,' were given their 'stake' in the state, just as the German working class had been nationalized in the decades following the enactment of Bismarckian social reform, and the Italian working class had been 'incorporated' into the nation by the pre-war Giolittian programme. When war came in 1914, the 'proletariats' of all the European nations had become convinced that the working classes of the losing nations would suffer far more than those of the victors. They consequently tossed aside sentimental socialist internationalism and became patriots. The elaborate programmes of the social-imperialists had justified themselves as the proletariats, heretofore hostile to the state, rushed to the national battle standards.

There had been two principal forms of social-imperialism in England. One had emphasized the need to maintain the empire and had asserted that the welfare of the working class depended upon imperial strength. The second had emphasized the condition of the working classes as the basis of imperialism, the need for a healthy and vigorous imperial race, and had suggested that it would be impossible to defend and maintain the empire without such a base. The first argument was to be found -- expressed or implied -- in the writings of all the social-imperialists and imperial-socialists; it served as virtually the sole argument for the Tariff Reform League and Joseph Chamberlain. The second was adopted not only by the

Liberal-Imperialists -- who made it their chief campaign point -- but it also appeared prominently in the writings of such Tariff Reformers as Milner and Mackinder, and in the tracts of the Fabians. Both Milner and Mackinder appear to have subscribed to both social-imperial equations and to have accepted the full social-imperial creed of the interdependence of imperialism and social, reform.

The social-imperialists -- both Free Trade and Tariff Reform -- and the imperial-socialists adhered in common to certain canons of belief. First of all, they were nationalists who vied with each other in the intensity with which each proclaimed himself a Briton. They were imperialists. In varying degrees, they recognized the new power forces which were in operation in the twentieth century and urged Great Britain to ready her army and navy, and so conduct her foreign policy as to meet the, for them, inevitable challenge of German power. For this reason, they scoffed at Cobdenite or socialist proclamations of international friendship. Both social-imperialist and imperial-socialist declared their hostility to the nation-dividing class antagonism which they believed international socialists and cosmopolitan Cobdenites alike fostered. The 'national interest' rather than the interest of any group within the nation was set as the only legitimate goal. (In certain instances, however, it appeared that the Tariff Reform social-imperialists believed that the national interest and the declared interest of the organized working class were inevitably at opposite poles.) They all condemned the laissez-faire, do-nothing philosophy of nineteenth-century government; both imperialism and social-reform were positive programmes of state action. They all regarded social-amelioration as a prime objective for a stronger Britain and a stronger Empire. They called for 'organization' and 'efficiency': the two words are used again and again by Pearson, by the Fabians, by the Liberal-Imperialists, by Milner, and by Mackinder. 'Efficiency' had many meanings: a sound industrial system, a united Empire, a vigorous people, a state of military and naval preparedness.

There were, no doubt, important differences between the Tariff Reform and Free Trade social-imperialists, and between both these groups and the imperial-socialists. They differed on the question of trade policy, which led to many other points

of variance. For instance, a chief villain of the Tariff Reformer (and of the imperial-socialist) -- as for many of the continental social-imperialists -- was the cosmopolitan financier, whose interests were defended by the Liberal-Imperialists. They differed in their programmes of social reform and in the means they proposed for raising new revenues. But in spite of these differences, they-social-imperialists and imperial-socialists-constituted a fairly harmonious, self-conscious group, self-conscious in that they were aware of the numerous articles of faith which bound them together and which separated them from the laissez-faire, cosmopolitan Radical. The existence of the Coefficients Club is evidence of this.

Schumpeter and the Marxists have treated social-imperialism as an attempt by the imperialist classes to dupe the working class, as a well-thought-out plot of entrepreneurial capitalism to deceive the working class into the support of imperialist schemes which could only work to their long-term disadvantage. This thesis was formulated largely on the basis of continental -- primarily German -- rather than British social-imperialism. The analysis was founded upon the specious cry of German and Italian social-imperialism that the 'proletarian nation,' e.g., Germany or Italy, ought to rise up and overthrow capitalistic, plutocratic nations, e.g., Great Britain. Whereas German imperialism was an aggressive force at this time, however, British imperialism was inevitably defensive. British social-imperial politics may not have been exclusively motivated by concern for the interests of the working class. There was little doubt, for example, that Chamberlain, an imperialist, and a Birmingham industrialist, had used social-imperial arguments to persuade the working class to accept the sacrifice of higher food prices and thus halt 'impending disintegration of the empire -- and of the midlands metal industries; or that the Tariff Reform League has used the ideals of socialimperialism to get the support of the working class for protection. But it would be unjust and inaccurate to attribute such 'chauvinistic' or 'selfish' motives as operating alone as a motivating force in the development of social-imperial concepts, to regard social-imperialism as exclusively a hypocritical manipulative device to gain the support of the working-class electorate.

In many respects, the social-imperialists saw the needs of the time more clearly than their opponents. In the face of Labour party support for a programme of protection and preference in the 'forties and 'fifties, can it be stated categorically, as Schumpeter has, that the Chamberlain programme would necessarily have worked to the long-term disadvantage of the working man? Nor can we say that there was no sincere interest in the condition of the working classes. Some socialimperialists, in fact -- William Ashley, for instance -- arrived at their position largely because of their concern for the welfare of the working man. Similarly, it would be unfair to class Milner's conception of a 'nobler Socialism' as an unconscious elaboration of a selfish capitalist scheme for worker support. It would be equally unjust to so label Mackinder's unfortunately accurate description of the new world forces which would operate in the twentieth century. Although William Cunningham hued more strictly to the Chamberlain position, his social-imperialism was largely a resurrection of the older, pre-capitalist ideal of community, of an organic national life, rather than an ideological expression of a capitalist plot.

There are large differences between British and continental social-imperialism. As already noted, such concepts as 'proletarian' nation were entirely alien to Great Britain, for Marxist terminology was unknown to the British working class, and Britain could hardly regard herself as a proletarian nation. Also, the highly aggressive note of German and Italian social-imperial writings was largely absent from British socialimperialism. In fact, it might even be argued that the form which neo-mercantile imperialism took in England stemmed from the conviction -- after the Boer War -- that new colonial expansion would be difficult. Tariff Reform imperialism was formulated primarily as a means of defence of what Britain already possessed, and Free Trade imperialism after the war in South Africa was based on 'peaceful,' economic penetration. Continental social-imperialists had ranted of national and racial missions, and these notions were not entirely absent from the thoughts of some British imperialists -- of the SocialDarwinist Pearson, or the South African triangle, Milner, Chamberlain, and Rhodes, who all wrote and spoke of the glories of the British race and of its imperial mission. But a

country which was the commercial and industrial hub of a great world market could not be expected to feel the passionate national fervour, or to nourish the fierce national resentments of a submerged Balkan province or of a climbing nation with an empire still to be achieved. It was therefore rather a pragmatic, balance sheet tone of defence which animated even Tariff Reform social-imperialism.

Continental social-imperialists had largely adopted corporative economics. This was a logical, if extreme, reaction against nineteenth-century individualism and was the embodiment of the concept of identity of interest of all producers -- worker and capitalist. Among the British social-imperialists only Ashley approached full corporative theory. Nor did British socialimperialists condemn democracy and parliamentary institutions with the fervour of their continental comrades. True, socialimperialism was the doctrine of the organizers, of efficiency, and as such was bound to regard democracy as slow-moving and at times slow-witted. Pearson, Mackinder, and Milner, for example, held serious reservations concerning the effectiveness of parliamentary institutions. With the Fabians these considerations were supplemented by vague neo-Hegelian philosophical considerations concerning the subordination of the individual to the state. Only Robert Blatchford approached some of the continental social-imperialists -- like Maurras and Corradini -- in the violence of his attack on democratic government. On the whole the democratic tradition in England ran too deep.

The objective of the social-imperialists was the conversion of the British working class to one of the two competing systems of imperialism. The political philosophy of the organized working class at the beginning of the twentieth century was a blend of the international cosmopolitan creed of Cobdenism. and the doctrines of international socialism, both very much anti-imperialistic. In the newly formed Labour party, in the Independent Labour party, and in the Trades Union Congress, cosmopolitanism and internationalism were predominant. Although hardly a substantial political force during this period, middle-class Cobdenism still managed to retain a foothold among the teetotalling, nonconformist faithful of the Liberal party, and was still expounded by such intellectuals as J. A.

Hobson, the sociologist and economist, and by such journalists as H. W. Massingham, the editor of the Liberal weekly The Nation. But the voice of Cobdenite Radicalism within the Liberal government, where the making of foreign policy and the readying of Britain's armed might were in the hands of imperialists, was seriously muted.

The Tariff Reformers appealed for support against Cobdenism on the basis of more work at better pay. They failed. The working class, faced with a choice between two different kinds of imperialism and between two different kinds of social-imperialism, chose Liberal, Free Trade imperialism and social-imperialism rather than the Chamberlain programme. The support of organized labour for the Liberal party can be attributed to many causes: the less blaring, therefore partially disguised imperialism of the Liberal-Imperialists (further disguised by the presence of Radical anti-imperialists in the Liberal-Imperialist led government), the fear of the stomach tax, hostility to the Tories because of House of Lords' attacks upon the trade unions, the class bias of the Unionist argument against the Budget as well as the Liberal appeal to workers' class prejudice (tax the 'dukes'), the attraction of the Liberal programme of social reform, and the general prosperity of the decade before the war of 1914. The fact that the attempt of the Tariff Reform social-imperialists to arouse concern over the impending disintegration of the empire by tying worker prosperity to imperial unity and strength failed ought not to be interpreted as a vote against imperialism -- whatever might have been in the mind of the individual voter. The workingman voter's effective choice was limited, and, in point of fact, he chose to continue the old forms of imperialism, to which he attributed his present prosperity and which was providing a full programme of social reform, rather than accept the new Chamberlain model.

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