THE WAGES OF ABILITY.
AN incident occurred at Berlin last week which will, we fear, escape in this country the earnest attention it deserves. The Congress of the Social Democratic party, which now controls more than half a million votes, and hopes to control all Germany, received with attention a proposal that the editors of Socialist newspapers should have their salaries cut down, as we gather, to £3 a week, the highest wage earned in Germany by the most skilled working man. The reason urged for the proposal was not that the editors did their work badly, but that mental work was easy or " light " work, and that it was monstrous to pay men who sat at a desk more than men who laboured at exhausting or dangerous callings. Herr Bebel, the first Parliamentary representative of the party, opposed the motion upon the common-sense ground that the editors would not work for such wages, and that the Socialists could not replace them; and it was lost on a division, but it is said that the motion represented the true feeling of the majority. We can believe that fully, for in England, where men as a rule are fairly practical, the same jealousy about the wages of mental ability con- stantly betrays itself. The secretaries of the great Unions, who constantly distribute comfort or misery through whole districts, and who ought to be paid like statesmen, are seldom decently rewarded. The Miners' Union cut down Mr. Burt's allowance, as their representative in Parliament, from £500 a year to £300, upon which a Member, however thrifty, can hardly live and do the work for which he is elected. The County Council of London, which is semi- Socialist, pays its chairman less than many chief clerks in Banks receive, and less by 50 per cent. than the regular pay for the chemist of a first-class brewing concern. Mr. John Burns, the most sensible of Labour leaders, declares that no man is worth more than £500 a year, and, we doubt not, honestly thinks he could get a Lord Chancellor at the price, though a leading counsel cannot for that money get an efficient clerk, and. he himself, though he wants little, has difficulty in getting it from his con- stituents, and many dockers, if we recollect right, recently boiled over at Mr. Ben Tillett's moderate allowances. We are told, moreover, by a great expert in co-operative ex- peiiments, that one of the most frequent difficulties in their way is the reluctance of working shareholders to vote what they consider extravagant salaries for what they also consider " light " work,—that is, work the consequence of which is not an outpouring ng of perspira- tion. Some of them cannot see, for instance, why a buyer for a large distributing concern should have more than .Q300 a year. The fact that his mental skill brings the profits has no weight with them, any more than the other fact that if he chose to cheat he could obtain £300 a month in dishonest commissions from dealers anxious to do business on almost any terms. A general revolt against " high " pay for mental labour is still kept down by the influence of the experienced and the weight of tradition, but the jealousy of such pay increases every day, and we do not doubt that, as a poor sort of education spreads more widely, the bitterness will lead to singular experiments. A man who cannot read regards culture with a reverence of which the man who can only read. is often found to be de- void. We quite expect to see the day when direction in all departments will be determined by lot, and the man who has failed most conspicuously in life will receive the mandate to guide his fellows as a fitting solatium. That is the logical conclusion of arguments such as were pressed on Herr Bebel, and everywhere but in England that experi- ment which seems logical, is the one most sure to be tried. It took the Terror to convince the philanthropists of the French Revolution that men were not all good "by nature," and it will take a good deal of bankruptcy and defeat to convince the new Socialists that a good General is worth a penny a day from every man in his army. We are not concerned, however, just now to show that the Berlin proposition is exceedingly silly, for the kind of man who wants to be told that ability is a force which can guide many men, and is therefore worth the pay of many, is hardly likely to be a reader of the Spectator, but we wish to point out two results which will follow from the adoption of the new theory. One is the con- version of another and most powerful class to what may be called, for the sake of brevity, " Conservative opinions." The Socialists of the Continent seem not to care what enemies they make. They have already driven all capitalists into a frenzy of resistance, under which the latter, we are sorry to perceive, are in many instances —e.g., in most Italian Labour contests—taking leave alike of their common-sense and their natural humanity. The Socialists have flung the Church, which was well disposed towards them, into the arms of their enemies, with the result we are now witnessing in Belgium. They have alarmed the Governments till the Emperor of Germany, who wanted at first to legislate strongly in the interest of workers, and who called a Labour Con- gress, is studying with Count Caprivi how to impart new edge to the repressive laws without establishing a state of siege. They have alienated the Armies, though they are full of poor and rather hardly used men, so that the capitalists can rely in the last resort upon the soldiery. And now they are irritating and humiliating all the mentally competent, so that all the professions will be against them to a man ; .all the journalists who, if not the strongest of the thinking classes, are those most im- mediately felt; and all the more capable leaders who arise among themselves. The position of these leaders has always been one of perplexity and pain. They cannot lead and work with their bands ; if they lead they want more pay than ordinary handicraftsmen, because they have more expenses ; and yet ifthey accept more, they are liable to be taunted by their own comrades with being drones in the hive. And now this reproach is formu- lated, and they are told that in no long time they will be paid less than labourers because they have easier work ! Of course, if the Socialists can rely on a perpetual supply of ascetics of ability who will undertake to lead for bare food, they will not suffer for their folly ; but if, lake every other body of men, even Churchmen and monks, they have to pay for the capacity to lead and govern, what can be the result but the kind of fluid anarchy, the inability to build up strong organisations, which has always placed the workers more or less under the capitalists' feet ? They are threatening to boycott mental capacity—that is the plain English of it all—and if there is any teaching in experience, they will pay for that folly in defeat whenever struggles come. They of all men ought to understand that, for whenever they are badly led in a strike, they pay tens of thousands of pounds to accomplish a defeat which leaves them at once paralysed and poor. They are, nevertheless, so bemused either by the rubbishy idea of equality—as if even their limbs were equal, let alone their minds—or by an un- worthy jealousy, that they will risk defeat rather than pay to the competent man more than they receive themselves. The stoker must have as much as the engineer, even if the train goes smash. We confess we witness this movement with unalloyed vexation. We want the Socialists to be defeated, but not by their own stupidity. They have something to say for themselves, and some of their objects, for example, the extinction of overwork, are perfectly sound, and if they would formulate their ideas, choose able leaders, and allow that what they seek is a living-wage, and not equality of wages, compromises could be made with them as easily as with any other party in the State. Nobody not an idiot wants to keep handicraftsmen out of comfort. But with the ideas they are now professing in meetings like that in Berlin, no compromise is possible; they are driving all but themselves into dead resistance, and. we are in danger of what we regard as a horrible calamity,—the division of society into two camps, each filled with soldiers who do not understand their enemies or pity them, or think of any result to the war except extirpation or surrender at discretion. Victory, we need not say, victory complete and permanent, will be to the side which possesses ability, and not to the side which only possesses strength ; but to good men that victory, if it is purchased by the ruin of the larger army, will be as distressing as defeat. Every new step the Socialists take deepens the cleavage in society,—that is, deepens the pit in which hope for the future will be buried.