MR. CHAMBERLAIN AND CO-OPERATION.
LTO THE EDITOR Or THE " SPECTITOB."1
SIR,-I was glad to read in your current number the first warning I had seen against the ominous—and, from the speaker's position in the Liberal Party, I must add disastrous —teaching of Mr. Chamberlain's speech to the Eighty Club when that body entertained him the other day. I suppose no protest was possible at the time, but I trust silence cannot mean that so representative a body of Liberals can have sympathised with what certainly seemed to me, as it does to you, to be a distinct hoisting of the flag of State Socialism. I have not come to this conclusion hastily ; indeed, on my first glance at this manifesto, as I suppose one may take it to be, I was glad to find so vigorous a politician coming out squarely as a co-operator. Some years since our Co-operative Union had to remonstrate very strongly with him when, as President of the Board of Trade, he seemed resolved to prohibit any person in Government employ from taking part in the management of a Cooperative Society. He yielded then to our representations, and my inference was that further inquiry had convinced him of the soundness of our principles and the value of our methods ; and from that dream I, at any rate, have been most unpleasantly awakened by this last manifesto.
To make my meaning clear I must go back for a generation. In the agitation for the first Industrial Societies Act (1849 to 1852) we pleaded that the working-classes were unfairly weighted by the Law of Partnership as it then stood, which made it impossible for them to combine in trade. But, while we pleaded and worked for a fair field and firm standing-ground for them, we expressly repudiated any idea of State aid, such as had recently been attempted with such disastrous consequences in Paris. The result was the passing of the first Industrial Societies Act of 1852, which (with its amendments) has at last placed the working-people of England in a thoroughly fair position, free to manage their own business in their own way, under as favourable conditions as are within the reach of their richer fellow-citizens. On the other hand, through all the early days of the movement, not only Maurice and Kingsley and their colleagues of the upper classes, but amongst men still with us, Lloyd Jones, A. Greenwood, and other leaders of the workingclasses, insisted on every possible occasion that self-reliance and independence should be the keynote of the Socialist movement in England. They were to claim nothing but a fair field and no favour, and to show that with these they could work out the wellbeing of their own class. The result, as I need hardly tell your readers, has far exceeded the most sanguine forecasts of that day ; and up to the present time the old principles have not been weakened or shaken. In the Co-operative Congresses, held yearly at Whitsuntide, I do not remember a single instance in which any resolution has been carried pointing to designs on the rates or the Consolidated Fund, to bolster up our failures or help on our designs. It must not be supposed, however, that this result has been gained without constant and steady effort and pressure, or that there is no danger of backsliding. The present leaders are, I Viink, thoroughly soand ;
bat I wish I could say as much for the 800,000 behind them. Up to this time we have, indeed, managed to hold well together. To take a well-known illustration from a kindred movement amongst a kindred people, we have hitherto been steady followers of Schultz-Delitsch ; but then, no Lassalle has risen amongst us to tempt our working-people into relying on the national pocket, instead of on their own exertions. So long as it was only Lord Randolph Churchill who was trying on the Lassalle role it did not matter ; but it will be quite another thing, and a very serious danger to co-operation in England, if a leading Liberal is to go in for bidding against him. Yet, as matters stand at present, I do not see how any other interpretation can be put on this speech to the Eighty Club than that you have indicated.
Let me shortly illustrate what I mean. A dozen working tailors, shoemakers, builders,—any trade you please,—want to "ameliorate the unfavourable conditions" under which they are living, and propose to set up for themselves in association. As things stand at present they apply to Mr. Neale, the General Secretary of the Union, and get from him a set of rules, and help with the Registrar in passing them, and the best advice as to how to subscribe and deal with the necessary funds. Possibly they may get some help also from sympathisers with spare capital; but in any ease will have to rely on their own exertions and sacrifices to raise what they require. This is thoroughly healthy; but how will it be if they are taught that the "unfavourable conditions" of their position can only be " ameliorated" by political influence directed towards "a vast cooperative system of mutual help and support "? Can this mean anything but that they are to use their voting-power to get the capital they want out of rates or taxes paid by other people?
The greater part of the lives of many men of my standing for the last thirty-five years has been spent in removing all legislative or executive interference with co-operation, and in its promotion by independent forethought and action for" mutual help ;" and they have succeeded in teaching our English cooperators to rely on themselves, and not on any broken reed of Government support or subventions, "to secure their health and multiply their luxuries," to use Mr. Chamberlain's formula. The movement never has been sounder, or the number of devoted workers greater, than in 1885.
And now, at this critical moment, we are suddenly confronted by leading politicians on both sides, scrambling eagerly for our flag,—not to carry it forward honestly with our blazon, but to write on it instead "a vast co-operative system of mutual support by means of local parliaments [whatever that may mean], and aid from the rates." In other words, the rich are to " ransom " their possessions by contributing funds to put those amongst the poor who will not help themselves into positions in which they always have failed, and always will fail, disastrously. Louis Blanc, and the enthusiasts of European Socialism, have broken down in every such attempt, as Bismarck will do if he tries it on. Who, then, I would ask, are Mr. Chamberlain and Lord R. Churchill that they should succeed ? But they may very well wreck our English movement in the effort, which is my excuse for feeling and writing so strongly about it.
If they do succeed, the next generation will see panenz et Cireenses inscribed unblushingly on the flags of candidates ; or, to take perhaps a more apt illustration, will have Cleon and the sausage-seller contending for the key of the national strong-box by dangling before the eyes of the indolent voters so many more .oboli a day for maintenance, and free seats at the national theatres.—I am, Sir, 8:c.,
May 2nd. Timm 1.S HUG IIES.