Page:1902 Encyclopædia Britannica - Volume 26 - AUS-CHI.pdf/27

This page needs to be proofread.



and lock-outs on the part of the masters. We may reasonably hope that the folly of unnecessary conflicts between labour and capital will commend itself more strongly to all classes of the community, but the ultima ratio in industrial, as in all other disputes, must consist in an appeal to the relative strength of the two contending parties. Apart from the agitation for an eight hours’ day of labour, there is no evidence of any decided Socialist tendency on the part of the working classes in Great Britain. This may be attributed to certain very obvious causes. The first is, that under British laws and ideas the artisan enjoys an amount of independence and freedom without a parallel in other European countries, and in many respects in excess of that possessed by his class in the great Republic of the West. The second is, the extraordinary strength of the social organization in England, which almost precludes any revolutionary action on the part of the labouring classes, except at periods of intense popular excitement. The third and the most potent is, the strong desire of the individual in English society, no matter what his position in life may be, to rise into a class superior to his own. The attainment of this desire is facilitated by the fact that any man of intelligence and energy can force his way from a humble origin to a comparatively exalted position. In consequence, the very men who otherwise, by virtue of their strength of will and character, would become class leaders, end as champions of the established social order. No other explanation accounts for the almost complete absence in recent times of any English leader of the proletariat who has risen to high note even amongst Ids own class. A similar remark applies, though with less force, to the working classes in all other communities of English race and origin. On the other hand, the growth of the Socialist party in almost all continental countries cannot but be regarded as a marked feature in the period to which the foregoing remarks have reference. In Germany, in spite of—possibly in consequence of—repeated legislative attempts to suppress socialism Socialism by force, the idea of founding a new social system on the negation of the right of and • s • Anarchism. the individual to hold private property has made rapid progress. The Socialists have now become a powerful party in the Reichsrath, and at each election have been returned in increasing numbers by Berlin and the other large industrial centres of Germany. In Austria the Soeialist-AntiSemite coalition has reduced parliamentary government to a nullity. In France the Socialists have compelled the Government to carry out legislation based on communist ideas, especially with regard to labour disputes between employers and workmen. In Italy the Socialist movement has assumed proportions which seem to threaten the permanence of a monarchical form of Government, while in Russia they appear to have become the mainspring of all the Anti-Autocratic movements. In fact Anarchism and Nihilism owe their origin to Russia, and date their active existence from little more than a quarter of a century ago, when the Nihilist creed was propounded by Bakounine. Nihilism, in so far as any distinct opinion as to so nebulous a creed can be formed, is a repetition of Hamlet’s saying, “ The time is out of joint,” supplemented by the corollary that the only way “ to set it right ” is to destroy all existing institutions—social, legal, or political. Logic would lead the holders of this creed to the conclusion that if the Creation has proved a hopeless failure, mankind would do wisely to terminate by universal self-immolation an experiment which has failed. Human nature, however, even amidst Nihilists, is never rigidly logical, and the adherents of this faith of despair are still sufficiently human to cherish the idea that if they could only get rid of the present social organizations they could call into being a new earth, if not a new heaven. The way by which this transformation is to be effected is by a series of outrages so appalling as to shake society to its very centre. The present writer’s own observation of Russia, before even the name of Nihilism had become familiar to Western ears, led him to the conclusion that the colossal Empire of the North was an ideal soil for the growth of all insane revolutionary passions. In no part of the world is the contrast between the gorgeous luxury of the rich and the sordid, squalid misery of the poor so flagrant. Nowhere else are the material conditions of existence so hard for the masses; nowhere is the line of cleavage between wealth and poverty cut so sharply. In Russia there may be said, in comparison with the size of the population, to be no middle educated class; and in as far as such a class exists at all, it consists mainly of Germans and Jews. If this view is correct, it is not difficult to understand why the crudest theories and the most extravagant of beliefs should find a following in the dominions of the Tsar. No wish to extenuate in any way