The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
THE essential result of the British General Election is a declaration that the temper of the new electorate is definitely progressive. The Labor victory was not a victory for socialism. It was a verdict of deliberate dissatisfaction with the policy of "do-nothingism" in the domestic field, and of stagnation, if not reaction, in foreign affairs, which was the attitude of Mr. Baldwin and his colleagues. The accession of Mr. MacDonald to office was the outcome of a sense that what was required in the British situation was a positive and not a negative outlook. The electorate was weary of a tepid goodwill to which no results could be attributed. It disliked the atmosphere of retrogressive failure which surrounded Sir Austen Chamberlain. It was dissatisfied with the unwillingness of Mr. Baldwin to grapple with the problem of unemployment. It was discontented with the absence of a forward movement in things like education, housing, social welfare. The electoral returns, if they mean anything, mean that Mr. MacDonald has a mandate for a creative foreign policy and a bold domestic policy. He is not, the returns suggest, to be socialist; he is entitled to be socialistic. It is in the adjustment he can make to that nice distinction that the history of the next few years will be found.
It is worth while to analyze the election results in their broad context before we seek to draw deductions from them. Their outstanding feature is the movement of industrial England to Labor. Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Newcastle, Liverpool, Glasgow, in all such great cities the gains recorded mark the culmination of a movement away from Conservatism which has added strength at each election since 1918. The same is true of the working-class districts of London. It is true also of those country areas where industrialization has made inroads upon a previously rural district. The mining areas remain so emphatically Labor that other parties can hardly be said to exist there save as ghosts. Certain Labor victories in "dormitory" constituencies show that the new housing schemes bring with them a Labor element which dwarfs the genteel respectability which formerly brought the electorate into the Conservative camp.
Conservatives remain firmly entrenched in the counties and the suburbs. Where they have lost seats to the Liberals, as in Cornwall, Devon, Bedford and East Anglia, the basis of their defeat has been the persistence of a strong Nonconformist tradition which has made those areas accessible to liberal ideas, always since 1868, and often since 1832. It is notable that, in these Nonconformist counties, still hardly touched by industrialism, Labor so far has hardly been able to compete effectively with Liberalism. Counties like Sussex, Surrey, agricultural Kent, Hampshire, remain (excluding the towns) overwhelmingly Conservative. Labor victories in Southampton, Plymouth, Portsmouth and Sunderland suggest that the ancient Conservative hold over dockyard constituencies has at length been shaken. In Wales, Labor possesses the big towns and the mining districts, Liberals the agricultural counties. In Scotland, broadly speaking, the towns and the mining districts are, once more, Labor; Liberals have a hold on the Highlands, and the Conservatives on the rich residential areas of cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow.
So much on the geographical features of the results. In the country as a whole some twenty-two million people recorded their vote, or, roughly, seventy-nine percent of the electorate. Of these, eight and a third millions voted Labor, eight and a half millions Conservative, and five millions Liberal. On the contested elections Conservatism has, roughly, one seat for each 33,000 votes polled, Liberalism one for each 99,000 and Labor one for each 29,000. Labor holds 289 seats, 123 of them by a minority vote; Liberals 57, of which 39 are minority seats; the Conservatives 258, of which 144 are minority seats. In the House as a whole, Labor is twenty short of an actual, and forty short of a working, majority. But the MacDonald government cannot be defeated by Conservative votes alone; unlike the position in 1924, when the Conservatives were the largest party, it will need a definite combination of Conservatives and Liberals on a central issue to bring down the Labor administration.
The Labor victory, I have said, represents the triumph not of socialism, but of socialistic principles. It is in those terms that Mr. MacDonald has formed his Cabinet, which is definitely right-centre in composition. He himself, very wisely, has not sought this time to direct foreign affairs; he is essentially the coordinator of general policy, with a special interest in the Anglo-American problem. His appointment of Mr. Arthur Henderson to the Foreign Office has been criticized; it is in fact the best appointment he could possibly have made. Shrewd, judicious, with a real genius for organization, Mr. Henderson has a wide knowledge of international affairs. As president of the Amsterdam International he knows the new Europe intimately; he knows America; in 1924 he was an outstanding success at Geneva. With Mr. Dalton and Professor Baker as his assistants, he has the ablest personnel of any of the Departments; and the temper in which he approaches his task has already been shown by his appointment of Lord Cecil to a special advisory post on League affairs with a room in the Foreign Office. The unemployment problem is in the hands of Mr. Thomas, with Mr. Lansbury and Sir Oswald Mosley as his lieutenants. Mr. Thomas has immense qualifications for his task. No trade union leader knows better the personnel of the business world; none is a more persuasive or skilful negotiator. He is fertile in expedient and cautious in construction. Mr. Lansbury has an unequalled knowledge of local government; and time has dimmed a good deal of his extremism. Sir Oswald Mosley is an untried force. Save Mr. Churchill, he is the most brilliant rhetorician in the House of Commons; but no one, I think, would yet venture to predict that he is more. All that one can say is that the depth of his ambition is enough to assure every effort on his part to help Mr. Thomas to success, since his future is largely bound up with the capacity of the government to reduce unemployment.
Certain other figures in the Cabinet need a word of emphasis. Mr. Snowden is, after Mr. MacDonald, the most widely known figure in the Labor movement. He has tenacity, determination, knowledge; if he has a fault, it is a certain streak of conservative obstinacy upon the classic theories of finance. But it is at least certain that, in his hands, there will be no laxity of administration at the Exchequer. Sir John Sankey, who becomes Lord Chancellor, is the eminent judge who in 1919 surprisingly sponsored the nationalization of the mines in the famous Sankey report. He has a vigorous mind, and combines therewith a moral power and grasp of principle which have rarely been surpassed by any holder of his office. By temper he is radical, and the signs already accumulate that he may well prove a great law reformer. Captain Wedgwood Benn, who in taking the India Office has accepted perhaps the most difficult Cabinet post, is an ex-Liberal with a great House of Commons reputation. He is new to administration, and as yet it is only possible to say that he has shown courage in submitting to so stern a test. Mr. Alexander, the First Lord of the Admiralty, is a representative of the Coöperative Movement and one of the "discoveries" of the last Labor government. Without intellectual distinction, he is forcible, determined, and firm; I do not think it likely that he will accept any policy ready-made from the Admiralty experts. Miss Bondfield, the Minister of Labor, is the first woman in England to become a Cabinet Minister. Though eloquent and hardworking and immensely popular in the Labor movement, she has not, I believe, either the intellectual grasp or the power of organization necessary to the pivotal post she holds. Mr. Greenwood, the Minister of Health, is an expert at his subject; and it is fairly certain that he will be one of the outstanding successes of the administration.
No two minds would draw up exactly the same administration. Let it then be said at once that, granted his type of mind, in both ability and character, Mr. MacDonald's government is a powerful combination. It is definitely pacifist in foreign policy; it is capable of a radical experimentalism in domestic affairs. It is not likely to err on the side of striking innovation; it is certainly capable of definite achievement.
What is it likely to do? Prophecy must be set in the background of its origins, on the one hand, and Parliamentary facts on the other. It was elected because it was the obvious progressive alternative to Mr. Baldwin, and not because the British electorate, between 1924 and 1929, became suddenly coverted to socialism. Mr. MacDonald has shown clearly, by the King's Speech, that he intends a policy of cautious radicalism. He seeks to remain in office for at least two years. He will try, therefore, to avoid such pitfalls of innovation as would force his opponents to combine against him. His task is to produce a policy against which the Liberals could not vote without self-destruction at the next election.
What this involves, at least in terms of foreign policy, is fairly clear. It means a resumption of relations with Russia; it means the evacuation of the Rhineland by Great Britain; it means an agreement with America; and it means the definite acceptance of the League of Nations as the positive mechanism for the reconstruction of European relations.
Most of all this is straightforward. English opinion, as a whole, is generally convinced that the breaking off of relations with Russia in 1927 was a mistake; and a majority for their resumption in the House of Commons is certain. Further, it is common ground between Labor and the Liberals that Great Britain has no right to continue her occupation of Germany. Both Labor and Liberals would strongly support the signature by Great Britain of the Optional Clause of the Permanent Court; and it is, I think, at least doubtful if the Conservatives would venture to oppose it. The Labor government has already announced its intention to ratify the Washington Convention on the Hours of Labor and, once more, the Liberal Party is certain to support that measure.
The big problem is America. Without agreement with the United States there cannot be disarmament; without disarmament the League of Nations cannot be effective. Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Henderson are committed to the fullest use of the League; but they have to approach the problem of disarmament in the knowledge that, for the purposes of practical politics, American participation in the League is impossible. Their task, therefore, is to devise a method whereby the results to which Geneva looks can be attained without involving America in contact with institutions she is not prepared to embrace.
Those who know Mr. MacDonald's mind can, I think, predict with some confidence the lines he will follow. For him the Anglo-American problem is one for statesmen and not for technical experts. This means that the latter must fill in the details of a policy already agreed upon and not be permitted to make that policy. They are subordinates, and not principals, in the coming negotiations. That means, also, that just as it is essential to utilize the admirals to work out an agreement in terms of principles already laid down, so the lawyers must not be permitted to wreck agreement by differences drawn from the technique of their science. The big thing is to start with the right atmosphere and the right procedure. The way thereto lies through immediate naval reduction; and the highroad to naval reduction lies through a proper use of the Kellogg Pact.
Here, Mr. MacDonald seems to feel, are the two primary naval powers who, equally and with deliberation, have renounced the use of war. It follows therefrom that neither need conceive of its naval strength in terms of mutual conflict. Great Britain fully accepts the idea of parity in naval strength. The Washington agreement has already shown that this can be attained in terms of capital ships. In other categories the solution of the problem is what may be termed mathematical in nature. Let a body of technicians find the formulæ necessary to translate the strength of one class of ships into terms of another. Let a maximum global tonnage be fixed equal for each power; and let it be a matter of convenience for each, within the terms of that maximum, to build as she deems it best fitted to her needs. The maximum must represent a solid diminution of expense. It must symbolize by its magnitude both psychological and financial relief to both parties. Thereby there can be demonstrated not merely mutual goodwill but, out of that goodwill, the temper in which the other issues can be approached.
Again, the Kellogg Pact provides the highroad. England and American agree that war is not to be utilized as an instrument of national will. If there be war, the rights each will seek are to be set by the character of the war. Neither will seek to aid or abet an aggressor in the conflict. Let us have from America a "Hoover doctrine" to that effect. Let us, equally, have from Great Britain a declaration that the maritime law she enforces will relate only to an aggressor in such a conflict. For her, of course, the aggressor will be defined in terms of the machinery of the League. Her duties and obligations will arise out of what the Covenant implies. America, outside the League, may, of course, think differently. But it is, a priori, unlikely that this will be the case. And the knowledge that common agreement exists between England and America to refrain from aid of any sort to an aggressor is likely to be of the first importance in deterring any state from risking the dangers of aggressive action.
So, I think, may one infer the content of Mr. MacDonald's mind. And one may add two things: first that naval agreement between England and America makes world naval agreement possible forthwith; and second, that such a "Hoover doctrine" as I have indicated, by its association of America with the cause of peace, makes possible the kind of security envisaged by the Protocol of 1924, and thereby leads directly to military disarmament. It makes possible the implementing of the Covenant of the League for its members; and it associates America with what is desirable in its results without a premature implication of America in procedure from which she still prefers to stand apart.
To achieve such a program in the two or three years of power to which the Labor government can look forward would, obviously, be a long step towards effective peace; and success abroad would immensely strengthen Mr. MacDonald's hands for creative policy at home. What can we expect here? He is pledged absolutely to certain items. The age of leaving school must be raised forthwith to fifteen. Failure in this would, after what Mr. MacDonald himself has said, be nothing short of dishonor. He must universalize and increase old age pensions and widows' pensions; to close the existing gaps in this respect is not only to relieve the labor-market, but also to recognize the accepted Labor principle that the aged are entitled to relief from the burden of toil. There must be drastic amendment of the Trades Disputes Act of 1927; Labor must be given the unrestricted right to combine for its own protection in the fields of politics and industry. Without a majority, there cannot be nationalization of the mines; but, even without a majority, there can be nationalization of mineral royalties to compel the proper organization of the coal fields, and such a reduction of the hours of Labor as will bring them, preferably by international action, into conformity with the rest of Europe. The Wheatley Housing Act of 1924 will be resumed, so that houses for rent (alone available to the poor) instead of houses for sale can go forward (preferably under municipal auspices) on a large scale. Mr. Thomas has already announced a great forward movement in road-making; railway reconditioning and afforestation are to follow. Rigorous inquiries into the cotton and steel trades are the necessary prelude to their forcible rationalization. A new Factory Act and a new Workmen's Compensation Act are required to register by statute the defects revealed by the system as we have known it since the war. Not less vital are the humanization of the Unemployment Insurance Acts and a full examination of the relations between the Bank of England and the state. The Acts today involve hardships quite unjustified by the eagerness to find work displayed by all save a tiny fragment of the unemployed; the Bank of England inquiry is necessary because of the widespread sense that a corporation charged with duties upon which the life of the state depends ought not to remain essentially private in control and secretive in method.
One word may be said of financial and fiscal policy. The election showed an overwhelming majority for the historic policy of free trade; in all the areas covered by the Safeguarding Duties, the Conservatives gained only one seat; and most of them were lost to Labor by immense majorities. We may be certain that Mr. Snowden not only will not extend the Baldwin policy of protection by instalments, but that if he remains in office the last vestiges of a tariff (including Imperial preferences) will be swept away. Education, pensions, and unemployment insurance mean increased expenditure; and the certain coming of a "free breakfast table" implies further taxation. That Mr. Snowden will increase both super-tax and death duties it is difficult not to forecast. He has the authority of the Colwyn Committee for the view that the present level of taxation is in nowise detrimental to the provision of new capital; and he has the authority of the electorate for the view that the burden of taxation should be more equitably distributed. Mr. Snowden's socialism is less in evidence than it was ten years ago; but in the realm of finance he is an impenitent advocate of the view that the weapon of taxation is a legitimate instrument for attaining social justice. And in this realm, at least, he is not merely certain of Liberal support; he can act without fear of delay in the House of Lords.
No one who surveys this policy can believe that it is likely to produce a social crisis. It seeks to use the machinery of the state to mitigate the results of social inequality; but it differs only in degree from pre-war radical conceptions. Mr. MacDonald's policy is not likely to deprive him of Liberal support. His danger is the different one of being unable adequately to satisfy his friends. The temper of the Labor Party as a whole is distinctly left of that displayed by the Cabinet; and it will require both delicacy and vigor on Mr. MacDonald's part to retain a full grip upon his supporters in the lobbies. The margin between what he thinks possible and what they demand is large. He can count on five or six months of ample support from them. But, after that, timidity on the part of the Cabinet might easily have serious consequences in the Lobby of the House. It will require all Mr. MacDonald's skill in strategy to surmount the possibility of a challenge to more decisive policy from his friends. In this aspect, the great safeguard for him is Mr. Henderson. The latter -- the greatest party organizer England has known for a generation -- has his hand on the pulse of the machine in an unrivalled way. His sensitiveness to the danger of revolt coupled with the authority his single-mindedness naturally confers, will probably enable him to assist Mr. MacDonald in placating his left-wing. But placation will be necessary, and it will be not the least difficult of the Prime Minister's tasks.
When, two months ago, the American correspondents in London were telegraphing their impressions of the general election, their prediction was unanimous that there would be a Liberal revival; and estimates of 150 Liberal members were not deemed impossible. No such Liberal revival has in fact taken place. The Liberal Party is only 11 stronger (57) than in the last House of Commons; and, proportionately to the new electorate, its increase in votes is not remarkable. Intellectually, it is a powerful party both inside the House and out of it. But the evidence accumulates, election by election, that it is not a party with a future. Money in profusion, a striking program, leadership of high distinction, these produced practically no impression upon the electorate. What are the causes of this failure ?
Predominantly, I think, they are three in number. First and foremost is the fact that the genius of English political tradition does not accept a permanent three-party alignment. It dislikes confusion; it likes to make and unmake governments. A progressive party, like the Liberals, which is hardly less Fabian in declared outlook than Labor is in practice, has little of substance to offer that cannot be achieved in other and simpler ways. A large Liberal Party today would merely wreck the efficiency of the party system; and the numbers returned since 1922 show clearly that, once the Free Trade issue is removed, the electorate does not any longer think of the Liberals as the alternative government. That is the more important today because the new electors, especially the women, are unaccustomed to the pre-war idea of the Liberal Party as that alternative. Their minds run in the grooves of Labor and anti-Labor. The Liberal leaders, for them, belong mainly to a closed political epoch. The assets of Liberalism are no longer effective upon the lines of the new political alignment.
Mr. Lloyd George, in the second place, is a definite handicap to his party. Though his program was brilliantly improvised, no one believed that he was sincere in his determination to give effect to it. His record as Coalition Prime Minister in the first post-war years was utterly unsatisfactory; the relationship between him and his chief colleagues was, at the best, dubious; and the sources of his finance were generally regarded as discreditable. To unite under his banner was, for the average new voter, to make promises that would go unredeemed by the very fact that he was associated with them. To the England of 1929 the occasion for Mr. Lloyd George has passed. The old spells can no longer be woven; and the Liberal party he ruined in 1916 is no longer capable of repair in his hands.
The Liberal Party, thirdly, is in essence a coalition. It contains men who differ from Mr. Baldwin only upon free trade; and men, like Mr. Keynes, who are not noticeably distinct in outlook from the "intellectuals" of Labor. In the last Parliament it never voted as a united whole. In the present one, its fate is determined less by its own outlook than by Mr. MacDonald. The Tory problem is simple; the duty of an opposition is to oppose. But so long as Mr. MacDonald continues upon the lines of the King's Speech, the Liberals dare not oppose him. His success, that is to say, would deprive them of their raison d'être as a separate party; his failure would mean a Conservative and not a Liberal revival. Even electoral reform, into which there is to be an inquiry, is not likely to help them. Both Labor and Conservatives would unite to reject proportional representation; and the alternative vote is, on the electoral statistics, likely to work as much to their detriment as to their advantage. If, as in 1924, they combine with Mr. Baldwin to defeat Labor, they will, as then, pay the penalty. If they continue to support Labor, they do not prove a case for separate existence. It is difficult not to feel that the evolution of Liberalism in the next few years is to be a slow dissolution into a large fragment loosely connected with, and later absorbed by, Labor, and a small fragment destined to fusion with the Conservatives. The Liberals cannot live with Mr. Lloyd George as their leader. But, equally, they cannot live without him because they lack any other figure who can project the party on to a national plane in such terms as would make it appear a possible government. No party ultimately endures in English politics unless it can live in the shadow of office.
The results of the election came, it appears, as a great surprise to the Conservatives. Mr. Baldwin and his ministers had freely predicted majorities ranging from fifty to one hundred. Their defeat was essentially a defeat in industrial England; for, as I have pointed out, apart from East Anglia, Devon, and Cornwall, their hold upon agricultural England and the wealthy residential areas remained largely undisturbed. They were beaten by a combination of resentment against the failure of Sir Austen Chamberlain in foreign affairs, and their inability to produce a positive policy for unemployment. Mr. Baldwin relied upon the fear of socialism to return him to power; and he found, in the result, that a negative policy of "safety first" was even more unpopular than socialism. So definite was that electoral outlook that not even the young progressives in the Conservative Party were able, in the industrial areas, to hold their seats. The moral defeat of Sir Austen Chamberlain, the actual defeats of the late Minister of Labor and the late Attorney-General, the authors of Conservative policy upon unemployment insurance and the trade-unions, emphasized with some definiteness the particular resentments of the electorate.
Since the Labor government took office new winds of doctrine have begun to blow through the Conservative party. Despite defeat, it is clear that Mr. Baldwin will remain in command. He is the most solid personal asset the Conservatives have, and he stands as proof against the assertion that they are effectively in the hands of the reactionaries. But at the moment they entirely lack a positive policy; and it is their task in the next two or three years to find one. Some, like Mr. Amery, still seek to pin the party to a whole-hearted acceptance of Protection; others, like Mr. Neville Chamberlain, believe that the ideal of a self-sufficing Imperial Zollverein will enable them to reconquer power. Mr. Churchill exhausts himself in insistence upon the dangers of renewed relations with Russia, the wickedness of socialism, and the inherent necessity of British naval supremacy.
English Conservatism has always the advantage that in any electoral situation it has only to wait; as the party of property it is, at least normally, assured of the reversion of office. But it is difficult yet to feel that it has discovered a formula likely to appeal to the voters. Protection has been overwhelmingly rejected at every election since 1900, and it is far from commanding anything like general assent even among Conservatives. An Imperial Zollverein breaks down upon the two pivotal counts, first, that exports to the Dominions would not compensate Great Britain for loss of her European and American trade, and, second, that there is no evidence of Dominion willingness to give up the protection of their own native industries against British competition. Only a prolonged inability on the part of a progressive government to grapple with unemployment would persuade the average voter to turn away from the historic policy of free trade. It is to say the least unlikely that in these directions Conservative salvation will be found.
Mr. Baldwin, moreover, has certain conversions to make in his own party before he can hope for a positive victory. He has to persuade the electorate, of whom nearly one-third are trade-unionists and their wives, that he does not represent interests definitely hostile to trade-unionism. On that issue the test will come when the Labor government's bill to amend the Trades Disputes Act is in the Commons and, even more, in the House of Lords. He has, too, to offer proof that his party will not at the first opportunity deliberately remake the House of Lords so as to constitute it a permanent safeguard for vested interests against the encroachments of democracy. He has, finally, to show a willingness to utilize direct taxation of the rich as a method of offering necessary social amenities -- notably in housing and education -- to the poor. These are not easy things to accomplish with a party which dislikes trade-unions, is afraid of democracy, and sees in high taxation the destruction of its own predominance. There are members of Mr. Baldwin's party, notably among its younger adherents, who are prepared for all these things. Mr. Baldwin himself is obviously sympathetic to them; but he suffers from a strange paralysis of will when it comes to making that sacrifice of persons which is the necessary condition of their attainment. The next few years of Conservative history will see a struggle between ideas derived from Disraeli's conception of Tory democracy and the traditional notion of Conservatism as the protective rampart of property. The victory, it may be prophesied, will depend upon the fortunes of Labor at the next general election.
In a sense, it may be said with truth that 1929 opens a new epoch in English history. This has been the first general election at which the adult population has voted, in which, that is to say, the poor not less than the rich have been given a full opportunity to choose their governors. Three clear results are outstanding. The new electorate is pacifist, it is progressive and it is definitely democratic. It is pacifist; by which I mean that no government can win its support which has not a positive and definite program of peace to offer. It accepts the League of Nations in the fullest sense of the term. It is hostile to imperialism and aggression all over the world. It is progressive. I do not mean thereby that it is wedded to a definite program or philosophy. I mean only that it sees in the state an instrument deliberately to be used for the purpose of social amelioration. No one could win an election in England today with the kind of individualism represented by Mr. Hoover's speeches. No one, either, could hope for victory who was not prepared to maintain, with increasing vigor, a policy of social experiment built upon the recognition that men are equally entitled to a share in the common good. It is, thirdly, democratic; and by that I mean that the period of aristocratic privilege in England has now definitely drawn to a close.
It is not at all easy to state briefly all that this generalization implies, and I can seek here only to draw some obvious inferences that seem not unreasonable. It is significant that this Parliament contains the smallest number of aristocrats and the largest number of trade-unionists in English history; significant, also, that the number of defeated aristocratic candidates was larger than in any previous Parliament. It is important that no aristocrat holds any of the pivotal posts in the Labor government, and that, with the possible exception of Sir Oswald Mosley, no aristocrat is remotely likely to succeed Mr. MacDonald as leader of the Labor Party. By universal consent, a conflict today between Labor and the House of Lords would result in an overwhelming defeat of privilege; in 1911 the battle was drawn. In the realm of social policy, the keynote of effort is equality -- a new note in English politics. The movement towards equal educational opportunity is slow, but it is irresistible. The Mond-Turner conferences, whatever their ultimate outcome, imply the recognition that trade-unions have a status in industrial organization which cannot be neglected. In social insurance, in public health, in housing, the idea that the state must deliberately redress the balance of unequal social conditions commands widespread assent. In a typically English way, few people recognize the doctrinal implications of the new order; in a way also English, no one doubts (when it is viewed as a legislative system) that its basic principles are beyond discussion.
The difficulties of the next generation lie in other directions. So long as the effort of English politics is confined to reparing the inequities of the social system, the dispute between parties can be conducted upon the plane of reasoned discussion. The adjustment calls for sacrifice from the possessing class, but even when that sacrifice has been made its lines still fall in pleasant places. What if an attempt were made to alter the foundations of the social system? "Our whole political machinery," Lord Balfour has written, "pre-supposes a people so fundamentally at one that they can safely afford to bicker; and so sure of their own moderation that they are not dangerously disturbed by the never-ending din of political conflict."
Those pre-suppositions are still an accurate summary of the position. There is little in England of extreme communism, even less of what may be broadly termed the Fascist ideal. But it is important to remember that English institutions are much more suitable to the nineteenth century libertarian state than to the egalitarian state of the twentieth. If they are to be made sensitive to the wishes of the new democracy their comprehensive reconstruction is desirable. Yet anyone who envisages the single difficulty of reconstructing the House of Lords will realize that institutional rebuilding is no easy task. What would occur if a Labor government found the House of Lords recalcitrant upon measures to which it attached supreme importance?
There is, moreover, the factor of time. Mr. MacDonald's ampler radicalism is an attractive method of persuading Conservative opinion to the slow acceptance of the new dispensation. It is Fabianism in excelsis. But it has to be admitted that the need for, and the rate of, change are greater today than at any previous time. The new democracy has only begun to formulate its plans; it has hardly yet even tasted the fullness of its power. What demands will Mr. MacDonald have to satisfy when, perhaps after the next election, he has a definite majority in the House of Commons? Will he be permitted peacefully to satisfy demands which imply an immediate alteration of the existing social system? Can one say, after the experience of Ulster in 1914, with the memory of Spain and Italy and Jugoslavia, that the forces of Conservatism are so wedded to order that they will accept without question the verdict of the electorate? Is England, differently from all other countries, to enjoy a revolution by consent, to watch, as in 1832, a class abdicate from possession of power? Can a social conception of property-rights replace an individualist conception without conflict and violence?
These are ultimate questions to which no certain answer can be given. The communists in England await with calm joy the erosion of the Labor confidence that a peaceful transition from capitalism is possible. I think it possible that they are mistaken upon two conditions. It is essential, first, that Mr. MacDonald embark upon fundamental experiment and demonstrate that this can be carried through with success; it must be possible in basic principle to distinguish his policy from that of his predecessors. It is essential, secondly, that he obtain within a short time an independent majority and have a period of office long enough to satisfy the doctrines of his friends without disturbing the fears of his opponents. If the Labor government is to become a mere episode of power between long intervals of a Conservative régime, an episode marked by the manœuvres of caution rather than the experiments of principle, the exacerbation of the political atmosphere would be certain; and the "fundamental unity" of which Lord Balfour speaks would quickly disappear. The test of English statesmanship in the coming years is obvious enough. It must show the inventiveness that builds the institutions of innovation and the courage to use them boldly for their appointed end.