Monday, January 23, 2017

The John Bull League (1910)

From the January 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF.

Our attention baa been drawn to the John Bull League and an opinion asked upon it. The principle guide we have to this organisation is the inaugural address delivered by its president, Mr. Horatio Bottomley, at the Albert Hall on October 21st, 1909. Before we criticise the speech and its contents, we may admit that the form in which the matter was presented is of the first order, with its rotundity of phrase and flashes of wit that easily explain the popularity of the person and emphasise the necessity for challenging the political and social position of the body. With regard to the matter, however, we can safely say that the vapid eclecticism that borrows phrases and ideas from all and sundry; that extracts suitable titbits from any and every philosophy and emasculates them by extracting, must be purely abortive when applied to questions of an economic and social nature, if the modern theory of the organic nature of society be admitted. The John Bull League, therefore, in tilting at windmills in the shape of abuses and ignoring essentials, undermines that practical understanding of present day social conditions which must precede the acceptance of the Socialist solution.

The stated object of the League is the stamping out of cant and self-righteousness, and the introduction of common-sense business methods into the government of the country. Much stress is laid throughout the speech on the “business methods" which matters in Parliamentary matters is the touchstone by which everything is tried. “What would a common sense board of directors do?” seems to be the question that has to be asked on every thing that comes before Parliament ; just as some people would ask on every question, “ what would Jesus do?" Now, the desirability of the standard depends entirely on the point of view. The object of the most common-sense business man is to make his business pay; that is, to increase profits. That object does not necessarily fit in with the point of view of the workers in that business, indeed, their object will be the increase of their wages, which will diminish profits. And this capitalist point of view is very strongly hinted at in its fullest significance in the peroration which is given in full, as follows: "I do not know how you read the signs of the times. For myself, I think that this country of ours, this Empire of ours, is entering upon a critical period. 1 think her sway is in the balance. The European nations are thinking what they dare not speak. Demos—the great god of the people—is shaking off his chains, and hungry men and women, conscious only of their sufferings and unable to understand the complicated phenomena of our communal life, are asking why they starve in the midst of plenty. And all the time, the professional politician prattles his party platitudes, and the ponderous professor prates about "political principles." Ladies and gentlemen, do you see the clouds gathering?- do you see the ‘trail of the curling winds’?— do you hear the distant rumbling? If you do, join the John Bull League." So! our country is in a critical condition; the people are rising and asking awkward questions; the professional politicians are not alive to the danger; if you are, join us. That appeal is not to the people who are awakening, but who do not understand, with the intention of enlightening them; it is an appeal to those who have to wake up and resist the demands of those who have not.

Having sorted out the object of the League, we may turn briefly to the statement of position regarding the larger questions that already divide the opinion of the country into more or less antagonistic camps. The position is carefully chosen in each case to appeal to as large a section of opinion as possible obviously. Take religion. On the negative side we are treated to a warm criticism of those who thrive on Foreign Missionary Societies and the like, we are told, coining to the positive side, "its church will be broad enough to embrace all mankind . . . It embraces all mankind, tolerating, respecting, and honouring their faith . . . It will know no sect, no dogma, no distinctions: it will rest upon the corner-stones of the four quarters of the world and it will be roofed over with the illimitable domain of heaven.” If anything could be more ambiguous than that, kindly refer us to it.

Politically, the party system is condemned, and business methods sought to be introduced in place. The anomalies of the present electoral methods are dwelt upon and proportional representation delicately hinted at. The House of Lords are very gently criticised, while the necessity for a second chamber is laid stress upon, and a suggestion made for a body, partly hereditary, partly appointed. The Crown is eulogised: The League looking upon the King as “our most valuable national asset—our best statesman, and, by a long way, our finest ambassador.”

And so on, almost without end. Throughout the whole speech, there is no hint of the underlying problem of poverty, no glimpse of a way to social and economic freedom for the working class. Quite the contrary, they are urged to send their masters to rule over them in Parliament on the same principles adopted in the workshop—the principles on which capitalist business is run. As though all capitalist government were not carried on for the capitalist class by the capitalist class to the exploitation and degradation of the working class, notwithstanding official incapacity, corruption or expediency, and as though the workers stood to gain anything by such a proceeding! When the working-class members of the John Bull League —if such exist—get down to think about the things that matter, they will discover that the greatest abuse they can find in modern society is the outgrowth —exaggerated, it may be — of some established principle consistent with the capitalist basis of society, and that the real cure in each case lies in the alteration of the basis from capitalism to Socialism. 
Dick Kent

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