Brisbane, January 26, 1895.
An American Letter.
ED. WORKER, – In enclosing another year's subscription I feel sure you will be glad to know how the Labour movement is progressing in America. The conditions here are somewhat different from those which exist in Australia and the depression is not likely to be of so long continuance as among you, because all admit that here there is ample capital in the market and commercial men say that it would be utilised in the employment of workers, the tariff question were once settled. Moreover very many are out of employment, and an increasing number are turning their attention to economics with the unavoidable result that the tide sets towards Socialism. The same thing is noticeable in the universities, and I doubt not the time will come when the citizens of the United States, having carefully studied the subject in all its bearings, will adopt a more advanced social economy than any other nation in the world. This time, however, is as yet distant. Two great obstacles have to be overcome. One is the strongly marked – individualism of the American. To profit oneself, to amass money for oneself, and afterwards to expend that money in ways – philanthropic it may be – but still in ways calculated to concentrate public attention upon oneself – in one word to make self the great man and leave the masses where they were before. This character, common in all lands, is yet more strongly marked in America than in any other, and so long as this is the ideal there can be no general progress. However, this character is no longer admired as it used to be if remarks in the daily papers are to taken as any criterion. Another obstacle of the opposite kind is the desire of the larger sections of the community to overbear the smaller, thus menacing the liberty by which Socialism must be interpermeated if it is not to be almost as great an evil as Individualism itself. As the country is getting older and its citizens more reflective, I think both these evils are passing away.
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The law of America is very different from yours in respect of political parties. Here a party is a corporate entity recognised by law as soon as it has attained a prescribed number of adherents, and all candidates for the legislature of for the executive (which also is here elective) are nominated by the party – there are no nominations by individuals. The number of parties is at present five. Two of these, known as Republican and Democratic (a misnomer) are factions of the Capitalistic party, and are here called the Boodle parties. The other three, known as the Socialist Labour, the Populist (or People's) and the Prohibitionist, are reform parties. Each of these has held a national convention and issued a platform. The Socialist platform is published in Boston Labor, which states that it is one of your exchanges, so I suppose you have a copy. It seems to me an excellent platform, but I notice that it does not go so far as to demand the nationalisation of all enterprises of production and distribution, but leave open the question, on which Socialists are so much divided, whether these should be owned by the State or by the workers for the time being carrying each on, although the preamble states that “the machinery of production must belong to the people in common.” It, however, requires that the United States shall own the means of transportation and communication (which stated on a peculiar footing) and that each city shall own its own tramways, waterworks, &c., and that public lands shall be inalienable and land grants, the conditions of which have not been complied with, are to be revoked (!). At the end a clause is lugged in respecting capital punishment – why. I do not know. The platform of the Populist and Prohibitionist parties, as adopted in 1892, may be found in Macpherson's Annual handbook of Politics for that year. Both set an incomprehensible value on a large increase of money – not money's worth, but coins and bank notes, or rather State notes – but neither state to whom this additional money is to to be paid.
It is generally conceded that these parties labour under some confusion of thought on the subject of money, but what it exactly is I have never been able to fathom. I understand one theory of the Populists is that Government can, by enacting that a piece of paper or a silver coin shall be a legal tender for one dollar, make it as valuable as the weight of gold contained in a dollar. Happily the Socialists have steered clear of all this jugglery. The populists ask for Government ownership and the Prohibitionists for Government control of railroads, telegraphs, &c., and the Populists rather ambiguously provide that “the powers of government shall be expanded, as in the case of the postal service, as rapidly and as far as the good sense of an intelligent people and the teachings of experience shall justify.” Neither objects to the private ownership of land, except by corporations or by alien absentees (the Populists say “aliens” but probably mean alien absentees), but the Prohibitionists call for its restriction. The Populists convention recommend but did not include in the platform the adoption of the initiative and referendum. The Prohibitionists further demand the prohibition of the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors (whence their name), female suffrage, taxes on property and not (except for reciprocity's sake) on imports control of incorporated companies, reduction of immigration, non-sectarian education and opposition to the loyalist parties, as well as numerous minor reforms. The single taxers have joined the Democratic Boodle party.
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These three parties are now cutting the ground from under one another's feet, each nominating a distinct set of candidates, and an attempt is being made to bring them to work in harmony. Already the Socialists and Populists have in some instances nominated a joint “ticket.” Much is being done towards effecting the fusion by Mr. Swift, of Boston. And now I must tell you something about “Equity House” and Boston Common on sunday.
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“Equity House' is a name which has been given to No. 20 Oak street, Boston. Here resides Mrs. Harding, an old lady, who is said to have amassed some money by working as a milliner, and is now expending it in doing good to the poor. This she does partly by alms, partly by trying to find employment, and partly by assisting in what I can only call a socialistic propaganda, although Mrs. Harding insists that Equity House is not indentified with any “ist” or any “ism.” At Equity House ever since its establishment, about 18 months ago, has resided Morrison I. Swift, who has already become quite a personality in America. He is a born American, and I think a Yankee – at least he has the characteristics of one – although his relatives now live in California. Sociology is much studied now at all the American colleges, but the John Hopkins University at Baltimore is admitted to lead in this study, and at the John Hopkins University Mr. Swift studied and obtained the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. He then for some time lived in a “College Settlement” in New York city, and then came to Equity House, Boston. I heard an old Scotchman who preaches the Gospel on Boston Common say in his discourse that he did not know Mr. Swift, but that judging from his actions as reported in the newspapers he thought he was not in his right mind. The remark was probably made for a purpose, but there really is a great deal in Mr. Swift's public doings which to a steady going Scotchman must seem in compatible with perfect sanity. An American would recognise it as matter of policy – done to make a racket. Mr. Swift is in fact a very shrewd man, and of very quiet demeanour and deliberate speech, inclined rather to sarcasm than eloquence. But I believe he is thoroughly sincere – an advanced Socialist and a most devoted man. Personally I like him very much so far as I have yet seen. He is just leaving for California.
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The latest move at Equity House is to establish a daily Labour paper, which shall gradually mould the trade unionists and Populists into harmony with the Socialists. I explained to them how the WORKER was founded, and suggested that it would be better to let a Socialist weekly already existing develop into a daily, but Mr. Swift and his coadjutors are not to be restrained, and insist upon trying the experiment, which I and some others told them must result in financial failure. The Socialists have already several weeklies, as you know, and those in New York are contemplating a daily People. I hope these dailies will all succeed.
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Boston Common on Sunday is a singular sight. Near the centre is a band stand with numerous benches in front, where the public can without charge hear a band from about 3 to 6 p.m. Near this band stand several orators hold forth. Close to it from 1.30 to 3 the inmates of Equity House and their friends and coadjutors preach Socialism and a divine discontent. Mr. Swift sometimes preaches a discontent not altogether divine. Then at the same stand from 6 the Single-Taxers orate. A bit to one side, commencing about 6, are the Social Economists, who, I think, are largely college men. Then still further over, from say 12 to 3, the Gospel is preached by the old Scotchman and his coadjutors, and from 3 the Socialist Labour party take the same stand. Not infrequently the same orator will discourse from the Equity House platform, and after wards from that of the Socialists Labour Party. Women as well as men orate from these platforms. On another side of the common numerous persons (singly, not in groups) preach the gospel to small audiences.
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On the whole, while Americans admit that they are behind Australians in social development, and that their national traditions are somewhat opposed to Socialism, it cannot be denied that the cause is spreading, and the depression has given it a considerable impetus.
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One very important point must not be omitted. The American Federation of labour issued a provisional platform containing a plank calling for the public ownership of all means of production and distribution. I was present lately at a meeting of the Massachusetts section when this plank was discussed fully and rejected by a small majority. This has been represented in the daily press as a rejection of Socialism. But the man who made the leading speech against it called himself a Socialist, and several speakers said the time might come when the plank would be appropriate. Their decision was a postponement of State Socialism. With that form of Socialism in which each body of workers owns the enterprise in which they work, or at least exercise considerable control over its management, they expressed their sympathy. This has always been my own view often expressed. The workers must be educated into the management of enterprise before they can control them through the medium of the state, and the State as at present constituted would be no better than a private employer, with which latter fact you in Australia are familiar.
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Lastly, as to the relation of religion with Socialism. Rev. Bliss, an Episcopal clergyman, some years ago gave up his pastorate because the congregation would not let him preach Socialism. He then established an Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) church in Boston, where regular services with sermons favouring Socialism were preached, and in the evening a light supper was given for payment, Mrs. Bliss acting as waitress, and a debate followed. Another Episcopal clergyman joined Mr. Bliss, having first learned the trade of a carpenter in order to be independent . These clergyman, I understand, have suffered a complete financial failure. Mr. Bliss had to send his wife and child to England. Mr. Bliss, however, partly brought about his own failure by transferring his allegiance from the Socialist labour party to the Populist Party, though he did this from the best motives, believing that the Populist party was more influential and therefore better able to obtain reforms. Many of the Socialists look on him as you do on Mr. Drake, as a man who had a great opportunity and sacrificed it. Still, whatever Mr. Bliss's errors of judgement may be, he is an honest man, and his example is not calculated to make the clergy more zealous in leading social reforms. In plain English, a clergyman has to defer to his congregation. A young man named Caeson, formerly of Equity House, has lately established at Lynn (Mass.) a labour Church, in affiliation with the Labour Churches recently established in England. I went there once to hear him, and found that he had a crowded and appreciative congregation wholly composed of working people. He uses the hymn book put forward by the labour church in England, but a far better one could be compiled from the lyrics which from time appear in the WORKER.
H. W. Boyd Mackay.
38 Winthrop street
Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.