Bruce Glasier in Ireland
(31 March 1900)
Bruce Glasier in Ireland, Justice, 31 March 1900, p.3.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Our friend and quondam comrade, Bruce Glasier, has been giving in the Clarion his impressions of Ireland; it is, then, in order, for someone in Ireland to give their impressions of Bruce Glasier. This article is a feeble contribution in that direction; where this article fails of its purpose it is to be hoped the reader will be lenient, and remember that it is not at all possible to reproduce in cold print a vivid picture of the gyrations of a lightning-change artiste – whether the performance be on the stage or the platform, or the changes be of clothing or of principles.
After the result of the first elections in Ireland under the Irish Local Government Bill had astounded the world with a clear-cut manifestation of class-feeling on the part of the Irish workers, the news was announced, with much of the usual trumpeting, that the Fabian Society was about to send a lecturer to Ireland. The real inwardness of this move will only be apparent to those Social-Democrats who have so far cut their economic wisdom-teeth as to appreciate the overwhelming importance to our cause of a sound comprehension of the principle of the class struggle. Where this principle is understood and battled for the Labour movement is certain to develop along paths leading direct to political action on Socialist lines; where this principle is obscured or denied, the organisations of the working-class, even when professedly Socialist, only serve as decoy ducks to the political parties of their masters. The Fabian Society recruits itself principally among the astute bourgeoisie, whose aim it is to emasculate the working class movement by denying the philosophy of the class struggle, weakening the belief of the workers in the political self-sufficiency of their own class, and by substituting the principle of municipal capitalism and bureaucratic State control for the principle of revolutionary reconstruction involved in Social Democracy. How far this policy has succeeded in England our English comrades can tell. But as a mere outsider I would suggest that the harm wrought in the electoral prospects of Socialism by the plentiful crop of “advanced Radicals” and “Liberal Labour” candidates which spring up in every constituency where the Socialist doctrine has taken partial root, is one sufficiently obvious proof of the danger to Socialism of Fabian tactics. Ireland has not, until last year, received much attention from the Fabian gentry. The Irish worker had not the municipal franchise, therefore Fabian gas and water schemes would have been lost on him. But as soon as he obtained the franchise and manifested a desire to use it in a true class spirit, the cry went up for the Fabian missionaries. In order to prevent the Irish working class from breaking off entirely from the bourgeois parties, and from developing a revolutionary tendency, the Fabians sent their lecturer to Ireland, to induce the Irish working class to confine themselves to the work of municipalising, and to fritter away their energies and break their hearts on the petty squabbles of local administration, to the entire neglect of the essential work of capturing the political power necessary for social reconstruction. For this work Bruce Glasier was chosen as the man most fitted to succeed. What the character of his teaching was may best be judged by a short resume of the answers to some questions put to him whilst in Dublin by some members of the Irish Socialist Republican Party.
In one lecture he had given an elaborate and overdrawn picture of the great benefits accruing to some English towns through municipalising – ½d. per £ off the taxes in one place, and 1d. in another, so much saved to the rates from gas, so much from water, so much from electric light. “This,” he declared, “is all the work of the last ten years, and is due entirely to the new trade unionism.”
Question: “Seeing that the new trade unionism was conceived in the brains of, was officered by, and largely composed of Socialists, why does Mr. Glasier not give credit where credit is due, and state that the reforms he speaks of were owing to Socialist agitation?”
Answer: “I wasn’t speaking of the origin of new trade unionism.”
Question: “You speak of peasant proprietary as a solution of the Irish land question; now, under peasant proprietary would not the labourer be exploited by the peasant proprietor?”
Answer: “Of course there is nothing in peasant proprietary to prevent that, and the farmer might still exploit the labourer.”
Question: “You say the farmer might exploit the labourer; did you ever know of one man employing others for any other reason than to exploit them?”
Answer: “No, but under the circumstances in Ireland peasant proprietary is the most likely solution.”
Question: “You speak of the enormous profits made by the Corporation out of the tram service. Now we object to the exploitation of labour, and consider it the basic injustice of the present system; and what difference can it make to the Glasgow tram worker whether the profit wrung out of him goes to a corporation or to an individual? He loses it anyway.”
Answer: “The labourer is not exploited, but the community. The profit is not made out of the worker, but out of the people at large.”
According to this theory, the payment of good wages, to municipal employees is a matter of charity, not justice.
Question: “Is it not a fact that in all the cases of municipal enterprise spoken of the original. Owners have had to be bought out at an extravagant valuation, that this is done by the creation of municipal interest-bearing bonds, and that thus you only succeed in replacing the private, responsible capitalist by the private, irresponsible bondholder?”
Answer: “Yes, that is certainly so. But we hope, when we have paid off this debt and interest, to create a fund from the profit thus accruing to enable us to purchase without the necessity of borrowing.”
As it generally requires from 15 to 20 years to pay off the debt on even the smallest municipal enterprise, during which time other debts are being contracted, we can all see how long an innings the middle class hope for from Fabianism, and also how delightfully “immediately practicable” are their reforms.
Question: “Do you consider that the working class should strive to capture political power by supporting only the candidates of their own class?”
Answer: “As a matter of fact the working class are often the most conservative, and great reforms are likely to come, in the immediate future as in the past, from the action of generous-minded members of the upper or middle classes.”
Of course; the moral intended to be drawn was to look to the master class for guidance and not to the working class.
Question: “Would it not be more advantageous to the cause of municipalising if the municipal employees were to be paid as nearly as possible the full fruits of their labour? Would this not induce employees of private firms to clamour to be taken into municipal service?”
Answer: “I consider that to pay municipal employees much more than private employees would be to make of them a privileged class, and arouse the jealousy of the employees of private firms.”
These few questions and answers will serve to illustrate the character of Mr. Glasier’s teaching. He was also asked if he was a Socialist, and answered it in such a “smart” manner that the audience present were left in a complete fog of bewilderment as to his real position. I remembered him as a man who was first a “revolutionary” Socialist for whom the SDF was too moderate, then as an I.L.P.-er for whom the S.D.F. was too extreme, but I had still retained a wild hope that the change might have been the result of conviction. As he came down from the Trades Hall platform in Dublin I spoke to him, saying:
“Well, Glasier, I am sorry you have turned Fabian.”
“But I’m not a Fabian,” he answered.
“Then what are you,” I asked, a little bewildered, “aren’t you speaking on the Fabian platform and advocating Fabianism?”
“Oh, yes,” he answered, “but you see I’m paid by the Fabians and must do what I am paid for.”
And so I left him. How I envied his self-restraint and sense of responsibility. And how much more I envied him when I read his article in the Clarion, and noted how in the front page he played to Nunquam’s ear by a simulated indignation over my participation in an anti-war meeting, and in the latter part of the same article beslavers another Irishman who had been deposed from a J.P.-ship for his sympathy with the Boers.
But that is Bruce Glasier, his mark.
Honesty, it is said, is the best policy. But with some natures the practical application of the maxim is an organic impossibility.
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