From Irish Political Review: February 2007

Kipling, Connolly And The Kaiser—Part One

William Ernest Henley isn't much thought on these days. Even with exhortations from Blair's backroom boys and Brown's to look warmly on the Empire and stop apologising for it but rather knuckle down, buckle up, and work to rebuild the glory of it, he's one old Imperialist who hasn't yet made it into New Labour's Pristine Pantheon of Our Well Beloved Dearly Deceased. So, it's maybe best to say something of who he was and what he represented.

He was a model of his sometime friend Stevenson's Long John Silver. And the author of Invictus (Lat. unconquered), that hymn of muscular Christianity (or Darwinism, or Social Imperialism, take your pick for they're all much of a mishmash), the poem which ends:

It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

And he was Editor of, among other mags and rags, the Scots Observer.

Well, it is said of W. E. Henley and him editing away at his Scots Observer in the Winter of 1890, that he then received the manuscript of the first of Kipling's Barrack Room Ballads, the incomparable Danny Deever. And further said that, having read it, he stood up and danced peglegged around the room.

Which is where we must leave old Billy, goat-ecstatic in his dance. And move on to the great Victorian Milton scholar, Professor Masson.

Henley published Danny Deever in his issue of February 22nd., which is where and when James Masson, Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at Edinburgh University, first read it. And having read it he burst into a lecture room full of undergraduates waving the magazine and shouting: "Now we have it, here's literature at last!"

And he was right. Sure and true it was that England had literature and lots of it, from way back. And Britain too had a long literary heritage. But Greater Britain had no literature until Danny Deever. With Barrack Room Ballads Greater Britain had made its mark. The Empire then had its literature too. At last.

Until then the Empire had gone along well enough without any literature. The ruling class which had handled things very competently for long enough in the argot of the Upper Fourth Remove had no need of complicated literary folderol. But the middle classes, whose enthusiastic participation had become crucial to the Empire's functioning, aspired to something more like an argot of the senior common room. They craved a literature and responded mightily when Kipling gave it to them. No sooner craved than granted (by some indulgence of the infinite, I'll be bound).

A literature that did not blue-pencil harsh truths of the barrack room and battle field but gloried in them knowing it was the discipline of blood and sacrifice that alone would reconcile East and West (under the Queen, God Bless Her!). A literature that called from the God of our fathers, Lord of Hosts, to the chapels and meeting-houses of home and colony. And spoke of the White Man's Burden. That is what Kipling gave them. They gulped it whole and begged for more.

In 1897 Kipling, in his great hymn to the Empire's wonderful awe-inspiring humility in the sight of its God, warned it against the hubris of "valiant dust that builds on dust, And guarding calls not Thee to guard". But the Empire didn't listen to him. And though he wrote Recessional in the full possession of his faculties somehow he didn't listen to himself.

What the Empire did listen to was a too clever by half scheme that aimed to suck its great economic rival Germany into a European war and destroy it. And Kipling was part of the propaganda of the plot. He wrote much and many in prose and verse that served to forward the plot. At the core of it was An Imperial Rescript which was published in 1890, two years after a speech by the new Kaiser which made plain the Beastly Hun's intent to wage unceasing war against Human Civilization. Against all that Foulness Kipling argued the case for plain human decency.

NOW this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser decreed,
To ease the strong of their burden, to help the weak in their need,
He sent a word to the peoples, who struggle, and pant, and sweat
That the straw might be counted fairly and the tally of bricks be set.

The Lords of Their Hands assembled; from the East and the West they drew—
Baltimore, Lille, and Essen, Brummagem, Clyde, and Crewe.
And some were black from the furnace, and some were brown from the soil,
And some were blue from the dye-vat; but all were wearied of toil.

And the young King said:—"I have found it, the road to the rest ye seek:
"The strong shall wait for the weary, the hale shall halt for the weak;
"With the even tramp of an army where no man breaks from the line,
"Ye shall march to peace and plenty in the bond of brotherhood—sign!"

The paper lay on the table, the strong heads bowed thereby,
And a wail went up from the peoples:—"Ay, sign—give rest, for we die!"
A hand was stretched to the goose-quill, a fist was cramped to scrawl,
When—the laugh of a blue-eyed maiden ran clear through the council-hall.

And each one heard Her laughing as each one saw Her plain—
Saidie, Mimi, or Olga, Gretchen, or Mary Jane.
And the Spirit of Man that is in Him to the light of the vision woke;
And the men drew back from the paper, as a Yankee delegate spoke:—

"There's a girl in Jersey City who works on the telephone;
"We're going to hitch our horses and dig for a house of our own,
"With gas and water connections, and steam-heat through to the top;
"And, W. Hohenzollern, I guess I shall work till I drop."

And an English delegate thundered:—"The weak an' the lame be blowed!
"I've a berth in the Sou'-West workshops, a home in the Wandsworth Road;
"And till the 'sociation has footed my buryin' bill,
"I work for the kids an' the missus. Pull up? I be damned if I will!"

And over the German benches the bearded whisper ran:—
"Lager, der girls und der dollars, dey makes or dey breaks a man.
"If Schmitt haf collared der dollars, he collars der girl deremit;
"But if Schmitt bust in der pizness, we collars der girl from Schmitt."

They passed one resolution:—"Your sub-committee believe
"You can lighten the curse of Adam when you've lightened the curse of Eve.
"But till we are built like angels, with hammer and chisel and pen,
"We will work for ourself and a woman, for ever and ever, amen."

Now this is the tale of the Council the German Kaiser held—
The day that they razored the Grindstone, the day that the Cat was belled,
The day of the Figs from Thistles, the day of the Twisted Sands,
The day that the laugh of a maiden made light of the Lords of Their Hands.

And there it is then. Sanctified in its very own Literature. The secret of the social plan of the greatest Empire the World has ever seen. On which the Sun would never set.

"The weak an' the lame be blowed!"

So it was when the Empire was at its height and the notes of the nouns of its praise resounded from Apogee to Zenith. So it is in these latter days of a wilting West.

What was it then the Kaiser actually proposed that set Greater Britain and its Poet to such a fearful tizzy? Put as briefly as possible, nothing much. Just the fair foundations of a Welfare State. What word did he send to the peoples, who struggle, and pant, and sweat. Well…

But first, some context. On January 18th., 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles (the recent Franco-Prussian War having ended somewhat to the disadvantage of the French), King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed Emperor Wilhelm I of Germany. The power behind both Throne and State was Chancellor Prince Otto von Bismarck.

Bismarck had a problem with the growth of the German Social Democratic Party. So in 1878, after there were a couple of failed attempts to assassinate Kaiser Wilhelm, the Chancellor pushed a series of anti-Socialist Laws through the Reichstag. These banned any group which tried to (or even worse succeeded in) spreading Socialist ideas, suppressed Socialist newspapers and magazines and outlawed Trade Unions. But the Socialists were up to all of that. The German Constitution allowed unaffiliated candidates to run as independents, which is what the SPD had its people do, with increasing success. Papers and magazines were produced abroad. The best propaganda within Germany was the entirely legal publication of Reichstag speeches by the SPD's Independents. And German Social Democracy grew.

So Bismarck had second thoughts. If you can't quite beat them, he thought, don't quite join them. And Bismarck then became a sometime State Socialist. In 1890 he explained himself to the American historian William H. Dawson:

"My idea was to bribe the working classes, or shall I say, to win them over, to regard the state as a social institution existing for their sake and interested in their welfare. It is not moral to make profits out of human misfortunes and suffering."

"Life insurance, accident insurance, sickness insurance should not be the subjects of private speculation. They should be carried out by the state or at least insurance should be on the mutual principle and no dividends or profits should be derived by private persons."

In its aspect as a Government-sponsored development German State Socialism began in 1883 with the passage of the Health Insurance Act. A year later came Accident Insurance. Old Age Pensions and Disability Insurance were put in place in 1889. The new Kaiser put Bismarck out to pasture in 1890 but, with German Social Democracy continuing to grow, German State Socialism just kept on keeping on. In 1892 workers' families were included in their insurance cover. And from the beginning the insurance funds, which were organised on trade and vocational lines, were administered by boards on which workers' representatives made up two thirds of the members. The funds were very heavily subsidised by the state and so unlikely of themselves to have given rise to substantial industrial democracy in the immediate future but, absent apocalypse now and apocalypse again twenty-seven years later, there is no telling what heroism the example and the experience might have led to.

Now then, the first German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I died on March 9th., 1888. His son Frederick succeeded him. But Frederick III was already dying of throat cancer. So a couple of months later, on June 15th., his son succeeded him as Wilhelm II, King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany. That was the year of the three Kaisers.

On June 25th., at the opening of the Reichstag the new Kaiser pledged himself to continue the state socialist policies of his grandfather:

"In the legislation of the Reich, according to the constitution, it is my duty to act more in my capacity as king of Prussia than as German Kaiser; but in both roles it will be my endeavour to continue the work of the legislation of the Reich in the same way as my late, revered grandfather began it. In particular I adopt in its entirety the declaration issued by him on 17 November 1881, and I shall continue to work in the spirit of this declaration, to ensure that the legislation of the Reich strives further to give the working population the protection that it is able, in accordance with the principles of Christian morality, to provide for the weak and the oppressed in the struggle for existence. I hope that in this way we shall succeed in bringing closer the elimination of unhealthy social differences, and I am confident that in my care for the internal well-being of the nation I shall receive the unanimous support of all true adherents of the Reich and of the federated governments, support undivided by party differences."

Wilhelm soon broke with Bismarck over the Chancellor's attempts to have the anti-socialist laws extended and made permanent. Shortly before being forced to resign Bismarck, in an attempt to curry favour, suggested that the Kaiser preside over a European Labour Council to discuss working conditions. The Kaiser took the suggestion very much to heart (in his Memoirs written after Germany's defeat and his overthrow he denied Bismarck's part in its genesis). This was the Berlin Social Congress which Kipling felt impelled to attack.

The message from Wilhelm and Bismarck which invited European leaders to Berlin raises an almost globalist concern:

"The competition of nations in the trade of the world, and the community of interests proceeding therefrom, makes it impossible to create successful institutions for the benefit of working men of one country without entailing that country's power of competing with other countries."

It is a concern that the Kaiser returned to in his Memoirs. There he doesn't say much directly about the Berlin Social Congress, just this:

"Thereupon I decided to summon a general social congress. Prince Bismarck opposed this also. Switzerland was contemplating something similar, and had thought of convening a congress at Berne. Roth, the Swiss ambassador, hearing of my scheme, advised canceling the invitations to Berne and accepting an invitation to Berlin. What he wished occurred. Thanks to the generosity of Herr Roth, it was possible to convene the congress at Berlin. The material collected as a result of it was worked out and applied in the form of laws only in Germany, however."

But there is more about his social policy in general, including some further remarks on 19th century Globalisation and the 1890 Berlin Congress:

"The policy that kept in view the welfare of the workers unquestionably imposed a heavy burden upon all the industrial elements of Germany in the matter of competition in the world market, through the well-known laws for the protection of workingmen. This was especially true in relation to an industrial system like the Belgian, which could, without hindrance, squeeze the last drop out of the human reserves of Belgium and pay low wages, without feeling any pangs of conscience or compassion for the sinking morale of the exhausted, unprotected people. By means of my social legislation I made such conditions impossible in Germany, and I caused it to be introduced also in Belgium, during the war, by General von Bissing, in order to promote the welfare of the Belgian workers. First of all, however, this legislation is to use a sporting term a handicap upon German industry in the battle of world competition: it alienated many big leaders of industry, which, from their point of view, was quite natural. But the lord of the land must always bear in mind the welfare of the whole nation; therefore, I went my way unswervingly.

"Those workers, on the other hand, who blindly followed the Socialist leaders, gave me no word of thanks for the protection created for them nor for the work I had done. Between them and me lies the motto of the Hohenzollerns, 'Suum curque.' That means, 'To each his own' not, as the Social Democrats would have it, 'To everyone the same!'

"I also harbored the idea of preventing to some extent competitive warfare, at least in the industrial world of the European continent, by bringing about a sort of quota-fixing in foreign lands, thereby facilitating production and making possible a healthier mode of life among the working classes.

"There is great significance in the impression which foreign workers get in studying Germany's social legislation. A few years before the war people in England, under the pressure of labor troubles, awoke to the conviction that better care must be taken of the workers. As a result of this, commissions visited Germany, some of them composed of workingmen. Guided by representative Germans, among them Socialists, they visited the industrial regions, factories, benevolent institutions, sanatoria of insurance companies, etc., and were astonished at all the things they saw. At the farewell dinner given them the English leader of the workingmen's deputation turned to Bebel and made this concluding remark:

"'After all we have seen of what is done in Germany for the workers, I ask you: Are you people still Socialists?' And the Englishmen remarked to a German that they would be quite satisfied if they could succeed, after long fights in Parliament, in putting through one tenth of what had already been accomplished years before in Germany toward bettering the condition of the laboring classes.

"I had observed with interest these visits of the English deputations and marveled at their ignorance of German conditions. But I marveled even more at a question asked by the English Government, through the channel of the English Embassy, on the same subject, which betrayed an absolutely amazing lack of knowledge of the progress made in Germany in the province of social reform. I questioned the English ambassador, remarki ng that England, having been represented in 1890 at the Berlin Social Congress, must certainly have been informed, at least through the Embassy, of the Reichstag debates, which had dealt in a detailed way with the various social measures. The ambassador replied that the same thing had also occurred to him and caused him to have the earlier records of the Embassy investigated, whereupon it had transpired that the Embassy had sent the fullest reports on the subject to London and that thorough reports had been forwarded home concerning every important stage in the progress of social reform; but, 'because they came from Germany, nobody ever read them; they were simply pigeon holed and remained there ever since ; it is a downright shame; Germany does not interest people at home.'

"Thus the Briton, with a shrug of his shoulders. Neither the British King nor Parliament had enough conscience or time or desire to work for the betterment of the working class. The 'policy of encirclement' for the annihilation of Germany, especially of its industry, and, thereby, of its working population, was, in their eyes, far more important and rewarding. On the 9th of November (1918) the German Radical Socialist leaders, with their like-minded followers, joined forces with this British policy of annihilation."

The development of German State Socialism and Greater Britain's hysterical fear of it would be of some interest to us in any circumstances, even if Connolly had not allied Irish Labour with it during the First World War (which England and its Allies, including Redmond's deluded Volunteers, were fighting under the slogan 'The weak an' the lame be blowed!' and the rights of small nations be damned). But Connolly did ally Irish Labour with it.

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