Harkive: ‘”Salvation” and Socialism’

Statue of William Booth, formerly on Whitechapel Road

This post includes Harkness’s article on socialism and the Salvation Army in the Pall Mall Gazette,  followed by a subsequent letter to the editor which clarifies her position in the article, and was probably also written by Harkness herself.


Source: Pall Mall Gazette, 21 October 1890, p. 1-2. Accessible via 19th Century British Newspapers, sourced from the British Library.


“Salvation” v. Socialism.


EIGHTEEN months ago, when I was being bullied by broken-down lawyers, and blackmailed by religious adventurers, I very little thought that two years later I should see my wildest hopes on the eve of their accomplishment. Things looked dark indeed. My Socialistic dream was vanishing; for I had discovered to my bitter disappointment that the Socialist leaders were the strongest Individualists of my acquaintance, and that, although six of them could do the necessary work if united, no six could work together for more than six months without a quarrel. They talked Socialism, but practiced Individualism; and all the time the slummers were starving.

Mr. Stead tells us that the success of the dock strike was the result of a series of flukes. Well, the greatest fluke of all was that last autumn three of the Socialist leaders happened to be working together in amity. If the strike had come a few weeks sooner or a few weeks later the dockers would not have had John Burns’s strong lungs and cheery presence; H. H. Champion’s diplomatic skill, and Tom Mann’s organizing genius united in one common cause; and no one can tell if the unskilled would then have won the victory which has resulted in a rise of wages for so many men, and the formation of so many trade unions. But the great strike has come and gone, and we are very little nearer the great social millennium. Some hundreds of thousands of unskilled workers have risen in the social scale, but poverty is still in the land. Poverty will never be driven out of England by men who quarrel.

During the dock strike I witnessed two scenes in the Whitechapel-road that made a lasting impression on my consciousness. A cart laden with bedding was on its way to the docks. It was rumoured that these things were going to the blacklegs. In a few minutes the cart was wrecked by the strikers. Yet the blacklegs are men and brethren. A little later, in the very same place, a “Slum Lassie” was distributing food tickets. Thousands of men and women thronged round her, she was lifted off her feet, and carried along by the multitude towards her humble lodgings. The girl’s face, with its calm smile, could be seen above the heads of the men and women, and as they bore her on she distributed food tickets to the hungry people. Presently some tall policemen appeared. I saw them go to the girl’s house and knock at the door. I heard them offer their services, and the offer gently refused. “The slummers would not hurt a hair of my head,” the slum lassie told me; and I knew that she spoke the truth, for she goes into public-houses, thieves’ kitchens, and brothels, where no minister, clergyman, dare enter. Into places where the police go in fear and trembling she goes in safety, for she carries with her the talisman of a brave, loving, unselfish spirit. A letter from Olive Schreiner lies before me while I write this, in which she says, “If the world is ever to be saved, it will be saved by love, and by nothing else.” I believe she is right. I believe that love will one day grow strong, even in the slums of our great cities, and that then THIS world will be heaven. Our time is far off; and certainly it will not be brought about by setting employed against employers, preaching a class war, and persecuting blacklegs.

I have been on the Continent lately, and have seen something of the Socialists there, and when I think of the courtly official who was told off by the Kaiser Wilhelm to give me information, I recognize that the German Emperor is a wise young man, for by removing restrictive laws he has set the Socialists free to quarrel. I recall an interview with Herr Bebel, and remember how I told him that my Socialistic dream was fading away, and that I was beginning to see that man is by nature an Individualist, and that no amount of dreaming will alter nature’s fiat. I spoke of Prince Kropotkin, who has given up the court of the Czar for a Harrow cottage; and expressed a hope that some day – a day, alas! far, far distant – landlords and capitalists will give up rent and interest, of their own free will, and be content to work like honourable men for an honest living. He smiled, and pointed to the successes achieved by combination in Germany. Perhaps now he is not so sanguine.

Of all the men I have ever met Prince Kropotkin is the most perfect. I visit his cottage as I would visit the home of a prophet, for in him I see what I believe is coming – namely, love grown so strong that it has become a religion. But I know that we are a long way off from the day when landlords and capitalists will be converted; and that before that time comes the iron will enter into many men’s souls from want of work, many helpless children will die of hunger, many women will sell themselves to buy food for their families. That is why I rejoice over this scheme of the Salvation Army.

While I was visiting Captain Lobe, I often said to myself, “If anyone can help the slummers, General Booth can do it.” I suggested this to the rank and file of the Salvation Army (I did not know the chief then), but they shook their heads. They could not mix up Salvation with pig-swill. However, I believed that they could if they would, and now they are going to try it. Bless the hoary-headed old chief! I saw him before I left England, and I told him that, agnostic as I am, I would like to help him. “I am giving all the time I have to spare from a dying wife to this social scheme,” he said. “Four million people have to be helped, and I want one hundred thousand pounds to do it.” He will get the money, for the Salvation Army does not go to the purse-proud merchant or to the stingy aristocrat, but to the masses!

I will give my reasons for believing that General Booth’s scheme will do more than anything else at present towards driving poverty out of England, and advancing the day when Love will become a Religion.

First, the slummers love the Salvation Army, and trust the Salvationists. Let ministers and clergymen scoff at General Booth’s scheme: they are only jealous. They have prated in kid gloves (with a few noble exceptions, not strong enough to leaven the lump) about sacrifice; the result is, the slummers do not listen to them or enter their chapels or churches. Your slummer is no fool; hunger sharpens his wits, and he knows that it is easy to say “dear Jesus,” and difficult to practice the rules laid down by the Carpenter’s Son for the behaviour of Christians. The Salvationist comes to him on ten shillings a week, and does not hesitate to share with him his ten shillings. Your slummer likes a practical religion. Ministers and clergymen have said, “The poor you have always with you,” over their Sunday roast-beef, and have brought contempt on their God by letting Him be charged with the results of man’s greed and selfishness. They have not even tried to scotch the snake; so, of course, they do not like to see the Salvationists on the high-road to kill it.

Secondly, the Salvationists are not influenced by what the press says for or against them, and do not care for the applause or the hisses of the public. I remember after the dock strike remonstrating with the editor of a big London paper (not a little organ that lives by such things) on the iniquity of flattering the labour leaders and turning the heads of men already too conceited.

“Well,” said the editor, “I am sorry for them, poor fellows, but we must have copy. If Christ came to earth again we should send a reporter to the Last Supper.” “No, you would not,” I said, “for there is only one journalist in London who would discover Jesus Christ if he came again.” I meant the man who is helping General Booth with his social scheme at present.

Thirdly, the Salvationists have hit on the right thing – I mean labour colonies. I have not read General Booth’s book, but I know pretty well what is in it. The Rev. Hubert Mills suggests the same thing in his book, “Poverty and the State;” Mr. Charles Booth, author of “Life and Labour in East London,” favours labour colonies; and most people believe in the scheme General Booth is contemplating. I saw labour colonies on the Continent, and I believe we should have had them in England before this if English people had not such mistaken ideas about “the liberty of the British subject.” Governments dare not take the initiative about labour colonies, private individuals cannot start them, Socialists would turn them into bear-gardens; co-operatives and trade unionists have quite enough to do with their own businesses. General Booth has the money, the men, and the right spirit. The slummers believe in the Salvation Army, and love the Salvationists; so the weak things of earth will once again confound the strong, a slum lassie will win a crown refused to a statesman. Of course the Salvationists will meet with many difficulties. The loafers, who in other countries are clapped into prison, will prove the first problem. Then will come the impossibility of competing with people outside the colonies, and the realization of the fact that the colonists must work merely for themselves, and not trade with the public. There will be dozens of problems to be solved; much ridicule, misunderstanding, jealousy, abuse, and slander to be faced. But the Salvation Army possesses intelligent, earnest, and energetic men, equal to the task, and it carries with it the talisman of love and unselfishness. In the history of England the Salvation Army will, I believe, be set down as “The Slum Saviour;” as the religious body that said the curses of starving men and despairing women shall not rest on God, for not God but MAN is responsible for the poverty of England.


Source: Pall Mall Gazette, 29 October 1890, p. 1-2. Accessible via 19th Century British Newspapers, sourced from the British Library


“Salvation” and Socialism.


Sir,—Having heard a good deal of criticism on “John Law’s” article in your issue of the 21st inst., I shall be glad if you can find room for this letter. I know that after the dock strike John Law regretted Messrs. Burns and Mann giving so much attention to trade unions, for she believed that the vote was the only formidable weapon the employed should use in fighting the employers. Before leaving England she foresaw that a conflict must come between labour and capital; and she was very unhappy about it, fearing it might take place during the cold weather, and that the public would not help the men through their trade unions. I remember perfectly well her description of the visit she paid to Cardinal Manning during the dock strike. She told me: “I said to Cardinal Manning that I believed he could act as mediator because he was not interested in either side, is not mixed up in politics, and I believed, if he did not act, blood might run in the streets of London.”

Now, I know “John Law” has no more sympathy with the religious tenets of the Salvation Army than she has with Catholicism; that she merely values these religious bodies in so far as they help on the social question; so I fancy she said to herself, while writing the article “In Praise of General Booth,” “There is a safe channel for public money when the struggle comes.” She must have seen the work done by the Salvation Army at the time of the dock strike, and she must also be aware that only a large organised body can deal with a relief fund. Having witnessed the suffering of the women and children during the strike last year, she may well have dreaded another labour battle. Her heart is with the slummers, and she doubtless felt that these people would suffer the most if war were declared between Capital and Labour. Very naturally, John Law’s interest is in the workers, not their leaders; but no one ever spoke more warmly of these men, or praised in higher terms John Burns’s physical courage, Tom Mann’s unselfish enthusiasm, and H. H. Champion’s powers of self-sacrifice for the good of the people. In talking of the labour leaders as individualists she wanted probably to find an excuse for their misunderstandings; for her faith in Socialism was sorely tried by what she saw while working as a Socialist. She showed me before she went away some of the letters she had received during the two years she worked with the Socialists. Most of the letters were anonymous, but in them she was accused of every imaginable sin. The mildest said that she ought to be shot as a Tory spy, and hung for taking money from the Tories. One letter spoke of “vulgar intrigues,” another of “disappointed ambition.” But it was not these things that made her write a farewell letter in your columns last spring [‘The Future of the Labour Party’, published in the Pall Mall Gazette in March 1890 and reprinted in The Labour Elector]; it was the conviction that the vote was the weapon that workers should use, and that the new trade unions would prove a broken reed when capitalists united. –Yours, &c.,


October 25.


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