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The Political Situation. Schreiner, Olive, 1855–1920.
page: 107


In the Cape Colony, and for such an Association as we pro- propose page: 108 pose, there are, I think, three subjects, a man's attitude with regard to which would amply suffice to show his adherence or otherwise to this fundamental principle underlying all Liberalism; and which, I think, would be adequate as a test of the fitness of any individual for membership in a Progressive Organisation.

The first of these is the Labour Question; the question of the relation between the propertied, and therefore powerful, class, and the less propertied, and therefore weaker, class.

In South Africa this question assumes gigantic importance, including as it does almost the page: 109 whole of what is popularly termed the Native Question; that question being indeed only the Labour Question of Europe complicated by a difference of race and colour between the employing and propertied, and the employed and poorer classes.

There are two attitudes with regard to the treatment of this Native Labouring Class: the one held by the Retrogressive Party in this country regards the Native as only to be tolerated in consideration of the amount of manual labour which can be extracted from him; and desires to obtain the largest amount of labour at the cheapest rate possible; and rigidly resists page: 110 all endeavours to put him on an equality with the white man in the eye of the law. The other attitude, which I hold must inevitably be that of every truly progressive individual in this country, is that which regards the Native, though an alien in race and colour and differing fundamentally from ourselves in many respects, yet as an individual to whom we are under certain obligations: it forces on us the conviction that our superior intelligence and culture render it obligatory upon us to consider his welfare; and to carry out such measures, not as shall make him merely more useful to ourselves, but page: 111 such as shall tend also to raise him in the scale of existence, and bind him to ourselves in a kindlier fellowship.

As a man takes one or other of these attitudes I believe he will find himself in accord, not merely with the Progressive Element in this country, but with the really advanced and Progressive Movement all the world over. In fact, I go so far as to think that the mere subscription to the latter mode of regarding the Labour and Native question would constitute an adequate test in this country as to a man's attitude on all other matters social and political.

page: 112

The second subject is that of Taxation.

The Retrogressive holds, all the world over, that taxation may be levied for the benefit of the few. The Progressive attitude is that which holds that taxation should fall upon the luxuries rather than upon the necessaries of life; that it should not press more heavily upon the poor than upon the wealthy; and that the principle of protection, worked so as to increase the wealth of certain sections of the community at the expense of others, is at all points to be fought.

The third subject upon which I believe the views of every ad- advanced page: 113 vanced Progressive must and will coincide is that of enfranchisement.

No man who does not hold that as a State develops its electoral basis should be extended to obviate the possibility of the claims of the unrepresented classes being ignored, and their welfare subordinated to that of represented, though smaller classes, and who does not hold that Parliamentary representation should increasingly tend to represent individuals rather than property, can find himself in harmony with the principles of any real Progressive Organisation.

It may be said that these page: 114 principles are too vague; that the articles to which a man would have to subscribe before joining such an organisation should be more detailed.

But I think a little consideration will show that upon all the practical questions which have been brought before our Colonial Legislature during the last few years, subscription to these three principles of action would have determined a man's attitude. The Labour Tax, Haarhoff's Curfew Bell, the Bread and Meat Tax, the Strop Bill, the Scab Act, &c.—on all these a man's position will be certainly and at once determined by the fact of his being willing page: 115 to subscribe to these three principles. A more detailed test for fitness of membership in the organisation would, I think, be superfluous.

But it may, on the other hand, be objected that these tests would be too stringent; that certain men would be found quite willing to join a so-called Progressive and anti-Bond Party who at the same time might not be willing to subscribe to one or all these tests.

Now to these I would unhesitatingly answer: That such men are not wanted in our organisation; men who, while holding retrogressive views on the most page: 116 important social questions, but prompted by an unworthy racial prejudice, would attempt to join or use the organisation for racial purposes, hoping to oppose or weaken the party behind the Bond, are precisely that class of persons we should seek to exclude from our organisation. They would weaken us, and defeat that very end for which the organisation was formed. It must of necessity be a first principle of such an association as we wish to see started that no racial or class distinction of any kind should concern it, or be allowed to weigh with us. We should rejoice as cordially to welcome page: 117 and support the Dutchmen as the Englishmen; the newcomer as the old inhabitant of the country; the man as the woman; the wealthy as the indigent. Our sole requirement from any individual wishing to join us, or seeking our support, should be, Does he share our principles? If he does, he is one of us; if he does not, though he should call himself a Progressive leader, and though he should be seven times over an Englishman, he is not of us.

If it be further suggested that, by pursuing this course, we should alienate large bodies of persons who would otherwise append themselves to us, and page: 118 who might ultimately so swell our numbers as to make us the dominant party in the State, I would frankly reply that no mere increase of bulk could compensate us for degeneracy in fibre, and that we do not desire the adhesion of such individuals to our party. Our strength will not, and cannot, rest upon mere numbers. It must lie in the enthusiasm, in the superior intelligence, in the unwavering adhesion to impersonal aims, and in the close-knit union of our members.

The Progressive Element in this country is, and must be for many years to come, necessarily in a minority, exactly as the page: 119 extreme Non-Progressive Element is in a minority. Between us lies the large inert body of politicians and private persons, indifferent to any aims but those of personal success, and the person of sincere but very mixed convictions. This body follows to-day the Non-Progressive Party, because it is the only vigorous and unbending political organisation existent in the country. If to-morrow there were in the field a small but vigorous Progressive Party, well organised, and not willing to capitulate upon any terms, this inert, self-seeking body might also find it useful to serve us; it might page: 120 even ultimately give to us the appearance of being the majority in the State, exactly as it to-day does to the Retrogressive Party. But as from the day on which the extreme Retrogressive Party shall resign its principles, and with a feeble opportunism shall receive into its own organisation this inert mass, the day of its dissolution and disappearance from Governmental control will have arrived; so also with the Progressive Party. From the day on which it sacrifices its position as the enlightened leading minority, and modifies its principles for the purpose of making them acceptable to the indifferent page: 121 majority in the country, from that moment it will have nullified the aim with which it was started, and all its powers of accomplishment.

I think we cannot too strongly impress upon, and hold up before ourselves, the fact that such a Progressive Party as we hope to see in this country can only maintain its power by firm adhesion to its own principles, and not by any dependence on numbers.

If it be questioned how, in default of large numbers, we expect to exert influence and make our principles operative in the country, I would reply, that for many years our primary page: 122 practical aim must be the attempt to educate public opinion up to our own standpoint.

Our means for accomplishing this would, it appears to me, be mainly three.

Firstly. We shall form a centre, however small, in every town or village from which, by the exercise of personal influence, the view of life which the organisation represents would tend to spread, and however small the branch might be, it would keep before the eye of the public the fact that such a view did exist.

Secondly. We should use the Press.