"J. Ramsay MacDonald, the Man of Tomorrow" is an interesting account of a man who has suddenly and dramatically been brought before the public eye. It is not a work of enduring value and probably was not intended as such. The author, who, under the name of Iconoclast, accepts at least the one idol of anonymous authorship of political sketches, is very diffuse and insists on presenting his own conceptions when the reader would prefer to be given the facts and allowed to draw his own conclusions.
Far from approaching the standard of great political biography, the book does not even reach the popular heights attained by most of the "Recollections" and "Revelations," "Mirrors" and "Windows" of which anonymous writers have been so prolific since the war. Nevertheless the book is unquestionably well worth reading because of its subject. Even the haste of a writer who is apparently more at home in the fields of popular philosophy, psychology and fiction than in the rougher path of biography, can not prevent MacDonald from emerging as the most interesting man in English political life.
From Peasant to Premier
It is time that the political story-tellers rewrote their most amazing tales. For now the traditional Dick Whittington who rose to be Lord Mayor of London has been eclipsed by the Scotch peasant boy who came to London some forty years ago with only his native genius as his heritage to become in time Prime Minister of Great Britain. And now the extraordinary tribute paid in 1906 and the years that followed to the courage and sincerity of the Little Englanders like Campbell-Bannerman and Lloyd-George, who had opposed the Boer War, has been paralleled or surpassed by the vindication of the same qualities in a man who opposed England's entrance into the World War, who, although not a Tolstoyan pacifist, would take no part in recruiting meetings, and who was constantly on th watch for an opportunity for peace.
Not less remarkable is the story of Mac Donald's struggle with his own party. Disavowed by all except a handful of his colleagues, he was content during the war to plough the lonely furrow. The coming of peace brought reconciliation but also new battles. For the next four years he was engaged in a struggle with Communism, with the ideas disseminated by the Russian Revolution--a struggle culminating in his duel with Radek in Berlin, April 1923, a struggle in which there was not only vindication for his honesty but success for his effort. The English Labor Party has been cleansed of the taint of Communism and Direct Action under which it labored during the post-war years.
Handsomest Man in Parliament
MacDonald, the critics agree, is the handsomest man in the House of Commons. Endowed with a striking presence he is also gifted with a voice which carries without strain and which, although predominantly intellectual, can touch the heights and depths of emotional appeal. It is characteristic of the man that it is seldom so used. For MacDonald has nothing of the demagogue about him perhaps too little of the political orator.
It is impossible to comprehend the man without remembering that he is Scotch, that he is not only reticent but shy in private life, that his mind is scientifically intellectual, and that few if any men have been able to pass the barrier which he has erected around his inner personality. The late Lord Morley knew him perhaps better than any other man--and Morley was a kindred spirit...Severely intellectual, kind and sympathetic, but unapproachable and never hearty, vigorously honest, passionately devoted to certain ideals, capable of an emotional appeal which was seldom employed--it is not strange that the two men should have been drawn together and should have had such a profound admiration for each other.
MacDonald's Present Position
As the leader of the Labor Party MacDonald is placed in a peculiar position. His character, as the author points out in some of his best passages, is after all essentially conservative. He is fond of forms and precedents and traditions; in one of his latest public utterances--almost Gladstonian in tone--he has praised the Scotch Sabbath as compared with the Continental Sunday. It is no wonder that his wilder supporters from Glasgow--the irrepressible Jack Jones and others--should often chafe under the rein and that even his closest friends should bewail the fact that he so seldom chooses to rise to heights of impassioned and inspired defense of Socialistic ideals. But he has made the choice and they must be content with his decision. More serious in its tendencies to weaken the Labor Party is MacDonald's impervious disposition; he is inclined to demand devotion and loyalty rather than association in his camp.
A Distinctive idea of Socialism
His conception of Socialism is distinctive. He is not interested in temporary palliatives that go under the name of social reform any more than in direct action and the "dictatorship of the proletariat". He believes in socialism as a scientific process--a matter of biological evolution, and he insists that before it can be tried it must be approved by a majority of the country. With the Marxian idea of class warfare he has as little sympathy as with the state socialism of the Germans and their imitators. And although he is aware of the condition of the mass of the people and is imbued with a desire to improve their lot, the theme of social injustice is very seldom on his lips.
Iconoclast, we repeat, has not written a book of enduring value. But anyone who can bear to put up with tedious psychological analysis in order to reach a fascinating and jauntily-written story underneath should read this biography, whose author brings to his subject at least a sense of sympathy and understanding which does much to excuse the absence of other biological virtues.