Invasion or Starvation?

The man in the street is comforted. If ever he had any doubts concerning “his” country’s preparedness for and protection against any possible invasion of this tight little isle, these have been entirely dispelled by Mr. Balfour’s recent speech in the House of Commons. Not only have “we” sufficient battleships, not only are they up-to-date, but in the moment of danger they could be so quickly mobilized at any given spot that there exists no necessity for uneasiness. And so our friend of the short sight, who discerns nothing beyond the tip of his nose, is reassured, and proceeds to his daily avocation briskly, humming—

“We don’t want to fight,
But by Jingo if we do !
We’ve got the ships,
We’ve got the men,
We’ve got the money, too !”

It is true that some of our largest battleships have a nasty habit of ramming each other now and again, that our torpedo boat destroyers sometimes buckle, that in about twelve months three of our expensive submarines have come to grief with much loss of life to our own men, and that our guns sometimes burst, hurling our handy-men into the great unknown. These are mere incidents, or such accidents as will happen in the best regulated navies. Balfour says “all’s well.” Campbell Bannerman congratulates him upon his statement, and the pleased patriot perigrinates, at peace with all the world.

Someone has remarked that the Britisher cannot concentrate upon more than one thing at a time, a failing of which the “statesman,” of both the capitalist and “labour” order, has not been slow to take advantage. Hence it happens that the great “B.P.” rarely concerns itself with the substance, so intent is it in grasping the shadow. In the present connection, John Bull, entirely failing to note the economic development of recent years, still imagines that the enemy against whom it is necessary to guard is a foreign navy or a combination of foreign navies, ever on the watch to swoop down upon these shores. This may have been the position many years ago, when we produced our own foodstuffs, and “every rood maintained its man.” But with the development of manufactures, to the detriment of agriculture, a new foe has arisen. It is not the foreigner with his ships of war that we have to fear and to fight, but that product of capitalism, the financier, of no nation and of every nation, whose operations could at any time not only inflict severe hardships upon the people of this and every other country, but could bring Britain to its knees by withholding its food supplies.

Fifty years ago, during the financial year 1854-5, 20,546,000 quarters (of 480 lbs.) of wheat and wheat flour were consumed here, of which 17,563,000 quarters were home grown and only 2,983,000 were imported. At the time of writing, I am unable to obtain the exact year when we ceased to be self-supporting as far as foodstuffs are concerned, but it certainly must have been long after the commencement of the 19th century. An article which appeared in Blackwood’a Magazine for February, 1903, contained a Declaration signed by 26 of the leading corn merchants of the United Kingdom, in which it was stated that “as late as the Crimean War we were almost self-supporting but we now import four-fifths of our wheat.”

As this article showed, there are some among the capitalist-class who view with alarm our present dependent position, but the proposals they put forward are, as might be expected, totally inadequate. They do not desire the emancipation of the wage-earning class and therefore advocate nothing that would tend in that direction.

In 1898 a Committee was appointed “to inquire and report how far, and in what way, the proposed establishment of national stores of wheat would affect the interests of British Fanners.” It consisted of M.P’s and others, all supposed to possess a practical knowledge of agricultural matters, and the most important of their conclusions was, “It may be concluded, therefore, that for six months after the end of March in any year, the quantity of wheat and flour in the country seldom exceeds six weeks’ supply.” To-day we are more dependent than ever upon other countries, because our population has increased, whilst the home area under cultivation has considerably decreased.

With the recollection of the recent Leiter-Armour manipulation of the world’s wheat supply let us look the facts squarely in the face. Is it possible invasion or probable starvation that we free-born Britishers have to prepare for?

Some of those who gave evidence before the Agricultural Committee seemed to get very near to the truth, but just failed to grip, or to admit, the exact situation. Mr. James Birch thought that “in the event of war we should be practically in the hands of the plunging speculator,” but is war a necessary condition ? Mr. T. B. Home spoke of “the perilous position this country would be placed in for its food supply, should a combination of nations against Great Britain arise,” but substitute determined financiers or plunging speculators for “nations” and the peril is as great and probably the action would be more rapid, the effects more immediate and disastrous. Some of the witnesses admitted that “apart from a forcible interruption of supplies by enemies’ cruisers, there is a possibility that a nation—or a coalition of nations— intending to make war on this country might forestall the supply of wheat by the purchase of futures.” Mr. Proctor could quite imagine that “if Russia to-day were to be at war with us, our own supplies (from Russia) would be stopped, and, through German and other sources, she might buy, in America, practically all the American wheat.” And Mr. Seth Taylor, in reply to a question respecting the engine of offence which be used by those countries unable to compete with us on the seas, answered “they have nothing to do but sit on their stocks.”

Let us put it in another way. Apart from a forcible interruption of supplies by enemies’ cruisers, there is a possibility that a millionaire—or a coalition of millionaires—intending to bring this country to submission, might forestall the supply of wheat by the purchase of “futures.” Not in any way a remote or improbable contingency. According to the article in Blackwood’s, “the chief source of our supply is the United States, but the price of wheat on the American corn market can be raised artifically, and in the event of a European war, in which Great Britain was involved, it is quite possible, indeed probable, that it would be so raised.” And it could also be so raised, as has already been done, without a European war, as the working-class have good cause to remember.

When Mr. Joe Leiter, Lord Curzon’s brother-in-law, attempted the cornering of the world’s wheat supply, the capitalist Press said that he failed, but viewed as a failure, the effect upon the working-class was so disastrous that one can imagine what would have been the result had he succeeded. Not only did the price of wheat, flour and bread rise all over the world, but the inability of the workers in some parts of Southern Europe to obtain bread led to riots, and in Hungary the people, demanding bread, were given the usual capitalist answer—bullets. If, then, the operations of one man in Chicago, or, counting Armour, two men, could produce such world-wide results when those operations were supposed to have failed, it is easy to see that a combination of financiers could dictate their own terms, particularly to a country so dependent upon outside sources for its food supply as is Great Britain.

The proposals usually put forward are useless, because they all depend upon the continuance of the competitive system.

There is the tariff reformer, who, by a readjustment of fiscal conditions, would induce the growing of the Empire’s food supply within the Empire, but who can never show (I myself have challenged several) how that will prevent the financiers operating. Love laughs at locksmiths and Leiter, Armour, Rockefeller & Co. would laugh at tariff walls if they determined to get control of the food supply of this Empire or of any other part of the world.

The establishment of national granaries would not only not affect them but by creating an extra demand for the twelve month’s supply of wheat which it is proposed to store, would give the “plunging speculator” his opportunity.

Then there is the reformer, sometimes claiming to be a ” Socialist/’ who advocates small holdings or peasant proprietorship, either because he thinks, with the late Lord Salisbury, that “to increase the number of small holders of the soil is to secure the strongest bulwark against revolutionary change,” or because he honestly believes that to be the best proposal, But apart from the fact that the day of small things is past, that production on a small scale is wasteful, it is well known that the transformation from a tenant to a small proprietor, whilst freeing the cultivator from the domination of the farmer or landlord, drives him into the clutches of the ursurer. What has the tenant farmer of Ireland gained ? Is it better to be the victim of the gombeen man than of the landlord ? And none of the other proposals would be effective. What is wanted and what alone will suffice is a complete revolution. The class-proprietorship of the means of life must be abolished : they must be taken over and controlled by the people, all of whom shall be workers. With the substitution of common for private ownership of land, factories, railways, etc., the power of the capitalist, great and small, of gambling with the people’s food, of appropriating the product of the labourer, whether of the field, the mine or the workshop, will be destroyed and the people freed from their subjection to a class. The matter affects both town and country worker, of every land, of every creed. The men of capital are stronger than the men-of-war and their strength can only be taken from them by the organisation of the working-class into a separate and distinct revolutionary Socialist party, such as The Socialist Party of Great Britain.


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