1900s >> 1906 >> no-25-september-1906

The Burwell Experiment

In spite of the highly coloured reports of its advocates it is now plain that the “small holding” spells enduring toil and penury to its victim. Though he slave night and day the small cultivator is in general utterly unable to compete with the superior machinery and organisation on the large farms. We have statistics before us which show the decrease in the number of small farms of from one to five acres in this country to be 6½ per cent. during the past decade, whilst there is an increase in the number of farms comprising from 300 to 500 acres. The reason for this is surely not far to seek. On the large farm there is the economy that is born of associated labour as against the isolated efforts of the petty farmer. There is also the important saving of labour due to specialisation as opposed to the all-round and ever changing activities of the small cultivator, whilst the saving of freight charges by the expedition of produce in bulk, and the utilisation of by-products, greatly increases the economy of farming on a large scale. But it is in the greater capital of the large farm, the expensive machines which enable so much to be done with so little expenditure of labour, it is in this that is to be found the reason for the squeezing out of the small producer, who cannot afford to buy, or whose land is too small to profitably employ, these great labour-saving devices. In the purchase of stock and in command of the produce market, the larger man continually overreaches his smaller competitor; yet it is sought by many to stem the decline of agriculture by the creation of a class of peasant farmers. To do so is to condemn such men to a life of continued and arduous labour and of pinching poverty until the inevitable foreclosure of the equally inevitable mortgage.

The estate in the parish of Burwell, between Newmarket and Cambridge, for which the Crown was unable to find a tenant during the past two years, having been taken over by Mr. Rose, M.P. for the purpose, will be let out into small holdings in spite of local opposition, and once more the tragedy is to be renewed. Bounded in their vision by their own immediate interests, the middle class are unable to gauge the economic trend, and will, in spite of all evidence, endeavour to perpetuate a system of farming that is suited to conditions long past. Like the small manufacturer and shopkeeper among his middle-class confreres the small farmer is being crushed between the upper and nether millstones of the great capitalists and the proletariat. Well may we bear the bitter cry of the middle classes, for the expropriation of the middle class, whether small farmer or small manufacturer, keeps pace with the expropriation of the labourer by the machine. The middle class is economically doomed, and the future lies between the working class and the giants of capital. Thus is the class struggle made clearer.