A Middle-Class Utopia

Modern Thraldom.—A New Social Gospel, by Dr. W. Hampson, M.A. London: Wells Gardner, Barton & Co. Paper covers, 162 pp., Is. 6d. Net.

The early portion of this book describes the servitude into which “borrowed” tools, houses, and land are supposed to have thrown the “labouring classes,” the “clean clothes classes,” and also the tradesmen, small manufacturers, and farmers. The evidence in the book, however, really shows that the poverty of the workers and the crushing of the small capitalists are due to the concentration of wealth and industry into fewer hands turning increasing numbers into propertyless hirelings of the possessing few. But to put it thus involves Socialism as the solution, so our author prefers to attribute the situation not to the inevitable march of industrial development, but simply to credit in some form or other. The most interesting part of the book is that dealing with agriculture, where many reasons are given for the decrease in number and increase in size of farms, but where the most important reasons such as the development of agricultural machinery which cannot profitably be employed on small farms, the general economies of operations on a large scale, and the development of the machinery of transport which brings other climes into more acute competition, are missed. This, however, is of a piece with the fact that Dr. Hampson nowhere realises the force of the economic trend.

From his point of view of the small property-holder, the author is much troubled by the question of the rates, but his own evidence shows it to be a question that does not concern the workers or even the tenant farmer. He says, p. 46: —

“At the time of the great depression in land values and profits from land, it became impossible for farmers to continue paying their former rents, and a percentage was remitted in most cases, so as to bring the amount payable each half-yearly rent day just within the limits of the possible. If a season were exceptionally bad, so as to involve the farmers in inevitable loss, a larger percentage of rent would be remitted. If times improved in some way, the remission would be less. Thus when the Agricultural Rating Act was passed, to relieve the farmers of a portion of their rates, a smaller percentage of rent was remitted the next half year.”

The middle class of course has its schisms and the author tilts against modern radicalism and against that municipal enterprise which is such a blessing to many middle-class investors, and also against the officialism that provides easy positions for their sons ; but Dr. Hampson’s attitude is nevertheless essentially that of the class between the devil and the deep blue sea. He protests against rings and combines, but is specially vehement against working-class trade organisations, and states that trade union action, by restricting free competition in labour “means a reduction of wages and in the standard of living,” while on p. 28 it is further urged that:—

“All combining, negociating, organised advising and warning, striking, picketing, and other proceedings intended to restrict the freedom of the labour market, ought to be regarded and treated as criminal, so as to restore complete freedom to the man who wants to sell labour and to the man who wants to buy it.”

There is also on p. 12 a curious defence of the exploitation of labourers—exploitation by the middle class of course. It is stated that the shareholders having the necessary plant and materials or equivalent wealth—

“Lent them to the officials and working men and women of the factory, on condition that the latter, having borrowed them and worked with them, should pay to the lenders a part of the profits earned by their labour, namely, all that was over after they had been paid a subsistence wage depending, among other conditions, on the recognised minimum standard of living in the district at the time. Now this was a perfectly open bargain, well understood by all the parties to it, and the shareholders, who in fact lent the factory and appliances, have a right to claim that they shall not have hard words thrown at them, as capitalists, because they are taking a part of the profit earned by other men’s labour.”

In the description of the Utopia that is expected to follow the adoption of the author’s suggestions there is nothing but glorified middle-class conditions, with the middle class predominant in wealth and power. It is prohibited to live in hired rooms and houses, and all credit is forbidden except the capital of limited liabilty companies, of which all shareholders are required to be also occupied in connection with their company, while no shareholder may own more than five times the smallest allotment of shares. A kind of Single Tax is instituted (in spite of the author’s ideal of free internal trade) in the nature of a poundage on every cash transaction. This tax (which the author says is not a tax, and which is to be levied without officials) is to enable the one man government to supply such of the citizens as have deposited £250 in the State Bank, with a further £250 on their marriage for the purpose of buying house, furniture and allotment. There are to be no boards, committees, councils or parliament. National government is to be run by an elected president and local administration by a manager ; while no one can vote unless he owns, among other things, a bicycle !

There is still to be wage-slavery in the new Utopia, but the workmen are supposed to be able to get higher wages through the absence of trade organisations, and through being forbidden to hire rooms, so having to buy a room or rooms outright. The labourer is to give six hours industrial labour per day and put in the rest of his time on the land. The thrashing, winnowing and grinding of corn is to be done at home in small hand machines because :

“However little it may cost to grind in a steam driven mill, it costs less to do it at home in the time that used to be spent in the evening at a public house. It costs nothing at all, but actually saves the money that was once spent in drinking to while away the time.”

How typically middle class ! Even the great domestic servant question is almost solved in this Utopia. The author says :

“And are mistresses no longer the slaves of their servants ?
In this respect also there is great improvement. We have now no large class of excessively rich, keeping large houses full of ‘pampered menials,’ and so setting before other servants a false standard of lavishness, luxury, ease, pilfering, and ‘perks.’ On the other hand the middle-class ladies, having given up imitating the luxury of the rich, have themselves become as good practical housekeepers as their husbands are practical business men and cultivators. They can, if need he, manage their houses in many cases without outside help, and so, when they have that help they know how to keep, without petty domineering, the position of mistress in their own homes.”

The Doctor’s Utopia illustrates both how completely class interests as they are recognised mould a man’s views, and how narrow is the mental vision of the middle class.

For the realisation of this Utopia an association called the Land and Labour League is to be formed and to be endowed by a few charitably disposed millionaires for the purchase of proerty, the tenure of which is to be sold to League members who in turn are not allowed to give any of their property as security for a loan. Leaguers will pay “no rates or taxes,” these will be paid by the League out of proceeds of a receipt stamp tax to be levied on all members.

The League, says the author, is to be a co-worker with the garden city schemes at Bourneville, Port Sunlight, York, Letchworth and other places, so it is very small beer after all.

The League will, when funds allow, put £250 to the selected member’s on his marriage for the purchase of house and grounds that are to remain technically the property of the League—a sort of glorified building society in fact that is supposed to grow snowball like, until it absorbs the whole of Society.

But what of the, working man ? How is he to save the necessary £250 in order to participate in this paradise ? The author has told us that to-day “The lowest salary which will supply the bare living must be accepted by each applicant lest another cut in and take the place,” also that “conditions make it practically impossible for an average man to rise out of the labouring ranks in which he was born.”

The odds therefore appear to be rather long against the workers being able to save the requisite £250 each, indeed, they do not stand even an outside chance. But the author of the “New Social Gospel” has a most simple plan. It is to tax immigrants heavily and put an almost prohibitive tax on imports. Then, says the doctor:

“When all the production for the English market is secured for the English producer, there will be for a time an era of prosperity seldom equalled before. Demand will overtake supply for a time. The price of labour will rise higher than ever before; the unemployed and, under such tempting conditions, many even of those who are now unemployable, will be earning money ; and the workers being rich, the prices of common articles will rise also, though not in the same proportion as wages.”

Truly a simple plan—for simpletons. The workman knows that labour-power is the last to participate in a rise in prices, so that the problematic rise in wages will not be proportionate to the rise in general prices. The worker will also see that if prices rise, then the price of house and land rises also, thus the amount to be saved rises proportionately, leaving the possibility to the workman of saving at least as remote as before.

Further, restricted immigration is no new thing, and where instituted has made no appreciable difference to the workers. It is not the alien, but capitalist development that creates the unemployed, and the same process is going on in every country ; new inventions and processes, greater concentration and more efficient organisation decrease daily the proportion of wage workers required by the masters to produce for the market. Large numbers of workers are thus thrown on the streets while the owners of the instruments and materials of labour reap the whole of the benefit.

And with regard to a prohibitive import tax, owing to the very nature of international exchange, the import trade of the country cannot be destroyed without causing havoc in the export trade and the consequent ruin (under capitalist conditions) of those producing for export. We have also object lessons the whole world over of the futility of fiscal juggling as far as the workers are concerned. Capitalist conditions breed working-class poverty everywhere, and must do so long as the workers are the hirelings of the possessing few. But even supposing that by some miracle all wage slaves managed to save £250 and so live rent free ; is it not a fact that capitalism (whether under small or large manufacturers) turns the very thrift and temperance of the workers into weapons of offence against them ? and does not Dr. Hampson himself prove this ? Speaking of allotments he says :

“Suppose the profits from a plot of land to be equal to two shillings a week. Then a man and his family can live in the same moderate degree of comfort as before on a wage of fourteen shillings instead of sixteen if need be.
It is the professed object of the promoters of improvement on these lines that the improvement shall become general. Suppose them to succeed to the full extent of their hopes. Suppose that practically all the labourers increase their wages by such means to the equivalent of eighteen shillings, so that they could, in case of necessity, continue their present style of living on an actual money wage of fourteen shillings. The farmers would not be long in making the discovery that their labourers were able to live on two shillings a week less. And the next week they would require their men to prove their ability.”

Such, indeed, is the mainspring of the welcome that hts greeted the present Liberal Small Holdings Bill. And its undeniable truth destroys at one blow Dr. Hampson’s Utopia as far as the workers are concerned. Whatever cheapens the cost of living of the workman, as soon as it becomes general, reduces his wage, competition compelling him to sell himself for a mere subsistence. Yet Dr. Hampson dares to say that if the worker did not have to pay rent he would be enabled to exact a higher wage ! The small capitalist is essentially reactionary, and his only possible ideal is one that runs counter to every economic tendency. And our author, voicing the interests and ideals of this class, has reckoned without his host, the financial magnate, who now rules the capitalist roost, and without, also, the army of the workers, who can only go forward, to industrial democracy,—not backward, to the infancy of capitalist society. Unlike the middle class intellectuals, the scientific Socialist, has outgrown the Utopian stage. Our author, however, evidently imagines that men figure the society they want and then make it to order ; so he thinks that if the public find his Utopia good they will set themselves to make one like it. The scientific Socialist does not erect a fanciful Utopia, but analyses actual Society, its economics and its history, and tracing its laws of development sees whither the basic factor, the development of wealth production, tends, and derives therefrom, not a detailed picture of the future, but the broad direction of economic evolution and the essential principles of the society foreshadowed by the present. And by the study of men’s actions, motives and history, he is enabled to discover the essential principles of the action that must be taken to render the transition speedy and beneficial.

Dr. Hampson has not done this, therefore his reforms are upon all counts a snare and delusion to the middle class in their struggle against the inevitable, while to the working class they offer at best nothing but a shuffling of masters by no means to the better.


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