The Liberal Party Condemned

Lloyd-George’s Three-Year Old Judgment

We Beg to Recommend You
In the issue of the SOCIALIST SRTANDARD for Dec. 1906, we printed a criticism of a speech—a remarkable speech— made in Birmingham on Oct. ’22nd 1906 by Mr. Lloyd-George. He said that in returning the Liberal Government to power, the people had, in effect, declared :

“We are going to give you a chance, but it is only a chance. . . . Here you have been tinkering for generations with reform, and the end of it all is slums, pauperism, and great want in the land of plenty.”

Lloyd-George declared that if the conditions which gave rise to this complaint of the people were not removed in three years, the Great Liberal Party would deserve to go, and a new movement would grew up to displace the Liberal “bunglers or rogues.” We have not quite reached the three year limit, but are within easy sight of that end, and may justifiably remind “the people” of Mr. Lloyd-George’s opinion and prophecy. The Liberal Government, the “strongest government of modern times,” has had more than three years to show their hand and to commence their endeavour to remove the “great want in the land of plenty” if they intend to do so. The political memory of “the people” is proverbially short and they may have forgotten that in the opinion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he and his colleagues deserve to be turned out if they do not accomplish in three years what we at the time declared to be impossible.

As governments go they have been strenuous, with autumn sessions (things of such working-class importance that some working-class organisations conduct special campaigns for them) and all-night sittings. They have passed countless bills and reshaped administration in many departments ; but after all they have done we have to apply the Lloyd-George test: have they abolished the “great want in the land of plenty” ?

The item in the programme of their accomplishments we are pointed to by exultant Liberals is the one of Old Age Pensions. The criticisms of this are too numerous, and have been laboured in these columns too often, to receive a detailed examination now, but that it is calculated to save the rates by inducing old veterans of labour to keep out of the workhouse, where their maintenance will average 11s. a week, is sufficient to show the hollowness of its blessing.

A Rainbow to Chew
The particular item in which our prophet is interested, and which comes so near the end of the three year limit, is the Budget. The flagging interest and enthusiasm of its supporters is now being lashed into renewed vigour by Ministerialists, but whether the effects of the stimulus will last, assisted though it is by the political bankruptcy of the official opposition, remains to be seen. The Budget has been labelles “Democratic” and “working man’s,” although the reason for this is not very obvious. True, the Labour Paily are among its supporters, and a recent demonstration in its favour was backed by certain branches of the I.L.P. and several trade unions, but there are probably other than working-class interests involved here. The whole of the pother is about the raising of the money, but the capitalist class must pay, for the simple but sufficient reason that they cannot get blood out of a stone. We are not concerned how it is raised so much as with the way it is spent; and when we look at the factors which have necessitated the extra revenue, we are amazed at the coolness that calls the Budget “democratic.” The bulk of the extra money is for the Navy and the Army. Dreadnoughts and Territorial Armies do nothing, surely, to remedy the “great want in a land of plenty.” Soldiers are handy on cccassions such as the one at Belfast; and though Dreadnoughts might not be able to be effective at Hull or at Grimsby when the workmen become disaffected, there is no question that smaller naval fry are useful. But even this hardly justifies the term “democratic,” nor affords a reason for working-class enthusiasm.

Purely a Thieves’ Wrangle.
The most subtle political factor in the carefully simulated campaign in favour of the Budget, the item upon which it is intended to focus working-class attention, is the introdiiction of the tax upon the increase of value of urban land. The landlord, doing nothing, is able, under existing fiscal arrangements to draw a proportion of the value given to land by the accumulation of population or the erection of factories, houses, etc. The proposal of the Government which has been designated “revolutionary” is a levy on this increased value. I am not opposed to the land tax, so much as to the private possession of the land entirely ; but the position for us is simply that the disadvantages of the present arrangement falls on the industrial capitalist, while the position of the workman remains ever the same—that of “great want in the land of plenty.” While the process of the ground landlord bleeding the capitalist does not affect the working-class, for the reason that the capitalist pays the smallest wages possible all the time, so the similar process of the ground landlord bleeding the houseowner does not affect the worker, for the reason that the houseowner gets the highest rent possible all the time. But, as has been the case throughout that period of history that has seen the capitalist class question the supremacy of the landed aristocrats, the capitalists are once more prepared to use the working class for their own political ends. It is a matter of comparative ease to illustrate the injustice of the privilege enjoyed by the owners of the land, while the privilege of the ownership of capital is more completely obscured by complicated processes of exchange.

Short and Codling
Nevertheless, there is a complete essential identity in both privileges, and while either remains, the workman is the under-dog, suffering “great want in the land of plenty.” To emphasise the idleness and the hollowness of land taxes as a solution of that poverty, it is but necessary in the first place to point to our Australasian Colonies which enjoy such taxation, but where, notwithstanding, the same social inequality prevails: in the second place it is sufficient to indicate that such inequality, arising from the distribution of wealth, the ownership of the direct processes of such production and distribution have a far greater effect than the more indirect ownership of the land ; and as between the landlord and the capitalist, the direct despoiler of the workman is the capitalist, however he, in his turn, may be despoiled of his plunder by the landlord.

The distinction sought to be urged by Liberals generally between land and capital, and more particularly with regard to the conditions of ownership, do not hold water for one moment. The perfection of the processes and the instruments of production is in no way due to the capitalist class, but is the outcome of countless ages of evolution, and represents the co-ordinated experience of the race in the methods of maintaining its existence. That development is due to the workers who operate and fashion, rather than to the idlers who merely own. The instruments of production are essentially as social and as necessary as land, and the private ownership of one can be maintained no more logically than the other. The Liberal Party in using the social necessity argument to combat the claims of the landlords, is preparing a rod for its own back when it maintains the claims of the capitalists.

The Issue Clearly Put
The question immediately remaining to be solved is whether the workers are sufficiently conscious of their position as a class, against both the landlord and capitalist factions, to see through the latest attempt of their masters, and keep the issue to the broader, simpler one so excellently phrased by the very man who is now busy organising the new side-track, viz., why is there, after three years of Liberal Government, no diminution, of that “great want in the land of plenty ?” Once the true answer to this pregnant question, an answer which only the untramm’elled voice and pen of enlighteid Labour dare formulate, is understood by the workers, the new movement predicted by Lloyd-George will make short work of both Liberal and Tory “bunglers or rogues.”

R. H. K.

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