Blind leaders of the blind

There’s none so blind as those who won’t see. Lord MacDonnell, as chairman of the discussion on the financial aspect of Home Rule which took place at the London School of Economics, under the auspices of the Royal Economic Society, said :—

“The responsibility lies at the present time on England of raising the standard in Ireland and improving the country and finishing the work, which began under the Land Purchase Act, of creating a peasant proprietary, who give every hope and sign that they will grow into a self-reliant and self-respecting people, not likely to be influenced by the Socialistic movement of thought which obtains so much influence in England.”

Thus his lordship, like all capitalists, admits in practice, the truth of the Socialist principle of the class struggle ; that the material interest, as understood, determines the political activity of any given class. To increase anti-working class forces it is therefore necessary to spread the material interest that arises from private ownership. Hence the Land Purchase Act, and the world-wide endeavour to foster peasant proprietorship.

While acting in accordance with this principle, however, the propertied class will never formally admit its truth. To do so would be to enlighten the workers and endanger capitalist supremacy. The intellectual pap served out to the propertyless must be flavoured with the blessed dogmas of the “community of interest,” and the “national” welfare. And there are not wanting blatant dogmatists in the pseudo-Socialist camp to aid the enemy in spreading these pernicious superstitions.

But is the general endeavour to create a class of peasant owners as a bulwark against Socialism likely to be successful ? By no means. The mills of economic development grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small. With all their power the capitalists cannot reverse the economic trend. Proof of this is given in the identical issue of the daily paper which reported Lord MacDonnell. It there stated that the Committee of the House of Commons appointed to investigate the effects of breaking up large estates has presented its report to the President of the Board of Agriculture, and that its recommendations are against tenant purchase. Why ? Let the ex-Minister for Agriculture, Lord Carrington, supply the answer. On the same day that the above items appeared, he said, in defence of small holding tenancy as against ownership, at a dinner of the South Lincolnshire and Norfolk Small Holdings Association, that:—

“A system of tenancy under a public authority was the only one which would be permanent, and would ensure, not only the creation, but the preservation when created, of small holdings.”

And this is how peasant ownership fails ; he says—

“One well known and respected farmer in this neighbourhood has absorbed over thirty former small holdings. Is it not notorious that a very large part of the work done in the lawyers’ offices in your towns is concerned with the negotiation of mortgages on small freeholds, and that it is rarely the case that a small holding remains in the occupation of the same family for more than one generation ?
“I am told that in one large parish of 12,000 acres there are only two cases in which a small freehold has remained in the same family for the last forty years.
“The universal experience of every country in Europe proves that the death of the occupying owner almost always results either in the excessive sub-division of the holding among his heirs, and the creation of uneconomic holdings, or in the sale of the holding and its probable absorption into a large farm.”

Thus peasant proprietorship is Capitalism’s broken reed. But since economic development makes impossible the growth of a class of peasant proprietors, the ruling class must, perforce, fall back on what appears to them to be the next best thing, and the next best for Capitalism is equally hopeless.

Scientific Socialism has all along been perfectly clear on the inevitability of the concentration of land and capital, and it is, by contrast, amusing to note the theoretic blindness of the exploiting class. Only after painful and repeated failure to make economic evolution dance to their tin whistle do they stop to take breath, and then it is only to recommence the self same task in an equally futile way. But they built high hopes on the raising of a peasant owner class as a first line of defence against revolution, and now, when their greatest advocate of small holdings is compelled to proclaim the hopelessness of peasant proprietorship, it may be said that a Daniel, yea a Daniel, has come to judgment.


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