The Lying Land Campaign: The Socialist View

The Cause of the Shindy
At a time when the toilers are engaged in a bitter struggle with the employers, the Liberals are busy diverting attention to the “wicked landlords” and their “unearned increment”. The dockers being “done down” by a Devonport, are told to tax land values. The miners, vainly seeking 5s. a day, are urged to support the Single Tax idea. The railway men, cursing Conciliation, are advised to levy the ducal landlords.

The Land Tax campaign serves the Liberal manufacturers well. Labour unrest is exploited to turn the minds of the workers away from the real question to the old bogey of taxing land. The policy of smothering men’s bitter feelings against the Devonports, Thomas’s and Hugh Bells, has, however, a more palpable and material driving force behind it. Hence we note from the Liberal Press that a wealthy and influential committee has been formed to boom the Land Tax campaign.

Mr Joseph Fels, the well-known soap manufacturer, has contributed £30,000, and many others have given largely. Mr Josiah Wedgwood, the Liberal pottery manufacturer, is one of the leading spirits in the movement.

Hirelings are sent about the country at great expense, preaching the virtues of the Single Tax. But why this enormous expenditure? Once the worker grasps the true facts of the question of taxation, the campaign and its real meaning become plain. The upkeep of this system of society calls for hundreds of millions a year to support the services that must be run to ensure the safety of our masters.

The cost of the Army, Navy, Police, and bureaucracy is ever rising, and the manufacturers and business men – chiefly organised in the Liberal party – are crying out about their heavy burden of taxation. Wishing to divide the cost of those forces and institutions necessary to keep the workers down, they propose to tax land or land values. The landowners, on the other hand, have no desire to be taxed, further, hence their bitter wail.

An Axe to Grind
This time-honoured squabble as to who should pay is but one between robbers over the cost of the robbery. That does not, however, prevent our Liberal masters, inveigling the workers into the fight. They first of all say that the toilers pay the taxes, and now say that if only workers and commercial men join hands to make the landlords pay, both toilers’ and traders’ taxes will be lightened.

Once the workers are drawn into the controversy a double purpose is served. First, they stop fighting the industrial exploiters – the active enemies; secondly, their assistance is secured in shifting the industrial magnates’ “burdens” on to the landlords.

The same specious promises are being made about this that are made about every other reform passed by the Liberals. Each of them, like the Single Tax, was going to remove the poverty, unemployment, and destitution from the country. The Budget of 1909 was praised to the skies by the Liberal and Labour Parties, and its author paraded the country picturing its effects upon the condition of the masses. It was going to crush the mighty monopoly of the land, and this, the mother of us all, was going to be brought within the reach of the people. The power of “our old nobility” was going to be broken, “now and for ever”.

As we said at the time, even if more land is brought into the open market, by land taxes or anything else, those who can offer most for the land obtain it. The 1909 Budget was to end the extortionate prices charged, and this is how it did, according to our Liberal contemporary, the Daily Chronicle, (25.10.10):–

“Since the Land Taxes the price of land has actually risen. Obviously, then, they have not caused the land to fall in value”.

A Peep Behind the Scenes
An even after another two years working Liberal Reynolds’s  tells us (11.8.12) that “the landowners are doing better than ever.

The landowners have become richer, according to the Liberals themselves. “But”, say the latter, “we have made the landlords contribute towards the cost of National Government”. True, but who gain? Not the working class, for owning no property to be taxed, they are relieved of no taxation.

Who actually were to be relieved Mr Lloyd George himself showed in his speech at Newcastle, 9.10.09:–

“Take the Rhondda Valley – it is one of the best coalfields in South Wales. The landlords receive annually £200,000 in royalties. They receive £30,000 a year in ground rents. The colliery proprietors there pay in rates £54,000 a year. The landlords do not pay a penny . . . Industry is burdened and the landlords do not contribute a penny towards the heavy and growing rates of the district”.

The mine-owners, like the rest of the industrial property-owners, are to save their rates and taxes and the real estate owner is to pay. Firms like the Cambrian Combine which made half a million out of the working class in twelve years, are to grow richer, and the miners are lured into the campaign to help them.

The halfpenny in the pound Budget tax, however, did not satisfy the most militant of the masters. It didn’t bring them enough relief from taxes. And as for the working class, the more the land taxes yielded the greater grew the volume of labour unrest. Two years after the “great 1909 Budget” its author declared (Cardiff, 29.12.11) that poverty, privation, and oppression were more widespread and worse than they had ever been before. So to fill the parasites’ pockets and to stifle wage-workers’ demands, the Liberals are assiduously preaching the Single Tax.

“Let the Landowner Pay”
Thirty years ago the purblind “prophet of San Francisco”, Henry George, popularised the Single Tax idea; but in advocating it he showed its capitalist nature. “put one tax on the land, sufficient to cover all national expenditure, and you can abolish every tax upon the capitalist”. That in short was his message. He was a keen supporter of the private and class ownership of all the means and instruments fir producing wealth. He held that it was a shame for the poor railway-owners and mine-owners and factory-owners to have to pay for the soldiers and police they use to blackleg upon and murder the workers during strikes. “Let the landowner pay!” was his cry, and it was one which is being echoed by the Hemmerdes, the Neilsons, the Outhwaites, and the Lloyd Georges to-day.

They state that 2d. in the pound upon “the value of land will enable every other tax to be abolished”. They tell the workers that the Single Tax will cure the evils which exist, but to the propertied class they sing a different tune.

The United Committee for the Taxation of Land Values, the leading Single Tax advocates, have issued a leaflet (No. 17) entitled “Why the Shopkeepers should support the Taxation of Land Values”, and after a long appeal to the pocket interest of these people it winds up thus: “Taxation of Land Values means: Lower Rates and Taxes. More customers and more Profits”.

Marx well wrote to a New York friend who sent him George’s Progress and Poverty:–

“The whole thing is simply an attempt to rescue the rule of capitalism – in fact to rear it anew on a firmer basis than its present one. This cloven hoof, together with the donkey’s ears, peeps unmistakably out of the declamation of Henry George”.

Tried and Found Wanting
Turn to the Pacific Slope, the pet example of Henry George’s followers, and you will see the fallacies of the Single Taxer. Mr Joseph Hyder, Secretary of the Land Nationalisation Society, writing to England’s chief Liberal paper, the Manchester Guardian, on October 9th, 1911, gives the case of two Canadian towns where most of the rates have been shifted on to “land values”.

Burnaby, near Vancouver City, adopted the system some years ago, and whereas in 1908 land and buildings together were valued at $1,707,000, in 1910 the land alone was declared at $10,000,000. In the year 1911 it nearly doubled. “It would seem from this”, says Mr. Hyder, “that the land speculators have been a great deal busier than the builders, notwithstanding they have had to pay the whole of the local rates”.

Vancouver City in 1910 began to levy the whole of the local rates upon land values. But the landlords, says this land reformer, are a long way “from being taxed out of existence”. In spite of the increasing taxes upon them land values mounted from $2,500,000 in 1887 to $99,000,000 in 1910. And land speculation of the extremest kind, the writer goes on, has not been prevented.

Mr Hyder makes an appeal for State ownership of land. Henry George and his modern imitators agree to leave the landlord his land, with the condition that he pays taxes upon it.

>From a working-class view-point both policies are futile. Tax land values as much as you like, the taxes will be levied to build Dreadnoughts and increase the weapons against the workers. Relief from taxation will be gained by the industrial exploiters, who will thereby become a richer and stronger enemy of our class.

If, on the other hand, “the State” takes over the land, then it will still be as far from the workers’ pockets as ever. It will still go to the highest bidder, who will not be the toiler, but the capitalist. However great the workers’ demand for land may be, it cannot be made effective, cannot be backed with the necessary money.

The Public Ownership Parliamentary Council on August 1st issued a manifesto advocating the gradual purchase of land. The members of the Council include Single Tax opponents and millionaires like Sir Charles Henry and Baron de Forest, Liberal apologists like Mr. Chiozza Money, and Labour misleaders like Messrs. P. Snowden and J. Pointer.

The manifesto calls for purchase from existing landowners upon the basis of the National Land Valuation, the land to be paid for in redeemable bonds – the interest to be paid out of the annual revenue of the land acquired. Hence the only difference would be that the rent is to be paid to the State instead of to private owners. The proceeds would go to the master class, who control the State. Part would be paid in interest to the landgrabbers and their descendants, the rest to relieve the employers from taxation.

Even to-day plenty of land is State owned in England, Ireland, India, Russia, and many other places, but the self-same evils afflict the workers under it as under other forms of ownership. Historically it is true, as Marx says in ‘The Modern Theory of Colonization’, that the expropriation of the producers from the soil formed the basis of the workers’ wage-slavery. But as Marx also shows, the development of industry since that time has increased the wealth and power of the capitalist class enormously; so that even where so-called free land exists the toilers are as bad off. For they cannot provide the plant, machinery, and other materials to work the soil in a world of fierce competition. They cannot compete against the mighty capitalists.

The Labour Party have done their best to boom this fraudulent land campaign. Of their Members of Parliament 37 signed the Land and Taxation Reform Memorial to the Government (18.5.11), and their names included George Lansbury, Keir Hardie, George Barnes, Will Thorne, Philip Snowden, F.W. Jowett, and Will Crooks. It opened thus:–

“We the undersigned Members of Parliament desire to place on record our grateful appreciation of the efforts of the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the other Ministers of the Cabinet, in placing upon the Statute Book of the country, the Budget of 1909-10, which for the first time recognises the principle of the separate valuation of land and thus provides a more equitable distribution of the burdens of the State in securing to each the results of his own labour and in opening up the land to those who can make the best use of it”.

The memorial goes on to “respectfully urge” the Government to substitute for other taxes a higher tax on land.

The Liberals have scattered copies of this appeal far and wide amongst the workers at bye-elections, among the miners of Hanley, Carmarthen, and Midlothian, and they use the Labour signatories as bait wherewith to lure the workers to vote for the Single Taxers.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain frankly and fearlessly oppose all these land reformers. We hold that there is no essential difference, from the toiler’s point of view, between the absentee landlord and the absentee shareholder. The “unearned increment” that capitalist and landlord share between them is gained by the robbery of the working class in the field, factory, mill, mine, and workshop, and there is no argument against the plundering landlord that does not apply to the ever-plundering capitalist. As long as the employing class own the means of production the toilers will battle in vain for a large share of the world’s wealth. The only remedy is for the workers to own and work in common the land, factories, railways, etc.

The path to power is contained in the policy of the Socialist Party. Join it and work for its triumph.

(Socialist Standard, September 1912)

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