1920s >> 1920 >> no-194-october-1920

Utopia or Bolshevism? A New Way Out For An Enterprising Government

The Problem of Healthy Towns and a Healthy Industrial System.”  By Captain J. W. Petavel, Lecturer on the Poverty Problem, Calcutta University. Reprinted from “The Englishman,” Calcutta, for the Calcutta University Poverty Problem Study Fund. 1920.

 

In this pamphlet Captain Petavel is chiefly concerned with the physical deterioration of the workers as revealed by official documents compiled for recruiting purposes. He says : “As a matter of fact the well recognised causes of this evil are absolutely removable ones ; and though it indeed came to us with our industrial system, and owing to certain conditions that arose with it, these conditions need not have arisen, and could be removed.”

 

What the World Waited For.
But if the Captain’s plan is the only solution, the fact that it had to wait for him to discover it disposes of his contention that the evils need never to have been. Obviously the remedy could not be applied until the man was born who discovered it and persuaded those in power to adopt it.

 

Unfortunately, although referring to the causes as being “well-recognised,” the Captain does not explain what they are, and as every party, reformer, and quack has “well-recognised” causes of his own, to fit each particular creed or philosophy, we cannot rectify the omission, and must examine his scheme as he presents it: “a plan to modify our industrial system in order to prevent the appalling physical deterioration for which it is responsible.”

 

The Captain’s Muddled Mixture.
This is distinctly unfortunate because the only sensible way to approach any such question is first to trace the evils to their cause and then examine the possibilities of removing the cause.

 

A further disadvantage is the writer’s confusion on the subject of Socialism. First he says that “Socialism, as conceived by its more intelligent advocates, is a plan, not to abolish our industrial system, but to purge it of these evils, ” which is what he proposes to do himself by means of his plan. Secondly he points out that “if the propertied class does not promptly deal with the evils they will be giving the workers every excuse to try Bolshevism, Socialism, or whatever plausible plan is suggested to them.” But if Socialism is what he previously described it to be why should anybody object? In his mind Bolshevism is evidently something bloody and terrible, and Socialism can be the same—if it is only plausible.

 

Our reformer’s most amusing statements about Socialism, however, are the following.

The Queer Side.
On page 1 he says: “As, however, we are not prepared to accept Socialism, what is wanted is an enlightened public opinion, free from party and class spirit, to demand just what measures are necessary to remove them ” (the evils). That again is a repetition of his definition of Socialism together with a statement that we are not prepared to accept it; therefore the only thing left is, to get on with it.

 

On page 12, after a lengthy explanation of his scheme—which is calculated to achieve what the “more intelligent Socialists” have for their object—the Captain suggests that as there are still likely to be people who are not satisfied with the system and demand Socialism, they should be given the opportunity to establish Socialist communities on a small scale, being provided by the Government with the necessary machinery to carry out their experiment. But this, he says, “would not really be Socialism, but would be better described as State organised co-operative production.” So that what he first describes as Socialism he afterwards denies to be Socialism by providing for Socialism within it, which in its turn is not Socialism but something else !

 

A Travesty of Socialism. 
Two pages of this work are devoted to “Guild Socialism,” which the writer describes as “one of the most picturesque institutions of the past.” His description of the way it would work shows the absurdity of this remark. “The Guild undertakes work and divides it among its members, so that all have their share of it and of pay. When there is a great deal of work, all work long hours, when there is less, all work a short time; the more work there is the more money there is coming in, and the guild pays everybody proportionately more.”

 

Nothing is said as to what should determine the numbers to be admitted to each guild ; it being obviously to the interest of every member to keep out new-comers, in order to keep the share-out higher. On a small scale this idea is already in operation in many factories to-day, where the working day is shortened or lengthened in accordance with the state of trade. It is no solution to the working-class “problem.” It is not even an improvement, because there is no more to divide than previously. The product of labour is still shared between the capitalists, who do not share in its production, and the workers, who get the meanest and poorest share.

 

To the latter every plan must be unsatisfactory that includes any provision whatever for a class that rules, yet does not justify its existence.

 

Capitalists could Ruin—Themselves.
Having seen how confused Captain Petavel is on the subject of Socialism, we shall not be surprised to discover that his ideas on capitalism and capitalists are none too clear, On page 18 he says : “A democratic government has it in its power absolutely to ruin town landlords. It could, on the perfectly sincere plea of public health, acquire large tracts of cheap land away from the towns, and let them out for building at fixed rates, making the railways convey the people to and fro for the smallest coin in circulation.”

 

A democratic government could do these things and many more : but would they ?

 

Captain Petavel’s scheme depends for its finance on a system of heavy taxation of land values ; which he says, by the way, would be no hardship to the landlords, since they could have full compensation.
How this is to be effected and the money still be available to finance the scheme does not appear, unless it is by the same method that the Jersey Corporation adopted when it proposed to build its market hall for nothing. Captain Petavel is enamoured of this scheme, though he tells us why it failed. “The money lenders put the law into operation against it and had it stopped, so that the full advantage was not realised.” They evidently saw who would be at a disadvantage, though even now the Captain fails to see that anybody could suffer from a scheme so apparently innocent.

 

Unconsidered Trifles.
Captain Petavel’s scheme is mainly concerned with the material basis of the present industrial system. Social relationships, interests, and class antagonisms are slurred over or altogether ignored. The re-arrangement of towns according to a settled plan, and the improvement of transport are the biggest items on his programme. His idea of town-planning is that the big business houses should occupy the centre of the towns, and that the roads should radiate outwards like the spokes of a wheel. These roads should be wide, with fenced-in tramways and elevated stopping places to bring the cars rapidly to rest and re-start them. Books of tickets should be issued to the workers at rates varying according to the rents they paid, thus ensuring a cheap and rapid service.

 

These main roads could be occupied by business concerns, stores, etc., while behind them, in the angles formed by the roads converging toward the centre, could be residential dwellings with open spaces, small near the centre, and larger toward the outskirts.

 

A Bit Late.
Like all town-planning schemes in this country, however, this one is invented after the towns have grown up, and the cost of alterations, together with the serious interference with capitalist interests which it would involve prevents anything being done on a large scale. To meet this difficulty Captain Petavel proposes a tax on land values, every site to be taxed according to the profit made on it, or according to its proximity to the centre of the town. Some would pay the tax and thus provide the cost, while others would take the cheaper sites further out and thus enable the authorities to re-arrange the towns on the new plan.

 

In towns planned in this way, the space between the roads would, of course, be greater as the distance from the centre was increased. This space could be used for recreation grounds or for agriculture.. The chief advantage, says the Captain, would come to the workers by this arrangement; they could occupy the outlying districts, where vacant land would be plentiful. They could then produce the bulk of their food-stuffs for themselves. Their food would thus be fresh, and it would only be necessary for them to work a very few hours in the factories per day.

 

The towns would thus be healthier, the workers would spend most of their time in healthy occupations, and only a very short time in the poisonous atmosphere and monotonous tasks of the factory.

 

The grounds on which the Captain pleads for his scheme are the health and efficiency of the workers. Better health and greater efficiency make for greater production, and therefore higher profits for the capitalist class. It is quite obvious, therefore, that the workers would still be wage-slaves, exploited by a class above them, a class that owns the means of wealth production.

 

Captain Petavel puts his plan forward as an alternative to Socialism. If he succeeds in persuading the capitalist class to adopt it, the evils of the capitalist system will still remain, because they are bred by the system, and the system remains.

 

Whatever changes or reforms the ruling class may decide to introduce, the duty of the workers is to organise politically for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. They must refuse to be side-tracked by reformers, Bolshevik wild men, or Utopians.

 

F. Foan