To the Editors. .
Plaza de la Derrota 13,
15th Jan., 1921.
Dear Sirs,—I think there is no doubt that sooner or later the mass of the workers in factories, mines, ships, offices, etc., will be converted to the principles of Socialism, and the victory practically won in the most advanced industrial countries, such as the United States, Great Britain, Germany, etc.
But then the question arises, what about the countries which are predominantly agricultural, such as France, Spain, Russia, Japan, etc.? It is well known that the peasantry everywhere are far more refractory to the Socialist propaganda than are the industrial workers, and in Europe at any rate, these people still form by far the greater part of the population.
In France, Belgium, some parts of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and now in Russia as a result of the revolution, the peasant proprietors with their families form in every case at least half the population and in some cases much more. This class is completely hostile to Socialism and up to the present all attempts to convert them have proved absolutely fruitless.
It may be said that the Marxian doctrine proves that in time the properties owned by this class will become merged in great estates belonging to wealthy capitalists or capitalist companies. All I can say is that hitherto there is not the slightest sign of any such process, rather the reverse: the number of peasant proprietors tends to increase. Great Britain is, I believe, the only country in which this class has been practically eliminated.
What is the opinion of your party regarding these people ? Are they to be considered as capitalists or proletarians, or as combining some of the features of both these classes ?
The Simple Solution.
The great factor overlooked by Mr. Urquhatt is the development of agricultural machinery and science. While it is quite true that peasant proprietor is hostile to Socialism, as the Bolsheviks have found out in Russia, in countries that are coming more fully into the orbit of capitalism the economic pressure is driving these peasants into new paths. In Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Holland, and to a growing extent Belgium, the need for machinery, pedigree stock, means of transport, etc., has forced forward the formation of co-operative societies who purchase these things, the members using them in turn. This is one of the stages in the industrialisation of agriculture and necessarily carries in its wake the increase of industrial workers in that sphere. The small farmers and peasant proprietors not only combine to hire and purchase machinery, but also hire wage labourers to run or assist in running this machinery. Those peasants who do not follow this method are driven out of competitive business by their more efficient rivals.
A further factor, often lost sight of, is the operation of the giant capitalist concerns who are taking over huge farms and ranches, particularly in South America and whose competition with European products, when fully developed, will crush out numbers of those who at present are able to scratch an existence from their little plots.
Mr. Urqnhart says “the number of peasant proprietors tends to increase,” but gives no evidence to support this statement. To take one country alone—France—the number of peasant proprietors has greatly decreased. While the actual number of peasants is still large—nearly 50 per cent. of the population— the majority of them are not proprietors as their little plots are mortgaged up to the hilt and are really owned by the moneylenders.
Our view is that the peasants are in a transition stage from small ownership to either (a) joint ownership developing into the capitalist position or (b) to the loss of their small property and their becoming wage workers as the result.