“A Countryman Talks About Socialism,” a pamphlet of 20 pages by H. B. Pointing and published by the Socialist League, 23, Abingdon Street, S.W.l. Price 2d.
This pamphlet is written in. the form of conversations between a ploughman and three villagers who are Socialists. Through their mouths is traced, for the benefit of the enquiring ploughman, the origin of private property in land and its changing form and developments through its various stages up to the breakdown of the feudal agricultural system and the growth of peasant holdings and capitalist farming. It is explained in a simple and clear way how a propertyless class of wage-earners, whose only means of living is the ability to sell their labour-power for wages, came into existence. There is, however, a vagueness about certain points. For example, on page 10 one character is made to say to the other: “ You’ve got some of the gild’s functions left in your trade union.” What these functions are is left unsaid, and it is possible that readers would interpret such a statement as meaning that there is a common basis for, or connecting link between, the mediaeval craft gild and the modern trade union. It is impossible to accept that view in the light of modern researches.
The gilds, which were associations of masters and apprentices, died before the rise of the capitalist industrial conditions which gave birth to trade unions.
On the same page the same character says: “ The employer, as time went on, invented the idea of the factory.” This credits the early capitalists with much more foresight than they possessed. Factory production was not an invention of the capitalists, but a growth which was forced upon them by the changing processes of production. In fact, in certain industries such as weaving, even after factories were fairly widely established in other trades, factory production lagged behind because the weaving process had not evolved beyond the domestic stage of production.
On page 14 capitalism is likened to an aged donkey which, being overladen with goods, might collapse under the strain. Anyhow, it is said, the donkey must die. Here, again, there is no explanation, and the reader could easily interpret from it what the author does not intend. The analogy is weak and rather dangerous.
Except for the points enumerated, the general historical analysis and the conclusions are sound. Mr. Pointing should remember, however, that to represent the case for Socialism, as stated in his pamphlet as being identical with the policy of the Labour Party, is undoing what good effect such a pamphlet might otherwise have. It is significant that the publishers, the Socialist League, say that: “It must not be taken that all the views expressed by individual authors are necessarily those of the Socialist League.”
The Socialist League is affiliated to the Labour Party and has taken the place which was, until recently, occupied by the I.L.P. This pamphlet gets nearer to a correct conception of Socialism than is usual with pamphlets published by the I.L.P., which, despite its eagerness to prove itself to be a real red (shirts and all) revolutionary party, never got beyond the conception that Socialism means State controlled butchers’ shops undercutting private traders, as exemplified in their pamphlet; “Socialism at Work in Queensland.”