Book Review: ‘Labour’s Way to Use the Land’
‘Labour’s Way to Use the Land’, by Tom Williams, M.P. (Metheun, London. 2s. 6d.)
This addition to the “Labour Shows the Way Series” is a useful contribution to “Labour’s” main task of showing the capitalists the way to run capitalism. It deals, as its title indicates, with the agricultural side of capitalist production, and argues with considerable ingenuity that all the efforts of the other capitalist parties are and must be in vain, and that the millennium for the farmer, the farm labourer, and the consumer lies in the crania of the Labour “experts.”
Well, we can leave the interested parties to fight that out. The madness of all these reformers has its methods, like other madness, but which is the best—or the worst—is of no interest to the Socialist.
The latter must criticise a work of this nature and origin from a different standpoint altogether. He sees it as the production of a sect professing—when expediency does not forbid—to be Socialist. His duty, therefore, is to “plunge the (Socialist) test-rod in” and “speak as he finds.”
And in this case it must be unequivocal repudiation, for the book is nothing but a barefaced attempt to snatch political support from the farming element on one hand, and from the industrial and clerical wage-slave on the other.
The exposition of working-class politics should show that behind all this talk of organising the marketing of agricultural products lies the old, old story of the struggle between the industrial capitalist and the agriculturalist to determine how cheaply the latter can be compelled to feed the former’s human cattle.
It should show that the industrial wage-workers are about as much interested in this struggle as the ox is in the bidding of rival butchers for his carcase.
It should stress almost beyond all things, that wages depend in the long run on the cost of food and other necessaries; and that therefore the attempt to inveigle them into this struggle between the producers of their food and the ultimate purchasers (who are their paymasters) is seduction pure and simple.
History provides confirmation of this in the Corn Law struggle of the middle of last century. With a heavy import duty on wheat, and the loaf at a shilling, the farmers were well off, and the manufacturers were not doing so bad. But the working class position was one of appalling misery. The sufferings of their wage-slaves so rent the tender hearts of the manufacturers that they nobly rallied to the cause of the bottom dog. They backed the demand for the abolition of the Corn Law. The law was abolished; and in a few years the workers were in just the same plight as before: their wages adjusted themselves to the “cheap loaf.”
But the fortunes of the industrial magnates waxed marvellously, while those of the farmers waned in proportion.
The proposal to nationalise the land, and so bring the farmers into the direct service of the industrialists, as the Post Office workers are, may be sufficiently alluring to the hard-headed men of the soil to catch their votes—the present scribe cannot tell. But to all events, this land nationalisation is the only definite thing in the book. For all its criticism of the existing marketing schemes, it has nothing better to offer. A few pages of “constructive” wind and piffle, a list of “Boards” and “Commissions”—that is all. What these Boards and Commissions are to do, and how and when and why, we are not told. To venture any further than the author has done would have been dangerous, hence, as Educated Evans would have said, its all “gaswork.”
A. E. Jacomb