1930s >> 1938 >> no-404-april-1938

Letter: Land Values and Socialism

  The correspondent whose letter was published in the March issue has written again, as follows: —

To the Editor.

I dispute the statement of the Editor of The Socialist Standard that I favour half-strangled capitalism. I maintain that economic rent has absorbed the major part of production called wealth. I want to see a new form of capitalism, in which economic rent is socialised and the barriers to production by way of private land ownership and penal taxation is removed.

To-day, the worker is driven to wage slavery through the private ownership of the natural resources from which all mankind must get the means of life, and that is land. This private ownership has set up a competition between those who seek access to this natural resource, and so places them at the mercy of the owners thereof. If it is impossible for private interests to hold land out of cultivation owing to a heavy tax on its value, then land becomes more abundant and access to it easier. With easier access to land the power to enslave the worker would grow less, and I hope to zero. The boot would be on the other leg, for, instead of the worker competing to get work, capitalists would compete to get workers, with always the knowledge that easy access to land leaves the worker an alternative to owners’ terms. Capital itself would become much more abundant, setting up a great demand for its production, and to the advantage of those who did not wish to rent and use land. An early American settler would not stand a lot of nonsense from his employer, because soil and abundant land was available to him as an alternative. No one man was very rich, but there, too, need be no beggars or grovellers! Marx in his third volume of “Capital” deals at length with the enslavement of the worker by land enclosure.

By access to land, I do not necessarily mean land in the raw. A china clay soil brought into working gives access to the soil, and that access goes on throughout all processes up to the delivery of the cup and saucer to the hands of the consumer. A china clay soil held out of working by private interest, robs in purchasing power every process worker that might be engaged in producing articles of utility.

I will agree with the S.P.G.B. that nationalisation with or without compensation is not Socialism. Any Conservative can support the Labour Party policy and carry it further. I am advocating a “freed” capitalism with economic rent socialised. Tell me, too, do the S.P.G.B. propose abolition of money?

Yours,
Chas. E. Berry.

P.S. The Black Hole of Calcutta was an example of air scarcity. We live in a system of land scarcity, freed from which we all shall be free.

Reply.

Our correspondent states that he seeks “a new form of capitalism,” in which the advantage would be with the worker (“capitalists would compete to get workers”). In our earlier reply we stated that in effect our correspondent is proposing “a half-strangled capitalism.” He rejects this description, but his explanation will not stand examination.

Under capitalism the propertied class exploits the working class. Receivers of rent, interest and profit are living on the unpaid labour of the workers. They are able to do this because they own and control the means of production and distribution, including the land. At the back of their ownership stands their control of the political machinery, including the armed forces. Our correspondent seeks a new form of this system, a form in which the “capitalists would compete to get workers.” But if that situation could be brought about the whole of the surplus value extorted by the propertied class would vanish. In other words, there would be no rent, interest or profit at all. The choice is, therefore, as we pointed out before, between capitalism and Socialism, between a continuance of exploitation and its abolition.

The attempt to modify drastically the relationship of the different sections of the propertied class (landlords and others), while continuing to prevent the working-class majority from ending exploitation, can rightly be described as an attempt to perpetuate a half-strangled capitalism.

Regarding money, it has repeatedly been pointed out in these columns that with the abolition of capitalism the function of money will disappear.

Ed. Comm.