Editorial: Labour Party Drops Land Nationalisation

The most important feature of the Labour Party’s new programme for Agriculture is something it does not say, but which was disclosed at a Press conference, conducted by Mr. Tom Williams, M.P., Minister for Agriculture in the last Labour Government.


Mr. Williams is reported by the Daily Herald to have told the newspapermen:—


“ Land nationalisation is not now a part of Labour’s agricultural policy.” (Daily Herald, July 7th, 1959.)


So instead of frightening voters by Nationalisation the Labour Party prefers to woo the farmers with subsidies and guaranteed prices, and woo the landworkers by the minimum wage.


But the Party may not get away with this as easily as Mr. Williams did, for there are many Labour Party supporters who still think that nationalisation is what the Labour Party ought to want. Tribune (11th July, 1958) is so angry that it called the new agricultural policy “The worst Labour Policy Yet”


What incensed Tribune particularly was that the National Farmers’ Union welcomed the policy, and the Times (7th July, 1957) made things worse by being unable to find any particular difference between Tory policy on agriculture and Labour policy:—


“How far does Labour policy on agriculture differ from the Conservative?” asked the Times and answered its own question:—


    “The impression given by the new statement ‘Prosper the Plough,’ is that in most practical respects their policy is almost the same, but less astringent.”


The Financial Times (7th July) was disappointed with the Labour Party document, but conceded that it should please the farmers “because it seems to foreshadow bigger subsidies for everyone.”


“Pleasing the farmers” is, of course, one of the purposes of the pamphlet, because, as the Manchester Guardian points out, the Labour Party sets “high hopes on winning some of the marginal rural seats away from the Conservatives and is anxious to avoid giving serious offence to the farmers.”


Tribune and other last ditchers for nationalisation can certainly quote ancient authority for their belief. In 1891 the T.U.C. passed one of its many resolutions in favour of land nationalisation, and added the suggestion that it should be made a test question at the next general election.


And in the Labour Party’s earlier agricultural programme, The Labour Party and the Countryside (published in the early nineteen twenties) was the categorical declaration:—


    “For the Labour Party, the substitution of public for private ownership in the land . . . underlies, in principle, all its specific proposals.”


Agriculture, because of the large numbers of working farmers who employ few or no workers outside their own family, has always been a difficult problem for the Labour Parties of the world. In line with trade union tradition one group demanded that the Labour Parties should back the wage-earning landworker against his employer, the farmer; but others wanted to try to win over the farmers, large and small, to support the Labour Party programme. After all, there are very large numbers of farmers and they all have votes, and, as the Russian government has found, they are extremely difficult to win away from their traditional habits and their desire to own, or at least to occupy, a parcel of land they could treat as their own, and they do not want to become employees on State farms or tenants of the State landlord.


For Socialists there is no particular problem. It is a hard task to educate the town workers away from support of Capitalism and reform of Capitalism, over to an understanding of Socialism.


It is not noticeably more difficult to win over landworkers and peasant farmers to Socialism. When they can be got to consider the question they all will see that land nationalisation leads nowhere and that Socialism alone offers them the means to use the land, without financial hindrance, to supply the food needs of the human race, and at the same time enable them to enjoy, along with everyone else, all the amenities social production in field and factory can provide.