The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond


Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood

[Published in London by C.W. Daniel, Ltd., 1913]


Civilisation is based on Exchange.
All that we usually mean by civilisation, every modern facility for comfort, transport, health, education, amusement, all the conveniences of public and private modern life, have been produced by steady co-operative toil, continued and accumulated year after year. Even civilisation in its more refined sense, the spread of humanising knowledge, the softening of popular tastes and manners, this also is largely due to the handiwork of the mass of men, who by their physical labour have made leisure and concentrated thought possible for a small number.
This labour we have been brought up to think of as free, and to regard the civilisation which is built upon and by it as the great work of a free race jointly striving towards the good of mankind. Reflection throws a different light on its nature.
Our civilisation is built up by subdivision of labour -- i.e. the exchange of different kinds of labour, or of the goods which embody labour (replaced generally in complex societies by money, which represents the surplus or storage of goods embodying labour).
If this exchange is free and fair, then the community is industrially free and equal; but if the exchanges are forced and not fair, then the community is founded in servitude and injustice.
Exchange depends on men's willingness to part with something that they have for something which they have not - with an ivory tusk for a pound of glass beads, or with a week's work digging for the price of rent, food and clothing. The freedom of exchange depends on each having an equal urgency to obtain what the other possesses, or, to express it negatively, an equal inconvenience in doing without it.

Free Exchange.
If a baker starving with cold and a woodcutter starving with hunger were to exchange a loaf and a faggot, the exchange would be free; without the other each would perish. Or equally freely, the baker may supply bread to a seamstress who in exchange sews him two coats, with one of which he gets in exchange firing from the woodman. Or an arable farmer and a sheep farmer might freely exchange help at seed and shearing times; or two women may agree that one shall do both washings whilst the other minds both babies.
These forms of labour exchange are obviously free: neither party is compelled, or both are alike equally compelled to it. And such forms are often taken as the type of the more complicated dealings of modern industry.

Forced Exchange.
But if a man falls down my well and I bargain for 5s. to pull him out, then the exchange may be fair enough, if my time is worth 5s., but it is certainly not free, since his urgency to escape death is greater than mine to earn 5s.
If an out-of-work joiner came to me, an independent householder, and I supplied him with food and drink on condition that he made me a table, the exchange would not be free, because he is obliged to make my table or else lose his health and working- power, whereas I, if I do not supply him with food, only lose the table. If he is hungry enough and employment precarious enough, he must make my table, or do practically anything else I want, or starve; or he may go to the workhouse, and do exactly what they want there. So this man during the time of his necessity is a slave to me or to the guardians. And if we extend myself to be a whole class or a whole community, and this one workless joiner into a whole class, then his class will be enslaved to my class, or to the community. This will be a worse slavery, because, by waiting longer or walking farther, the one joiner might find a more merciful employer than I, who from ignorance, or compassion, or because he was in more need of a table, would give him better food and perhaps clothes also; whereas the class of workless joiners cannot anyhow get outside the class, or community, who alone have food to give and are willing to take tables in exchange; and if, as is the real state of the case, the class of the table-makers were numerically far greater than the class of the food -givers, then it would be more hopelessly enslaved still, as each man's chance of getting a table to make was diminished.
This sort of exchange can no more be called free, than the man is free who, cast destitute on a lonely island, sells himself bodily to the possessor of the only cocoanut-tree and fresh-water supply in the place.
Of course the workless joiner will not willingly be caught twice. If he realises the situation he will go to the next neighbour and try him. But perhaps the next neighbour does not want a table; or the two neighbours have a mutual understanding that tramping joiners must be kept in their proper places and at a low wage.

Monopoly of the Sources of Life and Labour.
Then the joiner will give up joinering, and will settle down to grow crops and cattle and make bread and meat for himself and be beholden to no man. But supposing the two neighbours singly or in compact get possession of all the available land which the joiner might use for pasture or arable, and besides that, of all the copse s also from which he must needs get his wood for joinering; and supposing this proceeding, of seizing the only means of life and labour, be extended from two vulnerable human beings to a whole neuter and impersonal set of people, or to the trustees of a whole community, then the enslavement of the joiner and all his class is complete.
This illustration is not a purely fanciful one. Something like it must have occurred in bygone times in all nations possessing a wealthy class and a proletariat. The actual process goes on under our eyes in modern days in the colonies of civilised countries, where the native is dispossessed of his land by the white settler on the plea of trade development, and by this landlessness forced to hire himself out for wages ; and if he takes refuge in the native settlements and refuses to compete in the labour market, a hut-tax or a poll-tax is employed to drive him into the net of the recruiter.

Accumulation of Capital.
Now, suppose, further, that the employer, instead of supplying the joiner with the produce of his own labour, bread and meat of his own raising and cooking, saves up a superfluity of coats, blankets, kettles, saws and other useful articles, which he has got out of other workless artisans in a similar awkward situation, and with these, or the money he has got by selling them, pays the workless joiner's labour?
Then it is clear that the enslaved joiner and his fellows must not only work to supply the employer (individual and class) with the tables, coats, beds, etc., that the employer himself needs, but with such a superfluity of them (or their money's worth) as shall enable him to pay the services of the automobile makers, upholsterers, picture-painters, book-writers, wine-growers, domestic servants and others, whom he may desire to use. The wages will go through the master's hands but are paid with the surplus labour of the other artisans, after the employer (individual or class) has secured that part of their labour which he needs for his immediate personal use. The Master has then become a Capitalist and a great Captain of Industry.
Meanwhile the workman, having to buy with his labour even the materials of that labour, works in dire terror lest he should be forbidden to work at all.
This, or something similar to it, seems to be the industrial system which produces the flowers of modern civilisation.
And just as in the time of the Roman Empire clever or fortunate slaves became wealthy and lived insolently, buying and breeding slaves of their own, so the employers of this forced labour may themselves be performing in similar bondage some other form of enforced service ; until no one knows who can be classed as master or who as serf - the whole company being in servitude to those who have possession of the primary means of existence, and who are thereby able to demand in exchange for the necessaries of life any sort of luxury and service, or to put others in a position to demand them. So that even the honest slave-driver, who wishes to escape from his position, is in a dilemma, since he must either continue to slave-drive, or be himself driven.

The Flesh-pots of Egypt.
No doubt even the bottom-most worker has some share of the luxuries he and his fellows create in their compulsory service. There is always gleaning to be done in the wake of the sheaf-gatherers, and probably there were handsome pickings for the slaves who built the pyramids as well as for the slave-contractors who supplied the slave-labourers with food. The meanest little milliner's girl is able to wear a smarter hat for the labour of the thousands like herself who give a lifetime's practice to the curling of ribbons and feathers.

How Civilisation is fostered.
For such a society is not only the product of slavery, it is itself a creator of slavishness; and one of the chief means of riveting the system on to the old- world proletariat or on to savage and "uncivilised" tribes, is by creating in them new wants and fashions - such as top-hats or mechanical toys -- so that they may more readily exchange their birthright for a gramophone and a mess of pottage.
The land, then, that in his uncivilised state he cultivated, having been taken from the worker, his return is cut off, and, like the king of the fairy-tale, having once laid hold of the ferryman's oar, he must remain at the task, ferrying passengers to and fro for the rest of his life. If one of all those hordes whose breaths are keeping up the air-ball of civilisation, despising his task and refusing his service, desires to return to his birthright and labour for himself, he finds it gone, and that he has no longer the wherewithal to live, nor work, nor even die, except under the conditions imposed by the social machine; so that he must continue to feed it with his life and labour, not according as his own conscience or wants demand, but as the inexorable automatic mouths open or shut.
Competition and Privileged Slaves.
The number of the workers, and the consequent tense competition for employment, of course reduces them to a far more miserable and precarious existence than if there were only one foodless and homeless man with his labour to sell. So long as there are more men of a trade than the work offered, each man is beaten down to the lowest his society will tolerate. But if there were only one joiner, although he were unable to get food unless someone wanted a table, yet, as the only man who could make a table, he would have a special value. He would be nourished, tended in sickness, even cherished by the free and self-supporting employer who foresaw a need of future tables.
So any highly technical worker, or any servant with specially convenient qualities, holds a privileged, sometimes pampered, but still servile, position. So a gifted slave-musician or slave-scribe in Rome or Alexandria would be domestically petted. So it was with typists, chauffeurs, etc., until the supply met the demand. So formerly those workers who could read and write had a great advantage in the market, while schooling was exceptional ; whereas at the present time in Western Europe the universal elementary- teaching that is compulsorily received, and the artificially fostered secondary education, are raising the level of education so much as to bring mechanicians, draughtsmen, clerks, etc., out of their privileged position back into the circle of keen competition; whilst, on the other hand, the price and status of unskilled labour show signs of rising, as training and taste lead young people into genteeler occupations, and lessen competition for the rougher sorts of manual work. In past days the skilled trades, appreciating their advantages, have always, and quite reasonably, sought to form close guilds and to limit the number of their apprentices so as to maintain their vantage ground. The neo-Malthusians, too, of the modern labour movement seem partly inspired by the same idea of improving their bargaining power by limiting their numbers.
Comfort is not identical with Freedom., and may be a bar to it.
But degrees of comfort have nothing to do with degrees of servitude. A skilled artisan, or specially gifted slave, does not become less servile because his wage is higher and his humours studied. Indeed, in a way, the skilled workman is in a more dependent condition than the unskilled, since, his work being more specialised and his education more delicate, he is less fitted to exist outside one particular kind of society.
The free, occasionally insolent, manners which are found in certain classes of labour (and which seem to have characterised also the upper slaves of the Roman Empire) are not, as is often assumed, a sign of "independence," merely of a somewhat special position. That their condition is really parasitic is manifest from the preference for propertied persons not only shown, but unfeignedly felt, by persons of the profession of policemen, chauffeurs, shopkeepers, butlers, etc. -- that is, by all those whose trade has been invented for the wealthy. Even when such workers call themselves and vote radical, it seems to be more as a protest against mismanagement than from a desire to disturb the order by which they live.
And all the while both workers and masters have some vague idea that the world is kept going by labour of this parasitic sort, and that they and their work all form an integral part of some huge social machine of vital human importance -- quite forgetting that the whole population of the world is already fed and clothed by the labour of a small percentage, and could very well go on being so fed and clothed if all the lengthy, twisted line that connects a man with his food were short-circuited.

The Significance of Industrial Slavery.
But many people may think that this is all much ado about nothing ; that industrial slavery has a merely academic meaning ; that though theoretically it may be true, yet that practically it would make no difference if only " fair " conditions were secured to the workers ; that, provided they are comfortable, the workers themselves do not care whether their work is of a free or servile nature.
To this the reply is: -
(1) That there can be no really fair treatment of the workers short of restoring to them the means of production that have been taken from them and monopolised; and that, when these are returned the liberty they lost with them will also return, and they will then ensure fair treatment for themselves.
(2) That even the barren theoretic truth of the term Industrial Slavery would be of itself of the utmost importance; for the most pragmatical utilitarian cannot deny the motor force of ideas.
(3) But to see the most direct, tangible effects, one need only glance at the lives and aims of the workers; not only at the poverty, and insecurity, for these might to some extent exist in freedom among men working for themselves and not for a master, but at the humiliation and the squalor, the stupid, monotonous drudgery in performing tasks in which they can perceive no benefit, and which no one would think worth while to do for themselves. But, above all, the manifestation of their servitude is seen in their attitude towards their work, and in the legislative interference which they incessantly demand. Everywhere their cry is for laws against long hours, for a legal wage above bare subsistence level, for sanitary regulations, for a Royal Commission on some trade, for a Labour Minister to set the whole tangle of life right -- for some master, in short, above the other masters; or else for transference of all employment to the supreme master, the Government, forgetting that from that one there will be no appeal. No proof could be more conclusive that their work is not free, that they have even no conception nor hope that it might be free. No free man working for himself and getting the full reward of his labour would tolerate the by-laws and legislation that the proletariat clamour for. No crofter or settler would endure, nor obey, enactments about his hours of work ; equally with the right of ceasing when he likes, he values the right of going on as long as he pleases, not only from the politico-economical motive of acquiring wealth, but because he is interested in his work and views it as his creature, not his taskmaster. And because such work is free, it is neither wearisome nor unwholesome. To such free workers grandmotherly legislation is no friend, but an enemy. It is only the weak and dependent who call for leading- strings, and the leading-strings only perpetuate their dependence.


Chapter I
Where The Road Leads
Chapter II
On Free and Forced Exchange
Chapter III
On Social Reform
Chapter IV
The Strengthening of Government
Chapter V
The Roots of Slavery
Chapter VI
On Land and Capital
Chapter VII
Various Theories About Land Reform
Chapter VIII
Marginal Land and Economic Rent
Chapter IX
The Single Tax as a Method of Destroying Land Monopoly
Chapter X
The Next Revolution
Chapter XI
The Steps of the Change
Chapter XII
What It Would Mean
Chapter XIII
What Lies Beyond
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