The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond


Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood

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


Governments use Reforms to increase their own Power.
Indeed it is a flaw, inherent not in any one party but in all governments, as well as in masters, landlords, parents and other authorities, that they glorify their task, and suppose that to govern well and be governed well is the goal of human society. Characteristics and tendencies are approved or condemned as they are judged convenient or inconvenient to the existing order. To be a "danger to society" is reckoned on a level with the basest moral depravity. To breed consumptive children; to try to weaken the discipline of the army; to publicly lecture on the turpitude of the officially recognised deity -- those who commit these offences -- though they may do so on high moral grounds -- are treated in fact if not by name as criminals. Society - not the ideal human society -- but society as it exists now, is as gross a fetish as any idol of any older superstition. The amazing thing is that those very people who will support any injustice to individuals in the name of this new god, are loudest in denouncing the religious intolerance of outworn dogmas.
There are many ways of baffling inconvenient truths, and one of the most effectual is to adopt and redirect any movement which threatens disturbance -- to turn the enemies' guns upon themselves. It is repeatedly said in praise of the British political genius, that it forestalls revolution by gradual and moderate reforms. This does not mean that the social state itself changes: but that it assimilates the hostile element, and by continual opportunism makes the triumph of a general principle impossible. Reforms adopted by a government are either adopted so late as to have lost their use and meaning, or in such a form that they become a powerful agent in strengthening the governing classes against further encroachment. Le bien est Vennemi du mieux. To take a familiar instance: The Reform Bill of 1832 was adopted by the House of Commons and forced through the House of Lords amidst popular enthusiasm, at a time when a small oligarchy held political power to the exclusion of both the middle and the working classes. It was the union of the intelligent manufacturer with the ignorant " hand " which made the Reform movement a danger to the governing classes. The Reform Bill gave power to the middle class by a limited property franchise, and the middle class immediately became divorced from the worker and a staunch bulwark of government in all its legislation for and against the poor.
The same thing happened with the Protestant Reformation. The movement, which was in essence revolutionary and individualist, was turned to political account by the rulers of the day; and, safe under the protection of the Elector of Saxony, the same Luther, who a few years before had defied Pope and Emperor, denounces the revolt of the oppressed peasants. Kings and rulers adopted the independent religion, and found in their State Protestant Church a firmer pillar of their own supremacy than a Catholic Pope had ever afforded them.
Amongst all the popular movements and proposals of social reform which disturb the slumber of democratic countries, it happens that those selected by their governments are always those that tend to make the population more manageable, amiable and easy to reckon with. On reaching that point the reform ceases to be "dangerous," and is classed as "progressive."
The Trades Unions, for instance, began life as isolated combinations of men really suffering oppression and want, and banded to fight the powers that keep the keys of work and idleness. They had great wrongs to redress, and for a while fought against odds, as purely voluntary groups leading a precarious life ; and thus long they were hampered by legislation and abused as anti-economic. Now, however, that they have become part of the industrial mechanism and the recognised middlemen of the labour mart, and have a financial stake in the country, this view has changed. Now that they have educated leaders -- leaders, therefore, in touch with the middle and upper classes; -- and now that the individual Trades Union member is so thoroughly subjected to the organisation, by means of his sick and out-of-work benefit payments, that he can be relied on implicitly to obey orders; -- now, Trades Unions meet with approval from the most enlightened economists and the most commercial elements. Even if one Trades Union is for a time out of favour owing to an inconvenient strike, some local cause is blamed, usually the unmanageableness of the rank and file, but not the institution. In fact, the Trades Unions are now generally recognised as most valuable bodies and a credit to the working men of the country, not because they voice grievances and keep up wages, but because they make it possible to handle large bodies of men securely, without calling in the military or even the police. In reality, they act as breakers-in for the Lib.- Con.-Lab. Governments. And if their power is menaced (as by the 1911 Insurance Act, which turns them into Government collecting agents), it is only to transfer the workmen into still stronger keeping - that of the State - which, by feeding, lodging, nursing, doctoring, educating, and drilling them, acquires irresistible control of them, soul and body, from the cradle to the grave.
Perhaps it is desirable here again to distinguish between this established kind of Trade Unionism and the form called Syndicalism, which, because it professes to attain the very same objects without using the Government machinery, is anathema, not only to the propertied classes but most of all to the official Labour Party leaders. Here, too, by facilitating the admission of members of the Labour Party to seats in the legislature, well-to-do-society has turned their organisation into an additional bulwark for its own protection.

The People have no Choice.
It may be said that this State control is enacted by "the will of the people." But "the people" -- a political title for the larger half of those consulted -- " the people " have about as much choice offered them as the Mahdi's prisoners between the Koran and decapitation, since they see absolutely no prospect of livelihood except what is offered them by capitalist masters on one hand, or by bureaucrat masters on the other. For, being absolutely debarred from the land, the only source of independent existence, even if one of them dreamed of freedom he could not achieve it.

The Evolution of Slavery.
Just as the serfdom and chattel slavery of early ages gave place to industrial slavery, so there is every sign now of reversion to the tightest bonds of chattel slavery, not indeed with various individuals as masters, but in their stead, as sole master and owner, a bureaucracy acting in the name of a democratic majority.
In passing from serfdom to industrialism, the serf gained freedom of domicile, of marriage, of style of work, but, above all, freedom to choose between his masters and to bargain with them. In exchange, he lost some amount of protection, of security, and, what was of most importance, his last, slight, customary hold upon the land. When the serf became a wage worker, his master was consummated absolute lord of the soil; and in gaining his personal freedom, the worker lost finally his hopes of real economic freedom. But even such partial increase of independence as he had gained in the choice of masters and the possibility of bargaining was lost when the era of machine-and -factory labour set in. Every opportunity for employment in any particular trade then converged into two or three plexi, and into the hands of a few persons representing all the scattered individual employers of that trade throughout the country. It was the first step in collective bargaining, Instead of dealing with small depots or individual users of boots and teapots, the cobbler or pot -thrower had to deal with a few firms representing all the possibilities of bootmaking or chinacasting. To meet the concentration of employers, the Trades Unions developed, amalgamating the working strength of the proletariat, but at the same time limiting further such individual freedom as remained. The process of collective bargaining was now complete, and the individual worker had become a unit in the proletarian army.
The impossibility of the employer carrying on his trade without hands; the impossibility of the hands existing if debarred from the raw material of their work ; the ruin to the outside public if either party cut off the supply, not only of food, etc., but of the materials for other work -- these things have always made industrial disputes inconvenient and alarming. But it is only recently that the organisations of employers and employed have been so perfected as to make a deadlock actually possible. Legislators and business men, scared at the glimpse of anarchy, are beginning to feel the need of a more complete control of the whole machinery of industry ; while philanthropists realise fully the failure of the present system to give satisfaction, or even a livelihood, to the mass of the population. Both agree that what is wanted is more elaborate organisation and more expert control. And so we have every device for making the worker better equipped and more comfortable, hand in hand with ever more intimate regulations as to his labour and personal life.

Comparison of Mediaeval and Modern Chattel Slavery.
This revived form of chattel slavery bears a curiously close analogy, even in details, to the old. It restores security (without, however, restoring any of the old rights to the soil), and limits such industrial independence as may still exist in theory if not in fact. i? 1. The right of bargaining, the chief superiority of the industrial over the chattel serf, is being again subjected to restrictions. His wages and hours are being fixed, with penalties, by boards of arbitration empowered and authorised by his overlord, the Government. Similar attempts to enforce contracts and rates of pay were made in the fourteenth century, after the Black Death, when a decimated proletariat, relieved from intense competition, became impudent. It is true that at that date it was the maximum, and is now the minimum that is legally fixed ; but there is not so great a difference between the two as at first sight appears, and the principle is the same. The regulation of wages was made then, as it is likely to be made now, with the object of keeping the agricultural labourer on his lord's fields and of keeping the industrial workers at work. It is no injustice to social philanthropists to say that the governing classes, as a whole, would have heard little and thought little about the inadequate remuneration of labour if landlords and farmers had not suffered from the migration of the labourer to towns, and if the organised workers had not threatened to keep trade in perpetual insecurity from fear of strikes. The minimum wage, if it is introduced by any party of the legislature, will be passed with the tacitly understood motive of making the horse quiet in harness. The mediaeval attempt to fix a maximum wage failed, because it was not even ostensibly in the labourer's interests; and it was in that age impossible to prevent individual workers bargaining with individual employers. The modern attempt to fix a minimum wage should succeed better, since it has apparent benevolence to recommend it, is desired by many of the workers themselves who are hopeless of obtaining real justice, and will have, to enforce it, all our good organisations, our admirable police and our more perfect control of every department of life. Economically, or with a view to social liberty, it is likely to be as complete a fiasco as its predecessor.
2. The second point of comparison is the treatment of the unattached or inefficient worker.
In the first period of chattel slavery, the landless and masterless were outlawed or thrown into prison; and all along the workhouse and gaol have stood open for industrial failures and played an important part in social progress. Now, with more enlightenment, we would place the workless worker into labour colonies, where his occupation will be selected for him and efficient training compulsorily given. The Labour Bureaus, though ostensibly only a servants' registry, have become, under the Unemployment Insurance Act, a step in the same direction.
Everywhere capacity to "compete on equal terms" is being made a test of the right to free movement. Of those who do not or cannot compete -- the weak to the public hospital -- the feeble to the institution -- the rebellious to the prison or the Borstal colony. Charity itself is used as a lever of compulsion, and the district visitor and relieving officer enter the homes of the stricken, with a dole in one hand and a "case" card in the other. Their mission is not to relieve distress, but to number the people.
3. It is true that the serf may now marry without his lord's consent -- if he can afford to; but the Eugenic societies are doing their best to remove this privilege; and if their counsels prevail, the worker will soon not be able to take a wife without medical testimony that neither of them harbours any noxious bacillus, or possesses qualities " undesirable for the race," or is the other's first cousin, or anything that the latest science pronounces contrary to the interests of society.
One can imagine the romances of the future, in which the dreaded Board plays the role of the Montague and Capulet relations ; and in which the two lovers are separated by the Notification of Diseases Schedule in place of the Church's mysterious Table of Affinities. No doubt, however, for the rich there will always be "dispensation" forthcoming, as in the case of the Vaccination law.
As regards the poor, indeed, our provision for other people's health is already almost perfect. Madame de Sevigne, hearing of small-pox in a cottage on the family estate, urges her daughter to send the sick child and its family to some place farther from the seigneurial residence. At first reading, one is struck by this as a crude illustration of what made the French nobility so unpopular in 1789. In reality, it compares favourably with a law which takes a sick child away from its mother, because she is too poor to spare a room for isolation and get a substitute for herself in the housework.
4. In habitat the serf is not yet quite so restricted as he was ; but under the excellent new schemes of town-planning and the zeal of some town councils in erecting barracks, he will probably soon be limited to certain sorts of dwellings in certain areas -- Jewries not of religion but of class.
Such measures may make the industrial worker a healthier animal and a more efficient tool, but they do not touch the heart of his trouble; they only add to the loss of his economic freedom the loss of his personal freedom as well.
On the other hand, without such protective measures, industrial slavery would become utterly unendurable.


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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