The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond
Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood
[Published in London by C.W. Daniel, Ltd., 1913]
THE ROOTS OF SLAVERY
"There is a slavery which locks up men's bodies; and there is a
freedom which sets, indeed, men's bodies free, but locks up all that
they need for subsistence."
THERE stand before us, then, from
which to choose, two half-finished social structures. There is the
so-called Individualist edifice, which is supposed to be based on
personal and economic liberty, but rests, in fact, upon forced
competition, and is maintained by unfree labour. In practice it is the
model for all business dealings, and is supported in theory by the
Manchester School of economists.
It found a fancied reinforcement
in the Darwinian science, which seemed to give a kind of moral
sanction to the scramble of egoisms. Business men have liked to think
that in relentlessly pursuing their own interests, they were obeying
Nature's law of the survival of the fittest. But it is worthy of
notice that the Manchester School had its vogue at just that time,
when not only had pushful men unprecedented openings for success, but
when the relations of employers to their employed were becoming
wholesale and impersonal. A humane man can with difficulty bring
himself to exact the last farthing's worth from the workman who lives
at his door and boards at his table; but it is easy for him to
persuade him- self that the competition, which causes his hundred
factory hands to work at starvation wages, is all for the good of
society. The Merchants of Venice had their deathbed repentances, but
the American boss tramples his rivals complacently in the hope of
In social matters no one
consistently adheres to this school of individualism -- except when it
is necessary to find an excuse for refusing an alms or a subscription.
Nearly all, by personal acts of mercy and weakness, seek to mitigate
the severity of the business methods they profess to approve. The
strongest advocates of "Get on, or get out" will invoke the
State to neutralise the effects of their own policy by factory laws,
or to keep alive those whom the processes of evolution have thrown on
the scrap- heap. Without recognising the fundamental lack of freedom
in this so-called free competition, people yet see that, as the world
now is, a logical application of individualist doctrines involves
intolerable cruelty above and suffering below ; and so, perceiving no
other alternative, in desperation they seek refuge in State slavery.
(2) State Slavery.
State Slavery, by a system of
communal exploitation, would prevent the exploitation of one
individual by another; it would lessen the struggle for existence, and
probably increase the physical comfort of the larger number of
citizens. But to succeed in this, each individual must be subjected to
the thorough and intimate control of the executive. This executive may
be elected and democratic ; but, if it is to control the business
affairs of an intricate community, it will require despotic powers and
security of office; and if its officials are honest, zealous and
intelligent, they cannot remain content with broad and superficial
regulations, but must extend their disciplinary and preventive
measures into the minutest details of public and private life.
Until quite recently, the nature
of our experiments in social reform has not been clearly recognised.
It has been masked by the fact that the leisured and influential are
not affected by such legislation, and that those to whom it applies
are too ignorant and too occupied to protest with effect. Hitherto,
the superior classes have played with the poor as a child plays with
its doll's-house. But nothing is doing so much to disturb popular
submissiveness as recent practical experience of such officious
beneficence. An opposing current has set in, and now the popular
choice hovers undecided between these two types of society: Industrial
Slavery, with so-called Individualism on the one hand, and, on the
other, Chattel Slavery under the State.
Or rather, it would be more
accurate to compare society in its present stage to an edifice of two
styles blended -- a superstructure of new art upon an
Is there any third practicable
alternative: any form of social life which is not merely a selection
of evils, or a compromise between them?
Is it possible to find an
individualism which does not lead to industrial slavery, and a
communism which does not involve chattel slavery?
Is there no society possible in
which true personal liberty and true economic liberty can be secure
for every man alive, and in which there is neither temptation nor
opportunity for greed and despotism?
To find an answer, it is
necessary to consider the basis of slavery.
Force is the immediate basis
of Chattel Slavery.
Chattel slavery, in its crudest
form, depends on individual strength. Thus we find it practised of old
by the trading pirates of the Mediterranean, by the Norsemen, and,
to-day, by the caravans of Central Africa.
When states superseded temporary
chieftains, and armies succeeded to banditti, slave-owning acquired
the sanction of civil law and religious custom, and was protected by
public opinion as a form of property, and had at its disposal the
machinery of government. When superseded by industrial slavery, it
partially disappeared, but is now re-emerging under a new form, in
which individuals are no longer subject to individuals, but all become
the property of the government, acting in the name of the corporate
nation and backed by the police forces.
Anyone who doubts this, has only
to recall some of the familiar phenomena of government that surround
us, and consider, not their desirability, but their nature.
If a mediaeval baron, inspired by
a passion for hygiene, had ordered the dirty children on his estate to
be led to the bath, and, amidst a chorus of protesting parents, taught
that cleanliness was next to godliness, we should quote the
circumstance as an instance of serfdom in the Middle Ages. It is no
less an instance of serfdom because the County Council does it in the
name of something called the Community.
If Haroun al Raschid, desiring to
purify the breed of the Followers of the Prophet, had seized and
castrated all who showed signs of mental or physical decay, we should
regard him as a despot ahead of his age. It will be no less despotism
(though possibly behind the age) when it is done at the bidding of the
Eugenics Society in the interests of something called the Race.
Chattel slavery still exists, and
is now -- as it has always been -- supported by force, having at its
back the practical, philosophic and religious reasoning predominant in
the epoch and locality. And, whereas of old there was for the escaped
slave a sanctuary, there is for the modern slave no escape and no
refuge, for his chain has been lengthened to encircle the whole globe.
Monopoly is the immediate
basis of Industrial Slavery.
With industrial slavery the case
is different. It does not rest ostensibly upon force, and because the
force which ultimately supports it is not in evidence, it is very
commonly supposed to be a state of freedom. Those who have prospered
under it usually see in their success the triumph of individual
liberty and free competition ; and therefore those who have suffered
by it attribute their misfortunes to overmuch individual freedom, and
clamour for greater control and further checks to free enterprise.
In truth, the present industrial
system is based on a forced and slavish competition brought about
because a few persons own the means of livelihood of all; so that the
majority are not only forced to sell themselves to a master in
exchange for a living, but also, by their excessive numbers, are
driven into a deadly undercutting of one another.
Thus we have a society which has
the image of freedom, but it is the freedom of prisoners left at large
within the walls of their dungeon. The movements and possibilities of
men in the social conditions of to-day no more correspond to the
actions of a really free society than the dynamic facts of a world
which has air correspond to the results of calculations that neglect
Monopoly of the means of life is
the immediate cause of industrial slavery, and this monopoly is
recognised by custom and protected by the armed force of law. The same
monopoly is also the indirect cause of State chattel slavery, since
the nations are being driven to this as an alternative preferable to
the horrors of the present industrial system.
All established systems have
their advocates. All three successions of slavery -- individual
chattel slavery, industrial slavery, and State chattel slavery -- have
each in its turn been excused, even advocated, on excellent
utilitarian grounds, and arguments of expediency and philanthropy are
every day advanced for retaining, or adopting, some instance of one of
State chattel slavery and all
other kinds will finally cease when public opinion ceases to furnish
recruits to force -- perhaps a distant day.
But, to end industrial slavery,
it is only necessary at any time to abolish the monopoly of the
sources of life, and this could be done immediately. To do this, it is
not necessary to introduce State slavery, but only that governments
should respect the true property that is owned in justice, and cease
to protect the false property which is held by privilege.
It becomes necessary, then, at
this point to discuss the nature of a monopoly and what we understand
by the expression, Land Monopoly.
What kind of exclusive possession
constitutes a monopoly in the familiar sense.
The exclusive possession of any
particular thing constitutes in the strictest sense a monopoly, since
no two things can be identical. For purposes of use, however, identity
is rarely of importance, and similarity is all that matters. So that,
if sufficient other things can be obtained exactly similar to the one
exclusively possessed, that particular thing is not commonly spoken or
thought of as monopolised; since it is only when a monopoly causes
inconvenience that it is regarded as being one.
For instance: the exclusive
possession of King- Alfred's sword would possibly be spoken of as a
monopoly, and permits to view would certainly be at a monopoly price.
But the exactly analogous
possession of a particular penknife would not be regarded as a
monopoly, because a supply, equal to the demand, of other similar
penknives can be readily obtained. If other penknives were not
obtainable, and I refused to lend mine, or charged a high rate of hire
for it, then the penknife too would be called a monopoly, and its hire
would be a monopoly price. Or if there were other penknives obtainable
but not sufficient for all those who wanted them, then my possession
would be approximate to a monopoly, and my penknife would fetch an
inflated, if not a monopoly price.
But neither King Alfred's sword
nor my pen- knife would be regarded as monopolies unless I withheld
them from other people who wished to see or use them.
Monopoly is the power of
withholding from use.
It appears, then, that the word "monopoly,"
as commonly used, implies the power to withhold from use either the
whole of a class of things, or some of a class of things which are not
numerous enough to satisfy the demand.
King Alfred's sword is a class by
itself. It is unique. The exclusive possession of it is similar in
character to the exclusive possession of all the present and possible
penknives that could be obtained by those wanting them.
Time a factor of importance.
A very temporary monopoly, save
under exceptional circumstances, is usually of small importance,
because most things that are made by labour can be reproduced, given
time; and then that class of things will cease to be a monopoly.
For instance, the exclusive
possession by an enemy of all available bandages might be a monopoly
of importance when a man was bleeding to death; but, except in matters
of such urgency, it would be unimportant, because any required number
more of bandages could be in short time made by other people.
Price a measure of monopoly.
If an article is sold or hired,
the price it fetches is a test as to whether there is a monopoly
(whole or partial) in it. The price of an article in which there is no
monopoly is determined by the cost of reproduction. The price of a
monopolised article is what the would-be purchaser, or hirer, will
pay, rather than go without it.
For instance: under the usual
free competition of makers and sellers, the price of a box of matches
is, to all alike, about a farthing. But, in a street where there are
no shops, the price paid to a solitary street hawker by a rich man
wanting to light his pipe may be a penny or twopence; because the
street vendor has a temporary monopoly.
Monopolised things, when not in
the market, raise the price of similar things that are in the market.
Some monopolised things have no
price, because the owner does not wish to sell them, or is not tempted
by any price that a buyer will offer.
This is specially the case where
a monopoliser of the thing or things has been put to no outlay in
acquiring them, and has therefore nothing for which to recoup himself.
For instance : a man who has
inherited a picture by Michael Angelo may very likely refuse to part
with it for any sum. Whereas a picture-dealer, who has acquired
another Michael Angelo on speculation, will sell it, but at what
approaches a monopoly price, which will be lower or higher as there
are more or fewer pictures by Michael Angelo in the market.
Incidentally, therefore, the refusal of the hereditary owner to part
with his picture will raise the price of all other pictures by the
In like manner, the owner of a
vacant plot in the centre of a city, by withholding it from use,
enhances the price of the limited number of similarly situated plots
Two conditions under which
monopoly prices are created.
There are two sets of
circumstances under which a monopoly price may be created for any
class of things, both being dependent on the power to withhold from
(1) When the supply is equal to
the demand, but one man or combination of men controls the whole
If this sort of monopoly is to be
permanent it must, of course, be in something which is by nature
irreproducible from outside; or, if the things so monopolised are
reproducible, then the monopoly must be patented by law so as to
extend to all future things (or sources of the things) of that class.
These legal monopolies are sometimes the only kind intended by the
(2) When the supply is not equal
to the demand, and is in one or in many hands.
In both cases monopoly prices, or
extremely inflated prices, are obtainable.
(1) Supply equals demand, but
supply all in one set of hands.
An instance of the first would be
the total control by one soapmaker, or combine of soapmakers, of all
palm-oil forests. The amount of soap produced would continue to be
equal to the demand, but each quality of soap would reach
approximately the maximum price at which it could be sold, because the
soapmakers would always have the power of withholding soap from the
market. The combine would be forced to sell, because otherwise their
capital expenditure would not be recouped; but the less their outlay
compared to the monopoly price, and the longer their business would
permit them to withhold supplies, the nearer the price would
approximate to an absolute monopoly price.
(2) Supply less than demand, and
in many hands.
The second case might be
illustrated by supposing that twenty thousand people were assembled
for many hours to witness a Coronation procession; and that it was
known that only nineteen thousand chairs were available. The price
that would be paid for the hire of these chairs would certainly not be
the "natural" price (i.e. the normal return for the wear and
tear of the chair, plus the labour of those who brought them to the
route). They would let at prices measured only by the urgency of
individuals to sit down and the length of their purses. It would be
approximately the same whether one man owned them or one thousand men.
The one thousand men would not need to combine. They would be sure of
their monopoly price, because the supply fell short of the demand ;
and the possession of those chairs would be tantamount to a monopoly,
although in numerous hands. And if, after all, the demand turned out
to be less than the supply, or the prices were found to be more than
people would pay, then the prices would come down with a run on the
last day; but they would come down to the same extent if the chairs
were all in one man's hands instead of in a thousand.
Now if, on the other hand, there
were known to be along the route twenty-five thousand chairs, instead
of nineteen thousand, for the twenty thousand spectators, then the
dealers in chairs, who wished to hire them out, would be reduced to
letting them at a price which would only repay them for the wear of
the chairs and their labour in bringing them. (In any case, of course,
the better-placed chairs will command a better price than worse placed
ones, under the same conditions.)
But suppose that some of the
owners of these twenty-five thousand chairs, having had no trouble
themselves in the matter, or being in no need of money, proceeded to
occupy chairs themselves, and, for the sake of air and elbow-room, to
spread themselves out and keep a large number of chairs all round them
vacant, so that the number of the chairs for hire was again reduced to
less than the number of the crowd demanding them. Then those people
appropriating the chairs would be exerting the monopoly power of
withholding, in an exactly similar way to the hereditary possessor of
the famous Michael Angelo picture; and, like him, they would be
raising the price of the rest of similar commodities to a monopoly
The land monopoly is exactly
parallel with the monopoly of these seats.
There is enough land to employ,
at good remuneration, the whole population (whether in agriculture or
industry), and to give independent occupation to such as desire it;
but there is no possibility of increasing its extent from without.
Many of that minority, who
exclusively possess the control of portions of the earth's surface,
have not only occupied what will satisfy their own needs, but have
also exercised their monopoly power of withholding from use, so as to
keep other land vacant or half used . They have no necessary
inducement or need to do otherwise; and that it is actually done, is
shown by the fact that many country landlords get no more than 2 per
cent, on the capital value of their land ; thus proving that
ownership, without even normal return, is all they want.
In withholding these portions
from use for privacy or pleasure, like the owners of the seats, they
create a shortage in the remaining land, and cause an undue
competition for it which results in monopoly rents to the owners.
This effect reacts on the cause;
for monopoly rents, received by a landowner from one place, put him in
a position to despise or neglect any advantage to be gained from using
or selling his inferior sites, and encourage him to keep them unused.
Thus the monopoly appropriation
of land first drives the population off some land; and then takes
tribute of them in monopoly prices and rents, owing to the artificial
shortage which this first appropriation creates.
The robbery which drives them
away enslaves them. The robbery which taxes them in monopoly rents
beggars them, and also confirms their slavery by making them unfit to
seize such opportunity of freedom as might yet present itself.
Land Monopoly is the most unjust
of monopolies, because monopoly in things created by labour is
justifiable, but natural resources cannot be justly appropriated.
Of all monopolies, the Land
Monopoly is the most unjust, and the most deadly in its effects on
There are some monopolies with
which society cannot in justice interfere, however great the
inconvenience it may suffer from them.
To anything made by labour, the
makers alone have any claim, or those to whom they may transfer it
under free conditions. Society cannot with justice take it away from
them. If a man has invented, or has had voluntarily transferred to him
by the inventor, a sovereign cure for cancer, of which no one but
himself knows the secret, then it is hard to find any injustice,
although there may be great inhumanity, in his keeping such a thing to
himself, or hiring it out at a price unpayable by the mass of mankind.
Or if Stephenson, having made the only steam-engine, had then refused
to sell or use it, society could not rightly have sent policemen to
take it from him, however badly trade might have been suffering from
want of it. All society could justly have done, would have been to try
and construct others in place of it.
Such things are not natural
resources, but the product of labour, and are the rightful property of
But land, being a natural
resource, like air, water, light, is the birthright of every creature.
It belongs to everybody, and therefore belongs exclusively to nobody.
Each individual has a right to a potential share of it for use ; and
none has a right to exclude other individuals from their share, nor to
arrogate to himself any benefits arising from the possession of any
specially advantageous portion of it.
Land Monopoly the most
pernicious of monopolies.
Besides being the most unjust,
land monopoly is also the most pernicious of monopolies. Things
created by labour, being subsequent to human life, are not generally
essential to it. But land is, like other natural resources, a prior
condition of human existence and an absolute necessity for the
exercise of all human faculties ; so that whoever controls land,
controls through it the life and labour of his fellowmen.
It is possible that, besides this
appropriation by individuals of natural resources, there are other
monopolies which help to maintain industrial slavery, but, on
examination, it appears that these monopolies are subsidiary to the
main one, and either are tyrannical because they include ownership of
certain natural resources, or would lose their power of exploitation
if the monopoly of natural resources ceased. Such is that kind of
quasi-monopoly which is created when some individuals, owing to the
primary monopoly of land, succeed in amassing the wealth produced by
others -- a subject which will be discussed in the next chapter.
Industrial slavery, then, would
be destroyed by doing away with the unjust monopoly that is its
primary cause -- exclusive landownership.
With free access to land, there
would be no necessity to make masters, and less temptation to make
It is obvious that if the power
to withhold land be withdrawn from individuals, and free access to
land restored to the whole population, any necessity for industrial
slavery ceases. With sufficient free land available for use, no men
need perforce work for masters, but could at will support themselves,
singly or co-operatively, either directly by the food they produce, or
by whatever trade the soil and site make most remunerative, whether by
horticulture, mining, pot-throwing, brickmaking, or any other
On the other hand, there would be
less temptation for men to enslave each other by laws, for the sake of
peace and order: First, because the interaction of individuals on each
other would be less incessant, irritating and intolerable; there would
be, in short, more room, physically, mentally and morally; and so less
urgency for repressive legislation. For instance, with less wealth and
less poverty, less idleness above and below, there would be less
crime, less envied property to protect, and less need to protect it,
less call for prisons, police, madhouses and armies. Second, with
better conditions of housing, work and general circumstances of life,
there would be less temptation to, and less excuse for, charitable
legislation of the social-reform type, with its administrative train
of hospitals, medical inspectors, C.O.S. secretaries, and compulsory
Indeed, reflection will show that
land monopoly is by itself capable of causing the most significant of
our modern social and industrial phenomena; and that it is sufficient
to account for the sullen crowds of trades unionists, police and
blacklegs on the London wharves and jetties to-day, as well as for the
guns that are shaking the city in proclamation of a royal birthday.
* Economists call this the "natural" price. Such an
expression is misleading. For the cost of reproduction depends on the
standard pay of the producer and on the rate of interest, which are
all, at the present time, most "unnaturally" affected by