The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond
Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood
[Published in London by C.W. Daniel, Ltd., 1913]
ON LAND AND CAPITAL
If the destruction of land
monopoly did not carry with it the destruction of capitalism, it would
be insufficient, and land reform would be preached in vain.
The evil of capitalism is so
self-evident that no argument could override the instinct which tells
us that there is something wrong in the society which authorises it.
To the plain mind it is inconceivable that the amazing disproportions
of wealth, with which we have grown familiar, can rest upon a just
This possession of great wealth
and consequent power by some persons, contrasted with the poverty and
dependence of others, is in itself shocking to humanity ; and at
various times various arguments have been used to try and reconcile
the conscience to such disparities.
The Customary Apologies of
The religions of the East and of
the European Middle Ages placed Sanctity in Poverty. God looked more
favourably upon the poor; and the rich were more likely to burn in
hell-fire. Thus a rough balance was dressed between material and
With the growth of Protestantism
and similar creeds, and the contemporaneous rise of a sober and
intelligent manufacturing class, riches were explained as the reward
of virtue -- the correlated idea being, that the rich man was the
virtuous citizen and benefactor of society.
Modern social developments have,
to some extent, dispelled this idea ; and most of us now are ready to
admit, that reward and merit do not always -- nor indeed frequently -
walk hand in hand. Very great wealth, although it may result from
special diligence and skill, yet can only be created by them under
those forced conditions, which enable a clever man to retain more of
the produce of other people's labour than they would voluntarily give
him in exchange for his special skill, if they had the ability to
This is so obvious, that such
defence of our present capitalistic system as is nowadays made on the
ground of individual freedom of competition, only rouses general
suspicion of so-called Individualism; and social revolutionaries,
however widely they differ, nearly all agree in concentrating their
attack on the Capitalist.
By "Capital" is here
meant wealth that is used to bring about the production of more
wealth, and by " Capitalism," the amassing in certain hands
of great wealth -- since all wealth has at present latent in it the
power of becoming Capital.
The word "Capitalist"
is used in the loose sense in which social revolutionaries use it, to
mean a person who controls large masses of Capital. For the purposes
of the argument it is needless to discuss exactly what kinds of wealth
under what circumstances make a Capitalist.
Assaults on Capital.
While the ordinary semi-socialist
legislature (Liberal or Conservative) is content to lop his crest by
death-duties, increment- and income-taxes, the professed Socialist
would like to abolish the Capitalist altogether, by in some way
transferring all wealth produced by the people to a central trust.
(Some, indeed, actually favour the concentration of capital in a very
few hands for convenience of this future transference.) This
socialistic method, of course, merely transfers the ownership of the
serfs from private individuals to the State. In short, it destroys
Capitalists but leaves Capitalism; and, while attempting to equalise
wealth, perpetuates slavery.
In what the Evil of
For the distinctive evil of
Capitalism lies not in the unequal distribution of riches, but in the
power which it gives over an enslaved and bread-seeking population.
The social sin of the Capitalist is not that he has more comforts than
his neighbours, but that he is their taskmaster, and that he has
become their taskmaster by niching the results of their labour under
forced conditions of exchange.
The Real Enemy.
But cruel as it always is, and
insolent as it often is in its ostentation, Capitalism needs no direct
attack ; because it is not the primal cause of industrial slavery, but
its result. We will not here discuss the question whether it is even
possible to attack it directly with success. The Capitalist has
hitherto drawn the fire of both Socialists and Anarchists, because he
bulks large and showy, because his gold and fatness are obvious to the
world. In truth, he is only the scarlet and brocaded porter who
struts under the public eye. The real master is his employer, the
little man in black, hidden away, whom the public ignore -- the
The wealthy man, who figures
prominently in the Press or on the Stock Exchange, the Capitalist and
so-called Employer of Labour, is not the first cause of the
competition and attendant degradation of the people ; he only takes
advantage of these evils. The causes of the evil may be quite poor
men. One of them, for instance, may be an agricultural landlord, who
from indolence, or to avoid high rating, or from want of capacity,
keeps his paternal acres half used -- an unfruitful waste of field,
copse and pleasure- ground, fenced round against a dwindling
population. Or he may be a small speculator, who with his scrapings
has bought a plot of urban land cheap, to hold as a good investment
for his son against the time when it shall be sold at a famine price.
It is not necessary to be rich to be a robber.
Diverse views as to the part
played by Land Monopoly.
Hitherto, revolutionists against
the present system have, for the most part, ignored the fundamental
character of Land Monopoly ; they have regarded it, if not with
indifference, yet as merely one of a long row of monopolies which must
all in turn be smashed by strikes or controlled by legislation. They
have tended to regard the preaching by Henry Georgeites of the "
Single Tax " as a political red-herring, and treated the movement
with great suspicion and some hostility, as a doctrine subtly formed
to reinforce the capitalist, under the pretence of doing justice to
The Communal-Anarchists fear that
the Land Reform crusade will draw off attention from the chief feature
of their programme -- the communalisation of all produce and means of
production. They look upon it as a game by the way, which will leave
Capitalism, the enemy, untouched.
The Bureaucratic Socialists,
again -- the I.L.P., Fabians, etc. - see that the result of the Single
Tax would be to leave the individual free and render the State
impotent. 2 And since their aim is to rule the community for the
community's good, they oppose free land as hostile to land
nationalisation and a barrier to their plans.
Indeed, so long as the ultimate
results of the destruction of Land Monopoly are thus partially
understood, there can appear to be only two methods of assailing the
- The State-Socialists' scheme of giving all rights over the soil
and the control of its use into the hands of a central bureau (or
sub-bureaux); and this, as was said before, involves complete
chattel slavery for the whole population. Or
- The Communal -Anarchist plan of abolishing money (as
facilitating accumulation) and pooling all produce of labour for
common use; and
(1) There is a hint of some such divergence in point of view in
the Preamble to the Provisional Rules drawn up in 1864 by the
first council of the "International." The English
version (paragraph 2) runs: "The economical subjection of the
man of labour to the monopoliser of the means of labour, that is,
the sources of life, lies at the bottom of servitude in all its
forms, of all social misery, mental degradation, and political
dependence." The French version is simply: L'assujettissement
du travailleur au capital est la source de toute servitude :
politique, morale, et materielle." (The italics are mine.)
(2) Or, perhaps they do not see it after all! this too would be
an infringement of individual rights.
The end of Land Monopoly is the end of Capitalism.
But a deeper consideration of the
relation of Capitalism to Land Monopoly shows that neither of these
courses is necessary. It is only needful to restore to each and all of
the population ready access to land, for them to escape from the
dominion both of the Capitalist and of the State, and attain to
complete personal and economic freedom, retaining each for himself the
work of his own hands. Because -
If Land Monopoly
ceased, the employers of labour would no longer be able to exploit
their workers by keeping down wages and keeping up prices ; and
therefore would be also unable to accumulate capital and give it
that concentration which is a monopoly power.
The power of the Capitalists to
exploit the community comes in three ways, and all three are due to
(1) From the actual possession of
special land and the sources of wealth inherent in it, which enables
them to forestall competition with themselves, and so to raise prices.
(2) From taking advantage of the
overcrowding and undercutting in the labour market, which is due to
the general restriction of the use of land, and which enables all
employers to get cheap labour.
(3) From the monopoly power which
capital acquires from mere mass, when it becomes concentrated -- a
concentration rendered possible by the two preceding causes.
Power of Capitalists arising
directly from possession of land.
In the first case, where the
capitalist has obtained possession of sites and natural resources
valuable to his industry, the monopoly profits which he makes are due
to his ownership of such land -- although he need not actually work it
-- and are a landlord's profits. In such cases the scarlet porter and
the man in black are fused in one person, and the result is a landlord
-capitalist, or pseudo-capitalist, owing his power to exploit directly
to the ownership of a monopoly of natural resources.
Anyone who will glance down the
Stock Exchange Share List will find that at least three-quarters of
the companies there scheduled are this sort of pseudo- capitalist.
They have got a "cinch." The modern tendency of business men
seems to be to despise the now precarious profits that depend on
special skill and personal industry, and to direct their efforts
always to securing some partial monopoly. It is in this way that the
biggest fortunes are made; and the more striking illustrations are
what may be called he "Vertical Trusts."
It is common to find many firms,
where great profits are made, owning, abroad or at home, those lands
on which the material of their trade is raised, and having control of
the routes and terminal sites whereby alone it can be brought to
market. Thus, the two great English soap-producers are acquiring in
rivalry the virgin palm-forests of West Africa and of the Islands of
the Pacific. Chemical manufacturers own their own brine-fields.
Beef-extract manufacturers control estancias in the Argentines. And so
they are not only safe from the extortion of other landlords, but are
able themselves to secure monopoly profits on their goods. Thus, too,
the big Trusts in America and Cartels in Germany are apt to be "vertical"
trusts -- i.e. to have a foot on the soil, and to own (or control) the
raw material, and often also the means of transport. So the United
States Steel Trust controls the easily worked ore deposits at the head
of Lake Superior; so the Oil Trust controls, not only the oil-fields
of half the world, but the pipe-lines of America. So the great
newspapers control, not only their own paper-mills, but forests and
water-power in Norway, Canada and Newfoundland to make the pulp. The
German Finished Steel Cartel has worked back to the control of the
Westphalian iron and coal fields; Armstrongs, Vickers, Palmers, etc.,
control their own iron-mines in Spain or elsewhere.
Owing to such grounding, these
landlord-capitalists are more or less able to control the market for
their special product; and the profits of their investment do not
correspond to any normal rate of interest upon the capital actually
invested in plant, etc., but are a monopoly rent extorted from the
community. The capital has been "watered."
The "vertical" trust,
or industry, is thus the particular landlord-capitalist's special
creation for restricting production and raising prices, and thus
exploiting the community. But the whole world of landlords is banded
together to restrict employment and depress wages. It is true that,
but for the original possession of more than average capital, the
capitalist employer would neither have possessed the information nor
the cash and credit to secure a monopoly of such natural resources.
And this brings us to the second point.
Power of Capitalists arising
from cheap labour due to restricted use of land.
Both large and small employers
are able to exploit their workpeople by depressed wages. They are able
to do this, thanks to the competition in the labour market caused by
restrictions on the use of land and the natural sources of work.
Whether the individual employer himself amasses capital in this way,
or no, the result is to put the whole wage-earning class in a position
of dependence on capitalists. They are dependent on the capitalists
for the tools of even the simplest industry. Both causes -- this and
the preceding -- act and react, multiplying the slightest advantage
gained in any business transaction, and making each low vantage-
ground a jumping-off place for a higher.
Why Labour is cheap.
An "employer," under
the present system, finds it possible to hire men at a price below the
full reward of their labour, because men are legally debarred from
working for themselves on the only source of production, the land
(whether as miners, potters, farmers, etc.), or from getting, except
at a monopoly price, the raw material for any trade, and so are forced
to sell themselves to some master, who is able to "give
employment" -- that is, to sell a permit to work.
If, under existing circumstances,
the employment offered were equal to the numbers of the landless
population, if there were one job for every man, there would, be no
undercutting in the price of labour from competition. Working men
would then temporarily receive good wages from their employers. They
would thus temporarily escape that middleman, the capitalist
exploiter, but would fall directly into the clutches of the landowner,
who, owing to the increased general prosperity, would promptly raise
rents and royalties, thus reducing the workman ultimately to his first
As it is, however, a great deal
of land is actually held out of use, or in partial or unsuitable use,
so that the opportunities of employment are much fewer than the
numbers of those seeking it. In popular terms, there are at least
three men after one job. The result is an undercutting in wages, and
consequently the workman receives in payment only a very small
proportion of the value of his labour.
The balance is divided between
the permanent monopoly of the landlord (that is, the rents for sites
and natural resources) and the temporary monopoly of the employer, of
which the amount depends on the competition then prevailing in that
trade. If competition in his trade is keen, the employer makes no
monopoly profits, and works himself at a "management" wage,
and -- under present conditions -- for whatever is the normal rate of
interest on the capital he actually employs.
Thus, though the Land Monopoly
enables an employer to get what is virtually serf-labour at an unduly
low price, he himself only gets the benefit of low wages so long as
competition does not spring up in the industry; for competition,
besides lowering the price of his goods, immediately increases the
demand for both land in that district and for the raw material of that
industry ; so rents rise, and the landlord eventually sops up the
advantages. It is therefore only under peculiar circumstances that the
small employer is able to become a large capitalist and acquire any
monopoly power, unless he contrives to make himself at least partially
landlord of his own industry. The worker gets the least he can in any
case. Capitalist and landlord divide the profits in varying
Power of Capitalists arising
from concentration of capital.
As we have shown, then,
capitalists hold a monopoly power : first, from direct ownership of
land, the source of wealth and field of labour, when -- as
pseudo-capitalists -- they draw profits identical with the monopoly
rents drawn by landlords; secondly, from the restriction in the use of
land which forces all workers to work at low wages. But as the peaks
of Capitalism emerge, they begin to overshadow the lesser hills below
them; and concentrated capital, so acquired through land monopoly,
gains a peculiar monopoly power through its very size. The scale on
which excessive wealth enables a financier to carry on his operations
makes it possible for him to freeze out competitors. He has a
controlling interest in the railways, the steamships, the newspapers,
the parliaments; he can secure for his own industry special terms; he
can have special sources of information in every corner of the globe.
He can afford to bribe or overbid small budding concerns. He can
afford to undercut less wealthy rivals at a temporary loss. He can --
as in the Tobacco Trust -- get control of the retail trade. He can
advance his friends and ruin his enemies; and the consumers of his
products cannot escape him. Moreover, in so far as the industries over
which he has a monopoly control is a specially skilled one, he has a
monopoly hold also over the skilled and specialised workers engaged in
that trade, who are not fitted for employment elsewhere.
Effect on Capitalism of the
destruction of Land Monopoly.
But suppose the land monopoly to
be broken down, the power of acquiring exclusive control of certain
kinds of sites and natural resources would be at an end.
All the artificial scarcity of
opportunity due to the disuse or misuse of land must cease. Sites for
industry would be obtainable at prices possible for persons in small
circumstances, and the capitalist would find competitors in the field.
As all land fell into full use, more enterprises would be started and
more labour required, so that the undercutting of wages would be
lessened and quite cease. Workmen would then demand, and be able to
get, full pay -- a tendency seen now in countries where labour is
scarce. Temporary and monopoly profits must vanish, since competition
in industry, difficult now, would be easy then, when the raw materials
were thrown open and their price sank.
It is true that the extra demand
for capital to start new businesses would, at first, tend to raise or
keep up the interest on borrowed capital. But labour, being no longer
over-plentiful, would have the game in its own hands ; and the
workers, no longer squeezed between the employer and the landlord,
would become independent of the financier, as high wages enabled them
to save and create in co-operation their own capital.
The effect of Free Marginal
Land. Destruction of the "Iron Law" and fixing of a Full
But also there would be another
result -- in our opinion the most important of all: -- the absolute
freeing of the worker from the necessity of wage labour. With the
disappearance of land monopoly, there would be spare free land on the
margin of cultivation, land that could be worked by the independent
workman, paying neither rent nor rates, but secure in his occupation,
instead of being, as at present, lost to use among the property of
country landowners. Thus, anyone who found it impossible to get work
from a master, or who was discontented with the conditions of his
service, would be able, as an alternative, to employ himself directly
on the land, producing for his own support. This land on the margin of
cultivation would in effect form a reservoir for the overflow of the
labour market, preventing undercutting, and fixing a standard by which
the wages of hired workers would regulate themselves. Every
improvement in labour-saving devices would then go -- not, as now, to
increase the landlords' rents or add to the profits of the
capitalists, but to lessen the amount of land having high site- value
and raise the margin of cultivation. This would leave better land
free, thus making the profits to be got by self -employment greater,
and heightening the general level of wages. [Note: For a discussion of
the whole subject of land on the margin of cultivation and of economic
rent, see Chapter VIII.] If this be so, then the end of land monopoly
is the end not only of capitalists, but also of capitalism -- not only
of taskmasters, but of slavery and unjust inequality.
With the downfall of Land
Monopoly, Riches will lose their purchasing power.
The above is by far the most
important aspect of the question. But, as a corollary, it should be
noted that, even if after the destruction of land monopoly a certain
amount of capital still lingered on, amassed in private hands owing to
inheritance or in some other manner, yet its purchasing power would be
gone. Not only would the profits of capital fall (as shown), since
monopoly profits could no longer be made out of depressed wages, and
since capital would be in a greater number of hands, but also, it
would no longer be able to command men nor to force them to exchange
the produce of their labour.
One reason why a rich man can get
a poor man to work for him is that £10 represents a different
order of things to the rich man and to the workman whose work he
wishes to get. To the rich man it means a superfluity of goods over
and above his ordinary wants : if not used as capital, it would be
translated into such things as books, motor tyres, greenhouses,
pictures, trips abroad - in short, luxuries. To the working man, under
stress of competition, the same sum represents bread, boots, house,
bedding, doctors' fees -- necessaries.
This is the special quality of
the rich man's wealth. He is exchanging articles of indifference for
articles of great urgency under cover of the same coin. But if the
land monopoly were broken, so that employment offered itself to all
men, either independent labour on the margin, or certain work at a
safe and high wage (a wage that would not be leveled continually by
proportionately rising rent), then the coin would represent to the
workman the same order of things that it represented to the rich man;
and Dives in quest of labour would be bargaining superfluities against
superfluities, not superfluities against necessities.
A man who can at will, by his own
labour, be secure of liberty, house, food and fire, will not readily
sell himself to another, even now, for the sake of a few extra
comforts. He will be still less likely to do so, when there is no
longer in society the rivalry and snobbishness induced by the
perpetual spectacle of a wealthy and exclusive class.
The man whose income is £20,000,
is a thousand times richer than he who has £20 a year, and a
hundred times richer than he who has £200; but the latter, in
bargaining power and independence, is past comparison more than ten
times better off than he who has the £20 a year. The possessor of
the £20,000 income can and will buy the man of £20 a year;
but if he had £200,000 he could not buy the man of £200 a
year. For a man can live free and comfortable on £200 a year; on £20
a year he cannot: he must get more somehow, even by selling himself.
Thus, even if a few wealthy
persons for a while lingered on until their inherited possessions were
consumed, their power to command and enslave as capitalists would be
gone. To destroy capitalism, it is not necessary to introduce the
plane and spirit- level, nor to abolish true private property (the
work of a man's own hand or brain), nor to hinder exchange and stop
accumulation by prohibiting any token of value, nor to make any fresh
bonds and barriers at all, but merely to cease legalising and
protecting the fundamental injustice of land monopoly.
Justice and Expediency.
It is because this fact is not
clearly recognised, that social reformers are disposed in their
despair to throw justice and individual freedom overboard, and try to
right social misfortunes by laws of expediency. They seem to assume
that the bulk of mankind if left to itself must go wrong, and that
only the utmost ingenuity of repression, subvention and guidance can
save the world from shipwreck; and they are urged on by sheer
compassion for the sufferings of the submerged thousands.
But they might as well try to "put
a bit in the jaws of the sea." Humanity is too big for their
strait -- waistcoats, and needs nothing but to be rid of its irons in
order to stretch its limbs and walk upright, alone.
How to attack land monopoly is
the subject next to be considered.