The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond


Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood

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


Old revolutions only changed masters and laws.

It is the beginnings of a revolution that have been outlined in the preceding pages -- a revolution compared to which the great upheavals in history that have overthrown dynasties and churches would seem superficial. Hitherto the nations have attempted nothing beyond the substitution of one authority for another. Political revolutions have done little but exchange oligarchy for autocracy, democracy for oligarchy, bureaucracy for democracy. Authority, in a different dress, has condemned, now Wat Tyler, and now Charles I., and burned alternately Latimer and Servetus. Dogmatic revolutions have replaced the word of the Church by the word of the Bible, and this in its turn by the decrees of statisticians, doctors, scientists and other experts. Industrial organisation has succeeded political organisation in the day-dreams of reformers; but its aims are no surer nor truer, and its methods even more harassing and tyrannical.

But a free society is possible.

We have suggested that it is possible for society to re-establish itself in justice and freedom; not by the introduction of all manner of new regulations, but by the removal of the unrighteous laws which are the expression of human error and the cause of social evils, and by the substitution of a simple and just relationship between men in their use of the common sources of life. We believe that, even now, instead of common social morality being in rear of the opinion that is expressed and administered in laws, and needing to be controlled and educated by State rules and State police, it is actually, in both autocratic and democratic countries, far in advance of the law, which is only a clumsy register of opinions that time is continually discarding or rectifying. For this reason -- if for no other -- individual liberty is the only sure guarantee of general social progress; and to ensure industrial liberty for every individual, it is only necessary to ensure to each person free and equitable access to the sources of all life and of all enterprise.

It is not necessary to make elaborate provision for the continuance of this present civilisation in a way more tolerable to the masses; for this civilisation is based on monopoly of the sources of life, and on industrial and governmental slavery. The one thing needful, is to remove the monopoly and the slavery which are corrupting the souls and bodies of both rich and poor right through the social scale. Those being gone, we can leave it to a regenerated society to express itself in its own way in a suitable form.

That some sort of revolution must take place is certain. The mass of the people -- especially those who suffer from the present form of society -- recognise already with their brains its injustice and absurdity. So soon as they recognise it also with their souls, the change will effect itself, for there will then be no inertia of conventional opinion to maintain the status quo.

Will the next revolution be towards freedom or worse tyranny?

The only doubt is : whether this revolution will lead to greater tyranny and to a stereotyping in government of our twentieth-century ideals -- or to a greater liberty and indefinite possibilities of progress and development. It will depend on the masses; and the masses are hard to read. At times, when the crush of their own weight is heavy, and suffering severe, they cry to their popular Baals for a new law or a new grant-in- aid -- a fresh inspector or an extra shilling a day. But now and again -- especially after some benevolent dispensation has proved unusually irritating and futile -- they begin to show signs of restlessness, as though conscious that they are but changing masters, and that each is more despotic than the last. The stirrings of independence are still too vague and instinctive to be reckoned with, but each fresh act of well-meant interference (and we have had many recently) makes the movement more conscious and explicit. Dimly the popular spirit begins to grope after liberty, though often mistaken in method and doubtful in aim. Under such conditions, many revolutions of the past have ended in fiasco. Samson, being blind, has done nothing but pull down the house, and the old architects have built it up again as it was before.

But suppose that it were possible to forestall or succeed another such abortive revolution by a true one ; suppose that society could be released from the present intolerable conditions, and that to each person could be restored the possibilities of industrial and personal freedom, by the abolition, on terms that left him no privilege over his fellows, of land monopoly. Suppose that this work were begun under present circumstances and through existing machinery by a method of taxation ; or that, after a period of industrial war, private property in land were abolished, and that a free population, in groups or singly, took occupation of the soil, with payment of rent to the whole community for any special advantages of site or minerals. It then remains to be discussed how such a revolution would change the form of modern society -- in short, how it would be a real revolution and not a superficial one; by what steps the change would effect itself; and what it would mean for all of us -- to whatever class we belong.

Revolution in the form of society.

It is impossible to conceive that the civilised world could continue as at present, when once economic compulsion disappeared. The whole modern industrial machinery is kept going by two forces: the worker's fear of losing his livelihood, and the employer's hope of making profits. Whenever either of these impelling motives is weakened, the machinery goes erratically or comes to a standstill. This is bound to be the case in large businesses and factories, where the individual worker cannot see the end of his labour and is only a cog in the wheel of production, and where the directors are more concerned with the market than with the workshop.

In work involving variety and personal initiative, in which the processes are begun and completed by one set of hands, a personal interest can be taken -- not necessarily of a mercenary kind; and people, even now, do such work with love of it, and with a desire to accomplish the end in view. But it is not on this kind of work that modern industrialism is built up, and by which the wants of modern civilisation are supplied. Business thrives on the men and commodities that are turned out by the gross. Any sort of divergence from the normal, any personal distinction or artistic individuality, are as unsuitable to the automatic proficiency of business routine as originality in a box of "refills." Such a market is best suited by servile men and machine- made commodities. Moreover, articles of daily use become more and more of that complex make which requires trades involving mechanical and minutely subdivided labour. (Most so-called "labour-saving" appliances involve just this sort of labour in their making.) This is precisely the most distasteful sort of work, because it involves great regularity, monotony and effacement of individual brain and imagination.

Not only is much of the work stupid, that is needed to keep the present machine going; but the conditions of its performance would be rebelled against by free men. It is quite possible, that when the workman no longer felt himself exploited and overdriven, and was no longer at war with an employer or a foreman, he would begin to feel personal interest in his work and to enjoy labour instead of finding it a penance ; but it would be on condition of doing the work that interested him, and doing it more at his own leisure and in his own way. The present pace could not possibly be kept up under such a system ; and the modern world hinges on pace and numbers. Successful business to-day depends on an elaborate method of "speeding up": in every department. Competition takes account neither of men nor machines. They are used till they go to pieces, and then scrapped. The foreman's wages and promotion depend on his getting out of each subordinate to a fraction of the amount he is capable of. A system of fines checks every irregularity in hours or conduct; and an army of cheap boy labour supplies the messengers, carriers, lift-men, without which no business could be an up-to-date concern.

Now it is impossible to believe that free men would perform labour of this sort and at this pace and under this sort of direction with the required punctiliousness for eight, or six, or four, or even two hours a day, however large their share in the fruits of such industry. Live workers are not actuated, like the Economic Man of fiction, by the desire of making an ever-increasing amount of wealth, nor by the communist virtue of producing for the sake of production; and those who have an opportunity of earning a competence in cheerful surroundings by work of an intelligent kind are not likely to turn out regularly en masse at the call of a buzzer to feed 1-inch steel plates through rollers, even though they know that society would be wealthier for the consequent motor cars and railway trains.

Nor would enterprisers be so zealous in new undertakings if they were not spurred on to exertion by the hopes of monopoly profits, and also by the dread of slipping back from the ranks of the masters into those of the men. Take away the two incentives of greed and fear, make it impossible for a man by exploitation to raise himself over the rest of his fellows, and much of the present-day business enterprise must dwindle and factory labour decline.

Such civilised products might not, it is true, altogether cease because free labour was loath to work at them, but production would certainly slacken and grow irregular ; and the tension through the whole world is so great that a slackening anywhere would be sufficient to throw that part out of connection with the rest of civilisation. If the staple exports fail any longer to compete, imports in turn decrease; and every household suddenly misses some familiar necessary.

A very slight disorganisation of any of the principal manufactures or trades would be enough eventually to dissolve the cement that binds the whole of industrial society together.

The railway strike of August 1911 gave a brief but vivid illustration of the dependence of all modern homes -- from the simplest to the wealthiest -- on the continuance of cheap, frequent and rapid transport. But can one imagine, that under free conditions the railway service will be carried on as docilely and securely as at present ? It may be that improvement in hours, wages, general conditions of work might, in the present state of the labour market, really satisfy the railway, mining, cotton and other operatives for a time, because they realise that somewhere in the background lurks lack of employment. But once they and their descendants have savoured freedom and independent labour, nothing else will satisfy them. The clockwork must cease to run smoothly when the wheels come alive, and the whole social machinery will get out of gear.

Of course the permanent slackening of certain kinds of trades and manufactures would not cause suffering and shock similar to what ensued on the three days' railway strike of last year. Society, if the change came gradually, would have time to adjust itself. Access to land would have put simple products and ample space within the reach of every person, and co-operative and home industry would replace a good many of the cheap articles now turned out by factories. Life under such conditions would probably be happier -- it would certainly be more varied and healthy for the mass of the population -- only it would be quite different to the life of modern civilisation.

Disappearance of trades devoted to supplying parasitic articles.

Thanks to the disappearance of the wealthy class and those who live on it, the manufactures which cater exclusively for that class and its parasites would be the first to vanish. Not only would there be nobody to buy such things, but there would be few willing to make them. An inspection of the shop windows of Regent Street and Bond Street will sufficiently indicate the kind of articles of which the production is likely to cease.

Then, besides the trades which cater strictly for the very rich, there are many others which depend on fashion or convention - the aping of the rich and the scramble of the middle class for the upper places; and half of Oxford Street may follow Bond Street into limbo.

Besides these, are the trades which cater for those pleasures which are sought by the large mass of the population as a relief from distasteful occupation and ugly domestic lives. When work becomes, under free conditions, itself agreeable and interesting in its nature, then such distractions will be less sought after; and many professions -- such as the cinematograph operator, billiard-marker, music-hall dancer, bar-keeper -- will become, not extinct, but less common.

It is commonly said that easier access to land would greatly increase the output of wealth, improve the purchasing power of the worker, and raise the standard of wealth and comfort to a very high level all over.

So it might at first. And so it might permanently, if the opportunities for industry increased, while the workers still remained bound to labour in those industries. But wages might rise and land cheapen to any extent, and yet not counterbalance the falling- off in factory produce due to the freeing of forced labour and to the consequent disorganisation of the whole artificial commercial system.

Money would cease to buy things, because it would cease to hire such large bodies of labour as is needed for extensive undertakings. Again in the world's history people would be thrown back on their individual versatility, and those, who had not yet done so from choice, would turn to the land for the support of themselves and their families, while small groups of co-operative labour would replace the centralised manufactures of to-day.

I have no desire to extol the Simple Life, nor picture Arcadian morals. In so far as these things are alluring to the middle-class reader, there is generally something wrong with them. The Simple Life, as some of us know and like it, is just an excuse for more artistic surroundings and less domestic worry; it is generally an expensive luxury after all. Compared to the Petit Trianon of the modern idealist, the real thing would be for most of us as unattractive as a cold bath on a winter morning. The real Simple Life may, or may not, involve a fuller development of individuality in those that lead it. These aspects do not concern us. If we desire justice in human relationships, and freedom for the whole population, we must be prepared to sacrifice, if need be, even the efficiency of the railway, the telephone, and other services, and to accept the results, pleasant or unpleasant. And yet, if we could divest ourselves of the idea that such things were the signs of human progress, we might find a state of home labour and friendly co-operation not too dearly bought by the loss of present luxuries with those conditions that produce them.[1]

In the first place, there is the immediate diversion of the floating population to the cheap, accessible country land. This possession of agricultural land would make practicable such a re-formation of small industries and manufactures on a co-operative basis as is advocated in Kropotkin's Fields, Factories and Workshops; in which book is also clearly shown, how negligible, under modern conditions, are supposed "natural" advantages of soil and situation. Another levelling factor is the continual improvements in the applied sciences, which all, broadly speaking, tend to diminish the difference in value between different sites, except in so far as their application is restricted by monopoly to limited areas.

Moreover, it is largely the possibility of exploitation which gives site-value to land. The competition for land in certain areas, which creates their economic rent, exists largely because those areas offer better openings to the employer who wants to make high profits. For instance, the high value of land in towns is not only due to the competition of the population to use it as inhabitants, but also to the fact that, owing to this large population, capitalists find a crowded labour market, and compete with each other for sites for industrial undertakings. In this sense the "enterprise of the community" undoubtedly creates the monopoly rent of land. These industries so started, again, attract a larger population for trade or labour, and further increase the value of the town-sites.

But suppose all site-value taken in taxation: then there would be no surplus profits to be got out of one site above another, and the founders of new industrial undertakings would have no reason for selecting one site rather than another, since taxation had levelled all special advantages, including that advantage of easy exploitation, which is also registered by site-value. Special considerations in each case would be the deciding factor, and both industries and population would spread themselves out again over the countryside. Thus we arrive again, by another route, at a probable combination of agriculture and industry. If this be true, then under the Single Tax, the revenue taken by the State in economic rent must be an ever-decreasing quantity, until, finally, a State maintained by taxation would cease to exist, and the public services needed would be supplied by voluntary combination among the various communities.

According to this view, therefore, some form of communal anarchy is an outcome of the Single Tax.

Those people, on the other hand, who think that the destruction of Land Monopoly will encourage the centralisation of labour and industries, and so increase economic rents, must deduce from this an ever-increasing State revenue, leading to a kind of State socialism in which the workers become more and more dependent on the partition of the central funds, and the central authority more and more powerful.


  1. An interesting economic result of such a change in the state of society would be that site-values would decrease. For site- value is the difference between the value of any given site and that of the least profitable land in use, so that as the greater centres broke up and were replaced by smaller groupings -- as the country became more productive and the town less so -- the difference would become less and land values be levelled. This decentralisation of population and industry must clearly, for several reasons, follow on any general opening up of land.


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
* *