The Road To Freedom,
And What Lies Beyond
Josiah and Ethel Wedgwood
[Published in London by C.W. Daniel, Ltd., 1913]
THE STEPS OF THE CHANGE
By what steps would this change
in civilisation probably take place, if the land monopoly were done
away with in the manner suggested -- that is, if superior land became
available at its true economic rent (far below the present monopoly
rents), and if land which had no economic rent were free to everyone
to use with security in improvements and without taxation?
At first probably but few workers
-- and fewer still of the chronic unemployed -- would avail themselves
of the opportunity to use this rentless land as agriculturists. Long
habit and all the circumstances of their education have rendered them
shy of a lonely life and isolated effort. The unsuccessful and the
wastrels are, as a rule, demoralised by their own failure, and are the
least fitted of all to be thrown on their own resources, and the least
likely to make a bold and successful bid for independence. In
addition, the town-dweller is usually very gregarious, fond of
conversation and amusement, nervous and -- when not acting under
excitement -- downright timorous. The conditions of his work have made
work itself distasteful to him. The want of natural, varied
occupations has given him a taste for artificial pleasures -- just as
a badly nourished child rejects bread and craves for sweets. Such a
type has lost much of its original manhood and usually makes a poor
colonist - either at home or abroad. It must be added, that the
Municipal Councils and the various departments of State (including the
compulsory elementary school) have done what they could to render him
incapable of walking alone.
These characteristics, however,
have been acquired, and would probably disappear again rapidly under
different conditions. Even now among such men there are many who have
preserved a latent independence and resourcefulness, which asserts
itself directly there is an opening. And every piece of colonisation
that is effectively carried out would make it easier and more
attractive to new-comers.
Among the best of the workers
there are already plenty who would directly choose an independent life
-- even though a hard one -- rather than continue in comparatively
comfortable servitude. It is such men - capable, courageous and
already fairly successful -- who would be perhaps the earliest to
avail themselves of free land, leaving their old position as
wage-earners to be filled up from the ranks of the less competent
In addition to such people, whose
colonisation of their mother country would usually be a permanent
success, there would be all manner of temporary squatters on still
poorer unoccupied land, ex- "casuals" of the workhouse,
hoping for odd jobs on the new road -making, hedging and draining and
building which the fresh country population were undertaking; men in
temporary difficulties "hanging on" till things came right.
Consider what it would have meant to the miners, the railwaymen, and,
above all, the dockers of the last two years' strikes had they been
able to secure land where they and their families could have had
temporary shelter and carried on a little rough gardening until terms
were arrived at; and consider the difference it would have made in the
nature of those terms.
Co-operative and Syndical Use
But though free conditions can
only be ensured when each and every individual has the possibility of
himself living in independence, yet it is not necessary for the
attainment of social freedom that a large number -- nor even any
particular person -- should actually lead this life of
ultra-individualism. Its very possibility is enough to secure social
In fact, where the new conditions
would first manifest themselves, would probably be in the new
possibilities afforded to syndical unions and co-operative
associations -- meaning by the former, associations for production in
a particular industry, and by the latter, associations in which the
members combine to produce not for the outside world, but for their
own consumption, and aim at being generally self-supplying.
The destruction of monopoly
rents, and the facilities for getting cheap land, combined with the
general rise in wages, would make it at once possible for groups of
men, clubbing their capital, to acquire direct use of the material for
any primary trade; or to form communities for mutual support. Free
from interference and able to keep the full proceeds of their work,
the only payment demanded from them by the rest of the population
would be the site- values -- or economic rent -- of the land they
This would secure the object of
syndicalism, whilst obviating the risk of the principal syndicates
becoming in their turn "holders-up" and blackmailers of the
rest of the community. The syndicalists propose to meet this very
obvious danger by some kind of conference between delegates of
world-wide unions in order to settle questions of output and exchange
according to the common interests -- a scheme which, it is easy to
see, is nothing but the re-introduction of parliamentary control on a
trades basis. But the simple provision for the payment of the
site-value of the land worked would prevent the syndicate, as it would
prevent private employers, from withholding their raw material from
use, or acquiring any monopoly power from their possession of valuable
sites and minerals.
Free land combined with a single
tax on site-value would be the opportunity of both syndicalist and
co-operator. Such associations would, however, lose their closely
organised and militant character (which, moreover, would be no longer
needed), since it would be possible for their individual members to
escape from them on the first signs of tyranny -- just as they escaped
from the capitalists -- by becoming individual workers.
It is possible that such
associations as trades unions and co-operative societies might very
rapidly split up, after they had taken the first step in assisting the
workers to independence. For these organisations owe their existence
more to the need for mutual defence against outside oppression, than
to any natural desire for association, or recognition of the
advantages to be got from subdivision of labour.
The history of co-operative
societies and trades unions, and all similar semi -compulsory
groupings, shows that they start well and with elevated motives, but
that internal dissensions arise immediately to weaken and disintegrate
them, despite the uniting pressure from without. Such strength and
unity as they do possess, is drawn from those evil conditions, which
crowd men together in towns and factories in such a way, that only
organisations of a militant nature can survive.
The direction of "Progress".
It is commonly objected that "progress"
is all in the direction of still greater social complexity, closer
co-operation, more subdivision of labour, more massing of men to
perform works of communal utility; and every suggestion of the
possibility of a return to more individual methods is derided as an
attempt to set back the clock.
Probably under the present system
of monopoly and enforced labour-competition, the tendency may be
towards even greater centralisation. But accidents occur in history to
falsify the most acute predictions; and such an accident would be the
freeing of the population by the freeing of land -- a change in the
factors of the problem which would give quite a new direction to the
line of "progress."
In any case, historically viewed,
progress has not been steadily from individualism towards combination.
The primitive races have not been the most individualistic. Amongst
savage tribes of hunters, or semi-civilised nomads, the need of mutual
defence and lack of the tools of independence keeps the members of a
community strictly united, and subordinates all individual rights to
tribal necessities. It is the early communities who are State
We have no experience of social
liberty, and therefore cannot exactly predict how it may affect "tendencies."
What is certain is, that under such a society true mutual assistance
and true charity will for the first time become possible.
At the present time such virtues
are almost impossible to practise. The rich cannot be charitable
towards the poor, for their gifts and sympathy are only part payments
of a debt; and when they are charitable towards each other, their
assistance is tainted with the injustice on which all their leisure
and culture and wealth are founded. The poor cannot be charitable
towards the rich, towards whom their natural feelings are suspicion
and covetousness. At present only the poor can be charitable towards
the poor, for they lend to each other out of their necessities.
The fundamental injustice makes
Christian society an impossibility. It is only under a state of
freedom, economic and political, that the best possibilities of human
society can ever reveal themselves.
But, whatever type of society may
result from the abolition of industrial slavery, and whatever form of
civilisation a free people may build up on a free basis, the
rightfulness of that free basis is what concerns us -- not the result.
Perhaps it is not in the capacity of people, reared in the present
system, to value aright any scheme of life that would evolve itself
under free conditions. Our mental nature, as well as our physical, has
been vitiated by our unjust and false relation to our surroundings.
Any social scheme which the
people of our day can imagine must be largely wrong in ideal as well
as methods, and to confirm it by law and force is not only to prolong
the error but to stifle the elements of progress in society itself.
All we can do, is to remove the oppression which cramps and crushes
individuals, and leave the human spirit at liberty to find and follow
its lights -- whether the light be, in our opinion, a will-o'-the-wisp
or a pole star. Industrial freedom is not a final end in itself, but
a necessary condition for humanity to realise its fullest
For industrial freedom, free
access to land is a necessity; and even after the destruction of land
monopoly there may be other minor monopolies -- though of
comparatively small importance -- to be abolished, before industrial
freedom can be fully realised.
But whatever is done towards that
end will not be in the erection of new dykes and barriers for the
regulation of human energies, but in the removal of the old ones.
The new order may be, as we
believe, a return to a less artificial and greedy social life,
decentralised, peaceful, laborious and reflective; or the result may
be, temporarily, a rush of industrial energy, strenuous concentrated
effort after material production, for the old ideals and habits
engendered by the present system may die hard.
Merging of Classes.
One thing, however, is certain :
that the downfall of monopoly will be the downfall of classes, and
that the privileged position of the wealthy, the educated and the
middle class will come to an end.