In a month when the ‘super’ (and not so super) powers are facing up to each other and we wait for Latin America in to become the collateral damage – it’s hard not to focus on the present instead of looking to the past. The past may point the way to where we are, but can it change anything? It reminds me of the old joke ‘how many psychologists does it take to change a light-bulb? - none, the light-bulb has to want to change!
But here at Gateway we have a belief that while knowledge isn’t exactly a nuclear power, it is good to look beyond our own back yard/social media feed to gain a greater understanding of the world. The past is indeed a different country, but we are all, when it comes down to it ‘Jock Tamson’s Bairns.’ Aren’t We? So the questions brought up in this month’s Gateway all have a relevance not just to each other but to each of us, past, present and probably future.
We may be niche rather than legion and but we are inclusive and outward looking and, understand, as Leatham says this month that ‘limited editions are for the millionaire rather than the million.’ We are for the million rather than the millionaire.
In his cultural ‘extra’ Leatham considers: Can the world go back to simpler ways of life?
It’s a long piece and it’s not the utopia you might wish it to be, but it’s well worth a read for anyone interested in the subtle (and not so subtle) interplay between land, labour and capital and forms of ownership.
The conclusion: which may be a ‘wake up and smell the coffee moment’ as much as a statement of ideology is as follows:
A Commonwealth is not a mere collection of individuals, any more than a great cathedral is a mere collection of stones and timber and glass. It is a corporate entity, and its management as a living, growing, changing organism requires constant vigilance, co-operation, or opposition from those who are to be regarded as citizens at all. This means endless politics.
This piece in interesting in comparison with the final part of Mind Your Own Business which reminds us that: Individualism is a failure, gross and palpable. But the Collectivism which can alone take its place hangs fire. The Capitalist digs his own grave; but society does not bury him, for even in his moribund state the community cannot do without him. The waste of a million barrels of oil a-day, not even in wasteful use, but in waste absolute, is typical of the chaos of private production.
As we come to the close of Mind Your Own (do re-read the earlier parts if you’ve lost the thread) Leatham gives us a thought provoking description of ‘Robots’
Now that we’re finally free from the French Revolution, we go to another great moment of history The Peasants Revolt. Remember Wat Tyler and the Poll Tax riots… revisit them in the company of James Leatham.
Even the Orraman is delving into the Leatham archive this month to help him out of what is less an existential crisis and more a dirty big hole. A great wee comment on Emotionalism is followed by an excuse laden ramble which dresses itself up as a stage on a journey. Orraman’s cultural quest is becoming more elusive than the Higgs Boson. I suppose we should not be surprised that the difficult questions do not have easy answers and the road less taken has more pot-holes in the path than the primrose one. Watch a man squirm if you like, or take pity on him and pack your bags for the rest of the journey. Hold onto your seats, it’s a bumpy ride.
Either way round, there’s plenty to read this month and I hope plenty of food for thought. Food for thought is the best dietary supplement I know! Enjoy.
I sit down to write this month. How about:
Between Reformation and Referendum, the perils of emotion and sentiment when trying to research… Snappy title. But what does it mean? In my moment of crisis I refer or indeed defer to Leatham as if not excuser then at least explainer of my current ‘condition.’ It’s a quote which I think about a lot and which I think has a lot of ‘applications’ and in and of itself deserves much greater discussion… but I digress…
A Favourite cue with people who want to throw cold water on your argument is to say that you are emotional. This of course is much easier than answering what you say. The dry sticks who laugh, weep, rage, and jest with difficulty, who are indeed without enthusiasm of any kind – don’t they just wish they were emotional! I have seen Gladstone’s flaming eye at close quarters; I have heard William Morris swear gloriously; and I have known lesser but still notable men whose charm and power lay almost exclusively in the way in which they could throw themselves bald-headed into the business in hand, whatever it was. All men with big heads have not big hearts, and all men with big hearts have not big heads; but the men who are of most use to the world have both; and they are always emotional. There is no other way. (James Leatham)
I am in a dark place. The best laid plans and all that. Last month I left you with the tantalising promise that I was going to write about ‘a new covenant’ as a way of finding and reading and experiencing culture. I obviously knew what I had in mind then. It was, I believed, if not simple, then elegantly possible. It came from a thought, which became a good idea, which then was left to simmer and today I decided it was time to bring it to the boil, and prepare to serve it up. But like untended porridge it seems to have got stuck to the bottom of the pan and I’m left with a claggy mess that I don’t feel comfortable serving up to you. You’ll have had your salt.
Life isn’t bittersweet at the moment. It’s unrelentingly bitter. Because the more I look into Scottish community and culture the more I come up stinking of something that most definitely looks, smells and feels like keech.
Recently I was party to a symposium about Covenanting. It was an interdisciplinary event which is an interesting thing in and of itself. Academics from a range of disciplines (or as we mortals would term it – subjects) bring different perspectives to an issue – in this case Covenanting – with the hope that they may find something new or significant to say. It’s a focussed chat really. And it was a very pleasant day. The air was sweet and rarified. It was all very ‘civilised.’ All very enlightenment. I may not have fitted in but I could hold my corner.
I am quite an interdisciplinary fellow I suppose. I love to share ideas without boundaries. I can happily admit that others know things I don’t know and I’m more than happy to learn. While I wouldn’t claim to be self-taught, the formal education I received taught me one thing – how to educate myself outside formal structures – and so I have a broad range of interests (and may even at this advanced stage in life dare to say ‘knowledge’ or at least understanding) across a spectrum of ‘things that there are to be interested in.’
I’m also a seriously pattern driven person. I like to make connections and I like to find interesting and complex comparisons – the more I do it the more I realise that interconnectedness is the way to make sense of the world (at least for me.)
And this symposium, whatever it achieved for the academics in the room (I think I may have been the ‘elephant’ but no one made me feel like a ‘token’), got me thinking about analogies between the Covenanters and the Yes Movement.
You what? It seems to me that both represent examples of a fight against hierarchy and for equality. So that was my big idea – draw an analogy between these two ‘moments’ in our history and come up, if not with a conclusion, then at least with a provocation to get you (dear reader) thinking about our culture and what we can learn from ‘grassroots’ movements that might enlighten us going forward.
I thought – we need a new Enlightenment. And then I started to think about the Enlightenment and what it was and what it meant – especially in a Scottish Context. And that’s when the wheels came off. Everything I started to read kept harking back to the ‘British’ context. Suddenly the Acts of Union rose up, like Moby Dick, and threatened to engulf me. Like Fagin, I realised that ‘I think I better think it out again.’ Which is no admission of defeat by the way. Not even a tactical withdrawal.
Of course we’re all painfully aware that while content may be king, context is everything. And to take on the hideous modern phrase – I had an epiphany (these are not always pleasant things) that I am ‘on a journey’ – which I have to hope will not be a Darien expedition – in respect of making the connectionsI hope may provide content worthy of a revolutionary rather than a King.
All of this may simply sound like an excuse, the remedy for which is – get up earlier in the morning and hold your focus even when all around you are off on their holidays. Cultural criticism is a 24/7 activity not something you can save for symposiums and academic terms. The long and the short of it is, I have a lot of reading to do on my journey and so I will have to leave you, hanging here, tantalisingly, for another month.
The topics under investigation – for those of you who want to take your own journey in this direction while I’m packing my trunk – are:
Destination: Where we have been, Where we are now and Where we are going.
The context: cultural and socio-political. Especially the cultural relativity of religion and economics over time.
The ‘rub’: the importance of the Scottish/British question in all of this.
The Acts of Union set themselves up against Brexit and the historical companions are: Covenanters (cf Killing Times); the Enlightenment; (cf relationships and definitions of reason and ‘moral’ sentiment); the Yes Movement and their role in the rise (and fall?) of the SNP.
This will be played out in a perceptual field where consumer capitalism takes a chance and offers bargain basement participatory democracy, then gets scared and recinds the offer, knowing full well that no revolution will occur – just a bit of grumbling before the populace return to their McDonalds and Dragon’s Den – and in the process a lot of useful ‘data’ has been gathered and stored and run through algorithms which will help to keep changing the goalposts in front of the players even as they step up to take their penalties.
If only, Mr E.M.Forster, it were as easy as ‘only connect.’ Only is a big word in this context. We drown in information across all the possible worlds we inhabit on a daily basis. Some, like me, fight to get behind the paywall of academia to uncover ‘truths’ which are no longer universally acknowledged but hidden away at the top of the pyramid, out of sight of those of us who have not bought our way into the elite which considers itself to be the new enlightenment.
But I’ve said enough – I will spend the month trying to get beyond my ‘sound and fury’. After all, even in politics, it’s the silly season, right? And I do not want to be the one to press the ‘send’ button too soon, before all diplomatic attempts have been made to come up with an intelligent (and intelligible) argument. As long as President Trump doesn’t blow us all to bits in the meantime, I’ll be back next month with some holiday snaps, if not a fully working analogy. Please entertain yourselves with your adult colouring books in the meantime. Or at least bear with me!
The Pit of Shame:
A Somme Postscript
by Brendan Gisby
No, not more shallow eulogies
Composed by nameless Palace clerks
To be read by pampered princes.
Nor fake flowers worn in lapels,
That puerile act of contrition
Hatched by the Butcher Haig’s lady.
Nor vigils, nor silent minutes,
Nor gun salutes, nor lone buglers.
They are but gestures to honour
The countless men who gave their lives
So needlessly on foreign fields
In the names of King and country;
Gestures to honour the slaughtered,
But not to avenge their murder;
Commemoration sans reproach,
Sans blame, sans recrimination.
So how should we avenge those deaths?
Like Baldrick, I’ve a cunning plan.
Go seek the graves of the culprits:
Of the Monarch, the Cabinet
And the Generals – all of them,
But Butcher Haig’s first, always first.
Then dig up their bones and pile them
In a higgledy-piggledy heap.
Cart the pile of bones to London,
Where at the gates of the Palace
Dig a deep pit, the Pit of Shame,
In which to deposit the bones.
Leave the pit open for all time
To fester and to putrefy,
Its stench carried in the four winds
To the nostrils of the elite.
Then invite the working people
From the Great War recruiting grounds
Across this disunited land
To journey to the Pit of Shame,
There to spit on the rotting bones,
Great gobs of phlegm rained down on them
For all generations to come;
The carnage avenged, brave, dead boys!
The history of the world itself is nothing but a long story of robberies in which honest people are always the duped. - WILHELM WEITLING: Guarantees of Harmony and
‘Carle,’ I thought, ‘were I thou or such as thou, then would I take in my hand a sword or a spear, or were it only a hedge-stake, and bid others do the like, and forth would we go; and since we would be so many, and with nought to lose save a miserable life, we would do battle and prevail, and make an end of the craft of kings and of lords and of usurers, and there should be but one craft in the world, to wit, to work merrily for ourselves and to live merrily thereby.’ - A King’s Lesson (Speech of the King).
Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. - WILLIAM MORRIS: A Dream of John Ball.
1. - THE STORY OF THE REVOLT.
The spectacle of a people rightly struggling to be free, to be masters in their own house, and denied that freedom and mastery only by their political ignorance, is the most appalling of all human tragedies, since it affects, not merely the short life and happiness of an individual, but the lives and prosperity of an entire nation during centuries of time. And as the failure of such an effort is the greatest of all tragedies, so the causes of that failure surely form, of all possible lessons, the most important and the most necessary to be learnt.
A Stirring Time.
The fourteenth century was a time of great social stir and hope among the masses. At Bannockburn in 1314 the Scots had thrown off the yoke of England, an assertion of national right achieved almost entirely by the commons - the poor men who followed Wallace and Bruce through all their reverses and wanderings, while the ‘nobles’ skulked and scoffed and conserved their property, keeping on good terms with the enemy against whom their countrymen were fighting.
The following year (1315) witnessed the great and at first promising attempt at independence by the Irish under Edward Bruce, eventuating in the usual Irish failure. In the year after Bannockburn, also, the ‘cowherds and dairymen’ of Switzerland, at Morgarten, the Marathon of their country, sent flying before them all the mail-clad Austrians that were not left dead on the field; and the same decade (1386) that witnessed the revolt of the English peasants saw the end of Hapsburg pretensions to Swiss suzerainty when, on the field of Sempach, Winkelried of Unterwald gathered the spear-points of the enemy to his breast, broke the Austrian line of defence, and turned the fortune of the day in favour of his countrymen. And not least notable of immediately contemporary events was the struggle maintained by the men of Paris against Charles VI. and by the free Flemish cities - Ghent at the head of them - against the Earl of Flanders.
But these were mostly struggles in which an outside enemy was worsted. The labourers of England in 1381 arose against the enemy within the gates.
The revolt has been treated in the flimsiest way by all the historians, with the exception of Green, and even his narrative is brief, in accordance with the plan of his history. A comparison of the different accounts shows many obvious inaccuracies as to matters of fact; and in spite of much study and weighing of evidence, absolute accuracy is not claimed for the present narrative. One has only to start the writing of history in order to find out how slipshod the historians can be. Naturally, the contemporary chroniclers are strongly and often amusingly biassed against the rebels; and it is unfortunate that we should have to depend for any particulars upon such a chronicler as the French canon Froissart, who of course wrote very much at second-hand, and whose naive prejudices are corrected only by his mediæval love of a good tale.
It is customary to ascribe the revolt to an unpopular poll-tax and the ruffianly manner in which it was collected. As matter of fact, there were three poll-taxes, and although all of them were farmed out to capitalistic harpies, to take as much out of them as they could squeeze, these taxes do not appear to have been specially unpopular. In the form in which they were imposed they were much less unfair than our present-day ‘taxation of the breakfast table,’ under which the poor may actually pay more imperial taxes than the well-to-do. Under the first poll-tax, beneficed clergymen paid a triple assessment, beggars and mendicant friars were exempted, but all others contributed on an equal footing. The second tax was graduated, a duke of the royal blood and an archbishop, for instance, paying five hundred and twenty times as much as the labourer did. From this tax, moreover, married women were exempted. Under the third and last-imposed poll-tax, the minimum payment was one groat, the maximum sixty groats. The age-limit for the first tax was fourteen, for the second tax sixteen, and for the third fifteen years of age. But the times were good for labour, and, as said, there was no particular outcry against these taxes. When John the Tiler, of Dartford (not Wat Tyler, of Maidstone) came hastily home from his work, on an urgent summons from his wife, and, with a blow of his helving hammer, dashed out the brains of the poll-groat bailiff, it was not because he resented the tax, except as we all resent taxation. It was because the bailiff, claiming that the tiler’s daughter was over fifteen, was proceeding to rudely inspect the girl, as had, apparently, been done by his colleagues elsewhere. The tax had been already paid by the tiler’s wife for all the members of the household for whom she admitted liability. The slaughter of the bailiff, and the riot at the seizure of a burgess of Gravesend by Sir Simon Burley, on the plea that the man was the son of a neif, or female serf, of his, and consequently his (Sir Simon’s) serf, were only the more picturesque and decisive openings of a movement that had been in process of fomentation and organization for years.
Causes of the Revolt.
The price of labour had been sent up, not merely by the wiping out of half the population by the Black Death, but also as the result of a widespread trade unionism among the labourers and artizans, with, in addition, the powerful stimulus and inspiration of the russet priests’ communistic oratory. When, as early as Whit Monday, the men of Gravesend revolted at the seizure of their townsman, they cried ‘Let us to Rochester. Let us join our brethren of Essex,’ the men of Essex being already in the field, a month before the march upon London. When the neighbours of John the Tiler gathered round the body of the slaughtered bailiff their demand was to be led to Canterbury, where the brethren were already in arms under Wat Tyler, John Ball, Hob Carter, and Tom the Miller.
By the end of May the nation was in revolt, from the coast of Kent northwards through all the eastern counties to Scarborough, and in the west from Hampshire all the way to Lancashire.
That the revolt was chiefly due to general social discontent, and not to the attempts to rivet and confirm villeinage, is shown by the fact that the men of Kent, who were freemen, were the first to rise. During the whole of the last week of May, parties of rebels - ploughmen, millers, blacksmiths, and all manner of rural workers (‘upland men’) - were pouring into Canterbury.
‘The Candle of Canterbury.’
On the day following the Feast of the Holy Sacrament hostilities opened with the pillaging of the Abbey of St. Vincent, the Church of St Thomas, and the Archbishop’s palace. According to Froissart, the rebels, as they carried off the Archbishop’s gear, said, ‘The Chancellor of England hath had this piece of furniture very cheap. He must now give us an account of his revenues and of the large Sums he hath levied since the coronation of the king.’
During the week the men of Essex, under Jack Straw, set forth for London on the north side of the Thames. They had just beaten a party of the royal troops sent down with a commissioner to suppress the disturbance which had arisen over the seizure of the Gravesend burgess.
Early in June the Kentish force, under the command of Wat Tyler, a soldier who had seen service in the French wars, set out for London. On the way they called in at Maidstone, the county town of Kent, burned a house of the Archbishop’s there, and set at liberty John Ball and the Gravesend man who had been arrested by Sir Simon Burley.
John Ball was serving what would nowadays be called his third sentence. These spells of prison lasted a few months at a time; and Froissart admits that ‘the moment he was out of prison he returned to his former course.’ The following has been preserved to us as a specimen of the ‘crazy harangues’ delivered in the churchyards and market-places of Kent, at the conclusion of mass, by the russet priest:
Good people, things will never go well in England as long as goods be not in common, and so long as there be villeins and gentlemen. By what right are they whom we call lords greater folk than we? On what grounds have they deserved it? Why do they hold us in serfage? If we all came of the same father and mother, of Adam and Eve, how can they say or prove that they must needs be better than we, if it be not that they make us gain for them by our toil what they spend in their pride? They are clothed in velvet, and warm in their furs and ermines, while we are covered with rags. They have wine and spices and fair bread, and we oatcake and straw, and water to drink. They have leisure and fine houses; we have pain and labour, the rain and the wind in the fields. And yet it is of us and our toil that these men hold their state.
For twenty years this propaganda had been carried on, not only by Ball, but by others of the Lollard priests who accepted the communistic tenets of their master, Wycliffe. The insurrection was no hasty upheaval. Nor, at the time of the rising, was John Ball a youthful hothead, but a man well over the prime of life, and clearly an orator. The fame of the popular preacher naturally spread to London, and his communistic doctrines were canvassed at meetings of London citizens. When the revolutionary forces began to assemble, the Londoners invited the leaders to march to the metropolis, and promised to co-operate with them in bringing pressure to bear upon the young king, Richard II.
Leaving Maidstone, not without a rousing ‘harangue’ from the newly-liberated prophet-priest, the men of Kent made for Rochester, their ranks being steadily augmented by the way. They burned the house of every lawyer and proctor on their line of march, and all members of these hated callings that came in their way were executed out of hand. And in Kent as elsewhere they burned all manorial records upon which they could lay hands.
An Archbishop Prisoner.
At Rochester they attacked the castle, and made prisoner Sir John de Newtoun, whom they took with them to London, intending to make use of him. In their host another illustrious prisoner reluctantly marched, no less a personage than Simon de Sudbury, the Archbishop and Chancellor, whom they had taken along with them from Canterbury. They beheaded him on Tower Hill on the 14th of June, in this ‘repeating the action of the Danes during their invasion of 1011, who seized Archbishop Elphege from this cathedral and shortly afterwards put him to death at Blackheath.’
From Rochester the rebels marched by way of Dartford, the burning of lawyers’ houses and the increase of the army of the commons being continued. By the time Blackheath was reached, the rebel armies mustered not fewer than 120,000 men, indifferently armed and badly provisioned, it is true, but with nothing to oppose them, and a whole country upon which to draw for supplies. While the men of the southern counties, numbering 6o,000, encamped on Blackheath, the main body of the Essex men lay at Mile-End, and the rebels from Hertfordshire at Highbury. Among the prisoners brought in from other counties were Sir Thomas Cossington, Sir Stephen Hales, and Sir John Manly.
A Princess’s Adventure.
One of the oddly Contradictory incidents connected with the rising is the story of how the Dowager Princess of Wales, the King’s mother, was returning from a pilgrimage to Canterbury, and, her coach coming up with the rebels on the road, of how it was surrounded by them and the princess (widow of the Black Prince) forced to kiss a number of them before she was allowed to proceed. With pillage and fire at Canterbury and Maidstone, and a revolutionary army in possession, for some weeks past, of all the surrounding counties, that any lady should have been thinking of pilgrimages or of any kind of travelling save flight from the area of the storm, shows how difficult it is for women of wealth and rank especially to realise the volcano upon which they live and to grasp the significance to them of a social revolt.
By order of the Mayor, William Walworth, the gates of London Bridge were closed against the insurgents, and guards placed to defend that the only approach to the city from the south.
A Reluctant Ambassador.
News of the closing of the gates being sent to Tyler at Blackheath, Sir John de Newtoun was despatched from the insurgent camp to seek an interview with the king. Crossing the Thames in a boat, he was immediately admitted to the king’s presence. Richard was attended by his mother (who had posted home in great terror after her encounter with the rebels), the king’s two natural brothers the Earl of Kent and Sir John Holland, the Earls of Warwick, Salisbury, and Suffolk, the Great Prior of the Templars, Sir Robert de Naumur, the Lord Mayor, and several of the chief citizens. The reluctant spokesman of the rebels, having humbly excused himself and explained the constraint under which he acted, the young king, as reported, answered, ‘TeIl us what you are charged with: we hold you excused.’
Sir John then proceeded to explain that the insurgents desired to hold parley with his Majesty in person at Blackheath; that they held him in loyal respect and intended no harm to his person; that they held his (Sir John’s) children in hostage: and that unless his Majesty returned a reply to prove that he (Sir John) had been in his Majesty’s presence, he feared either to return to the rebels or to stay away.
With the promise of a speedy answer, the emissary withdrew. After a short consultation with those about him, the king recalled de Newtoun and told him that if the rebel leaders would come down the following morning to the Thames he would hear what they had to say.
The King and the Rebels.
Next day, being Thursday, the king heard mass in the chapel of the Tower, and thereafter proceeded in his barge down the river towards Rotherhithe, where a large company of the rebels had assembled. But so little friendly was his reception as he drew near that those with him refused to let him land. ‘What seek you?’ cried the king. ‘I am come hither to hear your petitions.’ The insurgents demanded that he should land, and they would tell him what they sought. The Earl of Salisbury called to them that they were neither in the mood nor the attire to hold converse with a king.
Amid much outcry, the young king was then rowed back to the Tower, somewhat against his will it would seem.
‘Let us march to London!’ cried the insurgents, and set out forthwith, the houses of lawyers and courtiers faring badly, as usual, on the way through the suburbs.
PART TWO... to be continued next month... the revolution continues...
Nothing Destroyed till it is Replaced.
We challenge the existing order. But it will not fall, like Jericho, at the blast of many trumpets. Nothing is destroyed until it is replaced, and in the gradual work of replacement by the transfer from personal to communal ownership, endless patience, study, and perseverance are required. With the Collectivist his social creed must be his philosophy, his religion, his heart’s desire. And this will need no effort with the person to whom the ideal comes with its full impact and implications. A day’s canvassing, a vote at election time, the payment of ordinary dues, the support of the Collectivist press, are all as nothing to the service required. It is lifelong, a matter of every day and every hour. The battle is not one of generals, but of the common soldier. Wherever he may be placed and whenever and howsoever he may be called upon to explain or defend the latest and greatest of the causes, he must be ready with facts, figures, good reasons. He cannot know too much. He cannot know enough. We do not ask him to take all knowledge for his province; but he may rest assured that States and Communities cannot be successfully run except by men of capacity and character - men who have been at once gentled and strengthened by self-discipline, struggle, the doing of many things they would rather not. It is true we need ability, and in that respect the even citizen cannot perhaps add many cubits to his stature, though he never knows what he can do till he tries it, and the millions never try. What is chiefly wanted is single-minded zeal, the moral sense to see that what you as an individual do matters immensely, and the moral humility to be prepared to do your duty. A certain great cause was lost by the defection of a duke who gave a toothache as an excuse. When one hears men say they failed to attend a meeting because ‘some people came in,’ it seems unspeakably pitiful. The natural course for a person who takes his cause seriously is to tell his visitors that he has an important engagement, to ask them, it may be, to come with him, but in any case not to let domestic trivialities interfere with public duties, even if it be only putting in an appearance. One’s friends will respect the man and the cause the more for the display of such sincerity.
This is playing the discussion down to familiar everyday experiences; but it is such trivialities that keep the rank-and-file man a rank-and-filer.
Individualism a Failure.
Individualism is a failure, gross and palpable. But the Collectivism which can alone take its place hangs fire. The Capitalist digs his own grave; but society does not bury him, for even in his moribund state the community cannot do without him. The waste of a million barrels of oil a-day, not even in wasteful use, but in waste absolute, is typical of the chaos of private production. Production and exchange must go on somehow, and Collectivism does not make a shape to take hold. The only people who are not interested in the continuance of commercialism - the wage-earners - do not equip themselves on any wide or obvious scale to take over the business of the community, which remains perforce in private hands, even where, through enterprising local government, a great deal of work could be done under existing powers, while extra powers could be got for sufficient asking.
For one thing, much more could be done by direct labour in the building of houses. The building trades do not expand in proportion to the amount of work required from them. Apprentices are not taken on, and where there are no apprentices there will soon be no journeymen. Employers in the building trades say that boys fill out the time between leaving school and the dole-drawing age at casual and blind-alley jobs, and will not apprentice themselves to regular trades.
I do not accept this as an explanation of the failure of the building trades to meet public requirements. The position rather is that, in consequence of the complications caused by the succession of subsidies, builders have no guarantee that the present spurt in their industry is likely to continue. They are inclined to go along with small staffs, giving their time largely to repairs, and keeping back the building of houses for the local authorities. In Scotland, which is in the main a country of small, unenterprising townships, plasterers are specially scarce. Higher pay has tempted hundreds of them over the border to England, where houses have been rattled up with relative celerity, in some cases without any subsidy, the houses built being let at rents sufficient to enable them to qualify, not as philanthropy, but as a business proposition.
The prospect of the withdrawal of the subsidy has been needlessly disquieting. With the provision of a million houses since 1919 the requirements have in some measure been over-taken. But in Scotland especially there are great arrears still. One feature of house-letting under all municipal schemes is the number of houses that are taken by young people who have been encouraged to enter upon matrimony and housekeeping by the provision of that indispensable requisite, a house to keep. It is obvious that population and trade have been retarded by the scarcity of houses.
The Works Department.
One scheme ripe for adoption by local authorities is the creation of works departments which would have the building and repair of houses as their great field of effort. If cathedral authorities, railways, large works, and estate offices see fit to keep a staff of workmen to maintain their property in repair and to make extensions, there is even more need for housing staffs for the municipalities, whose property, already considerable, is steadily growing.
The advantages of direct labour are long since beyond question; and with local authorities more largely manned by men of Collectivist sympathies, the works department would be adopted as a matter of course, and the timid local builder would be left to the petty repairs to which he seems to prefer to give his attention.
As things are, communities are being doubly robbed, first in the payment of grants-in-aid of building-ring profits, and secondly by the loss of rent-revenue upon housing schemes begun but hanging fire through under-staffing in the trades employed upon them. These tradesmen refused to sign a penalty clause, and the only remedy of the public is to employ its own staff.
But while we cannot get men of ability and courage to advocate and carry such proposals in council, we have at the same time preposterous proposals being advocated for an all-round living wage, to be secured heaven knows how. The onus of finding it is put more immediately upon the employer, nobody stopping to consider that such a wage must needs be an additional burden upon production, which the employer would recover from the public in higher prices and higher profits. Where those prices are to be secured in trades subject to foreign competition is not explained either.
The idea of certain elements in the democracy is to dodge the burden of reorganising industry upon Collectivist lines, and to leave the onus upon the capitalist still. It is a repudiation of our own principles. It is a proposal peculiarly acceptable to the robots of democracy, since it still absolves them from coming out into the open and accepting responsibility for running the industrial machine upon Collectivist lines. Parliament, the body of professional politicians, is to pass an Act saying to the employer ‘You must pay a living wage, and we determine the wage. It is no concern of ours how you find it, but find it you must.’ The real Collectivist way of securing a living wage is to take the business out of private hands altogether. But Collectivism can neither be secured nor would it work when secured if run by a community of robots.
The robots are the people who roar themselves hoarse around the football field, who draw the dole, play Crown and Anchor, and smoke rice paper; who refuse to learn a trade; who refuse to read except about sport and crime; who will not learn music, but turn on a gramophone; who continue to be cogs in the wheel of capitalism, without responsibility for any of the duties of manhood or citizenship. The robot does not learn even the language of his own country. He speaks words that he has learned from the slang of the streets, for all the world as a parrot would learn, garnishing his speech with ‘I seen it,’ and ‘He done it,’ and ‘Ye see,’ and ‘Ye know,’ ‘I mean to say,’ ‘I were,’ and ‘You was.’
The robot is an automatic biped, genus homo, produced by machinery, capitalism, and dope editors. It likes to meet other bipeds in a mob, it hates solitude, and its impulses are all herd impulses. It hates to be obliged to think, and likes machinery because the machine does the work and saves it from the necessity of training hand and eye. A good man likes responsibility, likes to have freedom to please his own taste in colour, plan, arrangement, or method. The robot prefers to ask ‘How am I to do this?’ The robot thinks other people’s thoughts. He likes hats, ties, and clothes ‘as worn.’ He smokes cigarettes because, as he so often says, he hates the trouble of filling a pipe. On Sundays and holidays, if he cannot get off with a charabanc party, he sleeps, eats, and yawns through the day, his only reading being Sunday papers full of crime, sport, the exploits of freaks, and the portraits of ugly pugilists and football players.
If democracy meant the reign of the robots, doing things to please the robots, reducing things to the robot level, I should say, May the kindly fates save us from democracy! Fascism, the Comintern, the Kuomintang, are all inevitable reactions from the imbecility of an ignorant and frivolous democracy.
But there is the more excellent way of equipping ourselves, by reading and learning and discussing and listening, to be no mean citizens of cities which shall no longer be mean, but which shall be splendid, not merely in their public ways, but in the culture and grace, the skill and manners and integrity of their people.
The Human Element Most Important of all.
I for one am concerned about social changes, not primarily because I want to see everybody well fed, clothed, housed, and amused, but because I want to see a better class of men and women. As things are, the means of many individuals far outrun their taste or judgment in the use of them. While there is still plenty of searing, bitter, degrading poverty, especially among the self-respecting ones who scorn the various forms of taking something for nothing, one goes into houses where there is appalling waste of food, fire, clothes, money, and the great stuff of life - Time. Hours are spent in dull talk about nothing, because the people, not having read or travelled or listened or thought, have nothing to talk about that matters. There may be a piano, but no one plays it. There is a bath, but it is little used. The fires are too big and the rooms too hot. There will be piles of comparatively costly and tasteless clothes, seldom worn, and while the inmates tend to overeat themselves, there is at the same time a great deal of waste carried out to the pigs or the fowls. But there is a great poverty of books, pictures, music, good talk, or any of the signs of taste. For these are families of money-chasers.
What such people obviously need is not more money, but education in the broad sense of the word - reading, attendance at lectures, concerts, and the better class of plays, personal drill in good habits, both mental and physical, and the keeping of good company, the best of all ‘society’ being good literature.
Can the World Go Back to Old Simple Ways of Life?
Or should it go forward to still greater simplicity and Harmony?
The long interrogative letter by Mr George Hope, printed on pages 21-3 of this issue, raises many questions of a magnitude forbidden adequate answer in an entire number of The Gateway, even if we could devote that amount of space to them. I welcome the questioning spirit, as being the exact and healthy opposite of the deadly mental inertia that takes all the big things of life for granted the-as-it-was-in-the-beginning-so-it-is-now-and-ever-shall-be attitude.
At the outset I would suggest that Mr Hope should not assume that I do not understand his points merely because I do not accept or agree with them. Tastes, opinions, desires differ, not only between individuals, but in the same individual at different stages of a long life.
While favouring public ownership of large-scale businesses, such as railways, our correspondent nevertheless thinks that the house and garden, the farm or printer, the bakery and carpenter’s shop should belong to the person who occupies them and works them. Mr Hope must either be thinking of one-man business or industrial partnerships since a business of any size is operated by the men rather than the master. This applies to all the callings he specifies.
What is property?
The meaning of property is that which is proper to the individual. I am not sure that even a house with a garden is proper to the individual. If it belongs to the municipality the tenant has practically life ownership as long as he pays the rent and obeys the law, and his family, if any, may succeed to it as a matter of course with all the improvements and amenities that he and his have provided -the fruit trees, bushes, and trellis in the garden, the stair he has made to the loft, the floor he has laid down in the loft itself, and so on.
To own a house may be a clog and a burden. Municipalities can acquire at bargain prices rows of houses whose owners have migrated or emigrated. A man ought to be free to walk out of one home and into another with the minimum of loss, trouble, or expense. The snail is, I think, the only creature in nature to which a house is ‘proper.’ He carries it about with him. And surely it is no advantage. He is the slowest, most hopeless thing in animated Nature. Thoreau points out that the musk rat, caught in a trap, will gnaw off a leg and leave it behind rather than lose freedom and life.
We say a man belongs to his belongings. Yes that is the drawback of belongings. I have changed my town five times since 1893 and each time have had to move truck loads of dunnage, mostly books, though each time there has been a shedding of possessions too, even of books. I have none of my school prizes, though I have kept many of the actual lesson books. Books are, of course, part of my stock-in-trade, and in a modern small country town there is more stock than trade – of that sort. The better your stock – the more books you have of the kind that will make the eyes of a connoisseur shine – the less will be the demand.
As regards ‘the means of production’, there will probably always be small plants with which the individual craftsman can follow his calling or hobby. There are such in Soviet Russia, and then number is steadily increasing. Dealers and middlemen are suppressed; but the artels, groups of these small craftsmen, with their own shops and stands for the sale of their products, multiplied threefold in a few years.
Why not, so long as there is no exploitation or profiteering? There are public supplies of water, gas, electricity, transport, education, roads, and libraries; but there are nevertheless private wells, schools, roads, libraries, station and market police, privately-owned buses, cars, and wagons, and privately-generated electricity and gas.
I am so little in love with bigness that I live by preference in a small town after forty years of city life, and my home and my office, at opposite ends of the own, are neighboured by fields and trees, with a prospect of hills, woodlands, and a reach of the river Deveron. I could do a bigger business in my native city; but I prefer the Little Red Town which is only a seventieth part of the size of Aberdeen city.
Advantages of Bigness.
But bigness in industry has its immense advantages too. The happiest place I have ever worked in was also the biggest; but that is a longer story, which I hope to tell another day.
A big cylinder machine will print sixteen pages as easily as a platen machine will print two or four pages, and the running off is mechanical in either case. And you can use stiffer and more durable ink on a cylinder machine than on a platen, the take-off being more gradual and easy on the big machine. To get an ideally permanent black ink William Morris used the handpress, with which the sheet can be slowly lifted off the stiffly-inked types. He even had ink specially made for him. But limited editions are for the millionaire rather than the million. His Kelmscott Chaucer, of which only 400 copies were printed, was bought up by Bernard Quaritch at £20 a copy before the book was half-finished. They now change hands at over £100 a being the finest example of letterpress printing extant. But Morris reckoned that he lost £1000 on the work. I am content to possess the first highly ornate sheet, one of the few printed on vellum. As a specimen four pages it stand for all the others. When I want to READ Chaucer, I turn to my copy in the Chandos Classics (Tyrwhitt’s text) sold in the long ago at somewhere about half-a-crown.
And now, from the workman-producer point of view, Morris was not the printer. He designed the type and borders, but other people cast them. He decided the format and the type to be used; but others set the type, printed the sheets, folded them, sewed them, and cased them into a bound book. Labour is social, and the reward ought to be social also. Morris so far recognised this. He paid a woman compositor a man’s wage.
Disadvantages of the Small Craft.
The manual processes of the small craft are not all necessarily pleasant. Folding a pile of sheets of a book is a monotonous job and has no physical- exercise value such as one gets from digging, holding a plough, or mowing with a scythe. Yet many bookbinders have no folding-machine and have to charge more for their work, although machine folding is more accurate. Tugging a handpress and inking with a handroller are pure fag. The rollers on a platen or cylinder machine – four of them – ink the type more uniformly and completely than a single hand-roller will do, and the impression and the rolling are done automatically.
As regards the craft of the baker, the best bread I have tasted was that baked by Lancashire housewives of forty-odd years ago. They were accustomed to speak disparagingly of shop bread and the women who bought it. In the English provinces baking is not much of a craft even now. If one sees a baker’s shop in Lancashire or Yorkshire it will probably be known as ‘the Scotch bakery.’ And when Scotland is referred to as the ‘Land o’ Cakes,’ it does not necessarily mean oatcakes but a whole trayful of ‘small bread’ in which the English housewife takes comparatively little stock. But in an Aberdeen bakery long ago I have seen batches of biscuits and cakes being rolled and stamped in a clean machine probably more hygienically than they could have been done by hand, for dermatitis is a special baker’s complaint. Baking is a natural domestic industry; but so are dressmaking and laundering. That is not to say that the steam laundry and the large-scale dressmaking establishments do not meet a need. It is the ownership by profit-seeking shareholders that is wrong.
Nor does it mean that the handpress has not got its uses for proofs, very small numbers, and as a hobby. But if use of the tools and enjoyment of the work be the tests of ownership then only the one-man business or the industrial partnership meets the test. Most farmers do not plough, or sow or reap or mow. There is ownership with, and there is ownership against, the rest of the community. The Paisley weaver, on a seaside holiday, was gazing out at the Channel Fleet as the admirable was about to put off from the landing-stairs. ‘Would you like to visit the ships?’ he asked. The weaver stepped on board the barge with alacrity, and after a round of some of the more representative units, he was taken back to the flagship. ‘And now,’ said the good-natured admirable, ‘from whom have I had the honour of this visit?’ ‘From one of the owners!’ replied the weaver. That attitude will apply to all big and not strictly personal things such as clothes, boots, or a toothbrush.
If use and enjoyment gave the title to property, the farmer, master baker, master printer, and master engineer are much less the owners of the business than the operatives. The gamekeeper would own the shooting, but would go shares, willy nilly, with the poacher. The castle gardens would belong, not to my lord, but to his gardeners.
A Question Answered.
It is undesirable to lay down any hard-and-fast rule as to what small businesses should or should not be socialised. Many small businesses might with advantage be amalgamated and then socialised. As I have been asked, the Deveron Press is one of these. I have 100 founts of type, four machines and a gas engine, the engine standing idle. Hand composition and distribution occupy most of the time. That is not economical production. But we rub along. The Gateway has increased without advertisements, subsidy, or increase of price since 1912, while party organs produced by larger plants have come and gone in rapid succession. If we sometimes miss our day, it is due to pressure of jobwork, without which we could not survive. In a larger establishment The Gateway could be spread over many pairs of hands and got out on the day in spite of seasonal rushes and the vagaries of the British public, which leaves its orders till the last moment, and then hurries the printer.
Mr Hope prefers to use the word State for the public authority. I prefer the word Municipality, because decentralisation gives closer supervision and more immediate power of initiative. I could not expect the municipality to issue The Gateway as its enterprise exercising the freedom of utterance is does; but there is no reason why a municipal printer should not print it as a job for me. There is much to be said for a municipal journal, non-partisan, but giving the news and allowing correspondents to air their views with much the same freedom as they do orally in public halls, squares, and parks. Sheffield owns a municipal printing office which is a great success from the public point of view.
To say that a public service belongs to the officials who run it is obviously untrue. They do not fix prices or wages, they do not have to earn dividends, and they may be dismissed. The employee in a private concern has no defined rights as against the management; but a public servant has. A postman, badgered by a postmaster, can complain to a higher authority, and if his complaint is just he will be upheld. Officials have no motive, such as an interest in the dividends, to drive their subordinates beyond reasonable efficiency. They are not slaves to the contract price.
Direct Labour, as employed on corporation housing and water engineering schemes, has repeatedly demonstrated that it gives better and cheaper workmanship, can finish a job in less than scheduled time, and repairs will not begin immediately afterwards. The Ministry of Health insists that on housing contracts the lowest offer must be accepted, and this normally means more or less defective work, as we know to our cost. In Turriff we maintain a small works department, partly to make good the shortcomings of Jeremiah on our municipal houses and shops, and we recently municipalised, to great public advantage, the actual killing in our own slaughter house. This we did on the suggestions of a councillor who refers to himself as ‘Tory Joe.’ Nothing can stop the steady trend towards public ownership. Previously the shambles had been let off in sections to the various butches.
Private enterprise is a muddle. Dozens of milk carts and foot messengers, from grocer, baker and butcher, make overlapping calls for small orders and then with small deliveries. That there is only one postman on a given round shows the perfectly preventable waste involved in a quarter of an hour being spent in delivering one pint of milk.
The present muddle of rationing, with firms adding 33 per cent to the cost price as ‘legitimate profit,’ and supplies denied in one direction and lavished in another, was inevitable in a planless, private-enterprise community. Public stores, with no motive to profiteer, offer the only remedy.
The author of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach, says, ‘As a nail between the joinings of the stones, so sticketh fraud between buying and selling.’
Public enterprise, by standardising prices, eliminating the profit motive, and closing unnecessary shops, would have the same effect as the box-office queue, alphabetic order, and police regulation of the traffic, without reference to any improvement in human nature. That would follow as a result.
John Ruskin and the Comtists placed their hopes on the moralisation of Capitalism, associated, in Ruskin’s advocacy, with the setting up of the Companies of St George, with farms and colonies of craftsmen. A State within the State can do much to improve conditions for those who join up, and the Soviet Government has preserved and used co-operative associations of consumers. Moralisation was good even in the days of American slavery. There were kindly planters whose benevolence ameliorated the fundamental inequity of a system which showed itself outwardly in the bad roads, neglected fences and buildings, and poorly cultivated fields of the Slave States, labour being the despised portion of the black man and poor whites. The only form that moralisation could take, with slavery then as with capitalism now, was and is abolition. So far as the Comtists are concerned, their clear-sighted English leader, Frederic Harrison, in his old age declared in favour of the social system depicted by Edward Bellamy in ‘Looking Backward.’
Mr Wells exhorts Homo Sapiens to ‘unite or perish,’ and has drawn up a vague code of the Rights of Man, but apparently without any very lively hope of its realisation, for he has in another book prefigured man as going back to bows and arrows, agriculture and the arts of life having been lost in the chaos and destruction caused by the long-continued war. The one thing a manufacturer of hair-raising best-sellers cannot afford to do is to fall in with current helpful movements and tendencies, such as the actual development of agriculture and the return of three and a three-quarter million acres to the plough in Britain in two years as a beneficent result of the war.
The Benign Necessity.
What does seem probably is that the evacuation from the cities will beget a generation which will enjoy country life and pursuits as rational beings have always done; that the bombed factories and workshops will not be rebuilt on the same sites, but on cheaper land out in the country, and that they will take their workpeople with them to new garden villages where quiet will not seem oppressive, but welcome, where rents and rates will be lower, and it will be daylight every day, and the birds will come at a call, or without being called if you have provided a bath and an occasional scattering of crumbs.
Regional planning will then be, not a Fascist trick to get rid of self-government in favour of an irresponsible Gauleteer appointed from above and irremoveable from below, but a rational attempt to redistribute population and industry for the greatest good of both in an age when distance has been largely cancelled out by telephone and speedy transport. In origin the burg was the walled, fortified, presumably safe space. Now the bigger the burg, the bigger the target.
China, long bombed from the air, has greatly decentralised and improved her industries, and with them her population. Russia has built cities such as Magnetogorsk and Dneiprotrov, but she also cultivates what were barren steppes, and the peasants are naturally attracted to the big collective way of working and living, with the shorter working day and the cultural possibilities opened up to a nation which has at last been taught and encouraged to read.
All this and much more comes from the setting of man free from drudgery without artisty and from the poverty of primitive life in inhospitable regions. Man will not divest himself of acquired knowledge and mechanical power in order to live an aesthetic life. He will go forward to a life simpler in the sense of being free of the contradictions, complexities and exploitation of private ownership, with endless foreseeable beneficial contingent results.
What I have written here is not utopian prophecy or abstract constitution-mongering, but matter of fact deduction from current facts and tendencies. The Golden Age is not behind. It lies before. And the keywords are co-operation and harmony as against competition and strife.
A Commonwealth is not a mere collection of individuals, any more than a great cathedral is a mere collection of stones and timber and glass. It is a corporate entity, and its management as a living, growing, changing organism requires constant vigilance, co-operation, or opposition from those who are to be regarded as citizens at all. This means endless politics.
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