The Abolition of Glasgow
Will the Glasgow Socialist M.P’s hold the field? They probably will; for the Labour vote is the steadiest of all. The law of the pendulum does not apply to it. The Socialist vote all over the world does not diminish, but steadily increases. It is to be hoped that the Clydeside phalanx will remain intact; for its members are more likely to adapt themselves readily to the changed prospect of trade and the world position of industry than any other class of man who could be elected. They have no vested interests in the continuance of commercialism. They are mentally and economically free men in the sense that members of the shareholding class are not.
The beginning of trouble.
But already difficulties have arisen, as reflected in the following resolution which the Glasgow Trades Council has adopted: -
The Conference, recognising the attempts to revive foreign trade as a method of providing employment are doomed to failure, inasmuch as Great Britain can never again be ‘the workshop of the world,’ hereby declares that the only policy which will materially help to solve the unemployment problem today is that of the national organisation of industry, particularly in the field of agricultural production, so that we may not continue to be dependent on foreign sources for our food supplies, which the restriction of our foreign trade now seriously endangers.
These resolutions represent the beginning of trouble which had to come, within the party. What they mean is that something like a school of physiocrats and aschool of mercantilists threatens to develop, or has already developed, within the Socialist party, repeating a division of the Individualist thought which first came into noticeable being in the time of Adam Smith and French Turgot.
Mercantilists vs Physiocrats.
Frankly, one stands with the spirit of the resolution which Glasgow opposed and defeated. The physiocratic view is that real wealth consists of land and its products. It is a producers’ philosophy. The mercantilist view is that any kind of traffic from which money can be made represents wealth-production. Paper money, scrip, banks, advertising agencies, battleships, unnecessary shops and offices, would all figure as wealth in the mercantilist view, which regards not the intrinsic value of any service or thing, but its marketable value. Mercantilism is the antithesis of Socialism. There will always be shops and offices; but any Socialism worthy of the name would abolish Glasgow as it exists at present. Ninety-nine of every hundred of its shops and offices would be absolutely unnecessary in a real Co-operative Commonwealth. Not one fourth of the men of Glasgow are engaged in work for which a Co-operative Commonwealth would have any use.
Will the shop assistants, boilermakers, rivetters, and clerks support a party which sees in the development of ‘agricultural production,’ with the subsidiary callings of the rural community, the great hope of the future? Judging by the Glasgow Trades Council’s resolution, they will not readily do so.
Does Back to the Land mean a Lower Standard of Life?
The prompt answer of the urban dweller to all proposals for agricultural development is that ‘back to the land’ means the acceptance of a lower standard of life. To adopt this view may be natural to the person who merely looks around upon existing British and American conditions; but the facts are against him on a wider survey, even today. The Danish co-operators and the French market gardeners, with their high earnings and retirement at 55 to 60 years of age, are proofs to the contrary; and the pictures of medieval English prosperity left us by Sir John Fortesque, the Rev Hugh Latimer, and the farm accounts quoted by Professor Thorold Rogers, show that the people who lived upon the land in the fourteenth to the sixteenth century enjoyed a relatively high standard of comfort even in that age of undeveloped mechanical power. A labourer’s wage was ‘twice or three times his cost of maintenance,’ says Thorold Rogers.
Anyhow, the objectors are not likely to be asked whether they are prepared to accept that lower standard or not. Britain will not continue to be the workshop of the world merely because the urban dweller wishes it to be so.
The number of the unemployed in the Clyde Valley is put at 100,000. And there is no present prospect of improvement along capitalistic lines. Freights are scarcer than ever. Cotton is dull and likely to continue so. Chemicals and the metallurgical trades reflect the general stagnation. Even coal in Glasgow does not seem to share in the slight boom caused by the Ruhr trouble, and the number of vessels reported as sailing ‘light’ or arriving ‘to be laid up’ is depressing in its immediate significance.
One half of the mercantile marine of America is laid up. Glasgow ships crowd the Gare Loch; and it is said that enough shipping is anchored in Indian waters to take home the whole Anglo-Indian population should a serious rising take place in that restless and teaming dependency.
The dour and reactionary men of the Ulster coast have just had British credit pledged to the extent of millions in guarantee of a shipbuilding venture there; but a Tory Government is not likely to do much in this way for the shipyard hands who vote Labour, even if there were a demand for shipping.
Revitalising the Home Market
The Labour Party may take the ground that the due improvement o the home market would revive overseas trade and the demand for shipping. They may argue that with the National Debt enormously reduced by a thorough-going Capital Levy, the money which now goes in interest charges to the relatively small class of the well-to-do would be diffused among the wage-earners and would transform adversity into prosperity. They may point out that the reduction in the earnings of the working class by £700,000,000 a year is quite sufficient to account for bad trade, irrespective altogether of the loss of foreign markets, since the higher wage was paid while the foreign markets, since the higher wage was paid while the foreign markets were still closed.
There is much to be said for the view that a revived home market would mean more for trade prosperity than the recovery of all the foreign markets. But the question is: How is the vicious circle to be broken, that keeps the home market stagnant? Granted that a substantial reduction of imperial taxation would greatly lower prices and set money free for enhanced working class buying, how long with the process have to be deferred? How can wages be forced up with a million and a quarter of unemployed on the ‘register’ to break strikes and keep labour quiet? A Labour majority at the next General Election would ensure the Capital Levy; but what would ensure a Labour majority?
Protection from Whom?
Toryism never had the majority it has at present; and the reason lies in a matter in which the Labour party has not given very particular attention. Toryism got the votes of the Sleepy Hollows, it is said, because Tory candidates promised Protection for agriculture.
That something needs to be done for agriculture there is no manner of question. But what? The deputation of farmers and their workpeople which waited on Mr Bonar Law during the Norfolk strike heard, without protect and without alternative suggestion, his despairing plea that, in spite of election promises, a Parliamentary majority for Protectionism was not to be had, and that a subsidy was out of the question.
Protection against what or whom? It might have been asked. The produce with which British agriculture has to compete at present is mainly American, Canadian, and Australian produce. The standard of comfort for the producers of food is too low in all parts of the world; but it is not lower, but rather higher, in the competing countries than it is at home. British agriculture might well need protection from German, Russian or Austrian produce; but these countries are not exporting food; they need all they can raise for themselves.
One Great Handicap.
One great handicap to British agriculture is railway rates. These favour the foreigner as much as they punish the home producer. The nationalisation of the railways, with a uniform rate for home and foreign produce, would automatically exclude a large amount of foreign grain and meat, which has to travel thousands of miles by sea and hundreds of miles by land, both in the country where it is raised and on our own home railways. Long ago so shrewd a business man as the late Sir John Brunner pointed out that the greatest thing the Government could do for British trade would be to nationalise the railways and equalise the rates for home and foreign traffic. One sees no hint of this in Labour’s practical policy as apart from the general declaration in favour of all-round nationalisation. The present writer has publicly and privately tried to ‘rush’ Mr Ramsay MacDonald in the matter of railway nationalisation; but even during the paralysing strike of 1911 Mr MacDonald answered an urgent plea by saying ‘This is not the time to nationalise.’
The Oldest and Largest Industry
To set agriculture, the oldest and still the largest industry in Britain, on its feet, would not only be an eminently desirable change in itself, but would be the best of all preparations for setting the British Commonwealth in order generally. To this end the re-establishment of the Wages Boards, with a fixed minimum wage for the worker, fair controlled prices for produce, and insistence by the Government on efficient farming, beyond even war-time standards, would be, not merely palliatives of Individualism, but instalments of Collectivism.
But can Glasgow and its unemployed wait for the working out of anything so slow? Ought they to wait? Thousands of able-bodied young men and men in the prime of life are being ruined by enforced idleness, short commons, and the physically enervating and mentally and morally soul-deadening effects of living in a community which has no use for them. The dole is being paid for no return, except that it just keeps alive the men who draw it.
A Timber Famine
Meanwhile there is no end of work to be done in developing the waste places of our own land. The Forestry Commission has just issued a report in which it predicts a timber famine at no distant date. The Forestry Act passed in 1919 is by no means a dead letter. There are in the north eastern division of Scotland some forty unemployment schemes of forestry in operation, one quarter of which are under public authorities. But there is still admitted crying need for additions to the areas being dealt with.
The British Desert.
One great blot upon the economy of the British Isle is that a vast country like Sutherlandshire should be lying mostly derelict. Its 1200 square miles carry a diminishing population of about 10 to the square mile, or some 21,000 for the whole breadth of Scotland from sea to sea. There are fertile valleys in the neighbourhood of the rivers; but the soil is mostly poor and thin, and the region is swept by cold winds and mists from the North Sea and the Atlantic.
It is just the county for a large experiment in State afforestation. The fact that the natural conditions are so poor marks it out for public enterprise. Trees will grow where nothing else wil, and the more there are the more there will be. The planting of a great belt of woodland along the northern and western coast would do much to keep off the cold winds and mists and raise the whole temperature of the north of Scotland.
The railway service penetrates only a small portion of the area; but there are many good roads, and the motor waggon has now made the railway of less necessity.
Instead of paying unemployment benefit and giving subsidies or guarantees to Ulster shipbuilding and African cotton-growing, surely it would be more reasonable to spend money on reclaiming the north of Scotland from desert.
The population of Glasgow has always been largely recruited from the Highlands, and to the Highland as many should be returned, under favourable conditions, as would go. The land is mostly the property of the Duke of Sutherland, who has already had State grants for improvements. He could be bought out on the hire-purchase system – the rental of 17 years being treated as purchase-money, and the valuation to take no account of sporting values.
Settled down in well-organised colonies, housed at first in army huts till the unemployed masons could build houses, the colonists could carry on the work of tree-planting and preparing the ground under State forestry officers. What of agriculture and horticulture could be combined with forestry work might go on under skilled guidance; and the men and their womenfolk might carry their own amusements and arts of life into a district which badly needs invasions of the kind. Much of civilization was introduced to Scotland by the 10,000 soldiers of General Monk’s garrison, who introduced vegetables such as had not before been seen in the north, and generally set an example of industry to the flaunting idle, ‘braves’ of the district.
Such a scheme need cost the Government no more than is being paid at present without return while the physical and moral benefits to the transplanted citizens from Clydeside must needs be incalculable.
The county supported of many more people than it does now. Hugh Millar says that in one decade 15,000 persons were driven off the land; and the story of the clearances represents an indelible tale of shame to those responsible for it as carried out.
The scheme for transplanting suggested would not, by itself, mean the depopulation of Glasgow; but as part of a general return to the natural way of living it may well be as salutary as it is likely to be found necessary. It would be the beginning of a reversal of present tendencies. The coastwise population of the highlands is being shipped abroad in hundreds at a trip; but this is because of the loss of the Continental herring markets. Agriculture and afforestation have not been seriously tried there in the light of the newer knowledge or under the spur of newer necessities.
Climate and soil can both be made, and results justify the labour and expenditure. Trees and enclosures raise the temperature as a contingent advantage, and of course trees represent genuine wealth in themselves. We are all physiocrats to the extent of accepting that. But as regards the mercantilist theory that trade for export can go on for ever, that is obviously illogical. As Johnson put it long ago –
‘Depend up on it, this rage of trade will destroy itself. You and I shall not see it; but the time will come when there will be an end of it. Trade is like gaming. If a whole company are gamesters play must cease; for there is nothing to be won. When all nations are traders there is nothing to be gained by trade, and it will stop first where it is brought first to the greatest perfection.’
This does not mean that the end of Glasgow has come, and that within measurable distance it will become a deserted heap of ruins like the derelict cities of antiquity. But it does mean that Glasgow has to all appearance reached the point when further growth is neither probably nor desirable, and that a move in another direction is fully due.
Can Britain Feed Herself?
That the land of Britain is capable of supporting its present population from its own soil, and enjoying an improved standard of life in doing so, is hardly worth proving. The facts are notorious to all serious students. The textile manufacturing State of Saxony supports over 600 persons to the square mile with home-grown food. So does Belgium, and exports manufactured goods and foodstuffs as well. The British farmer considers seven tons of potatoes to the acre a good crop, though favoured districts, such as the Howe of the Mearns, raise the figure to 14. But the German farmer produces over 116 tons to the hectare (just under three acres) which is nearer 40 tons to the acre. For one thing, German sewage is not wasted. Berlin’s river, the Spree, is kept unpolluted by the city’s sewage , which is pumped up from self-contained sewers and is used on 18 sewage farms.
Back to the land is no untried experiment, no leap in the dark. France has no unemployed, and is even importing British workmen, because the people use their land, and, while they produce goods for export, do not depend on foreign markets.
The city is – all cities are – the abode of death. The life of the great centres is kept going by new men from the country. The business men, the professional men, are of fresh stock. Old firms and old families either disappear or they are kept alive by the infusion of country stock or by their members combining country life with urban.
None need dread or shun a return to the life of smaller or more scattered communities. Rather it is a consummation to be striven for. Humanity wilts and dies out in purely urban surroundings in the course of a very few generations. William Morris, much as he loved London, when he came to write his utopia ‘News from Nowhere,’ thinned out the city to extinction. In this he probably only adopted the most feasible alternative to Macaulay’s picture of a New Zealander who ‘shall in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Pauls.’ The ancient States persisted in clinging to the wrong way of life till it had to be ruin complete and entire. Let us hope that neither Glasgow nor London, nor Britain as a whole will refuse to adapt herself in time, to changing conditions of living and of getting a living.
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