The Liberals and the Land Problem in Britain
|Written||12 October 1913|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 439-442.
On Saturday, October 11 (September 28, O.S.), the British Liberal Minister, Lloyd George, opened his “Land Campaign “in two “brilliant” speeches delivered in the town of Bedford. Just as our Kit Kitych Guchkov promised “to settle accounts” with the Russian privileged and all-powerful landowners, so the British Liberal Minister promised to start a campaign on the land question, to expose the land lords and appeal to the people on the issue of a “radical” (Lloyd George is extremely radical!) land reform.
The Liberal press in Britain tried to give their leader’s campaign as impressive an appearance as possible. Publicity, publicity at all costs! If the speech is too long, let us publish a brief “summary” of it, let us call it a land “charter”, let us embellish it in such a way as to conceal the diplomatic subterfuges of the parliamentary huckster behind a long list of reforms—a minimum wage, 100,000 cottages for the workers, and the “compulsory alienation of the land at its net [!!] value to the landlords”.
In order to show the reader how the Minister of the British Liberal bourgeoisie carries on agitation among the people, we shall quote several passages from Lloyd George’s Bedford speeches.
“There is no question more vital, ... than the question ... of the land!” exclaimed the speaker. “It enters into every thing—the food the people eat, the water they drink, the houses they dwell in, the industries upon which their livelihood depends.” And to whom does the land belong in Britain? To a handful of rich people! One-third of all the land belongs to members of the House of Lords. “Landlordism is the greatest of all monopolies in this land.” The power of the landlords is boundless. They may evict their tenants, and devastate the land worse than an enemy would. “Now, I am not attacking the landlords either individually or as a class,” the Minister took pains to declare, “but can such a state of affairs be allowed to continue?”
During the last few decades the agricultural population has declined from over two million to one and a half million, while the number of gamekeepers has increased from 9,000 to 23,000. There is no other country in the world where there is so much uncultivated land and where the farmers suffer so much from game bred by the rich for their amusement.
The wealth of Britain is increasing at an astonishing rate. But what about the farm labourers? Nine-tenths of them earn less than twenty shillings and sixpence (about 10 rubles) per week, a sum which in workhouses is considered to be barely sufficient to prevent an inmate from starving. Sixty per cent of the farm labourers earn less than eighteen shillings (about 9 rubles) per week.
The Conservatives propose that the land be purchased in small holdings. “But him who talks about purchase,” thundered the British Rodichev, “I shall ask: at what price?” (Laughter.)
Will not the high price crush the small buyer? Will he not be crushed by high rates? There is a Small Holdings Act which is supposed to provide land for workers. Here is an example. The total rates and taxes on a plot of land are assessed at £30 (nearly 270 rubles). This land is bought and resold to poor people in small holdings. The price they pay turns out to be £60!
The depopulation of rural England threatens to make our country defenceless—without a strong peasantry there can be no strong army. Now, can either a Russian or a British Liberal get along without playing on crude nationalist and chauvinist sentiments?
“The landlords did not create the land.” exclaimed Lloyd George, “the country must choose between the power of the landlords and the welfare of the workers. We must act firmly and determinedly against monopoly—and property in land is the greatest monopoly. The tenant farmer must obtain guarantees that he will not be evicted, or deprived of the fruits of his energy and skill.” (A voice: “What is the remedy?”) “We must act, enough of timid attempts at half-measures. We must deal with it thoroughly, we must do as businessmen do. It is no use tinkering and mending, we must put the land monopoly under better control.
“We must secure a minimum wage for the labourer, shorten the working day, give him a decent, comfortable cottage and a plot of land so that he can grow a certain amount of produce for his family. We must secure for him a ladder of progress in order that the ‘enterprising’ labourer may rise from the small allotment, the kitchen garden, to the small holding. And the most enterprising might look forward to taking their position as one of the substantial farmers in the community. You are tempted with the charms of emigration to America and Australia. But we want the British worker to find sustenance for himself, a free life and comfort for himself and for his children right here, in England, in our own country.”
Thunderous applause.... And one can almost hear the isolated voices of those in the audience who were not fooled (like the one who shouted: “What is the remedy?”) saying: “He sings well; but will he do anything?”
He sings well, this British Liberal Minister, this favourite of the petty-bourgeois crowd, a past master in the art of breaking strikes by brazen deception of the workers, the best servant of British capital, which enslaves both the British workers and the 300 million population of India. What power, however, induced this hardened politician, this lackey of the money-bags, to make such “radical” speeches?
The power of the labour movement.
In Britain there is no conscripted army. The people cannot be restrained by violence—they can be restrained only by deception. The labour movement is growing irresistibly. The people’s attention must be diverted, the masses must be “engaged” with high-sounding schemes for reform, a pretence must be made of waging war on the Conservatives, sops must be promised to prevent the masses from losing faith in the Liberals, to ensure that they follow the industrial and financial capitalists like sheep following shepherds.
And the promises of reform ... does not the English proverb say that promises are like pie-crusts, made to be broken? Lloyd George makes promises and the Liberal Cabinet as a whole will cut them to a fifth before setting about their realisation. The Conservatives, in their turn, will make a further cut, the result being a tenth.
The reformism of the British bourgeoisie is the clearest indication of the growth of a deep-going revolutionary movement among the British working class. No eloquent orator, no Liberal charlatan can stop this movement.
- Rodichev, F. M.—a landowner from Tver Gubernia, one of the organisers and most active members of the Cadet Party.