Friday, 1 July 2011


By D. J. Diston and Michael Williams

Independent Labour Party (ILP) 318 Regents Park Road London Finchley, N3

"There seems to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth: the first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbours—this is robbery; the second by commerce, which is generally cheating; the third by agriculture-the only honest way, wherein a man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground in a kind of continuous miracle. . ."

By D. J. Diston and Michael Williams

Independent Labour Party (ILP) 318 Regents Park Road London Finchley, N3

"There seems to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth: the first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbours—this is robbery; the second by commerce, which is generally cheating; the third by agriculture-the only honest way, wherein a man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground in a kind of continuous miracle. . ."



In presenting the case for a regenerated agriculture, we are concentrating on Man's primary need, the need for food. In order to live and to enjoy the fruits of living we have to eat, and eat well.

Under the present system we do eat; but some of us do not eat so well. We, the authors of this pamphlet, are under no illusion that a prosperous agriculture is of itself a guarantee of a high national standard of life.

Our aim is to point the necessity for a healthy, flourishing agriculture occupying an honoured and dignified place in a balanced economy, and giving to the workers engaged in the industry the highest possible standard of life compatible with the national resources.

Agriculture is the foundation of all communities; and in Britain—even in its present lowly state—agriculture is still the largest single industry. Evidently it takes a World War to bring home the importance of agriculture to the nation as a whole. In the war that has recently ended, as in the one before it, British agriculture may justifiably be said to have stood firmly on its feet. Let no-one imagine, however, that this artificially-stimulated concern for our agriculture would for long survive a return to the unrestricted lawlessness of monopoly Capitalism.

As Socialists, our concern is with the place of agriculture in the transition to post-war economy. We know that whilst the law of Capital remains supreme home-produced food will revert to the subsidiary position it enjoyed between the wars, with a consequent slump in the status of farmer and farm-worker alike. It is implicit in the very nature of Capitalism that agriculture should occupy the humblest place of all in the national economy. Similarly, the nature of Socialism ordains that agriculture should become a priority consideration.

We are assured both by history and common sense that anything resembling a revolutionary alteration in the economic life of one country is invariably followed by a hardening of the attitude of Capitalism wherever it is still a major force. Such a reaction would make its impact on this country largely in the form of a partial—if not complete —boycotting of our import and export trade. Then, indeed, we should have to rely on home-produced food to keep us going (much in the way as we have had to rely on it during the war, only a great deal more so).

The process has, in fact, already started. The summary ending of Lend-Lease is the first instalment of Capitalism's answer to Socialism.

It will readily be seen, therefore, that there is a practical as well as a moral responsibility on us as Socialists, whether in the factories, in the mines, in the dock-yards, on the railways, behind office desks, or on the land itself, to familiarise ourselves with British agriculture and its attendant problems and potentialities.

“Nationalise the land' is a slogan we are constantly hearing. Here then is the picture of 'Our Land' and the implication of that slogan.


You are asking, no doubt, whether agriculture has always been at such a low ebb in Britain. Well the answer is that it has not. Britain has some of the finest agricultural land in the world. It also has a climate so unpredictable and so swift in its changes that one can truthfully say that never in the history of British agriculture has it been necessary to write off the harvest as a complete loss. So we start with an advantage.

How is it then that our agriculture managed to get itself into the deplorable state of decay in which it was existing at the commencement of the war? The answer is provided by the twin birth of the Capitalist System and the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In a moment or two we shall be taking a look at this plural event.

Farming in feudal England was divided between the Estate Owners or Lords of the Manor, who farmed their land with the labour of hired men, and the village communities which farmed land held in common ownership, putting out their cattle to graze on the waste land, which at that time they had a right to do. After the first quarter of the eighteenth century a number of landowners began a series of experiments that were destined to play a large part in eliminating the communal farming of the common people. By introducing a method of crop rotation and by systematic stock-breeding, the landowners suddenly found themselves in the position of being able to make of large-scale farming a most profitable proposition. Naturally, the village communities, lacking the resources of the powerful landowners, were not able to take part in the Gold Rush of rural England.

Once the landowners had opened their eyes to the possibilities of large-scale farming it was inevitable that they should begin devising a means of acquiring more and more land. The process known as the 'Enclosure of the Common Land' which, in effect, meant that arable land was engrossed in large farms under a single directive and the land previously farmed communally was gradually and systematically absorbed into large single units, was the method chosen. It was a good method from the landowners point of view, because, owing to the resources at their disposal, they had no difficulty in proving that this was the road to increased productivity and greater efficiency So the common people began to lose their land and with it, often, their means of livelihood; until, with the passing of the General Enclosure Act, common land had virtually disappeared, the village communities being too poor to comply with the provisions of this and various other Enclosure Acts to fence and drain their land, etc.

Meanwhile, British agriculture grew steadily more prosperous, due, in part, to the shortage of foreign wheat caused by the wars of that time, and, in part, to the growing demands of the increasing population of the new industrial areas.

But if the affluent period of British agriculture was now well under way, so also was the flow of the rural populations to the new industrial areas where the promise of better wages was by this time plain for all to see. And this flow of labour away from the land, motivated, in the first instance, by the dispossession of the village communities by the feudal landowners and rising to alarming proportions with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, has been going on ever since, right up to the outbreak of the last war and the placing of restrictions upon the movement of labour from one industry to another.

How has agriculture in this country prospered since the Enclosure Acts of the eighteenth century? At first, the benefits to the industry itself (though not to the dispossessed cottagers and small yeomen) were very real. Increased efficiency meant increased productivity, and the expanding industrial populations provided a ready-made market for the increase in agricultural produce. The market was, in point of fact, so enormous that for a time, at least, it looked as though it would prove insatiable. Gradually, however, certain other considerations began to make their presence felt. Industrialisation which, to begin with, had seemed a blessing all round, was later to prove the downfall of British agriculture.

As the industrialisation of Britain proceeded, so it became necessary to cease thinking exclusively in terms of the home market and to concentrate on conquering the markets of the World. It was the beginning of a going concern on a giant scale and it saw the birth of a new class, the industrialists, who were soon elbowing the British aristocracy off their own territory. Capital was all the time being lured away from the land by the certainty of more profitable investments in Industry. The devil's dance of capitalist economics was on.

Unfortunate agriculture! The rich landowners, after better pickings but still wily enough to keep a tight hold on their land, let the estates out to tenant farmers in small parcels of land. These latter gentry, at first luxuriating in the sunshine of the 'Golden Age,' were later to receive the backwash of that tide of industrialisation which was to send them moaning with self-pity down a century of time.

Britain, the workshop of the World, with a swollen and redistributed population, could no longer live off her agricultural produce. Food was shipped in from abroad and, with the new and improved methods of transport made available by steampower, could compete with the home product in its own market. This competition had the usual effect of depressing prices, and the profit seeped out of agriculture. At the same time, a new and dangerous idea was gaining ground namely that since imported food could be purchased as cheaply as it could be produced at home it was advisable to concentrate on importing agricultural produce and exporting manufactured goods. In this way British agriculture was given a sharp push towards the steep slope of its inevitable decline. It had yet to receive the kick that was to start it on the downward journey. And this was not to be delayed for long.

In America, new railroads were already bringing the wheat from the golden west, the wheat that was shortly to flood the World market and to knock at the door of world-wide economic chaos. And so it was that, in Britain, prices and land values slumped heavily and agriculture was disdainfully relegated to the position of the poor relation, to be tolerated because it existed, but to be discouraged from any attempt to better its station in life. Thus, dragging the misery of the country- side behind it, British agriculture crept obscurely into the twentieth century.

With the coming of the first World War came also the inevitable boom in British agriculture. Drastically restricted imports removed foreign competition almost overnight, and a panicky Government commenced to woo the farmers as they had never been wooed before.

Suddenly, for the first time since the impact of industrialisation on the life of the country, the farming industry acquired influential status.

Subsidies were promised and even given, widening the farmers' margin of profit and, at the same time, attracting to the industry fresh capital to make good the ravages caused by neglect. Prices of farm produce were raised and stabilised. The farmers sowed gold with their seed corn. It is no exaggeration to say that a river of fabulous prosperity flowed over the land; providing, that is, that one remembers that farm-workers were prohibited from bathing in it. Prosperity began ended with the state of emergency. Once again it was discovered by the vested interests behind the Government that a prosperous agriculture was upsetting for their bank balances, and British agriculture was escorted back to its former decay.

And between the wars our bruised and battered agriculture had again to face competition from the Americas. In those countries, vast virgin tracts of land came under the plough and food began to be produced there on a hitherto unprecedented scale. The high productivity of this land had the effect of depressing the price of corn to the point where it was again economically impossible for British agriculture to live with such competition. It is true that respite was forthcoming in the intervention of outraged Nature, who retorted to the shameless exploitation of her resources by causing huge dust bowls to be formed. However, the respite was little more than a breathing space, and as new land was developed in the Americas so a new and much more highly mechanised system of farming was evolved there. Food continued to be produced on an extensive scale, though as the costs of production went up the menace to British agriculture was slightly —but by no means extravagantly—diminished.

How—you may well ask—did British agriculture survive at all in these circumstances? It survived with the help of subsidies from its succession of alarmed capitalist Governments, by concentrating on the production of the more perishable foodstuffs, by depressing the standard of life of its workers to an unbelievably low level, and by neglecting the maintenance of farm buildings, hedges, fences, etc. In such a manner British agriculture tottered along to the outbreak of World War No. 2 and to the artificially-procured golden age that comes to the farming industry whenever the clarion call to arms is sounded.


Approximately two-thirds of the land available for agriculture is owned by the aristocracy or, if you like it better, the landed gentry. We have already said something about the origin of this ownership,

which goes back a long, long way, and we have no wish to pursue the subject any further. Suffice it to say that land-ownership in Britain to-day is very largely a legacy from feudal times. The fact that, in order to avoid incurring heavy death duties, a substantial portion of the landed gentry have transformed themselves into 'estates' and, in some cases, even gone as far as selling out, does not appreciably alter the position. The bulk of the farmers of Britain do not own the land they farm.

Of the third that do own the land they farm, many of them were tenant farmers up to a few years after the 1914-1918 war and purchased their farms on the strength of the hay they made while the sun shone.

When the sun no longer shone—as it ceased to do very shortly after World War No. i—most of the existing owner-farmers were driven into the extended arms of the moneylenders and the banks, private enterprise in agriculture being compelled to mortgage itself in order to maintain its precarious existence. It is a debatable point then as to whether even this third can strictly be said to own their land.

The English countryside is split up into large estates comprising a number of farms. Sandwiched between these estates are the farms that are owner-farmed, and since these farms were at some time or other part of an estate they usually conform in size and in pattern to the 'estate farms.' Most of what we are going to say about the 'estate farms' will therefore apply also to the owner-farms, particularly if the moneylenders and the banks are equated with the landowners.

These 'estate farms'—the majority of them less than 200 acres—are let out at an acreage rental based on the productivity of the land and its convenience for the distribution of produce, plus additional charges for buildings; the estate reserving the right to the timber in the woodlands and the game. The farms follow no regular pattern, their development and boundaries being subject to conditions imposed by long periods of letting and re-letting. More often than not, buildings which were originally designed to suit farming practices of a hundred or more years ago are expected to survive both the passing of the years and the altered conditions of the industry. The further practice of keeping the acreage of the farms down in order to ensure the ability of the tenant farmers to pay the rents has contributed its share toward precluding the development of the land to suit the mechanised farming of to-day.

What do you suppose is the farmer's answer to all this? You suppose right. The farmer's answer to die intolerable burden that has been placed upon him by the tyranny of landowners and moneylenders and by the abject failure of successive Governments to inaugurate asane agricultural policy is a despairing wail for dearer prices and depressed wages; the old capitalist remedy, in fact, that the consumer and the primary producer should share with each other the joys of providing the profits.


At the beginning of the century, the idea of the farm labourer as a yokel or country bumpkin was prevalent in the towns. In the pages of PUNCH, that barometer of middle class prejudices, the farm labourer appeared almost unfailingly as a straw-sucking yob whose jaw was continually dropping on to his neck whenever he was called upon by passing motorists to put them on their correct route. To-day, even PUNCH has emancipated itself from this absurd hallucination.

The modem farm-hand is a highly-skilled worker and, with the extensive mechanisation of farming methods, he is usually something of a mechanic as well. In the past there was a fairly rigid classification of farm workers as cowmen, stockmen, carters, shepherds, etc., each having his specialised task to perform. To-day, although this system still persists in some measure—and particularly in the case of cowmen, whose special duties are very much a full-time job—the decline of the industry has resulted in a drastic reduction in labour power, which, apart from making heavy cuts in the staffing of farms, has had the additional effect of making correspondingly heavy demands on the remaining workers, thus transforming the one-job man into a skilled all-rounder.

Now let us consider how the increased skill of the farm worker has been rewarded. For this purpose it is not necessary to go back any further _than the years just prior to the last war, since apart from the fluctuation of wages, dictated by considerations of expediency during the war years, the working and living conditions of the agricultural labourer have remained fairly static.

The farm worker differs,' of necessity, from the town worker; for the very nature of his occupation tends to regulate his whole life,' and not only that large slice of his life that he spends at work on the farm.

The farm worker's leisure is determined by the rotating seasonal needs of the land he serves and by the day to day needs of the cattle he tends.

The situation of his home is likewise fixed by his work, and .in a much more arbitrary fashion than is the case even with the lowest paid of industrial workers. We shall not be guilty of the slightest exaggeration if we say that the farm worker's needs, the needs of his family, and his natural desire for association with the rest of the community, are entirely subordinated to the requirements of his employer. The amenities of the farm worker's home are conditioned by its degree of isolation—often considerable—so that in place of a piped water supply as likely as not he has to make do with springs and wells; in place of electricity or gas, oil lamps; in place of adequate sanitation, a bucket and cess-pit. These things are the rule rather than the exception. It frequently happens that the tradesmen will not deliver goods in these out-of-the-way places, which means that the farm worker's wife may have a journey of from five to ten miles in order to fetch the things she needs.

She will be lucky if there is an adequate bus service.

But, to make quite certain of the farm-worker's bondage, the cottage in which he lives is tied to his employment. Let that fact sink well into your heads, town workers. This pernicious system of 'tied cottages' is ostensibly designed to ensure that the workers on the farms have cheap cottages within easy reach of their work. It does more than that. It also ensures that loss of a job means the loss of a home. A more effective method of blackmail could scarcely be invented. It is this 'tied cottage' tyranny that, more than anything else, contrives to prevent the farm worker from improving his condition, since any agitation on the farm worker's part is quickly met by the threat of ejection from his home. And from this there is no redress.


In 1914 the farm worker's wage stood at 18/- a week. The prosperity which visited the industry as a result of the crisis made little impact upon the farm workers. By 1916, when the farmers were as swollen with profits as Christmas turkeys with corn, the farm worker was getting a wage increase of a shilling a week. By 1917 the scandalous discrepancy between the affluence of the farmers and the wretchedness of the farm workers had reached such open proportions that the Government of the day was forced to act, which it did by setting up the first Agricultural Wages Boards; and by August of that year the farm worker's average weekly wage had risen to 25/-. From' the summer of 1918 to the summer of 1921—that is, in the transitionary period after the war—the weekly wage in agriculture showed a steady increase, until, between August, 1920, and August, 1921, the peak wage of 46s. 10 and half d. was touched.

The year 1920 was to be a landmark in the history of the farm worker, for it was that year that saw the birth of the Union we know to-day as the National Union of Agricultural Workers, the child of the old Eastern Counties Agricultural Labourers' and Small Holders' Union.

Nevertheless, the creation of the N.U.A.W. was not enough to stem the tide of misfortune that was, inevitably, to engulf the farming industry once again. A bad harvest and the disappearance of the wages board machinery in 1921 led to an immediate attack upon the farm workers' wages. The industry, so cynically abandoned by the Government and the people that it had served so faithfully throughout the war years, took to its bed.

From 1921 onwards agriculture in Britain was very very sick. The men's Union was powerless to resist the wage cuts and by 1923 working conditions in agriculture had reached so abject a level that there was a Strike. The Strike was scarcely a success. It had neither the strength nor the resources to achieve victory; but at least it enabled the men of the Eastern Counties—districts where the farm workers were much more strongly organised than in other parts of the country—to keep their wages stable at 28/- a week. Even so, this abortive attempt at militant action very nearly destroyed the men's Union. The main cause of the Strike's failure was wrapped up in the conditions that obtained in the industry, the isolated situation of the men combining with the fear of losing their homes to produce a lack of the necessary unity. A contributory factor in the Strike's failure was the largely illusory strength of the Union which, inflated with war-time member ship, was in a strong position financially but without any real fighting dynamic. To some extent, at least, the Strike brought about an increase in union-consciousness, and, with the economic depression showing no signs of abating, the militant workers in the industry set about the task of reorganising their Union on a firmer basis and carrying out a relentless campaign for improved working conditions.

The struggle was a fight against impossible odds, at least so far as increasing the men's wages was concerned. Wages were fixed by County Wage Committees and although it is true that the Trade Union was represented on these committees, it was outnumbered and outvoted by the reactionary farming and landowning interests.

Frustrated and impeded on the County Wage Committees, the men of the N.U.A.W. concentrated their energy on organising the farm workers up and down the country, on struggling for subsidiary reforms such as paid holidays and a reduction in the working week, and on fixing the legal rights of the workers. But they never lost sight of the need for a Central Wages Board to replace the unsatisfactory Wage Committees with their fluctuating wage from county to county, and to this end they campaigned indefatigably, determined that wage rates should be fixed on a national basis, so that the strongly-organised counties should carry the weaker ones along with them, instead of being held up to ransom by the even poorer condition of other counties. This constant struggle took its toll in energy. So much effort had to be expended for so little achievement that very little could be done towards tackling the fundamental problems of the industry as a whole.

At the beginning of World War No. 2 the average weekly wage in agriculture was 35/-. During the war the wages rose stage by stage; from 35/- they went to 48/-, then to 52/-, then to £3, then to £3 5s.', until, at the time of going to press, they stand at £3 10s. The amount of hours that have to be worked for a weekly wage of '7O/- varies slightly from county to county, from 50 to 52 hours in summer and from 48 to 50 hours in winter.*

As the wages have gone up, so have the overtime rates. And so has the cost of living! If anyone is disposed to think that 7o/- a week is a generous wage at the present time, let him try to bring up a family on it.

When we say that the wages have 'gone up' we do not wish to convey the impression that they have moved up of their own volition. Every stage of the increase has had to be bitterly fought for by the N.U.A.W. Despite the higher war-time productivity, despite the restrictions on imports and the consequent rise in prices, despite the subsidies that have been paid over to the farmers, the men's Union has had to fight what has virtually been a lone battle against terrific odds. That it has succeeded in bringing the statutory minimum wage up to 70/- a week is a tribute to the tenacity of its negotiators. It is certainly no tribute either to the generosity of the farmers or of the Government.

It is important to bear in mind that the increases in agricultural wages since 1939 have been achieved in an inflated war-time economy. It yet remains to be seen whether this seemingly steady progression along the road to a living wage comparable with the wages paid in other industries can be sustained throughout the difficult years to come.


The farm worker's first duty, to himself and to his fellow workers, is to support his Union as an active trade unionist. Membership of the N.U.A.W. is a paramount necessity for every worker engaged in agriculture. The non-unionist, whether through ignorance or obstinacy (and usually it is both), is a menace to his fellow workers. He is also the worst enemy of his own wife and family. We say to this man: "Get into your Union and get back some of the human dignity that you have lost through years of bowing and scraping before Authority. Do it to-day and start life as a human being!"

The N.U.A.W.'s immediate demand is for a statutory minimum wage of £4 10s for a week consisting of 48 hours all the year round. Farm workers throughout the country should unite solidly to press this demand home. And don't run away with the idea that it is a luxury wage you are asking for. It is not. £4 10s. a week is no more than a reasonable living wage. It is the very minimum to which the farm worker is entitled.

In offering the following suggestions which, in our estimation, require the farm worker's vocal pressure at his local T.U. branch we are concerned with what can be done now, at this moment:

NOTE At the meeting of the Agricultural Wages Board held on and January, 1946, the Trade Unions' claim for a 48-hour week all the year round was approved (though the farmer members, of the Board voted against it). This proposal has yet to go before 47 Wages Committees before it becomes law, or alternatively, is finally turned down.


1. The abolition of the "tied cottage" system.

2. Drastic improvements in rural housing.

3. All sickness to be paid for at the statutory minimum wage rate.

4. The principle of equal pay for equal work applied to female workers.

5. Stronger T.U. representation on the Wage Committees.

6. Annual holidays with pay comparable to other industries, in addition to all Bank Holidays.

7. Legislation for safety devices on agricultural machinery, as in the factories.

8. Regular and thorough inspection by Government Inspectors of working conditions on the farms.

The farm worker must realise that, just as he must agitate through his own Union for immediate improvements in the industry of which he is so vital a part, so it is with the workers in other industries through-out the length and breadth of the country; and that beyond this inter-industry agitation there is the larger issue of the urgent need for working-class solidarity in the face of the common enemy. It is absolutely essential, therefore, for the farm worker and the industrial worker to support each other's demands. Basically, their needs are the same. Upon the Trades Councils and in local Government the farm worker and the industrial worker must join with each other in the day to day struggle for working-class emancipation.


I. To-day

During the war of 1939-1945, the Coalition Government evolved a plan for agriculture. The war has ended; the Government has changed. The plan remains. Let us consider it.

the most powerful force that is to-day at work in British agriculture is the County War Agricultural Committees which, functioning under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture, are responsible for ensuring the maximum of productivity up and down the countryside. These Committees exercise an absolute authority over the cropping and if they instruct a farmer to put that field down to grass and grow potatoes or mangolds in that one, then that's how it is. The farmer either complies or risks prosecution. It is a bold man who wagers his own judgment against that of the County War Agricultural officials.

The Committee Executive is composed of Government representatives, farmers (it's a safe bet that all the big farmers are 'on the Committee' and precious, precious few of the small ones) and landowners.

Somewhere in the background is a still, small voice that belongs to the workers' Trade Union. Thus, the workers in the industry are represented and all is, ostensibly, above board. You would be right, however, in supposing that there is no difficulty in shouting down the voice of the trade union, whenever it shows signs of getting raucous. The fact that all appointments are made from the top acts as an additional safety device for the forces of authority.

Authority is delegated by the Executive Committee to a small army of local officials who operate, like “Gauleiters”, in their selected areas. It is only fair to say that some of these men are conscientious and humane individuals who know their job. It is equally fair to say that the vast majority of them are nothing of the sort, having been chosen—often by a mysterious and unrevealed process—for anything but a previous knowledge of farming and farming matters. This ubiquitous flying squad of War Agricultural officials draws sarcastic comment from farmers and farm workers alike.

The pool labour is recruited from amongst Conscientious Objectors ex-gardeners (rudely uprooted from their flower beds), floating farm workers, members of the Women's Land Army, friendly aliens, and Prisoners of War. When a farmer wants extra labour he applies to the offices of the local War Agricultural for so many men or for so many women (the latter at a cheaper rate); or perhaps he applies for Prisoners of War (also at a cheaper rate), but he is not supposed to have them if other labour is available. If the farmer wants his fields ploughed or his corn cut then he applies to the machinery depot of the local War Agricultural and, if he is lucky, is supplied with both the labour and the machines.

The grip of the War Agricultural on its workers is firm and sure. The Essential Works Order sees to that. It is by no means easy for a worker even to transfer his services from one War Agricultural to another, though here—as in other things—much depends on the tolerance and understanding (when it exists) of the County and District Labour Officers.

A great deal of publicity has been given to the increased acres that have come under the plough. This publicity is milk and honey to the officials of the County War Agriculturals. It is also a temptation— not always resisted—to insist upon the ploughing of land that should rightly be given over to pasture.

In some measure, at least, the War Agriculturals have served—and are serving—to tide the farming industry over a crucial situation, and not only the farming industry but also the country's food supply.

Nevertheless, bad administration, unthinking decisions, failure to appreciate the workers' rights as individuals, a tendency to placate the big farmers at the expense of the small ones,' and various other undesirable effects, are common to War Agriculturals all over the country.

In addition to the War Agriculturals, the industry has been presented with an extension of the marketing board scheme—so that now most crops are marketed at controlled prices—with acreage subsidies, to enable farmers to comply with the dictates of the War Agricultural Committees without suffering financial loss in the process, and with a Central Wages Board for the fixing of a statutory minimum wage for agricultural workers.

The Government marketing scheme is just the sort of half-hearted measure that British Capitalism is so good at providing in times of crisis. The farmers, whom it is designed both to benefit and restrain, do not see it as roses all the way; and small wonder, for, necessary as something of the sort is, this marketing scheme tends to operate in a manner consistent with the practice of Capitalism the world over; that is, in a remarkably lopsided fashion. Luxury products, like grapes and mushrooms, escape price control completely, and with them the sky's the limit. Neither does the marketing scheme wholly obliterate that irresponsible body of leeches, the middlemen, who fatten themselves at the expense of growers and consumers alike. Often, where farmers have had to market certain crops through the Government Marketing Board, collection has come so late that the crop has deteriorated to such an extent as to be almost valueless. And, more than once, prices have not been controlled until the larger growers have helped themselves to excess profits, leaving the smaller men the pickings from the controlled price.

Whilst we are prepared to admit that, since 1939 there has been a marked all-round improvement in the organisation of the industry, we are concerned to state our conviction that there has not so far been the slightest attempt to resolve the fundamental problems of British agriculture.

2. To-morrow?

We, the authors of this pamphlet, realise very well that British agriculture cannot meet all the needs of the home market; nor do we think that this, even if it were possible; would necessarily be desirable. It is obvious that the Argentine, for instance, can produce beef more economically than it can be done here, and the same goes for wheat in the Americas. Recognising this and having no desire to introduce more lunacy into the world than it contains already, we would deprecate any policy that involved the creation of artificial shortages or restricted the free flow of the World's food supply.

We would still agree, however, that an efficient and highly productive agriculture is essential for the well-being of the people of this country (or for any other country, for that matter). Has it not been demonstrated by research and confirmed by the percentage of rejected men under the Conscription Acts that a large proportion of the youth of this country is seriously undernourished (Sir John Boyd Orr's report of 1936 puts the figure as high as 30 per cent.)! It follows from this that Britain will have no difficulty in absorbing the additional produce of a regenerated agriculture, in addition to the food that she already imports from abroad; It follows further from these statistics of malnutrition that it is criminally insane to put obstacles in the way of realising the potentialities of our agricultural land to the utmost. And it is morally wrong to take the bread out of the mouths of other nations by importing food that we are too lazy or too stupid to grow ourselves.

It is clear that the case for a regenerated agriculture is unassailable. The question is: How? Shall we leave things to the capitalists, who have already given us ample proof of their willingness to empty the bellies of the proletariat in their mad scramble after profit? Or to farmers, the servile dupes of the Capitalist System, crying out, on the one hand, for the restriction of imports so that they can ransom the public with dear food and, on the other, for lower wages for their employees? We don't think so.

We cannot see any future for British agriculture under the present system. What we do see, if Capitalism is allowed to survive, is the design to exploit the world food shortage by means of a short term policy for agriculture; and later, in a few years time perhaps, when the cream has been skimmed off the milk, the slide back, the waning markets, the wages slump, the pitching of British agriculture into the darkest comer of the national economy.

And make no mistake about it, no amount of emergency improvisation that a conscience-stricken Labour Government would doubtless feel bound to introduce could have any other effect but that of postponing eventual disaster, and that not for long.

There is certainly another factor (a particularly distressing one) that we must take into consideration whilst reflecting on what the future may have in store for our agriculture, and that is the policy of the victorious nations towards the ex-enemy countries. If the apparent determination to de-industrialise these countries is rigidly adhered to, then, in order TO support their large populations these unfortunate countries will be turned into agricultural slums. Since they will be unable to produce themselves the manufactured goods that they must have if they are to survive, they will have to import them, and the only way that they will be able to pay for these goods is by exporting agricultural produce.

Take no notice of the argument that these countries will need all the food they can grow for their own people, and will, therefore, not be thinking of exporting agricultural produce on a large scale. It is probably true that they will need all the food they can grow. But the people of this country know, none better, that there are occasions when, however short a nation may be of a commodity, it is forced to sell abroad in order to buy another commodity it needs just as badly. And Europe will be needing manufactured goods mighty badly!

We earnestly hope that this inhuman policy of stripping the vanquished countries of their industrial plants will not be carried through But if it is, then British agriculture will be dealt an additional blow. It will be a small blow—in comparison, that is, with the mortal blow that will reverberate throughout Europe—but it K not a blow that either the farmers or the farm workers can afford to take.


The first consideration of an agricultural policy should be to ensure that food is produced and sold at prices well within the purchasing power of the great mass of the population. When this condition has been met then the industry must aim at supplying the maximum amount of food that the land is able to yield. This aim cannot be realised in Britain unless the industry undergoes the most complete revolutionary organisation. How are we to set about this?

The first essential is to break the power-hold of the landlords once and for all time, by transferring the land to public ownership, in the full sense of the word. If this is not carried through, then reorganisation on a scale sufficient to effect permanent cure will not be possible since the landowners will still be in a position to obstruct and whittle down all those reforms that are likely to interfere with their proprietary interests.

The landowner and the moneylender, by maintaining their steady toll of rent and interest and by creating artificial land values—which they are always in an excellent position to do—will have it in their power to neutralise any benefits that would accrue to the industry by increased efficiency. Naturally we are not anxious to see this happen.

The shift of power from private to public ownership having been accomplished, sweeping reorganisation of the industry can then take place. But before this can happen, a complete survey of the farmland is necessary. The whole of the country's agricultural resources must come under review, the potential productivity of the land, its suitability for dairy, sheep, arable, horticultural farming etc., assessed. For this purpose it will be desirable to set up some sort of central planning authority; with complementary organisations up and down the countryside, in order to ensure the decentralising influence that is so vital a part of a truly democratic and human planning system.

Once the potentialities of the land have been tapped attention must be directed towards the farms themselves. Unsuitable and out-of-date buildings must be pulled down and new ones erercted in accordance with the over-all plan for the area. Modernisation of method and equipment must be completed as speedily as possible. In order to exploit the productivity of the land to its fullest extent it will be necessary to farm on a much larger scale than has hitherto been the case in Britain. This will entail the conversion of uneconomic units into co-operative or collective farms, whose boundaries should be conditioned by the natural considerations of the land and not, as at present, by the shaky economy of the Capitalist System.

At the same time—and we want to' stress this point—the socialisation of the land should not be left to the dehumanising mania of doctrinaire fanatics. It should be clearly understood that the soil has other proper- ties than purely economic ones and that since the beginning of time men have been drawn to the land by the peculiar satisfaction that is to be had in its cultivation. Many of the present small-holders come into this category and there is a moral responsibility for permitting such persons to take their place in a socialist economy, farming land, either on their own as before, or with the co-operation of like-minded men and women, the marketing and distribution of their produce enjoying similar facilities to those of the bigger farming units.

The distribution of farm produce must know no interference from the parasitic gang of middlemen that has become so vicious a part of capitalist economy. A system of marketing boards, under the control of the central planning authority, will ensure stable prices and equitable distribution, based on the needs of the community as a whole.

Hand in hand with the revitalisation of the industry must go the most thorough cultivation of the potentialities of agricultural science.

These potentialities are immense and even in recent years, with the limited amount of support that they have been afforded, giant strides have been made. But the advance has been as nothing compared with the advances that could be made if the facilities for research were made properly available. A socialist-planned agriculture must cultivate agricultural science as it has never been cultivated before in this country.

It is essential that agricultural colleges should become a primary concern of our educational system and that facilities for training and research should be unstinted. Research and experiment is as necessary for farming as it is for other industries. It must go on in agricultural colleges and it must go on in research stations up and down the country.

It follows naturally that as the land is being socialised, so it will be with Industry, and that as the process of socialisation increases, the standard of life of the workers will be raised proportionately. A rise in mass purchasing power means greater productivity and more equitable distribution over the whole country. When the socialisation of Industry is completed and agriculture has taken up a revitalised position in a socialist economy then we shall have a social system in which the primary concern will be to meet the needs of the people in the most efficient way possible. This is the only form of society in which a healthy, flourishing agriculture can be permanently maintained.


No society in which the agricultural worker does not enjoy the same amenities as the town worker is entitled to call itself socialist. In this, housing is a priority concern. It is no solution to erect new houses here and there, where land is available for building purposes. The whole of village life must be transformed and agricultural workers properly housed m village communities, in order that they may have at hand the facilities for communal life that are at present the monopoly of the townsman.

This is not a plea for the conversion of rural areas into a suburban paradise complete with super cinemas and pin-table saloons; but it is obvious that if sufficient workers for the increased productivity which a Socialist society demands are to be attracted to the industry, then they must be offered living conditions in which it is possible for them to live the lives of emancipated men and women and to bring up their children in decent surroundings.

Existing villages should be extended and new ones gradually built up. Transport facilities must be such that easy access to the towns is assured.

The interior fittings of the village houses (and let these houses be designed by responsible architects!) must embrace electricity a pine water supply, with hot and cold water, adequate sanitation and a bathroom. These are the minimum essentials. The rent of the houses must be well within the compass of the weekly budget.

Reduction in the hours of work, a standard of life on a level with that of the workers in Industry, the highest facilities of health and education: all this must be within the reach of the men who work in the fields, so that they shall no longer be the slaves of the land they work but its willing allies.

The economic emancipation of the agricultural worker is not an end in itself. It is very pleasant, we imagine," to be emancipated; but it is not nearly enough. We see this emancipation as the basis upon which can be constructed that moral and intellectual regeneration without which no man can expand his creative individuality to its fullest extent.

We do not subscribe to the all-too-prevalent view of the agricultural worker as a man bereft of the capacity for living life at its highest level of culture and education. We believe that in a Socialist society the latent potentialities of the agricultural worker will reveal him as an individual who knows how to use his faculties as well as other men.


We lay no claim to having said the last word about British agriculture. We have tried to present a clear picture of the past and present position of agriculture in Britain and to advance a solution for its future regeneration.

We cannot agree that the return of a Labour Government to Westminster entitles us to sit back and relax. We believe that it would be highly dangerous to assume, by virtue of this fact, that the days of capitalist oppression are numbered. Whilst the British Parliamentary System endures there is always the possibility that the electorate will be collectively foolish enough to allow possible disgruntlement with Labour's programme to hustle them back into the Tory arms waiting so eagerly to receive them. Neither do we believe that the leaders of the Labour Party have succeeded in convincing themselves that they have it in their power to inaugurate an era of Socialism.

We take this opportunity of urging the Labour Government of this country to seize its chance with both hands The rank and file are waiting!

We have indicated what we believe to be the broad outline of a Socialist policy for agriculture. We have no intention, at this stage, of presenting a blue-print. Neither have we the qualifications for doing so. We have concentrated upon what we believe to be absolute essentials. The detailed working out of the policy of socialisation will undoubtedly call for the amalgamated resources of technicians, administrators, scientists, and men with a practical working knowledge of the cultivation of the land.

We wish to end with a WARNING. The danger of bureaucracy is always present where two or three planners are gathered together, and we want particularly to emphasise the necessity for approaching all planning in a human way. Bureaucracy is the product of a combination of faulty administration and excessive centralisation, resulting in a lack of human contact between the planners and the workers on the job. We believe that this danger can be eliminated if the link between the administrator and the work is a human one. When we refer to the necessity for a central planning authority we certainly do not intend to suggest" that orders should come from the top. We insist that even on the central planning authority the workers in the industry should be adequately represented. But we go further than that. We stipulate the necessity for the parallel district organisations coming under the direct control of the workers in the industry. We believe this is essential if all vestiges of bureaucracy are to be removed. No individual must be in a position to crack the whip.

The ultimate aim of a Socialist agriculture must be to eliminate the employing class altogether, and to replace it not by any State organisation but by the workers themselves. We are sensible that this will be a transitionary process and we believe that it can be an entirely painless one, for all but the farmer who farms his land exclusively with other men's labour.

We want to see an agriculture in which the worker is his own employer, the State acting in an advisory capacity and as a marketing and distributive agent. And if bureaucracy has any part in this we undertake to eat our pitchforks!