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R. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) Ensor.

Modern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; online

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good while the movement is actually in progress ; —

Sees in the carrying out of the strike by the proletariate the
abiding and hopeful sign of the courage and self-sacrifice
of many Dutch workers who did not acquiesce in the
brutal attack upon their most indispensable liberties without
attempting to defend them to the uttermost ;

Confirms the attitude of the Committee of the party, \vhich
has declared its solidarity with the trade-unions in this battle
for the maintenance of their rights, and thereby proved to the



196 MODERN SOCIALISM

workers that in moments of extremest danger they can count
on the Social Democratic Labour party ;

Reminds comrades of the party of their duty in strength-
ening the Social Democratic conscience and organization
among the workers ;

And engages itself to carry on the fight for universal
suffrage with redoubled energy.



XV

SOCIALISM AND THE CAPITALISTIC
TRANSFORMATION OF AGRICULTURE

By E. Vandervelde

An address delivered to an audience of Belgian agricultural
experts in July, 1899.

Emile Vandervelde (born 1868) is the leader of the Belgian
Labour party in the Belgian Chamber. He is also among the most
learned of living Socialists. His most recent publications upon Agri-
culture include L'Exode Rural et le Retoiir aux Champs (Paris, 1903),
Essais sut la Question Agraire en Belgique (Paris, 1903), La Propn'ete
Foncibre en Belgique (Paris, 1900), and five studies in the Annates de
I'Institutdes Science Sociales (Brussels, 1898 and 1899).

From the following lecture a short introduction is omitted, in
which M. Vandervelde refers the institution of property to social
utility, and premisses that he will examine private property in land
from this standpoint. His account of the decay of peasant pro-
prietorship is the more interesting because drawn from the very
country which to J. S. Mill (Political Economy, b. ii., c. 6, §5) was
"the most decisive example in opposition to the English prejudice
against cultivation by peasant proprietors."

At the outset I must point out an underlying essential
distinction, which is at the very foundation of the coUectivist
theories. I want to distinguish between peasant property
exploited immediately by the owner himself, and capitalistic
property leased out for exploitation because its owner is not
a cultivator. Clearly these are two different economic
categories, which cannot be confounded under one head
without causing a real confusion. Clearly peasant property,

197



198 MODERN SOCIALISM

which is an instrument of labour for the cultivator, cannot
be assimilated to capitalistic property, which is a means of
exploiting this cultivator for the profit of a landed proprietor.
I must therefore place myself in turn at the point of view of
feasant property and at that of capitalistic property to examine
the question whether private property in land is in the interest
of society at large. So far as concerns peasant property, we
have to ask ourselves first of all, whether in our country there
still exist many cultivators who own the land which they
cultivate.

The most recent statistics bearing on this point are to be
found in the third volume of the agricultural census of 1895.
Ownership ^^o™ them we learn, that there were then
by thecuiti- 231,319 cases of ownership by the cultivator (the
vatop. owner cultivating all or more than half his land

in each case). Are we to infer that tliere are over 200,000
cultivators owning the soil that they till ? Statistically that is
so, but practically it is quite clear that those who cultivate a
" table-cloth," a " pocket-handkerchief" of ground of a few ares^
— an estate of 2 hectares, for instance — cannot as a rule be
regarded as peasant proprietors living in an independent way
on the products of the soil which they cultivate, and finding in
it a livelihood for themselves and their famiUes. Except in
districts of intensive market-gardening, and in certain parts
of Flanders, they are really labourers, agricultural or industrial
proletarians, who only find in their tiny estate something to eke
out their wages, a more or less trifling resource to be added to
their daily earnings. As to those who really possess an
independent peasant estate, capable of furnishing the cultivator
and his family with a livelihood, we shall be more than
generous if we reckon as such all those in the whole country
who exploit as cultivating owners more than 2 hectares. The
last agricultural census gives their number as 66,452. From
this figure must be deducted a certain number of large estates,
some hundreds of farms of over 50 hectares (123*557 acres),
' I are = ii9'6o3 square yards ; 2 hectares = 4*942 acres.



E. VANDERVELDE 199

which are cultivated by active owners with the assistance of
agricultural labourers. So there remain between 50,000 and
60,000 peasant estates cultivated by peasant proprietors,
who can, whether the season be good or bad, derive a more or
less sufficient livelihood from them.

You notice that in our population of over six millions the
peasant proprietor forms an extremely limited social category,
limited in respect of numbers, still more limited in respect of
the area exploited. In flict, as the statistics of 1895 go on to
inform us, out of every 100 hectares of land, about half (49*4
per cent.) are cultivated by their owners, and the other half
(50*6 per cent.) are rented ; but it must be borne in mind
that the official figures include as cultivated by their owners
the woods, the waste lands, and the heaths, whether belonging
to private persons or to public bodies, so that there are villages
which seem to be the promised land of cultivating ownership
when really they belong to landlords whose property is wood
or waste. If we only take account of ordinary forms of
cultivation, which alone interest us at the moment, the propor-
tion owned by its cultivators out of every hundred hectares of
land exploited in Belgium is 31 "6, against 68*4 which are
rented. And we should observe (for the observation has a
fundamental importance) that most of the land cultivated by
peasant proprietors is situated in the poorest and least-
endowed parts of the country. In Flanders or Hesbaye
ownership by the cultivator is exceptional — in the Ostend
district, for instance, it has wholly disappeared ; on the other
hand, it still plays a great part in Campine, in the Ardennes
and also in the south of Hainaut, in the districts of Chimay,
Beaumont, etc. — that is, in parts where peasant properties
are found in combination with common properties and often
also with accessory industries. A striking instance of such a
state of social affairs is that of the parishes situated along the
French frontier, in the Phillppeville constituency, OUoy,
Oignies, Nismes, Petigny, Cerfontaine, etc. There are there
a fairly large number of small peasant proprietors ; the parish



200 MODERN SOCIALISM

has extensive common lands, which enable them to pasture
their cattle, and to obtain firewood, or Utter for their beasts.
Besides this, the majority of these peasant proprietors spend
their days also on industrial work. That is the case, for
instance, with the slate-tilers of Oignies, the sabot-makers
of Nismes or of Cerfontaine ; and under these conditions
these properties may be said to present considerable advantages
for the populations who benefit by them.

These conditions, essential not only to their prosperity, but
to their existence, may be summarized as follows : —
Conditions (O Property extensive enough to supply the

for the cultivator's family with a livelihood,

of peasant (2) Accessory industry supplying them with

property. supplementary means of subsistence.

(3) Rights over common lands sufficiently considerable
for the peasants to procure what they require, in order to carry
on their petty cultivation.

Under these conditions it comes about that a poor
population, living in a poorly endowed district, finds itself
really better off, socially speaking, than a population living in
the most fertile and richest districts in the country. One
cannot doubt, for instance, that the small farmer of the Waes
country, with its pretty white flower-hung houses and such well-
cultivated fields, but with such heavy rents to pay, has less
favourable conditions of life and is less substantially fed than
the peasant — poor, no doubt, but freer and more independent
— of the Upper Ardennes or of Condroz. The first scarcely
eats anything but churned milk and black bread ; the latter
is always sure to have at least some bacon with his potatoes.
But in proportion as agriculture progresses, as agricultural
technique is perfected, as the capitalist r'eg'wie takes hold
of industry and agriculture, we see the conditions for the
existence and prosperity of peasant property disappear one
after the other. It is idle, to prove it, to look for instances
in other countries ; it is enough to see what has happened
in our own. We shall note, in fact, that for a century the



E. VANDERVELDE 201

development of industry has resulted in the upsetting, one
after the other, of what I shall call the props of peasant
property.

First fell the rights over common lands. As soon as ever
industry on the large scale begins to develop, and the industrial
proletariate grows, and the food-requirements of the Rig-hts over
population increase — and as long as the competition commons,
of foreign corn-stuffs does not make itself felt — agriculturists
regard the working of waste lands as an advantageous operation,
and hurry by every means to divide up and alienate common
lands. That is what happened in Belgium during the first
half of this century. You know that to promote this transfor-
mation the Chamber voted the law of March 25, 1848, on
compulsory alienation of common lands. In the course of
twenty years the best part of the collective estate of the
parishes was alienated. What remains of it to-day scarcely
retains any importance except in Campine and the Ardennes
region.

On another side, at about the same period, other factors
intervened, and rendered the position of peasant property more
and more difficult. There were in Flanders small Home
cultivators or small owners, whose use of the soil industries,
was insufficient by itself to supply them with a livehhood, but
who found a supplementary resource in home industries carried
on by themselves, their wives, and their children. The women
and girls spun linen, the man wove it ; and in, so to say, every
house on the Flemish countrysides was a textile business.
But from 1847 onwards the potato disease and the introduction
of machines reduced to starvation the greater part of these
peasants, who were literally expropriated by the conquering
competition of urban industry. From that date the Flemish
labourers — especially those of the districts of Alost, Termonde,
Audenaerde, etc. — as with the labourers of the district of Ath,
are to be seen on annual emigrations, going off into the Grand
Duchy, or into Northern or Central France, for harvesting and
beetroot-gathering.



202 MODERN SOCIALISM

Lastly there comes in a third factor, tending to make the
position of peasant property harder still. Formerly it produced,
Production ^^fore all else, things of value for use, products
for ex- consumed on the spot by the peasant himself; but

c ange. ^^^ jj. j^^^ ^.^ produce things of value for exchange,

products which find a sale on the market, to have the means of
paying the ever-increasing taxes, the ever-growing burden of
fiscal charges.

Destruction of rights over common lands, decay of home
industries, production of things valuable for exchange instead
of things valuable for use, and on top of these the action of
the laws on inheritance, the influence of compulsory equal
partition — such are the principal reasons for the diminution
of cultivating owners and the critical position of peasant
property.

But, some one will perhaps say, if you consult the ofiicial
figures, you find, in contradiction to what we have been
saying, that ownership on a small scale tends to spread, and
that the number of owners increases from year to year.

This is, in fact, what a superficial glance at the figures
seems to show. The documents supplied by the Finance
„ . Department inform us, that in 1846 there were

tionof 914,937 holdings of land in Belgium. In 1S96

Holdings. there were 1,187,000; and so it is often inferred
that the number of owners has passed from 914,937 to
1,187,000. But it is important to notice some facts which
reduce this inference to its real value —

(i) The population has increased faster than the number
of holdings of land. In 1830 there were 22 holdings to
every hundred inhabitants; in 1896 there are only 18.

(2) As every one is aware, many properties are only such
in name; properties on which, as the Flemings put it, there
is "a little man on the roof," i.e. a burdening mortgage.

(3) You know, too, that the number of holdings of land
does not match the number of properties ; that many pro-
prietors possess not one holding but very many, scattered in



E. VANDERVELDE 203

different parishes. In Flanders there are some landowners
with 40, 50, and even 60 holdings scattered in as many
parishes.

(4) There are in existence a very great number of holdings
of land so small that they only represent a phantom of
property. Not long ago I was studying the land-register of
a little parish, Rixensart, situated beside the one in which I
live, and I found there proprietors like these : one with 40
centiares, income fivepence ; another, with income twopence-
halfpenny ; two others, designated suggestively, X. " blind" 2
hectares, Z. ^^ beggar " 85 ares. It will be readily recognized
that it is hard to consider proprietors of this sort as independent
peasant proprietors capable of drawing from the soil which
belongs to them a livelihood for themselves and their families.
But after making this series of preliminary observations, we
must examine more closely the statistics concerning holdings
of land.

I have noted that the number of these holdings had
increased since the date when the land-register was com-
piled ; but the important point is, whether there An investi-
has really been an equalizing partition of property, nation of the
whether the laws of the Revolution, which aim at registers,
dividing up the soil among a constantly increasing number of
proprietors, have produced that result. And to settle this
question, which is of paramount importance, I have under-
taken, with the collaboration of several friends, an inquiry,
which has cost us long months of work, on the division of
landed property in Belgium. This inquiry was of the following
nature.^ Possessing, thanks to the official statistics, the total
number of holdings of land, we picked out in the 15,000 or
20,000 land-registers deposited in the provincial registries
the holdings of over 100 hectares, which may be considered
in Belgium as large landed estates. We have the figures of

* Monographs for each of the nine provinces, entitled " L'Influencedes
%-illes dans les Campagnes," in the Aiinah's de P Institut dcs Scie/ices Sociah'S
(11, Rue Ravenstein, Brussels).



204-



MODERN SOCIALISM



every province but one, that of Namur, in which, notoriously,
large estates are more general than anywhere else ; for the
eight other provinces the following are the results given by a
comparison of the land-register in 1834 (when it was first
compiled) and in 1898 : —





Holdings of over loo hectares of land.










Total (in hectares)


Total (in hectares)




for 1834-1845.


for 1898.


Brabant


38,963


41,545


Antwerp






34.184


39,485


Limbourg .






15,298


12,522


Luxembourg






55.9"


66,313


Hainaut






55.258


39,186


East Flanders






14,414


18,927


West Flanders






23,048


23,847


Liege






48,763


55.811


Eight provinces *


285,839


297,636



So in the last sixty years, taking the country as a whole,
property on the large scale, far from being subdivided, has
rather gained ground. Partition has occurred in some pro-
vinces, e.g. Hainaut and Limbourg, but concentration on the
other hand, in provinces such as Antwerp, Liege, Luxembourg,
Brabant, and the provinces of Flanders ; reckoning altogether,
there is an increase of 8000 hectares for the eight provinces.

On the other hand, property on the small scale has gained
ground since the number of holdings of land has increased ;
the partition has fallen, therefore, upon property on the
moderate scale, on the intermediate class in society, on the
family properties of which I was speaking just now. Evokition
has tended in two directions — on the one side, the concentra-
tion of large properties; on the other, the breaking up of

' The figures f



Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 20 of 35)