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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Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 21 of 35)
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agricultural crisis of these last years. It is interesting to carry
one's self fifty years back to see how far the presentment of the
agrarian question differed from that of to-day. In 1853 the
Minister of the Interior remarked in the Belgian Chamber that
the food requirements of the population went on growing and
the dearth of cereals became greater and greater, while the
increase of imports was hopelessly slow. " From 1830 to 1839,"
said he, "our imports of cereals (rye and wheat) averaged 41
million hectolitres a year; from 1840 to 1852 this average rose
annually to 102 millions. If in the shade of peace the popu-
lation of Belgium continues to grow in the same propor-
tion, before ten years are out the shortage in our supply of
cereals — I hardly dare state the figure — will be about two
miUion hectolitres. I keep below the truth, that it may be
impossible to dispute my figure." {Aim. Pari. Ckambrc des
Representants, Nov. 25, 1853.) At that time, then, the agrarian
question meant the insufficient production of cereals and other
food-stuffs. There was not enough bread to go round ; in-
dustrial wages were not rising, or even were falling ; agricultural


wages remained at a deplorably low level ; but the demand
for agricultural products went on increasing constantly, and
the rents for farms went up, up, continually up, even during
the famine in Flanders, so that at that time one certainly might
have said of the Belgian landowners, what Ricardo said of land-
owners in general, that they formed the only class in society whose
interests were opposed to those of the rest of the population.

This rise of farm-rents — under the influence of the develop-
ment of industry — continues till the time when the progress of
the transport industry entirely alters the situation, xhe Agpicui-
and the competition of foreign corn imported from t^^'^i crisis,
the United States, from India, and from Russia, effects in our
rural districts ravages more terrible than the Cossack invasions,
the Ganges epidemics, or the storms which come over the
Atlantic. Thenceforward farm-rents fall, rent of land goes
steadily down, the agricultural crisis becomes more and more
painful, and soon the development of land transport begins to
accentuate it still further. You know that since 1870 the
Belgian Government ^ has instituted special railway rates for
workmen. In 1870 industrial prosperity was in workmen's
full swing. Urban manufacturers and managers trains,
of collieries were crying out for cheap labour. It was hoped
that trade-union opposition would be broken down, if rural
labourers were drawn in by a serious reduction in the passenger
rates — such a reduction that to-day the Belgian State may be
said to carry workmen for almost nothing. Have you ever
had the curiosity to take up the railway guide and see what it
costs a workman to travel, for instance, 50 kilometres ? For a
single journey there and back the ordinary traveller pays 3
francs 5 centimes, whilst a workman, for six journeys there
and back with his weekly ticket, only pays 2 francs 25 cen-
times. He pays less, therefore, for six journeys than the
ordinary traveller for a single journey. What is the result ?
Thousands and thousands of labourers, not finding a sufficient
livelihood in the country, not having ready to hand local
' The Belgian railways are State-owned and State-managed.



industries or large farms which can employ them, not finding
work in winter since the introduction of threshing-machines,
have acquired the habit of going every day to work in towns or
industrial centres. I asked the Minister of Railways to supply me
with the statistics for workmen's tickets from year to year since
1870 ; here are the figures which he has kindly furnished : —

Year. Number of weekly tickets.

1870 I4j223

1875 193.675

1880 335,556

1885 667,522

1890 1,018,383

i''^95 ...... 1,759,025

1S97' ...... 2,699,594

There must be further added to these figures the work-
men's tickets issued by the North Belgian company, the
local railways, etc, ; add to that the 45,000 agricultural
labourers who go off every year to work in foreign countries ;
and you will come to conclude that over 100,000 Belgian pro-
letarians, while continuing to live in the country, have really
become industrial proletarians, manual workers, absent during
half the year. They have still a strip of land which they own,
or, more frequently, rent ; in the statistics they are counted as
farmers. In reality they are labourers, proletarians in every
sense of the term ; and we have to ask, what, from the point of
view of cultivation, have been the effects of such a change.

On the one hand, foreign competition comes in and lowers
rentals to some extent (although in many districts the lowering
of rent has not corresponded to the fall in prices), and on the
other hand, the labourers go off townwards and work in indus-
trial centres, and agricultural labour becomes increasingly rare,
and, in virtue of the laws of supply and demand, increasingly
Changes in dear. The results of this double phenomenon,
cultivation. fj-Qj^ ([^q point of view of culture, are strikingly
apparent in the last agricultural census. But they are not the
same in all districts. If, for instance, we take the province of

' In 1900 the figure reached was 4,515,214.


21 I

Luxembourg, the Ardennes district, we note that the number
of tiny plots of less than 2 hectares is diminishing, and the
number of large farms of over 50 hectares is diminishing no
less, while that of middle-sized areas of cultivation is on the
increase. What does this mean ? AVhy do the tiny plots
diminish ? Because, the means of transport being little
developed in Luxembourg, the labourers, instead of going off
every day into the towns or industrial centres, are obliged to
reside there permanently and give up their bit of land. Why
do the large farms diminish ? Because agricultural labourers
are no longer to be had, because they are very expensive, and
because these conditions render it more advantageous to sub-
divide cultivation and to create farms of small or moderate
size, which are worked by the farmer with the help of his
family. Thus industrial capitalism more and more pumps the
living forces out of the country, and the result is that in certain
districts cultivation by families is developing ; but it is quite
otherwise in districts with developed transport facilities, where
labourers easily go off to the town and return home every
evening. In that case the opposite phenomenon shows itself.
In Hainaut, for instance, between 1889 and 1895 small and
middle-sized areas diminished, whereas there was an increase
of tiny plots cultivated by labourers, agricultural or industrial,
and also a very marked increase of large farms (those over 50
hectares). If we now consider the country as a whole, the
two censuses of 1880 and 1895 supply us with the following
figures for comparison : —



Acres of cultivation under 50 ares

,, ,, ,, from 50 ares to 2 hectares
,, ,, ,, ,, 2 to 10 hectares .
„ ,, ,, ,, 10 to 50 hectares .
,, ,, ,, over 50 hectares .














So there is a diminution under every head except that of large
farms, of over 50 hectares. But if the statements of the
Minister of Agriculture are to be trusted, this diminution is
only apparent so far as concerns areas of less than two hectares :
in 1880 there were included in the list very many infinitesimal
plots which in 1895 were left out. Conversely, there appears
to be no doubt that the number of large areas has perceptibly
increased : 3,403 in 1880 ; 3,584 in 1895.

Thus we have reached in these last years a turning-point
in our agricultural evolution. Till now, the subdivision of
Industrial!- ^^^^^ of cultivation was constantly on the increase,
zationof Belgium was becoming more and more the land
agriculture, ^f cultivation on a small, even a minute, scale.
For the last fifteen years we see cultivation on the large scale
gaining, and farms of over 50 hectares becoming more
numerous. This seems to me to result from the fact that
agriculture is coming more and more to be an industry like
the other industries, which, as a rule, it is advantageous to
exploit on a large scale. Certainly for all districts and all
kinds of cultivation this is not the case. I readily admit that
the question is infinitely more complicated when it is a matter of
cultivation than when it is one of industry, properly so called.
All the same, what cannot be disputed is the progressive
intensification of agriculture, the development of the use of
machinery — in a word, the increase of fixed capital in com-
parison with fluctuating (i.e. in comparison with capital for
paying manual labour) ; agriculture is being industrialized ;
arable land is turned into pasture ; we see the multiplication
of agricultural industries — distilling, sugar-making, the manu-
facture of butter, of chicory, of syrups, etc. ; and in conse-
quence of this transformation, more and more the population
of the rural districts is splitting into two quite distinct classes.
You see there a growing proletariate, made up of agricultural
labourers, who are the minority ; industrial labourers, who go
off daily to work elsewhere ; and what may be called half-and-
half labourers, half agricultural, half industrial, working in the


sugar factories at certain periods, harvesting at others, going
to the collieries in winter, to resume work in the fields in
the spring. It is just because of the development of this
proletariate that we find in the. country districts audiences
open to our ideas and favourable to our programme.

I should like, in conclusion, to point out to you the guiding
principles of this programme, apologizing for my j^^^ socialist
inroads upon your attention, while keenly regretting programme,
that for lack of time I must confine myself to a few short

Let me first summarize the considerations which I have
submitted to you thus far. Peasant property seems to us
inferior from the productive standpoint to capi- „ . ..
talistic property, while from the distributive stand- and proper-
point it is superior. The capitalistic evolution '^ ^" ^^"^'
tends to make it disappear, but Socialism has not to aim at
expropriating it. On the other hand. Socialism pronounces a
decidedly adverse verdict upon capitalistic property ; and in
all our congresses (notably at the International Congress in
London) we have agreed unanimously in demanding the
collective appropriation of the land, as well as of the other
means of production. But when we come to the means of
realizing this ideal, the question presents itself differently in
different countries. In a country like England, for instance,
and above all, like Scotland, where property in land is
otherwise concentrated, it is quite natural that theorists who
are not even Socialists — bourgeois economists like H. George
or Wallace — should demand at once the socialization, national-
ization, of the land. As to the means of realizing the change,
I will confine myself to outlining the solution suggested by
Colins and his school. They think that there are reasons
fur bringing the land into collective ownership before the
instruments of labour are brought, and to indemnify the
capitalistic landowners they suggest a tax of 25 per cent,
on collateral inheritances and testamentary successions, plus a
tax (the percentage to be determined) on inheritances which


descend in a direct line. The percentage, of course, is
immaterial to the theory: the question would need examining
in the light of circumstances of time and place ; all I retain at
this moment is the root idea of the Colins school, which is to
buy up the land with the yield from taxes on inheritance, and
to let it out by auction either to individuals or to associations.
The Colins system does not imply at this point any transform-
ation of the capitalistic regime as a whole. Capital remains
private property ; only the land, the basis of all
national- industry and all agriculture, belongs to society col-
ization. lectively, and the sections of it are let to individuals

or associations for the profit of all, instead of, as now, for that of
a few landowners. There would be only one alteration ; the
farmer, instead of paying rent for land to an individual, would
pay it to society as a whole, and this payment would help to
reduce all the burdens which weigh on the members of society.
The receipt of farm and other rents by the State would
correspondingly lower taxation.

According to Colins, this expropriation of the landowner
should come before the expropriation of capitalists properly
so-called j but most modern Socialists, and notably those of
Marx's school, think this procedure a mistake. Their view is
that landed property represents but a comparatively inconsider-
able part of social capital as a whole. In this opinion the
first steps should be taken against the great industries which
are ripe for collectivism — those which already form a virtual
monopoly and, in a word, realize the maximum of capitalistic
concentration. Herr Kautsky, in the book which he has
recently published on the agrarian question {Die Agrar-
frage), flatly condemns the resumption of the land by the
State imdcr a capitalist regi?ne. His standpoint is pre-eminently
German, and he thinks that in Germany the substitution of
the State for the landlords would be a permanent menace to
public liberty. Evidently the same danger does not exist, or
at least does not exist in the same degree, in countries with
liberal or democratic institutions like Switzerland or England ;


and therefore, wherever ownership is concentrated in a few
hands, we see many theorists and reformers declaring for the
immediate socialization of the soil and the agencies of Nature.
As for the -particular case of Belgium, there are at any rate
some portions of the land which ought, without delay, to
become the property of society. Thus, for example, many
bourgeois economists themselves agree with us in recognizing
that the ownership of the forests ought to belong to the
State rather than to private persons. So, too, with the com-
mon lands, which many good thinkers who are not Socialists
would like to see conserved, extended, and put to good use.
Recently even our Minister of Agriculture has objected to the
squandering of common lands, and has declared that in future
the Government will no longer authorize parishes to alienate

Lastly, what would, from the cultivator's point of view,
present very great advantages, would be the taking over of the
great agricultural industries, and notably of the Socialization
three which are manifestly evolving in the collec- tu^^7n" "
tivist direction — dairying, distilling, and sugar- dustries.

As for dairying, the evolution is quite marked.^ Co-
operative societies are formed, grouped, federated ; recently

they have founded the Dairy Association, which , „ . .

11 1 J • i^ / , , ,1 ^- Dairying,

you all know ; and it may be foreseen that we shall

shortly witness the formation of a vast trust, the " Belgian
Dairies," which will be organized on co-operative, instead of
capitalistic foundations. If this evolution goes on in its
present form, and capitalism does not get possession of the
dairying industry, it will be an interesting example of spon-
taneous collectivism, of the socialization of industry realized

^ In 1899 there were 298 co-operative dairies in Belgium, with 34,205
members ; in 1900 the figures had risen to 356 and 40,706. In the latter
year the members per society averaged 114; the sales per member, 510
francs (^20 Ss.) ; the number of cows kept per member, 271 (showing
what small cultivators the co-operators are).


by the people interested, with State advice and intervention.
If it is otherwise, and capitalism gets the better of co-operative
industry, we shall then be confronted by the problem of ex-
propriation, which confronts us in the case of the sugar-
factories and distilleries.

I need not demonstrate to you what an advantage it
would be for country people to be delivered from the capi-
II The talistic monopoly, with which a small number of

sugar sugar manufacturers burden them. Further, the

industry. workers of the sugar factories will obtain the
advantages which the State's employees secure. Nor can it
be doubted that, from the tax-payer's point of view, it would
be wholly an advantage that the; profits of the sugar industry,
instead of belonging to a few, should be reaped by the whole
community. Perhaps it will be objected that the sugar in-
dustry's golden age is over, and that it needs, in order to hold
its ground, fiscal privileges, said to be conferred on it much
less on behalf of the capitalists interested than on behalf of
agriculturists. But if so, it is one more reason for entrusting
the guardianship of agricultural interests to the community
itself, rather than to private individuals, who too often take
advantage of it in order to exploit the cultivators.

In the case of the distilleries the question becomes still
more simple ; for, thanks to M. de Smet de Naeyer, the position
III. The °^ ^^^ distilleries is such that for some months we

distilleries, have witnessed the extraordinary spectacle of the
distillers themselves asking to be saved by being bought out.
In short, for agricultural as for all other industries, the
concentration of capital leads, we believe, to the need of
socializing the means of production.

But while that is our ideal, and we regard collectivism as
the final result, the logical outcome, of the industrial and
agricultural evolution, we at the same time take our stand for
immediate measures, and energetically demand that some-
thing be done to protect the agricultural labourer, who, in the
society of to-day, might be called " the man whom no one



remembers." Some time after the disturbances of March,
1886, the former deputy for Waremme, the late M. Cartuy-
vels, said to the Chamber : " The industrial Protection
workmen obtain protection by law, and on all sides °y^ypai
suggestions are made for measures to better their labourers,
lot. Why ? Because they show their teeth ; because they
protest ; because they organize. But what has been done for
the agricultural labourers ? Nothing." These words, which
were only too true fifteen years ago, may be said again to-day.
We have in the Chamber an agricultural group which ener-
getically defends the interests of the large farmers and the
land-owners. As a rule, the Conservatives neglect the interests
of the agricultural labourers ; but it is they to whom the
Socialists before all appeal, and whom they especially aspire
to win over. I know that among these workers, bowed
beneath the weight of immemorial domination, propaganda
will be difficult. They are not like the industrial workman,
the proletarian completely sundered from the instruments
with which he works, robbed of the prospect of ever getting
a share in the ownership of the means of production, con-
demned to remain a proletarian for ever, and for that very
reason making his ideal, not the acquisition of private property,
but the conquest of social property. On the contrary, in the
agricultural labourer there are, so to say, two contradictory
spirits : the spirit of the small peasant who has still his plot
of land, owned or rented, and the spirit of the proletarian
working on a capitalist's account. The first makes him a
Conservative, inclined to religion and resignation ; the second
makes him accessible to Socialism ; and the latter only over-
comes the former in so far as capitalism overcomes the
primitive forms of ownership and cultivation.

The driving force in this transformation is the development
of industry. It is industry which has caused the
common land to disappear, which has killed by effected by
its competition the small industries of the home i"d"stry.
and the farm, which has provoked the agricultural crisis


by flooding our markets with foreign corn, which has drawn
off to the town (the " cuttle-fish town ") the great mass of rural
labourers ; but it is industry also which is rationalizing agricul-
ture, perfecting its methods — in short, revolutionizing agricultural
technique. Bebel once said, " Wherever a factory chimney rises,
there you see Socialists being made." In the same way wher-
ever agricultural capitalism develops and splits the population
of the countrysides into two classes, Socialism follows capitalism
like a shadow, and wins over, not only this rural proletariate
which bears the whole weight of our present society on its
shoulders, but also the small cultivators and land-owners, whose
position is often more wretched than that of the labourers them-
selves. And lastly, just as industrial Socialism has won over
individuals in the bourgeois class who had no personal interest
in fighting the people's battle, so we strongly hope that agri-
cultural Socialism will enter the heads of many large farmers,
who will understand that parasitic ownership must disappear
and they themselves be set free when their labourers are.



Resolution adopted by the Frankfort Congress
(1894) on the Agrarian Question

This resolution was moved by G. von Vollmar and Dr. Bruno
Schoenlank. Its notable feature is its idea that Socialism should
take sides with the peasant proprietor against the forces crushing

The agrarian question is the product of the modern economic
system. The more home agriculture becomes dependent on
the world-market and the international competition of all
agricultural countries, the more it enters the sphere of influence
of capitalistic production of commodities, banking, and usury,
the more quickly is the agrarian question aggravated into the
agrarian crisis.

In Prussian Germany the agricultural employing class, which
is not distinct in essence from the great industrial capitalists,
fights by the side of the rural nobihty. This nobility is only
maintained artificially by bounties, protective duties, rebates
on exports, and privileges in respect of taxation. In spite of
all, the Junker-farming ^ east of the Elbe is largely over-

* The Junkers are the Prussian squirearchy, who owe their dispro-
portionate political influence to the fact that they supply the Prussian army
with its officers.



indebted through bad agriculture, partition of inheritances, and
arrears of purchase-money, and its doom is sealed.

To this must be added the constantly accentuated cleavage
between the great landowners and the class of small peasants.
The latter is tottering, burdened with military service and
heavy taxes, hampered by mortgages and personal debts, and
oppressed on all sides. For it protective duties are only an
empty show. This fiscal policy cramps the purchasing power
of the labouring class, and restricts the peasant's market. The
peasant is becoming proletarized.

On the other hand, the class opposition between rural em-
ployers and rural workers is developed more and more clearly.
From this has resulted a rural working-class. It is bound by
feudal laws, which deny to its members the right of combination,
and place them under the " Ordinance of Servants," while they
no longer enjoy the old patriarchal relations, which gave them, as
belonging to their masters, a definitely assured existence. The
intermediate classes, day-labourers with small holdings, dwarf
peasants who are driven to wage-earning to supplement their
resources, sink, in spite of all apparent reforms, into the class
of the rural proletariate. With uncertainty of gain, wage-
pressure and bad management, and the increase of travelling
labourers, the cleavage between landed capital and rural
labour grows ; and the class-consciousness of the rural worker

Hence the great need that the Social Democracy shall occupy
itself in the most serious manner with the agrarian question.
The preliminary for this is a detailed knowledge of the agri-
cultural situation. As in Germany this varies — technically,
economically, and socially, our propaganda must match it

Online LibraryR. C. K. (Robert Charles Kirkwood) EnsorModern socialism, as set forth by socialists in their speeches, writings, and programmes; → online text (page 21 of 35)