Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Scotland: Land and Power (1999 book review)

Land reformism (1999)

Book Review from the December 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Scotland: Land and Power (The Agenda for Land Reform) by Andy Wightman, in association with Democratic Left Scotland. Luath Press Ltd, Edinburgh, 1999.)
There is much of interest to be found in this book, not least the amazing statistic that 1252 landowners own two-thirds of the 16 million-plus acres of private rural land in Scotland. Scotland has a population of 5 million. This of course is a legacy of the universal process behind the rise of capitalism: the war on common ownership and the separation of people from land, by sword and by fraud. Once enough people were denied the autonomy that access to land provided, a class of exploitable wage workers was produced and the rest, as they say, is history.
What exists in rural Scotland, behind the aristocratic veneer, is not really feudalism. In the true sense this is a system in which all land is held by the monarch (ultimately from god) and parcelled out to “superiors” and “vassals” who control the land inhabited by the tenants. This is a dead system, as Scotland’s landowners (as elsewhere) own the land they hold in fact and in law. They are the “kings” of “their” patch. As the authors point out, the proposed abolition of one of the last vestiges of the feudal system, that of the theoretical status of the Crown as “paramount superior”, would actually benefit big landowners as this is also the last vestige of the idea that landownership was conditional and subject to the “public interest” represented by the Crown. Junking “feudalism” would also give the essentially capitalist system of landownership a ore up-to-date image of course, and perhaps further hide the fact that what we are talking about here is the dividing up of stolen goods.
The authors see a solution to Scotland’s unusually concentrated pattern of landownership in “land reform”—to break up large holdings to enable people to purchase property within a regulated framework which insists on residency and limits monopoly holdings” (p.79). Indeed a similar process was undertaken in Ireland between 1881 and 1903. Whether this will happen is questionable. What can’t be denied though is that any such move would have to take place within the confines of the same “market forces” that have brought hunger, clearance and destruction to both Scotland and Ireland (and England for that matter) and depopulated the land. The market system unfortunately doesn’t give a toss about “social justice”, sustainable rural development etc.
Globally, what are the implications for all this of the march of the fully industrialised agriculture system? As land is effectively changed into a system of huge factories, as agri-business corporations like Monsanto move to patent DNA and unleash the “terminator” gene, what does the immediate future hold for those living and working on the land? From India to the Vale of Evesham, things are not looking good.

Ben Malcolm

social solidarity

As 2019 draws to a close, we should remind ourselves of our goal and the reason for the Socialist Party and for us being members of that organisation. 

Socialism existed as a practical system for many centuries among the majority of peoples. They believed that the land was the common property of the family or the tribe just like the sun or the air. Even up to the present day “primitive” socialism exists among some people in some parts of the world. But primitive socialism differs from modern socialism in this way. Modern-day socialism presupposes a vast development of the forces of production, elaborate and complex technologies for large-scale out-puts and a class-conscious population. Socialism takes from capitalism its technical basis, its supply-chains, its knowledge and places them at the service of the  community. Suffice it to say, large-scale capitalist production supplies us with the basis for the new organisation of society. The machinery is all there set up. All that is needed is that we set it in motion for the benefit of all. The workers have at their disposal a thousand means of organising administration, control and division of products – Workers councils, factory committees, trade unions, co-operatives, etc., etc. There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome in a society that is based on labour and not on profit.

Socialism is not government ownership or control of industry, two things that are purely a capitalist expression. Socialism struggles for the abolition of the state, not the enlarging of its functions. Socialism, in the words of Engels, is not the government of persons, but the administration of things. Socialism is a free individual in a free society, the well-being of each assured by the well-being of all. Socialism is not only desirable, it is also possible practically and historically inevitable. Socialism is desirable because only socialism can put an end to the exploitation of man by man and of women by men. Because only socialism can put an end to the struggle for the re-division of the world, for national possessions, which takes place between the different continents, nations and races. Only socialism can put an end to war and poverty and the innumerable injustices which are an everyday feature of our lives.

He who possesses wealth and property possesses power. The working class is a poverty-stricken, propertyless class and without any real political power. But this situation cannot last indefinitely. The working class will come to realise that it is the victim of a system which exists only through its efforts and which heartlessly exploits it. Capitalist society cannot exist without the working-class. The demand of the workers is for social property or, more exactly, common ownership of the means of production – the land, factories, transport, etc. There should be common ownership of what is collectively produced. The working class in possession of the means of production, whether, produced by its own efforts or through the bounty of nature, will cease to be the slave of the capitalist class. Technology will cease to be a rival to the worker and will become a help, an aid, a friend. We will be assured of leisure for the development of all our faculties. From being a slave, a living instrument of production, we will become a self-conscious human being. The working class will abolish forever the exploitation of man by man. It will establish social equality. Present day society is based on a mistaken and blind individualism.
The immense majority of the producing class, the workers condemned to routine work which undermines their health – work associated with numerous accidents and illnesses. Enforced unemployment is the lot of the working-class on the onset of each periodic economic crisis. Diseases, the product of poverty decimates the toilers. Alcoholism and drug abuse, through which they seek forgetfulness of their miserable lives, poisons them and helps to bring about their physical and moral degeneration. The life of the worker is twice as short as that of the rich. Capitalist society condemns to poverty, enforced idleness, and starvation those whom it cannot employ for the purpose of enriching the capitalist class!

This is a true picture of society based on an internecine struggle between different classes, races, nations and individuals. Such a society is always in a state of disequilibrium like unto an inverted pyramid standing on its tip with base in the air. Our social system can rightly be described as a house upside down with its pillars where its roof should be. It is not the producing class, the creators of life, who rule but the parasites who dominate and oppress it. Socialism will establish a true equilibrium and put everything in its proper place. Modern science has created all the conditions of well-being and even of luxury. If applied to increase the things of life, our society would become an achievable heaven on earth and not a living hell. Mankind, instead of co-operating in the building of a harmonious sustainable planet, finds itself occupied in a war of each against all and a war with nature. The result has been a waste of resources. Socialism ends the causes of these rivalries and antagonism and forms a new society based on the principles of human solidarity and reciprocity. It will bring to a halt to all the socially unnecessary and unproductive work. Socialism consists not of the interests of some, but for the benefit of all.

Socialism is then from every point of view desirable. Socialism is possible now. It is possible because it corresponds to the interests of all; because it satisfies the goodwill the desire of well being, and the common interest of the producing class which forms the immense majority across the globe. Socialism is possible because men and women are more and more brought into close co-operation in pooling their efforts. All sorts of associations and organisations, political and intellectual, are accustoming humanity to collaborate in work and life. Socialism is possible because the technology available, the forces of production, thanks to automation, robotics and Artificial Intelligence, have reached an unheard of level of development. They only need to be put into motion for the benefit of everyone in order that all members of society may be assured of complete well-being. Rational organisation of production becomes more urgent.

Socialism is an historical necessity. It is the inevitable goal and culminating point of all historical and economical as well as intellectual political and cultural evolution. Organised,  producers can take over control of mass production; everything is ready to be placed in the hands of the workers who produce them. Socialism is the crowning point of social evolution where society works for the benefit of each and every one.

Our opponents say that is not practical, that we are Utopian dreamers. Our critics confront us with human nature. They tell us socialism is for saints and angels, not mortal men and women. They accuse men and women of being aggressive, greedy, selfish and evil and those human vices will never change. They advanced much the same arguments when we sought to abolish slavery. In the same way, the barons and lords defended the Divine Right of kings and demanded the peasants accept their station in life without dissent. Slaves were emancipated. Serfs were freed. And human nature was not to be fixed and immutable. It is mistaken to believe that human nature does not change. Everything changes in Nature and in life. Everything is in a process of transformation. Movement is the cosmic law of everything that exists. Everything evolves. History is a record of perpetual change. If everything changes, how is it possible to hold that the present system of property will always remain the same?

 Chattel slavery became feudalism which gave way to our wage-slavery, the last form of slavery. The wage system will have to give way to socialism which will bring to an end the exploitation of man by man and slavery in all its forms. Everything in our lives has changed. And yet our masters want to maintain society in its old barbaric state of struggle and poverty to preserve their privileges and retain their domination. True freedom does not exist where property is not common property, where men and women are the slave of employers, where the capitalist state has control of our lives. Liberty in our society is a word without meaning. Only a socialist world by placing the land, the factories at the service of all can guarantee real liberty to all. Workers will no longer have any necessity to destroy one another. The state-machine will disappear together with the parasitic class whose privileges it protects. All the natural wealth freed from the control of the property owners, all the inexhaustible riches of science and culture will be at our disposal. The only concern of society will be how to increase the pleasures of life, to perfect the technological tools in order to create the maximum amount of luxury and leisure. Freedom will then cease to be a slogan and will become a reality and the property of all. 

Nor do we forget that idleness is not the characteristic of a mankind. How can men and women work with enthusiasm when they know that their work will go to the enrichment of others? When workers understand that the product of their labour will belong to them, their family, their neighbours and friends, to the community and society at large, they will throw overboard the old repugnance which forced toil engendered in them. Work well regulated and apportioned will become attractive. It will become a joy and a pleasure, and this is because work is necessary for the physical and mental well-being of the individual. Socialism re-establishes the vital necessity for work. Socialism will leave the land with those who cultivate it. Only the huge parasitic land owners will be expropriated, because for these people the land is merely capital which realizes value through the labour of others. Unity between town and countryside will be the salvation of the world. Scientists, engineers and technicians are the “gilded servants” of capital, yet equally exploited and oppressed. Science is given lip service but is in reality the slave of the rich in the everyday practice of life. Socialism stands for scientific production. The more scientifically society is organised the greater benefit for all. In capitalist society machinery is used only when it is of benefit to the capitalists to do so. On the other hand socialist society will always be in need of it. Machinery of destruction is invented with powers that exceed all imagination. In capitalist society science is a servant of death, in socialist society it will be used for the purpose in increasing life and health.

There is no reason whatsoever to despair of human progress. What appears to us impossible today is done tomorrow. Today’s dream is tomorrow’s reality. Humanity must choose between the continuation of the capitalist system which leads to destruction and the organised revolution of international labour founded on the bases of solidarity and reciprocity through the socialisation and globalisation of the forces of production. Socialism win make of the Earth one country, single and indivisible, and taking into consideration its ethnic and linguistic peculiarities will assure the independence of each people by a free co-operative commonwealth for shared progress and happiness. Socialism stands for the end of the war and poverty. The future alone can tell what will be the precise forms and special methods of organisation. As we approach the socialist reality we will be able to foresee the general plan and the decisive direction.