by Nick Griffen
written in the early 1980s
Table of Contents:
The Deadly Twins
The "Victory of Capitalism"
It Was Not Always So
What Went Wrong?
The Real Alternative
Distributism For Today
The Moral Society
This booklet is intended to provide a brief introduction to the traditionalist, (Neither Capitalist Nor Communist), critique of the economic structure of the Western world. It might therefore be expected to include a section dealing with usury and criticising the mistaken, but near-universal, acceptance of the creation of credit as an interest-bearing debt. Yet crucial though an understanding of this "Bankers' Swindle" is to a coherent non-socialist opposition to capitalism, we do not intend to deal with this issue here.
Instead, it simply needs to be stated that the debt system of international finance is fundamentally immoral and must be rejected. This position is based on a long and well informed tradition, which has been ignored or ridiculed, but never answered in honest debate, by the orthodox economists who are well-paid apologists for the banks and their corruption. We recommend detailed study of this issue at a later date, but there is not room for it in this booklet.
Our purpose here is to argue for, and inspire action towards, a society based on the widespread distribution of private ownership of the means of production. This would be much easier to achieve in a nation whose finances were ordered in a sane fashion in keeping with religious and moral principles. But such widespread ownership could, in theory at least, be developed in spite of the burden imposed by the banks. Our discussion of the merits of property need not therefore be complicated by a discourse on the evils of debt.
Having said that, we urge the nations of Eastern Europe to fight with every means at their disposal against the attempt to entangle them in a web of international debt. And the best means of all is to begin the recovery from the ravages of Marxian socialism not by going in for huge prestige projects financed by Western "aid" and loans, but by giving ordinary citizens the chance and incentive to build a better future for their families through their own efforts.
The governments of the East must decide how they are to fulfil their responsibilities to their peoples; by taking the easy road and relying on alien banking houses, or by the far more difficult path of building slowly through the self-help efforts of their own folk? The easy road is tempting, but it is in fact the highway to hell. The only alternative is the difficult path which, although much slower, is the only way to freedom.
To put the issue simply: you can have quite widespread distribution of productive property even under the debt system; but you cannot keep out of the web of the poisonous spiders of international finance without basing your economy on the institution of private property. This booklet is therefore intended to show how that institution has been undermined by capitalism, and how it may be restored.The Deadly Twins
By the end of the last century, every country in Europe was suffering, to varying degrees, from the ravages of capitalism. This cancer was most advanced in England, where it had first emerged some three hundred years earlier, and where it was first aggravated by the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution. Only a few generations before, the "average man" had been either an independent craftsman or a small-holding free farmer, tilling land passed down through his family for centuries. Now the "average man" was not even called a "man" anymore, but a "hand" - he was a mere cog in the giant industrial machine, owning little more than the clothes he stood up in, and having no choice but to work for someone else to earn his daily crust. The rooted peasantry had become the root-less proletariat.
Naturally, such a terrible situation produced a reaction. As more and more wealth was concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals, the idea grew that the solution to the misery and alienation this produced was to abolish private property altogether. All productive wealth should be "owned by the people in common" and administered on their behalf by the State.
From the very beginning, this idea - that the solution to the evils created by the concentration of ownership - was even more concentration of ownership - was clearly flawed. In place of a giantist and centralised system owned by a handful of Capitalists, we were to be happy with a giantist and centralised system owned by a handful of party bosses. The "alternative" was in fact a mirror image of the original problem.
Once this is understood, it is easy to see why Wall Street banking houses were quite ready to bankroll the Bolshevik coup; Why "American" capitalists like Armand Hammer helped Lenin design the New Economic Policy, and went on to finance the growth of Soviet power without break for more than fifty years. The "class enemies" liquidated in their millions were the little people - peasants, bank clerks, perhaps even bank managers - but the communists continued to be subservient to the bank owners, with the Soviets making no attempt to break away from the international banking system. The close and profitable economic links between the Reds and their supposed "arch enemies" of Western Capitalism" may well be little discussed, but they are well documented. The "Vodka-Cola" relationship was an inevitable development when the socialist "solution" was so similar to the capitalist "problem" all along. Both were wholly materialistic, both looked for salvation to ever-growing industrial production. Neither had any respect for nature. Neither had any real regard for Man and certainly no regard for God.
From a simplistic point of view, Communism - more accurately termed "State Capitalism" - was worse than its private capitalist twin. There is no need for Western Europeans to tell our brothers and sisters in the East about its crude barbarity or its criminal incompetence. Without in any way wishing to underestimate the suffering involved in the naked bestiality of Communist (mis)rule, we state our belief that "Western" capitalism is more deadly than Bolshevism.
With Bolshevism, the enemy can be immediately identified - the KGB squad, the Red Army tank, even the sneaking informer (although the latter is becoming ever more prevalent across all Europe) - and the enemy threatens the entire family, the entire community, the entire nation. With Capitalism the enemy is greed, and greed can be stimulated in all of us by subtle and manipulative advertising. The enemy becomes the older generation who won't let us "do our own thing"; the youngsters who show no respect; the man down the road who is undercutting your prices; the public who must be conned into buying the rubbish you produce.
Where the rigours of Communist rule have strengthened national solidarity and sentiment in so much of the East, the soft seduction of Capitalism has reduced the nations of the West to a rootless mass of Americanised consumers, without identity, without pride and without a future.
Children identify with the grotesque and vulgar instead of noble heroes and beautiful princesses in castles. Teenagers ape the antics of degenerate pop-stars whose example leads hundreds of thousands into the living death of drug addiction, not to mention the tragedy of the image conscious girls (mainly) who feel compelled to starve themselves to get "the look" and of course the spiraling number of abortions. Adults perform meaningless jobs, in conditions of mind-destroying boredom, to earn enough money to buy the latest needlessly created want to be pushed on television as the thing without which their neighbours will regard them as worthless failures. Old folk die unnoticed and lie rotting for weeks, even months, in barred and bolted flats in inhuman tower blocks, unofficial prisons which become tombs for those who no longer have any economic value.
Do not be fooled by the glossy packaging of the consumer society. Where socialism was a creed of terror and stagnation, capitalism is one of apathy and death.The "Victory of Capitalism"
The prophets of this repulsive system are now proclaiming that we have just seen the definitive "Victory of Capitalism." A more accurate word might be "consumerism", because most of us have no chance whatsoever of becoming "capitalists" - that is, individuals who live without working, through the labour of others who make nothing and who must therefore labour on land or productive equipment which the capitalist owns. But all of us are consumers.
In fact, as far as the advertisers - the bureaucrats of capitalism - are concerned, we only exist when we consume their products. We are here to buy what they want us to buy; whether we need the rubbish involved is of no concern to them. We are targets for salesmen in everything. TV advertisements sell toys by equating the love of the child with buying the child the toy. From this early age, we are taught to judge our own needs, and the status of other people, according to norms set by television, newspapers and the cinema, and especially by the lives of fictitious television characters.
Ideas and immorality are sold in the same manipulative way. For example, liberal or homosexual television producers cast popular actors as homosexuals in parts which portray them in a sympathetic light. There is clear evidence that millions of people watching such programmes are unable to distinguish between fact and fiction. This explains the growth in the belief that homosexuality is a normal and acceptable thing, a matter of personal choice rather than the disorder which has brought us the most dangerous plague since the Black Death.
In the same way, the mass media is used to control democracy. The press and broadcasting media set the parameters of political debate, deciding which issues are to be discussed during an election campaign, and which are to be ignored. For example, Britain, in common with virtually every nation in Western Europe, has been subjected to an influx of huge numbers of Black or Asian immigrants since the 1950s. Public disquiet about this has been substantial, yet it has never been permitted to be discussed in detail at a parliamentary General Election. Opinion polls have shown a huge majority of ordinary people opposed to the policy, but the main political parties have pursued it regardless of the wishes of the people. Small opposition parties which oppose immigration have either been ignored or lied about by the mass media, which have thereby effectively denied the people the right to vote, let alone make an informed decision, on whether it is a good idea to change the make-up of our nations for ever in the quest for a few years' cheap labour to maximise capitalist profits.
There is little doubt that mass immigration has also been deliberately encouraged as a way of breaking down national and cultural barriers to international capitalist operations. A people which is proud of its culture and sure of its identity is unlikely to fall for the lure of tasteless and carcinogenic McDollar junk food, or to adopt American blue jeans and denim as its national costume. However, a country where community identity has been replaced by rootless individualism presents an ideal and easily exploited market. We describe this as the spread of "Coca Cola culture", although in fact there is nothing cultural about it whatsoever.
On a smaller scale, the break-up of the family has been deliberately encouraged. Children who learn their values from their parents will automatically assimilate traditional concepts. This is no use to the purveyors of capitalist rubbish, who have therefore assiduously promoted the idea of a "generation gap", to encourage a "rebellion" based on spending money on things of which parents do not approve.
In every area of life, the capitalist trick is to encourage the atomisation of society. The isolated individual has no source of values, no set of priorities, other than those pushed at him or her by the mass media. Man, the thinking, sociable being, becomes an unthinking, conforming consumer. The support of the small group is replaced by the overwhelming pressure of the herd.
Resistance to this destruction of personality and freewill through the ant-heap policies of socialism has failed. With this failure there has now been unleashed on the East a massive onslaught designed indeed to bring about "the final victory of capitalism". Socialist millionaires like the late mass media baron Robert Maxwell wasted no time in beginning the drive for control of information. Capitalist engineering firms have been buying up "golden opportunities" to acquire pools of skilled but cheap labour. American fast food chains have moved into this huge and previously unexploited market.
The onslaught comes in many different forms, but has one aim: to force you to become the consumers of muck: Spiritual muck, such as abortion on demand; intellectual muck, like the claim that parliament is sovereign in a land where banks create credit and the mass media create governments; physical muck, like fast foods which have no nutritional value whatsoever. Truly, the victory of capitalism would mean that you exchange one form of slavery for another.It Was Not Always So
Depressing though this picture of all-pervading consumerism may be, the victory of this system would only be certain if it was true that the collapse of socialism means that there is no alternative to capitalism. This is not true. The alternative to a society where the majority of productive wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few private bosses, never was a society in which the wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few Party bureaucrats. The real alternative to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the Few is, and always has been, the widespread distribution of productive property in the hands of the Many.
Nor has this always been a theoretical solution. In medieval Europe, in Christendom, it was the normal arrangement for centuries. What now seems an impossible ideal was, to our ancestors, so much taken for granted that they never even coined a name to describe it.
Over generations, the ancient and once socially acceptable institution of slavery was modified. An ever-growing number of slaves became serfs - still tied to the lord, but with their duties to him balanced by rights of their own to their plots of land. And, just as steadily, more and more serfs became villains and then independent yeoman farmers. In periods when manpower was scarce, such as after plague epidemics, there were attempts to "turn the clock back" and strengthen the disintegrating feudal obligations to compulsory labour. Such attempts were , however, in every case, at least in England, short-lived failures. The notions of freedom and the right of ordinary individuals to own and work their own property were too strongly established to be overthrown.
Much land continued to be held in common by the inhabitants of each village, but this right too involved the individuals in a form of extended ownership with corresponding responsibilities, and was the basis of a co-operative association of men who also held land as personal property. Vast areas of land were of course owned by religious institutions and old noble families, but the underlying principle behind the agricultural economy was an ever-widening distribution of private property.
Side by side with the growing independence of the peasantry, went the growth of guilds of free artisans and craftsmen in the towns. Every kind of industry, service and craft had its own guild. This was a self-governing society, partly co-operative in that its meeting rooms, relief funds and religious endowments were owned in common by the whole organisation, but with the means of production owned privately and separately by its members.
Each guild regulated the quality of the goods produced by its members, established a just price for their labour and checked competition between them; preventing the growth of one at the expense of others. Above all, the guilds safeguarded the division of property, so that there should be formed within their ranks no proletariat on one side, and no monopolising capitalist on the other. Before any man could become a member of a guild and practice its trade, he had to serve an apprenticeship and produce for the inspection of the senior members his "masterpiece" which showed that he was worthy to join the guild, and that his work was of sufficient quality to deserve the "just price" which the public would be expected to pay for it.
It must be stressed that these corporations, founded on the idea of well-distributed private ownership of the means of production, regulated by custom and co-operative decision of the owners themselves, were the normal units of industrial production in medieval Europe. The idea of entrusting the economy to meddling bureaucrats was as unthinkable as leaving it to the anarchy of "market forces", with their cut-throat competition, shoddy goods and unbridled greed.What went wrong?
Thus by the end of the medieval era, European civilisation in countries such as England, was moving steadily towards what is best described as the distributist society. While private ownership of the means of production and distribution was by no means universal, a sufficient and growing number of individuals were owners to make private property the normal arrangement. Yet within a few generations this had changed completely. A tidal wave of dispossession and alienation turned the property-owning peasantry into a property-less proletariat. How did this disaster occur?
It is common in orthodox (i.e. Capitalist) economic circles to argue that this lurch from private ownership to monopoly capitalism was the natural and inevitable result of the Industrial Revolution. That our freedoms and rights were destroyed by steam engines and power looms, rather than by the conscious actions of greedy men. This is a lie, concocted to conceal the fact that capitalism, from the very beginning, was based on fraud and theft on a massive scale. The truth is that the growth of capitalism in its English nursery predates the Industrial Revolution by several hundred years.
The first practical steam engine was not built until 1705, and it took a further sixty or so years before refinements to steam power, iron smelting and cloth-making came together to spark the industrialisation of the world from still tiny beginnings in still rural England. Had these inventions been made in a society where economic power and control of existing capital were still widely distributed among co-operatives and guilds, the course of the incredible changes which followed would surely have been very different. But the character of ownership in England had already been changed by the most sweeping, drastic and long-lasting expropriation of land known in the history of Europe.
In 1534, ownership of the land - which in those days effectively meant the entire economy - of England was divided roughly in three equal parts. One third was owned by a mass of small but free farmers. Nearly a third was owned by great landlords, either the old feudal families established since Norman times, or men who had made their fortunes more recently in trade. The remaining third was owned by religious institutions, principally the great monasteries. One year later, this balance was destroyed at a stroke when Henry VIII confiscated the monastic lands, which made up two thirds of all church land, or around twenty percent of the total productive capacity of the land of England.
Had the crown retained control of this enormous wealth, the power of the monarchy would have been unchallengeable. But the King failed to keep what he had seized. The already powerful landowners insisted on vast tracts of land being granted to them, for ridiculously small sums, or even for free. And they were strong enough in Parliament and local government to get their way.
As a result, the small group of men who already owned nearly one third of the land, ploughs, barns - the productive property - of England, in a matter of just a few years gained control of another twenty percent of the means of production. They became at a single blow the owners of half or even more of the existing capital and potential production of the country. The crown, relying mainly on traditional, and hence fixed, income, whose real value fell year by year, could not stand against the new oligarchy. Nor could the smaller land owners and commoners, who saw their lands systematically stripped from them in acts of theft legitimised by a parliament firmly in the pockets of the new masters.
So by the time the new inventions revolutionised the economy, it was already capitalist; that is, the majority of men did not own a share of the means of production, and were thus compelled to labour for a wage for the few who did. The horrors which followed were the result of an already established structure, they were not the results of industrialisation per se.The Real Alternative
We have already seen how the exploitation and alienation of capitalism led to a powerful socialist reaction. But it also produced a strong opposition from those who stood by the institution of property, condemning its perversion rather than the original concept itself. In England the tradition began in the eighteenth century with William Cobbett, the radical champion of the small man against the tyranny of the landed oligarchy.
Throughout the industrialised west of Europe, this line of thought received a tremendous boost from the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum, at the end of the nineteenth century. This was an outspoken criticism of capitalism and a staunch defence of private property as the basis of a healthy and moral society. It had a powerful effect upon several generations of Catholic thinkers and authors, of whom the most important in England was Hillaire Belloc, one time Liberal MP, friend and close colleague of G.K. Chesterton, and the man who first coined the phrase "distributist", to describe a society whose determining stamp was the widespread private ownership of the means of production and distribution.
Belloc and Chesterton refined their ideas and set about promoting them through the Distributist League, an organisation which attracted many other first-rate minds to the service of the ideal of private ownership with its attendant rights and responsibilities. They were by no means the only people from the traditionalist side of political thought to campaign for property and a return to the land and to craftsmanship, but their approach was undoubtedly the most effective. Three books in particular by these two giants of English literature stand to this day as masterpieces of non-socialist anti-capitalism: The Servile State and An Essay on the Restoration of Property by Belloc, and Chesterton's Outline of Sanity.
These added up to a devastating exposť of the yawning gap between the theory of capitalism (ownership) and its practice (monopoly). But they appeared at a point in history where the different brands of the socialist "answer" to the old system had captured the hearts and minds of intellectuals and idealists all over Europe. They were ahead of their time, for there was no chance of the Distributist position emerging victorious in the war of ideas until the mania for socialism had run its course. This had still not happened when Pope Pius XII issued another vitally important Encyclical on social doctrine, Quadrigesimo Anno, which further developed the traditional critique of capitalism.
The message of the Distributists was summed up by Belloc in an article entitled The Alternative, written before the Great War:
"What they (the Distributists) say is, that if you could make a society in which the greater part of citizens owned capital and land in small quantities, that society would be happy and secure. They say (as everyone must) that such a subdivision is quite possible with regard to land; but they also believe it to be possible with regard to shares in industrial concerns."
"When they are told that such a high division of this sort would necessarily and soon drift again into a congested state of ownership, with a few great capitalists on the one hand and a wretched proletariat upon the other, they answer that, as a matter of fact, in the past, when property was thus well divided, it did not drift into that condition, but that the highly divided state of property was kept secure for centuries by public opinion translating itself into laws and customs, by a method of guilds, of mutual societies, by an almost religious feeling of the obligation not to transgress certain limits of competition, etc."
"When they are told that a state in which property was highly divided would involve more personal responsibility and personal anxiety than would the socialist state, they freely admit this, but they add that such responsibilities and anxieties are natural to freedom in any shape and are the price one must pay for it."
Any socialist tract written at the beginning of the twentieth century is today obviously, painfully, even pathetically out of date. But the writings of the early distributists are as valuable and incisive today as they were a lifetime ago. This is a clear indication of their accuracy and truth.
Even through the long years when political debate was overshadowed by the sham fight between capitalism and state capitalist socialism, these distributist ideas had a great impact. Their influence can be traced in the massive expansion of home ownership in Britain since the Second World War. However imperfect and burdened with debt this trend may be, at least it has made the private ownership of valuable assets an experience shared by over two thirds of the adult population. A small but significant number of writers and economists have also been swayed by them. For example, Schumacher's widely read and influential attack on giantism in production and social organisation, Small is Beautiful, was written under the title "An Essay in Chestertonian Economics".
For all that, the impact of this line of thought has been strictly limited up until now. But now that the socialist dream has crumbled into dust, everything is changing. The Distributist vision is now the only possible challenge to the global victory of capitalism. Distributism now will be discussed. Its time has come at last.Distributism For Today
As the earlier quotation from Belloc points out, it is easy to see how land can be held in small privately owned parcels, but it is not quite so easy to see how the ownership of industrial concerns could be so similarly subdivided. Yet since the whole of Europe is heavily industrialised, a society whose general tone is distributist can only be created if private property is extended to the majority of industrial concerns.
The most obvious way in which this can be done is by physically breaking up large concerns into a greater number of smaller ones. Opponents of such a change will argue that this would be at odds with fundamental "economic laws" which dictate that larger units are always more efficient. In certain circumstances this is true, but in many more it is a myth.
There is, for example, no economic reason why beer can be brewed any cheaper or any better in large breweries than in smaller ones. Yet the brewing industry in England has been steadily centralised over much of the twentieth century, so that today the great majority of pub ownership and brewing is in the hands of six giant capitalist corporations. Their hostile take-over attempts directed at the few remaining smaller independent breweries, their price-fixing, and their heavily advertised promotions of inferior quality chemically-doctored beers, all point to the fact that this monopolistic concentration of ownership has nothing to do with any physical law of nature. But it certainly does have everything to do with greed.
Even where huge scale production can be shown to be economically the best system, there remains the question of the materially unquantifiable factors, including job satisfaction and self esteem among the workforce. How much material benefit do we need to justify condemning men and women to put the same bolt in the same piece of equipment as the conveyor belt brings the same unfinished item in front of them for the same few seconds, the same number of times a day? What price a lifetime of drudgery and boredom?
Of course, there are cases where the large unit is clearly necessary. Mines and railways, for instance, cannot be started without large accumulations of capital. But even here, the distributist principle should be to prevent the unit being larger than sense and circumstance dictate. Physical fact necessitates a considerable concentration of economic power to work one coal mine; but physical fact does not necessitate the nationalisation of mines. It is quite possible to devise a scheme wherein the mines could be owned by chartered guilds of the miners who work them. Even where there is a strong case for nationalisation and centralised control, as, for example, there is with the railways, this should be viewed only as a last resort. The State has sufficient indirect power over life without giving it direct power into the bargain.
Since the early distributists pointed out the potential for a revived guild system to assist in the spreading of ownership within industry, the rapid growth of the producers' co-operative movement has shown another, closely related way forward. In this regard, further study of the co-op movement around Mondragon in the Basque country in Spain, is particularly recommended. From tiny beginnings in the 1950's, a network of co-operative ventures has grown to involve tens of thousands of workers/owners in a major and successful experiment in the destruction of the old division between capital and labour. In addition to this show-piece of producer co-operation, there are a growing number of less well-known ventures in many European countries, such as those in Britain aided and stimulated by the Industrial Common Ownership Movement. Also of interest are the growing number of Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), which trade, to as high a degree as possible, outside the conventional monetary system, also as co-operative organisations.
Retailing co-operatives handling the distribution rather than the production of goods have been the subject of even more widespread experiments in Britain and other countries. Unfortunately, the initial impetus for most of these came from the socialist camp, which tended to push them right from the start towards a mini-capitalist approach, rather than a genuinely distributist one. There are, however, a number of associations of independent shop-keepers who, though each owns and controls his or her own shop, stock, etc, nevertheless buy in a block in order to pay the lowest prices to the wholesalers. Such co-operatives, taken together with outright independent ownership and operation of a multitude of small shops, could offer a real alternative to both the empty shelves of socialism and the manipulative monopolies of the supermarket chain.
Huge impersonal supermarkets are among the most noticeable features of the modern capitalist economy. They are also among the most pernicious, driving out smaller shops by cut-throat competition, using their resources to cut prices as far as is necessary, but only for just as long as is necessary, to force their smaller private rivals out of business.
The huge out-of-town supermarkets now so popular in the West are the retail equivalent of the giant factories favoured by capitalist production. Their workers, even the shop managers, have no stake in the ownership of their workplace. Pensioners and those families too poor to have cars often cannot get to them. Elderly individuals who would be known to an independent local shop-keeper as absent-minded have been arrested and charged with shop-lifting on leaving supermarkets having forgotten to pay for an item they have picked up. People, such as pensioners or the unemployed, who do not have enough money to pay for food until their next benefit payment, are unable to get even a loaf of bread or bottle of milk on credit for a day or so, for naturally enough, no-one working in a huge place has a chance of getting to know and trust any customer in this way, even if the company did not forbid such a commonplace little gesture of humanity.
There is no denying that the clever advertising and in-store layouts of modern supermarkets make them seductive places in which to spend money. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, is where the future is in the hands of the ordinary customer. For supermarkets do not destroy their smaller competitors overnight, so all of us have a choice. We can opt for the packaged, glossy sophistication of the chainstore, or we can use the cornershop, the butcher or greengrocer. The survival or extinction of the small shop-keeper is decided by the customer by each of us as individuals.
While the overall tendency in the retail trades is still towards massive monopolisation by a few big firms, the situation with regards to agriculture may have already been reversed. There is a widespread and growing realisation that capitalist agriculture, with its reliance on dangerous chemical fertilisers and pesticides, is proving to be a disaster. The producers of organic foodstuffs in Britain have seen a massive increase in demand for their goods with every fresh revelation about the unhygienic or downright dangerous practices of capitalist "agri-business". While surplus food mountains pile up, organic farmers find that they cannot produce enough to meet the demand for healthy food grown without damage to the environment. This is encouraging more farms to switch to more natural methods of production, and since these are more labour intensive, the average size of an organically-run holding is smaller than the ordinary chemically-soaked modern farm.
This tendency towards a wider distribution of land ownership is being reinforced, in Britain at least, by a shift away from the big cities in favour of the countryside. There are two main groups involved here. The main one is the huge number of people taking early retirement from their city jobs and moving out to the country to combine working a small-holding with running some sort of business from a spare room or workshop. The second are those young people, who in spite of the incredibly high price of land, also manage to find ways to make a living in the countryside and also to buy a little plot of land from which to provide healthy food for their children. Many students in particular start on this path through the movement known as Working Weekends on Organic Farms, giving their labour in exchange for their keep to help and gain experience on privately owned small-holdings.
While there are negative factors involved, such as the soaring urban crime-rate, these positive moves towards a wider distribution of land ownership help to explain the fact that the population of sprawling London fell by at east eight percent in the nineteen eighties, and has not risen dramatically since.
It is surely significant that England, the first country in the world to witness industrialism's mass exodus from the land to the cities, is now the first to see a reversal of this process. Our people have seen life in the conurbation's, now they are turning their backs on them in ever-increasing numbers.
The revitalisation of the countryside and the re-establishment of sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practice is being done in Britain through the efforts of tens of thousands of isolated individuals, families and small communities. As such it is a slow and halting process. But it could be done far more quickly if the popular desire for land was matched by determination on the part of a decent government to see that this demand be satisfied.
Such a government in the West could, for example, take over land owned by foreigners or by big capitalist property speculators, and give or sell it in manageable and useful parcels to young people who had completed training courses at agricultural college or who had experience of farm work, but who would otherwise be unable to afford to acquire the land they so desperately want. In the East, the same could be done with land which was collectivised by the Communists.
What is to stop this newly re-distributed land from again falling into the hands of fewer and fewer people? And how could the large holdings of existing big landowners be broken up without the injustice of expropriation or the impossible cost of compensation?
These things could in fact be done very simply. The land immediately available for distribution, such as that owned by foreigners, absentee landlords or speculators, should be given or sold at a fair price, without interest, to those who are able to use it productively. There should be no tax on the profits from the crops they produce, but all land over a certain minimum size of holding should be taxed. The amount payable would obviously depend upon the quality and productive potential of the land in question. The harder the farmer and his family worked on the land, the greater their income would be. And equally, if they had more than their fair share of land, they would not be able to work it at maximum efficiency, so would see their smaller profit on the less well-used land being swallowed up in land tax. They would quickly sell off the surplus land, which would thereby remain or become divided between a large number of small family farms.
In this way a land tax would not only stimulate maximum production, but would also act as a permanent, non-bureaucratic check on any tendency towards monopolistic land ownership. There would be ample scope for personal and family satisfaction and a good standard of life in exchange for hard work, but there would be no opportunity for wealth to accumulate beyond that and become power over others or deny others the same right to a piece of land of their own.
Such a system would not only re-establish the small privately-owned family farm as the dominant factor in agricultural production. It would also, by allowing people to retain the fruits of their own labour, provide the best possible incentive towards maximising agricultural production without the huge inputs of machinery and chemicals which would be required to achieve similar levels of productivity from land owned by a few capitalists. It is therefore the only way for the economies of the East to pull themselves up by their own bootlaces, rather than being hauled up in the chains of foreign debt. Consider this: the economic value of a thousand local improvements carried out at village level could equal or exceed the supposed benefits generated by one huge tourist hotel near the capital's airport. But the former could be carried out with local resources and the skills of local people, the latter project could only be completed with the help of massive foreign loans. Clearly the former option is the only sane path for a nation wishing to rebuild its economy without selling its soul and its children to the sharks of international finance.
All this would, of course, take many years of hard work. But the rewards in terms of debt-free production, satisfaction of the basic European desire to own land, and the building of a healthy and moral climate in which to raise families, would be enormous.
Further rewards would accrue over the years to come. There is no need for rural life to be isolated from culture and learning. Just as electricity makes it possible to have light and power wherever they are required, so the growth of modern telecommunications and computer and information technology makes it possible for small village communities to have access to the contents of great university libraries hundreds of miles away, to communicate instantly with all the similar groups in their area, to play an active and direct role in making decisions and governing the country.
Once a sound base is restored, prosperity will follow gradually, giving a chance to fuse the best features of pre-industrial society with the many truly brilliant inventions of our own era. Craft production and decentralised but high technology workshops would follow naturally, and ownership of these would mirror the already established widespread distribution of land which would give the society its distinctive stamp.The Moral Society
It must be understood that what is presented here is only a brief outline of how a distributist society would function. This booklet deals with the general principles, but the fine detail must be filled in with regard to the special circumstances, history and national characteristics of each nation which seeks to use these principles as the only possible basis for a stable, prosperous, cultured and moral society.
Distributism is the only viable way to challenge the exploitative capitalist attitude towards production. However it must be stated that this should not be taken as the word of a dogmatic perfectionist. Whilst the big unit must not be regarded as the desirable norm, it may be tolerated as an exception where necessary. The desire to make family ownership of the means of production the characteristic feature of the economy, does not demand that every man should work his own land or his own business. The abolition of every wage-earner is desirable but probably unworkable. However, the abolition of a class of wage-earners, a mass of wage-owners who have lost the hope of ever being anything else, is a concrete and obtainable goal.
It must also be understood that distributism is far more than an economic theory. It is nothing less than the moral principles which underpin European culture put into practice. Distributism is the religiosity of Europe put into practice. Its implementation is a moral necessity as well as a material one.
Where capitalism is based on greed, and socialism on envy, the distributist vision of the future is rooted in natural law and religious values - on individual free will, on rights tempered by duties, on the family as the building block of society.
Because a distributist society must by definition involve the majority of its population in ownership and decision-making, it cannot be created by legislation from above. A sympathetic and moral government would certainly help in its creation, but the absolutely vital factor is the conversion and involvement of a growing number of idealistic but ordinary people. A return to property and to the land is an organic process, so it must begin at grass roots level.
The same is true of the equally vital resistance to the tidal wave of evil and liberal filth now sweeping over our entire continent. If we, as individuals, fail to rise above it, then there is no hope for our nations as a whole. Opposition to the insanity of modernism may be offered by governments from time to time, but it must be offered at all times by everyone of us in our own lives. A good example is the pressure from Western liberals on Eastern European countries which do not permit abortion on demand. It may well be that they can exert sufficient pressure on the governments of the states in question to force them to allow abortion, but they cannot force any particular woman to have one. However persuasive the advocates of capitalist degeneracy may be, we each of us have the free will to reject their overtures.
To one extent or another, very large numbers of thinking people in the West do reject the immorality of the capitalist system, together with many of its most poisonous fruits. But resistance to capitalism in the West is still all too often confused with socialism, which we have seen is no alternative at all. And Western rejection of the present system is generally individualistic and incoherent. In most areas it lacks a community base and a moral or religious foundation.
Eastern Europe could be a far more fertile ground for distributist ideas and practical initiatives. We have seen how our vision is founded on religious and moral principles, and there is no doubt that these are a hundred times stronger in the East than in the West. So it is likely that Distributism stands a far better chance of becoming the dominant feature of society in the nations of the East than anywhere else. And it is certain that these nations stand no chance without Distributism. For in the words of Hillaire Belloc:
"If we do not restore the institution of property, we cannot help re-establishing the institution of slavery".
Originally posted to this site on February 10, 2002
Posted by: John in Basel