A Great Iniquity/Note
NOTE BY ISABELLA FYVIE MAYO.
It is undoubtedly the case that in Great Britain the land question is at present much obscured by difficulties which really have their origin in it. If one removed these difficulties either by governmental or social action, the clearance could be but perfunctory and temporary until the land question itself is settled. Therefore this question should be always put in the forefront when any British electorate is selecting its representative. It should take precedence of all suggestions as to the "unemployed" or "housing," or "old age pensions," or the "nationalisation of the railways"—mere corner stones which cannot be securely fixed in the social edifice until its foundation is made right.
In Great Britain the position is further complicated by the fact that the majority of the people have been so long alienated from the land, that many of them have ceased to understand that it is the one source of sound prosperity, and have become unfit and unwilling to return to agricultural life. They have themselves become parasites living by forcing intoxicants, arms, or useless trinkets on primitive agricultural peoples whose subjugation and domination by violence further affords sustenance to the extra members of the British landowning class, thereby adding to its power to oppress at home. This process is known popularly as "opening new markets for British commerce," and it is carried forward with maxim guns. The British working class, itself enslaved to the landowners, thus becomes in its turn a slave holder, and its first step towards obtaining its own freedom must lie in the direction of its recognition of the falseness and evil of its position as such slave holder.
At present, British politicians, nearly all belonging to the landowning or manufacturing class, do not hesitate openly to condemn and to endeavour to alter the economic conditions of any British colony or dependency where the labouring aborigines, having sufficient means of independent livelihood on their own land, are unwilling to enter factories, mines, etc., as hired labourers. It is thought to be a feat of statesmanship to invent and impose taxes which shall drive them into doing this, and also to encourage methods of commerce which, by creating false wants, shall tempt them into expenditure only to be met by submission to hired labour. Then these primitive people—thus driven into mines or factory labour, and often even on some pretext actually deprived of their land—enter into formidable competition with the British landless labourer, who is thus caught as in a vice.
The first duty of the British workers is to refrain from entering the Army or Navy, these being the tools whereby their landowning class defend their own possessions at home, and exploit and seize on the land of others abroad. The British working man has been too often misled into rejoicing in the evil of war on the pleas that it "increases employment" and "gives new fields tor labour," while he has remained blind to the fact that within the last twenty years millions of acres in his own country have passed out of cultivation and become mere playgrounds for the exploiters of industry.
Henry George said well that is until there be correct thought, there cannot be right action, and where there is correct thought, right action will follow." Therefore, be the land question in Great Britain ever so peculiarly complicated, everybody there can further its solution by studying his own ideals and revising them. At present, something which is miscalled "philanthropy" is the British idol, made up of horrible misconceptions of duty and right living, ana needing to be utterly overthrown. Men who drive labourers off the land, that they may shoot birds—men who make their wealth from employing workmen in poisonous conditions, if only they build hospitals or contribute to churches—are called "philanthropists," bowed down to, and upheld in honour for the emulation of the young. The men who trap the workmen's earnings by their breweries and distilleries, or who sell opium to China, or who receive rents from toiling peasants in South America, that they and their womenkind may spend these in vulgar insensate luxury in London or Paris, deserve a larger share of the same social opprobrium which now befalls the racecourse thimble rigger, the robber of the blind or the receiver of stolen goods. But at present they do not get this from the majority of their countrymen, who are far from having entered into that blessed enlightenment described by the ancient prophet, "when the vile person shall no more be called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful." If society—including all the workers—were less concerned about the money a man has to spend or to give away than about the purity of the means whereby he has got what he has, a great deal of the gilding of wealth would vanish at a stroke. Aggrandisement would grow less attractive—the path of renunciation would become more easy and natural. Public opinion a force to which every landless workman and every unrepresented woman in Britain can contribute—is a maker of the future, stronger than any legislation, which indeed can never be more than its follower and vassal. While wealth, however acquired, is envied and admired, it will be sought by any means. Abstention from envy, from admiration, and from servile emulation can create a new atmosphere about it. When the fateful Mordecai sits unmoved at the gate, the doom of Hamon approaches.
It is thus seen that the land question is ever the vital question for all people in all countries. Tolstoy's argument and appeal must not be set aside by any, with the self-satisfied remark that his words concern only Russia, "which is in such a terrible state." In truth—as Tolstoy so clearly recognises and points out—in this matter, the only difference between Russia and her Western neighbours is, that she is really in a more hopeful state than they are. Her malady is acute—it has not become chronic—the mass of her people still know what they need, and its remedy lies straight before them. In certain other countries—Britain among them—the peoples have been long hypnotised and are left standing, as|it were, outside a bewildering labyrinth, full of blind alleys, which, athirst, they wander up and down, while the fountain of economic life lies secret at the heart of the maze. Therefore, the first step possible for these peoples is to be de-hypnotised and awakened to the recognition of what they really need, proceeding thereupon to understand the true character of those who have robbed them of it, and to determine henceforth to refuse to be used as tools in further robbery of the same obscure nature either at home or abroad.
To cease to do evil, is the first step towards learning to do well.