Distributists should keep constantly in mind the fact that we are not out to improve the present industrial system, but to destroy it. We want to shift the center of gravity from the machine to the craftsman, from the factory to the farm. We want to decentralize production, so that each district may tend to be self-supporting, we want to have little knots of craftsmen everywhere supplying the needs of the district which feeds them.
While we admit the existence of certain exceptional forms of ownership, as in a mine or a factory, we insist that they are exceptions, and even here we make a distinction between a mine, which we must have, and a factory, which perhaps we need not have. We may find it useful to prepare definite plans for the Distributist working of mines. There is no sense in preparing detailed plans for the Distributist working of a factory. And our mining plans are likely to remain for a long time on paper only. Our point of view may help to modify the Socialist plan when the next Labour Government puts it in operation. It will not do more than that.
But we can proceed to show how Distributism would work in agriculture and small workshops, and in certain ways we can at once put our fundamental principles into practice in their true field: We can start dealing with the small owner in industry and agriculture and, wherever possible, with owners in our own district.
We can support the small owner when his existence is threatened by a monopoly, as it is in the case of the independent ‘busmen and the street traders. Some can, if they have the courage of giants, help to form groups of craftsmen, like the Distributing group. Others, again with the courage of giants, can start tilling the land.
We are led to make these observations by the fact that requests have been received from distributists for a complete plan of how our theory is to be applied to the modern conditions of industry and agriculture. We are accused of being vague, of having nothing to offer the vast army of people employed in factories and offices. Well, we have nothing to offer them—except a way out. We do not intend to devise schemes for making life in a factory or an office tolerable; that is what the monopolists intend to do, and no doubt they will do it. Our business, so far as the factory and office employee are concerned, is to make them desire freedom and to show them how they may be free.
Our hopes are at once very bold and very modest. We hope to turn back the tide of monopoly, we hope to change England from a nation of machine-miners, clerks and carriers to a nation of farmers and craftsmen. But we do not hope to do it all at once. The change, if it is made, will be made piecemeal—by converting Englishmen to Distributism, and by gradually building up a Distributist community outside monopolist organization.
That may appear to place us at a debating disadvantage with the Socialists, who know precisely how they will take over and work monopoly. But the reason for their precise knowledge is that they are themselves monopolists. We don’t intend to take over monopoly. We intend to destroy it by starting an exodus from its factories.
Our main immediate concern is to gain converts which really means to convince the millions of distributists in England that they are such, and that there is a chance of freedom. And when a likely subject asks what we shall do with the steel trade or what not, we must not be ashamed to say: “We shall do nothing with it. We shall leave it to rust.”
We have formulated questions to be addressed to Parliamentary candidates. We think that something can be done through Parliament to make small ownership easier to gain and to hold. But we are not a Party, and our main effort must be always outside Parliament. As we remarked last week, it was the Land League, and not the Nationalist Party, which gained peasant proprietorship for Ireland. When our League has grown to like dimensions it may do as much for Englishmen.
We know very plainly what we want, and we know in general how to get it, as soon as we have the power—that is, the numbers—to demand it. But it would be premature to arrange in detail our plan of campaign.
The one thing needful is to preach steadily and work steadily for small ownership and the localization of production and consumption, while refusing to consider the irrelevant problem of the big town. If our foreign markets failed us suddenly (they are failing us very rapidly) we could not pay for our food imports. Granted! We do not know how we are paying for them. If our food imports failed suddenly we should all starve in twenty-four hours. Perhaps! But we propose no such catastrophe. We propose the gradual re-creation of English agriculture, of English crafts, of English country life. We suggest that as England becomes more and more self-supporting the need for foreign markets and food imports will diminish. We suggest that when all the arable land in England is cultivated by free owners, and there are free master-craftsmen in all the villages and little market-towns, there will be small need for foreign markets and food imports, or for the elaborate system of machine transport which it is the business of the factory to maintain.
G.K.’s Weekly, April 2, 1927.