Peasant Proprietorship and Socialism
From Workers’ Republic, August 27, 1898.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
We quite appreciate the fact that peasant proprietary is somewhat of a hindrance to the spread of socialist ideas, but an effective bulwark for capitalism it decidedly is not. Two of the countries named as possessing a peasant proprietary, and therefore as safe from socialism, are just the two countries in which socialism is strongest, viz., France and Germany.
In Germany the socialist party has the strongest voting power of any party in the state, polling over two million and a quarter votes, and in France, we are informed on the authority of the clerical organ, the Gaulois, that the socialist party was the only party which emerged from the late general election in that country stronger and more hopeful than it entered it. In fact, peasant proprietary is rather belated in Ireland just now to be an effective barrier against the spread of socialist principles. We do not need to fight peasant proprietary, we only need to allow free scope for the development of capitalist enterprise in order to see the system of small farming crushed out by the competition of the great farms and scientific cultivation of America and Australia. Prices of agricultural produce have been falling for the last twenty-five years, are falling now, and will fall still lower in the future, and as they fall the peasant proprietor finds his margin of profit disappearing and himself drawing nearer to bankruptcy. Every fresh application of science to agriculture, every cheapening of transit brought about by the development of transatlantic commerce, everything in short which increases the facilities of trade, tends to cheapen the price of agricultural produce and leaves an ever-decreasing margin of profit for the cultivator. Landlordism is fast becoming an economic impossibility in Ireland, and peasant proprietary itself in nowise provides the small farmer with an outlet from the life of constant toil and hunger which is his lot today.
But the principle of socialism affords just that outlet and at the same time ministers to both his social and political aspirations. When agriculture ceases to be a private enterprise, when a free nation organises the production of its own food stuffs as a public function, and intrusts the management of the function to the agricultural population, under popular boards of their own election, then the “keen individualism of the Irish peasant” will find its expression in constant watchfulness over the common stock and supervision of each other’s labour, and will form the best security against wastefulness, and the best incentive to honest toil. When the land is the property of the people in the fullest sense (all the people whether in town or country), then all the aids to agriculture which science supplies, but which are impossible to the poverty-stricken peasant, will be utilised by the national administrators and placed at the service of the cultivators of the soil. The same shrewd sense which has inspired the Irish farmers to appreciate the advantages of agricultural cooperation in dairies and banks, with only their little savings to finance the enterprise, will also lead them to appreciate the advantages which might be derived from cooperation on a national scale with the entire resources of the nation to equip it. And such cooperation applied to industry as well as land is the basic idea of the future socialist republic.
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Last updated on 29.7.2007