Dora B. Montefiore 1917

The Food of the People


Source: The Call, 2 August 1917, p. 2
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


A very suggestive pamphlet has been written by Captain JR White, on the subject of “The Irish Question as the Key to the Labour Problem of the World” in which he points out that “our greatest lack in the past has been a true social. education. . Now that we are about to go to school under stern necessity” the economic anarchy connected with the present production and distribution of wealth “will be forced upon our consciousness.” The stern necessity about which he writes is the world shortage of food which threatens to make the lives of the workers, not only in this country, but in all the countries affected by the world war, more pinched, more exploited, more ground down than they were before the autumn of 1914. While not agreeing with Captain White that “the gradual return of the people to the land, and the re-establishment of their direct access to the primary necessities of life, with their consequent release from the obligation to sell their labour in order to live” is the 20th century solution of the economic and social problem, we Socialists do admit that the cooperative production and distribution of wealth for the equal benefit of the entire community, can only be accomplished when all people have access, not only to the land, but to the tools and machinery of modern industrialism.

Again we agree in Captain White’s indictment that at the present moment “the industrial prosperity of the world is exploded in mutual destruction, and every day makes it clearer that there is a shortage of the world’s necessary food.” How, indeed, could it be otherwise when millions of men in every country have, for the last three years, been withdrawn from every form of productive work, and have spent that period in the systematic destruction of life, and of every form of property in what the opposing Governments are pleased to call “war zones”? Though the people of every country, whether combatant or neutral, sigh for peace, the capitalist Governments of these countries know that Peace is likely to prove more dangerous to them than is war, because the hydra-headed problems that war has created - the most terrifying of which is the food problem - will then stand defiant on the high road where walk the statesmen and the politicians of the old order, and will demand nothing short of the Social revolution, which shall give to every man and woman the full product of their labour.

It is doubtless up to us, who are, at the present moment, helping to form the soul of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, which are eventually to move the revolutionary body that shall expel from our midst discredited capitalism, and militarism, to include in our propaganda the agricultural labourers and the allotment holders, whom “Reconstructionists” are plotting to plunder; but in that propaganda we must interpret with the evolutionary threads of Marxian teaching held clearly before the workers, and must point out the interdependence of all forms of labour, necessitating its absolute solidarity, if the historic mission of the people is to be scientifically worked out. We are no longer in the pastoral, the agricultural, or even the early manufacturing age, but have now entered on the Iron Age, when metals, electricity, and fuel for the night and day manufacture of mighty machinery are of supreme importance. Land must nowadays be cultivated by the newest agricultural implements and machinery, or the tiller of the soil is a serf who has to work every hour of daylight to scratch a living from the earth.

It would appear that the Irish are afraid lest in the coming fight for food England should vampire their agriculture, as she did during the Irish famine, when “millions of tons of foodstuffs were exported to England” while the Irish peasantry starved. Captain White’s remedy is “to restore the agricultural foundation of England . so that she will not need to vampire the agriculture of her neighbour.” There is little doubt that England could be made agriculturally and pastorally self-supporting, but that can never come to pass as long as the stranglehold of capitalism is on her. What is going on at present in the way of Government encouragement for increasing the growth of food supplies should be an object lesson to the workers of how our remedy of the socialisation of the means of production is the only remedy which can meet and vanquish the impending famine. The Government are offering to farmers a bonus for every bushel of wheat grown. That bonus will help the farmer to pay his rent to the large landowner, but it will in no wise help the agricultural labour, who, with his family, is suffering keenly from the abnormal rise in the cost of living - and it will cost the country several millions a year.

But the labourer, the town worker, the small clerk, and the mechanic are all to be dazzled with the glorious prospect of becoming allotment holders, and of working off their spare energy in growing potatoes and other small crops. The wily Government having realised that rises in wages are of little use to the worker if the actual simple food on which he lives is not to be procured with the Treasury note or notes he receives at the end of the week, conceived the masterly idea of allowing certain derelict or waste lands to be used near towns, and setting the workers to toil on Sundays to raise the food which, under war conditions, could neither be raised nor imported. Thanks, therefore, to the gracious permission of the Archbishop of Canterbury, which now allows the wage slave to toil - not only six days a week, but Sundays as well, the worker (who is the producer of all wealth) must do his ordinary stunt for a master, but can, in his “leisure” produce the food which otherwise would not be forthcoming for his wages to buy at the end-of the week!

It’s all so simple! And it keeps the worker so busy that he has no time to think out international problems, nor how best to help his comrades in Russia to hold the trenches they have already won from capitalism.

But the local Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in Great Britain will have to take up with insight and with vigour this question of the Food of the People, will have to socialise the whole supply and distribute it according to the necessities of the hungry and underfed workers. If the Government can commandeer all the excellent frozen meat that comes into this country, and distribute it equally among the soldiers, it should be forced to commandeer the rest of the meat supply, and distribute it equally among those who are helping at home to win the war. Let us, in the name of thousands who go hungry every day, have less talk of “democracy,” and more of democratic action!