William Joss

The Crisis of Agriculture


Source: The Communist Review, November 1923, Vol. 4, No. 7.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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.


THE condition of British agriculture is receiving adequate publicity in the Press of to-day, and the failure of the farmers’ deputation to the Prime Minister has created an attitude of despair throughout the whole of the agricultural areas. The farmers do not even yet realise the implications of imperialism. The spectacle of a British farmers’ deputation to the Premier at the moment of the Imperial Conference would in ordinary circumstances create mirth, if it were not for the serious condition of our rural workers. On one hand the British farmers asking for protection against imported foodstuffs and on the other the Colonial Governments asking for preferential tariffs for their primary products, mainly foodstuffs.

The policy pursued by successive Governments in this country since the later period of imperialism has tended to sacrifice agriculture to industry, and the pressure on the farmer will tend to increase rather than be retarded in the future.

There is no doubt that some farmers are in a bad way and the class of farmers who are feeling the depression most are small farmers, who will in the process be further driven into the ranks of the agricultural and industrial workers or driven overseas as were their predecessors after the previous depression of 1874 to 1894. The result of that depression was to eliminate the small farmer class and to extend large-scale capitalist farming. To-day the same thing is going to happen because the small farmer cannot hold out to the same extent as the large farmer, either for the market to improve or prices to rise. The result after the last depression was that, whereas in 1913 farms of one to fifty acres numbered 292,720 as against 143,166 larger than fifty acres, they did not occupy sixteen per cent. of the total acreage, i.e., there are actually even now more small farms than large ones, but the large ones occupy eighty-four per cent. of the acreage.

The above process is going to be repeated in the present depression, and in the possible development of ranch farming the groundwork will be prepared for another considerable exodus of broken small farmers and agricultural workers to the vacant spaces of the Empire similar to the exodus which took place from 1874-94, only, while at that period there was work on the railways, in the cities, in municipal and other work openings for the rural worker, to-day, there is nothing but emigration. The, movement to re-establish a peasantry on the land by the development of small holdings has practically failed and the continued cutting down of grants for agricultural work and development by the Government during the past two years are possibly part and parcel of that policy which underlies the Empire Settlement Act.

Under the present basis of society there is no security for the working farmers and the agricultural workers, and all the proposals propounded by the Linlithgow Commission are not going to solve the problem. Co-operative buying, selling, and credit facilities may help the biggest farmers to survive, but the smaller men are doomed. The policy pursued by the Government is inherent in the imperialist tendencies of the capitalist-financial interests of this country. The whole series of conferences which have been held since 1887, and in 1897, 1902, 1907, 1911, the Imperial War Conferences of 1917 and 1918 and the present conference in October, 1923, show the trend of development of imperial economics: the preferences in finance through the Colonial Stock Act, by which the Colonies obtained cheap loans and finally Tariff Preference in 1919, these and the development of organisations like the Empire Producers’ Organisation prove there is no time to waste on the needs and problems of agriculture at home.

The development of Empire resources offer an outlet for the financiers and the development of that policy must naturally react against the farmers of this country. The fact is that a world readjustment is going on which will make the power of the capitalist financiers more complete, and the farmers as a class will be more and more reduced to the semi-independent class of agricultural labourers. The farmer is not able to form an effective union similar to the organisation of the capitalist financier, and we repeat again that the only hope of the working farmer is to ally himself with the organised industrial workers in their fight against the common enemy and by their joint action set up a Workers’ and Working Farmers’ Government with its necessary organisation and control of industry.

The farmers are due to have many ups and downs before they are finally reduced to the same level as the industrial workers. The Government of capitalist financiers operating in the interests of high finance in their schemes of imperial development will recurrently give farmers a basis for the hope that they can once again restore the industry and thereby establish security for the farmers. It will be this series of promises and hopes which will tend to keep them from uniting with the industrial workers, who have already been divorced from such hopes save through their own organisations. The fact is that a world readjustment is going on which which will make the domination of the financiers more complete. This country will be organised for the export of those products which will hasten the development of the Colonial empire. This means that for the farmer and industrial worker stability of occupation and earnings will be dependent on The new factors of imperial development. The natural mental relationship which ought to exist between the farm and the factory will practically cease to exist. Both to-day cannot exist to maintain the greed and ambition of a small wealthy class. Unless farmers and workers perfect their organisations of production for their own benefit a series of further breaks and extended depression in agriculture may end in some degree of stability on a lower plane of earnings than either have expected. It cannot bring permanent security.

The increasing burden of mortgages upon the farmer is drawing them headlong on the road to ruin. The amount of mortgages on farms run by farmers who were forced to buy or quit during the period following the war has increased over 100 per cent. and here the farmer loses double, the money was borrowed in 1919-20, when the 1 sterling was worth in reality less than 10s., and as the mortgages have now to be paid off in money when money is dear and the 1 sterling nearly approaching parity, the result will be more and more foreclosures and a more rapid fall in the percentage of farmers owning and operating their own farms. This control is being increasingly taken over by the banks and insurance investment companies to whom the farmer had to resort when faced with the problem of buying or quitting, with the result that more and more the farmer becomes a hired servant of the capitalist financiers.

“All economic products result from two factors only, land and labour; using the word land in the large sense of theoretical economics, so as to include water and mines and all the natural resources of the planet. Capital is not really a third factor: capital is a product of the application of labour to land, and is merely a stage in production. Without land human life is impossible; without labour very little human life would be possible,” says Bertrand Russell. The above quotation summarises the importance of land and labour. At present in agriculture and industry in general the whole purpose of production is the enrichment of a few. Under a sane system of society the producers of that wealth, the industrial workers and working farmers who produce all the wealth, would also control the distribution of that wealth. The factors which prevent that basis from operating is the division between these two sections which is fostered by that small wealthy class which exploits both as a result of their division. For the working farmers as well as the industrial worker the only solution is a closer unity between them and not only organisation industrially but also politically, expressing itself in a Workers’ and Working Farmers’ Government.

WILLIAM JOSS.