Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
Mr. A. R. Wallace. (S369a: 1884)
Mr. Wallace commenced his lecture (in which he undertook to show why the land should be nationalised) by a reference to the deplorable condition of the poor in the large centres of population, and said although politicians told them pauperism was decreasing, an examination of the statistics showed that there had been no real decrease, while the amount of poverty untouched by the poor law in large and growing towns had gone on increasing. The large number of charity organisations established had no doubt reduced the number of official paupers, but poverty was increasing almost at a greater rate than the population, and the approximate causes of this poverty were becoming greater and more severe every year. There had been a constant lowering of wages in all the occupations of the very poor, and all this demonstrated that the poor were worse off now than they were. It being a fact that the terrible misery of the poor in the towns had increased and was increasing, they had to inquire what were its causes. Setting aside optimist politicians who thought there was nothing to cure, and that their own people were so well governed and so contented that they might spend their surplus energies in settling the affairs of Egypt and other countries, there were fundamental causes alleged for the terrible failure of their civilisation to support their own poor. These were--first, over-population; and secondly, a monopoly of land and capital by a limited class. For his part he regarded the unjust system of land monopoly as the only fundamental cause for this poverty in the midst of wealth, and so long as this monopoly existed no diminution of the tyranny of capital over labour was possible. Were the land open to all, so that every labourer could obtain an acre of land at a fair market value, and with a fixity of tenure, wages would immediately rise far above the present point; first, because the number of labourers appearing in the market would be diminished; and, chiefly, because the labourers, as a body, would become small capitalists, and would not be driven as they were now to compete for work at any wages or starve. As the result of this system, also, home production would be increased, and in course of time a sort of peasant proprietary would grow up as the labourers were enabled to increase their holdings. A direct result of landlordism was that people left the country districts and flocked to the towns, which became over-populated, and poverty and misery were the result. Year by year more people were being forced up from the country into London and other towns, and under the present land system there was no possibility of its being otherwise, because powerful social and economic forces were at the root of it. Surely the people of England would not wait until these poor sufferers learnt the true cause of the misery, and, despairing of reform, lit up the burning fires of revolution. He contended that property in land could never justly arise, because it was not a product of human labour, and it was the fundamental source of all wealth as well as absolutely essential for human existence, and the ownership of land by a class resulted in the slavery of the poor who were not landowners. (Applause.) The lecturer strongly condemned the exercise of landlordism in Ireland, as displayed in the numerous evictions that had taken place, resulting in an amount of distress among the evicted families which it was impossible for English people to imagine. The same process, though perhaps less rigidly carried out than in Ireland, was going on in our quiet country villages, and the result was the famine and misery which at the present time prevailed in the great cities and towns of England. They were told, also, that the same oppression was being practised in Scotland, and pauperism had increased nine times as fast as the population. To sum up, he charged landlordism that by its very existence it defrauded the labourer of the just reward of his labour, kept down wages to the lowest possible minimum, and thus kept up pauperism as an institution. It also depopulated the country districts, and was the direct cause of the overcrowding, and the competition, and the consequent poverty and misery which existed in our large towns. He charged that it had exercised, and still exercised, widespread oppression and cruelty, often equalling the horrors of war, in the midst of peace and material prosperity, and that it possessed and exercised powers which were not only inconsistent with individual liberty, but which permanently diminished their defensive forces, and were a danger to their commonwealth. (Applause.) A question was put to the lecturer whether he could point to any other country in which the land belonged to the State, and in which better conditions existed. Mr. Wallace replied that there was no country in which there was a thorough system of land nationalisation, but there was an approach to it in some countries; for example, in Switzerland. Perhaps the nearest approach to it was in Japan, where there was no such thing as pauperism. Other questions were put and answered, and the proceedings terminated with the usual votes of thanks.