Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

 
 
Poor Law Reform. (S646ad: 1907)
Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace on Labour Colonies.

 
Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A communication from Wallace entered into the transcript of testimony provided by Mr. Fred Hughes on 18 November 1907 for the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress (and later printed in Appendix Volume VIII to its Final Report, published in 1910). Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S646AD.htm


     [[p. 357]] . . . 17. The Secretary of the Birmingham Socialist Centre has received the following communication from Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, with reference to the proposals for the reform of the Poor Law set forth by that organisation. Dr. Wallace entirely objects to the suggestion that parents habitually neglecting their children should be prosecuted by the education authority. He says:--

     "Prosecution is not remedial, but rather the reverse. Further, parents are now frequently prosecuted and sent to prison, sometimes most cruelly and unjustly and always with bad results. Prosecution in such cases is a waste of judicial energy and of public money, and produces nothing but evil."

     Concerning the proposal to establish Labour Colonies for the able-bodied unemployed, Dr. Wallace says:--

     18. (a) "This I agree with almost entirely, but it wants further explanation and elaboration. It should be clearly expressed that the 'Labour Colonies' (which I prefer to term 'Home Colonies' or 'Village Colonies') are to be established for the purpose of building up permanent, self-supporting, and self-governing communities, as explained in some detail in Chap. XXVI., Vol. 2, of my 'Studies Scientific and Social,' and illustrated by the previous chapter on the experiment at Ralahine. It is not sufficiently considered that such communities, once properly established and organised, might, after the [[p. 358]] first year, be absolutely self-supporting, and in a very few years be able to procure all the comforts, many of the refinements, and the necessary leisure and mental as well as physical enjoyments of a true civilisation.

     (b) "Such a community could, at once, produce an ample supply of food and clothing for all. Having an abundance of farm and garden produce of every kind, with a sufficient growth of flax; and with home industries to produce enough woollen and linen fabrics, as well as those for utilising the skins, horns, and bones of the cattle, etc., every necessary for a healthy and happy existence might be produced at home (including beet-root sugar) without needing any foreign produce whatever.

     (c) "But probably in the second year, and certainly in two or three years, there would be a considerable surplus of some of the home products, the sale of which would enable the community to supply itself with tea and coffee, books, music, furniture, etc., the quantity of which would steadily increase in proportion to the industry and good management of the community.

     (d) "Such a community, if carefully organised at first, and with the continuous introduction of self-government and of proper and loving education of the children--as illustrated by Robert Owen at New Lanark and E. T. Craig at Ralahine--would be so attractive to large numbers of our workers that few would care to leave it after having once enjoyed its material and social advantages. But there should, of course, be no compulsion; and for some of the more energetic, who preferred to work for themselves, full scope should be given by the establishment of another type of community consisting of the occupiers of small holdings of various sizes suited for agricultural labourers and for all kinds of mechanics; where by means of co-operation in agriculture, dairy-work, and home manufactures, the full advantages of the best machinery, together with that of individual industry, energy, and capacity might be assured.

     (e) "Success will, in my opinion, be best attained by establishing in each county or other large area, both these types of colony--the communistic and the co-operative, equal aid being given to both at starting, while in the community the principles of self-government, and of separate family life whenever desired, must be carefully provided for. Both of these systems will afford, to the extent they are carried out, permanent remedies for poverty, unemployment, and pauperism. The so-called 'farm colonies' or 'labour colonies' intended for the temporary employment of paupers or of unemployed mechanics, have no such effect, but in their very nature tend to perpetuate and even to intensify unemployment and pauperism. They keep up, at the public expense, that surplus of labour in all departments which is the fundamental cause of unemployment and of so-called sweating, and therefore keep down wages at or below the minimum needed for health, efficiency, and a rational enjoyment of life. If we really wish and intend to abolish these evils, so disgraceful to our civilisation, we must offer the means of self-support to all who cannot be permanently employed and adequately supported by capitalistic organisations. Nothing less thorough than the two types of home colonies here suggested will do this."

     The other suggestions of the Socialist Centre Dr. Wallace dismisses as "of comparatively slight importance because the evils they are required to meet will almost wholly disappear through the remedial influence of self-supporting labour under healthy and happy conditions of life, which should be, and may be, freely open to all." . . .


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