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

Labour Party’s Great Work.
Dr. Russel Wallace’s Message.
(S751a: 1912)

Editor Charles H. Smith’s Note: An interview by Albert Cartwright printed on page 3 of the 17 October 1912 issue of The Daily Citizen (London & Manchester). To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S751A.htm .

     Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace, O.M., whose striking opinions on the prospects of the Labour movement are given below in an interview with Mr. Albert Cartwright, is well known as one of the master minds of social science, and as the co-worker with Darwin in developing the evolutionary theory. He was born at Usk, in Monmouthshire, and will be ninety years of age in January next. President of the Land Nationalisation Society, his writings on the public ownership of land have been among the most lucid and convincing contributions to the literature of the Labour movement. The relationship of science and religion has been dealt with in his more recent works, and his book, "Man’s Place in the Universe," has probably been more widely read than any other scientific treatise of modern times.

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     "Is the Labour Party worthy of support? Most assuredly; more and more support. There is no more honourable class of our community than the hand-workers, and the sooner all the men and women of goodwill and intelligence range themselves with the Labour Party the sooner will Britain be made the country it ought to be."

     Nobody who heard this inspiring message, and noted the energy and enthusiasm with which it was uttered, could have doubted that Dr. Alfred Russel Wallace believes heart and soul in the cause for which the Labour Party stands. The words, and those which follow, were spoken by Dr. Wallace across his study table in his pleasant Dorsetshire home, where, within sight of ninety, he continues to be an example of physical and mental vigour whereat one must marvel. Dorsetshire, county of stalwart men and handsome women, has pleasing natural features; but it has none finer to show than this veteran of scientific and social research, keener and more contagious in his optimism, much more certain that far greater things are before humanity than are most men of forty. It is rather curious that Dorsetshire, probably alone among British counties apart from London, possesses two citizens who wear the really illustrious Order of Merit, and that the younger of them, Mr. Hardy, should be a good deal of a pessimist, while his neighbour and almost twenty years' senior, Dr. Wallace, is such a serene, unafraid, overwhelming optimist.

"The Waste of It All."

     Dr. Wallace had kindly offered to say a few words on current social problems for the benefit of readers of The Daily Citizen, and naturally, therefore, one of the first questions put to him was as to what feature of life under modern industrial conditions pressed for earliest notice. His reply was prompt and emphatic: "The horrible wastefulness of it all--the waste of effort, good money, and honest, human material. It is an aspect upon which I wish the Labour Party, especially, would insist steadily and always. Our system is the negation of the sane, economical, eminently workable system of co-operative labour for the equal good of all--which is my short definition of Socialism. We do not require all this advertisement, costing millions, all this senseless waste caused by everybody trying to bring out something new every year solely in order to cut out somebody else.

     "A small example of what I mean occurs to me. About forty years ago we lived at Croydon, where there was brought out some exceedingly tasteful and beautiful ordinary crockery, white, with raised flowers upon it. It was as good and useful an article as any reasonable man could wish for but in a little while it was withdrawn to make room for something far less beautiful but newer. I have no doubt other people could mention dozens of similar cases. In America I see they have now reduced this matter of advertisement to a system. The rental value of a shop is in strict relation to the number of people who pass it daily. This puts it clearly. All such waste and cost would be unnecessary under co-operation. Then, consider the enormous waste on the part of what one may call the super-wealthy, in the multiplication of satellites who are utterly valueless as far as the community is concerned. I believe that, taking it all through, the consumer pays quite 50 per cent. more than he should do, because of all the wasteful intermediate processes. Thus, if we had a sane system in place of this mad struggle we call competition, wages could easily be doubled without adding to the price paid by the consumer.

Ireland. Applied Socialism.

     "Strangely enough, a system which withholds fair conditions from so many millions of our fellow-human beings is tolerated despite our knowledge that the world will produce enough and more than enough for everybody. But the great manufacturers seized power at a time when, owing to their operations, another great class, the landlords, greatly increased their power and possessions also. The landlords did not like commercialism at the start, but when they found their rents increasing fifty and a hundredfold they ceased to object, and commerce was favoured in every possible way. The consequence is this horrible system by which in the last fifty years, without the slightest check, most of the rural, hand-working population have been destroyed, physically, mentally, and morally. Only to-day some friends of mine who have just been touring Holland, Germany, and Belgium, were commenting upon the amazing difference between those countries, where every acre is highly cultivated, while in large portions of Britain they went miles every day without seeing a man or a house, going through tract after tract of land scarcely cultivated or not cultivated at all.

     "On the other hand, look at the case of Ireland," said Dr. Wallace. "Except our own, all the Governments of Western Europe are beginning to help to organise the workers, and one of the most striking cases is that of Ireland. Here is a Conservative, Sir Horace Plunkett, who has done the most wonderful socialistic work for Ireland. It is a pity, of course, that Gladstones's generous Act did not reserve the land for the community, but as far as the Irish people are concerned Sir Horace Plunkett and his friends, by organising them, have enabled them to grasp many of the advantages of a partial system of Socialism, or the co-operative commonwealth. I wonder when the people of Great Britain will demand treatment as good.

     "The work in Ireland has been done so well that everybody may know exactly what quality of goods he is buying. The butter, cheese, etc., turned out in Ireland under the co-operative system is now, I understand, all graded, as is done in the 'socialistic' colony of New Zealand. Even Italy has made a wonderful advance in the last twenty years. It used to be one of the most miserably poor agricultural countries in Europe, but now it is advancing fast, owing to co-operative effort, co-operative banks, and so on. In England everything is done to oppose the small man who wishes to develop the land. We pass what is called an Allotments Act. We have passed several, but the last is that of six or seven years ago. Nothing has come of it, except a mass of red tape and well-paid officials, the burden of which falls on the man who gets a small holding. Instead of thwarting them, the Government ought to lend these people money free of interest for the first few years. Anybody who has dealings with them will testify that our poor people are as honest, at least, as our rich. Lord Carrington's experience with his small holders in Lincolnshire and Bucks proves that. His statement is on record that he has never lost a pound of rent-money, and that crime and poverty are diminished remarkably. Some of us hoped that when Lord Carrington (as the Marquis of Lincolnshire then was) went to the Board of Agriculture there would be real land reform, but I suppose landlordism and officialdom were too strong."

Organised Labour and Government.

     "When you speak of Government doing nothing for the small man, Dr. Wallace, do you mean any special Government?"

     "No; Governments in general. Imagine a Government which really wanted small holdings leaving the Allotments Act to the County Councils--consisting of landlords, wealthier farmers, and manufacturers! Why, working men and small business men cannot even afford the time to attend the meetings."

     "But do you mean, then, that the Labour Party should oppose all Liberal and Tory Governments?"

     "No. But I want the Labour Party to prod the Government. It does this occasionally now; but let us have more of it. But, of course, the responsible leaders have to realise that anything like a Labour majority is not likely for many years, and therefore they have to work through the Government. It is, and is likely to be for some years--for we are a slow-moving folk--a choice between Liberalism and Toryism, and rightly and properly Liberalism has been chosen hitherto. Toryism believes that the hand-workers are an actually inferior kind of being, instead of being, as they are, the equals of anybody. One of the most encouraging things is that those who speak and write on behalf of the workers are determined that this thing shall cease, and I think they are powerfully helped by the 'Labour Parliaments,' the congresses, which are as well-conducted as any Parliament and, as for getting through business, better than most."

     "To take a great, concrete case, do you think the Labour Party acted properly in voting for the Insurance Act?"

     "Most assuredly. I see one well-known writer has been stating that the Act treats British workmen worse than the Inquisition treated heretics. It is hard to believe that the man who could write that is sane. I thank heaven I have lived to see the beginnings of great social reform which the Insurance Act and the Lloyd George Budget represent. They begin the social re-birth of this country. Some of our 'advanced' people who swear at Mr. Lloyd George don't seem to have asked themselves what he must have had to overcome in the shape of the vested interests and the Conservative instincts of most of his colleagues."

     It may surprise some of the Socialists of to-day to learn that Dr. Wallace, with all his wide reading and research, considers that Bellamy's "Looking Backward" and "Equality" are, and are likely to remain, the bible of the co-operative commonwealth. He thinks that no other human being has sketched out such a fair and workable scheme of life. He also warmly commends for serious study, and the application of its arguments by the State, the Rev. H. V. Mills's "Poverty and the State."

Albert Cartwright.

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