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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81


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This is a book for colonials, young and old, who have the social and political welfare of their country at heart. To understand our Colonies and their democratic aims we must know the England from which they have sprung. I do not mean only the traditional England that has stood for liberty amongst the nations and founded the Empire. I mean the real England as it was in the nineteenth century and as it has evolved therefrom to-day; the England which has 1,250,000 persons rich, 3,750,000 persons comfortable and 38,000,000 millions poor. It is from her mighty social and political problems we must derive examples of what to avoid, to prevent and to encourage, if "The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number" is still to be our watchword.

The chapters following, the bulk of which were published in an abbreviated form by the New Zealand Times, Auckland Star, Dunedin Star, and Sydney Morning Herald, have been written solely with a desire to bring home to thinking young men and women in the Pacific some of the principal effects of the traditional individualism of Britain in her own domestic sphere. By individualism I mean that particular form of political and social thought which takes for its cry. "The Liberty of the Subject." The long sustained and autocratic attempt of George III. to re-establish the privilege of earlier monarchs—"The Divine Right of Kings"—brought out to a marked degree the passionate racial instinct of the Englishman for what he calls liberty. It also had a great deal to do with that gigantic statue to the unfettered goddess overlooking the harbour of New York, by which a young and vigorous race symbolised for the future ages their undying hostility to any form of monarchical interference. The triumph of "the Commons" over the Hanoverian despot it is true gave definite shape to "The Liberty of the Subject." But the economic changes that were beginning at the time—a century and a half ago—had not been reckoned with. The invention of the steam engine materially affected the whole foundation of society. Prior to the days of steam, the industry of England was done in the homes. The domestic workshop was scattered through the agricultural districts. There were no great factories or concentration in the cities. That came later. With the steam engine factories sprang up and people flocked to the towns. With freedom from autocratic hindrances, which "The Liberty of the Subject" secured, industry spread and trade expanded. Britain began to accumulate wealth. But as the wealth accumulated the condition of the great mass of the workers and those dependent upon them became abject, as I shall show almost immediately. The whole of the great economical changes that began some hundred and fifty years ago benefited only the wealth and landowning classes. The privileges the monarch surrendered to his people were absorbed and transmuted into the commercial freedom these two great classes acquired. "The Liberty of the Subject," far from being of universal benefit, simply resolved itself into the will of these privileged individuals to exploit the mass.

The revolutionary changes that came with industrialism in Britain are almost as incredible as they are remarkable. The wealth-owning classes were absolutely unrestrained in their desire to erect factories, develop natural resources, page 8 utilise inventions, and bring hundreds of thousands of people from the agricultural districts into the towns to supply the necessary labour. The unrestrained power of capitalism speedily reduced a large part of Britain to a deplorable state. The late William Clark, in his excellent and authoritative essay on the industrial changes in Britain, says: "There was not a savage in the islands of the Pacific who was not better fed, happier, healthier, and more contented than the majority of the workers in the industrial parts of England. Children, it was discovered, were transferred in large numbers to the north, where they were housed in pent-up buildings adjoining the factories, and kept to long hours of labour. The work was carried on night and day without intermission; so that the beds were said never to become cold, inasmuch as one batch of children rested while another went to the looms, only half the requisite number of beds being provided for all. Epidemic fevers were rife in consequence. Medical inspectors reported the rapid spread of malformation of the bones, curvature of the spine, heart diseases, rupture, stunted growth, asthma, and premature old ago among children and young persons; the said children being worked by manufacturers without any kind of restraint. Manufacturing profits in Lancashire were being at the same time reckoned at hundreds and even thousands per cent. The most terrible condition of things existed in the mines, where children of both sexes worked together, half naked, often for sixteen hours a day. In the fetid passages, children of seven, six, and even four years of age, were found at work. Women were employed underground, many of them while pregnant, at the most exhausting labour. After a child was born, its mother was at work again in less than a week, in an atmosphere charged with sulphuric acid. In some places women stood all day knee-deep in water, subject to an intense heat. One woman when examined avowed that she was wet through all day long, and had drawn coal carts till her skin came off. Women and young children of six years old drew coal along the passages of the mines, crawling on all fours with a girdle passing round their waists, harnessed by a chain between their legs to the cart. A sub-commissioner in Scotland reported that he 'found a little girl, six years of age, carrying half a cwt, and making regularly fourteen long journeys a day. The height ascended, and the distance along the road exceeded in each journey the height of St. Paul's Cathedral,' 'I have repeatedly worked,' said one girl seventeen years of age, 'for twenty-four hours.' The ferocity of the men was worse than that of wild beasts; and children were often maimed and sometimes killed with impunity. Drunkeness was naturally general. Short lives and brutal ones were the rule. 'The men,' it was said, 'die off like rotten sheep, and each generation is commonly extinct soon after fifty.' Such was a large part of industrial England under the unrestrained rule of the capitalist. There can be no doubt that far greater misery prevailed than in the Southern States during the era of slavery. The slave was property—often valuable property; and it did not pay his owner to ill treat him to such a degree as to render him useless as a wealth producer. But if the 'free' Englishman was injured or killed, thousands could be had to fill his place for nothing."

Here we have an irresistible picture of what ensued when the capitalistic classes were freed from the grosser forms of autocracy, claimed by Royalty to the extent that they did almost as they pleased. In those days there were no factory enactments, no Arbitration Courts, page 9 no minimum wage, no trades unionism, no labour agitators, no limit to the hours of labour or the sweating of the wage earner. It was briefly a process by which great wealth was accumulated on one side, and greater poverty on the other.

It is true that when Britain deserted agriculture for industry, the pastoral and agricultural areas yielded less rents to the owner. But the burden of that, as is usual in such cases, fell on the unfortunate farmer more than the landowner. With the demand for coal, iron and other mineral resources, the land owning classes derived enormous benefits. By their hereditary or acquired right to the freehold and the unearned increment, they claimed and got fabulous sums for royalties, rights, and rents from factory areas and houses. And they never did a stroke of work for it either.

The influx of the population to the towns brought the speculative jerry builder, and the land-owners golden opportunities. In their eagerness to acquire wealth they did not scruple to erect some of the vilest slums known to history. What toll death has levied on England's millions by reason of the inhuman and disgusting filthy dens Englishmen have provided for their fellow creatures never will be known. It is one of the blackest stains on England's history. It is within measurable distance of our own times, in as much that the conditions still remain. Every British city of today has its slums. The mortality in these areas as I will show later is still so high as to be a disgrace, if not a travesty upon any civilised community professing as Britain does to stand among the nations for Liberty and enlightenment. These slums, a few examples of which I am able to illustrate in these pages, were the direct outcome of the unrestrained freedom of the landlord and his other half—the speculative jerry builder. They were free to create without municipal "interference" whatever they wished in the interests of money making and human selfishness.

Such was the result of the combined liberties of the wealth and land-owning classes operating together without any state intervention. Nobody could forsee the course of events. The people, who through no particular merit of their own were enabled to reap the rewards of the propertied classes, were not individually conscious of the evil they were perpetrating. It is the way of human and natural progress to blunder first and remedy after. The progressive men of Britain had to find out the evils in her midst and apply the corrective of state interference with private enterprise and "the rights of private property." It had to be done too in the face of the bitterest antagonism, personal animosity and persecution.

This policy which was associated with "The Liberty of the Subject" entered almost wholly into the life of the Municipalities, and so directly affected the wage earning classes. The industrial revolution which dealt destruction to many existing institutions and modes of life completely swept away the old guilds or Municipalities which at one time made effective provision for safeguarding the interests of wage earners against unscrupulous employers. There is no institution to-day, outside the State itself, that is capable of promoting so many of the things that make for the good of humanity as the Municipality. But under England's extraordinary burst of individualism, which reached its height in the reign of the late Queen Victoria, the beneficent powers of the Municipality were stultified and jealously cur tailed. It was held to be a grossly immoral thing that a Municipality should want to control its own public services. Its functions were also completely rele- page 10 gated to the domain of private enterprise. That is to say by means of the joint stock company and the private contractor, the Municipal utility, essential to every community, was subjected to the making of profits. It is not many years ago that the public services administered by the Borough and City Councils in Britain to-day were in the hands of private companies. When the Municipal movement began to take root, the water companies were the first commercial concerns forced to yield to the Municipalities the right to supply cheap pure water to the people in the interests of public health and cleanliness. The wealth owning classes interested naturally offered the bitterest opposition to the innovation. The Municipalities were said to be interfering with the rights of private enterprise, that it was an immoral thing to interfere in the province which private capital alone had created for itself, that it would drive capital out of the country, and that private enterprise, being throttled by confiscation, the cities would end in bankruptcy. These pet phrases of the mid-Victorian generations are to be heard from both benches of the House of Commons to-day and still treated with marked reverence and respect in the House of Lords. We have also survivals of them in our Colonial affairs. Whenever a vested interest exists and is in danger of being absorbed in some larger undertaking for the benefit and the improvement of the community, it is wonderful to see how well the hoary dogmatisms of past generations, that were associated with so much social horror and disaster in Britain, will still serve as an argument.

The Municipal revival in Britain, hardly fifty years old, removed the public services of water, trams, gas, sanitation, and other institutions beyond the grasp of commercial speculators. It has gone ahead with increasing rapidity in recent years. In this respect it is not too much to say that Britain, and more especially part, of the Continent, have left Australasia far behind. The Municipality has, it would appear, by no means reached the limit of its functions. Its increasing importance and beneficial influence can be readily understood if only the days that preceded it are borne in mind. In England to-day the municipalisation of milk is approaching the range of practical activities, just as water did barely half a century ago. The failure of private individuals to provide healthy and reasonably cheap housing has also brought about astonishing developments in recent years, particularly in Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, and even conservative old London, which still refuses to banish the monopoly which holds its water supply under all the disadvantages and 'difficulties of private ownership. The provision of cheap, healthy residential areas is now one of the practical activities of the Municipality. It has been carried far in advance of the standards that exist to-day in the minds of not a few civic dignitaries in Australasia. The control of the means of transit in cities, represented chiefly by electric cars, is held to be absolutely necessary to any well-ordered community. The private company has had its day in this respect, and it leaves behind a telling record. No colonial city, in the face of England's experience, has any justification for allowing a private company to monopolise its electric car service. To do so is simply setting back the hands of the clock.

There are many other activities in the sphere of British Municipal life which need not be enlarged upon here. It must be abundantly clear that the well-conducted Municipality is a force for national health and social economy, unrivalled by any other institution in the land. The essential, of course, is that page 11 its functions shall not be usurped by any combination or body of commercial interests. The latter can but represent individual gain as opposed to public or communal welfare. Its affairs, too, must be controlled by competent and technical men as it is in Germany.

The example of Britain is full of teaching to the colonies. Many of our progressive enactments in the last decade were inspired by the defective state of society. Our progressive men determined we should not perpetuate in our midst the terrors of sweating, ultra-commercial housing, inhuman hours of labour, huge landed interests, and other evils, all created by the individualism of the past. If one thing only, they deserve the credit of having made the accumulation of large areas of land by the few almost impossible. What has been avoided cannot be put into figures. But the example of Britain is sufficient in itself to justify the progressive legislation of New Zealand. There is a connection between British affairs and our own which is sometimes lost sight of. The basis of society and industry in the two countries are identical. Both believe in private ownership of land, in the practice of the wealth-owner to obtain as large a dividend from his operations as business will yield, in the efficiency of the private individual, or individuals, for the production of the necessaries of life and the development of natural resources. In short, both countries, broadly speaking, possess, with few exceptions, the same principles for the conduct of the people and the welfare of the community. New Zealand has in many directions modified much of the grosser individualism which to-day permits the capitalistic and landowning classes to accumulate the bulk of the wealth produced in each year. But in the (bedrock principles of society she is virtually in harmony with Britain. The example of Britain is clearly of the greatest importance to us. I want, therefore, to present a few very striking facts concerning the Motherland. They reveal, at a glance, the disproportion that exists between wealth and poverty.

The area of Britain is 77,000,000 acres, and the population 43,000,000. Yet 40,426,900 acres (more than half) are owned by 2500 people.

In 1904 British incomes wore as follows:—
  • 5,000,000 people received £830,000,000
  • 38,000,000 people shared £830,000,000

London is probably the wealthiest city in the world. Its property is insured from fire at £1,040,057,846. Despite this, however, there is a large amount of poverty. The figures show that:

One person in every thirty-three is a pauper.

Twenty persons in every 100 die in a workhouse or a workhouse infirmary.—"London Statistics," published by L.C.C.

The area of land suitable for housing—that is, excluding rivers, mountains, etc.—in England and Wales is 20,000,000 acres.

7,500,000 people occupy 10,800,000 acres. 12,000,000 people live on 152,000 acres. 13,000,000 people exist on 48,000 acres.

Russia is seventeen times larger than the United Kingdom, and the population is more than three times as great. Russia is downtrodden, England "free." Britain possesses 30,000 more drink shops than Russia.

These facts have, I understand, been tested and verified by members of the Royal Society of Statisticians. What they represent in actual reality is on one side large estates, luxurious homes, private parks, and all the appurtenances page 12 of wealth; on the other side, miles of depressing areas, overcrowded cities, struggling, needy millions, downright slums and absolute pauperism.

And let it be remembered that there are:—
  • 1,250,000 persons rich;
  • 3,750,000 comfortable;
  • 38,000,00 poor.

It is out of no desire to discredit or misrepresent the Motherland that I write thus or the chapters following were penned. They are a statement of actual fact, derived from authoritative sources. That I suggest Britain to be a decadent country is by no means true. By the facilities which I was enabled to obtain as a member of the London Press for some three years, I had unusual opportunities of seeing Britain and investigating the conditions of affairs. I was tied to no political party or concern, but went into the Motherland with an open mind and as the son of a democratic soil. The majority of colonials who visit the Old World go for its pleasures and its holiday making. They spend six, twelve, or eighteen months visiting London, touring the British Isles and the Continent, seeing what sights they can. Tired of the pleasures of travel, they return to native land, rightly believing it to be for themselves the best on earth, and for the rest the affairs of the Old World do not pass for much. It was my good fortune not to see Britain or the Continent thus. I went as a worker, shared the vicissitudes of the mass, and got down to the bedrock of humanity, both in agricultural and industrial districts as much as in the cities. The privileges associated with the assistant editorship of an ambitious Society journal in London brought me into touch with aristocrat, artist, and celebrity alike. The revelation of London Society and English respectability enabled me to shed a few illusions that the cable man and Imperialistic statesmen have bestowed on many a colonial youth. At the risk of being set down as conceited, I am constrained to mention these few facts in order to make it clear that these pages, whatever class of reading they may provide, are not the outcome of superficial investigation.

The reader will find in these pages no catastrophic creed expounded. This book, moreover, is not printed in a red cover. It is simply a series of observations and investigations made over a period of years, and taken from the point of view of an outsider. The important things, so far as the reader is concerned, are the facts. They have been accumulated only at the expense of considerable time and trouble. In this connection, I wish particularly to express my acknowledgments to Messrs Sidney Webb (London County Council), L. G. Chiozza Money, M.P., J. S. Nettlefold. T. C. Horsfall, J. B. Marr, Albert Shaw, Professor Niebolson, Dr. Shadwell, J. Ellis Barker, and to the medical officers of health, Municipal leaders, and officials, and innumerable gentlemen, who gave me every facility in their power to see, know, and, I hope, understand Britain. These facts must tell their own tale. It is mainly by the study of British social and political life that the young colonial can expect to see his own country in a proper light. Since it is not always possible for every thinking young man or girl to see the realities of Britain for themselves rather than take the cable man's word for it, I have presented these pages in the hope they may be of assistance.

There is, however, one thing that must be borne in mind. That is that Britain is in a state of transition. A marvellous development and change is pulsating through almost every strata of her being. If not in political achievements, her page 13 Municipal work has outdistanced the Australasian colonies. The American cities have also been left behind. She is the arena of gigantic and conflicting interests. No country in the world presents such extremes of life. The very nature of her problems and her adversity has produced intensely individualised men of progress. Their concern is communal welfare as opposed to individual wealth. America is still in the throes of a mighty individualism that once wholly possessed and still has its roots thrust deep into the heart of the Motherland. Britain has instead moved slowly but perceptibly in the direction of collectivism. She is still moving. The great, black, hungry mass swarming through town, city, and metropolis shows signs of awakening. The unrest of change is upon the Old Land. The age of industrialism is merging towards a sociological one. Who is there to say that the one is not the complement of the other? The historic lie that Britons never shall be slaves may one day be recognised as only a prophecy in disguise. In the meantime, let every aspiring colonial apply the example of Britain to his own environment. There is ample need for it.

The Author.