A Week in the Future, by Catherine Helen Spence

Chapter iii


Co-operative Production and Distribution

Mr. Oliphant kindly put himself at my disposal for the day; as he did his six hours’ work and more during the night, his days were unoccupied except by the two hobbies of literature and gardening. He felt that my coming would throw light on the subject of his new book, as it showed how different society was in the infancy of co-operation, so that no hobby was equal to the pleasure of enlightening me, who could not stay to read his book. If I did not get whole chapters fired off to me, I feel sure that I had a great many detached sentences. The newspaper seemed to be a very inadequate vehicle for such a man to express himself in. There did not seem to be the same anxiety for the latest news that had characterised the world when I knew it well. I was surprised to see the small size of the paper which my friend edited, and especially the handful of advertisements which appeared in it. I thought this must be a journal with small circulation, or recently established, but in this I was mistaken. The title was the Daily News, and it was the present representative of that old Liberal paper.

“What has become of the advertisements?” said I.

“Well, people do not advertise much now-a-days. When the whole community deal at co-operative stores, they need neither showy buildings nor insinuating shopmen nor costly advertisements. The stores do not overstock themselves, and therefore do not need to push their trade!”

“The advertisements used to be the very sinews of war!”

“Yes, indeed; the tail grew so strong that it wagged the head. We still are a good deal beholden to our advertisements, though you look on them with scorn!”

“You see a column or two of vacancies in Associated Homes, and at this season a large number offered at the seaside, for occasional change of air is good for everyone, though not so necessary now that we understand sanitation. Here is a column of Lost and Found, another for situations wanted, and for persons to fill situations. A column of shipping advertisements and a few auction sales of cargoes, which in a general way are consigned to special importers and are not put up to auction, some notices of removal. Births, marriages, divorces, and deaths of course take the first place on the first page!”

“Divorces?” I said.

“Yes; they are public matters, deserving of brief official announcement, though not of exhaustive and exhausting reports as in old times!”

“But where are the quack medicines and the toilet requisites? Where are Holloway’s Pills, Eno’s Fruit Salt, Pears’ Soap, Hop Bitters, and such like?”

“Not now worth advertising apparently. Sales are made to the stores, which are not induced to buy by plausible advertisements!”

“Where are the new season’s goods just opened — where the tremendous sacrifices of goods at the end of the Summer and Winter seasons, and the detailed price-list to tempt the lover of bargains?”

“Gone for ever, I suppose, because our co-operative stores do not over-buy in the first place, and neither charge a fancy price for what is novel, nor reduce below cost when the article has become common or has induced cheaper imitations. We keep our wares till the next season, we wear out our own clothes and consume or work up our own scraps; but with the death of the fury of competition fell the enormous profits of newspapers on advertisements which enabled them to spend what appears to us now fabulous sums for the latest news. I can see that you look on our modern Daily News as a very poor affair, but you may see that other journals are in the same category.”

There were five other daily papers and six weekly taken in at the Owen Home, but all had the same characteristics. The Times was larger than the Daily News, and had more foreign intelligence, but no larger advertising sheets.

I was indeed surprised. “It is not only the new goods and the season sales that I miss, but the sales of real estate, of stock, of shares.”

“I suppose there is a character of permanence in all our doings that was unknown to you. A family goes into a home, and, as you see, remains there for life, and often for generations. A farm or a factory, on co-operative principles, helps its employés together, not by the week or the month, but for the life-time. Exchanges are sometimes made, but it is advantageous to keep together, and the element in human nature that leads to constancy is encouraged by all our social arrangements. But this permanence is not the thing to make newspapers either so interesting to read, or so lucrative to manage as when people could be tempted to almost any course of action by having it forcibly presented to them.”

“Personally, I hated the advertising system. I do not think I ever bought anything in consequence of having it presented insistently; but I must have been an exception, or the thing could not have been kept up,” said I.

“You see that we do not get as much for a penny as you used to do. The advertisements are fewer and cheaper. Twenty families associated do not buy so many newspapers. We pay the employés as much or more in value for six hours’ work as was formerly paid for ten, and the price of paper would have been raised by the high value of labor if cheaper fibre had not been discovered, and more effective machinery applied to the manufacture.”

“It is indeed a strange industrial revolution that has been carried out. Our prevalent idea was that things would continue to go on expanding, and that the 20th century would go into bigger figures in every way than the 19th, but with you the general well-being of the whole population demands checks somewhere, and I see it in the newspaper clearly enough The cost of advertising enhances the cost of the product, and your whole system demands the minimising of the cost of distribution, so that the producer should get as much and the consumer pay as little as possible.”

“You put the case in a nutshell,” said Mr. Oliphant.”

“But what do the armies of distributors do, not to speak of the speculators, the brokers, and stock jobbers. Of actual producers every country showed too few, and yet they appeared to produce too much for the consumers to buy at a remunerative price. The fringe of casual workers taken on at a push, and cast off in slack seasons, showed something very far from sound in the industrial world, and scarcely less objectionable was the fury of overwork alternated with none at all in many of the season trades. Painters and decorators, for instance, were over-driven for six months in the year, and half idle for the other six.”

“Our social system now,” said Mr. Oliphant, “is built on the continuous employment of all the population. Painters and decorators, as you say, are still living during the summer at this branch of their business, but they are employed in making paper hangings and other material that will keep during the winter months. Every one has a by-trade, which may be scarcely as profitable as his ordinary one, but the misery and waste of enforced idlenesss is saved to him. This needs organisation and management, which you will see to advantage at our co-operative farm.”

“How far is it out of London?” I asked.

“About forty miles. My brother is the manager, and will be glad to show a stranger from Australia over the place. You will travel by a national railway.”

“That I was used to; in all the colonies railways were built and controlled by the Government. How did the nation absorb the iron roads built by associations of capitalists?” “Not by spoliation — the nation gave the full value to the companies for them.” “Is travelling cheapened in consequence?”

“Yes, considerably cheapened, and made much more safe as well.”

“I cannot comprehend how, in a century, the great disparities of condition have been virtually abolished, and the nation seems in the process to have exchanged national debt for national property. You have no rich people now-a-days.”

“Yes, we have some whom we call rich, but the very rich are extinct.”

“You must have confiscated property on a large scale. It may have been necessary, but it must often have been very cruel.”

“It was not confiscation, as I understand the word,” said Mr. Oliphant, “but something had to be done when the armies of Europe were disbanded, and the millions of non-producers, who had simply destroyed capital and consumed the fruits of others’ toil, must needs be enlisted in the industrial army. All trades stood aghast at the threatened competition. In old thickly-peopled countries it was not as in America at the close of her civil war, when an enormous area of fertile land was open for new settlement, and Europe ready to buy the produce of labor, and besides, there the armies had been improvised recently out of industrious citizens. The European standing armies were composed of soldiers untrained to peaceful labor. The Continental armies were larger than the English, no doubt, but their land system was better. It was not the mere soldiers who had to be provided for, but there were thousands on thousands of artisans engaged from their youth up in making rifles, cannons, and all the munitions of war by sea and land, thrown at once out of employment. The land system had to be revolutionised, and all of the land utilised. Then was the tremendous stride taken in co-operative production, and the simultaneous exchange of the isolated for the Associated Homes. It was a terrible but a grand time to live in. In the peaceful serenity of our present days, I have often sighed for the opportunities of that time of transition. The wisdom and philanthropy of the best of the educated classes were called out as they have never been before or since, organising workshops and trade instruction, and especially in revolutionising agriculture.”

“Was it peasant properties or petite culture that they went in for, or long leases with compensation for improvements?”

“Not small peasant properties; modern agriculture to be successful, must be carried on on a large scale, with every appliance in the way of machinery, and the most effective division of labor that can be accomplished. It was an age when the capital which had been gradually earning less and less in the old channels, was poured out on the land like water; when new fertilisers, some bulky and others minute, were tried and tested all over the country from Land’s End to John O’Groat’s, and when for the first time, the body of the people understood the population question.”

“The nation would of course save the enormous cost of the army and navy.” said I, “but in such a crisis the taxes would fall off, and would be remitted.”

“No, the taxes were not remitted. They were very severe, but the nation used this money and the credit which still stood good, for all other countries were passing through an equally difficult crisis, to buy up encumbered estates. All crown lands, church lands, and waste lands are at once nationalised, and let with absolute fixity of tenure for a rent or land tax, call it what you will. The waste lands blossomed like the rose, and the non-producers became producers of wealth not before dreamed of.”

“We thought British farming was very advanced.”

“I have the statistics at the office, which would surprise you. The average product in food of various kinds to the acre is very much more than when the land was cultivated by capitalist tenant farmers employing hired labor.”

“But the nation has not bought up all the land in what I gather from conversation you now call the Commonwealth of Great Britain and Ireland.”

“By no means, but all other estates are dealt with by their owners in the same way. Many estates were so encumbered that it was impossible for the owners to hold them longer, and they were divided and sold to co-operative companies in blocks for farming. All entails and hindrances to sale of land were done away with, so that the great land-owner is a tradition of the past. Land kept up its value long because the possession of it gave a social position which other property could not do, but with the collapse of foreign trade, and the competition of foreign and colonial manufactures, the large fortunes were no longer made that sought for this Hall-mark of gentility.”

“And what of the wheat growers of America, Australia, and India, not to speak of Russia, who used to supply your industrious producers of manufactured articles with cheap bread? Their occupation would be gone.”

“There was, as I have told you, a terrible period all over the world. You must have seen the beginning of the industrial revolution, when the foreigners and colonists began to shake off the yoke of dependence on Britain. This continued till the unemployed in England were counted by millions; Capitalists stood aghast at the gradually waning profits of all industrial undertakings, which turned indeed to a steady loss, and were glad for years to live on their capital without looking for interest at all. Then as I said, the preventive population check was adopted not only by the middle class, but by artisans and laborers, and there was an emigration for (sic) England which rivalled that from Ireland after the famine. Australia received a large contingent during the ten years at the close of the last century, and at the beginning of this, which she absorbed advantageously in settling her vast territory. America, as might be expected, received a still larger access of people. The cheapness of transport caused a large number to go to Canada, than to your more distant settlement. But Australasia, as might be expected now far outnumbers Canada in population.”

“But other European countries would be equally embarrassed with over-population.”

“All these countries sent large bodies of emigrants to North and South America, and to Australasia, but England was the country par excellence which had a large proportion of the people absolutely dependent on foreign trade and foreign food.”

“The great Republic grew rich on the emigration of Europe. Has that exodus now ceased?”

“The great Republic, like other nations, has learned how to be self-contained and self-supporting. The millionaires who had been made rich in the mechanical inventions supplied to an intelligent people who had abundance of land to fall back upon, and especially by the railroads, which conveyed the produce to the sea-board, suffered in the collapse of the export trade. Their railways became less profitable, and were nationalised sooner than ours. America, after a period of great expansion, has settled down to a stationary population of about one hundred and fifty millions”

“And Australia?” I asked eagerly.

“Australasia including New Zealand, has now a population of fifty millions, and is capable of much expansion yet.”

“The United Kingdom or Commonwealth, as you call it, can no longer maintain as its own territory the thirty-five millions of a century back — of my yesterday.”

“No, it fell through emigration, and the preventive check, to thirty millions, and keeps stationary at that.”

“This does not look like progress,” I said. “All our ideas of prosperity were connected with an increasing population.”

“In a new country like yours, population was wealth — the more hands you could enlist in developing your soil, and your vast resources, the more general was the well being, but a limit is found at length. Of the thirty millions who now people England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, all are living in comfort; there are no longer a third of the community existing in the borderland of starvation. Pauperism has died out, so that heavy drain on the industry of the people has been removed, as well as the cost of war, and of the fear of war, which was worse than the conflict itself. You will find also as you become acquainted with our social system, that many of the things which were established at great cost and which were a continuous tax on productive industry, are carried out by armies of volunteers in their leisure, which every one has so large a share of.”

“How do you employ all your thirty millions of people. It does not need so many to produce food and clothing, and moderate necessaries for home consumption.”

“You forget that each producer is a large consumer. That a well-to-do working class (to use the old phrase,) which is well and plainly fed, comfortably clothed and lodged, well educated, and well amused, makes a large market for all sorts of commodities. A market steady and quite unaffected by the changes of fashion.”

“It was held that without the lavish expenditure of the rich, the artisan and factory hand could not earn a living,” said I, “but I always combated that idea.”

“What is the market created by one rich man waited on by say twenty unproductive servants, compared to that of two hundred producers, fed and clothed and lodged as we are in our Associated Homes, with the minimum of labor required to wait on us, and set us free for our various bread-earning avocations?” said Mr. Oliphant.

“The wealth of the past certainly was accompanied by enormous waste, and was confronted and overbalanced by enormous want, but people justified the lavish expenditure of the rich on the ground that it employed labor, which was always super-abundant, and always ready to flow in any direction which their tastes or caprice opened. Whether in the form of a hundred guineas for a ball-dress, or a thousand pounds for the floral decorations at a single entertainment, this circulation of money was held to enrich the producing classes.”

“How much of it stuck to the fingers of the middlemen? Are not the dressmakers who make our wives’ and our daughters’ simple clothes better paid and better treated than the fabricators of hundred guinea marvels, and is it not better that flowers should be a part of our daily life and seen in abundance in the homes of all the community, than that costly exotics should be grown for the demand of millionaires? Thank God we have done with millionaires. They had their uses in the production of capital which stimulated invention, but they were the most demoralising of consumers.”

“I suppose more people are employed in the land than formerly. In my time great complaints were made that machinery entered into farming so much that agricultural laborers were at a discount, and the best of the country people crowded into the towns or emigrated to the colonies, leaving the old and feeble and the paupers a burden on the community.”

“We employ far more machinery than ever, but we also employ more manual labor. The great decline is in the factory hands as the foreign trade is so small now, but machinery and inventions had not said their last word even in your time, and we must export, not only to pay for the raw material of other countries, such as cotton and silk, but for those articles of food which we desire which we cannot grow in this climate.”

“Tea, coffee, wine, sugar?”

“We do not import much sugar. Much of our soil is admirably fitted for beet.”

“And the sugar-growers in the West Indies and in Queensland are cut out of their market.” I remonstrated.

“We still draw some sugar from the West Indies, but these islands have learned to vary their industries. As for Queensland and Palmerston they supply Australasia with cane sugar, which is better liked than beet, and as there is a fiscal union over all the colonies, they have the command of the market.”

“Would it not be cheaper and in every way better for England to import cane sugar and other things which are not suited to her climate, than to fight with nature to produce them?” said I, for I had been reared in the orthodox doctrine of political economy, and I thought that to draw our daily supplies from the farthest corners of the earth was not only magnificent but economical.

“I cannot undertake to answer that question. Society has come to the conclusion that whether the articles cost more or not, it is better to pay a little higher price and be more independent of the outside world. The hostile tariffs that the undutiful daughters of Great Britain one after another erected as barriers against the products and manufactures of the mother country, were probably an economical mistake for a time, and were somewhat blindly entered into, but I believe it was thus that the world struggled into the knowledge that the nearest market is, on the whole, the most profitable, and that the well-being and the varied efficiency of our own producers are the chief things to be considered.”

“Now that you have established a certain standard of living, a certain limitation of labor, and a certain rate of wages, you will be forced to keep out foreign competition.”

“We are,” said Mr. Oliphant. “Fancy coolies and Chinese coming to destroy all we have struggled for! But this does not need legislation. Public opinion makes it difficult if not impossible for a stranger to find employment.”

“It is like a mighty trade union,” said I. “There was great exception taken to many of the exclusive ideas and unjustifiable methods of the trade associations in my time, but there is no doubt they did a great deal of good.”

“They occupied the transition ground between individualism and collectivism. The interests of the single workman were lost in that of his trade, but at first the union had no feeling for the vast mass of inorganised labor, which had no such protection from encroachment, and they actually made the position of these, including all female workers, more intolerable. Now we feel all members of one body, and there is no avocation, however humble, that serves society, that is not respected and adequately paid for.”

“But if you keep out cheap labor, you must also keep out the products of the cheaper labor of other countries.”

“The continental countries have all established systems similar to ours, for they were ahead of us in the social revolution. The well-being of the workman is measured by the fertility of the soil and the pressure of population, and in a smaller degree by the capital that has been accumulated to develop industries.”

“I should also say by the intelligence of the people.” said I.

“France took the lead in seeing the necessity of a stationary population,” said Mr. Oliphant. “Germany, when she worked up to the situation, and had no longer the drain of her armies, which took from every citizen five years of productive life, besides the cost of the permanent force and artillery and fortifications, excelled France in the thoroughness of her social reforms. Her soil is not so rich as that of England or France, but the industry of her people is marvellous. In Germany they work eight hours a day still. In France and Italy and Spain only seven hours.”

“What are the hours in America and Australia?”

“Six hours, but I believe the style of living is more luxurious than here.”

“And Russia,” said I eagerly, “Has Russia obtained freedom?”

“Oh yes, long ago. It is strange to look back a hundred years. Russia is still backward as compared to England, but there was a marvellous movement after the fall of the Autocracy. You had the French Revolution as your type of terrible catastrophe: that was nothing to the Russian Revolution. Hard as was our task in reconstruction, the settlement of Russia was harder, and there were many noble souls released from years of prison and exile, who plunged into the work and spent themselves for their weaker and more ignorant brethren. Russia has great, indeed immense resources. Like America, she has every variety of soil and climate (outside of the tropical), and enlightened agriculture has done marvels for her, though the want of a middle class was a great hindrance for her for a whole generation. I may say for nearly two generations.”

“What heavy protective tariffs you must have to keep out foreign products.”

“Foreign products are not now so much cheaper than our own. With regard to Europe and America and Australia, freight and charges are almost sufficient protection. It is a matter of time with regard to the Eastern or Asiatic commodities.”

“India, China, and Japan — at least if the workman there continues to subsist on a handful of rice — must be able to undersell your highly paid European cultivator and artisans.”

“They have not the aid of machinery, and invention, and effective association of labor to any great extent yet, though they have made a beginning; but as for the bare margin of subsistence they are learning from the West to demand more, and, as the first step towards this, they now limit their population.”

“The religion of India, and that of China also, favored the reckless multiplication of the species.”

“What known religion of any antiquity did not,” said Mr. Oliphant, “except the ascetic form of medieval Christianity, which encouraged celibacy among the most gracious and intelligent of the population, and left the race to be perpetuated by the ignorant and violent. Every church and creed and priesthood in the world fought to the death against the prudential check, but religion is forced to give way, or to accept modifications when its requirements are felt to be destructive or subversive of happiness and progress. Female infants were always ruthlessly murdered in China, but male infants were prized because they alone could perform the necessary rites on the death of a parent. It is now found that the nearest male relative can do this as well, and the proportion of quite childless couples is even greater in China than in India. The population of both vast territories has steadily decreased for the last seventy years, and the well-being of the inhabitants has advanced in a similar degree.”

“Of course England no longer possesses her splendid Indian Empire.”

“No! But she has the glory of having prepared this vast dependency for self-government — not as one empire, but as a confederacy of states. Their institutions are not closely modelled on ours, but are suited to the genius and to the circumstances of these people.”

“The British Islands have a great history.” I said. “Mother of nations planted by all waters, and, in India, the administrator and educator of a foreign empire. It must have seemed hard to give up the vast prestige and power of a Colonial and Indian Empire, and to have settled down to the position — held before the days of Chatham — of a small European group of islands, living on its means. Where are the openings now for enterprising young men? It is difficult for me to conceive of a state of society where different members of families were not scattered abroad. With my own limited family connections I had relatives in Scotland, London, Victoria, New Zealand, South Australia, Canada, Canary, the West Indies, the United States, Ceylon, and India, China and Fiji — not to speak of others in houses of business trading with these and other distant parts. It appears a sad come down for Imperial Britain.”

“As in the case of our ordinary families, the children have become independent. They still love their parent State, and honor her; but they do not depend on her. She, too, has made herself independent.”

“What then are your chief industries?”

“Agriculture and horticulture; but, of course, there are still great factories for the production of everything but the raw material. The six hours’ labor daily is aided by all the machinery and appliances which the feverish age of competition, in which you have lived, gave birth to for the advantage in the race of wealthy individuals. That age, indeed, was mainly employed in equipping civilised man with economic tools to use in a quieter and happier social order. Had the reconstruction of the industrial world taken place a hundred years — or even fifty years earlier — the unit of production would have been much less. Material well-being would have been lower in degree, and procured with more labor.”

“I recollect the socialists and anarchists said that four hours’ labor daily would suffice for the wants of the world.”

“We prefer six, and go beyond necessaries to comforts: but now we reap the full advantage of the conquering machine.”

“Your short day’s work is wasteful for costly machinery.”

“No! Such machinery is worked in shifts — as many as three shifts in the cotton and woollen factories, and in some of the ironworks. Two shifts, daily, in all factories. The only direction in which longer hours of work are occasionally allowed is in agriculture. At haymaking and harvest time all hands will work double tide (sic), if necessary.”

“They do not now call in extra hands to help, as was the custom when I knew the world.”

“What could these extra hands do for the rest of the year? Our industrial system is built upon permanent, and continuous employment. The terrible evils of out-of-workness, or, as the French concisely termed it, chomage, rose to such a height at the latter end of the nineteenth century that it caused starvation in many cases, imperfect nutrition for millions, put a strain upon charity and philanthropy under which they collapsed, and threatened revolution and anarchy.”

“You had a revolution. It was not merely threatened.”

“Yes! But not such as that of France in the 18th century, or of Russia in the 19th. It was not anarchic but reconstructive. However, such as it was, chomage was its most dangerous element, and the thing had to be put an end to, at whatever cost.”

“I recollect, indeed, the foolish speech of a fashionable lady who had delayed giving the order for her dress in the London season till the last moment, and the dressmaker said it could not be done. ‘Why not put on fresh hands?”

“That meant,” said Mr. Oliphant, “that outside of the regular workers there should be a contingent to suit the caprices of employers, and to be cast off to starve at other times.”

“There is far too much of that in all season trades, I fear,” said I. Chomage was one of the things that weighed heavy on my mind in the last fifteen years of my life. But six hours seems an absurdly short day. I recollect the alarm at the shortening of hours lest it should destroy England’s supremacy as against the cheaper labor and longer hours of continental producers. Six hours cannot be universal. The attendants at your Homes must be on duty much longer.”

“Yes! But not at the stretch, all the time, like an operative in a factory or workshop.”

“I used to think shopmen in England, and especially barmen and barmaids were kept on the stretch for very long days and domestic service where employers were not considerate was not much better. On the go from early morn till long past dewy eve.”

“Our people relieve each other a good deal in the homes. Our work is done by contract, and there is perfect organisation amongst the attendants. There is no complaint of overwork. We have had the same staff substantially for ten years, as the contract is renewed yearly.”

“Your attendants do so much,” said I, “compared with service as I recollect it.”

“Machinery lightens the work in every direction: knives and boots and silver are cleaned by machinery; there are no fires to light or grates to clean; sweeping is done in an ingenious method which you never heard of, which raises no dust: nothing could give less trouble than the lighting of the Owen Home. You saw the cooking apparatus, the boilers, roasters, and steamers, the peelers, shellers, and choppers, which are so useful when food has to be prepared in quantity, but which are not worth buying for every isolated home. It is the same in every department. I feel certain that except in the textile arts, six hours’ work is as effective now as ten when you left the world.”

“The personal service must be much more effective,” said I, “unless your twenty families need far less waiting on than their ancestors.”

“Probably they do. They do not ring the bell and bring a domestic up two flights of stairs to tell what is wanted, and send her down for it. Even with the lift, and the telephone, our attendants have little of that kind of interruption. All necessary orderly services in the way of cleaning the house, cooking, and serving the meals, and washing and getting up clothes, are given to us without our having the trouble of ordering it.”

“Then you are never put out because the cook has gone off in a huff on the eve of a large dinner party, or the girl who minds the baby leaves on short notice for an easier place.”

“You observe that we call our attendants Mr., Mrs., or Miss as the case may be. We respect them, and save them by machinery from much disagreeable labor. We plan all we can to economise unproductive human labor.”

“And productive human labor also,” said I, “because the more each worker can turn out the better for the consumer.”’

“Quite true; but a reduction in the number of those who give personal service to others for their livelihood is one of the most remarkable features in our civilisation. It began in a faint and tentative way before the industrial revolution.”

“I recollect going into some statistics in Victoria, where domestic servants were more highly paid, and had more privileges than anywhere in the world, and I noticed that while in ten years the general population had increased so that there were twenty thousand more inhabited houses, the number of female domestic servants had only increased by three hundred. Our newspapers laid the blame of this on protected industries, which attracted the girls to factories and shops, but I could not see that so many of them went there. A large proportion seemed to prefer to stay at home.”

“It was the objection to the conditions of service that was at work everywhere.”

“The objection told hard on the mothers of young families who were not rich. They could not get help for love or money.”

“That pressure affected society in two ways,” says Mr. Oliphant. “It tended to limit the number of children to what the mother herself could attend to, and to substitute for the old service the present independent contract, which is best carried out in associated homes.”’

This, I think, was the substance of our conversation on the railway carriage, which took us in a little over an hour to the co-operative farm, forty miles out of London, northward, which was managed by Mr. George Oliphant. It was a busy time of the year, all hands were out in the harvest-field, which, however, was so near the house that they were able to come in for middle-day dinner, so that I could see the agricultural laborer of the twentieth century at his work and at his meal. Reaping machines were used, not worked by horses. In the matter of horses, the age was most economical. Some of these machines were worked by cable like the tramways, but those on this co-operative farm of Ossulton were worked by pneumatic pressure by steam, but with a saving of fuel such as I had never heard of. That also was the case with the railway on which I had travelled. The wheat harvest was in full swing, and the day was hot. The produce, I was told, was equal to fifty bushels to the acre, but the reckoning was in centals, and indeed decimal coinage and decimal weights and measures had been adopted so long ago that most people had forgotten our old standard. The farm measured about 5,000 acres, mostly gently undulating country, but there was something like a hill which had been cut in terraces by a steam scoop, and which took its turn in the rotation of crops. The proportion of stock kept to the arable was smaller than of yore, because new and less bulky manures supplanted in part the old farm-yard compost, which was also made the most of. Great pits of ensilage was stored, as well as turnips and mangolds, for winter consumption for sheep and cattle. The minor industries were legion, as well as what may be called outside crops. There was beet, and flax and hemp, rye and a hardy millet. A choice plot was planted with hops, which were not now confined to Kent. There were fields of peas and beans, not exclusively for horses’ food as of old. The well-being of the community was greatly aided by the utilisation of old despised products for human food. Vegetables were grown for sale, as well as to supply plentifully all the hands employed on the farm. Fruit trees were planted for shelter where I had been used to see belts of firs or other forest trees. Now that the building trades had collapsed, and shipbuilding had also died out, for the needs of the world were served by swift iron steamers mostly, there was a very limited market for building timber, and so the food-producing apple, pear, plum, and nut trees were substituted. A large dairy farm employed continuously several of the inhabitants of Ossulton House. Another contingent had charge of the pigs and the poultry, which were kept in far larger proportions than in the old capitalist farms. Poultry farming has, indeed, grown to a scientific pursuit, and it was quite possible for every citizen to have a fowl in the pot on Sundays, according to the kindly but ineffectual wish of Henri Quatre. The very bee-hives of the farm aided in the common fund considerably. No more eggs, butter, or cheese from abroad, and very little fruit of any kind that the English climate could produce. In estimating the loss of foreign trade, as Mr. Oliphant pointed out, people forget the loss and the waste, which comes from foreigners rushing in with their supplies of what England could very well produce. The labor on the main crops, the cereals, was economised very much by steam ploughs and reapers, but the more minute labor in the minor industries, the weeding and hoeing and gathering, was very great.

“Are women as well as men employed in agricultural work,” I asked.

“Certainly,” said Mr. Oliphant, “there would not otherwise be enough for the female contingent to do on the Ossulton farm, and our women must work as well as our men.”

“Are all the laborers housed in this single home for the work of this large farm.”

“No; there are two homes, each containing about 120 souls, located at convenient distance, so that no worker is very far from his work.”

“That is a great deal of labor for the land according to Australian practice, but not as much as was bestowed on it before the days of machinery in England. I do not see how you can employ more people in agriculture than they used to do a hundred years ago.”

“We do indeed, because the whole country is cultivated in the same minute way. There is not half of the pasture land to the arable that there used to be, and wastes and moors and marshes have been reclaimed, parks and pleasure grounds in private occupation taken into cultivation, though indeed parks and recreation grounds for the people have been enlarged and multiplied everywhere; but that does not amount to half the other.”

“Our Australian cultivation was of course wheat, wheat, wheat, which was to be called the pioneer crop, grown with the least cost of labor of any crop, especially in a new country. And it was held that it was far cheaper for England to import food to supply her manufacturing population, and to pay for this by export of manufactured goods than to grow it on her own limited soil.”

“But when the outside world would have none of her exports, what then? We had to do the best we could with our own soil.”

“And seeing the crops you grow, the best is certainly pretty satisfactory.”

“Why the dependence on foreign food paralysed all legitimate efforts at the development of agriculture. Land in the hands of terrified and indebted proprietors, who saw their rents decrease and the burdens on the land in no way decrease, could never be done justice to. English capital would go to the ends of the world buying gold mines or silver claims or lending to insolvent States — anywhere rather than on the soil of England. Emigration took the pick of our young men and left us with the feeble and the feckless, with women who competed with men and each other at the worst-paid and least-healthy of employments, with lunatics and criminals and paupers draining the life-blood out of the country. The England you knew did not become the mother of nations without many bitter pangs that threatened to be death-throes.”

“What a Protectionist you are! I was brought up a Free Trader,” I said, amazed at Mr. Oliphant’s deprecation of what had been the pride and boast of my own day.

“It was a great step in evolution. Much was taught by Adam Smith and his followers even more valuable than Free Trade. They helped us to get at the roots of things.”

I was puzzled, but I could not but confess that whatever might have been the cause, the result in quantity of crop as well as in the general well-being of the laborers was very satisfactory. The careless cultivation of Australia with which I was most familiar, of course was nowhere as compared to this, but even the best which I had seen in England and East Lothian halted far behind, especially in the variety of produce. Was this indeed the English agricultural laborer, with his slow bovine glance exchanged for a look of keen intelligence, who directed the reaping machine or disposed of the sheaves? Was this old man of seventy still able to tend cattle and feed the horses, his joints now unracked by rheumatism, hale and upright, with the winter apple complexion on his cheeks, and either his own teeth or those supplied by art, fair and even in his head? When I sat down by the side of Mr. George Oliphant at the mid-day meal with one half of his laborers I felt the social revolution more strongly than ever. They were in their working clothes, with thick boots, and a trifle dusty from the harvest-field, but a finer lot of men and women I never saw, and their manners, though not quite as good as those of the Owen Home, were courteous yet independent. I sat beside on the other hand the oldest inhabitant, who would have been a toothless, bed-ridden, old crone, but who now with a snow-white cap on her head, and a complete set of teeth inside of it, talked to me as a stranger from Australia rather condescendingly, on account of her great age, putting me just a little in mind of my own mother.

These laborers had no longer cold, damp hovels to live in, and insufficient food, and clothing not fitted to protect them from the changes of weather. The food was as good as at the Owen Home. Not only was there a substantial advance in diet from the agricultural laborer of England, but the American farmer and Australian selector had not as good or as varied a diet, and nothing like the comfort in eating it which these co-operative agriculturalists enjoyed. The service was all done by members of the home and exclusively by women. This was an outlet for a large contingent, and the dairy and poultry-yard took others. In winter, when there was little or no field work, though by organisation almost all the men and boys were constantly employed, the women took to their by-trades. One woman with a knitting machine knitted the stockings and socks for the community, and another the guernseys worn by the men. All the underclothes, all the tailoring, and all the dressmaking of the little community for the year were made in the winter, and all the house repairs and supplies of furniture needed. Baskets were made of osiers grown on the farm, and all the twine and rope needed for the establishment were made in the winter months. The flax and hemp occupied some, but the beet was sold in bulk to the sugar factories.

The home-brewed beer was excellent, light, and deliciously fresh, made of malt and hops grown on the farm. There was also cider for those who preferred it. I found fewer teetotallers at the Ossulton Home than at the Owen Home, but that was perhaps because it was harvest time. The cookery was not quite so delicate, but it was exceedingly good.

What a contrast from the laborer of the past, subsisting on day’s wages, with no look-out for old age but the work-house, touching his hat humbly to every well-dressed person he met and eager to open a gate or a carriage-door in hopes of a stray penny or sixpence from the gentlefolks.

Every man and woman here had a share — a small one certainly — in the farm. They felt it to be their own. They handled the costly machines with an owner’s pride and intelligent care. They watched that there should be no waste to take from their gains. The fruit trees were their own — no boy robbed them; the animals were their own — it was everybody’s interest to be kind to them; every tool and implement they used was their own — it must be taken care of and repaired on the first sign of needing it.

“I see a great deal of vegetable and fruit farming besides what you need for your own consumption,” said I to Mr. George Oliphant. If all the homes are as well supplied as the Owen Home I cannot see where your market can be.”

“Homes in towns and cities cannot obtain so much ground as in the suburbs. We send our produce by railway to London.”

The manager of the farm could scarcely understand my desire for statistics of the produce and the cost of cultivation of Ossulton. I could gather that of the old crops the produce per acre was about 20 per cent. larger than in the individual capitalist farming days, and that the value of the minor products, which had been virtually neglected, was about one-eighth of the whole, so there was an addition of 30 to 40 per cent. to the produce, and on Ossulton an addition of 300 acres which was waste land before. As for cost of cultivation, the cost for machinery was much greater, and that for labor somewhat more than before, but as each of the hands had capital in the concern he drew out first his wages, next interest calculated at 2½ per cent. on the capital, and lastly his share in the profits.

The capital in the first place had been found by the workers foregoing part of the ordinary wages, partly by the profits on co-operative consumption.

I asked if the two Ossulton homes were proprietary like the Owen, and was told that they were partly so. Some owned their standing in it, and some paid rent, but of the latter the purchase money was gradually extinguished by paying more rent than sufficed to pay interest on the outlay and repairs.

The Home was not so beautiful as the Owen, and not so full of decorations and old fashioned relics of the past, but it was roomy and comfortable. It was on the whole more cheaply conducted, and the land on which it stood was of course only taken at its value for agriculture, whereas the Hampstead land was costly. But even that was bought, and the Associated Home built and furnished with help such as I have mentioned, at a cost of £10,000, which made £500 the price of a permanent family home. This with interest so low as it was in England at the time I visited it, made a very cheap home even to rent, particularly considering what it included. The Ossulton Homes cost about £400 for each family, and as the families averaged three or four adult workers, the rent was no heavy strain on their earnings.

I had seen whole streets in London, in which the rent of a single room was 5s. a-week, and in which many working families could not afford more.

How many times did I wish that I could have had more than a week in the future. I had to leave my agricultural home when dinner ended, and take the train for a manufacturing town a little further from London where Mr. Edward Carmichael lived. I found the cotton factory in the middle of the second shift. Were these the modern representatives of the girls I had seen in 1866, with unkempt hair and a shawl over their heads, and soiled and untidy gowns, who, with loud laugh or vacant smile, hurried to and from their long day’s work at the mill — these bright intelligent girls, or rather married women, for most of them wore wedding rings, who stood over their looms or watched the bobbins with so much interest in their work? And had they really an interest — a pecuniary interest I mean — in the thread as it was spun, and the web as it was woven? All the hands in the mill, the manager told me (with some surprise at the question even from a benighted person from the Antipodes) had this interest in the profits, larger or smaller as the amount of capital was large or small which invested, but absolutely irrefragable in respect of the work done. The capital was sometimes put in by the parents, but more generally accumulated by the younger members by taking what we were used to call ‘subsist’ wages for several years.

“But what if you make losses instead of profits, the hands must take their share of them too?”

“Certainly, if we make losses, they must, but we have never made any yet.”

“The market is so certain,” said my friend Mr. Oliphant, “And the prices fixed rather by custom than by competition. This mill is exclusively for home consumption. The export trade, which is still large, is carried on chiefly from Manchester and the Lancashire mills. I do not know that Edward can answer all your questions, but I think I am correct when I say that this mill worked by three thousand operatives in three shifts daily, has an output equal to that of an old mill with two thousand five hundred operatives for an ordinary day. The machinery costs a good deal less than it did; the interest on capital is lower; the market is steady, and ——”

“People pay more for the calico and muslin,” I interrupted.

“I do not think the consumer pays any more. Recollect that all the profits and the risks of the middlemen are saved. I believe the commodity is quite as cheap one year with another, and you see the condition of the workpeople.”

“It is as good as Mr. Daniel Pidgeon’s account of the New England factory hands — better than the Lowell girls had; they had far longer hours, and I am sure, plainer fare.”

“Plain living and high thinking were classed together sometimes.” said Mr. Oliphant.

“But I see a very large proportion of women and girls here,” I said. “Is this what some New England writer called a she-town, where the men had to live on the labor of their wives, and sisters, and daughters, or to emigrate elsewhere?”

“The men are employed partly in the iron and metal works of this town.”

“You have no young children in the mill?”

“No, we never take any hands under fourteen, when their elementary education is finished.”

“And what do your people do with the rest of their time if they only work six hours for you?” I asked Mr. Carmichael. That question was always on my lips.

“Well, I suppose they use it for living,” said he, with a slight elevation of his eyebrows.

I recollected the answer made by a large cotton manufacturer, early in my own century, when a foreign visitor asked him “If these wretched dwellings, in Manchester, was where his workpeople lived?” “No,” said he, “they only sleep there, they live in my mill.” I did not quote it aloud, lest I should make Mr. Carmichael still more surprised. He went on to say:

“They use their leisure, as we all do, for their own personal pleasure, and for the general beautifying of life. Every one who has a hobby cultivates it. We have had mechanical inventions and appliances from one, economy in lighting from another, hints on ventilation from a third. That fair-haired girl you see at your left, draws and paints very well, the dark-eyed one you noticed first, writes poetry. The entertainments they get up in their homes take a good deal of study and preparation; and, of course, they are all musical, whatever they are not. Oh! there is no difficulty in getting rid of eighteen hours a day, with meals, sleep, recreation, and self-improvement — an intelligent pursuit of happiness is the object of life; you cannot dispute that in Adelaide, or elsewhere.”

“I do not think I ever heard it stated so boldly. Happiness should come indirectly. I have always been exhorted to a diligent pursuit of virtue. Happiness may, or may not, accompany it, but the virtue was indispensable.”

“But virtue requires you to seek and to labor for the happiness of others.” said Edward Carmichael. “Is it not better for them to seek it for themselves, they know better what they want. Happiness depends more on ourselves than on any one else certainly. The intelligent pursuit of happiness on the part of each individual is, of course, limited by the intelligent pursuit of happiness by all those around him, with whom he comes in contact, both for business and pleasure.”

“Then this direct pursuit of happiness does not lead to selfishness?”

“I don’t think so; for if we encroach on the rights, or hurt the feelings of other people, they soon let us know, and all outsiders will back them up. This is what makes it possible to keep order among so many workers as I can do. Every one knows the rules, and every one is interested in seeing that they are obeyed.”

“Now,” said Mr. Oliphant, as we departed, “you should see a large co-operative distribution store.”

“I have seen such things, and read about them a great deal. The Civil Service and the Army and Navy stores were quite great establishments.”

“Oh! these were cheap-selling stores, not saving stores, like those established by the Rochdale pioneers, and copied all over the North of England. Even these were not true to their original traditions. I shall take you to one which the Owen Home deals at — proprietary stores, where all those who buy and all those who sell have a vested interest.”

I was taken to this great Emporium, and noted how little was expended for show either in the building or the get-up of the goods. All goods were bought first-hand at the lowest remunerative prices. There were no show-cases, no useless decorations, no fancy boxes with colored pictures, of more or less merit, to make the contents attractive. I priced several articles, and while I noted that many necessary and useful things were cheaper, a great many of the minor conveniences and little luxuries of life were dearer. I did not regret to see that lucifer matches — for which there was now a limited demand — were much more expensive than they were, so that they would not be so wastefully and recklessly used. It was the endeavor of the London manufacturers to compete with the cheap production of Sweden that brought down the price, while the miserable match-box makers lived in rags and dirt in London slums and the unhealthy fumes shortened the lives of the matchmakers themselves.

There must have been great displacement of industry everywhere. The girls who earned a living by making fancy boxes, and by drawing and designing pictures for them, had no successors now-a-days. Christmas and birthday cards, too, had gone out. I understood that everything was to be had at the stores, from a needle to an anchor, from a dancing shoe to a ton of coals, but when I asked for birthday cards, the shopman stared at me.

I was tired and hungry, but happy, when I reached the Owen Home, with Mr. Oliphant, in time for the evening meal.

I spent an hour in the music room, and found that Wagner’s was not really the music of the future, for no one seemed to have heard of him. Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, and Mendelsohn (sic) were still known and loved. I felt at first as if the music of the post nati was far from me and my sympathies, but gradually it won upon me. A subtle sense, now of excitement, now of sorrow, now of repose, now of joy, crept over me. The part-singing was perfect, for the voices had practised together all their lives. There were at least four quite new musical instruments, but the pride of the Home was one matchless old Straduarius (sic), thrown into the common property, in 1900, by a musical member. Yes, whatever might be the case with other arts, music had certainly advanced.

After an hour’s music I quitted the room rather reluctantly to go with Mrs. Carmichael into the art room where I saw people of all ages, and of both sexes, but mostly younger members, drawing from models and modelling in clay, while reading aloud went on.

The book read related to their studies and pursuits, for it was a History of Art, but the period had got beyond my day, and it was difficult for me to follow it, but I saw great fidelity and rapidity of execution in the hands that practised art in the Owen Home. I heard of sketching parties planned for Saturday afternoon, which — even with the short hours of labor — appeared to be somewhat of a half-holiday.

I next went into the card-room, and played with a Mr. Barton — who had travelled in the interior of Africa, and who was very interesting, (but I cannot write half of what I saw,)— with Mrs. Oliphant and a great friend of hers, a Mr. Robert Somerville, at a modification of whist, in which I needed some instruction, but showed myself fairly apt.

I then went to my own room and wrote down what I could recollect of this day, which appeared only less wonderful than the preceding one. I was getting used to my century — that was all.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00