Front Page Titles (by Subject) (e.) The British Agricultural Proletariat. - Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Capitalist Production
Return to Title Page for Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Capitalist Production
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
(e.) The British Agricultural Proletariat. - Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Capitalist Production 
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Capitalist Production, by Karl Marx. Trans. from the 3rd German edition, by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, ed. Federick Engels. Revised and amplified according to the 4th German ed. by Ernest Untermann (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co., 1909).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
(e.) The British Agricultural Proletariat.
Nowhere does the antagonistic character of capitalistic production and accumulation assert itself more brutally than in the progress of English agriculture (including cattle-breeding) and the retrogression of the English agricultural labourer. Before I turn to his present situation, a rapid retrospect: Modern agriculture dates in England from the middle of the 18th century, although the revolution in landed property, from which the changed mode of production starts as a basis, has a much earlier date.
If we take the statements of Arthur Young, a careful observer, though a superficial thinker, as to the agricultural labourer of 1771, the latter plays a very pitiable part compared with his predecessor of the end of the 14th century, "when the labourer...could live in plenty, and accumulate wealth,"72 not to speak of the 15th century, "the golden age of the English labourer in town and country." We need not, however, go back so far. In a very instructive work of the year 1777 we read: "The great farmer is nearly mounted to a level with him [the genttleman]; while the poor labourer is depressed almost to the earth. His unfortunate situation will fully appear, by taking a comparative view of it, only forty years ago, and at present....Landlord and tenant...have both gone hand in hand in keeping the labourer down."73 It is then proved in detail that the real agricultural wages between 1737 and 1777 fell nearly ¼ or 25 per cent. "Modern policy," says Dr. Richard Price also, "is, indeed, more favourable to the higher classes of people; and the consequences may in time prove that the whole kingdom will consist of only gentry and beggars, or of grandees and slaves."74
Nevertheless, the position of the English agricultural labourer from 1770 to 1780, with regard to his food and dwelling, as well as to his self-respect, amusements, 8c., is an ideal never attained again since that time. His average wage expressed in pints of what was from 1770 to 1771, 90 pints, in Eden's time (1797) only 65, in 1808 but 60.75
The state of the agricultural labourer at the end of the Anti-Jacobin war, during which landed proprietors, farmers, manufacturers, merchants, bankers, stockbrokers, army-contractors, 8c., enriched themselves so extraordinarily, has been already indicated above. The nominal wages rose in consequence partly of the bank-note depreciation, partly of a rise in the price of the primary means of subsistence independent of this depreciation. But the actual wage-variation can be evidenced in a very simple way, without entering into details that are here unnecessary. The Poor Law and its administration were in 1795 and 1814 the same. It will be remembered how this law was carried out in the country districts: in the form of alms the parish made up the nominal wage to the nominal sum required for the simple vegetation of the labourer. The ratio between the wages paid by the farmer, and the wage-deficit made good by the parish, shows us two things. First, the falling of wages below their minimum; second, the degree in which the agricultural labourer was a compound of wage-labourer and pauper, or the degree in which he had been turned into a serf of his parish. Let us take one county that represents the average condition of things in all counties. In Northamptonshire, in 1795, the average weekly wage was 7s. 6d.; the total yearly expenditure of a family of 6 persons, £36 12s. 5d.; their total income, £29 18s.; deficit made good by the parish, £6 14s. 5d. In 1814, in the same county, the weekly wage was 12s. 2d.; the total yearly expenditure of a family of 5 persons, £54 18s. 4d.; their total income, £36 2s.; deficit made good by the parish, £18 6s. 4d.76 In 1795 the deficit was less than ¼ the wage, in 1814, more than half. It is self-evident that, under these circumstances, the meagre comforts that Eden still found in the cottage of the agricultural labourer, had vanished by 1814.77 Of all the animals kept by the farmer, the labourer, the instrumentum vocale, was, thenceforth, the most oppressed, the worst nourished, the most brutally treated.
The same state of things went on quietly until "the Swing riots, in 1830, revealed to us [i.e., the ruling classes] by the light of blazing corn-stacks, that misery and black mutinous discontent smouldered quite as fiercely under the surface of agricultural as of manufacturing England."78 At this time, Sadler, in the House of Commons, christened the agricultural labourers "white slaves," and a Bishop echoed the epithet in the Upper House. The most notable political economist of that period—E.g. Wakefield—says: "The peasant of the South of England...is not a freeman, nor is he a slave; he is a pauper.79
The time just before the repeal of the Corn Laws threw new light on the condition of the agricultural labourers. On the one hand, it was to the interest of the middle-class agitators to prove how little the Corn Laws protected the actual producers of the corn. On the other hand, the industrial bourgeoisie foamed with sullen rage at the denunciations of the factory system by the landed aristocracy, at the pretended sympathy with the woes of the factory operatives, of those utterly corrupt, heartless, and genteel loafers, and at their "diplomatic zeal" for factory legislation. It is an old English proverb that "when thieves fall out, honest men come by their own," and, in fact, the noisy, passionate quarrel between the two fractions of the ruling class about the question, which of the two exploited the labourers the more shamefully, was on each hand the midwife of the truth. Earl Shaftesbury, then Lord Ashley, was commander-in-chief in the aristocratic, philanthropic, anti-factory campaign. He was, therefore, in 1845, a favourite subject in the revelations of the "Morning Chronicle" on the condition of the agricultural labourers. This journal, then the most important Liberal organ, sent special commissioners into the agricultural districts, who did not content themselves with mere general descriptions and statistics, but published the names both of the labouring families examined and of their landlords. The following list gives the wages paid in three villages in the neighborhood of Blanford, Wimbourne, and Poole. The villages are the property of Mr. G. Bankes and of the Earl of Shaftesbury. It will be noted that, just like Bankes, this "low church pope," this head of English pietists, pockets a great part of the miserable wages of the labourers under the pretext of house-rent:—
The repeal of the Corn Laws gave a marvellous impulse to English agriculture.81 Drainage on the most extensive scale, new methods of stall-feeding, and of the artificial cultivation of green crops, introduction of mechanical manuring apparatus, new treatment of clay soils, increased use of mineral manures, employment of the steam-engine, and of all kinds of new machinery, more intensive cultivation generally, characterised this epoch. Mr. Pusey, Chairman of the Royal Agricultural Society, declares that the (relative) expenses of farming have been reduced nearly one-half by the introduction of new machinery. On the other hand, the actual return of the soil rose rapidly. Greater outlay of capital per acre, and, as a consequence, more rapid concentration of farms, were essential conditions of the new method.82 At the same time, the area under cultivation increased, from 1846 to 1856, by 464,119 acres, without reckoning the great area in the Eastern Counties which was transformed from rabbit warrens and poor pastures into magnificent cornfields. It has already been seen that, at the same time, the total number of persons employed in agriculture fell. As far as the actual agricultural labourers of both sexes and of all ages are concerned, their number fell from 1,241,396, in 1851, to 1,163,217 in 1861.83 If the English Registrar-General, therefore, rightly remarks: "The increase of farmers and farm-labourers, since 1801, bears no kind of proportion...to the increase of agricultural produce,"84 this disproportion obtains much more for the last period, when a positive decrease of the agricultural population went hand in hand with increase of the area under cultivation, with more intensive cultivation, unheard-of accumulation of the capital incorporated with the soil, and devoted to its working, an augmentation in the products of the soil without parallel in the history of English agriculture, plethoric rent-rolls of landlords, and growing wealth of the capitalist farmers. If we take this, together with the swift, unbroken extension of the markets, viz., the towns, and the reign of Free Trade, then the agricultural laborer was at last, post tot discrimina rerum, placed in circumstances that ought, secundum artem, to have made him drunk with happiness.
But Professor Rogers comes to the conclusion that the lot of the English agricultural labourer of to-day, not to speak of his predecessor in the last half on the 14th and in the 15th century, but only compared with his predecessor from 1770 to 1780, has changed for the worse to an extraordinary extent, that "the peasant has again become a serf," and a serf worse fed and worse clothed.85 Dr. Julian Hunter, in his epoch-making report on the dwellings of the agricultural labourers, says: "The cost of the hind" (a name for the agricultural labourer, inherited from time of serfdom) "is fixed at the lowest possible amount on which he can live...the supplies of wages and shelter are not calculated on the profit to be derived from him. He is a zero in farming calculations.86 ...The means [of subsistence] being always supposed to be a fixed quantity.87 As to any further reduction of his income, he may say, nihil habeo nihil curo. He has no fears for the future, because he has now only the spare supply necessary to keep him. He has reached the zero from which are dated the calculations of the farmer. Come what will, he has no share either in prosperity or adversity."88
In the year 1863, an official inquiry took place into the conditions of nourishment and labour of the criminals condemned to transportation and penal servitude. The results are recorded in two voluminous blue books. Among other things it is said: "From an elaborate comparison between the diet of convicts in the convict prisons in England, and that of paupers in workhouses and of free labourers in the same country...it certainly appears that the former are much better fed than either of the two other classes,"89 whilst "the amount of labour required from an ordinary convict under penal servitude is about one half of what would be done by an ordinary day labourer."90 A few characteristic depositions of witnesses: John Smith, governor of the Edinburgh prison, deposes: No. 5056. "The diet of the English prisons [is] superior to that of ordinary labourers in England." No. 50. "It is the fact...that the ordinary agricultural labourers in Scotland very seldom get any meat at all." Answer No. 3047. "Is there anything that you are aware of to account for the necessity of feeding them very much better than ordinary labourers?—Certainly not." No. 3048. "Do you think that further experiments ought to be made in order to ascertain whether a dietary might not be hit upon for prisoners employed on public works nearly approaching to the dietary of free labourers?91 ..."He [the agricultural labourer] might say: 'I work hard, and have not enough to eat, and when in prison I did not work harder where I had plenty to eat, and therefore it is better for me to be in prison again than here.'"92 From the tables appended to the first volume of the Report I have compiled the annexed comparative summary.
The general result of the inquiry by the medical commission of 1863, on the food of the lowest fed classes, is already known to the reader. He will remember that the diet of a great part of the agricultural labourer's families is below the minimum necessary "to arrest starvation diseases." This is especially the case in all the purely rural districts of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Wilts, Stafford, Oxford, Berks, and Herts. "The nourishment obtained by the labourer himself," says Dr. E. Smith, "is larger than the average quantity indicates, since he eats a larger share...necessary to enable him to perform his labour...of food than the other members of the family, including in the poorer districts nearly all the meat and bacon.... The quantity of food obtained by the wife and also by the children at the period of rapid growth, is in many cases, in almost every county, deficient, and particularly in nitrogen."94 The male and female servants living with the farmers themselves are sufficiently nourished. Their number fell from 288,277 in 1851, to 204,962 in 1861. "The labour of women in the fields," says Dr. Smith, "whatever may be its disadvantages,...is under present circumstances of great advantage to the family, since it adds that amount of income which...provides shoes and clothing and pays the rent, and thus enables the family to be better fed."95 One of the most remarkable results of the inquiry was that the agricultural labourer of England, as compared with other parts of the United Kingdom, "is considerably the worst fed," as the appended table shows:
Quantities of Carbon and Nitrogen weekly consumed by an average agricultural adult.
"To the insufficient quantity and miserable quality of the house accommodation generally had," says Dr. Simon, in his official Health Report, "by our agricultural labourers, almost every page of Dr. Hunter's report bears testimony. And gradually, for many years past, the state of the labourer in these respects has been deteriorating, house-room being now greatly more difficult for him to find, and, when found, greatly less suitable to his needs than, perhaps, for centuries had been the case. Especially within the last twenty or thirty years, the evil has been in very rapid increase, and the household circumstances of the labourer are now in the highest degree deplorable. Except in so far as they whom his labour enriches, see fit to treat him with a kind of pitiful indulgence, he is quite peculiarly helpless in the matter. Whether he shall find house-room on the land which he contributes to till, whether the house-room which he gets shall be human or swineish, whether he shall have the little space of garden that so vastly lessens the pressure of his poverty—all this does not depend on his willingness and ability to pay reasonable rent for the decent accommodation he requires, but depends on the use which others may see fit to make of their 'right to do as they will with their own.' However large may be a farm, there is no law that a certain proportion of labourers' dwellings (much less of decent dwellings) shall be upon it; nor does any law reserve for the labourer ever so little right in that soil to which his industry is as needful as sun and rain.... An extraneous element weighs the balance heavily against him....the influence of the Poor Law in its provisions concerning settlement and chargeability.97 Under this influence, each parish has a pecuniary interest in reducing to a minimum the number of its resident labourers:—for, unhappily, agricultural labour instead of implying a safe and permanent independence for the hard-working labourer and his family, implies for the most part only a longer or shorter circuit to eventual pauperism—a pauperism which, during the whole circuit, is so near, that any illness or temporary failure of occupation necessitates immediate recourse to parochial relief—and thus all residence of agricultural population in a parish is glaringly an addition to its poor rates.... Large proprietors98 ...have but to resolve that there shall be no labourers' dwellings on their estates, and their estates will thenceforth be virtually free from half their responsibility for the poor. How far it has been intended, in the English constitution and law, that this kind of unconditional property in land should be acquirable, and that a landlord, 'doing as he wills with his own,' should be able to treat the cultivators of the soil as aliens, whom he may expel from his territory, is a question which I do not pretend to discuss....for that (power) of eviction...does not exist only in theory. On a very large scale it prevails in practice—prevails...as a main governing condition in the household circumstances of agricultural labour.... As regards the extent of the evil, it may suffice to refer to the evidence which Dr. Hunter has compiled from the last census, that destruction of houses, notwithstanding increased local demands for them, had, during the last ten years, been in progress in 821 separate parishes or townships of England, so that irrespectively of persons who had been forced to become non-resident (that is in the parishes in which they work), these parishes and townships were receiving in 1861, as compared with 1851, a population 5 1/3 per cent. greater, into house-room 4½ per cent. less.... When the process of depopulation has completed itself, the result, says Dr. Hunter, is a showvillage where the cottages have been reduced to a few, and where none but persons who are needed as shepherds, gardeners, or game-keepers, are allowed to live; regular servants who receive the good treatment usual to their class.99 But the land requires cultivation, and it will be found that the labourers employed upon it are not the tenants of the owner, but that they come from a neighboring open village, perhaps three miles off, where a numerous small proprietary had received them when their cottages were destroyed in the close villages around. Where things are tending to the above result, often the cottages which stand, testify, in their unrepaired and wretched condition, to the extinction to which they are doomed. They are seen standing in the various stages of natural decay. While the shelter holds together, the labourer is permitted to rent it, and glad enough he will often be to do so, even at the price of decent lodging. But no repair, no improvement shall it receive, except such as its penniless occupants can supply. And when at last it becomes quite uninhabitable—uninhabitable even to the humblest standard of serfdom—it will be but one more destroyed cottage, and future poor-rates will be somewhat lightened. While great owners are thus escaping from poor-rates through the depopulation of lands over which they have control, the nearest town or open village receive the evicted labourers: the nearest, I say, but this "nearest" may mean three or four miles distant from the farm where the labourer has his daily toil. To that daily toil there will then have to be added, as though it were nothing, the daily need of walking six or eight miles for power of earning his bread. And whatever farm-work is done by his wife and children, is done at the same disadvantage. Nor is this nearly all the toil which the distance occasions him. In the open village, cottage-speculators bus scraps of land, which they throng as densely as they can with the cheapest of all possible hovels. And into those wretched habitations (which, even if they adjoin the open country, have some of the worst features of the worst town residences) crowd the agricultural labourers of England.100 ...Nor on the other hand must it be supposed that even when the labourer is housed upon the lands which he cultivates, his household circumstances are generally such as his life of productive industry would seem to deserve. Even on princely estates...his cottage...may be of the meanest description. There are landlords who deem any style good enough for their labourer and his family, and who yet do not disdain to drive with him the hardest possible bargain for rent.101 It may be but a ruinous one-bedroomed hut, having no fire-grate, no privy, no opening window, no water supply but the ditch, no garden—but the labourer is helpless against the wrong.... And the Nuisances Removal Acts...are...a mere dead letter...in great part dependent for their working on such cottage owners as the one from whom his (the labourer's) hovel is rented.... From brighter, but exceptional scenes, it is requisite in the interests of justice, that attention should again be drawn to the overwhelming preponderance of facts which are a reproach to the civilization of England. Lamentable indeed, must be the case, when, notwithstanding all that is evident with regard to the quality of the present accommodation, it is the common conclusion of competent observers that even the general badness of dwellings is an evil infinitely less urgent than their mere numerical insufficiency. For years the overcrowding of rural labourer's dwellings has been a matter of deep concern, not only to persons who care for sanitary good, but to persons who care for decent and moral life. For again and again in phrases so uniform that they seem stereotyped, reporters on the spread of epidemic disease in rural districts, have insisted on the extreme importance of that over-crowding, as an influence which renders it a quite hopeless task, to attempt the limiting of any infection which is introduced. And again and again it has been pointed out that, notwithstanding the many salubrious influences which there are in country life, the crowding which so favours the extension of contagious disease, also favours the origination of disease which is not contagious. And those who have denounced the over-crowded state of our rural population have not been silent as to a further mischief. Even where their primary concern has been only with the injury to health, often almost perforce they have referred to other relations on the subject. In showing how frequently it happens that adult persons of both sexes, married and unmarried, are huddled together in single small sleeping rooms, their reports have carried the conviction that, under the circumstances they describe, decency must always be outraged, and morality almost of necessity must suffer.102 Thus, for instance, in the appendix of my last annual report, Dr. Ord, reporting on an outbreak of fever at Wing, in Buckinghamshire, mentions how a young man who had come thither from Wingrave with fever, "in the first days of his illness slept in a room with nine other persons. Within a fortnight several of these persons were attacked, and in the course of a few weeks five out of the nine had fever, and one died."...From Dr. Harvey, of St. George's Hospital, who, on private professional business, visited Wing during the time of the epidemic, I received information exactly in the sense of the above report.... "A young woman having fever, lay at night in a room occupied by her father and mother, her bastard child, two young men (her brothers), and her two sisters, each with a bastard child—10 persons in all. A few weeks ago 13 persons slept in it."103
Dr. Hunter investigated 5,375 cottages of agricultural labourers, not only in the purely agricultural districts, but in all counties of England. Of these, 2,195 had only one bedroom (often at the same time used as living-room), 2,930 only two, and 250, more than two. I will give a few specimens culled from a dozen counties.
Wrestlingworth. Bedrooms about 12 feet long and 10 broad, although many are smaller than this. The small, one-storied cots are often divided by partitions into two bedrooms, one bed frequently in a kitchen, 5 feet 6 inches in height. Rent, £3 a year. The tenants have to make their own privies, the landlord only supplies a hole. As soon as one has made a privy, it is made use of by the whole neighborhood. One house, belonging to a family called Richardson, was of quite unapproachable beauty. "Its plaster walls bulged very like a lady's dress in a curtsey. One gable end was convex, the other concave, and on this last, unfortunately, stood the chimney, a curved tube of clay and wood like an elephant's trunk. A long stick served as prop to prevent the chimney from falling. The doorway and window were rhomboidal." Of 17 houses visited, only 4 had more than one bedroom, and those four overcrowded. The cots with one bedroom sheltered 3 adults and 3 children, a married couple with 6 children, 8c.
Dunton. High rents, from £4 to £5; weekly wages of the man, 10s. They hope to pay the rent by the straw-plaiting of the family. The higher the rent, the greater the number that must work together to pay it. Six adults, living with 4 children in one sleeping apartment, pay £3 10s. for it. The cheapest house in Dunton, 15 feet long externally, 10 broad, let for £3. Only one of the houses investigated had 2 bedrooms. A little outside the village, a house whose "tenants dunged against the house-side," the lower 9 inches of the door eaten away through sheer rottenness; the doorway, a single opening closed at night by a few bricks, ingeniously pushed up after shutting and covered with some matting. Half a window, with glass and frame, had gone the way of all flesh. Here, without furniture, huddled together, were 3 adults and 5 children. Dunton is not worse than the rest of Biggleswade Union.
Beenham. In June, 1864, a man, his wife and 4 children lived in a cot (one-storied cottage). A daughter came home from service with scarlet fever. She died. One child sickened and died. The mother and one child were down with typhus when Dr. Hunter was called in. The father and one child slept outside, but the difficulty of securing isolation was seen here, for in the crowded market of the miserable village lay the linen of the fever-stricken household, waiting for the wash. The rent of H.'s house, 1s. a week; one bedroom for man, wife, and 6 children. One house let for 8d. a-week, 14 feet 6 inches long, 7 feet broad; kitchen, 6 feet high; the bedroom without window, fire-place, door, or opening, except into the lobby; no garden. A man lived here for a little while, with two grown-up daughters and one grown-up son; father and son slept on the bed, the girls in the passage. Each of the latter had a child while the family was living here, but one went to the workhouse for her confinement and then came home.
30 cottages—on 1,000 acres of land—contained here about 130-140 persons. The parish of Bradenham comprises 1,000 acres; it numbered, in 1851, 36 houses and a population of 84 males and 54 females. This inequality of the sexes was partly remedied in 1861, when they numbered 98 males and 87 females; increase in 10 years of 14 men and 33 women. Meanwhile, the number of houses was one less.
Winslow. Great part of this newly built in good style; demand for houses appears very marked, since very miserable cots let at 1s. to 1s. 3d. per week.
Water Eaton. Here the landlords, in view of the increasing population, have destroyed about 20 per cent. of the existing houses. A poor labourer, who had to go about 4 miles to his work, answered the question, whether he could not find a cot nearer: "No; they know better than to take a man in with my large family."
Tinker's End, near Winslow. A bedroom in which were 4 adults and 4 children; 11 feet long, 9 feet broad, 6 feet 5 inches high at its highest part; another 11 feet 3 inches by 9 feet, 5 feet 10 inches high, sheltered 6 persons. Each of these families had less space than is considered necessary for a convict. No house had more than one bedroom, not one of them a back-door; water very scarce; weekly rent from 1s. 4d. to 2s. In 16 of the houses visited, only 1 man that earned 10s. a week. The quantity of air for each person under the circumstances just described corresponds to that which he would have if he were shut up in a box of 4 feet measuring each way, the whole night. But then, the ancient dens afforded a certain amount of unintentional ventilation.
Gamblingay belongs to several landlords. It contains the wretchedest cots to be found anywhere. Much straw-plaiting. "A deadly lassitude, a hopeless surrendering up to filth," reigns in Gamblingay. The neglect in its centre, becomes mortification at its extremities, north and south, where the houses are rotting to pieces. The absentee landlords bleed this poor rookery too freely. The rents are very high; 8 or 9 persons packed in one sleeping apartment, in 2 cases 6 adults, each with 1 or 2 children in one small bedroom.
In this county, diminutions in the number of persons and of cottages go, in many parishes, hand in hand. In not less than 22 parishes, however, the destruction of houses has not prevented increase of population, or has not brought about that expulsion which, under the name "migration to towns," generally occurs. In Fingringhoe, a parish of 3443 acres, were in 1851, 145 houses; in 1861, only 110. But the people did not wish to go away, and managed even to increase under these circumstances. In 1851, 252 persons inhabited 61 houses, but in 1861, 262 persons were squeezed into 49 houses. In Basilden, in 1851, 157 persons lived on 1827 acres, in 35 houses; at the end of ten years, 180 persons in 27 houses. In the parishes of Fingringhoe, South Farnbridge, Widford, Basilden, and Ramsden Crags, in 1851, 1392 persons were living on 8449 acres in 316 houses; in 1861, on the same area, 1473 persons in 249 houses.
This little county has suffered more from the "eviction-spirit" than any other in England. At Nadby, over-crowded cottages generally, with only 2 bedrooms, belonging for the most part to the farmers. They easily let them for £3 or £4 a-year, and paid a weekly wage of 9s.
Hartford had, in 1851, 87 houses; shortly after this, 19 cottages were destroyed in this small parish of 1720 acres; population in 1831, 452; in 1852, 832; and in 1861, 341. 14 cottages, each with 1 bedroom, were visited. In one, a married couple, 3 grown-up sons, 1 grown-up daughter, 4 children—in all 10; in another, 3 adults, 6 children. One of these rooms, in which 8 people slept, was 12 feet 10 inches long, 12 feet 2 inches broad, 6 feet 9 inches high: the average, without making any deduction for projections into the apartment, gave about 130 cubic feet per head. In the 14 sleeping rooms, 34 adults and 33 children. These cottages are seldom provided with gardens, but many of the inmates are able to farm small allotments at 10s. or 12s. per rood. These allotments are at a distance from the houses, which are without privies. The family "must either go to the allotment to deposit their ordures," or, as happens in this place, saving your presence, "use a closet with a trough set like a drawer in a chest of drawers, and drawn out weekly and conveyed to the allotment to be emptied where its contents were wanted." In Japan, the circle of life-conditions moves more decently than this.
Langtoft. A man lives here, in Wright's house, with his wife, her mother, and 5 children; the house has a front kitchen, scullery, bedroom over the front kitchen; front kitchen and bedroom, 12 feet 2 inches by 9 feet 5 inches; the whole ground floor, 21 feet 2 inches by 9 feet 5 inches. The bedroom is a garret; the walls run together into the roof like a sugar-loaf, a dormer-window opening in front. "Why did he live here? On account of the garden? No; it is very small. Rent? High, 1s. 3d. per week. Near his work? No; 6 miles away, so that he walks daily, to and fro, 12 miles. He lived there, because it was a tenantable cot," and because he wanted to have a cot for himself alone, anywhere, at any price, and in any conditions. The following are the statistics of 12 houses in Langtoft, with 12 bedrooms, 38 adults, and 36 children.
Kennington, very seriously over-populated in 1859, when diphtheria appeared, and the parish doctor instituted a medical inquiry into the condition of the poorer classes. He found that in this locality, where much labour is employed, various cots had been destroyed and no new ones built. In one district stood four houses, named birdcages; each had 4 rooms of the following dimensions in feet and inches:
Kitchen; 9 ft. by 58 ft. 11 by 6 ft. 6
Brinworth, Pickford and Floore: in these villages in the winter 20-30 men were lounging about the streets from want of work. The farmers do not always till sufficiently the corn and turnip lands, and the landlord has found it best to throw all his farms together into 2 or 3. Hence want of employment. Whilst on one side of the wall, the land calls for labour, on the other side the defrauded labourers are casting at it longing glances. Feverishly overworked in summer, and half-starved in winter, it is no wonder if they say in their peculiar dialect, "the parson and gentlefolk seem frit to death at them."
At Floore, instances, in one bedroom of the smallest size, of couples with 4, 5, 6 children; 3 adults with 5 children; a couple with grandfather and 6 children down with scarlet fever, 8c.; in two houses with two bedrooms, two families of 8 and 9 adults respectively.
Stratton. 31 houses visited, 8 with only one bedroom, Pentill, in the same parish: a cot let at 1s. 3d. weekly with 4 adults and 4 children, had nothing good about it, except the walls, from the floor of rough-hewn pieces of stones to the roof of worn-out thatch.
House-destruction here not quite so excessive; yet from 1851 to 1861, the number of inhabitants to each house on the average, has risen from 4.2 to 4.6.
Badsey. Many cots and little gardens here. Some of the farmers declare that the cots are "a great nuisance here, because they bring the poor." On the statement of one gentleman: "The poor are none the better for them; if you build 500 they will let fast enough, in fact, the more you build, the more they want," (according to him the houses give birth to the inhabitants, who then by a law of Nature press on "the means of housing"). Dr. Hunter remarks: "Now these poor must come from somewhere, and as there is no particular attraction, such as doles, at Badsey, it must be repulsion from some other unfit place, which will send them here. If each could find an allotment near his work, he would not prefer Badsey, where he pays for his scrap of ground twice as much as the farmer pays for his."
The continual emigration to the towns, the continual formation of surplus-population in the country through the concentration of farms, conversion of arable land into pasture, machinery, 8c., and the continual eviction of the agricultural population by the destruction of their cottages, go hand in hand. The more empty the district is of men, the greater is its "relative surplus-population," the greater is their pressure on the means of employment, the greater is the absolute excess of the agricultural population over the means for housing it, the greater, therefore, in the villages is the local surplus-population and the most pestilential packing together of human beings. The packing together of knots of men in scattered little villages and small country towns corresponds to the forcible draining of men from the surface of the land. The continuous superseding of the agricultural labourers, in spite of their diminishing number and the increasing mass of their products, gives birth to their pauperism. Their pauperism is ultimately a motive to their eviction and the chief source of their miserable housing which breaks down their last power of resistance, and makes them mere slaves of the landed proprietors and the farmers.104 Thus the minimum of wages becomes a law of Nature to them. On the other hand, the land, in spite of its constant "relative surplus-population," is at the same time under-populated. This is seen, not only locally at the points where the efflux of men to towns, mines, railroad-making, 8c., is most marked. It is to be seen everywhere, in harvest-time as well as in spring and summer, at those frequently recurring times when English agriculture, so careful and intensive, wants extra hands. There are always too many agricultural labourers for the ordinary, and always too few for the exceptional or temporary needs of the cultivation of the soil.105 Hence we find in the official documents contradictory complaints from the same places of deficiency and excess of labour simultaneously. The temporary or local want of labour brings about no rise in wages, but a forcing of the women and children into the fields, and exploitation at an age constantly lowered. As soon as the exploitation of the women and children takes place on a larger scale, it becomes in turn a new means of making a surplus-population of the male agricultural labourer and of keeping down his wage. In the east of England thrives a beautiful fruit of this vicious circle—the so-called gang-system, to which I must briefly return here.106
The gang-system obtains almost exclusively in the counties of Lincoln, Huntingdon, Cambridge, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Nottingham, here and there in the neighbouring counties of Northampton, Bedford, and Rutland. Lincolnshire will serve us as an example. A large part of this country is new land. marsh formerly, or even, as in others of the eastern counties just named, won lately from the sea. The steam-engine has worked wonders in the way of drainage. What were once fens and sandbanks, bear now a luxuriant sea of corn and the highest of rents. The same thing holds of the alluvial lands won by human endeavor, as in the island of Axholme and other parishes on the banks of the Trent. In proportion as the new farms arose, not only were no new cottages built: old ones were demolished, and the supply of labour had to come from open villages, miles away, by long roads that wound along the sides of the hills. There alone had the population formerly found shelter from the incessant floods of the wintertime. The labourers that dwell on the farms of 400-1000 acres (they are called "confined labourers") are solely employed on such kinds of agricultural work as is permanent, difficult, and carried on by aid of horses. For every 100 acres there is, on an average, scarcely one cottage. A fen farmer, e.g., gave evidence before the Commission of Inquiry: "I farm 320 acres, all arable land. I have not one cottage on my farm. I have only one labourer on my farm now. I have four horsemen lodging about. We get light work done by gangs."107 The soil requires much light field labour, such as weeding, hoeing, certain processes of manuring, removing of stones, 8c. This is done by the gangs, or organised bands that dwell in the open villages.
The gang consists of 10 to 40 or 50 persons, women, young persons of both sexes (13-18 years of age, although the boys are for the most part eliminated at the age of 13), and children of both sexes (6-13 years of age). At the head is the gang-master, always an ordinary agricultural labourer, generally what is called a bad lot, a scapegrace, unsteady, drunken, but with a dash of enterprise and savior faire. He is the recruiting-sergeant for the gang, which works under him, not under the farmer. He generally arranges with the latter for piece-work, and his income, which on the average is not very much above that of an ordinary agricultural labourer,108 depends almost entirely upon the dexterity with which he manages to extract within the shortest time the greatest possible amount of labour from his gang. The farmers have discovered that women work steadily only under the direction of men, but that women and children, once set going, impetuously spend their life-force—as Fourier knew—while the adult male labourer is shrewd enough to economise his as much as he can. The gang-master goes from one farm to another, and thus employs his gang from 6 to 8 months in the year. Employment by him is, therefore, much more lucrative and more certain for the labouring families, than employment by the individual farmer, who only employs children occasionally. This circumstance so completely rivets his influence in the open villages that children are generally only to be hired through his instrumentality. The lending out of these individually, independently of the gang, is his second trade.
The "drawbacks" of the system are the over-work of the children and young persons, the enormous marches that they make daily to and from the farms, 5, 6, and sometimes 7 miles distant, finally, the demoralisation of the gang. Although the gangmaster, who, in some districts is called "the driver," is armed with a long stick, he uses it but seldom, and complaints of brutal treatment are exceptional. He is a democratic emperor, or a kind of Pied Piper of Hamelin. He must therefore be popular with his subjects, and he binds them to himself by the charms of the gipsy life under his direction. Coarse freedom, a noisy jollity, and obscenest impudence give attractions to the gang. Generally the gangmaster pays up in a public house; then he returns home at the head of the procession reeling drunk, propped up right and left by a stalwart virago, while children and young persons bring up the rear, boisterous, and singing chaffing and bawdy songs. On the return journey what Fourier calls "phanerogamie," is the order of the day. The getting with child of girls of 13 and 14 by their male companions of the same age, is common. The open villages which supply the contingent of the gang, become Sodoms and Gomorrahs,109 and have twice as high a rate of illegitimate births as the rest of the kingdom. The moral character of girls bred in these schools, when married women, was shown above. Their children, when opium does not give them the finishing stroke, are born recruits of the gang.
The gang in its classical form just described, is called the public, common, or tramping gang. For there are also private gangs. These are made up in the same way as the common gang, but count fewer members, and work, not under a gangmaster, but under some old farm servant, whom the farmer does not know how to employ in any better way. The gipsy fun has vanished here, but according to all witnesses, the payment and treatment of the children is worse.
The gang-system, which during the last years has steadily increased,110 clearly does not exist for the sake of the gangmaster. It exists for the enrichment of the large farmers,111 and indirectly of the landlords.112 For the farmer there is no more ingenious method of keeping his labourers well below the normal level, and yet of always having an extra hand ready for extra work, of extracting the greatest possible amount of labour with the least possible amount of money,113 and of making adult male labour "redundant." From the exposition already made, it will be understood why, on the one hand, a greater or less lack of employment for the agricultural labourer is admitted, while on the other, the gang-system is at the same time declared "necessary" on account of the want of adult male labour and its migration to the towns.114 The cleanly weeded land, and the uncleanly human weeds, of Lincolnshire, are pole and counterpole of capitalistic production.115
[72.] James E. Thorold Rogers. (Prof. of Polit. Econ. in the University of Oxford.) A History of Agriculture and Prices in England. Oxford, 1866, v. I., p. 690. This work, the fruit of patient and diligent labour, contains in the two volumes that have so far appeared, only the period 1259 to 1400. The second volume contains simply statistics. It is the first authentic "History of Prices" of the time that we possess.
[73.] Reasons for the late increase of the Poor-Rates, or a comparative view of the price of labour and provisions. Lond., 1777, pp. 5, 11.
[74.] Dr. Richard Price: Observations on Reversionary Payments, 6th Ed. By W. Morgan, Lond., 1803, v. II., pp. 158, 159. Price remarks on p. 159: "The nominal price of day-labour is at present no more than about four times, or, at most, five times higher than it was in the year 1514. But the price of corn is seven times, and of flesh-meat and raiment about fifteen times higher. So far, therefore, has the price of labour been even from advancing in proportion to the increase in the expenses of living, that it does not appear that it bears now half the proportion to those expenses that it did bear."
[75.] Barton, l. c., p. 26. For the end of the 18th century cf. Eden, l. c.
[76.] Parry, l. c., p. 86.
[77.] id., p. 213.
[78.] S. Laing. l. c., p. 62.
[79.] England and America. Lond., 1833. Vol. I., p. 47.
[80.] London Economist, March 29th, 1845, p. 290.
[81.] The landed aristocracy advanced themselves to this end, of course per Parliament, funds from the State Treasury, at a very low rate of interest, which the farmers have to make good at a much higher rate.
[82.] The decrease of the middle-class farmers can be seen especially in the census category: "Farmer's son, grandson, brother, nephew, daughter, grand-daughter, sister, niece"; in a word, the members of his own family, employed by the farmer. This category numbered, in 1851, 216,851 persons; in 1861, only 176,151. From 1851 to 1871, the farms under 20 acres fell by more than 900 in number; those between 50 and 75 acres fell from 8,253 to 6,370; the same thing occurred with all other farms under 100 acres. On the other hand, during the same twenty years, the number of large farms increased; those of 300-500 acres rose from 7,771 to 8,410, those of more than 500 acres from 2.755 to 3,914, those of more than 1,000 acres from 492 to 582.
[83.] The number of shepherds increased from 12,517 to 25,559.
[84.] Census. l. c., p. 36.
[85.] Rogers. l. c. p. 693, p. 10. Mr. Rogers belongs to the Liberal School, is a personal friend of Cobden and Bright, and therefore no laudator temporis acti.
[86.] Public Health. Seventh Report, 1864, p. 242. It is therefore nothing unusual either for the landlord to raise a labourer's rent as soon as he hears that he is earning a little more, or for the farmer to lower the wage of the labourer, "because his wife has found a tade," l. c.
[87.] l. c. p. 135.
[88.] l. c. p. 134.
[89.] Report of the Commissioners...relating to transportation and penal servitude, Lond. 1863, pp. 42, 50.
[90.] l. c. p. 77. Memorandum by the Lord Chief Justice.
[91.] l. c. Vol. II. Minutes of Evidence.
[92.] l. c. Vol. I. Appendix p. 280.
[93.] l. c. pp. 274, 275.
[94.] Public Health, Sixth Report, 1863, pp. 238, 249, 261, 262.
[95.] l. c. p. 262.
[97.] In 1865 this law was improved to some extent. It will soon be learnt from experience that tinkering of this sort is of no use.
[98.] In order to understand that which follows, we must remember that "Close Villages" are those whose owners are one or two large landlords. "Open villages," those whose soil belongs to many smaller landlords. It is in the latter that building speculators can build cottages and lodging-houses.
[99.] A show village of this kind looks very nice, but is as unreal as the villages that Catherine II. saw on her journey to the Crimea. In recent times the shepherd also has often been banished from the show villages; e.g., near Market Harboro' is a sheep-farm of about 500 acres, which only employs the labour of one man. To reduce the long trudges over these wide plains, the beautiful pastures of Leicester and Northampton, the shepherd used to get a cottage on the farm. Now they give him a thirteenth shilling a week for lodging, that he must find far away in an open village.
[100.] "The labourers' houses (in the open villages, which, of course, are always overcrowded) are usually in rows, built with their backs against the extreme edge of the plot of land which the builder could call his, and on this account are not allowed light and air, except from the front." (Dr. Hunter's Report, l. c. p. 135.) Very often the beerseller or grocer of the village is at the same time the letter of its houses. In this case the agricultural labourer finds in him a second master, besides the farmer. He must be his customer as well as his tenant. "The hind with his 10s. a week, minus a rent of £4 a year...is obliged to buy at the seller's own terms, his modicum of tea, sugar, flour, soap, candles, and beer." (l. c., p. 132.) These open villages form, in fact, the "penal settlements" of the English agricultural proletariat. Many of the cottages are simply lodging-houses, through which all the rabble of the neighbourhood passes. The country labourer and his family who had often, in a way truly wonderful, preserved, under the foulest conditions, a thoroughness and purity of character, go, in these, utterly to the devil. it is, of course, the fashion amongst the aristocratic shylocks to shrug their shoulders pharisaically at the building speculators, the small landlords, and the open villages. They know well enough that their "close villages" and "show villages" are the birth-places of the open villages, and could not exist without them. "The labourers...were it not for the small owners, would, for by far the most part, have to sleep under the trees of the farms on which they work." (l. c., p. 135.) The system of "open" and "closed" villages obtains in all the Midland counties and throughout the East of England.
[101.] "The employer...is...directly or indirectly securing to himself the profit on a man employed at 10s. a week, and receiving from this poor hind £4 or £5 annual rent for houses not worth £20 in a really free market, but maintained at their artificial value by the power of the owner to say 'Use my house, or go seek a hiring elsewhere, without a character from me.'.... Does a man wish to better himself, to go as a plate-layer on the railway, or to begin quarrywork, the same power is ready with 'Work for me at this low rate of wages, or begone at a week's notice; take your pig with you, and get what you can for the potatoes growing in your garden.' Should his interest appear to be better served by it, an enhanced rent is sometimes preferred in these cases by the owner (i.e. the farmer) as the penalty for leaving his service." (Dr. Hunter, l. c., p. 132.)
[102.] "New married couples are no edifying study for grown-up brothers and sisters; and though instances must not be recorded, sufficient data are remembered to warrant the remark, that great depression and sometimes death are the lot of the female participator in the offence of incest." (Dr. Hunter, l. c., p. 137.) A member of the rural police who had for many years been a detective in the worst quarters of London, says of the girls of his village: "their boldness and shamelessness I never saw equalled during some years of police life and detective duty in the worst parts of London.... They live like pigs, great boys and girls, mothers and fathers, all sleeping in one room, in many instances." (Child. Empl. Com. Sixth Report, 1867, p. 77 sq. 155.)
[103.] Public Health. Seventh Report, 1864, pp. 9, 14 passim.
[104.] "The heaven-born employment of the hind gives dignity even to this position. He is not a slave, but a soldier of peace, and deserves his place in married men's quarters to be provided by the landlord, who has claimed a power of enforced labour similar to that the country demands of the soldier. He no more receives market price for his work than does the soldier. Like the soldier he is caught young, ignorant, knowing only his own trade, and his own locality. Early marriage and the operation of the various laws of settlement affect the one as enlistment and the Mutiny Act affect the other." (Dr. Hunter, l. c., p. 132.) Sometimes an exceptionally soft-hearted landlord relents at the solitude he has created. "It is a melancholy thing to stand alone in one's country," said Lord Leicester, when complimented on the completion of Hookham. "I look around and not a house is to be seen but mine. I am the giant of Giant Castle, and have eat up all my neighbours."
[105.] A similar movement is seen during the last ten years in France; in proportion as capitalist production there takes possession of agriculture, it drives the "surplus" agricultural population into the towns. Here also we find deterioration in the housing and other conditions at the source of the surplus-population. On the special "prolétariat foncier," to which this system of parcelling out the land has given rise, see, among others, the work of Colins, already quoted, and Karl Marx "Der Achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte." 2nd edition. Hamburg, 1869, pp. 56, 8c. In 1846, the town population in France was represented by 24.42, the agricultural by 75.58; in 1861, the town by 28.86, the agricultural by 71.4 per cent. During the last 5 years, the diminution of the agricultural percentage of the population has been yet more marked. As early as 1846, Pierre Dupont in his "Ouvriers" sang: Mal vêtus, logés dans des trous, Sous les combles, dans les décombres, Nous vivons avec les hiboux Et les larrons, amis des ombres.
[106.] "Sixth and last Report of the Children's Employment Commission," published at the end of March, 1867. It deals solely with the agricultural.
[107.] "Child. Empl. Comm., VI. Report." Evidence 173, p. 37.
[108.] Some gangmasters, however, have worked themselves up to the position of farmers of 500 acres, or proprietors of whole rows of houses.
[109.] "Half the girls of Ludford have been ruined by going out" (in gangs). l. c. p. 6, § 32.
[110.] "They (gangs) have greatly increased of late years. In some places they are said to have been introduced at comparatively late dates; in others where gangs...have been known for many years...more and younger children are employed in them." (l. c., p. 79, § 174.)
[111.] "Small farmers never employ gangs." "It is not on poor land, but on land which affords rent of from 40 to 50 shillings, that women and children are employed in the greatest numbers." (l. c., pp. 17, 14.)
[112.] To one of these gentlemen the taste of his rent was so grateful that he indignantly declared to the Commission of Inquiry that the whole hubbub was only due to the name of the system. If instead of "gang" it were called "the Agricultural Juvenile Industrial Self-supporting Association," everything would be all right.
[113.] "Gang work is cheaper than other work; that is why they are employed," says a former gangmaster (l. c., p. 17, § 14). "The gang-system is decidedly the cheapest for the farmer, and decidedly the worst for the children," says a farmer. (1. c., p. 16, § 3.)
[114.] "Undoubtedly much of the work now done by children in gangs used to be done by men and women. More men are out of work now where children and women are employed than formerly." (1. c., p. 43, n. 202.) On the other band, "the labour question in some agricultural districts, particularly the arable, is becoming so serious in consequence of emigration, and the facility afforded by railways for getting to large towns that I (the "I" is the steward of a great lord) think the services of children are most indispensable." (1. c., p. 80, n. 180.) For the "labour question" in English agricultural districts, differently from the rest of the civilised world, means the landlords' and farmers' question, viz., how it is possible, despite an always increasing exodus of the agricultural folk, to keep up a sufficient relative surplus-population in the country, and by means of it keep the wages of the agricultural labourer at a minimum?
[115.] The "Public Health Report," where in dealing with the subject of children's mortality, the gang-system is treated in passing, remains unknown to the press, and, therefore, to the English public. On the other hand, the last report of the "Child. Empl. Comm." afforded the press sensational copy always welcome. Whilst the Liberal press asked how the fine gentlemen and ladies, and the well-paid clergy of the State Church, with whom Lincolnshire swarms, could allow such a system to arise on their estates, under their very eyes, they who send out expressly missions to the Antipodes, "for the improvement of the morals of South Sea Islanders"—the more refined press confined itself to reflections on the coarse degradation of the agricultural population who are capable of selling their children into such slavery! Under the accursed conditions to which these "delicate" people condemn the agricultural labourer, it would not be surprising if he ate his own children. What is really wonderful is the healthy integrity of character, he has, in great part, retained. The official reports prove that the parents, even in the gang districts, loathe the gang-system. "There is much in the evidence that show that the parents of the children would, in many instances, be glad to be aided by the requirements of a legal obligation, to resist the pressure and the temptations to which they are often subject. They are liable to be urged at times by the parish officers, at times by employers, under threats of being themselves discharged, to be taken to work at an age when...school attendance...would be manifestly to their greater advantage.... All that time and strength wasted; all the suffering from extra and unprofitable fatigue produced to the labourer and to his children; every instance in which the parent may have traced the moral ruin of his child to the undermining of delicacy by the overcrowding of cottages, or to the contaminating influences of the public gang, must have been so many incentives to feelings in the minds of the labouring poor which can be well understood, and which it would be needless to particularise. They must be conscious that much bodily and mental pain has thus been inflicted upon them from causes for which they were in no way answerable; to which, had it been in their power, they would have in no way consented; and against which they were powerless to struggle." (1. c., p. xx., § 82, and xxiii., n. 96.)