Cottage economy or collective farm? English socialism and agriculture between Merrie England and the Five-Year Plan

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The cottage economy and the collective farm are two alternative models of socialist agriculture that relate broadly to the traditions of Romantic and utilitarian socialism and embody diametrically opposed attitudes to food and its production. In the decades following the Russian Revolution of 1917 – at a time when collectivised agriculture was being implemented on a previously unimaginable scale, with disastrous consequences – the case for such a model was made enthusiastically by British Stalinists such as George Bernard Shaw, Jean Beauchamp, Margaret Cole, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. This fed into a wider shift in British society where responsibility for securing the food supply was increasingly seen as a function of the state rather than the market. During the inter-war decades the centre of gravity for British socialists’ thinking about food production shifted from the cottage economy to the collective farm. Yet there were those – like Chesterton, Belloc, Orwell and Muggeridge, as well as the emerging thinkers of the organic movement like Louise Howard and G. T. Wrench – who in various ways held on to the cottage economy ideal and the peasant smallholder as a bulwark against the vast, industrialised mega-farms of the Soviet Empire. They were often seen not as socialists but as cranks. This paper explores the debates around this issue and considers their continuing relevance to our own thinking about the ways food is produced.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalCritical Quarterly
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2011

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