Richard Acland

Richard Acland

Richard Acland was born in 1906. After being educated at Rugby School and Balliol College, Oxford, he became involved in politics. A member of the Liberal Party he was elected to the House of Commons for Barnstaple in 1935.

Acland disapproved of the electoral truce between the main political parties during the Second World War and in 1942 he formed the socialist Common Wealth Party with J. B. Priestley. Acland and his party advocated the public ownership of land and during the war gave away his Devon family estate of 19,000 acres (8,097 hectares) to the National Trust.

In his book, The Forward March (1941) Ackland argued: "I have insisted throughout this book that the economic motives in man are not ultimately decisive. In the end moral or immoral forces prevail. None the less it must surely be admitted that within the realm of economic organization there are only two major possibilities. Either the great resources of a country can be owned by private individuals, or they can be owned by all individuals in common. It is most important that anyone who vaguely hopes for some third alternative should sit down and write out in black and white what that alternative can be. Otherwise he should accept my contention that there are only these two alternatives."

In 1945 General Election only one Common Wealth candidate was elected to the House of Commons. The party was dissolved and Acland rejoined the Labour Party and was elected to represent Gravesend in 1947. Ten years later he resigned in protest against the party's support for Great Britain's nuclear defence policy.

Acland helped form the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1957. Early members included Kingsley Martin, J. Priestley, Bertrand Russell, Fenner Brockway, Vera Brittain, James Cameron, Victor Gollancz, A. J. P. Taylor, Canon John Collins and Michael Foot.

Books by Acland include Unser Kampf (1940), The Forward March (1941), What it Will be Like (1943), Nothing Left to Believe (1949), Waging Peace: The Need for Change in Britain's Policy (1958) and The Next Step (1974).

Richard Acland died in 1990.

For the last three hundred years at least, three things have been assumed to be worth while - Liberty, Equality, and Material Well-being. We did not argue as to whether these things were worth while. We took it for granted. Liberty and Equality indeed derived directly from Christianity as well as from the ideas of ancient Greece. Being human we thought it proper to add Material Well-Being as a third of the objectives whose value would be admitted automatically without


During the whole of this period, and more particularly during the last hundred and fifty years, it was also assumed that these three desirable objectives could best be achieved if each man was left free and untrammelled to pursue his own economic self-interest in his own way.

Not only had the system failed to produce Equality, but, it was realized, it never would produce even Equality of Opportunity. Nothing that anyone could do to the system would give the son of a coal miner a chance of owning a coal mine equal to the chance of the son of a coal owner. If the system had developed, as most of its theoretical prophets foretold, as an infinitely large number of quite small and independent productive units, then it might have been otherwise: for it could then have been suggested without any too serious affront to the established facts that any worker, however lowly, might hope to rise to the ownership of one of these little factories or workshops.

Socialism was bound to fail for one supreme reason. True, it offered to mankind an entirely different machine from that which was used by the existing Capitalism. But in making this offer it assumed man to be the same kind of animal as Capitalism assumed him to be - only if possible more so. Socialism assumed the economic motive to be supreme. The peculiarity of the Marxist interpretation of history is that it lay's its whole emphasis on this assumption. It claims that there is no original driving motive in man, in society, in history, other than the economic motive. All other motives are conscious or subconscious derivatives from the economic motive. There is no other original positive motive in man.

The Socialist appeal therefore is the same as the Capitalist appeal in that both are addressed to the individual as an individual and as an economic individual at that. As long as Socialism is preached in this way, it is bound to fail. It may be said that a bigger pension for me, a better house for me, better wages for me, better unemployment relief for me, are the claims which the people themselves spontaneously throw up. Of course they are, because people have been conditioned by the existing order to think of themselves as individuals and of their individual self-interest.

I have insisted throughout this book that the economic motives in man are not ultimately decisive. In the end moral or immoral forces prevail.

None the less it must surely be admitted that within the realm of economic organization there are only two major possibilities. Otherwise he should accept my contention that there are only these two alternatives.

Of course, within each of these two alternatives there are innumerable sub-divisions. Under common ownership of the great resources it is possible to have private ownership, or at least private management, of innumerable small concerns, or alternatively everything down to the smallest market stall can belong to the community. Under private ownership either the private owners can be allowed to do precisely what they like, or they can be in various ways controlled. Under private ownership you can stamp out political liberty as in Germany or preserve it as in Britain. Under common ownership or under private ownership you may stamp out religion or not. The sub-alternatives are literally innumerable, and you have not settled everything as some people suppose when you have decided either on common or on private ownership.

In July 1942, the 1941 Committee merged with a band of Richard Acland's supporters known as Forward March to form a new political party under the name Common Wealth, and almost the only members of the committee who stayed on were Vernon Bartlett, Tom Wintringham and J. Priestley, who became chairman. Before autumn, both Priestley and Bartlett had resigned. Common Wealth never succeeded in its aim of becoming a mass movement, probably because under Acland's direction its drive was more towards encouraging moral revival than to attracting public support; but in the curious circumstances of the time-in which the main political parties, being in coalition, could not oppose each other at by-elections - it did succeed in winning three by-elections against Conservative candidates, giving it, including Acland himself, a total of four Common Wealth MPs.

Kirn Mackay comes, at his own request, to propose the affiliation of Common Wealth to the Labour Party, and to ask whether I thought such a suggestion would be accepted. I said that there would be some opposition, since we are rather against affiliating odds and ends, and it might be felt that it would be more difficult to refuse the Communists if we had already accepted Common Wealth. I said a simpler plan, to which no effective objection could be taken, would be to dissolve Common Wealth and tell all its members to join the Labour Party. (This, I said, was what I had proposed to Maisky once about the British Communists, and he had said it was "an interesting and novel idea" and he would report it to Moscow. Though nothing more had happened about it.) Mackay said that this would indeed be more logical, but that he was not sure whether all their members, many of whom, he said, were very useful and intelligent middle-class people, and their regional organisers, of whom there were seventeen or eighteen, would follow such a lead. But he was very humble and non-aggressive and obviously felt that he had nothing much to offer. They would not, he said, want to have any separate programme of their own. They would never run a candidate against a Labour candidate (Acland had at once withdrawn from Waterloo when we adopted a Labour candidate, though there had been none in the field when he went there), they had been taking an interest in 180 constituencies, where either there was no Labour candidate or where they felt that they had a better chance of winning than we had.

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