The Shape of Things to Come

Book the Third
The World Renascence: the Birth of the Modern State

10. The Life-Time Plan

H.G. Wells

IT IS still a debatable question how far that hard decisive declaration of the Socialist World-State at Basra was not premature. There are those who consider it the most timely of acts; there are some who believe it should have been made as early as the first Conference in 1965. The discussion became involved with the intellectual and moral conflicts that went on under the Air Dictatorship. It mingles with the controversies of to-day. But certainly, from 1978 onward, the Modern State movement lost something of its pristine mental freshness, lost openness, lost much of that almost irresponsible adventurousness that had flung the network of transport and trading controls so swiftly about the earth. “We have swallowed the world, but now we have to digest it,” said Arden Essenden. The old defiant repudiation of the past was replaced by a firm and sometimes rather heavy insistence upon the order of the future.

There was nowhere any immediate uprising in response to the proclamation of a World Government. Although it had been plainly coming for some years, although it had been endlessly feared and murmured against, it found no opposition prepared anywhere. Thirteen years had wrought a profound change in Soviet Russia and the large areas of China in association with Moscow. The practical assimilation of Soviet Transport and Communications was almost tacitly accepted. The details of the amalgamation were entrusted to committees flying between Moscow and Basra. All over the world, wherever there was any sort of governing or managing body not already associated with the Modern State System, it fell to debating just how and to what extent it could be incorporated or how it could resist incorporation. Everywhere there were Modern State nuclei ready to come into conference and fully informed upon local or regional issues. The plain necessity for a systematic “renucleation” of the world became evident. The “Section of Training and Advertisement” had long since worked out the broad lines of a modus vivendi between the old and the new.

That modus vivendi is called variously The Life Time Plan or—with a memory of that pioneer effort in planning, The Five Year Plan of the Russian Dictatorship—The Thirty Year Plan. Independent businesses that respected certain standards of treatment by the workers, which would accept a certain amount of exterior control, technical and financial, and which maintained a certain standard of efficiency, were to be accorded not simply tolerance but a reasonable protection. Even if their methods were suddenly superseded by new devices, they were to be kept running until they could be wound up, their products were still to be taken by the Controls. This was far better treatment than was ever accorded superseded producers under the smash-and-grab conditions of the competitive system. In the same way, whenever possible the small owning peasant or the agricultural tenant was not dispossessed; he was given a fixed price for his output, counselled or directed in the matter of improvements and so merged by bearable degrees into the class of agricultural workers. This, as Rupert Bordinesco put it (Brief Explanation: Historical Documents Series 1969), gave them “time to die out”. Because it was an integral part of the Life Time Plan that the new generation should be educated to develop a service mentality in the place of a proprietary mentality. There were to be no independent merchants or independent cultivators under twenty in 1980, none under thirty in 1990 and none under forty in 2000. This not only gave the old order time to die out; it gave the new order time to develop the more complex system of direction, mechanism and delivery it needed soundly and healthily. The lesson of the mental discords and tragic disproportions in the headlong development of the first Russian Five Year Plan—disproportions as monstrous and distressful as the hypertrophies and atrophies of the planless “Capitalist System” of the nineteenth century—had been marked and learnt.

It did not trouble the World Council that to retain millions of small businesses and tens of millions of small cultivators the whole world over for so long meant a much lower efficiency of production. “These older people have to be fed and employed,” wrote Bordinesco, “and now they will never learn or be able to adapt themselves to a novel routine of life. Help them to do their job a little better. Save them from the smart people who want to prey upon them—usurers, mortgagers, instalment salesmen, intimidators, religious or secular; and for the rest—leave them in peace.”

The Brief Explanation also drew a moral from the “Period of Glut” in the Twenties, which preceded the collapse of the Thirties, when the whole world was full of unconsumed goods and unemployed people. This, Bordinesco pointed out, was the inevitable consequence of an unregulated progressive system of private enterprise. “There is no sense in throwing a man out of an employment, however old-fashioned, unless there is a new job for him. There is no sense in bringing children into the world unless there is education, training and useful work for them to do. We have to see that each new generation is arranged numerically in different categories of training and objective from those of its predecessor. The Russians learnt this necessity in their great experiment. As we progress towards a scientific production of primary substances, the actual proportion of agricultural workers, miners, forest wardens, fishermen and so forth in the community must fall. So also the proportion of ordinary industrial workers must fall. The heavy industries will precede the light in that. A certain compensation will be caused by a steady rise in the standard of living and particularly by what De Windt called ‘the rebuilding of the world’, new cities, new roads, continually renewed houses everywhere.” (This was foreshadowed to a certain extent by the French plan for “Outillage National” and the German housing schemes in operation as early as the late Twenties, plans and schemes ultimately strangled by the budget-balancing fanatics.) But even that diversion of energy from the production of basic materials and small commodities to big structural undertakings would not suffice to use up the continually released human power in the community. At this point appeared what Bordinesco called the “enlarging categories”, which were to consume more than they gave. There had to be increasing numbers of people engaged in education, in the developing and ordering of knowledge, in experimental science, in artistic production, in making life more abundant and ample. To that expansion no limit could be set.

“We men have a lease of this planet,” runs the Brief Explanation, “for some millions of years. It is foolish not to press on to better life, but it is more foolish to hurry frantically and cruelly. The history of the past two centuries is one sustained warning against the disemployment of men and women for whom there is no other use. Before we teach, our teachers have to learn; before we direct comprehensively, we must have experience in direction. We must always be attempting a little more than we can do, but we must not be attempting the impossible. We must advance without needless delay, but without waste, hurry, or cruelty. Do not be fearful or jealous of the advent of the new conditions. No honest worker, man or woman, has anything to fear from the coming of the Modern State.”

The Shape of Things to Come - Contents    |     Book 3 - 11. The Real Struggle for Government Begins

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