Village Power Companies, the Spencean Land Plan and the Bulgarian Peasants’ Party

A village was in the news last week for setting up its own solar power company. I’ve forgotten which programme it was on. It could have been the local news, Points West, on the BBC 1 for this part of the West Country, or, alternatively on the One Show. The village had initially been intended for fracking, but the villagers had examined that and very firmly decided against it. They had turned instead to solar power. They had set up a massive array of solar panels, which not only provided the village with its own energy, but also sold some on to the national grid. The power company was owned by the village as a whole, and each villager received a dividend from the profits generated by the company.

The feature was accompanied by questions about the practicality of such schemes. It was pointed out that you needed an awful lot of solar panels and would have to wait several years before the investment paid off. The number of solar panels required were so great, that it was well beyond the ability of a single person or family to afford. There were also questions about whether individual villagers should be included in the scheme, if they didn’t want to. The schemes’ inclusion of all the villagers made this a possibility, though the organisers made the point that because of the way it was actually set up, this didn’t actually happen.

Very many people now have solar panels on the roof, providing them with cheap electricity, or selling it to the electricity companies. This was the idea expanded from a single household to a whole community. Way back in the 1990s New Scientist had also carried a story about scientists working to develop power units, which would allow household to generate their own electricity and sell also sell it to the power companies, very much like the system with household solar panels.

It also reminded somewhat of Thomas Spence’s land plan. Spence was an early late 18th and 19th century Socialist. He advocated reforming Britain into a federation of autonomous parishes. Each parish would own the land in common, with the profits from the rents given out each quarter day to all the parishioners, whether men, women or children. It was effectively a form of land nationalisation, with the land turned into a co-operative.

It also reminded me somewhat of the programme of the pre-Second World War Bulgarian peasant party, the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union under its leader, Stamboliiski. BANU weren’t Socialists. They strongly supported private property, but believed in an egalitarian world where each individual would own enough, with no one having too much or too little. But just as humanity had an individual dimension to its nature, which demanded private property, it also had a social aspect with required co-operative action. They thus advocated that the Bulgarian peasant farmers should unite in a system of co-operatives that would allow the country to develop and enjoy modern prosperity.

R.J. Crampton describes this part of their ideology this in the book A short History of Modern Bulgaria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1987) 87.

It was only in 11918 that BANU adopted an official programme, the ultimate objective of which was to create an egalitarian society based upon private ownership of the means of production and the absence of the exploitation of one man’s labour by another. The focus was primarily but not solely upon the peasantry. The party’s, and especially Stamboliiski’s vision, was of a society in which no peasant owned too much and none too little land, in which they lived in clean, modernised villages furnished with electricity, communications and recreational facilities and a developed educational system. Though private property was to remain the basic form of ownership – Stamboliiski had once described it as ‘the motive force for work and progress’ – individual properietors were to help each other through the cooperative system, which was to provide credit, to store harvested crops, and to market produce. The cooperative idea was a fundamental aspect of Agrarian ideology, and was meant not only to provide material benefit, but, through that provision, to lead to the evolution of new forms of civic political morality and organisation. Stamboliiski’s long-term vision saw a society in which all producers had voluntarily joined the cooperatives, and in which the latter had become so influential that they provided the basis for local government and administration. Cooperation was not only to provide a new form of local organisation, but could, it was felt, even lead to the merging of nation-states into a free association of peasant communities – a true peasant, or green, international.

It seems to me that the village power company in rural England was merely a modern form of Spence’s land plan and BANU’s village co-operatives, except whereas Spence had based his utopian society on communal land, this was based on communal power. Nevertheless, it also shows that as society and technology develop, the old, Utopian Socialist and radical ideas return. They are still relevant, even in the Tories’ supposedly new age of cut-throat Thatcherite individualism and private enterprise.

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10 Responses to “Village Power Companies, the Spencean Land Plan and the Bulgarian Peasants’ Party”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    This is even more revealing when one takes into consideration UKIP’s utter antipathy towards solar power. Clearly it can work, so you have to ask why the people with the money are trying to put you off.

  2. amnesiaclinic Says:

    Things are going to change very swiftly when solar roads take off. They are being developed in the US by a couple who have a grant from the Federal Highways but are raising the rest through crowd funding on Indiegogo. They are hexagonal glass pieces with the solar cells beneath and not only capture enough solar energy for 3 times America’s energy requirements but would eradicate potholes, flooding and as only the faulty piece needs to be replaced, roadworks. The floodwater would be collected in channels at the side and after treatment, return to the rivers. Ice would melt and no more gritting or corrosion of vehicles but best of all eventually self-charging electric cars would run on the solar energy.
    Truly exciting and revolutionary!

    • beastrabban Says:

      Really interesting and optimistic. I hadn’t heard about this, only the arguments from solar power’s opponents that solar energy and wind farms can’t provide enough energy for the nation’s needs. The argument concludes with the statement that we need to build more nuclear power stations. If solar roads are practical, as you say, then that blows that argument to pieces.

  3. ED Says:

    Solar Freakin Roadways!!…

    I believe Lewis down here in west sussex has a village owned solar power company running too, not sure of the details though, I heard it on the radio if I reacall

  4. ED Says:

    East sussex, sorry not had much sleep!!

    • beastrabban Says:

      That might actually have been the one they were talking about. As I said, I can’t really remember the details.

  5. jess Says:

    A word from Spence himself?
    (Though the introduction refers to two, I have yet to transcribe the second)

    The Spenceans also had a couple of songbooks, one published after his death. Their influence, not least through Allen Davenport.was a great factor in the eventual formation of the Chartist Movement.

    A a certain point they found land schemes around England and worked them as smallholdings. Some of the orginal (Chartist structures still stand, I believe)

    “The two Songs following were Written by T. Spence, when a Prisoner in Newgate, under a charge of High Treason, in the memorable Year 1794. ”

    -Tune- -Maid of the Mill.
    There are twenty fine schemes held up by the great,
    To deceive silly souls, d’ye see ?
    And render them passive for pure conscience sake,
    And mould them to fell tyranny;
    Yet for all their fine arts with their priests in their aid,
    Their threats and their deep policy
    I’ll laugh them to scorn, while loudly I sing
    The Rights of Man boys for me.

    This world for the poor they say never, was-made,
    Their portion in the heav’ns be,
    And say that they envy them their happy lot,
    So certain’s their felicity ;
    But thank- them for nought,
    if the heav’ns they could lett,
    Few joys there the poor would e’er fee,
    For rents they must toil and for taxes to boot,
    The Rights .of Man then for me.

    Then cheer up all you who have long been oppress!’d
    Aspire unto sweet liberty;
    No fetters were form’d for a nation to bind,.
    That had the brave wish to be free:
    To Gallia-then look and blush at your chains,
    And shake off all vile slavery,
    And .let each man sing,.
    Till loud echoes ring,
    The Rights of Man boys for me.

    As for me, though in prison I oft’ have been cast.
    Because I would dare to. be free,
    And though in black Newgate I now pen this song,
    My theme I’ve. not see ;
    In jail or abroad whatever betide,
    My struggles for freedom shall be,
    Whate’er fate bring,
    I will think, speak and sing,
    The Right of Man, boys for me !

    Thomas Spence [in Pigs Meat Vol III 1795 pp 249-50]

    • jess Says:

      The other ‘Prison Song’ of Thomas Spence

      “Severely felt by the Moderns, under the System of Landlord and Tenant.”

      “That conquering blade, who did us invade
      Ev’n William the Norman by name,
      Among his proud band he divided our land,
      Nought leaving but slav’ry and shame,
      My poor boys.
      Nought leaving but slav’ry and shame.

      These plundering bands, thus strengthen’d by lands,
      For ages have rul’d us with awe,
      Whilst we once so free. now without property,
      From conqu’rors received the law,
      My poor boys

      The priests them to aid, they lib’rally paid,
      And gave them good share of the spoil,
      The poor to persuade, that if nothing they said,
      In heav’n they should end all their toil,
      My poor boys.

      Thus lords and priests leagu’d together,intrigu’d,
      Completely poor men to enthrall,
      And when thus befool’d, their vassals they rul’d
      And kept them in chains one and all,
      My poor boys.

      But now reason’s ray, begins to display,
      To man his dear rights once again,
      While all wond’ring how they’ve been duped till now,
      Make haste to declare they are men,
      My brave boys.

      The sons and the heirs of those old murderers*,
      Observe how they fly now to arms,
      For mankind they see, are refolv’d to be free,
      Which ev’ry proud tyrant alarms,
      My brave boys.

      Sad ruin’s their fate, though they associate,
      No rents now the poor will soon pay,
      For when in a mass, like a flood o’er they pass,
      They’ll sweep all their greatness away;
      My brave boys!

      For whom do we toil and feed with our spoil ?
      Is now through the nations the cry,
      Infuriate men sing, till heaven’s concave ring,
      O, give me death or liberty !
      My brave boys.
      O give me death or liberty !.”

      *[Spence glosses this phrase as a reference to the Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property against Republicans; See E.C Black, ‘The Association’, 1963 for a discussion of this propaganda organisation, funded by ‘secret’ government subventions. It lasted a lot longer than its public manifestations.]

      Spence also adds an interesting note on his song;

      “The composer of the above song, was the first; who as far as he knows, made use of the phrase, ‘ Rights of MAN,” which was on the following remarkable occasion:
      A man who had been a farmer, and also a miner, and who had been ill-used by his land- lords, dug a cave for himself by the sea side, at Marston Rocks, between Shields and Sunderland, about the year 1780, and the singularity of such a habitation, exciting the curiosity of many to pay him a visit; your author was one of that number. Exulting in the idea of a human being, who had bravely emancipated himself from the iron fangs of aristocracy, to live free from impost, he wrote extempore with chaulk, above the fire place of this freedman, the fol- lowing lines:

      ” Curse Ye landlords vile, who man’s peace ma ri ‘
      Come levy rents here if you can;
      Your stewards and lawyers I defy,
      And live with all the RIGHTS OF MAN.”

      Thomas Paine, who is often credited with originating the phrase, must have known of Spence’s claim, and never disputed it.

    • jess Says:

      Should read;
      “At a certain point they founded land schemes around England and worked them as smallholdings. Some of the original (Chartist) structures still stand, I believe.”

      Still, it gives me the opportunity to offer these, too


      Click to access 16n1a3.pdf

  6. prayerwarriorpsychicnot Says:

    Reblogged this on Citizens, not serfs.

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