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A return to our roots

In the Guardian Hugh Warwick takes Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal to end the oppression of students paying money for their higher education to its logical conclusion. He proposes that we rediscover the venerable tradition of corvée and let them pay their debt to Labour in labour.

What if all students spent a year working the land before university?


Yes, this is state coercion. But does that make it any worse than the corporate coercion that has helped create such an insular, unfit and unhappy society; that has helped create an ecological desert in the countryside? This is a chance to fight back against the enemy, because this is a war. We have just not woken up to the fact yet.


Of course there will be those who believe that this is wrong, that there should not be a compulsion to take part in eco-conscription. And it would be wrong of me to insist that everyone take part. So there will be an opportunity for opponents to state their case and to become, in effect, “conscientious objectors”. They could be given the alternative job of joining the army.

26 comments to A return to our roots

  • Is Mr Warwick:

    a) trolling the Guardian and its readers?

    b) making a serious proposal?

    c) both of the above?


  • Magnocrat

    The mess of university education was started by Tony Blair and his ‘ Education Education Education mantra.
    The result was everyone became eligible for university , almost as stupid as saying everyone is eligible for a career in Nuclear Physics. This was made worse by turning universities into businesses touting for pupils.

  • Confused ’Old Misfit

    Oh Lord! The suffering I have endured under the lash of corporate coercion!

    Can’t you picture it though? Outside the ivy covered hall in which the graduation ceremonies were held waited a convoy of olive drab trucks manned by grim visaged corporate thugs (hired by the state!) suitably armed and willing and able to assist any recalcitrant graduate on the joyful journey to their wedding, however temporary, with GAIA!

    As for alternatives:
    Option #1: Pay each term in advance.
    Option #2: Take a year, get a job. Earn some money.
    Option #3: Work hard in school & get a scholarship.
    Option #4: Consider that you may not be suited to University

    Yes, Warwick, it’s not only wrong, unless realistic alternatives are available, it’s evil!

  • Mr Ecks

    If he is serious he needs to be beaten and then hanged Newgate style.

    Don’t dismiss his idea either. Corbog brazenly approves of the failed socialist state of Venezuela, where 60 days field labour per year is forced on those not already peasants in an attempt to stave off inevitable socialist famine. Perhaps the Guardian puke is getting the plan ready early.

    This would be solid gold for BluLabour–snowflakes forced to dig in the dirt–but don’t expect the useless bastards to make anything of it. Because useless.

  • Mr Ed

    Some of the comments make this sound as if it is a re-hash of Pol Pot’s evacuation of Phnom Pehn. Nonsense, it is just showing that Work makes you Free.

    More seriously, the demented ravings in this article show how thin the veneer of civilisation is.

    From the article:

    As we get older we get tied into commitments such as jobs and family that can make getting involved in community-based projects harder. So the time to tap into this innate quality is while commitments are few.

    The benefits to our “home” of having people working on the land, reconsecrating the sacrilege of our industry, are immense. Reweaving the connections, rebuilding the Linescape will forge links for wildlife and for people.

    The wild goats of Devon, beware!

    Imagine a cohort of young people who had gained a real insight into where food came from.

    Implicit admission that State education teaches you nothing.

    Like all good ideas, this is not entirely new. It builds on the back of the alternative offered to conscription for the German army, it even harks back to the Civilian Conservation Corps that was set up in the 1930s as part of President Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal.

    He almost admitted to fascism there.

    In The Liberators, a book about life in the Soviet Army, Viktor Suvorov said that life in the Soviet Army was in fact less regulated than normal Soviet life, they got on with doing what soldiers did, with less political interference than that the average citizen faced. Here it seems, there is a civil obligation without a corresponding military conscription. Will youth flock to the Armed Forces to escape the drudgery of Zwangdienst?

    Niall, the writer lives around Oxford, so he is deadly serious.

  • Alisa

    The mess of university education was started by Tony Blair and his ‘Education Education Education’ mantra.

    Actually, I suspect it was started with the same mantra, but from a much-earlier source.

  • Rob Fisher

    “Hugh Warwick is an ecologist and writer”

    I see this on YouTube all the time. Someone makes a video about, say, a mod making the computer game Grand Theft Auto into a family friendly city and vehicle simulator. Cue 100 comments from teenagers crying “why would anyone want to ruin the game like that?” Because they can’t see outside their own little world. They can’t comprehend that other people have different preferences from themselves.

    So Hugh Warwick, in his own little ecologist bubble, thinks everything would be perfect if only everyone were just like him. No different from a whiny teenager commenting on YouTube.

  • Mr Ed

    The other thing is, whose land? Round my way, there are many sheep and cattle, some arable fields but very few farmhands. Farming is mechanised. Some stats from the NFU that I saw recently, comparing agriculture in 1957 with 2017:

    Numbers employed fell from 750,000 to 175,000.

    Average weekly wage rose from £9 to £360.

    Wheat tonne cost £30 up to £140.

    Wheat yield up from 1.3 tonnes/acre to 3.3 tonnes/acre.

    Land value from £80 per acre to £8,300 per acre.

    Average farm size rose from 88 acres to 360 acres.

    You can see asset and monetary inflation there, but in 2015 over 412,000 people went to University, so that’s two prospective students per farm worker.

    I suppose if they collectivised the farms, then this wouldn’t be so much of a problem.

  • CaptDMO

    Working the land.
    That would include the hand separation “mining” of garbage into it’s re-useful constituents, “stripping” planned obsolescence electronics, appliances, vehicles into the four food groups, and “processing” waste water for fuel to distill….waste water, Right?
    Ooooo, and ALL of that can be done RIGHT THERE where the “academic campus” has been made intersectional with processing center !

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    I am a farmer’s son and have worked on the land as a student. I remember it quite fondly but then it was my Dad’s farm, I got paid a proper wage, and learned some useful skills (welding, how to drive combine harvest, tractor and drill wheat.)

  • staghounds

    Yes, I like the way he makes it clear that young people who have already spent 14 years “working the land” just don’t exist.

    In his world, farmers’ children have to be imagined.

    And, Jonathan Pearce- if you did exist, would your history mean that you could spend that year drafted into an army of heroin taking city slackers?

  • NickM

    JP & Mr Ed,
    Those were the first two things I thought of (apart from a leftie promoting serfdom). JP, because of your background and family you knew what you were doing. Some random kid won’t. Quite frankly I don’t want my food produced by conscripts who know nothing about what is quite skilled work and don’t want to do it. Mr Ed, not only does UK agriculture (as you point out) not need that many recruits but it is very seasonal so what on earth will they do the rest of the year?

  • Watchman

    My favourite part of the idea is that proto-students will be able to build drystone walls. Clearly Mr Warwick has never tried to learn to do this (I grew up in a drystone area, and couldn’t repair those around my family’s garden – after thirty-odd years, my dad can repair but not build). The resource required in supervising a group of young people to do this would be better spent just doing the wall in the first place (a skilled waller can do a lot of work in a day), and I suspect this would be the case in every activity – but it is not a surprise that an ecologist may have missed out on the fact that those of us who work in the country are not general purpose labourers but specialist workers as much as anyone else (indeed, if you live in the country and need some work doing, the skill is to know which ‘labourer’ has the appropriate skills and tools to do it…).

    Mind you, if this idea was implemented it would have the wonderful effect of reminding people that collectivism is a very unpleasant ideology to live under, which would be amusing. The best innoculation against socialism seems to be living under socialism.

  • Alisa

    The best innoculation against socialism seems to be living under socialism.

    Unfortunately it is prone to wearing off within a generation, two at best.

  • bobby b

    From the article: “A year in which you have the chance to earn your tuition fees while at the same time learning more about yourself.”

    Unless they’re going to triple the current pay levels, students going out to pick or clean or whatever are going to be earning just about enough to survive day-to-day. There’s certainly no fat left in the budget of a lowly farm laborer to pay for tuition too.

    Of course, Warwick could simply be looking too far into the future. Once his lot have had their way with the farming sector, the infrastructure will be trashed – unmaintained machinery, depleted soils, ruined market mechanisms – so perhaps it truly will be a return to subsistence market farming instead of truck farming, and lots of little worker bees will be needed just like 400 years ago.

    His next series of articles will likely explain why the true and honest worker will then stay on that farm instead of aspiring to the faux-attainment of schooling. And how soybeans are the future.

  • Laird

    There is actually merit in some of Warwick’s points. Taking a year off before entering university is a good idea for most students; it gives them time to grow up a little, get a better sense of who they are and what they want to do, and maybe even decide whether they really want more formal education in the first place. Working outside is beneficial, both physically and mentally. And with the cost of higher education being so exorbitant these days, finding ways to help pay for it is a good idea.

    My only real objection is to the coercion inherent in his plan (which is the same objection I have to the calls for some form of mandatory “national service” we hear periodically in the US). I wouldn’t object if the government were to incent (not require) universities to find ways to encourage students to take some time off before matriculating, perhaps by giving “bonus points” on the application for a “gap” year or two. This should be easy enough to accomplish with government-owned schools (their funding could be tied to the percentage of entering students having such a gap period), probably less so for private ones. And the gap year has to be meaningful, not merely sitting around playing video games. It could be military service, employment by a private company or government agency, even working for a quango. But the choice should be the student’s, not the government’s. (Oh, and additional bonus points if you didn’t spend that year living with your parents!)

    Warwick is clearly an enviroweenie. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a germ of a good idea in his proposal. Once you get past the mindless environmentalist twaddle, and the offensive statism, there might be something here worth considering.

  • Laird is correct. If the taxpayer is going to be on the hook for FE then getting something useful for it is better than not. It could be a choice.

    Either you can take on a mountain of debt OR

    you can pay for it yourself OR

    you can join this scheme (places limited by how many actually useful things can be achieved in this manner, no digging holes and filling them in or building roads to nowhere or ghost cities or…)

    Not perfect, but better than taxpayer funded Intersectionality Studies PhDs.

  • Włodek P.

    State conscription of farm workers? I grew up somewhere that happened. If it ever comes to this stage, it is well past time to (literally) start putting bombs under the cars of members of the political class. Politics is over and it is time to start killing and making a whole class of people fearful every time they stick the key in their ignition.

  • Echoing Wlodek’s remark above, this was my comment posted to the article:

    Bond between People and Land? How very blood-and-soil fascist. I would take the alternative job on offer of being conscripted into the army, if Hugh Warwick is so unwise as to hand me a loaded rifle as an alternative to indentured serfdom.

  • bobby b

    “Taking a year off before entering university is a good idea for most students . . . “

    Right up until the time the State tells me I have to do it. After that it’s slavery.

  • Laird

    bobby b, hence the first sentence of my second paragraph. (Anyway, if the state doesn’t tell you what to do with that year off it’s not “slavery”, merely prohibition.)

  • Eric

    I was expecting to see A Modest Proposal here, but this guy is serious. Holy cow!

    It’s funny how ideas are like clothing. No matter how bad they were the first time they always come back into fashion at some point.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    80% of the people who attend college/university should not be doing so because:
    A. It’s very expensive
    B. They are not intelligent enough to materially contribute intellectually to any field of study
    C. Their performances of jobs they will actually do for the rest of their lives do not materially benefit from higher education
    D. Their experiences in college/university warp their view of the world, corrupts virtue, and actually makes them less prepared to enter the work place

    Almost all of those 80% should either be attending a highly specialized, cheaper and shorter (1 year duration or maybe 18 months max) program or nothing at all.

  • Allen

    Given that University primarily serves as a method of further insulating proto-leftists from the real world, some mandatory real world exposure (and hard labour, no less!) before they return to their propaganda would surely be extremely effective in undermining the entire parasitic enterprise?

  • bobby b

    July 20, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    “Given that University primarily serves as a method of further insulating proto-leftists from the real world, some mandatory real world exposure (and hard labour, no less!) before they return to their propaganda would surely be extremely effective in undermining the entire parasitic enterprise?”

    Bad idea.

    They’ll end food production as we know it.

    They’ll start by burning all GMO crops (and, sadly, all crops are now GMO), they’ll end milk production by demanding signed Enthusiastic Consent Forms from the cows before their udders can be touched, they’ll end calving once they watch the process (“artificial insemination is rape!”), corn will be banned (“corn cobs were obviously bred by the patriarchy as phallic symbols of oppression”), and everything will grind to a halt as they ban the use of fossil fuels and attempt to run combines off of three-mile-long extension cords.

  • I must agree entirely with Shlomo for once!