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50 Years Ago: The Margate Labour Party Conference

NATIONALISATION was the issue at Margate. It is the issue at all Labour conferences. It’s difficult to see how it can be otherwise; for Nationalisation apart what else is there left to discuss within the Labour Party? Housing! Education! The Health Services! These are not the things which separate the Labour Party from the Tories and oft times the Labour Party from itself. Only Nationalisation can do that.

True the Tories have nationalised in the past and might conceivably do so again if circumstances warranted. But for them Nationalisation measures have been a means to an end. The Labour Party for political purposes have made it an end in itself, although the Margate conference saw a full scale strategical withdrawal from that position.

Mr. Woodburn, M.P., made a clumsy attempt to cover the withdrawal by telling the conference that Natíonalisation was not Socialism. Mr. Woodburn may know that but the history of his party is writ large in the monumental confusion created by it in failing to make any real distinction between them. The speeches and writings of Labour leaders over the years bear damning testimony to this confusion. He also added, Nationalisation is merely a means to an end and not necessarily the best means. Whatever implications one likes to draw from that remark the fact is that the Labour Party in the past has viewed Nationalisation as an end; a social goal, a political ideal. Its 1918 Manifesto, Labour and the New Social order, proclaimed as its aim the continued extension of nationalisation acts to ever widening spheres of industry. And until recent years the Labour Party never substantially departed from it. Hitherto the Labour Party regarded its policy of Nationalisation as one of principle not expediency.

The militant convictions of the Webbs and old Fabians who contributed considerably to the Nationalisation policy of the Labour Party are lacking among present day Labour leaders. Two terms of Labour administration have dispelled from the minds of the administrators any notion of the talismanic powers of Nationalisation. The Webbs are dead in more senses than one.

(From article by E.W., Socialist Standard, November 19