Editorial: London County Council, Ltd.

The Independent Labour Party, who have long supported the Liberals and Progressives on the L.C.C., have issued a manifesto on the coming elections, and have in consequence been repudiated by their friends. It is rather unkind, after the way in which the l.L.P. have worked for and supported the L.C.C. capitalist majority, for the latter, in fear of the prospective Progressive rout, to turn upon and rend their faithful allies. But so it is. The Progressive organ, The Daily Chronicle, in a leading article on the “I.L.P. Bogey,” insists in regard to their manifesto that “the document in question is issued by the I.L.P. on its own account. The Progressive Party have nothing to do with it whatever.” The Progressive organ dismisses the I.L.P. municipal milk proposal as “unnecessary, impracticable and undesirable.” It also says: “One of the Progressive leaders, Sir Edwin Cornwall, happens to be a large coal merchant, and he has very naturally been asked what he thinks of the proposal to municipalise the coal supply of London. He thinks it sheer nonsense, and so, we imagine, will all Progressives.” Moreover it adds that “the County Council has, for the most part, no power to do the things which the manifesto talks about. A whole series of Acts of Parliament would be required to make them possible, and there ie no likelihood that the series will be forthcoming.” All of which, to say the least, is base ingratitude toward the I.L.P. For what do the proposals amount to ? Merely the extension of milk and water municipalisation—the substitution of municipal capitalism for private capitalism in certain industries—that is all. Until the working class controls, nationally and locally, the municipal services that are undertaken will only be used for the benefit of the master class, and the L.C.C. policy has been no exception to this rule. The interest of the workers has ever been sacrificed to the interest of the propertied class. Indeed, the L.C.C., far from being a model employer, is noticeably inferior to a vast number of private firms in the treatment of its workmen. The hypocrisy of the Liberal Progressives is as plain as is the futiliy of the policy of the Independent Labour Party, which mistakes municipal and state capitalism for Socialism.

The Quintessence of Socialism
There are quite a number of people in this country who call themselves Socialists because they believe in the municipalisation or nationalisation of various things. And these good people appear to be oblivious of the fact that the very essence of Socialism is the control of wealth production and distribution by the wealth producers. It is obvious that it a number of thieves are banded together they are not likely to seek less booty, or seek it less effectively, than when isolated ; so, therefore, the capitalist class, who control the national and local administrative bodies, are not likely to seek less profit, or to seek it less effectively, when their businesses come under their collective control than when they control them individually. The end and aim of a capitalist is profit, whether it comes as interest on Metropolitan Water Board bonds or as dividend on shares in the A.B.C.; and the ruling class will not, indeed, undertake municipal or national services at all unless their interests are thereby served and their general profits increased. An industry taken over by the capitalist State, though it may be also of advantage, in other respects, means that more wealth is thereby to be wrung from the workers. The sweating in government factories, the low wages in the Post Office that enable over £4,000,000 to go in relief of capitalist taxation, are an earnest of what State capitalism means. Nationalised industries can only become Socialistic, and can only be of real benefit to the workers, when the working class has obtained control of the administrative machinery. It is therefore of the utmost importance that the political movement of the workers place itself firmly on the basis of the class struggle. Indeed, all who do not recognise this fact, whatever they may call themselves, are emphatically not Socialists, for mere nationalisation, we repeat, is not Socialism at all.

A Nation of Serfs
Another aspect of the matter that is not often taken note of is the restriction of political liberty which often goes with the nationalisation of a branch of industry. Lord Selborne’s circular (which has been endorsed by Lord Elgin) is a case in point—the railway servants in the Transvaal being forbidden to take active part in the elections there. Railway men in this country who have clamoured for nationalisation, have profound misgivings when they see the Liberal Government cripple the political activity of government railway workers. Mr. Winston Churchill has been approached by them on the matter, but he is inexorable and has said : “It has long been held to be undesirable that regular government servants should conspicuously take sides in party politics, and in consequence the railway servants in both the neighbouring self-governing colonies of Natal and the Cape are expressly forbidden to do so.” Prominent members of the present government have in the past expressed themselves strongly against the exercise of the vote by municipal employees and civil servants. This is, indeed, no new policy. The postal servants have long been expressly forbidden to take active part in politics. Supporters of the existing regime can, indeed, be brutally frank on this matter when it suits them. In a letter to the Daily Chronicle recently, Mr. Arnold White said in praise of the Government, that it had shown that efficiency was not incompatible with economy by its naval policy in abandoning obsolete dockyards, etc., and in “discharging redundant workmen who use their votes to get higher pay.

The italics are ours.

Though government servants are not, as yet, deprived of the vote, its value is seriously lessened by the restriction of political action. The significance of this matter may be judged from a consideration of its probable effect on the political movement of the working class if all were government servants and forbidden to take sides in political affairs. The political organisation of the workers would be rendered practically impossible, their emancipation would be retarded, and the movement driven underground. The mere nationalisation of an industry gives the ruling class greater power over the workers, and, to take the railways as an example, instead of nationalisation bringing the workers a step near to the control of industry, it is likely to find them with their political wings clipped, and even more at the mercy of capitalism than before. Instead of helping to strengthen the chains which bind them, the workers should at last realise the futility of anything short of working-class supremacy.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, February 1907)

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