1920s >> 1923 >> no-229-september-1923

Socialisation or Nationalisation

What is it that makes us of the working class determine, in every-growing numbers, that the means of life shall not remain private property? It is bitter experience of the power which private ownership gives to a handful of men over the remaining millions of society—our class. Whether we shall work or not, and consequently whether we shall have enough to eat or not, depends on the requirements of the capitalist: and, being at work, we expect with certainly that at every opportunity our wages will be forced down, our hours extended, our pace sped up. If the capitalist pleads that he himself is in the grip of circumstances, that competition in the world market makes it necessary for him to dispense with men wherever possible, and get the utmost out. of those who remain, we know that it is just because things are privately produced, with a view to sale, that this scramble for orders is possible.Here are we, on the one hand, needing all manner of things to keep us alive and make life happy; here, on the other, are the land, the factories, the transport systems that could satisfy these needs. We could produce in such abundance that no one need go short. We do produce even now enough to give us all such a standard of life as no worker enjoys. Why aren’t we getting it? Why are multitudes of us not working at all? Why do those who are in work live so meagrely? And how is it that such an enormous part of what we make goes to the upkeep of the masters, who did not work in its making?

We know why. We don’t create goods out of nothing. We work upon raw materials, and they come from the earth, and the masters own it. We work with tools and machines in workshops; and the masters own them. Consequently, the products when they are finished belong to them too. The only condition on which we are permitted to work is that this product can be sold at a profit. A profit can only be made when the goods fetch a price which will pay wages and leave a margin for the employer. In order to compete with his rivals, the capitalist will always try to fix his price below theirs; and since he is naturally unwilling to reduce his rate of profit, he will always reduce costs when he can.


This, as it affects the worker, means less being paid in wages, and more being exacted for it. The miners know this; the dockers know it; the builders, engineers, woodworkers, farm-labourers—is there any section of the proletariat that does not know it? And the resolve grows to take those things that are indispensable to the life of the community out of private hands, and make them the common property of the workers.
That done, the task of supplying food for the hungry, or houses for the homeless, will have become relatively simple. Are clothes needed? The tailors will make them to the quantity required and in such varied styles as are in demand at the time; and when they are finished, those who need new clothes can have them. Some will go to miners, who are producing coal to the necessary amount; some to teachers, who are carrying out the educational design of the new society. And so on. The details do not matter. Many means will suggest themselves by which each worker, having performed his share of the necessary labour, could be enabled to receive what he needed from the common store. There might be depots, similar to shops, where people would present their tokens of labour performed, and make their choice of goods. If so, the actual machinery for distributing goods would not differ greatly from that of to-day : the difference—the revolution—will be in the basis of production. The goods which are made will be made for the direct and sole purpose of satisfying the needs of the makers. Society will have organised itself for co-operative production. No room in that day for any who will not work, unless they are feeble, or children : it will be the day of the workers, taking possession of and controlling the vast instruments of wealth production which all this time we have operated for the benefit of the masters.


The particular working out of each part of the plan will no doubt be best done by the workers concerned in our farms, factories, ports, and so on, as the case may be. In its general outlines, the scheme of production can be shaped by the general legislative assembly, elected, as it will be, by workers, for the supreme purpose of co-ordinating all the varied activities of social life. This new character of the legislative assembly will be the reflection of the new character of society—a community of workers with full ownership of their means of livelihood; just as the State of to-day (the name by which we speak of the whole machinery of government, armed and policed) reflects the character of present-day society—the juxtaposition of two broad classes, one propertied, to be defended, the other propertyless, to be repressed. When the means of life are socially owned, the State, which grew up with private property, will give way to something better.


Such is the process of Socialisation, towards which the proletariat, losing the last of its patience with capitalism, is moving. Its two salient features are :—
(1) The taking over of the means of production by the workers. Not “buying out. ” That the capitalist has been able to exploit us so long is no reason why he should be allowed to continue. In whatever form he might be paid, to buy him out would mean the perpetuation of an idle class whom the workers must labour to keep.


(2) Direct control by the workers, all officials being elected, responsible to those who elected them, and capable of being recalled if they prove inefficient or unscrupulous. Needless to say, to the capitalist this means the world turned upside-down. That they whose wealth poured in while they remained idle, who never, in many cases, knew the first thing about the undertakings that made them rich, should suddenly have to go to work, that were surely wild enough. But that, when they are at work, instead of being ordered and driven by taskmasters appointed from above, and rewarded at the end with a fraction of the value they produce, they should be able to decide by vote their working conditions, elect their officials, and have their needs richly satisfied, that is very midsummer madness! To the revolutionary worker it is a sane and obvious thing: the righting of a world which is already upside-down.


There remains a way to side-track the movement towards revolution, and it is seized upon by very varied supporters of the present system—not least by people who, though they know well what the workers can and ought to do, shrink through timidity or self-interest from the inevitable decisive act.


“Nationalisation’’ is the cry. “Let us have no fundamental re-organisation of society! Let the bourgeoisie remain. Let the State remain. Pay compensation to the present owners of the means of production, and transfer these things to the possession of the State. What is all this about democratic control? You vote once in every few years, to decide who shall govern you: you can continue to do so. What more do you want? The British Post Office is a State enterprise of this kind : the Belgian railways are another. Admirable things!” And the British postal workers, and the Belgian railway men, who recently attested by a strike the satisfactoriness of nationalisation from their point of view, can tell how very admirable they are.


No, the time has gone for both the private ownership and the public ownership and bureaucratic control of industry. It is only on the basis of common ownership and direct democratic control that we can build the free and comradely life for which we have waited too long.