1920s >> 1925 >> no-251-july-1925

Is Compensation of the Capitalist Possible?

Under the heading of a “Socialist Dilemma,” the New Statesman describes the contortions of the Independent Labour Party, in conference assembled. It seems that they struck a snag. Not that this is unusual or unique. A party that views society as a vessel that will imperceptibly drift into the port of Socialism, with occasional help from a pole in difficult places, is bound to find snags. As one of their leaders put it some years back: “Socialism will come as a thief in the night.” Frankly, we never liked the comparison, but equally frankly, we never liked the I.L.P. We have even said they are not a Socialist party at all. We say so still, and perhaps their latest dilemma will illustrate our differences. What is this great question that agitates the I.L.P. after its thirty odd years of vigorous torpidity? What is this tough nut that defied the teeth of the delegates assembled and had to be referral back to the branches for another year? It is, briefly, compensation versus confiscation. Shall we buy the capitalist class out or kick them out? Small wonder the delegates were flabbergasted. Thirty years of “Socialist” propaganda doesn’t leave much time for questions of that sort. Leave it another twelve-month. Perhaps by next year’s Conference another dilemma will have become sufficiently prominent to enable them to forget the last one. And, anyhow, one must have something to discuss during the hot weather, mustn’t one?

Before dealing with this profound enigma, it may be useful to enquire what has caused this sudden interest in such a question. Obviously it arises from the possibility of the Labour Party finding itself in power as well as office at a future date. This possibility exists, and it must be faced. Having made itself look as much like the late Liberal Party as possible; having broadened its base until it is all width and no depth; having stuffed itself full of Colonels, Majors, Knights, Solicitors and Clergymen; the possibility is becoming a probability with all its awkward implications. But why awkward? Because if the Labour Party is returned to power, it will be by the votes of people who are not in favour of real Socialism; who will have been told that nationalisation is Socialism; who will be doomed to be immensely undeceived within a few short months; and who, with the increasing worsening of conditions under Capitalism, will become increasingly desperate. But the Labour Party wants power. To get power it must capture the votes of politically ignorant people. And if politically ignorant people are told that the advent of the Labour Party to power means that their five shillings in the bank will be nationalised as well as the railways, they will not vote for the Labour Party. So that, as it is easier to trick and cajole people into voting for you than to educate them, the question arises, what sort of a tale shall we tell them?

This is where the Nemesis that will ultimately destroy the I.L.P. and the reformers generally, appears. They have insistently propagated the doctrine that Socialism was an evolutionary process of which the steps were nationalisation or public ownership. The Post Office has been repeatedly quoted as an example of Socialism in being. Now, say the opponents of nationalisation are you going to compensate the shareholders of concerns taken over by the State or are you going to confiscate? If the first, where are you going te get the money; if the second, where are you going to stop, and what are the distinctions you are going to make? This lands the reformer into a labyrinth of discussion on State Bonds, Sinking Funds, Tax Relief, and other financial jargon, together with interminable difficulties with small investors, savings bank depositors, and petty enterprise generally. We do not recollect it, but the New Statesman assures us, there was a time when the I.L.P. was whole-heartedly in favour of confiscation. That was when power and office seemed remote. The obvious absurdities consequent on trying to reconcile piecemeal nationalisation with confiscation would have given pause to any party but the I.L.P. They did not see that railway companies owned land; that engineering companies owned railway shares; that colliery companies owned engineering shares; that shipping companies held colliery shares; in short, that Capitalism was a system. They therefore did not see that to confiscate the capital of one basic industry was inherently as difficult as to confiscate the Capitalist system. That is if the New Statesman is right. Our recollection is that the I.L.P. has always stood for State Ownership on the lines of the Post Office, existing shareholders simply becoming Government Bondholders. Their view was and is that when a sufficiency of industries were thus nationalised the resulting state of things would be called Socialism. Their view always implies compensation, for wherein essentially does the holder of Government shares differ from the holder of company shares? Shareholding implies profits, and profits connote unpaid labour. So that the I.L.P. has always floundered in an illogical morass. How they are to get out of it will provide them with some food for thought. We shall watch their deliberations with some interest. If they pursue them far enough they may discover that Socialism is not a narrow principle which can be applied in homoepathic doses to the body politic, and so cure it of a chronic malady. They may discover that Capitalism is a system of society based upon, and permeated throughout with, the robbery of productive labour; that Socialism is a system that will have for its basis, the return to labour of the whole fruits of its industry. They may discover that the two systems are so fundamentally different as to be entirely incompatible; that the replacing of the one by the other, necessarily involves the complete change we term a revolution. That revolution may be peaceful or otherwise. It can be peaceful only by the majority of people realising the nature of society, the supreme need for the change, and the overwhelming necessity for capturing the political machinery by a clear and conscious effort. Faint and woolly formulae, speciously designed, appeals to ill- informed, politically ignorant people, can only result in the other sort of revolution, the non-peaceful. The Socialist Party has no wish for a bloody revolution. That is why we have had to devote so much time to the denunciation of the I.L.P. and the other reformist bodies, whose activities can only result in that catastrophe. Our policy is less flamboyant, and consequently our growth is slower. Our appeal is to the intellect rather than the emotions. We want people to think; Capitalism will see that they feel.

So that to solemnly debate at this date, compensation versus confiscation implies an ignorance, a divorce from reality, pitifully amazing—if it were not the I.L.P. Socialism means the taking from their present owners, of the means whereby society exists, and their conversion into social property. With what shall we compensate? With what should we compensate? With what can we compensate? Money ? Money will cease to exist. Shares? Shares are a form of parasitism, peculiar to Capitalism. Property? They will have enough: so will the rest of society. What else? Nothing! There is nothing else. We shall therefore confiscate.
W. T. Hopley