Nationalisation and Socialism
Below is a letter from a correspondent, together with our reply to his numbered questions.
To the Editor, SOCIALIST STANDARD.
Dear Sir, One or two questions and remarks about “The Nationalisation Fraud” in November issue of S.S.
(1) Regarding the Post Office, in which I have served. You say the workers “have no control, while the masters own.” Do they not have control through their votes?
(2) Does not any revenue made go to lighten the burden elsewhere? I know it is not Socialism, but it is an attempt in that direction, which is not bad considering it is surrounded by Capitalist conditions.
(3) You contend nationalisation would have a “worsening effect” on workers’ conditions. I do not think telephonists are worse off now than when the telephones were in the hands of the National Telephone Company.
(4) Your quotation of Ramsay Macdonald saying Nationalisation would not “get you out of your present difficulties” seems adroit, but possibly unfair. You neglect to mention to whom he was addressing his remarks. If to any particular body such as teachers, miners, or bakers it seems a perfectly legitimate statement to make. Nationalisation will not solve all difficulties when applied piecemeal, with the rest of society under capitalist methods of administration, but the trouble is that capitalism has put all our civil activities in such a slender balance that any sudden disturbance such as Socialism in a night would probably cause great distress at the outset, which would put back its realisation for a century. I am not in the councils of Labour, but it seems to me that they choose to attempt things gradually.
(5) I know the lower grades in the Civil Service were sore because the millennium did not arrive with the Labour Government, but badly off as they are, there were many other workers in worse parlance, and it was to the condition of the latter that Labour gave prior consideration, viz., O.A.P. Act, 1924, which removed means enquiries. Wheatley housing bill. Not Socialism I know, but an effort in that direction.
(6) I imagine much of this will be read with impatience by you, but the fact remains, the electorate are not Socialist yet. The Labour party is a sign that they are turning that way. I say nothing of their leaders, but few things worth having come suddenly. The few successes, the failures and hard lessons learned it is to be hoped will turn the electorate by steps to Socialism.
(7) One more question, and a request. The S.P.G.B. write some very trenchant criticism of all parties in the S.S. This is comparatively easy, and with much of it hosts of people will agree. You publish a “Declaration of Principles,” but assume for a moment The Socialist Party in power with a majority in the Commons will you please indicate what steps it would take to put these principles into practice, and sketch a picture of the state of society after the first twelve months’ administration. There are many snags in putting principles into practice, and some idea of how you would start should prove interesting and instructive to your readers.
G. E. Wright.
(1) The workers at present vote Capitalist agents into control of the machinery of Government, thus placing control in the hands of the Capitalist class. We urge them to use their votes to place themselves in control of the machinery of Government.
(2) Yes, the Post Office surplus goes to relieve the Capitalist class of part of their burden of taxation. We fail to see how this is a step towards Socialism. Perhaps our correspondent will enlighten us.
(3) We do not believe, and did not say, that the State pays lower wages than out side industry. As was pointed out in the recent Post Office award of the Civil Service Arbitration Court, Civil Service wages are based on the wages and conditions in industry generally. The “worsening effect” referred to the greater dependency and more restricted position of the State employee who has only one potential employer, as compared with the outside worker who at least has some slight choice. We do not, however, suggest that the difference is great; all are wage-slaves.
(4) If Nationalisation will not solve present difficulties, and since it is not a step towards Socialism, we fail to see why the workers should support it.
(5) To know that there are other workers in a still worse condition may be a slight comfort to “lower grades in the Civil Service,” but it is unfortunately considerably outweighed by the knowledge that there are others, non-workers, who are considerably better off. The Wheatley Housing Bill, according to our correspondent, was “an effort” in the direction of Socialism. Mr. Wheatley, who presumably ought to know, declared in the House of Commons that his Bill was an attempt to “patch up Capitalism.”
(6) It is in order to convert the electorate to Socialism that we preach Socialism in stead of preaching the reform of Capitalism.
(7) Our correspondent shows by this last question that he has a fundamental misunderstanding of our aims. He writes as if we of the Socialist Party were offering to solve the problems of the workers if placed in power, and asking for our work to be judged after twelve months. Our reply is, that when the working class want to abolish the private ownership of the means of production and the right of any individual to live by owning, they will instruct their delegates to take whatever steps they (the working class) decide upon in the light of then existing conditions. Not knowing the time or the circumstances or the possibilities of resistance by the Capitalist minority, we obviously cannot say what precisely those steps will be, nor what progress will have been made in re-organising the basis of society in twelve months.
(Socialist Standard, December 1927)