1920s >> 1928 >> no-285-may-1928

Saklatvala on Socialism.

Mr. W. Graham recently moved an official Labour Party amendment in the House of Commons, setting forth his party’s views on what they are pleased to call “socialism.” Mr. Saklatvala, for the Communist Party of Great Britain, replied to Graham and told him forcibly that the State ownership advocated by the Labour Party is not Socialism at all. The Conservatives were highly delighted with Saklatvala’s criticism, and the Capitalist Press was unusually generous in its praise of the Communist M.P.’s eloquence and logic.

But those who turn up Hansard (21st March) to enjoy some gems of oratory or to discover what is the difference between the Communist reformist and the Labour reformists whom they support, will be disappointed.

There are, however, some passages in Saklatvala’s speech which deserve to be placed on record.

Mr. Graham outlined the growth of trusts and State capitalism and the decline of competition, and instanced the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Post Office as his party’s ideal of “public ownership or socialism.”


Saklatvala replied by asserting that such institutions as the Post Office are not Socialism, their “soul” being purely capitalistic whatever the appearance of their body. When he was pressed by Labour M.P.s to explain his meaning he was quite unable to do so.

The Labour Party makes the childish mistake of describing State concerns as being the property of all the citizens, and Saklatvala, as ignorant as themselves, readily admitted this. He talked of public and municipal undertakings being owned by “the citizens of a whole borough, town or city,” and described the Post Office as being the property of “all the citizens of a country or nation.”

Naturally it was then quite beyond his powers to explain why he did not support the Labour Party’s demand for more so-called “public ownership.”

The plain fact is that the Post Office is every bit as much private property, run for private profit, as is the London General Omnibus Company or Selfridge’s. The Post Office, telephone and telegraph plant, etc., are valued at about £116-million. The £116-million thus sunk in plant and machinery represents money borrowed in one form or another from private investors bv this and previous Governments, and it ranks along with other items in the total National Debt. The owners of the Post Office are not “all the citizens,” but the investing class, who draw their income from holdings in Government stock of different kinds. If the Government sold the Post Office for £116-million and used this to pay off part of the National Debt, the new private investors (or the same individuals) would then draw their profits from the Post Office direct as a private concern instead of receiving them at second-hand through the Government. The difference is one of appearance only.

Similarly it is the practice of Labour supporters to talk of the L.C.C. trams belonging to the citizens of London. In fact the London County Council has borrowed over £120-million to build its trams and other works, and of course has to pay interest on these loans out of the revenue from the trams, etc. These investors are the actual owners, just as much as if they held shares in a private tramway undertaking.

The Australian Governments pay more than £50-million a year in interest on the money borrowed to set up the so-called “public” undertakings which simple Mr. Saklatvala thinks are owned “by all the citizens.”


Saklatvala then declared that “the poor postmen working in the Post Office are no better off than men working for a private corporation or company,” and again, “The nationalisation of the coal industry in one country . . . may even strengthen the capitalist atmosphere and the capitalist structure of society, in which this sort of nationalisation is practised.”

We heartily agree with the above condemnation of State capitalism, but cannot refrain from asking why the Communist Party, in face of it, still supports the demand for nationalisation of the mines.


Finding it impossible to explain wherein he differed from the Labour Party, Saklatvala then disclosed that his aim is not social ownership but syndicalism, whereas our aim is to make the means of production the democratically controlled property of the whole of society. Saklatvala wants to “secure the control of the miners themselves over their own industry.”


Saklatvala rashly denounced MacDonald for attacking “the one country which has achieved Socialism,” and was at once asked “which country is that?”—a question to which no reply was forthcoming.

He later talked about Russia, and said : “M. Stalin’s argument is that, deplorable as the industrial development of Russia is at the present time, the needs and requirements of the people of Russia make them dependent upon other countries for manufactured articles which cannot be supplied in Russia owing to the backwardness and the apathy of the working classes, who have not yet developed as far as a Socialist revolution.”

As it is obvious that the “one country which has achieved Socialism” cannot be Russia, where the workers are too backward and apathetic to have “developed as far as a Socialist Revolution,” we are left in the dark as to the whereabouts of this one bright spot known only to Saklatvala.

It is also interesting to note his opinion that “It is a mistaken notion to imagine for a moment that Socialism can be introduced alongside capitalism side by side, and gradually, and so on and so on. Such a thing would never happen; such a thing cannot happen.”


(Socialist Standard, May 1928)

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