Book Review: Labour’s Way to Disaster
“Labour’s Way to Plan Prosperity,” David Grenfell, M.P. (Methuen, 2s. 6d.)
The above is another of the series of superficial little books edited by the present leader of the Labour Party, which are, apparently, designed to show how little practical difference there is between the programme of that Party and that of the more “progressive” section of its opponents, i.e., the Liberals. Mr. Grenfell uses Socialist phrases in a loose way to criticise capitalism, but proposes nothing to which even a normally intelligent Conservative is liable to object, in principle.
“Under capitalism,” we are told on page 18, “labour is hired to be exploited and to yield the maximum productive results at the minimum cost.
“The wealth of the nations is owned by a few. Ninety per cent. of the private wealth belongs to ten per cent. of the population. Only one in ten of adult Britishers has any substantial stake in the country.”
In a phrase, capitalism spells poverty for the wealth producers, yet Mr. Grenfell spends the greater part of his book tilting, against the secondary features of the system, such as the wastefulness of competition. He preaches efficiency and organisation without appearing to realise that these will only tighten the workers’ bonds unless the basic fact of ownership is changed. True, the author does profess to deal with this—as usual—in “Labour’s way.” Let us see how he does it.
In chapter vii he describes the functions of a proposed National Planning Council, which is to have general control of special Boards to be set up for each of several industries of prime importance.
“Taking the coal industry as an example, it may be decided that coal owners should receive compensation at present market value for their holdings. Valuations are being made for death duties and are available as a guide to the transfer values. There are no insuperable difficulties in connexion with the transfer of mines, agricultural land, iron and steel concerns, transport, or similar terms. No new capital would be required. Present holders of shares would become bondholders of the unified enterprises under the new Management Boards and would be given an agreed rate of interest for the duration of the bonds” (p. 60).
Thus the capitalists would continue to draw incomes for idleness through “national boards” instead of joint stock companies. What a difference a name makes to some people!
Need any capitalist seriously oppose such a measure? Let Mr. Grenfell answer. On page 65 he tells us, with delightful candour, that “The private owner has been relegated to a position of complete detachment from the industry, and as a free and independent citizen may or may not (italics mine) desire to be associated with the management as a salaried official.” He may take it or leave it, being assured in any case of his comfortable and “independent” livelihood. Our author does not tell us if the workers are to enjoy similar freedom.
Are they to be equally assured, even of, say, £3 per week, irrespective of whether they do or do not desire to be associated with the “hands” as wage-receivers in the task of production? It seems a trifle neglectful on the part of Mr. Grenfell not to have anticipated our curiosity on this point.
He evidently has great confidence in the ability of this sort of economic camouflage to remove the conflict between capital and labour. On page 51, for instance, he tells us that “Experience has shown that the common ownership of municipal enterprises, for example, has led to happier personal relations and a greater appreciation of the claims of the workers without sacrifice of efficiency.” Tramwaymen and ‘busmen who have had occasion to be called on the carpet by the General Manager will no doubt understand this; while just how much the municipal enterprises are common property may be gauged by a further remark of the author’s, on page 55. Speaking of the “derelict areas,” so- called, he says: “Local rates absorb the income from property and destroy the capital value of houses, shops, and all other buildings.”
It is common knowledge that the profit derived from municipal enterprises goes either in the payment of interest on the city’s debts, or in relief of rates. In either case it is the property-owners who gain. The workers do not share in these profits, which are derived from the exploitation of those employed in the enterprises concerned. State-exploited slaves remain slaves, no matter with what honeyed phrases their ears may be enchanted.
Mr. Grenfell has entirely failed to show any reason whatsoever for which the workers should support the Labour Party. The workers may in this way learn many lessons by painful experience, but they will have to find another road to their emancipation.