1940s >> 1947 >> no-518-october-1947

The Common Wealth Party and State Capitalism

In our August issue, in the article “Why Can’t we all get Together?”, the statement was made that the Common Wealth Party supports State Capitalism. On August 17th we received from Mr. W. J. Taylor, Political Secretary of Common Wealth, a letter of protest which contained the following:—

   “I was amazed to read in the August issue of the Socialist Standard the following sentence: ‘We are utterly opposed to the support of State Capitalism given by Common Wealth.’ I am not, of course, amazed that the S.P.G.B. is opposed to support for State Capitalism; but I am at the suggestion that Common Wealth gives such support. ‘Nationalisation is not Socialism‘ is the title of one of our pamphlets, issued shortly before the S.P.G.B. pamphlet of a similar name, ‘Nationalisation or Socialism?’ In this pamphlet it is clearly shown that mere nationalisation is not, in itself, Socialism. In fact, this is one of our major points of difference with the present miscalled ‘Socialist Government’.”


We replied to Mr. Taylor in a letter dated August 28th:

  “We would first point out that disagreement with the Labour Government’s method of operating Nationalisation and a desire to have nationalised industries operated differently does not in any way meet our criticism. It merely means that you and they both favour State Capitalism but disagree on more or less important details.
“May we refer to ‘Common Wealth Manifesto’ (Second Edition, August, 1943) in which you make it perfectly clear that Common Wealth intends to retain all the essential features of capitalism, in the State Capitalist form. You are going to Nationalise ‘all credit and investment institutions’—what function can they perform under Socialism? You are specifically retaining the wages system, which again is quite incompatible with Socialism. To clinch the matter you state (p.8) that what you describe (wrongly) as common ownership is State Capitalism as it exists in Russia.”


We received from Mr. Taylor a further letter dated August 30th which contained the following:

  The ‘Manifesto’ to which you refer has not been re-printed since the split in the party in September, 1945, when this issue of State Capitalism was the fundamental underlying the division of opinion in the party. That ‘Manifesto’ will not be re-issued—a new one has been in course of preparation for some time.
‘The pamphlet to which I referred in my previous letter ‘Nationalisation is not Socialism’ states categorically ‘ The wages system . . . must be abolished.’
“Recent publications by this party—and notably articles in our monthly Review have shown our changed viewpoint regarding the U.S.S.R. and its State Capitalism.
“The purpose of ‘nationalisation of credit and investment institutions4 is an obvious one—one nationalises (or brings them under common ownership to put it more accurately) for the express purpose of destroying their capitalist function. One cannot create socialism over-night, and though I do not here intend to be drawn into a discussion on the transition period, which would be short and as abrupt as it could be made, it is quite apparent to anyone not completely blinded by wishful thinking that remnants of capitalism will continue to exist for a long time (though diminishing steadily) after the major battle has been fought and won. The remnants of feudalism are still with us.
“If the issue is one of ultimate aims, then it is doubtful if there is much between us—if it is one of attainment of those aims, then there is—and I most certainly would not object to criticism of that nature, based on facts. I do, however, consider that you are neither advancing the cause of Socialism, nor even the cause of your own party (two not necessarily identical objectives) by ill-informed and misrepresenting comments of the kind to which my earlier letter referred.”


It will be noticed that Mr. Taylor does not claim that Common Wealth always opposed State Capitalism but only that in September, 1945, it ceased giving support and went over to opposition. This in itself deserves some comment. Socialism and State Capitalism are opposites; nobody can support both at the same time. Nobody who understands Socialism could imagine that State Capitalism is the same as Socialism or could support it. It is, of course, possible for an individual who once supported State Capitalism and opposed Socialism, to learn the error of his ways and come to support Socialism and oppose State Capitalism, but this does not explain the antics of Common Wealth. Mr. Taylor says that they supported State Capitalism before September, 1945; what he does not point out is that before 1945, as afterwards, they claimed that their aim was Socialism based on Common Ownership of the means of production and distribution.

The only possible explanation is that before 1945 they had not a glimmering of understanding of what is meant by Socialism and Common Ownership.
It remains to consider whether they are in any better state now. Mr. Taylor would say that they are. He claims that they are now in favour of the abolition of the wages system and recognise that Socialists must be opposed to State Capitalism. He quotes the following passage from a Common Wealth pamphlet as proof of his assertion: “The wages system . . . must be abolished.” The interesting part of this quotation is not what it says but what it leaves out, for the whole passage from page 2 of the pamphlet “ Nationalisation is not Socialism” actually reads:

   “The wages system as we now know it must be abolished . . . ” (Our italics).

And if there is any doubt that Common Wealth is still in favour of the wages system it is only necessary to go to the September issue of Common Wealth Review where we read in an article on the incentives of a Socialist society ‘‘We must accept the need for a planned system of wages and prices and reject the old bargaining methods by sectional interests.” (P.ll).
In short, Common Wealth’s idea of Socialism and common ownership still is, as it always was, State Capitalism.
Mr. Taylor’s letter of August 30th contains two other points that require comment. Asked what function credit and investment institutions could serve under Socialism (when production will be solely for use and the wages system will have been abolished) Mr. Taylor replies that when Common Wealth declares for the “Nationalisation of credit and investment institutions ” the purpose is to bring them “under common ownership,” and destroy ‘‘their capitalist function.” Could anything be more muddled? May we ask Mr. Taylor just how credit and investment institutions can be commonly owned, and how institutions that exist only for the purpose of carrying on Capitalism can be shorn of their capitalist function and retained. What are their functions other than capitalist ones?
It will be observed that Mr. Taylor still claims that common ownership is a more accurate way of describing nationalisation, when in fact the two terms mean something entirely different.
The other point is Mr. Taylor’s statement that remnants of capitalism will continue to exist for a long time under Socialism, a statement that he backs up with a reference to the remnants of feudalism which continued under capitalism. What he overlooks, and it is a fundamental point, is that feudalism and capitalism are both of them systems based on private ownership and the exploitation of one class by another. Socialism means the end of class ownership and exploitation. That is why there is no analogy with the retention of feudal remnants under capitalism. Under Socialism there cannot be, either for a long period or a short one, a continuation of class ownership and class exploitation. Common Wealth still confuses the issue by describing as Socialism, to which it is opposed, State Capitalism, to which it gives support.
Editorial Committee