The Passing Show

Ready-made argument
It has been remarked before that nationalisation does nothing to change the class position of the workers in society, gives the workers no control over or interest in their industry, and leaves unchanged the basic condition of capitalist society—the divorce of the workers from the ownership of the means of production. Not only this; nationalisation provides a ready-made argument for the capitalists and their newspapers, a potent weapon in the continuous propaganda fight against the interests of the workers. It can now be claimed that since the workers “wanted nationalisation,” they should tamely accept their conditions, abandon their most powerful means of defence in the industrial field, the strike, and submit without demur to the dictates of the new State-appointed bosses.

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Loss to the Commercial Community
This argument is used despite the fact that there is less and less concealment of the part nationalised industries are playing. Their first duty is that placed upon them in the Acts of Parliament setting them up—to make a profit, and pay interest to the “ex”-shareholders. Their second is to provide an efficient service for the other industries, still under the control of private capitalists, which depend upon them. For example, nationalised transport. In the debate in the Lords on February 23rd on the Government’s proposals to denationalise road transport, speakers on both sides took as their criterion whether or not these proposals would benefit the capitalists who used the road transport services. For the Opposition, Lord Lucas said:

“If the Government proceeded with the proposals outlined in the Bill for selling the assets by public auction without a reserve the loss to the taxpayers would be at least £50m., and the loss to industry and to the commercial community would be absolutely immeasurable.”

On the Conservative side, Lord Gifford said that the “denationalisation of road transport would be justified if it gave the trader a better service.”

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Laying it on
What is one to say of those Labour leaders who, in face of the clear evidence to the contrary, still maintain that nationalisation is Socialism? But some Labour leaders go further. Not content with having given, by their measures of nationalisation, an excellent argument against the workers in the nationalised industries to the newspapers which openly support the capitalists, they now turn round on the workers and use that very same argument themselves. One of these is Ness Edwards. Having taken a leading share in forging this stick to beat the workers, he now takes a turn in laying it on.

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The Folly of Ness Edwards
Mr. Edwards took it on himself to write an article in the Daily Herald on February 19th which he called “The Folly of the Few”; but he only succeeded in revealing his own foolishness. There is so much nonsense packed into this short article that we shall have to confine ourselves to a few of his more erratic statements.

“We nationalised the mines, the railways, and other industries, not only to get more efficiency and remove class injustice—but also to give men and women the chance to live fuller lives.”

Since Mr. Edwards gives the “ living of fuller lives” and “ the removal of class injustice” merely as the purposes, not the results, of nationalisation, we can say little more. Certainly it would be wildly inaccurate to allege that nationalisation, for instance of the coal mines, had given the chance of a fuller life to anyone except those like Lord Hyndley, who was able to widen his field of activities from running the Powell Duffryn collieries in South Wales to lording it over the entire British coal industry.

“We who believe in Socialism want to make more socialists. But our efforts are hampered by a small minority who have benefited by the first Socialist efforts and behave with an arrogant indifference to the well-being of the many.”

Your support of nationalisation, Mr. Edwards, makes nonsense of your claim to believe in Socialism. The first is merely another term for state-capitalism, and no one can support both capitalism and Socialism. But substituting “labourite” for “Socialist,” the rest of this quotation looks promising. For there is certainly a “small minority” which fits this description—the shareholders. Have they benefited from nationalisation? They have, and for these reasons. The coal industry at the end of the war was operating with equipment which was out of date years before. A vast programme of capital re-equipment, which would involve the ploughing back of profit for years ahead, was necessary if the industry was ever to become profitable again. From this grim prospect the shareholders were saved, in the nick of time, by the timely action of the Labour Government in nationalising the industry. From the day the State took over the coal mines, come rain or shine, boom or slump, strike or lock-out, the shareholders could count on their £14 million of interest each year as confidently as they could upon the sun each morning. So we know whom Mr. Edwards is referring to here.

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Or do we? Reading on, we find Mr. Edwards actually had in mind “unofficial strikers,” those workers who still have the nerve to try and improve their conditions of work by using the strike weapon. But these workers, after all, are only withholding their labour-power—and property in this is the only property which capitalist society leaves them. Are wage-slaves in the state-capitalist industries to be so brow-beaten that they are to be denied even their last right of refusing for a week or two to apply their labour-power to their masters’ instruments of production? It seems that if Mr. Edwards had his way, the answer would be Yes. He says: “These unofficial minority activities are reactionary and counter-revoluntionary.” Counter-revolutionary! Mr. Edwards is obviously supposing that a revolution has taken place. If it has, it must be the first revolution in history which is not visible to the naked eye.

Let us leave Mr. Edwards and his article there, as a warning of the ridiculous extremes to which the nationalisation fallacy can lead reformers.

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Honesty and realism
Another labour leader who is worried that the workers may be expecting too much from the next Labour Government (though the experience of the last one should have ended permanently all such extravagant hope) is Mr. Gaitskell. Writing about the next election (Reynolds News, 15-2-53) he heads his remarks “Honesty and realism should be the keynote.” We can grant Mr. Gaitskell that honesty at election times would come as a welcome change. But his other requirement, realism, sounds ominous; for this is a word much in use among politicians when they wish to prepare their audiences for further sacrifices and belt-tightening. And we are not disappointed. Mr. Gaitskell outlines his plans for “more production” and then says “But it does take time and it probably means that to start with there will be less rather than more to consume.” Apart from the phrase “to start with,” we couldn’t agree more. Feeling that his programme so far will do little to attract voters, Mr. Gaitskell says that the Labour Party “must make a further attack on inequality in education and the concentration of property in too few hands.” A further attack! We are still waiting for the first attack on “the concentration of property in too few hands undoubtedly it didn’t take place, although it was promised, in the Labour Government’s last term in office. How Mr. Gaitskell reconciles his implication that it did take place with the heading of his article, we leave to him.

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On behalf of . . .

Mr. Tom O’Brien, the President of the General Council of the T.U.C., got into trouble the other day for sending a telegram to Mr. Churchill on the eve of his visit to the United States. The message began “You carry with you the good will of the workers of Britain and the Commonwealth in your courageous mission to the United States tomorrow.” This message hadn’t been authorised by “the workers of Britain ” and certainly not by those of “the Commonwealth,” and a number of those on whose behalf Mr. O’Brien claimed to speak pointed this out to him with some force. But the habit of claiming vast authority for one’s statements is not confined to Mr. O’Brien. The heads of the Communist Party or of the C.P. front organisations frequently issue grandiloquent statements “on behalf of the workers of Great Britain” or “the women of Britain” or “the democratic youth of Western Europe.” Among others who have recently indulged in these wide unauthorised statements is General Franco, who in his New Year’s Message said he was “speaking as the father or guardian of the great family of Spaniards”—though “guardian” here may be a mistranslation for the far more appropriate word “warder.” Again, on March 2nd Chief Simeon Kioko of the Kamba tribe in Kenya repudiated Mau Mau, and claimed to be speaking “on behalf of 400,000 Wakamba.” In South Africa, the Governor-General, speaking on January 23rd, said “This year will see the Coronation of her Majesty the Queen. My ministers, as do the people of the Union, pray that her Majesty may have a long, blessed and peaceful reign.” Who gave the Governor-General the authority to say this? It seems particularly inappropriate, in that “the people of the Union” include a million Afrikaaners, many of whom are fanatical Republicans.

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Unhappy workpeople
But one of the most fantastic claims made recently was in connection with the return of Alfred Krupp to much of his industrial empire, plus the fortune which will be his when he sells, compulsorily, his interests in coal and steel; the latter are being turned over to a holding company with a capital of a hundred million marks. Incidentally, Herr Krupp has given an undertaking to keep out of coal and steel; but after the expiry of Allied High Commission Law 27 in a few years’ time this promise will not be legally enforceable. The massed legal experts of die Allied High Commission and the German Government have found themselves unable to think of any formula which could give legal force to this undertaking; which is another instance of the tenderness with which the perpetrators of the really large crimes are treated. (Krupp was convicted in 1948 of war-crimes on a grand scale, and was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment plus confiscation of all his property; much of the first part, and all the second part, of this sentence was remitted in 1951 by Mr. McCloy, then United States High Commissioner in Germany.) Last August, however, when the details of Krupp’s return to his industrial empire were not yet settled, Dr. Maschke, the concern’s chief legal adviser, said (Sunday Express, 17-8-52): “This is a family enterprise. We are not happy—thousands of the workpeople are not happy—to see him left in the background.”

So if you hear sounds of jubilation coming from the general direction of Germany, you know what it is. What you hear is the heartfelt cries of joy uttered by the work people of the Rhineland as the word goes round that the boss is back.

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Little-known pastimes: Money rolling
The Chancery Division has been trying to unravel the tangles in the will of Mr. Bolton Joberns, a brick manufacturer who died three years ago. Not the least puzzling part is the allegation in one codicil that the “so-called poor” were now “rolling in money” On the face of it, it would seem impossible to roll with any degree of comfort in a weekly wage of five or seven pounds; though one is reluctant to dissent from the opinion of one who was so clearly an expert in the little-known sport of money-rolling as Mr. Joberns, who left more than £200,000. But examine the phrase “the so-called poor.” Who are the so-called poor nowadays? Not the real poor; both the Tories and the Labourites, for their own reasons, assert that poverty has been abolished. The term “poor” is in these days reserved exclusively for the upper class, as in the phrases “the new poor” and “the tax-ridden industrialist.” From a careful reading of the newspapers one can only draw the conclusion that in these enlightened times one must have at least £50 a week after tax before one can call oneself poor; poverty is reduced as the incomes get less, and anyone receiving less than £10 a week is supposed in the neighbourhood of Fleet Street to be living on the fat of the land. It is those people, then, who used to be called rich but are now the “so-called poor,” that Mr. Joberns must have been referring to; and with his opinion that these “so-called poor ” are now “rolling in money” we shouldn’t like to disagree.

A. W. E.

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