Parliament, Leaders and Nationalisation. A Reader’s Objections Answered

Greenford, Middx. 19/6/56.
Dear Sir,
I have read your literature very carefully and heartily agree with most of the ideas expressed therein but feel that I cannot join your party.
Briefly my reasons are as follows:

1. You appear to scorn Parliamentary Representation, which to me seems essential at least for the present. Weak and “Wishy-Washy” as the Labour Party is, it does at least present some opposition to the ruling body, and show them that everyone does not agree with their idea of running the country. ‘

2. Unless I have misread your books it seems you do not believe in “Leaders.” Surely there must be someone in each phase of the country’s activities, capable of stepping into vacated posts and directing affairs.

3. The comparative failure of Nationalisation was, I think, due to the fact that they were still directed by the old bosses, simply because the Labour Party had no one ready or capable of doing the job resulting in at least partial sabotage at the top.

Yours sincerely,
B. S. Anderson.


1. Political Action
Our correspondent has not at all understood our position. Political action is an absolute necessity to achieve Socialism. This requires that Socialists shall send their delegates to Parliament and the local councils for the purpose of achieving Socialism. It does not mean that Parliament can impose Socialism on a non-Socialist electorate, or induce a non-Socialist electorate to accept the Socialism that they do not want or understand. The S.P.G.B. has no members in Parliament only because there are too few Socialists to send them there. In the post-war elections at which the S.P.G.B. put up candidates they were at the bottom of the poll because the overwhelming majority of electors, not being Socialists, wanted Tory or Labour or Liberal or Communist administered capitalism and did not want Socialism.

If our correspondent attaches value to the government of the day being opposed by the Opposition of the day he cannot fail to get it under the parliamentary system of this country. When the Tories are in the Labour Opposition try to dispute with them the way they ran capitalism and when Labour is in the Tories will do the same for them. But this is not what Socialists want. We are opposed to capitalism and strive all the time to get the workers to see that minor differences in the way capitalism is administered are not their concern.

Our correspondent is quite wrong in thinking that we oppose the Labour Party because it is “weak and wishy-washy.” We oppose it because it is not Socialist, and we question the opinion that its running of capitalism could be described as weak and wishy-washy. Its support for British capitalism in the second world war (in Churchill’s government), its imposition of conscription after 1945, its use of troops in strikes, its great re-armament programme and waging of the war in Korea, its preaching of wage-restraint and “work harder,” its drive to capture foreign markets, etc., these activities were as forcible as anything the Tories could have wanted even though they questioned the wisdom, from a Capitalist standpoint, of the Labour programme of State Capitalism (nationalisation.)

2. The Need for Leaders
It is quite correct that the Socialist does not support leadership. The essence of leadership is the implication that the workers can safely entrust their affairs, including their position under capitalism and the achievement of Socialism, to elected or self-appointed individuals who will in their wisdom decide what to do and how to do it. The assumed justification for leadership is that the rank and file do not properly understand what are the problems and how they should be tackled. This is indeed true and will remain so until the workers become Socialists and understand that their urgent need is Socialism. Then they will know exactly what to do and will instruct their delegates accordingly. In the meantime the mass of the workers do not understand; but what of the Labour Leaders? What do they know of Capitalism or Socialism? And what difference would it make if they did have knowledge, since their continuance as leaders would depend upon suiting the lack of knowledge of their own followers? Since 1924 (year of the first Labour Government) the Labour leaders have held office in four administrations, each marked with crises, wars, and unemployment, and followed by lost elections and disillusionment for those who trusted them. This is what is bound to come of leaders running capitalism. And what about Socialism? Earl Attlee’s pathetic admission after his party’s defeat in 1955 was that “we are nowhere near the kind of society we want. We have an infinitely long way to go.” (Manchester Guardian, 6/6/55).

The workers have so far always trusted in leaders, ranging from the Attlee type down to megalomaniac Stalin. It has brought them lots of wars and other evils but no Socialism; only the continuance of capitalism.

3. Nationalisation
Our correspondent refers to the “comparative failure” of Nationalisation and attributes it to the wrong sort of men at the top, men who partly sabotaged it.

The use of the term “comparative failure” implies that nationalisation has been partly a failure and partly a success. Unfortunately our correspondent does not specify what it is that nationalisation has partly done and partly failed to do. Nationalisation is State Capitalism— it was Attlee who in 1931 (New Statesman, 7/11/1931) described our oldest nationalised institution, the Post Office, as “the outstanding example of collective capitalism.” Making a success of nationalisation means making a success of Sate Capitalism. Our correspondent thinks that it could be a success if the right men ran it, but a success for whom? Successful capitalism, whether private or State Capitalism, means efficient production, low costs and high profits, which means efficient exploitation of the workers. The men in control have nothing to do with the Capitalist lines on which nationalised industries have to be run. This was specifically laid down by the Labour Government in each of the Nationalisation Acts it passed in 1945-1951; each one of the Boards was required by the Act to make profit at least sufficient in amount to cover the continuing annual payment to the former share-owners. They have, therefore, all been bound by law to try to keep wages down to the level that enabled profit to be made. Some of the nationalised industries have done this handsomely, others have run into deficit. In the view of many critics of nationalisation the former have “succeeded” while the latter have “failed.”

This may or may not be how our correspondent judges success and failure, but let there be no doubt about the Socialist attitude. Socialists are opposed to capitalism, including nationalisation, no matter who runs it or how. This should not be surprising, for after all we are Socialists and want Socialism.


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