The Managerial Society Part Three — Fabian Version

Management is a nice neutral word to describe capitalist property relations. It has no harsh ring of class antagonism, no hint of social conflict. The word is greatly in favour with Tories and Labourites. Once Labourites talked about capitalism and even hard-faced capitalists, but that was long ago. Now, according to the new Fabians, capitalism has gone, and capitalists— including the hard-faced ones—have been displaced from power by—Management. Some of the new thinkers now refer to capitalism in the past tense, just as historians refer to Rome or feudalism.

Capitalists without Capitalism

Although capitalism has gone, vide Crosland and others, capitalists still linger on, presumably through sheer inertia. It appears, however, that they are but vestigial survivals in the socio-economic body, like the appendix. Time and the managed enterprise plus State planning will wither them away. Actually it was not the new Fabians who pioneered the notion of a departed capitalism, but an old-time Labourite, Mr. Morrison, who in a more remote past used to talk in an old-fashioned way about the capitalist system. Nevertheless with the return of the 1945 Labour Government—which he regarded as a “victory for Socialism,” he declared: “The Labour Party does not propose to abolish the profit motive” (Observer, 28/10/46). In the same speech we were told the “new order” would be based on the recognition that “Management must in future recognise Labour as a service and not as a commodity.” He added that “this new status of the worker would, however, involve new duties as well as new rights.” It may be recorded that, “The victory for Socialism” was unblemished by any attempt of counter-revolution on the part of the capitalists.

To show that by 1948 class antagonism had been abolished, Mr. Morrison in another speech (Observer, 14/3/48) assured us that

“The modern worker is or should be a responsible partner in industry . . . knocking at the manager’s door with ideas and suggestions.”

After that it was easy for Mr. Morrison to define Socialism as

“The assertion of social responsibility for matters which are properly of social concern.”

This, of course, is crass confusion. The terms social and Socialism do not mean the same thing apart from the fact that both are derived from society. Anything from the issuing of licences to the supervision of brothels can be of social concern, but they have nothing to do with Socialism, which means the establishment of a social organisation based on free and social access to the agencies of production and distribution.

Enter the New Fabians

After this the new Fabians began to feverishly explore the “new social order” via the New Fabian Essays. Mr. Anthony Crosland, one of the contributors, is certain that capitalism has been abolished. What he isn’t certain about is the form of society which has replaced it, so he plumps for calling it “Statism,” and it becomes his version of the Managerial Society. All it amounts to is the fact that vast units of capital and the enlargement of the State’s economic functions have replaced the laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th century. But even laissez-faire was not a universal feature of capitalism. The U.S.A., Germany, Italy, Japan, etc., all began as capitalist countries, with marked State intervention, so there must be some feature more fundamental to capitalism than laissez-faire. If, of course, State intervention into the economic life of a country is “Statism,” or ” Socialism,” as the new Fabians hold, then the countries just mentioned have never had capitalism. Such are the startling conclusions drawn from the logic of Mr. Crosland.

It is a Marxist commonplace and acutely analysed long ago by Engels, that the growth of monopoly capital is a logical development from laissez-faire. Thus we can say —capitalism is dead, long live capitalism. If the elastic and highly competitive character of 19th century capitalism led by its very nature to monopolistic forms, this does not mean that competition has been eliminated, but, on the contrary, re-enacted on a vaster scale.

Old Fallacies of New Fabians

Because Crossman, Crosland, Roy Jenkins, Albu, and other Fabians believe, as did old-time Fabians, that State economic activity is Socialism, and because they limit capitalism to mean merely the uninhibited free play of market forces, for them State enterprise and the existence of huge formations of monopolistic and semi-monopolistic capitals is the negation of capitalism. Having restricted the content of capitalism to mean laissez-faire, they see State intervention and government policy entwined with capital interests as the decline and fall of the system. They fail to see that the transformation of 19th century State policy from non-intervention in economic organisation to active participation, was not due to so-called Socialist tendencies, but to the challenge by other powers to England’s economic supremacy.

Just as both old and new Fabians have not taken into account the fact that for English 19th century free trade competition there was substituted international competition, in which tariffs and protection were legitimate aids, and for the cut-throat competition of the free market there is substituted the cut-throat competition of the international units of capital. Add to this the colonial policies of the Big Powers, the export of capital and the search for spheres of influence and it is not hard to see how capitalist economics and politics go hand in hand.

Again, it was not socialistic tendencies, but world competition which compelled governments to undertake to subsidise or nationalise those industries whose services and commodities are vital to the needs of the capitalist economy as a whole, i.e., coal, gas,, electric power, transport, etc. And the need for State intervention becomes especially urgent where conflicting interests prevent these industries, when privately owned, from carrying out the necessary reorganisation. Again, the necessity of supplying cheap services and facilities for industry as a whole may mean a rate of profit or a slow rate of return unattractive to outside sources of investment or that private funds have ample and more lucrative avenues elsewhere. In that case it becomes necessary for the government to reorganise certain basic industries essential for the entire economy.

Because Labourites have represented large-scale formations of capital as a development towards Socialism and nationalisation as its stepping-stone, they are forced to maintain that the coalescing of large industry with State enterprise is the virtual elimination of capitalism and its replacement by a managerial system which constitutes the transitional period of Socialism. In such a way has Burnham’s theory been Fabianised or paralysed.

The State and the Classes

Although the Fabians have “abolished capitalism” they have not abolished the State. But they say it is no longer the executive committee of one class but “the social instrument of all classes.” Thus the army, air force, police, judiciary, etc., are all at the disposal of the working class if and when they care to use them unless, of course, another class wants to use them at the same time. Then one supposes it is a question of priorities. No doubt, when workers are on strike, especially in a big way, they may take note of such useful information.

The Fabians have, however, abolished classes, or almost. Thus Mr. Crossman in a broadcast (August, 1948) :—

“In the Marxist sense there is no longer a bourgeoisie only a vestigial group to remind us of its former dominance. There is no more a proletariat in the Marxist sense, only a remnant to remind us of past miseries.”

Having eliminated the main division of capitalism, the odds and ends left seem hardly worth classifying, although Mr. Crossman still speaks of classes.

Now many Fabians who criticise Marx at least know someone who has read Marx, or someone who knows somebody who has. But such important sources of information do not seem to be available to Mr. Crossman. Otherwise even he might have known that Marx classified bourgeoisie and proletariat as property owners and those who possessed only their capacities to work. The class structure of capitalism—and this is the essence of capitalism, said Marx—is the division between owners of capital and wage-workers, whose means of livelihood consisted of selling their services to the former. Whether the capitalist is a man of great wealth or only moderately so, or whether the propertyless wage worker—proletarian—receives high or low wages does not determine the social relation which capital owners and employees enter into. It is ownership of means of production which is the basis of capitalist society.

That this division between owners and non-owners, in spite of two Labour Governments and fair shares for all, still holds good, can be statistically verified. The Oxford Institute of Statistics tells us 80 per cent, of capital is owned by 10 per cent, of the population, and that 1 per cent, own half of the entire capital.

Mr. Crossman might even get a few facts about the class division of wealth from some of his Labour cohorts. Writing in the Sunday Pictorial (27/11/55), Mr. Wilfred Fienburg, Labour M.P., stated :—

“Let us face it, there ARE two classes in Britain to-day . . . one-tenth owns nine-tenths of the wealth and there are the others, 45,000,000 others, who own practically no wealth at all.”

And Professor W. Arthur Lewis writing on the Distribution of Property, Socialist Commentary, December, 1955, said:—

“Two-thirds of the private property in this country is owned by less than 4% of the population. This uneven distribution lies at the root of most of the evils with which Socialists have been concerned in the economic sphere— especially the uneven distribution of income and» economic power.”

Yet Mr. Crosland calmly asserts :—

“It is no longer true that property relationships determine the distribution of economic power.” (New Fabian Essays, page 38)

Concentration of Wealth

In spite of the fact that, according to the new Fabians, capitalism is going or is gone, the concentration of wealth into fewer hands is still a marked phenomenon of this “non-capitalist society.” In fact, Mr. Bevan, a fellow-member of the same party as Mr. Crosland says :—

“Even among the wealthy classes the concentration of wealth in the upper layers is disturbing—200 companies out of 176,000 in Britain take more than a quarter of all profits A little over 1 % take 60% of the profits.”—(Reynolds News, 15/5/55.)

While Margaret Hall on “Monopoly Policy” in The British Economy (p. 422), says :—

“By the mid-twentieth century the concentration of economic power was accepted as the normal evolution of the advanced capitalist systems.”

So, in spite of the fact that, according to some of the new Fabians there has been a dispersal of wealth and economic power, there has been no dispersal in ownership. Neither has Mr. Crosland’s non-capitalist society altered the trends of the concentration of capital.

The Mixed Economy

The mixed economy, as it is called by “the new thinkers” to describe extant capitalism is supposed to be the British way of effecting a happy compromise between capitalism and Socialism. It is neither happy nor a compromise. Actually, over nine-tenths of manufacture, building, trade, and finance is privately owned and the remainder of State enterprise—power and railways—are themselves, as we have said, economic appendages to private enterprise. Even people like Mr. Morrison have never envisaged the mixed economy as more than a two-tenths State industry and eight-tenths private industry. Thus the mixed economy has a whisky and soda flavour. Mostly the spirit of private enterprise and a dash of nationalisation to take off the raw edge—but hardly a mixture.

Propaganda Value of the Managerial Society

The concept of a Managerial Society seeks to soft-peddle working class resentment and feeling in the struggles over the division of wealth. Now, the bloated, top-hatted, cigar-smoking capitalist of old-style Labour cartoons has been faded out. Instead we have managers who, though they seek profits, are really interested in the skills and techniques of management and who, unlike the capitalists, are workers, a special kind of worker, but still workers, and between one section of workers and other sections of workers there should be a general unanimity of interests, not conflict. Under the old capitalist society it was division and struggle. Under the managerial set-up it is, or should be, co-operation and collaboration, and if vide Mr. Crosland we might not be “all Socialist now,” we are at least all workers now.

In this way have the new Fabians presented the Managerial Society or, as they alternatively call it—British Socialism.

Leave a Reply