1960s >> 1969 >> no-776-april-1969

Ownership Means Control

The question of the ownership of the means of production has been, and continues to be, the most vital factor in any discussion of major social problems. Since capitalism rests upon a foundation of class ownership of the means of production, then the obvious solution to those problems (such as war, poverty and insecurity) inherent in the capitalist system is the establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership of the means of production, namely Socialism.

At various time, however, individuals and groups claiming to be socialist have put forward the view that not “ownership” but “control” is the vital issue. This is sheer confusion since they are trying to separate that which is really inseparable. Common ownership and democratic control go hand in hand; one is quite impossible without the other.

The reason for this attempt to pose the question of “control” against that of ownership would appear to lie in commonly held illusions as to the nature of the Russian revoution, and subsequent events in that and other countries that modelled themselves on the Russian example. If you think that the 1917 revolution was socialist, and by implication that the working class gained control of the state and transformed the means of production from class to common property, then it is not too difficult to understand why, on any examination of the subsequent dictatorship and repression, that resort should be made to the excuse of “bureaucratisation” and “administrative failures”, and attention diverted to ideas of workers’ control in the factory.

In fact, of course, far from being a Socialist revolution, it was the capitalist revolution or at least a phase of it, resultinging from the inability of the traditional bourgeoisie to carry through its historic task. The two essential pre-requisites of a socialist revolution were missing, namely an advanced level of technology and industrial development; and a majority of workers organised for the specific purpose of establishing Socialism. Despite industrial development in some of the larger towns Russia was largely a backward feudal economy. Some 80 per cent or more of the population were peasants, and of the small working class only a minority could have understood and desired the establishment of Socialism. The involvement of individuals or groups who may have understood and genuinely desired Socialism could not, and did not, change the role of the revolution, which was to completely break the political and economic influence of the Tsarist nobility, and develop capitalist industry in competition with the established capitalist powers as rapidly as possible.

Even had the Russian working class wanted Socialism, nobody should have expected the European working class to come to their rescue. Whilst the membership of and support for the European Social-Democratic parties was certainly on a mass scale, it had been gained not on a revolutionary, but on a reform, programme. What developed in Russia— which also was imposed upon Eastern Europe, and is developing to-day in China, Cuba, N. Vietnam and elsewhere —is, in fact, state capitalism.

When this is realised the question of “control” becomes much clearer, though it takes on a somewhat different meaning from that generally attached to it by the so-called left-wing. The capitalist class maintains its position of privilege through its control of the state (and not the other way around as some would have us believe). In Russia by far the larger part of the means of production are owned by the State, which is controlled by a political elite, carrying out the same functions as the traditional capitalist class of America and Europe, The important distinction is, that while in Britain and America the capitalist class own individually through the holding of stock, shares and bonds, in Russia the capitalist class owns collectively.

The task facing workers all over the world is the same: organisation along class lines for the overthrow of international capitalism and the establishment of a world Socialist society. The task of Socialists is clear. Since Socialism is a democratic society based upon voluntary work and co-operation, then its establishment and survival depends upon the conscious, organised action of the majority of the working class. On the economic front Socialists must do all in their power to encourage the development of democratic organisation and processes for the defence of workers wages and conditions. But more than this is needed: the organisation of a revolutionary Socialist party seeking understanding on the single issue of capitalism or Socialism, and reflecting the
 society it seeks to establish, by being completely under the control of the whole of its membership.

Mike Ballard