Book Review: ‘The Stagnant Society’

‘The Stagnant Society’, by Michael Shanks, by Michael Shanks. Penguin Books, 3s. 6d.

In case you should think from the title that this is a radical attack on the very basis of modern society, let us disillusion you right away. This is a sort of “Wake up Britain” book.

Mr. Shanks is very much concerned that Britain in the 1960s’ is losing the productivity race with other countries and is failing to compete successfully in world markets. A large chunk of the book is taken up with criticising the trade unions and urging them to mend their ways. Why don’t they co-operate with employers and government? Why don’t they put an end to wildcat strikes? Why don’t they tighten up on organisation, etc? Look at the following extract from page 102, for example:—

    “. . . I want to see it [the T.U. Movement] play a much more forceful and positive role in helping to make Britain more dynamic and more efficient . . . They [the Trade Unions] have got to find a new dynamic to replace the old fading appeal to working-class solidarity and negative opposition to the ‘bosses’.”

In 236 pages, the author sweeps across the post-war industrial field and skims blithely over one problem after another. Labour relations, financial policy, government planning, export drives, labour mobility—they are all here, and many more besides. And having waded through to the bitter end, what does it all amount to but a plan for the smoother operation of British Capitalism? “If we are in competition with manufacturers overseas,” he says, “the solution is not to move out of their way but to make ourselves more efficient and competitive than they are . . . Planning should be aimed at promoting expansion and not avoiding competition.”

Do not be misled either by the short publisher’s note on the back cover, with its vague references to “class divisions.” This book is not an attack on a class-divided society. It is really only an appeal for co-operation between the classes “in the national interest” which Mr. Shanks fondly labels as a “breaking down of class barriers.” Capitalist ownership of the means of life — the barrier — he does not question. We have, of course, heard it all many times before.

Perhaps you should read The Stagnant Society. It will possibly give you an insight into current misconceptions about the Capitalist World—that’s if you don’t die of boredom halfway through it. We understand this is Michael Shanks’ first book. We regret we cannot recommend it for an honoured place on a Socialist bookshelf.

E. T. C.

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