1970s >> 1971 >> no-797-january-1971

After nationalisation

A short time ago, when the Tories decided to kick out Lord Hall, Labour’s appointed Chairman of the Post Office, there was a series of strikes and demonstrations by Postal workers. The Press of course glorified in presenting this as issued by the telephone engineers ‘explained’, “We are not loyalty, even if mis-placed, to their boss, but as a leaflet a Lord Hall Fan Club . . .” They were really worried that this move pushed through by Chataway was indicative of other changes in the Post Office that they felt might threaten Union organisation and employment prospects.

Presumably in an effort to gain public support for their action the same leaflet was prominently headed “Hands Off. . . . Britain’s telephones belong to you’’, referring to the Tory plans to de-nationalise certain profitable sectors of State industry. The idea that industry should be run for the benefit of the community, instead of a small group of investors, is some advance in political thinking, but its attempted expression in support for nationalisation is in fact self-defeating, since none of the fundamental relationships in private industry are changed by nationalisation and all the old problems remain. One of the reasons some workers support nationalisation is that they falsely identify the capitalist state with the interests of the community as a whole. Their nationalisation is still stronger than class consciousness. The break-up of existing nationalised industries, would not be an advance, and might cause some dislocation and redundancy which justify the workers involved opposing such measures without their deceiving themselves as to the real nature of the organisation and ownership of the nationalised industries.

Failure of nationalisation (whether partial as in this country, or almost total as in Russia) to prevent competition, insecurity, destitution and other ills affecting workers has made some of its one-time advocates disillusioned and apathetic whilst others have searched for explanations and new formulas to apply. Emerging from this has been a renewed and extended interest in ‘Workers’ Control’ and ‘Workers’ Self-Management’. This is against the grain of both national Bolshevik and Social-Democrat organisation and politics but it is still not a solution, it too will fail to deliver the expected results.

It is essential for socialists to show how these developments point to the practicability and need for Socialism. It would be irresponsible, however, to advocate either nationalisation or workers’ control in the name of “developing consciousness through struggle” as so many self-proclaimed revolutionaries do. To associate with the particular reforms demanded is to be associated with their failure. Since measures such as ‘nationalisation’ and ‘workers’ control,” although originally in the working class, are generally only enacted to the extent and in such a way that they benefit the capitalists, by supporting these measures socialists would be helping to delude our fellow workers into thinking that real gains had been made. When the coal mines were nationalised, the miners believed that a great victory had been won, the capitalist politicians thought otherwise. It took a lot of redundancies, wage reductions and strikes to convince the miners of the true position.

Democratic control over industry and society as a whole can only be achieved by the abolition of the capital-wage-labour relationship, by making all the world’s resources the common property of mankind. Anything short of this is at best a palliative, at worst a total failure even proving detrimental to workers’ interests.

Michael Bradley