Bismarck’s Communist Heirs

In the eighteen-seventies Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany, went in for a big programme of nationalization, both because it suited the needs of the German ruling class and because he hoped thereby to win support among German workers who confused this state capitalism with Socialism. As Bismarck said to his Conservative supporters in the Reichstag, they “shouldn’t be afraid of the word Socialism”. Reformists all over the world walked into the trap and in Britain propaganda misrepresenting nationalization as Socialism was carried on by the Fabians, the Independent Labour Party and the Labour Party. Only the Socialist Party of Great Britain, from its formation in 1904, urged the workers not to waste their efforts on something so useless to them and to the Socialist movement. The advocates of nationalization made all sorts of extravagant claims for it – higher wages, greater efficiency, lower prices, and that as the workers would feel that they were working “for the community” strikes would disappear.

Time has shown how right the S.P.G.B. was. No government, Liberal, Tory or Labour, has ever supported the policy of paying the workers in nationalized industries more than the general level of wages. When, under the Wilson Labour government, enquiries were made into the industries with large numbers of low-paid workers, central and local government workers and workers in the nationalized industries showed up no better than private industry and in some cases they came out very unfavourably. Strikes continued and in some years (1966 for example) the days lost through strikes in the nationalized industries were nearly as many as in the rest of industry put together.

Bismarck’s policy was written about by Frederick Engels in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific:

    “But of late, since Bismarck went in for state ownership of nationalised industrial establishments, a kind of spurious Socialism has arisen, degenerating now and again into something of a flunkeyism, that without more ado declares all state ownership, even of the Bismarckian sort, to be socialistic.” (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific; Moscow, 1970, page 70)

Engels went on to point out that state ownership “does not do away with the capitalist nature of the productive forces . . . The workers remain wage-workers – proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with.”

One of the people who fell for Bismarck’s “spurious Socialism” was Lenin. In his The State and Revolution (1917) he had this to say:

    “A witty German Social Democrat of the seventies of the last century called the Postal Service an example of the Socialist economic system. This is very true.” (Central Books edition 1972 based on the 1969 edition published in Moscow. Page 47)

It was in this section of The State and Revolution that Lenin urged the Russian workers that what they needed was to apply the German Post Office model to Russian industry, but with all official, technicians etc. to be paid “a workman’s wages”. Like the British nationalized industries under Tory and Labour government all idea of avoiding the ordinary wide inequalities of pay has long since been abandoned in Russia.

Following Lenin’s advocacy of “spurious Socialism”, the British Communist Party has continued to mislead the workers by telling them to waste their efforts on securing an extension of state capitalism.

Edgar Hardcastle

Leave a Reply