K. Michaels

On Our Programme

(February 1954)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 3 No. 6, February 1954, pp. 6–8.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

For some time now the Socialist Review has been running a twelve-point programme on its back page. This issue will initiate a series of articles devoted to their amplification.

1. The complete nationalization of heavy industry, the banks, insurance and the land

In Britain only 20 per cent, of industry is nationalized; 80 per cent, is still in the hands of private capitalists who are caught up in the anarchy of a world market. If conditions should change, if e.g., there should be a world recession this year, its effect would be immediately felt in the private sector of the economy, the sector competing in the world markets, and the nationalized sector would be exposed by the ebb of recession even here, in Britain. If for example, the world slump which even Eisenhower is predicting, were to cut our motor-car exports, it would cut steel production and cut the demand for nationalized coal and railway services. Unemployment started in the one sector would inevitably spread to the others.

Partial nationalization is a bad insurance risk, the only way of protecting British workers even to a limited degree from the jerky starts and stops of world supply and demand, and of the attendant fluctuations in employment, is by full nationalization.

Full nationalization with central planning will enable us to offset the chance effects of fluctuating markets by adapting our production to fit them, by stimulating home demand when world demand falls off and so on. Only full nationalization will give us the necessary scope for manoeuvring in this manner.

Full nationalization is also a defence against the sabotage practised against the nationalized sector by the British capitalists themselves. In 1951 the Labour Government fell, ostensibly because of a balance of payments crisis: Britain was buying too much overseas and selling too little. Not exporting sufficient to pay for imports, the country had to pay with its precious gold reserves to the tune of £344 million. At the time the rise in the price of imports was blamed; nobody thought of paging through the capitalists books to see if there was any other reason.

Statistics just published by the government show things up in their true light. Import prices did indeed begin to rise. The capitalists got jittery and lost “confidence” in the government. Their immediate, spontaneous reaction was to smuggle their capital abroad in the guise of an overseas investment of £315 million and lay up tremendous stocks worth £610 million – all of this was done despite the Labour Government’s control of capital exports and of home investments and against the express wishes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One third of the combined total for stockpiling and capital flight would have sufficed to save the gold and keep the Labour Government in office; one third that could not have been hidden had the Capitalists not been in control of 80 per cent of the economy.

We need full nationalization more to protect us against the sabotage of British capitalism and its self-induced “scares” even more than we need it to partially neutralize the effects of an anarchic world market.

Then the industries that were chosen for nationalization couldn’t have been worse picked. All of them were deficit industries, heavily in debt, before nationalization. By nationalizing these only, while at the same time paying huge sums to their former owners in the form of compensation, the Labour Party leadership saddled the workers with a load of taxation which could have been better spent on Health, Education and other Social Services and incidentally provided the Tories with a good propaganda gag: “look, private industry is consistently making a profit, the nationalized sector is running at a loss. There should be no more nationalization if we want to prevent British industry from going to the dogs.” The Tories, nevertheless, don’t seem to want to denationalize completely. They realize full well that even private ownership couldn’t produce profits out of thin air. Only under full nationalization will the public sector show a profit and will this profit accrue to the public.

2. The renationalization without compensation of all de-nationalized industries

In 1953 road haulage made a profit of £7 million. Steel made a profit. When Tories see profits they assume that they are theirs – they denationalize. Denationalization turned Transport’s profit into a loss and in the event provided British Transport with the battery of excuses which were used to counter the N.U.R.’s demands for a living wage, until the N.U.R. took matters into its own hands and threatened unlimited strike. When that dreaded phrase was heard – the battle slogan of an angry proletariat – the Transport Commission knuckled under.

Renationalization without compensation will teach the Tories and their capitalist bosses a lesson that they’ll never forget. Until to-day they can well be excused for thinking that the nationalization presents no threat to the capitalist system, on the contrary it seems as if it makes the system work even better than it ever did. For the Tories, the lead given by the Labour Party leadership was, if not a step in the right direction, at least not a step in the wrong one, although to Tory thinking the Labour Party leadership was regrettably extreme on occasion. One thing gives the Tory his sense of security – the Labour Party leadership, because of its reformist character, accepts capitalist society and does not seek beyond it, Socialism for it is capitalism with a slightly working-class twist. When it comes to the things that matter, such as the recognition of the private ownership of the social tools, the Tories can rely on the Labour Party leadership not to deviate from the Tory line.

Only by renationalization without compensation can we show what divides us in principle, irrevocably, from the Tories: social tools belong to society. We recognize no individual’s rights to the exclusive ownership of the social means of production and to the enjoyment of their products.

From what has been said above it is clear that a socialist opposing private ownership of social wealth, of necessity opposes the payment of compensation for nationalised or renationalized industry. Except for small savings, which a socialist government would not infringe, the property of the rich must be taken without any compensation. To nationalize deficit industries and pay huge compensation, means actually to secure profit for the property owners who had hitherto lacked security. Why should the mass of the people give secure profits to those parasites who exploited the working class for generations? During the slump the capitalist government imposed a means test on the unemployed. This was a cruel and oppressive measure. But there would be nothing cruel in imposing a property test on property owners, assuring the small owners, let us say people with £1,000 savings, of complete security for the savings they amassed, perhaps with difficulty, while preventing the rich from living without working.

Last updated on 16 February 2017