David Breen

“Power at the Top”

(May 1959)

From Socialist Review, 9th Year No. 9, Mid-May 1959, p. 6.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive
Thanks to Ted Crawford.

If nationalization in Britain has not brought socialism, it has certainly brought into focus the basic issue – control. We know that we own the mines, railways, etc., in theory. Of course, they’re nationalized. But who controls them? This is the nub; it is a question that hasn’t been answered in great detail.

True, we’ve always been able to show that nationalization has not meant workers’ control; that it has meant fat compensation for the ex-owners who have invested their salvaged capital in more profitable lines. We have shown that big (private) business benefits from special tariffs and subsidies paid for by workers in the nationalized industries.


But we have never traced exactly the myriad links connecting private and nationalized industry (nor shown in detail the mechanism of control whereby the giants of British capitalism impose their will on the workings of the state-owned sectors.

This Clive Jenkins has now done in Power at the Top, A Critical Survey of the Nationalised Industries (MacGibbon and Kee, 21s). It is a simple book, not much more than a glorified list of the members of boards of nationalized industries, their private interests and their interconnexions. The world it reveals needs knowing.

Of the 13 members of the British Transport Commission’s Board, 7 are company directors; of the 6 each on the Southern Area and Western Area Boards, 5 in each case are company directors. The position is similar in other nationalized industries as can be seen from the master table on pp. 41–44.


And what directors! Take BOAC’s board as an example. There is J.G.R. D’Erlanger, CBE, ACA (part-time chairman), Vice- Chairman of Erlangers Ltd., Chairman of City and International Trust Ltd., Director of EBE Holdings (No. 1) Ltd., Chairman of Forestal Land, Timber & Railway Co. Ltd., Director of Forestal Provident Trust Co., General Consolidated Investment Trust Ltd., John Mackintosh & Sons Ltd., Pauling & Co. Ltd., Vice-Chairman of Provident Mutual Life Assurance Association Ltd., and Chairman of Richard Hawarth & Co. (Holdings) Ltd.

Then there are J.W. Booth, Sir John Stephenson, CBE, JP, Sir Francis Brake, MIEE, Lord Tweedsmuir, OBE, LLD, and Major-General Lord Rennell, of Rodd, KBE, CB, all of whom are part-time members of the Board and who hold between them 29 directorships.

Jenkins’ picture is, however, not entirely a who’s who of British capitalists in “public service.” He shows how the Tory government has been used consistently to make nationalized industry more sensitive to the demands of big business. Whether through skimming off the cream of air traffic for the benefit of private operators, or decentralizing the railway organization, the Tories have made nationalized industry a thorough-going extension of the mighty monopolies, a meeting – and market-place for them.

Jenkins has done a good job of compilation, classification and description. It is only when we come to the broader social analysis and to the necessary programmatic conclusions that we find confusion.


He rejects capitalist control, but refuses to consider workers’ control. He shows clearly how the State and the experts are celluloid and rubber executives of capitalism, yet attributes to them independent status and initiative in his vague hints at a differently organized Britain.

Power at the Top is, notwithstanding, an invaluable handbook for socialists and for workers in nationalized industry. Socialist propagandists will find in it explosive material for every occasion.

A final note to the publishers: why the skimpy index? The value of the book rises with the number of references workers can readily find to their own neighbouring firm.

Last updated on 16 February 2017