Michael Kidron

Tory ‘Planning’

(December 1961)

From Socialist Review, [11th Year No. 11,] December 1961, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It is futile to suggest – as is often done in the labour movement – that the Tories are incapable of some form of national planning, or that capitalism must necessarily buck or block it. The massive concentration of capital inherent in the system, which allows 100 top firms to receive one-third of all profits in industry; the growth in economic importance of the state which now takes one-third of gross national product in taxes; the complete interdependence of the state and private economies, particularly, but not only, in the war industries; the shortage of labour resulting from the arms-sustained boom, have already imposed a rudimentary form of planning.

This finds expression as much in concrete projects, such as the Iron and Steel Federation’s Plan for Steel or the Transport Commission’s ten year modernization plan for British Railways, as in the shift of economic studies from micro-economics (price, the firm, marginalism, consumer studies) to macro-economics (national income analysis and the battery of concepts known, loosely, as Keynesianism).

As capitalist Britain edges towards cartel-Europe the pressures for planning the necessary adjustments – killing off some industries, fattening others, shifting the direction of trade, linking Britain and European capital, coordinating legal systems, and so on are becoming greater. Selwyn Lloyd’s National Economic Development Council is only one straw in the wind. There will be more, and it is for the labour movement to clarify its attitude towards them. One thing must be clear from the start. Whatever the form capitalist planning takes it can never be more then a very primitive, partial and highly irrational affair. There are a number of reasons for this.

Capitalism can exist only if there is a strictly-defined function for the ruling class to exercise, namely the control over investment. This is not to say that the class as a whole takes common decisions on the matter. On the contrary, except in time of war or other major crises investment is presided over in an uncoordinated way by different sections of the class dispersed throughout the economy. The only way they have of telling what investment policy they should adopt – whether more or less, in this form of production or that – is generally [?] by reference to actual and ?????al competition amongst themselves. Competition – the ‘anarchy of the market in Marx’s phrase – and the ???ersal [the ??? are covered by the remains of a 2 #189;d stamp! – RK] of investment decisions that implies are vital to the system, so vital as to make full capitalist planning a contradiction in terms.

But not all planning is ruled out of court. The more severe the competition the greater the need for concentrating capital into larger (and fewer) units in order to compete, the easier it becomes to coordinate between the units as against an alliance of competitors elsewhere and the more does this coordination appear necessary to the hitherto warring segments within each national or even supra-national sphere. The process is fraught with complexities. No one will deny the ferocity of military and economic competition between East and West. Yet a glance at the strenuous bargaining between British and Franco-German capital about the conditions of the former’s entry into cartel-Europe is enough to realize how difficult it is to attain even minimum collaboration between different centres of capital and that under maximum pressure. And what goes on a European scale goes within each national unit.

There is another, ultimately more important limitation on capitalist planning. For capital, labour is a factor of production; no more, no less. It has to be planned for like any other. But workers are more than hands, as capital finds out to its annoyance in its day to day activities. In much the same way as planning is constantly upset because relations between centres of capital cannot be planned within the system, so relations between capital and labour are fundamentally unstable and resist a rigid mould.

Not that capital does not give it a good try. ‘Profit sharing’, tame union bosses, the encouragement of class collaborationist ideas (‘both sides of industry must pull together’; wage pause and dividend freeze can together ‘save sterling’ and so on) are all invoked to spread the illusion of common interest, common assumptions and therefore the possibility of long-term harmony. But so long as workers are robbed of responsibility for running industry, capital cannot hope for lasting success. And its planning, as always occurs when planning is divorced from mass participation and initiative remains a bureaucratically conceived, imposed and irrational half-measure.

Nonetheless, the labour movement needs a policy; and none need it more than the small minority of revolutionary socialists. Very broadly, such a policy would require to include two major elements.

First, we cannot reject planning. To do so would be to deny one characteristic – a major one at that – of a contemporary system which enjoys the acquiescence of an overwhelming majority of the working class. As the system becomes more closely administered, it is up to the labour movement’s organizations to transfer their reformist activities to that administration and pay less single-minded attention to dying parliamentary institutions. The change from exclusive involvement in such institutions, which in any case are becoming steadily less meaningful in gaining improvements for workers within the system, to involvement in those which count might even save the reformist soul of our mass organizations from withering away utterly. Whatever the case, if the prime function of the trade unions and Labour Party is to get ‘more’, let them ask for it and fight for it where it is most likely to be found, in the administration, the new Development Council or wherever, and not in the draughty void of Westminster.

We must advocate this shift in emphasis. But we cannot, obviously, be satisfied with this as our only or indeed our prime role. After all, our justification is the revolutionary potential of the working class to effect a change in society, and our activity must be geared to actualizing this potential. As association with capitalist planning corrupts the reformist organizations – and it inevitably will – our work must concentrate more and more on breaking the ideology of class collaboration and embodying the ideas and reality of class struggle in organizations that can never be wholly absorbed within the new, all-embracing, administered capitalism: in shop-stewards committees, rank-and-file movements and such like. These are the badly-policed, imperfectly-‘ pacified’ areas of capital’s empire. Increasingly they should become our strongholds as other areas of open opposition and conflict tend to be smothered in the administrative machinery of capitalist planning.

Last updated on 18 February 2017