First Published: Marxist-Leninist Quarterly No. 11, 1976
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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The C.F.B. (M.L.) National Committee policy statement on nationalisation of 26.10.75 is diverting in its presentation, confusing in its conclusions and academic in its analysis. Most importantly it fails completely in the test of its ability to provide a guide for action to revolutionaries and the working class that they strive to lead in the ideological, political and organisational struggle to overthrow capitalism.
It is hoped that any policy statements of the C.F.B. will be critically examined by “reformists, revisionists and Trotskyists”; by definition it is almost inevitable that people who currently operate under these headings are the ones whom we aim to convince of the correctness of the analysis and action of Marxism-Leninism. That aim is hampered by the type of presentation used by the NC in its policy statement on Nationalisation. Unsubstantiated statements like “and oppose the reformist policies of Labour’s ’hangers on’ – the revisionists and Trotskyists – who support British capitalism, do nothing to improve the central theme of the line being presented and can only provide ammunition to the enemies of Marxism-Leninism. The whole policy statement is riddled with similar statements, and consequently will direct discussion into a variety of areas but the central one of Nationalisation. The presentation could also lead readers to totally discard it and the organisation who produced it as being an irrelevance.
The confusion in the conclusions of the statement is best illustrated by quoting from it.
Any support for specific acts of Nationalisation can only arise out of concrete investigation and must be secondary to our principal task of ideological and political opposition to bourgeois socialism.
Does that mean that on occasions ’concrete investigation’ will be contrary to the ideological and political position of the National Committee? As critics of the NC line we would claim, and hope to show, that indeed is the case. For the NC itself to make that admission when submitting its line is to say the least confusing. Similarly confusion is apparent when the statement says: “It is irrelevant to the real interests of the working people of Britain whether profits are in private or state hands.” Is the NC trying to say that on occasions “concrete investigation” will show that there will be instances when the question of whether profits are in private or state hands is relevant to the British working class? If the committee does consider that on occasions it has a relevance for the class, and presumably on these specific occasions the committee would support the call for Nationalisation, then they should say so and give examples of where they consider this support should be given. If the NC considers that there could be no occasion on which they could support Nationalisation – as the slogans they advance imply – then they should say that and not confuse things by such statements as:
We must differentiate between the General policy of Nationalisation and Specific acts of Nationalisation.
One of the results of the academicism of the analysis is shown in its confusion. It talks of ’concrete investigation’ and completely fails to apply it either in ascertaining the political basis for the demands for Nationalisation that exist in the working class, or in establishing the economic and political criterion that would exist in those ’specific acts’ of Nationalisation that the NC could support. That however is only one of the errors due to the academic approach. The whole statement fails to relate to the problems of the working class because it fails to examine in concrete terms the political implications of the struggles within the working class movement based upon the history of the demands for Nationalisation, the material reasons for the support that exists, and the contradictions that the demands create in the ranks of the ruling class. The statement of the NC appears to be based solely on the premise that all campaigns that do not have as its central theme the smashing of the Bourgeois state are of no consequence to the working class and are objectively the tools of the bourgeoisie. We say that it appears to be the premise because the diversionary method and confusing statements make it difficult to deduce the concrete reasons that the concluding slogans are based on. If we are correct in this assumption then it is necessary that the NC demonstrates concretely that there is no material benefit for workers in the existing nationalised industries and that any extension of nationalisation can lead only in one direction – that is the greater exploitation of the working class and the consolidation of the strength of the Bourgeoisie. Within this it is therefore incumbent on the NC to show that the working class would be strengthened and the bourgeoisie weakened if the already nationalised industries were returned to private ownership. The academic approach of the ’policy statement’ is also illustrated in its failure to recognise the inter-relationship between campaigns for nationalisation and specific demands for jobs and conditions; it fails to take into account or understand the material basis for the support for nationalisation in the ranks of the working class movement. Marxism-Leninism is not an abstract theory that attempts to impose a dogma on all situations. It is a guide to action based on a dialectical method of historical and materialist understanding.
As a guide to action the policy statement fails completely. Because of its own inability to recognise the basis for the support that exists for nationalisation and consequently its failure to examine that basis, the N.C. is totally unable in its statement to show how in the present crisis the demands and activities of the working class can be utilised to build a movement armed with a Marxist-Leninist perspective capable of taking on and defeating capitalism in its entirety. The only conclusion that the N.C. can draw is that the working class must not “beg the Bourgeoisie to save their jobs” but must increase their militancy. What does the statement say as a way forward for the class. “Not nationalisation but the right to work! Opposition to the sack based on factory occupations, resistance to redundancies and short time working, solidarity strikes etc.” Leaving aside the underlying arrogance of the equating of working class campaigns with begging from the Bourgeoisie, we can see that the only direction that the N.C. can give is to call for an intensification of the type of activities that the working class have undertaken ever since its creation. Class struggle is a fact of class divided life. Militancy is a necessary ingredient in that class struggle and an ingredient frequently displayed by the working class of the whole capitalist world. Is the National Committee claiming that the lack of revolutionary advance in Britain is due only to lack of militancy? The statement says that the development of that militancy will help the working class develop. “With Marxist-Leninist leadership, a consciousness of the power that they have, will help them to develop the independent, revolutionary fighting spirit needed for the eventual overthrow of the capitalist system.” Nowhere in the N.C. statement is this essential ingredient of ’Marxist Leninist leadership’ described nor is it explained how it is to be established in the struggles surrounding the issue of nationalisation. A partisan commitment to Marxism-Leninism, parodied with a presentation put forward without analysis and with no concrete examination of the relevant issues will not achieve leadership for the revolutionary forces, but will only increase the confusion existing in the movement and multiply the sacrifices to be made by the class in the struggle to overthrow capitalism.
The tasks of the Communists however are not exhausted by political agitation on the economic field; their task is to convert trade union politics into the Communist political consciousness which gleam in the minds of the workers during their economic struggle for the purpose of raising them to the level of Communist political consciousness.
In the current situation of capitalism’s economic crisis and its developing breakdown of political institution, a fundamental aspect of the work of Marxist-Leninists is the development in the working class movement of an understanding of the composition, the purpose and role of the whole bourgeois state apparatus. The present debate and demands surrounding the issues of nationalisation present us with an arena where the nature of the state can be demonstrated in practical terms and where the necessity of, and methods needed for the overthrow of that state can be shown. However that task will not be fulfilled if, as the N.C. statement advocates, we restrict our activities to ’touch line shouting’ and do not immerse ourselves in the movement to the extent of discovering the aspects of the demands that are positive in that they reflect a material desire on the part of the working class for concrete changes in the running of industry that will benefit them in conditions of work and job security. We will be an irrelevance in these struggles if we work from the premise that the movement will arrive at an evaluation of the state common to our own spontaneously, and without the experience of struggle for demands that show in practice the correctness of Lenin’s ’State and Revolution’.
The economic struggles for jobs and conditions are increasingly becoming an overt expression of political struggle as more and more industry is showing under its criteria of maximisation of profit, its inability to provide jobs or the goods necessary to maintain living standards. In this situation the demand for nationalisation is an expression of the rejection of the private ownership of the means of production and in that sense is indeed “a flash of political consciousness gleaming in the eye of workers.” The N.C. should recognise that “flash of consciousness” and not relegate it to something of no consequence as it does when it says “ownership is a formal question, which can take many forms.” Another “flash of political consciousness” included in the campaign for nationalisation is the understanding of the superiority of a planned centrally directed industry over that where competition and anarchy reigns supreme. That aspect is one that the N.C. should attempt to utilise and maximise into one of opposition to the whole system of determining production by market forces, and not ignore, as it does in its policy statement. Nowhere does the N.C. recognise the inevitability of the development of Capitalism into monopoly capitalism and state monopoly capitalism, and neither does the recognition emerge that state monopoly capitalism has many of the ingredients of a Socialist economy, i.e. the planned centrally directed use of resources.
State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but it contains within itself the formal means, the key to the solution.
The flash of political consciousness that gleams in the eye of the N.C. when it rejects, “the equation of nationalisation with socialism, the description of’ the Labour Party as a working class party and the demand for nationalisation as a means of making inroads into the capitalist state”, unfortunately seems to have blinded them to the positive aspects of the campaign for nationalisations amongst the working class movement and to the contradictions that are demonstrated in a practical way in the ranks of the ruling class, and their political legislators at Westminster. This point can best be illustrated by examination of industries that are at the moment the focus of attention of debate ’in the broad working class movement and are the subject of state financial aid either by direct nationalisation. Through the auspices of the National Enterprise Board, (N.E.B.) under the guidance of Sir Don Ryder.
The proposals of the Labour Government for the nationalisation of the aircraft industry are an excellent example of how we can co-ordinate the positive aspects of the demands of aircraft workers with a campaign to show the class nature of the state and at the same time expose the Labour Government for not only being an arm of Monopoly Capital but also as an enemy of the many working class people who worked for its return and fought through the Labour Party machine for the adoption of policies consistent with the demands of the aircraft workers.
The Government plans for the aircraft industry only include the nationalisation of three firms. Hawker Siddeley, British Aircraft Corporation’ and Scottish Aviation. The other sectors such as Westland Helicopters, Rolls Royce, Dunlop Aviation, Lucas Aero Space, etc. are omitted, as are all the sub-contractors and suppliers of the industry. It is easily demonstrated that the proposals are irrational when judged against the criteria of a planned centrally directed industry and also that with in the proposals is no challenge to the private ownership of large profitable sections, though undoubtedly they will continue to reap the benefits of the research and development costs borne by the state. It is also common knowledge in the industry that plans are being developed for its re-organisation and rationalisation that will result in massive attacks upon jobs. Along with this the ’authorities’ are hoping to erect ’worker participation’ schemes to better facilitate their plans.
In this situation it is objectively simple for Communists to demonstrate the class character and control of the state and also to use the fertile ground provided by the Government proposals to develop an industry-wide movement geared to fight for jobs and conditions. In the concrete conditions of the industry we have to advance slogans and initiate campaigns for its complete nationalisation, to work for a grass roots organisation committed to use its industrial strength against any sackings and attacks on working conditions. Also for us to initiate and investigation and publicity for schemes of production that could utilise the plant and. skills of the industry for the benefit of the people as opposed to that of the monopoly capitalist state. In doing this we will be able to gel our perspective with the positive demands of the workers and begin to build the type of understanding and movement required to overthrow capitalist and its state.
The Labour Party captures whenever it can, the feelings of many of the working class, and twists them in the interests of the bourgeoisie. For example; take the slogan “Public accountability for public money”. They have used this demand to try and foist on the working class schemes of class collaboration under the guise of ’worker participation’ and ’industrial democracy’. We must do the opposite.
The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class, but in the movement of the present they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.
Similarly if we look at the motor car industry we can recognise the positive aspects of the demand that the state provides security of jobs. This demand is not one of “begging the bourgeoisie” for jobs as portrayed by the N.C. but one of asserting that the class that provides all the wealth of society has the right to demand of that society the right to work. In our support of that aspect of the campaign we can easily demonstrate in a very practical way that the state is not a neutral overseer of the affairs between the employer and employed, but is the tool of the whole employing class. Also in the motor car industry (as indeed in aircraft, shipbuilding, oil docks, etc.) is the call for nationalisation without compensation. When this is associated with the whole industry the opportunities for advance in working class consciousness and organisation, and the intensification of contradictions in the ruling class are enormous. This industry with its sub-contractors and suppliers, with its overseas investments and its American penetration here in Britain employs over a million workers. The call for complete nationalisation without compensation directs the campaign at large areas of finance capital and at U.S. Imperialism’s holdings in Britain. It is an essential part of the job of Marxist-Leninists to do the investigation to provide the facts and demonstrate the size of the task that such a campaign sets itself. In such a situation Communists cannot stand aside and shout ’Socialism’ from the side lines, but they have to listen to the demands of the class, recognise the material conditions from which the demands have emerged and attempt to demonstrate that in fighting for jobs, against speed ups and for higher wages and by linking these demands to ’nationalisation without compensation’ the working class are placing demands on Monopoly Capital and its state that it cannot provide. In this way we begin to play a part in the recognition by the working class that class struggle alone, albeit waged with great militancy and courage, is not sufficient to bring into being the conditions of work and the richness of life for which the ambitions of the class sparked off the very struggles in which they are engaged. Immersed in these struggles in the way described, we can help to extend class struggle into the arena of the recognition that it is the overall control of the employer that has to be defeated. It is the state machine that has to be smashed.
Again the demands for the nationalisation of the oil industry included in the Labour Party manifesto have the positive aspects already mentioned in other industries and also allows us to deepen the exposure of Social Democracy in office by contrasting the Manifesto with the proposals of the Wilson Government for 51% control with massive compensation to the multi-nationals. If we are to do this successfully we need to associate ourselves with those in the Trade Unions and Labour Party who fought for the inclusion of the demand in the programme of the Labour Government. This shows us as being on their side in the struggle for democracy in the Labour movement and with them in their recognition that a Socialist Britain will need a centrally controlled and co-ordinated power industry. In that association we can demonstrate in a way and in an arena that ensures we are listened to, that the struggle for workers power cannot be waged by legislation, no matter how progressive at Westminster, in the Council House, Scottish or Welsh Assemblies, or by reliance on Social Democratic methods and programmes no matter how well intentioned. We can show in practical campaigns and by the analysis we draw from them, that to achieve our mutually desired goal – a Socialist Britain – the working class will have to take control of its own industry with its own methods and will have to run it with its own criteria and institutions if employment, conditions and social usefulness are to be extended,
Communists must never separate themselves from the majority of the people or neglect them by leading only a few progressive contingents in an isolated and rash advance, but must take care to forge close links between the progressive elements and the broad masses, This is what is meant by thinking in terms of the majority.
No one in the C.F.B. would argue that nationalisation is a step towards socialism or that extensive nationalisation would mean that Socialism had arrived. Nevertheless it is unfortunate that the N.C. neglected to demonstrate this in a concrete manner by an examination, however brief, of the situation in the already nationalised industries. An examination along these lines strengthens tremendously the contention that programmes advanced by reformists and revisionists no matter how radical in content, remain mere words unless they are associated with the need for independent working class struggle directed against the centre of capitalist power -the bourgeois state. The experiences of the nationalised industries show this aspect of the politics of the C.F.B. as clearly as any. Massive compensation paid to the former owners, the supply of cheap energy and other facilities to private manufacturing industry, the salaries and conditions enjoyed by Chairmen and ’industrial relations men’ of the industries, compared to the other employees, the output per man figures and the massive redundancies in rail, road, steel and electricity supply, the way that successive governments have used nationalised industries as wage policy proving grounds etc. etc. These and numerous other examples (and every industry has its own particular story to tell) demonstrate in a practical way that the class character of an industry is determined by the class that owns and runs the state. The reasons why the various representatives of the bourgeoisie have found it necessary to nationalise certain industries are correctly identified in the opening few sentences of the N.C. resolution. Capital will invest only where it can achieve a maximum return, and British manufacturing industry has practically ceased to attract any finance capital. Similarly research and development costs that in modern industry are increasingly expensive but necessary for survival, do not attract capital because the time scale as well as the rate of profit is too slow. The state is forced to intervene in certain industries and provides the necessary funds for the continuation of those industries due to the overall needs of the state as opposed to the particular aims of individual sections of capital.
Details of already nationalised industries are essential tools for Marxist-Leninists in the struggle to build a movement, based on the current state and consciousness of the working class, capable of overthrowing capitalism. It is necessary for us, in our campaigns in the motor and aircraft industries etc. to build support within the current campaigns for nationalisation, for multi-Industry, multi-union organisation to oppose sackings, speed ups and wage cuts, to be able to show concretely the effects of state ownership on workers who saw nationalisation as an end in itself. The coal industry is a prime example of this. We have to be capable of explaining how and why for example there were 710,000 miners working for the N.C.B. in 1957, 401,000 in 1967 and 264,000 in 1973; why since 1947 almost 7,000 miners have been killed at work, over 32,000 seriously injured at work and many thousands more have choked to death with pneumonoconiosis.
Also we can show that during the period of nationalisation output per man shift has increased from 21.85 cwt. to 42.06 in 1971/72. These facts alone demonstrate the efficiency of nationalisation compared to the old private owners, and at the same time the ruthless disregard for conditions and lives displayed by both. These are the types of facts so necessary for us to have, both to substantiate any analysis and policy statement and at the same time, provide the basis for a guide to action. If the N.C. continues to deal in abstract formulations as used in its statement on nationalisation then it will finish up talking only to itself. 
If Marxist-Leninists are to-involve themselves in the struggles of the working class (and, if they don’t do that there can be no more reason for their existence than there is for the Oxford Union Debating Society) they must acquaint themseIves with the specific, problems of the class and an ability to recognise all aspects of a question. A ready made formula, applied dogmatically to any situation is not the method of that living science, Marxism-Leninism. Unfortunately the N.C policy statement on nationalisation has all the marks of such a dogmatic approach.
The future for the working class movement in Britain however is not so bleak as the plea for militancy of the N.C. would indicate. There have been tremendous struggles by the working class for the right to work, to the extent that today not even the most economistic, or reformist Trade Union Official can openly side with the ’employer’, on a redundancy issue. This level of consciousness, in the class was first demonstrated in the mid 50’s in the tremendous struggles of the Midland car workers against the proposed redundancies. Those struggles, for the first time, established the right to worksharing as opposed to the sack.
The struggles of the French and Italian working class, with the development of ’sit ins’, and factory occupations have taught lessons from U.C.S. to Fisher Bendix. The massive demonstration for the Right to Work on November the 26th, against the Labour Government and against the advice of the T.U.C. General Council demonstrated a readiness to fight. All this is not to say that the working class movement is not still gripped with the politics of reformism and gradualism, but it does demonstrate that the conditions for revolutionary advance are emerging if only revolutionaries can find the methods and analyses necessary to aid that advance. Unfortunately the N.C. policy statement does not.
No political party can possibly lead a great revolutionary movement to victory unless it possesses a revolutionary theory and a knowledge of history and has a profound grasp of the political movement.
 Lenin ’What Is To Be Done?’ (Though in the original text Lenin uses the term ’Social Democratic’ in 1975 it is more politically accurate to use the word Communist.
 Engels ’Anti-Duhring’.
 No reference supplied in original text – EROL.
 Mao – ’Selected Works’ Vol. II, p.201
 See evidence of working conditions given to Wilberforce in Hughes and More, “A special Case? Social Justice and the Miners,” Penguin 1972.
 Mao ’Selected Works’ Vol. 11, p. 208.