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International Socialism, Spring 1960


Editorial Note

Socialists, Labourites and Clause 4


From International Socialism (1st series), No. 1, Spring 1960, pp. 3–4.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Paul Blackledge.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


There is no reason to disbelieve the Right when they state, in Gaitskell’s words at Nottingham, that they have “never been satisfied with the present frontiers between public and private enterprise”. We can take them at their word that they want to renationalize steel and road transport and take over water. If pushed hard, they might even go so far as to include machine tools or aircraft manufacture (already “nationalized by halves” under the Tories in the Economist’s phrase) or indeed any particular industry or branch they consider “seriously failing the nation”. To quote Gaitskell once again, they are not against “concrete, specific, and carefully designed acts of nationalization”. What they object to is “the vague threat to all private property which we should eliminate”.

This is the nub of the argument. Is nationalization to be used as an addendum to private property, by its leave and within the limits set by its guardians, as proposed by the labourites? Or is it to be considered a replacement, a technique whose use is incompatible with private ownership of the means of production, incompatible, that is, with control of the economy by a small section of society?

Argument on the details of the nationalization list is meaningless unless seen within the context of this cleavage between two principles. Too often, socialists have been content to take up a firm position on the form of ownership as such, or on its extension, without elucidating the principle involved and without a thought as to what that form is to serve. Nationalization is fundamental to a socialist program not because we wish to replace control by bureaucrats for control by bourgeois, nor because we believe that anonymous, depersonalized tyranny is inherently better or more efficient than personal tyranny, but because there can be no collective decision-taking and enforcement, in other words there can be no socialism without collective ownership and control of the productive system. Further, even the capitalist nationalization we have now, in which strategic decisions remain the monopoly of that class, poses more insistently and unambiguously than do industries in the private sector the alternative: workers’ control of the industry or control by capital.

Our case for nationalization rests then primarily on its efficacy as a tool for workers’ control and as a precipitant of the conscious desire for workers’ control, not on any argument of efficiency. We see nationalization as an agent of social change, not an avenue towards accommodation with private capital; within the present system, we see it as an arena for struggle between the classes, not an organ for collaboration. To do otherwise is to defend a system which nets the ex-railway owners, for example, £42 million a year in perpetuity while reducing railwaymen’s wages to such scandalous levels as can arouse even the Tory press; or which forces miners still to provide some half of the strike days registered in the country.

To defend Clause 4 from embalming by the labourites, socialists must present the case for nationalization as one with that of workers control. Not to do so would be to lay ourselves open to easy defeat while ‘nationalized’ workers and their ‘threatened’ comrades in steel, chemicals and elsewhere look on in deepest apathy.

Let us not forget that between the old and the new testament there was a little matter of the Crucifixion.

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Last updated on 6 November 2015