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International Socialism, Spring 1962


J. Ashdown

Steel and the Nation


From International Socialism (1st series), No.8, Spring 1962, p.32.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Steel Industry 1939-59
Duncan Burn
Cambridge. 80s.

This is an excellent book. Written from the viewpoint of a liberal economist with special reference to growth and efficiency in production and pricing, the integrity of the writer stands out clearly in contrast to the muddied corporatism and managerialism of both Conservative and Labour alike. The author is weak sociologically (he does not attempt to sketch the social roots of different currents of opinion within the industry) and has a slight tendency to treat steel in isolation, both financially and economically. However, enormously full, lavishly and painstakingly documented with information, the book is a triumph of organisation and exposition.

More clearly brought out that anything else is the restrictive effect of cartelisation in the industry, and the economic oddities of the financial structure. A backcloth that makes that comic episode, the nationalisation of steel, even more peculiar – the Labour leadership had no good reason to nationalise, and could do nothing with the industry when it had nationalised – the Conservatives were more sensible and merely did what the managers wanted. As it is, Steel House (the home of the Iron and Steel Federation) advised on nationalisation (as well as opposing it, and briefing the Opposition), operated the industry during nationalisation, and then piloted it back into private ownership: a display of elaborate shadow-boxing never momentarily challenged by the Labour leadership.

Steel is very important – both in the economy, and, politically, as the decisive mistake of the Labour Party. Beyond this point they could not go (and even this point was only a verbal victory) – the necessities of their own propaganda led to a blurring and wild over-estimation of their own action. But, politics aside, Mr Burn shows clearly that on the criteria of capitalism the steel industry stands indicted of systematic inefficiency – it has not served the ruling-class well. All serious socialists owe a debt to Mr Burn for this enormous contribution to our understanding of contemporary capitalism.

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