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International Socialism, Winter 1965/66


Editorial 1

The Red and the Brown:
Socialism and Planning


From International Socialism, No.23, Winter 1965/66, pp.1-2.
Transcribed by Mike Pearn.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The spread of detailed economic planning by the State in peacetime – notably in Russia before the Second World War and ever since then in most parts of the world – has brought some confusion to socialists. Detailed planning within the firm, Marx’s ‘iron law of proportionality (which) subjects definite numbers of workers to definite functions,’ has always been recognised for the limited rationality it is; planning of the socio-political environment for capital – law, domestic and foreign policy – has also been seen to be the result of conscious decisions by the ruling class. But State economic intervention? The abrogation of each single capital’s divine right to dispose of itself as it sees fit? Surely these are new in kind, and contradict the very nature of capitalism: its anarchy, its planelessness? And if they do, as surely as we are wrong to oppose wages planning and immigration controls.

There are a number of related reasons why State planning has caught on so widely. Capital is now so concentrated and so big that individual boardroom decisions are sometimes capable of affecting the stability of the system as a whole, as when the bunched expansion of two British oil companies abroad last year caused havoc to an already frail balance of payments. The State itself is such a vast market, so important as a producer and as an investor, that its own plans, or those if its corporations, take on national significance. Labour is a central problem. Full employment and rapid technical change have together made of it a relative scarce commodity, so much so that some recent takeovers have been made solely with a view to capturing a skilled workforce rather than more traditional assets. Business profits now demand the planning of labour, and this can only be done by the State, through its educational and training institutions, its taxation and regional policies, immigration controls and so on. Finally – final only in that the list is short – there is the diffusion of capitalism in one form or another throughout the world: each national capitalism is increasingly trapped by the others; each requires to focus its diffused resources for an economic blitz-kreig in the war that is world market competition – and that means national planning in the same sense that there is national planning in time of war.

But this is not planning in the sense that socialists use the word. It is partial planning whose aims – growth, stability, or whatever – are given from above, not chosen from below; whose orbit – the national economy – cannot provide a meaningful framework for planning; and whose planners are the same uncontrolled oligarchy. If this kind of planning gives one economy temporary relief from anarchy, it does so only within the national sphere, and at the cost of every other national competitor, at the cost of workers abroad who pay to keep the British balance of payments ‘healthy.’ Internationally, the anarchy of competition flourishes even more with national planning, and the compulsions of that competition feed back into each national capital with amplified results.

The Government’s National Plan bears all the marks of such planning. Its aims are arbitrarily set: the maximum rate of growth that seems compatible with stability and the voluntary co-operation of capital. Its very first sentence reads: ‘This is a plan to provide the basis for greater economic growth.’ it is a ‘national’ plan, and by ‘national’ the authors mean a plan prepared ‘by the Government in cooperation with private and nationalised industries.’ Unable to assume developments within the world economy with any pretence to realism, and having to engage the voluntary collaboration of the private sector at home, the plan cannot – and does not – attempt to allocate resources to particular uses. The most it can rise to is a mere continuation of past trends into the future and a hope that private firms can be bribed or cajoled into acting in conformity.

The Plan is also very solicitous of private capital, particularly of its obsession with secrecy and anonymity to the point where its categories are nearly meaningless. It deals in industries and sectors of the economy and its projections assume firms limited by metaphysical barriers. It gives no hint that the real power of capital lies in the diversified multi-branch firms, the largest of which straddle many of its watertight compartments. Planning, even the capitalist planning, that does not relate directly and explicitly to the few hundred of these is an empty exercise.

For the labour movement, the Plan has at least two important features. The first is in indicating the areas which will be made especially favourable for capital accumulation; and (a not unrelated point) it shows how crucial for the future of British capitalism is the growth in labour productivity and the work force, that is, the areas over which an organised labour movement can exercise some control even within an alien system.

The Plan foresees a ‘manpower gap’ of 200,000 by 1970, acute in engineering, construction and white-collar areas like public administration, health and education; and critical in the skilled grades. It suggests every known method of bridging it, from Incomes Policy to regional development, through enticing women and pensioners to work, siphoning workers from declining industries (coal, railways, agriculture, aircraft, clothing, textiles), and special training schemes – that is, every means except an expansion in immigration. We shall meet the schemes in detail later on. For the moment we need only take in the size of the possible labour shortage and the long-term bargaining power it promises, to begin working out a working-class strategy for the Plan.

Above all, we need to use the bargaining situation to the full: money, and more money, conditions, and more conditions. Labour is our weapon and their salvation. If they want it let them up the price – for working in expanding industries and for the withdrawing from those due for demolition. And if the trade-union leadership refuse to bargain – having already accepted wage restraint and wage censorship – the job falls on shop steward and site organisations, working through local agreements and local pressure. If the union leaders won’t do it, them others must. That is what trade unionism is about.

But trade unionism is about Labour’s independent of capital too. And the Plan endorses Capital’s request to the Government – through the Economic Development Councils – to ‘identify and ... remove the obstacles to the efficient movement of labour’ and ‘to tackle restrictive practices and other man-made obstacles to the efficient use of labour in existing plants’ (para.37, p.52). The Plan clearly summarises in its assumptions one of the nastiest and most dangerous tendencies in contemporary politics – the attempt at any cost to buy-pass and emasculate the traditional institutions of the labour movement; as a forward strategy of British capitalism, the Tories would not have dared to enunciate it, but a Labour Government has shown itself not only full aware of how it can ingratiate itself with capital but also fully willing to act as a strike-breaker on the national level. This has to be fought at every stage. More broadly. The trade-union movement can have nothing to do with implementing a management plan, the central aim of which is ‘growth,’ or rather growth of profits at the expense of British and foreign workers, while any structural reform of capitalism is quietly forgotten. Trade-union leaders must be recalled from compromising any further. This is not easy. The leadership is entrenched in the administration. It is conscious of the benefits of feeling responsible for the system, of behaving as industrial ‘statesmen’ regardless of its followers. In the ETU and AEU particularly, the leadership is shaping up to corrupt and control the work-place organisations that will do the bargaining and criticising. Nevertheless, there is nothing for it but to stand and fight on these demands. As against their Plan, the highest wages and best conditions must be extracted, no matter what the official Incomes Policy; we want unalloyed independence of the Government and its planning bodies; we want the strongest possible shop-floor and site organisation to further these demands.

More fundamentally, we want a different plan – a plan for people, formed by the people and controlled by them: a plan based on disarmament and workers’ control of production. Their Plan is not ours; to strike at theirs is to strive for ours.

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