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Raymond Challinor

Economics ...

(Autumn 1960)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 2, Autumn 1960, p. 34.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Capitalism Yesterday and Today
by Maurice Dobb
Some Economic Illusions in the Labour Movement
by J.R. Campbell
Key Questions for Trade Unionists
by Jim Gardner
by H. Pagan
Lawrence & Wishart. 2s. 6d. each

The Socialism Today series (published for the Communist Party) aims at giving the reader concise accounts of particular subjects. Attractively produced, these pamphlets contain much useful information. For those who can sift the socialist wheat from the Stalinist chaff, they are well worth buying.

The first is the best. With the help of useful statistical data, Dobb clearly shows that capitalists have not lost their power and influence; that an income revolution has not occurred; that the problems of the business cycle have not been solved. Basically, the tasks of the Labour Movement remain what they were. The most interesting section is where Dobb discusses the considerable growth of State Capitalism. He shows how the western economies, unable to make the rapid transition from peace to war by using the price mechanism were compelled during the Second World War to develop state regulation and control. This was continued after 1945.

In Britain today the state is responsible for almost half of the gross national investment. But Dobb does not attribute the relative stability of contemporary capitalism to the intervention of the state. He argues instead that, after an initial period when production was geared to replacing worn out machinery, replenishing stocks, and making food the war’s destruction, the main reason for continued economic expansion has been the high demand for investment goods. We are, Dobb suggests, in a period of intense technical innovation, associated with the introduction of automation. This has kept demand buoyant. He does not, unfortunately, develop this point.

While Dobb’s pamphlet contains much acute thinking on economic topics, his politics are marred by Stalinist blemishes. He attributes the participation of Communists in French and Italian coalition governments after the War to the influence of the ‘socialist sector’ of the world.

He evidently thinks this was a progressive development for he bemoans the fact that the Stalinists were later ‘jockeyed out of office by the growing pressures of the cold war’ (p.53). Now, if we are to reinterpret politics à la Dobb, let us start with Ramsay MacDonald. When he joined Baldwin’s Tory Coalition in 1931 he was doing much what Thorez and the French Stalinists did in 1945 when they joined de Gaulle’s government Perhaps the British Left should stop talking about MacDonald’s ‘betrayal’ and refer to it instead as a ‘sign of the existence of an expanding socialist sector’.

Jim Gardner’s pamphlet contains some useful facts on wages and hours, trade union structure, and the ‘battle for democracy’ (the way this is being fought in the ETU is not mentioned). Gardner shows how many trade unions proclaim Socialism their objective and stand at least on paper for workers’ control.

While Gardner quotes all this to show how militant trade unions once were, he himself, ironically enough, could not subscribe to these aims. Being a good Stalinist he could never favour workers’ control. There is no workers’ control in Russia; the bureaucrats dominate production, setting norms, imposing their discipline.

Fagan’s pamphlet on nationalisation shows up the Stalinist attitude to workers’ control more explicitly. Fagan proposes a ‘long term programme’ which in its truly visionary approach rivals that other scintillating document The Future Labour Offers You. Fagan generously suggests that workers ‘would have their say in management’ (p .62). ‘Development plans and output targets would be put (by whom?) ‘before the workers in every pit and job for discussion and joint agreement’. (How this would differ from joint consultation, as practiced in coal mines at present, is not explained). It has often served the bosses well to have talking shops of this kind where the workers would not exert real power but where they could be saddled with unpopular decisions. Fagan makes it as plain as Khrushchev’s bald pate that there are certain people he trusts more than the workers. He envisages ‘close control by Parliament with information given to its members’. ‘It would be the unyielding right of MPs to question and cross-examine Ministers on all issues, reports and plans affecting the nationalised industries’ (p. 62). At best this would mean an extension and ‘improvement’ of the type of relationship now existing between Parliament ... and the Post Office. Should this r-r-revolutionary plan take your breath away, remember that it cannot be accomplished overnight. As dear Mr. Fagan points out it is ‘a long-term programme’. In my opinion, it should be dumped in a short-term dustbin.

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