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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

(3 February 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 5, 3 February 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“Why you have socialism right now, and what good does it do?” said Scissorbill Sam (the bosses’ man).

Everybody looked surprised.

“Look at this here War Production Board and War Manpower Commission. The WPB tells the corporations how much to produce. The OPA tells ’em how much to charge for it. And the War Manpower Commission tells everybody where to work.”

“So what?”

“So what? That’s regulation, ain’t it? That’s planned production, ain’t it? It’s Socialism, that’s what!”

“You know, Scissorbill,” said Slim, weighing his words, “Sometimes I think you missed your calling.”

“Yeah?,” muttered Sam distrustfully.

“You should be writing editorials for the big newspapers.”

“Well, I don’t write them,” Scissorbill replied with a pleased and hopeful note in his voice, “but I read them carefully every day.”

“Same difference,” said Slim.

While Scissorbill was chewing on that, Shorty asked, “How about that, Slim? I know we want to throw the War Manpower Commission out because they’re part of the labor freezing outfit. But other boards help keep prices down and plan production. Wouldn’t we keep them in if we had a labor government?”

“We might have a word like ‘Production,’ or even ‘Price Administration’ at the beginning. But that’s all that might be the same – just the name. Everything else would be different. The main difference would be that our boards will work.

“You don’t think this capitalist board works, do you? Look at the way they had all those lay-offs in aircraft and small-arms factories a little while ago.”

“Sure. And now they want a labor draft.”

“And look how they take some of the people back to work. At less wages than ever.”

“Yes. But that isn’t all,” said Slim. “Naturally these companies are all trying to chisel on our wages and cut us down to the bone. But that’s just one reason why you see crowds of working people going out of one factory – working in another one for three or four weeks – or wandering around the streets – then back in the first one – then out on their ear again. Don’t forget, the War Production Board itself is telling the companies to do this.”

“You mean the companies do it against their will?”

“Not by a long shot, Breezy. The War Production Board is made up of a lot of agents of different big companies. My point is that they can’t plan production. Their own system prevents them.”

“Just a minute,” said Scissorbill, disapprovingly, “You’re trying to give the impression the WPB is run by Big Business.”

“Oh, no,” said Slim sarcastically. “I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong idea. Maybe us working stiffs are running it. But anyway it comes out like this: a few months ago WPB gives Big Business, and only Big Business, the green light to change over to peace-time production.”

“Yeah, that’s what started the big lay-offs, too.”

“And smaller outfits couldn’t get any materials for peace-time work for another year.”

“Some of them can’t even get materials for war work right now’. Why I know a guy ––”

“The people thrown out of work,” continued Slim, “just signed up for unemployment. insurance because the WPB. couldn’t put ’em back to work. Then the war got under way all over again, and most people got back to work.”

“With a few pay-cuts, of course.”

“Of course. And it just goes to show that the only thing that’s making this screwy system work nowadays is war. And they can’t even plan production right for their own war. What the hell are they going to do in peace-time?

“The War Production Board,” Slim went on “is a planning board, all right. What does it plan ? – It plans how Big Business can make the most money possible and give the working people the business. It plans how to choke off smaller companies and drive them to the wall in the changeover.”

“Now Scissorbill Sam says that is a socialistic set-up. Well that’s the way the big manufacturers feel too. They didn’t even want to hear a little squawk out of the War Production Board, or any other board, if they decide to make a few extra bucks on ships that break in two in cold water.

“They agree to have the board – like you agree to let a dentist pull your tooth – because you have to. But they kick like hell about the few restrictions they have to accept once in a while. And they call that Socialistic. They’re only raking in twice the shekels they did in the last war – but they figure it’s a big enough war to rate four times as much profit.”

“You know –” said Shorty, “if we were running things ourselves I should think it would be pretty simple to make a production board work. The fellows in each plant would want the other plant to produce a lot. And what damn fool would want to make things so fast that they broke in two? Why our production board could make things go right without half trying.”

“If I was running a real socialistic shebang,” boasted Breezy suddenly, “and they tried to make stuff that killed our own boys, I’d cut their hearts out.”

“That’s the right idea,” said Shorty.

“Yeah,” Slim said, “except that Breezy wouldn’t be running it. We all would. And nobody’d get a chance to pull stuff like that even if they wanted to. Anyway, we’ll do a lot worse than cut their hearts out. We’ll make ’em go to work.”

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