John Molyneux Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Future Socialist Society

John Molyneux

The Future Socialist Society

3. The conquest of economic power

The foundation of socialism, like that of every other form of society, lies in the economy. Consequently, the working class will immediately set about using its political power to achieve the conquest of economic power – that is to take into its hands all the major means of production in society. Unless this is done fairly rapidly, the workers will be unable to maintain their political rule.

The formal mechanism through which economic power will be established is a familiar one, namely nationalisation.

The process is likely to begin as it did in the Russian Revolution, with the nationalisation of all land. Because land is immovable, this is an extremely simple measure and can be carried out by decree on day one of the revolution. Also urgent are the nationalisation of the banks and the imposition of strict exchange controls, backed by other revolutionary measures to prevent the inevitable attempt at a flight of capital abroad.

From there the workers’ state will move to the progressive takeover of the main firms and industries. Small businesses employing only one or two workers can mostly be left to later. The immediate task is to gain control of the decisive levers of economic power, of the ‘commanding heights’ as numerous unimplemented Labour manifestos have called them.

However, here it is necessary to distinguish sharply between this revolutionary nationalisation and the kind practised in the past by Labour (and Tory) governments. Both are forms of state ownership. But in this case the state in question is an organisation of the collective working class, as opposed to the nationalisations of the past under a capitalist state – an organisation of the capitalist class.

So, firstly, nationalisation will not simply be an action taken from above by the central state power. It will combine legal takeover at the top with workers’ action at the base, in many cases through factory occupations.

Secondly, nationalisation will be without compensation, since the object of the exercise is precisely to break the economic power of the bourgeoisie.

Thirdly, and most importantly, nationalisation will be under workers’ control. It is impossible to predict precise forms, but probably each factory or workplace will be run by an elected council which will be accountable to periodic mass meetings of the workforce. A similar arrangement would apply to the management of whole industries, but with representatives from the trade unions and the workers’ government.

Workers’ control of industry is essential. A working class that is unable to control its own workplaces will not be able to control its own state. If control of the new state industries is transferred to a privileged bureaucracy, as happened in Russia, then sooner or later this will come to exert a decisive influence in the society and class divisions will re-establish themselves.

Of course, the ability of workers to run industry is often doubted. ‘There will have to be experts’, is the cry, ‘and it is the experts who will really control things.’

This underestimates the abilities of the working class and misunderstands the role of technical experts. Even under capitalism it is generally the workers, not management, who have the best grasp of the immediate production process. Many of the skills of management are concerned not with production but with marketing and maintaining the rate of exploitation – skills which will be redundant in the new society.

As for the layer of technical experts, they will be necessary for a period until the education of workers is dramatically improved. But they will simply work for and under the direction of the factory or industrial council just as today they work for the bosses. If they obstruct and sabotage, they will be disciplined and dealt with, just as they are if they obstruct and sabotage a capitalist firm.

If absolutely necessary they will have to perform with workers’ guns at their heads, but in fact it is reasonable to suppose a victorious socialist revolution will win over a majority of such people.

Once workers’ ownership and control of industry are established it will be possible to proceed to the introduction of a planned economy. Again it is necessary to distinguish between socialist planning and the capitalist, and state capitalist, planning we are used to. The plan will not be a rigid scheme imposed from above. The working class must be the subject, not the object, of the plan.

The planning process will begin at the base in workplace meetings, factory councils and workers’ councils, with a determination of people’s needs and priorities and an assessment of the productive capacities of each workplace. On the basis of this input from below the government will have to draw up a coherent plan matching capacity to requirement. The whole plan will then have to be submitted to the working class for debate, and to its representatives in the workers’ councils for amendment and approval.

It will be an intensely democratic process and it is only on a democratic basis that it can hope to succeed. For, as the experience of Stalinist Russia has shown, bureaucratic, authoritarian planning leads to false information being fed in from below and formal rather than real plan fulfilment.

The achievement of a workers’ planned economy will not only solve the worst economic problems of capitalism (unemployment, inflation, etc.) but will open immense possibilities for the future.

At this point it is impossible to postpone further the question of spreading the revolution to other countries. For, unless this problem is tackled, all the hopes and plans for socialism will come to nothing.

John Molyneux Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 15 November 2015