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Hugo Oehler

Nationalization and the N.R.A.

(October 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 46, 7 October 1933, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The initial stage of the “new relations” of capital and labor under the Blue Eagle has given rise to new hopes and illusions on the part of all shades of reformists. This is due to the fact that, in working out the slave codes for the different industries, the trap was baited with “concessions” to the workers. This enabled the capitalist to put through their plan with a minimum of “labor strife”. Many of the old working class problems have been presented in a new light by the N.R.A. One of these problems is the question of nationalization of the industries. Therefore, it is essential to understand this question and to explain the relation of nationalization to reaction, reform and revolution.

Complete nationalization of industry cannot exist under capitalism, but nationalization of different industries in different forms is an essential part of capitalist development. In the period of decay capitalism, the question of nationalization is often a life and death question of capitalism. This is also true in times of war. Either class can use the slogan of nationalization of the industries. The applica- [line of text missing] reaction, reform or revolution, depending on conditions and class relations and on how the slogan will materialize in life. Fascist reaction, reformist social democracy, laborism or revolutionary communism – each of these, at certain stages of the class struggle, require a program of nationalization. The slogan must apply to that requirement.

A Slogan of Reform

To begin with, one can say that under capitalism the use of the slogan of nationalization, by itself, is a slogan of reformism and nothing else. Even if one adds to this slogan the demand for worker’s participation in the nationalization, it is still confined within the realm of reformism. Take for example, the NRA. It represents the first steps toward partial nationalization of industry. It is the embryo. The capitalists of the coal and railroad industries are divided on the question. Some are urging nationalization, with compensation, in order to be relieved of a bad investment. If the NRA does not bring the desired results, through the organization of a form of cartels and the elimination of the small producers, steps toward nationalization of the sick industries will be taken by a section of the capitalists and reformers. They will enact “temporary emergency measures” which will become “permanent” until the industries again pay dividends.

To issue the slogan of nationalization of the industries, such as the “Plumb Plan”, etc., in relation to the NRA, would be to render service to reformism as well as to reaction. Does this mean that we close the door to the use of the slogan of nationalization? As an isolated, separate, propaganda slogan, yes. But not if it is properly coordinated with other slogans and actions suitable for the objective conditions.

The NRA brings this question to the fore. But present conditions require that we place the other slogans and actions first and the slogan of nationalization as secondary, and as an auxiliary slogan to the other.

The Working Class Approach

Since the capitalists and the workers can both use the slogan of nationalization one must answer the question of how it will be possible to distinguish the class content of the one from the other. The coordinating slogans must deal with the question of workers’ control. This is the working class approach to the question. The working class action must be in the direction of working class control. Slogans serving this aim must be applied.

It is time to follow up the agitation and action in the trade union field with propaganda for workers’ control of production, open bookkeeping in the capitalist industries and nationalization without compensation. The main emphasis must be placed on propaganda and action dealing with the question of workers’ control of industries.

The most important action today, toward this end, deals with the trade union question. This has been pointed out in the Militant week in and week out. Without a strong Left wing in the trade unions, armed with a correct policy, the revolutionary Communist cannot even consider the question of nationalization and workers’ control in any concrete sense.

The working class content of the slogan of nationalization is distinguished from the enemy class content on the question of propaganda and action toward workers’ control.

The question of workers’ control includes the question of nationalization, but the nationalization does not of itself include or imply workers’ control. It is up to the workers to decide this question. To grab the problem at the wrong end will play into the hands of the reformists. The revolutionists must guard against loose talk on the question of nationalization.

The best way to insure the proper application of the slogan of nationalization and workers’ control is to speed up the work and activity of the present stage which deals with our trade union policy and trade union work. Once the revolutionary Communist is entrenched in the trade unions this slogan will become a living issue in this stage of American capitalism.

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Last updated: 4 January 2016