Wright Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

John G. Wright

Discussion Articles

On the Slogan of Nationalization

(October 1933)

From The Militant, Vol. VI No. 47, 14 October 1933, p. .
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In proposing the slogan for nationalization, comrade Weber seeks to forestall any objections to it “in principle”.

In his opinion slogans are largely a matter of expediency; and he argues that “the decision as to the correctness or incorrectness of a slogan rests to a large extent (our emphasis) on our judgment of the ripeness or unripeness, not of the advanced workers but of the mass of workers to rally around and fight for a given slogan.” Such an approach to slogans is one-sided, formalistic, and, in our opinion, fundamentally erroneous.

For the justification of any slogan Marxism demands the analysis of the economic reality, of the political foreground, and of the political meaning of the slogan. As an example let us take a slogan such as “revolutionary national defense”. We cannot for a moment maintain that our acceptance of, or objection to this slogan involves no question of principle but is largely a matter of expediency – of our ability to judge whether the masses will rally and fight for this slogan. No matter how backward the workers may be, no matter in what numbers they may rally, we are opposed in principle to the slogan of “national defense” whenever the economic and political conjunctures are such that this slogan can have no political content other than that of social-chauvinism. When the war is an imperialist war to raise this slogan is to betray our principles. To raise this slogan in a colonial or semi-colonial country (India, China) when it is fighting to cast off the yoke of imperialism, is entirely in keeping with our principles.

Moreover, it is not enough to only ask whether under the given economic and political conditions, a slogan may acquire an opportunistic political content, we must also make sure that it excludes an adventuristic political content.

Political Content of Slogans

Comrade Weber admits that the slogan of nationalization, if divorced from the slogan of workers’ control, could have only a reformist (opportunistic) political content. But no proof is presented that the slogan of workers’ control would not be adventuristic at this time. Its adventuristic content is excluded on the grounds that the masses will rally around the slogan of nationalization. To a large extent we cannot be motivated by such considerations. Let us allow that the masses, in all their backwardness, do rally around the slogan of nationalization – what then? Unless we can tie up in reality this slogan with the slogan of workers’ control, what will be the political content of the slogan of nationalization? The answer to this question supplies the key to our acceptance or rejection of this slogan.

From our analysis of the present economic and political conditions, we maintain that the slogan of nationalization cannot be advanced at present with a principled political content. The question of workers’ control raises directly the question of the agency whereby such a slogan can be concretized. The fight for control over industry is the special historic task of factory committees. Lacking this historic agency, the slogan of workers’ control is meaningless.

We must not confuse factory committees with labor unions. Factory committees cannot be substituted for labor unions. But there is a connection between the two. To speak of factory committees, as a general slogan, when the hulk of the workers are not even organized into unions is to leap over an historical stage, from reality into a vacuum. This does not mean that we do not propose shop committees in industrial unions of advanced worker’s ready to take this step, even now. But we must remember that on the road of the development of a class toward class-consciousness, the labor unions are a gigantic step forward. The bulk of the American workers has yet to take this step; the bulk of the American proletariat is as yet not unionized, particularly in the decisive basic industries. This means in the language of politics that the slogan of workers’ control can only be posed on paper. This means that in reality the slogan of nationalization can acquire only the political content of reformism – “government ownership.”

The Isolation of the Vanguard

In this connection – touching the economic and political organization and the advancement of the proletariat – we cannot discount as inconsequential or secondary the condition of the vanguard itself. Comrade Weber proposes to disregard the fact that the vanguard is isolated as yet from the backward masses, and that even the Left wing (including here the reformists) constitutes an insignificant minority. Comrade Weber fails not only to distinguish sharply enough between “the party” and “the class” but also to stress the essential function of the party. An isolated vanguard cannot instill any slogan with its true political content. It is only the power of organization of the Communists that enables the advance guard to be the leader of the whole class. The unorganized masses themselves can neither leap ahead nor advance, no matter how much sound advice they receive from the sidelines.

True, we are faced with illimitable opportunities and perspectives, but we must guard against befuddling ourselves by seeking for short cuts. Before we can pose the slogan of nationalization plus workers’ control, we must root ourselves in the unions; the decisive section of the proletariat must be unionized, and not a small minority as at present. We must first establish factory committees not merely as “shop (grievance) committees” but as an integral part of the elementary mass organizations of the proletariat. When comrade Trotsky proposed the slogan of nationalization for England, he did not overlook the fact that the bulk of the English workers was strongly unionized, that factory committees were a reality and not a wish-fulfillment.

Workers Unorganized

The workers of America are not only backward, they are still unorganized. This is a fact. The elemental urge toward organization is manifest. But exaggerate the influx into A.F. of L. unions to the utmost – and the tact remains that the great bulk is outside of even the reactionary unions (to say nothing of the unemployed). The workers must be organized, and this stage can be achieved and passed very rapidly, provided we ourselves can take the necessary leap ahead in this direction. Not only must we go into unions already formed and forming but we must initiate unions where none exist. The trade union theses of the 2nd C.I. Congress chart the course that is immediately ahead. In the period immediately before us, our slogan must be INTO THE MASSES!

But won’t we lose valuable time thereby? Won’t that restrict our work solely to union activities, etc., etc.? Isn’t that syndicalism, etc., etc.? Of course not!

In his anxiety to endow the economic struggle with a political content of the widest possible scope, in his fervor to advance the masses politically, comrade Weber overlooks also the fact that under present conditions, every and any strike acquires immediately a political significance, and if it attains a wide enough sweep, it becomes of primary political consequence, preparing the masses for much wider activity.

“The economic struggle of the proletariat becomes a political struggle during an epoch of the decline of capitalism much quicker than during an epoch of its peaceful development”. Precisely because of this, we can in a comparatively short time achieve advances beyond our most sanguine expectations. Only, we cannot skip over the necessary historical stages.

Transitional Slogans

The initial steps must be taken. Elementary mass organizations are required. And in the economic struggle now unfolding under the NRA, we must participate actively, using our transitional slogans – The right to organize! The right of assembly ! The right to strike! The right to picket!, etc.

Only in this manner can the decisive sections of the proletariat he mobilized. And the import of this mobilization must not be overlooked, nor the role that we must play in it. Once the workers have been mobilized, once the base for factory committees have been established, then the slogan of nationalization and workers’ control will be on the order of the day.

We agree with comrade Weber that “Life (i.e., reality – J.G.W.) alone is the final arbiter in the matter of choice of tactics”. But we disagree with him as to the conclusions that must be drawn from the analysis of reality. At the present stage we are opposed to the slogan of nationalization on principle. This slogan is divorced from reality. Hence it is adventuristic, and if advanced must inevitably acquire an opportunistic political content.

What must be done at present is to clarify through discussion among the most advanced’ workers the whole question of nationalization, workers’ control, factory committees – and what it directly involves, i.e. Workers’ Councils.

Last updated: 4 January 2016