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Susan Green

What’s Wrong with the

Labor Party’s Nationalization

(31 December 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 53, 31 December 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The program of the British Labor Party, entitled Let Us Face the Future, contains the introductory statement: “The Labor Party is a socialist party, and proud of it. Its ultimate purpose at home is the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain.”

The parliamentary triumph of this party, which has now been in power for nearly six months, has been hailed by world labor. With deep interest, world labor watches to see how this party will carry out its alleged aim. At long last, through its Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, it has presented to the House of Commons its bill to nationalize the Bank of England, and the measure has been passed by that body.

Reporters have dubbed the bill the “first socialist measure.” The expectation- is that this bill will serve as a model for the entire nationalization program sponsored by the Labor Party. Therefore, world labor must ask and answer the question: “Is this, in fact, a socialist measure?”

In the first place, the bill, before the House of Commons provides compensation to the stockholders of the Bank of England. Is this correct in principle? The owners and manipulators of British finances are the core of the class enriched by the exploitation of British labor and by the enslavement of the colonial peoples of the British Empire. These are the exploiters for whom the blood of Indonesians and Palestinians is today being shed and for whom the blood of the Indian people periodically flows. These are the exploiters Who were willing to finance Hitler to a certain point, and when their imperialist interests were threatened were just as willing to engage the world in devastating war. What do the British people owe these anti-social elements?

In the past twenty years Bank of England dividends have annually averaged twelve per cent, or, to put it differently, dividends in those years alone have totaled 240 per cent of invested capital. Speculators in bank stocks have also pocketed plenty on their “risks.” What do the British people owe these parasites? There are, of course, a scattering of small stockholders who rely for actual living expenses on dividends. For these the government should provide jobs, if they can work, and if they are too old to work they should get old age security. But what do the British people owe the financial magnates of their country?

Nothing – nothing but condemnation and the assurance of a speedy departure from the stage of history!

Mortgaging Workers

Yet the bill proposed by the Attlee government not only provides payment but such abundant payment that it makes a worker’s blood boil in angry protest. The stockholders of the Bank of England are to receive four times the amount of the capital stock now outstanding. The $58,212,000 of bank stock will be taken up by government bonds totalling $282,848,000; the latter figure is just four times the former. And this would be no mere paper transaction, for the bonds would be redeemable AT PAR in twenty years if the holder should wish to cash in.

Why, just why, in the post-war impoverishment of England, should any government, let alone one that calls itself socialist, mortgage the people to this extent? Well, you see, it’s this way. The British government wants to pay only three per cent interest on the bonds it issues. But the bigwigs of the bank, who have been averaging twelve per cent returns during he past twenty years, are so sorry, but they just can’t see themselves taking less. So the government effects a “compromise.” It will not pay more than three per cent interest, but it will issue four times as much in bonds. This makes everybody happy – except the working people, for whose benefit the Labor Government is supposed to function.

For the working people of Great Britain this kind of nationalization means that the great skin game of capitalism continues. It means that instead of an economy designed to build houses and hospitals, to raise the frightfully low standard of living, to provide the things the people are deprived of, the economy will continue to serve the dividend collectors. For the colonial peoples it means more deaths from British tanks and planes when the people fight for their independence, because the twelve-percenters in London must have their income from the colonies.

So much for the financial side. Now let us see WHO would control the Bank of England to be nationalized under the bill presented by the Labor Government.

Professor Laski, chairman of the Labor Party, promised after the election: “We are now prepared to give the little man ... all the progressive change that he requires.” It almost goes without saying that any progressive change must be based on the little man, the worker, getting control of the affairs of economy and government. In a word, in the case of the nationalization of the bank, if it is to mean anything to the working people, it has to be put under management. That new management has to be a committee chosen by the working people, responsible to them, acting for them.

Now watch this. The bill, supposed to be the “first socialist measure,” provides that the nationalized bank will be administered by a governor, a deputy governor and a board of directors, all appointed BY THE KING. Furthermore, it is tacitly understood that the present governor of the bank, Lord Catto, will be appointed by the Crown the first governor of the nationalized bank. The same old capitalist-imperialist gang will be in control!

No wonder Lord Catto has assured Chancellor of Exchequer Hugh Dalton that the banking community will give their cooperation! And why shouldn’t they? At a time when British finances are at the breaking point, in the depths of post-war national impoverishment, in a crisis of foreign trade, all the burdens and risks are removed from the shoulders of foreign trade, and they are assured many happy returns at twelve per cent!

This “first socialist measure” of the Labor government is not that at all. Itis a measure for large scale relief for the bankers, not for the war-weary working people of England.

Other Measures

Can anything different be expected from the bill for the nationalization of the British mines, which the government has introduced as a Christmas present? The same policy of paying the mine-owners with interest-bearing government bonds will be followed. A further mortgage on the labor of workers will thus be given to capitalists. These mine owners have for years not invested a shilling in the mines. The mines are not mechanized to give high production. Miners in some mines must walk three or four miles underground to get to the diggings. Coal is the only major natural resource that England has at home, and the mine owners have let the industry get so sick that it will take half a billion dollars to restore it to health. Having well-nigh killed the goose that laid the golden eggs, the mine owners are now more than willing to turn the bird over to the government – collecting unearned interest on government bonds, wealth of which the tolling masses will be deprived.

The Labor Party stands for the public ownership of other industries besides banking and mining. It says it will nationalize iron and steel production, inland transportation, gas and electricity, communication, civil aviation. However, nationalization is per se not socialism. Nationalization will do the working people little good if it mortgages their labor in perpetuity. It will bring the working people little good if the same exploiting gang is left to control and manage the nationalised industries – to yield happy returns at twelve per cent!

Socialism means throwing the parasites off labor’s back. And socialism means workers’ control of industry. Only measures in this direction are socialist measures

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