Monday, January 25, 2016

Propaganda in the west (1985)

From the June 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrades from the West of England and South Wales were recently involved in an ambitious propaganda tour - a total of nine meetings in three weeks. Such activity, over a huge area, reflected a determination to communicate the revolutionary alternative which far exceeds our numerical strength.

Despite a last-minute change of venue, the meeting in Bristol on "Women and socialism" was not only well attended but provoked a stimulating discussion among a growing band of sympathisers. Workers attracted to the socialist case greatly appreciated our efforts in arranging meetings in the small communities of Llantrisant. Glynneath and Llanelli and asked detailed questions long after the formal discussion had ended.

Part of the tour consisted of a debate in Cardiff with Kim Howells, research officer and spokesman for South Wales NUM on "Coal Industry Nationalisation or Privatisation'. He expressed a close identification with our object and definition of socialism and said that his attendance at Socialist Party of Great Britain meetings had given him a class analysis of capitalism. For a trade unionist. he gave an unusually good account of the development of the nation state and the economic and political reasons for nationalisation. In particular he pointed out that the capitalists, the trade unions and the Labour Party all welcomed nationalisation: the capitalists saw state ownership as a means of maximising profit; the unions thought that a state employer would guarantee jobs, and Labour saw it as an opportunity for vote catching by promising to secure domestic fuel supplies.

However, despite his knowledge of how capitalism works. Kim Howells claimed that the effects and experiences of nationalisation were a necessary historical step, and important educationally, in developing working-class consciousness. In his view, state ownership made the capitalists a more recognisable entity - which supposedly enabled the workers more easily to identify their class enemy and the large scale production of nationalisation gave the working class the necessary skills in organising an integrated industry. He therefore disagreed with the analysis contained within our declaration of principles and suggested a step-by-step approach towards workers' control, which he considered more realistic given the level of class consciousness among workers. This strategy, he thought, had a better chance of success under the leadership of a Labour government, who would be committed to giving workers more say in the running of industry.

Replying for the Socialist Party. Ron Cook stressed that it was a delusion to believe that the wages system could be run to benefit the working class. Socialism meant a revolutionary change in the ownership of the means of production and distribution which had nothing to do with state ownership or workers' control. The working class did not have to experience the reformist politics of nationalisation in order to accept the need for socialism. Industry was already run from top to bottom by the working class and it was not a lack of organisational experience which prevented them from recognising their real interests. The central issue was common ownership and while workers identified themselves with any form of capitalism the revolutionary alternative would always be at the bottom of the agenda. By advocating workers' control Kim Howells was delaying socialism and distorting its meaning.
Brian Johnson

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