Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lost labour (1985)

Book Review from the February 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Left of Centre: European Labor Since World War II. by Adolf Sturmthal. University of Illinois Press

This book seeks to explain to Americans the evolution of the "labor movement" (Labour and Social Democratic parties, trade unions) in Europe since the war. and particularly in Britain, Germany. France and Italy Sturmthal's basic thesis is that these organisations have transformed themselves from working class parties committed to socialism into people's parties accepting a mixed economy.

We would express this change somewhat differently. Partly as a result of their experiences in governing capitalism and partly out of a desire to continue being given a chance to do so again, the Labour and Social Democratic parties of Europe abandoned their dogmatic (and mistaken) commitment to full-scale state capitalism as the solution to working class problems in favour of a more "moderate", "pragmatic" approach which accepts the status quo of a mixed private/state capitalist economy. At the same time they have ceased to project themselves as parties committed to giving priority to the furtherance of the interests of the industrial, manual section of the working class in favour of appealing to all electors. Vote-catching oblige.

All we can say is that this was a welcome development since the anti-working class (all those forced by economic necessity to work for a wage or salary) action of these parties were beginning to make the name of socialism stink among ordinary workers.

Sturmthal's book may interest American readers in the, for them, unfamiliar phenomenon of "socialist" parties and trade unions, but they need not believe all he says. As for instance when he writes (p. 120) that under Mitterrand in France "privately owned banks and insurance companies were transferred without compensation into public ownership". Apart from the fact that no insurance companies were nationalised in 1981/2, this will be news to Baron de Rothschild and his family who used the generous enough compensation payments (160 million francs, some £16m) they received for the purchase by the state of their private bank to set up another profit-making financial institution.
Adam Buick

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