From the Western Socialist, 1960
Why does the World Socialist Party belittle the nationalization of wealth, when it really means the same thing as Socialism? If the government, on behalf of the people, decides to take over the wealth of the nation, what sense is there in wasting our time doing the same thing? Would it not be better for us to get in and help them do it?
We gather from W.S. Reader the wording of the query that our correspondent is a little mixed up in his differentiation, or lack of it, between the two terms – Nationalization and Socialism.
Nationalization is a move on the part of the capitalist class to organize industry on a higher level so as to assure greater returns on capital invested. Socialism is a movement of the working class to abolish capitalism, and replace it with social ownership and control of the means of wealth production. From this, it will be seen that instead of being the same thing, they are two very different things. In fact the two objectives of Nationalization and Socialism could not be socially farther apart. They are the antithesis of each other.
Then, too, the assumption that the government can take over the works, on behalf of the people, shows that the questioner does not comprehend the meaning of either "government" or "people."
Governments are not social organizations that represent all people. They are class institutions. They do the work of the class that owns and rules.
When they take over the administration of wealth, they do so for the purpose of exercising collective control of industry rather than retaining the individual or company form of ownership that hitherto prevailed. The capitalists are the "people" they work for. No government is interested in a change that would elevate the position of its producers. They must be kept in their places.
The capitalist incentive in nationalizing industry is to economize in producing wealth or services. There is much duplication of effort in small concerns. They utilize too much labor in covering the same ground. By centralizing the form of ownership the useless extra labor can be done away with. This means laying workers off the job. It means increased national unemployment.
Surely this outstanding effect of Nationalization would not be an attractive feature for working class support. Under capitalism the workers want more jobs, not less.
They are taught from the time they leave the rigid obstetrician until they reach the friendly undertaker that their role in society is to work. The seeds of work have been planted in their receptive carcasses ages ago. They may have gotten infused in the genes and chromosomes to such an extent that they defy deletion. Even when they are not working they are thinking about it, talking about it, and looking for it.
In small industry there is much more work in proportion to the capital invested. When a number of the little outfits get together to install machines, as well as other economies incidental to bug business, then less labor is naturally employed.
Why such a condition is favorable to ownership is easy to understand, but why those who depend on selling labor power in order to exist should display enthusiasm for a system that dispenses a large percentage of labor power is not an easy problem to figure out.
The reality of the matter is that there is no adequate reason for the workers to be concerned with the issue of nationalization one way or the other. It is obvious that they cannot benefit by its introduction. It is likewise a logical conclusion that there would be nothing gained by organizing a movement against it. Any urge they may feel to exert themselves can lead into more important and profitable channels.
In brief, nationalization is no business of the working class at all. Our questioner implies that the workers should walk the floor at night formulating ways and means for the capitalists to expedite the change. We would suggest that we just leave this walking the floor to the rulers themselves. It is more apropos.
The natural trend of capitalism is in the direction of more national participation. When one group of capitalists makes an attempt to steal a march on the other section, the state is consulted as the determining factor.
When the big utilities, for instance, make application for rate increases and approaches the government officials with a string of semantic jawbreakers about "liberalized depreciation, "accelerated amortization," and "normalized taxation," the other groups must make an appeal for state aid to the end that utilities cannot unduly benefit at the expense of general capitalism.
A material increase in the role of the state in the economic and social life of the U.S. is seen in the ten years depression of 1929-2939. Something had to be done and done quickly to insure the smooth existence of the system, and the state alone could and did furnish the decisive aid required.
Again in the period following World War II the state exerted itself in economic life to an even greater extent.
The state became the big factor in the field of investment. In some cases it became the direct investor and in others it gave control and direction to private capital. This was accomplished through taxation, the credit apparatus, and other measures that enabled the state to get control of capital accumulation, and to implement the distribution of an ever increasing part of the national income.
The state now has become interested and powerful enough to regulate all economic problems that require attention. It fixes exchange rates, grants or refuses company increases, and attends to all trade relations with other nations.
The nationalizing of industry is strictly a capitalist venture and we can well afford to leave them stuck with it. The workers can promote better outlets for their time and energy. While the capitalist class has been generous enough to allow us to do all the work that has ever been done, we scarcely think it advisable to overdo our appreciation.
In every country where the experiment of government control of industry has been tried the results are much the same. The working forces have been lessened, the working conditions have not been bettered.
Another obnoxious feature of the move, from a worker's standpoint, is the fact that state control means that there is only one boss to deal with. If he gives you your walking papers, your only outlet is to keep on walking.
If one of the little bosses throws you in the discard, there is always a chance that another little one might restore you to parity, or place you in orbit, being unaware of the nature of the labor power you offered for sale.
On the capitalist side of the ledger the outcome is much brighter. State control has been more efficient and economical than the individual form. The property is in no way destroyed. They continue indefinitely to draw dividends on the investment, even though such may be disguised as interest on bonds or loans.
Here in the United States the one outstanding example in the state control bracket is the Post Office. This one is often accused of reflecting an extravagant waste of public funds. Officials with high salaries eating up the appropriations while its ordered functions are being neglected or retarded.
The Post Office is not a means of producing wealth. It specializes in national service. Everyone uses it. The politicians who frank their mail, the manufacturers who flood the chutes with "occupant" advertising, the workers who send and receive Christmas cards, valentines, and old age pensions, all participate in the services rendered.
The P.O. resembles, on a national scale, the escalators in department stores, that take the customers to the various floors where the goods are displayed. There is no direct charge for the ride, the expenses of the service being absorbed by the entire sales organization.
The big man – the Postmaster General – is a political camp-follower of the party in power, being considered qualified because of past performance in campaigning, organizing, or securing funds for party purposes.
He may not be able to distinguish between a letter wicket an a teller's cage but, like a race horse who becomes a favorite on account of what he did the last time out, he is entitled to the special honors.
While the top officials are well paid the overall salaries are below average. If private industry operated the P.O. salaries would be increased and postal charges materially boosted.
In cases of national emergency – in times of war for instance – the state encroaches on the control of property, probably displaying an indication of things to come. It takes over the operation of railways, transforms auto plants into guns and ammunition depots, establishes basic prices for material and products, and otherwise reveals to the public gaze who is the new boss of the entire functional apparatus.
The executive power finds it imperative to cut down the number of men, the amount of material and transport, so that plenty of recruits are available for the armed forces.
Just why all these involved alterations should entice the working class participation we cannot see.
After carefully examining the effects of nationalization, as well as the philosophy that underlies the movement, the World Socialist Party correctly concludes that it is something the workers should leave completely alone. Anything that enhances the wealth and position of the capitalists could scarcely be regarded as a happy and effective medium of working class emancipation.