Labor And Industrial Policy

Labor And Industrial Policy

The main question Mr. Rogow sets out to answer is whether the British Labor Party, when in power, was able to influence significantly the structure, psychology, and objectives of British industry. The author has selected an area for analysis in which performance, I believe by necessity, was bound to fall far short of the socialist goal. This appears to me due to the fact that there never existed a clear-cut socialist industrial policy; or that, if it existed, it was increasingly recognized as conflicting with other (and profounder) goals.

Socialism in industry had traditionally been associated with higher wages, workers’ participation, more efficient use of productive resources, public ownership and central planning. The dilemma which emerged when the Labor Government attempted to implement these multiple goals rested on the apparent impossibility of combining high productivity (industrial efficiency) and high wages on one hand with workers’ control (or extensive participation) on the other; on the impossibility of engaging in extensive central planning without creating a massive bureaucracy.

Mr. Rogow analyzes carefully the (largely successful) resistance of the spokesmen for private industry to inroads by public authority on their managerial sphere of action. Valuable as his analysis is, it misses the more fundamental point in explaining the lagging impetus and enthusiasm which the Labor Government (and Party) has shown since 1950. The paralysis of will originated primarily within the ranks of Labor itself and it was based on the loss of the original innocent assurance that in public ownership and planning were to be found the keys to economic abundance, “socialist” freedom, a “new social ethic.”

If it could be shown—and by 1950 it largely had—that nationalization was not inherently more efficient than private ownership under public supervision (as in the British steel industry); that workers’ participation was as difficult in public as in private enterprises, and that the imperatives of large-scale industrial production (involving managerial authority, wage differentials, and monetary incentives) prevented any fundamental transformation of bourgeois values, where then was the urgent impetus for further nationalization to come from? It is my conviction that, had the Labor Government been able to make out a convincing case for further nationalization—convincing primarily to its own adherents—by pointing either to increased efficiency or to the requirements of social justice, it would have been able to overcome the resistance of its opponents and to obtain the (more or less reluctant) cooperation of the managerial strata which, Mr. Rogow admits, it needed for implementing the transfer to public ownership.

The author repeatedly criticizes the Labor Government for failing to educate and train proletarian and socialist replacements for bourgeois managers. I believe ...

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