It is hard to believe that a more incorrect impression as to the state of opinion in the British Labor Party could be created than that produced by Stanley Plastrik in the Winter 1960 DISSENT. Nationalization is presented as an issue raised by the left wing. This is simply not so. It was Gaitskell who made the chief issue at the Conference a proposal to amend the party constitution to modify the section that states the party’s ultimate aim as common ownership of the means of production. It is true that the left wing opposes such a modification, but they do not leave it at that. Plastrik states that it would be folly to assume that nationalization per se can assure profound reforms in British society. In the context of his article the implication is that the left wing stands for nationalization per se. This is far from being the case. Immediately after the Conference, Tribune (the left-wing paper) ran a series on the need for workers’ democratic participation in the management of nationalized industry at all levels. Earlier Tribune had emphasized many times that the voters’ image of the Labor Party as standing for an all powerful state bureaucracy that harasses a helpless citizenry is the fault of the present Party leadership whose approach has always been an exclusively statist one, irrespective of any shift within this statism from nationalization to state control, or state ownership of shares in private corporations. Tribune has also consistently criticized bureaucratic practices in the unions, and has opposed the monolithic Standing Orders of the Parliamentary Labor Party and of the groups of Labor Municipal Councillors, which are now at last being modified.
In the part few years could anyone seriously contend that the Labor Left has concentrated on the issue of nationalization? It was the left that immediately took a stand on Suez while Gaitskell straddled the fence for a week after the invasion and then buried the Party campaign after a month. The left has campaigned for colonial freedom. And most prominently of all, the left has concentrated its energies overwhelmingly in the past year on the campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Anyone acquainted with the British Labor Party knows how loose and shifting are the lines within it. (That is one of its virtues.) The left is making nationalization an issue now, because Gaitskell chose this as his key issue. It happens that nationalization (per se, if you will) has broader support within the party than workers control of industry, or unilateral nuclear disarmament. Does this mean that the left should allow this basic aim to be taken out of the party constitution simply because it isn’t strong enough to put workers control in? .. .
Plastrik seems to have missed the actual point of difference in attitude toward nationalization between Gaitskell and the bulk of the party. This is its relation to the power of the capitalist class in all fiel...
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