Monday, 10 March 2008

Socialist Party and the Commanding Heights


Reading Marxist Economist Rudolf Hilferding on finance capital I came across the Hilferding quote that "taking possession of six large Berlin banks ... would mean taking possession of the most important spheres of large scale industry".

Writing in the introduction to the translation, Tom Bottomore recognises that Hilferding would not equate this process with socialism, instead understanding this as one step on the road towards it, he does however suggest that:
the development of the capitalist welfare states since WW2 has depended very largely on gaining control of the 'commanding heights' of the economy in this sense, and that any further advance towards democratic socialism in the Western societies can only follow the same course (Finance Capital, Hilferding:9)
I presume that Bottomore is working upon the same distinction Hilferding refused to make between the formal 'bourgeois democracy' of the Weimar republic and the proletarian democracy that would be sought to replace it. A view largely in accord with the notion that thanks to the 'socialization' of the economy it no longer become necessary for the state to be 'smashed', but instead "taking it over and extending its role in planning and controlling socialized production" was the necessary step towards socialism (9).

However the notion of 'conquering the commanding heights' of the economy (as a step either towards, or the realization of, Socialism) retains a relevance beyond the fact that it has been "predicated for almost a century by the leaders of the social democratic labour movement" (106 Mesaros)

It was the Labour- entryist organisation, Militant, who argued that Socialism could be achieved by an "enabling bill" passed through parliament. Within Militant issue 767b, 27th September 1985 we find the following suggestion from Rob Sewell:
A Labour government is always elected in times of crisis, when the desire for change is at its highest . . . Instead of bowing the knee to capital and hoping to run capitalism better than the Tories, it should immediately push through an emergency `Enabling Act' through Parliament.
Former Socialist Party member Comrade Michael Wainwright challenged the party to provide a justifiction of the politics in an article titled Marxism and the state: an exchange. Seeking to defend the indefensible the Socialist Party's Lynn Walsh replied with the suggestion that such action must be taken in association with "a plan of production, and workers’ control and management of industry", which of course must be international. That the comrade felt the need to suppliment the demand for the Labour Movement to take control of the "commanding heights of the economy to be nationalised" as a means towards achieving Socialism, with the need for "workers control" is all the more pognient given the relative abscence of any discussion of workers control in articles calling on the Labour government to Nationalise Northern Rock during much of the discussion of the 'looming recession'.

In Issue 517 of the Socialist in a short piece titled 'Shock of Recession draws near' the paper limits itself to favourably quoting Liberal Democrat Vince Cabel, the logical culmination of this politics is an article that would not be out of place among any one of a number of Liberal Democrat Party press releases. The Socialist Party note in the same issue of the paper that at the time the Labour Government was already "effectively part nationalising the bank". Why did it do so? It should come as no suprise to comrades that it would go on to Nationalise the bank "simply as a temporary response to a crisis, to be contained within the overall determination of capital as a mode of control, without affecting in any way whatsoever the fundamental command structure of the system itself" (Meszaros, Beyond Capital: 106).

The justification of this politics from Walsh, which the comrade admits "would not add up to a socialist society" is an understanding of the "partial" nature of Transitional Demands. The only problem being in this instance that the demands are in no way transitional. Rather more ingenious, than the fig-leaf of Transtionalism, is the suggestion by Comrade Walsh that such moves would provide the "social foundations on which the working class could proceed to build a socialist society". This view maintains an intellectual continuum with the politics of the Social Democratic Labour Movement though certainly not with Leon Trotsky.

5 comments:

Charlie Pottins said...

Just a point concerning Hilferding. I seem to remember reading that the links between banks and industry were particularly close in Germany,

Phil said...

oh indeed, you are not wrong there, the quote correctly emphases the interdependence of the two. However the preface cited for this work goes slightly further in alluding to the implications of the relationship between banks and industry. Obviously relative to a wider debate about the nature of imperialism.

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