• The Left Chapter

"Social Democracy has the function of keeping the workers within the limits of capitalist thinking"

Excerpt from "A World to Win", Stanley B. Ryerson, 1946

Cover of "A World to Win", Stanley B. Ryerson, 1946


Excerpt: "When the class character of the State is understood, it becomes possible for us to see through the pretense that "Government ownership means Socialism." This fable is the regular stock-in-trade of the "free enterprise" propagandists. When the Liberal government of Quebec moved to nationalize the Montreal Light, Heat and Power and set up a Quebec Hydro, Duplessis denounced the proposal as "Bolshevism." (A decade earlier he had denounced Mothers' Allowances in the same terms.) But what is the character of an enterprise that is nationalized by a capital-ist government, in a capitalist economy? The C.N.R., for instance? It's simply a state capitalist concern; one con-trolled by the state which acts as the "executive committee.' of the ruling class, and providing a revenue (capitalist profit) to the Big Business bondholders whose instrument the state is.


To claim that state ownership under capitalism is actually "socialism" is to confuse and hinder the struggle for Socialism. Those people in the labor movement who put forward this theory and spread it among the workers are simply helping the monopolists. The CCF [ Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the precursor to the social democratic NDP in Canada] provides the outstanding example of this, and nothing illustrates more clearly its opportunism, its basic opposition to scientific Socialism.


Engels had something to say about this, in his Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. He pointed out that in Germany, Bismarck had brought the railways of Prussia under state ownership, as a measure of war preparation and a source of government revenue independent of parliamentary votes: "Recently . . . since Bismarck adopted state owner-ship, a certain spurious socialism has made its appearance — here and there even degenerating into a kind of flunkey-ism — which declares that all taking over by the state, even the Bismarckian kind, is in itself socialistic. If, however, the taking over of the tobacco trade by the state was socialistic, Napoleon and Metternich would rank among the founders of socialism."


When Tory or Liberal governments set up state-owned concerns, as they've done in many instances in Canada, this is state capitalism. When the British Labor government nationalized the Bank of England, guaranteeing its bond-holders a handsome interest (12%) in perpetuity — this is likewise state capitalism; as is their nationalization of the near-bankrupt coal industry, now placed under a government board of millionaire coal-owners. Such limited inter-ference in the workings of a capitalist economy does not by the remotest stretch of the imagination constitute any-thing like "measures of socialism." It may represent a measure of progress, favorable to the advance of the workers' struggle; but at best, it is no more than that. For the basic class character of the economy, resting on private ownership of the main means of production, and exploitation of wage-labor, remains. And the capitalist class still controls the state machine.


Nationalization of certain enterprises or industries, under capitalism, can be a democratic reform when it is carried out under pressure of the antifascist people's forces —as part of the struggle against the trusts. This is not yet Socialism; though in the case of the People's Governments in liberated Europe it is part of the struggle on the road to its achievement.


Only when the State, the organ of power, is in the hands of the working class, and the capitalist class has been ousted from power, and its old apparatus of control done away with—only then does state ownership of the large-scale means of production become Socialist in character, part of the building of a Socialist society. The CCF's talk about "public ownership" being "socialism" is just one expression of the fact that the CCF does not fight for Socialism, but only proposes to "reform," to "patch up" capitalism. Its leaders' policy of rejecting the class struggle, of always giving in to monopoly at the crucial moment, is the demonstration in practice of their role as "labor lieutenants" of Big Business. The CCF, as a political current, is part of Social Democracy — the Right wing of the labor movement, which as we have seen is the expression of the influence of monopoly on a section of the workers.


The outlook of Social Democracy has the function of keeping the workers within the limits of capitalist thinking. The fight for scientific Socialism therefore includes the fight against opportunism, as one of the most urgent tasks of all class-conscious workers."