John Strachey’s Socialist Programme

Strachey Socialism pic

The Socialist writer and activist, John Strachey, laid out his programme for a radical reform of society and the economic system in his 1940 book A Programme for Progress (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd). He was deeply impressed with Roosevelt’s New Deal in America, which formed the second part of his book. The third was devoted to Fascism, its connections to monopoly capitalism, and why it had led the world into war. He was acutely concerned with the way the banks and financial sector worked, not to benefit society, but to keep the whole capitalist class in power at the expense of the rest of the population. He therefore wished to see the banks taken over by the state, and subject to fundamental reform so that the operated a zero, or very low interest rate, which would benefit working people, and the country as a whole, rather than just generate profits for the wealthy.

He laid out his six point programme at the beginning of ‘Chapter XII: Conclusions’. These were

(1) The promotion of all kinds of public, or mixed, investment and enterprise, which is not, or is not wholly, dependent on the expectation of profit as its incentive.

(2) The lowering of the rate of interest to all intending borrowers, thus making investment and enterprise more attractive to all private borrowers at a given expectation of profit, and more possible to all public borrowers.

Both these expansionist measures should be financed, so long as general unemployment exists, by the methods which will be made possible by the fifth and sixth measures of this programme.

(3) The redistribution of income from the rich to the poor, effected by means of those kinds of taxation which are not mainly, or not at any rate not entirely, reckoned as a part of the costs of production (e.g. death duties).

(4) The payment of greatly increased pensions and allowances, and other social services, so long as general unemployment exists, out of newly created money rather than out of taxation.

(5) The development of a national, and public, as opposed to a commercial and profit-making banking system.

This is the decisive point in the programme. Unless this is accomplished, nothing else can be done. for the secure establishment of a genuinely national, public and non-profit-making banking system would mean that the main stronghold of that financial, and essentially monopolistic, interest which is to-day strangling the life of the community had fallen. That interest is the parent of Fascism. Leave it in control, and political reaction is bound to follow. Break it by united and well-directed popular action, and the road to progress is open.

(6). A strict public control over the balance of foreign payments.

This measure, too, though not so central as the fifth point is indispensable. For it alone provides an adequate protection against the counter-offensive which monopolistic finance is certain to loose against any progressive programme.

Without these last two measures of control it is not, then, possible to take the four former measures, designed to increase general purchasing power and so effectively to combat the curse of the unemployment of the working population.

It must be clearly understood that such a programme as this is not put forward as a substitute for the more familiar proposals of the progressive parties, such as the raising of wages, the shortening of hours, the institution of holidays with pay, the nationalisation of this or that industry, the democratisation of our political system, the development of a democratic foreign policy, etc. On the contrary, the above-described expansionist programme is submitted for serious consideration as providing an indispensable economic basis, without which all the other invaluable work of a progressive government will inevitably be wasted. (pp151-3).

Ha-Joon Chang in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, in one of the very first chapters shows that state industries can not only be profitable, they are also more stable than conventional companies, run for the benefit of the shareholders, as the state has a vested interest in their continued profitability and operation. Shareholders, on the other hand, are interested in immediate, short term profits, and will pull out if the company experiences difficulties. He notes specific cases where companies have destroyed themselves through their refusals to invest in new plant and machinery, and actually sold off their assets and shed staff, in order to keep the share price high, until they’ve killed themselves off through their own cost-cutting.

Strachey is also right about the financial sector. It is not geared to investment in the UK, as has been argued over the years by very many socialist politicians, including Neil Kinnock in his book, Making Our Way. The current austerity regime has been inflicted because of the massive incompetence of the financial sector, brought about through decades of right-wing administrations demanding greater deregulation, culminating in Labour’s ‘light touch’. The banks have been bailed out and their profits assured, at the expense of everyone else. In Europe, Greece is being looted and remains prostrate at the extreme of poverty because of ruthless austerity measures imposed on them by the European banking system. And then there’s the continuing scandal of the massive debt repayments demanded of the nations in the Developing World.

I don’t know if Strachey’s financial reforms would work, but we desperately need to curb the power of the banks and make sure they serve us, rather than the other way round.

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