MIA: History: ETOL: Document: Workers Party/Independent Socialist League: Neither Capitalism nor Socialism

Workers Party/Independent Socialist League

E. Haberkern & Arthur Lipow (eds.)

Neither Capitalism nor Socialism


Chapter V

Beyond the Third Camp


Neither Capitalism nor Socialism, pp. 233–234.


In the first article selected here the author begins his discussion of the significance of the post-World War II British Labour government by briefly summarizing the Marxist position on the possibility of a “parliamentary road to socialism”, that is, on a constitutional, peaceful, transition to socialism as opposed to an insurrectionary one. The question was raised in the public mind by the serious, and unexpected, anti-capitalist measures taken by a legally elected government. After stating his position that a socialist transformation requires the independent self-mobilization of the working class which, under certain circumstances, may confront the ruling class with the choice – either allow a popularly elected government to carry out the anti-capitalist measures demanded by its working class base or resort to illegal insurrectionary methods; the author argues that this is not what happened in Britain. Instead, the Labour government made serious inroads on capitalist power while restraining independent working class activity. It was this that raised the “new question.” Is there a third possibility? A non-working-class, bureaucratic “road to socialism.”

In the event, this speculation by observers at all points of the political spectrum proved premature. The revival of capitalism in Western Europe stimulated by the Marshall Plan and the Korean War boom led to a corresponding revival of traditional (more or less) reformism. The anti-capitalist trend in Britain and Europe reversed itself, at least temporarily, and the measures taken by the Labour government in the end came to little more than a large scale, and expensive, socialization of the losses of the capitalist class. Unprofitable but vital industries, such as coal, were nationalized, subsidized by taxes levied on the lower classes in particular and the investors pensioned off adequately even while they screamed about socialist tyranny. Once more, a socialist government carried out a necessary, but painful, reform of the capitalist system which no openly pro-capitalist party could summon up the courage to carry out.

Nevertheless, the extent of the measures taken against particular sections of the capitalist class and the extent of nationalization required to stabilize postwar capitalism – on the continent and even in the United States as well as in Britain – represented a qualitative change in capitalism. If the anti-capitalist measures taken by the Labour government did not lead to a new post-capitalist society, they still raised the question: How far can such “despotic inroads” go before we can say “this is not capitalism anymore”?

The next two articles by Hal Draper continue this discussion of the myriad, and influential, political tendencies towards this “bureaucratisation of capital-ism” in the post-WWII period. The significant point here is that these political and ideological tendencies were typically found on the right wing of the socialist movement and even among non- or anti-socialists.

The final selection, by Seymour Melman, is a selection, not only from a substantial book, but of a substantial body of material. The discussion was initiated, as far as we have been able to tell, by a 1944 article published in the magazine Politics edited by Dwight MacDonald. The author was listed as Walter J. Oakes. This was the pseudonym of an economist employed by a Wall Street firm. The argument, briefly summarized, was that capitalism could only avoid a repeat of the Great Depression by heavy government subsidies. In the political context of the day that was only possible through military expenditures which, whatever their justification militarily, provided the kind of “pump-priming” that Roosevelt’s New Deal had never been able to provide. This thesis was elaborated on by the same author using a different pseudonym, T.N. Vance, in The New International in the 1950s. We have chosen to excerpt the Melman chapter because, being written twenty years later it has the advantage of being able to present in historical perspective a tendency which Oakes/Vance was analyzing on the fly.

Aspects of the Labor Government – Max Shachtman

Neo-Corporatists and Neo-Reformists – Hal Draper

The New Social-Democratic Reformism – Hal Draper

The Permanent War Economy – Seymour Melman

Last updated on 8 November 2020