TOM ACTON reviews the radical Nationalist policies on industrial ownership that the National Front has advanced for the last decade.
THE NINETEEN EIGHTIES has seen the triumph of 'market' economic doctrines, over those of central planning, and the 'command' economy. By 'market' economics I mean that economic system which holds that the common good is best served when all producers and consumers, firms or individuals, are free to buy and sell to whoever they please to maximise their own profit, without any control or regulation being exercised by the Government, or any central state authority.
A decade ago only the right wing of the Conservative party were strong supporters of the unfettered laissez-faire market. Now such views are almost universally held by Tories; but, more significantly, market economics are coming to be accepted outside Tory circles.
Dr Owen is championing, albeit unsuccessfully, the 'Social Market', Labour is apparently grudgingly accepting the shortcomings of state planning and under Kinnock is quietly backtracking on many of its earlier pledges to reverse Thatcherism, and even the Communist Party (or at least what's left of it) has, after several ideological somersaults, come down in favour of market economics and 'socialist individualism', thus jettisoning the central plank of Marxist economic policies for the last century, and much of their own raison d'etre. Similar changes are occurring in many overseas countries.
So what has been the Nationalist response to this development this major change in the political environment in which we operate? What has been the Nationalist; contribution to the political debate?
If truth be told the general Nationalist response has been poor. Other than a hand-wringing condemnation of materialism there has been little attempt at a constructive critique of laissez-faire economics, and a comparison with Nationalist economic thinking.
In the early 1980s the National Front, recognising the innately anti-Nationalist tendencies within contemporary international capitalism, gave a lot of thought to the future ownership structure of industry in a Nationalist Britain. The end result was the adoption of Distributist economic policies, along with the belief that producers' co-operatives, rather than capitalist firms, should form the basic blocks out of which British industry was constructed. (For further details of NF economic policies see An Introduction to the National Front).
These policies were in themselves sound and correct, and I have no quibble with them. However all too often these policies were misunderstood and misrepresented, even by those who claimed to be their most ardent supporters. For instance I have heard some fire-breathing 'radical' nationalists denouncing Capitalism because it led to 'the anarchy of the market place' and because 'greed for profit' is the motivating factor within the system.
Such rhetoric, although it has a satisfyingly radical ring to it ignores the fact that workers' co-operatives can quite easily form the basis of the sort of laissez-faire profit-orientated economic system that Adam Smith would have approved of.
Regarding 'market place anarchy': it has never been envisaged by the National Front that a centralised bureaucratic state, whether it be like Mussolini's Italy or Stalin's USSR, should determine the production, distribution and pricing policy of producers co-operatives. Rather Nationalists seek to ensure that a 'Big Brother' state plays as small a role as possible in the lives and day-to-day decisions of ordinary people.
Rather it has always been implied - though not stated as clearly as it should have been - that workers' co-op's would be free to trade largely as they pleased (providing such trade didn't conflict with other Nationalist economic policies - eg import controls), buy from the best source of supplies, and sell in the markets and at the price of their choice.
Regarding 'greed for profit': transforming industry so that it becomes co-operatively owned, instead of capitalist owned, doesn't eliminate the profit motive - rather it extends it throughout the workforce of an enterprise.
The situation is ironic to say the least: capitalists will defend the profit motive as essential to hard and productive work, when those who receive such profits - the shareholders - will usually not actually also work for the firm concerned. Yet the employees of such a firm, who surely are the ones who need to be motivated to do hard and productive work if the firm is to thrive, will not receive a direct share in those profits, unless they happen to be shareholders as well, which is rarely the case.
Under a co-operative system, where firms are owned by their employees the profits go directly to those who do the work. Profits, and thus the profit motive, will be widely spread among the working population, and a desire to earn profits will surely be one of the main factors determining how a co-op behaves in the market place.
So why has the rhetoric of radical nationalist been out of step with economic realities over the last few years? Why have a number of issues been fudged? To answer these questions we need to look back on the development of the National Front's economic and industrial policies over the last decade.
As mentioned above in the early 1980's the party started to distinguish between private enterprise and capitalism - a distinction which is all too often overlooked even by professional. economists. It recognised that capitalism was only one form of private enterprise, and that Distributism was another, and better, form.
The party did not however go on to make the distinction between capitalism and free market economics, which tend as result to be talked of as though they are synonymous - which they are not. In fairness to the NF it should be remembered that most professional economists usually fail to make any distinction either.
That distinction can best be illustrated by considering a couple of examples. Firstly the Soviet Union where, in the wake of perestroika factories are increasingly being allowed to obtain their supplies and to sell their products wherever they can, to their best advantage, in competition with other factories. The factories are still owned by the state, which hires and fires managers as it chooses, but the centralised control over production, distribution and pricing is being lessened.
What could emerge in the USSR is a rather unusual economic paradox - free market state socialism, for the essence of a free market system is not private ownership, but that businesses can buy and sell to their own best advantage, in competition with other similar businesses.
The converse occured to a large extent in Mussolini's Italy. There much of industry was privately capitalistically owned, but state intervention was responsible to a large extent for determining production, investment etc.
So where does all this leave the NF? If we are not at root offering an alternative to a 'market' system for running the economy, and determining production, capital investment etc, and if we accept the profit motive as a valid determinant of human economic behaviour then is Nationalism really a radical alternative to the present system? Aren't we just tinkering with the system, offering people only a variant on an existing theme, rather than the revolutionary change which Nationalists have been claiming for the last decade?
Industrial Pollution: Increased calls for regulations controlling the emission of pollutants represents - rightly - one of the biggest single threats to contemporary laissez-faire economic thinking.
And if we are only tinkering with the system won't our alternative suffer inevitably from the same flaws as the existing system?
As it happens I think the party has been right to claim that its economic, policies represent a radical alternative to, and improvement on, the existing capitalist system - but not for the reasons that have usually been claimed.
The profit motive is still important in a system of workers' co-operatives, of course. But I would suggest that with co-operatives the economic system will be innately far more nationalistic than with capitalism. Thus the 'free market' is far more likely to work in harmony with Nationalist ethnic, social and economic policies than would be the case with a capitalist free market.
To take an obvious example: labour shortages in the textile industry in the Sixties (ie shortages of labour at the wage rates capitalists wanted to pay) led to the importation of cheap Asian labour, especially into a number of towns in the North of England. The shareholders and bosses of the firms concerned, who were responsible for bringing tens of thousands of Asians into Britain did not have to face the social cost of their decisions - they did not live in the working-class communities which suffered an Asian takeover.
Had the textile industry been co-operatively owned by its workforce then would it still have imported thousands of Asians to do the jobs of British workers? Would workers in Blackburn and Bolton, Manchester and Rochdale, have willingly taken decisions that turned the neighbourhoods in which they lived into Calcutta-esque slums? It is surely highly improbable, to say the least.
There is a major flaw in any free market system which, in this environmentally sensitive age, is increasingly going to be held against it. This is simply the fact that it is simply more profitable to pollute than to not pollute. Consider the case of two identical factories, making the same product. One factory discharges noxious waste into a river, the second has its waste treated and rendered harmless - all too often a pricey business. In a free market the first company will have the lower costs, will be more profitable and will prevail. Such pollution may be countered by environmental regulations concerning such discharges, of course. But any such regulations smack of bureaucratic interference and control - undermining the whole raison d'etre of a free market system - as Mr Kinnock and Mrs Thatcher are, for different reasons, only too well aware.
Moreover, as mentioned above, where the inherent dynamic of any market system runs counter to controls and regulations of any sort, then those regulations will be constantly under attack - ignored, evaded or manipulated. Given the increasing concern with matters ecological I suspect that the dubious record of the free market on pollution control will be its Achilles Heel.
However it is important to recognise that any tendency to pollute is greatly lessened - although not eliminated - under a system of co-operative ownership. Again a simple example will illustrate the point. Let's suppose a manufacturing plant is to be built in Cardiff. A choice may exist between building a starkly functional and unsightly concrete slab of a factory that would be a visual eyesore and blight on the surrounding area. Alternatively - but at greater cost - the building might be more attractively designed, the area land-scaped, trees planted to screen it from residential areas etc.
Under present day international capitalist ownership the choice may well be made in a boardroom in London or New York, by directors reporting ultimately to shareholders in Tokyo or Frankfurt. Their concern will be to maximise profits - they won't have to face on a daily basis the environmental consequences of their decision.
Under a system of co-operative ownership however that choice would be made by a local management who would be personally affected by their own decisions, reporting ultimately to the workforce ownership who form a part of the local community affected by the environmental consequences of any such choice.
There is of course no guarantee that co-ops will never take environmentally damaging actions, but they are innately less likely to do so, because those making the decisions are innately more likely to be personally affected by the environmental consequences of their choices.
In conclusion: I do feel that the socio-economic policies advocated by the National Front - especially those relating to the ownership of industry - do in fact constitute a radical improvement on the present system, but for substantially different reasons to those proclaimed in the past by some radical Nationalists.
The party in short has been right, but for the wrong reasons. Still that's a whole lot healthier than being wrong for the right reasons...