Level 5 Response – To what extent do Socialists agree on the issue of Workers’ Control (24 Marks)

Workers’ control refers to the management of the means of production by workers, rather than by the middle-class. This can either be directly through collective ownership or indirectly through public control. Whilst all socialists advocate for the rights of working people, it does not necessarily follow that they all advocate for workers’ control of industry. In order to answer this question, the following need to be considered: the role of class in the theory and how industry should finally be organised. Ultimately, socialists do not widely agree on the theory of the importance Workers’ Control. Whilst there is some commonality between revolutionary socialists and democratic socialists, social democrats depart from the theory whilst Third Way socialists reject it entirely.

Differing beliefs in class heavily impact ideological views towards workers’ control. The strands of socialism that advocate giving more control to workers are those that see class as the most significant dividing line in society.  Revolutionary socialists like Marx and Engels believed that societies were all defined by class conflict. In each historical era there was a dialectic struggle and at the time of Das Kapital (1867) the struggle was between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Marx and Engels believed that the wealth of the bourgeoisie was accumulated through the exploitation of the labour of the proletariat. As such, revolutionary socialists advocate the replacement of capitalism with a system where the workers will be properly rewarded for their labour and that is run for the benefit of the workers. They believed this could only be achieved by direct workers’ control of the means of production. Democratic Socialists like Beatrice Webb have commonality with this view, also recognising that capitalism was the main cause of ‘crippling poverty and demeaning inequality’. They therefore advocated for workers control of industry to ensure workers received the ‘full fruits of their labour’. Conversely, social democrats are less clear that the traditional class struggle is as important as Marx suggested. As part of the post-war social democratic consensus, successive governments believed the key to the supporting workers was not control of industry, but public spending. Anthony Crosland, for example, was a key proponent in the emergence of comprehensive schools to allow social mobility. Further to this, Third Way socialists reject the concept of class as a dividing line believing there has been embourgeoisement since the 1980s through policies like the Right to Buy. Whilst they accept there is inequality, they do not believe this is part of a dialectic class struggle. Therefore, there is significant disagreement on the ideological basis for workers’ control, with revolutionary and democratic socialists believe class struggle justifies it whilst social democrats and third way socialists reject this view.

There are consequently also clear differences in how differing strands of socialism believe industry should be organised. Revolutionary socialists believe that workers had to take control of the means of production directly and, if necessary, through revolution. Marx believed that there should be a dictatorship of the proletariat after which there should be collective ownership, whilst slightly differently, Luxembourg believed that the dictatorship of the proletariat was folly and would simply lead to dictatorship of the party. Therefore, she advocated a spontaneous revolution after class consciousness had been achieved and therefore socialism would win a democratic mandate. Whilst democratic socialists share the goal of workers control, their methods are different. They believe that it should be achieved through nationalisation of industry. Famously, Beatrice Webb was a key author of the 1918 Labour constitution which included Clause IV which said workers should have “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. This can be seen in the program of Clement Attlee to nationalise key industries like coal, rail, and electricity between 1945 and 1951. Whilst democratic socialists believe there may be a place for limited public ownership, they believe that free enterprise can help workers. For example, Harold MacMillan’s middle way saw low unemployment and a rise in real wages leading to his statement in 1957 that “you’ve never had it so good”. The rise in tax revenue could be used to fund social programs like increased pensions for workers. Contrarily to all strands, third way socialists reject workers control entirely. They believe that a free market neo-liberal economy is the only way that wealth can be achieved which can then be used to support social justice projects. Famously, Peter Mandelson said “we don’t mind people being filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes”. This greater tax yield could be used to fund huge projects to increase equality of opportunity for workers. Under New Labour this included the largest school and hospital building program in history. The fact that New Labour oversaw the removal of Clause IV in 1995 is a clear indicator of the ideological shift that Third Way socialists follow. In summation, there are significant disagreements between how industry should be organised. Revolutionary socialists and democratic socialists believe that workers should have control of industry, either directly or indirectly. However, Third Way socialists reject this entirely, believing workers’ control limits economic growth. Therefore, whilst some strands have agreement, overall, there is limited agreement on how industry should be organised.

In conclusion, it is clear that socialists do not agree on worker’s control to a significant extent because they disagree on both the justification for it and how industry should in fact be organised. Whilst there is clear agreement between revolutionary socialists and democratic socialists on the class struggle as a justification for workers’ control, both social democrats and Third Way socialists question the importance of class struggle in society. Further, whilst revolutionary socialists and democratic socialists agree industry should be organised with Worker’s in control, either directly or indirectly, Third Way socialists reject this entirely, believing it stunts innovation and economic growth – thereby harming working people. Therefore, it cannot be said there is significant agreement amongst socialists on workers’ control.

What is good about this response?

  • It follows the Golden Rule for Ideologies questions that every paragraph compares the different strands of the ideology.
  • Good knowledge is shown of all strands with consideration of differences and agreement.
  • The Key Thinkers are used at not just named.
  • It develops thematic points which address the question.
  • It clearly considers the extent or agreement and disagreement within the themes relevant to the question.
  • Note – It is normally a good idea to do a short paragraph on fundamental agreements before the thematic paragraphs, however, this was not necessary for this answer as the fundamental agreements were very limited.

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