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When I got interested in politics in the 1970s, defining myself as a 'Communist', I was continually being told that Marx had been proved wrong because he thought the condition of the working class under capitalism would inevitably be subject to continual worsening, The broad argument was that in a competitive system enterprises have to continually try to to reduce their costs in relation to their competitors. They can't do much to affect the cost of the materials they need to conduct the business (short of a government willing to engage in war against the countries of origin). The most flexible cost is the wage packet, especially under conditions of high unemployment.

What has stood in the way of this 'race to the bottom' is of course government action. Back in 1926 again, one of the reasons that led Ernest Bevin, greatest of English Socialists, to call off the General Strike, was his view that what was on offer in the Samuel Report on the Coal Mining Industry was a long term benefit that was worth acceptance of a short term wages cut. Sir Herbert Samuel was proposing that the industry, which at that time was made up of a wide range of separate enterprises competing with each other, should instead be treated as a single national entity with a common wage structure determined by negotiation at national level. In 1928-9, Bevin, greatly criticised by the left of the trade union movement, participated in the 'Mond-Turner talks', discussing with leading industrialists the problems of British industry taken as a whole, and subsequently, in 1930, under the newly elected Labour government, he sat on the MacMillan Committee which heard lengthy testimony from Keynes, who had just published his Treatise on Money, thus gaining an understanding of the operations of the money market. Perhaps the best decision Churchill ever made - though difficult to reconcile with his general world-view - was to put Bevin, as Minister of Labour, in charge of the wartime economy, thus laying the foundation stone of the post-war welfare state.

I and the group of people I was working with (the British and Irish Communist Organisation) broadly accepted that the postwar settlement had established the conditions for a steady advance in working class wellbeing and consequently power, which, we argued, could only be developed further by an advance in working class responsibility for decision making rather than the negative power of making demands on an increasingly powerless management class. It was for this reason that we supported the Report on Industrial Democracy, published in January 1977 under the chairmanship of Alan Bullock, who had been the major biographer of Bevin. This proposed that the management of major British enterprises should be responsible equally to shareholders and the workforce. Part of the argument was that the workforce had a much more immediate interest in the success of the enterprise than the shareholders who could buy shares and sell them at will. A managerial class uniquely responsible to shareholders (often themselves managers), it was argued, prophetically as it turned out - once freed from the pressures of a powerful trade union movement - would tend to become a self serving caste.

I still regard the failure of the Bullock Report as one of the turning points in my life. Although it was of course opposed by the CBI and the Institute of Directors etc., the main opposition came from the working class itself, or at least from the working class movement, if that is the same thing - nearly all left wing groups (even including the Institute for Workers Control) and most of the trade union leadership (its main trade union supporter had been Jack Jones of the TGWU, in the succession of Ernest Bevin).

It was at that point that I concluded that the Marxist analogy of Bourgeoisie becoming the ruling class followed by the working class becoming the ruling class wouldn't work because the working class lacked what the bourgeoisie had in spades, namely the Will to Power. Bevin had it but he was exceptional and didn't manage to leave behind him an intellectual legacy.