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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


Nationalisation and Socialism

THE WELCOME news that the Welsh railways are to return to public ownership has fired demands for similar action in the rest of the UK to secure passenger services and protect jobs in an industry badly hit by the coronavirus crisis.

The Labour-led Welsh government has used its powers to appoint a public “operator of last resort” to run rail services as a result of the private contractor’s failure to meet its obligations due to the massive drop in passenger numbers during the lockdown.

The move was welcomed by the rail unions and the We Own It campaign that was launched in 2013 to make the case for public ownership. Campaigns officer Pascale Robinson said the Welsh move was “a great step forward”.

She said: “Privatisation just means you pay more for your rail service in profits and today shows you can only keep that up for so long. Publicly owned rail networks have been shown to work. The East Coast Line, after being brought into public ownership, is the most efficient service in the UK. We hope that the rest of the UK follows.”

But bail-outs can never be the only argument for nationalisation. The Tories nationalised Rolls-Royce engineering to save it from going bust in the early 1970s. They supported the steps the Labour government took in 2008 to prevent the collapse of the financial system that included nationalising banks, such as Northern Rock, that were on the edge of collapse. But the Tories sold them off again once they became profitable.

Whilst the railways are clearly a public service that should naturally be kept in public hands, we have to campaign for the renationalisation of the entire public sector that existed in this country until 1979 to use their profits to restore the NHS and the welfare state that we once enjoyed.

Although public ownership can fund much-needed public services it cannot, in itself, lead to socialist advance. Fascist Italy’s public sector was, for instance, second only to that of the Soviet Union before the Second World War. Some even called it “state socialism”. Stalin disagreed.

The Soviet leader told an American journalist in 1936 that: “Many people take this term to mean the system under which a certain part of wealth, sometimes a fairly considerable part, passes into the hands of the state, or under its control, whilst in the overwhelming majority of cases the works, factories and the land remain the property of private persons. This is what many people take ‘state socialism’ to mean. Sometimes this term covers a system under which the capitalist state, in order to prepare for, or wage war, runs a certain number of private enterprises at its own expense.

“The society that we have built cannot possibly be called ‘state socialism’. Our Soviet society is socialist society, because the private ownership of the factories, works, the land, the banks and the transport system has been abolished and public ownership put in its place.”

What does socialism mean? First of all it means that the ownership of the means of production – the factories, mines, the transport industry and the land – are taken from the hands of the capitalists into state and collective ownership on behalf of the working class. A dictatorship of the working class will be established that will suppress the capitalists economically and politically through the workers’ government, trade unions and councils and generally in the sphere of ideology and culture.

The energy, vitality and creative power of the working class will be unleashed, providing a freer and fuller life for everyone. The people will own the banks, insurance companies and finance houses. The age of classes and exploitation will be over. The greed, speculation and corruption of the bourgeoisie will end and a new era will dawn.