NATIONALISATION OF INDUSTRIES AFTER WORLD WAR IICategory: Economy
Nationalisation by itself is not socialism but nationally owned industries operated on the basis of service to the community and not profit for big business can be an important step on the road to socialism.
When nationalisation was brought in by the Labour Government it was widely welcomed. Why, then, is there such disappointment with the results? Because it did not bring a new deal for either the worker on the job or the consumer.
Too much compensation was paid, and remained a charge on each industry, creating a burden which has kept wages down and prices up.
The boards of the industries are full of ex-owners and other people of a capitalist outlook who do not believe in nationalisation. No wonder that the managements’ attitude to workers and staff is the same as in the days of private ownership.
The main industries nationalised were those in which the private owners were no longer able to make a profit which satisfied them. The most modern and profitable industries were left in the hands of the big private firms, which were aided further by the way nationalisation worked. Thus, the consumer pays high prices for coal — but coal is sold cheap to industry. Passenger fares keep on going up — but the charges for transporting goods remain low.
Public opinion polls show that a majority of those interviewed take a pretty poor view of existing nationalised industries. The Tories are eager to exploit this sentiment and the Labour Party is not exactly eager to dispute it.
The Tories have been working ceaselessly for years pouring out their poisonous propaganda about the bankruptcy of the nationalised industries, the high cost of their products and at the same time engaging in the piecemeal destruction of these industries.
The Labour Party has given up the idea of taking over the “commanding heights” of the economy. The right wing argue that nationalisation is damaging to the Labour Party and outmoded.
The right wing uses the consequences of capitalist nationalisation to drop or restrict proposals for further nationalisation. There will be nonew Britainoffering boundless opportunities for a good, rich life for the people on this basis.
The giant capitalist monopolies will still be in control of economic life ofBritain. The controllers of economic power are the ones who will take the major decisions that will affect our economy and the future prospects of every family. They are the monopolists who dominate the eighty giant firms which control more than half the entire production in this country. They are the big business interests which control the three giant firms which dominate the motor car industry; the monopolists of I. С. I. which dominates the chemical industry; the bosses of Shell and British Petroleum which, between them, control the crucial petroleum industry; the owners of the fifty-one companies which control half the shipping fleet; and the bosses of the 36 shipyards responsible for half the total output. The alternative to nationalisation is unbridled control and exploitation of the nation by big monopolists.
It is intolerable that in the second half of the twentieth century the power to decide whether men and women have work or be unemployed and whether our children will have decent prospects or flounder in a dead-end, should rest with these small groups of monopolists. All the talk about the utilisation of science and about planning is meaningless unless the big concentrations of industry and financial power become the property of the people.
In view of the growth of industry and the development of monopoly in this country, extensive nationalisation is necessary in order to place control ofBritain’s resources firmly in the hands of the people. This would mean taking over such industries as steel, chemicals, oil refining, aircraft, motors and key sections of engineering, especially concerned with the development of electronics and automation as well as with the development of atomic energy. In addition, the shipbuilding industry should be nationalised along with large firms in the building industry; building materials; textiles; urban land and the great landed estates; the joint-stock banks and insurance companies. With such an extension of nationalisation, the power of big business to create economic obstruction and financial anarchy would be broken. However, it would need to be a very different form of nationalisation from that so far practised in this country, and the different form lies in socialist nationalisation.
Socialist nationalisation would end capitalist ownership of the basic industries and stop the exploitation of the working class. It would end private profit and give higher wages and salaries and provide for improved social services. It would increase the amount of money to be ploughed back for the scientific re-equipment of industry, enabling output to be raised and hours of work to be reduced. Above all it would enable a national plan to be produced to meet the needs of the people. There would be no crippling burdens of compensation. To extend nationalisation to the most profitable capitalist industries would be to develop an entirely different set-up to that which exists at present. That is why the capitalists object so violently to any ideas of further nationalisation.
Under socialist nationalisation the people on the boards would be those who believe in social change, technicians and workers of the nationalised industries. Genuine consultation would be carried through so that workers’ representatives would be brought into discussion and formulation of all plans right from the start.
Full socialist nationalisation is only possible with the taking over of political power. But the labour movement must do battle against the monopolies and should demand that a Labour Government lead in the battle to make serious inroads into the power of Big Business. Let us learn the lessons of the past. The Labour Government of 1945, elected with an overwhelming majority, lasted only six years. A major cause of its downfall in 1951 was the failure to deal effectively with the big capitalist interests. They flourished and their party reemerged to challenge and overcome the Labour Government.
Monopoly capitalism is very much more powerful today. This emphasises the need for a much bolder, more ambitious pol – icy designed to take over the monopolies and the commanding heights of the economy for and on behalf of the people.
From A Policy for Britain. General Election Programme of the Communist Party, 1955; Comment, May 9, 1964; Comment, March 28, 1964; Labour Monthly, Oct. 1964