Socialist Worker

Why is nationalisation presented as a sign of failure?

Issue No. 2089

Even as Northern Rock is rescued by the state, we are repeatedly told that nationalised companies are the epitome of failure.

For more than a decade New Labour has made clear its ideological commitment to privatisation. Yet nationalisation hasn’t always been such a dirty word.

The reason why the coal and rail industries were taken into public ownership after the Second World War was because their private owners were losing money and had failed to meet the challenge of a war economy.

In the early 1970s boardroom greed could drive a household name like Rolls Royce into bankruptcy – requiring a Tory government to take it over.

Post-war nationalisations had nothing to do with socialism. Government ownership was always at “arms length” and workers were never allowed any control over their industries.

State control does not in itself represent a move towards any kind of socialism. Only democratic control of industry by workers and consumers can offer that.

But socialism is not a word that Gordon Brown is ever likely to rehabilitate.

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What We Think
Tue 19 Feb 2008, 18:45 GMT
Issue No. 2089
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