Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s nationalisation plans have generated howls of rage from the right. Labour has pledged to renationalise the railways, water firms, the National Grid and Royal Mail.
The Tories dismissed this as “nonsensical” while Josh Hardie of the bosses’ CBI group said Labour’s manifesto was “past its sell by date”.
But nationalisation—where the state runs services—isn’t unrealistic, rare or even radical.
Every major industry in Britain has at some point been run by the state. The state ran Royal Mail until 2013 and the railways until 1993. The East Coast Mainline was successfully run under public ownership between 2009 and 2015.
Bailouts in 2007 and 2008 partly or fully nationalised the biggest four banks—Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS-Lloyds TSB, Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley.
The ruling class doesn’t always oppose nationalisation because it can suit its interests.
In the 1930s some Tories backed nationalisation to tackle high unemployment.
After the Second World War, much of the ruling class accepted nationalisation to restructure the economy, cut their losses—and avoid a revolt.
But currently our rulers are mostly wedded to the free market. They want private firms to run industries and services—and for private sector bosses to reap the profits.
Billionaires like Richard Branson of Virgin Trains or the bosses of Southern rail would strongly resist any nationalisations from a Corbyn government.
Look at what happened in 1974. Labour was elected promising to “bring about a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of wealth and power” in favour of the working class. Bosses engineered a run on the pound, where investors sell their sterling, and the government backed off.
It signed up to spending cuts demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and imposed savage attacks on workers.
In Greece the left wing Syriza was elected in 2015 promising to end austerity. But it buckled under enormous pressure from bosses’ groups, including the IMF, and carried on making cuts.
Bosses can try to sabotage governments by threatening to take money out of the system or refusing to invest. Banks can downgrade countries’ credit ratings, piling pressure on governments. If the rich really feel their position is challenged, they will use force to try and protect it. Ruling classes have used the state—the police, army and so on—to overthrow governments that challenge their interests.
But that doesn’t mean the struggle is hopeless.
Working class people can form a force that is much more powerful than our rulers’ sabotage. Bosses rely on workers to make their profits. By collectively taking action, workers can defeat the bosses.
The ruling class in Venezuela tried to overthrow left wing leader Hugo Chavez in 2002. But ordinary people mobilised to stop it.
In Britain in the early 1970s the Tories attacked pay—provoking unofficial action, strikes and occupations that ultimately brought the government down. There were more than 200 factory occupations between 1972 and 1974.
Corbyn’s nationalisation plans are important and welcome. They would raise questions about who owns and controls what in our society.
But state control of services doesn’t mean ordinary people are in charge, because real power lies outside parliament.
A Corbyn-led government would be a huge slap in the face to the rich and powerful.
We are for that—but we need more too. The rich will always come back to attack us, even if they are beaten in the short term.
Let’s fight for a society where we get rid of them for good.