Saturday 21 March 2020

Engels on Nationalisation

While centrists coo over the besuited delivery of Rishi Sunak, I have seen some Labour people - in all seriousness - regard the Tories' emergency measures to keep their system afloat during this crisis as positive goods in themselves, as if we're seeing a Conservative chancellor implement the programme of full Corbynism. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.

When you look at the specifics of Sunak's programme, he and Boris Johnson aren't taking anything into public ownership. Indeed, their package of wage subsidies, hands outs and dirt cheap loans are all about preserving private ownership. Not that there is anything especially progressive about nationalisation per se, a point jolly old Fred Engels made back in the 1880s. In this brief extract from his Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels emphasises the point that nationalisation does not mean the abolition of capital or capitalism, but rather more starkly brings its class relations out into the open. Going beyond means mobilising the forces of production, the workers themselves, to take active control of production and reorganising society around their - our - priorities and needs. Take it away, Fred:

" ... [In a crisis] the official representative of capitalist society — the state — will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production. This necessity for conversion into State property is felt first in the great institutions for intercourse and communication — the post office, the telegraphs, the railways.

If the crises demonstrate the incapacity of the bourgeoisie for managing any longer modern productive forces, the transformation of the great establishments for production and distribution into joint-stock companies, trusts, and State property, show how unnecessary the bourgeoisie are for that purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist has no further social function than that of pocketing dividends, tearing off coupons, and gambling on the Stock Exchange, where the different capitalists despoil one another of their capital. At first, the capitalistic mode of production forces out the workers. Now, it forces out the capitalists, and reduces them, just as it reduced the workers, to the ranks of the surplus-population, although not immediately into those of the industrial reserve army.

But, the transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.

This solution can only consist in the practical recognition of the social nature of the modern forces of production, and therefore in the harmonizing with the socialized character of the means of production. And this can only come about by society openly and directly taking possession of the productive forces which have outgrown all control, except that of society as a whole. The social character of the means of production and of the products today reacts against the producers, periodically disrupts all production and exchange, acts only like a law of Nature working blindly, forcibly, destructively. But, with the taking over by society of the productive forces, the social character of the means of production and of the products will be utilized by the producers with a perfect understanding of its nature, and instead of being a source of disturbance and periodical collapse, will become the most powerful lever of production itself."


Boffy said...

Good post. The nationalisations that the Tories may, and probably will undertake, as with those being proposed by Trump will be aimed against the interests of workers. They will be simply a means of protecting capital, and more excruciatingly exploiting workers. The model is likely to be the nationalised property of Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia and so on, and nothing whatsoever to do with socialism or workers' interest.

Engels also wrote that such state capitalism sees society dominated by a small exploiting elite enjoying all of the benefits of this nationalised property, and would not put up with such a situation. His diagnosis was right, but his prognosis, unfortunately was wrong. Its precisely because society is unlikely to put up with such open and flagrant exploitation by this minority that the state, thereby makes sure to protect itself against civil society by increasing the size of he bodies of armed men to protect it, by instituting the kind of totalitarian control over the media that was seen in Russia, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Spain and so on.

Anyone thinking that any thing good will come out of that increased statism is highly deluded. A look at the Bonpartist measures being introduced by Johnson to impose emergency powers for two years, to thereby recind basis rights such as the right to strik, to protest and so on, and the willingness to quickly bring the military onto the streets indicates exactly where this is headed.

Already, the reactionary economic nationalists are seeking to use the moral panic to attack foreigners and immigrants, and to call for an end to globalisation, a globalisation that has lifted hundreds of millions across the globe out of dire poverty and misery. It is a repeat of the same reactionary rhetoric that those same fascists and nationalists raised in the 1930's.

Anonymous said...

What does Gordon Brown have to add to the discussion? He does not have a role and has no particular qualified expertise. It just comes across as his inflated sense of self - his ramblings in The Guardian etc. Rather hear other voices- ones that are actually informed and add value.

Deviation From The Mean said...

It is of course fine for the opposition to ask questions of the government and make suggestions, but some of it spills too much into electoral politics for my liking.

I do hope Corbyn or anyone in the opposition calls for a full judicial review into the pandemic. We have, after all, seen the opposition call for judicial reviews for a lot less (though still reasonable).

This will not only detail how and why decisions were made, how we should cope with future pandemics but also hopefully advise how future society should be organised.

Also make that judicial review fully televised.

I would expect the UN to carry out a general review but this should be UK specific. Albeit the need to work internationally is clearly crucial etc etc.

Hopefully all genuine leftists will be united in one voice; the era of globalised capitalism must come to an end and be replaced by a planned economy that delivers based on needs and agreed priorities.

I remember reading an anthropological study of the mal-development of the global South by the imperialist criminals and from the Nazi's (see Leni Riefenstahls extensive work in Africa, Cecil Rhodes writings on colonial rule, the South African Nationalists arguments for Apartheid and almost every Austrian economist on the planet) to the British, Belgium and French colonialist the justification for this mass murder and theft was dragging people out of poverty.

The anthropological study made the point that it was never and I mean never the people who were being dragged out of poverty that made this claim but was always a claim made by the people doing the dragging, often literally.

Boffy, being firmly on the political right, not only allies with the likes of Austrian bagmen like Godfrey Bloom and Dominic Cummings when it comes to the correct response to the pandemic but also allies with the arch political right when it comes to the history of globalised capitalism. He also echoes the arguments made by the Nazi’s, the Colonial racists should as Rhodes and the nationalist White South Africans.

It is clear that globalisation is bringing us to the point of disaster. As an economic model it is bordering on insanity, it is so fragile to be unsustainable. It will literally rip the world apart and destroy the living environment.

Boffy’s gies against the laws of physics. It is simply not possible to sustain life at the level of the average Westerner.

Rather than dragging people out of poverty, globalized capitalism has built the biggest system of super-exploitation ever created and has brought the world to the brink of disaster.

For all our sakes we should fight with all our breath for its demise.

Anonymous said...

Right now I would rather hear from experts than any politicians but I expect for some, Gordon Brown is a solid and trustworthy figure in a time of uncertainty.