Friday, September 16, 2022

China takes up the White Man’s Burden (1942)

From the November 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is at the End of the Road?
The long-term results of war are notoriously difficult to predict. Each side sees post-war events as they would be shaped by their own victory, but even when the victory of one side is decisive the result is rarely the same as the expectation. War destroys an existing balance of power and gives rise to more or less drastic adjustments, but it is beyond the capacity of most of the actors in the war-drama to see what will happen after the curtain falls on the military combat.

At present the thinking of most of those who plan the future world is clouded by wishes born of their class interests. One group want capitalism to be restored just as it was in 1939. Others, the Labour Party for example, vaguely hope and believe that capitalism will have disappeared, or will be “different.” Both groups will be disappointed. Capitalism will remain after the war, but it will not be the capitalist world envisaged by British and American capitalists. The failure of the German-Japanese-Italian gamble for dominance will not leave things just as they were, and some observers are already uneasily aware of this. A Japanese officer who told a Daily Mail correspondent (Daily Mail, September 10th) that ”if Hitler won this war every man in Japan knew they would have to fight the Germans to retain their empire,” was doubtless right, but likewise when the Axis Powers fail the East will show some developments little regarded at the moment. Only the Manchester Guardian among British newspapers appears to have interested itself in the problems that will arise then:
“China can expect to emerge from the war as one of the world’s Great Powers with all the scope and responsibility which the status entails.”— (“Manchester Guardian,” October 12th, 1942.)
One politician, Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, Britain’s High Commissioner in Canada, would not be aware of any problem. Speaking about the great 1,500 mile Alaska Highway which links up U.S.A., across Canada, with Alaska, he dealt with its present purpose as a “springboard for attack on Japan,” and then spoke customary soothing words about the important part the highway and its defence system will play
“When the war is won, in bringing our friends in the Orient, the Chinese, the Russians, the Americans, and ourselves, into much closer communication and harmony.”— (“Daily Mail,” October 17th, 1942.)
Capitalist politicians always talk in this way about the development of means of transport and communications, as if closer contact in a world given over to capitalist rivalries necessarily produces harmony. (Incidentally Mr. MacDonald is a member of the government which still, under the 1927 Trade Disputes Act, forbids British Civil servants who handle some of the international means of communication, the posts, telegraphs and telephones, to come into contact with their fellows in the Dominion, Allied and other countries in an international association, for fear, no doubt, that closer contact might produce too much working-class harmony.)

The Manchester Guardian, however, comes closer to reality in its report of discussions that are going on about China’s war aims. The principle laid down by Madame Chiang Kai-shek is that in the relations between West and East there must be absolute equality, there “must be no thought of superiors and inferiors”; but, as the Guardian adds, “To translate those simple phrases into political action is a process that will demand all the statesmanship that the United Nations can discover” (Manchester Guardian, August 25th, 1942). In the same editorial the Guardian quotes Mrs. Pearl Buck, the writer on China, as saying that unless the problem is solved “the end will be a war in which China will not be on our side,” and Mr. Owen Lattimore, Political Adviser to General Chiang Kai-shek, says that, it is taken for granted in China and the rest of Asia “though perhaps not yet … so decidedly taken for granted in the Western democracies,” that “colonies lost in battle by countries unable to defend them and unwilling to grant them the full right of self-defence can never be subjected or returned to the status quo of December 7th, 1941.”

Mr. Lattimore envisages a great danger that will arise if Japan can one day present herself “as the defender of colonial Asia against white reconquest.”

Mr. Wendell Wilkie has added his view that “no foot of Chinese soil should be or can be ruled from now on except by the people who live on it” (Daily Telegraph, October 7th, 1942).

Up to this point the problem looks a comparatively simple one of the renunciation of territory held in China, but those who so view it forget that we live in a capitalist world which inexorably drives on each capitalist group to strengthen its commercial competitive power and to strive for expansion. Will the new Pacific Power, China, escape from this law of capitalism ? The Guardian, returning to the subject in an editorial on October 12th, 1942, is apprehensive that it will not. The following passage shows the potentialities and dangers of the situation : —
“Discussion about post-war plans seems to be as lively in Chungking as it is in Washington or London. . . . The general trend of ideas, both official and private, has just been described in an American publication by Gunther Stein, who stresses that much of it remains highly controversial in Chungking. There is agreement on one point. Japan must be disarmed, freed from militaristic rule, and effectually prevented from re-arming. Some Chinese wish to see Japanese industrial equipment and industrial skill used to aid in the development of the countries ravaged by the invaders. Territorial aims seem to vary; while the return of all territories lost since the war of 1894-5 is taken for granted unofficial ambitions go far beyond that. Korea is to have independence, but there is a desire to make Siam a Chinese protectorate, and among the areas expected to return to full Chinese rule are Outer Mongolia and Tibet, as well as Sinkiang, Manchuria and Formosa. The independence of all other nations of East Asia from colonial rule is considered essential. This includes Indian sovereignty and close Sino-Indian collaboration for the protection and development of the backward Eastern peoples”.— (“Manchester Guardian,” October 12th, 1942.)
The reader who takes in the vast implications of the above official and unofficial ambitions of the ruling class of the China that is becoming a Great Power may well ask whether they are different from the ideas of expansion of all the other powers that have aspired in the past to build up empires. The Chinese, it seems, along with India, are even to take on the “white man’s burden” of protecting “backward peoples” ! As the Manchester Guardian tactfully remarks, China expects to take a leading part in the development of an East Asiatic economic group, “and some enthusiasts seem to push this reasonable desire rather far.”

The only comment Socialists have to make is that the outlines of the new order as sketched in Chungking look remarkably like all other capitalist imperialisms, except that there is a drastic change in the cast. The remedy is not new empires for old but the abolition everywhere of capitalism, which engenders these ambitions.
Edgar Hardcastle

The Christian Party (1942)

From the November 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

We have received for comment a leaflet called “A Christian Party,” and described on the front cover as “A Call to the Church and the World’s People by a Company of Priests in North Staffordshire,” by whom the leaflet presumably is published, and who say (inside cover) : ”You would be doing us and the cause of truth a service by your comments, criticism and advice which will be really welcomed and fully considered.”

The priests of the Christian Party (eleven of them) would appear to be cast in a different mould from many of the political divines who grace “left” political parties. They aim at an order of things where “each shall be the owner, or with his fellows the joint owner, of land and industry, subject to the autonomous economic corporations to which he belongs.” They say further : —
“We shall be called Socialists. We do not repudiate, but we are not eager to accept this label : for the Socialist parties of the day look for State control of all departments of life. Nationalisation is their cry. We see lurking in this the tyranny of German National Socialism or Russian State Socialism with its inevitable suppression of all free spiritual activity.”
And …
”We shall be labelled anarchist and syndicalist. We have to refuse this label too.”
But : 
“We would call ourselves communists only that we do not wish to be regarded as cynical and unscrupulous agents of the Stalin tyranny in Russia.”
The eleven priests of North Staffordshire would call themselves Communists. But if Christianism stands for what they say it does, Communism (the “Kingdom of God on earth”), there is no need to describe themselves in any way but as Christians. The fact that they describe themselves as Communists (reservations noted) and claim to stand for Communism is a measure of the extent that Christianism has nothing to do with Communism. They aptly illustrate the fact that man’s ideas and the objects he struggles for are governed by the world in which he lives. “Gross materialism,” perhaps, the suggestion of which might incline the Communist priests to draw in their cassocks. Nevertheless, when they want to explain what they stand for they do so by economic definitions (quoted above), by comparisons with Anarchism, Communism, and so on, and not by quotation from textual Christianism. It is true that they give extracts from biblical texts such ingenious interpretations that in their minds they make Christianity equal Socialism. Nevertheless it cannot escape notice that in nearly two thousand years of Christianity such interpretations are of modern origin. In fact, Socialism as an idea, as a science, even the words Capitalism and Socialism, are less than two hundred years old. There could have been no conception of the idea of Socialism three hundred years ago because the Capitalist system of society out of which the idea arose had not come into being. Still less could it be argued that the idea of “Christian Socialism” (or Communism) is two thousand years old.

The truth is that, whether these priests like it or not, the influence behind their ideas and the objects for which they stand, spring out of the material world in which we live and not from Christian inspiration. The attempt to square the material world with the religious conception of life in this way is but evidence of the process of the whittling away of the religious view of life which has been going on for two hundred years under pressure of the progress of the material world. Moreover, it would be reasonable to ask for support from Christian writings for the expressed attitude of the pamphlet to Nationalisation, Stalinism, and so on.

And why is a bishop who took sides with the Abyssinians in the war with Italy a “progressive bishop”? Need for some criterion—Christian or Socialist—seems to have escaped attention.

On the last page of the pamphlet the reader sustains as what comes as a shock from these “revolutionary Christians.
“Because of our sins this war is upon us, and for a penance we have to wade through mud and blood. We cannot contract out of it.”
Because of our sins !

Bunyan was more “revolutionary” than this—and certainly not less pious.

Is it the sins of the workers that condemn them to suffer capitalism ? Can they contract out of that ? Why should they not have to endure capitalism as a penance too ? How and why do these pietists distinguish between the one and the other?

One would tremble tor the future of the working class movement if there were any evidence that the muddled ideas of these well-intentioned moralists and noble “idealists” were likely to spread among the workers. Fortunately, the evidence is all the other way. None of the parsonic eleven are ever likely to play a part more than as an extra at any Labour or Communist meeting that found them useful.

When they write their next pamphlet we recommend they do not write of nationalisation, or State capitalism, (which the S.P.G.B. has opposed consistently) as being synonymous with Socialism : or describe parties whose policy is nationalisation as Socialist parties. It is a habit among wily politicians who find it expedient to erect their own Aunt Sallies. But the Christian Party should know better than to copy such an example. A few of their number certainly do know better.

A new Christian Party, but the old, old story.
Harry Waite

Are We “Proud” of our Class? (1942)

From the November 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

A controversy is raging in the columns of the “New Leader” on the burning question of Keir Hardie’s famous Cloth Cap. Two rival theories clash, one, that the hat (variety doubtful) originally intended to grace his temples was inadvertently left at home; the other theory, stoutly maintained by a relative, is that the rock of offence to a scandalised House was in the nature of a grand gesture, a proletarian signal of defiance of the “Here stands a Post” pattern.

There is an alternative explanation. The ostentatious adoption of a badge of social inferiority savours at best of theatricality and at worst of inverted vanity. The man who could publicly announce “My experience of the Labour movement in all its phases is second to that of no other man alive in England” (5/5/1910, at Browning Settlement) was hardly a model of modesty. His insistence on the importance of the text, “Come unto me all ye that labour,” was subconsciously an exaltation of his one-story Cap into the Triple Tiara of Labour’s Pope. Hardie’s mental outlook was typical of the Labour leader; the last war revealed the Hodges and the Barnes for what they were worth to the working class movement. Will the present war undeceive the worker ? The ruling clique has hired abler men from the workers’ ranks than in 1914, and a decisive Allied victory will probably effectually blur recollection of their slaps in the face to factory, field and mine worker. There is a faint hope that some of the latter will remember the solid backing their Trade Union bosses have accorded the “Go To It”-ers. The Chairman of the T.U.C. Conference kicks off with a hymn of praise to Churchill.

Much sentimental nonsense goes around in Labour circles about “pride” in belonging to the working class. The informed Socialist finds no reason for “pride” in his quite involuntary membership of that class. A consoling satisfaction, perhaps, is the reflection that his class is the sole instrument which can eventually deliver the world from the horrors of capitalism. An aspect of this “pride” business is the blether summed up in the word “Proletcult.” Broadly speaking, the ruling class in any given society and age dictate “culture,” and until comparatively recent times has alone been able to command the means for expression of that culture, whether in song or verse, in marble or paint on rostrurn, pulpit or stage. In “democratic” Athens an Aeschylus owed his just fame to a rich citizen. Virgil’s genius was hired by the astutest politician of his age to act as his propaganda minister and literary high priest. The black specks of sycophancy which tarnish the glory of a Shakespeare in later ages were the product of a fundamentally similar social basis and resultant outlook; (“Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed”).

Attempts have been made by the Cloth Hat Brigade of critics to exhibit ballads and “folk-songs” as emanating from the “great heart of the people” ; the simplicity of diction deceives. The “artiness” of the best ballads is hard to beat. As to “folk-songs,” the genuine articles to-day are the products of the music hall, and these can hardly be ranked as high art.

Hobbes dismissed the life of the savage as “poor, nasty, brutish and short”—an accurate description of the life of a huge mass of the working class, and under conditions which amply justify the description, what kind of “culture” can arise? The lewd dance, jazz, dreary tom-tom “spirituals”—these are some of the contributions to modern “culture” by which ages of negro slavery revenges itself on society. Augustus banished his daughter for a way of life contracted in a Rome saturated by the worst vices of gladiator and slave.

True, modern capitalism has evolved a section of relatively better placed “black-coated” workers, and the more far-seeing of the governing class have made it possible by scholarships to utilise the abilities of this section. But pay piper, call tune. How they dance to the tune !

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has never boasted of its proletarian origin and membership; it is so “proud” of its class that it is out for its abolition. “Spite of the gloomy days made for our searching,” there are glimmers of sunshine. In the party itself, there is a growing spirit of sober hope. We shall continue to pursue our immediate task—political education, never swerving from our adherence to the principle of delegation of executive work and abhorence of leadership; in short, to the principles of Socialism and all that Socialism implies.
Augustus Snellgrove

Soviet Socialism (1942)

From the November 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

One of the saddest things in the whole business of Soviet Russia is the recurring note in the organ of the I.L.P. (“New Leader “) that in economics the Russians have “achieved Socialism.” The Socialist Party of Great Britain can understand the fluffy minded Brockways and the worshippers of Saint Hardie talking such rubbish, but it defies the McNairs and the Ridleys to substantiate the statement. They must know better.
Augustus Snellgrove

The Unemployed are Tough (1942)

From the November 1942 issue of the Socialist Standard

Writing of the commando raid on Dieppe, the News Chronicle reporter says: “… These boys from the prairies—their average age is only about 23—had waited a year and a half for this chance to fight. Fighting is part of their character. They had grown up in hard times—the great depression and the prairie dust storms had meant long unemployment for many of them.”—-(News-Chronicle, 21/8/42.)

This is the first time we had heard that unemployment made workers “tough.” With this important discovery before them, capitalists will now no longer worry about the effect of unemployment on the morale of the workers. That is, of course, if there is going to be any unemployment in the wonderful post-war world, which has already half been built up—in words.
R. M.

Voice From The Back: The cold facts (2000)

The Voice From The Back Column from the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

The cold facts

Britain has seen a sharp increase in poverty, according to a major study that measures how far people on low incomes can afford the basic necessities of life. The report, Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain, has shown that the proportion of households regarded as living in poverty rose from 14 to 24 percent between 1983 and 1999 . . . The research found that about 9.5 million people cannot afford to keep their homes adequately heated, free from damp or in a decent state of decoration. Eight million people cannot afford one or more essential household goods, such as a refrigerator, a telephone or carpets for the living areas in their homes. Times, 11 September.

A corking night out

A worker’s Saturday night out can sometimes turn a bit nasty. You know the sort of thing. Disputes with the waiter about whether you should pay for the extra noodles or boiled rice. But spare a though for the gravity of the situation when one of our masters went for a meal. “The London Restaurateur Gordon Ramsay once had a customer who claimed that a £3,000, 1957 bottle of Petrus was corked. “I don’t mind arguing with people, but if you’ve got a talented sommelier then you know what you’re talking about.” That wine needed to be left open for 45 minutes, but the customer insisted on drinking it immediately. “He was just trying to create a bit of a scene,” says Mr Ramsay. “After half an hour he appreciated the flavours. Had we been weak then, we would have binned a very expensive bottle of wine.” Independent on Sunday, 3 September.

Whose world is it, anyway?

Capitalism is turning the world into a giant dustbin. Oceans are being poisoned, the air is being polluted and, according to a recent report from WWF, the global environment network: if the present rate of global warming continues, almost a third of plant and animal habitat will be destroyed by the end of the century. “Global warming means a horrifying future for nature,” said Ms Jennifer Morgan, the director of WWF’s climate change campaign. “This is a wake-up call to the world’s leaders—if they do not act to stop global warming, wildlife around the globe may suffer the consequences. They must give top priority to reducing levels of carbon pollution to prevent a catastrophe that could change the world as we know it.” Herald, 31 August.

Good news!

In the long dark days of winter there is always some good news. Here are a couple of news items that should lift the gloom a little:
(1) The Labour Party is £2 million in the red and has lost more than 30,000 members . . . However, the Conservative leader, William Hague, is also facing the prospect of embarrassment when the party’s accounts are published: they are expected to show that the Tories managed to raise only £8 million last year, indicating a reluctance by business to make donations. Independent on Sunday, 3 September.
(2) In the past ten years, billed by the churches as a “Decade of Evangelism”, church attendance of all denominations has dropped by 22 percent. Between 1989 and 1999, the Roman Catholic Church lost 490,000 worshippers and the Church of England 290,000. Observer, 3 September.

Without comment

Expect a change in the way business stories are covered on the BBC. The director general, Greg Dyke, says one of the things that irritates him most on the news is seeing a reporter say, “So, it’s good news for the shareholders, even if not for the rest of us.” Dyke wants BBC staff reminded that profit is good for everyone. Independent, 5 September.

Basic instinct

Prehistoric human beings were able to flourish and spread throughout the world because they lived in a state of “primitive communism”, a psychologist has claimed. Professor Andrew Whiten, from St Andrew’s University told a conference at the Royal Society of Edinburgh that our ancestors evolved through a form of co-operation not very different from the ideals of communism. Human beings were able to dominate the world against predators such as big cats and wolves, he said, only by adopting socialist values. All members of the prehistoric tribe were considered equal, he said, and food and clothing was equally shared. Times, 18 August.

Should the railways be renationalised? (2000)

From the November 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
Last month’s derailment in Hatfield following on from the heavy loss of life in the Paddington rail crash has resulted in renewed calls from the Left for the re-nationalisation of the railways. But state ownership of the railways is in no-one’s interest, except, at times, sections of the ruling class
So far as the working class is concerned, the great privatisation/ nationalisation issue has always been a completely bogus one. Unlike socialism, which has never been tried, state ownership of whole or part of a country’s economy has been widely applied.

State ownership of Britain’s railways was first proposed in the 1840s, not as you might suppose by primeval leftists but by the Conservative Party as a means of putting pressure on the railway companies not to overcharge their fellow capitalists. On the continent there was another reason—militarism. State ownership allowed greater control over the flow of troops to internal or external trouble spots. This is essentially why the railways in countries such as Germany and Russia were state-owned from early on. In Germany the situation was admittedly a little more complicated: only the strategic routes were state run whilst private enterprises were allowed to own the less important routes. When Germany began its state-directed industrialisation project later in the nineteenth century the railways were a vital part of this. Gradually the state began to eat up the private companies as the scope of lines considered developmentally useful widened. In Britain, however, the state did not need to take over the railways in order to force capitalist development and, because of the geographical nature of Britain as an island, there was no urgent military reason either.

The early association of nationalisation with the Conservative Party, Bismarck, and militarism should logically have made clear to anyone its non-socialistic nature. It was comparatively late in the nineteenth century that nationalisation became a “socialist” demand. Fuelled by propaganda barrages from such witty and knowledgeable individuals as Robert Blatchford and his paper the Clarion, nationalisation was by 1900 firmly established as another name for socialism, even for Marxism. Sadly it remains so amongst the pseudo-socialists of the left such as Paul Foot and Socialist Worker. Marx and Engels on the other hand made a clear differentiation between the two. Engels could not have been clearer in his note in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific: “state ownership (. . .) was, in no sense, a socialistic measure, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously”.

Britain’s railways were nationalised as a result of the Railways Act of 1947, which became effective on 1 January 1948. “Old Labour”‘ will proudly tell you that this was solely an ideological decision of Attlee and his mates. However, the desire for post-war economic recovery (increased profits) was far more influential.

Two previous interludes of state control during the world wars had brought round the capitalist class to the practicality of the idea. Doubly so when the railways had been revealed as virtually bankrupt. In real terms it was vital that transportation essential for industry should function well. Under government control if necessary. Offered generous dividends from government bonds, the shareholders recognised a good deal when they saw it. As a “‘rescue package” state ownership also has an extensive history in the USA, Conrail (formed 1976 to take over the bankrupt companies of the Northeast, privatised in the 1980s and recently bought out by other private companies) and Amtrak (providing a subsidised intercity service since 1970) being the obvious examples.

The nationalisation experience
Socialists are, of course, concerned about profits versus safety issues arising from crashes. But what should not be credited is that nationalisation overcomes the need to make a profit. In fact, the fifty years experience of nationalised railways in Britain was a clear demonstration of the profit drive at work. And it is not much of an exaggeration to call this experience an unmitigated disaster.

The first ten years of nationalisation were almost wholly barren. This inactivity was ironic given that the private companies were planning extensive dieselisation and electrification projects which were cancelled by the government. Oddly enough, private ownership can be an advantage over state control: a private company can be induced to incur huge debts for capital projects on the grounds of anticipated profits whereas bureaucratic state control lacks this animating factor.

The second decade was hugely disastrous. By the end of the 1950s competition from road transport, especially in the freight sector, was beginning to bite. An investment programme was launched as a part of the 1955 modernisation plan, but this was slow to take effect. Further reductions in profitability in the early 1960s resulted in a rushed plan, associated with Dr Richard Beeching (chairman of the British Railways Board 1963-65). Essentially the Beeching Plan involved the concentrating of resources on city to city services and full trainload containerised freight. The number of passenger lines was drastically cut, leaving whole areas (e.g. Norfolk and Devon) virtually devoid of rail transport, and thus often severely affected by road traffic congestion. The result was that in Britain the railway network is thus considerably smaller than in comparable European countries. The railways were also virtually destroyed as freight carriers since the bulk carriers they were to have depended on (coal, iron etc) declined rapidly in importance after 1970.

For why? Profit. The railways were expected to pay, or at least not to make a loss. Subsidies were ruled out even then for “social” reasons until the late 1960s. Rural passenger routes and small goods carrying failed to show direct profitability (although it may be asserted that rural routes acted as vital feeders to the trunk routes). The only ray of light was the crash dieselisation programme. In classic Marxist fashion, however, economic factors, principally the increased cost of labour power, was the prime motivation behind this, rather than some airy fairy notion of a smutless service for passengers. During the 1950s and 1960s diesels cost about the same to run as steam engines, although the latter require far more maintenance. Especially during the Sixties real wages increased considerably, biting into profits and making labour intensive steam engines a liability. Like the electrification of the West Coast main line in the mid-60s dieselisation was introduced much later than technically it could have been and was hindered by the rapid nature of the change (some of the overlarge variety of locomotives were inadequately field-tested and proved unreliable in service).

The last thirty years have been pretty much dealing with what was left over from Beeching. Numerous lines have been electrified but compared with similar countries abroad the percentage of track electrified is much less (see chart below). This lack of progress is even more pronounced when one considers the considerable track mileage electrified on the third rail principle which is now generally considered unsuitable except for inner suburban journeys.

The British experience of nationalisation does not mean that state ownership cannot be effective and efficient in capitalist terms. Few supporters of re-nationalisation would back a simple return to the old British Rail. What is needed, they might say, is massive subsidies as practised in, for example, Germany and France until recent years. In both these countries the railway system is better in terms of extent and modernisation. Yet it is clear that such subsidies are not sustainable over the long term especially in Germany, with the huge costs of reintegrating the former East Germany burdening tax-paying capitalists, and have already begun to be reduced.

French and German capitalists have always stressed long-term investment, especially in infrastructure, rather more than their English (and American) counterparts. Their experience of railway nationalisation emphasises this. To a certain extent this has resulted in better and faster passenger services and increased freight use. However it should be stressed that this is a merely a difference in approach between different sets of capitalists, who, it should be added, are by no means a monolithic bloc.

Britain’s railways were privatised as a result of the Railways Act of 1993. Essentially, this divided the railways into two types of company: an infrastructure company known as Railtrack responsible for maintenance of tracks, stations and the like, timetabling, etc; and “Train Operating Companies” (TOCs) which actually provide the services and rolling stock. Franchises for running services were all awarded by the end of 1996. The rationale behind privatisation is simple. The government receives a lump sum which it can offset against taxation and can also wash its hands of responsibility when something goes wrong. Digging deeper we find that railway freight traffic is no longer considered essential to profit-making, due to the long-term decline in British manufacturing industry. While on the passenger side the railways have again become profitable due to a dramatic increase in traffic. As such a 1948-type nationalisation “rescue plan” is no longer needed.

Profit will always come before safety in capitalist society – nationalised or not
So far as safety goes deaths on the railways have not noticeably increased since privatisation (remember Harrow in 1952 was the biggest peacetime disaster). Certainly confusion resulting from the hacking of old British Railways into chunks (as suggested by one report into that disaster) cannot have helped matters. But the evidence points to the profit drive as the killer. In the case of the Paddington disaster, bi-directional lines had been introduced to give “greater flexibility” to operations. For “greater flexibility”‘ read “speed up”; faster trains mean bigger profits. Coupled with inadequate and insufficient signalling, a cost-cutting measure that was again brought in too fast to reduce costs, this was a recipe for disaster. Governmental action can affect the level of accidents, but the desire for profits favours the cutting of corners, so the possibility will always be there.

Capitalism means the lust for profits. It does not entail “fair competition” or any of that sort of wishy-washy apologetic mumbo-jumbo. By fair means or foul gaining monopoly is the order of the day. No doubt we shall see this in operation in the corporate world of railways in the years to come. Indeed this has already started; a cursory glance at a list of the real owners of the railway companies reveals a number of firms, such as Stagecoach, in control of more than a few. Government regulation can hinder this process but can never prevent it.

Nationalised industries are the property of the state, the executive organ of the capitalist ruling class; in effect they are under corporate ownership of the capitalist class as a whole. They operate under the same rules of profit and loss as privately-owned companies because they exist within a system where everything is measured in terms of money. In socialism all property will be owned by all. Since the people, not the state (which will not exist), will own everything there will be no need to buy or sell anything.

Being owned by all people in common, the railways in Socialism would naturally have different priorities. Instead of making profits the comfort, convenience and safety of passengers and staff would be paramount. In addition, a rational society would emphasis such points as their environmental soundness, particularly when electrical power is utilised.
Keith Scholey