Following on from the previous blog-post on co-operatives, the other panacea often presented is state-capitalism, sometimes described by the oxymoron term state-socialism.
Public ownership by the State is not socialism – it is only State capitalism. What many on the Left will do is add a caveat - that nationalisation with workers control is socialism. That too is erroneous. It still means state capitalism. Socialism is not state ownership or management of industry, but the opposite. Socialism abolishes the state.Industry is not transformed into the state, but industry is transformed into common ownership, functioning industrially and socially through new administrative associations of the producers, and not through the state. Socialists reject the idea that State capitalism is a phase of socialism. State capitalism can never become socialism precisely because there exists a state. A bait is offered to the workers of a “democratized” State capitalism by “democratizing” the government, placing it in the hands of “the people.” This policy is equally condemnable as strategy and tactics, – as strategy, it dispenses with the necessity of overthrowing the state as an indispensable phase of the Social Revolution; as tactics, it strengthens the state and weakens the proletariat by obscuring the fact that its power resides in ownership and control of the production process. The tendency toward a bureaucratic autocracy is strengthened. The centralisation of economic management into the hands of the state has little to do with working class rule. Control of the nationalised industries is vested in boards which are appointed and even if elected just how could they change the nature of the capitalist beast - the requirement to compete and make profits. State capitalism cannot exist without inflicting hardships on the workers.
Workers’ control implies the existence of a capitalist (or state capitalist) management. Workers’ self-management, co-operative production under the joint control of the workers in an enterprise, can also be achieved under capitalism, indeed has been on many occasions. Under capitalism it can only lead to workers driving down their own conditions as a result of capitalist competition or to the collapse of the enterprise.
The vast majority of British industry is not owned privately by individuals but corporately owned; by banks, by finance or insurance companies, by monopolies or by the STATE. These are all forms of capitalism in which capitalist property relationships remain intact. Surplus-value is still appropriated and production is governed through the market by the operation of the law of value and commodity exchange. These laws operate whether private companies or the state control production. The essence of capitalism is property relationships; ownership is merely a formal question, which can take MANY forms.
To portray nationalisation as a means of making inroads into the capitalist system is to ignore the central role of the state. The nationalisation fallacy is based on the misconception of the role of the government, which according to those who desire “public"-ownership, represents a neutral group representing the nation “above” both the workers and capitalists. Bitter and long experience has shown that the government, far from being a neutral in the struggle of the classes, is in reality a representative of the ruling class. Workers will find themselves prisoners caught between two expressions of the same capitalist class – the capitalists themselves and their government lackeys. Hence nationalisation can never be a means of making inroads into capitalism. To argue so is to deny the fundamentals of Marxian economic. For all these reasons there is no advantage, either strategic or tactical, in calling for the nationalisation of private industry. It is irrelevant to the real interests of the working people of Britain whether profits are in private or state hands. It diverts the fight for socialism to a fight for reformism and gradualism. By presenting nationalisation and other forms of state intervention as “socialist”, the Left has helped to turn people away from socialism by identifying it with the suffocating bureaucracy that characterises the capitalist state machine.
An important part of the SPGB’s work must lie in exposing the socialist pretensions and in opposing the false strategies of the Trotskyists who demand that they nationalise more and more industries. The Old Labour left demand nationalisation as a means of making inroads into the capitalist system – as a form of creeping socialism. The SWP and SPEW (Militant) say that they are making “transitional” demands, that their approach is different to that of the Labour left but in essence their strategy is just as reformist. They claim that slogans for more nationalisation raise the question of state power and heighten the consciousness of the workers. Objectively, in the real world, all these organisations are serving the capitalist class in that they are attempting to mobilise the working class in order to bring about the expansion of state capitalism in many cases to rescue bankrupt private enterprises. The strength of the working class lies in their labour and their relationship to the means of production – let us help them to learn to use it! Not government ownership but common ownership.