State Railways

During the past twelve months or so there has issued from the Clarion Press a series of pamphlets, most of which for sheer misrepresentation and lack of logic are hard to beat. They are, we are told, “intended to explain the need for Socialism, to explain what Socialism is, and to suggest methods for the attainment of Socialism.” It is said the way to hell is paved with good intentions, and certainly these wonderful expositions of the “Socialist” (Heaven save the mark !) position are well calculated to serve as pavement in a road leading to a hell of chaotic hopelessness.

Their latest pamphlet is entitled “State Railways.” At the outset it is apparent that the author has no conception of the correct meaning of even the first word he uses. He tells us that “the State never dies,” and from this and subsequent information he gives, his idea of what constitutes the State appears to be as vague as the New Theologians’ idea of Christianity. Our author probably conceives of the State as an eternal principle, in existence when the first unicellular speck of living matter floated on the water, and thinks that it will still exist when the planet on which we live is cold and dead.

It seems necessary to reiterate ad nauseum, that the State, as we know it to-day, is nothing but an organisation of the exploiting class, for keeping the exploited in subjection.

The writer of the pamphlet tells us that the main question to be considered is whether under State ownership and management the railways of the United Kingdom could and would provide better and cheaper transit than under the present system. He shows conclusively that cheaper transit would be provided, but carefully keeps as far in the background as possible the fact that it could only be at the expense of the workers. As a matter of fact, later on he points out that the Railway Clearing House would be unnecessary under nationalisation, and calculates that the services of 10,000 at present connected with the same could be dispensed with, and a matter of £1,000,000 per annum (including the saving on office accommodation) saved under this head alone. He, however, slurs over the fact that this sum is saved at the expense of the 10,000 persons rendered unnecessary by the abolition the Railway Clearing House.

The remainder of the pamphlet is taken up principally by extracts of reports from Directors of various British and foreign railways, which all tend to show that railway combines and the nationalisation of railways mean greater economy, advantages to the shareholders, and more revenue to the State. There is nothing here, however, of the slighest benefit to the worker. On the contrary, each of these items being to the advantage of the capitalist class, necessarily reacts to the disadvantage of the worker.

On the cover of the pamphlet the claim is put forward that “State Railways Mean More Employment.” This is a deliberate misstatement (to use no stronger word). The only excuse to be found for the claim is in the implication that cheaper means of transit would mean more business and therefore more employment in running more trains. But even admitting this (and the point is debatable) the workers displaced by the combination of the British railways would far exceed the extra number employed by reason of increased business.

The whole pamphlet is written entirely from a bourgeois point of view, and the author clearly proves (one thinks it must have been done unintentionally) that the only class to benefit by the nationalisation of British railways would be the capitalist class.

The Socialist Party are quite aware of course, that the taking over of the railways by the State is inevitably in the trend of social evolution, and really to take the precious document we have been discussing altogether seriously is perhaps to perform an operation very like breaking a butterfly on a wheel. But a superficial reading of the pamphlet (and, unfortunately, the working class are at present but light skimmers on the waves of literature) is likely to prove detrimental to the forwarding of class-consciousness among the workers, and this, if nothing else, must be the excuse for a perhaps over-lengthy criticism.

F. J. W.

Leave a Reply