Socialism and Nationalisation pt.2

In the last issue we were saying that the only Socialist reason that might be given in favour of the transformation of certain private industries into services administered by State or Commune, was that the transformation would simplify the revolutionary task of expropriation to be accomplished by the workers’ party when masters of political power. But this reason has not a leg to stand on. The advantages of the changes would be far from balancing the many dangers presented, which we have already briefly mentioned.

The first great revolutionary effort of the workers will be to seize the central power; so long as this capitalist stronghold will not have been captured, all proletarian measures will be refused – even urgent ones – or if accorded, it will be in such a form that they become illusory, and only benefit the capitalist class.

When the bourgeoisie are dispossessed of political power, then only will the workers’ party be able to commence their economic expropriation; but those who demand the nationalisation of certain industries – even under present conditions – say that the task of the workers’ party will be lightened because the bourgeoisie will already have been dispossessed of a portion of the social means of production.

Not at all.

The great organisations of communication and credit (such as the railways, the Bank of France, the Crédit Foncier, and the like), which it is desired to put in the hands of the State, are already so admirably centralised that, in order to seize them, it would be necessary to give a kick to their directors and burn a few bundles of paper; it would be just as easy to take possession of the Bank of France and its provincial branches as it would be to take over the General Post Office and its branches; it would be needful to send four men and a corporal, and to put the high officials under lock and key, in order to paralyse their intrigues and obtain information, if need were felt even for this.

Nationalisation would not facilitate the revolutionary task; but it would give rise to financial swindles, and a fearful deterioration of the Exchequer. In the second number of L’Egalité and in the Revue Socialiste I have pointed out some of the scandalous robberies of public funds which took place on the State purchase of the smaller railways. All the political jobbers – the Freycinets, Gambettas and Wilsons – their appetite whetted by the repurchase of the small lines, demand the purchase of the trunk railways.

Although in a less degree, the expropriation of the great organisations of production (iron-works, mines, textiles, etc.), will still be an easy matter. It will be a question of displacing and confining if needful, a few administrators or owners. But expropriation is only a part of the historic task of the workers’ party.

Those who busy themselves with State-Socialism, that is to say, those who demand the nationalisation or municipalisation of certain services, do not trouble at all about the lot of the workers engaged in them; but even admitting that they sought to improve the lot of those employed would they be able to do so? If they can, let them begin by improving the conditions of the underpaid workers in the Post Office, in the State tobacco factories, railways and State ironworks. The workshops of the State and municipality are prisons quite as bad as private workshops, if not worse.

The toilers are more greedily exploited in them than in private enterprise; they are bent beneath an authority that is more powerfully hierarchic; they can neither combine nor strike. And it could scarcely be otherwise, the State and municipality being only the official representatives of the capitalist class.

But the revolutionary power which will socialise the instruments of labour taken from the capitalist class, will have to mount guard over the general interests of society served by the socialised industries, and in particular over the interests of those directly engaged in them.

Suppose the party of the proletariat had sent Mr Rothschild to Jericho to look for records of his ancestors, and had seized the Northern of France railways: and let us further suppose that it either would not or could not establish gratuitous transport at the outset; it could arrange matters somewhat in this way. Out of each 100 francs of receipts, 10 francs are set aside for depreciation and general expenses, and 30 francs are distributable to share and debenture holders. Now shares and debentures being suppressed, the revolutionary government could divide the portion taken by the shareholders for doing nothing in three parts. One third could be left to the workers, one third go to cheapen freight, and one third go as revenue to the State.

Thus the revolutionary government could immediately increase the remuneration of the employees by nearly 16 per cent. It would have to ensure that the remuneration were distributed in quite a different way from the present where the less an administrator or high official works, the more he is paid. To remedy this it need only leave those interested to apportion the amount according to services and talents. The revolutionary Government would also have to obtain guarantees that the workers to whom it confided a social instrument, possessed all the requisite qualities for its good working; and that it did not become a means of exploiting certain grades of workers, as co-operative workshops have become in present-day society.

This method of utilising the social means of production could only be a passing one, imposed by the difficulties amidst which the workers’ party will have to struggle on the morrow of the revolution. But we can perceive a period wherein, with the needs of consumption and the powers of production scientifically calculated, consumption as well as production will be free. There will be neither wages nor market prices. Human society will then once more enter the period of communism.

Indeed, only a “possibilist” professor, ignorant of social conditions and steeped in bourgeois prejudices, could offer the nationalisation of public services as the Socialist ideal.

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