Nationalisation or trust busting

While capitalism in Britain, Continental countries and the British Dominions has gone in for a certain amount of nationalisation and Russia has carried it to the point where all important industry and about half of agriculture is run under the State, capitalism in America has followed a different policy. In Britain Liberal and Tory governments in the 19th century nationalised telegraphs and telephones when the capitalists as a whole felt their interests adversely affected by those two services being in the hands of private monopolies. For the same reason Gladstone in 1844 was responsible for the first Act giving die government power to nationalise the railways, a power that was not used because the government held that the mere threat of it served to keep the railway directors in check.

In the United States nationalisation has so far made little headway as the capitalists have preferred to use Anti-Trust laws as a means of curbing too-powerful monopolies.

Because of the pre-eminence of the United States in world production and because private capitalism still holds the field there, more than half of world production, transport, etc., is still in the hands of private concerns. This applies to basic industries such as coal, steel, food, rubber, oil, textiles, motor cars, railways, shipping, road transport, telephones and telegraphs, banking, insurance and manufacturing generally.

In the past few years nationalisation has had a certain set-back in a number of countries and British capitalism, following the American example is now experimenting with the Monopolies Commission as a means of checking monopoly; both the Conservatives and the Labour Party being committed to developing this line of attack.

But this does not mean that the Anti-Trust legislation in America has fulfilled the expectations of those who backed it. Loopholes in the law have enabled the big monopolistic group such as the American Telephone and Telegraph company with its concentration of telephone services and the manufacture of equipment, to go on expanding. When an amending bill to the Gayton (Anti-Trust) Act of 1914 was being debated on 15th August, 1949, Congressman Celler, New York, stated that between 1940 and 1947 more than 2,500 formerly independent concerns had disappeared as a result of mergers and acquisitions, and that “two hundred and fifty concerns now control two-thirds of the industrial facilities of the country that were controlled by 15,000 companies before the war.” He added, “The anti-trust laws are a complete bust unless we pass this bill.” (“Labor and the Nation” New York, September-October, 1949.)

Most of the demand for action against the Trusts and for amendments to strengthen the laws comes of course from the small traders and businessmen.

In addition to the Anti-Trust laws the charges that may be made in America by such services as the telephones and telegraphs are subject to regulations issued by the State Utility Commissions and the Federal Communications Commission. If complaint is made that charges are too high these bodies are empowered to investigate whether the companies are making an unduly high profit. The companies may and, of course, do appeal to the Courts against Commission rulings. In 1934 the American Telephone and Telegraph company reported that through adverse court decisions one of its associated telephone companies had the prospect of refunding 20 million dollars to subscribers.

One of the leading anti-trust politicians, Senator Benton, spoke on the Trusts to the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris in November last He maintained that in Britain the electors have had to choose between nationalisation as advocated by the Labour Party and the Conservative policy of leaving industry to private monopoly, and that if American electors had the same choice they “would line up for Government ownership” and that by an overwhelming majority. (Manchester Guardian, 8.11.51.)

He also made the curious suggestion that if Marx were alive today “he would certainly have approved” of American capitalism though not of the “cartel-ridden capitalism of Europe.”

But later on the same Senator Benton charged that the British Imperial Chemical Industries group “has a deal with the DuPont firm not to go into the United States.” (Daily Mail, 22.11.51). As this must be a violation of the American Anti-Trust laws it suggests that the laws are by no means as effective as the Senator believes.

In the meantime the alternative capitalist method of dealing with monopolies by nationalising them is under fire in Great Britain where the Conservative Government, having disowned responsibility for the rise in railway, etc., fares, now professes to discover that under the Act which nationalised the railways the government has no power in the matter of fares except to refer them to the Consultative Committee which can merely make recommendations. A group of Conservative M.P.’s are now therefore proposing an amendment to the Act to enable the government “to put the Transport Commission under more effective Parliamentary control.”

It need only be added that whether nationalisation is carried very far, as in Russia, or much less far as in Britain, or whether the government relies on Anti-Trust laws as in America the state of the mass of the population continues to be that of poverty existing alongside the great wealth and large incomes of the privileged few.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, May 1952)

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