Finance and Industry: Nationalisation and the Commercial Jungle
Nationalisation and the Commercial Jungle
The shortcomings of capitalism are widely felt but little understood. The Labour Party see some of these as being due to the unbridled competition resulting from private enterprise and supposed Tory policies. To them capitalism is competition, private enterprise and the Tories. Their answer is to restrain competition through government intervention in industry and through nationalisation. Add planning to this and you get their idea of Socialism. But if this is Socialism, then the Tories too could call themselves socialists.
The government’s proposed aluminium smelter scheme is an example of how little can nationalised industries be isolated from commercial wrangles. In the past it was cheaper to import aluminium, but now it is expected to be a paying proposition to do the refining and smelting in Britain. The proposed scheme set off a competitive scramble between the nationalised atomic energy, electricity and coal industries. Aluminium smelting ‘ requires large, uninterrupted supplies of electricity. New nuclear power stations were expected to provide the cheapest source of power. But Alcan proposes to use electricity generated in their own coal-fired power station. It was this that caused the storm amongst the nationalised industries. The Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) complained that Alcan would be getting coal cheaper than they themselves were. The recently nationalised steel industry made the same complaint and added the objection that manufacturers of a rival metal were being given an unfair advantage. Again the NCB has been complaining that the government’s fuel policy unfairly discriminated against coal and in favour of atomic power. On top of trying to sort out the rival claims of the aluminium companies and to settle the squabbles of the nationalised industries, the government has come under fire from abroad. Overseas producers, especially Britain’s EFTA partner Norway, do not like the idea of losing part of their market. The Norwegian government suspects that the EFTA treaty may be violated, claiming that aluminium cannot be produced profitably in Britain without subsidy.
This is the predicament of those, like Labour, who would tame capitalism whilst leaving its basis intact. Socialists do not care who gets the contract or what kind of fuel is used or whether EFTA agreements are violated. We know that capitalism is based on the monopoly of the means of wealth production by a minority. Buying and selling and the commercial jungle result from this. Our answer is to replace minority ownership by the common ownership of the means of production by society as a whole. Then there would be no basis for commerce or competition as there would really be a common social interest.
Rich and Poor