50 Years Ago: Beeching’s Rail Cuts

Doctor Beeching’s casualty list was as long as anyone could have expected.

Nearly a third of the passenger route-miles to be withdrawn; almost a half of the stations to be shut down; seventy thousand railwaymen, by one means or another, to be got rid of.

The Tories have always claimed that they are the party of free competition, which is supposed to be something which will bring enormous benefits to us all. According to Conservative propagandists, the worst thing that can happen to us is to be left at the mercy of a monopoly, which will do dreadful things to our standards of living. Yet the Beeching Plan will give, over large areas of the country, a transport monopoly to the road interests. What if these interests act as the Tories have assured us monopolies always act?

This is not the only example of how flexible is the Tories’ regard for their own consistency. At one time the British capitalist class, with the support of the Labour and Conservative Parties, thought that nationalisation of certain industries was in their own overall interests and was, therefore, inevitable, desirable and morally sound.

But since 1945 the capitalist class have been taking a second look at State control. Slowly but definitely they have changed the internal structure of some of the State industries; nowhere is this so apparent as on the railways.

Which brings us to the question of whether nationalisation, apart from being a fraud upon the working class, has also disappointed the capitalists?

The Beeching Plan seems to be going out for an immediate profit from the railways, without providing the kind of facilities which the capitalist class as a whole must require from a railway system. That was exactly what nationalisation was supposed to avoid.

There will probably be a big row over the Beeching report, with both sides representing their case as the one which has everyone’s interests at heart. And inevitably the working class will be wasting their time in another fruitless controversy while the real problem—the private ownership of society’s means of life—is left to do its worst.

(From ‘The News in Review’, Socialist Standard, May 1963)

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