Anarchism and Nationalisation


What should happen to the €51bn gasfield off Rossport? Let Shell keep it and let the fat cats get fatter? Try to make Bertie’s government nationalise it and use the wealth for our benefit?


At a time when the dominant economic thought is to privatise everything in sight, it would take quite some pressure to make them nationalise anything, let alone something they handed over (in return for a dig out’?) to a mammoth multinational. A lot more than petitions, publicity stunts, and a few marches would be required. We are looking at tens of thousands on the streets, probably some civil disobedience and maybe even selective strike action.

So, it would take a large and assertive movement, with very widespread support to force government to take over the Corrib gasfield. Not an easy task, but there is nothing that says it’s impossible. If enough people are involved in campaigning and are determined to not always be limited to ineffective means of protest it can be done.

But what’s the point? We would have as much chance of getting something we need from the extra cash as Bertie has of remembering his bank accounts. Left to their own devices they would spend little, if any, of the extra revenue on useful things like reopening hospital wards or building affordable housing. They would be far more likely to use it to finance more ‘incentives’ and tax cuts for their wealthy pals.

For the WSM, the important point is that if nationalisation were to be won by a large and active movement of working people, that same movement would have the will and confidence to force the government to spend at least some of the extra cash on socially useful projects.

It would be a small reform, and it would not be a secure one. The government and companies like Shell would be quick to look for ways to overturn the decision and privatise the new state company.

But it would be a reform, one worth supporting. By bringing together the questions of nationalising oil & gas resources and how the extra money should be spent, we move that little bit closer to asserting working class interests in opposition to the rights of property. And that’s pretty much it.

State ownership has nothing to do with socialism. There was a fair bit of state ownership in Britain up to the 1980s (coal, rail, post, car assembly, electricity, health, steel, phones, and much more). Not a lot of equality, workers’ control, or anything we associate with socialism, was to be found.

Well, what about ‘communist’ Russia, where the state owned all the industries? A dictatorship where there was just one boss, the state. No real trade unions, a conscript army, no political freedom, gross inequality of wealth between Party leaders and the working class.

Far from having anything to do with even the most warped view of socialism, Russia was ruled by a capitalist class. Instead of the private sector type of capitalism we live under, Russians lived under ‘state capitalism’. And under both types of capitalism a small ruling class lived the high life by leeching off the work of the vast majority.

Nationalisation takes us no nearer to socialism than does private capitalist ownership. If you want to get rid of the division of people into bosses and workers, it matters little whether your boss is Tony O’Reilly or the State – you still have a boss.

This article is from Workers Solidarity 100 Nov/Dec 2007

PDF of Workers Solidarity 100