Online Discussion: What sort of public ownership do socialists want?

Zoom session on 29th May 2023. Watch the video here. Read Nick Wrack’s article here.

Nick Wrack introduced this session, looking at what sort of public ownership socialists should call for. Socialists often talk about nationalisation, and about the need for state ownership. Nick argues that at root we should be calling for common ownership of the means of production – the land, the waters upon it, the factories, the machines, science and technology – to replace private ownership by the bourgeoisie (the capitalists) who do not provide any of the wealth of society.

Water is an example of why we need common ownership. Privatisation has been used as a means to ransack and loot the public, and has failed miserably to meet the needs of society, for plentiful clean water, and to avoid pollution of fields, waterways and the sea.

Nick contrasts ‘common ownership’ with ‘public ownership’. The latter term is often used to imply ownership by the state of the public sector, which nonetheless is run in the interests of the capitalist class, to enable production of profits. Common ownership implies the abolition of capitalism. As socialists, why are we so shy to argue for common ownership, and for the abolition of capitalism? If those of us who believe in the need for common ownership (and the end of capitalism) don’t make the case now for that transformation of society, how will people ever be persuaded?

Marx and Engels, in 1848, wrote that “the bourgeoisie is no longer fit to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an overriding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence for its slaves, within its slavery. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie [..] its existence is no longer compatible with society.”

Nick asks us all: were Marx and Engels right 175 years ago, and is what they said even more the case now?

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