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Political and Economic Power in a Period of Social Transformation

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, March 21, 2021

How does the working class liberate itself from being a subordinate and exploited class? This is where we need thinking about the overall strategy and our vision about new structures to replace the capitalist regime.

The working class has to build its capacity to actually do this. This capacity is built through the more or less protracted process of class formation. This is the process through which the working class overcomes fatalism and internal divisions (as on lines of race or gender), and builds the confidence, organizational capacity and the aspiration for social change. This is the process through which the working class “forms” itself into a force that can effectively challenge the dominating classes for control of society. This is likely to require a kind of social movement alliance that brings together the grassroots worker organizations (such as unions) and social movement organizations that have emerged around the various other areas of struggle in a particular period — tenant unions, environmental justice organizations, and groups that emerge around racial and gender fault lines. And thus the agenda for change is going to reflect the various priorities of these movements.

But what steps should this movement aim at in the transition to socialism? In fact it’s going to be essential for a consensus to emerge already within such a mass movement about the basic structural changes that we need to initiate.

Syndicalists have always argued that a crucial initial task in the transition to a self-managed socialism is direct worker takeover of the workplaces — creating new democratic organizations through which workers can exercise direct power over the labor process. An impressive feature of the Spanish worker revolution in 1936–37 was the widespread expropriation of industries and collectivization of land in rural areas. Although the political events of that moment were not entirely predictable, the movement for worker control was not simply “spontaneous.” The militants of the unions in Spain had discussed for decades the need for workers to take over the industries and re-organize them under worker self-management. This was part of their revolutionary preparation.

Our program for building socialism needs to address the major structural features of the capitalist regime that we want to replace — structural features that are at the root of the oppressive work regime, vast inequality, and ecological destruction inherent to capitalism. The system of class oppression is rooted in two institutional structures of class power which the movement must break. First, we need to get rid of the private ownership of the non-human means of production, which allows for vast extraction of profit to build the wealth of a tiny, super-rich elite who dominate society.

But private ownership is not the only basis of oppressor class power. And here we need to learn from mistakes of the 20th century socialist movement. The 20th century saw major growth for a newly emergent dominating class — the bureaucratic control class, as I call it. The power of this class is based on their monopolization over the decision-making authority (and some related areas of expertise) in the corporations and state, via top-down bureaucratic hierarchies. The bureaucratic control class includes the managers who control workers day-to-day but also high-end professionals who work with the managerial regime such as corporate lawyers, and the people who run the state, such as professional politicians, prosecutors, judges, military brass. A worker’s liberation movement must have a program for eliminating the power of this class over the working class.

On Green Socialism and Working Class Politics

By Staff - Pittsburgh Green Left, February 8, 2021

Green Socialism is inspired partly by traditional worker-oriented socialist views, but attempts to transcend class struggle by organizing popular struggle for true democracy, ecology, and freedom.

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, ecological and social crisis exist simultaneously in multiple forms within the US and across the world. Global neoliberal capitalism has captured the world’s economic and political structures, and we feel the growing pressures of poverty and climate change under the threat of a pervasive police state.

These deteriorating conditions imply that historical socialist revolutionary movements have largely failed to produce the widespread change they described in their visions. There’s an increasing feeling, particularly by the youth, that the “old ways” are insufficient to confront 21st century capitalism and win — particularly with the climate change clock running out — and that a new form of social movement and politics is necessary to directly confront capitalism and broader ecological and social issues.

I believe the new model for the 21st century must be Green Politics, or what I will call “Green Socialism” here to distinguish from other tendencies that lay claim to the more broad term “eco-socialism”. Green Politics is today largely associated with the Green Party, however anyone can practice Green Politics in or outside of the Green Party.

A simplistic description of Green Politics might be to list the 4 pillars — grassroots democracy, peace, social justice, and ecological wisdom — and the 10 Key Values of the movement, but to create a deeper discussion of what Green Politics and Green Socialism really means, a good place to start might be to address some complaints and criticisms of the Green Party and Green Socialism that you have no doubt already heard, particularly from other socialists.

Left Voice for example ran an opinion piece by author Ezra Brain making “a socialist case against” the Green Party and Howie Hawkins, the party’s 2020 presidential candidate, which echoes a number of common leftist complaints against Green Politics. 

However these complaints often ring hollow, either as grave misunderstandings of the Green platform that betray a lack of deeper research and knowledge about the subject — ironically often appropriating bourgeois neoliberal talking points against Green Politics — or as legitimate complaints that have a feel of “stones thrown from glass houses” as those same complaints often apply to other socialist and leftist organizations in the US and simply illustrate the challenge of organizing against global neoliberal capitalism in the 21st century.

A Rapid and Just Transition of Aviation: Shifting towards climate-just mobility

By staff - Stay Grounded, February 2021

Covid-19 has grounded air traffic. The aviation industry itself expects to be operating at a lower capacity over the next few years. This Paper discusses how long-term security for workers and affected communities can be guaranteed, without returning to business as before. 

With the looming climate breakdown, automation, digitalisation and likely climate induced pandemics, we need to be realistic: aviation and tourism will change – and they will do so either by design or by disaster. They will transition either with or without taking into account workers’ interests.

This Discussion Paper, published by the Stay Grounded Network and the UK Trade Union PCS in February 2021, is a result of a collective writing process by people active in the climate justice movement, workers in the aviation sector, trade unionists, indigenous communities and academics from around the world. It aims to spark debates and encourage concrete transition plans by states, workers and companies.

Read the text (PDFs: EN | DA | DE | ES | FR | PT ).

Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs

By Jonathan Neale - The Ecologist, January 2021

As I write, we are in the midst of a global pandemic which reveals every kind of cruelty and inequality. Worse is to come. We are entering into a global recession and mass unemployment. Looming beyond that is the threat of runaway climate change. But this is also a moment in history. It may be possible, now, to halt the onward rush of climate breakdown.
A door is opening. In every country in the world, a great debate is beginning. The question is, what can be done about the economy? In every country, one answer will be that the government must give vast sums of money to banks, hedge funds, oil companies, airlines, corporations and the rich. And that the government must pay for all this by cutting hospitals, education, welfare and pensions.

The other answer will be that we must spend vast sums of money to create new jobs, build a proper healthcare system, meet human needs and stop climate change.

Who do we rescue? Their banks and their corporations, or our people and our planet?

The answer in favour of helping people, not the rich, is called a “Green New Deal”. The idea of a Green New Deal has been around for a decade in many countries. But the decisive moment came in 2017, when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders in the United States decided to back a Green New Deal. That resonated widely. As we entered the pandemic, that idea was already there.

But those three little words, Green New Deal, can mean everything, anything and nothing. We want one particular kind of deal. The words need to mean something real and particular if the deal is to make a difference.

Read the text (link).

US Railroads should be Nationalized

Let's Own Chevron: Can the Just Transition of the Fossil Fuel Industry Start Here?

By Ted Franklin - System Change not Climate Change, December 2020

The Bay Area is home to one of the largest fossil fuel companies in the world. In October 2020 Chevron overtook ExxonMobil to become the largest U.S. oil company as measured by market cap. On October 7, the total value of shareholders’ stock in Chevron reached $142 billion, surpassing Exxon’s $141.6 billion.

Headquartered in Dublin and operating Northern California’s largest refinery in Richmond, Chevron has already found itself in the crosshairs of Bay Area activists for its routine pollution of working-class neighborhoods and its contributions to climate change. The Richmond Progressive Alliance’s radical struggle against Chevron’s domination of Richmond’s city government has been a central story in Bay Area left environmentalism in recent decades..

Much bigger contests over the power of Chevron and its ilk lie directly ahead. Increasingly, it has become clear that a direct government takeover of our fossil fuel industries is a necessary step for at least three reasons:

  • 1. Reductions in oil, coal, and gas production must begin immediately to avoid catastrophic degradation of the planet. Chevron and every other fossil fuel company must begin the process of downsizing at a rapid pace. As long as the fossil fuel companies are being run to maximize profits, any downsizing will be accidental and haphazard. Management which puts people and planet first must take over to ensure that the necessary reductions take place.
  • 2. Public ownership is the only way to break the back of the fossil fuel industries’ death grip over climate policy. The fossil fuel capitalists will not go quietly away. They have enormous sunk costs in their existing infrastructure. They intend to exert enormous political power to resist any reduction in their profits and any attempt to make them “keep it in the ground.”
  • 3. A just transition for workers and communities requires social control of the rapidly evolving energy commons. Even if the carbon tax championed by Joe Biden’s Treasury pick, Janet Yellen,1 could achieve sufficient reductions in carbon emissions to avert climate disaster, it would do nothing to ensure that reductions in carbon emissions are achieved without misery to workers and communities.

What is to be done?

Read the text (PDF).

Why US Railroads should Electrify their Mainlines

There May Be No Choice but to Nationalize Oil and Gas—and Renewables, Too

By Sean Sweeney - New Labor Forum, August 2020

Once on the margin of the margins, calls for the nationalization of U.S. fossil fuel interests arebgrowing. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the basic argument was this: nationalization could expedite the phasing out fossil fuels in order to reach climate targets while ensuring a “just transition” for workers in coal, oil, and gas. Nationalization would also remove the toxic political influence of “Big Oil” and other large fossil fuel corporations. The legal architecture for nationalization exists—principally via “eminent domain”—and should be used.

But the case for nationalization has gotten stronger in recent months. The share values of large fossil fuel companies have tanked, so this is a good time for the federal government to buy. In April 2020, one source estimated that a 100 percent government buyout of the entire sector would cost $700 billion, and a 51 percent stake in each of the major companies would, of course, be considerably less. However, in May 2020 stock prices rose by a third or so based on expectations of a fairly rapid restoration of demand.

But fears of a fresh wave of Covid-19 outbreaks sent shares tumbling downward in June. Nationalizing oil and gas would be a radical step, but this alone would not be enough to deliver a comprehensive energy transition that can meet climate goals as well as the social objectives of the Green New Deal. Such a massive task will require full public ownership of refineries, investor-owned utilities (IOUs), and nuclear and renewable energy interests.

Progressives may feel it’s unnecessary to go that far; why not focus on the “bad guys” in fossil fuels and leave the “good guys” in wind, solar, and “clean tech” alone? But this is not an option. The neoliberal “energy for profit” model is facing a full-spectrum breakdown, and the energy revolution that’s required to reach climate targets poses a series of formidable economic and technical challenges that will require careful energy planning and be anchored in a “public goods” approach. If we want a low carbon energy system, full public ownership is absolutely essential.

The Climate Mobilization Victory Plan

By Ezra Silk - The Climate Mobilization, July 2020

“Civilization is on the verge of collapse due to climate change, income inequality and ecological overshoot. Our political system is in the hands of a tiny elite class profiting off this triple crisis, and too oblivious to slam the brakes on the system before it all comes crashing down.

“Ordinary people must form a nonviolent movement to spark the just emergency transition we need to save our children and avert total collapse. Armed with the truth, people won’t stay scared and passive. They will rise up to reclaim honor and dignity, going all in to fight for all life.

“This is our social movement strategy in a nutshell. To find out how it all works, read our Blueprint for a Climate Emergency Movement: a plan for how we can escalate and win the fight for the emergency transition we need.

“This is a general plan for how this movement could operate, grow and succeed in any political context. The exact timing or mechanism of change is impossible to predict given current levels of political and climatic volatility. Movements grow nonlinearly and can scale up rapidly when they catch the popular imagination, and we will constantly be on the lookout for ways to move even faster….”

Read the text (PDF).

It’s Time to Nationalize the Fossil Fuel Industry

Robert Pollin interviewed by C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, June 26, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the economy provides a golden opportunity for creating a fairer, more just and sustainable world as it shatters long-held assumptions about the economic and political order. Its impact on the energy industry in particular can boost support for tackling the existential threat of global warming by raising the prospect of nationalizing and eventually dismantling fossil fuel producing companies, a position argued passionately by one of the world’s leading progressive economists, Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

C.J. Polychroniou: It has been argued by many that the coronavirus pandemic is a game changer for numerous industries, and could change the way we work and the way we use energy. We could also see the possible return of the social state and thus the end of austerity. First of all, are there any comparisons to be made between the current health and economic crises and what took place during the Great Depression?

Robert Pollin: There is one big similarity between the economic collapse today and the 1930s Great Depression. That is the severity of the downturns in both cases. The official U.S. unemployment rate coming from the Labor Department as of May 2020 was 13.3 percent. But a more accurate measure of the collapsing job market is the number of workers who have applied for unemployment insurance since the lockdown began in mid-March. That figure is 44 million people, equal to about 27 percent of everyone in the current U.S. labor market, employed or unemployed. By contrast, during the Great Recession of 2007-09, official unemployment peaked, and for one month only, at 10.0 percent.

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