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TODAY’S Labour Party Alternative Models of Ownership conference shows just how far the party has come since Jeremy Corbyn was first elected leader in 2015.
The undead war criminal Anthony Blair must be turning in his gold-lined sarcophagus now that the party has not only ditched his privatisation dogma but that it is conducting events and discussions on how to transform Britain’s economy from the stagnant capitalist swamp that it is today.
It would be a serious mistake to think things are all rosy. However, the debate happening in London — and addressed by top party figures — would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
These debates are not happening out of a damp-eyed idealism but a gritty economic reality. The system that has shambled on since the bankers’ crash of 2007-8 can only produce more misery and more poverty. It didn’t “work” for the majority in this country 20 years ago but any pretence that it does or could has evaporated.
It is particularly encouraging that shadow chancellor John McDonnell is focused on extending democratic control further and deeper than the publicly owned industries of yesteryear.
Isolated nationalisations are not sufficient and must take their place in a broader programme of industrial democratisation, or else be vulnerable to exactly the kind of smashing-up that we have witnessed in Britain over the past 40 years.
Giving the public and workers greater control over the services they rely on and provide is essential, and that involvement can help build up a level of resistance to the inevitable capitalist counterattack.
However, while there are problems with the kind of nationalisations carried out under the post-war Labour government, it is inescapable that such a wholesale rescue needs to be carried out.
Our essential public services — health, schools, utilities, transport, even probation, prisons and the police — are in such a dreadful state, broken apart and run down and sold off, that the state must step in and do so immediately.
In the NHS, the “internal market” reforms of 30 years ago were bad enough but now entire services are hacked off and handed out to tax-dodging vultures such as Richard Branson.
There should be no hand-wringing over ideal forms of treatment — vital as they surely are for the future — when the patient is dying on the table.
But, as McDonnell is set to say, our services must be placed in our own hands — “so that they can never again be taken away.”
Ensuring that is not just a matter for the way organisations are structured and controlled, however. The most democratic and progressive body is still under great threat when it has to function within the confines of the monopoly-dominated “free” market in the capitalist system.
Measures to promote co-operative, municipal and other forms of social enterprise and common ownership can show an alternative to brutal and immiserating capitalism but these tantalising prospects must be seized upon and carried further.
It’s a big job, and we must face up to that, as we must face up to the certainty that the transformation of our society will be resisted every step of the way by the capitalist class which faces the loss of its control.
As ever, hope is the fuel of progress and fear is the prison in which you put yourself.
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