Need versus greed: a different kind of nationalisation


"The idea that markets were always right was mad", right-wing French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated, according to a September 29 article. "The all-powerful market that always knows best is finished."

The recent bank take-overs and bail-outs by capitalist governments has led to much commentary on the irony of militant neoliberals resorting to strong state intervention.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stated on September 21: "I nationalise strategic companies and get criticised, but when Bush does it, it's OK."

"Bush is turning socialist. How are you, comrade Bush?"

In an article entitled "We're all socialists now, comrade", a horrified Simon Heffer wrote, with apparent seriousness, in the October 9 London Telegraph: "For the Government to take stakes in our leading banks in order to re-capitalise them is not quite the sovietisation of Britain, but it is a pretty good start."

Chavez, at least, was being ironic. The reality is very different.

First up, did we really need Sarkozy to tell us the free market has failed? Anti-corporate globalisation protesters made that point in large demonstrations outside key institutions pushing neoliberialism — like the World Trade Organisation in Seattle in 1999, the World Economic Forum in Melbourne in 2000 and the G8 in Genoa in 2001.

They called us "extremists" for saying the same thing Sarkozy has just admitted.

The system has not failed just in this last period as a result of the growing collapse of the global financial system.

Most of the world live in misery. The global capitalist system failed long ago for the overwhelming majority of the world's population.

Consider not just the hunger, poverty and preventable diseases that kill millions daily, and look at war and environmental catastrophe caused by pursuit of corporate profit by any means necessary.

A system that threatens all life on Earth is a failed system.

What is new is that now the gangsters' casino has failed for the rich.

That is why the rich and their politicians are calling for the state to save them.

Of course, this crisis is going to make things a lot worse for the majority as well. For one thing, the US and other countries, including Australia, people who worked hard all their lives face the wiping out of the superannuation payments they need to live on when they retire.

However, when the rich and their political and media mouthpieces talk about acting to overcome the "crisis", they mean the crisis for them, not the rest of us.

Our money must be used to save the system so it can go back making the rich richer at our expense.

Simon Heffer can relax. His beloved capitalist system is not under threat from these state interventions.

Martin Saatdjian, third secretary at Venezuela's foreign affairs ministry, explained in an October 1 article: "It's not so much that capitalists are against the intervention of the state; they just want the intervention to strengthen the wealth and power of the richest people."

"On the other hand, the socialist state intervention prioritises the most basic needs of people. This is the type of controlled and planned intervention that has been carried out by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, while at the same time maximising … the participation of the people in managing their own affairs."

In Venezuela, the government took full control of the oil industry and invested its wealth into social spending that has halved poverty. When private cement companies were failing to provide enough cement for housing construction for the poor, the government nationalised them.

When the main steel company refused to sign a just contract with its workers, the government nationalised it and signed a decent agreement. Foreign-owned oil fields, a telecommunications company, a major bank and electricity companies have all been nationalised for the express purpose of solving the needs of Venezuelan people.

And in Bolivia, President Evo Morales shocked politicians the world over by actually implementing an election promise and nationalising Bolivia's gas reserves. He then forced the gas corporations involved in extraction to renegotiate contracts giving a much larger share of revenue to the Bolivian state.

This more than fivefold increase in revenue is being used to help fund a basic old-aged pension for the first time ever. As modest as it is, it is a step in the opposite direction from the US, where superannuation funds retired people are supposed to live off have lost massive amounts.

Of course, spending gas revenue on pensions is considered irresponsible economic practice. Such revenues should have been left in private hands to engage in unproductive speculation on the financial markets, making the bubble that has just burst even bigger.

To put an end to such dangerous irrationalities, the US government and Bolivian elite have been seeking to overthrow the elected Morales government ever since.

Then there is Cuba, an impoverished Third World nation subjected to an economic embargo by the world's most powerful nation for more than four decades, which, on the back of nationalising its industry has achieved a world-class health care and education system, with a First World life expectancy.

In an ironic twist, Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the country blockading it — which happens to be the world's richest — according to the World Health Organisation.

Crucially, the absence of corporate control over the economy has opened the way for a transition to ecological sustainability, with Cuba's economy listed as the only sustainable one in the world by a 2007 Worldwide Fund for Nature report.

There is one overriding difference between these economic policies and those pushed by Wall Street, and US and European capitalist governments: they are driven by human need, not greed.

President Hugo Chavez coined the phrase "socialism of the 21st century" to describe what Venezuela is attempting. The world needs such a system now.