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Toward Democratic Eco-socialism
as the Next World System

9. Public Ownership of the
Means of Production

Book cover: Karl Marx's Ecosocialism: Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy by Kohei Saito

In an era of increasing privatization of social and health services, and even military activities and prisons, raising the spectre of public ownership, nationalization, or socialization of the means of production is taboo in conventional economic and political circles. Privatization is often justified in terms of economic efficiency. While state or government enterprises or services can be terribly inefficient for complex reasons, this does not necessarily have to be the case. There are numerous examples of publicly owned enterprises that operate relatively efficiently. Public ownership could consist of a number of social arrangements, including state ownership, worker-owned enterprises, and cooperatives.

Book cover: Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor by Rob Nixon

It is important to note that public ownership or nationalization of the means of production does not in and of itself constitute socialism, despite the fact that people have often assumed that it does. For example, after World War II, the British state nationalized heavy industry that had been in decline for over fifty years, but retained previous owners in managerial positions. Australia historically exhibited extensive public ownership of various productive forces, not only utilities but also banks, manufacturing operations, communication networks, airlines such as Qantas Airlines, and transportation systems. Nevertheless, nationalization or socialization of private wealth would constitute an essential step toward the creation of a democratic eco-socialist society. This step would reduce the power of the corporate class and wealthy individuals to influence elections around the world through the support of selected candidates via campaign contributions, favorable media coverage, and even bribery.

Derek Wall [2010] in The Rise of the Green Left maintains that eco-socialism is founded on the principle of common property rights. What needs to be guarded against is the increasing privatization of water resources, supposedly in the form of public-private partnerships under which a small number of multi-national corporations assert that they are not buying or selling water per se, simply managing its delivery. The drive in many countries to privatize electricity production, communications, health care, and an array of services also needs to be resisted.

Copyright © 2016

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