RE: [OPE] Railways

From: Paul Cockshott (
Date: Wed Jun 11 2008 - 03:48:22 EDT

Initially in britain the whole railway system was privatised with 
Railtrack, a private company owning the tracks. Because of the aforementioned
high organic composition of capital, this was never going to be profitable
on its own and depeneded on increasing government subsidy.

Its maintainance of the track caused a series of fatal accidents
andm it then threw the whole rail system into chaos as it tried
to upgrade the track. Its demands for subsidy reached the point
which caused even a Blairite minister for transport to effectively
nationalise it without compensation overnight.

Good accounts of the process have been written by Wolmar
see his website

Paul Cockshott
Dept of Computing Science
University of Glasgow
+44 141 330 1629

-----Original Message-----
From: on behalf of Jurriaan Bendien
Sent: Wed 6/11/2008 8:11 AM
Subject: [OPE] Railways
But this is neanderthal Marxism. The whole idea behind the restructuring and privatisation strategy is to carve up the business into those bits which can make a competitive profit and those bits which cannot. For those bits that cannot make a profit, the taxpayer is liable.

What is needed here, comrades, a some better insight into financial economics. If you can use an asset for your business without owning it, then all or most of it is off your balance sheet and possibly not even taxed. At most you might pay rent.

Obviously there is not much profit generated in maintaining railtrack, but even then you can outsource that to private business who makes a profit from it. So long as taxes pay for the endeavour, the state helps a lot of profitable businesses into being. All that happens is that what was previously one railway organization becomes a lot of different organisations held together by a coordinating legal statute.

As I have mentioned before, the neanderthal definition of capitalistically productive labour is static, it abstracts from social relations and the contradictions of exchange-value and use-value. It draws up a nice bureaucratic classification scheme for what forms of labour are productive and what forms are not.

In reality, what is capitalistically productive labour is constantly evolving and changing as divisions of labour and property relations are redrawn. Marx himself already anticipated this when, in his final remarks on the topic, he mentioned that the same activity could be capitalistically productive or unproductive depending on the legal, economic and property relations (the production relations) within which it was carried out.

So anyway if you operate a rail business, but you neither own or are responsible for the rail infrastructure, then the infrastructure is not your asset and not your constant capital. Obviously you cannot deny that the peculiar use-value of railtrack put-in-place does not by itself create more profit in the normal situation, but by divvying up assets in a certain way you can arrive at a unit OCC which corresponds to the normal average.

So the privatisation of railways is just about smashing up a system of cooperation which was based on one state organisation coordinating the railways in their totality, and replacing it with another system of cooperation which is based on profit-making. 

The point of socialist economics is that you are no longer bound by the profit-motive - you can use the profit motive where that is beneficial, but if it is not beneficial for human life, you don't have to use it. The question then is whether a railway system will work most efficiently and cost-effectively if there is one standard organisation for the whole system, or whether it will work best with a whole lot of different companies. You don't need to give a dogmatic answer to that, in abstraction from the facts. But the point is that in a socialist society there are a lot of different choices you can make about this to get the best rail service, while in a capitalist society a profit-making arrangement will always be preferred, and ultimately if no profit is made, the enterprise cannot exist.

In the technocrat fantasy of socialism, the bureaucrats have a monitor between their knees hooked to a giant computer with some workers hanging on the end, from which they direct and account for the flows of resources. But not only does this ignore that if invalid information is put into the 'puter the whole system cannot work in principle. It completely ignores the modes of labour cooperation. In that case you might as well talk about the railways instead.


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