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Article 15 of the Basic Law - a work by Dani Karavan on the glass panes on the Spree side at the Jakob-Kaiser-Haus of the Bundestag in Berlin

Nationalization is the transfer of private property into state property or the transfer of private tasks to state responsibility.


Nationalization often refers to ownership of companies , but it can also refer to other forms of ownership (e.g. real estate or rights).

The “comprehensive” socialization of the means of production for the construction of a socialist planned economy is distinguished from the socialization, which often starts at a point in market economy- oriented states . In the case of nationwide nationalization to build a socialist economy , one also speaks of socialization . The opposite process (the transfer of state property into private property) is called privatization . Nationalization can take place under civil law through purchase but also through expropriation by the state.

Nationalization or partial nationalization occurs for various reasons:

Sovereign tasks

Historically, tasks were often organized privately that are now viewed as state tasks. Thus, the confiscation of was tax by tax farmers performed or private credit institutions with the issue of banknotes in charge. Today, these tasks are largely perceived as a sovereign task and are nationalized.

Fiscal Interests

The state generates income from its business activities. The generation of additional income is given as a motive for nationalization. During the time of National Socialism , Aryanizations served partly for private enrichment, partly the Jewish property was nationalized. Houses that were formerly owned by Jewish families were then used by the police and the armed forces, among others.

Already in the times of the republic in ancient Rome it was the policy of individual rulers such as Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix to put political opponents on so-called proscription lists , which meant that they were ' outlawed ' and their property fell to the " res publica ". This approach was later also popular in the empire and served to enrich the emperor.

Natural monopolies

Natural monopolies can lead to a disturbance of the market equilibrium . For these and other reasons, individual states tried to introduce licensing and price controls on these markets. In addition to market regulation , opening of monopolized markets or “non- intervention”, a government can decide to nationalize. The disadvantage here is that a state-owned company has fewer incentives to cut costs.

The railroad became a state monopoly in many states ; electricity, gas and water suppliers were mostly municipal property as part of nationalization. For example, between 1879 and the First World War, the German states gradually nationalized their railway networks, so that in 1913 around 58,300 of 63,377 kilometers of railway lines in the German Reich belonged to the federal states . In 1920, all ten state railways were united to form the Deutsche Reichsbahn through a state treaty .

The question of the privatization of state ownership of utility companies since the 1980s is a controversial issue . In many cases , attempts are now being made, by separating network, production and sales, to undertake state market regulation measures in certain areas of these markets .

Economic crises

Nationalization or partial nationalization takes place in special exceptional situations as a political instrument for stabilization, for example in economic crises such as the financial crisis from 2007 through measures to protect the banking industry, but also the economy as a whole. Such emergency nationalizations took place in the case of General Motors , American International Group (both USA), Hypo Real Estate (Germany), Bankia (Spain, 2012) , among others . Critics refer to such nationalizations as “socializing losses”. Others see nationalization as an opportunity to curb such loss socialization.

In market economy countries, companies can a systemic ( "systemic") size or importance gain (english too big to fail ), in view of the company can be confident that the state in dire straits by a bailout (English bailout ) engages. This can create a false incentive to take additional financial risks ( moral risk ). In the event of imminent bankruptcy, the state faces the dilemma of either deciding on state holdings or nationalizations that are contrary to the system, or of dropping the company, which could increase the risk of an economic crisis . The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers raised awareness of how many companies are systemically important today. State competition policy would have to order drastic measures, such as breaking up companies that were too large - for example, in 1911 the USA ordered the breaking up of the Standard Oil Company . See also antitrust law .

Environmental disaster

In the wake of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima , the energy supply company Tepco was nationalized.

War economy

The war economy is usually not organized privately, but controlled to a large extent by the state. In addition to the introduction of elements of the planned economy , there was often a nationalization of war-important companies. The seizure of industrial enemy assets also contributed to this.

Strategic industries

Important “strategic” branches of the economy or entire branches of the economy are preferably nationalized so that they do not come under foreign influence (“nationalization”).

In developing countries ( Trikont countries), governments often justify nationalization with the wish to lead the country out of its dependence on transnational companies . The common practice is to nationalize strategically important raw material sources or key industries of a country; often to secure a previous change of political power.


In the Communist Party's manifesto , Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels called for the nationalization of all production instruments:

"The proletariat will use its political rule to gradually wrest all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, that is, the proletariat organized as a ruling class, and to increase the mass of productive forces as quickly as possible."

- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels : Manifesto of the Communist Party

Marx and Engels also called in the Communist Manifesto, among other things

  • Centralization of credit in the hands of the state through a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  • Centralization of transport in the hands of the state
  • Increase in national factories , production tools , reclamation and improvement of all lands according to a common plan.

Engels later saw nationalizations more differentiated and no longer positive in every case:

“The modern state, whatever its form, is an essentially capitalist machine, the state of capitalists, the ideal total capitalist. The more productive forces he takes over into his property, the more he becomes a real total capitalist, the more citizens he exploits. The workers remain wage workers, proletarians. The capital ratio is not canceled, it is rather driven to extremes. "

- Friedrich Engels (1880/1882) : The development of socialism from utopia to science


"Admittedly, if the nationalization of tobacco were socialist, Napoleon and Metternich would be among the founders of socialism ... if Bismarck nationalized the main Prussian railway lines without any economic necessity, then these were by no means socialist steps, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously."

- Friedrich Engels (1894) : Mr. Eugen Dühring's upheaval in science



In Germany there are no restrictions on the state as an entrepreneur. The state and local authorities are free to buy and operate companies .

The possibilities of an expropriation are in Art. 15 i. V. m. Article 14, Paragraph 3 of the Basic Law. This states: "Land, natural resources and means of production can be transferred into common ownership or other forms of public economy for the purpose of socialization through a law that regulates the type and extent of compensation ..." . The Basic Law makes no statement about the economic order of the Federal Republic of Germany. It knows the possibility of socializing the means of production, but does not regulate it. A characteristic of legal nationalization, however, is that private and general interests are weighed up and the dispossessed is adequately compensated.

There are also similar clauses in many state constitutions . The constitutions of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia stipulated that companies that are important due to their monopoly-like position should be transferred to common ownership. The Bremen state constitution approves nationalizations if the company's purpose can be better achieved in a public-benefit manner. According to the law, even key industries in Saarland are not allowed to be privately owned due to their paramount importance for the economy. The Bavarian constitution also provides for nationalization "if consideration for the whole is required".

For the corresponding regulation in the Hessian constitution see socialization article 41 .


The nationalization in Austria is rooted in the centuries of the Habsburg Monarchy , starting with the private property of the dynasty, the imperial Salzkammergut and the ruling forest in late medieval - early modern mercantilism , through the absolutist Habsburg and kk / kuk postal system , to the kk  railway system of industrialism . After its dissolution in 1918 and especially at the beginning of the Second Republic , numerous key companies came into the possession of the Republic of Austria. In the period between the 1980s and around the turn of the millennium, there was extensive privatization in all areas of the economy, but in the wake of the global financial crisis from 2007 , renewed - involuntary - nationalizations.


In 1907 France nationalized the 'Compagnie ferroviaire de l'Ouest' for economic reasons, which was in financial difficulties. In 1919 France took over the potash mines in Alsace (discovered in 1904) after Alsace had come back under French rule through the Treaty of Versailles .

In the 1930s - France suffered (like many other western industrialized countries) from the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929 - some (e.g. left-wing politicians and trade unionists) called for nationalization.

The Popular Front nationalized on 11 August 1936, a number of companies 'Complexe militaro-industriel' and the railroads and created the SNCF. The aircraft construction sector was partially nationalized in 1937. The Banque de France was not nationalized. Some criticized nationalization as interventionism .

After France was liberated from the Wehrmacht occupation , there were three waves of nationalization:

  • The first (December 1944 to January 1945): Général de Gaulle ordered the nationalization of the French mines by means of 'Ordonnance en droit constitutionnel français' on December 14, 1944. On January 16, 1945, he ordered the nationalization of the Renault automobile company ; Renault was nationalized 'pour collaboration avec l'ennemi' (because of collaboration with the enemy) without compensation and has now become a “régie” ( Régie en droit public français , for example: state-owned company under French public law).
  • the second (May 1945 to May 1946)
  • the third (February to June 1948)

François Mitterrand (1916–1996), President of the Republic from May 21, 1981 to May 17, 1995 and the first French President of the 5th Republic to be considered a 'socialist' ( Parti socialiste ), ordered the nationalization of numerous French companies and ran extensive social and social services Labor market reforms. The French Constitutional Court approved the law on February 11, 1982 within the framework of its (then relatively limited) powers.

Among other things, the five largest industrial groups in France, such as the construction company Saint-Gobain or the chemical company Rhône-Poulenc , as well as 39 banks and two finance companies were nationalized. A large-scale wave of nationalization followed, which also affected companies in the steel industry as well as arms and aviation groups such as Dassault and Matra .

The compensation to be paid - about 39 billion French francs - increased the national debt considerably.

United Kingdom of Great Britain)

On April 17, 1946, the then British government (Prime Minister: Clement Attlee , Labor Party ) decided to nationalize large parts of the UK's iron and steel industry. She founded the National Coal Board (later renamed British Coal ) and the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain .

In 1948, among other things, the four UK railway companies were nationalized; British Rail was founded.

Margaret Thatcher , Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, privatized numerous state-owned companies in her second legislative term. It was their aim to significantly reduce the influence of the state and the trade unions on the economy. With the privatization of many state-owned companies (such as British Telecom , British Petroleum (BP), British Airways ) and local supply companies ( drinking water supply , electricity companies), the state quota was also significantly reduced.

The strike by British miners (1984/85) against the planned closings or privatization of their mines is considered a key event. The strike lasted a year. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) soon used up its reserves (“ strike fund ”) and could no longer pay strike money . On March 3, 1985, a NUM delegates' conference finally voted to end the labor dispute. With Thatcher's "victory", the influence of the English trade unions fell permanently. The way for further reforms such as the abolition of the closed shop (compulsory membership in trade unions for workers in numerous companies) and the ban on so-called flying pickets ( pickets that do not belong to the company on strike ) was clear.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: nationalization  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations



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  14. What happened in April 1946 on
  15. ^ Robert A. Brady (1950): Crisis in Britain. Plans and Achievements of the Labor Government, University of California Press. ( limited preview in Google Book Search) Covers in detail nationalizations in the period 1945 to 1950.
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