A World Beyond Private Property
What do we mean when we use the term “private property”’ in our current capitalist system? We aren’t referring to people’s personal possessions — homes, clothes, cars, etc — especially the necessities of life. We mean that the institutions and corporations that control the goods and services that people need are held and owned privately by a few people, or the owning class, for their private gain.
In the hunter-gatherer stage of human existence (“primitive communism”), all was owned in common by the entire band or tribe, the food that was hunted and gathered was distributed to all – or nobody would have survived. With the development of agriculture, the ability to store surplus food set the conditions for one class dominating another. This surplus and the labor of the workers who toiled to produce it was controlled by an “owning” class. The first private property was slaves, one class of human beings owned by another who profited from this brutal form of enforced labor. The exploitation of slave labor was the base on which class society developed, and throughout history has been at its root. Only the elimination of private property can end the class system and its various forms of exploitation.
Private property means the control of an exploiting class over the means of production, the tools used for production, and the exploitation of another class’s labor. This is enforced by both violence and coercion, and all the many methods of social control and conditioning. Whether produced by slave or wage-slave, the fruits of this labor are taken by the exploiting class and become their personal property, which then belongs to them. The workers must then buy back what they themselves produced.
The people’s struggle to liberate themselves from class exploitation has continued through the ages. At the end of the Civil War in the U.S., the emancipation of the slaves – who were the property of the slave owners – was up to that time the largest confiscation of private property in history, breaking in the process the political domination of slavers over all branches of the government. We are facing a similar moment in history, but this time the fight is to liberate the whole of humanity from the fetters of economic exploitation and tyranny. We can now create the abundance the new technology promises, and so a new world: a cooperative society, with this abundance distributed according to need.
Each time the tools of production are revolutionized, society must change its social relations to fit the new conditions. The system of private property is absolutely incompatible with the new labor-replacing technologies that could, in the hands of our class, liberate humanity once and for all. The majority of humanity – our class – will either seize political power to use this technology for the good of all, or we will be further pushed into hunger, insecurity, homelessness, imprisonment, war and despair.
With automation and computerization of the productive forces, labor is being eliminated from production. Potentially liberating, it is the basis at last for the elimination of wage-slavery, class domination and private ownership of publicly necessary goods. But this abundance can’t be realized until society is reorganized to distribute the abundance according to need.
The ruling class is moving to make sure private property isn’t turned into public property. The people are stirring because private property relations under collapsing capitalism are becoming more and more destructive to more and more people. Capitalism is being destroyed by the revolutionizing of its productive forces. The contradiction is between the ability to create abundance and the holding in private hands of what is produced, allowing it to be had only by those who can pay for what they need, while the jobs they rely on to make money are destroyed.
People see the results of this contradiction in their daily lives, as it gets harder and harder to simply survive, and the owning, capitalist class is bloated with its obscene plundered wealth. The global movement for economic justice is at heart a demand that what is produced by these new technologies be publicly owned, for the use and good of all.
The vision of an era of abundance and cooperation, born from the ruins of this collapsing system — which can only deprive, imprison, starve and make war on the striving people of the world — is arising everywhere. In the Arab world, Europe, and in the “Occupy” movements here and around the globe, this is expressed in the demand for the end to economic inequality, against the bailouts of corrupt financial institutions and the corporate takeover of the government (fascism), the growing inequality in society, and the destruction of lives and the planet .
The question of scarcity vs. abundance is behind these global uprisings and occupations. It is becoming starkly obvious, as lives are being destroyed, with homelessness and hunger spreading everywhere, and with generations of youth facing no future, that the change needed is profound and fundamental. The movement understands that the system is unjust at its core, not organized to benefit more than a handful of people, and that it needs to be changed.
It is the job of the revolutionaries to teach the specifics of this vision – the realization of a society that has evolved beyond private property relations. Only then can true justice, equality and the elimination of domination of one class over another be realized. This vision contains everything that humanity has dreamed of for millennia. This vision can’t be realized without the destruction of the private property system, which must be replaced with a cooperative, communist economic system compatible with the new productive forces.
For the first time in history we have the material conditions to create the abundance on which this can materially rest. We must organize as a class to seize the political power we need to break the fetters of a dying system of private property we have no stake in, instituting an era of cooperation, peace and harmony, with all we need to realize our full human promise.
This Building Block article is written to help explain a basic concept of the revolutionary process, challenging readers to explore its meaning for political work in today’s environment.
March/April 2012. Vol22.Ed2
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011