The Future of Property
Webster’s Dictionary defines property as: a) something owned or possessed b) a piece of real estate c) the exclusive right to possess, to enjoy, and dispose of a thing d) something to which a person or business has a legal title.
To fully understand the dynamics of property, it must be defined more specifically.
Private property: Private property is the infrastructure of the economy and the wealth that exceeds any human’s personal needs. Private property arose in history when society developed to a point that communities produced enough surplus (especially food) that one section, or class, of society could be freed from hunting and gathering and live off the labor of another class.
Personal property: Personal property is the things we need to live and function, as individuals or families: Food, clothing, shelter, computers, phones, personal transportation, etc.
Public property: In the United States there is a massive amount of public property, property which belongs to the government such as schools, roads, airports, libraries, and hospitals.
But these are not static, unchanging categories.
The nature of private property is changing. In its capitalist phase, private property has been based on the exploitation of labor at the workplace. But with the replacement of labor by technology, private property is shifting to intangibles such as currency dealing, financial derivatives, oil futures, etc. The owners of private property are shifting from making money from the work of other people to making money from money.
The erosion of personal property: In order to acquire personal property, we have to have jobs, we have to have money. In order to get money we have to be able to sell our labor power, our ability to work, to the owners of private property. But the fundamental shift from human labor to computerized, robotic production and services is making it impossible for a vast section of the people to sell their ability to work. The masses are being pushed rapidly from the ownership of personal property.
The decline of public property: Public property is being sold off or given away to corporations. A complete merger between the corporations and the government is well underway. The very concept of public property is now under attack.
We obtain personal property only if the sale of our labor power creates the possibility of profit for the owners of private property. The major items of personal property such as cars and houses are usually acquired by going into debt and the corporation which owns the note owns our “personal property.” Increasingly, our debts are bundled together into financial instruments which are then sold and re-sold. At times no one knows who owns a particular house or car. But we always know which class owns these debts and the property they stem from — they belong to the owners of private property.
The ownership of property is not as an individual question. It is a group question, a social question, a class question. Private property is a contradiction. We create it but another class owns it.
Property in a Cooperative Society
People are taught to fear a cooperative, communist society so they can be convinced that the abolition of private property means the confiscation of what little they personally own. In a cooperative, communist society the only thing that will be confiscated is private property, including all corporate property, in order that it may become public property for the benefit of all.
In a cooperative, communist society everything used by society to guarantee our well-being — hospitals, airports, factories, schools — will be public property. Our personal property will be securely in our hands. That will be guaranteed by law, by custom, and by the nature of a society where there is no longer any reason anyone would want to take it away.
Property and Democracy
In the United States, democracy has been limited mainly to property owners. At one time only white males who owned property were allowed to vote and the dominant property owners were those who owned slaves. As chattel slavery was eliminated and the ranks of property owners grew via the family farm and high-paying jobs, democracy expanded. But this meant only voting rights. The strategic economic and political decisions have always been made only by those who own private property. Today, some of those who call the shots are women, some are minorities, but all are owners of private property or are politically controlled by them.
A propertyless class has no role in capitalism or any other system of private property except to provide the labor-power necessary for the production of private property, and cannot be allowed any say in how it is run. With mass foreclosures and evictions, the end of the family farm, and the destruction of small business, capitalist democracy is no longer possible. It is rapidly being dismantled.
There can be no political democracy unless there is economic democracy.
Under communism, everyone will be a co-owner of public property so everyone will have a say in the direction of society. We will move from a society based on the control of people to one based on the control of things. Scarcity will be gone, swept away by universal abundance. Under systems of private property, someone else controls your ability to eat and to live, so you can never be free. With the elimination of private property, bountiful personal property for all, and universal access to public property, freedom will become a reality for everyone.
Under communism, corporations will no longer exist. Privatization will be reversed and the private property we paid for but didn’t own will return to us via public ownership. There will be no foreclosures. No tax sales. No real estate market and the terror that goes with it. Everyone will have a place to live, guaranteed. No repossessed cars. No hungry children. No sick people without access to medical care. Artists will have access to all the tools they need to create.
We own our ability to work, with our bodies and our minds. It is our personal property. Living under a system of private property we still own our ability to work but cannot use it. That is just another form of slavery. Under communism, abundance will be distributed to all and we won’t have to desperately try to sell our ability to work in order to live. But we will still own our ability to work, to use our bodies and our minds. We will be free, truly free, to use those capacities to make the contribution to society that we want to make.
Property and Ideology
We are encouraged to see ourselves as “middle class” property owners who have nothing in common with the poor and propertyless. We are not separate. We are all people who need to sell our labor power in order to survive under a system of private property, a system that no longer needs to buy our labor power. We can come together when we envision ourselves as owners of all the personal property we need and co-owners of all public property. Then we are revolutionaries moving with history to save our country.
Many individuals and organizations talk about “going back” to a time when a huge chunk of America owned property. But technology under a system of private property will not allow that to happen. In the end, all the blather about property rights only has real meaning for the ruling class, which owns all the property. We should be concerned instead with human rights, including the right to own the personal property and use the public property we need to live a full and meaningful life.
Property and Violence
Living under a system of private property we fight each other over access to resources that are deliberately withheld from us. In a cooperative, communist society there will be no more prejudice, discrimination, or street violence. The underlying cause of it, enforced scarcity, will be gone.
In America, a country still defined by its legacy of human slavery and the violence necessary to control slaves and their descendants, police violence grows worse each day. The function of the police is to protect private property by any means necessary. In a cooperative, communist society we won’t have to fight each other over access to personal property. There will be no need for a police force and police violence will exist only in the history books.
Property as a Process
For most of human history, people lived in primitive communist societies where there was no private property. Over the past several thousand years, private property has developed and grown. It has taken over and consumed almost all other forms of property.
The rise of private property was eventually accompanied by the emergence of money. Little by little, money conquered all forms of natural economy until it overtook the productive economy. The world economy is now becoming based on making money from money. Those who have no money cannot participate.
Under communism there will be no money but not because getting rid of money is a good idea. Money will be gone because money is a medium of exchange. Under capitalism, the form of private property humanity is now passing out of, we exchange our ability to work for money. Then we exchange money for the commodities we need to live. Under communism, abundance will be distributed to all but not by exchange. Without exchange, there will be no role for money. It will no longer exist.
The End of Private Property
This is a very dangerous time in history. All around the world, the State is moving toward fascism in order to protect private property and the class which owns it. To make the transition from private property to universal abundance in a cooperative society we must rely on the new class of propertyless people. Since this new class owns no property and is without employment or resources, it cannot move in the direction of securing individual property. It has no ties to any system of private property and so it is free to lead humanity toward a cooperative, communist society. It is of the greatest importance to make this new class aware of its role in history and to spread that awareness throughout society.
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