lauantai 6. marraskuuta 2010

Karl Marx on Ownership

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Marx's definitions of ownership

Karl Marx's concept of ownership implies that some form or another of ownership must exist in all productive societies, i.e. a productive society without any form of ownership whatsoever is an impossibility. Marx gives three definitions of ownership which are equivalent. The earliest definition comes from 1844 Manuscripts where ownership is defined as embracing both relations: "the relation of the worker to work and to the product of his labor and to the non-worker, and the relation of the non-worker to the worker and the product of his labor."

Later in The German Ideology, Marx gives the following definition: "ownership is the relations of individuals to one another with reference to the material, instrument and product of labor." Lastly, in the Grundrisse, he says, "we reduce this property to the conditions of production". These three definitions are consistent with Marx's position in Capital where he argues that the objective appearance of ownership as a relation between things only belies the underlying reality of its existence as a social relation between producers.

Critisism of capitalist private ownership

Marx' criticism of capitalist private ownership relations is well known. His attack upon private ownership is usually understood to be grounded upon the contradiction in capitalism that simultaneously creates wealth and many ownables for the few capitalists and little wealth with few or no ownables for the multitude of workers. This contradiction finds expression in Marx's concepts of alienation and exploitation. Alienation consists of three modes: alienation from the object of one's labor, alienation from one's activity of labor, and alienation from oneself, from one's species being, and from one's fellow men. The object of the producer's labor is no longer his own. He is alienated from the object of his own labor because the economic requirements of sale and exchange reduce of eliminate his freedom to control what he produces. Forces outside of himself determine what he must produce.

One of the conditions Marx believes necessary for widespread capitalist production is that large numbers of people have no other means of earning a livelihood than by selling their labor power. No individual, who has a choice, would sell his labor power and be exploited by another if he could receive the full value of his labor by being self-employed. It is private ownership of land, resources, and the means of production which Marx believes forces workers to sell their labor power. Private owners become rich, powerful and free, while the workers become poor, weak, and enslaved. Marx might say that the slavery of the worker is the condition for the freedom of the private owner capitalist.

The free development of all

In the Communist Manifesto Marx proposes that the communist society be based upon the principle that "the free development of all". The main difference between rights of title for private possession and for private ownership lies in commercial rights. A person who privately possesses woodworking tools is free to use the tools to mold toys for his children. Marx free development principle also permits the right to give these toys to friend's children. There is also no reason why such a toymaker could not make these toys to be sold. Marx would draw the line at this point (the sale of the homemade toys), but his free development principle does not appear to exclude toymaker from employing others to use his tools and work with him making toys for sale. As long as his workers choose to work for him and have other job opportunities, there seems to be no incompatibility between the toymaker's free development and his workers' free development. Were the owner or his workers prevented from freely choosing to earn their livelihood by making toys, others in the society would be exercising rights over toymakers' labor and to that extent the toymakers would not be free.

Marx' opposition to private employment and to wage labor is not implied by his own free development principle. The control of an individual's labor by the community can be both exploiting and alienating. Still, Marx' idea of private possession does differ from private ownership because of the limits upon exploitation caused by the narrow range of the domain of private ownables. Land and resources are not possible objects of Marx's private possession form. That land and resources must be communally owned places further limits upon the toymaker.

Source: James O. Grunebaum. Private Ownership. p. 128-140

Further reading:

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