Sunday, February 23, 2014

Individual vs. Capitalist Private Property

As short as it is, I found myself spending a good amount of time unpacking Chapter 32. It seems that he argues that it is not necessarily all private property, but rather capitalist private property in particular.  

At the beginning of the chapter, Marx offers the seeming admission that limited personal private property existed in earlier social systems.

Marx, however, draws a clear distinction between this individual private property and capitalist private property. Like all dialectics, the consumer goods and services defining individual private property and the ownership of means the means of productions delineating capitalist private property are antagonistic, coexisting in practice, but contradictory in theory.

It is the “first negation”—the destruction of individual private property by the capitalist mode of production that is particularly troubling. The rise of capitalist mode of production rises out of the destruction of earlier modes of private property. As in any dialectic, remnants of the old remain—in this case, notions of individual private property.  

Justifications of private property tend to stem from Modern understandings of fairness. A person should have say over how his or her labor is expended. A weaver should somehow “own” the resulting cloth, having final say over what happens to it. People buy items they pay for with wages earned through their own labor.

Capitalism, however, goes past this. Justice for the individual does not look like justice on a larger level. Capitalists own and control commodities produced by other people. Yes, the capitalists own the machines and materials, but workers own (and lease) their labor. Regardless, capitalist modes of production perpetuate a system radically different from the logic used to argue for (individual) private property.
Culminating in recent Supreme Court cases and international economic bodies, capitalist enterprises have been reconceptualized as individuals, with all of the rights thereof. However, as the mere name “limited liability” corporation might reveal—the accountability required of these entities leaves something to be desired.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion of the chapter comes in its brief, concluding paragraphs. The “negation of the negation” offers the barest glimmers of revolution leading to the end of capitalist private property. This evolution will “not re-establish private property, but it does indeed establish individual property on the basis of the achievements of the capitalist era: namely cooperation and the possession in

common of the land and the means of production produced by labour itself’ (p. 929). As there are more workers than capitalists, the negation of  negation will be less violent than the first negation. How such an overthrow may take place is another matter altogether. 

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