Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Meaning and Definition of “Private Property”

“The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.”
Thus wrote Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto. But what does this phrase actually mean? The definition of the term “private property” has been a source of immense confusion for many people, primarily among the capitalist opponents of communism, who somehow always manage to misinterpret, twist, and generally misrepresent communist ideas and rhetoric. One of the most common tactics used by capitalists when arguing against communism is to widen the scope of communist terminology, thereby imposing upon those terms a much broader meaning than communists themselves ever actually intended.

This capitalist distortion of communist terminology is nowhere more evident than in the case of the term “private property,” the definition of which capitalists have stretched so far and so wide as to include in it any and all material items that a given individual might possess. But this was never the meaning which communists themselves intended, and for capitalists to present this as the communist position is both misleading and disingenuous.

To the communist, the term “private property” has never meant anything more or less than private capital utilized as a means of production. The term does not include individual possessions or personal effects. Yet for some reason, capitalist critics cannot seem to wrap their heads around this simple concept, and continue to use the term as a label for anything and everything under the sun. So great is their misrepresentation, that one cannot help but wonder whether they are simply ignorant and pompous fools, or masterfully cunning manipulators and deceivers.

“Watch out!” warns the capitalist, as he misleads the public with his lies. “The communists want to take all of your property, all of your personal possessions, everything you own, and redistribute it evenly among your neighbors, your friends, your colleagues, and everybody else! You don't want that, do you!?” Naturally, the great masses of the general public inevitably respond to this question in the negative. After all, nobody wants to have their personal possessions — items for which most of them have likely worked very hard to obtain — to be ripped away from them and given to another who did not work for those items. And so the capitalist succeeds in turning the opinion of general public against the communists, and the people then subsequently proceed to drive the communists out of town. There's just one problem: the communists never had any intention of doing what the capitalist charlatan claimed they would do. All the communists ever wanted was for the society's means of production to be collectively owned and controlled by the people as a whole, and for the goods produced thereby to be shared amongst everyone, so that none would be left wanting, and everyone would have enough. Seizing and redistributing everyone's personal possessions was never on the agenda. But the truth of what the communists actually intended was never of any importance to the capitalist. All that mattered to him was maintaining his monopolistic hold on the society's means of production, so that he might hoard its vast wealth for himself.

So often have communists encountered confusion and hostility over this linguistic problem, that the term “personal property” had to be coined by modern communists to clarify their position. Those who actually read genuine communist theory, rather than indulging exclusively in vulgar capitalist refutations of communist theory (refutations which usually only ever refute the capitalists' own shallow misunderstandings and misrepresentations of communism) have long since understood that the term “private property” has a much narrower and much more specific meaning for the communist than the overly broad and all encompassing definition typically used by capitalists. For the communist, “private property” has only ever meant the productive facilities and social institutions of society, and even then, only in the context that “production” refers to industrial production on a mass scale. In short, the term “private property,” when used by communists, refers exclusively to the private sector of a large scale industrial economy, and not to any and all material possessions that can possibly be owned. When communists declare that all private property should be abolished, they do not mean that every citizen should relinquish individual ownership over his or her own personal possessions. Rather, they mean that society, as a collective whole, should abolish private ownership and control over social institutions, facilities, landed estates, means of production, transportation, communication, and so forth. Personal effects should still rightfully belong to each individual. The sense in which ownership of property is to be abolished is the private, not the personal — the macro, not the micro — the general, not the particular.

To abolish private property, therefore, means simply to abolish the private sector of the economy, and redirect all production through the public sector. It does not mean that communists are going to come and take away your television, your clothes, your computer, your iPad, your guitar, your teddy bear, or any of your other personal items that you happen to own. These things are all personal property, and communists have no intention of abolishing individual ownership of personal property. The idea that communists are going to take everything you own nothing is but a boldface lie perpetuated by greedy capitalists who will say or do anything to retain their class privilege and make you fight against communism and your own class interest.

In the real world, the people who actually take away your personal property are the capitalists themselves when they send repo men to your home to repossess your personal effects after you inevitably default on your loans because you can't make the exorbitant interest payments they demand. In an ironic twist, it is the capitalists who become guilty of depriving you of your personal possessions, thereby committing the self same crime which they condemned the communists for supposedly wanting to commit. But the truth is that the communists never wanted to take your property away. What they have always wanted is to take back the property which the capitalists stole from the people, and to return that property to its rightful owners. The hypocritical capitalists who believe they have a right to steal from the people will undoubtedly call the communist redistribution of wealth an act of theft, but in reality it is a reversal of theft, for it was the people who possessed the rightful claim to the property all along.