12 votes

Personal vs. private property in Marxism

Consider three examples:

  1. I am a farmer. I have a piece of land that can grow just enough potatoes to feed me. I work this land, I gather potatoes, ad nauseam.

  2. I am a farmer, but this time I have ten times the amount of land. I hire four workers and also work myself. Together we grow enough potatoes to feed all of us, and we also have a surplus. I sell this surplus potato for ¤5000. I am a greedy man, so I take ¤3000 for myself and give ¤500 to each of my workers.

  3. The situation is the same as in 2, but this time I am a just man. I share the money equally, so everyone including myself gets ¤1000.

It seems to me that in the first case the land can be considered personal property, since there is no exploitation and no surplus is generated. In the second example the land is clearly a piece of private property, because I use it to exploit other people, taking most of the profit for myself.

But what about the third example? On one hand, the profit is distributed equally, so there is technically no exploitation, right? On the other hand, I am alienated from the workers, because I still have the power to fire one of them (or all of them if I know I can replace them) or to distribute goods unfairly (even if I don't do that). What is the Marxist point of view here?

19 comments

  1. [4]
    biox Link
    Nada. You own the farm, you control the workers' wages - it doesn't matter if you're fair now, the fact of the matter is that you still have the workers - and their families - tied to you. On a...

    On one hand, the profit is distributed equally, so there is technically no exploitation, right?

    Nada. You own the farm, you control the workers' wages - it doesn't matter if you're fair now, the fact of the matter is that you still have the workers - and their families - tied to you. On a whim, they're potato-less (and moneyless) - exploitation to me (and many other marxists I know) is having that capability over others, regardless of whether you use it.

    18 votes
    1. [3]
      xstresedg Link Parent
      Interesting perspective. So would then option one be the only viable option for you, or would there be another consideration (such as expanding land but only working it among yourself and your...

      Interesting perspective. So would then option one be the only viable option for you, or would there be another consideration (such as expanding land but only working it among yourself and your family)?

      I'm curious as I'm not familiar with Marxist viewpoints, despite wanting to read more up on it. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I have no real philosophy, at least one that I can put to words.

      1. [2]
        biox Link Parent
        Please, please don't be ashamed of this. Those with opinions are limited, and you're unlimited, and I think that's beautiful. Don't rush to decide on any real philosophy, there's a lot to digest,...

        I'm curious as I'm not familiar with Marxist viewpoints, despite wanting to read more up on it. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I have no real philosophy, at least one that I can put to words.

        Please, please don't be ashamed of this. Those with opinions are limited, and you're unlimited, and I think that's beautiful. Don't rush to decide on any real philosophy, there's a lot to digest, there's a lot of grey, and it's really easy to fall into camps. I wouldn't even say that you need to research these things explicitly - just live life, have experiences, and develop more pointed feelings. Maybe marxism will make sense to you, as it does to me, but that journey is immensely personal and important, and my point is that you shouldn't shortcut it or feel anxious for not being sure.

        With that out of the way...

        So would then option one be the only viable option for you, or would there be another consideration (such as expanding land but only working it among yourself and your family)?

        From a Marxist point of view, option one is the only acceptable one of the options presented.

        It's simple - if you own the means of production (in this case, the land on which crops grow), you have the potential to exploit others - Marxism's entire purpose is to avoid that power dynamic entirely. Everything - including centrally planned economies, worker unions, labor vouchers - it all serves eliminating any private ownership of production.

        I think that Marx says it best:

        "The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness."

        P.S. I've been drinking, writing is probably sloppy.

        1 vote
        1. xstresedg Link Parent
          Thank you for this! Gives some insight into this, for better understanding. Also, your writing seems fine to me.

          Thank you for this! Gives some insight into this, for better understanding. Also, your writing seems fine to me.

          1 vote
  2. [3]
    autopsy_turvy Link
    AFAIK, personal property == owning only the things you can & want to be responsible for. In terms of business this doesn't apply much. If you, and not the community/workers as a whole, have the...

    AFAIK, personal property == owning only the things you can & want to be responsible for. In terms of business this doesn't apply much.

    If you, and not the community/workers as a whole, have the definite ownership/say in what happens on the farm, that is private property and not Marxist, even if you give all earnings to the workers below you.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      cge (edited ) Link Parent
      Perhaps I am being pedantic and cantankerous here, but what do you mean by "Marxist" and "not Marxist"? Seen as a theoretical framework, Marxism clearly deals quite a bit with private property,...

      If you, and not the community/workers as a whole, have the definite ownership/say in what happens on the farm, that is private property and not Marxist, even if you give all earnings to the workers below you.

      Perhaps I am being pedantic and cantankerous here, but what do you mean by "Marxist" and "not Marxist"? Seen as a theoretical framework, Marxism clearly deals quite a bit with private property, and has a specific meanings for "personal property" and "private property." If not seen as a theoretical framework, but as some reference to a particular political and economic system, then I'm not sure what you mean by the terms.

      5 votes
      1. autopsy_turvy Link Parent
        I'm not saying Marxism doesn't entail property rights, it's just "personal property" has to do more with an individual than a co-op or organization/business. When I say "not Marxist" I'm just...

        I'm not saying Marxism doesn't entail property rights, it's just "personal property" has to do more with an individual than a co-op or organization/business.

        When I say "not Marxist" I'm just saying sole ownership of a business doesn't at all resemble the term Marxism as an economic concept. I was in a rush and didn't have time to flesh it out originally.

        In a marxist society, ideally, the farm would be owned by the community as a whole, and the tools used by the farmers would be their own personal property. If it's socialist, there would be no profiteering and the surplus would be managed by the workers as a whole. If communist, there's no currency involved to begin with, so the surplus would likely be donated or traded for other things useful to all the workers.

        5 votes
  3. [12]
    jmillikin Link
    This is probably a better fit for ~humanities, unless you'd like to discuss possible experiments that could determine the difference empirically.

    This is probably a better fit for ~humanities, unless you'd like to discuss possible experiments that could determine the difference empirically.

    3 votes
    1. [11]
      ainar-g Link Parent
      It was, initially. @Algernon_Asimov, what do you think?

      It was, initially. @Algernon_Asimov, what do you think?

      1 vote
      1. [10]
        Algernon_Asimov (edited ) Link Parent
        I think that economics is a social science and not one of the humanities - and, in the absence of a ~socialscience group (despite me asking for one), I've been putting all social science-related...

        I think that economics is a social science and not one of the humanities - and, in the absence of a ~socialscience group (despite me asking for one), I've been putting all social science-related topics here in ~science.

        Paging @jmillikin: FYI.

        (EDIT: Fixed username.)

        2 votes
        1. [3]
          CALICO Link Parent
          Not that I necessarily disagree with you—I can certainly see your point of view—but couldn't there be a case made that discussions of Marxism would fall under Humanities as Economic Philosophy?

          Not that I necessarily disagree with you—I can certainly see your point of view—but couldn't there be a case made that discussions of Marxism would fall under Humanities as Economic Philosophy?

          4 votes
          1. [2]
            Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
            It's not my point of view: I'm citing academic definitions about what constitute "natural science" (our ~science group), "social science", and "humanities". Sure! Absolutely! And one could put...

            I can certainly see your point of view

            It's not my point of view: I'm citing academic definitions about what constitute "natural science" (our ~science group), "social science", and "humanities".

            couldn't there be a case made that discussions of Marxism would fall under Humanities as Economic Philosophy?

            Sure! Absolutely!

            And one could put discussions about pets under Humanities as Philosophy of Animal Welfare, and discussions about self-driving cars could be under Humanities as Technological Philosophy, and discussions about Star Trek could be under Humanities as Philosophy of Art. Every discussion is somehow ultimately connected to philosophy in one way or another - so we could have just one top-level ~philosophy group, with sub-categories for the various things we want to talk about.

            But that gets a little bit meaningless. If everything is connected to philosophy, then philosophy ceases to be a meaningful category. We need something a bit more useful than that.

            2 votes
            1. CALICO Link Parent
              I can definitely see where you're coming from, and largely agree. I suppose the deciding factor could be whether the discussion is about the merits of a thing in context with morality, ethics, and...

              I can definitely see where you're coming from, and largely agree. I suppose the deciding factor could be whether the discussion is about the merits of a thing in context with morality, ethics, and such, or more practical applications of a thing such as this topic with a specific scenario or example in mind; the former being more philosophy than science, and the latter being more science than philosophy.
              No matter what, there certainly is a great deal of overlap and nuance in matters such as these .

              1 vote
        2. [6]
          jmillikin Link Parent
          I agree that economics posts can belong in ~science, but disagree that posts discussing Marxism are the same kind of "economics" as (for example) a report on average national wealth disparities....

          I agree that economics posts can belong in ~science, but disagree that posts discussing Marxism are the same kind of "economics" as (for example) a report on average national wealth disparities. This post is certainly not science, and the people who would be most interested in discussing it would not expect it to be in ~science.

          1 vote
          1. [5]
            Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
            Well, it's not about one of the humanities either (philosophy, theology, linguistics, history, the arts). Maybe we should just move it to ~misc.

            Well, it's not about one of the humanities either (philosophy, theology, linguistics, history, the arts).

            Maybe we should just move it to ~misc.

            1. [4]
              jmillikin Link Parent
              Funny, I would have categorized it as ~humanities.philosophy.marxism. Maybe it's more naturally ~politics.marxism, and that's why we can't find a good home for it.

              Funny, I would have categorized it as ~humanities.philosophy.marxism. Maybe it's more naturally ~politics.marxism, and that's why we can't find a good home for it.

              1. [3]
                Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
                If we're categorising Marxism as a philosophy, then capitalism would also be a philosophy. Or what am I missing? I've never been clear about the dividing line between Marxism on one hand, and...

                If we're categorising Marxism as a philosophy, then capitalism would also be a philosophy. Or what am I missing? I've never been clear about the dividing line between Marxism on one hand, and socialism and communism on the other. Is Marxism a type of economic system or is it a philosophy?

                But the question in the topic we're discussing is about ownership of land. That's definitely an economic issue. Maybe the problem isn't whether Marxism is a philosophy or an economic system. The ownership of land is an economic question. Maybe the problem is that @ainar-g needs to specify which economic system they're asking about: socialism or communism. Maybe "Marxism" shouldn't be in the title at all. If it was phrased as "Personal vs. private property in socialism" or "Personal vs. private property in communism", that would make it clearly an economic question (and the answer would be different, depending on which system was chosen).

                2 votes
                1. [2]
                  jmillikin Link Parent
                  I wouldn't consider capitalism a philosophy, because it's narrowly scoped to allocation of resources among agents of unequal capability and desires. Capitalism has no position on what behaviors...

                  I wouldn't consider capitalism a philosophy, because it's narrowly scoped to allocation of resources among agents of unequal capability and desires. Capitalism has no position on what behaviors are moral. It only provides mechanisms to discover valuations and exchange between forms of value.

                  Note that there have been attempts to define philosophies by extending capitalism beyond the domain of resource allocation, Objectivism being the most famous. These usually aren't very popular because people don't like having their lives treated as fungible inputs to a mindlessly grinding optimization algorithm.

                  Communism is a form of government based on Marxist theories applied to a centralized economy. It attempts to reduce inequality between citizens, via confiscation of wealth from the middle-class and mass execution of anyone who objects. It has historically been unsuccessful and unpopular.

                  Socialism is a form of government based on Marxist theories applied to a decentralized economy. It attempts to reduce inequality between citizens, by allowing workers to share ownership of industrial assets. Functional at small scales but struggles to coordinate diverse populations. Has a large online following who think "Кто не работает, тот не ест" translates to "he who does not work can eat anyway, no worries".


                  As I understand it, Marxism contains an important distinction between "personal property" (good) and "private property" (evil) that is critical to its core point but completely opaque to everyone who isn't a Marxist. The dividing line is roughly what a single person can use to its full extent. So your bike is personal property, unless you let other people borrow it for $5/hr to run errands, in which case it's private property. Presumably a factory that could produce a hundred bikes per hour is personal property if it's fully automated and therefore doesn't "exploit the labor" of any other person.

                  The OP's question is about that dividing line: if you rent out your bike, does its status as "personal" vs "private" change depending on how much you charge? Does charging even a cent alter the relationship between owner and borrower? It's a very philosophical question.

                  3 votes
                  1. Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
                    I give up. You're arguing way over my head. I'll move this back to ~humanities. Meanwhile, I'm going to ask Deimos to create a social science group because I'm sick of people dumping anything that...

                    I give up. You're arguing way over my head. I'll move this back to ~humanities.

                    Meanwhile, I'm going to ask Deimos to create a social science group because I'm sick of people dumping anything that isn't hard science into ~humanities because... well... "it's stuff related to people", as someone put it recently.

                    2 votes