THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION
When productive activities are conceived of as purposeful activities
thru which human beings
appropriate nature, satisfy their needs and develop their powers,
production and consumption form a unity, and are integrated in one
so-called 'production process'.
On this view, production not only produces an object for the individual,
but has also been claimed to produce 'an individual for the object'.
It is the role commodity exchange has come to play which has started
to divide the whole integrated process into four separate ones:
production, distribution, commodity exchange and consumption.
This disintegration is said to lead to a specific mode of
production in which a ruling class exercises power 'by virtue of
its ability to expropriate surplus labor from the producers of
The workers' social interdependence is transformed, then, into an
individual dependence of each worker on the owner of the means of
(The ensuing alienation may be defined as 'the transformation of human
productive activity into a commodity'.)
It is worthwhile to note that property in the means of production and
subsistence is not capital per se.
When the property right stays with the immediate producer, it is not.
It is 'only under circumstances in which the instruments of production and
subsistence serve at the same time as means of exploitation and subjection
of the laborer' that the instruments of production and subsistence become
capital — it has been argued.
Since, from this standpoint, private property exists only where the means
of labor and the external conditions of labor belong to private
individuals, and since it is believed that this inevitably leads to
the exploitation of other people, it should be manifest that private
property in this sense cannot be abolished too soon.
It should, then, be abolished if, and insofar as, property in the means of
production does entail exploitation and subjection of other people
(not as an analytical but as an empirical truth), and if its (empirically)
necessary condition for existence is indeed the nonexistence of this
property for the immense majority of society.
In that case the argument for private property in instruments of production
It is confusing (and coming from definitely ideological springs) to use the
phrase private property in the limited sense of property in the
means of labor in a society in which capital has been accumulated.
And it is not right to call its antithesis simply "social property",
because there remains the property of individuals which is not responsible
for capital accumulation and which is not used to exploit other people,
even when it is property in land or in means of production (which, by
definition, must not be labeled "capital").
It is more accurate, then, to use another distinction proposed, namely the
one between 'passive' and 'active property'. According to this distinction
'passive property' is 'property for acquisition, for exploitation
or for power' and 'active property', property which is
actually used by its owner for the conduct of
'er profession or
the upkeep of 'er household. The underlying presupposition of
this terminology is, however, that property must be either a
means of labor or an 'instrument for the acquisition of gain or
the exercise of power'. Just as in the previous doctrine great
emphasis is placed on production, so property must always have a
function on this view.
Altho the meanings of
production and function may be stretched so much that they
encompass all 'life-creating and life-affirming activities, including the
material as well as the mental, emotional and esthetic aspects', this is
tantamount to draining these terms of all practical significance.
(Unless it is 'practical' to confuse ordinary people by equivocation, and
to play upon the much narrower meanings the words have in everyday
If just enjoying nature, and the beauty of the land in all privacy, is not
a form of production, and has no function, we had better stay where we are,
for in that case the exclusive emphasis on production and function is the
product of a
doctrinal idea we certainly need
not run away with.
Not only can the meanings of production and function be
strained, we have seen that the meaning of property itself, too,
has been stretched so much as to include the right to a kind of society.
Property as co-ownership in society's produce is, then, explained as the
individual's right 'not to be excluded from the use or benefit of the
achievements of the whole society'.
This may mean the equal right 'of access to the accumulated means of labor'
or the right 'to an income from the whole produce of society, related to
what is needed for a fully human life'.
As regards the former right, 'the means of labor' are society's capital and
its natural resources, but the difference between natural resources and
those means of labor which are themselves also a product of labor
(of the labor of a particular living person or group of persons, that is)
is thus entirely neglected or conveniently ignored.
As regards the latter right, basing people's right to an income on their
needs, rather than on what they deserve, may be justifiable from a
doctrinal point of view, such a justification is incomplete and becomes
obscurely anthropocentristic (and useless), when it is made to rest upon
the need of a 'fully human life'.
Those interested in the ownership of the means of production
have but too often only thought about this ownership in purely
materialistic terms. Yet, there is also an 'idealist' aspect of
this kind of ownership, or of the ownership in things other than
people's bodies and natural resources.
It is the ownership of the means of production as instruments which enable
individuals or groups to effectively present their ideas to the general
public and to promote certain causes among those they could never reach in
a different way.
If these instruments should not be called "means of production", they are
means of communication.
In a modern information society property in these instruments
is at least as crucial for a 'fully human life' and for a
freedom from exploitation as that of the means of production.
These means of communication are 'systems or vehicles for the
transmission of information', such as television, radio, newspapers
and books. Altho it has been argued that the form of these media
has more effect on society than the contents they carry, little
imagination is needed to see, hear and read what happens, or is
likely to happen, when all these media are owned by one or a
limited number of private citizens or governmental agencies,
especially when this is reality in the region or country where
one lives. Since every such citizen or agency has 'er or their
own traditions or ideology, these traditions or this ideology will
be explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly, present in
what and how the owner broadcasts or publishes, or allows to be
broadcasted or published. Where the means of communication have
exclusively fallen into the hands of the state (that is, one or
a few state officials) or in those of one or a few private
individuals, the tastes, preferences and judgments of every
worker and nonworker, of every employer and nonemployer alike,
become subject to the same totalitarian manipulation or spiritual
The material aspect of owning the means of production may be important in
theories of property, it certainly does not justify a one-sided emphasis;
neither in theory nor in