Since the rise of classes and the domination of one class over another, private property has existed in one form or another. The popular notion of private property is that it is personal property, one's individual possessions. This is not what is meant by the concept. The propaganda of the owning class deliberately confuses or obscures this. The intent is to frighten people and make them believe that the abolition of private property means the loss or confiscation of what little they personally own.

In reality, the term “private property,” when used in the context of an economic system, refers to private control by a dominant class over the productive forces, that is, over the tools that create the necessities of life. Private property is controlled by the few for the benefit of the few; in contrast to public property which is owned and controlled by all of society for the benefit of all.

Private property arose in human history when society had developed to a point where communities produced enough surplus (especially of food) so that one section, or class, of society could be freed from subsistence labor (hunting, gathering, etc), and live off the labor of another class. This privileged position, and the exploitation it depended on, was enforced by violence and the threat of violence through development of the means of control and coercion, including the military, police, and various organs of propaganda and mind control. This has been true through the various stages of society, whether slaveholding systems, feudalism, or capitalism.

Whatever the economic system, the dominant class built up its superstructure, resting on those economic relations, to guarantee that property and the power to hold onto it remain in the hands of the dominant class. This owning class uses all means at its disposal – whether through laws that protect these property relations, or through violence and war – to guarantee its continued control over that which creates what people need to survive.

Today, electronics and automation is eliminating human labor, destroying the source of all value, and ending that which makes capitalism what it is: a system of buying and selling based on the exploitation of human labor power and the expropriation by the exploiting class of the profit from the surplus value created from that labor power. The very relations that make capitalism function are being torn apart and dissolving. Without the exploitation of labor power, profit cannot be realized, and without profit, capitalism cannot survive as a system. Something new is struggling to be born. That can only be one of two things: either the maintenance of private property by the ruling class under some other non-capitalist system, or communism, the public ownership of the productive forces as public property, used and distributed for the good of all.

The ruling class cannot save capitalism, but they are maneuvering to save private property under some new economic system. Fascism is developing to guarantee that whatever takes the place of capitalism is a system that maintains private property in the hands of this small exploiting class.

Neither the corporations – the capitalists – nor the rest of humanity can stay where they are. All must move to something beyond capitalism, as capitalism crumbles, devours itself, and dies. What this will be, and in whose interest it will be organized, will be determined by the consciousness, will, and clarity of the world's majority, the growing class of the poor and dispossessed. Their struggle for survival – for the basics that capitalism can no longer provide, and, beyond that, for all we need for a materially, culturally, and spiritually abundant life – is objectively a fight for the abolition of private property.

In such a revolutionary time, there is no turning back. The question for revolutionaries is in whose interest these new tools and the abundance they make possible are used: the corporations and the small class that controls them, who increasingly impose misery, starvation, incarceration, and fascism to maintain private property, or the peaceful sharing of this abundance through publically owned communal property – the communist resolution.

This Building Block article is one of a series which explains a basic concept of the revolutionary process, challenging readers to explore its meaning for political work in today's environment.

This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
P.O. Box 477113 Chicago, IL 60647
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Private or Public Property? It's Up to Us