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The modern mainstream culture encourages private ownership over tangible and intangible goods and promotes it as a form of success and ultimate life achievement. It is seen by most of the people as the only right form of ownership, and it significantly determines the way they live and interact with others. Nevertheless, as part of the social and economic relations context, private ownership may have some flaws, including excess competition and conflict of interests among different classes.
They are explained in the theory of Karl Marx who regarded private property in close links to the phenomena of alienated labor and social inequality. At the same time, the philosopher believed that in order to realize the full potential of humanity and every individual, the practice of alienated labor, as well as private ownership and class division associated with it, must be abandoned. The major ideas pertaining to this matter will be analyzed in the present paper.
Private Property and Alienated Labor
Marx defines property in the contexts of social relations and production or activities performed by individuals to maintain sustenance. Private property, in the philosopher’s view, is the appropriation of goods produced by other people and their utilization for some personal gains (Fromm & Marx, 2013). It implies that various objects created by individuals may serve as a means for enslaving them to others because the present-day, dominant form of seller-purchaser relationships in the society encourages economic dependence. The context of alienated labor is applied by Marx to describe such a situation in which a person produces something for not their own use.
While, in its ideal understanding, labor can be considered a definite form of individual self-expression, alienated labor, on the contrary, interferes with human self-realization by making people subordinate to the overall economic system and others (Marx & Engels, 1998; Fromm & Marx, 2013). Nevertheless, this is not the only problem associated with alienated labor. Considering that concern for personal survival is emphasized in the current social and production contexts, excess competition among individuals is created (Fromm & Marx, 2013). As a result, the human race becomes disunited, and significant class differences take place.
Problem of Class Antagonism
The desire for private property and the division of labor is at the root of class antagonism in Marx’s theory. Notably, the philosopher defines social classes as such by property ownership. As noted by Rummel (n.d.) in his summary of Marx’s perspectives, “such ownership vests a person with the power to exclude others from the property and to use it for personal purposes” (par. 5.1). In this regard, a strict class division occurs depending on the total amount and value of property owned.
Based on the evidence provided in the work that Marx wrote jointly with Engels, three major classes are identified: bourgeoisie that controls production assets, landowners that rent lands to others, and the proletariat that produces and sells goods (Marx & Engels, 1998). Rummel (n.d.) states that when the society matures, land ownership and capital or, in other words, the property of production, merge. Therefore, it is the opposition between proletariat and bourgeoisie what matters when analyzing social inequality issues.
The main problem associated with class division arises when the interests of higher classes are pursued at the expense of other classes and when a substantial disparity between their life conditions emerges. Overall, by owning production assets, including plants, factories, and technologies, and not allowing others to access them, members of the bourgeoisie class have a chance to fulfill their own interests, such as the maximization of personal profits.
At the same time, with limited to no access to production property and resources, members of the proletariat class become engaged in alienated labor more. In this way, the issue of social inequality and economic enslavement of individuals perpetuates.
Communism as a Solution
Communism is for the eradication of any class opposition, and inequality and, therefore, Marx is for the abolition of property. However, he notes in the Communist Manifesto that “the distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property” (Marx, 2013, p. 86).
He also observes that communism “deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society” but deprives him/her “of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriation” (Marx, 2013, p. 86). These statements imply that in an ideal communist society, the upper class of bourgeoisie will not exist because the private ownership of the production property will no longer be permissible. Consequently, the resources produced by using a production asset will be more easily distributed among all members of the society.
Notably, the abolishment of private property will lead to the elimination of labor division as well. Marx observes that in modern society, each person has a certain specialization and is forced to comply with it in order to survive (Marx & Engels, 1998). When production activities and outputs are no longer an individual’s concern, and when one’s livelihood does not depend on them, he/she becomes free to engage in any activity he/she deems meaningful. In this way, a person obtains a chance to lead a truly productive and happy life.
Marx’s ideas regarding the abolition of private property and consequent elimination of labor division seem compelling, and I agree with the assumption that only the bourgeois property should be abolished. The reason for that is the fact that lower-rank employees in large corporations often work longer hours but earn considerably less than many company owners (stockholders), who often do nearly nothing to benefit their business on a day-to-day basis. The ownership status and related specialization may thus be closely linked to the unfair distribution of resources. I also agree that alienated production takes away life forces from individuals and frequently makes them unhappy, and that desires for private property increase greed and competition.
Nevertheless, Marx’s solutions are unlikely possible to implement in reality at this moment not least because a complete abolition of private property implies that resources will be owned by the state. Obviously, it may entail even greater risks that they will serve to meet the interests of the ruling class and their close ones. Therefore, it seems that a solution to the problem of social inequality will not be purely political but will comprise an ethical element as well.
To create an ideal communist society in which each person will freely engage in different productive activities and will have access to all necessary resources exempting them from a concern for basic survival, a supportive economic, social, and cultural environment is needed. The main issue in these endeavors is to determine how and by whom social resources will be controlled and distributed.
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Fromm, E., & Marx, K. (2013). Marx’s concept of man: Including ‘Economic and philosophical manuscripts’. London, UK: Bloomsbury.
Marx, K. (2013). The communist manifesto. New York, NY: Pocket Books.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1998). The German ideology. New York, NY: Prometheus Books.
Rummel, R. J. (n.d.). Marxism, class conflict, and the conflict helix. Web.