Private Property Egon Bondy
The institution of private ownership of the means of production logically and spontaneously emerged over the course of the neolithic revolution, which for many millennia played an important progressive function in economic development. It outlived its usefulness very quickly, however, and became a basis for social stratification and property division, and later for the division of the exploiters from the exploitees. Private ownership of the means of production as an institution, which has a historical genesis, will logically and eventually become historically extinct. It will become extinct because it will no longer serve a historical function. Dysfunctional principles must exit human history. Present-day propaganda constantly emphasizes the advantages of private property, and consequently the possibilities and advantages of private enterprise are recommended in all sorts of ways. Such propaganda attempts to convince all that whoever is able to engage in private enterprise will certainly get rich if he is hardworking, while the lazy will only become poorer and poorer. Many people rely on this model, and even if it were not merely propaganda, it would pose a fundamental threat to further social development.
At the beginning of the 21st century we are constantly being bombarded from all sides with images that everyone has an equal opportunity to get rich, or more precisely, to achieve social advancement, and that the exploitation of people is nearly obsolete. Furthermore, we are being told that should our social structure change in such a way that private ownership (and allocation) of the means of production would be abolished, the potential for social advancement would stagnate and be curtailed, after which basically the entire population of the planet would be harmed. According to bourgeois economists, the freedom of private enterprise is the only solid foundation to support a functioning highly developed society in a period of globalization. This assertion could be disputed with a generally comprehensible argument.
If we were to be fastidious in compiling and analyzing statistics on social mobility in developed and less developed countries, it would be abundantly clear that since the emergence of globalization not only have the basic social needs of the poor been neglected but the remnants of the entire middle class that once flourished during the 1950s and 1960s have been thrown into a situation of absolute day-to-day uncertainty. At present, the middle class is quickly splintering into two basic segments. The living standard of majority is continually falling and bringing them closer to the level of the blue-collar working class, or even below blue-collar wages, while the minority (less than 20% and more likely 10% of the former middle class) may still have a chance: not a chance to become great proprietors or businessmen, but a chance to find well-paying jobs, and hence achieve social advancement, often a very spectacular social advancement. The interests of these two levels of the former middle class have naturally begun to diametrically differ. It is a known fact that the middle-class majority with sinking a standard of living does not identify with the blue-collar working class and their interests and, especially, with their traditional slogans and programs. The middle class was never able to create a clearly unified class awareness and to play the role of a mature social class. Only in the program of the so-called managerial revolution created by James Burnham, a Marxist-Trotskyist, in the 1940s and promulgated throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s,1 did this middle “class” begin to feel somewhat more powerful—it lived in the illusion that it would sooner or later nonviolently take the reigns of society’s governance. Since ancient times and the origins of the most primitive forms of state administration, the middle class has been seen as absolutely necessary for government, but in Mediterranean cultural circles it was literally merely the servant in relation to the propertied, who represented the ruling class. China, of course, gives us a different historical model. The Chinese governing class was not entrepreneurial and the majority of its members did not even have above-average wealth compared to other classes such as shopkeepers or moneylenders. This class maintained its leadership position because as a social block it had a monopoly on education. In this way, this particular Chinese gentry, armed with the ideology of Confucianism and later neo-Confucianism, held the entire Chinese society for over 2,000 years in a state of social-economical stagnation, regardless of the fact that until the 17th‑century China was more technologically advanced than the rest of the world.
The splintering of today’s middle class has left to only a small group the chance to start with modest resources and through private entrepreneurship reach, not the pinnacle (the club of international monopolies), but a certain degree of respect from the highest circles and potentially participate in the sharing of their wealth. A much greater percentage of beginning entrepreneurs end up bankrupt in a very short time, and they either end up as social adventurers or in a state of permanent statutory social decline. These processes can also be backed up by statistics, which over the past 20 years are more than revealing and send shivers down the spine of the middle class.
It is essential to discredit the illusion that the current social-economic formation creates conditions where everyone is invited to get wealthy. The concrete sociological reality testifies the opposite. The segment of the middle class that today is still able to climb socially consists primarily of highly specialized and highly qualified professionals, ranging from employees in the exact sciences to the executive bodies of international monopolies in the areas of management, public relations, advertisement, etc. These highly specialized and qualified professionals are increasingly in demand, yet relative to the world’s population and in comparison to the increase in the poor and those dying of hunger, their proportion has been declining considerably.
We should again recall the once-doubted thesis that in the development of capitalism not only relative but absolute impoverishment of the proletariat is inevitable. The fact is, in developed countries the absolute impoverishment of the poor did not take place until the beginning of the 1970s; the poor and the poorest had been only relatively worse off than the ones getting wealthier. With the influx of immigrants, the absolutely impoverished classes are starting to quickly grow even in developed countries, and not only in the United States, but in a number of European countries as well. The absolute increase of poverty of the lowest social class should be considered today an issue of global proportions. The number of those living below what was widely considered the poverty line at the beginning of the 19th century is drastically increasing in Africa, on the Indian subcontinent, in South America, and elsewhere. When we consider the fact that capitalist society today has included the entire population of the world in its sphere, the number of the absolutely impoverished is drastically increasing right before our eyes.
It is simple enough to discredit the illusion of the benevolence of the private ownership of the means of production just on the basis of statistics that the international financial oligarchy publishes on the state of its own society. Yet “simple enough” is not meant to imply that these arguments should not be constantly reiterated. On the contrary, they should be reiterated all day long and continually emphasized; after all, in an era of informational culture we should be using the means at our disposal to bring attention to the numerous examples that confront us.
In the cities of Europe and America, today’s middle class prefers not to see or the harshest poverty right across the street. A middle-class person does not need to travel to Bangladesh to see it; he has it right at home. The mass media, in the hands of the oligarchy, is constantly creating a rosy picture of the present, and they may tug on the heartstrings of church ladies when they run sensitive reports from socially depressed ghettos in the Saturday newspaper supplements. And this is before we get to all those laudable Hollywood productions. As a natural consequence of this entire social system, therefore, this fate can imminently strike any of us and our children at any time. That is, if our children survive another 30 to 50 years in today’s conditions.
1 / James Burnham (1905–1987) became famous for his book The Managerial Revolution (1941). Daniel Kelly interprets Burnham in James Burnham and the Struggle for the World: A Life, as a conservative who sharply criticized Soviet communism (this is where his temporary Trotskyist orientation after the Second World War is from), but at the same time the tendency of a liberal democracy to promote freedom at the expense of equality.
Egon Bondy, “Soukromé vlastnictví,” O globalizaci, L. Marek, Brno 2005, p. 44–48.