Private property, scarcity and democracy - humanaesfera

This article was originally written as a response to "libertarians" who see scarcity as a natural, objective and eternal consecration of private property and the market. It also describes a perspective concerning the limitations of democracy in relation to the transformation of the material conditions of existence.

Submitted by Joaos on November 29, 2016

"No one votes; neither the majority nor the minority ever makes the law. If a proposition can gather enough workers to put it into operation, whether they be in the majority or the minority, it is carried out, so long as it accords with the will of those who adhere to it." Description of a free association within communism by Joseph Déjacque (Le Humanisphère, 1857).

Only one condition underlies the demand for democracy (including direct democracy): scarcity. The claim for democracy only makes sense on the very ground on which private property flourishes - inaccessibility, deprivation, tyranny. The vote and profit are two poles of the same deprivation of access for people to their conditions of existence. Both poles presuppose the state - that is, violence. At one pole; policing in order to ensure by force the monopolization which establishes scarcity (private property, prices, the free market, the "invisible hand"). At the other pole; policing in order to compensate for monopolization (equitable distribution, voting, boring assemblies and meetings, distribution of rations and handouts of "social welfare"). Theses are the two poles of legitimization of the same status quo.

What underpins the two poles is the private mode of production, capitalism. Only that which can be monopolised has a price: scarcity is the very condition of existence of the market, the very definition of [i]private[/i] property. The value of goods is proportional to the difficulty ("labor") of access to its production. Thus, its mode of producing is mere labour, an activity devoid of any intrinsic value and only of worth for something else (reward, retribution, merit, salary, money, profit) - therefore an activity which is always abstract and servile. The machines replace the labor, but in the private mode of production its function is solely to punish the workers with unemployment so they "offer" to labor even more for even less. To overcome the material basis of all this, we need to tear away this straightjacket, private property, and to free global productive forces to make them freely accessible practical conditions for anyone who wants to satisfy his inclinations, needs, desires and develop his faculties, abilities and passions - as activities worthy in themselves.

From this perspective, even the most radical democratic claim for self-management ("factory to the workers!", "land to the peasants!") is inherently confined within private property and therefore the state (i.e. its violence), even confined within nationalist mythology ("the nation to nationals"). Self-management of enterprises are today clearly untenable, because if there are enterprises (whether self-managed or not), then the conditions of existence of the population remain private for them; that is, the workers are still coerced into selling themselves in the labour market in return for survival (wages). It is only possible for this deprivation (private property) to be abolished by abolishing the enterprise (whether individual, co-operative or state ...), as well as by abolishing the national borders, liberating the productive forces worldwide in order to interconnect them to a network of immanent flows which surpasses the exchange for equivalents (by ending the reduction of production to an external law; for example, market, profit or hierarchy). Thereafter, the means of production can no longer belong to anybody because it will have become, in itself, the actual worldwide material community of individuals in free association.

Once the enterprise is abolished, it will no longer make sense to talk about employees or unemployed*, but only about individuals who associate freely through their many passions, needs, projects, desires, inclinations ... whose free expression will be itself production, activity (but no longer subject to any equivalent, as it has dismantled the basis of domination which is the system of rewards and punishments). This will mean that, with nothing to force anybody to sell themselves in the labour market to survive, no one will be forced to buy - which makes the market completely obsolete. (Probably as a free hobby the market will still exist - but never as a mandatory social link). The material basis for the flourishing of free individuality is communism, because it is the overcoming of the terrain of the universal equivalent that is the coercion called competition (market, nations, hierarchy...).

It is true that, either for natural reasons or due to technical insufficiency, some (or probably much) production will inevitably continue of rare, scarce and not easily accessible items; and will therefore still be subject either to democracy (voting to decide a criteria: raffle, equal distribution, distribution according to specific "work" done, or for those people in most urgent need...) or to direct private appropriation. But the capacity to overcome capitalism by communism will be the greater the more its material basis, which is free production, prevails over democratic production; that is, the more the wealth is enjoyed as free creativity in the global human community. In contrast, if the democratic aspect predominates, it means the ground upon which capital and state (whether as democracy or dictatorship) spring from was unsurpassed, and they will probably return in one way or another (starting with the "black market" and the survival of the state and the mythology of nation), as the most appropriate social form ("legitimate", they’ll say) for scarcity, for monopoly, for private property, for tyranny.

A final clarification: all ideas presented here boil down to classic positions of the proletariat held since at least the eighteenth century (see bibliography below). And since none of these minimum needs has yet been met - and have instead been repressed almost to the point of becoming unconscious - and as the extent and intensity of proletarianisation today is the greatest in history, communism remains more urgent than ever.

Humanaesfera, July 2014
( Translated to English by humanaesfera, with revision by Red Marriott. The original article in Portuguese: Propriedade privada, escassez e democracia)

Sequel: Against the metaphysics of scarcity, for the practical copiousness and A dissection of the metaphysics of scarcity

* In the absence of jobs and unemployment, the division of labour will be supplanted by a division of tasks resulting from an explicit and conscious co-ordination of diverse actions aimed at specific purposes that a free association of participants decide to perform (by themselves, since class society will be abolished) through the worldwide network of means of production freely accessible to anyone. It is exactly this immanent flow of the world's productive forces and of human capacities, abolishing the division of labour, which makes obsolete the exchange of equivalents, the market ... and labor itself.

- Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement (1972) - Jean Barrot e François Martin
- Human Activity Against Labour (1982) - GCI-ICG
- Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism (1929) - Alexander Berkman
-Le Humanisphère (1857) - Joseph Déjacque
- New Babylon (1959-74) - Constant Nieuwenhuys
- A world without money: communism (1975-76) - Les Amis de 4 Millions de Jeunes Travailleurs
- Questionnaire (1964) - Situationist International
- The reproduction of daily life (1969) - Fredy Perlman
- Lip and the self-managed counter-revolution (1973) - Négation
- The Network of Struggles in Italy (1970s) - Romano Alquati
-Kropotkin: Textos Escolhidos - org.: Mauricio Tragtenberg
-Marx, individualist communist! (excerpts on the individual) - Karl Marx
-Comments on James Mill, Karl Marx
-The attractive machinery. The theory of passionate attraction (excerpts) - Charles Fourier
- Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia - Gille Deleuze and Felix Guattari


private.pdf (1018.64 KB)



8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Joaos on September 20, 2015

This article is also a great reference:
'Absolute Property' is Chapter 1 of Political Order and the Law of Labour, G. Kay & J. Mott; Macmillan, London, 1982.
"In modern society, where the conditions of life are private property, needs are separated from capacities. A state of abundance would alter this. Needs and capacities would come together, and close off the space between them. In modern society, this space is filled by the dense structures of private property - political order and the law of labour: in a state of abundance they would have no place. If the productive capacities already deployed were oriented towards need, necessary labour would be reduced to a minimum, so that nothing would stand between men and what they need to live. Money and the law of labour would lose their force, and, as its foundations crumbled, the political state would wither away. The state of abundance is not a Utopian vision but the real possibility of conditions already in existence. As the twentieth-century version of the 'state of nature' originally invented by political philosophy as modern society was taking shape, abundance keeps the tradition of criticism alive."

gram negative

8 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by gram negative on September 21, 2015

haven't had a chance to read the article yet, but will do since you mention Kay & Mott's book, which I found very thought provoking and interesting

destroy capital

7 years 3 months ago

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Submitted by destroy capital on March 12, 2017

Formatted this text + 'Against the metaphysics of scarcity, for the practical copiousness' into a printable zine here: