Franz J.T. Lee, October, 2005

New Socialism ... to be or not to be without Private Property?

Surely, as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias explained, the Bolivarian project is "not Marxist" ... it is "Bolivarian."

Furthermore: "'The Venezuelan Constitution guarantees the right of private property, and this government has converted many Venezuelans into proprietors', he said ... subsidized programs to acquire popular vehicles, now even "enable the middle class to become proprietors of a car or two.' "

Obviously, in this case President Chavez is talking about a simple, poor, "Third World," middle class, that barely can buy a car, about the simple private property of goods, of consumer goods, of pencils, toothbrushes, wireless telephones, apartments, shoes, dresses, etc., things that can be bought or sold on the market.

In a Marxist sense, he is not talking about capitalist private property of the means of production, about military-industrial complexes, about things like land, lakes, fishing grounds, mines, oil industries, huge sugar or rice plantations, etc., owned by capitalists like Pedro Estanga, the Cisneros, Capriles or Mendozas. The latter Marx has called "private property of the means of production" ... which by definition no simple wage-laborer ever could possess.

Of course, this free usage of words and concepts is scientifically correct. Every people has the right to launch its own non-Marxist or anti-Marxist projects in their respective countries, also they can fight to achieve socialism, old or new, in their respective regions, giving socialism the social connotation whatever they please.

All this we respect, no matter whether we have different opinions with regard to Marxism or socialism.

However, because it is the duty of a revolutionary to educate, to be educated, when it concerns revolutionary and emancipatory statements with reference to the works of Karl Marx, about scientific and philosophic socialism, about his analysis concerning "private property of the means of production," then, for the sake of historic truth and academic transparency, we have to be stringent and precise.

Hence, below, allow us to quote extensively from Marx's "Capital," to clarify this urgent issue once and for all.

According to the report of aporrea.org, quoted above, a while ago, President Chavez has stated: "(Chavez) said: 'Not even Karl Marx negated private property. What we have in mind is to revise all these schemes of private property within the context of the Venezuelan Constitution and Laws."

The problem here is that in Latin America land is a central means of production, and in this case it is privately owned. Millions of Venezuelans live from agricultural production. It is not a matter of just possessing a "cow" or not, is not a case of simple personal property.

As forewarning, it cannot be in our revolutionary interest to create a Mount Everest out of a mole hill, or even to stir up an unnecessary tsunami in a tea-cup over such straightforward educational issues.

What really is imperative is to know the truth about Marxism, to study its dialectical method and historical world outlook, and as such, we ourselves could enrich and innovate it, that is, can apply its revolutionary, socialist teachings to the Bolivarian Revolution.

Living Marxism can help us to integrate Latin America against the North American, capitalist "plague" (Simon Bolivar), whose industrial-military complex is firmly based on global, exploitative, dominating "private property of the means of production," and which has an eye on privatizing Venezuelan oil, gas, minerals, metals, water, oxygen and biodiversity.

In "Capital," in his major work, what did Marx really say about the private possession of the means of production which is at the core of his class theory; which scientifically defines the various antagonistic social classes, the class struggle, the coming socialist revolution?

In this sense, precisely the current, heroic attempts to form a Latin American, independent "bloc of power," supported by various "political classes," could generate new, severe, violent class struggles in Latin America, that may jeopardize any "Alliances between Capital and Labor," any serious "historical projects" towards any "post-capitalist mode of production" or even any "Computerized Socialism."

Ignoring the revolutionary relevance of capitalistic private property of the means of production, of the existence of real, modern, global class struggles (even if Fox News and CNN do not report about them) , is to miss totally the emancipatory global boat, is not to understand Marxism, that is, scientific and philosophic socialism, is to fall into the deadly tentacles of current reformism and "neo-liberal" capitulation, is to be on the apocalyptic Yankee trip towards Orwellian "real democracy."

Historically, how did private property of the means of production come into existence? What is it all about? In capitalism, how does it exploit labor?

Across the last centuries, in Venezuela, how did private property convert millions of peasants, buhoneros, students and workers into miserable unemployed, into suffering sub-employed, into exploited wage-slaves?

According to Karl Marx, in his major work, "Capital," Volume One, Part VIII, Chapter Thirty-Two, The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation:

"What does the primitive accumulation of Capital, i.e., its historical genesis, resolve itself into? In so far as it is not immediate transformation of slaves and serfs into wage-laborers, and therefore a mere change of form, it only means the expropriation of the immediate producers, i.e., the dissolution of private property based on the labor of its owner. Private property, as the antithesis to social, collective property, exists only where the means of labor and the external conditions of labor belong to private individuals."

Marx continues to explain the origin and function of private property:

"But according as these private individuals are laborers or not laborers, private property has a different character. The numberless shades, that it at first sight presents, correspond to the intermediate stages lying between these two extremes. The private property of the laborer in his means of production is the foundation of petty industry, whether agricultural, manufacturing, or both; petty industry, again, is an essential condition for the development of social production and of the free individuality of the laborer himself. Of course, this petty mode of production exists also under slavery, serfdom, and other states of dependence. "

Why private property is counter-revolutionary, why it is an obstacle preventing the realization of economic citizen power, of forming cooperatives and collectives, Marx explained:

"As it excludes the concentration of these means of production, so also it excludes co-operation, division of labor within each separate process of production, the control over, and the productive application of the forces of Nature by society, and the free development of the social productive powers. It is compatible only with a system of production, and a society, moving within narrow and more or less primitive bounds. To perpetuate it would be, as Pecqueur rightly says, 'to decree universal mediocrity'. At a certain stage of development, it brings forth the material agencies for its own dissolution."

Marx also explained very precisely how at the end of the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century, the obsolete, feudalist, agricultural relations and forces of production, that were based on "individualized and scattered means of production," had clashed violently and were converted into "the pigmy property of the many into the huge property of the few" and as such the current, barbaric, modern mode of production, capitalism, came into existence:

"From that moment new forces and new passions spring up in the bosom of society; but the old social organization fetters them and keeps them down. It must be annihilated; it is annihilated. Its annihilation, the transformation of the individualized and scattered means of production into socially concentrated ones, of the pigmy property of the many into the huge property of the few, the expropriation of the great mass of the people from the soil, from the means of subsistence, and from the means of labor, this fearful and painful expropriation of the mass of the people forms the prelude to the history of capital."

Summing up, historically, it is imperative to note that "private property," the expropriation of all peasants and workers, of the majority of the population of the world, for Marx was and still is simply "merciless vandalism."

In "Capital," he dialectically negated "private property of the means of production" as economic exploitation, as "capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labor of others, i.e., on wage-labor."