[Marxism] Marx and Engels discussion of property

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Fri May 28 16:33:19 MDT 2004


In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The
Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape
and mold the proletarian movement. 

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by
this only: 

(1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different
countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the
entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 

(2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working
class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and
everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole. 

The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand practically, the most
advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country,
that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand,
theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the
advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and
the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. 

The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other
proletarian parties: Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of
the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat. 

The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas
or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that
would-be universal reformer. 

They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an
existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very
eyes. The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a
distinctive feature of communism. 

All property relations in the past have continually been subject to
historical change consequent upon the change in historical conditions. 

The French Revolution, for example, abolished feudal property in favor of
bourgeois property. 

The distinguishing feature of communism is not the abolition of property
generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois
private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of
producing and appropriating products that is based on class antagonisms, on
the exploitation of the many by the few. 

In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single
sentence: Abolition of private property. 

We Communists have been reproached with the desire of abolishing the right
of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man's own labor, which
property is alleged to be the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity
and independence. 

Hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned property! Do you mean the property of
petty artisan and of the small peasant, a form of property that preceded the
bourgeois form? There is no need to abolish that; the development of
industry has to a great extent already destroyed it, and is still destroying
it daily. 

Or do you mean the modern bourgeois private property? 

But does wage labor create any property for the laborer? Not a bit. It
creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage labor, and
which cannot increase except upon conditions of begetting a new supply of
wage labor for fresh exploitation. Property, in its present form, is based
on the antagonism of capital and wage labor. Let us examine both sides of
this antagonism. 

To be a capitalist, is to have not only a purely personal, but a social
status in production. Capital is a collective product, and only by the
united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united
action of all members of society, can it be set in motion. 

Capital is therefore not only personal; it is a social power. 

When, therefore, capital is converted into common property, into the
property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby
transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the
property that is changed. It loses its class character. 

Let us now take wage labor. 

The average price of wage labor is the minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of
the means of subsistence which is absolutely requisite to keep the laborer
in bare existence as a laborer. What, therefore, the wage laborer
appropriates by means of his labor merely suffices to prolong and reproduce
a bare existence. We by no means intend to abolish this personal
appropriation of the products of labor, an appropriation that is made for
the maintenance and reproduction of human life, and that leaves no surplus
wherewith to command the labor of others. All that we want to do away with
is the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the laborer
lives merely to increase capital, and is allowed to live only in so far as
the interest of the ruling class requires it. 

In bourgeois society, living labor is but a means to increase accumulated
labor. In communist society, accumulated labor is but a means to widen, to
enrich, to promote the existence of the laborer. 

In bourgeois society, therefore, the past dominates the present; in
communist society, the present dominates the past. In bourgeois society,
capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is
dependent and has no individuality. 

And the abolition of this state of things is called by the bourgeois,
abolition of individuality and freedom! And rightly so. The abolition of
bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom is
undoubtedly aimed at. 

By freedom is meant, under the present bourgeois conditions of production,
free trade, free selling and buying. 

But if selling and buying disappears, free selling and buying disappears
also. This talk about free selling and buying, and all the other "brave
words" of our bourgeois about freedom in general, have a meaning, if any,
only in contrast with restricted selling and buying, with the fettered
traders of the Middle Ages, but have no meaning when opposed to the
communist abolition of buying and selling, or the bourgeois conditions of
production, and of the bourgeoisie itself. 

You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in
your existing society, private property is already done away with for
nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to
its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us,
therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary
condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the
immense majority of society. 

In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property.
Precisely so; that is just what we intend. 

>From the moment when labor can no longer be converted into capital, money,
or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolized, i.e., from the
moment when individual property can no longer be transformed into bourgeois
property, into capital, from that moment, you say, individuality vanishes. 

You must, therefore, confess that by "individual" you mean no other person
than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property. This person
must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible. 

Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of
society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the
labor of others by means of such appropriations. 

It has been objected that upon the abolition of private property, all work
will cease, and universal laziness will overtake us. 

According to this, bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs
through sheer idleness; for those who acquire anything, do not work. The
whole of this objection is but another expression of the tautology: There
can no longer be any wage labor when there is no longer any capital. 

All objections urged against the communistic mode of producing and
appropriating material products, have, in the same way, been urged against
the communistic mode of producing and appropriating intellectual products.
Just as to the bourgeois, the disappearance of class property is the
disappearance of production itself, so the disappearance of class culture is
to him identical with the disappearance of all culture. 

That culture, the loss of which he laments, is, for the enormous majority, a
mere training to act as a machine. 

But don't wrangle with us so long as you apply, to our intended abolition of
bourgeois property, the standard of your bourgeois notions of freedom,
culture, law, etc. Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions
of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your
jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will
whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical
conditions of existence of your class. 

The selfish misconception that induces you to transform into eternal laws of
nature and of reason the social forms stringing from your present mode of
production and form of property - historical relations that rise and
disappear in the progress of production - this misconception you share with
every ruling class that has preceded you. What you see clearly in the case
of ancient property, what you admit in the case of feudal property, you are
of course forbidden to admit in the case of your own bourgeois form of

Abolition [Aufhebung] of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this
infamous proposal of the Communists. 

On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On
capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family
exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its
complement in the practical absence of the family among proletarians, and in
public prostitution. 

The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement
vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital. 

Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their
parents? To this crime we plead guilty. 

But, you say, we destroy the most hallowed of relations, when we replace
home education by social. 

And your education! Is not that also social, and determined by the social
conditions under which you educate, by the intervention direct or indirect,
of society, by means of schools, etc.? The Communists have not intended the
intervention of society in education; they do but seek to alter the
character of that intervention, and to rescue education from the influence
of the ruling class. 

The bourgeois claptrap about the family and education, about the hallowed
correlation of parents and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more,
by the action of Modern Industry, all the family ties among the proletarians
are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of
commerce and instruments of labor. 

But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the
bourgeoisie in chorus. 

The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that
the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally,
can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will
likewise fall to the women. 

He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with
the status of women as mere instruments of production. 

For the rest, nothing is more ridiculous than the virtuous indignation of
our bourgeois at the community of women which, they pretend, is to be openly
and officially established by the Communists. The Communists have no need to
introduce free love; it has existed almost from time immemorial. 

Our bourgeois, not content with having wives and daughters of their
proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the
greatest pleasure in seducing each other's wives. 

Bourgeois marriage is, in reality, a system of wives in common and thus, at
the most, what the Communists might possibly be reproached with is that they
desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed, an
openly legalized system of free love. For the rest, it is self-evident that
the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the
abolition of free love springing from that system, i.e., of prostitution
both public and private. 

The Communists are further reproached with desiring to abolish countries and

The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not
got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy,
must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the
nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of
the word. 

National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more
vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of
commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and
in the conditions of life corresponding thereto. 

The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster.
United action of the leading civilized countries at least is one of the
first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat. 

In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another will also be
put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an
end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation
vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end. 

The charges against communism made from a religious, a philosophical and,
generally, from an ideological standpoint, are not deserving of serious

Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man's ideas, views, and
conception, in one word, man's consciousness, changes with every change in
the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his
social life? 

What else does the history of ideas prove, than that intellectual production
changes its character in proportion as material production is changed? The
ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class. 

When people speak of the ideas that revolutionize society, they do but
express that fact that within the old society the elements of a new one have
been created, and that the dissolution of the old ideas keeps even pace with
the dissolution of the old conditions of existence. 

When the ancient world was in its last throes, the ancient religions were
overcome by Christianity. When Christian ideas succumbed in the eighteenth
century to rationalist ideas, feudal society fought its death battle with
the then revolutionary bourgeoisie. The ideas of religious liberty and
freedom of conscience merely gave expression to the sway of free competition
within the domain of knowledge. 

"Undoubtedly," it will be said, "religious, moral, philosophical, and
juridical ideas have been modified in the course of historical development.
But religion, morality, philosophy, political science, and law, constantly
survived this change." 

"There are, besides, eternal truths, such as Freedom, Justice, etc., that
are common to all states of society. But communism abolishes eternal truths,
it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on
a new basis; it therefore acts in contradiction to all past historical

What does this accusation reduce itself to? The history of all past society
has consisted in the development of class antagonisms, antagonisms that
assumed different forms at different epochs. 

But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages,
viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then,
that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and
variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas,
which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class

The communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional
relations; no wonder that its development involved the most radical rupture
with traditional ideas. 

But let us have done with the bourgeois objections to communism. 

We have seen above that the first step in the revolution by the working
class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the
battle of democracy. 

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all
capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in
the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling
class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible. 

Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of
despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of
bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear
economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the
movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old
social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the
mode of production. 

These measures will, of course, be different in different countries. 

Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty
generally applicable. 

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to
public purposes. 
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. 
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance. 
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels. 
5. Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a
national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly. 
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands
of the state. 
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state;
the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the
soil generally in accordance with a common plan. 
8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies,
especially for agriculture. 
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual
abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable
distribution of the populace over the country. 
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of
children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with
industrial production, etc. 

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and
all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of
the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character.
Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one
class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the
bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself
as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class,
and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it
will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the
existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby
have abolished its own supremacy as a class. 

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class
antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of
each is the condition for the free development of all. 

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