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On Property and Ownership Relations

A Return to the Social Theory of Karl Marx


Wiesław Gumuła

This book comprises a systematic analysis of Karl Marx’s reasoning on ownership. Marx as the author of an original theory of ownership is yet to be discovered. The creator of a theory which was to interpret social reality is quite a different thinker from the creator of a doctrine which was to alter the world. In designing communist society, Marx ignored the threats which social property bears, despite having skillfully identified them in investigations of diverse pre-capitalistic forms of common ownership. The author seeks to break through one-sided interpretations which discern in Marx a decisive critique of private property and an apologia of common ownership. It becomes apparent that Marx treated both the processes of socialization and privatization of ownership with equal consideration.

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Chapter I: What is Ownership?


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Chapter I:  What is Ownership?

On the Nature of General Concepts

In the 19th century, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon posed the question – “What is property?” – which was met by an audacious reply from Karl Marx: “The question is so badly formulated that it cannot be answered correctly.”1 Against this backdrop, the title of this chapter is perhaps incongruous and inapt particularly if this volume is to comprise a deliberation on Marxist theory of property and ownership.

Such a point of departure for these deliberations is justified, however, by the approach employed by the very author of the above-cited rebuke. Marx sketches out his methodology further into his just quoted Letter to J. B. Schweizer as well as in his Letter to Pavel Vasilyevich Annenkov, in The Poverty of Philosophy, and in Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.2 Quite interestingly, in all these works, Karl Marx presents his approach to general concepts against the backdrop of these considerations of Proudhon. Therein, Marx affirms that deliberations on such generally phrased problems are most often burdened by a priori formulas which have little in common with reality; and Proudhon’s error was to be of this type. Instead of recognizing economic categories as a theoretical expression of historic social relations, Proudhon saw them as perpetual concepts independent of such concrete relationships; such an interpretation could only hinder a cognitive access to reality. Furthermore, Proudhon regarded the legal definition of capitalist private property as a...

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