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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 II: A History of Privatization: Pre-Capitalistic Forms of Ownership


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Chapter II:  A History of Privatization: Pre-Capitalistic Forms of Ownership

Historical Systems of Ownership

Marx applies a few typologies for historical systems of ownership. Consequently, specialized literature provides many different interpretations of his position in this regard. The most frequently presented – especially in political economy textbooks – is the one which identifies the five basic “modes of production”: (a) primitive, tribal, pre-class community; (b) slavery; (c) feudalism; (d) capitalism; and (e) socialism. However, this set is only partly in accord with the positions of Karl Marx. For instance, in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx states: “In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society.”54 Yet his manuscripts from 1857 to 1859, the so-called Grundrisse, reveal an even greater number of modes of production and corresponding types of ownership. These include, among other things, the ownership of the tribal community, the Asiatic, the classical ancient, and the Germanic types; in addition to the slavery, feudal, and capitalistic.55 Furthermore, certain works reveal his thoughts about more than one communist type of ownership.56 In fact, Capital is rank with explications regarding several historical types of property relations.57 ← 47 | 48 →

That noted, the historical types of ownership distinguished by Karl Marx may be characterized by tracing his subsequent reflections. In more detailed analyses, it is clear that Marx refers to an irresolute number...

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