Socialism is Not “Worker Control of the Means of Production”

"There is only one way to shorten and ease the convulsions of the old society and the bloody birth pangs of the new - revolutionary terror." --Karl Marx

Karl Marx – The man who has influenced the thinking of socialists around the world more than any other.

I often hear socialists say that socialism is “democratic worker control of the means of production.” But is it really? In this essay, I’ll explain why it’s not, and why the issue of socialism vs. capitalism is a moral and political issue of property rights, rather than an economic issue of “modes of production.” Obfuscation and confusion aside, this ultimately holds true whether the socialism under consideration is classic Marxist socialism, “libertarian socialism,” or whatever other sort of socialism you want to name.

In a mostly capitalist country, like the US in the 1880s, there are many different kinds of business organizations: There are for-profit corporations, non-profit corporations, sole proprietorships, partnerships, credit unions, retailers’ cooperatives, consumers’ cooperatives, and employee cooperatives. That’s right, worker cooperatives can and do exist in what Karl Marx would call a “capitalist society.” Examples of consumers’ cooperatives include REI in the US and “The Co-op” in the UK. Examples of employee cooperatives include the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley, California, the Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco, and the Citybikes Workers’ Cooperative in Portland, Oregon. These latter three are companies where employees own and control the means of production in their company, democratically.

If “socialism” meant “worker control of the means of production,” as in a co-op, then people are perfectly free to have “socialist companies” under a laissez-faire capitalist government that protects private property rights.

Under the political system of capitalism, the founders or owners of a business–those who have invested money or effort into the business–determine what “mode of production” it will use. If the owners want to spend some time working for wages in the business, instead of devoting all their time to managing the business, then the business is “worker controlled,” in the sense that a subset of wage workers controls the business. If the founder of a business wants to pay his workers in stock, rather than wages, and they agree to that, then he can do that under capitalism, and the business is “worker controlled” to an extent. If a group of people want to get together, pool their funds, and form a cooperative that they work in and equally own, then they are free to do that as well.

So long as “socialism” is taken to mean a mode of production, people are perfectly free to live and work as “socialists” under a laissez-faire constitutional republic that protects private property rights. So such “socialists” should advocate for the political system that protects their right to live as they choose with any property they have produced or voluntarily traded for: a laissez-faire capitalist constitutional republic.

But no, in reality, socialists don’t want private property rights upheld by the government. This is what actually distinguishes them from advocates of capitalism. Their essential idea is a political one: private property rights are to be abolished. Workers should seize productive property from those who invested their time and money to build it, either through the “direct action” of organized union gangs, or through some type of formal government.

Recall that the Oxford English Dictionary definition of socialism is:

A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

In socialist practice, once productive property is seized from the creators, the union gangs or government will run the businesses “on behalf of the community as a whole.” After socialism is instituted, any new businesses that individuals have built will (or “should”) be taken over by the government or gangs, as soon as the entrepreneur attempts to hire any wage workers.

In Marxist theory, wage workers form a collective entity, or “class” called the proletariat. It is this class’s complete dominance in society–its collective control of all means of production–that is the defining characteristic of socialism. Individual workers banding together to manage their own companies, while leaving entrepreneurs or capitalists free to run other companies, is not how Marxian socialism works. Only if the “proletariat class as a whole” gets together, robs all entrepreneurs (“the bourgeois class”) of their creations and investments, and makes private ownership of the means of production effectively impossible, do we have socialism.

This Marxist class theory, with its blatantly false collectivism, and its materialistic and false Labor Theory of Value, serves as a pseudo-intellectual cover for the desires of envious non-achievers to smash and rob their betters. It’s a rationalization for a seething resentment of those who have earned great success and prosperity.

Socialism is not about workers getting together and starting their own companies. It’s about eliminating private property rights in order to forcibly seize what the most productive individuals in the society have produced. Morally, the essence of socialism is coercive injustice. I discuss the injustice that socialism perpetrates in more detail in this essay: “Why Socialism is Morally Wrong: The Basis of Property Rights.”

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Related Posts:

Socialism and Welfare vs. Justice: Why Inalienable Private Property Rights are Required for Justice

How Business Executives and Investors Create Wealth and Earn Large Incomes

Wealth is Created by Action Based on Rational Thought

Why Socialism is Always Oppressive, Dictatorial and Corrupt

19th-Century Capitalism Didn’t Create Poverty, But Reduced It

What is Individualism? What is Collectivism?

14 thoughts on “Socialism is Not “Worker Control of the Means of Production”

  1. You cannot take a pie made from human excrement (capitalist society) replace the smallest slice with a nice piece of blueberry pie (small cooperative) and declare that you have socialism. Socialism is worker control of all means of production. Not a small bit here, and a small bit there, the whole thing. Your entire essay has no basis in reality and is illustrated clearly by your fantastical claims.

    The only private property socialists are interested in seizing are such land, structures, machines and knowledge that produce mostly profit for a very few, and relinquish control to those who actually put the work in. If we were cooperating instead of competing, technology would boom, useless products and services with a manufactured demand will cease to exist, and scarcity of the necessities of life will disappear. Once people can have their needs met, they will be free to educate themselves and find a way to contribute to society in a way that makes them happy. And there will be no shortage of jobs where we need them as profit is no longer a motive and it matters not how many hands you have on a job. Unlike today where efficiency leads to layoffs and ceos pocket their salaries.

    • You cannot take the most loathsome, oppressive, and genocidal totalitarian system in the world (Socialism) and sprinkle lies like sugar on it and suddenly and magically change de facto state monopoly to the opposite of what it is by just muttering “workers” ad infinitum.

      Literally everything you’ve just said is a total lie, Andrew.

    • I often find that people fail to distinguish between the concepts of private property, and personal property. Private property would be the means of production, for example: Certain rental propertys, abundances of tools, and some buildings. Personal property are your personal belongings, and Socialism does not wish to democratically seize those things, things like: Your house, your clothes, food(within reason), pets, animals(if their your personal animals). All of the parenthesis are for potential situations that would change the result: Democratically seized or not (under Socialism)? For example if you have a farm or ranch that is so big that it employees other people than your family, it needs to be democratically controlled and owned under Socialism.

      • You have it correct in the introduction of the article. You say – “socialists claim – socialism is: democratic worker control of the means of production.” But is it really? In this essay, I’ll explain why it’s not”
        You are CORRECT it is not!
        But you have it completely wrong in the article.
        A true socialist society by the correct definition; is: Where the PUBLIC (PUBLIC: meaning the state, or government – vs- PRIVATE: meaning the individual people, aka Citizens) own and/or control all of the nation’s natural resources and the means of production.
        If you inquire the most knowledgeable and HONEST scholars in political science, they will tell you: There has not been one organized – fully functional society or country in the history of mankind, – that is 100% socialist.
        All of the countries that are currently or have been considered socialist, in the past, are ones based on a mixture of socialism, capitalism, and/or communism, and/or feudalism.
        In a true socialist society, the government owns everything, including the people. They own all property and natural resources and dictate/control all the means of production.
        The government makes all the decisions, such as: what the companies make, when they can make it, how much they make, who makes it, who can receive/purchase its product or services, who works there, where they can live, what their positions are, how much the workers make, how much the products or services cost, where the business can be operated, how the business can be operated, where the sources of raw materials are sourced from, etc.
        Unions and organized labor are not functions of a true Socialist society. Those organizations and labor groups can only exist in a free capitalist based
        society where the individual private people (aka – citizens) are free to organize groups and organizations to negotiate with, privately owned and publicly (stock market) held businesses/organizations. They negotiate such things as: how much they will be paid, where they can work, what benefits they receive, how their working environments are structured, etc. Without that freedom, they are basically slaves to businesses, wealthy people, financial systems, and bureaucracy; – With absolutely no way to move up in society, save money (accumulate wealth), own real property (All things other than basic personal possessions – food, clothing, etc. ) and be able to retire and live – after they have given all their body can physically give, and can no longer work.

  2. Pingback: Reference Excerpt: Socialism is Not “Worker Control of the Means of Production” – #Logic Wins

  3. “So long as “socialism” is taken to mean a mode of production, people are perfectly free to live and work as “socialists” under a laissez-faire constitutional republic that protects private property rights.”

    The disingenuous implication here being that a socialist system can’t be a constitutional republic that protects private property…

  4. It seems to me that the argument you make against “Socialism” begins with your definition of what the ideology is and isn’t. Any policy idea expressed by say, Democratic Socialist is met by the opposition as disingenuous. If I were to take your essay at its word, then Bernie Sanders doesn’t truly advocate for mediocre for all, but for the hostile takeover (or robbery) of the healthcare sector. That notion flies in the face of the actual proposed policy of a public option or “Medicare for all”. I don’t feel like you’re sincere in analysing these questions. You’re essay seeks only to persuade the reader of your POV, not inform the reader of the differences between a Karl Marx and a Bernie Sanders to accurately allow the case to be made in a realistic or relevant way.

    • I’m not talking about Bernie Sanders here, because he’s not a socialist in the full sense of the term. He’s a European-style social democrat.

      We can’t say anything if we allow the meanings of terms to just spread out everywhere, with no set boundaries. (Full) socialism doesn’t mean a welfare state, it means public (government) ownership of productive property. That’s what it has always really meant, but Bernie has mislabeled himself, in terms of the actual policies he’s proposed. (I strongly suspect that he would in fact embrace and advocate full socialism, if he thought the American people would accept it. So, in that sense, I think he really is a socialist, deep down.)

      If you want to see me discuss Bernie Sanders’s partial, “democratic” socialism, I have an essay that does just that: Bernie Sanders and the Injustice of “Democratic Socialism”.

  5. You should read the rest of Capital, instead of merely assuming the entirety of Marx’s argument can be summed up in a single sentence and then dismissed by critiquing that simplified sentence.
    Marx explains precisely and thoroughly, with copious historical examples, why it is insufficient, in an established capitalist plutocracy, to merely expect co-operatives to exist alongside private monopolies and call that “socialism,” or even “moral.” The underlying concept is that of implicit economic coercion, however; a social force “Objectivism” stubbornly refuses to acknowledge, because it totally wrecks the objectivist pretension to being moral just as long as overt, direct coercion is avoided.
    Put simply, when you control someone’s environment, you have implicit coercive power over them. When you have private control of the means of production, and those means have grown large and have a major influence on the economy – a shared environment, by definition – and the economy becomes highly technologically developed so that the required capital investment to become established in a business becomes extremely high – you create a barrier to anyone else who wishes to work in that field. Once one huge private enterprise dominates a technologically advanced market, it becomes impossible both for individuals to compete economically, or for another enterprise of comparable size to become established. If one wishes to work – which one must, in order to survive – one therefore has no choice but to work for the established enterprise, on its owner’s terms, however unfair or exploitative they may be. No guns have been pointed at heads, and yet this is surely just as coercive. He who controls the means of production decides who gets to work and who doesn’t; in any finite market, it is typically not possible to simply start up a competing co-operative if one wishes to live in a socialist manner.

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