Thursday, May 21, 2015

Should workers own the means of production - or control it?

It appears that most people don't find the distinction particularly important. Both formulations are somewhat unique to Marxist discourse, but a quick Google Ngram tells the story: more people are writing about ownership than control, and since the 50s the ratio has always been at least 2:1.

"own the means of production" vs. "control the means of production"

One ought not read too much into this. For one thing, people frequently use one to mean the other since ownership often entails control. And Marx in particular was concerned with how worker control of the means of production could be guaranteed; his solution was to give them ownership, albeit collective ownership, which would be enforced by the state.

But none of this means that ownership of the means of production is the essential condition for ending capitalism. In fact, if that were true capitalism would already be in serious peril, since many workers already own the means of production insofar as they're also shareholders. This has not, of course, translated into worker control for all kinds of obvious reasons having to do with corporate governance and the financial leverage of the bourgeoisie.

That's why what should matter to us is not ownership so much as control. If a political-legal regime can be created that guarantees workers control of the means of production through ownership rights, that's fine. But if workers can control the means of production without owning it, that's fine too.