Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Harry R. Klocker
"The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property."
Perhaps the most well-recognized aspect of Marx's thought, for scholars and laymen alike, is his call for the abolition of private property. This is quite understandable, given its seemingly transparent meaning and provocative nature. Unfortunately, this call for the abolition of private property, which Marx consistently held from early adulthood until the end of his life, is as misunderstood as it is familiar. Among the reasons for this, two stand out as primary: first, what Marx meant by this famous phrase is not to be understood until one grasps the concepts which compose it. Second, one can hardly appreciate his call for this abolition without being acquainted with the reasons or justifications behind it.
With this in mind, the present work is an attempt at clarifying Marx's concept of property. More specifically, it is a reconstruction and critical analysis of his arguments for and against certain types of property. This is an important task because the concept of property in Marx's writings is central to his social and political philosophy as well as his theory of history. Moreover, the arguments for and against various forms of property provide· a key to understanding a number of crucial notions in Marx, for example, what he meant by "communism" as a radical restructuring of society, including the abolition of private property; and what he envisaged as the kinds of persona1 and social ownership that would obtain in post-capitalist society.
Despite its importance for understanding and critically appraising his thought, and for judging the movements that borrow his name, Marx's concept of property and his arguments for and against various types have not yet been the subject of any full-length study. Of course, many partial studies have been done. Almost every work on Marx contains a section on property, but the focus is usually on some other aspect of his thought (e.g., alienation, exploitation, class structure, his theory of history, and others).
What is unique about the present work is its attempt to reconstruct, for the first time, Marx's arguments for and against certain forms of property. That this has not yet been done can be attributed, in large part, to the fact that Marx never clearly formulated or expressly labeled these arguments--all we have are scattered references of varying lengths. Because of this, it must be pointed out that the arguments presented here are "reconstructed" from Marx's corpus. This is mainly an interpretative task, one which involves making explicit those arguments which are only implicit in the texts themselves.
In the first chapter, I shall define Marx's general concept of property. In addition, the key phrase "the abolition (Aufhebung) of private property" will be examined. Chapter Two will present the arguments against capitalist private property, while Chapter Three will provide a number of arguments for individual/social property. Indirectly, the latter chapter will also serve as a type of general sketch or blueprint of Marx's vision of post-capitalist society.
Chapter Four will be divided into two sections. The first will deal with the recently much discussed question of Marx's concept of justice. There are some Marx scholars, such as Robert Tucker and Allen Wood, who either deny that Marx was ever concerned with criticizing capitalism from the point of view of justice or maintain that his notion was a relativistic one. I shall defend the position held by Ziyad Husami and others that, in fact, Marx did have a concept of justice and that it was non-relativistic.
The second section will be devoted to a critique of Marx's position on property rights and distributive justice from Robert Nozick, a contemporary social and political philosopher whose view is quite contrary to Marx's. I shall summarize his position on distributive justice and show how it determines his view of property rights. Finally, his views will be compared and contrasted with Marx's, and a defense of
the latter will be offered.
In~the concluding chapter, I shall present my critique of Marx's position. My remarks will focus on the following questions: (1) If Marx's economics, especially his labor theory of value, is incorrect or inadequate (as most Western economists believe), does this necessarily invalidate his arguments on property? (2) Can alienation, as Marx described it, really be overcome by an abolition of private property? and (3) Was what Marx wrote on self-realization sufficient, given its importance to· the arguments?