Social ownership: would the present owners of the means of production be compensated for their property?

reprinted from the New Unionist, March 1995, page 3

Funny you should ask...

By Jerry Maher

Q. When and if economic democracy succeeds and social ownership becomes a fact, how would the present owners of wealth and means of production be compensated for their property?

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A. All social wealth is ultimately the product of labor and labor alone. This includes the factories, technology and all other means of production, which are the product of past labor.

Capitalist development has placed the modern facilities of production under the lock and key of private ownership. As a result, the working class majority suffers from growing privation and all the social ills emanating from that maldistribution.

The only solution is for the working class to organize and establish economic democracy. In doing do, it can reestablish and reclaim possession of the wealth which past generations of workers created.

Since this wealth was created by the collective labor of society, it rightfully belongs to all society. The fact that it today is privately owned by a few is the result of it being "legally" stolen from the working class. Society thus has the right to reclaim the property in the name of human survival, social well-being and progress.

When a majority of society asserts its inalienable right to reorganize the structure of society, it must break the bonds of the old system's precepts. From this standpoint, it would be absurd to plan to "compensate" today's capitalists, as it would have been for the revolutionaries of 1776 to "compensate" the king of England for their taking over the American colonies.

Despite this, former capitalists need not lead deprived lives under economic democracy. They will be free to join former members of the working class in the community of free, self-governing producers. Like everyone else, they will be able to enjoy a life of material abundance and security, with a shortened workweek and under improved conditions. They will enjoy all the other numerous social benefits of life under a sane, healthy and peaceful social system.

The new society will not "compensate" any capitalist, large or small, for taking over the means of production that rightly belongs to all society. In liberating society from all the constraints and evils imposed by the system of private property, even the former capitalists will be relieved of their illusions about "free enterprise" and will enjoy the fruits of economic democracy.