Liberalism and Worker Ownership, not Das Kommunism.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, 1844, founders of the cooperative movement

By Neil Newman

One of the most striking facets of the secular religion Marxism is the almost complete lack of a model for the post-revolutionary society. What are the economic relations of that society? How does that society continue on from there? Towards what is it supposed to evolve? Marx had few answers to these questions and wrote down even fewer.

There are reasons for this. Marx knew that other political philosophies had answered those questions amply. To find these answers we first have to examine some definitions of common political words. Firstly, we enter the political definitions of Liberal Theory.

Liberal Theory holds that strong cultures/communities are composed of strong individuals.

Liberal Theory holds that strong cultures/communities are composed of strong individuals. To develop strong and confident individuals certain freedoms are required, both for the individual and for the society around them that helps shape them. Some freedoms are well known. All of these freedoms require rules to define and defend them. The Bill of Rights in the US is one such document, as is the European Convention of Human Rights. This must be understood. All liberal freedoms require rules to maintain them, not platitudes.

There are a few main Liberal Theory Freedoms

Freedom of Speech: The freedom to think and speak otherwise than the powerful would like you to
Freedom of Conscience/Religion: The freedom to be a part of a religious/moral community the powerful might not want you to be a part of
Freedom of Individual Wealth: The use of money in some form that the individual can save or spend as they wish, for their own improvement or betterment, without needing the agreement of the community or powerful
Freedom of Association: The freedom to join and form political parties, unions, from which collective power comes
Democracy: Also commonly associated with liberalism, democracy being the natural end result of a community of empowered individuals.

There is however a liberal freedom that is commonly misunderstood, not least by its loudest champions.

Freedom of Markets.

Now, a moment’s reflection on the preceding freedoms reveals that they all require rules – in fact, they are rules. Without rules, freedom of speech does not exist. Those with the loudest voices (or biggest fists) can prevent the quietest (or weakest) from speaking. Without freedom of conscience, the largest religion can enforce compliance to its own norms.

The liberal Philosopher Adam Smith laid out several rules for Free Markets – such as: ease of access, full and free information on goods, honesty in description, and equitable taxation. These are rules, not a free-for-all where only the powerful will win.

Marxism and its lack of vision.

Smith also laid out, precisely, that the most ‘perfect’ free market was an infinite number of producers and an infinite number of consumers. In other words, a monopoly is the opposite to a free market, but an economy of multiple small producers gets closer to the free market ideal.. It is important to say that this is theoretical.

When Karl Marx cropped up, the ruling wisdom of the Internationales was worker-ownership. SocialDemocrat, or Anarchist visions. These were based upon the Liberal Theory premises. Essentially, by making every worker a capitalist, who can withdraw their capital and start a competing firm, the requirements for Smith’s free markets are best fulfilled.

an economy of multiple small producers gets closer to a better model for society

Marxist Communists however divided into two camps. On one side, were those who decried it as petite bourgeois. On the other, those who saw it as a common-sense path to full communism. (If you want to get somewhere, start walking towards it).

Marx earlier however, had realised that he needed to be different to the social democrats and the anarchists. And so 300 years of careful preparation were thrown out of the window in exchange for the excitement of revolution. And we are all very much poorer for it.

The capitalism of worker ownership

Capitalism is once again part of Liberal Theory. It holds that everyone owns their own capital. This is both financial capital, and every other type of capital too: labour capital, land capital, intellectual capital, and so on. In the time before capitalism, individuals themselves could be owned – they did not own their own capital. In capitalism there is actually no requirement that one must sell their labour for wages – this happens, sadly, only because of the pre-existing conditions of social haves and have nots.

An economy run on entirely worker co-ownership is possibly the purest form of Capitalism possible.

An economy run on entirely worker co-ownership is possibly the purest form of capitalism possible. If Marx had admitted that, would Marxism have ever happened? He of course knew about Worker-ownership, and even the early Soviets were based upon that model.

Instead, Marx chose to redefine capitalism as be something entirely different – the very pattern of exploitation that capitalism should replace. How the meaning of capitalism transformed so radically is a mystery that, sadly only political necromancers can answer now. But Marx knew.

And that can be why there is this gaping hole in Marxist Theory – what is to come afterwards? For what comes afterwards is the pathway laid down by the Social Democrats and Anarchists to get to that desirable future in the first place.

Hopefully, after 120 years of misdirection, humanity can once again find its feet upon the proper path towards the freedoms described by liberal theorists and worker ownership, if the climate destruction leaves enough time.

Featured picture from the Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) society

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