Ownership society a challenge to debate who really owns our society and what to do about it

April 2, 2005
Ownership society  a challenge to debate who really owns our society and what to do about it

The New Deal of the 1930s can be seen as a response to the reality of socialism born in 1917, when the Russian Revolution thrust on the world’s action agenda the vision of a society based on collective ownership and working class empowerment to meet human needs. Seventy years later, the Bush/Republican far-right advocacy of an ‘ownership society’ can be seen as an effort to turn the clock back to the world before socialism came on the scene a world of untrammeled power for a few ‘captains of society,’ and crumbs for those who do the work.

Fraudulently confusing nominal ownership and real control, Bushs ownership society slogan conceals who really owns our society. It attacks collective solutions, celebrating private appropriation of wealth over social ownership for the public good. Fundamentally it promotes a false notion of who we are as human beings, and how human society progresses. But, by raising this slogan, Bush gives us an opportunity to discuss fundamental questions about the basis of our society and how the people can really achieve ownership.

First of all, is ownership the same as control? What is real control?

If you ‘own’ a few thousand dollars in stocks in a 401k, do you have any control whatsoever over the decisions that affect the value of those stocks?

If you own your home, even assuming youve paid off the mortgage, do you have any control over the cost of the oil or gas you need to heat it, the polluting industry down the road, the big employer that moves out and leaves your community without jobs or a financial base, the superstore that moves in nearby and wipes out your local downtown? If you own vouchers to send your child to private schools, do you have control over the kind of society your child will be growing up in, over the opportunities your child will have for meaningful employment and a safe, healthy environment?

The answer to these questions is no. Here is where Bushs ownership society is a vicious fraud for most of us.

His ‘ownership society’ is really a slogan for divesting, defrauding and dividing the working class, along with self-employed and small business folks, rendering this majority of the U.S. population powerless. Its important to clarify just what working class means. Some Democrats are fond of using the term middle class, perhaps to avoid being accused of advocating class warfare. But that term perpetuates confusion and false divisions. Working class is not based on how much you earn. Its based on your lack of ownership of the means of production the industrial giants that are the motors of our economy, including the producers of coal, steel, oil, chemicals, auto, the agri-food empires, big pharma, and so on and also the means of distributing their products, like mega-retailers, transport and the health industry, and the Wall Street giants that control the finances of it all. And its based on your need to sell your brain and muscle power to those who do have that ownership, or to businesses and institutions that depend on them. Most Americans fall into this class. And increasingly, those in the middle find that they are at the mercy of the same ownership giants.

Bushs ownership society really applies not to most Americans working class, self-employed, professional, small business or family farmer but to the very tiny class of people, the capitalists, who own the financial/industrial capital described above and largely control our government.

No matter how many 401ks, savings accounts or private health insurance policies we own, control over the fundamental power that shapes our society, and our individual lives, is in the hands of those who own our economy.

The only way for the working class, and the self-employed, professional, small business person or family farmer, to gain real control is to change who owns the forces that run our society. And that can only be done by working together.

This is where Bushs slogan is a challenge to Communists to raise the issue of real ownership of the people, by the people and for the people socialism.

It is an opportunity to debate who really owns and controls our society. This debate essentially is about the battle over what happens to the surplus created by human labor should it be privately appropriated for the profit of a few, or socially appropriated for the good of many. It is at the heart of struggle over where we are going as a society.

It is an opportunity to discuss how socialism could work in our country, and to rebut the myth that socialism and collective action mean giving up individual control. And it is an opportunity to counter the idea that individualism is the motor force of human progress.

There have always been two intertwined progressive strands in our country’s history. On one hand, the vision of individual liberties – the right to speak one’s mind and to hold to one’s beliefs, and the ‘rugged’ individual braving odds for a better life symbolized by the homesteader, the immigrant, the runaway slave, the inventor and innovator. On the other, the vision of banding together for the common good embodied in the first Thanksgiving, the town hall meeting, the network of the Underground Railroad, the farmers’ cooperatives, the Black church, the immigrants’ fraternal aid societies, the trade unions, the civil rights movement, and so many others.

The ‘ownership society’ seeks to play on the first vision to cover up the second. It replaces the we – we the people – with the me. It falsely pits individual initiative against collective good.

Some have dubbed Bushs concept a ‘you’re on your own-ership society.’ In fact, human survival and progress has always involved an interplay of individual initiative, cooperation and collective action. As Benjamin Franklin put it, ‘We must all hang together or assuredly we will all hang separately.’

Educational Papers Series A Communist Party Education Commission project for the pre-convention discussion period leading to the CPUSA 28th National Convention July 13, 2005, Chicago Illinois



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