“Perhaps Sanders proposals could lead to a ‘true Communism’ that would finally see the state ‘wither away’…or perhaps his proposals would illustrate another failure of Communist theory.”
Amid the political upheaval last week, popular “Democratic Socialist” Bernie Sanders introduced two bills that would increase “worker ownership” of the means of production. The first bill is entitled WORK (“Worker Ownership, Readiness and Knowledge”) Act that would train employees for ownership. The second bill would establish the U.S. Employee Ownership Bank that would provide loans for workers to buy the means of production.
Both bills aim to encourage worker ownership of the means of production. This is a pretty packed statement. “Means of production” was originally popularized by Karl Marx, who believed that wealthy capitalists are able to exploit workers through private ownership of the means of production.
The WORK Act would provide $45 million dollars in training to employees to encourage them to become “worker owners.” The Employee Ownership bank would establish $500 million in funds for low interest loans. Workers could then take out loans to buy the means of production.
More or less, it seems like Sanders is trying to encourage “worker cooperatives” where employees run their own business. The idea is interesting and has found success in some places. In theory, when workers own part of the company, they will strive harder to ensure that it is successful.
However, there are also risks. Democracy in the workplace can slow down response times, and the workers themselves may lack the skills to properly guide a company in a competitive market.
Digging Into Marxism and the Means of Production
More or less, with the means of production privatized people must sell their labor power in order to survive. According to Marx, employees end up in a race to the bottom of sorts. Since capitalists own the means of production, they are able to set the terms of the buying and selling of labor. Employees, meanwhile, must take the best deal offered to them.
According to Marx, exploitation can be ended by ending private ownership of the means of production. By ending said ownership, Marxists believe they can end exploitation and that workers will be able to produce what they need to survive and thrive. Thus, when Marxists talk about ending capitalism, what they really mean is ending the private ownership of the means of production. This also appears to be what Sanders’ bills call for.
It’s unclear what ending the means of production would look like in practice. Marx talked about the dissolution of the state. However, those governments that were established in the name of Communism saw a dramatic expansion of the state. The means of production weren’t owned by the public, but instead the state itself. If anything, this appears to have resulted in increased exploitation of workers.
Perhaps Sanders proposals could lead to a “true Communism” that would finally see the state “wither away.” Or perhaps his proposals would illustrate another failure of Communist theory. Either way, with the current Congress and White House it’s unlikely that Sanders’ proposals will see the light of day.