“The basic law of capitalism is you or I, not you and I.” - Karl Liebknecht
The acknowledged aim of socialism is to take the means of production out of the hands of the capitalist class and place them into the hands of the workers. This aim is sometimes spoken of as common ownership of the production apparatus.
Marx usually referred to the society he aimed to see established by the working class as "communist society." besides communist Marx employed four other words to describe future society: associated, socialised, collective and co-operative. All these words convey a similar meaning and bring out the contrast with capitalist society where not only the ownership and control of production but life generally is isolated and atomised.
Natural resources and the man-made instruments of production would be held in common: Marx speaks of "a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common" (Vol. I, p. 78) and, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, of "the co-operative society based on the common ownership of the means of production" (p. 22) and of "the material conditions of production" being "the cooperative property of the workers themselves" (p. 25). It is significant that Marx never defined communist society in terms of the ownership and control of the means of production by the State, but rather in terms of ownership and control by a voluntary association of the producers themselves. He did not equate what is now called "nationalisation" with socialism. Socialism is an economic system based upon conscious planning of production by associated producers (nowhere does Marx say: by the state), made possible by the abolition of private property of the means of production. As soon as that private property is completely abolished, goods produced cease to be commodities. Value and exchange value disappear. Production becomes production for use, for the satisfaction of needs, determined by conscious choice
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote of future society as "an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism" and "an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."
In Volume III of Capital Marx writes three or four times of production in future society being controlled by the "associated producers." Association was a word used in working class circles in England to mean a voluntary union of workers to overcome the effects of competition. This was Marx's sense too: in future society, the producers would voluntarily co-operate to further their own common interest; they would cease to be "the working class" and become a classless community.
Marx also talks about "cooperation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production"
In a classless society, every member is in a position to take part, on equal terms with every other member, in deciding how the means of production should be used. Every member of society is socially equal, standing in exactly the same relationship to the means of production as every other member. Similarly, every member of society has access to the fruits of production on an equal footing. Once the use of the means of production is under the democratic control of all members of society, class ownership has been abolished. The means of production can still be said to belong to those who control and benefit from their use, in this case to the whole population organised on a democratic basis, and so to be “commonly owned” by them.
Common ownership can be defined as a state of affairs in which no person is excluded from the possibility of controlling, using and managing the means of production, distribution, and consumption. Each member of society can acquire the capacity, that is to say, has the opportunity to realise a variety of goals, for example, to consume what they want, to use means of production for the purposes of socially necessary or unnecessary work, to administer production and distribution, to plan to allocate resources, and to make decisions about short term and long term collective goals. Common ownership, then, refers to every individual’s potential ability to benefit from the wealth of society and to participate in its running.
Even so, to use the word “ownership” can be misleading in that this does not fully bring out the fact that the transfer to all members of the society of the power to control the production of wealth makes the very concept of property redundant. With common ownership no one is excluded from the possibility of controlling or benefiting from the use of the means of production so that with reference to them the concept of property in the sense of exclusive possession is meaningless: no one is excluded, there are no non-owners. We could invent some new term such as “no-ownership” and talk about the classless alternative society to capitalism being a “no-ownership” society, but the same idea can be expressed without having to do this if common ownership is understood as being a social relationship and not a form of property ownership. This social relationship—equality between human beings with regard to the control of the use of the means of production—can equally accurately be described by the terms “classless society” and “democratic control” as by “common ownership” since these three terms are only different ways of describing it from different angles. The use of the term “common ownership” to refer to the basic social relationship of the alternative society to capitalism is not to be taken to imply therefore that common ownership of the means of production could exist without democratic control. Common ownership means democratic control means a classless society
Common ownership is not to be confused with state ownership, since an organ of coercion, or state, has no place in socialism. A class society is a society with a state because sectional control over the means of production and the exclusion of the rest of the population cannot be asserted without coercion, and so without a special organ to exercise this coercion. On the other hand, a classless society is a stateless society because such an organ of coercion becomes unnecessary as soon as all members of society stand in the same relationship with regard to the control of the use of the means of production. The existence of a state as an instrument of class political control and coercion is quite incompatible with the existence of the social relationship of common ownership. State ownership is a form of exclusive property ownership which implies a social relationship which is totally different from socialism.
Public ownership is the ownership, i.e. the right of disposal, by a public body representing society, by the government, state power or some other political body. The persons forming this body, the politicians, officials, leaders, secretaries, managers, are the direct masters of the production apparatus; they direct and regulate the process of production; they command the workers. Common ownership is the right of disposal by the workers themselves; the working class itself — taken in the widest sense of all that partake in really productive work, including employees, farmers, scientists — is direct master of the production apparatus, managing, directing, and regulating the process of production which is, indeed, their common work. Under public ownership the workers are not masters of their work; they may be better treated and their wages may be higher than under private ownership, but they are still exploited. Exploitation does not mean simply that the workers do not receive the full produce of their labor; a considerable part must always be spent on the production apparatus and for unproductive though necessary departments of society. Exploitation consists in that others, forming another class, dispose of the produce and its distribution; that they decide what part shall be assigned to the workers as wages, what part they retain for themselves and for other purposes. Under public ownership,
Common ownership is a social relationship of equality and democracy which makes the concept of property redundant because there are no longer any excluded non-owners. State ownership, on the other hand, presupposes the existence of a government machine, a legal system, armed forces and the other features of an institutionalised organ of coercion. State-owned means of production belong to an institution which confronts the members of society, coerces them and dominates them, both as individuals and as a collectivity. Under state ownership the answer to the question “who owns the means of production?” is not “everybody” or “nobody” as with common ownership; it is “the state”. In other words, when a state owns the means of production, the members of society remain non-owners, excluded from control. Both legally and socially, the means of production belong not to them, but to the state, which stands as an independent power between them and the means of production. Humankind will be organised into a free federation of producers’ and consumers’ communes.