For freedom’s sake, look behind the veil of private property

A string of banks, airlines, car manufacturers and aluminium refiners – all big corporations which have profited for years while extorting billions of dollars in public subsidies – have spat in the face of our society. They have begun mass sackings of workers, even while Australia supposedly escaped from the global capitalist economic crisis. The big banks have refused to pass on interest cuts to families struggling to service huge home mortgage even while posting huge profits.

In this context, Green Left Weekly has run a number of opinion pieces raising the idea of nationalising the mining, banking, car and aluminium industries. As a result we’ve been called “extremists” and even “vermin” by a few people posting anonymously in the comments box.

Some less hostile and reactionary responses have asked if nationalism was possible, considering that the plant and even technology used by these corporations is “private property”.

But in these times of crisis, we are all given serial lessons on how selectively the corporate rich apply the rule of private property. Indeed, we have seen entire peoples condemned to the collective punishment of forced economic austerity just to implement their rule: Privatise the profits, socialise the losses.

In the case of the car and aluminium industries – as Geelong Trades and Labor Council Secretary Tim Gooden explains in an exclusive interview in this issue [insert link] – the public has been subsidising the profits of their private owners in times of economic boom as well as in times of recession. They have been on a lifelong gravy train. They have been worlds-best corporate welfare extortionists.

So the public should not be terrorised into submission with the words “private property”. Indeed we should look behind the veil of this thing called “private property” more often. I am not referring to what most people count as their private property: their clothes, their bicycle, car or even a home, but rather to the private property that is used to systematically enslave others and grossly distort the social and environmental choices our society makes.

Private property of this nature can often be traced back to outright theft: the stealing of land of indigenous and colonised peoples, brigandry and piracy, etc. But such ill-gotten gains have then been multiplied through systematic exploitation of people who have been left with no choice but to sell their labour power to the owners of private property that serves as capital.

The stupendous profits that amass and concentrate under capitalism don’t appear out of thin air – nor out of the hard work of the owners of private property. They come out of exploitation. No exploitation, no profit. This is an iron law.

“Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks,” observed the famous German socialist Karl Marx.

If we want to free society from the dead end that capitalism has brought us to, then we need to be prepared to look behind the veil of private property and see the real relations of power that lie behind it. “Freedom is the recognition of necessity,” Karl’s best mate noted.

OK, another red has come out from under the bed and he’s urging you to defy the J Edgar Hoovers of today by chipping into our fighting fund this week. You can donate online to the Green Left fighting fund. Direct deposits can be made to Greenleft, Commonwealth Bank, BSB 062-006, Account No. 00901992. Otherwise, you can send a cheque or money order to PO Box 515, Broadway NSW 2007 or donate on the toll-free line at 1800 634 206 (within Australia).

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