The common ownership of the means of production
The source of all wealth is the application of human labour power to materials found in nature. As William Petty put it, Labour is the father and Nature the mother of wealth.
There was a time when the workman owned the simple tools with which he worked. He was, in fact, a working-owner. But in time, with the development of expensive and complicated machinery, the worker became separated from the instruments of his labour. The ownership of these instruments became concentrated in the hands of a few. The worker, now virtually without property, had to sell his working ability to those who owned the instruments of labour. This is the situation today. Production is a vast co-operative effort, involving the world-wide division of labour. Production is carried out by process workers, managers, technicians, clerks and cleaners — all of whom are equally necessary to production. Yet despite this co-operative effort, the products belong to a section only of society.
Profit is the monetary expression of that part of the wealth which those who monopolise the means and instruments of labour have after paying out wages and the cost of buying raw materials, etc. Its source is the unpaid labour of those who work.
The change Socialists advocate is this: The means and instruments of labour should cease to be the monopoly of a few and should become the property of the whole community. The community, organised on a democratic basis, could then use them as it thought fit to meet the needs of its members, individually and collectively.
In such a society buying and selling, prices and money would be superfluous. These are features only of a private property society in which wealth is individually or sectionally owned. In a socialist society the wealth, produced by social labour, will belong to society as soon as it is produced. After setting aside wealth to renew and build up the instruments of production, the rest can enter directly into the consumption-fund of society. The problem of distribution will be the technical one of how to move the wealth to where it is needed.
Putting a price on items of wealth and issuing people with round metallic objects and pieces of coloured paper will not arise. Nor will there be any other kind of rationing since Socialism will be a society of abundance. The productive resources of the world, with the most modern productive techniques, are quite capable of providing enough for all. Society can go over to free distribution just as soon as there is production for use on the basis of the common ownership of the means and instruments of wealth-production. With free distribution people will want more, and certainly better goods. But, once the barrier of profit has been removed, these demands can be met.
What exists in the world today has nothing in common with such a system. Everywhere, a privileged few enjoy the best of everything while the consumption of the majority is restricted within the confines of their wage or salary.