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Fourth International, July 1942


William Lane

Property versus Liberty


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.7, July 1942, p.223.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


Life, Liberty and Property
by Alfred Winslow Jones
J. B. Lippincott Company. 392 pages. $3.50.

Dr. Jones’ survey set out to answer this question: What is the attitude of the American public towards the conflict between personal rights and property rights? More specifically, their attitude toward the modern corporation.

To 1,705 citizens of the industrial city of Akron – to farmers, CIO workers, non-union workers, capitalists, technicians, etc., went trained interviewers, who told these people seven true stories involving conflict between personal and corporate rights. For instance here, in substance, is one of the stories:

In 1938 a union struck against the Consumer Power co. in Michigan. The strikers took possession of the company's power plant, expelling the superintendent. But this was not a “sit-down” strike. The workers continued to operate the power plant for the public. After a while the strike was settled in the workers’ favor.

The person interviewed was asked to express himself fully on this question: “What do you think of what the workers did in this case?”

To Marxists the main results will not come as a surprise. It was found that the attitude towards corporate property of business leaders and members of the working class correspond to their different economic positions. The workers, whether in unions or non-union, tended to stand for the rights of the workers against property rights.

The middle class presented a confused picture of two main tendencies:

  1. conformity with a compromising position as between the contending workers and corporations, and
  2. a tendency towards placing personal rights higher than corporate rights.

Dr. Jones concludes:

“The population as a whole, in its attitude towards corporate property, shows a marked trend towards sharp cleavage to the two extremes and [in the middle class] towards intermediate conformity with a compromising morality, in which, however, the attitudes are considerable ‘left of center.’”

Many of the secondary findings are worthy of close study by Marxists.

For instance, there is widespread a confused fear that the abolition of corporate private property in the means of production would be a threat to small property, especially the individually-owned home.

Another significant finding is the reactions of the managers. The managers, says Dr. Jones, are almost always fairly wealthy men and stockholders themselves. No cleavage of any dimension is noticeable between “managers” and “capitalists”: in fact, in their dogmatic allegiance to corporate property, the managers are the most unified, class-conscious class in the community.

Introducing this survey, a third of the volume is devoted to the presentation of the background. A concise history of Akron is given: The development of the giant rubber industry, the rise of the Akron labor movement, and the story of the intense union struggle. One of the chapters, The Labor Movement – Success, is a short history of the great 1936 strikes, especially the Goodyear strike.

This book deserves wide reading.

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Last updated on 13.9.2008