Resolution on Collective Ownership

International Workers’ Association

September 1868

Translator Iain McKay

Collective Ownership

Resolutions adopted by the commission:

1. With regard to mines, collieries and railways;


That the great instruments of labour are fixed to the ground and occupy a notable part of this soil provided free to humanity by nature;

That these instruments of labour necessarily require the application of machines and collective force;[1]

That the machines and collective force that exist today for the sole advantage of the capitalists must in the future only benefit the workers, and that for this it is necessary that any industry where these two economic forces are indispensable is carried on by groups free from wage-labour;

Congress thinks:

1. That quarries, collieries and other mines, as well as railways, in a normal society, shall be owned by the social collectivity, represented by the State, but by the regenerated State and subject itself to the law of justice;

2. That the quarries, collieries, railways will be contracted out not to capitalists, as today, but to workers companies, on a double contract;[2]

one giving the concession [investiture] to the worker company and guaranteeing to society;

a. the scientific and rational exploitation of the concession,

b. its services at a price nearest to the cost price,

c. the right to audit the accounts of the company,

d. and consequently the impossibility of the reconstitution of monopoly;

the other guaranteeing the natural rights of every member of the worker Association with respect to his colleagues.

2. With regard to agricultural property;


That the necessities of production and the application of agronomic knowledge demands farming conducted on a large scale and by groups, requires the introduction of machinery and the organisation of the collective force in agriculture, and that, moreover, economic development itself tends to bring about large-scale farming.

That, therefore, agricultural labour and ownership of the soil should be treated the same way as mining work and ownership of what is under the ground;

That, moreover, productive deposits are the raw material of all products, the original source of all wealth, without being itself the product of labour by any individual;

That the alienation to some of this indispensable raw material renders the whole society a tributary of those to whom it is alienated;

Congress believes that economic evolution will make the turning of arable land into collective property a social necessity, and that this soil will be contracted out to farmers companies like mines to miners companies, railways to workers companies, and with guarantee conditions for society and for the cultivators similar to those required for the mines and for the railways.[3]

3. With respect to canals, roads, paths, telegraphs;

Considering that these lines of communication require an overall management and maintenance which cannot be abandoned to private individuals, as some economists demand, on pain of monopoly.

Congress thinks:

These means of communication must remain the collective property of society.

4. With respect to forests;

Considering that the abandonment of forests to private individuals would lead to the destruction of these forests; That this destruction of certain parts of the country would harm the conservation of resources, and as a result the good quality of the land as well as public hygiene and the life of the citizens;

Congress thinks:

That the forests must remain in the social collectivity.

End Notes

[1] This echoes Proudhon’s arguments. The term “collective force” was used extensively by Proudhon and played a key role in his analysis of both how exploitation occurs in capitalism and what should end it. First used in What is Property?, it refers to how labour in groups can produce more than the same number of isolated workers. Under capitalism the wage-worker is “crushed into a condition worse than that of the slave by the loss of the advantage of collective force” but in an association “the collective force, which is a product of the community, ceases to be a source of profit to a small number of managers and speculators: it becomes the property of all the workers.” (Property is Theft!, 117, 585-6)

[2] This reference to a “double contract” did not appear in the official English-language version of the resolution. Significantly, this echoes Proudhon’s General Idea of the Revolution and its discussion of workers’ associations and its “double contract” between the members of the co-operative and between it and society. While its members have “an undivided share in the property of the company”, the company itself was “a creation and a dependence” of society and “holds its books and records at the disposition of Society” which “reserves the power of dissolving the workers company, as the sanction of its right of control.” The company was to be run democratically with “all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject to the approval of the members” so producing an institution which “has no precedent and no model.” (Property is Theft!, 585-6)

[3] This, again, echoes Proudhon who argued “the land is indispensable to our existence, – consequently a common thing, consequently unsusceptible of appropriation” and so while people are “proprietors of their products – not one is proprietor of the means of production. The right to product is exclusive – jus in re; the right to means is common – jus ad rem.” In short, “under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership” and “handed over to democratically organised workers’ associations” (Property is Theft!, 105, 112, 377). (Editor)