The Short Shrift: Socialism Versus Social Activism

Bernie Sanders has called out Amazon in the BEZOS Act, and Jacobin Magazine says its time for socialists to organize at Amazon, but I can’t help wondering if this activism misses the soul of socialism as the increase in wages comes at the loss of access to ownership.

Setting aside the rants of the Randian culture warriors,  most have seen ownership of the means of production as the keystone of socialism.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product. 1

Unfortunately, in the US the big union money typically moves in the other direction, with health and welfare funds and pension funds being managed by greedy Wall Street bankers solely on the basis of monetary return (which amounts to workers essentially capitalizing rentiers).

The value of Amazon stock is now about $1800/share, with a market capitalization of a bit over $900B, much of that owned by institutional investors and mutual funds. So, in broad terms all that needs to happen to make Amazon a socialist powerhouse is to finance employee purchase of $450B in stock.

The alternative, no matter how noble it might appear from time to time, amounts to begging or blackmailing, as Amazon’s market power is arguably no match for activists. 2

But is worker ownership of a behemoth like Amazon a pipe dream? Now that is an organizational question  worth pondering. Rather than propose that thousands of militant socialists seek employment at Amazon quietly for the purpose of an October Revolution, why not organize for the takeover of the company; it is certainly just a “doable” as rendering Amazon a union shop, and it makes “labor” management.

Seems to me that if one is going to hitch one’s wagon to Hope and Change, then charging into the fray for the purposes of continuing to be regarded as beggars at the gate is not all that inviting.


  1. Einstein, Albert. “Why Socialism?” Monthly Review, May 1, 2009. https://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism/.
  2. Khan, Lina M. “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” Accessed October 5, 2018. https://www.yalelawjournal.org/note/amazons-antitrust-paradox.

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