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Nature of Modern Property
Limits on Ownership
Development of Property Law
Protection and content are given to the ownership of property by custom or law. The type of property law in a society may be taken as an index of its social and economic system. For example, a primitive pastoral tribe that must be closely united to resist its enemies may hold pasture lands in common or rotate ownership, thereby avoiding disruptive quarrels. By contrast, in societies that enjoy an economic surplus and relative security, the institution of private property may be highly developed, with marked division of ownership and a competitive struggle for control. On the other hand, private property may be all but eliminated in certain societies, as in those envisioned by Karl Marx.
In Europe, the distinction between realty and personalty served the purposes of early feudal society. The ownership and disposition of land, the basis of most wealth and the keystone of the social structure, were controlled to protect society, while the ownership of personalty, being of minor importance, was almost unfettered.
As the economic system was altered during the late Middle Ages, however, personalty lost its subordinate position and grew to be the economic mainstay of the rising middle class of merchants and manufacturers. Personalty could be bought and sold in relative freedom without the hindrances that beset the disposal of land. By taking advantage of its economic freedom, the middle class was able to replace the landed aristocracy as society's dominant class. Concurrently, it sought to relieve real property of its medieval fetters in order to use it, along with personalty, as revenue-producing capital.
Gradually the law of realty tended in all important respects to be assimilated to that of personalty. In time land could be sold or distributed by will with almost perfect freedom; in effect it joined the list of other commodities. Differences of detail in the law of realty and personalty persist, especially in the transfer of realty, however, which involves great formality.
under socialism the basic form of individual ownership of labor incomes and savings, of consumption objects that satisfy personal needs, and also of certain means of production that are used on personal subsidiary farming plots and in the home. The personal property of citizens is a constituent part of the national wealth of a country.
Under socialism the immediate sources for the formation of personal property are the wages of production and office workers, the monetary incomes of kolkhoz farmers, and the incomes received from social consumption funds (pensions, grants, and stipends) and from personal subsidiary plots. Because the main sources for the formation of personal property are incomes distributed according to labor funds (wages) and social consumption funds, growth in social production is the basis for increases in personal property. In the last analysis, free and subsidized services (such as education and medical care) also influence the structure and volume of personal property.
Because personal property is derived from social property, is based on personal labor, and is primarily for consumption, it differs fundamentally from both private capitalist property and the private ownership of small commodity producers. The higher the level of social production, the greater the workers’ real incomes will be and, as a result, the greater their personal property will be. In turn, since the amount of personal property depends on the quantity and quality of labor expended and since one can acquire more material goods when one’s income increases, the incentive for workers in a socialist economy to work harder increases, which promotes the growth of social property. The social and personal interests of the working people are combined in personal property.
Marxism-Leninism is equally hostile to the asceticism and low level of consumption propagated by “leftist” revisionists and to the petit bourgeois spirit of acquisition, devotion to things, and the ideal of the “consumption society.” The ideals of socialism include much more than simply increasing the mass of material goods available to the members of society; they also aim at the comprehensive spiritual improvement of human beings and a system of human relationships that differs fundamentally from relationships under capitalism. Socialist society prevents the use of personal property to enable certain individuals to live in idleness, as parasites, refusing socially useful activity. Socialist society does not permit significant differentiation in personal income and the amount of personal property. On the contrary, as the educational and cultural level of the working people rises and their skills increase, the differences in incomes between particular social groups of working people will decrease.
Personal property is a category that is developing and changing historically. The range of its objectives and sources of its formation depend on the historical conditions of the building of socialism, the level of development of productive forces, and the national, cultural, and other characteristics of social life. As the public economy of the kolkhozes grows and socialist public production develops, the personal subsidiary plots as a source for the formation of personal property and as a constituent part of the personal property of working people is decreasing. At the same time, scientific and technical progress in production leads to the appearance of new types of consumer products and to a corresponding expansion of the types of personal property. As a result of structural shifts, personal property increasingly consists of high-quality durable consumer goods and objects that satisfy people’s aesthetic and cultural needs. The amount of durable cultural-domestic goods included in the personal property of working people in the USSR has risen significantly, as shown in Table 1.
|Table 1. Consumer durables in the USSR (per 1,000 population)|
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As socialist society develops toward communism, an ever-increasing share of the good things of life will come from social funds for personal use. Under communism, members of society will receive all necessities for life and comprehensive development directly from social resources.
In the socialist countries, personal property is protected by law. For example, the Constitution of the USSR establishes the right to personal property as one of the basic rights of citizens. A citizen may use property that belongs to him in all the ways permitted by law, including using it directly, selling it, giving it away, bequeathing it, and allowing others to use it temporarily. The misuse of personal property (speculation, extraction of non-labor income, private entrepreneurial activity) is punishable under criminal law. To protect the consumer nature of personal property, the legislation of the Union republics establishes maximum sizes for a residential building that can be the personal property of a citizen and also establishes the maximum number of livestock that a citizen or kolkhoz household may own.
Personal property is protected by various legal means. Property that has been stolen from an owner or taken by fraud, deception, and the like is sought and, if located, is returned to the owner. If it has been destroyed or damaged, its value must be repaid by the guilty person. In addition to returning the property or repaying its value, the guilty person is also punished for criminal infringement on personal property.
REFERENCESKonstitutsiia SSSR. Moscow, 1971. Articles 7 and 10.
Programma KPSS, part 2. Moscow, 1971.
Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Khalfina, R. O. Pravo lichnoi sobstvennosti sovetskikh grazhdan. Moscow, 1961.
Radaev, V. V. Lichnaia sobstvennost’ ν sotsialisticheskom obshchestve. Moscow, 1963.
Koshelov, A. Ia. Lichnaia sobstvennost’ ν sotsialisticheskom obshchestve. Moscow, 1963.
Maslov, V. F. Osnovnye problemy prava lichnoi sobstvennosti ν period stroitel’stva kommunizma ν SSSR. Kharkov, 1968.