Seize the Means of Production in a Few Easy Steps

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Wall Street sign in lower Manhattan, New York City

If you ask an old-school socialist, they might tell you free market capitalism is objectionable because the workers should own the means of production. Once the working class achieves revolutionary consciousness, it’s supposed, they will rise up and seize the means of production. While waiting for the proletariat to achieve revolutionary consciousness, you can get to work socializing the means of production — and maybe nudge the benighted masses along the road to the revolution more quickly.

So how can we seize the means of production bloodlessly? A few numbers help. According to Pew Research, about 6 percent of the US public is “progressive left. That’s about 20 million people, and they’re disproportionately young and highly educated — which means they have disproportionately rosy financial prospects.

They can turn ExxonMobil into The People’s Oil Company in a few short years with some concerted effort. There are 4.025 billion shares of ExxonMobil outstanding at $99.95 per share, so there’s about $20,000 worth of ExxonMobil stock out there per member of the progressive left. If everyone on the progressive left directed all their retirement contributions to ExxonMobil stock–with those who can afford to do more doing more — then ExxonMobil would be The People’s Oil Company in just a few years.

It’s not out of reach. According to the American Association of University Professors, average professorial salaries across all institution types and ranks is about $101,000. A professor maxing out their contributions to a Roth 403B would be socking away about $20,000 per year or buying about one progressive leftist’s share of ExxonMobil yearly. Moreover, many of us in the professoriate have built home equity, so we can borrow heavily and add even more to the “socialize the oil companies” fund. 

And, of course, you can pay the interest on your home equity loan and buy more ExxonMobil stock with the “record profits” being distributed to you as dividends. 

In just a few years, the people who believe in the right things will own the People’s Oil Company, which they can redirect toward clean energy. Or transportation. Or experimental vegan theater. Or whatever.

Or you may want to start smaller as a proof of concept. There are 349,000,000 shares of Valero priced at $131.50. Buying all the shares of Valero for about $46 billion would probably be easier than buying all the shares of Exxon for $400 billion. Or maybe you don’t think oil companies are a good place to start. Maybe start with Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. Once they’re safely in the hands of The People, we can stop worrying about privacy concerns and fake news, because the means of digital production will be in the hands of The People.

This kind of slow-motion corporate raiding may not stir the blood like waving a flag and raising a fist at the barricade or building a guillotine outside Jeff Bezos’s house, but if the revolution was never going to be televised in the first place, I’m not sure why you should care.

Suppose you’re tired of waiting for late-stage capitalism to run its course and getting impatient with the insufficiently revolutionary proletariat. The good news is you can take positive steps toward the socialization of the means of production. There is, I suspect, no lack of political will on the progressive left, so if they all switched their investments into oil company stocks, they could be the change they want to see in the world. And they wouldn’t even have to guillotine anybody.