Makerspaces: A Little Bit of Classical Socialism Under Capitalism

by Oliver L. Wolff

“Workers control the means of production” is the definition of socialism typically used by socialists.  Of course, asking how this feat is achieved will net a multitude of answers, none of which can be proved to be true as humanity has not progressed to that point.  What we do know is that spaces have and do exist that give us a preview of how this could look and function.  One example is Makerspaces, also known as Hackerspaces or Hacker labs.  While some are designed as a space for Research and Development for corporations, the variety I am referring to are generally nonprofit, community-based centers.  With this in mind, let’s delve into how the operation is organized.

The atomized, isolated workers in the United States often participate in a culture of self-dependent “Making.”  This “Making” is touched on by DIY culture, sometimes by making furniture, or building computers, or creating art.  The isolation makes it more likely that people wanting to participate in this culture will have to procure their own tools and supplies.  Their needs overlap with homeowners who need to make repairs or improvements to their dwellings.  Because we live under capitalism, this means that a lot of low-quality tools sold to the masses.  The important part of being low-quality is that the tools will be more difficult to use, and likely much more dangerous to the user.  Also, those tools will likely not see extensive use, as a worker can only use their free time to work on projects, as American workers are incredibly overworked.  

A Makerspace is a solution from a different angle.  Workers pool their funds and purchase tools that are high quality, and safer.  Higher quality tools make cleaner cuts and dust collection prevents health issues.  Standard safety training replaces emergency room visits in many instances.  Tools that would be excessive to own in a house are suddenly attainable.  Machinery used in factories are no longer out of reach, and workers have direct control over their manufacture.  That’s “workers having control of the means of production,” at least inside a small space.  It can even mitigate some of the consumerist effects of our current type of capitalism, even if it’s only to a small degree.  This doesn’t provide socialism itself, but is a laboratory to explore some of the benefits of collaborative ownership.  If the makerspace also happens to be a cooperative business, such explorations could go deeper, and provide more benefit to the real stakeholders: workers.

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