Principles of Libertarian Economics: Part I

Libertarian Labor Review 14 (1992-93)

by Abraham Guillen (translated by Jeff Stein)

Introduction: As part of our continuing efforts to present anarchist economic theory, we offer this translation from Abraham Guillen’s book, Economia Libertaria. The author of over fifty books and essays, Guillen is probably best known to English readers for his book, Philosophy of the Urban Guerilla (New York, 1973). A veteran of the Spanish Revolution, member of the CNT and FAI, Guillen spent most of his life in exile in South America. He has worked as a journalist and economist in Argentina, Uruguay and Peru. Presently he lives in Madrid, where he teaches at the International Institute for Self-Management and Communal Action, which is part of the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain.

For U.S. readers some of Guillen’s terms may be confusing. His use of the term “libertarian” should not be confused with the right-wing laissez faire ideas of the so-called “Libertarian Party.” Although he does refer to “markets” as part of a revolutionary society, it is clear from the context that he is speaking of a system of federalist or collectivist exchange of products at their labor value – not of capitalist markets.

We do not necessarily agree with everything Guillen has to say, particularly his assessment of anti-Soviet marxism. We think it is possible to make an economic critique of marxism without giving in to the temptation of ascribing its failures to original sin or the fall from grace. Despite this and other disagreements, we think this a useful contribution to anarcho-syndicalist economics.

This is the first installment of Guillen’s article. The second part will run next issue.

Self-Management, Planning, Federalism

The principles of libertarian economy were put into practice – more by intuition than by design, without grand theories – by the libertarian collectives in Spain during the revolution of 1936-39. Here the “praxis,” more than any “a priori” theory, demonstrated that an economy inspired by federalist principles and self-managed, with a self-managed market, could work well and avoid the central-planning which always leads to the totalitarian, bureaucratic State, owner of each and everything.

In this article, we are not going to introduce all the self-regulating objective economic laws, although the most important of these, the law of labor value, self-regulates the exchange of goods and services at their just value in order to fulfill the others: the law of economic equity; the law of cooperation, between the distinct integrated federations of the libertarian economy; the law of exchange equivalence. In a market liberated from the capitalists and the opprobrious tutelage of the State, they will self-regulate, almost cybernetically, the economic processes of production, exchange, distribution and consumption. I study these laws and social-economic categories more profoundly in my Economia Autogestionara [Self-managed Economics], particularly, and to some extent in my three other books.

We are not going to deal, in this chapter, which is really an introduction to self-managed economics), with the development of libertarian socialism. Libertarian socialism I define as synonymous with self-managed socialism.

Anarchism and Marxism

From a semantic point of view, libertarian socialism is disposed to unite according to the concept of true socialism (without bureaucracy and with liberty) all well-intentioned socialists. However, the adjective libertarian has an anarchist connotation.

On the other hand the adjective self-managed tends to suggest an even broader front of socialist ideologies, some more bureaucratic than revolutionary, which might be unified, in thought and deed, into a self-managed socialism: the broadest alliance of popular and workers’ struggle, against the technocracies and bureaucracies, both West and East, and against the bourgeois pseudo-democracies of the West.

I would contend that in spite of light shades of ideological differences, the anarchist theory of liberty, federalism and socialism coincides, if not totally then in part, with the best of revolutionary humanism. In this I would include the Marxism thrown away as scrap by the State under the form of “the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the transition from capitalism to socialism,” which showed itself to be in the U.S.S.R. the dictatorship of the Party-State bureaucracy, and was under Stalin just as cruel as nazi-fascist dictators.

So, with the State acting as the revolutionary protagonist, instead of the people self-organized in self-managed enterprises and in libertarian collectives, marxist-leninism leads, not to socialism or even less to communism. Instead it perpetuates, as in the U.S.S.R. and its “satellites,” a capitalism of the State, a worse capitalism, closer to nazi-fascism, than to true socialism.

Marxism, separated from leninism, is a theory of capitalist development, its economic laws and

contradictions. It is thus a continuation of capitalist economics, since without a self-managed socialism all the rest is capitalism or neo-capitalism.

Marx, in Capital, his greatest work, does not say what socialism would be like, only what capitalism is like. This title merits serious study, without satanizing it like many anarchists have done without recognizing that Marx was an investigator of capitalism whose contribution to socialism is very limited. It is for us, those who live in the 20th century, to explain our prodigious, revolutionary and changing century, not by the ideologies of the 19th century which explained very well their own times, but cannot be explanations for us today. And this is not to say, in any manner, that we want to break with the past, since by knowing the past we can understand the present and go with certainty to win a future of peace, prosperity, liberty and equality for all, liberated from the bureaucracies of capitalism and the technocracies risen to State power to exploit Society.

The Libertarian Economy

The libertarian economy, going beyond the marxist-leninist economic doctrine of State capitalism, rejects the State in the name of political and economic liberty. This is because the State protects the capitalists’ private property and the state property of the communist bureaucrats. In this school of thought, Bakunin asserted socialism and liberty at the same time, since he could not conceive that socialism could be less free than the bourgeois democracy described by the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man from the French Revolution of 1789-93. Thus denouncing the political bureaucracy of the “socialists of the cathedral” (the ideologues who spoke like workers, but wanted to govern like bourgeois), Bakunin exclaimed: “Liberty without socialism is privilege and injustice, and socialism without liberty is slavery

and brutality.” (Obras, vol. 1, p. 59)

For the libertarians, blind obedience to the State is an abdication of Society, since the freedom of each individual must not be limited by a ruling class, either by a class whose power is based on private property, as in the bourgeois State, or on State property, as in the despotic, bureaucratic State-both employer and police at the same time. According to libertarian thinkers, the biggest error of all revolutions rests in the absurd politics of demolishing a government in order to put another in its place which could be worse. Consequently the only true social revolution would be that which destroys the principle of authority, replacing it by self-government of the people – without political parties, without a class of professional politicians, without those who arbitrarily command and others who passively obey.

For Kropotkin, laws could be grouped in three categories: those that protect the persons of privilege, those that protect the governments, and those that protect private property, but that, in reality, disprotect the impoverished working people.

In the conventional capitalist mode of production, the bourgeois State is a committee in the service of the capitalists guaranteeing them the private ownership of the means of production and exchange and the realization; without the intervention of labor, of the surplus value usurped from the wage workers, as much in a parliamentary democracy as in a dictatorship, according to the situation. Under the statist mode of production, whose real expression is the soviet model, the State, a monopoly of the totalitarian bureaucracy, imposes state ownership; dictates wage and price policy; is employer, merchant, banker, police, making laws according to the convenience and interests of the totalitarian bureaucracy. In either case, with a conventional capitalist regime or with State capitalism, whether in the West or in the East, the worker remains a wage worker, producer of an economic surplus for the western bourgeoisie or for the eastern bureaucrats. Thus, by changing only one government for another the workers remain oppressed and exploited, in reality, by capitalism, whether private or of the State.

The fact is that the soviet regime perpetuates capitalism, but in another form, with state ownership and bureaucratic State. It should, according to marxist-leninism, but hasn’t, made socialism except semantically – purely in words, not in reality.

Thus, for example, Marx in his main doctrinal work, Capital, exposed the laws of development of capitalism, but not those of socialism; since Capital is a body of economic doctrine mostly about capitalism which contributes no well-defined socio-economic laws of socialism. On the other hand, Lenin, in State and Revolution, contributes no materials for the building of a socialist society, but takes from Marx the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a transitional step between capitalism and socialism, in order to apply it to

the soviet model, where, in time, this transition in the form of a dictatorial State becomes the permanent dictatorship of the communist bureaucracy over the wage workers, who are the producers of State surplus value, for the totalitarian “Nomenklatura.” In sum, then, socialism has not been realized anywhere, as such and as intended by the utopian and libertarian socialists of the 19th century, since the soviet model was a new capitalism of the bureaucratic State. But the fact of having prestige has enabled marxist-leninism, to a great extent, to present itself as the economic science, the dialectical philosophy, the sociology of class struggle and its solution, the materialist interpretation of history and the State form necessary for the transition from capitalism to socialism. All this body of doctrine penetrated the universities capturing the minds of many students and professors, the “intelligentsia” above all, in pre-revolutionary Russia, where leninism was established as the active political practice of marxism. In the West, marxism never really reached the workers – neither in its most simplified form, The Communist Manifesto and less still of Capital – but many professors, intellectuals, ideologues adopted Marxism as reformism, “socialism of the cathedral” or an ingredient of social democracy; although in recent times the economic ideal of the “socialists of the cathedral,” of the technocracy and of the bureaucracy, was not Marx but better still Keynes, who contributed the economic theory of a neo-capitalism, more a monopoly of the social-democratic political class or of the labor parties than of the bourgeoisie properly speaking.

The failing welfare-State in the West, squeezed by the abuse of inflation and of exorbitant taxes, and the State-owner in the East of the soviet bureaucracy, were established as an alternative to capitalism, as a “velvet socialism” in the West and as totalitarian communism in the East (which in reality is not communism, but a capitalism of the State: the most total of all dictatorships, without precedent in the ancient and modern world, and which has fallen into chaos from the “perestroika” of Gorbachev to the “catastroika” of Yeltsin).

It is necessary, therefore, to redefine what has semantically called itself socialism and is nothing more than State capitalism, investigating and proposing a libertarian economy, whose laws of development-economic, social, political, cultural, scientific and technological-are enunciated as a replacement and alternative to western welfare Statism and to Soviet State-ownership. For this libertarian socialism needs a little more scientific rigor and a little less utopianism, although it is necessary to take the adjective “scientific” with a grain of salt, as it has been depreciated enough by the soviets. Utopia is beautiful, but it must bring something of economy, of reality, of objectivity to the goal of libertarian socialism for it to be an alternative, at the same time, to western monopoly capitalism and to State capitalism, according to the soviet model.

False Democracy

In our epoch the exhaustion of statist politics emerges; so it is with the social-democratic regimes under the control of the parasitical middle classes (in the west); so it is with the totalitarian bureaucracies of the one-party and State-employer; whether under the welfare-State (in the West), or the total State (in the East) and of failed nazi-fascism, the people have understood that they must organize themselves into industrial democracy (self-managed enterprises) and into federated self-government (direct democracy), overthrowing the economic power of the industrial, mercantile and financial bourgeoisie, and the political power of the radical, social-democratic, christian democratic, socialist and neoliberal petty bourgeoisie who, with their various parties, take turns in Power.

Marxism and Keynesianism have contributed equally to the development of statist economics; so it is with the marxist-leninists and petty bourgeois socialists; so it is with the technocrats and bureaucrats of every type, partisans of managed economies with the goal of controlling the national economies and the organs of the world economy, imperialist or hegemonist, like the IMF, the GATT, the U.N. Security Council, instruments of the “new world order” of ex-president Bush.

But from these techno-bureaucratic experiences, with the proliferation of well-paid functionaries, of UN-ocrats, eurocrats, comeconorats, of central planners of every type, we can deduce that when the parasitic classes are augmented at the expense of productive workers, the poorer are the working people and consumers.

The moment arrives, then, when it is necessary to vindicate the restoration of a self-managed economy, debureaucratized and debourgeoisfied, liberated from both marxist-leninist totalitarianism and bureaucracy, and from western keynesian planning, which was based on the extravagant growth of taxes, monetary inflation, government budgetary deficit and full employment from above for the bureaucrats and technocrats, and maximum unemployment below for the productive workers underneath. An aberrant economy of this kind has to lead to the total failure of the welfare-State as long as it consumes unproductively more than it produces positively, in actuality in agriculture, industry, mining and goods production.

One thing is politically and economically evident in our time; the stronger and richer is the State than the more weak and poor are its subjects. In consequence, it can be seen on the political horizon and in immediate society, as much in the West as in the East, there are two great antagonistic human groups: those that order and those that obey; those that work and live poorly and those who don’t work and live well; the authoritarians, who seek to maintain their privileges, and the libertarians, who defend their rights and essential liberties. Thus we behold from the historical perspective, at the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first, the crisis of the USA and the ex-USSR.

In regimes of the soviet-type, in which the State possesses all wealth and all power, it has created two great antagonistic classes, the totalitarian government bureaucracy and the working people forced to submit to a savage capitalism of the State. The dialectic of class struggle in bureaucratic socialist countries, by its essence, is transformed into a struggle between oppressed Society and the State oppressor, having thus an anarchist character, since it is the proletariat, paid by the State-employer, that has to overthrow the power of the totalitarian bureaucracy in order to build an economy based on self-management, de-bureaucratized, functioning through federations in production and social and public services, converging in a National Economic Council.

Since the quantification and accounting of the economy must be done federally, by agreement of all and the parts (without central planning by bureaucrats, according to central and final orders), there comes a moment in which the libertarian economy makes it scientifically possible as the best possible administration of economic matters creating thus the conditions to abolish the State, oppressor and exploiter of men, converting to decentralized self-government. In this manner an economic federalism (production of goods and service) and an administrative federalism – one as the self-management of workplaces; the other as local, regional and national self-government – creates a self-power of direct participation of people organized in their own interest; not requiring, therefore, a political governing class, nor a bourgeoisie nor techno-bureaucracy, managing industry in order to usurp the economic surplus produced by the labor of others without paying, usurping by surplus-value for the bourgeoisie of the State-owner, now failing in Russia and China, but which they want to perpetuate as capitalism pure and hard in the ex-COMECON countries.

The Management of Social Capital

The libertarian economy has to assume the increased reproduction of social capital, in such a way that the development of productive forces will not be inferior to that under private or State capitalism. Only then will anew economic regime be justified, historically, socially and politically, if it creates more well-being, a better standard of living, more production with less manual labor than under the old overthrown regime. To not do this would produce over time the conditions for a counter-revolution as long as humanity can not lose productive forces, without earning them constantly until living labor (human productivity) has enough capital (accumulated past labor) that enables one hour of automated labor to produce more than many hours of simple or rudimentary labor based upon the muscular efforts of man.

Accordingly, as workers’ productivity increases, with everyone working scientifically, it half productive and half educational, with the goal of giving everyone equal time for labor and studies, equal scientific, technical and cultural preparation. In this way, all will be capable of doing all, and with the help of the computer revolution, to abolish the traditional division of labor, so that the revolution is not overcome by classes or social estates from dividing labor into manual or intellectual.

The self-managed economy, libertarian in the greatest sense of the word, will have to completely master the basic industries-the creation of new products; the complete utilization of scientific-technological research, bringing it from the universities to the workplaces and institutes; the creation of an agro-industry that will erase the differences in cultural, economic, and technological development between city and country; the constitution of a libertarian society that will balance economics, society, ecology, population and harmonize natural resources and humans, guaranteeing all the right to work, education and leisure; the integral assimilation of the computer revolution in order to liberate (painful) manual labor from material production. Since the automation of labor, plus self-management of social capital at the same time, will create all the technical, economic, cultural and scientific conditions to attain a harmonious society, without social conflicts nor economic contradictions; then self-management plus automation equals libertarian communism.

But prior to attaining the “golden age” of self-government, of equality in education and social conditions for all, where each receives according to their needs and the economic possibilities of society, transcending social hierarchies and the antagonism between wage labor and private or State capital. Prior to this, it will be necessary to transcend political economy as a science of administration of scarce resources and distribution of goods and services according to quantity and quality of labor, abolishing at the same time the division of labor into professions or corporations, by virtue of which some consume more than others, using money and unequal incomes in order to perpetuate the inequality among people.

The spontaneous natural riches, the fruits and wild berries, the water and air to be in reach of all humans, without appropriation, can not be distributed in the mercantile sense of the realization of the law of exchange value since they do not pass in the form of money; price and market-seeking profit, not being the objective of political economy. In libertarian communism, for humanity to attain an economy of abundance a high productivity of automated labor will have to go beyond the laws of exchange value, wages, money, merchandise, unequal incomes, the State (formed in order to impose a unequal division by classes); the political parties and the ideologies peculiar to the political alienation of a competitive society; the division of labor between managers and subordinates.

These can not be economically, politically, socially or culturally transcended, however, by bureaucratic socialism – a neo-bourgeois political economy of usufruct, which is followed by a system of distribution as unequal as capitalism.

The libertarian economy, initially, as happened in Spain during the Revolution of1936-39, the “praxis” set itself problems that had to be the resolved, totally or partially, by bypassing political ideology, creating libertarian collectives, enterprises managed directly by workers without techno-bureaucratic directors; but having to demonstrate by means of self-organized labor that the forces of production would not be wasted. Seeing in practice the human, solidaric and productive labor advantages of the libertarian collectives, the small private property owners associated with them voluntarily. On the other hand, Stalin decreed the forced collectivization of the land into kolkhozes [co-operatives] and sovkhozes [state farms], repressing those peasants who did not want to join them except by pressure of the political police.

The good from the moment it is forced … is converted into evil. Liberty, morality, human dignity, consists precisely in that man does good, not because he is ordered to do it, but because he conceived it, desired it, and loved it. (Bakunin, Obras, Volume 1, p. 280).

In reality, people are neither good nor evil, but products of the societies where they live, conditioned by their economic, political, social, and cultural circumstances. Thus in societies where private or state property holds sway, each individual appears as an enemy of the other, competing with the other, oppressed by the other, limited by the other in rights and duties.

The causes of injustice, in the socio-economic sense, do not reside so much in human conscience as in the inhuman essence of societies of conflicting classes and in the State which perpetuates them throughout history, as if humanity was incapable of overcoming the prehistory of unjust society, with even less equality than primitive society from the paleolithic to the neolithic.

An economist so little suspected of being an anarchist as Adam Smith, but a sincere intellectual and friend of the truth concerning social injustice between people, having as a principal cause the governments of class, said:

Civil government … is in reality established for the defense of those who possess something against those others who possess nothing. The International Workers Association (AIT), in the past century, was more clear about the emancipation of working people than all the later internationals where the union bureaucracies, politicians, and technocrats, allies of each other, had corrupted communist and socialist ideals; whether this corruption was, by favoring the welfare-State, more Keynesian than marxist, in the West, or the totalitarian State, the administrative socialism in the East, which produced plenty of armaments but failed to produce food.

“The three great causes of human immorality are: inequality as much political as economic and social; ignorance, that is the natural result of the former; and, finally, the necessary consequence of both, that is slavery.” (Program of the AIT).

The deeds of the political parties, of the so-called left, and the labor union organizations, with the development of monopoly capitalism (West) and with administrative socialism, East having fallen into the hands of political and union bureaucracies and into those of technocrats, with the words of the left and the deeds of the right – has been to confound, in our epoch, all the values of the popular revolutionary struggle, making the communist and socialist parties, and their union organizations, into transmission belts for the interests of the petty-bourgeoisie of the left which, by the means of political power, aspires to become a “new bourgeoisie.” Thus they adulate the workers, promoting to them a “socialist paradise,” in order to sacrifice them to the capitalist inferno – so it is whether under the laborist or social-democratic model, or under soviet totalitarianism.

To Be Continued

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