ASR 78 (Winter 2020)

We are all fast food workers now2 Editorial: Too Far to the Left? Hardly.

3 Wobbles: 32-hour week, Labor Repression Board

4 Obituary: Fred Majer  by Mike Hargis

5 International Labor News  compiled by Mike Hargis

6 A Class War Against State War  by IWW Istanbul

7 ARTICLES: Global Warming: Get Rid of Capitalism! by Bangladesh Anarcho Syndicalist Federation

8 Labor and the Climate Crisis  by Jon Bekken

10 We Are All Fast Food Workers Now  by Tony Sheather

17 Precursors of Syndicalism IV: The Anarchist-Communist Critique  by Iain McKay

21 The Amsterdam Congress: Anarchism and Syndicalism

24 Wigan: Orwell’s Prelude to Red Barcelona Review Essay by Raymond Solomon

27 The Kurdish Tragedy Review Essay by Jon Bekken

29 Reviews: Whither Anarchism? by Iain McKay

34 Venezuelan Anarchism  Review by Mike Hargis

35 Revolution in the Australian Cane Fields Review by Barbara Hart

36 How We Shall Bring About the Revolution  Review by Iain McKay

37 Writing for Revolution  Review by Jon Bekken

37 Carlo Tresca & the First Antifa  Review by Jeff Stein

39 Two Sides to Neoliberalism?  Film Review by Jeff Stein

online Private Government  Review by Ridhiman Balaji

Farewell, Fellow Worker: Fred Majer

A condensed version of this obituary was published in ASR #78 (Winter 2020)

Stalwart Chicago anarchist Fred Majer, 71, was killed August 8 in an automobile accident in Madison, Wisconsin. His companion, Beth Maas, suffered minor injuries. Fred got involved in the anti-Vietnam war movement in his youth and moved inexorably to an anarchist perspective. He served as branch secretary of the Chicago General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World in the early 1970s and was also active in the Solidarity Bookshop. He was also a proud member and activist in Carpenters Union Local 1, the union of Haymarket anarchist Louis Lingg.

I met Fred in 1981 when he called a Chicago-wide anarchist conference with the aim of uniting Chicago’s anarchists into an active movement. Chicago Anarchists United and its successor, Some Chicago Anarchists, hosted a monthly anarchist forum for the next 20 years, and showed the colors at numerous demonstrations where we distributed leaflets explaining an anarchist perspective on the issues at hand. (We weren’t a “Black Bloc” but were more interested in communicating anarchist ideas to other people.) We also put out a more-or-less monthly newsletter in conjunction with the forum, Autonomy: For Individual and Collective Self Rule; much of the contents were Fred’s work.

In 1982 Fred led the way to establish the Autonomy Center, a meeting place and home for Fred’s literature distro project, Impossible Books. The Center hosted the monthly forum and opened itself up for meetings of other groups as well. It was at the Autonomy Center that plans for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the General Strike for the 8-hour Day of May 1, 1886, were hatched. The result of those plans was the Haymarket Anarchist Gathering from May 1 to May 4, 1986, that attracted over 400 anarchists from across the U.S. and Canada to Chicago and filled the streets in one of the largest May Day demonstrations in recent memory. One negative result of the Haymarket Gathering was a split in the CAU and the death of the Autonomy Center

It was during the lead up to the Haymarket Centennial that Fred led the resistance to the attempts of the liberals/social democrats of the Illinois Labor History Society to revise history and portray the Haymarket Anarchists as milk-toast social democrats. Every May Day thereafter (or weekend closest to May 1) we held a picnic at the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument at Forest Home (Waldheim) Cemetery with literature and refreshments. Fred often decorated the monument with the portraits of the martyrs and periodically challenged the ILHS revisionists when they came through with their tours.

Defending the legacy of the Haymarket Anarchists was one of Fred’s passions. When the ILHS convinced the U.S. Department of the Interior to declare the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument a National Historical Site in 1998, Fred mobilized Chicago anarchists to attempt to disrupt the dedication spectacle and let those who attended know that the Haymarket Martyrs were Anarchists Not Liberals. There is a video of that confrontation produced by LaborBeat called “Trainwreck of Ideologies.”

A few years later when some of the same forces got the city of Chicago to install a “Free Speech” sculpture at the site of the Haymarket Rally, with a ceremony including a speech by a representative of the Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago anarchists were on hand to protest the travesty. See “Trainwreck of Ideologies II,” also by LaborBeat.

Another of Fred’s passions was opposition to war. When the Bush II regime invaded Iraq in 2003 Fred was among the 15,000 Chicagoans who took over Lake Shore Drive in protest. Subsequently Fred became more and more critical of the so-called anti-war “movement” in Chicago that became bogged down in mobilizing periodic marches through the empty streets of downtown Chicago, yelling at empty buildings. Fred felt that anti-war demonstrations should take place in the neighborhoods where people lived and would actually see and hear the opposition to war.  So he started the Northside Peace Gathering that met every Saturday in Logan Square for the next 16 years to protest war and capitalism.

In 2011 when the working class of Wisconsin rose up against Republican Governor Scott Walker’s attacks on public sector workers Fred began travelling up to Madison to join the protests. After that upsurge died down Fred continued to travel to Madison to join ongoing protests in defense of workers’ rights.

On October 13 a few of Fred’s family and friends got together at Waldheim to scatter Fred’s ashes at the Monument. Fred was a comrade and friend who was not always easy to get along with, but he was dedicated to the fight against church, state and capital. He will be missed.

— Mike Hargis

ASR 77 (Fall 2019)

3 WOBBLES: Anti-Labor Law, Climate Change & Shorter Hours, Deep Concessions for Carpenters

5 SYNDICALIST NEWS compiled by Michael Hargis

7 Wayfair Workers Protest Shipments to Detention Centers by Mark R. Wolff

9 ARTICLES: Trump: Just the Tip of the Iceberg by Wayne Price

12 Working Ourselves into Misery by Jon Bekken

14 Forgotten Victims? The Workers Killed by the RCMP During the Winnipeg General Strike by Jeff Shantz

15 Paul Goodman’s Anarchism: Its Contemporary Meaning by Wayne Price

18 The Symbols of Anarchy by Iain McKay

21 Precursors of Syndicalism III: Kropotkin’s Anarchist Communism by Iain McKay

24 Anarchists and Unions by Petr Kropotkin

26 Hal Draper on Proudhon: Anatomy of a Smear by Iain McKay

29 REVIEWS: Choke Points: Disrupting the Global Chain of Exploitation Review by Dana Williams

30 The Revolutionary Anarchist-Socialism of Errico Malatesta Review by Wayne Price

33 Anarchists on War and Peace Review by Iain McKay

36 Castro & the Cuban Revolution Review by Tony Sheather

38 Proletarian Days Review by Jon Bekken

39 Anarchists in Russia Review by Raymond S. Solomon

39 LETTERS: Iran, Trump, State Capitalist Repression

ASR 76 (Summer 2019)

3.Global May Day Call

4.Wobbles Economic Stagnation, Amazon’s Hell Holes

5.The Shrinking Middle Class by Raymond S. Solomon

6. International Labor News Mexican Wildcats, Iran Teachers, Namibian Miners, Yellow Vests, Women’s Day Strikes compiled by Michael Hargis

9. Anarcho-Syndicalism in Bangladesh by AKM Shihab

10.Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia: Anarchist Education & the Revolutionary General Strike by Michael Long

16.Work People’s College by Jon Bekken

18.Reflections on Yiddish Anarchist Movements by Raymond S. Solomon

21. Precursors of Syndicalism II: The “Chicago Idea”  by Iain McKay

23. The International by Albert Parsons, The Alarm,1885

24. The Poststructuralist “Discovery” of Power & the Human Subject  by Brian Morris

30.Anarchism’s Relevance to Black & Working Class Strategy: Dispelling Ten Myths by Lucien van der Walt

35.REVIEWS Lucy Parsons’ Revolutionary Life by Michael Hargis

36. Spain’s Defeat by Martin Comack

37.Mafia-States by Jeff Stein

38. Anarcho-Syndicalism and the IWW by Jon Bekken

39.Struggling Against Work & Capitalism by Iain McKay

40. Who Rules the World? by Tony Sheather

42.Yiddish Anarchism Conference Report

42.POEM At Strife by David Edelstadt

43. Letters Support the Rojava Revolution, Taft-Hartley

A Global May Day

The following call to action is part of a common framework that aims to help connect May Day activities and support communication on the global level.

Every year people take to the streets and go on strike on May 1st to commemorate International Workers’ Day. With the following call, which was initiated by several syndicates of the grassroot unions Free Workers’ Union (FAU) and Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), we want to encourage groups on the grassroot level, labor unions and initiatives worldwide to link their May Day activities and by doing so provide visibility to the transnational dimension of the struggle.

We, workers and students, will stand together in solidarity, because we are all involved in the same struggle against profit-driven interests regardless of our place of residence. Budget cuts in social services, outsourcing, depressing wages, privatization, increasing costs of living as well as tuition fees are just a few of the symptoms directly related to the global economic system. A system that is based on exploitation and competition leads to commercialization of all aspects of our lives.

The constantly increasing pressure to perform is sickening, be it at the workplace, university, school, and increasingly even during childhood and youth. The logic of the market economy and the corresponding nation-state structures require that adaption to the dictate of competitiveness and the value-added production take priority over the development of emancipatory capabilities.

We do not intend to simply disrupt; we seek to overcome.

Given the transnational nature of the capitalist system, it is necessary for workers to connect on the global level. By networking across borders, the global interconnections that shape our local conditions can be made visible. Furthermore it opens up new potentialities and scopes of action within the struggle against exploitation as well precarious working and living conditions. The bargaining power of workers would increase tremendously, if we were to unite within the same value-added chain. Let us imagine what differences it would have made, if the striking miners in Marikana (South Africa) and workers of the BASF chemical plants located in Germany were connected and had united in their struggle given that BASF is the primary purchaser of the resources produced by the miners. Such linkages could have significantly altered or perhaps even prevented the 2012 massacre.

Another example are garment workers in Sri Lanka (producing textiles for the retailing company H&M) who fought for wages enabling them a proper living on November 27, 2018. On the same day groups across Europe and the USA organised activities in solidarity in front of outlets of H&M. This shows that pressure can be generated through a network of actors within the value-added chain, from the producing workers to those working in the retails stores and those purchasing the product.

The same applies to strike actions taking place at Amazon: For example the labor union ver.di called for strikes in 2016 at logistical centers across Germany. Since logistical centers in Poland were used as evasive locations, the labor union IP organized solidarity actions. By now action groups are forming at Amazon centers around the world, which are also increasingly shaping a network.

Last but not least IT workers are resisting precarious working conditions and get organized across borders. As an example we want to point out the initiative Game Workers Unite! and mention the walkout by workers at Google, which was joined by tens of thousands of people in 50 cities worldwide last November.

With a transnationally coordinated May Day 2019 we strive to realize a collective goal of a better life by networking and building solidarity on a global scale. Especially in times of increasing nationalist and racist tendencies, we emphasize the common struggle and resist being played off against each other.

For a better life for all – across all borders!

Initial supporters: Bangladesh Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation,  Free Workers’ Union (FAU) Hamburg. Inter-Factory Workers’ Federation (FBLP) Jakarta, Forum for IT Employees (FITE) India, Garment Workers’ Trade Union Center (GWTUC) Bangladesh, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Gainesville, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Hamburg

Each syndicate/group/union will organize its activities autonomously with their own focus. More details available on this blog: https://globalmayday.wordpress.com

ASR 75 (winter 2019)

3. EDITORIAL: Capitalism & the Destruction of the Planet

4. Wobbles: Bust Goes the Boom, Unions After Janus …

6. International Labor News Compiled by Mike Hargis

9. ARTICLES: White House Economists Warn of Danger from “Socialists” by Wayne Price

11. Renewing and Reforming Labor: The Case for Anarcho-Syndicalism  by Lucien van der Walt

16. The “Green New Deal”: Indigenous, Labor, Environmental Alliances in Washington State by Jeff Shantz

17. What is the Political ‘Lesser Evil’? by Wayne Price

19. Fair Go or Futility?  by Tony Sheather

22. Precursors of Syndicalism introduction by Iain McKay

22. Workers Societies by Eugène Varlin (Iain McKay, trans.)

23. Personal Stories, Familiar Tales by Tony Sheather

25. Propertarianism & Fascism by Iain McKay

30. The Roots of Privatization by Iain McKay

31. REVIEWS: The Egyptian Spring review by Jeff Stein

33. Real Politics Declassified review essay by Raymond Solomon

34. Red Ireland review by Martin Comack

35. The Anarchist Lives of Helene Minkin & Johann Most review by Thomas Klikauer

36. Worker Resistance & Media review by Jon Bekken

38. LETTERS: Documenting Wobbly History, Labor Rights Under Attack in Sweden

The “Green New Deal”

Indigenous, Labor, Environmental Alliances in Washington State

by Jeff Shantz, ASR 75

A compelling coalition of labor, environmental and Indigenous activists has developed in Washington State around a campaign for social, economic and environmental justice. The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy brings together dozens of groups working on these issues. Recognizing the disproportionately negative impacts of ecological crises on racialized communities, the alliance includes around 60 organizations addressing economic and political issues in communities of color that have formed a coalition called Front and Centered.

The focus of the alliance is the Protect Washington Act, or ballot initiative 1631, an effort to legislatively address issues of climate crisis and economic injustice in the state. Workers see the prospect of creating tens of thousands of new jobs with very high labor standards, and healthier environments, written right into the terms of investment. Indigenous communities see possibilities for support for pressing environmental protection work.

A Green New Deal?

The ballot initiative is supported by an economic assessment from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts. It calls for large scale reductions in CO2 emissions of 20 million tons per year. By 2035, CO2 emissions would be 40 percent lower than they were in 2014.

Beyond this, the initiative would place a carbon-emissions fee on major polluters, and would use the billions of dollars in revenue collected for a series of investments in clean energy and water. The proposal would see that money directed to employers with a high-wage, labor-protection model. Significantly, money would be earmarked to be spent on the economic, environmental and health-care restoration of those communities most negatively impacted and threatened by global climate change. Some examples of programs would include low-income energy assistance programs; there would also be job retraining and wage and benefit protections for workers in fossil-fuel-reliant industries over the course of a generation while those industries are phased out.*

There will also be resources made available for Indigenous communities deeply feeling impacts of ecological crises and dealing with pressing impacts from climate change. As one example, the Quinault Indian Nation, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula coast, is seeing its historic burial grounds and sacred sites inundated with sea water rises. Portions of its ancestral lands around the coastal villages of Taholah and Queets are already becoming uninhabitable. If ballot initiative 1631 passes, there will be more resources and funds available to protect habitat and develop greater resilience.

Supporters are calling this a Green New Deal. The idea is to use money raised through the $15 per ton fee on CO2 emissions to create so-called glide paths to full retirement for workers in fossil fuel industries within five years of retiring. For workers who had worked in these industries for between one and five years, there would be a year of guaranteed income, health care and retirement contributions for every year worked by that worker. Workers who had worked in the fossil fuel industry for more than five years would be covered with a wage insurance program for up to five years to make up for any income difference between their wages in the fossil fuel industry and the new wages in a non-fossil fuel industry. The aim is to have a just transition to new work rather than simply retraining.

The Western States Petroleum Association and conservative PACs are lining up to throw millions behind a “No on 1631” campaign. So clearly some of them see some initial costs.

Promise and Problems

The main positive aspects of this sort of campaign are educational and relational. First, they can be educational in developing knowledge, practical awareness and tactical insights for workers and environmentalists that their struggles are shared as a step in moving beyond the still potent “jobs versus environment” false choice promoted by capital and politicians (as in the pipeline debates in Canada currently). They can teach workers and environmentalists about shared points of interest and intersections of issues. They can also offer potentially important opportunities for all to learn about Indigenous communities, struggles for sovereignty, and land defense, among others.

Second, these campaigns have a potentially significant relational aspects as workers, environmentalists and Indigenous people (recognizing these are not mutually exclusive) organize together and build real relationships in shared campaign work.

These first two benefits are only realized where the work goes beyond the ballot perspectives and where that specific campaign is seen for being as limited as it is. That is, the campaign cannot be viewed as a real solution to ecological crises.

From a green syndicalist perspective, workers, environmentalists and Indigenous people working together, strategizing together, is a positive development. It can lead to more radical, thoroughgoing approaches to stop ecological destruction.

But addressing ecological crises (beyond climate crisis) must challenge relations of ownership, control, production, and exchange. Otherwise, the planet and labor will continue to be used as resources, commodities, for exploitation and accumulation. And ecological crises will be extended by new means.

Worker, community control and Indigenous land struggles challenge the fundamental relations of ownership, control, production in which ecological crises are rooted and reproduced.

Moving Forward

Initiatives like this campaign also take real power out of and away from its source and put it in the hands of a mediator – the state – that is never neutral and in issues like this always acts on behalf of capital and capitalist conditions of exploitation and profit. These do nothing to change property relations, labor relations, production regimes, decision-making hierarchies.

Like the original “New Deal” from which this initiative takes its nickname, such statist projects are about the preservation of capitalism from crises of its own making, rather than an end, or even a phase-out, of capitalism. So this will likely be another mechanism for state capitalist regulation and management – for accumulation and reintegration of labor for exploitation. Moreover, the original New Deal work projects served to break down and replace local, community-based mutual aid efforts and substitute statist projects.

It is not clear what real impact such legislation will have on what it is trying to address. Companies can lobby to recoup these costs with other means (such as taxation). And, as we have seen in Canada, subsequent governments can simply cancel or modify such legislation – as happened with carbon pricing in Ontario, cancelled by Doug Ford’s class war Conservative government.

If the coalition can evolve its alliances in directions suggestive of autonomy, solidarity and self-determining action, which it still could, then there are real possibilities here. At the very least the prospects of something more (coordinated action building workplace and community power and controls) might move beyond the limitations of the ballot campaign as those become clear.

*The description of initiative 1631 is informed by Sasha Abramsky, “This Washington State Ballot Measure Fights for Both Jobs and Climate Justice” in The Nation, August 13-20, 2018.

ASR 74 (Summer 2018)

3. Wobbles: Grand Theft Paycheck, Right to Work, Fare-Free Transit, World Bank Attacks Labor Rights …
5. International Labor News Compiled by Mike Hargis
7. Stephen Hawking (1940-2018) And Us by Frank Mintz, translated by Maria Gil
8. Immokalee Workers Protest Wendy’s by John Kalwaic
9. Israelis Protest for African Refugees by Raymond S. Solomon
10. ARTICLES: Teachers Rise Up by Jon Bekken
13. Notes on Anarchist Economics by Iain McKay
14. Liberal Illusions & Delusions by Wayne Price
16. ‘It’s Like A Rainbow’: Australian Political Watermelons by Tony Sheather
19. Wobblies of the World Review essay by Jon Bekken
22. Yours for Industrial Freedom Review by Jon Bekken
23. The Dead End of Electoralism by Wayne Price
24. Some libertarian insights on fascism by Sarthak Tomar
25. REVIEWS: Overcoming the Politics of Division & Fear Review essay by Wayne Price
28. Anarchists Never Surrender Review by Iain McKay
32. The Anvil of War Review by Jeff Stein
32. Anarchists in the Bavarian Revolution Review by Thomas Klikauer
34. Bookchin’s Revolution Review by Iain McKay
36. Left of the Far Left Review by Raymond Solomon
37. Anarchism in Galicia Review by Jeff Stein
38. The Limerick Brigadistas Film review by John Kalwaic
39. LETTERS: Fighting on Every Front

Peter Kropotkin’s Anarchist Communism

LIBERTARIAN LABOR REVIEW #11 (1992) pp 19-24

by Jon Bekken

Note: This is the second of a two-part article in our ongoing series on anarchist economics. Jeff Stein’s review of the book Looking Forward in this issue is also part of this series. We welcome articles and letters joining in this discussion.

Kropotkin believed that the purpose of anarchist economics, indeed of any viable economic theory, was to satisfy human needs as efficiently as possible-to promote “the economical and social value of the human being.” LLR #11 presented Kropotkin’s argument that capitalism fails miserably on this score; this issue briefly reviews Kropotkin’s conception of the economic framework of a free society.

Our comrades began developing the idea of anarchist communism in the 1870s, during the course of the struggle within the First International against Marx’s authoritarianism. Kropotkin did not originate the theory (though many of its elements can be found in his earliest writings), but he quickly became one of its most prominent advocates. His arguments were influential in convincing the anarchist movement to abandon earlier mutualist and collectivist economic theories in favor of the anarchist communist principles supported by most anarchists by the mid-1880s. [1]

Anarchist Communism

Economists, Kropotkin argued, made a fundamental mistake in beginning their studies from the standpoint of production. Instead, economics should be approached from the standpoint of consumption–of human needs. Needs should govern production; the purpose of anarchist economics is not so much to understand the workings of the capitalist economy (to the extent that it can be said to work at all), but rather to study “the needs of mankind, and the means of satisfying them with the least possible waste of human energy.” Although human needs are not met at present, there were no technical reasons why every family could not have comfortable homes, sufficient food, etc. The problem was not to increase productivity alone; rather, “production, having lost sight of the needs of man, has strayed in an absolutely wrong direction…”[2]

If the goal of an anarchist revolution was the well-being of all, then expropriation (of cities, houses, land, factories, etc.) must be the means. “This rich endowment, painfully won, built, fashioned or invented by our ancestors, must become common property, so that the collective interests of men may gain from it the greatest good for all.” Society, Kropotkin was convinced, must be reconstituted on a communist basis if humanity was ever to be truly free.

Everyone has, above all, the right to live, a free society must share the means of existence among all, without exception. “From the first day of the revolution the worker shall know that a new era is opening … that henceforth none need crouch under the bridges while palaces are hard by, none need fast in the midst of plenty… ”

In his monumental work, The Conquest of Bread, Kropotkin devoted a lengthy chapter to rebutting such common objections as the notion that nobody would work without compulsion and that overseers were necessary to enforce quality standards. Free association, Kropotkin argued, was the solution to most of these objections. If sluggards and loafers began to proliferate, they should be fed to the extent that available resources permitted, but treated as “ghost[s) of bourgeois society.” But very few people would in fact refuse to contribute to society, “there will be no need to manufacture a code of laws on their account.”[3]

Economists’ arguments in favor of property actually “only prove that man really produces most when he works in freedom…” Kropotkin argued that, far from shirking work when they do not receive a wage, when people work cooperatively for the good of all they achieve feats of productivity never realizable through economic or state coercion.

Well-being, that is to say the satisfaction of physical, artistic and moral needs, has always been the most powerful stimulant to work … A free worker, who sees ease and luxury increasing for him and for others in proportion to his efforts spends infinitely far more energy and intelligence, and obtains first-class products in a far greater abundance.[4]

To the extent possible, all goods and services should be provided free of charge to all. Goods available in abundance should be available without limit; those in short supply should be rationed. Already, Kropotkin noted, many goods were provided based on need. Bridges no longer require tolls for passage; parks and gardens are open to all; many railroads offer monthly or annual passes; schools and roads are free; water is supplied to every house; libraries provide information to all without considering ability to pay, and offer assistance to those who do not know how to manage the catalogue. (That many of these services have been eroded in recent years does not invalidate his premise.)

New organizations, based on the same principle—to every man according to his needs—spring up under a thousand different forms; for without a certain leaven of Communism the present societies could not exist ….

Suppose that one of our great cities, so egotistic in ordinary times, were visited tomorrow by some calamity … that same selfish city would decide that the first needs to satisfy were those of the children and the aged ….

How can we doubt, then, that when the instruments of production are placed at the service of all, when business is conducted on Communist principles, when labor, having recovered its place of honor in society, produces much more than is necessary to all—how can we doubt that this force (already so powerful will enlarge its sphere of action till it becomes the ruling principle of social life?[5]

Neither corporate nor government control of the economy served any useful purpose. Already in the 19th century letters could be sent between most countries without any overarching authority whatsoever. Instead, free agreements between scores of autonomous postal systems together made up an integrated postal network. Kropotkin cited several such examples to demonstrate that voluntary and completely non-coercive organizations could provide a complex network of services without the intervention of higher authorities. To this day one can travel across Europe over the lines of a dozen railway systems (capitalist and state “communist”) coordinated by voluntary agreements without any kind of central railway authority.

There is no reason to imagine that similar principles could not be realized locally as well. As Colin Ward notes,

the whole pyramid of hierarchical authority, which has been built up in industry as in every other sphere of life, is a giant confidence trick …. Ossification began from the center …

Every kind of human activity should begin from what is local and immediate, should link in a network with no center and no directing agency, hiving off new cells as the original ones grow. If there is any human activity that does not appear to fit this pattern our first question should be “Why not?” and our second should be “How can we re-arrange it so as to provide for local autonomy, local responsibility, and the fulfillment of local needs.”[6]

Methods

The new society would not be built through gradualist strategies or through government-imposed reforms-it could only be constructed by the people themselves, through direct action. Social revolution could not be imposed from above; rather society should be organized from below, and the revolution made by “the creative genius of local forces.”[7] Kropotkin originally argued that strikes and other labor struggles could not substantially improve workers’ conditions, but later said the anarchist movement had

always advised taking an active part in those workers’ organizations which carry on the direct struggle of labor against capital and its protector—the State. Such a struggle… permits the worker to obtain some temporary improvements in the present conditions of work, while it opens his eyes to the evil that is done by capitalism and the State that supports it, and wakes up his thoughts concern the possibility of organizing consumption, production and exchange without the intervention of the capitalist and the State.[8]

Kropotkin called for expropriation not only of the means of production (land, mines, factories, etc.), but of all goods.

All is interdependent in a civilized society; it is impossible to reform anyone thing without altering the whole. On that day when we strike at private property… we shall be obliged to attack all its manifestations …. Once the principle of the “divine right of property” is shaken. No amount of theorizing will prevent its overthrow, here by the slaves of the soil, there by the slaves of the machine.

Since human beings “are not savages who can live in the woods without other shelter than the branches,” people will demand housing, food, clothing, and other items of consumption necessary to live any kind of decent life.[9]

Shorter Hours

Kropotkin argued that, based upon the technology of his day, people would need put in no more than five hours a day of labor (for 25 years or so of their lives) in order to satisfy their needs for food, clothing, housing, wine, transportation and related necessities.

When we take into account how many, in the so-called civilized nations, produce nothing, how many work at harmful trades doomed to disappear, and lastly, how many are only useless middlemen, we see that in each nation the number of real producers could be doubled. [Kropotkin was writing at the dawn of the 20th century, the proportion is certainly very much higher today.] … In fact, work could be reduced to four or even three hours a day, to produce all the goods that are produced now ….

Such a society could in return guarantee wellbeing more substantial than that enjoyed today by the middle classes. And, moreover, each worker belonging to this society would have at his disposal at least five hours a day which he could devote to science, art, and individual needs which do not come under the category of necessities, but will probably do so later on, when man’s productivity will have been augmented and those objects will no longer appear luxurious.[10]

This latter point was, for Kropotkin, of the greatest importance. It was not enough merely to meet people’s material wants-human beings must also be free to pursue their artistic and aesthetic senses. Kropotkin believed that luxury, far from being wasteful, was an absolute necessity. But if these joys, “now reserved to a few … to give leisure and the possibility of developing everyone’s intellectual capacities,” were to be obtained for all, then “the social revolution must guarantee daily bread to all.”[11]

Tastes, Kropotkin recognized, varied widely. Some people required telescopes and laboratories to complete their lives, others require dance halls or machine shops. But all of this activity was best removed from the confines of capitalist production and carried out on a voluntary, cooperative basis after participants had completed their few hours of necessary labor. Freed from the drudgery of capitalist production, we would all be free to develop our creative instincts. Kropotkin was certain that the result would be finer art, available to all, and dramatic scientific advances (science was, after all, until relatively recently an entirely voluntary endeavor),

Work Need Not be Painful

Under current conditions, Kropotkin recognized, to do productive labor meant long hours in unhealthy workshops, chained to the same task for 20 or 30 years—maybe for one’s entire life. It means living on a paltry wage, never sure what tomorrow will bring; and little opportunity to pursue the delights of science and art. But it was overwork, not work itself, that was repulsive to human nature:

Overwork for supplying the few with luxury—not work for the well-being of all. Work is a … necessity which is health and life itself. If so many branches of useful work are so reluctantly done now, it is merely because they mean overwork, or they are improperly organized… As to the childish question, repeated for fifty years: “Who would do disagreeable work?” frankly I regret that none of our savants has ever been brought to do it… If there is still work which is really disagreeable in itself, it is only because our scientific men have never cared to consider the means of rendering it less so. They have always known that there were plenty of starving men who would do it for a few cents a day.[12]

Kropotkin welcomed mechanization, so that “those who are now the beasts of burden of humanity [may] raise their backs … to become at last men.” But at the same time he recognized that capitalism often introduced machinery in ways destructive both to human life and to the environment. Kropotkin was an early critic of factory farming in the midwestern United States, noting its propensity to exhaust the soil. Machinery must be integrated with rational cultivation practices and small-scale production.[13]

For Kropotkin, the purpose of agriculture—­as all economic activity—was to meet human needs. Today, of course, production has little if anything to do with meeting human needs. A study of famines around the world, for example, has found no correlation between food production and starvation—indeed food is often exported from areas where people are dying of hunger and hunger-related diseases.[14] Even in Kropotkin’s day, entire cities produced nothing but shoddy, second-rate goods, while other towns specialized in the manufacture of luxury goods out of reach of the bulk of the population.

Production must be reorganized on a new basis, and shifted from luxury and export goods to meeting genuine human needs. But it was not simply a matter of producing different goods—the way work was organized and carried out must be fundamentally transformed. When workers controlled their own workplaces, they would no longer tolerate poor conditions or allow their energies to be squandered in anti-social production.

Kropotkin felt it was also necessary to attack the division of labor that both Marxist and capitalist political economists have extolled as a prerequisite of improved productivity (although Marx did argue that ultimately labor should be reintegrated). Kropotkin was prepared to concede that it might well be the case that a person who did only one thing, over and over again, might indeed become quite proficient at it. But such a worker “would lose all interest in his work [and] would be entirely at the mercy of his employer with his limited handicraft.”

It is not enough, after the revolution, to simple reduce the hours of labor. Kropotkin found the notion that workers should be confined to a single repetitious activity a “horrible principle, so noxious to society, so brutalizing to the individual…” The Social Revolution must abolish the separation between manual and brain work, give workers control of their workplaces, abolish wage labor. “Then work will no longer appear a curse of fate; it will become what it should be-the free exercise of all the faculties of man.”[15] Under the rubric of the division of labor, those who actually make things are not supposed to think or make decisions, while others “have the privilege of thinking for the others, and … think badly because the whole world of those who toil with their hands is unknown to them.”

The division of labor means labelling and stamping men for life—some to splice rope in factories, some to be foremen in a business, others to shove huge coal baskets in a particular part of a mine; but none of them to have any idea of machinery as a whole, nor of business, nor of mines. And thereby they destroy the love of work and the capacity for invention… [16]

It would be far better, Kropotkin argued, for teachers to share in the duties of washing the floors, sweeping the school-yard, and the myriad of other tasks essential to school operations, than to allow the formation of an intelligentsia, “an aristocracy of skilled labor.”[17]

And much of the advantage derived from the division of labor is in any event lost through the necessity it creates to cart goods from place to place, and to create enormous bureaucracies to coordinate production of disparate parts that must ultimately be integrated into a single machine. “It is foolish indeed to export wheat and to import flour, to export wool and import cloth, to export iron and import machinery; not only because transportation is a waste of time and money, but, above all, because … the industrial and technical capacities … remain undeveloped if they are not exercised in a variety of industries.”[18]

Kropotkin argued that work duties should be rotated, that agricultural and industrial production should be integrated, that towns should (insofar as possible) produce their own food, and their own industrial products. The division of labor, in industry and in international trade, has been used as a mechanism for despoiling the great majority. With economic self-reliance, Kropotkin argued, people would be able to ensure that their needs were met. The advantages of centralized production are similarly illusory. While it is sometimes convenient for capitalists to bring their operations under central control (although even they increasingly find it necessary to encourage local initiative), this is not because of any technical advantages. Industry is centralized to facilitate market domination, not because of often non-existent economies of scale.[19] To this day the high-tech, advanced industries so often held up to demonstrate the superiority of centralized control are often carried out in small-scale, dispersed operations. Decentralization is, in fact, more efficient.

Abolish the Wage System

Kropotkin argued that the coming social revolution’s “great[est] service to humanity” would be “to make the wage system in all its forms an impossibility.”[20] In Kropotkin’s day, most socialists acknowledged the need to abolish the wage system, but argued for its replacement by labor tokens representing either the “value” of people’s labor or time put in on the job. Kropotkin, too, argued for such a system in 1873.[21] But he soon concluded that such schemes were both wildly impractical and thoroughly reformist:

Once the abolition of private property is proclaimed, and the possession in common of all the means of production is introduced, how can the wages system be maintained in any form? This is, nevertheless, what collectivists are doing when they recommend the use of the ‘labor-cheques’ as a mode of renumeration for labor.[22]

Today labor vouchers are out of favor, but most socialists still accept the wage system and money, often disguised as consumption credits, as inevitable. Proponents of such schemes argue that they are needed “in order to avoid systematic and massive misallocation of time and resources.” The marketplace is, of course, a time-tested mechanism for ascertaining social needs and preferences for goods. The reason there is mass starvation in Africa is not because the market doesn’t work to meet human needs, but because our fellow workers prefer not to eat.

Such devices make sense only within the framework of a market economy where goods are produced and distributed not on the basis of need, but on ability to pay. Whether such an economic system maintains wage differentials (the arguments against these were reviewed in the first installment) or proclaims equal wages (or, perhaps, wage differentials favoring those engaged in “disagreeable or unhealthy work”), it nevertheless upholds an organization of production and consumption which originated in private property and which is realizable only within its constraints.[23]

Kropotkin refuted such arguments 100 years ago, when they were still fresh:

They say, “No private property,” and immediately after strive to maintain private property in its daily manifestations ….

It can never be. For the day on which old institutions will fall under the proletarian axe voices will call our: ‘Bread, shelter, ease for all!’ And those voices will be listened to; the people will say: ‘Let us begin by allaying our thirst for life, for happiness, for liberty, that we have never quenched. And when we shall have tasted of this joy, we will set to work to demolish the last vestiges of middle class rule: its morality drawn from account· books its “debit and credit” philosophy … and we shall build in the name of Communism and Anarchy.[24]

If there was a genuine shortage of necessities, Kropotkin argued that it was more just to ration goods than to maintain mechanisms for exchange. The wage system, in all its forms, should be rejected in favor of communist principles; for if wages are to be maintained (whether based on labor, or any other measure) a State apparatus is perforce necessary as well.

But the fundamental point, for Kropotkin, was that people must seize control of their economic destiny—must be prepared to experiment with new processes and new methods of organization while taking advantage of the existing methods to meet immediate needs. The technical means of satisfying human needs, Kropotkin was convinced, were at hand,

The only thing that may be wanting to the Revolution is the boldness of initiative …. Ceasing to produce for unknown buyers, and looking in its midst for needs and tastes to be satisfied, society will liberally assure the life and ease of each of its members, as well as that moral satisfaction which work gives when freely chosen and freely accomplished… [25]

The Social Revolution would build on the basis of what was—seizing the existing industries and goods to meet immediate needs and as the building blocks from which we would construct a free society. And while it is neither possible nor desirable to spell out in every detail how such an economy might operate, Kropotkin argued that it was in fact essential to think about its general outlines in advance, so that we might build with a purpose.

Expropriation, direct action, federalism and self-management were, for Kropotkin, the means. But a society not built upon communist principles would inevitably succumb to the central power it established to oversee production and distribution. Only the free distribution of necessities, in all their variety, on the basis not of position or productivity, but of need, was compatible with a free society.

Notes:

  1. Caroline Cahm, Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism, Cambridge University Press, 1989, pp. 41-67.
  2. Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, New York University Press, 1972 (reprint of 1913 edition), pp. 190-92. Kropotkin raised similar arguments in his early (1873) essay, “Must We Occupy Ourselves with an Examination of the Ideal of a Future System?” In: M. Miller (ed.) Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution (MIT Press, 1970).
  3. Conquest of Bread, pp. 55, 170,174.
  4. Conquest of Bread, pp. 161-63.
  5. Conquest of Bread, pp. 63-65.
  6. Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action, Freedom Press, 1982, pp. 54, 58.
  7. Kropotkin, Letter to Lenin (1920), p. 337. In: Miller.
  8. Kropotkin, “Modern Science and Anarchism” (1903), p. 171. In: R. Baldwin (ed.): Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, Dover Publications, 1970.
  9. Kropotkin, “Expropriation” (1895), pp. 171-72. In: Miller.
  10. Conquest of Bread, pp. 122-23.
  11. Conquest of Bread, p. 124.
  12. Kropotkin, “Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles” (1891), p. 71. In: Baldwin.
  13. Conquest of Bread, pp. 70,75-76.
  14. Amartya Sen, Poverty and Famines (Clarendon Press, 1981). I take this summary from Ralf Dahrendorf’s The Modern Social Conflict, p. 9 (University of California Press, 1988).
  15. Conquest of Bread, p. 164.
  16. Conquest of Bread, pp. 198-99.
  17. “Must We Occupy Ourselves … ?” p. 56. In: Miller.
  18. Conquest of Bread, p. 206.
  19. Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow (1899), pp. 153-54 (Freedom Press, 1985).
  20. “Expropriation,” p. 180. In: Miller.
  21. “Must We Occupy Ourselves … ?” pp. 68-69.
  22. Kropotkin, “The Wage System,” pp. 94-96. In: V. Richards, Why Work (Freedom Press). Conquest of Bread, p. 176.
  23. For an example of one such approach see Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel’s Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty-First Century, reviewed this issue. Similarly, the WSA’s Richard Laubach argues, in the Discussion Bulletin (#23, May 1987, p. 21; #25, Sept. 1987, pp. 17-22), for “giving all workers a set of votes on what to produce … ‘consumption credits'” used “to acquire goods and services [and thereby] provide information about the community’s cumulative preferences.” (He does not mean that we would inform central planners of our consumption plans for the coming year; an unwieldy system, though not a market economy. Instead, consumers would be provided with an equal number of “consumption credits” which they would use to buy things from stores, just as with money.) We are clearly talking about money here, and an economic system which must quickly either revert to a full-fledged market economy or to central planning—in either case one that has little if anything to do with meeting human needs and promoting human freedom.
  24. Conquest of Bread, pp. 179, 189.
  25. Conquest of Bread, p. 229.

Kropotkin’s Anarchist Critique of Capitalism

Libertarian Labor Review 11 (1991) pp 19-24.

by Jon Bekken

Introduction: This is the second installment in our ongoing overview of anarchist economic ideas. (For an outline of the project, see the introduction to “Proudhon’s Economic Legacy” published in LLR #10.) As noted last issue, we welcome contributions of articles and letters to this discussion.

Peter Kropotkin devoted a major part of his prolific anarchist writings to two related themes: examining the actual workings of capitalist economies and developing the broad outlines of an anarchist-communist society. Kropotkin was not satisfied to merely assert that’ a free society was possible, he sought to show how such a society could be constructed from the materials at hand-realizing that a revolutionary movement that failed to consider the problems of production and distribution would quickly collapse. This installment outlines Kropotkin’s critique of capitalist political economy; next issue will turn to his positive economic program. This distinction, however, is somewhat arbitrary, as Kropotkin always preferred to illustrate what might be by pointing to what already was.

Economic Doctrine

For Kropotkin, the purpose of political economy was to study society’s needs and the means available (either currently in use, or which could be developed with present knowledge) to meet them.

It should try to analyze how far the present means are expedient and satisfactory … [and] should concern itself with the discovery of means for the satisfaction of these needs with the smallest possible waste of labor and with the greatest benefit to mankind in general. [1]

It was this task that Kropotkin took on.

Rather than engage in the abstract theorizing that dominated, then as now, the field, he carried out detailed studies of the agricultural and industrial techniques practical in his day (whether they were in general use or not) and their capacity to meet human needs.

Unlike most economists, Kropotkin insisted on subjecting economic theories to the same rigorous inquiry he would apply to any “scientific” theory:

When certain economists tell us that “in a perfectly free market the price of commodities is measured by the amount of labor socially necessary for their production,” we do not take this assertion on faith …. We not only find most of these so-called laws grossly erroneous, but maintain also that those who believe in them will themselves become convinced of their error as soon as they come to see the necessity of verifying the[m] … by quantitative investigation.

While there certainly was a relationship between the price of commodities and the amount of labor necessary for their production, Kropotkin argued, they were by no means proportional to one another (as the Labor Theory of Value would imply). Nor had socialist economists troubled themselves to investigate whether or not the theory was true by actually gathering data to test the alleged relationship. Anyone who took the trouble to engage in such an investigation would quickly learn that the theory was false. We need only consider the price of oil or gold to realize that these prices are set not by the amount of labor power required to extract and process them, but rather by external market and social conditions. Most so-called economic laws, Kropotkin concluded, were mere suppositions. And although socialist economists “criticize some of these deductions … it has not yet been original enough to find a path of its own.” [2]

Thus, when Marx argued against Proudhon that all products exchanged at (or, at least, fluctuated around) their labor value, he was implicitly arguing for what has been called the Iron Law of Wages (though Marx later refuted himself by conceding that union activity could decrease the level of exploitation). The Socialist Party of Great Britain and similar tendencies are wholly correct when they maintain that a Marxian analysis ,requires that all commodities– including labor power–are valued under capitalism at the cost of their reproduction, which in tum is determined by the most-productive available methods. (Thus a shirt that take 60 minutes to make by hand or five minutes to make by machine sells for the same price on the world market.)

There is, of course, an element of truth to this–which is why the theory was widely accepted by the labor movement. But, as we shall see, it mistakes an association for a causal relationship. The commodity theory of labor would indicate that only by increasing productivity can workers make possible an improved standard of living, and only through socialist revolution can those possible improvements be actually realized. (Otherwise, the benefits merely accrue to the capitalists and their underlings.)

This doctrine leads inevitably to the conclusion th.at wage struggles are essentially a waste of time and energy (though workers, through hundreds of years of struggle, have proved the opposite), and that the only alternative to competing against each other into ever-greater immiseration is a state-managed, planned economy which can determine labor values and ensure their equitable distribution. But this doctrine is wholly false. I tum, below, to Kropotkin’s proof that wage levels have nothing to do with the cost of reproduction. But the essential point is that wage levels, like the price of all commodities, are set not by their cost of production or the amount of labor they require, but by the relative economic, military and social power held by the respective parties. Monopolies, cartels, police clubs, prisons, labor organization, co-operative associations–these and other power relationships skew the relative “value” of commodities, or at least of the price that can be gotten for them. (And it really matters very little whether a canteloupe has a theoretical, labor-derived value of 25 cents if all the stores charge a dollar.)

Capitalism Not Productive

Like most socialists, Kropotkin initially assumed that an abundance of goods was being produced–and thus that the primary problem facing socialists was arranging their distribution. But when Malatesta suggested that this could not be true, Kropotkin investigated the matter, and found that (quoting Malatesta):

this accumulation of products could not possibly exist, because the bosses normally only allow for the production of what they can sell at a profit … Some countries were continually threatened by shortages.

In fact, there was only enough food on hand in most major cities to sustain the population for a few days. Yet upon further investigation, Kropotkin established that the shortages, economic crises and general distress endemic to his age (and which continue to this day) did not result, as was widely believed, from overpopulation, poor soil, or other such material causes. Rather, they resulted from a failure to utilize the means already at hand to meet society’s needs.[3]

Kropotkin presented his findings in Fields, Factories and Workshops—an anarchist classic that proved that people using then-existing technologies could meet all their needs with just a few months of labor per year. Space precludes anything more than the briefest summary of a volume with which every anarchist should have long since made themselves familiar.

He demonstrated that the technical means then existed to produce abundant and healthful food with relatively little effort or expense (a vision quite distinct from today’s factory farms—the precursors of which already existed, but which, he noted, destroyed the soil for generations to come, as well as displacing people who might otherwise derive a comfortable living from the land). Contrary to many economists, Kropotkin argued for decentralizing agriculture and industry, noting that huge industrial establishments were both less common than generally believed, and established less to realize largely dubious economies of scale than to facilitate managerial control. The doctrine of national specialization or competitive advantage±then coming into prominence, and which has since been used as an excuse to ravish “third world” economies—was demonstrably harmful to the interests of the population. (As is well known to peasants compelled to grow coffee beans and sugar cane on land that could otherwise feed their families.) If the debilitating influences of capitalist control and ignorance could be ended, abundance for all was well within reach.

All this has been proved … despite the innumerable obstacles always thrown in the way of every innovative mind …. For thousands of years … to grow one’s own food was the burden, almost the curse, or mankind. But it need be so no longer … To grow the yearly food of a family, under rational conditions of culture, requires so little labor that it might almost be done as a mere change from other pursuits … And again, you will be struck to see with what facility and in how short a time your needs of dress and of thousands of articles of luxury can be satisfied, when production is carried on for satisfying real needs rather than for satisfying shareholders … [4]

And yet, everywhere workers lived in misery. Contrary to the teachings of every economic school, Kropotkin argued that overproduction was far from a problem:

Far from producing more than is needed to assure material riches, we do not produce enough …. If certain economists delight in writing treatises on over-production. and in explaining each industrial crisis by this cause, they would be much at a loss if called upon to name a single article produced by France in greater quantities than are necessary to satisfy the needs of the whole population …. What economists call over-production is but a production that is above the purchasing power of the worker, who is reduced to poverty by capital and State … [5]

Only exploiters, he concluded, were in abundant supply. Today, 94 years later, there may well be overproduction of some goods (nuclear weapons, toxic chemicals, and products that must almost immediately be replaced)–but it is just as obscene today to talk of, for example, an overproduction crisis in agriculture when millions face immediate starvation.

Thus, rather than celebrating capitalism’s development of society’s productive capacity, as Marxists do, Kropotkin demonstrated that capitalism resulted in chronic underproduction and deprivation. Capitalists not only do not equitably distribute the fruits of our production, the entire development of technology is distorted by their short-term profit calculations. Employers faced with the possibility of new labor-saving technologies, for example, often move to drive down labor costs rather than invest in developing the means of production (their historic role, according to Marx). The Social Revolution, then, would not merely expropriate the means of production developed by the capitalists–it would be forced to rapidly develop those means in order to meet even the most basic social needs.

Fortunately, the means for doing so have long been in place, and workers are more than capable of meeting the challenge.

Wage Slavery

Like all socialists, Kropotkin recognized the self-evident truth that workers work for the employing class because they are forced to—without their weekly wages they and their families must starve.

Whence come the fortunes of the rich[?] A little thought would suffice to show that these fortunes have their beginnings in the poverty of the poor. When there are no longer any destitute there will no longer be any rich to exploit them … [7]

If people had the means to support themselves—if they were capable of meeting their daily needs without hiring out their labor—no one would consent to work for wages that must inevitably be (if the capitalist is to derive any profit) a mere fraction of the value of the goods they produce. Even an independent artisan, the labor aristocracy of Kropotkin’s day, could not hope to do better than to support his family and put together an (almost certainly inadequate) pittance for his old age, should he rely on his own effort and diligence:

Assuredly this is not how great fortunes are made. But suppose our shoemaker … takes an apprentice, the child of some poor wretch who will think himself lucky if in five years time his son has learned the trade and is able to earn his living. …

Meanwhile our shoemaker does not lose by him; and if trade is brisk he soon takes a second, and then a third … If he is keen enough and mean enough, his journeymen and apprentices will bring him in nearly a pound a day over and above the product of his own toil … He will gradually become rich … That is what people call “being economical and having frugal temperate habits.”

At bottom it is nothing more nor less than grinding the face of the poor.[8]

Today, to be sure, workers have after a hundred years succeeded in improving their condition–and the apprentice system, already declining in Kropotkin’s time, has all but disappeared. But saving one’s earnings is no more the route to real wealth than it ever was–at best workers can hope to buy a house, afford some time off from the hated job, and put a little money aside for retirement or hard times. To become wealthy, in economic term, requires exploitation—either directly, from workers’ labor, or indirectly, by exploiting workers’ need for the necessities of life.

Under capitalism, “the harder a man works the less he is paid.” But the solution to this manifest injustice could not be found in reversing this equation–in payment according to the service each renders to society. For who is to determine the value of another’s service?

We know what reply we shall get … The bourgeois economists–and Marx too–will be quoted … to prove that the scale of wages has its raison d’etre, since the “labor power” of the engineer will have cost society more than the “labor power” of the laborer …

[But] the employer who pays the engineer twenty times more than the laborer makes the following simple reckoning: if the engineer can save him a hundred thousand francs a year on his production costs, he will pay the. engineer twenty thousand. And when he sees a foreman, able to drive the workers and save ten thousand francs in wages, he loses no time in offering him two or three thousand .. He parts with a thousand francs where he counts on gaining ten thousand, and this in essence is the capitalist system.

So let no one come up with this talk about production costs of the labor force, and tell us that a student who has cheerfully spent his youth at a university has a “right” to a salary ten times that of a miner’s son who has been wasting away down a mine from the age of eleven. [9]

Wage differentials, whether under capitalism or in some future “socialist” society, must be condemned as unjust. Nor is it possible to determine a “just wage” based on an individual’s contribution (even if such a system could be tolerated on ethical grounds, which it cannot).[10]

Production is Social

Production is not carried out by isolated individuals whose economic contribution can be isolated from that of each other worker so that its value can be determined. To illustrate this, Kropotkin turned to coal mining. (At that time, miners worked either individually or in gangs at the coal face, and were paid piece rate. In today’s coal mines, of course, the issue of individual production would never arise.)

One man controls the lift, continually rushing the cage from level to level so that men and coal may be moved about. If he relaxes his concentration for an instant the apparatus will be destroyed, many men killed, and work brought to a standstill. If he loses as little as three seconds at each movement of the lever, production will be reduced by 20 tons a day or more.

Well, is it he who renders the greatest service in the mine? Or is it perhaps that boy who from below signals to him when it is time to raise the cage to the surface? Is it instead the miner who is risking his life at every moment of the day … Or again is it the engineer who would miss the coal seam and have the miners dig into stone if he made the smallest error in his calculations? …

All the workers engaged in the mine contribute within the limits of their powers, their knowledge … and their skill to mine coal. And all we can say is that everybody has the right to live, to satisfy their needs, and even their fantasies, once the most pressing needs of all have been satisfied. But how can one estimate their labors?[ll]

Obviously you can’t–no one but a Marxist would attempt such an absurdity. And yet we still have not identified everyone who contributes to the production of that coal.

What of the construction workers who built the railways to the pit head, without which the coal would sit useless. What of the farmers, who raise the food the coal miners eat? What of those who build the machines that will bum the coal–without which coal is merely a rather useless dirt.

There was a time, Kropotkin concedes, when a family could support itself by agricultural pursuits, supplemented with a few domestic trades, and consider the com they raised and the cloth they weaved as products of their own, and no one else’s, labor.

Even then such a view was not quite correct:

there were forests cleared and roads built by common efforts … But now, in the extremely interwoven state of industry of which each branch supports all others, such an individualistic view can be held no more.

If the iron trade and the cotton industry of this country have reached so high a degree of development, they have done so owing to the parallel growth of thousands of other industries, great and small; to the extension of the railway system; to an increase of knowledge … and, above all, to the world trade which has itself grown up …

The Italians who died from cholera in digging the Suez Canal … have contributed as much towards the enrichment of this country as the British girl who is prematurely growing old in serving a machine at Manchester… How can we pretend to estimate the exact part of each of them in the riches accumulated around us?[12]

And if there is no individual production, then how can private ownership of property be justified? Just as it is impossible to argue that anyone person created a lump of coal or a bolt of cloth, so it is impossible to justify private ownership of buildings or land. Homes, after all, are not built by their owners. Their construction is a cooperative endeavor involving innumerable workers in forestry, timber yards, brickyards, etc.

Moreover—and it is here that the enormity of the whole proceeding becomes most glaring—the house owes its actual value to the profit which the owner can make out of it.

Now, this profit results from the fact that his house is built in a town … which the work of twenty or thirty generations has gone to render habitable, healthy, and beautiful. [13]

Like the ground they stand upon, buildings are a common heritage.

For instance, take the town of Paris—a creation of so many centuries, a product of the genius of a whole nation … How could one maintain to an inhabitant of that town who works every day to embellish it, to purify it, to nourish it, to make it a center of thought and art—how could one assert before one who produces this wealth that the palaces adorning the streets of Paris belong in all justice to those who are the legal proprietors today …. It is by spoliation that they hold these riches! [14]

That this remains so can readily be seen by examining the value of today’s office buildings and shopping complexes. Without even the slightest improvements their value rise so long as the local economy prospers. But no sum of money invested in maintenance or beautification is sufficient to maintain their value when the local economy fails. For their value is not derived from the money invested, or from the bricks and mortar (and plastic, steel and cement) of which they are constructed. Not even the labor of the workers who build and maintain these modem temples to capital determines their value. Their value, in the final analysis, depends almost entirely upon the wealth and prosperity of the greater society. The most luxurious hotel built in a dying city will soon fade with its surroundings, while the meanest hovel increases in value as surrounding properties are developed.

We enrich each other–not only spiritually, but materially as well—as we work, contemplate and play together; and without the efforts of society as a whole, no one prospers.

Private Ownership Absurd

Private ownership, then, is not merely unjust±it is absurd. As early as 1873, when he was only beginning to become active in revolutionary circles, Kropotkin recognized that true equality was impossible under capitalism.

It is desirable that a person beginning to work not enslave himself, not yield part of his labor, his strength, his independence … to private individuals whose arbitrariness always will determine how great that part should be, then it is necessary that private persons control neither the instruments of labor … nor the … earth … nor the means of existence during work … Thus we arrive at the elimination, in that future society whose realization we desire, of any personal property … [16]

All property, no matter how it was created, must become the property of all, available to all who contribute to society through their labor. This was, and remains, necessary not only on grounds of social justice, but because all production is necessarily social.

Production for Needs

Kropotkin refused to separate his analysis of what was from what could be. He insisted on asking not merely if the present economic order worked on its own terms but whether:

the means now in use for satisfying human needs, under the present system of … production for profits, [was] really economical?

Do they really lead to economy in the expenditure of human forces. Or are they not mere wasteful survivals from a past that was plunged into darkness, ignorance and oppression, and never took into consideration the economical and social value of the human being? [16]

The “economical .and social value of the human being,” for Kropotkin, was the key to anarchist economics–to the building of a free society. I will turn to that question in the next issue.

NOTES:

  • 1. ”Modern Science and Anarchism,” p. 180. In: R. Baldwin (ed.), Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets (Dover. 1970).
  • 2. “Modem Science and Anarchism,” pp. 177-79.
  • 3. Errico Malatesta, “Peter Kropotkin—Recollections and Criticisms.” In: V. Richards (ed.), Malatesta: Life & Ideas. Freedom Press, 1977, p. 266. Malatesta went on to argue that Kropotkin’s revised view was also wildly optimistic in its assessment of what could be realized. History, however has confirmed that agriculture can indeed produce much greater yields than was generally believed at the time–yields that in fact exceed those Kropotkin discussed.
  • 4. Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow edited by Colin Ward. Freedom Press, 1985, pp 194-97. (This is an abridged and annotated version of Kropotkin’s second edition, eliminating whole chapters of statistical data eclipsed in the 91 years since this work first saw print.)
  • 5. “Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal,” pp. 126-27. In: Baldwin.
  • 6. See, e.g., The Great French Revolution. (Elephant Editionsm 1983) Freed from the landlords, peasants dramatically Increased production. “A new France was born … For the first time in centuries the peasant ate his fill” and the country was immeasurably strengthened. (p. 594)
  • 7. “Expropriation,” p. 162. In: M. Miller (ed, Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution. (MIT Press, 1970)
  • 8. ibid. p. 166.
  • 9. “The Wage System,” pp. 101, 99. In: V. Richards (ed.), Why Work? Arguments for the Leisure Society. (Freedom Press, 1983)
  • 10. Many Marxists, and even some who consider themselves anarcho-syndicalists, continue to argue for maintaining the wage system in such a guise. Their arguments will be presented, and refuted, in the next installment. ‘
  • 11. “The Wage System,” pp. 103-04. Emphasis in original.
  • 12. “Anarchist Communism: ‘Its Basis and Principles,” p. 57. In: Baldwin.
  • 13. “Expropriation,” p. 197. In: Miller.
  • 14. “Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Ideal,” p. 125.
  • 15. “Must We Occupy Ourselves with an Examination of the Ideal of a Future System?” p. 50. In: Miller.
  • 16. Fields, Factories and Workshops, p. 193.