Principles of Libertarian Economics pt 2

by Abraham Guillen (translated by Jeff Stein)

As part of our continuing efforts to present anarchist economic theory, we offer this translation from Abraham Guillen’s book, Economia Libertaria. Because of its length, we are publishing it in three parts. The first part was in LLR #14, the conclusion will be in LLR #16.

The Demystification of Politics

The experience of more than half a century of “velvet socialist” [ie. social democrat], Christian democrat and liberal governments practicing Keynesian economics in the West, as well as the totalitarian communist governments of the East with centralized planning, has been that the workers remain wage slaves either way, building up surplus value for the private or State owner. They are exploited as much on one side of the world as another, whether under the governments of Olaf Palme, of Kohl or Honecker, of Thatcher or Reagan, of Gorbachev or Yeltsin.

From this it can be deduced that “state socialism” is neither socialism nor communism, but is instead the collective ownership, usufruct, of the totalitarian bureaucracy over the surplus value extracted by the State. This bureaucratic socialism is the formal critic of private capitalism, but allows it to be transformed in the West into multinational capitalism, and in the East allows capitalism to be restored. Consequently, this leaves “libertarian socialism,” essentially anarchism, as the rational and necessary critic of both private capitalism and of state socialism as bourgeois socialism.

But if libertarian socialism wants to be an alternative to the bourgeois socialism of the West and the social-economic chaos of the East, it must be able to make the beauty and seduction of anarchist utopia compatible with a realistic economic, social and scientific vision of the world, consistent with our time. It must present a social-economic program which overcomes the crises in economy, society, politics, ecology, demographics, energy, of moral and intellectual value. It must seek to harmonize natural resources and human resources in a new social-economic order in which all people have the right to labor and education, in a way that overcomes definitively the old division of manual and intellectual work.

“Is it necessary,” asked Bakunin, “to repeat the irrefutable arguments of socialism, which no bourgeois economist has yet succeeded in disproving? What is property, what is capital in their present form? For the capitalist and the property owner they mean the power and the right, guaranteed by the State, to live without working. And since neither property nor capital produces anything when not fertilized by labor, that means the power and the right to live by exploiting the work of someone else, the right to exploit the work of those who possess neither property nor capital and who are thus forced to sell their productive power to the lucky owners of one or the other.” (Obras. Volume III, p.191)

But let us again insist that the workers, within a self-managed economy where the means of production and exchange are socialized, without either bourgeois owners, or technocrats and bureaucrats of centralized state economic planning, would be capable of conducting the economy themselves.

Now then, a libertarian economy of the self-managed type has to be capable of producing an economic surplus greater than under private or state capitalism; of converting a large part of this surplus to the reproduction of social capital, improving the productivity of labor. Therefore the workers will achieve a higher rate of growth in productive forces than private or state capitalism. There will be, thus, better and greater production with less expense of human effort and greater and better use of automated machinery. This is because only the automation of labor makes it possible to create the technical basis for libertarian communism. Socialism or communism can be justified neither economically, politically nor socially as popular misery. A dominant class backlash would be justified as necessary if the workers eat all their capital without replacing it, or without increasing it more than the soviet bureaucracy or the western bourgeoisie.

Proudhon, quoted by Guerin, concerning the self-managed economic regime, said: “The classes…must merge into one and the same association of producers.” [Would self-management succeed?] “On the reply to this …depends the whole future of the workers. If it is affirmative an entire new world will open up for humanity; if it is negative the proletarian can take it as certain….There is no hope for him in this poor world.” (Daniel Guerin, Anarchism, p.48)

In sum, there is no need to lament, there is a need to educate, to become the protagonist of the future; to prepare oneself to improve things and to make revolutionary changes; to understand the sciences, sociology, economy, and revolutionary strategy; since without a successful revolution, there can be no liberation of the workers, an outcome which cannot delegated to others but must come from the exertion of their own self-powers.

Planning and Self-Management

The planned economy has been praised by the technocrats and bureaucrats of socialism, East and West, as the rationalization and codification of national economies, with the goal of giving them a harmonious law of development, both economic and technological. According to this scheme, all the sectors of production and services will be coordinated so that none of them advances ahead or falls behind so much that it causes a crisis of disproportional development between the branches of industry, agriculture and services. However this supposed “law of harmonious development of national economies” directed by an army of bureaucrats and technocrats has in reality only introduced alongside private capitalism the capitalism of the State, leaving the workers, as always, as dependent wage workers. In both cases the workers are wage slaves that produce surplus value for the capitalist enterprenuers or the State-enterprenuer.

Apologizing for the planned economy, as the scientific economy par excellence which can predict the future with rigorous calculations, able to conduct national economies according to prior objectives based upon macroeconomic calculations, to guide the desired economic development with the help of “control equations” for the month, year, four-year, five-year, all the economic science which was the hallmark of central-planning, was declared as vulgar economic science. Particularly has this been the case in the Soviet Union, although now Yeltsin under the IMF has discovered capitalism, pure and simple, as a new “democratic” economy, even though it impoverishes the workers.

But after many years of centralized planning the national economies have revealed a crisis of underproduction, or undersupply of the market and a crisis of disproportional and unequal development between industry and agriculture, in the USSR and all the countries of the ruble zone. Indicative planning, as advocated in the West by the techno-bureaucratic thought of Keynes, Schumpeter, Galbraith and Burnham, was an economic doctrine, of center and left and including some of the right, taken up by the parties of the social-democrats, socialists, christian-democrats and neo-liberals. These parties mobilize the politicians of the middle class professionals, who aspire to a State-benefactor where, as the first enterprise of all, the technocrats are the directors more than the capitalists properly speaking.

By means of the welfare-State the reformist middle class, from right to left, comes robbing the usufruct of the government. Thanks to the sector of nationalized enterprises, of social security insurance, of public services, and the nationalization of many banks, a “bureaucratic-technocratic bourgeoisie” is created, more solid, if possible, than the old bourgeoisie. Thereafter, if their businesses register a deficit, there is no one who will cancel it, or even less keep account of credits and debtsor if things go bad force the enterprise into bankruptcy. On the contrary, the abundant existence of nationalized enterprises in the West has created a whole series of directors, executives and “businessmen” with inflated salaries, regardless of whether their enterprises can show benefits greater than losses. This “bourgeoisie of the State” is shoving aside the classic bourgeoisie, since the former has political parties monopolizing the State, the nationalized banks, the machinery to print inflated money and to tax with discretion. The only beneficiary from the growing productivity of labor, growing like a foam on the waves, is not a private owning class, but those who indirectly own public property in the form of State property, as a political class.

Accordingly, indicative planning or centralized planning, which aspires to impose a balanced national economic development, has distorted the law of harmonious social division of labor. The welfare State expands the unproductive sector (middle class functionaries, bureaucrats and technocrats), while increasing the productivity of labor in industry and agriculture. This creates an aberrant economy of inflation of the unproductive population which sterilely devours the wealth of societies and nations. It can lead to a total economic crisis, of systematic nature, since in order to resolve it requires more than simply changing leaders. Instead a corrupt, contradictory and antagonistic socio-economic regime of multi-national capitalist monopolies opposed to the general interest must be replaced with universal libertarian socialism.

The economists and politicians of the middle class parties, including in their ranks the reformist union bureaucrats, the professional politicians, the phoney savants (political, economic, and technical), would submit to a social economy, as much in the East as in the West, of a dictatorship of the techno-bureaucracy as “new dominant class.” The bourgeoisie, due to the centralization of capital in both large and small enterprises, diminishes in statistical number, according to the law of mercantile competition, liquidating in the market those capitalists who are smaller and thus equipped with less productive machines which produce at a higher cost. But, in contrast, the bureaucracy, the technocracy, the professional of all types, are augmented more by the very same thing that diminishes the bourgeoisie annihilated by economic competition, the centralization of capital in the multinationals.

The Totalitarian State

In this sense, the State tends to convert itself into the largest of all business enterprises in the West, and as the only business in the East, that is to say, the enterprise which owns all the nationalized enterprises. And thus, under these conditions, the State which owns everything also is the master of all persons who by virtue of their political alienation see the State as God- protector, although the State as sole protector of Society takes from them by taxes, charges or low salaries more than it gives in return. Meanwhile the poor people are hoping that the State is a benefactor, and that a middle class political party will offer to save them in return for their votes. Each day things go from bad to worse, because the countless bureaucrats consume from above the capital which is needed below to maintain full employment in industry and agriculture.

Without debureaucratization and debourgeoisfication there is no way out of the growing economic and social crisis which is caused by the excessive economic waste involved in the sterile consumption of the parasitic classes: the bureaucratic apparatus of the State, the superfluous institutions filled with supernumerous personnel, the administrations of enterprises which have begun to have more “white collars” than productive workers, and finally, a whole series of “tertiary” and “quaternary” services that spend without contributing much to the social wealth. And we are not saying that this happens only in the capitalist countries, but that this affects equally badly the so-called “socialist” countries. By means of centralized bureaucratic planning of their economies, all social capital, labor, national income and economic power is placed in the hands of a techno-bureaucracy of planning, for whom workers and their products are only ciphers in five-year plans.

In this way they create social relations between those who have Power and those who suffer as wage workers not essentially different than those existing in the capitalist countries. So it is that the worker continues as the producer of surplus value, whether for the State or private businesses. Meanwhile the workers do not have the right to self-manage their own workplaces, to democratically decide its organization and the economic surplus produced, nor to elect their own workplace councils by direct and secret vote. Without these rights, centralized planning creates a bureaucracy based upon state property instead of social property, and endeavors to substitute State capitalism for private capitalism. Thus eventually it ends up by alienating into an external power outside of the wage workers, whether under the western capitalist or the soviet model.

The large western capitalist enterprise, national or multi- national, when it concentrates multi-millions in capital and exploits monopolies in production and thousands of workers (for example Fiat, Siemens, I.C.I., General Motors, Unilever, Nestle, Hitachi, or nationalized industrial complexes like IRI, British Steel and INI) leads to a bureaucratic and totalitarian condition within the enterprise. The workers neither know nor elect the administrative councils of these gigantic corporations, anymore than the workers in the former USSR. The directors are forced upon them from above, just as in other ages the mandarins and satraps were designated in the regimes of Asian despotism.

For the Soviet regime to have qualified as socialist, not just semantically but in reality, it would have had as its economic basis the social ownership of the means of production and exchange, the direct democracy of the people instead of the bureaucratic dictatorship of the single Party, the decentralization of power (economic, political and administrative) by the means of a federalism which would have assured the popular participation at all levels of decision-making, political, economic, social, cultural, informational and self-defense. In this way a self- managed, libertarian, self-organized society, would have replaced the dictatorship of the bureaucracy, in which society was regimented and watched-over by the State-employer, all-powerful permanent leaders and the political police of the KGB.

It could be argued that a vision of such nature is utopian or too good to be true, but historical experience shows that centralism cannot create more productive forces than can decentralization and federalism. Centralism is always bureaucratism and consequently consumes unproductively in the salaries of supernumerous personnel. In our epoch computer networks–if they are well programmed, if their memory is updated and constantly renewed, if they register all the fundamental data of a country, a society, an enterprise, a locality, district and region–are more efficient and cheaper for the management of the enterprise or society than the professional politicians or technocrats and bureaucrats of all types.

If the State is given too much power, as under the Soviet model or under the western welfare-State, it will tend towards state control over capital, labor, technology, science, information, industry, of social security and public services. Therefore this absolute power will create a totalitarian State, even though disguised as a parliamentary regime, symbolically under the Soviet model and rhetorically but not in practice in the West. In either case, the totalitarian bureaucracy or the pseudo- democratic political class collectively controls the business of the State as its business, but parasitically as a cancer on Society.

Popular Self-Government

In our school of thought, economic growth, the right of work for all, economic, cultural and technological progress, are developed with fewer obstacles in a libertarian society than in a society under the totalitarian dictatorship of large capitalist monopolies or the capitalism of the State. In both cases, given the great progress realized by our society, the dictatorships of private capital or State capital can be overcome. A self-managed society can be established with social ownership of the means of production and exchange, uniting capital, labor and technology without antagonism over classes or forms of property. This would create an egalitarian society in culture, economics and technology, thanks to an economy of abundance.

It is possible to the give power of self-government to the local communities, districts, provinces and regions, by means of an economic federalism and self-administration which would be integrated into a Supreme Economic Council. This would not be a Gosplan as in the former USSR, but a co-government of things by means of federations of production and services. These federations would function democratically and be self-managed, with the goal of the total process having a law of harmony of development without economic crises of disproportionality between all the branches of production and services. In other words, they would function without relative crises of underproduction or overproduction as occurs, respectively, under State capitalism or private capitalism.

For this to happen, it is necessary to have democracy and economic growth, with an increased productivity of labor. This would also require the full employment of the active population, along with the full participation of all in the decisions and the knowledge for this within reach of everyone. It is necessary to create a libertarian society, in which the elites of power and knowledge and social estates of every type, would be transcended in work, science, capital and technology, by means of effective self- management, the real participation of the people. Thus it would be possible to abolish all class domination, whether that of the bourgeois State and its capitalist economy or that of the bureaucratic, totalitarian State and its centrally planned economy. It is necessary, therefore, to liberate oneself ideologically from parliamentary socialism, from totalitarian communism, from bourgeois democracy which is economic dictatorship, from corporatism of every type–and establishing in their place a democracy of association, self-managed and libertarian, where everyone would be equal in rights and responsibilities, with privileges for no one. Only this type of self-government is government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Federations of Production and Services

The planning of economic, cultural and technological development must arise from the putting of social wealth in common and not under the domination of the State and its techno- bureaucracy. The first case involves a program of harmonizing the proportion of growth of the branches of production and services with full participation from bottom to top, based on a libertarian and federative socialism. The second, the concentration of all power in the hands of the State, leads to centralized planning from top to bottom, without popular participation, so that the workers are more objects than subjects, so many ciphers in the Gosplan, according to the soviet model.

If the worker remains separated from worker by means of private property or State property, there must be between capital and labor a power of domination over those who labor for a wage. The working people can never be emancipated within this mode. Emancipation can not be won individually but only collectively, although each may have free will. The realization of full liberty and personality for the worker requires a self-organized society without the need for State oppression, whether it is called right or left, bourgeois or bureaucratic, conservative or revolutionary. Without self-managed socialism, social property and self- government, all systems are the same.

The salvation of humanity is collective and not individual, because the human is a social being, solidaric, with the aim of self-defense from other species since the paleolithic period. It is the class division of humanity, in the wake of private property and the State, which makes possible the exploitation of man by man, of the proletarian by the proprietor. Along these lines, Bakunin said to his friend Reichel: “All our philosophy starts from a false premise. This is that it begins by always considering man as an individual and not, as it must, as a being who belongs to a collective.” (Oeuvres, Volume II, p.60)

On this sentiment, Proudhon agreed with Bakunin to the extent that man is a social being, needing community and solidarity: “All that reason knows and affirms–leads us to say–that the human being, just the same as an idea, is part of a group… All that exists is in groups; all that form the group are one, and consequently, what is …Outside the group are no more than abstractions, phantasms. By this concept, the human being in general…is from that which I am able to prove positive reality.” (Philosophie du progress, Obras, Volume XX, pp. 36-38)

The human being, in reality, does not exist outside the society from which he/she has appeared as a free subject; but at the same time solidarity with others in daily life, at work, in education, in self-defense, particularly at the beginning of humanity, “mutual aid” was the basis of existence of man associated to man, even though under capitalism man is possessed by an appetite for wealth and the cult of the money-god.

Developing the doctrine of “mutual aid,” Kropotkin, who studied the behavior of many animal species, predicted that this would evolve in a future society:

Society would be composed of a multitude of associations united among themselves for everything which would require their common effort: federations of producers in all branches of production, agricultural, industrial, intellectual, artistic; communities for consumption, entrusted to provide to all everything related to housing, lighting, heating, nutrition, sanitation, etc.; federations of communities between themselves; federations of communities of production groups; groupings even wider still, which would encompass a whole country or including various countries; groupings of people dedicated to work in common for the satisfaction of their economic, intellectual, artistic needs, which are not limited by territorial boundaries. All these associated groups would combine freely their efforts by means of a reciprocal alliance (…); and a complete liberty would preside over the unfolding of new forms of production, of research and of self- organization; individual initiative, not withstanding, would be encouraged and all tendencies towards uniformity and centralization, combatted. (Alrededor de una vida, p. 140)

By means of this federalism based upon libertarian socialism, the economy, the natural and human resources, the balance of natural ecosystems, the full employment of available labor, the leisure and education time at all levels of knowledge, the social- economic and cultural life of locality, district, province, region, nation or the world, can be programmed with the participation of everyone in everything, without creating a great deal of confusion. On the contrary, the local and the universal, the individual and the society, the particular and the general, would be understood perfectly by reason of complete information from computer networks which would register all the important data to accomplish at the end a perfect database. By virtue of this, everyone would know all, avoiding thus a condition in which those with knowledge have the power, as occurs in the totalitarian, bureaucratic, centrally planned countries, where the people are ignored.

The federations of production and services, dividing into natural associations, from the bottom to the top, create the democratic conditions for a planning with liberty. Unlike what happened in soviet Russia, the economic planning would not be entrusted to a dictatorship of technocrats who want to substitute themselves for the old bourgeoisie. To be employed by the total State instead of by an individual boss does not change the condition of dependency and alienation for the worker, except to make the situation worse; since this makes the law into a fraud, a law that does not limit the absolute powers of the State, which corrupts absolutely the few who govern absolutely, the few oppressors and exploiters written in the lists of the “Nomenclature.” To change, therefore, private capitalism for State capitalism from a western pseudo-democratic bourgeoisie to a totalitarian bureaucracy is a poor trade for the wage workers since they do not cease to be what they are, the producers of surplus value for the bourgeoisie or bureaucracy, for the private boss or for the State.

In consequence, as the founders of the IWA put it, “the emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves.” From this point of view, working people can only emancipate themselves by the means of a libertarian socialism of self- management where “the chaos of production would not reign,” but instead there would prevail a planning with liberty, with the participation of workers and citizens at all levels of political and economic decision-making; of information, culture, science and technology; of information processing, gathering, classification, and computerization of data, economic, demographic, political, social, scientific, technical, natural resources, etc.

A social-economic program, with continual popular participation (not indirectly through municipal, regional or national elections), must be by the means of federations in industry, agriculture, and services, integrated into a Federative Council of the Economy, in which all the federations producing goods and services must be represented. By way of example, this “Federative Council of the Economy” would have to integrate, among others, the following federations: Fruits and horticultural products; Cereals; Feed for livestock; Food industry, including imports; Hostelry and Tourism; Wine, beer, and alcoholic beverages; Oils and greases from vegetable and animals; Fishing: boats and canning; Textiles; Furs and leather; Timber and cork; Paper and graphic arts; Chemicals; Construction; Glass and ceramics; Metal machining; Steel; Non-ferrous minerals: metals and alloys; Energy: petroleum, coal, gas, electricity, and atomic energy; Information and the construction of computers, integrated micro-circuits, and semi-conductors; Electronics: numerical controlled machines; Biotechnology; Aero-space; Research and Development, uniting technology with work.

This list of industrial federations does not include all the social and public services, which would be too tedious to number but would have to be represented in the Federative Council of the Economy as well. By example, commerce, banking, sanitation, security and social security, which are enormous, would have to be reorganized, since these entail much unproductive work that would have to be reduced. The goal must be that concrete production is not exceeded by unproductive work, since this would restrain or slow real economic growth. In other words, there must be no false increase in the Gross Internal Product, which occurs when it is incremented solely by services and not in the branches of industry, in either the primary sector (agriculture, fishing, livestock, lumber, minerals, etc.) or the secondary sector (industry of diverse types).


Anarcho-Syndicalism: A Historical Closed Door…or Not?

by Harald Beyer-Arnesen, ASR 22

Ilan Shalif, a libertarian communist whose thoughts I value even when I do not agree with the conclusions reached, made the following remarks on the electronic discussion list of class-struggle anarchists, Organise, which provoked the following thoughts. (However, he would not necessarily agree with all the positions I argue against below.)

Anarcho-syndicalist union is a myth and a dream that cannot be materialized in the capitalist society of this time. And if it could be, it would have been only of its members. Nothing can belong to the wider working class but the fact that its members are exploited by the capitalist class. … I still can not see at present any anarcho-syndicalist union that is not so only in name. (Either it is not a union or it is already on the way of co-option and reformism.) … In the capitalist society of the 2000s, it is hard to imagine any practical union which is not big and co-opted. It is entirely different thing with regard to workers committees in a not too huge conglomerate….

It is like in wave surfing at the sea – you can “catch” waves, you cannot create them. In our struggles, we [libertarian communists] are part of the water, but the main variable is the wind of history – we can only contribute to it our breath.

When the time will come that authentic workers unions will tend to become libertarian it will mean that the revolution is already on it.

Is anarcho-syndicalism, and revolutionary unionism in general, a historical closed door: a dream that cannot be materialized in the capitalist society of this time?

Contemporary story may seem to back up such a claim. In the post World War 11 period the syndicalist Central Organisation of Sweden’s Workers (SAC) was transformed into a bleak shadow of its former self. This carries some significance as, with the exception of the French CGT in a much earlier period, SAC is the only revolutionary union never to be brutally suppressed. Meanwhile the Wobblies of the IWW are alive and kicking, but only 900 of them; the CNT after Franco is reduced to below ten thousand members, and in the very place of its former grandeur, Catalonia, is crumbling from inner tensions; the modest growth of the French CNT and Unione Sindicale Italiana produced passionate disputes on questions of co-option and reformism, and ended in splits; the German FAU is showing progress as far as newspaper production goes, but there is little sign of union-building; Solidarity Federation’s industrial network in U. K. consists of half a hundred members; elsewhere the situation is pretty much like in Norway where NSF has kept it going since 1976 as a small propaganda group, with currently approximately 40 members spreading the message within the corporative unions. The renewed interest in Eastern Europe has so far produced nothing more. In the early historical strongholds of anarcho-syndicalism in South and Central America, the situation is even bleaker than in Europe. The most promising sign in a long term perspective may be the reappearance of the advocacy of revolutionary unionism in South Africa, and for the first time in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, but any union is at this point nowhere to be seen. The general picture Ilan paints of the current state of affairs is true enough, even if one could always argue over its complete accuracy, but that would mostly be on definitions.

But to permanently shut the historical door of anarcho-syndicalism, it is not enough to empirically determine its current state, and to disclose the mechanisms within contemporary capitalism working against building such a movement in the immediate future, one would also have to deny the possibility of its re-emergence in times when the class struggle intensifies, and more workers begin believing in a world beyond capitalism. The present marginality, and for the most part non-existence of revolutionary unionism, could very likely be said to be a reflection of the current generalized lack of confidence among workers in the very possibility to build a world without capitalist social relations. The question should also be asked: would building even a marginal revolutionary unionist structure at the present moment function as a vehicle for increased confidence in parts of the working class? I find reasons to believe that the answer to this is yes. But let us first take a look ahead.

The Link to the Future Society

It is logical for social revolutionaries to view the organizational question in the light of their ends; to find means consistent with the needs of a future global libertarian communist society, or here more particularly with the needs of a transition to such a society: the bridge to the organizational forms perpetually created anew within the boundaries of materiality by the needs, desires and imaginative powers of members of a free society.

We live in a world with an excessively developed division of labor. This makes the existence of horizontal links between workers critical to the success of asocial revolution. This is not an entirely new situation. The absence of pre-existing horizontal links was one of the main factors contributing to the failure of the Russian revolution, sustaining among workers a lack of confidence in their ability for self-management beyond the limits of the workplace.

Workers councils are predominantly structured around geographical units and are not adequate to deal with the day to day horizontal links of production in a non-bureaucratic manner. Thus it was no coincidence that it was through the soviets that the Bolsheviks first established their separate power, while the factory committees served as a base for opposition and workers’ power during the short revolutionary period in Russia, a power which soon dissolved in the absence of functional horizontal ties.

While these are not unique to revolutionary syndicalism, and also bureaucratic unions maintain them, they are there only exceptionally direct links between workers in general: as a rule they bring the select few together and serve the function of isolating workers into mutual passivity, transforming mutual contact and aid into the business of a stratum of specialists cultivating the noble art of empty phrases – making any direct contact between workers in general suspect and illegitimate.

The Question of Permanent Organizations

Some social revolutionaries forswear any permanent large-scale working class organization within the framework of capitalism. As capitalism is the very raison d’etre of such organizations, these organizations, in trying to maintain their separate existence when the class struggle has reached a stage where this framework may be transcended, become institutionalised obstacles blocking the way for the full unfolding of the revolution. The revolution must create its own organizational forms; those which may endure and grow within the framework of capitalism will be inadequate to the needs of the social revolution. The unions in their function as brokers of labor power cannot escape the logic of capital, regardless of the political convictions of its delegates and the efforts to develop democratic union structures. It thus becomes critical to uncover the illusions of unionism and diffuse knowledge of working class struggles directed simultaneously against the employers and the union.

But following this logic, these anti-union struggles will be compelled to either transform themselves into alternative structures taking up in themselves the function of a union, or fall back to a situation of atomization within or without the corporative union structure. Consequently one is seemingly left with the illusionist trick of making atomization the springboard of the social revolution. More likely, the tacit assumption underlying this strategical thought is that a revolutionary ferment will arise from within the corporative union structure, thus making itself entirely dependent on the continued existence of this framework.

The critique of unionism contained within the above position is, however, not alien to anarcho-syndicalism The awareness of its inevitable contradictory nature is at very core of anarcho-syndicalism and the source of its vitality. In this it captures the fundamental reality of the working class within capitalism and inserts itself into the very terrain where social revolutions are born, and where they also repeatedly have been lost. Anarcho-syndicalism’s contradictory nature at the same time constitutes its driving revolutionary force and puts it in jeopardy of being co-opted by the logic of capitalism. Therefore the great emphasis on institutionalized precautions to prevent the latter development and the re-occurring conflicts within anarcho-syndicalism.

The only guarantee against co-option is death, so it becomes self-evident that any permanent organizational structure within capitalism will perpetually run the risk of being co-opted, and as such become an obstacle in a revolutionary situation. But to counter the argument, would an organizational structure emerging in the heat of a revolutionary situation, composed of workers with most of their concrete experiences from within a bureaucratized, corporative union structure, or disorganized altogether, be less likely to be co-opted into either an old or new class relation? I think not. The opposite seems a far more rational judgement. The tendency to reformism and co-option which always will exist within revolutionary unionism (the “heroes” growing tired) constitutes one of its greatest assets. It forces these questions to be answered concretely on a day-to-day basis, and not just in an abstract future. I refuse to accept the logic that being accustomed to a greater degree of servility and passivity is a great asset in a revolutionary situation. Neither do I see any historical evidence supporting this view, but on the contrary an endless trail of blood and a line of tyrants giving witness to the opposite.

It may even be asked if the rejection by genuine revolutionaries of all permanent mass organizations is not the ultimate triumph of capitalist co-option.

The Question of Co-optation

Since the time of the emergence of a mass union movement, and the “glorious” period of revolutionary syndicalism, capitalism has greatly sophisticated the mechanism which enables it to integrate unions into its development. This process started the moment private and state capital felt compelled to accept the existence of unions.

This acceptance has everywhere been intimately bound to the condition that the unions through their representatives exercise a restraining and disciplinary influence, and when necessary use sanctions to keep their members within certain limits to the point where unions have become the main factor upholding capitalist stability. Some fragments of this history in two of the Scandinavian countries may illustrate this:

From 1905 the Swedish Employer’s Association (SAF) started working towards a system of nationwide collective bargaining and binding, time-limited agreements. As is often the case, it was foremost the major industrial companies which saw the advantage of integrating unions into positions of shared responsibility, and the attendant consolidation of centralism such a process was bound to entail. As more and more binding agreements were entered on a national level between the member organizations of SAF and the social democratic union confederation LO, this left the syndicalist SAC, with its principled stand against such contracts in an entrenched position. What should be considered licit and illicit forms of industrial actions and procedures was agreed upon and later confirmed and institutionalized through the “Law on Collective Agreements and the Industrial Tribunal” of 1928. This law, which was to be followed up by others, became an instrument for connecting, not only injunctions and sanctions but likely more crucial, benefits such as unemployment insurance to what was regulated in nationwide contracts. Members of SAC were to be covered by these, even if their union refused to have any part in them. The law of 1928 stands out as a milestone in a process which effectively marginalized SAC, the expressed intention of both SAF and LO. Since then a thousand threads have been spun binding the employers associations, the unions and the state together in a web of interdependence.

In Norway, the national contracts were largely a result of the Norwegian Employer’s Association’s lock-out strategy. But from about 1911 there had developed a strong syndicalist inspired opposition within LO advocating direct-action methods. In 1918 the Iron and Metal Worker’s Federation resolved to lay the power of beginning and ending industrial actions in the hands of the workers directly affected, while the Workingman’s Federation, the largest union at the time, resolved to abstain from signing local contracts, What went under the name, “recognized terms,” had also increasingly supplanted written contracts locally. This led to a court decision in 1920 saying that the unions would be hold juridically responsible for the actions of their local branches, whether they chose to sign the contracts or not, thus undermining one of the principal reasons not to be an official party in any written contract: “to get away from the condition where the employers can force the union to intervene when irregularities occur.”

The slave contracts as they were aptly called at the time, would not go away. Instead, around them an intricate web of laws and binding agreements were to regulate every potential and imaginal conflict between buyers and sellers of labor power. Within this framework there was no room left for revolutionary unionism… which in effect became unlawful. In the process workers gained something but the employers gained far more: stable conditions for the continued exploitation of labor, a pacified workforce, and a corpse of worker representatives extending from the top to the bottom levels, most of the times both capable and willing to sustain peace, order and a spirit of mutual responsibility for the welfare of capitalism, and with the state as the final, “neutral” arbiter.

This corporative structure may be most clearly expressed in countries like the Scandinavian ones with a high percentage of workers organized into passivity, but even in countries with a very low percentage of unionization, the overall conditions of the working class as a whole is largely determined within the framework of a the more or less corporative union-employer-state relation. This latter situation however tends to open up a wider potential field for action and organizational structures more difficult to control.

In places where unions are wholly or partially outlawed, and where consequently direct action often is the only channel for discontent left, the situation becomes less predictable and potentially explosive. Conditions vary somewhat from country to country. In India, according to one source from that part of the world, every union is a private enterprise, a money machine for its owner(s). There is no way out of studying unions and the situation they operate under concretely, but still what is most striking in the overall picture is that the moment unions gain some legality, there is a strong tendency that they are co-opted into a resemblance of the unionism of the former Soviet Union. Is not the AFL-CIO in many ways, if not in all, just such an outfit? Still, is this all unions could possibly become within contemporary capitalism?

The Cleavage in the Link

Workers will always organize themselves whenever they see the need, and they have the sufficient cohesion and collective strength to do so. Unions are simply not something we can avoid, even if we so wished: they are something capitalism imposes upon us, or to be more precise, capitalism imposes the situation which produces the need for them, and from this need we cannot escape before we take the world in our own hands. The more disorganized we are as workers – membership in corporative unions being often just a particular kind of disorganization, functioning largely as the organization of passivity and division — the more we will become a flexible material in the hands of others, and ruled by the logic of capital.

The labor contract, whether collective or individual, is by its very nature a disciplinary mechanism at the very foundation of capitalism. Entering into such contracts involves a conditional acceptance of the class relations. This is simply the prerequisite of survival of any worker, and not something one can withdraw from on the basis of one’s political convictions.

As wage slaves – temporarily employed or unemployed, in the process of being formed as one, or already discarded – we are linked to the functioning of capitalism. But this linkage is not total; we are not the mere appendages of capital. Our acceptance is always conditional: In wildcat strikes and in an endless numbers of minor acts of sabotage and obstruction daily taking place at most every workplace, we temporarily withdraw it. There exists a cleavage in the link that can be widened or tightened, which also implies that the process described above is reversible. The contrary would also be sensational, implying that the structure of unions could somehow remain entirely unaffected by the general ebb and tide of the class struggle. The anarcho-syndicalist project is to make the forced acceptance of the class relation more and more conditional, until the final explosion of energy, dreams, thoughts and desires, where the linkage is broken, classes abolished and our free individual and collective creative powers are put in use to non-hierarchically rule the present and future, without the bondage imposed by the Siamese twins of state and capital.

To Catch the Winds

The rejection of anarcho-syndicalism out of fear of co-option has a slight similarity to the sailor who shrinks from learning to swim as he is concerned it might put his life in jeopardy.

To recreate anarcho-syndicalism may seem to be the vicious circle of being too few to set out and remaining so because the organization for workers to join is not there. Even when the first framework is set up, and there exists something you can begin talking of in terms of a union, many will say: “Could be a good idea, but far too small to be a union. If more workers join, I will consider it.” Despite its legendary history this is pretty much the situation for the IWW today.

But this mechanism works both ways; having reached a certain level, an organization may suddenly enter into a fast growth. A similar effect may occur when the nucleus of revolutionary unionx pop up at several different places within a short period of time. There is even something to a name: the reaction an organization will be met with, it will be different when presenting itself as a propaganda group for an idea to be implemented somewhere in a distant future, than if it presents itself as a union-building organization based on certain principles. If a revolutionary union is what you want, it becoms essential to start building a structure which may be put in use (on a small scale) in the here and now for practical solidarity, and as such be viewed as a functional too by others.

However refined the methods of co-option are made, the winds of discontent will always be blowing. Recreating anarcho-syndicalism involves fanning the flames of discontent and disrespect towards bosses. But the structure must be there to channel and give extended life to these winds, suppling them with some direction and a greater strength by bringing them together. Our task consists in bulding direct links of some permanence between workers locally, within the limits of the state and globally, and from the workplace to the communities in which we live. And as an essential, integrated part of this, opening up spaces for collective discussions where the dream of a society beyond capitalism can be nourished.

At the present stage, building the structures of revolutionary unionism must be seen as a vehicle to awaken this dream within the working class of a world beyond capitalism. It is very hard to see how this could be done to any large extent within the framework of corporative unionism. Corporative unionism is beyond the state of reform. It must be deconstructed. Therefore also the importantce of an open anarcho-syndicalism.

Open Anarcho-Syndicalism

An open anarcho-syndicalism implies that solidarity is extended beyond the membership: To on a micro and macro level think in terms of the working class as a whole, and develop links of solidarity and practical coherence to the rank and file and local branches wholly or partially controlled by workers within the bureaucratised structure of the corporative unions. The union principle has no meaning outside a union of solidarity, which ultimate measure is not membership but practical solidarity.

While the workplace is the obvious point of departure for anarcho-syndicalism, it cannot see it as its limit, something which would tie it to the logic of capitalism. An instance of beyond-the-workplace-unionism is the struggles CNT has been engaged in against the closing down of the shipyards of Puerto Real, near Cadiz in the south of Spain, where the struggle was extended to the communities as a whole and to the conditions of life within them:

Every Thursday of every week, in the towns and villages in the area, we had all-village assemblies where anyone who was connected with the particular issue, whether they were actually workers in the shipyard itself, or women or children or grandparents, could go along to the village assembly and actually vote and take part in the decision-making process of what was taking place…

What we tried to do in Puerto Real is to show that the anarcho-syndicalist union is not just an industrial organization that takes on factory disputes, but rather has a much wider social and political aim. What we have tried to do in Puerto Real so far is to attempt to interlink various different disputes, taking on various struggles around education, around the provision of health services, cultural aspects, and we have been struggling against the proposed construction of a new golf course, the privatization of the cemetery, we have been fighting against various local tax increases…

Pepe Gomez of the CNT, October 1993. From “Anarcho-Syndicalism in Puerto Real,” published by Solidarity Federation/La Prensa, 1995. P.O. Box 73, Norwich, NR3 1QD, U.K.

Direct action in the anarchist sense means making as far as possible the means into the ends, and thus bringing about a re-arrangement of the world on a small or large scale. By using our potential industrial power to accomplish this, we may not only bring about modest changes in our lives, but put our own and other worker’s imagination on fire, opening up our eyes to the wide field of our potential powers. This is even more important in a time where capitalism has super-imposed itself as a social factory on increasingly larger parts of our lives, and where the division of labor has been driven to such extent that it becomes increasingly difficult to see, through the fog of atomization, that it is we who are producing this world as a whole.

It is often said, that even if large-scale revolutionary unions was still a possibility, they would never be able to organize the entire working class. This most likely is very true. At least it is not very wise to base a strategy on the opposite at this point in history. Thus membership should never been seen as an end in itself but as a means. There can be only one end: an all-inclusive global society borders, classes and hierarchies, and consequently also without states, and in the here and now to practice this as far as we can. But for this we have to start building the links between workers. Links which once created, we will gladly share and extend to others so long as it is on the basis of practical, non-hierarchical solidarity.

“Change to Win” labor fed collapses

A few years back, many labor “radicals” pinned their hopes on the new “Change to Win” labor federation, which promised to step up organizing and build a more powerful labor movement based on sectoral unions. Today, Change to Win is in ruins, and the piecards are fighting over the remains.

As we noted in ASR 37, there was never anything remotely democratic – let alone revolutionary – about the new set-up. The bulk of the new federation’s “organizing” was through cooperative deals where employers specified in advance which operations the unions would be given representation rights at, and what (if anything) workers would get. Much more money was spent on politicians then on organizing, and none of the new federation’s unions were internally democratic. This was, at root, a split based on bureaucratic maneuvering and titles, not strategic vision.

As Change to Win was forming, UNITE (textile workers) and HERE (hotel and restaurant) merged to form a new union that had nothing to do with the heralded sectoral strategy, but rather was a marriage of convenience between one set of union bureaucrats controlling a great deal of money and many functionaries but few members, and HERE, which had members and organizing campaigns but little money. When HERE elements recently took control of the union, UNITE HERE president Bruce Raynor decided to annul the merger and take the assets (a bank, benefit funds, buildings, etc.) with him. The Service Employees sought to capitalize on the break-up, setting up an interim Workers United to amalgamate UNITE Joint Board-controlled locals into SEIU. (Raynor resigned just as the union was removing him from office, and joined the SEIU staff as “president” of Workers United.) The whole operation is now in disarray with both sides fighting over who controls which contracts and which dues streams. Employers are taking advantage of the situation to stall on bargaining, and stop collecting union dues through the check-off. Jurisdictional disputes, raids and law suits are on the horizon as far as the eye can see. (But at least some publications are benefitting in this difficult media economy from full-page ads taken out by SEIU urging readers to lean on UNITE HERE to accept their offer to let it keep $50 million of the union’s funds and divvy up the members through binding arbitration.)

SEIU faces its own internal strife as a result of its take-over of its West Coast healthcare affiliate, leading the former officials to launch an independent union that promises democracy (not that the officials were great champions of rank-and-file unionism before they came up against the Stern machine). In response, SEIU cut a deal with the California Nurses Association (which recently merged with the United American Nurses and joined the AFL-CIO) to end their bitter war and divide up the hospital workforce. (Many of the workers traded in the deal are outraged.) The United Food and Commercial Workers is struggling to hold on to its existing members, and has no strategy for organizing new ones. Of the CTW affiliates, only the Laborers are in decent shape.

Change to Win and AFL-CIO officials are now meeting with the independent National Education Association (which never belonged to either) about (re) uniting, though thus far the AFL-CIO is insisting that Change to Win come back with their tails between their legs, refusing even token concessions to the breakaway bureaucrats.

UPDATE: In These Times reports that the United Food and Commercial Workers (whose president heads  CtW) are in the process of returning to the AFL-CIO fold, which would leave just SEIU, the Teamsters and the United Farm Workers (a husk of its former self) in Change to Win.

EFCA is not the solution

As we go to press, the Democrats seem to be abandoning the Employee Free Choice Act, despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign assistance (and countless hours of campaign work) from the business unions. This continues a long string of broken promises dating back to the origins of the labor movement’s dealings with the politricksters. But even if one could place one’s faith in politicians. the law would do little to build workers’ actual power:

For bosses everywhere it is the end of the world as we know it. For progressives and trade unionists it is nothing less than the salvation of the labor movement. The Employee Free Choice Act, recently re-introduced to the U.S. Congress, is being touted as the most significant piece of labor legislation since the Wagner Act of 1935 made the promotion of collective bargaining the centerpiece of U.S. labor policy.

Bosses’ organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Center for Union Facts and Freedom’s Watch have poured millions of dollars into a campaign to sway their bought-and-paid-for politicians to do right by them and defeat the unions. The main mouthpiece of big capital, The Wall Street Journal, has been particularly vocal in opposition to the Act. And Starbucks and Whole Foods – both experienced union-busting operations – have put forward a “compromise” that would continue the current system (with slightly higher penalties when companies such as themselves are caught violating the law), but allow the bosses to go after union treasuries if workers “abuse” the bosses.

For its part, the mainstream labor movement is also pouring millions of dollars and members’ time into campaigning for passage of the Act. They are hoping that their efforts to help elect Barack Obama president of the U.S. and Democratic senators and representatives will finally pay off.

The main element of the Act that has bosses fuming and labor bureaucrats swooning is the provision for NLRB certification as exclusive collective bargaining agent of any union that can convince 50 plus 1 percent of a defined bargaining unit to sign cards authorizing the union to bargain with management over wages and working conditions, so-called card check recognition. Card check is already possible within the current law, if the union can convince the boss to recognize it as the collective bargaining agency of his/her workforce. Bosses very rarely agree to card check, preferring an NLRB supervised election, which gives them time to mount an anti-union campaign of harassment and intimidation to convince workers to vote no union.

The bosses’ main argument against card check is that it will take away the employees’ sacred “secret ballot” and that workers will be subjected to intimidation from union goons to sign authorization cards. The fact is that a secret ballot election remains an option where workers petition for one. In addition, provisions for union decertification remain the same, if bosses can convince 30% of their wage slaves to petition for same. So the ballot argument is just a cover for the fact that employers’ fear that given a chance their workers would opt for union representation (recent polls show that 53% of workers would join a union if given a chance), which would mean that they would have to give up total control of their businesses and perhaps some of their profits.

The EFCA also increases penalties for bosses who fire workers during organizing campaigns, granting up to three times back pay to the fired worker and levying a possible $20,000 civil fine on the employer. While this might give smaller employers an incentive to play nice, larger employers will simply include these as costs of doing business, if the law is even enforced.

Given the vehement opposition to the EFCA by the employing class one is tempted to embrace the law and champion its passage; but there are provisions in the new law that should give rank-and-file workers pause. The law provides for mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service if the employer and collective bargaining agency cannot come to agreement on a contract within 90 days of certification. If mediation fails to bring about agreement then the law provides for binding arbitration, which will result in the imposition of a two-year contract that workers won’t have the opportunity to vote on. In other words, the workers will have as much say in their wages and working conditions as they had before.

The biggest cause for concern, however, is that while the law may make it easier for workers to join unions it says nothing about what kind of unions they will be joining or the nature of the relationship being entered into. Most authorization cards simply state that the signer authorizes such-and-such an organization to represent them in collective bargaining. It is not the same as actually becoming a member of a union. Indeed, most workers become union members only after the collective bargaining agreement is signed and a dues check-off is implemented. This idea of the union as simply a collective bargaining agent rather than an organization for struggle is at the root of business unionism. EFCA will simply make it easier for the business unions to increase their dues-paying base; it will not result in greater organization of labor, unless rank-and-file workers decide to organize on the job in spite of the bureaucrats.

We anarcho-syndicalists and revolutionary unionists, of course, have no faith in the law. With or without the Employee Free Choice Act our task is the same: “to organize industrially for the everyday struggle with capitalists and to carry on production once capitalism has been overthrown.”

Thoughts on the 2012 Presidential Elect-Chains

We anarchists don’t have a lot of use for elections. We know that the decisions that most affect our lives as workers are made by the employing class and that politicians are just there to give the illusion of representation as they carry out the bosses’ class program. Still, elections can tell us something about the terrain upon which we are currently deployed.

The re-election of Barack Obama tells us, for example, that a majority of those voting prefer a government that “provides for the general welfare,” as the U.S. Constitution puts it, rather than just the welfare of the rich. That the voters will be sorely disappointed when the lame-duck Obama administration seeks to make a “grand bargain” with Republicans that cuts beloved “entitlements” over the next few years doesn’t change the fact that the people voted to defend those programs. The AFL-CIO mobilized its staff and ranks to get out the vote for Obama, even though he did nothing over the past four years to earn labor’s support, and they’ve vowed to bring street heat to prevent the inevitable sell-out. We’ll see.

Americans rejected the notion that Wall Street knows best.  Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney, tried to convince voters that his experience at Bain Capital, a private equity firm, would make him capable of jump-starting the ailing American economy. During the election campaign, including the Republican primaries, it was revealed that Bain Capital and Mitt Romney had no record of reviving American industry.  Instead Bain Capital was known for leveraged buy-outs of older marginally profitable companies and then loading them with debt from high pay-outs to investors, big pay increases to Bain corporate executives, and borrowed funds.  When the leveraged companies were unable to pay these debts created by Bain, the companies were taken into bankruptcy and the assets sold off, leaving the workers unemployed and retirees without their full pensions. Instead of a “job creator,” Romney was a “vulture capitalist.” Obama did not offer an alternative to vulture capitalism, but was able to raise considerable skepticism about Romney’s vision of letting Wall Street guide the economic recovery.

Another lesson from the election is that the days of white supremacy (or at least its cultural manifestation) in the U.S. are numbered – and this is driving the racists to distraction. On Fox Snooze, pundit Bill O’Reilly claimed that Obama won re-election because we are no longer living in a “traditional America” and that the non-traditional Americans just “want stuff,” presumably for free (and what’s wrong with that, might we ask?). It is well known that by 2050 the pale-faces will be only half the population, the rest will be people of color (or mud people, if you’re a tea-bagger). Obama won the votes of over 70% of Latino voters, over 70% of Asians, over 90% of African-Americans, over 60% of youth and over 55% of women – all the constituencies that don’t watch Fox Snooze.

The writing is on the wall, and “traditional America” doesn’t like what it’s telling them. Following the election the racists began venting on Twitter and Facebook; the buffoon Donald Trump called the elections a farce and called for a revolution; and thousands of people in the states that went for Romney have signed petitions asking for permission to secede from the United States.

Of course, these people are delusional.

We know that Obama is not a socialist, or even a progressive. He’s actually a Richard Nixon Republican.

Rich people have done just fine during his administration. Profits are way up. The auto bailout was accompanied by deep concessions granted by the auto workers union (just like in 1979). The Obama education “reform” program sees teachers unions as a road-block to be smashed and the wages of federal workers have been frozen for the past two years. Efforts to stem climate change have given way to “energy independence.” Unemployment among Black folk is still double that of Whites and unemployment overall is double-digit; the prison-industrial complex continues to incarcerate over 2,000,000 people, a majority of whom are people of color, and militarism has never been more rampant: the war in Afghanistan is slated to go on for another two years despite the fact that the number of so-called insider attacks on NATO forces is increasing; the drone-assassination program continues to kill suspected “terrorists” and anybody who happens to be in the neighborhood; and the love of all things military is paraded in public at all times. Tune in to any sporting event.

Really, the only thing that Bill O’Reilly and company have to complain about is that the captain of the ship of state does not look like them (oh, and that they might actually be asked to pay a little extra for the privilege of the protection of their state).

We anarcho-syndicalists have a tough row to hoe. With people so invested in protecting the crumbs from the bosses’ plate how to convince them that they can provide for the well-being of all by taking control of the means of life? Will the inevitable disappointment in a second Obama term result in greater cynicism among the people or open them up to a radical critique of the system? Big Labor has promised to keep Obama’s feet to the fire. If history is any indicator, what this means is a few demonstrations targeting Republican legislators and further support for Democrats in 2014. Will there be openings for revolutionaries to intervene in these mobilizations to point to a different path? One thing is for certain – there will be more class battles in the near future as the crisis continues and further attempts are made to make the workers pay. An added dimension, the racist right will undoubtedly engage in more violent direct action against people of color and anti-racists will have to actively defend against this unless we want the people to have to depend on the state for protection, thus increasing the state’s power.

In any event the re-election of Barack Obama to the presidency is not going to end the “war on terror,” reduce unemployment, secure women’s reproductive rights, save Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, start to address global climate change or do any of the other nice things Obama supporters voted for. Autonomous working class organization and direct action are still the only way to stay the hand of capital and bend the state to the people’s will.

Nunzio Pernicone

Nunzio Pernicone (June 20, 1940-May 30 2013), the leading scholar of Italian anarchism, has died of prostate cancer.

Born in Manhattan, the son of Sicilian immigrants Salvatore and Giuseppina Catania Pernicone, Nunzio absorbed anarchist ideas from his father, who was both actor and director in amateur theater groups that raised funds for Il Martelo and other Italian radical papers, performing plays by Carlo Tresca during the 1920s and ‘30s.

After earning his BA and MA degrees from CUNY, Pernicone earned his PhD in 1971 at the University of Rochester, studying under the direction of A. William Salomone, the eminent historian of modern Italy.  He soon became the colleague and close friend of Paul Avrich, who was then starting to establish the history of anarchism as a full-on academic field of study. All through his life, Nunzio knew many aging Italian veterans of the movement such as Valerio Isca.

Pernicone taught at several institutions and authored scores of articles on the Italian anarchist and labor movements, settling permanently at Drexel in 1987.  There followed his books Italian Anarchism, 1864-1892 (1993), and Carlo Tresca: Portrait of a Rebel (2005). What distinguishes those volumes (both of which were later re-issued) is that they represent decades of thorough research into the lives of Italian militants who are notoriously difficult to trace – even for those who have total fluency in their language.

Students of U.S. history should be especially grateful for Pernicone’s biography of Carlo Tresca, which he expanded and corrected for its second release by AK Press in 2010.  Some heroes of the ages remain too poorly understood or appreciated by the general public until one scholar steps forward to devote a lifetime of work to present the hero’s legacy to future generations. If not for Horace Traubel, we’d have meager knowledge of Walt Whitman. Without William Archer, the English-speaking world would know very little of Henrik Ibsen. Nunzio Pernicone is exactly that important to the legacy of Tresca, whose rousing speeches and unwavering courage played a pivotal role in fighting the abuses of capitalism and fascism among Italo-Americans for half a century. This is a huge contribution.

I knew Nunzio since 1994, when he accepted my invitation to lecture at our small club in West Philadelphia. Being generous with his time and knowledge, he spoke to about twenty Wobblies and anarchists with his scratchy and somewhat deep voice. He wore a bright red shirt (his black shirt being in the wash) and gave an intimate account of the anarchist leaders of 19th Century Italy, both comic and tragic. His manner was that of a learned comrade teaching what he knew to his fellow workers. Over the years since then, he was always ready to share information from his research and ask questions about mine.

Not long before his death, Nunzio completed his last book, Propaganda of the Deed: Italian Anarchist Violence in the 19th Century. AK Press will publish it soon.

Nunzio Pernicone the historian, anarchist and atheist, a lover of cats and the opera, is survived by his wife Christine Zervos and their four cats.

— Robert Helms

A booming economy?

The U.S. economy is booming, at least as measured by the stock market and CEO pay levels. Both the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones indexes hit record highs this Spring, though both are slightly below their pre-Crash highs in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Corporate profits are at record highs, notes the Economic Policy Institute, and top executives are being lavishly rewarded. In 2012, the average CEO of a top-350 American-based corporation pulled in $14.1 million, up 37.4 percent since 2009. From 1978 to 2012, CEO compensation increased 875 percent, more than double stock market growth – the average CEO now earns 273 times as much as the average worker (up from 20 times as much in 1965).

According to the Royal Bank of Canada, the total wealth of the world’s millionaires (the bank includes only liquid assets in its calculations) has risen 14 percent since 2007, right before the Crash. The wealthiest of the wealthy – those with more than $30 million – make up less than 1 percent of millionaires. But they hold over a third, 35.2 percent, of their wealth.

According to the Royal Bank of Canada, the total wealth of the world’s millionaires (the bank includes only liquid assets in its calculations) has risen 14 percent since 2007, right before the Crash. The wealthiest of the wealthy – those with more than $30 million – make up less than 1 percent of millionaires. But they hold over a third, 35.2 percent, of their wealth.

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog (May 28) declares that “The economy is holding up surprisingly well.” So some people are doing very well indeed.

But can we afford all this prosperity?

Stock prices are up 16 percent so far this year, housing prices are on the upswing, but average weekly wages fell 1 percent last year. “Average” pay is creeping up over the longer term, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, but it is creeping up very, very slowly (about 5 percent in the past three decades) – well below increases in productivity, corporate profits, and management pay.

That average conceals much more than it reveals; inflation-adjusted median pay (half make more, half less) has fallen in the past 40 years, and the decline is particularly pronounced at the bottom pay scales. (Median household income is up somewhat, but that’s because more people are working, and working longer hours.) Wages fall, and work-time grows, even as our productivity reaches such heights that our planet is choking to death with the stuff we make. That’s because we have an economy engineered to send money to the top, and to make everyone else bear the costs.

The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans now rake in nearly a quarter of income, and control 40 percent of total wealth. The bottom 80 percent own just 7 percent of the wealth. Governments were created by the rich (despite their incessant grumblings about their taxes) precisely to preserve this state of affairs.

So wages are stagnant at best, and falling for many. Millions are unemployed. Millions more are forced into part-time work, unable to find a job where they can do more than merely subsist. To combat the costs of this social misery, unemployment benefits are being axed, food stamps gutted, schools closed, and social services decimated. We’re producing more than enough to go around, but the only thing in abundance is exploiters.

Some would have us believe that the solution is more job training or better education. It’s true that more-educated people do better economically (and, of course, true education is a social good in itself), but even those with college degrees are seeing lower pay as more graduates are forced into jobs that once required only a high school diploma, or not even that, and ever more jobs are transformed from steady gigs with benefits into contract work and other “flexible” schemes. Indeed, more than 27 percent of college graduates under age 25 are now officially unemployed or under-employed (BLS figures count only involuntary part-time work; adding those forced to accept jobs that do not require their level of education or provide a living wage would surely more than double the figure). So while individual workers might benefit from more education (leaving aside the question of the crushing debt burden facing many recent graduates), this is hardly the solution to our collective economic woes.

Increasingly, we hear employers whining about how difficult it is to find qualified workers (and so they either want the right to import indentured labor from abroad or government subsidies for new hires or training programs). There’s not the slightest evidence to support such claims. Unemployed workers outnumber available jobs in every category, according to BLS statistics (which substantially undercount unemployment). To the extent that bosses are unable to fill openings, it’s because of starvation wages or, increasingly, computer programs that filter out applicants with “too much” experience, a history of receiving a living wage, or who might need a couple of days’ training on a particular software package to get up to speed.

Things are of course much worse across Europe, and everywhere the austerity-peddlers have had their way.

Even some mainstream economists recognize that this economy does not work for the vast majority, even if they hope to salvage it by tinkering at the margins. Writing in the March 8 New York Times, Paul Krugman writes:

We are, in effect, dealing with priests who demand human sacrifices to appease their angry gods – but who actually have no insight whatsoever into what those gods actually want, and are simply projecting their own preferences onto the alleged mind of the market.

This demand for human sacrifice  –  for cuts to workers’ retirement benefits and to food stamps and other welfare programs, for even stingier health care services for those who work for a living, for anything that make life under this capitalist system a little more bearable – is bipartisan. The Obama administration offers up cuts to Medicare and food stamps, and proposes to “fix” the way inflation is calculated to leave Social Security benefits lagging the actual cost of living even more. The Republicans counter with proposals to subcontract retirement and health benefits to for-profit providers, and to sell off students to the lowest bidders.

Both sides are dogmatic supporters of the market and of capitalism (as is Krugman, who simply argues that it needs to be regulated, lest its brutal logic lead to horrors beyond our capacity to absorb), but markets are fundamentally inhuman. We trust our prosperity, our lives, our very planet, to them at our peril.

There is, as we have argued in these pages in the past, more than enough capacity to produce abundant lives for all, should we organize to make that happen. We could (and used to) do far better even under capitalism, by organizing to enforce demands for shorter hours, better conditions, and a more humane society. But if we are content to allow the capitalists and their government lackeys to organize the economy, and more broadly our society, then the current “recovery” is about as good as we can hope for.

Anarchist Science Fiction

by Iain McKay
It is with a sad heart that I write this article – Iain Banks, the Scottish writer, has died at a far too early age. Reading the many interviews and obituaries, it is obvious that one of the good guys has shuffled off this moral coil. In terms of his writings, I’ve only read his science fiction works and I would recommend them to all anarchist SF fans – particularly the Culture series.
To be honest, I’m surprised by how sad it makes me feel to think that there will be no more Culture books. I read The Hydrogen Sonata this year, which was fun (although not as fun as Surface Detail – particularly the wonderful chapter sketching the rise of artificial heavens and hells). I’ve read them all and the only one I found disappointing was Matter and even that was worth reading (it mentions anarchist revolutionaries!). My one quibble is that the books tend to have somewhat anti-climactic endings – Banks builds up the story, the ideas, the threat so well that when it ends it always seems somewhat less than hoped for. However, while the destination may be less than hoped for the journey makes it worthwhile.
For those who don’t know, the Culture is a post-scarcity communist/anarchist utopia and it does present a fun vision of a free society. So in terms of SF it gives a glimpse, particularly the novella The State of the Art in which Culture agents visit Earth in 1977 and the obvious contrasts are made:
On Earth one of the things that a large proportion of the locals is most proud of is this wonderful economic system which, with a sureness and certainty so comprehensive one could almost imagine the process bears some relation to their limited and limiting notions of either thermodynamics or God, all food, comfort, energy, shelter, space, fuel and sustenance gravitates naturally and easily away from those who need it most and towards those who need it least. Indeed, those on the receiving end of such largesse are often harmed unto death by its arrival, though the effects may take years and generations to manifest themselves.
I particularly liked the speech by a Culture member noting that, compared to Earthlings, he was the richest man alive as he had access to the vast economic, social and cultural wealth of a vast chunk of the universe but he was also the poorest man alive as he owned none of it. Banks was clearly a man who understood what Proudhon was getting at, the core idea of socialism which recognizes the difference between use-rights and property-rights. He did, however, indicate a certain attachment to central planning (as indicated in The State of the Art and in an interview I read). Suffice to say, if central planning requires hyper-intelligent super-computers to work then just as well proclaim that all we need is fairy dust as well.
Which is one of the many reasons I love Ursula le Guin’s The Dispossessed – it remains my favorite anarchist SF novel precisely because it does not invoke technology much more advanced than we have and, moreover, suggests that a free society will not be perfect, will face difficult decisions, will face problems. The Culture is fun and expresses the mind-set well, but it is utopian. She also clearly understands anarchism and the anarchist mind-set as shown by The Dispossessed and the excellent short story “The Day Before the Revolution.” If you have not read her works, do yourself a favor and do so – starting with The Dispossessed! You can tell that her parents were anthropologists given the richness of her work.
Reading David Graeber’s Debt (which I would urge you to do, as it is an important work) two things struck home. Graeber notes the poverty of imagination of most economists (who basically project a money economy backwards and then remove the money, causing them to invent a barter system which no tribal society ever had). Second, the poverty of imagination of most SF writers (particularly the “classic” ones from the mid-20th Century) whose characters are white, male, middle-class Americans in space. In terms of fantasy, much the same can be said – Conan’s world is just our world’s history with slightly different names.
This point was made by another one of my favorite writers, Michael Moorcock in his essay “Starship Stormtroopers.” This first appeared in Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review (the anarchist movement needs something like this these days), but I first read it as part of The Opium General which also included a review of Michael Malet’s book on Nestor Makhno. These got me aware of anarchism and when I read the introduction to The Anarchist Reader and the extracts on Makhno in it, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the ideas I had developed by myself had a name – anarchism. And talking of Makhno, Moorcock has him fighting Stalin in an alternative 1940s in the fun The Steel Tsar, the final part of his A Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy regarding the adventures of Captain Oswald Bastable. The first book in this series (The Warlord of the Air) also has anarchists in it. Both are worth reading.
I should also mention Marge Piercy’s Women on the Edge of Time and Body of Glass, both excellent (her City of Darkness, City of Light is also excellent, set during the French Revolution it made me read finally read Kropotkin’s The Great French Revolution – something else I would urge revolutionary anarchists to do). And it would be remiss of me not to mention Alan Moore, specifically V for Vendetta. Do not let the film put you off. Its best bits are those taken straight from the book and the politics are gutted, anarchism being mention once – when someone shouts “Anarchy in the UK” after stealing from a shop when the totalitarian surveillance system goes down! The book itself is a classic and V’s speech to the nation is a brilliant piece of anarchist propaganda. And, no, it is not an inspiration for anarchist tactics (as some clueless Marxists suggested when the film came it) as it is, obviously, a superhero comic.
I should also mention the ex-Trotskyist (and friend of Iain Banks) Ken MacLeod and his Fall Revolution series, which I did not particularly like. I read The Stone Canal first, being drawn in by it starting at Glasgow University (which I attended long after MacLeod). The “anarcho”-capitalist utopia is unpleasant, as you would expect, but the end suggested that The Cassini Division, with its libertarian socialist utopia, would be more interesting. It was, although very much a Marxist-inspired stateless communist utopia, and unlike the rest of the series, it was the only one I wanted to know how it ended. I then read The Star Fraction and The Sky Road, neither of which appealed. Finally, Leninist China Mieville. I’ve read two of his books (Perdido Street Station and Iron Council) and they were enjoyable enough (I would say they were a bit long, but I cannot complain about others on that score!). They were very imaginative, so it came as a surprise to discover he was then a member of the British SWP! Saying that, Iron Council did show his SWP politics by taking Marx’s “revolutions are the locomotives of history” a bit too literally, not to mention “the anarchist passion” of one of the protagonists (who very much acts in terms of “propaganda by the deed” which does seem to be the Leninist notion of “real” libertarian tactics!). Still, Mieville seems to have made the right decisions in terms of the recent crisis in the SWP which is good news and I would by far to prefer to pick up with one of his books than MacLeod (to be totally honest).
I’m sure that there are other SF and Fantasy writers and works of a libertarian nature – who would you recommend?

The Collectivist Transition

by Jeff Stein

Anarchist economics began with Proudhon but eventually developed into two schools of thought: anarcho-syndicalism with its emphasis on mass production industries in an urban environment, and anarchist-communism with its emphasis on egalitarian distribution and small-scale communities. Both these theories developed out of anarcho-collectivism, a radical economic federalism developed by the libertarian elements of the (First) International Workingmen’s Association. Its principal advocates were Michael Bakunin and James Guillaume, but the real credit for the theory of collectivism should go to the workers belonging to the International, who took the various socialist and trade union economic ideas of the time and modified them in light of their own experience.

The Limits of Proudhonian Economics

The collectivists shared a number of ideas with the followers of Proudhon in the International, in particular the concepts of workers self-management of industry and economic federalism. On the other hand they saw a need to go beyond the sort of utopian thinking that led the Proudhonists to believe capitalism might be transformed by the growth of worker cooperatives and mutualist credit. By the time the International was formed in 1864, worker cooperatives had been experimented with for several decades and by now were floundering. In the last years of his life, even Proudhon was forced to admit the cooperative movement was not developing as he had hoped:

Not many years later, in 1857, he severely criticized the existing workers’ associations; inspired by naive, utopian illusions, they had paid the price of their lack of experience. They had become narrow and exclusive, had functioned as collective employers, and had been carried away by hierarchical and managerial concepts. All the abuses of capitalist companies “were exaggerated further in these so-called brotherhoods.” They had been torn by discord, rivalry, defections, and betrayals. Once their managers had learned the business concerned, they retired to “set up as bourgeois employers on their own account.” In other instances, the members had insisted on dividing up the resources. In 1848 several hundred workers’ associations had been set up; nine years later only twenty remained. (Guerin, pp. 47-48)

These same observations were made by the members of the International:

The English section reported on cooperatives. Without denying the usefulness of cooperative organizations, it indicated a dangerous tendency noticeable in a majority of such bodies in England, which were beginning to develop into purely commercial and capitalist institutions, thus creating the opportunity for the birth of a new class – the working bourgeoisie. (Maximoff, p. 47)

The small, isolated, under-capitalized worker cooperatives could barely survive in competition with their better established capitalist rivals. The few cooperatives that prospered, often betrayed their working class supporters and began to operate as though their facilities were their own private property, aided and abetted by the laws and existing capitalist businesses. The failings of the cooperatives had raised the thorny issue of how to turn the socialization of the means of production from an ideal into a practical reality. The solution suggested by the collectivists was to expropriate the means of production from the capitalists and for the workers’ associations to own these “collectively,” no longer recognizing any individual ownership rights to divide up and sell them. The third Congress of the International accordingly passed a resolution that the main purpose of the cooperatives must go beyond narrow self-interest. Instead their purpose must be support the struggle “to wrench from the hands of the capitalists the means of production and return them to their rightful owners, the workers themselves.” (Guillaume, p. 70)

As we have seen, in The Principle of Federation (1863), Proudhon began to sketch the outlines of a sort of economic federalism before he died. This did not, however, prevent his mutualist followers from trying to defend his earlier ideas. At the 1869 Basel Congress of the International, a dispute arose over a resolution calling for the collectivization of the land. The Proudhonists held out for the right of small farmers to own land privately, as long as they did not rent out the land for others to work. Tolain, speaking for the mutualists, suggested the resolution be changed to read,

The Congress declares that, to realize the emancipation of the worker, it must transform the leases of farmland…to contracts of sale: so that ownership, continually in circulation, ceases to be abusive in itself; and consequently [by ensuring the individual worker the right to the product of his labors]…safeguards the liberty of the individual groups. (Guillaume, p. 197)

Bakunin, speaking for the collectivists, disputed the notion that private property, even in a limited form, was justified as a means for safeguarding individual rights.

…the individual is a product of society, and without society man is nothing. All productive labor is above all social labor; “production is only possible through the combination of the labor of past generations with the present generation, there is not ever labor that can be called individual labor.” He [Bakunin] is thus a supporter of collective property, not only of the soil, but of all social wealth. As for the organization of agricultural production, it is concluded by the solidarization of the communes, as proposed by the majority of the commission, all the more willingly that this solidarization implies the organization of society from the bottom upwards, while the proposition of the minority presupposes a State [to guarantee and enforce the terms of sale]. (Guillaume, p. 197)

To be fair to Proudhon and the mutualists, their waffling on the issue of private property was not so much due to ambivalence about collective ownership, as an example of the extremes they were prepared to go to avoid a revolutionary confrontation. Mutualist credit was intended to produce “a new economic arrangement” which would somehow avoid the “shock” of violent confrontation with the capitalists over their property rights. To the collectivists, who were veterans of bitter labor strikes and insurrections, this was hopelessly idealistic. Capitalism had not originated out of a peaceful, democratic debate as to how to organize production to ensure economic justice and well-being for all, but was the product of centuries of fraud, theft, and State-sponsored violence. Proudhon often ignored that these activities were as much a part of the functioning of the existing economy as was the official market side of capitalism. The State and the capitalists would not disappear with a new set of rules, since they, more often than not, did not play by their own rules.

Although Proudhon had discovered many of the contradictions of capitalist economics, his non-confrontational solutions were just too out of touch with reality. What the anarchists needed was to base their economics less on moral arguments than on a positivist materialism. As Bakunin put it:

…Proudhon remained an incorrigible idealist all his life, swayed at one moment by the Bible and at the next by Roman Law …His great misfortune was that he never studied natural science and adopted its methods….As a thinker Marx is on the right path. He has set up the principle that all religious, political and legal developments in history are not the cause but the effect of economic developments. Many others before him had a hand in the unveiling of it and even expressed it in part, but in the last resort credit is due to him for having developed the idea scientifically and having made it the basis of his whole scientific teaching. On the other hand, Proudhon understood the idea of freedom better than Marx. (Jackson, pp. 128-129)

Collectivism and Marxism

The criticism Bakunin made of Proudhon’s idealism was perhaps a kinder version of the same criticism Marx had made in The Poverty of Philosophy. It is on the basis of such statements, as well as his praise for Marx’s Capital, that some argue that Bakunin shared the economic views of Marx. In reality Bakunin and his fellow collectivists differed with Marx on economic grounds as well as on political matters. Bakunin did begin a translation of Capital into Russian, but never completed it. Had his enthusiasm for the work been as overwhelming as some claim, he would no doubt have finished it and collected the remainder of the sum agreed upon by the Russian publishing house (instead of getting expelled at the Hague Congress of the International for allegedly threatening the publisher in order to get out of the deal). A closer look at what Bakunin thought about Capital reveals his real reason for admiring the work:

…nothing, that I know of, contains an analysis so profound, so luminous, so scientific, so decisive and if I can express it thus, so merciless an expose of the formation of bourgeois capital and the systematic and cruel exploitation that capital continues exercising over the work of the proletariat. The only defect of this work…is that it has been written, in part, in a style excessively metaphysical and abstract…which makes it difficult to explain and nearly unapproachable for the majority of workers. (Bakunin, p. 195)

Bakunin, more the revolutionary than the economist, admired Capital as a great piece of revolutionary propaganda. Marx, drawing his facts and figures out of British government documents and parliamentary debates, had hoisted the capitalists by their own petards. This does not mean he endorsed it verbatim. Bakunin had earlier translated The Communist Manifesto into Russian and made no bones about his disagreements with Marx and Engels over their proposals for a centralized state socialist economy.

I am not a communist because communism concentrates and absorbs all the powers of society into the state, because it necessarily ends in the centralization of property in the hands of the state…I want society and collective property to be organized from the bottom upwards by means of free association and not from the top downwards by means of some form of authority…it is in this sense that I am a collectivist. (quoted in Cahm, p. 36)

Rather than a State or a market determining the allocation of resources and the distribution of products, the workers would decide these things themselves by free agreements among the associations. These agreements would be monitored by the communes, and industrial federations to make sure that labor was not exploited. Bakunin, however, recognized that any system of free exchange of products still held the danger of monopoly and private accumulation of wealth, particularly by the self-employed farmer or artisan, who tried to pass on land or equipment to his children. Thus he also called for the abolition of inheritance to prevent the rise of a new working class bourgeoisie.

The International debated the subject of inheritance at its Basel Congress in 1869. Marx was opposed to the International taking a position on the subject of inheritance on the grounds that once the private ownership of the means of production had been abolished (and expropriated by the workers’ government), there would be nothing left to inherit. Even worse, it implied the International would support something other than the state communism of Marx. As Eccarius, speaking for Marx, put it,

the abolition of the right of inheritance can not be the point of departure for the same social transformation: it would be too absurd to require the abolition of the law of supply and demand while continuing the state of conditions of exchange; it would be a reactionary theory in practice. By treating the laws of inheritance, we suppose necessarily that individual ownership of the means of production would continue to exist. (Guillaume, p. 201)

Eccarius was half right. Bakunin and the other collectivists intended that something other than the state ownership of the means of production and central control would exist, but it would not necessarily be capitalist ownership nor a market economy. The full collectivization of the economy would not be carried out by a single decree, but over a generation. Abolition of wage labor by the collectivization of the capitalist employers would be the first step, but the right of the self-employed, particularly the small farmer, to their means of livelihood would be respected. To recognize this right of possession to the tools needed for one’s own labor, however, was not to recognize an ownership right that could be bought and sold or passed on to one’s children. This was the meaning behind the collectivist demand for the abolition of inheritance.

If after having proclaimed the social liquidation, we attempted to dispossess by decree millions of small farmers, they would necessarily be thrown onto the side of reaction, and in order for them to submit to the revolution, it would be necessary to employ force against them…It would be well then to leave them possessors in fact of those small parcels of which they are proprietors. But if you don’t abolish the right of inheritance what would happen? They would transfer their holdings to their children…

If, to the contrary, at the same time that you would make the social liquidation… you abolish the right of inheritance what would remain with the peasants? Nothing but defacto possession, and that possession… no longer sheltered by the protective power of the state, would easily be transformed under the pressure of events and of revolutionary forces. (Bakunin, quoted by Guillaume, p. 203)

The Collectivist Economic Doctrine

Collectivism, unlike Proudhon’s Mutualism or Marxism, was not a well developed theory, the product of a single mind. Its principal advocates were socialist revolutionaries and workers caught up in the events of the time: the upheavals of 1848 which occurred throughout Europe, the birth of the labor unions, and the Paris Commune of 1871. As far as they could tell, a social revolution was not an abstract goal looming far off in the distance, but something that had to be prepared for right away. Some sort of workable economic program had to be agreed upon by the labor movement, which had broad appeal to the various socialist and labor groupings that made up the International, without locking everyone into something they might regret later. This explains why collectivism often was so sketchy in details, and some of its advocates disagreed among themselves over various points.

The closest thing to a “definitive” statement of collectivism is an essay written by James Guillaume in 1874, “Ideas on Social Organization” (see Dolgoff, pp. 356-379). Guillaume begins by emphasizing that there can be no “blueprint” for social revolution, since it must be left up to the workers themselves to decide how best to organize themselves in their own areas. However, having said that, he begins to make various suggestions about the collectivist approach. First the system of wage labor will be abolished by the workers “taking possession” of all capital and tools of production, i.e. the collectivization of property. The self-employed and the owners of family businesses are to be left alone to operate as they wish, but with this important exception: “his former hired hands, if he had any, will become his partners and share with him the products which their common labor extracts from the land.” (Dolgoff, p. 359)

The internal organization of the worker collectives, working conditions, hours, distribution of responsibilities, and share of income, etc., are to be left in the hands of their members: “Each workshop, each factory, will organize itself into an association of workers who will be free to administer production and organize their work as they think best, provided that the rights of each worker are safeguarded and the principles of equality and justice are observed.” (Dolgoff, p. 363, my emphasis)

However the fact that the collectivists were willing to tolerate those groups which decided to distribute income according to hours worked, does not mean the collectivists believed in the principle, “to each according to their work.” As Guillaume makes clear, this is only justified (where it is practiced) as a temporary expedient, to discourage over-consumption during the transition period when capitalist conditions of scarcity will not yet have been overcome.

In some communities remuneration will be in proportion to hours worked; in others payment will be measured by both the hours of work and the kind of work performed; still other systems will be experimented with to see how they work out. The problem of property having been resolved, and there being no capitalists placing a tax on the labor of the masses, the question of types of distribution and remuneration become secondary. We should to the greatest possible extent institute and be guided by the principle From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. When, thanks to the progress of scientific industry and agriculture, production comes to outstrip consumption, and this will be attained some years after the Revolution, it will no longer be necessary to stingily dole out each worker’s share of goods… (Dolgoff, p. 361)

Although collectivism promotes the greatest autonomy for the worker associations, it should not be confused with a market economy. The goods produced by the collectivized factories and workshops are exchanged not according to highest price that can be wrung from consumers, but according to their actual production costs. The determination of these honest prices is to be by a “Bank of Exchange” in each community (obviously an idea borrowed from Proudhon).

…the [labor] value of the commodities having been established in advance by a contractual agreement between the regional cooperative federations [ie. industrial unions] and the various communes, who will also furnish statistics to the Banks of Exchange. The Bank of Exchange will remit to the producers negotiable vouchers representing the value of their products; these vouchers will be accepted throughout the territory included in the federation of communes. (Dolgoff, p. 366) The Bank of Exchange …[will] arrange to procure goods which the commune is obliged to get from outside sources, such as certain foodstuffs, fuels, manufactured products, etc. These outside products will be featured side by side with local goods…and all goods will be uniformly priced. [Since similar goods all have the same average labor value.] (Dolgoff, p. 367)

Although this scheme bears a strong resemblance to Proudhonian “People’s Banking,” it should be noted that the Banks of Exchange, along with a “Communal Statistical Commission,” are intended to have a planning function as well.

…each Bank of Exchange makes sure in advance that these products are in demand [in order to risk] nothing by immediately issuing payment vouchers to the producers. (p. 367) ….By means of statistics gathered from all the communes in a region, it will be possible to scientifically balance production and consumption. In line with these statistics, it will also be possible to add more help in industries where production is insufficient and reduce the number of men where there is a surplus of production. (Dolgoff, p. 370)

As conditions permit, the exchange functions of the communal banks are to be gradually replaced by the distribution of goods “in accordance with the needs of the consumers.” (p. 368) Until that point is reached, the local community has the responsibility for providing certain basic needs for everyone without regard for production done by that particular individual. Among these essential needs to be distributed freely are education, housing, health, personal security and fire protection, disaster relief, and food services. The worker collectives engaged in these essential communal services will not be required to exchange them for their “labor value,” but “will receive from the commune vouchers enabling them to acquire all commodities necessary for the decent maintenance of their members.” (Dolgoff, p. 365)

Therefore each “commune” is to provide a basic standard of living for all its members during the transitional period leading towards economic abundance. Those people desiring a higher income will be given the right of access to the means of production in order to produce goods both for themselves and for exchange. Each worker collective, however, will not have to shift for itself but will receive assistance from the communes, and local and regional industry associations.

…social organization is completed, on the one hand by the establishment of regional corporative federations comprising all the groups of workers in the same industry; and on the other by the establishment of a federation of communes….The corporative federations will unite all the workers in the same industry; they will no longer unite to protect their wages and working conditions against the onslaughts of their employers, but primarily to guarantee mutual use of the tools of production which are the property of each of these groups and which will by a reciprocal contract become the collective property of the whole corporative federation. In this way, the federation of groups will be able to exercise constant control over production, and regulate the rate of production to meet the fluctuating consumer needs of society….The statistics of production, coordinated by the statistical bureaus of every a rational manner of the hours of labor, the cost price of products and their exchange value, and the quantities in which these products should be produced to meet the needs of consumers. (Dolgoff, pp. 376-377)

A Limited Form of Communism

In his essay, “Must We Apply Ourselves with an Examination of the Ideal of a Future System?”, Peter Kropotkin pointed out that the anarcho-collectivism advocated by Bakunin, Guillaume, and the anarchists in the First International, was actually a variety of anarchist communism, but “in an altered and limited form” (Miller, p. 59). The anarcho-collectivists felt that full communism, ie. the free distribution of all goods and services, would have to wait until the economy had been reorganized and the scarcity artificially created by the capitalist market had been overcome. Until then much of production would be according to the principle of “to each workplace according to their product.” This is not the same as the state collectivists who argued for “to each worker according to their work,” and called for elaborate schemes of income hierarchy. The worst that can be said about the anarcho- collectivists, is that they were willing to tolerate income differences at various workplaces for the sake of giving each collective the autonomy to decide for themselves. This was, however, not their ideal. Even for the transition period, the anarcho-collectivist principle was income equality for all working in the same collective.

Do not the manager’s superior training and greater responsibilities entitle him to more pay and privileges than manual workers? Is not administrative work just as necessary to production as is manual labor – if not more so? Of course, production would be badly crippled, if not altogether suspended, without efficient and intelligent management. But from the standpoint of elementary justice and even efficiency, the management of production need not be exclusively monopolized by one or several individuals. And the managers are not at all entitled to more pay… (Bakunin, quoted in Dolgoff, p. 424)

A much more serious problem for collectivism is the inequality which would inevitably arise between workers due to the exchange of products. The collectivists sought to ameliorate this to a certain extent by giving the investment arm of the communes, the Banks of Exchange, a more activist role in economic planning, and by putting an income floor under all workers by providing free housing, food, and public services. However, this creates further possible sources of inequality, since the communal service workers are supposed to work in return for meeting all their needs regardless of their productivity. Thus a possible source of conflict arises between a communist service sector and an exchange-based production sector. If the production goes well, the communal workers may resent the higher incomes gained by the production workers. If production goes poorly, the production workers may resent the income security of the service workers.

For the collectivists these problems were seen as minor, if recognized at all. Guillaume, for instance, assumed that the material abundance developed during the transitional period would bring about a blossoming of morality, which would soon make the exchange economy irrelevant. Unfortunately, this begs the question, since he did not bother to define what “abundance” is and how we are to know when we have achieved it. We can safely predict that in any future economy there is virtually no limit to human desires for material goods, while there will always be limits to what society and the ecology are able to provide without causing a breakdown. “Abundance” means different things to different people. The danger is that by leaving this point of development undefined, those who may be the economic”winners” of the transitional period, may be unwilling to make the next step.

The Collectivist Legacy

The main contribution of the collectivists to anarchist economics was their attempt to anticipate many of the problems which would be encountered during the revolutionary transition from capitalism to stateless communism, and their emphasis on the need for finding a balance between ultimate goals and day-to-day realities. These methods contributed enormously to the early successes of the 1936 revolution in Spain, where the anarchist movement retained a strong collectivist tradition. The specific proposals made by Guillaume and others, while useful as an example of applying anarchist principles to existing conditions, have lost most of their relevance. We do not live in 19th century europe nor 1930s Spain, but in a high-tech economy threatened by environmental exhaustion. In most industries, technology has developed well beyond the point needed for “abundance” in 19th century terms. This makes the question of defining the minimum level of abundance all the more important for modern anarchists, as well as the more practical problem of how to go beyond a crude exchange economy during the transition.


Bakunin, M. Obras Completas , Volume III. Translated by Santillan, Buenos Aires, 1926.

Cahm, Caroline. Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism 1872 – 1886 . Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Dolgoff, Sam. Bakunin on Anarchism. Black Rose Books, Montreal, 1980.

Guerin, Daniel. Anarchism. Monthly Review Press, 1970.

Guillaume, James. L’Internationale : Documents et Souvenirs (1864 – 1878) . Paris, 1905. 4 volumes.

Jackson,J. Marx, Proudhon and European Socialism. Collier, New York, 1966.

Maximoff, G.P. Constructive Anarchism. Chicago, 1952.

Miller, Martin A. Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution: P.A. Kropotkin. M.I.T. Press, 1970.

(I would like to thank Nan DiBello for her assistance with this article.)

Bakunin and the Historians

Review Essay by Jon Bekken

“Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin, the anarchist, was a political thinker; his reputation, based partly on his appetite for action and partly on unsympathetic historiography, obscures this…” Robert Cutler opens the introduction to his anthology of Bakunin’s writings with these words. Another historian, Nunzio Pernicone, deplores the modern fashion of “Bakunin-bashing.” And Arthur Lehning, in a 1978 review of the historical literature, refers to a conspiracy of silence, suggesting that studying Bakunin inevitably raises basic questions confronting working-class movements – dictatorship vs. liberty, centralism vs. federalism, self-organization vs. a domineering political party.

When Lehning wrote, only the Marxist E.H. Carr’s 1937 biography was available in English (aside from historical sketches in pamphlets, journals, and collections of Bakunin’s work) and few of Bakunin’s writings had been translated into English. But today a substantial number of biographical works, at least compared to the paucity of Bakunin’s own writings, are available in English. In addition to E.H. Carr’s dated but still standard biography, reissued in 1975, readers have been subjected to two popular biographies (Masters, Mendel), a new scholarly biography by Aileen Kelly, a very useful look at Bakunin’s pivotal role in organizing the Italian socialist movement (Ravindranathan), and Thomas’ rather intriguing examination of the way in which Marx borrowed his ideas from, and shaped his arguments in response to, anarchist thinkers including Bakunin and Proudhon.

Masters’, Mendel’s and Kelly’s biographies are quite poor, especially when compared to Carr. Mendel argues (unconvincingly, and on the basis of remarkably few sources) that Bakunin’s revolutionary career and ideas were fundamentally authoritarian and resulted from deep-seated psychological problems. Masters is friendlier to his subject (but sees anarchism as at best a beautiful but impractical dream), but draws almost entirely upon English-language sources, especially Carr, and is written more in the style of a novel than a work of history.

Aileen Kelly’s biography, the newest of the three, purports to be an intellectual biography but (in Cutler’s words) “treats Bakunin as a case study in the social psychology of millenarianism” (p. 234). Kelly is unabashedly hostile, painting Bakunin as an ill- meaning buffoon, misrepresenting key aspects of his life and thought, and disguising missing evidence with circular footnotes. Although historians of Spanish (Esenwein) and Italian (Ravindranathan) anarchism point to the organizational and propagandistic skills Bakunin displayed in those settings, Kelly refuses to allow the historical record to stand in the way of her thesis.

Ravindranathan, however, has written an outstanding book focussing on one of Bakunin’s most productive efforts during his ten years or so as an anarchist (for most of his revolutionary career, Bakunin was a pan-Slavist). Bakunin played a key role in disabusing the nascent Italian revolutionaries of patriotic illusions, and persuaded them that a social, not merely a political, revolution was necessary. As the American Historical Review’s (Dec. 1990, pp. 1576-77) reviewer put it, “Thankfully, Ravindranathan does not indulge in the Bakunin-bashing that has become so fashionable in recent years. Although he does not hesitate to note [indeed, to exaggerate-jb] the Russian’s ideological inconsistencies and personal failings, Ravindranathan portrays Bakunin as a serious and devoted revolutionary, an acute thinker capable of extraordinary insights… and a master propagandist.”

Kelly and Mendel attribute responsibility for Nechaev’s Catechism to Bakunin, even though it has been proven that Bakunin not only did not write it, but vigorously denounced it. (Carr, writing before the evidence was in, makes the same argument on the basis of stylistic similarities and turns of phrase, apparently never considering the fact that authors borrow from, and are influenced by, one another. Avrich’s collection of Anarchist Portraits contains an essay reviewing the evidence on this, and another which attacks Bakunin on scant evidence indeed.) Aside from Carr, the biographies focus their attention on Bakunin’s pre- anarchist period, whether because it was the greater part of his life (though it is his anarchist years for which Bakunin is best remembered, and that account for the continuing historical interest) or because it enables biographers to indulge in their pet theories about why Bakunin turned out so badly.

And make no mistake about it, in the eyes of his biographers (at least his English-language biographers) Bakunin turned out very badly indeed. For Carr, Bakunin is a tragic-comic figure, albeit very human. Masters suggests a greater degree of grandeur in his rewriting of Carr’s work. For Mendel, Bakunin is a villain of the highest order, with an egomaniacal will to dominate and to destroy. Kelly softens this portrait somewhat, leaving Bakunin quite inscrutable. For if he were truly the ineffectual buffoon she describes, he would surely have long since passed into obscurity.

Readers interested in learning the details of Bakunin’s life would do better to look at Guillaume’s highly partisan account, which opens Dolgoff’s anthology, or Shatz’s briefer biographical sketch in the Introduction to his edition of Statism and Anarchy. While Carr is by no means friendly to anarchism, his account too is worth reading. But Ravindranathan’s account, while covering Bakunin’s life from 1814 through 1863 (Bakunin moved to Italy in 1864) in just 16 pages, offers the best book-length English- language biography, covering the years when Bakunin developed and began to propagate his anarchist ideas. Despite its focus on Italy, Bakunin & The Italians illustrates both Bakunin’s methods and his ideas during this vital period (Bakunin retired in ill health in 1874, his final two years receive little attention).

In order to read Bakunin himself, one still often needs to be proficient in French or Russian (preferably both), but there are now four widely-available English-language anthologies of Bakunin’s writings (Dolgoff, Cutler, Lehning and Maximoff), alongside the long-available God and the State (published by Dover in 1970) and Marshall Shatz’s new translation of Statism and Anarchy – one of Bakunin’s few more-or-less completed books, and his last major theoretical work. (An earlier translation of Statism and Anarchy by C.H. Plummer was published in 1976 by the Revisionist Press. I have been unable to locate a copy, but it is reputedly much inferior.) Also available in English is an annotated edition of The Confession of Mikhail Bakunin (written from a Russian prison), and excerpts in several anthologies and pamphlets.

These translations and anthologies fall into two broad categories: scholarly editions (Cutler, Shatz), and more popular translations (Dolgoff, Maximoff; Lehning falls somewhere in between) intended to present Bakunin’s ideas to contemporary readers. The popular editions often delete references to often obscure controversies or persons Bakunin was responding to and seek to simplify his often difficult prose in order to make it more accessible to modern readers. The resulting works are generally more readable than are their scholarly counterparts, though some readers prefer (or need) the deleted material in order to place Bakunin’s writings in their specific, historical context, which often shaped not only the concerns addressed but also the form they took.

Dolgoff’s anthology is the most useful and comprehensive, although Cutler has unearthed several interesting texts. Maximoff is useful primarily as a concordance – he has organized very brief excerpts by subject, in order to enable readers to readily ascertain, say, Bakunin’s views on human nature. But while translators such as Cutler and Schatz tend to present Bakunin’s writings as historical artifacts, Dolgoff sets out to illustrate the basic themes of Bakunin’s anarchist philosophy, and has carefully selected his texts “in order to enable the reader to grasp the essence of Bakunin’s views” (p. 21).

(For readers interested in comparing different translations, Cutler [pp. 32-33] provides a useful list of the editions and pages upon which other English-language translations of the same works can be found. Similarly, compare Dolgoff’s 25 pages of excerpts from Statism and Anarchy to Shatz’s 218 page translation. Dolgoff extracts the core of Bakunin’s devastating critique of Marxism and his discussion of the preconditions for social revolution; while it is certainly useful to have the complete work available, it is largely devoted to a detailed analysis of contemporary political currents which adds relatively little – with some exceptions, most notably the “Appendix” and its discussion of revolutionary strategy – to our understanding of Bakunin’s philosophy.)

Sadly, many anarchists know little more of Bakunin than a few aphorisms (the urge to destroy is also a creative urge, “I shall continue to be an impossible person so long as those who are now possible remain possible”) and perhaps a general sense of his critique of, and battle against, Marxism. For example, a writer in The Raven recently argued, on the basis of her reading of God and the State, that Bakunin was uninterested in the liberation of women. Clearly she was unfamiliar with Bakunin’s “Manifesto of the Russian Revolutionary Association to the Oppressed Women of Russia” (excerpted in Dolgoff), of his defense of his sister’s right to escape a love-less marriage, etc. Similarly, recent writers in the anarchist press have attributed a wide variety of conflicting economic views to Bakunin. Without doubt, Bakunin had many faults and inconsistencies – even during the years when he was developing anarchism as a political philosophy. But he played a vital role in the evolution of our movement and our ideas, and deserves to be better, and more accurately, remembered.

Works Cited:

Paul Avrich, Anarchist Portraits. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988. (Reviewed LLR 7)

Michael Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy (Introduced and Edited by Marshall Shatz). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

E.H. Carr, Michael Bakunin (Revised Edition). New York: Octagon Books, 1975.

Robert Cutler (translator and editor), From out of the Dustbin: Bakunin’s Basic Writings, 1869-1871. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis Publishers, 1985. (Reviewed LLR 2)

Sam Dolgoff (editor), Bakunin on Anarchism (Expanded edition). Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1980.

George Esenwein, Anarchist Ideology and the Working Class Movement in Spain. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. (Reviewed this issue)

Aileen Kelly, Mikhail Bakunin: A Study in the Psychology and Politics of Utopianism. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1982.

Arthur Lehning, Michel Bakounine et les historiens. Geneva: C.I.R.A., 1979.

—– (editor), Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings (Translated by Steven Cox and Olive Stevens). London: Jonathan Cape, 1973.

Anthony Masters, Bakunin: The Father of Anarchism. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1974.

G.P. Maximoff (translator and editor), The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism. Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1953.

Arthur Mendel, Michael Bakunin: Roots of Apocalypse. New York: Praeger, 1981.

T.R. Ravindranathan, Bakunin and the Italians. McGill-Queen’s University Press (3430 McTavish St., Montreal, Quebec H3A 1X9), 1989.

Paul Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980.