Editorial, ASR 81
As we write the U.S. election is still impending, and so we cannot know which candidates won. What we do know is that once again workers have lost.
We faced a grim choice between a president who cheers on police and neofascist thugs as they shoot down protesters and a former vice president who suggests it would be better to merely maim us; a president who encourages his followers to ram their cars into anti-fascist protesters and his opponent’s suggestion that instead “anarchists and arsonists” be arrested and prosecuted for our thought crimes; a president who loots the treasury for his personal benefit and a man who spent his entire career shilling for the banks and insurance firms, helping them pick our pockets and shielding them from being held culpable for their crimes.
These are dark times indeed. Paramilitary thugs roam the country, brandishing assault rifles and shouting anti-Semitic slogans. In Portland and other cities, they coordinate with local police as they threaten demonstrators against police brutality and institutional racism, and actually fire paintballs and other ostensibly nonlethal weapons. One of these neofascists killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, August 25, and wounded a third. Police allowed him to go home without so much as questioning him, though he was later arrested on murder charges. Trump and his cheerleaders at Faux News heralded the killer as a hero.
Police have long shot down people with impunity – more than a thousand a year, year after year; a killing spree that has not been slowed by a spate of ‘reforms’ including body cameras, new use of force policies, training in non-lethal methods, etc. But these have not typically been politically motivated; rather, the police have killed those they thought might be committing a crime (often something as trivial as jaywalking) or not showing them the deference to which they feel entitled. For decades U.S. police have stationed snipers atop buildings overlooking demonstrations, but they did not open fire on the crowds. (Spying, infiltrating and harassment were, of course, different matters.) That “restrained” approach has eroded during the ongoing protests against police brutality, with police and federal forces (a motley crew of National Guard, Marshals, Secret Service, Park Police, Capitol Police, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms officers, Customs and Border Protection agents, and Immigration Enforcement – many not in uniform or otherwise identified) firing rubber bullets and tear gas directly into crowds doing nothing more than exercising the right supposedly guaranteed by the First Amendment to protest government abuses. In some cases they have fired live ammunition at protestors, but it did not appear that these were targeted assassination attempts.
(Overseas, of course, is another matter. The Obama administration ordered the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen; his 16-year-old son was killed two weeks later while hanging out with friends, and the Trump administration killed his 8-year-old daughter in another drone strike. All three were U.S. citizens.)
Earlier this year, there were dozens of reports of unmarked vans filled with black-clad men abducting activists. Most were released hours later, after being held and interrogated by federal agents (though at least one abduction was carried out by New York City police, who issued the victim a citation before releasing her).
But now we see U.S. marshals acting as a death squad, murdering anti-fascist activist Michael Reinoehl in cold blood. On Sept. 3, plain-clothes marshals (most actually local law enforcement who had been deputized) blocked his car in two unmarked vehicles, jumped out, and let loose a hail of bullets. An hour before Reinoehl was killed, the president tweeted a call for police to “Do your job, and do it fast.” Trump then described Reinoehl’s killing as “retribution,” and in his first debate with Joe Biden said, “I sent in the U.S. Marshals, they took care of business.” The Marshals Service denied this, issuing a statement claiming that they had attempted to “peacefully arrest” Reinoehl for shooting a neofascist he said was threatening protestors’ lives.
However, the New York Times reported Oct. 13 that the death squad did not have an arrest warrant and witnesses said they did not identify themselves as police or give any commands before opening fire. Parents hustled children playing nearby to safety as Reinoehl fled the hail of bullets on foot. The assassins fired at least 29 rounds from four guns, several hitting a nearby house and one narrowly missing a man sitting in his dining room. Police claim Reinoehl was drawing a gun as they opened fire. However, the gun was still in his pocket when they examined his corpse. Despite the ubiquity of police body cameras, no one on the death squad was wearing one – we have only their contradictory reports, statements of several witnesses, a cell phone video that catches the final seconds of the murder, and the scattered bullets to go on.
ProPublica reports that Reinoehl fled Portland after several trucks drove past the rental home he lived in with his son and middle school-age daughter, firing three rounds into the house. Reinoehl got his daughter out of the house, left her with friends, and fled to Lacey, Washington (near Olympia).
However, police had the apartment where a friend put him up under surveillance, and U.S. marshals dispatched a team to kill Reinoehl just a few hours after Portland authorities charged him with second degree murder. He had just left the apartment and gotten in his station wagon when the marshals opened fire. One witness said the killers seemed to be drug dealers; another thought they were a right-wing militia. The killers refused a neighbor’s offer of medical assistance, telling the veteran to “shut the fuck up.”
Death squads kidnapping and murdering dissidents are nothing new. The U.S. has long sponsored death squad regimes around the world, and shares responsibility for their many victims. In the 1850s, the state of California organized units to hunt down and kill Native Americans, paying out $1.5 million, much of it reimbursed by the federal government. For decades, union activists routinely faced gun thugs hired by the employers. The FBI worked with armed gangs and police, waging a war of terror against the American Indian Movement and the Black Panther Party, killing dozens of AIM supporters on the Pine Ridge reservation and famously murdering Fred Hampton (among many Panthers killed) in his bed.
The death squad resurgence is a sign of fear, not strength. The Trumpsters and the police know they are deeply unpopular, and believe they can hold onto power only through intimidation. But they are dangerous nonetheless. Solidarity between all the progressive forces is essential, as is renewed organizing. An organized working class can shut down the apparatus of repression by refusing to supply it, or through general strikes and other direct action that makes it clear we will never submit.
We can not look to the government to defend us; rather we must build the organized solidarity that enables us to act for ourselves, and to shut the death squads down once and for all. [JB]
review by ridhiman balaji, ASR 81
A shorter version of this review was published in ASR 81 (Winter 2021)
Deric Shannon, Anthony Nocella & John Asimakopoulos, eds., Accumulation of Freedom: Writings on Anarchist Economics. AK Press, 2012, 375 pp., $21, paperback.
Accumulation of Freedom is a collection of essays written by various anarchists and libertarian socialists. They provide their own take on issues such as revolutionary strategy, globalization, class, hegemony and many others. Many of the contributors are anarcho-communists. The book is very much a mixed bag; some essays are really good, while others are quite bad. Accumulation begins with a preface by Kinna, who begins by presenting a critique of mainstream economics, which many believe is based on unrealistic assumptions. Kinna blames the ideology of neoliberalism for the emergence of a global economic system in which economic institutions such as the market are under-regulated and ill-planned. Contrary to the “anarcho”-capitalism of Murray Rothbard, Kinna argues “anarchism offers a strong and rich heritage of anti-capitalist thinking.” (6) According to Kinna, neoliberal globalization has produced three sets of problems: 1) Corporate capitalism, 2) environmental and ecological costs of industrialization and modernization, and 3) the unfairness of global market regulation and, in particular, the Western bias of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. Although Kinna does a good job discussing issues raised by neoliberal capitalism, readers would have also benefited from a discussion of potential solutions to these problems.
The introductory essay by the editors, Anarchist Economics: A Holistic View, discusses why anarchists oppose capitalism and the institution of wage labor. The authors argue that anarchists generally accept a traditional two-class analytical framework which divides people into two categories: the working class and the ruling class. However, as the authors point out, not everyone fits neatly into these categories, as some have argued for the existence of a third class, such as the “the middle class,” “the coordinator class,” “the techno-managerial class,” etc. The editors then provide a brief overview of the three main anarchist schools of thought: Mutualism (Proudhon), Collectivism (Bakunin), and Communism (Kropotkin). Although the authors do a good job of providing a brief overview of classical anarchism, their discussion of Proudhon’s Mutualism is quite misleading. This is addressed later in this review.
In Examining the History of Anarchist Economics to See the Future, Spannos discusses key events in anarchist history. The essay is well written, and Spannos’ decision to use Maurice Brinton’s account of how the Bolsheviks dismantled workers’ control was a good choice. There is not much discussion, however, of what role unions can or should play in building a more emancipatory and liberatory society.
In Laying the Foundations: Proudhon’s Contribution to Anarchist Economics, Iain McKay provides an excellent overview of Proudhon, making a strong case for his continuing relevance. McKay’s essay is very useful for first-time readers of Proudhon, with plenty of textual evidence. However, I did not find McKay’s assertion that Marx’s account of “exploitation” is essentially the same as Proudhon’s very convincing. As I read him, Proudhon appears to be much more interested in theorizing in terms of property, as opposed to Marx who puts forward a value-theoretic critique of capitalism. For Proudhon, the value workers create is their property [“the price is not sufficient: the labour of the workers has created a value; now this value is their property” (McKay 2011, 114)] Thus, what capitalists are really appropriating is workers’ property. McKay’s assertion that “Proudhon was the first to expound many of the key concepts of Marxist Economics” (68) is also not very convincing. If McKay is suggesting that Proudhon came up with the notion of “surplus-value” before Marx, then this point is not clearly established. The problem for Proudhon, as I read him, is not that “workers [produce] more value than they [receive] in wages” (66), rather that workers do not enjoy the fruits of their labor. In other words, the problem is not the size of the wage, rather that only capitalists profit from any production opportunity undertaken even though the effort was a joint collaboration between workers and capitalists.
McKay also interprets Proudhon to be an early proponent of what is known in the Post-Keynesian school of thought as the “endogenous theory of money.” (72) There are numerous problems with this assertion. First, the problem with the “endogenous theory of money” is that its proponents use a very different operating definition of “money” which, in my view, obscures the way money and taxes actually function in capitalist societies. According to the classical Quantity Theory of Money (Smith, Ricardo), which Marx rejected, money is currency (cash), which serves as 1) a measure of value and 2) a medium of exchange. Post-Keynesians use a confusing conception of “money”. First, they define “money” as a “unit-of-account”. Second, their definition of money is inclusive of credit instruments and debt obligations (IOUs). This approach is inimical to the medium of exchange character of money. On the question of whether Proudhon was a proponent of the “endogenous theory of money,” it is not immediately discernible from McKay’s comments whether this is the case. Proudhon writes,
Indeed, in all possible societies, even communistic, there is need for a measure of exchange, otherwise either the right of the producer, or that of the consumer, is affected. Until values are generally constituted by some method of association, there is need that one certain product, selected from among all others, whose value seems to be the most authentic, the best defined, the least alterable, and which combines with this advantage durability and portability, be taken for the symbol, that is to say, both for the instrument of circulation and the standard of other values. (McKay 2011, 230. Emphasis Added)
Here we can see that Proudhon, following the Quantity Theory of Money, thinks that money should be both “instrument of circulation” as well as “the standard for other values.” This seems to suggest, contrary to McKay, that Proudhon was not a proponent of the “endogenous theory of money.” Nonetheless, McKay’s essay provides a very useful introduction to Proudhon, while making a strong case that Kropotkin owes many ‘debts’ to Proudhon.
The essay Capitalism in the 2000s, by Volcano and Shannon is problematic. It is unclear what differentiates “neoliberal capitalism” from “non-neoliberal capitalism” and why this is relevant. The core characteristic features of the neoliberal paradigm are not specified. Although the authors do a good job scrutinizing the way globalization occurs under capitalism, in some areas their discussion is not very clear. They claim greater capital mobility has caused a “race to the bottom.” (82) This is an empirical claim which depends crucially on which part of the world you look at and what time period. They claim workers are “forced to work for wages well below the standards set by union victories in (over)developed countries.” (82) Perhaps this is true of most developing countries, but what does greater capital mobility have to do with this? Capitalists do not only seek low wages, they also seek higher levels of productivity and higher rates of profit. The authors are correct, however, that the discussion needs to shift from “globalization” to a different kind of globalization. The authors also discuss some polling data which appears to show increased interest in “socialist alternatives.” (85) However, many of these attitudes are contingent on the specific time period under examination. The victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016, as well as the recent loss of Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries, indicates that conservative attitudes remain fairly popular in the U.S. The victories of Modi in India and Bolsanaro in Brazil, as well as other neo-fascists around the world, suggest the global working-class has not been won over to socialist ideas. The rest of the essay, however, does a good job discussing many of the problems which arise under capitalism, such as periodic crises, the feminization of poverty, and general ecological unsustainability.
Fight to Win! Tools for Confronting Capital by Cochrane and Monaghan is highly problematic. The major problem is that the authors recommend the works of two radical institutionalist economists, Johnathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, who misrepresent Marx. For starters, it is unclear what the authors mean by the notion of “Labor theory of value,” a term which, in my view, does not accurately represent Marx’s value theory (nor Ricardo’s or Smith’s). Indeed, the authors do not bother defining the notion at all, it is simply presumed from the get-go that the term is problematic. Then the authors introduce readers to the concept of “Differential Accumulation” developed by Nitzan and Bichler. In their books The Global Political Economy of Israel (2002) and Capital As Power (2009), Nitzan and Bichler argue that capital is a “strategic power institution,” and that “capital represents the complex assemblages of assets under the control of particular capitalist entities, including the means of production.” (98) For Nitzan and Bichler, accumulation of capital represents the commodification of power, and claims of control over social processes. Thus, Cochrane and Monaghan write, “given that power can only be understood as a relation between two entities, capitalists judge their accumulatory success in relative terms.” (99) The writers use this concept to evaluate the success and failures of three political-economic disruption campaigns: 1) Anti-sweatshop targeting of Nike, 2) Take down SNC-Lavalin!, and 3) Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. Although these campaigns were successful in damaging capitalist profits, they write, campaigns such as the anti-sweatshop campaign “intentionally mimicked the hierarchical structure of the corporations they targeted,” and their leadership structure “privileged the type of male-dominated, competitive, and non-participatory environments that anarchists are committed to eliminating.” (113) Although Cochrane and Monaghan’s analysis is sharp and insightful, readers should be aware that prominent Marx scholar Andrew Kliman has debunked Nitzan and Bichler’s characterizations of Marx [see Value and Crisis: Bichler and Nitzan versus Marx (2011)]. Moreover, Nitzan and Bichler’s theoretical apparatus systematically neglects any discussion of class.
The essay Escaping Capitalist Hegemony by Wright and Williams is very interesting. The authors challenge the widely held belief that we live in a “capitalist” world. Wright and Williams argue there is no such thing as “capitalist hegemony” by pointing to already existing non-capitalist economic spaces in contemporary society. By looking at alternative forms of work, such as work that is non-exchanged and non-monetized, or work that is monetized but not undertaken primarily for profit-motivated purposes, Wright and Williams argue that alternative non-capitalist economic practices are already prevalent in western economies. However, the notion of “capitalism” is used very loosely throughout the essay, obscuring the way capitalism actually functions. Chapter 51 of Das Kapital provides useful criteria for distinguishing capitalist modes of production from non-capitalist modes. For Marx, there are two defining features of the capitalist mode of production: production of commodities to satisfy human wants, and the production of surplus value. Under this definition, virtually all of what Wright and Williams are talking about, such as non-exchanged, non-monetized work not undertaken primarily for profit-motivated purposes, would fall within the purview of “capitalism.” This is not to say such programs are undesirable, rather that they are not “not-capitalist.” Furthermore, you cannot have “socialism” or “not-capitalism” in one country. For instance, it is unreasonable to say that Country A, such as China or Vietnam, is “socialist” or “not-capitalist”, while these countries continue to trade and interact with capitalist countries like the United States or Great Britain. This assertion relies on a confusing conception of “capitalism.” Perhaps in the future, there will be some overlap between capitalism and socialism as there was between feudalism and capitalism, but we are nowhere near the point where capitalism is coming to an end.
Asimakopoulos’ Globalized Contradictions of Capitalism and the Imperative for Epochal Change argues that capitalism is destined to collapse repeatedly unless the state uses violence to keep it in place. (140) Asimakopoulos looks at SSA Theory developed by Kotz, McDonough and Reich in their book Social Structures of Accumulation (1994). SSA emphasizes the role of institutional arrangements on long-term economic growth, as opposed to what Asimakopoulos calls “deterministic-mechanistic Marxist economic theory.” (140) Asimakopoulos examines the emergence of three regimes, financial regime, neoliberal trade regime, and globally segmented labor markets, arguing that hegemonic powers like the U.S. and the European Union are in a position of global privilege. SSA theory incorporates neo-marxist perspectives developed by Baran and Sweezy, in particular their ideas on overproduction and underconsumption, as well as World-Systems Theory developed by Andre Frank. The problem is that these perspectives shift the discussion away from the exploitative relationship between capitalists and workers, instead, looking at interactions among states, like the U.S., or a conglomeration of states like the EU. Should libertarian socialists express solidarity with “underprivileged” states like India, China, Indonesia, etc.? Or should they express solidarity with the international working-class? It is not the state which appropriates surplus value from workers, rather it is capitalists. The section on “The neoliberal trade regime” (144-146) is quite confusing. Asimakopoulos spends a fair bit of time explaining the United States’ trade deficit with countries like Mexico and China, but it is unclear why trade deficits are inherently undesirable. A trade deficit is only half the picture, there is also a net inflow of capital from countries that run trade surpluses with the U.S., such as China and Mexico. When countries like China purchase U.S. securities like treasury bills, they finance the government’s budget deficit and create employment opportunities for workers in the U.S. Thus, Asimakopoulos presents an incomplete picture of an interconnected world where current account deficits are offset by capital account surpluses.
Hahnel’s essay The Economic Crisis and Libertarian Socialists does a good job examining the United States’ lackluster response to the 2007-2008 financial crisis, and remains relevant in light of the economic crises induced by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important to remember, however, that the Covid-19 recession is much bigger than the Great Recession of 2007-2008. Although Hahnel does a good job of looking at how the United States’ policy response to the crises was insufficient, readers would have also benefited from a discussion of the various ways in which the economy could have been restructured to be made more democratic. Various conditions could have been attached to firms that were bailed (GM, Chrysler), such as more representation on the board of directors, increasing worker-equity through policies like employee stock ownership plans, maximum wages for CEOs, and other such policies to make the workplace more equitable and democratic.
In their essay, Education’s Diminishing Returns and Revolutionary Potential in the United States and Beyond, Armaline and Armaline discuss education policy, an important issue which is often neglected when thinking about envisioning a new and better society. “The new generation of workers, young adults, and graduates face a difficult economic climate—all amidst rising costs for education, credit, general costs of living, and record levels of national debt. As it seems, many will enter the employment market carrying significant debt in comparison to previous generations.” (180-181) The authors argue that school in many ways remains a “false promise”, as it not only reproduces inequalities along the lines of race, class and gender (183), but also maintains and perpetuates global capitalism, since “public education is often a mechanism to produce new generations of workers socialized for their inclusion, typically as wage slaves, in the larger political economy.” (183) Indeed, schools are coercive institutions which teach students to conform to social, cultural and occupational hierarchies, rather than “rather than critical independent thought necessary for personal autonomy and democratic societies” (183). Many working-class students perceive school to be irrelevant to “real life.” (186) Overall, the authors do an outstanding job in criticizing the current state of public education and pointing to some ways forward.
Gordon’s essay, Anarchist Economics in Practice, is also well-written and very useful. Gordon provides an important discussion of actual economic practices undertaken by anarchists, including abstention, anarchist unions, workplace and university occupations, cooperatives and communes, local currencies, Food Not Bombs, Free shops (“gift economies”), DIY cultural production, and the electronic commons. As Gordon writes, many of these practices are prefigurative, that is, the methods by which these practices are undertaken aim to exemplify the type of future society anarchists strive towards. However, as Gordon writes, some practices such as local currency exchanges are not sufficiently prefigurative:
Some readers may object to the inclusion of certain examples, which, they may argue, do not in fact qualify as anarchist. Alternative currencies and workers’ cooperatives, for example, would receive criticism from anarcho-communists since they retain, respectively, the use of symbolic means of exchange and the payment of wages. Thus they are not only islands inside capitalism, but also not sufficiently prefigurative of an anarchist-communist society— one in which there are no wages, and products are not exchanged but distributed according to need. (204-205)
Gordon also provides a useful discussion of revolutionary strategy. He differentiates between three different outlooks: 1) constructive direct action, 2) propaganda by the deed, 3) and the politics of collapse. Indeed, as Gordon writes, “Constructive direct action means that anarchists who seek a world based on different social relations undertake their construction by themselves. On such an account, for social change to be successful, the modes of organization that will replace capitalism, the state, patriarchy, and so on must be prepared and developed alongside (though not instead of) the attack on present institutions.” (213) It is important to realize, as Gordon notes, that “anarchist economic practices ultimately function within rather than outside capitalism,” and so “are by no means entirely detached from the capitalist economy.” (213) With respect to “propaganda of the deed,” readers would have benefited from an explicit definition of the phrase. As Gordon writes, the term has often been associated with destruction and violence. However, its origins are quite different, and if one interprets the term (as Gordon does) as “the actual implementation and display of anarchist social relations” (214) then the term “prefigurative politics” captures the essence of this phrase without any of its negative connotations. In that respect, his discussion of “propaganda of the deed” is redundant. Gordon’s discussion of “the politics of collapse” also merits close attention. Gordon’s rhetoric towards the end comes across as alarmist. He writes, “the converging crises of the twenty-first century—climate change, financial meltdown, and the imminent peak in oil production—may be the only hope for large-scale social transformation.” (216, emphasis added) This type of rhetoric has a tendency to dissuade activists from using their agency to bring changes to the world. It conveys a sense of inevitability, that things in the world occur due to the immutable “internal logic” of institutions. This perspective denies the role of human agency which can be used to create alternatives and bring changes to the world. The actions of institutions, such as corporations that pollute the environment, cannot be detached from the role humans played in enabling them.
Readers will experience difficulties in understanding Kaltefleiter’s essay. Kaltefleiter’s Currency and Café Anarchy is about money and currency, but the basic issue is Kaltefleiter’s decision to use a theory by Stuart Hall known as the encoding/decoding model of communication. The theory, in my view, is unnecessarily complicated and not very useful in this context. Money is an instrument that the ruling class uses to subordinate workers. The question of how to encode or decode texts is, in my view, a distraction. Furthermore, Kaltefleiter does not provide readers with terminology that is adequately defined. As an example, Kaltefleiter writes,
Popular and scholarly understandings of money tend to share some common traits found in narratives of globalization and modernity dyads. Cultural anthropologist Faidra Papavasiliou argues that money is a “fact,” a reality that almost assumes the status of an agent, an agent that is increasingly unified and uniform across sociocultural, political, and economic boundaries. (226, emphasis added)
There is some interesting discussion of alternative forms of currency (mediums of exchange), such as the Ithaca HOURS system in Ithaca, New York. However, some of Kaltefleiter’s statements are prone to misinterpretation. For instance,
The capitalist agenda contributes to what Heidegger referred to as the loss of any meaningful distinction between “nearness” and “distance” and contributes to a leveling down of human experience, which in turn spawns an indifference that renders human experience monotonous and one-dimensional. It is within this space of one-dimensionality that a sense of community is lost unless local citizens take responsibilities for charting their own forms of social change. (229, emphasis added)
One could misinterpret the sentence highlighted above as an injunction to pursue ethno-centric policies. Local communities should assert themselves, but only in the context of a wider project which calls for solidarity with the global working-class. Finally, Kaltefleiter fails to discuss some key issues like how debt is used as a system of bondage by capitalists, or what remuneration of work would look like in a post-capitalist society.
Occupy, Resist, Produce! Lessons from Latin America’s Occupied Factories by Marie Trigona looks at movements across Latin America to occupy factories and other places of work through direct action. Many of these occupations occurred in Argentina, spreading in the wake of the financial crisis of 2001. Trigona writes, “In Argentina, more than 13,000 people work in occupied factories and businesses, otherwise known as recuperated enterprises.” (238). The occupation of BAUEN Hotel is discussed in great detail, as is the occupation of FASINPAT, a ceramic tile factory. Overall, Trigona does an excellent job highlighting successful experiences of worker control. Indeed, as Trigona writes, workplace occupations “provide a liberatory vision by sowing the seeds for a new society today,” and by “challenging market systems of domination, and questioning the legitimacy of private property.” (240)
Ernesto Aguilar’s essay, Call It an Uprising: People of Color and the Third World Organize against Capitalism, is deficient in many respects. The essay does not have an underlying thesis; rather there is a topic of discussion: “the response of people of color to capitalism.” (257) Moreover, Aguilar barely mentions classical anarchists (Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin), instead relying heavily on Marxists like István Mészáros, C.L.R James, Vijay Prashad, etc. Aguilar writes,
As a movement that aims for libertarian socialism, anarchism must account for the experiences of people of color because of their unique role in (sometimes forcibly) building modern capitalism, as well as maintaining it. Further, as a movement that aims to abolish all hierarchical authority, anarchism requires an analysis of colonialism, imperialism, and white supremacy in order to live up to its own aims. Unfortunately, in much anarchist theorizing and movement building this is notably absent. (258)
But how is “anarchism,” an ideology which includes a wide-ranging set of ideas (from the Egoism/Individualism of Stirner to the Collectivism of Bakunin), inattentive or inimical to “colonialism, imperialism and white supremacy”? Aguilar doesn’t provide a sufficient justification. Instead, Aguilar simply moves on to a different topic, globalization. Perhaps the only unifying theme in Aguilar’s essay is the concept of “dignidad,” the Spanish word for dignity. But dignity in relation to what? The workplace? Race? Class? Aguilar is correct that many people of color continue to fight against capitalism. But some of these people are also reactionaries who do not want anything to do with socialism. Furthermore, if states in the Global South such as Venezuela, Ecuador or India, challenge the global hegemony of the U.S., it would be irrational to interpret this as the people of those countries fighting against the imperialism of The West. Thus, if (former) heads of states like Rafael Correa challenge the legitimacy of Ecuador’s debts or reject U.S. trade agreements, it does not follow that “people of color are challenging capitalism and oppression.” (268)
Towards the end, Aguilar writes, “Radical white revolutionary tendencies such as First World socialism and anarchism have not adequately responded to the ways people of color and the Third World have taken on capitalism.” He continues, “one of Marxism’s most stunning failures, and a major obstacle to relevance beyond shorthand in the new millennium, has been a chronic inability to understand race and to dismiss racial oppression in favor of economism and reductionism. Such critiques paradoxically reduce race and gender to personal identity and competitors to class, thus missing their material basis and the ways they intersect with class.” (270) One could argue that this is the case. However, it is hardly reasonable to suggest that all Marxists uniformly are economistic and reductionists. If anything, the shortcomings of some Marxists warrant a more integrated approach to issues of “race” and “class,” which Aguilar fails to offer.
Shannon’s essay, Chopping Off the Invisible Hand: Internal Problems with Markets and Anarchist Theory, Strategy, and Vision, also suffers from numerous drawbacks. Shannon argues that Proudhon’s Mutualism is essentially a market form of socialism. While one can certainly interpret Proudhon in this manner, Shannon does not provide textual evidence to establish this claim. Instead Shannon assumes that this is the case, and writes “Proudhon envisioned a world where these worker-owned and self-managed firms would compete in a stateless market—a socialist market that was regulated by a grand agro-industrial federation.” (276) Relying heavily on Kevin Carson’s erroneous presentation of Proudhon, Shannon argues that “expropriation of surplus-value cannot occur without state coercion.” (277-278) This statement is problematic on numerous grounds. On the one hand, capitalists appropriate surplus value produced by workers, not “expropriate.” On the other hand, it is not immediately clear that Proudhon uses the same conception of exploitation as Marx. As mentioned previously, I interpret Proudhon to be putting forward a property-theoretic critique of capitalism. By contrast, Marx presents a value-theoretic critique. For Proudhon, the value workers produce, is their property. When capitalists unjustly appropriate additional value produced by workers, Proudhon uses the term “collective force.” (67) Unfortunately, Shannon relies heavily on the secondary literature: Kevin Carson, Benjamin Tucker, Martin and Barrot. Shannon also unconvincingly argues, following Joseph Kay, that cooperatives “as a demand under capitalism” suffer from “self-exploitation.” (282) Shannon fails to make a convincing argument, however, as his earlier discussion of Proudhon’s conception of “exploitation” is based on Carson’s erroneous rendering of Proudhon.
In Ditching Class: The Praxis of Anarchist Communist Economics, Nappolos argues that the abolition of class exploitation should be the foundation of any future socialist economy. He argues that libertarian communist economics has the following four defining features: 1) A commitment to a future economy based on the praxis of the revolutionary working class and popular classes, 2) An economy based on the destruction of the wage system of labor, and a de-linking of the value of labor in production from the distribution of society’s wealth to its members, 3) Collective control and management of the entire economy by the direct control of workers and community members united in a council system of direct democracy, 4) The abolition of intermediary institutions of power governing the economy. (292) Nappolos discusses the concept of “prescriptive economics,” which he defines as “attempts to lay out a vision, in our case, of a post-capitalist economic system based on some core values,” (292) and “praxis”, which Paulo Freire defined as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” (293) Nappolos writes, “Libertarian communist prescriptive economics has then been shaped by belief in the potential leadership of the working class and popular classes, and the commitment to prescriptive economics reflecting both a strategy for achieving such an economy and a theory which reflects our experiences in struggle.” (293)
Nappolos also discusses the experience of small and large scale Libertarian Communist projects, such as Hungary in 1956, Ukrainian communes under Nestor Makhno, Zapatistas, Argentinian factory seizures, Israeli Kibbutz, as well as anarcho-syndicalists during the Spanish Revolution. (294-296) He discusses the role of Gaston Leval, a Spanish anarchist who participated in revolutionary communes across Spain. Nappolos does a good job discussing the ways in which Spanish anarchists realized their vision of a future egalitarian society in the very methods they undertook to carry out their revolution. (297-300) With respect to how distribution of goods in a libertarian communist society might occur, Nappolos distinguishes between planned communist economies, and emergent economies. Whereas in planned economies the distribution of goods occurs through planned production, in an emergent economy, distribution “relies on intuitions and lessons from seeing society as an interdependent, living, and complex, organism-like body” (303) “The motivation for this position,” argues Nappolos, “arises from two sources. First there is a suspicion here about our ability to plan successfully, consciously, and explicitly a full economy; and secondly there is both support for and historical antecedents of a dynamic and evolving form of self-planning in a communist society.” (303)
Toward the end, however, Nappolos runs into trouble:
During the Hungarian and Spanish revolutions, people were able to take over the economy and in some instances in a very rapid period of time convert existing production for private profit into a collectivized economy for common use. This occurred initially outside of any single unified planning apparatus. Distribution evolved out of countless actions of individuals and groups which came to unify and reorganize to meet the demands presented by the wars and communities. This isn’t to say there wasn’t organization, but to say there is a difference between organization that is structurally and historically open and has the ability to produce emergent and evolving structure, versus extensively planned organization that is predictive and fairly static. There is little evidence to point to people living under such conditions guiding their activities by adhering to such programs. We can understand the activity of an economy as emergent out of problem-solving at countless levels, and producing stability once equilibrium can be reached. This is a problem that is unfortunately hidden from these discussions: how to obtain equilibrium in a revolutionary context is in many ways a more significant problem than that of abstract models of potential futures. (303, emphasis added)
What does it mean to reach an “equilibrium” in a “revolutionary context”? “Equilibrium” as a theoretical concept does not belong to classical economics (Smith, Ricardo, Marx; rather it has been popularized by neoclassical economists, but many proponents of classical political economy feel it is not very useful. In fact, I would argue that it is obscurantist, since it misrepresents relations of exploitation based on one’s class position. How can there be an “equilibrium,” “balance” or “stability” with respect to class exploitation? Moreover, in his “critique of the wage system” Nappolos misinterprets the fundamental issue with wage-labor. While he is correct that communists reject wage-labor, the issue is not unfair remuneration for work done, i.e. the problem is not is the magnitude of wages $100/hour vs $1/hour. Rather, it is a matter of ending the hierarchical and exploitative arrangement between bosses and workers. Under capitalism, labor-power is commodified and treated as private property. Capitalists have a monopoly on deriving use-value from labor-power by virtue of their class position, workers cannot do the same. Workers must sell their labor-power for the sake of their livelihood. Capitalists, on the other hand, use the labor-power of workers to make profits, thereby further enriching themselves. The objective is to eliminate this asymmetry in one’s relationship to private property. Furthermore, Nappolos fails to discuss workers’ control of the means of production. Decision-making in large capitalist firms is highly centralized, falling within the purview of the board of directors. These decisions are then handed down to subordinates, who enjoy some degree of independence, but nevertheless are compelled to follow directives from above. Will these hierarchical and authoritarian social relationships exist in a Libertarian Communist society?
Wayne Price’s essay, The Anarchist Method: An Experimental Approach to Post-Capitalist Economies, addresses the question of what a libertarian socialist economy might look like, and what method to pursue in order to realize this objective. Price distinguishes the “anarchist method” from the Utopian-Moral approach – exemplified by Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, Fourier, Cabet, Proudhon – to the Marxist-Determinist approach, exemplified by Marx and Engels. Price classifies Parecon (“participatory economics”) as a part of the Utopian-Moral approach. Price argues that the advantages of utopian models is that “[thinkers] start with a set of moral values by which the present society may be condemned”, then move on to “envision social institutions which could embody these values.” (313) In other words, Utopian-Moral methods such as Parecon “offer a yardstick by which to judge potential economies, as well as real ones, so that radicals do not claim to be for freedom but accept some totalitarian monstrosity.” (313) However, with the exception of Parecon, Price argues that “historic utopian models were very undemocratic in structure.” (314) Moreover, Price argues, “there is a problem in that the utopian approach starts from values rather than from an analysis of how capitalist society functions”, that is, “There is really no necessary connection between any particular model and the dynamics of capitalism (besides the moral critique).” (314) Furthermore, “The visions of the possible futures do not point to any strategies for getting to these futures”; “A program that does not say whether to be revolutionary or reformist is not much of a guide to action.” (314)
Price contrasts the Utopian-moral method to the Marxist-Determinist approach, as expounded by Marx and Engels. For the “original Marxists,” Price argues, it was “necessary to analyze how capitalism was developing, including its main drive mechanism: the capital-labor relationship in production.” (314) The working-class revolution “provided the basis of a strategy” and “indicated the emergence of a new society out of that revolution.” (314) For Marx and Engels, Price argues, the nature of this new society was only mentioned in passing remarks, such as a few paragraphs in Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program.” (314) For instance, Marx argued that workers would initially be paid with “labor credits” and later be provided with goods freely upon need. (315) “The goal of Marx and Engels,” writes Price, “was not to implement a new social system.” Rather, “It was to see that the working class overthrew the capitalist class and took power for itself. Once this happened, the historical process would take care of further social development.” (315) The advantage of the Marxist-Determinist method for Price is that it is grounded in economic theory. He writes, “It has an analysis of what forces are moving in the direction of a new society and what ones are blocking them.” Furthermore, he writes, “It leads to a strategy that identifies a specific change agent (the working class, leading other oppressed groups).” (315) On the other hand, Price argues, the Marxist-Determinist method “has no moral standard.” He writes,
So when Marxist-led revolutions produce state-capitalist totalitarianisms that murder tens of millions of workers and peasants, very many Marxists support this as the result of the historical process which has created “actually existing socialism.” Marx and Engels would undoubtedly have been horrified by what developed in the Soviet Union and other so-called communist countries. But a method without a moral standard made it difficult for Marxists to not support these states. (315)
Price contrasts both of these approaches with the “anarchist method,” which, he writes, “starts from the doubt that every region and national culture will choose the same version of libertarian socialist society.” (316) As Malatesta writes, there will not be ‘one solution’, rather “a thousand different and changing solutions in the same way as social existence is different and varied in time and space.” (316) Nevertheless, solutions tried must be non-exploitative and non-oppressive. In other words, “they must ‘prevent the constitution and consolidation of new privilege’ and ‘leave the way open for future improvements.’” (317) Differing models of post-capitalist societies, however, raises a different set of issues. One problem which Price identifies is the method of coordination in the post-capitalist economy. How will resources be distributed across the economy? Price points to three proposals: a market, central-planning, and some sort of non-centralized planning. (318) “In a pluralist, experimental, post-capitalist world” writes Price, “different regions might experiment with different types of economic coordination.” (319) Another issue identified by Price, is the size of the economic unit. Price writes,
As internationalists, we are aware that the world is being knit together by imperialist globalization. At the same time we know that much of this worldwide centralization is not due to technical needs but to the need of capitalists to control natural resources, to dominate world markets, and to exploit the poorest workers in order to make the biggest profits. To end the rule of states and bureaucracies, anarchists want as much as possible of local, face-to-face democracy. This requires a degree of economic decentralization. Indeed, any sort of economic planning would be easier, and easier to make democratic, the smaller the units. Finally it would also be easier to keep production and consumption in balance with nature, the smaller the units are. (319)
Another issue discussed by Price, is that of technology. “Just as is true of economic institutions,” writes Price, “productive technology would have to be flexible, pluralistic, and experimental.” (320) “Machinery and the methodology of production have been organized by the processes of capitalism (and militarism) to serve its interests. Technology would have to be completely reorganized and redeveloped over time to meet the needs of a new society.” (320) Another key question is reward for work. “In a fully communist society,” writes Price, “work would be done only for the pleasure of doing it, or because people feel a duty, or because of social pressure.” Price continues, “consumption will be a right, based only on human need and unrelated to effort.” (321) The rest of the essay discusses a “transitional society.” (322-323) As Price notes, the notion of a ‘transitional society’ has been used to justify all sorts of horrors for Stalinist totalitarian dictatorships. (323) As Price writes, “This is not what Bakunin, or even Marx, had in mind. It shows the need for a vision with moral values to judge a new society.” He continues, “Neither Marx nor Bakunin/Guillaume proposed a mechanism for going from a transitional phase to full communism. One possibility might be to use the idea of a split economy (a basic communism and a non-basic needs sector). As productivity grows, the free communist sector might be deliberately expanded, until it gradually includes all (or most) of the economy.” (323)
There are numerous issues with Price’s essay. First, Price fails to distinguish a capitalist system from a non-capitalist system. What is a “capitalist” system? (See my critique of the essay Escaping Capitalist Hegemony by Wright and Williams above.) Furthermore, as someone who identifies as an anarchist, I am not in agreement with Marx’s conception of “the first phase of a communist society.” Marx’s position on the legitimacy of the state has always been ambiguous. Can a society in which harmful instrumentalization of the state persists be characterized as “communist”? I and many other anarchists would say no. Furthermore, it is necessary to draw a distinction between “the first phase of a communist society” vs a “transitional society,” which are not the same thing. The notion of a “transitional society” is in many ways a Leninist concept, which I reject. In my reading of Marx, I have not come across any discussion of a “transitional society,” but rather a direct transition from capitalism to socialism vis a vis a proletarian revolution. Marxists have, in my view, erroneously interpreted Marx as a proponent of a so-called “transitional society.” The essential point is that many people on the left find the concept of an intermediate “transitional society” to be highly objectionable. We should strive for a socialist society, not a “transitional society.”
The final essay by Albert, Porous Borders of Anarchist Vision and Strategy, discusses participatory economics, or “Parecon,” which Albert helped develop in tandem with Robin Hahnel. Albert argues an anarchist society would forbid the systematic privileging of some people materially or socially over others. He writes, “in an anarchist society citizens should freely fulfill themselves without being systematically subordinate to or systematically superior to other citizens. We should each benefit from the same structural opportunities. We should each gain from the gains others enjoy.” (327) Albert writes, while an anarchist society should rule certain institutions out, freedom to own slaves, or the freedom to hire wage-slaves, it should also rule in social components deemed anarchistic. According to Albert, a positive institutional vision would allow people to “have the information, circumstances, inclinations, opportunity, and even the responsibility to creatively and knowledgeably self-manage their own situations.” (329) Albert argues that the first value which a future anarchist economy should embody is that “people should have a say in decisions proportionate to the degree those decisions affect them.” (329) Second, “citizens should have a claim on society’s economic product that increases if they do socially valued work longer, more intensely, or under worse conditions.” (330) Third, “people should care about one another’s well being rather than each of us trampling the rest or at the least turning the other cheek to others’ difficulties.” (330) Fourth, “people should have a wide range of options available and that when making choices, diverse paths forward should be kept available or experimented with.” (330) The fifth and sixth values, are that
humans and the rest of the environment ultimately constitute an entwined community in which humans have to take responsibility not only for the impact of our choices on ourselves but also on the rest of nature’s domain – and, in turn, efficiency is the related idea that economic activity should produce what people seek for fulfillment and development without wasting assets we value, while furthering self-management, equity, solidarity, diversity, and husbandry. (330)
Albert argues that an anarchist economic vision should propose specific institutions because worthy economic values are essential but are not convincing by themselves. In other words, people’s skepticism cannot solely be dispelled by asserting worthy values; we must also “describe institutions consistent with those preferred values.” Furthermore, Albert argues, “values alone do not provide needed orientation for strategy and tactics.” He writes, “Institutional insights that move us toward effective strategic choices need to be shared and built upon, rather than each actor having to start over repeatedly as if no one had traveled similar ground before.” Thus, “parecon proposes a minimalist institutional vision for establishing economic conditions that will permit future people to self manage their own economic lives while also being sufficient to overcome cynicism and inform strategy.” (331) A potential minimalist structure for addressing equitable remuneration and work apportionment are Balanced Job Complexes.
Moreover, Parecon thinks that economic allocation should occur according to participatory planning, that is, “cooperative negotiation of economic inputs and outputs by nested, self-managing workers’ and consumers’ councils.” (336) Albert rejects a pluralist approach, that is, a society where economic allocation is based on a mixture of markets, central-planning and participatory planning, since “If there are two, three, or more different methods for allocating items, then the same items will have different and conflicting relative prices depending which method of allocation is consulted, and there will also be different and conflicting logic and associated implications for behavior operating as well, and the contradictions will more often than not disrupt viable operations.” (335) Second, “if we self-consciously, or even just inadvertently, include either markets or central planning or any combination of the two as our means of allocation in a future economy, these structures will subvert our other libertarian values and aspirations, just like including corporate divisions of labor would subvert our agendas, or including top-down rule would subvert our agendas, or including remuneration for property would subvert our agendas.” Thus, an anarchist vision, according to Albert, should reject market and centrally planned allocation.
On the question of an “Anarchist Strategy,” Albert supports democratic centralism as an organizational principle, but only as a means of facilitating the creation of participatory communes and fostering popular power. Under complicated circumstances, such as in the “early stages of a transition process seeking self-management throughout society” or a situation where a country is in a massive project to bring about structural transformation, Albert argues that democratic centralism could be justified. (340-342) Albert concludes by addressing the necessity to overcome “not only capitalist, but also coordinator mentalities and structures in our own projects and in society writ large.” (343) It is crucial to recognize, Albert writes, that “there is no single virtuous or effective anarchist strategy such that one size fits all.”
On balance, Accumulation does a satisfactory job of providing non-Marxist socialist perspectives on important issues which the left should be concerned with. However, many of the essays rely heavily on what Marxists have to say, or use other people’s erroneous depictions of classical anarchists. Marie Trigona’s essay was my favorite out of the entire collection.
February 5-8, 2021, Montréal, Québec & Online
The main problem of modern realistic ethics is … to determine, first of all, the moral end in view. But this end or ends, however ideal they may be, and however remote their full realization, must belong to the world of realities.
The end of morals cannot be “transcendental,” as the idealists desire it to be: it must be real.
Black Rose Books, in global collaboration with other organisations, scholars, activists and university departments, is organizing a conference to celebrate Peter Kropotkin’s life and work. This conference will commemorate 100 years since his death on February 8th, 1921.
Kropotkin is undoubtedly one of the most important anarchist thinkers to understand the vision and action needed for positive transformative change. As a multi-disciplinary scholar, he argued that the centralized bureaucratic state and capitalism are antithetical to a sustainable and just society. He studied a wide range of subjects which include, but is not limited to, geography, biology, economy, anthropology, and philosophy.
The conference will take place from Friday February 5 to Sunday February 7. On February 8th, the anniversary of Kropotkin’s death, we will be holding a commemorative event, which will ideally be connected with such events elsewhere in other cities. The format will be held both in person and virtually. These details will be forthcoming. For more information see:
For any inquiries, proposal submissions, etc. email the following address: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Centro Studi Libertari, Milano
• Geography Department of Concordia University
• Kropotkin Museum
• Schumacher Center for a New Economics
• Planners Network
A Bad Argument for Supporting Biden for President
by Wayne Price, ASR 81
In the debates among leftists over the 2020 elections, one particular historical argument has been raised. It has been cited repeatedly by Noam Chomsky, among others, to argue why radicals should vote for Joseph Biden, despite his flaws. Chomsky has asserted, “What led to the rise of Hitler was the decision of the huge Communist Party to condemn the labor-based Socialists as ‘social fascists,’ not different from the Nazis, and to refuse to join with them in barring the Nazis from political power.” This is similar, he claims, to “the behavior of some of the left” which opposes voting for Democrats today.
(I am not interested in discussing here how individual radicals should vote or not vote. My question is what radicals should advocate be done by organizations and large groups of people, such as unions, the African-American community, Latinx, feminists, LGBTQ people, organized environmentalists, etc. — whether to support bourgeois politicians or to put efforts into non-electoral activities.)
What is Chomsky referring to? In the early 1930s in Germany, popular support for Hitler’s Nazi Party had been exploding. They won a third of the votes to the Reichstag (parliament). Their uniformed thugs marched in the streets, beat up leftwing newspaper sellers and speakers, broke up union meetings, and murdered prominent socialists. Big business began to pour money into the Nazi coffers. The police did little to stop them and judges gave them slaps on the wrist. The issue was not “free speech for Nazis” but how to stop their violent rise to power.
The Social Democratic Party (“democratic socialist” or reformist state socialist) was the largest single party in the Reichstag. Unlike today’s social democratic parties, it still claimed to stand for a new society of socialism. The Communist Party (Stalinist or pseudo-revolutionary state socialist) was smaller but still a large party, and held most of the revolutionary-minded workers. Under the orders of Stalin, in 1928 the Communist International had adopted a new analysis. This claimed that the world was in a new period (the “Third Period” since World War I) in which revolution was imminent. The Communist Parties would soon lead the workers in world revolution. All other parties were varieties of fascism. Bourgeois parliamentary democracy was the same as fascism. Conservative and liberal parties were fascist. The Social Democratic Party was “social-fascist.” Anarchists were “anarcho-fascists.” There was no point in trying to work with the social democrats, since they were just as bad as the Nazis and maybe worse. In fact, the Communists allied with the Nazis against a Social Democratic regional government in a referendum. This was an international program; in New York City, Communist Party members assaulted a Socialist Party meeting at Madison Square Garden.
Stalin declared, “Fascism is the militant organization of the bourgeoisie which bases itself on the active support of the Social Democracy. Objectively, Social Democracy is the moderate wing of fascism. … These organizations [fascists and social democrats] do not contradict but supplement one another. They are not antipodes [opposites] but twins.” The Communists assured the workers that there was no need to worry about the Nazis coming to power, because the Communists were sure to take power soon after. Their crazy-optimistic slogan was, “After Hitler, us!”
It was true that the capitalist class ruled under both bourgeois parliamentary democracy and under fascist totalitarianism. In either case, they ran their businesses and squeezed profits out of their workers. The governments supported them in this. They did not run the governments directly but had more-or-less influence on the regimes.
But what was important for the workers was not the extent of the freedom held by big businesspeople. What really mattered was the beginnings of working class democracy. Even under bourgeois democracy, the workers still had their unions, their political parties, their newspapers, their halls, their clubs, and even their socialist bars and restaurants. The Social Democratic Party had no intention of making a revolution for socialism. But it had every interest in holding on to these institutions, which required rejecting fascism. Fascism would—and did—destroy all these working class institutions. While the reformist state socialists may be accused of not fighting fascism, they could not be “the moderate wing of fascism”!
This was pointed out at the time by Leon Trotsky, in a series of pamphlets and essays. Formerly a leader of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union, Trotsky had been expelled from the Communist International and exiled from the Soviet Union by Stalin. He had few followers in Germany and little influence. But whatever Trotsky’s failings overall (I am not a Trotskyist), he persistently called on the Communist workers to give up the crazed analysis of their Stalinist leadership. He called on them to offer an alliance with the Social Democrats, a “United Front” against the Nazis. This was not to be a political merger or electoral bloc, but a fighting coalition. Coordinating activities through joint committees, they should defend each other from Nazi attacks, drive the Nazis from the streets, break up their meetings, and close their halls. This was a practical program which might have kept Hitler from taking power—and might have led further in a revolutionary direction.
As we know, this was not done. The Stalinists stuck to their insane program. The Nazis came to power and destroyed all working class and democratic institutions, killing thousands and then millions. (It is worth remembering this when present-day Stalinists tell us how wonderful Stalin was since he “led” the Soviet Union in beating Hitler during World War II. They leave out Stalin’s contribution to Hitler’s taking power in the first place.)
Does this then support the argument of Chomsky and others that the anti-electoral left is repeating the errors of the German Communist Party of the thirties?
Anarchists Fight Fascism
But first I will go over a less well-known episode in radical history. This was the rise of the Fascist Party to power in Italy, and the anarchist struggle to prevent this.
In Italy in the 1920s, right-wing forces organized gangs of mostly World War I veterans. Benito Mussolini organized them into his Fascist Party, with subsidies from Italian business. He sent them into towns and cities to attack union halls, workers’ party headquarters, and left-wing gatherings—breaking them up, beating up their members, and killing leaders, establishing a reign of terror.
At the time, the anarchists, while a minority of the left, dominated an anarcho-syndicalist union federation. Together with the Arditi del Popolo (people’s commandos). they called for unity in action of the left. They proposed to physically combat the Fascists, to defend workers’ institutions, and to drive the Fascists off the streets. In a number of cities they won fierce battles with the Fascists. For a time, they had support from Socialist and Communist workers and from radical republicans (revolutionary anti-monarchists).
However, they were undermined by the left parties. The Communists were then led by Amedeo Bordiga, an authoritarian ultra-sectarian. Communist members were ordered not to work in any organization they could not control. He denounced the very idea of a United Front. (He was expelled from the Communist International in 1930, although his ideas were revived in Third-Period Stalinism.)
However, it is important to also point out the behavior of the Italian Socialist Party (social democratic), which also rejected any United Front against Fascism. It called on the government to control the Fascists. Cravenly it disarmed itself by agreeing to a so-called Pact of Pacification, signed with the Fascists in August 1921. Of course Mussolini felt free to ignore this “pact.” Without effective opposition from the workers’ parties and unions, but with support from the big bourgeoisie, the church, and the king, the Fascists were able to take power and eventually establish a murderous totalitarian state—serving as a model for Hitler.
This little history exposes what is wrong with Chomsky’s historical metaphor. When looking at the rise of Hitler (and before him, of Mussolini) it is not enough to blame only “the decision[s] of the huge Communist Party.” There were also decisions of the even huger Social Democratic parties. What did they have to contribute to the debacle? When Chomsky says that the Stalinists “refuse[d] to join with” the Social Democrats, it implies that the reformists were willing to join with the Communists in stopping the fascists. But this was not the case.
The German Social Democratic Party
Rather than preparing to fight the Nazis, the Social Democrats followed a completely legalistic policy. They ran in elections and built up their party and union bureaucracies. They tried to take the Nazis to court for illegal actions! They did have an armed workers’ force, but it was kept in the background and never used. They did not understand that the Nazis were not just another political party and that the crisis was not just another political crisis.
In 1932, there was a decisive national election for president. The Social Democrats decided to back the old reactionary-monarchist general, Paul von Hindenberg, as the lesser (nonfascist) evil. Their slogan was “Smash Hitler, Elect Hindenberg!” Hitler lost and von Hindenberg won! But the economic and political crises continued. After some maneuvering, Hindenberg appointed Hitler as chancellor, which began Nazi rule. Hindenberg was not a Nazi; he assumed that power would calm down the irresponsible Nazis, who were a “lesser evil” for him. The Germans never gave the Nazis a majority of the vote, yet they took power.
What did the Social Democrats do? They still tried to rely on legalistic means. They voted in the Reichstag for the proposed Nazi foreign policy — before they were all rounded up. The social democratic unions cut all ties with the party and offered to work with the Nazis — until they were seized by the Nazi state.
The Communists of Germany and their leadership in Russia never admitted to having made mistakes. But in practice, after a few years, in 1935 they abandoned their super-left program. Indeed, they jumped over the United Front of workers’ parties (which they had recently called a capitulation to fascism). Instead they sought to build “Popular Fronts.” These were alliances among not only socialist and communist workers’ parties, but also with a wing of the capitalist class. In France, this meant allying with the Radical Party (really mildly liberal). In Spain, with the loyalist Republicans. In the U.S.A., it meant supporting Franklyn Roosevelt’s Democratic Party. Of course, an alliance with a pro-capitalist party meant that the Popular Front could not oppose capitalism or the alliance would end. If the workers and peasants, in a revolutionary time, tried to go beyond capitalism, to make a socialist insurrection, then the Communists would have to stop them, by force if necessary. (Chomsky has written a number of times about how the Stalinists repressed the revolutionary workers in Spain in the thirties.) Worse, in Spain the large anarchist organization and its union federation betrayed their program and also joined the Popular Front government. This was except for a minority of revolutionary anarchists, including the Friends of Durruti Group.
In every one of these situations, from Italy to Germany to France and Spain and the U.S., the policy of allying with — of supporting — liberal capitalist politicians resulted in catastrophe for the working class, for all oppressed people, for the organized left, and for the world.
Lessons of the Hitler Metaphor
The problem in the 1930s was not just that the Communists were ultra-sectarian. It was also that the Socialists were reformist, legalistic, and sought alliances with moderate capitalists. In 1932 the situation was dire. Society was in a deep crisis where the alternatives were revolution or Nazism. Even then, choosing a “lesser evil,” and supporting a capitalist did not work. The Marxist Hal Draper concludes, “1932 is the classic case of the Lesser Evil, because even when the stakes were this high, even then voting for the Lesser Evil meant historic disaster.”
For years, the left (unions, African-Americans, progressive activists, etc.) has overwhelmingly endorsed the “lesser evil” of Democratic candidates. Sometimes these won and sometimes the greater-evil Republicans won. But as a result, the overall direction of both parties has been to the right. The Republicans, in particular, have became far-right, with a fascist element. As Obama was followed by Trump, even worse than G.W. Bush, so Biden is likely to be followed by another far-right politician, even worse than Trump. Over time, lesser-evilism does not work. For unions and other popular movements, placing their hopes and giving their support to “the lesser evil” political parties has proven to be a dead end.
As for individuals, it’s what you do between elections that count; neither voting nor non-voting is enough, activity is necessary — speaking, writing, organizing, mobilizing, marching, in communities, unions, workplaces, schools, and everywhere. The massive protests around the police and racism have shown a way to struggle, a way of direct action, in the streets, and outside the limits of the voting booth and the official parties. If it spreads to labor upheavals in workplaces and neighborhoods, it may upset the whole oppressive society. This is the way to go.
by Jon Bekken, ASR 57
We are, or so the boss press insists, in the midst of an economic “recovery” that began in July 2009, ending the 19-month American recession. Unemployment rates are now down to “just” 8.5 percent (a figure that does not include millions who have given up looking for work, or been forced to settle for part-time jobs). At current rates of job growth, we’ll all be back to work in another 15 years or so.
When hard times hit, the bosses always demand that working people bear the costs of economic policies we had no hand in shaping. Nothing is different this time around. Our pensions have been gutted (for those lucky enough to still have them), average pay fell an inflation-adjusted 3.2 percent during the recession, and millions of our fellow workers paid for the bosses’ looting and speculation with their jobs. (And we continue to pay with our jobs; the government says it now takes a laid-off worker about 41 weeks to find a new job, and they count everyone who lands even a few hours a week in part-time work as back on the job. Those who do find a new job earn a lot less than they did at their old one — 17.5 percent less, on average.)
But now that we’ve been recovering for more than two years, times are even tougher. The stock market might be rebounding, profits are certainly up, lobbyists are doing well, and economic pundits get plenty of airtime telling us how great things could be if we would just give the rich a bit of a boost… It seems things are going pretty well for everyone except those of us who have to work for a living. A recent report by two former Census Bureau officials looked at government wage surveys, and found that median household income has fallen by another 6.7 percent since the recovery began. So the average working-class family is now 9.8 percent worse off “today” (actually June; the latest month for which data was available, so it will be much worse now), after inflation, than we were four years ago.
Starving amidst plenty
The number of Americans officially living in poverty has grown by nearly 10 million since 2006, to more than 15 percent of the population (it’s more than 22 percent for children). In November new poverty figures came out showing that huge swathes of the country are dominated by extreme poverty, areas that often lack access to decent food, schools or jobs.
The official poverty definition used by U.S. statisticians was developed a long time ago, reflecting an age when we spent far less on health care (largely because it wasn’t available to most people) and such. Every serious study done since has found that it seriously understates the misery that pervades our society. So the Obama administration has come up with a simple way to reduce poverty: they’re looking to redefine poverty, in part by counting food stamps and other support programs as income. This alternate measure would cut the growth in poverty in half, even if it doesn’t do anything to put food on anyone’s table.
Official measures are regularly revised, of course. The government has changed the way it calculates inflation 20 times since 1980. The net result? Inflation is currently reported at just over 3 percent a year; it would be more than 10 percent without the “improvements.” (The truth probably lies somewhere in between.) So if it seems to you that your costs are rising higher than the statisticians report, you’re probably right.
The 1 percent, and the rest of us
The median represents the middle of the income spread. Half earn more, half less. The top third or so seem to be doing OK under this recovery, even if the bosses want deeper tax cuts to motivate them to do more looting so that they can get the economy back into full speculation gear. But the “bottom” two-thirds get poorer and poorer the “better” the economy is doing.
Of course, the pain is not evenly distributed. Some folks are so very poor that it isn’t possible to slash their income very much. Those pesky minimum wage laws the rich keep pointing out stand in the way of more jobs (if we worked for free, there’d be jobs for all!) prevented wages from being cut as much as the bosses would have wished, even if off-the-book work, productivity gains, unpaid overtime and the like helped ease the bosses’ pain. But otherwise, incomes fell more for those who earned less, for those who live in families (and so have children to support), and for African-American and Hispanic workers, who were already being paid much less. Between 1990 and 2007, hourly wages fell by 8.6 percent in New York City (and they’re still falling), with workers taking on extra jobs or going into debt to keep afloat.
The economy is skewed to send wealth upwards. From 1989 to 2009, median household income rose 2 percent; inflation-adjusted GDP was up 63 percent over the same period. If that increased wealth was spread about equally, the average household would have received about 20 times as much income as it did.
Income inequality has now reached points not seen since the onset of the Great Depression. Income for the top hundredth of one percent (the 12,000 richest U.S. households, whose income averages $35 million a year) rose by 215 percent since 1980. The bottom 40 percent lost ground.
The harder you work, the less you make. That’s always been true under capitalism. And the less you make, the more will be stolen from you when the bosses are looking to get their bonuses and stock options back in shape. Unless, of course, we organize to defend ourselves, and to dump the bosses off our backs. (Even today, union workers earn higher pay and less-meager benefits. That’s why the bosses are so intent on busting unions.)
Things weren’t so great even in the boom times before the recession, of course. The New York Times reports that inflation-adjusted income from January 2000 until June 2011 rose slightly at the start of the period, but since then income has been gradually going down, down, down. Back in the Clinton “boom” times, real (inflation-adjusted) wages for the bottom 40 percent were falling year by year, even as productivity increased and working hours gradually crept back to 1920s levels.
It’s not us, it’s the system
Pundits and politicians are fond of claiming that unemployment is caused not by our economic system, but rather by the inadequacy of individual workers. Indeed, some would have you pity the poor bosses eager to put people to work but unable to find “qualified” wage slaves. It’s hard to believe that even pro-capitalist economists are stupid enough to really believe this twaddle.
The unemployment rate is significantly lower for folks with college degrees – running about 4%. But that rate masks huge numbers of people who enrolled in graduate school rather than look for jobs in this dismal economy, and even more who were forced to take jobs for which their degrees are entirely irrelevant, thereby displacing other job seekers every bit as qualified to do the work. The job categories that are growing fastest typically require no more than a high school degree. The Labor Department predicts that two-thirds of jobs in 2016 will not require more than a high school degree, but nearly two-thirds of American workers already have at least some college. So, if anything, we’re too educated for the jobs out there. Nor is there any evidence that experienced workers are doing much better in the current job market. This babbling about skills seems to be designed to allow the bosses to import lower-paid workers from abroad, and to force government to pick up the costs of training for specific job needs.
Meanwhile, many college graduates find themselves carrying huge student loans, averaging more than $25,000 (debts of $80,000 or more are quite common at private colleges, and student loans can not be discharged in bankruptcy) as a result of massive cuts to financial aid programs. A recent article in the American Association of University Professors’ magazine compared the situation to indentured servitude. These heavily indebted workers are forced to take jobs on almost any terms the bosses offer, and many have joined the Occupy movement.
Victims of the “free” market
Across Europe, a better-organized working class is waging at least symbolic strikes and other protests against the bosses’ austerity schemes. As we go to press, European Union leaders meeting in Belgium have been hit by a massive one-day strike.
The attack is brutal almost beyond belief. The New York Times business pages suggest that “Greece may require living standards to decline by as much as 40 percent to become competitive.” This can’t be done through the political process, columnist Martin Hutchinson says, because Greek workers would never accept it. But “free markets” can do the dirty work if people just get out of the way. The resulting collapse in living standards would enable other European governments to impose the necessary “reforms.”
This is indeed the way “free markets” work, if we leave the bosses free to do as they choose. If workers want to hold onto what little we have, let alone make any progress, we will have to organize to accomplish the task.
Editorials, ASR 57
The past year will probably go down in history as one of the most rebellious years ever.
It started out with young street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, in Tunisia immolating himself on December 17, 2010, to protest police harassment interfering with his efforts to earn a living.
That sacrificial fire ignited a blaze that swept the Arab world. First, the Ben Ali regime fell in Tunisia; then, the 18-day occupation of Tahrir Square in Cairo by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians and a massive strike wave that swept the country brought down the Mubarak dictatorship. The rebellion in Libya was met by massive state repression but was rescued by the intervention of Nato, whose “humanitarian” bombing campaign helped to bring down Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi while similar repression in U.S.-allies,Yemen and Bharain was allowed to continue. State violence in Syria continues to keep the Assad regime in power, making another “humanitarian” intervention a possibility.
The so-called Arab Spring inspired rebellion in Europe and North America as well. Popular masses in Greece and Spain in particular have emulated the Egyptians with their mass occupations of public space to protest austerity. In Spain the so-called 15-M movement (named after May 15, the date of protests and occupations that drew hundreds of thousands of people, mainly youth who face an unemployment rate of 20 percent, into the streets of 58 cities throughout the country. And Greece, of course, has witnessed numerous general strikes over the couple of years. And the “indignants” movement, which began on May 25, has brought thousands of people into the streets independently of the parties and unions.
The Arab Spring even had its echo in the United States. In February Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin announced his austerity budget that not only demanded huge cuts in public spending but also threatened to effectively eliminate collective bargaining for most public employees. Workers and students in Wisconsin rose up in rebellion, occupying the state capitol and holding protest rallies of over 100,000 people. There was even serious agitation for a general strike that was, unfortunately, overwhelmed by Democratic Party-aligned union leaders who channeled the mass anger into campaigns to recall anti-union Republican lawmakers and the governor.
Attacks on collective bargaining in Ohio led to mass mobilizations but no direct action. The trade unions satisfied themselves with a successful (albeit expensive) campaign to overturn the anti-union legislation at the ballot box.
Then, out of the blue, an obscure anti-consumerist magazine from Vancouver, Adbusters, issued a call for an occupation of Wall Street to begin on September 17. A small group of U.S., Spanish and Greek “horizontalists” and anarchists who had been meeting for some time organized a General Assembly for August 8 to organize for the day.
On September 17 a fairly small crowd of 175-200 folks marched on Wall Street to protest increasing inequality and the on-going economic and social crisis resulting therefrom; but instead of going home, as so often happens after a demonstration, they held a General Assembly in Zuccotti Park and decided to stay in the park, changing its name to “Liberty Square” in reference to Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
The Occupy Wall Street movement began to hold almost daily protests. A week or so after September 17 police attacked some women with pepper spray during a demo. The attack was recorded and posted on YouTube. This seemingly unprovoked attack brought the attention of the media, which had until then had pretty much ignored the movement. Then on October 1, police arrested 700 people during a march on the Brooklyn Bridge. This brought national media attention and the movement started to spread from coast to coast, and internationally. On October 15 there were 950 demonstrations in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and occupations started springing up everywhere, in big cities and small towns.
As the movement spread so did the repression. Attempts to occupy public spaces were met with mass arrests. In Chicago, 170 and 130 people were arrested on successive weekends for violating Chicago’s 11:00 pm curfew when they refused to leave Grant Park. In Oakland a violent eviction of the “Oakland Commune” on October 31, during which Iraq War veteran Scott Olson was sent to the hospital with a fractured skull as a result of being hit by a tear-gas bomb, led to a mass strike on November 2 that closed businesses and shut down the Port of Oakland. By mid-November mayors in a number of major cities were holding conference calls, coordinated by the U.S. Justice Department, to decide on a strategy for clearing public spaces of occupiers followed by sometimes violent evictions of many occupations.
The violence of the authorities unleashed on an essentially non-violent movement, however, has only led to greater public sympathy and participation. Organized labor has taken an interest in the movement. Early on, in New York City, the transportation union complained about their members being forced to drive busses of arrested demonstrators and the October 15 demonstrations garnered the participation of many unions and their rank-and-file. In Chicago, on November 17, a couple thousand unionists blockaded the LaSalle Street bridge, taking dozens of arrests, before joining Occupy Chicago at their usual Board of Thieves/Federal Reserve venue.
Encouraged by the success of the November 2 “General Strike” the Occupy movement on the West Coast called for shutting down “Wall Street on the Waterfront” from San Pedro to Alaska in solidarity with embattled longshoremen in Longview, Washington, and port truck drivers in Los Angeles. The action was controversial and threatened to derail the alliance with labor as conservative labor leaders, particularly from the building trades (who else?), opposed the action. However, the ILWU did not officially oppose it and many rank-and-file workers were on board, although some longshoremen and truck drivers complained about losing a day’s pay. The action succeeded in shutting down or otherwise disrupting waterfront operations all along the West Coast.
Occupy is reaching a cross-roads as repression and winter make physically occupying public spaces more difficult. New strategy and tactics are being discussed to sustain the movement during the cold winter months in hopes of perhaps reviving the occupations come spring. Supporting anti-eviction movements, supporting labor struggles and keeping the pressure on to rein in the banks are all being put forward. General Assemblies will continue to be held, perhaps with reduced participation as the public occupations recede.
The Leninist left was late to the party. While the original meeting of August 8 was called primarily by the Workers World Party, anarchists and horizontalists successfully broke away to form the first General Assembly that launched the Occupy movement. Since then some left groups have stayed aloof while others have jumped in with both feet.
Many of these leftists hope that they can either recruit elements from the movement or foist a program on it. They are working to get the General Assemblies to abandon the “modified consensus” model of decision making in favor of majority rule and to elect a formal leadership. However, it is the “we are all leaders” ambit and the consensus process, precisely those anarchistic methods so reviled by the Leninists, that has fostered the dynamism of the movement and has encouraged non-political people to get involved. Introducing voting and formal leadership may turn the Occupy movement into just another forum for competition between leftist sects and the grassroots will get bored and walk away. While there are definitely problems with consensus and the “Tyranny of Structurelessness,” there are just as many problems with majority rule and formal leadership (the “Tyranny of Tyranny”). Certainly ways of holding the informal “leadership,” those who basically volunteer to do the work, accountable to General Assemblies must be found, but what would be more damaging to the movement: an informal “leadership” that is only so because they are the most energetic and whom nobody feels obliged to follow, or a formal, elected leadership who get themselves elected because they can make a good speech and then come to think that, because they were elected, the movement should defer to them in every respect?
Anarchists have been involved in the movement from the very beginning and its modus operandus has been largely anarchistic, but anarchists need to do more than promote the process. They need to highlight the actual class war that is going on, and the solution: solidarity, direct action, revolution. We have to resist the flattery of the liberal/progressive community which can only drag the movement back into the Democratic Party. We have to equally resist attempts by the Leninist left to gain control of the movement through domination of certain working groups, like labor or direct action committees.
The powers that be and their media will be looking for every opportunity to identify and exploit the natural differences that exist within such an amorphous, decentralized and “leaderless movement.” They will jump on any militant action that leads to clashes with the police, such as the occupation of non-public spaces or street blockades, to criminalize the movement and paint it as violent. They will try to promote the most conservative labor fakirs to drive a wedge between Occupy and Labor. They will use outfits like MoveOn.org and supporters like former Labor Secretary Robert Reich to drag Occupy into the orbit of the Democratic Party to get Obama re-elected.
Occupy’s populism makes it vulnerable to such co-optation. Its 99% contains within it a layer of wealthy people and exploiters of labor who haven’t quite made it into the 1%, despite all of their efforts. The core of Occupy, of course, are debt-ladened students, precarious workers, and unemployed and rank-and-file union workers, but the lack of a clear class line can lead to notions that taxing the rich, better regulation of the banks or getting corporate money out of politics will bring back the American Dream. Anarchists involved in the movement need to clarify the class line and promote struggles that reveal it.
The past year has seen a storm of rebellion throughout the world. May 2012 be even stormier.
— Mike Hargis
You Might Say We’re Dreamers
In an effort to mimic the success of the right-wing Tea Party, liberals are trying to rebrand their movement as “The American Dream Movement.” A conference held in October in Washington, DC, drew liberal politicians, business union leaders, lobbyists and progressive activists around the American Dream theme of saving the shrinking American “Middle Class.” With presidential elections only a year away, their intention is to recapture Congress and pressure the Democratic Party and President Obama towards the left. This effort, while perhaps noble in intent, will fail because it is based upon false assumptions.
For one thing it assumes that there is such a thing as an American Dream. Social mobility and a rise in one’s personal prosperity is a universal aspiration. There is nothing uniquely American about it. The Indians and the Chinese, not to mention Mexican immigrants, all want it just as badly as Americans do. The wage disparity between workers in the various countries makes it difficult for American workers to organize at the workplace and to win pay raises. Ordinary Americans cannot raise their standard of living unless the workers everywhere raise theirs.
Secondly it confuses Middle Class with the Working Class. Capitalism cannot exist without a working class that is forced into wage labor because the workers lack capital. The Middle Class are the small business owners, professionals and managers, who are neither capitalists nor members of the working class. It is the stagnating wages of the working class majority and the loss of their jobs to global outsourcing to sweatshops in other countries that has led to the vast disparity of wealth, not a decline in the number of doctors and lawyers or small shop owners. The jobless prosperity of the Clinton years was not much better than the jobless prosperity of the Bush years, as far as the working class is concerned. Both led to the current economic hard times. It is the restoration of well-being of the working class majority that must be on the agenda.
The accomplishments of liberals will fall short because their dreams fall short. If the Democratic Party of the past seemed to represent the interests of ordinary Americans and not just the wealthy it was because the party raised itself on the tide of a rebellious labor movement. Rebuild the labor movement and the capitalists will be forced to relent. However, the interests of the Middle Class are not identical to those of the Working Class, and we can no longer afford to allow them to negotiate with the capitalists on our behalf.
Our dream is of a classless society: no capitalists, no middle class, and no wage slavery. That is something worth fighting for.
by Iain McKay, ASR 53 (2010)
This article is based on a talk give at the Radical Routes Conference, “Practical Economics: Radical alternatives to a failed economic system,” held on May 23, 2009.
To quote someone who sums up the intellectual times in which we live, Sarah Palin: “Now is not the time to experiment with socialism.” This, during the worse crisis since the 1930s! Anarchists would say that is precisely the time – but only as long as we are talking about libertarian socialism!
Capitalism in crisis (again!), and the failure of state socialism could not be more clear. Social democracy has become neo-liberal (New Labour? New Thatcherites!) while this year also marks the 20th anniversary of the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe. With its state capitalism and party dictatorship, Stalinism made the disease (capitalism) more appealing than the cure (socialism)! In this anarchists should be feel vindicated – the likes of Bakunin predicted both these outcomes decades before they became reality.
So there is an opening for a real alternative. For we must not forget that capitalism is but the latest form of economy. To Proudhon: “the radical vice of political economy, consists … in affirming as a definitive state a transitory condition – namely, the division of society into patricians [a wealthy elite] and proletaires.” So we have seen slave labor, followed by serfdom, followed by capitalism. What is capitalism? As Proudhon put it, the “period through which we are now passing … is distinguished by a special characteristic: WAGE LABOR” (“la salariat,” to use the Frenchman’s favorite term for it).
So capitalism is an economic system based on hired labor, that is selling your labor (liberty) piecemeal to a boss. For anarchists, this is best called “wage slavery”
Anarchism aims for associated labor, free labor in other words – the situation where those who do the work manage it. In the longer term, the aim is for abolition of work (work/play becoming the same thing). To quote Kropotkin, we aim to “create the situation where each person may live by working freely, without being forced to sell [their] work and [their] liberty to others who accumulate wealth by the labor of their serfs.”
Anarchism was not thought up by thinkers in a library. Its origins, as Kropotkin stressed in his classic work “Modern Science and Anarchism,” lie in the struggle and self-activity of working class people against exploitation and oppression.
We do not abstractly compare capitalism to a better society, rather we see the structures of new world being created in struggle within, but against, capitalism. Thus the assemblies and committees created to conduct a strike are seen as the workplace organizations which will organize production in a free society. To quote the Industrial Workers of the World: Building the new world in the shell of the old.
Different schools of anarchism
There are generally three different schools of anarchism (or libertarian socialism): Mutualism, Collectivism and Communism. Anarcho-Syndicalism is more a tactic than a goal and so its adherents aim for one of these three (usually, anarcho-communism although Bakunin, who first formulated anarcho-syndicalist tactics, called himself a collectivist). In practice, of course, different areas will experiment in different schemes depending on what people desire and the objective circumstances they face. Free experimentation is a basic libertarian principle.
While these three schools differ on some issues, they share certain key principles. In fact, if someone claims something as “anarchism” and it rejects any one of these then we can safely say it is not anarchism at all.
The first principle is possession, not private property. Following Proudhon’s What is Property?, use rights replace property rights in a free society. This automatically implies an egalitarian distribution of wealth. The second is socialization. This means free access to workplaces and land, so the end of landlords and bosses (this is sometimes called “occupancy and use”). The third is voluntary association, in other words self-management of production by those who do it. While the name given to these worker associations vary (cooperatives, syndicates, collectives, workers companies are just four), the principle is the same: one person, one vote. The last key principle is free federation. This is based on free association, which is essential for any dynamic economy, and so horizontal links between producers as well as federations for coordination of joint interests. It would be rooted in decentralization (as both capitalist firms and the Stalinist economies prove, centralization does not work). It would be organized from the bottom up, by means of mandated and recallable delegates
Bakunin summarized this kind of economy well when he stated that the “land belongs to only those who cultivate it with their own hands; to the agricultural communes … the tools of production belong to the workers; to the workers’ associations.” The rationale for decision making by these self-managed workplaces would be as different from capitalism as their structure. To quote Kropotkin, economics in a sane society should be the “study of the needs of mankind, and the means of satisfying them with the least possible waste of human energy.” These days we would need to add ecological considerations – and it is certain that Kropotkin would have agreed (his classic Fields, Factories and Workshops has an obvious ecological perspective, even if he does not use the term).
Critique of Property
To understand anarchist visions of a free economy, you need to understand the anarchist critique of capitalism. As is well known, Proudhon proclaimed that “property is theft.” By that he meant two things. First, that landlords charged tenants for access to the means of life. Thus rent is exploitative. Second, that wage labor results in exploitation. Workers are expected to produce more than their wages. To quote Proudhon:
Whoever labors becomes a proprietor – this is an inevitable deduction from the principles of political economy and jurisprudence. And when I say proprietor, I do not mean simply (as do our hypocritical economists) proprietor of his allowance, his salary, his wages, – I mean proprietor of the value his creates, and by which the master alone profits … The laborer retains, even after he has received his wages, a natural right in the thing he was produced.
This feeds into Proudhon’s “property is despotism.” In other words, that it produces hierarchical social relationships and this authority structure allows them to boss workers around, ensuring that they are exploited. To quote Proudhon again:
Do you know what it is to be a wage-worker? It is to labor under another, watchful for his prejudices even more than for his orders. … It is to have no mind of your own … to know no stimulus save your daily bread and the fear of losing your job. The wage-worker is a man to whom the property owner who hires him says: What you are to do is to be none of your business; you have nothing to control in it.
To achieve this, as noted above, use rights replace property rights. Personal possession remains only in the things you use. To quote Alexander Berkman, anarchism
abolishes private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and with it goes capitalistic business. Personal possession remains only in the things you use. Thus, your watch is your own, but the watch factory belongs to the people. Land, machinery, and all other public utilities will be collective property, neither to be bought nor sold. Actual use will be considered the only title – not to ownership but to possession. The organization of the coal miners, for example, will be in charge of the coal mines, not as owners but as the operating agency. Similarly will the railroad brotherhoods run the railroads, and so on. Collective possession, cooperatively managed in the interests of the community, will take the place of personal ownership privately conducted for profit.
Proudhon summarized this well as “possessors without masters.”
While not all anarchists have used the term “socialization,” the fact this is the necessary foundation for a free society and, unsurprisingly, the concept (if not the word) is at the base of anarchism. This is because it ensures universal self-management by allowing free access to the means of production. As Emma Goldman and John Most argued, it “logically excludes any and every relation between master and servant.”
This has been an anarchist position as long as anarchism has been called anarchism. Thus we find Proudhon arguing in 1840 that “the land is indispensable to our existence” and “consequently a common thing, consequently insusceptible of appropriation” and that “all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor.” This means “the farmer does not appropriate the field which he sows” and “all capital … being the result of collective labor” is “collective property.” Unsurprisingly, Proudhon argued for “democratically organized workers associations” and that “[u]nder the law of association, transmission of wealth does not apply to the instruments of labor, so cannot become a cause of inequality.”
As economist David Ellerman explains, the democratic workplace is a social community,
a community of work rather than a community residence. It is a republic, or res publica of the workplace. The ultimate governance rights are assigned as personal rights … to the people who work in the firm. … This analysis shows how a firm can be socialized and yet remain ‘private’ in the sense of not being government-owned.
Socialization logically implies that there would be no labor market, simply people looking for associations to join and association looking for associates. Wage-labor would be a thing of the past and replaced by self-management.
This is sometimes termed “workers’ control” or, in the words of Proudhon, “industrial democracy” and the turning of workplaces into “little republics of workers.” For Kropotkin, a libertarian economy would be based on “associations of men and women who … work on the land, in the factories, in the mines, and so on, [are] themselves the managers of production.”
This would be based on one member, one vote (and so egalitarian structures and results); administrative staff elected and recallable; integration of manual and intellectual work; and division of work rather than division of labor.
Thus, as Proudhon suggested, workplaces “are the common and undivided property of all those who take part therein” rather than “companies of stockholders who plunder the bodies and souls of the wage workers.” This meant free access, with “every individual employed in the association” having “an undivided share in the property of the company” and has “a right to fill any position” as “all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject to the approval of the members.”
While these principles underlie all schools of anarchism, there are differences between them.
The first school of anarchism was mutualism, most famously associated with Proudhon. This system has markets. This does not imply capitalism, as markets are not what define that system. Markets pre-date capitalism by thousands of years. What makes capitalism unique is that it has the production of commodities and wage labor. So mutualism is based on producing commodities, but with wage labor replaced by self-employment and cooperatives.
This implies that distribution is by work done, by deed rather than need. Workers would receive the full product of their labor, after paying for inputs from other cooperatives. This does not mean that cooperatives would not invest, simply that association as a whole would determine what fraction of their collective income would be distributed to individual members and would be retained for use by the cooperative.
It should be noted here that neo-classical economics argues that cooperatives produce high unemployment. However, like the rest of this ideology this is based on false assumptions and is, ultimately, a theory whose predictions have absolutely nothing to do with the observed facts.
As well as cooperatives, the other key idea of mutualism is free credit. A People’s Bank would be organized and would charge interest rates covering costs (near 0%). This would allow workers to create their own means of production. Again, neo-classical economics suggest that there would be a problem of inflation as mutual banks would increase the money supply by creating credit. However, this is flawed as credit is not created willy-nilly but “rationed,” i.e., given to projects which are expected to produce more goods and services. Thus it would not be a case of more and more money chasing a set number of goods but rather money being used to create more and more goods.
Lastly, there is the agro-industrial federation. Proudhon was well aware of the problems faced by isolated cooperatives and so suggested associations organize a federation to reduce risk by creating solidarity, mutual aid and support. As all industries are interrelated, it makes sense for them to support each other. In addition, the federation was seen as a way to stop return of capitalism by market forces. It would also be for public services (such as railways, roads, health care and so forth) which would be communally owned and run by workers cooperatives.
Mutualism is reformist in strategy, aiming to replace capitalism by means of alternative institutions and competition. Few anarchists subscribe to that perspective.
The next school of anarchist economics is collectivism, most famously associated with Bakunin. It is similar to mutualism, less market based (although still based on distribution by deed). However, it has more communistic elements and most of its adherents think it will evolve into libertarian communism.
So it can be considered as a half-way house between mutualism and communism, with elements of both. As such, it will not be discussed here as its features are covered in these two. Like libertarian communism, it is revolutionary, considering that capitalism cannot be reformed.
First, this is not like Stalinism/Leninism! That was state capitalism and not remotely communistic, never mind libertarian communist. Most anarchists are libertarian communists and the theory is most famously associated with Kropotkin.
Unlike mutualism and collectivism, there are no markets. It is based on the abolition of money or equivalents (such as labor notes). So no wage labor AND no wages system (“From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”).
Communist-anarchism extends collective possession to the products of labour. This does not mean we share toothbrushes but simply that goods are freely available to those who need it. To quote Kropotkin: “Communism, but not the monastic or barrack-room Communism formerly advocated [by state socialists], but the free Communism which places the products reaped or manufactured at the disposal of all, leaving to each the liberty to consume them as he pleases in his [or her] own home.”
These anarchists urge the abolition of money because there are many problems with markets as such, problems which capitalism undoubtedly makes worse but which would exist even in a non-capitalist market system. Most obviously, income does not reflect needs and a just society would recognize this. Many needs cannot be provided by markets (public goods and efficient health care, most obviously). Markets block information required for sensible decision making (that something costs £5 does not tell you how much pollution it costs or the conditions of the workplace which created it). They also systematically reward anti-social activity (firms which impose externalities can lower prices to raise profits and be rewarded by increased market share as a result). Market forces produce collectively irrational behavior as a result of atomistic individual actions (e.g., competition can result in people working harder and longer to survive on the market as well as causing over-production and crisis as firms react to the same market signals and flood into a market). The need for profits also increases uncertainty and so the possibility of crisis and its resulting social misery.
Rather than comparing prices, resource allocation in anarcho-communism would be based on comparing the use values of specific goods as well as their relative scarcities. The use-values compared would be both positive (i.e., how well does it meet the requirements) and negative (i.e., what resources does it use it, what pollution does it cause, how much labor is embodied in it, and so on). In this way the actual cost information more often then not hidden by the price can be communicated and used to make sensible decisions. Scarcity would be indicated by syndicates communicating how many orders they are receiving compared to their normal capacity – as syndicates get more orders, their product’s scarcity index would rise so informing other syndicates to seek substitutes for the goods in question.
Fine, it will be said, but that is just wishful thinking! Not true as the empirical evidence is overwhelming for libertarian economic ideas.
For example, workers’ participation in management and profit sharing enhance productivity. Worker-run enterprises are more productive than capitalist firms. A staggering 94 percent of 226 studies into this issue showed a positive impact, with 60 percent being statistically significant. Interestingly, for employee ownership to have a strong impact on performance, it needs worker participation in decision making.
Cooperatives, moreover, have narrow differences in wages and status (well under 1 to 10, compared to 1 to 200 and greater in corporations). Unsurprisingly, high levels of equality increase productivity (as workers don’t like slaving to make others rich off their labor).
What about a lack of stock market? No real need to discuss how stock markets are bad for the real economy in the current cycle but they are also characterized by serious communication problems between managers and shareholders. Moreover, the stock market rewards short-term profit-boosting over long-term growth so leading to over-investment in certain industries and increasing risk and gambling. Significantly, bank-centered capitalism has less extreme business cycles than stock market capitalism.
The successful cooperatives under capitalism, like Mondragon, are usually in groups, which shows sense of having an agro-industrial federation, and are often associated with their own banking institutions (which, again, shows the validity of Proudhon’s ideas).
Then there is the example of various social revolutions around the world. No anarchist talk would be complete with a reference to the Spanish Revolution of 1936 and this is no exception. Yet we do so for a reason as this shows that libertarian self-management can work on a large-scale, with most of industry in Catalonia successfully collectivized while vast areas of land owned and managed collectively. More recently, the revolt against neo-liberalism in Argentina included the taking over of closed workplaces. These recuperated factories show that while the bosses need us, we do not need them!
So, with the desirability and validity of libertarian socialism sketched, the question becomes one of how do we get there. Obviously, one elements of this would be creating and supporting cooperatives within capitalism. (Proudhon: “That a new society be founded in the heart of the old society.”) This could include promoting socialization and cooperatives as an alternative to closures, bailouts and nationalization.
However, most anarchists see that as just a part of encouraging a culture of resistance, or encouraging collective struggles against capitalism and the state. In other words, encouraging direct action (strikes, protests, occupations, etc.) and ensuring that all struggles are self-managed by those within them and that any organizations they create are also self-managed from below. The goal would be for people to start occupying workplaces, housing, land, etc., and so making socialization a reality. By managing our struggles we learn to manage our lives; by creating organizations for struggles against the current system we create the framework of a free society.
Together we can change the world!
More information on these issues can be found in section I of An Anarchist FAQ (www.anarchistfaq.org.uk). Radical Routes is a network of cooperatives and can be contacted c/o Cornerstone Resource Centre, 16 Sholebroke Avenue, Leeds, LS7 3HB, England. Iain McKay is editing a compilation of Proudhon’s selected works.
by CNT, translated by Pat Murtagh, ASR 53 (2010)
On November 1, 1910, in Barcelona’s Círculo de Bellas Artes, the CNT (National Confederation of Labor) was constituted. This organization, heir to the Spanish region of the 1st International (1870), was born from within the labor movement itself as the first independent trade union in this country.
Assuming the international slogan “the emancipation of the workers will be the work of the workers themselves, or it will not be,” the CNT made itself the repository of that popular rebellion which, like a subterranean stream, opposed power over the length of time, to emerge triumphant at specific times, from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom to the French Revolution, the origin of the unique historical processes in which humanity obviously advanced along the path of freedom, justice, equality, dignity and progress.
Upon the simple agreement to create a labor organization independent from the political, religious and economic powers as a prerequisite for improving the living conditions of the workers through to the end of exploitation, the CNT began its anarcho-syndicalist activity. In a few years it brought together most of the labor movement with significant social and economic advances that are now an invaluable legacy for today’s society.
The work day of eight hours, the work week of thirty-six hours, the elimination of child labor, equality of women and incorporation into daily life of values such as solidarity, federalism, ecology, feminism, free love, anti-militarism, atheism … so in vogue today, are part of that legacy that reached its zenith in the Social Revolution of 1936, when the utopia – libertarian communism – transformed everyone’s daily life in all the liberated territories.
The reaction of international capitalism enabled Franco’s fascist army to turn that revolutionary dream into a nightmare of hundreds of thousands of people persecuted, murdered and disappeared after the victorious coup in 1939. But not one of the culprits – all known, some active politicians – of that regime of terror, one of the most murderous in history, was even publicly reproved, thanks to the shameful impunity pact with Franco, which the national democratic left (PSOE, PCE, UGT and CCOO – the “socialist” and “communist” political parties and their respective affiliated union centers, ed.) sealed in its surrender agreement with capital, known as the “Spanish Transition” (1977).
Nevertheless, the people continued to defend, often with their lives, the simple principles of anarcho-syndicalism: independence, autonomy, federalism, self-management, assemblies, solidarity and direct action, i.e. self-organization, to reject any interference by political parties or other institutions, economic, religious, etc., in labor affairs. Strikes, demonstrations, repression and torture were the daily chronicle of the dictatorship (1939-1976), until their disappearance when the labor movement thrillingly came back to rebuild their beloved CNT (1977).
We live in new years of incessant labor conquest. The days of Montjuic, or San Sebastian de los Reyes, marked the powerful rebirth of the confederation in the 1970s. The progress of the labor movement, again self-organized by the CNT, through examples like the strike struggles of gas stations in 1978, prompted the reaction of capitalism, this time supported by the democratic state and its institutional apparatus (governments, parties, judges, trade union bureaucracies, …).
The successful union of the CNT was suppressed by the police (Case Scala, 1978) and, with the silence and propaganda campaigns of defamation in the media, this has generated disastrous consequences for the labor movement in this country.
The weakening of the anarcho-syndicalist presence in the labor movement made possible the loss of rights acquired after a long and bitter union struggles, by deregulation and labor precariousness implanted with the worst of the corruptions plaguing the country: union corruption. An officially silent corruption, which corrupts the union movement in general in the eyes of workers, but mainly it stars institutional unions – the CCOO and the UGT, whose unionist “yuppies” acquire grants and amounts in the millions from governments and businesses as payment to their treason, for accepting whatever measures are taken in defense of capital accumulation and rising profits (EREs, labor reforms, lay offs, etc …).
Despite all that, thousands of workers now follow the genuine labor organization which we call the CNT, keeping it exclusively their own, making it the only living example of class unionism, capable of dealing with oppression and social control, ecological destruction and over-exploitation of the world economy, all aspects inherent to capitalism.
2010 has for us a special connotation: it marks a century of existence of the CNT. It is the centenary of a people and the invaluable struggle of thousands of people over the last hundred years has provided us with a shining blueprint, to be followed by the world’s working class, by their own culture, self-organizing capacity, radical struggles, popular spread and revolutionary achievements in order to build an anti-authoritarian society based on solidarity.
These ideals form the noble cause to which we invite you here and now.
The CNT has established a web site commemorating the centenary at http://cnt.es/centenario. It includes a program of events throughout Spain, including an April 2010 conference on alternatives to capitalism in Barcelona at which ASR editorial collective member Jon Bekken will be among the presenters.
The CGT (General Confederation of Labor, which separated from the CNT in the 1980s) also lays claim to the heritage of the CNT, and presents its own statement and discusses its centenary plans at www.cgt.org.es/spip.php?rubrique125
ASR 53 (2010)
The economists are nearly unanimous in proclaiming that the U.S. recession has ended, and the economy is now expanding. Ordinary people disagree, but that’s because we look at the question entirely the wrong way. We ask how well the economy is meeting our needs, when we should be asking how well it’s doing at enriching our bosses. That, after all, is the fundamental purpose of a capitalist economy.
And from that vantage point, the infusion of trillions of dollars of society’s hard-built wealth has successfully revived the zombies. The Dow Jones average has been promenading around 10,000 for months, indicating that the stock market has recovered most of its losses even as home foreclosures continue at record rates. True, the number of people without jobs continues to rise – as does the length of time it takes laid-off workers to find new jobs even at lower pay (or give up, thereby reducing the official unemployment rate), which is now at record levels – but the pace of plant closings and lay-offs has slowed as the bosses run short on wage slaves to fire.
About eight and a half million U.S. workers have lost their jobs since the recession officially started a year ago (though, of course, millions of jobs were disappearing long before that), and many more jobs have disappeared as people retired, often a half-step ahead of the ax. Other jobs have been transformed from full-time wage slavery to part-time immiseration. Temporary and contract work is once again on the upswing.
Labor productivity is skyrocketing, as workers are pressed to do the work that previously required two or three people. Productivity rose by more than 9 percent in the third quarter of 2009 (it was even higher in manufacturing), enabling the bosses to get more production per hour of labor than ever before in recorded history. The economists see this as a good thing, and even when they start hiring again the bosses are hardly likely to tolerate a resumption of the earlier, already-too-hectic, pace of work.
Wages are down for most workers, and health and retirement benefits are in tatters; but executive bonuses are once again raining down from the sky. Even companies in bankruptcy – like the Tribune media conglomerate discussed last issue – are paying out tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to their executives, explaining that unlike us humble wage slaves who can be kept at our jobs through fear of starvation and homelessness, these overpaid parasites require ever-fatter paychecks to motivate them to do their (largely useless) jobs.
The capitalists are doing just fine, thank you very much. (And they should be thanking you, given the trillions of dollars shoveled into their greedy maws to keep them afloat.) The banks that we were told were “too big to fail” a couple years ago are now much, much bigger. Massive infusions of social wealth, not just in the United States but around the world, have enabled these capitalists to escape the consequences of their reckless speculation; instead of being consigned to the graves they so richly deserve, the bosses continue roaming the world looking for ever more victims to feed their insatiable demand for capital. This is indeed a zombie economy, fueled by the dead labor and destroyed dreams of our fellow workers around the world.
The ravages of the financial collapse will be felt for decades to come. The full cost of the bail-out may never be known, but one thing is certain. Tens of millions of human lives could have been saved from poverty-related deaths (malaria, malnutrition, AIDS, and the like) for less than a tenth of what the U.S. government alone spent on bailing out the banks and financiers. The money spent propping up an ownership system that enables a tiny handful to plunder our planet and squander our lives could instead have been used to eradicate world hunger, and to provide decent housing and health care for the world’s population.
It seems like the capitalists may succeed in patching this zombie economy back together for a few years longer. But can we afford the enormous expense of sustaining an economic system that depends on sucking the life blood from the planet, and from the workers who produce our society’s vast wealth?
The parasites who live off our labor see the means of our survival as costs to be shunted aside, our lives and planet as resources to be plundered. They measure our future in fiscal quarters, and their moral compass is the rate of return on investment. Perhaps we could afford to support this zombie system in an earlier age, though millions of our fellow workers died in the glorious cause of raising the profit rate. But today, in the midst of the deepest economic crisis our world has faced since the Great Depression, the capitalist system is a luxury we can no longer afford.
There has been too much chatter about reforming financial markets and the like. It’s time to organize in our communities and at our jobs, to seize our workplaces, to build job control, to win shorter hours, to dump the bosses off our backs. It’s time to rid ourselves of this rotten system, and instead devote our resources to meeting human needs, and the needs of our planet.