Kropotkin’s Anarchist Critique of Capitalism

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

by Jon Bekken

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

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

Economic Doctrine

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

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

It was this task that Kropotkin took on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitalism Not Productive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wage Slavery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Production is Social

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even then such a view was not quite correct:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Private Ownership Absurd

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

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

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

Production for Needs

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

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

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

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


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

ASR 73 (Spring 2018)

3. EDITORIAL: Who Believes in the Deep State?

4. WOBBLES: Union Scabbing, Billionaires Fear Revolt, Trickle-Down Economics, Handouts for Bosses …

4. Farewell, Fellow Workers: Jeff Reeder, Harold Barclay

5. International Syndicalist News Compiled by Mike Hargis

8. Argentina: Four lessons from the fight against ‘reform’ policies by Federico Abal

9. ARTICLES: Rail Workers Building Solidarity Interview with Ron Kaminkow, Railroad Workers United

12. Mind the Gap! by Iain McKay

14. ‘Roll Up the Boss to Win’: Organizing After the Fight for $15 by Jeff Shantz

15. The Hidden Terror by Tony Sheather

18. Ursula Le Guin & Utopia by Iain McKay

22. Crawling Out from the Depths of Economic Despair by Jon Bekken

24. Four Aspects of Contemporary Fascism by Shane Burley

26. Peter Kropotkin on War and Revolution

27. Private Government Review Essay by Iain McKay

30. REVIEWS: A Realizable Utopia Review by Jon Bekken

32. From Debt to Crisis Review by Jeff Stein

32. War Against War Review by Jon Bekken

33. Anarchist Immigrants Review by Martin Comack

34. Romancing the Revolution Review by Iain McKay

35. American Socialism Review by Steve Kellerman

37. Marx, Bakunin & the International Review by Iain McKay

38. Berta Caceres, Elvia Alvarado & the Honduran struggle by Raymond Solomon

38. Letters

40. Ursula Le Guin & the Revolution Poster by Alexis Buss

The Impossibility of Just Prices

Review by Jon Bekken, ASR 41 (2005)

Frank Ackerman & Lisa Heinzerling, Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing. The New Press, 2004, 277 pages, $25.95 hardcover.

Everything important can be bought and sold. Advertisers tell us this every day, offering to solve our most intimate problems (or imagined problems) for a fee. Corporations put price tags on everything as they decide what to make, what towns to destroy, how unsafe they want our workplaces to be, and the extent to which they will poison our communities. (Indeed, there is now a thriving, entirely legal market buying and selling the “right” to pollute our air.) Health insurers decide how much our life, and our pain, is worth as they decide which procedures and drugs to cover, and which to reject. And governments increasingly use cost-benefit analysis to decide everything from environmental regulations to whether to allow the bosses to force workers to put in unlimited overtime. Everything has a price – even our lives.

Even many “leftists” agree. The entire edifice of Participatory Economics is built upon the premise that we can set prices that capture the full social costs (materials and labor, of course, but also externalities such as damage to the environment and the lost opportunities that otherwise could have been met) of fulfilling any need. Anything we truly value, one Parecon advocate haughtily explained, we can put a price on. Would that they were alone (with the capitalists and politicians) in their insanity, but no. An entire school of environmental economists has arisen who develop ever-more-complex formulas to try to measure the value of externalities – less, I think, out of a belief that this is the best way to make decisions than from despair. These economists insist that our calculations take account of the central role of nature in the economy (the natural resources upon which we depend, the interaction of a species within its environment, the competing uses to which nature could be put). Yet while such methods may be better than the profit-based calculations that drives most economic analysis, they still leave us in a world where prices determine what matters and what is worth protecting.

It is against this backdrop that environmental law professor Lisa Heinzerling and Tufts University economist Frank Ackerman have written Priceless, which the publishers describe as “a combative, no-holds-barred debunking of cost-benefit analysis and the derelict logic used to defend it.” While they proceed entirely within the logic of (enlightened) capitalism, the authors nonetheless provide a wealth of examples of just how dangerous (and how commonplace) the absurd notion that a price tag can be put on everything is. They track the most common cost-benefit formulas down to their dubious origins, illustrate just how easily these calculations can be manipulated to obtain the desired result, and challenge the logic that the value of human life or a healthy ecosystem can be measured in dollars and sense in terms that should be accessible to a very wide audience indeed.

While much of the book frames its arguments against a backdrop of Bush-Reagan deregulation, there is enough information presented to make it clear that price-tag analysis is a bipartisan enterprise. Thus, while the current Bush regime’s number crunchers slashed the value of a human life to $3.7 million, who among us would willingly sell their life for even the $6.1 million the Clinton analysts thought it was worth? And who would be willing to give the world’s billionaires the right to kill as many of us as they please, so long as they pay whatever the going rate is determined to be?

Ackerman and Heinzerling conclusively demonstrate that this business of putting prices on our world is fundamentally arbitrary.

Take the wreck of the Exxon Valdez, for example. Many studies have been conducted to try to determine how much the environmental damage was “worth.” Surveys determined that the average household would be willing to spend almost $100 to put in place controls that would prevent another spill like the Exxon Valdez, indicating that the price should be set at $9 billion (a figure that assumes only U.S. residents were affected; one suspects Russians and Canadians, to mention only those most closely impacted, might see things differently).

But if you ask those same people how much they would accept in order to allow Exxon to dump more oil in the ocean, the numbers get much higher – indeed, many people say they would refuse to allow such a thing at any price. And that’s the only sane position to take. Unfortunately, the people who run our society are not sane. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer (a Clinton appointee), for example, has published a book that severely criticizes out present system for protecting health, safety and the environment not on the grounds that it fails to do so effectively, but rather because it is not cost-effective. Tobacco companies agree, and have given millions to support “risk analysis” studies that – because they value prices and money above all else – usually find that public health measures just don’t make sense. Which brings us to the question of just how much a human life is worth. It’s been illegal for quite some time to buy and sell the right to kill people, so analysts have to figure this out indirectly.

Often they pluck figures from thin air, as in the case of a 1995 study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which decided lives in the U.S. were worth $1.5 million, but those in low-income countries were worth only $ 100,000. (The 2001 report uses an international average of $ 1 million to decide whether it is cost-effective to allow the capitalists to continue destroying our planet through global warming.) Many economists estimate how much a person would earn over a lifetime, and figure that’s the value of his or her life. (We are, after all, wage slaves, of no intrinsic value to our masters except for the money they can make off our labor.) Or, to determine how workers value their own lives, they compare two “similar” jobs with different risks of causing death, compare the pay rates, and then figure the difference reflects how much workers are willing to sell our lives for.

That this is an absurd undertaking goes without saying, but when economists take this idea seriously and crunch the numbers, they find that union members value their lives much more than do non-union workers. You have to pay blue-collar and service sector male workers $2.6 million more over the course of a lifetime for a job likely to kill them ($13 million for women); but unionized men get $6.1 million (women $42.3 mill). (The authors show how these figures are arrived at from differences of just pennies an hour on pages 76-81; there is actually a certain twisted logic to it, if you ignore factors like power, how desperate someone is to land a job, and the like.) So we’ve established that non-union workers are either dolts who don’t value their own lives, or who lack the organized power necessary to do so. Policy-makers don’t worry about such questions, they strike an average and voilà: we have the value of a statistical human life.

There are alternative measures of human life, ranging from $900,000 to a bit more than $7 million, which policy makers use to run cost-benefit analysis on workplace safety regulations, the level of poisons that should be allowed in our food, the value of school lunch programs. diseased social order, and environmental regulations. (Somehow the very real costs of maintaining the world’s most deadly military machine and inflicting untold carnage on our fellow workers around the world are never measured by these tools.) Statisticians then discount the figures because many victims will be older, some deaths will occur in the future, etc., in order to arrive at a number that justifies whatever horror is being contemplated. (Not that they deliberately fudge the numbers; people with anti-human proclivities are hired for this sort of work.)

The drive to put a price tag on everything does not stop there. Elaborate surveys have been conducted to determine how much a crippling illness is worth, many of which manipulate data from a study of denizens of a North Carolina shopping mall to determine the value of a case of chronic bronchitis. Researchers didn’t ask what people would charge to be infected, of course, since few would agree at any price. Instead, they described the effects of chronic bronchitis and asked questions about which of two imaginary communities the shoppers would prefer to live in: one with the same cost of living as their actual residence and a specified risk of bronchitis, and the other with a higher cost of living but a lower risk of bronchitis. The interviewers kept changing the numbers until they reached a point where each subject was equally happy with both communities (or perhaps desperate to escape). Researchers then figured the trade-off between higher risk and higher costs – $883,000 per case of chronic bronchitis – was the value people placed on avoiding a crippling disease.

One-third of the people they asked to participate refused to have anything to do with this macabre exercise, and so are not included in the data. Environmental Protection Agency analysts then statistically manipulated the data, dropping the people who valued their health the most (and also those at the bottom of the scale) to arrive at an average of $260,000, which they now use to value health risks such as coming down with a nonfatal case of bladder cancer. (You’d agree to have a mad scientist induce cancer in your body for a quarter-million bucks, wouldn’t you?)

Similar research has been done to determine the value of preserving entire species, of people’s “quality life years,” of an I.Q. point (lead poisoning stunts children’s intelligence, so the manufacturers need to know how much that’s worth), of living with crippling injuries, etc. It is all quite insane, and U.S. law requires this sort of analysis be performed on new regulations.

Priceless does a very good job of explaining how cost-benefit analysis is being employed and whose interests it serves. They demonstrate that even on its own terms, such analyses necessarily exaggerate costs and minimize benefits. And they offer a richly deserved repudiation of the entire scheme, instead calling for policies that reflect human values: “The alternative is not a different formula. The multitude of priceless values [life, health, nature, beauty, etc.] that we have identified cannot be measured on a single scale… At best, such methods can provide useful background information on multiple environmental impacts. At worst, when they offer their own bottom-line evaluations, they make hidden judgments about the relative importance of different impacts – judgments that can be every bit as arbitrary and indefensible as the process of monetization.” (208-09) There is no formula, they conclude; what is needed is public debate and participation, and a value system that does not gamble with the ecosystem on which future generations will depend.

These are useful cautions, so far as they go. But they do not go nearly far enough. Ackerman and Heinzerling seem to believe that capitalism and the state could be reconciled with environmental and human values, with regulatory agencies serving to keep their anti-human (and anti-environmental) tendencies in check. This attempt to reassert a liberal politics – a politics that endeavors to harness the state to human needs – may help Priceless reach a wider audience, but in the real world this sort of politics is everywhere in retreat. States serve power, and those who rule have concluded that they no longer need the welfare state.

The price tag system is utterly incapable of serving human needs in the arena of policy-making. The authors do not address this, but the evidence is overwhelming that it serves no better in determining the production of food and other human necessities, and making sure they reach the people who need them. The attempt to put a price tag on everything is a reflection of a diseased social order, and its symptoms permeate our entire social system. And even if the authors do not draw out the implications, the arguments (and evidence) presented here can be marshaled to support a broader radical project.

The price system does not protect our time from the depredations of the employers. It does not reward effort or skill; quite the contrary, it richly rewards anti-social behavior while condemning the most industrious among us to dire poverty. Capitalism indeed “know[s] the price of everything and the value of nothing,” as the subtitle puts it. We must rid our minds of the notion that a free society can rely upon prices (for our labor, or for our necessities); rather, we must proceed from the basis of identifying real human (and ecological) needs, and rebuild our economy around meeting those needs.

The Torture State

Editorial, ASR 41 (2005)

It is perhaps a sign of advancing age when one thinks fondly back to the days of one’s youth, when you could march down the streets without having to worry about the snipers on the roof tops; when you could join a union demonstration, at least, without worrying about police firing upon you with rubber bullets and wooden blocks; when the government had to at least pretend you had committed some crime in order to lock you up; and when torture was universally condemned.

To be sure, torture was widely practiced, and not only by the brutal military dictatorships the U.S. and Soviet governments propped up around the world. In Chicago, it seems police routinely tortured suspects in order to extract convictions used to send them to jail or death row. But officials dared not admit to the world that they practiced torture, and when it became clear that the fruits of torture (among other violations of basic human rights) had sent several people to death row, Illinois’ governor felt compelled to lift the death sentences of every inmate facing execution in that state. In short, torture, while practiced in back rooms and secret cells, was universally acknowledged to be abhorrent.

Today, torture is official U.S. government policy. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez issues legal opinions ostensibly prohibiting torture, but allowing methods including sleep deprivation, psychological abuse (lasting, but not permanent, mental damage is OK), and the infliction of pain up to (but not including) the point of death or major organ failure. International human rights agreements, he says, do not apply. Gonzalez was among the top contenders for a recent opening on the U.S. Supreme Court, but was apparently blocked by conservatives who thought he was too soft on moral values.

Homeland Security Czar Michael Chertoff required convicted Taliban supporter John Walker Lindh to sign a gag order promising not to reveal the systematic torture (the severely wounded Lindh was blindfolded and duct-taped to a stretcher for days in an unlit shipping container; denied medical care, food and water; and threatened with death to elicit his confession) to which he was subjected as a condition of his plea agreement. If U.S. citizens are treated this way by the U.S. military, one can only imagine the conditions inflicted upon Afghan or Iraqi prisoners.

Even a few “civil libertarians’’ now say torture is inevitable, and so call for a system of torture warrants which would allow torture so long as a judge somewhere said it was OK.

Fortunately, even if it has become official government policy, most people continue to reject torture. Human Rights Watch has called for criminal action against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and ex-CIA Director George Tenet in a report titled Getting Away with Torture? Command Responsibility for the U.S. Abuse of Detainees. Human Rights Watch says there is overwhelming evidence that U.S. mistreatment and torture of prisoners took place not merely at Abu Ghraib but at facilities throughout Afghanistan and Iraq as well as at Guantanamo, and at secret locations around the world. Where U.S. torture was not rough enough, the CIA “rendered” detainees to countries where they would be subjected to more aggressive torture.

In these difficult times, the criminality of the state can be overwhelming. Yet we must continue to confront it, even as we work for the abolition of this brutal, force-propped system.

Long ago, Mikhail Bakunin wrote that no crime was so terrible that it could not be justified “for reasons of state.” In this, as in so many things, history continues to prove him right.

Freedom, Anarchism, or Social Ecology

Review essay by Tony Sheather, ASR 41 (2005) pp 34-35

Murray Bookchin’s significance as a leading thinker, writer and spokesman for the contemporary radical movement is still generally acknowledged. However, the past fifteen years has seen a rancor and division that threatens to challenge Bookchin’s contribution and place in history. The man acknowledged by Roszak as a philosopher to rank with Thoreau has been critiqued and criticized. Repudiated, even.

Crucial to his “deconstruction” has been Bookchin’s espousal the opposition of advocates of deep ecology like anarchist essayist David Watson, whose Beyond Bookchin: A Primer for a Future Social Ecology tears at the very fabric of Bookchin’s ideas. There is vituperative attack at times from both sides in this debate (e.g., Bookchin’s Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism – The Unbridgeable Chasm). Watson is a theorist, if one who eschews dogma. His activities would seem guided by liberatory reflection, perhaps a spontaneous dialectic. The poet, the artist, in contrast with the prosaic thinker. The man of metaphor challenging the advocate of coherence. Watson’s emphasis on metaphor, intuition, art and poetry as ends in themselves, and as a neglected dimension of Bookchin’s critique, is refreshing. Undoubtedly, in pursuing a coherence attuned to rationality, Bookchin ignores a sensibility crucial to a broad and diverse liberatory consciousness. The Renaissance man is too close to his own “ism,” as Watson observes.

However, Watson’s sympathy toward these neglected areas in Bookchin’s perception creates its own problems. His desire to view human uniqueness as a reflection of the acknowledgment of non-human identity as much as its own, leads to its own uneasiness. Citing the Dakota Black Elk approvingly that “unless human beings humble themselves before the entire creation, before the smallest ant, realizing their own nothingness… (human) knowledge of their oneness with the universe… can not be realized” (pp. 55-56), Watson invokes an obeisance to “unity” (here spirituality/mysticism) similar in intent, if not form, to the man he condemns.

Watson’s evocation of a diversity and fulfillment in aboriginal communities serves as an antidote to Bookchin’s sometimes dismissive musings. Yet again, one wonders if a catholic embrace of “primal, archaic and modern” (Beyond Bookchin, p. 72) invites confusion as much as continuity. Does necessary humility become deference: “I must add that sometimes creeping on all fours might be precisely what is called for.” (p. 60)

“Revolution will be a kind of return.” (p. 154) As wise and incisive as many of Watson’s reflections are, to conclude his chapter “The Social Ecologist as Technocrat” in this manner conveys a disturbing sense of regression. Do we explore the past humbly, with an “authentically dialectical understanding that reorients life around perennial, classic and aboriginal manifestations of wisdom … we have yet to address fully” (p. 154), or do we thus mire ourselves in new litanies of contradiction?

Watson fears Bookchin’s marriage of capitalist-sponsored computer technology and a municipalist utopia, indicating his incapacity to comprehend the full matrix of hierarchical and segmented social and psychological organization inherent in modem society; the Marxist economist within the anarchist philosopher and social ecologist. Nonetheless, Bookchin’s espousal of a nature rendered self-conscious through humanity’s realized potential retrieves and generates a spark of authentic personhood from mankind’s often dark journey. For Watson, progress is regress – unmitigated.

Bookchin’s role in demystifying Marxism (“Listen Marxist,” Post-Scarcity Anarchism, 1971) may be less certain 20-30 years on, but his analytical passion in Post-Scarcity Anarchism and The Ecology of Freedom (1982) were stepping stones, sign posts for a generation. Watson sees a paralysis or decline in Bookchin’s progress (!) over time. There are such signs. Yet Re-making Society (1990) still inspires and Re-enchanting Humanity (1995) – uncited by Watson – depicts in bold strikes the ambiguous heritage of post-modernism and deconstruction. Here awareness of “the sentinel of reason” is not an instrumentalist naiveté but a crucial intellectual reference to guide critique. Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism may be guilty of the selective trivialization Watson, personally offended, alleges. It may perceive treason where idealism is equally apparent. It is unquestionably accurate in discerning and decrying the tendency toward privatized retreat so manifestly observable within the left-liberal political spectrum (and attendant culture). For all their erstwhile (at times contemporary) nobility and integrity, the Greens elaborate this secure, middle-class compromise – Rousseau and Mill in perfect harmony.

It is no surprise to see Watson at odds with Bookchin’s illustrative libertarian heritage and his depiction of a utopian future. “Bookchin’s Civitas; from here to where?” (Chapter 6) exemplifies the divide. Watson queries the significance attributed to the Athenian polis and Bookchin’s evocation of Vermont as a current shining light, and challenges the authenticity of his envisaged participatory municipality as a beacon of the future.

David Watson’s criticisms again offer breadth and the value of an alternative perspective. His error again is to misunderstand, hence disregard, the essential conviction of humanity’s striving for freedom and the need for a passionate, if at times indulgent, vision. His glaring omission as an anarchist writer, in an otherwise comprehensive discussion, is to almost totally ignore the contribution of the anarchist tradition itself. As a reflection, Bookchin’s The Spanish Anarchists is conspicuous by its absence.

Is it possible that Watson’s dismissive response to Bookchin’s mention of his past experience as a foundry worker intuits more than a contextual dismissal? Without knowledge of the man’s antecedents, one can but surmise. His coming of age during the Vietnam War (both literal and political) suggests the middle-class student radicalism of the time. A deep gulf with earlier radicals like Bookchin influenced, if not shaped, by Depression and war. Personal experiences of enforced drudgery or marginalization inspires a different zeal from that created within a chosen realm of romanticized reminiscences.

It seems possible to locate some of the tension existing between the two writers in relation to the appropriate anarchist interpretation of autonomy and freedom, within these personal and social origins. Autonomy, precious to a child of the ‘60s, under suspicion from a man cherishing the best of “The Left That Was” (Part Two, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism).

As someone of Watson’s era (and perhaps background) – certainly someone changed by Vietnam and radicalized by anarchism – I see in Beyond Bookchin more systematic echoes of thoughts, reservations I expressed in a response to a brief left-wing resurgence (and Brisbane seminar) in 1989. My “Four Paths” drew attention to Bookchin’s virtues, but also his occasional lack of subtlety and complexity, his unawareness of nuance and ambiguity. My reference, with some asperity, to Bookchin’s favorite word, “coherence,” clearly mirrors a similar unease emerging overseas.

Bookchin’s virtues, nonetheless, are considerable. My own intellectual and ethical debt spans 25 years of awareness and enjoyment of his work. Janet Biehl’s brief but gracious acknowledgment of correspondence two years back (conveying her unwell companion’s best wishes), a pleasant telephone call with his comrade Dan Chodorkoff, these may be slight indications of affinity. They did earn my respect as responses to a communication both complimentary and critical – and erase an understandable annoyance at the silence greeting a letter four years earlier.

Courtesy and conviction need not be at odds. Passionate adherence to principle and belief are qualities to admire, but vitriol to the degree exhibited in the Graham Purchase – Bookchin exchange (Deep Ecology and Anarchism – A Polemic, 1993) is sad, even demeaning.

Within the compass of Watson’s critique we witness a decline from “(Bookchin is) a unique figure in twentieth century radicalism” (Chapter 1, p. 7) to “my original sympathies for Bookchin’s work waned during the writing of this essay (Chapter 7, p. 189). He speaks of its early flaws, its “unsound and inadequate … ‘maturity,’” “the saddest moment and the nadir of his career” represented by “his recent writings.” Watson salvages something – “the radical intent and virtues (of) his early contributions” – but the deconstruction is near total.

We may wonder if “after examining his work repeatedly and intensely,” Watson has inherited some of his subject’s messianic zeal; if the analysis has become something of an obsession, as much as a probing appraisal. Watson is gracious, even detached, at the end: “Only time will tell whether I have sledgehammered a flea or shot peas at an elephant” (Chapter 8, p. 245). Yet the contrast portrays extremes inappropriate to a more balanced perception of the roles of both. Watson’s insight and caveats are necessary to elevate social (or deep) ecology to a more complex, catholic conception. To diminish or caricature Bookchin’s seminal role, however, is to do less than justice to a man Watson himself acknowledges “revived valuable chapters of neglected social history for many radicals (through his) utopian concerns and exploration of the ideas of a social ecology” (p. 67).

The broader canvas – and conversation – is suggested: “I agree with Bookchin that an authentically radical social ecology beyond the ‘bare bones’ of the scientific discipline, an ecological sensibility and ethical perspective that discerns the connections between natural and social history, between social crisis and ecological crisis, is essential in halting humanity’s present inertia towards social and ecological apocalypse. I share his hunger for a social movement that can become the seed of the new society within the shell of the old, for a redemption of desire and imagination, his insistence on the possibility of a different kind of organic reasoning.” (p. 243)

Does the ultimate decision, the final truth, lie not between individual philosophers, their assertion and denial, but between the centuries-old quest for human freedom, inspired by dreams, visions and philosophical questions and the inevitable attempts to locate, confine and codify, be it in the name of anarchism, humanism, animism or ecology?

As we strive and yearn for transformation, we need to explore the writings of all contributors to the panorama of that transformation; to understand their differences, contradictions and insights. Their role – be it fundamental, reflective, provocative. Their intent – didactic, intuitive; their approach – analytical or discursive; their style – literal, metaphorical.

Ultimately, however, we find a freedom – hence love – that is individual and social, ordinary and extraordinary, existential and thoughtful, passionate and intelligent, theirs and ours. I may be you, but I am indisputably me. So, too, anarchism and social ecology, visions of utopia, maintain their heritage, their unique essence, their identity, their strength, flexibility and frailty. They illustrate and articulate freedom, sometimes explain or encapsulate it. But comprehend and define it – never.

Freedom is its own domain, while our quest – neither faith nor justice nor peace nor hope, though at times it may seem one or all of these. Their participation in this quest, their acknowledgement of this domain, measures the ultimate value of the Bookchins and Watsons of the world.

Flying Squads & Self Defense Now

By Jeff Shantz, ASR 71/2

Fascist times are periods of open, brutal, class war (when the sheets quite literally slip off). Events of the last year, including the killing of three people opposing a white supremacist shouting racist and anti-Muslim slurs at two women on a mass transit train in Portland and the murder of IWW fellow worker Heather Heyer by a neo-Nazi in Charlottesville show the desperate need for working class self-defense of our communities.

In this we can draw on examples of rank-and-file self-defense organization. I would suggest, in particular, the rank-and-file flying squad provides an existing model for a rapid mobilization defense force for community protection.

I grew up in an autoworker family and in my family union, UAW (then CAW, now UNIFOR) Local 444, there was a very active and militant flying squad. It was deployed to defend workers and the community against a range of social threats, including, of course, during strikes, but also beyond. In Toronto, CAW flying squads were mobilized to defend immigrant and people facing deportation. Flying squads also defended unemployed workers and homeless people from attacks by police and rightist vigilantes during protests and demonstrations. A rank-and-file Canadian Union of Public Employees flying squad mobilized to defend Indigenous land protectors against racist mobs.

Flying Squads

The flying squad structure operates along the lines of affinity groups with which anarchists are so familiar and which many prefer. The structure allows members to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, preferences and discomforts. The active relationships of the flying squad reinforce accountability and commitment.

In Toronto, anarchists, some of whom were union members, formed an autonomous flying squad. The autonomous flying squad was organized typically to do strike support for workers on picket lines. Flying squad members could engage in activities, such as violating injunctions or strike protocols, that the striking workers did not feel they could do. The autonomous flying squad also mobilized for support of community groups during political actions.

In Vancouver, unionists have organized a self-defense unit, the Peacekeepers. They train together and organize to defend protesters against opponents including fascist groups such as the Soldiers of Odin. This is one model of mobile self-defense organizing that combines explicit self-defense with a flying squad structure for rapid mobilization and coordinated action.

In some cases flying squad members, as members of unions, can draw on additional established working class resources, such as legal support and defense funds for members who might need them based on their flying squad self-defense activities. These resources might not be available to more precarious or vulnerable people who might be targeted by fascists or police.

As self-defense practices spread, other groupings can take on some of these roles but the flying squad offers an already existing body of workers ready, willing and able to do some of the work of self-defense. IWW branches could organize for this work, as Vancouver Wobblies are beginning to strategize around.


That anarchists and antifascists have been attacked with force at demonstrations (as in Vancouver and Seattle, where an antifascist syndicalist was shot) has made this a pressing concern. The murder of Heather Heyer brought home that these attacks on antifascists are not one-off events.

In Vancouver, unfortunately, in the absence of organized and effective self-defense formations, antifascists have had to rely on limited, and hierarchical, union marshals for defense at rallies. While this is fine up to a point and shows the necessity of flying squads, it means that the antifascists became dependent on groupings of which they are not integrally a part (even if their interests are the same and they work in solidarity).

In Vancouver, the IWW branch is making a possibly significant turn towards self-defense training and organizing to act as a defense squad for public mobilizations and potentially for community self-defense, but their numbers are small. A broader flying squad drawing on experiences and participation of already organized working class flying squads, could provide more extensive defense.

Fascist Attack in Charlottesville

from ASR 71/72

Neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, attacked protesters and murdered a protester widely reported to be an IWW member – part of a group of Wobblies and others mowed down when one of the neo-Nazis plowed his car into the crowd.

The Industrial Workers of the World issued this statement: “Heather Heyer, the 32-year old murdered by fascists on August 12, 2017, lost her life protesting the fascists. She should be alive with us today. We carry her in our hearts, and move forward with the struggle determined to realize the hopes she held when she faced down the fascists.

“On the internet, it has been widely reported that Heather was a member of our union, the IWW. It does not appear that she ever joined our union, but we would have welcomed her. She was a courageous woman and we should all seek inspiration from her and work to amplify her message. Members of the IWW were on the scene and were among the wounded. Like Heather, they courageously stood up to the forces of hate in one of the largest fascist gatherings in decades. We are grateful that they remain with us, and we are furious that Heather is with us no longer.”

The violence began the night before as hundreds of neo-Nazis and other white nationalists descended on the city, chanting fascist slogans and attacking protesters. Many of the neo-nazis were carrying assault rifles and other weapons; police stood by as one fired in the direction of protesters and then walked past a police barricade. (He was arrested two weeks later on charges of discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, after the ACLU released video footage of the incident they had earlier shared with police.)

Police allowed the fascists free reign to terrorize the city, refusing to protect Congregation Beth Israel, where gun-toting neo-Nazis stood watch at the entrance, and hundreds of fascists paraded past chanting “Sieg Heil” and other anti-Semitic slogans. (Forty worshippers ultimately escaped through the rear of the synagogue.) Cornel West, part of a group of clergy and civil rights activists standing arm-in-arm in an attempt to block the fascist march, noted that the police made no effort to protect them. “We would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the antifascists who approached, over 300, 350 antifascists. We just had 20. … They saved our lives.”

A Virginia state trooper interfered with a street medic who was trying to save Heyer’s life. As the medic administered CPR, the trooper forcibly removed an EMT who was assisting in resuscitation. The trooper continued ordering the medic and protesters who were assisting her to leave – stopping only when a firefighter arrived on the scene and took over chest compressions.

This brazen display of fascist violence triggered renewed calls to tear down Confederate and other race-baiting monuments across the country. In Durham, North Carolina, protesters took matters into their own hands, toppling a memorial to Confederate soldiers erected in 1924, as a resurgent Ku Klux Klan was terrorizing African-Americans, Jews, and labor activists. Four people were arrested for this act of civic improvement, and hundreds lined up outside the jail to turn themselves in as participants.

In Minneapolis, performers and bar workers walked out of Clubhouse Jäger after learning that its owner was financially supporting former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon David Duke, now a white supremacist Republican. Workers quit en masse after learning that their labor was supporting racists and fascists. The owner told a local television station the donation was a matter of “free speech.”

ASR & the Challenges Facing the Syndicalist Movement

Several ASR editorial collective members met July 22, for our first face-to-face meeting in several years. We talked about working to include more topical articles about what is going on in the labor movement and expanding ASR’s online presence (something that would require assistance from supporters with technical expertise). Although we are committed to continue publishing historical articles and reviews, the balance has shifted too far in this direction in recent issues. We need more articles on tactics and strategies for building strong syndicalist movements today, on the challenges posed by corporate globalization, labor and other social “reforms,” and the increasingly precarious nature of work. We need more writers, especially women, young people, and anarcho-syndicalists who are active in non-English speaking countries. We need reviewers, translators and artists. If you can help, let me know.

In addition to our website, ASR maintains an increasingly active FaceBook page. We are working to revamp our email newsletter (technical obstacles are blocking it from reaching most subscribers, and so we need to develop a new platform).

ASR 71-2 (Fall 2017)

2. ASR & the Challenges Facing the Syndicalist Movement
3. Wobbles: Loyalty to the Bosses, Refusing Deportations, Booting La Migra, Golden Age for Workers? …
5. International Labor News Compiled by Mike Hargis
6. Wildcat in Vietnam… Labor Shorts by John Kalwaic
8. ARTICLES: Fascist Attack in Charlottesville
8. Unions Against Fascism by Shane Burley
10. Flying Squads & Self Defense Now by Jeff Shantz
12. Anarchists Against Hitler from the Kate Sharpley Library
13. Fighting Fascism: Lessons from Italy by Iain McKay
16. 160 Years of Libertarian by Iain McKay
24. On the Male & Female Human-Being by Joseph Déjacque
28. SPECIAL SECTION: People’s Power, Workers’ Control & Grassroots Politics in South Africa: Rethinking Practices of Self-Organization & Anti-Apartheid Resistance in the 1980s
28. S African ‘Workerism’ in the 1980s by Lucien van der Walt
32. Lessons from the 1984-85 Vaal Uprising by Jonathan Payn
37. Self-Organization in South Africa by Daria Zelenova
41. The Playful Anarchist by Brian Martin
45. REVIEWS: Eco-Socialism, Eco-Anarchism & the Anthropocene Review essay by Wayne Price
47. Debt: Anarchist Economics Review by Chad Anderson

50. Graeber on bureaucracy Review by Jeff Stein

51. Fighting the Spanish Revolution Review by Jeff Stein
52. Kropotkin’s Activist Anarchism Review by Iain McKay
53. This Fight is Our Fight? Saving America’s Middle Class Review by Wayne Price
56. Transnational Anarchism Review by Martin Comack
57. Economics of Labor Repression Review by Jon Bekken
58. Radical Press Review Review by Mike Hargis
59. LETTERS: Fighting CEO Pay, Reviving the Cold War…

FAQ on revolutionary unionism (in development)

What is a revolutionary union?

A union that is at the same time an organization of workers to improve wages and working conditions, and a revolutionary organization to emancipate workers from wage slavery to the employers. To improve working conditions the preferred method of struggle is direct action against the employer: the strike in its many forms, the work-slowdown, all culminating in the general strike against all employers and occupation of the means of production. To emancipate the workers, the revolutionary union prepares the workers to run industry themselves by running the union democratically, educates workers in strategy and tactics to fight the bosses and the science and technology to transform industry, and prepares them for the class struggle.

Why do we call the unions of the AFL-CIO and their kind “business unions”?

There are two reasons for this. Firstly business unions are not democratic but bureaucratic. They are run by union professionals, mostly lawyers, who are not workers but middle class managers who because they spend all their time doing the union business are entrenched politically and able to keep the rank-and-file in line. Like salesmen, they sell their services to workers like insurance as protection from the boss and to employers as protection from their workers. Secondly. we call them business unions because they believe in capitalism. Just like the right-wingers, the business unions believe that capitalists are “job creators” and that capitalists are necessary. To believe in capitalism is to believe in wage slavery. Such unions can never emancipate workers.