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(en) Freedom 6401 Jan, 2003 - Anarchist economics

From <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 24 Jan 2003 05:06:47 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

I read David Dane's reply to comments I made with some amusement ('Market socialism', 14th December). Not only does he contradict himself, he also raises an old straw man
that anyone familiar with communist-anarchist ideas would see through in a nanosecond. David wants me to give a "coherent account of how a modern industrial society could
coordinate production, supply and demand while ensuring high quality". I didn't try to do this, partly because of lack of space, but far more importantly because of the
simple fact that a communist-anarchist society will be created from below, by the mass of people themselves - not by me. Of course I've got my own ideas of how such a
society could operate, but ultimately it's speculation. The new society will be created by the masses themselves.
David simply states the obvious when he argues that "an anarchist society can't just be imposed on the world", as if communist-anarchists ever argue that it could, or
would, be imposed. If he were interested in honesty he'd start by acknowledging this, rather than by implying that we plan to impose our will. We want voluntary communism,
built by those who desire it. Rather than impose it on the working class (an impossibility), we try to encourage tendencies that exist in the class struggle. By our
propaganda we try to convince people that such a society is both possible and desirable. In summary, communist-anarchism is based on the self-liberation of the working
I suppose the weakness of David's argument explains why he raises an old bogeyman by associating communist-anarchists with what "Marxist political parties are trying to
do". If he bothered to read our ideas he'd quickly see that, while Marxist political parties aim to take political power for themselves and decree 'socialism' into
existence, communist-anarchists have always stressed that socialism would be created by the masses themselves through their own actions and organisations. In these
circumstances, how can communist-anarchists 'impose a unity' or anything else? And if David thinks a free communist society would be a homogenous one, it suggests a
distinct lack of imagination on his part!
I also find his statement that communist-anarchists want to "impose a unity on all these different people" somewhat ironic. After all, for all his talk of pluralism he's
arguing that there's only one way economic decisions can be made - via the market mechanism. Moreover, by noting that price isn't "the only process to be considered in
economic activity", he acknowledges that the 'market mechanism' doesn't do a particularly good job in meeting human needs. Surely he knows it penalises those who do take
other processes into account?
The failure of the market mechanism is one that many across the world are aware of, and they're trying to find new, better ways of life. These are people who are refusing
to sacrifice themselves to the 'market mechanism', working class people who are organising themselves to improve their lives. They are 'contracting' the kind of 'other
relationships' that David is so strangely quiet about, in trade unions, community assemblies and so on.
David mentions the anti-globalisation movement, arguing that it's trying to create "economies people can have more control of on a local basis". Yet according to the
economics of the 'market mechanism', there can be no control of it. After all, 'perfect competition' requires a multitude of firms, none of which can influence (that is,
control) the 'market mechanism'. And the idea that local communities should control markets can be dismissed out of hand (it's bad for the 'market mechanism'). So the
process David supports excludes, by definition, the 'preference' he claims is 'right'.
Unlike David Dane, communist-anarchists have no desire to decree for humanity how it should make economic decisions. Anarchism, as communist-anarchists have always
stressed, would reflect the needs and desires of those creating it. We simply try to influence any revolt towards an end we think desirable, by convincing those involved of
its desirability. An anarchist society would reflect both the political ideas of the people involved and the objective circumstances they face. This means that the level of
socialisation would vary across the world. Revolution is a process, it doesn't imply an overnight transformation.
There's also the question of means. David raises the possibility of civil war, posing the alternatives of "economics and non-violence to help move society in a more
libertarian direction". Ignoring the obvious point, that he implicitly acknowledges that his methods can't actually result in a libertarian society, I'll say this. There's
no disagreement that non-violence is the preferable means. But if David thinks the ruling class will sit back and watch its power and wealth eroded by peaceful means, he
clearly hasn't learned any lessons from history. If non-violence is effective, the state will attack.
Faced with the non-violent factory and land occupations in Italy in 1920, the ruling class turned to fascism. Faced with the non-violent blockade in Seattle in 1999, the
state turned to the night-stick and pepper-spray. Anarchists have to recognise the need for self-defence. Not doing so simply means that we've presented the state with yet
another weapon in its arsenal. If we're effective, in other words, then we'll face civil war no matter how 'non-violent' we are. In other words, David's arguments are
simply arguments for doing nothing.
I reject his either/or logic. Either you support revolution or you support "contracting other relationships", he says. Sorry, but I don't buy it. I support both. By
building alternative, libertarian institutions in the here and now, we strengthen the possibilities of an anarchist revolution in the future. By organising in our
communities and workplaces ('contracting other relationships' which the state and bosses can't ignore), we build the framework of a free society today. This is the core
idea of communist-anarchism. Ultimately, David reinforces what I thought all along. His 'anarchism' is simply militant liberalism.
Iain McKay

For mutualists and individualist anarchists, the market is simply a world or society where people are free to exchange goods, services and other products of their labour as
they see fit, unregulated by the state or any other involuntary institution. The capitalism that dominates the world today is a creature of government, protected and
empowered by laws (and the police who enforce them) that grant monopolies and oligopolies in land, money and the means of production to a favoured few. In an anarchist
society, where people can form voluntary associations to provide credit (like Proudhon's mutual bank), and where land is allocated on the basis of use and occupancy,
individuals will be able to work for themselves, alone or in voluntary groups. Non-producers won't be able to wring profit from the work of others.
Market mechanisms are essential to a working system of exchange. And some form of exchange is essential to human society. Price may be an imperfect basis for
decision-making, but it sure as hell beats the dictates of committees and planners. While people now appear to be rebelling against (state-capitalist) markets, only ten or
fifteen years ago an even more successful movement brought down the planned economies of Russia, Poland, Mongolia and elsewhere.
More importantly, the drawbacks of either state-capitalist or state-socialist systems shouldn't be used to criticise the economic ideas of anarchists who, whether they're
mutualists or communists, advocate societies free of the governmental institutions that have created and protected both capitalism and socialism as we know them. While some
concepts, like markets, collectives, competition and communism have been adopted and (mis)used by our authoritarian enemies, anarchists should be as easily able to see the
difference between an anarchist market and that of the World Trade Organisation as they can between an anarchist collective and a Soviet collective farm.
While Iain McKay writes off the history of cooperatives as unsuccessful, and mutualist movements as dated and redundant, the same can be said for the various collectivist
and social revolutionary projects. The syndicalists and communists of Europe have been no more successful in instituting viable societies than were the individualists and
mutualists in the United States. Both movements produced short-lived voluntary societies that either collapsed or were destroyed. The union movement all over the world has
lost any revolutionary potential it may once have had, and it often promotes authoritarian ideologies and movements like nationalism and nationalisation.
We shouldn't be trying to buy back what's been stolen from us by the state and its favoured corporations, banks and landlords. Occupations of workplaces and farms by those
who do the actual work, as well as refusal to pay taxes, will surely play a part in bringing down the state-supported capitalist economy and the state itself. But
cooperatives and other alternative economic arrangements not only provide more voluntary and just relationships between people now. They can also inspire their participants
and others to strive to change all of society, and the world, into a network of voluntary relationships between individuals and groups. And that is what Landauer, no
passive evolutionist, meant by 'contracting different relationships'.
Joe Peacott

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