On anarchist economies

  • Posted on: 29 September 2018
  • By: thecollective

From Freedom UK

Anarchism is generally not associated with economics — and Iain McKay argues that perhaps it’s time the field got more attention.

There is no “anarchist” school of economics as there are “Marxist,” “Keynesian” and so on. This does not mean there are no anarchist texts on economics. Proudhon springs to mind here, with his numerous works on the subject — the three Memoirs on property (most famous being the first, What is Property?) and the two volumes of System of Economic Contradictions (of which, only the first has been translated) — as does Kropotkin, with his Fields, Factories and Workshops. However, in spite of various (important) works there is no well-established body of work.

There are various reasons for this. Partly, it is due to the typical isolation of the English-speaking movement: many works which could be used to create an anarchist economics have never been translated into English. Partly, it is due to an undeserved sense of inferiority: too many anarchists have followed Marxists by taking Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy as an accurate account and honest critique of Proudhon’s ideas (it is neither, as I show in “The Poverty of (Marx’s) Philosophy,” Anarcho-Syndicalist Review 70).

Partly, it is due to anarchists being — in the main — working class people who often do not have the time or resources to do the necessary research — and more often, rightly, prefer to change the world than interpret it, particularly given we wish to end the exploitation and oppression we are subject to sooner rather than later.

What would anarchist economics be? There are two different — if somewhat interrelated — possibilities.

First, and least important, would be the economics of an anarchist society. As such a society does not exist, this explains why it is the least important. Adam Smith did not speculate about markets in theory, he described them by observing their workings (I write “markets” rather than “capitalism” as capitalism — wage labour — was not extensive when he was writing and so he was describing an economy marked by substantial self-employed artisans and farmers).

So, in this sense, any anarchist economics would develop as an actual anarchist society develops. Attempts to produce in detail now how a libertarian socialist economy would function are misplaced. All that systems such as Parecon1 can show is that certain notions (such as detailed planning) cannot and will not work — even if its advocates do not seem to recognise this.

So all we can do is sketch general principles — self-management, socio-economic federalism, etc. — and discuss how tendencies within capitalism show their validity. This is important, as anarchists do not abstractly compare the grim reality of capitalism to ideal visions. Rather, as Proudhon stressed (and Kropotkin praised him for), we need to analyse capitalism to understand it and to explore its tendencies — including those tendencies which point beyond it.

Which brings us to the other, more relevant, form of anarchist economics, which would be the analysis and critique of capitalism. The two are interrelated, for what we oppose in capitalism would not exist within an anarchist economy. So, for example, Proudhon’s analysis of exploitation as occurring in production — because workers have sold their liberty to the boss who keeps the “collective force” and “surplus of labour” they create — points logically to workers’ co-operatives (self-management) as the basis of a free economy. He and subsequent anarchists opposed associated labour to wage-labour.

Here we do have much to build on. Proudhon’s analysis of exploitation pre-dates Marx’s near identical one by two decades — ironically in 1847 Marx mocks the Frenchman for advocating what he later came to advocate in 1867 (see my “Proudhon’s Constituted Value and the Myth of Labour Notes,” Anarchist Studies 25:1). Other insights, including methodological ones, can be drawn from his and Kropotkin’s contributions — although much of it may need to be translated first!

This does not mean we cannot usefully draw upon other schools. Marx, for all his flaws, provided genuine insights into the workings of capitalism. Keynes may have sought to save capitalism from itself, but to do so he had to understand how it works and so is worth reading. The post-Keynesian school, likewise, has a substantial amount of work which would be of use in constructing an anarchist economics (Steve Keen, author of the excellent Debunking Economics, is a post-Keynesian). Those schools which have been developed — often explicitly so — to defend capitalism (such as neo-classicalism) have little to offer, except perhaps as examples of what not to do.

Which points to another key aspect of any anarchist economics, an understanding of the flaws of other schools — particularly the mainstream neo-classical school.

It should help us see when we are being lied to or when certain conclusions are based on preposterous assumptions or models. The same applies to Marxist economics, which all too often woefully mixes up empirical reality and explanatory categories. As such, it would play a key role in intellectual self-defence.

The key issue, though, is not to confuse understanding how capitalism works from a libertarian perspective, an anarchist economics, with the economics of an anarchy.

So an anarchist economics in this sense is still in its early days — even after over 150 years! — but there is a foundation there which can be usefully built upon. The real question is, how do we start? As Kropotkin suggests, by basing our analysis of empirical evidence rather than the abstract model building of neoclassical economics. We need to root our understanding of capitalism in the reality of capitalism — and our struggles against it.

This is no trivial task — but one which would be of benefit.

Iain McKay


1. Participatory economics suggests a collectively planned economy with shared baseline access to resources and some augmented personal income rewarding high effort or dangerous work

This article first appeared in the Summer edition of Freedom Journal

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Comments

Even assholes like the ICC can say it with greater clarity and concision that anarchoid ideologues:

"The communist transformation of society by the workers’ councils does not mean ‘self-management’ or the nationalisation of the economy. Communism requires the conscious abolition by the working class of capitalist social relations: wage labour, commodity production, national frontiers. It means the creation of a world community in which all activity is oriented towards the full satisfactisfaction of human needs..."

ANYTHING that is worker oriented will continue work. It's all Argentina again not any sort of 'conscious abolition' that you and your communoid retard friends think is going to happen. It always has and always will start with dissociative individuals who have ALREADY prefigured an anti-work ethos into their affairs. That is what free association federations will NECESSARILY look like not your silly work larped councils.

And it's UNIQUE individual wants and needs that ultimately transcend generic human needs. And there's no world community either, only panarchic diverging regions.

There is valuable empirical data from the Makhnovist experience, but above all from revolutionary Spain ( Sear " Gaston Leval ") This, I suggest is where anarchist economics as a separate field, takes off from.
Then, as for Marx, well there is much that is original and good in Marx - the trouble is that what is good is not original and what is original is not good. For my own humble contributions I suggest anarchists address the land question with replacement of all freehold ( private ) title with native and leasehold titles. Also the advent of 'blockchain' tech looks promising for anarchism.
Live long and prosper.

WTF, Any land title of ANY form is authoritarianism, and all economy has libidinal intent at its roots.,.

For my own humble contributions I suggest anarchists address the land question with replacement of all freehold ( private ) title with native and leasehold titles.

Anarchiods always go for some kind of anarchronistic, barnacle-encrusted, coal-burning, horse-drawn buggy with square wheels approach -- which, tellingly, and unlike revolutionary Marxism, never grows out of a living dynamic in human life.

Two comments there are helping me make my case for going 'post-left' by eliminating Marxists as a class. Most of Marxism cancels itself out before it gets here - but the left-communist strain seem to still want to get its teeth in our neck. They don't respect that part about " Communists scorn to hide" either, the parasites. Go get your own "commie news' site, losers. Stop trying to block anarchists.

Post-left is already over grandpa, you're the sum total of its ability to do anything. Bob Black was a bitter old fart who pissed everyone off and his legacy holds true.

Made many valid points tho!

Because subculture. And, in the spirit of Proudhon, petit commodity production and wage slavery without wages.

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