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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Monday, August 29, 2005

Worker Co-Determination in Venezuela

Via Meat Eating Leftist (and also Richard Blair at Uncapitalist Journal). The Beeb reports on Hugo Chavez's co-management program.

So far, Venezuela's co-management plans have been confined to state owned companies like Alcasa, and to two small private companies that had already gone bankrupt....

But last Mayday President Hugo Chavez said he wanted to go further.

He suggested that many more private companies might qualify for government assistance if they too involved their workers in the management.

I'm setting aside the state's role in implementing the program. I will note in passing, however, that Murray Rothbard at one point suggested that nationalization might be acceptable as an intermediate step in worker homesteading of state capitalist industry. As for the use of state funds to bail out failing companies, I'm unequivocally against.

Leaving that issue aside, however, what's interesting is the practical effect of worker control on the efficiency of an enterprise. Here's what the BBC has to say about the Alcasa aluminum plant:

During a session at Rodding Shed No. 3, one elected representative from each area team work amid reams of statistics, charts sketched on the white board and scale models.

The representatives are discussing possible solutions to their department's biggest technical problem; how to reorganise maintenance and procurement in order to get a longer working life out of the graphite anodes, the components used to separate the pure aluminium.

According to the man steering this whole process, one of the aims of co-management is to break down the barriers between intellectual and physical labour; between those who do the thinking and those who do the work.

Carlos Lanz, recently appointed president of Alcasa, and himself a former guerrilla leader, says the results are already visible.

"Democratic planning is such a powerful lever that even with rather outdated technology we have managed to increase production by 11%," he says.

Mr Lanz points out that this is not the co-management of European social democracy, which in his view has been limited to giving the workers shares and a seat on the board.

"This is about workers controlling the factory and that is why it is a step towards socialism of the twenty-first century."

The increased productivity at Alcasa reflects a fairly common pattern in experiments with worker control. The various contributors to Sam Dolgoff's magnificent collection, The Anarchist Collectives, described similar experiences by worker-controlled enterprises in anarchist Spain. As to why this might be, I recently devoted an extended post to examining the question: On the Superior Efficency of Small-Scale Organization.


Blogger Larry Gambone said...

I note that the political illiterates who control the editorial pages now constantly refer to Chavez as a "socialist" and "friend of Castro" - implying of course that he is some kind of state socialist. Chavez, is nothing of the kind, anyone who spent a half an hour reading the history of Latin American social movements would soon see that in supporting land reform and coops he has a populist and not a state socialist program. Populism and anarchism are the natural ideologies of revolt in Latin America. Thruout the continent, populism in its various forms, from the anarcho-populism of the Zapatistas to the radical military populism of Chavez is rearing up, and man, are the capitalists scared!

August 30, 2005 8:54 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I have mixed feelings about Chavez, and your post reminds me of why. It's great to see an unapologetic leftist doing the populist thing, like breaking up absentee landlord-owned ranches into land for peasants, but his economic policies are kind of iffy, internally. I saw a recent BBC story that started out great: about a government-supported workers co-op (hooray!) run by the women who worked there (hooray!) who made tee shirts, which were then bought by the government (aw, crap).

I also worry about his authoritarian tendencies, although it's hard to determine whether those are real, or whether they are added, like a coloured filter, when the CNN and BBC cameras are turned on him.

Americans, of course, are making far too much of his association with Castro. Jean Chretien used to talk about trade with Cuba every time he wanted to piss off the US - which is good populist politics in just about every country in the world.

August 30, 2005 9:21 AM  
Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

I'm setting aside the state's role in implementing the program.

Well, that's a mistake. Government-created cooperatives are as likely to be agents of the state as are government-created capitalist businesses.

"Democratic planning is such a powerful lever that even with rather outdated technology we have managed to increase production by 11%," he says.

Without more information, this statistic is meaningless. Is that 11% the result of government assistance, as per the first excerpt of the post?

This post looks like a candidate for Vulgar Left Libertarianism Watch.

- Josh

August 30, 2005 10:58 AM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

"Government-created cooperatives are as likely to be agents of the state as are government-created capitalist businesses."

You say that as if capitalism and worker-ownership are, or must be, mutually exclusive.

Anyway, it would be good to find out more detail about the increase in productivity, as well as the nature of the gov't assistance. however, i think it's a stretch to label this post "Vulgar Left Libertarian" simply because he was noting an already established pattern of increased productivity with worker ownership.

August 30, 2005 11:59 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


Setting aside the issue is not the same as tacitly endorsing it. Setting it aside means setting it aside. I set it aside to focus on the issue of increased productivity in worker cooperatives. As colorless green ideas says, there is a general pattern.

I do find the infusion of government aid (mainly oil money) into the parallel economy, as mentioned by Matthew, to be troubling.

Larry and Matthew, I saw an AP story just a couple of days ago referring to Chavez as a "close ally" of Castro. Fortunately, as Larry posted on his blog several weeks ago, the correlation of forces has fundamentally shifted in South America. There's no longer a solid block of right-wing dictatorships down there participating in Operation Condor. If Washington attempts another Pinochet coup, it will get a nasty surprise this time.

August 30, 2005 7:36 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

One cause of improvements under worker control is the Hawthorn Effect, which washes out and has nothing to do with the change itself. The Spanish example is blurred by the '50s and '60s effect whereby they bypassed border duties. Did that mean they clawed back what the state had improperly taken, or that they overshot and shared with the state the burden the state still thrust on other parts of the economy? Or some mixture? Either way, it helped build things past a network externality tipping point. There are many things involved beyond the reforms themselves...

August 30, 2005 7:44 PM  

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