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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

Friday, May 12, 2006

Venture Communism: Telekommunisten

Dmytri Kleiner, of the Venture Communism project, announces the launching of the first business enterprise under that project: Telekommunisten. It's an IP-based virtual phone company, worker-owned and operated.

The perfect service for managing your organization's phones, including automated attendant, call forwarding, voice mail and many other features you would expect from a professional PBX system, yet because our system is IP-based we can provide features no traditional telephone switch can provide, such as unbelievably low international calling rates, and the ability to map phone numbers from all over the world to your local extensions....

For more background on the idea of a Venture Commune, you can check out Kleiner's discussion list. This post, in particular, has a lot of detail on the idea:

WHAT IS VENTURE COMMUNISM?

....The Venture Commune is a type of voluntary worker's association, designed to enclose the productivity of labour and enable the possibility of the collective accumulation of Land and Capital, which, in the endgame, will eventually allow the workers to buy the entire world from the Capitalists....

How can workers change society to better suite the interests of workers?

As long as they operate within the Capitalist mode of production, they can not change society politically, because whatever wealth they can apply to influencing social institutions must come from the share of the product that they retain, and thus will always be smaller then the share of the product that can be applied by Property to prevent this change.

Any political change is dependent on a prior change in the mode of production which increases the share of wealth retained by the worker. The change in the mode of production must come first, this change can not be achieved politically, not by vote, nor by lobby, nor by advocacy, nor by revolutionary violence.

Not as long as the owners of property have more wealth to apply to prevent any change, by funding their own candidates, their own lobbyists, their own advocates, and building up a greater capacity for counter-revolutionary violence.

Society can not be changed by a strike, not as long as owners of Property have more accumulated wealth to sustain themselves during production interruptions.

Not even collective bargaining can work, for so long as the owners of Property own the product, they set the price of the product, thus any gains in wages are lost to rising prices.

So how can workers change society to better suite the interests of workers if neither political means, nor strike, nor collective bargaining is possible?

By refusing to apply their labour to property that they do not own, and instead, acquiring their own mutual property.

This means enclosing their labour in Venture Communes, taking control of their own productive process, retaining the entire product of their labour, forming their own Capital, and expanding until they have collectively accumulated enough wealth to achieve a greater social influence than the owners of property, making real social change possible.

WHAT IS A VENTURE COMMUNE?

A Venture Commune is a joint stock corporation, much like the Venture Capital Funds of the Capitalist class, however it has four distinct properties which transform it into an effective vehicle for revolutionary worker's struggle.

1- A Share In The Venture Commune Can Only Be Acquired By Contributions Of Labour, And Not Property.

In other words only by working is ownership earned, not by contributing Land, Capital or even Money. Only Labour.

It is this contributed labour which represents the initial Investment capacity of the Commune.

The Commune Issues its own currency, based on the value of the labour pledges it has.

It then invests this currency into the private enterprises which it intends to purchase or fund, these Enterprises thus become owned by the Commune, in the same way that Enterprises which receive Venture Capital become owned by a Venture Capital Fund.

2- The Venture Commune's Return On Investment From Its Enterprises Is Derived From Rent And Not Income.

As condition of investment, the Enterprise agrees to not own its own property, neither Land nor Capital, but rather to rent Land and Capital from the Commune.

The Commune, unlike a Venture Capital Fund, never takes a share of the income of the Enterprise nor of any of its workers.

The Commune finances the acquisition of Land and Capital by issuing Bonds, and then Rents the Land and Capital to its Enterprises, or an Enterprise can sell whatever Land and Capital it acquires through other means to the Commune, and in turn Rent it.

In this way Property is always owned Mutually by all the members of the Commune, however all workers and the Enterprises that employ them retain the entire product of their labour.

3- The Venture Commune Is Owned Equally By All Its Members.

Each member can have one share, and only one share. Thus although each worker is able to earn different prices for their labour from the Enterprises, based on the demand for their labour, each worker may never earn any more than one share in the ownership of the Commune itself, and therefore can never accumulate a disproportionate share of the proceeds of Property.

Ownership of Property can therefore never be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and used to exploit the worker as in Capitalist corporations.

4- All Those Who Apply Their Labour To The Property Of The Commune Must Be Eligible For Membership In The Commune.

The Commune may not refuse membership to any Labour employed by any of its enterprises that works with the Land and Capital controlled by the commune. In this way commune members can not exploit outside wage earners, an the labour needs of the Enterprise will ensure that each Commune continues to grow and accept new members.

In an early exchange on the subject, I asked:

Interesting. Are you proposing that organized workers gradually buy up the economy from the capitalists?

Kleiner's response:

Yes. Exactly. I think John Stuart Mill also proposed something similar in his Workingman's Co-operatives.

In a subsequent email, he elaborated:

Thus, the Capitalists will face a weaker and weaker bargaining position as the Venture Communes grow, and their profits diminish.

Here's how I stated my understanding of the idea:

My idea is that the corporate economy uses capital and land inputs pretty inefficiently, because the state guarantees capitalists access to them in large quantities. The alternative economy possesses them in much smaller quantities, but can use them much more intensively. And as the alternative economy becomes independent of the land and capital of the corporate economy, and labor becomes increasingly scarce and increases its bargaining power, the land and capital in possession of the ruling class becomes increasingly worthless to them.

I expressed the same idea at greater length in this post: "Building the Structure of the New Society Within the Shell of the Old":

Anything that marginally increases the independence of labor and reduces its dependence on wages, and marginally reduces the supply of labor available to capitalists and landlords, will also marginally reduce the rate of profit and thus make their land and capital less profitable to them. The value of land and capital to landlords and capitalists depends on the ability to hire labor on their own terms. Anything that increases the marginal price of labor will reduce the marginal returns on capital and land.

What's more, even a partial shift in bargaining power from capital to labor will increase the share of their product that wage-workers receive even in capitalist industry. The individualist anarchists argue that a removal of special legal privileges for capital would increase the bargaining power of labor until the rate of profit was effectively zero, and capitalist enterprises took on the character (de facto) of workers' co-ops.

And the owning classes use less efficient forms of production precisely because the state gives them preferential access to large tracts of land and subsidizes the inefficiency costs of large-scale production. Those engaged in the alternative economy, on the other hand, will be making the most intensive and efficient use of the land and capital available to them. So the balance of forces between the alternative and capitalist economy will not be anywhere near as uneven as the distribution of property might indicate.

If everyone capable of benefiting from the alternative economy participates in it, and it makes full and efficient use of the resources already available to them, eventually we'll have a society where most of what the average person consumes is produced in a network of self-employed or worker-owned production, and the owning classes are left with large tracts of land and understaffed factories that are almost useless to them because it's so hard to hire labor except at an unprofitable price. At that point, the correlation of forces will have shifted until the capitalists and landlords are islands in a mutualist sea--and their land and factories will be the last thing to fall, just like the U.S Embassy in Saigon.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Wild Pegasus said...

The Commune Issues its own currency, based on the value of the labour pledges it has.

It then invests this currency into the private enterprises which it intends to purchase or fund


Full stop. Here's the problem: no one's going to take goofy labour currency.

- Josh

May 12, 2006 1:26 PM  
Blogger Adam B. Ricketson said...

This sounds like a great idea, but I don't quite understand it, even after reading the links.

First, it sounds like the "Venture commune" and the "enterprize" are two institutions; however, I only saw a website for the enterprize (telekommunisten). Why doesn't the venture commune have its own representation on the web? I didn't even see a mention of the venture commune on the Telekommunisten website.

Also, as Josh pointed out, it isn't clear from the description how the commune comes to own the enterprize. If the commune is trying buy out the previous owners, it's labor-notes will be worthless. It needs real cash for that...unless the previous owners continue to operate the enterprize for a few months, using the labor notes to pay their employees and pocketing the extra money. Anyway, that seems like a convoluted way of doing things.

If the enterprize is already worker owned, then the labor notes may be useful since they represent the worker's own labor...but I still don't see the point of it. The workers could just transfer the enterprize to the venture commune. Why complicate matters with that currency.

May 13, 2006 9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, the latest draft of "What is Venture Communism?" is actually a little bit old now, the idea of labour notes, as expressed, is out of date, I now understand the notes to be rent-based, backed in the ability to rent property for the commune, simular in concept to the way the state theory of money views taxes as the backing for a fiat currency.

I hope to explain more in a an upcomming draft, The internal currency only comes into play after a commune has property to rent, primarily, to provide adequate liquidity for renting of commune property by the enterprises.

Before there is rent to mutualize, there need be no commune.

The pre-commune venture communist enterprise need only operate in a worker's co-operative stucture.

pre-commune enterprises can not employ the bond issuance method of property acquisition since there is no commune yet to support such a bond auction, it is the revolutionary task of these initial enterprises to accumulate the base property, that becomes the initial property of the commune. The communes, once incorperated, buys the property accumulated from the initial enterprises using the aforementioned bonds.

The task of the initial enterprises, to accumulate the initial property is made possible by employing a hole in the capitalist/manorialist accumulation monopoly.

The hole is "human capital applied to commodity capital."

The price of any product is driven by the market towards cost plus rent, thus simple labour, which captures no rent, can never accumulate property, complex labour, especially entreprenurial and technilogical inovation, can capture a sort of quasi-rent, or perhaps a "human interest."

When labour is embodied with skill and knowledge it has human capital, thus the return on it's application can be greater than the cost of simple labour, commodity capital can be had or hired at cost, thus the worker-owner of human capital can apply complex labour to commodity capital and accumulate property.

telekommunisten was created solely by applying complex labour to commodity capital. Havin no outside investors, it's worker-owners retain their entire product.

If telekommunisten is able to sell it's product, the hosted sip pbx, then the commodity capital hired at cost starts to earn quasi-rent, which can be applied th the acquisition of real rent-capturing property, such as land.

Thanks for the feedback and thanks for the write up Kevin!!

Regards,
Dmytri Kleiner
Venture Communist.

http://www.telekommunisten.net
http://www.sgsa.org.uk
http://www.haagenti.com

May 13, 2006 1:38 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Dmytri,

I was going to forward Josh's and Adam's comments to you for a response, but I'm glad you beat me to it. Thanks for clarifying.

May 23, 2006 12:54 PM  

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