Property and Markets Under Communism: There's Just No Escape
Jenny argues that, even in an anarcho-communist community based on the "gift economy" (i.e., "production for use," "to each according to his need," etc.), the community would refuse to support someone engaged in a particular trade if he persisted in malingering or doing substandard work; it would shift its resources to maintaining, instead, somebody who did a good job in that category of production. It would deal with the lazy and incompetent exactly as the Tuckerite society in Russell's "And Then There Were None" dealt with those who skipped out on their "obs." In short, there would be a de facto competitive market in which custom went to the most efficient and cheapest producer.
I would add that the most essential thing, in my own opinion and regardless of ideological labels, is commitment to voluntaryism and development of a broad consensus on where the rightful bounds of individual autonomy are. I would also say that’s particularly important with regard to scarce material resources, as disputes over those are inevitable in any society. The only question is whether such disputes can be peacefully resolved when they arise.
No — it’s not that I’m obsessed with money, secretly want to be Donald Trump and slink back to my evil master’s secret base underneath the Rockefeller mansion every evening to report back.
Rather — we are material beings and people argue, and sometimes fight, over material things. Without a broad consensus on how to determine who rightfully decides what about what, bloodshed and slaughter are the inevitable consequence. If peace and freedom matter to you, then “property” ought to matter — regardless of what negative associations one might have with the word.
I would add, myself, that I find the anarcho-communist goal of transcending the "law of value" rather distasteful personally. Right-wing critics of the labor theory of value often treat it, erroneously, as some sort of Marxist ethical standard. Far from it--Marxists, rather, see the labor theory of value as a description of exchange value under capitalism. They see surplus value as the normal result of the difference between the cost of labor-power and the value of labor's product, under a free market. And they see the law of value as something to be transcended by a gift economy when communism produces sufficient abundance. Marx's central dispute with Proudhon was that the latter saw the law of labor value as the ethical basis of socialist society, rather than a descpription of capitalism.
Individualist anarchists like me, on the other hand, see the "law of value" as the normal operation of a market, but not a capitalist economy. Under capitalism (i.e., the system of state intervention on behalf of capitalists), rent and profit are deviations from the normal law of value. For us the goal is to eliminate the forms of state intervention that distort the market in favor of owners of land and capital, and against labor, so that labor receives its full product. We see a price of labor-power determined by reproduction costs, rather than labor's product, as the result of state-enforced unequal exchange in the labor market rather than the natural outcome of the market. Most importantly: unlike Marxists, we see the law of labor value as the highest ethical norm, rooted in reciprocity, and not as something to be overcome.
But I think the practical differences between collectivist and individualist forms of anarchism are considerably less than their theoretical differences, as Jenny pointed out above. Even in an anarcho-communist society, the principles of reciprocal and distributive justice will be implicitly accepted; people just don't like a guy that they see as screwing the pooch or pulling less than his weight, who lives off the hard work of others. And the instinctive tendency of laborers to exchange their products on the basis of some common standard of value, in a market economy, results from this same sense of fair play--not from some distortion of human nature that will be "healed" under socialism. "The soul of man under socialism" will still instinctively shun those perceived as scamming the system, or trying to get something for nothing.
The same goes for property rights.
Virtually every political philosophy accepts property, even if they have some sort of taboo against the word "property." Even anarcho-syndicalists and libertarian communists, as much as they excoriate "private property," treat the means of production in practice as the property of the individuals working them. If random people off the street walked into a factory organized as a libertarian communist work collective and started bothering machinery, or otherwise interfering with the collective's use of the facilities, the latter would respond exactly the same as property owners under any other system of ownership. Any human society, in practice, even one based on usufructory property, will accept Proudhon's dictum that property is liberty. Only from the standpoint of some juristic claim to the resources that one occupies and uses, and the freedom and independence that come from security in their possession, can we be said to have any other rights. The rights to the fruits of one's labor, whether as an individual or as a member of a work collective, derive from the rights of possession of the means to producing those fruits.
And even the collectivistic strains of anarchism have had room for large amounts of market exchange. Bakunin, for example, saw his communes as exchanging surplus produce on the basis of embodied labor time. And in the anarchist areas of southeastern Spain in the 1930s, individual peasants and other laborers were free to withdraw their own plots of land or tools from the collective and choose self-employment, using their fair share of common assets like wells, pasture, and large equipment, and exchanging their goods and services on the market. The one thing not permitted was wage labor; but that was essentially a property rule--treating use of the means of production as the basis of their ownership.
Samuel Edward Konkin III had some interesting exchanges with Ursula LeGuin on the existence of de facto "private property" in her anarcho-communist world of Anarres. He pointed out that the "syndicate of initiative," with its printing press and radio broadcasts, was possible only because individuals were free to acquire personal property and organize it in new work groups as they saw fit.
I think it likely, in a panarchy, that many local property systems would coexist: syndicalist or communist localities would exchange their goods with each other and with private firms in anarcho-cap, Georgist, and Tuckerite communities, in a larger meta-system. In any society, even one composed mainly of communistically-owned local property, the meta-system would likely involve huge elements of market exchange. "Hogeye" Bill Orton has argued that there would be little to distinguish a socialist work collective from a private firm under such circumstances:
If ancapistan turned anti-capitalist, I probably wouldn't notice. I believe that without a State capitalism and socialism are harmonious and non-conflicting. Sure, you may call it a syndical or mutual, while I call it a firm with restricted transfer of ownership. You may call it a commune while I call it a household. Whatever.
Of course, hypothesizing that everyone will have the same economic ideology after separation of Econ and State is like saying that everyone will become atheist after separation of Church and State. No, just as there are various religions and denominations and cults with disestablishment, similarly there will be all sorts of economic arrangements with statelessness. There will be more, not fewer, economic experiments, just as the number of religious cults proliferated. Thus, the answer to your question will most likely turn out to be: Move to the next block, or a mile down the road, or simply change the people you deal with.
But the main answer would be: Who cares? The commies look just like capitalists to me. Who cares about the economic school of the guy who grows your potatoes or bakes your bread?
I've come to the conclusion that both socialists and capitalists would benefit from a stateless society. Even if there is predominance of one form or the other, I think it would be easy and mellow to start a minority enclave. Certainly a damn sight easier than going up against a State! But I seriously doubt that any particular property form will dominate. There'll be every kind of property arrangement that you can imagine, and many more you can't.
Orton, "Re: Yet Another Variation..." Antistate.Com Forum, December 8, 2003.