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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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Thursday, July 13, 2006

Property and Markets Under Communism: There's Just No Escape

Via Brad Spangler. Matt Jenny in After:All Blog has a post entitled "Economics: The Market as an Inevitable Result of Individualism"; but more intriguing, I think, is its subtitle: “Or, Anarcho-Communists Can in Fact Be Regarded as Pro-Market.“

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.

Spangler comments:

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I like best about market socialism, as opposed to communism, is that you can really see it at work every day. For instance, just yesterday I sold several items on eBay (a non-capitalist market). When I was driving home today, I saw one garage sale, then later on, a little girl selling lemonade in her front yard. While I'm fine with others who want to live under other economic systems, I agree with you that mutualism would probably be the most efficient. It just goes along best with human nature.

July 13, 2006 4:53 PM  
Blogger Matt Jenny said...

"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."

I absolutely agree (of course). But I think the average anarcho-communist would tell you--even if he or she realized that some goods are scarce--that this simply wouldn't happen. The libertarian communist work collective or whoever would simply be left alone. Back in my anarcho-communist times I used hold this view, and I was even pretty good at defending my position when people pointed this fallacy out to me. But it's just not true.

By the way, are these exchanges between SEK3 and LeGuin available on the Internet?

July 13, 2006 8:41 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...


As Tucker said of the anarcho-commie objection to wage labor, isn't the whole point of socialism that labor should be paid?


They might well be left alone. If so, isn't that evidence that the community assigns some normative value to their property?

SEK3's account of the exchanges are in one of his posts in the LeftLibertarian archive.

July 13, 2006 9:20 PM  
Blogger Matt Jenny said...

"They might well be left alone. If so, isn't that evidence that the community assigns some normative value to their property?"

Yes. But that's the whole point. I don't claim that many anarcho-communists would actually describe their favored system as propertyless, but if they wanted to, they couldn't. Some sort of property rights need to be enforced in some way. Be it through social pressure, a legal system, a State or jungle law. So today, I have really trouble understanding why anarcho-communists are distinguishing themselves so heavily from other anarchists (see Anarchist FAQ). Either they realize that the existence of a market does not imply the existence of State capitalism or they have just no idea of basic economic insights. I don't know which one I should choose. I was clearly an anarcho-communist because my understanding of economics was extremely limited. I even said to myself that I don't need to teach myself economics because economic understanding would become obsolete in an anarcho-communist society--what a stupid thing to think! But I strongly believe that not all anarcho-communists are as stupid as I was.

"SEK3's account of the exchanges are in one of his posts in the LeftLibertarian archive."

Cool, I'll see later if I can find it. Right now there seems to be something wrong with the group.

P.S. Thanks for fixing the post. ;) And sorry once again.

July 13, 2006 9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree these are important points, but I think these receive little discussion within social anarchism, not because they are overlooked, but because they are uncontroversial. We could look at the 'Anarchist FAQ.' Many sections discuss such issues, but section I.3 (eye three) discusses the interactions between communist practices and individualist practices within the authors' model of anarchism.

Sorry about the cut-and-paste style, but I shouldn't speak for the FAQ, the FAQ can speak for itself, and indirectly for for many collectivists and communists.


I.3 What could the economic structure of anarchy look like? (excerpts)

... it is likely that any anarchist society will see a diverse number of economic systems co-existing in different areas, depending on what people in those areas want. "In each locality," argued Spanish anarchist Diego Abad de Santillan, "the degree of communism, collectivism or mutualism will depend on the conditions prevailing."

... an anarchist society is based on "workers' ownership" of the means of production.

... an anarchist society is based on free access and a resource is controlled by those who use it.

I.3.6 What about competition between syndicates? (excerpts)

... Under capitalism, wealth inequality translates into such an inequality of power, and vice versa, because wealth can buy private property (and state protection of it), which gives owners authority over that property and those hired to produce with it; but under libertarian socialism, minor or even moderate differences in income among otherwise equal workers would not lead to this kind of power inequality, because direct democracy, social ownership of capital, and the absence of a state severs the link between wealth and power (see further below).

... As for competition for scarce resources, it is clear that it would be in the interests of communes and syndicates which have them to share them with others instead of charging high prices for them. This is for two reasons. Firstly, they may find themselves boycotted by others, and so they would be denied the advantages of social co- operation. Secondly, they may be subject to such activities themselves at a future date and so it would wise for them to remember to "treat others as you would like them to treat you under similar circumstances." As anarchism will never come about unless people desire it and start to organise their own lives, it's clear that an anarchist society would be inhabited by individuals who followed that ethical principle.

... there is frequently a spontaneous tendency towards charging cost prices for goods, as well as attempts to work together to reduce the dangers of isolation and competition.

I.3.7 What about people who do not want to join a syndicate? (excerpts)

... the decision to join a commune will be a free one, with the potential for living outside it guaranteed for non-exploitative and non-oppressive individuals and groups. Malatesta stressed this when he argued that in an anarchist revolution "what has to be destroyed at once . . . is capitalistic property, that is, the fact that a few control the natural wealth and the instruments of production and can thus oblige others to work for them . . . [but one must have a] right and the possibility to live in a different regime, collectivist, mutualist, individualist -- as one wishes, always on the condition that there is no oppression or exploitation of others."

... However, right-wing "libertarians" do raise a valid question when they ask if anarchism would result in self-employed people being forced into co-operatives, syndicates or collectives as the result of a popular movement. The answer is no. This is because the destruction of title deeds would not harm the independent worker, whose real title is possession and the work done. What anarchists want to eliminate is not possessions but capitalist property.

... As Peter Kropotkin made clear: "when we see a peasant, who is in possession of just amount of land he can cultivate, we do not think it reasonable to turn him off his little farm. He exploits nobody, and nobody would have the right to interfere with his work. . . [W] hen we see a family inhabiting a house which affords them just as much space as . . . are considered necessary for that number of people, why should we interfere with that family and turn them out their house? . . . And finally, when we see a . . . cutler, or a . . . clothier working with their own tools or handloom, we see no use in taking the tools or handloom to give to another workers. The clothier or cutler exploit nobody." [Act for Yourselves, pp. 104-5]

... Malatesta makes this point as follows: "It remains to be seen whether not being able to obtain assistance or people to exploit -- and he [the would-be capitalist] would find none because nobody, having a right to the means of production and being free to work on his own or as an equal with others in the large organisations of production would want to be exploited by a small employer -- . . . it remains to be seen whether these isolated workers would not find it more convenient to combine with others and voluntarily join one of the existing communities." [Op. Cit., pp. 102-103]

... assuming that he did find someone willing to work for him (and so be governed by him), the would-be capitalist would have to provide such excellent conditions and pay such good wages as to reduce his profits to near zero. Moreover, he would have to face workers whose neighbours would be encouraging them to form a union and strike for even better conditions and pay, including workers' control and so on. Such a militant workforce would be the last thing a capitalist would desire.

... let us suppose there is a self-employed inventor, Ferguson, who comes up with a new innovation without the help of the co-operative sector. Would anarchists steal his idea? Not at all. The co- operatives, which by hypothesis have been organised by people who believe in giving producers the full value of their product, would pay Ferguson an equitable amount for his idea, which would then become common across society. However, if he refused to sell his invention and instead tried to claim a patent monopoly on it in order to gather a group of wage slaves to exploit, no one would agree to work for him unless they got the full control over both the product of their labour and the labour process itself.

... we would imagine they would also refuse to work for someone unless they also got the capital they used at the end of their contract (i.e. a system of "hire-purchase" on the means of production used). In other words, by removing the statist supports of capitalism, would-be capitalists would find it hard to "compete" with the co-operative sector and would not be in a position to exploit others' labour.

... if someone has labour to sell then they deserve a free society to do it in -- as Tucker once pointed out. Such an environment would make the numbers seeking employment so low as to ensure that the rate of exploitation would be zero. Little wonder that, when faced with a self-employed, artisan workforce, capitalists have continually turned to the state to create the "correct" market forces (see section F.8).

I.6.2 ... To see what this answer is it simply a case of remembering that use rights replace property rights in an anarchist society. In other words, individuals can exchange their labour as they see fit and occupy land for their own use. This in no way contradicts the abolition of private property, because occupancy and use is directly opposed to private property. Therefore, in a free communist society individuals can use land and such tools and equipment as they personally "use and occupancy" as they wish -- they do not have to join the free communist society. If they do not, however, they cannot place claims on the benefits others receive from co-operation and their communal life.


Of course the FAQ has "possession" replace both Lockean and stolen "property." Much of the discussion accepts creator-ownership of personal goods on the same level as user-ownership of such goods, but the FAQ says little about whether creator-ownership of productive capital, if it is not stolen, is all created, etc., would be as acceptable as user-ownership of the same.


July 14, 2006 11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Or, Anarcho-Communists Can in Fact Be Regarded as Pro-Market."

In the same way, I suppose, that someone in favour of free love can be regarded as pro-prostitution.

I do hate the way that some people reduce everything down to the cash nexus -- or, at least, sound like they do. I would suggest that unless individualist anarchists stop doing this they will be unlikely to grow in influence. The market means an economic exchange while mutual aid means sharing and helping. To conflate the two will alienate many people simply because it confuses two radically different ways of interacting.

For example, saying that the market should be used to help, say, the victims of Katrina paints a radically different image than saying mutual aid (or charity) should be used. The former implies private helicopter companies charging high prices to airlift people out, the later implies people who have helicopters rescuing people. I'm sure that some may say that both are "market" activities, but only if you are an ideologue and are blind to the concerns of real people (sadly, of course, economics argues that the former picture is more efficient).

I'm a communist-anarchist (and I have to say that the comments against it here seem to miss the point somewhat). I'm saying this as a comrade and in an attempt to build bridges. I hope that individualist anarchists reject the extreme market language associated with "anarcho"-capitalists and other right-"libertarians" because, otherwise, people will not listen -- particularly when right-"libertarians" generally *do* mean charging high prices in disaster areas when they talk about "market responses"!!!!

July 19, 2006 12:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's this perception, rather common on the right and not uncommon on the left, that some specific rules for property or possession respectively are 'right' and that any deviation from these rules is 'theft.'

Now if we accept the language of rights, it is self-ownership which is the right, economic autonomy, control of one's labor-power, and access to the means of production, which make that possible, and various ownership systems which try to ensure those three things, and balance those last two things if they come into conflict.

We can't know which systems work best except by trying various systems; even then various material conditions (ecological, technological, etc.) may favor different systems. However some property systems, e.g. slavery, latifundia, or nationalization, clearly do not 'try to ensure' self-ownership but 'try to prevent' it.
--Michael Erwin

July 19, 2006 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be very interested in a response to the above's mention of helicopters after Katrina. This is an aspect of market anarchism that I can't quite wrap my head around. How would things like price gouging not happen? Or are they just not seen as something bad in the mutualism? I keep wavering back and forth between mutualism and anarcho-communism. When I think of mutualism I keep raising questions about how this solves the issue of poverty and economic security for all (a goal of mine no matter how idealistic). But when I think of communism, I get the same fear of identity loss and economic feasibility. I don't think I particularly value individualism above all else (I'm uncomfortable when I read Stirner) and can easily deal with some lowered freedom if it helps a good deal of people. In my mind, that is classic cost-benefit analysis. How will mutualism raise a starving child in Africa into a position of health and well-being? I guess some argument might be made that Africa will improve without the governments in place there but what happens in the meantime as we practice our ideals? Will he just be seen as not working hard enough? Forgive me my ignorance. I don't mean to attack the belief but only share my initial impressions and quesitons.

August 18, 2008 5:21 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I guess it makes me one of those ideologues, but I consider both uses of helicopters to be different forms of the "market."

Individualist anarchists or market anarchists who use the term "market" in this broad sense (encompassing all forms of voluntary interaction) do so, not to bring every aspect of social life under the cash nexus, but for precisely the opposite reason. If anything, it's a direct repudiation of the vulgar "economic man" model of anarcho-capitalism that views the cash nexus as the only efficient way of doing things, and grudgingly tolerates mutual aid, gift economies, and communal institutions of all sorts as just so much "goddamn tree-hugging hippie crap." When I call myself a market anarchist, I simply mean I envision a society in which people are free to relate to each other in whatever non-coercive ways they prefer, whether by exchanging their labor product for that of another or participating in some form of social solidarity network.

In a society without privilege (i.e. artificial scarcity of land and capital, artificial property rights like patents, etc), where labor received its full product and people thus had far greater resources to devote to mutual insurance and charity, I would expect regional federations to have considerable resources for disaster relief funded by the voluntary contributions of the local population. Most people would probably contribute dues to their neighborhood or town communes, workplace associations, trade guilds, or purely functional mutual aid associations, in order to fund healthcare coverage, old age pensions, unemployment, and other social services, along with insurance for any dependents who might be incapable of laboring to support themselves. In a society where people could have a comfortable standard of living working 20 hours or less a week, and had a high degree of control over their working conditions, I expect most people would be pursuing goals pretty high on Maslow's hierarchy, and that this would include a high degree of altruism and obtaining a lot of use-value socially through commons of various sorts.

Price gouging IMO is just an extreme version of the way the market price system allocates resources to areas where demand outstrips supply. It's an extreme version of ordinary entrepreneurial profit, which is the incentive to be the first to recognize an unmet demand and move resources where they're needed.

I wouldn't ban it. But I would expect far less opportunity to engage in it in the first place. There would be no artificial scarcity or entry barriers to enable what is, arguably, the majority of price-gouging at present. And the abundance of the mutual aid and gift economy, mentioned above, would leave far less opportunity to exploit catastrophic need.

Just about everything we witness in the present-day "market" is a manifestation of the kind of dog-eat-dog social ethos that naturally emerges when the natural wealth of society is stripped away by a class of rich parasites, and working people are brutalized and forced to run a rat-race to survive. In a society where we all kept our full labor product, were able to comfortably meet our own needs with a modest amount of labor, had participatory control over most of the institutions that affected our lives, and had enormous amounts of leisure to pursue self-actualization needs, people would be naturally more social and altruistic. People might naturally participate in markets for a large number of things, but they would likely also be far more generous and community-spirited, and willing to help others without expecting anything in return.

August 18, 2008 11:31 AM  

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