Anarchist economics?

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pingtiao's picture
pingtiao
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Jan 17 2005 13:36
Anarchist economics?

This arrived in the info@afed.org.uk mailbox the other day, and I thought I'd post it up here for you guys to look at. Apart form it being an advertisement for a book (and full of outrageously exaggerated claims- "...has written our Das Capital" indeed!), it looks pretty interesting, although nothing new at all. Anyone know anything about the author?

Quote:

MOVE OVER KARL, ANARCHISM IS BACK! By Larry Gambone

Anarchists tend to look embarrassed when the subject of economics comes

up.

Or we mumble something about Proudhon and then sheepishly borrow ideas

from

Karl Marx. It has always struck me as ironic that anarchism began

largely as

an economic theory, think only of Josiah Warren, Proudhon and Tucker,

but

then abandoned the field to the Marxists. A specifically anarchistic

approach to economic analysis has lain dormant for the last 130 years.

However, with the publication of Kevin A. Carson's STUDIES IN

MUTUALIST

POLITICAL ECONOMY this period of dormancy has finally come to an end.

Carson starts off by critiquing post-classical economists such as the

Marginalists, Marxists, and Austrians. But his critique is not a simple

dismissal of these views, but is dialectical in form. What stands up

after

analysis, no matter what the school of economics, is incorporated into

his

anarchist synthesis. Without too much exaggeration, Carson has produced

our

Das Capital.

He begins his analysis with an examination of Adam Smith and David

Ricardo's

Labor Theory of Value (hereafter LTV) and what was done to it by later

economists. Early 19C economics was based upon the LTV resulting in a

"revolutionary assault on entrenched power". However, by mid-century

the LTV

was rejected by the new schools of Marginalist and Austrian economists.

As a

result economics degenerated into "an apology for... the large

corporations." The reason for this change of direction is fairly well

known. The LTV shows that only labor can produce value, and thus

exposes

the capitalist and landlord as parasites. In order to intellectually

defend

the exploiting classes, the LTV had to be marginalized. (Sorry I

couldn't

resist)

The chief critic of the LTV was the Austrian, Bohm-Bawerk, who built a

straw

man version of the theory to knock down. According to BB, the LTV

didn't

hold in many instances - such as the value of antiques or rare

paintings,

and never exactly in other situations. Furthermore, the capitalist too

created value by investing the capital which had accrued through his

'abstinence'. Landlords produced value through the use of their land.

But

Classical economists like Ricardo and Smith admitted the issue of

scarcity

of certain goods. The LTV only applied to items that could be freely

reproduced. Due to the fluctuations in the supply and demand of these

goods,

there could never be an exact correlation between price and value. For

Carson, the complaint about inexactitude "made as much sense as

saying the

law of gravity was invalidated... by air resistance..."

Carson then re-establishes the LTV not only through its

Smithian-Ricardian

base but also, with the irony of the dialectic, by using certain

Marginalist and Austrian concepts. For Smith, labor was a plainly a

'hardship'. As such, the LTV has a "subjective basis" rooted in "common

sense" and "the same a priori understanding of human behavior from

which

BB's disciple Von Mises derived his 'praxeology'." In essence, human

beings

maximize utility and minimize disutility. "The expenditure of labor is

an

absolute cost regardless of the quantity... the opportunity cost of

labor...

is non-labor." "It is the disutility of labor and the need to persuade

the

worker to bring his services to the production process, unique among

all the

'factors of production', that creates value."

There is a major difference between the situation of the laborer and

the

landlord-capitalist. Labor requires a "positive expenditure of effort",

'abstinence' and rent have to do with setting charges for access to

something. Labor is an absolute sacrifice, abstinence, is at best, a

relative one. The worker must work, someone with capital has a choice

whether to not work or to invest. "The 'value' created by capitalists

and

landlords is simply a monopoly price paid to their owners."

Furthermore, the

Marginalists and Austrian critics of the LTV treated property relations

as

given. How did that pool of investment capital really come about? How

indeed, did the landlord get the land he rents? The lack of property

and

capital that forces the worker to sell himself to a capitalist is best

explained not through economic theory, but through history.

The facts of history are clear, the peasants were dispossessed through

coercion and state intervention, transforming them into landless

laborers

and enforcing a situation of unequal exchange on the labor market.

Carson

goes into great detail about this process in the succeeding chapter,

but

first he turns his critical eye to the Marxist version of the

development of

capitalism. Marx was ambiguous on the role of coercion as a factor.

Engels,

on the other hand, was a market absolutist. Wage labor was "purely

economic"

and there was "no robbery or force or state involved" in the primitive

accumulation of capital.

Marxist refusal to admit the statist origins of capitalism are

political in

origin. Engels was attempting to defeat Eugene Duhring's version of

socialism. Earlier on, the project was to trash Proudhon and the

Ricardian

socialist Hodgskin. All three of these thinkers saw capitalism as

rooted in,

and perpetuated by, statism and violence. The one aspect the Marxist

and

non-marxist socialists did agree on, is that for capitalism to exist,

workers must be separated from the means of production. Carson's recipe

for

a Free Market? 1. steal the producing classes land. 2. terrorize the

former

owners so they won't organize any opposition. 3. convince them this

situation is a natural result of the Free Market.

Let's now look at those facts of history. Proudhon was right, "property

is

theft". The so-called right to peasant land was a feudal legal fiction

established by the Norman conquest. However, the first real mass

expropriation and eviction of peasants did not occur until the seizure

of

Church lands by Henry VIII. More than 10% of the peasantry were reduced

to

landless laborers by this action and were terrorized by the brutal Poor

Laws

enacted about the same time. Legal changes in the 17th Century

converted the

limited feudal right into private property right and the remaining

peasants

became tenents pure and simple. These were then dispossessed over the

next

two centuries by a series of Enclosure Acts.

The new-found capitalist landowners loved the Enclosure Acts, and not

just

for the property it gave them. The workers, lacking land, were no

longer

independent. Independence was a situation their masters considered

"one of

the greatest of evils." Peasant communal land ownership (the

traditional

form) was considered "a dangerous centre of indiscipline."

This evil system was imposed overseas and in this manner the so-called

world

market came about. Ireland was the dress rehearsal for the robbery,

enslavement and genocidal murder of native people everywhere. The

first

slaves were the Celtic peoples, shipped out to die like flies in the

cane

fields of Barbados. Indeed, "America was built on slave labor." The

world

market was established by the European navies who protected the

slavers,

forced weaker countries to buy European goods and crushed any

competition.

State intervention shut out foreign competition, even going so far as

in

the case of Indian textiles, to destroy an entire industry and

impoverish

this populous nation. Force was used wherever the European conqueror

went.

The method was always the same; convert free peasants into cheap

laborers

who were then usually worked to death. As for hunters and gatherers?

Extermination. After you read this chapter, you come away thinking that

these people had nothing on Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot.

Capitalism was brought into existence by a land-owning aristocracy

which

transformed itself into a capitalist class when the old Medieval system

broke up. From the centuries of looting and pillage by this class, came

the

investment capital of the Industrial Revolution. In the United States,

long

held up as a pillar of Free Enterprise, capitalist industrial

development

began as a result of mercantilism, slavery and the investments of

landlords, who got their land from the government, who in turn stole

it

from the Native People. As Carson says, "capitalism has never been

established by a free market" and "free market capitalism is an

oxymoron."

One major failing of Marxism, most especially vulgar Marxism, has been

the

failure to recognize the political causes of capitalism, and to reduce

the

social and the political to mere out-growths of economic forces.

Marxism

thus becomes an apologist for tyranny. "Parasitism was not necessary

for

progress." State socialists and capitalist apologists (such as most

so-called free market libertarians) alike, "for nearly identical

reasons"

have a common interest in maintaining the myth of 19th Century laissez

faire.

The vast and cruel "subsidy of history" is what lay the groundwork for

Monopoly Capitalism as it developed in the late 19th Century. At this

point

Carson introduces Benjamin Tucker's analysis of monopoly. Patents,

tariffs,

the currency and banking monopolies all were forms of state-sponsored

parasitism that gave rise to the giant corporations. Tucker's "Four

Monopolies" have to be coupled with land-grants, cheap loans and gifts,

eminent domain (by which the state could steal your land for its

corporate

buddies) and a hundred and one other forms of subsidy and corporate

welfare.

The problem for corporate monopoly capitalism is its fragility, its

tendency

to go into crisis. One root cause of crisis is the tendency to produce

more

than can be profitably sold. This is exacerbated by state subsidies

which

create a more capital-intensive form of economy than would exist in a

genuine market. In order to maintain demand and profitability, the

state

steps in with even more subsidy and also the welfare state to keep

underclass docile. There is "snowballing irrationality as the state's

intervention further destabilizes the system, requiring yet further

state

intervention." The snowballing eventually leads to the fiscal crisis of

the

state, which began in the 1960's.

State monopoly capitalism introduces technologies and methods which

deeply

harm society, replacing older more appropriate methods and

technologies.

Think of urban sprawl, over-dependence on petroleum and the auto,

bureaucratization and so-called professionalism, as but a few examples.

By

pushing for ever greater size, ever greater inefficiency results.

Corporations have all the problems of a Stalinist planned economy - a

fundamental irrationalism. The only reason things work at all is that

workers ignore the directions from above.

The fiscal crisis of the state combined with the resulting social

breakdown

due to capitalist irrationality gave rise to the neo-liberal reaction.

Over

the last 25 years the state has worked to shift wealth from consumption

to

investment as a prop for the corporate system. This action brings with

it a

contradiction, as the system depends on mass consumption at a

profitable

level to deal with the problem of over-production.

The final chapter entitled "Ends and Means" discusses Carson's

alternative

to capitalism. The capitalist system should be replaced with

voluntary

associations; an economy of worker co-ops, mutualist associations, and

syndicalist unions, based on the commons, free exchange and usufruct

principles. The state abolished and replaced by a federation of

communities.

Carson's revolution would be gradual and is marked by the development

of a

"dual power situation". This requires the building of an "alternative

social infrastructure" giving rise of forms of "social-counter power"

such

as syndicalist unions, coops, tenant unions, mutualist societies, "cop

watch" groups and libertarian municipalist movements. Such a

development is

a form of "prefigurative politics", by which people try as much as

possible

by their actions to live the revolution now. The distinction between

reform

and revolution is thus "mainly one of emphasis". The groundwork for the

"final" revolution has to be laid beforehand and this is the task of

the

alternative social structure.

The modern or Corporate State, is vastly more intrusive than it's 19th

Century version, and thus presents a problem for anarchists. (Consider

that

in many countries 20% or more of the population depend upon the state

for

employment or survival.) Even Benjamin Tucker saw the need for a

"staged

abolition of the state" so not to give rise to a dangerous situation.

Therefore, it is necessary to have a "strategic position" visa vis the

state. "It is not enough to oppose any and all statism... without any

conception of how particular examples of statism fit into the overall

system

of power." As a result, the dismantling of the state must occur "in the

right order" and to do so in the wrong way is to court disaster. The

proper

sequence would be to first eliminate all state measures which support

and

give rise to capitalist and bureaucratic power. With the exploitation

of

labor abolished, any social welfare still needed could be handled by

mutual

aid societies.

The Corporate State will fall. First, through its own internal

contradictions and secondly from outside; "from a host of movements

whose

only common denominator is a dislike of the centralized state and

corporate

capitalism." Carson sees a need to build broad-based ad hoc

coalitions, but

his "political strategy" is not electoral. (More like the movement

which

brought down East German Stalinism, perhaps.) Nor is dismantling the

state

the primary function of the revolutionary-evolutionary movement. The

"political" movement should exist only to get rid of those forces

which

stop us from pursuing our primary activity - building the new free

society.

Carson is a mutualist and offers a mutualist alternative to capitalism.

The

other schools of anarchist thought shouldn’t ignore his work because

of

this. In a voluntary society, people can live as they wish, providing

they

don't coerce or exploit others. Thus, in a mutualist economy anyone who

wanted could live according to, say, the principles of libertarian

communism. Carson’s analysis can also be adapted to all forms of

anarchism.

The most important aspect of this book, the one that should overshadow

other differences, is that the economic analysis of exploitation and

capitalism has been placed on a solid anarchist basis. We need no

longer

play second fiddle to the Marxists.

STUDIES IN MUTUALIST POLITICAL ECONOMY is available for $16.00 US

For shipping and handling, please add $2.19 (U.S. orders). For Canadian

orders, add $5.30. For UK orders, add $5.95.

From:

kevin_carson@hotmail.com

Snail mail:

Kevin Carson

P.O. Box 822

Fayetteville, AR 72702-0822

USA

Steve
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Joined: 27-06-06
Jan 17 2005 14:05

Or you could just get "The Economics of Freedom" published by SolFed for £2.50. smile

pingtiao's picture
pingtiao
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Jan 17 2005 14:23

Got it already, my fellow Prestonian. Got it already.

WeTheYouth
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Jan 25 2005 16:48

Wonder if its on amazon for cheaper tongue

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Rob Ray
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Jan 25 2005 16:55

Yeah it got sent to Freedom too.

Rob Ray's picture
Rob Ray
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Jan 26 2005 13:16

How bout the rest of it? Mailout hasn't reached the Suffolk countryside yet.

nastyned
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Jan 26 2005 19:45

Don't bother with any of this mutualist crap. Don't you lot know that if you're interested in post revolutionary economics there's only one book to read: The Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution

Ceannairc
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Jan 27 2005 10:36

economics is part of capitalist thinking: looking at the world from the point of view of trade and possession. I should know, I've been studying it for long enough. We don't need that shite. IMO there is no such thing as anarchist economics, for that very reason.

WeTheYouth
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Jan 27 2005 14:15
Ceannairc wrote:
economics is part of capitalist thinking: looking at the world from the point of view of trade and possession. I should know, I've been studying it for long enough. We don't need that shite. IMO there is no such thing as anarchist economics, for that very reason.

And after the revolution, you explain to everyone how to get food and other commodities with no economy and no ideas on how to organise production. roll eyes

Joe Hill
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Jan 28 2005 21:03

Clever Wetheyouth

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Spartacus
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Jan 28 2005 23:59
nastyned wrote:
Don't bother with any of this mutualist crap. Don't you lot know that if you're interested in post revolutionary economics there's only one book to read: The Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution

am i right in thinking that is the book with the formula disproving anarcho-syndicalism? is that another one?

Ceannairc
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Jan 31 2005 15:08
WeTheYouth wrote:
And after the revolution, you explain to everyone how to get food and other commodities with no economy and no ideas on how to organise production. roll eyes

A fair point, but you misunderstand. Economic theorey, as I see it, is based around the assumptions of capitalism e.g. that everything must be owned, people think only of their own material interest, etc. My own ideas contradict those beliefs. When you stop working by those assumptions it's no longer economics but politics. It's not just a matter of what you call it - it's a different way of looking at things. Economics is the study of the economy, of the systems we have in place (e.g. trying to predict markets, deciding government policy). It assumes that these things don't change and is restricted by that. If there ever is a large area operating by anarchist ideas, these systems will be dead and buried where they belong. Therefore anyone who challenges anarchism from the perspective of economics is simply missing the point. You might as well ask, "if you don't own property, where will you live?"

The things you mention must, of course, be considered and arranged before we bring down the existing systems, but even so I think that's too far away for us to be considering any real details. By the time anything happens, those ideas will be outdated and there will be new problems to consider and deal with. On that basis I think it is best to keep this area of theorey very general and sort out the details only when our politics starts having a real effect on a large scale (which I believe is at least a decade away). That is the point I was trying to make.

Caiman del Barrio
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Jan 31 2005 21:27
Ceannairc wrote:
WeTheYouth wrote:
And after the revolution, you explain to everyone how to get food and other commodities with no economy and no ideas on how to organise production. roll eyes

A fair point, but you misunderstand. Economic theorey, as I see it, is based around the assumptions of capitalism e.g. that everything must be owned, people think only of their own material interest, etc. My own ideas contradict those beliefs. When you stop working by those assumptions it's no longer economics but politics. It's not just a matter of what you call it - it's a different way of looking at things. Economics is the study of the economy, of the systems we have in place (e.g. trying to predict markets, deciding government policy). It assumes that these things don't change and is restricted by that. If there ever is a large area operating by anarchist ideas, these systems will be dead and buried where they belong. Therefore anyone who challenges anarchism from the perspective of economics is simply missing the point. You might as well ask, "if you don't own property, where will you live?"

The things you mention must, of course, be considered and arranged before we bring down the existing systems, but even so I think that's too far away for us to be considering any real details. By the time anything happens, those ideas will be outdated and there will be new problems to consider and deal with. On that basis I think it is best to keep this area of theorey very general and sort out the details only when our politics starts having a real effect on a large scale (which I believe is at least a decade away). That is the point I was trying to make.

So basically you agree with everyone else but you just wanted to show off how clever you were and how you studied Anarchist Wankery by way of some tacky, self-indulgent bullshit semantics??

Well done, you've single-handedly brought about revolution with your fucking abstract nonsense.

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Refused
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Jan 31 2005 21:40
Alan_is_Fucking_Dead wrote:

Well done, you've single-handedly brought about revolution with your fucking abstract nonsense.

Goddamnit, I wish we had sigs.

Ceannairc
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Feb 1 2005 09:03
Alan_is_Fucking_Dead wrote:
So basically you agree with everyone else but you just wanted to show off how clever you were and how you studied Anarchist Wankery by way of some tacky, self-indulgent bullshit semantics??

In a nutshell... yup! tongue