On co-ops, conflicts and straw men - libcom.org

Mighty Morphin Power Beards!

A reply to Iain McKay on the question of anarchist responses to the economic crisis.

The initial pair of articles, ‘Bailouts or co-operatives?’ and ‘Co-operatives or conflicts’ were published in Freedom newspaper’s Christmas 2008 edition, Iain’s response to my piece is available here. As we head into what is expected to be the deepest post war recession there are already signs of both heightened class conflict and reactionary slogans, and therefore the importance of a comprehensive discussion of a libertarian communist response to the crisis is reaffirmed. To this end, I'll reply to Iain in the hope of clarifying some of his misunderstandings or misrepresentations of my position and contributing constructively to this necessary debate. To begin with, Iain claims that my arguments are contradictory:

"Firstly, I do need to point out a few contradictions in his argument. He proclaims that we are “in no position to demand anything. As a tiny minority in the class, our ‘calls’ for this or that are impotent cries.” Yet, without irony, he raises various “communist demands” we should be making! What is it to be? Are we in no position to demand anything or can we raise demands?"

There is no contradiction here, for two important reasons. Firstly, because as I made clear in my article my objection to a strategy of co-operatives is twofold:

"Firstly, and not insignificantly, we are in no position to demand anything. (…) The second problem is on a more fundamental level (…) like nationalisation, workers’ control is not a demand based on our concrete material needs as a class, it is about how capital should be managed."

My argument is that like Trot demands for nationalisation, anarchist demands for co-operatives are impotent, since we’re in no position at present to force them. Demands as to how capital is managed (by the state, by co-operative workers associations) are meaningless without a workers movement strong enough to impose them. But in any event they would not represent a communist demand even if we were.

Secondly even in the absence of a powerful workers movement, proposals of what workers should do are not as impotent as demands over how capital should be managed, because while the incumbent managers of capital can only be swayed by force – that is by class struggle; strikes, occupations and other forms of direct action – our fellow workers can in principle be persuaded by force of argument, that is to say by propaganda activities promoting libertarian communist tactics.

Of course even if you think co-ops are a good idea, we’d first need to get into a position to force them. Iain agrees, thus the over-riding challenge for an anarchist response to the crisis is how we increase the power and confidence of the class – which unlike the management of capital is something we are in a position to influence at the moment. That said, it’s still worth debating what demands we’d make with such class power as and when it exists, as to do otherwise would be to assume failure from the outset. Therefore it’s worth revisiting my criticisms of a strategy promoting co-operatives.

Iain summarises his argument as being that co-operatives represent “a valid socialist alternative to bail-outs and nationalisation within the current crisis,” (while being clear that "yes, it is not socialism"). He writes:

"[Kay] argues that if we turn his workplace “into a co-op, those same market forces causing my boss to make cuts would still be there, but we would have nobody to say no to when under pressure to increase the rate of exploitation to survive in a hostile market.” Really? Is he saying that workers’ would make the same decisions as a boss would in the same circumstance?"

Aside from Iain presuming to know more about my workplace than I do, one could answer this question by reading my original piece! I in fact addressed precisely the possibility that if my work became a co-op we could manage it differently, saying that:

"using the director’s former salaries we might be able to make less redundancies or improve wages. But if the firm has the resources to do this, and we would only be able to create a co-op with sufficiently strong class struggle to force expropriation of the bosses, we should simply demand the concrete material things we want – in this case job security and improved conditions – not demand how capital should be managed to meet our actual needs."

However, Iain’s “argument was primarily related to when firms are about to go bust”. What then are we going to take over and self-manage? In the case of my work, we lend money that we borrow from major banks. The way would be likely to go bust is if either our bad debts rose too high, or if these funding lines were cut off. In either case, a co-op would be faced with the same problem as the boss, but would only have the option of managing it differently. The same is true more generally for Woolworths or Zavvi workers: co-operative insolvency is still insolvency. Occupations may help prevent the administrators selling off assets to pay off credtiors instead of workers, and help secure improved redundancy terms, but they can't make a failing firm viable. The only thing that might is a big increase in unpaid overtime by the workers providing the surplus labour to kickstart the firm's profitability, but even that unappealing prospect is dependent on creditors and suppliers extending credit and workable terms of trade to the illegally occupied firm, which seems about as likely as Barclays providing mortgages to squatters.

Iain’s claim that this “argument is identical to the apologists of capitalism – bosses have no power, the market is supreme” is thus nonsense. It is not an apology for capitalism to understand how it works (ironically, to claim that self-managed firms are “socialist” is much closer to an apology for capitalism than anything I have written). Bosses are not free, they must act broadly in accordance with the market. They’re almost certainly not lying when they say they regret making redundancies and the like, I’m sure they would rather be taking on more workers and making more profit. Of course they choose to lay off a worker on £15k rather than take a £15k pay cut themselves, so yes “being a boss shapes any decisions made” – as I made clear in my article.

But this returns us to the point, if the resources are there to make less redundancies, in what way is it more realistic to demand the boss surrenders his capital to the workers rather than say forgoing some or all of his salary to save jobs? What boss would rather surrender their capital than take a temporary pay cut? Iain argues co-ops are a “short-term solution for those workers facing closing workplaces or whose bosses are seeking bailouts” – but if expropriation – which is what co-ops represent – is on the cards, I’m sure the mere safeguarding of jobs would have been on the table long before that.

It’s not that I think it would be a bad thing if laid off workers occupied their workplace and tried to run it as a co-op (a la Zanon), but I think it’s (a) not really on the cards given the current state of the class struggle and the severity of the coming recession, (b) far less practical and realistic than demanding improved redundancy packages (as in Derry and Poland) or no redundancies at all, and that given this it's (c) not something libertarian communists should be proposing as a strategy given as if we’re in a position to expropriate capital, co-operatives are a dead end for such militancy. I argued all this in my original article, and Iain still hasn’t explained why co-ops are a more realistic response to the crisis than struggles resisting cuts or demanding decent redundancy packages – the kind of struggles that are actually happening already.

Thus the problem is not how capital is managed, but that it is capital, regardless of who manages it or how democratically they do so. Quote-mining Marx does not change the fact that there is money in motion, returning with a surplus (M - C - M') - the assets of a co-op do not cease being capital when votes are taken on how they are used within a society of generalised commodity production and wage labour. That is to say there remains an imperative to accumulate with all the drive to minimise the labour time taken to do a task this requires, even in a co-op. This is why it is accurate to talk about self-managed exploitation. Iain disagrees, and it’s worth exploring this point further, because it cuts to the heart of just what the capitalist social relation is, and how to oppose it. He says that:

“As for “self-managed exploitation”, that is just confused. “Self-managed exploitation is not just a neat turn of phrase”, Key asserts but I disagree. He is confusing the fact market forces would still exist and rule workers' lives (and this is a serious objection) with capital/wage labour and so exploitation (in an anarchist or Marxist sense of expropriation of surplus by non-producers).”

A firm operating in a competitive market – as would certainly be the case with firms “about to go bust” - must generate enough surplus to re-invest in expanding output and new technology to maintain or improve its market position relative to its rivals. That is to say the firm - as a concentration of capital - has a logic of its own. It needs to be nourished by surplus living labour or it will whither and perish. As dead labour, it must vampire-like suck life from the living, and lives the more, the more it sucks. This is why it is "exploitation in an anarchist or Marxist sense" without "expropriation of surplus by non-producers", which is an unneccessary personification of social relations. The firm can have a logic of its own - expand or die - without there being a villain in a top hat and monocle sat atop it. This is the reality of running a business, and it exists independently of how that business is run (as a one-man private tyranny, a Plc or a co-op). Thus when I wrote that “many anarchists focus mainly on the vertical rule of workplace hierarchy” - I unwittingly anticipated Iain’s one-sided understanding of the capital relation. So when Iain writes…

“[Kay] argues that “capital rules social life” vertically “through the person of the boss” and horizontally “through market forces”, yet do I really need to point out that capitalism is a mode of production, not a mode of distribution? Markets existed before capitalism and a self-employed artisan working his own tools is not exploited by a capitalist.”

…he really makes my point for me. Within the prevailing capitalist mode of production, the abolition of the capitalist - that is, and individual personification of capital at the level of the firm - does not abolish the exploitation of labour by capital, that is by dead labour, which requires a surplus to sustain and expand it relative to its rivals, lest those rivals expand and swallow it up or force it out of business.

Thus by appealing to pre-capitalist artisan production to explain why co-ops under capitalism supposedly do not involve the exploitation of labour, it is Iain that is confused, and ahistorical to boot. He commits precisely the mistake I warned against of focussing on capital’s vertical rule though workplace hierarchy - the person of the boss – to the detriment of understanding the horizontal rule imposed by the market; the imperative to accumulate - that is to extract a surplus from living labour – that is inherent to any firm in capitalism, however it is managed. The fact the market is the main mechanism by which this imperitive is imposed does not make it a question of distribution; under capitalism production for the market, i.e. commodity production necessitates this dynamic of 'grow or die.'

Iain is right that “there is an anarchist tradition of making this kind of demand [for co-ops]” for precisely the reason that there is an anarchist tradition of myopically focussing on the hierarchical aspect of the capital relation to the detriment of the horizontal – and thus championing the bourgeois freedom of the market against the despotism of production, which is its necessary counter-point. Proudhon, Kropotkin et al at least had the excuse of not having the wealth of hindsight now afforded us in the early 21st century. No matter how eruditely Iain marshals his army of authorities, he doesn’t have the same excuse.1 The rallying cry “it is time to give economic liberty a go!” is precisely in this tradition – the tradition of 19th century small business socialism that was discredited both practically and intellectually long ago.2

So, having addressed the more substantive matters at issue, I feel I must now address some of the rather uncomradely accusations and misrepresentations with which Iain peppered his response. He asks:

"Is he seriously suggesting that workers, faced with the closure of their workplaces, should simply collect their P45s and head straight to the unemployment office? That the task of anarchists is not only to not suggest occupations but to oppose them. I am surprised that a member of the Solidarity Federation would resist suggestions to expropriate capital, to oppose calls for workers to occupy their workplaces"

This a ridiculous insinuation, and one (unsurprisingly) made without any quotation from my article. This is of course because nowhere do I oppose workers occupying their workplaces or propose workers “simply collecting their P45s.” If you doubt this, simply see what I wrote in my piece that Iain is purportedly responding to:

"we have to make concrete material demands; no to job losses, wage cuts, public service cuts and evictions"

I couldn’t really be any clearer than that – and Iain has the benefit of actually reading my article before responding, so there really is no excuse (our original articles were written 'blind', simultaneously). I would therefore appreciate him withdrawing this charge, because it makes it hard to have an honest discussion when you stand baselessly condemned for things precisely the opposite of what you actually said. Workplace occupations are indeed something I support, my argument is that demanding they be turned into co-operatives is misguided. Iain goes onto say:

"Perhaps it could be argued that expropriating workplaces in a non-revolutionary situation is a bad idea, yet why is it a non-revolutionary situation? Perhaps because workers are not expropriating their workplaces?"

Unfortunately this has all the logical rigour of suggesting the frost outside is caused by the low reading on the thermometer. Clearly ‘revolutionary situations’ are not created by the expropriation or workplaces so much as characterised by them. Revolutions are the high watermark of class struggle, and so the question becomes ‘how can we help increase the level of class struggle?’ This is a much more pressing question, since until some increase comes about, any demand we dream up is meaningless (I don’t pretend an increase in class struggle will only come about through us answering this question, but the question must be posed since we are workers being fucked over during this crisis and can only defend ourselves collectively).

To try and answer this question, the Brighton local of the Solidarity Federation has recently produced a pamphlet on anarcho-syndicalist strategy and organisation. We advocate trying to create networks of militants on a regional and industrial basis, who can encourage practices of solidarity, direct action and rank-and-file control amongst their workmates and the wider class. We think workers who agree with these principles should network with one another and produce propaganda advocating mass workplace meetings and collective, direct action. The demands we would argue for are concrete ones relating to our actual needs (against pay and job cuts, for income and job security, in case of redundancies happening anyway for improved pay-offs etc).

We would certainly include workplace occupations as an example of collective, direct action. But I would see it as a mistake to encourage workers to try take over businesses on the verge of going bust going into the worst recession since WWII, since even if the businesses could be turned around it would only be at massive extra effort in terms of unpaid overtime and the like – the kind of thing we would rightly resist if imposed by the boss, but have no choice about if imposed on self-employed co-ops by the market. Finally, I feel I must address one more point which belies two assumptions unbecoming of a libertarian communist. Iain writes:

"Is he seriously suggesting that (…) we should be indifferent when public (our!) money is used to bailout the muppets who got us into this crisis to begin with?"

Firstly, the identification of state funds with “our!” money (exclamation no less!) requires an embarrassing conflation of the population with the state. State funds raised by taxation are no more ‘ours’ than my boss’ Bentley is ‘mine’, because tax revenue represents the state's portion of the surplus value expropriated by the capitalist class.3 Of course taxes are more visible than other forms of surplus value, but they are no more ‘ours.’ The notion of ‘taxpayers money’ may have rhetorical advantage to populist orators, but it’s a staple of bourgeois ideology from George Galloway to David Cameron. I would expect anarchists to see through such naked conflation of the population and the state.

Secondly, it repeats the line of no less an exemplar of bourgeois ideology than the Prime Minister, that the bankers are to blame for the crisis.4 It’s not that there aren’t greedy or reckless bankers, but that any materialist, communist analysis of the crisis has to see through such populist scapegoating and look at the underlying causes of the crisis (I wrote a brief account here for Tea Break). Of course without such ‘irresponsible’ lending the economy wouldn’t have experienced the decade of steady credit-enabled growth on which Brown built his reputation, which once again demonstrates the vacuousness of the notion bankers “got us into this crisis.”

Thus in conclusion I feel Iain has failed to defend his assertion that co-operatives represent “a valid socialist alternative to bail-outs and nationalisation within the current crisis (...) a practical alternative for libertarians” Instead, he has misrepresented my objections and claimed - undoubtedly in continuity with some in the 'anarchist tradition' - that running your own business is a useful strategy in the class struggle. In doing so he has demonstrated several assumptions quite in line with bourgeois ideology; that the market represents a freedom worth fighting for, that state finances are 'our money' and that the crisis is all the fault of some banker 'muppets' and not rooted in the very contradictions of capitalist accumulation.

Therefore I maintain that a libertarian communist response to the crisis is one which increases the power, confidence and self-organisation of the class to demand the concrete things we want from capital, and not one which puts forward 'realistic' ways in which capital could be better managed (i.e. co-operatively instead of hierarchically); since capital cannot be managed in our interests it is pointless to try. A strategy of promoting co-ops and conflict in the 21st century would have as much to do with communism - the real movement asserting our needs against the present state of things - as nationalisation and conflict had in the 20th. We have to learn to stop trying to manage capital and instead try to fight it.

  • 1. Of all the logical fallacies one could expect from an anarchist, appeals to authority are perhaps the most ironic (“both Proudhon and Marx made clear”). I count Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Marx and Engels. More a phalanx than an army, I concede, but what bearing do the 19th century political strategies of dead celebrities have on the crisis today? This is not explained, we are expected to be wowed by their authority "were both Kropotkin and Engels advocating the ending of the working class as a 'potentially revolutionary class' and the end of 'class antagonism' when they suggested co-operatives as an alternative to nationalisation? I doubt it."
  • 2. Marx’s demolition of Proudhon springs to mind.
  • 3. For example income tax never enters a workers bank account and is paid directly from the employer to the state. A raise in income tax would attack wages in exactly the same way as a direct wage cut, only generalised across society. Both represent an increase in the value appropriated by the capitalist and an attack on the price of labour power, which if unresisted would result in a lower standard of living, i.e. reproduction of labour power at a reduced cost.
  • 4. Gordon Brown has said of city bankers that he’s “angry at irresponsible behaviour (…) where there is excessive and irresponsible risk-taking, that has got to be punished.”

Comments

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 11:46

this is a reply to Co-operatives and conflicts!, which itself was a reply to my article, Co-ops or conflicts?, which appeared alongside Iain's Bailouts or co-operatives? in Freedom newspaper.

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 12:16
Quote:
Firstly, the identification of state funds with “our!” money (exclamation no less!) requires an embarrassing conflation of the population with the state.

don't really get this point - for all the theoretical niceties about 'taxpayers money' being no more taxpayers money than workers' surplus value is their surplus value, the simple fact is that the bailouts/financial system support requires an increase in the amount of appropriation from individuals and society as a whole to private interests through increased taxation or a reduction in the social wage etc... this is something you acknowledge in the footnote although it seems almost to contradict the relevance of the point being made in the main body of the text, which taken overall seems to be that the only point left being made is a semantic one the relevance of which pales into insignificance to everyone who is actually interested in the on the ground realities of what all this entails

i honestly don't see the relevance of making a point about taxpayers money not being 'ours', it may be correct on a technical/theoretical level but that doesn't alter the fact that living standards will decline as a result of what's happening, our living standards - try that line on any doorstep or down the pub and you'd be laughed out the room

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 12:37
oisleep wrote:
i honestly don't see the relevance of making a point about taxpayers money not being 'ours', it may be correct on a technical/theoretical level but that doesn't alter the fact that living standards will decline as a result of what's happening

well that's precisely my point - that the important thing is our living standards and not how capital is managed. getting outraged over "our money!" misses the point, the working class will pay for the crisis unless we force otherwise. we will be made to pay through various means, whether speed ups and redundancies reducing working class income/increasing the rate of exploitation, or by direct attacks on wages/social wage by the bosses or by state clawbacks.

thus the important thing is how we agitate and spread ideas of direct action, solidarity, rank and file control etc and draw links between supposedly separate struggles, not how to make moralistic appeals over the management of capital, as if we have any more "right" to turn a bailed-out firm into a co-op than we do any other firm.

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 12:41
Quote:
They'll decline as a result of the bail out, or as a result of the crash as a whole? I don't know the economics, but I suspect our living standards would be hit a shitload more if the banks hadn't been bailed out and had collapsed, no?

exactly my point, so to finger wag at someone for articulating this in the not perfectly correct sense of it being 'our money' going into it (whether that be our actual money or actual living standards) seems pointless and more intent on scoring points on semantics rather than addressing the material events

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 12:45
Quote:
getting outraged over "our money!" misses the point,

so for example if a campaign was underway to do all the things you say that need to be done (which i agree with) but used the slogan 'it's our money' would you feel the need to stand up and put them correct on the semantics of it? i'm sure most normal people would respond to you if you did that it is you who is missing the point

i'm not having a go, it just struck me as theoretical posturing to have a go at an adversary which as a result to an extent belittled the real issue at the heart of al this

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 12:57
oisleep wrote:
so for example if a campaign was underway to do all the things you say that need to be done (which i agree with) but used the slogan 'it's our money' would you feel the need to stand up and put them correct on the semantics of it? i'm sure most normal people would respond to you if you did that it is you who is missing the point

i'd argue against the slogan, yes, because it obscures the fact there's all sorts of ways we're going to be made to pay, and a truncated critique of state bailouts as a moral outrage is likely to mean inadequate practice in other areas too. same way i could support the class content to the refinery strikes, while seeing the 'british jobs' slogan as one which undermined that content.

oisleep wrote:
i'm not having a go, it just struck me as theoretical posturing to have a go at an adversary which as a result to an extent belittled the real issue at the heart of al this

well i think it reflects the differences in analysis that lead to our different takes on libertarian communist practice. there is a whole tradition of leftist politics that identifies the state with 'our' interests, and there is a whole tradition of anarchist politics in favour of democratically managing capital (proudhon's opposition to strikes and favouring federations of small businesses etc). iain explicitly draws on the latter tradition and implicitly the former, so i think it's worth addressing as often it's these 'abstract', 'theoretical' points which underpin the concrete proposals in dispute.

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 14:44

thing is i don't see how the statement that it is 'our money' that is paying for the bailout represents 'an embarrassing conflation of the population with the state' - the funds for the bailout represent an increased claim on our future value production, and therefore in one way or another the net access to value that stays with us is reduced - ultimately it is our value (money as a proxy for it) that allows for the financial system to be bailed out/supported in the first place - the sentiment behind this fact can manifest itself in many ways, one of which is the direct claim that it's 'our money' that is bailing out the financial system (and not bailing out the bankers as it's often claimed) - i don't see how this represents an embarrassing conflation of the population with the state - if anything i'd say it represents the opposite and a recognition that there will be a transfer of value from the population/society to the state which is then used to support the financial system - i'm not sure how saying this represents a moral outrage either, it represents a recognition of the material reality of things and one which should be encouraged amongst the wider population, not something they should be ticked off about for not using the correct terminology in their slogans, even though the underlying content/substance of their reaction against this is one that adequately acknowledges and addresses what is happening

don't take this personally as i have never seen this in you before, but it just reminds me too much of the irrelevant lefty standing in the corner ticking off another irrelevant lefty on some angles on pinheads type matter while meanwhile all around them events overtake them and their left behind, irrelevant as ever, squabbling over who is the most libertarian or correct

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 16:49
oisleep wrote:
i don't see how this represents an embarrassing conflation of the population with the state - if anything i'd say it represents the opposite and a recognition that there will be a transfer of value from the population/society to the state which is then used to support the financial system

well i think it does - everyone from the tories to leftists bang on about 'taxpayers money' as if it represents some legitimately 'public' funds, which requires conflation of 'the people' and 'the state' (as you would expect from tories and leftists, but which is embarassing for anarchists).

i just can't get angry about the bailout as if it means i'm any worse off - quite possibly without it there would have been a systemic collapse, which could have been much worse for workers since we're in no position to create communism in the ruins, there'd be every bit as much chance right-wing populists or religious nuts would capitalise on a collapse, being more numerous and better funded than anarchists/communists.

what i'm worried about are the clawbacks by which they will shift the costs onto us - if we let them. these will take the form of cuts to the social wage, and maybe from regressive taxation on any future upswing (i doubt they'd depress consumer spending power any more than necessary facing a deep recession), as i outlined in an article for Tea Break.

oisleep wrote:
don't take this personally as i have never seen this in you before, but it just reminds me too much of the irrelevant lefty standing in the corner ticking off another irrelevant lefty on some angles on pinheads type matter while meanwhile all around them events overtake them and their left behind, irrelevant as ever, squabbling over who is the most libertarian or correct

don't worry, i don't take politcal disagreements personally. but this is not my intention; as i said i think this phrasing belies underlying assumptions which preclude an adequate communist response (just as 'british jobs' belied a tendency in the refinery wildcats that could have undermined them, from a communist pov).

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 17:41
Quote:
i just can't get angry about the bailout as if it means i'm any worse off
Quote:
what i'm worried about are the clawbacks by which they will shift the costs onto us

you see again, it looks like here (to me) you're saying one thing to show how different you are from the tories or other lefties, but then shortly after pretty much contradict yourself and articulate pretty much the same thing as you're ticking off others for doing, but somehow from a 'correct' position that even though others are also articulating you deny them it due to the supremacy of your analysis/position

but anyway we could go round and round in circles which it looks like we are

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 17:52

well like i say, we'll pay for it through clawbacks (social wage cuts & future regressive taxes), not because state funds are somehow 'our money'; we'll also pay for the crisis through speed-ups and redundancies, but nobody goes around saying this is because bosses profits are "our!" money; because it's obvious that the problem is the concrete ways in which we are made to pay, and not the abstract 'ownership' of wealth we never have in our control.

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 18:08

yes joseph but i mentioned these things in my very first post, i'm well aware of them - as indeed i would suspect are 99% of anyone else who uses things like 'our money' (as effectively a proxy for all these things) in relation to this - such a statement does not preclude an ability to see what's going on around us

any cuts in social wage or increases in taxes will mean we will have indirectly or directly less money (or more debt) if we want to maintain our living standards at the same level (which if labour is to reproduce at it's current level will have to happen), i don't see why the huge polemics when someone articulates this situation by making reference to money that once (and would have been) 'theirs' but is now not - these are the concrete realities of what will happen and they can suitably be expressed in a manner which says 'that was our money used for that'

lets face it if the state issues a bond tomorrow, the funds from which are used to prop up the financial system, the only reason they are able to issue that bond in the first place is because they have the ability (and confidence of the market to) extract future tax revenues from 'us' or take away other forms of the social wage in the future that would have once belonged to 'us' to service the interest costs and eventually pay off the debt - there's nothing magical going on here it's a straightforward transfer of value from 'us' to an impersonal system

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 18:17

yes but issuing a bond doesn't make the bond revenue "our money" any more than my bosses paying themselves dividends is "my money" - this is hardly the most substantive point, and i left it to the end of my response, and you've said i may be "correct on a technical/theoretical level" but that this doesn't matter practically, which applies as much to your quibbles as me mentioning it in the first place.

but the point is i picked up on this in precisely the context of a practical discussion about what we should actually advocate and do, where we were being rallied to "give economic liberty a go!" by reviving the "anarchist tradition" of self-managed businesses, on the grounds that "our money!" is being used to bail out firms. so it's not an isolated, technical, ivory tower point-scoring excercise - the rhetorical device of "taxpayers money" is being used as it always is as a means of populist oratory/demagoguery to persuade us capital can be managed in our interests; the twist being the state is rejected as too hierarchical, we need to argue for democratic self-management of failing firms.

you can't abstract rhetorical devices like "our money!" from the arguments they're being used to make, in this case proposals for turning insolvent firms into workers co-ops which i think are deeply misguided.

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 18:36
Quote:
yes but issuing a bond doesn't make the bond revenue "our money" any more than my bosses paying themselves dividends is "my money"

well given they would be inable to issue the bond in the first place if they didn't have a mechanism (with confidence in that mechanism) in place to effect a transfer of value from 'us' to 'them' is not something that should be ignored or treated so lightly - (the comparison with a dividend is incorrect as well, a payment of a dividend represents the transfer of value already owned/appropriated by a shareholder from one form of value (shares) to another (cash) - the issuing of a govt bond represents a commitment to appropriate future value from the population)

Quote:
the rhetorical device of "taxpayers money" is being used as it always is as a means of populist oratory/demagoguery to persuade us capital can be managed in our interests;

well i think as an anarchist you are being too idealist in what you can ultimately expect to achieve - it's not about managing capital in our interests it's about putting demands on the existing structure (which lets face it is here to stay until something worse comes along to replace it) to get as much as we can from it, knowing full well it's not there to act in our interests, but alert to the fact that this is the siutation we are in and therefore the one that needs to be addressed, and as nice as dreamy notions of some utopian never to be achieved society is all very nice, it takes you more and more away from the situation you're trying to do something about

have you ever tried this out on the doorstep or with normal people though joseph, if someone said to you down the pub that that bloody banking system is being propped up with 'our money', would you step in and say well it's not really our money so what are you moaning about - when taxes and VAT go up in a year or so the money that we would have had which we now don't wasn't really ours anyway - i mean come on, i know your intentions are sound but don't you see how disconnected from every day life a lot of this stuff comes across as

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 19:02
oisleep wrote:
well given they would be inable to issue the bond in the first place if they didn't have a mechanism (with confidence in that mechanism) in place to effect a transfer of value from 'us' to 'them' is not something that should be ignored or treated so lightly - (the comparison with a dividend is incorrect as well, a payment of a dividend represents the transfer of value already owned/appropriated by a shareholder from one form of value (shares) to another (cash) - the issuing of a govt bond represents a commitment to appropriate future value from the population)

yes, i know what a dividend is. but this is precisely the point - the importance is the concrete ways in which we are made to pay, about which i've written elsewhere, and not abstract claims to ownership. at work they just made a load of redundancies, and will almost certainly still take dividends (since the firm is profitable), so this division of past/future value doesn't get away from the fact we are discussing a division of wealth between classes and the concrete battles that implies, not an appeal to ownership - which is very relevant in the context of an article calling for workers ownership/control of insolvent firms - my criticism of Iain is precisely that he seems preoccupied with proposing ways in which capital should be managed (using "our money" to turn failing firms into co-ops) to the exclusion of our concrete needs. he's since clarified that he wants 'co-ops and conflicts', but i still feel demands made of how capital should be managed miss the point, that it is asserting our needs which is important.

my bosses have indirectly been bailed out by the british and dutch governments, should i be demanding a fair say in how they run the firm? no, i don't want to lose my job, i don't want my pay cut - these are the concrete things of importance, not how democratic the management structure is or some abstract claim to ownership because workers created the value expropriated by the british and dutch states which (indirectly) bailed them out. iain argues that co-operatising failing firms is the best way, or at least a way, to achieve these concrete goals. i've disagreed and explained why in my article.

oisleep wrote:
well i think as an anarchist you are being too idealist in what you can ultimately expect to achieve - it's not about managing capital in our interests it's about putting demands on the existing structure (which lets face it is here to stay until something worse comes along to replace it) to get as much as we can from it, knowing full well it's not there to act in our interests, but alert to the fact that this is the siutation we are in and therefore the one that needs to be addressed, and as nice as dreamy notions of some utopian never to be achieved society is all very nice, it takes you more and more away from the situation you're trying to do something about

how is it that i've come to be accused of dreamy utopian idealism for proposing the kind of concrete struggles that are actually happening - over job security, wages, the social wage - against the advocacy of "giving economic liberty a go!" via some as yet unrealised class movement to occupy and collectivise failing businesses? seriously, how is a self-managed woolworths or RBS more realist than what i'm advocating?

oisleep wrote:
have you ever tried this out on the doorstep or with normal people though joseph, if someone said to you down the pub that that bloody banking system is being propped up with 'our money', would you step in and say well it's not really our money so what are you moaning about - when taxes and VAT go up in a year or so the money that we would have had which we now don't wasn't really ours anyway - i mean come on, i know your intentions are sound but don't you see how disconnected from every day life a lot of this stuff comes across as

well my views on this come from being a financial services worker who knows full well how self-management would do fuck all to benefit us as workers. yeah, we could redirect bosses salaries and dividends to secure jobs and improve conditions - but if the firm has the resources to do so we should just demand the concrete things we want - as i argued in my original article. this is much more realistic and in touch with everyday life than demands for expropriation.

i have had many discussions with my co-workers (not all initiated by me by any means) about job security and pay - these are not seen as mental. advocating we turn our work into a co-op probably would be. i'm sorry, painting this as detached from everyday life is just ridiculous. of course in any case i'm not knocking on doors talking to random workers, i'm debating a fellow anarchist on the pages of an anarchist newspaper and a libertarian communist website - and the content of the discourse reflects this. if you want to take issue with idealism, i suggest you take issue with Iain's assertion, in the same breath as "our money!" that the crisis is caused by banker "muppets" as opposed to being materially and structurally an expression of the economy.

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 19:24

a lot of your repsonses have come back to slagging off self management and co-ops proposed by ian - i don't think self management within capitalism is the answer so not really sure the point you're making with them against me (ironic that this thread title has straw men in it!), i don't think the issue of self management and the issue of 'our money' are the same thing so i have no argument with you over self management, i know this was the context from which your original criticism of 'our money' came from, but i wasn't defending 'our money' in order to defend any of ian's positions, i was talking about it as a stand alone thing, as something you are quite likely to here many normal people voice over time and wondered how you would react to them (and how they would react to that)

i noticed the comment about muppets from ian which i was going to comment on earlier but i thought it had no relevance to the discussion we were having, but i'd happily take issue with that assertion yes, however that is for another day

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 19:35
oisleep wrote:
i don't think the issue of self management and the issue of 'our money' are the same thing so i have no argument with you over self management, i know this was the context from which your original criticism of 'our money' came from, but i wasn't defending 'our money' in order to defend any of ian's positions, i was talking about it as a stand alone thing

well exactly - you're abstracting from all context and then claiming bafflement at why i picked up on it - when the reason i picked up on it was precisely the way it was part of a wider argument and seemed to betray certain assumptions underpinning it.

oisleep wrote:
as something you are quite likely to here many normal people voice over time and wondered how you would react to them (and how they would react to that)

well i'd react by saying they're going to try and make us pay through public service cuts or future regressive taxes - if we let them. therefore we should try and act collectively to resist such clawbacks etc. just like i wrote in my tea break article in fact.

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 19:53
Quote:
well exactly - you're abstracting from all context and then claiming bafflement at why i picked up on it - when the reason i picked up on it was precisely the way it was part of a wider argument and seemed to betray certain assumptions underpinning it

ok, so if someone else - a normal person on the street (or part of a campaign) said that statement as an articulation of their frustration at what is going on, you wouldn't see anything wrong with that statement? if so then fine (although this in itself brings other implications with it), but if not the argument about abstracting away from all context seems redundant

anyroads, as you say this is polemics between two anarchists trying to show the other how correct the other one is, so i'll leave youse to it

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 20:12
oisleep wrote:
ok, so if someone else - a normal person on the street (or part of a campaign) said that statement as an articulation of their frustration at what is going on, you wouldn't see anything wrong with that statement?

more abstraction from context. you don't think politicos talk to each other in a different way than talking to some imaginary 'normal person' (by no means a homogenous entity)? i was in the pub talking to a comrade's ('apolitical') flatmate the other day, they said all sorts of things i agreed with (critical of the maoist 'communism' they grew up with) and disagreed with - dismissing communism accordingly, and seeing 'libertarian communism' as a contradiction in terms (they were inquiring, not me proselytizing, fwiw). of course if a self-described anarchist came out with the latter my reaction would be different - since it would be far more perplexing.

oisleep wrote:
anyroads, as you say this is polemics between two anarchists trying to show the other how correct the other one is, so i'll leave youse to it

fwiw, you may or may not be aware that i share your general antipathy to writing for a politico as opposed to a lay audience - hence my involvement with libcom and tea break. however, i don't think debates with other politicos are entirely pointless, so i do take part in them (our solfed pamphlet would be another example). your criticisms do seem to be of the very form of the debate - anarchists talking to each other - more than anything else. we could have avoided a lot of psuedo-circular arguments if you'd have just said 'why argue with anarchists?' to begin with (a question i'm not unsympathetic to, and would happily field).

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 21:04
Quote:
more abstraction from context

yeah but it's either 'our money' or it's not, if you're steadfastly sure in your opinion that it's not then surely you should hold that position in any context

for example is the statement that ian made that it was the muppet bankers that got is into this mess dependent on context and something that cannot be abstracted from? no of course it isn't, so why claim the 'our money' thing is

the reason i picked up on this very point is that it's a commonly voiced phrase at the moment from people who perhaps in the past have not paid much attention to what is going on around them in terms of the general system etc.. hence the reason for picking this up and running with it as for once it's something that is not confined to dreary talk between semi-professional lefties, it's something that's out there and fairly alive - hence my curiosity as to how you're reaction would be to someone else (who wasn't arguing for co-ops but just voicing frustration at what they see going on around them) who came out with the same thing as ian did?

Quote:
your criticisms do seem to be of the very form of the debate - anarchists talking to each other - more than anything else

well you may see it in those terms, but as i said above the reason for picking up on it was because it's precisely something that's going on which isn't just anarchists gassing with each other - you might have noticed that i havn't made any comments on the main substance of your debate with ian, mainly because i think it's an irrelevant one in terms of wider interest and therefore confined to debate between anarchists, of which i have no interest, but as i said one snippet of that argument you were having interested me in a wider sense which was why i picked up on it (plus it's sunday and i'm the mood for an argument)

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 21:27
oisleep wrote:
yeah but it's either 'our money' or it's not, if you're steadfastly sure in your opinion that it's not then surely you should hold that position in any context

if i was autistic, yeah. but just like i'm going to be much more critical of an anarchist claiming libertarian communism to be a contradiction in terms than someone who was raised in a 'communist state', i'm going to make different arguments in different contexts just like i don't talk to my workmates about 'communist demands', which is politico shorthand for concrete demands asserting our actual needs; wage demands, against public service cuts etc. as we've both recognised, this is hardly the most substantive issue here, it belies "assumptions unbecoming of a libertarian communist" - i wouldn't be surprised if my workmates made uncommunist assumptions since they make no claim to be communists in the first place.

oisleep wrote:
the reason i picked up on this very point is that it's a commonly voiced phrase at the moment from people who perhaps in the past have not paid much attention to what is going on around them in terms of the general system etc.. hence the reason for picking this up and running with it as for once it's something that is not confined to dreary talk between semi-professional lefties, it's something that's out there and fairly alive - hence my curiosity as to how you're reaction would be to someone else (who wasn't arguing for co-ops but just voicing frustration at what they see going on around them) who came out with the same thing as ian did?

and i've linked you to an article i wrote attempting to do exactly that. i've had these discussions with people, i tend to point out the rich look out for their own, and will try to pass the cost onto us etc, therefore the important thing is to find ways to support one another (i.e. solidarity, direct action etc).

oisleep wrote:
well you may see it in those terms, but as i said above the reason for picking up on it was because it's precisely something that's going on which isn't just anarchists gassing with each other - you might have noticed that i havn't made any comments on the main substance of your debate with ian, mainly because i think it's an irrelevant one in terms of wider interest and therefore confined to debate between anarchists, of which i have no interest, but as i said one snippet of that argument you were having interested me in a wider sense which was why i picked up on it (plus it's sunday and i'm the mood for an argument)

well, a debate on the pages of an anarchist newspaper is clearly 'just anarchists gassing at each other', it's only marginally less so on the pages of a libertarian communist website. criticising it for not being something else (a response to some man in the street) seems like having a go at apples for not being oranges.

oisleep
Feb 8 2009 23:06
Quote:
if i was autistic, yeah

so if someone on the bus said to you the reason we're in this mess is because of a few bankers, would you only try to argue against this position if you were autistic (or for example are you being autistic on the the discussion your having on the what recession means for us thread with someone who is putting the type of arguments forward that you might hear someone in the park shouting about)

Quote:
i wouldn't be surprised if my workmates made uncommunist assumptions since they make no claim to be communists in the first place.

but it's not an assumption this 'our money' thing, it's an objective truth from what you're telling me (we never owned that money, so we shouldn't demand a say in what the state does with it remember), so it's not about whether something is a communist position or not, but about what is real surely - in that case why differentiate between someone who is a communist and someone who isn't, it's either our money or it's not

Quote:
well, a debate on the pages of an anarchist newspaper is clearly 'just anarchists gassing at each other', it's only marginally less so on the pages of a libertarian communist website. criticising it for not being something else (a response to some man in the street) seems like having a go at apples for not being oranges.

no you miss the point, i was picking up on the intersices (not sure if this is the correct word) of the debate in the wider public realm and that between semi professional leftists, i havn't criticised your 'debate' amongst anarchists as it's of no interest,nor relevance,to me or any of my business - i have however picked one small element of it that unusually, on the surface, is something that chimes with a much wider grouping and then questioned what appears to me as a rather janus like treatment of the issue depending who you might be talking to

now i only picked up on this as an individual point initially but through this debate i think it has crystalised a bit for me my own disdain, and what i imagine that of the wider public holds, for anarchists and lefties - this is this deliberate ghettosing of themselves from those they are supposedly meant to hold appeal to through different plains of debate, this professionalising of debate & discussion in the way that academia does which carves out a space that is only relevant for those who already subscribe to it which creates and perpetuates the cutting off and isolation from those they are supposed to appeal to, and where the indulgence in this ghettoised arena seems to be taken part with great glee, vigour and energy to the detriment of any connection with those who the appeal is supposed to be made to (marx for anarchists for example)

this is not by the way something specifically aimed at yourself as you appear far less guilt of this than many others, but the wider, for want of a better word, movement, with myself included within that criticism - let's face it never before has the left been so utterly discredited and ignored by 99.99% of society and this as well during what will probably be one of the worst downturns for nearly a century, surely an appraisal of why that is the case is required and one (of the no doubt many) reaons why this is the case is that the left is not relevant to 99.99% of people today, and stuff like what we've been arguing about today, to me, just seems to prove this

Joseph Kay
Feb 8 2009 23:26

well i'm glad you've re-affirmed your prejudices, but the idea i'm being janus-like is just silly. can you really not see why i might take more issue with say, a self-described anarchist advocating voting, or nationalisation, than one of my workmates? in either case my view on voting or nationalisation is the same, but my arguments are framed differently depending on the assumptions, values etc of the person you're talking to. this isn't duplicity, it's the basis of normal human communication (hence my autism reference). if you simply want to establish debates among anarchists are not "relevant to 99.99% of people today", there's no argument. obviously anarchists are basically irrelevant at present, i think that has little to do with the fact they debate with one another though.

oisleep wrote:
this professionalising of debate & discussion in the way that academia does which carves out a space that is only relevant for those who already subscribe to it which creates and perpetuates the cutting off and isolation from those they are supposed to appeal to

ok, so you are objecting to anarchists talking to one another. i think 'professionalising' is a silly term to use since everything i write is done for free in my spare time, or covertly at work if i'm not too busy. the idea every discussion people have must be lowest common denominator is just silly - i wouldn't go door-knocking with a copy of Capital but i don't think it's worthless (and you've discussed it at length too, so presumably you don't - of course if a workmate wanted to discuss Capital with me i'd use different language, metaphors etc than if i was discussing with another member of the libcom collective who shared much of my understanding already). when people who share basic assumptions and values discuss they can take these shared assumptions for granted, and so the discussion can appear more obscure to outsiders accordingly. that said, nothing i write is purposefully obscure or inaccessible to an interested layman with a reasonable literacy level (which is why i don't tend to write with unexplained references to dead beards and the like, although Iain doing so in the context of a Freedom article isn't as problematic as in outward-looking propaganda).

oisleep
Feb 9 2009 14:26
Quote:
well i'm glad you've re-affirmed your prejudices, but the idea i'm being janus-like is just silly

don't prejudices stop being prejudices when they are constantly re-affirmed by empirical observation? (yes i know i only see what i want to see etc.. etc...)

Quote:
can you really not see why i might take more issue with say, a self-described anarchist advocating voting, or nationalisation, than one of my workmates? in either case my view on voting or nationalisation is the same, but my arguments are framed differently depending on the assumptions, values etc of the person you're talking to. this isn't duplicity, it's the basis of normal human communication (hence my autism reference).

Issues like whether voting or nationalisation are worthwhile are far more subjective than the objective and categorical statement you made that the money being used to prop up the banking system is not 'our money' so i'm not sure why you are bringing in inappropriate analogies here (again the irony of the thread having straw man in it is not lost on me) - you were finger wagging me earlier for inappropriately abstracting from the specific to the general remember

Quote:
if you simply want to establish debates among anarchists are not "relevant to 99.99% of people today", there's no argument. obviously anarchists are basically irrelevant at present, i think that has little to do with the fact they debate with one another though.

yes, pretty much every post and every word that i've written on this thread has been directed at that aim you highlight don't you think - as to this having little to do with the fact they debate with each other of course it's not, but see below for more on this

Quote:
ok, so you are objecting to anarchists talking to one another

no, i'm pointing out that's all they ever seem to do (i'm sure you can see the distinction between these two things) - and asserting that the reason that's all they ever do is that in the main, other anarchists, lefties or people like me are the only people who have any interest in listening to anarchists

Quote:
i think 'professionalising' is a silly term to use since everything i write is done for free in my spare time, or covertly at work if i'm not too busy

i'm not so sure it's such a silly term as you think, clearly youse all spend and commit a significant amount of your time involved reading and writing about or debating within the ghetto that is anarchism, there is a significant (and admirable, although sometimes somehwat misguide in my opinion) investment made in what you believe in, and like all other professions terms and assumptions are used which make it fairly impenetrable to those outside that clilque - take the example of a desire to do a marx for anarchists pamphlet for example, or your recent thing about syndicalism these are all intensley inward looking and self referential and place other anarchists as the target audience - my use of the term professionalising was not meant to imply i thought you got paid for doing this, which is a plain silly thing to imply, however there are many other aspects of professionalism which are apparent in the anarchist and lefty cliques - i suppose i better add here that this in itself is not an issue and is charactersitic of any professions, hobby/interest groups etc... however it does become an issue (for a movement whose appeal is meant to resonate with the wider working class) when that is pretty much all that goes on - and again i have to add that i accept one of the reasons for this is due to the miniscule resources and numbers (not to mention the sectarianism that seems to run through it) mean they are barely able to reach out beyond their own confines, however this in itself again has to tell us something about the relevance and attractivness of anarchism for normal people

Quote:
the idea every discussion people have must be lowest common denominator is just silly - i wouldn't go door-knocking with a copy of Capital but i don't think it's worthless (and you've discussed it at length too, so presumably you don't - of course if a workmate wanted to discuss Capital with me i'd use different language, metaphors etc than if i was discussing with another member of the libcom collective who shared much of my understanding already). when people who share basic assumptions and values discuss they can take these shared assumptions for granted, and so the discussion can appear more obscure to outsiders accordingly

as i said above, your conflating me having an issue with anarchists talking to each other using shared assumptions as short hand for purposes of efficency with anarchists only ever talking to each other

Quote:
that said, nothing i write is purposefully obscure or inaccessible to an interested layman with a reasonable literacy level (which is why i don't tend to write with unexplained references to dead beards and the like, although Iain doing so in the context of a Freedom article isn't as problematic as in outward-looking propaganda).

i don't think i implied that you did tend to do these things joseph, my comment was an observation of the tendency to dig further into the ghetto by anarchists and lefties as a whole (whether for reasons of self validation, desire to be accepted, desire to stay in comfort zone, or whatever) - of course there are degrees of this between those involved and some display this tendency more than others, however as a general movement that is what it is characterised by (as you admit yourself in that the anarchist/leftie movement is irrelevant to 99.99% of people)

Joseph Kay
Feb 9 2009 15:35

right, so you think anything inward looking is pointless, which is why this debate is circular, since anything i say regarding your notional objections to my argument falls foul of your real objection - by virtue of itself constituting an exchange between politicos. of course this is about as useful as complaining the gossip down the pub isn't harvard referenced; if debates between politicos are irrelevent, politicos making multi-post objections to politicos debating is irrelevance squared.

oisleep
Feb 9 2009 17:45

again you seem to be intentionally misundertanding me despite me taking the time to clarify my position on my post above. i'll try again - where have i said that anything inward looking, in and by itself, is pointless? what I said was if that is all that happens then it leads to what i see as a pointless situation, inwards looking stuff is not pointless in and by itself, but when it constitues the vast majority and energies of those who make up that ghetto then it leads to a pointless situation (at least for those who profess to have some sort of aim in mind that their activities relat to)

i'm happy to also shut down this debate as i'm also getting bored of it, but your attempt above to shut it down by raising my observation about the anarcho ghetto in general to avoid talking (further) about the specific points i raised in relation to your (open and publically available) statement is pretty poor show joseph - it's you who has rasised this observation of mine to what you call my 'real objection' even though it's not an objection but an observation as to why i think anarchists are irrelevant and furthermore out of many posts i've made on this thread i've only mentioned this (so called real) objection (observation) only a couple of times, in contrast to the number of times i've raised what you patronisingly call my 'notional' objection (even though this area has contained more substance and argument than what you refer to as my 'real' objection, and despite me specifically saying on more than one occasion that the reason i was arsed to repsond to this thread in the first place because it touched upon an issue which was widely being talked about in the 'real' world, hence my interest. for you to arbitrarly decide on my behalf that this is a 'notional' objection displays either an ignorance of everything i've said on this thread, a willful intention to cloud the issue, or a mixture of both)

but fine, if the response to anyone who attempts to engage with anarchists on specific/concrete issues and who also makes an accompanying point about the irrelevance of the inward looking anarchist movement (even though said point may be dwarved by the attention given by said objector to another concrete and specific point) is met by, 'well you're just as irrelevant pointing this out' (whether that be in relation to your so called categories of real & notional), then fine, such debate will never achieve anything and slowly even those outside the anarcho ghetto who had bothered to interact with it in the past will also withdraw as the ghetto clams up further into itself in a defensive foetual position

Spikymike
Feb 15 2009 16:44

I'm not too interested in the extended debate here between the two comrades except to support Joseph in his correct use of references to taxation.

Although there are clearly ways in which Governments can use taxation policy to attack working class living standards it is equally and more fundamentally true that most taxation debates are about how different sections of the ruling (and perhaps middle) classes distribute the costs of running their state between themselves.

Generally taxation debates are the common parlance of capitalist politics and (puposefully)divert our class from the terrain of independent class struggle.

So what about the struggle against the Poll Tax I hear you say! The immediate impact of this tax was to lower working class spending power including many workers who were on their own in a weak position to claim this back in wage struggles for instance.

Well this is perhaps a good way of illustrating the different approach of pro-revolutionaries to that of liberals and leftists.

We were often found together in various anti- Poll Tax struggles but pro-revolutionaries did not go round advocating other supposedly 'fairer' forms of taxation whereas the politicians of the left felt obliged to come up with alternatives such as a local income tax or bigger taxes on 'the rich', precisely because they are in the business of offering themselves as alternative rulers.

This distinction wasn't always so easy to explain to workers brought up on a diet of capitalist political debate but it was still correct.