Libertarian communism and capitalism - an introduction

libcom.org's old basic introduction to our understanding of the world as it is, what we think can be done to make it better, and how a libertarian communist society could function. We no longer think it is particularly good but reproduce it for reference. We have largely replaced it with our introductory guides.

What is capitalism?
We live in a truly beautiful world. There is easily enough of everything to go around for everyone to live comfortably. However, while a few live in luxury, most of us spend our whole lives slaving away just to get by. We, the working class, own very little property and so to survive we can only do one of three things: work for a boss, claim benefits or steal. And the latter two options are either not available, or very unappealing to most.

This is what capitalism is based on: we have to sell our ability to work - and hours of our life - for a wage. Our work produces things and provides services. But our wages are less than the value of the products and services we provide. The difference between the value of what we make and what we get paid is the profit which is being stolen from us. Someone answering phones may perform work which makes the boss £400, but only gets paid £50 in wages. The rest is taken by the boss and called "profit" - which the bosses are entitled to just because they own the office the phones were answered in. So to make money, you must first have enough money to own something. By this system, the rich get richer and more powerful while we get poorer and, of course, less powerful.

We think that the people doing the work - us - should get the lot!

Smoke stacks
Air pollution kills millions and threatens the survival of the planet

Capitalism produces things for profit rather than need. For example, in famine-ridden Africa, big corporations will grow cash-crops like cotton while millions starve all around. If you can't pay the mortgage, your house is repossessed. Treatments and medicines for fatal diseases which cost pennies to make are sold for thousands of pounds to pay for marketing, while millions die. Global warming and pollution from fossil fuels threatens the survival of humans on the planet because renewable energy sources threaten oil companies’ profits. This happens all over the world. These are not problems with capitalism that can be fixed, they are capitalism. The relentless drive to accumulate, make profit and expand drives capital. Profits must always come before people and planet because if not enough profit is made the corporation will go bust or be bought out. War, poverty, crime, famine and environmental destruction - these are all signs that capitalism is working perfectly. They are also signs that it is unsustainable and needs to be replaced.

What do we want to replace it with?
We don't want to replace one set of bosses and politicians with another like in the USSR. We want to abolish government and the control of production by the market. We want workers and service users to democratically control their own workplaces and see ordinary people run the world together without money or authority. This is what we call libertarian communism.

This all sounds very far fetched but actually it's more realistic then you think. Think about who actually does the important work in society - i.e. people who produce goods or services. We do!. We know exactly how to run our workplaces because it's us who do it everyday.

All bosses and shareholders do is get in the way and take a huge chunk of the profit. Imagine how much less work we would have to do if all the people who do ultimately pointless work did useful work instead? Many of us spend most of our lives working jobs which produce nothing useful, or no valuable service, such as products with built-in obsolescence, or the entire financial and insurance industries. We would have more time to do what we really wanted to do and truly live out our dreams and desires. We would be happier and more willing to help others because we wouldn't be wasting most of our waking lives either commuting, working in boring, pointless jobs or preparing ourselves to be 'good', 'productive' workers in schools or universities.

Just ask yourself: This week, how much time have I spent with the people I love? Now ask: How much time have I spent at work?

Socialised CNT tram in Barcelona
Barcelona 1936: a tram. The socialised transport system in the city was run by workers in the anarchist union the CNT, the biggest union in the Spain.

Everything we would create would be for our benefit and so we would be more willing to work hard. A perfect example of this is during the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39 when factories in self-organised workers' territories (see picture, right)were far more efficient than the factories had been while under capitalist control. And in Argentina today, workers in the Zanon ceramics factory kicked out their boss and began running it themselves and work under better conditions than before.

The idea that we need a central group or individual in charge otherwise nothing would get done is ridiculous. The idea that we work harder with managers breathing down our necks, taking the profit of our work and telling us what to do makes no sense when looked at in any depth. At a corporate conference, one of the speakers asked why workers, after working hard for 8 hours a day, come home and work hard in the house or garden.

The answer is simple. Because we want to. At work, we know we won't benefit from working harder and as soon as the boss turns the corner, of course we'll skive. Why should we work hard for someone who exploits us? In the garden or the home, we do what we want, when we want, for our own benefit and so will work harder for ourselves than a profit-hungry corporation which uses us like machines to be bought and sold.

Things like this, from everyday, present life, are examples of libertarian communism in practice and, more importantly, in practice by ordinary people just getting along with everyday life. The fundamental basis of a socialist society is people co-operating as equals. Our basic co-operative capacity manifests itself even now in a capitalist world – from small things like organising a party where different people prepare and bring food and drink and wash up, to large voluntary co-operative organisations like the Royal National Lifeboat Association. Things like this show that a world free from government and bosses is possible. Things like this show that libertarian communism is possible.

How do we want to get to libertarian communism?
All this sounds good and it is hard to believe that anyone would oppose it. However, there are many. The ruling institutional structures are shaped so that they cannot give up their power and privilege. If individual corporations or governments decide that the current system is unfair and try to change it, the corporations will go bust or be bought out, and the governments bringing in progressive policies – if in isolation and not forced by a mass movement – will fall victim to capital flight, media smears and potential military coups. We need to take power away from them and exercise power ourselves over our own lives. However, although workers out-number the bosses by millions across the country (and by billions across the world) there are the police to beat us up, the prisons to lock us up, the military to shoot us, the schools and the corporate media to mislead us and many other institutions used to keep us soft and obedient.

This is why we need a revolution. Firstly: of ideas. We need to stop believing in capitalism. We need to start seeing each other as equals and unite as workers, as a class, which has been successfully divided with racism, sexism and all sorts of stupid prejudices for centuries. However, changing our ideas is not enough. Because the capitalist class won't give up their power without a fight, we need to be able to defend any gains in freedom that they would try and take from us. Communities will need to be put under direct community control. Workplaces will need to be taken over by the people who work there and run for the benefit of the community, not the bosses. We've done it before and we can do it again. We just need to realise our collective class strength.

What should I do now?
Organise. Get together with like-minded people in your community and start a group to build solidarity in your neighbourhood. Set up community groups and residents' associations and learn to live together without cops, landlords or other assorted government and big business representatives.

Fighting the Poll Tax in Trafalgar Square. Though spectacular, the riot was not what stopped the tax - it was the mass non-payment direct action campaign.

Unite with your workmates to demand better pay and conditions and if your bosses refuse, take collective action like slowdowns and strikes to get them. Organise strong rank and file networks within workplaces and trade unions. Get together with other workers and sack your boss! Link up with other people in your school, college or university and fight for improvements. If they try to raise tuition fees at your Uni - organise mass refusal to pay.

Whatever you do, make sure your organising is based in your normal everyday life. Only by engaging with issues that matter directly to us can we ever build a powerful movement to build a better world.

Collective action of working people and their families in this country stopped Maggie Thatcher's Poll Tax in 1990 and won massive increases in our standard of living over the past 200 years., Across the world working class action has made revolutions, toppled dictators, won shorter working hours... the list is endless. When we work together, we can achieve anything.

So let's be realistic - let's demand the impossible!

libcom group, 2005

Posted By

libcom
Oct 12 2006 11:12

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