A debate over 'anti-capitalist vision' between the Project for a Participatory Society, proponents of Parecon, and the libcom.org group.
The debate is also available as a pdf and a print-ready pdf pamphlet.
In late 2008 the libcom.org group were approached by the UKWatch.net website to take part in a debate with the Project for a Participatory Society (PPS), themed around ‘anti-capitalist vision.’ This seemed like a good opportunity to get our own ideas down in writing, as well as to subject them to the test of robust criticism. We also had criticisms of our own of ‘participatory economics’ (‘parecon’) which again we had discussed but not written down anywhere, and this debate would give us the chance to put them to a parecon advocate. The debates were to be published on UKWatch and their US sister-site ZNet.
For libcom.org, Joseph Kay was the main participant, while for the PPS Mark Evans took on that role. To kick off the debate, we were both asked to set out our own ‘visions for the UK economy’, which we would then respond to, and respond to responses in turn. The debate began with a flurry of exchanges, but from January 2009 we’d had no reply to our latest submissions. UKWatch were busy with a site upgrade, but despite exchanging emails over the intervening period by August 2009 we’d still received no responses and UKWatch.net had gone offline.
Consequently, we publish the debate as it stands here as we think it contains much of interest to anti-capitalist activists. As our replies were the last ones we are aware of, we do have the last word. However we are sure this doesn’t preclude further debate, using this pamphlet as a point of departure.
The Project for a Participatory Society is a network of people based in the UK committed to progressive social change. PPS see war, poverty, climate change and many other problems in the world today as unsurprising consequences of particular forms of social organisation. They see the erosion of civil liberties, the abuses of human rights, the increase in inequality and other injustices as resulting from the core values and internal organisation of dominant institutions within society. Mark Evans lives in Birmingham and works as an NHS healthcare assistant. He is an active trade unionist. www.ppsuk.org.uk
The libcom.org group is a small collective of libertarian communists based in and around London. They maintain libcom.org, a resource for radical workers a resource for all wish to fight to improve their lives, their communities and their working conditions. The site takes its name from an abbreviation of "libertarian communism" - and its goals of liberty and community - the political current they identify with. Joseph Kay is a financial services worker from Brighton. He is a member of the Solidarity Federation. www.libcom.org
Yeah, this debate was
Yeah, this debate was interesting, it's a shame that we didn't have time to finish it. Hopefully publishing it as it stands now would be a catalyst to continuing it...
The libcom group has
The libcom group has previously denied that it is a group... is it now a group with a defined politics?
We have never denied that we
We have never denied that we were a group. We have always stated that we were a group.
For example, this has been at the top of our "about" page since we started:
The libcom group is a small collective of libertarian communists based in and around London, we maintain libcom.org, and as individuals are involved with a number of other groups and activity.
we then expand on this, going into more detail and listing all of the group members here:
Also, see our Wikipedia entry for example. Or any of the articles we collectively write and which we credit to the "libcom.org group". We have also written, as a group, introductions to many of the articles on the site. And frequently refer to ourselves as a group in forum discussions.
So I am completely at a loss as to why you are stating that, like we're some sort of shadowy cabal. :confused:
In terms of our politics, we have them roughly defined, as libertarian communist (the clue is in the site name). Articles collectively signed as from the libcom.org group also represent our politics, and are available here under our group author tag:
Quote: we then expand on
where's rkn and z these days, and j, gav etc...?
Working mostly. Still about,
Working mostly. Still about, just not on here much
I'm a little confused by the
I'm a little confused by the libertarian commie vs parecon aurguments. I've read some of the back and forth discussions on ZNET, but I'm still scratching my head. They seem to advocate reletively the same thing to me. Can someone explain...or even give links...to the main differances between these ideas?
***I was unable to open the PDF file for some reason***
I just read an introduction
I just read an introduction and this look very interesting... I'm printing pdf.. .
the pdf's busted. shows up
the pdf's busted. shows up with the title page, and a few background images, but no text from the debate. can we get a fixed version?
it works for me, using
it works for me, using preview and adobe reader 9 & 5
I'm away from my computer
I'm away from my computer until Monday, but I'll try and sort out a new PDF then. I'd guess this is a versions thing, if it was created with a newer version of adobe than you're using to read it that would explain why it works ok for some people and not others.
mhager4550 wrote: I'm a
this is what the debate is all about; there are a lot of apparent similarities, but we (libcom) suggest the difference is the difference between 'a fair days work for a fair days pay' and 'abolition of the wage system'.
I have in my own feeble way
I have in my own feeble way challenged Parecon ideas on my blog from the free access SPGB position which generally overlaps witht the libcom anarcho-communist critique , and my efforts can be viewed here for anyone interested
Some of the comments and remarks are significant
The most entertaining exposition of Parecon is at Star Trek Federation http://vanparecon.resist.ca/StarTrekEcon/#money
And as an aside , the Marxist ( state capitalist ) version of Star Trek Federation is at http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Essays/Trek-Marxism.html
weeler wrote: i haven't done
I've never quite understood
I've never quite understood the difference of participatory economics. Do they advocate democratic control of the economy, means of production, and the workplace too? Because that also goes in line with many libertarian communist currents.
It's worth noting here that
It's worth noting here that Joseph Kay uses the word "need" in completely self-contradictory way. In response to one of Mark's points, Joseph says he uses "need" to include wants. But later he starts distinguishing things that are needed from "luxuries." But "luxuries" are things people want, and thus, by his original definition, something that they "need."
Presumably each person is only to concume a finite share of the social product in libertarian communism. what is the principle that determines this share? if you say "need," then define "need" as want, it means "to each whatever they want." that places no limit on any individual's share of the social product and thus doesn't answer the question.
Joseph never answers Mark's criticisms in this regard. If you say that each takes freely "first come first served" that is a principle that rewards the more aggressive, the greedy, the type A personality. if you say that each person is limited to a roughly equal share of the social product, you also have to assume there is some way of measuring what that might be. but Joseph says he's against "measuring." again, very convenient for the greedy, assertive, type A personalities.
another problem arises with Joseph's distinction between what he calls a "push" and "pull" planning system. he says a "push" economy is defined by quotas. but he seems to be confusing central planning with participatory economy which is a form of decentralized negotiated coordination. the idea is that the community or neighborhood assemblies/councils assemble both requests for public goods (health care, hospitals, schools, public transit service, new parks etc) and for individual wants, and then puts this out as a request. the worker production organizations then respond with estimates of costs, proposals of what resources they need to meet the requests, etc. Thus since the planning is driven by requests for production, it seems to be a "pull" production system, and hence Joseph Kay's suggestion it isn't doesn't seem to hold up. thus within a participatory economy what is produced does emerge as an emergent property of the interactive system design.
syndicalistcat wrote: It's
i'm afraid you've misunderstood. needs are arrayed along a spectrum from physiological neccesities to luxuries. luxuries could be inherently scarce items or those which we desire but would soonest give up if given a choice (which would probably be quite different under communism than now). maslow's 'hierarchy of needs' is something in this ballpark, although i don't particularly agree with its specifics. the order of goods/services on such a spectrum would need to be the product of councils, as i say clearly in the debate:
... again, you seem to have misunderstood what i wrote. nowhere do i say i am against measure. that would be absurd, and since i advocate pull production and databases completely impossible. i'm against "parecon's fixation with measure" and in particular its obsession with 'a fair days pay for a fair days work', recognised as conservative over a century ago. i have already quoted the relevent section above in response to georgestapelton.
as to whether i don't reply to Mark's point, my reply was:
you might not like my answer, but it's simply wrong to say i dodge the question.
the point we make is that there are loads of non-monetary ways to discourage the minority of anti-social people who want 'to each according to their needs' but not 'from each according to ability', not least of which is (as an ultimate vision) abolishing work as a separate activity which people are only motivated to do on pain of poverty by a wage system. it may even be the minority is small enough to simply tolerate, and allow socialisation and stigma to keep it in check. it may be we have to adopt some of the above methods of scarcity management.
i also think it's an exageration to say 'first come first served' rewards aggressiveness. i'm talking about going down the store and seeing there's no pasta on the shelf, so getting some noodles instead. not having round-the-block queues fo scarce items - the presence of such demand would immidiately increase production in accordance with social priorities on the 'pull' basis i describe. if this was insufficient, the priorities could be revised (i.e. if people decided they really did want pasta more than noodles, or more carbohydrate staples over something above them in the priority list). but there's also various other solutions posed. people may to decide to allocate inherently scarce beachfront homes say by lottery, or put them on a rota, or give a year's residence to particularly awesome people (someone who saved a load of lives, or whatever - or to parecon tastes, those who put in effort above and beyond the expected). there isn't a one-size fits all solution, but we offer plenty of suggestions, all of which i find preferable to a wage system.
i mean if we're talking about not answering questions, why should i risk my life on the barricades for a society where if i work harder i can earn more and buy more stuff? i can do that already, it's rubbish.
syndicalistcat wrote: another
by this logic, central planning is also a 'pull' system, just a really shit one, since when central planners notice a stockpile of skodas and bread queues round the block, they make some amendments. i'm drawing the distinction from business theory, where essentially it relates to the distinction between production triggered by quotas (however they are decided), whether they are consumed or not, and production driven by the depletion of safety stocks.
for example, an unexpectedly wet year means more than usual umbrellas and wellingtons are being consumed. under the system i describe (which was only a description of how things might work, which i stress is going to be inferior to "the self-organisation of millions, whose collective genius far exceeds that of any individual"), production of these items would increase to keep the safety stocks up. this would mean the producers of these would have more demand for raw materials and workers, and would request them from the local/regional workers' council, made up of recallable delegates. they would then co-ordinate that in accordance with the social priorities - i.e. they wouldn't divert rubber from producing medical supplies or dildos or whatever was higher priority, but from lower priority items. only if this lead to undesirable outcomes - the reduced production of things that in retrospect people did desire more than wellies and umbrellas - would there be a need to involve everybody in revising the overall priorities, dropping waterproofs down the list.
by contrast under parecon, faced with a surge in demand for wellies, consumer and workers' councils would engage in futurological speculation to set a new production quota and perhaps a new pricing level to 'fairly' reflect it. this would juggle back and forth a bit through iteration until a 'fair price' was haggled and then the new quota would be set. but wait! before a decision could be made, the degree of 'effectedness' for each participant would need to be established so that their vote could be weighted accordingly. in a region with a similar climate, we could easily be talking millions of people. some of them might quite enjoy the rain, and splashing about in puddles, are they to be allowed a vote? maybe 0.1 votes? Others really hate the rain, it makes them clinically depressed. should they get extra votes? Others still already own raincoats, so they should probably be disenfranchised. unless they were planning to switch to umbrellas, in which case they are a bit effected. 0.3 say. (see what i mean about a "fixation with measure"?)
this would have to happen all the time, consulting millions, in order to make the simplest adjustments to demand. it's completely unworkable. slack planning and a reliance on aggregate non-deviation offer no additional benefit, since they would also apply to the communist system (the former being an aspect of safety stocks, the latter being a statistical characteristic of demand per se).
Quote: by contrast under
you don't understand the model. it's easy of course to simply parody ideas. but it does you no good if it's a strawman. the business about conservatives talking about "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work" is a nice bit of slapstick but inappropriate as serious discussion.
.no conservative ever advocated that remuneration should be based solely on how long and onerous and intense their work is. capitalist income would be illegal on that principle.
anyway, if we assume that people will do their share in a system of collectively run production, and if we assume that work is re-org'd in the way proposed by balanced jobs idea (which you say you agree with), then we can understand the principle as basically calling for an equal consumption credit earned per hour of work. and the point to doing so is in part to motivate people engaging in productive activity, which will be particularly relevant in a libertarian communist society as it emerges from capitalism. if people are seriously slacking off and not doing their bit at work, you don't think their coworkers will know? You don't think their coworkers will resent them?
where does this idea of "production quotas" come from? It's not in the participatory economics literature. the model does use an ideal price system. the price system is designed solely to measure how strongly people prefer certain outcomes...how high a priority people place on X versus A. you talk about a hierarchy of need, maybe it is clearer, if we think of need as self-defined, as a question of degree of importance or priority, which will vary from person to person, but tend to coalesce in regard to certain things that can be provided as public goods carried at social expense...education, health care, child care, etc. but even if we were to imagine the whole of production to be items provided free and carried at public expense in this way, we'd still need a way to figure out costs so as to avoid a hopelessly
ineffecient system. and that means we'd need some way of putting the various inputs on some scale of measurement.
A problem that needs to be taken account of is that if there is a surge in demand for some item, that affects not just the worker group who produce that item, but all the other groups who produce inputs for that item. there are ripple effects. if there is a surge in demand for bicycles, there will be a surge in demand for the things that bicycles are made out of.
it's not good enough to make up some single priority list because of the ripple effects throughout the economy.
and to have a zillion decisions about allocation of resources to be made by a single central workers' council is in fact a form of central planning. rather than doing that, the basic idea of participatory economics is a system social negotiation, between the production side and the request/consumption side.
the surge in demand comes in as increased requests. this could happen through the workers organization running distribution centers or through the neighborhood council via individual requests. to begin with any production organization needs to have some plan as to how many its products it's going to produce in a given period. if the requests outrun what was anticipated in its plans, then it can propose to adjust upward the number of umbrellas it will produce. the number of umbrellas to produce isn't a "quota" handed to them, but their own proposal.
why are they interested in keeping up with what people want? Well, they are providing more social benefit if they produce what people want. producing social benefit is sort of the condition we place on them being in control of those means of production. ultimately means of production are not being used effectively producing X if there were more benefit producing Y. it's necessary to consider the question: under what conditions would be disband a group producing something? In other words, what is the libertarian communist equivalent of bankruptcy? you can't assume this won't happen.
so, if this factory proposes to increase production, it will also need to propose -- put in requests -- to its suppliers. minor adjustments of this sort would be typically accomodated through the slack that it makes sense to include in any plan...you can't really estimate exactly how many umbrellas, bicycles or whatever that people are going to want in the next year or two. And in this case I'm talking about the workers' plan. major changes such as those due to catastrophes or other major disruptions would be likely to require a more wide-ranging and concerted social effort at adjusting plans of the various groups.
i would agree that the priniciple of self-management articulated by Hahnel & Albert is a bit vague, "say in proportion to degree affected." but it can be understood fairly intuitively if we look at cases. are all the decisions about what goes on in a workplace to be decided by some set of general assemblies and councils of the whole population? Well, the problem there is that this could then become a basis for setting bosses over people, in the name of "accountability." It denies them autonomy in govverning their own work activity. if we say that we're for the overcoming of alienated labor, shouldn't workers then self-manage their own work and the places where they work?
it's true of course that some of the decisions in regard to what goes on in a particular workplace will affect others in society in various ways...will it pollute? what about the quality of the product? is this use of these socially owned resources producing in accord with people's priorities for use of the socially owned means of production?
if we think about decisions about your own consumption, why should anyone else make that decision for you? or if a community is making a decision about what sorts of public goods and services it wants, why shouldn't they decide on what they want? if some chemical used in production emanates out into a community and poisons people, why shouldn't they be able to simply ban it? and so on. thus the idea of individuals and various collectives having autonomous areas of decision-making seems to be part of the idea of a non-alienated and self-managed society. so the principle about "decisions being made by those most affected" I take as a principle about design of the social institutions. I take it as saying that individuals and households need to have control over their own sphere of life such as what they chose to request for their consumption, that communities need to have some autonomous decision-making power in regard to the public goods that people want for that community and larger communities (regions etc) they are a part of, that people in doing work should have control over the decision-making that governs their activity in that area. the idea of a participatory planning, then, is the idea that the plans that these various groups and individuals in society make are adapted or adjusted to each other through a set of democratic procedures that are designed to avoid exploitation.
btw, i would consider the participatory economics proposal as a particular specification of a libertarian communist society. it's a system based on "production for use, not for profit". "firms" don't exist because worker production groups accrue no income from sale of commodities. workers receive effort based (hours of work based) consumption credits...essentially from the society as a whole. the community assemblies and regional federations of these have power to ensure a generous level of public goods, including a generous level of public goods provided free at public expense, covering needs such as health care, education, child care, public transit and so on. This is why Hahnel says that remuneration is not simply "for effort" but "for effort and need."
anyway, enough from me. you can carry on your discussion with Mark's group.
syndicalistcat wrote: anyway,
i do have responses - not all in disagreement, but Mark's said he's happy to continue the debate so i think it is best to pick it up with him.
needless to say i don't think the only way to organise production and distribution is with a price system and a wage system, however democratic, and it is in fact the ripple effects which i think would trap parecon in an endless feedback loop of meetings and discussions, whereas the point of the non-monetary system i sketch is to adapt to changes in demand dynamically in accordance with social priorities without having to consult everybody everytime (which as your correct observation of the interconectedness of production implies could be anything up to 6 billion).
the articles are now all
the articles are now all online as library articles, linked from the article at the top of this page.
the pdf problem is almost certainly a versions issue, so if you're having problems try updating your version of acrobat reader (free) and see if that helps.
Would I be out of line for
Would I be out of line for suggesting that "The Abolition of Work" is a good piece that helps underpin some of the opposition to 'effort/sacrifice' remuneration systems?
I think the arguments regarding natural (or nurtured, whatever) talent are also on-the-money. The mention of the 'gifted slacker' really hammered it home for me, *any* effort-based remuneration falls into weird edge cases: If it takes me less effort to do a task, do I get 'rewarded' less than the person who has to work harder to do the same? In the modern economy the answer is yes.
Along those lines I would like to propose the idea that a result is instances of self-abuse by middle-of-the-road people just trying to get by. A simple example, I'm sure you're capable of your own extrapolation: Why do so many people drink coffee in the morning? Because if you're not performing in the morning, then you're not earning a paycheque. In order to retain your compensation and not simultaneously become a zombie, you are expected to have a substance addiction.
NB, the bulk of discussion
NB, the bulk of discussion about this document has taken place on our forums here:
Doh my bad!
Doh my bad!
Greetings from Chile! I'm
Greetings from Chile!
I'm reading the debate, and let me tell you it's a great material for learning and discussing. After reading I will translate it to the spanish, for those who do not speak or read english.
I hope in a week or two it will be finished, so I can send you.
gracias M. - glad you find it
gracias M. - glad you find it useful :) we can host the translation here when it's done
M I can't commit too much
M I can't commit too much right now but if you want any help proofing let me know.
Thank you very much
Thank you very much OliverTwister! I will need to show somebody the text because there are some words that I don't know so probably I will make some mistakes.
Greetings, and thanks Joey too
NB we have just added Marks
NB we have just added Marks latest response to our vision here:
Hi! The translation has taken
The translation has taken me more than I thank, so it'll be complete after the time I told you.
By the way, I can't find the exact translation for 'Complimentary Holism'. If somebody knows the spanish term for that please tell me.
If it helps, that's a typo,
If it helps, that's a typo, it should be 'complementary holism'.
literally, it would be
literally, it would be 'holismo complementario' i think, but something like 'holismo sin precedencia' might better capture the idea it's about an approach that takes separate spheres of life as a whole without giving precedence to one or the other.
(pero hablo español turista sólo!)
What a fascinating debate +
What a fascinating debate + thread. Excellent, thought-provoking. I have recently been thinking about some of these kinds of questions (imagining moneylessness, how/if it could work, and how we would get from here to there).
One thing I've been thinking (and I am not a student of politics, so this may be quite naive and/or obvious) is that, since money predates capitalism by thousands of years, analysis of the role of money in society should not confine itself to a critique of capitalism, which is an effect, not the cause, of the use of money as an exchange mechanism and as an officially sanctioned measurement of inequality.
A difficulty in studying the circumstances that held during these social changes, is that the adoption of money as a formal system occurred around the same time as the invention of writing (which grew of simpler systems to keep track of inventories), so we have no primary sources for historical study. It might be interesting to note that labour specialisation also dates to around the same time (late fourth millenium BC).
micapam wrote: One thing I've
good point. money, per se is not a product of capitalism, although it plays a differnet role in different historical circumstances. for your stereotypical feudal serf, they grew crops, paid a tithe in kind to their master, and sold whatever they had left after meeting their own needs at market. money therefore mediated access to a better standard of life, but was not (save for crop failures..) necessary for survival. for a wage worker under capitalism however, money is necessary to survive - basic physiological needs like housing, food, water etc are all commodities requiring purchase.
as you say, money has its origins in the emergence of a division of labour - and consequently the division of producers from all the products they wanted/needed. before capitalism however, while life was rubbish for a host of other reasons, peasant/craft/artisan production tended to predominate, and money served as a form of universal barter for the producers of one kind of product to get their hands on any other. under capitalism however, there is a generalised separation of producers from products per se - workers don't own the commodities they produce, only the wages they get for them. thus money's role as a universal mediator and symbol of value is generalised.
the thing is, it's not really possible to roll-back to pre-capitalist monetary societies, even if you wanted to. the very dynamics of commodity production tend to generalise themselves, and thus tend towards making labour a commodity too - i.e. capitalism (Marx is very good on this, and it's the big flaw in 'market socialist'/Proudhonist co-operativist type models). so the trick is to push through, embracing a division of labour as a great multiplier of human productivity and basis for material comfort for all, while restoring the community of goods that existed in primitive communist neolithic bands.
i think the crux of this is that money itself is not the problem, but the social relations it signifies (relations of separation, requiring a financial intermediary). you get some people advocating barter instead of money, as if that solves anything. of course if you're going to have exchange, you might as well do it efficiently and use money. the point is to go beyond a society based on exchange towards a society where 'all is for all', as Peter Kropotkin wrote:
That's an interesting topic,
That's an interesting topic, but I think that it is not our point (as libertarian communists) if money as a concept is older than capitalism, but to undestand what money represents in a capitalist society. Some marxists (I mean those who are militants of the communist parties of the world, those who follow Lenin's ideas about vanguard, the proletariat's dictatorship, etc.) try to prove a totalitarian state (supposedly a workers's one) could be disolved by itself and not to be an obstacle to workers' freedom by arguing capitalism was appeared before modern states. So the point is not what was before, because -as Joseph said- we cannot go back to an older society. One of the main problems of this economic system is it isn't jsut an economic system. As you rightly point several times along the debate, capitalism is a social relation.
Going back to 'money', the problem about money is the value concept. That is to say, how our job or the products that we produce can be measurable (and, what is worth, they're not measurable by ourselves, but precisely by those who don't produce). Peter Kropotkin talks about the problems of other systems that have this value concept on their root (as collectivism) at 'Conquest of the Bread' when he explain the communist maxim.
(Sorry about my english. Is kind of a tourist one too)
Hello! Finally, the
Finally, the translation is ready. How can I send it to you? Do you have an e-mail or I should post it in the forums?
You can click submit content
You can click submit content - library then paste it in the appropriate fields.
Any difficulties with that, just e-mail it to us at admin at libcom.org.
Many thanks for translating it mate!
To me there is an
To me there is an irreconcilable contradiction between advocates of "parecon" ideology on the one hand, and advocates of libertarian communism on the other.
On the one hand, libertarian communists want to abolish the concepts of wage, economic transaction, productive labor, and so forth. Whenever we advocate this position we are attacked as "classical leftists" (which is disingenuous to say the least) or somehow unrealistic. In fact, it's simple. Communism requires the abolition of wage labor, economic transaction, commodity production, and so forth, as concepts, and the creation of new ways of looking at society.
By their own profession, pareconists don't want this. Which is why they distort history and class-analysis with garbage about the "techno-managerial class". As Joseph Kay correctly points out, anyone can serve the interests of capitalism, not just capital-owners. The parecon analysis of the USSR (and to my knowledge, none of these people know very much about the history of Russia) treats the Bolshevik revolution like it was something different than, say, the liberal revolution in France. The reason, in their minds, that the communist project in Russia failed was because their political organs were infested with "techno-managerials", not because there was a specific ideology of bourgeois control being promoted, which existed to retain on a practical level the bureaucratic reins of capitalist society. Thus the solution is supposedly that "the workers will democratically participate in society", which is irrelevant since workers can also act as agents of capital as Mr. Kay pointed out. Instead communists propose the negation of wage and commodity-production society, the relationships of alienation that exist under capitalism, and so forth.
While we're at it, all this "complimentary holism" stuff reeks of new age malarkey. However, I don't necessarily agree with libcom's position either. It's obvious that gender and ethnicity are just expressions of economic class...
Capitalist class-division is
Capitalist class-division is just the natural end-result of sexual division of labor and euro-colonial conquest
I would like to ask if
I would like to ask if someone from libcom collective works on the reply to the last response of the parecon guy (i think it came after the text was published but haven't seen any reply to it yet)
we are planning to, but have
we are planning to, but have a lot on our plate at the moment
I enjoyed it and considered
I enjoyed it and considered it a draw. Personally, I'm between collectivism and communism, considering communism better in principle but certain aspects of collectivism instrumentally superior. I could go into what I see as Parecon's fallacies or libcom's or common virtues, but I'd be preaching to the choir, so I'll just go over some of the weakest, to my mind, parts of the libcom side.
1. The organic-synthetic distinction
In the debate, libcom rightfully rejected to each according to his effort and sacrifice as a principle and even pointed to its theoretical and practical weaknesses as an incentive and needs-tester. But its alternatives weren't even clearly better, much less ideal. For example, after pointing out the problems with coworker ratings, libcom proposed making coworkers both raters and enforcers thereof, in the form of the "organic" options of social stigma/formal sanction and gifting. Beginning with the latter, it infects to each according to his need with to each according to his selfishness; the gift, after all, comes completely from the observer of effort, whereas the benefits from the effort are distributed among society. And, unlike effort ratings and superior methods, which require no resources and little time if any, conditioned gifting relies on the gift-giver having been early to the luxury or given the right lotto number and rich in excess leisure, meaning it must be repeated throughout the year, requiring far more of the homo economicus mindset libcom accuses collectivism of. As for social stigma/formal sanction, even if it were sufficient, it's not at all clear that hurting one's feelings is less aggressive or more natural than giving one less of the common produce. Even if it were more natural, I'd call that a naturalistic fallacy, private property itself being, after all, not the least bit justified by the fact that it comes, in the first instance, from within the tribe. And treating aggression as definitively material does not mesh well with libcom's treatment of guilds' knowledge as a form of property. And libcom's incentives, like Parecon's, ask the impossible of coworkers: to relate each other's effort and sacrifice to the social average, whose elements are far too diverse, unknown and abstract. That's why I favor credits being distributed according to need and, to the extent that reward/punishment (to use the least attractive terminology) proves its efficacy, disability; company to which, I favor a more balanced price mechanism, one in which everything has its price, the automatically adjusted part of which is credited to producers' (where applicable) accounts. Within which, it should be up to individual collectives to enforce effort and sacrifice by "organic" or other means or acknowledge that some enjoy leisure more than others and some of those will choose it at any reasonable cost.
2. Mass unemployment
To me, this was the most interesting part of the debate. At one point, libcom briefly and rightfully accused the effort and sacrifice criterion of resulting in general slack, though they didn't back it up. The Parecon side never responded, and libcom never returned to the point. I assume this is because neither Parecon's nor libcom's "mediation of access to consumption" is capable of motivating the small producer sacrifices that are often necessary for great consumer gain. However, only situationally is it correct to call this "abstention from productive activity", which libcom would be at least as guilty of; libcom relies on the notion that humans are naturally productive. The main problem, as I see it, is that we're not naturally productive in ways ideal for modern natural consumption. People hunt for fun, for example, not because it's the most productive (or moral) use of their time, but because it was that of their ancestors. At no time in history, except on certain islands, was there no need for onerous work. If we can greatly increase the quality of our consumptive lives at small cost to that of our productive lives, why not?
3. Access to resources in their normal state, scarcity
The Parecon side's critique of libcom distribution was never addressed. I would simply add that, in addition to first-come-first-served being as much a measure of aggressiveness as anything else, it's equally a measure of luck, not only in case of equal aggressiveness, but also in the sense of need temporally coinciding with supply. And I can't think of anything more fetishistic of equality than a lottery. Few things are as evil as passing the buck to randomness, which is why the villain from No Country For Old Men made such a great character.
I'm surprised the Parecon side didn't respond to the hypochondria/caffeine addict bit. First, healthcare in particular would be free under Parecon, presumably for the same reason it's free in England: it's expensive, difficult to plan for, and unlikely to be abused, and need of it varies greatly. Free coffee, incidentally, does make many people caffeine addicts, much as cheap coffee does to a lesser extent. But neither of these are really free, are they? Both are basically conditioned on immediate use, which would be an absurd condition for a planned economy. The worker can't just take bags of coffee home with him. Nor can the patient, after waiting, book free appointments for every hour of the year to go to as it meets his fancy without having to wait. But there's another self-interested reason a price of 0 doesn't yield infinite demand, one that's particularly important wherever demand for free products is taken seriously: finite production capacity. Whenever price and production capacity are sufficiently high, one needn't consider the infinitesimal impact one's demand for product X has on the supply of product Y; however, as price approaches 0 and true demand approaches infinity, expressed demand for X, where satiable, will endanger the supply of Y, particularly to the extent that producing X is preferable to producing Y. Also, as production capacity approaches one's own part of it, one's own part of it approaches 1, as does the part of what one expressly demands (or equivalent in requisite labor) that must be personally produced. One factor in the finiteness of free coffee demand is of course that the first or last cup of the pot has to make a new one or that such duty is rotated.
As any serious attempt been
As any serious attempt been made to critique Michael Alberts book?
David Schweickart (Economic
David Schweickart (Economic Democracy) citiqued it, and the ensuing debate's on znet. It's apparently more informative about Parecon than the book is, as, in the debate, Albert reveals that neither his chapter on Balanced Job Complexes nor his chapter on Remuneration is to be taken seriously. As for a critique of Parecon itself, Schweickart's is mainly a predictable critique of planning per se; some people will get the wrong color vests! and the like.
I've also found the
I've also found the difference to be marginal at best!
MT wrote: I would like to ask
Any chance this would happen? We have a Slovak translation of the debate but we do not like to publish it without the reply to the last piece of the parecon guy. The debate was very interesting so far and would be cool to have it finished somehow by libcom response.
Yeah, sorry for not getting
Yeah, sorry for not getting back to your private message. We will have a chat about it and see what we can do
Bump, because I have renamed
Bump, because I have renamed this to describe its contents better, and also reflect that the project for the participatory society group seems to have disappeared
hi joseph. i've been reading the debate between you and syndicalistcat and was disappointed to see it cut short. i know s/he said s/he was done contributing to this debate, but i was hoping you'd respond, nonetheless, because even if s/he's not interested in continuing, readers such as myself are interested in hearing a reply from you.
in particular, i'd like to hear your response to the "ripple effect" issue. i know you say this would be an issue in parecon, but why do you think it wouldn't be an issue in the lib-com model you describe?
Just came across this on
Just came across this on znet. Looks like Michael Albert attempted to respond to the debate (in the comment section): http://www.zcommunications.org/parecon-as-anarcho-snake-pit-scene-setting-by-michael-albert-1
I have to work so haven't had the chance to look over it but thought I'd post it anyways.
MT wrote: MT wrote: I would
sorry for repeating myself ;) i think there is now even more demand for this with the recent "Occupy" events and people hungry for any alternative views (preferring rather "something" like parecon compared to utopism like libcom; at first sight of course).
I looked at this neutrally;
I looked at this neutrally; even as a way of deciding between the two. I've come to consider myself an anarcho-communist, but was interested in the Parecon idea and the compability of the two. In some ways, it reminded me of Bookchin'd Communalism, though I admit my knowledge of Parecon was limited.
My point is that I consider libcom the clear winners of this debate. Much of the points made where never contested by the opposition, those things they did contest where clearly explained. The arguments where better structured and the overall position was stronger. Some of their positions, most clearly that of renumeration according to effort, lacked any basis in anything but personal opinion and habit: i.e. pretty much "hard work ought to pay more because I think it should". In addition, there is no scientific evidence or empirical basis for people being motivated by material rewards.
Their position of central planning was the weakest, and open to epistemological critique from both liberal communism and right-wing capitalism (thinking of Hayek here). Seeing as that is one point that Michael Albert has not "taken back", and that there are a ton of arguments against it and no real advantage to it, it remains a very weak point.
Now, I haven't read the books and I admitted my knowledge of Parecon was limited, so I wonder if they have ever given a reason for why central planning is better? Claimed it has some advantage, can do something a decentralised system cannot?
any update on chances that
any update on chances that the libcom would write a reply to the last response written by the parecon guy?
i have looked into this
i have looked into this debate more carefully now and it seems that the last response is indeed from libcom. if that is true, than apologies for me bothering you in recent months but i really thought that there is one more reply from the parecon guy which went without response. looking into the whole thing again i see that i might have confused something. but i was really damn sure the guy had the last word... :confused:
Hey, don't worry you are
Hey, don't worry you are right. In the responses to our vision, he had the last word. Whereas we had the last word in response to his vision. We should do this at some point, but at the moment have to prioritise finishing the redesign. I think we pretty much said everything we needed to say anyway, we won't add much more when we eventually write it, maybe just summarise/reiterate our key points
MT wrote: any update on
I've just written this article, which is pretty much all else that I wanted to say on the matter:
This and the many related
This and the many related discussion threads on parecon, IOPS and possibly also it's competitor 'Inclusive Democracy' should get some kind of feature here given it's (in my opinion) undue attention at the London Anarchist Bookfair this Saturday.
Michael Albert (parecon) gets
Michael Albert (parecon) gets three goes at the London Anarchist Bookfair so this and related discussion threads as above are useful reading for anyone likely to attend these meetings - not sure if any of the bookstalls will have printed versions available of this or other critiques that are around.
Michael Albert’s most
Michael Albert’s most worrying argument in favor of a Participatory Economy is his claim that workers will be less able to avoid the miseries of work than in a capitalist economy. This is because workers’ effort will no longer be evaluated by a capitalist supervisor but by their fellow workmates. Albert even says: “It is not nearly so easy to pull the wool over the eye’s of one’s workmates as it is to do so with a supervisor, as people do today.” (ParEcon)
This reminds me of Lenin’s obsession with ‘idlers’ and his argument justifying workers’ democracy on the grounds that it would control everyone in society, including any recalcitrant “workers who have been thoroughly corrupted by capitalism”. Lenin’s system was, of course, more brutal than Albert’s, but, at least, Lenin hoped that his “popular accounting and control” and punishment, by fellow workers, would rapidly lead to a stateless communist society (State and Revolution, Ch.5).
Michael Albert imagines that people will always share his aversion to “anti-social deadbeats [who] get a better existence for no morally justifiable reason.” But, as David Graeber pointed out in a recent debate with Albert, hunter-gatherers are so content with their lives that they are often not particularly bothered if some people don’t work too hard - if some people are 'free-riders'. In a brilliant dig at both Albert's plans, and at today’s austerity capitalism, Graeber criticized the absurdity of basing an entire society on the determination to root out all 'free-riders'.
Unfortunately poverty and miserable factory conditions sometimes encouraged 19th Century revolutionaries to doubt the practicality of a future communist society with no compulsion to work. In Demanding the Impossible, Peter Marshall shows that both Bakunin and Kropotkin were willing to repress the ‘malady’ of idleness (p299, 399). At one point, even Marx appears to argue that, in post-capitalism, “all labour to support those who do not work [except children and the elderly] would cease”.(Capital Vol.3)
Of course, workers in a non-revolutionary period will often go along with such 19th Century authoritarianism (or Albert's even less optimistic 21st Century version). But in future revolutionary times they will surely want to create a society with more freedom, not less freedom, than capitalist wage labour.
Not to detract from Joseph
Not to detract from Joseph Kay's remarkably well-reasoned defense of libertarian communism and critique of the Parecon model above, but I feel a crucial argument against Parecon has been left out, namely that Parecon's advocacy for wage labor, albeit in a different form, necessarily implies the preservation of private property. If a person can only acquire the basic necessities and/or luxuries of life through purchase, that means he does not have access to these products if he doesn't have the money/labor notes to purchase them. Thus the produce (or property) of society cannot be considered communal produce/property, since it does not belong to those who cannot pay up for it, i.e. it does not naturally belong to the whole of the community as with communal property. The idea of economic incentive through remuneration of effort and sacrifice means that those who get remunerated more can also acquire more and, most importantly, that these acquisitions are theirs alone to allot (otherwise what incentive is there?). Property therefore attains an exclusionary character, ergo; it is private property. Consequently, Parecon's remuneration of labor inevitably leads back to a re-division of society along class lines, defeating the purpose.
Well, I don't think that
Well, I don't think that remuneration according to hours worked, effort and sacrifice is a bad thing. Nor it is a "wage system".
If I lived from subsistence, for myself, I could meet my needs, according to my commitment to the tasks. If I worked far below what is needed, I could starve.
Communism, in my view, is to extend the same view to a larger group of people. All (except the children / old / sick) give something to the group, and have access to what others produce. So I think it's unfair someone with a much lower performance than expected (assuming a person's intention to do so) having free access to what's produced in the community.
However, as Albert himself said somewhere, credits to workers would not vary greatly (from 80% to 120% of the mean).
The need for a rudimentary form of money is to quantify and qualify what is produced and consumed. Money, here, doesn't have the same value it has in capitalism. As credit is untransferable, there is no way to explore the work of others. Hence, the possibility of private means of production is minimal.
Anywhere else we can read
Anywhere else we can read thorough libertarian economic proposals?
Just recommended this debate
Just recommended this debate to some people on twitter who thought that a moneyless system means we'd revert to barter exchange. I can't count the number of times I've recommended this debate to those seeking a better understanding of communism and how it might work. I'm just really grateful it exists, one of the best resources on communism out there, IMO. I also think the parecon side raises some valuable points, so I appreciate everyone who took part in this discussion. All in all a very productive and informative exchange.
Oops, I said exchange, and exchange must be abolished! Bad commie.