Basic Kropotkin reviewed in Socialist Standard

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darren p
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Jan 4 2009 21:23
Basic Kropotkin reviewed in Socialist Standard

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/jan09/page20.html

knightrose
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Jan 4 2009 22:37

amazing - a review that doesn't talk about the pamphlet, but loads about the SPGB!

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fnbrill
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Jan 4 2009 23:33

Which review did you read?

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JoeMaguire
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Jan 5 2009 02:53
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In the next chapter we meet Bakunin whom, rather confusingly, we are told “was at heart a communist” even though he defended a form of private property where the products of labour are traded between individual – and therefore competing – labour associations or “free communes”.

Surely they mean Proudhon, not Bakunin?

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Jan 5 2009 10:58

IIRC, Bakunin was a collectivist and favoured an economy based on a system of vouchers, where one hours work=one voucher and the cost of any item is determined socially. Kind of like a less complex predecessor to ParEcon.

Dave B
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Jan 5 2009 19:20

I think Marx in fact was not that keen on the idea of labour vouchers as is I think clear in Grundisse, where he rarely went into the subject in some detail. It probably needs to be read from the start on page 153, however an extract gets across the point.

(You have to be a bit careful reading Grundisse I think as he is invariably just chewing ideas over in his head.)_

The ‘bank’ here is I think being used as a metaphor for the organisation that would administer the allocation of who got what according to how much they worked or the amount of labour they had contributed to society etc

Quote:
The bank would thus be the general buyer and seller. Instead of notes it could also issue cheques, and instead of that it could also keep simple bank accounts. Depending on the sum of commodity values which X had deposited with the bank, X would have that sum in the form of other commodities to his credit. A second attribute of the bank would be necessary: it would need the power to establish the exchange value of all commodities, i.e. the labour time materialized in them, in an authentic manner.

But its functions could not end there. It would have to determine the labour time in which commodities could be produced, with the average means of production available in a given industry, i.e. the time in which they would have to be produced. But that also would not be sufficient. It would not only have to determine the time in which a certain quantity of products had to be produced, and place the producers in conditions which made their labour equally productive (i.e. it would have to balance and to arrange the distribution of the means of labour), but it would also have to determine the amounts of labour time to be employed in the different branches of production.

The latter would be necessary because, in order to realize exchange value and make the bank’s currency really convertible, social production in general would have to be stabilized and arranged so that the needs of the partners in exchange were always satisfied. Nor is this all. The biggest exchange process is not that between commodities, but that between commodities and labour. (More on this presently.) The workers would not be selling their labour to the bank, but they would receive the exchange value for the entire product of their labour, etc. Precisely seen, then, the bank would be not only the general buyer and seller, but also the general producer. In fact either it would be a despotic ruler of production and trustee of distribution, or it would indeed be nothing more than a board which keeps the books and accounts for a society producing in common. The common ownership of the means of production is presupposed, etc., etc.

The Saint-Simonians made their bank into the papacy of production.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch03.htm

The idea of labour vouchers was current amongst ‘revolutionary’ workers, for want of an all embracing term, at the time and I think Marx and Engels felt compelled to go along with it to a certain extent because of that . And the realisation that the conditions for abundance were not yet developed enough and rationing based on some criteria was inevitable.

That is suggested I think in the following quote from Engels, where he is trying to find an outlet or excuse for a bit of ‘idealism’ which was self prohibited of course.

Engels to C. Schmidt In Berlin, August 5, 1890

Quote:
There has also been a discussion in the Volks-Tribune about the distribution of products in future society, whether this will take place according to the amount of work done or otherwise. The question has been approached very "materialistically" in opposition to certain idealistic phraseology about justice. But strangely enough it has not struck anyone that, after all, the method of distribution essentially depends on how much there is to distribute, and that this must surely change with the progress of production and social organization, so that the method of distribution may also change.

But everyone who took part in the discussion, "socialist society" appeared not as something undergoing continuous change and progress but as a stable affair fixed once for all, which must, therefore, have a method of distribution fixed once for all. All one can reasonably do, however, is 1) to try and discover the method of distribution to be used at the beginning, and 2) to try and find the general tendency of the further development. But about this I do not find a single word in the whole debate.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_08_05.htm

There is more critical appraisal on this kind of thing this time on John Gray’s ideas on labour certificates and ‘banks’ etc in the second half of.

Karl Marx: Critique of Political Economy, B. Theories of the Standard of Money

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique-pol-economy/ch02b.htm

There is of course ‘The Wage System’ by Peter Kropotkin 1920, which has quite some interest for WSM-SPGB.

http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/kropotkin-peter/1920/wage.htm

john
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Jan 6 2009 00:03

darren P's critique of Kropotkin seems to be entirely that Marx wasn't actually an arsehole - an argument he makes through reference to Marx and Engel's writing on the Paris Commune.

whilst it is true that Marx can be interpreted in a more libertarian way, he was also pretty ambivalent on the state - he seems much more supportive about it in the Communist Manifesto, for example, than he was in the Critique of the Gotha Programme. Kropotkin, on the other hand, was much more consistently anti-state in his theorizing (if not so much in his actual political evaluations - before you mention the support for WW1), so I'd be more inclined to go for Kropotkin over Marx in terms of an analysis of the state

that said, the way the review argues that we need (c.100 years after their deaths) to choose between Marx vs. Kropotkin does seem a little crude. they both had interesting things to say and any decent libertarian communist politics would surely be stupid to ignore them both (or to worship them both).

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darren p
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Jan 5 2009 22:25

I'd actually agree with the sentiment of the last sentence above. In the review I never state that Kropotkin should be ignored, he is one of the most interesting of the Anarchist writers as far as I'm concerned.

As I said in an article in last months standard (and in the introduction of my website) "It is not a matter of choosing from one of the pre-existing ideologies of the old workers movement and basing our world view around it, but a matter of finding the “moment of truth” in all the theories of the past and synthesising this with our experience of the present."

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Jan 6 2009 12:24
Dave B wrote:
I think Marx in fact was not that keen on the idea of labour vouchers...

Did anyone say that he was?

Dave B
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Jan 6 2009 18:02

Marx & Engels on the transition to full communism

by Wayne Price Fri Jan 18, 2008 04:15

Quote:
Dave raises some interesting thoughts about Marx and Engels conception of the post-capitalist/transition to full communism period. Being a Marxist-informed anarchist but not an orthodox Marxist, I do not read Marx to get the truth of what will happen, but as an opinion worth thinking about.

I have always read the passage in the Critique of the Gotha Program as Marx clearly predicting that labor credit chits will be used in the lower phase of communism. I was not aware of the passage in the Grundrisse, in which he seems to be more tentative about the labor chits. In any case, if Marx only mentioned this topic on these two occasions, then not much can be said about what Marx really meant. (Like the vexing question of whether, in this document, he regarded the transitional dictatorship of the proletariat to happen along with the lower phase of communism--which it may be saying--or as happening before it--as Trotsky held. Who knows?)

The passage from Engels is from 1845. It says something about how Engels was influenced by utopian socialism. But it tells us little about what he thought in 1871 about the transition to communism.

In any case, I do not believe that there can be such a thing as a workers' state.

http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=7171

And then there are the Marxists Deleonists with whom we had a prolonged and extremely stimulating debate on our forum a year or so ago.

A tough lot to argue with and I have a lot of respect for them.

Dave B
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Jan 6 2009 18:15

There is also the ‘famous’ quote from Capital Volume II
Part III: The Reproduction and Circulation of the Aggregate Social Capital
Chapter 18

Last page

Quote:
In the case of socialised production the money-capital is eliminated. Society distributes labour-power and means of production to the different branches of production. The producers may, for all it matters, receive paper vouchers entitling them to withdraw from the social supplies of consumer goods a quantity corresponding to their labour-time. These vouchers are not money. They do not circulate.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1885-c2/ch18.htm#2

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Jan 6 2009 20:04

Whats preventing them from circulating?

Dave B
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Jan 6 2009 20:23

Oh Jesus

Good question!

Groundhog day!

Ask them!

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Jan 8 2009 13:52

In the above example I would have thought that the vouchers are non-transferable and so do not circulate in the way money does.

knightrose
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Jan 8 2009 18:10

When I joined the SPGB Kropotkin was on the list of recommended reading for new members. Is he still today?

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fnbrill
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Jan 8 2009 19:59
knightrose wrote:
When I joined the SPGB Kropotkin was on the list of recommended reading for new members. Is he still today?

yes.

knightrose
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Jan 8 2009 20:13

That's good. Mutual Aid was one of the most influential texts on my early political development.

imposs1904
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Jan 9 2009 16:40

Just spotted this thread via google alert. (Yep, sad bastard that I am, I have 'spgb' on google alert.)

Thought people reading the thread might be interested in the transcript of this talk from a SPGB Summer School from the mid-nineties:

What Marx should have said to Kropotkin

The same bloke who wrote the review cited above gave the talk.

And as Mutual Aid has been mentioned, thrown into the mix is Paul Mattick's review of Special K's book, which appeared in the WSPUS's Western Socialist back in the mid-50s.

cheers

imposs1904
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Jan 9 2009 18:44

Apologies.

The author of the review and the person doing the talk in the mid-90s were not the same person.

Spikymike
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Jan 11 2009 19:18

The AF pamphlet on Kropotkin was not one of the AF's best but then neither was the review.

On the other hand Adam Buick's piece on 'What Marx should have said to Kropotkin' linked above is excellant and worth a read by any anarchist communist.

I am still waiting for the AF's pamphlet on 'Basic Marx' with some acknowledgement of the man's genuine contribution to libertarian communist theory - one day perhaps?

knightrose
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Jan 11 2009 19:43

ok - but they take time to write, don't they? Unless you are offering.

Spikymike
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Jan 15 2009 21:01

So it's only time that has stopped such a pamphlet being published by the AF and it's predecessor the ACF, during it's history - I mean come off it! - where are your priorities here comrade?

If you commission me with a promise to publish I might be tempted, but it will have to wait till I retire! Still that might fit with your priority timetable?

I mean there is plenty of unoriginal, but valuable material around (some of it on this site), which could surely be used as a basis?

Of course you could argue that it is therefore already available, but so is lots of stuff on Kropotkin and Bakunin etc. The point is for the AF to come kleen on it's own understanding of Marx's contribution to pro-revolutionary politics. Does it line up with the rest of the Marx hating traditional anarchist brigade or does it have a more sophisticated understanding of the value of Marx's theoretical critique of capitalism? If it does have such an understanding is it willing to risk it's popularity with the wider anarchist fringe by publishing such? I honestly hope that it is, but we shall see.

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Django
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Jan 15 2009 21:36

I would certainly love to be involved in writing a basic marx pamphlet at some point - anything which can help put an end to "anarchism vs marxism" pissing matches is a good thing in my book. However I do not have the time currently to do the reading to do this justice and think certain other writing projects should take priority.

nastyned
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Jan 15 2009 22:10

You've got a real thing for Marx haven't you Spikeymike? Surely all that's useful in Marx is covered in Bakunin's writings? wink circle A

Anarcho
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Jan 28 2009 09:46
Quote:
In the next chapter we meet Bakunin whom, rather confusingly, we are told “was at heart a communist” even though he defended a form of private property where the products of labour are traded between individual – and therefore competing – labour associations or “free communes”.

Well, in that case Marx was not a communist as he also supported labour associations (co-operatives) using labour notes as a means of transition from capitalism to communism...

And, surely, socialism/communism requires substantial workplace and communal autonomy to work (hence "individual" associations)? If workplaces cannot freely associate to arrange the distribution of goods to those who require them then some other agency must -- which would be central planning, and so bureaucratic and deeply inefficient. The centre would not know who needs what, so the workplaces will produce goods which do not reflect the actual needs of the others getting them.

And need I note that Marx recognised that there would be individual appropriation (use) of goods (possession) in socialism, but not private property (i.e., capital) -- see the Communist Manifesto, for example. It is the same distinction Proudhon used between possession and property, but with different terminology.

Anarcho
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Jan 28 2009 09:50
imposs1904 wrote:
And as Mutual Aid has been mentioned, thrown into the mix is Paul Mattick's review of Special K's book, which appeared in the WSPUS's Western Socialist back in the mid-50s.

Actually, that is a terrible review -- it missed the whole point of Mutual Aid:

Quote:
So rather than abstractly counterpoise a better society to capitalism, Kropotkin’s work showed how we create the former while fighting the latter (“building the new world in the shell of the old”, to quote the preamble of the Industrial Workers of the World). Given this, libertarian Marxist Paul Mattick was simply wrong to assert that the “whole controversy between Huxley and Kropotkin is somewhat beside the point — it does not touch upon the relevant issues of society, namely that ‘mutual aid’ in human society presupposes the abolition of class relations.” He failed to understand that institutions of “mutual aid” were created as part of the struggle against class systems and were the means to their abolition.

From my Mutual Aid: An Introduction and Evaluation, I should also note that Kropotkin dealt with Malthus elsewhere in his works.

Anarcho
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Jan 28 2009 09:55
john wrote:
that said, the way the review argues that we need (c.100 years after their deaths) to choose between Marx vs. Kropotkin does seem a little crude. they both had interesting things to say and any decent libertarian communist politics would surely be stupid to ignore them both (or to worship them both).

Which I would say is 100% correct. Marx made contributions, so did Kropotkin. We need to understand them, see where they were right, where they were wrong -- and build on them.

Saying that, I would have to add that I think the anarchist tradition was more right than wrong, while Marx was more wrong than right on a number of key issues. Which is why I consider myself an anarchist. That does not blind me to the importance of Marx or his positive contributions to socialism.

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Mar 2 2009 22:59

Morris reply to the review and a reply to the reply:

Dear Editors

I much appreciated DP’s review of my Kropotkin pamphlet (January Socialist Standard). Of course Kropotkin, like myself, was clearly able to distinguish between Marx’s advocacy of parliamentary government (State socialism) and Lenin’s vanguardist approach.

What is important to recognise, however, lost on DP, is that Kropotkin and the anarchists repudiated both Marxist politics and Bolshevism and other anarchists (libertarian socialists) opposed Marxist State socialism – clearly spelled out in Iain McKay’s recent An Anarchist FAQ (AK Press, 2008) and other pamphlets by the Anarchist Federation.
BRIAN MORRIS, Lewes, Sussex,

Reply: We would argue that Marx was not an advocate of “parliamentary government” but of the abolition of the state. As he wrote in The German Ideology “[The proletarians] find themselves directly opposed to the form in which, hitherto, the individuals, of which society consists, have given themselves collective expression, that is, the State. In order, therefore, to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the State”. It is unfortunate that after so-called “Marxism” became the official ideology of the ruling class in Russia his anti-state sentiments have been downplayed or distorted. “State socialism” is a contradiction in terms and was never used by Marx.

In all essentials, we would say the theories of Kropotkin are closer to those of Marx than are some others from the Anarchist tradition; the difference is one of means and not ends – a classless, stateless, moneyless, wageless common ownership society. However what it is more important, as we hope you’ll agree, is not what Marx or Kropotkin said or meant to say, but how we can improve our current theoretical understanding by studying their works and criticising them in the light of later developments and our experience of the present. – Editors.

Dave B
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Mar 3 2009 18:59

Kropotkin and Railways

Although I accept the general thrust of Darren’s argument I think the differences between Kropotkin’s position, whom I respect, and that of ‘socialists’ do go deeper when they extend to the issue of democracy and the so called tyranny of the majority.

I provide the following quote not so much because I would wish to endorse Hyndman but just that it I tink encapsulates that aspect of the debate.

I think Hyndman was a bit of a shit and Fred hated him as well;

Henry Mayers Hyndman, The Record of an Adventurous Life, Chapter XV, Start of Social Democracy

Quote:
On another occasion we argued the matter of railways. “Do you seriously contend,” I urged, “that if it were of the greatest importance to construct a railway between two large and populous centres of industry, and the direct route lay through the land of a commune peopled by, say, a hundred persons, and that any other line would necessitate a detour of a couple of hundred miles, thus entailing enormous additional expense at the outset and the permanent daily cost of 200 miles of extra transport, you would consider that the two great cities ought to be held up and prevented from building this railroad because this handful of peasants objected?”

“Oh, but they wouldn’t object.” “Yes, but if they did, how then?” And so we went on, Kropotkin admitting in the end that he would religiously respect the rights of this inconspicuous minority to obstruct progress. At a public meeting where one of our Social-Democratic comrades raised the same question about the railroad, and persisted in having a plain answer, it has always been stated that Krppotkin, nettled at the heckling he experienced, closed the discussion amid shouts of laughter by saying, “Damn the railroad!”

A much more serious objection to Kropotkin and other Anarchists is their wholly unscrupulous habit of reiterating statements that have been repeatedly proved to be incorrect, and even outrageous, by the men and women to whom they are attributed.

Time after time I have told Kropotkin, time after time has he read it in print, that Social-Democrats work for the complete overthrow of the wages system. He has admitted this to be so. But a month or so afterwards the same old oft-refuted misrepresentation appears in the same old authoritative fashion, as if no refutation of the calumny, that we wish to maintain wage-slavery, had ever been made.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/hyndman/1911/adventure/chap15.html

We all have our visions of what kind of society we would like and mine does not involve one where the majority would indifferently ride roughshod over the wishes of a minority just because it can. For socialism to work the majority are going to have to go along with it, and that has to involve not seriously and serially pissing minorities off.

Apart from the unlikely situation the ‘majority’ are a uniform homogenous group, you should as an individual be sensible enough to anticipate the situation where you might find yourself at the wrong end of a ‘tyrannical majoritarian’ decision and be pleading mercy yourself.

The ‘Not In My Back yard’ syndrome can cut both ways.

On the Anarchist federalism and de-centralism thing, I personally have no desire whatsoever to participate in anyway in the micro-management of a ball bearing factory in Stuttgart or a street lighting plan in some town in Peru.

As if socialism for me is going to involve a continuous stream of voting on this kind of shit that has got nothing to do with me.