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Communism and Syndicalism

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sam sanchez
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Dec 9 2006 18:45

The unions in Russia were beaurocratic and controlled by political parties long before the revolution.

In any case, syndicalism proposes to unite self-managed workplaces in various ways:

Confederations of those in the same industry
Confederations of all workplaces in all industries
Both of these at a local and a larger level.

Therefore they don't just divide into industry, but unite the whole of industry in precisely the way you claim workers councils do.

Personally I agree with Bookchin that concentrating on council structures misses the point. Councils are still representative rather than directly democratic bodies unless they are controlled from below by workplace and community assemblies that EVERYONE can participate equally in. Just a side point.

knightrose
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Dec 9 2006 18:56

Actually, Sam, concentrating on ANY structures misses the point. Communism isn't about how we administer society, it's about creating a society without commodity production.

Syndicates and councils would be representative bodies - or more accurately mandated delegate bodies, but so what? We are talking about a world here, not just a village.

I actually suspect that the form of organisation a communist society took would be different from anything you or I can dream of. If we're very lucky we'll see smile

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sam sanchez
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Dec 9 2006 19:09

On the contrary, from an anarchist perspective structures of power and decision making are exactly the point.

What do you mean by "commodity production". Obviously we're gonna keep on making stuff, right?

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 9 2006 19:12

In any economy with central planning, the society is not market governed, and, to that extent, "commodity production" is suppressed. But any society with central planning will be a class society in which the working class is subjugated and exploited. Hence elimination of commodity production is not sufficient for elimination of the class system.

In regard to the Russian revolution, what do you mean by "workers' councils"? The soviets? Most of the soviets were top-down bodies formed in the February revolution by Mensheviks and SRs. They were set up with a concentration of decision-making power in the hands of the Executive Committee, so as to empower the party leaders from the professional class who took the initiative to set them up. The Petrograd soviet of 1917, unlike the soviet of 1905, was not set up by, or authentically controlled by, the workers. Neither the Mensheviks nor the Bolsheviks had any concept of participatory democracy. To them "proletarian power" meant electing leaders to run top-down structures. The unions had been set up by the Mensheviks with a concentration of decision-making power in the national executive committees for similar reasons. The conflict was between the factory committee movement and the unions, not between the soviets and the unions. The factory committee movement can be considered a form of shopfloor unionism, since it was the workers banding together in struggle against their employers, even tho they didn't call themselves "unions." There were some unions which were not as top-down, such as the bakers union or coal-miners union (which was organized on the IWW model). See Pete Rachlef's piece on the soviets:

http://www.geocities.com/~johngray/raclef.htm

t.

knightrose
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Dec 9 2006 23:19

Actually, I was thinking of the factory committees.

Commodity production is the generalised production of things to sell in a market. By generalised, I mean that pretty much everything is treated as being for sale. Commodities and things are not the same.

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Dec 10 2006 00:13

Yeah, i know what commodity production is. A society based on commodity production is governed by the market. A society where social production is governed by a central plan is not a society governed by commodity production. If you say there was some commodity production in the USSR, that's right, but then you'd have to say that ancient slave and feudal systems were systems of commodity production, too, since there were markets then. But the point is that the market wasn't the kind of overall governing institution it becomes under capitalism. And in the USSR the market also wasn't that kind of overall governing insitution. Again, elimination of commodity production is woefully inadequate as an understanding of what is needed to end the class system.

t.

Skraeling
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Dec 10 2006 05:02
knightrose wrote:
The Japanese criticism would be correct, in my opinion, if anyone advocated such views. But fortunately, I don't know of any a-s in Britian today who hold such a view that they were criticising. So it probably goes down as a historical oddity. It's value is that it points out the error of assuming that communism simply means the abolition of private property and the introduction of self-management. That was the same formalist doctrine that bedevilled some council communists and was reflected in Castoriadis' text "Workers Councils and the Economics of a Free Society".

Yes i largely agree. But i dont think anarcho-syndicalists tend to be vague on the content of a future society. Its just "libertarian communism" and if you ask many of them what they mean by it they can't really say (although there are some like syndicalistcat in this thread who has a pretty good idea of where he/she is going)

i dont think its a historical oddity so much. What the Japanese "pure anarchists" did was to take the ultra-left streak in anarchist communism to its logical conclusion. There is value in that in terms of consistency (but i has drawbacks in terms of sectarianism and being purist). Someone like Kropotkin was an inconsistent ultra-lefty. i thinks he saw anarchist communism first and foremost as a working class movement (rather than idea) and had considerably clarity in opposing the wage system in all its forms. But he adovcated anarchists to go into the unions and he was an anti-german nationalist.

The Japanese pure anarchists had a chance to develop anarchist communism theoretically (this was in the context of a big rivalry between anarchist commies and anark-syns; anarchist commies were dominant, and had their own unions steaming along doing stuff, and anark-syns were new on the scene, and had set up rival unions). What they came up with had some depth and clarity, in contrast to the fuzzy amalgam of anarchist communism and anarcho-syndicalism that you find in much anarchist communist literature since the 1920s (like Alexander Berkman). And i think developing things theoretically in terms of depth and clarity is just as important as developing things practicallly. tho the Japanese anarchist commies weren't too ultra left, they (i think) supported anarchist communist unions and rejected the class struggle (cos it was a foreign and elitist marxist concept, they preferred the term 'struggle of the oppressed' or somesuch, they thought the latter term was more inclusive).

The thing that makes the Japanese anarchist communists of the 1920s and 1930s out of date was that their social base was in the rural landless peasantry. The anarcho-syns had their social base in the factory town workers, who were then a tiny majority in Japanese population.

[/blah blah].

Skraeling
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Dec 10 2006 05:19
syndicalistcat wrote:
Let's assume the second interpretation. The second intepretation is what I favor. The point, then, to the developing of the mass organizations in the years leading up to a transformative situation is that it is how the working class acquires the necessary class consciousness, sense of power, self-confidence, understanding of the system, practices and habits of direct democracy. The mass organizations, to the extent they are self-managed and a means to self-management of the struggle, do prefigure the society of self-management. The workers themselves must create the new structures of self-managment. Through what organizational vehicle do they do this? Through what organizational means do they develop the movement with the strength to do this? Moreover, the transition to a society without class division does not happen over night, it can't happen over night. It requires process of building up not only new structures but new habits and new skills and knowledge, to run things, within the mass of the population. New skills are learned precisely because the working class as such is excluded from making the decisions within class society, and its potential to self-manage the society is not fully developed.

I cant see how this second interpretation is specifically anarcho-syndicalist, cos it doesnt see the anarcho-syndicalist union as being central to events. Your thoughts here seem to me closer to council communism still. You seem to be saying even if (say) you were in the CNT in the 1930s, you would find it fine if workers formed, outside the CNT, their own councils to run a workplace or community. I would agree with this personally, but i cant see how it is consistent with anarcho-syndicalism. and what if the CNT attempted to clamp down on such activity outside the CNT?

And as for the point that revolution doesnt happen out of the blue, for sure, but as i understand it, a lot of the more sophisticated council communists or anarchist communists would temper their spontaneism by saying that small struggles of workers (and not so much unions) leading up to revolution prefigure what the revolution will look like, are in a way the preparation ground for revolution, for new skills, for self-organisation and building confidence and so on. eg. in France in the mid 1960s there were a series of small strikes and occupations that used the assembly model (open to all workers and community members) that prefigured 1968.

Anyway, I've found your comments stimulating and thought provoking, and they are certainly challenging my preconceived notions of anarcho-syndicalism. After going thru an autonomist Marxist phase, I certainly see a lot of truth in the professional-managerial middle class thing, its interesting to see it applied to Spain and Russia (autonomists don't reckon there is a middle class, just divisions within the working class, but this is an aside)

Mike Harman
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Dec 10 2006 12:46
Nate wrote:
Catch, what issue(s) of ASR is that in? I'd love to read it. I've been slowly buying up back issues. Thanks.

You'll get me into trouble. Last time I linked to it I got told off by revol for mentioning it at all.

It starts here - the rest are linked in the archive index, I think it was actually the predecessory to ASR, LLR: http://www.syndicalist.org/archives/llr14-24/14f.shtml Three parter by an ex CNT-FAIer.

I think unless you simply dismiss him as not an anarcho-syndicalist then it shows some continuity with Bakunin's collectivism etc. and shows that the construction anarcho-syndicalist = libertarian communist isn't true all the time. edit: and having read the rest of the thread, what Knightrose says about the councilists is similarly true - if you fixate on one particular aspect of capital relations (the state, the market, employers) you can miss the rest.

Principles of Libertarian Economics wrote:
In this case we would attempt to strengthen the economy of the free self-managed municipality, not in the traditionally Roman [state-citizen] nor modern bureaucratic sense, but as the social and public enterprise of the citizens; as well as the industrial, agricultural, of research enterprise or certain global services which would constitute the task of the associated workers with their means of production, self-organized into Worker Councils of Self-Management and in Basic Units of Associated Labor, where the economic accounting should be automated by means of computers and take as their unit of calculation, the labor-hour (LH). It would have thus a monetary equivalence of the same value, if the money is intended to remain stable. The LH would circulate monetarily in the form of ticket which would give the right to consume reasonably, always leaving an important portion in order to invest more capital than wornout during a year, so that libertarian socialism would enlarge the social capital, with the goal of progressing more with self-management than under the dominance of capitalists or of bureaucrats.

The LH, as labor-money, wouldn't lead to monetary inflation like capitalist money or like the soviet ruble, which conceal by being the money of cass, the parasitical incomes of the western bourgeoisie, or of the eastern bureaucracy [...] Every project of investment would be calculated in hours of labor (LH), as well as in terms of personal and public consumption required. It would be monitored that neither would be excessive in the carrying on of a libertarian, self-managed society, of direct associative democracy, so that a part of the global economic surplus would be invested in achieving a greater automation of industrial production and of agricultural production.

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Dec 10 2006 18:39

to answer Skraeling, i don't think small groups are sufficient to develop broadly a sense of collective power and habits and skills at self-management of struggles and so on. in regard to the relationship between the revolutionary unions and the structures of self-management, i would see the structures of self-management in industry set up by the unions, and in the community set up by the unions in alliance with mass organizations in the community. the organizations set up to manage the economy will be based on self-management if self-management has become broadly accepted as an aim and a practice in the period leading up to the transformation. the union's job in that situation would be to ensure that the interests of the workers are protected in the transition, and that no new elite class gains hegemony. in the Spanish revolution the unions initially expropriated the industries and ran them themselves, except in cases where there were multiple unions, but later created "collectives" apart from the unions to take over the self-management responsibility. There was a big conference in Catalonia in Sept. 1936 where they hashed out what they should do with the industries that had been expropriated. The "collectives" were intended to be a mere stop gap til complete socialization of the economy, and social planning, could be implemented. A number of CNT veterans interviewed by Ron Fraser for "Blood of Spain" said that it was a mistake for the CNT shop committee to simply become the workplace council, for self-management, without rebuilding the union committee, because the workers still needed to have an organization to protect their interests during the transition.

t.

Skraeling
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Dec 11 2006 01:10

T/syndicalistcat, now you seem to bring the union back into the equation, when before you seemed to leave it out. I think you might be drifting back into the first interpretation you talked of.

syndicalistcat wrote:
the organizations set up to manage the economy will be based on self-management if self-management has become broadly accepted as an aim and a practice in the period leading up to the transformation. the union's job in that situation would be to ensure that the interests of the workers are protected in the transition, and that no new elite class gains hegemony.

but what if workers interests are not protected by the union? what if the union disciplines workers, asks them to speed up production? i think its a historical fact, as i have argued previously, that a bureaucratic elite has developed within pretty much all anarcho-syndicalist and syndicalist unions. The CNT in the 1930s being a prime example. If this is the case, i think workers need to fight against such bureaucracies, including developing their own organs outside the union.

Quote:
A number of CNT veterans interviewed by Ron Fraser for "Blood of Spain" said that it was a mistake for the CNT shop committee to simply become the workplace council, for self-management, without rebuilding the union committee, because the workers still needed to have an organization to protect their interests during the transition.

but councils, independent committees, factory committees, site committees, strike committees and so on, can protect workers interests too. why assume only unions protect workers interests? indeed, because they are anti-bureaucratic & born out of immediate concrete needs and struggles, such committees are generally more flexible and responsive than unions to workers needs. tho i take the point that a nationwide coordination is needed, local organisation is not enuf in itself.

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 11 2006 02:45

I haven't "drifted back toward the first interpretation." From the fact that the unions set up the structures of self-management, it doesn't follow those structures will BE the union itself. I'm suggesting that the mass organization of worker struggle continue its autonomy of the structures running industry even tho these are structures they have set up themselves. That's because the dissolution of the power of the dominating classes is not something that happens overnight but is a protracted process, involving a lot of training of workers in needed expertise and skill to be able to make effective decisions themselves, and avoid consolidation of a managerial/professional hierarchy, as happened in the USSR.

Any mass organization of the workers in the workplace to advance its struggle against any dominating classes is a form of unionism. Of course, if there are hierarchical structures trying to impose some solution, then workers will need to create a different organization. But it will still be a form of grassroots unionism, as the factory committee movement in the Russian revolution was, or as the factory council movement in Turin in 1919-20 was. The Spanish anarcho-syndicalists lacked a critique of the class of managers and top professionals, created by the logic of capitalist development in mature capitalism; this is a fault of both anarchism and marxism. Thus they didn't see the danger in things like appointing former owners or their sons as administrative heads of sections of self-managed industry, or of concentrating authority in the committees of technicians, which included also many former owners and managers. Insofar as the CNT shop committees and labor council delegates got embroiled in workplace administrative councils, local government councils, and so on, there was the danger of becoming coopted by the Popular Front state. In July of 1936 a revolutionary syndicalist wing of the CNT in Catalonia wanted the unions to take governance power and overthrow the Generalitat. Failure to do that inevitably drove them into collaboration with the Popular Front parties, which were allied to the interests of the bureaucrats, managers, professional class, and small capitalists. It led to a rebuilding of the hierarchical state and army, which the Communists wormed their way into control of.

I discuss this in more detail in:
http://www.workersolidarity.org/spain.pdf

t.

Steve
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Dec 11 2006 11:33
sam sanchez wrote:
Hi.

This must have been discussed before, so point me to something in the archives if you know of it.

I'm supposed to at some point be writing something to do with the difference between anarcho-synbdicalism and anarcho-communism, but the only difference seems to me to be the tactical issue of whether unions can be used to usher in an anarcho-communist society. Is there any other difference, i.e. a difference in the actual vision of what an anarchist society would look like?

No difference in the vision just that anarcho-syndicalists have an actual strategy to get from A to B. tongue

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Lazy Riser
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Dec 11 2006 20:01

Hi

Quote:
No difference in the vision just that anarcho-syndicalists have an actual strategy to get from A to B

If only it were that simple...

Rudolf Rocker wrote:
http://www.spunk.org/library/writers/rocker/sp001495/rocker_as1.html
Common to all Anarchists is the desire to free society of all political and social coercive institutions which stand in the way of development of a free humanity. In this sense Mutualism, Collectivism and Communism are not to be regarded as closed systems permitting no further development, but merely as economic assumptions as to the means of safeguarding a free community. There will even probably be in society of the future different forms of economic co-operation operating side by side, since any social progress must be associated with that free experiment and practical testing out for which in a society of free communities there will be afforded every opportunity.

Looks like the non-communist anarcho-syndicalists died out. I wonder what killed them, too much protein perhaps.

Love

LR

petey
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Dec 11 2006 20:09
Lazy Riser wrote:
Don't some anarcho-syndicalists make ideological provision for "money" and individual private property?

this one does.
but then, i'm a bad anarcho-syndicalist.

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 11 2006 21:17

The existence of money as a form of social accounting doesn't presuppose market governance or private ownership of means of production. If "communism" means ownership of the means of production by the entire society and self-management, then communism doesn't presuppose "the abolition of money." I doubt that an effective economy could exist without a means of social accounting, a way of measuring how much people want things, of meaasuring social costs of producing various alternatives. If you take "communism" to require the principle of distribution "From each according to ability, to each according to need," then I'm not a "communist."

t.

knightrose
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Dec 11 2006 21:29

Sorry syndicalistcat, you're right, you're not.

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 11 2006 23:12

I think it's a mistake to define a mode of production by a principle of distribution -- "From each according to ability, to each according to need." An alternative way of defining communism, as a mode of production, is proposed in "Class Theory and History": a social arrangement where those who produce the social surplus are the people who appropriate it. On that definition, I would be a "communist." But that's because an advocate of a classless society would be a communist by definition. If you insist on things like the abolition of money and "from each according to ability, to each according to need," then you have an obligation to show how a viable system of social production is possible on that basis.

t.

raw
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Dec 12 2006 00:39

who gives a fuck this is boring!

raw

afraser
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Dec 12 2006 01:48
Lazy Riser wrote:
Looks like the non-communist anarcho-syndicalists died out. I wonder what killed them, too much protein perhaps.

Too much looking over their shoulders worrying about what the ultra leftists would say? Look at Subversion/NEFAC when the CNT's Abraham Guillen includes markets http://www.nefac.net/node/178

They're not completely dead yet though, Tom Wetzel of the US syndicalist Workers Solidarity Alliance is one of the main proponents of Parecon, which is not a communist system in that it has personal money. Parecon borrows a lot from past syndicalists such as the CNT's de Santillan.

Britains SolFed are I think strictly communist, but maybe that's unusual, maybe other countries syndicalists are less so?

Skraeling
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Dec 12 2006 02:13

this ain't boring, its an interesting thread, esp. cos its bringing out a few non-commie anarcho-syndicalists out of the closet. they aren't extinct yet you know wink

syndicalistcat wrote:
Any mass organization of the workers in the workplace to advance its struggle against any dominating classes is a form of unionism.

ah ha, i see, maybe this is just all semantics, we define the word union differently. To me, factory committees or workers councils are not examples of grassroots unionism. They are something different, creating in the heat of revolutionary struggle, while unions are not. I'll be a sectarian bastard and be up front and honest and i say it hink unions cannot be revolutionary, while councils/committees can (without making the mistake of fetishing the organisational form and overlookin the content).

finally, i disagree strongly with your second definition of communism. i think your talking about what i would call socialism, not communism. socialism is a broader, vaguer term, while to me, communism is a more specific term. I would say communism not only involves the socialising bit you mention (tho with the proviso that production will be geared towards satisfying everyone's needs, and production will be for use, and not for sale on the market) but also distribution according to need, and not by means of buying and selling. I can't see how communism involve some form of property or wages cos capital will most likely re-appear. That's why commies argue for the abolition of wages and property. It would be funny to see communism redefined to include some form of property or money!!

Plus methinks its a mistake to reduce communism to principles concerning production and distribution. Its much more than that. I think it's a common mistake to reduce communism to a rigid set of principles divorced from class struggle itself (a mistake i have made quite often); after all, it is supposed to be a movement, the self-abolition of the proletariat etc

as regards social planning under communism, that's a tricky one (but its not an insurmountable problem), how do you do it without resorting to some form of money accounting system. how do you measure needs if you have abandoned all forms of measure? (ha)

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 12 2006 07:41

I think the word "communism" is totally useless for communicating with ordinary folks, at least here in the USA. In American English "communism" simply refers to the type of economic system that existed in the USSR, which, in my view, was NOT "state capitalism" but a system in which the managerial class were the dominant class. We could call it left managerialism.

So, I don't care if I'm not a "communist." I think that an effective economy requires a way of measuring how strongly people desire various possible outcomes from social production. I think this requires some sort of interactive social process of negotiation between people as workers and as consumers/users of the products. To encapsulate the value to us of our own time, and the resources used in production, we need the equivalent of a monetary unit, a measure. There's no way we can know whether what we're producing is effective to satisfy people's wants otherwise. The monetary unit can be used to capture the strength of desire for productive outcomes and the resources used to produce them.

This idea of a negotiated planning process presuppoes also an institutional articulation between geographic community bodies (assemblies and federations of these) and industrail self-management organizations (also rooted in assemblies, in the workplaces). I thus agree with the radical economists who advocate participatory planning. When confronted with the question of social planning, libertarian communists have a tendency to just engage in hand waving. That ain't good enough. The different kind of assemblies are needed because different decisions affect different groups of people differently. Looking at things as a community, as users of products, is not the same as looking at things as someone who works producing certain things. Consumption and production are distinct sides of social production. Consumption, as I see it, also includes our relationship to the ecosystem, whose "services" we also "consume".

Needless to say, I don't agree with you about the impossibility of revolutionary unionism. The working class cannot arrive at the consciousness and self-confidence and organizational strength it needs to challenge the capitalists accept thru a protracted process in which they gain experience of participatory democracy and a sense of collective power from actually building and running mass organizations this way.

t.

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 12 2006 07:46

To clarify two points: (1) I think the entire set of non-human means of production need to be owned by the entire society in common (insofar as they can be said to be
"owned" by anyone), and (2) a monetary unit under a planned economy need not take the form of money-capital. That's because a monetary unit can only be money-capital if the capital relationship exists. If the capitalist social framework is missing, use of a monetary unit does not imply existence of money-capital. Private ownership of means of production sort of implies a market economy. And a market economy will inevitably be a class system, I believe.

t.

knightrose
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Dec 12 2006 08:36

quickly, cos I've got to start work sad Money is not an accounting system, it's a means of exchange. It's used to exchange commodities and in the process allows the extraction of surplus value and the accumulation of capital.

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 12 2006 17:32

knightrose:
"Money is not an accounting system, it's a means of exchange. It's used to exchange commodities and in the process allows the extraction of surplus value and the accumulation of capital."

Any possible economy will be, in some sense, a system of exchange. You can't create thru your own labor all the things you consume. So, you will inevitably be doing things for other people and they will be doing things for you. That's an exchange. Exchange, in this sense, doesn't require a market.

Secondly, money as a unit of measure of how much we value outputs or inputs to production does not necessarily presuppose market governance or private property. It doesn't presuppose necessarily a capitalist social framework. It could be used as a way of measuring costs and benefits. It could be so used in a system of central plannning as in the old USSR (and was so used), or it could be so used in a classless system of self-management. For it to presuppose capital accumulation, you'd have to have a property system so that people can monopolize control over assets. If you don't have a property system to privately monopolize control over assets, there can't be capital accumulation. There could be a class system, but it wouldn't be capitalism. capitalism exists when individuals or groups have the power to command labor and land and other resources thru market purchase and then sell commodities and reap more money in sales than what they put out to buy the labor power and other resources, and thus make a profit.

And a classless system can, and I think must, use monetary units to be a viable economy. That's because you have to have a way of telling if what you're producing is what people want. If your economy can't do that, it won't survive.

t.

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Lazy Riser
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Dec 12 2006 18:13

Hi

Quote:
Private ownership of means of production sort of implies a market economy. And a market economy will inevitably be a class system, I believe.

Worse, private ownership of anything sort of implies a market economy. I mean say I want to put my carpet up for auction.

Love

LR

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syndicalistcat
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Dec 12 2006 18:36

LR: "private ownership of anything sort of implies a market economy. I mean say I want to put my carpet up for auction."

Suppose I offer to trade you my rug for you chest of drawers. This is a market-like exchange, even if there is no currency. Do you plan on banning this?

What is a "market economy"? No one even thought of the idea of a society governed by the market til the late 1700s. Markets had always previously existed as a minor element within a social framework that controlled market exchange. Ancient slave and feudal and communalist systems had minor amounts of market exchange, but the society wasn't governed by market exchange in the way that capitalism is.

As long as market-like exchange is limited to trading of things that already exist, you don't have society governed by market exchange. The big issue is allocation of labor and resources in social production -- production of new things. If this is non-market, controlled through some system of grassroots social planning, and the means of production here are all socially owned, then you don't have a market economy, even if there is some after the fact trading of personal possessions.

t.

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Lazy Riser
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Dec 12 2006 18:57

Hi

Quote:
it doesnt see the anarcho-syndicalist union as being central to events. Your thoughts here seem to me closer to council communism still.

Proper communists see council communism (in Pannekoek’s tradition) as workers' self-management of a market economy. Syndicalist even.

Love

LR

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sam sanchez
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Dec 12 2006 19:02

Money isn't neccessary to tell what people want. I should be obvious that any shop assistant will order more of the things that are always out of stock, and reduce the order for things that are always left on the shelf! This would be true whether people pay for goods or just come and take them free of charge.

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Lazy Riser
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Dec 12 2006 19:44

Hi

Whatever sam. If I’m in town your shop will be permanently empty of Pot Noodles and your electricity supply will be compromised by my powerful hydroponic apparatus. Unless you’re issuing ration books or something, which are just money with a different name.

Love

LR