This is an important question facing all opponents of a given system — what will you replace it with? We can say, of course, that it is pointless to make blueprints of how a future anarchist society will work as the future will be created by everyone, not just the few anarchists and libertarian socialists who write books and FAQs. This is very true, we cannot predict what a free society will actually be like or develop and we have no intention to do so here. However, this reply (whatever its other merits) ignores a key point, people need to have some idea of what anarchism aims for before they decide to spend their lives trying to create it.
So, how would an anarchist system function? That depends on the economic ideas people have. A mutualist economy will function differently than a communist one, for example, but they will have similar features. As Rudolf Rocker put it:
"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." [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 9]
So given the common ideals and aims of anarchists, it is unsurprising that the economic systems we suggest have common features such as workers’ self-management, federation, free agreement and so on (as discussed in last section). For all anarchists, the "task for a modern industrial society is to achieve what is now technically realisable, namely, a society which is really based on free voluntary participation of people who produce and create, live their lives freely within institutions they control, and with limited hierarchical structures, possibly none at all." [Noam Chomsky, quoted by Albert and Hahnel, Looking Forward, p. 62]
This achieved by means of "voluntary association that will organise labour, and be the manufacturer and distributor of necessary commodities" and this "is to make what is useful. The individual is to make what is beautiful." [Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, p. 1183] For example, the machine "will supersede hand-work in the manufacture of plain goods. But at the same time, hand-work very probably will extend its domain in the artistic finishing of many things which are made entirely in the factory." [Peter Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workplaces Tomorrow, p. 152] Murray Bookchin, decades later, argued for the same idea: "the machine will remove the toil from the productive process, leaving its artistic completion to man." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 134]
The aim would be to maximise the time available for individuals to express and development their individuality, including in production. As Stirner put it, the "organisation of labour touches only such labours as others can do for us. . . the rest remain egoistic, because no one can in your stead elaborate your musical compositions, carry out your projects of painting, etc.; nobody can replace Raphael’s labours. The latter are labours of a unique person, which only he is competent to achieve." Criticising the authoritarian socialists of his time, Stirner went on to ask "for whom is time to be gained [by association]? For what does man require more time than is necessary to refresh his wearied powers of labour? Here Communism is silent." He then answers his own question by arguing it is gained for the individual "[t]o take comfort in himself as unique, after he has done his part as man!" [The Ego and Its Own, p. 268 and p. 269] Which is exactly what libertarian communists argue:
"[We] recognise that man [sic!] has other needs besides food, and as the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none, we shall . . . contrive to satisfy all his intellectual and artistic needs . . . the man [or woman] who will have done the four or five hours of . . . work that are necessary for his existence, will have before him five or six hours which his will seek to employ according to tastes . . .
"He will discharge his task in the field, the factory, and so on, which he owes to society as his contribution to the general production. And he will employ the second half of his day, his week, or his year, to satisfy his artistic or scientific needs, or his hobbies." [Kropotkin, Conquest of Bread, pp. 110-1]
Thus, while authoritarian Communism ignores the unique individual (and that was the only kind of Communism existing when Stirner wrote his classic book) libertarian communists agree with Stirner and are not silent. Like him, they consider the whole point of organising labour is to provide the means of providing the individual with the time and resources required to express their individuality. In other words, to pursue "labours of a unique person." Thus all anarchists base their arguments for a free society on how it will benefit actual individuals, rather than abstracts or amorphous collectives (such as "society"). Hence chapter 9 of The Conquest of Bread, "The Need for Luxury" and, for that matter, chapter 10, "Agreeable Work."
In other words, anarchists desire to organise voluntary workers associations which will try to ensure a minimisation of mindless labour in order to maximise the time available for creative activity both inside and outside "work." This is to be achieved by free co-operation between equals, which is seen as being based on self-interest. After all, while capitalist ideology may proclaim that competition is an expression of self-interest it, in fact, results in the majority of people sacrificing themselves for the benefits of the few who own and control society. The time you sell to a boss in return for them ordering you about and keeping the product of your labour is time you never get back. Anarchists aim to end a system which crushes individuality and create one in which solidarity and co-operation allow us time to enjoy life and to gain the benefits of our labour ourselves. Mutual Aid, in other words, results in a better life than mutual struggle and so "the association for struggle will be a much more effective support for civilisation, progress, and evolution than is the struggle for existence with its savage daily competitions." [Luigi Geallani, The End of Anarchism, p. 26]
In the place of the rat race of capitalism, economic activity in an anarchist society would be one of the means to humanise and individualise ourselves and society, to move from surviving to living. Productive activity should become a means of self-expression, of joy, of art, rather than something we have to do to survive. Ultimately, "work" should become more akin to play or a hobby than the current alienated activity. The priorities of life should be towards individual self-fulfilment and humanising society rather than "running society as an adjunct to the market," to use Polanyi’s expression, and turning ourselves into commodities on the labour market. Thus anarchists agree with John Stuart Mill:
"I confess I am not charmed with an ideal of life held out by those who think that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other’s heels, which form the existing type of social life, are the most desirable lot of human kind, or anything but the disagreeable symptoms of one of the phases of industrial progress." [Collected Works, vol. III, p. 754]
The aim of anarchism is far more than the end of inequality. Hence Proudhon’s comment that socialism’s "underlying dogma" is that the "objective of socialism is the liberation of the proletariat and the eradication of poverty." This emancipation would be achieved by ending "wage-labour" via "democratically organised workers’ associations." [Property is Theft!, p. 372 and p. 377] Or, to use Kropotkin’s expression, "well-being for all" — physical, mental, emotional and ethical! Indeed, by concentrating on just poverty and ignoring the emancipation of the proletariat, the real aims of socialism are obscured:
"The ‘right to well-being’ means the possibility of living like human beings, and of bringing up children to be members of a society better than ours, whilst the ‘right to work’ only means the right to be a wage-slave, a drudge, ruled over and exploited by the middle class of the future. The right to well-being is the Social Revolution, the right to work means nothing but the Treadmill of Commercialism. It is high time for the worker to assert his right to the common inheritance, and to enter into possession of it." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 44]
So, while refusing to define exactly how an anarchist system will work, we will explore the implications of how the anarchist principles and ideals outlined above could be put into practice. Bear in mind that this is just a possible framework for a system which has few historical examples to draw upon. This means that we can only indicate the general outlines of what an anarchist society could be like. Those seeking blue-prints and exactness should look elsewhere. In all likelihood, the framework we present will be modified and changed (even ignored) in light of the real experiences and problems people will face when creating a new society.
We should point out that there may be a tendency for some to compare this framework with the theory of capitalism (i.e. perfectly functioning "free" markets or quasi-perfect ones) as opposed to its reality. A perfectly working capitalist system only exists in text books and in the heads of ideologues who take the theory as reality. No system is perfect, particularly capitalism, and to compare "perfect" text-book capitalism with any real system is a pointless task. As we discussed in depth in section C, capitalist economics does not even describe the reality of capitalism so why think it would enlighten discussion of post-capitalist systems? What hope does it have of understanding post-capitalist systems which reject its proprietary despotism and inequalities? As anarchists aim for a qualitative change in our economic relationships, we can safely say that its economic dynamics will reflect the specific forms it will develop rather than those produced by a class-ridden hierarchical system like capitalism and the a-historic individualistic abstractions invented to defend it!
So any attempt to apply the notions developed from theorising about (or, more correctly, justifying and rationalising) capitalism to anarchism will fail to capture the dynamics of a non-capitalist system. John Crump stressed this point in his discussion of Japanese anarchism between the World Wars:
"When considering the feasibility of the social system advocated by the pure anarchists, we need to be clear about the criteria against which it should be measured. It would, for example, be unreasonable to demand that it be assessed against such yardsticks of a capitalist economy as annual rate of growth, balance of trade and so forth . . . evaluating anarchist communism by means of the criteria which have been devised to measure capitalism’s performance does not make sense . . . capitalism would be . . . baffled if it were demanded that it assess its operations against the performance indicators to which pure anarchists attached most importance, such as personal liberty, communal solidarity and the individual’s unconditional right to free consumption. Faced with such demands, capitalism would either admit that these were not yardsticks against which it could sensibly measure itself or it would have to resort to the type of grotesque ideological subterfuges which it often employs, such as identifying human liberty with the market and therefore with wage slavery . . . The pure anarchists’ confidence in the alternative society they advocated derived not from an expectation that it would quantitatively outperform capitalism in terms of GNP, productivity or similar capitalist criteria. On the contrary, their enthusiasm for anarchist communism flowed from their understanding that it would be qualitatively different from capitalism. Of course, this is not to say that the pure anarchists were indifferent to questions of production and distribution . . . they certainly believed that anarchist communism would provide economic well-being for all. But neither were they prepared to give priority to narrowly conceived economic expansion, to neglect individual liberty and communal solidarity, as capitalism regularly does." [Hatta Shuzo and Pure Anarchism in Interwar Japan, pp. 191-3]
Finally, anarchists are well aware that transforming how an economy works does not happen overnight. As discussed in section I.2.2, we have long rejected the idea of instantaneous social transformation and argued that revolution will take time to develop and change the legacy of centuries of class and hierarchical society. This transformation and the resulting changes in people and surroundings can only be achieved by the full participation of all in overcoming the (many) problems a free society will face and the new ways of relating to each other liberation implies. A free people will find their own practical solutions to their problems, for "there will be all sorts of practical difficulties to overcome, but the [libertarian socialist] system is simplicity itself compared with the monster of centralised State control, which sets such an inhuman distance between the worker and the administrator that there is room for a thousand difficulties to intervene." [Herbert Read, Anarchy and Order, p. 49] Thus, for anarchists, the "enthusiasm generated by the revolution, the energies liberated, and the inventiveness stimulated by it must be given full freedom and scope to find creative channels." [Alexander Berkman, What is Anarchism?, p. 223] As such, the ideas within this section of our FAQ are merely suggestions, possibilities.
The basic point of economic activity is an anarchist society is to ensure, to use Kropotkin’s expression, "well-being for all". Rather than toil to make the rich richer, people in a free society would work together to "ensure to society as a whole its life and further development." Such an economy would be based upon "giving society the greatest amount of useful products with the least waste of human energy", to meet "the needs of mankind". [The Conquest of Bread, p. 43, p. 144 and p. 175] Needless to say, today we must also add: with the least disruption of nature.
In terms of needs, it should be stressed that these are not limited to just material goods (important as they may be, particularly to those currently living in poverty). Needs also extend to having meaningful work which you control, pleasant and ecologically viable surroundings, the ability to express oneself freely within and outwith work, and a host of other things associated with the quality of life rather than merely survival. Anarchism seeks to transform economic activity rather than merely liberate it by self-management (important as that is).
Therefore, for anarchists, "[r]eal wealth consists of things of utility and beauty, in things that help create strong, beautiful bodies and surroundings inspiring to live in." Anarchism’s "goal is the freest possible expression of all the latent powers of the individual" and this "is only possible in a state of society where man [sic!] is free to choose the mode of work, the conditions of work, and the freedom to work. One whom making a table, the building of a house, or the tilling of the soil is what the painting is to the artist and the discovery to the scientist — the result of inspiration, of intense longing, and deep interest in work as a creative force." [Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks, p. 67 and p. 68]
So the point of economic activity in an anarchist society is to produce as and when required and not, as under capitalism, to organise production for the sake of production in order to make profits for the few. Production, to use Kropotkin’s words, is to become "the mere servant of consumption; it must mould itself on the wants of the consumer, not dictate to him [or her] conditions." [Act For Yourselves, p. 57] This should not be taken to imply that anarchism seeks production for the sake of production in order to meet all the needs of all. Far from it, as such a regime would, to quote Malatesta, involve "employing all of one’s strength in producing things, because taken literally, this would mean working until one is exhausted, which would mean that by maximising the satisfaction of human needs we destroy humanity." In other words, a free society would take into account the wants of the producers (and the planet we live on) when meeting the wants of consumers. Thus, there would be a balance sought. "What we would like," continued Malatesta, "is for everybody to live in the best possible way: so that everybody with a minimum amount of effort will obtain maximum satisfaction." [At the Café, p. 61]
So while the basic aim of economic activity in an anarchist society is, obviously, producing wealth — i.e., satisfying individual needs — without enriching capitalists or other parasites in the process, it is far more than that. Yes, an anarchist society will aim to create society in which everyone will have a standard of living suitable for a fully human life. Yes, it will aim to eliminate poverty, inequality, individual want and social waste and squalor, but it aims for far more than that. It aims to create free individuals who express their individuality within and outwith "work." After all, what is the most important thing that comes out of a workplace? Pro-capitalists may say profits, others the finished commodity or good. In fact, the most important thing that comes out of a workplace is the worker. What happens to us in the workplace will have an impact on all aspects of our life and so cannot be ignored.
To value "efficiency" above all else, as capitalism says it does (it, in fact, values profits above all else and hinders developments like workers’ control which increase efficiency but harm power and profits), is to deny our own humanity and individuality. Without an appreciation for grace and beauty there is no pleasure in creating things and no pleasure in having them. Our lives are made drearier rather than richer by "progress." How can a person take pride in their work when skill and care are considered luxuries (if not harmful to "efficiency" and, under capitalism, the profits and power of the capitalist and manager)? We are not machines. We have a need for craftspersonship and anarchism recognises this and takes it into account in its vision of a free society. This means that, in an anarchist society, economic activity is the process by which we produce what is useful but, in addition, is also beautiful (to use Oscar Wilde’s words) in a way that empowers the individual. We anarchists charge capitalism with wasting human energy and time due to its irrational nature and workings, energy that could be spent creating what is beautiful (both in terms of individualities and products of labour). Under capitalism we are "toiling to live, that we may live to toil." [William Morris, Useful Work Versus Useless Toil, p. 37]
In addition, we must stress that the aim of economic activity within an anarchist society is not to create equality of outcome — i.e. everyone getting exactly the same goods. As we noted in section A.2.5, such a "vision" of "equality" attributed to socialists by pro-capitalists indicates more the poverty of imagination and ethics of the critics of socialism than a true account of socialist ideas. Anarchists, like other genuine socialists, support social equality in order to maximise freedom, including the freedom to choose between options to satisfy ones needs. To treat people equally, as equals, means to respect their desires and interests, to acknowledge their right to equal liberty. To make people consume the same as everyone else does not respect the equality of all to develop ones abilities as one sees fit. Socialism means equality of opportunity to satisfy desires and interests, not the imposition of an abstract minimum (or maximum) on unique individuals. To treat unique individuals equally means to acknowledge that uniqueness, not to deny it.
Thus the real aim of economic activity within an anarchy is to ensure "that every human being should have the material and moral means to develop his humanity." [Michael Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 295] And you cannot develop your humanity if you cannot express yourself freely. Needless to say, to treat unique people "equally" (i.e. identically) is simply evil. You cannot, say, have a 70 year old woman do the same work in order to receive the same income as a 20 year old man. No, anarchists do not subscribe to such "equality," which is a product of the "ethics of mathematics" of capitalism and not of anarchist ideals. Such a scheme is alien to a free society. The equality anarchists desire is a social equality, based on control over the decisions that affect you. The aim of anarchist economic activity, therefore, is to provide the goods required for "equal freedom for all, an equality of conditions such as to allow everyone to do as they wish." [Errico Malatesta, Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 49] Thus anarchists "demand not natural but social equality of individuals as the condition for justice and the foundations of morality." [Bakunin, Op. Cit., p. 249]
Under capitalism, instead of humans controlling production, production controls them. Anarchists want to change this and desire to create an economic network which will allow the maximisation of an individual’s free time in order for them to express and develop their individuality (while creating what is beautiful). So instead of aiming just to produce because the economy will collapse if we did not, anarchists want to ensure that we produce what is useful in a manner which liberates the individual and empowers them in all aspects of their lives.
This desire means that anarchists reject the capitalist definition of "efficiency." Anarchists would agree with Albert and Hahnel when they argue that "since people are conscious agents whose characteristics and therefore preferences develop over time, to access long-term efficiency we must access the impact of economic institutions on people’s development." Capitalism, as we have explained before, is highly inefficient in this light due to the effects of hierarchy and the resulting marginalisation and disempowerment of the majority of society. As they go on to note, "self-management, solidarity, and variety are all legitimate valuative criteria for judging economic institutions . . . Asking whether particular institutions help people attain self-management, variety, and solidarity is sensible." [The Political Economy of Participatory Economics, p. 9]
In other words, anarchists think that any economic activity in a free society is to do useful things in such a way that gives those doing it as much pleasure as possible. The point of such activity is to express the individuality of those doing it, and for that to happen they must control the work process itself. Only by self-management can work become a means of empowering the individual and developing his or her powers.
In a nutshell, to use the words of William Morris, useful work will replace useless toil in an anarchist society.
Anarchists desire to see humanity liberate itself from work. This may come as a shock for many people and will do much to "prove" that anarchism is essentially utopian. However, we think that such an abolition is not only necessary, it is possible. This is because work as we know it today is one of the major dangers to freedom we face.
If by freedom we mean self-government, then it is clear that being subjected to hierarchy in the workplace subverts our abilities to think and judge for ourselves. Like any skill, critical analysis and independent thought have to be practised continually in order to remain at their full potential. So a workplace environment with power structures undermines these abilities. This was recognised by Adam Smith who argued that the "understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments." That being so, "the man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or nearly the same, has no occasion to extend his understanding . . . and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to be . . . But in every improved and civilised society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes pains to prevent it." [quoted by Noam Chomsky, Year 501, p. 18]
Smith’s argument (usually ignored by those who claim to follow his ideas) is backed up by extensive evidence. Different types of authority structures and different technologies have different effects on those who work within them. Carole Pateman notes that the evidence suggests that "[o]nly certain work situations were found to be conducive to the development of the psychological characteristics" suitable for freedom, such as "the feelings of personal confidence and efficacy that underlay the sense of political efficacy." [Participation and Democratic Theory, p. 51] She quotes one expert who argues that within capitalist companies based upon a highly rationalised work environment and extensive division of labour, the worker has no control over the pace or technique of his work, no room to exercise skill or leadership and so they "have practically no opportunity to solve problems and contribute their own ideas." The worker, according to a psychological study, is "resigned to his lot . . . more dependent than independent . . . he lacks confidence in himself . . . he is humble . . . the most prevalent feeling states . . . seem to be fear and anxiety." [quoted by Pateman, Op. Cit., p. 51 and p. 52]
The evidence Pateman summarises shows that an individual’s "attitudes will depend to a large degree on the authority structure of his [or her] work environment", with workplaces which are more autocratic and with a higher division of labour being worse for an individual’s sense of self-esteem, feelings of self-worth and autonomy. In workplaces where "the worker has a high degree of personal control over his [or her] work . . . and a very large degree of freedom from external control" or is based on the "collective responsibility of a crew of employees" who "had control over the pace and method of getting the work done, and the work crews were largely internally self-disciplining" a different social character is seen. [Pateman, Op. Cit., pp. 52-3] This was characterised by "a strong sense of individualism and autonomy, and a solid acceptance of citizenship in the large society" and "a highly developed feeling of self-esteem and a sense of self-worth and is therefore ready to participate in the social and political institutions of the community." Thus the "nature of a man’s work affects his social character and personality" and that an "industrial environment tends to breed a distinct social type." [R. Blauner, quoted by Pateman, Op. Cit., p. 52]
Thus, to quote Bob Black (who notes that Smith’s comments against the division of labour are his "critique of work"), the capitalist workplace turns us into "stultified submissives" and places us "under the sort of surveillance that ensures servility." For this reason anarchists desire, to use Bob Black’s phrase, "the abolition of work." [The Abolition of Work and other essays, p. 26, p. 22 and p. 19]
Work, in this context, does not mean any form of productive activity. Far from it. Work (in the sense of doing necessary things or productive activity) will always be with us. There is no getting away from it; crops need to be grown, schools built, homes fixed, and so on. No, work in this context means any form of labour in which the worker does not control his or her own activity. In other words, wage labour in all its many forms.
A society based upon hierarchical relations in production will result in a society within which the typical worker uses few of their abilities, exercise little or no control over their work because they are governed by a boss during working hours. This has been proved to lower the individual’s self-esteem and feelings of self-worth, as would be expected in any social relationship that denied self-government. Capitalism is marked by an extreme division of labour, particularly between mental and physical labour. It reduces the worker to a mere machine operator, following the orders of his or her boss. Therefore, a libertarian that does not support economic liberty (i.e. self-management) is no libertarian at all.
Capitalism bases its rationale for itself on consumption and this results in a viewpoint which minimises the importance of the time we spend in productive activity. Anarchists consider that it is essential for individuals to use and develop their unique attributes and capacities in all walks of life, to maximise their powers. Therefore, the idea that "work" should be ignored in favour of consumption is totally mad. Productive activity is an important way of developing our inner-powers and expressing ourselves; in other words, be creative. Capitalism’s emphasis on consumption shows the poverty of that system. As Alexander Berkman argued:
"We do not live by bread alone. True, existence is not possible without opportunity to satisfy our physical needs. But the gratification of these by no means constitutes all of life. Our present system of disinheriting millions, made the belly the centre of the universe, so to speak. But in a sensible society . . . [t]he feelings of human sympathy, of justice and right would have a chance to develop, to be satisfied, to broaden and grow." [What is Anarchism?, pp. 152-3]
Therefore, capitalism is based on a constant process of alienated consumption, as workers try to find the happiness associated within productive, creative, self-managed activity in a place it does not exist — on the shop shelves. This can partly explain the rise of both mindless consumerism and the continuation of religions, as individuals try to find meaning for their lives and happiness, a meaning and happiness frustrated in wage labour and other hierarchies.
Capitalism’s impoverishment of the individual’s spirit is hardly surprising. As William Godwin argued, "[t]he spirit of oppression, the spirit of servility, and the spirit of fraud, these are the immediate growth of the established administration of property. They are alike hostile to intellectual and moral improvement." [The Anarchist Reader, p. 131] Any system based on hierarchical relationships in work will result in a deadening of the individual and in a willingness to defer to economic masters. Which is why Anarchists desire to change this and create a society based upon freedom in all aspects of life. Hence anarchists desire to abolish work, simply because it restricts the liberty and distorts the individuality of those who have to do it. To quote Emma Goldman:
"Anarchism aims to strip labour of its deadening, dulling aspect, of its gloom and compulsion. It aims to make work an instrument of joy, of strength, of colour, of real harmony, so that the poorest sort of a man should find in work both recreation and hope." [Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 61]
Anarchists do not think that by getting rid of work we will not have to produce necessary goods. Far from it. An anarchist society "doesn’t mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic revolution . . . a collective adventure in generalised joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn’t passive." The aim is "to abolish work and replace it, insofar as it serves useful purposes, with a multitude of new kinds of free activities. To abolish work requires going at it from two directions, quantitative and qualitative." In terms of the first, "we need to cut down massively the amount of working being done" (luckily, "most work is useless or worse and we should simply get rid of it"). For the second, "we have to take what useful work remains and transform it into a pleasing variety of game-like and craft-like pastimes, indistinguishable from other pleasurable pastimes, except that they happen to yield useful end-products." [Bob Black, Op. Cit., p. 17 and p. 28]
This means that in an anarchist society every effort would be made to reduce boring, unpleasant activity to a minimum and ensure that whatever productive activity is required to be done is as pleasant as possible and based upon voluntary labour. However, it is important to remember Cornelius Castoriadis point: "Socialist society will be able to reduce the length of the working day, and will have to do so, but this will not be the fundamental preoccupation. Its first task will be to . . . transform the very nature of work. The problem is not to leave more and more ‘free’ time to individuals — which might well be empty time — so that they may fill it at will with ‘poetry’ or the carving of wood. The problem is to make all time a time of liberty and to allow concrete freedom to find expression in creative activity." Essentially, the "problem is to put poetry into work." [Political and Social Writings, vol. 2, p. 107]
This is why anarchists desire to abolish "work" (i.e., productive activity not under control of the people doing it), to ensure that whatever productive economic activity is required to be done is managed by those who do it. In this way it can be liberated, transformed, and so become a means of self-realisation and not a form of self-negation. In other words, anarchists want to abolish work because "[l]ife, the art of living, has become a dull formula, flat and inert." [Berkman, Op. Cit., p. 166] Anarchists want to bring the spontaneity and joy of life back into productive activity and save humanity from the dead hand of capital. Anarchists consider economic activity as an expression of the human spirit, an expression of the innate human need to express ourselves and to create. Capitalism distorts these needs and makes economic activity a deadening experience by the division of labour and hierarchy. We think that "industry is not an end in itself, but should only be a means to ensure to man his material subsistence and to make accessible to him the blessings of a higher intellectual culture. Where industry is everything and man is nothing begins the realm of a ruthless economic despotism whose workings are no less disastrous than those of any political despotism. The two mutually augment one another, and they are fed from the same source." [Rudolph Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 2]
One last point on the abolition of work. May 1st — International Workers’ Day — was, as we discussed in section A.5.2, created to commemorate the Chicago Anarchist Martyrs. Anarchists then, as now, think that it should be celebrated by strike action and mass demonstrations. In other words, for anarchists, International Workers’ Day should be a non-work day! That sums up the anarchist position to work nicely — that the celebration of workers’ day should be based on the rejection of work.
The collection of articles in Why Work? Arguments for the Leisure Society (edited by Vernon Richards) is a useful starting place for libertarian socialist perspectives on work.
Basically by workers’ self-management of production and common ownership of the means of production. It is hardly in the interests of those who do the actual "work" to have bad working conditions, boring, repetitive labour, and so on. Therefore, a key aspect of the liberation from work is to create a self-managed society, "a society in which everyone has equal means to develop and that all are or can be at the same time intellectual and manual workers, and the only differences remaining between men [and women] are those which stem from the natural diversity of aptitudes, and that all jobs, all functions, give an equal right to the enjoyment of social possibilities." [Errico Malatesta, Anarchy, p. 42]
Essential to this task is decentralisation and the use of appropriate technology. Decentralisation is important to ensure that those who do work can determine how to liberate it. A decentralised system will ensure that ordinary people can identify areas for technological innovation and so understand the need to get rid of certain kinds of work. Unless ordinary people understand and control the introduction of technology, then they will never be fully aware of the benefits of technology and resist advances which may be in their best interests to introduce. This is the full meaning of appropriate technology, namely the use of technology which those most affected feel to be best in a given situation. Such technology may or may not be technologically "advanced" but it will be of the kind which ordinary people can understand and, most importantly, control.
The potential for rational use of technology can be seen from capitalism. Under capitalism, technology is used to increase profits, to expand the economy, not to liberate all individuals from useless toil (it does, of course, liberate a few from such "activity"). As economist Juliet B. Schor points out, productivity "measures the goods and services that result from each hour worked. When productivity rises, a worker can either produce the current output in less time, or remain at work the same number of hours and produce more." With rising productivity, we are presented with the possibility of more free time. For example, since 1948 the level of productivity of the American worker "has more than doubled. In other words, we could now produce our 1948 standard of living . . . . in less than half the time it took that year. We could actually have chosen the four-hour day. Or a working year of six months." [The Overworked American, p. 2]
And, remember, these figures include production in many areas of the economy that would not exist in a free society — state and capitalist bureaucracy, weapons production for the military, property defence, the finance sector, and so on. As Alexander Berkman argued, millions are "engaged in trade, . . . advertisers, and various other middlemen of the present system" along with the armed forces and "the great numbers employed in unnecessary and harmful occupations, such as building warships, the manufacture of ammunition and other military equipment" would be "released for useful work by a revolution." [What is Anarchism, pp. 224-5] So the working week will be reduced simply because more people will be available for doing essential work. Moreover, goods will be built to last and so much production will become sensible and not governed by an insane desire to maximise profits at the expense of everything else. In addition, this is not taking into account the impact of a more just distribution of consumption in terms of living standards and production, meaning that a standard of living produced by working half the time would be far higher than that implied by Schor’s 1948 baseline (not to mention the advances in technology since then either!). In short, do not take the 1948 date as implying a literal return to that period!
Moreover, a lower working week would see productivity rising. "Thus," as one economist summarises, "when the hours of labour were reduced, the better-rested workers were often able to produce as much or more in the shorter hours than they had previously in longer hours." Yet "competition between employers would make it unlikely that a working day of optimal length would be established" under capitalism. In addition, "more disposable time might better contribute to people’s well-being — that is, to things such as trust, health, learning, family life, self-reliance and citizenship". While this may reduce such conventional economic measures as GDP, the fact is that such measures are flawed. After all, "an increase in GDP could represent a diminution of free time accompanied by an increased output of goods and services whose sole utility was either facilitating labour-market participation or repairing some of the social damage that resulted from the stress of overwork or neglect of non-market activity." [Tom Walker, "Why Economists dislike a Lump of Labor", pp. 279-91, Review of Social Economy, vol. 65, No. 3, p. 286, pp. 287-8 and p. 288]
All this suggests the level of production for useful goods with a four-hour working day would be much higher than the 1948 level or, of course, the working day could be made even shorter. As such, we can easily combine a decent standard of living with a significant reduction of the necessary working time required to produce it. Once we realise that much work under capitalism exists to manage aspects of the profit system or are produced as a result of that system and the damage it does, we can see how a self-managed society can give us more time for ourselves in addition to producing useful goods (rather than working long and hard to produce surplus value for the few).
However, anarchists do not see it as simply a case of reducing the hours of work while keeping the remaining work as it is. That would be silly. We aim to transform what useful productive activity is left. When self-management becomes universal we will see the end of division of labour as mental and physical work becomes unified and those who do the work also manage it. This will allow "the free exercise of all the faculties of man" both inside and outside "work." [Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, p. 148] The aim of such a development would be to turn productive activity, as far as possible, into an enjoyable experience. In the words of Murray Bookchin it is the quality and nature of the work process that counts:
"If workers’ councils and workers’ management of production do not transform the work into a joyful activity, free time into a marvellous experience, and the workplace into a community, then they remain merely formal structures, in fact, class structures. They perpetuate the limitations of the proletariat as a product of bourgeois social conditions. Indeed, no movement that raises the demand for workers’ councils can be regarded as revolutionary unless it tries to promote sweeping transformations in the environment of the work place." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 88]
Work will become, primarily, the expression of a person’s pleasure in what they are doing and become like an art — an expression of their creativity and individuality. Work as an art will become expressed in the workplace as well as the work process, with workplaces transformed and integrated into the local community and environment (see section I.4.15). This will obviously apply to work conducted in the home as well, otherwise the "revolution, intoxicated with the beautiful words, Liberty, Equality, Solidarity, would not be a revolution if it maintained slavery at home. Half [of] humanity subjected to the slavery of the hearth would still have to rebel against the other half." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 128]
In other words, anarchists desire "to combine the best part (in fact, the only good part) of work — the production of use-values — with the best of play . . . its freedom and its fun, its voluntariness and its intrinsic gratification". In short, the transformation of production (creating "what seems needful"") into "productive play". [Bob Black, "Smokestack Lightning", Friendly Fire, p. 48 and p. 49]
Workers’ self-management of production (see section I.3.2) would be the means of achieving this. Only those subject to a specific mode of working can be in a position to transform it and their workplace into something fit for free individuals to create in. Only those who know a workplace which would only exist in a hierarchical system like capitalism can be in a position to decommission it safely and quickly. The very basis of free association will ensure the abolition of work, as individuals will apply for "work" they enjoy doing and so would be interested in reducing "work" they did not want to do to a minimum. Therefore, an anarchist society would abolish work by ensuring that those who do it actually control it. "Personal initiative will be encouraged and every tendency to uniformity and centralisation combated." [Kropotkin, quoted by Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia, p. 42]
All this does not imply that anarchists think that individuals will not seek to "specialise" in one form of productive activity rather than another. Far from it, people in a free society will pick activities which interest them as the main focal point of their means of self-expression (after all, not everyone enjoys the same games and pastimes so why expect the same of productive play?). "It is evident," noted Kropotkin, "that all men and women cannot equally enjoy the pursuit of scientific work. The variety of inclinations is such that some will find more pleasure in science, some others in art, and others again in some of the numberless branches of the production of wealth." This "division of work" is commonplace in humanity this natural desire to do what interests you and what you are good at will be encouraged in an anarchist society. As Kropotkin argued, anarchists "fully recognise the necessity of specialisation of knowledge, but we maintain that specialisation must follow general education, and that general education must be given in science and handicraft alike. To the division of society into brain workers and manual workers we oppose the combination of both kinds of activities . . . we advocate the education integrale [integral education], or complete education, which means the disappearance of that pernicious division." Anarchists are, needless to say, aware that training and study are required to qualify you to do some tasks and a free society would ensure that individuals would achieve the necessary recognised levels before undertaking them (by means of, say, professional bodies who organise a certification process). Kropotkin was aware, however, that both individuals and society would benefit from a diversity of activities and a strong general knowledge: "But whatever the occupations preferred by everyone, everyone will be the more useful in his [or her] branch if he [or she] is in possession of a serious scientific knowledge. And, whosoever he might be . . . he would be the gainer if he spent a part of his life in the workshop or the farm (the workshop and the farm), if he were in contact with humanity in its daily work, and had the satisfaction of knowing that he himself discharges his duties as an unprivileged producer of wealth." [Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, p. 186, p. 172 and p. 186]
However, while specialisation would continue, the permanent division of individuals into manual or brain workers would be eliminated. Individuals will manage all aspects of the "work" required (for example, engineers will also take part in self-managing their workplaces), a variety of activities would be encouraged and the strict division of labour of capitalism will be abolished. In other words, anarchists want to replace the division of labour by the division of work. We must stress that we are not playing with words here. John Crump presents a good summary of the ideas of the Japanese anarchist Hatta Shuzo on this difference:
"[We must] recognise the distinction which Hatta made between the ‘division of labour’ . . . and the ‘division of work’ . . . while Hatta believed that the division of labour . . . was the cause of class divisions and exploitation, he did not see anything sinister in the division of work . . . On the contrary, Hatta believed that the division of work was a benign and unavoidable feature of any productive process: ‘it goes without saying that within society, whatever the kind of production, there has to be a division of work.’ . . . [For] the dangers [of division of labour] to which Hatta [like other anarchists like Proudhon and Kropotkin] drew attention did not arise from a situation where, at any one time, different people were engaged in different productive activities . . . What did spell danger, however, was when, either individually or collectively, people permanently divided along occupational lines . . . and gave rise to the disastrous consequences . . . . [of] the degrading of labour to a mechanical function; the lack of responsibility for, understanding of, or interest in other branches of production; and the need for a superior administrative organ to co-ordinate the various branches of production." [Hatta Shuzo and Pure Anarchism in Interwar Japan, pp. 146-7]
As Kropotkin argued:
"while a temporary division of functions remains the surest guarantee of success in each separate undertaking, the permanent division is doomed to disappear, and to be substituted by a variety of pursuits — intellectual, industrial, and agricultural — corresponding to the different capacities of the individual, as well as to the variety of capacities within every human aggregate." [Op. Cit., p. 26]
As an aside, supporters of capitalism argue that integrated labour must be more inefficient than divided labour as capitalist firms have not introduced it. This is false for numerous reasons.
Firstly, we have to point out the inhuman logic of the assertion. After all, few would argue in favour of slavery if it were, in fact, more productive than wage labour but such is the logical conclusion of this argument. If someone did argue that the only reason slavery was not the dominant mode of labour simply because it was inefficient we would consider them as less than human. Simply put, it is a sick ideology which happily sacrifices individuals for the sake of slightly more products. Sadly, that is what many defenders of capitalism do, ultimately, argue for.
Secondly, capitalist firms are not neutral structures but rather a system of hierarchies, with entrenched interests and needs. Managers will only introduce a work technique that maintains their power (and so their profits). As we argue in section J.5.12, while experiments in workers’ participation see a rise in efficiency and productivity, managers stop them simply because they recognise that workers’ control undercuts their power by empowering workers who then can fight for a greater slice of the value they produce (not to mention come to the conclusion that while the boss needs them to work, they don’t need to boss to manage them!). So the lack of integrated labour under capitalism simply means that it does not empower management nor secure their profits and power, not that it is less efficient.
Thirdly, the attempts by managers and bosses to introduce "flexibility" by eliminating unions suggests that integration is more efficient. After all, one of the major complaints directed towards union contracts are that they explicitly documented what workers could and could not do (for example, union members would refuse to do work which was outside their agreed job descriptions). This is usually classed as an example of the evil of regulations. However, if we look at it from the viewpoint of contract and division of labour, it exposes the inefficiency and inflexibility of both as a means of co-operation. After all, what does this refusal actually mean? It means that the worker refuses to do work that is not specified in his or her contract! Their job description indicates what they have been contracted to do and anything else has not been agreed upon in advance. The contract specifies a clear, specified and agreed division of labour in a workplace between worker and boss.
While being a wonderful example of a well-designed contract, managers discovered that they could not operate their workplaces because of them. Rather, they needed a general "do what you are told" contract (which of course is hardly an example of contract reducing authority) and such a contract integrates numerous work tasks into one. The managers diatribe against union contracts suggests that production needs some form of integrated labour to actually work (as well as showing the hypocrisy of the labour contract under capitalism as labour "flexibility" simply means labour "commodification" — a machine does not question what its used for, the ideal under capitalism is a similar unquestioning nature for labour). The union job description indicates that production needs the integration of labour while demanding a division of work. As Cornelius Castoriadis argued:
"Modern production has destroyed many traditional professional qualifications. It has created automatic or semi-automatic machines. It has thereby itself demolished its own traditional framework for the industrial division of labour. It has given birth to a universal worker who is capable, after a relatively short apprenticeship, of using most machines. Once one gets beyond its class aspects, the ‘posting’ of workers to particular jobs in a big modern factory corresponds less and less to a genuine division of labour and more and more to a simple division of tasks. Workers are not allocated to given areas of the productive process and then riveted to them because their ‘occupational skills’ invariably correspond to the ‘skills required’ by management. They are placed there . . . just because a particular vacancy happened to exist." [Political and Economic Writings, vol. 2, p. 117]
By replacing the division of labour with the division of work, a free society will ensure that productive activity can be transformed into an enjoyable task (or series of tasks). By integrating labour, all the capacities of the producer can be expressed so eliminating a major source of alienation and unhappiness in society. "The main subject of social economy," argued Kropotkin, is "the economy of energy required for the satisfaction of human needs." These needs obviously expressed both the needs of the producers for empowering and interesting work and their need for a healthy and balanced environment. Thus Kropotkin discussed the "advantages" which could be "derive[d] from a combination of industrial pursuits with intensive agriculture, and of brain work with manual work." The "greatest sum total of well-being can be obtained when a variety of agricultural, industrial and intellectual pursuits are combined in each community; and that man [and woman] shows his best when he is in a position to apply his usually-varied capacities to several pursuits in the farm, the workshop, the factory, the study or the studio, instead of being riveted for life to one of these pursuits only." [Op. Cit., pp. 17-8] This means that "[u]nder socialism, factories would have no reason to accept the artificially rigid division of labour now prevailing. There will be every reason to encourage a rotation of workers between shops and departments and between production and office areas." The "residues of capitalism’s division of labour gradually will have to be eliminated" as "socialist society cannot survive unless it demolishes this division." [Castoriadis, Op. Cit., p. 117]
Anarchists think that a decentralised social system will allow "work" to be abolished and economic activity humanised and made a means to an end (namely producing useful things and liberated individuals). This would be achieved by, as Rudolf Rocker puts it, the "alliance of free groups of men and women based on co-operative labour and a planned administration of things in the interest of the community." However, as things are produced by people, it could be suggested that this implies a "planned administration of people" (although few who suggest this danger apply it to capitalist firms which are like mini-centrally planned states). This objection is false simply because anarchism aims "to reconstruct the economic life of the peoples from the ground up and build it up anew in the spirit of Socialism" and, moreover, "only the producers themselves are fitted for this task, since they are the only value-creating element in society out of which a new future can arise." Such a reconstructed economic life would be based on anarchist principles, that is "based on the principles of federalism, a free combination from below upwards, putting the right of self-determination of every member above everything else and recognising only the organic agreement of all on the basis of like interests and common convictions." [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 72, p. 62 and p. 60]
In other words, those who produce also administer and so govern themselves in free association (and it should be pointed out that any group of individuals in association will make "plans" and "plan", the important question is who does the planning and who does the work. Only in anarchy are both functions united into the same people). The "planned administration of things" would be done by the producers themselves, in their independent groupings. This would likely take the form (as we indicated in section I.3) of confederations of syndicates who communicate information between themselves and respond to changes in the production and distribution of products by increasing or decreasing the required means of production in a co-operative (i.e. "planned") fashion. No "central planning" or "central planners" governing the economy, just workers co-operating together as equals (as Kropotkin argued, free socialism "must result from thousands of separate local actions, all directed towards the same aim. It cannot be dictated by a central body: it must result from the numberless local needs and wants." [Act for Yourselves, p. 54]).
Now, any form of association requires agreement. Therefore, even a society based on the communist-anarchist maxim "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need" will need to make agreements in order to ensure co-operative ventures succeed. In other words, members of a co-operative commonwealth would have to make and keep to their agreements between themselves. This means that the members of a syndicate would agree joint starting and finishing times, require notice if individuals want to change "jobs" and so on within and between syndicates. Any joint effort requires some degree of co-operation and agreement. Moreover, between syndicates, an agreement would be reached (in all likelihood) that determined the minimum working hours required by all members of society able to work. As Kropotkin argued, a communist anarchist society would be based upon the such a minimum-hour "contract" between its members:
"We undertake to give you the use of our houses, stores, streets, means of transport, schools, museums, etc., on condition that, from twenty to forty-five or fifty years of age, you consecrate four or five hours a day to some work recognised as necessary to existence. Choose yourself the producing group which you wish to join, or organise a new group, provided that it will undertake to produce necessaries. And as for the remainder of your time, combine together with whomsoever you like, for recreation, art, or science, according to the bent of your taste . . . Twelve or fifteen hundred hours of work a year . . . is all we ask of you. For that amount of work we guarantee to you the free use of all that these groups produce, or will produce." [The Conquest of Bread, pp. 153-4]
With such work "necessary to existence" being recognised by individuals and expressed by demand for labour from productive syndicates. It is, of course, up to the individual to decide which work he or she desires to perform from the positions available in the various associations in existence. A union card could be the means by which work hours would be recorded and access to the common wealth of society ensured. And, of course, individuals and groups are free to work alone and exchange the produce of their labour with others, including the confederated syndicates, if they so desired. An anarchist society will be as flexible as possible.
Therefore, we can imagine a social anarchist society being based on two basic arrangements — firstly, an agreed minimum working week of, say, 16 hours, in a syndicate of your choice, plus any amount of hours doing "work" which you feel like doing — for example, art, scientific experimentation, DIY, playing music, composing, gardening and so on. How that minimum working week was actually organised would vary between workplace and commune, with work times, flexi-time, job rotation and so on determined by each syndicate (for example, one syndicate may work 8 hours a day for 2 days, another 4 hours a day for 4 days, one may use flexi-time, another more rigid starting and stopping times). Needless to say, in response to consumption patterns, syndicates will have to expand or reduce production and will have to attract volunteers to do the necessary work as would syndicates whose work was considered dangerous or unwanted. In such circumstances, volunteers could arrange doing a few hours of such activity for more free time or it could be agreed that one hour of such unwanted positions equals more hours in a more desired one (see section I.4.13 for more on this). Needless to say, the aim of technological progress would be to eliminate unpleasant and unwanted tasks and to reduce the basic working week more and more until the very concept of necessary "work" and free time enjoyments is abolished. Anarchists are convinced that the decentralisation of power within a free society would unleash a wealth of innovation and ensure that unpleasant tasks are minimised and fairly shared while required productive activity is made as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.
It could be said that this sort of agreement is a restriction of liberty because it is "man-made" (as opposed to the "natural law" of "supply and demand"). This is a common defence of the non-capitalist market by individualist anarchists against anarcho-communism, for example. However, while in theory individualist-anarchists can claim that in their vision of society, they don’t care when, where, or how a person earns a living, as long as they are not invasive about it the fact is that any economy is based on interactions between individuals. The law of "supply and demand" easily, and often, makes a mockery of the ideas that individuals can work as long as they like – usually they end up working as long as required by market forces (i.e. the actions of other individuals, but turned into a force outwith their control, see section I.1.3). This means that individuals do not work as long as they like, but as long as they have to in order to survive. Knowing that "market forces" is the cause of long hours of work hardly makes them any nicer.
And it seems strange to the communist-anarchist that certain free agreements made between equals can be considered authoritarian while others are not. The individualist-anarchist argument that social co-operation to reduce labour is "authoritarian" while agreements between individuals on the market are not seems illogical to social anarchists. They cannot see how it is better for individuals to be pressured into working longer than they desire by "invisible hands" than to come to an arrangement with others to manage their own affairs to maximise their free time.
Therefore, free agreement between free and equal individuals is considered the key to abolishing work, based upon decentralisation of power and the use of appropriate technology.
Firstly, it should be noted that anarchists do not have any set idea about the answer to this question. Most anarchists are communists, desiring to see the end of money, but that does not mean they want to impose communism onto people. Far from it, communism can only be truly libertarian if it is organised from the bottom up. So, anarchists would agree with Kropotkin that it is a case of not "determining in advance what form of distribution the producers should accept in their different groups — whether the communist solution, or labour checks, or equal salaries, or any other method" while considering a given solution best in their opinion. [Anarchism, p. 166] Free experimentation is a key aspect of anarchism.
While certain anarchists have certain preferences on the social system they want to live in and so argue for that, they are aware that objective circumstances and social desires will determine what is introduced during a revolution (for example, while Kropotkin was a communist-anarchist and considered it essential that a revolution proceed towards communism as quickly as possible, he was aware that it was unlikely it would be introduced fully immediately — see section I.2.2 for details). However, we will outline some possible means of economic decision making criteria as this question is an important one and so we will indicate what possible solutions exist in different forms of anarchism.
In a mutualist or collectivist system, the answer is easy. Prices will exist and be used as a means of making decisions (although, as Malatesta suggested, such non-communist anarchies would "seek a way to ensure that money truly represents the useful work performed by its possessors" rather than, as today, "the means for living on the labour of others" [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 101 and p. 100]). Mutualism will be more market orientated than collectivism, with collectivism being based on confederations of collectives to respond to changes in demand (i.e. to determine investment decisions and ensure that supply is kept in line with demand). Mutualism, with its system of market based distribution around a network of co-operatives and mutual banks, does not really need a further discussion as its basic operations are the same as in any non-capitalist market system. Collectivism and communism will have to be discussed in more detail. However, all systems are based on workers’ self-management and so the individuals directly affected make the decisions concerning what to produce, when to do it, and how to do it. In this way workers retain control of the product of their labour. It is the social context of these decisions and what criteria workers use to make their decisions that differ between anarchist schools of thought.
Although collectivism promotes the greatest autonomy for worker associations, it should not be confused with a market economy as advocated by supporters of mutualism or Individualist anarchism. The goods produced by the collectivised factories and workshops are exchanged not according to highest price that can be wrung from consumers, but according to their actual production costs. The determination of these honest prices would be made by a "Bank of Exchange" in each community (obviously an idea borrowed from Proudhon). These Banks would represent the various producer confederations and consumer/citizen groups in the community and would seek to negotiate these "honest" prices (which would, in all likelihood, include "hidden" costs like pollution). These agreements would be subject to ratification by the assemblies of those involved.
As James Guillaume put it "the value of the commodities having been established in advance by a contractual agreement between the regional co-operative federations and the various communes, who will also furnish statistics to the Banks of Exchange. The Bank of Exchange will remit to the producers negotiable vouchers representing the value of their products; these vouchers will be accepted throughout the territory included in the federation of communes." These vouchers would be related to hours worked, for example, and when used as a guide for investment decisions could be supplemented with cost-benefit analysis of the kind possibly used in a communist-anarchist society (see below). Although this scheme bears a strong resemblance to Proudhonian "People’s Banks," it should be noted that the Banks of Exchange, along with a "Communal Statistical Commission," are intended to have a planning function as well to ensure that supply meets demand. This does not imply a Stalinist-like command economy, but simple book keeping for "each Bank of Exchange makes sure in advance that these products are in demand [in order to risk] nothing by immediately issuing payment vouchers to the producers." ["On Building the New Social Order", pp. 356-79, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 366 and p. 367] The workers syndicates would still determine what orders to produce and each commune would be free to choose its suppliers.
As will be discussed in more depth later (see section I.4.8) information about consumption patterns will be recorded and used by workers to inform their production and investment decisions. In addition, we can imagine that production syndicates would encourage communes as well as consumer groups and co-operatives to participate in making these decisions. This would ensure that produced goods reflect consumer needs. Moreover, as conditions permit, the exchange functions of the communal "banks" would (in all likelihood) be gradually replaced by the distribution of goods in accordance with the needs of the consumers. In other words, most supporters of collectivist anarchism see it as a temporary measure before anarcho-communism could develop.
Communist anarchism would be similar to collectivism, i.e. a system of confederations of collectives, communes and distribution centres (Communal stores). However, in an anarcho-communist system, prices are not used. How will economic decision making be done? One possible solution is as follows:
"As to decisions involving choices of a general nature, such as what forms of energy to use, which of two or more materials to employ to produce a particular good, whether to build a new factory, there is a . . . technique . . . that could be [used] . . . ‘cost-benefit analysis’ . . . [I]n socialism a points scheme for attributing relative importance to the various relevant considerations could be used . . . The points attributed to these considerations would be subjective, in the sense that this would depend on a deliberate social decision rather than some objective standard, but this is the case even under capitalism when a monetary value has to be attributed to some such ‘cost’ or ‘benefit’ . . . In the sense that one of the aims of socialism is precisely to rescue humankind from the capitalist fixation with production time/money, cost-benefit analyses, as a means of taking into account other factors, could therefore be said to be more appropriate for use in socialism than under capitalism. Using points systems to attribute relative importance in this way . . . [is] simply to employ a technique to facilitate decision-making in particular concrete cases." [Adam Buick and John Crump, State Capitalism: The Wages System Under New Management, pp. 138-139]
This points system would be the means by which producers and consumers would be able to determine whether the use of a particular good is efficient or not. Unlike prices, this cost-benefit analysis system would ensure that production and consumption reflects social and ecological costs, awareness and priorities. Moreover, this analysis would be a guide to decision making and not a replacement of human decision making and evaluation. As Lewis Mumford argued:
"it is plain that in the decision as to whether to build a bridge or a tunnel there is a human question that should outweigh the question of cheapness or mechanical feasibility: namely the number of lives that will be lost in the actual building or the advisability of condemning a certain number of men [and women] to spend their entire working days underground supervising tunnel traffic . . . Similarly the social choice between silk and rayon is not one that can be made simply on the different costs of production, or the difference in quality between the fibres themselves: there also remains, to be integrated in the decision, the question as to difference in working-pleasure between tending silkworms and assisting in rayon production. What the product contributes to the labourer is just as important as what the worker contributes to the product. A well-managed society might alter the process of motor car assemblage, at some loss of speed and cheapness, in order to produce a more interesting routine for the worker: similarly, it would either go to the expense of equipping dry-process cement making plants with dust removers — or replace the product itself with a less noxious substitute. When none of these alternatives was available, it would drastically reduce the demand itself to the lowest possible level." [The Future of Technics and Civilisation, pp. 160-1]
Obviously, today, we would include ecological issues as well as human ones. Any decision making process which disregards the quality of work or the effect on the human and natural environment is a deranged one. However, this is how capitalism operates, with the market rewarding capitalists and managers who introduce de-humanising and ecologically harmful practices. Indeed, so biased against labour and the environment is capitalism that many economists and pro-capitalists argue that reducing "efficiency" by such social concerns (as expressed by the passing laws related to labour rights and environmental protection) is actually harmful to an economy, which is a total reversal of common sense and human feelings (after all, surely the economy should satisfy human needs and not sacrifice those needs to the economy?). The argument is that consumption would suffer as resources (human and material) would be diverted from more "efficient" productive activities and so reduce, over all, our economic well-being. What this argument ignores is that consumption does not exist in isolation from the rest of the economy. What we want to consume is conditioned, in part, by the sort of person we are and that is influenced by the kind of work we do, the kinds of social relationships we have, whether we are happy with our work and life, and so on. If our work is alienating and of low quality, then so will our consumption decisions. If our work is subject to hierarchical control and servile in nature then we cannot expect our consumption decisions to be totally rational — indeed they may become an attempt to find happiness via shopping, a self-defeating activity as consumption cannot solve a problem created in production. Thus rampant consumerism may be the result of capitalist "efficiency" and so the objection against socially aware production is question begging.
Of course, as well as absolute scarcity, prices under capitalism also reflect relative scarcity (while in the long term, market prices tend towards their production price plus a mark-up based on the degree of monopoly in a market, in the short term prices can change as a result of changes in supply and demand). How a communist society could take into account such short term changes and communicate them through out the economy is discussed in section I.4.5. Moreover, it is likely that they will factor in the desirability of the work performed to indicate the potential waste in human time involved in production (see section I.4.13 for a discussion of how this could be done). The logic behind this is simple, a resource which people like to produce will be a better use of the scare resource of an individual’s time than one people hate producing. Another key factor in making sensible decisions would be the relative scarcity of a good. After all, it would make little sense when making a decision to use a good which is in short supply over one which is much more abundant. Thus, while the cost-benefit points system would show absolute costs (number of hours work required, energy use, pollution, etc.) this would be complemented by information about how scare a specific good is and the desirability of the work required to produce it.
Therefore, a communist-anarchist society would be based around a network of syndicates who communicate information between each other. Instead of the price being communicated between workplaces as in capitalism, actual physical data will be sent (the cost). This data is a summary of these (negative) use values of the good (for example resources, labour time and energy used to produce it, pollution details) as well as relative scarcity. With this information a cost-benefit analysis will be conducted to determine which good will be best to use in a given situation based upon mutually agreed common values. These will be used to inform the decision on which goods to use, with how well goods meet the requirements of production (the positive use-value) being compared to their impact in terms of labour, resource use, pollution and so forth (the negative use-values) along with their relative availability.
The data for a given workplace could be compared to the industry as a whole (as confederations of syndicates would gather and produce such information — see section I.3.5) in order to determine whether a specific workplace will efficiently produce the required goods (this system has the additional advantage of indicating which workplaces require investment to bring them in line, or improve upon, the industrial average in terms of working conditions, hours worked and so on). In addition, common rules of thumb would possibly be agreed, such as agreements not to use scarce materials unless there is no alternative (either ones that use a lot of labour, energy and time to produce or those whose demand is currently exceeding supply capacity).
Similarly, when ordering goods, the syndicate, commune or individual involved will have to inform the syndicate why it is required in order to allow the syndicate to determine if they desire to produce the good and to enable them to prioritise the orders they receive. In this way, resource use can be guided by social considerations and "unreasonable" requests ignored (for example, if an individual states they "need" a ship-builders syndicate to build a ship for their personal use, the ship-builders may not "need" to build it and instead build ships for communal use, freely available for all to use in turn — see section I.4.6). However, in almost all cases of individual consumption, no such information will be needed as communal stores would order consumer goods in bulk as they do now. Hence the economy would be a vast network of co-operating individuals and workplaces and the dispersed knowledge which exists within any society can be put to good effect (better effect than under capitalism because it does not hide social and ecological costs in the way market prices do and co-operation will eliminate the business cycle and its resulting social problems).
Therefore, production units in a social anarchist society, by virtue of their autonomy within association, are aware of what is socially useful for them to produce and, by virtue of their links with communes, also aware of the social (human and ecological) cost of the resources they need to produce it. They can combine this knowledge, reflecting overall social priorities, with their local knowledge of the detailed circumstances of their workplaces and communities to decide how they can best use their productive capacity. In this way the division of knowledge within society can be used by the syndicates effectively as well as overcoming the restrictions within knowledge communication imposed by the price mechanism (see section I.1.2) and workplaces hierarchies within capitalism (see section I.1.1).
Moreover, production units, by their association within confederations ensure that there is effective communication between them. This results in a process of negotiated co-ordination between equals (i.e. horizontal links and agreements) for major investment decisions, thus bringing together supply and demand and allowing the plans of the various units to be co-ordinated. By this process of co-operation, production units can reduce duplicating effort and so reduce the waste associated with over-investment (and so the irrationalities of booms and slumps associated with the price mechanism, which does not provide sufficient information to allow workplaces to efficiently co-ordinate their plans).
When evaluating production methods we need to take into account as many social and ecological costs as possible and these have to be evaluated. Which costs will be taken into account, of course, be decided by those involved, as will how important they are relative to each other (i.e. how they are weighted). What factors to take into account and how to weigh them in the decision making process will be evaluated and reviewed regularly so to ensure that it reflects real costs and social concerns. As communist-anarchists consider it important to encourage all to participate in the decisions that affect their lives, it would be the role of communal confederations to determine the relative points value of given inputs and outputs. In this way, all individuals in a community determine how their society develops, so ensuring that economic activity is responsible to social needs and takes into account the desires of everyone affected by production. In this way consumption and production can be harmonised with the needs of individuals as members of society and the environment they live in. The industrial confederations would seek to ensure that this information is recorded and communicated and (perhaps) formulating industry-wide averages to aid decision-making by allowing syndicates and communes to compare specific goods points to the typical value.
So which factors are to be used to inform decision-making would be agreed and the information communicated between workplaces and communes so that consumers of goods can evaluate their costs in terms of ecological impact, use of resources and human labour. Any agreed values for the Cost-Benefit analysis for inputs can be incorporated in the information associated with the outputs. As such, a communist society would seek to base decisions on more than one criteria, whether it is profits or (say) labour. The reasons for this should be obvious, as one criteria rarely allows sensible decisions. Of course, to some degree people already do this under capitalism but market forces and inequality limit this ability (people will tend to buy cheaper products if they need to make ends meet) while both the price mechanism and the self-interest of companies ensure information about costs are hidden (for example, few companies publically acknowledge their externalities and most spend vast sums on advertising to greenwash their products).
In order to process the information on costs communicated in a libertarian communist economy accounting tools can be created (such as a spreadsheet or computer programme). These could take the decided factors as inputs and returns a cost benefit analysis of the choices available. So while these algorithmic procedures and guidelines can, and indeed should be, able to be calculated by hand, it is likely that computers will be extensively used to take input data and process it into a suitable format. Indeed, many capitalist companies have software which records raw material inputs and finished product into databases and spreadsheets. Such software could be the basis of a libertarian communist decision making algorithm. Of course, currently such data is submerged beneath money and does not take into account externalities and the nature of the work involved (as would be the case in an anarchist society). However, this does not limit their potential or deny that communist use of such software can be used to inform decisions.
Therefore, the claim that communism cannot evaluate different production methods due to lack of prices is inaccurate. Indeed, a look at the actual capitalist market — marked as it is by differences in bargaining and market power, externalities and wage labour — soon shows that the claims that prices accurately reflect costs is simply not accurate. However, it may be such that objective circumstances preclude the immediate introduction of libertarian communism (as discussed in section I.2.2, many communist anarchists consider this likely). As such, there could be a transitional period in which elements of mutualism, collectivism and communism co-exist within a specific economy. It can easily be seen how a mutualist economy (the usual initial product of a social revolution) could evolve into a collectivist and then communist one. The market generated prices could initially be complemented by the non-market information decided upon (for objective costs and the scarcity index) and, overtime, replaced by this data as the main decision making criteria by syndicates and communes.
One final point on this subject. What methods are used, which criteria picked, which information is communicated and how it is processed, will be the decision of a free people. This section was merely a suggestion of one possibility of how a libertarian communist economy could make informed decisions about production. It is not meant as a blue-print nor is it set-in-stone.
Anarchists do not ignore the facts of life, namely that at a given moment there is so much a certain good produced and so much of it is desired to be consumed or used. Neither do we deny that different individuals have different interests and tastes. However, this is not what is usually meant by "supply and demand." Often in general economic debate, this formula is given a certain mythical quality which ignores its underlying realities as well as some unwholesome implications of the theory (for example, as discussed in section C.1.5 the market can very efficiently create famines by exporting food to areas where there is demand for it). At the very least, the "the law of supply and demand" is not the "most efficient" means of distribution in an unequal society as decisions are skewed in favour of the rich.
As far as "supply and demand" in terms of allocating scare resources is concerned, anarchists are well aware of the need to create and distribute necessary goods to those who require them. The question is, in an anarchist society, how do you know that valuable labour and materials are not being wasted? How do people judge which tools are most appropriate? How do they decide among different materials if they all meet the technical specifications? How important are some goods than others? How important is cellophane compared to vacuum-cleaner bags and so which one should be produced?
It is answers like this that the supporters of the market claim that their system answers. For individualist and mutualist anarchists, their non-capitalist market would indicate such information by differences between market price and cost price and individuals and co-operatives would react accordingly. For communist and collectivist anarchists, who reject even non-capitalist markets, the answer is less simple. As discussed in section I.1.3, these anarchists argue that although the market does answer such questions it does so in irrational and dehumanising ways (while this is particularly the case under capitalism, it cannot be assumed this will disappear in a post-capitalist market). The question is: can collectivist and communist anarchism answer such questions? Yes, they reply.
So collectivist and communist anarchists reject the market. This rejection often implies, to some, central planning. As the market socialist David Schweickart puts it, "[i]f profit considerations do not dictate resource usage and production techniques, then central direction must do so. If profit is not the goal of a productive organisation, then physical output (use values) must be." [Against Capitalism, p. 86] However, Schweickart is wrong. Horizontal links need not be market based and co-operation between individuals and groups need not be hierarchical. What is implied in this comment is that there is just two ways to relate to others — either by prostitution (purely by cash) or by hierarchy (the way of the state, the army or capitalist workplace). But people relate to each other in other ways, such as friendship, love, solidarity, mutual aid and so on. Thus you can help or associate with others without having to be ordered to do so or by being paid cash to do so — we do so all the time. You can work together because by so doing you benefit yourself and the other person. This is the real communist way, that of mutual aid and free agreement.
So Schweickart is ignoring the vast majority of relations in any society. For example, love/attraction is a horizontal link between two autonomous individuals and profit considerations do not enter into the relationship. Thus anarchists argue that Schweickart’s argument is flawed as it fails to recognise that resource usage and production techniques can be organised in terms of human need and free agreement between economic actors, without profits or central command. This system does not mean that we all have to love each other (an impossible wish). Rather, it means that we recognise that by voluntarily co-operating as equals we ensure that we remain free individuals and that we can gain the advantages of sharing resources and work (for example, a reduced working day and week, self-managed work in safe and hygienic working conditions and a free selection of the product of a whole society). In other words, a self-interest which exceeds the narrow and impoverished egotism of capitalist society.
Thus free agreement and horizontal links are not limited to market transactions — they develop for numerous reasons and anarchists recognise this. As George Barrett argued:
"Let us imagine now that the great revolt of the workers has taken place, that their direct action has made them masters of the situation. It is not easy to see that some man in a street that grew hungry would soon draw a list of the loaves that were needed, and take it to the bakery where the strikers were in possession? Is there any difficulty in supposing that the necessary amount would then be baked according to this list? By this time the bakers would know what carts and delivery vans were needed to send the bread out to the people, and if they let the carters and vanmen know of this, would these not do their utmost to supply the vehicles . . . If . . . [the bakers needed] more benches [to make bread] . . . the carpenters would supply them [and so on] . . . So the endless continuity goes on — a well-balanced interdependence of parts guaranteed, because need is the motive force behind it all . . . In the same way that each free individual has associated with his brothers [and sisters] to produce bread, machinery, and all that is necessary for life, driven by no other force than his desire for the full enjoyment of life, so each institution is free and self-contained, and co-operates and enters into agreements with other because by so doing it extends its own possibilities. There is no centralised State exploiting or dictating, but the complete structure is supported because each part is dependent on the whole . . . It will be a society responsive to the wants of the people; it will supply their everyday needs as quickly as it will respond to their highest aspirations. Its changing forms will be the passing expressions of humanity." [The Anarchist Revolution, pp. 17-19]
To make productive decisions we need to know what others need and information in order to evaluate the alternative options available to us to satisfy that need. Therefore, it is a question of distributing information between producers and consumers, information which the market often hides (or actively blocks) or distorts due to inequalities in resources (i.e. need does not count in the market, "effective demand" does and this skews the market in favour of the wealthy). This information network has partly been discussed in the last section where a method of comparison between different materials, techniques and resources based upon use value was discussed. In addition, the need to indicate the current fluctuations in stocks, production and consumption has also to be factored in when making decisions.
To indicate the relative changes in scarcity of a given good it will be necessary to calculate what could be termed its "scarcity index." This would inform potential users of this good whether its demand is outstripping its supply so that they may effectively adjust their decisions in light of the decisions of others. This index could be, for example, a percentage figure which indicates the relation of orders placed for a good to the amount actually produced. For example, a good which has a demand higher than its supply would have an index value of 101% or higher. This value would inform potential users to start looking for substitutes for it or to economise on its use. Such a scarcity figure would exist for each syndicate as well as (possibly) a generalised figure for the industry as a whole on a regional, "national", etc. level.
In this way, a specific good could be seen to be in high demand and so only those producers who really required it would place orders for it (so ensuring effective use of resources). Needless to say, stock levels and other basic book-keeping techniques would be utilised in order to ensure a suitable buffer level of a specific good existed. This may result in some excess supply of goods being produced and used as stock to handle unexpected changes in the aggregate demand for a good. Such a buffer system would work on an individual workplace level and at a communal level. Syndicates would obviously have their inventories, stores of raw materials and finished goods "on the shelf" which can be used to meet unexpected increases in demand. Communal stores, hospitals and so on would have their stores of supplies in case of unexpected disruptions in supply.
This is a common practice even in capitalism, with differences between actual demand and expected demand being absorbed by unintended stock changes. Firms today also have spare capacity in order to meet such upsurges in demand. Such policies of maintaining stocks and spare capacity will continue to the case under anarchism. It is assumed that syndicates and their confederations will wish to adjust capacity if they are aware of the need to do so. Hence, price changes in response to changes in demand would not be necessary to provide the information that such adjustments are required. This is because a "change in demand first becomes apparent as a change in the quantity being sold at existing prices [or being consumed in a moneyless system] and is therefore reflected in changes in stocks or orders. Such changes are perfectly good indicators or signals that an imbalance between demand and current output has developed. If a change in demand for its products proved to be permanent, a production unit would find its stocks being run down and its order book lengthening, or its stocks increasing and orders falling . . . Price changes in response to changes in demand are therefore not necessary for the purpose of providing information about the need to adjust capacity." [Pat Devine, Democracy and Economic Planning, p. 242]
So syndicates, communes and their confederations will create buffer stocks of goods to handle unforeseen changes in demand and supply. This sort of inventory has also been used by capitalist countries like the USA to prevent changes in market conditions for agricultural products and other strategic raw materials producing wild spot-price movements and inflation. Post-Keynesian economist Paul Davidson argued that the stability of commodity prices this produced "was an essential aspect of the unprecedented prosperous economic growth of the world’s economy" between 1945 and 1972. US President Nixon dismantled these buffer zone programmes, resulting in "violent commodity price fluctuations" which had serious negative economic effects. [Controversies in Post-Keynesian Economics, p. 114 and p. 115] Again, an anarchist society is likely to utilise this sort of buffer system to iron out short-term changes in supply and demand. By reducing short-term fluctuations of the supply of commodities, bad investment decisions would be reduced as syndicates would not be mislead, as is the case under capitalism, by market prices being too high or too low at the time when the decisions where being made (as discussed in section I.1.5 such disequilibrium prices convey misinformation which causes very substantial economic distortions).
This, combined with cost-benefit analysis described in section I.4.4, would allow information about changes within a moneyless economy to rapidly spread throughout the whole system and influence all decision makers without the great majority knowing anything about the original causes of these changes. This would allow a syndicate to ascertain which good used up least resources and therefore left the most over for other uses (i.e., relative costs or scarcity) as well as giving them information on what resources were used to create it (i.e., the absolute costs involved) The relevant information is communicated to all involved, without having to be ordered by an "all-knowing" central body as in a Leninist centrally planned economy. As argued in section I.1.2, anarchists have long realised that no centralised body could possibly be able to possess all the information dispersed throughout the economy to organise production and if such a body attempted to do so, the resulting bureaucracy would effectively reduce and impoverish the amount of information available to decision makers and so cause shortages and inefficiencies.
To get an idea how this system could work, let us take the example of a change in the copper industry. Let us assume that a source of copper unexpectedly fails or that the demand for copper increases. What would happen?
First, the initial difference would be a diminishing of stocks of copper which each syndicate maintains to take into account unexpected changes in requests. This would help buffer out short lived, changes in supply or requests. Second, naturally, there is an increase in demand for copper for those syndicates which are producing it. This immediately increases the scarcity index of those firms and their product. For example, the index may rise from 95% (indicating a slight over-production in respect to current demand) to 115% (indicating that the demand for copper has risen in respect to the current level of production). This change in the scarcity index (combined with difficulties in finding copper producing syndicates which will accept their orders) enters into the decision making algorithms of other syndicates. This, in turn, results in changes in their plans. For example, the syndicates can seek out other suppliers who have a lower scarcity index or substitutes for copper may be used as they have become a more efficient resource to use.
In this way, requests for copper products fall and soon only reflect those requests that really need copper (i.e., do not have realistic substitutes available for it). This would result in the demand falling with respect to the current supply (as indicated by requests from other syndicates and to maintain buffer stock levels). Thus a general message has been sent across the economy that copper has become (relatively) scarce and syndicate plans have changed in light of this information. No central planner made these decisions nor was money required to facilitate them. We have a decentralised, non-market system based on the free distribution of products between self-governing associations.
Looking at the wider picture, the question of how to respond to this change in supply/requests for copper presents itself. The copper syndicate federation and cross-industry syndicate federations have regular meetings and the question of the changes in the copper situation present themselves and they must consider how to response to these changes. Part of this is to determine whether this change is likely to be short term or long term. A short term change (say caused by a mine accident, for example) would not need new investments to be planned. However, long term changes (say the new requests are due to a new product being created by another syndicate or an existing mine becoming exhausted) may need co-ordinated investment (we can expect syndicates to make their own plans in light of changes, for example, by investing in new machinery to produce copper more efficiently or to increase production). If the expected changes of these plans approximately equal the predicted long term changes, then the federation need not act. However, if they do then investment in new copper mines or large scale new investment across the industry may be required. The federation would propose such plans.
Needless to say, the future can be guessed, it cannot be accurately predicted. Thus there may be over-investment in certain industries as expected changes do not materialise. However, unlike capitalism, this would not result in an economic crisis (with over-investment within capitalism, workplaces close due to lack of profits, regardless of social need). All that would happen is that some of the goods produced would not be used, some labour and resources would be wasted and the syndicates would rationalise production, close down relatively inefficient plant and concentrate production in the more efficient ones. The sweeping economic crises of capitalism would be a thing of the past.
In summary, each syndicate receives its own orders and supplies and sends its own produce out to specific consumers. Similarly, communal distribution centres would order required goods from syndicates it determines. In this way consumers can change to syndicates which respond to their needs and so production units are aware of what it is socially useful for them to produce as well as the social cost of the resources they need to produce it. In this way a network of horizontal relations spread across society, with co-ordination achieved by equality of association and not the hierarchy of the corporate structure.
While anarchists are aware of the "isolation paradox" (see section B.6) this does not mean that we think the commune should make decisions for people on what they are to consume. That would be a prison. No, all anarchists agree that is up to the individual to determine their own needs and for the collectives they join to determine social requirements like parks, infrastructure improvements and so on. However, social anarchists think that it would be beneficial to discuss the framework around which these decisions would be made. This would mean, for example, that communes would agree to produce eco-friendly products, reduce waste and generally make decisions enriched by social interaction. Individuals would still decide which sort goods they desire, based on what the collectives produce but these goods would be based on a socially agreed agenda. In this way waste, pollution and other "externalities" of atomised consumption could be reduced. For example, while it is rational for individuals to drive a car to work, collectively this results in massive irrationality (for example, traffic jams, pollution, illness, unpleasant social infrastructures). A sane society would discuss the problems associated with car use and would agree to produce a fully integrated public transport network which would reduce pollution, stress, illness, and so on.
Therefore, while anarchists recognise individual tastes and desires, they are also aware of the social impact of them and so try to create a social environment where individuals can enrich their personal decisions with the input of other people’s ideas.
On a related subject, it is obvious that different syndicates would produce slightly different goods, so ensuring that people have a choice. It is doubtful that the current waste implied in multiple products from different companies (sometimes the same multi-national corporation!) all doing the same job would be continued in an anarchist society. However, production will be "variations on a theme" in order to ensure consumer choice and to allow the producers to know what features consumers prefer. It would be impossible to sit down beforehand and make a list of what features a good should have — that assumes perfect knowledge and that technology is fairly constant. Both these assumptions are of limited use in real life. Therefore, co-operatives would produce goods with different features and production would change to meet the demand these differences suggest (for example, factory A produces a new CD player, and consumption patterns indicate that this is popular and so the rest of the factories convert). This is in addition to R&D experiments and test populations. In this way consumer choice would be maintained, and enhanced as people would be able to influence the decisions of the syndicates as producers (in some cases) and through syndicate/commune dialogue.
Finally, it would be churlish, but essential, to note that capitalism only equates supply and demand in the fantasy world of neo-classical economics. Any real capitalist economy, as we discussed in section I.1.5 is marked by uncertainty and a tendency to over-produce in the response to the higher profits caused by previously under-producing goods, with resulting periods of crisis in which falling effective demand sees a corresponding fall in supply. Not to mention the awkward fact that real needs (demand) are not met simply because people are too poor to pay for the goods (i.e., no effective demand). As such, to suggest that only non-market systems have a problem ensuring demand and supply meet is mistaken.
To conclude, anarchists do not ignore "supply and demand." Instead, they recognise the limitations of the capitalist version of this truism and point out that capitalism is based on effective demand which has no necessary basis with efficient use of resources. Instead of the market, social anarchists advocate a system based on horizontal links between producers which effectively communicates information across society about the relative changes in supply and demand which reflect actual needs of society and not bank balances. The investment response to changes in supply and demand will be discussed in section I.4.8 while section I.4.13 will discuss the allocation of work tasks.
While non-communist forms of anarchism relate consumption to work done, so automatically relating demand to production, this is not the case in communist-anarchism. In that system, distribution is according to need, not deed. Given this, it is a common objection that libertarian communism would lead to people wasting resources by taking more than they need.
Kropotkin, for example, stated that "free communism . . . places the product reaped or manufactured at the disposal of all, leaving to each the liberty to consume them as he pleases in his own home." [The Place of Anarchism in the Evolution of Socialist Thought, p. 7] But, some argue, what if an individual says they "need" a luxury house or a personal yacht? Simply put, workers may not "need" to produce it. As Tom Brown put it, "such things are the product of social labour . . . Under syndicalism . . . it is improbable that any greedy, selfish person would be able to kid a shipyard full of workers to build him a ship all for his own hoggish self. There would be steam luxury yachts, but they would be enjoyed in common." [Syndicalism, p. 51]
Therefore, communist-anarchists are not blind to the fact that free access to products is based upon the actual work of real individuals — "society" provides nothing, individuals working together do. This is reflected in the classic statement of communism: "From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs." This must be considered as a whole as those producing have needs and those receiving have abilities. The needs of both consumer and producer have to be taken into account, and this suggests that those producing have to feel the need to do so. This means that if no syndicate or individual desires to produce a specific order then this order can be classed as an "unreasonable" demand — "unreasonable" in this context meaning that no one freely agrees to produce it. Of course, individuals may agree to barter services in order to get what they want produced if they really want something but such acts in no way undermines a communist society.
This also applies to the demand for goods which are scare and, as a result, require substantial labour and resources to produce. In such circumstances, the producers (either as a specific syndicate or in their confederations) would refuse to supply such a "need" or communes and their confederations would suggest that this would be waste of resources. Ultimately, a free society would seek to avoid the irrationalities of capitalism where the drive for profits results in production for the sake of production and consumption for the sake of consumption and the many work longer and harder to meet the demands of a (wealthy) few. A free people would evaluate the pros and cons of any activity before doing it. As Malatesta put it:
"[A] communist society . . . is not, obviously, about an absolute right to satisfy all of one’s needs, because needs are infinite . . . so their satisfaction is always limited by productive capacity; nor would it be useful or just that the community in order to satisfy excessive needs, otherwise called caprices, of a few individuals, should undertake work, out of proportion to the utility being produced . . . What we would like is for everybody to live in the best possible way: so that everybody with a minimum amount of effort will obtain maximum satisfaction." [At the Café, pp. 60-1]
Communist-anarchists recognise that production, like consumption, must be based on freedom. However, it has been argued that free access would lead to waste as people take more than they would if they had to pay for it. This objection is not as serious as it first appears. There are plenty of examples within current society to indicate that free access will not lead to abuses. Let us take a few examples. In public libraries people are free to sit and read books all day but few, if any, actually do so. Neither do people always take the maximum number of books out at a time. No, they use the library as they need to and feel no need to maximise their use of the institution. Some people never use the library, although it is free. In the case of water supplies, it is clear that people do not leave taps on all day because water is often supplied freely or for a fixed charge. Similarly with pavements, people do not walk everywhere because to do so is free. In such cases individuals use the resource as and when they need to. Equally, vegetarians do not start eating meat when they visit their friend’s parties just because the buffet is free.
We can expect similar results as other resources become freely available. In effect, this argument makes as much sense as arguing that individuals will travel to stops beyond their destination if public transport is based on a fixed charge! Obviously only an idiot would travel further than required in order to get "value for money." However, for many the world seems to be made up of such fools. Perhaps it would be advisable for such critics to hand out political leaflets in the street. Even though the leaflets are free, crowds rarely form around the person handing them out demanding as many copies of the leaflet as possible. Rather, those interested in what the leaflets have to say take them, the rest ignore them. If free access automatically resulted in people taking more than they need then critics of free communism would be puzzled by the lack of demand for what they were handing out!
Part of the problem is that capitalist economics has invented a fictional type of person, Homo Economicus, whose wants are limitless: an individual who always wants more and so whose needs could only satisfied if resources were limitless too. Needless to say, such an individual has never existed. In reality, wants are not limitless — people have diverse tastes and rarely want everything available nor want more of a good than that which satisfies their need.
Communist Anarchists also argue that we cannot judge people’s buying habits under capitalism with their actions in a free society. After all, advertising does not exist to meet people’s needs but rather to create needs by making people insecure about themselves. Simply put, advertising does not amplify existing needs or sell the goods and services that people already want. Advertising would not need to stoop to the level of manipulative adverts that create false personalities for products and provide solutions for problems that the advertisers themselves create if this were the case. Crude it may be, but advertising is based on the creation of insecurities, preying on fears and obscuring rational thought. In an alienated society in which people are subject to hierarchical controls, feelings of insecurity and lack of control and influence would be natural. It is these fears that advertising multiplies — if you cannot have real freedom, then at least you can buy something new. Advertising is the key means of making people unhappy with what they have and who they are. It is naive to claim that advertising has no effect on the psyche of the receiver or that the market merely responds to the populace and makes no attempt to shape their thoughts. If advertising did not work, firms would not spend so much money on it! Advertising creates insecurities about such matter-of-course things and so generates irrational urges to buy which would not exist in a libertarian communist society.
However, there is a deeper point to be made here about consumerism. Capitalism is based on hierarchy, not liberty. This leads to a weakening of individuality as well as a loss of self-identity and sense of community. Both these senses are a deep human need and consumerism is often a means by which people overcome their alienation from their selves and others (religion, ideology and drugs are other means of escape). Therefore the consumption within capitalism reflects its values, not some abstract "human nature." As such, because a firm or industry is making a profit satisfying "needs" within capitalism, it does not follow that people in a free society would have similar wants (i.e., "demand" often does not exist independently of the surrounding society). As Bob Black argues:
"what we want, what we are capable of wanting is relative to the forms of social organisation. People ‘want’ fast food because they have to hurry back to work, because processed supermarket food doesn’t taste much better anyway, because the nuclear family (for the dwindling minority who have even that to go home to) is too small and too stressed to sustain much festivity in cooking and eating — and so forth. It is only people who can’t get what they want who resign themselves to want more of what they can get. Since we cannot be friends and lovers, we wail for more candy." [Friendly Fire, p. 57]
Therefore, most anarchists think that consumerism is a product of a hierarchical society within which people are alienated from themselves and the means by which they can make themselves really happy (i.e. meaningful relationships, liberty, self-managed productive activity, and so on). Consumerism is a means of filling the spiritual hole capitalism creates within us by denying our freedom and violating equality. This means that capitalism produces individuals who define themselves by what they have, not who they are. This leads to consumption for the sake of consumption, as people try to make themselves happy by consuming more commodities. But, as Erich Fromm pointed out, this cannot work for long and only leads to even more insecurity (and so even more consumption):
"If I am what I have and if what I have is lost, who then am I? Nobody but a defeated, deflated, pathetic testimony to a wrong way of living. Because I can lose what I have, I am necessarily constantly worried that I shall lose what I have." [To Have Or To Be, p. 111]
Such insecurity easily makes consumerism seem a "natural" way of life and so make communism seem impossible. However, rampant consumerism is far more a product of lack of meaningful freedom within an alienated society than a "natural law" of human existence. In a society that encouraged and protected individuality by non-hierarchical social relationships and organisations, individuals would have a strong sense of self and so be less inclined to mindlessly consume. As Fromm put it: "If I am what I am and not what I have, nobody can deprive me of or threaten my security and my sense of identity. My centre is within myself." [Op. Cit., p. 112] Such self-centred individuals do not have to consume endlessly to build a sense of security or happiness within themselves.
In other words, the well-developed individuality that an anarchist society would develop would have less need to consume than the average person in a capitalist one. This is not to suggest that life will be bare and without luxuries in an anarchist society, far from it. A society based on the free expression of individuality could be nothing but rich in wealth and diverse in goods and experiences. What we are arguing here is that an anarchist-communist society would not have to fear rampant consumerism making demand outstrip supply constantly and always precisely because freedom will result in a non-alienated society of well developed individuals.
It should not be forgotten that communism has two conditions, distribution according to need and production according to ability. If the latter condition is not met, if someone does not contribute to the goods available in the libertarian communist society, then the former condition is not likely to be tolerated and they would be asked to leave so reducing demand for goods. The freedom to associate means being free not to associate. Thus a free communist society would see goods being supplied as well as demanded. As Malatesta argued:
"Basic to the anarchist system, before communism or any other forms of social conviviality is the principle of the free compact; the rule of integral communism — ‘from each according to his [or her] ability, to each according to his [or her] need’ — applies only to those who accept it, including naturally the conditions which make it practicable." [quoted by Camillo Berneri, "The Problem of Work", pp. 59-82, Why Work?, Vernon Richards (ed.), p. 74]
So, as Malatesta suggested, it should be noted that communist-anarchists are well aware that it is likely that free access to all goods and services cannot be done immediately (see section H.2.5 for details). As Alexander Berkman summarised, "when the social revolution attains the stage where it can produce sufficient for all, then is adopted the Anarchist principle of ‘to each according to his [or her] needs’ . . . But until it is reached, the system of equal sharing . . . is imperative as the only just method. It goes without saying, of course, that special consideration must be given to the sick and the old, to children, and to women during and after pregnancy." [What is Anarchism?, p. 216] Another possibility was suggested by James Guillaume who argued that as long as a product was "in short supply it will to a certain extent have to be rationed. And the easiest way to do this would be to sell these scarce products" but as production grows then "it will not be necessary to ration consumption. The practice of selling, which was adopted as a sort of deterrent to immoderate consumption, will be abolished" and goods "will be distribute[d] . . . in accordance with the needs of the consumers." ["On Building the New Social Order", pp. 356-79, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 368] Other possibilities may include communes deciding that certain scarce goods are only available to those who do the unpleasant work (such as collecting the rubbish) or that people have equal access but the actual goods are shared and used for short periods of time (as is currently the case with public libraries). As Situationist Ken Knabb suggests after usefully discussing "just some of the possibilities": "Experimenting with different methods, people will find out for themselves what forms of ownership, exchange and reckoning are necessary." [Public Secrets, p. 73]
Whether or not full communism can be introduced instantly is a moot point amongst collectivist and communist anarchists, although most would like to see society develop towards a communist goal eventually. Of course, for people used to capitalism this may sound totally utopian. Possibly it is. However, as Oscar Wilde said, a map of the world without Utopia on it is not worth having. One thing is sure, if the developments we have outlined above fail to appear and attempts at communism fail due to waste and demand exceeding supply then a free society would make the necessary decisions and introduce some means of limiting supply (such as, for example, labour notes, equal wages, and so on). Rest assured, though, "the difficulty will be solved and obstacles in the shape of making necessary changes in the detailed working of the system of production and its relation to consumption, will vanish before the ingenuity of the myriad minds vitally concerned in overcoming them." [Charlotte M. Wilson, Anarchist Essays, p. 21]
It is often claimed that without a market producers would ignore the needs of consumers. Without the threat (and fear) of unemployment and destitution and the promise of higher profits, producers would turn out shoddy goods. The holders of this argument point to the example of the Soviet Union which was notorious for terrible goods and a lack of consumer commodities.
Capitalism, in comparison to the old Soviet block, does, to some degree, make the producers accountable to the consumers. If the producer ignores the desires of the consumer then they will loose business to those who do not and be forced, perhaps, out of business (large companies, of course, due to their resources can hold out far longer than smaller ones). Thus we have the carrot (profits) and the stick (fear of poverty) — although, of course, the carrot can be used as a stick against the consumer (no profit, no sale, no matter how much the consumer may need it). Ignoring the obvious objection to this analogy (namely we are human beings, not donkeys!) it does have contain an important point. What will ensure that consumer needs are meet in an anarchist society?
In an Individualist or Mutualist anarchist system, as it is based on a market, producers would be subject to market forces and so have to meet consumers needs. Collectivist-anarchism meets consumer needs in a similar way, as producers would be accountable to consumers by the process of buying and selling between co-operatives. As James Guillaume put it, the workers associations would "deposit their unconsumed commodities in the facilities provided by the [communal] Bank of Exchange . . . The Bank of Exchange would remit to the producers negotiable vouchers representing the value of their products" (this value "having been established in advance by a contractual agreement between the regional co-operative federations and the various communes"). ["On Building the New Social Order", pp. 356-79, Bakunin on Anarchism, pp. 366] If the goods are not in demand then the producer associations would not be able to sell the product of their labour to the Bank of Exchange (or directly to other syndicates or communes) and so they would adjust their output accordingly. Of course, there are problems with these systems due to their basis in the market (as discussed in section I.1.3), although these problems were recognised by Proudhon who argued for an agricultural-industrial federation to protect self-management from the negative effects of market forces (as noted in section I.3.5).
While mutualist and collectivist anarchists can argue that producers would respond to consumer needs otherwise they would not get an income, communist-anarchists (as they seek a moneyless society) cannot argue their system would reward producers in this way. So what mechanism exists to ensure that "the wants of all" are, in fact, met? How does anarcho-communism ensure that production becomes "the mere servant of consumption" and "mould itself on the wants of the consumer, not dictate to him conditions"? [Peter Kropotkin, Act for Yourselves, p. 57] Libertarian communists argue that in a free communist society consumers’ needs would be met. This is because of the decentralised and federal nature of such a society.
So what is the mechanism which makes producers accountable to consumers in a libertarian communist society? Firstly, communes would practice their power of "exit" in the distributive network. If a syndicate was producing sub-standard goods or refusing to change their output in the face of changing consumer needs, then the communal stores would turn to those syndicates which were producing the goods desired. The original syndicates would then be producing for their own stocks, a pointless task and one few, if any, would do. After all, people generally desire their work to have meaning, to be useful. To just work, producing something no-one wanted would be such a demoralising task that few, if any, sane people would do it (under capitalism people put up with spirit destroying work as some income is better than none, such an "incentive" would not exist in a free society).
As can be seen, "exit" would still exist in libertarian communism. However, it could be argued that unresponsive or inefficient syndicates would still exist, exploiting the rest of society by producing rubbish (or goods which are of less than average quality) and consuming the products of other people’s labour, confident that without the fear of poverty and unemployment they can continue to do this indefinitely. Without the market, it is argued, some form of bureaucracy would be required (or develop) which would have the power to punish such syndicates. Thus the state would continue in "libertarian" communism, with the "higher" bodies using coercion against the lower ones to ensure they meet consumer needs or produced enough.
While, at first glance, this appears to be a possible problem on closer inspection it is flawed. This is because anarchism is based not only on "exit" but also "voice". Unlike capitalism, libertarian communism is based on association and communication. Each syndicate and commune is in free agreement and confederation with all the others. Thus, if a specific syndicate was producing bad goods or not pulling its weight, then those in contact with them would soon realise this. First, those unhappy with a syndicate’s work would appeal to them directly to get their act together. If this did not work, then they would notify their disapproval by refusing to associate with them in the future (i.e. they would use their power of "exit" as well as refusing to provide the syndicate with any goods it requires). They would also let society as a whole know (via the media) as well as contacting consumer groups and co-operatives and the relevant producer and communal confederations which they and the other syndicates are members of, who would, in turn, inform their members of the problems (the relevant confederations could include local and regional communal confederations, the general cross-industry confederation, its own industrial/communal confederation and the confederation of the syndicate not pulling its weight). In today’s society, a similar process of "word of mouth" warnings and recommendations goes on, along with consumer groups and media. Our suggestions here are an extension of this common practice (that this process exists suggests that the price mechanism does not, in fact, provide consumers with all the relevant information they need to make decisions, but this is an aside).
If the syndicate in question, after a certain number of complaints had been lodged against it, still did not change its ways, then it would suffer non-violent direct action. This would involve the boycotting of the syndicate and (perhaps) its local commune (such as denying it products and investment), so resulting in the syndicate being excluded from the benefits of association. The syndicate would face the fact that no one else wanted to associate with it and suffer a drop in the goods coming its way, including consumption products for its members. In effect, a similar process would occur to that of a firm under capitalism that looses its customers and so its income. However, we doubt that a free society would subject any person to the evils of destitution or starvation (as capitalism does). Rather, a bare minimum of goods required for survival would still be available.
In the unlikely event this general boycott did not result in a change of heart, then two options are left available. These are either the break-up of the syndicate and the finding of its members new work places or the giving/selling of the syndicate to its current users (i.e. to exclude them from the society they obviously do not want to be part off). The decision of which option to go for would depend on the importance of the workplace in question and the desires of the syndicates’ members. If the syndicate refused to disband, then option two would be the most logical choice (unless the syndicate controlled a scare resource). The second option would, perhaps, be best as this would drive home the benefits of association as the expelled syndicate would have to survive on its own, subject to survival by selling the product of its labour and would soon return to the fold.
Kropotkin argued in these terms over 100 years ago:
"When a railway company, federated with other companies, fails to fulfil its engagements, when its trains are late and goods lie neglected at the stations, the other companies threaten to cancel the contract, and that threat usually suffices.
"It is generally believed . . . that commerce only keeps to its engagements from fear of lawsuits. Nothing of the sort; nine times in ten the trader who has not kept his word will not appear before a judge . . . the sole fact of having driven a creditor to bring a lawsuit suffices for the vast majority of merchants to refuse for good to have any dealings with a man who has compelled one of them to go to law.
"This being so, why should means that are used today among . . . traders in the trade, and railway companies in the organisation of transport, not be made use of in a society based on voluntary work?" [The Conquest of Bread, p. 153]
Thus, to ensure producer accountability of production to consumption, no bureaucratic body is required in libertarian communism (or any other form of anarchism). Rather, communication and direct action by those affected by unresponsive producers would be an effective and efficient means of ensuring the accountability of production to consumption.
Obviously, a given society needs to take into account changes in consumption and so invest in new means of production. An anarchist society is no different. As Guild Socialist G.D.H Cole points out, "it is essential at all times, and in accordance with considerations which vary from time to time, for a community to preserve a balance between production for ultimate use and production for use in further production. And this balance is a matter which ought to be determined by and on behalf of the whole community." [Guild Socialism Restated, p. 144]
How this balance is determined varies according to the school of anarchist thought considered. All agree, however, that such an important task should be under effective community control.
The mutualists see the solution to the problems of investment as creating a system of mutual banks, which reduce interest rates to zero. This would be achieved by "the organisation of credit, on the principle of reciprocity or mutualism . . . In such an organisation credit is raised to the dignity of a social function, managed by the community; and, as society never speculates upon its members, it will lend its credit . . . at the actual cost of transaction." [Charles A. Dana, Proudhon and his "Bank of the People", p. 36] Loans would be allocated to projects which the mutual banks considered likely to succeed and repay the original loan. In this way, the increase in the money supply implied by these acts of credit providing does not generate inflation for money is not created wantonly but rather is aimed at projects which are considered likely to increase the supply of goods and services in the economy (see section G.3.6). Another key source of investment would be internal funds (i.e., retained savings) as is the case with co-operatives today: "Worker-managers finance their new investments partly out of internal funds and partly from external loans . . . Entrepreneurial activity of worker-managers . . . generates profits and losses, i.e., higher or lower income per worker." [Branko Horvat, "The Theory of the Worker-Managed Firm Revisited", pp. 9-25, Journal of Comparative Economics, vol. 10, no. 1, p. 21] As discussed in section I.1.1, eliminating the stock market will not harm investment (almost all investment funds are from other sources) and will remove an important negative influence in economic activity.
Collectivist and communist anarchists recognise that credit is based on human activity, which is represented as money. As Cole pointed out, the "understanding of this point [on investment] depends on a clear appreciation of the fact that all real additions to capital take the form of directing a part of the productive power of labour and using certain materials not for the manufacture of products and the rendering of services incidental to such manufacture for purposes of purposes of further production." [Op. Cit., p. 143] So collectivist and communist anarchists agree with their Mutualist cousins when they state that "[a]ll credit presupposes labour, and, if labour were to cease, credit would be impossible" and that the "legitimate source of credit" was "the labouring classes" who "ought to control it" and for "whose benefit [it should] be used". [Dana, Op. Cit., p. 35]
Therefore, in collectivism, investment funds would exist for syndicates, communes and their in community ("People’s") banks. These would be used to store depreciation funds and as well as other funds agreed to by the syndicates for investment projects (for example, confederations of syndicates may agree to allocate a certain percentage of their labour notes to a common account in order to have the necessary funds available for major investment projects). Similarly, individual syndicates and communes would also create a store of funds for their own investment projects. Moreover, the confederations of syndicates to which these "People’s Banks" would be linked would also have a defined role in investment decisions to ensure that production meets demand by being the forum which decides which investment plans should be given funding (this, we stress, is hardly "central planning" as capitalist firms also plan future investments to meet expected demand). In this, collectivist anarchism is like mutualism and so we would also expect interest-free credit being arranged to facilitate investment.
In a communist-anarchist society, things would be slightly different as this would not have the labour notes used in mutualism and collectivism. This means that the productive syndicates would agree that a certain part of their total output and activity will be directed to investment projects. In effect, each syndicate is able to draw upon the resources approved of by the co-operative commonwealth in the form of an agreed claim on the labour power of society (investment "is essentially an allocation of material and labour, and fundamentally, an allocation of human productive power." [Cole, Op. Cit., pp. 144-5]). In this way, mutual aid ensures a suitable pool of resources for the future from which all benefit.
It should be remembered that savings are not required before credit can be issued. Under capitalism, for example, banks regularly issue credit in excess of their actual reserves of cash (if they did not then, one, they would not be very good capitalists and, two, the economy would grind to a halt). Nor does the interest rate reflect a preference for future goods (as discussed in section C.2.6 interest rates reflect market power, the degree of monopoly in the credit industry, the social and class position of individuals and a host of other factors). Moreover, a developed economy replaces a process in time with a process in space. In peasant and tribal societies, individuals usually did have to spend time and energy making their own tools (the hunter had to stop hunting in order to create a new improved bow or spear). However, with a reasonably developed division of work then different people produce the tools others use and can do so at the same time as the others produce. If workers producing investment goods had to wait until sufficient savings had been gathered before starting work then it is doubtful that any developed economy could function. Thus the notion that "investment" needs saving is somewhat inappropriate, as different workplaces produce consumption goods and others produce investment goods. The issue becomes one of ensuring that enough people and resources go towards both activities.
How would this work? Obviously investment decisions have implications for society as a whole. The implementation of these decisions require the use of existing capacity and so must be the responsibility of the appropriate level of the confederation in question. Investment decisions taken at levels above the production unit become effective in the form of demand for the current output of the syndicates which have the capacity to produce the goods required. This would require each syndicate to "prepare a budget, showing its estimate of requirements both of goods or services for immediate use, and of extensions and improvements." [Cole, Op. Cit., p. 145] These budgets and investment projects would be discussed at the appropriate level of the confederation (in this, communist-anarchism would be similar to collectivist anarchism).
The confederation of syndicates/communes would be the ideal forum to discuss (communicate) the various investment plans required — and to allocate scarce resources between different ends. This would involve, possibly, dividing investment into two groups — necessary and optional — and using statistical techniques to consider the impact of an investment decision (for example, the use of input-output tables could be used to see if a given investment decision in, say, the steel industry would require investment in energy production). In this way social needs and social costs would be taken into account and ensure that investment decisions are not taken in isolation from one another, so causing bottle-necks and insufficient production due to lack of inputs from other industries.
Necessary investments are those which have been agreed upon by the appropriate confederation. It means that resources and productive capacity are prioritised towards them, as indicated in the agreed investment project. It will not be required to determine precisely which syndicates will provide the necessary goods for a given investment project, just that it has priority over other requests. Under capitalism, when a bank gives a company credit, it rarely asks exactly which companies will be contracted with when the money is spent but, rather, it gives the company the power to command the labour of other workers by supplying them with credit/money. Similarly in an anarcho-communist society, except that the other workers have agreed to supply their labour for the project in question by designating it a "necessary investment". This means when a request arrives at a syndicate for a "necessary investment" a syndicate must try and meet it (i.e. it must place the request into its production schedule before "optional" requests, assuming that it has the capacity to meet it). A list of necessary investment projects, including what they require and if they have been ordered, will be available to all syndicates to ensure such a request is a real one.
Optional investment is simply investment projects which have not been agreed to by a confederation. This means that when a syndicate or commune places orders with a syndicate they may not be met or take longer to arrive. The project may go ahead, but it depends on whether the syndicate or commune can find workers willing to do that work. This would be applicable for small scale investment decisions or those which other communes/syndicates do not think of as essential.
Thus we have two inter-related investment strategies. A communist-anarchist society would prioritise certain forms of investment by the use of "necessary" and "optional" investment projects. This socialisation of investment will allow a free society to ensure that social needs are meet while maintaining a decentralised and dynamic economy. Major projects to meet social needs will be organised effectively, but with diversity for minor projects. The tasks of ensuring investment production, making orders for specific goods and so forth, would be as decentralised as other aspects of a free economy and so anarchism "proposes . . . [t]hat usufruct of instruments of production — land included — should be free to all workers, or groups of workers", that "workers should group themselves, and arrange their work as their reason and inclination prompt" and that "the necessary connections between the various industries . . . should be managed on the same voluntary principle." [Charlotte M. Wilson, Anarchist Essays, p. 21]
As for when investment is needed, it is clear that this will be based on the changes in demand for goods in both collectivist and communist anarchism. As Guilliaume put it: "By means of statistics gathered from all the communes in a region, it will be possible to scientifically balance production and consumption. In line with these statistics, it will also be possible to add more help in industries where production is insufficient and reduce the number of men where there is a surplus of production." ["On Building the New Social Order", pp. 356-79, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 370] Obviously, investment in branches of production with a high demand would be essential and this would be easily seen from the statistics generated by the collectives and communes. Tom Brown made this obvious point:
"Goods, as now, will be produced in greater variety, for workers like producing different kinds, and new models, of goods. Now if some goods are unpopular, they will be left on the shelves . . . Of other goods more popular, the shops will be emptied. Surely it is obvious that the [shop] assistant will decrease his order of the unpopular line and increase his order of the popular." [Syndicalism, p. 55]
As a rule of thumb, syndicates that produce investment goods would be inclined to supply other syndicates who are experiencing excess demand before others, all other things being equal. Because of such guidelines and communication between producers, investment would go to those industries that actually required them. In other words, customer choice (as indicated by individuals choosing between the output of different syndicates) would generate information that is relevant to investment decisions.
As production would be decentralised as far as it is sensible and rational to do so, each locality/region would be able to understand its own requirements and apply them as it sees fit. This means that large-scale planning would not be conducted (assuming that it could work in practice, of course) simply because it would not be needed. This, combined with an extensive communications network, would ensure that investment not only did not duplicate unused plant within the economy but that investments take into account the specific problems and opportunities each locality has. Of course, collectives would experiment with new lines and technology as well as existing lines and so invest in new technologies and products. As occurs under capitalism, extensive consumer testing would occur before dedicating major investment decisions to new products.
In addition, investment decisions would also require information which showed the different outcomes of different options. By this we simply mean an analysis of how different investment projects relate to each other in terms of inputs and outputs, compared to the existing techniques. This would be in the form of cost-benefit analysis (as outlined in section I.4.4) and would show when it would make economic, social and ecological sense to switch industrial techniques to more efficient and/or more empowering and/or more ecologically sound methods. Such an evaluation would indicate levels of inputs and compare them to the likely outputs. For example, if a new production technique reduced the number of hours worked in total (comparing the hours worked to produce the machinery with that reduced in using it) as well as reducing waste products for a similar output, then such a technique would be implemented.
Similarly with communities. A commune will obviously have to decide upon and plan civic investment (e.g. new parks, housing and so forth). They will also have the deciding say in industrial developments in their area as it would be unfair for syndicate to just decide to build a cement factory next to a housing co-operative if they did not want it. There is a case for arguing that the local commune will decide on investment decisions for syndicates in its area (for example, a syndicate may produce X plans which will be discussed in the local commune and one plan finalised from the debate). Regional decisions (for example, a new hospital) could be decided at the appropriate level, with information fed from the health syndicate and consumer co-operatives. The actual location for investment decisions will be worked out by those involved. However, local syndicates must be the focal point for developing new products and investment plans in order to encourage innovation.
Therefore, under anarchism no capital market is required to determine whether investment is required and what form it would take. The work that apologists for capitalism claim currently is done by the stock market can be replaced by co-operation and communication between workplaces in a decentralised, confederated network. The relative needs of different consumers of a product can be evaluated by the producers and an informed decision reached on where it would best be used. Without private property, housing, schools, hospitals, workplaces and so on will no longer be cramped into the smallest space possible. Instead, they will be built within a "green" environment. This means that human constructions will be placed within a natural setting and no longer stand apart from nature. In this way human life can be enriched and the evils of cramping as many humans and things into a small a space as is "economical" can be overcome.
Only by taking investment decisions away from "experts" and placing it in the hands of ordinary people will current generations be able to invest according to their, and future generations’, benefit. It is hardly in our best interests to have a system whose aim is to make the wealthy even wealthier and on whose whims are dependent the lives of millions of people.
Not necessarily. This is because technology can allow us to "do more with less," technological progress can improve standards of living for all people, and technologies can be used to increase personal freedom: medical technology, for instance, can free people from the scourges of pain, illness, and a "naturally" short life span; technology can be used to free labour from mundane chores associated with production; advanced communications technology can enhance our ability to freely associate. The list is endless. So the vast majority of anarchists agree with Kropotkin’s comment that the "development of [the industrial] technique at last gives man [sic!] the opportunity to free himself from slavish toil." [Ethics, p. 2]
For example, increased productivity under capitalism usually leads to further exploitation and domination, displaced workers, economic crisis, etc. However, it does not have to so in an anarchist world. By way of example, consider a commune in which 5 people desire to be bakers (or 5 people are needed to work the communal bakery) and 20 hours of production per person, per week is spent on baking bread. Now, what happens if the introduction of automation, as desired, planned and organised by the workers themselves, reduces the amount of labour required for bread production to 15 person-hours per week? Clearly, no one stands to lose — even if someone’s work is "displaced" that person will continue to receive the same access to the means of life as before — and they might even gain. This last is due to the fact that 5 person-hours have been freed up from the task of bread production, and those person-hours may now be used elsewhere or converted to leisure, either way increasing each person’s standard of living.
Obviously, this happy outcome derives not only from the technology used, but also (and critically) from its use in an equitable economic and social system: in the end, there is no reason why the use of technology cannot be used to empower people and increase their freedom!
Of course technology can be used for oppressive ends. Human knowledge, like all things, can be used to increase freedom or to decrease it, to promote inequality or reduce it, to aid the worker or to subjugate them, and so on. Technology, as we argued in section D.10, cannot be considered in isolation from the society it is created and used in. Most anarchists are aware that, to quote expert David Noble, "Capital invested in machines that would re-enforce the system of domination [within the capitalist workplace], and this decision to invest, which might in the long run render the chosen technology economical, was not itself an economical decision but a political one, with cultural sanction." [Progress Without People, p. 6] In a hierarchical society, technology will be introduced that serves the interests of the powerful and helps marginalise and disempower the majority ("technology is political," to use Noble’s expression). It does not evolve in isolation from human beings and the social relationships and power structures between them.
It is for these reasons that anarchists have held a wide range of opinions concerning the relationship between human knowledge and anarchism. Some, such as Peter Kropotkin, were themselves scientists and saw great potential for the use of advanced technology to expand human freedom. Others have held technology at arm’s length, concerned about its oppressive uses, and a few have rejected science and technology completely. All of these are, of course, possible anarchist positions. But most anarchists support Kropotkin’s viewpoint, but with a healthy dose of practical Luddism when viewing how technology is (ab)used in capitalism ("The worker will only respect machinery in the day when it becomes his friend, shortening his work, rather than as today, his enemy, taking away jobs, killing workers." [Emile Pouget quoted by Noble, Op. Cit., p. 15]). Vernon Richards stated the obvious:
"We maintain that the term ‘productivity’ has meaning, or is socially important, only when all production serves a public need . . .
"Productivity has meaning if it results both in a raising of living standards and an increase of leisure for all.
"’Productivity’ in the society we live in, because it is not a means to a social end, but is the means whereby industrialists hope to make greater profits for themselves and their shareholders, should be resolutely resisted by the working people, for it brings them neither greater leisure nor liberation from wage-slavery. Indeed for many it means unemployment . . .
"The attempts by managers and the technocrats to streamline industry are resisted intuitively by most work people even if they haven’t two political ideas in their heads to knock together, not because they are resistant to change per se but because they cannot see that ‘change’ will do them any good. And of course they are right! Such an attitude is nevertheless a negative one, and the task of anarchist propagandists should be to make them aware of this and point to the only alternative, which, in broad terms, is that the producers of wealth must control it for the benefit of all." [Why Work?, Vernon Richards (ed.), p. 206]
This means that in an anarchist society, technology would have to be transformed and/or developed which empowered those who used it, so reducing any oppressive aspects associated with it. As Kropotkin argued, we are (potentially) in a good position, because "[f]or the first time in the history of civilisation, mankind has reached a point where the means of satisfying its needs are in excess of the needs themselves. To impose, therefore, as hitherto been done, the curse of misery and degradation upon vast divisions of mankind, in order to secure well-being and further development for the few, is needed no more: well-being can be secured for all, without placing on anyone the burden of oppressive, degrading toil and humanity can at last build its entire social life on the basis of justice." [Op. Cit., p. 2] The question is, for most anarchists, how can we humanise and modify this technology and make it socially and individually liberatory, rather than destroying it (where applicable, of course, certain forms of technology and industry will be eliminated due to their inherently destructive nature).
For Kropotkin, like most anarchists, the way to humanise technology and industry was for "the workers [to] lay hands on factories, houses and banks" and so "present production would be completely revolutionised by this simple fact." This would be the start of a process which would integrate industry and agriculture, as it was "essential that work-shops, foundries and factories develop within the reach of the fields." [The Conquest of Bread, p. 190] Such a process would obviously involve the transformation of both the structure and technology of capitalism rather than its simple and unthinking application. As discussed in section A.3.9, while a few anarchists do seek to eliminate all forms of technology, most would agree with Bakunin when he argued that "to destroy . . . all the instruments of labour . . . would be to condemn all humanity — which is infinitely too numerous today to exist . . . on the simple gifts of nature . . . — to . . . death by starvation." His solution to the question of technology was, like Kropotkin’s, to place it at the service of those who use it, to create "the intimate and complete union of capital and labour" so that it would "not . . . remain concentrated in the hands of a separate, exploiting class." Only this could "smash the tyranny of capital." [The Basic Bakunin, pp. 90-1] So most anarchists seek to transform rather then eliminate technology and to do that we need to be in possession of the means of production before we can decide what to keep, what to change and what to throw away as inhuman. In other words, it is not enough to get rid of the boss, although this is a necessary first step!
Anarchists of all types recognise the importance of critically evaluating technology, industry and so on. The first step of any revolution will be the seizing of the means of production. The second immediate step will be the start of their radical transformation by those who use them and are affected by them (i.e. communities, those who use the products they produce and so on). Few, if any, anarchists seek to maintain the current industrial set-up or apply, unchanged, capitalist technology. We doubt that many of the workers who use that technology and work in industry will leave either unchanged. Rather, they will seek to liberate the technology they use from the influences of capitalism, just as they liberated themselves.
This will, of course, involve the shutting down (perhaps instantly or over a period of time) of many branches of industry and the abandonment of such technology which cannot be transformed into something more suitable for use by free individuals. And, of course, many workplaces will be transformed to produce new goods required to meet the needs of the revolutionary people or close due to necessity as a social revolution will disrupt the market for their goods — such as producers of luxury export goods or suppliers of repressive equipment for state security forces. Altogether, a social revolution implies the transformation of technology and industry, just as it implies the transformation of society.
This process of transforming work can be seen from the Spanish Revolution. Immediately after taking over the means of production, the Spanish workers started to transform it. They eliminated unsafe and unhygienic working conditions and workplaces and created new workplaces based on safe and hygienic working conditions. Working practices were transformed as those who did the work (and so understood it) managed it. Many workplaces were transformed to create products required by the war effort (such as weapons, ammunition, tanks and so on) and to produce consumer goods to meet the needs of the local population as the normal sources of such goods, as Kropotkin predicted, were unavailable due to economic disruption and isolation. Needless to say, these were only the beginnings of the process but they clearly point the way any libertarian social revolution would progress, namely the total transformation of work, industry and technology. Technological change would develop along new lines, ones which will take into account human and ecological needs rather the power and profits of a minority.
Explicit in anarchism is the belief that capitalist and statist methods cannot be used for socialist and libertarian ends. In our struggle for workers’ and community self-management is the awareness that workplaces are not merely sites of production — they are also sites of reproduction, the reproduction of certain social relationships based on specific relations of authority between those who give orders and those who take them. The battle to democratise the workplace, to place the collective initiative of the direct producers at the centre of any productive activity, is clearly a battle to transform the workplace, the nature of work and, by necessity, technology as well. As Kropotkin argued:
"revolution is more than a mere change of the prevailing political system. It implies the awakening of human intelligence, the increasing of the inventive spirit tenfold, a hundredfold; it is the dawn of a new science . . . It is a revolution in the minds of men, as deep, and deeper still, than in their institutions . . . the sole fact of having laid hands on middle-class property will imply the necessity of completely re-organising the whole of economic life in the workplaces, the dockyards, the factories." [Op. Cit., p. 192]
And some think that industry and technology will remain unchanged by such a process and that workers will continue doing the same sort of work, in the same way, using the same methods!
For Kropotkin "all production has taken a wrong direction, as it is not carried on with a view to securing well-being for all" under capitalism. [Op. Cit., p. 101] Well-being for all obviously includes those who do the producing and so covers the structure of industry and the technological processes used. Similarly, well-being also includes a person’s environment and surroundings and so technology and industry must be evaluated on an ecological basis. Technological progress in an anarchist society, needless to say, will have to take into account these factors as well as others people think are relevant, otherwise the ideal of "well-being for all" is rejected (see section I.4.15 for a discussion of what the workplace of the future could look like).
So, technology always partakes of and expresses the basic values of the social system in which it is embedded. If you have a system (capitalism) that alienates everything, it will naturally produce alienated forms of technology and it will orient those technologies so as to reinforce itself. Capitalists will select technology which re-enforces their power and profits and skew technological change in that direction rather than in those which empower individuals and make the workplace more egalitarian.
All this suggests that technological progress is not neutral but dependent on who makes the decisions. As David Noble argues, "[t]echnological determinism, the view that machines make history rather than people, is not correct . . . If social changes now upon us seem necessary, it is because they follow not from any disembodied technological logic, but form a social logic." Technology conforms to "the interests of power" but as "technological process is a social process" then "it is, like all social processes, marked by conflict and struggle, and the outcome, therefore, is always ultimately indeterminate." Viewing technological development "as a social process rather than as an autonomous, transcendent, and deterministic force can be liberating . . . because it opens up a realm of freedom too long denied. It restores people once again to their proper role as subjects of the story, rather than mere pawns of technology . . . And technological development itself, now seen as a social construct, becomes a new variable rather than a first cause, consisting of a range of possibilities and promising a multiplicity of futures." [Forces of Production, pp. 324-5]
This does not mean that we have to reject all technology and industry because it has been shaped by, or developed within, class society. Certain technologies are, of course, so insanely dangerous that they will no doubt be brought to a prompt halt in any sane society. Similarly, certain forms of technology and industrial process will be impossible to transform as they are inherently designed for oppressive ends. Many other industries which produce absurd, obsolete or superfluous commodities will, of course, cease automatically with the disappearance of their commercial or social rationales. But many technologies, however they may presently be misused, have few if any inherent drawbacks. They could be easily adapted to other uses. When people free themselves from domination, they will have no trouble rejecting those technologies that are harmful while adapting others to beneficial uses.
Change society and the technology introduced and utilised will likewise change. By viewing technological progress as a new variable, dependent on those who make the decisions and the type of society they live in, allows us to see that technological development is not inherently anti-anarchist. A non-oppressive, non-exploitative, ecological society will develop non-oppressive, non-exploitative, ecological technology just as capitalism has developed technology which facilitates exploitation, oppression and environmental destruction. Thus an anarchist questions technology: The best technology? Best for whom? Best for what? Best according to what criteria, what visions, according to whose criteria and whose visions?
Needless to say, different communities and different regions would choose different priorities and different lifestyles. As the CNT’s Zaragoza resolution on libertarian communism made clear, "those communes which reject industrialisation . . . may agree upon a different model of co-existence." Using the example of "naturists and nudists," it argued that they "will be entitled to an autonomous administration released from the general commitments" agreed by the communes and their federations and "their delegates to congresses of the . . . Confederation of Autonomous Libertarian Communes will be empowered to enter into economic contacts with other agricultural and industrial Communes." [quoted by Jose Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, vol. 1, p. 106]
For most anarchists, though, technological advancement is important in a free society in order to maximise the free time available for everyone and replace mindless toil with meaningful work. The means of doing so is the use of appropriate technology (and not the worship of technology as such). Only by critically evaluating technology and introducing such forms which empower, are understandable and are controllable by individuals and communities as well as minimising ecological distribution can this be achieved. Only this critical approach to technology can do justice to the power of the human mind and reflect the creative powers which developed the technology in the first place. Unquestioning acceptance of technological progress is just as bad as being unquestioningly anti-technology.
We noted earlier (in section I.3.1) that competition between syndicates could lead to "co-operative egotism" (to use Kropotkin’s term) and that to eliminate this problem, the basis of collectivisation needs to be widened so that production is based on need and, as a result, surpluses are distributed society-wide. The advantage of a wide surplus distribution is that it allows all to have a decent life and stop market forces making people work harder and longer to survive in the economy (see section I.1.3). The consolidation of syndicates that would otherwise compete will, it is hoped, lead to a more efficient allocation of resources and technical improvements so allowing the transformation of work and reduction of the time we need to spend in production. We will back up this claim with illustrations from the Spanish Revolution as well as from today’s system.
Collectivisation in Catalonia embraced not only major industries like municipal transportation and utilities, but smaller establishments as well: small factories, artisan workshops, service and repair shops, etc. Augustin Souchy describes the process as follows:
"The artisans and small workshop owners, together with their employees and apprentices, often joined the union of their trade. By consolidating their efforts and pooling their resources on a fraternal basis, the shops were able to undertake very big projects and provide services on a much wider scale . . . The collectivisation of the hairdressing shops provides an excellent example of how the transition of a small-scale manufacturing and service industry from capitalism to socialism was achieved . . .
"Before July 19th, 1936 [the date of the Revolution], there were 1,100 hairdressing parlours in Barcelona, most of them owned by poor wretches living from hand to mouth. The shops were often dirty and ill-maintained. The 5,000 hairdressing assistants were among the most poorly paid workers . . . Both owners and assistants therefore voluntarily decided to socialise all their shops.
"How was this done? All the shops simply joined the union. At a general meeting they decided to shut down all the unprofitable shops. The 1,100 shops were reduced to 235 establishments, a saving of 135,000 pesetas per month in rent, lighting, and taxes. The remaining 235 shops were modernised and elegantly outfitted. From the money saved, wages were increased by 40%. Everyone having the right to work and everyone received the same wages. The former owners were not adversely affected by socialisation. They were employed at a steady income. All worked together under equal conditions and equal pay. The distinction between employers and employees was obliterated and they were transformed into a working community of equals — socialism from the bottom up." [The Anarchist Collectives, Sam Dolgoff (ed.), pp. 93-94]
The collectives, as well as improving working conditions, also ensured access to other goods and services which market forces had previously denied working class people. Across Republican Spain collectives in towns and villages organised health care. For example, in the village of Magdalena de Pulpis housing "was free and completely socialised, as was medical care . . . Medicines, supplies, transfer to hospitals in Barcelona or Castellon, surgery, services of specialists — all was paid for by the collective." This was also done for education, with collectives forming and running schools, colleges and universities. For example, Regional Peasant Federation of Levant saw each collective organise "one or two free schools for the children" and "almost wiped out illiteracy" (over 70% of rural Spain was illiterate before the Civil War). It also organised a "University of Moncada" which "gave courses in animal husbandry, poultry raising. animal breeding, agriculture, tree science, etc." [Gaston Leval, Op. Cit., p. 156 and p. 125]
These examples, social anarchists argue, show that co-operation ensures that resources are efficiently allocated and waste is minimised by cutting down needless competition. It also ensures that necessary goods and services which meet vital areas for human well-being and development are available for all rather than the few. Rather than reduce choice, such co-operation increased it by making such things available to all (and as consumers have choices in which syndicate to consume from as well as having direct communication between consumer co-operatives and productive units, there is little danger that rationalisation in production will hurt the interests of the consumer).
Another way in which wide distribution of surplus can be advantageous is in Research and Development (R&D). By creating a fund for research and development which is independent of the fortunes of individual syndicates, society as a whole can be improved by access to useful new technologies and processes. Therefore, in a libertarian socialist society, people (both within the workplace and in communities) are likely to decide to allocate significant amounts of resources for basic research from the available social output. This is because the results of this research would be freely available to all and so would aid everyone in the long term. In addition, because workers directly control their workplace and the local community effectively "owns" it, all affected would have an interest in exploring research which would reduce labour, pollution, waste and so on or increase output with little or no social impact.
It should also be mentioned here that research would be pursued more and more as people take an increased interest in both their own work and education. As people become liberated from the grind of everyday life, they will explore possibilities as their interests take them and so research will take place on many levels within society – in the workplace, in the community, in education and so on.
This means that research and innovation would be in the direct interests of everyone involved and that all would have the means to do it. Under capitalism, this is not the case. Most research is conducted in order to get an edge in the market by increasing productivity or expanding production into new (previously unwanted) areas. Any increased productivity often leads to unemployment, deskilling and other negative effects for those involved. Libertarian socialism will not face this problem. Moreover, it should be stressed that basic research is not something which free-market capitalism does well. As Doug Henwood notes, basic science research "is heavily funded by the public sector and non-profit institutions like universities." The internet and computer, for example, were both projects for the Pentagon and "the government picked up the basic R&D tab for decades, when neither Wall Street nor private industry showed any interest. In fact, capital only became interested when the start-up costs had all been borne by the public sector and there were finally profits to be made . . . good American individualists don’t like to talk about the public sector, since their hero is the plucky entrepreneur." [After the New Economy, p. 196 and p. 6] The rise of such systems across the world indicates that basic research often needs public support in order to be done. Even such a leading neo-classical economist as Kenneth Arrow had to admit in the 1960s that market forces are insufficient:
"basic research, the output of which is only used as an informational input into other inventive activities, is especially unlikely to be rewarded. In fact, it is likely to be of commercial value to the firm undertaking it only if other firms are prevented from using the information. But such restriction reduces the efficiency of inventive activity in general, and will therefore reduce its quantity also." [quoted by David Schweickart, Against capitalism, p. 132]
Nothing has changed since. Would modern society have produced so many innovations if it had not been for the Pentagon system, the space race and so on? Take the Internet, for example — it is unlikely that this would have got off the ground if it had not been for public funding. Needless to say, of course, much of this technology has been developed for evil reasons and purposes and would be in need of drastic change (or in some cases abolition) before it could be used in a libertarian society. However, the fact remains that it is unlikely that a pure market based system could have generated most of the technology we take for granted. As Noam Chomsky argues:
"[Alan] Greenspan [then head of the US Federal Reserve] gave a talk to newspaper editors in the US. He spoke passionately about the miracles of the market, the wonders brought by consumer choice, and so on. He also gave examples: the Internet, computers, information processing, lasers, satellites, transistors. It’s an interesting list: these are textbook examples of creativity and production in the public sector. In the case of the Internet, for 30 years it was designed, developed and funded primarily in the public sector, mostly the Pentagon, then the National Science Foundation — that’s most of the hardware, the software, new ideas, technology, and so on. In just the last couple of years it has been handed over to people like Bill Gates . . . In the case of the Internet, consumer choice was close to zero, and during the crucial development stages that same was true of computers, information processing, and all the rest . . .
"In fact, of all the examples that Greenspan gives, the only one that maybe rises above the level of a joke is transistors, and they are an interesting case. Transistors, in fact, were developed in a private laboratory — Bell Telephone Laboratories of AT&T — which also made major contributions to solar cells, radio astronomy, information theory, and lots of other important things. But what is the role of markets and consumer choice in that? Well, again, it turns out, zero. AT&T was a government supported monopoly, so there was no consumer choice, and as a monopoly they could charge high prices: in effect a tax on the public which they could use for institutions like Bell Laboratories . . . So again, it’s publicly subsidised. As if to demonstrate the point, as soon as the industry was deregulated, Bell Labs went out of existence, because the public wasn’t paying for it any more . . . But that’s only the beginning of the story. True, Bell invented transistors, but they used wartime technology, which, again, was publicly subsidised and state-initiated. Furthermore, there was nobody to buy transistors at that time, because they were very expensive to produce. So, for ten years the government was the major procurer . . . Government procurement provided entrepreneurial initiatives and guided the development of the technology, which could then be disseminated to industry." [Rogue States, pp. 192-3]
The free market can also have a negative impact on innovation. This is because, in order to please shareholders with higher share prices, companies may reduce funds available for real investment as well as R&D which would also depress growth and employment in the long term. What shareholders might condemn as "uneconomic" (investment projects and R&D) can, and does, make society as a whole better off. However, these gains are over the long term and, within capitalism, it is short-term gains which count. Higher share prices in the here and now are essential in order to survive and so see the long-run.
A socialised economy with a wide-scale sharing of surpluses and resources could easily allocate resources for R&D, long term investment, innovation and so on. Via the use of mutual banks or confederations of syndicates and communes, resources could be allocated which take into account the importance of long-term priorities, as well as social costs, which are not taken into account (indeed, are beneficial to ignore) under capitalism. Rather than penalise long term investment and research and development, a socialised economy would ensure that adequate resources are available, something which would benefit everyone in society in some way.
If we look at vocational training and education, a wide basis of surplus distribution would aid this no end. Under free market capitalism, vocational training suffers for profit seeking firms will not incur costs that will be enjoyed by others. This means that firms will be reluctant to spend money on training if they fear that the trained workers will soon be poached by other firms which can offer more money because they had not incurred the cost of providing training. As a result few firms will provide the required training as they could not be sure that the trained workers will not leave for their competitors (and, of course, a trained work force also, due to their skill, have more workplace power and are less replaceable). So as well as technological developments, a wide basis of surplus distribution would help improve the skills and knowledge of the members of a community. As Keynesian economist Michael Stewart points out, "[t]here are both theoretical and empirical reasons to suppose that market forces under-provide research and development expenditures, as well as both education and training." [Keynes in the 1990s, p. 77]
By socialising training via confederations of workplaces, syndicates could increase productivity via increasing the skill levels of their members. Higher skill levels will also tend to increase innovation and enjoyment at "work" when combined with workers’ self-management. This is because an educated workforce in control of their own time will be unlikely to tolerate mundane, boring, machine-like work and seek ways to eliminate it, improve the working environment and increase productivity to give them more free time.
In addition to work conducted by syndicates, education establishments, communes and so on, it would be essential to provide resources for individuals and small groups to pursue "pet projects." Of course, syndicates and confederations will have their own research institutions but the innovatory role of the interested "amateur" cannot be over-rated. As Kropotkin argued:
"What is needed to promote the spirit of innovation is . . . the awakening of thought, the boldness of conception, which our entire education causes to languish; it is the spreading of a scientific education, which would increase the numbers of inquirers a hundred-fold; it is faith that humanity is going to take a step forward, because it is enthusiasm, the hope of doing good, that has inspired all the great inventors. The Social Revolution alone can give this impulse to thought, this boldness, this knowledge, this conviction of working for all.
"Then we shall have vast institutes . . . immense industrial laboratories open to all inquirers, where men will be able to work out their dreams, after having acquitted themselves of their duty towards society; . . . where they will make their experiments; where they will find other comrades, experts in other branches of industry, likewise coming to study some difficult problem, and therefore able to help and enlighten each other — the encounter of their ideas and experiences causing the longed-for solution to be found." [The Conquest of Bread, p. 117]
The example of free software (operating systems, programming languages, specific packages and code) today shows the potential of this. Thus socialisation would aid innovation and scientific development by providing the necessary resources (including free time) for such work. Moreover, it would also provide the community spirit required to push the boundaries of science forward. As John O’Neil argues:
"There is, in a competitive market economy, a disincentive to communicate information. The market encourages secrecy, which is inimical to openness in science. It presupposes a view of property in which the owner has rights to exclude others. In the sphere of science, such rights of exclusion place limits on the communication of information and theories which are incompatible with the growth of knowledge . . . science tends to grow when communication is open. . . [In addition a] necessary condition for the acceptability of a theory or experimental result is that it pass the public, critical scrutiny of competent scientific judges. A private theory or result is one that is shielded from the criteria of scientific acceptability." [The Market, p. 153]
Today inventors often "carefully hide their inventions from each other, as they are hampered by patents and Capitalism — that bane of present society, that stumbling-block in the path of intellectual and moral progress." In a free society, socialisation would ensure that inventors will be able to build upon the knowledge of everyone, including past generations. Rather than hide knowledge from others, in case they get a competitive advantage, knowledge would be shared, enriching all involved as well as the rest of society. Thus the "spreading of a scientific education, which would increase the number of inquirers", "faith that humanity is going to take a step forward" and the "enthusiasm, the hope of doing good, that has inspired all the great inventors" will be maximised and innovation increased. [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 117 and pp. 116-7]
Social anarchists would also suggest that socialisation would produce more benefits by looking at existing societies. The evidence from the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and China shows that privatisation of nationalised industries associated with neo-liberalism failed in its stated aims of cheaper and better services while more than succeeding in their unstated aim of redistributing wealth upwards (for details see In Government we Trust: Market Failure and the delusions of privatisation by Warrick Funnell, Robert Jupe and Jane Andrew). The examples of railway and utility privatisation, the energy crisis in California (with companies like Enron reaping huge speculative profits while consumers faced blackouts) and the Sydney water treatment scandal in Australia are sadly all too typical. Ironically, in the UK after 30 years of Thatcherite policies (first under the Tories and then New Labour) the readers of the right-wing press who supported it are subjected to article after article complaining about "Rip off Britain" and yet more increases in the prices charged for privatised utilities, services and goods. This, it must be stressed, is not to suggest that anarchists aim for nationalisation (we do not, we aim for socialisation and workers’ self-management) but rather to indicate that privatising resources does not benefit the majority of people in a given society.
It should also be noted that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better show that almost every modern social and environmental problem (including ill-health, lack of community life, violence, drugs, obesity, mental illness, long working hours, big prison populations) is more likely to occur in an unequal society than a more equal one. Based on thirty years of research, it shows that inequality, as anarchists have long argued, is bad for us. As such, socialisation of wealth would benefit us all.
Lastly, there is the issue of those who cannot work and the general provision of public goods. With a wide distribution to surplus, communal hospitals, schools, universities and so on can be created. The simple fact is that any society has members who cannot (indeed, should not) work unless they want to, such as the young, the old and the sick. In an Individualist Anarchist society, there is no real provision for these individuals unless someone (a family member, friend or charity) provides them with the money required for hospital fees and so on. For most anarchists, such a situation seems far too much like the system we are currently fighting against to be appealing. As such, social anarchists argue that everyone deserves an education, health care and so on as a right and so be able live a fully human life as a right, rather than a privilege to be paid for. A communal basis for distribution would ensure that every member of the commune can receive such things automatically, as and when required. The removal of the worry that, for example, privatised health care produces can be seen as a benefit of socialisation which cannot be reflected in, say, GDP or similar economic measures (not to mention the ethical statement it makes).
Significantly, though, non-privatised systems of health care are more efficient. Competition as well as denying people treatment also leads to inefficiencies as prices are inflated to pay for advertising, competition related administration costs, paying dividends to share-holders and so on. This drives up the cost for those lucky enough to be covered, not to mention the stress produced by the constant fear of losing insurance or being denied payment due to the insurance company deciding against the patient and their doctor. For example, in 1993, Canada’s health plans devoted 0.9% of spending to overhead, compared to U.S. figures of 3.2% for Medicare and 12% for private insurers. In addition, when Canada adopted its publicly financed system in 1971, it and the U.S. both spent just over 7% of GDP on health care. By 1990, the U.S. was up to 12.3%, verses Canada’s 9%. Since then costs have continued to rise and rise, making health-care reform of key interest to the public who are suffering under it (assuming they are lucky enough to have private insurance, of course).
The madness of private health-care shows the benefits of a society-wide distribution of surpluses. Competition harms health-care provision and, as a result, people. According to Alfie Kohn:
"More hospitals and clinics are being run by for-profit corporations; many institutions, forced to battle for ‘customers,’ seem to value a skilled director of marketing more highly than a skilled caregiver. As in any other economic sector, the race for profits translates into pressure to reduce costs, and the easiest way to do it here is to cut back on services to unprofitable patients, that is, those who are more sick than rich . . . The result: hospital costs are actually higher in areas where there is more competition for patients." [No Contest, p. 240]
American Liberal Robert Kuttner concurs:
"The American health-care system is a tangle of inequity and inefficiency — and getting worse as private-market forces seek to rationalise it. A shift to a universal system of health coverage would cut this Gordian knot at a stroke. It would not only deliver the explicitly medical aspects of health more efficiently and fairly, but, by socialising costs of poor health, it would also create a powerful financial incentive for society as a whole to stress primary prevention. . . every nation with a universal system spends less of its GDP on health care than the United States . . . And nearly every other nation with a universal system has longer life spans from birth (though roughly equivalent life spans from adulthood) . . . most nations with universal systems also have greater patient satisfaction.
"The reasons . . . should be obvious. By their nature, universal systems spend less money on wasteful overhead, and more on primary prevention. Health-insurance overhead in the United States alone consumes about 1 percent of the GDP, compared to 0.1 percent in Canada. Though medical inflation is a problem everywhere, the universal systems have had far lower rates of cost inflation . . . In the years between 1980 and 1987, total health costs in the United States increased by 2.4 times the rate of GDP growth. In nations with universal systems, they increased far more slowly. The figures for Sweden, France, West Germany, and Britain were 1.2, 1.6, 1.8, and 1.7 percent, respectively . . .
"Remarkably enough, the United States spends most money on health care, but has the fewest beds per thousand in population, the lowest admission rate, and the lowest occupancy rate — coupled with the highest daily cost, highest technology-intensiveness, and greatest number of employees per bed." [Everything for Sale, pp. 155-6]
In 1993, the US paid 13.4% of its GDP towards health care, compared to 10% for Canada, 8.6% for Sweden and Germany, 6.6% for Britain and 6.8% for Japan. Only 40% of the US population was covered by public health care and over 35 million people, 14% of the population, went without health insurance for all of 1991, and about twice that many were uninsured for some period during the year. In terms of health indicators, the US people are not getting value for money. Life expectancy is higher in Canada, Sweden, Germany, Japan and Britain. The USA has the highest levels of infant mortality and is last in basic health indicators as well as having fewer doctors per 1,000 people than the OECD average. All in all, the US system is miles behind the universal systems of other countries.
Of course, it will be argued that the USA is not a pure "free market" and so comparisons are pointless. However, it seems strange that the more competitive system, the more privatised system, is less efficient and less fair than the universal systems. It also seems strange that defenders of competition happily use examples from "actually existing" capitalism to illustrate their politics but reject negative examples as being a product of an "impure" system. They want to have their cake and eat it too.
Significantly, we should note that the use of surplus for communal services (such as hospitals and education) can be seen from the Spanish Revolution. Many collectives funded new hospitals and colleges for their members, providing hundreds of thousands with services they could never have afforded by their own labour. This is a classic example of co-operation helping the co-operators achieve far more than they could by their own isolated activities. How this libertarian health system was run and how other public services would be organised in a free society are discussed in section I.5.12.
So we can generalise from our experiences of different kinds of capitalism. If you want to live in a society of well-educated people, working today as equals in pleasant surroundings with more than ample leisure time to pursue your own projects and activities, then a wide sharing of the social surplus is required. Otherwise, you could live in a society where people work long and hard to survive on the market, without the time or opportunity for education and leisure, and be bossed about for most of your waking hours to enrich the wealthy few so that they can live a life of leisure (which, in turn, will apparently inspire you to work harder in spite of the fact that such high inequality produces low social mobility). The first society, according to some, would be one of self-sacrificing altruism and "collectivism" while the latter is, apparently, one based on "individualism" and self-interest…
Firstly, just to be totally clear, by the profit motive we mean money profit. As anarchists consider co-operation to be in our self-interest — i.e. we will "profit" from it in the widest sense possible — we are not dismissing the fact people usually act to improve their own situation. However, money profit is a very narrow form of "self-interest," indeed so narrow as to be positively harmful to the individual in many ways (in terms of personal development, interpersonal relationships, economic and social well-being, and so on). In other words, do not take our discussion here on the "profit motive" to imply a denial of self-interest, quite the reverse. Anarchists simply reject the "narrow concept of life which consist[s] in thinking that profits are the only leading motive of human society." [Peter Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, p. 25]
Secondly, we cannot hope to deal fully with the harmful effects of competition and the profit motive. For more information, we recommend Alfie Kohn’s No Contest: The Case Against Competition and Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes. He documents the extensive evidence accumulated that disproves the "common sense" of capitalism that competition and profits are the best way to organise a society.
According to Kohn, a growing body of psychological research suggests that rewards can lower performance levels, especially when the performance involves creativity. His books summarise the related series of studies which show that intrinsic interest in a task — the sense that something is worth doing for its own sake — typically declines when someone is rewarded for doing it. Much of the research on creativity and motivation has been performed by Theresa Amabile, associate professor of psychology at Brandeis University. She has consistently found that those promised rewards did the least creative work: "rewards killed creativity, and this was true regardless of the type of task, the type of reward, the timing of the reward or the age of the people involved." [Punished by Rewards, p. 45] Such research casts doubt on the claim that financial reward is the only effective way — or even the best way — to motivate people. They challenge the behaviourist assumption that any activity is more likely to occur or be better in terms of outcome if it is rewarded.
These findings re-enforce the findings of other scientific fields. Biology, social psychology, ethnology and anthropology all present evidence that support co-operation as the natural basis for human interaction. For example, ethnological studies indicate that virtually all indigenous cultures operate on the basis of highly co-operative relationships and anthropologists have presented evidence to show that the predominant force driving early human evolution was co-operative social interaction, leading to the capacity of hominids to develop culture. This is even sinking into capitalism, with industrial psychology now promoting "worker participation" and team functioning because it is decisively more productive than hierarchical management. More importantly, the evidence shows that co-operative workplaces are more productive than those organised on other principles. All other things equal, producers’ co-operatives will be more efficient than capitalist or state enterprises, on average. Co-operatives can often achieve higher productivity even when their equipment and conditions are worse. Furthermore, the better the organisation approximates the co-operative ideal, the better the productivity.
All this is unsurprising to social anarchists (and it should make individualist anarchists reconsider their position). Peter Kropotkin argued that, "[i]f we . . . ask Nature: ‘Who are the fittest: those who are continually at war with each other, or those who support one another?’ we at once see that those animals which acquire habits of mutual aid are undoubtedly the fittest. They have more chances to survive, and they attain, in their respective classes, the highest development of intelligence and bodily organisation." [Mutual Aid, p. 24]
It should be noted that, as one biologist points out, "Kropotkin’s ideas, though unorthodox, were scientifically respectable, and indeed the contention that mutual aid can be a means of increasing fitness had become a standard part of modern sociobiology." [Douglas H. Boucher, "The Idea of Mutualism, Past and Future", pp. 1-28, The Biology of Mutualism: Biology and Evolution, Douglas H. Boucher (ed.), p. 17] Frans de Waal (a leading primatologist) and Jessica C. Flack argue that Kropotkin is part of a wider tradition "in which the view has been that animals assist each other precisely because by doing so they achieve long term, collective benefits of greater value than the short term benefits derived from straightforward competition." They summarise that the "basic tenet of [Kropotkin’s] ideas was on the mark. Almost seventy years later, in an article entitled ‘The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism’, [Robert] Trivers refined the concepts Kropotkin advanced and explained how co-operation and, more importantly, a system of reciprocity (called ‘reciprocal altruism’ by Trivers) could have evolved." ["’Any Animal Whatever’: Darwinian Building Blocks of Morality in Monkeys and Apes", pp. 1-29, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1-2, p. 4]
So modern research has reinforced Kropotkin’s argument. This applies to both human and non-human animals. For the former, the evidence is strong that we have intrinsic abilities and needs to co-operate as well as an intrinsic senses of fairness and ethics. This suggests that co-operation is part of "human nature" and so studies which show that such behaviour is more productive than competition should come as no surprise — and the evidence is impressive. As noted, Alfie Kohn is also the author of No Contest: The Case Against Competition and he spent seven years reviewing more than 400 research studies dealing with competition and co-operation. According to Kohn, there are three principle consequences of competition:
Firstly, it has a negative effect on productivity and excellence. This is due to increased anxiety, inefficiency (as compared to co-operative sharing of resources and knowledge), and the undermining of inner motivation. Competition shifts the focus to victory over others, and away from intrinsic motivators such as curiosity, interest, excellence, and social interaction. Studies show that co-operative behaviour, by contrast, consistently produces good performance — a finding which holds true under a wide range of subject variables. Interestingly, the positive benefits of co-operation become more significant as tasks become more complex, or where greater creativity and problem-solving ability is required.
Secondly, competition lowers self-esteem and hampers the development of sound, self-directed individuals. A strong sense of self is difficult to attain when self-evaluation is dependent on seeing how we measure up to others. On the other hand, those whose identity is formed in relation to how they contribute to group efforts generally possess greater self-confidence and higher self-esteem.
Thirdly, competition undermines human relationships. Humans are social beings; we best express our humanness in interaction with others. By creating winners and losers, competition is destructive to human unity and prevents close social feeling.
Social Anarchists have long argued these points. In the competitive mode, people work at cross purposes, or purely for (material) personal gain. This leads to an impoverishment of society as well as hierarchy, with a lack of communal relations that result in an impoverishment of all the individuals involved (mentally, spiritually, ethically and, ultimately, materially). This not only leads to a weakening of individuality and social disruption, but also to economic inefficiency as energy is wasted in class conflict and invested in building bigger and better cages to protect the haves from the have-nots. Instead of creating useful things, human activity is spent in useless toil reproducing an injust and authoritarian system.
All in all, the results of competition (as documented by a host of scientific disciplines) show its poverty as well as indicating that co-operation is the means by which the fittest survive.
Moreover, the notion that material rewards result in better work is simply not true. Basing itself on simple behaviourist psychology, such arguments fail to meet the test of long-term success (and, in fact, can be counter-productive). Indeed, it means treating human beings as little better than pets or other animals (Kohn argues that it is "not an accident that the theory behind ‘Do this and you’ll get that’ derives from work with other species, or that behaviour management is frequently described in words better suited to animals.") In other words, it "is by its very nature dehumanising." Rather than simply being motivated by outside stimuli like mindless robots, people are not passive. We are "beings who possess natural curiosity about ourselves and our environment, who search for and overcome challenges, who try and master skills and attain competence, and who seek new levels of complexity in what we learn and do . . . in general we act on the environment as much as we are acted on by it, and we do not do so simply in order to receive a reward." [Punished by Rewards, p. 24 and p. 25]
Kohn presents extensive evidence to back upon his case that rewards harm activity and individuals. We cannot do justice to it here so we will present a few examples. One study with college students showed that those paid to work on a puzzle "spent less time on it than those who hadn’t been paid" when they were given a choice of whether to work on it or not. "It appeared that working for a reward made people less interested in the task." Another study with children showed that "extrinsic rewards reduce intrinsic motivation." [Op. Cit., p. 70 and p. 71] Scores of other studies confirmed this. This is because a reward is effectively saying that a given activity is not worth doing for its own sake — and why would anyone wish to do something they have to be bribed to do?
In the workplace, a similar process goes on. Kohn presents extensive evidence to show that extrinsic motivation also fails even there. Indeed, he argues that "economists have it wrong if they think of work as a ‘disutility’ — something unpleasant we must do in order to be able to buy what we need, merely a means to an end." Kohn stresses that "to assume that money is what drives people is to adopt an impoverished understanding of human motivation." Moreover, "the risk of any incentive or pay-for-performance system is that it will make people less interested in their work and therefore less likely to approach it with enthusiasm and a commitment to excellence. Furthermore, the more closely we tie compensation (or other rewards) to performance, the most damage we do." [Op. Cit., p. 131, p. 134 and p. 140]
Kohn argues that the idea that humans will only work for profit or rewards "can be fairly described as dehumanising" if "the capacity for responsible action, the natural love of learning, and the desire to do good work are already part of who we are." Also, it is "a way of trying to control people" and so to "anyone who is troubled by a model of human relationships founded principally on the idea of one person controlling another must ponder whether rewards are as innocuous as they are sometimes made out to be". So "there is no getting around the fact that ‘the basic purpose of merit pay is manipulative.’ One observer more bluntly characterises incentives as ‘demeaning’ since the message they really convey is, ‘Please big daddy boss and you will receive the rewards that the boss deems appropriate.’" [Op. Cit., p. 26]
Given that much work is controlled by others and can be a hateful experience under capitalism does not mean that it has to be that way. Clearly, even under wage slavery most workers can and do find work interesting and seek to do it well — not because of possible rewards or punishment but because we seek meaning in our activities and try and do them well. Given that research shows that reward orientated work structures harm productivity and excellence, social anarchists have more than just hope to base their ideas. Such research confirms Kropotkin’s comments:
"Wage-work is serf-work; it cannot, it must not, produce all it could produce. And it is high time to disbelieve the legend which presents wagedom as the best incentive to productive work. If industry nowadays brings in a hundred times more than it did in the days of our grandfathers, it is due to the sudden awakening of physical and chemical sciences towards the end of the [18th] century; not to the capitalist organisation of wagedom, but in spite of that organisation." [The Conquest of Bread, p. 150]
For these reasons, social anarchists are confident that the elimination of the profit motive within the context of self-management will not harm productivity and creativity, but rather enhance them (within an authoritarian system in which workers enhance the power and income of bureaucrats, we can expect different results). With the control of their own work and workplaces ensured, all working people can express their abilities to the full. This will see an explosion of creativity and initiative, not a reduction.
This is a common right-wing "libertarian" objection. Robert Nozick, for example, imagined the following scenario:
"small factories would spring up in a socialist society, unless forbidden. I melt some of my personal possessions and build a machine out of the material. I offer you and others a philosophy lecture once a week in exchange for yet other things, and so on . . . some persons might even want to leave their jobs in socialist industry and work full time in this private sector . . . [This is] how private property even in means of production would occur in a socialist society . . . [and so] the socialist society will have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults." [Anarchy, State and Utopia, pp. 162-3]
There are numerous flawed assumptions in this argument and we will discuss them here. The key flaws are the confusion of exchange with capitalism and the typically impoverished propertarian vision that freedom is, essentially, the freedom to sell your liberty, to become a wage slave and so unfree. Looking at history, we can say that both these assumptions are wrong. Firstly, while markets and exchange have existed for thousands of years capitalism has not. Wage-labour is a relatively recent development and has been the dominant mode of production for, at best, a couple of hundred years. Secondly, few people (when given the choice) have freely become wage-slaves. Just as the children of slaves often viewed slavery as the "natural" order, so do current workers. Yet, as with chattel slavery, substantial state coercion was required to achieve such a "natural" system.
As discussed in section F.8, actually existing capitalism was not created by Nozick’s process — it required substantial state intervention to separate workers from the means of production they used and to ensure, eventually, that the situation in which they sold their liberty to the property owner was considered "natural." Without that coercion, people do not seek to sell their liberty to others. Murray Bookchin summarised the historical record by noting that in "every precapitalist society, countervailing forces . . . existed to restrict the market economy. No less significantly, many precapitalist societies raised what they thought were insuperable obstacles to the penetration of the State into social life." He pointed to "the power of village communities to resist the invasion of trade and despotic political forms into society’s abiding communal substrate." [The Ecology of Freedom, pp. 207-8] Anarchist anthropologist David Graeber notes that in the ancient Mediterranean world "[w]hile one does periodically run into evidence of arrangements which to the modern eye look like wage-labour contracts, on closer examination they almost always actually turn out to be contracts to rent slaves . . . Free men and women thus avoided anything remotely like wage-labour, seeing it as a matter, effectively, of slavery, renting themselves out." This means that wage labour "(as opposed to, say, receiving fees for professional services) involves a degree of subordination: a labourer has to be to some degree at the command of his or her employer. This is exactly why, through most of history, free men and women tended to avoid wage-labour, and why, for most of history, capitalism . . . never emerged." [Possibilities, p. 92]
Thus while the idea that people will happily become wage slaves may be somewhat common place today (particularly with supporters of capitalism) the evidence of history is that people, given a choice, will prefer self-employment and resist wage labour (often to the death). As E. P. Thompson noted, for workers at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, the "gap in status between a ‘servant,’ a hired wage-labourer subject to the orders and discipline of the master, and an artisan, who might ‘come and go’ as he pleased, was wide enough for men to shed blood rather than allow themselves to be pushed from one side to the other. And, in the value system of the community, those who resisted degradation were in the right." [The Making of the English Working Class, p. 599] Over one hundred years later, the rural working class of Aragon showed the same dislike of wage slavery. After Communist troops destroyed their self-managed collectives, the "[d]ispossessed peasants, intransigent collectivists, refused to work in a system of private property, and were even less willing to rent out their labour." [Jose Peirats, Anarchists in the Spanish Revolution, p. 258] The rural economy collapsed as the former collectivists refused to be the servants of the few.
People who have tasted freedom are unlikely to go back to oppression. Therefore, any perception that people will become wage-slaves through choice in a free society is based on the assumption what people accept through necessity under capitalism will pass over, without change, into a free one. This assumption is unfounded and anarchists expect that once people struggle for freedom and taste the pleasures of freedom they will not freely accept a degradation back to having a master — and as history shows, we have some evidence to support our argument. It seems a strangely debased perspective on freedom to ponder whether people will be "free" to alienate their freedom — it is a bit like proclaiming it a restriction of freedom to "forbid" owning slaves (and, as noted in section F.2.2, Nozick did support voluntary slave contracts).
So anarchists think Nozick’s vision of unfreedom developing from freedom is unlikely. As anarcho-syndicalist Jeff Stein points out "the only reason workers want to be employed by capitalists is because they have no other means for making a living, no access to the means of production other than by selling themselves. For a capitalist sector to exist there must be some form of private ownership of productive resources, and a scarcity of alternatives. The workers must be in a condition of economic desperation for them to be willing to give up an equal voice in the management of their daily affairs and accept a boss." ["Market Anarchism? Caveat Emptor!", Libertarian Labour Review, no. 13]
In an anarchist society, there is no need for anyone to "forbid" capitalist acts. All people have to do is refrain from helping would-be capitalists set up monopolies of productive assets. This is because, as we have noted in section B.3.2, capitalism cannot exist without some form of state to protect such monopolies. In a libertarian-socialist society, of course, there would be no state to begin with, and so there would be no question of it "refraining" people from doing anything, including protecting would-be capitalists’ monopolies of the means of production. In other words, would-be capitalists would face stiff competition for workers in an anarchist society. This is because self-managed workplaces would be able to offer workers more benefits (such as self-government, better working conditions, etc.) than the would-be capitalist ones. The would-be capitalists would have to offer not only excellent wages and conditions but also, in all likelihood, workers’ control and hire-purchase on capital used. The chances of making a profit once the various monopolies associated with capitalism are abolished are slim.
Thus the would-be capitalist would "not [be] able to obtain assistance or people to exploit" and "would find none because nobody, having a right to the means of production and being free to work on his own or as an equal with others in the large organisations of production would want to be exploited by a small employer". [Malatesta, Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, pp. 102-103] So where would the capitalist wannabe find people to work for him? As Kropotkin argued:
"Everywhere you will find that the wealth of the wealthy springs from the poverty of the poor. That is why an anarchist society need not fear the advent of a [millionaire] who would settle in its midst. If every member of the community knows that after a few hours of productive toil he [or she] will have a right to all the pleasures that civilisation procures, and to those deeper sources of enjoyment which art and science offer to all who seek them, he [or she] will not sell his strength . . . No one will volunteer to work for the enrichment of your [millionaire]." [Conquest of Bread, p. 61]
However, let us suppose there is a self-employed inventor, Ferguson, who comes up with a new innovation without the help of the socialised sector. Would anarchists steal his idea? Not at all. The syndicates, which by hypothesis have been organised by people who believe in giving producers the full value of their product, would pay Ferguson an equitable amount for his idea, which would then become common across society. However, if he refused to sell his invention and instead tried to claim a patent monopoly on it in order to gather a group of wage slaves to exploit, no one would agree to work for him unless they got the full control over both the product of their labour and the labour process itself. And, assuming that he did find someone willing to work for him (and so be governed by him), the would-be capitalist would have to provide such excellent conditions and pay such good wages as to reduce his profits to near zero. Moreover, he would have to face workers whose neighbours would be encouraging them to form a union and strike for even better conditions and pay, including workers’ control and so on. Such a militant workforce would be the last thing a capitalist would desire. In addition, we would imagine they would also refuse to work for someone unless they also got the capital they used at the end of their contract (i.e. a system of "hire-purchase" on the means of production used). In other words, by removing the statist supports of capitalism, would-be capitalists would find it hard to "compete" with the co-operative sector and would not be in a position to exploit others’ labour.
With a system of communal production (in social anarchism) and mutual banks (in individualist anarchism), usury — i.e. charging a use-fee for a monopolised item, of which patents are an instance — would no longer be possible and the inventor would be like any other worker, exchanging the product of his or her labour. As Benjamin Tucker argued, "the patent monopoly . . . consists in protecting inventors and authors against competition for a period of time long enough for them to extort from the people a reward enormously in excess of the labour measure of their services — in other words, in giving certain people a right of property for a term of years in laws and facts of nature, and the power to extract tribute from others for the use of this natural wealth, which should be open to all. The abolition of this monopoly would fill its beneficiaries with a wholesome fear of competition which should cause them to be satisfied with pay for their services equal to that which other labourers get for theirs, and secure it by placing their products and works on the market at the outset at prices so low that their lines of business would be no more tempting to competitors than any other lines." [The Anarchist Reader, pp. 150-1]
So, if someone has labour to sell then they deserve a free society to do it in — as Tucker once pointed out. Such an environment would make the numbers seeking employment so low as to ensure that the rate of exploitation would be zero. Little wonder that, when faced with a self-employed, artisan workforce, capitalists have continually turned to the state to create the "correct" market forces. So without statism to back up various class-based monopolies of capitalist privilege, capitalism would not have become dominant.
It should also be noted that Nozick makes a serious error in his case. He assumes that the "use rights" associated with an anarchist (i.e. socialist) society are identical to the "property rights" of a capitalist one. This is not the case, and so his argument is weakened and loses its force. Simply put, there is no such thing as an absolute or "natural" law of property. As John Stuart Mill pointed out, "powers of exclusive use and control are very various, and differ greatly in different countries and in different states of society." Therefore, Nozick slips an ideological ringer into his example by erroneously interpreting socialism (or any other society for that matter) as specifying a distribution of capitalist property rights along with the wealth. As Mill argued: "One of the mistakes oftenest committed, and which are the sources of the greatest practical errors in human affairs, is that of supposing that the same name always stands for the same aggregation of ideas. No word has been subject of more of this kind of misunderstanding that the word property." ["Chapters on Socialism," Principles of Political Economy, p. 432]
In other words, Nozick assumes that in all societies capitalist property rights are distributed along with consumption and production goods. As Cheyney C. Ryan comments "[d]ifferent conceptions of justice differ not only in how they would apportion society’s holdings but in what rights individuals have over their holdings once they have been apportioned." ["Property Rights and Individual Liberty", pp. 323-43, Reading Nozick, Jeffrey Paul (Ed.), p. 331] This means that when goods are distributed in a libertarian socialist society the people who receive or take them have specific (use) rights to them. As long as an individual remained a member of a commune and abided by the rules they helped create in that commune then they would have full use of the resources of that commune and could use their possessions as they saw fit (even "melt them down" to create a new machine, or whatever). If they used those goods to create an enterprise to employ (i.e., exploit and oppress) others then they have, in effect, announced their withdrawal from civilised society and, as a result, would be denied the benefits of co-operation. They would, in effect, place themselves in the same situation as someone who does not wish to join a syndicate (see section I.3.7). If an individual did desire to use resources to employ wage labour then they would have effectively removed themselves from "socialist society" and so that society would bar them from using its resources (i.e. they would have to buy access to all the resources they currently took for granted).
Would this be a restriction of freedom? While it may be considered so by the impoverished definitions of capitalism, it is not. In fact, it mirrors the situation within capitalism as what possessions someone holds are not his or her property (in the capitalist sense) any more than a company car is currently the property of the employee under capitalism. While the employee can use the car outside of work, they lack the "freedom" to sell it or melt it down and turn it into machines. Such lack of absolute "ownership" in a free society does not reduce liberty any more than in this case.
This point highlights another flaw in Nozick’s argument. If his argument were true, then it applies equally to capitalist society. For 40 hours plus a week, workers are employed by a boss. In that time they are given resources to use and they are most definitely not allowed to melt down these resources to create a machine or use the resources they have been given access to further their own plans. This can apply equally to rented accommodation as well, for example when landlords ban working from home or selling off the furniture that is provided. Thus, ironically, "capitalist society will have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults" — and does so all the time.
Moreover, it must be stressed that as well as banning capitalist acts between consenting adults, capitalism involves the continual banning of socialist acts between consenting adults. For example, if workers agree to form a union, then the boss can fire them. If they decide to control their own work, the boss can fire them for not obeying orders. Thus capitalism forbids such elemental freedoms as association and speech — at least for the majority, for the wage slaves. Why would people seek such "freedom" in a free society?
Of course, Nozick’s reply to this point would be that the individuals involved have "consented" to these rules when they signed their contract. Yet the same can be said of an anarchist society — it is freely joined and freely left. To join a communist-anarchist society it would simply be a case of agreeing to "exchange" the product of ones labour freely with the other members of that society and not to create oppressive or exploitative social relationships within it. If this is "authoritarian" then so is capitalism — and we must stress that at least anarchist associations are based on self-management and so the individuals involved have an equal say in the obligations they live under.
Notice also that Nozick confused exchange with capitalism ("I offer you a lecture once a week in exchange for other things"). This is a telling mistake by someone who claims to be an expert on capitalism, because the defining feature of capitalism is not exchange (which obviously took place long before capitalism existed) but labour contracts involving wage labour. Nozick’s example is merely a direct labour contract between the producer and the consumer. It does not involve wage labour, what makes capitalism capitalism. It is only this latter type of transaction that libertarian socialism prevents — and not by "forbidding" it but simply by refusing to maintain the conditions necessary for it to occur, i.e. protection of capitalist property.
In addition, we must note that Nozick also confused "private property in the means of production" with capitalism. Liberation socialism can be easily compatible with "private property in the means of production" when that "private property" is limited to what a self-employed worker uses rather than capitalistic property (see section G.2.1). Nozick, in other words, confused pre-capitalist forms of production with capitalist ones (see section G.1.2). Thus possession of the means of production by people outside of the free commune is perfectly acceptable to social anarchists (see section I.6.2).
Thus an anarchist society would have a flexible approach to Nozick’s (flawed) argument. Individuals, in their free time, could "exchange" their time and possessions as they saw fit. These are not "capitalist acts" regardless of Nozick’s claims. However, the moment an individual employs wage labour then, by this act, they have broken their agreements with their fellows and are, therefore, no longer part of "socialist society." This would involve them no longer having access to the benefits of communal life and to communal possessions. They have, in effect, placed themselves outside of their community and must fend for themselves. After all, if they desire to create "private property" (in the capitalist sense) then they have no right of access to communal possessions without paying for that right. For those who become wage slaves, a socialist society would, probably, be less strict. As Bakunin argued:
"Since the freedom of every individual is inalienable, society shall never allow any individual whatsoever legally to alienate his [or her] freedom or engage upon any contract with another on any footing but the utmost equality and reciprocity. It shall not, however, have the power to disbar a man or woman so devoid of any sense of personal dignity as to contract a relationship of voluntary servitude with another individual, but it will consider them as living off private charity and therefore unfit to enjoy political rights throughout the duration of that servitude." [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 68-9]
Lastly, we must also note that Nozick also ignored the fact that acquisition must come before transfer, meaning that before "consenting" capitalist acts occur, individual ones must precede it. As argued in section B.3.4, Nozick provided no convincing arguments why natural resources held in common can be appropriated by individuals. This means that his defence of transferring absolute capitalist property rights in goods is without foundations. Moreover, his argument in favour of such appropriations ignore that liberties are very definitely restricted by private property (and it should be keep in mind that the destruction of commonly held resources, such as village commons, was imposed by the state — see section F.8.3). As pointed out in section F.2, right-wing "libertarians" would better be termed "Propertarians" (why is liberty accorded a primary importance when arguing against socialism but not when private property restricts liberty?). As Cheyney C. Ryan points out, Nozick "invoke[s] personal liberty as the decisive ground for rejecting patterned principles of justice [such as socialism] and restrictions on the ownership of capital . . . [b]ut where the rights of private property admittedly restrict the liberties of the average person, he seems perfectly happy to trade off such liberties against material gain for society as a whole." [Op. Cit., p. 339] This can be seen by his lack of comment on how capitalism forbids socialist acts between consenting adults, not to mention quite a few numerous capitalist acts for good measure.
Thus Nozick’s acquisition of resources is based on the would-be capitalist stealing communally owned resources and barring others from using them. This obviously would restrict the liberty of those who currently used them and so be hotly opposed by members of a community. As Murray Bookchin noted, a free society is based on "the practice of usufruct, the freedom of individuals in a community to appropriate resources merely by virtue of the fact that they are using them. Such resources belong to the user as long as they are being used." [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 116] As the would-be capitalist is not actually using the machines they have created, they would be in constant worry that their wage-slaves would simply expropriate them — with the full backing of the local commune and its federations.
So, to conclude, this question involves some strange logic (and many question begging assumptions) and ultimately fails in its attempt to prove libertarian socialism must "forbid capitalistic acts between individuals." In addition, Nozick cannot support the creation of private property out of communal property in the first place. It also undermines capitalism because that system must forbid socialistic acts by and between individuals. Thus Nozick’s society would forbid squatting unused property or trespassing on private property as well as, say, the formation of unions against the wishes of the property owner (who is sovereign over their property and those who use it) or the use of workplace resources to meet the needs of the producer rather than the owner. As such, Nozick exposes how capitalism’s hierarchical nature means that capitalist society "forbids socialist acts between consenting adults."
This problem affects every society, including capitalism of course. Under capitalism, this problem is "solved" by ensuring that such jobs are done by those at the bottom of the social pile. In other words, it does not really solve the problem at all — it just ensures that some people are subject to this work the bulk of their working lives. Most anarchists reject this flawed solution in favour of something better, one that shares the good with the bad and so ensure everyone’s life is better. How this would be done depends on the kind of libertarian community you are a member of.
Obviously, few would argue against the idea that individuals will voluntarily work at things they enjoyed doing. However there are some jobs that few, if any, would enjoy (for example, collecting rubbish, processing sewage, dangerous work, etc.). So how would an anarchist society deal with it?
It is obvious that not all "jobs" are equal in interest or enjoyment. It is sometimes argued that people would start to join or form syndicates which are involved in more fun activities. By this process excess workers would be found in the more enjoyable "jobs" while the boring and dangerous ones would suffer from a scarcity of willing workers. Hence, so the argument goes, a socialist society would have to force people to do certain jobs and that requires a state. Obviously, this argument ignores the fact that under capitalism usually it is the boring, dangerous work which is the least well paid with the worst working conditions. In addition, this argument ignores the fact that under workers self-management boring, dangerous work would be minimised and transformed as much as possible. Only under capitalist hierarchy are people in no position to improve the quality of their work and working environment. As George Barrett argued:
"Now things are so strangely organised at present that it is just the dirty and disagreeable work that men will do cheaply, and consequently there is no great rush to invent machines to take their place. In a free society, on the other hand, it is clear that the disagreeable work will be one of the first things that machinery will be called upon to eliminate. It is quite fair to argue, therefore, that the disagreeable work will, to a large extent, disappear in a state of anarchism." [Objections to Anarchism, p. 361]
Moreover, most anarchists would think that the argument that there would be a flood of workers taking up "easy" work placements is abstract and ignores the dynamics of a real society. While many individuals would try to create new productive syndicates in order to express themselves in innovative work outwith the existing research and development going on within existing syndicates, the idea that the majority of individuals would leave their current work at a drop of a hat is crazy. A workplace is a community and part of a community and people would value the links they have with their fellow workers. As such they would be aware of the impacts of their decisions on both themselves and society as a whole. So, while we would expect a turnover of workers between syndicates, the mass transfers claimed in this argument are unlikely. Most workers who did want to try their hand at new work would apply for work places at syndicates that required new people, not create their own ones. Because of this, work transfers would be moderate and easily handled.
However, the possibility of mass desertions does exist and so must be addressed. So how would a libertarian socialist society deal with a majority of its workers deciding to all do interesting work, leaving the boring and/or dangerous work undone? It, of course, depends on the type of anarchism in question and each offers alternative ways to ensure that individual preference for certain types of work matches the requirements of social demand for labour.
Under individualist anarchism and mutualism, those who desired a certain form of work done would reach an agreement with workers or a co-operative and pay them to do the work in question. Within a co-operative, as Proudhon argued, a person’s "education, instruction, and apprenticeship should . . . be so directed that, while permitting him to do his share of unpleasant and disagreeable tasks, they may also give variety of work and knowledge, and may assure him . . . an encyclopaedic attitude and a sufficient income." [Property is Theft!, pp.585-6] In terms of unpleasant tasks for other people (for example, collecting and processing a community’s rubbish) then individuals would form co-operatives which would have to find their place on the market and this would ensure that such work was done as they would contract with others to provide the appropriate services. However, this could lead to some people doing unpleasant work all the time and so is hardly a solution. As in capitalism, we may see some people doing terrible work because it is better than no work at all. This is a solution few anarchists would support.
In a collectivist or communist anarchist society, such an outcome would be avoided as far as possible. Noam Chomsky points to two possible alternatives, one "in which the undesired work, after the best efforts to make it meaningful, is shared" and another one "where the undesired work receives high extra pay, so that individuals voluntarily choose to do it." Such schemes are "consistent with . . . anarchist principles" unlike the current situation where "the undesired work is given to wage-slaves." [Radical Priorities, p. 220] Another way, somewhat complementary to these two, would be to take a leaf from "peasant attitudes toward labour" and their "most striking feature", the extent "to which any kind of communal toil, however onerous, can be transformed by the workers themselves into festive occasions that serve to reinforce community ties." [Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, p. 342]
It would be easy to imagine a free community sharing such tasks as fairly as possible between a community’s members by, for example, allocating a few days a month to all fit members of a community to do work which no one volunteers to do. This would soon ensure that it would be done, particularly if it were part of a festival or before a party. In this way, every one shares in the unpleasant as well as pleasant tasks (and, of course, minimises the time any one individual has to spend on it). Or, for tasks which are very popular, individuals would also have to do unpleasant tasks as well. In this way, popular and unpopular tasks could balance each other out. Or such tasks could be rotated randomly by lottery. The possibilities are many and, undoubtedly, a free people will try many different ones in different areas.
Another possible solution could be to follow the ideas of Josiah Warren and take into account the undesirability of the work when considering the level of labour notes received or communal hours worked. In other words, in a collectivist society the individuals who do unpleasant work may be "rewarded" (along with social esteem) with a slightly higher pay — the number of labour notes, for example, for such work would be a multiple of the standard amount, the actual figure being related to how much supply exceeds demand (in a communist society, a similar solution could be possible, with the number of necessary hours required by an individual being reduced by an amount that corresponds to the undesirability of the work involved). The actual levels of "reward" would be determined by agreements between the syndicates. For example, if a given type of work has 50% more people wanting to do it than actually required, then the labour value for one hours work in this industry would correspondingly be less than one hour. If fewer people applied than required, then the labour value would increase, as would holiday time, etc. For "work" placements in which supply exceeded demand, it would be easy to arrange a work share scheme to ensure that most people get a chance to do that kind of work (along with such methods as increasing the value of an hour’s labour, reducing holiday allocations and such like).
In this way, "supply and demand" for workers would soon approximate each other. In addition, a collectivist society would be better placed than the current system to ensure work-sharing and other methods to spread unpleasant and pleasant tasks equally around society due to its organs of self-management and the rising social awareness via participation and debate within those organs.
A communist-anarchist society’s solution would be similar to the collectivist one. There would still be basic agreements between its members for work done and so for work placements with excess supply of workers the amount of hours necessary to meet the agreed minimum would correspondingly increase. For example, an industry with 100% excess supply of volunteers would see its minimum requirement increase from (say) 20 hours a week to 30 hours. An industry with less applicants than required would see the number of required hours decrease, plus increases in holiday time and so on. As G.D.H. Cole argued in respect of this point:
"Let us first by the fullest application of machinery and scientific methods eliminate or reduce . . . ‘dirty work’ that admit to such treatment. This has never been tried . . . under capitalism . . . It is cheaper to exploit and ruin human beings . . . Secondly, let us see what forms of ‘dirty work’ we can do without . . . [and] if any form of work is not only unpleasant but degrading, we will do without it, whatever the cost. No human being ought to be allowed or compelled to do work that degrades. Thirdly, for what dull or unpleasant work remains, let us offer whatever special conditions are required to attract the necessary workers, not in higher pay, but in shorter hours, holidays extending over six months in the year, conditions attractive enough to men who have other uses for their time or attention to being the requisite number to undertake it voluntarily." [Guild Socialism Restated, p. 76]
By these methods a balance between industrial sectors would be achieved as individuals would balance their desire for interesting work with their desires for free time. Over time, by using the power of appropriate technology, even such time keeping would be minimised or even got eliminated as society developed freely. Until such time as it can be automated away, a free society will have to encourage people to volunteer for "work" placements they do not particularly want to do by these and other methods.
It will be clear what is considered unpleasant work in any society — few people (if any) will volunteer to do it. As in any advanced society, communities and syndicates who required extra help would inform others of their need by the various form of media that existed. In addition, it would be likely that each community would have a "division of activity" syndicate whose work would be to distribute information about these posts and to which members of a community would go to discover what placements existed for the line of "work" they were interested in. So we have a means by which syndicates and communes can ask for new associates and the means by which individuals can discover these placements. Obviously, some tasks will still require qualifications and that will be taken into account when syndicates and communes "advertise" for help.
And it is important to remember that the means of production required by new syndicates do not fall from the sky. Other members of society will have to work to produce the required goods. Therefore it is likely that the syndicates and communes would agree that only a certain (maximum) percentage of production would be allocated to start-up syndicates (as opposed to increasing the resources of existing confederations). Such a figure would obviously be revised periodically in order to take into account changing circumstances. Members of the community who decide to form syndicates for new productive tasks or syndicates which do the same work but are independent of existing confederations would have to get the agreement of other workers to supply them with the necessary means of production (just as today they have to get the agreement of a bank to receive the necessary credit to start a new business). By budgeting the amounts available, a free society can ensure that individual desires for specific kinds of work can be matched with the requirements of society for useful production.
And we must point out (just to make sure we are not misunderstood) that there will be no group of "planners" deciding which applications for resources get accepted. Instead, individuals and associations would apply to different production units for resources, whose workers in turn decide whether to produce the goods requested. If it is within the syndicate’s agreed budget then it is likely that they will produce the required materials. In this way, a communist-anarchist society will ensure the maximum amount of economic freedom to start new syndicates and join existing ones plus ensure that social production does not suffer in the process.
Of course, no system is perfect — we are sure that not everyone will be able to do the work they enjoy the most (this is also the case under capitalism, we may add). In an anarchist society every method of ensuring that individuals pursue the work they are interested in would be investigated. If a possible solution can be found, we are sure that it will. What a free society would make sure of was that neither the capitalist market redeveloped (which ensures that the majority are marginalised into wage slavery) or a state socialist "labour army" type allocation process developed (which would ensure that free socialism did not remain free or socialist for long).
In this manner, anarchism will be able to ensure the principle of voluntary labour and free association as well as making sure that unpleasant and unwanted "work" is done. Moreover, most anarchists are sure that in a free society such requirements to encourage people to volunteer for unpleasant work will disappear over time as feelings of mutual aid and solidarity become more and more common place. Indeed, it is likely that people will gain respect for doing jobs that others might find unpleasant and so it might become "glamorous" to do such activity. Showing off to friends can be a powerful stimulus in doing any activity. So anarchists would agree with Albert and Hahnel when they say that:
"In a society that makes every effort to depreciate the esteem that derives from anything other than conspicuous consumption, it is not surprising that great income differentials are seen as necessary to induce effort. But to assume that only conspicuous consumption can motivate people because under capitalism we have strained to make it so is unwarranted. There is plenty of evidence that people can be moved to great sacrifices for reasons other than a desire for personal wealth . . . there is good reason to believe that for nonpathological people wealth is generally coveted only as a means of attaining other ends such as economic security, comfort, social esteem, respect, status, or power." [The Political Economy of Participatory Economics, p. 52]
We should note here that the education syndicates would obviously take into account the trends in "work" placement requirements when deciding upon the structure of their classes. In this way, education would respond to the needs of society as well as the needs of the individual (as would any productive syndicate).
Anarchism is based on voluntary labour. If people do not desire to work then they cannot (must not) be forced to by means of physical coercion. This makes some wonder what happens if someone refuses to work in a libertarian society.
In terms of a mutualist or collectivist anarchy, this question is easy to answer for goods are distributed according to work done and so if people do not work then they are left dependent on the charity of those who do (exceptions for the young, old and ill would apply, of course).
So this question is directed towards communist-anarchists, with many people arguing that communism is impossible because people simply would not work unless they get paid. This ignores the many people who do volunteer work (often in addition to their "real jobs"). It also ignores those who spend their time contributing to projects they are interested in (such as fan journals) which would be considered work in other contexts. A classic example of this is the internet, particularly webpages like Wikipedia and software projects like php. Then there is the activity of the pro-capitalists themselves, often fanatical anti-communists (which they almost always equate to Stalinism), who spend their free time working on wikipedia, newsgroups, webpages and journals explaining how communism could not work because people would never voluntarily contribute to society! It is one of the great ironies of life that those who hate communism the most often, by their actions, prove its viability.
So, communist-anarchists argue, in a society based on self-managed work in pleasant surroundings and a reduction of the working week to a minimum, there would be few people who refuse to do any kind of productive activity. The question arises of what to do with those (a small minority, to be sure) who refuse to work.
On this question there is some disagreement. Some anarchists argue that the lazy should not be deprived of the means of life. Social pressure, they argue, would ensure those who take from, but do not contribute, to the community listen to their conscience and start producing for the community that supports them. If this did not happen, then the person who refused to contribute would be asked to leave (freedom of association means the freedom not to associate). As Kropotkin argued;
"First of all, is it not evident that if a society, founded on the principle of free work, were really menaced by loafers, it could protect itself without the authoritarian organisation we have nowadays, and without having recourse to wagedom [i.e., payment by deeds]?
"Let us take a group of volunteers, combining for some particular enterprise. Having its success at heart, they all work with a will, save one of the associates, who is frequently absent from his post . . . some day the comrade who imperils their enterprise will be told: ‘Friend, we should like to work with you; but as you are often absent from your post, and you do your work negligently, we must part. Go and find other comrades who will put up with your indifference!’
"This is so natural that it is practised everywhere, even nowadays, in all industries . . . [I]f [a worker] does his work badly, if he hinders his comrades by his laziness or other defects, if he is quarrelsome, there is an end of it; he is compelled to leave the workshop.
"Authoritarians pretend that it is the almighty employer and his overseers who maintain regularity and quality of work in factories. In reality . . . it is the factory itself, the workmen [and women] who see to the good quality of the work." [The Conquest of Bread, pp. 152-3]
Most anarchists agree with Camillo Berneri when he argued that anarchism should be based upon "no compulsion to work, but no duty towards those who do not want to work." ["The Problem of Work", pp. 59-82, Why Work?, Vernon Richards (ed.), p. 74] This means that an anarchist society will not continue to feed, clothe, house someone who can produce but refuses to. Anarchists have had enough of the wealthy under capitalism consuming but not producing and do not see why they should support a new group of parasites after the revolution.
Obviously, there is a difference between not wanting to work and being unable to work. The sick, children, the old, pregnant women and so on will be looked after in libertarian communism. As child rearing would be considered "work" along with other more obviously economic tasks, mothers and fathers will not have to leave their children unattended and work to make ends meet. Instead, consideration will be given to the needs of both parents and children as well as the creation of community nurseries and child care centres.
We have to stress here that an anarchist society will not deny anyone the means of life. This would violate the voluntary labour which is at the heart of all schools of anarchism. Unlike capitalism, the means of life will not be monopolised by any group — including the commune. This means that someone who does not wish to join a commune or who does not pull their weight within a commune and are expelled or choose to leave will have access to the means of making a living.
We stated that we stress this fact as many supporters of capitalism seem to be unable to understand this point (or prefer to ignore it and so misrepresent the anarchist position). In an anarchist society, no one will be forced to join a commune simply because they do not have access to the means of production and/or land required to work alone. Unlike capitalism, where access to these essentials of life is dependent on buying access to them from the capitalist class (and so, effectively, denied to the vast majority), an anarchist society will ensure that all have access and have a real choice between living in a commune and working independently. This access is based on the fundamental difference between possession and property — the commune possesses as much land as it needs, as do non-members. The resources used by them are subject to the usual possession rationale — they possess it only as long as they use it and cannot bar others using it if they do not (i.e., it is not property).
Thus an anarchist commune remains a voluntary association and ensures the end of all forms of domination. The member of the commune has the choice of working as part of a community, giving according to their abilities and taking according to their needs (or some other means of organising production and consumption such as equal income or receiving labour notes, and so on), or working independently and so free of communal benefits as well as any commitments (bar those associated with using communal resources such as roads and so on).
So, in most, if not all, anarchist communities, individuals have two options, either they can join a commune and work together as equals, or they can work as an individual or independent co-operative and exchange the product of their labour with others. If an individual joins a commune and does not carry their weight, even after their fellow workers ask them to, then that person will possibly be expelled and given enough land, tools or means of production to work alone. Of course, if a person is depressed, run down or otherwise finding it hard to join in communal responsibilities then their friends and fellow workers would do everything in their power to help and be flexible in their approach to the problem. What method a community would use would depend on what people in that community thought was best.
However, most social anarchists think that the problem of people trying not to work would be a very minor one in a free society. This is because productive activity is part of human life and an essential way to express oneself. With work being voluntary and self-managed, it will become like current day hobbies and many people work harder at their hobbies than they do at "real" work (this FAQ can be considered as an example of this!). How long this takes to organise fully is, of course, unknown but one of the most important tasks of a free society will be to ensure work is transformed and the burden of what remains is shared in order to reduce toil to a minimum.
It is the nature of employment under capitalism, the hierarchical nature of its workplace, that makes it "work" instead of pleasure. Work need not be a part of the day that we wish would end. It is not work that people hate. Rather it is over-work, in unpleasant circumstances and under the control of others that people hate. Reduce the hours of labour, improve the working conditions and place the work under self-management and work will stop being a hated thing. All these will help ensure that only an idiot would desire to work alone for, as Malatesta argued, the "individual who wished to supply his own material needs by working alone would be the slave of his labours." [The Anarchist Revolution, p. 15]
So, enlightened self-interest would secure the voluntary labour and egalitarian distribution anarchists favour in the vast majority of the population. The parasitism associated with capitalism would be a thing of the past. Thus the problem of the "lazy" person fails to understand the nature of humanity or the revolutionising effects of freedom on the nature and content of work.
Given the anarchist desire to liberate the artist in all of us, we can easily imagine that a free society would totally transform the working environment. No longer would workers be indifferent to their workplaces, but they would express themselves in transforming them into pleasant places, integrated into both the life of the local community and into the local environment. After all, "no movement that raises the demand for workers’ councils can be regarded as revolutionary unless it tries to promote sweeping transformations in the environment of the work place." [Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 88]
A glimpse of the future workplace can been seen from the actual class struggle. In the 40 day sit-down strike at Fisher Body plant #1 in Flint, Michigan in 1936, "there was a community of two thousand strikers . . . Committees organised recreation, information, classes, a postal service, sanitation . . . There were classes in parliamentary procedure, public speaking, history of the labour movement. Graduate students at the University of Michigan gave courses in journalism and creative writing." [Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, p. 391] In the same year, during the Spanish Revolution, collectivised workplaces also created libraries and education facilities as well as funding schools, health care and other social necessities (a practice, we must note, that had started before the revolution when anarchist unions had funded schools, social centres, libraries and so on).
The future workplace would be expanded to include education and classes in individual development. This follows Proudhon’s suggestion made during the 1848 revolution that we should "[o]rganise association, and by the same token, every workshop becoming a school, every worker becomes a master, every student an apprentice." [Property is Theft!, p. 378] This means that in a free society "Workers’ associations have a very important role to play . . . Linked to the system of public education, they will become both centres of production and centres for education . . . The working masses will be in daily contact with the youthful army of agricultural and industrial workers. Labour and study, which have for so long and so foolishly been kept apart, will finally emerge side by side in their natural state of union. Instead of being confined to narrow, specialised fields, vocational education will include a variety of different types of work which, taken as a whole, will insure that each student becomes an all-round worker." [Proudhon, Selected Writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, p. 87]
This would allow work to become part of a wider community, drawing in people from different areas to share their knowledge and learn new insights and ideas. In addition, children would have part of their school studies with workplaces, getting them aware of the practicalities of many different forms of work and so allowing them to make informed decisions in what sort of activity they would be interested in pursuing when they were older.
Obviously, a workplace managed by its workers would also take care to make the working environment as pleasant as possible. No more "sick building syndrome" or unhealthy and stressful work areas for "can we doubt that work will become a pleasure and a relaxation in a society of equals, in which ‘hands’ will not be compelled to sell themselves to toil, and to accept work under any conditions Repugnant tasks will disappear, because it is evident that these unhealthy conditions are harmful to society as a whole. Slaves can submit to them, but free men [and women] will create new conditions, and their work will be pleasant and infinitely more productive." [Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, p. 123] Workplaces would be designed to maximise space and allow individual expression within them. We can imagine such places surrounded by gardens and allotments which were tended by workers themselves, giving a pleasant surrounding to the workplace. There would, in effect, be a break down of the city/rural divide — workplaces would be placed next to fields and integrated into the surroundings:
"Have the factory and the workshop at the gates of your fields and gardens, and work in them. Not those large establishments, of course, in which huge masses of metals have to be dealt with and which are better placed at certain spots indicated by Nature, but the countless variety of workshops and factories which are required to satisfy the infinite diversity of tastes among civilised men [and women] . . . factories and workshops which men, women and children will not be driven by hunger, but will be attracted by the desire of finding an activity suited to their tastes, and where, aided by the motor and the machine, they will choose the branch of activity which best suits their inclinations." [Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, p. 197]
This vision of rural and urban integration is just part of the future anarchists see for the workplace. As Kropotkin argued, "[w]e proclaim integration. . . a society of integrated, combined labour. A society where each individual is a producer of both manual and intellectual work; where each able-bodied human being is a worker, and where each worker works both in the field and the industrial workshop; where every aggregation of individuals, large enough to dispose of a certain variety of natural resources — it may be a nation, or rather a region — produces and itself consumes most of its own agricultural and manufactured produce." [Op. Cit., p. 26]
The future workplace would be an expression of the desires of those who worked there. It would be based around a pleasant working environment, within gardens and with an extensive library, resources for education classes and other leisure activities. All this, and more, will be possible in a society based upon self-realisation and self-expression and one in which individuality is not crushed by authority and capitalism. To quote Kropotkin, the future workplace would be "airy and hygienic, and consequently economical, factories in which human life is of more account than machinery and the making of extra profits." [Op. Cit., p. 197] For, obviously, "if most of the workshops we know are foul and unhealthy, it is because the workers are of no account in the organisation of factories". [The Conquest of Bread, p. 121]
"So in brief," argued William Morris, "our buildings will be beautiful with their own beauty of simplicity as workshops" and "besides the mere workshops, our factory will have other buildings which may carry ornament further than that, for it will need dinning-hall, library, school, places for study of different kinds, and other such structures." [A Factory as It Might Be, p. 9] This is possible and is only held back by capitalism which denounces such visions of freedom as "uneconomic." Yet such claims ignore the distribution of income in class society:
"Impossible I hear an anti-Socialist say. My friend, please to remember that most factories sustain today large and handsome gardens, and not seldom parks . . . only the said gardens, etc. are twenty miles away from the factory, out of the smoke, and are kept up for one member of the factory only, the sleeping partner to wit." [Morris, Op. Cit., pp. 7-8]
Pleasant working conditions based upon the self-management of work can produce a workplace within which economic "efficiency" can be achieved without disrupting and destroying individuality and the environment (also see section I.4.9 for a fuller discussion of anarchism and technology).
It is often argued that anarcho-communism and other forms of non-market libertarian-socialism would promote inefficiency and unproductive work. The basis of this argument is that without market forces to discipline workers and the profit motive to reward them, workers would have no incentive to work in a way which minimises time or resources. The net effect of this would be inefficient use of recourses, particularly an individual’s time.
This is a valid point in some ways; for example, a society can (potentially) benefit from increasing productivity as the less time and resources it takes to produce a certain good, the more of both it gains for other activities (although, of course, in a class society the benefits of increased productivity generally accrue to, first and foremost, those at the top and, for the rest, the "other activities" mean more work). Indeed, for an individual, a decent society depends on people having time available for them to do what they want, to develop themselves in whatever way they want, to enjoy themselves. In addition, doing more with less can have a positive environment impact as well. It is for these reasons that an anarchist society would be interested in promoting efficiency and productiveness during production.
A free society will undoubtedly create new criteria for what counts as an efficient use of resources and time. What passes for "efficient" use under capitalism often means what is efficient in increasing the power and profits of the few, without regard to the wasteful use of individual time, energy and potential as well as environmental and social costs. Such a narrow criteria for decision making or evaluating efficient production will not exist in an anarchist society (see our discussion of the irrational nature of the price mechanism in section I.1.2, for example). When we use the term efficiency we mean the dictionary definition of efficiency (i.e. reducing waste, maximising use of resources) rather than what the capitalist market distorts this into (i.e. what creates most profits for the boss).
While capitalism has turned improvements in productivity as a means of increasing work, enriching the few and generally proletarianising the working class, a free society would take a different approach to the problem. As argued in section I.4.3, a communist-anarchist society would be based upon the principle of "for some much per day (in money today, in labour tomorrow) you are entitled to satisfy — luxury excepted — this or the other of your wants." [Peter Kropotkin, Small Communal Experiments and why the fail, p. 8] Building upon this, we can imagine a situation where the average output for a given industry in a given amount of time is used to encourage efficiency and productivity. If a given syndicate can produce this average output with at least average quality in less time than the agreed average/minimum (and without causing ecological or social externalities, of course) then the members of that syndicate can and should have that time off.
This would be a powerful incentive to innovate, improve productivity, introduce new machinery and processes as well as work efficiently without reintroducing the profit motive and material inequality. With the possibility of having more time available for themselves and their own projects, people involved in productive activities would have a strong interest in being efficient. Of course, if the work in question is something they enjoy then any increases in efficiency would enhance what makes their work enjoyable and not eliminate it.
Rewarding efficiency with free time would also be an important means to ensure efficient use of resources as well as a means of reducing time spent in productive activity which was considered as boring or otherwise undesirable. The incentive of getting unpleasant tasks over with as quickly as possible would ensure that the tasks were done efficiently and that innovation was directed towards them. Moreover, when it came to major investment decisions, a syndicate would be more likely to get others to agree to its plans if the syndicate had a reputation of excellence. This, again, would encourage efficiency as people would know that they could gain resources for their communities and workplaces (i.e. themselves) more easily if their work is efficient and reliable. This would be a key means of encouraging efficient and effective use of resources.
Similarly, an inefficient or wasteful syndicate would have negative reactions from their fellow workers. As we argued in section I.4.7, a libertarian communist economy would be based on free association. If a syndicate or community got a reputation for being inefficient with resources then others would not associate with them (i.e. they would not supply them with materials, or place them at the end of the queue when deciding which production requests to supply, and so on). As with a syndicate which produced shoddy goods, the inefficient syndicate would also face the judgement of its peers. This will produce an environment which will encourage efficient use of resources and time.
All these factors, the possibility of increased free time, the respect and resources gained for efficient and excellent work and the possibility of a lack of co-operation with others for inefficient use of resources, would ensure that an anarchist-communist or anarchist-collectivist society would have no need to fear inefficiency. Indeed, by placing the benefits of increased efficiency into the hands of those who do the work, efficiency will no doubt increase.
With self-management, we can soon see time and resources being used efficiently and productively simply because those doing the work would have a direct and real interest in it. Rather than alienate their liberty, as under capitalism, they would apply their creativity and minds to transforming their productive activity in such a way as to make it enjoyable and not a waste of their time.
Little wonder Kropotkin argued that modern knowledge could be applied to a society in which people, "with the work of their own hands and intelligence, and by the aid of the machinery already invented and to be invented, should themselves create all imaginable riches. Technics and science will not be lagging behind if production takes such a direction. Guided by observation, analysis and experiment, they will answer all possible demands. They will reduce the time required for producing wealth to any desired amount, so as to leave to everyone as much leisure as he or she may ask for . . . they guarantee . . . the happiness that can be found in the full and varied exercise of the different capacities of the human being, in work that need not be overwork." [Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, pp. 198-9]