Monday, November 9, 2009

Feminism and the Wage

I was reading through CSO statistics for Ireland (as one does on rainy days) and come across the following for 2008:

Males On Home Duties: 6,700
Females On Home Duties: 526,300

The way the statistics office looks at employment and unemployment stems from the classification of who is "in the workforce". Those that are not seeking jobs, are not in the workforce. Now, this point has been made often enough by voices on the left regarding the fact that it hides unemployment of those who have given up seeking employment. The statistic above brings out another aspect. The unemployment figures of women are low, not because they have given up looking for work, but because they are working without pay.

Capitalism has an incessant drive* towards the expansion of commodification. The commons was conquered by the need for profit and we see capital trying continually to press the realm of information into it's sphere.

However, not everything has been commodified. There are still large sections of human social relations which do not use exchange. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the most important of these realms is the reproduction of the labour force itself.

The reproduction of the labour force is done with unpaid labour. Labour which exists outside of the rest of the sphere of commodity exchange. This creates some very strange dynamics. Indeed, thought it is impossible even to acquire food without money for exchange, and though the reproduction of the labour force requires it, there is no compensation for the production of labour.

This means that those who work in the reproduction of the labour force, the greatest lynch pin of the entire capitalist edifice, must be subordinate to: a) Husbands, who will be the arbiters of how their wages should be distributed internally to the family, and more recently b) The state, which acts as a great arbitrary and derelict husband.

I think as can be read quite clearly by the statistics above, women are the vast, vast majority of this labour force. The myth of the emancipation of women by liberal feminism strikes out in bold in these numbers. The vast majority of these women are at the whim of their husbands or the state. There has truly been no end to patriarchy.

Now, not only should we see this and see how bankrupt liberal feminism is and how capitalism inevitably perpetuates patriarchy, but we should also see it as a cautionary tale for any future world we might conceive.

Those who speak of economic democracy (Parecon, Economic Democracy) have a duty to explain to us how to deal with this issue. Will we bring labour reproduction into the sphere of the market? Will the polity act as employer of last resort for reproduction?

If instead we imagine a world based on the principle of fair access to the social product of labour, the issue disappears entirely. I believe that the abolition of the wage entirely is most consonant with the feminist project.

* This is a very teleological view of capitalism. I like telelogy and somewhat resent the dismissal of it by most of the modern science community. I think such statements are true in the same sense that directed behaviour is true of humans. Rather than being anthropomorphic to say that something "wants" something, I think it's quite the opposite. It expresses a sort of directed constrained behaviour, and as such the mechanistic processes which bring about teleology in humans are of the same kind as those that cause behaviours such as: "nature abhors a vacuum" or "the bacteria moves towards food". It is in fact anthrocentric to believe that humans somehow do something quite different. Likewise, processes underly the behaviour of capitalism, yet capitalism has aggregate behaviours with time dependent tendencies which can be expressed clearly as "final cause".

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What can we Learn from Lenin

I thought Don Hammerquist's Lenin, Leninism, and some leftovers was a very thoughtful article and enjoyed the response by Wetzel as well.

Some of the questions that are brought up, I believe do not yet have satisfactory answers in our movement. Particularly the methods that should be used in relation the trade unions in terms of being most effective in promoting libertarian struggle, and also in dealing with un-eveness in the development of the class. How to organise in light of these features needs serious investigation both theoretically and in terms of practical activity. Indeed, I think many of them can't be "solved" without essentially trying different approaches and seeing which are least problematic.

Such attempts however should be made consciously and in a coordinated manner. And reviewed periodically to assess how positive the gains are made and published in such a way that we can share our experiences and replicate what appears to be working. This is particularly difficult because of the great deal of difference that can be created by different social contexts. It seems that it would be most useful in someplace like the US which has some level of homogeneity.

I'm not sure what the particular fascination with Lenin is that compels someone to attempt to reclaim the legacy. Indeed, it seems to me that Lenin was such a polemical writer and strategically minded towards a "success" that he often just wrote whatever he thought would be most advantageous to the Bolsheviks at any given time. Often this means incorporating anarchist and syndicalist slogans without really incorporating their content in any meaningful way. This can allow a "libertarian" version of Lenin to be created by carefully chosen selective blindness. A Lenin which I don't believe ever really existed.

I do however agree that anarchists often make oversimplified caricatures of the Bolsheviks. This is a serious failing since comrades who are very knowledgeable of the time period will not be convinced by such ahistoric simplifications. The time period was complex, and while Leninist directions had permanent repercussions with negative results, its important that we look at it in more than a strictly idealist "negative" sense.

When confronted with the need to increase production rapidly in order to keep the delicate alliance of peasants and proletariat what should we do. When confronted with trade unions that are characterised by a historically professional character, how should we deal with them? Do we support the soviets or the factory councils? How do we reconcile the potentially conflictual power struggle between them without losing a section of the professional class which can not easily be replaced?

Obviously we need not concern ourselves in too much detail with a social context so removed from our own. But we can look at this history to see how in fact we need to be more strategically minded in relation to the method of struggle that we actually support in our own context without oversimplifying the complex character of the social landscape in which we are going to be fighting.

Hammerquist does seem to get confused by differences in language. In particular this quote:

I recently read a report by an Irish class struggle social anarchist about a tour he took around the U.S. and his impressions of the anarchist movement overall and in specific localities. One point that I noted with more than a little consternation was that he treated “insurrectionist anarchism” as little more than the anti-working class anarchist primitivism of the Eugene variant. It does seem that class struggle social anarchists tend to discount the politics of insurrection, ceding the issue to various “post-left” elements, including the “crazies” among the life style anarchists, where it becomes little more than an element of generational extremism, a theatrical pose that will evaporate in the face of any real repression, if not at the mere possibility of repression such as followed after 9/11.

This seems to merely be a misunderstanding of Insurrectionist. It seems to me that the vast majority of Social Anarchists that I've talked to fully believe in the necessity of some level of insurrectionary force. It's quite difficult to imagine scenarios in which this doesn't occur. The problem is strictly that "insurrection" is not a stand in for politics and political organising. Insurrection is merely a tactic that should only be used to facilitate libertarian struggle and is worthless if it isn't doing this. In some contexts it may do this, in others it may do exactly the opposite.

This is something that is particularly important in the Irish context where we have a history of Republicanism. We can see the IRA at various points as an insurrectionary force in search of a political ideology. Here it is important to point out the need to put the horse before the cart.

I'm sure Hammerquist would agree, but failed to understand what was being argued against.

(I have some experiences with all of the above, none particularly successful, but have always favored yet another option: organize a direct action mass grouping of workers at the point of production that can begin to understand the relevance of class issues beyond their particular shop floor--whatever the nature of the union or whether or not there is one. This approach has it problems as well, but they are a matter for a different discussion.)

I'd love to hear more about these experiences. The major problem (in my estimation) with current theory among anarchists is a lack of studies of actual attempts to use various strategies in relation to the unions.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Engaging with the Class

One of the deep insights of anarchist theory is that means and ends are inseparable. The method of struggle will have important repercussions on the realisable ends. The development of Anarchist theory and practice has been a search for liberatory methods that are likely to create the society that we hope to see. The role of the organisation then has to fall in line with those tactics and strategies that are liable to bring about a libertarian society.

"The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists" [1] (Abbreviated: The Platform) was first written after the failure of the revolution in Russia and the Ukraine. An attempt was made to give solutions to those factors in the struggle which had lead to failure.

In 1936, a syndicalist revolution was attempted in Spain. This attempt also failed. The Friends of Durutti Group [3] formed in 1937 in an attempt to guard the ideological purity of anarchism, and to advocate against the regimentation of the military. This initiative however, came too late, after the argument had already been lost.

Again, starting in 1956, we see the emergence of the FAU [6], also in rough agreement with the guidelines given by the Platform though likely developed quite independently. Later we see the FARJ [5] express a slightly more nuanced understanding of how the anarchist organisation should function in relation to the mass movement. This understanding was born out of the practice in working with various social groups, including the unions and students.

None of these initiatives were ultimately successful. However, the notion of Platformism, the Anarchist Vanguard group [2] [3] and Especifismo [4] have seen growing interest in recent years. This interest grows out of repeated failure by anarchists to gain traction since the failed revolution of '36 and a look at the (qualified) successes of the Especifismo approach.

In order to have a libertarian revolution, the manner in which the power of the state is dispensed with is essential. The "seizure of the state", as Leninist groups approach the problem, simply replaces one form of rule with another. In order to change the structures of power fundamentally, from the base, it is necessary to have a social revolution.


Specifism is an hypothesis. One which has not fully been tested or seen unqualified success. This hypothesis however is rooted in experience, of both success and failure, gained in real struggles. Since the working class is at such a disadvantage, we have not seen any unqualified successes, and therefore those techniques that look promising must be evaluated with a combination of theoretical probing and active attempts at implementation.

The hypothesis is that anarchists should organise into specific political organisations with the intention of promoting the development and radicalisation of elements in those sectors of society which can represent the interests of the working class. These sectors might include the unions, students, unemployed, community groups or anywhere else that strategic and tactical analysis would point towards as a promising sector.

This interaction with particular sectors, which we will call social engagement* involves the active participation of militants in these mass organisations and sectors in ways that will advance the class. The basic rule of thumb for determining advancement is summed up in the following maxim "anarchists should actively promote the increasing participation and power of the working class". That is, we would like to see self-actualisation, self-organisation and the building of prefigurative libertarian structures. This rule of thumb, however, is insufficient. We must attempt to express the libertarian worldview simultaneously. This can happen in the ideological vacuum that is a consequence of struggle, when the illegitimacy of the common sense notions that we inherit from capitalist society are exposed. We need to be bold in widening the division in thinking as the working class begin to see the bankruptcy of ruling class ideas.

Towards Non-Substitutive Engagement
Political revolution is the revolution of heroes, the revolution of a minority. Social revolution is the revolution of the common people, a revolution of the great masses. - Liu Shifu

Social engagement is an alternative to both the substitutionism of Lenin and Guevara, and its tacit rejection so often characterised by those who define themselves in opposition to Leninism in the anarchist milieu and the ultra-left. While not all Leninist or Guevarist tactics are substitutive, they tend to have no critique of the practice. If the revolutionary vanguard, the active or militant classes or the guerrilla armies substitute themselves for the working class then there is no libertarian revolution.

This is true because the elements who substitute can not know the aims of the working class. In the subjective sense, this class can't even be said to exist in the absence of the realisation of their own position in society. In the absence of their own consciousness of existence, they can't have any collective sense of needs. Their needs would then have to be assessed by a group that did not include them, but was outside them. Liberty is about the capacity to make choices. Any revolution in which decisions are made in ones stead, or on ones behalf, is not libertarian.

Neither can this substitutive element increase working class participation by acting in its stead. This participation is a crucial ingredient towards the creation of a new society run by the working class, for the working class. A substitutive group will eventually develop its own class interests.

History has born out this lesson with impressive regularity including the great "communist" revolutions of Russia and China. In the end, both Russia and China devolved into oligarchic capitalism as the substituted revolutionaries relaxed naturally into their position as the new ruling class.

The negation of the Leninist programme, which was first embraced by the ultra-left and later by many groups including the Forest-Johnson tendency, and various anarchist and other libertarian communist groups, is now widely accepted in the libertarian left.

This negation views Leninism's direct active participation in struggle as so dangerous that any sort of activity is in danger of being substitutive. Interaction bears a threat of infection. In this atmosphere most libertarian groups have become either closed or interact only through propaganda, attempting to enlighten the class, but not to guide them.

Social engagement however asks for a third path; interaction for the realisable gain of libertarian advantage. This means that anarchists would actively take part in organisations and communities attempting to build class power. They would argue in their unions for progressive politics and revolutionary goals. Pushing beyond arguments for improved conditions towards the complete removal of capitalism. They would argue in their schools for open access to education. They would argue in their communities to for common ownership of resources and services. All of this would be done by including and assisting cooperatively with the class.

* This has sometimes been called Social Insertion by South American comrades

[1] The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists, Dielo Truda (Workers' Cause)
[2] The Manifesto of Libertarian Communism, Georges Fontenis
[3] The Friends of Durutti Group: 1937-1939, Agustin Guillamón
[4] Especifismo, NEFAC
[5] Interview with the Rio de Janeiro Anarchist Federation (FARJ)
[6] The FAU's Huerta Grande

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Role of The Specific Political Organisation

There has been quite a lot written about revolutionary organisation and on the role that they play in broader progressive movements. Among the problems which must be addressed are those of theoretical and tactical unity and the role and function of the party and the organisation. Some of the ideas that form the modern platformist tendency, of which the Workers' Solidarity Movement is at least nominally in agreement were first expressed in "The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists" [1].

The role of the revolutionary organisation is dictated by the present features of the political and social terrain. It must therefor hone its own theory on the analysis of current struggles, and the relationship and activity that the organisation has relative to those struggles. In addition the theory of the organisation must serve a predictive function as well. Analysis must be made of history (both remote and current) in order to understand the roles that the organisation should have in various changing climates in order to prepare for their eventuality.

It is assumed hereafter that in discussing the role of the revolutionary organisation we imagine that the final outcome is libertarian communism.

There are two basic features (thought not purely separable) that can be distinguished when talking about the role of a revolutionary organisation. The first is internal organisation. The second is external.


The tendencies of revolutionary organisation for the left can not be said to start with Lenin, but 1917 was probably the most pronounced example of the Socialist revolution and therefor serves as a reasonable starting point for analysis.

Lenin had developed a theoretical model of revolutionary organisation that includes the notion of the vanguard party and the notion of democratic centralism as its internal organisational method.

The vanguard party is an organisation that was theoretically to serve an educational role and to act in a tactical capacity. Lenin argues in [7] that the consciousness necessary for revolution had to come from an intellectual group that was able to serve as a catalyst and to serve a directive function to activities. For this reason the vanguard should be staffed with professional revolutionaries, those capable for both the theoretical and tactical tasks to effect the revolution.

Here he argues for alteration of the internal structure of the organisation due to the way in which the organisation must interact with the proletariat.

The notion of spontaneous action on the part of the working class is analysed by Lenin as the fruition of at least embryonic consciousness.

... the ``spontaneous element'', in essence, represents nothing more nor less than consciousness in an embryonic form. [7]

However, Lenin rejected that the workers would acquire a fully realised consciousness of the role that the proletariat would need to serve to bring about socialism.

The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. [7]

The rejection of the capacity of the working class to come into consciousness of their role served as a later justification for the increasing control that was to be exercised by the Bolsheviks as the revolution progressed. This leads to the traditional idea of the vanguard party, acting as the agent of the working class and substituting itself as the dictatorship of the proletariat for some transitional stage. The external organisational principle follows from this as one of concentric centralisation of the politicised, the workers and indeed the whole of society around the party.

A note should be made on the "dictatorship of the proletariat". This phrase has been used to mean a range of different things from its use to mean the domination of the working class because of their majority status in a democratic institution to a small cadre that would substitute itself in the interest of the working class. It is likely that the democratic notion is closer to Marx's original interpretation and that the later interpretation is a result of Leninist theory.

We might reflect that this assertion that the working class can not come into consciousness of its own role is at odds with the experience of revolutionary syndicalism that was to come later in Spain. Though not perfect, it would be difficult to argue that the consciousness of the proletariat and the peasants in Spain '36 was merely embryonic in form.

Democratic centralism is an internal organisational principle for the revolutionary party. Internally an organisation should have the freedom to discuss and debate and then finally vote on action based on the outcomes of the debate. This forms the "democratic" component of democratic centralism. "Centralism" describes an extreme tactical unity. That is, when decisions are made, there is total acceptance by the minority, which must go along with the decisions of the organisation. This notion of internal organisation formed one of the major arguments which lead to the split between the Menshevik and Bolshevik tendencies.

A commonly recognised set of principles forming democratic centralism is the following:

  1. Election of all party organs from bottom to top and systematic renewal of their composition, if needed.

  2. Responsibility of party structures to both lower and upper structures.

  3. Strict and conscious discipline in the party—the minority must obey the majority until such time as the policy is changed.

  4. Decisions of upper structures are mandatory for the lower structures.

  5. Cooperation of all party organs in a collective manner at all times, and correspondingly, personal responsibility of party members for the assignments given to them and for the assignments they themselves create.

Interestingly, item 4 forms a sort of half-subsidiarity in that all higher decision making bodies are to be respected but the purview of these bodies is not in any way limited. Whereas with full subsidiarity additionally all decisions would be made at the least authority of competence.

One Big Party

Some groups take the internal and external roles of the political organisation and identify them completely. It might be noted that this is quite similar to evangelical religious conceptions of the church. One group which vocally advocates an international general party which the majority of the class should join is the Progressive Labor Party. Since the PLP takes democratic centralism as its organisational principle there is no further work other than to find effective methods of proselytising.

This current can also be viewed as a subconscious current in many, or even most other political parties and revolutionary organisations.

The Ultra-Left, Left Communism and Others

The ultra-left and left communism have differed quite a bit in both time and space on the question of internal and external organisational principles. Left communism has gotten some notoriety due to the fact that some vocal exponents have taken the mechanical determinism present in Marx to such an extreme that they theorise the role of the revolutionary organisation out of existence entirely. We will take a very cursory look at some organisational strains. For a more detailed exposition and critique of the various strains of Left Communism see [8].

One of the first arguments against Leninism, a response to "Left-Wing Communism - An Infantile Disorder" was given by Herman Gorter [5]. Gorter actually doesn't directly confront Leninism as it manifested in Russia, but rather argues that due to the objective conditions faced by the proletariat in Germany and England, the movement can't but require mass consciousness on the part of the proletariat, and that a strong leadership really serves very little purpose.

Unless the entire class or at least the great majority stand up for the revolution personally, with almost superhuman force, in opposition to all the other classes, the revolution will fail; for you will agree with me again that on determining our tactics we should reckon with our own forces, not with those from outside - on Russian help, for instance.

The proletariat almost unarmed, alone, without help, against a closely united Capitalism, means for Germany that every proletarian must be a conscious fighter, every proletarian a hero; and it is the same for all Western Europe.

For the majority of the proletariat to turn into conscious, steadfast fighters, into real Communists, they must be greater, immeasurably greater, here than in Russia, in an absolute as well as a relative sense. And once more: this is the outcome, not of the representations, the dreams of some intellectual, or poet, but of the purest realities.

And as the importance of the class grows, the importance of the leaders becomes relatively less. This does not mean that we must not have the very best of leaders. The best are not good enough; we are trying hard to find them. It only means that the importance of the leaders, as compared to that of the masses, is decreasing. [5]

Gorter is here advocating the role of the party in a much more educational role with engagement with the mass organisations rather than concentric centralising control. The consequence of his argument comes quite close to the (external) organisational method that is advocated in The Platform.

In addition to Gorter, Gramsci developed ideas concerning the role of education, which he termed philosophy and its practical application to life and to the masses, which he labeled politics [2]. For his divergence in theory from both Marx's mechanicism and Lenin's rejection of the masses coming into consciousness, Gramsci can arguably be called a left communist.

While Gramsci advocated democratic centralism as an internal organisational principle [10], in terms of engagement with broader society, Gramsci brought forward the idea of ideological hegemony as a fundamental (but not exclusive) motive force in society. The idea is basically quite similar to the idea of consciousness described by Lenin but more fully developed and later reflected in the notion of capillary power by Foucault [9].

Gramsci additionally makes an attack on the form of external organisation of anarchism, as he sees it:

But there is one traditional party too with an essentially "indirect" character - which in other words presents itself explicitly as purely "educative", moral, cultural. This is the anarchist movement.

Here of course, the role of anarchist activity as purely educative does not correspond directly to the tendency present in the platform and may not even be historically accurate in terms of the militant syndicalism that was present in Turin, but probably does reflect some Italian Anarchist ideas present at the time (Malatesta?). That is, unless one views all activity in the mass organisations as propaganda by the deed, something Gramsci hints at, in which case the notion is entirely degenerate and identifies all tendencies between Leninism and Platformism.

Additionally there is a current of thought expressed by Gilles Dauvè which recognises the need for organisations to develop theory which will then organically direct activity [3].

Modern Leninist groups (Trotskyist groups, for instance) try to organize the workers. Modern ultra-left groups (I.C.O.., for instance) only circulate information without trying to adopt a collective position on a problem. As opposed to this, we believe it necessary to formulate a theoretical critique of present society. Such a critique implies collective work. We also think that any permanent group of revolutionary workers must try to find a theoretical basis for its action. Theoretical clarification is an element of, and a necessary condition for, practical unification.

This however does seem only to skirt the issue, since it is a theoretical question how best the organisation should interact with the rest of society. It seems to be hinted that the appropriate activity will develop naturally from a sufficiently developed theory of society, but it seems strange that such a well developed theory of society would not also lead to a well developed theory of the mode of interaction that the revolutionary group would take.

For entertainment's sake, another theory was expressed by Sam Moss in The Impotence of the Revolutionary Organisation [10]. Here Sam Moss doesn't agree with those left communists who reject the role of the organisation on philosophical grounds, but merely argues from a pragmatic viewpoint, that the organisation can never have any beneficial impact on the mass organisations.

Autonomism, Affinity and Networks

The organisational approaches present in Autonomism tend to advocate more diffuse or network based approaches. It takes a much more spontaneous and self organisational approach to struggle, while simultaneously recognising a need for theoretical and intellectual explication of the struggle. As such it is difficult to identify definite arguments about the role of the revolutionary organisation in Autonomist currents.

Similar in character to the ideas present in autonomism are those expressed by Day in [11]. These involve the idea of affinity as the basic principle that should be advocated set in opposition to hegemony.

There seems in Day to be some confusion between the idea of ideological hegemony, due to contact with post-modernism. In fact homogeneity of philosophy never exists in any age or place, but there exist various influential currents. The idea of affinity as the most important organisational principle is in fact itself an idea that seeks to be hegemonic if it is to succeed as a principle, in which case the negation of Gramsci's notion of hegemony is not present in Day as it is supposed.

There may indeed by a further, more developed theory that seeks to draw elements from both hegemonic and affinity or network based ideas. This theory would describe using activity and philosphical explication to promote growth of affinity and cooperation in non-concentric spheres of influence. The revolutionary organisation would serve as a particular sphere attempting to facilitate capillary institutions.

The Platform

The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists had an organisational section in which it was outlined what internal structure the revolutionary organisation should seek.

  1. Theoretical Unity

  2. Tactical Unity or the Collective Method of Action

  3. Collective Responsibility

  4. Federalism

Theoretical Unity

The first idea of theoretical unity is shared with democratic centralism and not much critique is made of its counter-part, a disorganised synthesism. However Fontenis has the following to say in support of theoretical unity:

A questions arises: could the programme not be a synthesis, taking account of what is common to people who refer to the same ideal, or more accurately to the same or nearly the same label? That would be to seek an artificial unity where to avoid conflicts you would only uphold most of the time what isn't really important: you'd find a common but almost empty platform. The experiment has been tried too many times and out of 'syntheses' - unions, coalitions, alliances and understandings - has only ever come ineffectiveness and a quick return to conflict: as reality posed problems for which each offered different or opposite solutions the old battles reappeared and the emptiness, the uselessness of the shared pseudo-programme - which could only be a refusal to act - were clearly shown.

Indeed, this may go to far, as it in fact excludes the possibility of the masses coming into the necessary coherence under which libertarian communism could be established. In its polemic attack against synthesism, it may even exclude the known historic events attributable to anarcho-syndicalism in Spain. He almost immediately however corrects himself in the following quote:

Now, a revolutionary programme, the anarchist programme, cannot be one that is created by a few people and then imposed on the masses. It's the opposite that must happen: the programme of the revolutionary vanguard, of the active minority, can only be the expression - concise and powerful, clear and rendered conscious and plain - of the desires of the exploited masses summoned to make the Revolution. In other words: class before party.

It seems that in fact the idea should instead be one of the effectiveness of the specific organisation it its role in advocating anarchist ideas in the mass organisations. This later formulation is advocated in The Platform:

As an aside, the term vanguard party is used to denote the specific revolutionary organisation, not the centralised force of the revolution acting itself as the consciousness of the masses and seeking to establish itself as the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Tactical Unity

Perhaps the most difficult notion to deal with is the one of tactical unity. As we have seen the principle in its extreme form is the one present in democratic centralism. That is, the total acceptance by the minority of the rule of the majority. In the most extreme hegemonic form of democratic centralism, we end up with a situation where there is no alternative to the organisation, since the organisation has in fact become the formal apparatus for all decisions in society. At this point, the possibility of leaving is not present, and we have collapsed into a situation where the tyranny of the majority is very difficult to avoid and must be combated by appeal to principles or parallel, extra-organisational means.

We have a number of important distinctions that must be made. As has been pointed out by Murray Bookchin [12], the organisational principle of consensus can lead to a tyranny of the minority:

I have found that it permits an insidious authoritarianism and gross manipulations -- even when used in the name of autonomy or freedom.

One can imagine the minority blocking all activity and thereby rendering the organisation totally ineffective. A society attempting to abolish capitalism through democratic control of the economy in the hands of the majority would find itself incapable, due to blocking by the capitalist class, under a consensus organisational principle. Or for the small revolutionary organisation, a single infiltrator could halt all activity, or selected activity. Indeed we haven't escaped from the problem of the minority and majority at all.

However, the majority does not derive a mandate purely with respect to numbers. The opposite recriminations that were levelled against consensus can easily be constructed for the majoritarian principle. In fact the problem lends itself to tension at a deep level is intertwined with notions of liberty, federalism and subsidiarity.

The problem must be teased out into some constituent currents.

One of these is the practical effect of decision. If a group is making a decision to perform some activity, especially one that will be engaged in despite decisions made by the organisation (Rossport for example) and since they will be engaged in autonomously the organisation can have no benefit in dictating a policy of non-activity unless that activity is actually in contravention to the principle of the organisation. This intransigent minority is at some level divergent because of a divergence of theory, but this does not represent an avoidable divergence and as such. If a group is negatively effected by a decision, and is opposed to it, then we have the classical problem of the tyranny of the majority.

Another constituent is the level of actual dedication and various levels of responsibility that members are willing to take on. It can come to pass that decisions are made by the majority of the organisation, but with no actual executive power. Here the majoritarian viewpoint is entirely hollow and exists only in good intentions but without any contact with practical activity.

The authors of The Platform attempt to deal with some of these problems:

However, there may be times when the opinions of the Union's membership on such and such an issue would be split, which would give rise to the emergence of a majority and a minority view. Such instances are commonplace in the life of all organizations and all parties. Usually, a resolution of such a situation is worked out.

We reckon, first of all, that for the sake of unity of the Union, the minority should, in such cases, make concessions to the majority. This would be readily achievable, in cases of insignificant differences of opinion between the minority and majority. If, though, the minority were to consider sacrificing its viewpoint an impossibility, then there would be the prospect of having two divergent opinions and tactics within the Union; a majority view and tactic, and a minority view and tactic. [13]

Watching the practical activity in the Workers' Solidarity Movement these problems and features come to light. Indeed there have been times when the organisation is able to come to full theoretical unity on a particular subject, and it turns out that despite the highest decision making body, The National Council, coming to definitive and even unanimous support on a decision, no one is willing to undertake the activity. On the opposite side, there are activities which enjoy very active and dedicated support by large minorities, and yet the majority is quite critical of having involvement in the activity.

The minority/majority problem should probably be though of in terms of subsidiarity, and this principle should ensconced as a constitutional principle which can be evoked.

If some group feels compelled to carry out some practical activity, then the majority should allow the activity to take place as to do otherwise would give decision making authority to individuals not willing to take active engagement and who aren't otherwise suffering from externalities of the activity.

Of course the prevention of activities, in the case that it contravenes the theoretical basis, or the majority believe that it will be tactically regressive, is still possible. One might even imagine an extreme situation where all activities must have total tactically unity to ensure the continued survival of the revolution. In this case members would need to consent to the majority or leave the organisation. One should be careful to remember, however, that this is exactly democratic centralism.


Although the fourth point is termed federalism, and the document makes a verbal attack against centralism, it seems to be speaking, in a rather clumsy way, about subsidiarity. That is, the reconciliation of the dialectic tension between individuality and collective responsibility in various spheres. Each level of collective responsibility above the individual in society is based on the requirement that the decision be made at that appropriate level to maximise freedom and the collective good.

Indeed this last principle could stand further and more concrete elaboration especially in light of a more clear concept of subsidiarity, and possibly of notions of overlapping or aggregating subsidiarity. It should also make closer theoretical contact with the problems of methods of collective decision-making and collective responsibility.


In the final analysis, since most socialists profess to want libertarian communism it is useful to survey the landscape of possible revolutionary socialist organisational models, the method of contact with the external and the historical outcome and corollary consequences of the model and the points of divergence and the reasons for that divergence. Indeed libertarian communists in the especifismo and platformist traditions could stand analysis and critique to be made much more explicit and precise on these fronts than it is currently.

Socialist movements have often been rerouted into generating support for a replacement of the state with other oppressive state structures. The cause of this activity is at least partially related to revolutionary organisational principles. We should make sure that we are capable of both generating the climate for revolution, and carrying this revolution out in such a way as to move towards the goal.

[1] Dielo Trouda (Workers' Cause) - The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists
[2] Antonio Gramsci - Study of Philosophy
[3] Gilles Dauvés and François Martin - Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement
[4] Georges Fontenis - Manifesto of Libertarian Communism
[5] Herman Gorter - Reply to Lenin
[6] V. I. Lenin - What Is To Be Done
[7] Oisin Mac Giollamoir - Left Communism and Its Ideology
[8] Foucault, M - Power/Knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings (1972-77).
[9] Antonio Gramsci - The Modern Prince
[10] Sam Moss - The Impotence of the Revolutionary Organisation
[11] Richard J.F. Day - Gramsci is Dead
[12] Murray Bookchin - What is Communalism?
[13] Dielo Truda - Supplement to the Organizational Platform (Questions and Answers)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gifts and Debt

Man presents a cut of meat to a youth with a hoop. Athenian red-figure vase, ca. 460 BCE
The capitalist economy is a nexus of structures and activities. The success of capitalism is in part due to the fact that it is based on cultural expressions of real aspects of the human social animal. Humans are capable of acting in ways that allow the increasing universalisation of capitalism in both physical and social space. Globalisation sees capitalism expanding in geophysical spatial terms. At the same time more parts of human existence that were formerly social become mediated by commodity exchange. Humans are capable of relating to each other, through the profit motive, in ways which encourage the maximisation of greed and accumulation. Indeed, they are capable of using violence and coercion to replicate this social order.

However, this state of affairs has not always existed in its present form and it does not always have to exist. Anthropology shows us definitively the true breadth of possible social relations [4]. By taking a survey of human societies, we see that they can vary from the extremely authoritarian and violent to the exceptionally egalitarian and peaceful.

Libertarians can recast society in a form that promotes a truly cooperative and non-combative mode of existence but this must exist with in the confines of the space of possible social relations. Any recasting of society that hopes to avoid the failures, combative anti-egalitarian, and authoritarian aspects of current society must understand both how these relationships come about, how they perpetuate themselves and how new social relationships can be formed in a way capable of sufficient homeostasis or internal stability to serve as an alternative.

This essay does not attempt a survey of the totality of social relations and their basis, and ignores important external constraints on society related to self-reproduction. It is rather a brief exposition of some cultural institutions and social relations and their relationship to the organisation of society and the economy that have existed in the past or exist now and how they are related to human psychology.

What is risk

All human activities which have a goal, either a processual goal or final goal state, contain an element of risk due to the impossibility of perfect prediction. Some events are more predictable than others and hence have lower risk than others if the goal is related to the prediction of the event or behaviour occurring. For instance, the prediction that an apple falls when one drops it has less risk then whether it will rain today.

In essence risk is a means of thinking about prediction and the extent to which prediction is reliable. It is concerned both with time and behaviour.

The methodology of human risk assessment in inter-personal relationships is ad hoc. It relies on dispositions and tendencies. In contrast probability theory provides detailed descriptions of risk. However, even this later science presupposes a detailed understanding of the system which in practice is often not possible.

What is trust

Trust is a social relation that involves time displacement. It is a notion that some activity will be sustained or enacted in the future. Due to the predictive nature of trust, it involves risk.

There are at least two conceptual stages of trust. In the first stage we have decided to accept an unknown amount of risk in order to determine the reliability of a social relation that has been entered. All trust starts initially with an uncertainty in even the risk involved. In the second stage, we are relating to a history of behaviours. Based on these behaviours we can evaluate the risk of future events.

Trust as a social relation is often built through the taking of risks. It can be entered into deliberately or accidentally.

Trust can be manufactured deliberately through a coordinated ritual that involves risk for both parties. This helps to create bonds in a situation in which both parties stand to lose from direct defection from cooperation. Objectively this ritual might seem absurd, as outside of the situation of risk neither party would have the same constraints which would ensure further social solidarity. However trust once developed between humans is often less brittle than the immediate circumstances in which it developed.

The webs of trust that develop in a community through the knowledge of reliability, or low risk in the acceptance of responsibilities generate webs of trust. Social groups are often developed.

The initial stage of trust can also be built and entered into verbally. When one utters that they "trust" someone to carry something out, they are making a transference. This act generates a potential social obligation not just from the direct recipient to the utterer, but also to anyone else within earshot.

The transmission of gossip[5] is also useful in providing social bonds. It propagates both risk itself and a knowledge of risk within a community. This creates interpersonal dependencies due to norms of reciprocity. If someone's secret is deliberately revealed outside of the group then one might be subject to similar retributive acts. Those who reveal secrets or who don't reveal secrets can also be determined through this ritual.

Trust is fundamental in the generation of coherent behaviour in groups. Without trust, the conduits for communication are too slow and tentative to generate effective tactical associations. One can see this concretely in the speed and precision with which action can take place after trust is developed between team mates in football or between veteran direct action activists.

Groups seeking to behave coherently would do well to think of the sociological origin of trust and the fact that it is developed organically and inter-personally. The emergent behaviours of the collective of a group are to some extent dictated by the culture of trust.

What are gifts

Gifts are a mechanism by which people enter into a relationship around a commodity [1]. This relationship is not the exchange relationship that sorrounds commodities and is the dominant mechanism for obtaining commodities in modern society. The gift was, prior to capitalism, perahps the most common mechanism by which economies functioned.

Giving someone something is in a sense entering into a social relationship altruistically. There is some degree of personal risk involved, in that the other person may not be able to reciprocate. This risk builds a `social debt` in which the person who recieves it feels both comradery and respect towards the person giving the gift and at least some feeling of obligation of reciprocation.

When a society is heavily involved in the exchange of gifts, as is the case when gift is the main mechanism of commodity circulation, then we end up with a society tightly interwoven and mutually supporting.

In contrast, modern christian charity is profoundly different to the act of giving. While charity is not the same as the exchange of commodities in the market it is very similar since no social relations are produced in the act. In commodity exchange we receive equal value for equal value and the transaction ends. In charity one is given something and the transaction ends. It is a purely material relation between people and no social relation comes as a result.

There may be internal changes to the participants. The individuals who exchange may each feel they have improved their lot. The philanthropist may have assuaged feelings of guilt. Indeed the recipient of charity may have growing feelings of guilt. However, these are internalised and atomic.

It is interesting to speculate if charity arose in conjunction with or as a necessary result of the rise of the market. The major charitable religions do appear to arise around the same time as markets become a dominant form of economics in their regions[3]. The necessity to prevent social instability and the rise of purely mechanical and material relations between people create an interesting reinforcing symbiosis of charity and market.

The notion that the most elevated form of gift must be the one with no social consequences is not actually a response against capitalism, but a response in symbiosis and in support of capitalism.

What is debt

Debt is a notion related to reciprocation [2]. Norms of reciprocity are deeply embedded in the human psyche and exist across cultures. They cover everything from the notions of social responsibility to return a favour when possible, the notion of solidarity to the darker ideas of vengeance and blood debt.

A norm of reciprocity is an enculturated mechanism of determining the appropriate response to some act. Debt is a system of accounting and remembering what acts are socially obliged.

Systems of accounting extend from individual or social human memory of social obligation all the way through to modern double-entry accounting.

Debt in gift economies involves the memories of the participants. Debt is eliminated by acts that successfully compensate. In some societies, such as the Tlingit [2], this gift debt even exists with interest, requiring the receiver to provide an even more lavish gift in the future.

Groups and Social Relations

The various social relations described in this essay are largely based on inter-personal relationships. The size of groups that can be formed from direct social relationships are highly constrained. It is generally considered to be the case that these groups amongst humans can not extend beyond approximately 150 people [5].

Social mechanisms that have provided cooperation in numbers far beyond 150 people have had to use impersonal mechanisms of generating group behaviour. The capitalist mode of production and market exchange allow for vast complexes to be organised. Any replacement of capitalism is going to require that production and distribution can be organised using abstractions and not just direct human relations.

Understanding this we must reevaluate the concept of debt, risk, trust and social relations and relations with an abstract society or symbolic social order.

Gift economies are often raised as a plausible alternative to our current monetary society. Gift societies however require implicit accounting embedded in paired social relations. It can not scale beyond the village. If it is reified in relation to an abstract social order it will become nothing more than a system of debt accounting (though not necessarily monetary).

A more libertarian version of gift might invert the gift process entirely. This inversion would place hope as primary. This would be a society that organises around desire rather than obligation. The accounting system here is a dual form to both gift and money.

The extent to which this is possible as the main paradigm for a society would be related to the capacity of a culture to move from a push psychology to a pull. The demand for labour would be accounted as the labour most hoped for. Instead of an obligation, labour's value becomes a hope.

Marxists have historically noted that commodity exchange becomes a material relation between people. The process of exchange is desocialised entirely. However, while this critique is correct, it seems to suggest that alternatives reassert social relations in the process of commodity relations. This view should be suspect due to the fundamental limitations which social relations among humans individually have in terms of scale. For an advanced productive society with a huge amount of commodity distribution it is simply impossible to coordinate society based on social relations.

The Personal and the Political

There is a question which repeatedly presents itself. A question of whether society can be reshaped through the changing of social relations between individuals or whether a revolution is required to produce a new society.

In fact this dichotomy is entirely false and the two things are but different sides of the same coin. Social revolution is a revolution not just between humans, but between humans and the symbolic social order itself. All of these facets are inter-related and inseparable. Changes taking place within the movement in the furtherance of realizing an alternative society will not work unless the perspective is a broad one of creating society wide change. That means we must be in constant outreach and contact with the broader society. At the same time we need to realise that creating a movement for revolution is only useful if it is a social revolution. The means of creating social revolution is through our own transformation and the transformation of our social relations with each other and with respect to an abstract society. A movement which does not transform itself will simply recreate itself in the image of its origin.

[1] Lawrence C. Becker Reciprocity
[2] Marcel Mauss The Gift
[3] David Graeber Five Thousand Years of Debt
[4] David Graeber Towards an Anarchist Anthropology
[5] Robin Dunbar Why Gossip is Good for You

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Cost of the Wage

The wage has become a thing that is almost universally considered necessary. When looking at current capitalism it is ubiquitious and it's domain is growing. However, more importantly, looking at almost every future picture of the organisation of production that is currently popular, we find the wage to be central. From economic proposals as diverse as Schweickart's Economic Democracy [1] to Hahnel and Albert's Parecon [2] we have as a core feature of the system, the wage.

While a mainstay of critiques by traditional libertarian communists and anarchist communists [3], the repercussions of the wage have been insufficiently evaluated in most modern libertarian socialist literature. These repercussions must be seriously evaluated in relation to a different system. A system of freely given labour, one in which satisfaction of demand is not dictated by the mode or type of ones labour.

What is a Wage

At it's core, the wage is a mechanism for creating differences in the amount of consumption that people are entitled based on the way in which they work. The evaluation of the way in which they work can vary. Under modern capitalism, the wage is set entirely by market forces. In some envisioned socialist systems, the wage is set based purely on the number of hours worked. In Parecon the wage is set based on a combination of market forces and percieved "effort". Each of these will be dealt with in turn.

Labour Notes

The idea of remunerating labour based strictly on hours worked is an old idea. In addition it seems to have some basis in the Marxian Labour Theory of Value (LTV). If the value of goods is in their labour content (as it is in LTV), it gives a reasonably strong argument that people could be fairly remunerated in terms of labour time.

This idea however has at least three serious problems. The first is that the LTV is a macro-economic theory of value, that is, it doesn't talk about individual products made by individual firms but rather broad emergent trends. Therefor different prices of goods will diverge from the actual labour time by product and sector.

In addition, the fact that labour time is in aggregate the value of a product is an emergent property of capitalism, not socialism. It requires that capitalists are continually trying to undercut each other in competition and buyers are always trying to find the best price.

Lastly, if factories started using labour time vouchers, and some factory produced goods and sold them at their labour time, what would happen if people didn't buy them? Then they would have to reduce the price. Then who would be paying the difference between the products sold and the full remuneration for labour time? It would have to be coordinated by a central clearing house that assured that workers were paid by their time and not the amount that the good sold for.

Supposing that the workers decided to start doing a slow down. This means that they would be remunerated the same for their time, but would produce less. Then the price of the good would rise in the market and more scarcity but the same remuneration. Sectors that did this would exhibit price inflation. Now we have a wage, one that requires that you show up, but doesn't incentivise you to do anymore than if you didn't have a wage at all. It is more complicated than no wage, and serves no function.

Remuneration for Productivity

If productivity is the quantity rewarded then we are in a situation in which the differential becomes the important quantity again. Even with the total non-existence of profit we end up with competition. The worker who is able to produce 10 times as much of a good as another worker will get rewarded for their differential productivity. This immediately incentivises them to hide any productive knowledge from others in order to avail of the incentives that one would get for exceptional productivity. Surely a world where every worker would attempt to withhold productive knowledge is not one that we would like to generate.

Remuneration for Effort

Remuneration for effort is often held up as a remedy for this problem. The problem then becomes who gets to decide who is working well and expending effort. If you have a lot of people in a workplace, who is going to track this? Are you going to be putting quotas on individual workers? When quotas were instituted in the USSR they had all sorts of unintended effects, from having thousands of 1/2" nails to getting a few nails several feet long, all with the intention of satisfying the policy details, but not actually producing things of use-value.

Witholding of Labour

In a system with some form of remuneration tied to the distribution of goods we have the problem of the witholding of labour. Even in the system of labour notes, a particular key sector of society could strike to try to get a greater share or better treatement from society. The one solution to the problem of slowdown, the witholding of labour and sabotage is to ensure that work is done on a voluntary basis. At this point the collective responsibility is to provide opportunities for productivity. This turns the problem on it's head, allowing labour to be an opportunity to participate rather than a burden to bear.

The Attribution Problem

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted” -Albert Einstein

At the core of Kropotkin's critique of the wage system is the impossibility of attributing the usefulness of work. The benefits of production are difficult to see with commodity production. As we move to intermediate commodity production used in production of other goods it becomes even more complex. However, when one starts looking at the effects of knowledge production, tracking the benefit becomes nearly impossible even in principle. What is the benefit recieved from the invention of Algebra, without which no engineering would be possible? How could that possibly be quantified? Such questions make a mockery of the notion that attributing the productive increase of an activity can serve as a means to decide a fair wage.

The Wrong Incentives

The incentives that are provided by either remuneration for effort or remuneration by time encourage the wrong behaviour. The hours worked, or effort expended becomes a parameter which one must game in order to be remunerated. The end goal is never to produce the most socially desirable outcomes or to fulfil needs, or to be safe or happy, but always to fulfil some policy demand, whether it be piece work, quotas, hours or the appearance of being an efficient or hard working person, something which is necessarily a subjective measurement by others. The end result of such policy oriented systems are adherence to the structural laws.

The only effective way to ensure the adherence to the specific meaning of the regulations is to create a managerial cast with the capacity of enforcing sanctions. This tendency has manifested itself repeatedly. In the Russian Revolution the Bolsheviks began calling for managerial control over the factories to ensure productivity [4]. This repeated itself in Hungary and Poland [5]. Indeed even in modern times with the National Health Service in Britain we've seen these systemic problems of attempting to use performance measures.

The Right Incentives

Communism is unique in that it supplies the appropriate incentives for a just, egalitarian and free society. It demands that work be sufficiently satisfying and pleasurable that people are willing to do it. It is production were people find fulfilment by cooperation and play. The incentive structure strongly rewards the reduction of all undesirable labour towards total elimination. Nobody will be forced to work in some terrible activity.

Communism gives a powerful incentive to share information. The ability to reduce unnecessary or undesirable work to nothing is potentiated by the total freedom to communicate. These two factors are self reinforcing in a way that moves our society towards one in which people will truely be free.

[1] David Schweickart, Economic Democracy
[2] Michael Albert, Hahnel, Parecon
[3] Peter Kropotkin, The Wage
[4] Paul Averich, The Russian Anarchists
[5] Andy Anderson, Hungary '56

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What is Communism? - A Libertarian Communist Future

Communism has been variously described and various completely unlike systems have been described as communist. Communism in the analysis presented refers to libertarian communism, not the state capitalism of the USSR or other 'Socialist' regimes.

Communism is sometimes described by the credo: "From each according to one's abilities, to each according to one's needs." This credo captures part of the essence of communism. That is, the free production of goods from labour and the supply of goods decoupled from any systematic valuation of labour.

All wage systems effectively assign a value to labour by determining the amount of remuneration (in money, vouchers, or kind) to the productivity of the worker, and therefor violate this credo.

Another way that communism is sometimes described is "production for use value". This means that the value of a good is only the value it has subjectively as an object for use, and not exchange.

Under capitalism, the value of everything is determined by its exchange value. For commodities, this is often, though not exclusively the result of an equilibration between supply and demand. However, fictitious capital can also determine part of the exchange value of products. More will be said about this later.

The Necessity of Communism

Capitalism is characterised by the exploitation of labour. The capitalist is able to obtain profit by controlling the means of production. This excludes the worker from manufacturing goods themselves. The profit comes from the fact that the price of a good on the market is less than all of the inputs needed to produce the product. Since labour transforms the inputs into the final product, this profit must come from a failure to give back the value for the full product of labour to the worker.

However, even if the workers obtained the full product of labour from their work, they would still be in competition with each other. If two enterprises are competing in an open market over price, then this will force prices down. The only variable quantities in the production of goods which can allow a price decrease are labour or more efficient capital. If more efficient capital is employed, this has the effect of reducing scarcity of the good even further, leading to global price reductions leading right back to the original scenario with an even lower price. If the price decrease comes out of labour, this means that labour must speed itself up or lower its own remuneration.

These factors ensure that competition creates precarity for the competitive workers, just as it does for capitalists in competition. The solution that capitalists have generally used is to produce monopoly, and this would be the reasonable approach for collectivised workers as well. In other words, the workers have incentive to control scarcity to ensure remuneration for productivity. Now the exploitation has been shifted from a fight over price in a given industry, to an attempt to generate unnecessary scarcity to ensure the differential advantage of labour against all other consumers.

It is exactly communism which can rectify this state of affairs. The cooperative production of goods with the elimination of competition. The labourer may now be free of worry about how they will be remunerated given the exchange value of the product because exchange is no longer performed. The labourer is able to take freely of the goods produced.

As scarcity diminishes due to increasing efficiency we have a situation where organising production and consumption around exchange value becomes increasingly absurd.

Already, in the production of intellectual goods, goods with no scarcity after production, capitalism finds itself in an unresolvable quandary. In the immediate term exchange-value is impossible to determine. The first buyer could sell the product on for a price reduced from the original and, as this process is carried out, the exchange value of the product rapidly converges on zero. If the activity approaches zero exchange-value within capitalism it becomes impossible to perform the activity, excepting in the very limited free time which exists after agents are done with some other labour which remunerates.

Alternatively, innovations or cybernetic advances within a given industry can produce vast differential advantages against competitors. This leads to a total non-communication of the information. These 'trade secrets' as they are often called can have enormous, even unbounded negative effects on the efficiency of the economy*.

The traditional approach among capitalist states to the problems of zero exchange value or non-communication is to grant limited term monopolies over immaterial labour. This means that the state protects the value of the production by carrying out coercive actions against agents that attempt to obtain benefit from the immaterial labour without compensating the holder of the monopoly. Contrary to the notion of supply and demand that is usually held by neo-classical economists we have a peculiar situation of potentially infinite supply, held by a monopoly. The price is then set by the monopoly to maximise the profit.

Again the results of this monopoly in the case of some innovation or cybernetic advance is that the entire productive economy suffers a diminished efficiency. Since immaterial advancements are often predicated on a large number of people using former immaterial advancements and innovating with respect to them, we find the global** economy suffering under massive loses in efficiency.

As cybernetics and automation progress there is also the very real potential for singularities in production to arise. These singularities would arise from the automation of a task to the extent that no human labour is required to create the product. That is, the exchange value of the product, given that it could saturate demand, would fall to zero. Capitalism would be unable to produce such things at zero exchange value. In fact it is arguable that capitalism is unable to even approach the situation, as no investment could take place in a direction that would eventually remove all profits! The most rational approach to such a singularity would be to steer all investment clear of it. A situation which should be seen as totally intolerable for labour.

Communism on the other hand, has no aversion to the reduction of the use of labour. Maximising the productivity means less total labour is needed to saturate demand. Communism measures progress by the minimisation of all non recreational activity such to approach, and hopefully at sometime reach, zero, while simultaneously providing the needs of society.

Aside from the inability to progress, capitalism is bringing us towards disaster. The current ecological situation is intensely worrying. Capitalism, relying on completely local profits by capital, and a bourgeois democracy controlled by that capital, is unable to create any collective solution. It is only under a communal and collective approach to polity that we can devise a system which is capable of taking into account the totality of ecology.

How Communism Might Work

Communism, as defined earlier, can not be reduced to any absolute systematics. There are an infinity of systems which could arguably be called communist and would satisfy the idea of production for use value, or the communist credo. However, we would like to restrict these systems to those that are capable of supplying the entire current world with an alternative to capitalism.

Of fundamental importance to any mechanism that would decide the distribution of goods and services is the need to know what goods and services are demanded. This can only be done by asking people what they want. A listing of what is wanted is known as a demand schedule. It should list all things that a person wants, from food, shelter and clean air to a new iPod.

In addition to demand schedules, we must have information about productive potential. This means an assessment of all capital, and what its productive capacity is with given inputs. These inputs become contingent demands for a demand of output and necessary labour. The demands and contingent demands become the total input demand.

Lastly, the labour that is available, that is, the labour that people are willing to freely give to a particular productive industry in order to satisfy the demands and contingent demands (until a fixed point is reached) is then determined by the labour force.

Filling in the Details

This is a very simple exposition of an immensely complex process. We will now go into the various complexities that can arise.

Communal Management

Durable goods that are frequently useful, such as a television, telephone and others, are most usefully thought of as personal effects of an individual. However, goods that are useful for only small periods of time (this might be a hammer if you aren't particularly handy, or a jack-hammer even if you are) should probably best be communally managed. Libraries are a common example of this activity, but really any good that is difficult to produce, used infrequently, has high maintenance costs or some combination thereof is more usefully placed in a borrowing model. Goods in the borrowing model don't need to be directly produced to fulfill demand, but rather can be collectively produced to fulfill a much larger collective demand.

Even in the case of frequently used durables, we can think of the borrowing period as indefinite. At the end of the useful lifetime of the good (it fails), or at the point that you would like to requisition a different model, with different properties it could be returned. Necessary repairs could be done and it could be placed back in circulation, or broken into components in order to fulfill new productive demands.


Externalities are results of production which are unintended. Not all externalities are bad, some may be benign. However all pollution falls into the category of externalities as do health effects to labour.

The assessment of externalities is a very difficult but important task. Demands such as "I would like clean air" have to be identified, and developed into measurable and quantifiably demands. Clean air would have to be with respect to both the health and safety of people, and the productive demands of people.

Demands for things like "clean air" are not unreasonable, we hear them all the time from people, especially those living in areas of poor air quality. However, to determine what acceptable levels are, requires an open process where as much of the methodology and outcomes of the process are described as possible. It requires education both of the analysts, in terms of what these demands might mean more specifically, and of the people about the various levels of risk and effects of production.

Production of externalities don't need to be removed. They need to be managed. In the event that deproduction or neutralisation of their effects is not possible, they can be minimised, or at least reduced to a level that is not harmful to continued human life or production.

An example of this might be the use of fertiliser for farming. Fertiliser of some sort is required to create plants, and all fertiliser will produce some sort of nutrient increase in ground water. However, it is only when the levels become extreme that one has problems with eutrophication. Examples of disposal of externalities might be the use of scrubbing technologies to capture pollutants in a neutral or recyclable form.

In the final analysis we can think of the non-production of externalities as a demand that can be satisfied. Clean air, clean water, quiet streets, low danger infrastructure, all of these are formulated as positive demands for the non-existence of the externality and can then be taken into the simplified framework of labour and demand.

There have been attempts by capitalism to recuperate the ecological movement as "green capitalism". Green capitalism intends for the market to assign exchange value to various different externalities as a solution to the problem of assessing cost. However, many externalities are not even in principle exchangeable in the sense that the demands they satisfy may not even be related and no distributary or technological method can convert the two.

Even if two externalities were interconvertible, there is no single objective value which could be placed on their interconvertibility. How would one establish the amount of mercury poisoning which is exchangeable for an amount of arsenic poisoning of the water supply. From what we know of toxicity it is much more likely that both should be limited by some threshold density. This means that no objective linear value for exchange could be decided in a rational way, and hence the notion of creating a market in externalities is not rational. The only way to deal with the problems of externalities is to look at how each of the costs affect us and what levels of production of a given externality are acceptable.

Time and Demand

The demands of production can not be seen only in the short term. It is critical that when we envision demand schedules as something which operates over all time into the future.

The most basic example of the necessity for such a time scale is that I may not want to work for a 3 day period in the future. This affects future productive capacity for goods and services. I may want to take a vacation to Morocco on the 28th of June. In order to ensure that labour and capital can fulfill my demand it is necessary to be able to speculate about what labour and capital will be available for that demand on the 28th of June.

In addition, speculation is a critical feature. We need to be able to determine what is a likely method of meeting our demands and divert capital to it. This means speculating on the value of new capital investments. It will include diversion of capital towards direct production of infrastructure such as train routes or production of immaterial or human capital such as research into life-saving drugs.

Some types of production will be resource limited in such a way that meeting immediate demand causes an inability to meet future demand. Fishing provides an excellent example. The use of fish as a resource which meets the demands of everyone in the world will, in very short order, lead to a world without fish. In order to meet future demand it will be necessary to take into account the ways which current demands can be met, and the ways in which they can't due to resource constraints.

Black Market

This leads neatly into the problem of the black market. If goods, such as fish, are not produced by a systematic communist economy, and yet the real demand still exists, what will keep people from finding other means of producing it. Non-production within communism is very similar to prohibition under capitalism. While the good may or may not acquire contraband status, any production of the good outside the systemics will be effectively black market. The effects of the black market itself will likely have to be considered an externality of non-production which can not be evaded, but must rather be held in equilibrium. While pigovian taxes in capitalism are regressive and suffer from a lack of flexibility, democracy, and expert control (All simultaenously!) they have proved the ability of price controlled supply to mitigate the problems of the black market. That is, by allowing a restricted supply, one can make the opportunity cost of engaging in black market activity undesirable.

Maximisation and Minimisation

The production of goods in industry must also look at the increase of efficiency both of the production of goods, but also of the minimisation of input resources. There are no systemic factors in communism that lead inexorably to the maximisation of production for use-value while minimising inputs. In order for maximisation and minimisation to continue improving and function, we will have to rely on principle.

The local minimisation of resources, having no immediate affect on the well being of those involved have at times caused problems in communist contexts such as the Kibbutzim. Water-use, for instance, when unregulated by social control, can quickly end up being problematic. Examples that have worked in the Kibbutzim have included metering of water-taps, which increases the effectiveness of social control.

In contrast, cost based systems, which make it difficult to acquire inputs, or which will eventually eat into profits if not carefully managed, are quite good at this type of minimisation.

However, since the democratic communist economy is essentially an open computational system, it will be possible to look globally at where resources are being used, and to attempt to devote capital and attention to those areas which perform least well.

In software it is well known that computational processes have "bottle-necks". These, usually very small, parts of programs will use disproportionate amounts of the resources. Optimising various different parts of the program will have almost no affect on the global performance unless one addresses these bottle-necks.

While capitalism may be good at the level of enterprise optimisation of resources, it does not look at optimisation systemically.

Boundaries, Borders and the Collective

The explication of demands will have to be made at a collective level for various types of goods. While individuals can freely associate their demands with those of others, the full articulation of demands can sometimes only be done collectively.

A good example would be a mass transit system, which would need to set routes and the labour and capital required for creation and maintenance.

In addition, the fulfillment of demands will have to be organised by organs which are somewhat specialised.

Examples would involve the manufacture of buses, or the assessment of air quality. These would each need their own collective.

Humans labour will associate in ways that can create finality to organs and bureaucratisation which may be unnecessary and possibly harmful. This tendency can not be eliminated, so the principle of openness and democracy must be maintained.

When I was working in high-energy particle physics with the CDF group at Fermilab, I found that they did not release the CDF detector data. This is despite the fact that it was entirely funded by government bodies, in order to produce information for consumption (for free) by the scientific community. They kept their data because they were jealously guarding an exclusive ability to provide analysis and probably out of a fear that some analysis might be shown wrong if it was seen by many eyes. This tendency of information hiding can exist even without the profit motive, and the only remedy is vigilance for democracy and openness.

Absolute Scarcity

Sometimes demand will exceed supply. There is nothing that can overcome this given that labour and productive potential is not infinite for every good. There are a number of ways in which scarcity can be dealt with.

Ordering of demand schedules is one of the ways in which partial non satisfaction can be done in a relatively fair way. The ordering would mean that the system would prioritise satisfaction of those things high in the demand schedule, over those things that are not. Those things at the bottom of the demand schedule may be unlikely to be satisfied at all.

Another way of dealing with it is lottery. Goods which are scarce will go only to those who win at some random game of chance. The utmost care would need to be taken to ensure that this could not be manipulated by those running the system. Ways to ensure this might mean making predictions of some widely visible naturally occurring phenomenon which is highly random. Perhaps the least significant digit up to precision of the time of the occurrence of the next sunspot.

Bad Jobs

Bad jobs will be difficult to satisfy in communism since labour is given freely. There are a number of options at our disposal.

One method is as a shared responsibility of the community which will be done collectively. This may be all at once, or by rotation, depending on the nature of the job. Its often the case that unpleasant activities that you know that everyone has to do, are less troublesome mentally than those that you specifically are required to do. This method, however, may not work in the presence of highly skilled bad jobs. Examples of this might include system administration and underwater welding. In order to deal with these, one would need to first de-skill them, or use another method. If deskilling is impossible it may need to use some other method.

Another mechanism is the removal of some form of labour. If this is done immediately, it may induce scarcity which is unacceptable. It might however be possible to invest in the automation of the activity, the increase in the level of enjoyment that can be gained from the activity or the elimination of the activity by using some other processes. All of these would need to be explored.

If the former processes don't work, people will either have to learn to live with the greater scarcity or some incentive will have to be introduced. It is possible to introduce incentives in terms of more complete fulfillment of demands, but the prospect is dangerous.


If labour is to be given freely, it should be given with as little view to austerity as possible. We need to recreate as much of work as fun as possible. Most of what I've done for a living has been an unbearable pain. However, I've often done very similar activities outside of work for my own enjoyment. Finding what makes people want to do productive activities that satisfy needs is one of the most important areas of research. Under communism it should be much easier for people to believe that work is meant to be fun, when they aren't under compulsion and being exploited for their labour.

The Defector and the Leech

One common critique of communism is that, since there is no incentive to work, labour will not work, and instead freeload on the rest of society. This may be an even stronger, or more difficult tendency to deal with during any transitional period, where society is just learning about and coming into familiarity with a new communist economy.

If there are a few "defectors" as they are termed in game theory, it probably isn't a problem. However, if large sections of society fail to produce the basic necessities the entire productive system will collapse and scarcity will become a scourge. There is no greater failure than a system to provide the basic necessities to its population and the price is often revolution.

The public goods game provides some insight into this problem. In the public goods game people freely give some value into a communal pot. The communal pot is then multiplied by some value, and the goods are distributed back in a purely even manner. The game can suffer from complete collapse unless punishment rounds are carried out on defectors. That is, everyone withholds from the pot when someone tries to leech. Leeches, being rational will then start contributing again, in order to increase their payoff.

In an extremely large system, it would be very difficult to carry out such witholding of full access to production for those that are non-cooperative. However, it may be possible at the communal level, or even at the level of a federation of communes (to punish a commune for clear dereliction of duty).

These mechanisms of course are inherently coercive. It would be more desirable for people to give their labour freely of their own accord. Short of such punishment for non-cooperation however there appear to be only two other alternatives. Those are social control / social pressure and some sort of distributive incentive.

Socialism as a Transitional Programme

We will take the meaning of the word 'socialism' to be: a processual "bridge" between capitalism and communism, allowing the continuation of the wage (in some regime) but allowing some phasing or transition towards communism.

It may be that direct movement towards communism proves too difficult, in that it is impossible to get a sufficiently level of satisfaction from labour freely given. It is critical in a revolutionary situation to ensure that capitalism is not capable of reasserting control. If the economy is unable to rectify the problem of the satisfaction of critical areas of labour requirements, then some differentials will have to be introduced.

The withholding of full remuneration, as decided by ones peers may be an effective way to encourage labour.

The other alternative is the increase in the satisfaction of demands due to the free giving of labour activity.

Both of these instruments may need to be used. The former is likely less dangerous than the later, and indeed it may be directed at only particular classes of demands that are deemed unnecessary.

In the sense that differential compensation is being given, it could be argued that this in fact is the introduction of wage. It is not, however, a profit motivated system, and it is not involved in competition excepting in the sense that one might view oneself relative to ones peers. It still would retain many of the features of the full communist system. For this reason it seems a better transitional program than mutualism or collectivism.

The Capitalist Interface

In order to achieve a communist society there will almost certainly be an interface to capitalism. This interface will last from the inception of communism, up until the entire world is communist, and probably for some time afterwords (in the form of black markets). Determining exactly the best way of interfacing with capitalism so as not to be recuperated (infected) is critical to any theory of communism.

It may be possible to begin instituting some of the communist modes of production of goods immediately, within a globalised capitalist economy.

A single firm, if expropriated would allow the socialisation of capital among the workers. The workers would then given that they had or could raise sufficient capital to purchase the inputs to production could begin producing without exploitation. They could produce goods for themselves at a discount. This is effectively a workers cooperative. If in addition the collective administrates the purchase of collective goods for the purpose of workers, then one is moving towards a kibbutz model and we have moved into planning for consumption.

If two firms are collectivised in this way, and the firms have no products in common in terms of inputs, then we have collectivism.

If two firms are collectivised and one has inputs to the other, then the firms can begin planning for production. They can share the profit from final sales and plan the distribution of goods internally.

Strategically, it would make sense to attempt to collectivise supply chains and merge the supply chains by way of planning. This could effectively eliminate competition along the supply chain and remove exploitation while allowing the workers democratic control of production. However, remuneration would still be in terms of the profit from sale of goods to the extent that the purchase of goods was not communally administered or the demands could not be decided in kind.

If this type of activity could become widespread, and the mechanism of internal planning was developed it may be possible to exist along side capitalism. Particularly if capitalism is not functioning well, as workers would be looking for an alternative.

This interface of exchange of money with external capitalism will exist in a manner similar to this until the entire globe is communist, so it is worth thinking about how it should be done.

* Production of rubies was a trade secret for over half a century

** global, in the sense of the economy in its entirety as a subject of study, not necessarily the 'world'.