Capitalist Crisis and Anarchist Economics, a talk by Wayne Price on August 20th, 2013 in Rochester, New York at the Flying Squirrel Community Space
Last Tuesday I attended a talk by Wayne Price on the Capitalist Crisis and Anarchist Economics which also served as a entry point for his newly published book The Value of Radical Theory: An Anarchist Introduction to Marx's Critique of Political Economy hosted by “your friendly neighborhood” anarchist organization, Rochester Red and Black. I must say, they were friendly and the Flying Squirrel is a pretty nice place for Rochester to have. I also picked up a copy of the his new book, but haven't read past the first fifty pages yet, although the introduction has so far, been the most interesting. What follows is more of a look into his talk and some questions I had before and afterwards.
As anarchists, we are against state and capital, yet we are also not immune to the society we live in. We have to work for a living in order to survive and pay for food and shelter; some of us may even want some luxuries like books, bikes, the occasional keyboard to play, and maybe even more. The point being is that just because we are in opposition to civilization, we still live under it and more often than not have to play by their rules, while attempting not to comprise our ideas. Anarchists and economics are often like oil and water, they don't mix well and as Price wrote - outside of perhaps Proudhon there is barely any sense of “anarchist economics.” This is were the ideas, formulations, and systems of Marx and Engels come into play with their importance in Price's opinion. And onwards: Just as the Russian revolutionaries in 1917 asked, how is it to be done, this anarchist economics?
Price began his talk by stating that he is retired (from what he didn't say) and that his family is in the same boat as all of us, experiencing the economic crisis with layoffs and difficulty finding meaningful jobs. He stated that he was an anarchist, of which kind or type he also didn't say, although I have always thought of him in the class-struggle anarchist vain. He also went on to say that he is not a Marxist, yet he is open to some of their ideas as being valid. His basic speech was that society is historical and built upon commodities that are often useless, cycles are necessary for the health of the capitalist system, and that the panic has turned into the crisis. Profit is the goal of the capitalists, rather than use, as he described the analogy of the hammer - the capitalists make them, but will never use them. Price also talked of how capitalism fails to plan ahead, which brought to mind the old story of the grasshopper and ant. Although is this not planning ahead necessarily true?
According to Price, capitalism has been in decline since after World War II. This can be seen in the creation of the Bretton Woods system, which lead to the International Monetary Fund and what was called the World Bank, both of which aim to stabilize business as usual. Overall, I was more than a bit disappointed in his talk because I felt like everything he mentioned could have also been discussed in a Political Science college somewhere. It was almost as if he completely left out the anarchist economics half, and instead choose to talk to the large group in a general history leading up to the crisis. And on to the question and answer we went...
Why would anyone want a new society? For the most part, the answer is that they don't. So what should we do as anarchists? Organize! But, around what? Price mentioned strikes and supporting them, supporting workers, taking over factories, and having worker run co-ops “from the bottom up, run by the workers.” He also mentioned that many of these alternative ideas are still within the system, like for example co-ops still being under the capitalist market.
One of the more heated questioning and answering of topics came when Price used the term “terrorism” to describe anarchist sabotage. It almost started to look like the Crimethinc. / Chris Hedges debate up in there. Perhaps instead, Price should have used the often anarchist term of propaganda of the deed (POD) to describe his distaste for it instead of the catch all often government term of terrorism. It turns out, Price is not in favour of small group POD, and instead believes that we need to win the “battle of ideas” (again this sounds like a military term from Iraq and Afghanistan). In the end, Price's answer was that you can't stop capitalism without a “mass movement” to end it.
And what about anarchist economics? Well, someone asked if he could define anarchist economics and talk about it in the context of his book, however he stated that there were “major issues” but - he wasn't going to touch upon them. In Price's defense, the question and answer had already gone on for quite sometime (with no one else asking this!) and it was a super hot night outside in the city. Although, he did offer some keywords as the next question also touched upon the title of his talk. He stated that the basic principal is that “no one exploits anyone else” and that exactly how no one really knows because we're anarchists, and have many different ideas. He went on to mention that certainly PARECON was possible, but it has “issues” and that we need to experiment to see what works.
On a last note, Price often used the term “democracy” in discussing these anarchist alternatives and it would have been great to hear more of a critique of democracy from him or his specific ideas on the subject. Inside of me, I couldn't help but cringe while thinking of the JM Barrie from Peter Pan (1928) quote: "Every time an anarchist says, "I believe in democracy," there is a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead."