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The species being of anarchist economics

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."

Comments

This is uninspiring and uninspired. It's not clear to me why anarchists should feel compelled to devise some kind of economics department or promote a singularly anarchist train of thought about economics. In the case of Marx, capitalism has realized the gist of the Manifesto's political program. (Even if through a glass, darkly.) In the mainstream there is a considerable number of people who regard economics as a weird department of pseudoscientific knowledge.

What's even more baffling is this promotion of anarchist economics, from what I can see in this summary, demonstrates no real deviance. There's effectively been no break at all with the gist of far left ideology which still finds Marxism, or at least Marx, as its flagship. 

 

Self-managed labor: Does the rationally planned ownership of industrialism, manifested in workers' ownership, signal the domination of the past by the present, as Marx believed? Can all of the dead labor of our world be successfully selected and rehashed based on utilitarian planning guided by principals of a humane society? This is the pound of flesh premise of self-managed work: Capitalism's relations of exchange are an artificial fetter on our really existing plenty, and the parasitic host can be beaten away from the delectable bounty of 150 years of industrialism by the hands that labor to make it. But how much do we expropriate from the expropriators and how much do we sacrifice? Who will mine the rare earths for your mobile phone? Ostensibly, self-management does not dispossess itself of involvement in the necessities of labor but promotes an even greater involvement in work than is currently existing. Some would repudiate this altogether and contend that labor itself should be abolished as it is now practicable to do so technologically. Marx may have contended this as well. (http://therealmovement.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/david-graebers-much-needed-discussion-of-bullshit-jobs/)

More likely is that the threshold of workers' demands, manifested as self-managed industry, is in fact a demonstration of their dependency on work. It is a signal of panicked and irresolute action by men who are only accustomed to a single way of living: tending the machines. This was perceived decades ago after May '68. Workers' ownership precipitates a harried, circumscribed involvement in the market by laborers who previously would've only been physically subordinate to their work. The domination of life by dead labor is real, and now it might be said that human agency only comprises a fraction of social relations. This would be my understanding, anyway. So I've suggested three paths here without going into a lot of detail, which apparently is more than can be said of the talk you went to.

 

 

An anarchist economics, if you ask Graeber, would be oxymoronic. In any case, he should say something like that if he were to be consistent. I haven't read much from Graeber except his hokey online articles, but I get a sense he would agree here. If anarchism is to be the ethical side of revolutionary praxis, then a formal economics has already been presumed as impossible. A black bloc that smashes a busniess front is not to be concerned with the damages incurred but by the ethical imperative that drives the attack. The problem anarchists regularly face is in the simple fact that damages are indeed incurred and it behooves organizers to understand the implications of this. I read an account of a black bloc attacking a locally owned Shell station justifying the attack with the state of affairs in the niger delta, yet it was difficult for me to connect all the dots to that station specifically. Furthermore, some feminists were complaining that the place sold porn but I believe it was some strippers' sock puppets from a nearby club. Apparently they were set up all pro with vpn's and shit, but that's a tangent. The tragedy was that the Shell took such a hard hit, a month later the place had shut down and a month after that the 7/11 took over. Now I'm not sitting here saying it is the anarchist's job to be choosing between Shell and 7/11 but that the situation could have been handled better more conscious of the finances. But more to the point, an anarchist economics, if anything at all, has to be an economics ethics, and thats just hard with the accusations of liberalism and opportunism everywhere. Its like anarchists are always trying to start something but aren't sure why because their ethics aren't informed by a formal system. It only takes enough to know that the capitalist system is not one of free exchanged but always maintained and regulated through violence. Once that realization comes to light it is simply a matter of what to do but that is hardly simple. Finance capital harasses because it is on the wrong side, I can't say more but its obvious why I have to cut this short. As usual, pull out, contort, rethink, read and reread etc. The priest is still sour apparently. We are still hearing the disturbing noises and left only with anger because we are either not with who we want to be or alone. That too is an economic problem.

I understand that the more important topic Price was trying to touch on is, how to get anarchist ideas to work in practice; in reality and soon.

I agree that we should all focus on what we can actually do to improve our statist situation. What I disagree with is the idea that we should fix this statist condition with another state-like organization that enmasses anarchists. Might as well call for an anarchist army, to be so off the mark.

If I could suggest my own opinion, in regard to practicality, that it is possible to have a lot of influence, without being an organized hoard. Or, in other words, that we could all pinpoint personal and small-group tactics that work for our common adventage. I like to see it as a sort of shared "anarchist strategy," which includes in itself all those small entities, that I then call "immediate tactics."

Other than that, I completely agree with you that watching out for keywords, such as "terror", "democracy" and "fight," is critical for discussion. Some perspectives are innately oxymoronic when it comes to anarchy, regardless of the good intentions of the person.

www.AssafKoss.com

Wayne Price has responded wilth a comment on Anarchist News dot org, which I've taken the liberty to copy and paste below:

 

"Rocinante's" account of my talk in Rochester gives me some idea of how it came across to at least one person in the room. I wish she (?) had asked more questions, during or after the talk; we might have cleared up some things (such as what kind of anarchist I am!). Some comments:

(1) The point of my discussion of the nature of the historical period of capitalism was this: to argue that socialist-anarchism is not just a nicer, more attractive, more moral goal than capitalism, but that it is necessary, since capitalism is in its epoch of decline, heading for destruction of society and ecology.

(2) I did not equate all anarchist actions with "terrorism." I did warn that many, even most, people would see even nonviolent small scale actions as terrorist (incorrectly), would not get the point, and just see them as more problems of our society. Sometimes this is all we can do, but we need to find ways wherever possible to build popular, mass, movements, from labor struggles to anti-fracking efforts (there will be no lack of issues in this period).

(3) "Democracy" is used in two ways: as an ideological coverup for the existing capitalist state or as a goal of a free, self-managing, society. I do not want to quibble. Many anarchists might object to "democracy" but are happy to use "self-management," which seem to me to be synonyms. Anyway, like Goodman, Goldman, Bookchin, Tucker, and others, I regard anarchism as the most radical form of democracy.

http://anarchistnews.org/comment/28202#comment-28202

Emile, infamous anarchist news dot org commentor replies to Wayne Price (copy and pasted from @news by curious reader http://anarchistnews.org/comment/28747#comment-28747  ):

 

you say;

"Democracy" is used in two ways: as an ideological coverup for the existing capitalist state or as a goal of a free, self-managing, society.”
you further say;

“I regard anarchism as the most radical form of democracy.”

do you therefore intend that ‘our goal’ should be a free, self-managing anarchist society?

i ask this because, in my view, ‘working towards a better system of self-management’ is ambiguous as to what is intended by ‘self-management’ [there is the destination-oriented self-management and the journey-oriented self-management].

our European destination-oriented culture is inherently anthropocentric and it screws up the common living space in which ‘self-organization’ is inherent.
‘democracy’ as a ‘system of self-management’, as it developed in Europe, incorporated the notion of the human organism as a ‘independently-existing thing-in-itself’, as in Christian religious myth, as individual units made by God. humans were NOT seen as interdependent participants in an unfolding ecosystem with inbuilt self-organizing capability.

that is the history of our now globally dominating European culture and it is very unlike the form of ‘organizing’ in the indigenous aboriginal anarchism which understands man as inextricably bound into the transforming web-of-life.

as we know, european culture man, believing he was a God-given thing-in-himself, rejected the ‘in-the-now’ journey-oriented philosophy of indigenous anarchism, ... and decided that it would be necessary to ‘put someone in charge’ and ‘whip the world into shape’. of course, european man’s anthropocentric goals and objectives had no idea of how human actions would impact wolf, bear, grasshopper, and the tiny ones like microbes, and frankly, european man didn’t give a damn. this was likely due to Christian religious belief [acknowledgement of inhabitant-habitat interdependence is not found in the Bible];

“God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” – Genesis 1:28

this ethic of subjugation of ‘lesser things’ by ‘greater things’ [the christian value hierarchy was God, angels, man, animals, plants, minerals as in St. Augustine’s ‘Civitate Dei’] was part of the ‘self-management program’, and the categories of man and animals was further divided up placing aboriginals and brown and black skinned people farther from the image of God [white males made God in their image] and thus destined to be a follower rather than a leader in humanity’s ‘self-organizing’ initiatives.

the animating source of human activity, in the European mind conditioned by noun-and-verb European language-and-grammar, is ‘intellection and purpose’. this is inherently ‘goals-oriented’,... HUMAN goals-oriented. what these human intellection and goals-oriented actions have been doing is to screw up the environment [everything below the apex of the control-center hierarchy]. this anthropocentrist social dynamic, since it jumpstarts from the human intellect, has no idea how the actions it precipitates will impact others who are not in the inner circle of intellectuals and enforcers. Europeans did not sit around in a ‘talking circle’ so that everyone could share their experience, apart from in romanticized folklore such as ‘the knights of the round table’.

‘organization’, in European cultural terms meant ‘determining what happens’, while, in indigenous anarchist terms, ‘organization’ referred first and foremost to the relational web-of-life that one was included in, which was NOT the product of ‘what humans decided to do’.

in fact, European man had ‘no idea’ of what would actually ‘result’ from his actions since their actions were designed to determine European man’s anthropocentric ‘wants’, and the ‘collateral damage’ has been enormous because we live in a relational space, and it is impossible to act without impacting others woven into the common relational web. in fact, the more remote one is from ‘mover-and-shaker central’, the more one is going to be whipped about like the last man on the skaters game of ‘crack the whip’, wolf and bear to the extreme.

‘democracy’ has been an anthropocentric self-management scheme that has been the source of massive ‘collateral damage’ not just to the environment but without influence on the intellectual central directives due to the human intellect having no idea of the full relational implications of human actions. as mcluhan pointed out, it takes a whole community to raise a factory, and many contribute whether they like it or not, who are not mentioned in the glorious plan.
that is why indigenous anarchists do not use their intellect as the primary driver of their ‘organizing’. what sense is there in that, if one doesn’t know the implications of one’s intellect directed actions?

the indigenous anarchists use the talking circle or ‘learning circle’ as the primary shaper of their collective behaviour. in the circle, one flips from ‘head voice’ to ‘heart voice’ to share actual feeling experiences. the centre of the circle is understood as the point of synthesis where the diverse multiplicity of experiences come into connective confluence so that ‘what is happening’ is given by the coherency in how all these experiences relate. The learning circle thus emulates the quantum physics compliant communications theory of Gabor, which similarly suspends all filtering of noise [one would have to know the truth in advance to identify ‘noise’] and extracts information from coherency in the synthetic/confluence of a diverse multiplicity of unfiltered signals.

comparison of European organizing model and Indigenous Anarchist organizing model;

1. the European understanding of self-organization is where a collective works together to determine a desired result. the goals and objectives are ‘in charge’ of coordinating individual and collective behaviours. [powerboater model]

2. the indigenous anarchist understanding of self-organization is one in which the participants acknowledge they are included in a dynamic that is greater than their own actions, and so must share with one another what they are personally experiencing and let this inform their collective actions. goal oriented initiatives are secondary to, and informed by the ‘learning circle’ understandings.

[the (2.) approach to organization comprehends systems sciences pioneer Russell Ackoff’s point that ‘analytical inquiry into a local system that looks at what it does,.... Must be informed by synthetical inquiry into the relational suprasystem it is included in and answering some relational need; i.e. it acknowledges that the system and its relational suprasystem are in ‘conjugate relation’].

the difference between the two is clear. in (1.) the operatives believe that they can know and determine the results of their actions, while there is no such assumption in (2.) and the ‘learning circle’ is to gather input as to what is really going on [what people are actually experiencing from all sources of influence], so that this can inform their continuing actions.

as mcluhan points out, if you want to construct a factory, the only space you can do it in is one that is already occupied [whether or not with humans] aka the ‘suprasystem’ or ‘community’, ... and so ‘construction’ amounts to ‘destruction’ of what is already ‘in place’, as far as physical structures go. more fundamental than the change-out of physical structures is the transformation of the operative relations in the community/suprasystem. the European mind may model what happened in the CONCEPTUAL terms of an organized initiative to CONSTRUCT some new physical structures, but the physical reality is the transformation of relations in the community dynamic that are the deeper source of such structures and which rebuild them if they are damaged or destroyed.

So what’s the point?

the point is that our European conception of ‘organization’ has been in terms of ‘what things do’ so that ‘organization’ translates into ‘coordinated doing’ in which goals and objectives are ‘put in charge’ of an operating collective.

this is very different from indigenous anarchist organization which does not assume that we can know the results of our actions since we are woven into a relational web of interdependencies. that is why goals and objectives oriented actions are demoted to secondary status. for example, the powerboater and sailboater analogy is one where the former is purely destination-oriented [goals and objective oriented] while the latter acknowledges that power and steerage derive from the relational suprasystem one is included in, and so puts balanced/harmonious journey into precedence over destination, acknowledging that the relational suprasystem one is included in is a greater determinant than the actions of the systems that are included in it.

you say;

“I regard anarchism as the most radical form of democracy.”

but what do you mean by that? without elaboration it stands there as an empty platitude.

in your prior statement you describe democracy and thus anarchism [a form of democracy] as; ‘the goal of a free, self-managing society’, ... BUT it is still not clear what you mean by ‘self-managing’. is it type (1.) or (2.)

if everyone is free to ‘do their own thing’, believing that their actions determine a knowable result, and seeing themselves as independently-existing beings with the God-given right to their own independent pursuit of happiness, then we are in the fictional reality of the European mind conditioned by noun-and-verb European language-and-grammar that is the source of massive collateral damage or ‘incoherence’ [Bohm]. we are ignoring the physical reality of Mach’s principle;

“the dynamics of the inhabitants are conditioning the dynamics of the habitat at the same time as the dynamics of the habitat are conditioning the dynamics of the inhabitants.”

however, if everyone acknowledges that they can’t know the results of their actions due to being woven into a relational-spatial web of interdependencies, then such people will naturally evolve some form of ‘learning circle’ to understand how one and other [including animals, plants, oceans etc.] are affected by the nexus of influences they are experiencing that are infused into the common relation space that is conditioning their behaviour..

at present, the dominating mode of organization is (1.), the goal oriented mode of the European mind where the centre of authority and centre of intellectual direction tell the masses that those at the control centre ‘know what they are doing’ [they are more or less informed by the masses] and they explicitly predict what will be the results of their control-centre jumpstarted actions. of course their predictions are superficial; e.g. the U.S. intellectual control centre said they would remove saddam and, if one wants to take that noun-and-verb European language-and-grammar construct LITERALLY, they did, but in the process, they shook the web of interdependencies and their actions radicalized thousands of muslims who are now mobilizing to bring down ‘the American Satan’. for those who believe that the ‘poles’ of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are real rather than secondary phenomena induced by polarization, the end game is nothing other than mutual annihilation.

at sovereign state level, there are 193 of these intellection and purpose directed self-managed organizations in the world [thousands more on other levels and billions on the individual person level], all of which fall into the habit of the European mind [which recruited and backed them] that insists on a God-given right to equality, independence and to their individual pursuit of happiness, as if everyone were living in a non-participating absolute space and absolute time reference frame/operating theatre.

it is taken for granted that you don’t favour representative democracy which predominates in the world at present even though those that do consider it a form of ‘self-management’. but what do you mean by “...anarchism as the most radical form of democracy.”?

is it still organization (1.) that puts intellection and purpose based goals and objectives ‘in charge’ of coordinating individual and collective behaviours? [powerboater style]

or are you advocating organization (2.) that acknowledges that we are included in a suprasystem dynamic greater than our own actions and so must share with one another what we are each personally experiencing and let this inform our collective actions. goal oriented initiatives being secondary to, and informed by the ‘learning circle’ understandings.

indigenous anarchism is type (2.) and it is this form of organization that impressed Engels and Marx and the founding fathers of the U.S.;

“To Engels, Morgan’s description of the Iroquois [in Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society and The League of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois] was important because “it gives us the opportunity of studying the organization of a society which, as yet, knows no state.” Jefferson had also been interested in the Iroquois’ ability to maintain social consensus without a large state apparatus, as had Franklin. Engels described the Iroquoian state in much the same way that American revolutionaries had a century earlier: “Everything runs smoothly without soldiers, gendarmes, or police, without nobles, kings, governors, prefects or judges; without prisons, without trials. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole body of those concerned. . . . The household is run communistically by a number of families; the land is tribal property, only the small gardens being temporarily assigned to the households — still, not a bit of our extensive and complicated machinery of administration is required. . . . There are no poor and needy. The communistic household and the gens know their responsibility toward the aged, the sick and the disabled in war. All are free and equal — including the women.” — Bruce E. Johansen, Forgotten Founders

there is much talk of ‘anarchist organization’ but almost never a clarification of what sort of organization that implies.

i.e. which type of organization is your ‘anarchism’? is your “...anarchism as the most radical form of democracy.” still in the (1.) mode?

I don't know whether David Graeber believes that "anarchist economics" is oxymoronic, since he is an anarchist and has written on economics (see his big book on Debt).  I do know that he is strongly for the idea that "democracy" is consistent with the concepts of anarchism--one of the areas where I am in complete agreement with him.  

My point about anarchist economics is that this is sometimes used to mean a vision of a post-capitalist, post-statist, post-revolutionary economy.  Anarchism has a great deal to say about this (and I included a chapter in my book discussing this).  But at other times it is used to mean an analysis of how present day society (capitalism) is functioning and is likely to function in the future.  Here anarchists have little to say.  I am sorry but this is simply the truth.  Mainly there is either bourgeois econommics as taught in the universityies or there is Marxist economic theory of some sort.  I have come to the conclustion that Marx had the best overall conception of this second sort of "economics."  Good anarchists may disagree with me. Some may read my little book and still disagree or others just don't want to explore what might be learned from Marx (due to his faults which led to eventual Stalinism).  It's ok with me.

To Assaf Koss, I am not for a state-like organization.  I am for nonstate organizations, voluntary, radically democratic, decentralized, and federative.

 

Wayne Price has also responded on @news with a different comment, of which I've also taken the liberty to post below ["MG" means Mister Grumpy, a frequent @news commentor]:

 

To Assaf Kass,
I have to say that I do not understand your question about "how do iyou equate or intermingle anarchism with a prefabricated social order?" There are things about this society which I find abhorent and vile, particularly its basic structure and dynamics. But there are other things which I like and want to see more of, such as self-organization, self-management, independent thinking, technology used for human and ecological purposes, and human solidarity.

To MG, who writes, "some of us aren't even interested in building a new society; instead we are busy trying to find ways of irreversibly destroying the existing one." Don't worry then, because capitalism is on the road to self-destruction, through economic collapse, nuclear war, or ecological catastrophe. You will get your masochistic wish. Some of us, however, believe that the alternatives are "socialism or barbarism" (Luxemburg) or, better yet, "anarchism or annihilation" (Bookchin). We don't want annihilation. We want anarchism and are willing to work for it.

http://anarchistnews.org/comment/28375#comment-28375

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