This month we looked at anarchist economics and selected three pieces which cover this, including practical examples of anarchy in action. We read: Chapter 3 of Anarchy Works by Peter Gelderloos, Eric Buck: The flow of experiencing in anarchic economies. In: Contemporary Anarchist Studies and Uri Gordon: Anarchist Economics. The discussion covered a number of topics which roughly split into the following areas:
One of the issues we face is that the examples given are usually only at very small scale and are limited by their need to interact with capitalism to function (e.g. workers’ co-ops). For example, permaculture has been proven at the scale of a small farm in Wales, what we need now is it to be proven at the scale of feeding Wales! This is unlikely to happen without a revolution which changes land ownership.
This has long been a criticism of anarchism, however, and Kropotkin did a lot in Conquest of Bread and Fields, factories and workshops to provide the detail of how an anarchist economy could function and that it could provide for the basic needs of the people.
At the scale anarchist economics has been practiced it is not a threat to capital, but perhaps that isn’t the point- perhaps all we need is to change culture and values such that people become less consumerist and operate more on principles of mutual aid and solidarity. This is laying the groundwork for a social revolution.
Culture and values
Marketing has created a consumerist culture where we are defined by our possessions and our purchases. We need to change this so that community is valued in our decisions. Does this have to do with the ‘death of God’? That consumerism has filled a hole in our belief system? Even discussing this is difficult as all of us have internalised neo-liberal ideology (and some of us are compulsive hoarders of jazz records…).
To change a consumerist culture we need to focus on education as well as skill sharing and access to knowledge. The examples in the text suggest removing part of our consumption from what could be considered ‘the economy’ by repairing your own bike or similar- creating a DIY culture. There seem to be lots of examples of this working.
What if we don’t share common interests and values with our neighbours, how would it work then? Perhaps federalism is the answer- start at the scale of a block and work up based on geography, needs and interests so that decisions are made by those affected by them. Also, in revolutionary Spain there was not one way of doing things- some areas abolished money, some kept it and others replaced it with labour tokens. We don’t need a right answer, we need to try new things and keep the ones that work (keeping in mind different people and cultures).
Parecon and hybrid systems
This seems to be a hybrid between where we are now and what we’d like to get to. Seemingly similar to universal basic income (needs are provided for) and with a focus on democratically planning consumption rather than a focus on production in current economics. Not ‘each according to their needs’ as you can work more to get more stuff.
How far can such a hybrid model take us? Has been tried in many intentional communities but ultimately failed. Could it be used as a way to bring the public around to our ideas? Ultimately, the ruling class will not allow us to vote away their wealth so there will always be a limit at which point we face repression. Perhaps we could get enough people on-side through a hybrid model such that we have enough to achieve a revolution.
The Black Panther’s breakfast program was mentioned as a powerful example. Perhaps we should all join Food not Bombs? As long as these actions have a political agenda they seem effective.
What about pharmaceuticals for complex conditions? Not everything is going to be resolved by self-care and herbalism (as hinted at in Anarchy Works). Again, education may be key- we will still need specialists. We do not reject technology, we just need to consider its use more effectively.
Example given of farmers in Spain who decide on irrigation between themselves and sanction people as a community if they break the rules. But, these farmers share the same expertise- what if there is a disparity in knowledge (e.g. pharmaceutical production)? We need some kind of arbitration- the ‘authority of a third party’. This kind of authority is not bad as long as we agree on how the third party gains that authority to arbitrate. There will be less incentive to break the rules if we have removed the profit motive.
Our anarchist reading group will continue on the 3rd Tuesday of the month, 7pm at Freedom Bookshop. The next texts will be announced asap!