The Anarcho-Leninist
Debate on the State

Do you have ideas or do ideas have you?
The debate question • In the period immediately following
a successful mass uprising against the bourgeoisie,
should the form (or forms) of organization adopted by the proletariat
to secure its ultimate liberation be understood to be a state?

      March 20, 2004 -- ALDS part 7 -- Ben replies to Daniel
The World for which We Fight
The world in which we live is a world of imperialist wars, racism,
unemployment, poverty, repression, ecosystem destruction on
a vast scale and a culture of escapism, ignorance and spam.
This world has been created and shaped
by the laws of commodity production.
Millions of people want to see the emergence of
a "better world" of peace, abundance and justice for all.
Such a "better world" will require
hundreds of thousands of activists to
(1) understand the laws of commodity production,
(2) grasp the potential of the
        emerging revolution in communications,
(3) confront and resolve the crisis of theory, and
(4) build a conscious mass movement aimed at
        the overthrow of the rule of the rich
        and the creation of a world where nothing
        need be bartered, traded, bought or sold.
The recent war and ongoing occupation of Iraq (supported to the hilt not just by Republican neo-cons but by liberal Democrats, media tycoons and all the essential pillars of bourgeois society) has outraged millions around the world. This war, launched under cover of the most cynical and outrageous lies about "weapons of mass destruction" and "democracy" for the Iraqi people, is about nothing more than oil and world domination.

Hundreds of thousands of activists want to see the development of a more militant and powerful antiwar movement. But before the antiwar movement can become larger, more militant and more powerful--it must confront and overcome several serious obstacles.

And that brings us to the current debate--which concerns the ultimate goal of the progressive movement--a world of peace, understanding, harmony, justice and abundance for all. This debate, at one level, is about ideas and theory (abstract thoughts which may appear dry, empty or meaningless to most ordinary people and to many activists).

At another level, however, this debate is about power in the streets--because the ideas discussed here have potential to transform the antiwar movement, to impact in a practical way who talks to whom--and the ability of activists of different views to cooperate and coordinate their political work.

There are times in the development of social movements when correct ideas, grasped on a mass scale, become decisive. This is one of those times.

Why this debate has potential
to help transform the antiwar movement

Much previous discussion and debate about anarchism and marxism has been directed at converting activists into supporters of one or another brand of political-religious ideology. This is why so much previous discussion that was supposedly centered around fundamental principles--turned out to consist of stones (and insults) thrown by each camp at the other like a scene from the ancient feud of Hatfields vs. McCoys.


My aim in this debate is both more profound and more modest. If readers of this debate walk away with a deeper understanding of how the "laws of commodity production" have created (and continue to shape) our present-day world--then they will be on their way towards developing a more realistic understanding of the "better world" we are fighting
to create.

A realistic understanding of our great unifying goal is key to the development of a genuinely revolutionary mass movement--deserving of the respect of the working class and with the ability to mobilize millions. Armed with this knowledge the work to transform the antiwar movement in a revolutionary direction (ie: aimed at destroying the entire system of imperialism--and the system of bourgeois rule from which imperialism is inseparable) will be far more confident and powerful.

To illustrate the power of ideas to transform the antiwar movement--consider how the existing crisis of theory (ie: the complete bankruptcy of all existing visions of the world for which we fight) has helped shape the current political landscape of the progressive movement as a whole. (I will borrow here a few paragraphs from my recent mid-year report.)

The progressive movement as a whole is dominated by reformist practice and ideology which preaches a strategy of incremental improvement that gradually displaces (or wins over the heart and conscience of) the ruling class--which supposedly will give up peacefully without resort to brutal force and mass terror. (The reformists do not dominate the progressive movement simply by the power of their ideas--they dominate because they are propped up by virtue of their semi-hidden alliance with imperialism--but the reformist domination is greatly helped by the inability of the militant section of the movement to offer as an alternative any kind of long-term goal that is fit for people who have not had lobotomies.)

The more militant (and less reformist) section of the movement is largely influenced by (and divided into) the prevailing anarchist and "marxist" ideologies--neither of which has made significant progress in helping to develop a realistic understanding of how post-bourgeois society will function:

The "marxist" groups (at least the minority of them that are not in bed with the reformists) offer us a vision of a _police state_ and alternate between:

(a) saying that at least it would be better than capitalism
.    (ie: a highly dubious assertion) and
(b) refusing to talk about it on the grounds that serious
.    discussion of the world for which we are fighting
.    is supposedly a diversion from real struggle.

The anarchist groups (and ideology) are hardly much better.
The solutions that they offer alternative between preaching that:

(a) an alternate economy and social relations will be able to
.    somehow grow and prosper in the shadow of bourgeois
.    rule
and associated capitalist market relations and
(b) on the morning after bourgeois rule is broken hundreds
.    of millions
of people will suddenly find themselves
.    liberated from centuries of thinking and habits dependent
.    on "authority" to get things done--and will magically
.    know how to organize and manage a complex economy

.    without the use of any hierarchies, coercion or institutions
.    which could be called a "state".

Need for synthesis of best elements
from both camps

The anarchist camp is characterized most strongly by an overriding concern about doing things in a way that is genuinely democratic (both in terms of creating revolutionary organization that is genuinely democratic--and in terms of creating a society that is genuinely democratic). The organizations that consider themselves to be marxist are known, in general, for their practical experience in getting things done (ie: writing and distribution leaflets and newspapers--mobilizations for demonstrations--and creating all kinds of principled as well as unprincipled alliances).

Both of these two major existing antagonistic "camps", in my view, will contribute valuable elements of theory and practice to a more unified revolutionary movement characterized by increased cooperation. Such a revolutionary movement will include activists and groups with a variety of views which share the common goal of a revolutionary society that is not run by the rich.


What has not taken place so far in the progressive movement--what is currently being _blocked_ by the crisis of theory--are practical forms of cooperation by which militant activists of diverse views work together to effectively oppose the domination of the movement by the reformist ideology.

The role of this debate

Daniel and I began this debate 15 months ago with a view that calm, scientific debate had potential to be of value in clarifying some of the fault lines which presently exist within the militant left landscape. Both Daniel and I have worked our fannies off carefully reading and replying to one another's arguments. I have learned a lot about anarchism in the process--both the strengths of current anarchist thought--and the weaknesses.

The strengths of current anarchist thought (ie: a strong concern about genuine democracy within the movement and within the future revolutionary society--usually expressed as opposition to "authoritarianism") will, I am convinced, become an inseparable part of a more unified revolutionary mass movement. The weaknesses of the anarchist ideology--I intend to help expose and smash up--just as I intend to help smash up the reformism, sectarianism, charlatanism and evasionism characteristic of most of the "marxist" camp.

I believe that practical forms of cooperation between the more militant activists will help to resolve the crisis of theory and eventually lead to a radical reshaping the existing left ecosystem. I believe that the current debate between Daniel and me (aimed at the development of a realistic understanding of how society will function after the overthrow of bourgeois rule) represents a step in the direction of articulating a common goal deserving of the respect of militant activists everywhere who are fed up with the reformist domination of the movement. I believe that in this work I am not alone (even if, at the present time, I am politically isolated). Activists everywhere face similar problems and find themselves working on similar solutions. As the revolutionary movement develops and as militant activists make increasing use of the revolution in communications--we will find and link up with one another.

Summing up Daniel's reply

Daniel's reply essentially consists of two parts: dealing with political and economic issues. In the political part of his reply Daniel takes aim at the practice of Lenin's October 1917 revolution in Russia--which was forced by circumstances to suppress the independent political voice of the masses during and after the Civil War--and which, without the independent voice of the masses to guide it--degenerated in the years which followed. In the economic part, Daniel does his best to offer some concepts or ideas for how anarchist principles might guide the economic development of society following the overthrow of bourgeois rule.

Daniel's political argument

The political part of Daniel's reply focuses on the contradiction which haunted the revolutionary state machine created and controlled (in the name of the masses) by Lenin's party.

The background here is that, on the one hand, Lenin's state, in the emergency conditions which existed, needed to suppress (for a period of time--until the shattered economy could be restored--and the intense dissatisfaction of the peasantry lifted) the independent political voice and independent political life of the masses in order to survive and avoid a complete bourgeois restoration. On the other hand it was only the independent political voice and life of the masses that could have (a) prevented the degeneration of the Soviet party and state machine which followed and (b) made possible the emergence of a state that was controlled by the working class in fact rather than just in name.

Daniel takes the position that it was wrong for Lenin's state to suppress the independent political life of the masses. Daniel argues that, if the Bolsheviks had failed to suppress independent politics:
(a) a bourgeois restoration could still have been avoided, and
(b) even if a bourgeois restoration could not have been avoided
      --events would have been no worse than what happened
      because all ruling classes are essentially the same.

Daniel's economic argument

The economic part of Daniel's reply sketches out some ideas for how workers will keep the economy running smoothly without the need for a "state" in the period immediately following the overthrow of bourgeois rule. Daniel developed this argument (in spite of his reservations concerning whether this was an important topic to discuss) in response to my challenge to present anarchist views of how, following the overthrow of bourgeois rule, the working class could (without making use of a state) maintain a stable economy and suppress the attempts by bourgeois propagandists to dominate the mass media.

Daniel's economic argument breaks into two parts. (Hopefully my summary here is fair to Daniel and does not excessively mutilate his basic views.)

First, Daniel argues that in the period leading up to the overthrow of bourgeois rule large "shadow economies" will emerge in spaces which will supposedly be abandoned by the capitalist economy. These shadow economies, Daniel argues, will emerge in connection with popular mass struggles; will be capable of sustaining the essential needs of a growing segment of the working class; and will be an essential component of working class political organizing. These shadow economies will form the backbone of large-scale systems of cooperation that will sustain the material needs of the masses and help insure economic stability following the overthrow of bourgeois rule when (according to Daniel) all existing flows of capital will be eliminated.

Second, Daniel argues that the post-bourgeois economy will, essentially, function on the basis of barter (including the use of gold--but not "currency") and consist of:
(a) small-scale subsistence based units and
(b) the large networks that have developed as part of the shadow economy.

Daniel does not recognize the need for a state that would control a central bank or money supply. Daniel does make reference to elected (and recallable) officials who would represent larger economic (or maybe political) units in various kinds of negotiation. There would be a lot of conflict and negotiation between different units concerning the exchange ratios (and quality standards) between different items and Daniel recognizes that, under such circumstances, many or most of the economic units would seek to profiteer and take advantage of one another in the dog-eat-dog jungle that results.

The emergence of a new ruling class would be prevented, in Daniel's view, by struggle at all levels (within and between the economic units and networks of cooperation) with the main method of preventing the abuses of the current capitalist system being that, since no universal "currency" or "infamous third item" will be used to facilitate barter--the exchanges will supposedly be "equal".

Ben replies to Daniel's political argument

The heart of Daniel's argument against the need for the working class to make use of a state boils down to a belief that a state is (a) unnecessary and (b) poses the danger of falling into the hands of a new ruling class which will use it to suppress the working class.

Daniel remains very heavily focused on the failure of Lenin's 1917 revolution and the history of the Soviet state in suppressing the independent politics of the working class. If a worker's state could do that in the past, he argues, it could also do so in the future.

This is the focus of Daniel's first (and also concluding) question for me. Here it is:

> Question 1: Bearing in mind that there is no limit
> to how irrational the capitalist system can be, and
> therefore no limit to how severe its recurrent
> economic crises can be ... is there any foreseeable
> revolutionary situation in which, under "modern"
> (i.e. volatile) geopolitical and economic conditions,
> it would be necessary in principle for an incumbent
> "workers’ state" to implement globally repressive
> emergency measures--such as those implemented
> by the Bolsheviks in the immediate aftermath
> of October 1917--in order to maintain the
> political supremacy of the working class, or
> the economic stability of "its" state?

Daniel asks me if I can give a firm and categorical "no" in reply to his question. But some questions (for example: "Have you stopped beating your wife?") may contain embedded assumptions that will cause either a "yes" or a "no" to create a misleading answer.

So let's address the assumption embedded in Daniel's question.

First, the suppression which took place during and immediately after the Civil War in Russia was not undertaken by a workers' state.

It is something of an article of faith for many today that the Soviet state was a workers' state. Many political trends today insist that it was. And at the time it called itself a workers' state--most likely for propaganda purposes--to declare its intention of acting like one and eventually becoming one.

But calling the Soviet state a workers' state has created a lot of confusion in the decades since then. We need to be clear on this.

The state which imposed the suppression was not a workers' state in the correct, scientific sense of the word--because the state was not controlled by the working class as a whole. Rather the state was controlled by a revolutionary organization that both (a) intended to create conditions that would make possible a real workers' state and (b) was subject to powerful degenerative forces (ie: conflicts of interest and a flood of self-seekers joining the party, etc) because of the necessary extreme concentration of its authority.

The Soviet state, for a period of several years, acted to defend (and therefor represented) the material and class interests of the workers. And this state was supported, quite enthusiastically, by a large section (and at times a majority) of the workers and peasants who saw this state as their own and who performed incredible feats of heroism and sacrifice to defend this state. But the working class as a whole did not _control_ the Soviet state.


Control of the state by the working class as a whole requires that the working class have the fundamental political rights of speech and assembly--and the right to create its own independent organizations--and to determine (via elections or other methods of open struggle) which political trends deserve support and will best defend the material and class interests of the workers.
And because the working class did not _control_ the Soviet state--for this reason it was unable to prevent its degeneration.

Lenin was acutely aware that the Soviet state might evolve into the master of the working class rather than their servant. The most outstanding proof of this is that in March 1922 (two months before the first of the strokes that were to incapacitate him) in his last major address to the party, Lenin warned the 11th Party Congress that "history knows all sorts of metamorphoses" and that "the real and main danger" was that the party might degenerate along bourgeois lines but retain "communist flags inscribed with catchwords stuck all over the place".

Many anarchists today believe that Lenin's party and state suppressed the political rights of workers because of a perverse belief in an authoritarian ideology. Many anarchists, like Daniel, argue that if the Bolsheviks had not suppressed their opponents that a full scale bourgeois restoration could have been avoided--or, like Daniel, they argue that a bourgeois restoration would have been no worse than what happened.

For the sake of readers who may not have read any of my essays where I deal with this at greater length I will simply reply here that if the Bolsheviks had given political space to their opponents--then these opponents (ie: mainly the Mensheviks and SR's and similar parties) would have been able to (1) successfully press for elections and (2) by making all kinds of fraudulent promises--win support among a majority of the (very dissatisfied) peasantry (at the time approximately 80 percent of the population) and (3) win the elections and push the Bolsheviks out of power. These parties would then, essentially, have surrendered power to the bourgeoisie--just as they had done when they came to power in Siberia and the Caucasus.

Having cleared this up--let's now revisit Daniel's question:

> is there any foreseeable
> revolutionary situation in which, under "modern"
> (i.e. volatile) geopolitical and economic conditions,
> it would be necessary in principle for an incumbent
> "workers’ state" to implement globally repressive
> emergency measures--such as those implemented
> by the Bolsheviks in the immediate aftermath
> of October 1917--in order to maintain the
> political supremacy of the working class, or
> the economic stability of "its" state?

We can rewrite Daniel's question into two different, less confusing, versions--replacing his phrase "incumbent 'workers state'" with "genuine workers' state" in the first and "some kind of ruling revolutionary committee or party" in the second:

Version A:
----------------

Are there circumstances, in a modern country like the US where a genuine workers' state would find it necessary --in order to maintain the political supremacy of the working class--or the economic stability of "its" state--to suppress the political rights of speech, assembly and organization of the masses?

Ben replies:
------------------

No. If a workers' state were to take such an action it would no longer be a genuine workers' state--which, defined scientifically, is controlled by the working class as a whole via its active democratic participation in political life using the democratic rights of speech, assembly and its independent organizations. A genuine workers' state therefor can only be a state which enjoys the support of the majority of the working class (because if the workers genuinely control it--they will make it do what they want). If the workers lacked the democratic rights and independent organizations that are necessary to exercise genuine control--then the ruling state could hardly be said to be controlled by the class as a whole--or to enjoy the support of the majority of the class as expressed thru their democratic political activity.

A genuine workers' state would take measures to cut down the ability of bourgeois apologists to promote their filth--but these measures would be focused on the ability of the bourgeois apologists to _amplify_ their voice by means of money or similar bourgeois resources. The bourgeois apologists would be able to speak--but not to _hire_ media (commercial TV or magazines or radio) or _hire_ labor (ie: talking heads or artists or technicians to help them spread their message or make it look slick). The bourgeois apologists would have to create leaflets or web sites by _volunteer_ labor and compete for attention on the same basis as millions of other people--who would oppose (and drown out) the bourgeois apologists in millions (or billions) of encounters on countless forums of every description.

Now (to continue with Daniel's question) suppose some huge emergency takes place--cities are nuked in wartime or the economy is largely destroyed and the conditions of the masses go to hell and the support of the masses for their state erodes and it appears that the masses favor an open (or disguised) form of bourgeois restoration.

Such a scenario could happen, as noted, in wartime. Also, if the ruling party (or ruling coalition of parties) turned out to be highly incompetent--or less than genuinely committed to the interests of the working class--then mass sentiment for a bourgeois restoration might accumulate.

In this scenario--let's suppose that the ruling party could only prevent a bourgeois restoration--by suppressing the democratic rights of workers. In this case the workers' state would be transforming its nature from a workers' state (which is controlled by the working class as a whole and enjoys the support of the majority of the class) to some kind of group or committee or party which might (or might not) be acting in the best interests of the working class.

And so this brings us to the 2nd version of Daniel's question.

Version B:
----------------

Are there circumstances, in a modern country like the US where some kind of ruling revolutionary committee or party would find it necessary --in order to maintain the political supremacy of the working class--or the economic stability of "its" state--to suppress the political rights of speech, assembly and organization of the masses?

Ben replies:
------------------

The short answer is that I don't know. I am unable, myself, to come up with a scenario where, under modern conditions, it would benefit the working class to have their democratic rights suppressed. I consider it unlikely that such circumstances are possible.

There are many circumstances where some kind of ruling "revolutionary" group might consider it necessary, under modern conditions, to suppress the democratic rights of the masses. What is difficult to imagine is that this would ever be consistent with the interests of the working class.

What should be clear (I hope) to all readers is that Daniel is asking me to comment on a situation of extreme emergency (ie: war, massive destruction of economic infrastructure, death, disease or starvation of millions). I am also required to answer a question about the conduct of some kind of ruling organization which (I hope I have made clear) would not (and could not) be a genuine workers' state.

Finally, we should remain clear on what this debate is about. This debate is not focused on what should (or should not) be done by some revolutionary organization (that has come to power amidst war, chaos, a shattered economy and mass starvation) which intends to create a workers' state. (Such would be an interesting debate question--but the goals of this particular debate are more modest.)

This debate is focused on the question of the workers' state (ie: what it is and whether it is
(a) something that will enslave the workers--or
(b) the machine which is decisive for their victory ).

Daniel (and most anarchists and most militant, non-reformist marxists) equate the Soviet state of Lenin's time with a workers' state. Such an equation is, at best, an approximation that breaks down under closer examination.

I assert that the goal of a genuine workers' state (controlled by the working class as a whole thru the exercise of the fundamental democratic rights of speech, assembly and independent organization) is the only central unifying goal which can make possible a revolutionary mass movement aimed at the overthrow of bourgeois rule.

We should not allow this goal to be confused with the rule of a single organization which is able to silence its critics and suppress the masses.

Were a state that called itself a "workers' state" to attempt to impose suppression on the masses--I believe that such an attempt would be highly likely to be in opposition to the interests of the masses--and that the masses would struggle against and defeat these attempts at suppression. It may be possible for a such a state to prevail in the short term thru massacres and mass terror. But modern conditions, and particularly the emerging revolution in digital communications, will be making it increasingly difficult for any ruling state to maintain a monopoly on "public opinion"--or--in an increasingly transparent society--to isolate people from news about mass struggles--or for mass suppression to succeed in the long term.

I believe that the fear that Daniel (and other anarchists) have of a workers' state is based on a shallow understanding of the events of the October 1917 revolution. The suppression of democratic rights which took place during and after the Civil War in Russia was not (as I have noted above) at the hands of a workers' state. And this suppression took place in conditions far removed from the conditions of a modern society.

Dealing with the world in which we live

The fundamental issue here is that modern conditions in a country like the U.S. or Australia (ie: where Daniel and I live) are very different than they were in 1920's Russia. These differences very much favor the success of a working class revolution.

What are some of the factors that make modern conditions here and now different than those in 1920's Russia?

1. One factor is that the overwhelming majority of the population in modern, economically developed countries consists of workers. The peasantry (ie: small farmers) is no longer a factor of great significance.

2. Another factor is that there is a functioning economy and people have enough to eat and are not starving and desperate.

3. Another factor is that the population is far more educated. (It is true that the working class in both the Australia and the U.S. has comparatively little recent experience in mass struggles--but this would change in the course of the many political and economic struggles that would characterize the period leading up to a successful revolution.)

We must also recognize that the revolution in communications (still emerging) is currently introducing two additional powerful factors:

4. it makes it far easier for the workers and oppressed to link up with one another, create their own organizations and self-organize, and

5. it makes it immensely more difficult for any reactionary government to suppress the democratic rights of the masses.

I elaborated on the 5th factor above in my essay The Future Transparent Workers' State where I presented what I call my second law.


Ben's second law:

          The long-term suppression of political trends
          is no longer possible in the conditions of a
          modern economy and communications infrastructure.


In that essay I cited the increasing difficulty that the reactionary government of China is already having in controlling the internet and pointed out that the problems faced by China's army of censors will multiply over the next decade. I also presented arguments that, in the context of a modern economy, any government which attempts to shut down or censor the internet for more than a temporary period--would cripple the economy and ultimately doom itself.

A genuinely working class state, if it lost popular support (either as a result of its own incompetence--or due to external factors that were outside of its control) might choose to cede power to the bourgeoisie (and make plans to regain power at a future time) rather than embark on a path that would require it to attempt the long-term suppression of the democratic rights of the masses. This might be a more successful tactic in the long run because, as I outlined in "The Future Transparent Workers' State", the revolution in communications will be making it increasingly difficult (for practical reasons--political and economic) for any state to engage in long term suppression of the democratic rights of the masses.

Of course we should be clear that the bourgeoisie, in such a circumstance as described above, would not be generous either to the leaders of the working class or to the millions of workers who supported them. The bourgeoisie plays for keeps. They might try to find and kill every activist they can get their hands on. And they would also wreck vengeance on the masses. The US bourgeoisie has certainly shown, many times in the past, that they will not hesitate to kill millions of people in order to safeguard their profits.

But mass repression in the 21st century looks like it is going to be far more difficult to get away with than in the 20th century. And if a state is going to try (and fail) to engage in long-term mass repression under modern conditions (ie: where the average 14 year old will soon enough have a web page--or a blog where readers can make comments--or a network of friends that will relay IM or text or video messages on cheap ubiquitous devices) it might be better, from the point of view of the ultimate long-term victory--to let the bourgeoisie fail at this--rather than the leadership of the proletariat.

Now someone might argue--in the most extreme case--that suppose the alternative to suppressing the rights of the masses was the certainty that some war-happy fascist-type regime would come to power that planned to start a massive nuclear war that would kill hundreds of millions of people and destroy much of the industrial infrastructure that makes civilization possible? But even in that case--we would have to ask how suppressing the rights of the masses could possibly help in the struggle to prevent such a regime from coming to power. So even this example--which is about as extreme and far-fetched as I can come up with--does not hold together very well.

Now it is possible, I suppose, that some scenario might exist where, under modern conditions, "globally repressive emergency measures" are to the advantage of the working class. I can't imagine any such scenario--but that does not prove that such a scenario doesn't exist.

Suppose we are invaded and conquered by Martians--and the Martians demand (for some reason) that "globally repressive emergency measures" be implemented--or they will vaporize the entire planet.

That might be a good enough reason.

But that is science fiction. And I don't want to deal with science fiction. In fact I don't want to focus at this point on any kind of extreme situation which threatens the existence of civilization. I want to focus on working class rule in the conditions of the society where I live at the present time (or at least at a time in the relatively near future) because we are living in a period of theoretical crisis and if we cannot talk or think in an intelligent way about the conditions in which we live (ie: the simplest possible situation) there is no way that we would be able to understand conditions that are far more complicated and hypothetical.

We are in a period of theoretical crisis and--in terms of our understanding of theory--we need to crawl before we can walk. What happens if there is no war--and the economy is still functioning--and millions of people are still eating food and driving to their jobs?

Do we have the ability to deal with _this_ situation?

Because if we don't--then why should we waste our time thinking about the most extreme situations conceivable? I would rather deal with normal conditions on planet earth. Once we have the ability to talk and think about how working class rule will function in normal conditions--we will be in a better position to understand circumstances which are extreme.

We now return to our regular broadcast

I know that these topics are dear to the heart of Daniel and many anarchists--who take all questions related to democracy and democratic rights seriously--and who have been given the run-around for decades by self-styled "marxists" and never (or hardly ever) gotten a straight answer. At the same time I know that the time and attention of the readers of this debate are finite--and I do not intend to abuse this precious time and attention--because this is a serious debate. The heart of my disagreement with Daniel concerns the necessity of making it clear that the progressive movement needs to develop a practical alternative (today--not in the 24th century) to the system of bourgeois rule.

So at this point I am going to focus on Daniel's understanding of the anarchist "economic program" for post-bourgeois society--and how and why an understanding of the laws of commodity production has become inseparable from developing a realistic understanding of how the working class can maintain a fully functioning economy without the bourgeoisie around to tell us what to do.

And, for those who are devoted (or obsessed) with what should (or should not) have been done 80 years ago in a backward, semi-feudal society, I will deal at greater length with what Daniel calls "the core contradiction" in Appendix A called Truth is Always Concrete. So it is your choice reader--zip down to Appendix A --or continue reading here.

Ben replies to Daniel's economic argument

As I outlined above, Daniel's economic argument consists of two parts:

(1) Under bourgeois rule -- large "shadow economies" will emerge and prove capable of meeting the material needs of the working class, and

(2) Following the overthrow of bourgeois rule -- an exchange-based economy (in a society without a state) will evolve in the direction of fairness and equality.

I consider both of these assumptions to be utter fantasy.

I should add a note here that nearly all currents of anarchist thought share one or both of these fantasies. And it is my aim to smash up not simply Daniel's arguments--but all current of anarchist thought which share one or both of these fantasies. It is these two fantasies which (separately and together) obscure the necessity of a state controlled by the working class. The first fantasy would lead us to believe that a workers' state is not necessary because a workers' economy can develop under conditions of bourgeois rule. The second fantasy wold lead us to believe that a worker's economy can develop without any kind of state at all.

The history of the development of capitalism and the "laws of commodity production" (which Daniel has asked me to describe or explain) make clear that neither of these fantasies will withstand a sober examination. Daniel's comments also make it clear that an understanding of the laws of commodity production will be vital in laying the foundation for the eventual convergence of militant anti-reformist activists who, at present, have widely divergent theoretical views.

Bullshit about "blueprints"

But before confronting these two fantasies--I must address Daniel's assertion that our discussion of the fundamental economic principles that will guide post-bourgeoisie society amounts to the creation of "blueprints". I oppose the creation of blueprints. The term "blueprints" is universally understood to mean plans that are too detailed to be worth considering in the context of such a debate as we are having. The phrase "drawing up blueprints" is a code phrase used by practical people to describe pointy-headed, ineffectual intellectuals who are incapable of genuinely revolutionary activity--and who wouldn't know how to take a piss without falling over.

Daniel (and Joe Golowka--who has participated in this debate thru comments on the web site and the pof-200 email discussion list) are extremely uncomfortable when challenged to explain _how_ the working class can run society better than the bourgeoisie--so they complain that such discussion is unimportant and that answers to any kind of fundamental question--such as whether or not their supposedly "stateless" society would be based on a money economy--amount to "blueprints" and "details". Daniel and Joe (and most other anarchists) are fine with leaving all discussion at the level of extremely abstract, vague and meaningless generalities--because they don't really have a clue how the working class will run a society with a modern economy.

Such an attitude serves the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie proclaims to everyone: "we can run modern society--and no one else has an alternative". And until such time as a revolutionary political trend seriously confronts such basic and fundamental questions as "How would the working class keep grocery stores running so that the masses wouldn't starve?" -- then the bourgeoisie will be _correct_.

This is the brutal truth. Either we recognize this brutal truth or we are ineffectual intellectuals.

I believe that the working class could run present-day society better than the bourgeoisie. I intend to work toward understanding the principles that will guide the working class in doing this. And I recognize that principles (if correct--and if grasped by the masses) are weapons of extreme power with the ability to transform our world.

I will leave blueprints to the ineffectual intellectuals.

This is not a minor matter. This is the heart of the crisis of theory which has led the revolutionary movement (at one time a vigorous movement with millions of supporters) into extreme disease and rendered it undeserving (at this time) of the respect and attention of the working class.

Until we confront the crisis of theory there can _never_ be a genuinely revolutionary mass movement--there can _never_ be a serious movement directed at the overthrow of the system of bourgeois rule.

I summed this up in my first law (see The Future Transparent Workers' State) as follows:


Ben's first law:

        The movement for the overthrow of bourgeois rule
        can only become a mass movement
        when it demonstrates that it understands
        the conditions of modern society
        well enough to describe, in a realistic way,
        how, within the context of modern conditions,
        the working class can run society
        better than the bourgeoisie.


Think about it. How could there possibly be a mass movement for an alternative to bourgeois rule--if no one can say for certain that such a thing is even possible? And how can anyone assert that an alternative to bourgeois rule is possible--if no one is able to answer any fundamental question concerning what this alternative will look like or how it will work?

Most political trends which consider themselves to be revolutionary oppose, unfortunately, any serious effort to confront the crisis of theory. Such a philistine attitude serves the dominant bourgeois view that "there is no alternative" (T.I.N.A.) and I am sorry to see Daniel make concessions to these philistine attitudes--as he does below:

> Ben mistakes his own blueprints for principles--
> if you look at Ben’s writings, the future is plotted
> out before us on graphs, as if in a business proposal
-- Daniel, part 6 of this debate (July 1, 2003)

I knew I would get a lot of flack for creating my chart but went ahead with it anyway in order to illustrate an idea (ie: a picture is worth a thousand words): The idea that I wanted to illustrate is that the expropriation of the means of production by the proletariat will likely take place in two distinct waves which mature at different timescales.

(1) The first wave would probably consist of a relatively rapid expropriation of the majority of voting stock in the largest corporations. Other similar measures might follow. And there may be (to a larger extent than exists now) some amount of centralized guidance or planning initiated and implemented both by the workers' state and the actions of the workers. But this would represent only a temporary, stop-gap solution that would allow the working class to quickly end some of the worst abuses of the capitalist system. To a considerable extent, the money economy and market dynamics (even if modified by the workers' state and the bottom-up actions of the workers themselves) would still exist and cause innumerable problems..

(2) The second wave of expropriation would represent the real solution but it would likely take decades to fully develop. This expropriation would require the development of a moneyless gift economy that is not based on any form of exchange (ie: within the moneyless economy there would be no buying or selling, no trade or barter, no wages or prices, no money or capital). The moneyless economy would not rely on some supreme central authority--but would be self-organized on the basis of the initiative of a vast number of economic units which would simultaneously cooperate and compete with one other. The moneyless economy would, in its early stages, receive various forms of subsidy from the rest of the economy--but as it developed and matured it would eventually outcompete and overwhelm (and absorb the resources of) the rest of the economy.

Many will not like my graph. But others will find it useful because it illustrates how these two distinct waves of expropriation will take place at the same time but over different timescales.

Having cleared that up--let's now take a look at the first of Daniel's fantasies--that large "shadow economies" will emerge under bourgeois rule and prove capable of meeting the material needs of the masses.

Magic under bourgeois rule

In part 5 of this debate, in January 2003, I called Daniel's fantasy "magic under bourgeois rule" and refuted it in a section (like this section) using that subhead.

There are several problems with this fantasy.

(1) The first problem is simply that it is a fantasy: Under bourgeoisie rule the material needs of the overwhelming majority of the working class will always be created by the capitalist economy--which is controlled by the bourgeoisie. (I will go into this more in just a bit.)

(2) More than this--such a fantasy promotes the idea that the working class would not be able to run present-day society with its current, present-day economy--but rather must wait for a magic day in the 24th century (when, presumably, the laws of physics and commodity production will no longer apply). So the bourgeoisie can proclaim to the world that there is no alternative (TINA) and activists can reply that yes--that may be true--but on a magic day centuries from now things may be different (OAMDCFNTMBD).

This is an essential problem with the anarchist ideology: It is focused on magic day in a future century--and is reconciled to continued bourgeois rule until that magic day.

However even if we were to wait for centuries that magic day will never arrive. Waiting for that magic day is just a politically "radical" version of the "pie in the sky when you die" religious crap that has been used for centuries to keep the masses passive.

I think we need to recognize that the working class can run society better than the bourgeoisie today--with the kind of economy that exists now--in the year 2004.

This is what most anarchists do not want to recognize.

This is the real core of the difference between anarchism, as an ideology, and (genuine) Leninism.

Both anarchism and Leninism recognize that our goal (ie: a stateless, classless society) is not possible today. The difference is that anarchism, as an ideology, is content for this reason to _accept_ bourgeois rule as the only thing which is possible at the present time. Leninism, on the other hand, recognizes that, in order to reach our goal--the working class must _overthrow_ the system of bourgeois rule and organize the kind of transformation of society that can never take place under bourgeois rule.

This is the essence of the difference: Anarchists believe that fundamental economic change will occur _under _ conditions of bourgeois rule and Leninists believe that no fundamental economic change can take place until _after_ there is a political revolution to overthrow bourgeois rule.

If readers take nothing else away from this debate except the above--they will still have learned something valuable.

(3) Finally, we have the problem that many activists, influenced by such theories--are currently diverting their precious time and energy into trying to create these kinds of economic networks _today_. The most current example of this nonsense is the local Seattle Indymedia Center where activists (many of whom have anarchist-influenced views) ended up creating a "community resource" with a large (and expensive) center in downtown Seattle that, in addition to hosting interactive news sites for Seattle and two dozen other cities (ie: what _should be_ the core IMC mission), ran a community meeting space, movie theater, radio project, art gallery and community technology center for teaching people how to use computers.

Now some might ask: what is wrong with doing all these useful activities? Don't these activities serve the progressive movement?

But the problem is that, living in the material world, these activities cost money--and the Seattle IMC became a 501(c)3 tax-deductible charity corporation (with an overhead of $3,000 per month) dependent on grants from the Seattle city government and wealthy liberal donors. And this dependency on money from the rich and the state has a powerful corrupting influence on everything the Seattle IMC does--and has led the Seattle IMC to become a cheerleader for the imperialist Democratic Party--and to largely neglect what should be their core mission: creating an interactive news site where the energy of readers is used to help rate and filter the flood of incoming posts so that the web site has a higher signal-to-noise ratio and activists find it more useful.

Let's now look more closely into why this kind of "magic under bourgeois rule" can never happen.

Capital rules

Why is it that, under bourgeoisie rule, the material needs of the overwhelming majority of the working class will always be created by the capitalist economy?

This question is related to the laws of commodity production that Daniel has challenged me to explain. I will discuss the laws of commodity production in a separate section below--but for now will simply note that modern production techniques require capital, machinery, investment and, quite often, the economy of scale and division of labor associated with large-scale production.

Smaller, more marginal production can take place that is not dependent on capital or modern equipment--but will tend to always remain small and marginal. Why is this? Without modern equipment and techniques the nodes of the "shadow economy" on which Daniel pins his hopes will not have a high productivity of labor--and will not be able to compete with capitalist production on price, quality and service--and will for this reason never represent more than a marginal share of the goods and services created by the economy.

Over the course of the past two centuries there have been untold thousands of attempts to do exactly what Daniel describes. Most any mid-sized city in the U.S. contains food co-ops or similar companies that began with precisely this vision. What is the story here? Activists, believing in the possibility of a better world, work their hearts out to create an economic entity that serves the needs of the workers and stands separate from and independent of the capitalist economy. The end result is generally always the same: the project either: (a) is driven out of business and/or collapses when the original founders give up or die, or (b) remains small and marginal or (c) is absorbed into the capitalist economy and gradually sheds all living embodiments of the original vision. Sometimes the original "co-op" name sticks around for years after the original vision is lost from memory.

In part 1 of this debate (October 2002) I described a local food co-op created by the energy of dozens of core members and hundreds of supporters here in Seattle. The co-op has since become large and very successful--but treats its workers (who have no rights) like shit.

Probably the best-known co-op in Seattle is REI (which makes the fancy rain gear that might be found on hikers--or some Microsoft employees). In June 2003 the Seattle Weekly ran an article about what had happened to this co-op in the days since it was founded 65 years ago: "Who Owns REI? It can't be the members. They aren't even privy to what the co-op's executives earn". Here is how REI was founded:

Some of the first U.S. cooperatives were an agrarian response to the tyranny of industrial capitalism; in the Pacific Northwest, the co-op movement came into its own in the aftermath of the Seattle General Strike of 1919, which shut down the city for six days--helping earn the state its reputation as "the Soviet Republic of the state of Washington." Co-ops were in their heyday during the Great Depression; and when West Seattleite Lloyd Anderson was gouged by a local merchant on the purchase of a third-rate ice ax, it was only natural for the populist-minded mountaineer to seek an uncapitalistic solution. On June 23, 1938, Anderson, his wife, Mary, and four fellow progressives founded the Recreational Equipment Cooperative. Asked why he didn't just set up his own for-profit company, Anderson reportedly said, "I wouldn't want to make money off my friends."
http://www.seattleweekly.com/features/0325/news-rei.php
http://www.seattleweekly.com/features/0326/news-letters.php

The author of the article asks why REI now carries chocolate-covered cherries but no inexpensive parkas--and quotes the new CEO:

"We are a retailer--first and foremost ... Co-ops that forget that are the ones that tend to get into trouble and ultimately drift off into oblivion. The competitive marketplace--the retail marketplace--will not allow any retailer to focus on their organization first and their business second. ... I've seen this happen over and over and over again"
And, as obnoxious as he sounds, we must recognize that the REI CEO is telling the simple truth. What happened at REI is not some kind of fluke.

Another well-known co-op in Seattle is Group Health Cooperative. It is now a major hospital with branches all over the region. A friend of mine was a nurse there and went on strike for better wages and conditions. Last I heard--some of the people who work there do not have medical insurance.

I know of other examples from personal experience--of attempts to create food and medical clinic cooperatives by activists who were friends of mine and who considered themselves to be very radical and very committed to changing the world. Hardly a trace remains of their efforts.

Daniel has offered little in the way of counter-example to show that networks of worker-controlled economic institutions can amount to a significant part of the economy under conditions of bourgeois rule.

The best that Daniel has been able to come up with has been the following (from part 4 of this debate):

> There are many instances of strikes among rural workers
> for example, where in order to survive the strike the workers
> have had to develop their own clandestine means of producing
> and distributing food and water among one another over
> prolonged periods of time. And, in many revolutionary
> situations, workers have been known to seize control of
> factories they are locked out of, and begin running these
> places for themselves. They have also (in the case of
> the Russian factory committee movement) attempted to form
> such organisations at the national level.

So this is what we are left with: (1) food for strikers and (2) the seizure of some factories during periods of revolutionary upheaval.

Now I would not want to suggest that organizing food for strikers or seizing factories is not significant. On the contrary these actions are highly significant in terms of the struggles of the workers involved--and in helping to give the working class confidence in its own abilities. But that does not help Daniel's argument--because in order to support his argument Daniel would need to show that, under conditions of bourgeois rule, his supposed shadow economy can grow large enough to provide for the material needs of the majority of the population.

Food for strikers, for example, originates either from the capitalist economy or from subsistence farms of a type that no longer play a significant role in a modern economy. And while the factory takeovers in Russia were of extraordinary political significance--their economic significance was far more limited--they were not at a scale that was anywhere close to being able to support the material needs of the bulk of the population--until after the bourgeois government in Russia was overthrown in the October 1917 revolution.

We shouldn't deceive ourselves about these things.

If we are serious about creating a new world we must be realistic in understanding the economic limitations of what can created under conditions of bourgeois rule. If we want to create an alternate economy that can provide for the material needs of the masses without exploitation--we will need to first eliminate the system of bourgeois rule.

What kind of economic networks
can be created under bourgeois rule?

At the same time we must also recognize that, under bourgeois rule, the last decade has witnessed the extraordinary success of projects and experiments aimed at creating something valuable outside of the sphere of commodity production.

The free software movement, which has created or inspired such widely used software as the Apache web server and the Linux computer operating system, has demonstrated beyond all doubt that volunteer labor can organize itself at large scale without the discipline of the marketplace and create products which are, essentially, given away for free. This phenomena is of world historic importance and, while still relatively new, is helping to point the way forward for humanity.

It is difficult to estimate the size of the free software movement. Sectors of the commodity economy can be measured in terms of the money cost of the goods or services sold. But how do you measure the size of a sector in which everything is, essentially, given away for free? This measurement is complicated by the fact that the free software movement has become surrounded by a "halo" of commodity production. IBM, for example, now _pays_ programmers to contribute to the Linux code base. At the same time, however, this halo offers us an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the size of the free software sector. IBM, Hewlett-Packard and other companies earn billions of dollars selling Linux-related products and services. And Microsoft itself, emperor (for now) of the software world, is losing billions of dollars a year due to lost sales and the lower prices it is being forced to charge in order to compete with free and open-source software. And even Microsoft must be well-aware by now (although it would never admit it) that the free software movement is destined to eventually end Microsoft's current monopoly on computer operating systems.

What is the secret of the striking success of the free software movement? How has the free software movement managed so quickly to become a worldwide phenomena--when the co-op movement in over a century and a half has produced only (a) failures, or (b) small and marginal outfits and (c) companies which have become indistinguishable from ordinary capitalist corporations?

The "secret" to the success of the free software movement is that it is based on things which are free. Labor is voluntary and the product that is created is available for free. (IBM subsidies aside, the core Linux code base that makes it what it is--was created with volunteer labor and is available free.) Since there are (essentially) no wages, prices or money involved in the core of this movement--the work of the free software movement takes place outside of the sphere of commodity production and therefor is not ruled by the laws of commodity production which inevitably exert their influence on anything and everything which is created in order to be bartered, traded or sold.

(For those who may be confused I should probably explain that a "commodity" is, by definition, anything which is created for the purpose of sale or exchange. The term "commodity" is also, for historical reasons, frequently misused within the information technology industry as a term to describe hardware or software which has become somewhat standardized or easy for many competing companies to create--ie: roughly equivalent to "generic". For this reason Linux is sometimes mistakenly refered to as a "commodity".)

But this leads us to another question: why is it that the free software movement can be based on volunteer labor and free products in the first place? Why couldn't the co-op movement have ever done the same thing?

The answer to that question is that the free software movement does not require money or capital in any form. Instead it is based on something that has never existed before: the emerging revolution in digital communications. Free software projects are possible because the availability of cheap computers and cheap internet connections has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to organize these projects and contribute their labor to them. Money is not required.

Co-ops, on the other hand, must charge for what they create because they have expenses. They can only pay these expenses by charging money for what they create. And once they place themselves in the position of charging money for something--it seems only natural that they make use of some of this money to pay for labor rather than relying entirely on volunteer labor. But once you have paid labor--you also have surplus value accumulating and exploitation taking place--and a permanent conflict of interest (even if, initially, in miniature) between labor and capital. I will get into this further in a bit. For now I will only say that it is not an accident that those who work for pay are called wage slaves.

The free software movement is pointing the way to humanity's future. But it is not the only example of many people working together to create something of value outside of the sphere of commodity production.

In part 1 of this debate I gave the example of Alcoholics Anonymous (a self-help group which helps recovering alcoholics stay sober). Hundreds of thousands of people belong to AA or similar organizations and receive, in essence, free counseling from one another. The economic cost of this counseling, if it were provided via the money economy, would be billions of dollars.

And there are probably many other interesting examples of projects that do not rely on money. But the most interesting sector to study are those projects that will ride the wave of the emerging revolution in communications.

As the revolution in digital communications matures it is reasonable to expect that there will be many areas where the core principles of the free software movement will find application. As digital communication (ie: information capture, storage and playback) devices become cheaper, easier-to-use, wireless, broadband, portable and ubiquitious we can expect to see the development of all sorts of information-related products and services that are created and distributed for free. This would include many types of news and entertainment as well as more advanced versions of the online forums that are already becoming very popular.

The revolution in digital communications is still quite young. Two-way internet radio and video on small, cheap ubiquitous devices is likely still a decade or more away. And even in a wealthy country like the US a large section of the poor and uneducated are not yet online. But already, in outline, we can see that much is on the horizon. If nothing else just imagine what things are going to be like when millions of teenagers are armed with small, cheap, wireless video cameras. A lot of talent will be created and unleashed. In the long run the escapist and ignorant crap put out by Hollywood will be swept away just as surely as Microsoft's current monopoly on computer software will be broken.

I have been focused on the need for an internet-based news service run by activists since at least 1995. In my view this is the key project in which the most serious political activists will find one another and lay the foundation for the mass revolutionary organization which is so desperately needed today.

Taken together, the present projects--and the projects that will be emerging in the near future--help to give us an idea of the extent of the networks which can and will be created under bourgeois rule in the next several decades. And these developments will certainly be very exciting. But at the same time we must be very sober in terms of understanding the limits of these networks. These networks will exist and extend only within the sphere of human communication and information-related services. These networks will not extend to the production of _material_ good or services which require money or capital or which produce goods or services which must be sold or traded or bartered.

The production of food, clothing, shelter, transportation, energy, construction, manufacturing or hardware devices of any kind will, under bourgeois rule, remain firmly within the sphere of commodity production and, as such, will remain part of the capitalist economy.

And this is why the anarchist fantasy about the development of a so-called "shadow economy" or economic networks under bourgeois rule is so profoundly mistaken. Such networks will only extend as far as non-material goods or services.

Such networks will be extremely important politically and will probably prove decisive in the struggle to overthrow the system of bourgeois rule. But the key point here is that such networks will never, under bourgeois rule, be able to provide for the majority of the material needs of the masses.

If we consider it our responsibility to clearly show how the working class can run a modern economy without the bourgeoisie telling us what to do--then I believe we must recognize that the working class will inherit (following the overthrow of bourgeois rule) an economy based on commodity production and will find it necessary to maintain this economy during the lengthy period in which the working class learns how the principles of a moneyless economy (ie: without buying or selling or trade or barter) can be extended to apply to sectors which involve physical, material goods, services or equipment. And the maintenance of the commodity economy during this decades-long transition period will require, among other things, a flow (or circuit) of capital and a state machine.

We must struggle to see these questions clearly. Under conditions of bourgeois rule we can and will, as I have noted, eventually create an interactive news network that the masses will tune into and trust more than they do the corporate media. But it is difficult to see how, under bourgeois rule, we would be able to create economic institutions based on material products and service that are controlled by the working class and which are more than marginal in relation to the capitalist economy as a whole.

The best concrete example I can give of the folly of thinking otherwise is the sad case of the local Seattle Indymedia center--which has been neglecting the development of its website as a result of being caught up in maintaining a $3,000 per month operation that has required it to lose its independence, beg money from wealthy liberals and the city government and find itself a cheerleader for the immensely corrupt and imperialist Democratic Party.

The anarchist economic program for
post-bourgeois society is nothing more
than a crippled form of capitalism

I think that I have dealt with Daniel's first fantasy--which I call magic under bourgeois rule:

(1) Under bourgeois rule--
      --a powerful "shadow economy" will
      develop and prove capable of providing
      for the material needs of the masses.

It is now time to deal with Daniel's second fantasy--which I call magic in the absence of a state:

(2) Following the overthrow of bourgeois rule--
      --an exchange-based economy (in a society
      without a state) will evolve in the direction
      of fairness and equality.

The primitive forms of money (such as gold) that Daniel describes (and the primitive forms of the regulation of the use of money without a state machine to create and enforce rules governing the circulation of money and capital) would represent (in comparison to a modern economy) an enormous contraction in trade and in every form of economic exchange. Simply put: far less goods and services would be produced and far less hours would be spent working productively. It would be extremely difficult to design and manufacture complex goods and services because of the intricate barter negotiations that would stand as a barrier to all forms of exchange.

Economic life under such conditions could not in any way resemble a modern economy--but would instead more closely resemble a scene from the Mel Gibson movie: "Mad Max".

More than this--there is a deeper problem with the kind of exchange-based economy that populates the imagination of Daniel (and most other anarchist thinkers). Such an economy would be ruled by "market forces" -- and what marxists call the "laws of commodity production". These laws operate independently of the will of individual producers and consummers. Without a workers' state to rein them in--these laws would spontaneously lead to a redivision of society into those with property and those without--into rich and poor.

Such an economy as Daniel and other anarchists envision would spontaneously evolve in such a way as to eventually recreate the worst features of capitalism.

The heart of the matter

Now Daniel has challenged me to explain the laws of commodity production.

I had not planned on trying to explain these laws since they have been described well by Marx, Engels and many other thinkers and (I had thought) were relatively well known. (In Appendix B I list some of the interesting quotes I found using google to search for "laws of commodity production".) There are many ideas today which currently masquerade as "marxism" and which much be smashed up. But the "laws of commodity production" are different--and these laws remain without effective challenge.

Daniel's reply, however, has helped me understand both that:

(1) the laws of commodity production are not well known to many or most activists today, and

(2) these laws are central to understanding why "magic in the absence of a state" is a reactionary fantasy that stands as an obstacle to the development of a movement for the overthrow of bourgeois rule.

I will also add that, considering the importance of these laws, my ability to describe them here is somewhere between piss poor and completely inadequate. Since some explanation is necessary, however, I will do my best (with my emphasis more on being easy to understand than rigorous) -- and leave it to others who (if this debate eventually gains wider recognition) can correct my errors. What follows therefor represents my best effort to describe these laws, in a concise and understandable way, for a reading audience which includes young people in their mid-teens.

The "laws of commodity production"
for dummies

The most obvious consequence of the laws of commodity production can be summed up in the age-old saying:

"The rich get richer and the poor get poorer."

Why is this? Why does this always seem to happen?

1. We start our explanation by considering a commodity and asking:

What is a commodity anyway?
A commodity is anything which is created for the purpose of sale or exchange.

The most important thing to realize about a commodity is that it has a dual nature. On the one hand it is a thing-in-itself with a potentially infinite number of characteristics. On the other hand, as a commodity, we will see that it can be reduced to a single number.

A tree in a rainforest, for example, can be home to hundreds of different species of plants and animals, and be part of extremely complex ecosytem created by thirty million years of evolution. Or, chopped down, the tree can be used for furniture or to build houses. Or children can use the tree to build a tree house. The tree has a potentially infinite number of properties related to science, education or human comfort and shelter. But when sold on the market--the tree is reduced to single number measurable in dollars.

Or consider a slave on the auction block. Maybe the slave has some rare qualities: for example some kind of deep connection to his fellow slaves. Maybe the slave is in possession of courage, patience and determination in sufficient amount to shake the entire ancient world. Maybe the slave is named Spartacus? But on the auction block the slave is reduced to a single number expressed in Roman coin.

And this is one way of understanding the problem with the system of commodity production: when you reduce anything to a single number you make it less than it really is. This is particularly true when the commodity is human labor power. When reduced to a single number--human labor power--infinite in its potential and characteristics--becomes, in one way or another, enslaved.

Over the course of thousands of years of human struggle and history the system of commodity production amplifies this simple contradiction embodied in the dual nature of the commodity. The result, on the one hand, is the development of civilization: modern economies and modern technology. And the result, on the other hand, is the bourgeois domination of society, the bourgeois state and unending imperialist war.

We will return to this when we discuss (see below) the nature of what economists sometimes call "externalities" -- which are manifestations of things which are certainly real but are not measurable by the economic system.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let's go back to the beginning--to earlier human society.

2. We now consider the exchange of commodities: say a pound of fish for four pounds of bread.

This immediately brings us to these questions:

What determines the exchange ratio (ie: why four pounds of bread for a pound of fish and not three pounds of bread) ? Are these exchange ratios determined by a state or some kind of authority? Or do these exchange ratios develop spontaneously?

The labor theory of value holds that the exchange ratios spontaneously (ie: by the independent actions of large numbers of producers in competition with one another) tend toward an equilibrium in such a way that equivalent amounts of necessary labor are exchanged. In the example above the exchange ratio suggests that it takes as much labor to create four pounds of bread as one pound of fish.

(Note: for the sake of simplicity I am leaving out discussion of secondary issues such as more highly valued skilled labor--and the compound labor involved in things like building fishing boats, learning navigation and so on--and reducing matters to uniform abstract average hours of socially necessary labor.)

The exchange ratios that develop are enforced (without the necessity of any external controlling force) by the actions of the market (ie: supply and demand and competition, etc) which create shortages (or other symptoms of disequalibrium) when these ratios are violated.

For example if I as a fisherman want to trade a pound of fish for ten pounds of bread--I will find a shortage of farmers willing to make the trade--because they will understand that they can find other fishermen who will make them a better deal.

(And this equilibrium price is automatically self-correcting: If, for example, I could somehow talk a bunch of dumb farmers into giving me ten pounds of bread for each pound of fish--then bread would eventually become more scarce in relation to fish--and other, smarter farmers would be able to take advantage of this shortage and maybe trade three pounds of bread for a pound of fish--until the shortage is overcome and the equilibrium price re-establishes itself.)

Note: The key principle to be understood here is the concept of self-organization. A process is said to be self-organizing if it develops out the spontaneous actions of large numbers of independent component parts. Our galaxy, our solar system, the earth--and all the life on it--are the result of self-organizing processes. Religious fundamentalists do not like this idea because they want to think that life can only be the result of an all-powerful central directing authority (sometimes with a white beard). In a similar way many anarchists, as we shall see, have a problem with the development of things like money--which they imagine must have been somehow willed into existence by an external authority they call the state. But we are getting ahead of ourselves--let's go back to the days before money, before the state--to the days of simple commodity exchange.

3. Things become more interesting when one of the commodities being exchanged is labor power.

This immediately brings us to this key question:

How many pounds of bread will a worker earn in exchange for a day's labor?

The labor theory of value holds that we can calculate the exchange value of the worker's labor the same way we can calculate the value of any other commodity--by asking: how much labor is required to create it?

So to calculate a worker's wage--we need only ask: how much labor is required to create the worker?

So we can (in essence--I am simplifying a bit) calculate the exchange value of a day of labor by:

(i) first calculating how much total labor is required to raise and maintain the worker (ie: the socially necessary labor required to grow all the food he eats over the course of his lifetime, the clothes he wears, the hut he lives in, etc) and

(ii) then dividing this total amount by the total number of days the worker works.

The result of the above calculation will be the equilibrium toward which the daily wage will tend. This equilibrium will be determined by spontaneous "market forces" (such as competition) in the absence of external authority. Workers who try to get a higher wage than this will find little demand for their labor.

4. This immediately introduces the matter of surplus value.

For example, if a worker needs to eat 20 thousand pounds of bread in the course of his lifetime but in that same lifetime of labor can create (ie: raise the wheat, bake the bread) 50 thousand pounds of bread--then the worker will, over the course of his lifetime create a surplus value of 30 thousand pounds of bread.

Note: In order to keep this example as simple as possible I am ignoring the fact that the amount of labor required to maintain the life of the worker will depend on the worker's level of material well-being -- which itself is a product of the social system (ie: feudal or capitalist, etc) and the history of workers' struggle. So in the above example our imaginary worker must do without clothes or shelter--or any food other than bread--so he is a naked, homeless, vegetarian worker. If the example were more realistic then the particular numbers used might be different--but readers will get the general idea: the worker can create more wealth than he needs to live and reproduce.

5. From this simple example--alert readers will note that the concept of inequality has been introduced--even though all exchanges have been of equals. What is the source of this inequality?

The source of the inequality is the only commodity that has the "mysterious" quality that it creates more than it costs to buy--and for this reason is the source of all wealth: the workers' labor.

(Note: For the sake of simplicity I leave out the fact that nature is also a source of original wealth: for example fertile land, petroleum, etc.)

The labor theory of value helps us understand that even in the absence of a state (or any kind of central authority) "market forces" and competition will act in such a way that workers will receive in exchange for their labor only enough to live on and reproduce future workers.

Simply put: The worker's daily wage will (by the operation of market forces) be based on what he needs to survive and reproduce. But on a given day the worker can create more wealth than this. The amount by which the workers' daily production exceeds his daily wage (the surplus value) will belong to the owner of the outfit that employs the worker. (And, as we shall see, this surplus value will eventually accumulate and become the original source of capital.)

The consequence of this can be seen when technology allows for an increase in the productivity of labor. If the worker can use technology to create twice as many pounds of bread--this doesn't necessarily mean that he will receive more bread in exchange for his work: his wages tend toward an equilibrium that is based on what he needs to live.

6. As commodity exchange develops a greater variety of complex goods and services are created--and economic exchange becomes greatly facilitated by the emergence of a special commodity which has a widely recognized value--and for this reason is easy to exchange for all other commodities.

This special commodity is known as the money-commodity.

Probably the best example of an early money-commodity was the number of animals that a tribe owned. Cattle could be exchanged for all kinds of goods. And a tribe that had a lot of cattle, for example, was a wealthy tribe.

More than this--the development of a money-commodity made transactions possible that would otherwise not have been practical. For example a trader with a fifty pound bronze ingot from a distant land might trade the ingot for several local cattle which could then be traded for goods with people who had little use for the bronze (because they lacked the technology to work with it).

As primitive economies developed the money-commodity evolved in order to facilitate this development. For example not all cows are the same size and in the same state of health--and it is awkward to trade something for half of a cow. But when silver or gold became the money commodity--these kinds of fractional transactions became much easier.

As exchanges continued money evolved to become a "thing in itself" which traders would seek to accumulate--rather than simply a universal commodity used to facilitate the exchange of other commodities.

7. As the economy continues to evolve it becomes necessary to rent money for a temporarily period in order to facilitate more complicated transactions (ie: I will use the money I borrow to buy seed and tools--and then pay the money back after I grow the crop).

Just as other commodities (like a hoe or a wheelbarrow) might be rented in exchange for money--so was money also rented in exchange for an amount of money that was paid on top of the return of the original amount. This money that was paid for renting money is called interest and the money that is rented (and which increases in value when the interest is added to it) is called capital.

8. Money (and capital) continue to evolve in order to make possible a more complex and powerful economy where workers use tractors and computers rather than digging sticks and clay tablets.

Money evolves into more abstract forms such as credit accounts and complex securities such as derivatives.

*               *               *               *               *               *

9. At this point we have covered thousands of years of human economic development and must note that money was not the only thing that was needed to make possible increased trade and the circulation of capital.

10. The ability of workers to grow more food and create more goods than needed for survival probably emerged about the time that metal tools were invented--because such tools increased the productivity of human labor.

From the time that a worker (whether as slave, serf or wage worker) could create more in a day than he needed to survive--his work created surplus value--and led to a division in society between those with property and land and those with none (ie: between rich and poor).

11. The state was developed historically as a tool, a machine, to protect the class interests of the propertied class which emerged from the economic division of society.

The state also served an important secondary function: it provided a means for the ruling class to resolve their internal disputes and help organize the life of society.

In particular, the evolution of the modern economy (and money, capital, etc) required the development of a complex state machine to make and enforce the common rules which regulate (ie: make possible and make safe) the flow of investment and capital.

12. The modern bourgeoisie (ie: the class attached to the circulation of capital) emerged in Western Europe roughly in the period between 1400 and the mid-1800's. During this period the capitalist mode of production--and the bourgeoisie--became an increasingly powerful social force and removed one barrier after another to the expansion of capital before finally pushing aside altogether the previous ruling class (ie: the feudal aristocracy) and creating the modern bourgeois state.

*               *               *               *               *               *

13. As capitalism continues to expand there is a gradual consolidation as larger enterprises gobble up smaller ones. One company outcompetes its rival companies (ie: figures out how to make stuff cheaper or better by squeezing the workers harder, using new technology, or improving its products or methods--and drives its rivals out of business and absorbs the best part of their workforce, assets and customers). This consolidation takes place at all times but is accelerated during the period of economic contraction that follows a period of economic expansion. The larger enterprises often enjoy better access to capital, economies of scale and all the efficiencies that emerge from the division and specialization of labor.

Eventually the consolidation reaches its logical conclusion--where all the enterprises in an industry unite into a single combined enterprise called a trust. This stage of development is sometimes called monopoly capitalism and it was attained in Western Europe and the US in the period around 1900.

(Note: modern bourgeois states often restrict--or even refuse to allow--the final act of consolidation--because the combined enterprise would then in a position to charge monopoly rent which would then have to be paid by other sections of the bourgeoisie. These anti-trust policies therefor work for the benefit of the bourgeoisie as a whole by reducing the economic distortions that would otherwise be created by monopoly rent.)

The period of monopoly capitalism is also the period of modern imperialism (as opposed to earlier forms of imperialism) characterized by a great expansion of the export of capital, the completion of the division of the world market and world wars between opposing blocks of imperialist nations.

*               *               *               *               *               *

14. I should probably add one other "law" which comes to dominate any economy based on commodity production. That is the existence of what economists call externalities. An externality is any kind of "non-economic cost" associated with the production-distribution-consumption process which is inflicted on the masses.

The classic example of an externality is pollution. If a factory can get away (as it often does) with polluting the air or water or soil--then the factory owners do not pay for this pollution: the masses do--in the form of decreased health.

The economic weightlessness of externalities despite their impact on the health and safety of workers is reflected in the simple fact that a ton of coal sells the same with or without a miner's blood on it.

Other examples of externalities may include: (a) the social/medical cost of unhealthy products like tobacco and greasy fast foods (b) the social cost of advertising which attacks the inner-world and self-concept of the viewer (c) the social cost, to future generations, of the wholesale extinction of entire ecosystems as rainforests are chopped down for valuable wood or farmland and (d) in a far more general sense--the enormous social cost of imperialist war or of keeping the masses ignorant and passive as is required for the maintenance of bourgeois rule.

Externalities are inevitable in any economic system in which the value of anything that is created can be reduced to a single number (ie: the exchange value in terms of money) because the real cost and real value of anything that is created can only be correctly understood across multiple dimensions such as: (a) consumption in the present vs. investment in the future, (b) local vs. international development, (c) impact on ecosystems, etc. For example:

(a) A decision to change the way nutritional information is labelled on food may have an initial cost in dollars but in the long term lead to an improvement in the health consciousness of millions of people.

(b) A decision concerning whether to build a factory next to other similar factories--or in a distant location such as Bangladesh--may impact opportunities for training, education and development in Bangladesh that outweigh the savings realized by building the factory next to already existing infrastructure.

(c) A decision to build a factory where a rain forest currently exists might harm an ecosystem representing a treasury for future generations--and this harm would tend to outweigh the dollar value of whatever is saved by building the factory on that location.

Externalities also existed in many forms in the former Soviet Union. Not only did Soviet factories produce notorious amounts of pollution--but a factory charged with creating X tons of bolts might, for example, fulfill its quota in the easiest way by making the bolts in the sizes that were the cheapest to produce--rather than in the sizes that were needed for the economy: resulting in shortages of some items and oversupplies of others. Externalities exist whenever any producing unit has an incentive to "look good" rather than "be good".

*               *               *               *               *               *

At this point I will end my description of these laws (and, again--my apologies to readers if I have inadvertantly mutilated these laws out of ignorance). In a certain sense I have simply described history--because the operation of these laws has shaped history. Empires and civilizations have emerged and fallen as a result of the operation of these laws. In the final chapter of Engels' "The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State" (titled "Barbarism and Civilization") Engels notes: "These economic laws of commodity production are modified with the various stages of this form of production; but in general the whole period of civilization is dominated by them."

Anarchist thought is rooted
in the Enlightenment of the 1700's

Where does the idea come from that we can somehow build a fair and just society on the basis of a market economy? This idea originates in the 1700's -- from a period in the history of thought called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was a period in which the rising bourgeoisie was engaged in ideological preparation for taking power from the feudal aristocracy--who justified their rule with talk of "the divine right of kings" and who imposed innumerable restrictions on the expansion of capital.

Many thinkers, including Adam Smith (the patron saint of capitalist ideologues) thought that, freed from restrictions and interference by the state, the "invisible hand" of the market would help bring about a world of fairness and equality. Capitalist development, however, went in a different direction: leading to the larger corporations squeezing the life out of the smaller corporations--and the workers. But today many continue to believe that capitalism could somehow have developed in a different direction--if only the interference from the state had been restricted.

Daniel notes that he supports the ideas in Rousseau's "Social Contract". But Daniel is not alone in finding his roots in the Enlightenment. The most famous anarchist in the U.S., Noam Chomsky, turns out to be something of a fan of Adam Smith. And the view that capitalist development could lead to a world of fairness and equality appears to have been used by Thomas Jefferson (as a representative of the aspirations of small farmers in the early U.S.) against Alexander Hamilton (who represented the emerging manufacturing class).

I was greatly helped in understanding this by an article written by some former comrades of mine: "On the Anarchist outlook of Noam Chomsky". The article (despite its faults--such as the typical "marxist-leninist" fetish on centralization as the supposed solution to all problems) is extremely valuable and illustrates the bankruptcy of both the anarchist ideology and the article's authors. Watching representatives of these two competing bankruptcies debate is like watching the Monitor and Merrimac (the original ironclad ships of naval warfare) which, during the U.S. civil war, spent an afternoon bouncing shells harmlessly off of one another's newfangled iron plates. The revolutionary movement is full of squabbles like this in which both sides are wrong and each side can take comfort in the obvious bankruptcy of the other. (The best example of this is the eternal struggle of the reformists and sectarians against one another--but that's a story for another day.) I have excerpted some of the most valuable passages of this article (together with my criticism of it) in Appendix C.

The laws of commodity production
spell doom for anarchist daydreams

Let's now consider the collision between the laws of commodity production and Daniel's 2nd fantasy (ie: magic in the absence of a state).

First and most important: The various evils of the capitalist system (exploitation, the domination of the bourgeoisie, imperialist wars, etc) which Daniel and other anarchists want to eliminate are inseparable from any economy which is based on commodity production. This means that these evils cannot be kept out of the exchange-based economy that Daniel and other anarchists envision.

Daniel and other anarchists imagine that these evils are the product of a state. But the operation of the laws of commodity production show that it works the other way around--the modern state is itself the inevitable and necessary product of commodity production which (1) splits society into rich and poor and (2) requires regulation of the complex and finely tuned circulation of capital.

Daniel has a particular pet scheme to avoid the evils of capitalism: in the world that Daniel imagines there will be a money-commodity in the form of gold--but no "currency". Daniel calls currency an "infamous third item" which is used to define the value of other items and destroy "the level playing field" and which therefor makes exchange "assymetric" (ie: unequal).

I will not spend too much time on Daniel's particular pet scheme (because I think that other anarchists have other pet schemes--and I want to expose all these silly schemes). So I will simply note that Daniel is very confused:

(1) Gold is a form of currency. Gold fullfilled this role for centuries.

(2) Any restriction that Daniel thinks could be applied to the exchange of gold--would not hold up any better than certain branches of the Muslim religion which attempt to ban interest. At most Daniel's restrictions would amount to a 'speed bump" which would be swept away immediately as it became clear that these restrictions would create a barrier to the development of commerce, trade, manufacturing and services. Real money would rapidly evolve (from gold or from anything else) to meet the needs of a modern economy for trade, production and jobs.

(3) Daniel (and other anarchists) are confused concerning where inequality enters the picture in their impossible fantasy of an economy based on equal exchange.

Inequality enters the picture as soon as human labor power becomes a commodity and is bought or sold or traded or exchanged.

As the source of all wealth human labor power has the unique property that it can produce more than it costs--ie: it can create more wealth than is required to create it.

Exchanges involving labor will always be unequal--because the exchange will occur at the level of what it costs to feed and maintain the worker--but the productive output of the worker will always exceed that level.

For purposes of discussion we can consider human labor power to be living labor and we can call the products of past human labor power to be dead labor. Inequality enters the picture whenever we exchange living labor for dead labor. In any such exchange living labor is enslaved by dead labor. That is the origin of the problem.


The exchange of living labor for dead labor creates:
1. surplus value,
2. exploitation,
3. profit,
4. externalities,
5. the eventual cleavage of society into rich and poor,
6. the class domination of the bourgeoisie and
7. the emergence of the modern state.

It is really as simple as that.

If we want a society without exploitation, class division or a state--then we must recognize that all essential labor in this society will be voluntary labor. This is why the ultimate goal of humanity must be an economy in which everything is created in order to be given away for free.

Why does shit stink?

The exchange of dead labor for living labor results in the enslavement of the living by the dead--and must be seen as unhealthy and corrupt--as something that stinks ... like shit.

Exchanging dead labor for living labor should be seen as unhealthy--like eating shit is unhealthy. Dead labor is the past. The dead hand of the past must not enslave the living present and the future.

This is why (not to put too fine a point on it) that I consider arguments that the post-bourgeois society of the future will rely on commodity production to be shit-eating arguments. I don't mean this in a pejorative way, of course. I am being strictly scientific ;-)

In the course of biological evolution the gene pools of most animal species underwent a process of selection for a strong aversion (and repugnance) to eating waste matter (which caused sickness and disease). This is why, in the most literal sense, shit stinks: genes were selected that caused the smell of the sulfer compounds to sicken and disgust us.

Similarly, future generations, with their more highly evolved senses, will consider the exchange of living labor for dead labor--as something that is unnatural and disgusting--as a practice that inevitably leads to wage slavery (ie: a form of enslavement of human labor and human beings). If labor is to be truely autonomous--then it must be controlled by the inner compass and conscience of each laborer rather than by any form of external carrot or stick.

Love vs. prostitution

Daniel has several passages in his reply which indicate that he is confused about what commodity production is. At one point it is unclear if Daniel even understands, at the theoretical level, the distinction between sex that is the result of mutual attraction and affection--and prostitution. To save time for tired readers who want to reach the end of this essay--I reply to Daniel in greater detail in Appendix D: Love vs. prostitution.

Dreaming the impossible dream

I have refuted Daniel's particular pet schemes. But what about all the other schemes that people have devised: labor exchanges and time banks and similar attempts to outsmart the laws of commodity production? I reply with six paragraphs that I wrote in 1997:

Markets will certain exist during the transition period, if only because a functioning economy will be necessary and non-market methods of effectively running an economy can only be learned over a period of time. Markets will exist so that the workers will have a functioning economy while they experiment with and learn how to run an economy without markets.

From time to time we also see various schemes that someone has devised that use markets and exchange (combined with special rules, cooperatives or what-not) in an economy--not as a temporary expedient during a period of transition--but as a cure for capitalism's ills.

I think we are in the same situation here as the U.S. patent office--which kept getting patent applications for "perpetual-motion machines". Everyone who understands the first two laws of thermodynamics (roughly speaking: "you can't win" and "you can't break even") knows that you cannot draw unlimited energy out of a closed system.

Yet the patent office kept getting all these applications because would-be geniuses continued to believe that they had outsmarted nature.

Similarly, we may never run into a shortage of "sharp" people who have devised a perfect plan to escape the laws of commodity production and exchange--while proposing--an economy based on commodity production and exchange.

The patent office, getting fed-up with this (and grasping that some people have greater respect for laws made by man than the laws of nature) finally instituted a new regulation: perpetual-motion machines, on the authority vested by the U.S. Congress, are, by law, no longer patentable.
-- from The Alpha and Omega of Communist Theory -- May 1997

The real reason that anarchism
embraces the market

Anarchist thought (as embodied in the views of tens of thousands of activists today) embraces an idealized and impossible version of the capitalist marketplace (ie: the idea of an economy based on commodity production and exchange) because this is the only alternative left after rejecting the need for a workers' state.

I have shown how these anarchist views are naive because they stand in clear contradiction to the laws of commodity production which have consistently shaped the development of civilization over thousands of years.

But we must understand that the popularity of these naive views is the result, first and foremost, of the theoretical and organizational bankruptcy of what passes for "marxism":

1) Theoretical bankruptcy:

The failure of "marxists" in the 20th century to correctly understand and sum up the lessons of the degeneration and collapse of Lenin's 1917 revolution.

2) Organizational bankruptcy:

The unprincipled manipulation by various "marxist" groups which betray the working class and the revolutionary movement in their single-minded quest to build their cults.

In simple terms: anarchism as an ideology is bankrupt but is growing in popularity for the simple reason that "marxism" (as it is widely understood and practiced today by groups which claim to be marxist) is even more pathetically bankrupt.

Given a choice between two fucked-up ideologies--activists who are new on the scene and looking for an alternative--will tend to pick the ideology which appears to be the least fucked-up.

Just as the anarchist ideology is bankrupt as a result of its fixation on the possibility of a fair and just society based on commodity production and exchange (ie: small scale capitalism--whether or not this is openly recognized) so also is "marxism" (in the form that it is widely understood by many activists today) bankrupt as a result of its fixation on (a) the political solution of a single-party state which suppresses the masses (as well as all opposition) and (b) an economic solution of central planning which can supposedly solve all problems.

Moneyless economy of the future
will consist of vast numbers
of self-moving economic units
that make their own decisions

Anarchist-minded activists do understand correctly that the political system in the period following the overthrow of bourgeois rule will not be a single party state--nor will it be a state that has the ability to suppress the mass (if it tried). Anarchist-minded activists are also correct that the economy of the future (in which there will be no exploitation) will not be ruled by a group of central planners who everyone else must obey.

On the contrary the future moneyless economy will be self-organizing--it will consist of vast numbers of economic organizations that are self-moving and make their own independent decisions concerning what free goods or services to produce and in what way and under what conditions to produce and distribute these free goods or services.

What is necessary to understand is that:

(1) In the future moneyless economy the large numbers of economic units will not be united by the market--but will coordinate their actions in an independent, voluntary (and frequently very fluid) way based on the conscious actions of the masses who will make decisions concerning which economic units deserve support (ie: in terms of free labor, free supplies, free advertizing and recognition and support in the arena of media and public opinion) based on performance across the entire spectrum of social value (ie: there will be no externalities because mass public opinion will consider and evaluate such factors as: (a) consumption vs. investment, (b) local development vs. international, (c) impact on ecosystems, etc).

(2) The moneyless economy cannot develop in conditions where the bourgeoisie dominates society--because the moneyless economy will initially require forms of subsidy and support and would directly threaten the profits of the largest corporations. The only exception to the need for initial subsidy and support (a very significant exception--as described above) are projects based on the free flow of information which have minimal need for money or capital (for example software projects, news services, self-help information networks--and eventually various forms of free entertainment services).

I should also note that the moneyless economy would also include "coopetition" (ie: simultaneous cooperation and competition) between the economic units. Everyone understands why cooperation is necessary but we should note that competition is also necessary for several reasons: (1) it is the only real way of to discover and prove the best methods of using resources to create social wealth, and (2) it facilitates the initiative of people who want to organize projects to do things in a better way.

Some progressive people are not comfortable with the idea of competition in the future non-capitalist economy because they find it difficult to conceive of competition in any other way than the kind of dog-eat-dog competition that is part of the capitalist economy--where workers are forced to compete with one another for the worst wages and conditions in a "race to the bottom".

For this reason it is important to understand that the kind of competition that will exist in the moneyless economy of the future will have a different character: it will be more like the competition that currently exists between sports teams. Workers will not compete against one another for lower wages--because there will be no wages--all work will be voluntary and, in a world of abundance for all, everyone will receive the basic necessities of life for free--as a birthright--whether or not they chose to work or to waste their time doing nothing.

Why would people work for nothing? Ultimately, dear reader, for the same reasons and the same impulses that have compelled you to do the work involved in reading this article--or for the same reasons that tens of thousands of programmers have contributed to the Linux operating system. People will work on projects of their own choosing because (a) they find the work is fun and interesting; (b) they enjoy the work relationships with talented and dedicated co-workers; (c) they want to create something of value that makes the world a better place; or (d) they want social status and recognition. A world of abundance for all where work is fun (and voluntary) will be made possible by a much higher productivity of human labor and an economy and social system in which interesting work becomes everyone's most deeply felt passion.

Solution: Reject everything that is rotten

The solution to the current division of militant activists into opposing ideological camps--is to reject everything that is rotten and bankrupt--and look to the future in concrete material terms--and ask ourselves: do we want to allow the bourgeoisie to continue to dominate all of society as well as manage and shape the existing marketplace driven economy? Or should we push the bourgeoisie aside (just as the bourgeoisie pushed aside the former ruling class: the feudal aristocracy) and manage this marketplace economy in a more human and productive way during a period of transition in which we harness the resources of the existing economy to create a very different kind of economy that is not based on exploitation and does not rely on either the market or on all-powerful central planners?

If we look at matters in this way I believe that all other theoretical questions will sort themselves out.

Ben replies to Daniel's questions

I have replied to Daniel's questions at great length in this essay and in appendices A, E and F. Appendix E lists Daniel's 9 questions and either gives my reply or points to the place in this essay where I reply. Appendix F is focused on what is probably Daniel's most interesting and thoughtful question: how, following the overthrow of bourgeois rule, will the gift-economy grow to the point where it overtakes and overwhelms the exchange economy?

Now I have some questions for Daniel.

Ben's questions for Daniel

1. I have argued, in this and other installments that:

(a) It is not possible for a worker-controlled economy to develop under conditions of bourgeoisie rule.

(b) It is not possible, following the overthrow of bourgeois rule, to create an economy without exploitation that is based on commodity production and exchange.

(c) The working class will need (after the overthrow of bourgeois rule) a machine to control and regulate the circuit of capital during the decades-long transition to the self-organizing moneyless economy.

(d) It is both possible and necessary for the working class to create a state machine that will not escape their control and turn around and enslave them. The transparency flowing from the revolution in communications will greatly assist the masses (and their many independent political organizations) to supervise the state and (when necessary) to effectively oppose incompetence, hypocrisy or corruption.

(e) What fuels the attraction of serious activists to anarchism has been (i) the nature of police state regimes (China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea, etc) which call themselves "workers' states" and (ii) the dishonest manipulation and bankrupt practice (ie: reformism and sectarianism) and bankrupt theory (ie: single-party state, a fetish for centralization and a failure to recognize the democratic rights which workers will need to control their state) of groups which call themselves "socialist" or "leninist".

My question is this: Is there a possibility that I am correct about any (or all) of the above?

2. Will you repudiate your sectarian and devisive comments that anarchists should not work with Leninists--and support the principle that all serious activists must explore ways of working together to oppose the reformist domination of the progressive movement and create a revolutionary movement which is deserving of the respect and attention of the working class? Will you recognize the principle that decisions concerning who to work with must not be based primarily on ideology but rather on practice and on a demonstrated commitment to open and principled conduct and open and principled ways of resolving conflict?

3. Will you consider ways of helping distribute debate installments to a larger audience of serious activists--provided that reasonable and considered methods can be developed to address your concern (that you share with others on the pof-200 list) that debate installments, broadcast indiscriminately, may be perceived as a form of useless political spam?

Will you help in the work to develop reasonable and considered methods of avoiding the perception of spam while bringing debate installments to the attention of serious activists?

4. Optional question:

Are you willing to give serious thought to working for the development of a democratically run interactive news service that would be something more than a typical Indymedia site--that would allow readers to help in the work of rating and filtering news articles and comments--that would be a place for serious activists with a range of views to engage in common work, oppose the reformist domination of the movement, eventually forge a common revolutionary perspective--and build an interactive channel to the masses?

Ben Seattle ----//-//
March 20, 2004
(minor edits April 3)

-- Appendicies --

Appendix A • Truth is always concrete
Appendix B • What google found on "the laws of commodity production"
Appendix C • Excerpts from and criticism of: "On the anarchist outlook of Noam Chomsky"
Appendix D • Love vs. prostitution (excerpts by Daniel with comments by Ben)
Appendix E • Ben replies to nine thoughtful questions by Daniel
Appendix F • The ascendency of the self-organizing moneyless economy

What do YOU  think?

Thoughtful comments on this essay will help
revolutionary activists to sort out the path forward.

Don't delay!   Post your comments today!