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The Anarcho-Leninist Debate on the State
Part 5 Ben January 1, 2003

Confronting the "crisis of theory"
Finding the Confidence
to Build the Future
How will the working class keep supply chains running
and bourgeois apologists from flooding the airwaves
on the morning after bourgeois rule is broken?

Many activists who have seen announcements for this debate have considered it to be silly. "Don't we have our hands full," many argue, "opposing the current war on Iraq--without wasting our time in either drawing up blueprints for an imaginary future or engaging in silly theological debates about what religious 'ism' we should allow to do our thinking for us?"

US imperialism will soon be launching another war in order to dominate the oil fields of the strategic Middle East. Tens (or hundreds) of thousands of the Iraqi people will be slaughtered with napalm and "smart bombs". Is this really the time to be distracted by utopian schemes and stupid squabbles?

But we can ask this same question in a more sober way: At a time in which the hypocrisy and criminal nature of the imperialist system is most exposed--should serious activists be thinking in terms of a fundamental change to the status quo?

The status quo consists of the rule of all society by the rich. In formal terms this state of affairs is called "bourgeois rule" (ie: the rule of the bourgeoisie--the class which owns the largest corporations, the means of production, etc). The status quo consists of one imperialist war after another. The status quo consists of a bourgeois-controlled press and media machine pumping out chauvinist propaganda and a general worldview of fear--in which "Americans" can only be safe if US imperialism bombs our brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe. The status quo consists of a lapdog, lickspittle "loyal opposition" that promises to "do something" if only we refrain from spirited and militant mobilization of the masses against this criminal imperialist war.

Are we serious about
changing the status quo?

The crisis of theory is that
we don't have a goal
that makes any sense.
The alternative to resolving
the crisis of theory
is to restrict our vision to
rolling a heavy stone up a hill
until the end of time.
But if we seek a fundamental change to the status quo--we soon run into a formidable obstacle: fundamental change to the status quo is unthinkable.

The progressive movement (even the most serious, militant sections of it) is totally incapable of coming up with any serious alternative to the present system of bourgeois rule. The alternatives we are offered are only fit for people with the mentality of children. The militant "marxists" offer us an alternative that consists, essentially, of a police state. The militant anarchists offer us only childish daydreams. This failure of the progressive movement to offer a serious alternative to the rule of the rich is called the "crisis of theory".

It is because of this crisis of theory that fundamental change to the status quo is unthinkable. No one can imagine it, picture it, visualize it, or explain it in terms that are remotely realistic--in terms that take into account the specific features of modern, economically developed societies. This is why such an alternative is unthinkable. It is impossible to think about.

Note well: I am not talking about blueprints. Everyone who doesn't have their head shoved up their rear end understands the distinction between blueprints and principles. A blueprint for a building, for example, would specify exactly how big the roof might be and exactly what material it is made of. A principle, on the other hand, might simply specify that the building would have a roof that would keep the occupants dry when it rains.
Scarlet O'Hara's iconic tagline was:
"I'll think about that tomorrow".
Essentially all anarchist and "marxist"
trends today have a similar attitude
towards the "crisis of theory" manifested in
the absence of a realistic alternative,
under modern conditons, to bourgeois rule.
What I assert is that even in the most general terms, the progressive movement has not come up with any alternative at all that is suitable in any way, shape or form for anyone who has not received a lobotomy.

This is why all activists who are serious about a fundamental change to the status quo--need to also be serious about overcoming the crisis of theory.

Eventually the progressive movement will mobilize the majority of humanity for the purpose of overthrowing the rule of the rich. This mobilization will only take place once the progressive movement works out at least an outline of the principles that will guide an alternative to bourgeois rule that is suitable for people who are adults and who have not had a lobotomy--an alternative that actually makes sense--that does not insult the intelligence of activists and workers alike.

The Scarlet O'Hara syndrome

But in the meantime we have a problem: the overwhelming majority of all anarchist and "marxist" trends are infected with the "Scarlet O'Hara syndrome". Scarlet O'Hara, the heroine of "Gone with the Wind", was famous for her iconic catch-phrase: "I won't think about that today--I'll think about that tomorrow". All of these trends will swear on the graves of Bakunin, Proudhon, Marx, Lenin, etc that they stand for a fundamental change in the status quo. However when it comes to confronting the crisis of theory, of explaining (or even talking about in an intelligent way) how, in the context of modern conditions, the working class will be able to run society better than the bourgeoisie--this is a matter that will be thought about tomorrow.

Ben's First law

Because the consequences of the crisis of theory are so fundamental to the future progress of humanity I have concentrated a concise description of these consequences into my first law. (It is not really a law, of course, but I call it a law in order to make it easier for readers to remember and to irritate my numerous political opponents who are driven to frustration when they are unable to refute my so-called "laws"). I formulate my first law as follows:


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.

Just to make sure that no one misses the point, my first law can be concentrated further (somewhat crudely) as follows:


No fundamental change to the status quo can take place
until we (ie: militant progressive activists)
pull our collective head out of our collective rear end.

Daniel fails to present
a serious alternative
to bourgeois rule

My debate partner/opponent, Daniel, released his response to me on November 11 (See: An Anarchist Replies). Unfortunately, Daniel has very little to say about an alternative to bourgeois rule. Furthermore, what Daniel does say tends to fall apart when subject to serious examination. I will devote the main part of my response to Daniel to such an examination and I will show that Daniel's alternative simply doesn't hold up to a serious treatment. I will also ask Daniel, in the course of this examination, a few questions to give him an opportunity to dig himself deeper into the hole in which he has found himself.

Daniel has also raised a number of interesting side topics (the nature of "happiness", the history of "Leninism" as a political trend, etc). In order to keep this installment reasonably short and minimize its postponement (it was due December 11) I will reply, time permitting, to Daniel on these topics in a separate essay, where I may also correct some of his (frequently mistaken) descriptions of my views. What I want to make clear, however, is that this installment here, is the formal part of my reply--the part where I will ask Daniel questions--and drive to the heart of the issues.

A materialist debate
about the future

Most importantly, I want to take every opportunity to make this debate a materialist debate about the future rather than a theologically inspired examination of the past. I will be asking Daniel some good questions (I will get to these questions in just a minute--but impatient readers can get a very big hint from looking at the subtitle of this essay). What I hope is that all readers begin to give serious thought to these questions. I believe that giving serious thought to these questions is far more important than whether a reader considers himself to be an "anarchist" or a "marxist". This is because the materialist worldview holds that material reality exists outside of our consciousness. The basis of unity between progressive activists is dealing with this external material reality--understanding it not in an abstract, dictionary-driven, quote-mongering, religious sense--but in a materialist way so that we can fucking change it. The unity of views between activists (who currently subscribe to different and opposing schools of thought) will be achieved in the course of dealing with this external material reality. And it is to this external material reality that my questions will be directed.

unity of views
bound to develop

As this unity of views develops it is clear to me that vital and important contributions will be made by comrades from both camps (ie: the anarchist and the "marxist" camps) because both "wings" of the militant progressive movement currently suffer from a similar religious orientation and are incomplete without the other.

I do not particularly give a damn what name this eventual unity of views will be called (that will probably be more than clear enough once all the pieces fall into place). What I do assert, however, is that the emergent view will be relentless in its focus on the goal of a society not ruled by the bourgeoisie--and will recognize that the working class will need (for the purpose of protecting its fundamental interests in the post-bourgeois society) to make use of a particular type of machine. And there is a scientific name for this kind of machine.

The vise begins to tighten

I will now, at this time, introduce what I call my third law. (Where is my second law? See essay # 160: The Future Transparent Workers' State).

My third law (which by itself will structure my entire reply to Daniel) consists of a very simple statement. It can be considered (depending on the temperament of the reader) as being somewhat analogous to a mathematical theorem:

Ben's third law


You can't get there from here
without going in between.

Translated into ordinary political language, my third law holds that humanity cannot make the transition from:

(1) a complex economy ruled by the market (and dominated by the bourgeoisie), to
(2) a complex economy in a classless societythat makes no use of a state

without a transition period during which political and economic evolution (the ultimate sword) takes shape and is directed by the working class in coordination with the protection of a shield. This shield will protect the most essential economic stability (ie: minimize disruptions of the supply and distribution of essential food, shelter, transportation and communication, etc for the masses) as well as prevent bourgeois apologists from dominating the mass media during this period of transition.

This shield will be the machine that I mentioned earlier. The scientific name for this machine is the state.

Daniel wants to deny the need for a state controlled by the working class during this period and, as a result, has run into trouble. Let's consider, in diagram form, the essential differences between his (vague and self-contradictory) description of an alternative to bourgeois rule--and mine. (My views are presented somewhat systematically in essay # 153: Politics, Economics and the Mass Media when the Working Class Runs the Show. The diagram here has been adapted from the diagram in that essay showing the different economic sectors during the transition period between bourgeois rule and classless society.)

It can be seen from the diagram that the essential difference between Daniel's view and my own is that Daniel believes the working class will not need to make use of a state machine during the period of transition.

How are complex economies organized?

Daniel's denial that a state machine will be needed during the period of transition creates problems for him because he is unable to explain how the immense amount of coordination necessary in any modern, complex economy will be organized.

For example under bourgeois rule, in a country such as the U.S., the hundreds of thousands of individual economic enterprises are coordinated thru a combination of:

(1) the "invisible hand" of the market and

(2) the lubrication provided by the bourgeois state machine in the form of local and national political, economic and cultural institutions that regulate credit and capital transactions, legal disputes and labor markets (ie: legislatures, banking regulators, courts, schools, etc).

Or we can consider another example:

History has shown us a form of "state capitalism" (sometimes called a "command economy") that was practiced in the Soviet Union and which is still being used to manage a huge chunk (possibly the majority) of the economy of China. This form of capitalism in some ways has more in common with feudalism than modern "free-market" capitalism. This form of capitalism (or feudalism or whatever you want to call it) has proven itself useful in comparison to free-market capitalism for primitive economies based on agriculture and early forms of industry (for example: China's economy is currently far advanced in comparison to that of India--yet the two countries were at a comparable level of development in 1950). But state capitalism has proven itself unwieldy in more modern, complex economies (ie: characterized by larger numbers of companies which make quick decisions and interact with one another in complex ways) and for this reason is being phased out in favor of ordinary free-market capitalism.

Meltdown

Daniel, however, will have none of this. Daniel is stuck defending the concept of a transition period in which there exists no state to assist economic coordination. Hence Daniel is forced to abandon entirely the "pre-existing circuit of capital" on the morning after bourgeois rule is overthrown. Daniel is very firm on this. In fact he is "diametrically opposed to maintaining the pre-existing circuit of capital".

That's kind of a fancy phrase: "pre-existing circuit of capital". What does this mean in practical terms?

It means that overnite the entire banking system, all loans, all instruments of credit, all securities, all pensions, all accounts, all financially-based contracts and (yes!) all previously existing money will supposedly cease to exist.

Now some readers, who may be unsophisticated about how a modern economy functions, might think this would be just great. But in such a situation the euphoric glow over the "instant progress" achieved in January would fade very quickly when, by February, it becomes impossible to go to the supermarket and get food, or to put gas in your car (or find a bus that is still running). Maybe (with a good deal of luck) there would still be electricity so that you could watch on your TV (or the internet) the resulting social and economic meltdown.

The result of all this foolishness, of course, would be that the bourgeoisie would simply move in and pick up the pieces. "We may be corrupt", they would tell the masses, "we may steal you blind", they would say, "but at least we know how to run things". And the boys would be back in town.

Of course this is all just a very hypothetical scenario. In the real world, here on the planet Earth, things would never get that far--because of the relentless operation of Ben's first law. When the proposed alternative to bourgeois rule fails to pass the too-stupid-to-be-believed test -- then the bourgeoisie simply remain in power. Period.

The status quo is served by this childish nonsense because the working class (which is made up of intelligent and practical people) is not going to get very excited about this kind of daydream utopia.

The learning curve

Now just so that no one gets the wrong idea, I should make clear that I do not have the slightest doubt that humanity will eventually function just fine without money. It is clear to me that such a moneyless economy is inevitable. What I assert (and this is hardly rocket science) is that such a development cannot take place overnite. On the contrary, the development of a moneyless economy will almost certainly require several decades of trial and error and experiment during which experience will be accumulated and during which hundreds of millions of people will learn new habits and ways of getting things done. These things take time ... just like it takes time to grow a tree. You cannot cheat the learning curve. And this is precisely what Daniel is advocating.

Do you believe in magic?

Daniel has been confronted with the reality that is expressed in Ben's third law. If, on the morning after bourgeois rule is overthrown, workers are to coordinate a complex economy without making use of either a state or the existing known methods--they will need:
(a1) to have developed (ahead of time, under bourgeois rule) an amazing amount of experience, and
(a2) amazing abilities to coordinate their actions after they wipe out the banks and other financial infrastructure that maintains the circuit of capital.

Daniel attempts to make use of "magic" to dig himself out of the hole in which he has found himself. This magic consists of wildly exaggerated descriptions of:
(b1) the organizational and economic experience the working class will accumulate under bourgeois rule, and
(b2) the abilities (on the day after bourgeois rule is overthrown) of hundreds of millions of workers to coordinate the smooth functioning of hundreds of thousands of economic enterprises without the use of either a national market or command economy (both of which require a state to regulate them and back them up).

I have drawn these two kinds of magic as yellow half-circles on the timeline describing Daniel's view on humanity's way forward (together they make a yellow circle straddling the point in time at which bourgeois rule is broken).

Magic under bourgeois rule

Daniel has (correctly) rejected some of the absurd "dual power" schemes that are currently being promoted as a way for the working class to build alternative economic institutions under bourgeois rule (see part 1 for my criticism of these schemes--which encourage reformist fantasies that an alternative non-capitalist economy can gradually evolve and develop under conditions of bourgeois rule--thus eliminating the need for a mass popular upsurge to overthrow bourgeois rule).

However the examples Daniel presents have only a very weak relationship to the immense breadth and depth of organizational and economic experience the working class would need in order to do something that has never been done before: run a modern economy without either capital or a state.

For example Daniel notes that, historically, there have been:

(1) cooperative and mutualist experiments that have been engaged in popular struggles,
(2) strikes in rural areas where workers have set up secret networks to produce food and water over prolonged periods, and
(3) periods of revolutionary upsurge during which workers have seized control of factories and run these factories for themselves.

In relation to this last point, Daniel cites the factory committee movement in Russia that emerged in February-March 1917.

The struggles and efforts that Daniel describes all seem to be worthwhile. I do not claim (contrary to what Daniel appears to think) that all such projects are a complete waste of time. What I assert is that such projects, worthwhile as they may be, come nowhere close to giving workers the organizational experience and ability to run a modern economy without either capital or a state (ie: something that has never been done, something that, after bourgeois rule is broken, will likely take several decades to learn how to do).

Consider the Russian factory committee movement. I have read one article on this from an anarchist source ( Factory committees in the Russian Revolution by Ray Cunningham, 1995) which covers the period from February 1917 to the outbreak of the Civil War in mid-1918. In April 1917 at a conference in Petrograd, some of the factory committees asserted responsibility to supervise management decisions covering internal factory organization (ie: hours, wages, hiring and firing) and also over administrative and technical matters. In the months that followed some of these committees were successful in taking over factories.

I think it is safe to say that this was a useful movement. However the kinds of responsibilities the factory committees had were small in comparison with the scale of the entire economy. For example: it would appear that, in most cases, the decisions concerning what the factories produced, who their customers (and probably also their suppliers) were and so forth had already been established and this simplified matters. Or consider what it means to have the responsibility to decide wages at a plant: such a responsibility means one thing when a form of money exists that is recognized everywhere else (ie: when the circuit of capital is functioning). But matters become vastly more complex when there is no such recognized money or circuit of capital.

Finally, let's consider a hypothetical situation (for the sake of argument) where factory committees (after the overthrow of bourgeois power in some country with a modern, complex economy) were successful in setting up a national organization that was able to smoothly coordinate the functioning of thousands of factories on a nationwide basis. I assert that such a thing would only be possible in two circumstances:

(1) the national factory committee organization was supported by a state machine that helped to keep things running smoothly by accomplishing one or more of the following tasks:
(a) making sure that money existed and the circuit of capital was in some way functioning
(b) developing some kind of central planning authority to coordinate the activity of many thousands of production centers
(c) creating mechanisms at various levels (local, national, etc) with the authority to create and enforce rules needed to resolve disputes

(2) the national factory committee organization had already assumed the functions of a state machine and thereby had become, in fact, if not in name, the state.

Overnite magic

Daniel's descriptions of how workers will coordinate a complex economy without either capital or a state tend to be inspiring but extremely vague. There will be:

(1) community-based seizure
(2) a process of communalization
(3) people will use seized means of production in whatever fashion they choose
(4) there may also be "cannibalistic" uses in which some means of production will be repurposed to some other end (Daniel gives the example of parts from an abandoned copper mine in Bougainville being used to make a car run from matured coconut extract)

And this is about as specific as Daniel gets.

So everything will be "entirely up to the people" and the process will be "open, joyful and accelerated" (except of course that after a month, as I noted, you may not be able to get food anywhere and your local gas station may have run out of matured coconut extract).

the attraction of a mirage

Coordinating the actions of hundreds of millions of people is not a simple task. Many disagreements between people will exist. Many people may overestimate the value of their contributions to the general social good or expect more than their fair share of the general social wealth. Without some system of authority to resolve disputes and set expectations a very high degree of social and political maturity would be required of virtually the entire population. And the development of this maturity would take time.

Note well: disagreements will exist not simply between individuals but also on a larger scale: between larger units (ie: co-ops, communes and collectives, etc). How will these disputes be resolved without either:

(a) market relations,
(b) some kind of central authority, or
(c) the considerable time required for hundreds of millions to shape their lives and attitudes around radically new principles?

To imagine that "the people" will somehow know how to "do the right thing" and effectively coordinate their actions by simply dissolving existing institutions of authority and hierarchy--is a mirage that many anarchist-minded activists are attracted to mainly because of the theoretical bankruptcy of competing trends (ie: given a choice between competing fucked-up theories activists will tend to gravitate toward the theories that appear to be the least fucked-up).

Some of the real-world difficulties encountered by anarchist collectives are illustrated in an article by Joseph Green, who reviews some histories of the anarchist experience in Spain in the 1930's. Joseph notes that the various anarchist collectives did not resolve (nor apparently even understand very well) many of their problems in the period before they were wiped out by Franco. The "mutual aid" between collectives was in many cases a fiction and market relations between the collectives may have began to emerge.

Note: I should add here that I do not approve of many of the methods used by comrade Green: the tearing of quotes out of context, the frequent misrepresentation of the views of his opponents, and the subtle interspersing of facts with sweeping conclusions unsupported by those facts. These methods and my own experience with this comrade have led me to the conclusion that he has recoiled from the decisive theoretical tasks of our time, fallen into charlatanism, and prostituted his talent into an effort to "look impressive" to current and potential supporters of the Communist Voice Organization--a sectarian hybrid, like the RCP,USA that is half revolutionary organization and half religious cargo cult. Despite this, however, a number of his theoretical articles are worth reading.

Daniel hedges on the circulation of capital

Now, out of fairness to Daniel (and keeping in mind that alert readers have the ability to give this installment a poor rating in the polemical decency voting box if I misrepresent Daniel) I will note that, while in one location Daniel appears to be emphatic that the existing circuit of capital will not be maintained, in other places he appears to take a different position. For example Daniel appears to recognize that (1) bourgeois relations of production (ie: the human relationships, for example of supervisor to supervised, characteristic of capitalism) cannot be eradicated overnite and (2) the bourgeoisie will "attempt" to "regulate the circuit of capital". But both items (1) and (2) above imply that some sort of capital remains in circulation.

So what's going on here? One possibility is that Daniel's position is self-contradictory. Another possibility is that Daniel does not realize what he is saying. However Daniel's position must flow from his insistence that no state can exist. Without a state a centralized banking regulatory system could not exist (for example: who would enforce policy concerning what is considered money--a vastly complex question). Without a state to make and enforce a system of rules concerning the circulation of capital then either capital does not flow (which means, by the way, that it is no longer capital)--or it flows very poorly. In either case the result would be the same: the boys are back in town.

So at this point we must ask Daniel to be more specific and I will therefor ask Daniel my fourth question (my first three questions were asked in parts 1, 2 and 3 posted in October).

My fourth question for Daniel


Daniel: in your economy-without-a-state:

(a) do you plan to use money to regulate relations between
        the different economic enterprises, co-ops and so forth?
(b) Or do you plan to use some kind of trade
       
or barter system?
(c) Or some kind of labor hour certificate?
(d) Or will you make use of some other kind
        of exchange-based system?
(e) Or do have in mind some kind of central planning
        system
that will not make use of state authority?
(f) Or are you thinking of a "gift economy"
        (ie: as I assert is the inevitable destination
        of human economies).
(g) Or are these questions something that you prefer, like
        the famous Scarlet O'Hara, not to think about today?


The problem for Daniel is that he is screwed no matter how he answers. Money requires a state to maintain a central bank. All exchange-based systems (trade, barter, labor certificates) end up being nothing more than an inferior form of money that lowers the productivity of labor in comparison to the more modern free circulation of money and capital. (A lower productivity of labor means that the economy cannot produce as many goods and services and that, eventually, the population will demand that the bourgeoisie be restored to power.)

A central planning system that does not require a state authority has its own problems. For example, what happens when workers in economic units disagree with the central plan and are convinced (rightly or wrongly) that they must defy the central plan in order to make a larger contribution to society?

And a gift economy will take a lengthy period of time after the overthrow of bourgeois rule (probably at least several decades) to mature (see The Self-Organizing Moneyless Economy for more about how a gift economy, with no money and no need for a central authority, would function).

Daniel's best (and most honest) reply to my question would probably be to plead the "Scarlet O'Hara defense": He has never really thought any of this thru and remains unconvinced that it is important to do so. But if Daniel remains unconvinced that the crisis of theory must be confronted--it is probably because of his objective position: at the bottom of the hole that he has dug. You cannot dig your way out of a hole. The only way out of the hole is to climb up into the sunlight.

the materialist alternative

Of course, serious activists have an alternative to the profound impracticality of organizing and coordinating overnite a complex economy consisting of hundreds of millions of people and hundreds of thousands of economic units in a way that has never been done before (ie: without the use of a state, capital or a national system of money). We could minimize disruptions of essential food, shelter, transportation and communication services for the masses by considering the materialist alternative:


maintain essential parts of the existing system
until you can replace them, step by step,
with something better that actually works.

We can respect and maintain existing capital flows until we carefully and step by step modify and expropriate whatever we have to work with.

And that is exactly what I have proposed in essay # 153: Politics, Economics and the Mass Media when the Working Class Runs the Show. Over time, I argue there will, in essence, be two waves of expropriations.

The first wave--seizure of the corporations

The first wave will consist of the seizure of capitalist corporations (by the workers from below and by their state from above) and the direct control of these corporations by the workers and their state. The speed at which the capitalist corporations are expropriated will depend largely on how quickly and how well the workers and their state learn how to effectively run these corporations (ie: the principle here is don't put more in your mouth at one time than you can chew).

This first wave of expropriation is represented in my chart (and in essay # 153) by the change from green to blue over the course of several decades as an increasing proportion of the economy is transferred from private capitalist ownership to state ownership.

However even corporations under state ownership, even corporations that have been seized from below by workers will still be producing goods and services in the form of commodities (ie: something created for the purpose of sale or exchange) and will not have escaped from the laws of commodity production. Even such liberated corporations will be part of the capitalist mode of production.

For example many of these corporations will still make use of money or capital (to some degree) to guide decisions concerning what goods and services to produce, how to produce them, what prices to sell them for and how many workers to hire or fire. In many cases the workers will be able to run these corporations themselves and elect their own supervisors (or eliminate the distinction between supervisors and the supervised) but my conclusion is that this process will be profoundly limited as long as money is used to make decisions.

Both the private capitalist and state capitalist sectors will share a common tendency to act as soil for the creation and development of a new privileged class that will aspire to and will inevitably make determined efforts to exploit and oppress the rest of society.

Central planning cannot solve all problems

A view common among many progressive activists is that a revolutionary workers' state can escape the laws of commodity production by running the entire national economy according to one big central plan (ie: more or less as if it were one giant corporation).

But while it is likely that a workers' state would engage in planning at various levels (including nationally) it is necessary to understand the inherent limitations of this conception.

The first problem with the idea of running the entire economy on the basis of a single central plan is that such a plan would inevitably undermine the initiative of economic units at the local level which would find themselves restricted in their decisions concerning what goods and services to produce and who their customers and suppliers should be.

The second problem is related to the first. A modern economy requires the existence of competition to reveal production methods which are obsolete or stupid. Only competition can perform this function because it is the only real test of production methods. But the organization of real competition requires that groups of people who are convinced that there is a better way to do something--have opportunities to assemble the resources to test their belief--without having to deal with the inherent delays in getting resources and permission from a central authority.

I will add here a note to deal with demagogues who equate competition under workers' rule with competition under capitalism. Under capitalism the whip of starvation (or homelessness) is used to force workers to compete against one another for the lowest pay and the worst conditions. Competition under workers' rule will be necessary but measures will exist to limit this kind of abuse and protect the interests of the workers. Those who argue that there will be no need for competition should explain how they propose to discover and prove which production methods are obsolete or are in need of redesign or reengineering.

The third problem with the idea of running the entire economy in accord with a single central plan--is that this would inevitably lead to an unnecessary concentration of authority and accumulation of bureaucracy and (eventually) corruption at the focal point of the central directing authority. Left unchecked, this accumulation would eventually lead to the creation and development of a new privileged class which would strive to become a class-for-itself and exploit and oppress the rest of society.

To some degree and extent some amount of central planning in some industries may be necessary in a workers' revolutionary state--but it has the same fundamental problem as the state capitalism just described--it creates the soil for a new privileged class.

The second wave--eliminate the need for
money, markets and central planners

For these reasons a second wave of expropriation will be necessary. The vehicle for this second wave will be the developing gift economy. The gift economy (as its name implies) will not use money in its internal relationships. Nor will the gift economy require the use of a central planning authority around which corruption will accumulate. Rather, like an ecosystem, the gift economy will be self-organizing.

Eventually, as experience is accumulated, the moneyless gift economy will be able to outcompete the other sectors. In my diagram the ascendancy of the gift economy is represented by the change from green and blue to red.

The dominance of the gift economy will correspond to the stage of classless society. However this kind of economy will require a fairly advanced consciousness from the population at large. For example everything in this economy will be voluntary. Without money there will be no wages or prices. Everyone will work for free and their needs will be met whether they choose to work or not. But most will choose to work because work will become life's greatest desire.

The gift economy will consist of myriad economic units competing with one another to most efficiently transform human labor and natural resources into goods, services and culture for the masses. As the gift economy develops, as hundreds of millions learn new ways of doing things, humanity will finally have developed an economy that operates in accord with the principle described by Marx: "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need".

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And that is the end of my ad.

How the shield works

It is time to bring this debate installment to a conclusion. I have two more questions to ask Daniel. These questions concern how the working class will defend itself on the political and economic fronts. No alternative to bourgeois rule deserves to be taken seriously if it cannot provide an intelligent answer to these questions.

Let's take the economic front first.

Keeping the supply chains running

The immediate and pressing task of the working class on the economic front can be thought of as keeping the supply chains running.

What are supply chains?

All modern manufacturing and service industries are dependent on a steady supply of stuff. Nowadays nobody keeps a lot of stuff in inventory anymore (too much capital was being tied up sitting around uselessly in inventory). Instead, economics has driven a phenomenon called "just-in-time" which means, for example, that if you need a part on Tuesday afternoon, it should arrive Tuesday morning (and not any earlier). Similarly, the place that supplies you with the part has its own just-in-time processes, extending upstream. And on and on it goes.

Now these kinds of just-in-time operations are not a bad thing. They help to make the economy more efficient. But it should be obvious that they also greatly increase your vulnerability to all kinds of disruptions. For example if factory A cannot produce part B in time, then factory C will be affected and will not be able to produce part D and then ... well you get the picture ... soon enough you go to the grocery store and nothing is there.

So, as I noted, one of the most immediate and pressing tasks of the working class will be to keep these supply chains in operation and minimizing disruptions of all sorts.

Now all economies have chokepoints that leave them vulnerable in some areas more than others. Currently for example, in Venezuela, the mildly national-reformist government of Chavez is being attacked by the more reactionary section of the bourgeoisie in the strategic petroleum sector: oil production, oil refining and oil transport are all being subject to strike actions. Similarly, the reformist Allende government in Chile, prior to the CIA-organized coup in 1973, was attacked by strikes in transport (truck drivers) and raw materials (copper mines) as well as the what was called the "bosses strike" of merchants and professionals.

During the second world war, US strategic bombing of German war production facilities focused particular attention on ball-bearing factories. The theory was that if you can put out of action a few key ball bearing factories the entire nazi war machine would grind to a halt.

Now disruptions can have many causes, including strikes, sabotage and the effects of other disruptions. (To help keep this debate as simple as possible I am more or less pretending that there will be no complications in economic and military relations with other countries.)

How will the working class, in my view, minimize disruptions and keep supply chains running?

(I think it is only fair that I give my answer before asking this question of Daniel.)

Obviously it would be foolish of me to attempt to answer in anything other than the most general terms. But in the most general terms I can say that the workers revolutionary state:

(1) would rely on a high state of political mobilization of as large a section of the population as possible in order to prepare the population for the hardships and disruptions that cannot be avoided,
(2) would maintain, to the maximum extent practical, all normal flows of goods, services and the movement of money, credit and capital that lubricates these transactions (until these movements can be carefully reformed in a step-by-step process) so that, in particular, the needs of workers for food, shelter, transport, communication and other essentials are met, and
(3) efforts would be made to encourage the cooperation of sections of capitalists with various combinations of threats (such as accelerated expropriation schedules) and bribes (postponed expropriation schedules, government contracts, etc).

My fifth question for Daniel


Now my fifth question for Daniel--is how
(in the most general terms, of course)
would he answer the question that I have just answered?

Keeping the spam from
flooding the airwaves

Now let's look at the political front.

The bourgeoisie will not lie down and play dead once its class rule has been broken. On the contrary, the bourgeoisie will remain in command of immense resources (not only various forms of wealth that have not been expropriated but also extensive connections and knowledge of how to get things done). The bourgeoisie will remain extremely well-organized and capable of coordinating its actions and acting as a "class-for-itself". In addition to doing its best to sabotage economic development, the bourgeoisie will do its best to flood the mass media and the airwaves with its propaganda and general worldview.

One illustration of this, already discussed in the previous section, is the 24 x 7 campaign of vilification directed against the mildly reformist government of Chavez, conducted by all of the commercial TV networks and major newspapers of Venezuela.


No alternative to bourgeois rule
deserves to be taken seriously
if it cannot explain how the working class
will stop bourgeois apologists from
saturating the mass media with their garbage.

Ben's view:
separate speech and property

What is my view of how the working class will do this?

(1) I would imagine that the revolutionary workers' government would either quickly expropriate, or heavily regulate many or most or all of the corporations that dominate the mass media. (These corporations, along with banking and financial institutions, would likely, as a result of their strategic position, be the first targets of expropriation or workers' control.)

But this would only be an initial step.

(2) More than this, the workers' state would implement the principle of "the separation of speech and property". This principle would allow the bourgeoisie (and its apologists) to be cut down to size without creating the kind of repressive apparatus of censorship that would inevitably threaten the free speech of workers and workers' independent organizations.

According to this principle, all forms of media expression which are created thru the use of paid labor will fall under state jurisdiction (ie: the state would have the right to regulate or censor this kind of media) while all forms of media created thru volunteer labor will be free from state jurisdiction and control.

In practical terms, this would mean that the economic power of the wealthy or their corporations (ie: that have not yet been expropriated) would not be able to buy armies of slick apologists or talking heads to spin news and sling bullshit.

But workers and their organizations (which will create and distribute media with volunteer labor) would face no restrictions on their right to agitate, organize and build their own channels to the masses.

Bourgeois apologists would still be able to promote their crap as individuals. But without being able to use their economic power to artificially amplify their voices--they would be forced to compete for attention on a similar basis as everyone else--and would be exposed, ridiculed and defeated in innumerable encounters in the interactive media that will emerge as the mass media of the 21st century.

I have written about this at greater length in other articles so there is no need for me to elaborate further here.

But this leads me to my sixth question for Daniel.

My sixth question for Daniel


Daniel, can you explain how you believe the working class
will be able to restrict the ability of the bourgeoisie
(or former bourgeoisie, or aspiring future bourgeoisie)
to use their economic power to saturate
the mass media with their garbage?

What _is_ a state?

In his November 11 reply to me Daniel gives a lengthy convoluted argument that turns my views into their opposite. Somehow Daniel has me believing that that it makes no difference whether or not a workers' state is based on the political activity of the masses. (Sadly, this actually happens to me a lot. Both my friends and foes sometimes approach what I write as if it were a Rorschach ink blot test--and "see" whatever they were expecting to find.)

To clarify, here is what I actually said about the workers' state machine:


"From the point of view of theory
the machine can take any form imaginable
so long as that form serves
the class interests of the proletariat."

[emphasis as in the original]

Note well: The state will not serve the class interest of the proletariat unless it is based on the very intense political activity of the masses. This concept is central to all of my theoretical work--which is centered on how the masses will make use of mass-based information war both before and after the overthrow of bourgeois rule.

I made this statement because many anarchists define a state as an oppressive machine used by a minority to suppress and exploit the majority. So by definition it is a bad thing. Clarity is lost further because of the way that history unfolded. Lenin's 1917 revolution was suffocated in the 1920's or 1930's and many anarchists regard this as proof of the badness of the original sin: creating a state.

But refuting this nonsense requires going into history. I have done so in many places (including chapter 8, which Daniel has read, of my unfinished Party of the Future series). But some people do not want to study the past--they want to live in it.

That is the reason this debate must be rooted in a materialist analysis of:


"what kinds of measures will be necessary for
the newly-autonomous working class to take
in order to preserve and expand its class autonomy
and class power in the period immediately following
a successful mass uprising against the bourgeoisie."

Rather than argue over the meaning of a word like "state" we must act like materialists and focus on what kinds of measures will be necessary.

Only after we have made concrete (using facts and scientific argument) what kinds of measures will be necessary will we be in a position to discuss what to call these measures.

But at the moment, Daniel and I are not even agreed concerning what these measures will be. I hold that the working class will need to take measures to maintain in some manner the flow of capital until it can work out how to, step by step, replace the flow of capital with something that works better. I hold that the working class will need to take measures to regulate all media production and distribution that is the result of hired labor.

Daniel needs to commit himself to describing what kind of measures he believes will be necessary (or simply admit that he does not know).

Will a workers' state end up
being a police state?

Daniel appears to claim that the necessary efforts by the working class to create a state will inevitably create a machine used by a minority to oppress and exploit a majority. When challenged however, the only real argument he can offer is induction (ie: "that's the way it has always been"). But this kind of argument is only suitable for philistines. For example: humanity has never created a modern society without exploitation--so therefor, by induction, it never will. Daniel has just "proven" that all struggle for a world free of exploitation is hopeless. This is not a serious or sober approach.

Since so many anarchists attempt to argue in this way, since so many attempt to live in the past--I concluded that it was necessary to smash up this argument. I did so, decisively, in essay # 160: The Future Transparent Workers' State where I formulated my first and second "laws". If Daniel wants to try the "police state" argument--then the only honest thing for him to do is to try to refute my first and second laws--or try to show that they are irrelevant.

Time to say goodbye
to Scarlet O'Hara


Sorting out the path forward for the working class
is a task that requires the attention
of all serious, militant political activists.
Theoretical tasks are part of our work. The fact that the development of theoretical work has been hampered by ignorance, prejudice, evasion, denial, charlatanism and sectarianism or that existing theoretical discussion has been dominated by stupid theological debates, cargo cultists and utopian dreamers--only proves the necessity of serious, scientific debate by serious, militant activists who do not have their head shoved into their rear ends.

The crisis of theory must be resolved. The time to think about this, the time to engage in serious discussion and debate is now. Not tomorrow. Not after the bombs fall on our Iraqi brothers and sisters. Now. While the bombs are falling.

One of the reasons that US imperialism retreated with its tail between its legs in Vietnam--was because the anti-war movement was radicalizing an entire generation of activists--and many of the best and most serious were becoming revolutionaries.

If we are serious about a fundamental change in the status quo, if we are serious about a movement for revolutionary change--then we must be serious about theory--we must be serious about ending the crisis of theory that has left the revolutionary movement naked to its enemies.

Unless our "revolutionary vision" is to be restricted to rolling a heavy rock up a hill forever without ever reaching our goal (a goal that is unthinkable) -- we need to put our heads together, prove that we understand the conditions of modern society and articulate a clear and compelling explanation of how the working class, in the context of modern conditions, can run society better than the bourgeoisie.

We need to put this question at the center of all progressive movements so that no progressive trend or personality will be able to evade taking a clear stand on the burning question of our day--a world without bourgeois rule.

And if we do this--we will discover that we are more powerful than all the "smart bombs" of US imperialism.

Sincerely and with revolutionary regards,
Ben Seattle
----//-// 1.Jan.2003
http://struggle.net/Ben (my elists / theory / infrastructure)

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