On Anagorism

The “Anagorism” page of the P2P Foundation Wiki includes a quote from John Crump in which he states that “socialism is, by definition, a marketless society,” and that “[f]ar from socialism being compatible with exchange and the market, the generalised production of goods for exchange on the market is the hallmark of an entirely different type of society — capitalism.”

This, to me, is begging the question in more than one way.

First:  Historically, socialism has by no means been equated to the social ownership and control of the means of production.  The classical socialist movement of the 19th century included significant market socialist strands, including that of Thomas Hodgskin in England (who is conventionally classified among the “Ricardian socialists”), and sought the abolition of artificial property rights (such as absentee landlordism, the state-enforced money monopoly, and other assorted monopolies, charters and licenses) as the primary basis of economic exploitation.  Other market socialists included the American individualist anarchist, like Josiah Warren, William Greene, J.K. Ingalls, Lysander Spooner, and Benjamin Tucker.  The thread continued through the 20th century, with Franz Oppenheimer, Ralph Borsodi, and R.A. Wilson.  The common thread running through all these philosophies was the distinction between the “free market” and “capitalism,” with the latter being distinguished by artificial propery rights, artificial scarcities, and the rents accruing to them.  Abolish artificial property rights, and market competition will drive down the cost of land and capital to the actual cost of providing them; rent, interest and profit will fall precipitously, and wages will rise to equal the natural product of labor.  Capitalism is a system in which the state intervenes in the market on behalf of capitalists and landlords, so that the means of production are artificially expensive and scarce and labor must sell itself in a buyers’ market.  Abolish the state-enforced monopolies of the landlord and capitalist, and employment opportunities will compete for workers instead of the other way around.

Second:  It’s shifting the goalpost to equate the existence of the market with “generalized production of goods for exchange on the market,” if by “market” one means “cash nexus.”  No lesser an authority of Marx distinguished between markets as such and capitalism.  An economy of market exchange by self-employed producers is not capitalism, but a simple exchange economy.  It is only when the means of production are appropriated by a class of absentee owners who hire labor to work them, and wage labor becomes the dominant way of organizing production, that an economy becomes capitalist.

Further, an economy of free and unfettered markets can exist without the majority of production being for the cash nexus.  We market anarchism do not idealize the cash nexus as such.  By the “free market,” market anarchists mean simply a society in which all transactions and relationships are voluntary and noncoercive.  In fact, I believe that in a stateless society a much larger share of production would take the form of self-provisioning in the household economy, or of small-scale production for barter or gifting in the informal economy.  A society with an unfettered market by no means implies a society in which most goods and services are produced by what are conventionally regarded as business firms.  In the absence of the state as the source of social services and a social safety net, I would expect society to coalesce around primary social units like neighborhood associations or cohousing units, urban communes, squats, associations of former tenants occupying buildings, extended family compounds, and intentional communities.  I would expect social services, and income and risk-pooling mechanisms for supporting the sick and unemployed, to be organized through such primary social units and through the kinds of fraternal lodges and friendly societies described by such writers as Kropotkin and E.P. Thompson.

As a free market socialist and a free market anarchist, I simply seek the kind of society Kropotkin described, in which the state is replaced by voluntary associations and federations of such associations.  Whether people associate through the cash nexus, the informal economy, or the gift economy, is entirely up to them.

The “Anagorism” page also contains a quote from Lorraine Lee’s new In Defense of Anagorism blog.  Lorraine is the owner of the previous Es an alimento muy completo blog, and a frequent and astute commenter under many of my columns at the Center for a Stateless Society website — in both of which venues she has raised many of the issues she discusses on her new blog.  The questions she has asked regarding market socialism and market anarchism have centered on a few common themes.

First, would the kind of “freed market” that left-libertarian market anarchists seek, even without artificial property rights and artificial scarcity, still require the worker to sell herself to live, to engage in salesmanship, to compete for opportunities, and so forth?

Well, I think there would have to be some form of competition, simply because I reject the idea that anyone is entitled to a living from the product of someone else’s labor, against the latter’s will.  And engaging in production as the source of one’s own livelihood involves the existence of willing consumers of the product of one’s labor.  So unless you can force someone else to support you, or force someone else to consume your output when they really prefer something else, you’ve got to live either by producing something that someone else wants or by their voluntary gifts.

Even in an economy of self-managed cooperatives with a high degree of job security, you can’t be entitled to join a work collective if you’re a total asshole that coworkers don’t want to be around.

And some level of competition is healthy, simply because it results in the production of any particular good or service being carried out by the person best suited to it.  You don’t want someone who produces stuff shoddily or at great cost occupying their productive post as a sinecure, unless you want to live in a high-overhead world like Brazil.

But there’s strong reason to believe the intensity of competitive pressure would be much lower.  With most land rent gone, and with all the embedded rents on artificial property rights like rent, “intellectual property,” and so on likewise removed from the prices of goods and services, the cost of comfortable subsistence would be far, far lower.  At the same time, the removal of all the overhead costs that result from land rent and usury, from zoning and licensing and regulatory cartels, and from supporting a class of managerial apparatchiks, the kinds of low-overhead microenterprises and worker-managed cooperatives that dominated the economy would require far, far less of a revenue stream to stay in business.   The higher the entry barriers to production, the higher the capital outlays to amortize, and the higher the overhead costs, the higher the revenue stream that is required to service those overhead costs.  A household that pays no rent, produces a major share of its own food and clothing or obtains them through barter with neighbors, and reduces individual subsistence costs through cost-pooling arrangements of various sorts, will require less income from outside labor or sales in order to subsist.  And a business that operates out of a household without being required to pay commercial rent by zoning laws, and uses ordinary low-cost household capital goods that people own anyway rather than requiring legally mandated industrial-capacity equipment, will have most of its revenue free and clear rather than having overhead to service.  It will also be able to ride out periods of slow business without going in the hole or having to declare bankruptcy and liquidate its capital goods.

In an economy where means of production are cheap (thanks, among other things, to the desktop revolution and the price-implosion of cheap CNC machine tools), and most people own the tools of their trade, the original technological shift that led to factories and the wage system will be reversed.  We will shift away from an economy in which most production is with expensive machines that only the rich or large corporations can afford, back to an economy in which most production is with affordable, general-purpose tools.

And second — a question also raised by many Marxists  — wouldn’t the process of competition, by creating winners and losers, result in the means of production being concentrated in the hands of the winners and the losers becoming a class of wage laborers or lumpenproles?  Most of the answers to the previous question are equally relevant here.  In the kind of economy I describe above, in which the means of production are cheap, overhead is low, and the cost of subsistence is low, the distinction between being “in business” and “out of business” will be much less significant.   (These things relate, incidentally, to the “ramen profitability” Lorrain refers to at her blog.)

Lorraine also suggests, contra Crump, that “if you ‘view markets as simply useful tools and nothing to be glorified in and of themselves,’ you’re probably a soft anagorist.”  So maybe there’s hope for me after all.

7 Comments On Anagorism

  1. Lori

    Well, first off, big thankx for the link and mention. With ‘market’ used as a synonym for voluntary activity, of course, I’m an agorist, though of course some use the exact same definition for ‘capitalism.’ I don’t generally like to get involved in wars over definitions. I tend to use words in whatever way I perceive them to be used by most people (plain English, if you will), but of course my take on what most people mean by something could be way off, and there are also real advantages to precise definitions. Perhaps there is an agoristic illusion and an anagoristic illusion, which somehow intertwine and interact and even create anarchy…

  2. P.M.Lawrence

    Typos include “American individualist anarchist[S]”, “proper[T]y”, “shifting the goalpost[S]” (arguable), “No less[] an authority [THAN] Marx” and “We market anarchis[TS]”.

    Abolish artificial property rights, and market competition will drive down the cost of land and capital to the actual cost of providing them; rent, interest and profit will fall precipitously, and wages will rise to equal the natural product of labor… Abolish the state-enforced monopolies of the landlord and capitalist, and employment opportunities will compete for workers instead of the other way around.

    The first sentence quoted is accurate but incomplete; it is still quite possible for that “natural product” to be inadequate. Depending on circumstances, it may be necessary to have further components akin to Distributism to get to adequacy all round, from people also getting a share of returns on capital. For this reason the second sentence quoted is not necessarily accurate (in my view, it is inaccurate for how things would work out in today’s developed countries, even with the other changes).

    It is only when the means of production are appropriated by a class of absentee owners who hire labor to work them, and wage labor becomes the dominant way of organizing production, that an economy becomes capitalist.

    In my view, they do not need to be (physically) absentee owners for that. The significant feature is that they are functionally distinct; this would even apply if everyone were ultimate notional owners, say through pension funds and corporate layers that made their ownership as empty as the people’s ownership in People’s Republics.

    In the absence of the state as the source of social services and a social safety net, I would expect society to coalesce around primary social units like neighborhood associations or cohousing units, urban communes, squats, associations of former tenants occupying buildings, extended family compounds, and intentional communities.

    History suggests that most such units form in response to outside pressures, including state taxation; notoriously, the Byzantine kapnikon hearth tax that was continued by the Ottomans made incentives for the extended family compounds traditional in Albania (and still present in Kosovo after Enver Hoxha socially engineered them out in Albania proper).

    Well, I think there would have to be some form of competition, simply because I reject the idea that anyone is entitled to a living from the product of someone else’s labor, against the latter’s will. And engaging in production as the source of one’s own livelihood involves the existence of willing consumers of the product of one’s labor. So unless you can force someone else to support you, or force someone else to consume your output when they really prefer something else, you’ve got to live either by producing something that someone else wants or by their voluntary gifts.

    That does not follow, because it is looking at a restricted range of options, just as some of the earlier quotations did; it would be quite practical for someone to live off his or her own personal resources, if only they were there – though whether that would be desirable would be a personal choice.

    And some level of competition is healthy, simply because it results in the production of any particular good or service being carried out by the person best suited to it.

    That’s plain wrong – unless and until you substitute “comparatively most advantageously” for “best” (which means “absolutely most advantageously”). The best gardener won’t do the gardening, if he is comparatively an even better surgeon. Even then, market imperfections can undercut it, though they should be smaller, fewer and further between without artificial distortions.

    You don’t want someone who produces stuff shoddily or at great cost occupying their productive post as a sinecure, unless you want to live in a high-overhead world like Brazil.

    You do if certain things apply, e.g. if it is itself the reward for past contributions or if it is a way of buying off other harm (I can see it as part of a transition, to ease out former bureaucrats).

  3. Lori

    You do if certain things apply, e.g. if it is itself the reward for past contributions or if it is a way of buying off other harm (I can see it as part of a transition, to ease out former bureaucrats).

    As opposed to, say, the rapid “de-Bathification” the neocons pulled on Iraqi society?

  4. JazzBumpa

    In the absence of the state as the source of social services and a social safety net, I would expect society to coalesce around primary social units like neighborhood associations or cohousing units, urban communes, squats, associations of former tenants occupying buildings, extended family compounds, and intentional communities. I would expect social services, and income and risk-pooling mechanisms for supporting the sick and unemployed, to be organized through such primary social units and through the kinds of fraternal lodges and friendly societies described by such writers as Kropotkin and E.P. Thompson.

    In the absence of a strong central government, the primary social units devolve to fiefs and tribes under the control of local warlords. I refer you to 14th century Europe and present day Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Mexican and So American drug cartels, and intercity gangs. Rather than “friendly societies” you get a Hobbsian nightmare.

    George R.R. Martin examines the fictional breakdown of a structured society quite effectively in “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

    IMHO, views of potential human societies ought to be informed with some knowledge of human nature and real word human behavior.

    Cheers!
    JzB

  5. Michel Bauwens

    I’m afraid I have to agree with you, in the short run, you can’t do without a state … the first post-Cameron Big Society riots having just begun …

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