Anarchist economics

Anarchist economics

Anarchist economics is the set of theories and practices of economic activity within the political philosophy of anarchism. Anti-capitalist anarchists (most notably anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-communists) primarily oppose capitalism because they claim that its characteristic institutions promote and reproduce various forms of economic activity which they consider oppressive, including private property, hierarchical production relations, collecting rents from private property, taking a profit in exchanges,Clarifyme|date=March 2008 and collecting interest on loans. Such anarchists endorse soft propertarianism based on usufruct and possession rather than inalienable ownership.

By contrast, anarcho-capitalists fully support an alternate conception of capitalism as a free market ideal "laissez-faire". Influential anarcho-capitalists such as Murray Rothbard, David D. Friedman and Hans-Hermann Hoppe worked as professional economists, and developed their political and economic theory in close connection. Rothbard and Hoppe are notable advocates of the marginalist Austrian school of economics. Not all anarchists subscribe to heterodox economics; Friedman for example endorses the positivism of the Chicago school, a variant of the dominant Neoclassical economics. []

Theories of value

Many anarchist economic theorists, starting with Proudhon, have emphasized subjective utility or subjective elements in value. [Proudhon, Pierre-Joseph, "General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century", study 6, part 4: "But precisely because Value is in the highest degree difficult to formulate, it is eminently transactional, seeing that it is always the result of a transaction between the seller and the buyer, or as the economists say, between supply and demand."
Rocker, Rudolf, "History of Anarchist Philosophy from Lao-Tse to Kropotkin": "In contrast to Proudhon's Mutualism and Bakunin's Collectivism, Kropotkin advocated common ownership not only of the means of production but of the products of labour as well, as it was his opinion that in the present state of technology no exact measure of the value of individual labour is possible, but that, on the other hand, by rational direction of our modern methods of labour it will be possible to assure comparative abundance to every human being. Communist Anarchism, which before Kropotkin had already been urged by Joseph Dejacque, Elisee Reclus, Carlo Cafiero and others, and which is recognised by the great majority of Anarchists to-day, found in him its most brilliant exponent."
] Dubious|date=March 2008

Some market anarchistsWho|date=March 2008 have attributed short-term prices to supply and demand, but predicted long-term prices with cost theories of value, often a labor theory of value, as auxiliary hypotheses to predict long-term prices. Other market anarchists have rejected these auxiliary hypotheses and used a subjective theory of value for to predict long-term, as well as short-term, prices.

Labor theory of value

A labor theory of value (LTV) was notably advanced in different forms by David Ricardo and Karl Marx. Ricardo held that the relative prices of most reproducible goods and services were proportional to the amount of present and past labor time required to obtain, manufacture, process, distribute, and transport them. Marx's "Law of Value" is often interpreted as an analytic device elucidating the ways in which capitalism as a whole distributes socially necessary abstract labour time, while revealing that an important characteristic of commodities and their value relations is commodity fetishism obscuring an underlying reality of exploitative social relations.

Theoretical anarchist economic systems

Participatory Economics

Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel began to write about Parecon in the 1980s. This work builds on their earlier critiques of both market-based and centrally planned economies suggesting instead allocation by participatory planning created by the democratic interaction of a network of production and consumption councils. Parecon is a market abolitionist theory. Though not strictly an "anarchist" idea, its core features of decentralized democratic planning, institutions and remuneration based upon egalitarian norms and self-management, balanced job roles, environmental responsibility, and social efficiency, appeals to many anarchists. Some anarchistsWho|date=March 2008 consider Parecon to be a modern-day incarnation of collectivist anarchism.

Anarchist communism

Anarchist communists propose that a society composed of a number of self-governing communes with collective use of the means of production and direct democracy as the political organizational form, and related to other communes through federation would be the freest form of social organisation.Puente, Isaac. [ "Libertarian Communism"] . "The Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review". Issue 6 Orkney 1982 ] However, some anarchist communists oppose the majoritarian nature of direct democracy, feeling that it can impede individual liberty and favor consensus democracy. [Graeber, David and Grubacic, Andrej. "Anarchism, Or The Revolutionary Movement Of The Twenty-first Century"] In anarchist communism, individuals would not receive direct compensation for labour (through sharing of profits or payment), but would instead have free access to the resources and surplus of the commune. [Miller. "Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought", Blackwell Publishing (1991) ISBN 0–631–17944–5, p. 12] According to anarchist communist Peter Kropotkin and later Murray Bookchin, the members of such a society would spontaneously perform all necessary labour because they would recognize the benefits of communal enterprise and mutual aid. [
* Kropotkin, Peter "", 1998 paperback, London: Freedom Press. ISBN 0–900384–36–0, also at [ Project Gutenberg]
* Kropotkin, Peter "The Conquest of Bread", first published 1892, also at [ Anarchy Archives]
* Kropotkin, Peter "Fields, Factories and Workshops", available at [ Anarchy Archives]
* Bookchin, Murray "Post Scarcity Anarchism" (1971 and 2004) ISBN 1–904859–06–2.
] page number Kropotkin believed that private property was one of the causes of oppression and exploitation and called for its abolition, [Kropotkin, Peter. "Words of a Rebel", p99.] advocating instead common ownership.cite book |title=The Conquest of Bread |last=Kropotkin |first=Peter |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1907 |publisher=Putnam |location=New York |isbn=7195197 |pages=p. 202 ]

The status of anarchist communism within anarchism is disputed, because it is seen by most individualist anarchists as incompatible with freedom. [Yarros, Victor S. "A Princely Paradox", "Liberty", Vol 4. No. 19, Saturday, April 9, 1887, Whole Number 97; Tucker, Benjamin. "Labor and Its Pay"; Appleton, Henry. "Anarchism, True and False", "Liberty" 2.24, no. 50, 6 September 1884, p. 4; Swartz, Clarence Lee. "What is Mutualism?"; Rothbard, Murray. " [ The Death Wish of the Anarcho-Communists] "] Some anarcho-syndicalists, such as the Spanish union CNT. saw an anarcho-communist society as their objective. Platformism is an anarchist communist tendency in the tradition of Nestor Makhno who argued for the "vital need of an organization which, having attracted most of the participants in the anarchist movement, would establish a common tactical and political line for anarchism and thereby serve as a guide for the whole movement."cite book |last=Dielo Trouda |authorlink=Dielo Truda |title=Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft) |origyear=1926 |url= |accessdate=2006-10-24 |year=2006 |publisher=FdCA |location=Italy] Some forms of anarchist communism are strongly Egoist in nature, [Christopher Gray, "Leaving the Twentieth Century", p. 88.] and are strongly influenced by radical individualist philosophy, believing that anarcho-communism does not require a communitarian nature at all; anarchist communist Emma Goldman was influenced by both Max Stirner and Kropotkin and blended their philosophies together in her own. [Emma Goldman, "Anarchism and Other Essays", p. 50.]


Mutualism is a political and economic theory or system, largely associated with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, based on a labor theory of value which holds that when labor or its product is sold, it ought to receive in exchange, an equal amount of labor or a product that required the same amount of labor to produce (receiving anything less is considered exploitation, theft of labor, or "usury"). Mutualists believe that a natural economic consequence of a truly laissez-faire economy, would be that income to individuals would be proportional to the amount of labor they exert. Mutualists oppose the idea of individuals receiving an income through loans, investments, and rent, as they believe these individuals are not laboring. They hold that that if state intervention ceased that these types of incomes would disappear.

Technological LTV networks

A revision of LTV that incorporates information technology, cryptography, and open-source software to create a medium of exchange that precludes all forms of usury and thus requires no oversight or ideological guidance. In contrast to Parecon, there is no planned economy because users of the system will approve of labor that they feel is necessary and so production happens as people fill the labor market as they will.

Crucial to this system is the premise that money (credit for work done) can be improved with the addition of identity, information, and transparency, i.e. all credits created are associated with a particular individual (they are non-transferable), they inform users of the work done to create it, and can be viewed by any user on the system.

There are no specifications for how decisions are made within these Technological LTV Systems - each one is tasked to create its own ruleset. Joining such a network would be akin to signing a contract or EULA so revision of rulesets would resemble the open-source paradigm of updating software and having the user agree to a new ruleset. Decision making would then be implicit in any user's ability to participate in the revision of the system software, even though this approach could be elitist.

Prices on goods and services would be evaluated by the amount of credit earned by laborers involved--requiring that every individual item or service be tracked. Production then represents a mirror of the credit creation, so physical items would require their "negative" credit to be cancelled by a person wishing to own it. Since income distribution would be relatively flat in this system, it is hoped that most of the problems of capitalist accumulation and class structure will be avoided.

Panarchist synthesis

This is the theory that all alternative economic systems could exist simultaneously. Though it may imply accepting a greater complexity of day-to-day living, anarchists predicate this overlapping of systems on the removal of states and corporations, and the presence of multiple currency paradigms. In effect, this would be analogous, on an individual level, to having various subscriptions or club memberships--a level of complexity surpassed by the average American middle-class consumer that holds several credit cards with various debts, owes mortgage and car payments, and so forth.

The motive to adopt a panarchist approach to economics is the theory that not all goods, services, or resources are best exchanged/regulated within a single system, i.e. energy production is best tracked in kilowatt-hours, but collectible items have highly subjective values and therefore require a different exchange medium. Even Parecon could be incorporated in this approach.

Laissez-faire capitalism

Separation of economics and state is the goal of anarcho-capitalists. They want an economy free from any coercive regulation or control. Anarcho-capitalists generally see the State as the cause of all monopoly. Anarcho-capitalists reject the labor theory of value as flawed and archaic. Thus, like most modern economists, they do not believe that there is any proper price for labor or goods other than what someone is willing to pay. According to Murray Rothbard, in an interview with "New Banner", "capitalism is the fullest expression of anarchism, and anarchism is the fullest expression of capitalism." [ [ "Exclusive Interview With Murray Rothbard"] The New Banner: A Fortnightly Libertarian Journal (25 February 1972)]

At the same time, it would be wrong for anyone to jump to the conclusion that anarcho-capitalists or market anarchists support the variation of capitalism. Anarcho-capitalists happily make a distinction between a free-market or laissez-faire capitalism and a neo-mercantilist or statist capitalism. As Rothbard once wrote, "The difference between free-market capitalism and state capitalism is precisely the difference between, on the one hand, peaceful, voluntary exchange, and on the other, violent expropriation." Rothbard goes on to write that he is "very optimistic about the future of free-market capi­talism. I’m "not" optimistic about the future of state capitalism--or rather, I "am" optimistic, because I think it will eventually come to an end." [" [ A Future of Peace and Capitalism] " "Modern Political Economy", ed. James H. Weaver (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1973) p. 419-430]

Economics as anarchist strategy

Some anti-capitalist anarchists believe that it is not radical political activity that will transform society, but radical economic activity that will make true change. They regard boycotts, consumer advocacy, and class-action lawsuits to be merely liberal actions that do not address the core problem which is capitalism itself.

Some anarchists believe that changing the nature of work itself is the crux of defeating capitalism. Participatory economics addresses the division of labor question by advocating balanced job complexes wherein all workers at a production facility share in all aspects of labor, i.e. everyone takes part in labor, management, maintenance, and all related work in order to ensure equality and that skills are shared amongst workers

Some anarchists (sometimes denoted by the pejorative term "lifestyle anarchists") believe that changing personal consumption habits to minimize (or eliminate entirely) involvement in the prevailing capitalist economy is essential to practicing anarchism in their lives. Withdrawing from the system by living on scavenged, stolen, or scammed resources is often touted by individuals and groups influenced by the Situationists, such as CrimethInc., as a viable means of survival and non-participation in the system. ["Days of War, Nights of Love" (2001) , Crimethinc.Workers Collective, ISBN 097091010X] Some anarchists such as agorists support counter-economics, that is, participating in the "black" illegal market to undermine monopolies and the state. The goal of agorists is not simply to opt-out of capitalism/the system, but by developing alternative voluntary solutions to engineer the statist economy's collapse.cite book |last=Konkin |first=Samuel Edward |title=New Libertarian Manifesto |publisher=KoPubCo year = 2006 |isbn=9780977764921 |url= ]

Alternate currency

Many anarchists advocate the abolition of money, others call for its replacement with new currency systems, and others, such as Benjamin Tucker and Murray Rothbard, simply want the end of the government money monopoly and the repeal of legal tender laws, i.e. they want competition between private banks and currencies. Use of alternative currencies is growing,Dubious|date=March 2008 largely due to digital currencies offered on the internet, and availability of software to manage local currency systems like LETS. Since states cannot collect taxes and revenue through use of alternative currencies they will theoretically lose power to the point of collapse. Some of these alternative currencies are designed to prevent usury, others are designed simply as alternatives to state-issued fiat money, as a hedge against inflation--for example, the Liberty Dollar. Thus alternative currencies range from labor-time notes to specie-backed warehouse receipts. Three popular alternative currencies are: community currency, local currency, and time-based currency.

Free banking

Before any form of enterprise, whether a conventional business or an autonomous workers' collective, can produce goods or services, it must obtain items such as premises, tools and raw materials. This involves an up-front cost which is incurred before the enterprise starts. Under capitalism, this up-front cost is traditionally met by investing capital with the aim of making a profit. Anarchists, like communists, are opposed to investing capital for profit because of the exploitation of workers it entails, so another mechanism must be found to cover the up-front costs. "Free banking" is one possible mechanism. A new autonomous workers' organisation borrows the up-front cost from supporters or existing organisations. This can be by means of a loan in conventional or alternative currency, by borrowing the items needed such as tools, or a combination of the two. In time, this loan is either repaid to the lender, or lent on to another new organisation creating a revolving loan fund.

In this context, the word "free" indicates that the borrowing organisation is free of takeover threats from the provider of capital which form part of the traditional capitalist model. The loan may be interest free (similar to the Scandinavian JAK members bank model of agricultural finance) or a limited rate of interest may be charged. There may also be other charges e.g. to cover administration costs or to cover against bad debts.

Small-scale practical examples of anarchist free banking initiatives exist in various countries, but banking laws make it hard for them to operate. In most countries they are not allowed to describe themselves as banks unless they are legally registered as such, and some banking laws do not allow a collectively-run organisation to be a bank. Nevertheless, such initiatives sometimes show a much lower bad debt rate than conventional banks, because they are based on solidarity, and failing to repay a loan from a free banking initiative may be seen as culturally equivalent to stealing from friends. The reverse can however also be true, as a trust-based system is open to abuses of that trust. To safeguard completely against such risks would involve a level of cultural vetting more intrusive than anything traditionally done by credit rating agencies.Fact|date=August 2007

The term "free banking" should not be confused with the UK banking concept of free personal banking, which means a current account with no account charges for standard services so long as the account is kept in credit.

Gift economy

Gift economies are those based of free distribution of goods and services. Anarcho-communists are the main proponents of such. However many times this is said to refer to a planned economy which ensures everyone's needs are satisfied in a way that allows a good quality of life (the kind of planning advocated by most if not all anarcho-communists differs from that of firms and the so called command economies in that it is democratic, decentralized, and voluntary). There are a number of variations on the concept, but they are centered on the notion of "From each according to ability to each according to need". Anarcho-communists believe that people should be free to produce, consume and distribute according to their "need" (self-determined likings and preferences) without need of monetary value.

Anarcho-primitivists also advocate this kind of economy (although they believe that it is not possible with current modes of production and thus advocate a return to pre-industrial and often pre-agricultural modes of production).

Peer-to-Peer (P2P)

While many anarcho-communists are opposed to trade, some post-left, post-scarcity anarcho-communists, and ones with syndicalist sympathies are not opposed to trade. Some support a non-monetary form of trade in the form of post-monetary trade unions and commons. Others such as Tiziana Terranova easily see anarcho-communism being compatible with a non-hierarchical, open access, free association, post-monetary form of trade such as P2P. [Terranova, Tiziana "Free Labor: Producing Culture for the Digital Economy". 07-26-2005]

Labor notes

Recently, some local currencies are based on time although participants are not primarily anarchists. In the United States, one of the reasons that the IRS has chosen not to tax local currencies is that they are used for charitable purposes, such as community-building.

Some anarchists are interested in labor note systems because they make complex free market, fair trade systems possible, although in their current practices they are not applicable for anything other than local (ie. town-sized) economies. Detractors argue that the definition of a free market precludes usage of a normative pricing system, but some anarchists point out that since participation in a labor note network is voluntary, any labor note system is merely another choice in a free market of markets. Other critics argue that labor notes cannot provide price signals, that many of these Time-dollar based currencies are prone to inflation (since there is no way to ensure that people are not paid more than an "hour" per hour), and that these ignore factors like value-added work (work that incorporates past labor in order to perform, such as the time spent by a dentist in school).

Energy credits

The theory that all values can be evaluated in terms of joules. In the same vein as LTV, this is an attempt to make a "normative" basis for value by accounting for embodied energy. Accounting for such a system would be vastly more complex than current or other theoretical currency systems because all energy output of workers and energy expenditure on goods/services must be tracked (something that is thought impossible and useless by many anarchists).

One group that has advocated a system using energy is the Technocracy movement with a system based on energy accounting where energy is used to "buy" a product or service without being exchanged, so the effect is that products or services are distributed to the user without gain by the provider (who has the same amount of energy in his or her account regardless) so allegedly making profit impossible.

Examples of anarchist economies

Utopia (sometimes known as Trialville) was an individualist anarchist colony begun in 1847, by Josiah Warren and associates, in the United States on a tract of land approximately 30 miles from Cincinnati, Ohio. Another example of individual anarchists attempting to put their economic theories into action was the Cincinnati Time Store, where labor notes were redeemable for goods.

The anarchist collectives formed during the Spanish Civil War are the most famous example of an anarchist economy operating on a large scale. The collectives were formed under the influence of the anarcho-syndicalist union the CNT in rural and urban areas and successfully practised Workers' self-management and Collectivist anarchism for a number of years in extremely difficult economic and political circumstances. Other examples of self-management include the factory committee movement during the Russian Revolution and the workplace occupations in Argentina during its crisis at the turn of the 21st century. Attempts at forming co-operatives also appeared during the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Italian Factory Occupations of 1920.

It has also been suggested that Chiapas under Zapatista Army of National Liberation rule exercises a working anarcho-socialist economy, and recent Somalian political economy as epitomising aspects of anarcho-capitalism.


Further reading


*Albert, Michael "Parecon: Life After Capitalism". W. W. Norton & Company (April, 2003). ISBN 1-85984-698-X
*cite book |last=Carson |first=Kevin |title=Studies in Mutualist Political Economy |publisher=BookSurge Publishing |year=2007 |isbn=9781419658693
*Dolgoff, Sam, editor, "The Anarchist Collectives: Workers' Self-Management in the Spanish Revolution". Montreal: Black Rose Books. ISBN 0-919618-21-9
*Dolgoff, Sam "The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern Society" . Chicago: Charles H. Kerr, 1989.
*cite book |last=Friedman |first=David |title=The Machinery of Freedom |publisher=Open Court |location=La Salle |year=1989 |isbn=9780812690699
*Kropotkin, Peter "Fields Factories and Workshops (The Collected Works of Peter Kropotkin, V. 9)" Black Rose Books (January 1, 1996). ISBN 1-895431-38-7
*Kropotkin, Peter "The Conquest of Bread" . New York: New York University Press.
*Leval, Gastón "Collectives in the Spanish Revolution" . London: Freedom Press. ISBN 0-900384-11-5
*G.P. Maximoff, "Program of Anarcho-Syndicalism". (extract from his Constructive Anarchism, published in English in 1952; this section is not included in the only edition of the work now in print.) Sydney: Monty Miller Press, 1985
*Proudhon, Pierre "What Is Property?" (B. Tucker, translator). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-40556-4
*cite book |last=Rothbard |first=Murray |title=Man, Economy And State |publisher=Ludwig Von Mises Institute] |year=1993 |isbn=9780945466321


*"Vivir la utopía - Living Utopia", Juan Gamero 1997. (About Anarchism in Spain and the Collectives in the Spanish Revolution). Here a link with a short description of the film and links to view it: [ía]


* [ Open Source Currency] - article by Douglas Rushkoff on [ The Feature Archives]
* [ The Future of Payment Systems] - discussion paper by Bernard Lietaer (the chapter on Complementary Currency Systems starts on page 23)

ee also

*free store
*safe trade
*Community-based economics
*Michael Albert
*Robin Hahnel
*Inclusive Democracy
*Alexander Berkman
*Alfie Kohn
*Silvia Federici

External links

* [ Anarchist Economics] - overview of the topic with extensive reading lists from
* [] Project and Network for Inclusive Democracy
* [ Economics Kiosk] at
* [ Institute for Social Ecology]
* [] - homepage of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, an austro-anarchist think tank.
* [] - information on participatory economics
* [ The Alternatives To Wall St. Project] and Democratic Retirement Systems.

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