Economics for society, not the reverse

General picture of the areas of anarchist influence in Spain in the 30ies

“The organization of the economy, in all the production’s versions, will strictly be adapted to the principles of Social Economy, which will be administered by the various organizations of the producers who, gathered in general assemblies, will constantly control it (…). The cultivation councils will be organized in a network, as the factory and statistics ones, forming a free federation, that will give each commune its entity as a political unity and geographical subdivision (…). We think that, as time will be passing by, the new society will provide every commune with all the necessary technological means for its autonomy, because the more free a human being is – the commune in this case – the less is depended on others.


(…)For the exchange of products from commune to commune, the communal councils will be in contact with the regional federations and the confederal council of production and distribution, letting them know about any shortages and redundances. The problems will be being solved through the interconnection network.


Concerning the consumption inside the commune, it will be taking place via the producer’s card, which will be being edited by the factory councils, giving the consuming right for the needs’ cover. The producer’s card constitutes a means of exchange that will be being defined by two characteristics:

  1. it cannot be transferable
  2. it will be  matching a mean arrangement, by having written on it a value of working hours which will be able to be redeemed within a year after it was edited


For those not able to work, the communal councils will be editing the  producers’ cards.


Still, we can’t go to a definite arrangement. We must respect the autonomy of each commune and its right to organize its own model of internal exchange, so long it will not harm the interests of the rest of the communes.”


Abstracts from the text “The confederal concept of libertarian communism”, CNT, May 1936



In the conscience of the profane reader, the above abstracts may refute the conviction that the only possible economic organization is the contemporary one and that there has never been an anarchist proposal of this kind, but it’s sure that the content of an economic scheme of that age is not adequate and can’t be copied today, in an absolutely different world.


The general economic principles that inspired the Spanish revolutionaries can certainly inspire the people today as well, but their special implementation should take an entirely different form, especially if we consider that, in each place, it can be modified according to its particularities (for example, it’s not easy to talk right from the beginning about the socialization of the production means in Greece: on the one hand, the libertarian movement has not proceeded in a contemporary analysis of the country’s class structure, and on the other hand, one can easily see that, even after the rapid changes that have been taking place in Greece during the crisis period concerning its class stratification, the country’s social composition is still dominated by large layers of petit – bourgois owners, who would be probably horrified by the idea of a generalized collectivization).The division of labour, the technological means, the system of production and distribution, the needs and desires, maybe the anthropological type itself, have profoundly changed.

Anyway, when we talk about the economic system of a libertarian – anarchist society, we always talk about an economy organized:

  1. without money and markets
  2. without a state
  3. without private possession of the production means and, certainly, liberated from the catastrophic fetters of the profit’s pursuit and maximization.


The target is to establish instead

  1. the confederations of the self – reliant, autonomous and inherently connected communes (through mutual aid)
  2. an equivalent means of exchange that can’t be accumulated like Capital, which will practically materialize the productive – distributive principle “from each one according to his/her capacities to each one according to his/her needs”
  3. the collective possession of the production means, so that salaried exploitation will be excluded, and

finally and mainly…

  1. …a production and distribution model orientated to the systematically charted, true needs and desires of the people and not to the profit: that is to say, a social (some people call it “moral”) economy, an economy whose mechanisms the citizens – producers will be fully aware of, and whose magnitude will be co-decided and controlled by the aforementioned citizens through regular general assemblies, where the decisions will be being made in a direct democratic way. In other words, an economy for the society and not the catastrophic reverse, as it happens today.


We ‘re no economists and will not quote here theories about value and surplus value, deficits and trade balance. Not only because all these terms were constructed on and by the dominant model of the money – orientated commercial economy, but also because almost all the contemporary economic theories refer to the existing, absolutely different, capitalistic imagination (except maybe the ones of Marx and Gesel). We also hope that one can easily understand that it is not feasible to present here a complete economic scheme that will include all the partial aspects of this huge issue: the division of labour, the way of definition of which needs are basic and which are not, the way of transition from the one model to the other, the allotment/assignment of income etc. Apart from the fact that such an effort is practically impossible to take place in a mere text of a…newspaper (in fact, this would require volumes and volumes of analysis), nobody could ever have all the alternative answers for such a “macro – systemic” issue, which in fact will require the long – range action and inventiveness of whole populations and social movements in order to be specifically formed – if ever a moment comes for such a transformation. But what we are really able to do, is to give a crude outline of ideas and practices that will constitute the first edge of a thread on the purpose of questioning, resources’ and methods’ research and – we ‘d like to believe so – practical experimentation.


So, maybe the first problem that a different social organization (based on the anarchist ideas of the individual and social autonomy and the balance between freedom and equality) will have to solve, is how to achieve an allotment of the scarce resources so it will meet everybody’s needs and, at the same time, ensure a freedom of choice. That is to say, we ‘re talking about the big issue of scarcity, and we ‘re doing so having in mind the realistic conviction that the transition from the contemporary irrational model to another, balanced socio – economic one, on the one hand will not avoid a savage (class) conflict and on the other hand it will not take place at once and everywhere.


Capitalism, because of its particular nature, gives birth to a profound sense of goods’ scarcity, that no other social model ever gave birth to in the past. People are profoundly alienated by a paradoxical process: while they are the ones who work and produce the material and not material goods they need…they never own them∙ on the contrary, these goods lie beyond their control and, afterwards, are…sold to them in the basis of rules and regulations that people don’t control or collectively decide – those rules are imposed by the commodities themselves, commodities that finally become a central significance in everyone’s life and govern it via the markets’ fluctuation: a whole lifetime depended on items (material and not). So the people – producers always live confronting the stress provoked by the products of their own labour/work: if they will possess or not. The anarchist approach to the issue of scarcity and living quality considers that, in the economic level, what is required (so that words as “freedom” and “prosperity” will obtain a real meaning) is not a simple conservation of means but a society of abundance. But: if this abundance must be based on the unlimited extension of productivity and the exhaustion of natural resources, together with the exhaustion of human bodies and spirits (as it happens today), it’s obvious it will never be achieved. The form of productive structure that will make it feasible is obligatorily determined and depended on the concept/notion that a society or community maintains about the relation between the mode of needs’ creation and the level and magnitude of production. So, the existence of a society of abundance neither bears any relation with the production model today in force (which dictates/imposes the production of  big quantities of consumer goods), nor with the consumption of human beings and the natural environment for the sake of the commercial production and quantitative development. The redundance of products (but also the one of “free time”, so one can live his/her life in an enjoyable way) can very well stand without the anxiety of the contemporary super-intensive work and the accumulation, if we rationalize the – to a paranoid extent today – fictitious needs that govern our lives in our capitalistic age.


Based on the above considerations, the purpose of the production in a libertarian economic model isn’t the restless development but the satisfaction of the basic (and not basic) needs of the community and the individuals that it consists of. Consequently, the working time and its tension, the quantity of the produced goods and the production’s efficiency are connected with an entirely different meaning, the one of the efficacity in satisfying the needs, instead of the minimization of the costs (or the maximization of the production) in relation to the satisfaction of the economic… indicators.


In this framework, the overall level of production for the community (with the limits and the form that the human groups of the future society – districts, municipalities, villages etc – will give this term) is determined by its general assembly. The specific level and the content of production for each workplace  (that derives from a collectively approved and organized plan as well as from the preferences of the members), in its turn, is determined by the assemblies of the workplaces. In this way, the productive units can vindicate a portion of the available communal resources (always according to the collectively configured plan) for their own type of production.


The question here (or one of the many ones) is the tangible way in which all these members’ preferences will be expressed, and the portion’s size that the partial units will be able to enjoy from the total communal resources (in this point, let’s take into account that wherever we use the term “communal” here, we could also use terms that match broader human groups according to the geographical size of the regions, like “federal”, “confederal” etc). This question is itself part of a broader issue that has to do with the way each one will reap the fruits of the production’s portion that matches him/her, since a general exchange equivalent (money) will not exist. Experimentations that took place in the past (as in the anarchist collectives and cooperatives during the Spanish revolution of 1936), together with various theories that have been formulated in the passage of time, generally converge to a type of written authorization provided to every citizen so that he/she can satisfy his/her needs, that in some theories are called “coupons” or “vouchers”, in other ones are mentioned as “consumption cards” and in others as “orders of consumption”. These documents must be edited only in a personal basis, so they can’t be used as a general means of exchange and accumulation, like money. They are edited in the name of the community (federation of communities, confederation of federations etc) and authorize the citizen to meet these basic needs, but without predetermining the specific means of their satisfaction/accomplishment, so the freedom of personal choice will be ensured. The definition of what constitutes a “basic need” and the extent to which it can be met, is an issue that is determined by a participatory, direct democratic (con)federational assembly, that will decide on this matter taking into account the decisions of the partial communal assemblies and the available resources of the federation. This way, we secure that the level of these needs’ satisfaction won’t be depended on the regional inequalities concerning the geographical allotment of the wealth – producing resources.


The number of these, let’s say “coupons”, distributed to the citizens, will be being defined on the grounds of Supply and Demand in the (con)federational level: Demand can be estimated by the yardstick of the confederation’s population, and the predetermined (by the residents’ general assemblies) level of needs’ satisfaction for each category of citizens (young, elder, students, parents or not etc) in relation to the available means.

Concerning Supply, the assemblies (or the revocable delegates appointed by them), could assess (based on the available means of production) the production’s level, the quantity and the type of the required resources together with the quantity of personal work that each one should offer according to his/her capacities and qualifications (for example, a number of necessary hours per week, so the goods and services needed for the community’s prosperity will be able to be produced).


…As we have already mentioned in the beginning of this text, there are infinite other issues that we must tackle (we today, and the assemblies of tomorrow), in order to imagine and give solutions to problems, like, for example, how we will regulate the exchanges among the various communities/communes. Nevertheless, we won’t proceed in further analysis, because the space disposable in the newspaper is limited. We will only note that such people’s communities can already be formed in the present, despite all the obstacles they will face concerning their function and the rules of the contemporary markets. Anyhow, fundamental features of them will be an equal, cooperative structure and the co-administration of all the available production means, the potentiality of buying products wholesale (concerning goods that are not produced by the community), the distribution of products directly to the consumers so the middlemen will be pushed aside and  the production costs will be reduced etc. Additionally, the inherent connection of such communities/communes can help them in exchanging redundant products among them, especially if they are located in different geographical regions and thus produce different and various goods.


…After all, “you open the way by walking”.