September 3, 2011

Peak Oil and Kleptocracy (The Theory of Kleptocracy)

Filed under: Corporatism, Globalization, Neo-feudalism, Peak Oil, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: — Russ @ 7:26 am


The other day in a comment thread I saw someone asking for a theory of kleptocracy. I think one of the things I’ve accomplished here is to elaborate such a theory. The most relevant posts can be found in places like my Corporatism and Neoliberalism pages.
But I thought I’d briefly sum it up:
1. Non-kleptocratic government (the liberal welfare state; representative government which was responsive and accountable at all; periods of actual reform, the Progressive Era, etc.) was a manifestation of the Oil Age. These phenomena never existed prior to it (the ideas did, ineffectually). They won’t exist after it. This was all ahistorical and context-specific.
2. The fossil fuel surplus was so extravagant that, given real competition from communism and nationalism, the path of least resistance for capitalist governments was to actually spread some wealth, allow a temporary mass middle class to arise, and pretend to be accountable.
3. I’ll add here that under regimes of economic competition, the Rule of Rackets always applies – no one is willing to capitalistically compete for one day longer than he has to. The day he can switch to racketeering – using market muscle to suppress competition and get favorable government intervention in the form of subsidies and pro-oligopoly courts, laws, and regulations – he does so.
Then we have the fact that any power concentration automatically tends toward looting and tyranny. Modern modes of organization and technology have exacerbated this.
4. So those are the universal structural parts. Specific to the capitalist age, the maturation of all sectors and subsequent fall of the profit rate requires that all these oligopoly/kleptocratic effects be imposed in a more intensive form.
5. Peak Oil looms. The US oil Peak in 1970 was a wakeup call. If the elites were to complete the looting of the entire fossil fuel surplus in time, they had to start then with dismantling the welfare state, demolishing all reforms and social advances which had been achieved, eradicating all actualities of government responsiveness and accountability, and imposing the forms of the neofeudal tyranny which would succeed the Oil Age.
6. Finally, capitalism itself was never anything but a modification of feudalism. Feudalism was just temporarily refitted for the fossil fuel age. The system’s real nature remained feudal throughout. Corporatism and financialization, imperialism and globalization, have been the most clear manifestations of this.
Now that the fossil fuel age is ending, the goal is to restore full feudalism, in an even more vicious and exploitative form than that which existed previously.
So there’s a basic theory of kleptocracy. I didn’t include subjective greed, powerlust, sadism, hatred on the part of cadres and elites. But since the system selects for these, these too become a structural, objective feature.


  1. This is only tangentially connected to 6, but I’d like to point you towards this lecture by Graeber that he gave in London in 2009. He takes a few minutes to get going, but the rest of the lecture strikes me as a quite successful attempt to recast our commonsensical thinking about the opposition between capitalism(individualism)communism.

    Comment by Foppe — September 3, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

  2. I have clear that right now renewables are able to produce as much as oil (or even more, with less damage and few more handicaps, if any) and this only depends on political will.

    For that reason I think that it is not just the “oil age” what caused the illusory socialdemocratic phase of Capitalism: it was the need by the Capitalist Empire (NATO-plus) to fight genuine socialist tendencies in Europe specially (and also elsewhere), the need to offer something at least arguably better than the USSR or similar regimes (Yugoslavia was very advanced and tolerant for example). Otherwise they would never have allowed such a “waste” of succulent crumbs for the working class.

    It is therefore not an issue of the “oil age” but an issue of the “Soviet age” and the threat it posed against the dominant regime. It is an issue of a true red scare, or even a total panic. Once the threat weakened there was no need to keep any sort of deliverance anymore and whatever worked for some time (the credit bubble essentially) was just inertia from the latest anti-commie effort.

    Comment by Maju — September 3, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

    • I did mention Cold War competition but I consider it an “accidental” political factor. (I don’t think it was a foregone conclusion that Russia and then China would have successful communist revolutions. Communism in power turned out to be just a state-owned form of capitalism. So there was no law-of-history reason it had to exist at all. Corporatism could have, and elsewhere did, develop the full logic of the economic forces just as readily.)

      While that did contribute to the willingness of the Western elites to temporarily relax the class war, it was still the oil surplus which made it possible at all.

      Conversely, while I’m not sure offhand whether it’s possible to prove that in the absence of the Cold War, the liberal welfare state still would have been constructed (as a temporary structure), it seems that this makes the most structural sense, since it extends a trend going back to the latter 19th century (the same trend which engendered revisionism within the socialist movement and spurred Hobson and Lenin to their imperialism thesis, which obviously influenced my thoughts here).

      Indeed, it seems that capital-P Progressivism in the US and social democratic movements in Western Europe arose in close correlation with the rise of oil.

      I’m not sure what your sentence about oil production means. Renewables will never produce anywhere near as much energy as cheap oil did (especially liquid fuel). Not to mention that any large-scale renewables buildout can be done only upon that same platform of cheap fossil fuels. Any alternative, if it’s to be industrially scaled, assumes a massive fossil fuel subsidy, at the very least for the buildout itself.

      As for whether a fully built-out and mature renewable structure could then maintain itself without copious fossil fuel inputs, that’s disputed but highly dubious.

      It all boils down to net energy and EROEI (energy return on energy investment). Cheap oil was based on ratios of 10:1 and, in its heyday, much better. At 5:1 you’re already on a precipitous curve toward intrinsic untenability (since the inefficiency curve steepens as the margin narrows). Few of the most optimistic calculations for industrial renewables do much better than even 5:1. Many are worse. (Industrial biofuels are negative.)

      (Then there’s the fact that corporatized renewables are another version of the same corporatist scam as in every other sector, leeching off the same corporate welfare for the same class war purposes. But that’s not directly what this post was about, so I won’t get into that here.)

      The only constructive use for renewables is at the small scale, to replace the grid for local home and economic purposes.

      Comment by Russ — September 3, 2011 @ 7:38 pm

      • Something I forgot to say below: I’m not sure which is the exact ratio right now but 5:1 is surely an under-estimation of solar power’s current potential. There have been a large number of mutually reinforcing technological advances in the last few years alone [and these too] and in the solar power field alone, which grew 50% globally in 2009 alone. It all depends on political will and oil (and pollution) prices – let’s not forget that oil is cheap because polluting is cheap… not socially but it is in monetary terms for the private companies involved.

        With political will that would help make profitable investment in solar and other renewables, these would take over in a matter of years. Once the ball starts rolling it can only get better and better: more effective, more profitable and more in percentage of all produced energy. But the nuclear and oil industry guys would lose soon from that and they oppose any such move. Eventually it will break the resistance anyhow but with political determination it would all be much easier.

        While I do favor decentralization and scaling down, it is not true that renewables can only be used that way. Not at all. However they do offer that potential and that should favor the small guy and hurt the interests of big energy dinosaur companies. Another reason to oppose renewables and delay social, environmental and economical healing.

        Comment by Maju — September 3, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

      • Of course I don’t oppose renewables as such, but:

        1. I do oppose their use as nothing but to feed the monster of consumption. But that’s overwhelmingly what they’ve been used for so far. It’s a greenwashing scam when “green” corporatists claim renewables “replace” coal. Not one lump of coal less has been mined and burned because of CSP and wind farms. Coal plants have been opened or not, retired or not, based purely on economics.

        So as it is, corporate solar and corporate wind are just another corporate welfare rathole which helps no one but the subsidy recipients and hedonistic city consumption while harming farmers and citizens. One of the government’s newer scams is to tell beleaguered farmers to let corporations put windmills on their farms. Yes, that’s certainly tackling the problem of farm economics! That’s not extend-and-pretend, farm version, at all. But it does help wonks punt on the critical issue of farm economics. This of course helps them get their foot in the door toward yet more federal control over the land, and yet more totalitarian centralization like the Orwellian “smart grids”.


        I’m not saying farmers should never do this. But they and everyone else should see it only as a stopgap, and be fully aware of the downside. No one should ever see it as a solution.

        2. I oppose their manifestation as yet another pipe dream which is going to save us, reform everything, usher in Better Elites, preserve all our bloatedness but somehow render it all non-criminal, and in general serve as an excuse for continuing to believe in the system and doing nothing. If those mean elites would just turn into nice elites and get with the renewables program, then the lamb and lion would lie down together and it would be hybrid Hummers and CSP-powered widerscreen TVs for everyone. Then voting would be worthwhile too.

        Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 1:22 am

      • I am NOT advocating for keeping the consumption levels: it is useless (it does not increase happiness at all) and has other issues than mere energy (extraction, transformation and transport all pollute). Plus it is unnecessary work/effort we could use playing, making love, reading, etc.

        All I mean is that there is a fallacy in attributing the rise and fall of the benevolent capitalism illusion to a source of energy (oil) that is now easy to replace. While the rise of this illusion may have been aided (but not caused) by oil the true reasons are socio-political and even geostrategical: Capitalism needed a functional reality that they could sell as success and satisfaction vs. those “commie losers”. Now it does not need it anymore (so they seem to think) and it’s being dismantled.

        Comment by Maju — September 4, 2011 @ 8:32 am

      • I agree that there are both structural and cultural factors at work. It’s certainly your prerogative to deny Peak Oil, and I can even see how it goes along with the general denial of capitalism’s “scarcity” theme, which is in almost every other case a lie, and even where it comes to fossil fuels is a lie in that capitalism’s artificial scarcity always runs ahead of natural scarcity factors in the few places they exist.

        But that’s no reason not to understand what has really happened. If you reject the rise of the fossil fuel surplus as causal toward the rise of liberal welfare statism and social democrat states, then you’ll need an alternative explanation. Capitalism sure didn’t do it out of the kindness of its heart. The duress of competition with communism doesn’t work (not as the primary cause), as the effect was advanced enough to lead to Bernstein’s revisionism before the 19th century was out.

        Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 11:09 am

      • I’m already offering an alternative explanation: Capitalism had to face the class war version 1.0 and therefore conceded on crumbs and rights. But all that came because of class war, with oil affluence being at best related but never the cause.

        Comment by Maju — September 4, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

      • Well, I don’t see where the energy surplus is supposed to have come from, and in the absence of that I don’t see any elites surrendering one stale crumb.

        You forgot to explain why capitalism changed its mind about that welfare state, just coincidentally since the US oil Peak, I assume. I won’t buy “the end of the Cold War”. If the class struggle was so potent prior to the existence of the USSR, there’s no obvious reason it shouldn’t have been seen by the elites as remaining just as potent post-USSR.

        Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

      • I don’t think there is any coincidence with oil peak but with WWII. US oil peak production is in 1971, not in 1948. Global oil production, subservient of the Capitalist imperial conglomerate, does not seem to have reached any max. at least before the late 1990s. Sure that the 1971 crisis was relevant but the welfare state was not attacked before the 1980s and it is only now when it is being clearly demolished.

        Whatever the case in Europe the welfare state mostly began in the 1940s or 50s and in the USA it cannot be tracked to before than the New Deal, in the late 1930s. So it’s an issue of WWII and the 1930s precursors (depression, rise of fascisms, Spanish/Catalan Revolution).

        What happened around WWII? That fascism, which also relied on certain welfare state anyhow, was evidenced as incontrollable and dangerous, up to the point that it could feed the “red monster” that it was supposed to contain.

        After WWII (thanks to Hitler) half of Europe was red and the other half was often sympathetic, the Capitalist regime needed some sort of medicine of it was done. They used concessions on welfare and rights, so their product became eventually (not so easily) more desirable than that of the USSR, Yugoslavia, etc.

        I do not understand why you don’t seem able to understand this: for the working classes of Europe, the Bolshevik (and similar) models was tempting and the working class had strong organization and power (through unions and parties). The Capitalist regime had to buy them or lose the Cold War before it had even begun.

        Comment by Maju — September 4, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

      • I don’t understand why you’re so determined to deny the primacy of energy issues for this entire ahistorical blip. Marxism itself was an Oil Age ideology, and class struggle as Marx diagnosed it has been determined by the escalating (and now soon to decline) availability of cheap energy.

        Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

      • Class war and Capitalism precede even petroleum usage altogether. Marxism is just a way of understanding class war and Capitalism itself, with its socio-economical contradictions… but anyhow precedes oil usage as well (it was born in the coal era in fact). What changed in the 20th century is that Capitalism first for the first time in its history truly under threat: the organized working class of the disciplinary phase demanded concessions or even all the power and was in conditions of enforcing these demands. The USSR, etc. is just a manifestation of this strength of the mass worker, now vanished (to at least some extent).

        To this the Capitalist ruling classes replied eventually with welfare fascism or welfare democracy but with welfare in any case. The Capitalist ruling classes finally were put, at least partly, to the service of the working class, which was able to enforce their demands by means of strikes or even revolutionary takeovers of power.

        I deny the primacy of energy issues because they are nothing but a red herring, at least as primary element and at least in this context you say. Of course energy management is central to the economy but there is no such absolute barrier as you claim to be related to oil: all they have to do is to get solar energy and such working and pack hydrogen to replace oil, emitting only water as result. There are lesser technical issues maybe but nothing that cannot be solved with enough determination and research. That’s how people put rockets in orbit: not complaining about half empty glasses but with the determination and willpower to do it.

        Ultimately it is all politics and moral (not morals but moral in the military sense of the term: persuasion of one’s power).

        Much more important are other resource and specially dumping issues but again solar is a viable serious option that can replace the whole oil-based system in a matter of decades, provided the socio-political willpower. For me it is much more of a problem the issue of global warming because it is already very disruptive of production and social stability: all those droughts and floods and arctic passages do not come from nowhere, they all have a common origin and is indeed oil… and coal and such.

        Dumping and degradation issues are surely today more serious than energy source issues. And, like class war, they pose a brutal reality check that limits exploitation, in this case of the natural environment: Earth.

        And again this can be at least largely solved with solar energy, which is after all the way that Nature itself has solved its own energy issues: know of any life form that runs on oil? Sure there are a few… but not most.

        Comment by Maju — September 4, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

      • I’m sorry I was unclear. As a Peak Oiler, I’m used to using the term “Oil Age” to denote the entire fossil fuel age, and “oil” (in contexts like this) to include all fossil fuels.

        In calling Marxism an Oil Age philosophy, I refer to its assumptions of infinite growth and energy use, and its belief (paradoxical, in light of the foregoing) that capitalism is the natural result of “laws of history” rather than the ahistorical product of fossil fuels.

        And as I said above, capitalism has never really been capitalism the way all classical economists including Marx depicted it. It was a temporarily revamped feudalism. Now with Peal Oil we’re returning to the normal historical level of energy consumption. (A few days ago I was having a similar debate on another thread, and there I gave the basic definition of modern as the period of ahistorical energy production and consumption.)

        Marxism is just a way of understanding class war and Capitalism itself, with its socio-economical contradictions

        That, I think, is the most fruitful continued use of it. But in itself it’s far more than that.

        Ultimately it is all politics and moral (not morals but moral in the military sense of the term: persuasion of one’s power).

        I fully agree with that (but I add morals as well), as 90% of my comments say. That is, I agree the practical result is proximately dictated by force of will.


        But I mean that within the framework of “men make their own history, but they don’t make it exactly the way they want to make it.”

        Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 7:16 pm

      • “I’m used to using the term “Oil Age” as denoting the entire fossil fuel age”…

        Quite unexpected, specially as coal is still plentiful – but extremely dirty.

        “In calling Marxism an Oil Age philosophy, I refer to its assumptions of infinite growth”…

        While it’s true that Marx falls sometimes in such ideological paradigm traps, I doubt Marxism really believes in “infinite growth”. After all it is Marx who warns that the capitalists’ need to decrease costs will eventually cause an overproduction crisis (too low demand, excess offer), which is exactly the situation we are in right now. It is not infinite growth undue optimism but finite growth realism, even if the constraints are not (correctly) defined by energy issues but by socio-economical ones. The big failure of Marx is that he could not perceive the limits of Earth but of them oil (or fossil fuels) is just one and, as far as I can see, not the more important one at all. The true limit is one of environmental destruction and ecological collapse.

        I hope that Marx and the Marxists were right in the overproduction crisis possibly triggering a radical social revolution because otherwise our species is probably doomed (you can’t get most species extinct and hope to survive, specially not if you’re on top of the food chain). We have a major problem of uncontrolled hyper-predator overgrowth and it’s the predator itself (the Human species) the only one able to control itself. Else…

        “… capitalism has never really been capitalism the way all classical economists including Marx depicted it. It was a temporarily revamped feudalism”.

        Marx describes the tendency towards monopoly very well. Don’t blame Marx for what he got right (assuming you mean that). But capitalism is capitalism and it is essentially different from feudalism, specially because it is industrial and not almost exclusively agrarian, but also for other reasons like abolition of castes, etc.

        The unprecedented nature of Capitalism cannot be described as any sort of “feudalism”, which is a Metal Ages kind of society based on religion (not science), on farms (not industries), on castes (not classes), on money (not chickens), etc. I really don’t know what you mean by “revamped feudalism” but you are so obviously wrong that I doubt it matters.

        “… I agree the practical result is proximately dictated by force of will”.

        Glad we do agree on something after all.

        … “men make their own history, but they don’t make it exactly the way they want to make it.”

        We may fail but there’s no way to succeed if we do not try.

        Also I’m quite persuaded that with the ongoing collapse of Capitalism, socio-political planning will become more important. It won’t be as authoritarian as the USSR (hopefully but also necessarily not) nor as centralized either (it’s a fundamental error when dealing with Chaos, better commit lesser errors than massive ones) but it will be a planned economy. Because it is clear that collusion of private actors does not work, certainly not when they are not near-infinite but probably not either in ideal market conditions.

        In any case all macroeconomics will become planned and democratic if we are to succeed as societies and species.

        And planning means that, in most cases at least, what you plan, you make. It may not be exact… but it’ll be more or less what we decide. The critical issue is how we decide.

        Comment by Maju — September 4, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

      • You can read about Peak Coal here.


        Marx describes the tendency towards monopoly very well. Don’t blame Marx for what he got right (assuming you mean that). But capitalism is capitalism and it is essentially different from feudalism, specially because it is industrial and not almost exclusively agrarian, but also for other reasons like abolition of castes, etc.

        Abolition of castes? It sure doesn’t look that way to me.

        I wasn’t talking about M’s discussion of monopoly. I was talking about his belief that capitalist elites were somehow different from feudal/rentier elites, that they wanted to abolish the latter and put capital “to work”.

        But we know by now that no capitalist ever wanted anything but to become such a rentier clod himself, and only acted “capitalistically” for as long as he had to, not one day longer. They remained feudalists or aspiring feudalists. That’s what the corporate form has been all about.



        As an anarchist, I consider all centralized economies undesirable, and I’ve explained why I think them impossible. That’s why I’m dedicated to helping to build a relocalization movement. I don’t know what you’re trying to prop up by wanting to continue with command economies and governments, and therefore the continued robbery of our human sovereignty. Does that business about the cars have something to do with it?

        But if you turn out to be right about the sustainability of elitist systems, then I wish you luck with that neo-Leninism or whatever it is. It would certainly be better than the vicious scam we have.

        Comment by Russ — September 5, 2011 @ 4:58 am

      • Castes are hereditary, classes are not; castes have different formal (and real) rights and duties, classes do not (there may be de facto differences but not on paper). So, yeah, castes were replaced by mere, more fluid, classes, allowing vertical and horizontal social mobility (I can agree this is a bit hyped but it does exist nonetheless).

        “They remained feudalists or aspiring feudalists”.

        Reading this, I feel that we probably do not agree on what’s a capitalist and whether a rentier is a capitalist or not. Marx made a distinction some times between the industrial capitalist (which he admired somewhat, critically however) and the rentier or the financial speculator but he would have never said that these were not capitalists: they are. Feudalism works differently: first of all it is agrarian. Maybe certain banana republic land “capitalism” is in fact sub-capitalist neo-feudalism (sure, why not?) but living on industrial or financial rents is totally non-feudal.

        The early bankers of Italian Reinassance (and late Middle Ages) were not feudal: they anticipated capitalism within feudalism. Same for the traders of Flanders and Friesland in the North. And same for the pirates of the Caribbean, which some have argued were the very first capitalists.

        I think that the issue here is that you have an idealized “productivist” vision of the figure of the individual capitalist. At all moments the motivation of a capitalist is profit and only profit, not production, development or whatever you may think. Hence it’s normal that they become rentiers when they have reached that blessed stage anticipated by Burroughs in “The ME Discipline” (where ME stands for Minimal Effort, just in case you haven’t read). It’s not any sort of “work ethics” what drives capitalists (that’s just an Stakhanov-style ideology they impose on themselves and specially on their workers for the true goal of financial success).

        Capitalists are not workers and Capitalists are, as you well say, only accidental producers (production organizers). But they are not feudal lords either, stagnant in getting rents from mere land, they are bourgeoises and their universe is the city, not the country, even if they own a holiday villa…

        In your feudal analogy articles, you say, for example: “the corporation originally arose out of medieval guilds”. Not really. First, guilds were associations of individual (not incorporated) producers (artisans), second, as Karl Polanyi saw clearly, guilds were anti-market and acted as a legal oligopoly, establishing prices and qualities, all the same for all the town artisans. Corporations are a Dutch invention of the Modern Age (earlier private responsibility was paramount), though I guess one can find precedents in some kind of mercantile contracts of the Italian Middle Ages in which the investing partner agreed only to that responsibility and nothing else.

        Guilds have been seen more as precedents of labor unions. Not in vain in England they are still known as “trade” unions. Unions like guilds (up to a point) try to limit competence among workers, while the capitalist tries to break that anti-market alliance.

        I think that you simply idealize what Capitalism is supposed to be: Capitalism tends to oligo-/monopoly and therefore is anti-market where a dominant position can be achieved and where profit margins are good enough.

        “As an anarchist, I consider all centralized economies undesirable”…

        Sadly they are unavoidable to some extent. I think we must compromise on that on the grounds of realism. Today’s technology (Internet notably) allows for a coordinated decentralization. But this coordination is necessarily some sort of centralization. And we cannot face the huge issues that Humankind and Earth share without a good deal of centralization, even if voluntary or confederate.

        Even in the best case, eventually we’ll find ourselves with cheating communities, maybe lead by reactionary forces or just selfish or whatever. There must be certain centralization. Even Switzerland, which you praised elsewhere, is centralized to a great extent. While each canton can do a lot of things on their own, the federal government has also its own capacities.

        Without money or markets (as anarchist you cannot count on those: they are capitalist tools) you need planning for exchange between the industries and the communes, cantons, etc. Even if local sustainability is desirable, not every single small village can produce everything (nor is desirable either). Planning is needed, and it should be done democratically: through the institutions created and participated by the peoples involved.

        The key principle of anarchism (libertarian communism) is that each cadre, each leadership role, is revocable and submitted to the will of the people. And that is the key issue to prevent undue accumulation of power, to secure that “whoever commands, commands obeying”.

        “Does that business about the cars have something to do with it?”

        No idea what you’re talking about. I have no interest in cars whatsoever. That’s probably Toby (my best guess).

        I also do not want “to continue with command economies and governments”. I just acknowledge the need for coordination at all levels, very specially the planetary one. If we are to manage the Earth’s environment (even if only to minimize damage) we need such coordination, we need such coordination to exchange technology and products (some trade is unavoidable: you can’t grow coffee here, for example), we need such coordination to save lives in a catastrophe, we may need such coordination to prevent reactionary involutions as well.

        I just find such higher level organization unavoidable on current densities and socio-economical reality. We do not live anymore in agrarian nor hunter-gatherer societies and I do not think we will ever go back fully to them. We must learn from them but the age of the hunter-gatherer is over – sadly enough. We need political organization that works well in urban and industrial and high science environments. This can be now highly decentralized thanks to transport and communications but some structure and planning beyond the village level is necessary and unavoidable.

        That’s why I evolved from Kropotkian Anarchism to the much more eclectic position of the Workers’ Autonomy, which, IMO gathers the best of both worlds and is anything but dogmatic.

        Comment by Maju — September 5, 2011 @ 11:18 am

      • I think that the issue here is that you have an idealized “productivist” vision of the figure of the individual capitalist…I think that you simply idealize what Capitalism is supposed to be.

        Well, isn’t that what they claim to be, what propaganda claims they are, and unfortunately what too many non-rich prey of theirs still believe they are? So I make an argument denying that’s what they are.

        I didn’t idealize it. I go with capitalism’s self-idealization and refute it.

        stagnant in getting rents

        That’s the one and only thing I see them doing.

        I can’t tell how what you said about the guilds contradicts what I said. There were individual guild members seeking ways to gain legal monopoly charters and to limit their risks. They gradually developed the corporate form over the 16th and 17th centuries.

        guilds were anti-market and acted as a legal oligopoly, establishing prices and qualities

        That’s a succinct statement of the purpose of the corporate form.

        I’m not familiar with Workers’ Autonomy, but while anarchists have extensively discussed true federalism (which I support), which includes many aspects of coordination (which I also want; to start with, #6-7 of my Basic Movement Strategy), I’ve never heard anyone use the term “planned economy” other than as synonymous with “command economy”.

        I’ll check out Workers’ Autonomy.

        As far as the cars, I was referring to this: “The biggest issue is automobiles but this can be solved in several ways (hydrogen, electrics…)”.

        That sounded to me like you regard the personal car as necessary, tenable, and perhaps desirable. I reject all three premises. Maybe I was just reading too much into that statement.

        Without money or markets (as anarchist you cannot count on those: they are capitalist tools) you need planning for exchange between the industries and the communes, cantons, etc.

        After all those lectures on precisely what capitalism is, you can write something like that? As a recent Naked Capitalism piece by David Graeber pointed out,


        community credit has existed for tens of thousands of years. Money is a recent invention (and capitalism even more recent).

        I’ll place far more confidence in relocalized exchanges based on alternatives to money, this kind of community credit being optimal, than in any kind of “planning” (which I assume has to be some kind of long-term “contract”, no?).

        At all moments the motivation of a capitalist is profit and only profit, not production, development or whatever you may think. Hence it’s normal that they become rentiers when they have reached that blessed stage anticipated by Burroughs in “The ME Discipline” (where ME stands for Minimal Effort, just in case you haven’t read). It’s not any sort of “work ethics” what drives capitalists (that’s just an Stakhanov-style ideology they impose on themselves and specially on their workers for the true goal of financial success).

        I’m getting the sense that we agree on the substance of the diagnosis, if not the prescription, and that all this is mostly just quibbling over terms. It sounds like you want more strict, static definitions of political terms, while I (in line with the way I regard all things as always being in motion) use more fluid, functional definitions.

        All my definitions continue to capture the spirit of the thing. Feudalism, for example, always means stagnant rent-seeking, at least as the ultimate goal, but it doesn’t have to remain tied to agriculture.

        Comment by Russ — September 5, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

      • I have a nonchalant, Marxist, vision of Capitalism, even if I was born in a bourgeois family. For me capitalists are exploiters who make their money by organizing and managing work gangs (plus whatever machines or other investments are involved). In my mind Capitalism is not defined by the Capitalist PR but by Socialist (wide sense) analysis, notably that of Marx.

        “That’s a succinct statement of the purpose of the corporate form”.

        Corporations have no purpose other than profit. You’re talking of monopoly (or oligopoly), not any sort of corporation. If market conditions prevail, they will have to adapt. Of course there’s no reason why they would drop an advantage such as oligopoly… unless forced to it but that’s irrelevant re. what a corporation is fundamentally.

        You are just whining about the monopolistic degeneration of Capitalism, which is as expected.

        “I’m not familiar with Workers’ Autonomy”…

        We could well be defined as eclectic anarchists who have read the marxists, who happen to typically have a better analysis of Capitalism and the Class War than most anarchists. We are also quite anti-sectarian and open-minded as on how to carry on the class war. But we are radically assambleistic in any case.

        I guess that you are not European then, because in Europe this movement had some strong penetration in all states. The name comes from Italy, I understand, while in Greece they call themselves Antiauthoritarians (but work still apart from anarchists and did so 20 years ago as well).

        For some reason while relations with anarchists are not bad, anarchists almost always manage to remain their ghetto. I guess we are Situationists: we don’t have a plan, we accept that the working class will do whatever shall be and we just act to emphasize certain struggles of our preference or develop consciousness in the ongoing struggles. There’s no any single organization of the Autonomy: it’s a way of being revolutionary that is both Marxist and post-Marxist but also Anarchist and post-Anarchist. We are for true (democratic) communism and that’s it.

        I’ve been twice affiliated to the CNT-AIT but both times left because they organize at the level of the nation-state (Spain) and not of the people-nation (Basque People/Country).

        “I’ve never heard anyone use the term “planned economy” other than as synonymous with “command economy””.

        Anarchism requires planned economy. Planned means that it’s not blindly generated by (pseudo-)chaotic forces like markets/money collusion. Even Capitalism has some forms of planning and, of course, each company has its own planning, as do municipalities, etc.

        As I understand it, planned economy just means that the social organization willingly rules the economy and not allows the economy to rule it, as happens under Capitalism, where the states bow to the corporations and banksters.

        As I see it, there are two choices: either we allow private actors to do as they will (Capitalism) or we enforce certain order on them from the democratic socius/polity (Communism).

        Anarchism is obsessed with the rejection of the state but of course it does not reject any sort of state (a commune is a state, a polity) but rejects hyper-centralization and transference of sovereignty from local to central (“state”) levels.

        But, at commune level and at all confederate levels, planning and organization are necessary. You need to secure that people do not go hungry, that social needs (health, education, housing and many others) are attended, you need to prevent environmental destruction, you need to coordinate that relocalization of production you mention in the other article, you need to secure energy generation and distribution, communication networks, trash recycling or disposal, general equality (no racism, no sexism, no homophobia, no forms of oppression…), freedom of speech, etc.

        You can’t go without planning and if you don’t rule democratically on the economy, the economy will rule on democracy and destroy it, as happens under Capitalism. So planning is necessary for economic democracy.

        “That sounded to me like you regard the personal car as necessary, tenable, and perhaps desirable”.

        I was not really thinking in private cars (at least not necessarily) but on trucks, buses, vans, airplanes, ships and maybe motorcycles and personal cars as well (but not my main idea). A lot of this can be solved with electric vehicles and other part may rely on other options like hydrogen. What I have clear is that we are not going backwards technologically, we are going to keep what we have achieved unless something better is developed instead or the species goes extinct. No hippy communes unless they are better than industrial villages (which is not that hard). And even hippy communes need vans and trucks and motorcycles and tractors maybe too (now and then a crane and what not – ah, all those gardening machines like a chainsaw: they also go on portable fuel and a re quite necessary if you’re not Amish).

        And displaying electric grid everywhere may not always be practical. Hydrogen should solve that – the main problem is its extreme explosiveness (Hollywood car explosions are fictional with gasoline but they’d be very realistic with hydrogen). The main advantage is that the residue is mere water vapor and that it can be generated from water and solar-generated electricity.

        “… community credit has existed for tens of thousands of years. Money is a recent invention (and capitalism even more recent)”.

        How can credit be older than money? Unless you and that Graeber guy understand gift economies as “credit”. Money is not that recent. It has at least 5000 years in form of gold, cattle, salt, grain, etc. Coins may be a bit more recent but money is as old as private property: anything valuable, portable and not too perishable could work as money.

        Actually what Graeber says is that barter economy never really existed, at least not as separate from money economy. But I do not think that community credit (debt) existed either before private property and money did.

        (Btw, I think Graeber is too focused on the classical civilizations and he should better look at their more barbaric neighbors like the Semitic pastoralists or the European Bell Beaker traders to understand the origin of money, property, slavery and trade).

        Nor I think that it sounds better than what we have now.

        Communism means: from each one according to his/her capacity and to each one according to his/her needs. There is no credit there: just community, mutual support and gift. Kropotkin would not have missed any of this (mutual support was his may argument, mutual support as spontaneous social organization).

        “I’ll place far more confidence in relocalized exchanges based on alternatives to money, this kind of community credit being optimal, than in any kind of “planning” (which I assume has to be some kind of long-term “contract”, no?)”.

        All that sounds extremely abstract and impracticable to be honest. A decentralized democratic state like Switzerland with a planned economy like Cuba looks much better and easier to implement. Our societies and economies are too large and complex for mere good will organization and “alternatives to money” sound too much like money and private property by another name.

        “I’m getting the sense that we agree on the substance of the diagnosis, if not the prescription, and that all this is mostly just quibbling over terms”.

        Possibly. Still I fail to see how a pure anarchist system would be implemented. Guess that with the years I’m evolving into Trotskyism. But I do not believe in single parties nor democratic centralism anyhow, so it’s not that either.

        Something I’ve been chewing on as of late is that the bourgeois state is in fact a proletarian creation, after all, at least according to Deleuze and Guattari, Capitalism cannot create anything (it’s a schizoid decodifying force which turns everything into rot like a zombie apocalypse version of King Midas). Per D&G, Capitalism borrows all institutions from the territorial (“feudal”) stage that preceded it (and feeds the paranoid reaction, ultimately powerless) but what I see is that it also innovates: Humanism, Human Rights, formal democracy… all are innovations that are definitely not feudal borrowings. These were forged by the bourgeois revolutions but these were manned by the proletariat in fact.

        So my hypothesis is that all what we call bourgeois institutions are in fact proletarian ones, albeit produced under the direction of the bourgeoisie, much as all the Capitalist production is: workers do it, the bourgeois claim the credit and benefits.

        When we explore the meaning of the word communism from a historical perspective, it goes to the Paris Commune, and this is essentially a democracy with social orientation. So yeah, we need a hybrid of Switzerland and Cuba: it’s probably the best we can do at the moment.

        “Feudalism, for example, always means stagnant rent-seeking”…

        Not really. That’s a Capitalist delusion. The Middle Ages were a time of important technological and social progress in many aspects. Feudalism is a socio-economic system but it’s not automatically synonym with decadence. You are very shallow in using such imprecise, fundamentally faulty categories.

        “… but it doesn’t have to remain tied to agriculture”.

        Actually feudalism is all about agriculture and rural states. Within feudalism there were some towns but these are marginal phenomena which in no case define the period nor the economical system. It is true that guilds and professional inheritance fit within the overall spirit of feudalism, but still, as urban and manufacturing phenomena, these are not central to feudalism at all.

        I’ve studied economic history of Europe from more than one author and all agree with feudalism being a phenomenon of ruralization forged under the Christian-Neoplatonic leadership/ideology in the late Western Roman Empire (and triggering massive revolts: the Bagaudae). What defines feudalism is the land, ownership of the land, and personal relations of service all going around the land. Towns survived, often just because they became bishop sees, but they lost almost all relevance.

        Comment by Maju — September 5, 2011 @ 6:55 pm

      • Money is not that recent. It has at least 5000 years in form of gold, cattle, salt, grain, etc. Coins may be a bit more recent but money is as old as private property: anything valuable, portable and not too perishable could work as money.

        I didn’t know you were a Biblical literalist who thinks the earth was created 5000 years ago. Actually, humanity’s natural history goes back tens of thousands of years. I’m of course talking about the great bulk of that time.

        Well, since I’m just whining in a ghetto, I guess I’ll be quiet now.

        Comment by Russ — September 6, 2011 @ 9:06 am

      • What?!

        C. 5000 years ago is the Chalcolithic in Europe, which often implies the use of gold, silver and copper, as well as long distance trade. For example in Iberia there was amber coming from the Baltic and ivory from Africa. Actually Is should have said some time earlier (because of West Asia) but that’s a safe date for Europe.

        Neolithic is just 2-3 thousand years earlier for the reference.

        “I’m of course talking about the great bulk of that time”.

        Ok, you said “recent” without any qualifications. Sure 90 or 95% of Humankind history is hunter-gathering. And I will argue in other circumstances that hunter-gathering offers a model for what means to be human (you’re not likely to be more Primitivist than I am myself) but that was a time when farming and sedentarism, not to mention cities, did not exist yet.

        “… since I’m just whining in a ghetto, I guess I’ll be quiet now”.

        Sounds like a grudge. I agree we have debated a lot and we should stop at some point and now is a good timing. But I would not like that you feel I was attacking you, much less personally. I have enough personal experience with Anarchism and I still do not understand most of their attitudes, which are way too often a bit sectarian and obsessed with their own cultural references (for example over here they “live in 1936” but then they forget totally about CNT militants but Basque Nationalists too Félix Likiniano and his intellectual sidekick F. Krutwig, who, among others stopped the fascist coup in San Sebastian and later led some guerrilla attempts. Krutwig’s work would even inspire ETA later on).

        I’m not saying you are in a ghetto but indeed I must say that many anarchists I know (and whom I love quite a bit) are too often in an ideological ghetto of sorts: creating barriers around them that are only handicaps and not useful at all. There are the more open minded ones, of course.

        Comment by Maju — September 6, 2011 @ 1:04 pm

      • I’m not really sure what kind of cultural experiences of anarchism you’re referring to. Of course, in an American suburb there’s probably a rather less intense anarchist culture than in Iberia. My experience of the culture is mostly online (and I don’t read many anarchist blogs, although I keep meaning to find ones I like, to extend my participation there), but it seems to me that other than some terminological taboos (some self-identified anarchists want to dispense with terms like “power” and “authority” completely, and end up tongue-tied when trying to discuss, e.g., non-coercive moral authority earned by a record of merit; there’s a few passages in the FAQ which rather comically read that way) anarchists are rather less dogmatic than adherents of other political philosophies. I find that when I’m willing to agree to disagree on this or that point as long as my interlocutor and I agree on the goal of getting rid of kleptocracy, and I say “let’s just discuss strategy and tactics then”, it’s likely for the other person to continue to want to disagree on the extraneous point.

        So I’m not sure what you think anarchists are dogmatic about.

        As for the term “recent”, I thought that given the context (the history of economic exchange, i.e. the natural history of society itself) there was no need to qualify what I meant by it. I always use it that way in such contexts.

        Comment by Russ — September 6, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

  3. I don’t mean just the Cold War, which is a result from the relative success of the “red wave” that began around 1917 and ended probably in the 80s only. If it ever ended at all.

    The Capitalist convergence (or Empire) faced a real threat since the success of the Russian Revolution and the quasi-pan-European revolutionary wave that accompanied it (Hungarian and German revolutions most notably, but there were others). Against this the Capitalist system, led by London, promoted fascist regimes, but these became eventually unmanageable in central states like Germany or Italy, only helping to the expansion of the Soviet power eventually.

    Later there were red revolutions not just in China and Vietnam and Cuba and several countries of the neocolonial South but in Europe itself: Yugoslavia, Albania, Czechoslovakia, Greece (contained), Italy (contained), etc.

    Against all that the West needed a propaganda ideal and built it under US lead. Would the situation have been like today, with graduates unable to find work, etc. people would have soon begin jumping the Berlin Wall in the opposite direction, because there was need of qualified workforce in the socialist states and these could offer at least work, something that the Capitalist system fails to do, and had to patch with welfare.

    The key element is to demonstrate, and I think it is easy, that promoting or marginalizing renewables is a political decision. Technically today most of what oil does can be done with renewables. The biggest issue is automobiles but this can be solved in several ways (hydrogen, electrics…) There’s no impossibility today to move 100% to renewables in few years and keep the production levels or even increase them, while reducing pollution radically.

    In fact it is a quite straightforward move blocked or at least delayed once and again by political decisions, dependent on the private interests of certain key industrial sectors and their PR.

    But the system is totally uninterested anymore in delivering anything resembling happiness for the masses. Thatcher and Reagan began a “crusade” to force the surrender of the working class and this “crusade” continues by various means. One such mean was the “war on terror”, which almost totally displaced the political secularist left from the radar, replacing the “class war” by the “clash of civilizations”. Another such mean is to impose draconian budgetary cuts to every state with the pretext of the crisis (and irrational fear of non-existent inflation), forcing workers to the unemployment or underemployment hell without almost any aid anymore. The lumpenization of proletariat, that you discussed a few days ago.

    But they are probably pushing things too far and they won’t ultimately succeed. Partly because they are beginning the infight among big capitalists and partly because they are just fueling the self-organization of the working class beyond anything they can control.

    Comment by Maju — September 3, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

    • That was meant to be a reply to Russ’ latest coment. Sorry for the misplacement.

      Comment by Maju — September 3, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

    • I already said that’s false about renewables. Here’s one report:


      You’re right that a full renewables buildout could have been done using the fossil fuel surplus. The first big push for solar energy came in the early 60s. Maybe even today it’s still possible (probably not, and it certainly won’t be within a few years). But we know what the elites chose to use the surplus for anyway, and the last time I checked they’re not getting any better about that.

      I can’t imagine why you consider the incredibly destructive (environmentally and socially) automobile something we should want to preserve even if that were possible. We’d certainly be much happier without it. (I thought Europeans were less pathological about the personal car than Americans.) The same goes for much else that passes for “civilization” nowadays. The basically bourgeois obsession with all this junk (“but we can have it all with renewables, which somehow won’t be corporatized”) is one of the main things which keeps us enslaved.


      I don’t think one can preserve capitalism/statism in general but somehow without its “bad parts”, which are to be considered somehow extricable from the alleged “good” parts.

      Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 1:23 am

      • Germans love cars and particularly speed. The no-top-speed speed ‘limit’ on some stretches of the Autobahns here is sacrosanct to many. The ‘freedom’ of the car, to go where we want when we want, the boxed off from outsiders sense of autonomy and potency is alive and well. Voices for a different way of organizing transportation are considered lunacy by the mainstream. One of the wonderful things about living in Europe is to drive to different countries and experience their cultures. For this the car is way more convenient than train or bus. And of course on foot this takes far too much time, even with European-length holidays. 😉

        As to renewables, the point with them, in my opinion, is that they are renewable. You cannot ‘burn’ more than is available. That is the key principle. As such they cannot generate the levels of consumption fossil fuels did. Similarly, they cannot be about sustaining Consumerism. However, they do generate EROEIs above twenty which is higher than oil I believe (wind, anyway). So the degree to which they can power things like fridges, warmth, mass transport, the internet, etc., we cannot know from here. I’ve mentioned 80-90% less energy consumption (relative to US suburban sprawl) very possible with city redesign, transportation revolution, etc. Renewables are a part of that, as are things like Plus Energy Houses, which generate, ‘renewably,’ more energy than they consume. And merely having things nearby, at walking distance, is of course a huge efficiency gain.

        Of course the fundamental element is the term ‘sustainable.’ The problem is exactly defining it. Focusing on it is vital though, but the consequences of doing so, as efforts to live within our means ripple out across the planet, and the types of technologies humanity can develop and ‘afford’ within that paradigm are, in my opinion, unknowable. We are an inventive beast. I insist on nothing.

        Comment by Toby — September 4, 2011 @ 5:47 am

      • Thanks for reminding me that middle class Westerners (and those anywhere who aspire to that lifestyle) are the same all over. Sure is going to make it harder on them when they suddenly can’t afford gasoline. I wonder if the subsidy will continue, but no longer in the form of artificially cheap gas, now instead in the form of permanent debt and indenture. They could call it “sharefilling” or “sharegassing”. Government would pay the oil companies, and farm out the debts to favored corporations, to be worked off under slave conditions. Now that would be a potent way for kleptocracy to rope almost everyone in, to bring about the outcome I described here.


        I bet most people would formally indenture themselves before they’d give up their car and the car-based lifestyle.

        At the opposite end, I’d love to see a real effort to deploy renewables for relocalization ends, concurrent with a renunciation of the corporatism of it.

        Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 6:09 am

      • Even if that report has some points it is just an almost pathetic effort to see the cup half empty, when it’s obviously almost full.

        As for what Toby says of the so-called middle classes, the Capitalist regime is dismantling them fast (what is quite suicidal on their side but also unavoidable considering the Marxian contradiction of Capitalism, specially when there is no concerted political will to do otherwise).

        Political will is what can turn the tides in whichever direction (for instance promoting the installation and maintenance of solar energy devices in homes and such) but of course this political will can only be built on the social fabric. For good or bad, the Capitalist International, notably here in Europe, is dismantling the middle classes and their hopes. I’m unsure how much of this process of “third-worldization” is consciously meant or is just a product of their natural inefficiency and short-sightedness. Whatever the case, it is happening and soon very few Europeans will be able to pay for a car, let alone a home.

        Welcome to slum-Europe.

        Comment by Maju — September 4, 2011 @ 8:44 am

      • Absolutely, the middle classes are next up for the slaughter house. And gas prices are very high here in Berlin. 1 litre costs around 1.55 Euro, a price which has proved very sticky even since oil fell from over 100 to under 90 in recent months. The number who can afford gas is falling fast, but as Maju says, there’s no way out of this one.

        And yes, the dream of an embrace of what renewable really means, and the kind of socioeconomic structures demanded of us by steady state growth, that would be a fine thing. But the stubbornness I hint at, the addiction, the inability to see things from a different angle, that’s still in the driving seat. That said, Franz Hoermann was interviewed on WDR (West Deutsche Rundfunk, an establishment radio channel akin to a regional BBC) a couple of weeks ago, and had around 18 minutes to ‘tell it like it is’. And he did. And the female interview sounded very open to the ‘odd’ ideas he was giving voice to. So while on the one hand there is an enormous contingent of addicts still lost in lala land, my sense right now is of a rapid softening in Germany. The party I will vote for in upcoming local elections (first time for about 14 years for me), the PSG, have a platform based on guaranteed income, an idea now flirted with by the Greens, the SPD and the CDU. The PSG are calling for 1,500 per month for everyone. Other parties pitch in at 800 or so I think. It’ll be interesting to see how they poll later this month. I’ll let you know.

        Comment by Toby — September 4, 2011 @ 10:37 am

      • Now that would be quite a change in Germany, Toby. (Of course guaranteed income can’t even be discussed in the US, not even by fringe parties.)

        Maju, you’re right that it’s all about political will. I suppose energy cornucopianism might be useful toward that, as a kind of social myth. I’ll have to think more about it.

        Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 11:14 am

  4. The survival imperative seems to revolve around reducing the need, as much as possible, to interface with any rackets (food, energy, healthcare, government) and form a community that is localized to various degrees. Geographic isolation appears dubious without the full trappings of a State equipped to tax and raise funds for defense. Most resilient groups will be existing gangs and clans with some informal community reliance systems in place. Urban periphery and suburbs that have high concentrations of people with physical trade specialties.

    The alternative seems to be a crushing winch into indentured slavery via higher costs from the rackets. People will be thrown out of the rackets, walk away voluntarily, or cling to one or two. Only people who already control capital and take rents will survive amongst the rackets.

    Comment by Ross — September 4, 2011 @ 12:14 pm

    • Most resilient groups will be existing gangs and clans with some informal community reliance systems in place.

      I think these alternative community reliance systems are what we need to build. No doubt most of it will tend to be more informal, although I do have hopes for the transitional form of time banking.

      No doubt there will be some admixture of the negative aspects of gangs and clans, but we have to aspire to overcome the worst of that. (Probably the nastiest collapse scenario, short of nuclear war, is Orlov’s depiction of unanchored, undisciplined police, military, and security cadres intermingling with the existing underground to bring a new form of gangsterism and warlordism. That, of course, is exactly the world “libertarians” and “anarcho-capitalists” want.)

      Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

      • Warlordism (like fascism: they are not substantially different) is so inefficient that it won’t ever be implemented or will collapse as soon as it begun. In Somalia it may be a fascist (islamist) organization fighting against the warlords but in the West it’d be class organizations, have no doubt.

        Comment by Maju — September 4, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

      • You can’t force the relationships. Between Orlov and The Road you get a chaotic, unchecked collapse. Mutual assistance has some germination in unfulfilled needs. You cannot get a suburban “block” to knock down their fences and start a communal garden right now. Even if they all agreed, the Village, etc. might not let them! The Law encourages formalization of relationship through the State. I’m not denigrating gangs or clans. That is the nature of human survival. What I’m saying is that organizing for resilience is about relationships and gangs and clans offer a model.

        If I was in a time bank, whose time would I want to call on in an emergency? Who do I need in the bank to make a go in a no money situation? Plumber, nurse, tax attorney… At that point, the minimum size of the time bank can be determined, right? And all that is fixed against the food production.

        Membership in a time bank would free me from control money and the rackets as much as possible.

        Comment by Ross — September 4, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

      • I wasn’t denigrating them either, and I didn’t think you were. I think we recognize that aspects of what’s nowadays called by those names will be a common feature, and the job is to harness that constructively.

        I haven’t yet seen what we could call “Time Bank theory”, which would try to figure out the optimal sizes/mixes for time bank membership in various situations and forecast how they might develop given various scenarios of socioeconomic crumbling, repression, etc., but also scenarios of vibrant growth for the relocalization movement. (Time banks can also confederate, and I think some rudimentary confederation already exists in some places. Sort of like library systems where your card is valid in many libraries. But here the size and the ease of transfer can’t be so large or easy as to defeat the relocalization purpose. Otherwise you’re starting to restore the same malignities of money which time dollars are supposed to transcend.)

        Maybe I’ll end up contributing to such a theory myself.

        Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  5. Russ,

    Sorry for the sidebar. Are you familiar with any of Charles Einstein’s writings? There are sample chapters of his book, Sacred Economics listed at the reality sandwich blog that seem to really touch on some of the same concepts (like human exceptionalism) you discuss here.

    There’s also a nicely presented utube series of interviews called “Money & Life”. I’d be curious to get some of your thoughts on the subject.

    I’ve been trying to explain some of this perspective to Rodger Mitchell over at his Monetary Sovereignty blog, but he seems complacent to stick to a prescripton of just issuing more Govt.”sovereign” debt-based money as the cure all, with essentially no heed to the evident failures of the ‘growth’ imperative. I feel much more educated having learned about the mechanics of MS, but am I wrong to assume he is still operating inside of an obsolete box? At any rate, Einstein’s stuff has a lot of positive feel to it regarding a coming transition from the old paradigm. I feel like his presentation could really resonate with people struggling to release their addiction to the broken system & the lies.

    Happy holiday weekend ~ Pete

    Comment by Pete — September 4, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

    • Thanks, Pete. I haven’t read him, but if I can find time I’ll check him out.

      I’ve rejected all prescriptions for MMT and its earlier forms because a currency issued directly by a centralized state is still a command currency and still means a centralized state. Even if this were possible, it wouldn’t be desirable. Relocalization implies the decentralization of government and economic measurements of value. And it’s not possible anyway, since this system is a kleptocracy.

      I also recently concluded (surprised it didn’t occur to me earlier) that monetary sovereignty is a contradiction in terms.

      I’ll just reprise what I wrote the other day in a Naked Capitalism comment (this is also in opposition to MMT’s taxation fetish) :

      Monetary sovereignty is a contradiction in terms, since the only thing backing it up* is taxation, i.e. an illegitimate imposition upon the people’s political sovereignty by an alien elite.

      *Sovereignty, by definition, is an irreducible monad. Thus the famous “solecism” of imperium in imperio, “sovereignty within sovereignty”, sovereignty divided against itself. So anything that needs further backing cannot be sovereign.

      Happy holiday to you too. Labor Day post tomorrow, of course. 🙂

      Comment by Russ — September 4, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

  6. One kind of dogmatism, shared by many Anarchists and Marxists is an ill-understood internationalism that, in the end, is nothing but nationalism of the big, of the nation-state. This is quite painful when coming from anarchists who have an anti-state discourse, yet they organize themselves at state level (but display pseudo-internationalist disdain for the legitimate claims of self-rule by the smaller, oppressed, nations). Some Marxists are also that way but others have evolved and are not. While it’s possible that Lenin was the first revolutionary to state the right of self-determination, Kropotkin was who set the bases for the Leninist decentralization by ethnographically mapping the Russian Empire.

    Also terminology, discourse. While I’m not inconditional of Marxism, I understand that it is a good frame of analysis that Anarchism lacks of. There’s no such coherent corpus of analysis of Capitalism and the class war within anarchism. It seems like Anarchists would need to re-think everything from the beginning all the time. This is a good exercise but often unnecessary. You talk of kleptocracy, I talk of Capitalism… we have difficulties to agree because we use different languages. But you’d also have difficulties to agree with every other anarchism, because, sincerely, many of the categories you use they do not.

    The pretense that a commune is not some form of state, the pretense that Anarchist organizations are not parties, that you can do politics while being “apolitical” all that is so false (or so confusedly named) that stinks.

    I’m ok with Anarchists but they tend to organize against Marxists instead of converging. Same for many sectarian Marxists, but not all. The criticisms that Marx and Bakunin threw against each other at the collapse of the 1st International were all of them too truthful: Marx was authoritarian in a commander style, Bakunin also in a conspirator style.

    IMO we need to do better than that. We are not doing it for a set of principles but for Humankind. We have invented those principles for Humankind, it can’t ever be Humankind for the principles.

    I was about deleting all this but you asked so I tell you what I think. I think that both classical Anarchism and Marxism are somewhat obsolete since Humankind entered the Social Worker phase. Still Marxism is more correct, more complete, in the analysis, while Anarchism keeps some important principles which most Marxists renounced to in the name of a revolution that failed precisely for that reneging.

    I think that they must be merged again and that his remix has been going on for decades already and is what people really need. The main problem of Autonomy is that it has not created a “party” (movement) yet and has not replaced the old divisive doctrines. But most of the movements that I have seen flourishing in this little country of mine, from the antimilitarist movement to the social centers’ one, passing by the free radios and others, were vertebrated by the Autonomy and with an Autonomist ideology. I cannot conceive anything else anymore and a lot of people can’t either – even if they do not know the ideology within in any detail.

    Anarcho-Marxists? Not exactly either: we are late 20th century, not late 19th century.

    Comment by Maju — September 6, 2011 @ 9:01 pm

    • Again that was meant to go elsewhere. Sorry.

      Comment by Maju — September 6, 2011 @ 9:02 pm

    • No, it was better to bring it down here. I was wanting to do that myself. With those long subthreads right in the middle, it gets hard to find things and post in the right place.

      Every modern anarchist I’ve read accepts the basics of Marx’s analysis of capitalism, modifying as needed (as I’ve done), disagreeing primarily on what’s to be done. So I don’t know how anyone is allegedly starting from scratch.

      The pretense that a commune is not some form of state, the pretense that Anarchist organizations are not parties, that you can do politics while being “apolitical” all that is so false (or so confusedly named) that stinks.

      The State is a centralized, coercive heirarchy. What meaning could the term have if applied so promiscuously as to encompass communes? Many anarchists are more flexible with the term “government” and might be willing to say a commune is a government as long as it was understood that this does not include any dichotomy between “ruler” and “ruled”, “government” and “citizen”.

      Since at least in modern countries “parties” are things that seek power within “representative” States, I’m not sure what’s the utility of calling movements that want to abolish State and “representation” by that name. But I don’t recall seeing that controversy. To the best of my recollection, never on this blog have I had to pause and say, “is Party the word I want to use?”

      As for politics, there you’re straw-manning. One of my main counts against kleptocracy is how it seeks to abolish political participation


      one of my main disproofs of trickle-down is how citizen political participation has not expanded but constricted, and one of my main condemnations of representative government as a scam is how it reduces “participation” to a sham ballot pull every few years.

      At the opposite pole, one of my main aspirations for true political democracy is that it would permanently enshrine the full opportunity for such participation on every citizen’s part.

      Nor do I recall seeing any anarchist ever attack politics as such. Modern sham politics, which are really anti-political, yes. (Which proves the point.)

      (If you clicked on my movement strategy link and are referring to my use of the term “apolitical”, which I set off in quotation marks there as well, we already discussed that in the comment thread


      https://attempter.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/basic-question-and-thoughts/#comment-5547 )

      BTW, I was planning to write a short post touching on exactly this, based on an Orwellianism I read among food movement disputants, with one of them calling the directly participatory political (direct action in the form of citizens taking responsibility for their food), “anti-political”, because she’s such a slave to the premises of representative pseudo-democracy and big government in general. So writing this response has helped me do some of the work toward that post.

      Comment by Russ — September 7, 2011 @ 3:00 am

      • It’s not you, Russ: I like what you write and I like this blog. Though in this particular article it sounded a lot like critical conservatives (such as Washington’s Blog, which you probably know already). You asked what’s the problem, the dogma I find difficult to deal with in Anarchism in general.

        Anarchists in the state of Spain at least claim themselves “apolitical” by that they mean they do not take part in institutions, even if elect.

        And not taking part in elections most people consider legitimate, for institutions that most people accept as legit, is not necessarily a good strategy, you could well take part and not occupy the seats or you could occupy the seats with a rigid compromise of service to the popular assemblies (which you would have to impel as well).

        One may argue, as you do, that state’s hierarchy is undesirable and bad pedagogy… and that such institutions should be recycled into something more participative, more horizontal and more democratic as soon as possible… I can’t but agree with this. But refusing to take part in elections, specially where a quasi-proportional system of representation exists, and to use such tools at least to gauge your own support and to carry your demands into each of those institutions… sounds dogmatic and specially impractical.

        I’m not enthusiast of elections (nor I think they are central) but I do not reject them either. It’s always better to have a radical left town hall and regional government than to have a right wing one. It’s better to have a mayor who knows he’s a servant of the people by conviction than one who knows he’s the servant of business and pocketing money for himself. It is better to have a compromised union gathering most votes than a union whose strength is always marginal, based on members solely, and can’t grow even by sympathy because it does not run.

        The French Revolution did not begin with the masses crying “behead the king!” – that was the culmination of a process which began demanding the nation’s power for the general states (elected by estaments, go figure!) The Russian Revolution of 1905 began with a demo lead by a priest to plea to the Tsar… It’s only when not even those institutional mechanisms work anymore that the revolution flourishes. But neither the anarchists, nor the marxists nor me know how it will evolve. Kropotkin, who was an elderly witness of 1917, described it as a tsunami in which nobody had control… but the Bolsheviks managed to stay afloat on top (but that’s all they could really do before the waters, the revolutionary movement, calmed).

        I appreciate the critical approach of Anarchism to institutions but I live here and now and not in an utopic future or nostalgic past like 1936 or the Makhnovite movement. I know that electoral paths are extremely delicate and include a serious risk of being absorbed by the system (look at the Maoists in Nepal right now, for example). But still causes and movements can use such paths, knowing that they are playing with fire but that fire both burns and warms, depending how you use it.

        Comment by Maju — September 7, 2011 @ 10:29 am

      • 1. I’ve always said that electoral politics may be worthwhile at the local level. Even low-level candidates from the 2 criminal gangs might not yet be corrupt.

        Our own relocalization group looks to this year’s mayoral election with a clear choice: The incumbent Democrat is a friend to us (and at least one of the others from the slate is peripherally involved with our projects), while most of the Republicans are hostile, many on a personal level. I don’t know if the mayoral candidate is one of those personally hostile, but at any rate in this local election there’s a clear difference.

        So there’s one example.

        2. If we had a proportional system instead of the brute winner-take-all system, I might not be so adamant even where it comes to national elections. Although from what I see, Europe’s proportional systems are failing as well. (Or are they actually scams, in practice more like that of the US?)

        Comment by Russ — September 7, 2011 @ 11:02 am

      • Tricky question: true proportionality is seldom used, modified one is (D’Hont Law specially, which favors the big parties even if not as much as the winner-takes-all system). A key issue is electoral district size: a 3-4 seats district with D’Hont Law will almost invariably give all seats to the two big parties, only larger districts (more seats to apportion) will allow minor parties to grab seats, the exact percentage needed will vary.

        In Spain, for example, the district is the province (50 plus the special cases of Ceuta and Melilla) which gets two seats by default plus whatever gets from apportion (1-3 often enough), so rural provinces dominate elections and in these you can choose only, in practical terms, between the two big parties. The two seats per province by default (constitution dixit) is a robbery, even in a federal system like that of the USA, states only get granted a minimal of 1 seat. And in Spain provinces are not federal subjects (except the Basque ones) but mere administrative divisions, often with no personality at all. This system clearly harms the left but in general all small parties, except those with regional importance (i.e. nationalist and regionalist parties).

        France uses one district per elect (like Anglo-Saxons) but two-round system, allowing for people to vote to lesser parties in first round, even if they have few options. However you still need to get a local plurality (usually majority) in second round to get a seat, what is very difficult for non-mainstream candidates.

        Anyhow, I don’t think that elections are any panacea, just that ONLY working outside the system with ONLY utopic long term goals on sight is not likely to work at all. However working through the system is a minefield and requires a very educated and strongly participated grassroots “party” or movement. Otherwise the cadres may be tempted to betray the whole project as soon as they get some power and some offers of bribes.

        Comment by Maju — September 8, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

      • Thanks. Those do sound like fraudulent pseudo-proportion. That’s what I figured, given the same abyss in at least several countries between what the people want and the range of possibilities government recognizes.

        The corruption of empowered and unaccountable cadres seems to happen inevitably. Power corrupts. That’s one of the main reasons I regard representative government as fraudulent and want true democracy to abolish it. I don’t see how any non-anarchist thinks any elitist structure won’t become tyrannical.

        Like I said, I’m willing to work simultaneously within and without wherever I see anything worthwhile to be done. In practice, in America at the higher levels, it means at most some targeted negative actions. I think it was worthwhile trying to get Bernanke dumped (but not to advocate anyone in particular to replace him), even though that effort failed. (The goal was nothing but to get a scalp, as a confidence-generator. But failure as well ought to have a good effect, in that it confirms the premise that the kleptocracy is unreformable.)

        Bottom-up pressure did force some improvements in the recent Food Control bill. Where it comes to certain tyrannical legislation, negative pressure to avert bad action can sometimes work. (I see no potential for positive pressure begging for good action. I can think of zero examples where that’s worked.) In blog posts and NC comments I’ve often called upon people to demand No Taxes on the Non-Rich. In America, at least, that could be a successful negative campaign.

        So there’s a few examples of in-system action at the upper levels of government. Targeted, negative.

        Comment by Russ — September 8, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: