This is a response essay to Kevin Carson’s essay in response to libertarian municipalism. Here is a link to Kevin Carson’s essay so you can see what I am responding to. I wrote this essay within a day and will probably continue to revise it as I usually do with my writings. Hope this creates dialogue.
A link to Kevin Carson’s essay: http://c4ss.org/content/36761
In regards to anarchism and technology:
It is always interesting to see someone praise Bookchin’s essay “Towards a Liberatory Technology” and then continue to advocate for markets. It is one thing to be ignorant of our technical context that makes markets obsolete, it is another thing to claim this technical context is a fantasy, and it is another thing altogether to know about the technical context that makes markets obsolete exists but still think that we should have markets. If things people need are for sale, then by extension people are for sale. We have the technical ability to have free food/water/shelter/energy for all. Supplying people with such resources for free would be bad for maximizing money. A great way to maximize money is by selling that which people need, and living in a society where the very basics of what people need are for sale. Aeroponic skyscrapers, agroecology, geothermal/wind/solar/wave/tidal energy/hemp energy, water purification systems, hempcrete houses, hemp based plastics/paper, the ability to produce ad distribute everything simpler than an automobile, maglevs, and various other forms of liberatory technology can free us from artificial scarcity. This context makes markets obsolete. To make this liberatory technology for sale as opposed to something accessed by communities, collectives, and individuals, is to turn liberatory technology into less liberatory technology(at best), and ensure scarcity that is needed and generated by market systems.
Markets ration resources through money, putting cost efficiency before ecological usage of resources, liberatory technology, and human needs whenever doing so makes sense in the realm of market competition. Market economies are based on an all out economic war, where a game of economic musical chairs(artificial scarcity) is created. Carson advocates for a “thou shalt not privately own the means of production” rule on top of a market economy. The best way to maximize money in a market system is to privately own the means of production other people use and then extract surplus value from them. There is a contradiction in the incentive system within a market economy to make money, and a law prohibiting the most effective way to maximize money.
One of the most interesting lines written by Carson in his essay on Bookchin, is Carson claiming that the line between individualist/market anarchism and social anarchism is permeable. Statements like these express an ignorance of the differences of advocating for freedom of markets and freedom from markets. To act as if those two broad strains of economic thought have a permeable line that separates them is to miss the point of social anarchism entirely and degenerate anarchism into a vague “anarchism without adjectives”. There is a reason various adjectives have emerged within anarchist thought; Anarchism(genuine strains of it) are unified by “freedom from capitalism/statecraft, and tactics used outside of capitalism/statecraft”. Mutualists, Labor Voucherists, and Communists disagree in regards to what kind of economy we should have. And underneath each of those broad labels there are disagreements within each camp in regards to what kind of society we ought to have and what kind of decision making processes should exist(or not exist) and what kind of tactics we ought to use to get towards freedom. These differences are not trivial and superficial, in fact there are tons of opposing views(to the degree that putting all these strains under the term anarchism causes lots of confusion within and outside the anarchist movement). Anarchism without adjectives is extremely broad, and seems to be what Carson is proposing. It reminds me of “Anarcho” Capitalists when they advocate for forms of communism within the boundaries of privately owned means of existence and their system. Carson is saying is that what libertarian municipalists want ought to happen, within the limits and rules of market systems. However, the limits and rules of market systems prohibit mutualist moral impositions of “thou shalt not privately own the means of production”, as well as libertarian municipalist ideals of community assemblies and a society that has evolved beyond markets and artificial scarcity.
Carson claims that, “The large monopoly capitalist enterprise grows at the expense of society, in cooperation with its “rivals.””. This statement is true to a degree. A great strategy within capitalism is to cooperate as a mechanism to maximize profit and compete with others. However, sometimes competition with rivals and others can be a great mechanism for maximizing profit. Mutualism advocates for cooperation being used to maximize money and compete with others within a market economy.
A critique of Carson’s critique of Bookchin’s strategy:
Critiquing the idea of building a mass movement of municipal assemblies to achieve liberatory ideals, Carson advocates a gradual transition out of capitalism and the state through rationing resources within the market context seeing technological fixes and markets as capable in and of themselves of transitioning us to a better society. Bookchin critiqued worker co-ops within the context of a market system, noting that they either had to adapt to the market and become money seeking, or implode because of market pressures. The community assemblies advocated by libertarian municipalism 1. meet people’s needs in the present 2. decentralize power 3. create institutions that can exist during and after a transition to a stateless/marketless society. This is able to create a mass movement, of the people, by the people, and for the people, and with the help of people educated in participatory democracy.
Carson claims the approach based on mass movements based on municipal assemblies is not needed. I can only assume that what Carson is doing here is advocating for small movements using less liberatory methods/forms than community assemblies. Carson then advocates for the “techno fix” the idea that technology alone will allow us to transition, as well as claiming the coordination of community assemblies is obsolete given this new technology. How does the advancement of technology make communal decision making processes and institutions obsolete? That is a question left unanswered. Liberatory technology can assist us with decision making, but should not replace decision making which ultimately needs to be held by the people. What does Carson want in the place of community assemblies? Market Mechanisms? This is left unclear, we are left with an assertion that a mass movement of community assemblies is obsolete with no evidence backing it.
Carson critiques the idea of a big movement, not realizing that a big movement can have a platform that provides it structure while allowing for diversity to thrive within that platform. The preferences of different people can vary greatly while keeping the basic forms of freedom of municipal assemblies.
Carson displays 6 reasons that supposedly make a mass movement of community assemblies obsolete, none of which do so individually, or when grouped together holistically.
1. “Technological advances are making small-scale, high-tech craft production with computerized machine tools far more efficient than high-overhead factory production.” – Carson
Just because technology is advancing does not make communal directly democratic systems of governance obsolete, if anything it just makes them more liberatory if managed in an educated way.
2. “The radical cheapening of such tools is bringing them within the price range of skilled laborers.” – Carson
This process is also making it so people compete with their tools to survive unnecessarily. Technological unemployment under the influence of the market is able to take technology that could emancipate us from labor, and put it in competition with laborers. Ephemeralization under the influence of the market an the state is the ephemeralization of turning life into non life in order to maximize gains.
3. “Self-provisioning and subsistence production within the household, informal and social economies is becoming increasingly necessary to meet a growing share of consumption needs, because of increasing levels of unemployment and underemployment.” – Carson
His third point is unintelligible to me. He claims there is the need for new “social economies”, which is an extremely vague way to advocate whatever he is advocating for. Part of the point of community assemblies is to meet people’s needs in the present. How this “social economy” Carson advocates makes a mass movement of community assemblies obsolete is a mystery to me.
4. “Networked communications technology is destroying most of the transaction costs of coordinating human activity horizontally, and enabling peer networks to run circles around the old bureaucratic hierarchies of corporation and state.” – Carson
It is also enabling new more cost efficient/profit efficient bureaucracies to take the place of less cost efficient/profit efficient bureaucracies. This is just the market maximizing profit, and does not make community assemblies as a transition or as an end goal obsolete.
5. “Peak Oil and other resource crises, and the fiscal crisis of the state, are making it impossible for the state to provide the massive and growing levels of subsidized inputs that capitalism depends on.” -Carson
Resource crises are destroying the foundation that human and non human life depend upon as well. How this makes a mass movement of community assemblies obsolete is a mystery to me.
6. “The plummeting capital requirements for production eliminate the technical basis for the factory and the large corporation, so that the only way they can maintain their relevance is to rely on entry barriers and monopolies (like “intellectual property”) to suppress small-scale production or coopt it within their institutional control; but the hollowing out of the state, and the proliferation of liberatory technologies like file-sharing and encryption, make it increasingly impossible to enforce them.” – Carson
This techno fix in and of itself, outside of radical systemic change, leaves capitalism/the state in place. The idea that we do not need a mass movement of community assemblies because of file sharing and encryption is truly an enigma. It is a claim without evidence.
Carson ends his 6 components of why mass movements of community assemblies aren’t necessary with a smug “no vanguard movement required” line. This is probably to create associations with authoritarian vanguardism as practiced by state socialists. Bookchin advocates for intelligent people to help foster education about libertarian municipalism, but does not advocate for an authoritarian vanguard. I think the goal of that line is to create an association in the mind of Carson’s readers between Bookchin’s views and state socialism. This is either ignorant or dishonest.
Critique of Carson’s critque of Bookchin in regards to the restoration of the polis:
Carson claims that directly democratic political institutions with anti authoritarian rules and enforcement thereof as “an example of authority and domination”. Yet when it comes to decision making, Carson sees the market as some quasi religious principle that can take the place of the democratic polis advocated by libertarian municipalism.
Carson starts talking about how he believes in the non aggression principle, a principle that sounds pleasant on the surface, but is merely a rationalization of private property rights. Does Carson believe that the definition of “legitimate property rights” should be changed to not include private property? Or does Carson believe that it is up to the private owners of the means of production to voluntarily hand over the means of production? If Carson advocates the latter, then Carson is advocating for capitalist property relations as a framework through which socialist property relations can flourish. If this is the case, than this is tied for the most absurd transition strategy to socialism that I have ever heard (perhaps tied with state socialist transition strategies). As far as I know the non aggression principle was first advocated by Ayn Rand, and then adapted to an “anarcho” capitalist perspective by Murray Rothbard. Randian Mutualism is even less liberatory than mutualism.
Libertarian municipalism advocates municipalities linking up into confederations, giving each person a position in creating policy, especially within their own municipality. Libertarian municipalism also advocates for constraining democracy to a set of rules/a constitution/”social compact” that protects free association and prohibits authoritarian relationships. Under libertarian municipalism, people can leave their municipality and go to other municipalities, uninhibited by economic coercion from the market. The confederations are free associations of free associations(bounded together by rights and responsibilities). Direct democracy can be used to see if there is an organic consensus, if different preferences are compatible, and how to resolve different preferences that are incompatible. Liberatory technology and a culture that is not based on conspicuous consumption (amongst various other “checks and balances”) would change the degree of incompatible preferences.
Carson thinks that the state and capitalism will “hollow out and retreat from social life”. This is a child’s fantasy at best, and a viewpoint that will allow capitalism and the state to continue unchallenged at worst. It is a viewpoint that sees no reason for a mass movement of liberatory municipal institutions during a transition to a better society. Carson’s adjectiveless form of Randian Mutualism being put forward doesn’t prescribe institutions for after the revolution. This vagueness is part of the reason why Bookchin stopped identifying with anarchism. The pure negative liberty of freedom from the state and freedom from capitalism are necessary conditions for freedom and wellbeing of all, but not sufficient conditions. We ought to expand negative liberty to include freedom from markets. We also ought to have positive liberty that we advocate for, such as people being free to participate in decision making on an equal footing when they are involved in associations with others, the freedom to use liberatory technology, the freedom to perform scientific, philosophical, and artistic work, the freedom to participate in one’s municipality, etc etc etc. The idea that community institutions/rules/enforcement thereof are just optional components of anarchism, reduces anarchism into structurelessness.