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Book Reviews: 'The Accumulation of Freedom - Writings on Anarchist Economics', 'Beyond The Global Capitalist Crisis'

Anarchist economics

The Accumulation of Freedom: Writings on Anarchist Economics. AK Press. 2012

Anarchists have a reputation for being weak in economics. This collection of articles is an attempt to refute this. It doesn’t succeed entirely and in fact tends to confirm that most modern-day anarchists get their economic ideas from Marx (as did Bakunin who was once going to translate Capital into Russian). Some of the writers don’t seem to be anarchists at all, in particular Robin Hahnel and Michael Albert, the inventors of a blueprint for an ideal future society they call “parecon”. Hahnel seems to be a Keynesian, advocating more state intervention (yes!) as a way out of the present crisis and of avoiding future ones. Albert is a supporter of President Chavez of Venezuela, and urges people to vote for him.

Even so, the book does give a view of the range of opinion amongst anarchists. Some – the modern-day followers of Proudhon – are “market anarchists” who hold that there is nothing wrong with production for the market, except that the competitors should be worker-cooperatives rather than capitalist corporations and there should be no state to interfere in it. This is a minority view these days (though well represented in the US), but there are other anarchists who are against full, free-access communism (known as “collectivists” rather than “communists”) who favour instead relating people’s consumption to the amount of work they do.

Marx himself sort of endorsed this for the very early days of post-capitalist society and some in the Marxist tradition still argue for labour-time vouchers. We don’t. Neither do some anarchists. In fact, two contributors to this book describing themselves as “libertarian communists” – Deric Shannon and Scott Nappalos - argue against this in the same terms that we do. Nappalos even quotes from our pamphlet Socialism As A Practical Alternative.

Nappalos says that, as a libertarian communist, he stands for “a society based on the abolition of remuneration in the form of wages and democratic control” and “an economy based on the destruction of the wage system, and a de-linking of the value of labor in production from the distribution of society’s wealth to its members.” He makes the valid point that it is not possible anyway to measure an individual’s contribution to production. He writes “in our time, production is largely social. The contribution of an individual is very difficult to isolate from the contributions of countless others that make work possible”. Any such attribution can only be arbitrary, as in the parecon blueprint, of which he says: “having co-workers judge each other’s work would turn gossip and infighting at work presently from an annoyance into a system of power over wages.”

Shannon’s criticism is directed more at “market anarchists”. He quotes another libertarian communist, Joseph Kay:

“The assets of a co-op do not cease being capital when votes are taken on how they are used within a society of generalised commodity production and wage labour. That is to say there remains an imperative to accumulate with all the drive to minimise the labour time taken to do a task this requires, even in a co-op.”

Other articles describe anarchist economic practice such as factory occupations, setting up vegan cafés and campaigns directed at particular capitalist firms (called PEDCs or “political-economic disruptive campaigns”). However, these are not specifically anarchist activities, only activities in which some anarchists engage.


Beyond The Global Capitalist Crisis. Edited by Berch Berberoglu. Ashgate. 2012

This collection of essays is a restatement of classical Leninist economics and politics. The authors argue that the current global crisis “is permanent and irreversible”. The theoretical framework is provided by Lenin's theory of capitalism as imperialism, in which the contradictions of capitalism which “would have led it to collapse on the national level were thus transferred to the global level”. In 1917 Lenin “showed the way forward” by identifying the source of the crisis and its solution: “socialism – i.e. a state and society ruled by the working class”.

One contributor claims that, for a number of unexplained reasons, “actually existing socialism” succumbed to a crisis of its own in which “socialism” in the USSR and elsewhere collapsed. It's no mystery. These state capitalist regimes stagnated under the rising costs of a bureaucratic-military state machine (since this must be largely financed out of surplus value redirected from the productive sector of the economy) and an increasingly expensive dictatorship over the proletariat.

Capitalism will not collapse, nor will the crisis be permanent – if for no other reason than that there is currently no working class movement for socialism. In the absence of that understanding, desire and action for change, capitalism in one form or another will persist. State capitalism (nationalisation or state ownership) is not socialism; nor is a step towards socialism as Lenin believed.