Gift Economy and Anarcho-Socialism Explained

Socialism arose as a struggle for equality in Europe as a combined result of protests from different layers of society against other or sometimes the same layers of society. I’d argue that Protestantism was the pre-cursor to this movement, starting with events like the burning of Jan Hus at the stake in 1415 for criticizing the power of the Pope. In 1600, Giordani Bruno was also burned at the stake for suggesting that the Earth was not the centre of the universe. In England, the first parliament was established very early, to begin with as advisory to the King but gaining more power over time. This power balance eventually led to the English civil war, which resulted in the execution of the King in 1649. The workers’ and artisans’ struggle against the monarchy and aristocracy led to the execution of the French King after the French Revolution in 1789. This is arguably the birth of socialism. In 1848, the new capitalists of the Industrial revolution rebelled against the imperialists and old money. In 1914 World War 1 broke out, which led to revolutions in several countries and to World War 2.

Socialism in my view consists of three major schools: Anarchism, social democracy and communism. After the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s annexation of Bosnia, the crown prince Franz Ferdinand paraded Sarajevo and an anarchist shot him dead, which led to an international conflict, WW1, but the ideology of anarchism has taken many years to consolidate. Social democracy is a compromise between the established hierarchies and the new socialist movement to avoid similarly chaotic chains of events. Communism is the realization of socialism via a global, authoritarian government. The ends justify the means in the minds of the politicians, but, in reality, people just think of you as a hypocrite and communism has mainly led to famines.

Anarchism, understood as part of the socialist movement, can be subdivided into a number of schools, methods and tendencies, which are difficult to separate. The tendencies include anarcha-feminism, green anarchism, anarcho-primitivism and anarcho-pacifism. The schools include, in order from most capitalist to most communist: anarcho-capitalism, voluntaryism, mutualism and anarcho-communism. The methods include Bakunin’s revolutionary anarcho-socialism, the from-within workers’ overtaking of anarcho-syndicalism and various within-politics changes like direct democracy.

Gift economy

Gift economy is in this blog post described as belonging to anarcho-socialism, even though Bakunin did not specify this type of economy. He didn’t use the term either and Kropotkin was the one to suggest mutual aid as a system. Nonetheless, from a modern anarchist perspective, anarcho-socialism indicates its place in anarchist thought. Gift economies are found in various forms in many different societies, but a modern exposition is given by Genevieve Vaughan coming from a feminist perspective based on research on matriarchal societies. Anarchist Keith Preston presents gift economy from an anarchist perspective. Proudhon famously wrote: “Property is theft.” Although he adjusted that statement later it points to the fact that nature has no owner and can’t be owned, neither privately nor collectively.

Gift economy, in my system, can be summed up as: “To give and to hope.” Essentially, the production is based on volunteer labour and neither the means of production nor the products are owned by anyone, not even the collective. The people will then grab what they desire. The fundamental idea is that humans wish to lead a meaningful life, be creative, constructive and productive. A sufficiently efficient economy of production, distribution and recycling would demand only a tiny amount of total labour to cover the basic needs of all people. Given the state of modern technology available in theory, although not in practice in the current system, this might mean that each person only has to work, say, an hour a month or so. Obviously, many people would prefer to draw pictures and play football over cleaning toilets, however, entertainment is a valuable product as well and even if half the world played football, that would still only amount to two hours a month for the rest. If choosing a profession is limited only by preference, one may assume that those who are passionate about their jobs would not only be more efficient, but also want to work more than two hours a month.

Advisory laws

This concept should be easy enough to grasp, although, as with many other ideas, it might be difficult to envision. I’m not sure if advisory laws is part of any anarchist schools, but I’m pretty sure it is and either way, it has always been a part of my anarchism. The easiest example is road signs, so keep that example in mind. Laws are not written by parliament, nor upheld by military and police. Instead, rules are written when needed, by those who are sufficiently informed. The people can then choose to ignore the rules, but if they trust the expertise of the rule-makers they are themselves sufficiently informed by the rules to make sound choices as to when it is best to obey and best to disobey.

The problem with Ancaps and NAP

The accumulation of wealth is the main problem with anarcho-capitalism. The richest people on the planet earn most of their money from yields from investing their money. The more money they have, the more money they can invest and the more money they “earn” and the more they have and the more the can invest and so on. So, if for whatever reason you start out rich or get lucky, in terms of genetics or chaos theory or whatever, your power, in terms of wealth, accelerates beyond the reach of the average, pushing them down the ladder. Since the value of money is relative the total amount of money, the value of the dollar the wage earner earns lessens with every increase in the bourgeoisie wallet.

The problem with the Non-Aggression Principle is a lot less obvious. Suggesting that the initiation of force is always wrong is a beautiful but overly simplistic and unrealistic ideal. I’ll give five examples. Killing Hitler before he even killed the first jew would have been a good thing for obvious reasons. Stealing from one rich person to feed two poor persons is a good thing from a utilitarian perspective. Preventing pollution even if it only kills beetles is a good thing for they are sentient beings. Preventing pollution even if it only kills trees is a good thing for the sake of biodiversity, which is not in itself a good thing, but a safeguard against bad things. Lastly, even if you didn’t create a problem, by maintaining a system that oppresses others you are de facto forcing people even without initiating anything. To then blame those who initiate theft or revolution or any other action to rectify this injustice by invoking NAP is a case of horrible double-standards.

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