Economies beyond capitalism: Anarchist reflections and practices

What is anti-capitalism?  What distinguishes anarchist anti-capitalism from other “competing” social-political projects?  Whatever answers are forthcoming to such questions, at the heart of any anti-capitalism is an “alternative economy”.  What this in turn amounts to has been a matter of debate and struggle.  We share below a reflection, published in the Seville based newspaper El Topo, on anarchism as an anti-capitalism that endeavours to surpass economics as such.

Libertarian (Anti) Economy, a sketch

by Topo Tabernario (16/01/2017)

As interest in the economy has grown since the beginning of the crisis, dominant discourse has succeeded in polarising the debate into two possible and correspondingly dichotomous positions, expressed in a diversity of ways: neoliberalism or neo-keynesianism, the market or the State, and the private or the public, and so on …

The critique of neoliberalism, even disguised as anti-capitalism, hides in the majority of cases a deceitful defence of the State as a regulatory agent; it is the lulling story of the protecting State that should defend us against the evil markets.  And this is where the discussion usually runs aground.

Nothing can be thought or done without suspending this dichotomy, for the State and capital belong to each other.  Capital and the State are the two poles of the bipolar machine of government.  The dichotomy always undertakes the matter by dividing it and, at the same time, articulating the elements that result from the division in different ways:  some fall more to one of the poles, others to the opposite.  On the one side, the economy and on the other, the State, politics; and in between, the whole spectrum of ideologies of the possible.

Let us speak of eco-nomy, then, to emphasise that, contrary to other disciplines (socio-logy, anthropo-logy, etc.), we are not dealing here with logos but with nomos.  In eco-nomy, it is not a matter of a scientific discourse, description (logos), but of a prescription, an order, the law (nomos).  The economy is therefore essentially political economy, a technocratic form of power invented in the 17th century.

What concerns us here though, in this article, is a critique of the economy through the outline of an anti-eco-nomy, more than a mere “anti-capitalism”.  We are going to defend the abolition of the economy both in its modern, secularised sense, as well as in the older, theological sense; the abolition of the economy (this dismal science) as capitalism, that is, the abolition of money, value, commodities, labour and property; its abolition as administration-management-government (the greek oikonomia that Cicero would translate into the latin dispositio), in sum, the State; abolition consequently of the economy as the infinite government of the world.

We speak of an anti-eco-nomic perspective as long as this is not taken to mean an other economy, an alternative economy (regardless of its nature: green, social, socialist, solidarity …), but an alternative to the economy; it does not have to do, in the end, with a critical economy but with a critique of the (political) economy.  We exclude from the critique, for obvious reasons, the superficial interpretation of the economy that refers it simply to a natural relation with the environment.

For this end, we will outline ideas that will take us at least a little closer to a world free of capitalism, the economy, even government, with the intention of recalling that there exist perspectives (farsighted, undoubtedly) that seek to illuminate dimensions almost always forgotten, crushed under the weight of the self-evident, that is, under the tautological reality of the self-valorisation of value which, to be brief, we will call capitalism.

Let us begin by briefly touching on the three principal economic currents within anarchism: mutualism, collectivism and libertarian communism; to then have a quick look at existing daily practices.

Proudhon is the principal promoter of mutualism.  Although it lacks almost any theoretical repercussion today, in practice it is much more common than is believed (as we will see below, it has many similarities with what we would call today a social economy).

The basic characteristics of mutualism are:

  1. Private/social property of the means of production
  2. Private property of the fruits of labour.
  3. Distribution through market exchange.
  4. Mutualist money.

In the model proposed by Proudhon all workers would have access to their own means of production (organised in self-managed cooperatives).  These self-managed groupings would very much function like today’s workers’ cooperatives, eliminating some of the constraints of present day capitalism.  The distribution of what is produced would not be carried out according to the needs of each, but according to the labour contributed.  The parasitic capitalist class and its exaction (surplus value) removed, each worker would receive the full net product of her/his work, or better said, its equivalent, that is, money.  In turn, the self-managed groups would compete in a free market, regulated by a great agro-industrial  federation.  Therefore, the relations of of exchange of goods and services would continue to exist and the distribution of social wealth would be effected through the market, a socialist and allegedly “anti-capitalist” market.

Collectivism is in turn associated with Bakunin and can be summarised in the phrase: to each according to her/his abilities, to each according to her/his labour.  Its fundamental characteristics are:

  1. Collective property of the means of production.
  2. Private property of the fruits of labour.
  3. Distribution according to the labour contributed to the collectivity.
  4. Collectivist money.

In contrast to mutualism, collectivism doesn’t assume a reformist strategy and advocates the expropriation of property so that it be socialised.  It continues however to require money, as distribution is carried out according to the contribution of labour to the collectivity and not according to the needs of each, thus what is produced must be valued.  It is not reformist, but gradualist, as it is conceived as a transitory phase towards full communism, where forms of remuneration would disappear completely.

In mutualism and collectivism, neither (exchange) value, and neither money therefore (whether this is conventional, mutualist or collectivist), nor abstract labour, and neither abstract time accordingly (as an activity separate from the rest of life), are abolished.  For this reason, it is difficult to consider them as anti-capitalist proposals, and much less, anti-economic.

In both cases, the question was not so much to suppress capitalism, as to civilise it, placing labour (with its moralising, socialising, etc., role) at the centre of the system.  For them, the solution to the problem of social-political organisation should be, accordingly, economic, for according to them, economic laws, raised to the rank of natural laws, governed the world.

In their defense, we should say on the other hand that these conceptual problems are not to be found only in their proposals, but also, that in general, in all of the distinct, traditional families of “socialism” (in the generic, 19th century sense of the term), capitalism was not disputed as such, but rather the private property of the means of production and the inequality of the distribution of wealth thereby generated (central questions, we don’t deny, but which we note leave the essential to the side), remaining in agreement with almost everything else.

Libertarian communism, lastly, can be summarised classically in the phrase: to each according to her/his abilities, to each according to her/his needs.  Recently, Cindy Milstein [1] reformulated this maxim, updating and refining it as follows: to each according to her/his abilities and interests, to each according to her/his needs and desires.

Its basic characteristics are:

  1. Collective property of the means of production.
  2. Collective property of the fruits of labour.
  3. Distribution according to the needs of the community.
  4. Abolition of money.

Given that in libertarian communism the distribution of social wealth is carried out according to collective and individual needs, and not on the basis of the contribution of the labour of each, any measurement of value and the time employed in any of its forms is unnecessary.  This then implies the abolition of value, of abstract time and labour, as well as of money and commodities, and therefore of capitalism, the economy and government, the State.

All emancipatory theory should have as a correlate a prefigurative practice, that is, an action aimed at preparing now in the present, as far as possible, the advent of a free and autonomous community.  We turn then to apply to current practices the schema that was briefly outlined above so as to evaluate to what degree they contain an emancipatory seed and to analyse their potential to break with capitalism … even, with economy.

From this perspective, we find that in the great majority of cases, when we try to experiment with other ways to confront brute economic reality (that is, when obliged to generate money so as to survive), that we draw upon tactics that fall withing mutualism and collectivism,  restricting libertarian communism to the sphere of the family or the intimate-affective.  As is expressed by an example in the article  Anarquistas sin plan económico: el problema del dinero[2]:

“When three comrades [compañeras] associate themselves to produce bread, agree on a day’s work and share the product of their labour in relation to this day, they are experimenting with collectivism.  However, when this same association of three comrades, producers of bread, establish a system of exchange with other associations of comrades, producing beer, vegetables, etc., they are experimenting with mutualism.”

Without in any way underestimating the enormous quantity of effort and will that is required to find sustenance in a way that distances itself from capitalist orthodoxy, to experiment with mutualism and collectivism in the current context is much easier than to prefigure libertarian communism.  To begin with, we believe, because it is not even easy to imagine how it could at least be outlined.  In this sense, it would be of interest to investigate current experiences that point towards a real overcoming of the economy, as well as to imagine and to experiment with other practices (gradualist or not) that have this objective on their horizon.

An interesting example could be the Comunidad de Intercambio La Canica [Community of Exchange La Canica – To accede to the current and detailed list of what is offered and sought for in the Community, click here.  The ambition, we read on the site, is to expand these lists, such that the community and self-managed economy is ever more complete] and its conscious commitment to developing alternative currencies, to experiment with mutualism and collectivism, without losing sight of the final objective, libertarian communism which, as we saw, implies the abolition of money, the true heart of a system without heart.  We will not go into here whether this is to be achieved slowly (constantly increasing the degrees of autonomy) or whether it should occur spontaneously, as an insurrection-revolution.  Probably, leaving aside maximalisms, it would involve a combination of both perspectives.  In its own words:

The abolition of money is an empty concept if we cannot demonstrate that we can function with mutualist, collectivist money or without any kind of money at all.  It is possible.  It is clear that it is.  In Madrid at least there is already a Community that is experimenting with a system of exchange with mutualist money through which a diversity of people and associations, many of them collectivist in their internal functioning, are being brought into relation with each other.  The aim of this Community called La Canica is libertarian communism (consequently, the disappearance of our own mutualist currency).  To reach this end, La Canica has foreseen a  series of measures aiming at the acquisition of collectivised means of production that will then be placed at the disposal of the associated persons in accordance with their needs.”

La Canica conceives the tactic for the realisation of its ends in the following way:

“The modes of distribution of products characteristic of collectivism and mutualism (distribution according to labour and exchange, respectively), are associated with the form of property of the means of production.  Distribution implies a capacity to decide collectively regarding the product of labour of those associated, that comes from the fact that they share between themselves the property of the means of production.  Exchange implies a private capacity to decide about the product of labour, that arises from the fact of not sharing the property of the means of production with others involved in the exchange.”

Given the limits of space, we leave to future articles and debates, as well as to the imagination of the patient readers who have arrived up to this point, the evaluation of the pertinence of the said tactic for the realisation of its stated objectives.


This article is anonymous, as is the general flux of the ideas.  The authorship (like the authority) is nothing more than an interested fiction.




[1] Cindy Milstein.  Anarchism and its aspirations,  AK Press, Oakland, 2010, p.53.  Cited in Economía anarquista.  Una visión global.  Varios authors.  Publisher: La Neurosis o las barricadas, 2015, p. 58.

[2]  The reading another text, written by the Comunidad de Intercambio La Canica (having appeared in the monthly publication Todo por hacer, number 59, December 2015) was the cause of the present article.  It is available at: To learn more about La Canica:

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1 Response to Economies beyond capitalism: Anarchist reflections and practices

  1. Pingback: Without cooperative self-employment no future is possible | Construyendo la alternativa ecosocial y libertaria

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