April 13, 2019

On Production

This essay was inspired by Albert Einstein's 1949 article titled "Why Socialism?" Text Link, Video Link.

As a socialist, I spend a lot of time thinking about how our system deprives people of their natural power. The owners of private capital have a privileged position in society and non-owners must sell their labor to capital owners. Most of us are non-owners and so our system today is one in which a minority have privilege over a majority.

Note of course that this class-based analysis represents only one factor about our global society and does not represent the whole of struggle experienced by people all over the world. Gender, race, ability and more stratify our society in many ways. Today however I want to point out something I have noticed about our modern popular class-based analysis.

It is easy as a socialist to criticize many specific capital owners as abusers given their practices or to criticize all capital owners as abusers given their complicity in the whole rotten system. We often find ourselves disgusted at the anti-social actions of big corporations and have an understandable tendency to reject everything related to corporations.

I suppose I should mention that I am a "libertarian socialist", a historical term often also described by the term "anarchist". Socialism, anarchism, communism, and libertarian are all terms that have been rendered nearly useless by all manner of misuse and war and propaganda and ignorance, and yet they remain critical as the ties to the historical truths behind these movements.

As a libertarian socialist, I see the idea of a centralized government or "state" as truly unfair and abhorrent. I see the state as a tool to perpetuate the deep stratification of our society where only a minority may exercise their natural power. This aversion to the idea of a centralized state puts me at odds with many modern socialists, who having benefited from neoliberalism then go to suggest that a friendly state that regulates big corporations can adequately restore the freedom the state and corporations have so far deprived us of. I would however say that many socialists have opposed the state. I think centralized socialism is a tired idea we must strive to move past, even if we may still find some wins for the people in the short term by using the state (healthcare in the US as an example).

And this is where I get to the real issue at hand. I do believe the state is oppressive and must be dismantled. And those of us on the left who feel this way often satisfy ourselves by making memes and shitposts about how corporations are all shit and the government is too. Which is all pretty justifiable, but at times I think it causes us to miss the point.

Socialism is widely regarded as a movement for worker's freedom. And the capitalists and the state definitely are impeding worker's freedom here. But I see us so often criticize corporations that I think we forget we as anarchists will need to organize and start businesses and trade our goods with others and generally do a lot of the same shit corporations do. Production and trade are and have always been critical ideas in the socialist ideal.

Anarchism and socialism are about worker's collectives, which are essentially businesses. By demanding that we abolish the elite business leaders, we are simultaneously demanding that we all become the leaders instead. So when we levy heavy criticism on a capitalist's choices, we must remember that we too will have to take on those responsibilities when we have our own collectives.

This is not to be taken as a plea to save the poor capitalists, but a call to anarchists to recognize that we must understand the systems of production. We cannot scoff at all that is done, but we must study business too and welcome in those who have studied business and want to help grow collective power. And we must not be so afraid of production that we forget our lives depend on it. We cannot simply reject business. Worker ownership of the means of production means we are to become business owners.

We must move beyond the cries for pitchforks and begin to build the new socialist collectives that will power a more free world. We need a global network of socialist cooperatives to enable the true socialist dream. From each according to their abilities, to each according to their need. Those who are able must work to create that reality. And we've got to get to work.