This text contains frequently asked questions (FAQ) about anarchist economics and their answers. It focuses on the anarcho-communist flavor of anarchism. The answers are the author's opinion and don't represent the ideas of any organization. The answers are intentionally kept short and concise.
Economics is about the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services. It deals with what we take from nature, what we create, and who gets what.
An economy is one way to implement economics, one set of ideas and practices according to which production and distribution are organized.
As a kid, I hated economics because I thought it was only about becoming rich while ignoring injustices. That's not true. Economics is actually exciting. It's about deciding how production and distribution can be organized in ecological, free, and solidary ways.
Capitalism is just one way of organizing an economy. There are better ones.
The capitalist version of an economy is quite unpredictable, fragile, and very complex. Many small things could lead to a huge crisis and politicians thus fear making major changes. Fragile and crashing economies are prone to cause famines and even deaths. Yes, modern production and distribution have quite some complexity due to dependencies. However, the complexity and fragility can be reduced by methods of decentralization and encapsulation, allowing everyone to understand the relevant parts of economics. This will be further explained below.
We are all experts for that part of the economy that affects us: We know best what we need. And, at our workplace, we know best how to further improve the working conditions and the processes related to production or providing a service. We know these things better than e.g. bosses who don't participate in the production. Economies also require people who keep an overview over e.g. global usage of scarce goods, environmental issues, dependencies between industries, supply chains, and so on. However, having an overview responsibility does not imply having the right to decide over others. Overview responsibilities should rotate.
Yes. Economics existed before capitalism and there will be post-capitalist economies. We are led to believe that there is no alternative to capitalism but there are actually a multitude of options for how to organize economies.
The capitalist way of doing economics has led to a severe climate crisis and huge social injustices. This damage needs to be stopped. Also, thinking about and discussing post-capitalist economies, is a way to convince others of their feasibility.
If you don't want to live in a self-sufficient commune that produces everything they need themselves, i. e. if you want things like the internet, chocolate, or hospitals, then there is a need to coordinate with others about how to share the responsibilities and the access to the goods and services. If you do want to live in a self-sufficient commune, that's fine too, just don't force it on everyone.
Anarchism is about removing or at least minimizing all forms of dominance. Also, anarchist societies have to be based on the values of freedom and solidarity. An anarchist economy should provide to everyone according to need, i.e. no matter if or how someone works, their needs should be met. Anarchism is also about diversity, about acknowledging that there is not one solution that fits everyone. Anarchist economics should thus account for the respectful coexistence of multiple economic systems. Any structures related to the economy should be as decentral, transparent, and dynamic as possible so that they don't mutate into static power structures.
Yes. The questions and answers below will further explain how.
Anarcho-communism is the flavor of anarchist economics that I like best because it maximizes both freedom and solidarity. It uses no market and no wage labor (see below for issues with market and wage labor) and distributes based on need. If you prefer other types of economics, that's fine, you can write another FAQ. Under certain conditions, there is a good chance that diverse forms of economics can coexist (see below).
To get more concrete, economies based on freedom and solidarity should have the following characteristics:
The goal of a needs-based economy is to fulfill the needs of the people. The economy has to function in a way that this goal does not have to be put behind allegedly stringent necessities of abstract things like "the market" or dominating institutions. The people themselves define what their needs are and that can be different depending on the region and its environment and different depending on the individual. This includes people in all regions of the earth. This also includes thinking about the needs of future generations. And it includes thinking about the needs of non-human animals. If the fulfillment of one need conflicts with the fulfillment of another need, all affected people will find a solution to maximize the fulfillment of needs as best as possible. While every human can voice their needs, being able or willing to voice their needs should not be a requirement for their fulfillment.
As anarchist economies are not only about freedom but also about solidarity, one person can get what they wish for as long as it does not negatively affect others. And even in that case, they might still be able to get what they wish for, if the affected people talk about the (resource-) conflict and find a solution that is acceptable to all of them. If there is enough of one good or resource, everyone can just take as they need. Only for scarce goods, the affected community will have to find a mode of distribution that best meets all needs. Also, hoarding won't be a problem anymore.
When you can get what you need and you can trust your community to also provide for your needs in the future, there is no benefit of keeping huge quantities of things at your home. Neighbors might look at you funny if you still do that. Additionally, once getting things is decoupled both from family heritage and labor accomplishments, owning something is nothing to be proud of and does not serve as a status symbol. Thus, most people will stop hoarding.
Those affected by the decisions should be able to be part of the decisions. They don't have to decide everything as they could also trust others to make the right decisions but they could if they wanted. To make this possible, upcoming decisions and the related background information should be transparently accessible to everyone who is affected.
Anarchists criticize capitalism for multiple reasons:
Marxism mostly focuses on the exploitation of workers. Not all marxists are critical of power exercised by an elite or a state. Anarchists identify all forms of dominance and want to abolish them all.
No, there can only be many types of anarchist economies and many blueprints. Anarchism is about diversity, about adapting to the needs of the people and people have diverse preferences. Also, experiencing and experimenting are important in order to adapt to changing environments and futures. Of course, these experiments should not endanger the well-being of humans and other animals, they need to stay within the limits of freedom and solidarity. There might even be additional agreements to which all versions of economies should adhere. The possible ways of interaction between diverse economies are discussed further below.
(Here, a local level is thought of as a structure of up to around 150 people (Dunbar's number), so that it's still possible to know most of the people by sight). One possible organization model for the local organization of production and distribution is the creation of three types of structures: Consumer councils, production collectives, and coordination committees.
The whole community then decides on a plan.
Yes, but not in the sense of a centrally planned economy as in the Soviet Union, but rather in a decentralized way, decided on by the people affected by the decision. An anarchist economy as envisioned in this FAQ would consist of many, many distributed plans, partly overlapping and coordinated as needed.
Having some sort of plan allows for the freedom to know that our needs will also be provided for tomorrow and in the future. It also allows making longer-term plans for the regeneration of ecological systems or the development of infrastructure.
No. For most things, future consumption can be estimated based on last year's consumption in combination with changed conditions (e.g. new agreements on the limited usage of scarce resources). Rough estimates are good enough.
That depends on the purpose of the plan and can vary. E.g. bakeries might want to plan both their need for resources for the next year as well as the required products for the next week. The improvement of railroad infrastructure should instead be planned multiple years ahead and involve more people than those of a local community. Also, it's ok to adapt plans to changing environments.
The cooperation across multiple local communities and regions allows e.g. the planning of complex infrastructures and the production of modern technology which relies on the many different resources and supply chains. Additionally, the supralocal perspective gives some overview and improves distribution justice as well as resilience in case of catastrophes. Some anarchists say that everything they need can be produced on the local level in self-sufficient communities and that any additional structure could lead to bureaucracy and dominance. People who want to live like this can do this. It won't interfere with anarchist economies networking on supralocal levels while monitoring for and avoiding bureaucracy and dominance.
Multiple possibilities could coexist (under some conditions). The most promising method of distribution is based on federated councils of delegates from affected communities and regions and decentralized plans. The distribution is based on the needs of the people. This doesn't have to be overly complicated. For many goods like food or clothes, local distribution centers (like supermarkets but without paying) work well. Only for scarce goods, planning the distribution is important to improve social justice. The problems with distribution via worker control or markets are covered in the following questions.
Councils are created for a specific purpose (temporary or permanent). For permanent councils, rotation of responsibilities is important. If the purpose, the question to discuss, concerns more than a local group of people (and only then!), delegates of multiple of those councils from various regions should federate, forming federated councils. This means that they will exchange information, support each other, and, if required, find agreements across the whole federation. Delegates from the local councils can not impose an agreement on the local councils, i.e. the federation is no power structure. It is a structure of facilitation and coordination, while the ones to decide are still those affected by the decision (similar to the coordination committee on the local level). The internet is a powerful tool for federation. A federation does not have to consist of clearly defined geographical regions. It could consist of geographically or thematically overlapping networks.
Some socialist concepts advocate for worker-owned and worker-controlled means of production. This includes the workers deciding about who gets what they produce. While this may sound like self-organization worth striving for, it has some problems related to the anarchist concepts of solidarity and freedom: If the workers are responsible for the production of an important infrastructure good like transportation, water, or information, the distribution affects many people and thus not only the workers but all affected people should be allowed to be part of the decision. If only the workers could make this decision, they would be in a position to proclaim power over others, exclude others from access, and give them in-group an advantage. This creates structures of favoritism and discrimination. Others will have to fight for the fulfillment of their needs.
Markets as a tool for distribution are used by capitalist economies but they are also suggested for some socialist versions of economies. Even in those versions, markets are problematic: The market communicates the needs of the people only in a quite delayed, indirect, and distorted way (market signals result in ex post coordination). Products have to perform well on the market and break soon after instead of fulfilling needs (the production focuses on exchange value rather than use value). The information about products gets mostly reduced to a single number, the price. More important information like the environmental impact or the production conditions is rarely communicated. Also, markets require active participation by doing wage labor, getting informed about products, and maybe bargaining. This is thus excluding those who can't fit into this requirement. The problems of wage labor are covered in the next question.
The argument for markets was that they are decentralized and can adapt to the needs of the people and that there is no other decentralized tool for distribution. Both can now be considered wrong (the needs are not fulfilled and we do have decentralized communication tools like the internet). Markets are one tool for organizing economies and there are better ones.
No, any wage or remuneration for work (no matter if it's money or tokens representing work hours or something similar) has negative effects:
Anarchist economics as envisioned by this FAQ would thus use neither money, nor tokens, nor wage, as the distribution is based on need anyway.
We will probably have to work less than today because many jobs like those in the financial sector, insurance, or advertising won't be needed anymore. Others could be simplified because information about production processes could be open so research does not have to be duplicated. The amount of necessary work depends both on the needs and decisions of the community you live in and on the extent of environmental damage that will need effort for restoration.
No one. They get used and maintained by those responsible for the production.
No one. People use them when needed. If multiple people would like to use the same land or house, the community will find a solution. Maybe the most popular houses should only be used for hospitals or guests. However, no one will randomly take a used house away without a prior resource-conflict resolution. Using and occupying something is different from ownership. The collection of things can rather be thought of as a library from which you lend things when you want to use them and give them back afterward.
Consumers decide what is needed, producers decide what can be produced, and together, everyone affected by the decision can decide what to produce.
The producers decide how to produce as long as this decision does not affect others. E.g. if the chosen method of production hurts the environment or uses scarce resources, others affected by this decision should be involved.
If possible and fair considering distribution justice, production should focus on local consumers. This reduces transport resource usage and the number of affected people. However, when needed, supralocal cooperation and production for people across regions and continents is possible.
In the case that the work distribution does not just work by everyone picking up something they love to work on in addition to some information medium announcing where help would be needed, local coordination committees can collect relevant information and come up with suggestions. E.g. if there is important but unpopular work left to do, a suggestion could be to find enough people who are willing to do this work on rotation. Or, if it's some kind of cleanup, that needs to be done from time to time, to introduce a community day, in which everyone joins together, getting the work done while making it a fun experience. Or, if a local production facility which also sends products to other regions, requires a lot of work, the coordination committee could ask neighboring communities for support.
No. It's okay to commit to one type of work for a whole life if that's what you enjoy. However, if you do a very well-liked job, the community might ask you to also work some hours on less popular work. It's also okay, to switch jobs often or to work on multiple things at the same time. Some work types require intensive training. Volunteers for this kind of work will be asked to commit to the work for a longer period.
No. Maybe slight group pressure, depending on the community. Also, the way of working will be organized by those who do the work, by the production collectives, and can thus be adapted to be as enjoyable as possible depending on the preferences of its members.
After some time of relaxation, most people feel the need to get involved, to contribute, to create something, or to help others. It provides them with fulfillment and a meaning of life. It's also a means of socializing with others and meeting friends and lovers.
This can depend on local communities and their way of living. As there is no remuneration for work, a definition of work is not a requirement. Some might want to dissolve the concepts of work and non-work by making work more pleasurable. Others might try to define what kind of activities are needed to meet all needs and define those as work.
It's okay. The system won't break if a few people don't contribute anything. They probably have reasons why they can't contribute and others will understand this. If there are no reasons and the community sees the extensive usage of resources as a problem, they will try to resolve this as a conflict. If the conflict can not be resolved, the community can decide to stop providing resources to this person.
Yes. Depending on what a local community or single person needs, they can organize what they need to have a good life. In times of climate crisis, however, they might want to check if their needs and wants cause too much environmental damage. If there are good reasons for this, others will understand. If not, they might ask critical questions. Community and solidary often lead to more happiness than resource-intensive possessions anyway.
Yes, there can be products from other regions. To reduce transportation resources, it's preferable to use as many local products as possible, however producing for and receiving products from other regions is also a good practice of cross-regional solidarity and communication. For limited popular goods, it's useful to create some transparency for fair distribution across all regions interested in it.
In general, yes, there is enough for everyone. It just needs to be fairly distributed. Some goods might sometimes be scarce.
This also can be decided case by case. It might be possible to increase the supply by finding more volunteers for the work, by making the work more pleasurable, or by automating it. It might also be possible to find ways to lower the demand or to improve the distribution.
If a good, resource, or service is scarce, the affected communities can decide how to handle the distribution and they might pick a different solution for a different situation. Here are some ideas:
No. Many things stay roughly the same or change slowly (like the average need for houses or food) and don't need new decisions all the time. Other things with a low impact or within a previously decided scope can just be done without a formal decision and only be changed later if someone objects. Also, not everyone has to be involved in every decision. Knowing that you could get informed and involved when needed, it is often enough to trust others with the decision.
You might eat your breakfast at a communal center (without paying) or enjoy food at home that you got from the distribution center the day before (without paying). Afterward, you might work for four hours in a hospital. For lunch, you might get something from a sandwich bar in the city center (without paying) and later join some friends for sports and go out for some food and drinks (without paying). Before going to bed, you might log in to the communication system to check for news and upcoming decisions you might want to get involved in.
No. There is a lot of research, proving the theory of the homo oeconomicus, the idea that humans are always striving for their personal benefit, wrong. Kropotkin's "Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution" is about the importance of cooperation and reciprocity in animal and human societies. Axelrod's mathematical proof via simulations of the repeated prisoner's dilemma finds cooperative strategies most successful. Martin A. Nowak and Michael Tomasello also confirm the importance of cooperation in the evolution of humans. It's rather the other way around: the behavior of the homo oeconomicus is both beneficial to capitalism and created by capitalism (see e.g. Jonathan Aldred: "Licence to be Bad: How Economics Corrupted Us").
Capitalism uses the market price as a universal unit of account. Other socialist economies suggest tokens based on work hours. Anarchist economies as envisioned by this FAQ don't need a universal unit of account. In some cases, relevant key figures are useful (e.g. the usage of scarce resources). However, the type of key figures needed depends on the context. Key figures are more useful and informative than a universal unit of account. This is sometimes called calculation in kind.
Universal units of account reduce the information of a product or service to one number. They also suggest the idea of having to exchange one thing with another with the same number and the idea of wanting to increase the collection of amounts of the universal unit of account. This distracts from the main purpose of an economy: the fulfillment of needs.
Yes. We should extend our solidarity also to future generations when deciding about which resources to use and how to handle the environment. On the other hand, this argument should not turn into longtermism, putting the needs of future generations over those living today (see e.g. Timnit Gebru's work on TESCREAL).
While transparency is important, the collection of data should not be usable as a tool of surveillance and control. Thus, the collection of data should be as decentralized as possible, with only aggregated information being passed to supralocal structures if needed. Not every good, every resource, or every hour of work has to be tracked as data. Every community can decide how much they want to track. A general rule of thumb might be that as soon as some kind of distribution feels unjust, it might be good to collect some data to get transparency and improve the just distribution.
The tools to collect the data should be decentralized and federated so that it is not possible for a central authority to gain control of them (e.g. similar to the fediverse). So even if there is currently no authoritarian entity interested in gaining control over the data, it should also not be possible to do so in the future.
Anarchist economics will not prohibit bartering or trading as there is no central authority to enforce rules. However, the goal of needs-based economies should be to make bartering and trading unnecessary and thus irrelevant: everyone should be able to get what they need without having to engage in barter or trade.
Because people will work only a few hours per day, there will be more leisure time for inspiration. Also, information about innovative ideas could be freely changed in the information system, as they can't be used for profit any more, sparking new ideas and cooperation.
Innovative ideas might need many resources and time to develop and there is always a risk that they won't be useful in the end. If local communities are not able or willing to agree to extensive resource usage or are not convinced of the benefits, it's still possible to find like-minded people in other regions via the information system and get a consensus on the usage of some resources.
As there is no money in anarchist economies, this is only about the investment of time and other resources in a project, which might not have a predictable outcome. If the required resources are not scarce, and no one is affected, it does not even have to be discussed. In case of scarce resources, it might be good to have an overview of possible usages of the resource, to have a fixed budget of the resource for investments, and then decide among various investment proposals. This can happen both locally and in federated regional councils.
It would be great and easier if the whole planet would switch to anarchist economies because resources could be freely moved between all regions. However, this does not have to be the case. While larger areas are better to create resilient economies, also small regions can create self-sufficient economies.
As anarchist economies don't use money, they can't buy or sell goods from not-get anarchist areas. If the other areas are hostile towards the anarchist economy, they might not want to interact with it at all or try to coerce the anarchist area into an unfair exchange of goods. Ideally, anarchist economies would not depend on that. A fair exchange might be a long-term contract defining exactly which quantities of which goods in which intervals are transferred so that this agreement can enable some planning and security of supply.
Capitalist states might feel threatened by anarchist economies and plan military attacks. They might also try to find conservative people within the anarchist area to support them. Like Chile was overthrown on 9/11/1973. The best thing is probably to be aware of this danger from the beginning and to protect against it. Not with means of weapons but with means of information. Watching out for people conspiring against the anarchist organizations, confronting them via means of conflict resolution, scandalizing every effort to sabotage the anarchist economies, and making the information public, across the whole planet. Those who are not happy with anarchist economies should be given the possibility to peacefully coexist in the same area, using their own economic system (see below).
As capitalism is inherently expansive, wanting to grow all the time, there is a danger that neighboring capitalist areas could try to exploit, bring important resources forcefully under their control, or even overthrow anarchist economies. (See above about how to avoid military aggressions.) Peaceful coexistence with capitalism could be possible if everyone would respect the agreements and conditions for the coexistence, which is unlikely for capitalism (see below).
Capitalism can't coexist under these conditions. It needs e.g. cheap labor and exploited workers would probably rather switch to another economic system. Capitalism would thus either break these agreements or collapse. The coexistence of anarcho-communist economies with non-exploitive market economies like market socialism could be possible.
Competition between the co-existing economies should be limited. This could e.g. be done by evaluating happiness and injustices every 10-20 years, and maybe resetting, redistributing, and recalibrating the agreements between the economies if needed as part of a trans-economical post-capitalist festivity.
An economic crash or collapse is defined by high bankruptcy- and unemployment rates and high inflation. None of this can exist in a needs-based economy without money. What could happen are shortages of necessary goods. This could be prevented by 1. planning the transformation (see below), 2. focusing on the most essential goods in times of crisis, and 3. good information systems and transparency for sharing what is available in solidarity.
Climate change is real and to prevent the worst, urgent action is required. On the other hand, the pressure to act quickly can be used by authoritarians as a justification to install a strong state. Either to enforce climate change countermeasures with authoritarian or even military means or to fight those who want to do that. Either way, authoritarian states were never a good idea: Many people have been killed and tortured by both communist- and national-socialist authoritarian states in the past. I'd rather have a slower transformation while handling the environmental damage in solidarity, than an authoritarian dictatorship.
Let's not fight over how to define class and its importance. Let's unite everyone willing to stand behind the ideas of freedom and solidarity to abolish capitalism and end all other forms of oppression.
Building unions is one form of anarchist self-organization and mutual aid. As capitalism is based on the exploitation of workers, this is a good starting point for a conversation about alternatives to capitalism.
There are historical examples of large-scale anarchist economics like the Makhnovshchina 1917-1922 (market socialism) and the Spanish revolution 1936-1939 (various versions of anarchist economies, some without money). Both were forcefully ended by fascist and communist military. Also, the movement of the Zapatistas and the one in Rojava have features of anarchist economies. Versions of anarchist economies work in smaller communities today, in house projects, work collectives, and also in your friend group (you are not expecting something in return when you help a friend).
The economic concepts of anarcho-communism, libertarian socialism, or free access socialism are mostly the same. Also gift economy or library economy are sometimes used as terms for similar economic concepts. In doubt, it's best to ask what is meant.
We can share information about the feasibility of anarchist economies and thus change the narrative of there being only one economic possibility. We can start building structures of anarchist economies within the old system (as good as possible without getting frustrated). This is called prefigurative politics. It allows us to experiment with and practice anarchist capabilities while building infrastructure useful for the present and the anarchist future. We can also start making more plans for future anarchist economies, either as role play or more seriously: Which production facilities could be reused, and which are useless? What are the most important elements of the infrastructure to fulfill the needs? What would you work on during and after the transformation? Let's build many anarchist economics oases, bridges, and networks within the capitalist desert until the wildflowers start growing all over.
While spreading the information and building anarchist infrastructure, social security systems like an UBI are helpful, as they allow for some freedom. However, anarchists usually won't spend a lot of time begging the state for help. In the end, the state probably won't help us to get rid of itself.
I don't think a sudden overthrow of the government would work. There is way more surveillance, media, and military technology protecting the state compared to the times of the Paris Commune. That's why we need a very broad consensus on the ideas of a post-capitalist and post-statist society. With a peaceful mass movement, a government can be forced to surrender.
That's also why I prefer the term transformation over that of revolution. Many anarchists agree that the methods used to get closer to anarchist societies should be compatible with anarchist ideas. A military overthrow of a state led by a small group often creates a new elitist, maybe even authoritarian state. We need to remember that the idea is to get rid of the state. Ideas of transitional phases with a state (as suggested by some communists or marxists) should also be treated with skepticism. Many anarchists were killed by the "transitional state" of the Soviet Union.
Once there is mass movement for societies based and freedom and solidarity and once the government and the law enforcement have decided to join the winning movement, the remaining doubters who still claim a right to property might give in as well. However, if they don't claim any scarce resources it might be possible to let them coexist. Otherwise, group pressure and scandalization can be used to hand over their property as a common good for all to use and share.
I don't think so. There are some examples of non-violent transformations in history. A mass movement for a transformation in free and solidary societies is a good basis for a non-violent change. Also, with today's international communication networks, any violent attack on the movement could be communicated and scandalized in real-time. Governments attacking a non-violent movement don't look good internationally. States use various forms of violence against us. Preferring non-violent means of opposing violence and wanting to avoid military aggressions because wars are horrible is not the same as passive or naive submission.
Of course, other anarchists disagree on this. And that's okay. Multiple methods of transformation can co-exist as long as they don't interfere with each other.
No, anarchist societies always need to adapt to changing environments and futures.
You can read some short stories or novels about future societies with anarchist economies like this one on transform-social, Ursula le Guin's The Dispossessed, James P. Hogan's "A Voyage from Yesteryear", and many others. You can discuss the ideas with your friends, and maybe even try the ideas in some roleplay scenarios.