An exchange between John Griffin and Takis Fotopoulos
on pragmatic "anarchism" and the Inclusive Democracy project
Total Liberty review, vol. 2, no. 1 (1999)
Dodgy Logic and the Olympians
by JOHN GRIFFIN
Towards an Inclusive Democracy by Takis Fotopoulos 1997.
380 pages published by Cassell, 55 hardback, 18.99 paperback
Whilst considering this book and Richard Griffin's (no relation) article in TL4 about science and “postmodernism,” my thoughts strayed to the earliest of the ancient Greek philosophers, those who came before Socrates. A good deal of what they had to say really lay in the realm of science, as we would now call it, for their purpose was to grasp what made the world tick. As the centuries unfolded, the sciences developed as separate branches of enquiry, and philosophy increasingly concerned itself with how we humans fitted into the world, that is with mind. Faced with contemporary disasters like Marxism and nuclear bombs, one branch of “postmodernism” has made the separation with science the more emphatic by expressing disenchantment and even hostility towards it.
I persist in using the inverted commas because I'm not sure what “postmodernism” is. If it were limited to a critique of the philosophy and science spawned by our authoritarian cultures ― the inhuman bigness, reductionism and needless gadgetry ― I would have no quarrel with it. Richard and others however, go further and cast doubt upon the scientific method itself. To give creedence to a dodgy logic, in my view tending toward Nihilism and Luddism, Richard then turns to science (!) and enlists Chaos/ Complexity theory (CT) to support his argument. Yet CT has none of the vacuousness of “postmodernism”: we are talking about very practical hard science. Because it handles randomness, rejects reductionism and embraces holism, CT is not “less certain,” it is good science. Furthermore, to me personally it is exciting, it makes me feel that my philosophy "works" because it moves as the world moves, thereby going some way to reconciling “mind” ― my mind at least ― with everything else, a symbiosis between Anarchism and cutting edge science.
With this rather heady methodology at the back of my mind, I focused upon the economics contained in “Towards an Inclusive Democracy,” here is a set of proposals so determinedly “modern” as to constitute a “blueprint” of a revolutionary future. The book is well organised, accessible (if you can afford it) and clearly written. Earlier chapters are critiques of capitalist development, state socialism and the ecological crisis. Assuming readers to be too familiar with these matters, I’ll pass on quickly to the positive proposals, elaborated upon in much detail in the latter pages.
The broad outline encompasses the familiar system of recallable delegates applied to workplace assemblies, local community assemblies and a confederal assembly. These are to function together in a society which is stateless, moneyless and in harmony with the natural world. With consumption to be directly related to need, there is a powerful whiff of anarchist communism here but I can’t see many communists being enthused by the more detailed proposals ― as has so often been the case in the past things begin to unravel once you look at the economics.
Having been told there is to be no money or market, we learn that the factories etc are to be “owned” by the general community, and “leased” to the “employees” for a “long-term contract.” Passing over these confusions in terminology ― Fotopoulos is principally concerned with resolving the problem of community control ― there is also to be a means of exchange which is not money. Access to goods is to be through the use of a voucher system.
The economy is to be split into a basic sector (food, clothes etc) and a non-basic sector (lollipops, CDs etc); basic and non-basic vouchers are to be used accordingly. People with special needs, the disabled for instance, will be able to have them met directly by presentation of the appropriate vouchers. The issue of the vouchers, together with the number of hours of work required for the production of goods, is to be determined by the various assemblies; supply and demand are thereby to be kept in balance. The core idea is that Fotopoulos proposes ongoing economic planning meetings, to replace the billions of decisions made by individuals in the market, and instead of tax and benefit arrangements for welfare. It is hoped that contemporary co-ops and LETS may act as stepping stones towards these ends.
My objections to these truly sweeping proposals are as follows:
1) The voucher system is intentionally less flexible than a cash economy. Heavily bureaucratic, it is burdened by additional operating costs, and likely to collapse under the weight of all those meetings.
2) The vouchers will clearly regulate demand and consumption, but one wonders how exchanges between factories and suppliers of raw materials would be affected. What form does capital for investment take, and how is overseas trade to be carried out? Only the later problem is dealt with, and dismissed in three lines, with vague talk of “bilateral or multilateral agreements.”
3) Fotopoulos rejects not only the market, tending, perhaps deliberately to confuse it with the capitalist market, but also the gift economy. Yet totally unregulated expressions of mutual aid have always made a valuable contribution to the economy and to social life generally. Why throw it all away?
4) Having made a commitment to the ecological society, there is no discussion of what might constitute sustainable levels of consumption, but the voucher system could obviously be used to ration goods.
5) The key reason for using the vouchers is to make the hoarding of capital, and therefore a reversion to capitalism, impossible; but psycho-social tendencies like power seeking and greed, are surely not going to be “engineered” out of existence by monkeying around with the currency.
I found “Towards an Inclusive Democracy” to be strongly reminiscent of “Workers Councils and the economics of the Self-Managed Society” by Cornelius Castoriadis, 1972, and “Social Anarchism” by Giovanni Baldelli, 1971. What is astounding to me, as a practical man, is that anyone can be so reckless as to propose throwing away all the pieces of the existing economic jigsaw, in favour of just one untried system, yet Fotopoulos follows the above writers and does just that. All seem blind to the fact that the market, and the informal unregulated economy, are concrete realities because they work, and have been working effectively for centuries ― since the Greeks in fact. Do these people ― note the Greek names of two of them ― sense an Olympian greatness flowing in their veins as they take up their pens and fresn sheets of paper? I have my tongue in cheek here, but you can see what I mean.
Libertarian economics is desperately under theorised. The gap will not be filled with “postmodernist” waffle, but is surely an error to contrive narrow, reductionist models like that of Fotopoulos, in the belief that they are theoretically rigorous. As I've tried to make clear, modern science, some of it at least, suggests multi-stranded, flexible, practise based ideas, but why should some anarchists wish to follow other paths?
Total Liberty, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Summer 2000)
Pragmatic "Anarchism" or Anarchism? ― A response to John Griffin
By TAKIS FOTOPOULOS
Total Liberty, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Autumn 2000)
John Griffin’s review of my book Towards An Inclusive Democracy (Cassell, 1997) ― Total Liberty (Vol. 2, No. 1, summer 1999) ― is so full of distortions and misrepresentations that one wonders whether this is due to a deliberate attack by a “pragmatic” anarchist or just to the fact that the author never went further than reading a couple of chapters of it (which he also manages to misrepresent)! This is obvious from the author’s decision to ignore the entire first part of the book, on the grounds that “earlier chapters are critiques of capitalist development, state socialism and the ecological crisis; assuming readers to be too familiar with these matters, I'll pass on quickly to the positive proposals, elaborated upon in much detail in the latter pages.” All this, when the first part was not just a critique of capitalist development as he (mis)represents it, but an attempt to devise an alternative libertarian economics on the emergence of the market economy and its development into the present internationalised market economy — an economics which is based on power relations rather than the usual Marxist categories. As the same author in an earlier issue of TL (Vol. 1, No. 3) was lamenting the fact that in libertarian theory “there is no thorough going economics, just smatterings from Baldelli and Castoriadis,” it is really strange that when he came across the first modern attempt at the development of a libertarian economics he did not manage to perceive it as such.
However, this fact may not be as strange as it looks prima facie. His concluding statement below is not only a monument of errors and distortions, but also indicative of the sort of pragmatic "anarchism" its author suggests:
I found “Towards an Inclusive Democracy” to be strongly reminiscent of “Workers Councils and the economics of the Self-Managed Society” by Cornelius Castoriadis, 1972, and “Social Anarchism” by Giovanni Baldelli, 1971. What is astounding to me, as a practical man, is that anyone can be so reckless as to propose throwing away all the pieces of the existing economic jigsaw, in favour of just one untried system, yet Fotopoulos follows the above writers and does just that. All seem blind to the fact that the market, and the informal unregulated economy, are concrete realities because they work, and have been working effectively for centuries ― since the Greeks in fact.
I will list the errors/ distortions in this statement.
I. The economic model proposed by Castoriadis has almost nothing in common with the Inclusive Democracy model since the former presupposes a real market and money economy whereas the latter, following the anarchist/ libertarian tradition is explicitly based on a moneyless, marketless and stateless economy.
II. The model suggested by Baldelli differs significantly from the Inclusive Democracy model, as I made obvious in the book in which I only used one idea from Baldelli (assessing desirability for each type of work) which I expanded and changed into a complex index of desirability.
III. An even stronger example of his reckless reading, however, is his statement that, following Castoriadis and Baldelli in rejecting the market (which he adopts as a concrete reality “because it works”!), I tend “perhaps deliberately to confuse it with the capitalist market.” All this when I spent a significant part of the first chapter of the book drawing the crucial difference between markets, (which indeed did exist for centuries) and the system of the market economy ― which is a broader term for capitalism ― and only has a history of two centuries!
As I make clear in the book, the reason I argue for a moneyless, stateless, marketless economy is based on the historical analysis offered in the first part of the book which shows that today’s market economies have nothing to do with the pre-‘market economies’ (i.e. pre-capitalist) markets. Since the time of the industrial revolution, the socially controlled markets of the past have been converted into the systems of market economies of today for the reasons I explain in the book. Therefore, any current talk about going back to pre-industrial markets which would be socially controlled etc betrays a complete lack of understanding of the dynamic of the market economy, which has inevitably led to the present globalised (or better internationalised) market economy. The establishment of a true economic democracy securing equal distribution of economic power among all citizens is incompatible with markets, money and states. It seems however that Griffin’s “pragmatic” anarchism (and unfortunately this characterises several people in the British anarchist movement) can live with a market economy based on money ― a stand which is not that different from the one supported by the demoralised Left today!
No wonder that Griffin supports the need for a money economy on the grounds that “psycho-social tendencies like power seeking and greed, are surely not going to be "engineered" out of existence by monkeying around with the currency” (point 5 of his specific comments). It seems that for “pragmatic” anarchists people are born greedy and are not made greedy by the money/ market economy, as libertarians used to believe before the discovery of pragmatic “anarchism.” If this is anarchism, one wonders, why bother with it and not join, instead, the left wing of the Labour party. This way we would be even more “effective,” and effectiveness seems to be the litmus test for any theory of action, as far as this sort of pragmatic “anarchism” is concerned.
To return to the book, the first part, which was ignored by my reviewer, is critical in understanding the second part. This is because the proposal for an inclusive democracy is not just another utopian libertarian proposal. It is seen as perhaps the only way out of the present crisis which, as this part of the book shows, is due to the concentration of power at all levels to which the present system based on the market economy and the nation-state has led us.
In the rest of this response, being conscious of the space constraints, I will try to deal briefly with some of the specific points of “criticism” raised by John Griffin.
1. It is an absolute distortion that the core idea of the libertarian model of the economy proposed by the book is “ongoing economic planning meetings, to replace the billions of decisions made by individuals in the market,” and that the voucher system, which is characterised as “heavily bureaucratic,” is burdened by additional operating costs, and “likely to collapse under the weight of all those meetings.” In fact, the opposite is the case! The voucher system has been proposed as an effective way of replacing the real market ― which is singularly unable to meet the needs of all citizens (in fact, the majority of world citizens) ― with an artificial market. A way which avoids the bureaucracy of the planning mechanism and at the same time secures freedom of choice and the meeting of the needs of all citizens. The billions of decisions Griffin refers to will still be made by individuals, through vouchers, and only the overall allocation of resources will be decided by the assemblies. It seems, however, that the pragmatic “anarchism” of John Griffin cannot do without money and markets, despite the fact that most important anarchist writers, from Bakunin and the other classical anarchists in the past, to Bookchin today, have always talked about a moneyless and marketless economy!
2. As regards the question of how the exchanges between factories on raw materials etc would be effected and what form investment would take, I have described in the book (p. 267) the general principles behind the way in which the production of such “intermediate goods” and technology would be determined.
3. I never “rejected” the gift economy, as my critic asserts. People can use the goods they obtain by means of non-basic vouchers for whatever purpose they like, including, of course, the expression of mutual aid. What I ruled out was a “moral” economy which does not provide for any mechanism of allocation of scarce resources because I think that such an economy belongs to the communist fiction of a post-scarcity society.
4. The reason why “there is no discussion of what might constitute sustainable levels of consumption” is that this cannot be determined in advance, without knowledge of the specific circumstances and the time/ place constraints. This is a decision to be taken democratically by citizens’ assemblies and I have explained in the book why the institutional framework of an inclusive democracy is highly likely to raise the level of ecological consciousness. This is so because, in contrast to today’s market/ money institutional framework (which pragmatic “anarchists” do not reject), in an inclusive democracy there will be no institutional pressures for the production/ reproduction of a growth economy.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that, to my mind, it is not accidental that British anarchists have for the most part either ignored or attacked the inclusive democracy project, as has been expressed in the book Towards An Inclusive Democracy (which has already been published in Italian and Greek and is being translated into Spanish) as well as in Democracy & Nature: The Journal of Inclusive Democracy, of which five volumes have been published (15 issues of about 220 pages each). The reason is that British anarchism is unfortunately dominated by “pragmatist” or irrationalist tendencies, which are inimical to any idea of a radical remaking of society on the basis of a genuine democracy. But it is at least ironic that the same people who lament the desperate “under theorisation” of libertarian economics should dismiss and attack an attempt (as far as I know the only attempt at the moment) to remedy this, not by engaging in a rational debate about it but by simply distorting and misrepresenting it!
Editor, Democracy & Nature: The Journal of Inclusive Democracy
Takis Fotopoulos feels that I have misrepresented his book, “Towards an Inclusive Democracy,” when I reviewed it in the Summer ‘99 issue. However, T.F. has not properly answered my criticisms and I stand by them, excepting only the comments on the gift economy. I welcome T.F.’s confirmation of its usefulness, and apologise for my misreading of page 270. We are also united in rejecting Bookchin’s post-scarcity economics.
It is good to see more contributions to the economics debate, but I do not have to agree with them, especially when the proposals are as far removed from established practice as are those of T.F. The scope and complexity of his book makes it difficult to review comprehensively, and I did make it clear that I had concentrated on his alternative economics. I thought that T.F.'s reply only confirmed his muddled thinking concerning the nature of the market and social/ psychological structures.
T.F. must be confusing “Workers Councils” by Castoriadis with some other, maybe later work; based on Marx’s Labour theory of Value, it hardly depicts what T.F! calls a “real market.” Castoriadis wants to use “tokens,” T.F. wants “vouchers” and Baldelli wants “credits.” All three use economic planning via various assemblies, none use cash or market mechanisms. Such a viewpoint cuts across communist, collectivist and individualist positions, so the unpopularity of T.F.’s book is hardly surprising. That said, it and the others referred to are unique and should be read.
What is surprising is T.F.’s suspicion of my part in some conspiracy against his work. I resent this, as well as his grotesque portrayal of my views as being comparable with those of the Labour Left. What rubbish! The Spring 2000 issue of Total Liberty, which carries T.F.’s reply also has an article of mine which links anarchist shortcomings in economics with sectarianism …depressing.
Total Liberty, Vol. 3, No. 1 (autumn 2001)
It is depressing indeed to see self-declared anarchists like John Griffin (TL, Autumn 2000) not only misrepresenting my attempt in Towards An Inclusive Democracy to renew libertarian thought on economics and to revive the discussion of a liberatory project but, even when caught doing so, coming back and asserting ― without a shred of evidence ― that I have not properly answered his criticisms and that he stands by them. This fact alone would leave no doubt that his misrepresentation of the book, far from being accidental or due to a mistaken reading, was in fact a deliberate distortion of it by a “pragmatic” anarchist (readers can decide for themselves by reading the exchange in its entirety rather than in instalments if they visit the Democracy & Nature’ website <www.geocities.com/democracy_nature> in which the complete exchange is hosted). This of course does not mean that I think there exists “some conspiracy against my work” as JG would want the readers of Total Liberty to believe. The misrepresentation of ideas doesn’t have to be part of some “dark” conspiracy: the mere will to silence any serious liberatory project, that doesn’t add up to pragmatic “anarchism,” is enough.
But what is entertaining is that whereas JG admits that he rejects my proposals because they are “far removed from established practice,” at the same time he protests about my “grotesque portrayal of (his) views as being comparable with those of the Labour Left.” However, my comparison of his pragmatic “anarchism” to the Labour Left (as it used to be) is not related to the issue of a transitional strategy, which obviously has to take the existing system for granted ― on this we agree. My comparison is based on the fact that JG also rejects my proposal (based on the dominant tradition in the anarchist movement since the time of Bakunin) for a future society founded on a stateless, marketless, moneyless economy, on the grounds that, as he puts it, “psycho-social tendencies like power seeking and greed, are surely not going to be "engineered" out of existence by monkeying around with the currency.” I assume that anarchist readers would find it very hard indeed to see what the difference is between a “pragmatic” anarchism which takes the system of the market and money economy for granted and, for instance, what Tony Benn has always preached!
As for my supposed “muddled thinking concerning the nature of the market” it is obvious that JG is unable to understand that today’s market economy is in fact the inevitable outcome of the evolution of a system that was established two hundred years ago, and that markets and money are inseparable characteristics of this system (the pre-capitalist markets existing before the emergence of this system have nothing to do with the present market economy ― see for instance Polanyi) and not options that we may adopt in a libertarian society. Furthermore, unable to see that the book offers a new method of economic regulation (for a sophisticated contemporary economy) based on economic democracy, he proposes to keep the markets and money, ignoring their dynamic towards the concentration of economic power. The reason for this is, as he puts it, that “they have been working effectively for centuries” ― minus (one may add) the starvation of almost half the Earth’s population and the present ecological destruction!.
Finally, as regards my “confusion” of Castoriadis’ Workers’ Councils with his adoption of a real market, Castoriadis implicitly assumed a real market in this work (see my exchange with David Ames Curtis (D&N, Vol. 5, No. 1, March 1999) and he explicitly made this clear in a later work (Radical Philosophy, Vol. 56, Autumn 1990). As far as JG’s attempt to degrade my book by talking about its “unpopularity,” I wonder where he got his information because, according to my information, the book was not only successful in the Anglo-Saxon world and has also been published in Italian and Greek and translated into Spanish (as I mentioned in my previous reply to him), but it is currently being translated into German, while a French version of it is due to be published by Seuil of Paris ― all of them during 2001 (I hope that my defence against JG’s unsubstantiated claims will not give him the idea to come back blaming me for “advertising” my book!).