Friday, July 11, 2014

The Three Relations

There are three general types of relations, hierarchy, reciprocity, and communism. Each functions differently and are, generally, based upon the manner in which things flow. In hierarchy, things flow from those without power to those with power, in reciprocity, things flow equally both ways with each actor getting as much as they give, and, in communism, things flow freely from those who have more to those who have less.

Now, both relations of reciprocity and of communism have an implied equality between the two sides of the relationship. That is, in reciprocity, both actors are expected to bring the same amount to the table and the exchange is supposed to be equal, while, in communism, those who have more give to those who have less, in essence, acting as a balancing of an existing material inequality because of a relationship of equality.

Hierarchy, on the other hand, explicitly rejects the equality between the two sides. The person who is higher in the hierarchy is expected to get more than the person who is below, and not insignificantly, but often hundreds of times more. In addition, when things flow down the hierarchy, it's because they are lesser than that which is flowing up it. So a bushel of apples is given as tribute by the peasant to the king, and the king gives the rotten apples from the bushel to the peasant.

All relations can be seen as operating within one of those three very general frameworks, and they are also mutually exclusive in that, as a relation begins to exhibit one of those relations more and more strongly, the other two begin to be exhibited less and less. So, as an example, the relation between boss and worker begins as a relation of reciprocity. The worker offers their labor and the boss offers a wage. Exchange happens and each gets something out of it that is theoretically equal. However, once they begin the job, the relationship changes form and begins to be more and more hierarchical. The worker is expected to do what the boss says and the boss is not expected to do what the worker says. The equal, or, at least, supposedly equal, exchange no longer happens except on pay day. As the relation becomes hierarchical, the reciprocity becomes an afterthought rather than the basis of the relationship.

And the state is an entity of hierarchical relations. Things flow from the citizens to the government officials and the police. If there is hierarchy, then communism hasn't been fully universalized as those relations which are based upon hierarchy are not based upon communism.

Now, you'll notice that the two biggest forms of anarchism are based upon the two non-hierarchical forms of relations. Anarcho-communism is the universalization of, well, communism and mutualism is the universalization of reciprocity. When Proudhon spoke of the anarchic encounter, he was, I believe, essentially outlining the theoretical ideal of reciprocity. Two individuals meet as equals, and, as equals, they exchange equally. That is the heart of reciprocity and that is what Proudhon's system was built upon. Communists, on the other hand, tend to conceive of things as "gifts" rather than as exchanges and imagine an economy where everything is given as a gift rather than as an exchange. That is what the communistic system is built upon. Both of these, though, lie in a rejection of hierarchy.

Now, while I certainly am a communist and identify as such, I don't think a truly communistic society is possible. While I think we would be able to almost completely eradicate hierarchy, there will be cases in which people are not comfortable or not able to have things flow as communism, be it because they don't know each other or because neither has too little of something as is required for communistic relations to work, so, in those cases, things will flow as reciprocity. Similarly, I don't think a truly reciprocitous society is possible. While, again, the elimination of hierarchy is certainly possible, there will be some cases in which communism will result, such as between lovers or on holidays for gift giving or through debt jubilees. In reality, an anarchist society will always fall somewhere between total communism, which is the ideal of anarcho-communists, duh, and total reciprocity, which is the ideal of mutualists.
However, both reciprocity universalized and communism universalized are fundamentally incompatible with the state and capitalism and any form of hierarchy because the way things flow in hierarchy is antithetical to both. In hierarchy, things flow from those who don't have much to those who have a lot, while in communism it is the opposite as things flow from those who have a lot to those who don't have much. In hierarchy, things flowing up are greater than things flowing down, good apples up, bad apples down, while in reciprocity, things flowing one way are equal to things flowing the other way. The state is based upon hierarchy, so a mutualistic or communistic society is, therefore, incompatible with it.

This is mainly based upon David Graeber's wonderful book Debt: The First Five Thousand Years. Y'all should read it, natch.

Friday, February 28, 2014

On the Back of the Third World: A Critique of Social Democracy

Many anarchists appear to argue for social democracy. At the very least, they argue it's not as bad as neoliberalism. They argue that, yes, we are still exploited and oppressed under social democracy, but at least we have benefits, a safety net, and regulation protecting them. All hail the protection of the state against capital. (I'm not being that sarcastic. To quote Chomsky, "State power is a good example of a necessary cage. There are sabre-toothed tigers outside; they are called transnational corporations which are among the most tyrannical totalitarian institutions that human society has devised. And there is a cage, namely the state, which to some extent is under popular control." I'm not going to pretend this is a support for states in general. It's not. It's a simple lesser of two evils argument.) Oftentimes, they set it up in opposition to neoliberalism which doesn't have those things and is creating global neocolonialism. It's true, neoliberalism doesn't have these protections against capitalism. It's also true that neoliberalism is creating global neocolonialism. The problem is that neoliberalism is not in opposition to social democracy. In contrast, social democracy needs it and wouldn't be able to survive without it.

This may seem like a somewhat strange argument. After all, aren't neoliberalism two opposed visions of capitalism? Surely they are incompatible. Well, they are, to an extent. There cannot be a state that is 100% neoliberal and 100% social democratic at the same time. However, this analysis only analyzes neoliberalism and social democracy in isolation. In a global context, they aren't incompatible. A state or group can easily promote social democracy at home and neoliberalism abroad. You can see that with America. Institutions like social security, medicare, and medicaid have become so ingrained in America that those who oppose them have to disguise their intentions to reduce it. However, abroad, through institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO, they promote neoliberalism.

But my argument was more extreme than simply saying that they are compatible. I was arguing that social democracy depends upon neoliberalism. Now, they obviously exist side-by-side, with most first world countries being social democracy and mainly producing highly specialized goods requiring highly skilled and paid workers while third world countries, either by choice or because of some force limiting their choices, primarily pursue neoliberal policies making cheaper stuff that depends upon cheap labor. I hope the dependency of social democracy on neoliberalism is obvious by now.

However, I'll assume it isn't. Now, let us assume that the entire world has developed to the point where it can sustainably transition into social democracies and they do just that. (Note, a sufficiently poor and underdeveloped country can't do this. Social democracies require money to work.) But what of the cheap goods requiring cheap labor? Now, they are produced in social democracies. They have things like minimum wages and protections for labor. This increases costs. Now, either the capitalists take the hit to their profits (hah! as if) or they raise prices. This means a pretty across the board raising of prices, which is otherwise known as inflation. Except, this time, it's global inflation. This means the money the workers are being paid is less. So much for minimum wage. But, also, the profits the capitalists are raking in are worth less. So they raise prices again and the workers try to raise their wages leading to even more price increases. This causes more and more inflation. The capitalists fire workers to cut costs, but that's not going to stop this inflation. This has actually happened before here in the US. We called it stagflation. But, in this case, it would be global. Well, what happened last time we experienced stagflation? Well, we trimmed at the social democratic institutions, though not eliminating them. Likely the same would happen, but, since this would be even worse, it would be done to a greater extent.

As such, social democracy couldn't survive global social democracy. But surely that's not enough to demonise social democracy. Perhaps it wouldn't survive being a global phenomenon, but at least it doesn't perpetuate the neoliberalism in the third world by its very existence... right? Well, lets take the opposite example. What happens if all the social democracies abandon social democracy and pursue neoliberal policies. Well, there are still the same sort of high paying jobs that need to be done. The wages in these wouldn't drop too much. However, all of a sudden, capitalists would be able to move the low cost jobs home. And it would be cheaper for them to do the whole of their production at home. They'd have less transport costs as they aren't transporting as far. They'd have better infrastructure to work with. So transnational companies pull out of third-world countries and move the production they would do in those countries home. This would significantly worsen things in first world countries and make them much more stratified. But what of the third world countries? Well, they would no longer have transnational companies taking advantage of them. They would no longer be forced to do menial labor for first-world countries. They'd be able to construct their own industry, or no industry at all, if they want none. They'd be able to expand and grow. They'd have choice. They wouldn't be the glorified colonies of first world countries.

So, yes, social democracy seems superficially better than neoliberalism, but it isn't. Rather, it is taking the highly stratified internal capitalist structure of neoliberal countries and projects it upon the world stage, with those in third world countries almost universally worse off than those in first world countries. Ultimately, neither is any good and we should oppose both. And it shouldn't be opposing both, but supporting one over the other. They are not fundamentally separate. We must oppose both equally.