Radical Economics and Labor: Essays Inspired by the IWW Centennial

By McKay, Iain | Anarchist Studies, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Radical Economics and Labor: Essays Inspired by the IWW Centennial


McKay, Iain, Anarchist Studies


Frederic S. Lee and Jon Bekken (eds), Radical Economics and Labor: Essays inspired by the IWW Centennial London & New York: Routledge, 2009, 208pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0415777230

The revolutionary union the Industrial Workers of the World marked its hundredth anniversary in 2005. To mark this event a conference was held at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, hosted by the editors of this useful selection of talks from it. As well as an introduction, this book has ten chapters on a wide range of subjects related to something not much discussed in radical circles: political economy.

The first chapter, Noel Thompson's 'Senex's Letters on Associated Labour and The Pioneer ; 1834', discusses working-class socialism in 1830s Britain and the proto-syndicalist ideas of British socialists who had formulated both a critique of wage-labour (hired labour) and a vision of associated (free) labour to replace it. Strangely, the introduction calls this an 'almost proto -Marxist' political economy, so failing, like the article itself, to mention the clear links to Proudhon's mutualism.

The second chapter, Jon Bekken's 'Peter Kropotkin's anarchist economics for a new society', is exceptional. Bekken makes the key point that Kropotkins economics 'arose out of an engagement with the workers' movement of his day' and so reflected 'not abstract principles' but rather was 'honed in workers' struggles and debates'. This chapter covers almost all aspects of Kropotkins vision for communist-anarchism, presenting an excellent introduction to his ideas and ideals.

The next chapter by Matthew Forstater ('Some notes on anarchist economic thought') is disappointing. He rightly rejects addressing 'anarcho-capitalism' when discussing anarchist economic ideas, but he proclaims that this 'should more properly be called libertarian \ Now, if anarchists acquiesce to the capitalist right stealing the good name libertarian to describe their authoritarian, albeit privately hierarchical, ideology then what is the point? So it is not quite right to state that 'anarchists share many of the traditional socialist positions opposing capitalism' and that we 'part from socialists on a number of accounts'. Anarchists are libertarian socialists, so we part with state socialists on key issues. As for sharing socialist positions', anarchists have often been first in advocating them (for example, Proudhon's predated Marx's theory of surplus-value by a few decades!). At times this chapter is extremely superficial, repeating the (false) Marxist stereotype that anarchists favour 'small' levels of production. Pointing to Braverman's 'distinction between the social division of labour and the detail worker, and his conclusion' is equally perplexing given this is found in Proudhon's work.

The next two chapters are inspired by Piero SrafFa's economic analysis and, ironically, come to completely opposite conclusions. Frederic S. Lee's 'The economics of the Industrial Workers of the World: Job control and revolution' does not convince. The logic of his argument, backed up by numerous equations, is that 'direct action designed to affect the "real wage" for the working class by altering the money wage is not possible' and that 'direct action for increasing job control is necessary'. If this were the case, why are bosses so keen to resist pay rises and unionisation? This is not to suggest that fighting for job control is not important, simply that this must be done in addition to fighting for wage increases - something this essay would end if taken to heart by workers. …

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