System Change Made Simple

Am I Really an Anarchist?

August 13, 2022 Terry Leahy Season 1 Episode 10
System Change Made Simple
Am I Really an Anarchist?
Show Notes Transcript

Anarchism is defined in relation to ‘the state’. Anarchists oppose the state. I examine ideas about the state coming from Marx and Weber, founders of sociology. The state as it appears in class societies throughout history. Why the state is a slightly different kettle of fish in late capitalism. Is there any reason to expect reforms enacted by the state to solve current problems? If we had a revolution to a non-monetary gift economy, would a state be useful? The argument that a state would be impossible in such a society. What version of territorial organisation might work. 

Anarchism, the State and the Gift Economy
Terry Leahy 2023

This chapter was prompted by a friend who had been listening to my podcast series. He was saying, if the state is so difficult to get rid of why not accept the inevitable? Learn to live with the state and get reforms using the state. So, this chapter is intended to consider all that. 

Weber’s definition of the State

I will begin by looking at two views of the state that are from foundational sociological authors. Not in chronological order! Weber is associated with what has become the mainstream definition of ‘the state’ in the social sciences:

a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.  

The term ‘legitimate’ is a puzzle. I can think of two interpretations. The state has a monopoly of force and can claim to be legitimate, even if much of the population does not grant them legitimacy. Because everyone is too scared to object. OR. The state has a monopoly of violence, and this monopoly is generally regarded as legitimate. 

The second of these interpretations defines the state too narrowly. It would imply that a state only exists when the whole of society endorses the work of the police force and the army – representing the state. I doubt whether all the organisations which we would call ‘states’ are actually ‘legitimate’ for the whole of the ‘human community’ living in their territory. I cannot imagine that the Roman army was regarded as ‘legitimate’ by slaves or by Boudicca and her warriors. The recent ‘Black Lives Matter’ activism is another example. While the USA is certainly a ‘state’, many US blacks do not see the police as legitimate.

Consequently, if we are aiming to describe society as it is, Weber’s definition should be revised. A state is an organisation that has an effective monopoly on the use of force. The state can ultimately win in any violent conflict with another part of society. 

Even this definition is tricky. If we regard hunting and gathering or horticultural societies as ‘stateless’, we do this because all the men in these societies have a legitimate right to use force. So, in combination, they exercise a monopoly of force. But we do not consider this body of men as constituting a state. We call these societies stateless because there is no special body of men, a minority of men, that has a monopoly of force – vis a vis a larger population of men. For the purposes of this chapter, I will summarize by saying that a state is a special body that has an effective monopoly of force relative to the broader population in that territory.

That is why we talk about ‘failed’ states. Failed states are the ones where this kind of monopoly of effective force has failed, and the state can no longer monopolize coercive violence. Instead, oppositional armies, gangs and warlords take over large sections of society.

I will note in passing that the very definition of the state may be gender blind. We call particular societies stateless despite the fact that in these societies, men are a special body that has a monopoly of force vis a vis women.

Marx and Engels on the State

Let us now turn to Marx’s ideas on ‘the state’. Marx and Engels take for granted the ideas that inform Weber’s later definition. The state is a special body in the population that commands a monopoly of force. In a well-known passage of the Manifesto, they have this to say:

The bourgeoisie … has at last, conquered for itself in the modern representative state, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. 

Marx and Engels are using the term ‘executive’ in two ways. One is that the ‘executive’ executes the decisions of the state by giving orders to the police and the army. The second is to refer to a body in an organisation that gets together to plan things for the whole organization. In this case, the executive of the state is the body that manages the affairs of the bourgeoisie. It is important to remember that this was written in 1848, a time when even the English parliament was composed of members of the upper classes, without the mass of the people having any representation. 

As I read Marx’s early writings, the Paris Manuscripts, ‘political’ power comes out of an alienation of people’s innate sociable nature. Within class society, conflict is an inevitable effect of economic structures. People are pitted against each other. Sociability is stifled. To enable cooperation and social life to continue, the state intervenes to control violence. In all cases, this control is exercised on behalf of the ruling class. It is there to enforce the exploitation of the subordinate class, whether slaves, serfs or wage workers. These central ideas are also elaborated in Engels’ later book on the origin of the state. The victory of the bourgeoisie that the Manifesto talks about is a victory over feudal power. Marx and Engels are talking about the transition from political power exercised by the monarch and aristocrats to political power being exercised by the capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) through the representative state. Through an assembly elected with a restricted suffrage and, consequently, dominated by the bourgeoisie.

Marx’s early analysis of ‘politics’ and the ‘state’ informs the description of the coming communist revolution in the Manifesto. Marx reads politics and the state in relation to class conflict. Political power is what happens when one class dominates another. The state is the organisation that executes the power of a ruling class. Because the proletariat needs to overthrow the bourgeoisie, it must come to dominate the bourgeoisie – becoming a ruling class over the bourgeoisie. This is the definition of ‘political’ and implies a state – because the proletariat achieves a monopoly of force to control and defeat the bourgeoisie. These are the key statements in the Manifesto that reflect this thinking. The aim of the communists, they write, is the ‘formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat’.  In other words, since the state is the organ of bourgeois power, its coercive arm, the proletariat by conquering this power, conquers the bourgeois state. What happens next is that the proletariat acts coercively to take economic power from the bourgeoisie. Because Marx and Engels are defining the state as a coercive power exercised by one class against another, the implication is that the proletariat takes state power.  

The first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e. of the proletariat organized as a ruling class. 

Nothing is said here about how the state is to be organized. In so far as the proletariat acts with force to divest the bourgeoisie of their economic power, they constitute a state – defined as a body acting to control a subordinate class. What is peculiar about this use of the idea of the state is that it does not imply the usual assumption about a state. That it is a small body of people with a monopoly of power to coerce the great masses, the subordinate class. Instead ‘the battle of democracy’ implies that the vast body of the population, the proletariat, is using coercive power against a small minority, the previous ruling class, now subordinate – the capitalist class, the one per cent. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx refers to this as a transition period and describes this proletarian rule over the capitalist class as ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’. 

Consistent with this framework, Marx and Engels conclude this picture of the revolution by predicting the demise of the state once the bourgeoisie have been thoroughly defeated. The proletariat ‘sweeps away’ the exploitation of labour in production. Doing this, it sweeps away ‘the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms’. There is no exploitation so there can be no ruling class and no subordinate class. The state, an organ by which a ruling class controls the subordinate class, can no longer exist. 

What takes its place? Here Marx and Engels are a bit vague. The public power ‘will lose its political character’. In other words, the organisation of society by the public will not enforce the domination of one class over another. Instead, ‘we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the free development of all’ . A later formulation notes that in this final stage of the revolutionary process, distribution will implement this guideline. ‘From each, according to his ability, to each according to his needs’.  There is nothing specific about how such a participation and such a distribution is to be achieved. What fits both Marx’s early writings and the Critique of the Gotha Programme is the following. Technological development would produce abundance. People would choose work to express themselves creatively. Distribution according to need would be an effect of abundance and an innate human sociability. Flowering where the antagonisms and insecurity of class society had disappeared. 

Being a bit provocative, I will claim that an anarchist would find nothing objectionable in all this. So long as we remain at the level of political theory, making use of the definitions that Marx and Engels use themselves. Anarchists might well agree that ‘the state’ is a body that employs coercion to maintain the power of a ruling class. They would then agree that the revolution must defeat that existing state power. They would agree that the vast body of the population, the proletariat, would use coercive power, when necessary, to take the means of production out of the hands of the capitalist class. They would likewise agree that once this process had been completed, the organisation of society would not be premised on coercive control of one class by another. 

Where they would differ from Marx and Engels is that they would not use the term ‘state’ to refer to the coercive power of the proletariat organized to take control of the means of production. Consequently, they would not see the ‘conquest’ of the state as ‘seizing’ the state for the proletariat. Instead, they might talk about ‘defeating’ the state. Appropriating the means of production by force. Setting up an association to run society. Both versions of this are committed to some idea of a ‘transition’ – if by that you just mean a period in which the proletariat is taking over the means of production. It is starting to sound like the supposed difference between Marxists and anarchists is a mere verbal quibble. 

If the difference between Marxists and anarchists is not here, where is it? The logical place to look next is the detail about what this period of transition might look like. And the detail about what kind of ‘association’ is to be set up to run a post-revolutionary society. 

I have considered some of these issues in chapter five where I look at the democratic socialist position. ‘Democratic Socialists’ draw heavily on what Marx and Engels say about the ‘transitional’ period, in the Manifesto and in The Critique of the Gotha Programme. I will summarize the picture of the transition like this. The working class is organized into municipalities and work councils. They elect delegates who represent them to form a central national government. This central government runs an army to suppress the capitalist class and appropriate the means of production. These means of production progressively fall under government ownership. The representatives decide on an economic and industrial plan which is implemented by the central government. A government monopoly over distribution enables the government to implement their plan. Distributing products to workers who are carrying out this central plan. Marx and Engels believed that it was important to increase production to pave the way for a post-transition abundance. The government sets wages and prices and distributes the products of the nationalized industries. Wages are paid proportional to hours being worked. While this may seem like wage labour, it is not — because there is no extraction of surplus value by a ruling class. The way Marx writes about it, it would be a mistake to regard this payment as a payment in money. It is just a certificate that allows the worker to withdraw products from a government store. But clearly it is a universal quantitative measure of value. It is paid proportionally to hours worked and can be used to buy things according to ‘prices’ set by government. 

This picture of the transition is implicit in a great range of detailed proposals. As follows. In the Manifesto.

A heavy progressive income tax. 
Implying a monetary economy. 
Abolition of property in land.
A first step in taking over the means of production. Rents from land are to be used for public purposes. 
Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies. 
In other words, conscription of the proletariat by their state.
Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State. 
Gradual appropriation of the means of production as state property.
The improvement of the soil in accordance with a common plan.
Centralized state planning of the economy.
Centralization of credit in the hands of the State … a national bank with … an exclusive monopoly.
The proletarian state directs the economy through credit.
Centralize all means of production in the hands of the State.
The summary of what is intended. 

In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx begins the section I am about to unpick by pointing out that the working class cannot receive the ‘undiminished’ products of their work. In contradiction to the proposals of the German workers’ party, the Gotha Programme. There need to be funds set aside to maintain and expand machinery. Also funds for administration, public services and social welfare. What is left over is available for consumption by those who are employed. Here, the amount received will be proportional to the hours of work put in. 

He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such and such an amount of labour (after deducting his labour for the common funds), and with this certificate he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as costs the same amount of labour.  

So, these certificates allocate a certain quantity of tokens, as it were. These tokens can be used to purchase products. These products have a price in tokens that represents the number of hours put in to producing them. I will call this a kind of money. The tokens represent a promise by society that the owner can use them to purchase goods produced by other workers. I will also suggest that this work is ‘alienated’ at least in some ways — even if the product that the worker does not directly consume is allocated to purposes worked out democratically. The worker can be conscripted to work by the government, to implement a central plan. While the central plan is devised by elected representatives, from the perspective of the individual worker, the plan is imposed on them by government authority, along with the tasks they are set. They are not in creative control of their working day. Further, the products of their work are not theirs to dispose of but are owned by the government that owns the means of production. These products may not be bought and sold by capitalists through a market. Marx claims that because of this they are not commodities, they are not exchanged. Instead, they are allocated by the central government, using the methods outlined above – some set aside for machinery, some for social services and some for individual work payments. While they may not be commodities of the kind observed in a market economy, they are still goods that can be purchased with money. 

There are some interesting consequences of this approach where the State is concerned. Marx owns up to the idea that the transition implies a State. Because the proletariat is engaged in a conflict with the old ruling class and aims to subordinate and eventually eliminate that class. But there is much about this detailed description of the transition that suggests a state vis a vis the proletariat itself. The central government is a small group in society that has authority to order compliance. It also has the power to coerce that compliance. The phrase ‘liability of all to labour’ makes that quite clear. Whether this group is a ruling class that extracts and distributes a surplus is arguable. They represent the proletariat. Marx and Engels clearly believe that because of this, the whole product of labour is allocated back to purposes chosen by the proletariat itself. So, no surplus is extracted from the work of the proletariat and appropriated by another class. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme he speaks of this period in terms of a ‘cooperative society based on common ownership of the means of production’. 

In chapter five I have explained what I think is problematic in these strategies. In terms of the unintended consequences of attempts to implement them. Also, in how these attempts fall short — if the aim is to create a classless society. But here, what I am interested in is what anarchists make of this program. Also, what they propose as an alternative.

Bakunin on the State

Bakunin is one of the early anarchists. His writings have had a huge influence on the anarchist movement. The conflict between Bakunin and Marx split the early socialist movement in the middle of the nineteenth century. A key concern of Bakunin is that the state implies a despotism, a top-down command structure. This is the case even if representatives are elected.  A republican state can also be despotic.

Because under the pretext of representing the will of all it will bear down on the will and free impulse of each of its members with all the weight of its collective power. 

My own view is that as long as citizens obey the official representatives of the law and the leaders imposed on them by the State, even when these leaders may have been sanctioned by universal suffrage, they are slaves. 

A national assembly elected by universal suffrage would lead to the formation of a new aristocracy that would exploit the people. These ideas are elaborated in his direct critique of Marxism. He envisages the implementation of the transition described in the Manifesto as a new mode of production. A new form of dominion and exploitation run by a technocratic ruling class. This government,

not content with governing and administering the masses politically, will also administer them economically, by taking over the production and fair sharing of wealth, agriculture, the establishment and development of factories, the organization and control of trade, and lastly the injection of capital into production by a single banker, the State. All of this will require vast knowledge and lot of heads brimful of brains. It will be the reign of the scientific mind, the most aristocratic, despotic, arrogant and contemptuous of all regimes. This will be a new class, a new hierarchy of real or bogus learning, and the world will be divided into a dominant science-based minority and vast, ignorant majority. 

A barracks regime for the proletariat, in which a standardized mass of men and women workers would wake, sleep, work and live by rote; a regime of privilege for the able and clever. 

So, what is Bakunin’s alternative for the post-revolutionary organisation of society? There are four key points. A bottom-up federation of associations plans the economy. There is no state, no organisation that commands obedience. Violence may be used to defend the revolution — but there is no standing army, no authorized (legitimate) coercion. Autonomous money-making cooperatives constitute the economy.  These key points raise a number of issues. 

1. A federation of collectives.

Society is to be organized through a federation of autonomous cooperatives. 

The political and economic organization of society must therefore not flow downwards from high to low, and outwards, from centre to circumference, as it does today … but upwards and inwards, on the principle of free association and free federation. 

As a first comment, the language here maintains the metaphor of centre/periphery and high/low. This is not organisation through a distributed network but through a central clearing house. The federation stands in place of the state that has been abolished. At the end of the day, what is imagined is that autonomous social units send representatives to a federated think tank, that then works out the ‘political and economic organisation of society’. Implying one of two possibilities. That people obey these decisions about the organisation of society because the federation has legitimacy as a duly constituted authority — and can ensure compliance. Or that the decisions reached by the federation are so finely tuned to the wishes of the representatives that every part of the society enthusiastically takes up these suggestions and wishes nothing different. 

While Bakunin stipulates the ‘absolute freedom of individual, productive association and commune’, it is hard to square this with the detail. The detail suggests that to organize a complex society, the federation must impose various laws, commanding through sanctions. These details also imply a monetary economy, with the federation using its financial power to secure compliance. 

The [provincial] parliament will modify provincial legislation in terms of both the respective rights and duties of individual associations and communes, and of the forfeits to which each shall be liable in the event of infractions of the laws it establishes. The communal legislatures, however, will retain the right to deviate from provincial legislation on secondary but never on essential matters. 

Having your cake and eating it too. Especially because much of what the provincial and national federations legislate seems necessary to running a monetary economy while ensuring social justice. It is difficult to see much leeway in any of the following. The parliament will decide the commune’s share of national and provincial taxation. The federation will ensure equality in a child’s maintenance, upbringing, and education. Meaning that taxes must be used to pay for these services. The federation will prevent people from exercising a right of inheritance – meaning that the federation will have to confiscate family wealth. Society will be organized so that everyone can get access to equal provision for the development of their faculties and their exercise in labour. We could see unemployment benefits being used to smooth out glitches in the job market. In the longer-term Bakunin envisages a global expansion for the federation. Free productive associations will:

… expand beyond national frontiers. They will form one vast economic federation, with a parliament informed by precise, detailed statistics on a world scale … and will both offer and demand to control, decide and distribute the output of world industry among the various countries so that there will no longer … be commercial or industrial crises. 

All of which suggests that the federation will take over much of the distribution of products and the allocation of capital to industry. Accordingly, the associations (cooperatives) will lose their power to make these decisions. As we shall see, none of this is premised on an authoritative force — a paid police force or standing army. 

2. Absolute freedom of action – no state command.

A second key theme in Bakunin’s writing is that after the revolution people, associations (cooperatives) and communes (municipalities) are autonomous and totally free to follow their own decisions. His critique of the state is that the state dominates and commands. People are slaves if they must obey the decisions of a state. For example:

All individuals, associations, communes, provinces, regions and nations have the absolute right to dispose of their own fate, associate or not associate, ally with whomever they please and break off alliances. 

Reorganisation of each region, taking as its starting point the absolute freedom of individual, productive association and commune. 

It is interesting to wonder how this can be reconciled with the vision of the federation I have explained. The federation has many tasks to maintain an egalitarian and supportive society in the context of a market economy. Much of this work requires control over money — taxation, funding for social services, redistribution to ensure equal outcomes, even the allocation of capital to industry. While people may see the necessity for all this in the abstract, they are unlikely to welcome it when it disadvantages their own household, cooperative, or municipality. This is a post-revolutionary culture where ‘command’ is not legitimate. Where these constituting local organs are free to do the opposite of what the federation asks. Is Bakunin’s proposed organisation of the economy feasible in that context? Or considered from the opposite angle. How can these bodies be free to do what they will — while the federation can impose ‘forfeits’ — if they break federation laws?

3. No standing army or police force.

The next key point is the organisation of armed force. As explained, a State relies on armed force to ensure compliance. A police force and a standing army. The anarchist federation does not intend to command — so neither of these organisations are required. On the other hand, armed force will be necessary to make a revolution. 

So, the revolution is to begin with the ‘abolition’ of central administration, state bureaucracies, ‘standing armies and State police’.  While there will be no standing army ‘every able-bodied citizen must, if necessary, become a soldier in defence of his home or liberty’.  The revolution itself will not be peaceful. Instead, a war of ‘extermination’ is inevitable. The duty of the revolutionary is to ‘sacrifice his repose, his well-being, his vanity, personal ambition and often his personal interests’.  So, the revolutionary volunteers to fight the necessary battles to defeat the ruling class. This certainly endorses the use of force in one context, where the revolution is seizing the means of production. It is not clear whether force may be used to defend the decisions of the federation, following the victory of the revolution. 

But perhaps this is implied. The statement that communal legislatures retain the right to deviate from provincial legislation except on essential matters, certainly suggests sanctions of some kind. What if we had an anarchist federation today? How would a national federation respond to a communal legislature that decided to instal a nuclear reactor? I am guessing that this would be regarded as an essential matter and, if necessary, armed force would be used to block the project. 

Ultimately, I doubt whether the difference between anarchist and statist socialists is well understood in a lot of typical anarchist statements on this topic. In those statements an anarchist society is one in which everyone is free to do what they like without fear of coercion bringing them into line. As explained in earlier chapters, I do not think that is a tenable or likely program. I would instead put it like this. In an anarchist society there is no special body of the population invested with the authority to monopolize the use of force. Moreover, there is no special body with the capacity, legitimate or not, to monopolize the use of force. I have the feeling that typical anarchist proclamations on coercion and the state divert attention from more significant issues. Basic factors in economic organisation profoundly alter the context in which political power operates. 

4. Market cooperatives are the economic units.

So now I come to the last key point. This is a move which very much defines the difference between Marx’s strategy and that of the anarchists. Marx envisages state ownership of the means of production. The state owns, employs workers, and makes decisions about distribution. Bakunin by contrast intends that ordinary workers take over the means of production and run each unit as a cooperative. It is a market economy in which each association sells products and pays wages to the members of their cooperative. Much of the time, this seems so obvious to Bakunin that this is assumed — rather than clearly spelled out. 

Bakunin usually describes these work collectives as ‘productive associations’ . He is aware of workers’ cooperatives, banks of mutual aid, workers’ credit unions, and trade unions being established in England. He celebrates these as footsteps on the path to the revolution. 

He recognizes the necessity for the post-capitalist federation to step in to enforce contracts between these commercial enterprises. 

… associations legally recognized as collective bodies will … have the right to bring charges against all individuals, whether members or outsiders, as well as all other regular associations defaulting on commitments to them. 

For example, if you pay another cooperative to supply a carton of spare parts and they never arrive, you could charge them with defaulting on their commitment. It is unclear how this legal process is to be established and how sanctions are to be imposed. But what is very clear is that we have a competitive market economy in which the economic units are legally registered cooperatives. In fact, what is being talked about is the federation supervising and enforcing the proper use of money — ensuring through legal sanctions that money means something.  

There will be no coercion to force people to enter these cooperatives. They can continue as sole traders. So why would people become cooperative members? Because, he argues.

It would miraculously increase the productive energies of each associate member … who will earn a great deal more in less time and with far less trouble. 

In other words, for exactly the same reasons the capitalist class replaced the cottage weavers with factory employees. More monetary value per worker. This comment reveals much about the assumed economic context. The worker depends on the sales of their product to earn a living. They are as vulnerable as any capitalist employee to a failure to maintain their share of the market. The cooperative is obliged to seek the highest possible profit — or to risk going out of business. The supposed ‘freedom’ of the worker is the freedom to do what the market requires. 

Describing the implementation of this economy through the revolution, he writes that the anarchist programme is:

Confiscation of all productive capital and means of production on behalf of workers’ associations, who are to put them to collective use. 

My interpretation is that he means taking control of these means of production and running them as market collectives. Cooperatives rather than privately owned firms. The means of production are to be used collectively – in other words, by collectives — to make money. 

This last key point informs everything Bakunin has to say about the role and tasks of the federation. No wonder the federation needs to tax, needs to supply social services, needs to enforce contracts. The economy continues to be a market monetary economy. Each enterprise is pitted against the rest, with the constant danger of failing to thrive. Throwing the members of the cooperative into poverty. The federation must intervene to mediate this competition, to enforce the rules of the market game, to back up the monetary system, to supply public services where the market fails. But, on the other hand, anarchist principles dictate that these sanctions, the forfeits, the taxes, the charges in court, are not to be enforced by a state. Really?


While Bakunin is clearly an important anarchist source, it could be that other anarchists do not match him on all four key points. I have certainly found many anarchists who do. An earlier writer who inspired anarchists is Proudhon. His ideas were taken up by Bakunin in many ways.

Proudhon argues, along with Bakunin, that a supposedly democratic state is still a tyranny, the people delegate away their sovereignty. The associations that will take over after the revolution are market cooperatives. 

Every industry, operation or enterprise, which by its nature requires the employment of a large number of workmen of different specialties, is destined to become a society or a company of workers. 

These cooperative enterprises will be ‘the common and undivided property of all those who take part therein’.  The share of the profits that the worker gets will be proportional to their position, skill, responsibility. The market action of the associations is constrained by the authority of the federation. A people’s bank will provide credit for cooperatives with interest free loans. While a market cooperative in capitalism might be expected to operate to make a profit, this will not be the sole aim in the post-capitalist anarchist economy, where the workers’ associations will work for all, rather than the benefit of a few. This is to be achieved by an education in the ethics required for a self-managing society. While in capitalism a firm owns their resources as private property, in the anarchist society, the association has only use rights. Ownership is vested in the federation. While in capitalism, a firm puts its goods and services on the market, the federation will set up shops where goods are priced in relation to labour hours. Contradicting this, Proudhon also argued that prices must be determined by competition, the power of consumers. 

I find these proposals very contradictory. As with Bakunin, the federation steps in to do much that may be required to keep a market economy in check. Supervising ownership rights. Requisitioning products and marketing them in shops with fixed prices. Allocating capital through a people’s bank. There is much that resembles what Marx and Engels say in the Manifesto in all this. These elements are hard to reconcile with an economy run by autonomous entrepreneurial cooperatives. 

Proudhon advocates a ‘just price’ for goods produced by these associations. He defines this as a price which includes the normal costs of production as well as a fee for the merchant. As noted, this contradicts the assertion that prices are determined by competition. Also, it is hard to square with frequent statements that workers in associations must share the losses and profits of their associations. In fact, losses and profits will be determined by the federation shops — as they determine prices. He correctly attributes the variation in prices in the capitalist world to market competition. Industrialists and merchants can never be sure whether they will cover costs and make a profit. This uncertainty drives attempts to boost profits. These attempts are an effect of market competition. To alleviate these effects Proudhon proposes that the constituent assembly guarantee profits on invested capital of five per cent. If the association makes this or more, the assembly does not pay out. They pay out only if profits fall below this figure.  Whether such a measure might work in a market economy is hard to figure. My guess is that there would be an avalanche of unexpected outcomes. What is more pertinent are the contradictions of this version of anarchism. The workers take over and run production as money making cooperatives. They are totally independent, and the state does not intervene to command anything. That is what a ‘federation’ implies. Yet constantly, these authors imagine the federation stepping in, rescuing the people from the typical effects of a market economy.  


Kropotkin is the first well known anarchist writer to promote a non-monetary post-capitalism. He describes his vision as ‘communism’. In many ways, it is identical to Marx’s vision of a post-transitional full realized communism. Accordingly, his major departure from Marxism is that he has no time for a transitional stage after the revolution. Kropotkin, like the other anarchist founders, does not envisage any kind of statist transitional period – a dictatorship of the proletariat with state ownership of the means of production. Anarchists who describe themselves as ‘anarcho-communists’ are followers of Kropotkin’s conception of post-capitalism. In relation to money, it is typical of Kropotkin to talk about the ‘abolition of the wage system’ rather than the abolition of money . Nevertheless, everything he says about this shows that he does not intend to continue with money . In relation to other anarchist founders, Kropotkin makes it clear that he sees cooperatives set up in the context of a market economy, as one of a number of prefiguring experiments, but not as true communism. 

The discussion from and about the Spanish anarchists of the 1936 revolution often harks back to the question of allocation of products after the revolution. The ‘communist’ position is identified with the idea that allocation should be according to needs. By contrast, the position that Kropotkin rejects, the one he refers to as ‘collectivist’, implies that people are allocated goods and services through a wage related to the hours of work they have put in. He is using the term ‘collectivist’ to refer to the Marxist proposals for the transition explained above. It is collective, in other words, state ownership by representatives of the masses. The state allocates work and arranges rights to consume based on hours of work.

What also comes up in such discussions is another typical issue. For both Marx and Kropotkin, the possibility of communist distribution is the abundance that may be achieved by using modern industry. Accordingly, a common question in these discussions.  Have we got to that point where we can produce so much that it is possible to allocate according to need and to make sure that everyone gets enough? 

Okay, so what is Kropotkin’s vision of anarchist communism? 

1. All means of production, including housing, land and even clothing, are owned in common. 

private individuals should control neither the instruments of labor (tools, machines, factories), nor the places of cultivation of raw materials (the earth), nor the raw materials previously stored up, nor the means of storing and transporting them to particular places (the means of communication, warehouses, and so on), nor the means of existence during work (the supplies of the means of subsistence and housing). 

2. People choose what do from any field of work that is considered necessary. They bind themselves to work five hours a day between the ages of 20 and 50. Leaving another five hours in which they can engage in tasks not deemed necessary – the arts or science and so on.  Because the workers themselves organize production, they adapt their work and workplaces to ensure an enjoyable experience . Extreme division of labour and boring work is avoided.

men, women, and children will gladly turn to the labour of the fields, when it is no longer a slavish drudgery, but has become pleasure, a festival, a renewal of health and joy. 

3. Modern technology allows us to produce a more than sufficient abundance. 

it is … certain that mankind in general, aided by the creatures of steel and iron which it already possesses, could already procure an existence of wealth and ease for every one of its members.  

Distribution is egalitarian. So, frivolous over consumption by a minority does not deprive the rest of us. 

4. Distribution is according to need. 

no stint or limit to what the community possesses in abundance but equal sharing and dividing of those commodities which are scarce or apt to run short. If this or that article of consumption runs short, and has to be doled out, to those who have most need most should be given. 

Kropotkin refutes the argument that distribution ought to be allocated in proportion to hours of work. All products are the outcome of the work of a vast multiplicity of producers going back to their earliest invention. It is in fact impossible to quantify these various inputs. So, by what right does any one person claim a certain proportion of the ownership? 

In cases where there is more than enough to go around, people will just take what they want from a common stock. For example, clothing from a warehouse. In other cases, a scarce resource will go to those with greatest need. Given that, what is still available of a scarce resource will be parcelled out in equal shares. Kropotkin is confident that after the revolution, these forms of distribution will be implemented by parties of volunteers, handling different parts of production and distribution. For example, a collective manufacturing ploughs to provide for peasant farmers. The same general principles of distribution apply to agricultural land, factories and housing. They are allocated equally and according to need.

5. There is no state and no state enforcement. An anarchist society is one in which people are never motivated by fear of coercion.

What are some points of difference between this vision and the gift economy proposal outlined in this book.

1. The gift economy recognizes the common and equal right of all to the resources of the earth and to the means of production, constituted by previous work. On the other hand, voluntary groups assume use rights in these resources — in order to produce goods and services as collectives. There is a general assumption that voluntary groups mean well and make their own decisions about how to use resources. There is nevertheless a community oversight. Relevant communities are consulted when a voluntary group intends to take charge of a particular productive resource. Hoarding, or damaging use of resources will be restrained by force if necessary.

2. There is a cultural expectation that you will do useful work. I doubt that people would all commit to a five-hour day, as Kropotkin suggests. On the other hand, there would be social pressure to do something useful. It is up to you to decide what tasks to take up. Within any collective, work may be allocated by roster — or not, depending on what works for the collective. For example, a household might insist that all members do 20 hours a week, according to a common plan of tasks, or might just leave it up to household members to contribute as they feel inclined. Taken as a whole, the gift economy depends on a patchy network of voluntary collectives. There is no decision-making body that can allocate times and tasks to any one person. An individual might be at once a member of a household, a worker in a factory making fencing wire, a participant in a community garden, a member of the committee for the local train station and a saxophone player in a music group. These tasks all have their own federated or localized collectives and participation is allocated within each of them. For example, the train station committee might require members to allocate 5 hours on Wednesday afternoons. 

3. There is no assumption that there will be abundance, courtesy of modern technology. Instead, the gift economy recognizes the limits of earth systems and make decisions about what to produce and how to distribute it with that in mind. The unsustainable resource use now taking place is mainly because of consumption in the rich countries. It is expected that this resource use will diminish, and that the consumption of goods and services will shrink in the rich countries. Respecting the limits of earth systems and promoting biodiversity will be the responsibility of every collective, as explained in earlier chapters.

4. Communities and collectives allocate goods and services as they please. The bottom line is that the gift economy ends alienated labour by giving producers the right to decide what work they think is interesting and useful. And the right to make their own decisions about how to distribute the products. There is a cultural expectation that people will serve themselves and the broader community, paying attention to needs, and not just human needs. Kropotkin’s ideas about distribution generally make sense for a gift economy. When there is more than enough, take what you need. When resources are scarce, allocate equally and by need. So, in a gift economy, these decisions are ultimately in the hands of the producers. They distribute gifts so the right of distribution passes to the recipient of the gift. For example, the steel maker passes the steel to the maker of rails who pass the rails to the train services. At each point in this chain the holder of the product at that time has the right to distribute to any other collective. While this gives an absolute culturally validated right of distribution, compacts between people in the chains of production and distribution ensure that predictability is achieved, that useful gifts are produced and that they go to those who need them. Ideally, there is no waste in this system because distribution has been worked out in advance.

5. Broadly in agreement with Kropotkin on this point.  A state, in the classic sense, is impossible in a gift economy. More discussion on this later in the chapter. 

One conclusion from all this is that the gift economy, as I have described it in earlier chapters, may be viewed as an instance, a particular example of Kropotkin’s anarchist communism. Many of Kropotkin’s examples fit the concept of the gift economy quite exactly. For example, the people who go out to sea in lifeboats to rescue mariners. As he says, they do not expect compensation from those they rescue. They do not ask first, ‘Can you pay me for this service?’ The gift is for those in need, and it is calibrated exactly to their need. Another example is his discussion of the problem of food immediately after the revolution. He is thinking of France where small family farms own the land. After previous revolutions in France, the peasants stopped selling their grain, even when threatened with execution. They did not trust the currency and the factories were not yet operating again. The urban workers starved. The solution, Kropotkin suggests, is this. Agreements between voluntary work committees and peasants to supply the peasants directly with what they need. Come to our warehouses and take what you need. For production to be re-directed from the whims of the rich to the real needs of the peasants — tools, machinery, clothing and the like. In return, supply us with the grain we need.  

To supplement this arrangement, take over land around the cities that is being used as parks by the rich. Parties of volunteers will turn this land to agriculture. Abandon the expectation that food stuff can be bought from other countries. As they have their revolutions, their peasants will be feeding themselves and the people of their own towns. Kropotkin is fully cognizant of the exploitation of the global South and anticipates revolutions in those countries — meaning that the people of the North will have to look after themselves. 

A good example is his discussion of clothing after the revolution:

Groups would spring up in every street and quarter to undertake the charge of the clothing. They would make inventories of all that the city possessed, and would find out approximately what were the resources at their disposal. It is more than likely that in the matter of clothing the citizens would adopt the same principle as in the matter of provisions — that is to say, they would offer freely from the common store everything which was to be found in abundance, and dole out whatever was limited in quantity.   

In other words, the authority over distribution would go to a voluntary collective of clothing distributors. A similar passage discusses the food crisis likely to follow a revolution.

The well-intentioned citizens, men and women both, will form themselves into bands of volunteers and address themselves to the task of making a rough general inventory of the contents, of each shop and warehouse. In every block of houses, in every street, in every town ward, bands of volunteers will have been organized. These commissariat volunteers will work in unison and keep in touch with each other. An immense guild of free workers, ready to furnish to each and all the necessary food. Give the people a free hand, and in ten days the food service will be conducted with admirable. regularity.  

What is interesting about this detail is the jump between the broad theoretical position and the examples. Broadly, the whole population owns everything, and distribution is by need. In the examples, self-constituted voluntary groups take control of parts of the means of production and distribute products to particular groups – for example all the people living in this block of streets via a common storehouse. The term that I have been using, ‘gift economy’ captures the spirit of the examples. It provides a slogan that explains how ownership by all and distribution by need might be put into practice. 

The division in anarchist thinking 

While anarchists are agreed on the topic of the state, I believe that a huge gap opens up on the topic of the economy. This division is present in the founding texts. I would characterise it as a difference between ‘market anarchism’ and ‘non-market anarchism’. 

More recent anarchist writings often recycle themes from market anarchism. Sam Buchanan [1999] defines anarchism in terms of the first and second key points. ‘Anarchists see any use of force or coercion, or any constituted authority, as illegitimate. The organisation of society must be by voluntary agreement’ . He endorses the use of money, because it is ‘so fantastically useful that it will always turn up in some form or other. Money only gets dangerous when it is allowed to accumulate and can be used to get power over other people. The only way of stopping this is to change what is socially acceptable’.  Nicolas Walter [1977] describes anarchist federalism like this. ‘Members of such councils would be delegates without any executive authority, subject to instant recall … the councils would have no central authority, only a simple secretariat’.  He acknowledges a range of options where money is concerned. ‘There might be equal pay for all, or pay according to need, or no pay at all. Some associations might use money for all exchange, some just for large or complex transactions, and some might not use it at all. Goods might be bought, or hired, or rationed, or free.’  In an earlier statement, he describes economic mutualism like this. 

A society organised according to the principle of anarchist mutualism would be one in which communal activities were in effect in the hands of cooperative societies without permanent managers or elected officials. Economic mutualism may this be seen as co-operativism minus bureaucracy, or as capitalism minus profit. 

While Walter gives a nod to the idea of a non-market post-capitalism, the emphasis is on monetary options. 

The late David Graeber is one of the most popular authors associated with the anarchist position in recent years. In his magnum opus on debt, he sets out a thorough critique of debt and exchange value more generally. In the end, what does he recommend? A debt jubilee, a moment when all debts are cancelled.  And afterwards we presumably go back to using money and incurring more debts! His little booklet on anarchism The New Anarchists [2002] identifies anarchism in relation to political structures. No mention of money or the market. Speaking about the ‘Occupy’ movement in which Graeber was involved, he writes.

Those new forms of organization are its ideology. It is about creating and enacting horizontal networks instead of top-down structures like states, parties or corporations; networks based on principles of decentralized, non-hierarchical consensus democracy. 

A position perfectly consistent with Bakunin’s four key points. There is nowhere in Graeber’s writings where he makes a clear case for a post-capitalism without money. His silence speaks volumes.

My suggestion is that non-market anarchism is still a minority theme in anarchist writing today. Even those anarchists who follow this tendency tend to pull their punches where money is concerned. Two good examples are these. Bob Black [1997] writes a critique of Murray Bookchin. For Bookchin’s support for the (municipal) state and his workerist emphasis on production. In the book, Black implies the absence of money. 

… the abolition of work is possible and desirable … genuine, unconditioned needs can be met by voluntary playlike activity enjoyed for its own sake. 

Yet there is nothing specific in the book related to money, or to the organisation of work and distribution in a post-capitalist economy. It is all about the central themes of anarchism, the absence of the state, participatory decision making, absolute freedom from coercion. There is a similar pattern of emphasis in CrimethInc’s [2017] edited collection From Democracy to Freedom. Almost every passage recirculates the critique of representative democracy found in Bakunin’s writing. The problem with the State is that the citizen gives up their autonomy and the State commands. Within all this, one chapter and one paragraph from the collection mentions a society without money.

Anarcho-communism, an emancipatory vision that we all share in Void Network, is an old vision of a world without money and without borders … If we want a world without money, this means we have to transform labor into open-source creativity, to turn workplaces into beautiful parks of voluntary creative participation in a global web that freely distributes all material and mental production. Life has to be organized around the production of desires and the enjoyment of needs. 

After many pages of text informing us that the key to anarchism is the organization of decision making, we get this statement out of the blue. That is it. 

Non-market anarchists in recent times

The workers’ cooperatives version of anarchism, ‘market anarchism’, though dominant in the movement until 1968, has not gone without challenge. It is quite common for recent anarchist writing to acknowledge that anarchists have differing views on money. The example of the Spanish anarchist revolution is hard to ignore. There were rural areas that went over to the revolution. In some of these, communities provided goods and services according to need, dispensing with money where their internal affairs were concerned. In the early days of the revolution in the cities, food and other essentials were supplied without money changing hands. For the most part, anarchists cite these examples to show that anarchists have a variety of perspectives on money, suggesting this is not a defining issue. I sense that this issue became a more central source of division in the late sixties.

The precursor of non-market anarchism in more recent times was writing that emphasized alienated labour as the key discontent of the current period. In the fifties, Paul Cardan [first 1959] stresses the frustrations of alienated labour in the affluent economies of the global north. In the seventies Murray Bookchin, a well-known anarchist author takes up this theme [1971]. Neither author mentions money as a problem. Instead, they say that the revolt against boring work is a key revolutionary impulse. These analyses were related to the counterculture and its attack on the work ethic. 

The Situationists of France in the sixties drew the implications of these writings where money and the market are concerned. If people were to free themselves from alienated labour, they would want to be free to distribute the products of their creative work — as they wanted. Not scrambling to find profitable employment in a market economy, producing whatever will sell and marketing to anyone with money.  In a typical passage, VanEigem [1967] remarks:

The crumbling away of human values under the influence of exchange mechanisms leads to the crumbling of exchange itself. The insufficiency of the feudal gift means that new human relationships must be built on the principle of pure giving. We must discover the pleasure of giving: giving because you have so much. What beautiful potlaches the affluent society will see – whether it likes it or no – when the exuberance of the younger generation discovers the pure gift. The growing passion for stealing books, clothes, food, weapons or jewellery simply for the pleasure of giving them away, gives us a glimpse of what the will to live has in store for consumer society. 

A key influence on this undercurrent was utopian and anarchist takes on anthropology. Stateless societies of the past did not have money and markets. The ‘gift economy’, so called by Marcel Mauss [1925], was a typical form of non-monetary allocation in stateless societies. In Stone Age Economics, Sahlins [1972] argued that these were the original affluent societies, where hours of work were minimal. In a more direct reference to anarchism, Pierre Clastres [1974] argued that stateless societies of the Amazon actively resisted the option of state power and social class. The role of chiefs was to mediate disputes and arrive at a decision by consensus. The concept of ‘command’ was absent, and autonomy was expected. 

A later anarchist author in this tradition was Hakim Bey, also known as Peter Lamborn Wilson [1998]. He celebrates Fourier as a founder of the kind of anarchism that we ought to pursue today. A work that is also play, ritual and artistic performance. Wilson suggests that the native Americans of the Mississippi delta threw off the class society that had been established in the Cahokia civilisation and returned to a stateless egalitarian polity. To give one example of his thinking on money and the gift.

Money originates and emerges in history as debt. But it has a “pre-history” as appropriation. The egalitarian economy of the Gift—which does not know money—can be shattered only by the economy of surplus and scarcity. Now these terms can have meaning only for human beings: some few will enjoy surplus, the rest must experience scarcity. Slavery, tribute, and debt are all forms of scarcity. 

The Gift Economy and the State

The first two sections of this chapter have looked at Marxist and anarchist views of the state and post-capitalism. The ‘gift economy’ is a type of non-market anarchism. What I am about to say about the state applies to all the different versions of non-market anarchism. The promotion of a non-monetary post-capitalism is a tendency given a new emphasis in recent years. Yet its roots go back to some of the authors mentioned above, and especially to Kropotkin. Recent writers with this perspective do not usually describe themselves as anarchists. Mostly, they do not come from the anarchist milieu. The term ‘non-market socialist’ used by Anitra Nelson and Frans Timmerman describes their typical political location well. I use the term ‘gift economy’ as a convenient shorthand, following the Situationists. Reflecting my own history with these ideas.

In terms of what has been said so far in this chapter, a key insight is the following. Non-market socialists emphasize control of the means of production through voluntary collectives. Operating to provide goods and services to communities directly — without monetary exchange being involved. As either gifts or self-provision. This is the central element of the non-market socialist position. Views on the state flow from this central premise. As argued in previous chapters, the state is impossible in a gift economy. This is because every person in a gift economy is being supplied with goods and services by other producer collectives. These other collectives operate independently and have total control of the distribution of their product. A state as defined by Weber implies a monopoly of the control of physical violence. The state as an organisation must be able to reliably command an army or police force to implement its decisions. In a gift economy no one has any motive to put themselves in that position. To be the willing servant of state directives and to wield violence accordingly. Nobody needs a ‘job’ paid in money to access goods and services. Nor are they looking to get a privileged position, supplied with good rations by the state. Vis a vis a working majority of impoverished slaves.

From this perspective, anarchist attacks on the state often miss the point, in my view. They treat ‘the state’ as a moral problem and look to a moral solution once everyone can see that the state is not required. I look at it more like this. The gift economy is run by voluntary producer collectives, controlling their own distribution, and depending on other voluntary bodies for supplies. Democratic participation is built into the basic economic structures of the society. Likewise, cooperation and mutual aid. By contrast, democratic participation is impossible in any kind of market economy. Whatever system of political decision making you attempt.

This basic economic premise of non-market socialism is equally fatal to a democratic socialist vision and to market anarchism. That the working class will control and plan the economy through decisions made by representatives. None of this could possibly work without monetary control and without monetary incentives for following the plan. By contrast, in a gift economy all the social justice, economic planning and environmental restraints must come out of the independent decisions of voluntary producer collectives. Earlier chapters have explained why I think this is quite feasible. 

Territorial organisation in a gift economy

Foundational anarchist texts talk about two types of organisations for a post-capitalist society. Workers’ associations and communes. Associations are workers’ cooperatives. In a gift economy these would operate without monetary exchange. Through networks. Associations with a common purpose would no doubt federate to exchange ideas and work out strategies. For example, transport collectives running bus services. These associations would also operate through agreements to supply and receive. To construct chains of production. The second kind of organisation that these foundational texts refer to is a ‘commune’. This term refers to a municipal level territorial organisation, run by assemblies of citizens living in the municipality. What these early anarchist authors envisage is a ‘federation’ constituted by delegates from these communes. In other words, an overarching territorial organisation. Whether such territorial organisations are necessary in a gift economy is debatable. For example, we might think of sewerage as a service that is provided by a local commune and requires that territorial supervision. Alternatively, we might imagine a club of sewerage providers operating in chapters in each locality. Liaising in production chains with other associations to supply their needs — pipes, compost bins, cement or whatever. 

In Beyond Money, Anitra Nelson envisages ‘Yenomon’ as one version of what a territorial organisation might look like in a post-market community mode of production.  Yenomon is pretty much like the ‘Twin Oaks’ commune that she describes in other writings.  The assembly of Yenomon sets up working committees. These assess the needs of members for goods and services that can be produced locally — almost all of what is necessary. They also allocate work rosters to ensure that all members are participating fairly in supplying the community. People can choose what work to do, from a list of tasks set up by the assembly. The community ensures fair distribution based on needs. They liaise with other similar communities to source goods constructed outside the community and to participate in production chains. 

Nelson makes it clear that this is just one way of organizing a post-money society. There might be a plurality of models operating at once. Her example suggests at least one function for a territorial organisation that might relieve the pressure on producer associations. That is fair allocation and distribution of products in the community according to need. Producers’ associations might not want to be burdened with this responsibility. For my favourite example, fencing mesh. The association producing fencing mesh would likely have a factory in one community and distribute into a whole bioregion. Rather than distributing mesh to each farming unit across this whole landscape, they might prefer to rely on each local community to undertake this task. A local territorial organisation that could assess the needs of each community garden, farm and urban backyard. 

What I would like to consider is what kind of territorial organisation could make sense in a gift economy. The ‘un-state’. As argued above, it could not be a state, with the powers of command that a state can exercise. So how could a territorial organisation operate? I am going to draw from the strategy of the Zapatistas, explained in the previous chapter. Taking some of that into a more general framework. Clearly the un-state would not have a monopoly of violence or attempt to command obedience to its decisions. I have discussed the use of violence in an earlier chapter so I will not repeat that here. Suffice it to say that the role of the militia (another form of voluntary club) is to protect the conditions in which it is possible for the territorial civil authorities and the gift economy association to function. Without interference from violence by gangs or aspiring warlords. 

We can think of the un-state as a territorially focused gift economy club. The federal un-state is a territorial organisation that helps to facilitate agreements between communities. The local community un-state is a territorially focussed community organisation that helps to facilitate agreements between community members. When these are necessary to operate on the same local territory. For example, agreements about land use. Agreements about distributing products to community members — after they have been supplied by associations from other communities. These territorial clubs could be stacked in a nested set of federations — municipal, regional, national. Altogether this is the un-state. The municipal level sends representatives to the regional level, which then sends representatives to the national level. We could imagine international meetings of delegates to discuss issues relevant to a number of nations at once.

The intention of such a territorial organisation is to facilitate compacts on issues that are particularly relevant to a territorial unit. For example, the use of water from a river that runs through a bioregion. There is no intention to take the power of distribution away from workers’ associations. There are compacts that lie outside the ambit of the territorial organisations. Lateral compacts between producer clubs that cross territorial boundaries. Like chains of production, for example, the train service. The people making rails need to communicate with the people who are laying the rail line, and they need to communicate with the people who are running the whole rail service. These are compacts, which link a chain of production. They are not located in any one territorial unit. There are also federations of clubs, which are independent of the relevant territorial organisation. For example, a national federation of lifesaving clubs. 

On the other hand, these producer associations would on occasions need to make agreements with territorial units. Let’s assume that the federated train clubs decided they might like to offer a new railway service for a particular set of towns and villages, creating new stations and rail lines in a region. Anybody resident within that region might want to have a say. The regional un-state could be the organization where coordination between the train clubs and the residents could take place. Facilitating an agreement to settle the issues.  

In detail, how might this federated un-state operate? Starting at the level of the municipality. Residents could nominate a number of different candidates for office as councillors and then vote to elect a selection of these nominees. In the municipal assembly, the representatives would nominate candidates for the regional assembly and so on. Those who are elected as representatives are expected to see their role as a duty, rather than an opportunity to exercise power. As with the Zapatistas, you might elect three times the number of required representatives and rotate them in the period of office. Two thirds of their time back in their communities, continuing their everyday life, their usual work, and their community commitments. One third in office. There would be a right of recall to be implemented if the elected representatives were not acting in good faith vis a vis their constituencies.
One role of these territorial organisations at each level is to propose agreements for the territory in question. Then the next step would be to take back their proposal to their communities and see if there is a consensus. If not, they would suggest an alternative that might be acceptable and go through the same process until finally an agreement was reached. Or not as may be the case.  

Once an agreement is reached, the role of the representatives is to monitor this compact to discover whether it is being implemented. They are not expected to enforce that agreement and in fact they have no authority or power to do that. If they discover that the agreement is not being implemented, they are to notify their assembly that there is a problem. In that case the whole process starts again. They attempt to develop a new agreement between the towns and villages that everyone's going to be happy with. 

Another role is to respond to a request for an agreement to deal with an issue that their constituents identify. People in the municipality might approach the un-state and say, well, we've got a problem with this proposed train line here, and we want to talk about it in our municipality. And come to some agreement that’s going to work for everybody. 

How is such an un-state supplied? Well, it's not supplied by taxes enforced by the courts and a police service! That would be completely incompatible with how the gift economy works. Instead, it must be supplied like every other club. By donations of goods in kind. So, to give an example of normal process outside of this territorial organisation. The people who are in the birdwatching club are supplied by their local communities with food and do their share of the housework and the food growing. Their community is supplied with goods from other communities through chains of production. It is through these donations that they receive food, and also cement, wire, binoculars and solar panels. It would be exactly the same with the elected officials of the un-state. They would also be supplied with gifts coming from the community. Donations voluntarily produced and distributed by the workers’ associations.

I offer this picture of the un-state to give readers a sense of what the options may be. However, I am not sure that I advocate it. It might be that all the functions of a territorial organisation could be carried out through producer clubs. Let us look at the train service as an example. The train service clubs might approach the residents in a bioregion inviting them to a set of forums to consider their needs and to arrive at a consensus about what might work. A form of territorial organisation that is situational and designed for a particular set of issues — rather than a standing organisation that acts as a clearing house. Likewise with fencing mesh. The village producer association with the factory might invite communities in their bioregion to set up fencing mesh committees and thrash out distribution needs in each local village, federating a fencing mesh bioregional committee to consider these in combination. After which, they would produce and supply fencing mesh according to an agreed bioregional plan. 


This chapter has considered three approaches to the state in a post-capitalist society. In the Marxist version the state, or something like it, ensures that the working class, through its representatives, controls the means of production, plans what is to be produced and ensures fair distribution. This is in the context of a monetary economy and requires the workers’ state to own the means of production, allocate work and ensure fair distribution. This is all achieved through the control of money and monetary incentives. In the market anarchist account, the state is absent and there is no authoritative command. In the economy, workers’ cooperatives produce and sell goods and services, paying their workers accordingly. This is somewhat difficult to reconcile with another idea frequently pursued by foundational anarchist texts. That the federation of communes and associations plans production, allocates capital, determines distribution, and restrains competition. These anarchists prioritize the end of the state as a goal and principle of anarchist practice. A third approach is that of non-market anarchists and the gift economy. The gift economy approach sees the absence of the state as an effect of the basic economic arrangements of non-market socialism. With no money, production is achieved by voluntary clubs distributing their products as gifts. In such a context, the State is impossible. On the other hand, some form of territorial organisation could occur. So long as it works in the same fashion as other economic units of the gift economy — as a voluntary club with members supplied by donations from other producing groups. Whether or not an un-state of this kind is necessary is a moot point.


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12. Conclusions
Terry Leahy 2023

This book has been written to explain how system change can be simple. But, of course, there is nothing simple about it. Class society has been around for at least five thousand years of human history. It seems like a mad dream to imagine a sustainable society that is also a long-term victory over class and the state. While our environmental problems means that system change is inevitable, there is nothing to prevent a new class society rising from the ashes of capitalism.  Pushing the vast bulk of humanity into impoverished slavery. A new feudalism as I have called it.  Class society is a simple mechanism. Cereal agriculture permits an agricultural surplus. A ruling class takes control of the surplus. It pays an army, either in kind or with money. They manage the subordinate class and stave off attacks from other states. What is thoroughly depressing is this. It is unlikely that any of the key requirements of this mechanism will go away, however dire the crisis of current capitalism.

Doing without money is a huge part of the gift economy utopia that has been explained here. A new social mechanism to end class and live sustainably cannot use money. Money is not accidentally connected to class society. A class society may operate without money – like the Incas. But money is a useful tool of class societies. It is no accident that the class societies of Eurasia used money. Also, no accident that capitalism, a social order premised on money, is yet another version of class society. Continuing the use of money is guaranteed to re-start class society, whatever the good intentions of a revolution.

The usefulness of money and markets is premised on alienated labour. Money makes it easy to provision an army and raise taxes. An economy based on money sidelines other values – social and environmental. The failure of so many revolutions is partly down to the continuation of money into the post-revolutionary settlement. Monetary economies allowed aspiring elites to take control again, destroying attempts to do things differently. 

In a market every player must make sure that they win monetary exchanges as often as possible. To fail in this is to fail to get the resources you need to make your operation work, to secure your standard of living, your place in market competition — within a hierarchical order defined by money. Money inevitably claims priority. 

Money implies a state. A universal system of valuation requires a centralized enforcement — to make sure the value of money is protected and maintained. 

Money creates inequality. The lesson of the Monopoly game. There are winners and losers in every monetary exchange. Winners are given leverage to win more. 

The market and colonialism go hand in hand. Market competition tempts players to the easy leg up provided by primitive accumulation. Turning nonmarket resources into capital.

The earth cannot afford this system. Money looks past the environment. It cannot do otherwise. The gift economy is the way to combine autonomous creative work, distribution by the producers, high-tech production, care of the environment, gender equality, cultural diversity, and participatory governance.

One of the common objections to a project like this book is that we have had enough of utopias. Utopias make a mad assumption that all humans are basically the same and that a one size fits all solution can work. There is an implied imperialism, crushing diversity. I have a few comments on that. 

One is that money imposes a uniformity on societies. Competition between producers tends to produce a universal price on commodities, as Amin points out. At the same time, as explained here, it creates inequality, a gradation of ownership and income, quantified in money. 

This brings me to my second point. The gift economy is a global society that encourages and permits diversity. People are producing goods and services that fit their own cultural understandings and distributing them with a regard to need — in a way that makes sense to them. 

My third point is that you cannot get away from ‘utopias’ by rejecting them as imperialist. Any set of ethical critiques adds up to a list of recommendations. Even when couched as not this, not that, not the other. It still ends up as – well instead this, well instead that and so on. 

It is all very well to promise the world that you do not intend to impose your utopia on other people. But just having an ethical perspective is to contradict some other perspective, you cannot avoid that.  

We are just being naïve if we think that we can tell people we need system change without explaining our utopia. You think the present system is a catastrophe. No argument with that. Well, what do you propose to replace it? A perfectly reasonable question. 

A very unsatisfying answer is to say, we want diversity and different people will come up with different answers. Anti-utopianism masks what is a very real problem for those wanting to replace capitalism. We do not agree about what that replacement might be. This sends a message that we do not know what we are doing. And a lot of our suggested solutions are not very convincing.

This book has identified the gift economy as one approach and recommended that. I have identified two other left approaches. One is democratic socialism. Most everyday punters understand that idea perfectly well and do not like it. The other is radical reformism. The default for leftists who reject socialism. But hardly a popular solution for most people. If they liked it, they would be voting for the Greens parties. They see it as the nanny state. Life run by interfering, moralising middle class bullies — who cannot be trusted. In this book I have been more concerned with why it cannot possibly work, even if people wanted it.

I suppose my last point on this. I do not really take these anti-utopian relativist raves seriously. Do these critics of utopias really want a diverse global future with half of humanity living as serfs in a theocratic ethno-state? Well no. Scratch the surface and you will find one of three things. 

1. Anarcho-primitivism a la John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen. A diversity of horticultural egalitarian societies with a pre-class toolkit. 

2. The gift economy as metaphor. Moral ideologies about caring and looking after each other — but not much about how that looks as an economy. Money is not mentioned. Critical asides about exchange value and commodities that never get turned into anything you can get your teeth into.

3. Or our old friend radical reformism, a la Herman Daly with a post-colonialist gloss tacked on. 

I am sorry to be so caustic. These are lovely people. But really?

Population is the topic that you always get when you lay out an alternative economic system before an audience. Don’t we need to reduce population to relieve the pressure on the planet? How can you do that in a gift economy? I suppose the people raising these issues imagine that a strong central government with a police force and army is the only thing that can control population pressure. Yes and no. 

Within current capitalism, some governments have done a much better job at this than others. Which points to the fact that it is a social and cultural problem. The governments that have done nothing are usually beholden to some mad version of religious fundamentalism. Posing as traditional. Backed up by a version of masculinity that sees offspring as a proof of manly vigour and economic status. 

Social scientists know quite a lot about this issue. It is surprising that so many global North environmentalists are ignorant about it. First up, birth rates are in fact falling. With this, global population will peak and then start to fall later this century. Second, environmental problems are very much connected to one’s position in the global economy. Australian per capita consumption is four times what the earth can bear while the global average is 1.5 times. The old slogan I = PxAxT (Impact equals Population x Affluence x Technology) still applies. Third, even in poor countries today, the level of education of women is a key to population pressure. Increase the education and independence of women and you see a decline in fertility rates. Finally, the bleeding obvious. People have more children when they worry that some will die, and they are depending on their children to look after them in their old age – because society won’t. 

The gift economy is the ideal social structure to deal with all these issues at once. A safety net of community material support, security in all basic necessities, equality for women, a reduction in unnecessary consumption. A largely local bioregional economy — where people are very much aware of how they depend on adequate land and forests for future generations. And an economy where you do not have to destroy the environment to get access to basic necessities.

Whenever you introduce the idea of a gift economy, a typical reaction is to assume that you are talking about a low-tech Hobbit village society, with feudal technologies. I have explained why I do not make this assumption. A complex technological society could function without money. I envisage quite a bit of use of high tech. Nevertheless, I would make the following comments. We need to massively cut down our use of non-renewable resources. By using less high-tech things made from metals. By rigorously recycling everything we can’t grow. We need technologies that most well-informed people can understand and fix – Illich’s concept of convivial technology. 

We could make do with a lot less high tech than we think. I go ballistic when I hear people say that the starving global South needs fossil fuels to rescue them from poverty. In my experience in African rural villages, a huge improvement could be made to people’s lives by composting toilets, and a local version of permaculture agriculture. The technological requirements are chicken wire, fencing wire, nails, garden tools, polypipe, a bit of cement, mosquito nets, some guttering and that is about it. The problems in those villages are not an absence of high tech. In fact, they are usually awash with mobile phones. Their problems are based in social structure, local politics, and the dominance of the capitalist imaginary. Yes, I would like to maintain a high-tech solution for serious medical problems and pandemics. I think good contraception and safe childbirth is essential to save us from patriarchy. But I would hate to think that we are scared of getting rid of class society — because we are worried about losing our high-tech capacity. There is too much at stake.

I would like to take a look at ‘anarcho-primitivism’. It is not a strong contender in the left at the present time. Nevertheless, I get the feeling that the more current postcolonial critiques of modernity end up with somewhat similar implications. Anarcho-primitivism starts from the recognition that societies throughout most of human history were stateless. Using an anthropological terminology, these were hunting and gathering societies. Even after the invention of agriculture, stateless polities remained in a very large part of the globe. Usually called ‘horticultural’ by anthropologists. Anarcho-primitivists suggest that we could do well by abandoning the technologies developed by class societies. Doing this, they argue, we could go back to this kind of stateless culture. 

I am not entirely unsympathetic to this perspective. These societies were egalitarian, at least as far as men were concerned. Within the partially separate community of women, there was also a rough equality. Though some people had more influence, no one had the authority to command obedience. These societies looked after their environments and had an enviable connection to the natural world. They had a rich cultural and creative life. Their work, if you could call it that, was not alienated. They chose what to do with their time and how they might want to distribute what they produced. Much of this is identical to what I have described as the gift economy.

What could be wrong with the anarcho-primitivist solution? Maybe this is the end point of collapse anyway and not a bad thing at that. I would certainly like a gift economy to be set up that has the scope to enable this — for those who want it. But I have a few qualms if it is conceived as a one size fits all solution for post-capitalism.

One issue is that there is no way we can forget our agricultural knowledge. The whole process of class society would surely start up again as soon as one of these horticultural societies, the offspring of collapse, re-invented class. Using the agricultural stored surplus to back up a ruling elite. 

I do not find this solution particularly utopian where gender is concerned. My reading of these societies — as they have been in the past —suggests the following unpleasant aspects. Patriarchy, competitive masculinity, raids and small wars, cruel initiations. More intense in horticultural societies, but also present in hunting and gathering societies. Personally, as a long-term defector from all this toxic rubbish, I would not want to live there. Also, as I will argue in more detail, all these patriarchal aspects provide a grounding for the next iteration of class society. I do not think an act of will — and a cultural resolve carried over from the present — could eliminate all this from an anarcho-primitivism in practice. This time it will be different is not a convincing program. 

Then there is the low-tech aspiration of anarcho-primitivists. Technology got us into this mess so let’s abandon it. I can see why they think this, but my view is that this evil technology is a consequence of class, rather than the other way around. 

In the community at large (north and south) there is really no appetite for this solution. Most people view collapse to a low-tech world as a disaster. We would lose much of our medical science, our understanding of the cosmos, our agricultural science, our chemistry, the many sciences of the natural world, including those telling us where we are going seriously wrong. Our complex digital archiving and communication of cultural products. 

I use the ‘our’ here intentionally. I am of course perfectly well aware that we have this knowledge now, at least in part, as a by-product of vicious global exploitation. Also, that this knowledge is spread very thin in some quarters. And finally, that this knowledge is used to much ill effect in the context of capitalism. Nevertheless, our understanding of all this science is very much a global resource by now. Do we have to lose all this to get rid of class society? 

I mean if this is truly the only answer that will save the planet, I am all for it. Modern science be gone. But is it? I think that this thinking is based on a false analysis of why we are in the present pickle. It is not modernity/colonialism/science/the enlightenment/humanism — as a de novo package of cultural invention from Europe — that have caused the disasters of class society and its latest capitalist version. Instead, I see it like this. The prime mover of the modern world is the ghost in the machine, the capitalist imaginary. That cultural invention has informed a social machine. The developments mentioned above have taken shape in the context of that social machine. Capitalism has made them serve it. On the other hand, a lot of these developments have their own sources, they are not just side effects of capitalism. Likewise, these cultural inventions are not necessarily and forever tied to the capitalist machine. What we might make of this flotsam and jetsam, washed up after the demise of capitalism, it is hard to tell. 

What anarcho-primitivists overlook is the link between patriarchy and class. And the link between feminism and technology. It is no accident that anarcho-primitivism sounds like a very macho vision. A warrior fantasy. 

Patriarchy is pretty well universal in human societies. It depends on the advantage men have in political conflicts with women. While it is a wonderful thing to be responsible for childbirth and wet nursing, the gendered division of labour coming out of this allows men to take control of political life. The first significant feminist movement, in the late Victorian period, comes about as the size of the family drops, as reliable contraception is introduced, as death in childbirth is reduced. It gets another boost in the seventies with even more reliable contraception. 

It is not technological determinism to say this. Women mobilized to attack patriarchy. A choice, a cultural invention. Yet at the same time a cultural invention enabled by a change in the material conditions. To wrap this argument up. Some version of our current medical understanding and our low birth rate are the premises of a successful feminist movement.

So, what is the link between patriarchy and class? Class society depends on patriarchy as a necessary precondition. Patriarchy is not enough in itself to cause class. But it is a vital plank. In patriarchy, men are largely absent from the daily care of infants. They have other fish to fry. The emotional links that come out of caring for infants tie you down. Boys growing up are anxious and uncertain about what it is ‘to be a man’. They solve this problem by rejecting femininity and proving their masculinity in competition with other men – sorting the men from the boys, cutting the mother’s apron strings. Some version of ‘toxic’ masculinity is a central element of patriarchy, reinforcing that power structure as men deny their nurturing side. The other key effect of the patriarchal family is the way it trains us all in the psychology of hierarchy and willing subordination. Through the experience of early childhood in the patriarchal household.

These psychological characteristics are of great assistance to any class society. They inform the oppressive hierarchy of class and the wars that are necessary to maintain elite power. Without a technology that makes feminism possible, an anarcho-primitivism cannot remain egalitarian and horticultural for very long. The elements necessary to re-start class are all present – cereal agriculture and patriarchal masculinity. Looking at all this, we must ask how far we might want to push an anti-modernist agenda. At any rate, that is how I look at it.

I worry a bit that this book is like a fairy tale. An escapist romp. We are facing a collapse. We are likely to destroy a large part of biodiversity before things settle down. With a warming of two degrees, people could only live south of Melbourne or north of London. A superhuman effort in social reform and material construction would be necessary to re-locate the world’s people. Even if that was in fact possible. That we could feed this number on that amount of land and save any kind of non-human life. Surely, we need some solutions that are politically possible in the short run. What to say about this. This book does not reject the reformist initiatives that seem more feasible in current times. But I have also pointed to their problems. Working on blocking the worst effects of capitalism — while developing a program to get rid of it — makes sense. Capitalism is the root of our worries. Even as things collapse, and disasters pile up we can be aiming at the gift economy as the long-term solution. Perhaps escapism is not the worst thing in the world. Think of it as a guided meditation. An optimistic scenario that can give us some hope in dark times. 


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