In defense of Syndicalism

Anarcho-Syndicalism (Libertarian-Socialism)
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The Barefoot Bum has written a criticism of Labour Syndicalism as a system and how it cannot suffice for a post-industrial communist society. The core argument seems to be this:

But these questions fade into triviality beside a more subtle flaw in the idea of labor syndicalism: the system of workers controlling the means of production as the sine qua non of socialism still embodies commodity relations, only the workers are now directly transforming money to commodities to more money instead of the owners of capital doing so. This is not to say that having workers having more control the means of production is a particularly bad idea; it at least eliminates the most egregious form of capitalist exploitation.

That is not exactly true. If we are talking about Communism, then money relationships or production for profit does not exist. As such, the workers are not producing commodities  in order to make more money but rather to fulfil needs of other workers. Furthermore, the concept of exploitation does not apply at all in this situation as exploitation is simply the surplus value of a worker’s labour going to the capitalist. As long as the workers retains his full surplus labour (as he would by owning the means of production) then exploitation is impossible.

The problem of Capitalism is not simply that everything is a commodity, including labour, but rather that everything is done in the name of accumulation. And what drives accumulation is profit. This is further exaggerated by the need for the capitalist to accumulate in order to survive the competition with other capitalists. But when worker syndicates own the means of production, such accumulation is impossible and the need for profit evaporates.

Why does this happen? Well the only reason accumulation is a guiding factor is because you can own items you do not use and then use them to extract the surplus value of other people’s labour. When you have a society that workers retain their own surplus value, even if you were to have a syndicate which produced a lot of value, it wouldn’t be able to use it to disrupt the balance of power. They would not be able to accumulate. The workers of any factory own the factory. They cannot buy another one and get the value of workers there.

As such labour syndicalism by it’s very existence as the dominant sociopolitical system, immediately disrupts the Capitalist mode of production and moves the society towards Communism.

TBB also brings the issue of what happens with workers who do not produce tangible commodities, such as infinite goods (Software for example). The argument here is that as long as someone does not produce a finite good, then he has no political power in a labour syndicalist society. But that is a wrong. It is not the production of finite goods with exchange value that gives political power to someone, it is their ability to labour.

You have two types of objective value. Commodities and Services. Both of these are the result of human labour and as a result they are capable of labour syndicalism. The mistake TBB makes here is that he consider computer software to be a type of commodity in the modern day (due to IP) and cannot conceive how this commodity can be valued and thus provide political power when it’s infinite. But the solution to this problem is that software itself is not a commodity. Rather, software production is a service and this is what gives the worker (programmers) political power through their possible syndicate. In the same way that sewer cleaners, musicians, etc retain political power as a result of their labour’s significant effect on society.

We can see then that Labour Syndicalism does not really suffer from the issues TBB enumerates.

It can reduce the labour required to produce the same amount of commodities or services as it’s in the best interest of the people composing the syndicate to work less hours. They are not challenged by the competitiveness of accumulation so there is no fear of going out of business.

It can achieve increased non-commodity production by treating those as services and improving their production times for the benefits of the workers.

And finally, fundamentally it can achieve the communist goal, “from each according to her abilities, to each according to her needs.” because the workers, unfettered by capitalist drive for profit can instead distribute their services and commodities to those who need them most.

This article of course is not to say that labour syndicalism is perfect in all regards, certainly it may be suffering from other issues such as how to implement distribution between separate syndics or how to arrange long-term planning. But at a fundamental level (anarcho-) syndicalism is not flawed in regards to progressing towards communism. Indeed, the ownership of the means of production by the owners will inherently push society towards it.

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