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William Gillis 🏴
I was asked about a picture I used a while back of currency that anarchist collectives issued during the Spanish Revolution. I'm a huge nerd about this shit, so here's a thread.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
If you ask a communist the standard take is that the spanish anarchists failed to Go Far Enough, failed to Communize Hard Enough, and this caused a mixed economy that devolved back to capitalism. And it's true they often refrained from seizing the property of literally everyone.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
Greed is often blamed -- "we left some sites of production in the hands of the petite bourgeoisie and they weren't gripped in the spirit of solidarity, so they stockpiled and forced us to trade and use money." What is true is that overproduction filled some places to the brim.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
But the real story was a total breakdown in the transference of economic information, causing production to be wildly disconnected from costs and desires. This was distinctly visible in agricultural small town communes where they pooled resources but couldn't manage accounting.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
There's strong parallels with the initial attempts to abolish markets by the bolsheviks and the resulting chaos that was war communism before the NEP. All of the basic economist predictions came true. This was only marginally escapable by wartime coercion + leveling of complexity
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
To resolve this problem anarchists fell back on various currency schemes in an ad hoc fashion. Labor dollars. Floated local currencies. More specific rations and IOUs. These provided greater stability but often ran into deeper problems.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
Just to pick one example, some initial attempts to heed to uniform payment for labor per hour, regardless of the labor or the need for it, caused both inefficiencies & ethical objections once people saw it in practice. But then it's hard to set someone's pay by town committee.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
Now the communist response to this is "hey, communism isn't stable and efficient until it's 100% adopted, it's an all or nothing thing" and "look, they were in wartime! they had the fucking fash of the world united against them and were being backstabbed by state commies!"
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
Now these are arguments. And they're right that this single highly contextual historical instance isn't objective knockdown proof of anything. But I don't really understand anyone that doesn't automatically side-eye the first of these responses.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
And as to the second argument -- well I actually agree with some austrian economsits who've argued that economic calculation is SIMPLER in wartime. War makes communism easier. Rather than balancing between a vast panoply of human desires & changing projects you maximize one thing
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
It's relatively easy to do widespread evaluations of "needs" in a wartime crisis because bullets and bellies are relatively uniform. Spanish anarchists faced a situation very similar to that Kropotkin covered in Conquest of Bread where he tries to sketch a sweeping economic plan.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
An anarchist trying to help with the war effort in Spain had some really simple and obvious things they could do to help. Beans & bread. Bullets & tanks. And it's true that while they suffered coordination inefficiencies from info problems, they got morale boosts to efficiency.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
A bullet may not have been the most effective use of resources per inputs, but a worker collective could know in some broad sense that it would have some use. And production around starvation is pretty simple too, without bolshevik authoritarian appropriation there wasn't famine.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
And in response to the inefficiencies they faced from information flow problems of knowledge and calculation, the modern communist might throw their hands up and say "oh but come on, today we have computers, and they're magic and can do anything." And that's a different question.
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
And hey, maybe the polynomial complexity hierarchy will collapse and P=NP and the rev or insurrection or whatever will be trivially automated/accounted. That'd be cool. But it is worth noting that (to crib a Chomsky refrain) we've already run this experiment (in some context).
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
That all these disparate anarchist collectives tried a pile of non-market schemes and through praxis came to decide to go back to using currency should mean something. It should make us concerned that there's a significant problem here that we didn't take seriously the first time
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William Gillis 🏴 Mar 10
Replying to @rechelon
Anyway outside the realm of the patchwork of commune floated currencies that dominated the spanish rev, here's some preexisting spanish coinage that anarchists would regularly deface. Metal coins ended up being circulated too as a baseline.
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