Collectivist Anarchist is collectivist in that it reject ownership of means of production, and it is anarchist in that it rejects the state (and generally, capitalism).

This form of anarchist advocates the use of labour notes, by which workers are paid, notes which are then used to buy goods. According to Wikipedia, such notes

cannot circulate and are not transferable between people. They are also not exchangeable for any means of production hence they are not transmutable into Capital. Once a purchase is made the labour vouchers are either destroyed or must be re-earned through labour.

But the above seems to speak of a highly regulated environment. How is such system to be achieved without a centralised state that both regulates such mechanism and enforces such regulation, e.g. with penalties?

I can only think of a cultural form of enforcement or control (perhaps self-control) but this could well be criticised as utopian.

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    One of the big practical (or is that theoretical) problem when you separate "means of production" is laxness of definition. Can I as a programmer own my laptop? As a writer, my pen and paper? As a manual laborer, my hammer? They are all tools of production. (this is somewhat related to main question you have, in that usual collectivists leave that decision to the state) – user4012 Nov 30 '17 at 21:12
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    Perhaps you can clarify what you think is unworkable. Enforcement of norms is a general criticism of anarchy not specific to collectivists, the common response is something like "culture may be stronger than you think" or "then we'll hit him" which roughly is where I divide U from dys-topian anarchists. – user9389 Nov 30 '17 at 21:15
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    @user4012 No, you cannot. In a collectivist society, you would go to a community supply of pens and paper and labor to write a story. The story is your output for which you are paid chits. You then return the excess pen and paper to the community chest. If the pens are low, then someone else labors to make pens. If the equipment to make the pen needs to be made, it gets made, and put into the community supply of pen making equipment. But there is no ownership of any of that. – CGCampbell Dec 7 '17 at 17:07


  • Anarchism is collectivist, but not in the way you described collectivism
  • Advocation of a "labor-note" based economy is rather rare among Anarchists.
  • There is at least some (if not total) inconsistency in the "labor notes" scheme, IMHO.

Longer version:

First, you have things kind of wrong term-wise. Anarchism is a historical current in the international movement of the working class, as well as what you could call a school of political philosophy associated with that movement. It was and is "collectivist" - but in the sense of recognizing human society not as merely a set of separate individuals but as multi-collective phenomenon. Most important things in it are done collectively (whether it be oppressive collectivity or otherwise); effective socio-political action will be mostly collective; and so will a future, post-revolutionary society. Unlike more authoritarian strands of Socialism, Anarchists have put more focus on individual autonomy within collectives, the legitimacy and importance of dissent within them, of minority action even against collective or supposedly-collective decision, and of distribution rather than centralization of power.

The above also illustrates why a "labor notes" scheme is somewhat suspect. Reification of collective will or mandate into something like a coin, a token, a "labor note" - if it is at all meaningful and effective, must be controlled and enforced.

Suppose I work in a bakery in our post-revolutionary Anarchist, and we're faced with a flood of people coming in with stacks labor notes. Are we going to raise the prices and make our friends and neighbors poorer, less able to afford bread rolls and cake? Are we going to sell to these people for higher "note rates"? No. We would simply refuse to accept their silly notes and expect them to talk to us - on an individual level and over time on a collective level depending on where they come from - about why it is that they're flooding our bakery with requests for product; what we should prioritize and why; and how much of what kind of baked products should be allocated for visitors from outside the community or for shipment to other neighborhoods or towns. We would also consult with our neighborhood food production coordination committee and with representatives of the social restaurants . Finally, if we can't easily accommodate all parties we would probably hold a neighborhood assembly where we would have people speak and justify the conflicting interests and requests before making a decision. And the notes? Who cares. We don't let a bunch of stinkin' notes dictate our lives.

Some other issues with a "labor note" system which are IMO inconsistent with an Anarchist outlook are:

  • The assumptions that work, products, services, are all measurable.
  • The assumptions that work, products, services, are essentially all up for exchange irrespective of the personal and collective relations between producers and consumers/users.
  • The assumption that one can clearly differentiate work worthy and not worthy of getting a note.
  • The assumption that individuals who work less are necessarily deserving of less social effort, care and service. (Or otherwise - there are taxes on your labor notes to care for the elderly, the young, the sick etc.; but we said it's not transferrable, right?)

and so on. At the end of the day, I'd claim that "labor notes" are just a fantasy of people who aren't willing to consider a non-monetary, non-exchange-based economy and are trying to reconcile that somehow with what we know about money-based economies: accumulation of capital, alienation, inherent antagonisms etc.

Now, I've not actually met any Anarchists who advocate this, but I have read this or other money-like or market-like schemes being advocated by certain Anarchists (bona fide or self-styled) on-line. Too bad - I guess that's what you get when you don't centrally control what people think :-)

  • this seems like an excellent answer, but is there a chance some of this could be enriched with citation to notable sources? – user4012 Dec 8 '17 at 15:02
  • @user4012: So, I'm the source here, as a long-time Anarchist activist. I'm just not notable (well, I am notable if you happen to know me...) If I have time I'll try to find more notable people saying something like this. – einpoklum Dec 8 '17 at 15:39
  • If you are claiming that expertise, that should be a part of the answer. It would also be helpful to know (briefly) about your participation as an Anarchist activist (how long? where? what kind of authority do you have here?) – indigochild Dec 30 '17 at 4:34

According to this article:

Proudhon believed that the stateless future was not preordained by iron laws of history, but was rather to be the conscious creation of a population which had been morally awakened. This necessary morality, based upon honesty, decency, self-respect, and individual responsibility, was believed to be an inherent part of the working class—something to be developed and emphasized.

So, as far as I can tell, it seems "self-regulation" seems to be essential in anarchism for upholding the smooth rules of an effective society without the need for a State.


General Case: Authority is Exercised by Individuals or Experts

The leading figure in collectivist anarchist philosophy is Mikhail Bakunin, a 19th century Russian theorist. He answers exactly your question in his work, "What is Authority?" [available here]

The work is so short that you can read it on your own fairly quickly, but this quotes summarizes his view well:

Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer....I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed on me by my own reason. I am conscious of my own inability to grasp, in all its detail, and positive development, any very large portion of human knowledge. .

According to Bakunin, authority is not primarily a social construct. It is based on natural facts. This is the failure of states: they attempt to impose man-made laws which are contrary to the natural order. For example, many laws could make it difficult for an impoverished person to survive - unless they break them.

Self-interest is one of those natural laws. An individual holds the highest degree of authority over themselves because they can make choices regarding their own interest.

However, no one knows enough to enact their own self interest in all matters. He uses the example of a boot maker: most people don't know enough about boots to construct or maintain their boots. So we have to trust the expert judgment of a bootmaker. Another example would be a doctor: almost no one has the requisite medical knowledge to accurately diagnose or treat their own maladies.

The bootmaker (or doctor) has authority within their own subject-matter expertise. However, the individual always has the authority to not pursue their professional arrangement any time they see fit. You could always go find another bootmaker.

So how would authority be handled? A self-interested individual would defer their natural authority to an expert. That expert then temporarily exercises authority over them in a limited way. Authority is exercised by mutual consent, and for a relatively short period.

Specifically About Labor Notes

As far as I am aware, Bakunin did not specifically address how labor notes would work. Philosophers don't generally do that kind of thing.

Bakunin also believed that the workers would collectively own the means of production. Based on that idea and the ideas in the previous section, we could reasonably expect that workers would have some "expect" in the labor note system. They could even be in a position to circulate or collect notes.

This would be different than the authority of a state (which applies to everyone) because you would only be subject to the note-expert's authority if you agreed to it. If you don't want those local labor notes, you can take your labor somewhere else. This is speculative and very general, of course.

Is it utopian?

That is fairly subjective, and left as an exercise to the reader.

  • What about then of a technocracy, or a government run by "experts"? Would not that authority be based also on natural facts? – luchonacho Jan 2 '18 at 9:14
  • @luchonacho Probably. I'd have to dig into that work. It would be better as its own question, since it's not related to this question. If you do, it would be helpful to specify what you mean by 'technocracy', especially if you have a particular author or concept in mind. – indigochild Jan 2 '18 at 14:29

I think the other existing answer is good, but I'd like to emphasize on some point. How do the existing state enforce the rules they edict? They just on the police. But after all, policemen are men. They can choose to obey or not to obey. For current states to work, it is important that those people choose freely to enforce the law, or at least that most of them choose. Because if the policemen fail, then who can the state send to arrest them?

So here and now, among policemen, there is some kind of enforcement of the law without any way to punish people if they massively choose not to obey. So with or without central state, you need some kind of decentralised consent to the law, some kind of self-regulation by people.

The anarchists argue that, as this kind of consent can be reached in our society, it would be even easier to reach it in a society they see as fairer.

  • This would be improved by references to anarchist works. Also, it could be improved by more directly answering the question. – indigochild Dec 30 '17 at 4:02

Anarchism does not forbid consensual collective self-governance. You have to understand and desire this freedom from external authority and coercion because it is not at all easier than simply doing what you're told. Personal property is not forbidden, no anarchist act lifts your pen or toothbrush. The means to sustain life and generate wealth must be held in common. "From each according to their ability and to each according to their need" can be what a collectivist society organises itself around; liberating and supporting the development of human potential to its fullest. Coercion and accumulation of power over others is how parasites make meals of human potential.

  • This would be improved by referencing anarchist works. It's a huge generalization to say that "anarchism does/does not forbid...." anything. It isn't a monolithic set of ideas -there is a lot of variety. So it really depends on the kind of anarchism you are describing. – indigochild Dec 30 '17 at 4:03
  • There is no authority but yourself. – Solstice Oct 30 '18 at 1:31

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