George Walford: Lets

Anarchists themselves recognise divisions within the movement, and the greatest of these occurs between the (Anarcho)-Socialist Party of Great Britain (both sections) on the one hand and the other anarchist groups and organisations on the other. Of these, the (A)-SPGB displays the purer repudiation, declaring the futility of attempts to reform capitalism and refusing to associate itself with any other political movement. The general anarchist movement has not quite reached that position; it retains a hankering after positive action intended to encourage anarchistic tendencies within existing society.

One instance of this appears in Freedom 3 April, with an article by Denis Pym advocating LETS (Local Exchange and Trading Systems):

The idea is to take trade back to its fundamentals, as localised exchange which sustains the community as a whole. It is based on need not greed.

In essence, LETS are an administrative form of bartering allowing people to obtain a range of goods and services, for which they may be unable to pay in money, in exchange for their own goods and services. The formality, the administration bit, enables the exchange system to be more sophisticated than the usual one-to-one bartering. You can provide goods and services for one set of parties and get the return from a completely different set. You have more choice. The administration system also makes it easier for people who don’t easily get along with others to do so by bringing in participants, arranging meetings, listing skills and products on offer and keeping records of transactions. It assumes social dependency.

The repudiation there remains largely implicit; the proposal entails rejection, at least for certain purposes, of the established trading system but this is not emphasised; the stress comes on the positive side of the new method, and there is no obvious reason why non-anarchists should not take part. A more distinctively anarchist view found expression in a letter from Paul Petard, commenting on this proposal, in the following issue (April 17): ‘LETS certainly do not operate on the basis of “need not greed” as Denis claims. LETS are still based on individual exchange and commodity relations, the motive for participants is still individual profit and accumulation, even if this is in the form of material goods and services rather than cash. LETS still recognise existing private property relations, there is no attempt to communalise the resources, tools, machinery, buildings and land held by certain individuals in the scheme. Those in LETS who have an essential skill backed by tools, machinery and premises will unavoidably have an accumulative advantage over those who are less skilled and have nothing but their labour. LETS are not really “outside” the existing capitalist economy but are just a self-managed grassroots arm of capitalism. Also Denis lets the cat out of the bag when he admits that new members will have to be prepared to “go into social debt.” This will particularly hit unemployed participants… Seizing and sharing goods and space should be our response to our current situation and this should be done on a communal basis.’

That last phrase, about communal seizing of goods and space, accords with the intentions of the (A)-SP(GB), although they point out that once taken into common ownership no question of sharing arises; such goods automatically become the property of all.

A CHANGE of major ideology brings to our attention things we formerly took for granted. It also leads us to take for granted things which formerly caught our attention.

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CHAIRMAN Mao famously remarked that power comes from the barrel of a gun. IC has commented that it does so only with an ideology-governed finger on the trigger, but the Chairman was ahead of us. The full quotation ends:’and the Party controls the gun.’

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BRIGHTON General Hospital is built in the style known as Queen Anne Front and Mary Ann Back. An elegant facade containing the offices overlooks the sea while an untidy clutter of extensions at the back holds the patients. (Freedom)

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‘EXPERIMENTAL psychology has [shown] that what we observe is always the outcome of our actively construing what it is we are perceiving.’ (Andrew Powell)

from Ideological Commentary Number 60, May 1993.