Non-Dependent Natural Economies

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Arwid Lund:

"Liberal economic doctrines idealise a constant expansion of market logic; neo-classic theory ultimately sees the outside to capitalism as an externality and market failure (without value). The outside is caused by the market, rather than already existing. Fleischer contends instead, based in the Marxist tradition of Wertkritik, that capitalism can never be total in its character (Fleischer, 2012: 25; Lehdonvirta and Castronova, 2014: 143).

Rosa Luxemburg stressed that capitalism needed a “non-capitalist social strata as a market for its surplus value, as a source of supply for its means of production and as a reservoir of labour power for its wage system”, but because of that, all “forms of production based upon a natural economy are of no use to capital” (Luxemburg, 1951: 368). Dependent outsides, rather than independent ones, could serve capital’s purposes. The natural economies that Luxemburg spoke of were self-sufficient and focused on the internal needs of the communities and, thus, did not produce surpluses of any kind. The problem with them from capital’s perspective was the lack of demand for external products and that they were not poised to work in ways that made it possible to acquire them in any reasonable scale. “Capitalism must therefore always and everywhere fight a battle of annihilation against every historical form of natural economy” (Luxemburg, 1951: 368–369).

Capital’s need to transform and shape its outside according to its needs leads to different forms of violence and sometimes (when capital needs an outside to be an inside) to a continuously and ongoing form of what Marx called primitive accumulation. De Angelis and others claims that primitive accumulation has a contemporary and ongoing role where the dissociation of people from the means of production can take many forms (De Angelis, 2008: 28–31). In recent times, David Harvey has pointed out that capital needs new realms of accumulation to ride out its own crises (Fuchs, 2014: 166).

During the 20th Century, the outside to capital gradually became politically empowered. State regulations grew in importance after the Great Depression of the 1930s, the fundamental role of ecology was articulated by the environmental movement in the 1960s, and feminism focused on unpaid reproductive work and its importance for capitalism. Bio-politics and the connected bio-economy are today given more importance in academia than yesterday. Contemporary Marxism is informed by the experiences of these social struggles. But neo-liberal restoration has succeeded, through re-negotiations and struggles around value, non-value, exchange and use value, in creating new demarcation lines between the substantial and formal economy. Markets with their conflict-ridden and crises-prone developments have expanded, and earlier outsides have been manipulated and transformed into insides.

Luxemburg’s notion of non-dependent natural economies outside of capital provides a more dynamic perspective on peer production than the externality perspective of neoclassical theory. Scholz and Luxemburg enable an understanding of the potential for different political agencies and counter-powers to emerge from the outside of capital. From Scholz’s theories we can take away the importance of expanding the norms of what is not exchangeable, from 20th-Century history we can take the importance of peer production developing strategic alliances with the state, and from Luxemburg the insight that peer production threatens capitalism according to its degree of self-sufficiency as natural economy." (