Anarcho-Syndicalism and Parecon

in one of Robin Hahnels presentations (Participatory Economics Robin Hahnel Part 2/3 - Institutions - YouTube) he cuts the topic of a link between the syndicalist collectivization in Spain 1936-39 and the planning procedure in a Participatory Economy. So my question is, if any author has ever written more detailed on the link between Anarcho-Syndicalism (as a potential vehicle for establishing a libertarian-socialist society and in many aspects very similar to the Institutions of a Participatory Economy) – here especially the experience of the Spanish Revolution – and a Participatory Economy.


There is this exchange between Wayne Price, anarchist, and Michael Albert from about 2008.

There’s this little essay from Price that seems to deal more with strategy. But Price has always been somewhat sympathetic to Parecon, or “something like it.” At least it seems to me.


Names and labels

On a related note: democratic socialism, anarchism, anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism, libertarian socialism, democratic socialism… and the “model” or “vision” of a participatory economy.

People use different “labels” to describe themselves, AND people use different labels to describe others. In my own experience I find that the “labels” people use for themselves does sometimes tell you where they are, so to speak, compared to where others are.

For example. Whenever asked, Noam Chomsky has always said he is an anarchist. On the other hand, I say I do not describe myself as an anarchist, however I am happy to self-identify as a libertarian socialist. And at least in the US where the word “libertarian” almost always means one is a “right wing libertarian,” i.e. a “free market capitalist,” I most often describe myself as a “democratic socialist.” But I do think that Noam is “more anarchist” than I am.

I also sometimes ask any who ask me questions like that, why they did not also ask me if I am a feminist, a radical feminist, a socialist feminist, or a Marxist feminist? Because if asked I would answer: I am a socialist feminist… but NOT a radical feminist or a Marxist feminist.

Among those who “advocate” for a post-capitalist vision or model called a participatory economy I know some who call themselves anarchists, of some kind or another, and some, like me, who do not. And when people look at the model of a participatory economy some say: That is anarcho-syndicalism, while others say its anarcho-communism… and there is no doubt that there are some parts of the model which are consistent with each of these “schools.”

Since the model of a participatory economy specifies that the entire “productive commons” should be “socially owned,” I believe all who advocate for “a participatory economy” as our post-capitalist model do self-identify as “socialists.”

However, back in the 1970s when Michael Albert and I were discussing what name to use for our post-capitalist vision, we decided to simply call it “a participatory economy” rather than “participatory socialism” because at that time, at least in the US, people assumed that a socialist economy was the kind of centrally planned economy in the USSR and the Eastern European countries. And since our model was certainly NOT that, we did not want to use a name that would lead people to incorrectly assume it was.


Well yes, on the one hand there are certain ‘labels’ on the libertarian left, which share many aspects and there are many overlaps (anarchism, libertarian socialism, anarcho-communism, participatory economy etc.).

But: There is of course an important difference between proposing a concrete model – or alternatively just certain values and a hazy idea – of a libertarian-socialist society and providing the strategic means to actually achieve it, i.e. to propose a transformative process to reach the desired goal. Since the model of Participatory Economy focuses mainly on the creation of a comprehensible goal, I’m asking myself if there is a way of building up slowly but surely the desired institutions and necessary experiences for such a participatory economy already in the present, which is also compatible with core-values of parecon (in the sense of prefigurative politics). And in this respect, one could say that there is a strong argument for (anarcho-)syndicalism (as potentially central institutional arrangement of such a transformative agenda), because it claims to provide exactly this organizational-set, a way of bottom-up constructive libertarian transformation via (workers’) self-management and federalism, which is not reached by just gradually promoting a top-down reformist agenda (i.e. going from neoliberal capitalism to social-democratic capitalism to market’socialism’ and so forth) and/or just relying on the work of fragmented (but nevertheless necessary) emancipatory groups (e.g. cooperatives/ thematically limited activism/ structureless protest and resistance).

Since I’m researching on this particular interrelationship, I just wondered if there is already some literature addressing the link (not the equation) between anarcho-syndicalism and participatory economy (in the sense of: two sides of the same coin).



I was not trying to provide anything substantive. I was merely adding some information about labels and participatory economics… including a little history on that relationship.

Also briefly, these are my own personal feelings on transition.

  1. Those who work on this websites believe that developing a concrete vision of how a “participatory economy” could work is a valuable contribution to thinking about post-capitalist economic systems. And, that improving our thinking on this subject is ONE necessary part of replacing capitalism with a better economy.

  2. Those who work on this website do NOT necessarily agree on concrete features of what a desirable political, kinship, or “community” sphere of social life would look like. Or, perhaps I should say (a) we are collectively and personally less certain about concrete vision in these other areas, although (b) we probably agree on the goals for those other areas, i.e. what political, gender, and community institutions should be designed to achieve.

Speaking for myself, personally:

  1. I think saying anything even “remotely” definitive about the transition from capitalism to a desirable economic system, and a desirable society in general, is MUCH more difficult than saying something “definitive” about our goals and institutions that would best achieve them.

  2. I suspect that “transition” may be very different in different countries and times.

  3. I understand that on the subject of transition there are different schools of thought about the role of reform vs. revolution, gradualism vs. “rupture,” peace vs. violence… and many other things. And I understand that one area where anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, and anarcho-communists ON AVERAGE disagree with those who call themselves democratic socialists, much less social democrats, is in these regards.

  4. I outlined my own personal views on transition in a series of chapters in the last part of Economic Justice and Democracy published back in 2005. Much has happened since then. However, I still believe that in all probability there will be two important components to the early phase of a successful transition in many countries: (1) Building larger and stronger reform movements within present day societies, and (2) Creating and expanding various kinds of “imperfect experiments in equitable cooperation” which “prefigure” where we want to go. But since I believe successful transition strategy is more subject to place and time; I expect to change my own views on that subject more than I expect, at this point, to change my views about what the institutions of a desirable economy look like.

  5. More importantly, I am sure that many who work on this websites will not agree with me on transition strategy even if we agree that what we have described as a participatory economy is the best answer to the question: If not capitalism, what do propose instead?

And that is fine!


I just stumbled across a 2008 interview with Albert in which he addresses the relationship to anarchism and also briefly discusses transformative strategies and tactics: Zcomm » ParEcon Questions & Answers

1 Like

Askush: Overcoming Capitalism by Tom Wetzel. Recommended to me by Prof. Hahnel. In that book, Wetzel makes the case for a 21st century anarcho-syndicalism, and proposes a version of Parecon as the corresponding economic vision.


Wetzel’s blog


Perhaps of interest, article

“The Swedish word for section is driftsektion. Translated into English that is operating section. The term operating refers to the long-term vision that employees should take over and operate the workplace themselves. Democracy at work lays the ground for a society of free and equal individuals. That is the syndicalist view.”