Introduction to Non-Market Socialism

An excerpt from (the introduction to) the book
‘Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and
Twentieth Centuries’
Reprinted from the Discussion Bulletin
Jan-Feb 2000 #99, pages 3-7
The book excerpt is preceded by the comments
of DB editor Frank Girard

Introduction to Non-Market Socialism

Published in 1987, Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries is a rare bird in the annals of commercial political science book publishing, it is not about the conventional left of Leninist / Trotskyist / Stalinist / Maoist Fidelist socialism or communism for which there is a market among leftwing academics. Rather it explains the positions of the remnant of an earlier tradition of socialism/communism that sprang from the revolutionary movement that had quickly become the the social democratic left wing of capitalism prior to the 1900s. As small independent revolutionary parties and groups or factions within the established parties, they had become the critics of the reformist socialist movement that would become the eager partners with their national capitalist class in the war that convulsed the industrialized world for four years, 1914-18. The Russian Revolution would splinter and isolate them still further as the Bolsheviks under Lenin established hegemony over the revolutionary left through the Third International. By 1925 the basic strands of what John Crump refers to as “the thin red line” had been established.

The book is also unique as a cooperative effort by writers from the diverse and often hostile parts of this political sector. It made a profound impression on me, coming as it did, a few years after I began publishing the Discussion Bulletin as a forum for revolutionary socialists. For one thing its title provided a new criterion for political classification. It also widened my political horizons.

The nine-page introduction below written by John Crump, one of the editors, contains thumbnail sketches of the five main strands of the “thin red line” and describes the purpose of the book. I differ politically with some of the contributors, among them Steve Coleman regarding the Socialist Labor Party and the editors’ decision to include the Bordigists, whose vanguardist/ proletarian dictatorship ideas I have difficulty stomaching. Unfortunately Non-Market Socialism is now out of print

— fg



The theme of this book is ‘non-market socialism’. This term demands an explanation at an early stage of the book. We are well aware that ‘non-market socialism’ is – to use the current jargon – a pleonasm. In other words, if we use words accurately, it is unnecessary to qualify ‘socialism’ with ‘non-market’ because socialism is, by definition, a marketless society. The market cannot coexist with socialism because socialism means that society owns and controls both the means of production and the goods which result from productive activity. For the market to exist, some sectional interest (an individual, a joint-stock company, a nationalised concern, a workers’ cooperative and so on) has to be in control of part of the social product, which it then disposes of by entering into exchange relations with others. Exchange cannot take place when society, and none other, controls the means of production and the social product. Far from socialism being compatible with exchange and the market, the generalised production of goods for exchange on the market is the hallmark of an entirely different type of society – capitalism.

If socialism means the social ownership of the means of production and the fruits of production, so too does communism. The terms ‘socialism1 and ‘communism’ are used interchangeably in this book because, just as there is no distinction between society and the community, so social ownership and communal ownership are equally indistinguishable. Contrary to Lenin’s assertions, socialism is not a partial and incomplete first stage of communism.

Yet though it is a simple matter logically to define socialism/ communism, it is politics and not logic which determines how words are (mis)used within capitalism. Dispensing with logic, those who wield political power in all parts of the world have an interest in misrepresenting socialism. Thanks to their unrelenting efforts, the word ‘socialism’ has taken on the spurious meaning of state enterprises employing wage-earners in order to produce goods for sale on the market. In Chapter 2, John Crump demonstrates how both Social Democracy and Leninism have played an important role in bringing about (the popular identification of ‘socialism’ with state capitalism.

It is in the face of this situation that we have chosen to use the term ‘non-market socialism’. Our purpose is straightforward, and we do not hide it. We want to re-establish the genuine meaning of socialism. We are not arguing that absence of the market is the sole defining feature of socialism. On the contrary, socialism is not merely a marketless society; it is also a stateless society, a classless society, a moneyless society, a wageless society … and so on. However, in choosing to use the term ‘non-market socialism’, we are selecting one among a number of qualities which socialism possesses (its characteristic of being a marketless society) and focusing on this in order to stress the difference between socialism and all varieties of capitalism.

Undoubtedly, our use of the term ‘non-market socialism’ is not without danger. Maximilien Rubel brings out this point in Chapter 1. By talking in terms of ‘non-market socialism’, we may inadvertently imply that other varieties of socialism (even ‘market socialism’!) could exist. Nothing could be further from our intention, of course. But at least ‘non-market socialism’ does have the merit of emphasising firstly that the marketless society of socialism has never been established anywhere in the world, and secondly that most so-called ‘socialists’ are nothing of the sort. The fact that Social Democrats, Leninists and other supposed ‘socialists’ or ‘communists’ envisage a role for the market, tells us that they represent forces for maintaining capitalism, not for achieving socialism.

One final point needs to be made with regard to our terminology. Despite the inaccuracy of calling an organisation such as the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) a communist party, or the Socialist Party of Italy (PSI) a socialist party, we have regarded organisational labels simply as proper names which deserve to be used neutrally. Hence our references to organisations such as the CPGB and PSI do not imply any recognition of their supposedly ‘communist’ or ‘socialist* (in fact, state capitalist) character.


In Chapter 1, Maximilien Rubel looks at ‘Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth Century’. Rubel explains that rejection of the market was an integral component of Marx’s and Engels’s conception of socialism and he demonstrates that the approach which Marx and Engels adopted towards this question separated them from Proudhon and the other false ‘socialists’ of their day. Rubel’s chapter is complemented by Alain Pengam’s discussion in Chapter 3 of other nineteenth-century, non-market socialists, such as Joseph Dejacque and Peter Kropotkin.

In Chapter 2, John Crump examines ‘Non-Market Socialism in the Twentieth Century’. In addition to identifying those currents which have represented the ‘thin red line’ of non-market socialism in the twentieth century, Crump identifies a number of key principles which distinguish non-market socialists from Social Democrats, Leninists and other advocates of capitalism. These key principles have served as litmus paper, as it were, in deciding which currents to include in a book on non-market socialism and which to exclude.

The currents which have adhered to these principles are_ presented in roughly the order of their historical appearance in Chapters 3 to 7. In Chapter 3, Alain Pengam differentiates ‘Anarcho-Communism’ from other varieties of anarchism. In Chapter 4, Stephen Coleman discusses ‘Impossibilism’ in general and the Socialist Party of Great Britain in particular. In Chapter 5, Mark Shipway examines ‘Council Communism’, paying particular attention to the theories of Anton Pannekoek. Similarly, in Chapter 6 on ‘Bordigism’, Adam Buick focuses principally on the ideas of Amadeo Bordiga. Finally, in Chapter 7 on ‘Situationism’, Mark Shipway analyses the ideas of the situationists. Some of the writers identify more closely with the currents about which they have written than others, but all were given the brief of producing chapters which fulfilled three objectives. First, each chapter provides a brief historical account of the current under examination. Second, each chapter outlines the principal theoretical ideas of the current. Third, each writer gives a personal assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the current.

It may be useful for readers to have an overall picture of the various currents which have represented non-market socialism in the twentieth century before they tackle the detailed, chapter-by-chapter analyses of each current. Accordingly, we present brief profiles of these five currents here.


Anarcho-communism’s roots extend back to the activity and writings in the nineteenth century of anarchists such as Peter Kropotkin, Elisee Reclus and Jean Grave. One of anarcho-communism’s fullest expositions in this century was Alexander Berkman’s What Is Communist Anarchism’s (1929), better known in its abridged form as the ABC of Anarchism (1942). As examples of anarcho-communist revolutionary activity, we could point to the struggles of the Partido Liberal Mexicano in the Mexican Revolution and to some anarchist groups in the Russian Revolution. In both these revolutions, anarcho-communists worked with peasants and workers, encouraged them to substitute their own organisations for those of the state, and participated in attempts to organise production on the basis of free communes. What distinguishes anarcho-communism from other varieties of anarchism is the equal emphasis which anarcho-communism has placed on individual freedom and communal solidarity, and its belief that these twin goals can be achieved simultaneously through the establishment of a stateless, moneyless communist society.


‘Possibilism’ and ‘impossibilism’ were terms coined in the nineteenth century to distinguish different wings of the Social Democratic Parties. Social Democrats who concentrated their efforts on reforming capitalism were dubbed ‘possibilists’, while the ‘impossibilists’ were those who struggled solely to achieve the goal of socialism. In time, the impossibilists either split away from the Social Democratic Parties, or abandoned impossibilism as the price for remaining in the ranks of Social Democracy. In Britain, impossibilism has its roots in various revolts against the leadership of the first Social Democratic organisation to be formed, the Social Democratic Federation of 1884. Secessions from the Social Democratic Federation led to the formation, as early as 1884, of the Socialist League, in which William Morris was a prominent participant, and to the emergence in 1904 of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB). The SPGB has become the best-known impossibilist group, and its journal, the Socialist Standard, is the most accessible written expression of impossibilism.


Although both workers’ councils and groups which later formed the nuclei of the council communist movement existed before the First World War, council communism rose to brief prominence, principally in Germany, immediately following the War. Inspired by the Russian Revolution, the council communists saw the workers’ councils (Soviets) as the instrument of proletarian revolution. In a number of West European countries, groups of council communists were constituent elements in the Communist Parties when these were first formed, but they were criticised by Lenin in ‘Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder (1920) because of their opposition to communists participating in parliamentary elections and joining trade unions and Social Democratic Parties. The council communists split away from, or were expelled from, the Communist Parties of the Third International during [he period 1920-1, and some of them organised alternative Communist Workers’ Parties, such as the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD) in 1920. Sizable council communist organisations disappeared as the post-war wave of radicalisation receded, and as the 1920s progressed the council communist movement was reduced to small groups engaged in theoretical work and propaganda activity. Paul Mattick’s Anti-Bolshevik Communism (1978) represents some of the best fruits of the theoretical work in which the council communists have engaged.


Amadeo Bordiga and his comrades stood on the left wing of the Italian Socialist Party before the First World War and they were the most resolutely anti-war faction in Italy during the war. When the Communist Party of Italy was founded in 1921, the dominant position of Bordiga’s faction within the new party was symbolised by the fact that Bordiga became the party leader. Bordiga had already been criticised by Lenin in ‘Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder for advocating abstention from parliamentary elections, and in 1923 the executive committee of the Third Internationa! ousted him from the leadership of the Communist Party of Italy. Bordiga and his comrades remained within the Communist Party of Italy, but they suffered a defeat at the hands of Gramsci and his supporters, who were backed by the leaders of the Third International, at the congress held in exile in Lyons in 1926. Subsequently, the Bordigists either were expelled or withdrew from the Italian Communist Party, Bordiga himself being expelled in 1930. Although Bordiga was forced into political inactivity as long as Mussolini was in power, others who shared his views ensured that Bordigism maintained an organised existence. The form and name of the Bordigists’ organisation changed at various junctures, but eventually became fixed as the International Communist Party, with members in Italy, France and elsewhere. Bordiga returned to political activity at the close of the Second World War and was associated with the International Communist Party until his death in 1970. Amadeo Bordiga’s ideas on the nature of communist society have been presented in Jacques Camatte’s Bordiga et la passion du communisme (1974).


The situationists emerged in 1957 as a movement of avant-garde artists. Their criticism of consumer-oriented conventional an led them to criticise consumerism in general, and hence to attack the basis of capitalism – the production of wealth as commodities. Having widened their perspectives, their revolutionary activity principally took the form of publicity-catching stunts and the production of a stream of pamphlets and journals. Among their pamphlets, Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle (1967) and Raoul Vaneigem’s Traite de savoir-vivre a l’usage des jeunes generations (1967) (translated into English as The Revolution of Everyday Life) are key texts. When tens of thousands of students and workers erupted onto the streets of Paris in May 1968, many of their protests had been anticipated by the situationists. Situationists were involved in the May events, but they never claimed to be leading the mass demonstrations and occupations, whose value they judged to lie in their spontaneity. From the 1970s, with the onset of economic depression, the situationists went into decline and were reduced to individuals and small groups engaged in propaganda activity.


From the foregoing, it can be seen that many of the chapters devote attention to organisations which have long since disbanded or to the ideas of people who are long since dead. We do not apologise for this. The theories which inspired these organisations and which were formulated by these people are relevant to the predicament in which the world finds itself today. Capitalism has not changed in any fundamental way since their day, and neither has the non-market socialist alternative to capitalism which they articulated.

Besides, although organisations and individuals may come and go, non-market socialism came into existence not long after industrial capitalism was established and has had a persistent, if chequered, history which extends down to the present day. The continued existence of non-market socialism is partly attributable to the efforts of those working men and women who have been its partisans, but paradoxically is due above all to the nature of capitalism itself. Capitalism necessarily entails an unceasing effort on the part of rival capitals throughout the world to maintain themselves by means of accumulation, and accumulation can only take place at the expense of the wage-working class. Unremitting exploitation and oppression of the wage-working class are built into capitalism, and can only be abolished by instituting a worldwide socialist society and hence destroying the implacable market forces which capitalism has unleashed. Thus it can confidently be said that as long as capitalism exists, the non-market socialist response to it will continually emerge within the working class.

Some people may be puzzled by the fact that we devote so much attention in this book to minority currents and less-than-famous individuals. How, it will be asked, can we neglect the mass movements of the past 100 years and their leaders? Our response is to turn back the question to the questioners. Haven’t the mass movements and their leaderships had their chances to right the wrongs of the world, by virtue of their attaining mass proportions? Conservatism, Liberalism, Social Democracy, Leninism .. . haven’t they all had their share of power, and haven’t they all proved totally ineffective in ridding the world of the problems which capitalism continually recreates? Other contenders for the privileges which accompany the administration of capitalism (nuclear disarmers, ‘greens’, feminists …) are waiting in the wings, and are having some success in turning themselves into mass movements because of the illusory attractiveness of their promises to reform the market system. Like previous attempts at reform, these latest efforts directed towards making the capitalist system function in a manner which gives priority to human interests are bound to fail. As long as the world market remains, human beings will be forced to dance to its tune. Market forces cannot be tamed; only eliminated. The very existence of humankind is now threatened by the rivalry and the fixation on profit which are inherent in the market system. Surely this is sufficient reason for setting aside preconceptions and prejudices and for considering the non-market socialists’ case for abolishing the market on its intellectual and political merits.


As we have indicated, non-market socialism would necessarily be socialism on a world scale. In the society envisaged by non-market socialists, the people of the world would own the global means of production in common and would operate them communally for the benefit of humankind as a whole. Socialism in one country, or even one part of the world, is impossible. Since capitalism today is a global society which encompasses all parts of the world, the socialist alternative to capitalism must be equally global in its scope.

In view of the global nature of non-market socialism, it is appropriate that this book should be the result of an international effort by socialists who live in a number of countries. Nevertheless, it has to be admitted that all the contributors live in advanced, industrialised countries and that the focus of most chapters is primarily European. This is perhaps inevitable, given the facts that capitalism first developed in Europe and that, as a result, the non-market socialist response to capitalism also originated in Europe. The various currents of non-market socialism which are discussed in Chapters 3 to 7 all first emerged in Europe, although some of them have since spread to other continents.

Despite the European backgrounds of the various contributors, however, it is important to emphasise that the message of this book is not Euro-centrist. Non-market socialism is as relevant to the plight of those who are starving in Africa and other areas of the world as it is to the inhabitants of London or Paris. It is true that non-market socialists have generally seen the wage workers of those advanced, industrialised areas of the world which act as the power-houses of international capitalism (Europe, North America and Japan) as the force which is likely to initiate the revolutionary change from world capitalism to world socialism. Yet the establishment of non-market socialism could not be accomplished without the active cooperation of the majority of the population in those parts of the world which capitalism has consigned to underdevelopment. In contrast to the hopelessness and destitution which afflict the majority of the people in backward countries under world capitalism, the prospect of dignity and sufficiency which world socialism would open up for them would be overwhelmingly attractive. It is also worth mentioning that several of the non-market socialist principles which are identified in Chapter 2 closely resemble the principles of social cooperation found among hunter-gatherers and other supposedly ‘backward’ people. People in their social position would take much less convincing of the desirability of non-market socialism than would many of those in ‘advanced’ countries who are currently steeped in the values and assumptions which capitalism encourages.

Non-market socialism would be a global solution to the global problems which have accompanied the rise of world capitalism.

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