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–7 votes
I am hoping that some of you has the knowledge of history (or contemporary examples) that I need to quell my fears...

In the hypothetical future, after we expropriate the factories and the farms and put them under collective self-management of the workers, will this initially cause a dangerous decline in production? Will it result in shortages of food and other essential commodities? Obviously, as our skills built up overtime, we would regain our productivity, but during the time it took for that to happen, I'm worried that such a level of discontent would spread that we would not be given a chance to get there.

This fear occurred to me recently because I was reading through some old articles I had saved in my files. One of these articles, from 2002, discussed the downside of land reform in Zimbabwe. Although only 5% of the population, white people in Zimbabwe owned most of the land and the best of it. As unjust as this arrangement was, these farms were highly productive. They relied on plenty of capital, advanced technology, and other sophisticated inputs to remain successful. In the 1990s, veterans of the previous decade's independence war began seizing the giant agricultural plantations. Many of the (almost always) white plantation owners fled the country to avoid being assaulted or murdered. The new owners lacked the technical expertise to manage farms, however, and agricultural production dropped way down. As a result, annual agricultural growth shifted from 2% in 1992 to negative 12% in 2002. The number of people in Zimbabwe facing starvation also jumped from 100,000 to 7.2 million.

My fear is that something similar would happen in a revolutionary situation where we collectivized the land and factories and placed them under worker self-management... and that the workers, although experienced in shop-floor production or agricultural techniques, will lack experience and know-how in the big-picture elements of managing (collectively) an entire factory or large farm... and that production will plummet, leading to shortages and disillusionment in the revolution itself, which will then leave us vulnerable to counter-revolution.

Part of me thinks I am being irrational for applying what happened in Zimbabwe to a hypothetical revolutionary future. After all, the people who expropriate the farms in Zimbabwe were not necessarily peasants with agricultural experience, they were veterans from the war of independence. (On the other hand, is is LIKELY that they were peasants, as well as veterans, because most of Zimbabweans are employed in agriculture.) Also, perhaps the decline in productivity wasn't so much due to a lack of knowledge (as the article suggests) as it was due to a lack of access to the capital it took to maintain production (fertilizers, etc.)?

(Note: I realize that the farms expropriated in Zimbabwe were not put under collective self-management by workers, but I still use this as an example, because it is a case of a sudden switch from the management of those with lots of experience to the management of those without any such experience.)

In any case, my fears remain, and I am hoping that some of you will know of other examples from history, or currently, that show that sudden switches to collective self-management do not lead to a drop in productivity?
by (110 points)

3 Answers

+4 votes
i, for one, do not support expropriating factories or farms, nor "putting them under" self-management.
to me the idea that there would be some body of people that is responsible for maintaining the institutions that manage life now, means that there would be a government.
anarchists are against government.
i am not sure why you think that these are anarchist questions, although i suppose there are people who call themselves anarchists who think in these marxist terms.
at any rate, you are making huge assumptions as to some future desirable society -- ones that i certainly completely disagree with.
by (52.9k points)
+1 vote
This is not an exceptional situation. Nearly the same thing happened in Russia when "self-management of the factories" was experimented with for a time. (I cannot remember if it was during 1905 or 12 years after. I would cite the actual reference if you wanted me to.) People alienated from their working activity and deprived of a human relationship to the means of production are bad at coping with intensive, industrial labor processes. Go figure. Then again, you've summarized the events of a nationalist war in a single paragraph. I am certain that a clear picture of what happened in Zimbabwe is not something that is going to be found in this discussion.

And in the times when it is "successful", such as in a watch making factory in France in 1968, it does not establish any break at all from capitalism. It merely rearranges management and gives the workers a new identity as entrepreneurs. (Even then it is still not nearly as productive as normal arrangements in industrial labor.)

The intensity of productivity that occurs in capitalism can only occur in a capitalist context. If you are accustomed to this productive process, then anarchy is not in your favor.

You have underestimated the extent to which anarchists oppose modern institutions.

"Obviously, as our skills built up overtime, we would regain our productivity, but during the time it took for that to happen, I'm worried that such a level of discontent would spread that we would not be given a chance to get there."

I hope there would be discontent. Where you want us to go does not seem like a good place at all. A trip down the rabbit hole of reconstructed  exploitation.
by (2.8k points)
–4 votes
No, productivity would probably be similar, provided that the people running the place were the same people who were already doing the work.  They already know the tools and jobs so they don't need to learn that again, and contrary to what any management propaganda would have you believe  the workers on the floor are the ones who do the trouble-shooting and process improvements already.  In the situations where the "new management" doesn't have prior or related experience in that field, then yes there probably would be slowdown while they climb back up the learning curve.

Your example of Zimbabwe is telling, *not* as an example of worker management, but as an example of how badly an Authoritarian State can screw something up without even trying.  
Before the expropriations, the large farms were owned/managed by white families, but _worked_ by resident black farm laborers who had probably been on that farm for generations.  But the rural black people supported the opposition politicians,  not the Ruling Party, so when the farms were expropriated by a combination of legal abuse and outright violence both the white and black farmers fled.  (The term "veteran" you used is misleading to us all - the Party's thugs call themselves "veterans" but they are too young by a generation at least to have fought for independence.)  While the farms were supposed to be distributed among poor blacks, they somehow ended up owned by Mugabe's cronies (with precious few exceptions).  And since all of the Party's supporters were urban youth who had never grown a garden much less worked a farm, the few photo-op experiments in "redistribution" were complete disasters.
And just to top off the State-sponsored disaster, the Lord High Idiots undertook expropriation in the *middle* of the crop year - so while people went hungry in the towns, the farms sat empty, and a years worth of food Rotted In The Damned Fields!

As a simple rule of thumb - if your hands aren't dirty, don't tell the guy with dirty hands how to do his job.
by (2.0k points)