Let’s discover how a society could produce food, clothing, computers and space probes without a money system, how it provides healthcare with neither markets nor a state, how it provides education and childcare, housing and electricity without any hierarchies, landlords, private property laws or capital investments, and how competition can be replaced entirely by co-operation to form a comprehensive systemic alternative to capitalism that is peaceful, participatory and ecologically sustainable.
Instead of saying “this is how things would/should/could/will be”, I’ve decided to present an entirely fictionalised vision in the form of The Free Federation, a made-up society in a made-up world, but one which illustrates the points that I wish to make about an all-encompassing alternative to capitalism. This way we can maintain a critical distance from the ideas and I can avoid sounding prescriptive. Reflecting the potential diversity of possible solutions and the many variations in the economic model that people could adopt, the Free Federation is not a single system but rather a federation of diverse regions, each of which makes their own decisions and implements things slightly differently.
Note that my main interest is in economic, rather than social or political issues. Non-economic topics will be covered in passing.
Politically the Free Federation is highly decentralised. There are no capital cities, presidents or kings, and power flows mainly from the bottom upwards rather than from the top downwards. In theory therefore, the individual is the most powerful unit in society, followed by the guilds and unions, the neighbourhood assemblies, the district assemblies, the Producer Associations, the regional assemblies and finally the Grand Assembly of the Federation itself, which has the least power. I say “in theory”: you’ll have to judge for yourself whether that’s always the case as we learn more.
Regions of the Federation are allowed to secede and new regions may join so long as they agree to the Federation’s Constitution, which was drawn up by the regions and then ratified by the Grand Asssembly very shortly after the founding of the Federation about 250 years ago. The Free Federation shares a continental landmass with an oppressive feudal regime nicknamed The Sultanate, which most regions in the current Federation used to be part of. The Sultanate is technically not the Federation’s biggest threat though. In the northern hemisphere another regime dominates, a capitalist empire usually nicknamed The Republic. The whole Federation is about 15% larger than Africa, and each region is on average the size of Egypt.
The different levels of the Federation are linked by delegation. Delegates are recallable functionaries who are tasked with advancing the will of the group that they come from, strictly in accordance with the group’s prior instructions. They have no power other than that which is given to them for this particular purpose by the assembly that they came from. Neighbourhood assemblies send delegates to district assemblies and the Regional Assembly, then the Grand Assembly. However, in the last few decades, a large number of decisions are now made over the Network (a telecommunications system like the internet), and many assemblies no longer meet face-to-face.
For decision-making, a combination of rough consensus and majority decision-making are used. Rough consensus means that a decision is adopted automatically so long as there aren’t enough objections to it; majority decision-making means that a vote is held with a majority required to pass the decision. None of the regions use representative democracy, although some organisations elect secretaries for a limited term to act as points of contact.
The economy is based on labour contributions. None of the regions use money. In all regions, the individual is free to choose where they want to work, where and how they want to live, and is a co-owner of all of their living and working spaces.
If you wish, you can skip straight to the next section and refer back to this one if/when you need some terminology clarified.
There is a major distinction to be made between communalist and distributed/syndicalised (or “individualist”) systems. In a communalist system, production is centralised and covers the entire region. A distributed system, on the other hand, does things on a workplace-by-workplace basis. I usually call these workplaces guilds. In general, a guild is autonomous in terms of its decision-making structures, controlled by its workers and/or consumers, whereas a communalist service is managed as a public service and is controlled by citizens via the regional assemblies.
In the Free Federation there are differences of opinion about whether the economy should be communalised or distributed. Indeed this is considered to be an “economic spectrum” similar to our left-wing and right-wing systems, where communalist systems are seen to favour society and the community, while distributed systems favour individualism and autonomy.
Sometimes an industry that is distributed can be “communalised” to bring it under the control of the community assemblies, or an industry that is communal can be “syndicalised” to bring it under the control of autonomous guilds. This is analogous to nationalisation and privatisation in capitalism (or alternatively, “collectivisation” and “mutualisation”). Note, however, that a guild is not “privately owned”, neither is a public service owned “by the state”. Guilds are autonomous of the community assemblies but they are controlled and run by their members without any hierarchy. Their membership is a union of the people who work there and the people who use and need the service. There is no such thing as “the state” in the Free Federation, although some functions of the state are undertaken by the community assemblies.
In theory therefore, decisions about anything in society or the economy are in principle made by the people affected. Nobody is excluded from a decision that affects them, and nobody is included in a decision that isn’t any of their business.
A distinction is made between communalising a service and communalising the labour.
Communalising a service means that the service is controlled and managed by citizens for the benefit of the whole society. Decisions about the purpose, scope and general functioning of the service are therefore made at the neighbourhood and regional assemblies, although most technical decisions are made by workers who handle the day-to-day operation of the service.
Communalising the labour means that the labour required to provide the service is distributed among a larger group of people than the service’s actual membership - for example, distributing it among everyone in society. When labour is communalised, everyone contributes (if they are able) in order to make sure that the work gets done.
Beyond the communalist-distributed spectrum, another major distinction is between those parts of the economy which require contributions and those that are based on voluntary contributions. Voluntarisation of the economy carries multiple advantages and surprisingly few disadvantages. This is discussed at the end of §1.5.
When contributions are required, everybody is expected to contribute a proportion of the labour necessary to provide the service, unless they are declared exempt. The penalties for not doing so vary by region. Xesh imposes no material penalty but keeps a public “score board” of contributions, and people are expected to gloat about their labour contributions and to shame anybody who appears lazy. In Liminas and most other regions with required contributions, a failure to contribute cuts you off from luxury goods, but not basic services. In Libak, failing to contribute can potentially cut you off from everything.
In systems with required contributions, there are clearly defined exemptions criteria, but note that you cannot reach an exemption status as a result of ‘being rich’: everyone is held to the same standards. You cannot ‘get rich’ by accumulating excess labour contributions, because every labour contribution is tied to a product or service that you wish to claim. You can’t do any more work than the amount dictated by your consumption because there is literally ‘nothing else to do’. You can only accumulate labour contributions for a short period so that you can take holidays, but you cannot ‘save up’ over longer periods of time because labour requirements reflect the current needs of the economy, not the unknown future rates of production.
Neither can you ‘get rich’ by coming into possession of a valuable family heirloom or rare artifact, because inanimate objects like heirlooms and artifacts are incapable of carrying out labour contributions. Second hand items can only be given away - they cannot be sold. Such items are there for your enjoyment but they have no effect on your entitlement to products and services.
When I say labour is distributed by voluntarism, this usually doesn’t mean ‘pure voluntarism’. Pure voluntarism leaves no guarantee that all of the necessary labour will be handled, and makes it too easy for people’s generosity to be exploited. A solution to this issue is the ‘volunteer game’ proposed by Christian Siefkes.
In the volunteer game, there is a guideline labour contribution and each working person must choose for themselves what proportion of it they wish to fulfill. When everyone has chosen, the proportions are added up and the guideline labour contribution is then revised - either upwards, if the chosen proportions mean that we won’t get everything done, or downwards, if people are being over-eager. If the guideline contribution has changed significantly then the volunteers are given the opportunity to revise their proportions, and this process continues until everyone is happy with the amount they are going to contribute. Each person must then contribute the amount of labour they said they would. People are free not to contribute anything at all based on their own assessment of their abilities and wishes.
In small, independent guilds, this system is often overkill and the labour is more easily distributed by agreement between the workers in their face-to-face assembly or online. This still differs from pure voluntarism in that all of the required labour must be handled and workers are expected to do what they said they would do. Nevertheless, pure voluntarism is still used in some cases, known as pleasure production.
In regions that have required contributions, people soon noticed that the lack of flexibility in working hours was counter-productive. Flexibility is needed to account for the inherent dynamism of any complex economy. People are constantly entering and leaving the workforce as they get old, have children, go sick and when they die. Moreover, improvements in technology make workplaces more efficient which inevitably results in redundancies. Sometimes, the demand for a product goes down for perfectly natural reasons, resulting in a lowered workload. And sometimes people just want to switch jobs. A fixed labour quota makes it difficult for people to alter their working hours since they’re not allowed to do less than the labour quota, and neither can they do more than the quota because there isn’t any more work available.
This problem was resolved by taking a hint from the voluntarised systems, handling a proportion of the labour (the base labour) as a required quota, and distributing the remainder using the volunteer game. This extra labour, called the socialised labour, still has to be handled in full, but there is flexibility in how much of it a worker contributes. This system was introduced voluntarily by the guilds, via the Producer Association forum, as a direct response to the flexibility problem, and is administered by the Producer Associations.
Now, when you want to switch jobs or if you are entering the workforce from a period of downtime, you can generally start off by relieving somebody of some of their socialised labour time. Because the socialised labour is not required, but most people will have to do it anyway, they will have plenty of work that they are prepared to ‘give up’ to someone else, so long as their labour time does not dip below the base, required level. This means that entering the workforce is as smooth as it possibly can be.
Compared to capitalism the situation is completely reversed. In capitalism we expect there to always be lots of people who want work but cannot find it. Jobs are scarce: dozens may apply, but only a few will succeed. The threat of losing your job is a dire and feared one. In this other system, by contrast, jobs are abundant: everyone will be positively ecstatic to have you join the team and share some of the burden with you. Instead of fearing that you’ll lose your job, you’ll be fearing instead that you’ll lose your colleague. If someone leaves the team, then you’ve got more work to do yourself. So it is in everyone’s interest to recruit somebody as fast as possible. The more the merrier, in fact. You would probably not even need to have an interview, unless you had to demonstrate a specific skill. Again, since the economy needs flexibility, this dynamic of abundant jobs is extremely handy, and is one of the many reasons why this type of economy is overall more efficient than capitalism.
With required contributions there is a danger that people or guilds would deliberately overestimate the amount of labour they’ve done, in order to reduce their workloads. This makes the economy less productive, and, thanks to open supply chains and transparent accounting, everyone knows it. In response to this, Producer Associations in these regions have set up an independent auditing process to correct deliberate and accidental accounting errors.
In regions that do not have required contributions, the base labour is simply zero, so all of your labour contribution is voluntary. These systems are even simpler and have even greater flexibility, but in return they suffer decreased productivity because of a higher number of free riders. In their favour, there is no incentive to falsify the accounts, so auditors and penalties are also unnecessary, which saves considerable administrative burden. There are fewer workers, but less work to do as well. And since the methodology of voluntarisation is included even in non-voluntary systems to solve the flexibility problem, there is nothing preventing a move towards full voluntarisation of the economy.
Another key concept in the theory of labour contributions is the distribution pool or labour pool. This system allows you to contribute labour to any participating workplace and it will thereby “count” as a contribution, even if the contribution was mandated by a completely different workplace. So, if I say that “the healthcare service asks for a labour contribution”, that doesn’t mean that you literally have to become a nurse or a doctor or a receptionist; what that means is that the healthcare service asks you to contribute to the pool a proportion of the labour time required to provide their service. Thanks to the distribution pool, you can contribute anywhere and it will still count.
The Federal Labour Pool currently covers about 60% of the Federation, which allows participating regions to freely import and export their products to each other without needing to think about it. Unlike a trade relationship, the object is not to trade one thing for another but rather to find a source of labour which is needed to produce the requested product. Along with money, trade and exchange are unnecessary.
The FLP has standardised exemption criteria: you are not expected to contribute labour when you are actually ill, of course; also exempt are people under the age of 15 or over the age of 50 as well as people with severe disabilities, pregnant women and parents with children under 7.
If there are not enough contributors in a specific region to support its production, then people have to migrate there, or else the rate of production must decrease. Changes to the rate of production are agreed by the syndicate that the producer belongs to, where both workers and consumers are represented. In this forum, the people affected can work out a solution that they find most acceptable. A third possibility in this scenario is to expand production elsewhere in the Federation, closer to where labour is available.
For parts of the Federation that aren’t yet covered by the FLP, imports and exports can still happen via periodic labour migration. In this system, each pool records the extra hours that it works to support its imports and exports, and then periodically balances the difference by sending a delegation of workers over to the other pool.
Industries that benefit the whole Federation are handled as Federal Projects, discussed in their own section.
Labour is not counted in literal hours but in “guideline hours”. Tasks are weighted higher if they are less popular and aren’t getting enough volunteers. For example, an unpopular task like cleaning might be weighted double, so that one hour of cleaning labour counts as two hours towards a labour quota. The other tasks in the system have to be weighted lower to compensate for this, because the total amount of labour is constant. This gives people an incentive to choose the less popular or more demanding tasks, and is used even with voluntary contributions.
If a task counts as one guideline hour but actually takes more or less than an hour to complete, it still counts as one guideline hour, but if the discrepancy persists then the system is updated for next time so that it better matches reality. This gives people an incentive to work efficiently, because if they complete a one-hour task in 45 minutes then it will count as if it were a full hour, and they are not expected to spend another 15 minutes pretending to be useful (as might happen in capitalism if you’re being paid by the hour).
These are the economic institutions we’ll be talking about:
Guilds or projects are workplaces that produce something or provide a service. They are created by people who have a mutual need of the product in question, and they are managed by a union of workers and consumers.
Syndicates unite guilds that produce the same product, or projects that together form a supply chain for a particular output. Their main job is to match supply and demand. See §10.2.
The Producer Association is an organisation that most regions have, uniting all the guilds and syndicates in a given region that want to join it. Its main goal is to find solutions to common problems and help its members to expand production or renovate their facilities. Normally, being a member of the Association means you have to agree not to arbitrarily reject orders of your products or services, so as to ensure that all members can benefit from each other’s services.
A Resource User Group is an organisation that manages a natural resource as a commons, ensuring that people who need it can access it fairly. In some cases, the Community Federation takes over the role of a Resource User Group. See §10.4.
A Community Federation is essentially a massive guild that all citizens of a particular region can participate in. Generally it organises public services. It is managed by neighbourhood assemblies.
The Grand Assembly is a Federation-wide assembly. It meets to discuss Federal Projects, the constitution and to co-ordinate a response to a Federal emergency.
We’ll be focusing on five interesting member regions of the Federation, which cover the full economic and political spectrum: Communitas, Xesh, Liminas, Libak and Radikas.
Communitas has an economy that is mostly communalised, but does have a few independent producers as well. Labour contributions are voluntary. The Assembly divides up labour that is important and/or unpopular among volunteer contributors, who are then obliged to contribute what they said they would contribute, and the remainder is left up to pure voluntarism.
People willing and able to contribute to the communalised work must choose what proportion of the average they wish to contribute (e.g. 100%, 80%, 130%, etc.), then choose which of the included tasks they want to do. This is done on a six-monthly basis. If you want to retire or take a sabattical then you can sign off from the scheme at the end of each six-month period. Last year the average contribution per person was 360 hours, or 15 hours per week on average.
Xesh is a highly communalised and community-focused region. The entire economy of the region is managed as a public service subject to decisions made democratically in the People’s Assembly of Xesh. There are no independent guilds. Xesh requires labour contributions and considers its labour system to be a game, with “approval points” gained for completing actions favourable to the community and lost for failing to complete your duties.
The labour required to provide the service is divided equally among every citizen in Xesh unless they are exempt. Half of this amount is considered the base labour quota. You lose approval points every month if you fail to meet this quota, unless there is a partial exemption, and you gain approval points for every hour over the base that you work. The Assembly requires each mandated workplace to complete its share of the work - the work necessary to fulfill the mandate (i.e. fulfill its purpose).
The Assembly is responsible for making all high-level decisions about which services it provides and how. Rough consensus, not majority voting, is generally used in Xesh for making these kinds of decisions.
From an individual’s point of view, every product and service in Xesh is ‘free at the point of use’, but most consumer goods are rationed. The people can vote to increase the rations if they are prepared to accept an increased base labour quota, or decrease them in order to reduce their labour quota.
Liminas has both a communalised economy that provides key public services and a syndicalised economy that provides most other consumer goods. Labour contributions are required. Liminas represents a compromise system, where nothing is left to chance - generosity and voluntarism are considered unreliable. But Liminas people have the highest average labour time in the Federation, at 26 hours per week.
From the individual’s point of view, communalised services such as health, education and transport are free at the point of use, whilst everything else requires an additional labour contribution.
Here the economy is mostly syndicalised, and contributions are required. Much capitalist ideology and values have been left over in Libak after it declared independence from the Republic.
From an individual’s point of view, you don’t get anything for free in Libak, and the amount of work you have to do depends on how much you wish to consume. I don’t advocate Libak’s system, but I include it as a discussion point.
Radikas’ economy is entirely distributed/syndicalised. All labour is voluntary and so everything is ‘free’. There are no exemption criteria and you can happily “self-exempt”. Guilds associate with each other voluntarily in syndicates, which can then choose to join the regional Producer Association. Syndicates usually handle the volunteer game for all of their guild members, rather than having each guild organise its own separate scheme.
No region in the Federation takes individualism and freedom more seriously than Radikas. It has the lowest average labour time in the Federation, at 10 hours per week, but also has the highest crime rate. Radikas has no Assembly and has a heavy distrust of democracy. The Producer Association sends a delegate to the Grand Assembly when they deem it necessary.
Those are the five regions we’ll focus on, but there are other possibilities attested to in other parts of the Federation. Most are just different mixtures of communalised and syndicalised industries. But there are also some eco-communalist regions with people living in mostly self-sufficient communes, as well as a some primitivist regions where people practice hunter-gatherer lifestyles. These are tolerated and respected, and are not expected to contribute to Federal Projects since they do not have the means (nor the desire) to do so.
In Karelia, there is one interesting difference to note: labour contributions are required, but no specific amount of labour is prescribed. Drawing on the discussion in §1.5, the base labour is zero and all the contributions are handled via a volunteer game, but there is still a requirement imposed by the Producer Association that you have to be a working member of one of its constituent guilds, unless you are exempt from work. In this case, a refusal to work without an exemption means you are provided only with basic provisions.
For the purposes of this section, healthcare also includes care for the elderly (for example, in care homes), because it is provided in the same way as healthcare in each region. The production and distribution of important medical supplies is handled as a Federal Project.
Healthcare is something that everybody needs at some point in their life. Hence there is a very strong argument for communalising it. In Xesh, for example, where the entire economy is communalised, there is a single Xesh Health Service. This service is mandated by the People’s Assembly of Xesh to provide healthcare for all people who find themselves in Xesh (regardless of where they come from). Included in the service in both Liminas and Xesh are safe abortion clinics and the production of pharmaceuticals, so that prescription medicine is free.
Because rough consensus is the main decision-making method, a number of alternative healing therapies and alternative medicine are provided by the service simply because not enough people object to them being provided. In Liminas, majority voting is used to make decisions about communal services. Alternative therapies are not provided by Liminas’ communal healthcare system because they did not garner enough votes in favour, hence they are provided by autonomous guilds instead. (Xesh does not have any autonomous guilds.)
Tobacco and a small number of other recreational drugs are produced in Xesh, but have strict rations. In Liminas, recreational drugs are produced in the syndicalised sector with no rations, but the Liminas community (which manages the health service) requires smokers to contribute slightly more towards the health service.
Xesh, Communitas and Liminas are representative of how healthcare is provided in the majority of regions - as a communalised service with communalised labour. A few regions, however, have a syndicalised health service.
Libak is one of them - it has an insurance-style system where you choose between various health providers. Being a member of a health provider comes with the right to vote in its decision-making forums as well as the responsibility to contribute a proportion of the required labour to the pool. You have to have contributed for a minimum term (generally six months to a year) before the service will provide you with non-emergency treatment. Once you have signed up to a provider you are not allowed to cancel your membership completely - you can only transfer to another provider. This is to stop you from only signing up when you need the services and cancelling again afterwards.
Generally speaking, everyone contributes the same amount to their health plan regardless of how much they use the service, with the exception of smokers and people drinking alcohol, who have a surcharge. Pharmaceuticals are produced by independent guilds and people therefore have to contribute labour to get them when they need them, unless they are already exempt from work.
The health providers do not compete with each other; on the contrary, they co-operate via the Libak Health Federation, though not all providers are members. Thanks to the distribution pool, a provider is not penalised if it has a larger than average number of non-contributing members. All goods and services in the pool require slightly longer contributions of labour (similar to becoming ‘more expensive’), which goes towards providing for non-contributors.
Because healthcare is so important, there is a special health insurance scheme offered by the Radikas Producer Association, which most Radikas guilds are a member of. In that scheme, an additional quantity is added on to a labour contribution that you have volunteered for another purpose. This makes it easier to ensure that healthcare receives enough labour contributions. Guilds that produce tobacco and the large number of other recreational drugs that you can find in Radikas are asked to add a higher labour surcharge to their volunteer game as a condition of their membership in the Producer Association, if scientific evidence has proven that the drug poses a net health risk and not a net health benefit.
The health service is fragmented into numerous health centres, clinics, care homes and pharmaceutical guilds, all of which share their research and findings, and collaborate on standards of good practice via health associations, too numerous to list. From the user’s point of view, the service is free, but if they are lacking in contributions, waiting times can increase, and some clinics place limits on the number of times you can visit a doctor in a non-emergency. The more labour people contribute, the better the service becomes.
In Liminas, childcare labour is generally communalised. You can take care of your own children by registering as a parent, in which case your labour is counted as an 80 hour monthly contribution per child regardless of the actual time spent. You can alternatively use daycare facilities or full-board childcare centres. If a parent uses these facilities it reduces their recognised contribution. The labour for such facilities is communalised so that every citizen in the region contributes an equal quantity of labour for their upkeep whether they are a parent or not. The workers in those facilities are contributing labour to fulfill their own labour quota. Most facilities are run jointly by the workers, the children and the parents via the Liminas Parents’ Union. The Union also organises parenting groups at the local level to allow parents not just to meet and share information, but to share childcaring responsibilities among themselves by organising ad hoc babysitting, for example. They also pass on unneeded clothes and toys via this forum.
Though Libak has some elite-sounding schools and nurseries that parents can use by contributing a share of the labour back to the pool, most childcare labour in Libak is communalised in the same way as Liminas.
In Communitas and Radikas, labour contributions are always voluntary. In these regions, parents may decide for themselves whether they wish to attempt balancing their parenthood with another labour activity (since all goods and services are ‘free’). Childcare facilities and domestic services are also available. In Communitas, this labour is distributed by the Assembly among volunteers, who each choose an amount they wish to contribute. In Radikas, each facility is run by its own set of volunteers, and domestic services are usually undertaken on a very informal basis within the gift economy.
In Xesh - which is infamous for its controversial experimentation - the family unit has been abolished. The People’s Assembly ‘orders’ the creation of new citizens at the Xesh People’s Progeny Unit, which uses donated gametes to create a child according to the specifications provided by the Assembly’s mandate. DNA testing ensures that no children with genetic defects are produced and that the donor gametes are not accidentally related. Further experiments with genetic engineering are also being conducted. The egg is fertilised in vitro and then implanted into a surrogate mother, whose labour (in both senses of the term) counts as a contribution to Xesh’s communalised labour pool.
Children are brought up in Xesh’s specialised childcare facilities, the so-called Infants’ Union, where they are looked after by childcare professionals who must have a qualification that is sanctioned by the Assembly. The Infants’ Union is nominally managed and run by the children. The childcare professionals at the facility are mandated by the Assembly to provide a safe and nurturing environment for Xesh’s children and must abide by the Assembly’s rules. For example, all children must be given a minimum amount of autonomy but also opportunities to learn.
Children are considered to be adults as soon as they reach a certain level of maturity. At this point they are allowed to remain in the Infants’ Union until they feel ready to leave, and if they do so, they will generally assist with the care of the younger ones. Once they decide to leave they are treated as fully functional adults, citizens of Xesh with full voting rights, including the responsibility to contribute their share of the communalised labour. People leaving the Infants’ Union have the full range of opportunities open to them, including further education, which counts as a labour contribution. Some of them go on to live independently in youth condominiums, others opt to live in communal settings specially designated as being friendly to new adults - in these latter communities, there is a variety of ages, and older adults agree to mentor younger ones by their mutual consent.
Federation-wide, surplus food is distributed for free to wherever it is needed by high-speed maglev freight trains. This was agreed in one of the earliest resolutions made at the Grand Assembly. Nowadays, a service on the Network is used to register and claim surplus food. As per the mandate in a slightly later resolution, hospitals and care homes get first refusal on surplus food if they need it, followed by guilds and community organisations, then individuals. Regions that have experienced bad harvests or influxes of refugees from the Sultanate also get priority.
There is no accounting of how much is taken in this scheme - the priority is to find a use for surplus food as quickly as possible, because otherwise it would just go bad. It also serves to even out regional differences in food production especially during unexpected weather events.
Cafés and restaurants don’t exist in the Free Federation, at least not as we know them. They have community kitchens instead, where people can go to produce their own meals, either using their own ingredients or those that are in stock at the time.
Lots of people in the Federation grow some of their own food in their own gardens, in allotments or in shared community gardens. Because the average working week in the Federation is only around 20 hours, people have plenty of time to devote to gardening if they want. But this method of food production is clearly not for everyone, and is generally a supplement to people’s food supply. Large-scale agriculture is handled slightly differently in different regions:
Communitas only distributes labour that is “important” or “unpopular” in its labour sharing system. Food production is considered “important”. The labour required is added up with all of the other communalised labour.
Food production is handled using that system and carried out by the Communitas Board of Agriculture, which plans food production for the whole region. Like other communalised services, it enters the relevant information about what tasks need to be carried out and how much time they take into the labour distribution system on the Network. The Communitas Assembly entrusts all arable land in the region to the Board of Agriculture with the mandate to provide enough food for everyone in the community. The food is then distributed directly to community facilities by road and rail, while individuals usually collect their share of the harvest themselves.
Most foodstuffs have no rations, but there are guideline levels of consumption for each product. When the demand consistently exceeds the guideline amounts, the producers can introduce rations, until the assembly votes to expand production. Rations are often found on chocolate and alcoholic drinks.
About 30 years ago, the Communitas Assembly voted to remove meat products from the communalised labour system. With the growing popularity of vegetarianism in the region, it was no longer deemed “important”. Meat is still produced, but on an entirely voluntary basis.
Xesh has some agricultural output from fields which it organises in much the same way as Communitas. However it has also been conducting experiments in urban agriculture and hydroponics, growing food in greenhouses which are seemlessly interspersed among the urban environment. If you get hungry while strolling through New Xesh City, you can just take a piece of fruit from the nearest fruit tree, for example, and you can harvest your own vegetables from the greenhouse on your way home. These projects are still managed by the Xesh Board of Agriculture and are among the many exciting labour opportunities open to you in the region.
These regions have syndicalised agriculture, meaning that they have multiple independent farms and food production guilds. An individual or a guild signs up to the producer of their choice. They are then given a labour quota that corresponds to their desired consumption. Some farms (in Liminas) give everyone an equal labour quota but divide up the harvest according to people’s stated calorific intake. In most other cases, the labour quota is higher if you ask for more. There are no rations. The work of the producers is managed co-operatively by workers, but the usership (consumers who have signed up) are asked for their input on some important changes, such as whether to use pesticides.
In Liminas, failing to complete your labour quota for food producers never cuts you off from getting food - you can only be refused certain luxury products. In Libak, however, the individual must decide which product or service they wish to forego if they haven’t managed to complete the summed labour quota of all of them. Most people wouldn’t normally choose to give up food, although it is possible to get hold of food in other ways (vegetable gardens, surplus distribution, community kitchens). Both Liminas and Libak have the usual exemptions for people who can’t work.
Radikas’ system is very similar to Liminas‘, except that contributions are voluntary rather than required. Unlike the other regions, Radikas does not have a meat industry as such. Every animal that is in demand as food has a union to defend its rights, though it is staffed by humans who pretend to vote on the animals’ behalf. This means that capturing animals is not allowed. Those wishing to eat meat must hunt wild game themselves, or join a local hunting guild, but the union still undertakes to protect the animals from mistreatment and the species from extinction. What the union protects, therefore, is not an individual animal’s right to life, but the right of the species as a whole not to be exploited. Animals are sometimes captured for exploitation, but a group that does this is barred from joining the Producer Association, and members of the animals’ union will conduct a raid as soon as they find out about such violations.
Alongside natural fibres like cotton and hemp, synthetic fabrics made from bioplastic are used to produce a range of textile products from clothes, hats and shoes to bags, umbrellas, curtains and bed linen. These materials have almost entirely replaced the earlier usage of animal-derived ones such as leather and silk.
In most regions there are some communalised factories which mass-produce textile products in standard sizes. These are usually rationed, but gifting of second-hand clothes is a commonplace way of expanding your wardrobe. In many regions there are also independent clothing guilds which still use mass-production techniques but cater to more specific needs, and their labour is supplied by guild members. These are usually not rationed.
Recently however these factories are becoming increasingly redundant in favour of distributed self-provisioning of textiles in small neighbourhood fab-labs. The fab-labs contain computer-controlled machinery which can produce many common garments and textile products on-demand - an individual in need of a new pillow-case, for example, can just walk into their local fab-lab, browse through the online catalogue, press the button, and have it made for them there and then, so long as enough raw material is available. Of course this still relies on the raw material production chain from fields to thread preparation followed by distribution to the fab-labs, but it cuts out the big factories, and has been shown to save thousands of hours of unpleasant labour.
Finally, there are also independent tailors and fashion designers in most regions. These people must request raw materials and tools from the relevant producers. In Communitas, that labour is communalised by agreement in the Assembly and so tailors do not have to contribute anything extra to get what they need. Their own production, however, is entirely ‘for pleasure’, even if their clients are being annoying.
In Liminas, the initial textile production chain is syndicalised. Independent tailors and fashion designers form a federation with the textile guilds. If raw material production and distribution takes x hours of labour (averaged over each product), and the tailor fashions the materials into a final product in y hours of additional labour, then end-users of a textile guild have to contribute x+y hours of labour to the pool. What this means is that the tailors and fashion designers are not personally responsible for the raw material production; rather, end-users are collectively responsible for the whole process. However, there is an incubation procedure in place for prospective fashion designers. Unless the textile guild has already voted to sign the fashion designer up (e.g. if they are already quite famous), then they must go through an incubation phase where they contribute the x hours of raw material labour personally. This continues until they have successfully processed orders for six months and hence ‘proven’ that they are actually producing something people want, rather than just hording fabric or producing for themselves.
You can produce for yourself as well. In that case, threads, fabrics and sewing machines are considered products and you are responsible for contributing the labour. Unless you’re in Xesh, of course, where you are expected to go to the People’s Textile Union and use the communal facilities provided.
The Free Federation inherited a large number of basic dwellings from the society that preceded it. It also inherited a large number of homeless people as well as people whose dwelling simply wasn’t big enough for their family. Nowadays, there are no homeless people at all and there is a surplus of housing, with new construction projects happening quite regularly. The surplus is intended to cope with temporary and permanent migrations as well as refugee populations from The Sultanate.
Moving house in the Free Federation is a matter of registering your house as ‘soon to be vacant’ on one of the Network’s housing websites, and searching through the houses already marked as such to find one that you want. You arrange a viewing if you wish, and then you can move into the new place as soon as you are ready, even if your own house has not been claimed yet. Most people in the Free Federation are a member of a local or regional housing association which allows them to discuss any shared housing-related issues or find co-habitants. These associations sometimes also arbitrate disputes about houses that are in high demand due to unique features, such as having a sea view. In Libak, these sorts of houses are reserved for people with an above-average track record of labour contributions. In most of the Federation, however, it’s largely first-come-first-served.
There is no such thing as a landlord or rented accommodation. Everyone’s home is their own personal possession which can never be the property of anyone not living there. It is impossible to be evicted from your house for this reason. The owner of the house can throw out intruders, but an intruder cannot throw out the owner of the house. Stories about evictions in the distant capitalist Republic are considered to be human rights violations and are treated with shock and disgust.
When new housing is required, this is communicated either in a housing association or the community assembly. In Communitas, Xesh and Liminas, the construction of new housing is communalised so that everyone contributes, even if they don’t need housing themselves, but since every citizen contributes, the effect on an individual’s labour quota is too small to notice. Since construction projects are not taking place constantly, people’s labour quota is reduced when there are no construction projects underway. Every project communalised has to pass a majority vote in the relevant assembly (in Liminas and Communitas), while in Xesh every project goes ahead by default unless there are serious objections in the 10-day consultation phase.
In Libak, it’s considered outrageous to contribute labour to something that you don’t personally benefit from. As a result, people who want fancy new houses have to contribute an equivalent amount of labour themselves.
In Radikas, construction of new housing is generally undertaken on a purely ‘for fun’ basis by ad hoc architectural projects, supported by a loose network of engineers and construction workers. There are no planning regulations in Radikas, which means the region is littered with buildings in diverse architectural styles, as well as a large number of ruins and failed attempts. Escaping over the border with Radikas, refugees from the Sultanate are often surprised when they are ushered into vast empty palaces built and abandoned by eccentric Radikas architects, with the vague excuse that “this is all we have available”.
Buildings that are required for other purposes can also be handled in either a communalised or syndicalised fashion. The communalised method should be self-explanatory. As an example of the syndicalised method, consider Shenzine Technologies, a consumer electronics guild in Liminas, whose members recently voted to build a new LCD screen factory in Shenzu City. Though guild members could handle this labour themselves, it is standard practice to apply to the Producer Association to have this labour communalised among all members of the Producer Association. This is better because it prevents people from opportunistically cancelling their membership until the work is done, to avoid the increased labour quota. The Producer Association voted on the application as usual and it was approved, temporarily making all products in the Liminas pool slightly ‘more expensive’ (requiring a higher labour contribution to get). Once the new factory was complete, however, the labour required to build it is then incorporated into the labour cost of the LCD screens. This meant that for a limited period, the newly produced LCD screens were relatively more expensive than usual whilst every other product in the pool was slightly cheaper to make up for the effort that had been advanced by the Liminas Producer Association.
When the Federation was founded some 250 years ago, most people on the continent did not have electricity at all. Far off in the Republic, news emerged about the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels for generating power. But the techniques for making water wheels and wind turbines were already known in the nascent Federation, so these technologies were used to start off with. Science and engineering advanced so quickly in this period, unshackled from poverty, religious superstition and despotic decrees. As a result, wind turbines and hydroelectric power became efficient and ubiquitous. The use of fossil fuels was rejected by every region in turn because the labour it required was widely seen as dangerous, dirty and an over-exertion for something that wasn’t even going to be sustainable for the long, long term.
Today a combination of wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal power plants are linked together in a Federation-wide power grid, producing electricity for every home and every industry. The rail network runs on this power and electric cars are charged from this grid too, so that fossil fuels have no use at all.
Each region has one or more energy boards to take care of the maintenance and expansion, where necessary, of the grid. Libak requires everybody with a power grid connection to contribute some of the labour in proportion to their own electricity consumption. Xesh gives everyone an equal labour quota regardless of their electricity consumption. Radikas secures volunteers via its Producer Association, considering the whole thing to be a nuisance. Communitas and Xesh simply add it to their communalised labour pools. Liminas communalises it at the level of the Producer Association - hence, unlike in Libak, individuals are not directly responsible and homes cannot be cut off.
The labour necessary to build a new power plant is generally handled on a regional level, though there have been times in the past when the Federal Board of Energy takes charge of this in order to develop the power grid Federation-wide and make it more robust. See Federal Projects for more relevant details.
Industry is currently undergoing a transformation in the Free Federation because of the growth of fab labs. Fab labs are medium-scale workshops that are popping up in more and more places around the world (in fact, in our world too!). Under Textiles we noted that fab labs have machinery to produce clothing on-demand, but they contain other pieces of computer-controlled equipment as well, which allow people to make a wide variety of products on demand, from a catalogue of CAD (computer-aided design) files on the Network, ranging from cutlery, containers and kitchenware to sculptures, musical instruments, items of furniture, signs, books and even computer components.
The key raw materials are bioplastic, scrap metal and wood. Each region has sustainable bioplastic and forestry industries to provide these raw materials. They function in a similar way to the agricultural projects we discussed under Food. Much metal is recycled scrap, but new metal resources are also extracted as a Federal Project - a process which is not sustainable, unfortunately. The labour required for raw material production and distribution of raw materials to the fab labs is handled by members of each fab lab (in the case of syndicalised economies like Libak and Liminas) or by the community when the fab lab is under community governance (in Xesh and Communitas), or by volunteers (in Radikas).
The fab lab model saves an enormous amount of labour time compared to centralised production in factories, saving administrative time because the customer initiates the process on-demand, saving distribution time because the customer is responsible for transporting the product themselves and saving manual labour because the machinery is fully automated. The effort of designing and improving the design of products is also moved into the Network-enabled open source model, which allows for maximal co-operation on a global scale to produce the highest quality and highest diversity of products. The designs are also user-customisable, which saves on decision-making effort compared to more centralised production methods.
Although fab labs seem to be the future, there are still plenty of factories and technology guilds in the Free Federation. Some of them are communalised, like the Xesh Steel Union. Everyone in Xesh contributes to the labour it requires to run the steelworks, and every citizen contributes to its decision-making processes on the Network. Like all the other Xesh Unions, it answers to the People’s Assembly, which has given it the mandate to produce steel for all of Xesh’s other industries that require it, along with conditions of operation, including standards compliance, sustainability criteria, recycling and waste disposal guidelines, and so on.
Other industries are syndicalised, such as Shenzine Technologies in Liminas, so it has a certain amount of autonomy from the Liminas Assembly. Instead of receiving a mandate, it can set its own goals and methods. It’s essentially a co-operative, with decisions made by members, a union of workers and users. Standards compliance is handled via the Producer Association, while natural resources in the Liminas region are curated by the Liminas Assembly to protect them from overuse. Its labour is contributed by members of the guild, so that if you want a Shenzine tablet computer or a Shenzine LCD display then your labour quota increases accordingly.
In most cases factories still use an on-demand production model. As a consumer you generally order a product online, and then it is produced, after which you either collect it from a distribution point or have it delivered. If you want a product faster, it is best to find a second-hand one, since those can be found in community stores where people take their unneeded goods. In other cases, products are produced to refill the stocks of a particular distribution point, which allows for a faster turnaround for new products.
In the syndicalised system, guilds are usually federated with their input industries, those workplaces that extract raw materials and produce intermediate products that the guild requires as inputs for its own operation. These industrial federations are called syndicates. This means that an input industry such as glass production does not ask the output industry like an LCD manufacturer to contribute labour to the pool; rather, the end-user customers of the entire syndicate (people who want LCD screens) are asked for a contribution that covers the whole syndicate’s labour time.
Syndicates serve not just to unite input industries with their output industries, but also to balance supply and demand between workplaces that produce the same output, so that they don’t accidentally produce too much. They do this by keeping open accounts of their inventory and supply chain. The syndicates also discuss common issues and devise technical standards. As usual, the workplaces are controlled by the workers in assemblies, which send delegates to the syndicate’s industrial forum to make decisions at the syndicate level. Increasingly, however, collaboration tools on the Network are replacing face-to-face forums.
Syndicates sometimes operate across multiple regions. Syndicates and independent guilds within a region are united in a Producer Association, which links producers of all industries together. Both syndicates and Producer Associations frequently agree to communalise labour that is necessary to research new production techniques for their members and to upgrade or expand their facilities, and this is one of the main advantages of belonging to them. We saw an example of that under the Construction heading. The Producer Association usually also has guidelines for its members on the sustainable use of resources and organises audits on compliance with regulations on pollution, waste disposal and recycling, whether those regulations are self-imposed by the Producer Association (as in Radikas, Liminas and Libak) or by the community assembly (as in Communitas).
In many parts of the Federation, especially Radikas, there are guilds that operate on the basis of ‘pleasure production’. For example, ResonantFreak is a guild in Radikas that makes musical instruments that are both visually and sonically unique. Its complex aerophones, anti-grav guitars, weighted vari-flutes and many other bizarre creations often find their way into the Radikas music scene. Yet not a single hour of labour is accounted for. ResonantFreak members do all of it for fun, trying out new ideas to satisfy their curiosity, or producing something for a specific musical project that they are personally involved in. Pleasure production is found not just in Radikas but all over the Federation, producing electronics, pottery, sculptures, bicycles and many other goods.
In theory, Radikas guilds, like Radikas people, don’t answer to anybody. They have no mandate nor boundary conditions set by a community assembly because there is no such thing. However, they still utilise their natural resources and manage their wastage sustainably and responsibly, because natural resources are curated by resource users groups. Each forest, quarry, mine, field, lake and sea has a resource user group associated with it, composed of everyone who has an interest in that resource. Both the local residents and the guilds are represented. These groups are responsible for ensuring that the resource does not become depleted (if applicable), that pollution levels are controlled and that local ecosystems are protected. When multiple users wish to use the same resource, the forum allows them to agree on how they will share it. The resource user groups federate with each other in order to standardise their procedures and co-operate on common problems. These user group federations organise dispute resolution procedures when there is a conflict between members - in general, this is a meeting with third party mediation that seeks a compromise.
The rail networks are managed by the People’s Railway Collective of Xesh. Important decisions about the service are voted on over the internet by all citizens of Xesh. Day to day management of the service is handled by workers in the Collective. The labour required to run the service is a known quantity because the entire service is planned to meet the demand. This quantity is divided equally among all working people in Xesh. This doesn’t mean you have to do railway work, it just means you have to contribute that number of hours somewhere in the economy. Since the entire economy of Xesh is communalised, everyone has the same labour quota, which they can fulfill however they wish. If Xesh votes to expand the service, the amount of labour required increases somewhat and hence the labour quota increases. Anybody can use the railways as much or as little as they want. There are no train fares, so no ticket collectors, no ticket machines, no tickets, no rail cards, no special discounts and no fines.
Libak’s transport services are run by numerous guilds: each physical section of the rail network is maintained by a different company and on top of that network there are different rail operators who run services designed for different purposes. Each of these guilds is autonomous, managed by its workers and users: workers decide how they will provide the service and generally make decisions in a face-to-face assembly, while users are responsible for communicating their needs to the guild so that the service can be planned effectively for their benefit.
The companies don’t compete, they co-operate. The railway guilds have individual agreements with each other, but they also meet up regularly in the Libak Railway Federation to discuss common problems and make sure that the services don’t clash - or crash.
For every guild whose services you want to use, you have to be a member of the guild and membership comes with a labour contribution requirement. As a result, Libak’s railway services ask you (via machine) to present your membership card whenever you use the service. As a member you can use the service as much or as little as you like. People exempt from work can get free membership cards.
Maintenance of the roads is similarly handled by a plethora of highway maintenance guilds tied to a particular community, and they co-operate via the Libak Highway Commons.
For long-distance transportation within the Federation there is a maglev rail network, which is maintained at the Federal level. The Federation is currently in the process of upgrading it to an evacuated tube transport system. The new vactrains still use magnetic levitation, which eliminates friction, but are enhanced by putting the train in evacuated tubes to eliminate air resistance. This drastically reduces maintenance costs and noise pollution while allowing the trains to travel at speeds of 6,500km/h, significantly faster than the fastest aircraft. Unlike a capitalist economy, which is limited in its ability to upgrade to this technology due to the large amount of capital investment required, a demonetised economy requires only a labour investment. The average working time in the Free Federation is 20 hours per week, so there is always plenty of scope for such labour investments so long as the people vote in favour of them. As with all improvements to technology, the average working week becomes temporarily longer during the upgrade period but is then significantly reduced once the work is done, because of the increased efficiency of the new system.
The Free Federation explicitly rejected large-scale passenger aircraft driven by fossil fuels, partly because the labour outlay was greater compared to a high speed rail network, and partly because the labour needed to access fossil fuels was considered dangerous and unsavoury. When scientists eventually reported on the impact of greenhouse gases on the climate, the decision was further vindicated, and surviving debates about the introduction of an aerospace industry were almost entirely defused.
In capitalism there is a kind of ambivalence about the use of automation technologies such as driverless vehicles: on the one hand it saves labour and on the other hand, well, it saves labour - it puts some people out of a job. In a society like the Free Federation, the total amount of labour required to provide everything that society needs is shared up among the working people, so if technology reduces the amount of labour required, that just means people have more leisure time. Because people value their leisure time, such a society has a natural tendency to reduce its consumption and to make full use of automation and more efficient technologies. In Xesh, having driverless trains means having a lower labour quota which means more free time. In Libak and Radikas, each railway guild can choose if it wants to introduce an automation technology. Someone who really likes driving a train and doesn’t want to give it up - well, they can carry on doing it.
In some regions, such as Libak, most people have a personal automobile. In Liminas, automobiles see more moderate use and are supplemented by robust public (communalised) transport systems - mainly subways for cities and buses for rural areas. In many cities across the Federation there are car pools, similar to bicycle pools, allowing you to take a car temporarily and then return it to any car pool parking area, where it is automatically recharged. In Xesh, there are no personal vehicles at all: electric monorails and trams are used both within and between the towns and cities, supplemented by the normal rail network. New cities in Xesh are specifically designed with this in mind - all streets are pedestrianised public spaces. The Xesh People’s Bureau of Statistics routinely gloats about how their streets are the safest and quietest in the Federation, with significant health benefits.
In Libak and Liminas there is a large choice of car manufacturers. If this industry were communalised then everyone would have to contribute labour regardless of whether they wanted a car or not. Because it is syndicalised in these regions, you only have to contribute labour if you actually want to have a car, and if you want two cars, you contribute double the labour. It’s also easy enough to get a second hand vehicle, because remember, there is no such thing as money: second hand vehicles are simply given away.
A Federal Project is an industry with universal significance. Either it spans the whole Federation or it has supply chains that cross multiple regions. A Federal Project doesn’t necessarily have to be created by the Grand Assembly. Usually, it is created by a union of all interested parties, but the Grand Assembly often has the power to veto its decisions.
Metal resources are found in varying quantities in different parts of the world. All of these resources are finite, and some of them are scarce. It would be unfair, and inefficient, if a region could be more prosperous just because it happens to have a higher than average concentration of rare metals in the area. In the Free Federation, natural resources are not controlled by any single person or group. Rather, the management of natural resources is entrusted to a Resource User Group, which all interested parties can join.
The Federal Board of Rare Metal Resources curates metal ores: its mission is to safeguard them from overuse, to allow all interested parties to share them fairly, and to administrate their extraction.
Producers inform the Board of the quantities they require. They are then given a yearly contribution quota proportional to their consumption. They send labourers to the nearest extraction site to work off this contribution, but only for part of the year, according to a staggered rota. As a result, the mines are staffed all year round, but the workers rotate. As usual, the contribution does not need to be fulfilled by anybody in particular - it is merely added to the labour pool of the region where the producer is based. A producer receives their order from the closest extraction site as soon as it is ready.
Mining operations are handled in a special way because of how mining is perceived to be an unpleasant and dangerous job, and because you tend to benefit in proportion to your consumption. The remainder of the Federal Projects tend to benefit society in general. They include:
The maglev rail network
The Federal Space Agency
The Federal Rehabilitation Project
The Federal Board of Energy
Federal statistics and administration
Each project publishes the amount of labour that is required to complete their function. Then, the interested parties pledge some proportion of the total, according to the resources they have available. It is possible for them to pledge nothing at all, but the process of pledging must continue until all the labour is claimed. In communalised regions, the Community Federation pledges their share and adds this to everyone’s labour quota. In more syndicalised regions, the Producer Association pledges the labour, and in voluntarised regions, the producers themselves pledge their share of the labour directly.
The result is that regions contribute unequally, in accordance with their resources and wishes, but the expectation is that everyone benefits, and the amount by which they benefit cannot be measured. From an individual’s point of view, federal projects like the intraregional rail network are simply free, with no restrictions on use.
There is no compulsory education in the Free Federation. Education is open to everyone who chooses to pursue it. It is provided by a mixture of community learning centres, training facilities, academic communities and peer education, both face-to-face and online.
In Radikas, young children usually get a basic education in a childrens’ guild (childcare centre) or at home. A person is considered to be an adult as soon as they say they are. It is not unusual in Radikas to come across 10-year olds taking part in a debate or joining a guild or a hacker space. At the same time, most children and young people spend the majority of their youth in self-organised adventure guilds, partying, travelling and causing various kinds of mayhem. Real education is considered a middle age thing, although people will drop in and out of classes and skillshare sessions at any age, depending on what kind of knowledge is helpful for their favourite kind of mayhem. The education centres are run as guilds and labour is supplied by voluntarism. Statistics show that 65% of the participants are both students and teachers at the same time, learning one subject and teaching another. Members usually take part in self-organised rotas to take care of the cleaning and maintenance of their facilities. Since they work in and co-own the facilities, the majority of members feel motivated to contribute.
In Xesh, people leaving the Infants’ Union can start work straight away, but they won’t be qualified for every kind of job, many of which require an approved certification. Usually you can obtain certification via an apprenticeship in the relevant workplace, which counts as a labour contribution. Anybody who takes on an apprentice is granted +1 approval. For more academic knowledge there are schools which can provide certification. The time spent in lessons counts as a labour contribution, plus a bit extra to cover the time spent studying independently, which means people can freely combine education with work in whatever proportions they want. This effectively doubles the labour time necessary to provide the education service, however, since the labour time counts both for the teacher and the student. Because of this, the offer does not extend to education that does not lead to a recognised qualification. In those cases, teaching still counts as a labour contribution, but studying doesn’t. Facilities for both types of education are generally shared.
In Libak, basic schooling and community learning facilities are usually part of a neighbourhood’s communalised facilities, among the few things that Libak actually communalises. Apprenticeships are also very common to train people on the job and many guilds have academic resources to facilitate this. Beyond that, education in Libak is considered a service to the student, who must contribute the labour back to the pool. This means all kinds of subject are taught, regardless of how ‘useful’ they are, but it also means that you can’t study ‘for free’. You either have to study part-time and combine it with work, or you have to accumulate your study time as a labour debt and ‘pay it back’ when you graduate. This is a special scheme that only applies to students; you can’t normally accumulate labour debt. In practice, it means that students who have studied full-time will end up working an average of 25 hours a week for a ten year period, rather than the normal average of 23 hours. Although the labour debt is by no means onerous, many people avoid it entirely by taking the freely available course materials and studying from home or with others in voluntaristic peer education groups.
In Communitas, many of the basic education facilities are considered “important” and are covered by their communalised labour distribution scheme. Since this scheme is voluntaristic, the services themselves are ‘free’. All other kinds of education are on a purely voluntary basis and are often organised as guilds, controlled by their members like in Radikas.
We’ll need to discuss three broad categories of research: academic research in the arts, in the sciences, and R&D for industry. Although the Free Federation’s lack of profit motives and financial hurdles makes research in general much easier, there are still differences in how these three types of research are organised. R&D is the ‘easiest’ since everyone can agree that it is beneficial. This is for slightly different reasons compared to capitalism where the goal is increased profits with little regard to working conditions or benefits to society. When workers themselves are in control, they will still want to upgrade their facilities and improve their technology, but they will do so because they can directly reap the benefits of having more comfortable working conditions and increased leisure time.
We’ve already seen some examples of R&D in the Industry section. Generally speaking, the Producer Association communalises the labour necessary to upgrade facilities among all their members, this being the primary benefit of belonging to the Producer Association. (Although in Xesh the community assembly takes on this function.) Communalising labour affects everyone who is a member, so the decision has to be reached collectively, either through majority voting or by rough consensus, as usual. In some cases a project may be rejected. For example, the Liminas Producer Association frequently rejects requests from its meat producers to upgrade their facilities. Those upgrades still happen, but they are communalised by the Meat Syndicate instead. What this means in practice is that only people who eat meat are responsible for contributing the labour, and therefore have to reckon with a temporary increase in their labour quota.
Medical research is considered of such general importance that it is often communalised by the community institutions. In Liminas, for example, while the Producer Association handles agricultural research, the Liminas Community Assembly manages medical research as a communalised service that everyone contributes to according to their usual rules. (Again this is analogous to private versus public sector.)
Research in the arts is not usually counted as labour in the Free Federation and most often takes place in people’s spare time. This is viable for two reasons: arts research, e.g. history, literature, linguistics and so on, doesn’t require much in the way of materials or equipment, and information is completely free and open, so there are very few barriers to entry; secondly, people have lots of free time. In fact, the Free Federation’s research in the arts easily outstrips the output from their capitalist rival in both quality and quantity, despite being mostly voluntary.
Some regions do count some arts research in their labour systems, however. It isn’t viable to count all of it, because there is practically an infinite amount of research that could be done, and this would take labour away from other parts of the economy. Xesh, for example, supports between 1 and 5 arts research projects per economic cycle (a year), chosen by the people in an online vote. The projects themselves estimate how much labour time they require. If they are successful then this amount of labour is added to Xesh’s total communalised labour which is divided equally among everyone.
Like the creative arts, arts research is weighted lower than other kinds of labour, so that, for example, one hour of art only counts as a 0.5 hour contribution, while one hour of mining counts as a 2.5 hour contribution (figures typical for Xesh, but they do change depending on relative popularity). A successful research project in Xesh gives an approval bonus, while an unsuccessful project can often give an approval malus.
Here we’ll focus on the most expensive kinds of science - the space program and particle physics. The Free Federation has multiple telescopes, satellites, synchrotrons and supercolliders. Naturally, these things represent both a technical and an economic challenge. Unlike R&D, purely academic research doesn’t usually result in increased production efficiency or leisure time. As a result, ordinary people will not necessarily agree that it needs to take place at all - it won’t directly benefit them. Nevertheless, the Free Federation’s science output consistently outpaces their capitalist rival.
Unlike the arts, the complexity of the work and the fact that it requires material resources means that it’s impractical to leave it to people’s leisure time. Therefore, a science project needs to find not just scientists and engineers to do the work, but also a suitable number of ‘backers’ who are willing to recognise that work as a labour contribution (but only in non-voluntarised systems). This is called the patronage model.
A big science project will generally start off by asking for the Federation’s support. If that fails, it can ask individual regions for their support as communities. If that fails, they start a general campaign to ask for support from Producer Associations, syndicates, individual workplaces and finally individuals themselves. Supporters can be anyone who has an interest in the results of the research, regardless of whether they have relevant skills or knowledge. Once a research organisation has garnered enough backers, they generally keep them forever, albeit with backers occasionally withdrawing their support and new ones joining in.
The Free Federation Superconducting Supercollider Project (FFSSP) has an eclectic host of backers including some communities, syndicates, Producer Associations and individuals. For example, the Liminas community is a backer, following a successful majority vote on the project by Liminas citizens. This means all eligible Liminas citizens contribute slightly more labour to the Federal Labour Pool. The Libak Metalworks Syndicate is also a backer, following a vote by their constituent guilds. This means that all products that contain parts made by the Syndicate (or one of its member guilds) require a slightly higher labour contribution, which goes into the Federal Labour Pool. Many citizens of Radikas have backed the project as individuals. Because Radikas is voluntarised, their contributions are generally made directly to a relevant industry. Some of the electronics for the FFSSP are made in Radikas, so that is where most of these contributions go.
A sizeable proportion of the FFSSP’s backers are the workers and researchers who conceived the project in the first place. Suppose you are a member of the project in Xesh and that you decide to back the project personally. As a citizen of Xesh you already have an average weekly labour quota of 20 hours. You’ve generously pledged 10 hours of your own time to the FFSSP. That means you can work in the project for 30 hours a week and it will count as a contribution. This is true even though Xesh itself is not a backer of the project, but only because Xesh is a member of the Federal Labour Pool which the FFSSP is also part of. This works because there are other people backing the project in Xesh who will make their contribution just to normal Xesh industries, or divide their time between two jobs.
Like research in the arts, creative works are far more likely to be conducted in people’s free time in this society. Most music, for example, is performed voluntarily, composed voluntarily, and distributed over the Network for free. Most novels, poetry and short stories are written in people’s leisure time as a hobby and distributed over the Network for free. Any citizen of the Free Federation can access any book ever written in just a few taps on their tablet computers. Most video games are programmed by hobbyists in their spare time and provided on the Network for free. All of this is possible because of the large amount of free time that is at people’s disposal, since they only work 20 hours a week on average.
Nevertheless, some communities decide to recognise the work of the most popular or the most accomplished artists as labour contributions, or to exempt them from normal contributions. Liminas, for example, exempts a small number of its most accomplished artists - whoever garners the most upvotes on the relevant website. Xesh, meanwhile, commissions some of its best artists to produce works of art that will decorate public spaces. This work counts as a labour contribution. Xesh also grants approval bonuses to people who produce popular works of art in their spare time, and this is one of the ways in which non-working people can still earn approval.
Artists in other regions are often supported using the patronage model that we discussed for the sciences above. This allows individuals (and less often, guilds or syndicates, if their members agree) to pledge their support for an artist whose work they like. This means that they work longer hours so that the artist they are supporting can work less - effectively, you work extra in the artist’s stead. Generally the artist will ask for a specific contribution to cover a specific project, such as working on a novel or a sculpture, similar to actually existing patronage on websites like Patreon or Kickstarter.
In voluntaristic regions, artists can decide to devote all their time to their art if they wish, but most choose to combine it with other work, for variety’s sake and to get inspiration for new art.
There is no such thing as intellectual property (copyright, patents and trademarks) in the Federation. If you do not want your work to be enjoyed, modified or distributed by others, then you are advised not to publish it. Once it is published, it is part of the commons. Appropriate and honest attribution/credit is expected for all works.
In communalised and voluntarised systems (Xesh, Communitas, Radikas), there is no concept of insurance. Replacing damaged or stolen goods is treated almost exactly the same as obtaining a new product and the labour is handled in the usual way. The only difference is that if you can prove that the product you want replaced cannot be repaired, then the new one will not count towards your ration, if rationing is in use for that product.
In syndicalised systems like Libak, you do have to sign up to insurance schemes. These are not offered by separate insurance companies - rather, it’s just an optional extra for an existing guild. An automobile company, for example, allows you to add an extra monthly quantity to your labour quota so that if your car is irreparably damaged or stolen, you can obtain another one (the latest model in fact!) without having to contribute the full labour price again. Whereas in capitalism the price of an insurance premium depends on a coctail of inscrutable factors and contingencies, the ‘pricing’ of these schemes is based purely on the amount of additional work created by accidents and damages, averaged over all the participants. If nobody in the scheme gets their car damaged or stolen, then the insurance price for everyone is zero.
There are no restrictions on migration, either within the Federation or from outside. In fact, in most cases it would be counterproductive to have controls on migration, since an efficient production system depends on people being able to migrate to where labour is most urgently needed.
When contributions are required, people may find that there isn’t enough work where they live for them to meet their labour quota, and hence they have to migrate. This process is as smooth as it possibly can be, with no restrictions on travel and free maglev transport between regions. As we discussed above, a natural economy has the reverse problem from capitalism of tending to have a shortage of workers rather than a shortage of work. Hence, finding and fitting in to a new job is relatively easy. Since labour is shared out, you know for sure that there is a job out there for you.
When contributions are voluntary, people still migrate to ‘chase a dream’, for example, but there is no compulsion.
Within the Federal Labour Pool, migration between regions happens freely as if they were part of the same region, whilst in regions that have independent labour pools, you have to adapt to the new system after migrating. If an independent labour pool receives an influx of working people, then the amount of labour it has to handle increases but the number of contributors increases as well. Thanks to economies of scale, each worker in the system will experience a net benefit (i.e. less work), but the region that they came from will be at a net disadvantage (more work). If there is an influx of non-working people, then the situation is reversed: the destination region sees a net disadvantage and the source region sees a net benefit. Therefore regions who feel overburdened appeal to the Federation for workers to make a volunteer migration. But in the long-term, this is the main motivation for joining the Federal Labour Pool.
There is a constant stream of refugees from The Sultanate who are smuggled across the border thanks to the tireless efforts of the Sultanate Liberation Project. Most of these refugees are young, which means there tends to be a net economic advantage to accepting them - however the primary motivation for accepting them is to free them from an oppressive regime.
Note that the borders between regions do not physically exist - they are just inferred, by map-makers, from the culture of the people living in a particular place, or by the labour pool that the people there have decided to join.
In Xesh, there are public armouries, but you cannot use them until the People’s Assembly has authorised military action, either to defend Xesh or to defend the Federation. In Radikas, a large number of people have personal firearms and there are multiple weapons manufacturers. Some regions have no weapons industry and do not participate in military operations at all.
Radikas is on the border with the Sultanate and skirmishes occasionally break out between them. Radikas has multiple self-organised militia which co-operate with each other via the Sultanate Liberation Project and the Radical Defense League to defend the Federation from incursion and to help Sultanate refugees and apostates to escape. During military operations the militia units elect a commander from among their ranks meritocratically, and can revoke their status if there is a rough consensus that the commander is failing them or giving them reckless orders. Outside of operations, decisions are made collectively in the normal way.
There are no laws, so the word crime here does not mean the contravention of a law but rather an action that causes harm, for example by violating someone’s personal security or freedom. The Free Federation exists because of a conscious and active rejection of the oppressive regime that it replaces. As a result, oppression and any attempts to exercise power of others in society are simply not tolerated. The responsibility for preventing and responding to such oppression rests with everyone in society, and all people are empowered to defend themselves and each other from harm. When crime becomes regular in a particular city of neighbourhood the community assembly will generally respond by creating a town guard as a communalised service, which intends to supplement, not replace, the people’s vigilance. The guards receive special training and their role is to respond to calls of help and patrol problem areas. Guards abusing their position have it revoked, either by the assembly or by being shamed into resignation by an angry crowd. Once the crime rate has stabilised around zero again, the guard is usually disbanded.
Public shaming is a common way to signal the community’s disapproval of a crime. This makes it harder for criminals to feel part of the community, until they make a public apology and rectify their behaviour. More serious crimes are referred to an arbitration board, which is usually a communalised service. The purpose of the arbitration board is to establish the facts of a case and to work out how to respond. A neutral third party staffs the arbitration board to facilitate discussion. The outcome of these meetings varies by the case, but almost always demands a public apology from the perpetrator, appropriate help for victims and an offer of therapy for the perpetrator if appropriate. In some cases the guilds are called upon to refuse all but basic services to the perpetrator until they rectify their behaviour. A criminal who refuses to co-operate with the arbitration is subject to public shaming and ostracism until they do. The shaming must cease as soon as the perpetrator has apologised and ceased their aggression - if it does not, then a new arbitration is called.
Arbitration boards are not supposed to make arbitrary decisions, and in general the victims and the community must agree with their decisions. The Free Federation’s constitution is a Federation-wide document that is intended to guide these processes. It sets out basic freedoms such as freedom of speech, of religion, of association, and rights to life, security and privacy.
Communities discuss and never stop discussing their understanding of freedom, crime, oppression, and the outcomes of specific cases. In this way, they can remain roughly on the same page about what is and is not acceptable behaviour. The constitution is there as a general guideline that all the regional assemblies have accepted - it guides but does not dictate the ongoing discussion. In Radikas, where there is no community assembly, these discussions take place in fragmented affinity groups. In Xesh, approval points are deducted for committing acts harmful to society, which harms your social status.
In the most extreme cases of consistent violent behaviour, a criminal can be compelled into a full-time rehabilitation clinic when the arbitration board and the community agree that this is necessary. The purpose of this is to ensure the public’s safety and to heal the perpetrator of their affliction. Beyond this, there are no prisons, since this violates a person’s freedom and is precisely the kind of aggression that the Free Federation aims to put an end to.
Here I am rejecting the Marxist idea that societies must progress from feudalism to capitalism before they can reach communism. The whole point of communism is that it does not require capital to develop the productive forces. Capital is not a natural law. ↩
Here I am rejecting the Socialist idea that Socialism must be global. The Free Federation is necessarily self-sufficient, but it is big enough for that to be viable. ↩
I am against required contributions because I think it is too difficult to organise and agree on a fair exemptions system for people who cannot work or with a reduced capacity for work. But I present those systems anyway as points of discussion. ↩
This is the most severe consequence that can result from failing to contribute labour, and it is increasingly seen as unjust, with regions moving towards full voluntarisation. As discussed in the section on crime, there is no state and no prisons: nobody has the right to forcibly evict a person from their home, let alone imprison them elsewhere. ↩
Approval in Xesh is ‘just’ a game; it determines social standing but has no economic impact. Having high approval determines your position on the scoreboard, affects how much people like you, and may lead to you being honoured with ritual celebrations - but there is no material gain. Unlike other regions, labour is considered a duty to society. ↩
There is a common joke in Radikas whenever someone is relaxing or is apparently being lazy, they will say “I’m self-exempted”. ↩
The details of this system come directly from §8.2.1 of Christian Siefkes 2008, From Exchange to Contributions (p.117). ↩