Autarky is the quality of being self-sufficient. Usually the term is applied to political states or their economic systems. Autarky exists whenever an entity can survive or continue its activities without external assistance or international trade. If a self-sufficient economy also refuses all trade with the outside world then it is called a closed economy.[1]

Autarky is not necessarily an economic phenomenon; for example, a military autarky would be a state that could defend itself without help from another country, or could manufacture all of its weapons without any imports from the outside world.

Autarky as an ideal or method has been embraced by a wide range of political ideologies and movements, especially left-wing creeds like mutualism, Council Communism, Syndicalism, Democratic Confederalism, and Populism. It has also been used in limited ways by conservative and nationalist movements, such as the American system, the Meiji Restoration, Juche, and traditionalist conservatism. Fascist and far-right movements occasionally claimed to strive for autarky in platform or propaganda, but in practice crushed existing movements towards self-sufficiency[2] and maintained extensive capital connections in efforts to ready for war and genocide[3] while allying with business elites.[4]

Autarky may be a policy of a state or other entity when it seeks to be self-sufficient as a whole, but also can be limited to a narrow field such as possession of a key raw material. For example, many countries have a policy of autarky with respect to foodstuffs[5] and water for national security reasons. By contrast autarky may be a result of economic isolation or external circumstances, in which a state or other entity reverts to localized production when it lacks currency or excess production to trade with the outside world.[6][7]


The word autarky is from the Greek: αὐτάρκεια, which means "self-sufficiency" (derived from αὐτο-, "self," and ἀρκέω, "to suffice"). The term is sometimes confused with autocracy (Greek: αὐτoκρατία "government by single absolute ruler") or autarchy (Greek: αὐταρχία – the idea of rejecting government and ruling oneself and no other).


Ancient and medieval

Early state societies that can be regarded as autarkic include nomadic pastoralism and palace economy, though over time these tend towards becoming less self-sufficient and more interconnected. The late Bronze Age, for example, saw formerly self-sufficient palace economies rely more heavily on trade, which may have been a contributing factor to the eventual Bronze Age Collapse when multiple crises hit those systems at once.

Medieval communes combined an attempt at overall economic self-sufficiency through the use of common lands and resources with mutual defense pacts against the depredations of the local nobility. Ironically, many of these communes later became trading powers such as the Hanseatic League. In some cases, communal village economies maintained their own debt system[8] as part of a self-sufficient economy and to avoid reliance on possibly hostile aristocratic or business interests.

19th and early 20th centuries

Autarkic ambitions[9] can also be seen in the Populist backlash to the exploitations of free trade in the late 19th-century and in many early Utopian Socialist movements. Mutual aid societies like the Grange and Sovereigns of Industry attempted to set up self-sufficient economies (with varying degrees of success) in an effort to be less dependent on what they saw as an exploitative economic system and to generate more power to push for reforms.

Early socialist movements used these autarkic efforts to build their base with institutions like the Bourse de travail, socialist canteens and food assistance. These played a major role in securing workers' loyalty and building those parties into increasingly powerful institutions (especially in Europe) throughout the late 19th and early 20th-centuries. Through these cooperatives[10] "workers bought Socialist bread and Socialist shoes, drank Socialist beer, arranged for Socialist vacations and obtained a Socialist education."

Communist movements embraced or dismissed autarky as a goal at different times. Some socialist communities like Charles Fourier's phalansteres strove for self-sufficiency. The early USSR in the Russian Civil War strove for a self-sufficient economy[11] with War Communism, but later pursued international trade vigorously under the New Economic Policy.

Right-wing totalitarian governments that have claimed to strive for autarky have often pursued a very different policy in fact, similar to how some claimed to be in favor of socialism while killing socialists. In 1921 Italian Fascists attacked existing left-wing autarkic projects at the behest of large landowners, destroying roughly 119 labor chambers, 107 cooperatives and 83 peasant offices that year alone.[12] Nazi Germany under economics minister Hjalmar Schacht claimed to strive for self-sufficiency but still pursued major international trade, albeit under a different system, to escape the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The regime would continue to conduct trade, including with countries like the United States, including connections with major companies like IBM and Coca-Cola.

After World War II

Economic self-sufficiency was pursued as a goal by some members of the Non-Aligned Movement, such as India under Jawaharlal Nehru and Tanzania, under the ideology of Ujamaa. That was partly an effort to escape the economic domination of both the United States and the Soviet Union while modernizing the countries' infrastructure.

After World War II, Autonomist efforts in Europe embraced autarkic projects in an effort to craft anti-authoritarian left-wing spaces, especially influencing the social center and squatters' rights movements. Such efforts remain a common feature of Autonomist and anarchist movements on the continent today. The Micropolis social centre in Greece, for example, has gyms, restaurants, bars, meeting space and free distribution of food and resources.[13]

Around 1970, the Black Panther Party moved away from communist internationalism towards "intercommunalism," a term coined by Huey P. Newton, "to retain a grasp on the local when the rest of radical thought seemed to be moving global." Intercommunalism drew[14] from left-wing autarkic projects like free medical clinics and breakfast programs, "explicitly articulated as attempts to fill a void left by the failure of the federal government to provide resources as basic as food to black communities."

Autarkic efforts to counter forcible privatization of public resources and maintain local self-sufficiency also formed a key part of alter-globalization efforts. The Cochabamba Water War had Bolivians successfully oppose the privatization of their water system to keep the resource in public hands.[15]


Today, national economic autarkies are relatively rare. A commonly-cited example is North Korea, based on the government ideology of Juche (self-sufficiency), which is concerned with maintaining its domestic localized economy in the face of its isolation. However, even North Korea has extensive trade with Russia, China, Syria, Iran, Vietnam, and many countries in Europe and Africa. North Korea had to import food during a widespread famine in the 1990s.

A better modern example is the autonomous region of Rojava, the autonomous northern region of Syria. Cut off from international trade, facing multiple enemies, and striving for a society based on democratic confederalism and the ideals of Murray Bookchin, Rojava's government and constitution emphasize economic self-sufficiency[16] directed by neighborhood and village councils, with property and business belonging to those who live in or use it towards that goal.

Support and opposition

Local autarky

National autarky



Macroeconomic theory



Relevant microeconomic theory

See also


  1. ^ Glossary of International Economics.
  2. ^ De Grand, Alexander J. (2000) [1938]. Italian fascism : its origins & development (3rd ed.). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803266227. OCLC 42462895. 
  3. ^ Edwin., Black, (2001). IBM and the Holocaust : the strategic alliance between Nazi Germany and America's most powerful corporation (1st ed.). New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 0609607995. OCLC 45896166. 
  4. ^ O., Paxton, Robert (2005). The anatomy of fascism (1st Vintage books ed.). New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 1400033918. OCLC 58452991. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Mansfield, Edward D.; Pollins, Brian M., eds. (2009-09-15). "Computer Simulations of International Trade and Conflict". Economic Interdependence and International Conflict: New Perspectives on an Enduring Debate: 333. ISBN 0472022938. 
  7. ^ Judt, Tony (2011-05-01). Socialism in Provence, 1871–1914. p. 263. ISBN 9780814743553. 
  8. ^ David., Graeber, (2011). Debt : the first 5,000 years. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Melville House. ISBN 1612191290. OCLC 426794447. 
  9. ^ Lawrence., Goodwyn. The Populist moment : a short history of the agrarian revolt in America. New York. ISBN 0195024176. OCLC 3650099. 
  10. ^ Tuchman, Barbara W. (2012). The Guns of August: The proud tower. MacMillan, Margaret. New York, NY: Library of America. p. 1046. ISBN 159853145X. OCLC 731911132. 
  11. ^ Bruce., Lincoln, W. (1999). Red victory : a history of the Russian Civil War (1st Da Capo Press ed.). New York: Da Capo. ISBN 0306809095. OCLC 40510540. 
  12. ^ De Grand, Alexander J. (2000). Italian fascism : its origins & development (3rd ed.). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 31–33. ISBN 0803266227. OCLC 42462895. 
  13. ^ activist),, Bray, Mark (Political. Antifa : the anti-fascist handbook. Brooklyn, NY. ISBN 1612197035. OCLC 984595655. 
  14. ^ "The Havoc of Less". The New Inquiry. 2017-09-15. Retrieved 2018-02-06. 
  15. ^ Oscar., Olivera, (2004). Cochabamba!: Water War in Bolivia. Lewis, Tom,. Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press. ISBN 9780896087026. OCLC 56194844. 
  16. ^ Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness (ed.). A small key can open a large door: the Rojava revolution. United States. ISBN 193866017X. OCLC 900796070. 
  17. ^ Gorz, Andre. "Towards a Dual Society." Adieux au proletariat, translated by Mike Sonenscher, Pluto Press London, 1982. pp. 102-103.

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