Open main menu

Wikipedia β

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 have 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 and traditionalist conservatism. Fascist and far-right movements occasionally claimed to strive for autarky, but (like some proclaiming themselves socialist) this often didn't go farther than words, maintaining international trade and extensive capital connections in efforts to ready for war and genocide.

Autarky can be said to be the 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[2] and water for national security reasons.



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).


Pre- and 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 inter-connected. 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[3] as part of a self-sufficient economy and to avoid reliance on possibly hostile aristocratic or business interests.

Autarkic ambitions[4] 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[5] "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[6] 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. For example, Nazi Germany under economics minister Hjallmar 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 U.S., including connections with major companies like IBM and Coca-Cola.

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

Today, 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, North Korea has extensive trade with the Russian Federation, the People's Republic of 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. 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[7] directed by neighborhood and village councils, with property and business belonging to those who live in or use it towards this goal.

Support and oppositionEdit


  1. ^ Glossary of International Economics.
  2. ^
  3. ^ David., Graeber, (2011). Debt : the first 5,000 years. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Melville House. ISBN 1612191290. OCLC 426794447. 
  4. ^ Lawrence., Goodwyn,. The Populist moment : a short history of the agrarian revolt in America. New York. ISBN 0195024176. OCLC 3650099. 
  5. ^ 1912-1989., Tuchman, Barbara W. (Barbara Wertheim), (2012). The guns of August ; The proud tower. MacMillan, Margaret, 1943-. New York, NY: Library of America. p. 1046. ISBN 159853145X. OCLC 731911132. 
  6. ^ Bruce., Lincoln, W. (1999). Red victory : a history of the Russian Civil War (1st Da Capo Press ed ed.). New York: Da Capo. ISBN 0306809095. OCLC 40510540. 
  7. ^ Wilderness, edited by Strangers In A Tangled. A small key can open a large door : the Rojava revolution. United States. ISBN 193866017X. OCLC 900796070. 

External linksEdit