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From Section 1.2 titled "What does 'anarchism' mean?" continuing through 1.4 "Are Anarchists Socialists
From Section B.3 titled "Why are anarchists against private property?"
A.1.2 What does "anarchism" mean?
To quote Peter Kropotkin, Anarchism is "the no-government system of socialism." [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 46]. In other words, "the abolition of exploitation and oppression of man by man, that is the abolition of private property [i.e. capitalism] and government." [Errico Malatesta, "Towards Anarchism," in Man!, M. Graham (Ed), p. 75]
Anarchism, therefore, is a political theory that aims to create a society which is without political, economic or social hierarchies. Anarchists maintain that anarchy, the absence of rulers, is a viable form of social system and so work for the maximisation of individual liberty and social equality. They see the goals of liberty and equality as mutually self-supporting. Or, in Bakunin's famous dictum:
"We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 269]
The history of human society proves this point. Liberty without equality is only liberty for the powerful, and equality without liberty is impossible and a justification for slavery.
While there are many different types of anarchism (from individualist anarchism to communist-anarchism -- see section A.3 for more details), there has always been two common positions at the core of all of them -- opposition to government and opposition to capitalism. In the words of the individualist-anarchist Benjamin Tucker, anarchism insists on "the abolition of the State and the abolition of usury; on no more government of man by man, and no more exploitation of man by man." [cited in Native American Anarchism - A Study of Left-Wing American Individualism by Eunice Schuster, p. 140] All anarchists view profit, interest and rent as usury (i.e. as exploitation) and so oppose them and the conditions that create them just as much as they oppose government and the State.
More generally, in the words of L. Susan Brown, the "unifying link" within anarchism "is a universal condemnation of hierarchy and domination and a willingness to fight for the freedom of the human individual." [The Politics of Individualism, p. 108] For anarchists, a person cannot be free if they are subject to state or capitalist authority.
So Anarchism is a political theory which advocates the creation of anarchy, a society based on the maxim of "no rulers." To achieve this, "[i]n common with all socialists, the anarchists hold that the private ownership of land, capital, and machinery has had its time; that it is condemned to disappear: and that all requisites for production must, and will, become the common property of society, and be managed in common by the producers of wealth. And. . . they maintain that the ideal of the political organisation of society is a condition of things where the functions of government are reduced to minimum. . . [and] that the ultimate aim of society is the reduction of the functions of government to nil -- that is, to a society without government, to an-archy" [Peter Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 46]
Thus anarchism is both positive and negative. It analyses and critiques current society while at the same time offering a vision of a potential new society -- a society that maximises certain human needs which the current one denies. These needs, at their most basic, are liberty, equality and solidarity, which will be discussed in section A.2.
Anarchism unites critical analysis with hope, for, as Bakunin pointed out, "the urge to destroy is a creative urge." One cannot build a better society without understanding what is wrong with the present one.
A.1.3 Why is anarchism also called libertarian socialism?
Many anarchists, seeing the negative nature of the definition of "anarchism," have used other terms to emphasise the inherently positive and constructive aspect of their ideas. The most common terms used are "free socialism," "free communism," "libertarian socialism," and "libertarian communism." For anarchists, libertarian socialism, libertarian communism, and anarchism are virtually interchangeable.
Considering definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary, we find:
LIBERTARIAN: one who believes in freedom of action and thought; one who believes in free will.Just taking those two first definitions and fusing them yields:
SOCIALISM: a social system in which the producers possess both political power and the means of producing and distributing goods.
LIBERTARIAN SOCIALISM: a social system which believes in freedom of action and thought and free will, in which the producers possess both political power and the means of producing and distributing goods.
(Although we must add that our usual comments on the lack of political sophistication of dictionaries still holds. We only use these definitions to show that "libertarian" does not imply "free market" capitalism nor "socialism" state ownership. Other dictionaries, obviously, will have different definitions -- particularly for socialism. Those wanting to debate dictionary definitions are free to pursue this unending and politically useless hobby but we will not).
However, due to the creation of the Libertarian Party in the USA, many people now consider the idea of "libertarian socialism" to be a contradiction in terms. Indeed, many "Libertarians" think anarchists are just attempting to associate the "anti-libertarian" ideas of "socialism" (as Libertarians conceive it) with Libertarian ideology in order to make those "socialist" ideas more "acceptable" -- in other words, trying to steal the "libertarian" label from its rightful possessors.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Anarchists have been using the term "libertarian" to describe themselves and their ideas since the 1850's. The revolutionary anarchist Joseph Dejacque published Le Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement social in New York between 1858 and 1861 [Max Nettlau, A Short History of Anarchism, p. 75]. According to anarchist historian Max Nettlau, the use of the term "libertarian communism" dates from November, 1880 when a French anarchist congress adopted it [Ibid., p. 145]. The use of the term "Libertarian" by anarchists became more popular from the 1890s onward after it was used in France in an attempt to get round anti-anarchist laws and to avoid the negative associations of the word "anarchy" in the popular mind (Sebastien Faure and Louise Michel published the paper Le Libertaire -- The Libertarian -- in France in 1895, for example). Since then, particularly outside America, it has always been associated with anarchist ideas and movements. Taking a more recent example, in the USA, anarchists organised "The Libertarian League" in July 1954, which had staunch anarcho-syndicalist principles and lasted until 1965. The US-based "Libertarian" Party, on the other hand has only existed since the early 1970's, well over 100 years after anarchists first used the term to describe their political ideas (and 90 years after the expression "libertarian communism" was first adopted). It is that party, not the anarchists, who have "stolen" the word. Later, in Section B, we will discuss why the idea of a "libertarian" capitalism (as desired by the Libertarian Party) is a contradiction in terms.
As we will also explain in Section I, only a libertarian-socialist system of ownership can maximise individual freedom. Needless to say, state ownership -- what is commonly called "socialism" -- is, for anarchists, not socialism at all. In fact, as we will elaborate in Section H, state "socialism" is just a form of capitalism, with no socialist content whatever.
A.1.4 Are anarchists socialists?
Yes. All branches of anarchism are opposed to capitalism. This is because capitalism is based upon oppression and exploitation (see sections B and C). Anarchists reject the "notion that men cannot work together unless they have a driving-master to take a percentage of their product" and think that in an anarchist society "the real workmen will make their own regulations, decide when and where and how things shall be done." By so doing workers would free themselves "from the terrible bondage of capitalism." [Voltairine de Cleyre, "Anarchism," pp. 30-34, Man!, M. Graham (Ed), p. 32, p. 34]
(We must stress here that anarchists are opposed to all economic forms which are based on domination and exploitation, including feudalism, Soviet-style "socialism" and so on. We just concentrate on capitalism because that is what is dominating the world just now).
Individualists like Benjamin Tucker along with social anarchists like Proudhon and Bakunin proclaimed themselves "socialists." They did so because, as Kropotkin put it in his classic essay "Modern Science and Anarchism," "[s]o long as Socialism was understood in its wide, generic, and true sense -- as an effort to abolish the exploitation of Labour by Capital -- the Anarchists were marching hand-in-hands with the Socialists of that time." [Evolution and Environment, p. 81] Or, in Tucker's words, "the bottom claim of Socialism [is] that labour should be put in possession of its own," a claim that both "the two schools of Socialistic thought . . . State Socialism and Anarchism" agreed upon. [The Anarchist Reader, p. 144] Hence the word "socialist" was originally defined to include "all those who believed in the individual's right to possess what he or she produced." [Lance Klafta, "Ayn Rand and the Perversion of Libertarianism," in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, no. 34] This opposition to exploitation (or usury) is shared by all true anarchists and places them under the socialist banner.
For most socialists, "the only guarantee not to be robbed of the fruits of your labour is to possess the instruments of labour." [Peter Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, p. 145] For this reason Proudhon, for example, supported workers' co-operatives, where "every individual employed in the association . . . has an undivided share in the property of the company" because by "participation in losses and gains . . . the collective force [i.e. surplus] ceases to be a source of profits for a small number of managers: it becomes the property of all workers." [The General Idea of the Revolution, p. 222 and p. 223] Thus, in addition to desiring the end of exploitation of labour by capital, true socialists also desire a society within which the producers own and control the means of production. The means by which the producers will do this is a moot point in anarchist and other socialist circles, but the desire remains a common one. Anarchists favour direct workers' control and either ownership by workers' associations or by the commune (see section A.3 on the different types of anarchists).
Moreover, anarchists also reject capitalism for being authoritarian as well as exploitative. Under capitalism, workers do not govern themselves during the production process nor have control over the product of their labour. Such a situation is hardly based on equal freedom for all, nor can it be non-exploitative, and is so opposed by anarchists. This perspective can best be found in the work of Proudhon's (who inspired both Tucker and Bakunin) where he argues that anarchism would see "[c]apitalistic and proprietary exploitation stopped everywhere [and] the wage system abolished" for "either the workman. . . will be simply the employee of the proprietor-capitalist-promoter; or he will participate . . . In the first case the workman is subordinated, exploited: his permanent condition is one of obedience. . . In the second case he resumes his dignity as a man and citizen. . . he forms part of the producing organisation, of which he was before but the slave . . . we need not hesitate, for we have no choice. . . it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among workers . . . because without that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two. . . castes of masters and wage-workers, which is repugnant to a free and democratic society." [Op. Cit., p. 233 and pp. 215-216]
Therefore all anarchists are anti-capitalist ("If labour owned the wealth it produced, there would be no capitalism" [Alexander Berkman, What is Communist Anarchism?, p. 37]). Benjamin Tucker, for example -- the anarchist most influenced by liberalism (as we will discuss later) -- called his ideas "Anarchistic-Socialism" and denounced capitalism as a system based upon "the usurer, the receiver of interest, rent and profit." Tucker held that in an anarchist, non-capitalist, free-market society, capitalists will become redundant and exploitation of labour by capital would cease, since "labour. . . will. . . secure its natural wage, its entire product." [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 82 and p. 85] Such an economy will be based on mutual banking and the free exchange of products between co-operatives, artisans and peasants. For Tucker, and other Individualist anarchists, capitalism is not a true free market, being marked by various laws and monopolies which ensure that capitalists have the advantage over working people, so ensuring the latters exploitation via profit, interest and rent (see section G for a fuller discussion). Even Max Stirner, the arch-egoist, had nothing but scorn for capitalist society and its various "spooks," which for him meant ideas that are treated as sacred or religious, such as private property, competition, division of labour, and so forth.
So anarchists consider themselves as socialists, but socialists of a specific kind -- libertarian socialists. As the individualist anarchist Joseph A. Labadie puts it (echoing both Tucker and Bakunin):
"[i]t is said that Anarchism is not socialism. This is a mistake. Anarchism is voluntary Socialism. There are two kinds of Socialism, archistic and anarchistic, authoritarian and libertarian, state and free. Indeed, every proposition for social betterment is either to increase or decrease the powers of external wills and forces over the individual. As they increase they are archistic; as they decrease they are anarchistic." [Anarchism: What It Is and What It Is Not]
Labadie stated on many occasions that "all anarchists are socialists, but not all socialists are anarchists." Therefore, Daniel Guerin's comment that "Anarchism is really a synonym for socialism. The anarchist is primarily a socialist whose aim is to abolish the exploitation of man by man" is echoed throughout the history of the anarchist movement, be it the social or individualist wings [Anarchism, p. 12]. Indeed, the Haymarket Martyr Adolph Fischer used almost exactly the same words as Labadie to express the same fact -- "every anarchist is a socialist, but every socialist is not necessarily an anarchist" -- while acknowledging that the movement was "divided into two factions; the communistic anarchists and the Proudhon or middle-class anarchists." [The Autobiographies of the Haymarket Martyrs, p. 81]
So while social and individualist anarchists do disagree on many issues -- for example, whether a true, that is non-capitalist, free market would be the best means of maximising liberty -- they agree that capitalism is to be opposed as exploitative and oppressive and that an anarchist society must, by definition, be based on associated, not wage, labour. Only associated labour will "decrease the powers of external wills and forces over the individual" during working hours and such self-management of work by those who do it is the core ideal of real socialism. This perspective can be seen when Joseph Labadie argued that the trade union was "the exemplification of gaining freedom by association" and that "[w]ithout his union, the workman is much more the slave of his employer than he is with it." [Different Phases of the Labour Question]
However, the meanings of words change over time. Today "socialism" almost always refers to state socialism, a system that all anarchists have opposed as a denial of freedom and genuine socialist ideals. All anarchists would agree with Noam Chomsky's statement on this issue:
"If the left is understood to include 'Bolshevism,' then I would flatly dissociate myself from the left. Lenin was one of the greatest enemies of socialism." ["Anarchism, Marxism and Hope for the Future", Red and Black Revolution, no. 2]
Anarchism developed in constant opposition to the ideas of Marxism, social democracy and Leninism. Long before Lenin rose to power, Mikhail Bakunin warned the followers of Marx against the "Red bureaucracy" that would institute "the worst of all despotic governments" if Marx's state-socialist ideas were ever implemented. Indeed, the works of Stirner, Proudhon and especially Bakunin all predict the horror of state Socialism with great accuracy. In addition, the anarchists were among the first and most vocal critics and opposition to the Bolshevik regime in Russia.
Nevertheless, being socialists, anarchists do share some ideas with some Marxists (though none with Leninists). Both Bakunin and Tucker accepted Marx's analysis and critique of capitalism as well as his labour theory of value (see section C). Marx himself was heavily influenced by Max Stirner's book The Ego and Its Own, which contains a brilliant critique of what Marx called "vulgar" communism as well as state socialism. There have also been elements of the Marxist movement holding views very similar to social anarchism (particularly the anarcho-syndicalist branch of social anarchism) -- for example, Anton Pannekoek, Rosa Luxembourg, Paul Mattick and others, who are very far from Lenin. Karl Korsch and others wrote sympathetically of the anarchist revolution in Spain. There are many continuities from Marx to Lenin, but there are also continuities from Marx to more libertarian Marxists, who were harshly critical of Lenin and Bolshevism and whose ideas approximate anarchism's desire for the free association of equals.
Therefore anarchism is basically a form of socialism, one that stands in direct opposition to what is usually defined as "socialism" (i.e. state ownership and control). Instead of "central planning," which many people associate with the word "socialism," anarchists advocate free association and co-operation between individuals, workplaces and communities and so oppose "state" socialism as a form of state capitalism in which "[e]very man [and woman] will be a wage-receiver, and the State the only wage payer." [Benjamin Tucker, The Individualist Anarchists, p. 81] Thus anarchist's reject Marxism (what most people think of as "socialism") as just "[t]he idea of the State as Capitalist . . . which the Social-Democratic fraction of the great Socialist Party is now trying to reduce Socialism." [Peter Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, p. 31] The anarchist objection to the identification of Marxism, "central planning" and State Socialism/Capitalism with socialism will be discussed in section H.
It is because of these differences with state socialists, and to reduce confuse, most anarchists just call themselves "anarchists," as it is taken for granted that anarchists are socialists. However, with the rise of the so-called "libertarian" right in the USA, some pro-capitalists have taken to calling themselves "anarchists" and that is why we have laboured the point somewhat here. Historically, and logically, anarchism implies anti-capitalism, i.e. socialism, which is something, we stress, that all anarchists have agreed upon (for a fuller discuss of why "anarcho"-capitalism is not anarchist see section F).
B.3 Why are anarchists against private property?
Capitalism is one of the two things all anarchists oppose. Capitalism is marked by two main features, "private property" (or in some cases, state-owned property) and wage labour. The latter, however, is dependent on the former, i.e. for wage labour to exist, workers must not own or control the means of production they use. In turn, private (or state) ownership of the means of production is only possible if there is a state, meaning mechanisms of organised coercion at the disposal of the propertied class (see section B.2).
Anarchists oppose private property (i.e. capitalism) because it is a source of coercive, hierarchical authority and elite privilege ("Property . . . violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism. . . [and has] perfect identity with robbery," to use Proudhon's words - What is Property, p. 251). And so private property (capitalism) necessarily excludes participation, influence, and control by those who use, but do not own, the means of life.
Therefore, for all true anarchists, property is opposed as a source of authority, indeed despotism. To quote Proudhon on this subject:
"The proprietor, the robber, the hero, the sovereign - for all these titles are synonymous - imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control; that is, he pretends to be the legislative and the executive power at once. . . [and so] property engenders despotism. . . That is so clearly the essence of property that, to be convinced of it, one need but remember what it is, and observe what happens around him. Property is the right to use and abuse . . . if goods are property, why should not the proprietors be kings, and despotic kings -- kings in proportion to their facultes bonitaires? And if each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property, absolute king throughout his own domain, how could a government of proprietors be any thing but chaos and confusion?" [Op. Cit., pp. 266-7]
In other words, private property is the state writ small, with the property owner acting as the "sovereign lord" over their property, and so the absolute king of those who use it. As in any monarchy, the worker is the subject of the capitalist, having to follow their orders, laws and decisions while on their property. This, obviously, is the total denial of liberty (and dignity, we may note, as it is degrading to have to follow orders). Little wonder, then, that anarchists oppose private property as Anarchy is "the absence of a master, of a sovereign" [Op. Cit., p. 264] and call capitalism for what it is, namely wage slavery!
Also, it ought to be easy to see that capitalism, by giving rise to an ideologically inalienable "right" to private property, will also quickly give rise to inequalities in the distribution of external resources, and that this inequality in resource distribution will give rise to a further inequality in the relative bargaining positions of the propertied and the property less. While apologists for capitalism usually attempt to justify private property by claiming that "self-ownership" is a "universal right" (see section B.4.2 - "Is capitalism based on self-ownership?), it is clear that capitalism actually makes universal self-ownership, in it's true sense, impossible. For the real principle of self-ownership implies that people are not used in various ways against their will. The capitalist system, however, has undermined this principle, and ironically, has used the term "self-ownership" as the "logical" basis for doing so. Under capitalism, as will be seen in section B.4, most people are usually left in a situation where their best option is to allow themselves to be used in just those ways that are logically incompatible with genuine self-ownership.
For these reasons, anarchists agree with Rousseau when he states:
"The first man who, having fenced off a plot of land, thought of saying, 'This is mine' and found people simple enough to believe him was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors might the human race had been spared by the one who, upon pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow men: 'Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you forget the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth belongs to no one.'" ["Discourse on Inequality," The Social Contract and Discourses, p. 84]
Only libertarian socialism can continue to affirm self-ownership whilst building the conditions that guarantee it. Only by abolishing private property can there be access to the means of life for all, so making self-ownership a reality by universalising self-management in all aspects of life.
Before discussing the anti-libertarian aspects of capitalism, it will be necessary to define "private property" as distinct from "personal possessions" and show in more detail why the former requires state protection and is exploitative.
B.3.1 What is the difference between private property and possession?
Anarchists define "private property" (or just "property," for short) as state-protected monopolies of certain objects or privileges which are used to exploit others. "Possession," on the other hand, is ownership of things that are not used to exploit others (e.g. a car, a refrigerator, a toothbrush, etc.). Thus many things can be considered as either property or possessions depending on how they are used. For example, a house that one lives in is a possession, whereas if one rents it to someone else at a profit it becomes property. Similarly, if one uses a saw to make a living as a self-employed carpenter, the saw is a possession; whereas if one employs others at wages to use the saw for one's own profit, it is property.
While it may initially be confusing to make this distinction, it is very useful to understand the nature of capitalist society. Capitalists tend to use the word "property" to mean anything from a toothbrush to a transnational corporation -- two very different things, with very different impacts upon society. Hence Proudhon:
"Originally the word property was synonymous with proper or individual possession. . . But when this right of use . . . became active and paramount - that is, when the usufructuary converted his right to personally use the thing into the right to use it by his neighbour's labour - then property changed its nature and this idea became complex." [What is Property, pp. 395-6]
As Alexander Berkman frames this distinction, anarchism "abolishes private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and with it goes capitalistic business. Personal possession remains only in the things you use. Thus, your watch is your own, but the watch factory belongs to the people. Land, machinery, and all other public utilities will be collective property, neither to be bought nor sold. Actual use will be considered the only title -- not to ownership but to possession." [The ABC of Anarchism, p. 68] (For more on the anarchist theory of property, see P.-J. Proudhon, What is Property?. William Godwin, in Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, makes the same point concerning the difference between property and possession -- which indicates its central place in anarchist thought). Proudhon graphically illustrated the distinction by comparing a lover as a possessor, and a husband as a proprietor!
The difference between property and possession can be seen from the types of authority relations each generates. Taking the example of a capitalist workplace, its clear that those who own the workplace determine how it is used, not those who do the actual work. This leads to an almost totalitarian system. As Noam Chomsky points out, "the term 'totalitarian' is quite accurate. There is no human institution that approaches totalitarianism as closely as a business corporation. I mean, power is completely top-down. You can be inside it somewhere and you take orders from above and hand 'em down. Ultimately, it's in the hands of owners and investors."
In an anarchist society, as noted, actual use is considered the only title. This means that a workplace is organised and run by those who work within it, thus reducing hierarchy and increasing freedom and equality within society. Hence anarchist opposition to private property and capitalism flows naturally from its basic principles and ideas.
B.3.2 What kinds of property does the state protect?
Kropotkin argued that the state was "the instrument for establishing monopolies in favour of the ruling minorities." [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 286] While some of these monopolies are obvious (such as tariffs, state granted market monopolies and so on - see section F.8 on the state's role in developing capitalism) most are "behind the scenes" and work to ensure that capitalist domination does not need extensive force to maintain.
The state therefore maintains various kinds of "class monopolies" (to use Tucker's phrase) to ensure that workers do not receive their "natural wage," the full product of their labour. There are four major kinds of property, or exploitative monopolies, that the state protects:
(1) the power to issue credit and currency, the basis of capitalist banking;
(2) land and buildings, the basis of landlordism;
(3) productive tools and equipment, the basis of industrial capitalism;
(4) ideas and inventions, the basis of copyright and patent ("intellectual property") royalties.
By enforcing these forms of property, capitalism ensures that the objective conditions within the economy favour the capitalist, with the worker free only to accept oppressive and exploitative contracts within which they forfeit their autonomy and promise obedience or face misery and poverty. Due to these "initiations of force" conducted previously to any specific contract being signed, capitalists enrich themselves at the expense of us as well as making a mockery of free agreement (see section B.4). Of course, despite the supposedly subtle role of such "objective" pressures in controlling the working class, working class resistance has been such that capital has never been able to dispense with the powers of the state, both direct and indirect. When "objective" means of control fail, the capitalists will always turn to the use of state repression to restore the "natural" order.
To indicate the importance of these state backed monopolies, we shall sketch their impact.
The credit monopoly, by which the state controls who can and cannot loan money, reduces the ability of working class people to create their own alternatives to capitalism. By charging high amounts of interest on loans (which is only possible because competition is restricted) few people can afford to create co-operatives or one-person firms. In addition, having to repay loans at high interest to capitalist banks ensures that co-operatives often have to undermine their own principles by having to employ wage labour to make ends meet (see section J.5.11). It is unsurprising, therefore, that the very successful Mondragon co-operatives in the Basque Country created their own credit union which is largely responsible for the experiments success.
Just as increasing wages is an important struggle within capitalism, so is the question of credit. Proudhon and his followers supported the idea of a People's Bank. If the working class could take over and control increasing amounts of money it could undercut capitalist power while building its own alternative social order (for money is ultimately the means of buying labour power, and so authority over the labourer - which is the key to surplus value production). Proudhon hoped that by credit being reduced to cost (namely administration charges) workers would be able to buy the means of production they needed. While most anarchists would argue that increased working class access to credit would no more bring down capitalism than increased wages, all anarchists recognise how more credit, like more wages, and how the struggle for credit, like the struggle for wages, might play a useful role in the development of the power of the working class within capitalism. Obvious cases that spring to mind are those where money has been used by workers to finance their struggles against capital, from strike funds and weapons to the periodical avoidance of work made possible by sufficiently high money income. Increased access to cheap credit would give working class people slightly more options than selling their liberty or facing misery (just as increased wages and unemployment benefit also gives us more options).
Therefore, the credit monopoly reduces competition to capitalism from co-operatives (which are generally more productive than capitalist firms) while at the same time forcing down wages for all workers as the demand for labour is lower than it would otherwise be. This, in turn, allows capitalists to use the fear of the sack to extract higher levels of surplus value from employees, so consolidating capitalist power (within and outwith the workplace) and expansion (increasing set-up costs and so creating oligarchic markets dominated by a few firms). In addition, high interest rates transfer income directly from producers to banks. Credit and money are both used as weapons in the class struggle. This is why, again and again, we see the ruling class call for centralised banking and use state action (from the direct regulation of money itself to the management of its flows) in the face of repeated threats to the nature (and role) of money within capitalism.
So the credit monopoly, by artificially restricting the option to work for ourselves, ensures we work for a boss.
The land monopoly consists of enforcement by government of land titles which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation. In addition, it also includes making the squatting of abandoned housing and other forms of property illegal. This leads to ground-rent, by which landlords get payment for letting others use the land they own but do not actually cultivate. While this monopoly is less important in a modern capitalist society (as few people know how to farm) it did, however, play an important role in creating capitalism (also see section F.8.3). Economist William Lazonick summaries this process:
"The reorganisation of agricultural land [the enclosure movement] . . . inevitably undermined the viability of traditional peasant agriculture. . . [it] created a sizeable labour force of disinherited peasants with only tenuous attachments to the land. To earn a living, many of these peasants turned to 'domestic industry' - the production of goods in their cottages . . .It was the eighteenth century expansion of domestic industry. . . that laid the basis for the British Industrial Revolution. The emergence of labour-saving machine technology transformed. . . textile manufacture. . . and the factory replaced the family home as the predominant site of production." [Business Organisation and the Myth of the Market Economy, pp. 3-4]
By being able to "legally" bar people from "their" property, the landlord class used the land monopoly to ensure the creation of a class of people with nothing to sell but their labour (i.e. liberty). Land was taken from those who traditionally used it, violating common rights, and it was used by the landlord to produce for their own profit (more recently, a similar process has been going on in the Third World as well). Personal occupancy was replaced by landlordism and agricultural wage slavery, and so "the Enclosure Acts. . . reduced the agricultural population to misery, placed them at the mercy of the landowners, and forced a great number of them to migrate to the towns where, as proletarians, they were delivered to the mercy of the middle-class manufacturers." [Peter Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, p. 117]
This was the land monopoly in action (also see section F.8.3) and from it sprang the tools and equipment monopoly as domestic industry could not survive in the face of industrial capitalism. The tools and equipment monopoly is based upon the capitalist denying workers access to their capital unless the worker pays tribute to the owner for using it. While capital is "simply stored-up labour which has already received its pay in full" and so "the lender of capital is entitled to its return intact, and nothing more" (to use Tucker's words), due to legal privilege the capitalist is in a position to charge a "fee" for its use. This is because, with the working class legally barred from both the land and available capital (the means of life), members of that class have little option but to agree to wage contracts which let capitalists extract a "fee" for the use of their equipment (see section B.3.3).
While the initial capital for investing in industry came from wealth plundered from overseas or from the proceeds of feudalist and landlordist exploitation, the fact of state protection of property ensured that the manufacturer was able to exact usury from labour. The "fee" charged to workers was partly reinvested into capital, which reduced the prices of goods, ruining domestic industry. In addition, investment also increased the set-up costs of potential competitors, which continued the dispossession of the working class from the means of production as these "natural" barriers to entry into markets ensured few members of that class had the necessary funds to create co-operative workplaces of appropriate size. So while the land monopoly was essential to create capitalism, the "tools and equipment" monopoly that sprang from it soon became the mainspring of the system.
In this way usury became self-perpetuating, with apparently "free exchanges" being the means by which capitalist domination survives. In other words, "past initiations of force" combined with the current state protection of property ensure that capitalist domination of society continues with only the use of "defensive" force (i.e. violence used to protect the power of property owners against unions, strikes, occupations, etc.). The "fees" extracted from previous generations of workers has ensured that the current one is in no position to re-unite itself with the means of life by "free competition" (in other words, the paying of usury ensures that usury continues). Needless to say, the surplus produced by this generation will be used to increase the capital stock and so ensure the dispossession of future generations and so usury becomes self-perpetuating. And, of course, state protection of "property" against "theft" by working people ensures that property remains theft and the real thieves keep their plunder.
As far as the "ideas" monopoly is concerned, this has been used to enrich capitalist corporations at the expense of the general public and the inventor. As David Noble points out, the "inventor, the original focus of the patent system, tended to increasingly to 'abandon' his patent in exchange for corporate security; he either sold or licensed his patent rights to industrial corporations or assigned them to the company of which he became an employee, bartering his genius for a salary. In addition, by means of patent control gained through purchase, consolidation, patent pools, and cross-licensing agreements, as well as by regulated patent production through systematic industrial research, the corporations steadily expanded their 'monopoly of monopolies.'" As well as this, corporations used "patents to circumvent anti-trust laws." This reaping of monopoly profits at the expense of the customer made such "tremendous strides" between 1900 and 1929 and "were of such proportions as to render subsequent judicial and legislative effects to check corporate monopoly through patent control too little too late." [American By Design, p. 87, 84 and 88]
By creating "legal" monopolies and reaping the excess profits these create, capitalists not only enriched themselves at the expense of others, they also ensured their dominance in the market. Some of the excess profits reaped due to the legal monopolies where invested back into the company, securing advantages for the company by creating various barriers to potential competitors.
Moreover, the ruling class, by means of the state, is continually trying to develop new forms of private property by creating artificial scarcities and monopolies, e.g. by requiring expensive licenses to engage in particular types of activities, such as broadcasting. In the "Information Age," usury (use fees) from intellectual property are becoming a much more important source of income for elites, as reflected in the attention paid to strengthening mechanisms for enforcing copyright in the recent GATT agreements, or in US pressure on foreign countries (like China) to respect copyright laws, and so on.
In other words, capitalists desire to restrict competition in the "free market" by ensuring that the law reflects and protects their interests, namely their "property rights." By this process they ensure that co-operative tendencies within society are crushed by state-supported "market forces." As Noam Chomsky puts it, modern capitalism is "state protection and public subsidy for the rich, market discipline for the poor." ["Rollback, Part I", Z Magazine] Self-proclaimed defenders of "free market" capitalism are usually nothing of the kind, while the few who actually support it only object to the "public subsidy" aspect of modern capitalism and happily support state protection for property rights. (For more on capitalism as based on state-protected monopolies, see Benjamin Tucker, Instead of a Book by a Man Too Busy to Write One).
All these monopolies seek to enrich the capitalist (and increase their capital stock) at the expense of working people, to restrict their ability to undermine the ruling elites power and wealth. All aim to ensure that any option we have to work for ourselves (either individually or collectively) is restricted by tilting the playing field against us, making sure that we have little option but to sell our labour on the "free market" and be exploited. In other words, the various monopolies make sure that "natural" barriers to entry (see section C.4) are created, leaving the heights of the economy in the control of big business while alternatives to capitalism are marginalised at its fringes.
So it is these kinds of property and the authoritarian social relationships that they create which the state exists to protect. It should be noted that converting private to state ownership (i.e. nationalisation) does not fundamentally change the nature of property relationships; it just removes private capitalists and replaces them with bureaucrats.
B.3.3 Why is property exploitative?
To answer this question, consider the monopoly of productive "tools and equipment." This monopoly, obtained by the class of industrial capitalists, allows this class in effect to charge workers a "fee" for the privilege of using the monopolised tools and equipment.
This occurs because property, in Proudhon words, "excommunicates" the working class. The state enforces property rights in land, workplaces and so on, meaning that the owner can bar others from using them and enforce their rules on those they do let use "their" property. So the boss "gives you a job: that is permission to work in the factory or mill which was not built by him but by other workers like yourself. And for that permission you help to support him for . . .as long as you work for him." [Alexander Berkman, What is Communist Anarchism?, p. 11]
Therefore, due to the dispossession of the vast majority of the population from the means of life, capitalists are in an ideal position to charge a "use-fee" for the capital they own, but neither produced nor use. Having little option, workers agree to contracts within which they forfeit their autonomy during work and the product of that work. This results in capitalists having access to a "commodity" (labour) that can potentially produce more value than it gets paid for in wages. During working hours, the owner can dictate (within certain limits determined by worker resistance and solidarity as well as objective conditions, such as the level of unemployment within an industry or country) the level, duration and intensity of work, and so the amount of output (which the owner has sole rights over even though they did not produce it). Thus the "fee" (or "surplus value") is created by owners paying workers less than the full value added by their labour to the products or services they create for the firm. The capitalist's profit is thus the difference between this "surplus value," created by and appropriated from labour, minus the firm's overhead and cost of raw materials (See also section C.2, "Where do profits come from?").
So property is exploitative because it allows a surplus to be monopolised by the owners. Property creates hierarchical relationships within the workplace (the "tools and equipment monopoly" might better be called the "power monopoly") and as in any hierarchical system, those with the power use it to protect and further their own interests at the expense of others. Within the workplace there is resistance by workers to this oppression and exploitation, which the "hierarchical. . . relations of the capitalist enterprise are designed to resolve this conflict in favour of the representatives of capital..." [William Lazonick, Op. Cit., p. 184]
Needless to say, the state is always on hand to protect the rights of property and management against the actions of the dispossessed. When it boils down to it, it is the existence of the state as protector of the "power monopoly" that allows it to exist at all.
So, capitalists are able to appropriate this surplus value from workers solely because they own the means of production, not because they earn it by doing productive work themselves. Of course some capitalists may also contribute to production, in which case they are in fairness entitled to the amount of value added to the firm's output by their own labour; but owners typically pay themselves much more than this, and are able to do so because the state guarantees them that right as property owners (which is unsurprising, as they alone have knowledge of the firms inputs and outputs and, like all people in unaccountable positions, abuse that power -- which is partly why anarchists support direct democracy as the essential counterpart of free agreement, for no one in power can be trusted not to prefer their own interests over those subject to their decisions). And of course many capitalists hire managers to run their businesses for them, thus collecting income for doing nothing except owning.
Capitalists' profits, then, are a form of state-supported exploitation. This is equally true of the interest collected by bankers and rents collected by landlords. Without some form of state, these forms of exploitation would be impossible, as the monopolies on which they depend could not be maintained. For instance, in the absence of state troops and police, workers would simply take over and operate factories for themselves, thus preventing capitalists from appropriating an unjust share of the surplus they create.
B.3.4 Can private property be justified?
No. Even though a few supporters of capitalism recognise that private property, particularly in land, was created by the use of force, most maintain that private property is just. One common defence of private property is found in the work of Robert Nozick (a supporter of "free market" capitalism). For Nozick, the use of force makes acquisition illegitimate and so any current title to the property is illegitimate (in other words, theft and trading in stolen goods does not make ownership of these goods legal). So, if the initial acquisition of land was illegitimate then all current titles are also illegitimate. And since private ownership of land is the basis of capitalism, capitalism itself would be rendered illegal.
To get round this problem, Nozick utilises the work of Locke ("The Lockean Proviso") which can be summarised as:
1. People own themselves.
2. The world is initially owned in common (or unowned in Nozick's case.)
3. You can acquire absolute rights over a larger than average share in the world, if you do not worsen the condition of others.
4. Once people have appropriated private property, a free market in capital and labour is morally required.
Take for example two individuals who share land in common. Nozick allows for one individual to claim the land as their own as long as the "process normally giving rise to a permanent bequeathable property right in a previously unowned thing will not do so if the position of others no longer at liberty to use the thing is therefore worsened." [Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 178]
But, if one person appropriated the land then the other cannot live off the remaining land. However, if the new land owner offers the other a wage to work their land and this exceeds what the new wage slave originally produced, then this meets the "Lockean Proviso." Of course, the new wage slave has no option but to work for another, but this is irrelevant for the Lockean Proviso.
Interestingly, for a ideology that calls itself "libertarian" Nozick theory defines "worse off" in terms purely of material welfare, compared to the conditions that existed within the society based upon common use. In other words, being "worse off" in terms of liberty (i.e. self-ownership or self-government) is irrelevant for Nozick, a very telling position to take.
Nozick claims to place emphasis on self-ownership in his ideology because we are separate individuals, each with our own life to lead. It is strange, therefore, to see that Nozick does not emphasise people's ability to act on their own conception of themselves in his account of appropriation. Indeed, there is no objection to an appropriation that puts someone in an unnecessary and undesirable position of subordination and dependence on the will of others.
Notice that the fact that individuals are now subject to the decisions of other individuals is not considered by Nozick in assessing the fairness of the appropriation. The fact that the creation of private property results in the denial of important freedoms for wage slaves (namely, the wage slave has no say over the status of the land they had been utilising and no say over how their labour is used). Before the creation of private property, all managed their own work, had self-government in all aspects of their lives. After the appropriation, the new wage slave has no such liberty and indeed must accept the conditions of employment within which they relinquish control over how they spend much of their time.
Considering Nozick's many claims in favour of self-ownership and why it is important, you would think that the autonomy of the newly dispossessed wage slaves would be important to him. However, no such concern is to be found - the autonomy of wage slaves is treated as if it were irrelevant. Nozick claims that a concern for people's freedom to lead their own lives underlies his theory of unrestricted property-rights, but, this apparently does not apply to wage slaves. His justification for the creation of private property treats only the autonomy of the land owner as relevant. However, as Proudhon rightly argues:
"if the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all individuals; that, if it needs property for its objective action, that is, for its life, the appropriation of material is equally necessary for all . . . Does it not follow that if one individual cannot prevent another . . . from appropriating an amount of material equal to his own, no more can he prevent individuals to come." [What is Property?, pp. 84-85]
Under capitalism people are claimed to own themselves, but this is purely formal as most people do not have independent access to resources. And as they have to use other peoples' resources, they become under the control of those who own the resources. In other words, private property reduces the autonomy of the majority of the population, and creates a regime of authority which has many similarities to enslavement. As John Stuart Mill put it:
"No longer enslaved or made dependent by force of law, the great majority are so by force of property; they are still chained to a place, to an occupation, and to conformity with the will of an employer, and debarred by the accident of birth to both the enjoyments, and from the mental and moral advantages, which others inherit without exertion and independently of desert. That this is an evil equal to almost any of those against which mankind have hitherto struggles, the poor are not wrong in believing." ["Chapters on Socialism", Principles of Political Economy, pp. 377-8]
Capitalism, even though claiming formal self-ownership, in fact not only restricts the self-determination of working class people, it also makes them a resource for others. Those who enter the market after others have appropriated all the available property are limited to charity or working for others. The latter, as we discuss in section C, results in exploitation as the worker's labour is used to enrich others. Working people are compelled to co-operate with the current scheme of property and are forced to benefit others. This means that self-determination requires resources as well as rights over one's physical and mental being. Concern for self-determination (i.e. meaningful self-ownership) leads us to common property plus workers' control of production and so some form of libertarian socialism - not private property and capitalism.
And, of course, the appropriation of the land requires a state to defend it against the dispossessed as well as continuous interference in people's lives. Left to their own devices, people would freely use the resources around them which they considered unjustly appropriated by others and it is only continuous state intervention that prevents then from violating Nozick's principles of justice (to use Nozick's own terminology, the "Lockean Proviso" is a patterned theory, his claims otherwise not withstanding).
In addition, we should note that private ownership by one person presupposes non-ownership by others ("we who belong to the proletaire class, property excommunicates us!" [Proudhon, Op. Cit., p. 105]) and so the "free market" restricts as well as creates liberties just as any other economic system. Hence the claim that capitalism constitutes "economic liberty" is obviously false. In fact, it is based upon denying liberty for the vast majority during work hours (as well as having serious impacts on liberty outwith work hours due to the effects of concentrations of wealth upon society).
Perhaps Nozick can claim that the increased material benefits of private property makes the acquisition justified. However, it seems strange that a theory supporting "liberty" should consider well off slaves to be better than poor free men and women. As Nozick claims that the wage slaves consent is not required for the initial acquisition, so perhaps he can claim that the gain in material welfare outweighs the loss of autonomy and so allows the initial act as an act of paternalism. But as Nozick opposes paternalism when it restricts private property rights he can hardly invoke it when it is required to generate these rights. And if we exclude paternalism and emphasise autonomy (as Nozick claims he does elsewhere in his theory), then justifying the initial creation of private property becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.
And if each owner's title to their property includes the historical shadow of the Lockean Proviso on appropriation, then such titles are invalid. Any title people have over unequal resources will be qualified by the facts that "property is theft" and that "property is despotism." The claim that private property is economic liberty is obviously untrue, as is the claim that private property can be justified in terms of anything except "might is right."
For more anarchist analysis on private property and why it cannot be justified (be it by occupancy, labour, natural right, or whatever) consult Proudhon's classic work What is Property?.
From Section J.1 titled "Are anarchists involved in social struggles?"
I recently saw this posted in the forum and have added it to my references on Anarchism.
J.1 Are anarchists involved in social struggles?
Yes. Anarchism, above all else, is a movement which aims to not only analyse the world but also to change it. Therefore anarchists aim to participate in and encourage social struggle. Social struggle includes strikes, marches, protests, demonstrations, boycotts, occupations and so on. Such activities show that the "spirit of revolt" is alive and well, that people are thinking and acting for themselves and against what authorities want them to do. This, in the eyes of anarchists, plays a key role in helping create the seeds of anarchy within capitalism.
Anarchists consider socialistic tendencies to develop within society, as people see the benefits of co-operation and particularly when mutual aid develops within the struggle against authority, oppression and exploitation. Anarchism, as Kropotkin argues, "originated in everyday struggles." [Environment and Revolution, p.58] Therefore, anarchists do not place anarchy abstractly against capitalism, but see it as a tendency within (and against) the system -- a tendency created by struggle and which can be developed to such a degree that it can replace the dominant structures and social relationships with new, more liberatory and humane ones. This perspective indicates why anarchists are involved in social struggles -- they are an expression of this tendency within but against capitalism which can ultimately replace it.
However, there is another reason why anarchists are involved in social struggle -- namely the fact that we are part of the oppressed and, like other oppressed people, fight for our freedom and to make our life better in the here and now. It is not in some tomorrow that we want to see the end of oppression, exploitation and hierarchy. It is today, in our own life, that the anarchist wants to win our freedom, or at the very least, to improve our situation, reduce oppression, domination and exploitation as well as increasing individual liberty. We are aware that we often fail to do so, but the very process of struggle can help create a more libertarian aspect to society:
"Whatever may be the practical results of the struggle for immediate gains, the greatest value lies in the struggle itself. For thereby workers [and other oppressed sections of society] learn that the bosses interests are opposed to theirs and that they cannot improve their conditions, and much less emancipate themselves, except by uniting and becoming stronger than the bosses. If they succeed in getting what they demand, they will be better off: they will earn more, work fewer hours and will have more time and energy to reflect on the things that matter to them, and will immediately make greater demands and have greater needs. If they do not succeed they will be led to study the reasons of their failure and recognise the need for closer unity and greater activity and they will in the end understand that to make victory secure and definite, it is necessary to destroy capitalism. The revolutionary cause, the cause of moral elevation and emancipation of the workers [and other oppressed sections of society] must benefit by the fact that workers [and other oppressed people] unite and struggle for their interests." [Errico Malatesta, Life and Ideas, p. 191]Therefore, "we as anarchists and workers, must incite and encourage them [the workers and other oppressed people] to struggle, and join them in their struggle." [Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 190] This is for three reasons. Firstly, struggle helps generate libertarian ideas and movements which could help make existing society more anarchistic and less oppressive. Secondly, struggle creates people, movements and organisations which are libertarian in nature and which, potentially, can replace capitalism with a more humane society. Thirdly, because anarchists are part of the oppressed and so have an interest in taking part in and showing solidarity with struggles and movements that can improve our life in the here and now ("an injury to one is an injury to all").
As we will see later (in section J.2) anarchists encourage direct action within social struggles as well as arguing anarchist ideas and theories. However, what is important to note here is that social struggle is a sign that people are thinking and acting for themselves and working together to change things. Anarchists agree with Howard Zinn when he points out that:
"civil disobedience. . . is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. . . Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem." [Failure to Quit, p. 45]
Therefore, social struggle is an important thing for anarchists and we take part in it as much as we can. Moreover, anarchists do more than just take part. We are fighting to get rid of the system that causes the problems which people fight again. We explain anarchism to those who are involved in struggle with us and seek to show the relevance of anarchism to people's everyday lives through our work in such struggles and the popular organisations which they create (in addition to trade unions, campaigning groups and other bodies). By so doing we try to popularise the ideas and methods of anarchism, namely solidarity, self-management and direct action.
Anarchists do not engage in abstract propaganda (become an anarchist, wait for the revolution -- if we did that, in Malatesta's words, "that day would never come." [Op. Cit., p. 195]). We know that our ideas will only win a hearing and respect when we can show both their relevance to people's lives in the here and now, and show that an anarchist world is both possible and desirable. In other words, social struggle is the "school" of anarchism, the means by which people become anarchists and anarchist ideas are applied in action. Hence the importance of social struggle and anarchist participation within it.
Before discussing issues related to social struggle, it is important to point out here that anarchists are interested in struggles against all forms of oppression and do not limit ourselves to purely economic issues. The hierarchical and exploitative nature of the capitalist system is only part of the story -- other forms of oppression are needed in order to keep it going (such as those associated with the state) and have resulted from its workings (in addition to those inherited from previous hierarchical and class systems). Like the bug in work, domination, exploitation, hierarchy and oppression soon spreads and infests our homes, our friendships and our communities. They need to be fought everywhere, not just in work.
Therefore, anarchists are convinced that human life (and the struggle against oppression) cannot be reduced to mere money and, indeed, the "proclivity for economic reductionism is now actually obscurantist. It not only shares in the bourgeois tendency to render material egotism and class interest the centrepieces of history it also denigrates all attempts to transcend this image of humanity as a mere economic being. . . by depicting them as mere 'marginalia' at best, as 'well-intentioned middle-class ideology' at worse, or sneeringly, as 'diversionary,' 'utopian,' and 'unrealistic.' . . . Capitalism, to be sure, did not create the 'economy' or 'class interest,' but it subverted all human traits - be they speculative thought, love, community, friendship, art, or self-governance - with the authority of economic calculation and the rule of quantity. Its 'bottom line' is the balance sheet's sum and its basic vocabulary consists of simple numbers." [Murray Bookchin, The Modern Crisis, pp. 125-126]
In other words, issues such as freedom, justice, individual dignity, quality of life and so on cannot be reduced to the categories of capitalist economics. Anarchists think that any radical movement which does so fails to understand the nature of the system they are fighting against. Indeed, economic reductionism plays into the hands of capitalist ideology. So, when anarchists take part in and encourage social struggle they do not aim to restrict or reduce them to economic issues (however important these are). The anarchist knows that the individual has more interests than just money and we consider it essential to take into account the needs of the emotions, mind and spirit just as much as those of the belly. Hence Bookchin:
"The class struggle does not centre around material exploitation alone but also around spiritual exploitation. In addition, entirely new issues emerge: coercive attitudes, the quality of work, ecology (or stated in more general terms, psychological and environmental oppression). . . Terms like 'classes' and 'class struggle,' conceived of almost entirely as economic categories and relations, are too one-sided to express the universalisation of the struggle. . . the target is still a ruling class and a class society . . . but this terminology, with its traditional connotations, does not reflect the sweep and the multi-dimensional nature of the struggle . . . [and] fail to encompass the cultural and spiritual revolt that is taking place along with the economic struggle."
[. . . ]
"Exploitation, class rule and happiness, are the particular within the more generalised concepts of domination, hierarchy and pleasure." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, pp.229-30 and p. 243]
As the anarchist character created by the science-fiction writer Ursula Le Guin (who is an anarchist) points out, capitalists "think if people have enough things they will be content to live in prison." [The Dispossessed, p. 120] Anarchists disagree, and the experience of social revolt in the "affluent" 1960s proves their case.
This is unsurprising for, ultimately, the "antagonism [between classes] is spiritual rather than material. There will never be a sincere understanding between bosses and workers. . . because the bosses above all want to remain bosses and secure always more power at the expense of the workers, as well as by competition with other bosses, whereas the workers have had their fill of bosses and don't want any more." [Errico Malatesta, Life and Ideas, p. 79]
J.1.1 Why are social struggles important?
Social struggle is an expression of the class struggle, namely the struggle of working class people against their exploitation, oppression and alienation and for their liberty from capitalist and state authority. It is what happens when one group of people have hierarchical power over another. Where there is oppression, there is resistance and where there is resistance to authority you will see anarchy in action. For this reason anarchists are in favour of, and are involved within, social struggles. Ultimately they are a sign of individuals asserting their autonomy and disgust at an unfair system.
When it boils down to it, our actual freedom is not determined by the law or by courts, but by the power the cop has over us in the street; the judge behind him; by the authority of our boss if we are working; by the power of teachers and heads of schools and universities if we are students; by the welfare bureaucracy if we are unemployed or poor; by landlords if we are tenants; by prison guards if we are in jail; by medical professionals if we are in a hospital. These realities of wealth and power will remain unshaken unless counter-forces appear on the very ground our liberty is restricted - on the street, in workplaces, at home, at school, in hospitals and so on.
Therefore social struggles for improvements are important indications of the spirit of revolt and of people supporting each other in the continual assertion of their (and our) freedom. They show people standing up for what they consider right and just, building alternative organisations, creating their own solutions to their problems - and are a slap in the face of all the paternal authorities which dare govern us. Hence their importance to anarchists and all people interested in extending freedom.
In addition, social struggle helps break people from their hierarchical conditioning. Anarchists view people not as fixed objects to be classified and labelled, but as human beings engaged in making their own lives. They live, love, think, feel, hope, dream, and can change themselves, their environment and social relationships. Social struggle is the way this is done collectively.
Struggle promotes attributes within people which are crushed by hierarchy (attributes such as imagination, organisational skills, self-assertion, self-management, critical thought, self-confidence and so on) as people come up against practical problems in their struggles and have to solve them themselves. This builds self-confidence and an awareness of individual and collective power. By seeing that their boss, the state and so on are against them they begin to realise that they live in a class ridden, hierarchical society that depends upon their submission to work. As such, social struggle is a politicising experience.
Struggle allows those involved to develop their abilities for self-rule through practice and so begins the process by which individuals assert their ability to control their own lives and to participate in social life directly. These are all key elements of anarchism and are required for an anarchist society to work ("Self-management of the struggle comes first, then comes self-management of work and society," in the words of Alfredo Bonnano ["Self-Management", Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed, no. 48, Fall-Winter 1999-2000, p. 35-37, p. 35]). So self-activity is a key factor in self-liberation, self-education and the creating of anarchists. In a nutshell, people learn in struggle.
A confident working class is an essential factor in making successful and libertarian improvements within the current system and, ultimately, in making a revolution. Without that self-confidence people tend to just follow "leaders" and we end up changing rulers rather than changing society.
Part of our job as anarchists is to encourage people to fight for whatever small reforms are possible at present, to improve our/their conditions, to give people confidence in their ability to start taking control of their lives, and to point out that there is a limit to whatever (sometimes temporary) gains capitalism will or can concede. Hence the need for a revolutionary change.
Until anarchist ideas are the dominant/most popular ones, other ideas will be the majority ones. If we think a movement is, all things considered, a positive or progressive one then we should not abstain but should seek to popularise anarchist ideas and strategies within it. In this way we create "schools of anarchy" within the current system and lay the foundations of something better. Revolutionary tendencies and movements, in other words, must create the organisations that contain, in embryo, the society of the future. These organisations, in turn, further the progress of radical change by providing social spaces for the transformation of individuals (via the use of direct action, practising self-management and solidarity, and so on). Therefore, social struggle aids the creation of a free society by accustoming the marginalised to govern themselves within self-managed organisations and empowering the (officially) disempowered via the use of direct action and mutual aid.
Hence the importance of social (or class) struggle for anarchists (which, we may add, goes on all the time and is a two-sided affair). Social struggle is the means of breaking the normality of capitalist and statist life, a means of developing the awareness for social change and the means of making life better under the current system. The moment that people refuse to bow to authority, its days are numbered. Social struggle indicates that some of the oppressed see that by using their power of disobedience they can challenge, perhaps eventually end, hierarchical power.
Ultimately, anarchy is not just something you believe in, it is not a cool label you affix to yourself, it is something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, anarchy crumbles. Social struggle is the means by which we ensure that anarchy becomes stronger and grows.
J.1.2 Are anarchists against reforms?
No, we are not. While most anarchists are against reformism (namely the notion that we can somehow reform capitalism and the state away) they are most definitely in favour of reforms (i.e. improvements in the here and now).
The claim that anarchists are against reforms and improvements in the here and now are often put forth by opponents of anarchism in an effort to paint us as extremists. Anarchists are radicals; as such, they seek the root causes of societal problems. Reformists seek to ameliorate the symptoms of societal problems, while anarchists focus on the causes.
In the words of the revolutionary syndicalist Emile Pouget (who is referring to revolutionary/libertarian unions but whose words can be generalised to all social movements):
"Trade union endeavour has a double aim: with tireless persistence, it must pursue betterment of the working class's current conditions. But, without letting themselves become obsessed with this passing concern, the workers should take care to make possible and imminent the essential act of comprehensive emancipation: the expropriation of capital.
"At present, trade union action is designed to won partial and gradual improvements which, far from constituting a goal, can only be considered as a means of stepping up demands and wresting further improvements from capitalism. . .
"This question of partial improvements served as the pretext for attempts to sow discord in the trades associations. Politicians . . . have tried to . . . stir up ill-feeling and to split the unions into two camps, by categorising workers as reformists and as revolutionaries. The better to discredit the latter, they have dubbed them 'the advocates of all or nothing' and the have falsely represented them as supposed adversaries of improvements achievable right now.
"The most that can be said about this nonsense is that it is witless. There is not a worker . . . who, on grounds of principle or for reasons of tactics, would insist upon working tend hours for an employer instead of eight hours, while earning six francs instead of seven. . .
"What appears to afford some credence to such chicanery is the fact that the unions, cured by the cruel lessons of experience from all hope in government intervention, are justifiably mistrustful of it. They know that the State, whose function is to act as capital's gendarme, is, by its very nature, inclined to tip the scales in favour of the employer side. So, whenever a reform is brought about by legal avenues, they do not fall upon it with the relish of a frog devouring the red rag that conceals the hook, they greet it with all due caution, especially as this reform is made effective only of the workers are organised to insist forcefully upon its implementation.
"The trade unions are even more wary of gifts from the government because they have often found these to be poison gifts. . .
"But, given that the trade unions look askance at the government's benevolence towards them, it follows that they are loath to go after partial improvements. Wanting real improvements . . . instead of waiting until the government is generous enough to bestow them, they wrest them in open battle, through direct action.
"If, as sometimes is the case, the improvement they seek is subject to the law, the trade unions strive to obtain it through outside pressure brought to bear upon the authorities and not by trying to return specially mandated deputies to Parliament, a puerile pursuit that might drag on for centuries before there was a majority in favour of the yearned-for reform.
"When the desired improvement is to be wrestled directly from the capitalist, the trades associations resort to vigorous pressure to convey their wishes. Their methods may well vary, although the direct action principle underlies them all. . .
"But, whatever the improvement won, it must always represent a reduction in capitalist privileges and be a partial expropriation. So . . . the fine distinction between 'reformist' and 'revolutionary' evaporates and one is led to the conclusion that the only really reformist workers are the revolutionary syndicalists." [No Gods, No Masters, pp. 71-3]
By seeking improvements from below by direct action, solidarity and the organisation of those who directly suffer the injustice, anarchists can make reforms more substantial, effective and long lasting than "reforms" made from above by reformists. By recognising that the effectiveness of a reform is dependent on the power of the oppressed to resist those who would dominate them, anarchists seek change from the bottom-up and so make reforms real rather than just words gathering dust in the law books.
For example, a reformist sees poverty and looks at ways to lessen the destructive and debilitating effects of it: this produced things like the minimum wage, affirmative action, and the projects in the USA and similar reforms in other countries. An anarchist looks at poverty and says, "what causes this?" and attacks that source of poverty, rather than the symptoms. While reformists may succeed in the short run with their institutional panaceas, the festering problems remain untreated, dooming reform to eventual costly, inevitable failure -- measured in human lives, no less. Like a quack that treats the symptoms of a disease without getting rid of what causes it, all the reformist can promise is short-term improvements for a condition that never goes away and may ultimately kill the sufferer. The anarchist, like a real doctor, investigates the causes of the illness and treats them while fighting the symptoms.
Therefore, anarchists are of the opinion that "[w]hile preaching against every kind of government, and demanding complete freedom, we must support all struggles for partial freedom, because we are convinced that one learns through struggle, and that once one begins to enjoy a little freedom one ends by wanting it all. We must always be with the people . . . [and] get them to understand . . . [what] they may demand should be obtained by their own efforts and that they should despise and detest whoever is part of, or aspires to, government." [Errico Malatesta, Life and Ideas p. 195]
Anarchists keep the spotlight on the actual problems, which of course alienates them from their "distinguished" reformists foes. Reformists are uniformly "reasonable" and always make use of "experts" who will make everything okay - and they are always wrong in how they deal with a problem.
The recent "health care crisis" in the United States is a prime example of reformism at work.
The reformist says, "how can we make health care more affordable to people? How can we keep those insurance rates down to levels people can pay?"
The anarchist says, "should health care be considered a privilege or a right? Is medical care just another marketable commodity, or do living beings have an inalienable right to it?"
Notice the difference? The reformist has no problem with people paying for medical care -- business is business, right? The anarchist, on the other hand, has a big problem with that attitude -- we are talking about human lives, here! For now, the reformists have won with their "managed care" reformism, which ensures that the insurance companies and medical industry continue to rake in record profits -- at the expense of people's lives. And, in the end, the proposed reforms were defeated by the power of big business -- without a social movement with radical aims such a result was a forgone conclusion.
Reformists get acutely uncomfortable when you talk about genuinely bringing change to any system -- they don't see anything wrong with the system itself, only with a few pesky side effects. In this sense, they are stewards of the Establishment, and are agents of reaction, despite their altruistic overtures. By failing to attack the sources of problems, and by hindering those who do, they ensure that the problems at hand will only grow over time, and not diminish.
So, anarchists are not opposed to struggles for reforms and improvements in the here and now. Indeed, few anarchists think that an anarchist society will occur without a long period of anarchist activity encouraging and working within social struggle against injustice. Thus Malatesta's words:
"the subject is not whether we accomplish Anarchism today, tomorrow or within ten centuries, but that we walk towards Anarchism today, tomorrow and always." ["Towards Anarchism,", Man!, M. Graham (Ed.), p. 75]
So, when fighting for improvements anarchists do so in an anarchist way, one that encourages self-management, direct action and the creation of libertarian solutions and alternatives to both capitalism and the state.
J.1.3 Why are anarchists against reformism?
Firstly, it must be pointed out that the struggle for reforms within capitalism is not the same as reformism. Reformism is the idea that reforms within capitalism are enough in themselves and attempts to change the system are impossible (and not desirable). As such all anarchists are against this form of reformism -- we think that the system can be (and should be) changed and until that happens any reforms will not get to the root of social problems.
In addition, particularly in the old social democratic labour movement, reformism also meant the belief that social reforms could be used to transform capitalism into socialism. In this sense, only the Individualist anarchists and Mutualists can be considered reformist as they think their system of mutual banking can reform capitalism into a co-operative system. However, in contrast to Social Democracy, such anarchists think that such reforms cannot come about via government action, but only by people creating their own alternatives and solutions by their own actions.
So, anarchists oppose reformism because it takes the steam out of revolutionary movements by providing easy, decidedly short-term "solutions" to deep social problems. In this way, reformists can present the public with they've done and say "look, all is better now. The system worked." Trouble is that over time, the problems will only continue to grow, because the reforms did not tackle them in the first place. To use Alexander Berkman's excellent analogy:
"If you should carry out [the reformers] ideas in your personal life, you would not have a rotten tooth that aches pulled out all at once. You would have it pulled out a little to-day, some more next week, for several months or years, and by then you would be ready to pull it out altogether, so it should not hurt so much. That is the logic of the reformer. Don't be 'too hasty,' don't pull a bad tooth out all at once." [What is Communist Anarchism?, p. 53]
Rather than seek to change the root cause of the problems (namely in a hierarchical, oppressive and exploitative system), reformists try to make the symptoms better. In the words of Berkman again:
"Suppose a pipe burst in your house. You can put a bucket under the break to catch the escaping water. You can keep on putting buckets there, but as long as you do not mean the broken pipe, the leakage will continue, no matter how much you may swear about it . . . the leakage will continue until you repair the broken social pipe." [Op. Cit., p. 56]
What reformism fails to do is fix the underlying causes of the real problems society faces. Therefore, reformists try to pass laws which reduce the level of pollution rather than work to end a system in which it makes economic sense to pollute. Or they pass laws to improve working conditions and safety while failing to get rid of the wage slavery which creates the bosses whose interests are served by them ignoring those laws and regulations. The list is endless. Ultimately, reformism fails because reformists "believe in good faith that it is possible to eliminate the existing social evils by recognising and respecting, in practice if not in theory, the basic political and economic institutions which are the cause of, as well as the prop that supports these evils." [Errico Malatesta, Life and Ideas, p. 82]
Reformists, in other words, are like people who think that treating the symptoms of, say, cholera is enough in and of itself. In practice, of course, the causes that create the disease as well as the disease itself must be combated before the symptoms will disappear. While most people would recognise the truth of this in the case of medicine, fewer apply it to social problems.
Revolutionaries, in contrast to reformists, fight both symptoms and the root causes. They recognise that as long as the cause of the evil remains, any attempts to fight the symptoms, however necessary, will never get to the root of the problem. There is no doubt that we have to fight the symptoms, however revolutionaries recognise that this struggle is not an end in itself and should be considered purely as a means of increasing working class strength and social power within society until such time as capitalism and the state (i.e. the root causes of most problems) can be abolished.
Reformists also tend to objectify the people whom they are "helping;" they envision them as helpless, formless masses who need the wisdom and guidance of the "best and the brightest" to lead them to the Promised Land. Reformists mean well, but this is altruism borne of ignorance, which is destructive over the long run. Freedom cannot be given and so any attempt to impose reforms from above cannot help but ensure that people are treated as children, incapable of making their own decisions and, ultimately, dependent on bureaucrats to govern them. This can be seen from public housing. As Colin Ward argues, the "whole tragedy of publicly provided non-profit housing for rent and the evolution of this form of tenure in Britain is that the local authorities have simply taken over, though less flexibly, the role of the landlord, together with all the dependency and resentment that it engenders." [Housing: An Anarchist Approach, p. 184] This feature of reformism was skilfully used by the right-wing to undermine publicly supported housing and other aspects of the welfare state. The reformist social-democrats reaped what they had sown.
Reformism often amounts to little more than an altruistic contempt for the masses, who are considered as little more than victims who need to be provided for by state. The idea that we may have our own visions of what we want is ignored and replaced by the vision of the reformists who enact legislation for us and make "reforms" from the top-down. Little wonder such reforms can be counter-productive -- they cannot grasp the complexity of life and the needs of those subject to them.
Reformists may mean well, but they do not grasp the larger picture -- by focusing exclusively on narrow aspects of a problem, they choose to believe that is the whole problem. In this wilfully narrow examination of pressing social ills, reformists are, more often than not, counter-productive. The disaster of the urban rebuilding projects in the United States (and similar projects in Britain which moved inter-city working class communities into edge of town developments during the 1950s and 1960s) are an example of reformism at work: upset at the growing slums, reformists supported projects that destroyed the ghettos and built brand-new housing for working class people to live in. They looked nice (initially), but they did nothing to address the problem of poverty and indeed created more problems by breaking up communities and neighbourhoods.
Logically, it makes no sense. Why dance around a problem when you can attack it directly? Reformists dilute social movements, softening and weakening them over time. The AFL-CIO labour unions in the USA, like the ones in Western Europe, killed the labour movement by narrowing and channelling labour activity and taking the power from the workers themselves, where it belongs, and placing it the hands of a bureaucracy. The British Labour Party, after over 100 years of reformist practice, has done little more than manage capitalism, seen most of its reforms eliminated by right-wing governments (and by the following Labour government!) and the creation of a leadership of the party (in the shape of Tony Blair) which is in most ways as right-wing as the Conservative Party (if not more so). Bakunin would not have been surprised.
Reformists say, "don't do anything, we'll do it for you." You can see why anarchists would loathe this sentiment; anarchists are the consummate do-it-yourselfers, and there's nothing reformists hate more than people who can take care of themselves, who will not let them "help" them.
Also, it is funny to hear left-wing "revolutionaries" and "radicals" put forward the reformist line that the capitalist state can help working people (indeed be used to abolish itself!). Despite the fact that leftists blame the state and capitalism for most of the problems we face, they usually turn to the state (run primarily by rich - i.e. capitalist - people) to remedy the situation, not by leaving people alone, but by becoming more involved in people's lives. They support government housing, government jobs, welfare, government-funded and regulated child care, government-funded drug "treatment," and other government-centred programmes and activities. If a capitalist (and racist/sexist/authoritarian) government is the problem, how can it be depended upon to change things to the benefit of working class people or other oppressed sections of the population like blacks and women? Surely any reforms passed by the state will not solve the problem? As Malatesta pointed out, "[g]overnments and the privileged classes are naturally always guided by instincts of self-preservation, of consolidation and the development of their powers and privileges; and when they consent to reforms it is either because they consider that they will serve their ends or because they do not feel strong enough to resist, and give in, fearing what might otherwise be a worse alternative" (i.e. revolution) [Op. Cit., p. 81] Therefore, reforms gained by direct action are of a different quality and nature than reforms passed by reformist politicians -- these latter will only serve the interests of the ruling class as they do not threaten their privileges while the former have the potential of real change.
Instead of encouraging working class people to organise themselves and create their own alternatives and solutions to their problem (which can supplement, and ultimately replace, whatever welfare state activity which is actually useful), reformists and other radicals urge people to get the state to act for them. However, the state is not the community and so whatever the state does for people you can be sure it will be in its interests, not theirs. As Kropotkin put it:
"We maintain that the State organisation, having been the force to which the minorities resorted for establishing and organising their power over the masses, cannot be the force which will serve to destroy these privileges . . . the economic and political liberation of man will have to create new forms for its expression in life, instead of those established by the State.
"Consequently, the chief aim of Anarchism is to awaken those constructive powers of the labouring masses of the people which at all great moments of history came forward to accomplish the necessary changes . . .
"This is also why the Anarchists refuse to accept the functions of legislators or servants of the State. We know that the social revolution will not be accomplished by means of laws. Laws only follow the accomplished facts . . . [and] remains a dead letter so long as there are not on the spot the living forced required for making of the tendencies expressed in the law an accomplished fact.
"On the other hand . . . the Anarchists have always advised taking an active part in those workers' organisations which carry on the direct struggle of Labour against Capital and its protector, -- the State.
"Such a struggle . . . better than any other indirect means, permits the worker to obtain some temporary improvements in the present conditions of work [and life in general], while it opens his [or her] eyes to the evil that is done by Capitalism and the State that supports it, and wakes up his thoughts concerning the possibility of organising consumption, production, and exchange without the intervention of the capitalist and the State." [Environment and Evolution, pp.82-3]
Therefore, while seeking reforms, anarchists are against reformism and reformists. Reforms are not an end in themselves but rather a means of changing society from the bottom-up and a step in that direction:
"Each step towards economic freedom, each victory won over capitalism will be at the same time a step towards political liberty -- towards liberation from the yoke of the state. . . And each step towards taking from the State any one of its powers and attributes will be helping the masses to win a victory over capitalism." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 95]
However, no matter what, anarchists "will never recognise the institutions; we will take or win all possible reforms with the same spirit that one tears occupied territory from the enemy's grasp in order to keep advancing, and we will always remain enemies of every government." Therefore, "[i]t is not true to say . . . [that anarchists] are systematically opposed to improvements, to reforms. They oppose the reformists on the one hand because their methods are less effective for securing reforms from government and employers, who only give in through fear, and because very often the reforms they prefer are those which not only bring doubtful immediate benefits, but also serve to consolidate the existing regime and to give the workers a vested interest in its continued existence." [Life and Ideas, p. 81 and p. 83]
Only by working class people, by their own actions and organisation, getting the state and capital out of the way can produce an improvement in their lives, indeed it is the only thing that will lead to real fundamental changes for the better. Encouraging people to rely on themselves instead of the state or capital can lead to self-sufficient, independent, and, hopefully, more rebellious people -- people who will rebel against the real evils in society (capitalist and statist exploitation and oppression, racism, sexism, ecological destruction, and so on) and not their neighbours.
Working class people, despite having fewer options in a number of areas in their lives, due both to hierarchy and restrictive laws, still are capable of making choices about their actions, organising their own lives and are responsible for the consequences of their decisions, just as other people are. To think otherwise is to infantilise them, to consider them less fully human than other people and reproduce the classic capitalist vision of working class people as means of production, to be used, abused, and discarded as required. Such thinking lays the basis for paternalistic interventions in their lives by the state, ensuring their continued dependence and poverty and the continued existence of capitalism and the state.
Ultimately, there are two options:
"The oppressed either ask for and welcome improvements as a benefit graciously conceded, recognise the legitimacy of the power which is over them, and so do more harm than good by helping to slow down, or divert . . . the processes of emancipation. Or instead they demand and impose improvements by their action, and welcome them as partial victories over the class enemy, using them as a spur to greater achievements, and thus a valid help and a preparation to the total overthrow of privilege, that is, for the revolution." [Errico Malatesta, Op. Cit., p. 81]
Reformism encourages the first attitude within people and so ensures the impoverishment of the human spirit. Anarchism encourages the second attitude and so ensures the enrichment of humanity and the possibility of meaningful change. Why think that ordinary people cannot arrange their lives for themselves as well as Government people can arrange it not for themselves but for others?
J.1.4 What attitude do anarchists take to "single-issue" campaigns?
Firstly, we must note that anarchists do take part in "single-issue" campaigns, but do not nourish false hopes in them. This section explains what anarchists think of such campaigns.
A "single-issue" campaign are usually run by a pressure group which concentrates on tackling issues one at a time. For example, C.N.D. (The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) is a classic example of "single-issue" campaigning with the aim of getting rid of nuclear weapons as the be all and end all of its activity. For anarchists, however, single-issue campaigning can be seen as a source of false hopes. The possibilities of changing one aspect of a totally inter-related system and the belief that pressure groups can compete fairly with transnational corporations, the military and so forth, in their influence over decision making bodies can both be seen to be optimistic at best.
In addition, many "single-issue" campaigns desire to be "apolitical", concentrating purely on the one issue which unites the campaign and so refuse to analyse or discuss the system they are trying to change. This means that they end up accepting the system which causes the problems they are fighting against. At best, any changes achieved by the campaign must be acceptable to the establishment or be so watered down in content that no practical long-term good is done.
This can be seen from the green movement, where groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth accept the status quo as a given and limit themselves to working within it. This often leads to them tailoring their "solutions" to be "practical" within a fundamentally anti-ecological political and economic system, so slowing down (at best) ecological disruption.
For anarchists these problems all stem from the fact that social problems cannot be solved as single issues. As Larry Law argues:
"single issue politics . . . deals with the issue or problem in isolation. When one problem is separated from all other problems, a solution really is impossible. The more campaigning on an issue there is, the narrower its perspectives become . . . As the perspective of each issue narrows, the contradictions turn into absurdities . . . What single issue politics does is attend to 'symptoms' but does not attack the 'disease' itself. It presents such issues as nuclear war, racial and sexual discrimination, poverty, starvation, pornography, etc., as if they were aberrations or faults in the system. In reality such problems are the inevitable consequence of a social order based on exploitation and hierarchical power . . . single issue campaigns lay their appeal for relief at the feet of the very system which oppresses them. By petitioning they acknowledge the right of those in power to exercise that power as they choose." [Bigger Cages, Longer Chains, pp. 17-20].
Single issue politics often prolong the struggle for a free society by fostering illusions that it is just parts of the capitalist system which are wrong, not the whole of it, and that those at the top of the system can, and will, act in our interests. While such campaigns can do some good, practical, work and increase knowledge and education about social problems, they are limited by their very nature and can not lead to extensive improvements in the here and now, never mind a free society.
Therefore, anarchists often support and work within single-issue campaigns, trying to get them to use effective methods of activity (such as direct action), work in an anarchistic manner (i.e. from the bottom up) and to try to "politicise" them into questioning the whole of the system. However, anarchists do not let themselves be limited to such activity as a social revolution or movement is not a group of single-issue campaigns but a mass movement which understands the inter-related nature of social problems and so the need to change every aspect of life.
J.1.5 Why do anarchists try to generalise social struggles?
Basically, we do it in order to encourage and promote solidarity. This is the key to winning struggles in the here and now as well as creating the class consciousness necessary to create an anarchist society. At its most simple, generalising different struggles means increasing the chances of winning them. Take, for example, a strike in which one trade or one workplace goes on strike while the others continue to work:
"Consider yourself how foolish and inefficient is the present form of labour organisation in which one trade or craft may be on strike while the other branches of the same industry continue to work. Is it not ridiculous that when the street car workers of New York, for instance, quit work, the employees of the subway, the cab and omnibus drivers remain on the job? . . . It is clear, then, that you compel compliance [from your bosses] only when you are determined, when your union is strong, when you are well organised, when you are united in such a manner that the boss cannot run his factory against your will. But the employer is usually some big . . . company that has mills or mines in various places. . . If it cannot operate . . . in Pennsylvania because of a strike, it will try to make good its losses by continuing . . . and increasing production [elsewhere]. . . In that way the company . . . breaks the strike." [Alexander Berkman, The ABC of Anarchism, pp. 53-54]
By organising all workers in one union (after all they all have the same boss) it increases the power of each trade considerably. It may be easy for a boss to replace a few workers, but a whole workplace would be far more difficult. By organising all workers in the same industry, the power of each workplace is correspondingly increased. Extending this example to outside the workplace, its clear that by mutual support between different groups increases the chances of each group winning its fight.
As the I.W.W. put it, "An injury to one is an injury to all." By generalising struggles, by practising mutual support and aid we can ensure that when we are fighting for our rights and against injustice we will not be isolated and alone. If we don't support each other, groups will be picked off one by one and if we are go into conflict with the system there will be on-one there to support us and we may lose.
Therefore, from an anarchist point of view, the best thing about generalising different struggles together is that it leads to an increased spirit of solidarity and responsibility as well as increased class consciousness. This is because by working together and showing solidarity those involved get to understand their common interests and that the struggle is not against this injustice or that boss but against all injustice and all bosses.
This sense of increased social awareness and solidarity can be seen from the experience of the C.N.T in Spain during the 1930s. The C.N.T. organised all workers in a given area into one big union. Each workplace was a union branch and were joined together in a local area confederation. The result was that:
"The territorial basis of organisation linkage [of the C.N.T. unions] brought all the workers form one area together and fomented working class solidarity over and before corporative [i.e. industrial] solidarity." [J. Romero Maura, "The Spanish Case", in Anarchism Today, D. Apter and J. Joll (eds.), p. 75]
This can also be seen from the experiences of the syndicalist unions in Italy and France as well. The structure of such local federations also situates the workplace in the community where it really belongs (particularly if the commune concept supported by social anarchists is to be realistic).
Also, by uniting struggles together, we can see that there are really no "single issues" - that all various different problems are inter-linked. For example, ecological problems are not just that, but have a political and economic basis and that economic and social domination and exploitation spills into the environment. Inter-linking struggles means that they can be seen to be related to other struggles against capitalist exploitation and oppression and so encourage solidarity and mutual aid. What goes on in the environment, for instance, is directly related to questions of domination and inequality within human society, that pollution is often directly related to companies cutting corners to survive in the market or increase profits. Similarly, struggles against sexism or racism can be seen as part of a wider struggle against hierarchy, exploitation and oppression in all their forms. As such, uniting struggles has an important educational effect above and beyond the benefits in terms of winning struggles.
Murray Bookchin presents a concrete example of this process of linking issues and widening the struggle:
"Assume there is a struggle by welfare mothers to increase their allotments . . . Without losing sight of the concrete issues that initially motivated the struggle, revolutionaries would try to catalyse an order of relationships between the mothers entirely different from [existing ones] . . . They would try to foster a deep sense of community, a rounded human relationship that would transform the very subjectivity of the people involved . . . Personal relationships would be intimate, not merely issue-orientated. People would get to know each other, to confront each other; they would explore each other with a view of achieving the most complete, unalienated relationships. Women would discuss sexism, as well as their welfare allotments, child-rearing as well as harassment by landlords, their dreams and hopes as human beings as well as the cost of living.
"From this intimacy there would grow, hopefully, a supportive system of kinship, mutual aid, sympathy and solidarity in daily life. The women might collaborate to establish a rotating system of baby sitters and child-care attendants, the co-operative buying of good food at greatly reduced prices, the common cooking and partaking of meals, the mutual learning of survival skills and the new social ideas, the fostering of creative talents, and many other shared experiences. Every aspect of life that could be explored and changed would be one part of the kind of relationships . . .
"The struggle for increased allotments would expand beyond the welfare system to the schools, the hospitals, the police, the physical, cultural, aesthetic and recreational resources of the neighbourhood, the stores, the houses, the doctors and lawyers in the area, and so on - into the very ecology of the district.
"What I have said on this issue could be applied to every issue -- unemployment, bad housing, racism, work conditions -- in which an insidious assimilation of bourgeois modes of functioning is masked as 'realism' and 'actuality.' The new order of relationships that could be developed from a welfare struggle . . . [can ensure that the] future penetrates the present; it recasts the way people 'organise' and the goals for which they strive." [Op. Cit., pp. 231-3]
As the anarchist slogan puts it, "Resistance is Fertile." Planting the seed of autonomy, direct action and self-liberation can result, potentially, in the blossoming of a free individual due to the nature of struggle itself (see also section A.2.7) Therefore, the generalisation of social struggle is not only a key way of winning a specific fight, it can (and should) also spread into different aspects of life and society and play a key part in developing free individuals who reject hierarchy in all aspects of their life.
Social problems are not isolated from each other and so struggles against them cannot be. The nature of struggle is such that once people start questioning one aspect of society, the questioning of the rest soon follow. So, anarchists seek to generalise struggles for these three reasons -- firstly, to ensure the solidarity required to win; secondly, to combat the many social problems we face as people and to show how they are inter-related; and, thirdly, to encourage the transformation of those involved into unique individuals in touch with their humanity, a humanity eroded by hierarchical society and domination.
Thinking about Anarchism
Anarchism and Marxism
MARXISM and Anarchism have been the two major theories of revolutionary socialism since the middle of the last century. Yet since then they have constantly been at loggerheads. In this article Conor McLoughlin examines and compares the two to see do they, in fact, have anything in common.
Firstly it is essential to define both sets of ideas. What is anarchism? What is Marxism? For the moment I have decided to ignore all the latter-day disciples of both sets of ideas. So I will not talk about the various Stalinist, Leninist and social democratic developments of Marx's ideas. These have already been well dealt with in previous issues of this paper. Instead I wish to concentrate on the basic ideas of Marx and Engels.
BACK TO BASICS
For the anarchist point of view I will use the writings of Bakunin. He was Marx's consistent opponent and his basic arguments are accepted by most anarchists. Neither Marx or Bakunin were ever entirely consistent and the latter's writings are very fragmentary, however this seems to me to be the fairest method of comparison.
A lot of people who call themselves anarchists will probably be extremely annoyed when I say that the most striking thing is how much we have in common with Marxism. Both anarchists and Marxists are materialists. Both believe that the ideas in peoples' heads are shaped by the social and economic conditions in which we live. We see that ideas evolve and change through action. Thought leads to action and action provokes thought.
WHO CAN GET RID OF CAPITALISM
Both sides accept Marx's theory that labour creates value and that in production much of this is creamed off by the capitalist as profit, leaving a fraction as wages. Also shared is the view that only the working class by, virtue of their role in production, have the power to destroy capitalism.
Further, it is in their interest to do so. Workers have the power to create a classless society and would benefit from it's creation. Both Anarchists and revolutionary Marxists accept that only revolution can achieve this and that it must be international to succeed.
Marx's 'Capital' is a wide ranging, well researched and referenced assault on the capitalist system. In his own words a synthesis; incorporating a range of ideas from right-wing economists like Weber, Ricardo and Adam Smith to revolutionaries like Proudhon and the Irishman William Thompson. Anarchists accepted and welcomed this critique. In fact Bakunin had begun a translation of the book into Russian (no mean feat if you've ever seen the size of this particular work).
Lets be friends?
So why don't we all just shake hands and let bygones be bygones?
Firstly there has always been a major disagreement on the nature of the state. By State we do not mean the country we live in. It is best described as the 'executive committee' of the ruling class, the mechanism that allows a minority to rule. Ultimately it defends its power through its monopoly of force, its powers of repression to protect the bosses' rule against challenges from below.
Anarchists have always seen it as non-essential for a classless society. However it is vital to the bosses in all forms of class society. It intervenes massively in the running of most average capitalist countries and in some cases may even embody the whole of the ruling class in a kind of collective exploitation (as in the former Stalinist bloc).
Marx and Engels, on the other hand have always been ambiguous about the State. At several stages they stressed that it was a neutral body which could be used by workers in revolution. In 1848, after the Paris uprising, they drafted the 'Communist Manifesto'. In this they repeatedly speak of "The Worker's State" which was to nationalise and centralise all production, finance, transport and communication. There is no mention of how the workers would be able to control "their state".
WORKERS POWER OR DICTATORSHIP OVER WORKERS?
However in 'The Civil War in France', written after the 1871 Paris Commune, Marx toyed with the idea of replacing the State with "Communal Power" and "the self-government of producers", though without mentioning exactly how this was to come about. By the time of the publication of 'The Critique of the Gotha Programme' in 1875 he was back to the ambiguous concept of "dictatorship of the proletariat".
In contrast Bakunin consistently and vigorously attacked the idea of a revolutionary role for the State. He predicted the tyranny of Leninism with uncanny accuracy in 'State and Anarchism' written in 1873;
"The new social order (of Marx) should not be organised by the free association of peoples' organisations or unions, local and regional, from the bottom up in accordance with the demands and instincts of the people, but by the dictatorial power of the learned minority which presumes to express the will of the people."
In Russia in 1917 the Bolsheviks attempted to implement Marx's basic programme. As part and parcel of state controlled nationalisation from above, they closed down factory committees and soviets. All other left-wing parties were smashed. The result was the squalid form of State Capitalism which survived until the late 1980s. Bakunin was, unfortunately, all too correct in his predictions.
At a deeper level there are ambiguities at the very heart of Marxism. In his early works like "Thesis on Feurbach" or "The Holy Family" people are seen as being active in changing history. However in his later works history and economics take over and are seen to sweep us along with them.
There are shades of this thinking in 'Capital'. In this he puts forward the idea that capitalism would become a fetter on the further development of production and would be shuffled off in an unspecified way. He puts up the vague idea that capitalism would become so big and so planned that socialism, purely in terms of efficiency, would be the next logical step. Capitalism would "rationalise itself out of existence" as he put it in his 'Grundrisse' notebooks for 'Capital'.
This is very deterministic thinking. It removes workers from the stage as consciously moulding and changing the world. Socialism becomes a matter of waiting for capitalism to "mature". This was the reason for some Marxists like the German Social Democrats believing there was no need for a revolution.
Marx, and then Engels after his death, did follow this through to it's logical conclusion. They flirted with the idea of bringing about socialism through social democracy and the ballot. In 1869 they supported the German Social Democratic Party's line of forming alliances with right-wing parties.
Bakunin poured scorn on these ideas. He described the democratic state as: "State Centralisation and the actual submission of the sovereign people to the intellectual governing minority".
SOCIALISM BY ELECTING 166 TDs?
Soon after the Paris Commune Marx and Engels broke with the Social Democratic Party. But in 1895 the ageing Engels was back to his old tricks again and put the accent on using the ballot box to get into power to change society, (in his introduction to a new edition of 'The Communist Manifesto'). Marx also claimed, at one stage that it was possible to introduce socialism through the ballot box in advanced capitalist countries like Britain and America.
It appears that, except for a brief period around 1871, Marx and Engels never gave any serious consideration to the idea of workers managing society. Even then they didn't look into to the matter in any detail. In contrast Proudhon (with whom we would have our differences), Bakunin and Kropotkin did. Marx saw this as very much being a long-term aim.
Bakunin's rejection of Marx's determinism also gave him an insight into the role that small peasants could play in a revolutionary situation. Marx saw the peasants as a reactionary class who would generally not support workers. Bakunin believed that peasants could be revolutionary where they were influenced by revolutionary ideas. He put forward an excellent programme for the peasants in his work 'Letters to a Frenchman in the present Crisis' (1871).
His basic idea was to hand the land over unconditionally to small peasants. and to do away with conscription, taxes, rents and mortgages. With the abolition of the State and by this the loss of inheritance rights the individual would be the only guarantor of his/her property. With a large amount of land suddenly becoming available and with anarchist propaganda pouring in from the city and from landless workers, a programme of voluntary collectivisation would soon suggest itself. This is exactly what happened in Spain in 1936 and the Ukraine in 1921. These ideas might still have relevance in many developing countries.
VOLUNTARY OR NOT AT ALL
He also warned about the dangers of forced collectivisation - it would have to be voluntary: "collectivism could only be imposed on slaves and that kind of collectivisation would be the negation of humanity".
So there are important and major differences between anarchists and Marxists. Marx was no libertarian and took a very deterministic view of history and class struggle. His disciples from Lenin to Stalin and Mao picked up and expanded on Marx's bad ideas to come up with their theories of 'the party before all else', the rationale for their dictatorships.
On the other hand Marx and Engels have unfairly been demonised by a lot of anarchists. Most anarchists accept the much of the economic analysis put forward in 'Capital'. These ideas are a synthesis putting together the results of hundreds of years of research and struggle. As such they are not, properly speaking, the property of Marxists. One can accept a materialist method of analysis and Marx's critique of capitalism without accepting the politics of Marx and Engels. These ideas are not the property of theorists, either Marxist or Anarchist. They really belong to all the workers of the world and it is our job to spread them.
It's out there, it's not anecdotal.
Therefore Caplan's case against the Historical Argument also fails - "anarcho-capitalism" is a misnomer because anarchism has always, in all its forms, opposed capitalism. Denying and re-writing history is hardly a means of refuting the historical argument.And regardless of how you define it, what you are advocating is no different than what Bill White pushes for on his website. 9
Caplan ends by stating:
"Let us designate anarchism (1) anarchism as you define it. Let us designate anarchism (2) anarchism as I and the American Heritage College Dictionary define it. This is a FAQ about anarchism (2)."
Note that here we see again how the dictionary is a very poor foundation upon to base an argument. Again using Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, we find under "anarchist" - "one who rebels against any authority, established order, or ruling power." This definition is very close to that which "traditional" anarchists have - which is the basis for our own opposition to the notion that anarchism is merely rebellion against State authority.
Clearly this definition is at odds with Caplan's own view; is Webster's then wrong, and Caplan's view right? Which view is backed by the theory and history of the movement? Surely that should be the basis of who is part of the anarchist tradition and movement and who is not? Rather than do this, Caplan and other "anarcho"-capitalists rush to the dictionary (well, those that do not define anarchy as "disorder"). This is for a reason as anarchism as a political movement as always been explicitly anti-capitalist and so the term "anarcho"-capitalism is an oxymoron.
What Caplan fails to even comprehend is that his choices are false. Anarchism can be designated in two ways:
(1). Anarchism as you define it
(2). Anarchism as the anarchist movement defines it and finds expression in the theories developed by that movement.
Caplan chooses anarchism (1) and so denies the whole history of the anarchist movement. Anarchism is not a word, it is a political theory with a long history which dictionaries cannot cover. Therefore any attempt to define anarchism by such means is deeply flawed and ultimately fails.
That Caplan's position is ultimately false can be seen from the "anarcho"-capitalists themselves. In many dictionaries anarchy is defined as "disorder," "a state of lawlessness" and so on. Strangely enough, no "anarcho"-capitalist ever uses these dictionary definitions of "anarchy"! Thus appeals to dictionaries are just as much a case of defining anarchism as you desire as not using dictionaries. Far better to look at the history and traditions of the anarchist movement itself, seek out its common features and apply those as criteria to those seeking to include themselves in the movement. As can be seen, "anarcho"-capitalism fails this test and, therefore, are not part of the anarchist movement. Far better for us all if they pick a new label to call themselves rather than steal our name.
Although most anarchists disagree on many things, the denial of its history is not one of them.
And what do you call, our present public school system if not chaotic.?
I call our present public school system lots of things, actually, but chaotic is not one of them. Assuming we can agree that chaos means basically the absence of order, the public school system is not even random in its output, let alone chaotic. If it were chaotic the kids wouldn't be learning anything at all. As it is they learn a great deal, actually - political correctness; revisionist history; how to feel good about themselves in the absence of real achievement; how to wear condoms and participate in certain "normative life styles as sexual animals". They are learning exactly what their teachers want them to learn. It's wrong, it's immoral, it's irreligious, it's evil, it's pernicious and insidious, but it's not at all chaotic - it's planned.
And what did you call the events of 9-11?
I called, and still call, the events of 9-ll despicable criminal acts and wanton murder by sociopathic agents of a despotic ideology ... but there was nothing chaotic in the acts themselves. They were well and thoroughly planned, carried out with precision and fairly good timing, and the results were even more spectacular than the bastards expected them to be. The results of those acts didn't even result in chaos because our immediate reaction to those events was measured and reasonable (perhaps more reasonable than I would have liked); in fact, we reacted as a civilized society to a barbaric act. Had we not had trained, experienced and dedicated firemen, police and military personnel, chaos might well have reigned - but we do have those "government" forces, and there was no chaos.
Government sure as hell can't teach kids to read or do math.
No argument there, at least to the point that government is NOT teaching kids to read or do math. On the other hand, government or rather the NGO known as the NEA IS teaching kids all that they want them to know. We're not making accidental dummies, Joe; it's all part of the desired outcome. Check out the writings of a guy called Antonio Gramsci, and see if his ideas of socialist infiltration hasn't been successful, and isn't responsible for the usurpation of the society our Founders gave us.
And it did nothing to protect those folks in the World Trade center.
No, it didn't, at least not before the fact. It's a moot point how many more might have died had the police and fire personnel not responded as they did, but those were government forces. However, the fact that our government agencies didn't do more than they did has no bearing on whether an anarchist state would have responded any better. Nor do you have anything more than theory to suggest that anarchic forces would have done any better, not even any anecdotal evidence that I know about, because there's never been an anarchist state to look at for examples.
Of course government did extract some retribution. At monopolistic prices I might add.
As it happens I know quite a little bit about government and military procurement, and to suggest that we would be better off relying a military force provided by the lowest bidder is simply ludicrous. Actually, it's more than ludicrous, it's pie-in-the-sky.
Chaos? We're not there yet; in fact, we're not even close.
Problems with an out-of-control government? Without question, and we need to do quite a lot about that. But going toward anarchy is not the answer.
Our Founders were cognizant of all forms of government when the came together to form that more perfect union, and what they gave us was a democratic republic, not a pure republic, and not a democracy by any definition. As bad as it is, no one has yet offered up anything that works better - not libertarians, not socialists, and not the anarchists. Nor will they ever.
I hate to get all serious on you, but I'm afraid the cost would be far, far more. Money is not the only currency of exchange, you know.
0% government control = anarchy ... agreed.
100% government control = tyranny (maybe communism, but could also be several other forms of government) ... agreed.
Our only disagreement appears to me to be that I have no doubt that anarchy would also equal chaos, and you seem to be saying that anarchy would equal a better society than we now have.
I've made the points for my argument, but I can't answer yours because you haven't really made any. I'm not trying to be harsh, either; I simply don't see where you've made your point that anarchy would be better than the status quo.
Well, of course it is! On that we can agree, and even work together to get us moving more quickly toward that end of the spectrum. But that's hardly saying the same thing as anarchy is where we want to end up when we're finished.
Perhaps you were using hyperbole all along, and I just missed it? :)
One could make the same argument about someone who insists on using penis size as some form of intellectual measurement.
You may now understand why I'll take positions way out of the mainstream.
If you think your positions are way out of the mainstream, perhaps you should get out into the mainstream more often.
I must admit that I have been blown away by your statements today Joe. Wow. I had no idea. We're not fighting for the same things at all. In fact, we're in political opposition of each other, not as different types of conservatives, but as a person on the Right opposed to a person on the Left.
You can use any definition of anarchy you choose because none of them are acceptable to me.
sorry about the freepmail, I hit the wrong reply button.
Your deft use of a small penis sophomoric taunt demonstrated this very clearly. It also made for compelling debate.
I said it before, this argument jumped the shark long ago. 9
Didn't mean to "get the last word in". Sorry.
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