Monday, August 13, 2007


Sometimes someone writes a comment on this blog that provokes further thought and comment. One reply to a joke that I posted here on August 2nd is such an item. I reproduce the comment from "Buddhagem" below. Molly's comments follow. The original joke will probably have disappeared into the Archives for August 2007 with this post. Anyways, Buddhagem writes...

"I know I'm going to get hit for being "too serious" here. And I do understand that this is humour. With that said, however, it's jokes like these that fuel anti-politics. It obscures the fact that government growth has come mostly at the behest of the business/capitalist community. And it gives rise to the popular notion that government grows because bureaucracies are given to self-aggrandizement and want to affirm and enlarge their "power and prestige".

The real defect in the government is that it is potentially democratic. Corporations, on the other hand, are pure tyrannies. So if we destroy the former without checking the power of the latter we're going to be in a world of trouble.

OK, and the joke is funny. I just fear that these kinds of jokes do more harm that good. "


Well, as to "fueling anti-politics", Molly has to admit that she sincerely hopes that all her efforts add at least a drop or two of fuel to this little fire. I'm realistic about just how small an influence I or any other individual can have on society in general, but adding a drop of fuel to this attitude would bring a big Cheshire Cat smile to Molly's feline face like nothing else would.

OK, that's the quick reply. Here's the meat of the substance. To begin with, the classic modern studies of bureaucracy often take their subject matter not from government but from the private sector- the corporations (appropriate hisses from the audience at the appearance of the villain). Look at Peter Drucker's work for instance or that of the economists Berle and Means. The bureaucratic method of dealing with things is present in any and all institutions once they achieve a certain size. I will hazard to say that this little "technical problem" would be an ever present danger to any libertarian way of organizing an economy once it passed a certain threshold of complexity. This is one of the reasons why I am sceptical of the Parecon "solution" to the perennial question that anarchists wrestle with ie how to run a democratic economy. Parecon assumes the existence of organizations made up of "planners", and I see an ever present danger of that caste becoming a ruling class. I am certainly not convinced by anything that I have read of Parecon that their checks and balances are sufficient to prevent such an outcome.

But speaking of Parecon its founders and most of its advocates have one sterling virtue. They recognize that class structure in the modern world is considerably more complex than that contained in the doxology of classical leftism. They speak of a "three class" system, not just of the almost cartoon-like picture of noble "woikers" and evil top-hatted capitalists that is the holy writ of leftism. They call the third class the "coordinator class". Molly prefers to call them "the managers". She also sees society as being made up of many more classes than these three, as one simply cannot either predict or understand what happens in the world by simplifying the matter down to a Trinity, let alone the Manichean world view of traditional leftism. Molly also is a little put-off by Parecon's standing avoidance of mentioning the historical pedigree of this idea. The whole way of viewing the economic world as being more complex that a simple struggle between two sides dates as far back as Bakunin who expressed the problem in his typically crude way. More flesh was put on the bare bones by people such as the Polish radical Machajski and his disciple Max Nomad. James Burnham and his "The Managerial Revolution' extended the idea. There are numerous other sources from regular academic economics and sociology.

Molly would go further than the Parecon people want to not just in extending the complexity of the number of classes that can be found in society. She would also assert that modern society has not been "capitalist" for a long, long time. All societies are mixed economies. That is what makes them work. Pure ideas put into practice rapidly crash under their own weight. Command economies such as those in the late unlamented "Communist" states could only exist because of the presence of a black market ie a real market economy. These states also partook of a large measure of "slave economics" via their prison camps or "emulation campaigns". I understand that the use of such slave labour "emulation campaigns" on a large scale is still an ongoing matter every year in Cuba when the sugarcane harvest comes due.

Molly asserts that the type of society that most of us live under is better described as "managerial" rather than capitalist. Some of this can be seen by simple "counting on one's fingers". When the majority of the GDP of a country is generated via the state, as it is in some social democracies, then that country is "managerial" not capitalist. For those countries where this is not true, most outstandingly the USA, one has to go to the other hand for more fingers. Total up not just the proportion of the economy mediated via the state but also add in that produced by the sector of the economy that is in the hands of joint stock corporations where ownership is dispersed. These outfits are also "managerial" rather than capitalist. The real capitalists, the owners-often the ordinary "woikers" via such things as pension plans or other retirement savings- have very little control over such bureaucracies. Those who control such corporations, the "managers" have to respect the limits of profitability to the shareholders, but within the limits of a "market" where most other corporations are behaving in a way that maximizes the return to the managers at the expense of that to the shareholders they have very wide margins to operate in.

All of that is very well and good, and moving away from the simplicity of classical leftism can help you to understand many things that are otherwise either incomprehendsible or simply ignored. Why are many social democratic parties such as Canada's NDP best described, to paraphrase a 19th century state socialist, as "the social workers in committee" ? Why has the traditional base of such parties been moving away from them as this change takes hold ? Moving away without flocking to any group of would-be "revolutionary saviors". It may help a person to understand that the vast, vast majority of ordinary people who avoid their saviors are not victims of some sort of "false consciousness" but actually making very realistic choices. Perhaps the would be directors of some "revolution" actually are aspirants to be a new ruling class, without the talent of the old one.

So on and so forth. This theme could be discussed forever. I can hardly give a full rundown of all that this view implies in anything short of a book. It is actually little comfort to anarchists such as myself because admitting the complexity of modern class society means admitting the existence of large numbers of people in social classes whose economic existence is dependent upon the state, and who are unlikely to embrace a full blown anarchism no matter what the efforts of the anarchists are. Not a tiny coterie of mythical beasts in top hats, but large classes of people. It's an invitation to think harder about prospects for anarchism and the old hoary "what is to be done".

It also says a lot to the need to ignore neither one nor another opponent, or how ever many of them there may be (more than I have fingers for sure). Buddhagem is right, very right, in saying that "destroying" the state while leaving the corporations intact (as if our tiny numbers could do such a thing in the foreseeable future) would lead to "a world of trouble". But...if you are open to the idea that the rulers in the corporations just might be exactly the same social class as those in the state then you might have just a little more hesitation about recommending a narrow focus on the "evil corps". In the century that is now past us it was actually state socialist managers who created the most bloody and repressive dictatorships that human history has ever seen. That not so little fact should never be forgotten as the death camps of those regimes fade into the past.
As an aside it is indeed true that much (not all) of the expansion of the state in modern times has been due to the demands/requests of private industry for subsidy. That is one of the reasons why sensible anarchists propose not just opposition to the growth of statism (whether it disguises itself as "democracy" or not), but a gradual rollback of the present omnipresence of the state- beginning with the most flagrant examples of such corporate welfare. But I must most emphatically disagree with the notion that bureaucratic imperatives for expansion play no part in the growth of statism. Bureaucracies DO expand, in both the public and private sectors, for reasons quite separate from profit maximization. The ability of firms to maximize their profits by doing the exact opposite of expansion ie "downsize" is obvious proof that such expansion 1)does happen and 2)is for reasons other than the expansion of profits.
Now the question of "democracy". I'm almost tempted to blame the notion of the "potentially democratic nature of the state" on Chomsky, but he merely put words to a much larger notion current amongst the American left, a notion born of the naivety of a left that has never had any real experience with social democracy, let alone so-called "communism". Those who have spent time in such parties and thereby have had their eyes opened are under no illusions about the "democratic" nature of their internal processes, let alone the "democratic" nature of their proposals for a larger society. What a social democratic party proposes to do, not do, or undo may be better, worse or about the same as that proposed by any other party, but to tie the utility of their proposals to some ideology of "democracy" stretches the definition of democracy to snapping. Think about it for a minute. Everybody is democratic. Every party claims to "speak for the people" and believes that their program (if they have one- a lot of Parties don't) is the (cough) "democratic voice of the people". Socialist parties have no more justification for claiming this turf than any other party, especially because, like all the others, their policies will be formulated and put into action by very tiny minorities.
The degree of "democracy" that a body politic can have is first of all determined by its size. The smaller the governed population the more likely it is that democratic decisions can be made, either by actual democratic processes or by indirect means such as influence. Once you reach the size of most nation states in today's world actual "democracy" is a pipe dream. Other technical questions (proportional representation, referenda, recall legislation, term limits, etc., etc.) also have an effect on how democratic an entity is rather than on whether it is "democratic or not". Even the most democratic nation on Earth, Switzerland, can hardly be styled as a pure democracy.
Can government be democratic? All of the above talks merely about democracy within the legislative branch. The State is not just the legislature. The legislature is merely the tiny pea size brain that has illusions that it controls the gigantic saurian bureaucracy that it sits on top of. Once more, experience with social democracy in the real world, has shown just how corruptible the good intentions of the socialists are. This happens no matter what the intentions of the activists that bring the party to power. The higher you get in this political game the more likely it is that you are a careerist opportunist, to use some good old commie words that still hold true. But the vast amount of the damage done to the good intentions is done not by financial corruption but by agreeing to "work within reality" and do things as they usually are done in government. "Citizens' committees" become little fiefdoms dominated by the "facilitators".How "facile" to set up such things with the activists drafted into the bureaucracy by the party in power. They become empty shells.
In the end government cannot bring about the sort of democracy that is fully worthy of the name. I suspect that Buddhagem is arguing more against something that exists in his country but hardly makes a bleep in the rest of the world- the anarcho-capitalists of the Libertarian Party. To most of us who live elsewhere it would go without saying that anarchism presumes the dismantling of corporate power hand in hand with that of the state. If we are clear headed enough about it we don't commit "Chomskyisms" by saying that we can work towards such a thing by strengthening state power. Somebody said this a lot more clearly long before Chomsky abandoned his sympathy for anarchism in favour of a social democracy that merely lacks the correct label. Good old Uncle Joe Stalin with his pearl of wisdom, "Prepare for the withering away of the State by strengthening the State".
There are those in the USA who recognize another thing that most anti-capitalists keep conveniently at the back of their mind, if they think about it all. The "market" is actually a much more "democratic" institution- yeah "potentially" as well- than any government could ever be. Voting takes place in the market 24/7 365 days a year. This doesn't mean that it is "fair" or "right" or any other expression of approval. It merely is . Molly doesn't want to defend the point of view of the "market anarchists". Yes the term is correct. They are not the "anarcho-capitalists". They style themselves as anti-capitalists and believe that corporate power merely derives from state power. I don't agree with them in all their points, but they have much to say, and becoming acquainted with them may help many people shake off the dusty assumptions that are contained in leftist baggage. If the reader is interested a good place to start is Kevin Carson's Mutualist Blogspot. You can go on from there. Molly's own view of a "desirable economic system", by the way is very much a mixed economy. Quite frankly I can find good and bad points in all the systems. The "left libertarians" are also very much an American phenomenon.
So...yes I think that Buddhagem is very right in saying that simply dissolving state power is not sufficient. Most anarchists believe that attacks on various systems of power have to go on simultaneously. BUT,BUT, BUT one cannot argue that such power very much derives from corporate influence over the State while not at the same time recognizing that such a view brings to light an obvious way of limiting corporate power- turn down the tap on the government teat they feed on. Don't imagine that you can starve them by getting a higher production milk cow. Many decades of experience with so-called "progressive" governments shows that this is a false hope.

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