Wednesday, December 30, 2009



This is part two of my effort to define what I consider as anarchism, particularly "my anarchism". The first essay on this subject brought forth some responses which I have taken to heart, even if I see no reason to change what I wrote previously. As I go further in this project I am sure that there will be even more that various people disagree with. My purpose in this series is not to lay out some "overwhelming ideology" that I would expect should be adopted by all anarchists. That is a simple impossibility, as anarchism, by its nature, is a fluid set of positions that are given different emphases in different situations. The situation that anarchists find themselves in will very much govern which aspect of the principles come to the fore. Anarchism never was the sort of closed totalitarian system that Marxism aspired to be. In actual fact the principles that lie at the basis of anarchism do not form some conflict free "whole". They exist in a dynamic tension, sometimes reinforcing each other and sometimes in opposition to each other. This will become plainer as we go on, but, for now, all that I can say is that the very fact that humans always have and must always live in a society put a limit on the "total freedom of the individual" while, conversely, attempts to over-emphasize the "collective dimension" of anarchism (and socialism) run the grave risk of producing a society even worse than the one they wished to replace.

I still think that the first attempt at a definition of anarchist socialism that I put forward is useful to proceed from. I also think that it descriptive of what anarchism throughout almost all of its history and in almost all of the world has been. I am aware that there is a current of "anarchism" in the USA, the anarcho-capitalists, who are not socialist in any sense. I would ask the reader, however, to not confuse this current with the traditional individualist anarchist current that was prominent in the USA, but also in many other countries (Italy, France, Spain and England come to mind). This current of anarchism is a totally different beast than the ideological capitalism popular in some quarters in the USA, and the proponents of this sort of individualism were very much socialist by both their actions and their own self-definition. This sort of individualist anarchism still exists in the USA , even though it is small to the point of disappearance elsewhere. I cannot self-identify with it, but I can view it sympathetically. I hope that proponents of these views (opposite to those of the anarcho-capitalists) will forgive me if I use the term "left-libertarian" as broadly descriptive of what they believe.

Words can be treacherous things. There are words in the dictionary that can have 25 or more definitions appended after them. In the definition of "socialism" that I proffered in the first part of this series I tried to "get beneath" the disputes about ways and means that divide various schools of socialism and find a definition that would encompass all socialists whatever their attitude to "tactics". The contrary definition from Wikipedia excluded at least one form of enterprise that I consider socialist ie consumer cooperatives. It also seemed to imply that socialists, as a whole, believe in "total equality" rather than the "much more egalitarian" belief that I offered. That socialists, anarchists or otherwise, believe in such total equality is debatable. What is manifestly not debatable is that the vast majority of socialists, statist and libertarian alike, do not believe that we should concoct some grand scheme whereby consumption is governed solely by "labour hours" put in. On the anarchist side this was what was called "collectivism", and it has not been a popular option for over a century. On the statist side, if one imagines that this is a goal of statist socialists then where, on God's green Earth, do all the welfare measures and "collective consumption" that socialists have advocated over all of their history come from ? Certainly not from a belief in "labour vouchers".

Then we come to the matter of whether "anarcho-capitalists" are actually anarchists. These people certainly do not believe in equality. If the only defining point of anarchism were to be against government then one would have to admit the 'anarcho-caps' into the family. Even if, however, they have a tendency to define "government" to their own advantage. To their point of view the old classic of the peasants rising up to burn out the manor house is government while the manor lord hiring a gang of thugs to shoot down the peasants is "free enterprise" and not "government". In the end, to maintain the inequality that will be the result of their economics, they will inevitably have to employ the force that they deplore when it is used by present governments.

The problem with anarcho-capitalism is that it doesn't proceed from a deep enough ethical basis. One may argue about whether it has any ethics at all. It is here where I have to start tacking things onto the original position that I gave in the first essay, of anarchism as a form of egalitarian socialism that believes in decentralized governance. The purpose of both equality and personal political influence-which can only be exercised in direct rather than representative democracy to to produce both individual fulfilment/happiness (in a life that leaves less matter for envy and more of a sense of personal worth) and collective fulfilment/happiness (being that humans happen to be social animals who are happiest when they experience a life of "community").

The need for individual happiness necessitates the maximum possible personal freedom. This means that the sort of "equality" dictated by the collective (of which the Communist states, especially such horrors as Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge or North Korea today, were/are the primary example), whether state or otherwise is not a worthwhile goal. Freedom can certainly be restricted by the state, but, contrary to what anarcho-capitalists may think, the state is hardly the only way that a collective (or strong individuals within a community) can restrict individual freedom. The history of religion is, to a large extent, standing proof of how freedom can be restricted by practices other than statist ones. Also, despite the almost Stalinesque delusions of the true believers in the "noble savage", actual stateless societies that have existed have not necessarily been either egalitarian nor respecters of freedom.

The need for personal freedom, both in the negative sense (of "freedom from" ) and in the positive sense ( of "freedom to") is an absolutely necessary part of any anarchism. The positive aspect is pretty well totally ignored by such as the anarcho-capitalists, and because of this their "anarchism" is of the same dwarfed and twisted form that led all too many anarchists to make the opposite error in the past and assume the 'Soviet-anarchist' position as viable. Anarchism is not only class struggle, though such is an absolutely central part of it. It is also class struggle to a purpose. Dethroning the "Bosses" will only result in a new set of bosses being thrown up if the extent of personal liberty is not also expanded at the same time. Similarly trying to get rid of the state without, at the same time, increasing the equality in society and also increasing the "freedom to do" (two things that often are much the same thing) will merely result in a new state under a different name.

So, the idea of anarchism as a socialism of a different sort has to be supplemented with the idea of anarchism as a struggle for personal freedom. There is a lot more to be said on this "freedom", but I'll leave that for a subsequent essay.


Nicolas said...

About freedom and equality,, I've found something interesting in a Bob Black essay a couple of years ago [yeah, you can find something interesting anywhere!].

He was basicly saying that, in regard to freedom & equality, the main difference between anarchism and liberalism & communism was that anarchism believe that freedom & equality are essentialy two side of the same coin while liberalism & communism opposed the two. Actually, you cant have freedom (especially positive freedom) without equality & vice-versa. One without the other is meaningless. In fact, this would be the main difference between anarchism, liberalism and communism (...and not the relationship to the state).

mollymew said...

Yeah, I'll agree with that, and I'm gradually crawling to that point as I go on in the essay. I have no doubt about Black's skill in litigation, at least in the past before the booze caught up with him. The trouble is that there is very rarely anything that he agrues 'for" that he actually believes in. But yes, what is said here is very true.

Larry Gambone said...

I agree with what you have written. Also the more I got to know about the Acaps the less I liked what I found. At one time I considered them to be anarchists, but like you say, for anarchism to have any substance it must embrace equality as well as freedom. I would like to add that the New Mutualists like Kevin Carson in the States do a good job of battling with these pseudo-libertarians.

Anonymous said...

Anarchy tramples the basic rights of human beings through its endorsement of violence. In a democratic society, you have the right to peacefully assemble, vote, create government, and express views without fear.

Endorsing anarchy is to endorse violence. Shameful.

Anonymous said...

Anarchist socialism, as well as anarchist capitalism, are oxymorons.
As you say, words are treacherous things: "Anarchy: a state of society without government or law."
If you are unable to formulate anything other than situational politics/anarchy (see situational ethics) then the cause is stillborn. If you choose socialism, then do so. Both socialism and capitalism require bureaucracies and limit absolute personal freedom. I think the former does so more than the latter, but you may cheerfully differ. Read some history, there were some European socialist parties in the early-twentieth century that did not work so well for individuals or society as a whole. Other types of societies that also limit freedoms are dictatorships, monarchies, oligarchies, communism, etc. Even small communes and kibbutz have rules.

Clay Barham said...

Is it self-centered greed or legitimate self-interest that is the main concern with those who do not understand Ayn Rand? Those who admire and criticize Ayn Rand’s beliefs about people who stand on their own feet often say she promoted selfishness, thereby greed, which is self-centered and anti-individual creativity. That is anti-Rand. Rand admired the creative individual, people like railroad builder James Jerome Hill, on whom she was reputed to have based her character Nathaniel Taggart in Atlas Shrugged. Independent “I’m OK, you’re OK” people are OK with Rand, not the criminal takers. If we look at Howard Roark’s summation to the jury, from Fountainhead, we do not see a self-centered individual destroying his work. If he was greedy he would have simply accepted his payment. We see an other- and outer-centered individual in love with his own dreams and creations, as one would love a spouse, child or family and refuse to allow them to be assaulted. That is the kind of self-interest that built America. Though love for anything spiritual may be missing, a great idea or vision also measures up to that which is spiritual, beyond self, and that view is not even inconsistent with Christianity.

Larry Gambone said...

Nonnymouse, Where does anarchism as a movement or theory endorse violence that tramples on democratic rights? Read something about the subject before you babble such rot. A good start is the Anarchist FAQ which you can Google for...

Larry Gambone said...

To the second Nonnymouse anarchism is a form of socialism from the very beginning. Check out Proudhon

mollymew said...

As to 'anonymous 1', I have a suspicion, judging from the use of the word "shameful", that this is the SAME person who posted another comment on what happened in Guelph during the Olympic Torch Run where I was claiming that a supposed "violent incident" NEVER HAPPENED, and gave references for same. THAT individual imagained that claiming a violent event never happened (and that the way the situation was reported in most of the media was A LIE) is 'somehow" endorsing violence. To each their own way of thinking, or lack therof. All that I can say is just how much this example of "conservative" use of magical incantations reminds of similar ways that "the left" uses language.
Of course, anyone who has read even a little bit on this blog should know that I am FAR LESS of an advocate of violence than the average conservative who immediately starts to salivate when called on to cheer his country's acts of murder ie war.
In the last 100 years "violence", as measured by the crude yardstick of murder rates has been overwhelmingly!!!! the property of governments- by a factor of 10,000 to one or more. Those who advocate the mechanism whereby hundreds of thousands of people can be killed in a day are FAR more guilty of advocating "violence" than anyone who says that ruklers shouldn't have such power.
While Molly is NOT a pacifist I think that a good reading of my own position would put me as about 1/10th of an advocate for violence as the average liberal and about 1/100th of same as compared to the average conservative.
Larry has gracefully provided the references for anyone who wants to examine the general position of anarchists on violence. I don't know if a 'welfare bum of the mind" would want to put in the effort to read sucvh a brief description to gain an understanding of what they want to pontificate on, let alone examine what I have said on this blog before about the subject. So...for the benefit of the mentally lazy this subject will eventually be dealt with in this series on what I believe, and NOT in a rhetorical magical thinking way.

mollymew said...

Anonymous 2:
Two suggestions:
1) Get a decent dictionary, one that gives at least MOST of the usages of a word. I warn you that such a thing is NOT a freeby from the internet. You will have to actually pay money for it, and the more you pay the better it is likely to be. For myself I use an ancient Funk and Wagnalls that is more than a few decades old.Such things ARe available on the internet today, but they reqiure a monetary subscription.
2)LEARN HOW TO USE A DICTIONARY. Whatever source you are using is of pretty poor quality. When it says "anarchy" is a society without government or laws" is is being "redundant, redundant". That sort of thing should clue you into the lack of quality of your source.
Furthermore, you should OBVIOUSLY have looked to the definition of "anarchism" rather than immediately getting on your "keyboard horse" to pronounce your opinion. Of course, all societies have "rules" and so did the stateless societies that humanity spent most of its history in. So would any future anarchist society. this is DIFFERENT from "law", function of a ruling class embodied in a government. that goes without saying.
You have decided to NOT explore the definitions that a GOOD dictionary provides not just for anarchism but for socialism as well. Socialism may be more or less bureaucratic, and, of course, anarchist socialism is the least bureaucratic of all. Far less so than any form of capitalism, or, as I prefer to call it, managerial society.
The first part of your statement is simply bizarre, and it depends upon you taking a half baked definition from a poor dictionary, one that accords with your previous beliefs, and running with it, even if it obvious that an "economic system" is seperate from whatever political system it might find itself in.
I'm sorry. This debate is at a bit higher level than that.As to "situational ethics", I'm sorry but they are the only kind worthy of the name. I'm presently reading Augustine's 'The City of God', and, despite the fact that this might be expected to be the most hardened example of 'ultimate moral rules' Augustine drops in and out of "situational ethics" several times in his first book alone.
By the way, who cares about the record of socialist parties in the early years of the 20th century (I suspect you meant to say the MID-20th century). I advocate anarchist socialism, not state socialism.
But all that is the subject of several posts in the future of this series.