Wednesday, December 30, 2009
MOLLY'S ANARCHISM- PART TWO:
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.