Rated: E · Review · Philosophy · #2283825
Part V - Anarchistic Thought - History - The evolution of the chaotic Anarchist paradigm
by Ruth Kinna
What is Anarchism? 6
Anarchy: Origins of the word: 21
Anarchist Thought: Key personalities: 37
Anarchist Thought: Schools of Anarchism: 48
Anarchist Thought: History: 92
End of chapter one: 133
Conclusion: 134 (Lone Cypress Workshop
Summary Conclusion: 148 (Lone Cypress Workshop)
Anarchist Thought: Anarchist Thought: History
(Ruth Kinna) In 1989 David Goodway bemoaned the poverty of anarchist historiography, which he felt tended towards the uncritical hero-worship of the classical anarchists and the failure of social historians to direct their attention to the anarchist movement. Little was known, he argued, about this popular movement and what was known was written by those who were hostile to it and/or who adopted theoretical approaches which were likely to shed only critical light on its activities. Goodway’s observations usefully highlight the polemical nature of the historical debate about anarchism, the vehemence with which Marxist historians, in particular, have attacked the anarchist movement and the consequent interest that non-Marxist historians have shown in the ideological division between anarchists and Marxists. This division remains central to historians of anarchism.
(Lone Cypress Workshop) I continue to question why the anarchist thought indulges the presence of Marxist and communistic schisms if they possess such ‘vehemence’ towards conventional anarchism? Is this simply a ploy to co-opt the movement to their own ends? Definitely a possibility. Your own narrative is repeatedly bringing up the incompatibility and lack of cooperation between the two factions and yet you offer an undeserved amount of time in the presentation of their philosophy. I find myself unable to accept the dichotomy as it seems irrational and incompatible to me. Collectivism, with communism specifically, is nothing more than a footnote to anarchism, relevant perhaps in the initial stages, but less so in its evolution. If anything, Marxism and communism are an impediment to the growth and development of the ideology and philosophy.
Sorry to bring it up once again, but what is this ‘popularity’ of the movement that is being mentioned? Where does the interest come from? Is it just the fact that there is nothing else on the horizon with the credibility to embody the change so many want? But what is it that they want, a truly new paradigm, or is it just impatience and infatuation with anything that demeans and condemns that terrible ‘state’ that frustrates the anarchist wannabe to no end? It is important to note that none of these schools of thought are addressing the issue of what I have labeled ‘inappropriate players’. Is that not what makes every single ideology fail at some point? If we had people of character and integrity, morality and reason, and compassion and empathy, would not all of these alternatives get intrinsically better, no matter what the philosophy or ideology?
Does anyone realize that, even if anarchism gets into a position of power within the next couple of decades, that these inappropriate players, these damaged and corrupt individuals, will inevitably make their way into the inner recesses of whatever system replaces what we now have? How does one control such a paradigm, based on a philosophy completely devoid of any concern but for their own political and personal agendas and advantage?
Think about it. This is what has happened throughout history, and I don’t see a single comment about the inability of any system to produce outstanding individuals. Perhaps mankind simply can’t do so, or perhaps it will take another few centuries to even approach a level where our species will develop an ability to accept the responsibilities required but if we cannot change that aspect of our societies, is it rational to believe any other of the changes envisioned are even possible? I am not so sure they are. We are not looking at a big enough picture that takes these events into account. We don’t have the articulate answers because so few are asking the significant questions, and we really don’t have the resolve to do what is necessary.
(RK) For example, Nunzio Pernicone’s recent work is based on the ‘simple premise’ that ‘Anarchism, not Marxism, was the ideological current that dominated and largely defined the Italian socialist movement during its first fifteen years of development’. Through such historical analyses it is possible both to illustrate the issues on which oldstyle anarcho-communists (and others) split from other socialists and to frame the changing relationship between anarchism and liberalism.
(LCW) It’s all well and good to talk about who split from what and when but nothing is said about what worked and what didn’t, with in-depth ‘analysis’ to define, explain and defend positions. This is all very circular thinking that demonstrates an ability to disagree and to individualistically go their own way, but for what reason exactly, and to what end? Is this ‘historical’ analysis definitive in any way, or simply a personally subjective interpretation of what took place and why? It is all so very vague and indistinct and unfocused as to intent and expectation.
(RK) The relationship between anarchists and Marxists has never been happy. The historical antagonism is often personalized: after rebuffing Marx’s request in 1846 that the two co-operate, Proudhon became the target for Marx’s wrath. In 1847 he published The Poverty of Philosophy, using all his intellectual powers to publicly ridicule Proudhon’s economic theory. In the 1860s, Bakunin took the lead as Marx’s anarchist opponent. He and Marx battled for control of the First International (International Working Man’s Association, or IWMA), an organization that brought together European radicals and socialists, falling out spectacularly in 1871.
(LCW) This is primarily, as stated because they are so incompatible as to direction, objective, and process. They have literally nothing in common except a dislike for status quo, and an inherently immature and whining perspective that does not allow them to have any real input into the existing paradigms, so they dream of Utopian and unrealistic possibilities without any real need to define or explain anything at all. It is all very disappointing and frustrating.
The fact that these anarchist, collective and liberal factions could not keep their 'First International' Congress (and their last I might add) viable for even a decade only shows the deeply felt divisions that existed between them and the irrefutable incompatibility as to focus and objective.
I think the draw, the interest in anarchism, and all the wannabe ideologies, is that so many would like to see some change, although perhaps not so drastic as revolution and a total destruction of what ‘is’ to be replaced with something that cannot even be reasonably or definitively demonstrated. People want change, and so they should, but we need a structure, a template that allows us to do so within the confines of articulated discussion and debate, with a logical and reasoned plan of some kind to achieve this change.
The fact that this cannot be presented or offered to the individual on the street is confusing and frustrating and inevitably leads to even more dissent and dissatisfaction and eventually to an apathy and lack of focus that implodes and destroys whatever chance existed to create change. I think this is certainly achievable, but not with the leadership and idealism that exists today within the collective, liberal and anarchistic camps.
This need to destroy and replace is self-destructive and self-defeating. There is a rational need here, but it has to be tempered with what may actually be acceptable and possible to prosecute and achieve. Time and effort should be invested in determining the thoughts and actions necessary to fix what exists instead of replacing and then dealing with a new and unknown paradigm that will have to deal with the same underlying weaknesses that have not been addressed and resolved.
I don’t even hear anyone at all talking about those symptoms, those obstacles that need attention, such as the level of character and integrity and morality of our representatives or even ourselves. Until that time comes there will be no change, the frustrations will continue, and the chaotic and violent underlying forces that have never wanted anything other than coercive force, power, and destructive chaos will at some point get what they want, the system will implode and we will be left with a real unknown. If history is any judge, it will not be what was represented as some Utopian Shangri-la, but a gulag, vastly inferior to what was swept away. I see no reason to think otherwise.
(RK) As if to emphasize their personal enmity, Proudhon, Marx and Bakunin happily heaped scorn on each other in the course of their disputes. Yet the personalization of the debates between them is misleading since it wrongly suggests a uniform and entirely hostile anarchist critique of Marxism. Predictably, anarchists have assessed Marxism in different ways and been willing to adopt some of Marx’s positions as their own. To give one example: in his review of Proudhon’s dispute with Marx, Bakunin argued that there was ‘a good deal of truth in the merciless critique he [Marx] directed against Proudhon’.
(LCW) The fact that some segments of anarchism have been willing to adopt ‘some’ of Marx’s positions as their own does nothing to insinuate that they agree or accept the philosophy in its entirety or even a majority of concepts. It is more than disingenuous to suggest such a thing. Every ideology has its strengths and its weaknesses. Marxism has more than its share of both.
This only illustrates the fact that there is no concerted or ‘co-operative’ effort taking place. There is no compromise, no negotiation, no real discussion or debate, and no optimism for the future, except in their own little reality where everything is inevitably black and white, but in reality, it is quite grey.
My experience with Marx is that you are not at liberty to pick and choose what you might deem appropriate, and adopt a concept here and there to use as you see fit. It is a one-size-fits-all ideology and must be followed without deviation or it will fail. Almost without exception, an argument against capitalism and any kind of market based on freedom and choice and the individual is totally rejected, and the statement is often made that for Marxism, or collectivism for that matter, to be successful, the complete removal of the competition of capitalism, et al, needs to disappear from the face of the earth.
Collectivism and Marxism in particular can only exist in a vacuum. There can be no competition since it (collectivism) fails in every instance. When this actually happens (the ascendency of Marxism or collectivism), and it might once again, what happens when it is obvious that it will not work, and has failed? How easy will it be to ‘re-introduce’ the concept of capitalism or individualism back into the human social paradigm? History shows that this rarely happens. I am afraid it may well be impossible to do so, taking generations to do so, if at all. Not an optimistic diagnosis.
(RK) Relations between anarchists and Marxists remained fluid until 1921, when socialists decided whether or not to adhere to the Bolshevik International (Comintern). However in the nineteenth century socialists divided on a range of important issues about political organization and revolutionary strategy. These came to a head in the congresses of the Second International, which had been established on the centenary of the French Revolution in 1889. But it was possible to trace the roots of the argument to the dispute between Marx and Bakunin in the IWMA.
(LCW) This ‘adherence’ to the Comintern is something to be questioned. This only illustrates the unwillingness of Marxism and communism to take a back seat to anyone. To ‘play’ with them, you must follow their diktats, there are no other choices. Again, no cooperation or debate, except within the Comintern. Like the borg, there is only assimilation and acquiescence. Resistance is futile. This only confirms the fact, to me at least, that they are incompatible with virtually any other ideology. There will be no joining of forces or intent, only obedience of some central planning committee that will construct and direct all actions. They are very comfortable with this paradigm. Unfortunately, I am not.
The history of anarchism, or even socialism, with Marxists and communists, has been one of persistent, inevitable, and perpetual conflict and contradictions. They are irreconcilable and antithetical in almost every respect. There is a certain expectation of a master/slave relationship within the collective. Not articulated in such a manner, but it exists just the same. There is no organic or grassroots aspect to communism, except in the heightened emotions at the onset. Afterward, there is regret and misgivings about completely offering up one’s very essence to the intentions of another. When has this ‘not’ been the case throughout history? I keep hearing that it was never given a chance, and yet I have to ask ‘how many millennia do we have to wait for a viable example of the ideology in a legitimate and credible environment?’ Is it even a reasonable possibility?
If the anarchist does not want to be compared directly to communism and collectivism at some point in the future, they must re-evaluate and develop a more focused and comprehensive illustration of exactly what it is that they represent. Otherwise a comparative irrelevancy is the only possible result. Legitimacy comes not from violence and oppression but from contemplation, comprehension and mutual agreement that results in mutual benefit. Conflict may be good for the soul, but it never produces peace and harmony for the individual or the family. Or the society either, for that matter.
(RK) After 1871, when the First International effectively collapsed, socialists were split into two broad groups: ‘centralists’ and ‘federalists’ (or in later anarchist parlance ‘authoritarians’ and ‘antiauthoritarians’). The followers of Marx were grouped in the first category and the followers of Bakunin in the second. The centralists supported in principle the formation of a workers’ party, committed to involvement in the political process as a prelude to the seizure of power in revolution. They also argued for the tight control of IWMA’s General Council to co-ordinate the revolutionary activity of the federated local sections. The federalists did not believe that socialist revolution could possibly succeed through political activity and were keen to maintain the autonomy of the IWMA’s local sections. At a conference held in 1872 at St Imier, Switzerland, the federalists rejected totally the idea of revolutionary government as a means of securing socialist change, echoing the complaints that the enragés had made against the Jacobins.
(LCW) I’m sorry, but I fail to understand how authoritarian violence and revolution can be any part of a legitimate ‘political’ process. It is irrational and self-destructive. Always has been. It is for those that cannot persuade or convince others of the legitimacy of their philosophy, for want of a better word. So they take what they wish, with whatever actions that they deem ‘appropriate’, with no regard as to how much this may conflict with accepted modes of behaviour. They believe that the ends justify the means, irrespective of any morality or objective meanings of the concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. One of my fundamental beliefs is that the only legitimate ‘end’ comes only through legitimate ‘means’. I have never yet been able to come up with a scenario that suggests otherwise.
I find it interesting to hear the rhetoric from ‘anarchist parlance’ that the reasonable characterizations of the groups termed centralists and federalists devolve into blatant aggressive and confrontational language such as ‘authoritarians’ and ‘anti-authoritarians’. This seems to be a non-starter to any conversation that is meant to bring co-operation and understanding to those of opposing perspectives. I find it thoroughly off-putting to not be able to have civilized thoughts, words, and discussions. Yet another reason why the ideology has such a difficult time with social acceptance as a viable alternative.
Oppression, chaos, violence, death. It is all inevitable when this path is chosen. The world decries the horrible ‘1%’. This paradigm is so much worse, on every level. It results in totalitarianism, abject oppression, inhuman activities, and a complete absence of personal and individual freedoms, including thought. Needless to say, not a big fan of Marx, although in the theoretical only, he actually considers credible questions. Unfortunately, those that follow his direction only subvert and pervert what he tried to say, to the point that his voice will never be adequate or substantive enough to counteract his faithful.
(RK) The resolution marked a watershed in the development of European socialism, but it did not yet establish a clear distinction between anarchists and Marxists. The groups who split along federalist and centralist lines were themselves very diffuse: supporters of federalism included English trade unionists, for example. And not even those who had enjoyed the closest relations with Bakunin necessarily felt themselves bound by a distinctive programme. At the same time, as the followers of Marx in Europe began to organize in the 1870s and ’80s working-class political parties, some activists within these organizations continued to adopt apparently ‘anarchist’ positions. Socialists turned out to be anarchists only when expelled from Marxist parties. Johann Most was one example, thrown out of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1880 when he refused to toe the party line on political action. It was not until after his expulsion that Most call himself an anarchist.
(LCW) I continually hear the socialist reality as something intrinsic to the anarchist but once again, do not see any real connection between them. Not that many anarchists are not primarily socialists, but that only dilutes whatever it is that anarchism is supposed to represent. I see what you present as the original thinkers of anarchism and I see little if any agreement with the ideas that socialism has presented as its own over the centuries. Another instance where anarchism is doing a poor job of defining itself.
You seem to infer that the anarchist and the Marxist were at one time almost indistinguishable from one another, but your examples of the original thinkers and writers are of individuals that believed in so many concepts that the Marxist and communists never accepted in any form. I don’t see how that is possible, but it may explain why so many think of chaos and violence when anarchy is mentioned, when so much of anarchy was obviously, at least in its infancy, that of individualism, mutualism, cooperation, agreement, choice and an overreaching concept of brotherhood and an ability to endure or at least tolerate those with a different mindset and personal philosophy. When did that essence leave the paradigm? That is when it lost its way, along with a vast number of intellectuals, leaving only the emotional victims and the angry revolutionists. Good for communism, but bad for anarchy and the rest of society.
Once again, by your own narrative, individuals were expelled from various communist parties such as the SPD when they did not ‘toe the party line’, when they had independent and (possibly) legitimate perspectives of their own. As mentioned, dissent is never allowed in a totalitarian paradigm. My interpretation of anarchism, at least in its early development, was a movement of freedom and choice based on personal values and philosophy, in an environment where true diversity and tolerance were an expected integral aspect of the greater ideology. That is anathema to the collective reality, and unfortunately, it seems, to the contemporary anarchist paradigm as well. The simple expansion of the movement does not guarantee any degree of growth.
I find myself intrigued and welcome in that early mindset, able to support and defend such a philosophy, but will never promote or endorse any belief system that takes those abilities away from me. Collectivism is such a system. I am a philosopher first, an individualist second, and an objectivist third. Everything else derives from that. I will determine my own philosophy and make my own decisions and ‘own’ my every thought, word and deed. No one directs my thoughts or efforts. I will die defending these things. No exceptions. I guess that makes me an anarchist as well.
(RK) The anarchist-Marxist divide was solidified in the Second International when adherence to the policy of political action – which meant participation in parliamentary politics – was adopted as test of the International’s membership. Those who were caught in this policy net represented a still diverse body of opinion. As Lenin noted, the ‘“practical” socialists of our day, have left all criticism of parliamentarism to the anarchists, and, on this wonderfully reasonable ground, they denounce all criticism of parliamentarism as “anarchism”!’ Yet the division was now supported by a good deal of theoretical embellishment and in countries like Japan, where socialist ideas took root later than in Europe, it became the central cleavage between anarchists and non-anarchists.
This was not surprising for in the course of the 1880s anarchists and Marxists had spent considerable time arguing about the parliamentary strategy and, in the process, both sides had developed coherent alternative understandings of the revolution and of the post-revolutionary society. By the 1890s the differences between the two sides were so visible that some Marxists felt able to argue that anarchism was not a form of socialism at all and that it described a competing ideology. The suggestion was contested fiercely by writers like Augustin Hamon. But in response to revolutionaries like Lenin, who argued that socialists agreed on the ‘ends’ of revolutionary struggle and disagreed only on the question of ‘means’, the anarchists also insisted that Marxist strategies revealed a faulty conception of the state.
Anarchist critiques of Marxist state theory had a number of dimensions. One set of arguments focused on the relationship between the state and capitalism. Bakunin’s understanding was close to Marx’s and he credited Marx with having demonstrated that the state’s purpose was to uphold economic exploitation. Other leading theorists shared this view.
(LCW) A disturbing and fascinating viewpoint. Yet another reason to reject Marxism in its entirety. I have incessantly heard from collectivists how the purpose of the ‘state’ was to somehow uphold exploitation, and in many cases, this may have been the reality, but they never explain how this is an integral aspect of the ‘state’ or of capitalism. My position remains consistent, the state and the capitalistic system are benign and neutral. It is the individuals that pervert and manipulate these things.
I actually find it interesting that you would ‘not’ believe that when inappropriate players take over the government that they would not ‘prefer’ to work with similar inappropriate players within the capitalistic paradigm or any other component of society. Why would you ‘ever’ think they would wish to interact with individuals of character, ethics and integrity? So much time is spent criticizing and demonizing the systems when it is those inappropriate players that we have ‘allowed’ to infiltrate and control those very same systems. I hear no one, not a single instance where any of these collectivists, liberals, and yes anarchists, ever speak of such an eventuality or possibility. I think they have missed the point completely.
No one seems to recognize this or offer any alternative means of adjusting or controlling that. It is even worse when the collectivist has managed to gain control of governments. This is also never acknowledged by those same collectivists. This is a burdensome amount of irrefutable contradictions and fundamental conflict as to what is purported today to be nothing more than a perverted version of an unworkable system (collectivism) that has never shown any credibility or legitimacy in any viable form.
I fail to see why any self-respecting anarchist would have anything to do with such anti-individualistic intentions, disrespect for virtually anyone that does not agree with them, and antithetical to the concepts of liberty and freedom. I think the question needs to be not only asked but answered in depth. Does the anarchist believe in any of those things?
The whole concept of ‘exploitation’ is anathema to any philosophy that wishes the individual to be successful, happy, and cooperative. Exploitation does not exist in the fundamental definition of capitalism and is rejected outright in the ideology of objectivism. The cancer that is exploitation comes from those specific individual players from outside the paradigm that exists without character, morals, or any objective standards for a harmonious, mutually beneficial social interactive vision for the future.
The inclusion of ideologies that promote hatred and oppression and a totalitarian reality does nothing to aid in the legitimization of anarchy as a credible and viable alternative to any other social construct. Nothing is to be gained, and a distaste and distrust are the only realizations that will be achieved by those looking for a new philosophical direction.
(RK) Rudolf Rocker’s version of the thesis was that as long ‘as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity ... the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges’.
(LCW) Excellent point! Both capitalism and objectivism speak of the rights of the minority in great detail. The American Constitution enumerates minority protections, which was unprecedented at that time in history and remains so. This fundamental basic concept is embedded into both of the ideologies and philosophies. Capitalism and constitutional republic 101. A succinct and reasonable defense of both systems from one of anarchy’s first speakers. When did the mindset allow the enmity he talks about? Was this a voluntary digression from originalist thinking or a re-evaluation of the anarchist paradigm? Is not the anarchist community fundamentally an amalgam of independent individuals who are all in essence a minority?
This is the benchmark of any freedom-based philosophy. America, while being a democratic republic, developed an intention to ensure the rights of those in the minority even though a purely ‘democratic’ paradigm not only allows the negation of such a concept as minority rights but accepts the oppression of others as their own state-given right to impose their own beliefs upon others under almost any circumstances. If this is the intention and expectation of the anarchist ideology then at least ‘own’ it and make the position clear so the rest of us can reject yet another philosophy based on coercion of the individual and the use of force in that coercion. Totalitarianism ‘lite’ perhaps, but oppressive nonetheless.
(RK) Bakunin and Rocker also agreed that Marx had shown how the state’s origins and development could be explained with reference to changes in the economic system. In Rocker’s words, the modern state was ‘just a consequence of capitalist economic monopoly and the class divisions which this has set up in society, and merely serves the purpose of maintaining this status by every oppressive instrument of political power’.
(LCW) While I agree that the creation of a ‘state’ may well be in response to changes in the economic system, I would venture that it is more a matter of disagreements in the execution of any such ‘change’. The economic system can change without any outside influence or coercion, and the objectivist, the libertarian and even the anarchist philosophies believe this to be true, but also recognizes that at some point, whether arbitration or a structured set of rules is required, some authority or state is the obvious answer, no matter how difficult it may be to develop a legitimate working model.
I think the point often made is that the state should be restricted, to an extreme, from getting involved in every single matter of opinion between the multitudes of societal perspectives that exist in a dynamic and ever-expanding and developing number of individuals. Oft-times there are as many positions and opinions as there are citizens, and it would be sheer insanity to make an attempt at legislating some compromise between them. The answer is to give the individual the freedom and opportunity to walk away and not participate in those things that are undesirable to them, at least in the absence of overt violence or the initiation of force. The state should not exist to soothe the hurt feelings of immature and incompetent individuals, but to establish and protect the rights of ‘every single member’ of the society to direct and follow their own decisions and conclusions in the prosecution of a search for peace and harmony, success and happiness. Nothing else. I think that America has certainly lost its way in the search for that answer.
(RK) So where had Marx gone wrong? Bakunin’s answer was that Marx’s view of the state was too narrow and he had wrongly overplayed the role that economic forces had played in shaping the state to the detriment of others. As a result, Bakunin argued, he had overlooked the extent to which the state had developed as an independent force in history, separate from the system of economic exploitation that it functioned to uphold. Bakunin explained the difference between his position and Marx’s in the following terms:
[Marx] holds that the political condition of each country is always
the product and the faithful expression of its economic situation ...
He takes no account of other factors in history, such as the
everpresent reaction of political, juridical, and religious
institutions on the economic situation. He says: ‘Poverty produces
political slavery, the State.’ But he does not allow
this expression to be turned around, to say:
‘Political slavery, the State, reproduces in its turn, and maintains
poverty as a condition for its own existence;
so that to destroy poverty, it is necessary to destroy the State!’
(LCW) Nowhere do any of these positions talk about the philosophy behind the people who constitute the government, the state. Not political philosophy which is more ideology than anything else but deliberative and considered objective philosophy, personal philosophy. This is what determines the activity of any ideology as well as the member individuals of that ideology. These personal decisions, whether individually or as a part of larger groups, define the system behind the state, and there are often multiple competing factions within the whole, and often within the competing factions themselves. Anarchy seems to be a good example of that.
There is much here that is intriguing and of value. In my opinion only, the state was never meant to ‘rule’ but to replace the rulers with an alternative to 'whim' and subjective interpretation. There is no direct relationship between the power to rule and the mandate to ‘represent’ and ‘protect’ the citizenry although there are times when it may mean something similar, but history tells us that this is not something that happens often. It was meant to be as objective as possible, as difficult as that may be, and to be nothing more than a backup to the will of the people. The state was to be of true value to the people but only as a secondary aspect of society.
Our representation was meant to be the buffer between the two, but decided at some point early on in the process, to fill the historical vacuum of directing their ‘inferiors’ when in fact they were supposed to ‘reflect’ those very same individuals. They were not meant to direct and conclude for them as a separate entity but to establish the logistics so the people could have the freedom to pursue their ‘happiness’ in whatever form chosen.
The mistake was in placing so much power and confidence in their ability to raise above the basest vices of mankind and giving them not only the opportunity but the temptation to take it for themselves. I think we have seen what happens when that vacuum exists. Perhaps it is simply not in the nature of mankind to do ‘the right thing’. Then again, maybe it will be possible at some point in the future, but we have seen ten millennia of civilization accomplish so little in the area of social development, it may well be that we are still a hundred millennia away from the expectation of such an alternative.
A hundred million billion trillion souls will have to endure and persevere through the interim. It doesn’t say much about the nature of man, and my disappointment that we cannot even start the process today gives me an overwhelming sense of pessimism and despair. I guess it simply can’t be helped. I had such high hopes for mankind as a young man of 15, almost 55 years ago. It seems like forever or a lifetime. Oh yeah, it was.
(RK) Kropotkin had a slightly different understanding of the state’s rise. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the eighteenth-century philosopher, once claimed that government had been founded on the naïve willingness of the masses to accept the legitimacy of landowners’ claims to the exclusive enjoyment of their property. Kropotkin’s story was similar:
The desire to dominate others and impose one’s own will upon them ...
the desire to surround oneself with comforts without producing anything ...
these selfish, personal desires give rise to ... [a] current
of habits and customs. The priest and the warrior,
the charlatan who makes a profit out of superstition, and after
freeing himself from the fear of the devil cultivates it in others;
and the bully, who procures the invasion and pillage of his neighbors
that he may return laden with booty and followed by slaves.
These two, hand in hand, have succeeded in imposing upon
primitive society customs advantageous to both of them,
but tending to perpetuate the domination of the masses.
(LCW) It’s always such a disappointment to hear an individual try so hard to come across as thoughtful and insightful and balanced, but it always tends to be an issue of black and white, when in my experience, our existence is predominantly grey in essence.
While it is true that the ‘masses’ are somewhat naïve, it is also true that simply because of the sheer numbers, some form of government or state is not only an inevitability but an absolute necessity as well. I disagree that it was about the legitimacy of the landowners claims to the exclusive enjoyment of their property. That particular proposition does not exist in any of the founding documents or in the subsequent Constitution. If it even exists, it was introduced (illegally, or at least immorally I might add) by the same inappropriate players that I incessantly reference.
The fact that corrupt and despicable ‘landowners’ and ‘politicians’ were able to introduce these concepts into the subversive direction that our country was to take is not a representation of what the intent was, but only the usurpation and perversion of that intent. It is true that the masses were not competent in the ‘recruitment’ of their representation (and we remain incapable today), but the system was supposed to be able to control that. With failure, we see repercussions and ramifications. The result is the horrendous state of affairs that exists today.
I feel compelled to comment once again that these inappropriate players unless there is a pogrom or genocide of all of these unnamed and undetermined degenerate individuals, will inevitably exist and assimilate into whatever anarchist or collectivist paradigm may well be on the horizon. They will inevitably take the reins for themselves once again and the end result will be something very reminiscent of what we have today. Is this not what history has shown us? Have we learned nothing from those same historical precedents?
They say that you get the government that you vote for, the government that you deserve. Perhaps it is our own fault. They also say fool me once, shame on you, and fool me twice shame on me. We’ve seen it a thousand times, so who do we blame?
I am somewhat surprised to hear Kropotkin reflect my own interpretation of the state as it stands today. My passionate disagreement is with his inference that it is the state that is responsible for the aftermath, and not those inappropriate players I suggest.
It is not the state that wishes to dominate others and impose its own will on them. The state doesn’t even exist. It is a benign and neutral social construct, a euphemistic fantasy as to some beneficent dictatorship. The state is made up of individuals that have this intention of domination and imposition. They are the ones that initiate force against others, not some indistinct ‘state’. That is where we should focus our attention.
Ayn Rand and objectivism talk about the parasites and the looters that desire to indulge themselves at everyone else’s expense with no intent to earn or produce anything on their own. They are the true enemy, not capitalism and not the state. A controlled environment does not allow these leeches to do much of anything, but I think we all know that to cheat, to steal, to defraud and to lie, as well as kill is the easy way to achieve those things that they think they ‘deserve’.
Changing ideologies or philosophies will not bring about the change we seek, but only the production of thinking individuals based on reason and intelligence, and character. A legitimate and moral philosophy as it were. The problem is how to get the inferior and imperfect to instruct the teachable and malleable to be those men and women of value and substance. Not to teach them what they ‘thought’ was the right thing to do, but actually a path forward to attain a level superior to what once was. This was actually the American dream at one point. To attain, not just more wealth than our fathers, but to become a better individual, an exceptional human being. How does one do that? Who do you ask to lead the way? How do we define exceptional? I am sad to say that I may have suggestions, but in reality, I really don’t have a clue. Do you?
I find it often difficult to agree with Kropotkin, acknowledging that my knowledge of him is limited, but I find it difficult to disagree with any of his examples, although perhaps not his intent or interpretations of where their source lies.
(RK) But he agreed that the state existed to ‘protect exploitation, speculation and private property’ and characterized it as ‘the by-product of the rapine of the people’. Kropotkin pinpointed Marx’s error in his confusion of ‘state’ with ‘government’. Because he defined both as reflections of economic power, Marx was wrongly led to believe that it was possible to abolish the state simply by changing the form of government – by placing the control of government in socialist hands.
(LCW) I was going to say that I find little distinction between state and government. The change of government invariable means a change in state, but that may be more a result of a power vacuum and less a symbiosis of the two.
I do agree that while the government can be overthrown or even democratically replaced, the state may well retain its power and influence without the need to defend its own existence. In that sense, I may in fact even agree with his positions. As I have repeatedly commented, the true leadership, for want of a better word, is who holds the power and influence which lies more in the state than the government. Government tends to be little more than lackeys and errand-boys, otherwise the ‘state’ would not have been able to control the evolution of that exploitation that he spoke of. Men of character and philosophical resolve could have prevented this evolution, or at least impacted it to an appreciable extent but at what cost? The loss of their jobs, almost certainly, the loss of their lives, quite possibly. Who is willing to pay that price? No one that I see in Washington, D.C.
In that sense, I may have to agree to the abolition of the state, but maybe more the diminution of the power of the state, which interestingly enough, is the objective of the libertarians and the objectivists, and not of the liberals, the collectivists or the anarchists. To me, that is of utmost interest and worthy of exploration and contemplation.
(RK) Unlike Marxists, he argued, anarchists were not merely opponents of the transitory power of a particular regime or constitution. They opposed the decision-making apparatus or system of rule that all these regimes monopolized. His practical concern was that Marx had underestimated the threat of what Bakunin had called ‘red bureaucracy’: the potential for socialism to create a new form of oppression based on the control by workers’ representatives of the state apparatus.
(LCW) I am not seeing anything resembling a comprehensive or definitive position on these concepts. It seems the anarchist allows almost anyone to self-proclaim themselves an anarchist because they do not have the ability to define their own ideology, and when they talk of the state they make rather vague and indistinct connections without credible evidence. I want to agree with much of it and yet cannot simply sign on to a murky representation of the state as opposed to government.
If you cannot specifically define what these decision-making apparatuses or systems of rule actually embody, and who runs them, then how does one stand in opposition? They are ghosts. There is no articulation of their substance. How does one agree or disagree with such a wide-ranging statement? It would seem every country could be different which returns us to a point of indecision and incompetence as to the opposition or enemy.
Any ideology that takes over either the state or the government has the opportunity to oppress by way of controlling existing paradigms. I would have to acknowledge that I see no easy answer except revolution and the overthrowing of the powers that be. The conflict with that is if it is legitimate to overthrow any government then it seems reasonable to justify the overthrow of whatever takes its place. A never-ending vicious cycle. Is that not what we see as students of history? I simply cannot subscribe to such a blind acceptance of an unsubstantiated criticism.
(RK) Malatesta explained.
Social democrats start off from the principle that the State, government,
is none other than the political organ of the dominant class.
In a capitalistic society, they say, the State necessarily serves
the interests of the capitalists and ensures for them the right
to exploit the workers; but that in a socialist society, when private property
were to be abolished, and ... class distinctions would disappear,
then the State would represent everybody and become the impartial organ
representing the social interests of all members of society.
(LCW) What an absurd and convoluted statement. The problem is that, as an example, America is not a ‘capitalistic’ society, per se, but a political system that uses the market for voluntary trades and transactions. The fact that this has been perverted notwithstanding, does not confirm or support the idea that capitalism is a tool of government or the state, but may have to acknowledge that this seems to have been the result of those inappropriate players I reference.
Again, everything is presented as either black or white, and neither is the answer. While the state or government ‘may’ be the political organ of the dominant class, I simply cannot acquiesce to such a position without some reasoned or evidentiary argument. It doesn’t have to be, but I recognize that it seems that way almost without exception. What are the alternatives that do not return just another version of what we do not want?
If and when the anarchist or socialistic ideology takes over, what is it that will prevent them from doing the same thing? The only realistic outcome I see is that if the character and integrity of the leadership are so different from what exists that it may actually be possible to bring significant change. The problem is that I don’t see this on the street or in the ‘propaganda’ from these camps and therefore have no confidence that it will be any different from what has come before. And no one is trying to convince me otherwise.
It’s a vapid and Utopian desire to make the statement that in a socialist society when property is abolished that class distinctions would disappear and then the state would represent everyone equally and be impartial as to social interests. This is such an immature and irrational position, completely devoid of reason or substance. Why would this happen? What leads you to believe such a fantasy? Are not these socialistic non-state ‘states’ made of human beings? When were they transformed into the individuals of character and integrity that are essential for any hope of success?
What is going to stop them from usurping those who agree with you and simply co-opt your movement and become the new and improved politburo? When has socialism ever produced a lasting example of anything approaching this? It hasn’t. In fact, in every historical collective illustration, the classes were abolished, ‘except’ for those that lived in the nicest houses, appointed to them by way of their importance in the movement. They ate all the best foods and drank the best wines, and drove the best cars. Perhaps to you, that is a classless society, but I find it hard to reconcile.
I have known people that have come from socialist and communist environments and they waited on the proverbial ‘bread-lines’ for the barest of necessities, never seeing one of the classless leadership at their sides. They never saw the best cuts of meat or even moderate levels of wine or fruits or foodstuffs that were available to the classless leaders. Why is that? I don’t care if you only have a single New York strip steak in the country, and even if that means leadership gets the first one, they should ‘never’ and I mean never have the opportunity to have another one if and until every other citizen gets their turn at the trough, but that’s not the way it works, never has been and never will be.
Educate me as to the weakness in my perspective. ‘Class’ is a reality, not a euphemism. It’s like our children playing some sports game and not ‘keeping score’. The politicians, the teachers, and the parents can act like they are doing something to build character, but when all is said and done and the child comes home and the parents ask if they had fun, they will tell you they lost 20 to nothing. They ‘know’ who won, and by how much, even if there is no scoreboard. If you really want this to work, then you can’t teach them how to count.
Collectivism doesn’t want a membership that can think on its own. The educated do not take direction well, and they dissent and they protest. It was used against them to instill the ideology and will be used once again to remove them. There is no such thing as a classless society. That’s not reality. Whether you have money or influence or intelligence or street smarts or athletic ability, we are all different. That’s what we call diversity. Everyone is better than someone else at something. It doesn’t mean that they will not be better at something else. There can be no equality except in the opportunity to decide for yourself what you want and what you are willing to invest in time and effort to achieve that end.
(RK) A second set of criticisms examined the state role as an instrument of revolutionary change. These critiques had two variations: one focused on the idea of dictatorship and the other on the theoretical assumptions that underpinned the parliamentary strategy. The first line of attack followed as a corollary to the Bakuninist critique of bureaucracy. Anarchist critics noted that the dictatorship of the proletariat, endorsed by Marx as a necessary means of securing the victory of the workers, was supposed to be both temporary and nondictatorial. Yet by placing workers’ representatives in a position where they could use violence against designated class enemies, critics argued that it would inevitably become a permanent form of oppression.
(LCW) Isn’t that inarguably obvious? I fail to see the reason in the comments. The role of state can never be an instrument of revolutionary change except perhaps in the pressure to overthrow the state that relies inherently on the status quo to protect its existence. The state, to ensure its own protection and continuity, is opposed to anything other than a controlled response to its activities and directives.
A dictatorship ‘is’ authority and ‘the’ state. It is everything the anarcho-collectivist incessantly say they are against, and yet once again, they embrace the idea of the ends justifying the means, even if that inevitably results in violence, oppression and death to those that simply disagree with their version of what is necessary to live together in peace and harmony. How one can say that such an end result can be legitimate when it owes its success and existence to the use of coercion and oppression is beyond my comprehension. It is irrefutably illegitimate and irrational.
Who directs this dictatorship of the proletariat? If it is truly the workers that make the decisions, then how does one resolve differences, or are the millions that constitute this proletariat so ignorant and lacking in perception that they simply follow directives from outside influences over the mindless slaves that are the collective? One must remember that the hive mentality does not make its own decisions, but does whatever is in the interests of the hive, with the queen as its predominant entity. Inarguably replaceable and yet never by one of the drones or ‘workers’. The essence of the collective.
There can be nothing resembling a non-dictatorial dictatorship that exists only to be instrumental in the culmination of the overthrow of state by the workers. This is supposed to be ‘temporary’ until the revolution is a fait accompli? What nonsense. What ‘self-respecting’ dictator gives up unrestricted power after achieving it? Even the beneficent dictator holds on to the reins of power to prevent the non-beneficent from taking control and imprisoning and oppressing the populace. I can see that some form of kool-aid was available long before my time.
Once the option of violence to implement change is a reality or even a possibility, whether good or bad, a time of tranquility and calm will never be an alternative, so the necessity, continuity and ease of violence in the resolution of conflict will be touted as beneficent in and of itself and will inevitably become a permanent aspect of power within the society in question. Has not history shown this to be irrefutably true in virtually every instance? In no way is this the path to some solution, but only an exacerbation of the obstacles and challenges before them. This is the demonstrably inherent failure of collectivism and contemporary liberalism.
(RK) As Rocker argued:
Dictatorship is a definite form of state power ... it is the proclamation..
of the wardship of the toiling people, a guardianship forced
upon the masses by a tiny minority. Even if its supporters
are animated by the very best intentions, the iron logic
of facts will always drive them into the camp of extremest [sic] despotism ...
the pretence that the so-called dictatorship of the proletariat is
something different ... is only a sophisticated trick to fool simpletons.
Such a thing as the dictatorship of a class is utterly unthinkable,
since there will always be involved merely the dictatorship of
a particular party which takes it upon itself
to speak in the name of a class .
(LCW) Is it not obvious? When has it ever been otherwise? There is no argument that the concept of the beneficent dictator cannot be an in-context success, but it is the nature of dictatorships to be overthrown just like states and governments. While theoretically there can be a peaceful transfer of power, the reality is that there is no way to control the final outcome, and dictatorship is not a matter of cooperation nor democracy, which has its own faults and shortcomings. It is pure power and strength that normally drives dictatorships, and peace and harmony, and happiness are not a derivative of any oppressive construct. Without the presence of checks and balances and structured and controlled power, it will always devolve into oppressive totalitarianism, no matter how well-intentioned.
(RK) Turning to the second variation, critics like Gustav Landauer and Kropotkin’s friend, Varlaam Cherkezov, argued that the parliamentary strategy was posited on an idea of historical development that was overly mechanistic. Marx, Landauer argued, had wrongly believed that he had discovered a law of economic development from which the inevitable collapse of capitalism and victory of socialism could be deduced. Faith in his law had misled Marxists to believe that they could play a waiting game in state legislatures, building up their political strength until such time that the moment of crisis arrived and they could use their party machines to socialize the economic system.
As Cherkezov put it, Marxists believed that it ‘is enough that the workers should vote for members of parliament who call themselves Socialists, that the number of these MPs should increase to the extent of a majority in the House, that they should decree State Collectivism or Communism’. The idea was ludicrous for it supposed that ‘all exploiters will peaceably submit to the decision of parliament’ and that ‘capitalists will have no choice but unresisting submission’.
(LCW) I find it fascinating that someone like Marx, so sure of himself and his ideological vision for the future (was he, did he?) was not prepared, or even excited about articulating that vision for all to see and hear, and to persuade anyone who would care to listen about this fantastic new social paradigm. By all means, use a parliamentary strategy and build the movement with workers and legislators of like mind, but also to create a perpetual conversation with the people on the street who would welcome, in time, the changing of the guard to the new and desirable alternative.
Who needs a revolution of any kind if you convince the majority of the righteousness of the new social agenda? Is it reasonable to think that he was neither capable nor confident in his own message? The legislators could not ‘sell’ what he was offering, he did not have the ability to persuade those that were not already ‘die-hards’ and ‘his’ workers, although enthusiastic and willing to act as fodder for a revolution, were in such disarray philosophically and intellectually that the only course left was for revolution, violence, coercion and oppression. That seems to be the case.
Those with power, resources and influence rarely acquiesce to the will of others. Ironically, that is the only valid reason for the state to begin with, not to cooperate with their wishes as paid lackeys and subordinates, but as leadership and management of these same individuals to the benefit of all of their ‘constituents’. Call them workers or citizens or individuals, their mandate is to create and implement structure within the society and to administer the will of the whole without the oppression of the few, but refusing to let any ‘few’ control the paradigm (or themselves).
Is this not what anarchism is in essence? Do they promote and support unilateral governance by self-acclaimed superiors, or do they suggest that each and every individual is capable of making his own decisions and conclusions and acting on their own beliefs and priorities as long as they do not prevent their neighbors from doing the same thing? Is that not anarchism? Or is it just one of many ideologies that wish to control and oppress their neighbors, to prevent them from success, and to enrich themselves even when they do not deserve or work towards their own personal achievements?
This is a question that all anarchists, all individuals, of whatever ideology, need to answer if they have any hope whatsoever of finding that nirvana, that Utopia, that so many talk about, but so few actually work towards.
(RK) A final set of criticisms focused on the class bias of Marx’s state theory. Here, the focus of the anarchist critique was Marx’s preoccupation with proletarian liberation and his disregard of rural workers and the underclass – the unemployed, the outcast and the dispossessed – as subjects for liberation. Bakunin’s worry was that Marx’s scientific theory was exclusively focused on the liberation of the urban working class and that the communist revolution would lead to the oppression of all other workers in the name of economic progress. Landauer shared Bakunin’s fear and against Marx’s view argued: ‘The struggle for socialism is a struggle for the land; the social question is an agrarian question’.
(LCW) This creates the predisposition for the ideologies to start speaking of sacrifice and the few working for the many. Those that don’t work at all, for whatever reason are never really an issue up for debate. If the innovation, creativity and productivity of those with substantial abilities are dismissed as unnecessary, so too will those that contribute nothing because they have little to offer, and the burden on a society that rejects those most capable of creating more than they need will be substantial and oppressive in nature. The elimination of that burden will be difficult to resist.
The substitution of some arbitrary bourgeoisie or upper class with a non-distinct proletariat or workers group does nothing to create a different environment where class ceases to exist. It can only change. Those who make the decisions will become the ‘nouveau’ bourgeoisie, no matter how they attempt to present it. Whatever mob, no matter how cultured, wealthy, or capable (or not), when they take over they will become the undisputed determining factor in who does what and to whom. The dynamics never change. Virtually every instance of revolution has resulted in a ‘purging’ of those not in vogue or no longer in power to ensure that the political structure does not revert back to what it was when those who overtake by force are not able to deliver on their promises. The glaring exception was America, and it would do well for anyone interested in these dynamics to study its creation and development closely.
(RK) Many anarchists believe that these nineteenth-century debates were finally played out in the Russian Revolution.
(LCW) Many anarchists, some anarchists, much anarchist literature, many anarchists, the vagueness is dominating and unintelligible to the point of irrelevancy. Who are these anarchists that are referenced when trying to describe and define the essence of the anarchist? It would seem that the anarchist does not wish to be independent and distinct within their own paradigm and simply choose one of the readily available ideologies, slap an ‘anarcho’ in the front of it, and presume that they have created a new and viable school of thought. It simply doesn’t work that way.
(RK) In his eyewitness account of events, Voline remembered how in 1917 the Bolsheviks launched ‘slogans which until then had particularly and insistently been voiced by the Anarchists: Long live the Social Revolution!’ For the anarchists this call described ‘a really social act: a transformation which would take place outside of all political and statist organizations ...’. It meant ‘destruction of the State and capitalism at the same time, and the birth of a new society based on another form of social organization’.
For the Bolsheviks, however, the slogan meant ‘resurrection of the State after the abolition of the bourgeois State – that is to say, the creation of a powerful new State for the purpose of “constructing Socialism”’. Whilst many modern anarchists – from anarcho-syndicalists to postmodernists – classify themselves as anticapitalists rather than anti-statists, the experience of the revolution and the subsequent creation of the Soviet State have added weight to the view that anarchism revolves around the rejection of the state, since this is the point on which anarchism and Marxism divide. In 1922 in a bad-tempered exchange with the ‘left Bolshevik’ Nikolai Bukharin, Luigi Fabbri argued:
The state is more than an outcome of class division; it is ...
the creator of privilege ... Marx was in error in thinking
that once classes had been abolished the state would die a natural death ...
The state will not die away unless it is deliberately destroyed,
just as capitalism will not cease to exist unless it is put to death
through expropriation. ... And, let us say it again, the anarchists
have pointed this out – in their polemics with social democrats –
times without number from 1880 up to the present day.
(LCW) I believe this position is reasonable and demonstrable. Marx was an idealist and a dreamer, and I can say with all due respect that this is not necessarily a bad thing, since I am one and the same in that respect, but he was not a realist and not a very good philosopher, but an adamant ideologue. His assumptions were predicated more on his idealism and what he wanted personally and less on reality and what was actually possible within our social paradigm. An unfortunate truth.
I find it fascinating that the only way to end capitalism, the great exploiter and expropriator, is through expropriation. Is that irrational or is it just me?
(RK) One of the effects of the formal division of socialists into anarchist and Marxist camps has been to encourage anarchists to re-evaluate their relationship to liberalism. Bruised by their knowledge of the tyranny of Soviet socialism, twentieth-century anarchists in particular reasserted their commitment to the philosophy of liberalism and offered robust defences of the civic freedoms with which liberals are traditionally associated.
(LCW) I would tend to suggest that these ‘traditional’ anarchists have been assimilated by the more radical and authoritative factions that exist in today’s contemporary mindset. I see very few of the mutualists and individualists and those at least willing to tolerate the capitalistic perspective. Perhaps there are more than what I have experienced but they are not prevalent in my own experience. More is the pity since they are the only perspective that intrigues me and attracts me to the ideology. I can’t help but repeat that I am so disappointed, repulsed and displeased with the overpowering presence of the Marxist subjective point of view that I find it difficult to accept it as a legitimate position within anarchism.
(RK) The theoretical alignment of anarchism with liberalism has a historical root. William Godwin’s anarchism was firmly grounded in a tradition of radicalism informed by scientific reason. Bakunin, too, celebrated the idea of reason and identified in liberalism a principle of rationality and of scientific thought that he linked with emancipation and progress. Though he complained that the benefits of scientific knowledge extended to ‘only ... a very small portion of society’, he believed that liberal science would provide the foundation for integral or all-round education in anarchy.
(LCW) I would venture to say that the ‘historical root’ is tentative at best. But the idea of science not being the sole provenance of some elite segment of society is an intriguing and reasonable step forward. I don’t think it was ever meant to be that way, but the basic individual that constitutes our society did not have the time or resources to put the effort into an understanding and implementation of this into their daily lives. I see no reason to think that this new interpretation had less to do with anarchy and more to do with the maturation process of the social paradigm, irrespective of the ideology or philosophy.
While it is true that the benefits of science were not immediately available to society as a whole, it may also be true that to expect it to be handed to the individual was not a realistic expectation either. Evolution and progress is deliberative and painstaking. Those without the ability to comprehend this obvious fact nor the patience to work towards the objective of justice and equality in a rational way tend to be radicals and even if their efforts result in some small way to these benefits becoming commonplace, the resultant conflict and chaos is often more problematic than the restriction of those benefits.
The ‘ends’ of these intentions are often laudable and credible, but without integrity and some moral base, if the ‘means’ utilized are invalid then the resultant paradigm is illegitimate and ultimately counter-productive in a societal sense.
(RK) Developing this idea, the Spanish anarchist Francisco Ferrer commented:
Those imaginary products of the mind, a priori ideas,
and all the absurd and fantastical fictions hitherto regarded
as truth and imposed as directive principles on human conduct,
have for some time past incurred the condemnation of reason
and the resentment of conscience ...
Science is no longer the patrimony of a small group of privileged individuals;
its beneficent rays more or less consciously penetrate every rank of society.
On all sides traditional errors are being dispelled by it;
by the confident procedure of experience and observation
it enables us to attain accurate knowledge and criteria
in regard to natural objects and the laws which govern them.
With indisputable authority it bids men lay aside for ever
their exclusivisms and privileges, and it offers itself
as the controlling principle of human life,
seeking to imbue all with a common sentiment of humanity.
(LCW) The genesis of my initial interest in anarchism was some of the philosophy voiced such as the individual within anarchistic thought being someone who created and followed that ‘confident procedure of experience’ using their astute ability of observation to investigate the knowledge available to them and come to valid and insightful conclusions to the questions that they explored. This has little if anything to do with anarchy but more the process of education and a lifelong passion to learn and comprehend the world around us.
I saw this in the clues and suggestions presented by some anarchists, but what I did not really see was this concept illustrated through their behaviours. Words are important to me, and I heard much of what resonated as truth, but the actions were often, to the exclusion of others, to be less than compassionate and open-minded and representative of cooperation and voluntary agreement. Perhaps someone could explain these contradictions to me?
I am not sure that I understand the ‘exclusivisms’ that are referenced. If this is simply the confiscation of rights and benefits by some within business and politics, then this is only an example of inappropriate players in the political and economic systems, and not the systems themselves. Privileges are something else again, being deserved under certain circumstances, not to be taken by force or granted through corruption.
Yes, there are those that place these undeserved accolades as the source of validity in their lives, but that does not mean they are credible or legitimate. It is for the rest of us to make the attempt to control those intentions. Without government or some version of the ‘state’ I truly find it incomprehensible that it can be accomplished.
Like the concept of anarchy itself, this ‘sentiment of humanity’ needs to be contemplated and determined, and defined so a conversation can take place about the validity of an action versus those that are deemed inappropriate whether in a personal paradigm or within society itself.
(RK) The relationship between anarchism and rational science blossomed in the 1880s and ’90s, largely under the influence of Kropotkin and Reclus who extended Bakunin’s ideas to develop an empirically based theory of anarchism. In their various geographical and sociological writings they developed Bakunin’s argument, that prevailing methods of scientific investigation held the key to social well-being, in an attempt to demonstrate the naturalness of anarchy.
Anarchists like Malatesta complained that Kropotkin confused science with morals and that his anarchism was too mechanistic. But the idea that anarchism had a foundation in empirical science was difficult to resist. Indeed, the claim that Marx had founded ‘scientific’ socialism provided an additional spur for anarchists to appropriate liberal science and harness it to their own cause because it provided a means to undermine and ridicule this claim.
(LCW) How does one discuss the ‘naturalness of anarchy’ when one cannot define it? As mentioned previously, the schools of thought are so ‘diverse’ and contradictory that I find it impossible to offer support for the ideology when so much of it is compulsive and coercive and not what I had previously interpreted as anarchistic.
Almost all of what has been presented here is not about philosophy or morality but about politics and economics. Social well-being, while being affected by the secondary aspects of these systems, is nothing if not based upon a logical, intellectual and demonstrable set of precepts and fundamental beliefs that create the basis for the ideology itself. These political and economic imperatives are derivative from the original ideas, not the other way around.
Science has little to do with economics and politics but everything to do with objective factual evidence that determines what we can attempt to change, and is integral to the social interactions that are possible between individuals. Science tells us who we are and defines the world we live in, politics and economics tell us what we intend to do with that information, always understanding that those actions will be based upon a legitimate system of beliefs.
(RK) Notwithstanding Malatesta’s reservations the scientific model dominated twentieth-century anarchism. In a discussion of Alex Comfort’s work, David Goodway comments:
Historically ... anarchists have ... regarded science
as a force for progress: being the revelation
of the structure of the natural world ...
and hence in opposition to the mystifying claims of religious superstition,
of class rule and, after 1917, of ideology.
It has only been in the late twentieth century that science
and radical politics have become uncoupled ...
Anarchists continue to work within this paradigm. The Anarchist International represents itself as a ‘non-sectarian’ and ‘non-dogmatic’ organization, open to ‘all libertarian tendencies’. But it is also ‘non-dialectical and non-metaphysical’, committed to ‘the method of modern science, introduced by Kropotkin ... in short the anarchist scientifical way of thinking’ (Bulletin of the Anarchist International). In his well-known pamphlet Listen, Anarchist! Chaz Bufe also defends science, rationality and technology as the only permissible tools of anarchist dissent.
(LCW) While the AI (Anarchist International) may not represent anarchy in any official capacity (whether they believe this to be true or not) this statement has enormous repercussions and questions the legitimacy of its own ‘anarchist’ thought on so many levels.
To proclaim oneself ‘non-sectarian’ is a huge contradiction since from my perspective, and the positions represented in this work, there is an obvious conflict in terms since almost all of these ‘factions’ or ‘sects’ adamantly present themselves as the only one who can perceive the issues and those who cannot are of little relevance. I see no real conversations about the essence of anarchism or the objectives they offer as some kind of resolution to the challenges we face as a society. Certainly no discussion, debate or reasoned arguments.
This in its most fundamental aspects is dogmatic in nature and demonstrably so. They actually acknowledge that they are non-dialectical (which directly relates to the logical discussion of ideas and opinions) so admit that they have no real interest in compromise, negotiation, the sharing of ideas, or cooperation in the development and evolution of the ideology if it means deviating from their own pre-determined philosophy.
This is the epitome of a hubristic and authoritarian perspective that inevitably results in a totalitarian regime. I have no idea if this holds true over all the different schools of thought within anarchism, and I tend to think the originalists and traditionalists would argue passionately that all of these things are not only important but fundamentally integral to having a legitimate anarchy ideology and philosophy.
The fact that they also portray themselves as ‘anti-metaphysical’ is almost laughable since, without exploration of what the mind is capable of, there can be no belief system that can be defined or explained intellectually and therefore cannot even exist. All of these things are dependent on what is investigated and explored by the mind. The basis for the philosophy is determined by what the mind discovers and the conclusions arrived at through the capabilities of the mind itself.
The anarchist is an individual that is aware of what they are attempting to achieve, and fiercely independent in the sense of what they conclude through their own abilities and not through the urgings and intimidation from outside influences. That is the anarchism that I am attracted to, and so little of what the collectivist and liberal factions proclaim as the appropriate path is of little or no significance to me. It is nothing but a dead-end. There is no substance or value there for me. Their positions are irrelevant. Interesting perhaps in the context of a larger debate about anarchy, but by themselves insignificant.
(RK) In rather different ways, Rothbard and Rand also ground anarchism in an idea of reason. Rothbard’s work is based on a conception of natural law and Rand’s on what she calls ‘objective’ law, similarly discoverable through the exercise of reason. The ‘post-objectivist’ George H. Smith captures the gist of the idea. Anarchism, he argues,
is grounded in the belief that we are fully capable,
through reason, of discerning the principles of justice;
and that we are capable, through rational persuasion
and voluntary agreement, of establishing
whatever institutions are necessary
for the preservation and enforcement of justice.
(LCW) This is what the historical, traditional interpretation of anarchism is all about, and it seems that it has been abandoned by the faithful over the years, regaining and retaining only the malcontents and those that are in dire need for something based on violence, coercion and a certain lack of reason and thought.
I find so many similarities between anarchism and objectivism. If anarchy cannot fill what void exists, then it will have to be objectivism I guess, leaving anarchy to those that wish to create a somewhat dismal future. But let us look at this ex-objectivist (college from what I can ascertain), atheist and libertarian.
I have always seen the anarchist as characterized as an individualist, independent, and fully capable of determining his own path in life and coming to his own conclusions. Possibly with the help of other influences or people but ultimately an individual that makes his own decisions and accepts the responsibilities and obligations that come with personal thought and action.
Reason has always been a given, and those attracted to anarchy that base their investigations on reason and common sense, not particularly ‘intelligence’ per se, but an innate imperative to live by their own rules, and those rules based on a deeply considered and fundamentally benign philosophy of societal interaction with others along with a passionate belief that they have the same rights as anyone else with neither being able to coerce the other to follow any particular course of behaviour.
I am more intrigued and fascinated by the philosophy of the anarchist than the political ideology of the movement. Individuals perceive things from a personal perspective while groups and ideologies from a wider perspective which almost always precludes the individual in the determination of the direction of the ideology, instead being preoccupied with the well-being, existence and survival of the entity as a whole instead of the individual as the fundamental building block of the final product. This invariably results in the ‘squeaky wheel’ getting the most attention, often not ending well for the vast majority of individuals in the community.
Ideologues are interested in organization which is often interpreted as obedience albeit it they call it ‘cooperation’ or ‘common cause’ or the ‘greater good’. Individualism will always be a threat to these things since they are inevitably free thinkers, open-minded to alternatives and possibilities that may conflict with dogmatic beliefs. I recognize that the anarchist rejects dogma, but the arguments by many if not most are dogmatic in nature.
For a movement that does not believe in the authority of the state or hierarchies, I see little but the existence of these things, especially in the collective and liberal anarchists as well as the ‘modern-day’ anarchist. I see little room for a conversation where reasoned arguments can be given and taken at face value, with a heartfelt attempt at finding answers to the intent and expectations of the anarchist membership.
(RK) The theoretical alignment of anarchism with liberal science was paralleled by a reassessment of liberalism’s political value. Some anarchist schools had long seen a positive element in liberal thought and like liberals claimed liberty as one of their primary goals. Yet not all groups of anarchists have asserted the priority of liberty with equal force. So-called individualists – particularly in America – have tended to be the most vocal advocates of liberty, identifying anarchism firmly with the defence of rights.
Indeed, some writers have argued that liberal anarchism is a peculiarly American phenomenon. In her analysis of the relationship of anarchism to American political culture Voltairine de Cleyre argued that independence of thought, freedom from the tyranny of arbitrary government and the guarantee of civic rights were the hallmarks of both anarchist and liberal traditions.
(LCW) The problem as I see it is that all of these uncomplimentary perspectives are quite adamant in their positions. By definition, liberty and rights are something that everyone has, and these things are not determined by any ‘other’ individual or group of individuals but only by the individual themselves. This has to be an anticipated conflict in any discussion about what anarchism is or should be.
Individual schools of thought have their own interpretations and expectations and ironically this represents authority, dogma, and coercion at some point unless they are prepared to put all of their time and effort into ‘persuading’ all the other members of the legitimacy and viability of their theoretical perspectives. This creates a valid product, something that the anarchist seems to be having difficulties realizing.
Manipulation and coercion have no place in an ideology that professes to liberty and the independence of thought, to rights, both personal and social, and the freedom from ‘arbitrary government’ in any form. I think that every anarchist, in fact any and every individual from whatever belief system, needs to spend time in deep contemplation about those rights they believe they deserve, but moreso the responsibilities and obligations that are inherent in those benefits, how they determine our relationships with others, and what kind of personal and social paradigm we wish to be a part of.
Every ideology is at best only a single segment of that greater collective of diverse and tolerant individuals that at some point we will have to find a pathway to true cooperation. Chaos, manipulation, coercion and violence will never be the path to such an eventuality.
(RK) The patriots of the Revolution ‘took their starting point for deriving a minimum government upon the same sociological ground that the modern Anarchist derives the no-government theory; viz., that equal liberty is the political ideal’. Ayn Rand also argued that American anarchism had been shaped by the revolutionary tradition. Europeans, she added, had never ‘fully grasped’ the American philosophy of the Rights of Man and remained firmly wedded to the competing principle of the common good.
The Scottish anti-parliamentarian, Guy Aldred, offered a less culturally determined account, extending the American tradition back to the English homeland. The ‘English-speaking race, on both sides of the Atlantic, have by persecution at the stake, by jail, and exile, made the English tongue the tongue of liberty and of freedom’.
(LCW) There is much to question with these statements. ‘Equal liberty’ is not something that can be categorized, it must by definition be for every single element within the society of the country, and that does not come across in the multitude of anarchistic schisms. Otherwise, the rights of those that disagree would hold the same validity as any other schism. I think it is obvious that this is not the case. I think this concept of ‘liberty’ needs to be qualified and defined, but the anarchist tends to have a difficulty with specificity and clarity.
I find Rand’s perspective to be both insightful and significant. The Great American Experiment dealt with truly original and individualistic concepts that brought liberty and ‘rights’ as something more natural and organic, and not ‘bestowed’ upon us by our betters when they were so inclined. Europe had long ago dismissed such an assertion due to the reality and status quo that took centuries to instill in its political paradigms.
(RK) Traditionally, European anarcho-communists have been rather more cynical about the value of liberal rights in the absence of economic equality. Proudhon defined liberty in terms of the necessity to maintain ‘equality in the means of production and equivalence in exchanges’. Similarly, whilst Bakunin famously declared himself a ‘fanatical lover of liberty’, he also argued that workers told about political freedom would rightly reply, ‘Do not speak of freedom: poverty is slavery’. In the 1870s Kropotkin contrasted the formal rights guaranteed by liberal states with the effective rights yet to be claimed by the oppressed. The first were tools of oppression and the second powers to be extracted from the state. There was a clear gulf between the two.
(LCW) Cynicism is an extremely healthy attribute. The cynic questions pretty much everything but the point is to engage and inspire contemplation and a sharing of ideas and perspectives. Again, this was my initial interpretation of an anarchist when I was first introduced to the ideology many decades ago. For me, the anarchist is both an independent thinker and an individual of action. Resolute in their own abilities, tempered with compassion and empathy using reason to come to conclusions, following none but their own personal philosophy with an integrity and degree of reason that resonates with their neighbors, resulting in an atmosphere where people can agree to disagree when necessary, but the ability to cooperate when voluntarily allowed to determine their own priorities and direction.
Is this not your vision of a moral and legitimate anarchist? If it is, then we should be able to work towards common goals. If not, then as a cynic, I have to ask exactly what it is that you are attempting to achieve with your rhetoric and questionable philosophy. It is really a fairly simple question. The answer gives insight into your intentions, and legitimacy to your philosophical beliefs.
I find the statement that poverty is slavery to be an over-reaction and irrational. Poverty is a state of underachievement or inability to take care of oneself. While it can be a matter of oppression and coercion by others, we should work towards removing those kinds of paradigms that allow those circumstances and support the environment that creates opportunity and the education to achieve the ability for self-reliance. This would be an example of common cause between the anarchist and the pure capitalist and objectivist. Otherwise, it is a matter of the individual needing education and training to be able to achieve his own desires and objectives.
Tell me where the anarchist wants to be cared for like a dependent child, with whatever irrational whims that come to them, not only supplied by nameless others but actually ‘demanded’ from them for themselves. Is that the essence of an anarchist? Are they so selfish that they are not willing to dedicate themselves to being the best individual that they can be so as to independently take responsibility for themselves and those they claim to love, and yes, to care for those that find themselves in difficult situations? Is it a matter of circumstances beyond their control or do they bear culpability for many of their own challenges and obstacles? These are fundamental and intrinsic questions that need to be answered by every single individual within our society, no matter their ideology, no matter their philosophy, no matter their reality.
(RK) The rise to power of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution was not the only event that led anarchists to re-evaluate the significance of liberal rights. The emergence of fascism has also helped to reinforce anarchist commitments to liberal freedoms and strengthened the belief that these freedoms can only be realized in a nonexploitative stateless society. Indeed, many European anarchist groups – particularly in France, Spain and Italy – continue to identify their struggle for freedom with a commitment against fascism.
(LCW) Fascism is not what any single individual thinks it is, nor a derogatory label for those that you disagree with, even if you cannot articulate why that is. Fascism is something specific and when I hear anarchists or collectivists or liberals use the word it makes me cringe to think of the level of ignorant disinformation that the individual has accepted as his reality.
Fascism, as Merriam-Webster defines it is specifically “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
Those who mindlessly accuse capitalism and objectivism and America of such a paradigm are irrational and completely misguided and illegitimate in their claims. It is demonstrably a false claim, and the inability to articulate a reasoned argument otherwise has caused me a degree of confusion and frustration over the last half-century that cannot be reconciled with the simple passion and focus of today’s anarchists and collectivists.
Ironically, I find the coercive exploitation of the worker within the collective and liberal paradigms to be the epitome of hypocrisy. Socialism, as a prime example, preaches the concept of the ‘greater good’ which ‘demands’ that each individual does whatever job is assigned to them, irrespective if it is something that they wish to do, or not, to insure the continued existence of their ideology. How is this not exploitative? I would welcome such a thing as a non-exploitative ‘state’ but talk of revolution and ‘taking over’ the state insinuates nothing to me if not oppression, coercion, manipulation, violence, and inevitable pain, suffering, and death.
(RK) Nevertheless the Russian Revolution certainly helped to concentrate anarchist minds on the independent value of these freedoms. As Voline argued:
A true revolution can only take its flight, evolve, attain its objectives,
if it has an environment of the free circulation of revolutionary ideas
concerning the course to follow, and the problems to be solved.
This liberty is as indispensable to the Revolution as air is to respiration.
That is why ... the dictatorship which leads inevitably
to the suppression of all freedom of speech, press,
organization, and action – even for the revolutionary tendencies,
except for the party in power – is fatal to true revolution.
(LCW) I applaud the ‘free circulation’ of not just revolutionary ideas but all ideas, with no exceptions. Is not an idea that disagrees with and questions that revolutionary paradigm a ‘revolutionary’ idea in contrast to that ideology itself? Who determines what is revolutionary, what is fascist, what is appropriate and especially what determines the concept of freedom if not the individuals themselves? Are anarchists willing to allow themselves to be ‘told’ or ‘directed’ to do what they do not ‘choose’ to do within their own morality and belief systems? I fail to see what an anarchist is if not a confident and competent individual. Words have very specific meanings and ultimately specific consequences and ramifications as well. It would do the movement well to spend some time pondering these concepts.
Once again, the statements presented only confirm my own personal paradigm that coercion and oppression of any kind, at any level and to any degree are anathema to freedom and liberty and have to be expunged from any objective attempted by any paradigm that hopes to attain some level of credibility and legitimacy.
Literally, any dictatorship (with very specific exceptions) that promotes suppression of the freedoms we have come to accept as non-negotiable such as speech, press, religion, movement, including organization and action (within limits such as violence and physical intimidation, among others) are truly fatal to any philosophical or intellectual movement and the death knell to intent and expectation. When it does fail, as history shows it inevitably will, it is only because of the damaged and inappropriate players that have used the ideology as a weapon against every member of the community. The excuse that it may be for their own good has never been a legitimate reason for oppression and security.
(RK) Reviewing, in 1926, the old distinctions between individualists and communists, Malatesta still maintained that the former attached too much importance to ‘an abstract concept of freedom’ but nevertheless arrived at a unified conception of anarchism as ‘all and only those forms of life that respect liberty’.
(LCW) What is this abstract concept of freedom that is being referenced? I can say the same about the anarchist ramblings about liberty and freedom for the ‘worker’. What does that even mean? It is vague and indecipherable as to anything definitive, but not really unexpected from a community that cannot even define a specific characterization of what constitutes their own philosophy of anarchy. Regrettable but true nonetheless.
(RK) Anarchists have continued to develop this interest in political liberty in the post-war period.
(LCW) The question begs to be asked: is there some definable (there is that concept once again) of what political liberty denotes as opposed to that of ‘personal’ liberty? To separate the two seems to infer that political liberty may in fact impact personal liberty, but I would argue that without personal liberty the concept of political liberty cannot exist at all.
I continue to find it difficult to believe that any anarchist cannot understand that their philosophy is built upon the individual and cannot be disassociated from that concept. The individual is the epitome of mankind, living a life by their own rules and joining forces with others only when they decide it is appropriate to do so. The essence of anarchy, and ironically, the essence of objectivism as well.
(RK) British anarchists in the Freedom group paid particular attention to the issue of censorship, particularly on the grounds of indecency. Writers for the journal Anarchy opposed with equal conviction calls to ban works from Mara Bryant’s recording, Please, Mister, Don’t You Touch My Tomato, to D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover on the grounds that they supported freedom of speech and expression. In a similar vein, one of the declared objectives of the French Fédération Anarchiste is ‘the absolute right for all individuals to express their opinions’.
(LCW) This sounds very much like the originalists of the anarchy movement thought of this freedom to be an ‘absolute’ and I would passionately agree, without reservation. Any thought, no matter how repulsive or hurtful or irrational deserves the right to be disseminated (perhaps with an age-appropriate restriction) to any adult that wishes to explore or contemplate the comment, with the only caveat being that they have the right to reject and walk away as well. Any attempt to ‘coerce’ an individual to receive or consume said commentary is coercion and oppression by definition. One can offer but no one can force another to give or to receive.
(RK) Recently one antiglobalizer has offered the memorable definition of anarchism as ‘liberalism on steroids’. The relationship between anarchism, Marxism and liberalism helps to contextualize two recent anarchist debates. The first revolves around the relative importance of individual expression and creative experimentation, and/or the desirability of bringing individuals together in community over the need to engage in class struggle to liberate peoples from exploitation.
(LCW) No one has made a reasoned argument in support of ‘the desirability of bringing individuals together in community over the need to engage in class struggle to liberate peoples from exploitation’ or more importantly if any of these things are specifically important to the ‘community’ at large to such a degree that something drastic and revolutionary need be done.
Is there really any compelling reason to engage in some class struggle? Where does this urgency come from? Is there evidence of some vote or poll? Has there been a recorded record (written or taped) of debate on a state or national level that we can discuss and debate ourselves? Who are those individuals that are making these decisions for the rest of us, putting our entire existence in the hands of unknown and unrecognizable spokespersons?
You do recognize that without consent and agreement, the whole exercise is a prime example of coercive and authoritarian directing of the masses? Is this not against every concept rejected by the anarchist community? Where is the legitimacy for the statements or for the speakers? I find it deeply disturbing that these anonymous orators can speak for me or for anyone. Try to persuade me if you wish, I grant you the freedom to try, but unequivocally reject the authority to make decisions except for yourself.
There is no argument that ‘individual expression and creative experimentation’ is a good thing and is an admirable objective. I have heard this said in multiple instances, but unfortunately without substantiation or (once again) without definition or an explanation of the imperative to do anything (or what) about it. The simple act of mentioning two completely separate concepts does nothing to relate them to one another. Individual expression is not achievable when someone else is speaking for you, without your knowledge or consent, or understanding.
A point needs to be made here, and that is, besides the fact that I see little compatibility between these camps philosophically or intellectually or even morally, I find that the collective and liberal perspectives do not promote or support any validity as to individual expression and creative experimentation unless it is in direct relation to their own ideologies and objectives. All others are rejected and restricted. History shows us this, it is not simply mindless opinion.
While there may be a ‘desirability’ of bringing individuals together in community over the need to engage in class struggle to liberate peoples from exploitation it simply has to be pointed out that the number of alternatives offered to achieve this ‘liberation’ are extremely limited in number and viability within the philosophy and therefore calls the legitimacy into question. This ‘bringing of individuals together’ should be across the board for all issues within the social paradigm, and not just cherry-pick those that further the limited ideology of those that are ‘directing’ the coming together of the community, such as exploitation and revolution. I find it highly disingenuous in relation to what these schisms have historically achieved, or should we say failed to achieve.
(RK) New anarchists typically emphasize the importance of the first two whilst ‘old’ anarchists give greater weight to the last. The second debate reflects a recent shift amongst primitivists and postmoderns against liberal rationalism and science. For primitivists, liberal rationality expresses a faulty approach towards reality: one that asserts the superiority of the intellect over sense and feeling.
For postmoderns it represents a mistaken idea of truth and reality: neither intellect nor feeling can capture either, there are only diverse and multiple interpretations. Yet both groups are hostile to the scientific, rationalist tradition that has dominated anarchist thought. Lawrence Jarach’s primitivist critique of Chaz Bufe’s ‘ultra-rationalist and moralist perspective’ and his ‘liberal leftist’ commitment to ‘“civil liberties”’ is one example of the recent trend. ‘Joff ’s’ poststructuralist/postmodern critique of Bookchin’s developmental, naturalistic science is another.
In addition, the history of the relationship between anarchism and liberalism places anarchism on a broader spectrum of ideas than the bi-partite division of Marxism and anarchism allows, fleshing out anarchism’s ideological content. Drawing on this history Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer situated anarchism in a framework that distinguished between ‘individualistic’ and ‘totalitarian’ ways of life, and ‘capitalistic’ and ‘socialistic’ forms of work.
(LCW) It seems that the primitivists and postmodernists are little more than ‘knee-jerk’ and ‘touchy-feely’ liberals that reject the intellect while even when living a sparse and primordial existence without common sense, intellect and philosophy, it would be very difficult to continue that existence for any significant length of time.
Marxism and communists will always try to have the narrative between themselves and anyone else. They do not respect multiple alternatives since it only dilutes their single-mindedness that allows no deviation or digression. They are simply not open to discussion and debate. You are free to try and persuade me otherwise but decades of attempts have not been satisfactory.
You’ll notice that the intent is to ‘flesh out’ the ideological content of ‘anarchism’ but never delve into anything related to Marxism itself which of course needs no adjustments or further development. There is no need. Everything changes, nothing is static. Except for Marxism itself. The epitome of dogmatic thought.