(May 30, 2012)
The ultimate sophomoric blunder: Let’s smash the state before we even figure out what positive roles the state performs in society.
Part One – “Market Anarchists”
I’m astounded that adults argue this so-called philosophy. But, not only are the anarchists among us, they are loud and repetitive and seek to influence every popular movement that arises. In this case it’s the Occupy movement, which is now torn betwen MoveOn.org’s not so veiled takeover bid and a lot of anarchists who decry all things “state.” The cornucopia of their pseudo-political chatter disguises their tiny numbers.
A “stateless society” is the goal of one strand of this virulent school. They fantasize non-stop on what some future society would be like without a government. It never seems to occur to people like those at the Center For a Stateless Society that warlordism is a possibility. It never pops up that those with the strongest mercenary army would take over the vital resources and become the de facto — you guessed it — government. This is so obvious as to be hardly worth mentioning, but in the anarchist delusion we don’t find the “con” column in their reasoning. That’s because the whole thing’s a con.
Rather than placing their faith in a state set up to guarantee civil rights for all, the anarchists place their faith in what is apparently a page from the radical republican right — “free markets.” The anarchists, who at some gathering places sound a lot like the libertarians, want the ultimate so-called “free market” without any government in existence to even insure that this “market” can operate without armed factions simply taking what they want from others. They dislike the state’s existence and its fallback option to use force so much that they would risk the entire society to the use of random chaotic force by non-state actors.
At the Center For a Stateless Society (C4SS), they phrase the issue like so:
“…we can say that Hayek’s knowledge problem will, in a stateless society, even impact “governance” in the sense of how enterprises provide dispute resolution and security services. We can’t predict the details of how free people will choose to organize provision of these services. The forms of such organization would be an open-ended matter, subject to free experimentation and resulting diversity.”
In English, the security of the land is now renamed “security services.” It will be subject to “experimentation” and “diversity.” Unlike the United States and its Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, there will be no “equal protection under the law” in a stateless free for all. Quite the contrary, security will be for sale, and will be the privilege of hte highest bidders.
I have pointed out once before how the Occupy protests could have concluded in an anarchist dream, if they had gotten what they want, the “stateless society.” Once the protests caught the attention of the deep-pocketed interests, such as the banks and Wall Street, these simply could have hired their own “security services” as the Center For a Stateless Society phrases it. These “security services,” say Blackwater (Xe), could easily wipe out the entire contingent of anarchist protesters in a couple of hours spree. The protesters, masked or unmasked, would drop like clusterbombs in the streets of red. Another “service” would come along to hose it all off, and business would continue as usual.
The state has already protected the anarchists from such a fate. It has protected all of us from random chaotic violence and the raising of mercenary armies by private interests. This has never occurred to any anarchist.
Some may simply respond to the Center For a Stateless Society by pointing to flash points in Africa, to failed states, to lawless chaotic hell holes where the bodies are laid out in mass graves. That’s experimentation. That’s diversity, when it comes to “security.”
On economic matters, here is where things get more muddled. Without discussion of money, who prints it, how does it get value, etc., the C4SS states their position as the simplistic “free market” champions of Ayn Rand’s school of thought:
“Market anarchists, however, typically disagree that the economic status quo is a result of a free market economy and instead tend to attribute systematic economic injustice to market intervention by the state — that is, to divergence from the free market ideal of absolutely zero state intervention in the economy.”
Zero interference in the market. No labor protections. No environmental protections. No minimum wage. No barrier to poisoning your staff, having their limbs end up in the sausage, of having young children cleaning out soot pipes. Zero interference. Disposable workers, no benefits, no rights. Zero interference has been tried, however. They called it the Gilded Age. It was a disgusting abomination, from the worker’s standpoint. They didn’t find it quite the utopia that the “market anarchists” seem to romanticize.
It’s a con. You are being conned if you follow this anarchist dogma. Sorry, there’s no other way to look at it.
In fact this entire muddleheaded idea of a “stateless society” is gibberish on its face and beyond the limits of what a super-majority of the population would entertain. It is a minority fringe movement, and not a pursuit of the 99%. It folds in seamlessly with the free market ideologues of the radical right who push austerity and corporate rule onto us, seemingly what the anarchists nominally oppose. It is a con game, and perhaps the low-level foot soldier Black Bloc types are nothing but dupes. With all the fancy verbiage, they don’t seem to notice their similarities with the Koch Brothers, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove.
“A state is not governance based upon the consent of the governed, but conquest under a false pretense of legitimacy.”
Says you. A lot of citizens disagree, a lot more than you acknowledge. Now I’m inclined to give this claim more sway than most. Democracy in the United States is a rigged game, and downright undemocratic in practice. How much of that can be attributed to an ignorant public that refuses to seek out alternatives or even to vote?
While democracy is in crisis, here is where we hit the fork in the road. Stateless anarchists see the answer as destroying all government and ushering in warlordism, as if that was a rational response to a system that lacks responsiveness. Warlords also lack compassion and response to the needs of those on the other side of their mercenary lines.
The rational solution to this crisis of representative democracy is more democracy, a more level playing field where alternative parties have a voice and can be heard by the public. We need to diminish the influence of the most powerful entrenched interests, not to enable them to become feudalistic emperors. While democracy is an imperfect system it is head and shoulders above the alternative that has been proposed: “free experimentation and resulting diversity.”
Anarchists propose a power vacuum while solving none of the survival problems faced by the populations who will still be at the mercy of those competing for resources. Only instead of an orderly society to operate in, there will be madness. The anarchist proposals are interesting reading as science fiction, but should not be given consideration in the real world. Thankfully, they are not given much attention or legitimacy by society, as their implementation would be so radical and so chaotic that the formerly-functioning democracies of the world could end up looking like something from The Road Warrior.
Part Two – “Libertarian/Socialist” Anarchists
The poor, misunderstood anarchists just can’t seem to get a break. When you point out the absurdity of the “market anarchism” preached by some, such as those at the Center For a Stateless Society, as I did in my previous piece, the response — even from “market anarchists” themselves — is to shift the discussion away from their own arguments and onto another strand of anarchy! In this case it’s the “libertarian/socialist” school of thought.
Just what is a “libertarian/socialist” and isn’t that a clear oxymoron? Have not all “socialist” experiments become larger and more powerful centralized states that eventually eraseed the “libertarian” side of the equation in pretty short order? That would certainly be the knee-jerk response of much of the population of the United States today.
Over at “Infoshop,” a longstanding “libertarian/socialist” and “libertarian/communist” proselytizer, one can read for days emotional histories (chock full of psychobabble) and series of proposals for replacing the “state” with “collectives” and “syndicates” and other “free” arrangements. I highly recommend their FAQ to masochists who wish to drown in an ocean of Marxist-styled babble mostly at odds with the Marxists themselves. You’ll be treated to discussions like this:
“For Henry Appleton, there was ‘a class of ranting enthusiasts who falsely call themselves Anarchists’ who advocated both violence and ‘levelling’. ‘All Communism,’ he asserted, ‘under whatever guise, is the natural enemy of Anarchism and a Communist sailing under the flag of Anarchism is as false a figure as could be invented.’ Yet, ironically, A. H. Simpson disproved that particular claim for while attacking communism he ended by stating his ‘argument applies only to aggressive Communists’ and that ‘[v]oluntary Communism can exist and, if successful, flourish under Anarchy.’ So, apparently, some kinds of communism are compatible with anarchism after all!” -Infoshop FAQ
These are the ideas prompting people to smash police cars and windows? It’s difficult to swallow, but here we are. Well if A.H. Simpson “proved” it, then it must be true. Hmm, I wonder what O.J. Simpson’s opinion on the matter is?
The anarcho/libertarian/socialist’s alleged huge success story was in Spain in the mid 1930s. Parts of Spain converted to a loosely organized confederation of trade unions and militias. This will be presented as proof of concept, the final word on the matter: anarchism works, don’t you know? They did it in Spain.
But let’s rewind the tape, and have a look at what happened in Spain before pronouncing it such a sweeping victory, shall we? The anarchist “libertarian/socialist” non-state state lasted for about 32 months, according to Infoshop, not exactly an historical bedrock achievement. It was defeated by Franco and the fascists, with aid from Hitler and Mussolini (among others) on one side, and aided by all manner of international anarchist militiamen on the other side. The military conclusion tells us little about the validity of the philosophy itself, except for one thing: it prompted a right-wing backlash.
Anarchist collectives, we learn from Infoshop, had been burgeoning for some 70 years in Spain prior to the military conflict. These were worker-owned farms and factories, but also worker-appropriated or stolen businesses. Yes, workers revolted and seized the “means of production,” the Marxist term. This seizure approach was a definite factor when considering the backlash of the extreme right. Seizing for one’s faction provides propaganda and “injustice” for the other side to exploit and to oppose by ever-increasing levels of hostility. Anarchism cannot exist in a vacuum.
Here we can separate the idea of a worker-owned business from a “stateless society.” The two conditions are not necessary. A worker-owned business can be built, and can compete, in a democratic republic. This is proven, and worker-owned arrangements exist today in abundance around the world. The “libertarian/socialist” overthrow of the “state” is clearly not a precondition for a workers’ collective to exist. This was shown in Spain, one hundred years ago, and it remains true today. The dissolution of the state is not required, and is certainly not desirable.
The “libertarian/socialist” experiment in Spain is a controversial subject. As militias formed, and the situation became more militarized, more and more of the public became part of the collective arrangements. Was this coerced? Was the presence of armed militias unrestrained by the central government a factor in “recruiting” more and more of the population to support their movement, as with any other armed takeover of a region? The Infoshop piece attempts to examine this question, with a bias to disprove claims of coercion and to bolster the “libertarian” idea. They still admit that coercion did occur and executions of traitors and fascists served as examples to the general population.
“‘…the coercive climate, in which ‘fascists’ were being shot, was sufficient. ‘Spontaneous’ and ‘forced’ collectives existed, as did willing and unwilling collectivists within them.’…
…Therefore, his suggestion that the Aragon collectives were imposed upon the rural population is based upon the insight that there was a ‘coercive climate’ in Aragon at the time. Of course a civil war against fascism would produce a ‘coercive climate,’ particularly at the front line…
…In addition, in a life and death struggle against fascism, in which the fascists were systematically murdering vast numbers of anarchists, socialists and republicans in the areas under their control, it is hardly surprising that some anarchist troops took the law into their own hands and murdered some of those who supported and would help the fascists…
…The question does arise, however, of whether the climate was made so coercive by the war and the nearness of the anarchist militia that individual choice was impossible…
…it cannot be overemphasised that notwithstanding the many instances of coercion and violence, the revolution of July 1936 distinguished itself from all others by the generally spontaneous and far-reaching character of its collectivist movement… ” -Infoshop FAQ (emphasis added)
So who is a traitor and who is a fascist and who is deserving of the death penalty? What legal protections exist in a “collective,” and what rights of the accused? What standards of evidence? Who is judge? Who is executioner? Is the jury simply a popularity contest, up or down with the thumbs of those in the room who voluntarily showed up on that day?
The dissolution of the “state” entails quite a bit more than setting up a commune or some trade union. While “libertarian/socialists” make strong arguments in favor of worker ownership, their arguments regarding the larger society fall flat and without a strong foundation in political science.
One of the major taboos of the “libertarian/socialists” is in prohibiting anyone from working for wages. They hate bosses, essentially, and all authority (calling Freud?). Their whole rationale could be reduced to a three-word bumper sticker: Don’t boss me!
The term “wage slavery” carries some resonance, but they also make clear that people are free to choose not to become part of a syndicate, or a collective, or a trade union, or whatever they are calling their club that day. Libertarian/Anarchist/Communists claim to make exceptions for people to choose another way. But does that way include working for wages? Apparently not.
They seek total revolution as the end game, the day of reckoning, the “appropriation” of property, much like the communists. Many parts of the “libertarian/socialist” dogma are closely aligned with the Marxist communists, as this passage shows:
“The ‘scope of Expropriation,’ Kropotkin argued was clear and would only ‘apply to everything that enables any man — be he financier, mill-owner, or landlord — to appropriate the product of others’ toil.’ Thus only those forms of property based on wage labour would be expropriated. In terms of housing, the same general rule applies (‘the expropriation of dwellings contains the whole social revolution’). Kropotkin explicitly discusses the man who ‘by dint of privation has contrived to buy a house just large enough to hold his family. And we are going to deprive him of his hard-earned happiness, to turn him into the street! Certainly not . . . Let him work in his little garden, too.’ Anarchist-communism ‘will make the lodger understand that he need not pay his former landlord any more rent. Stay where you are, but rent free.'” -Infoshop FAQ
Appropriation is the seizing of other’s assets. It is not the building and creation of new assets. The anarchist goal is to seize and redistribute based upon their own criteria — but absent a state to ensure fairness or standards. In an anarchist society they tell us there will be “customs” rather than law and rights. Customs are more malleable and changeable. Will these customs even be written down somewhere? By whom? Who will enforce them? Who will ensure fair practices and what happens in the case of abuse or of the exploitation by those who speak for the “collective” or what have you? Anarchy is the answer. It is the precondition. It is everything.
But what about people who freely choose to work for wages? Isn’t that part of being “free” and of exercising choice? Working for wages works for many millions and keeps them in homes with food and amenities. Aren’t their concerns taken into consideration? Aren’t they working
voluntarily, when they can quit at any time?
“And free and voluntary communism is ironical if one has not the right and the possibility to live in a different regime, collectivist, mutualist, individualist — as one wishes, always on condition that there is no oppression or exploitation of others.” -Infoshop FAQ (emphasis added)
And “exploitation” is defined as working for wages. This precludes, apriori, most other kinds of “regimes.” It sets a precondition upon the free choice allegedly offered, while not directly naming the authority, which will enforce this rule. That authority would come to be the armed militias, of course.
Why is an anarchist philosopher’s opinion on the working for wages situation more important than the opinion of the people making a voluntary arrangement to work for wages? And, if there’s no government to enact laws prohibiting working for wages, of what significance is this diktat to anyone but the person pronouncing it? These types of inconsistencies and contradictions are threaded throughout anarchist thought.
Their essentially irrelevant answers are aimed at a different time and at a different world. The world is highly complex today, and we don’t have large illiterate populations working the fields, essentially uneducated people toiling as machines. We see the specialization of skillsets as necessary and appropriate. We understand the need for concentration and study and the amount of labor that specialization and experience entails. Not everyone’s labor is of equal value. Society is stratified and it will remain so. That is not to acquiesce and to accept gross injustice and gross exploitation. Far from it. But an assessment of society based upon reality is the first step to coming up with relevant solutions and corrections.
The anarchist position is knee-jerk, ready and willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Their assessment of both government and business is blinkered and a blatant half-truth. On half-truths they concoct a fanciful anti-authoritarian response. It is essentially “opposite day” gone megalomaniacal.
What I’ve heard from anarchist dogmatists rings as false and as implausible as most other schools of dogmatic thought. They are essentially in love with their own words. The real action is elsewhere I’m afraid.