What type of society do anarchists want to live in?
ireland / britain |
the left |
Saturday February 18, 2006 22:54 by James O'Brien - WSM
Text of a WSM part of Marxism v Anarchism debate organised by the (Irish) Socialist Party / CWI
Anarchism essentially sees a free society where everybody has the opportunity to live as they want as achievable. But what does that mean in practice, and how do we get there.
The first thing about a revolution is that it must result in an expansion of freedom and not a new set of rulers.
Popular revolt got rid of the dictatorships in Stalinist Europe, recently in Georgia, Serbia, and Indonesia. All these states were police states and yet they fell, which goes to show the power that workers have when they get going.
While in these cases workers knew perfectly well what they didn't want, i.e. the old rulers, but putting something new in their place was a different story. They put in different rulers instead of a different political system with the result that the same old patterns of exploitation continued.
We have got to try the road of freedom.
And being bossed about isn't something that people are willing to fight for. This discussion is based on the premise of a post-revolutionary society, one that is under threat, presumably, of counter-revolution. Well, if the people don't think the new life is better than the old one, they won't lift a finger to defend it. And that will be the end of that.
So that means freedom in the most general sense is an absolute necessity; no secret police, political courts, to the freedom to participate in making decisions that affect you. And of course, as socialists, for this freedom to have any meaning, people need to have enough food in their bellies.
Freedom in Revolution
Freedom of speech & organisation
It is vital in a revolutionary situation that freedom of organisation is available to all political strands.
When it comes to advancing one's political ideas on how society should be organised this freedom needs to be available to all. And not just because it is a nice thing but also because it is useful. Anarchists believe that the best decisions are made after a debate that has the opportunity to hear all sides. If one political faction institutes itself as the thought police of the population then the population won't be able to hear all the arguments for particular policies. Useful options will inevitably become excluded from the mix.
What do anarchists mean by revolution?
Forerunner to the revolution
We don't see a libertarian revolution coming out of nowhere. The example of Spain is instructive. There was a long build up to the revolution, probably the high point of workers' self-management in history. It was was preceded by 70 years of militant activity. Workers learned how to run society through self-organisation and direct action.
Obvious things that come with revolution
Overthrow of the capitalist regime: mass occupations, militias, dismantling of the state apparatus.
Mass involvement in running society
Take the wealth of the rich and redistribute it.
Start producing things with need in mind.
Start thinking about our impact on Earth and factoring this in to the cost of production.
Getting rid of the system of leaders and led in work and in society. That is, changing the social relationship involved in production.
An end to invading and pillaging weaker nation
Who makes a Revolution
People aren't going to turn to anarchism if it can't provide solutions to concrete problems. Problems such as the distribution of wealth, never-ending wars, lack of participation in the running of society as well as the material day-to-day issues of providing food and other necessaries.
This is another reason, apart from the fact that workers make up the vast majority of the population, that they've a central role. Only people's labour can produce these solutions. A successful revolution isn't going to be successful very long if the population is faced with famine. And only workers can produce food. Only they can ensure the material basis of a free society.
But clearly, given the importance of the economy in shaping society it is necessary that it is organised in a free democratic manner. Let's be clear what we meant by free and democratic. We don't mean nationalisation by the state. That's will result in just a new class of rulers, namely the upper echelons of that state. It doesn't matter in whose name the industries are owned if effective control is in the hands of a bureaucracy, then there's a concrete basis for class rule. You got the class of order givers on one side and order takers on the other. And once the order givers have control of the economy they're going to have immense resources at their disposal, including military resources, and thus will be in control of all of society. And we're on the road to dictatorship.
Therefore any meaningful revolution will have the workers taking over the daily life of administering society and the workplace. We mean the abolishment of production for the profit of a few. Instead production will be based on the desires of the people who'll have an equal opportunity to have an input into the planning of production.
What do we put in place of the state and private corporations?
How will a free society operate?
What are its basic institutional structures?
Instead of having a state power separate and above society Anarchists advocate the establishment of institutions through which they can exercise direct power. We call them workers' councils and community councils. These have been repeatedly been used by workers in revolt, most famously in the Russian and Spanish revolutions but also for example, the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and many other case. So in each workplace, workers would have a democratic assembly to decide policies relevant to themselves. For organising with other sections of the industry or the wider community they can select delegates to represent their views in a federated network. The same goes for neighbourhood councils. They could be done on an estate basis and federating from there.
The assemblies would decide which policies they like and issue the delegates with mandates. Obviously the mandates can be removed and the delegates rotated. I think they should be rotated every three months so as to prevent them getting too comfortable and so that everybody gets a chance to learn how to do it. Incidently the Zapatistas rotate their delegates every 10 days, much to the annoyance of the NGOs who want to hob nob with the stars. I wonder what would have happened if Lenin and Trotsky had been rotated back into the ranks 10 days after the October revolution?
A revolution, therefore, means the mass involvement of the population in overthrowing the old order and thereafter to run society themselves. This is a crucial difference with the Leninists who want to use the people to overthrow the capitalists but then take over in the people's place by having the party as the most powerful institution.
The workers' councils, must always have autonomy from the political organisations, anarchist or otherwise. While political organisations should be allowed to voice their opinions they should have no formal control of the workers' councils, no matter how well regarded that organisation or certain individuals may be. For example, it would mean that Joe Higgins would be very welcome to be part of his local neighbourhood council but that he should have no more power or privileges than anybody else there.
So the workers' councils should be based on direct democracy and not representative democracy. That is, they decide each issue on a case by case basis rather than electing a party to govern on their behalf. The current system in liberal democracies is to have a representative democracy, and it is clear that it is a dangerous system. The current occupation of Iraq is just one glaring example.
A note on the wages system
As every product is a social product, nobody produces anything in isolation any more, the products themselves ought to be socialised. It’s simply not possible to ascertain the true social value of anyone’s labour and in truth not worth the effort finding out. Everybody’s contribution matters. It wouldn’t matter how many surgeons we had, if we didn’t have cleaners ensuring a hygienic workplace. Both contribute to society. Why discriminate in favour of one in the future society? It’ll only preserve the class nature of society
We should move immediately to a system of “to each according to need”. Probably this will involve rationing, but that’s basically what our present money system does anyway, just in unfair way. If you have lots of money earned by having others work for you, then you can afford just about anything. If you don't, you can't!
Using a form of non-capitalistic money as a method of measuring a rationing system rather than as a means of measuring wealth and power merits consideration in my view.
A hierarchical system with different levels of wages and therefore power has got to go. It is an impediment to the glue of solidarity that is needed when a revolutionary society faces its tough times.
Which it will, and that will probably include civil war unless the revolution spreads pretty far, pretty quickly.
So What problems will we be faced with in the immediate aftermath of a revolution.
There are two glaringly obvious problems which could arise in a classless society. a) fucked up people: child abusers, mentally disturbed people, drunken fools getting into a pub or a gig, and attacking others. We will need a highly controlled and democratic mechanism for dealing with these. In short a proper court system.
Well Civil War for starters!
Therefore we need Workers' Militias under the control of the Workers' Council may need to be established to defend the gains of a revolution. Chavez talked about a million people under arms. Not a major fan of his, but he's got the right idea there.
There shouldn't be a separate power structure which controls the armed forces. And anyway we don't need to. If the working class creates institutions that are powerful enough to overthrow the capitalist state, then these institutions will self-evidently be powerful enough to suppress whatever resistance that the poor dis-enfranchised capitalist remnants can throw at it - without any of the apparatus of the state which formerly made them so powerful.
The other major threat of rolling back the gains comes from a “left” counter-revolution. This happened in the French. Russian, and Spanish Revolutions where a minority of radicals managed to seize power on behalf of the population but soon became their dictators. We'd be idiots to ignore the real possibility that this will happen again.
Difference with the Marxists
A digression on the state.
Marxists tend to define the State as being a bodies of armed men who assert a monopoly of force in a given area. Anarchists add to this by saying that the state is also a vehicle for the control by a minority because it centralises decision making. This has been the case historically, and it is the case today. Therefore the anarchist definition o the state is more accurate and is the one we should work from.
Also, the state is not merely an emergent superstructure that is a logical development of capitalistic production, but a cause of the evolution of that form of economic structure in the first place.
The existence of classes does not depend on the formal ownership of property. It depends on the social relationships involved in production and life generally. If a hierarchical chain of command exists with respect to production, i.e. if there are order givers and order takers, then it won't matter that in theory the workers “own” the factory or its products. In practice, and in life it is practice which counts, those at the top of the chain of command will siphon off the cream. And as I said earlier, they will then be able to use this wealth to buy the support, including military that will further entrench their positions of power. That, in short, is why anarchists argue that permitting a leadership assume control over society, whether at the stage of production or at military stage is an invitation to counter-revolution.
Workers' Councils Vs Workers' State
Assume a workers' state, even a representative one is in power. But at what moment will the workers be deemed responsible enough to look after their own affairs? Why will the workers be capable of overthrowing capitalism but require strict obedience to an enlightened minority to tackle racism or sexism?
How on earth can a class be possibly considered to be in control when the party can assert its authority at any moment? Leninists have an almost mystical concept of the party , i.e. it is by definition, the expression of the working class. It's as if Leninists had their own unitary trinity - the leader, the party, the class - one simply the expression of the other and all connected by a deep and mystical bond.
It is disengenous to claim to be for the rule of workers' councils when in reality Leninists are in favour or, initially at any rate, the rule of the party on behalf of the working class.
In all known cases, including most famously in Leninist Russia, the ruling minority, no matter how revolutionary became corrupted and began to rule very quickly in their own interests. Anarchists have always claimed that this will inevitably result. In fact it was the source of the split between the Marxists and the anarchists at the time of the First International. And anarchists are right.
It is up to Marxists to demonstrate the advantage of Workers' State over a federated system of workers' councils. We should ask ourselves the obvious question: If there is a state what is the point of having workers' councils? If there are workers’ councils, what’s the use of the state?
In the end, it is anarchists who have confidence in the creative power of ordinary people, to reshape society in a way that facilitates well being and freedom, without being ordered to create a future that they're too dumb to arrive at themselves.
Text of a WSM contribution to the Marxism v Anarchism debate organised by the (Irish) Socialist Party (CWI) see