Monday, August 07, 2006

Anarchism Versus Reality

Anarchists, like Socialists, advocate a classless society. In a class-based society, there are two 'principle' classes: an oppressor class, and an oppressed class— what are commonly referred to as bourgeoisie and proletariat, or capitalist and wage-slave if you prefer. To do the dirty work of the capitalist we have the middle-class, or 'peti-bourgeois'. The capitalists are the owners; the wage-slaves are the workers. The middle-class are often managers, middle to upper range bureaucrats, or more privileged workers.
As experience has shown, and continues to show, the owners do not voluntarily give up their position as exploiters; it must be taken from them. And this is where things get difficult; Anarchists insist, that once free from the bondage of Capitalism, all centralized authority (the state) must cease- and communists agree. The disagreement between the two begins in defining when this moment of freedom occurs, or to put it differently, deciding when capitalism is totally crushed.

Consider the following hypothetical situation:
Like all revolutions in history, warfare to an extent is unavoidable— due to the ruling class and its refusal to accept a government run in the interests of the people; to gain their freedom, an armed population, requiring some degree of authority (the 'new' state), is forced to defend themselves from their oppressors (the old state). It would not be wise, after such a victory over the capitalists, for the revolutionaries to disband and declare themselves autonomous. If this were the case, the capitalists would have no problem regrouping and then reacquiring all their lost earners of profit (see the Spanish Civil War). So how long does this group of anarchists, bound together for a common cause, subjected to the humiliation of authority, stay together? Until their oppressors are completely oppressed; there is no other way.

Let's say our anarchists remain in a coalition (the state) long enough to defeat every armed capitalistic threat. Now will they finally be able to disband and live their lives totally free of authority? Probably not. In this scenario, there is nothing to keep the conditions of capitalism from arising again. Even if all large-scale institutions were destroyed, returning us to the state of early agriculturalists, hunter-gatherers, or any other absurd utopia anarchists love to romanticize, the seeds of capitalism would remain. Trade inevitably leads to profit, and profit leads to classes and domination. The natural evolution of this story can be witnessed today, where we have super-profit, or advanced capitalism.

If our anarchist friends argue that they would leave the infrastructure intact, perhaps enjoying some of the conveniences of modernity, contradictions remain. To begin with, as Engels pointed out over a hundred years ago, it takes authority to run a train, a ship, or a factory; every complex project involves varying degrees of authority and submission.
Also, in a post-capitalistic society, the mechanisms of capitalism remain, creating inequality. Examples of these are the police, government, bureaucracy, and culture in general. Anarchists believe that these, and other pillars of social life and oppression will simply leave, needing no one to insure their disappearance.

To further complicate matters, portions of the population remain imbued with the capitalistic mode of distribution, i.e., "my work is more desirable, therefore, I deserve more money, food, ect"- the idea of deserving more then others, so prevalent in our reality, will not leave quietly, nor will other beliefs about work and distribution. Only the 'new' state, now run by the majority of the population for the first time, and under actual democracy (what Marx referred to as 'the dictatorship of (not over) the proletariat' – a term always misunderstood by anarchists) will be able to enact the necessary legislation to ensure that the above problems will be solved. But these issues, cemented through capitalistic culture over hundreds of years, cannot disappear overnight. The new state is needed to oppress the former oppressors, destroy the machine of capitalism, and create a humane system to replace it; the solution to the problem of capitalism is complex, and like all things complicated, coordination, planning, and varying degrees of authority are required.

Lastly, there are anarchists who believe that an actual revolution is not necessary to transform society; they believe by enacting community-based reforms, stressing in particular a local economy, that corporate dominance will be 'starved' and eventually die. The limitations of these ideas, especially in regards to revolutionary possibilities, should be obvious. Leaving aside any critique about the economic troubles inherent in such ideas, these actions cannot achieve a change in economic superstructure, as they are still subject to the laws of the capitalists, who never simply accept defeat. It appears incredibly naïve to believe that the oligarchy would not crush any progress towards autonomy, IF one day this 'movement' ever achieved such success. Like other reformists before them, this breed of anarchist accepts capitalism as inevitable, opting instead to make the best out of a bad situation. This idea wholly reflects the population's unrevolutionary character – for those worse off cannot afford such luxuries.

What anarchists fail to understand is that when things change, they do so slowly; there is transition, and evolution. In the history of humanity this has taken place numerous times. When our ancestors discovered agriculture, it was not an overnight event. The process took thousands of years, always with a transitional period involving hunting, gathering, and farming. Once full-scale agriculture matured, the seed of slavery was already growing; this was inevitable once permanent surplus became a reality. This same principle applies to the following stages of humanities evolution: feudal and capitalistic; the roots of our current economic structure evolved-over the course of a thousand years-during the apex of the feudal order. This fact, of the evolving nature of society, is anarchism's strongest critic; the notion that we will suddenly and completely purge ourselves of capitalism and all its ill effects, highlights the truly utopian nature of anarchism. Although the above ideas have been in circulation for over a hundred years, they remain unrefuted and misunderstood by anarchists, who disavow planning entirely, relying instead on spontaneity and wishful thinking.

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