‘Anarchists are like Tories’ and other fairy tales

Political compass: anarchism and conservatism are diametrically opposed

Anarchism has been getting a lot of attention lately, including some oft-peddled but easily refuted myths.

The cops have been urging people to report anarchists to the anti-terrorist police. Various Trotskyist groups like the Socialist Workers Party and AWL have been running prolifically ill-informed articles on why anarchism is bad and wrong and you definitely shouldn’t investigate it for yourself. Numerous members of the Twitter commentariat have also weighed in. Obviously each of these groups has their motives, from cops building up bogeymen to justify their budgets to Trots with one eye on the party coffers worried about the appeal of anarchist ideas to potential young recruits. But the result has been a torrent of disinformation ranging from the spectacularly dishonest to the tragically ill-informed. I’ll correct some of the more common motifs here (consciously leaving aside the interminable reduction of anarchism to the black bloc that accompanies the mourning of every broken window).

Myth #1: Anarchists are like Tories

This one has been peddled by Maeve McKeown and Mark Fisher, amongst many others. For McKeown "There is a fine line between libertarianism (the ideology of some Tories) and anarchism", while Fisher claims a "remarkable congruence with the ‘Big Society’ rhetoric pushed by David Cameron". This 'similarity' supposedly rests on a shared anti-statism. It's ridiculous for several reasons:

Edit: Mark Fisher points out on Twitter that he's specifically talking about people who "didn’t belong to any kind of political organisation" with "anarchist-lite views" as opposed to anarchists in any serious sense. To that extent, it's not a good pick on my part as an example of the 'anarchists are like Tories' fallacy, since he's explicitly not talking about anarchists but those who favour loose informal networks like UK Uncut.

1. Anarchists are by and large anti-state communists, Tories are pro-state capitalists. Even in the somewhat limited terms of the political compass, these are diametrically opposed.1 You know who's closer to the Tories than anarchists? Pretty much anyone, certainly mainstream liberals (who are of course governing with them), or anyone who seeks state power to effect their political programme (most of the Marxist left), or anyone who favours some form of market economy (most Guardian readers).

2. Anarchism is a kind of anti-capitalism that comes from the workers' movement, the Tories are a capitalist party that serves the interests of the ruling class. The interests of the employing and the employed classes have nothing in common. The Tories are unashamed class warriors for their side, as anarchists are for ours. I suppose if you prefer to ignore class conflict or pretend class is an old fashioned thing from the 1970s then they look pretty similar. But does this facile nonsense really pass for political commentary?

3. Tories aren't in any meaningful sense 'against the state', they run it ffs! If you fancy yourself a political commentator, distinguishing between political rhetoric and political reality is pretty elementary stuff. The Tories are of course currently running the elected part of the British state, and are using state power to force through their policies against popular opposition (as Nina Power notes, 'Let's stop assuming the police are on our side'). What the Tories oppose, and following in Labour's footsteps are in the process of dismantling, are public sector welfare functions which have been run by the state, not the state itself. Liberal pin-up Adam Smith was remarkably candid about this:

Laws and government may be considered (…) in every case as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor, and preserve to themselves the inequality of the goods which would otherwise be soon destroyed by the attacks of the poor, who if not hindered by the government would soon reduce the others to an equality with themselves by open violence.

The Tories are so keen on this classical liberal state they don't want it encumbered with pesky welfare functions. Meanwhile more socially minded liberals prefer their 'combination of the rich to oppress the poor' to chuck in a few welfare services to sweeten the deal. Which brings us nicely to...

Myth #2: Anarchists are inconsistent for opposing public sector cuts

In liberal-left mythology, the welfare state was a gift from munificent politicians from a better age. The Golden Age is now being ruined by nasty ideological Tories, and we need some good decent politicians to set things right. That's variously hoped to be the neoliberal, scabbing Labour Party of Ed Milibot, or a new workers' party hoped for by some socialists and trade union bureaucrats. Poor, disorientated Sunny Hundal of the Liberal Conspiracy blog has even advocated voting Tory, LibDem and Labour in the last year or so. But this understanding of the welfare state is nonsense. While the NHS was founded under a Labour government, the formation of the welfare state represented cross-party (i.e. pan-ruling class) consensus, as summed up in the 1943 Beveridge Report. What was the source of this consensus? Fear. The ruling class knew what happened after WWI where revolutions and mass unrest spread across Russia, Germany, Italy - and Britain, with even the police on strike in 1918 and 1919 and tanks on the streets in 1926. So in the words of Tory Quintin Hogg, the ruling class knew "we must give them reform or they will give us revolution". Once the threat of working class revolution was broken, the dismantling of the welfare state could begin (see Charting the class struggle).

Therefore, as partisans of working class struggle, of course anarchists oppose the cuts. On the one hand, the cuts are a direct attack on hundreds of thousands of workers' livelihoods and those of their families. Attacks on benefits thrust the millions of sick and unemployed deeper into poverty. On the other hand, public services form part of our 'social wage', with healthcare, education and so on being provided universally by capitalism in general rather than being paid for by individual workers out of their wage packets. So of course anarchists oppose these attacks. Just as you can oppose the organisation of human society into classes whilst fighting for better wages, terms and conditions for the working class in the meantime, you can oppose the organisation of human society into states whilst demanding our needs to healthcare, education are met. The inconsistency here is not on the part of anarchists, but those who wish to reap the fruits of the class struggle whilst opposing or denying the class struggle itself.

Myth #3: Anarchists are against organisation

This one is a perennial favourite. Like the colour black in fact. It is of course, completely untrue, but is a favoured criticism by liberals and statist socialists alike.2 It doesn't take much to refute. Just the existence of national organisations like the Anarchist Federation and the Solidarity Federation - themselves part of international organisations - should be enough. But it's worth drawing out a few more of the implications. The basic claim of the 'anarchists are against organisation' canard is to equate organisation with hierarchy. These are not at all the same thing, but otherwise intelligent people seem to have all sorts of problems separating them out. For example, Mark Fisher quotes popular blogger Richard Seymour (a.k.a. Leninology):

Richard Seymour argued that hierarchy “is, as much as anything else, an ordering of priorities and tasks, a division of labour (...) there is nothing about hierarchy per se that is objectionable. On the other hand, there is such a thing as the tyranny of structurelessness.”

Did you spot the slight of hand? Hierarchy or structurelessness, organisation or 'anarchy'. Of course, this isn't the definition of hierarchy at all. A hierarchy, when talking about organisations, is not of tasks but of people. The ideotypical example is the military, where information flows up the chain of command and orders flow down. But the whole state is organised this way, as are TUC unions and Marxist parties. This is a form of organisation, but it is not the only form, as its advocates would have you believe. On the other hand, anarchists are highly critical of tyrannies of structurelessness (e.g. see this piece), but do not see a tyranny of hierarchy as the solution. Rather, anarchists typically favour non-hierarchical organisation in the form of federalism.

Anarchist federalism is in fact fairly straight forward. I'll use the example of SolFed, since I'm most familiar with it, but it's not the only, nor necessarily the best example. All members belong to a Local, all Locals belong to the national Federation. All local decisions are made by Locals on the basis of one member, one vote while all national decisions are made by the Federation on the basis of one Local, one vote. Any member can bring a proposal to their Local for discussion, and if it requires Federal action the Local can take the proposal to the national Federation. There is no central or steering committee running it. No paid officials. No full-timers. We have four national lay officials; national secretary, national treasurer, international secretary and external relations officer. None have any policy-making power, all are given clear mandates setting out what they can and cannot do and all are subject to immediate recall if they overstep. There's numerous other mandates for things like training and particular projects or campaigns.

Anarchist federalism is highly scalable, because whenever a group is too large to function on the basis of face-to-face direct democracy, it can simply divide and co-ordinate its activity through councils of mandated, recallable delegates. So if we grew to say 100 members in Brighton, we could simply divide into either geographical groups for Hove, Central, Falmer, Hannover, Hollingbury etc, or industrial groups such as Education, Public Sector, Transport, Unemployed, or some combination of the two, co-ordinated via a city-wide delegate council. In this way of organising, decision-making power remains with the membership at all times. In other words, the organisation is non-hierarchical and formal structure ensures that equality; the twin tyrannies of structurelessness and hierarchy are avoided. This isn't rocket science, and anyone who's serious about changing the world should probably take it seriously rather than emulating capitalist organisational tennets like hierarchical structures.

  • 1. Indeed, Mark Fisher's useful notion of 'Capitalist Realism' describes precisely the reduction of the political spectrum to a small bubble in the top-right quadrant to which There Is No Alternative.
  • 2. You can of course find self-defining anarchists who are opposed to formal organisation ('insurrectionary anarchism' would be the obvious current), but this no means justifies the claim anarchism per se is opposed to organisation.

Posted By

Joseph Kay
Aug 1 2011 14:21

Share

Attached files

Comments

Ramona
Aug 1 2011 17:06

This is excellent Joseph, I shall be springing this out on a regular basis I feel, next time someone tells me the Tea Party are anarchists.

Joseph Kay
Aug 1 2011 17:42

Just edited in a corrective re: Mark Fisher.

noodles
Aug 1 2011 19:44

Interesting article!
You dont mention them, but there are anti-state tories, like libertarian capitalists, even in the Conservative Party. Some lib-capitalists self-refer as anarchists as well. But I can see why you would want to define anarchism to exclude them.
Also, what definition of the state are you using? Because a federation of councils with delegate democracy could arguably be called a state.
Thanks for the interesting article.

Joseph Kay
Aug 1 2011 20:06

well, i'm working with Smith's definition of the state ('Law and government...') as a workable proxy and to minimise controversy; organised force of a ruling class. I don't think federations of councils etc fall under that, and Leninist attempts to label such things a state are sophistry imho (especially since in Russia the actual 'revolutionary state' sidelined and repressed the councils).

i have to admit i'm no expert on the Tory party, but any advocate of private property is a statist for the reason Smith outlines. the only other alternative is the 'competing private sector states' fantasy, where rich people hire private armies/cops to enforce their domains, which seems like either competing states or co-operating outsourced state forces (depending on whether they work together to enforce one law or fight each other for dominance).

I think even 100% privatisation of the repressive apparatus doesn't alter its character as a state apparatus, if anything it's more directly the thing Smith describes; organised violence to preserve the property of the rich. I guess if you had competing private states that would violate the Weberian definition about the monopoly of legitimate force, but I'm not really fond of Weber's definition anyway.

In any case, such views have no historical association with anarchism, nor do they have anything in common beyond the abstract and ill-defined 'anti-statism' which has never been a comprehensive definition of anarchism in the first place. The Anarchist FAQ's pretty good here.

Goti123
Aug 1 2011 22:28

The definition of a state is "a governing apparatus separate and above the people", if anarchist federalism was applied society wide it would not constitute a state as there is no institution separate or above the people that imposes its "democratic" or dictatorial will on the people as the people as a whole make all the appropriate decisions (on collective consumption and the public sphere), i.e. self-governance.

noodles
Aug 1 2011 23:20

I'm not sure how good adam smiths definition is, especially considering he was writing before even universal (male) suffrage, and now many states provide benefits, healthcare, etc. You would probably have to exclude the current UK state from being a state based on adam smiths definition! I think to keep using AS's definition someone would have to argue that all the reforms were allowed by the state solely to placate the WC and maintain dominance of RC over WC, but i think the state is a very complicated institution and to do so is a gross oversimplification. So, i'm not sure you can exclude anarchist federalism from being a state using AS's 18th century definition since it doesn't hold true for modern states.

Joseph Kay
Aug 1 2011 23:34
noodles wrote:
You would probably have to exclude the current UK state from being a state based on adam smiths definition!

not at all. i'm using Smith because his defintion is essentially the conventional Marxist one, but it's harder for liberals to argue with since he's part of the liberal canon. the UK state certainly protects the private property of the rich before all else. increasingly it doesn't even tax them much (see UK Uncut etc, as well as the fact top-rate income tax was higher under Thatcher). not that taxing the rich means it ceases to be a state of course, but taxing the rich usually only happens in the face of an unruly working class (and perhaps world wars, i'm not sure).

noodles
Aug 2 2011 13:22

The issue with AS's definition is that he said that the government and laws as being solely to oppress the poor and maintain the power of the rich. But there are more modern counter examples in britain and other countries where government works against the interests of the rich. The labour party when in power before the 80's provides some examples, or much of what is happening in venezuela or bolivia. And marx said that the state was conquered and controlled by the bourgeoisie, and described how it was used. But being conquered or controlled by the rich is not a necessary condition for being a state.

Presumably in anarchist federalism there will be institutions like a legislative, executive and judiciary, but the level of democracy in these institutions would be far greater. I imagine that there will have to be people delegated to manage these things, specialists to manage complicated parts of the economy, like modern healthcare, which would have to be fairly centralised. That seems to me to be as much a state as anything. But there is no consensus on the definition of the state, so i suppose you are free to define the state so as not to include anarchist federalism!

Chilli Sauce
Aug 2 2011 18:06

Good as always JK.

The only thing that might be worth including is refuting the Trot argument that anarchist "autonomy" (a term only used by a limited section of the movement, might I add) equates to the autonomy of the individual as opposed to the autonomy of struggle.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 2 2011 18:13

Noodles, a state is hierarchical and power flows from the top. Anarchist federalism is bottom-up and, instead of representatives, mandates are carried up by instantly recallable delegates. Administration does not equal a state.

Re: Venezuela and Old Labour. All governments protect the capitalist class (state or private). Some may pay lip service to the working class, but fundamentally all politicians are beholden to the market and private property (even "nationalised" private property) and structurally they have to defend that if they are to continue as part of the ruling class (which all politicians are by the logic of being managers of the state).

Quote:
You dont mention them, but there are anti-state tories, like libertarian capitalists, even in the Conservative Party. Some lib-capitalists self-refer as anarchists as well

Furthermore, capitalism is inherently hierarchical. Anarchism came directly out of the socialist movement as anti-state socialism. You can't be an anarchist and support capitalism. Period. Full stop. End of.

Here's something I wrote some years back.

Quote:
Libertarian? Is that like the Libertarian Party?

The short answer is a resounding no. The term “libertarian” has been used by the anti-statist left for over 150 years. It was not until the 1970s that a group of pro-capitalist extremists, seeking to co-opt the language of the revolutionary left, began to use the term. The Libertarian Party, as well as so-called “anarcho-capitalists,” are in no way libertarian. They merely want the state to function solely for the benefit of the capitalist class. Contrary to liberals, who believe the working class is more easily kept in line when the state curtails the worst aspects of capitalism, the Libertarian Party denies that government should have any role in protecting workers and consumers from even the most flagrant injustices committed in the name of a market economy.

True libertarians oppose all hierarchy and authority, beginning with capitalism and the state. The Libertarian Party, on the other hand, does not oppose the state as an institution, despite the fact government is objectively and irreconcilably authoritarian. The party seeks only to dismantle any social functions (public housing programs, public employment, progressive taxation, universal healthcare, unemployment benefits, etc) that social movements have forced upon the state, often having faced violent opposition from the government to do so. At the most basic level, the Libertarian Party fully supports the state in protecting private property (the police), defending national capitalist interests (the military), and maintaining class society (social control enforced by the police, the courts, and capitalist legislation). A truly libertarian world would be one entirely free of hierarchy and coercive authority. By supporting unfettered, unregulated capitalism and the most repressive aspects of the state, the Libertarian Party program, if ever put into effect, would increase the amount of hierarchy and authoritarianism present in society.

jacobian
Aug 2 2011 19:00
Quote:
Anarchist federalism is highly scalable, because whenever a group is too large to function on the basis of face-to-face direct democracy, it can simply divide and co-ordinate its activity through councils of mandated, recallable delegates. So if we grew to say 100 members in Brighton, we could simply divide into either geographical groups for Hove, Central, Falmer, Hannover, Hollingbury etc, or industrial groups such as Education, Public Sector, Transport, Unemployed, or some combination of the two, co-ordinated via a city-wide delegate council.

You make this part sound easy and that's a seriously problem. In fact, it is not easy to restructure to remain democratic and federalism is a fairly miserable principle in terms of effecting meaningful democracy.

Delegation from federations dilutes the participatory nature of the individuals in the sections, it can either function purely as a means of vote carrying, in which case it's useless (since we have high speed communication like the internet and so don't need delegation) or it's essentially a stronger delegation in which people are essentially electing recallable representatives. If you have scales of 100 or so and you get 10s of thousands, you'll find the need to delegate another tier and then the democratic deficit increases. As Machover documented in his research on voting power, you can get quite perverse effects from this.

Imagining that our tiny libertarian organisations can deal with the problems of large organisations in ways that have not been tested is dubious at best and veers towards dishonest.

noodles
Aug 2 2011 19:24
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Noodles, a state is hierarchical and power flows from the top. Anarchist federalism is bottom-up and, instead of representatives, mandates are carried up by instantly recallable delegates. Administration does not equal a state.

Well, as i said, you basically have to define a state as "not anarchist federalism", because common sense and many academic definitions, would include anarchist federalism. How decisions are made is not a necessary part of any definition.

Quote:
Re: Venezuela and Old Labour. All governments protect the capitalist class (state or private). Some may pay lip service to the working class, but fundamentally all politicians are beholden to the market and private property (even "nationalised" private property) and structurally they have to defend that if they are to continue as part of the ruling class (which all politicians are by the logic of being managers of the state).

Sure, every state has to conform to a greater or lesser degree to capitalism. I was just making the point that they made significant reforms, which neither Marx nor Adam Smith ever saw happen in their times - and so their definitions are certainly dated, and don't take into consideration the modern state. Obviously the lions share of influence belongs with the rich, but I wouldn't consider participatory budgeting or the (partial) direct democracy of switzerland to be merely "lip service", they are genuine and significant steps forward.

Quote:
Furthermore, capitalism is inherently hierarchical. Anarchism came directly out of the socialist movement as anti-state socialism. You can't be an anarchist and support capitalism. Period. Full stop. End of.

I don't disagree with you, i was just pointing out that the Tory party are not all pro-state, some are genuinely anti-state.

noodles
Aug 2 2011 19:33
jacobian wrote:
Imagining that our tiny libertarian organisations can deal with the problems of large organisations in ways that have not been tested is dubious at best and veers towards dishonest.

I totally agree with your points, very well made! As you say, It raises questions about whether anarchist federalism can be scaled up without turning into representative democracy.

Plus, related to the issue of scale - can an anarchist federalism be completely non-coercive and voluntary on a larger scale? this may wont work in practice. Look at Venezuela again, one resource rich region wants to secede from the country due to Chavez reforms (i forget its name). If those resources are essential to everyones standard of living, and they would be taken away if this region secedes, what option is there aside from making the anarchist federation a compulsory federation, and using coercion to prevent that region leaving?

Chilli Sauce
Aug 2 2011 20:06

Jacobian, just to say that the IWA has something like 10,000 members. Now, our internal democracy is not perfect and it's often slow, but the issue isn't numbers. Federalism still works on that scale and it worked when the IWA was exponentially larger.

I agree with that modern technology can make it easier to have direct votes. That's great, but folks will always need to be mandated for certain administrative roles. A delegatory structure allow for this to occur and a democratic, transparent, and recallable way. I should also point out, finally, that discussion is really important for effective democracy. All of us sitting behind our computers voting on this isn't going to be feel nearly as participatory as their being various mediums of discussion--face-to-face, electronic, and print--to hash out the issues.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 2 2011 20:26

Noodles, giving the example of a state to call into question how an anarchist society might run is quite a dubious method of argumentation.

In any case, I know Argentina has as similar situation, but the region that wants to secede is the most bourgeois in the country. Morales no more threatens the existence of the Argentinian bourgeoisie (or, in other words, the social relations of capitalism in Argentina) than Chavez does in Venezuala. But, his reforms (which--like any social welfare state--actually stabilize capitalism) may threaten their short-term profits. That's why they want to secede. Anarchism--worker control of industry--will make societal interdependence that much more clear. Outside of capitalism and private control of industry, I don't think you'll have situations like that occurring.

That said, of course we'll be expropriating shit from the bosses. They may want to 'secede' to avoid this. Too fucking bad.

noodles
Aug 2 2011 20:51

On the point of delegate democracy scaling up: the amount of face-to-face time falls as it scales up - and the amount of specialists and mandated delegates would increase. How much involvement would everyone have, or want to have, when it is at a large scale? It would become more complicated and less transparent as a result. And, while the IWA represented over a million workers at its height, it was not running an economy or large region (like the UK, which has 60m ppl) using its decision making structure. So i think jacobian's point still stands.

On the case region wanting to secede: It was just an example of a problem a state is having - which I thought would be an interesting issue for an anarchist federation. I think your response, which was to presume that situations where one region wants independence at the expense of other regions would just not happen in anarchist federalism, is basically utopian. You have to assume either: a lack of scarcity, and since natural resources are not distributed equally across the world, and are finite, this is a problem; Or you have to assume widespread recognition of common class interests, above all other interests. When has that ever happened on any scale?

Chilli Sauce
Aug 2 2011 21:37

Lot going on there Noodles. First, even now, people don't need to recognize their class interest to act in it. At every job I've ever had workers helped each other out. It might be simply ticking each other in the morning, but that's acting in the class interest and against the interests of the bosses. Dialectically, it's struggle that makes the class interests abundantly evident and it's that mass struggle that will create the conciousness, confidence, and conditions for a post-capitalist society.

Re: scarcity. I think you're thinking in a market context here. The economy is inherently social and, remember under anarchism we're talking no wages or money to mediate exchange. No region can have all that it wants and without the market to favor one section of the other, free exchange will be an imperative for any region--regardless of how "rich" they may be in a particular resource.

Finally, I'm sorry but I find the argument, "when has that happened before?" very obtuse. Beside the fact that it's happened in the millions and that mass movements of directly democratic federalism and workers control have occurred around the world, so what if it hasn't been done before? It's the same argument slave owners made in the 1860s or the arguments made by the proponents in favour of 'divine right of kings'. Humans are social creatures who have the ability to change and shape society.

Without sounding like a wanker who recommends books, read Strike! by Jeremy Brecher if it's the historical examples you're looking for. It reads like a novel and will blow your mind when it comes to the what ostensibly non class-concious workers have achieved in the past:

http://books.google.com/books?id=uoCNcKLzM_sC&lpg=PP1&ots=lqIWKP6E4P&dq=strike%20jeremy%20brecher&pg=PP9#v=onepage&q&f=false

noodles
Aug 2 2011 23:32
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Re: scarcity. I think you're thinking in a market context here. The economy is inherently social and, remember under anarchism we're talking no wages or money to mediate exchange. No region can have all that it wants and without the market to favor one section of the other, free exchange will be an imperative for any region--regardless of how "rich" they may be in a particular resource.

I understand that there would be no money or wages or a market. But some regions are rich in certain resources and others not, it doesn't require a market to cause inequality and scarcity. And some resources are not abundant enough for everyone to have as much of it as they want. So regions will have to volunteer to share/exchange a particular resource with other regions. I don't see free exchange being an imperative at all.

Quote:
Finally, I'm sorry but I find the argument, "when has that happened before?" very obtuse. Beside the fact that it's happened in the millions and that mass movements of directly democratic federalism and workers control have occurred around the world, so what if it hasn't been done before?

Well, its not obtuse, and comparing my point to justifications for slavery is pretty out of line. My point is that its unlikely that common class interests will prevent differing regions from getting into conflict with one another over scarce resources (or probably many other things). And there are few if any examples in practice of such a strong common interest on a large scale.

So, I think my two points stand. Anarchist federalism may not be able to rely on voluntary agreements and free exchange in practice. It may require coercion even after a revolution. This, coupled with the democratic deficit when scaling up, in practice and on a large scale it will share many of the negative qualities of other states, and will actually be a state itself. A much nicer one that bourgeois ones i'm sure!

Chilli Sauce
Aug 3 2011 09:01

Sorry if I came across as a dick Noodles, not my intention. Anyway, I think rationing will actually be structurally built into the production system. Logic will dictate that particular regions will share scarce resources with the understanding that other regions with differing scarce regions will do the same.

I mean, even under capitalism precursors of 'common interest on a large scale' are evident. While charity is not the answer to the world's problems, when natural disasters occur people are incredibly generous. Not to mentions the large-scale relief/NGO organizations that exist day-to-day funded by people who will never know or meet those they are assisting. In terms of class struggle, prior to a concerted effort by the state to legally and forcefully inhibit them, solidarity strikes in defense of workers in other regions (even other countries) were very common. Once again, the new world will only come through mass struggle. The struggle and the new economy will make this interdependence clear and, without a market, even a resource-rich region will lose out if they choose opt-out of the system of free association and exchange. It would be illogical for them to do so.

I wasn't trying to say you were offering a justification for slavery, only that the 'it's never happened before argument' is inherently conservative argument (not in the Tory sense, but in things remaining the way they are). Regarding the state, keep in mind that communities and workplaces form the basis of the new society. Decisions that affect the local level will take place on the local level and only decisions of a larger scale will take place at a higher level. This is not a "democratic deficit" since even those larger decisions will have to be proposed, discussed, and filtered up through the delegatory structure.

Rob Ray
Aug 3 2011 12:47
Quote:
Anarchist federalism may not be able to rely on voluntary agreements and free exchange in practice. It may require coercion even after a revolution.

Mm I always find the "there'll be coercion" line problematic - in the end, what possible human society could offer, on a finite planet, infinite freedom for all to do as they wish? What if I was to discover I really liked murdering people? Am I being coerced when people take my big axe away? Of course not, my freedom to restrict the freedom of others is what's being limited.

Anarchism doesn't promise limitless freedoms, it's simply a model with co-operative societal norms and greater freedoms for more people than is offered by capitalism.

noodles
Aug 3 2011 17:02

I agree Rob, it is problematic. But my example was not the case you mention of using coercion to prevent murder or whatever, but the problem of one region withholding resources at the expense of the standard of living in other regions, and possibly needing coercion if that resource was essential. So the federation would not be voluntary in all aspects, it would be enforced in some circumstances. (i do think that this problem would be much less likely without capitalism, but it may still occur).

My point I suppose is that if coercion is theoretically an option, and scaling up the decision making system leads to a de facto representative democracy, anarchist federalism will end up being version of a state (with far more cooperative social norms and freedom, as you note).

Caiman del Barrio
Aug 3 2011 18:48
noodles wrote:
Look at Venezuela again, one resource rich region wants to secede from the country due to Chavez reforms (i forget its name).

(Pedantic digression)

I imagine you're referring to Zulia, a state that is dominated by Maracaibo, Venezuela's second city. I also think you're presenting a slightly simplified version of the situation out there. Maracaibo's one of the last boltholes of the old ultra-right antichavista opposition, who rely on the (often rather ugly) rivalry that is common between the first and second cities of most Latin American countries. Caraquenos often joke that they don't go to Maracaibo cos they'd need a passport to enter "la República de Zulia". I reckon the city would sooner join Colombia then secede though, and either way, you're discounting the various dynamics that coexist alongside the incredible concentration of petrodólares in Maracaibo. Rural Zulia is dirt poor and there are a number of movements against the state government, the Yukpa people in the Sierra for instance.

Also, Chili Sauce means Bolivia not Argentina as his second example and the eastern lowland state, which is similar to Zulia but sufficiently well-resourced to launch an attempted insurrection a couple of years back.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 3 2011 19:12

Yes, yes I do. Thanks Caiman.

redsdisease
Aug 3 2011 19:41
noodles wrote:
I agree Rob, it is problematic. But my example was not the case you mention of using coercion to prevent murder or whatever, but the problem of one region withholding resources at the expense of the standard of living in other regions, and possibly needing coercion if that resource was essential. So the federation would not be voluntary in all aspects, it would be enforced in some circumstances. (i do think that this problem would be much less likely without capitalism, but it may still occur).

Maybe I'm missing something here, but, without a market system, how do you suppose this region would acquire the resources that it couldn't produce itself? Under capitalism, that region would just be able to trade it's valuable resource (which is only so valuable because of the market) for other necessary commodities. Without capitalism, wouldn't it just be left in the cold if it seceded? It seems to me that the only coercion necessary would be witholding of imports (or whatever they would be called under communism)

noodles
Aug 3 2011 20:40
redsdisease wrote:
Maybe I'm missing something here, but, without a market system, how do you suppose this region would acquire the resources that it couldn't produce itself? Under capitalism, that region would just be able to trade it's valuable resource (which is only so valuable because of the market) for other necessary commodities. Without capitalism, wouldn't it just be left in the cold if it seceded? It seems to me that the only coercion necessary would be witholding of imports (or whatever they would be called under communism)

I was assuming that a region had a resource, could be anything, the best food growing land, clean water, uranium, whatever. A belligerent region, could withhold something essential, and it would have more influence than other regions, by virtue of having this resource. If it was a self-sufficient area, it could secede, declare itself a different anarchist federation, and not share its wealth. It is just a hypothetical, to show that if a region began acting against the common good in a way which threatened the welfare/standard of living of other regions in the anarchist federation, some action which is 'state-like' may have to be imposed on that belligerent region - as you say maybe just an embargo, or if it is really serious maybe force. I'm not a utopian, I think its a plausible scenario, even after a world revolution or whatever.

noodles
Aug 3 2011 20:42
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
(Pedantic digression)

Thanks for that smile

redsdisease
Aug 3 2011 23:28
noodles wrote:
I was assuming that a region had a resource, could be anything, the best food growing land, clean water, uranium, whatever. A belligerent region, could withhold something essential, and it would have more influence than other regions, by virtue of having this resource. If it was a self-sufficient area, it could secede, declare itself a different anarchist federation, and not share its wealth. It is just a hypothetical, to show that if a region began acting against the common good in a way which threatened the welfare/standard of living of other regions in the anarchist federation, some action which is 'state-like' may have to be imposed on that belligerent region - as you say maybe just an embargo, or if it is really serious maybe force. I'm not a utopian, I think its a plausible scenario, even after a world revolution or whatever.

I think there are actually two different scenarios here.

1) There's a non-self-sustaining region that's withholding some important resource. In this case, by refusing mutual aid to the rest of the world, they would also be isolating themselves. Since they aren't self-sustaining, they would almost certainly be more reliant on the federation than the federation would be on them, and they would eventually have to cave. This doesn't require "state-like" action.

2) There's a self-sustaining region (this would have to be a pretty big region) that decides not to share some or all of it's resources and decides to secede. This would probably not be in the best interest for either the seceding region or the rest of the federation, but I don't any reason why they should be forcibly prevented from leaving. Again, I don't see why this scenario would require "state-like" action.

Also, none of the resources that you mentioned and none that I can think of are so specific to one location, so I don't think that would really be as big of a stick for any region to yield against the world as you make it out to be.

Joseph Kay
Aug 4 2011 10:37

On the more general 'would anarchism work?', 'but doesn't it require coercion?' type points; that's well beyond the scope of this blog and i'm on dissertation deadline so shouldn't really be on libcom at all! That said, this debate may be instructive, and the Anarchist FAQ is always good on these kind of questions. I also just want to respond briefly to this:

jacobian wrote:
Imagining that our tiny libertarian organisations can deal with the problems of large organisations in ways that have not been tested is dubious at best and veers towards dishonest.

I make three points in the paragraphs in question. The first and main one is to demonstrate that anarchists are not opposed to organisation. I don't think you're disputing this (and iirc you are a member of an anarchist organisation, so presumably agree). The second point is to show how hierarchy and organisation are not synonyms, through the example of SolFed (chosen as i'm most familiar with it). Presumably you're not disagreeing with this either.

The final point is one of scalability. Our local has in the region of 10 members, i gave the example of growing to 100, one order of magnitude. At present our Spanish sister-section the CNT has 7,000 or so members, going on 3 orders of magnitude. Historically, it's had a million members and functioned pretty well. That's five orders of magnitude. So no, it's not in any way dishonest to say federalism is scalable. And the reason i picked federalism is because it's been a staple of all the major strands of anarchism for the last century, from syndiclalism to the platform. But takes all sorts hey.

noodles
Aug 4 2011 13:09
redsdisease wrote:
1) There's a non-self-sustaining region that's withholding some important resource. In this case, by refusing mutual aid to the rest of the world, they would also be isolating themselves. Since they aren't self-sustaining, they would almost certainly be more reliant on the federation than the federation would be on them, and they would eventually have to cave. This doesn't require "state-like" action.

But even a region that couldn't completely self-sustain could withhold a particular resource. You also hint at a kind of embargo as well, this belligerent region could not manage by itself, so the fed as a whole could embargo it. The rest of the fed denying resouces to the belligerent region that's coercion as well, and a 'state-like' course of action.

redsdisease wrote:
2) There's a self-sustaining region (this would have to be a pretty big region) that decides not to share some or all of it's resources and decides to secede. This would probably not be in the best interest for either the seceding region or the rest of the federation, but I don't any reason why they should be forcibly prevented from leaving. Again, I don't see why this scenario would require "state-like" action.

Well, you may not stop them leaving, and accept the standard of living dropping for people who stay in. But if the resource is scarce and essential for some purpose, this could have fairly severe consequences?

redsdisease wrote:
Also, none of the resources that you mentioned and none that I can think of are so specific to one location, so I don't think that would really be as big of a stick for any region to yield against the world as you make it out to be.

The relative scarcity here is an issue, even in a planned economy. An area rich in a resource like rare-earth metals can mine them using far less of our labour etc. than an area with poor reserves of a rare earth metal. The Fed would probably have specialised to some degree, with some regions producing some things that others cannot. There are other similar examples I'm sure we can think of. I think its plausible this kind of scenario might occur.

noodles
Aug 4 2011 13:18
Joseph Kay wrote:
The final point is one of scalability. Our local has in the region of 10 members, i gave the example of growing to 100, one order of magnitude. At present our Spanish sister-section the CNT has 7,000 or so members, going on 3 orders of magnitude. Historically, it's had a million members and functioned pretty well. That's five orders of magnitude. So no, it's not in any way dishonest to say federalism is scalable.

But as it scales up, to presumably a world scale, the amount of deliberation and discussion, and face-to-face time on a range of issues would drop, just because it would become a complex decision making structure that is doing a great deal of work. It would become far too inefficient and slow to have every relevant decision discussed and ratified by everyone, even with a principle of subsidiarity. I think its plausible to thing that the mandated delegates would begin to have some lee-way in decision making, broad mandates. And the point jacobian was I think making (I think?) suggests that's implied in the fact a Fed would using delegates at all, since with modern technology we could just vote electronically from our neighbourhood council, no need to delegate. So I think representation is either implied, or would be required as the system scales up.