Are anarchists playing with semantics by saying we're anti-state?

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Lucky Black Cat
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Apr 10 2018 23:19
Are anarchists playing with semantics by saying we're anti-state?

Many political theorists say the core defining feature of the state is that it has a monopoly on legitimate, organized violence.

By this bare bones definition, can't it be said that anarchists are in favor of a state during a revolutionary period?

We agree that we need organized violence to defeat the state and fight any armed counterrevolution that might pop up afterwards.

I think we can also agree that if there are forms of organized violence outside of the revolutionary movement, this would be a threat to the revolution, illegitimate, and therefore in need of being suppressed.

Bottom line: the revolutionary movement needs to maintain a monopoly on organized violence.

So by that definition, wouldn't this be a state?

I'm not sure where I should stand on this. I still very much identify as anti-state. To me, the state is more than just a monopoly on legitimate, organized violence. It's when that organized violence serves a bureaucracy, a tiny fraction of the population which uses that organized violence to enforce its rule.

In a revolutionary period, the monopoly on organized violence should be accountable to the revolutionary movement as a whole. This movement will likely be organized in a federation of workers councils, soldiers councils, and in some countries perhaps peasant councils. And hopefully, they will be a direct democracy, so that the delegates on these councils are controlled from below. Delegates will not be "in power"; power will be spread evenly through everyone in the revolutionary movement.

So in one case, the monopoly on organized violence belong to a ruling bureaucracy. In the other, it belongs to the revolutionary masses. This is obviously a huge difference. And in my mind, this difference makes one thing a state and the other thing not.

But I'm not sure if this is accurate. Am I altering the definition of the state? Are anarchists in denial?

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jef costello
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Apr 11 2018 16:46

I could be wrong but anarchists do not want a monopoly on organised violence, anarchists will oragnise violence to the extent necessary to defend against the state's attempts to establish / re-establish a monopoly on violence.

I agree with what you say that setting up a monopoly on violence to defend the class interests of a few is part, maybe most of the definition of a state. Obviously violence to defend the masses, and from them, rather than in their name, is not the same thing. I think the danger is the leninist idea of siezing control of the state machinery in the name of the people to defend the revolution and very rapidly turning that force against proletarian enemies of the bureaucracy rather than enemies of the revolution.

Mike Harman
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Apr 11 2018 19:19

Marx didn't write that much about the state, but he did write this on the Paris Commune, excuse the long quote:

But the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.

The centralized state power, with its ubiquitous organs of standing army, police, bureaucracy, clergy, and judicature – organs wrought after the plan of a systematic and hierarchic division of labor – originates from the days of absolute monarchy, serving nascent middle class society as a mighty weapon in its struggle against feudalism. Still, its development remained clogged by all manner of medieval rubbish, seignorial rights, local privileges, municipal and guild monopolies, and provincial constitutions. The gigantic broom of the French Revolution of the 18th century swept away all these relics of bygone times, thus clearing simultaneously the social soil of its last hinderances to the superstructure of the modern state edifice raised under the First Empire, itself the offspring of the coalition wars of old semi-feudal Europe against modern France.

[...]
The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.

Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workman’s wage. The vested interests and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves. Public functions ceased to be the private property of the tools of the Central Government. Not only municipal administration, but the whole initiative hitherto exercised by the state was laid into the hands of the Commune.

Having once got rid of the standing army and the police – the physical force elements of the old government – the Commune was anxious to break the spiritual force of repression, the “parson-power", by the disestablishment and disendowment of all churches as proprietary bodies. The priests were sent back to the recesses of private life, there to feed upon the alms of the faithful in imitation of their predecessors, the apostles.

The whole of the educational institutions were opened to the people gratuitously, and at the same time cleared of all interference of church and state. Thus, not only was education made accessible to all, but science itself freed from the fetters which class prejudice and governmental force had imposed upon it.

The judicial functionaries were to be divested of that sham independence which had but served to mask their abject subserviency to all succeeding governments to which, in turn, they had taken, and broken, the oaths of allegiance. Like the rest of public servants, magistrates and judges were to be elective, responsible, and revocable.

The Paris Commune was, of course, to serve as a model to all the great industrial centres of France. The communal regime once established in Paris and the secondary centres, the old centralized government would in the provinces, too, have to give way to the self-government of the producers.

In a rough sketch of national organization, which the Commune had no time to develop, it states clearly that the Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet, and that in the rural districts the standing army was to be replaced by a national militia, with an extremely short term of service. The rural communities of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandat imperatif (formal instructions) of his constituents. The few but important functions which would still remain for a central government were not to be suppressed, as has been intentionally misstated, but were to be discharged by Communal and thereafter responsible agents.

The unity of the nation was not to be broken, but, on the contrary, to be organized by Communal Constitution, and to become a reality by the destruction of the state power which claimed to be the embodiment of that unity independent of, and superior to, the nation itself, from which it was but a parasitic excresence.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/civil-war-france/ch05.htm

Even though this is Marx, and not 'anarchists', you can clearly see non-semantic differences between the Commune and the state. Recallable delegates instead of representatives, militias and police under control of the commune and revocable at all times.

Now if you want to say 'aha! but the commune was a state!' then no-one can really stop you, but then you need find some other way to distinguish between representative democracy (or one party dictatorship) and federated direct democracy with recallable delegates.

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Steven.
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Apr 12 2018 02:20

A state is more than just violence – it also incorporates all of the lawmaking and law enforcing institutions in a territorial. More info in our introduction to the state: https://libcom.org/library/state-introduction

So to address your question, I think it's often best to look at historical examples. So in the Spanish anarchist revolution of 1936, there was a popular militia. Local areas were taken over by popular committees. Neither of these would fit any workable definition of a state. Even the popular militia, it was a body of organised violence, but it was not under the control of any small group – its officers were elected. And it didn't claim a monopoly of organised violence either.

To some extent there is a semantic issue, when it comes to the difference between anarchism and things like Trotskyism et cetera at a purely theoretical level. However when you look at concrete historical examples the differences become much clearer. Trotskyists for example may say they want to smash the state, like anarchists, however in practice they consistently use statist methods – supporting candidates for political parties, voting for political parties etc, participating in governments. And of course when they took power they not only took over the capitalist state in Russia, they strengthened many of its institutions, particularly the secret police.

Lucky Black Cat
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Apr 16 2018 06:59

Gonna reply to each of you one at a time in a separate post.

jef costello wrote:
I could be wrong but anarchists do not want a monopoly on organised violence

You're not wrong. But I wasn't saying that *anarchists* want or should seek a monopoly on organized violence, but that the revolutionary movement (the workers, peasants, and anyone who's willing to join the revolutionary cause) should seek a monopoly on organized violence.

So like, something similar to what the Amigos de Durruti advocated during the Spanish civil war. They wanted all the unions to send delegates to a committee, and this committee would be the coordination for all the militias. It was never created, but if it had, it would put a monopoly on organized violence with all unionized workers -- which I think was pretty much all workers -- and all unionized peasants.

I believe something like this* will be necessary during a revolution, and I think others here would agree?

* (though not through unions cuz so few people are members now and most of them are bureaucratic and reformist)

Lucky Black Cat
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Apr 16 2018 06:35
Mike Harman wrote:
Even though this is Marx, and not 'anarchists', you can clearly see non-semantic differences between the Commune and the state. Recallable delegates instead of representatives, militias and police under control of the commune and revocable at all times.

Now if you want to say 'aha! but the commune was a state!' then no-one can really stop you, but then you need find some other way to distinguish between representative democracy (or one party dictatorship) and federated direct democracy with recallable delegates.

Thanks for the Marx quote!

I know there's plenty of debate on whether the Paris Commune was a state or not. Again, it all comes down to how a state is defined. I agree, the fact that it's based on mandated recallable delegates sets it far apart from a system based on the rule of the few over the many, but I'm not sure if this in means it's not a state.

Lucky Black Cat
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Apr 16 2018 06:44
Steven. wrote:
A state is more than just violence – it also incorporates all of the lawmaking and law enforcing institutions in a territorial. More info in our introduction to the state: https://libcom.org/library/state-introduction

Ah yes! The famous libcom introductory guides. <3 I read them all back in the day, including the state one, though thanks for the reminder... I could use a refresher.

Hmm, on this particular aspect... I think I remember someone in the comments who disagreed, and brought up the point that not all states use(d) the rule of law. But yeah, at least in general, states do make and enforce laws.

In a revolution, won't we to a degree be doing something like this? As anarchists some of you might want to spit on me for saying such a vile thing! But a revolutionary movement will be deciding that certain things are forbidden -- things like exploiting labor, for example -- and isn't that basically a law? Even if we decide not to call it that, when it comes down to it, won't a revolutionary movement decide that some things aren't ok, and then use coercion to enforce it? Whatever we call it, there's an undeniable parallel to lawmaking and law enforcing.

Steven. wrote:
So to address your question, I think it's often best to look at historical examples. So in the Spanish anarchist revolution of 1936, there was a popular militia. Local areas were taken over by popular committees. Neither of these would fit any workable definition of a state. Even the popular militia, it was a body of organised violence, but it was not under the control of any small group – its officers were elected. And it didn't claim a monopoly of organised violence either.

Yes, there was one militia for each major union and party. And before the government created the Popular Army, these militias were not coordinated under a single organization. So I agree this ain't the making of a state.

But how about if, as Amigos de Durruti had suggested, each union had sent delegates to a committee, and this committee had been the coordinator of all the militias, unifying them under a single, central command. Those giving the command would be elected and recallable by the workers. So, this would have given a monopoly on organized violence to the workers.

At that point, do you see how some might say this is a state?

Another thing about the Spanish civil war is that the CNT had a prison camp. Isn't this law enforcement? Of course the CNT never had a monopoly on this. But the thing is that in the Spanish revolution, workers mainly organized in their unions and didn't unify as much as they have in other revolutions where workers organized into councils/soviets. If they were organized this way, and the workers councils made decisions, and then the militia helped enforce these decisions, well, now we have the workers having a monopoly on organized violence and using that to enforce their decisions. Doesn't it start to seem state-like? Even if the councils operate based on direct democracy?

On a separate issue...

Steven. wrote:
Local areas were taken over by popular committees.

Where can I get some info on this? I haven't heard about this even though I've done quite a bit of reading on the Spanish revolution (though of course with everything there is out there, this amounts to less than one percent!) Though maybe I'm not understanding what you mean by this. I know that villages were collectivized and run via a mix of mass assemblies and committees of mandated recallable delegates. But I haven't heard of anything like this for urban areas. I know there were neighborhood committees that did defense and food distribution, but in terms of popular committees running an entire town or city district, I don't know anything about that. But I'd love to know more.

Mike Harman
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Apr 16 2018 09:38
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
But a revolutionary movement will be deciding that certain things are forbidden -- things like exploiting labor, for example -- and isn't that basically a law?

The point of a communist revolution is to make exploiting labour impossible, not to make it 'illegal'. i.e. to exploit labour, you need a class of proletarians who are only able access the means of life via commodities, and therefore must work for a wage.

If you look at what has happened in mass uprisings, you get mass looting of shops and warehouses as well as people taking them over to distribute things fairly (stuff like running food distribution and mass canteens collectively so that everyone can get fed). To the extent that this is successful and can be defended, then people won't be compelled to work for wages, because the means of life are provided.

Where a revolutionary movement will run into issues is against bosses/the state trying to lock everyone out of essential infrastructure (factories, docks, farms, electricity grid/wind farms etc.), but not really 'giving people money to work' as such.

If people are still having to work for money, then there might be some kind of uprising, but you're not in a position to prohibit working for money because it's still a necessity for people. An example would be miners strikes where the miners stayed out, but their families kept working in other industries to keep some income coming in and strike funds were donated to by other proletarians who were also still at work.

To some extent it's tautological, but it's also a practical question of why people work for money - the condition of it is the commodity form and the inability to access food/shelter/heat etc. without purchasing those as commodities, not because it's legal or not.

Now the state and capital has obviously offered people loads of money/land in order to put down revolutions before, but again the form that takes is strikebreakers/street fascists/mercenaries like the Pinkertons or similar, not just someone going into work for a wage.

Lucky Black Cat
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Apr 16 2018 09:52
Mike Harman wrote:
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
But a revolutionary movement will be deciding that certain things are forbidden -- things like exploiting labor, for example -- and isn't that basically a law?

The point of a communist revolution is to make exploiting labour impossible, not to make it 'illegal'. i.e. to exploit labour, you need a class of proletarians who are only able access the means of life via commodities, and therefore must work for a wage.

Ok, this is a very good point. But there's gotta be other examples where (1) workers / a revolutionary movement makes a decision through its councils or whatever, (2) that decision requires enforcement, (3) a militia is used to enforce it.

Let's say the suppression of counterrevolutionary activity, for example. Deciding what qualifies as that, and how to handle it.

Mike Harman
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Apr 16 2018 10:25

So by 1921, Kollontai was arguing that "not being able to prove you are working in a state-mandated industry", i.e. being a labour deserter was counter-revolutionary and should get you sent to forced labour camps:

Kollontai wrote:
it is time we were clear on the question of sexual relationships. It is time we approached this question in a spirit of ruthless and scientific criticism. I already said that the interdepartmental commission has accepted that professional prostitutes are to be treated in the same way as labour deserters It therefore follows that women who have a work- book but are practising prostitution as a secondary source of income cannot he prosecuted.

https://libcom.org/library/alexandra-kollontai-prostitutes-forced-labour-camps-1921

At this point we're not talking about a revolutionary situation enforcing laws, but a counter-revolution where wage labour is enforced on the proletariat by the state. By 1918 Lenin was sending telegrams around the country telling people to take harsh action on soldiers who didn't want to fight at the front (under the command of former Tsarist officers in many cases) too - similar to treatment of draft dodgers or mutineers by straightforwardly capitalist countries.

If you're talking about stuff like "don't drive drunk at 70 mph past a kids playground" then there is a whole literature of restorative/transformative justice (Haven't read it, but something like https://libcom.org/library/anarchist-theory-criminal-justice might be a place to start) and how that might be administered.

Even in society now, speeding usually results in a fine (a bit silly if there's no money), or getting your license removed, rather than imprisonment. I can completely see a post-revolutionary situation where there is a regional car pool, someone goes on a drunken speeding rampage, and then they get banned from using the car pool, but "can I use that car? No, you're banned" doesn't require a state.

There are also examples in places like Chicago of groups organising restorative justice for people that don't want to go to the police but are victims of crime, this obviously does not have a 'monopoly on violence' or anything, it's an alternative to it.

But I think it's more important to interrogate why these discussions happen. People usually play this semantic game, often involving the Engels "revolution is authoritarian" quote as a rhetorical trick to then justify bonapartism, various existing 'anti-imperialist' states and all kinds of other things that aren't workers/neighbourhood councils and a militia. On the other hand there'll be people who do thing that workers/neighbourhood councils and a militia are a 'state' but won't then use that to justify bonapartism.

Lucky Black Cat
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Apr 17 2018 02:39
Mike Harman wrote:
But I think it's more important to interrogate why these discussions happen. People usually play this semantic game, often involving the Engels "revolution is authoritarian" quote as a rhetorical trick to then justify bonapartism, various existing 'anti-imperialist' states and all kinds of other things that aren't workers/neighbourhood councils and a militia. On the other hand there'll be people who do thing that workers/neighbourhood councils and a militia are a 'state' but won't then use that to justify bonapartism.

Ha! You've gotten this one exactly. I started this thread after watching a video by a Leninist YouTuber claiming that the CNT created a state. His whole motive for making this argument is of course to justify the tyrannical shenanigans of Lenin and Stalin.

He's wrong about the CNT; they never created a state. But he did get me wondering about the definition of a state and whether a territory with directly democratic decision making organizations + a militia that enforces those decisions = a state.

Anyways, the stuff you mention about restorative justice, yeah, I'm totally down with that kind of thing. But I'm talking about a period where counterrevolution is still active and needs to be suppressed. Maybe even a period of civil war. When that's what's going down, you need to decide the boundaries between what is and isn't tolerable. And for those things that are intolerable, what the consequences are, how much coercion to use to stop them, etc.

If there's an equivalent to the White Army and their supporters (so, those who are fighting to bring back capitalism), there's questions of to what extent they should be allowed freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc. Do we let them publish/distribute literature? Do we let them make speeches? Do we let them have protests? Do we let them have guns? What about people who give aid or information to the enemy?

These are decisions that people will need to make, and if it's decided to not allow some of these freedoms, they're decisions that need to be enforced by coercion.

radicalgraffiti
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Apr 17 2018 14:50

i think if you can replace the word with your definition of it, in anything you write or say, then your definition is at least internally constant, if you cant do that they its probably being used to obscure or manipulate

Lucky Black Cat
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Apr 17 2018 19:56

That's a good point. And for sure that was his intention!

Anarcho
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Apr 24 2018 19:25

Yes, indeed, it all depends on how you define "the State."

Some define it as any of social organisation, but anarchists argue that this is wrong as it confuses social organisations based on minority class rule with all forms of social organisation.

So if it is hierarchical and centralised, it is a state. This structure is needed to ensure minority rule -- so these are not "neutral" nor can they be used by the majority. As Russia showed, such a structure produces a new ruling class (the bureaucracy).

Also, some functions which the state monopolises will still be needed in a free society or during a revolution. So mutual defence -- as Kropotkin and others noted -- would be organised by the workers own groups, for example. This does not make it a State -- it is a social organisation aiming to defend itself against those seeking to reimpose their rule (a State) on a free people.

Lucky Black Cat
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Apr 25 2018 01:16
Anarcho wrote:
Yes, indeed, it all depends on how you define "the State."

Some define it as any of social organisation, but anarchists argue that this is wrong as it confuses social organisations based on minority class rule with all forms of social organisation.

Some define it that way, but that's not the definition on the table here. The definition being questioned is, roughly: social organization with a monopoly on legitimate use of violence within a territory. Steven also mentioned the law-making and law-enforcing institutions within a territory. Either definition is fine for this discussion, and both go beyond mere social organization.

Anarcho wrote:
mutual defence -- as Kropotkin and others noted -- would be organised by the workers own groups, for example. This does not make it a State -- it is a social organisation aiming to defend itself against those seeking to reimpose their rule (a State) on a free people.

Would you agree that during a revolution these defense groups would need some sort of committee for central coordination, so that the defense groups can act according to a unified strategy?

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AnythingForProximity
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Apr 25 2018 05:00
Lucky Black Cat wrote:
Where can I get some info on this? I haven't heard about this even though I've done quite a bit of reading on the Spanish revolution (though of course with everything there is out there, this amounts to less than one percent!) Though maybe I'm not understanding what you mean by this. I know that villages were collectivized and run via a mix of mass assemblies and committees of mandated recallable delegates. But I haven't heard of anything like this for urban areas. I know there were neighborhood committees that did defense and food distribution, but in terms of popular committees running an entire town or city district, I don't know anything about that.

The neighborhood comités de defensa performed other functions besides just food provisioning and defense, and it is not inaccurate to say that it was these committees that were in control of Barcelona immediately after the revolution of July 19. They really did run the city, and the CNT-FAI itself could only be said to control it through them (since the committees were mostly made up of CNT members, and were financed by the unions – this did not save them from having their power slowly taken away from them by the comités superiores, run by those factions of the CNT-FAI that prioritized the antifascist struggle over the revolution). Agustín Guillamón, who has written up what is probably the most detailed historiographic account of the topic, has referred to them as "the embryo[s] of the organs of working class power". He has also said that no organization "was able or wanted to" coordinate their work in a centralized manner, which ultimately prevented them from becoming the organ by which the revolutionary proletariat would exercise its power. This is essentially identical to the analysis of the POUMista Josep Rebull and even to that of Trotsky, who wrote in 1937: "How can they say that the [Spanish] workers didn’t build soviets? They built committees everywhere and these committees took over industry. It was only a question of unifying these committees, of developing them, and that would have been the Soviet of Barcelona." (Leon Trotsky – Collected Writings (1929–1940), Vol. 9, p. 472).

Some relevant quotes:

Agustín Guillamón wrote:
The real power of decision and execution was in the streets, it was the power of the proletariat in arms, and it was exercised by the local committees, the defense committees and the workers control committees, spontaneously expropriating factories, workshops, buildings and land; organizing, arming and transporting to the front the groups of volunteer militiamen that had previously been recruited; burning churches or converting them into schools or warehouses; forming patrols to spread the social war; manning the barricades, which were now class frontiers, and which controlled all traffic and manifested the power of the committees; resuming production at the factories, without employers or managers, or converting them to military production; requisitioning cars and trucks, or food for the supply committee; taking bourgeoisie, fascists and priests “for a ride”; replacing the obsolete republican municipal governments, and imposing in each locality their absolute authority in all domains, paying no attention to any orders from the Generalitat, or the Central Committee of Antifascist Militias (CCMA).

[...]

In Barcelona, during the following week, while the CCMA was still only a provisional power, neighborhood committees, as the expression of the power acquired by the defense committees, coordinated their activities in an authentic urban federation that, in the streets and the factories, exercised all power, in every domain, in the absence of any effective exercise of power by the municipal governments, the national government, or the Generalitat.

Agustín Guillamón wrote:
The revolutionary committees performed, in every neighborhood or locality, especially in the nine weeks after July 19, the following functions:

1. They confiscated buildings for committee offices, storage of supplies, cultural centers and rationalist schools. They seized and administered hospitals and newspapers;
2. They conducted searches of private homes to requisition weapons, food, money and objects of value;
3. Inspection of suspicious buildings by armed squads, in order to arrest “cops”, snipers, priests, reactionaries and fifth columnists. (Recall that the mopping-up operations conducted against snipers lasted an entire week in the city of Barcelona);
4. They set up recruiting centers in every neighborhood for the Militias, which they armed, financed, supplied and paid (until mid-September) with their own means, and even after May 1937, each neighborhood maintained an intimate and continuous relation with its militiamen on the front, and welcomed them when they came home on leave;
5. They stored arms in the headquarters of the defense committee, which also played the role of a local store or warehouse, in which the provisions committee of the district was also housed, which supplied the neighborhood with food that was requisitioned in the rural areas by means of armed coercion, exchange, or purchase with vouchers;
6. Imposition and collection of the revolutionary tax in every neighborhood or locality.

The revolutionary committees performed an important and quite multifarious administrative role, which extended from the issuance of vouchers, food coupons, and travel passes, marriage ceremonies, supply and administration of hospitals, to the confiscation of food, furniture and buildings, financing rationalist schools and cultural centers managed by the Libertarian Youth, paying the militiamen or their families, etc.

Agustín Guillamón wrote:
THERE WAS A VACUUM OF STATE POWER. Having lost its capacity for coercion, the republican state witnessed the emergence of autonomous regional powers, totally independent of the central government, which in turn (such as the government of the Generalitat in Catalonia) saw how its authority collapsed; and how the various revolutionary, local, sectoral, neighborhood, factory, defense, supply, trade union and party committees and popular and rearguard militias performed those functions that the government was incapable of exercising, because of the loss of its repressive apparatus and the general arming of the working class organizations. In many places, the revolutionary committees, which Munis theorized as government-committees, exercised all power on a local level, but there was no coordination or centralization of these local committees: there was A VACUUM OF CENTRAL OR STATE POWER.