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

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Auld-bod's picture
Auld-bod
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May 14 2018 16:30

Lucky Black Cat #31

I generally agree with your understanding of the state.

The problem with pinning labels on words is that most words take their meaning from the context in which they are used. All states evolve and no two states are identical. This thread has singled out some important elements of ‘the state’, however because the modern state is a centralised forum for the competing interests of the ruling class and no one is in complete control (witness Brexit in the UK) it is hard to say which elements can safely define all the world’s states.

Perhaps something I could add would be that no state exists if the dark arts described by Niccolo Machiavelli in ‘The Prince’ have become redundant. While capitalism is not capable of being meaningfully reformed, Machiavelli shows that the mechanics of running a state requires even well intentioned people to act despicably (witness Lenin, in the USSR). Machiavelli’s practical advice got him into hot water, as the powerful like to keep their dirty secrets. Though printed in 1532 it is still relevant today.

Hope this is useful.

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Lucky Black Cat
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May 15 2018 04:54

Thanks for the reply.

Auld-bod wrote:
While capitalism is not capable of being meaningfully reformed, Machiavelli shows that the mechanics of running a state requires even well intentioned people to act despicably (witness Lenin, in the USSR).

I've never read Machiavelli but I agree with this point entirely. There's an excellent video on YouTube that makes this argument very concisely and convincingly. I was already a libertarian-communist when I saw it, but it gave me a deeper understanding of why the state will chew up your good intentions and spit them out in your face.

Here's the video -- The Rules for Rulers by CGP Grey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rStL7niR7gs

(About 19 minutes, based on the book The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics, by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith)

PDXSteve
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May 24 2018 09:41

I just visited libcom for the first time in many months, at least, and I ran across this interesting thread. Actually, I found the post which began the conversation to be the most interesting.

I'm not sure if anyone still cares about this conversation or if everyone has had enough. But in the short time I have to spare, I thought I'd share my thoughts, and share the source of that definition cited by Lucky Black Cat.…

(This turned into a longer post than expected. Hope you don't mind.)

Yes, Lucky Black Cat, you pointed out a significant problem. And, however one chooses to define the state, the successful-monopoly-on-legimate-use-of-violence definition *is* the lowest-common-denominator definition, and thus any entity which finds itself in that position is a state.

This definition, btw, comes from Max Weber, originally in ‘Politics as a Vocation,’ where he argues that the state is defined as a “human community that (successfully) claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of violence within a given territory.” (1919) He restates this, and provides a much more elaborate analysis of the state and other defining characteristics in his magisterial 2-volume set from the 1950s, Economy and Society.

The words "successfully" and "legitimate" are important, I think, as they seem to entail some form of hegemony in the typical Gramscian sense of the word. No revolution can succeed in toppling a state without first successfully earning the support of the majority of the population, or at least the majority of the concerned citizens (those who give a shit either way).

And like it or not, Lucky Black Cat's question also raises additional questions about the use of violent armed struggle (i.e., actions that could kill or maim the people identified as opponents and/or bystanders) by any social movement seeking revolutionary change (i.e., radical changes seeking to address the roots of problems), period.

Because if one is concerned about claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence *after* organizing so much popular support and applying so much pressure that the state topples, then why wouldn't one also ask questions about the validity of exercising violent power well before that point, well before the movement has earned widespread popular support, or the majority's support?

After all, the effective use of violence to topple a state requires great discipline, planning, strategizing, etc. — in short, it requires claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence within a territory (perhaps a smaller territory at first), and the willingness and ability to enforce that claim against representatives of the existing state, *and* against any other organizations or movements whose violence threatens your movement's strategy …or your movement's legitimacy.

If such an organized and disciplined form of violent armed struggle is off-putting, well, then, if one insists on violence, the only other alternative is a politics of expression exercised via largely-symbolic & random violence. Then violence simply becomes symbolic in its politics, and for the militants, it becomes an intoxicating, seemingly-empowering channel for expressing their rage and frustration (be it personal and/or political). Such violence doesn't claim monopoly or legitimacy. But when brought up to scale, it can certainly claim to terrorize.

And of course, we all know that the state uses symbolic violence to terrorize.

Personally, I don't see how an anti-state movement can use violence without replicating the state. Violence is at the very heart of the state.

I ran across a quote said to be from Albert Einstein today. I've not yet verified it, but it seems relevant regardless: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

PDXSteve
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May 24 2018 09:58

PS: If one reads Machiavelli, perhaps the first historical materialist, then one should read his Discourse on Livy, and not just The Prince otherwise one may walk away with a serious misunderstanding of Machiavelli. Among other things, one shouldn't always apply a literal interpretation to all of Machiavelli's words in The Prince. For more information, see Erica Benner's work: she provides close readings and analyses of Machiavelli's texts in historical context. (I also recommend Machiavelli & Us featuring a couple texts by Althusser regarding Machiavelli, and more.)

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Lucky Black Cat
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May 28 2018 06:01

Hi! Thanks for your post.

PDXSteve wrote:
Because if one is concerned about claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence *after* organizing so much popular support and applying so much pressure that the state topples, then why wouldn't one also ask questions about the validity of exercising violent power well before that point, well before the movement has earned widespread popular support, or the majority's support?

I think it would be a major strategic error to use violence at this point. The state would likely move in to crush us and would do so easily.

PDXSteve wrote:
After all, the effective use of violence to topple a state requires great discipline, planning, strategizing, etc. — in short, it requires claiming a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence within a territory (perhaps a smaller territory at first), and the willingness and ability to enforce that claim against representatives of the existing state, *and* against any other organizations or movements whose violence threatens your movement's strategy …or your movement's legitimacy.

Yes, this is likely what's necessary.

PDXSteve wrote:
If such an organized and disciplined form of violent armed struggle is off-putting,

It is off-putting, but it's less off-putting than a failed revolution. I realize there are big risks with organizing a monopoly on violence, but I guess all we can do is minimize those risks by making our organizations as libertarian, participatory, directly democratic, and accountable as possible. And hopefully also ethical norms where we aim to use as little violence as possible, and only against those who are a direct and legitimate threat.

PDXSteve wrote:
well, then, if one insists on violence, the only other alternative is a politics of expression exercised via largely-symbolic & random violence.

I have no idea what you mean by symbolic violence.

As for random violence, I have ideas of what you might mean, but am not really sure.

PDXSteve wrote:
Personally, I don't see how an anti-state movement can use violence without replicating the state. Violence is at the very heart of the state.

I disagree. Libertarian forms of organization are very different from the state.

Unless we're using the strict definition of "monopoly on legitimate violence" -- which after consideration I decided to reject as being a sufficient definition in itself. But, regardless of the semantics of it, I think this aspect is necessary to replicate during a revolution.

I do admit, though, that there are serious risks with the use of violence. But I don't think nonviolent revolution is possible, if that's what you're proposing.

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Jun 22 2018 01:22

"Monopoly on the legitimate use of violence" from what I know comes from Max Weber. Personally I think it's extremely vague and unhelpful. It doesn't tell us what "legitimate" means, it doesn't tell us who implores the violence for their own ends, and doesn't tell us who the violence is used against. The state is a concrete institution that can be defined in the fallowing way; a coercive, armed institution organized for imposing the rule of a small group of exploiters and rulers over the masses of people. The revolution Anarchists call for involves the mass of people using their collective force to overturn this institution and abolish all ruling classes and exploitation for good.

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Jun 24 2018 04:54

Yesssss. The "legitimate" part always made me side eye. The state declares its own legitimacy, and is able to do so because of its immense power. So it's like a circular logic, or circular legitimacy. Why can the state use violence? Because state violence is legitimate. Why is it legitimate? Because it's the state.

"Because it's the state" is just another way of saying because it's in charge. And why is the state in charge? Because of a monopoly on violence.

Might makes right, but we dress it up with paperwork, law books, offices, big impressive buildings and fancy ceremonies to give the illusion that there's some nice civilized justification for their self-declared legitimacy.