A fanzine by Paul Petard with articles and cartoons on the term "petit bourgeois", two/three class theory, the credit crunch etc.
The Whinger #07 2008
Crunchonomics Meets Trashonomics - Paul Petard
An article on the "credit crunch" financial crisis, from "The Whinger" number 7, Fall 2008.
Apparently there has been some sort of "crisis" going on recently in the big wide world, or so people say. They tell you it is to do with the economy, before calling you "stupid". Fucked if I know what it is really all about. Although we might be able to intelligently guess some of it.
Some of it seems to involve a big inflated housing mortgage and financial credit bubble underpinning western imperial economic hegemony, particularly large in the U.S. and the U.K. for the last ten years suddenly going pop! thrrrp! plop! Some of the small banks were pushing their luck a bit and were vulnerable, they were infected with toxic debts. Savers and investors got the "jitters" and weren't too happy to invest in them any more. So some of the small banks went under and got eaten by some of the big banks.
But some of the big banks were also infected too and started to catch a financial cold. So the state capitalists and governments muscled in and nationalized part of the banks.
Unfortunately this doesn't mean us little people have become real small shareholders in the assets. It is more like the government has nationalized the banks' debts at our expense and we're going to have to pay for it with extortionate higher regressive taxes against ordinary and lower income earners over the next few years. Most people have already guessed that the first budget after the next election will be horrible.
Meanwhile the stock market fell a massive chunk as there is a shortage of spare cash to invest and it can't lift itself up out of the doldrums. The massively inflated house prices that lots of people had banked on and borrowed on have now crashed 15% in one year in the UK. Apparently in parts of Detroit houses are like seriously cheap if you wanted to live there, but of course in somewhere like grey London they are still way beyond what you or I can afford.
"Recession" is the current buzzword and mass involuntary unemployment is back, although it never really went away. One side effect of this is I don't quite feel so socially excluded or left out as usual, but for many it is a real problem. The real unemployment level in the UK could now be higher than 3 million, about 12% of the workforce, if it were not for the government fiddling the figures (the "official" figure is over 1.8 million).
Despite threats whip the unemployed and make them jump up and down on the spot, they can't, and don't want to, "solve" the "problem", they just carry on paying the majority of us dole money to go indoors and shut up. This isn't situationist work-free heaven, it is just mindless powerless near subsistence daily life drudge, and bureaucratic dependency. And one does want a share of some of the productive labour sometimes, if there is any.
It is all very well philosophizing about "social relations" as general misty processes, but in practise social relations involve people-interactions, and some people have a lot more power and privilege to impose the dominant social relations than others. This particular situation I'm in ends up cultivating in me not just a dislike for the individual rich, and naughty private capitalists that many currently love to hate, but actually a more specific anger with the state-welfarist bureaucratic system, and its bureaucratic fat cat subsidariat-salariat, immediately ruling over me. And also, alongside this, a specific loathing of crummy landlordism.
I am much pleased to hear that, despite the situation in London, apparently many cowboy buy-to-let landlords in the north east of England have been caught out by the onset of slump. They are now desperate for tenants, and the boot is now temporarily on the other foot.
Apparently the capitalist economy in China is experiencing a "fall" in its growth rate from over 10% per year to maybe 8% or less, which if you think about it , is still a big steaming capitalist growth rate! So despite what some romantic millenarians think, I don't think all capital accumulation and capitalist development is about to end just yet, in a couple of years it might widely surge again.
Maybe the big "globalised neoliberal market economy" project-thing they've been trying to shove down our throats is now really crashing and pulling all the big capitalists down with it, maybe not. But even if it is, it doesn't inevitably mean the end of all local small capitalists and freelance merchant gangs. Somali pirates hijacking oil tankers are a demonstration of that.
Gordon the moron Brown has been attempting to launch bureaucratic takeovers of more and more of the economy and the society under the panic cloak of the "crisis". As private industrial capital and finance capital weaken and retreat, then moribund state bureaucracy steps forward. More and more of economy just becomes a suspended artificial toy for the state rentier, revenue collector, and bureaucrat to play games with. So who is "predominant" now?... socialism or barbarism, or bureaucratic state corporatist misery and a life wasted on welfare?
The so-called "crisis": The final failure of "capitalism", or just another failure of "apocalypse"?
"Lower interest rates and lower taxes," they cry, "We must spend money into the economy to keep it afloat." And for the short term the government obliges with a temporary de facto pay rise for the upper working classes and lower middle classes. If necessary interest rates could be lowered all the way down to 0% -Proudhonism is here!? They are desperate to avoid deflation, a much nastier lurgy for the economy than the usual inflation. But it would make my dole money worth more, before they cut me off.
Build more railways! build more social housing! upgrade school buildings, build more trident nuclear missiles!!! Funny how social housing and nuclear megadeth go hand in hand under Keynesian measures to try and beat recession. What a mess they are dragging us into.
But what if anything might have been going on, on our side of the equation, behind the scenes to give the economy such a bad hangover? Maybe it was something to do with millions of workers starting to assert themselves in the far east and putting a partial halt to the neoliberal "race to the bottom" with wages. Labour costs in the most industrialized parts of south eastern China have climbed 50% in the last four years. The minimum industrial wage in Shanghai went up by 12% in Sep 2007, and then climbed another 14% in April 2008.
Inside China wage demands have been fuelled by both inflation and by industrial militancy. Many exported Chinese manufactured goods on which we increasingly depend are becoming more expensive. Periodic waves of riotous industrial insurrection in the garment factories of Bangladesh have forced some of the clothing and fashion corporations to stop and think a bit.
But is it just about worker revolts in the far east? What about the ongoing long-term problem of industrial profitability in the west? The workers are too expensive, and the industries and their employees need continual government subsidies in one form or another. For some years the credit card and mortgage bubble allowed some of the upper working class in the west a sort of increase in their social wage, they were encouraged to go on an atomized credit card fuelled spending spree, and this helped divert from workplace wage pressure and militancy.
This came at the expense of community and solidarity, and paradoxically the shattering of social fabric ends up encouraging social disfunctionality, pushing up health and social welfare costs further down the line. The state has to spend more money again.
The state is even forced to take responsibility itself for part of the workers' struggles and demands: putting up the minimum wage, paying working tax credit, allowing more maternity leave, implementing some workplace health regulations, etc. These are token and never enough of course. But it is interesting to note how the state must step in and take a lead in advancing workers' demands, as many workers are too atomized/ fragmented/ knackered to organize even reformist demands for themselves.
In a minority of sectors some formal industrial action still goes on; transport workers, civil service and local government staff, post office workers, education and health workers,... When formal organized strikes and industrial action takes place it isn't always clear who has actually "won", or what the outcome really was. Both sides must continue to tread carefully.
Whether it is an official union walk-out for a day or two, a slowdown, work to rule, overtime boycott, sick-in, refusal of dangerous conditions and equipment, demanding to do something more socially useful, expropriating part of the production ("strikes" aren't the only form of struggle), there is always some little industrial grumble going on somewhere. Does this explain the "crisis"?
Maybe it is the true cost of failed imperial aggressions, killing sprees, and plunders in Iraq and Afghanistan finally coming home, this is probably a significant part of the immediate economic problem.
Maybe also there is something else... We continually hear the media talk in terms of "lack of confidence" in the economy and the urgent need to "restore confidence". What is this "lack of confidence"? Is it just some piece of pop psychology, or some piece of systemic false consciousness that obscures more than it reveals? Is it just businesses and entrepreneurs just feeling a little wary of each other?
Maybe some of it has to do with several million formerly "ordinary" and "small-c conservative" people in the west, and also elsewhere, in the back of their minds undergoing a fundamental loss of belief.
Even up to ten years ago many of these people might not have been uncritical of some aspects of the political and economic systems under which they lived, and would not have regarded the capitalist economy as perfect. Nonetheless they would have seen the various problems as temporary aberrations, exceptions to the rule, and all essentially solvable, or at least absorbable, within the framework of the existing capitalist economy. They would still have believed that, despite minor problems, endless capitalist growth and development, and the endless expansion of the consumer economy, were essentially benign, and for the overall benefit of the majority, and was undoubtedly the progressive way forward.
Now millions of formerly ordinary small-c conservative people, not just your usual political activists and radical suspects, have become consciously aware in the back of their minds that GLOBAL WARMING and CLIMATE CHAOS and GLOBAL RESOURCE DEPLETION and LIMITATIONS are all for real, and are going to start seriously kicking in within their lifetime. What they now understand consciously in the back of their minds is that the much wider economic system has serious finite limitations. Large-scale capitalist growth and development and expansion can't just go on indefinitely, sooner or later they have to seriously trip up.
In itself, knowing this is not yet something one could call a social revolutionary consciousness, but it is already a significant shift in part of mass consciousness. The majority of these people are not yet rushing to join the activist scene, or join street protests or political groups, or form strike committees. For the time being they are carrying on going through the motions, if they can, of going to their jobs and doing their shopping and continuing with their "normal" daily life routines. But instead of working and consuming with fundamental belief and eager enthusiasm, they are now in so many little ways beginning to withdraw participation and effort in their corner of the political and economic systems, and starting to drag their feet.
What might be a next step is when thousands of bus stop conversations turn from the weather to what can people do in a libertarian way to mutually help each other break out of the misery.
Paul Nov 2008.
They're Calling Us "Petty-Bourgeois" Again - Paul Petard
Article on the term "petit bourgeois" from "The Whinger" number 7, Fall 2008.
If you keep calling people by an offensive name or keep using a particular word as a label in an abusive manner against them, there might well come a point when, rather than having to continually deny the term, they might actually turn around and adopt the term as a badge of pride, re-appropriate the word, and change its meaning into something positive.
One traditional term of abuse, still thrown around to this day on the marxist dominated left, is to denounce somebody or something as "petty-bourgeios". It is sort of a clever term of abuse as it implies a double insult. It's bad enough being accused by a marxist as being "bourgeois", who are regarded as the general class enemy. But the marxist can have a sneaky begrudging cowardly admiration for the big modern "bourgeois" as a supposedly dynamic and progressive force up to a point. But the "petty bourgeois" are merely small, and to be derided and looked down upon as simply "backward", "undeveloped", "reactionary",...
And it is a witch-hunt kind of accusation: If a marxist accuses you of being either "bourgeois" or "petty bourgeois" then, seeing as it is marxist ideology that claims a monopoly of defining these notions in the first place, you must be guilty. In the time of Stalin, in some cases the accusation of "petty bourgeois" could be equivalent to a death sentence. There is also a subtle element of cultural and ethnic prejudice latent in the accusation. Less industrialized, small trading, craft-based, and peasant peoples and cultures are being sneered at as inferior.
Anarchists and libertarians don't have a monopoly of suffering this abuse, but they have often come in for strong doses of it at the hands of hard marxists and hard marxisms. Anarchism is often denounced as a "petty bourgeois ideology". I recently had one quip thrown at me by a "dialectical" hegellian mystic saying that "If you scratch an anarchist on the surface you'll find a petty bourgeois underneath". To this it could well be replied that if you scratch a marxist on the surface you'll often find a romantic despotist underneath.
So how politically should we respond to the stalinist name calling that still carries on today, even in the 21st century? If we get labeled "petty bourgeois", or maybe "lumpen", or "peasant" in a derogatory way, because we insist on a socialism that comes with liberty and with developed self-conscious individuals, then should we just feel embarrassed and wriggle a bit? or worse, should we fall into the trap of posturing as harder and prolier than thou? Maybe instead of pleading not guilty, we should plead guilty and proud of it!
The late Albert Meltzer, who used to edit Black Flag, commented on the issue and pointed out that originally:
"..the term was "petit" (small) not "petty" that qualified the adjective ["Bourgeois"] -and meant precisely that these were not the same as bourgeoisie. The small burgher was one who had less privileges, economically, than the wealthy, but had some privileges by virtue of their craft."
"Anarchism, said Marx, was the movement of the artisan worker... not subject to factory hours and discipline, independently minded and difficult to threaten,..." and "The Paris Commune was above all a rising of the artisans who had been reduced to penury by Napoleon..." (Quotes from ANARCHISM: Arguments for and Against, by Albert Meltzer, AK Press ISBN 187317657-0)
When you actually read some bits from Marx himself on the subject of the petit bourgeois they come across as confused and self-contradictory. His most vulgar work, with Engels, was probably the Communist Manifesto, 1848, and in it we find:
"The small tradespeople, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants -all these sink gradually into the proletariat..."
Well many of them have been diminished and many have been pushed into various forms of wage labour over the last century and a half. But then again, globally many of them, despite encroachment, are still carrying on.
Sectors of peasants and small farmers are still a continuing necessary part of today's wider production in many parts of the world. They are still a vital necessary component in sustaining other parts of the human population as well as themselves. The vulgar Marx wants everything to conveniently reduce to a generalized bipolar two-class opposition of bourgeois versus proletarians in order to sleight-of-hand posit a unipolar universal monolithic outcome: the dictatorship of the proletariat! So he wants to get these other classes hurriedly cleaned up and conveniently swept under the carpet, but unfortunately they won't disappear.
He generalizes and romanticizes the industrial workers as the proletariat:
"...the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product."
But the industrial workers are in fact several different classes and sectors and continuing complex production develops them to be so.
"The medieval burgesses and the small peasant proprietors were the precursors of the modern bourgeoisie. In those countries which are but little developed, industrially and commercially, these two classes still vegetate side by side with the rising bourgeoisie."
The word bourgeoisie comes from the word burgess, but Marx's argument isn't good enough. Marx here is trying to place the whole blame for the development of modern aggressive predominant capital on the shoulders of the peasants and artisans and their occasional small trading!!! But medieval burgesses and small peasant proprietors are never strong enough on their own to accumulate and grow into modern bourgeoisie.
It is more the case that feudal state capitalists, who already had big central accumulations, in interaction with the big monetary accumulations of aggressive independent mercantilists on the edge of European Feudal society (such as the early Venetian merchants, who already led Venetian society BEFORE north and west Europe had even fully developed as medieval feudalist!) who were the real main precursors of the modern capitalists.
Also, although they don't develop as fast as the modern bourgeois, peasants and craftspeople DO actually slowly develop over time. They will slowly develop and change their tools and techniques and patterns of working, living and reproducing. They slowly change their social relations and community structures over periods of time. If they sometimes show "revolutionary" tendencies, it is not just to do with impending "proletarianisation", but also sometimes is to do with their periodic need to overcome social obstacles to their own radical redevelopment.
Further on, Marx has to admit new petit bourgeois are continually being reproduced, but he still tries to kill them off:
"In countries where modern civilization has become fully developed, a new class of petty bourgeois has been formed, fluctuating between proletariat and bourgeoisie and ever renewing itself as a supplementary part of bourgeois society. The individual members of tjis class, however, are being constantly hurled down into the proletariat by the action of competition, and, as modern industry develops, they even see the moment approaching when they will completely disappear...."
So one moment they are coming, the next moment they are going, but then they are being redeveloped again, but although Marx wants them to disappear they never fully go away. Meanwhile, as the organic composition of industrial capital changes, and industries become more capital and technology intensive, much industrial labour is actually shed. It is shifted down into the lumpenproletariat, or it is shifted to other new classes! Even in a place like China, although industrial capitalist development will continue to grow, there will come a point where the portion of the population directly employed in the industrial development will proportionately begin to decline.
The term "proletarian" existed long before Marx used it, and previously referred simply to the lowest class of a community, or to the common people, sometimes lowly strata of agrarian workers. Marx's narrative of the modern industrial "proletariat", despite its claims to be "scientific", is essentially a romantic and idealistic spiritual narrative. No modern industrial work is completely unskilled, and the modern skilled industrial worker in practise is developed to be precisely NOT just a "proletarian". They are developed as people, and they struggle as people.
Modern skilled industrial workers must always have a small share of control of production, if they didn't the employers wouldn't have much use in employing them. So although they might not individually own the means of production they still function as small temporary conditional controllers of capital, and as a result the majority of them can in practise bargain for a small token share of the profits of capital. In practise the majority of industrial workers always tend to earn wages that are significantly above subsistence.
The long term general tendency, visible for a large part of the 20th century, has been for the majority of industrial workers to push their wages upwards. That small money surplus is a small share of capital and with it some sectors of workers have bought various forms of small property or investment. The majority of industrial workers are never strictly "without reserves" or all reduced to absolute universal dispossession, they never fully form as the one "fundamental and universal class". Workers are not only de-skilled, but many need to be re-skilled, particularized, individualized, developed as modern people, by today's capitalist production.
The individualized freely-contractual industrial money-waged labourer, who is already human variable capital in the first place, is developed as a new form of relatively impoverished and exploited modern petit bourgeois worker. Freed up from the tied and bonded communal relations of feudalism, individualization and new petit-bourgeoisification become a necessary part of the modern worker's historic development. "Proletarianisation" might be philosophically and hypothetically a very long term "fundamental" tendency for those who like that sort of thing, but the practical and prevailing tendencies (the ones that matter in life) include a new semi-bourgeoisification.
This is both a necessary and useful development, workers can get inside their petit bourgeois individual with its particular skill and thirst for freedom, and detourne it, and push it to its radical limits in opposition to predominant capital and state. If you want to go "beyond" the petit bourgeois condition and social form you have to develop it further to its limits in order to enable it to go beyond itself.
So we ARE petit bourgeois; modern newly developed petit bourgeois workers, and we should be proud of it. Now as big-beard Bakunin put it: Freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice. So we need to fight exploitation by the capitalist and the landlord, and take back the land and productive resources. But as big-beard also put it: Socialism without Freedom is slavery and brutality. So rather than choosing the path of a grumpy repressive socialism that fears the developed individual and seeks to suppress it, we should choose the path of a sophisticated libertarian socialism, capable of accommodating and allowing space for skilled and self-conscious developed individuals as part of free communities.
Review of "Anarchy in Action" by Colin Ward - Paul Petard
This review of the latest edition of Colin Ward's "Anarchy in Action" apeared in The Whinger number 7, Fall 2008.
WARD IN ACTION
Review: Anarchy In Action, Colin Ward, Freedom Press (84b Whitechapel High St, London, E1 7QX, U.K.) New Edition 2008, ISBN 978-0-900384-20-2
Although it is an old anarchist favourite read by thousands, and has been an important influence to many anarcho-activists from the 70s onwards, I have never actually read Colin Ward's "Anarchy In Action" before. So I am reading and reviewing this new 2008 edition, conscious of the world as it is today, without being influenced by previous memories of having read it in the 70s or 80s. As a result I can discover for the first time how relevant Colin Ward's message might still be to our world right now.
Colin Ward argues that there are two basic historical approaches that lead to Anarchism as a conscious set of political ideas: "Anarchism as a political and social ideology has two separate origins. It can be seen as an ultimate derivative of liberalism or as a final end for socialism".
I think it would be fair to say Colin Ward himself comes a bit more from the "liberal" approach to anarchism. He was for many years involved with Freedom Press and the anarchist paper Freedom, which was often dismissed in the past by the more militant and class-struggle orientated Black Flag as "liberal".
I remember, particularly in the 1980s, the cold war rivalry that sometimes went on between Freedom and Black Flag. But the two claimed approaches to Anarchism, "liberalism" and "socialism", are in fact closely related. Modern ideas of socialism were very much a product of the evolving contradictions and developments of classical liberal ideas and the conditions that went with them. So we shouldn't just dismiss what Colin Ward has to say in his book.
Ward makes clear that "Anarchy In Action" is not about strategies for revolution and it is not about speculation on the way a future anarchist society would function. It concerns itself more with continual social struggles for self-organisation by ordinary people that sort of go on all the time. The book, as he puts it, "is simply an extended, updating footnote to Kropotkin's book Mutual Aid".
The core argument of "Anarchy In Action" is that an anarchist society, a society which organizes itself without authority is always in fact already in existence, although half hidden and buried under the weight of state and bureaucracy and capital. The book attempts in a readable way to bridge the gap between present realities and anarchist aspirations.
Ward uses a wide-ranging analysis drawing on many sources and examples. With chapters on a range of subject areas including education, urban planning, welfare, housing, the workplace, the family, and the environment, he demonstrates that the roots of anarchist practise lie very much in the way that people have always tended to organize themselves when left alone to do so. Ward talks from a 70s perspective, there is a significant emphasis as one might expect, on sociology, and he talks primarily but not exclusively from a british perspective. He wrote the book very much in the context of the wave of radical ferment and revolutionary optimism that followed on from the late 60s. The events of 1968, the general strike and student uprising in France, the Prague Spring, protests, riots and revolts in Mexico City, Rome, London, U.S. cities, and many other places all being an inspiration.
Looking back from today's perspective, it seems like Ward was almost still writing in an age of "innocence". His subsequent introduction to the book's second edition, 1982, only brings us up to the early days of the Thatcher regime.
Colin Ward talks a significant amount about workers' self-organisation, workers' control, and sometimes about class struggle. He touches briefly on some of the great workers' struggles in history. But he is not particularly concerned with class stereotypes and reductionist class positions, and he doesn't walk around wearing the ideological label of "class-struggle anarchist".
The first chapter, "Anarchy and State", gives a straightforward restatement of the classical anarchist criticism of government and the state, and then it outlines the historic division between anarchism and marxism. Marx, as Bakunin pointed out, wanted to achieve socialism through centralization and a despotic provisional government , with the state as sole owner of land and capital. Bakunin argued instead for the reconstruction of society from below upwards, by the free federation of all kinds of workers' associations liberated from the state.
Ward describes how by 1918 in Britain the Labour Party had already committed itself to a "socialism" based on the unlimited increase of the state's power in the form of the giant managerially-controlled public corporation. Elsewhere, when state socialism achieved power it created monopoly state capitalism with a veneer of social welfare.
Ward argues that the criticism of the state made by the 19th century anarchists increased in validity in the 20th century, the century of total war and the total state. Today, in the 21st century, we see state corporations openly operating hand in hand with private multinational corporations, imposed "privatization" and state power go together.
In opposition to the state Ward favours the approach of Gustave Landauer who said, "The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a... certain relationship between human beings... we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently."
I would argue that Landauer's approach does have some basis in social reality, but at the same time it is a bit weak. Even when masses of workers and people do make conscious attempts to contract other relationships and behave differently, it doesn't necessarily mean they have the strength to successfully break out, or that the state will fully wither away and just disappear as a result. The entrenched state also involves bureaucratic and despotic elites with stored up surplus power. There is no easy answer to this. In practise, squadism and instant-insurrectionism don't succeed in immediately ending the state either. The struggle is currently stuck in an ongoing "struggle of many struggles". As Landauer admits, there is no final struggle, only a series of partisan struggles on a variety of fronts.
War is the health of the state, and eventually the state will to find its perfect expression in total war. The weakening of the state and the strengthening of different modes of human behaviour is now essential argues Ward, but where do we begin? Obviously we don't begin by joining the state, or joining political parties. Instead, he argues, we have to build networks instead of pyramids.
The classical anarchist thinkers envisaged the whole social organisation woven from an extended network of individuals and groups, such as the commune or council as the territorial nucleus, and the syndicate or workers' council as the industrial unit. These units would federate as a fluid network of autonomous groups.
The second chapter puts forward the theory of "Spontaneous Order", and to illustrate he draws on real historic experiences of social revolutionary situations and the examples of working-class self organization they temporarily threw up, before a new hierarchical order had managed to impose itself in place of the previous one.
Ward describes the libertarian aspects involved in the uprising in Hungary in 1956, during the Prague spring 1968, and in part of the workers movement in Poland in 1980. Most importantly he returns to the Spanish revolution of 1936, and in particular he quotes the example of the village of Membrilla where the land was expropriated and the village collectivized by its own people; "Food, clothing, and tools were distributed equitably to the whole population... The necessities of life were distributed freely..." Here self-organisation breaks out, combined with a basic libertarian socialist agenda addressing the material needs of the community.
I think it is often the case that the strength of the spontaneous order in such examples will significantly depend on how self-ordered the community was beforehand while still struggling under the shadow of the authorities, the landlords, and capitalists. In the 1930s in many agrarian communities in Spain the domination of capital and state, although repressive, was still "formal" and "stand-off" and somewhat external. Internally the community itself was still likely to have a strong autonomous social fabric, together with a strong sense of solidarity, both of which it depended on for survival. When the state and bosses suddenly buzzed off, the vacuum could be filled with a flowering of the spontaneous order, self-organisation, and solidarity that was already there contained under repression.
A problem with a theory of spontaneous order today is that many communities, particularly in the developed world, are so penetrated by the state, and so subsumed and commodified under the predominant capitalist economy, that the social fabric of the community is shattered, fragmented, and broken up. In these circumstances, in a freak situation, if the authorities suddenly buzz off for a while, there is a danger of outbreaks of anti-social violence, spontaneous bullying and abuse, gang war, sectarianism, and so on. But nonetheless mutual aid will also emerge, and it will start to fight back.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 use a variety on non-anarchist sources, including material on some African tribal societies, to set out three key principles of anarchist organization: leaderless groups; diversity rather than unity; and federalist organizations without central authority. In reply to those who might say anarchism can only work for small isolated simple communities, Colin Ward is quite right to point out in chapter 4, "Harmony Through Complexity", that "Anarchy is a function, not of society's simplicity and lack of social organization, but of its complexity and multiplicity of social organizations."
From a hard "socialist" anarchist point of view, the "dodgy" bits in Anarchy In Action are perhaps to be found lurking somewhere in the pages of chapter 7 on housing, and also maybe later in chapter 12 about welfare. On housing, Ward starts by celebrating the big history of autonomous urban squatter settlements surrounding many big cities across the world. In the U.K. he looks at the big squatting movement in disused army camps in the 1940s, the radical revival of squatting in the 60s and 70s, and also mentions the cooperative housing movement. But he falls into an over-enthusiasm for private housing and the owner-occupier. This, together with his slagging-off of public housing, and his stereotyping of council tenants, is bound to provoke a few grumbles, particularly with today's crisis in both public and ordinary private housing.
In the chapter on welfare Ward points out that "there is an essential paradox in the fact that the state whose symbols are the policeman, the jailer, and the soldier, should have become the... organiser of social welfare." And he describes the failure of the big traditional Victorian welfare institutions, like the workhouse, the mental asylum, the orphanage, the care home, the old style hospitals, etc.
Meanwhile it is symptomatic of the 1970s flavour of the book that he optimistically sees claimants unions as an anarchic way forward in the community's struggle to transform the welfare state into a genuine welfare society. Today there are not many claimants unions, despite unemployment and benefit-dependency being far higher than in 1973. Many unemployed and claimants today are too weakened, fragmented, and demoralized to be able to commit time, energy, and enthusiasm to help running unemployed groups and claimants unions.
Sometimes the situation is not so much that we are weak because we are disorganized, but that we are disorganized because we are weak. Part of their role, like benefits advice and legal support has been hijacked by the growth in state welfare agencies anyway. In the introduction to the second edition Ward admits some of the issues he was raising were "unfashionable" and the original arguments had become "complicated" by the emergence of mass unemployment.
When we read the chapter on work and the demand for workers' control, we are struck by how the period in which Colin Ward was writing was such a different world from today. Then life for many in an industrial country like the U.K. was still dominated by mass centralized fordist production and manufacturing, which directly employed many millions. Writing later at the beginning of the eighties, with industries shutting down, unemployment rocketing, and power shifting to finance and the city, he was moved to comment, "This is the chapter which is most in need of bringing up to date."
It is not just that most of the factories have gone to the other side of the world, it is also that many of them have changed shape and been restructured. Much production has been dispersed, heavily automated, and is globally coordinated "just in time" by information technology.
Ward looks at the idea of being self-employed, being your own person, and setting up your own trade. This was quite a popular ambition of many workers in the seventies, and is still an inspiration for many today. But now we see technical "self-employment" being imposed on many by the economy and the state as a way of cutting employers' admin costs, or of massaging the unemployment figures. Many are now pushed to survive by "setting up trade" in the illegal economy, selling dodgy goods, or dealing in drugs! Is this what is meant by a "self-employed society"?
Ward shows how over the years in industry the idea of workers' control, whether in the form of guild socialism, cooperativism, syndicalism , workers councils or assemblies, has always tended to resurface. He also shows how there has always been a battle to co-opt parts of these ideas by the employers in the forms of "workers' participation", "joint management", "works councils", and so on. Today many "professional" workers are expected to take responsible control of their own work and self-manage their own exploitation, and be good self-motivated "team workers". There have always been debates around the notion of "workers' control"; control by which workers? of what production? and for the workers in the workplace alone or the wider community?
But then what do such questions mean in the harsh face of real history? What do demands and debates about workers' control of the mines mean, for example, if Thatcher and Co. have no hang-ups about shutting down the whole mining industry including profitable mines, and then smash up the miners' communities in the process? How do we keep the idea of "workers' control" meaningfully alive when only a smaller proportion of the population is involved in any meaningful productive work in the first place?
In my opinion, in the future, until there is super-abundance of all needs and resources, there will still be a transitional need part of the time for some social rationing involving some kind of social exchange with some self-managed "necessary" labour, such as half a day a week or whatever. Puritan ultra-leftists might not like this, it isn't perfect total communism, but then nothing ever is.
The closing chapter, "Anarchy and a Plausible Future", raises questions, already being asked at the end of the 60s, about environmental and resource limitations on the growth of the existing economic system eventually forcing dramatic change. But he points out: "Necessity may reduce the rate of resource-consumption but the powerful and privileged will hang on to their share... Power and privilege have never been known to abdicate. This is why anarchism is bound to be a call to revolution. But what kind of revolution?"
Ward returns to the Kropotkinite vision of "industry decentralized, and the competition for markets replaced by local production and consumption while people themselves alternate brain work and manual work." Then, in an odd but accidentally relevant political clanger (page 169), he suggests this was already being realized, at the time he was writing his book, in a political climate different to anarchism, in China! -Well not today it isn't!! If you wanted to sum up many of the traumatic social developments, industrial and economic restructuring, and neoliberal globalising that has affected us all in the last 30 years in one symbolic word, then it might well be; "China".
Colin Ward doesn't see anarchism developing in the context of immediate total social unanimity, but in the context of pluralist development; "So we don't have to worry about the boredom of utopia: we shan't get there." Meanwhile in the present he reminds us: "There are vast areas of capitalist societies which are not governed by capitalist principles,... you might even say that the only thing that makes life live-able in the capitalist world is the unacknowledged non-capitalist element within it,..."
As a book, "Anarchy In Action" makes a good "propaganda" tool because in a clear coherent lucid way it begins by telling people what they already know. The book illustrates the arguments for anarchism, not just from theories, but from actual examples of tendencies which already exist in peoples' lives and communities. "Anarchy In Action" is clearly a product of its time and place, the U.K. in the 1970s (my favourite decade), but the basic message of many of the chapters stands the test of time. It remains a good radical social-libertarian propaganda book, and it still beats some contemporary "anarcho-introduction" books. It will continue to have an influence, -even for people under 40!
Colin Ward is still very much alive and kicking today, and having only just read what he was thinking in the 1970s it leaves me itching to know what he thinks NOW, about de-industrialisation, , the illegal economy, the internet, carboot sales, ASBOs, post-modernism, mobile phones, freecycle, credit boom, credit crunch, the minimum wage, food riots, peak oil, global warming,... and all manner of subjects.... Paul, Summer 2008.