Are anarchists advocates of federalism or confederalism?

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Jul 31 2013 16:26
Are anarchists advocates of federalism or confederalism?

With the exception of Murray Bookchin, everything I've read by anarchists uses the word "federalism". Murray Bookchin uses the word "confederalism." I always thought these were just synonyms for each other and Murray was just being extra. But I looked it up and it turns out there's a significant difference.

By the definitions below, which better represents the method of organization used by anarchists?

I think maybe confederalism is the more accurate term. But then why do anarchists say "federalism" instead of "confederalism"? Is it just because we're uninformed about the proper definitions? Or is it because we don't want to scare people away with a six syllable word they've never heard of?

Or is it truly the case that "federalism" is the more accurate term for anarchists?

Or maybe anarchist theory is flexible enough that both confederation and federation are acceptable forms of anarchist organization?

(I got these definitions online, so they assume the existence of government and states... just use your imagination to edit that out and replace with more appropriate anarchist terms. For example, instead of sovereignty "is held by the member states", think sovereignty "is held by member regions." And instead of government, think council of delegates.)

[url]http://www.diffen.com/difference/Confederation_vs_Federation [/url]

Quote:
Sovereignty:
Confederation
Held by the member states. In a Confederation, the federal government is accountable to the member states, who are the ultimate authority.

Sovereignty:
Federation
Held by the federal government. In a Federation, the federal government will hold the ultimate authority and the member states will be subordinate to it.

Central Authority:
Confederation
The central authority of a confederation is usually a weak body appointed by the member states.

Central Authority:
Federation
The central authority of a federation is a federal government which governs the member states.

Powers of the Central Authority:
Confederation
Usually will focus on joint foreign policy and defense matters, but rarely will have the power to do much more than that.

Powers of the Central Authority:
Federation
Determined by the constitution of the federation, but will generally have rights to exercise control over the diplomatic, military, economic, and legal spheres of the member states.

Also from the same source:

Quote:
By definition the difference between a confederation and a federation is that the membership of the member states in a confederation is voluntary, while the membership in a federation is not.

Sometimes confederation is erroneously used in the place of federation. Some nations which started out as confederations retained the word in their titles after officially becoming federations, such as Switzerland. The United States of America was at first a confederation before becoming a federation with the ratification of the current US constitution in 1789.

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Jul 31 2013 16:29

This one's for you, Agent of the Fifth International.

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Jul 31 2013 21:45

I don't know, I think the way we (anarchists) use 'federalism' is entirely different from definitions provided by POL 2100 American Government course in college. So you end up with a definition that more so applies to the structure of nation-states rather than movement organisations. I don't think you could just remove the more statist terms and replace them with anarchist ones.

I think its important to just understand what we mean when using these terms, and if either 'federalism' or confederalism' has been inappropriately used, then we anarchists have been using words that don't match our theory. Or, we redefine those words and then continue to use them.smile

wikipedia wrote:
A federation is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central (federal) government

This wiki definition is probably close as well. Notice the use of the word "partially" as opposed to the either-or options we have in the quotes you put up. Either the member states have "ultimate power" or the central government has "ultimate power"; I wouldn't really have either.

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Aug 1 2013 16:49

Con – form of com (page 235)
Com – with, together, jointly, altogether (page 224)

(From The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1990)

As I understand it a confederation is simply a gathering of federations (autonomous units). This is how it is used by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) the UK’s leading business organisation which speaks for approximately 240,000 businesses.

Historically it was used by the Confederate States of America (CSA) to show they were a voluntary union (unlike the USA) from which they argued they were fighting for the right to withdraw. I understand some American southerners do not refer to the American Civil War but call it the War of Succession.

So while the context is very different from the examples above, an anarchist could argue for federations unified into a confederation.

Ablokeimet
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Aug 2 2013 12:58

What Anarchists call a federation is what academics in the area call confederation. I like to describe the Anarchist position as consistent federalism. Australia, Canada and the USA are federations, in which the constituent parts come together, creating a central authority but having the constituent parts retaining autonomy in defined areas. The Australian Constitution gives the Commonwealth very few powers, but the Commonwealth has nevertheless gained a lot of authority over the States because it has come to control most of the taxation revenue.

For Statists, the distinction between federation and confederation is very important, because out of the two, they favour federation. It is about a number of centralised powers coming together to form a larger central power, but with limits to its authority over the constituent centralised powers.

For Anarchists, the situation is different. For us, federalism is a principle of organisation, a way in which social co-operation becomes an extension of human freedom rather than a fetter on it. Therefore, we are consistent in its application and insist on autonomy all along the line.

Finally, I'm not happy with the definitions that the link above proposes. There is nothing in its description of a federation that would separate it from a unitary State like France or Indonesia. In reality, a Statist federation is an intermediate form between a confederation and a unitary State, but you wouldn't know it from the definitions reproduced above.

P.S. Can anyone guess what the initials CNT stand for?

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Aug 2 2013 18:18

A federation of unions of construction workers and a federation of unions of hospital workers united under a common political banner would be a confederation of workers. How anarcho-syndicalists do it is horizontally and politically.

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Aug 2 2013 19:17

Plasmatelly #6

Agreed

Abolokeimet #5

‘What Anarchists call a federation is what academics in the area call confederation.’

I’m not an academic so I’ll not familiar with this information though how it links to the rest of your post is not clear to me.

‘I like to describe the Anarchist position as consistent federalism.’

Again I’m not clear; as you never mention this term again, what I should understand by this information?

‘For Statists, the distinction between federation and confederation is very important, because out of the two, they favour federation. It is about a number of centralised powers coming together to form a larger central power, but with limits to its authority over the constituent centralised powers.’

You do not explain why this ‘is very important’, as you have not explained how ‘statists’ define ‘confederations’ and why it is so obnoxious to them.

‘For Anarchists, the situation is different. For us, federalism is a principle of organisation, a way in which social co-operation becomes an extension of human freedom rather than a fetter on it. Therefore, we are consistent in its application and insist on autonomy all along the line’

Well this is such a broad philosophical ‘definition’ of federalism that I cannot fault it though I suspect every libertarian conservative/anarchist capitalist would cheer it to the rafters.

‘Finally, I'm not happy with the definitions that the link above proposes.’

I obviously can only speak to my own post, therefore assuming that this is post that you take exception to, I would reply I was trying to make a simple point regarding the possible meaning of the words. Meanings of words are relative to the context in which there are used - I was not attempting to encompass all possible variations, which I think is ‘mission impossible’.

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Aug 2 2013 21:16

Ok, after reading each post I think I'm getting it now. I'll keep using the word federation, explaining when necessary that anarchists define it differently than statists. Thanks everyone!

Agent of the Fifth International wrote:
This wiki definition is probably close as well. Notice the use of the word "partially" as opposed to the either-or options we have in the quotes you put up. Either the member states have "ultimate power" or the central government has "ultimate power"; I wouldn't really have either.

I agree with this.

Abolokeimet wrote:
P.S. Can anyone guess what the initials CNT stand for?

lol, i was able to guess Nacional and Trabajo but couldn't figure out Confederacion without looking it up, despite the topic of this thread.

Auld-bod wrote:
‘Finally, I'm not happy with the definitions that the link above proposes.’

I obviously can only speak to my own post, therefore assuming that this is post that you take exception to

pretty sure it was the definition from the link i posted. you didn't put any links in your post.

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Aug 3 2013 05:53

Ultraviolet #8

‘pretty sure it was the definition from the link i posted. you didn't put any links in your post.’

Oops, sorry! Get a bit confused on the web when links and posts are mentioned and tend to assume others do as well. confused

Ablokeimet
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Aug 3 2013 07:18
Auld-bod wrote:
Abolokeimet #5

‘What Anarchists call a federation is what academics in the area call confederation.’

I’m not an academic so I’ll not familiar with this information though how it links to the rest of your post is not clear to me.

It was at university (decades ago) that I encountered the distinction being made by political scientists. The link to the rest of my post should be clear, as the way I describe the Anarchist approach to federalism is obviously closer to the academic definition (linked in Ultraviolet's post) of confederalism than to the definition of federalism there.

Auld-bod wrote:
‘I like to describe the Anarchist position as consistent federalism.’

Again I’m not clear; as you never mention this term again, what I should understand by this information?

Although I don't use the term again, I demonstrate it further on. Federalism as a consistent principle of organisation results in what academics would call confederation.

Auld-bod wrote:
‘For Statists, the distinction between federation and confederation is very important, because out of the two, they favour federation. It is about a number of centralised powers coming together to form a larger central power, but with limits to its authority over the constituent centralised powers.’

You do not explain why this ‘is very important’, as you have not explained how ‘statists’ define ‘confederations’ and why it is so obnoxious to them.

Sorry if the answer wasn't obvious, but Statists believe in central authority. For them, a "federation" is justified is there is a reason for allowing certain defined bodies, themselves centralised, a degree of autonomy from a higher body. It is an exception from their ideal organisational form, justified by specific circumstances. Consistent federalism, as a form of political organisation, is incomprehensible to them. The only example of capitalist confederalism of which I am aware is the Confederation of British Industry. They have adopted this mode of organisation so that the autonomy of individual firms (themselves very centralised bodies) is not compromised.

Auld-bod wrote:
‘For Anarchists, the situation is different. For us, federalism is a principle of organisation, a way in which social co-operation becomes an extension of human freedom rather than a fetter on it. Therefore, we are consistent in its application and insist on autonomy all along the line’

Well this is such a broad philosophical ‘definition’ of federalism that I cannot fault it though I suspect every libertarian conservative/anarchist capitalist would cheer it to the rafters.

Any "libertarian conservative/anarchist capitalist" who cheers my definition on hasn't read it properly. These people in theory are totally opposed to social co-operation, though in practice they are happy to let others co-operate with them - as long as they are free to compete with the people co-operating with them. Further, their idea of autonomy stops at the level of the firm. A corporation, even one as big as General Electric, is something they are happy to see run as the modern equivalent of Orwell's Oceania.

Auld-bod wrote:
‘Finally, I'm not happy with the definitions that the link above proposes.’

I obviously can only speak to my own post, therefore assuming that this is post that you take exception to, I would reply I was trying to make a simple point regarding the possible meaning of the words. Meanings of words are relative to the context in which there are used - I was not attempting to encompass all possible variations, which I think is ‘mission impossible’.

Ultraviolet has sorted this one out. I hope Auld-bod gets out of the right side of bed tomorrow morning.

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Aug 3 2013 08:20

Ablokeimet #10

Thanks Ablokeimet that’s much clearer to me. And I am feeling better today - yesterday got caught out in a thunderstorm and got completely drookit.

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Aug 3 2013 14:53

further clarification from ablokeimet. when discussing federalism with non-anarchists, i'll be sure to mention the anarchist definition of federalism more closely approximates the mainstream definition of confederalism. thanks red n black star

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Aug 3 2013 21:34

The use of the title ‘confederation’ has some history in British trade unionism. I was trying to remember where I used to hear it used – usually referred to as the ‘Con-Fed’. I had some pals active in the yards on Clydeside and they talk about it. It stood for the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions.

Found this reference to Hansard (the minutes of the House of Commons):

Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions
HC Deb 18 July 1977 vol 935 cc1126-71126

6. Mr. Mike Thomas asked the Secretary of State for Industry when he last met representatives of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions.

Mr. Varley I met representatives of the CSEU on 1st July.

Blab, blab, blab.

Though only a shadow today it limps on. From the clydebanklive web page dated May 18th 2012:

‘A representative of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions said the Scottish Government had given no information about how it could protect shipbuilding from the effects of leaving the UK. Kenny Jordan said: “We need to hear what they are going to do to replace these contracts. I don’t think they have thought about it at all.”
Should Scots consider Clyde shipbuilding before voting on independence?’

The old anarchist shop steward’s convener at John Brown’s yard would spin in his grave if he could read that bollocks.

Thomas Luxemburg
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Aug 3 2013 22:05

My question is how a libertarian communist society based on the principles of free association keep some level of cohesion? I am highly sympathetic to anarchism, but I am not completely sold that a confederation or federation of democratically controlled workplaces and political units could provide the level of benefits that the current State can. How is it ensured that a new society can be developed if there is no "force" to keep it intact?

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Aug 4 2013 01:24
Thomas Luxemburg wrote:
How is it ensured that a new society can be developed if there is no "force" to keep it intact?

It's a reasonable question and one to which Anarchists need to have an answer. Fortunately, the answer is implicit in mainstream Anarchist thought, even if not always made explicit.

What will hold the new society together is solidarity. And that solidarity won't come out of nowhere, but will be forged in the crucible of the class struggle that produces the Revolution. This is because the working class will need to develop an iron solidarity in the face of capitalist attacks in order to defeat the capitalist class and its State. In the aftermath of the Revolution, the working class in power will transform the economy so that workers' interests are no longer pitted against each other and that there are therefore no material disincentives for solidarity.

Social solidarity has held together many pre-class communist societies and there is no reason to assume it won't in post-class communism. The crucial step is the creation of this solidarity in the first place, but the Revolution will look after that. This is also, it turns out, a completely separate argument for revolution as against reform. If, by some amazing stroke of luck, a Great Leader was elected at the head of a Socialist Party government and legislated capitalism away, we wouldn't have the requisite level of working class solidarity to make communism work. We would still need to re-make human nature through some means of burning out all the reactionary ideology that infests wide areas of the working class today.

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Aug 4 2013 16:31
Thomas Luxemburg wrote:
My question is how a libertarian communist society based on the principles of free association keep some level of cohesion? I am highly sympathetic to anarchism, but I am not completely sold that a confederation or federation of democratically controlled workplaces and political units could provide the level of benefits that the current State can. How is it ensured that a new society can be developed if there is no "force" to keep it intact?

Ablokeimet is right that solidarity would provide "cohesion" in a future communist society, but I would like to point out that it is not because capitalist society is developed or free that it needs some kind of "cohesion", but because people are not free and oppressed that it needs the force and "cohesion" to keep it intact. Your question flips things upside down.

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Aug 4 2013 16:36

besides solidarity, another thing that will keep us together is interdependency. at a small geographic scale, it's impossible to have anything other than a bare subsistence standard of living. the larger the geographic scale, the greater the benefit. our wellbeing is enhanced through cooperation and mutual aid.

also, it's not essential that every geographic region be federated. i mean, this is the ideal. but if certain regions want to de-federate, that is their right and it is respected.

however, say a region has defederated but is violating the rights of its inhabitants, regions still in the federation may decide to intervene. that intervention can take various forms, up to and including some use of force, but not necessarily - there are other ways. for example, if a region has some sort of gender or racial apartheid thing going on.