2 The Road to Utopia

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 22, 2010

We can hardly declare ourselves unconditionally for unbridled freedom and then go on to lay down blueprints for the future. We are not clairvoyants to be able to predict the social and economic structure of a free society. It is not possible to lay down rules as to how affairs should be managed when the management of mankind itself is abolished. But at the same time, the rebel in this society cannot be patient enough to wait for an expression of spontaneity as if for the Messiah. He has to choose a programme of action and the road to Utopia. There may be more than one way, and we may need to shift our course, but the knowledge of where we want to get enables us to pursue a consistent course at the moment.

If our aim is the abolition of the State, it does not make good sense to think of forming a new state when the capitalist state is abolished, still less to establish a dictatorship. This, of course, was a fallacy of Lenin's (xi), whose programme of action was geared up to the circumstances of the First World War (and not to Utopia), and whose theoretical conclusions were bound up with the conquest of power by his party. He sought to justify this in socialistic terms. The "soviets", workers' and soldiers' councils, and the local communities of peasants, were already in control when the Bolsheviks (xii) returned to Russia. He retained the name, but in practice applied it so loosely that today the term "soviet" is little more than a synonym for the Russian Empire.

Lenin advocated the "withering-away of the state", in Marxist traditional language, though to an extent which surprised contemporary Marxists in the social-democratic movement (who felt he was "trying to steal Bakunin's thunder"). He pursued an entirely different road to one which would lead to the end of government. He strengthened the repressive force of government and abolished only those organs of the state which existed exclusively to enforce the competitive system. By doing this he was ultimately working to the same goal that other Marxist social-democrats had in mind, and may have been wiser in his generation than they. German Marxism would have led to the same reality as Russian Bolshevism, perhaps in a less brutal fashion, perhaps not. Both diverged from the class struggle. They aimed at re-imposing the rule of one superior section of the community upon another, and replacing party rule for the old rule. The party in Russia became a bureaucracy and the bureaucracy became a new ruling-class. In the sense that it works for wages and not for profit, it is not a capitalist class, but it is a higher social class and could hardly be called a productive one.

Many of those who opt out of the class struggle, or frankly change sides, do so because they see only too clearly the grimness of state communism, in which the State is all and the community nothing. But the fact that it suits Russian and Chinese imperialism to claim that the interests of their respective governments are parallel with those of the international class struggle, does not make them so, any more than the claims of the American and British governments to represent democracy need be regarded seriously. Without the idea of what the struggle is about, without the vision of Utopia, the struggle is lost.

Few can do without the vision of Utopia. It is true the vision varies. It was a German militarist who felt that universal peace was "a dream, and not even a good dream", and the militaristic Utopia was for him typified by Valhalla. The authoritarian pictures his ideal society as one in which he has only to breathe a command, and the world jumps to its feet to obey. Unfortunately, this is not entirely a dream. It is true that, so far as their personal ambitions are concerned, most authoritarians recognise it as a fantasy. But though diey may never hope to achieve complete authority themselves, they work towards an authoritarian ideal. In this pursuit they may support tougher prison sentences or the reform of prisons (the second is only the more tolerant version of the first). They may advocate corporal punishment or the death penalty, or according to their political opinions, support nationalisation of industry or strong central government. All are aspects of authoritarianism falling short of the complete state-fantasy. Naturally, according to more or less liberal opinions, the authoritarian may differ on these concepts, so that those who want one conclusion do not necessarily want the other.

Some professional people, who predominate as Labour MPs, see their Utopia as the welfare state; a glorified housing committee run by experts and modified by advice bureaux, with themselves as wise and kindly fathers of the people. Meanwhile they settle for reforms in this direction, some of which may be good, but they all lead to Big Brother. Oh the other hand -- very much on the other hand -- there are those who see the nation reformed in the manner of Craft's Dog Show, as a racial Utopia; meanwhile they settle for nagging immigrants about their degree of sun-tan. Other authoritarians may have the vision of that Czar who drilled his soldiers to perfection and then had but one complaint: they still breathed.

Those who reject authoritarianism will require nobody's permission to breathe. The libertarian owes no duties or allegiance; is not grateful for permission to reside anywhere on his own planet and denies the right of any one to screen off bits of it for their own use or rule.

The libertarian rejection of all authority may amuse or terrify the shepherd, according to the degree of self-confidence or the militancy with which it is put forward: it invariably provokes consternation among the sheep. What would life be like without the shepherd? they bleat, their dismay heightened even more by the fact that they hate and detest the shepherd, whom they know ultimately intends to slaughter them. But the startling supposition that they could exist without him implies that generations of mutton-yielding were in vain.

Objections to a free society, one without repressive institutions, come even from those who pay lip-service to the idea that the state itself is an evil, even if thought of as a necessary one. They have similar underlying assumptions, the most frequent of which is that there is no alternative to coercion of one sort or another, and that all social problems must be solved by compulsion -- either legal sanctions or economic pressures. "Who will do the dirty work?" they demand of the anarchist, implying that either some must be starved in order to do what they regard as uncongenial; or else that the government must force people to do it (on the lines of war-time direction into the mines, or military conscription). Although this argument is intended to demonstrate the alleged impossibility of freedom, it is equally a criticism of any form of general prosperity. It is why outspoken Tories (those with safe electoral seats in areas where support for unemployment as a policy will not be unpopular) demand a margin of worklessness. Society finds it difficult to answer the question as to who will do uncongenial jobs if there is neither industrial conscription nor the spur of starvation. At present, the democratic state postpones the problem by a shuffling around of populations causing the less popular work to be done by the more recently arrived people.

Another assumption is that there is no logical alternative to government but lunacy, and this is even held when, as has not infrequently been the case, the government is in the hands of raging lunatics anyway. It is believed that society would, in the absence of government, allow any maniac to dominate and kill, or persuade people to do so to each other, and all that prevents this is the restraining hand of an institutionalised legal system. But to see that this is a fallacy, one need only read the crime news. It is the legal system itself which allows maniacs to dominate and kill, collectively or individually, as part of command-and-obey, and which allows them to get into positions where they can either act in defiance of other people's law or alternatively where they can fashion the law for themselves.

When an anarchist position is placed before those who have never previously questioned authority as such, they show the fear of the modern jungle which normally they sublimate. Like the fictional pygmy people of the forest, they look to Tarzan to protect them from the terrors of the jungle, however much they may normally criticise their governmental Tarzan. Take away Boss-Tarzan and they see themselves isolated in the jungle. They do not comprehend that there can be a jungle pruned, cultivated, civilised; a situation in which Tarzan is unnecessary for their protection, and in which it becomes clear he is only there to exploit their labour.

"Thieves and maniacs would beset us!" cry the supporters of government. "Our wives would be raped, our property taken, we would be murdered!" But all that happens to them in the jungle, despite Tarzan, often through his connivance, and sometimes directly by him. It does not happen in the cultivated garden of which they have no experience. In the jungle in which we live, murder is recognised as such only by virtue of whether it has been legalised or not, and the primary motive of the ambitious is self-aggrandisement at the cost of others. When the ambitious have power, they preach self-sacrifice by others. (Be "restrained", be patriotic, have the "national" interest at heart). Of those who sacrifice, it can only be said they lose out in this system. For the only means of independence in the jungle is by the possession of property, by cornering a portion of the community and using it for personal ransom. Proudhon (xiii) was not in the least guilty of a contradiction, as some pedants think, when he said that property was theft but that it was also liberty. It is like a gun, useful in the jungle and the only means of preserving independence within it, but nevertheless anti-social the moment a society escapes from the jungle.

The free society cannot know anything of special property rights any more than it can of privilege, hereditary or acquired, for special liberties for some imply less for others, and competition for betterment at the expense of others can only be settled by force. The necessity for the system of ownership of property at present is in order to corner the market in necessities and to hold the community to ransom. The community, being the greater, will not be held to ransom unless some repressive machinery (force or persuasion) makes it do so.

By co-operative production the natural wealth of the world can be available to all. This would only be a mixed blessing if government still existed. The inevitable tendency of government is to create special privileges for itself and so re-establish inequities. Where would the delights of public life be without the serfs marching past to salute; or the flag-bedecked limousines, or the dignified jaunts at the public expense? The government, being itself by nature a privileged class, must introduce -- if these ever went -- the system of rewards and incentives that persuade others of the necessity and the joys of obedience. This is exactly what has happened in Russia, but is paralleled in the Western countries, too. The measure of independence is that one does not need others to grant one rewards or allow one incentives. These are given to inferiors. What small shopkeeper today, for instance -- without some ingenious tax fiddle, at least -- would gravely allow himself an overtime bonus of a pound a week, to be deducted from his own profit? It would be equally absurd for the worker if he controlled his own factory.

Free co-operation naturally leads to decentralisation, and possibly the ending of a lot of large-scale production which is the joy and pride of monopoly, whether capitalistic state or even co-operative. The craftsman nourishes in a free society, when the building of pyramids or vast office blocks falls into disuse.

Workers' control is a question of economic freedom. It has nothing in itself to do with morality or ethics, which are quite different problems. The old conservative criticism, that men must be angels before they will work together like men, is echoed in the plea of the Christian Socialist for moral perfection before Utopia is possible. Here is Charles Kingsley's address to the Chartists:

"You have more friends than you think for . .. you may disbelieve them, insult them -- you cannot stop them working for you, beseeching you as you love yourselves, to turn back from the precipice of riot, which ends in the gulf of universal distrust, agitation, stagnation, starvation ... will the Charter make you free? Will it free you from slavery to ten-pound bribes? Slavery to beer and gin? Slavery to every spouter .. . ? That I guess is real slavery, to be a slave * to one's own stomach, one's own pocket, one's own temper. Will the Charter cure that? Friends, you want more than Acts of Parliament can give ... there can be no true freedom without virtue ... be wise and you must be free, for you will be fit to be free."

There is no doubt much good sense in all this, but it is insufferably patronising, and is untrue as far as the particular aims of the Chartists were concerned. For the middle classes were free enough within the limits of what the Charter demanded, though they were slaves enough to their stomachs, pockets, tempers and spouters. Far more so, one might have thought, than the Victorian working-classes. From Kingsley's approach, rejected by the materialist socialist, sprang the common modern fallacy that revolutionary socialism is an "idealisation" of the workers and that the mere recital of their present faults is a refutation of the class-struggle which (it is again supposed) can only exist if a Kingsleyan idealised proletariat can be proved to exist. Poor Kingsley! His dictum that "religion is the opium of the people", quoted by Marx and usually attributed to Lenin, has also been generally misunderstood. Opium was then used in operations when the pain was too unbearable, since anaesthetics were unknown, and evangelical religion was also resorted to when existence became otherwise unbearable.

This attitude has passed over as an inheritance to the peace-movement liberal, who finds himself in the libertarian camp for purely political reasons (disillusion with politics or a recognition that "war is the health of the state"). To the Christian Socialist or his secular equivalent it seems morally unreasonable that a free society, still thought of in terms of "reward" or "privilege" could exist without moral or ethical perfection. But so far as the overthrow of society is concerned, we may ignore the fact of people's shortcomings and prejudices, so long as they do not become institutionalised. One may view without concern the fact that bothers the advanced liberal; that the workers might achieve control of their places of work long before they had acquired the social graces of the 'intellectual' or shed all the prejudices of the present society from family discipline to xenophobia. What does it matter, so long as they can run industry without masters? Prejudices wither in freedom and only flourish while the social climate is favourable to them. The Israeli kibbutzim are an example of people working in free conditions, despite advanced patriotic or religious prejudices which make them far from libertarian in their relationships to people outside. What we say is, however, that once life can continue without imposed authority from above, and imposed authority cannot survive the withdrawal of labour from its service, the prejudices of authoritarianism will disappear. There is no cure for them other than the free process of education, and the disappearance of rule-by-persuasion.

Free education has already progressed in this direction. The pioneering work of A. S. Neill (xiv) which was nurtured in private schools for a very small minority, went on to influence a whole generation of teachers. But however much progressive views on education are important from the point of view of a child's happiness, and even today help to alleviate the bigotries and hatreds of school life, they can only ultimately enable the pupil to integrate into present-day society.

Today, an increasing number of teachers and pupils recognise that this is not enough. Allied to free education must be the movement to alter society. It is not enough to abolish examinations, one has to alter a competitive society. It is not enough to abolish classroom dictatorship, it is necessary to abolish governmental discipline. From the Neill movement has grown the movement of pupils, from classroom alliances to student associations, which understands that education has always been subservient to the ruling economy, and which is not content only to make the paths of education more pleasant but also wants to make its education applicable to life in a free society.

Least of all does it concern itself with the facts of discipline or otherwise, with which the do-gooders feel it should be solely concerned. It is not solely a question of standing up against intolerant teachers, or tolerant ones with jobs to consider, but tolerance and intolerance are only different sides of the coin of authoritarianism. Nobody in his senses says that he has an objection, or that he does not have any objection, to Scotsmen coming to Great Britain. It would be idiotic, for the question of tolerance and intolerance does not arise; they are there as a right.

To the libertarian, the world in his own. Those who have superior force may, according to nature, be kindly and generous or despotic and illiberal, but they are our enemies. Though naturally most people prefer to have a more generous enemy in the saddle, they survive the longest. The growth of fascism made the situation more complicated. The despotic and illiberal became so dominant, and the generous so rare, that the latter seemed like a port in the storm. But with all their tolerance, the liberals will, in a crisis, betray their posts, for in times of stress they see "the floodgates of anarchy" opening. History has shown how the liberal will call in the army when things get tough, knowing that it will cause the downfall of democracy, but preferring that to revolution. General Franco was a paid Army officer on the salary list of the Republican Government he destroyed. The "impractical" Anarchist movement, the CNT-FAI (xv) called for the abolition of the Army and fought against it. The socialists and republicans preferred to bring in "reliable" Army officers, such as General Franco, with his Masonic background, replacing the monarchist officers. The Republic felt that this would save them from both fascism and the workers. The result is well-known.

In a like manner, faced with the possibility of a postwar revolution all over Eastern Europe, once the Nazis had been defeated, Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt preferred to sell the lot out to Soviet Russia, "the devil they knew" to which they had always been implacably opposed, rather than the devil of social revolution they did not know but feared all the more. Anything was better than the "floodgates of anarchy" so far as they were concerned. So far as we are concerned, these are the gates which have to be opened.