Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 21, 2010

The end of the First World War saw the growth of super-government. Capitalism, trying to escape the consequences of war, lost its liberal facade. In some cases it had to yield completely to State control, masquerading as communism-which had abolished the old ruling class only to create a new, based not upon profit but upon privilege. In other cases it injected itself with a shot of the same drug, and the nightmare world of fascism was a trip into darkness. The side effect of these experiences was to heighten appreciation of the older form of capitalism. Surely, many argued, the liberal and democratic form of government that capitalism used to provide, and could do so no longer, was a lesser evil? The argument is strangely archaic now, when the growth of the Destruction State means that it is of little significance whether the leadership is bland or brutal; whether it enforces its decisions by unarmed policemen directing protest marchers down empty streets, or turns out the tanks and tear-gas upon them. The issues that are involved today are so vital to the very continuance of mankind that it renders insignificant the fact of whether the maniacs in charge of our destiny come to power via smoke-filled backrooms or by a "whiff of grapeshot".

The State is very clearly our enemy; if we do not destroy it first, it will destroy us. There will be no more national wars on a world-wide scale, or at least, not for long -- power-mad clashes will lead to instant destruction. The front-line of the future will confront us and them. Who are "they" and who are "us"? It may be difficult to define, although we all feel it instinctively. They are the dominant class, and those associated with power. We are those who are expected to be the pawns of power. They are the dominant class, we are the subjects. They are the aggressors, but our initiatives to overthrow them are condemned as disturbing the peace. They are the conquerors and we are the conquered, and the failure to define is the result of grass growing over the battlefields. Provided we conform, or try to assimilate, they are content to leave us alone; but even so, they cannot leave the world alone. Those associated with power make their own plans for survival in the event of nuclear war; they may even dream that there are other worlds for them to conquer. To keep us quiet they gloss over the differences within society, and to such an extent that we can hardly tell at times where the division comes. That is the success of the means of persuasion by which, among other instruments of oppression, they exploit us.

One may isolate a section of the ruling class and attack it; but essentially the enemy of man is the means by which he is governed. It is an impersonal instrument although manned by real people. So far back as the ancient Chinese philosophers, it was held that man could not be expected to revere that by which he was chastised and the symbol by which he was made subject (a reasonable expectation later nullified by the Christian church). It was axiomatic to them that the man who sold out to government did so for unworthy reasons. Invited by the emperor to help him rule, one sage asked to be allowed to wash his ears; he was admonished by another sage not to let his oxen drink from the water in which he bathed the ears that had listened to such a proposal.

How can there be antagonism between man and a man-made institution? Because it marks the division of man into rulers and ruled. Is government not merely the administration of society? Yes, but against its will. Society is necessary to unite us; the State, which comes into being to dominate, divides us. Are governments not merely composed of human beings, with all their faults and virtues? Yes, but in order to oppress their fellows. Humanity began with the fact of speech; society began with the art of conversation; the State began with a command.

Government represents the fetters upon society; even at its freest, it merely marks the point beyond which liberty may not go. The State is the preservation of class divisions, and if in that capacity it protects property, it does so in order to defend the interests of a governing class. While this may also entail preserving the lesser property rights of the lower class, at any rate from some inroads, this is merely done to strengthen respect for property. In a society where profit is not the motive, and the class divisions do not determine the economy, the State defends the interests of the bureaucracy.

Even those most concerned with the preservation of a governmental society-the propertied bourgeoisie-are constrained to admit that they do not inevitably get the best of the bargain. The prosperous citizen, with every conceivable need of government on the repressive side, is the more inclined to attack government taking over any other role than that of defending property or curbing working-class activity. Enthralled as he is with the notion of business reciprocity as ethics, he pays his taxes least willingly of all his commitments and sees no dishonour in cheating; everywhere else, even in his gambling debts, he sees the possibility of something for something, but from the State, nothing.

The State is a parasite upon society. It is ineradicable in a class-divided society, despite the hopes of early liberal capitalists and individualistic philosophers, because the protection of property divisions depends upon organised repression. Once any form of organised repression becomes stronger than any existing form of organised repression, it will take over the functions of the State. Marx (i)1 analysed the structure of capitalism clearly enough to perceive that when the necessity for class division was no longer there those repressive institutions necessary for class rule would disappear. In the communist countries, however, it can be seen how the retention of other repressive organs of the State has meant that far from the State being abolished, it has been strengthened. It has combined the exploitative nature of capitalism with the ordinary repressive nature of the State, and made the latter a greater monstrosity than ever.

The American oil baron, who sneers at any form of State intervention in his manner of conducting business -- that is to say, of exploiting man and nature -- is also able to "abolish the State" to a certain extent. But he has to build up a repressive machine of his own (an army of sheriffs to guard his interests) and takes over as far as he can, those functions normally exercised by the government, excluding any tendency of the latter that might be an obstacle to his pursuit of wealth. The underworld of Cosa Nostra has, particularly in Sicily and the USA, built up a State within a State. Granted the necessity for protection from that threat which the Mafia itself presents, it affords as good a bargain as that provided by the State. Were it not there, no necessity for protection would arise. Were the State not there, no necessity for legal curbs would arise either. There would be no need for constitutional brakes upon power if the people were free.

In the rise of a gangster class, one sees the functions of the State at its crudest. It began "with the crack of the slave driver's whip". It reaches its highest point when it becomes not just the police contractor for the conqueror, but a ruling class in its own right. At that point -- and this is sometimes heralded as socialism of the authoritarian type, though it is only done under that banner and could as well be the logical development of capitalism or of fascism -- the bureaucrats take over the ministries and the accountants take over the industry. The State becomes not a mere committee for the propertied class, nor even the expression of a dictatorial caste, but a machine perpetuating rule for its own sake and for the aggrandisement of those comprising it. But it is ultimately doomed. The massive concentration of power in a scientific age means the decisions of universal life and death fall into the hands of a few people, accustomed to taking huge responsibilities upon themselves. They cannot imagine that their decisions are not sound ones. They have in their hands the ability to destroy society, and this they will do unless society destroys the State. If the State prevails, the world is doomed. The State being a parasite, it cannot live after it has killed the body on which it feeds.

Like the Great Pyramid, the State was built to the cult of slavery and survives to the cult of death. It has lost all responsibility to mankind; it has lost identity with individual persons and represents a faceless enemy. But it is not abuse of State authority that has occasioned this. It is the natural process of maintaining, through the years, division between conquered and conqueror. Civil war is latent in all imposed cultures. The forces of persuasion have blurred the outline of the struggle, but only the conception of the class-war makes sense of the economic conflicts in society.

It is no longer fashionable to harp upon class distinctions. Speaking of social change it is said that the "working class no longer exists". Only when legislation is planned curbing what are alleged to be the malpractices of one class rather than those of another do we find that it is not quite true that "we are all workers now"!

The struggle for class and self-liberation is not to be compared with national conflicts. It is the function of the impersonal State to squander lives in war, or of a superior class to regard lesser humans as expendable; thus any war of the nation-state must in itself be in the nature of an atrocity. This need not be the case in the revolutionary process of breaking down the State, unless intolerable oppression has made people reckless of their own lives and determined to take vengeance (as in Spain in 1936). Those engaged in the struggle for a free society are usually, for that very reason, capable of a heightened appreciation of the condition of others. In any case, their enemies are not whole nations but individuals.

Yet, compared with other conflicts, social liberation is the most difficult of all to achieve, beside which national liberation is a divertissement. For class struggle implies not merely collective action but the breaking down of that sequence of events ingrained in our society as command-and-obey. Any form of social protest may be useful as an attempt to destroy this sequence, which saps the lifeblood of mankind and makes it possible for the few to govern the many.

Why, since people must outnumber the minority that comprises the State and its oppressive forces, have they submitted so meekly to it? Why do they quietly queue up to receive their marching orders to war, or to pay their taxes, or to be sentenced to death or forced labour? Society first submitted to the whip-to the armed forces in time of conquest, replaced in a stable society by the police force (or in a less stable society by the army in a police role). Primarily the police force is a method of political repression. Only secondarily is it the means by which, within the legal system, crimes against society are institutionalised by the legalisation of some and the outlawry of others. The outlawry of some crimes is, of course, useful if people have lost the initiative to put down antisocial behaviour themselves. This is the aspect of police work used to justify the whole. While it has a degree of inevitability in a State-ruled society, it also has an atrophying effect upon people's initiative to deal with offences against society, and encourages the delinquency it professes to put down.

Since in the long run rule must be by consent, there is in addition to rule by the whip an apparatus of rule by persuasion, by brainwashing and mental conditioning and the whole process of education. It reaches the point where the British people, for instance, might even accept a Gestapo, provided it helped find their lost cats and assisted old ladies across the road.

True education began with an enquiring look; State education began with a salute. The building of a code of ethics and morals suitable for a servile people and adapted to the then current economic system, was originally entrusted to the priesthood, and a church was erected upon the need to subordinate mysticism to power, and to justify the actions of the ruling class. The process of persuasion is much more than the education which conditions the mind to receive it, and runs the whole gambit of national mystique. Education has long since ceased to be the monopoly of the Church, except in isolated corners of the world. In place of the religious organisation at the service of the State, and sometimes becoming a parallel State or even master of the secular State, there has been built, in palpable imitation in the totalitarian countries, a hegemonic party in charge of the holy truths (economic or social) that make the system tick. The totalitarian party system comes closer to the old Church, but has no difference with the multiple process nicknamed "the Establishment" in countries where there is a diversification of power, and the latter may contain many parties and conflicting interests within the one "Church".

The old Church, and these neo-Churches, may be States within States, super-States, even supra-national States. Their reaction to the State itself, and their inter-reaction to each other, is the essence of what passes off as politics. Their quarrels may become tensions and even wars. These wars may even sometimes follow the lines of the class-war, which has driven its furrow through society, but do not produce victories or defeats for the working class, only disasters. Divisions out of time may be preserved, as papal rule petrified the Holy Roman Empire long after its decease. Countries such as Spain still preserve, like dinosaurs in ice, an aristocracy and feudal class fighting against encroaching capitalism.

Similarly, Judaeo-Christian morality has been preserved out of time, though suitably modified to conform to the penal code or business habits. (A notable exception is of course the injunction to the children of light to emulate the practice of fraudulent disposition whilst bailee. Luke 16. The Bible-worshipping judge of today, who loves money quite as much as any Pharisee, would be equally severe upon this-but it is, sigh the scholars, a difficult passage to translate.) In the main theologians have managed to reconcile Biblical morals with a society that outrages natural justice and propriety, and substitutes property laws. They are thus able to invoke divinity as idealised authority, which is why Bakunin (ii) said that "If God existed, it would be necessary to destroy him".

The nation-state, from being a burden upon society, is elevated by idealistic conceptions-that it derives from God, or alternatively that it derives from necessity-and duties to it are shown as being "in the natural order of things". The cult of nationalism derives from the need to bolster up the sense of duty to the State, just as does established religion. The nation-state is idealised by nationalism, and is shown in a favourable light against other nation-states. This nationalism is an invented ideal supplementing or substituting for religious (or neo-religious, i.e. party or Establishment) ideals. It is to mask the unloved and unlovable abstraction of the State with the idealised family of the race or nation.

The feeling of superiority that might be felt for one race over another for historic or purely fictitious reasons, or the inferiority felt (usually for economic reasons) is deliberately confused with one's natural inclination for the people or places one knows best. It is institutionalised into a cult, not merely of nationalism but of a State.

Nationalism is an artificial emotion. It clings around the State like ivy, a parasite upon a parasite. Without a State to twine round, nationalism withers; language becomes dialect, and nationality becomes provincialism, for nationalism is a creature of power. Racialism, not in its usual journalistic sense but the folklore and ethnic traditions of particular peoples, is a plant of hardier growth, and flourishes unless the State takes positive measures to cut it down.

Whereas the creation of a multi-racial or supra-national State leads to an empire (super-State), reaction to it on the purely idealistic ground of race, nation, or difference in religion, is bound to be progressive. It helps to whittle away the bulwark of the State and breaks up the sequence of command-and-obey; but it is only progressive while it is unsuccessful. Hope is said to be a good breakfast but a poor supper. So is the struggle for national independence. The nationalist forms a new State but continues old forms of economic exploitation. By obtaining popular consent to the forms of rule, the new State legitimises oppression. However, the spirit of rebellion often persists even when nationalism triumphant has taken its dreary course.

All forms of economic exploitation arise from the division between classes and the fact that man is robbed of the full value of his labour. The monetary system is not a mere form of exchange, nor is it properly a science, but a fraud perpetuated by the State in order to legitimise poverty. Capitalist economics is a mystique rather than a science. The science called economics or political economy, wrote Herbert Read (iii)2 , "is the disgrace of a technological civilisation. It has failed to produce any coherent science of the production, distribution and consumption of the commodities proliferated by machine production. It has failed to give us an international medium of exchange exempt from the fluctuations and disasters of the gold standard. It is split into a riot of rival sects and irreconcilable dogmas which can only be compared to the scholastic bickerings of the Middle Ages."

Stripped of its bare essentials and uncovered of its ideals -- "We have another word for ideals -- lies," said Ibsen (iv) -- political economy is an apology for civil war, in which one class has economic and political power and the other class is subject. If the latter revolts, it must fight. Since it has submitted and has been mentally processed, collectively and individually, there is some blurring of the division, and an escape clause is granted by which the occasional individual can transcend class barriers and be accepted on the other side. Hence the natural desire for self-betterment is distorted and it is made to appear that one's position in society is the test of one's abilities rather than of one's exploitative value or sheer good luck.

Division is dreaded by the conservative-minded and is equated by them with the fratricidal struggles of the nation-state rather than with the age-old task of trying to get rid of oppressive institutions. For centuries the people have tried non-violent resistance -- or "dumb insolence" as the army phrased it. (Manipulated enthusiastic participation is a modem invention, though it was implicit in the "bread and circuses" of old Rome.) But non-violent resistance is not enough. It has no lasting effect even when it becomes armed. A liberal with a gun is still only a liberal. Resistance is a beginning, but it is not enough. All it can do is to break down the sequence of command and obey. But resistance only becomes effective when it leads to that breakdown of authority, feared by the authoritarian, which is deliberately confused with the breakdown of all order.

It is with this supposition -- that the rule of law prevents disorder -- that the revolutionary libertarian quarrels, and this is why he is branded as an anarchist. The anarchist believes that the absence of government (anarchy) is freedom. The non-anarchist supposes that the absence of government leads to innumerable disorders normally associated with weak or divided government, where there are the same evils as in strong government, but an absence of unified restraint.

Revolutionary anarchism is not something apart from the working-class struggle. In defining a labour movement, we see no liberty where there is exploitation and no socialism where liberty is lacking. We are for equality without bureaucracy, and for a victory of the masses without any ruling faction, old or new.

The generous-minded of the younger generation of the bourgeoisie are apparently more inclined to be with us than against us; they may exercise their right to secede from the rat race and renounce their privileges of birth or connected wealth. We ourselves had nothing to renounce but the illusions of duty with which man has been shackled.

If nowadays we have a little more to lose than mere chains, so much the more reason for making sure of victory. Should the ruling class find it necessary to make a fresh conquest over their subjects (as in Spain), they will take away even that little which we have.

  • 1See Commentary on Names at the end of the book.
  • 2"The Great Debate": essay included in To Hell with Culture (Routledge & Kegan Paul).