Introduction: Modern Society in the Light of Anarchism

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 21, 2010

Contemporary society is a Capitalist society. Its foundation is the principle of private property. Its main characteristic is production for trade. The relationships of this kind of production are such that the means of production, all goods and their distribution, as well as a large portion of the wages of the workers, belong to an insignificant number of persons -- the capitalist class. The huge mass of the population consists of owners of labor power only - - physical and intellectual labor -- which they sell to the capitalists; these include the proletariat, the poor peasants and those in medium circumstances, and the small craftsmen who use their labor power individually, without selling it directly to the capitalists, yet who depend entirely upon them.

Owing to this mechanism of modern society, fabulous wealth is accumulated at one end, while at the other there is dire poverty. This fact is particularly evident in countries of advanced Capitalism, where the class division of society is most sharply distinctive. "It is impossible to draw a dividing line between the property-owning and the property-less classes, since these classes intermingle with each other through innumerable and undetectable nuances. But in the physical world, too, there are no demarcation lines; nevertheless, there is a perfectly clear differentiation between plants and animals, between beasts and men. Equally definitive is the situation in human society, despite the intermediate links which make the transition from one political and social condition to another almost unnoticeable. The distinction between classes is very clear and anyone can tell the upper middle-class from the lower middle-class and the latter from the industrial proletarians of the cities; just as easily can one differentiate the large landowner from the peasant proprietor, working his land by himself, and the farmer from the simple village laborer" (M. A. Bakunin). Such an order of modern society is protected by the full power of the State, with its moral code and its religion.

In Capitalist society everything is based on buying and selling -- the Market is the characteristic system for the distribution of manufactured goods. For that reason, everything in Capitalist society becomes a commodity (not only material wealth, but also science, art, and even moral qualities). And the great masses of the people (the producers of physical and intellectual goods) whom hunger induces to work as hired hands -- they too are commodities. The special characteristics of these commodities are -- thought, will, physical needs and aspirations to a human existence.

The capitalist class, protected by the power of the State, owns all wealth; as a result of this the principles of modern society -- free labor and voluntary agreement for employment -- turn their positive sides toward the Capitalist and not the proletarian. These principles logically presuppose economic equality, and since that is absent, the stronger side -- by taking advantage of free labor and of voluntary agreement -- dictates its conditions to the weaker. The weak, in turn, cannot afford to reject them, since rejection would mean starvation. This circumstance gives Capitalism the opportunity of appropriating the lion's share of the fruits of labor, paying the laborers not for the entire product, but only enough to replenish their expended energy and to maintain the continuation of the race. All attempts to limit the arbitrariness of Capitalism, all efforts of the workers towards the improvement of their living standards, are persecuted by the State with barbarian cruelty, which in turn makes it easier for the Capitalists to fight the workers.

The development of science and technology is used least of all for the good of the unfortunate working masses, and only a small group of the propertied classes, the class of the exploiters, reaps its benefits. The incredible progress and power of Capitalism are due to the successes of science and technics. Continual improvements in technology make possible the ever greater mechanization of production; mechanization of production leads in turn, and inevitably, to the domination of large enterprises. The small enterprises are absorbed or become entirely dependent on large capital. And this process of proletarianization increases the cadres of labor available for hire.

In addition, the continual improvement in mechanization, which increases production and speeds the distribution of goods, makes the entrepreneur ever less dependent on live labor forces and gives him the opportunity, under the protection of the power of the State, to utilize to a greater extent the work of socially weak elements, such as women and children. As a result, increased mechanization is accompanied by a growth in unemployment, which inevitably makes the hired laborer increasingly dependent on capital, aggravates the extent of his exploitation and increases his poverty.

At the present time, due to the progress in technology and the resultant economy in time and human energy, the possibility exists of producing many times more goods than are required for the satisfaction of the essential needs of all the people. And yet, thanks to Capitalist organization, millions among the masses suffer from the insufficiency of industrial products, have no chance to satisfy even their most elementary needs in food, clothing, housing and education; millions cannot find suitable work, and unemployment, instead of being a periodical phenomenon, has become a permanent one.

Such conditions within the Capitalist countries lead to a decrease in>the purchasing ability of the large masses of the population, thus hampering the disposal of goods within the country. Goods which remain undisposed at home are sent to the international market, where they must perforce compete with those of other countries. The result is economic crisis, followed by a period of depression, bringing bankruptcy to the small enterprises and a lowering of the living standards for the working people.

Chaos in production and unlimited competition in the market have led to the organization of powerful monopolistic Capitalist associations -- trusts, cartels and syndicates, which, since the beginning of the twentieth century, have gained tremendous influence on the economic and political life in each industrially-developed country. From that time onwards the development of Capitalism followed the path of combining industrial and financial capital. It entered a new phase in its evolution -- the phase of Imperialism, which is the final stage of Capitalist development.

Capitalism in its present stage has reached the full maturity of Imperialism, when financial capital has assumed its most commanding positions. Beyond this point, the road of Capitalism is the road of deterioration, a process which will be painfully reflected in the lives of the working population. The specific characteristic of Imperialism is, as I have said, the concentration and centralization of capital in syndicates, trusts and cartels, which at the present time have a decisive voice, not only in the economic and political life of their countries, but also in the life of the nations of the world as a whole.

The intensive export of financial capital to other countries, the organization there of industrial enterprises, the great interest in the exploitation of natural resources and of the human labor force, are all so closely linked with the interests of the national imperialists that they have actually abandoned the idea of the "fatherland" as a mere prejudice, leaving it to those they exploit, and have themselves become internationalists.

Capital knows no fatherland. In our own days gigantic trusts have enveloped a number of States. All these associations have one and the same purpose -- the domination of the world -- and they find themselves in deadly conflict with each other. Such a condition of capitalist society brings forth a bitter struggle for markets. This struggle keeps the countries in a state of "armed peace", periodically turning into war, as it did in 1914-18. This Imperialist war resulted in an unequal division of the world among the victors, and has brought about a new and more intense rivalry which will inevitably lead to a second and even more terrifying world war at the expense of the proletariat and the peasantry. Imperialism is the source of war, and humanity will suffer from wars as long as Capitalism exists.

The growth of Imperialism stabilizes unemployment, on which it feeds, and increases the oppression of the trusts, which is sanctified by religion and supported by the state and by law. This in turn makes the struggle of the proletariat even harder and more complicated. Yet, because of the growth of class consciousness on the part of the exploited, that struggle becomes each day more intense. All this renders utterly inevitable the destruction of the existing forms of society and their exchange for a more perfect organization.

The greatest attempts in history at such a changeover to new social forms have been the revolutions of 1917-21 in Central Europe, and particularly in Russia, all of which were the results of capitalist development and Imperialist war. Neither the Russian nor the German Revolutions realized the goals set them by history; but the Russian Revolution in its downfall revealed the nature of State socialism and its mechanism, demonstrating that there is no great difference in principle between a State socialist and a bourgeois society. Both strive for the solution of insoluble tasks: to harmonize freedom and power, equality and exploitation, prosperity and poverty. It showed that between these societies, seemingly so irreconcilable and so antagonistic to each other, there is really only a quantitative, not a qualitative difference. And the attempt to solve the social problem by utilizing the methods inherent in rigid, logically-consistent power Communism, as in the Russian Revolution, demonstrates that even quantity is not always on the side of authoritarian Communism and that, on the contrary, when logically pursued to the end, it resembles despotism in many ways.

The experience of the development of power Communism in Russia gives us the opportunity to analyze and explain its structure. The principal economic peculiarity of the Communist State is production for use (in which products do not become commodities) on the basis of bureaucratic relationships, where all means of production, all distribution of goods, all the people's labor, and the individual himself, belong fully to the State, which in turn is in the hands of a small class of the bureaucracy. The rest of the population consists of workers, forced to give their labor energy to the State Trust, and with it to create the power of this Trust, at the same time increasing the economic standards of the administrative class.

The net of bureaucratic industrial relationships covers the entire economic life of society, and forces the working class into complete dependence on the State, which divides the population according to occupations, subordinates them to the rule of the bureaucracy, compels ihem to work under the direct control of officials, and views the human personality only as "manpower". The State moves its manpower about as it sees fit, considering only its own interests, and applies military discipline to labor. In this way, the Communist state turns the working people into soulless cogs in the centralized machine, geared during their entire lives to the maximum fulfilment of production quotas, subjected to ihe will of the State, and allowed only a minimum of activity, initiative and individual will. Such a situation creates social inequality, strengthens the class structure of society, and solidifies the rule of bureaucracy.

An inevitable result of such a social organization is the powerful police state, which subordinates to itself every phase of the citizen's life. By strong centralization of power, the Communist state subjects all its people to complete regimentation, and watches over them by means of organized espionage. This system destroys the freedom of movement, association and meeting, of speech and the press, of industrial struggle, of education, of dwelling and of personal development. It even invades the most intimate relationships between its citizens

The evolution of such a society will lead inevitably to an intensification of its internal contradictions and, as under Capitalism, to class struggle of a more difficult and cruel kind than ever before. The Russian experience has demonstrated the impracticability of a social structure of this type. Its builders are forced to renounce authoritarian Communism in favor either of free Communism, requiring for its realization the liberation of the people from police tutorship, or of a capitalism which can retain this tutorship. The Bolsheviks, to hold their power, chose the second road -- that of State Capitalism.

The Russian Revolution, begun in liberty and the liquidation of bourgeois society, made a full circle, and, in accepting the aristocratic principle of dictatorship, came back through "War Communism" to its point of origin • Capitalism. However, like the great French Revolution, it left to the world an idea which from that time has become the fundamental aspiration of the twentieth century, the goal for Revolutionary movements among the working masses of all countries, races and peoples.

Only the Anarcho-Syndicalist revolution can lead the proletariat and the whole of mankind on the road to true freedom, equality and brotherhood. It alone can save humanity from wars, since all States, however "red" they may be, are Imperialist by nature. With the bankruptcy of State Communism in Russia, and of Social Democracy in Germany, with the ever growing contradictions within Capitalist society, the struggle of the working masses against the existing social order is growing and expanding throughout the world, while at the same time continuing technical progress -- resulting in the constant enlargement of industrial enterprises and the socialization within them of the productive processes -- creates the essential material pre-requisites for the transfer from a Capitalist economy to a more perfect one -- that of libertarian Communism. This transfer will make possible and realizable a successful social Revolution and such, indeed, is the fundamental aspiration of the International Anarcho-Syndicalist movement.

Only the social Revolution is capable of destroying private property and its mainstay, the State; of establishing public ownership and a stateless, federalistic organization of society on the basis of the free association of productive units in factories and villages. It alone can assure liberty, i.e. the well-being and the free development of the individual in society, and of society itself. It alone will stop the division of society into classes and will abolish every possibility of the exploitation or rule of man by man.

The experience of Russia has shown that an essential condition for the successful realization of the revolution is the communal-syndicalist structure, based on the principles of Anarchist Communism. This is the transition period, leading eventually to complete Anarchy and Communism, which must follow the destruction of the Slate-Capitalist society. It will permit the proletariat not only to suppress counter-revolutionary opposition by the parasitic classes, but also to avoid social despotism in a "dictatorship of the proletariat" or in any other forms.

This transitional phase is characterized by the fact that in it, as ltakunin said, "the land belongs only to those who work it with their own hands -- i.e. to the agricultural communes. Capital and all means of production belong to the workers, i.e. the workers' associations." At the same time, "All political organization must be nothing more than the free federation of free workers, both agricultural and industrial." That is to say, in politics Communalism, the federation of free villages; in economy syndicalism, federation of free factories and workshops as an organizational form of Communism. In such a system the factories and villages, united among themselves, will gradually develop into producer-consumer communes.

"Villages and plants," said Bakunin, "which will reorganize in this way from below, will not create -- at the very beginning -- an organization that is in all points perfect according to our ideal. But it will be a living organization, and, as such, a thousand times belter than those in existence today. This new organization, which will always be open to propaganda and which will not be capable of becoming rigid and inflexible by means of any juridical sanctions of the State, will progress freely, developing and perfecting itself not according to some pre-ordained plan, not according to decrees and laws, but always in liberty and vitality, until it achieves a stage of efficiency which we can hope to see in our own day."

The working classes are thus confronted with the great goal of the liberation and renaissance of the world. The task of international Anarcho-Syndicalism is to help actively in its realization. To hasten the quickest and most just solution to the historic problem facing the proletariat, the Anarcho-Syndicalists, benefitting by the experience of the class struggle, of revolutions and particularly of the great historic experiment in Russia, are developing the concrete tasks for the transition period (the time of passage from Capitalism to Anarchist Communism) and giving; it a positive content. Taking into account the main aspirations and trends of the age. Anarcho-Svndicalism envisages the main tasks of this Transition Period along the lines indicated in the following chapters.