Observations on Anarchy 4

Submitted by Reddebrek on July 23, 2016

Where the Shoe Pinches

I think, as a socialist, I would make two comments. First, how do you make institutions as democratic as possible when you have to keep them going? It is not sufficient to be just against things, and this involves educating people in new knowledge and teaching people to observe facts and take notice of them.
Secondly, the community has to operate against fractional power, including (as you so rightly say) the family. I am utterly opposed to Peter Townsend's view because the family is extremely limiting and quite unsuited as a vehicle of the liberation of the human spirit. I quite agree with Bernard Shaw. If this is so, then individualism is quite an inadequate doctrine. Indeed, laissez-faire is what we have always been against.
Therefore, what do we do? Perhaps I haven't understood the line of argument; but as it stands I find myself pro-Lady Wootton, and anti-anarchy.
University of London Institute of Education.

I have read your article on institutions with keen interest. I agree almost completely with the approach you adopt and you may be interested to learn that I am hoping to include a lengthy discussion of all the literature in my forthcoming book on old people's homes. If I may make just one or two comments I think perhaps you over-rate the quality of the small residential home for old people. While of course they are a great improvement on the old workhouses I think there are some very real social and psychological deficiencies.
London School of Economics.

This is just a note to say how much I enjoyed Where the Shoe Pinches in ANARCHY 4. So much of what is mentioned in the article I have noticed from either personal or second-hand experience-in the social services, in mental institutions, hospitals, and public health departments. So often you cannot pinpoint absolute 'proof' of the type that would satisfy an official investigation, but there is an all-pervading atmosphere, a general attitude and approach, in all these institutional organisations, that appals one in its lack of understanding, or even considering personalities or characteristics. The description of the 'co- operative' inmate in a jail or hospital or orphanage is so exactly what one sees. You hear commendation of the child who 'adjusts' or the patient who 'co-operates' …
South Pender, British Columbia.
–(Mrs.) EVE SMITH.

I found Mr. Ward's comprehensive review of the institutional problem very interesting indeed, and I think he is to be commended for bringing together in a coherent way considerations affecting such a wide range of institutions and social structures.
I think the diagnosis is very sound and that this is a necessary first step in seeking remedies. What these will be and how they are to be achieved I do not know – where in any provision can one break the vicious circle; but small-scale examples offered by rare people in whom there is combined suitable knowledge and suitable personality probably have their part to play. I say this, having in mind my own interest in the liberalization of methods of caring for children in hospital. In the wards shown in my second film Going to Hospital with Mother, the chance constellation of several people who have personalities which are non-authoritarian, who have respect for the family and wish to preserve it, and who seek to understand what they are doing, has created a useful prototype. Too often, as Mr. Ward has noted in his survey, hospitals are among the institutions in which authority is exercised either for its own sake or as a defence against seeing the true needs of patients.
Tavistock Child Development Research Unit.

Conflicting Strains in Anarchist Thought

ANARCHY 4 was most welcome, because in one step of only 32 pages it made sense out of anarchism as a contemporary outlook, firstly with George Molnar's sweeping away of the cobwebs of meaningless revolutionism to reveal the proper' core of anarchism – permanent opposition, and secondly with Colin Ward's essay which showed just how constructive this permanent opposition can be since it insists on an alternative pattern of social behaviour. It shows how from this aspect the anarchists were right all along the line, and the rest of us are slowly catching up with them. I would like to take up two points in Molnar's argument. First that he omits to mention the whole school of individualist anarchism which never subscribed to the fallacies he exposes, secondly that when he says that the overwhelming majority of contemporary anarchists subscribe to anarcho-syndicalism, this may or may not be true of Australia, but is definitely untrue of the Americas or Europe.
San Francisco, Cal.

Mr. George Molnar, writing in ANARCHY 4, argues that whatever the merits of the anarchist ideal, no means exist for achieving it which are not fantastic and inutile (Kropotkin) or actually covertly subversive of it (Bakunin). He accuses the most considerable practical attempt to promote it – in the anarcho-syndicalist labour movements – of bureaucratic deformation directly proportional to public success. He concludes that anarchism is "not something which can assert itself over the whole of society": it must understand itself as a permanent ethical lobby.
We can agree with Mr. Molnar that Kropotkin was mistaken in his optimism ("everywhere the State is abdicating and abandoning its holy functions to private individuals" Conquest of Bread, p. 188) and naive in his anticipation of spontaneous popular revolt; we can similarly agree that Bakunin's revolutionary praxis led him into deep contradiction. We can agree that the Latin syndicalist movements offer something less than continuous examples of conduct according to doctrine. But these agreements do not force us to accept his general conclusion.
His general conclusion, or capitulation, is illegitimate for the following reasons: (1) the judgment of syndicalism is over-reaching, and (2), even if it were correct, he would have successfully criticised some routes, to Anarchy, but not all of them. We can take up each of these objections in order:
(1) How significant were the lapses and failures of syndicalism? Is all syndicalist enterprise condemned to repeat them? Anarchists recognise the tendency for the delegative strata to separate from the body of any organisation. This tendency is hard to check under any circumstances, but particularly so where a revolutionary-egalitarian ideology must co•exist with the routine meliorism of practical trade unionism. Opportunists are attracted with every increase in the physical power of the union: recruitment takes place in a power-oriented society. Levelling devices fall into disuse because – and this point is neglected by Roberto Michels, on whom Mr. Molnar leans so heavily – they are antagonistic to the economic functions of the trade unions. Hierarchy gains ground. The phenomena of struggle are degraded: even the General Strike becomes a device for personal publicity. Now, in spite of all this, it is safe to claim that the syndicalist unions were significantly less oligarchical than either reformist or marxist unions. This last is, obliquely conceded by Michels in one or two places: "It may be admitted that the supreme directive organs of the French labour movement do not possess that plentitude of powers which the corresponding hierarchical grades of other countries have at their disposal – above all in Germany …" (Political Parties, p. 353). The degenerescence progressive du syndicalisme, prevented from coming to terms by World War I, was lowering the movement, in some regions, to levels of abuse which were usual for unions of other types: "From the ranks of the French syndicalists, leaders have already sprung whose sensitiveness to the criticisms of their followers can be equalled only by that of an English trade-union leader … " (Political Parties, p. 355).

There is another caution to be observed in judging syndicalism. Its visible history, the official and polemical literature, gives a very imperfect sense of the movement. That is to say, even the failure to contain bureaucracy, even the failure to produce ultimate revolutions, should not count so heavily against a movement which brought the great virtues of the event of Revolution – heroic generosity, courage, endurance, selflessness, social ingenuity – into the conduct of daily life. This is the unwritten history of anarcho-syndicalism and what we know of it we know only through the memories of old men.
Syndicalism, unsupported by other forces, we know to be corruptible. But we have learned something from the past; and it remains true that permanent democracy in organisations will still rest on devices proposed and employed by the syndicalist pioneers.
(2) Is there a route towards anarchy which lies outside Mr. Molnar's structures? There is. It is the route of piecemeal revolution, experimental socialism, the attempt to contrive enclaves of freedom: this line of effort assimilates broadly to the Milieux Libres tradition in France, to the movement for integral co-operatives elsewhere, but with great differences of scale, intention, and composition. This line of effort also depends directly on a conception of anarchism as a general form of society, and it is this conception which determines the scope and order of experiment. Conditions are appropriate for this kind of work in the West now. Where they are inappropriate, anarchists will necessarily conspire, in alliance with other democratic radical forces, to the point of Revolution: but the object of Revolution, for the anarchists, constituted everywhere as minorities, must be the limited one •of creating conditions of free organization and agitation.
Mr. Molnar's "anarchism as permanent opposition" is identical with the condescending formula of Michels: "anarchism as prophylactic". It is a headlong inference from infirm premises. There is a last charge against it: anarchism now considers itself as "something which can assert itself over the whole of society" but it functions – where it does – in the main as an ethical lobby or interest; its critical force derives from the conviction that it embodies a set of radical alternatives; if it understood itself only as a lobby it would, lack the numbers or force for any function whatever.
New York City, N.Y.

The two articles in ANARCHY 4 invite comparison. States, just as the lesser institutions, have, until now, acted as George Molnar suggests; but the political leaders, just as the institutional leaders, have been products of, and dedicated to the continuance of authority, whether in the same (conservative) or a modified (e.g. 'Labour' form). None have expressly had the aim of 'de-institutionalisation' of the State, or a clear programme for doing this.
Just as those in control of some of the smaller institutions Colin Ward surveys, have been able to reorganise them and break down their power-structure, once they have recognised the need, and achieved a libertarian re-orientation which was impossible for the inmates themselves, ignorant as they almost universally were (staffs included) of the nature of their malady. But it noted, however, that, once given the opportunity and a little help, these inmates were henceforth capable of organising themselves anarchistically.
Is it not feasible therefore, that a future generation of state-administrators, reared in contact with the psychological and sociological theories and experiments now developing their influence on the lesser institutions, may take the first steps in the dismantling of that mammoth institution – with the growing support, we may hope and anticipate, of an increasing body of socially-aware and informed opinion?
George Molnar's views represent well the general anarchist view of the State – witness his abundant quotes – but of the State as it is and as it has been in the past. All anarchists wish to see the State, as an instrument of authority, disappear. But they have, mostly, despaired of the main hope of the 'classical' anarchists, of a mass uprising to overthrow it and substitute a 'state' of anarchy, as they realise that mass uprisings are fertile ground for rival power groups; violence breeds violence, despite the heartening glimpses of spontaneous social organisation discerned briefly during, for example, the Spanish and Cuban revolutions or the Hungarian uprising.
Most now pin their hopes on a growth of social awareness among the general population, and an extension of civil disobedience to force an abdication of power; but despite the growth of support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Committee of 100, etc., there is little sign yet of any general growth of social responsibility; few even of the participants in the sit-downs, as FREEDOM reports, have any conception of the wider implications of the movement.
But as Alex Comfort says (quoted in ANARCHY), 'the importation of science into the study of crime is an irreversible step, and its outcome can only be the suppression of science itself, or a radical remodelling of our ideas on government and the regulation of behaviour.' As in the field of criminology, why not also in the field of social (political) administration? As administrators become aware of the conclusions of social scientists, may they not increasingly feel compelled to implement them?
This awareness among administrators is an essential, before any decentralisation of the political structure, any more towards the abdication of power, can start; but equally, I regret I must return to my point of divergence from other anarchists – the breakdown cannot commence before the unrealistic financial mechanism which distorts the perspectives of all those attempting to comply with its restrictions, is replaced by one which will facilitate instead of inhibiting socially desirable production and distribution of wealth; and such a change would be a powerful ally of those seeking social freedom.

George Molnar quotes Lenin's remark, 'The machine isn't going the way we guide it … A machine doesn't travel exactly the way, and often travels just exactly not the way, that the man imagines who sits at the wheel.' This is due either to plain bad driving, or to the built-in nature of the machine. In the latter case, given an understanding of the mechanism, it can be redesigned to do what a competent driver wishes.
He then quotes Maximoff: (Anarchists believe that) "it would be impossible to make the State change its nature, for it is such only because of this nature, and in foregoing the latter it would cease to be a State.' This is mere tautology, for if you define the State in terms of its nature, it is perfectly true that if its nature were changed it would cease to be a State in accordance with your definition; but this does nothing to inhibit such a change; it merely requires a new descriptive label to be provided.
Molnar states: '(this) domestic imperialism of the State compels all parties, despite any allegiance they may have to specific parties or groups, to frame and execute policies which, irrespective of the intentions behind them, have the effect of extending state tutelage over wide areas of society formerly not under central control.' True; and, as he suggests, this domestic imperialism is a built-in aspect of the State machine, which no party which has so far been elected has recognised as such or sought to modify … Alex Comfort in a broadcast talk on The Art of the Possible about a year ago, put forward Riewald's idea of 'satisfactory' crimes, and extended it to 'satisfactory' political projects. This motivation of psychopathic politicians is serious enough in itself; but when it is joined to the unrealities inherent in the financial mechanism it proves disastrous. But this is inevitable only while the successful politicians are psychopaths of the present kind and while the financial mechanism remains as it is. Neither condition is inherently unalterable, powerful though the protective devices built-in to the present State mechanisms may be.
I think Molnar's conclusions (Part III) unduly pessimistic. In answer to his para. 2, part III: the social scientists and psychologists are gaining increasing social influence, while directly attacking political, or at least, institutional authoritarianism. In para. 3, a more useful distinction than between 'free' and 'authoritarian' organisation would be between 'free' and 'arbitrary' authority. Thus technical experts might reasonably be expected to lead in their fields, and have their advice acted upon, without any coercion. Their 'functional authority' would be respected, without the support of 'arbitrary authority'. Indeed, the action of arbitrary authority commonly degrades or negates the 'functional authority' it is supposed to supplement.
I would agree with George Molnar's conclusion that 'anarchism as a plan for the liberation of society does not work', but I believe that, nevertheless, it is both justifiable and realisable as an aim for social development.