We Can Learn to Live Free

Give the human race a little credit. We can surely learn to live free, neither dominant nor submissive.

By Ed Clark

Dear People:

I would like to reply to some of the ideas expressed by P. Murtaugh in “Some Thoughts on Organization”. In spite of the disagreements I have with some of his ideas, I thought it was a serious attempt to talk about real problems — and I hope your publication will print more articles like it.

Comrade Murtaugh attacks the romantic idealization of “The Revolution” as a gigantic “street fight”. He advances three arguments against insurrection: (1) the military apparatus of the state is too strong; (2) a complex and technologically interdependent society cannot survive the chaos of an insurrection — that is, millions of people will starve and the survivors will demand authoritarian rule; and (3) the capitalists/bureaucrats will not hesitate to use nuclear bombs to stop an insurrection, even at the risk of their own lives.

The first and third arguments oversimplify, in my opinion, a much more complex situation. Insurrection is not simply a military event. If you presume a situation in which tens of millions of working people are “raising hell” about all or nearly all aspects of class society, this kind of ferment will not stop at the edge of a military base or the outer wall of a police station. The loyalty of armies and police is not necessarily permanent and unchanging. There are many historical examples of armed forces turning against their officers and in favor of the insurrection. The people who serve a class society with weapons are under a tremendous strain during periods of insurrection; they must engage in mass murder of unarmed civilians. The number of people who can kill a lot of people over a long period of time is not large — most will balk at some point. This is even more true when speaking about “pressing the nuclear button”. Even if the order is given, will it be carried out? And if done once, with all the horror known, could it be done again? I would not, of course, argue that insurrection must be victorious — most insurrections lose — but only that the outcome cannot be predicted by adding up tanks on one side and rifles on the other.

As to the effects of an insurrection on a technologically complex society, we don't have too much evidence. However, we can look at earthquakes, hurricanes, and other disasters and see how quickly a technological society can recover from massive disruption. Technological societies possess large surpluses which are available for use during a disaster — that is, technological societies don’t have famines following crop failure, just higher prices. Further, again presuming a situation where tens of millions of working people are willing to engage in insurrection, is it reasonable to believe they’d be willing to restore class society in order to get the subways running again? Particularly when the subway workers already know how to get them running again? People who’ve lived all their lives in a class society are naturally prone to prefer a dominant/submissive relationship to all the others and this is something that will doubtless persist for at least a generation or more after a successful insurrection. But give the human race a little credit! For the most part, we’ve stopped burning witches. We’ve stopped believing in ghosts. We can surely learn how to live free, neither dominant nor submissive.

Finally, what is the alternative to “The Revolution”? Comrade Murtaugh can only bring up the old chestnut about building up a new society within the old society. And only he knows better than that! For the most part, we are not going out to try and make a living by scratching in the dirt (“re-investigating our relationship to the countryside”) any more than we are going to fly by flapping our arms. A little network of alternative economic institutions threatens class society just about as much as “off- Broadway” theater threatens Broadway theater. And did Comrade Murtaugh say something about Food Co-ops? In the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the largest supermarket chains began as a food co-op and is still called The Co-op. It has bosses and workers, just like Safeway.

People no doubt do have a lot of romantic illusions about “The Revolution” and such illusions are fair game for Comrade Murtaugh and everyone else to attack. But, please let us have an end to even worse illusions about building a new society within the old society. If we are going to use the word “impossible” to describe social, events, this fits the word perfectly.

After all this criticism, some words of praise are in order. Comrade Murtaugh's suggestion for a North American libertarian newspaper that would appear frequently and be widely distributed has considerable merit. Speaking personally, I would be certainly willing to do whatever I could to assist such a project. However, it's only fair to add that I know of no serious group that has committed itself to this project. of the groups that Comrade Murtaugh mentioned, the IWW has its own paper and would probably be unwilling to put much effort into another paper; SRAF is very disorganized and probably incapable of putting any meaningful effort into a new paper; and the Vancouver Open Road people like their present format and would probably be unwilling to give it up in favor of a smaller, cheaper, but more frequent publication. It is possible that the newly-formed Anarchist-Communist Federation may be willing to undertake a North American paper (members of their Milwaukee affiliate have suggested such a paper in the recent past). Or perhaps an informal coalition of groups and individuals in the U.S. and Canada might be able to get together and set up such a paper. However it turns out, I think a lot of people are beginning to see that such a project is needed...and that usually means that it will, sooner or later, be implemented.

For a life without bosses,

Ed Clark