What is Socialism? An Anarchist Perspective.

The following is a piece written by Jason Brannigan from Organise! submitted in May 2007 as part of the James Connolly Debating Society's "What is Socialism?" discussion.

Submitted by Deezer on April 12, 2008

“Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice
Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality”

Mikhail Bakunin

Socialism can be many, very different, things. For anarchists it must be libertarian, indeed class struggle anarchists often interchangeably describe themselves as libertarian socialists or libertarian communists.

Anarchists are socialists who believe that socialism must be built out of the struggles of working class people, acting in their own class interests. ‘Socialism’ cannot be imposed from above.

Some on the left have tried to attack anarchism on the basis that such and such a person in the past said something that was obviously dodgy. This may be a fun game, but it also misses the anti-authoritarian and collective nature of class struggle anarchism. Anarchists do not refer to themselves as Bakuninites, Proudhonists, Kropotkinites, and this is quite deliberate. While two of those mentioned have actually contributed to anarchist thought and to the struggles of working people (indeed a prophetic warning for all socialists from Bakunin is quoted at the start of this submission) Proudhon was far from class struggle anarchism. Anarchists do not hang on the every word of any one dead revolutionary refusing to get tied to a pseudo-religious dogma that tries to pass itself off as socialism.

Class struggle anarchists also largely accept Marx’s analysis of the workings of the capitalist system, we feel no need to call ourselves after deity Marx as a result. Yet there are significant differences between large sections of the socialist movement and anarchism. The most fundamental of them being in relation to ‘consciousness’ or the ability of working class people to act in our own interests and in the, quite reasonable, assertion that socialism cannot be achieved via or implemented by the state.

Anarchists don’t get involved with parliamentary democracy, at best this is a distraction and a sham, at worst, well… It has led to all sorts of oppositional parties getting into power only to accommodate themselves to ‘economic realities’ and implement the very things they were meant to be opposed to before they got in. The economic realities are of course the realities enforced by a global capitalist elite, not the economic realities of the day to day lives of the rest of us. There are other reasons for opposing the use of the state to deliver socialism. One is the point that any body that sets itself up as a governing class, over and above the rest of us, actually becomes a new ruling class with its own interests to defend. Simply, even with the best intentions in the world, socialists who utilise the state to bring about socialism on ‘our behalf’ become the ‘new boss’.

So anarchists aren’t about building a political party, if they aren’t about running in elections or seizing the state by other means, what are they about? Anarchists want to improve everyday conditions for ourselves and other working class people, while struggling towards the revolutionary transformation that can create a free and equal society, one based on mutual aid and co-operation. We believe in workers control, in workers running their own communities and workplaces because, simply put, they are the people best placed to do it.

Is that utopian and far-fetched? Perhaps, but lets consider the alternative, the continuation of the current system.

It’s not working, or rather it is, for the rich and powerful. But not for working class people across the globe, nor is it working in terms of the environmental legacy we will be leaving our grandchildren.

Stress and overwork affect more and more people while others are flung on the dole; we live in a world of plentiful resources yet millions starve; some people make vast fortunes just because they own companies, land, property or natural resources, but those of us who create the wealth, work the land and build the properties are left struggling to pay for the natural resources and commodities we create. Politicians tell us there’s no money - not for wages, pensioners, benefits or local amenities. But there’s always plenty for war (and politicians’ pay rises).

Locally and globally the gap between the richest and the poorest sections of society has never been so great. For all humanities technological advances we spend more time working than people did 40 years ago. Yet instead of a war on poverty they’ve got a war on ‘benefit fraud’, a war on drugs and a ‘war on terror’ while the institutions that create war, poverty and environmental destruction stigmatise, imprison and deport the resultant refugees.

None of this is inevitable or coincidental, it all comes back down to capitalism - an economic system defined by wage slavery and the accumulation of profit out of other people’s work.

Anarchists believe that, “the emancipation of the working class shall be the task of the workers ourselves!”

In practical terms this has meant groups like Organise! support workers against their bosses - against victimisation, in demanding higher wages and better conditions. Anarchists intervene practically to support workers engaged in disputes and are also active in their own workplaces and communities.

The focus on the workplace comes from the recognition of the power of our class as producers. Anarchists seek to get involved in and relate to struggles as they develop out of the needs and experiences of working class people. Some have called approaches to ‘socialism’ that are based on the day to day struggles of working class people, that seek to build class unity around actual instances of class struggle, ‘abstract’. I have to ask then what exactly is more abstract? Is it the reality of life under capitalism experienced by the vast majority of people in the north, across these islands and globally? Or is it some more ‘concrete’ reality such as the desire to see a mythic ‘nation once again’ Ireland created before we can have ‘socialism’? It seems obvious to me which is the more abstract.

Anarchists, libertarian socialists, are opposed to capitalism and the state. As such they are opposed to the mythologies of nationalisms and nation states. In Ireland that means opposition to rule from Westminster, the Dáil and our widely celebrated ‘new’ local assembly at Stormont. Both British and Irish nationalism have often been as detrimental to the life experiences and interests of working class in the north as have policies emanating from Westminster.

We are indeed in a new era. Not one were we hand over control to those involved in power-sharing. A control that is in reality only a small hand in administering a system suited to the needs of the wealthy and powerful. Not one in which we have to believe the hype around Gerry and Paisley sharing ‘power’. But one where we can begin to re-examine our real interests while dropping the mystification and worn out symbols. Our interests do not lie with ‘our’ nation, British or Irish, whatever that may mean, they lie with our fellow workers who together with us create the wealth of the world but who are not allowed a full share of it.

Class struggle anarchists or libertarian socialists want to secure, together with other working class people, a full and equal share of the wealth and social benefits created by the combined labour of our class. This means abolishing the capitalist system. Anarchists also want to build a world based on direct democracy and workers control of production. This means abolishing the state and not replacing it with any other centralised or hierarchical political body, but with a system of federation and delegation where delegates are directly elected and immediately recallable.

Anarchists reject all systems of oppression and all attempts to divide people through discrimination and prejudice. Recognising capitalism’s catastrophic effect on the natural environment they seek to develop a future based on sustainable communities. Anarchists are internationalist and reject all artificial borders and boundaries as we reject all the politicians and governments that require them. They do not regard themselves as a ‘vanguard’, we do not want to be the new leaders of a hierarchically organised labour movement, let alone seize the state in the name of the workers.

We as working class people have agency, we can act, we can start with small attainable victories. The working class still has the means to replace capitalism with a free and socialist society. The road to revolution may be long and hard. If it was easy they would not call it struggle. We believe that if the confidence and ability of working class people is to be built to the extent that this future becomes possible that all our struggles must be under the direct control of those involved in them and be based on direct action - that is directly controlled by those involved and not mediated through politicians or trade union bureaucrats. We believe, and history supports our belief, that ‘socialism’ will be achieved by the working class itself or it will not be achieved at all.