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Anarchist vision

March 18, 2019 Leave a comment

Considering how many anarchists there are writing blogs and making Youtube videos, there is something of a lack of details about how any of us envision an anarchist society available for those curious about anarchism. I myself am guilty of giving out endless bitter critique but little to aspire to (though I have written a bit on the subject here). I have sometimes said I cannot paint an accurate picture of an anarchist society because, given how free it would be, forms of organization will likely be so various I could not explain it in the present. However, there are some things we could say about the free society. This post will sketch my vision of an ideal society based on anarchist principles.

Culture is made up of norms, which are beliefs and assumptions about the way things are and actions that derive from those beliefs. Norms govern a great deal of our behavior. They make it easy to think the way things are is the only, the best or even the “natural” way to be. Many or most people in the world believe it is normal for them to work long hours, pay taxes, rent and debt, and fear the very real violence of the police. Anarchists think this state of affairs should never be considered normal. If anarchist goals become more widespread (and of course one does not have to identify as anarchist to believe in any of the below), a free society can grow in the ruins of the authoritarian one we have today.

Autonomy

Freedom, liberty, autonomy, independence–whatever you want to call it, anarchists believe the people should be as free as possible be to pursue what they want. Most people are fairweather friends of freedom and do not realize the potential benefits of it. While not everyone agrees on what freedom means, surely it would at least mean making and taking responsibility for one’s own decisions, instead of letting others impose their will on us. Most laws that exist are destructive of freedom, so we would no longer value laws written by someone else. No one would stop you from doing things that did not hurt others, but you would still take responsibility for your actions.

Freedom to do the things we want could be impeded by others bullying, threatening, harassing or other oppressive behaviors; an anarchist society would actively stamp out such practices. Therefore, not only would slavery be a thing of the past, but so would harassment. Thanks to mutual aid and solidarity (see below), poverty would be gone as well, so people would have the time and energy to pursue those things they want for most of the time, rather than spend all day at work.

I think privacy would be an important part of freedom as well. People in cultures that value privacy will expect others not to spy and collect information on them the way states and corporations do today. That said, norms would emerge regarding when to intervene, say, when there is a dog in a hot car, or when neighbors suspect a man is keeping someone locked up in his basement.

Prison is another tool of oppression that will need to be torn down. A free society would not threaten people with imprisonment and all its concomitant violence except as a last resort. While forms of governance will vary (see below), it is likely free people would deal with the problem locally, focus on getting to the root of the problem, repayment and reconciliation. Violent punishment for non-conformity is not conducive to a free society.

As I will explain more below, an anarchist world would be one where people could associate with whom they want, move where they want and, unless it oppresses others, do what they want. They would be free from slavery, incarceration, stress, discrimination, poverty and violence, or at least, much freer in all those respects than they are today.

Equality

In the society I envision, it would be normal to treat everyone equally. We like to think we already do that but we do not. Class, money and status are measures of inequality, and our culture accepts them. People discriminate against others based on race and gender, as well, often due to the unconscious influence of culture, in spite of our conscious efforts. These norms of unequal treatment are not just “differences of opinion”. They lead to violence. For example, landlords can and do deny people a place to live because they are transgender, and bosses deny people employment due to their skin color. As a result, racial or gender minorities (and especially people who are both) are more likely to be unemployed, poor or living on the street. This kind of violence is known as structural violence: The landlord himself may not have raised a hand to you, but the police will if you do not comply. But none of this discrimination or violence is necessary, and does not exist in egalitarian societies. In a post-landlord world, no one would own land or homes. They would simply inhabit them, owning them in effect but not having any rights to the place if they move. I see no reason we could not have decent homes for everyone, enough food that people could have all they want, and access to whatever other goods they choose. (Indeed, they might well have much better goods, as capitalism is a highly inefficient form of production and innovation.)

It has been proposed (eg. here) that people have decision-making power to the extent they are affected by something. My decision to put a photo on the wall of my bedroom was presumably not one taken democratically but dictatorially. My decision to paint a mural on a building downtown might concern far more people and should therefore be taken democratically. Perhaps we could have an app with which to vote collectively (which already exists, eg. here). What if I wanted to put on a play in the park but someone else wanted to hold a wedding there at the same time? An organized society might create a website one could visit to see who might want to use the park for what activities at what times, thus avoiding the need to bring everyone who could possibly be affected together to make a minor decision.

Equality would not mean some kind of perfect equality achieved through constant violence, like some people seem to think it means. There is no need to hamper those with significant abilities, like in Harrison Bergeron; indeed, in a free world, they would have whatever they wanted to thrive. They would just not get to amplify their power over others, because there would be no means (ie. a state) for them to do so.

Along with eliminating poverty, equal access to necessities would greatly reduce stress among working people who spend most of their waking time struggling to survive. Reducing stress and eliminating the stark inequalities of today’s society would improve mental health and reduce all kinds of violence.

Mutual aid

So if everyone can have their own house, who is going to build them? In a word, anyone. Mutual aid just means taking care of each other. State welfare is not an example of mutual aid. In today’s pre-revolution world, mutual aid might mean a community banding together to make sure all its members have health insurance. It might mean sharing food. It might mean providing services for free to those in need. As a teacher by profession, I also think it should mean educating each other. And if I have anything to do with it, that will mean tearing down schools and designing education for each student. We want education, after all, not schooling.

I would also like to mention that without mutual aid, there is no revolution. A revolution (or at least the only kind I want to be a part of) is one that decentralizes power. In other words, instead of giving power to make major decisions to just a few people, the purpose of revolution is to distribute that power to everyone. Mutual aid is how we ensure power goes to everyone, that no one is left out because they are too poor to pay for heating or medical treatment, or because of their race, or because they do not conform to our expectations of gender. People ask me what would happen to all those the state takes care of now through welfare. I tell those people, if we aren’t taking care of those people, the revolution will have failed.

The Black Panthers provided breakfast for children in their communities.

Mutual aid would also mean mutual protection of each other. Safety is essential. An anarchist society would be one with much less fear. Vigilance is important, but fear of police, terrorists, military occupation, poverty and discrimination will be gone. People would organize as communities to make decisions and engage in mutual aid, but they would also doubtless organize across communities to protect against invasion by a state or whatever form the violence they face might take.

Voluntary association

Another principle many people believe in in the abstract but hardly ever in practice is freedom of association. We like to think everyone should be free to associate but at birth we are inducted into a number of involuntary associations, such as the nation state and a religion. But if the nation state or religious community does not help us as individuals, if it is not an association I would enter into voluntarily, then it has no authority over me and should not exist.

Freedom to associate would mean being a part of any group, organization, community, etc. that helps the individual achieve their goals, and leaving them when they have outlived their usefulness. It would mean being able to move anywhere in the world without the need for papers, passports, stamps, fees, background checks, patdowns and all the other security theater designed to keep us divided into a hierarchy of nation states.

So if no one rules us, how are decisions made? Quite simply, we make them. Instead of government, meaning rule by a few, we would have governance, which is just another word for making and implementing decisions for a society. Plenty of societies have governance that does not require imposing one’s will on others. Those decisions that need to be made in groups will likely be made in the smallest possible groups, such as in a neighborhood of houses or a block of flats, the workers at a factory, or perhaps a family. If people want to fix or build a road, there is no need for them to call other people and ask them for permission. They can do what is in their interest, as long as their perceived interest does not step on others’ toes. If it might step on another’s toes, that person is affected and should be consulted.

When a decision could affect more than a handful of people, or when there are major problems, people would turn not only to their immediate communities but to a wider confederation of communities. Imagine someone was trying to invade the country where you live, but the country has already eliminated a central military command. Communities would likely have little hesitation in committing resources to fend off the struggle. They might have an app that allows them to communicate and vote easily (such things already exist, after all), so they can support each other and the wider self-defense effort. Moreover, no one would need to wait for the approval of another before they actually start defending themselves from the invaders. People would be accustomed to helping each other and would have no belief in property, so they would also accept refugees.

Forms of governance will vary from town to town. Governance is easier and more transparent when there is a constitution, especially if everyone needed to agree to the constitution to ratify it or to be a part of the community in the first place. The constitution might say nothing more than how decisions are made and implemented, a few rules (eg. don’t hurt each other and take care of each other) and the process for dealing with people who break those rules. A community of 50 people might prefer to make all collective decisions by consensus. A community of 100 people might say majority rule is fine for most things but 2/3 votes need to be cast to amend the local constitution. Punishment is likely to defer to reconciliation wherever possible, but a community might also punish someone harshly for murder or kidnapping. Punishments could be a reprimand for something small or a first offense, ranging to being kicked out of the community and being put on an online register for something much worse. In a land that prefers not to punish, prisons would only be for people who clearly could not control themselves. In every case, instead of asking who did what, we would also look more carefully at why. Trials could be conducted by a random representation of the town’s adults, or all the town’s adults, or even just one judge voted in, with everyone else watching, keeping check on the judge to make sure they do not abuse their power.

While there would be no laws punishing victimless crimes, we would still be expected to take responsibility for our actions. Our local communities might be expected to punish us if we dumped trash in the local park or river. We might get our names put on a list everyone has access to if we were caught harassing someone. If I hit you in your town, the norm might be that your community punishes me for it. Norms would spread in a stateless world, so many forms of governance or rules or how to deal with people would likely be the same in nearby places.

I personally am in a historical limbo, with no legitimate “leaders” of any kind, and will therefore recognize no master. However, not everyone in the world would consider freedom, justice and equality to mean having no leaders at all. Many indigenous people around the world are governed by groups of elders or even just one person. Of course such arrangements could be abused but elders, in stark contrast to politicians, are very close to the people. White anarchists like me should do nothing to change them and merely support them in decolonizing so they can actually live their culture. (That is freedom, after all.) Likewise, many small towns around the world have just one policeman, who is much more a symbol of following the rules than someone who will shoot you in the name of the War on Drugs. Again, there is no real reason to change such an arrangement, except, again, to observe the person and make sure they do not abuse their power. It is likely that someone in a position of authority, such a policeman, the chair of a committee, head of a council, would in some communities be on a rotating basis, randomly selected or at least up for election.

I expect there are people still asking about the difference from the way things are today, but the difference is night and day. We currently live under a political system with a constitution that we did not consent to. New laws are passed all the time, bringing more power over more things under the power of those who control the states. But why would we need so many millions of laws? How is any of this in our interest? We can design structures of governance that actually empower us, rather than one that makes all the important decisions for us, and we make decisions for ourselves, rather than letting others make them on behalf of a few rich people. We would no longer live under the constant threat of violence for non-conformity to someone else’s laws.

Common ownership of the means of production

Like collective decision-making, reconciliation, leaving people alone and taking responsibility for one’s actions, cooperation would be a major part of a revolution. Cooperation is one of humanity’s greatest strengths and will be absolutely necessary both to succeed in the initial parts of the revolution (eg. tearing down the state) and to remain free in the later parts (after the state is gone). It will thereby be a cornerstone of the free society. We will not be atomized and alone. We will have thriving communities where children learn from all the people around them. We will decide together how to use our resources. We will protect our environments from destruction. And we will own the means of production together.

One part of an anarchist revolution would need to include seizing the means of production. When they get class consciousness, those working in factories, offices and other soul-sucking places will kick out the bosses, managers and owners and run them for themselves. In other words, at some point, workers will need to use force to become managers. Anarchism is about freedom, and owning your own workplace gives that freedom. Anarchism is about equality, so instead of the hierarchy pyramid of the corporation, workers will now have equal say in how the business is run and (until money is phased out) how the profits are distributed.

Many jobs and entire businesses are unnecessary and wasteful. If they are not oriented to pro-social goals, they can be eliminated. Some people work in tax compliance, but when there are no taxes, the job will be redundant. Advertisers will not be necessary anymore, either. But they have nothing to fear if mutual aid has become the norm, because they will be just as well taken care of as anyone else, and they can do other things. Many businesses can be merged. Look at how inefficient it is to work separately in several different organizations to develop a new drug. In the absence of competition, all those scientists could be combining their research and working far more efficiently. Workers would not under pressure to perform all the time, under the baleful eye of cameras and time cards and bosses, thus considerably reducing their stress.

There are many other tendencies within anarchism that would also be part of the revolution, such as care for the environment (see Murray Bookchin on social ecology). Critical thinking is not actually a principle of anarchism but I think it is absolutely necessary to it. For one, without thinking critically about the ways things are, most people will not become anarchists or join the revolution. For another, even during the revolution there would still be some people tempted to recreate states, monopolize resources, enslave others, etc., and people will need to recognize the signs and work together to prevent anyone from retaking power. Practicing critical thinking is a kind of individual safeguard against someone else’s influence, and it can be taught.

All of this vision is achievable and has been realized in one form or another throughout history, so we know it is possible. Building a new world is a very difficult task but I think it is worth it.

Consent

September 17, 2018 1 comment

Why is consent only important at some times and not others? Consent is necessary for sex; otherwise, it is rape, and rape is never ok. Regarding sex, it is assumed we are in voluntary relationships with the people who touch us. But we are also in non-consensual relationships and people never talk about them.

For instance, why do I need a “representative”? Surely, to represent me they would need to act in my interests. What if my so-called representative does not represent me? Can I withdraw consent from this relationship? Can I vote for no one? No. Their decisions apply to me. I didn’t join anything. I never gave any hint I wanted them to represent me. They never even asked me.

The police are authorized to arrest you if you have drugs. In other words, there are people who will use violence against you for ingesting or possessing something that someone in another city decided you were to face violence for ingesting or possessing. You are not allowed to ingest or possess something if that guy in a suit in the other city wrote down that you were not allowed to. If you do, the people who will use violence against you might hit you, kidnap you and throw you in a cage (and even force you to work as a slave), or kill you. When did I consent to any of this? Why does consent not matter in this case?

The example of drugs shows us the state considers our bodies its own property. Laws against taking drugs show that our masters do not allow us to put things into our own bodies, as if they were loving parents and we were children getting into the chemicals under the sink. The power to criminalize prostitution is another example of the state’s claim to have the final say in what you do with your body.

You pay taxes. In other words, if you do not pay money every day to a group of people you do not know who will decide what to do with it, regardless of your opinion on what they do with it, some people can kidnap you at gunpoint and lock you in a cage. Why do you not get to decide how that money is spent? What if you have better ideas than what politicians owned by lobby groups have in mind? Why does consent not matter in this case either?

And I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to care that some of the money we make goes toward making war. In other words, some people take your money and use it to buy weapons to kill and torture people neither you nor they have ever met in other parts of the world, making the people who made these decisions richer and thus more influential over the very system that rewards killing people all around the world. Do you consent to that? Or does your consent not matter?

I have been told that we tacitly consent, usually because we are not actively fighting against these things. But that is not how consent works. Consent must be positive. If want to take your clothes off, I need your consent. If I do not know whether or not it is all right with you, it isn’t. However, if I want to harass you, kidnap you, cage you, beat you or kill you, I just need a badge.

Why does consent not matter to us? Because the system that feels normal to us does not ask for it.

A truly democratic system would be one where decisions were made together, and when one does not consent, the others can coax, plead, bargain or apply pressure but should not force the dissenter. That is why such decisions should be taken in groups of 100 or less, not in groups of millions where it is impossible to come to a consensus and an elite develops. We do not need an elite. We can govern ourselves.

Governance just means making and enforcing rules. Government, on the other hand, is an institution that claims a monopoly on governance over its conquered territory. All societies have governance. Not all societies have government. Self-governing, egalitarian, non-hierarchical societies and organizations exist and have always existed. We do not need too many rules. Each of us should play a part in creating them, or if we just arrived, agree to them. We can all have the power to enforce them. At any rate, most of our rules would come from norms, as they already do, rather than written rules that might differ in detail from place to place.

Though nearly all decisions would be made in small groups, such as families, clubs, factories, and so on, for the occasional decision that needed to be made in a larger group, it would be possible to delegate authority to a representative. In other words, you could tell someone to vote yes on a certain proposition. If they do not vote yes, the decision must be retaken or considered null. That said, nowadays even the idea of delegates is probably obsolete, as we have the technology to make decisions across decentralized organizations in minutes.

When is an organization democratic? Joining the organization is presumably consenting to its mission, structure and policies, and members can leave at any time. (Cooperatives often start new people on probation before they can become full members.) At minimum, all members should have a vote on leadership (if there are leaders) and new policies. There should be no secrecy: Meeting minutes and other important information should be available to all members. The members should be able to recall leaders for violating a policy, such as acting outside the scope of their mandate. Again, these organizations would ideally be small, as the smaller they are, the more democratic they can be, as each member has proportionally more influence over decisions. Such organizations do not need to compete with each other to exploit others like the corporation but cooperate to empower people as part of their mission.

Politicians do not consult us on their votes. We do not have access to meetings between lobbyists and their clients, or lobbyists and politicians. We do not know what people who are making the decisions that affect our lives with our money are saying to each other behind closed doors. Why would we ever consent to such a system? Because we’ve been told it’s necessary?

Consent matters.

Strategy

August 6, 2017 2 comments

This post is (probably) the last of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist (ancap).

One major weakness with anarcho-capitalism is its lack of strategy. They have certain ideas I actually agree with, but they are not strategies but tactics. For instance, take agorism and counter-economics. Black markets, tax evasion and alternative currencies are fine, but alone they will not stop the state. Secession, too, while promising, will also not tear down power structures. These tactics are not strategies because we need more to have a revolution worthy of the name.

nonviolence protest strike

The true delusions of anarcho-capitalist tactics are the beliefs that you can somehow eliminate the state but keep the capitalist economy, that you do not have to or should not attack the rich themselves, and that violence is unnecessary for a revolution.

Black markets will not necessarily help the poor, disabled or persecuted. Tax evasion is very difficult for most working people. Bosses are not going to go along with not paying taxes. Their loyalties are not to employees who happen to hate the state. They are to their bosses and the stockholders, who will only use the corporation to break the law if there are millions in it for them.

Anarchists should be building movements and cadres to counter the many forces of oppression people face, which are not only agents of the state. We could adopt “insurrectionary councilism”, as proposed here. We need tactics that do more than just criticize or boycott.

solidarity decentralized insurrection

Strikes

Ancaps tend to deride protests, condemn riots and property destruction and oppose unions. They see a few people destroying property and rush to the defense of corporations. They see riots and looting and instead of asking questions about the conditions that led to such behavior, they jump to condemn everyone who takes part. They say of protesters “they’re protesting so-and-so? where were they when…?” Who cares? They’re here now. They see unions fighting for better conditions and accuse them of stealing and breaking legitimate contracts. But workers and owners are in such unequal positions fairness simply does not enter into considerations of wages and working conditions. You sign a labor contract because you do not want to starve.

If you want to make a change through your job, organize your workplace and take it over from your bosses. I don’t recommend that for every business, but plenty can be said to treat their employees unfairly, taking a large percentage of the value of the product of their labor, firing them without warning just to improve the balance sheet, attacking strikers, and so on.

Some ancaps actually call unions thieves for demanding a greater share of production. If you believe market wages (ie. what employers have decided the minimum wage they can pay their employees is) are necessarily fair or what you deserve, naturally, anything more than that would be unfair. Ancaps believe in the homesteading principle. Haven’t the workers already homesteaded the means of production? (This post goes into a more detailed defense of seizing the means of production. Anarcho-syndicalism is not without its shortcomings, though.)

Strikes are really just one kind of industrial action. Workers should consider a variety of tactics, with strikes in their back pocket if their demands are not met. (This video gives a great rundown of how to fight back in the workplace. I’ll let him go through the specific methods for you.)

Strikes cripple production (or at least slow it down considerably), putting a dent in the wealth of those who control the state. If nothing else, a strike can grant workers a larger share of the product of their own labor. (Ideally, those same workers would quit and form cooperatives and communes, but those initiatives are difficult and often require more money or land than they have.)

Even better!

Protests

Protesting should not rule out the possibility of violence, depending on the circumstances, rather using what Peter Gelderloos in How Nonviolence Protects the State called a diversity of tactics. There are many possible forms of direct action. I would not discourage, say, blocking people from going to work at a factory producing cluster bombs to drop on Yemen. I see great potential value in attacking military recruiters, prisons, summit meetings, the offices and homes of people who profit from war or poisoning the environment, facilities where animals experience cruelty and rallies of people with inherently oppressive ideologies (eg. neo-Nazis).

How could such violence not be considered self defense? We are already living under such extreme conditions a lukewarm response will have little effect. Moreover, it is a sign of how privileged a person is that he or she would lecture those less fortunate on how they should behave, when it is right for them to fight back and when they should be quiet and remain oppressed. If not now, when? When ancaps say it’s ok?

Again, protests can lead to violence under the right circumstances. Why would it be wrong to intimidate or beat up those factory workers building cluster bombs when you know that person is going to do something that will lead to the deaths of innocent people? What is the problem? You would, in fact, be REDUCING the amount of violence by only beating someone. It is the same logic as stopping bullying by using force, or shooting someone so he or she could not commit murder. (I write more on the legitimacy of certain violence here.)

Actually, they both are

The problem with this meme is, while independence of a sort is probably necessary for anarchy, the state has, on innumerable occasions, shut down independent farms (see the documentary Farmaggeddon or read Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal for more). Who will protect them from the SWAT teams? They could certainly set up security arrangements with their neighbors, but at some point the police will overrun them. However, if large groups are fighting the police, tying them down and stretching their resources, the farmers will be of much lower priority.

Indeed, this meme typifies the ancap belief in the possibility of non-violent revolution. Whatever tactics they attempt, they will need to defend themselves in large groups. Secession could take place in some countries, such as the US or Canada, but if the nation states get too small, or if the elite from one place cannot extend their influence into the new place, violence will inevitably ensue. Secession on a large level (such as the possible secession of the state of California) leaves us with similar economic and political structures. Secession on a community or individual level, where people can truly govern themselves, leaves those people vulnerable to violent state reprisals. We would need mutual defense among free people to stay free.

Solidarity

Demonstrations could be accompanied with strikes if workers are on board (ie. if they are “woke”) and boycotts if consumers are. Protests, strikes and boycotts can be part of a push for solidarity. Solidarity means standing together, where we are stronger, instead of being disunited as employees, citizens or consumers. Solidarity does not require everyone to be anarchists but merely to have the common interest of keeping oppressors away. Think of solidarity as being figuratively or literally standing arm in arm in front of riot police, bulldozers or other means of oppression, and swarming them to stop them.

From my perspective, the most effective way of reducing violence and promoting solidarity is through mutual aid. It leads to greater freedom for those who cannot care for themselves, and less inequality, with all the benefits therein. It reduces our reliance on big business and government, and thus their power. It eliminates the need for competition, for treating each other as crabs in a bucket, and for charity. Ancaps tend not to recognize the necessity for these things, which is why they are so lukewarm toward mutual aid. (Well, that and because it smacks of “communism”, which to an ancap is pure evil.)

I think solidarity and its attendant mutual aid are the ultimate weapons against those in power. Without them, eliminating the state will remain a pipe dream.

Hierarchy

February 2, 2017 2 comments

This post is part 2 of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist.

A pure focus on the state distracts somewhat from the more general problem of hierarchy. Not all “authority” is bad, since I defer to the authority of the carpenter, the tailor, the bus driver and so on every day. That is ad-hoc authority: I follow them for now for my own benefit. Institutionalized authority is the problem. Anarcho-capitalists (ancaps) agree with this idea but limit their focus to the institutions of the state. But it is not only the state’s authority that is harmful.

Power corrupts. The state is not the only source of power. In a world where money buys influence, the lack of a state would only partially diminish that power. Money could still buy authoritative-looking media sources and spread any kind of lies, fear, hatred, etc.; it could be used to bribe any kind of leader (such as union leaders or town elders); it could be used to raise a private army, and once those things had taken place, the non-aggression principle (or NAP) would be no longer a norm but would return to, as it is today, little more than an ideal to aspire toward. The state would be reborn.

I disagree with other anarchists who look down on anarcho-capitalism because they think it would be even more tyrannical than today. If that were true, why would the rich not be at the forefront of calls to eliminate the state? They are the true beneficiaries of the state. They might be able to reconstitute the state if it were eliminated, but without it the accumulation of wealth and power would be more difficult. When I was an ancap, I wrote about how people in a stateless world could defend themselves against people trying to restore the state. I do not disagree with ancaps on everything. However, I no longer see anarcho-capitalism as the ideal. We could go much further toward freedom and justice if we dig deeper into anarchist theory.

Anarchists oppose institutional hierarchy. Hierarchy as we know it today is largely a product of state violence, what Marx called primitive accumulation, but does not exist solely in the state. It has transformed people from hunter-gatherers and self-sufficient farmers into dependent cogs in the wheels of the capitalist/corporatist/whatever-you-call-it system. The majority is, by the design of the system, locked out of making decisions regarding it. That is just as true in a corporate hierarchy as in the state.

capitalism Mr Peanut

People with money are far more likely to become owners and bosses than people without money. They can afford the best education and the best means to impress others (eg. nice suits, lavish parties). They can afford to start their own businesses and do not have to work for minimum wage. They can afford the accountants and lawyers necessary to navigate the complex regulatory state. The owners and bosses make decisions, including the decisions about whom to promote up the ranks. Hierarchy thus reproduces itself. When there are other hierarchies in society, such as in unions, powerful people can co-opt them by buying the influence of the leaders. Hierarchy thereby creates a class system, buoying the people on top not only through the state but through their informal influence, and keeping the people on the bottom down by locking them out of the decision-making process.

But why should workers not participate in decision making at the organizations where they work? It seems cruel to tell them they should buy stock in the company or start their own when these things are far easier said than done. It sounds a bit like “if you don’t like it here, move”. Moreover, ancaps often say those things in regard to the current economic system, not some ideal free market. It is almost as if they are mocking people for not having enough money to buy influence over decisions that affect their lives when the system they live under makes doing so impossible.

Business is full of high-profile scandals (along with countless others we never hear about) involving people in positions of power using those positions to harass or go to bed with those lower down the ladder. If you want to be part of our organization, or to get a raise, or whatever, you must “play ball”. You could call this activity abuse of power but any hierarchical system enables it.

All these reasons are why anarchists believe in non-hierarchical or horizontal organization–no superiors, no subordinates, everyone on an equal footing regarding decision making. In my view, that does not necessarily mean equal salary: I might choose to divide my time between two organizations and thus take only half the salary from each. It does, however, mean all employees can decide those things together, and do not have to beg or butter up their bosses for raises and time off or live in constant fear of getting fired for some mistake or failing.

To address the ancap concern, non-hierarchical organization does not require violence. It requires creating such structures as viable alternatives to the life of class, money and power. It could mean starting cooperatives, where employees are also owners; it could mean starting communes, where property is voluntarily given up; it could mean any other form of mutual aid, working with the people around you to solve your problems. The abolition of hierarchy is an ideal to be striven for, just like non-aggression.

Turning fear into empowerment motivates people and reduces stress. They take responsibility. They are accountable to each other. They do not need to compete for dominance. These things distinguish communities from corporations. Hierarchy, on the other hand, creates stress and fear, as people worry about getting told off or fired or merely docked an hour’s pay for coming in five minutes late. The people in charge have no responsibility to their employees beyond the necessarily unequal terms on which they were hired. (And in a stateless society, who is to force a boss to honor a contract? I have written on this subject too, and yet can no longer see how someone begging to be hired could ever bargain on equal terms with a rich person who can afford better representation.) As such, bosses can, say, fire employees en masse with no notice. Hierarchy creates positions of better pay and power over others that only a minority can fill, which others can only compete for like crabs in a bucket. (And if you do not think the ability to fire another for any reason you like is power over that person, we must agree to disagree. Being able to quit, at least in today’s world, does not compare, since the company can simply hire someone else.) People jockeying for power are forced to defer to the people on top, to kiss their boots, to show themselves willing to serve and dominate, to play a rigged game with a smile.

These hierarchies are not “voluntary”. Ancaps say we should own the product of our labor, but do not oppose bosses and hierarchies like anarchists do. They only mean we should not have to pay taxes. The wage labor system, like the state, are forced on us. All employers claim the product of our labor and give us back a small portion of it in the form of money. And we are not “free” just because we can choose a different employer (as the new employer will also control the product of our labor) or start our own businesses (because of how difficult it is to do so in a world of endless regulations and taxes).

Hierarchy, anarchy, solidarity, freedom

To illustrate the problem, consider racism. A racist seeks to impose a kind of hierarchy. A racial hierarchy is not very different from a social hierarchy. I know of no perfectly fluid class societies where it is a simple matter for poor people to get rich. At least one survey has found a majority of poor Americans never even make it to the middle class. A racial hierarchy makes it impossible for all within the subordinate race to reach the top (without a revolution), though the masters can elevate some members of the subordinate race by creating house negroes and field negroes, dividing the subordinate race and refining the hierarchy. A social hierarchy is only somewhat less bad in that it makes it impossible for most to reach the top. That should come as small consolation to the poor.

Hierarchy necessarily creates inequality. Though my next post will focus on inequality, for the time being I can point out inequality is not an ideal. Forced equality is not, either, of course (again, anarchists are not Stalinists), but most inequality is simply unnecessary and harmful and too readily tolerated by ancaps. If we somehow eliminated the state without eliminating the stark inequality of power in society, the dominance and submission we know today would not disappear. It would simply regroup and return in a different form.

The problem with inequality

October 18, 2014 1 comment

The state is a tool to create a ruling class of people who acquire their wealth through theft. Inequality means those who have can buy protection from those who do not, and that tends to lead to repression in the form of police states or slavery. The state cannot, by its nature, eliminate inequality. But what if we abolished the state, as anarchists want? Would inequality still matter? I used to believe inequality was not a big deal, or it only mattered to jealous people. I was wrong. Here are three reasons why, especially today but even in a stateless society, inequality is an issue of major importance.

-Psychological effects

Studies suggest we have an innate desire for equality and fairness. The UK Mental Health Foundation finds that living in an unequal society causes psychological and physiological changes. Inequality can lead to a constant “fight or flight” reaction and perpetual stress. It can lead to violence directly through increased crime (including homicide), and can also create the conditions in which violence festers: less trust, disintegrating families and communities, poor scholastic and work performance and mental illness. The US and the UK, the most unequal societies in the rich world, show the strongest symptoms.

So much for those of us on the bottom of the pyramid. What about those on top? People with relatively large amounts of power and wealth are known to take on the characteristics of psychopaths. Compassion, empathy and sense of guilt decrease (“why don’t the poor just work harder?”); narcissism and entitlement increase (“of course I deserve to be where I am”); rules become for other people (“survival of the fittest”); lying and manipulating become easier; irresponsibility becomes the norm; and the desire to accumulate overrides other goals. (Find more here, here, here, here and here.)

-Structural violence

Structural violence is a kind of indirect violence whereby social structure and institutions prevent people from meeting their basic needs. Intellectual property laws that prevent people who need medicine from receiving it are one example. Borders preventing needy people from entering places where they could make a living are a second. Hoarding food or means of sustenance and surrounding it with fences or security guards is a third. Excessive debt, certain forms of discrimination, structural unemployment, poor working conditions and even just beliefs in the rightness of social hierarchy are further examples. Hellen Keller became a radical socialist soon after she realised blindness and other handicaps were mostly concentrated among the lower classes. A considerably inequitable social structure could lead to structural violence.

-Statism

The modern state is both a cause and an effect of the endless accumulation of wealth. Historically, it has not been possible to create and maintain vast fortunes without violence. Primitive states were forged in conquest to accrue and protect fortunes at the expense of their subjects, and modern states continue to exist for this purpose. (The actions of the so-called Islamic State mirror the actions of a primitive state.) Capitalist states emerged to protect and privilege those who made their fortunes as owners of capital, and while not all of “the 1%” want to use violence to make or expand their wealth, all benefit from and most refuse to question the violence of the system. A hierarchical or unequal society would make it possible for new states (or other forms of violence, such as human trafficking) to form. A stateless society should have safeguards against such a possibility.

-Protecting ourselves from the unequal society

The people of an anarchist society must protect themselves against the mental stresses and violence of unwarranted privilege and the potential reemergence of a state. My suggestion is a very widespread feeling of solidarity: the idea that we are all of equal inherent value and have no right to rule others; taking care of those in need; organisation based on mutual aid, including, of course, self defense. Sufficiently large numbers of people skilled at wielding modern weapons would make it easier to prevent the rise of a new state. We will be truly free when those around us are free, and we will only achieve freedom by working together.

The Black Panthers offer a model of an egalitarian community organisation. Imagine a confederation of them.

The Black Panthers offer a model of an egalitarian community organisation. Imagine a confederation of them.

It is not necessary—in fact, it is contrary—to enforce a state of equality. Benjamin Tucker wrote that the word “socialism” scares people because so many others think one can dismantle privilege by destroying competition and centering production in the hands of the few. But as he went on to point out, as Mikhail Bakunin had years before, anarchism is socialism without the state. If we organise to make decisions together and take care of each other, we have no need for authority. It is not necessary to kill rich people but simply to eliminate the system of violence that privileges them. Laurance Labadie once said “[i]n a world where inequality of ability is inevitable, anarchists do not sanction any attempt to produce equality by artificial or authoritarian means. The only equality they posit and will strive their utmost to defend is the equality of opportunity. This necessitates the maximum amount of freedom for each individual. This will not necessarily result in equality of incomes or of wealth but will result in returns proportionate to services rendered. Free competition will see to that.” Market anarchists might take this to mean freed markets and free association. Gary Chartier explains here and in Markets Not Capitalism, freed markets can work to abolish wage labour and corporate hierarchy as the main form of economic organisation, as well as the formation of a dominant class. (You may want to follow the links provided to read his proposals as to how to work toward such conditions.) He goes on to point out that those who protest in the millions against capitalism are not opposing private ownership and free exchange but a system that exists to grant the owners of capital a huge amount of power over society.

The future will be determined by what we value and why we value it. If we value equality as a means to freedom, we can have both.

Warlords

February 26, 2014 Leave a comment

“Anarchy is no guarantee that some people won’t kill, injure, kidnap, defraud or steal from others. Government is a guarantee that some will.” – Gustave de Molinari

The warning that, after the removal of government, gangs and warlords would take is not an argument for government; it is an argument against government. Government is not different from warlords. It is the result of the institutionalization of warlords as the formal rulers of a given territory. This argument might confuse some people, so allow me to explain.

Max Weber defined the state as that organisation with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given (national) territory. “Legitimate” here merely means legal, as actual legitimacy is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. That is why Albert Jay Nock countered Weber by saying the state “claims and exercises a monopoly of crime” over its territory. (Statism is the belief that this monopoly of crime is good or necessary.) David S. D’Amato explains its effect: “the state’s principal manner of acting is to make peaceful interactions crimes while protecting the institutional crime of ruling class elites.”

After all, what does the state do? It steals, but it calls its theft taxation. It kidnaps, but calls kidnapping arrest. It counterfeits, but refers to state counterfeiting as monetary policy. It commits murder on a wide scale, but prefers terms such as war and execution. The state claims to act to protect person and property, but paradoxically aggresses against person and property. It claims to protect freedom while taking it away. It claims to aid the less fortunate when in fact it benefits the powerful at the expense of everyone else. If I go to another country to kill people I do not know, I am a murderer. When the military does it, it is fighting terrorism and promoting democracy. This sleight of hand and clouding of truth is how the state manufactures legitimacy. From a historical perspective, the purpose of the state is and has always been the same. Franz Oppenheimer explains.

The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors. No primitive state known to history originated in any other manner.

The warlords have already taken over. That is the problem.

two warlords

two warlords

At this point, those with some understanding of history point out such is the way of the world: states and empires constantly expand their power and attempt to conquer us all. But again, this claim is not an argument in favour of government. It is an admission that a monopoly on crime is wrong. Vocal opposition on moral grounds to states and empires can lead to resistance and revolution. If people understand why the state, the concentration of power and the monopoly on crime, are unnecessary and wrong, they can fight it. They can find ways to avoid paying taxes, avoid conscription and arrest, set up systems of mutual aid to become independent, and counteract the lies of the schools and the media.

Countries can still be invaded if the states do not comply with the empire of their time. A military is no guarantee of security. However, the difference between a state society and a free society is resistance is considered legitimate and necessary in the latter. Those who believe in freedom believe in the right to defend oneself against all oppressors by any means necessary without having to put on a uniform. Freedom must be defended by decentralised forces. People will need to fight the power or they will neither achieve nor maintain their freedom for long. But it is possible, and it is worth it.

Finally, we often run up against the claim that domination, hierarchy and elitism are part of our nature, which is why formalizing them is accepting the inevitable. It is unsurprising that we should hear this claim so often. Everyone in our society with a few years of schooling claims to understand human nature, and invokes it whenever defending the status quo. However, in my experience, most such claims reflect the thinking of the immediate world around the speaker. In other words, we believe what we have experienced reflects the whole range of human possibility. Looking more carefully through history, psychology and anthropology, however, we can find innumerable counter-examples. One need look no further than the history of the highland people of Southeast Asia (Zomia) for people who have consciously avoided domination and hierarchy for centuries. My question to those who cite human nature as an excuse for domination is, should we not be allowed to resist and defend ourselves? Should we give up and submit to those who desire power over us? Yes, we would need numbers. Yes, we would need time. But if you recognise that warlordism and violence are wrong, why would you not support us? We should unite to fight all forms of warlords and replace them with freedom.

Freedom is peace

December 26, 2013 Leave a comment

There is a widespread belief that security and freedom are incompatible. We have been told, especially since 9/11 and not just in the US, that the needs of security, meaning keeping us safe from non-state actors who want to do us harm, who are apparently everywhere, outweigh the luxuries of freedom. But security versus freedom is a false dichotomy. The truth is, the extent to which we are free is the extent to which we are at peace.

Some extremes on the opposite end of the spectrum of freedom are prison, slavery, and a surveillance or informant state that does not tolerate dissent or differences. There is neither peace nor freedom in these situations, as anyone is subject to mistreatment at the hands of his or her masters at any time. The claim that “if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide” is wrong because people who have power do not always need what you would consider a good reason to use it. Ask people living in jail for selling drugs, or a slave. They are routinely subjected to whatever form of abuse because their bodies are constantly at someone else’s mercy.

A short way from the extreme opposite of freedom is a situation such as a city locked down after a panic. The presence of vehicles of war on the streets of Boston or Cairo following terrorist attacks is not a situation of security. In the case of Boston, ordinary people had guns thrust in their faces and their homes entered, which presumably inspired them with terror as intense as the bombing that just taken place. It is unlikely Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would have killed people if they had been allowed out of their homes, especially since if he had the people could have dealt with him themselves. In Egypt following the deposing of the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, peaceful protesters were killed and arrested and a curfew was imposed. Police of every level of the security apparatus, including those in plainclothes and the spy agency, remain all over the city. We are all subject to arrest (or extortion) for looking suspicious or saying the wrong things. The threat of violence looms always just over our heads. And it is not clear how such state reaction prevented further terrorism.

Getting people to expect such state action and believe in it as a necessary way to restore security and freedom are part of the building blocks of the police state. We usually do not know about how power is wielded every day because of compliant media; alternatively, when we find out about what the powerful are up to, we are told why their actions were necessary and right, proportional and in self defense. When we accept this state of affairs it can happen more often.

There is a middle ground (though not at times of crisis) in which police can provide the people with general protection and not turn despotic. However, state security of any kind is necessarily unaccountable to the people and can be used by those with power for social control. Getting a group we do not belong to to protect us does not necessarily lead to protection from that group. We do not necessarily have this choice, because rule is imposed on us without our consent.

That is one danger in the idea of private-security firms. Private security is more likely to be accountable to us than the state is, because if they do not report us they will not get paid. Nonetheless, we must consider the fact that my employing a private-security firm does nothing to guarantee the security of the people around me. And yet, my security depends on those around me. Errico Malatesta put it thus.

Solidarity, that is, harmony of interests and sentiments, the sharing of each in the good of all, and of all in the good of each, is the state in which alone man can be true to his own nature, and attain to the highest development and happiness. It is the aim towards which human development tends. It is the one great principle, capable of reconciling all present antagonisms in society, otherwise irreconcilable. It causes the liberty of each to find not its limits, but its complement, the necessary condition of its continual existence–in the liberty of all.

He proceeds to quote Mikhail Bakunin.

No man can recognize his own human worth, nor in consequence realize his full development, if he does not recognize the worth of his fellow men, and in co-operation with them, realize his own development through them. No man can emancipate himself, unless at the same time he emancipates those around him. My freedom is the freedom of all; for I am not really free–free not only in thought, but in deed–if my freedom and my right do not find their confirmation and sanction in the liberty and right of all men my equals.

Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of the conditions under which we can realise our potential. If we seek peace, we need security not just for ourselves but for others. This belief may be demonstrated when a desperate or mentally ill man robs and attacks someone. We did nothing to help this person and we are all vulnerable as a result. It is even easier to see in an age when people who feel their lives and cultures are threatened can go around the world to plan and execute a terrorist attack on the heart of the entity they believe is threatening them.

Security for all means peace. Freedom for all means peace. They are not opposites. They are, in the end, the same.