Saturday, February 17, 2007

An-Archons

Mad as a Fish and I have been conversing in the comments section of "Socialism Defined". Fish has offered a few questions that the very few readers that visit this blog may like to help answer. He starts with a little story: [Note: Most of the formating is my doing.]




  • An 'anarchist' friend and me were having a drink (about a year ago, when I was still working the 9-5) and we moved on to the inevitable 'why do we bother with work?' convo.

  • "It's all in the mind you know." He said, as if I hadn't heard it before. "The State. You don't have to go to work tomorrow - we could all just up sticks and stop - and that would be the end of that. People don't realise their own power."
  • To which I responded, "Yes, but I am, unfortunately, living under a capitalist system of labour organisation - which means that in order to achieve my goals I have to engage with it - Would you suggest that I simply stop the pursuit of what I desire?"
  • "Ah!" He said, as if pulling off some particular coup. "But then most of what you desire is measured by the private property you can purchase with your earnings! Property is theft, man."
  • So I reach for his glass, "You won't mind if I take your pint then."
  • "Get off - that's mine!"

He continues:

  • Property is theft - moron. It's not that I condone private property as an institution - it's just that it is UTTERLY pervasive as an idea, and has been since it was begun by enclosure acts in the 1600's. Removing such a deeply entrenched idea takes time - this is why I think Anarchism - at least in practice (if not theory) - is a little juvenile.

And then asks:

Would like to hear your thoughts on Anarchism - as it's actually quite a new idea to me. I know 'without state' does not nessecarily mean 'without order' - it's just that,
  1. given the six billion people we have on this merry little dirtball, can there be any other means of realistic mass cooperation than the state?
  2. Would you advocate the 'small social units' approach instead?
  3. And wouldn't that in turn lead to cultural and technological stagnation?
  4. Is that a bad thing?

My responses:

1) Yes. Of course, this has to start from some common definitions. "State" can have a good or bad connotation. I like to separate the "good" state from the "bad" state by denoting the former as the "public trust" (schools, transportation, hospitals, fire and accountable police DP, etc) and the bad state as "The State" or "Big Brother" (corporate welfare, military- and prison- industrial complexes, goon police). The public trust serves any and all - all benefit from it, and all must pay for it. We each have a stake in the education of our children; the health and well-being of our neighbours, family, and coworkers; the movement of goods and raw materials, etc. Whereas with "The State", very few benefit from corporate welfare and the creation of mechanisms of oppression like prisons and detention centers. I cannot accept that we must allow "The State" to exist alongside the public trust. They both feed from the same teat.

2) Yes, I would advocate such an approach. Herbert Simon talks a bit about this and other economic topics. A good article can be found on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Simon Also, if we look at biology, we see that in many cases this is how organisms do it. Our cells organise themselves into productive units that perform some specific task. They don't require the brain to perform every little operation. Humans in large groups are less efficient than humans in smaller groups. There is a part of the brain that largely dictates how many people we can have in our "I remember/know you!" storage. Tribal and hunter-gatherer cultures are known to split when they grow beyond that number. Military units are also organised into 150 or less men. I almost talked about this kind of stuff in a previous post: http://mentat-mookie.blogspot.com/2006/10/centralized-versus-decentralized.html

3) Not necessarily. Computers, books, the internet, etc will break down borders and boundaries. The fact that we can come together on blogs and discuss these things, being half a world away from each other, suggests we have a wonderful opportunity to stitch the world together.

4) Cultural and technological stagnation are not to be desired. Culture is as much a means of expression as it is a way to adapt to changing conditions. Technology will become increasingly necessary as our society grows and becomes more complex. I couldn't imagine our modern economy operating without digital computers. The extra paper waste and time less well spent crunching numbers and charts out by hand would make it nearly impossible.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Mad as a Fish said...

Honoured to have the issues currently running through my curdled brain up on your wall! Will keep an eye on this one with interest.

17 February, 2007 15:44  
Blogger Mookie said...

Fish,

I have edited this post since you last commented. Please look over it again to see the new bits

17 February, 2007 16:00  
Blogger Delta said...

Hi Mad as Fish,

Perhaps I can take a swing at some of the questions.

Removing such a deeply entrenched idea takes time - this is why I think Anarchism - at least in practice (if not theory) - is a little juvenile

Of course removing an idea that pervasive takes time. There is nothing in anarchist theory that says that property should, or will, be rejected spontaneously one day. We are from from that day (if it ever comes) and there is much work to be done before it can happen.

1).It's often assumed that anarchism is the rejection of any sort of social organization. This view is very much mistaken. Anarchy is simply organization with the goal of getting rid of unnecessary coercion and hierarchy. It's the desire to implement true democracy, decentralization, and to give people the power to control their own destinies. Is it possible in our world to live with a perfect democracy and without social and political hierarchies? I don't know if that ideal is possible in practice, but I think we should at least hope to move in that direction (we have plenty of room for improvement at the moment). Anarchism is not directly opposed to a governing body either. It's just that that body must be truly democratically elected, instantly recallable, and must serve to further the liberty of the individual and not restrict it.

2). I think there can be large-scale cooperation on the level of a nation, but it has to be built up of strongly controlled democratic institutions on smaller scales. If people are able to control their community democratically and send some sort of unpaid, recallable delegate to voice their opinion at the higher regional, and then national, levels then I think that could work effectively. But the majority of power should rest with the community, because people for the most part should only have influence in the decisions to the extent that they're affected by it. A rebuilding of local democracy is critical. But to do so changes in the existing institutions must take place. People need economic security in their communities as well as a reduced work week so that they can effectively participate in the democratic process.

3). I don't think there's any chance of cultural stagnation. For what reason would you suggest that there would be? And technological? There's no reason why small regions couldn't cooperate to jointly maintain very well-equipped laboratories and engineering facilities.

If anything, we're in a period of deep cultural decay now.

4).Technological or cultural stagnation is certainly not to be desired, and I don't believe it would result from an anarchistic society.

19 February, 2007 13:19  
Anonymous mad as a fish said...

Hello all - long time, no post! - and while I appreciate that this issue may have become a little stale in my absence - a few of Delta's points seem worth adressing (and my own, worth defending).

A combination of the old computer having died and gone to PC heaven, and the local Socialists taking liberties with my time have set me back several weeks blogging (and other general housekeeping tasks), but if anyone's still keeping an eye on this post...

Though the two are closely related, Anarchism has always seemed to me to be a much more high-concept affair than socialism. It deals in such nebulous ideas as 'the nature of freedom' and 'direct democracy' - placing the latter (in many respects) in the position of 'the great leveller'.

Socialism holds that the path to equality is an economic one, that if we consider people to be driven by their basest needs, then satisfying the basest needs of the majority in the fairest manner possible is the true path to destroying traditional institutional and class models.

It is a fact of life that everyone, regardless of rank or status, must consume to survive. If we take this as the base fact of existence, then introduce the idea that everyone should, by rights, be expected to contribute their unique skills for the right to consume the product of the unique skills of others - then we create a system whereby the groundwork for the elimination of explotation is established.

It has long been my considered opinion that EXPLOITATION is the root cause of all the social and cultural ills created and maintained by means of the Capitalist Nation-State. Indeed, the very function (though it be undirected) of the Nation-State is that of a mechanism for legitimising and supporting an economic structure.

Perhaps initially, as economists first began to formulate Free Market ideas as an answer to Mercantilism (the then structure, supported by the hierarchy inherent to Feudalism), the aim was to provide for and liberate the greatest majority, using Capital as 'the great leveller'.

What it in fact achieved was nothing more than assigning value to the individual based on how much society APPRECIATED their labours (as opposed to how much they NEEDED them) - thus a new 'wage hierarchy' was established - and inevitably those who controlled the flow of more Capital were in a better position to accumulate further, at the expense of those who had little more than their commodified labour to offer as a means of subsistence.

Admittedly, things may have improved since, what with the advent of the idea of 'disposable income' and 'free time', but the basic point that CAPITAL = EXPLOITATION cannot be denied. If Capitalism functions off a profit basis, then somebody, somewhere has to lose out, this is the idiot, oblivious worker, labouring under a delusion created by a system so firmly nestled into every aspect of civil society as to be almost synonymous with it.

Work has become a means, a means to the accumulation of Capital, as opposed to an end, a means of producing what we need in its own right.

Of course it would be ridiculous, even impossible, to suggest that EVERYONE should learn how to produce EVERYTHING they could want - from growing a banana to building a 20 gigapixel camera mobile. Instead what Socialism advocates is a system whereby everyone contributes what they can, and thereby is entitled to other products they themselves cannot create, but that they deserve by virtue of contributing something another might need.

I should stress that I am NOT referring to a system of barter here - but I imagine that was obvious.

Admittedly it is imperfect, as this does not address problems of supply and demand - a three bedroom house with a sea view is still bound to command more respect as a product than a peanut butter sandwich - but this is again, where the establishment of a 'base standard' comes in.

You can argue that it is human nature to constantly want better - buit I wonder if this is not merely another contrivance of capitalism. To advertise and promote itself by having the general populace constantly waving their level of opulence under the noses of their respective lessers on the 'capital scale'. Perhaps people only aspire to things of more value out of learned cultural habit, not genetic imperative as so many tiresome 'human nature' obsessives insist on harping on about.

Still, this is conjecture only - the essential point remains unchanged. I'm not against many of the ideas espoused by Anarchism, just that I believe that before you can start talking about changing the public perception of democracy, rule and education - you MUST change the public perception of ECONOMICS.

Capital and the property it represents is the true barrier to democracy and equality, NOT the Nation-State. And while I will grant you, Delta that you said,

"Anarchy is simply organization with the goal of getting rid of unnecessary coercion and hierarchy." Without specifically mentioning the Nation-State - this is in fact the case in point, is it not?

What Anarchism as a movement often does not take into account is the fact that the Nation-State is the porduct of underlying economic exploitation, and that all other change must logically therefore stem from elimination of this inequality.

Democracy FOLLOWS equality, it does not CREATE it - I imagine that this is the fundamental schism between Socialist and Anarchist thought - Socialism defines equality as being something drawn form material circumstance, Anarchism, that it is something drawn from direct input into decisionmaking.

The way I see it, a radically reimagined State could still be a very efficient vehicle for progress - though one would have to restructure the legal and institutional framework from the ground up to support the public property ethos (property could no longer be 'nine tenths of the law' - just IMAGINE how much simpler legal codes would be as a result of purging the individual property rights section).

Perhaps it is impossible anyway to apply 'direct democracy' on a National, let alone a Global scale - this most likely worked in the Greek city states (where the idea originated) - and I hasten to add this was a democracy that was far from inclusive (women, slaves and resident aliens [metics] were not permitted to vote) - owing to the relatively small group sizes, and the immediacy of the issues to their personal lives.

The reality is that were you to take the majority and then put them in a situation where they were required to decide on every issue important to a national (not even CONTEMPLATING global) community - then they would become swamped by decisions of vital import to the few, but of little consequence to the many.

This would cheapen the value of the vote, and increase casual voting on issues with serious consequences. You can argue that people could be 'educated' all you want, but inevitably SOME would slip through the net, and if you started bringing the law into it then you simply introduce another coercion method into the process.

Forcing people to exercise their right to choose is as senseless as debating the finer points of science with a cabbage, and is exactly what Anarchism would wish to avoid.

Of course, I hear you cry, this is why Anarchism advocates the the 'small social units' approach over that of the state, because 'each community can effectively self-govern without losing the benefits of the organising capacity of the State'.

This is a petty bourgeois delusion - you would need a horrendously huge, complicated (not to mention COMPLETELY unaccountable to the public) bureaucracy to even contemplate unified action of so many small, distinct bodies (who would most likely be too interested in their own survival to care about the greater good).

This bureaucracy in itself would present yet another golden opportunity for the establishment of an elite social class - thus defeating Anarchism again.

Of course this is where Socialism and Anarchism again reach an impasse - some purist Anarchists would argue that as human nature dicates we work best in small groups that is the way it should stay - Socialists argue that this is a recipe for disaster as true scientific progress grinds to a halt.

"There's no reason why small regions couldn't cooperate to jointly maintain very well-equipped laboratories and engineering facilities."

Yes, but there's no reason why they SHOULD either - and would they, in all honesty, do so? As I previously stated, surely the product of so many small regions diverging would be a Not In My Back Yard attitude more concerned with safeguarding the survival of the group, than with cooperating with other groups purely out of an academic desire for the increase of knowledge.

They would only cooperate with these other groups if it was in their immediate interests to do so - if there was some immediate return. You can argue that it is more productive for human beings to act in concert as much as possible - but if that is the case then the two aforementioned hypothetical social groups would instead be one.

In becoming one they would need a more complicated system of self governance and decisionmaking - and then before you know it, you have the basic groundwork of a Nation-State!

This is not to mention (going back to the 'laboratory facilities' argument as the case-in-point) that in order to fund any group effort you need resources and equipment - CREATED BY WHO? PROVIDED BY WHO? Other social groups with access to the facilities to produce them? WHAT DO THEY GET OUT OF IT?

All science would have to become APPLIED SCIENCE, science with a concrete, beneficial result - a means, not an end - JUST LIKE CAPITAL. To be used as a trading point to the suppliers of materials.

One cannot ignore either the fact that one major effect of the Capitalist mode of production has been area specialisation in goods. Assuming areas were to become independent, many would be without supplies to keep high technology functional - with little bargaining muscle to obtain it from those that did.

The markets established by the Nation-State would have to remain in place in order to retain some semblance of resource circulation. Even if you could achieve this without the Nation-State (highly unlikely - this is WHY the Nation-State exists after all) you are still dealing with yet another example of a trade and exploitation hierarchy - again, Anarchism defeats itself.

No - the only logical result would be a descent into basic subsistence tribalism - Like it or not, the Nation-State is the most effective vehicle for Modernity that has ever been, and it seems to me that only the most backward, root-chewing dolt would choose tribalism over that.

Perhaps as you say Delta, cultural diversity would be aided by regional diversity, I'm not disputing this point - but culture is always a product of environment - so the culture therefore would most likely be so radically different as to be impossible to measure from our perspective in a context overshadowed by the Nation-State.

No - everything must stem from the economic reality - change the perception of economics and all else follows - Anarchism appears, for this reason, to be an academic pursuit, a comfortable, middle-class fantasy presented by intellectuals who don't realise that the uneducated majority (perhaps as a result of Capitalist preconditioning, granted) are inspired by bread-and-butter issues - not high concept rationale.

What would you do? 'Educate' the people into a middle-class intellectual revolution from above? Most would be stubborn, unwilling, and unmotivated - not mentioning the obvious non-sequitur inherent in engaging in a small minority education campaign with a view to inspiring greater democracy.

This smacks of thought control - not education. Democracy MUST be a movement conducted in the interests of the MAJORITY not on the impetus of the concerns of the MINORITY.

I may be missing something VERY fundamental about Anarchist thought here (lease don't hesitate to shoot me down if this is the case) but otherwise this is just the TIP of the iceberg. Anarchism seems a poorly thought out sequence of socially-conscious, inclusive thought advanced by liberals terrified of the idea of deconstructing the 'liberating' elements of the Free Market.

This is the effect of Capitalism, brothers. It has convinced many who have the right mindset to forge social change to forgo the OBVIOUS economic aspect out of an ingrained, underlying fear of what the loss of 'personal propety' might mean for liberty.

This is a FLAWED liberty, smoke and mirrors put up by a fragile, self-interested capitalist class - The Free Market once again establishes itself as a religion in this sense - instilling a vague, underlying unease with questioning divine mandate - Capital is it's deity, and the holders of Capital, it's priests.

Anarchism is a hang up, a creation by those, admirably (if misguidedly) worried about a loss of liberty - This is the argument of Socialists as concisely as I could manage... I know it's a lot to chew through, but I do get carried away with the old firy rhetoric on occasion!

Please, let me know any and all responses you have to these ideas and points, as it has always been an issue of much concern to me with the Left - because we count so many intelligent, thinking people in our ranks, people who are utterly conviced that their view of the utopian future is the right one (and, of course, we know we are right, aren't we? ;)) - we rarely find consensus as often as the boorish right - content to shout others down in place of, say, having an argument.

This is why debate is so important. It is very gratifying to know that I am not alone in my desire to talk it out in any case. Many Regards, and good to be back!
Laurence.

30 March, 2007 05:49  
Blogger Delta said...

Laurence,

Good to hear back from you comrade. I have to admit that I'm a little tipsy from enjoying some fine margaritas, but I'm afraid if I don't respond tonight I won't have time to later.

I do have some things I'd like to respond to, but first I think it should be said that I agree with a lot of what you have said. Your focus on the economic, material condition of people is something that I consider part of my outlook at well. However, I think it should be noted that while the movement toward change in our society must have at its base basic material gains for the masses, they also need to be inspired with an idea. Daniel Guerin talks about this to some extent in his book "Fascism and Big Business" that I'm currently reading. He explains that the reason that socialism failed in comparison to fascism in Italy and Germany is that the socialism pronounced was too scientific and lacked the sort of passion to a higher ideal that inspires people to risk what they have and to pursue positive changes in society that may not necessarily benefit them, but will benefit those following them.

Guerin writes:
" Without a doubt, the socialist movement does not aim to maintain and exploit the mystical tendencies of the masses, but, on the contrary, to destroy the material roots of religious sentiment by abolishing the capitalist system, the source of suffering and chaos. The surest way to stamp out the forms of reactionary mysticism (traditional religion and fascist "religion") is to hasten the end of capitalism and the advent of socialism. But while waiting for success, socialists face a concrete fact that they must take into account: the survival of religious sentiment.
This religiosity can be turned to account by transforming it, counterposing a superior substitute to fascist mysticism: an "idealism" which would not be fallacious, because it would be based on reality, with both feet on the ground, guided by a scientific concept of history and by its highly "spiritual" purpose of ending man's alienation
"

I consider anarchism and socialism both necessary ingredients in the ending of capitalism and hence man's exploitation and a large degree of his suffering. That's why I more commonly label myself as libertarian socialist or libertarian communist. I look at it in an organic, non-dogmatic way and try to use the both ideas to guide my actions/beliefs towards things that bind our interests together yet also preserve our individuality and freedom.

Capital and the property it represents is the true barrier to democracy and equality, NOT the Nation-State

But is the Nation-State not the maintainer of capital and property? I believe the anarchist, or libertarian socialist/communist solution is to abolish BOTH. You can't destroy a tool of oppression and hierarchy by using a tool of oppression and hierarchy is what I think it boils down to.

You can argue that it is human nature to constantly want better - buit I wonder if this is not merely another contrivance of capitalism. To advertise and promote itself by having the general populace constantly waving their level of opulence under the noses of their respective lessers on the 'capital scale'. Perhaps people only aspire to things of more value out of learned cultural habit, not genetic imperative as so many tiresome 'human nature' obsessives insist on harping on about

I completely agree. Human wants and needs are not infinite. In my life I'm pretty content with my material conditions (middle class) but simply yearn for more political freedom and control over my own life.

Democracy FOLLOWS equality, it does not CREATE it - I imagine that this is the fundamental schism between Socialist and Anarchist thought

No, democracy and equality must come at the same time, seemingly by definition. For how can you have equality WITHOUT democracy? Doesn't equality and dictatorship sound a little conflicting? But yes, I agree that democracy is not possible without economic equality. Economic inequality directly translates into political inequality, and I think vice-versa.

The way I see it, a radically reimagined State could still be a very efficient vehicle for progress

For historical reasons I'm very skeptical of any state "guiding" the revolution. Official bodies, whether they be the leaders of trade unions or leaders of "revolutionary" political parties, have seemingly always been many steps behind the masses in their revolutionary spirit. Now if you mean a completely democratic state, then okay, we're in agreement, but it's not easy to pass that test.


They would only cooperate with these other groups if it was in their immediate interests to do so - if there was some immediate return. You can argue that it is more productive for human beings to act in concert as much as possible - but if that is the case then the two aforementioned hypothetical social groups would instead be one.


I think the groups would, and should, work together. However, they should work together by mutual agreement, not by coercion of one over the other. Today, even though my city is overwhelmingly against the Iraq war, we are still FORCED to support it. I don't think this is justified (regardless of the moral situation of the Iraq war-horrendous btw).

Anarchism is a hang up, a creation by those, admirably (if misguidedly) worried about a loss of liberty - This is the argument of Socialists as concisely as I could manage

What revolutions that haven't stressed liberty have been even close to successful? The Russian Revolution, when it was still good, was concerned with liberty and decentralized decision making. Same with Spain 1936-1939. What harm can come from being conscious about possible losses of liberty?

This is why debate is so important. It is very gratifying to know that I am not alone in my desire to talk it out in any case. Many Regards, and good to be back!

I completely agree. Glad to have you back and it's been a pleasure thusfar discussing this stuff with you and Mookie.

Best,
Delta

31 March, 2007 02:01  

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