On the Appeal of Anarchism, a Response to Don Smith's "Are Anarchists in Occupy Aiding Grover Norquist?"
by Dave Fryett
The short answer, of course, is no. One might think that the title of Smith's confused article is preposterous enough to render rebuttal unnecessary, but the questions posed are familiar and important ones, and worthy of attention.
A large and ever-growing range of radical political orientation goes by the name of anarchism these days. It will thus be impossible to do justice in one article to each strain, my hope is to capture those elements which are common to all. But what follows is just one anarchist's view.
Like so many critics of anarchism, Smith doesn't really know his subject. He says he understands why Occupiers and anarchists reject working through the Democratic Party as it would be difficult to drive out the corporatists. This he regrets as, he insists, progressive Democrats and Occupiers are working for the same things: economic justice, women's rights, gay rights, environmental stewardship, a strong social safety net, an end to militarism, an end to the police state, and an end to corruption.
We do not seek merely the end of the police state, but the end of the state altogether. Another core principle for us is freedom; the ability to act, think, engage, disengage, build, withdraw, plan, organize, exchange, love, and dream freely. The state corrals such liberty, confines it within acceptable parameters. Anarchism does not wish to constrain the ingenuity of everyday people, but to liberate it, give it a free hand. Capitalism has wrought a society remorselessly divided into the few rich and the great many poor. It is the raison d'etre of the state to perpetuate this inequality. The state exists to suppress democracy as the great mass of people would never willingly accept the pitiless economic polarization under which we are compelled to live. In its entirety, the state is the enforcement apparatus of ruling class power. It cannot be reformed, it has to go, as does the power behind it. As John Holloway put it, we want "the end of power-over, and the unleashing of power-to." Here, too, we stand in opposition to the Democrats.
Moreover, the great majority of anarchists reject political parties. To paraphrase Ngo Van: The so-called workers' parties are embryonic forms of a new state. Once in power they form the nucleus of a new ruling class and induce nothing more than a new system of exploitation.*
Later in the article Smith suggests that the state has provided us with many benefits: seat belts...civil rights laws...pollution controls, Medicare, Social Security, laws, constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion and press...public transportation, public schools, disaster relief, medical research...
Firstly, we attained these benefits over the obstreperous and often violent objection of state and capital. It is not as though the they wanted us to have them. They were bestowed upon us under duress. Secondly, these things come to us from government because it has a monopoly on power and thus controls them. We get them with the blessing of the state or we don't get them at all. We have constitutional rights, but the only real threat to these is the state, the same state which ever so condescendingly grants them to us. We would not need the guarantee if not for the existence of the government as it is the only thing which can (and frequently does) deprive us of these rights.
Transportation, schools and the other services listed above are the result of the labor of countless workers, and it is they and not the state who are responsible for their existence. The state isn't providing these services, but rather is establishing its hegemony over them. The state rules, workers comply or endure some of the state's other public services, like police batons, pepper spray, cavity searches, detention, incarceration etc.
Smith, betraying an astonishing ignorance of his topic, contends "Corporations aren't going away, because it is efficient for people to organize themselves into groups, both economically and politically. Typically, such groups are hierarchical, and members of the group cooperate to reach shared goals. For corporations, of course, the goal is to earn money; employees benefit when their company prospers. "
Here again we see a propensity for circular thought. No Leftists deny the efficiency of group labor, we anarchists insist it be democratic. Under capitalism, one faction privately owns the factory and the other, the workers, hats in hand, beg for the opportunity to sell their labor for a fixed hourly rate. The former sell the product of the workers' labor for more than it cost to produce. They become rich, while the workers will lead not much more than a subsistence existence and pass their last years in want.
Employees do not benefit when the company prospers, capitalists do. What is good for workers--pay raises, shorter hours or better conditions-- is bad for the capitalists as it results in increased costs. This is the class struggle, the irremediable contradiction at the heart of capitalism. It's a zero-sum game.
Another core principle of anarchism is self-management. What we want is that the means by which society produces those things we need and desire--factories, schools etc.--be publicly owned and run by the workers. And, most importantly, that production be tailored to consumption, and that the profit-motive and all its extractive abuses be brought to an end. It means the end of one person depending upon another for his livelihood.
We anarchists have no objection to economic organization, as Smith put it. As to hierarchy: It should be up to the workers to organize themselves as they see fit. To cede some authority to a party responsible for a particular task should be their prerogative, and is acceptable to most anarchist so long as it is acceptable to those affected, freely given, revocable at any time, and for the benefit of the whole and not the recipient.
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