Sunday, March 27, 2005

Anarchist States of America

I've been doing a lot of reading about anarchism lately. Since not all of the people who may read this are as up on their radical politics, perhaps a brief explanation is in order. Classical anarchism is sometimes described as "libertarian socialism." It is not "chaos and violence." In fact, it is a social order as structured, if not more, than that which exists in states today.

The difference between anarchy and states is that of government. In a state, government has power and imposes its decisions on the people through force. This isn't always "bad" by our present standards, for instance in preventing crime or taxation for social programs, but it is an imposition through threat of force.

In an anarchy, there would be no real government, but there would be councils of various kinds for various reasons. At the local level, there would be assemblies of all members of the community operating through direct democracy. When an issue was larger in scale, it would be sent to a council of the communities. Obviously, it would be impractical for direct democracy to function for large-scale purposes, and so committees would be organized. Each community would send a delegate. What's this? Delegates in a committee? How is that different from representatives in a legislature? Well, in a few ways. A representative can do essentially whatever they want once elected, with only the fear of losing the next election to prevent them from making choices their constituents disagree with. Other officers of the government are appointed and have no direct accountability at all. Anarchist delegates, however, would be charged only with passing the decisions of the local assemblies upward. They would not be making independent decisions. Furthermore, they could be instantly recalled if they strayed from the agreed-upon message. The committee itself would be dissolved as soon as the issue was settled.

In other words, anarchists want there to be no archy: rule. There would be no people or groups of people with power over other people. At most, there would be delegates from communities discharging the collective will of those communities. This extends to economics, of course, with the abolition of hierarchy in business. All means of production would be owned by the workers (unions, essentially) and products would be distributed through a variety of potential systems, usually involving people simply requesting them.

So, anyway, I think libertarian socialism would be nice as something to work towards, though I wouldn't hold my breath on it happening anytime soon. What does strike me as interesting is that (as much as most anarchists despise the idea) it really could evolve naturally from a continual push to the left of every issue.

Right now, in the United States, we have what could be considered a conservative government and economy by global standards. Let's say that we progressives continually work towards our own goals, whatever they may be. In twenty years, we've got a European-style social democratic system, with a strong welfare safety net and universal health care and education. But the whole capitalism thing is still keeping some people in poverty, so the progressive goals shift toward more democratic workplaces. Next thing you know, we have a democratic socialist system. The "conservatives" are pushing for social democracy now, but the progressives still see inequality pervading society, and so we push for more democratic reforms to government. We get the right to recall representatives and executives in every state, we get the right to initiatives and referenda, we abolish the electoral college, and so on. We keep pushing. Wait a century, and next thing you know we have the same basic organization we have now, but it is in fact a fully functional, naturally evolved anarchy.

To me this scenario, though unlikely in the next hundred years or so, is far more plausible than the idea that anarchism will grow beyond a minority movement and cause a quick revolution. Some anarchists don't vote so as not to participate in illegitimate government, but this isn't bringing their goals any closer unless everyone stops voting. I think I am more in line with Noam Chomsky, who favors working within the system and using the system to achieve equity in an inequitable world until there is no longer a need for the system at all. As long as there is a world with a vast majority of people who aren't anarchists, there will need to be states to ensure that anarchist values can be protected. The last thing we need is to overthrow the state with the curent capitalist system intact. Yikes.

So, I guess you could call me an anarchist, or a libertarian socialist, but only in theory. In terms of what I'm shooting for right now in the political system, I am a good old social democrat. Once we have our social democracy, maybe we can move on.

An Anarchism FAQ (more than you ever wanted to know)
ZNet (libertarian socialist commentary)

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  1. (Hope i'm not harassing you with posts or anything; I'm bored at work...)

    Good ideas. I like anarchy as a rule of thumb: question authority (b/c much of it is illigitimate). But as a practical system of human political organization, I tend to consider anarchism squarely in the utopia category. Chomsky is the man though, on U.S. foreign policy.

    Have you read George Orwell's Spanish civil war memoir "Homage to Catalonia"? If not I HIGHLY reccomend it. It's downright beautiful (if ultimately sad) to read of how the village anarchists all over Spain overthrew the social order, taking over buildings and farms and placing their red/black flags on them. He also illuminates "real" anarchism by reporting on what it was like to fight in a non-hierarchical anarchist army.

  2. Landed in your site by following the Next Blog link. We are on the same wave length on most issues. My first post, back in Sept,2004, was about Terri Schiavo!

    Shall visit from time to time.

  3. Hey man, Great post. You would've dug the anarchist bookfair we had up here in S.F. over the weekend. I have a blog as well that deals a bit with anarchism (and whole lot of surfing).