George Monbiot: Muppet of the week!

George Monbiot really does not have a clue about anarchism. It is a shame he keeps exposing that ignorance to the world.

George Monbiot: Muppet of the week!

George Monbiot, the green activist and writer, has never let his ignorance of anarchism stop him from commenting on it. It takes a wilfully ignorant person to write the nonsense about anarchism contained in his self-contradictory book, "The Age of Consent." Sadly, many of those reading and reviewing that book were equally ignorant (Johann Harri, please take a bow) and so he had little to worry about.

One thing seems sure, like many a liberal and Marxist he dislikes our ideas and seeks to smear us by means of "guilt by association." This he did recently in The Guardian when discussing neo-liberalism. As he put it, the neo-liberal "project was assisted by ideas which arose in a very different quarter. The revolutionary movements of 1968 also sought greater individual liberties, and many of the soixante-huitards saw the state as their oppressor . . . the neoliberals coopted their language and ideas. Some of the anarchists I know still voice notions almost identical to those of the neoliberals: the intent is different, but the consequences very similar." ("How the neoliberals stitched up the wealth of nations for themselves", August 28, 2007)

Yes, indeed, how could those in the Parisian streets fighting the riot cops who had attacked their protests possibly consider the state as oppressive? How could they fail to see how wrong they were to consider the state as the defender of social hierarchy as well as the capitalist class and its power and property? How did we anarchists fail to note how neoliberalism was, in fact, really fighting against wage labour and factory fascism? How could we fail to note Milton Friedman's and Frederick von Hayek's outspoken opposition to profits, rent, interest, wage labour, hierarchical authority and patriarchal family structure? How could we fail to see the neoliberals proclaim with Proudhon that property is both theft and despotism and urge its abolition?

Equally strangely, the "US oligarchs and their foundations" who have "poured hundreds of millions into setting up thinktanks, founding business schools and transforming university economics departments into bastions of almost totalitarian neoliberal thinking" have not been as forthcoming funding anarchist projects and organisations. Don't these people realise that we share their "language and ideas"? Apparently not.

True, the neo-liberals do waffle on about "liberty" a lot, but then the Stalinist bureaucrats used to waffle on about "solidarity" a lot, too. Presumably, that means we anarchists "still voice notions almost identical" to those of the Stalinist dictators? Unlikely, although some on the right (like, say, the neo-liberals) say we do. Perhaps we can look forward to Monbiot's critique of Rousseau by noting he talked about democracy and republics a lot which means that Democratic Republic of China's rulers have "coopted" his "language and ideas"?

The underlying mentality is interesting. Rather than anarchists being in agreement with ideas of neo-liberalism (or vice versa), it is in fact Monbiot who agrees with them. Clearly, for him, freedom simply means being free to exploit, to oppress, to be anti-social and anti-ecological rather than, say, the freedom to be yourself and manage your own affairs in association with others and in harmony with the planet. Thus freedom is associated with capitalism and our radical helps push back the struggle for an ecological society by associating it with statism and rule by (at best) well-meaning, but ultimately clueless, politicians, bureaucrats and intellectuals. Monbiot's logic is clear: people cannot be free to govern themselves as this will lead to the excesses of capitalism - and the neo-liberals join in and proclaim "hallelujah, another convert!"

In reality, a lot of state violence was required to create capitalism and, of course, to maintain it -- the state has always been an instrument of minority rule and capitalism, like any hierarchical system, depends on it. When left alone, people form communities and associations to determine and look after their own interests and to defend themselves against those seeking to exploit or oppress them -- something no ruling class happily tolerates (particularly as such popular organisations create the potential of a new world while fighting the old). Hence the neo-liberal assault on unions, community organisations, and protest in general. This is a truism, given the nature of capitalism as a system but also given that its vision of humanity is at odds with real people. Neo-liberalism, at heart, aims to make the real world resemble the model of neoclassical economists which, in turn, allows the latter to appear more realistic than it actually is. As Bakunin warned, to impose the abstractions of scientists (to be generous to mainstream economists, ideologues would be more accurate) onto the world would be both devastating to the general public and require state force.

Unsurprising, then, the authoritarianism at the heart of neo-liberalism -- even a superficial look at the politics of neo-liberalism shows that it is firmly in favour of "archy." Obviously, this applies economically within the workplace (wage labour gives them no problems) but it also applies politically as well. The neo-liberal agenda has always turned to the state, just as capitalism has always done. Even Monbiot recognised this: "The conditions that neoliberalism demands in order to free human beings from the slavery of the state - minimal taxes, the dismantling of public services and social security, deregulation, the breaking of the unions - just happen to be the conditions required to make the elite even richer."

Breaking of the unions? That has always required state power, as does dismantling public services and so forth. Anarchists, of course, prefer direct action - like, for example, strikes and organising workers on the shop-floor - you know, the kind of thing neoliberals use the state to stop. What better example do you need that we anarchists "voice notions almost identical to those of the neoliberals" than that? Nor should we forget that the "first neoliberal programme of all was implemented in Chile following Pinochet's coup, with the backing of the US government and economists taught by Milton Friedman." Some socialists may subscribe to the parliamentary road to socialism, but no anarchist advocates the military dictatorship way to anarchism.

So, implicitly, Monbiot presented enough of reality to show that anarchists and neoliberals really do not share anything in common. In fact, neoliberalism has always explicitly pursued a statist political strategy and goal, namely the state reduced to its "minimum" role as protector of private property and the power which goes with it -- i.e., the kind of regime anarchism cut its teeth on opposing in the nineteenth century. As anyone even vaguely aware of anarchism would know.

Within a week, he noticed the contradiction. "After my column last week," he wrote, "several people wrote to point out that the neoliberal project - which demands a minimal state and maximum corporate freedom - actually relies on constant government support. They are, of course, quite right." ("This great free-market experiment is more like a corporate welfare scheme", September 4, 2007)

So why say otherwise in the first column and suggest that anarchists and neo-liberals share common aims and ideas? Do anarchists support the neo-liberal agenda of "constant government support" to ensure a "minimal state and maximum corporate freedom"? Of course not. We just realise that freedom is too important a word to leave to the supporters of capitalism to monopolise and that the state, even Monbiot's beloved social-democratic one, exists to keep capitalism going and ensure that the general public do not free themselves from both state and corporate rule.

That the corporate elite may object to certain functions of the state should not blind us to the fact that they need it. Nor to the fact that they will always turn to it when required -- even to accept social democratic reforms if pressured by direct action from below (particularly if the alternative is genuine social transformation). We anarchists argue that without that pressure, things will get worse. That is why we support direct action, solidarity and popular self-organisation and struggle -- as the neoliberal era shows, relying on politicians to do it for you is doomed to failure. Only pressure from the streets and workplaces can countermand the power of capital on the state-- and, ultimately, get rid of both once and for all.

  


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