Mutual Aid, elections and a letter to Freedom

I've fixed a few typos in my introduction to Mutual Aid. Hopefully that are the last ones, but I'm sure a few still managed to get past!

Talking of which, this blog as a letter to Freedom related to my review of Steve Jones and his attack on Kropotkin. Some people do not give up...

Now on to my new upload of old material. First off, there is The Spanish Revolution: 70 Years On which appeared in Anarchi-Syndicalist Review. Nothing special, just an overview and analysis of the revolution.

Then there are two articles on electioneering. A critique of radicals standing in elections, suggesting what I term community syndicalism as an alternative (from Black Flag no. 224, autumn/winter 2004). Then there is an analysis of the SWP's 2005 general election article, plus reminding them that Tom Mann was a syndicalist after becoming disgusted with the electoralism they have embraced. Needless to say, the split and destruction of Respect should not have come as a surprise to any anarchist aware of history and the ways of the SWP! If they cannot give an honest account of the past, why should they not repeat the mistakes of history?

Here is the letter to Freedom:

Dear Freedom

Peter Gibson's letters (Freedom, no. 13) have left me somewhat perplexed. He seems to have a bee in his bonnet about something, but I'm not sure what. He complains about “Bakunophilia” in Freedom, something I fail to see as Bakunin is rarely mentioned. I can only assume by that term he means “revolutionary anarchism” and so he seems to be complaining that a communist-anarchist journal is, well, presenting communist-anarchist analysis!

But better Bakunophilia than Bakunophobia! His hatred of Bakunin seems to know no bounds, as he invents a quote to justify his dislike. If Bakunin really had written that his secret organisations would “seize power, overthrow the State and instigate anarchism” then I'm sure that Marxists would have been quoting it for some time. Equally, while Marxists may think that Bakunin aimed for secret dictatorship anarchists, surely, should be expected to know better? After all, Bakunin explicitly stated that the secret organisation “rules out any idea of dictatorship and custodial control.” He repeatedly stressed this, thus indicating that the role of the revolutionary organisation was not to “seize power” but rather to spread anarchist ideas, encourage popular self-organisation and help the people liberate themselves.

I could go on, but this should be well known by anyone who has studied the subject (e.g., anarchists!). It seems that Gibson is as ignorant of Bakunin as he is of Kropotkin, Mutual Aid and sociobiology.

Somewhat ironically from a fan of Max Stirner (real name, Johann Kaspar Schmidt), Gibson seems to have an issue with nom de plumes. He states that we such use our real names, otherwise we should “stick with the establishment.” Aye, right. Being made unemployed is a real worry for people and, unsurprisingly, they do not wish to make it easy for those in power over them (“the establishment”) to identify them. Bakunin was well aware of this: he was, after all, sentenced to death, commuted to solitary confinement and then exile to Siberia for his activities. That would, for most sensible people, explain his passion for secret organisations -- and why even in relatively democratic states many choose to use hide their real names.

Gibson suggests that we anarchists would benefit from reading Stirner. Indeed they would, but his confused letter will surely put them off. He complains that “our behaviour is not determined by reason. To suggest it is [is] self interested propaganda.” He then immediately suggests that we are “controlled by self interest” so suggesting that praising instinct over reason may be problematic. He states that most anarchists “cannot get their heads around the idea that we are driven not by intellect but by biology” which is good coming from someone who does not understand the difference between a selfish gene and a selfish individual!

He is clearly unaware of the rich work that confirms Kropotkin's arguments that natural selection favours co-operative activity. Robert Trivers, who independently came to the same conclusions a mere 70 years after Kropotkin, noted that a “very agreeable feature of my reciprocal altruism, which I had not anticipated in advance, was that a sense of justice or fairness seemed a natural consequence of selection for reciprocal altruism. That is, you could easily imagine that sense of fairness would evolve as a way of regulating reciprocal tendencies.” If Trivers had consulted Kropotkin, he would have discovered that his unanticipated feature had been discussed in Mutual Aid. Which suggests appeals to “biology” cut both ways for, as Kropotkin continually stressed, co-operation is just as natural as competition.

So our actions are influenced by biology, but not controlled by it. As Kropotkin explained, “the relative amount of individualist and mutual aid spirit are among the most changeable features of man. Both being equally products of an anterior development, their relative amounts are seen to change in individuals and even societies with a rapidity which would strike the sociologist if only he paid attention to the subject, and analysed the corresponding facts.” That is why Mutual Aid is subtitled “a factor of evolution”!

Gibson claims that the “problem for anarchists is that they cannot demonstrate that anarchism would give other people . . . more than they have got.” We must, apparently, appeal to their “self interest” but not their intellect. Ignoring the awkward fact that people generally think before concluding what is and is not in their self-interest, it seems strange that Gibson thinks that the communist-anarchist argument that by co-operating together as free individuals we can increase both our freedom and our access to the resources we need somehow does not appeal to our self-interest. For, as Johann Kaspar Schmidt put it, “the civic proprietor is in truth nothing but a propertyless man, one who is everywhere shut out. Instead of owning the world, as he might, he does not own even the paltry point on which he turns around.”

Iain McKay


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