On Anarchism and Democracy

I was not sure I was going to blog this week, given that I'm busy and nothing had got me annoyed enough or seem interesting enough to comment on. However, that changed thanks to this article on the (excellent) new book Black Flame (which I've blogged on before) and the comment exchange I had with the author.

First off, I need to explicitly state that I think it obvious that anarchists should oppose, critique and denounce when other anarchists fail to consistently apply their ideas or argue/act in ways contradictory to them. Most obviously, this applies to Proudhon's sexism and Bakunin's racism.

So, this is not where I disagree. I disagree on two issues. Firstly, how important these failings are. Secondly, the need to place these comments in context. On the first of these, I would suggest that rants in private notebooks really do not equate to published material, the works which secured a person's reputation and position in history. Similarly, Proudhon's published comments against unions and strikes and his sexism and patriarchy should be denounced as wrong and inconsistent with his other libertarian ideas. They should not overwhelm his over contributions (such as critique of property, critique of the state, federalism, self-management, communes, and so forth). After all, the critique of the unlibertarian elements of his ideas are based on the consistently applying the ideas which are libertarian and which he pioneered! This can be seen from the critique of other libertarians. To quote section G.4.2 of AFAQ:

The most obvious example is Proudhon, whose sexism is well known, utterly disgraceful and is in direct contradiction to his other ideas and principles. While Proudhon attacked hierarchy in politics and economics, he fully supported patriarchy in the home. This support for a form of archy does not refute claims that Proudhon was an anarchist, it just means that certain of his ideas were inconsistent with his key principles. As one French anarcha-feminist critic of Proudhon put it in 1869: "These so-called lovers of liberty, if they are unable to take part in the direction of the state, at least they will be able to have a little monarchy for their personal use, each in his own home . . . Order in the family seems impossible to them -- well then, what about in the state?" [André Léo, quoted by Carolyn J. Eichner, "'Vive La Commune!' Feminism, Socialism, and Revolutionary Revival in the Aftermath of the 1871 Paris Commune,", pp. 68-98, Journal of Women's History, Vol. 15, No.2, p. 75] Rejecting monarchy and hierarchy on the state level and within the workplace while supporting it -- in the form of rule by the father -- on the family level was simply illogical and inconsistent. Subsequent anarchists (from Bakunin onwards) solved this obvious contradiction by consistently applying anarchist principles and opposing sexism and patriarchy. In other words, by critiquing Proudhon's sexism by means of the very principles he himself used to critique the state and capitalism.

This applies to other thinkers as well. To dismiss Rousseau and his ideas for his sexism would just be silly and extremely superficial. Similarly, neither Marx nor Engels were free of bigotries. However, any critique of Marxism which relied almost exclusively on their sexist, racist and homophobic comments in private letters would not warrant the time required to refute it. As for Engels public comments on "lazy Mexicans", on the Slavs (such as the opinion that they should be grateful that the Germans civilised them), and his conclusion in 1848 that non-historic peoples should disappear from history (down to their very names! and there is, really, only one way that can happen...) are more problematic, but are they really sufficient to warrant dismissing everything else he wrote?

I doubt that any Marxist, assuming that they know of these personal bigotries, would draw the conclusion that these opinions mean that Marxist claims of seeking freedom and equality are mere myths. Strangely enough, they do that with anarchism (starting with that numpty Hal Draper). The libertarian critique of Marxism bases itself on stronger foundations, on an analysis of the Marxist theory of the state (for example) and its suggestions for social transformation (not to mention an analysis of social institutions and whether they can be captured or utilised by the oppressed). To dump all that in favour of "Engels was a homophobic racist" seems remarkably weak -- that Marxists do that with anarchism suggests that they cannot present a coherent critique of our ideas (at least not without exposing the authoritarianism in their own politics):


"[Anarchism] by its nature it undermines all the suppositions basic to Marxism. Marxism was held out to be the basic working class philosophy (a belief which has utterly ruined the working class movement everywhere). It holds that the industrial proletariat cannot owe its emancipation to anyone but themselves alone. It is hard to go back on that and say that the working class is not yet ready to dispense with authority placed over it . . . Marxism normally tries to refrain from criticising anarchism as such - unless driven to doing so, when it exposes its own authoritarianism . . . and concentrates its attacks not on Anarchism, but on Anarchists." [Albert MeltzerAnarchism: Arguments for and Against, p. 62]


As such, I have little sympathy with those, like Rudolf Rocker and Chomsky, who suggest that anarchism is socialism infused with liberalism while Marxism is socialism infused with democracy (i.e., Rousseau and Social Contract theory). I think this is an utter misreading of classical liberalism, which is inherently elitist and authoritarian (seeking as it does to justify the power associated with private property and seek a government run by, and for, the property owning elite). This is not to say that liberals need not draw anarchist conclusions, some did come close to anarchism (John Stuart Mill and his support for co-operatives and defence of participation springs to mind -- but then the likes of Ludwig von Mises dismissed him as a "socialist"!). But, looking at Locke (for example) what becomes clear is that every part of his theory (from his comments on labour being someone's property and so exchangeable, to the "Lockean Proviso", to his arguments against monarchy) are all based on masking oppression and exploitation of the many by the few. For example, yes, Locke argues that the worker has property in his labour and its product but once he sells his labour (liberty, more like, as labour cannot be used independently of the worker!) then the output of that labour is owned by the buyer, the landlord or capitalist! In other words, his theory was formulated to justify and defend exploitation rather than oppose it.

It is also a misreading of the development of anarchism, as Proudhon rarely mentioned Locke but discussed Rousseau at length. As such, anarchism is a development from Rousseau (anarchism's grandfather, if you like), an attempt to purge from it the various authoritarian elements inconsistent with its goals and ideals. It has been a while since I read The Social Contract, but what I remember of the experience was that Rousseau’s work inspired agreement and opposition from page to page, with distinctly libertarian arguments and conclusions co-existing (often in the same chapter, sometimes the same page!) with authoritarian ones. I have to agree with Chomsky that Discourse on Inequality is much more consistently libertarian. If interested in liberalism, Rousseau and social contract theory I would recommend Carole Pateman's books (The Problem Of Political Obligation: A Critique Of Liberal Theory and The Sexual Contract). Pateman presents a libertarian (I guess I need to add socialist here!) analysis of social contract theory, presenting an interesting re-evaluation of Rousseau's thought. According to Colin Ward (in Talking Anarchy, Pateman was in an anarchist student group in the 1960s and it is clear from her books and arguments that she is well aware of anarchist ideas). An interview can be found here:


"Property in the person is a political fiction, but a necessary fiction if institutions such as employment are to be presented as constituted by free relations. The contracts in which I was interested create relationships – and I showed how even voluntary entry into a contract about property in the person creates a relationship of subordination, such as that between 'worker' and 'employer.' Thus my argument was that democratization requires that the fiction of property in the person be abandoned and that new forms of agreement replace contract . . . Contract is the specifically modern vehicle for creating and maintaining relationships of domination. "


Compare this with Rousseau (as quoted in section A.2.14 of AFAQ:


"That a rich and powerful man, having acquired immense possessions in land, should impose laws on those who want to establish themselves there, and that he should only allow them to do so on condition that they accept his supreme authority and obey all his wishes; that, I can still conceive . . . Would not this tyrannical act contain a double usurpation: that on the ownership of the land and that on the liberty of the inhabitants?"


And Proudhon (as quoted in section B.1 of AFAQ:


"either the workman. . . will be simply the employee of the proprietor-capitalist-promoter; or he will participate. . . [and] have a voice in the council, in a word he will become an associate.



"In the first case the workman is subordinated, exploited: his permanent condition is one of obedience. . . In the second case he resumes his dignity as a man and citizen. . . he forms part of the producing organisation, of which he was before but the slave; as, in the town, he forms part of the sovereign power, of which he was before but the subject . . . we need not hesitate, for we have no choice. . . it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among workers . . . because without that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two . . . castes of masters and wage-workers, which is repugnant to a free and democratic society."


And compare this quote of Rousseau (from Discourse on Political Economy) with Proudhon's "property is theft" and "property is despotism" (and quoted in section C.2, on why capitalism is exploitative) of AFAQ:


"The terms of social compact between these two estates of men may be summed up in a few words: 'You have need of me, because I am rich and you are poor. We will therefore come to an agreement. I will permit you to have the honour of serving me, on condition that you bestow on me that little you have left, in return for the pains I shall take to command you.'"


You don't find that in Locke...

So, I would agree with Herbert Read who, in Anarchy and Order placed anarchism in the democratic tradition associated with Rousseau. I should note that Read was influenced by Guild Socialism, whose major theorist (G.D.H. Cole) was a Rousseau fan and produced an excellent introduction to a collection of Rousseau's works which included the Discourses and the Social Contract. The key differences between the legacy of Proudhon and the legacy of Rousseau is that the former seeks a decentralised, self-managed federation which places sovereignty into the names of natural groupings of society while the latter seeks to concentrate power at the summit of society and opposes partial associations as the source of partial wills which try to bend the General Will in their favour. Both seek to make people as free within an association as they were outwith it, both base themselves on the same ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, but each reaches radically different conclusions. Both are, if you like, democratic but one reduces the citizen to a passive voter in a centralised system while the other makes the citizen an active participant and associate in a decentralised system.

So "democracy" had hide a multitude of positions, which is why anarchists have tended to stress that we aim for anarchy rather than "democracy". Democracy could and has been used to describe many different things -- von Mises proclaimed the market a "consumers' democracy" while the Stalinists loved to call their regimes "Democratic" or a "People's Democracy". During the miners strike Thatcher denounced the strike and the strikers as "undemocratic" (they were a minority) and stressed that her regime was a democratically elected government (as did Blair faced with the anti-globalisation demonstrations decades later). Anarchism is obvious democratic, in the wide-sense of the word -- anarchists from Proudhon onwards have advocated a decentralised, participatory socio-economic system based on self-management (direct democracy), free association and federations of communes and workers' associations. Our case against "democracy" could be summed up as democracy is undemocratic! A nice paradox which Proudhon may have appreciated...

As I noted in my essay on the Paris Commune, Proudhon had raised such features of the Commune as mandated delegates and the combination of executive and legislative roles back in 1848 ("It is up to the National Assembly, through organisation of its committees, to exercise executive power, just the way it exercises legislative power . . . Besides universal suffrage and as a consequence of universal suffrage, we want implementation of the binding mandate. Politicians balk at it! Which means that in their eyes, the people, in electing representatives, do not appoint mandatories but rather abjure their sovereignty! That is assuredly not socialism: it is not even democracy.") He had advocated this in March, 1848, just after the revolution (see this selection from his writings).

Given this, I can see why the likes of Draper would seek to base his case against Proudhon on his notebooks. The weakness, and shear gall, of Draper's dismissal can be seen from his comment that "For Proudhon, see the chapter in J.S. Schapiro’s Liberalism and the Challenge of Fascism, and Proudhon’s Carnets"! Thus Proudhon’s substantial public output is ignored in favour of out-of-context quotes from his personal notebooks, published long after his death, and an American liberal who cherry-picked quotes to back up his own bizarre interpretation of Proudhon’s ideas (Proudhon as fascist? really? K. Steven Vincent, rightly, dismisses Schapiro's case in one sentence: "to argue that Proudhon was a proto-fascist suggests that one has never looked seriously at Proudhon’s writings." [Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism, p. 234]).

Then there is the context, which is rarely provided. In terms of Proudhon's "anti-democratic" remarks against "the masses" or "the People", these do need to placed in context. Which, of course, the likes of Draper never did. It should be noted that the 1851 coup by Louis-Napoleon affected Proudhon badly. As well as predicting the authoritarian tendencies of the President, his coup was effectively unresisted and ratified by a large majority in a referendum soon after. The following year another referendum turned the Republic into the Second Empire. Marx suggested that the regime was supported by the peasantry, that it represented "represents a class, and the most numerous class of French society at that, the small-holding [Parzellen] peasants." Moreover, "the industrial bourgeoisie applauds with servile bravos the coup d’état of December 2, the annihilation of parliament, the downfall of its own rule, the dictatorship of Bonaparte." He repeated this identification: "Passing of the parliamentary regime and of bourgeois rule. Victory of Bonaparte." (as quoted in section H.3.9, and I would also point to the discussion in section H.3.10 on how Marx and Engels thought that universal suffrage equated to the political power of the masses).

As someone who appreciated irony, paradox and contradiction, I am sure that Proudhon would have found it amusing to see him denounced as being "undemocratic", "elitist" and "authoritarian" for ranting about the stupidity of the masses who had just democratically ratified an undemocratic, elitist and authoritarian regime! I can only wonder what the likes of Draper would have written if Proudhon had, in 1851, proclaimed the wisdom and sense of the people when they voted for Napoleon III! We get a taste of that when we look at Draper's take on Proudhon's misguided book of 1852 which urged the Emperor to use his mandate to introduce reform (The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d’état of the Second of December). Proudhon, it should be noted, did not "advocate" dictatorship but rather took the coup as an established fact and tried to make the best of a bad situation. Which was, to say the least, optimistic... and stupid. A decision not to be defended any more than it should be used as an excuse to paint him a proto-fascist...

As one scholar on Proudhon notes, Proudhon debated whether to publish his work, considering collaboration as "intrinsically evil" and to be rejected "on grounds of principle." The finished work "shows that Proudhon’s qualms were not confined to his preliminary jottings" and he "went out of his way to prevent unfavourable consequences from collaboration by strictly limiting the conditions under which it could occur. Hence, despite the caricatures, Proudhon was no sycophantic admirer of the Prince President, willing to go to any lengths to curry favour. On the contrary, the dictator would have to go to extraordinarily far in Proudhon’s direction to enlist his support. He would have to reform the constitution by making it more democratic." Bonaparte "would have to carry out social and economic, as well as political reform" (i.e., reintroduce democracy!). If this was not done, then "mutualist collaboration is to be denied" and "the book, strictly interpreted, does rule out collaboration. So exacting are the conditions set for collaboration that they could not possibly be met." [Alan Ritter, The political thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, pp. 187-8] This context does not make Proudhon's work any more sensible or libertarian in nature, but hardly the proto-fascist and authoritarian work that people like Draper suggest it was.

Of course, Louis-Napoleon ignored the call and Proudhon returned to his position of opposition to the regime. The regime itself refused him permission to bring out a new journal, banned his books and, in 1858 when De la Justice dans la Révolution et dans l’Eglise was published it was condemned by the authorities as an attack on the family, religion, law and morality. Proudhon went into exile to escape a three-year prison sentence. He remained in Belgium until 1862.

Which raises the real question, namely is it "undemocratic" or "elitist" to say that certain popular positions or actions are just wrong or that "the masses", corrupted as we all are by hierarchy, exploitation and oppression, can act in repressive ways? Of course not. That living in an authoritarian society twists people, limits our potential and generally degrades us sufficiently to keep us in our allotted place in the social hierarchy should be, for all radicals, pretty much a truism (and as discussed in this AFAQ blog explains why unpleasant things happen when the state "disappears" overnight thanks to a natural disaster). What makes you an elitist or authoritarian if you think that this position and limitations it produces are unchangeable or can be eliminated only if an elite (say the vanguard party) takes charge for while until people are "ready" for freedom (which, in practice, never happens). Given that anarchism is based on self-libertarian and self-emancipation of the oppressed by their own efforts, this shows why anarchism is not elitist -- not for us the elitism of Leninist vanguardism...

So to be a libertarian does not mean you cannot criticise the people. Berneri Camillo (of the excellent Peter Kropotkin: His Federalist Ideas fame) wrote an excellent article on this, entitled "Worker Worship" (available in The Raven, No. 11, "On Class" and one of the better issues!) and AFAQ discusses this in B.7.4 What do anarchists mean by "class consciousness"?. The majority can, and do, stupid things and can, and do, restrict liberty and equality and can, and do, get it wrong big time (as can be seen when they support imperialist wars and march off to slaughter and be slaughtered). An obvious example would be the recent referendum on Gay Marriage in California when the majority voted against it. Now, I'm not in favour of marriage of any kind (I believe in free love), but if people want to get married then they should -- regardless of sex and race. When I heard the results of said vote, I thought "What a bunch of stupid homophobic idiots" and, if I kept a Diary or notebook, would probably have written that down. If, at some stage, some enterprising Marxist "academic" comes along and proclaimed that I considered the people to be "idiots" and "stupid" then, well, would I really be an undemocratic, authoritarian elitist? Or would I be subject to selective quoting of the worse kind?

Countdown host Keith Olbermann put it well in his Special Comment on Gay Marriage. Simply put, this is an example of how the majority can be wrong (or violate the General Will, to get all Rousseau-like on you!) and why majority rule can, and does, conflict with liberty:

If anarchism is just "democracy", then does that mean we must support the majority and its attempts to restrict freedom? I doubt that those who proclaim that anarchism is "democracy" above all (and that Malatesta or Goldman is wrong) would agree with that vote. Of course, there will be comments on the need for minority rights and such like, which kind-of-suggests that the likes of Malatesta and Goldman were right: anarchism is not just radical democracy (a quote which I am sure will be ripped out of context by Marxists to "expose" our elitist nature!).

This flows into Goldman's arguments in her classic essay Minorities versus Majorities. As noted in my critique of an inaccurate Leninist diatribe against her, her actual arguments were not addressed never mind refuted. This is unsurprising, given that she was simply stating a truism. Rather, she was proclaimed an "elitist" for stating the blatantly obvious fact that progressive ideas start with minorities and grow, due to their activism and example, to become accepted by the many. The same with, say, strikes (Thatcher's anti-union laws forced unions to organise ballots before strikes precisely to stop the militant minority from taking the lead -- needless to say, your average Leninist opposes such laws even though they were framed in terms of "democracy" and such like). She clearly argued that the aim was for the minority to inspire the majority to free themselves from domination and so aimed for the emancipation of the oppressed by their own actions. Significantly, the "elitist" Goldman opposed the Bolshevik dictatorship in Russia precisely because it was oppressing the masses while the so-called "democratic" Leninists (then and now) imposed party dictatorship, advocated it and rationalised it ever since. Which is all that needs to be said of the "elitism" charge, I think.

In democratic theory itself, there is good reason for saying such opposition to majority decisions is fundamentally democratic. This flows from Rousseau's much misunderstood (and at times vague) notion of the General Will. While it has been a while since I read the Social Contract, the basic point is that Rousseau made a distinction between both the act of the Prince (the executive, not an actual aristocrat!) or the majority vote of the sovereign (the people) and the General Will. This was because the government and the majority can vote for policies which violate the basic principles of association was based on, namely to secure liberty and equality for all. Thus the majority can vote for a policy (such as Prop 8) which denies the liberty and equality of a minority. While this would be an act of the sovereign, it violates the General Will as it is fundamentally unjust.

Which raises the question, what happens next? If the majority decide an unjust law (in the state) or make an oppressive decision (in an anarchy) what does the minority do? Shut-up and put up with it? Disobey? Revolt? Disassociate? Here we get into significant issues. If the majority has violated the General Will, who determines that is the case? Indeed, who determines the General Will? Rousseau was, unsurprisingly, vague on this. And it is this concern for freedom, for the practical issues associated with democratic procedure, which gets us accused, by -- irony of irony -- Leninists, of "elitism"! To quote section H.2.11 of AFAQ:


Moreover, there are a few theoretical issues that need to be raised on this matter. Notice, for example, that no attempt is made to answer the simple question of why having 51% of a group automatically makes you right! It is taken for granted that the minority should subject themselves to the will of the majority before that will is even decided upon. Does that mean, for example, that Marxists refuse minorities the right of civil disobedience if the majority acts in a way which harms their liberties and equality? If, for example, the majority in community decides to implement race laws, does that mean that Marxists would oppose the discriminated minority taking direct action to undermine and abolish them? Or, to take an example closer to Marxism, in 1914 the leaders of the Social Democratic Party in the German Parliament voted for war credits. The anti-war minority of that group went along with the majority in the name of "democracy," "unity" and "discipline". Would Howl and Draper argue that they were right to do so? If they were not right to betray the ideas of Marxism and international working class solidarity, then why not? They did, after all, subject themselves to the "most perfect socialist democracy" and so, presumably, made the correct decision.


This blog was inspired by a post by Wayne Price on Anarkismo. He wrote the useful The Abolition of the State: Anarchist and Marxist Perspectives, which I'm going to review (when I get the time!). I've started it, but others things have taken priority (like AFAQ volume 2 and the Proudhon Reader). It is well worth reading, although his comments on Marx's theory of the state are confused because he is reading Marx via Lenin's State and Revolution and so points to bits of Marx where he appears to advocate both the necessary destruction of the bourgeois state and the possibility of its capture (as discussed in section H.3.10 there is no contradiction as Marx urged the destruction not of the Republican state but rather the state machine it inherited from pre-capitalist regimes).

Wayne takes Malatesta to task for suggesting that anarchists are not in favour of democracy. He suggests that:


"What is needed is for anarchists to identify anarchism as extreme, revolutionary democracy . . .The program of anarchism is to replace the bureaucratic-military machine with a federation of popular assemblies and associations, as decentralised as is practically possible. This is democracy without the state. Any other program . . . capitulated to 'democracy' as an ideological cover of the rule of a minority." (p. 176)


Needless to say, this vision of a decentralised federation of popular assemblies and associations is straight out of Proudhon (and in De La Capacite Politique Des Classes Ouvrieres he has no qualms about calling this "l'idee de la Democratic nouvelle"! But, clearly, Proudhon's notebooks are to be preferred to the work he finished on his death-bed...

Wayne argues that Malatesta's opposition to democracy is "really directed against democratic ideology as a rationalisation for capitalism and the state" and "mixes this up with a denunciation of the very concept of majority rule." (p. 170) No, as the majority can be wrong. It can be very wrong and, as such, it cannot be assumed that the minority should just obey the majority (as is implied in most versions of democracy). Hence, correctly, "Malatesta rejects majority rule in principle" (p. 170) Of course, Malatesta stressed that in practice majority decision making would make sense for most practical situations so his objection is more about the principle than the practice (as per Proudhon's opposition to the principle of Association and his firm support for workers' associations!).

Wayne does note these issues which the likes of Malatesta had in mind. He states, for example, that "Minority rights is an essential part of majority rule" and "a strong defence of individual and minority rights does not necessarily contradict democracy or even majority rule" (p. 171, p. 175). This flows from Rousseau's comments on sovereignty and the General Will, discussed above. Yet one is left with the feeling that this is begging the question. He suggests that "minority rights are safest when the majority rules, democracy, as opposed to any minority dictatorship" (p. 172) and I would agree. But the options are more than just democracy and dictatorship, surely? He suggests that if the minority can veto a decision, then "it is the minority which rules" (p. 171). And if the majority vote to impose race laws, ban women from the workplace or make gay marriage illegal, does it make those who protest such decisions tyrants? What do they do? Quietly try and change opinions while, what, obeying the decisions? Or do they just have to leave? And what of strikes? Otto Neurath, socialist advocate of a moneyless economy and consultant to the short-lived Munich Soviet Republic of 1919 stated that socialisation meant that strikes could not be allowed (obviously an undemocratic action of a minority against the majority). Was that a democratic or undemocratic opinion? Democratic, as the strikers are a minority? Undemocratic, because the right to strike is basic? Anarchists would say Neurath was being undemocratic (authoritarian), but would most democrats?

Wayne, rightly, says that Anarchists seek "to vastly expand the range of voluntary association for such self-chosen activities outside the realm of majority rule." (p. 171) Yet this is the issue, if a commune or a federation of communes decide something what do the dissidents do? We could assume that the majority will never be stupid enough to be oppressive or arbitrary but, well, that is a big assumption... Sorry, but people are not perfect. Yes, for most decisions, majority decision making makes sense and will be accepted by all, including the minority. "This is not coercion by the police but by reality. A decision had to be made collectively. If not determined by majority vote, then how?" (p. 171) However, in terms of freedom I don't think that this sensible rule-of-thumb should be turned into a principle that the majority is right and should be obeyed, no matter what the majority decide. Wayne suggests that "This cannot be treated as a matter of voluntary association (although dissidents are always free to pick and go elsewhere. . . )" (p. 171) but is it really very libertarian to suggest, for example, that gay people in California can just move to a region that allows gay marriage? Or should they rebel, proclaim the majority as homophobic numpties and get on with living their lives as they see fit?

I can agree with Wayne when he states "I am arguing that majority rule is not authoritarian in principle" (p. 171) (as AFAQ argues in A.2.11 Why are most anarchists in favour of direct democracy?, btw). Although I was surprised by his failure to mention Carole Pateman and her very important work on this very subject. I can also see where he is coming from when he states that "Anarchists are not for a democratic state but can be for a democratic society. Anarchism is democracy without the state." (p. 172) Our vision of participatory associations, free association, self-management, federations of mandated and recallable delegates are all extremely democratic. But, surely, it is our democratic principles which mean that we cannot proclaim ourselves in favour of democracy (majority rule) no matter what. As Wayne suggests with his comments on individual and minority rights, the majority need not be inspired by the General Will (to get all Rousseau-like for the moment). Hence the arguments of Malatesta and others on opposition to majority rule in principle while, of course, advocating self-managed associations and communes in practice.

It is useful to quote Malatesta himself on this issue:


"Certainly anarchists recognise that where life is lived in common it is often necessary for the minority to come to accept the opinion of the majority. When there is an obvious need or usefulness in doing something and, to do it requires the agreement of all, the few should feel the need to adapt to the wishes of the many. And usually, in the interests of living peacefully together and under conditions of equality, it is necessary for everyone to be motivated by a spirit of concord, tolerance and compromise. But such adaptation on the one hand by one group must on the other be reciprocal, voluntary and must stem from an awareness of need and of goodwill to prevent the running of social affairs from being paralysed by obstinacy. It cannot be imposed as a principle and statutory norm. This is an ideal which, perhaps, in daily life in general, is difficult to attain in entirety, but it is a fact that in every human grouping anarchy is that much nearer where agreement between majority and minority is free and spontaneous and exempt from any imposition that does not derive from the natural order of things.



"So if anarchists deny the right of the majority to govern human society in general - in which individuals are nonetheless constrained to accept certain restrictions, since they cannot isolate themselves without renouncing the conditions of human life - and if they want everything to be done by the free agreement of all, how is it possible for them to adopt the idea of government by majority in their essentially free and voluntary associations and begin to declare that anarchists should submit to the decisions of the majority before they have even heard what those might be?"


Malatesta also addresses this issue in such articles as Democracy and Anarchy and Neither Democrats, nor Dictators: Anarchists.

And I should point out that the Leninist accusation that we anarchists, because we recognise the complexities of life, are "anti-democratic" have a strange perspective on "democracy", one which ends up centralising power into the hands of a few (the party leadership) and destroying the functional self-management required for a free society (see my article Authoritarians, vanguards and "anti-capitalist" movements -- when, of course, they are not being hypocritical for ignoring majority decisions seems to be okay when Leninists do it...)

Of course, attacks on "democracy" as being the "tyranny of the majority" are usually raised by supporters of hierarchy and authority seeking to defend the tyranny of the minority (rich property owners, usually). But it is still a valid worry (as discussed in AFAQ, section I.5.6). To raise "democracy", rule by the majority, as an absolute rule would be to ignore this -- and raise a whole bundle of issues (majority of what group? can a bigger unit impose its will on a sub-unit? What if the majority are actually oppressing the minority? What if the majority accept an oppression, such as slavery, racism or sexism, as just or “natural”? Can the minority rebel?). And surely minorities protesting, rebelling and resisting such popular prejudices is part of the way the opinions change (as seen by, say, the anti-slavery, the womens, gay rights, black liberation and almost any other social movement you can think of, including the union and workers’ movement!).

Perhaps instead of democratic/democracy and undemocratic/dictatorial we can use the terms libertarian and authoritarian? That why we can see that certain democratic decisions can be authoritarian while, at the same time, arguing for mass participation and self-management as the basis of a free society, that is, libertarian... But then we have the problem of the appropriation of "libertarian" by the propertarian right in North America -- who defend with vigour the authoritarian social relationships associated with private property...

Finally, just to note that being in a majority need not be right let me present the great injustice of the 1981 pop-charts where Vienna by Ultravox was kept off number one by novelty record "Shaddup you face" by Joe Dolce (it is on you tube, but I'm not linking to it! Appropriately enough, Dolce was born in Painesville, Ohio). Here is the video for the ultimate New Romantic song:

How could the masses of Britain be so unbelievably stupid? They have no taste! (I rant here so that future Hal Draper's want-to-be's can have something else to quote out of context... :) )

Over the last few years, I've been listening to much of the music of my youth (early 1980s, as the charts got really crap after about 1985!). That includes Ultravox and while pretentious does not do them justice, I do like them. As for the horrors inflicted on music in the late '80s (and I'm talking Stock-Aitken-Waterman and such like), I will not comment (expectations, of course, existing in the general downward spiral). And it had started so well with The Pretenders - Brass In Pocket being the first number of the new decade. It is one of my favourite songs:

Wonderful... But enough of my music taste (or lack of it!). Until I blog again, be seeing you...


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