pdfs of articles and Anarchist Christmas!

Well, as someone once put it, Anarchist Christmas will be here soon… Yes, October 23rd is the annual London Anarchist bookfair! I’ve been going for over 20 years now and I still look forward to it – even if some of the stall and meetings depress me somewhat. Still, the quality seems to be steadily improving. I’m doing a talk entitled “From Proudhon to Kropotkin”:

“This year marks the 170th anniversary of transformation of radical politics forever when Proudhon proclaimed myself an anarchist and that “property is theft”. Iain McKay (“An Anarchist FAQ”) will be discussing Proudhon’s ideas in light of a new anthology of his writings (“Property is Theft”, AK Press, 2010). He will show how Proudhon influenced revolutionary anarchism (and Marxism) as well as its impact of the biological theories of mutual aid and mutualism (“Mutual Aid: An Introduction and Evaluation”, AK Press, 2010).”

This, along with the other meetings, can be found on the “What’s On” webpage. I get start to prepare it!

It will cover much the same ground as my recent article “I am an Anarchist”: 170 years of anarchism. This will be published in the new Black Flag magazine (issue 232) – which, incidentally, has its own blog now). I’ve also been working on a chapter on Proudhon for a new book on anarchist economics. I was asked by Deric Shannon and was happy to do so. It is in chronological order, with major works being used a section headings, and seeks to cover what I think are the two consistent parts of anarchist economics, namely the critique of capitalism and the economics of a free society.

The two are, I would argue, interrelated as the critique of what is wrong with the current system feeds into our visions of a free society while our hopes and dreams will inform our critique of capitalism. This dual aspect is particularly noticeable in Proudhon, with the critique of master-servant relations and the analysis of how exploitation occurs in production explicitly shape his suggestions for a libertarian economy. As Proudhon put it: “to unfold the system of economical contradictions is to lay the foundations of universal association.” This work is entitled “Laying the foundations: Proudhon’s contribution to anarchist economics” and will put on-line once the book is out (no idea when that will be – I’ll keep yous informed). Given how little there is on the economics of anarchy, the book is timely and useful (and, no, I don’t think Parecon will work and so while much is written about it, little of it is of any point). My talk/article on “The Economics of Anarchy” addresses the traditional three visions: mutualism, collectivism and communism.

And talking of Proudhon, much of my free-time has recently been spent on getting the new updates to “Property is Theft!” on-line. These are “General Idea of the Revolution”, along with a lengthy discussion of “Proudhon on socialisation.” While Proudhon has been labelled a defender of small-scale property, this is not actually that true. Yes, he was for artisans and farmers possessing and managing their own tools and land but so are we all, unless you subscribe to forced collectivisation (in which case you are not an anarchist!). No, that was not the whole of his vision as he repeatedly argued for social ownership of the means of production (including land). What he once termed, in 1841, the “non-appropriation of the instruments of production” (which he considered the “destruction of property”). This socialisation would replace wage-labour by association.

Sadly, this aspect of his ideas has been downplayed – the Marx invented narrative of Proudhon as “petty-bourgeois” has been sadly all too dominant. Yet Proudhon repeatedly stressed the need for common ownership of land and the means of production, for free access to end wage-labour by association, for economic federation. In a word, socialisation. This is the key to ending hierarchical relations in production, as free access ensures that in production people are associates rather than bosses and wage-workers.

I quite like “General Idea”, it may be by favourite Proudhon work (although “System of Economic Contradictions” is growing on me), I remember when I bought it from Word Power, a lovely little radical bookshop in Edinburgh. It was in the early days of An Anarchist FAQ and the extensive discussions of workers’ associations I thought would come in very handy (they did). Back then, I was just started to read Proudhon and was subject to the usual misconceptions about his ideas (thank you, numerous Marxists!) so it came as a pleasant surprise to find a sensible and interesting thinker who did not advocate the nonsense others said he did.

And talking of Proudhon, well, The SWP strike again... For some reason the Guardian thought it wise to ask Alex Callinicos, one of the SWP’s leader, to comment on Vince Cable (Comrade Cable? I don't think so). Unsurprisingly, he concludes that Cable is no Marxist but mentions this:

“Had Cable bothered to read The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx's critique of fantasies of a purified market economy, he might have learned that ‘monopoly produces competition, competition produces monopoly.  Monopolists are made from competition; competitors become monopolists … monopoly can only maintain itself by continually entering into the struggle of competition.’”

Except, of course, Proudhon never actually advocated “a purified market economy” (and its implicit suggestion that capitalism would be made nicer and wage-labour kept). Proudhon also argued that “Competition kills competition, as we said at the outset.” Also, when did Cable proclaim property was theft? Oppose wage labour? Advocate workers associations to run industry? To quote Proudhon:

“Well! I am willing. The remedy for competition, in your opinion, is to make competition universal. But, in order that competition may be universal, it is necessary to procure for all the means of competing; it is necessary to destroy or modify the predominance of capital over labour, to change the relations between employer and workman, to solve, in a word, the antinomy of division and that of machinery; it is necessary to ORGANISE LABOUR: can you give this solution?”

Was that in the Lib-Dem manifesto? No, of course not. Would Callinicos know that Proudhon called for “the organisation of labour”? The end of master-servant relationships in production by means of workers association? The socialisation of property? I doubt it but that will not stop him spewing forth on Proudhon. Do the words “a purified market economy” really do justice to Proudhon's vision of free and associated individuals sharing the land and the means of production? No.

I guess Proudhon is invoked against anything Marxists happened to be against at any specific time. Thus Proudhon is a neo-liberal (when neo-liberalism is the main enemy, aka Donny Gluckstein’s book), is a Nazi (when fascism was the main enemy, aka numpty Hal Draper), is a market socialist (while, at the same time, explaining how markets will be used under socialism, aka David McNally and a host of others), and so on. One particularly clueless Marxist recently proclaimed that both Glen Beck and Paul Krugman were (somehow) influenced by Proudhon. Yes, seriously. I doubt either would have read him, assuming, again doubtfully, they recognised the name.

Of course, if Callinicos had bothered to read “System of Economic Contradictions” he would have learned that “The Poverty of Philosophy” is intellectually dishonest as it is full of selective quoting, quote tampering and false claims. We have a long way to go...

I assume that Callinicos (like Marxists from Marx onwards) seems to assume that no one will read the source material he is critiquing. That, sadly, seems an all too valid assumption as regards Marxists. I remember a Marxist coming up to me to inform me that he would be attending a meeting on Max Stirner’s egoism by an old Syndicalist comrade at an Anarchist Summer School we held in Glasgow (I should note that in the 1940s, many Glasgow anarchists took Stirner's union of egoists literally, merged him with Kropotkin and created a unique form of egoist-syndicalism). He proudly proclaimed that he was planning to read “The German Ideology” by Marx and Engels in preparation from the event. He was genuinely shocked when I innocently asked whether this was before or after reading Stirner’s “The Ego and Its Own.” The thought had obviously never crossed his mind!

And I should point out that all this post-election talk of “mutualising” the Post Office is no such thing. It is being privatised and some of the shares (around 10%, last time I noticed) may be given to employees. This is not Proudhon’s mutualism which would involve the Post Office remaining in public ownership but the actual running of it be handed over to co-operatives, to organise labour! To call the Con-Dem comments “mutualism” is as accurate as calling the Labour Party or the Soviet Union socialist. I’m sure that if the union did suggest actual mutualisation of the Post Office, the Con-Dems would reject it out of hand – not only would it not make their friends in the City any money, it would raise the threat of a good example.

I’m in the process of revising the (now proof-edited) introduction to the Proudhon Anthology, no major changes but rather tweaking bits and pieces (although the appendix on Marx has been significantly revised). Once it is done, I’ll repost it on-line along with a pdf version of it. This is something I’ve decided to do with a few of what I consider my better articles – particularly those with lots of footnotes. Hopefully this will make them more accessible. Currently, there are 11 articles with pdf files.

First off, it’s my introduction and evaluation of Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid.” This will be published by AK Press later this year (hopefully in time for the bookfair!). I was interested to note that in Frans de Waal’s new book, “The Age of Empathy”, he quotes from Kropotkin’s anarchist works to show how mutual aid requires non-co-operation to function. I mention this in my essay, although I also point out that Kropotkin does mention this in “Mutual Aid.” The book has a couple of positive comments on Kropotkin as well as a wealth of data on empathy, fairness, equality and such like. It seems to suggest that Kropotkin was right... who would have guessed?

Second, is my article “Syndicalism, Anarchism and Marxism” for “Anarchist Studies” replying to attempts to make Marxism equal to anarchism in terms of influencing syndicalism. As becomes clear from reading, say, Bakunin, anarchists had long advocated what would be termed a syndicalist strategy for social change and Marx and Engels explicitly rejected it. Sure, some Marxists became syndicalists but that belated conversion cannot be used to retroactively suggest a pre-existing Marxist influence.

Third, is a short introduction to the Spanish Revolution written back in 2006 to mark its 70th anniversary. Hopefully the article shows why anarchists go on about Spain so much!

Next up are a three replies to the SWP/ISO attacks on anarchism. First is a long reply to an ISO attack on Emma Goldman. As would be expected, it is full of selective quoting and bizarre interpretations of her ideas. Significantly, it fails to mention her support for syndicalism (a common enough feature of SWP attacks on anarchism). Then there is a reply to another ISO hatchet-job, this time on Nestor Makhno (via the Haymarket Martyrs and Kronstadt). I’m always impressed by how common-sense seems to escape Leninists when they address anarchism. Then there is a reply to John Rees’ attacks on the Makhnovists and the Kronstadt rebellion in his “Defence of Octover.” As would be expected, it is the usual shocking misuse of sources combined with a lack of common-sense.

Now I turn to some Leninist histories. First up, my review essay of Donny Gluckstein’s book on the Paris Commune. This covers some important issues, not least on whether centralised bodies can actually manage something as dynamic and complex as a social revolution and its corresponding social transformations. It also discusses Marx’s theory of the state, showing that the Leninist interpretation is wrong. Then there is another lengthy review-article on an SWP book on the resistance to the rise of Italian fascism. Somewhat ironically, given its downplaying of anarchist influence, anyone who knows the period would conclude, as I did, it shows “The Irresistible Correctness of Anarchism”. The post-World War I period in Italy is a period which should be better known and I hope this article shows why (I also cover in AFAQ). Then there is a critique of what can be considered the SWP’s standard explanation of how Leninism became Stalinism. As would be expected of a party founded by Tony Cliff, Cliff Harman’s essay managed to avoid discussing the social relationships in production and the state and, essentially, concludes that Lenin’s regime was not state capitalist because he was a Marxist. And Leninists call anarchists philosophical idealists!

As noted in AFAQ, Cliff’s “theory” of state capitalism amounts to arguing Russia was state capitalist because the rest of the world was capitalist – which is exactly like proclaiming Tesco is capitalist because Asda is capitalist! Understandably, given that one-man management was imposed by Lenin… Hell, even in terms of his own theory, Lenin's Russia was “state-capitalist” as it was in military competition (direct and indirect) with capitalist nations. His “analysis”, as Neil Fernandez put it in Capitalism and Class Struggle in the USSR (Ashgate, Aldershot, 1997), is essentially the same as arguing that Native America tribes became capitalist when fighting the 7th Cavalry as they had to create more Tomahawks and arrows!

Last two are attempts at humour. I leave it for my readers to judge my success! The first is an “industrial relations” guide inspired by the fire-fighters strike a few years back under Blair. I got quite sick of the jargon being used and decided to decode it. The second is “The Dead Dogma Sketch” which combined my love of Monty Python and my politics. This was inspired by my attendance at the SWP’s Marxism 2001 (a more serious report can be found here). A Marxist in the meeting on meeting on the Spanish Revolution proclaimed that “we are all individuals” and that got my creative juices flowing. Particularly as the whole event are somewhat surreal.

If anyone thinks any other articles are worth turning into pdf files, let me know.

The Tories have been having their conference and Boris Johnson (whose lastname is sadly all too appropriate) suggested that ballots for industrial action should, by law, be forced to have a majority of those balloted to be valid rather than, as now, a majority of those who can be bothered to vote. This has been proposed by others, including the local London rag The Evening Standard. This is for two main reasons. First, the Tube workers strikes in London. Second, the awareness that union action will be popular and effective against the Tory (sorry, Con-Dem) cuts agenda. So the need to inflict more hurdles on workers seeking to exercise their collective power.

This issue does raise some interesting points. First off, we have the neo-liberal right seeking to increase even more the regulations on voluntary associations. If companies were subjected to such draconian legislation the media would be screaming to high heaven. It is interesting how, for all the claims that unions are not needed the Tories (and New Labour) still seek ways to make them powerless. This suggests that they know that workers are not that happy in their neo-liberal road to (private) serfdom. Second, these measures are somewhat at odds with their anti-state rhetoric. After all, the unions express a means of the people to resist the power of the state. By collective action, we can tame the plans of any government. Yet here we have the Tories weakening resistance to the state by atomising the population. While this is unsurprising (free-market capitalism has always been imposed by autocratic regimes), it does raise what appears to be a paradox -- namely that the supporters of the "minimum state" seek to make opposition to the state harder. But it only appears to be a paradox, as abstract individualism will tend to foster a stark contrast between the population and the state as it distrusts all intermediate organisations. Particularly those run by and for working class people and which can hinder the imposition of the "natural" order, capitalism.

This hypocrisy on the right is unsurprising, it reflects the realities rather than the rhetoric of capitalism and its state. On the left, this issue raises a more interesting paradox. After all, Leninists (of all people!) like to denounce anarchism as "anti-democratic" (for example, that numpty Hal Draper). Yet these extra chains on the unions are being presented as a "democratic" reform, as it is "anti-democratic" for minorities to make decisions for the majority of union members. It will be interesting to see the knots Leninists get into explaining their opposition to any proposed legislation given their attacks on anarchists as "elitists" for recognising that sometimes majorities can be wrong and that minorities are usually the force for social progress. I address this in my article on Emma Goldman as well as in my contribution in a debate on Anarchism or Marxism? (the answer is anarchism!). Suffice to say, this does not mean that anarchist do not support self-managed organisation, rather it recognises the importance of federalism in allowing progressive minorities to act and that militant minorities play a key role in social change. After all, few Leninists would maintain that the majority of the Social Democratic leaderships were right in 1914 to support their sides in the imperialist conflict just because they were more of them! Social change, of course, required that the minority convinced the majority of the correctness of their ideas but the minority did have to act on the conviction of their ideas. I fail to see how that is, as Leninists claim, "elitist."

And, finally, the Tories have decided to remove child benefit for “high earners.” Is this an example of the mythical creature the “Red Tory” or an example of “fairness”? Doubtful. First off, two people working at £42,000 will not be affected but a one income family on $45,000 will be – very fair. Secondly, this is part of the long term Tory plan to destroy the welfare state. This measure will, of course, end the universality of child benefit. As Doug Henwood notes in his book “After the New Economy”, it is harder to cut universal benefits than those aimed at the poor. This is the thin edge of the wedge. Now it will be those on the highest tax bracket (and let’s not forget that a multi-millionaire pays the same income tax as some on $45,000 in neo-liberal Britain), soon it will be “unfair” for those on above average incomes to get it, then average, and so on. Before you know it, only the poorest of the poor will get benefit and then it will be easy to cut or eliminate.

It will also, of course, come in handy when Osborne hits the rest of us with cuts in the October 20th spending review – he point to the headlines of the Tory rags and say that he has already inflicted cuts on the rich and so “we are all in this together.”

Oh, and I guess that Ireland will no longer be invoked as a “good example” by the austerity crowd as cutting wages and benefits has make its crisis worse. As predicted by, well, anyone with any sense. Keynes was right... Still, messing up the economy in the early and late 1980s did nothing to destroy the myth that the Tories are good at running the economy. Understandably, as the rich got (much, much) richer and when that happens even the most terrible blunders are forgiven and forgotten... Just look at Milton Friedman.

And on that note, be seeing you!

  


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