A series of private hierarchies does not equal anarchy

Apologies for the long delay in blogging – much has changed in my live (all for the better I must add!) and had to concentrate on that. So new job, new location, new life. The net effect on this is no commuting (so probably less time to read) and a concentration on my day job – but also a break from being a union rep (back to being an active member for a while).

However, there are things to be done. I have a 20 year anniversary blog of to write (hard to believe that it is two decades since it was officially released back in 1996) as well as getting a new Black Flag together for the London bookfair this October. I have also posted my article on Anarchist Organisation. This was originally requested for a book but it was deemed too long and too focused on history (which was strange as I said I was going to that as the proposed book was applying Freeden’s work on ideology to anarchism – suffice to say, I was not particularly impressed by the “Short Introduction” I quote in my article). I did not have time to edit it so said either run it as it is, reject it or get someone else to edit it – but to no reply. So here it is.

Anyway, I enjoyed working on it and I think others may find it of use. I particularly enjoyed placing anarchism into its social and ideological context – as part of the reaction to liberalism, the failure of the French Revolution as well as the rise of capitalism and the workers’ movement. My original draft was double the size (at 16,000 words) and I may post that at some stage – although I think I will first utilise it for my Property is Theft! blog to discuss Proudhon’s ideas on democracy. If I find the time!

Reading Locke was interesting as it reminded me of how illiberal classical liberalism is. Locke was aiming to secure bourgeois class power from both above (the monarchy) and below (the masses). His aim was to restrict state power to defender of property (and its related powers) while justifying private power. As he put it in one edition of his work:

“Sect. 2. To this purpose, I think it may not be amiss, to set down what I take to be political power; that the power of a MAGISTRATE over a subject may be distinguished from that of a FATHER over his children, a MASTER over his servant, a HUSBAND over his wife, and a LORD over his slave. All which distinct powers happening sometimes together in the same man, if he be considered under these different relations, it may help us to distinguish these powers one from wealth, a father of a family, and a captain of a galley.” (Two Treatises of Government Book II)

The power “from wealth” he had no issue with as long as it was derived from “consent” (i.e., the property-less worker having to sell their labour, and so liberty, to the owner in return for wages) and so, unlike state power, did not include the power of life and death. As I wrote in my original draft:

‘The master-servant relationship was precisely what his theory of property in the person sought to justify for a servant’s labour (and liberty) being their property it could be alienated (sold). Yet, for Locke, both the owning class and working class benefited from the social contract. The former saw their property and power protected by a government of their own class from the whims of Monarchs proclaiming their divine right to rule. The latter saw the power of their masters reduced to a limited authority and so could not be killed or maimed on a whim by those who they had consented to obey. After all, “no rational Creature can be supposed to change his condition with an intention to be worse”.

‘In both cases, consent is the means used. This is the hardest working concept in Locke’s ideology and is used to justify a multitude of liberty destroying social relationships.’

It was also nice to re-read Rousseau whose influence on French radicalism and so Proudhon seems obvious. If Proudhon is the father of anarchism, Rousseau is the grandfather – but one who came out with the odd remark every-so-often which makes the rest of the family cringe (like Proudhon, but more so). Needless to say, while I recognise Rousseau made many authoritarian remarks I do not agree with Rocker’s account in Nationalism and Culture – he also downplays the authoritarianism embedded in Locke and liberalism. As noted, anarchism arose in response and in critique of Rousseau, namely explaining why it did not – could not – achieve its own stated goals (goals anarchists agreed with). Anyway, read Carole Pateman on Rousseau -- The Problem of Political Obligation and The Sexual Contract – if you are interested in such things.

Given my changed circumstances, I do think my blogging will change. Instead of quite long ones every month or so, I think that it will start to do shorter ones, hopefully more frequently. We will see.

Looking over the past few months, it does feel that the world is going even more crazy than it normally is. Donald Trump is now the republican candidate for President – talk about chickens coming to roost. After years of stirring-up some unsavoury politics to win elections, the Republican establishment seems surprised at the outcome. Meanwhile, their base has finally noticed that the party favours the few rather than the many. I saw one person state:

"Trump can't be bought. He isn't a puppet. He's America's best bet."

Okay, fine. He is mega-rich. The head of a major corporation. So he does not need to get money (“be bought”) from big business -- because he IS big business. If you are bothered by how the mega-rich, corporations, etc. lobby and fund political candidates you really do not solve the problem by getting a political candidate who is mega-rich and a corporation -- you are only cutting out the middle man! Needless to say, he will hardly be seeking to overturn the decades of neo-liberalism which made him rich

Then there is the whole “the government should be run like a business” -- fine, except a business is run like a dictatorship or monarchy. So demanding that the state be run like a company means an increase in authoritarian, top-down, autocratic rule. Needless to say, this overestimates the efficiency of authoritarian workplaces – from personal experience, having an autocrat in charge increases inefficiencies and waste on so many different levels:

  • delays because everyone is too sacred to make decisions without the boss
  • decisions are bad because they are made without accurate information as bad news and disagreement is suppressed
  • decisions made without expert knowledge of staff because the boss things they know everything and staff are just shaved monkeys
  • staff are alienated, cynical and unenthusiastic
  • lack of knowledge sharing in an attempt to gain job security in the face of autocratic restructuring decisions
  • decisions are resisted and so dragged out

Regardless of claims otherwise, as my article on organisation shows, anarchism has always placed how the workplace is organised at the heart of its ideas. Association is the context within which anarchism was born and which it advocated – although, of course, the kind of association mattered as we have always, rightly, opposed centralised, unitarian associations as being as bad as capitalism. In short, anarchists have always recognised that a series of private hierarchies does not equal anarchy and so an organisation, to count as libertarian, must be internally free (self-managed) otherwise you get yourselves into self-contradiction – like “libertarians” supporting dictatorial forms of decision making.

Talking of conservatives, I had to laugh when I saw David Cameron state the following in the London Mayor election campaign:

“You don’t need to know everything about Labour’s candidate, you just need to know one fact. He nominated Jeremy Corbyn to be leader of the Labour party and doesn’t regret that choice. If you want to be lab rats in Labour’s experiment with London then you go for the other guy.”

So said the person who promised no “top-down” re-organisations of the NHS in 2010 and then did one as well as decreeing all schools will become Academies, amongst other things...  And, needless to say, London’s problems generally come from the Thatcherite experiments of the 1980s and early 1990s in social engineering...

Strangely, Cameron attacked Jeremy Corbyn for being a “small-c conservative” who wanted people to remain stuck on dysfunctional council estates. Of course, the Tory plans are nothing to do with helping people but rather to selloff prime real estate to rich developers but given that his party is meant to be conservative he really should not be using it as an insult.

And talking of Tories, a few years back I did a review of a silly book which tried to foster the notion of “Tory Anarchism” onto the world. I assumed that would be it, given that even The Spectator recognised the baselessness of it:

"Analytically, Wilkin either fails to define his terms or misapplies them when he does… He also confuses anarchic in a figurative sense with anarchy in a literal sense. Most of the writers he cites were satirists; their wit was often anarchic. But Peter Cook regaling Dudley Moore about his nightly visits from the naked Betty Grable, tapping at the bloody window pane, is not a call for anarchy."

However, I’ve had cause to come across it again (I will not go into the details of where) and I looked into it some more, namely one of the alleged “Tory Anarchists” Evelyn Waugh. The notion that he was an anarchist of any kind is nonsense on stilts as can quickly be seen from his Wikipedia entry:

'He returned to Abyssinia... to report the opening stages of the Second Italo-Abyssinian War for the Daily Mail. Waugh... considered Abyssinia "a savage place which Mussolini as doing well to tame"... Waugh wrote up his Abyssinian experiences in a book... which Rose Macaulay dismissed as a "fascist tract" on account of its pro-Italian tone.

Saying "pro-Italian" seems like a typical Wikipedia understatement – fascist apologetics may be a better way of putting it.

'As an instinctive conservative, Waugh believed that class divisions, with inequalities of wealth and position, were natural… Waugh's racism was "an illogical extension of his views on the naturalness and rightness of hierarchy as the [main] principle of social organisation"’

In what form of anarchism are class divisions, inequalities of wealth and power acceptable? Or considered “natural”? What part of an-archy is compatible with hier-archy?

Ignoring the obvious nonsense of suggesting a pro-fascist could be considered an real anarchist of any sort (as noted elsewhere, some “anarcho”-capitalists have come to very fascistic positions – logically, given the authoritarian (and so anti-anarchist) nature of their ideology), it is simply obvious that someone cannot be a defender of social hierarchy and an anarchist. Waugh himself showed this is the case:

“If I were a Spaniard I should be fighting for General Franco.”

So we have a pro-fascist, pro-hierarchy, pro-inequality person proclaimed “an anarchist” – makes you wonder what anarchism is, if someone who supported fascism can be considered one. Still, the author did state in his book:

“It needs to be stressed that Tory anarchists are not anarchists in the traditional sense of the term”

Somewhat ironic, a book about “Tory” Anarchism dismissing the “traditional” use of a term… Anyway, I mention this because I had a recent run in with some people researching anarchism (and may even consider themselves as anarchists) who consider such obvious nonsense worth having a meeting about. That is just giving intellectual credence to a nonsense claim – and anarchism can do without having more nonsense flung in its direction. What was also shocking was how, after being presented with the facts, they still went ahead with it. This is being so “open-minded” that your brain fall out – and it makes you worry about the quality of the research if they think that there is something to discuss about the notion of a pro-fascist as being some-kind of anarchist (rather than dismiss out of hand as ridiculous, to use my partner’s word).

That annoys me – along with the whole “who are you to define anarchism” nonsense some people come out with. Anarchism as a theory and a movement means something, it is not just a word to be added willy-ninny to other political concepts. Anarchists have differentiated themselves by adding words (such as collectivist, individualist, communist, etc.) but these were never in complete contradiction to the theory and the movement (although the more sectarian, like Tucker, did try and suggest otherwise!).

Some, of course, were not fully consistent (like Tucker) and a few have held conservative (“traditional”) views on a few issues – most obviously, Proudhon’s patriarchal perspective on women. However, these ideas were in obvious contradiction to their core ideas, easily refuted and equally easily made consistent. As I wrote in my original, far, far too long, first draft of my organisation piece (I have removed the references):

Déjacque, Léo and Varlin: Being consistently libertarian

It was in reaction to a specific aspect of Proudhon’s ideas that the term libertarian (libertaire) was first used in the modern sense. While denouncing both the state and the capitalist workplace as authoritarian and seeking to replace both with a federation of self-governing associations, Proudhon refused to apply his ideas within the family. Within the home he advocated (and rigorously defended) patriarchy.

Yet, as Carole Pateman reminds us, until “the late nineteenth century the legal and civil position of a wife resembled that of a slave”. A slave “had no independent legal existence apart from his master, and husband and wife became ‘one person,’ the person of the husband.” Indeed, the law “was based on the assumption that a wife was (like) property” and only the marriage contract “includes the explicit commitment to obey.” Other anarchists saw the obvious contradiction in Proudhon’s position.

Joseph Déjacque in 1857 extended Proudhon’s ideas to communist-anarchist conclusions as well as applying them to the family and in the process coined the word libertarian. It was a case of placing the “issue of the emancipation of woman in line with the emancipation of the serf” in “the workshop” so that both enter “the community of anarchy”. Proudhon did “cry against the great barons of capital” but would “rebuild a proud barony of man on vassal-woman” and so was “liberal, but not libertarian.” The following year Déjacque used this new synonym for anarchist as the title for his paper La Libertaire, Journal du Mouvement Social.

Eleven years after Déjacque issued his challenge to Proudhon, André Léo, a feminist libertarian and future Communard, also pointed out the obvious contradiction to his French followers:

“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 without hierarchy seems impossible to them – well then, what about in the state?”

Both Déjacque and Léo argued that Proudhon’s Rousseau-derived critique of wage-labour and the state (including Rousseau’s democracy) was equally applicable to family relations. Anarchists, to be consistent, cannot be blind to social (“private”) hierarchies while denouncing economic and political ones. Given that the rationale for all these forms of subjection were justified in liberal theory in the same manner – voluntary or contractual – there was no logical reason to defend patriarchy any more than any other archy.  Unsurprisingly, almost all subsequent anarchists (including Bakunin and Kropotkin) recognised the need for consistency and so followed the likes of Déjacque and Léo in applying Proudhon’s principles against his own contradictory application just as Proudhon had done to Rousseau. They also sought to apply their ideas within areas Proudhon likewise opposed, namely in the union movement.

Thus we find Eugène Varlin as well as “advocat[ing] equal rights for women in opposition” to Proudhon also arguing that unions and strikes were “necessary to abolish capitalism.” Unions had “the enormous advantage of making people accustomed to group life and thus preparing them for a more extended social organisation. They accustom people not only to get along with one another and to understand one another, but also to organise themselves, to discuss, and to reason from a collective perspective.” As well as mitigating capitalist exploitation and oppression in the here and now, unions also “form the natural elements of the social edifice of the future; it is they who can be easily transformed into producers associations; it is they who can make the social ingredients and the organisation of production work.”

This position was held in the libertarian sections of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA), which had been founded in 1864 by British trade unionists and French mutualists. The idea of unions becoming the economic framework of socialism in chambres de travail (workers councils) was first raised by mutualist delegates from the Belgium section at its Brussels conference in 1868 before becoming policy at the Basle Congress.

As an aside, I should note that the draft went on to show how these syndicalist ideas were also advocated by Bakunin and those around him while being explicitly opposed by Marx and Engels. Luckly, as well as my work on this, there are two new books which completely refute the standard Marxist account of the First International, namely Robert Graham's We do not fear anarchy, we invoke it and Rene Berthier's Social-democracy & anarchism in the International Workers' Association 1864-1877. I would recommend both, even if Berthier has a bee-in-his-bonnet over anarchism and, as a result, misunderstand's Malatesta and Kropotkin by presenting both (and anarchism in general) as being anti-organisation.

Anyway, as I was saying, ignoring the whole issue of facts and logic there is the problem of getting nonsense accepted. Look at how the word “libertarian” has ended up – it is in America now the complete opposite of what it initially meant. So we have “libertarians” and “conservatives” being grouped together – with a common position of supporting various private hierarchies against liberty for all!

It seems that “Libertarian” is well on the way to doing the same reversal in meaning in the UK. We really do not need nonsense like “Tory Anarchism” becoming accepted or tolerated – particularly by those who really should know better.

This is becoming too long. A few other points.

I see that the so-called “National Living Wage” is resulting in firms cutting back in peaks (Adam Smith would not be surprised). This is unsurprising as workers are not in a position to defend themselves against it – unlike wage increases won by direct action and union organising. A Labour MP, Siobhain McDonagh, said the chancellor had handed companies a £15bn cut in corporation tax to help pay for the rise in the minimum wage:

“If business is getting £15bn, the people who help them make their profits deserve a bit of that”

Fine, sure, as far as that goes (labour should get the full-product of its labour rather than share it with owners but never mind). The question is, why should bosses share if they do not have to? This also feeds into the notion that “ultimately only increases in labour productivity can support real wage increases.” This is nonsense – the value labour produces is shared between wages and surplus (rent, interest, profits). There is nothing sacrosanct about that share – real wages can increase if the surplus going to the owning class (and senior managers) decreases with a given level of productivity.

This is what the ruling class is aware of – and are afraid of. They admit as much. The current slow, shaky, recovery (which has been presented, falsely, as proof of Tory economic competence) has seen interest rates at 0.5% since March 2009. A bureaucrat who voted to increase them recently said he was wrong for “he had been surprised by the weak rate of pay growth”:

“Last summer, in voting for an increase in bank rate, I had expected that the narrowing of slack would drive up wages through 2016 as firms competed for increasingly scarce labour. But it now appears that opposing factors are acting to hold wage growth down, for rather longer than I had thought.”

So economic policy of our “independent” central bank is based on looking at whether workers are getting too much pay (in their eyes!) and then raising interest rates in order to increase the number of unemployed. This piece of class war politics is the normal situation (as it has been for some time) and, indeed, you get awarded the so-called Nobel Prize in economics for it.

That is also why workers join unions and that is why the Tories have implemented anti-union laws in the past and are doing so again. The awful (and petty and vindictive) new anti-union laws have been amended, but the key issue – of minimum turnouts – remains. The bill means unions require a 50% turnout threshold for industrial action ballots, a 40% threshold of eligible workers for any form of industrial action in “important” public services including education and border security, and new rules on picketing.

My union had a recent ballot in favour of strike action over pay. There was a less than 20% turn-out, but a good majority in favour of action. This means that it will become even harder for workers to defend themselves – never mind get improvements in our conditions and pay. Strangely, the EU referendum which will have massive impacts on people’s lives (far more than a strike) has no minimum turnout requirements – so, in theory, we could leave/remain in the EU on the basis of a 10% turnout, with 6% voting for/against (talking of which, how can we vote so that both sides of the EU referendum loose?). Or you could see an advocate of these turnout barriers getting elected to the Mayor of a huge city on around 19% of the possible electorate (slightly over half of a 37% turnout!). Clearly being allowed loose on ten million people for four years to break election promises and implement numerous vanity projects at our expense (assuming you can fit being mayor into the busy self-promotion schedule) is fine but taking strike action is much, much more serious!

So why the renewed attack after so many years of successful state regulation of workers’ organisations? I would say that Kropotkin was right:

‘Here, in England, there are many amongst the exploiting classes ― who see dimly the danger ahead, and the capitalist press (and more especially that portion which circulates exclusively amongst the capitalist class, such as the trade journals) contains many articles just now urging the most drastic measures against their slaves who dare to rebel against their will and feebly ask for a higher wage or a shorter working week. The interference of the State is loudly demanded to put down these troublesome strikes and labour unions. The strong arm of the law is to be invoked not for but against the worker. “We have too much liberty,” one trade journal of the highest class shrieks in terrified tones; and indeed we shall not be surprised if the workers speedily have to guard against attempts upon such feeble rights of combination and free action as they possess. […] This unmeasured abuse on the part of the capitalists should convince even Social Democrats that the strike is a useful weapon, which will help the workers much in inaugurating the Revolution.’ (“The Use of the Strike”, Direct Action Against Capital, 314)

Ah, but the Tories want to make sure strikes are well supported – except when overwhelming strike ballots have taken place (by doctors and London tube workers) the Tories have denounced the strikes, proclaimed them “unnecessary”, etc. If these laws get in we can expect even higher thresholds for the better organised unions (like the Tube workers) will still be able to take action – something the Evening Boris always failed to mention when denouncing strikes and supporting these laws which would not have stopped them!

Needless to say, Zac Goldsmith (who failed in his attempt to become mayor) said he would talk to the unions but he needed legislative help in the shape of these new anti-union laws…. And the Tories are painted as being for the “free market” regardless of the facts. Look at the Academies nonsense:

“The revolt is only partly about the anger towards a government that, on the one hand, keeps talking about devolving power, but on the other keeps accumulating more power at the centre.”

Of course, the heads of these bodies can now be in a position to “reward” themselves appropriately for their “contribution” – in other words, give themselves a massive pay increase. Needless to say, perhaps, one of the key people in this plan “is a 55-year-old Tory on the libertarian wing of the party” – so forcing all schools to become academies, centralising power in the ministry, giving the central state control over schools properties and placing teachers into a fascistic top-down company structure now, apparently, counts as “libertarian”.

Then there is “Ministers plot to foil anti-frackers” with the Government planning to take away the right of local council to decide on future shale gas production in their area:

"If that was to happen, then councils would be stripped of the ability to block planning applications for fracking wells in local communities.

"Instead unelected planning inspectors would be given the power to decide if shale gas drilling sites got the go-ahead, paving the way for a huge uptake in fracking."

Being “anti-state” seems to involve passing power from elected officials to unelected bureaucrats (whether public or private). Hence the importance of words and challenging at all times attempts to widen their meaning by including notions which have no place in them… you just end up with glaring contradictions which make political discussion impossible (probably as intended).

But enough of this, until I blog again…

Be seeing you.


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