Section B - Why do anarchists oppose the current system?
B.1 Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?
B.1.1 What are the effects of authoritarian social relationships?
B.1.2 Is capitalism hierarchical?
B.1.3 What kind of hierarchy of values does capitalism create?
B.1.4 Why do racism, sexism and homophobia exist?
B.1.5 How is the mass-psychological basis for authoritarian
B.2 Why are anarchists against the state?
B.2.1 What is the main function of the state?
B.2.2 Does the state have subsidiary functions?
B.2.3 How does the ruling class maintain control of the state?
B.2.4 How does state centralisation affect freedom?
B.2.5 Who benefits from centralisation?
B.3 Why are anarchists against private property?
B.3.1 What is the difference between private property and
B.3.2 What kinds of private property does the state protect?
B.3.3 Why is private property exploitative?
B.3.4 Can private property be justified?
B.4 How does capitalism affect liberty?
B.4.1 Is capitalism based on freedom?
B.4.2 Is capitalism based on self-ownership?
B.4.3 But no one forces you to work for them!
B.4.4 But what about periods of high demand for labour?
B.4.5 But I want to be "left alone"!
B.5 Is capitalism empowering and based on human action?
B.6 But will not the decisions made by intelligent individuals with their
own financial success or failure on the line will be better most of the
B.7 What classes exist within modern society?
B.7.1 But do classes actually exist?
B.7.2 Why is the existence of classes denied?
B.7.3 What do anarchists mean by "class consciousness"?
Section B - Why do anarchists oppose the current system?
This section of the FAQ presents an analysis of the basic social relationships
of modern society and the structures which create them, particularly those
aspects of society that anarchists want to change.
Anarchism is, essentially, a revolt against capitalism. It was born at the
same time as capitalism was born and grew in influence as capitalism
colonised more and more parts of society. This does not mean that
anarchistic ideas have not existed within society since before the dawn of
capitalism. Far from it. Thinkers whose ideas can be classified as anarchist
go back thousands of years and are found in Eastern as well as Western
civilisations. It would be no exaggeration to say that anarchism was born
the moment the state and private property were created.
However, anarchism as a political movement was the product of the
transformation of society which accompanied the creation of the modern
(nation-) state and capital. As such, the analysis and critique presented
in this section of the FAQ will concentrate on modern, capitalist society.
Anarchists realise that the power of governments and other forms of hierarchy
depends upon the agreement of the governed. Fear is not the whole answer, it is
far more "because they [the oppressed] subscribe to the same values as their
governors. Rulers and ruled alike believe in the principle of authority, of
hierarchy, of power." [Colin Ward, _Anarchy in Action_, p. 15] With this in
mind, we present in this section of the FAQ our arguments to challenge this
"consensus," to present the case why we should become anarchists, why
authoritarian social relationships and organisations are not in our
From this discussion, it will become apparent why anarchists are
dissatisfied with the very limited amount of freedom in modern mass
society and why they want to create a truly free society. In the words of
Noam Chomsky, the anarchist critique of modern society means:
"to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination
in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for
them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to
increase the scope of human freedom. That includes political power,
ownership and management, relations among men and women, parents and
children, our control over the fate of future generations (the basic moral
imperative behind the environmental movement. . .), and much else."
["Anarchism, Marxism and Hope for the Future", _Red and Black Revolution_,
In section J of the FAQ will discuss how anarchists try to encourage
this process of justification, this critical evaluation of authority
and domination, this undermining of what previously was considered
"natural" or "common-sense" *until we started to question it.* Part of
this process is to encourage *direct action* (see section J.2) by the
oppressed against their oppressors as well as encouraging the anarchistic
tendencies and awareness that exist (to a greater or lesser degree) in
any hierarchical society.
However, this section of the FAQ is concerned directly with the critical or
"negative" aspect of anarchism, the exposing of the evil inherent in all
authority, be it from state, property or whatever. Later sections will
indicate how, after analysing the world, anarchists plan to change it
constructively, but some of the constructive core of anarchism will be
seen even in this section. After this broad critique of the current system,
we move onto more specific areas. Section C explains the anarchist critique
of the economics of capitalism and section D discusses how the social
relationships and institutions described in this section impact on society
as a whole.
B.1 Why are anarchists against authority and hierarchy?
First, it is necessary to indicate what kind of authority anarchism
challenges. As Erich Fromm points out in _To Have or To Be_, "authority"
is "a broad term with two entirely different meanings: it can be either
'rational' or 'irrational' authority. Rational authority is based on
competence, and it helps the person who leans on it to grow. Irrational
authority is based on power and serves to exploit the person subjected to
it" [pages 44-45]. The same point was made by Bakunin 100 years earlier
(see _God and the State_, for example) when he indicated the difference
between authority and influence.
This crucial point is expressed in the difference between *having*
authority and *being* an authority. Being an authority just means that a
given person is generally recognised as competent for a given task, based
on his or her individual skills and knowledge. Put differently, it is
socially acknowledged expertise. In contrast, having authority is a social
relationship based on status and power derived from a hierarchical
position, not on individual ability. Obviously this does not mean that
competence is not an element for obtaining a hierarchical position; it
just means that the real or alleged initial competence is transferred
to the title or position of the authority and so becomes independent
of individuals, i.e. institutionalised.
This difference is important because the way people behave is more a product
of the institutions in which we are raised than of any inherent nature. In
other words, social relationships *shape* the individuals involved. This
means that the various groups individuals create have traits, behaviours and
outcomes that cannot be understood by reducing them to the individuals
within them. That is, groups consist not only of individuals, but also
relationships between individuals and these relationships will effect those
subject to them. For example, obviously "the exercise of power by some
disempowers others" and so through a "combination of physical intimidation,
economic domination and dependency, and psychological limitations, social
institutions and practices affect the way everyone sees the world and her
or his place in it." [Martha A. Ackelsberg, _Free Women of Spain_, p. 20]
Authoritarian social relationships means dividing society into (the few)
order givers and (the many) order takers, impoverishing the individuals
involved (mentally, emotionally and physically) and society as a whole.
Human relationships, in all parts of life, are stamped by authority, not
liberty. And as freedom can only be created by freedom, authoritarian social
relationships (and the obedience they require) do not and cannot educate a
person in freedom - only participation (self-management) in all areas of
life can do that.
Of course, it will be pointed out that in any collective undertaking there
is a need for co-operation and co-ordination and this need to "subordinate"
the individual to group activities is a form of authority. Yes, but there
are two different ways of co-ordinating individual activity within groups -
either by authoritarian means or by libertarian means. Proudhon, in relation
to workplaces, makes the difference clear:
"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." [Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, _General Idea of the Revolution_,
In other words, associations can be based upon a form of *rational* authority,
based upon *natural influence* and so reflect freedom, the ability of
individuals to think, act and feel and manage their own time and activity.
Otherwise, we include elements of slavery into our relationships with others,
elements that poison the whole and shape us in negative ways (see section
B.1.1). Only the reorganisation of society in a libertarian way (and, we may
add, the mental transformation such a change requires and would create) will
allow the individual to "achieve more or less complete blossoming, whilst
continuing to develop" and banish "that spirit of submission that has been
artificially thrust upon him [or her]." [Nestor Makhno, _The Struggle Against
the State and Other Essays_, p. 62]
So, anarchists "ask nothing better than to see [others]. . . exercise over
us a natural and legitimate influence, freely accepted, and never imposed
. . . We accept all natural authorities and all influences of fact, but
none of right. . . " [_The Political Philosophy of Bakunin_, p. 255] Anarchist
support for free association within directly democratic groups is based upon
such organisational forms increasing influence and reducing irrational
authority in our lives. Members of such organisations can create and present
their own ideas and suggestions, critically evaluate the proposals and
suggestions from their fellows, accept those that they agree with or
become convinced by and have the option of leaving the association
if they are unhappy with its direction. Hence the influence of individuals
and their free interaction determine the nature of the decisions reached, and
no one has the right to impose their ideas on another. As Bakunin argued,
in such organisations "no function remains fixed and it will not remain
permanently and irrevocably attached to one person. Hierarchical order
and promotion do not exist. . . In such a system, power, properly speaking,
no longer exists. Power is diffused to the collectivity and becomes the
true expression of the liberty of everyone." [_Bakunin on Anarchism_,
Therefore, anarchists are opposed to *irrational* (e.g., illegitimate)
authority, in other words, hierarchy -- hierarchy being the
institutionalisation of authority within a society. Hierarchical social
institutions include the state (see section B.2), private property (see
section B.3) and, therefore, capitalism (see section B.4). Due to their
hierarchical nature, anarchists oppose these institutions with passion.
However, hierarchy exists beyond these institutions. For example,
hierarchical social relationships include sexism, racism and homophobia
(see section B.1.4), and anarchists oppose, and fight, them all.
As noted earlier (A.2.8), anarchists consider all hierarchies to be not only
harmful but unnecessary, and think that there are alternative, more egalitarian
ways to organise social life. In fact, they argue that hierarchical authority
creates the conditions it is presumably designed to combat, and thus tends
to be self-perpetuating. Thus, bureaucracies ostensibly set up to fight
poverty wind up perpetuating it, because without poverty, the high-salaried
top administrators would be out of work. The same applies to agencies
intended to eliminate drug abuse, fight crime, etc. In other words, the
power and privileges deriving from top hierarchical positions constitute a
strong incentive for those who hold them *not* to solve the problems
they are supposed to solve. (For further discussion see Marilyn French,
_Beyond Power: On Women, Men, and Morals_)
B.1.1 What are the effects of authoritarian social relationships?
Hierarchical authority is inextricably connected with the marginalisation
and disempowerment of those without authority. This has negative effects
on those over whom authority is exercised, since "[t]hose who have these
symbols of authority and those who benefit from them must dull their
subject people's realistic, i.e. critical, thinking and make them believe
the fiction [that irrational authority is rational and necessary], . .
.[so] the mind is lulled into submission by clich�s. . .[and] people are
made dumb because they become dependent and lose their capacity to trust
their eyes and judgement." [Erich Fromm, Op. Cit., p. 47]
Or, in the words of Bakunin, "the principle of authority, applied to men
who have surpassed or attained their majority, becomes a monstrosity, a
source of slavery and intellectual and moral depravity." [_God and the
State_, p. 41]
This is echoed by the syndicalist miners who wrote the classic _The Miner's
Next Step_ when they indicate the nature of authoritarian organisations and
their effect on those involved. Leadership (i.e. hierarchical authority)
"implies power held by the leader. Without power the leader is inept. The
possession of power inevitably leads to corruption. . . in spite of. . . good
intentions . . . [Leadership means] power of initiative, this sense of
responsibility, the self-respect which comes from expressed manhood [sic!],
is taken from the men, and consolidated in the leader. The sum of their
initiative, their responsibility, their self-respect becomes his. . .
[and the] order and system he maintains is based upon the suppression of the
men, from being independent thinkers into being 'the men'. . . In a word, he
is compelled to become an autocrat and a foe to democracy." Indeed, for the
"leader," such marginalisation can be beneficial, for a leader "sees no need
for any high level of intelligence in the rank and file, except to applaud
his actions. Indeed such intelligence from his point of view, by breeding
criticism and opposition, is an obstacle and causes confusion."
[_The Miners Next Step_, pp. 16-17 p. 15]
Anarchists argue that hierarchical social relationships will have a negative
effect on those subject to them, who can no longer exercise their critical,
creative and mental abilities *freely*. As Colin Ward argues, people "do
go from womb to tomb without realising their human potential, precisely
because the power to initiate, to participate in innovating, choosing, judging,
and deciding is reserved for the top men" (and it usually *is* men!) [_Anarchy
in Action_, p, 42]. Anarchism is based on the insight that there is an
interrelationship between the authority structures of institutions and the
psychological qualities and attitudes of individuals. Following orders all
day hardly builds an independent, empowered, creative personality. As Emma
Goldman made clear, if a person's "inclination and judgement are subordinated
to the will of a master" (such as a boss, as most people have to sell their
labour under capitalism) then little wonder such an authoritarian relationship
"condemns millions of people to be mere nonentities." [_Red Emma Speaks_,
As the human brain is a bodily organ, it needs to be used regularly in
order to be at its fittest. Authority concentrates decision-making in the
hands of those at the top, meaning that most people are turned into
executants, following the orders of others. If muscle is not used, it
turns to fat; if the brain is not used, creativity, critical thought and
mental abilities become blunted and side-tracked onto marginal issues,
like sports and fashion.
Therefore, "[h]ierarchical institutions foster alienated and exploitative
relationships among those who participate in them, disempowering people
and distancing them from their own reality. Hierarchies make some people
dependent on others, blame the dependent for their dependency, and then
use that dependency as a justification for further exercise of authority.
. . .Those in positions of relative dominance tend to define the very
characteristics of those subordinate to them. . . .Anarchists argue that
to be always in a position of being acted upon and never to be allowed to
act is to be doomed to a state of dependence and resignation. Those who
are constantly ordered about and prevented from thinking for themselves
soon come to doubt their own capacities. . .[and have] difficulty acting
on [their] sense of self in opposition to societal norms, standards and
expectations." [Martha Ackelsberg, _Free Women of Spain_, pp. 19-20]
Thus, in the words of Colin Ward, the "system makes its morons, then despises
them for their ineptitude, and rewards its 'gifted few' for their rarity."
[Op. Cit., p. 43]
In addition to these negative psychological effects from the denial of
liberty, authoritarian social relationships also produce social inequality.
This is because an individual subject to the authority of another has to
obey the orders of those above them in the social hierarchy. In capitalism
this means that workers have to follow the orders of their boss (see next
section), orders that are designed to make the boss richer (for example, from
1994 to 1995 alone, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) compensation in the USA rose
16 percent, compared to 2.8 percent for workers, which did not even keep pace
with inflation, and whose stagnating wages cannot be blamed on corporate
profits, which rose a healthy 14.8 percent for that year). Inequality in terms
of power will translate itself into inequality in terms of wealth (and vice
versa). The effects of such social inequality are wide-reaching.
For example, poor people are more likely to be sick and die at an
earlier age, compared to rich people. Moreover, the degree of inequality
is important (i.e. the size of the gap between rich and poor). According to
an editorial in the _British Medical Journal_ "what matters in determining
mortality and health in a society is less the overall wealth of that society
and more how evenly wealth is distributed. The more equally wealth is
distributed the better the health of that society," [Vol. 312, April 20,
1996, p. 985]
Research in the USA found overwhelming evidence of this. George Kaplan and
his colleagues measured inequality in the 50 US states and compared it to
the age-adjusted death rate for all causes of death, and a pattern emerged:
the more unequal the distribution of income, the greater the death rate.
In other words, it is the gap between rich and poor, and not the average
income in each state, that best predicts the death rate in each state.
["Inequality in income and mortality in the United States: analysis of
mortality and potential pathways," _British Medical Journal_ Vol. 312,
April 20, 1996, pp. 999-1003]
This measure of income inequality was also tested against other social
conditions besides health. States with greater inequality in the
distribution of income also had higher rates of unemployment, higher
rates of incarceration, a higher percentage of people receiving income
assistance and food stamps, a greater percentage of people without
medical insurance, greater proportion of babies born with low birth weight,
higher murder rates, higher rates of violent crime, higher costs per-person
for medical care, and higher costs per person for police protection.
Moreover states with greater inequality of income distribution also
spent less per person on education, had fewer books per person in the
schools, and had poorer educational performance, including worse reading
skills, worse mathematics skills, and lower rates of completion of high
As the gap grows between rich and poor (indicating an increase in social
hierarchy within and outwith of workplaces) the health of a people
deteriorates and the social fabric unravels. The psychological hardship of
being low down on the social ladder has detrimental effects on people,
beyond whatever effects are produced by the substandard housing, nutrition,
air quality, recreational opportunities, and medical care enjoyed by the
poor (see George Davey Smith, "Income inequality and mortality: why are they
related?" _British Medical Journal_, Vol. 312, April 20, 1996, pp. 987-988).
The growing gap between rich and poor has not been ordained by god, nature
or some other superhuman force. It has been created by a specific social
system, its institutions and workings - a system based upon authoritarian
social relationships which effect us both physically and mentally.
All this is not to suggest that those at the bottom of hierarchies are
victims nor that those at the top of hierarchies only gain benefits - far
from it. Those at the bottom are constantly resisting the negative effects
of hierarchy and creating non-hierarchical ways of living and fighting. This
constant process of self-activity and self-liberation can be seen from
the labour, women's and other movements - in which, to some degree, people
create their own alternatives based upon their own dreams and hopes. Anarchism
is based upon, and grew out of, this process of resistance, hope and direct
If we look at those at the top of the system, yes, indeed they often do
*very* well in terms of material goods and access to education, leisure,
health and so on but they can lose their humanity and individuality. As
Bakunin pointed out, "power and authority corrupt those who exercise them as
much as those who are compelled to submit to them." [_The Political Philosophy
of Bakunin_, p. 249] Power operates destructively, even on those who have
it, reducing their individuality as it "renders them stupid and brutal,
even when they were originally endowed with the best of talents. One who
is constantly striving to force everything into a mechanical order at last
becomes a machine himself and loses all human feeling." [Rudolf Rocker,
_Anarcho-Syndicalism_, p. 22]
When it boils down to it, hierarchy is self-defeating, for if "wealth is other
people," then by treating others as less than yourself, restricting their
growth, you lose all the potential insights and abilities these individuals
have, so impoverishing your own life and *restricting your own growth.*
Unfortunately in these days material wealth (a particularly narrow form
of "self-interest") has replaced concern for developing the whole person and
leading a fulfilling and creative life (a broad self-interest, which places
the individual *within* society, one that recognises that relationships with
others shape and develop all individuals). In a hierarchical, class based
society everyone loses to some degree, even those at the "top."
B.1.2 Is capitalism hierarchical?
Yes. Under capitalism workers do not exchange the products of their labour
they exchange the labour itself for money. They sell themselves for a
given period of time, and in return for wages, promise to obey their
paymasters. Those who pay and give the orders -- owners and managers --
are at the top of the hierarchy, those who obey at the bottom. This
means that capitalism, by its very nature, is hierarchical.
As Carole Pateman argues, "[c]apacities or labour power cannot be used
without the worker using his will, his understanding and experience,
to put them into effect. The use of labour power requires the presence
of its 'owner,' and it remains mere potential until he acts in the manner
necessary to put it into use, or agrees or is compelled so to act; that
is, the worker must labour. To contract for the use of labour power
is a waste of resources unless it can be used in the way in which the
new owner requires. The fiction 'labour power' cannot be used; what is
required is that the worker labours as demanded. The employment contract
must, therefore, create a relationship of command and obedience between
employer and worker. . .In short, the contract in which the worker
allegedly sells his labour power is a contract in which, since he cannot
be separated from his capacities, he sells command over the use of his
body and himself. To obtain the right to use another is to be a (civil)
master" [_The Sexual Contract_, pp. 150-1 -- compare to Proudhon quoted
This hierarchical control of wage labour has the effect of alienating
workers from their own work, and so from themselves. Workers no longer
govern themselves during work hours and so are no longer free. Capitalism,
by treating labour as analogous to all other commodities denies the key
distinction between labour and other "resources" - that is to say its
inseparability from its bearer - labour, unlike other "property,"
is endowed with will and agency. Thus when one speaks of selling labour
there is a necessary subjugation of will (hierarchy). As Karl Polanyi
"Labour is only another name for human activity which goes with
life itself, which is in turn not produced for sale but for entirely
different reasons, nor can that activity be detached from the rest of
life itself, be stored or mobilised." [_The Great Transformation_,
In other words, labour is much more than the commodity to which
capitalism tries to reduce it. Creative, self-managed work is a source
of pride and joy and part of what it means to be fully human. Wrenching
control of work from the hands of the worker profoundly harms his or her
mental and physical health. Indeed, Proudhon went so far as to argue that
capitalist companies "plunder the bodies and souls of the wage-workers"
and were an "outrage upon human dignity and personality." [Op. Cit.,
Separating labour from other activities of life and subjecting it to the
laws of the market means to annihilate its natural, organic form of
existence -- a form that evolved with the human race through tens of
thousands of years of co-operative economic activity based on sharing and
mutual aid -- and replacing it with an atomistic and individualistic one
based on contract and competition.
The social relationship of wage labour, which is a very recent development,
is then claimed by capitalists to be a source of "freedom," whereas in fact
it is a form of involuntary servitude (see section B.4 and A.2.14). Therefore
a libertarian who did not support economic liberty (i.e. self-government
in industry, socialism) would be no libertarian at all, and no believer in
Therefore capitalism is based upon hierarchy and the denial of liberty. To
present it otherwise denies the nature of wage labour. However supporters
of capitalism try to but - as Karl Polanyi points out - the idea that wage
labour is based upon some kind of "natural" liberty is false:
"To represent this principle [wage labour] as one of non-interference
[with freedom], as economic liberals were wont to do, was merely the
expression of an ingrained prejudice in favour of a definite kind of
interference, namely, such as would destroy non-contractual relations
between individuals and prevent their spontaneous re-formation." [Op.
This replacement of human relationships by economic ones soon results in
the replacement of human values by economic ones, giving us an "ethics" of
the account book, in which people are valued by how much they earn. It
also leads, as Murray Bookchin argues, to a debasement of human values:
"[S]o deeply rooted is the market economy in our minds that its grubby
language has replaced our most hallowed moral and spiritual expressions.
We now 'invest' in our children, marriages, and personal relationships, a
term that is equated with words like 'love' and 'care.' We live in a world
of 'trade-offs' and we ask for the 'bottom line' of any emotional
'transaction.' We use the terminology of contracts rather than that of
loyalties and spiritual affinities." [_The Modern Crisis_, p. 79]
With human values replaced by the ethics of calculation, and with only the
laws of market and state "binding" people together, social breakdown is
inevitable. As Karl Polanyi argues, "in disposing of a man's labour power the
[market] system would, incidently, dispose of the physical, psychological, and
moral entity 'man' attached to that tag." [Op. Cit., p. 73]
Little wonder modern capitalism has seen a massive increase in crime and
dehumanisation under the freer markets established by "conservative"
governments, such as those of Thatcher and Reagan and their transnational
corporate masters. We now live in a society where people live in
self-constructed fortresses, "free" behind their walls and defences
(both emotional and physical).
Of course, some people *like* the "ethics" of mathematics. But this is
mostly because -- like all gods -- it gives the worshipper an easy rule
book to follow. "Five is greater than four, therefore five is better"
is pretty simple to understand. John Steinbeck noticed this when he wrote:
"Some of them [the owners] hated the mathematics that drove them [to kick
the farmers off their land], and some were afraid, and some worshipped
the mathematics because it provided a refuge from thought and from feeling"
[_The Grapes of Wrath_, p. 34].
B.1.3 What kind of hierarchy of values does capitalism create?
Capitalism produces a perverted hierarchy of values -- one that places
humanity below property. As Erich Fromm argues, "the use [i.e.
exploitation] of man by man is expressive of the system of values
underlying the capitalistic system. *Capital, the dead past, employs
labour -- the living vitality and power of the present.* In the
capitalistic hierarchy of values, capital stands higher than labour,
amassed things higher than the manifestations of life. Capital employs
labour, and not labour capital. The person who owns capital commands the
person who 'only' owns his life, human skill, vitality and creative
productivity. 'Things' are higher than man. The conflict between capital
and labour is much more than the conflict between two classes, more than
their fight for a greater share of the social product. It is the conflict
between two principles of value: that between the world of things, and
their amassment, and the world of life and its productivity." [_The Sane
Society_, pp. 94-95]
Capitalism only values a person as representing a certain amount of the
commodity called "labour power," in other words, as a *thing*. Instead of
being valued as an individual -- a unique human being with intrinsic moral
and spiritual worth -- only one's price tag counts.
This debasement of the individual in the workplace, where so much time is
spent, necessarily affects a person's self-image, which in turn carries over
into the way he or she acts in other areas of life. If one is regarded as
a commodity at work, one comes to regard oneself and others in that way
also. Thus all social relationships -- and so, ultimately, *all*
individuals -- are commodified. In capitalism, literally nothing
is sacred -- "everything has its price" -- be it dignity, self-worth,
pride, honour -- all become commodities up for grabs.
Such debasement produces a number of social pathologies. "Consumerism" is
one example which can be traced directly to the commodification of the
individual under capitalism. To quote Fromm again, "*Things* have no self,
and men who have become things [i.e. commodities on the labour market] can
have no self" [_The Sane Society_, p. 143].
However, people still feel the *need* for selfhood, and so try to fill the
emptiness by consuming. The illusion of happiness, that one's life will be
complete if one gets a new commodity, drives people to consume. Unfortunately,
since commodities are yet more things, they provide no substitute for
selfhood, and so the consuming must begin anew. This process is, of course,
encouraged by the advertising industry, which tries to convince us to buy
what we don't need because it will make us popular/sexy/happy/free/etc.
(delete as appropriate!). But consuming cannot really satisfy the needs
that the commodities are bought to satisfy. Those needs can only be
satisfied by social interaction based on truly human values and by
creative, self-directed work.
This does not mean, of course, that anarchists are against higher living
standards or material goods. To the contrary, they recognise that liberty
and a good life are only possible when one does not have to worry about
having enough food, decent housing, and so forth. Freedom and 16 hours of
work a day do not go together, nor do equality and poverty or solidarity
and hunger. However, anarchists consider consumerism to be a distortion
of consumption caused by the alienating and inhuman "account book"
ethics of capitalism, which crushes the individual and his or her sense
of identity, dignity and selfhood.
B.1.4 Why do racism, sexism and homophobia exist?
Since racism, sexism and homophobia (hatred/fear of homosexuals) are
institutionalised throughout society, sexual, racial and gay oppression are
commonplace. The primary cause of these three evil attitudes is the need for
ideologies that justify domination and exploitation, which are inherent in
hierarchy -- in other words, "theories" that "justify" and "explain"
oppression and injustice. As Tacitus said, "We hate those whom we injure."
Those who oppress others always find reasons to regard their victims as
"inferior" and hence deserving of their fate. Elites need some way to
justify their superior social and economic positions. Since the social
system is obviously unfair and elitist, attention must be distracted to other,
less inconvenient, "facts," such as alleged superiority based on biology
or "nature." Therefore, doctrines of sexual, racial, and ethnic superiority
are inevitable in hierarchical, class-stratified societies.
We will take each form of bigotry in turn.
From an economic standpoint, racism is associated with the exploitation of
cheap labour at home and imperialism abroad. Indeed, early capitalist
development in both America and Europe was strengthened by the bondage of
people, particularly those of African descent. In the Americas, Australia and
other parts of the world the slaughter of the original inhabitants and the
expropriation of their land was also a key aspect in the growth of capitalism.
As the subordination of foreign nations proceeds by force, it appears to
the dominant nation that it owes its mastery to its special natural qualities,
in other words to its "racial" characteristics. Thus imperialists have
frequently appealed to the Darwinian doctrine of "Survival of the Fittest"
to give their racism a basis in "nature."
In Europe, one of the first theories of racial superiority was proposed by
Gobineau in the 1850s to establish the natural right of the aristocracy to
rule over France. He argued that the French aristocracy was originally of
Germanic origin while the "masses" were Gallic or Celtic, and that since
the Germanic race was "superior", the aristocracy had a natural right to
rule. Although the French "masses" didn't find this theory particularly
persuasive, it was later taken up by proponents of German expansion and
became the origin of German racial ideology, used to justify Nazi
oppression of Jews and other "non-Aryan" types. Notions of the "white
man's burden" and "Manifest Destiny" developed at about the same time
in England and to a lesser extent in America, and were used to rationalise
Anglo-Saxon conquest and world domination on a "humanitarian" basis.
The idea of racial superiority was also found to have great domestic
utility. As Paul Sweezy points out, "[t]he intensification of social
conflict within the advanced capitalist countries. . . has to be directed
as far as possible into innocuous channels -- innocuous, that is to say,
from the standpoint of capitalist class rule. The stirring up of
antagonisms along racial lines is a convenient method of directing
attention away from class struggle," which of course is dangerous to
ruling-class interests [_Theory of Capitalist Development_, p. 311].
Indeed, employers have often deliberately fostered divisions among
workers on racial lines as part of a strategy of "divide and rule."
In other words, racism (like other forms of bigotry) can be used to split
and divide the working class by getting people to blame others of their class
for the conditions they all suffer. Thus white workers are subtly encouraged,
for example, to blame unemployment on blacks instead of capitalism, crime
on Hispanics instead of poverty. In addition, discrimination against racial
minorities and women has the full sanction of capitalist economics, "for in
this way jobs and investment opportunities can be denied to the
disadvantaged groups, their wages and profits can be depressed below
prevailing levels, and the favoured sections of the population can reap
substantial material rewards." [Ibid.]
Thus capitalism has continued to benefit from its racist heritage. Racism has
provided pools of cheap labour for capitalists to draw upon (blacks still,
usually, get paid less than whites for the same work) and permitted a
section of the population to be subjected to worse treatment, so increasing
profits by reducing working conditions and other non-pay related costs.
All this means that blacks are "subjected to oppression and exploitation on
the dual grounds of race and class, and thus have to fight the extra battles
against racism and discrimination." [Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin,
_Anarcho-syndicalists of the world unite_]
Sexism only required a "justification" once women started to act for
themselves and demand equal rights. Before that point, sexual oppression
did not need to be "justified" -- it was "natural" (saying that, of course,
equality between the sexes was stronger before the rise of Christianity as
a state religion and capitalism so the "place" of women in society has
fallen over the last few hundred years before rising again thanks to the
The nature of sexual oppression can be seen from marriage. Emma Goldman
pointed out that marriage "stands for the sovereignty of the man over the
women," with her "complete submission" to the husbands "whims and commands."
[_Red Emma Speaks_, p. 139] As Carole Pateman notes, until "the late
nineteenth century the legal and 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." [_The Sexual Contract_, p. 119] 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."
[Ibid., p. 122, p. 181]
However, when women started to question the assumptions of male domination,
numerous theories were developed to explain why women's oppression and
domination by men was "natural." Because men enforced their rule over women
by force, men's "superiority" was argued to be a "natural" product of their
gender, which is associated with greater physical strength (on the premise
that "might makes right"). In the 17th century, it was argued that women
were more like animals than men, thus "proving" that women had as much right
to equality with men as sheep did. More recently, elites have embraced
socio-biology in response to the growing women's movement. By "explaining"
women's oppression on biological grounds, a social system run by men and
for men could be ignored.
Women's subservient role also has economic value for capitalism (we should
note that Goldman considered capitalism to be another "paternal arrangement"
like marriage, both of which robbed people of their "birthright," "stunts"
their growth, "poisons" their bodies and keeps people in "ignorance, in
poverty and dependence." [Op. Cit., p. 164]). Women often provide necessary
(and unpaid) labour which keeps the (usually) male worker in good condition;
and it is primarily women who raise the next generation of wage-slaves (again
without pay) for capitalist owners to exploit. Moreover, women's subordination
gives working-class men someone to look down upon and, sometimes, a convenient
target on whom they can take out their frustrations (instead of stirring up
trouble at work). As Lucy Parsons pointed out, a working class woman is "a
slave to a slave."
The oppression of lesbians, gays and bisexuals is inextricably linked with
sexism. A patriarchal, capitalist society cannot see homosexual practices as
the normal human variations they are because they blur that society's rigid
gender roles and sexist stereotypes. Most young gay people keep their
sexuality to themselves for fear of being kicked out of home and all
gays have the fear that some "straights" will try to kick their sexuality
out of them if they express their sexuality freely.
Gays are not oppressed on a whim but because of the specific need of
capitalism for the nuclear family. The nuclear family, as the primary
- and inexpensive - creator of submissive people (growing up within the
authoritarian family gets children used to, and "respectful" of, hierarchy
and subordination - see section B.1.5) as well as provider and carer for
the workforce fulfils an important need for capitalism. Alternative
sexuality represent a threat to the family model because they provide
a different role model for people. This means that gays are going to
be in the front line of attack whenever capitalism wants to reinforce
"family values" (i.e. submission to authority, "tradition", "morality"
and so on). The introduction of Clause 28 in Britain is a good example
of this, with the government making it illegal for public bodies to
promote gay sexuality (i.e. to present it as anything other than a
perversion). Therefore, the oppression of people based on their
sexuality will not end until sexism is eliminated.
Before discussing how anarchists think these forms of oppression can be
got rid of, it is useful to highlight why they are harmful to those who
practice them (and in some way benefit from them) as well as the oppressed.
Sexism, racism and homophobia divide the working class, which means that
whites, males and heterosexuals hurt themselves by maintaining a pool of
low-paid competing labour, ensuring low wages for their own wives, daughters,
mothers, relatives and friends. Such divisions create inferior conditions
and wages for all as capitalists gain a competitive advantage using this
pool of cheap labour, forcing all capitalists to cut conditions and wages
to survive in the market (in addition, such social hierarchies, by undermining
solidarity against the employer on the job and the state possibly create a
group of excluded workers who could become scabs during strikes). Also,
"privileged" sections of the working class lose out because their wages and
conditions are less than those which unity could have won them. Only the
boss really wins.
This can be seen from research into this subject. The researcher Al Szymanski
sought to systematically and scientifically test the proposition that white
workers gain from racism ["Racial Discrimination and White Gain", in
_American Sociological Review_, vol. 41, no. 3, June 1976, pp. 403-414].
He compared the situation of "white" and "non-white" (i.e. black, Native
American, Asian and Hispanic) workers in United States and found several
(1) the narrower the gap between white and black wages in an American
state, the higher white earnings were relative to white earnings
elsewhere. This means that "whites do not benefit economically by
economic discrimination. White workers especially appear to benefit
economically from the *absence* of economic discrimination. . .
both in the absolute level of their earnings *and* in relative
equality among whites." [p. 413] In other words, the less wage
discrimination there was against black workers, the better were
the wages that white workers received.
(2) the more "non-white" people in the population of a given
American State, the more inequality there was between whites.
In other words, the existence of a poor, oppressed group of
workers reduced the wages of white workers, although it did
not affect the earnings of non-working class whites very much
("the greater the discrimination against [non-white] people,
the greater the inequality among whites" [p. 410]). So white
workers clearly lost economically from this discrimination.
(3) He also found that "the more intense racial discrimination is,
the lower are the white earnings *because* of . . . [its effect
on] working-class solidarity." [p. 412] In other words, racism
economically disadvantages white workers because it undermines
the solidarity between black and white workers and weakens
trade union organisation.
So overall, these white workers recieve some apparent privileges from racism,
but are in fact screwed by it. Thus racism and other forms of hierarchy
actually works against the interests of those working class people who
practice it -- and, by weakening workplace and social unity, benefits the
In addition, a wealth of alternative viewpoints, insights, experiences,
cultures, thoughts and so on are denied the racist, sexist or homophobe.
Their minds are trapped in a cage, stagnating within a mono-culture -- and
stagnation is death for the personality. Such forms of oppression are
dehumanising for those who practice them, for the oppressor lives as a
*role*, not as a person, and so are restricted by it and cannot express
their individuality *freely* (and so do so in very limited ways). This
warps the personality of the oppressor and impoverishes their own life and
personality. Homophobia and sexism also limits the flexibility of all
people, gay or straight, to choose the sexual expressions and relationships
that are right for them. The sexual repression of the sexist and homophobe
will hardly be good for their mental health, their relationships or general
From the anarchist standpoint, oppression based on race, sex or sexuality will
remain forever intractable under capitalism or, indeed, under any economic
system based on domination and exploitation. While individual members of
"minorities" may prosper, racism as a justification for inequality is too
useful a tool for elites to discard. By using the results of racism (e.g.
poverty) as a justification for racist ideology, criticism of the status
quo can, yet again, be replaced by nonsense about "nature" and "biology."
Similarly with sexism or discrimination against gays.
The long-term solution is obvious: dismantle capitalism and the hierarchical,
economically class-stratified society with which it is bound up. By getting
rid of capitalist oppression and exploitation and its consequent imperialism
and poverty, we will also eliminate the need for ideologies of racial or
sexual superiority used to justify the oppression of one group by another
or to divide and weaken the working class.
As part of that process, anarchists encourage and support all sections of
the population to stand up for their humanity and individuality by
resisting racist, sexist and anti-gay activity and challenging such views
in their everyday lives, everywhere (as Carole Pateman points out, "sexual
domination structures the workplace as well as the conjugal home" [Op. Cit.,
p. 142]). It means a struggle of all working class people against the
internal and external tyrannies we face -- we must fight against own our
prejudices while supporting those in struggle against our common enemies,
no matter their sex, skin colour or sexuality. Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin words
on fighting racism are applicable to all forms of oppression:
"Racism must be fought vigorously wherever it is found, even if in
our own ranks, and even in ones own breast. Accordingly, we must end the
system of white skin privilege which the bosses use to split the class, and
subject racially oppressed workers to super-exploitation. White workers,
especially those in the Western world, must resist the attempt to use one
section of the working class to help them advance, while holding back the
gains of another segment based on race or nationality. This kind of class
opportunism and capitulationism on the part of white labour must be directly
challenged and defeated. There can be no workers unity until the system of
super-exploitation and world White Supremacy is brought to an end." [Op. Cit.]
Progress towards equality can and has been made. While it is still true that
(in the words of Emma Goldman) "[n]owhere is woman treated according to
the merit of her work, but rather as a sex" [Op. Cit., p. 145] and that
education is still patriarchal, with young women still often steered away
from traditionally "male" courses of study and work (which teaches children
that men and women are assigned different roles in society and sets them up
to accept these limitations as they grow up) it is also true that the position
of women, like that of blacks and gays, *has* improved. This is due to the
various self-organised, self-liberation movements that have continually
developed throughout history and these are *the* key to fighting oppression
in the short term (and creating the potential for the long term solution of
dismantling capitalism and the state).
Emma Goldman argued that emancipation begins "in [a] woman's soul." Only
by a process of internal emancipation, in which the oppressed get to know
their own value, respect themselves and their culture, can they be in a
position to effectively combat (and overcome) external oppression and
attitudes. Only when you respect yourself can you be in a position to
get others to respect you. Those men, whites and heterosexuals who are
opposed to bigotry, inequality and injustice, must support oppressed
groups and refuse to condone racist, sexist or homophobia attitudes
and actions by others or themselves. For anarchists, "not a single
member of the Labour movement may with impunity be discriminated against,
suppressed or ignored. . . Labour [and other] organisations must be built
on the principle of equal liberty of all its members. This equality means
that only if each worker is a free and independent unit, co-operating with
the others from his or her mutual interests, can the whole labour
organisation work successfully and become powerful." [Lorenzo Kom'boa
Ervin, Op. Cit.]
We must all treat people as equals, while at the same time respecting their
differences. Diversity is a strength and a source of joy, and anarchists
reject the idea that equality means conformity. By these methods, of
internal self-liberation and solidarity against external oppression, we
can fight against bigotry. Racism, sexism and homophobia can be reduced,
perhaps almost eliminated, before a social revolution has occurred by those
subject to them organising themselves, fighting back *autonomously* and
refusing to be subjected to racial, sexual or anti-gay abuse or to allowing
others to get away with it (which plays an essential role in making others
aware of their own attitudes and actions, attitudes they may not even be
blind to!). An essential part of this process is for such autonomous groups
to actively support others in struggle (including members of the dominant
race/sex/sexuality). Such practical solidarity and communication can,
when combined with the radicalising effects of the struggle itself on
those involved, help break down prejudice and bigotry, undermining the social
hierarchies that oppress us all. For example, gay and lesbian groups
supporting the 1984/5 UK miners' strike resulted in such groups being
given pride of place in many miners' marches.
For whites, males and heterosexuals, the only anarchistic approach is to
support others in struggle, refuse to tolerate bigotry in others and to
root out their own fears and prejudices (while refusing to be uncritical of
self-liberation struggles -- solidarity does not imply switching your
brain off!). This obviously involves taking the issue of social oppression
into all working class organisations and activity, ensuring that no
oppressed group is marginalised within them.
Only in this way can the hold of these social diseases be weakened and a
better, non-hierarchical system be created. An injury to one is an injury
The example of the *Mujeres Libres* (Free Women) in Spain during the 1930s
shows what is possible. Women anarchists involved in the C.N.T. and F.A.I.
organised themselves autonomously raise the issue of sexism in the wider
libertarian movement, to increase women involvement in libertarian
organisations and help the process of women's self-liberation against
male oppression. Along the way they also had to combat the (all too
common) sexist attitudes of their "revolutionary" male fellow anarchists.
Martha A. Ackelsberg's book _Free Women of Spain_ is an excellent
account of this movement and the issues it raises for all people
concerned about freedom.
Needless to say, anarchists totally reject the kind of "equality" that
accepts other kinds of hierarchy, that accepts the dominant priorities of
capitalism and the state and accedes to the devaluation of relationships and
individuality in name of power and wealth. There is a kind of "equality" in
having "equal opportunities," in having black, gay or women bosses and
politicians, but one that misses the point. Saying "Me too!" instead of
"What a mess!" does not suggest real liberation, just different bosses and
new forms of oppression. We need to look at the way society is organised,
not at the sex, colour, nationality or sexuality of who is giving the orders!
B.1.5 How is the mass-psychological basis for authoritarian civilisation
We noted in section A.3.6 that hierarchical, authoritarian institutions
tend to be self-perpetuating, because growing up under their influence
creates submissive/authoritarian personalities -- people who both
"respect" authority (based on fear of punishment) and desire to exercise
it themselves on subordinates. Individuals with such a character
structure do not really want to dismantle hierarchies, because they are
afraid of the responsibility entailed by genuine freedom. It seems
"natural" and "right" to them that society's institutions, from the
authoritarian factory to the patriarchal family, should be pyramidal, with
an elite at the top giving orders while those below them merely obey.
Thus we have the spectacle of so-called "Libertarians" and "anarcho"
capitalists bleating about "liberty" while at the same time advocating
factory fascism and privatised states. In short, authoritarian
civilisation reproduces itself with each generation because, through an
intricate system of conditioning that permeates every aspect of society,
it creates masses of people who support the status quo.
Wilhelm Reich has given one of the most thorough analyses of the
psychological processes involved in the reproduction of authoritarian
civilisation. Reich based his analysis on four of Freud's most solidly
grounded discoveries, namely, (1) that there exists an unconscious part of
the mind which has a powerful though irrational influence on behaviour; (2)
that even the small child develops a lively "genital" sexuality, i.e. a
desire for sexual pleasure which has nothing to do with procreation; (3)
that childhood sexuality along with the Oedipal conflicts that arise in
parent-child relations under monogamy and patriarchy are usually repressed
through fear of punishment or disapproval for sexual acts and thoughts;
(4) that this blocking of the child's natural sexual activity and
extinguishing it from memory does not weaken its force in the unconscious,
but actually intensifies it and enables it to manifest itself in various
pathological disturbances and anti-social drives; and (5) that, far from
being of divine origin, human moral codes are derived from the educational
measures used by the parents and parental surrogates in earliest
childhood, the most effective of these being the ones opposed to childhood
By studying Bronislaw Malinowsli's research on the Trobriand Islanders, a
woman-centred (matricentric) society in which children's sexual behaviour
was not repressed and in which neuroses and perversions as well as
authoritarian institutions and values were almost non-existent, Reich came
to the conclusion that patriarchy and authoritarianism originally
developed when tribal chieftains began to get economic advantages from a
certain type of marriage ("cross-cousin marriages") entered into by their
sons. In such marriages, the brothers of the son's wife were obliged to
pay a dowry to her in the form of continuous tribute, thus enriching her
husband's clan (i.e. the chief's). By arranging many such marriages for
his sons (which were usually numerous due to the chief's privilege of
polygamy), the chief's clan could accumulate wealth. Thus society began
to be stratified into ruling and subordinate clans based on wealth.
To secure the permanence of these "good" marriages, strict monogamy was
required. However, it was found that monogamy was impossible to maintain
without the repression of childhood sexuality, since, as statistics show,
children who are allowed free expression of sexuality often do not adapt
successfully to life-long monogamy. Therefore, along with class
stratification and private property, authoritarian child-rearing methods
were developed to inculcate the repressive sexual morality on which the
new patriarchal system depended for its reproduction. Thus there is a
historical correlation between, on the one hand, pre-patriarchal society,
primitive libertarian communism (or "work democracy," to use Reich's
expression), economic equality, and sexual freedom, and on the other,
patriarchal society, a private-property economy, economic class
stratification, and sexual repression. As Reich puts it:
"Every tribe that developed from a [matricentric] to a patriarchal
organisation had to change the sexual structure of its members to produce
a sexuality in keeping with its new form of life. This was a necessary
change because the shifting of power and of wealth from the democratic
gens [maternal clans] to the authoritarian family of the chief was mainly
implemented with the help of the suppression of the sexual strivings of
the people. It was in this way that sexual suppression became an essential
factor in the division of society into classes.
"Marriage, and the lawful dowry it entailed, became the axis of the
transformation of the one organisation into the other. In view of the
fact that the marriage tribute of the wife's gens to the man's family
strengthened the male's, especially the chief's, position of power, the
male members of the higher ranking gens and families developed a keen
interest in making the nuptial ties permanent. At this stage, in other
words, only the man had an interest in marriage. In this way natural
work-democracy's simple alliance, which could be easily dissolved at any
time, was transformed into the permanent and monogamous marital
relationship of patriarchy. The permanent monogamous marriage became the
basic institution of patriarchal society -- which it still is today. To
safeguard these marriages, however, it was necessary to impose greater and
greater restrictions upon and to depreciate natural genital strivings"
[_The Mass Psychology of Fascism_, p. 90]
The suppression of natural sexuality involved in this transformation from
matricentric to patriarchal society created various anti-social drives
(sadism, destructive impulses, rape fantasies, etc.), which then
also had to be suppressed through the imposition of a compulsive morality,
which took the place the natural self-regulation that one finds in
pre-patriarchal societies. In this way, sex began to be regarded as
"dirty," "diabolical," "wicked," etc. -- which it had indeed become
through the creation of secondary drives. Thus:
"The patriarchal- authoritarian sexual order that resulted from the
revolutionary processes of latter-day [matricentrism] (economic
independence of the chief's family from the maternal gens, a growing
exchange of goods between the tribes, development of the means of
production, etc.) becomes the primary basis of authoritarian ideology by
depriving the women, children, and adolescents of their sexual freedom,
making a commodity of sex and placing sexual interests in the service of
economic subjugation. From now on, sexuality is indeed distorted; it
becomes diabolical and demonic and has to be curbed" [Ibid. p. 88].
Once the beginnings of patriarchy are in place, the creation of a fully
authoritarian society based on the psychological crippling of its members
through sexual suppression follows:
"The moral inhibition of the child's natural sexuality, the last stage of
which is the severe impairment of the child's *genital* sexuality, makes
the child afraid, shy, fearful of authority, obedient, 'good,' and
'docile' in the authoritarian sense of the words. It has a crippling
effect on man's rebellious forces because every vital life-impulse is now
burdened with severe fear; and since sex is a forbidden subject, thought
in general and man's critical faculty also become inhibited. In short,
morality's aim is to produce acquiescent subjects who, despite distress
and humiliation, are adjusted to the authoritarian order. Thus, the
family is the authoritarian state in miniature, to which the child must
learn to adapt himself as a preparation for the general social adjustment
required of him later. Man's authoritarian structure -- this must be
clearly established -- is basically produced by the embedding of sexual
inhibitions and fear" in the person's bioenergetic structure. [Ibid.,
In this way, by damaging the individual's power to rebel and think for
him/herself, the inhibition of childhood sexuality -- and indeed other
forms of free, natural expression of bioenergy (e.g. shouting, crying,
running, jumping, etc.) -- becomes the most important weapon in creating
reactionary personalities. This is why every reactionary politician puts
such an emphasis on "strengthening the family" and promoting "family
values" (i.e. patriarchy, compulsive monogamy, premarital chastity,
corporal punishment, etc.).
"Since authoritarian society reproduces itself in the individual
structures of the masses with the help of the authoritarian family, it
follows that political reaction has to regard and defend the authoritarian
family as *the* basis of the "state, culture, and civilisation. . . ."
[It is] *political reaction's germ cell*, the most important centre for
the production of reactionary men and women. Originating and developing
from definite social processes, it becomes the most essential institution
for the preservation of the authoritarian system that shapes it" [Op.
cit., p. 104-105]
The family is the most essential institution for this purpose because
children are most vulnerable to psychological maiming in their first few
years, from the time of birth to about six years of age, during which time
they are mostly in the charge of their parents. The schools and churches
then continue the process of conditioning once the children are old enough
to be away from their parents, but they are generally unsuccessful if the
proper foundation has not been laid very early in life by the parents.
Thus A.S. Neill observes that "the nursery training is very like the
kennel training. The whipped child, like the whipped puppy, grows into an
obedient, inferior adult. And as we train our dogs to suit our own
purposes, so we train our children. In that kennel, the nursery, the
human dogs must be clean; they must feed when we think it convenient for
them to feed. I saw a hundred thousand obedient, fawning dogs wag their
tails in the Templehof, Berlin, when in 1935, the great trainer Hitler
whistled his commands [_Summerhill: a Radical Approach to Child Rearing_,
The family is also the main agency of repression during adolescence, when
sexual energy reaches its peak. This is because the vast majority
of parents provide no private space for adolescents to pursue undisturbed
sexual relationships with their partners, but in fact actively discourage
such behaviour, often (as in fundamentalist Christian families) demanding
complete abstinence -- at the very time when abstinence is most
impossible! Moreover, since teenagers are economically dependent on their
parents under capitalism, with no societal provision of housing or
dormitories allowing for sexual freedom, young people have no
alternative but to submit to irrational parental demands for abstention
from premarital sex. This in turn forces them to engage in furtive sex in
the back seats of cars or other out-of-the-way places where they cannot
relax or obtain full sexual satisfaction. As Reich found, when sexuality
is repressed and laden with anxiety, the result is always some degree of
what he terms "orgastic impotence": the inability to fully surrender to
the flow of energy discharged during orgasm. Hence there is an
incomplete release of sexual tension, which results in a state of chronic
bioenergetic stasis. Such a condition, Reich found, is the breeding
ground for neuroses and reactionary attitudes. (For further details see
the section J.6).
In this connection it is interesting to note that "primitive" societies,
such as the Trobriand Islanders, prior to their developing
patriarchal-authoritarian institutions, provided special community houses
where teenagers could go with their partners to enjoy undisturbed sexual
relationships -- and this with society's full approval. Such an
institution would be taken for granted in an anarchist society, as it is
implied by the concept of freedom. (For more on adolescent sexual
liberation, see section J.6.8.)
Nationalistic feelings can also be traced to the authoritarian family. A
child's attachment to its mother is, of course, natural and is the basis
of all family ties. Subjectively, the emotional core of the concepts of
homeland and nation are mother and family, since the mother is the
homeland of the child, just as the family is the "nation in miniature."
According to Reich, who carefully studied the mass appeal of Hitler's
"National Socialism," nationalistic sentiments are a direct continuation of
the family tie and are rooted in a *fixated* tie to the mother. As Reich
points out, although infantile attachment to the mother is natural,
*fixated* attachment is not, but is a social product. In puberty, the tie
to the mother would make room for other attachments, i.e., natural sexual
relations, *if* the unnatural sexual restrictions imposed on adolescents
did not cause it to be eternalised. It is in the form of this socially
conditioned externalisation that fixation on the mother becomes the basis
of nationalist feelings in the adult; and it is only at this stage that it
becomes a reactionary social force.
Later writers who have followed Reich in analysing the process of creating
reactionary character structures have broadened the scope of his analysis
to include other important inhibitions, besides sexual ones, that are
imposed on children and adolescents. Rianne Eisler, for example, in her
book _Sacred Pleasure_, stresses that it is not just a sex-negative
attitude but a *pleasure*-negative attitude that creates the kinds of
personalities in question. Denial of the value of pleasurable sensations
permeates our unconscious, as reflected, for example, in the common idea
that to enjoy the pleasures of the body is the "animalistic" (and hence
"bad") side of human nature, as contrasted with the "higher" pleasures of
the mind and "spirit." By such dualism, which denies a spiritual aspect
to the body, people are made to feel guilty about enjoying any
pleasurable sensations -- a conditioning that does, however, prepare them
for lives based on the sacrifice of pleasure (or indeed, even of life
itself) under capitalism and statism, with their requirements of mass
submission to alienated labour, exploitation, military service to protect
ruling-class interests, and so on. And at the same time, authoritarian
ideology emphasises the value of suffering, as for example through the
glorification of the tough, insensitive warrior hero, who suffers (and
inflicts "necessary" suffering on others ) for the sake of some pitiless
Eisler also points out that there is "ample evidence that people
who grow up in families where rigid hierarchies and painful punishments
are the norm learn to suppress anger toward their parents. There is also
ample evidence that this anger is then often deflected against
traditionally disempowered groups (such as minorities, children, and
women)" [Ibid., p. 187]. This repressed anger then becomes fertile ground
for reactionary politicians, whose mass appeal usually rests in part on
scapegoating minorities for society's problems.
As the psychologist Else Frenkel-Brunswick documents in _The Authoritarian
Personality_, people who have been conditioned through childhood abuse to
surrender their will to the requirements of feared authoritarian parents,
also tend to be very susceptible as adults to surrender their will and
minds to authoritarian leaders. "In other words, at the same time that
they learn to deflect their repressed rage against those they perceive as
weak, they also learn to submit to autocratic or 'strong-man' rule.
Moreover, having been severely punished for any hint of rebellion (even
'talking back' about being treated unfairly), they gradually also learn to
deny to themselves that there was anything wrong with what was done to
them as children -- and to do it in turn to their own children" [Ibid.,
These are just some of the mechanisms that perpetuate the status quo by
creating the kinds of personalities who worship authority and fear
freedom. Consequently, anarchists are generally opposed to traditional
child-rearing practices, the patriarchal-authoritarian family (and its
"values"), the suppression of adolescent sexuality, and the
pleasure-denying, pain-affirming attitudes taught by the Church and in
most schools. In place of these, anarchists favour non-authoritarian,
non-repressive child-rearing practices and educational methods (see
section J.6 and J.5.13, respectively) whose purpose is to prevent, or at
least minimise, the psychological crippling of individuals, allowing them
instead to develop natural self-regulation and self-motivated learning.
This, we believe, is the only way to for people to grow up into happy,
creative, and truly freedom-loving individuals who will provide the
psychological ground where anarchist economic and political institutions
B.2 Why are anarchists against the state?
As previously noted (see section B.1), anarchists oppose all forms of
hierarchical authority. Historically, however, the they have spent most
of their time and energy opposing two main forms in particular. One is
capitalism, the other, the state. These two forms of authority have a
symbiotic relationship and cannot be easily separated. In this section,
as well as explaining why anarchists oppose the state, we will necessarily
have to analyse the relationship between it and capitalism.
So what is the state? As Malatesta put it, anarchists "have used the word
State. . . to mean the sum total of the political, legislative, judiciary,
military and financial institutions through which the management of their
own affairs, the control over their personal behaviour, the responsibility
for their personal safety, are taken away from the people and entrusted
to others who, by usurpation or delegation, are vested with the power to
make laws for everything and everybody, and to oblige the people to observe
them, if need be, by the use of collective force." [_Anarchy_, p. 13]
"For us, governments [or the state]is up of all governors. . . those who
have the power to make *laws* regulating inter-human relations and to see
that they are carried out . . . [and] who have the power, to a greater
or lesser degree, to make use of the social power, that is of the physical,
intellectual and economic power of the whole community, in order to oblige
everybody to carry out their wishes." [Op. Cit., pp. 15-16 -- see also
Kropotkin's _The State: Its Historic Role_, p. 10]
This means that many, if not most, anarchists would agree with Randolph
Bourne's characterisation of the state as the politico-military domination
of a certain geographical territory by a ruling elite (see his "Unfinished
Fragment on the State," in _Untimely Papers_). On this subject Murray
"Minimally, the State is a professional system of social coercion. . .
It is only when coercion is institutionalised into a professional,
systematic and organised form of social control - . . . with the backing
of a monopoly of violence - that we can properly speak of a State."
[_Remaking Society_, p. 66]
Therefore, we can say that, for anarchists, the state is marked by three
1) A "monopoly of violence" in a given territorial area;
2) This violence having a "professional," institutional
3) A hierarchical nature, centralisation of power and
initiative into the hands of a few.
Of these three aspects, the last one (its centralised, hierarchical
nature) is the most important simply because the concentration of
power into the hands of the few ensures a division of society into
government and governed (which necessitates the creation of a
professional body to enforce that division). Without such a
division, we would not need a monopoly of violence and so would
simply have an association of equals, unmarked by power and
hierarchy (such as exists in many stateless "primitive" tribes).
Some types of states, e.g. Communist and social-democratic ones, are
directly involved not only in politico-military domination but also in
economic domination via state ownership of the means of production;
whereas in liberal democratic capitalist states, such ownership is in the
hands of private individuals. In liberal democratic states, however, the
mechanisms of politico-military domination are controlled by and for a
corporate elite, and hence the large corporations are often considered to
belong to a wider "state-complex."
As the state is the delegation of power into the hands of the few, it
is obviously based on hierarchy. This delegation of power results in
the elected people becoming isolated from the mass of people who elected
them and outside of their control. In addition, as those elected are
given power over a host of different issues and told to decide upon
them, a bureaucracy soon develops around them to aid in their
decision-making. However, this bureaucracy, due to its control of
information and its permanency, soon has more power than the elected
officials. This means that those who serve the people's (so-called) servant
have more power than those they serve, just as the politician has more power
than those who elected him. All forms of state-like (i.e. hierarchical)
organisations inevitably spawn a bureaucracy about them. This bureaucracy
soon becomes the de facto focal point of power in the structure,
regardless of the official rules.
This marginalisation and disempowerment of ordinary people (and so the
empowerment of a bureaucracy) is the key reason for anarchist opposition
to the state. Such an arrangement ensures that the individual is disempowered,
subject to bureaucratic, authoritarian rule which reduces the person to a
object or a number, *not* a unique individual with hopes, dreams, thoughts
and feelings. As Proudhon forcefully argued:
"To be GOVERNED is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed,
law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled,
estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the
right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so . . . To be GOVERNED is to
be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled,
taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorised,
admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the
pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be
placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolised,
extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the
first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked,
abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot,
deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown it all, mocked,
ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice;
that is its morality." [_General Idea of the Revolution_, p. 294]
Anarchists see the state, with its vast scope and control of deadly force,
as the "ultimate" hierarchical structure, suffering from all the negative
characteristics associated with authority described in the last section.
"Any logical and straightforward theory of the State," argued Bakunin,
"is essentially founded upon the principle of *authority*, that is the
eminently theological, metaphysical, and political idea that the masses,
*always* incapable of governing themselves, must at all times submit
to the beneficent yoke of a wisdom and a justice imposed upon them,
in some way or other, from above." [_Bakunin on Anarchism_, p. 142]
Such a system of authority cannot help being centralised, hierarchical
and bureaucratic in nature. And because of its centralised, hierarchical,
and bureaucratic nature, the state becomes a great weight over society,
restricting its growth and development and making popular control
impossible. As Bakunin puts it:
"the so-called general interests of society supposedly represented by the
State . . . [are] in reality . . . the general and permanent negation of
the positive interests of the regions, communes, and associations, and a
vast number of individuals subordinated to the State . . . [in which]
all the best aspirations, all the living forces of a country, are
sanctimoniously immolated and interred." [_The Political Philosophy
of Bakunin_, p. 207]
In the rest of this section we will discuss the state, its role, its impact
on a society's freedom and who benefits from its existence. Kropotkin's
classic essay, _The State: It's Historic Role_ is recommended for further
reading on this subject.
B.2.1 What is main function of the state?
The main function of the state is to enable the ruling elite to exploit
lower social strata, i.e. derive an economic surplus from them. The state,
to use Malatesta's words, is basically "the property owners' *gendarme*"
[_Anarchy_, p. 19] (compare to the maxim of the Founding Fathers of
American "democracy" -- "the people who own the country ought to govern
it" (John Jay)). Those in the upper-middle levels of the social pyramid
also frequently use the state to obtain income without working, as from
investments, but the elite gain by far the most economic advantages, which
is why in the US, one percent of the population controls over 40 percent
of total wealth. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the state is
the extractive apparatus of society's parasites.
The state ensures the exploitative privileges of its ruling elite by
protecting certain economic monopolies from which its members derive their
wealth (see section B.3.2). This service is referred to as "protecting
private property" and is said to be one of the two main functions of the
state, the other being to ensure that individuals are "secure in their
persons." However, although this second aim is professed, in reality most
state laws and institutions are concerned with the protection of property
(for the anarchist definition of "property" see section B.3.1.).
From this fact we may infer that references to the "security of persons,"
"crime prevention," etc. are mostly rationalisations of the state's
existence and smokescreens for its perpetuation of elite power and
privileges. Moreover, even though the state does take a secondary interest
in protecting the security of persons (particularly elite persons), the
vast majority of crimes against persons are motivated by poverty and
alienation due to state-supported exploitation and also by the
desensitisation to violence created by the state's own violent methods of
protecting private property.
Hence, anarchists maintain that without the state and the crime-engendering
conditions to which it gives rise, it would be possible for decentralised,
voluntary community associations to deal compassionately (not punitively)
with the few incorrigibly violent people who might remain (see section
It is clear that the state represents the essential coercive mechanisms
by which capitalism and the authority relations associated with private
property are sustained. The protection of property is fundamentally the
means of assuring the social domination of owners over non-owners, both
in society as a whole and in the particular case of a specific boss
over a specific group of workers. Class domination is the authority
of property owners over those who use that property and it is the
primary function of the state to uphold that domination (and the
social relationships that generate it). In Kropotkin's words, "the
rich perfectly well know that if the machinery of the State ceased
to protect them, their power over the labouring classes would be gone
immediately." [_Evolution and Environment_, p. 98]
In other words, protecting private property and upholding class
domination are the same thing. Yet this primary function of the state
is disguised by the "democratic" facade of the representative electoral
system, through which it is made to appear that the people rule
themselves. Thus Bakunin writes that the modern state "unites in itself
the two conditions necessary for the prosperity of the capitalistic
economy: State centralisation and the actual subjection of . . . the
people . . . to the minority allegedly representing it but actually
governing it." [Op. Cit., p. 210]
The historian Charles Beard makes a similar point:
"Inasmuch as the primary object of a government, beyond mere repression
of physical violence, is the making of the rules which determine the
property relations of members of society, the dominant classes whose
rights are thus to be protected must perforce obtain from the government
such rules as are consonant with the larger interests necessary to the
continuance of their economic processes, or they must themselves control
the organs of government." [_An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution_,
quoted by Howard Zinn, Op. Cit., p. 89]
This role of the state -- to protect capitalism and the property, power
and authority of the property owner -- was also noticed by Adam Smith:
"[T]he inequality of fortune . . . introduces among men a degree
of authority and subordination which could not possibly exist
before. It thereby introduces some degree of that civil government
which is indispensably necessary for its own preservation . . .
[and] to maintain and secure that authority and subordination. The
rich, in particular, are necessarily interested to support that order
of things which can alone secure them in the possession of their own
advantages. Men of inferior wealth combine to defend those of superior
wealth in the possession of their property, in order that men of
superior wealth may combine to defend them in the possession of
theirs . . . [T]he maintenance of their lesser authority depends
upon that of his greater authority, and that upon their subordination
to him depends his power of keeping their inferiors in subordination
to them. They constitute a sort of little nobility, who feel themselves
interested to defend the property and to support the authority of
their own little sovereign in order that he may be able to defend
their property and to support their authority. Civil government, so
far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality
instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those
who have some property against those who have none at all." [Adam
Smith, _The Wealth of Nations_, book 5]
In a nutshell, the state is the means by which the ruling class rules.
"the State is the organised authority, domination and power of
the possessing classes over the masses." [quoted by David Deleon,
_Reinventing Anarchy_, p. 71]
However, while recognising that the state protects the power and
position of the economically dominant class within a society anarchists
also argue that the state has, due to its hierarchical nature,
interests of its own. Thus it cannot be considered as simply the
tool of the economically dominant class in society. States have
their own dynamics, due to their structure, which generate their
own classes and class interests and privileges (and which allows
them to escape from the control of the economic ruling class and
pursue their own interests, to a greater or lesser degree). As
Malatesta put it "the government, though springing from the
bourgeoisie and its servant and protector, tends, as with every
servant and every protector, to achieve its own emancipation
and to dominate whoever it protects." [_Anarchy_, p. 22]
This means that the state machine (and structure), while its modern
form is intrinsically linked to capitalism, cannot be seen as
being a tool usable by the majority. This is because the "State,
any State -- even when it dresses-up in the most liberal and
democratic form -- is essentially based on domination, and
upon violence, that is upon despotism -- a concealed but no
less dangerous despotism." The State "denotes force, authority,
predominance; it presupposes inequality in fact." [_The
Political Philosophy of Michael Bakunin_, p. 211 and p. 223]
This is due to its hierarchical and centralised nature, which
empowers the few who control the state machine -- "[e]very
state power, every government, by its nature places itself
outside and over the people and inevitably subordinates
them to an organisation and to aims which are foreign to
and opposed to the real needs and aspirations of the people."
[_Bakunin on Anarchism_, p. 328] If "the whole proletariat . . .
[are] members of the government . . . there will be no government,
no state, but, if there is to be a state there will be those
who are ruled and those who are slaves." [Op. Cit., p. 330]
In other words, the state bureaucracy is itself directly an
oppressor and can exist independently of an economically
dominant class. In Bakunin's prophetic words:
"What have we seen throughout history? The State has always
been the patrimony of some privileged class: the sacerdotal
class, the nobility, the bourgeoisie -- and finally, when
all other classes have exhausted themselves, the class of
the bureaucracy enters the stage and then the State falls,
or rises, if you please, to the position of a machine."
[_The Political Philosophy of Michael Bakunin_, p. 208]
The experience of Soviet Russian indicates the validity of
his analysis (the working class was exploited and dominated
by the state bureaucracy rather than by an economic class).
Thus the role of the state is to repress the individual and the
working class as a whole in the interests of the capitalist class
and in its own interests. This means that "the State organisation
. . . [is] the force to which minorities resorted for establishing
and organising their power over the masses." Little wonder, then,
that Kropotkin argued that "[i]n the struggle between the individual
and the State, anarchism . . . takes the side of the individual as
against the State, of society against the authority which oppresses
it." While the state is a "superstructure in the interests of
capitalism," it is a "power which was created for the purpose of
welding together the interests of the landlord, the judge, the
warrior, and the priest" and, we must add, cannot be considered
purely as being a tool for the capitalist/landlord class. The
state structure ("the judge, the warrior" etc.) has interests
of its own. [_Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets_, p. 170 and
B.2.2 Does the state have subsidiary functions?
Besides its primary function of protecting private property, the state
operates in other ways as an economic instrument of the ruling class.
First, the state intervenes in the modern economy to solve problems that
arise in the course of capitalist development. These interventions have
taken different forms in different times and include state funding for
industry (e.g. military spending); the creation of social infrastructure
too expensive for private capital to provide (railways, motorways);
tariffs to protect developing industries from more established
international competition (the key to successful industrialisation
as it allows capitalists to rip-off consumers, making them rich and
increasing funds available for investment); imperialist ventures to
create colonies (or protect citizen's capital invested abroad) in order
to create markets or get access to raw materials and cheap labour;
government spending to stimulate consumer demand in the face of
underconsumption and stagnation; maintaining a "natural" level
of unemployment that can be used to discipline the working class,
so ensuring they produce more, for less; manipulating the interest
rate in order to try and reduce the effects of the business cycle and
undermine workers' gains in the class struggle.
Second, because of the inordinate political power deriving from wealth
(see next section), capitalists use the state directly to benefit their
class, as from subsidies, tax breaks, government contracts, protective
tariffs, bailouts of corporations judged by state bureaucrats as too
important to let fail, and so on.
And third, the state may be used to grant concessions to the working
class in cases where not doing so would threaten the integrity of the
system as a whole.
Hence David Deleon:
"Above all, the state remains an institution for the continuance of
dominant socioeconomic relations, whether through such agencies
as the military, the courts, politics or the police . . . Contemporary
states have acquired . . . less primitive means to reinforce their
property systems [than state violence -- which is always the means
of last, often first, resort]. States can regulate, moderate or
resolve tensions in the economy by preventing the bankruptcies of
key corporations, manipulating the economy through interest rates,
supporting hierarchical ideology through tax benefits for churches
and schools, and other tactics. In essence, it is not a neutral
institution; it is powerfully for the status quo. The capitalist
state, for example, is virtually a gyroscope centred in capital,
balancing the system. If one sector of the economy earns a level
of profit, let us say, that harms the rest of the system -- such
as oil producers' causing public resentment and increased
manufacturing costs -- the state may redistribute some of that
profit through taxation, or offer encouragement to competitors."
[_Reinventing Anarchy_, pp. 71-72]
The example of state legislation to set the length of the working day is
an example of both the first and third functions enumerated above. In the
early period of capitalist development, a shortage of labour power led to
the state's ignoring the lengthening working day, thus allowing capitalists
to appropriate more surplus value from workers and increase the rate of
profit without interference. Later, however, after workers began to organise,
reducing the length of the working day became a key demand around which
revolutionary socialist fervour was developing. Hence, in order to defuse
this threat (and socialist revolution is the worst-case scenario for the
capitalist), the state passed legislation to reduce the length of the
working day (which, once workers' struggle calmed down, were happily ignored
and became "dead laws"). Initially, the state was functioning purely as
the protector of the capitalist class, using its powers to solve problems
that arise in the course of capitalist development (namely repressing the
labour movement to allow the capitalists to do as they liked). In the second
it was granting concessions to the working class to eliminate a threat to
the integrity of the system as a whole.
It should be noted that none of these three subsidiary functions implies
that capitalism can be changed through a series of piecemeal reforms into
a benevolent system that primarily serves working class interests. To the
contrary, these functions grow out of, and supplement, the basic role of
the state as the protector of capitalist property and the social relations
they generate -- i.e. the foundation of the capitalist's ability to exploit.
Therefore reforms may modify the functioning of capitalism but they can
never threaten its basis. As Malatesta argued:
"The basic function of government . . . is always that of oppressing
and exploiting the masses, of defending the oppressors and the
exploiters . . . It is true that to these basic functions . . .
other functions have been added in the course of history . . .
hardly ever has a government existed . . . which did not
combine with its oppressive and plundering activities others
which were useful . . . to social life. But this does not detract
from the fact that government is by nature oppressive . . . and
that it is in origin and by its attitude, inevitably inclined
to defend and strengthen the dominant class; indeed it confirms
and aggravates the position . . . [I]t is enough to understand
how and why it carries out these functions to find the practical
evidence that whatever governments do is always motivated by
the desire to dominate, and is always geared to defending,
extending and perpetuating its privileges and those of the
class of which it is both the representative and defender.
"A government cannot maintain itself for long without hiding
its true nature behind a pretence of general usefulness; it
cannot impose respect for the lives of the privileged if it
does not appear to demand respect for all human life; it
cannot impose acceptance of the privileges of the few if
it does not pretend to be the guardian of the rights of all."
[Op. Cit., pp. 20-1]
Ultimately, what the state concedes, it can also take back (as was
the case of the laws limiting the working day). Thus the rise
and fall of the welfare state -- granted to stop more revolutionary
change (see section D.1.3), it did not fundamentally challenge
the existence of wage labour and was useful as a means of regulating
capitalism but was "reformed" (i.e. made worse, rather than better)
when its existence conflicted with the needs of the capitalist
In summary, the state acts to protect the long-term interests of the
capitalist class *as a whole* (and ensure its own survival) by protecting
the system. This role can and does clash with the interests of particular
capitalists or even whole sections of the ruling class (see next section).
But this conflict does not change the role of the state as the property
owners' policeman. Indeed, the state can be considered as a means for
settling (in a peaceful and apparently independent manner) upper-class
disputes over what to do to keep the system going.
B.2.3 How does the ruling class maintain control of the state?
For simplicity, let's just consider the capitalist state, whose main
purpose is to protect the exploitative monopolies described below.
Because their economic monopolies are protected by the state, the elites
whose incomes are derived from them -- namely, finance capitalists,
industrial capitalists, and landlords -- are able to accumulate vast
wealth from those whom they exploit. This stratifies society into a
hierarchy of economic classes, with a huge disparity of wealth between the
small property-owning elite at the top and the non-property-owning
majority at the bottom.
Then, because it takes enormous wealth to win elections and lobby or bribe
legislators, the propertied elite are able to control the political
process -- and hence the state -- through the "power of the purse." For
example, it costs well over $20 million to run for President of the USA.
In other words, elite control of politics through huge wealth disparities
insures the continuation of such disparities and thus the continuation of
elite control. In this way the crucial political decisions of those at
the top are insulated from significant influence by those at the bottom.
Moreover, the ability of capital to disinvest (capital flight) and
otherwise adversely impact the economy is a powerful weapon to keep the
state as its servant. As Noam Chomsky notes:
"In capitalist democracy, the interests that must be satisfied are those of
capitalists; otherwise, there is no investment, no production, no work, no
resources to be devoted, however marginally, to the needs of the general
population" [_Turning the Tide_, p. 233]
Hence, even allegedly "democratic" capitalist states are in effect
dictatorships of the propertariat. Errico Malatesta put it this way:
"Even with universal suffrage - we could well say even more so with universal
suffrage - the government remained the bourgeoisie's servant and *gendarme.*
For were it to be otherwise with the government hinting that it might
take up a hostile attitude, or that democracy could ever be anything but
a pretence to deceive the people, the bourgeoisie, feeling its interests
threatened, would by quick to react, and would use all the influence and
force at its disposal, by reason of its wealth, to recall the government
to its proper place as the bourgeoisie's *gendarme.*" [_Anarchy_, p. 20]
The existence of a state bureaucracy is a key feature in ensuring that
the state remains the ruling class's "policeman" and will be discussed
in greater detail in section J.2.2 (Why do anarchists reject voting as
a means for change?). As far as economic forces go, we see their power
implied when the news report that changes in government, policies and
law have been "welcomed by the markets." As the richest 1% of households
in America (about 2 million adults) owned 35% of the stock owned by
individuals in 1992 - with the top 10% owning over 81% -- we can see
that the "opinion" of the markets actually means the power of the
richest 1-5% of a countries population (and their finance experts),
power derived from their control over investment and production. Given
that the bottom 90% of the US population has a smaller share (23%) of
all kinds of investable capital that the richest 1/2% (who own 29%),
with stock ownership being even more concentrated (the top 5% holding
95% of all shares), its obvious why Doug Henwood (author of _Wall Street_)
argues that stock markets are "a way for the very rich as a class to own
an economy's productive capital stock as a whole," are a source of
"political power" and a way to have influence over government policy
(see also section D.2). [_Wall Street: Class Racket_]
Of course, this does not mean that the state and the capitalist class
always see "eye to eye." Top politicians, for example, are part of the
ruling elite, but they are in competition with other parts of it. In
addition, different sectors of the capitalist class are competing against
each other for profits, political influence, privileges, etc. The
bourgeoisie, argued Malatesta, "are always at war among themselves . . .
and . . . the government, though springing from the bourgeoisie and its
protector, tends . . . to dominate whoever it protects. Thus the games
of the swings, the manoeuvres, the concessions and withdrawals, the
attempts to find allies among the people against the conservatives,
and among the conservatives against the people." [Op. Cit., p. 22] As
such, the state is often in conflict with sections of the capitalist class,
just as sections of that class use the state to advance their own interests
within the general framework of protecting the capitalist system (i.e.
the interests of the ruling class *as a class*). Such conflicts sometimes
give the impression of the state being a "neutral" body, but this is an
illusion -- it exists to defend class power and privilege, and to resolve
disputes within that class peacefully via the "democratic" process (within
which we get the chance of picking the representatives of the elite who
will oppress us least).
Nevertheless, without the tax money from successful businesses, the state
would be weakened. Hence the role of the state is to ensure the best
conditions for capital *as a whole,* which means that, when necessary,
it can and does work against the interests of certain parts of the
capitalist class. This is what can give the state the appearance of
independence and can fool people into thinking that it represents the
interests of society as a whole. (For more on the ruling elite and its
relation to the state, see C. Wright Mills, _The Power Elite_ [Oxford,
1956]; cf. Ralph Miliband, _The State in Capitalist Society_ [Basic Books,
1969] and _Divided Societies_ [Oxford, 1989]; G. William Domhoff, _Who
Rules America?_ [Prentice Hall, 1967]; _Who Rules America Now? A View
for the '80s_ [Touchstone, 1983] and _Toxic Sludge is Good For You! Lies,
Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry_ by John Stauber and Sheldon
Rampton [Common Courage Press, 1995]).
B.2.4 How does state centralisation affect freedom?
It is a common but false idea that voting every four or so years to elect
the public face of a highly centralised and bureaucratic machine means
that ordinary people control the state. Obviously, to say that this idea
is false does not imply that there is no difference between a liberal
republic and a fascistic or monarchical state. Far from it.
The vote is an important victory wrested from the powers that be. It is one
small step on the road to libertarian socialism. Nevertheless, all forms of
hierarchy, even those in which the top officers are elected are marked by
authoritarianism and centralism. Power is concentrated in the centre (or
at the "top"), which means that society becomes "a heap of dust animated
from without by a subordinating, centralist idea." [P.J. Proudhon, quoted
by Martin Buber, _Paths in Utopia_, p. 29] For, once elected, top officers
can do as they please, and, as in all bureaucracies, many important
decisions are made by non-elected staff.
The nature of centralisation places power into the hands of the few.
Representative democracy is based on this delegation of power, with
voters electing others to govern them. This cannot help but create
a situation in which freedom is endangered -- universal suffrage
"does not prevent the formation of a body of politicians, privileged
in fact though not in law, who, devoting themselves exclusively to
the administration of the nation's public affairs, end by becoming
a sort of political aristocracy or oligarchy." [Bakunin, _The Political
Philosophy of Bakunin_, p. 240]
Centralism makes democracy meaningless, as political decision-making is
given over to professional politicians in remote capitals. Lacking local
autonomy, people are isolated from each other (atomised) by having no
political forum where they can come together to discuss, debate, and
decide among themselves the issues they consider important. Elections
are not based on natural, decentralised groupings and thus cease to be
relevant. The individual is just another "voter" in the mass, a political
"constituent" and nothing more. The amorphous basis of modern, statist
elections "aims at nothing less than to abolish political life in towns,
communes and departments, and through this destruction of all municipal
and regional autonomy to arrest the development of universal suffrage."
[Proudhon, Ibid.] Thus people are disempowered by the very structures
that claim to allow them to express themselves. To quote Proudhon
again, in the centralised state "the citizen divests himself of
sovereignty, the town and the Department and province above it,
absorbed by central authority, are no longer anything but agencies
under direct ministerial control." He continues:
"The Consequences soon make themselves felt: the citizen and the
town are deprived of all dignity, the state's depredations multiply,
and the burden on the taxpayer increases in proportion. It is no
longer the government that is made for the people; it is the people
who are made for the government. Power invades everything, dominates
everything, absorbs everything. . ." [_The Principle of Federation_,
As intended, as isolated people are no threat to the powers that be. This
process of marginalisation can be seen from American history, for example,
when town meetings were replaced by elected bodies, with the citizens
being placed in passive, spectator roles as mere "voters" (see section B.5
"Is capitalism empowering and based on human action?"). Being an atomised
voter is hardly an ideal notion of "freedom," despite the rhetoric of
politicians about the virtues of a "free society" and "The Free World" --
as if voting once every four or five years could ever be classed as
"liberty" or even "democracy."
In this way, social concern and power are taken away from ordinary
citizens and centralised in the hands of the few. Marginalisation of the
people is the key control mechanism in the state and authoritarian
organisations in general. Considering the European Community (EC), for
example, we find that the "mechanism for decision-making between EC states
leaves power in the hands of officials (from Interior ministries, police,
immigration, customs and security services) through a myriad of working
groups. Senior officials. . . play a critical role in ensuring agreements
between the different state officials. The EC Summit meetings, comprising
the 12 Prime Ministers, simply rubber-stamp the conclusions agreed by the
Interior and Justice Ministers. It is only then, in this intergovernmental
process, that parliaments and people are informed (and them only with the
barest details)." [Tony Bunyon, _Statewatching the New Europe_, p. 39]
As well as economic pressures from elites, governments also face pressures
within the state itself due to the bureaucracy that comes with centralism.
There is a difference between the state and government. The state is the
permanent collection of institutions that have entrenched power structures
and interests. The government is made up of various politicians. It's the
institutions that have power in the state due to their permanence, not the
representatives who come and go. As Clive Ponting (an ex-civil servant
himself) indicates, "the function of a political system in any country...
is to regulate, but not to alter radically, the existing economic structure
and its linked power relationships. The great illusion of politics is that
politicians have the ability to make whatever changes they like . . ."
[quoted in _Alternatives_, no.5, p. 19]
Therefore, as well as marginalising the people, the state also ends up
marginalising "our" representatives. As power rests not in the elected
bodies, but in a bureaucracy, popular control becomes increasingly
meaningless. As Bakunin pointed out, "liberty can be valid only
when . . . [popular] control [of the state] is valid. On the contrary,
where such control is fictitious, this freedom of the people likewise
becomes a mere fiction." [Op. Cit., p. 212]
This means that state centralism can become a serious source of danger to
the liberty and well-being of most of the people under it. However, *some*
people do benefit from state centralisation, namely those with power who
desire to be "left alone" to use it: that is, the two sections of the
ruling elite, bureaucrats of capital and state (as will be discussed
further in the next section).
B.2.5 Who benefits from centralisation?
No social system would exist unless it benefited someone or some group.
Centralisation, be it in the state or the company, is no different. In
all cases, centralisation directly benefits those at the top, because it
shelters them from those who are below, allowing the latter to be
controlled and governed more effectively. Therefore, it is in the direct
interests of bureaucrats and politicians to support centralism.
Under capitalism, however, various sections of the business class also
support state centralism. This is the symbiotic relationship between
capital and the state. As will be discussed later (in section F.8), the
state played an important role in "nationalising" the market, i.e. forcing
the "free market" onto society. By centralising power in the hands of
representatives and so creating a state bureaucracy, ordinary people were
disempowered and thus became less likely to interfere with the interests
of the wealthy. "In a republic," writes Bakunin, "the so-called people,
the legal people, allegedly represented by the State, stifle and will keep
on stifling the actual and living people" by "the bureaucratic world" for
"the greater benefit of the privileged propertied classes as well as for
its own benefit" [Op. Cit., p. 211].
Examples of increased political centralisation being promoted by
wealthy business interests by can be seen throughout the history of
capitalism. "In revolutionary America, 'the nature of city government
came in for heated discussion,' observes Merril Jensen . . . Town meetings
. . . 'had been a focal point of revolutionary activity'. The anti-democratic
reaction that set in after the American revolution was marked by efforts
to do away with town meeting government . . . Attempts by conservative
elements were made to establish a 'corporate form (of municipal
government) whereby the towns would be governed by mayors and councils'
elected from urban wards . . . [T]he merchants 'backed incorporation
consistently in their efforts to escape town meetings' . . ." [Murray
Bookchin, _Towards an Ecological Society_, p. 182].
Here we see local policy making being taken out of the hands of the many
and centralised in the hands of the few (who are always the wealthy).
France provides another example:
"The Government found. . .the folkmotes [of all households] 'too noisy',
too disobedient, and in 1787, elected councils, composed of a mayor and
three to six syndics, chosen among the wealthier peasants, were
introduced instead." [Peter Kropotkin, _Mutual Aid_, pp. 185-186]
This was part of a general movement to disempower the working class
by centralising decision making power into the hands of the few (as
in the American revolution). Kropotkin indicates the process at work:
"[T]he middle classes, who had until then had sought the support of
the people, in order to obtain constitutional laws and to dominate
the higher nobility, were going, now that they had seen and felt
the strength of the people, to do all they could to dominate the
people, to disarm them and to drive them back into subjection.
[. . .]
"[T]hey made haste to legislate in such a way that the political
power which was slipping out of the hand of the Court should
not fall into the hands of the people. Thus . . . [it was]
proposed . . . to divide the French into two classes, of which
one only, the *active* citizens, should take part in the
government, whilst the other, comprising the great mass of the
people under the name of *passive* citizens, should be deprived
of all political rights . . . [T]he [National] Assembly divided
France into departments . . . always maintaining the principle of
excluding the poorer classes from the Government . . . [T]hey
excluded from the primary assemblies the mass of the people . . .
who could no longer take part in the primary assemblies, and
accordingly had no right to nominate the electors [who chose
representatives to the National Assembly], or the municipality,
or any of the local authorities . . .
"And finally, the *permanence* of the electoral assemblies was
interdicted. Once the middle-class governors were appointed,
these assemblies were not to meet again. Once the middle-class
governors were appointed, they must not be controlled too
strictly. Soon the right even of petitioning and of passing
resolutions was taken away -- 'Vote and hold your tongue!'
"As to the villages . . . the general assembly of the
inhabitants . . . [to which] belonged the administration
of the affairs of the commune . . . were forbidden by the
. . . law. Henceforth only the well-to-do peasants, the
*active* citizens, had the right to meet, *once a year*,
to nominate the mayor and the municipality, composed of
three or four middle-class men of the village.
"A similar municipal organisation was given to the towns. . .
"[Thus] the middle classes surrounded themselves with every
precaution in order to keep the municipal power in the hands
of the well-to-do members of the community." [_The Great French
Revolution_, vol. 1, pp. 179-186]
Thus centralisation aimed to take power away from the mass of
the people and give it to the wealthy. The power of the people
rested in popular assemblies, such as the "Sections" and "Districts"
of Paris (expressing, in Kropotkin's words, "the principles of
anarchism" and "practising . . . Direct Self-Government" [Op.
Cit., p. 204 and p. 203]) and village assemblies. However,
the National Assembly "tried all it could to lessen the power
of the districts . . . [and] put an end to those hotbeds of
Revolution . . . [by allowing] *active* citizens only . . .
to take part in the electoral and administrative assemblies."
[Op. Cit., p. 211] owHThus the "central government was steadily
endeavouring to subject the sections to its authority" with
the state "seeking to centralise everything in its own hands
. . . [I]ts depriving the popular organisations . . . all
. . . administrative functions . . . and its subjecting
them to its bureaucracy in police matters, meant the death
of the sections." [Op. Cit., vol. 2, p. 549 and p. 552]
As can be seen, in both the French and American revolutions saw
a similar process by which the wealthy centralised power into
their own hands. This ensured that working class people (i.e.
the majority) were excluded from the decision making process
and subject to the laws and power of others. Which, of course,
benefits the minority class whose representatives have that
power. (Volume one of Murray Bookchin's _The Third Revolution_
discusses the French and American revolutions in some detail).
On the federal and state levels in the US after the Revolution,
centralisation of power was encouraged, since "most of the makers of the
Constitution had some direct economic interest in establishing a strong
federal government . . . there was . . . a positive need for strong central
government to protect the large economic interests." [Howard Zinn, _A
People's History of the United States_, p. 90] In particular, state
centralisation was essential to mould US society into one dominated by
"In the thirty years leading up to the Civil War, the law was
increasingly interpreted in the courts to suit capitalist development.
Studying this, Morton Horwitz (_The Transformation of American Law_)
points out that the English common-law was no longer holy when it stood in
the way of business growth. . . Judgements for damages against businessmen
were taken out of the hands of juries, which were unpredictable, and given
to judges. . . The ancient idea of a fair price for goods gave way in the
courts to the idea of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware). . . contract
law was intended to discriminate against working people and for business. . .
The pretence of the law was that a worker and a railroad made a contract
with equal bargaining power. . . 'The circle was completed; the law had
come simply to ratify those forms of inequality that the market system
had produced.'" [Op. Cit., p. 234]
The US state was created on elitist liberal doctrine and actively aimed
to reduce democratic tendencies (in the name of "individual liberty").
What happened in practice (unsurprisingly enough) was that the wealthy
elite used the state to undermine popular culture and common right in
favour of protecting and extending their own interests and power. In
the process, US society was reformed in their own image:
"By the middle of the nineteenth century the legal system had been
reshaped to the advantage of men of commerce and industry at the
expense of farmers, workers, consumers, and other less powerful groups
in society. . . it actively promoted a legal distribution of wealth
against the weakest groups in society." [Horwitz, quoted by Zinn,
Op. Cit., p. 235]
In more modern times, state centralisation and expansion has gone hand in
glove with rapid industrialisation and the growth of business. As Edward
Herman points out, "[t]o a great extent, it was the growth in business
size and power that elicited the countervailing emergence of unions and the
growth of government. Bigness *beyond* business was to a large extent
a response to bigness *in* business." [_Corporate Control, Corporate
Power_, p. 188 -- see also, Stephen Skowronek, _Building A New American
State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920_]
State centralisation was required to produce bigger, well-defined markets
and was supported by business when it acted in their interests (i.e. as
markets expanded, so did the state in order to standardise and enforce
property laws and so on). On the other hand, this development towards
"big government" created an environment in which big business could grow
(often encouraged by the state by subsidies and protectionism - as would be
expected when the state is run by the wealthy) as well as further removing
state power from influence by the masses and placing it more firmly in
the hands of the wealthy. It is little wonder we see such developments,
for "[s]tructures of governance tend to coalesce around domestic power,
in the last few centuries, economic power." [Noam Chomsky, _World Orders,
Old and New_, p. 178]
State centralisation makes it easier for business to control government,
ensuring that it remains their puppet and to influence the political
process. For example, the European Round Table (ERT) "an elite lobby group
of. . .chairmen or chief executives of large multi-nationals based mainly
in the EU... [with] 11 of the 20 largest European companies [with]
combined sales [in 1991]. . .exceeding $500 billion, . . .approximately
60 per cent of EU industrial production," makes much use of the EU. As
two researchers who have studied this body note, the ERT "is adept at
lobbying. . .so that many ERT proposals and "visions" are mysteriously
regurgitated in Commission summit documents." The ERT
"claims that the labour market should be more "flexible," arguing for more
flexible hours, seasonal contracts, job sharing and part time work. In
December 1993, seven years after the ERT made its suggestions [and after
most states had agreed to the Maastricht Treaty and its "social
chapter"], the European Commission published a white paper. .
.[proposing] making labour markets in Europe more flexible." [Doherty and
Hoedeman, "Knights of the Road," _New Statesman_, 4/11/94, p. 27]
The current talk of globalisation, NAFTA, and the Single European Market
indicates an underlying transformation in which state growth follows the
path cut by economic growth. Simply put, with the growth of transnational
corporations and global finance markets, the bounds of the nation-state
have been made economically redundant. As companies have expanded into
multi-nationals, so the pressure has mounted for states to follow suit and
rationalise their markets across "nations" by creating multi-state
agreements and unions.
As Noam Chomsky notes, G7, the IMF, the World Bank and so forth are a "de
facto world government," and "the institutions of the transnational state
largely serve other masters [than the people], as state power typically
does; in this case the rising transnational corporations in the domains of
finance and other services, manufacturing, media and communications" [Op.
Cit., p. 179].
As multi-nationals grow and develop, breaking through national boundaries,
a corresponding growth in statism is required. Moreover, a "particularly
valuable feature of the rising de facto governing institutions is their
immunity from popular influence, even awareness. They operate in secret,
creating a world subordinated to the needs of investors, with the public
'put in its place', the threat of democracy reduced" [Chomsky, Op. Cit.,
This does not mean that capitalists desire state centralisation for
everything. Often, particularly for social issues, relative
decentralisation is often preferred (i.e. power is given to local
bureaucrats) in order to increase business control over them. By devolving
control to local areas, the power which large corporations, investment
firms and the like have over the local government increases proportionally.
In addition, even middle-sized enterprise can join in and influence,
constrain or directly control local policies and set one workforce against
another. Private power can ensure that "freedom" is safe, *their* freedom.
No matter which set of bureaucrats are selected, the need to centralise
social power, thus marginalising the population, is of prime
importance to the business class. It is also important to remember that
capitalist opposition to "big government" is often financial, as the state
feeds off the available social surplus, so reducing the amount left for
the market to distribute to the various capitals in competition.
In reality, what capitalists object to about "big government" is its spending
on social programs designed to benefit the poor and working class, an
"illegitimate" function which "wastes" part of the surplus that might go
to capital (and also makes people less desperate and so less willing to
work cheaply). Hence the constant push to reduce the state to its
"classical" role as protector of private property and the system, and little
else. Other than their specious quarrel with the welfare state, capitalists
are the staunchest supports of government (and the "correct" form of state
intervention, such as defence spending), as evidenced by the fact that funds
can always be found to build more prisons and send troops abroad to advance
ruling-class interests, even as politicians are crying that there is "no
money" in the treasury for scholarships, national health care, or welfare
for the poor.
B.3 Why are anarchists against private property?
Capitalism is one of the two things all anarchists oppose. Capitalism is
marked by two main features, "private property" (or in some cases,
state-owned property) and wage labour. The latter, however, is dependent
on the former, i.e. for wage labour to exist, workers must not own or
control the means of production they use. In turn, private (or state)
ownership of the means of production is only possible if there is a state,
meaning mechanisms of organised coercion at the disposal of the propertied
class (see section B.2).
Anarchists oppose private property (i.e. capitalism) because it is a
source of coercive, hierarchical authority and elite privilege ("Property
. . .violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and
freedom by despotism. . . [and has] perfect identity with robbery,"
to use Proudhon's words - _What is Property_, p. 251). And so
private property (capitalism) necessarily excludes participation,
influence, and control by those who use, but do not own, the means
Therefore, for all true anarchists, property is opposed as a source of
authority, indeed despotism. To quote Proudhon on this subject:
"The proprietor, the robber, the hero, the sovereign - for all these
titles are synonymous - imposes his will as law, and suffers neither
contradiction nor control; that is, he pretends to be the legislative and
the executive power at once. . . [and so] property engenders despotism. . .
That is so clearly the essence of property that, to be convinced of it, one
need but remember what it is, and observe what happens around him. Property
is the right to *use* and *abuse* . . . if goods are property, why should
not the proprietors be kings, and despotic kings -- kings in proportion to
their *facultes bonitaires*? And if each proprietor is sovereign lord
within the sphere of his property, absolute king throughout his own domain,
how could a government of proprietors be any thing but chaos and
confusion?" [Op. Cit., pp. 266-7]
In other words, private property is the state writ small, with the property
owner acting as the "sovereign lord" over their property, and so the
absolute king of those who use it. As in any monarchy, the worker is the
subject of the capitalist, having to follow their orders, laws and decisions
while on their property. This, obviously, is the total denial of liberty (and
dignity, we may note, as it is degrading to have to follow orders). Little
wonder, then, that anarchists oppose private property as Anarchy is "the
absence of a master, of a sovereign" [Op. Cit., p. 264] and call capitalism
for what it is, namely *wage slavery*!
Also, it ought to be easy to see that capitalism, by giving rise to an
ideologically inalienable "right" to private property, will also quickly
give rise to inequalities in the distribution of external resources, and
that this inequality in resource distribution will give rise to a further
inequality in the relative bargaining positions of the propertied and the
property less. While apologists for capitalism usually attempt to justify
private property by claiming that "self-ownership" is a "universal right"
(see section B.4.2 - Is capitalism based on self-ownership?), it is clear
that capitalism actually makes universal self-ownership, in it's true
sense, impossible. For the real principle of self-ownership implies that
people are not used in various ways against their will. The capitalist
system, however, has undermined this principle, and ironically, has used
the *term* "self-ownership" as the "logical" basis for doing so. Under
capitalism, as will be seen in section B.4, most people are usually left
in a situation where their best option is to allow themselves to be used
in just those ways that are logically incompatible with genuine
For these reasons, anarchists agree with Rousseau when he states:
"The first man who, having fenced off a plot of land, thought of saying,
'This is mine' and found people simple enough to believe him was the real
founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many
miseries and horrors might the human race had been spared by the one who,
upon pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his
fellow men: 'Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you
forget the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth belongs to
no one.'" ["Discourse on Inequality," _The Social Contract and Discourses_,
Only libertarian socialism can continue to affirm self-ownership whilst
building the conditions that guarantee it. Only by abolishing private
property can there be access to the means of life for all, so making
self-ownership a reality by universalising self-management in all aspects
Before discussing the anti-libertarian aspects of capitalism, it will be
necessary to define "private property" as distinct from "personal
possessions" and show in more detail why the former requires state
protection and is exploitative.
B.3.1 What is the difference between private property and possession?
Anarchists define "private property" (or just "property," for short) as
state-protected monopolies of certain objects or privileges which are used
to exploit others. "Possession," on the other hand, is ownership of things
that are not used to exploit others (e.g. a car, a refrigerator, a
toothbrush, etc.). Thus many things can be considered as either property
or possessions depending on how they are used. For example, a house that
one lives in is a possession, whereas if one rents it to someone else at a
profit it becomes property. Similarly, if one uses a saw to make a living
as a self-employed carpenter, the saw is a possession; whereas if one
employs others at wages to use the saw for one's own profit, it is
While it may initially be confusing to make this distinction, it is very
useful to understand the nature of capitalist society. Capitalists tend
to use the word "property" to mean anything from a toothbrush to a
transnational corporation -- two very different things, with very
different impacts upon society. Hence Proudhon:
"Originally the word *property* was synonymous with *proper* or *individual
possession*. . . But when this right of use . . . became active and
paramount - that is, when the usufructuary converted his right to
personally use the thing into the right to use it by his neighbour's
labour - then property changed its nature and this idea became complex."
[_What is Property_, pp. 395-6]
As Alexander Berkman frames this distinction, anarchism "abolishes private
ownership of the means of production and distribution, and with it goes
capitalistic business. Personal possession remains only in the things you
use. Thus, your watch is your own, but the watch factory belongs to the
people. Land, machinery, and all other public utilities will be
collective property, neither to be bought nor sold. Actual use will be
considered the only title -- not to ownership but to possession." [_The
ABC of Anarchism_, p. 68] (For more on the anarchist theory of property,
see P.-J. Proudhon, _What is Property?_. William Godwin, in _Enquiry
Concerning Political Justice_, makes the same point concerning the
difference between property and possession -- which indicates its
central place in anarchist thought). Proudhon graphically illustrated the
distinction by comparing a lover as a possessor, and a husband as a
The difference between property and possession can be seen from the
types of authority relations each generates. Taking the example of a
capitalist workplace, its clear that those who own the workplace determine
how it is used, not those who do the actual work. This leads to an
almost totalitarian system. As Noam Chomsky points out, "the term
'totalitarian' is quite accurate. There is no human institution that
approaches totalitarianism as closely as a business corporation. I mean,
power is completely top-down. You can be inside it somewhere and
you take orders from above and hand 'em down. Ultimately, it's in
the hands of owners and investors."
In an anarchist society, as noted, actual use is considered the only
title. This means that a workplace is organised and run by those who work
within it, thus reducing hierarchy and increasing freedom and equality
within society. Hence anarchist opposition to private property and
capitalism flows naturally from its basic principles and ideas.
B.3.2 What kinds of property does the state protect?
Kropotkin argued that the state was "the instrument for establishing
monopolies in favour of the ruling minorities." [_Kropotkin's
Revolutionary Pamphlets_, p. 286] While some of these monopolies
are obvious (such as tariffs, state granted market monopolies
and so on - see section F.8 on the state's role in developing capitalism)
most are "behind the scenes" and work to ensure that capitalist domination
does not need extensive force to maintain.
The state therefore maintains various kinds of "class monopolies" (to
use Tucker's phrase) to ensure that workers do not receive their "natural
wage," the full product of their labour. There are four major kinds of
property, or exploitative monopolies, that the state protects:
(1) the power to issue credit and currency, the basis of
(2) land and buildings, the basis of landlordism;
(3) productive tools and equipment, the basis of
(4) ideas and inventions, the basis of copyright and
patent ("intellectual property") royalties.
By enforcing these forms of property, capitalism ensures that the
objective conditions within the economy favour the capitalist, with
the worker free only to accept oppressive and exploitative contracts within
which they forfeit their autonomy and promise obedience or face misery and
poverty. Due to these "initiations of force" conducted *previously* to any
specific contract being signed, capitalists enrich themselves at the expense
of us as well as making a mockery of free agreement (see section B.4). Of
course, despite the supposedly subtle role of such "objective" pressures
in controlling the working class, working class resistance has been such
that capital has never been able to dispense with the powers of the state,
both direct and indirect. When "objective" means of control fail, the
capitalists will always turn to the use of state repression to restore the
To indicate the importance of these state backed monopolies, we shall
sketch their impact.
The credit monopoly, by which the state controls who can and cannot
loan money, reduces the ability of working class people to create their
own alternatives to capitalism. By charging high amounts of interest
on loans (which is only possible because competition is restricted)
few people can afford to create co-operatives or one-person firms.
In addition, having to repay loans at high interest to capitalist banks
ensures that co-operatives often have to undermine their own principles
by having to employ wage labour to make ends meet (see section J.5.11).
It is unsurprising, therefore, that the very successful Mondragon
co-operatives in the Basque Country created their own credit union
which is largely responsible for the experiments success.
Just as increasing wages is an important struggle within capitalism,
so is the question of credit. Proudhon and his followers supported the
idea of a *People's Bank.* If the working class could take over and
control increasing amounts of money it could undercut capitalist power
while building its own alternative social order (for money is ultimately
the means of buying labour power, and so authority over the labourer -
which is the key to surplus value production). Proudhon hoped that by
credit being reduced to cost (namely administration charges) workers
would be able to buy the means of production they needed. While most
anarchists would argue that increased working class access to credit
would no more bring down capitalism than increased wages, all
anarchists recognise how more credit, like more wages, and how the
struggle for credit, like the struggle for wages, might play a useful
role in the development of the power of the working class within
capitalism. Obvious cases that spring to mind are those where money
has been used by workers to finance their struggles against capital,
from strike funds and weapons to the periodical avoidance of work
made possible by sufficiently high money income. Increased access
to cheap credit would give working class people slightly more
options than selling their liberty or facing misery (just as
increased wages and unemployment benefit also gives us more
Therefore, the credit monopoly reduces competition to capitalism from
co-operatives (which are generally more productive than capitalist firms)
while at the same time forcing down wages for all workers as the demand
for labour is lower than it would otherwise be. This, in turn, allows
capitalists to use the fear of the sack to extract higher levels of
surplus value from employees, so consolidating capitalist power (within
and outwith the workplace) and expansion (increasing set-up costs and
so creating oligarchic markets dominated by a few firms). In addition,
high interest rates transfer income directly from producers to banks.
Credit and money are both used as weapons in the class struggle. This
is why, again and again, we see the ruling class call for centralised
banking and use state action (from the direct regulation of money
itself to the management of its flows) in the face of repeated
threats to the nature (and role) of money within capitalism.
So the credit monopoly, by artificially restricting the option to work
for ourselves, ensures we work for a boss.
The land monopoly consists of enforcement by government of land titles
which do not rest upon personal occupancy and cultivation. In addition,
it also includes making the squatting of abandoned housing and other forms
of property illegal. This leads to ground-rent, by which landlords get
payment for letting others use the land they own but do not actually
cultivate. While this monopoly is less important in a modern capitalist
society (as few people know how to farm) it did, however, play an important
role in *creating* capitalism (also see section F.8.3). Economist William
Lazonick summaries this process:
"The reorganisation of agricultural land [the enclosure movement] . . .
inevitably undermined the viability of traditional peasant agriculture. . .
[it] created a sizeable labour force of disinherited peasants with only
tenuous attachments to the land. To earn a living, many of these peasants
turned to 'domestic industry' - the production of goods in their cottages
. . .It was the eighteenth century expansion of domestic industry. . . that
laid the basis for the British Industrial Revolution. The emergence of
labour-saving machine technology transformed. . . textile manufacture. . .
and the factory replaced the family home as the predominant site of
production." [_Business Organisation and the Myth of the Market Economy_,
By being able to "legally" bar people from "their" property, the landlord
class used the land monopoly to ensure the creation of a class of people
with nothing to sell but their labour (i.e. liberty). Land was taken from
those who traditionally used it, violating common rights, and it was used
by the landlord to produce for their own profit (more recently, a similar
process has been going on in the Third World as well). Personal occupancy
was replaced by landlordism and agricultural wage slavery, and so "the
Enclosure Acts. . . reduced the agricultural population to misery,
placed them at the mercy of the landowners, and forced a great number of
them to migrate to the towns where, as proletarians, they were delivered
to the mercy of the middle-class manufacturers." [Peter Kropotkin, _The
Great French Revolution_, p. 117]
This was the land monopoly in action (also see section F.8.3) and from it
sprang the tools and equipment monopoly as domestic industry could not
survive in the face of industrial capitalism. The tools and equipment
monopoly is based upon the capitalist denying workers access to their
capital unless the worker pays tribute to the owner for using it. While
capital is "simply stored-up labour which has already received its pay
in full" and so "the lender of capital is entitled to its return intact, and
nothing more" (to use Tucker's words), due to legal privilege the capitalist
is in a position to charge a "fee" for its use. This is because, with the
working class legally barred from both the land and available capital (the
means of life), members of that class have little option but to agree to wage
contracts which let capitalists extract a "fee" for the use of their
equipment (see section B.3.3).
While the initial capital for investing in industry came from wealth
plundered from overseas or from the proceeds of feudalist and landlordist
exploitation, the fact of state protection of property ensured that the
manufacturer was able to exact usury from labour. The "fee" charged to
workers was partly reinvested into capital, which reduced the prices of
goods, ruining domestic industry. In addition, investment also increased
the set-up costs of potential competitors, which continued the dispossession
of the working class from the means of production as these "natural" barriers
to entry into markets ensured few members of that class had the necessary
funds to create co-operative workplaces of appropriate size. So while the
land monopoly was essential to create capitalism, the "tools and equipment"
monopoly that sprang from it soon became the mainspring of the system.
In this way usury became self-perpetuating, with apparently "free exchanges"
being the means by which capitalist domination survives. In other words,
"past initiations of force" combined with the current state protection of
property ensure that capitalist domination of society continues with only
the use of "defensive" force (i.e. violence used to protect the power of
property owners against unions, strikes, occupations, etc.). The "fees"
extracted from previous generations of workers has ensured that the
current one is in no position to re-unite itself with the means of life
by "free competition" (in other words, the paying of usury ensures that
usury continues). Needless to say, the surplus produced by this generation
will be used to increase the capital stock and so ensure the dispossession
of future generations and so usury becomes self-perpetuating. And, of course,
state protection of "property" against "theft" by working people ensures
that property remains theft and the *real* thieves keep their plunder.
As far as the "ideas" monopoly is concerned, this has been used to enrich
capitalist corporations at the expense of the general public and the
inventor. As David Noble points out, the "inventor, the original focus
of the patent system, tended to increasingly to 'abandon' his patent
in exchange for corporate security; he either sold or licensed his patent
rights to industrial corporations or assigned them to the company of which
he became an employee, bartering his genius for a salary. In addition, by
means of patent control gained through purchase, consolidation, patent pools,
and cross-licensing agreements, as well as by regulated patent production
through systematic industrial research, the corporations steadily expanded
their 'monopoly of monopolies.'" As well as this, corporations used "patents
to circumvent anti-trust laws." This reaping of monopoly profits at the
expense of the customer made such "tremendous strides" between 1900 and 1929
and "were of such proportions as to render subsequent judicial and legislative
effects to check corporate monopoly through patent control too little too
late." [_American By Design_, p. 87, 84 and 88]
By creating "legal" monopolies and reaping the excess profits these create,
capitalists not only enriched themselves at the expense of others, they
also ensured their dominance in the market. Some of the excess profits reaped
due to the legal monopolies where invested back into the company, securing
advantages for the company by creating various barriers to potential
Moreover, the ruling class, by means of the state, is continually trying
to develop new forms of private property by creating artificial scarcities
and monopolies, e.g. by requiring expensive licenses to engage in particular
types of activities, such as broadcasting. In the "Information Age,"
usury (use fees) from intellectual property are becoming a much more
important source of income for elites, as reflected in the attention paid
to strengthening mechanisms for enforcing copyright in the recent GATT
agreements, or in US pressure on foreign countries (like China) to
respect copyright laws, and so on.
In other words, capitalists desire to restrict competition in the "free
market" by ensuring that the law reflects and protects their interests,
namely their "property rights." By this process they ensure that
co-operative tendencies within society are crushed by state-supported
"market forces." As Noam Chomsky puts it, modern capitalism is "state
protection and public subsidy for the rich, market discipline for the
poor." ["Rollback, Part I", _Z Magazine_] Self-proclaimed defenders of
"free market" capitalism are usually nothing of the kind, while the few
who actually support it only object to the "public subsidy" aspect of
modern capitalism and happily support state protection for property
rights. (For more on capitalism as based on state-protected monopolies,
see Benjamin Tucker, _Instead of a Book by a Man Too Busy to Write One_).
All these monopolies seek to enrich the capitalist (and increase their
capital stock) at the expense of working people, to restrict their ability
to undermine the ruling elites power and wealth. All aim to ensure that any
option we have to work for ourselves (either individually or collectively)
is restricted by tilting the playing field against us, making sure that we
have little option but to sell our labour on the "free market" and be
exploited. In other words, the various monopolies make sure that "natural"
barriers to entry (see section C.4) are created, leaving the heights of
the economy in the control of big business while alternatives to capitalism
are marginalised at its fringes.
So it is these kinds of property and the authoritarian social relationships
that they create which the state exists to protect. It should be noted that
converting private to state ownership (i.e. nationalisation) does not
fundamentally change the nature of property relationships; it just
removes private capitalists and replaces them with bureaucrats.
B.3.3 Why is property exploitative?
To answer this question, consider the monopoly of productive "tools and
equipment." This monopoly, obtained by the class of industrial capitalists,
allows this class in effect to charge workers a "fee" for the privilege
of using the monopolised tools and equipment.
This occurs because property, in Proudhon words, "excommunicates" the
working class. The state enforces property rights in land, workplaces
and so on, meaning that the owner can bar others from using them and
enforce *their* rules on those they do let use "their" property. So the
boss "gives you a job: that is permission to work in the factory or
mill which was not built by him but by other workers like yourself.
And for that permission you help to support him for . . .as long as
you work for him." [Alexander Berkman, _What is Communist Anarchism?_,
Therefore, due to the dispossession of the vast majority of the population
from the means of life, capitalists are in an ideal position to charge
a "use-fee" for the capital they own, but neither produced nor use. Having
little option, workers agree to contracts within which they forfeit their
autonomy during work and the product of that work. This results in capitalists
having access to a "commodity" (labour) that can potentially produce more
value than it gets paid for in wages. During working hours, the owner can
dictate (within certain limits determined by worker resistance and solidarity
as well as objective conditions, such as the level of unemployment within an
industry or country) the level, duration and intensity of work, and so the
amount of output (which the owner has sole rights over even though they did
not produce it). Thus the "fee" (or "surplus value") is created by owners
paying workers less than the full value added by their labour to the products
or services they create for the firm. The capitalist's profit is thus the
difference between this "surplus value," created by and appropriated from
labour, minus the firm's overhead and cost of raw materials (See also section
C.2, "Where do profits come from?").
So property is exploitative because it allows a surplus to be monopolised by
the owners. Property creates hierarchical relationships within the workplace
(the "tools and equipment monopoly" might better be called the "power
monopoly") and as in any hierarchical system, those with the power use it
to protect and further their own interests at the expense of others. Within
the workplace there is resistance by workers to this oppression and
exploitation, which the "hierarchical. . . relations of the capitalist
enterprise are designed to resolve this conflict in favour of the
representatives of capital..." [William Lazonick, Op. Cit., p. 184]
Needless to say, the state is always on hand to protect the rights of property
and management against the actions of the dispossessed. When it boils down
to it, it is the existence of the state as protector of the "power monopoly"
that allows it to exist at all.
So, capitalists are able to appropriate this surplus value from workers
solely because they own the means of production, not because they earn it
by doing productive work themselves. Of course some capitalists *may* also
contribute to production, in which case they are in fairness entitled to
the amount of value added to the firm's output by their own labour; but
owners typically pay themselves much more than this, and are able to
do so because the state guarantees them that right as property owners
(which is unsurprising, as they alone have knowledge of the firms inputs
and outputs and, like all people in unaccountable positions, abuse that
power -- which is partly why anarchists support direct democracy as the
essential counterpart of free agreement, for no one in power can be trusted
not to prefer their own interests over those subject to their decisions).
And of course many capitalists hire managers to run their businesses for
them, thus collecting income for doing nothing except owning.
Capitalists' profits, then, are a form of state-supported exploitation.
This is equally true of the interest collected by bankers and rents
collected by landlords. Without some form of state, these forms of
exploitation would be impossible, as the monopolies on which they depend
could not be maintained. For instance, in the absence of state troops
and police, workers would simply take over and operate factories for
themselves, thus preventing capitalists from appropriating an unjust
share of the surplus they create.
B.3.4 Can private property be justified?
No. Even though a few supporters of capitalism recognise that private
property, particularly in land, was created by the use of force, most
maintain that private property is just. One common defence of private
property is found in the work of Robert Nozick (a supporter of "free
market" capitalism). For Nozick, the use of force makes acquisition
illegitimate and so any current title to the property is illegitimate
(in other words, theft and trading in stolen goods does not make
ownership of these goods legal). So, if the initial acquisition of
land was illegitimate then all current titles are also illegitimate.
And since private ownership of land is the basis of capitalism,
capitalism itself would be rendered illegal.
To get round this problem, Nozick utilises the work of Locke ("The Lockean
Proviso") which can be summarised as:
1. People own themselves.
2. The world is initially owned in common (or unowned in Nozick's
3. You can acquire absolute rights over a larger than average
share in the world, if you do not worsen the condition of
4. Once people have appropriated private property, a free market in
capital and labour is morally required.
Take for example two individuals who share land in common. Nozick
allows for one individual to claim the land as their own as long
as the "process normally giving rise to a permanent bequeathable property
right in a previously unowned thing will not do so if the position
of others no longer at liberty to use the thing is therefore worsened."
[_Anarchy, State and Utopia_, p. 178]
But, if one person appropriated the land then the other cannot live off the
remaining land. However, if the new land owner offers the other a wage to
work their land and this exceeds what the new wage slave originally produced,
then this meets the "Lockean Proviso." Of course, the new wage slave has no
option but to work for another, but this is irrelevant for the Lockean
Interestingly, for a ideology that calls itself "libertarian" Nozick
theory defines "worse off" in terms purely of material welfare, compared
to the conditions that existed within the society based upon common use.
In other words, being "worse off" in terms of liberty (i.e. self-ownership
or self-government) is irrelevant for Nozick, a *very* telling position
Nozick claims to place emphasis on self-ownership in his ideology because
we are separate individuals, each with our own life to lead. It is strange,
therefore, to see that Nozick does not emphasise people's ability to act
on their own conception of themselves in his account of appropriation.
Indeed, there is no objection to an appropriation that puts someone in an
unnecessary and undesirable position of subordination and dependence on
the will of others.
Notice that the fact that individuals are now subject to the decisions of
other individuals is not considered by Nozick in assessing the fairness
of the appropriation. The fact that the creation of private property
results in the denial of important freedoms for wage slaves (namely,
the wage slave has no say over the status of the land they had been
utilising and no say over how their labour is used). Before the creation
of private property, all managed their own work, had self-government in
all aspects of their lives. After the appropriation, the new wage slave
has no such liberty and indeed must accept the conditions of employment
within which they relinquish control over how they spend much of their
Considering Nozick's many claims in favour of self-ownership and why
it is important, you would think that the autonomy of the newly
dispossessed wage slaves would be important to him. However, no such
concern is to be found - the autonomy of wage slaves is treated as if
it were irrelevant. Nozick claims that a concern for people's freedom to
lead their own lives underlies his theory of unrestricted property-rights,
but, this apparently does not apply to wage slaves. His justification
for the creation of private property treats only the autonomy of the
land owner as relevant. However, as Proudhon rightly argues:
"if the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all individuals;
that, if it needs property for its objective action, that is, for its
life, the appropriation of material is equally necessary for all . . .
Does it not follow that if one individual cannot prevent another . . .
from appropriating an amount of material equal to his own, no more can
he prevent individuals to come." [_What is Property?_, pp. 84-85]
Under capitalism people are claimed to own themselves, but this is purely
formal as most people do not have independent access to resources.
And as they have to use other peoples' resources, they become under the
control of those who own the resources. In other words, private property
reduces the autonomy of the majority of the population, and creates a
regime of authority which has many similarities to enslavement. As John
Stuart Mill put it:
"No longer enslaved or made dependent by force of law, the great majority
are so by force of property; they are still chained to a place, to an
occupation, and to conformity with the will of an employer, and debarred
by the accident of birth to both the enjoyments, and from the mental and
moral advantages, which others inherit without exertion and independently
of desert. That this is an evil equal to almost any of those against
which mankind have hitherto struggles, the poor are not wrong in
believing." ["Chapters on Socialism", _Principles of Political
Economy_, pp. 377-8]
Capitalism, even though claiming formal self-ownership, in fact not only
restricts the self-determination of working class people, it also makes
them a resource for others. Those who enter the market after others
have appropriated all the available property are limited to charity or
working for others. The latter, as we discuss in section C, results in
exploitation as the worker's labour is used to enrich others. Working
people are compelled to co-operate with the current scheme of property
and are forced to benefit others. This means that self-determination
requires resources as well as rights over one's physical and mental
being. Concern for self-determination (i.e. meaningful self-ownership)
leads us to common property plus workers' control of production and so
some form of libertarian socialism - *not* private property and
And, of course, the appropriation of the land requires a state to
defend it against the dispossessed as well as continuous interference
in people's lives. Left to their own devices, people would freely use
the resources around them which they considered unjustly appropriated
by others and it is only continuous state intervention that prevents
then from violating Nozick's principles of justice (to use Nozick's own
terminology, the "Lockean Proviso" is a patterned theory, his claims
otherwise not withstanding).
In addition, we should note that private ownership by one person presupposes
non-ownership by others ("we who belong to the proletaire class, property
excommunicates us!" [Proudhon, Op. Cit., p. 105]) and so the "free market"
restricts as well as creates liberties just as any other economic system.
Hence the claim that capitalism constitutes "economic liberty" is obviously
false. In fact, it is *based* upon denying liberty for the vast majority
during work hours (as well as having serious impacts on liberty outwith
work hours due to the effects of concentrations of wealth upon society).
Perhaps Nozick can claim that the increased material benefits of private
property makes the acquisition justified. However, it seems strange that
a theory supporting "liberty" should consider well off slaves to be better
than poor free men and women. As Nozick claims that the wage slaves consent
is not required for the initial acquisition, so perhaps he can claim that
the gain in material welfare outweighs the loss of autonomy and so allows
the initial act as an act of paternalism. But as Nozick opposes paternalism
when it restricts private property rights he can hardly invoke it when
it is required to generate these rights. And if we exclude paternalism
and emphasise autonomy (as Nozick claims he does elsewhere in his theory),
then justifying the initial creation of private property becomes much more
difficult, if not impossible.
And if each owner's title to their property includes the historical
shadow of the Lockean Proviso on appropriation, then such titles are
invalid. Any title people have over unequal resources will be qualified
by the facts that "property is theft" and that "property is despotism."
The claim that private property is economic liberty is obviously untrue,
as is the claim that private property can be justified in terms of
anything except "might is right."
For more anarchist analysis on private property and why it cannot be
justified (be it by occupancy, labour, natural right, or whatever)
consult Proudhon's classic work _What is Property?_.
B.4 How does capitalism affect liberty?
Private property is in many ways like a private form of state. The owner
determines what goes on within the area he or she "owns," and therefore
exercises a monopoly of power over it. When power is exercised over one's
self, it is a source of freedom, but under capitalism it is a source of
coercive authority. As Bob Black points out in _The Abolition of Work_:
"The liberals and conservatives and Libertarians who lament totalitarianism
are phoneys and hypocrites. . . You find the same sort of hierarchy and
discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or a monastery. . .
A worker is a part-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to
leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to
do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes,
regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to
the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or
no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors, he amasses
a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called 'insubordination,' just
as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies
you for unemployment compensation. . .The demeaning system of domination
I've described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and
the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans. For
certain purposes it's not too misleading to call our system democracy or
capitalism or -- better still -- industrialism, but its real names are
factory fascism and office oligarchy. Anybody who says these people are
'free' is lying or stupid."
Unlike a company, the democratic state can be influenced by its citizens,
who are able to act in ways that limit (to some extent) the power of the
ruling elite to be "left alone" to enjoy their power. As a result, the
wealthy hate the democratic aspects of the state, and its ordinary
citizens, as potential threats to their power. This "problem" was noted
by Alexis de Tocqueville in early 19th-century America:
"It is easy to perceive that the wealthy members of the community entertain
a hearty distaste to the democratic institutions of their country. The
populace is at once the object of their scorn and their fears."
These fears have not changed, nor has the contempt for democratic ideas.
To quote one US Corporate Executive, "one man, one vote will result in the
eventual failure of democracy as we know it." [L. Silk and D. Vogel, _Ethics
and Profits: The Crisis of Confidence in American Business_, pp. 189f]
This contempt for democracy does not mean that capitalists are
*anti*-state. Far from it. As previously noted, capitalists depend on
the state. This is because "[classical] Liberalism, is in theory a kind
of anarchy without socialism, and therefore is simply a lie, for freedom
is not possible without equality. . .The criticism liberals direct at
government consists only of wanting to deprive it some of its functions
and to call upon the capitalists to fight it out amongst themselves, but
it cannot attack the repressive functions which are of its essence: for
without the gendarme the property owner could not exist." [Errico
Malatesta, _Anarchy_, p. 46].
Capitalists call upon and support the state when it acts in *their*
interests and when it supports *their* authority and power. The "conflict"
between state and capital is like two gangsters fighting over the proceeds
of a robbery: they will squabble over the loot and who has more power in
the gang, but they need each other to defend their "property" against
those from whom they stole it.
The statist nature of private property can be seen in "Libertarian" (i.e.
minarchist, or "classical" liberal) works representing the extremes of
"If one starts a private town, on land whose acquisition did not and does
not violate the Lockean proviso [of non-aggression], persons who chose
to move there or later remain there would have no *right* to a say in how
the town was run, unless it was granted to them by the decision procedures
for the town which the owner had established" [Robert Nozick, _Anarchy,
State and Utopia_, p. 270]
This is voluntary feudalism, nothing more. Of course, it can be claimed
that "market forces" will result in the most liberal owners being the most
successful, but a nice master is still a master. To paraphrase Tolstoy,
"the liberal capitalist is like a kind donkey owner. He will do everything
for the donkey -- care for it, feed it, wash it. Everything except get off
its back!" And as Bob Black notes, "Some people giving orders and others
obeying them: this is the essence of servitude. . . . [F]reedom means
more than the right to change masters." [_The Libertarian as
Conservative_] That supporters of capitalism often claim that this
"right" to change masters *is* the essence of "freedom" is a telling
indictment of the capitalist notion of "liberty."
B.4.1 Is capitalism based on freedom?
For anarchists, freedom means both "freedom from" and "freedom to."
"Freedom from" signifies not being subject to domination, exploitation,
coercive authority, repression, or other forms of degradation and
humiliation. "Freedom to" means being able to develop and express one's
abilities, talents, and potentials to the fullest possible extent
compatible with the maximum freedom of others. Both kinds of freedom
imply the need for self-management, responsibility, and independence,
which basically means that people have a say in the decisions that affect
their lives. And since individuals do not exist in a social vacuum, it
also means that freedom *must* take on a collective aspect, with the
associations that individuals form with each other (e.g. communities, work
groups, social groups) being run in a manner which allows the individual
to participate in the decisions that the group makes. Thus freedom for
anarchists requires participatory democracy, which means face-to-face
discussion and voting on issues by the people affected by them.
Are these conditions of freedom met in the capitalist system? Obviously
not. Despite all their rhetoric about "democracy," most of the "advanced"
capitalist states remain only superficially democratic -- and this because
the majority of their citizens are employees who spend about half their
waking hours under the thumb of capitalist dictators (bosses) who allow
them no voice in the crucial economic decisions that affect their lives
most profoundly and require them to work under conditions inimical to
independent thinking. If the most basic freedom, namely freedom to think
for oneself, is denied, then freedom itself is denied.
The capitalist workplace is profoundly undemocratic. Indeed, as Noam Chomsky
points out, the oppressive authority relations in the typical corporate
hierarchy would be called fascist or totalitarian if we were referring to a
political system. In his words :
"There's nothing individualistic about corporations. These are big
conglomerate institutions, essentially totalitarian in character, but
hardly individualistic. There are few institutions in human society that
have such strict hierarchy and top-down control as a business organisation.
Nothing there about 'don't tread on me`. You're being tread on all the
time." [_Keeping the Rabble in Line_, p. 280]
Far from being "based on freedom," then, capitalism actually destroys
freedom. In this regard, Robert E. Wood, the chief executive officer of
Sears, spoke plainly when he said "[w]e stress the advantages of the free
enterprise system, we complain about the totalitarian state, but . . .
we have created more or less of a totalitarian system in industry,
particularly in large industry." [quoted by Allan Engler, _Apostles
of Greed_, p. 68]
Or, as Chomsky puts it, supporters of capitalism do not understand "the
*fundamental* doctrine, that you should be free from domination and control,
including the control of the manager and the owner" [Feb. 14th, 1992
appearance on _Pozner/Donahue_].
Under corporate authoritarianism, the psychological traits deemed most
desirable for average citizens to possess are efficiency, conformity,
emotional detachment, insensitivity, and unquestioning obedience to
authority -- traits that allow people to survive and even prosper as
employees in the company hierarchy. And of course, for "non-average"
citizens, i.e., bosses, managers, administrators, etc., *authoritarian*
traits are needed, the most important being the ability and willingness
to dominate others.
But all such master/slave traits are inimical to the functioning
of real (i.e. participatory) democracy, which requires that citizens
have qualities like flexibility, creativity, sensitivity, understanding,
emotional honesty, directness, warmth, realism, and the ability to
mediate, communicate, negotiate, integrate and co-operate. Therefore,
capitalism is not only *un*democratic, it is *anti*-democratic, because
it promotes the development of traits that make real democracy (and so
a libertarian society) impossible.
Many capitalist apologists have attempted to show that capitalist
authority structures are "voluntary" and are, therefore, somehow not a
denial of individual and social freedom. Milton Friedman (a leading free
market capitalist economist) has attempted to do just this. Like most
apologists for capitalism he ignores the authoritarian relations explicit
within wage labour (within the workplace, "co-ordination" is based upon
top-down command, *not* horizontal co-operation). Instead he concentrates
on the decision of a worker to sell their labour to a *specific* boss
and so ignores the lack of freedom within such contracts. He argues that
"individuals are effectively free to enter or not enter into any particular
exchange, so every transaction is strictly voluntary. . . The employee is
protected from coercion by the employer because of other employers for
whom he can work." [_Capitalism and Freedom_, pp. 14-15]
Friedman, to prove the free nature of capitalism, compares capitalism with
a simple exchange economy based upon independent producers. He states
that in such a simple economy each household "has the alternative of
producing directly for itself, [and so] it need not enter into any exchange
unless it benefits from it. Hence no exchange will take place unless both
parties do benefit from it. Co-operation is thereby achieved without
coercion." [Op. Cit., p. 13] Under capitalism (or the "complex" economy)
Friedman states that "individuals are effectively free to enter or not to
enter into any particular exchange, so that every transaction is strictly
voluntary." [Op. Cit., p. 14]
A moments thought, however, shows that capitalism is not based on "strictly
voluntary" transactions as Friedman claims. This is because the proviso
that is required to make every transaction "strictly voluntary" is *not*
freedom not to enter any *particular* exchange, but freedom not to enter
into any exchange *at all.*
This, and only this, was the proviso that proved the simple model
Friedman presents (the one based upon artisan production) to be voluntary
and non-coercive; and nothing less than this would prove the complex model
(i.e. capitalism) is voluntary and non-coercive. But Friedman is clearly
claiming above that freedom not to enter into any *particular* exchange is
enough and so, *only by changing his own requirements,* can he claim
that capitalism is based upon freedom.
It is easy to see what Friedman has done, but it is less easy to excuse
it (particularly as it is so commonplace in capitalist apologetics). He
moved from the simple economy of exchange between independent producers
to the capitalist economy without mentioning the most important thing the
distinguishes them - namely the separation of labour from the means of
production. In the society of independent producers, the worker had the
choice of working for themselves - under capitalism this is not the case.
Capitalism is based upon the existence of a labour force without its
own sufficient capital, and therefore without a choice as to whether to
put its labour in the market or not. Milton Friedman would agree that
where there is no choice there is coercion. His attempted demonstration
that capitalism co-ordinates without coercion therefore fails.
Capitalist apologists are able to convince some people that capitalism is
"based on freedom" only because the system has certain superficial
*appearances* of freedom.
On closer analysis these appearances turn out to be deceptions. For
example, it is claimed that the employees of capitalist firms have freedom
because they can always quit. But, as noted earlier, "Some people giving
orders and others obeying them: this is the essence of servitude. Of course,
as [right-Libertarians] smugly [observe], 'one can at least change jobs,' but
you can't avoid having a job -- just as under statism one can at least change
nationalities but you can't avoid subjection to one nation-state or another.
But freedom means more than the right to change masters." [Bob Black, _The
Libertarian as Conservative_] Under capitalism, workers have only the
Hobson's choice of being governed/exploited or living on the street.
Anarchists point out that for choice to be real, free agreements and
associations must be based on the social equality of those who enter into
them, and both sides must receive roughly equivalent benefit. But social
relations between capitalists and employees can never be equal, because
private ownership of the means of production gives rise to social
hierarchy and relations of coercive authority and subordination, as was
recognised even by Adam Smith (see below).
The picture painted by Walter Reuther of working life in America before
the Wagner act is a commentary on class inequality : "Injustice was as
common as streetcars. When men walked into their jobs, they left their
dignity, their citizenship and their humanity outside. They were required
to report for duty whether there was work or not. While they waited on the
convenience of supervisors and foremen they were unpaid. They could be
fired without a pretext. They were subjected to arbitrary, senseless rules.
. . .Men were tortured by regulations that made difficult even going to
the toilet. Despite grandiloquent statements from the presidents of huge
corporations that their door was open to any worker with a complaint,
there was no one and no agency to which a worker could appeal if he were
wronged. The very idea that a worker could be wronged seemed absurd to the
employer." Much of this indignity remains, and with the globalisation of
capital, the bargaining position of workers is further deteriorating, so
that the gains of a century of class struggle are in danger of being lost.
A quick look at the enormous disparity of power and wealth between the
capitalist class and the working class shows that the benefits of the
"agreements" entered into between the two sides are far from equal. Walter
Block, a leading Fraser Institute ideologue, makes clear the differences
in power and benefits when discussing sexual harassment in the workplace:
"Consider the sexual harassment which continually occurs between a
secretary and a boss. . .while objectionable to many women, [it] is not
a coercive action. It is rather part of a package deal in which the
secretary agrees to *all* aspects of the job when she agrees to accept
the job, and especially when she agrees to *keep* the job. The office is,
after all, private property. The secretary does not have to remain if the
'coercion' is objectionable." [quoted by Engler, Op. Cit., p. 101]
The primary goal of the Fraser Institute is to convince people that all
other rights must be subordinated to the right to enjoy wealth. In this
case, Block makes clear that under private property, only bosses have
"freedom to," and most also desire to ensure they have "freedom from"
interference with this right.
So, when capitalists gush about the "liberty" available under capitalism,
what they are really thinking of is their state-protected freedom to
exploit and oppress workers through the ownership of property, a freedom
that allows them to continue amassing huge disparities of wealth, which in
turn insures their continued power and privileges. That the capitalist
class in liberal-democratic states *gives* workers the right to change
masters (though this is not true under state capitalism) is far from
showing that capitalism is based on freedom, For as Peter Kropotkin
rightly points out, "freedoms are not given, they are taken" [Peter
Kropotkin, _Words of a Rebel_, p. 43]. In capitalism, you are "free"
to do anything you are permitted to do by your masters, which amounts
to "freedom" with a collar and leash.
B.4.2 Is capitalism based on self-ownership?
Murray Rothbard, a leading "libertarian" capitalist, claims that capitalism
is based on the "basic axiom" of "the right to self-ownership." This "axiom"
is defined as "the absolute right of each man [sic]. . .to control [his or
her] body free of coercive interference. Since each individual must think,
learn, value, and choose his or her ends and means in order to survive and
flourish, the right to self-ownership gives man [sic] the right to perform
these vital activities without being hampered by coercive molestation."
[_For a New Liberty_, pp. 26-27]
So far, so good. However, we reach a problem once we consider private
property. As Ayn Rand, another ideologue for "free market" capitalism argued,
"there can be no such thing as the right to unrestricted freedom of speech
(or of action) on someone else's property." [_Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal_,
p. 258] Or, as is commonly said by capitalist owners, "I don't pay you to
Similarly, capitalists don't pay their employees to perform the other "vital
activities" listed by Rothbard (learning, valuing, choosing ends and means)
-- unless, of course, the firm requires that workers undertake such activities
in the interests of company profits. Otherwise, workers can rest assured that
any efforts to engage in such "vital activities" on company time *will* be
"hampered" by "coercive molestation." Therefore wage labour (the basis of
capitalism) in practice *denies* the rights associated with "self-ownership,"
thus alienating the individual from his or her basic rights. Or as Michael
Bakunin expresses it, "the worker sells his person and his liberty for a
given time" under capitalism.
In a society of relative equals, "private property" would not be a source
of power. For example, you would still be able to fling a drunk out of
your home. But in a system based on wage labour (i.e. capitalism),
private property is a different thing altogether, becoming a source of
*institutionalised* power and coercive authority through hierarchy. As
Noam Chomsky writes, capitalism is based on "a *particular form* of
authoritarian control. Namely, the kind that comes through private
ownership and control, which is an *extremely* rigid system of
domination." When "property" is purely what you, as an individual, use
(i.e. *possession*) it is not a source of power. In capitalism, however,
"property" rights no longer coincide with *use* rights, and so they become
a *denial* of freedom and a source of authority and power over the
individual. Little wonder that Proudhon labelled property as "theft."
As we've seen in the discussion of hierarchy (section A.2.8 and B.1), all
forms of authoritarian control depend on "coercive molestation" -- i.e.
the use or threat of sanctions. This is definitely the case in company
hierarchies under capitalism. Bob Black describes the authoritarian
nature of capitalism as follows: "[T]he place where [adults] pass the
most time and submit to the closest control is at work. Thus . . . it's
apparent that the source of the greatest direct duress experienced by the
ordinary adult is *not* the state but rather the business that employs
him. Your foreman or supervisor gives you more or-else orders in a week
than the police do in a decade."
We have already noted the objection that people can leave their jobs,
which just amounts to saying "love it or leave it!" and does not address
the issue at hand. Needless to say, the vast majority of the population
cannot avoid wage labour. Far from being based on the "right to
self-ownership," then, capitalism denies it, alienating the individual
from such basic rights as free speech, independent thought, and
self-management of one's own activity, which individuals have to *give up*
when they are employed. But since these rights, according to Rothbard,
are the products of humans *as* humans, wage labour alienates them from
themselves, exactly as it does the individual's labour power and
To quote Chomsky again, "people can survive, [only] by renting themselves
to it [capitalist authority], and basically in no other way. . . ." You do
not sell your skills, as these skills are *part* of you. Instead, what
you have to sell is your *time*, your labour power, and so *yourself.*
Thus under wage labour, rights of "self-ownership" are always placed below
property rights, the only "right" being left to you is that of finding
another job (although even this right is denied in some countries if the
employee owes the company money).
So, contrary to Rothbard's claim, capitalism actually alienates the right
to self-ownership because of the authoritarian structure of the workplace,
which derives from private property. If we desire real self-ownership,
we cannot renounce it for most of our adult lives by becoming wage
slaves. Only workers' self-management of production, not capitalism, can
make self-ownership a reality.
B.4.3 But no one forces you to work for them!
Of course it is claimed that entering wage labour is a "voluntary"
undertaking, from which both sides allegedly benefit. However, due to
*past* initiations of force (e.g. the seizure of land by conquest) plus
the tendency for capital to concentrate, a relative handful of people now
control vast wealth, depriving all others access to the means of life. As
Immanuel Wallerstein points out in _The Capitalist World System_ (vol. 1),
capitalism evolved from feudalism, with the first capitalists using
inherited family wealth derived from large land holdings to start
factories. That "inherited family wealth" can be traced back originally
to conquest and forcible seizure. Thus denial of free access to the means
of life is based ultimately on the principle of "might makes right." And
as Murray Bookchin so rightly points out, "the means of life must be taken
for what they literally are: the means without which life is impossible.
To deny them to people is more than 'theft'... it is outright homicide."
[Murray Bookchin, _Remaking Society_, p. 187]
David Ellerman has also noted that the past use of force has resulted in
the majority being limited to those options allowed to them by the powers
"It is a veritable mainstay of capitalist thought... that the moral flaws
of chattel slavery have not survived in capitalism since the workers,
unlike the slaves, are free people making voluntary wage contracts.
But it is only that, in the case of capitalism, the denial of natural
rights is less complete so that the worker has a residual legal
personality as a free 'commodity owner.' He is thus allowed to
voluntarily put his own working life to traffic. When a robber denies
another person's right to make an infinite number of other choices besides
losing his money or his life and the denial is backed up by a gun, then
this is clearly robbery even though it might be said that the victim
making a 'voluntary choice' between his remaining options. When the legal
system itself denies the natural rights of working people in the name of
the prerogatives of capital, and this denial is sanctioned by the legal
violence of the state, then the theorists of 'libertarian' capitalism do
not proclaim institutional robbery, but rather they celebrate the 'natural
liberty' of working people to choose between the remaining options of
selling their labour as a commodity and being unemployed." [quoted by
Noam Chomsky, _The Chomsky Reader_, p. 186]
Therefore the existence of the labour market depends on the worker being
separated from the means of production. The natural basis of capitalism is
wage labour, wherein the majority have little option but to sell their
skills, labour and time to those who *do* own the means of production. In
advanced capitalist countries, less than 10% of the working population are
self-employed (in 1990, 7.6% in the UK, 8% in the USA and Canada - however,
this figure includes *employers* as well, meaning that the number of
self-employed *workers* is even smaller!). Hence for the vast majority,
the labour market is their only option.
Michael Bakunin notes that these facts put the worker in the position of a
serf with regard to the capitalist, even though the worker is formally
"free" and "equal" under the law:
"Juridically they are both equal; but economically the worker is the serf
of the capitalist . . . thereby the worker sells his person and his liberty
for a given time. The worker is in the position of a serf because this
terrible threat of starvation which daily hangs over his head and over his
family, will force him to accept any conditions imposed by the gainful
calculations of the capitalist, the industrialist, the employer. . . .The
worker always has the *right* to leave his employer, but has he the means
to do so? No, he does it in order to sell himself to another employer. He
is driven to it by the same hunger which forces him to sell himself to
the first employer. Thus the worker's liberty . . . is only a theoretical
freedom, lacking any means for its possible realisation, and consequently
it is only a fictitious liberty, an utter falsehood. The truth is that the
whole life of the worker is simply a continuous and dismaying succession
of terms of serfdom -- voluntary from the juridical point of view but
compulsory from an economic sense -- broken up by momentarily brief
interludes of freedom accompanied by starvation; in other words, it is
real slavery." [_The Political Philosophy of Bakunin_, pp. 187-8]
Obviously, a company cannot *force* you to work for them but, in general,
you have to work for *someone.* This is because of *past* "initiation of
force" by the capitalist class and the state which have created the objective
conditions within which we make our employment decisions. Before any
*specific* labour market contract occurs, the separation of workers from
the means of production is an established fact (and the resulting
"labour" market usually gives the advantage to the capitalists as a class).
So while we can usually pick which capitalist to work for, we, in general,
cannot choose to work for ourselves (the self-employed sector of the
economy is tiny, which indicates well how spurious capitalist liberty
actually is). Of course, the ability to leave employment and seek it
elsewhere is an important freedom. However, this freedom, like most
freedoms under capitalism, is of limited use and hides a deeper
As Karl Polanyi puts it:
"In human terms such a postulate [of a labour market] implied for the worker
extreme instability of earnings, utter absence of professional standards,
abject readiness to be shoved and pushed about indiscriminately, complete
dependence on the whims of the market. [Ludwig Von] Mises justly argued
that if workers 'did not act as trade unionists, but reduced their demands
and changed their locations and occupations according to the labour
market, they would eventually find work.' This sums up the position under
a system based on the postulate of the commodity character of labour. It
is not for the commodity to decide where it should be offered for sale, to
what purpose it should be used, at what price it should be allowed to
change hands, and in what manner it should be consumed or destroyed."
[_The Great Transformation_, p. 176]
(Although we should point out that von Mises argument that workers
will "eventually" find work as well as being nice and vague -- how long
is "eventually"?, for example -- is contradicted by actual experience. As
the Keynesian economist Michael Stewart notes, in the nineteenth century
workers "who lost their jobs had to redeploy fast or starve (and even this
feature of the nineteenth century economy . . . did not prevent prolonged
recessions)" [_Keynes in the 1990s_, p. 31] Workers "reducing their demands"
may actually worsen an economic slump, causing more unemployment in the
short run and lengthening the length of the crisis. We address the issue
of unemployment and workers "reducing their demands" in more detail in
It is sometimes argued that capital needs labour, so both have an equal
say in the terms offered, and hence the labour market is based on "liberty."
But for capitalism to be based on real freedom or on true free agreement,
both sides of the capital/labour divide must be equal in bargaining power,
otherwise any agreement would favour the most powerful at the expense
of the other party. However, due to the existence of private property and
the states needed to protect it, this equality is de facto impossible,
regardless of the theory. This is because. in general, capitalists have
three advantages on the "free" labour market-- the law and state placing
the rights of property above those of labour, the existence of unemployment
over most of the business cycle and capitalists having more resources to
fall back on. We will discuss each in turn.
The first advantage, namely property owners having the backing of the
law and state, ensures that when workers go on strike or use other forms
of direct action (or even when they try to form a union) the capitalist has
the full backing of the state to employ scabs, break picket lines or fire
"the ring-leaders." This obviously gives employers greater power in their
bargaining position, placing workers in a weak position (a position that
may make them, the workers, think twice before standing up for their rights).
The existence of unemployment over most of the business cycle ensures
that "employers have a structural advantage in the labour market, because
there are typically more candidates. . . than jobs for them to fill." This
means that "[c]ompetition in labour markets us typically skewed in favour
of employers: it is a buyers market. And in a buyer's market, it is the
sellers who compromise. Competition for labour is not strong enough to
ensure that workers' desires are always satisified." [Juliet B. Schor, _The
Overworked American_, p. 71, p. 129] If the labour market generally favours
the employer, then this obviously places working people at a disadvantage
as the threat of unemployment and the hardships associated with encourages
workers to take any job and submit to their bosses demands and power
while employed. Unemployment, in other words, serves to discipline labour.
The higher the prevailing unemployment rate, the harder it is to find a new
job, which raises the cost of job loss and makes it less likely for workers
to strike, join unions, or to resist employer demands, and so on.
As Bakunin argued, "the property owners... are *likewise* forced to seek out
and purchase labour... *but not in the same measure* . . . [there is no] equality between those who offer their labour and those who purchase it."
[Op. Cit., p. 183] This ensures that any "free agreements" made benefit
the capitalists more than the workers (see the next section on periods
of full employment, when conditions tilt in favour of working people).
Lastly, there is the issue of inequalities in wealth and so resources. The
capitalist generally has more resources to fall back on during strikes and
while waiting to find employees (for example, large companies with many
factories can swap production to their other factories if one goes on strike).
And by having more resources to fall back on, the capitalist can hold out
longer than the worker, so placing the employer in a stronger bargaining
position and so ensuring labour contracts favour them. This was recognised
by Adam Smith:
"It is not difficult to foresee which of the two parties [workers and
capitalists] must, upon all ordinary occasions... force the other into
a compliance with their terms... In all such disputes the masters can
hold out much longer . . . though they did not employ a single workman
[the masters] could generally live a year or two upon the stocks which
they already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could
subsist a month, and scare any a year without employment. In the long-run
the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but
the necessity is not so immediate. . . [I]n disputes with their workmen,
masters must generally have the advantage." [_Wealth of Nations_, pp. 59-60]
How little things have changed.
Thus, while it is definitely the case that no one forces you to work for
them, the capitalist system is such that you have little choice but to sell
your liberty and labour on the "free market." Not only this, but the labour
market (which is what makes capitalism capitalism) is (usually) skewed in
favour of the employer, so ensuring that any "free agreements" made on it
favour the boss and result in the workers submitting to domination and
exploitation. This is why anarchists support collective organisation
(such as unions) and resistance (such as strikes), direct action and
solidarity to make us as, if not more, powerful than our exploiters
and win important reforms and improvements (and, ultimately, change
society), even when faced with the disadvantages on the labour market
we have indicated. The despotism associated with property (to use
Proudhon's expression) is resisted by those subject to it and, needless
to say, the boss does not always win.
B.4.4 But what about periods of high demand for labour?
Of course there are periods when the demand for labour exceeds supply, but
these periods hold the seeds of depression for capitalism, as workers are
in an excellent position to challenge, both individually and collectively,
their allotted role as commodities. This point is discussed in more detail
in section C.7 (What causes the capitalist business cycle?) and so we will
not do so here. For now it's enough to point out that during normal times
(i.e. over most of the business cycle), capitalists often enjoy extensive
authority over workers, an authority deriving from the unequal bargaining
power between capital and labour, as noted by Adam Smith and many others.
However, this changes during times of high demand for labour. To illustrate,
let us assume that supply and demand approximate each other. It is clear
that such a situation is only good for the worker. Bosses cannot easily
fire a worker as there is no one to replace them and the workers,
either collectively by solidarity or individually by "exit" (i.e. quitting
and moving to a new job), can ensure a boss respects their interests and,
indeed, can push these interests to the full. The boss finds it hard to
keep their authority intact or from stopping wages rising and causing a
profits squeeze. In other words, as unemployment drops, workers power
Looking at it another way, giving someone the right to hire and fire an
input into a production process vests that individual with considerable
power over that input unless it is costless for that input to move; that
is unless the input is perfectly mobile. This is only approximated in
real life for labour during periods of full employment, and so perfect
mobility of *labour* costs problems for a capitalist firm because under
such conditions workers are not dependent on a particular capitalist and
so the level of worker effort is determined far more by the decisions of
workers (either collectively or individually) than by managerial authority.
The threat of firing cannot be used as a threat to increase effort, and
hence production, and so full employment increases workers power.
With the capitalist firm being a fixed commitment of resources, this
situation is intolerable. Such times are bad for business and so occur
rarely with free market capitalism (we must point out that in neo-classical
economics, it is assumed that all inputs - including capital - are
perfectly mobile and so the theory ignores reality and assumes away
*capitalist production* itself!).
During the last period of capitalist boom, the post-war period, we can
see the breakdown of capitalist authority and the fear this held for the
ruling elite. The Trilateral Commission's 1975 report, which attempted to
"understand" the growing discontent among the general population, makes
our point well. In periods of full employment, according to the report,
there is "an excess of democracy." In other words, due to the increased
bargaining power workers gained during a period of high demand for labour,
people started thinking about and acting upon their needs as *humans,* not
as commodities embodying labour power. This naturally had devastating
effects on capitalist and statist authority: "People no longer felt the
same compulsion to obey those whom they had previously considered superior
to themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character, or talent".
This loosening of the bonds of compulsion and obedience led to "previously
passive or unorganised groups in the population, blacks, Indians, Chicanos,
white ethnic groups, students and women... embark[ing] on concerted efforts
to establish their claims to opportunities, rewards, and privileges, which
they had not considered themselves entitled to before."
Such an "excess" of participation in politics of course posed a serious
threat to the status quo, since for the elites who authored the report,
it was considered axiomatic that "the effective operation of a democratic
political system usually requires some measure of apathy and non-involvement
on the part of some individuals and groups. . . . In itself, this marginality
on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic, but it is also one
of the factors which has enabled democracy to function effectively." Such
a statement reveals the hollowness of the establishment's concept of
'democracy,' which in order to function effectively (i.e. to serve elite
interests) must be "inherently undemocratic."
Any period where people feel empowered allows them to communicate with
their fellows, identify their needs and desires, and resist those forces
that deny their freedom to manage their own lives. Such resistance
strikes a deadly blow at the capitalist need to treat people as commodities,
since (to re-quote Polanyi) people no longer feel that it "is not for the
commodity to decide where it should be offered for sale, to what purpose
it should be used, at what price it should be allowed to change hands,
and in what manner it should be consumed or destroyed." Instead, as
thinking and feeling people, they act to reclaim their freedom and humanity.
As noted at the beginning of this section, the economic effects of such
periods of empowerment and revolt are discussed in section C.7. We will
end by quoting the Polish economist Michal Kalecki, who noted that a
continuous capitalist boom would *not* be in the interests of the ruling
class. In 1943, in response to the more optimistic Keynesians, he noted
that "to maintain the high level of employment. . . in the subsequent
boom, a strong opposition of 'business leaders' is likely to be
encountered. . . lasting full employment is not at all to their liking.
The workers would 'get out of hand' and the 'captains of industry' would
be anxious 'to teach them a lesson'" because "under a regime of permanent
full employment, 'the sack' would cease to play its role as a disciplinary
measure. The social position of the boss would be undermined and the self
assurance and class consciousness of the working class would grow. Strikes
for wage increases and improvements in conditions of work would create
political tension. . . 'discipline in the factories' and 'political stability'
are more appreciated by business leaders than profits. Their class interest
tells them that lasting full employment is unsound from their point of view
and that unemployment is an integral part of the normal capitalist system."
[cited by Malcolm C. Sawyer, _The Economics of Michal Kalecki_, p. 139,
Therefore, periods when the demand for labour outstrips supply are not
healthy for capitalism, as they allow people to assert their freedom and
humanity -- both fatal to the system. This is why news of large numbers of
new jobs sends the stock market plunging and why capitalists are so keen
these days to maintain a "natural" rate of unemployment (that it has to be
maintained indicates that it is *not* "natural"). Kalecki, we must
point out, also correctly predicted the rise of "a powerful bloc" between
"big business and the rentier interests" against full employment and that
"they would probably find more than one economist to declare that the
situation was manifestly unsound." The resulting "pressure of all these
forces, and in particular big business" would "induce the Government to
return to. . . orthodox policy." [Kalecki, cited Op. Cit., p. 140] This
is exactly what happened in the 1970s, with the monetarists and other
sections of the "free market" right providing the ideological support
for the business lead class war, and whose "theories" (when applied)
promptly generated massive unemployment, thus teaching the working
class the required lesson.
So, although detrimental to profit-making, periods of recession and high
unemployment are not only unavoidable but are necessary to capitalism in
order to "discipline" workers and "teach them a lesson." And in all, it
is little wonder that capitalism rarely produces periods approximating
full employment -- they are *not* in its interests (see also section C.9).
The dynamics of capitalism makes recession and unemployment inevitable,
just as it makes class struggle (which creates these dynamics) inevitable.
B.4.6 But I want to be "left alone"!
It is ironic that supporters of laissez-faire capitalism, such as
"Libertarians" and "anarcho"-capitalists, should claim that they
want to be "left alone," since capitalism *never* allows this. As
Max Stirner expressed it:
"Restless acquisition does not let us take breath, take a calm
*enjoyment.* We do not get the comfort of our possessions. . ."
[Max Stirner _The Ego and Its Own_, p. 268]
Capitalism cannot let us "take breath" simply because it needs to
grow or die, which puts constant pressure on both workers and
capitalists (see section D.4.1). Workers can never relax or be
free of anxiety about losing their jobs, because if they do not
work, they do not eat, nor can they ensure that their children
will get a better life. Within the workplace, they are not "left
alone" by their bosses in order to manage their own activities.
Instead, they are told what to do, when to do it and how to
do it. Indeed, the history of experiments in workers' control and
self-management within capitalist companies confirms our claims that,
for the worker, capitalism is incompatible with the desire to be
"left alone." As an illustration we will use the "Pilot Program"
conducted by General Electric between 1968 and 1972.
General Electric proposed the "Pilot Program" as a means of overcoming
the problems they faced with introducing Numeric Control (N/C) machinery
into its plant at Lynn River Works, Massachusetts. Faced with rising
tensions on the shop floor, bottle-necks in production and low-quantity
products, GE management tried a scheme of "job enrichment" based
on workers' control of production in one area of the plant. By June
1970 the workers' involved were "on their own" (as one manager put
it) and "[i]n terms of group job enlargement this was when the
Pilot Project really began, with immediate results in increased
output and machine utilisation, and a reduction on manufacturing
losses. As one union official remarked two years later, 'The fact
that we broke down a traditional policy of GE [that the union could
never have a hand in managing the business] was in itself satisfying,
especially when we could throw success up to them to boot.'" [David
Noble, _Forces of Production_, p. 295]
The project, after some initial scepticism, proved to be a great
success with the workers involved. Indeed, other workers in the
factory desired to be included and the union soon tried to get it
spread throughout the plant and into other GE locations. The success
of the scheme was that it was based on workers' managing their own
affairs rather than being told what to do by their bosses -- "We
are human beings," said one worker, "and want to be treated as
such." [quoted by Noble, Op. Cit., p. 292] To be fully human means
to be free to govern oneself in all aspects of life, including
However, just after a year of the workers being given control over
their working lives, management stopped the project. Why? "In the
eyes of some management supporters of the 'experiment,' the Pilot
Program was terminated because management as a whole refused to
give up any of its traditional authority . . . [t]he Pilot
Program foundered on the basic contradiction of capitalist
production: Who's running the shop?" [Noble, Op. Cit., p. 318]
Noble goes on to argue that to GE's top management, "the union's
desire to extend the program appeared as a step toward greater
workers control over production and, as such, a threat to the
traditional authority rooted in private ownership of the means
of production. Thus the decision to terminate represented a
defence not only of the prerogatives of production supervisors
and plant managers but also of the power vested in property
ownership." [Ibid.] Noble notes that this result was not an
isolated case and that the "demise of the GE Pilot Program
followed the typical pattern for such 'job enrichment experiments'"
[Op. Cit., p. 320] Even though "[s]everal dozen well-documented
experiments show that productivity increases and social problems
decrease when workers participant in the work decisions affecting
their lives" [Department of Health, Education and Welfare study
quoted by Noble, Op. Cit., p. 322] such schemes are ended by
bosses seeking to preserve their own power, the power that flows
from private property.
As one worker in the GE Pilot Program stated, "[w]e just want to
be left alone." They were not -- capitalist social relations
prohibit such a possibility (as Noble correctly notes, "the 'way
of life' for the management meant controlling the lives of others"
[Op. Cit., p. 294 and p. 300]). In spite of improved productivity,
projects in workers' control are scrapped because they undermined
both the power of the capitalists -- and by undermining their power,
you potentially undermine their profits too ("If we're all one,
for manufacturing reasons, we must share in the fruits equitably,
just like a co-op business." [GE Pilot Program worker, quoted by
Noble, Op. Cit., p. 295]).
As we argue in more detail in section J.5.12, profit maximisation
can work against efficiency, meaning that capitalism can harm the
overall economy by promoting less efficient production techniques
(i.e. hierarchical ones against egalitarian ones) because it is in
the interests of capitalists to do so and the capitalist market
rewards that behaviour. This is because, ultimately, profits are
unpaid labour. If you empower labour, give workers' control over
their work then they will increase efficiency and productivity
(they know how to do their job the best) but you also erode
authority structures within the workplace. Workers' will seek
more and more control (freedom naturally tries to grow) and
this, as the Pilot Program worker clearly saw, implies a
co-operative workplace in which workers', *not* managers, decide
what to do with the surplus produced. By threatening power, you
threaten profits (or, more correctly, who controls the profit and
where it goes). With the control over production *and* who gets
to control any surplus in danger, it is unsurprising that
companies soon abandon such schemes and return to the old,
less efficient, hierarchical schemes based on "Do what you are
told, for as long as you are told." Such a regime is hardly fit
for free people and, as Noble notes, the regime that replaced
the GE Pilot Program was "designed to 'break' the pilots of their
new found 'habits' of self-reliance, self-discipline, and
self-respect." [Op. Cit., p. 307]
Thus the experience of workers' control project within capitalist
firms indicates well that capitalism cannot "leave you alone" if
you are a wage slave.
Moreover, capitalists themselves cannot relax because they must ensure
their workers' productivity rises faster than their workers' wages,
otherwise their business will fail (see sections C.2 and C.3). This
means that every company has to innovate or be left behind, to be
put out of business or work. Hence the boss is not "left alone" --
their decisions are made under the duress of market forces, of the
necessities imposed by competition on individual capitalists. Restless
acquisition -- in this context, the necessity to accumulate capital
in order to survive in the market -- always haunts the capitalist.
And since unpaid labour is the key to capitalist expansion, work
must continue to exist and grow -- necessitating the boss to control
the working hours of the worker to ensure that they produce more
goods than they receive in wages. The boss is not "left alone" nor
do they leave the worker alone.
These facts, based upon the authority relations associated with
private property and relentless competition, ensure that the
desire to be "left alone" cannot be satisfied under capitalism.
As Murray Bookchin observes:
"Despite their assertions of autonomy and distrust of state authority
. . . classical liberal thinkers did not in the last instance hold to
the notion that the individual is completely free from lawful guidance.
Indeed, their interpretation of autonomy actually presupposed quite
definite arrangements beyond the individual -- notably, the laws of
the marketplace. Individual autonomy to the contrary, these laws
constitute a social organising system in which all 'collections of
individuals' are held under the sway of the famous 'invisible hand' of
competition. Paradoxically, the laws of the marketplace override the
exercise of 'free will' by the same sovereign individuals who otherwise
constitute the "collection of individuals." ["Communalism: The Democratic
Dimension of Anarchism", p. 4, _Democracy and Nature_ no. 8, pp. 1-17]
Human interaction is an essential part of life. Anarchism proposes
to eliminate only undesired social interactions and authoritarian
impositions, which are inherent in capitalism and indeed in any
hierarchical form of socio-economic organisation (e.g. state socialism).
Hermits soon become less than human, as social interaction enriches and
develops individuality. Capitalism may attempt to reduce us to hermits,
only "connected" by the market, but such a denial of our humanity and
individuality inevitably feeds the spirit of revolt. In practice the
"laws" of the market and the hierarchy of capital will never "leave one
alone," but instead, crush one's individuality and freedom. Yet this
aspect of capitalism conflicts with the human "instinct for freedom,"
as Noam Chomsky describes it, and hence there arises a counter-tendency
toward radicalisation and rebellion among any oppressed people
(see section J).
One last point. The desire to "be left alone" often expresses two
drastically different ideas -- the wish to be your own master and
manage your own affairs and the desire by bosses and landlords to
have more power over their property. However, the authority exercised
by such owners over their property is also exercised over *those who
use that property.* Therefore, the notion of "being left alone"
contains two contradictory aspects within a class ridden and
hierarchical society. Obviously anarchists are sympathetic to the
first, inherently libertarian, aspect -- the desire to manage your
own life, in your own way -- but we reject the second aspect and
any implication that it is in the interests of the governed to
leave those in power alone. Rather, it is in the interest of the
governed to subject those with authority over them to as much
control as possible -- for obvious reasons.
Therefore, working people are more or less free to the extent that
they *restrict* the ability of their bosses to be "left alone." One
of the aims of anarchists within a capitalist society is *ensure* that
those in power are *not* "left alone" to exercise their authority over
those subject to it. We see solidarity, direct action and workplace and
community organisation as a means of interfering with the authority of
the state, capitalists and property owners until such time as we can
destroy such authoritarian social relationships once and for all.
Hence anarchist dislike of the term "laissez-faire" -- within a class
society it can only mean protecting the powerful against the working
class (under the banner of "neutrally" enforcing property rights and
so *the power derived from them*). However, we are well aware of the
other, libertarian, vision expressed in the desire to be "left alone."
That is the reason we have discussed why capitalist society can never
actually achieve that desire -- it is handicapped by its hierarchical
and competitive nature -- and how such a desire can be twisted into a
means of enhancing the power of the few over the many.
B.5 Is capitalism empowering and based on human action?
A key element of the social vision propounded by capitalism, particularly
"libertarian" capitalism, is that of "voting" by the "customer," which
is compared to political voting by the "citizen." According to Milton
Friedman, "when you vote in the supermarket, you get precisely what you
voted for and so does everyone else." Such "voting" with one's pocket
is then claimed to be an example of the wonderful "freedom" people enjoy
under capitalism (as opposed to "socialism," always equated by
right-wingers with *state* socialism, which will be discussed in
section H). However, in evaluating this claim, the difference between
customers and citizens is critical.
The customer chooses between products on the shelf that have been designed
and built by others for the purpose of profit. The consumer is the
end-user, essentially a spectator rather than an actor, merely choosing
between options created elsewhere by others. Market decision making is
therefore fundamentally *passive* and *reactionary,* i.e. based on reacting
to developments initiated by others. In contrast, the "citizen" is
actively involved, at least ideally, in all stages of the decision making
process, either directly or through elected delegates. Therefore, given
decentralised and participatory-democratic organisations, decision making
by citizens can be *pro-active,* based on human *action* in which one
takes the initiative and sets the agenda oneself. Indeed, most supporters
of the "citizen" model support it precisely *because* it actively involves
individuals in participating in social decision making, so creating an
educational aspect the process and developing the abilities and powers
of those involved.
In addition, the power of the consumer is not evenly distributed across
society. Thus the expression "voting" when used in a market context expresses
a radically different idea than the one usually associated with it. In
political voting everyone gets one vote, in the market it is one vote per
dollar. What sort of "democracy" is it that gives one person more votes
than tens of thousands of others combined?
Therefore the "consumer" idea fails to take into account the differences
in power that exist on the market as well as assigning an essentially
passive role to the individual. At best they can act on the market as
isolated individuals through their purchasing power. However, such a
position is part of the problem for, as E.F. Schumacher argues, the
"buyer is essentially a bargain hunter; he is not concerned with the
origin of the goods or the conditions under which they have been
produced. His sole concern is to obtain the best value for money."
He goes on to note that the market "therefore respects only the surface
of society and its significance relates to the momentary situation
as it exists there and then. There is no probing into the depths of
things, into the natural or social facts that lie behind them."
[_Small is Beautiful_, p. 29]
Indeed, the "customer" model actually works *against* any attempt to
"probe" the facts of things. Firstly, consumers rarely know the significance
or implications of the goods they are offered because the price mechanism
withholds such information from them. Secondly, because the atomistic
nature of the market makes discussion about the "why" and "how" of
production difficult -- we get to choose between various "whats".
Instead of critically evaluating the pros and cons of certain economic
practices, all we are offered is the option of choosing between things
already produced. We can only *re*-act when the damage is already done
by picking the option which does least damage (often we do not have even
that choice). And to discover a given products social and ecological
impact we have to take a pro-active role by joining groups which provide
this sort of information (information which, while essential for a
rational decision, the market does not and cannot provide).
Moreover, the "consumer" model fails to recognise that the decisions we
make on the market to satisfy our "wants" are determined by social and
market forces. What we are capable of wanting is relative to the forms of
social organisation we live in. For example, people choose to buy cars
because General Motors bought up and destroyed the tram network in the
1930s and people buy "fast food" because they have no time to cook
because of increasing working hours. This means that our decisions within
the market are often restricted by economic pressures. For example, the
market forces firms, on pain of bankruptcy, to do whatever possible
to be cost-effective. Firms that pollute, have bad working conditions
and so on often gain competitive advantage in so doing and other firms
either have to follow suit or go out of business. A "race to the bottom"
ensures, with individuals making "decisions of desperation" just to
survive. Individual commitments to certain values, in other words, may
become irrelevant simply because the countervailing economic pressures
are simply too intense (little wonder Robert Owen argued that the profit
motive was "a principle entirely unfavourable to individual and public
And, of course, the market also does not, and cannot, come up with goods that
we do not want in our capacity as consumers but desire to protect for future
generations or because of ecological reasons. By making the protection of
the planet, eco-systems and other such "goods" dependent on the market,
capitalism ensures that unless we put our money where our mouth is we can
have no say in the protection of such goods as eco-systems, historical sites,
and so on. The need to protect such "resources" in the long term is ignored
in favour of short-termism -- indeed, if we do not "consume" such products
today they will not be there tomorrow. Placed within a society that the
vast majority of people often face difficulties making ends meet, this
means that capitalism can never provide us with goods which we would like
to see available as *people* (either for others or for future generations or
just to protect the planet) but cannot afford or desire as *consumers.*
It is clearly a sign of the increasing dominance of capitalist ideology
that the "customer" model is being transferred to the political arena.
This reflects the fact that the increasing scale of political institutions
has reinforced the tendency noted earlier for voters to become passive
spectators, placing their "support" behind one or another "product" (i.e.
party or leader). As Murray Bookchin comments, "educated, knowledgeable
citizens become reduced to mere taxpayers who exchange money for
'services'" [_Remaking Society_, p. 71]. In practice, due to state
centralism, this turns the political process into an extension of the
market, with "citizens" being reduced to "consumers." Or, in Erich Fromm's
apt analysis, "The functioning of the political machinery in a democratic
country is not essentially different from the procedure on the commodity
market. The political parties are not too different from big commercial
enterprises, and the professional politicians try to sell their wares to
the public" [_The Sane Society_, pp. 186-187].
But does it matter? Friedman suggests that being a customer is *better*
than being a citizen as you get "precisely" what you, and everyone else,
The key questions here are whether people always get what they want when
they shop. Do consumers who buy bleached newsprint and toilet paper
*really* want tons of dioxins and other organochlorides in rivers, lakes
and coastal waters? Do customers who buy cars *really* want traffic jams,
air pollution, motorways carving up the landscape and the greenhouse effect?
And what of those who do not buy these things? They are also affected by the
decisions of others. The notion that only the consumer is affected by his
or her decision is nonsense -- as is the childish desire to get "precisely"
what you want, regardless of the social impact.
Perhaps Friedman could claim that when we consume we also approve of its
impact. But when we "vote" on the market we cannot say that we approved of
the resulting pollution (or distribution of income or power) because that
was not a choice on offer. Such changes are *pre-defined* or an aggregate
outcome and can only be chosen by a collective decision. In this way we
can modify outcomes we could bring about individually but which harm us
collectively. And unlike the market, in politics we can *change our
minds* and revert back to a former state, undue the mistakes made. No
such option is available on the market.
So Friedman's claims that in elections "you end up with something different
from what you voted for" is equally applicable to the market place.
These considerations indicate that the "consumer" model of human action is
somewhat limited (to say the least!). Instead we need to recognise the
importance of the "citizen" model, which we should point out includes the
"consumer" model within it. Taking part as an active member of the
community does not imply that we stop making individual consumption
choices between those available, all it does is potentially enrich our
available options by removing lousy choices (such as ecology or profit,
cheap goods or labour rights, family or career).
In addition we must stress its role in developing those who practice
the "citizen" model and how it can enrich our social and personal life.
Being active within participatory institutions fosters and develops
an active, "public-spirited" type of character. Citizens, because they
are making *collective* decisions have to weight other interests *as
well as* their own and so consider the impact on themselves, others,
society and the environment of possible decisions. It is, by its very
nature, an educative process by which all benefit by developing their
critical abilities and expanding their definition of self-interest to
take into account themselves as part of a society and eco-system
*as well as* as an individual. The "consumer" model, with its passive
and exclusively private/money orientation develops few of people's
faculties and narrows their self-interest to such a degree that
their "rational" actions can actually (indirectly) them.
As Noam Chomsky argues, it is "now widely realised that the economists
'externalities' can no longer be consigned to footnotes. No one who gives
a moment's thought to the problems of contemporary society can fail to be
aware of the social costs of consumption and production, the progressive
destruction of the environment, the utter irrationality of the utilisation
of contemporary technology, the inability of a system based on profit or
growth maximisation to deal with needs that can only be expressed
collectively, and the enormous bias this system imposes towards
maximisation of commodities for personal use in place of the general
improvement of the quality of life..." [_Radical Priorities_, p. 223]
Thus "citizen" model takes on board the fact that the sum of rational
individual decisions may not yield a rational collective outcome (which,
we must add, harms the individuals involved and so works against their
self-interest). Social standards, created and enriched by a process of
discussion and dialogue can be effective in realms where the atomised
"consumer" model is essentially powerless to achieve constructive social
change, nevermind protect the individual from "agreeing" to "decisions of
desperation" that leave them and society as a whole worse off (see also
sections E.4 and E.5).
This is *not* to suggest that anarchists desire to eliminate individual
decision making, far from it. An anarchist society will be based upon
individual's making decisions on what they want to consume, where they
want to work, what kind of work they want to do and so on. So the aim
of the "citizen" model is not to "replace" the "consumer" model,
but only to improve the social environment within which we make our
individual consumption decisions. What the "citizen" model of human
action desires is to place such decisions within a social framework,
one that allows to take an active part in improving the quality of
life for us all by removing "Hobson choices" as far as possible.
B.6 But will not the decisions made by intelligent individuals with their
own financial success or failure on the line be better most of the
This question refers to an argument commonly used by capitalists to
justify the fact that investment decisions are removed from public control
under capitalism, with private investors making all the decisions.
Clearly the assumption behind this argument is that individuals suddenly
lose their intelligence when they get together and discuss their common
interests. But surely, through debate, we can enrich our ideas by social
interaction. In the marketplace we do not discuss but instead act as
This issue involves the "Isolation Paradox," according to which the very
logic of individual decision-making is different from that of collective
decision-making. An example is the "tyranny of small decisions." Let us
assume that in the soft drink industry some companies start to produce
(cheaper) non-returnable bottles. The end result of this is that most, if
not all, the companies making returnable bottles lose business and switch
to non-returnables. Result? Increased waste and environmental destruction.
This is because market price fails to take into account social costs and
benefits, indeed it *mis*-estimates them for both buyer/seller and to
others not involved in the transaction. This is because, as Schumacher
points out, the "strength of the idea of private enterprise lies in
its terrifying simplicity. It suggests that the totality of life can
be reduced to one aspect - profits . . ." [_Small is Beautiful_, p. 215]
But life cannot be reduced to one aspect without impoverishing it and
so capitalism "knows the price of everything but the value of nothing."
Therefore the market promotes "the tyranny of small decisions" and this
can have negative outcomes for those involved. The capitalist "solution"
to this problem is no solution, namely to act after the event. Only after
the decisions have been made and their effects felt can action be taken.
But by then the damage has been done. Can suing a company *really* replace
a fragile eco-system? In addition, the economic context has been significantly
altered, because investment decisions are often difficult to unmake.
In other words, the operations of the market provide an unending source of
examples for the argument that the aggregate results of the pursuit of
private interest may well be collectively damaging. And as collectives are
made up of individuals, that means damaging to the individuals involved.
The remarkable ideological success of "free market" capitalism is to
identify the anti-social choice with self-interest, so that any choice
in the favour of the interests which we share collectively is treated
as a piece of self-sacrifice. However, by atomising decision making, the
market often actively works against the self-interest of the individuals
that make it up.
Game theory is aware that the sum of rational choices do not automatically
yield a rational group outcome. Indeed, it terms such situations as
"collective action" problems. By not agreeing common standards, a "race
to the bottom" can ensue in which a given society reaps choices that we
are individuals really don't want. The rational pursuit of individual
self-interest leaves the group, and so most individuals, worse off. The
problem is not bad individual judgement (far from it, the individual is
the only person able to know what is best for them in a given situation).
It is the absence of social discussion and remedies that compels people
to make unbearable choices because the available menu presents no good
By *not* discussing the impact of their decisions with everyone who will
be affected, the individuals in question have not made a better decision.
Of course, under our present highly centralised statist and capitalist
system, such a discussion would be impossible to implement, and its
closest approximation -- the election process -- is too vast, bureaucratic
and dominated by wealth to do much beyond passing a few toothless laws
which are generally ignored when they hinder profits.
However, let's consider what the situation would be like under libertarian
socialism, where the local community assemblies discuss the question of
returnable bottles along with the workforce. Here the function of specific
interest groups (such as consumer co-operatives, ecology groups, workplace
Research and Development action committees and so on) would play a
critical role in producing information. Knowledge, as Bakunin, Kropotkin,
etc. knew, is widely dispersed throughout society and the role of interested
parties is essential in making it available to others. Based upon this
information and the debate it provokes, the collective decision reached
would most probably favour returnables over waste. This would be a
better decision from a social and ecological point of view, and one that
would benefit the individuals who discussed and agreed upon its effects on
themselves and their society.
In other words, anarchists think we have to take an active part in creating
the menu as well as picking options from it which reflect our individual
tastes and interests.
It needs to be emphasised that such a system does not involve discussing
and voting on everything under the sun, which would paralyse all
activity. To the contrary, most decisions would be left to those
interested (e.g. workers decide on administration and day-to-day decisions
within the factory), the community decides upon policy (e.g. returnables
over waste). Neither is it a case of electing people to decide for us, as
the decentralised nature of the confederation of communities ensures that
power lies in the hands of local people.
This process in no way implies that "society" decides what an individual
is to consume. That, like all decisions affecting the individual only, is
left entirely up to the person involved. Communal decision-making is for
decisions that impact both the individual and society, allowing those
affected by it to discuss it among themselves as equals, thus creating a
rich social context within which individuals can act. This is an obvious
improvement over the current system, where decisions that often profoundly
alter people's lives are left to the discretion of an elite class of
managers and owners, who are supposed to "know best."
There is, of course, the danger of "tyranny of the majority" in any
democratic system, but in a direct libertarian democracy, this danger
would be greatly reduced, for reasons discussed in section I.5.6 (Won't
there be a danger of a "tyranny of the majority" under libertarian
B.7 What classes exist within modern society?
For anarchists, class analysis is an important means of understanding the
world and what is going on in it. While recognition of the fact that classes
actually exist is less prevalent now than it once was, this does not mean
that classes have ceased to exist. Quite the contrary. As we'll see, it
means only that the ruling class has been more successful than before in
obscuring the existence of class.
Class can be objectively defined: the relationship between an individual
and the sources of power within society determines his or her class. We
live in a class society in which a few people possess far more political
and economic power than the majority, who usually work for the minority
that controls them and the decisions that affect them. This means that
class is based both on exploitation *and* oppression, with some controlling
the labour of others for their own gain. The means of oppression have
been indicated in earlier parts of section B, while section C (What are the
myths of capitalist economics?) indicates exactly how exploitation occurs
within a society apparently based on free and equal exchange. In addition,
it also highlights the effects on the economic system itself of this
exploitation. The social and political impact of the system and the classes
and hierarchies it creates is discussed in depth in section D (How does
statism and capitalism affect society?).
We must emphasise at the outset that the idea of the "working class" as
composed of nothing but industrial wage slaves is simply false. It is
*not* applicable today, if it ever was. Power, in terms of hire/fire and
investment decisions, is the important thing. Ownership of capital as a
means of determining a person's class is not as useful as once was, since
even many working-class people now own shares (although not enough
to live on or to give them any say in how a company is run) and since most
large companies are owned by other large companies, through pension funds,
multinationals, etc. Hence we now have a situation in which the people
who have massive power may technically be "salary slaves" (managing directors,
etc.) while, obviously, they are members of the ruling class in practice.
For most anarchists, there are two main classes:
(1) Working class -- those who have to work for a living but have no real
control over that work or other major decisions that affect them, i.e.
order-takers. This class also includes the unemployed, pensioners, etc.,
who have to survive on handouts from the state. They have little wealth
and little (official) power. This class includes the growing service worker
sector, most (if not the vast majority) of "white collar" workers as well as
traditional "blue collar" industrial workers.
(2) Ruling class -- those who control investment decisions, determine high
level policy, set the agenda for capital and state. This is the elite at the
top, owners or top managers of large companies, multinationals and banks,
owners of large amounts of land, top state officials, politicians, the
aristocracy, and so forth. They have real power within the economy and/or
state, and so control society. This group consists of around the top 5-15%
of the population.
Obviously there are "grey" areas in any society, individuals and
groups who do not fit exactly into either the working or ruling class.
Such people include those who work but have some control over other
people, e.g. power of hire/fire. These are the people who make the minor,
day-to-day decisions concerning the running of capital or state. This
area includes lower to middle management, professionals, and small
There is some argument within the anarchist movement whether this
"grey" area constitutes another ("middle") class or not. Most anarchists
say no, most of this "grey" area are working class, others (such
as the British _Class War Federation_) argue it is a different class.
One thing is sure, all anarchists agree that this "grey" area has an
interest in getting rid of the current system just as much as the
working class (we should point out here that what is usually called
"middle class" in the USA and elsewhere is nothing of the kind,
and usually refers to working class people with decent jobs,
homes, etc. As class is a considered a rude word in polite
society in the USA, such mystification is to be expected).
So, there will be exceptions to this classification scheme. However,
most of society share common interests, as they face the economic
uncertainties and hierarchical nature of capitalism.
We do not aim to fit all of reality into this class scheme, but only to
develop it as reality indicates, based on our own experiences of the
changing patterns of modern society. Nor is this scheme intended to
suggest that all members of a class have identical interests or that
competition does not exist between members of the same class, as it does
between the classes. Capitalism, by its very nature, is a competitive
system. As Malatesta pointed out, "one must bear in mind that on the one
hand the bourgeoisie (the property owners) are always at war amongst
themselves. . . and that on the other hand the government, though springing
from the bourgeoisie and its servant and protector, tends, as every servant
and every protector, to achieve its own emancipation and to dominate whoever
it protects. Thus the game of the swings, the manoeuvres, the concessions
and the withdrawals, the attempts to find allies among the people and
against the conservatives, and among conservatives against the people,
which is the science of the governors, and which blinds the ingenuous and
phlegmatic who always wait for salvation to come down to them from above."
[_Anarchy_, p. 22]
However, no matter how much inter-elite rivalry goes on, at the slightest
threat to the system from which they benefit, the ruling class will unite
to defend their common interests. Once the threat passes, they will return
to competing among themselves for power, market share and wealth.
Unfortunately, the working class rarely unites as a class, mainly due to
its chronic economic and social position. At best, certain sections unite
and experience the benefits and pleasure of co-operation. Anarchists, by
their ideas and action try to change this situation and encourage
solidarity within the working class in order to resist, and ultimately
get rid of, capitalism. However, their activity is helped by the
fact that those in struggle often realise that "solidarity is strength"
and so start to work together and unite their struggles against their
common enemy. Indeed, history is full of such developments.
B.7.1 But do classes actually exist?
So do classes actually exist, or are anarchists making them up? The fact
that we even need to consider this question points to the pervasive
propaganda efforts by the ruling class to suppress class consciousness,
which will be discussed further on. First, however, let's examine some
statistics, taking the USA as an example (mostly because class is seldom
talked about there, although its business class is *very* class conscious).
We find that in 1986, the share of total US income was as follows:
One third went to the bottom 60% of society, one third to the next 30%
and one third to the top 10%. In terms of total national wealth, the
bottom 90% owned a third, another third went to the next 9% of the
population and one third went to the top 1%. Since then, the top 1%
has managed to raise its share to 40%, showing that class lines have
been greatly tightened during the past decade (see below).
In 1983 the richest 0.5% owned more than 45% of the nation's privately
held net wealth. This included 47% of all corporated stock, 62% of
non-taxable bonds, and 77% of all trusts. 60% of all US families owned
less than $5,000 in assets. Half owned $2,300 in assets, or less. In
1986, the top 1% of families owned about 53% of all income-producing
wealth. Only about 51 million Americans directly own stocks or shares
in stock mutual funds, which is about 19% of the American population of
which the top 5% own 95% of all shares. The richest 1% of households in
America (about 2 million adults) owned 35% of the stock owned by individuals
in 1992 - with the top 10% owning over 81%. The bottom 90% of the US
population has a smaller share (23%) of all kinds of investable capital
than the richest 0.5% (who own 29%).
The USA leads the industrialised world in poverty--17% of those below age
18 and around 15% of the total population. 22% earn less than half the median
income. Forty percent of African-American children lived in poverty in 1986.
All these facts prove that classes do in fact exist, with wealth and power
concentrating at the top of society, in the hands of the few.
The following figures from the US Census Bureau show the rate at which
wealth polarisation, and hence the tightening of class lines, has been
preceding over the past 20 years:
Share of Aggregate Household Income by Quintile: 1974-1994
Lowest Second Third Fourth Highest Top
Quintile Quintile Quint Quint Quint 5%
1974: 4.3 10.6 17.0 24.6 43.5 16.5
1984: 4.0 9.9 16.3 24.6 45.2 17.1
1994: 3.6 8.9 15.0 23.4 49.1 21.2
Percentage increase/decrease from '74 to '94:
Lowest Quintile: -16%
Second Quintile: -16%
Middle Quintile: -11.7%
Fourth Quintile: - 4.9%
Top Quintile: +12.9%
Top 5% : +28.5%
In 1994, the income gap between the top quintile (49.1%) and the bottom
quintile (3.6%) was the biggest ever recorded. Clearly it was not just
households in the bottom two-fifths who lost ground over the past 20
years, but those in the middle as well. The earnings of a typical full
time-worker fell more than $300 in 1993. In fact, as can be seen from the
percentage decreases, an amazing 80% of the population was in decline
while the top 20% got richer. It's actually more skewed than that,
however, because 9.9 percent of the top fifth's 12.9 percent increase
went to the upper 5 percent.
Although the percentage share of wealth owned by the richest individuals
and families in the US has been rising steadily since the mid-fifties, the
*rate* of concentration at the top accelerated more during the eighties
than at any time on record. According to a report in the _New York Times_,
the number of billionaires nearly doubled in 1986 -- from fourteen to
twenty-six -- in one year alone! Looking at the figures for private family
wealth, we find that in 1976 the wealthiest one percent of Americans owned
19% of it, the next 9% owned 30% and the bottom 90% of the population
owned 51%. By 1995 the top 1% owned 40%. more than owned by the bottom 92%
of the US population combined (the next 9% had 31% while the bottom 90%
had only 29% of total) (see Edward N. Wolff, _Top Heavy: A Study of
Increasing Inequality in America_ for details).
By far the biggest gainers from the wealth concentration of the last two
decades have been the super-rich. No wonder US politicians have recently
been dusting off their anti-class rhetoric!
The recent increase in wealth polarisation is due partly to the increased
globalisation of capital, which lowers the wages of workers in the advanced
industrial countries by putting them in competition for jobs with workers in
the Third World. This, combined with "trickle-down" economic policies of
tax cuts for the wealthy, tax raises for the working classes, the maintaining
of a "natural" law of unemployment (which weakens unions and workers power)
and cutbacks in social programs, has seriously eroded living standards for
all but the upper strata -- a process that is clearly leading toward social
breakdown, with effects that will be discussed later (see section D.9).
Moreover, as Doug Henwood notes, "[i]nternational measures put the
United States in a disgraceful light. . . The soundbite version of
the LIS [Luxembourg Income Study] data is this: for a country th[at]
rich, [it] ha[s] a lot of poor people." Henwood looked at both
relative and absolute measures of income and poverty using the
cross-border comparisons of income distribution provided by the LIS
and discovered that "[f]or a country that thinks itself universally
middle class [i.e. middle income], the United States has the
second-smallest middle class of the nineteen countries for which
good LIS data exists." Only Russia, a country in near-total collapse
was worse (40.9% of the population where middle income compared to
46.2% in the USA. Households were classed as poor is their incomes
were under 50 percent of the national medium; near-poor, between
50 and 62.5 percent; middle, between 62.5 and 150 percent; and
well-to-do, over 150 percent. The USA rates for poor (19.1%),
near-poor (8.1%) and middle (46.2%) were worse than European
countries like Germany (11.1%, 6.5% and 64%), France (13%, 7.2%
and 60.4%) and Belgium (5.5%, 8.0% and 72.4%) as well as Canada
(11.6%, 8.2% and 60%) and Australia (14.8%, 10% and 52.5%).
The reasons for this? Henwood states that the "reasons are clear --
weak unions and a weak welfare state. The social-democratic states --
the ones that interfere most with market incomes -- have the largest
[middles classes]. The US poverty rate is nearly twice the average
of the other eighteen." Needless to say, "middle class" as defined
by income is a very blunt term (as Henwood states). It says nothing
about property ownership or social power, for example, but income
is often taken in the capitalist press as the defining aspect of
"class" and so is useful to analyse in order to refute the claims
that the free-market promotes general well-being (i.e. a larger
"middle class"). That the most free-market nation has the worse
poverty rates *and* the smallest "middle class" indicates well the
anarchist claim that capitalism, left to its own devices, will
benefit the strong (the ruling class) over the weak (the working
class) via "free exchanges" on the "free" market (as we argue in
section C.7, only during periods of full employment -- and/or wide
scale working class solidarity and militancy -- does the balance
of forces change in favour of working class people. Little wonder,
then, that periods of full employment also see falling inequality --
see James K. Galbraith's _Created Unequal_ for more details on
the correlation of unemployment and inequality).
Of course, it could be objected that this relative measure of poverty
and income ignores the fact that US incomes are among the highest
in the world, meaning that the US poor may be pretty well off by
foreign standards. Henwood refutes this claim, noting that "even on
absolute measures, the US performance is embarrassing. LIS researcher
Lane Kenworthy estimated poverty rates for fifteen countries using
the US poverty line as the benchmark. . . Though the United States
has the highest average income, it's far from having the lowest
poverty rate." Only Italy, Britain and Australia had higher levels
of absolute poverty (and Australia exceeded the US value by 0.2%,
11.9% compared to 11.7%). Thus, in both absolute *and* relative
terms, the USA compares badly with European countries. [Doug Henwood,
"Booming, Borrowing, and Consuming: The US Economy in 1999", pp.120-33,
_Monthly Review_, vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 129-31]
Faced with these facts, many supporters of capitalism still deny the
obvious. They do so by confusing a *caste* system with a *class* system.
In a caste system, those born into it stay in it all their lives. In a
class system, the membership of classes can and does change over time.
Therefore, it is claimed, what is important is not the existence of
classes but of income mobility. According to this argument, if there is
a high level of income mobility then the degree of inequality in any given
year is unimportant. This is because the redistribution of income over a
person's life time would be very even. Unfortunately for the supporters of
capitalism this view is deeply flawed.
Firstly, the fact of income mobility and changes in the membership of classes
does not cancel out the fact that a class system is marked by differences
in *power* which accompany the differences in income. In other words, because
it is possible (in theory) for everyone to become a boss this does not make
the power and authority that bosses have over their workers (or the impact
of their wealth on society) any more legitimate (just because everyone -
in theory - can become a member of the government does not make government
any less authoritarian). Because the membership of the boss class can change
does not negate the fact that such a class exists.
Secondly, what income mobility that does exist under capitalism is limited.
Taking the USA as an example (usually considered one of the most capitalist
countries in the world) there is income mobility, but not enough to make
income inequality irrelevant. Census data show that 81.6 percent of those
families who were in the bottom quintile of the income distribution in 1985
were still there in the next year; for the top quintile, it was 76.3 percent.
Over longer time periods, there is more mixing but still not that much and
those who do slip into different quintiles are typically at the borders of
their category (e.g. those dropping out of the top quintile are typically
at the bottom of that group). Only around 5% of families rise from bottom
to top, or fall from top to bottom. In other words, the class structure of
a modern capitalist society is pretty solid and "much of the movement up
and down represents fluctuations around a fairly fixed long term
distribution." [Paul Krugman, _Peddling Prosperity_, p. 143]
Perhaps under a "pure" capitalist system things would be different?
Ronald Reagan helped make capitalism more "free market" in the 1980s,
but there is no indication that income mobility increased significantly
during that time. In fact, according to one study by Greg Duncan of the
University of Michigan, the middle class shrank during the 1980s, with
fewer poor families moving up or rich families moving down. Duncan compared
two periods. During the first period (1975 to 1980) incomes were more
equal than they are today. In the second (1981 to 1985) income inequality
began soaring. In this period there was a reduction in income mobility
upward from low to medium incomes of over 10%.
Here are the exact figures [cited by Paul Krugman, "The Rich, the Right,
and the Facts," _The American Prospect_ no. 11, Fall 1992, pp. 19-31]:
Percentages of families making transitions to and from
middle class (5-year period before and after 1980)
Transition 1980 1980
Middle income to low income 8.5% 9.8%
Middle income to high income 5.8 6.8
Low income to middle income 35.1 24.6
High income to middle income 30.8 27.6
Little wonder, then, that Doug Henwood argues that "the final appeal
of apologists of the American way is an appeal to our legendary
mobility" fails. In fact, "people generally don't move far from
the income class they are born into, and there is little difference
between US and European mobility patterns. In fact, the United
States has the largest share of what the OECD called 'low-wage'
workers, and the poorest performance on the emergence from the
wage cellar of any country it studied." [Op. Cit., p. 130]
Therefore income mobility does not make up for a class system and its
resulting authoritarian social relationships and inequalities in terms
of liberty, health and social influence. And the facts suggest that the
capitalist dogma of "meritocracy" that attempts to justify this system
has little basis in reality.
B.7.2 Why is the existence of classes denied?
It is clear, then, that classes do exist, and equally clear that
individuals can rise and fall within the class structure -- though, of
course, it's easier to become rich if you're born in a rich family than a
poor one. Thus James W. Loewen reports that "ninety-five percent of the
executives and financiers in America around the turn of the century came
from upper-class or upper-middle-class backgrounds. Fewer than 3 percent
started as poor immigrants or farm children. Throughout the nineteenth
century, just 2 percent of American industrialists came from working-class
origins." [in "Lies My Teacher Told Me" citing William Miller, "American
Historians and the Business Elite," in _Men in Business_, pp. 326-28;
cf. David Montgomery, _Beyond Equality_, p. 15] And this was at the
height of USA "free market" capitalism. According to a survey done by
C. Wright Mills and reported in his book _The Power Elite_, about 65% of
the highest-earning CEOs in American corporations come from wealthy
families. Meritocracy, after all, does not imply a "classless" society,
only that some mobility exists between classes. Yet we continually hear
that class is an outmoded concept; that classes don't exist any more, just
atomised individuals who all enjoy "equal opportunity," "equality before the
law," and so forth. So what's going on?
The fact that the capitalist media are the biggest promoters of the
"end-of-class" idea should make us wonder exactly *why* they do it. Whose
interest is being served by denying the existence of classes? Clearly it
is those who run the class system, who gain the most from it, who want
everyone to think we are all "equal." Those who control the major media
don't want the idea of class to spread because they themselves are members
of the ruling class, with all the privileges that implies. Hence they use
the media as propaganda organs to mould public opinion and distract the
middle and working classes from the crucial issue, i.e., their own
subordinate status. This is why the mainstream news sources give us
nothing but superficial analyses, biased and selective reporting, outright
lies, and an endless barrage of yellow journalism, titillation, and
"entertainment," rather than talking about the class nature of capitalist
society (see D.3, "How does wealth influence the mass media?")
The universities, think tanks, and private research foundations are also
important propaganda tools of the ruling class. This is why it is
virtually taboo in mainstream academic circles to suggest that anything
like a ruling class even exists in the United States. Students are
instead indoctrinated with the myth of a "pluralist" and "democratic"
society -- a Never-Never Land where all laws and public policies
supposedly get determined only by the amount of "public support" they
have -- certainly not by any small faction wielding power in disproportion
to its size.
To deny the existence of class is a powerful tool in the hands of the
powerful. As Alexander Berkman points out, "[o]ur social institutions are
founded on certain ideas; so long as the latter are generally believed,
the institutions built on them are safe. . . the weakening of the ideas
which support the evil and oppressive conditions means the ultimate
breakdown of government and capitalism." [_ABC of Anarchism_, p. xv]
Isolated consumers are in no position to act for themselves. One
individual standing alone is easily defeated, whereas a *union* of
individuals supporting each other is not. Throughout the history of
capitalism there have been attempts by the ruling class -- often
successful -- to destroy working class organisations. Why? Because in
union there is power -- power which can destroy the class system as well
as the state and create a new world.
That's why the very existence of class is denied by the elite. It's part
of their strategy for winning the battle of ideas and ensuring that people
remain as atomised individuals. By "manufacturing consent" (to use Walter
Lipman's expression for the function of the media), force need not be
used. By limiting the public's sources of information to propaganda
organs controlled by state and corporate elites, all debate can be
confined within a narrow conceptual framework of capitalist terminology
and assumptions, and anything premised on a different conceptual framework
can be maraginalised. Thus the average person is brought to accept
current society as "fair" and "just," or at least as "the best available,"
because no alternatives are ever allowed to be discussed.
B.7.3 What do anarchists mean by "class consciousness"?
Given that the existence of classes is often ignored or considered
unimportant ("boss and worker have common interests") by the mainstream
media, its important to continually point out the facts of the situation:
that a wealthy elite run the world and the vast majority are subjected to
hierarchy and work to enrich others.
This is why anarchists stress the need for "class consciousness,"
for recognising that classes exist and that their interests are in
*conflict.* To be class conscious means that we are aware of the
objective facts and act appropriately to change them. Although class
analysis may at first appear to be a novel idea, the conflicting interests
of the classes is *well* recognised on the other side of the class
divide. For example, James Madison in the _Federalist Paper_ #10 states
that "those who hold and those who are without have ever formed distinct
interests in society." For anarchists, class consciousness means to
recognise what the bosses already know: the importance of solidarity
with others in the same class position as oneself and of acting together
as equals to attain common goals. However, anarchists think that class
consciousness *must* also mean to be aware of *all* forms of hierarchical
power, not just economic oppression.
It could therefore be argued that anarchists actually want an "anti-class"
consciousness to develop -- that is, for people to recognise that classes
exist, to understand *why* they exist, and act to abolish the root causes
for their continued existence ("class consciousness," argues Vernon
Richards, "but not in the sense of wanting to perpetuate classes, but
the consciousness of their existence, an understanding of why they
exist, and a determination, informed by knowledge and militancy, to
abolish them." [_The Impossibilities of Social Democracy_, p. 133]).
In short, anarchists want to eliminate classes, not universalise the
class of "worker" (which would presuppose the continued existence of capitalism).
More importantly, class consciousness does not involve "worker worship."
To the contrary, as Murray Bookchin points out, "[t]he worker begins to
become a revolutionary when he undoes his [or her] 'workerness', when he
[or she] comes to detest his class status here and now, when he begins to
shed. . . his work ethic, his character-structure derived from industrial
discipline, his respect for hierarchy, his obedience to leaders, his
consumerism, his vestiges of puritanism." [_Post-Scarcity Anarchism_,
p. 189] For, in the end, anarchists "cannot build until the working
class gets rid of its illusions, its acceptance of bosses and faith
in leaders." [Marie-Louise Berneri, _Neither East Nor West_, p. 19]
It may be objected that there are only individuals and anarchists are trying
to throw a lot of people in a box and put a label like "working class" on
them. In reply, anarchists agree, yes, there are "only" individuals but some
of them are bosses, most of them are working class. This is an objective
division within society which the ruling class does its best to hide but
which comes out during social struggle. And such struggle is part of the
process by which more and more oppressed people subjectivity recognise the
objective facts. And by more and more people recognising the facts of
capitalist reality, more and more people will want to change them.
Currently there are working class people who want an anarchist society and
there are others who just want to climb up the hierarchy to get to a position
where they can impose their will to others. But that does not change the
fact that their current position is that they are subjected to the authority
of hierarchy and so can come into conflict with it. And by so doing, they
must practise self-activity and this struggle can change their minds, what
they think, and so they become radicalised. This, the radicalising effects
of self-activity and social struggle, is a key factor in why anarchists
are involved in it. It is an important means of creating more anarchists
and getting more and more people aware of anarchism as a viable alternative
Ultimately, it does not matter what class you are, it's what you *believe
in* that matters. And what you *do.* Hence we see anarchists like Bakunin
and Kropotkin, former members of the Russian ruling class, or like Malatesta,
born into an Italian middle class family, rejecting their backgrounds and
its privileges and becoming supporters of working class self-liberation.
But anarchists base their activity primarily on the working class (including
peasants, self-employed artisans and so on) because the working class is
subject to hierarchy and so have a real need to resist to exist. This process
of resisting the powers that be can and does have a radicalising effect on
those involved and so what they believe in and what they do *changes.*
We recognise, therefore, that only those at the bottom of society have a
*self*-interest in freeing themselves from the burden of those at the top,
and so we see the importance of class consciousness in the struggle of
oppressed people for self-liberation. Thus, "[f]ar from believing in the
messianic role of the working class, the anarchists' aim is to *abolish*
the working class in so far as this term refers to the underprivileged
majority in all existing societies. . . What we do say is that no
revolution can succeed without the active participation of the working,
producing, section of the population. . . The power of the State, the
values of authoritarian society can only be challenged and destroyed
by a greater power and new values." [Vernon Richards, _The Raven_,
no. 14, pp. 183-4] Anarchists also argue that one of the effects of
direct action to resist oppression and exploitation of working class
people would be the *creation* of such a power and new values, values
based on respect for individual freedom and solidarity (see sections
J.2 and J.4 on direct action and its liberating potential).
For anarchists, "[t]he class struggle does not centre around material
exploitation alone but also around spiritual exploitation, . . . [as well
as] psychological and environmental oppression." [Bookchin, Op. Cit.,
pp. 229-230] This means that we do not consider economic oppression
to be the only important thing, ignoring struggles and forms of oppression
outside the workplace. To the contrary, workers are human beings, not
the economically driven robots of capitalist and Leninist mythology.
They are concerned about everything that affects them -- their parents,
their children, their friends, their neighbours, their planet and, very
often, total strangers.