PDF version of Section I.
I.5 What could the social structure of anarchy look like?
The social and political structure of anarchy is similar to that of the economic structure, i.e., it is based on a voluntary federation of decentralised, directly democratic policy-making bodies. These are the neighbourhood and community assemblies and their confederations. In these grassroots political units, the concept of “self-management” becomes that of “self-government”, a form of municipal organisation in which people take back control of their living places from the bureaucratic state and the capitalist class whose interests it serves.
“A new economic phase demands a new political phase,” argued Kropotkin, “A revolution as profound as that dreamed of by the [libertarian] socialists cannot accept the mould of an out-dated political life. A new society based on equality of condition, on the collective possession of the instruments of work, cannot tolerate for a week . . . the representative system . . . if we want the social revolution, we must seek a form of political organisation that will correspond to the new method of economic organisation. . . . The future belongs to the free groupings of interests and not to governmental centralisation; it belongs to freedom and not to authority.” [Words of a Rebel, pp. 143-4]
Thus the social structure of an anarchist society will be the opposite of the current system. Instead of being centralised and top-down as in the state, it will be decentralised and organised from the bottom up. As Kropotkin argued, “socialism must become more popular, more communalistic, and less dependent upon indirect government through elected representatives. It must become more self-governing.“ [Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 185] While anarchists have various different conceptions of how this communal system would be constituted (as we will see), they is total agreement on these basic visions and principles.
This empowerment of ordinary citizens through decentralisation and direct democracy will eliminate the alienation and apathy that are now rampant in the modern city and town, and (as always happens when people are free) unleash a flood of innovation in dealing with the social breakdown now afflicting our urban wastelands. The gigantic metropolis with its hierarchical and impersonal administration, its atomised and isolated “residents,” will be transformed into a network of humanly scaled participatory communities (usually called “communes”), each with its own unique character and forms of self-government, which will be co-operatively linked through federation with other communities at several levels, from the municipal through the bioregional to the global.
Of course, it can (and has) been argued that people are just not interested in “politics.” Further, some claim that this disinterest is why governments exist — people delegate their responsibilities and power to others because they have better things to do. Such an argument, however, is flawed on empirical grounds. As we indicated in section B.2.6, centralisation of power in both the French and American revolutions occurred because working people were taking too much interest in politics and social issues, not the reverse (“To attack the central power, to strip it of its prerogatives, to decentralise, to dissolve authority, would have been to abandon to the people the control of its affairs, to run the risk of a truly popular revolution. That is why the bourgeoisie sought to reinforce the central government even more. . .” [Kropotkin, Words of a Rebel, p. 143]).
Simply put, the state is centralised to facilitate minority rule by excluding the mass of people from taking part in the decision making processes within society. This is to be expected as social structures do not evolve by chance — rather they develop to meet specific needs and requirements. The specific need of the ruling class is to rule and that means marginalising the bulk of the population. Its requirement is for minority power and this is transformed into the structure of the state (and the capitalist company).
Even if we ignore the historical evidence on this issue, anarchists do not draw this conclusion from the current apathy that surrounds us. In fact, we argue that this apathy is not the cause of government but its result. Government is an inherently hierarchical system in which ordinary people are deliberately marginalised. The powerlessness people feel due to the workings of the system ensure that they are apathetic about it, thus guaranteeing that wealthy and powerful elites govern society without hindrance from the oppressed and exploited majority.
Moreover, government usually sticks its nose into areas that most people have no real interest in. Some things, as in the regulation of industry or workers’ safety and rights, a free society could leave to those affected to make their own decisions (we doubt that workers would subject themselves to unsafe working conditions, for example). In others, such as the question of personal morality and acts, a free people would have no interest in (unless it harmed others, of course). This, again, would reduce the number of issues that would be discussed in a free commune.
Also, via decentralisation, a free people would be mainly discussing local issues, so reducing the complexity of many questions and solutions. Wider issues would, of course, be discussed but these would be on specific issues and so more focused in their nature than those raised in the legislative bodies of the state. So, a combination of centralisation and an irrational desire to discuss every and all questions also helps make “politics” seem boring and irrelevant.
As noted above, this result is not an accident and the marginalisation of “ordinary” people is actually celebrated in bourgeois “democratic” theory. As Noam Chomsky notes:
“Twentieth century democratic theorists advise that ‘The public mmust be put in its place,’ so that the ‘responsible men’ may ‘live free of the trampling and roar of a bewildered herd,’ ‘ignorant and meddlesome outsiders’ whose ‘function’ is to be ‘interested spectators of action,’ not participants, lending their weight periodically to one or another of the leadership class (elections), then returning to their private concerns. (Walter Lippman). The great mass of the population, ‘ignorant and mentally deficient,’ must be kept in their place for the common good, fed with ‘necessary illusion’ and ’emotionally potent oversimplifications’ (Wilson’s Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Reinhold Niebuhr). Their ‘conservative’ counterparts are only more extreme in their adulation of the Wise Men who are the rightful rulers — in the service of the rich and powerful, a minor footnote regularly forgotten.” [Year 501, p. 18]
As discussed in Section B.2.6 (“Who benefits from centralisation?”) this marginalisation of the public from political life ensures that the wealthy can be “left alone” to use their power as they see fit. In other words, such marginalisation is a necessary part of a fully functioning capitalist society. Hence, under capitalism, libertarian social structures have to be discouraged. Or as Chomsky puts it, the “rabble must be instructed in the values of subordination and a narrow quest for personal gain within the parameters set by the institutions of the masters; meaningful democracy, with popular association and action, is a threat to be overcome.” [Op. Cit., p. 18] This philosophy can be seen in the statement of a US Banker in Venezuela under the murderous Jimenez dictatorship:
“You have the freedom here to do whatever you want to do with your money, and to me, that is worth all the political freedom in the world.” [quoted by Chomsky, Op. Cit., p. 99]
Deterring libertarian alternatives to statism is a common feature of our current system. By marginalising and disempowering people, the ability of individuals to manage their own social activities is undermined and weakened. They develop a “fear of freedom” and embrace authoritarian institutions and “strong leaders,” which in turn reinforces their marginalisation.
This consequence is hardly surprising. Anarchists maintain that the desire to participate and the ability to participate are in a symbiotic relationship: participation feeds on itself. By creating the social structures that allow participation, participation will increase. As people increasingly take control of their lives, so their ability to do so also increases. The challenge of having to take responsibility for decisions that make a difference is at the same time an opportunity for personal development. To begin to feel power, having previously felt powerless, to win access to the resources required for effective participation and learn how to use them, is a liberating experience. Once people become active subjects, making things happen in one aspect of their lives, they are less likely to remain passive objects, allowing things to happen to them, in other aspects. All in all, “politics” is far too important an subject to leave to politicians, the wealthy and bureaucrats. After all, it is what affects, your friends, community, and, ultimately, the planet you live on. Such issues cannot be left to anyone but you.
Hence a meaningful communal life based on self-empowered individuals is a distinct possibility (indeed, it has repeatedly appeared throughout history). It is the hierarchical structures in statism and capitalism, marginalising and disempowering the majority, which is at the root of the current wide scale apathy in the face of increasing social and ecological disruption. Libertarian socialists therefore call for a radically new form of political system to replace the centralised nation-state, a form that would be based around confederations of self-governing communities. In other words, in anarchism “[s]ociety is a society of societies; a league of leagues of leagues; a commonwealth of commonwealths of commonwealths; a republic of republics of republics. Only there is freedom and order, only there is spirit, a spirit which is self-sufficiency and community, unity and independence.” [Gustav Landauer, For Socialism, pp. 125-126]
To create such a system would require dismantling the nation-state and reconstituting relations between communities on the basis of self-determination and free and equal confederation from below. In the following subsections we will examine in more detail why this new system is needed and what it might look like. As we stressed in the introduction, these are just suggestions of possible anarchist solutions to social organisation. Most anarchists recognise that anarchist communities will co-exist with non-anarchist ones after the destruction of the existing state. As we are anarchists we are discussing anarchist visions. We will leave it up to non-anarchists to paint their own pictures of a possible future.
As Murray Bookchin argues in The Rise of Urbanisation and the Decline of Citizenship (reprinted as From Urbanisation to Cities), the modern city is a virtual appendage of the capitalist workplace, being an outgrowth and essential counterpart of the factory (where “factory” means any enterprise in which surplus value is extracted from employees). As such, cities are structured and administered primarily to serve the needs of the capitalist elite — employers — rather than the needs of the many — their employees and their families. From this standpoint, the city must be seen as (1) a transportation hub for importing raw materials and exporting finished products; and (2) a huge dormitory for wage slaves, conveniently locating them near the enterprises where their labour is to exploited, providing them with entertainment, clothing, medical facilities, etc. as well as coercive mechanisms for controlling their behaviour.
The attitude behind the management of these “civic” functions by the bureaucratic servants of the capitalist ruling class is purely instrumental: worker-citizens are to be treated merely aas means to corporate ends, not as ends in themselves. This attitude is reflected in the overwhelmingly alienating features of the modern city: its inhuman scale; the chilling impersonality of its institutions and functionaries; its sacrifice of health, comfort, pleasure, and aesthetic considerations to bottom-line requirements of efficiency and “cost effectiveness”; the lack of any real communal interaction among residents other than collective consumption of commodities and amusements; their consequent social isolation and tendency to escape into television, alcohol, drugs, gangs, etc. Such features make the modern metropolis the very antithesis of the genuine community for which most of its residents hunger. This contradiction at the heart of the system contains the possibility of radical social and political change.
The key to that change, from the anarchist standpoint, is the creation of a network of participatory communities based on self-government through direct, face-to-face democracy in grassroots neighbourhood and community assemblies. As we argued in section I.2.3 such assemblies will be born in social struggle and so reflect the needs of the struggle and those within it so our comments here must be considered as generalisations of the salient features of such communities and not blue-prints.
Traditionally, these participatory communities were called communes in anarchist theory (“The basic social and economic cell of the anarchist society is the free, independent commune” [A. Grachev, quoted by Paul Avrich, The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution, p. 64]). Within anarchist thought, there are two main conceptions of the free commune. One vision is based on workplace delegates, the other on neighbourhood assemblies. We will sketch each in turn.
Bakunin argued that the “future social organisation must be made solely from the bottom upwards, by the free association or federation of workers, firstly in their unions, then in communes, regions, nations and finally in a great federation, international and universal.” In other words, “the federative Alliance of all working men’s associations . . . will constitute the commune.” [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 206 and p. 170]
This vision of the commune was created during many later revolutions (such as in Russia in 1905 and 1917 and Hungary in 1956). Being based on workplaces, this form of commune has the advantage of being based on groups of people who are naturally associated during most of the day (Bakunin considered workplace bodies as “the natural organisation of the masses” as they were “based on the various types of work” which “define their actual day-to-day life” [The Basic Bakunin, p. 139]). This would facilitate the organisation of assemblies, discussion on social, economic and political issues and the mandating and recalling of delegates. Moreover, it combines political and economic power in one organisation, so ensuring that the working class actually manages society.
This vision was stressed by later anarchist thinkers. For example, Spanish anarchist Issac Puente thought that in towns and cities “the part of the free municipality is played by local federation. . . Ultimate sovereignty in the local federation of industrial unions lies with the general assembly of all local producers.” [Libertarian Communism, p. 27] The Russian anarchist G. P. Maximoff saw the “communal confederation” as being “constituted by thousands of freely acting labour organisations.” [The Program of Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 43]
Other anarchists counterpoise neighbourhood assemblies to workers’ councils. These assemblies will be general meetings open to all citizens in every neighbourhood, town, and village, and will be the source of and final “authority” over public policy for all levels of confederal co-ordination. Such “town meetings” will bring ordinary people directly into the political process and give them an equal voice in the decisions that affect their lives. Such anarchists point to the experience of the French Revolution of 1789 and the “sections” of the Paris Commune as the key example of “a people governing itself directly — when possible — without intermediaries, without masters.” It is argued, based on this experience, that “the principles of anarchism . . . dated from 1789, and that they had their origin, not in theoretical speculations, but in the deeds of the Great French Revolution.” [Peter Kropotkin, The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, p. 210 and p. 204]
Critics of workers’ councils point out that not all working class people work in factories or workplaces. Many are parents who look after children, for example. By basing the commune around the workplace, such people are automatically excluded. Moreover, in most modern cities many people do not live near where they work. It would mean that local affairs could not be effectively discussed in a system of workers’ councils as many who take part in the debate are unaffected by the decisions reached (this is something which the supporters of workers’ councils have noticed and argue for councils which are delegates from both the inhabitants and the enterprises of an area).
In addition, anarchists like Murray Bookchin argue that workplace based systems automatically generate “special interests” and so exclude community issues. Only community assemblies can “transcend the traditional special interests of work, workplace, status, and property relations, and create a general interest based on shared community problems.” [Murray Bookchin, From Urbanisation to Cities, p. 254]
However, such communities assemblies can only be valid if they can be organised rapidly in order to make decisions and to mandate and recall delegates. In the capitalist city, many people work far from where they live and so such meetings have to be called for after work or at weekends. Thus the key need is to reduce the working day/week and to communalise industry. For this reason, many anarchists continue to support the workers’ council vision of the commune, complemented by community assemblies for those who live in an area but do not work in a traditional workplace (e.g. parents bring up small children, the old, the sick and so on).
These positions are not hard and fast divisions, far from it. Puente, for example, thought that in the countryside the dominant commune would be “all the residents of a village or hamlet meeting in an assembly (council) with full powers to administer local affairs.” [Op. Cit., p. 25] Kropotkin supported the soviets of the Russian Revolution, arguing that the “idea of soviets . . . of councils of workers and peasants . . . controlling the economic and political life of the country is a great idea. All the more so, since it necessarily follows that these councils should be composed of all who take part in the production of natural wealth by their own efforts.” [Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 254]
Which method, workers’ councils or community assemblies, will be used in a given community will depend on local conditions, needs and aspirations and it is useless to draw hard and fast rules. It is likely that some sort of combination of the two approaches will be used, with workers’ councils being complemented by community assemblies until such time as a reduced working week and decentralisation of urban centres will make purely community assemblies the more realistic option. It is likely that in a fully libertarian society, community assemblies will be the dominant communal organisation but in the period immediately after a revolution this may not be immediately possible. Objective conditions, rather than predictions, will be the deciding factor. Under capitalism, anarchists pursue both forms of organisation, arguing for community and industrial unionism in the class struggle (see sections J.5.1 and J.5.2).
Regardless of the exact make up of the commune, they would share identical features. They would be free associations, based upon the self-assumed obligation of those who join them. In free association, participation is essential simply because it is the only means by which individuals can collectively govern themselves (and unless they govern themselves, someone else will). “As a unique individual,” Stirner argues, “you can assert yourself alone in association, because the association does not own you, because you are one who owns it or who turns it to your own advantage.” The rules governing the association aare determined by the associated and can be changed by them (and so a vast improvement over “love it or leave”) as are the policies the association follows. Thus, the association “does not impose itself as a spiritual power superior to my spirit. I have no wish to become a slave to my maxims, but would rather subject them to my ongoing criticism.” [Max Stirner, No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 17]
Thus participatory communities are freely joined and self-managed by their members. No more division between order givers and order takers as exist within the state or capitalist workplaces. Rather the associated govern themselves and while the assembled people collectively decide the rules governing their association, and are bound by them as individuals, they are also superior to them in the sense that these rules can always be modified or repealed (see section A.2.11 — “Why are most anarchists in favour of direct democracy?” — for more details). As can be seen, a participatory commune is new form of social life, radically different from the state as it is decentralised, self-governing and based upon individual autonomy and free agreement. Thus Kropotkin:
“The representative system was organised by the bourgeoisie to ensure their domination, and it will disappear with them. For the new economic phase that is about to begin we must seek a new form of political organisation, based on a principle quite different from that of representation. The logic of events imposes it.” [Words of a Rebel, p. 125]
This “new form of political organisation has to be worked out the moment that socialistic principles shall enter our life. And it is self-evident that this new form will have to be more popular, more decentralised, and nearer to the folk-mote self-government than representative government can ever be.” [Kropotkin, Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 184] He, like all anarchists, considered the idea that socialism could be created by taking over the current state or creating a new one as doomed to failure. Instead, he recognised that socialism would only be built using new organisations that reflect the spirit of socialism (such as freedom, self-government and so on). Kropotkin, like Proudhon and Bakunin before him, therefore argued that “[t]his was the form that the social revolution must take — the independent commune. . . [whose] inhabitants have decided that they will communalise the consumption of commodities, their exchange and their production.” [Op. Cit., p. 163]
In a nutshell, a participatory community is a free association, based upon the mass assembly of people who live in a common area, the means by which they make the decisions that affect them, their communities, bio-regions and the planet. Their essential task is to provide a forum for raising public issues and deciding them. Moreover, these assemblies will be a key way of generating a community (and community spirit) and building and enriching social relationships between individuals and, equally important, of developing and enriching individuals by the very process of participation in communal affairs. By discussing, thinking and listening to others, individuals develop their own abilities and powers while at the same time managing their own affairs, so ensuring that no one else does (i.e. they govern themselves and are no longer governed from above by others). As Kropotkin argued, self-management has an educational effect on those who practice it:
“The ‘permanence’ of the general assemblies of the sections — that is, the possibility of calling the general assembly whenever it was wanted by the members of the section and of discussing everything in the general assembly. . . will educate every citizen politically. . . The section in permanence — the forum always open — is the only way . . . to assure an honest and intelligent administration.” [The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, pp. 210-1]
As well as integrating the social life of a community and encouraging the political and social development of its members, these free communes will also be integrated into the local ecology. Humanity would life in harmony with nature as well as with itself:
“We can envision that their squares will be interlaced by streams, their places of assembly surrounded by groves, their physical contours respected and tastefully landscaped, their soils nurtured carefully to foster plant variety for ourselves, our domestic animals, and wherever possible the wildlife they may support on their fringes.” [Murray Bookchin, The Ecology of Freedom, p. 344]
The commune itself would aim for a balanced mix of agriculture and industry, as described by Peter Kropotkin in his classic work Fields, Factories and Workshops. Thus a free commune would aim to integrate the individual into social and communal life, rural and urban life into a balanced whole and human life into the wider ecology. In this way the free commune would make human habitation fully ecological, ending the sharp and needless (and dehumanising and de-individualising) division of human life from the rest of the planet. The commune will be a key means of the expressing diversity within humanity and the planet as well as improving the quality of life in society:
“The Commune . . . will be entirely devoted to improving the communal life of the locality. Making their requests to the appropriate Syndicates, Builders’, Public Health, Transport or Power, the inhabitants of each Commune will be able to gain all reasonable living amenities, town planning, parks, play-grounds, trees in the street, clinics, museums and art galleries. Giving, like the medieval city assembly, an opportunity for any interested person to take part in, and influence, his town’s affairs and appearance, the Commune will be a very different body from the borough council. . .
“In ancient and medieval times cities and villages expressed the different characters of different localities and their inhabitants. In redstone, Portland or granite, in plaster or brick, in pitch of roof, arrangements of related buildings or patterns of slate and thatch each locality added to the interests of travellers . . . each expressed itself in castle, home or cathedral.
“How different is the dull, drab, or flashy ostentatious monotony of modern England. Each town is the same. The same Woolworth’s, Odeon Cinemas, and multiple shops, the same ‘council houses’ or ‘semi-detached villas’ . . . North, South, East or West, what’s the difference, where is the change?
“With the Commune the ugliness and monotony of present town and country life will be swept away, and each locality and region, each person will be able to express the joy of living, by living together.” [Tom Brown, Syndicalism, p. 59]
The size of the neighbourhood assemblies will vary, but it will probably fluctuate around some ideal size, discoverable in practice, that will provide a viable scale of face-to-face interaction and allow for both a variety of personal contacts and the opportunity to know and form a personal estimation of everyone in the neighbourhood. Some anarchists have suggested that the ideal size for a neighbourhood assembly might be under one thousand adults. This, of course, suggests that any town or city would itself be a confederation of assemblies — as was, of course, practised very effectively in Paris during the Great French Revolution.
Such assemblies would meet regularly, at the very least monthly (probably more often, particularly during periods which require fast and often decision making, like a revolution), and deal with a variety of issues. In the words of the CNT’s resolution on libertarian communism:
“the foundation of this administration will be the commune. These communes are to be autonomous and will be federated at regional and national levels to achieve their general goals. The right to autonomy does not preclude the duty to implement agreements regarding collective benefits.
“[The] commune . . . without any voluntary restrictions will undertake to adhere to whatever general norms may be agreed by majority vote after free debate. In return, those communities which industrialisation . . . may agree upon a different model of co-existence and will be entitled to an autonomous administration released from the general commitments . . .
“. . . the commune is to be autonomous and confederated with the other communes . . . the commune will have the duty to concern itself with whatever may be of interest to the individual.
“It will have to oversee organising, running and beautification of the settlement. It will see that its inhabitants; are housed and that items and products be made available to them by the producers’ unions or associations.
“Similarly, it is concern itself with hygiene, the keeping of communal statistics and with collective requirements such as education, health services and with the maintenance and improvement of local means of communication.
“It will orchestrate relations with other communes and will take care to stimulate all artistic and cultural pursuits.
“So that this mission may be properly fulfilled, a communal council is to be appointed . . . None of these posts will carry any executive or bureaucratic powers . . . [its members] will perform their role as producers coming together in session at the close of the day’s work to discuss the detailed items which may not require the endorsement of communal assemblies.
“Assemblies are to be summoned as often as required by communal interests, upon the request of the communal council or according to the wishes of the inhabitants of each commune . . .
“The inhabitants of a commune are to debate among themselves their internal problems . . . Federations are to deliberate over major problems affecting a country or province and all communes are to be represented at their reunions and assemblies, thereby enabling their delegates to convey the democratic viewpoint of their respective communes . . . every commune which is implicated will have its right to have its say . . . On matters of a regional nature, it is the duty of the regional federation to implement agreements . . . So the starting point is the individual, moving on through the commune, to the federation and right on up finally to the confederation.” [quoted by Jose Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, vol. 1, pp. 106-7]
Thus the communal assembly discusses that which affects the community and those within it. As these local community associations, will be members of larger communal bodies, the communal assembly will also discuss issues which affect wider areas, as indicated, and mandate their delegates to discuss them at confederation assemblies (see next section). This system, we must note, was applied with great success during the Spanish revolution (see section I.8) and so cannot be dismissed as wishful thinking.
However, of course, the actual framework of a free society will be worked out in practice. As Bakunin correctly argued, society “can, and must, organise itself in a different fashion [than what came before], but not from top to bottom and according to an ideal plan” [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 205] What does seem likely is that confederations of communes will be required. We turn to this in the next section.
Since not all issues are local, the neighbourhood and community assemblies will also elect mandated and recallable delegates to the larger-scale units of self-government in order to address issues affecting larger areas, such as urban districts, the city or town as a whole, the county, the bio-region, and ultimately the entire planet. Thus the assemblies will confederate at several levels in order to develop and co-ordinate common policies to deal with common problems.
In the words of the CNT’s resolution on libertarian communism:
“The inhabitants of a commune are to debate among themselves their internal problems . . . Federations are to deliberate over major problems affecting a country or province and all communes are to be represented at their reunions and assemblies, thereby enabling their delegates to convey the democratic viewpoint of their respective communes.
“If, say, roads have to be built to link villages of a county or any matter arises to do with transportation and exchange of produce between agricultural and industrial counties, then naturally every commune which is implicated will have its right to have its say.
“On matters of a regional nature, it is the duty of the regional federation to implement agreements which will represent the sovereign will of all the region’s inhabitants. So the starting point is the individual, moving on through the commune, to the federation and right on up finally to the confederation.
“Similarly, discussion of all problems of a national nature shall flow a like pattern . . . “ [quoted by Jose Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, p. 107]
In other words, the commune “cannot any longer acknowledge any superior: that, above it, there cannot be anything, save the interests of the Federation, freely embraced by itself in concert with other Communes.” [Kropotkin, No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 259]
Federalism is applicable at all levels of society. As Kropotkin pointed out, anarchists “understand that if no central government was needed to rule the independent communes, if national government is thrown overboard and national unity is obtained by free federation, then a central municipal government becomes equally useless and noxious. The same federative principle would do within the commune.” [Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, pp. 163-164] Thus the whole of society would be a free federation, from the local community right up to the global level. And this free federation would be based squarely on the autonomy and self-government of local groups. With federalism, co-operation replaces coercion.
This need for co-operation does not imply a centralised body. To exercise your autonomy by joining self-managing organisations and, therefore, agreeing to abide by the decisions you help make is not a denial of that autonomy (unlike joining a hierarchical structure, where you forsake autonomy within the organisation). In a centralised system, we must stress, power rests at the top and the role of those below is simply to obey (it matters not if those with the power are elected or not, the principle is the same). In a federal system, power is not delegated into the hands of a few (obviously a “federal” government or state is a centralised system). Decisions in a federal system are made at the base of the organisation and flow upwards so ensuring that power remains decentralised in the hands of all. Working together to solve common problems and organise common efforts to reach common goals is not centralisation and those who confuse the two make a serious error — they fail to understand the different relations of authority each generates and confuse obedience with co-operation.
As in the economic federation of collectives, the lower levels will control the higher, thus eliminating the current pre-emptive powers of centralised government hierarchies. Delegates to higher-level co-ordinating councils or conferences will be instructed, at every level of confederation, by the assemblies they represent, on how to deal with any issue. These instructions will be binding, committing delegates to a framework of policies within which they must act and providing for their recall and the nullification of their decisions if they fail to carry out their mandates. Delegates may be selected by election and/or sortition (i.e. random selection by lot, as for jury duty currently).
Most anarchists recognise that there will be a need for “public officials” with specific tasks within the social confederation. We stress the word “tasks” as “powers” would not be the best word to describe their activities simply because their work is essentially administrative in nature. For example, an individual or a group of individuals may be elected to look into alternative power supplies for a community and report back on what they discover. They cannot impose their decision onto the community as they do not have the power to do so. They simply present their findings to the body which had mandated them. These findings are not a law which the electors are required to follow, but a series of suggestions and information from which the electors chose what they think is best. Or, to use another example, someone may be elected to overlook the installation of a selected power supply but the decision on what power supply to use and which specific project to implement has been decided upon by the whole community. Similarly with any delegate elected to a confederal council. Such a delegate will have their decisions mandated by their electors and are subject to recall by those electors. If such a delegate starts to abuse their position or even vote in ways opposed to by the communal assembly then they would quickly be recalled and replaced.
As such a person is an elected delegate of the community, they are a “public official” in the broadest sense of the word but that does not mean that they have power or authority. Essentially they are an agent of the local community who is controlled by, and accountable to, that community. Clearly, such “officials” are unlike politicians. They do not, and cannot, make policy decisions on behalf of those who elected them, and so they do not have governmental power over those who elected them. By this method the “officials” remain the servants of the public and are not given power to make decisions for people. In addition, these “officials” will be rotated frequently to prevent a professionalisation of politics and the problem of politicians being largely on their own once elected. And, of course, they will continue to work and live with those who elected them and receive no special privileges due to their election (in terms of more income, better housing, and so on).
Therefore, such “public officials” would be under the strict control of the organisations that elected them to administration posts. But, as Kropotkin argued, the general assembly of the community “in permanence – the forum always open — is the only way . . .to assure an honest and intelligent administration . . . [and is based upon] distrust of all executive powers.“ [The Great French Revolution Vol. 1, p. 211]
As Murray Bookchin argues, a “confederalist view involves a clear distinction between policy making and the co-ordination and execution of adopted policies. Policy making is exclusively the right of popular community assemblies based on the practices of participatory democracy. Administration and co-ordination are the responsibility of confederal councils, which become the means for interlinking villages, towns, neighbourhoods, and cities into confederal networks. Power flows from the bottom up instead of from the top down, and in confederations, the flow of power from the bottom up diminishes with the scope of the federal council ranging territorially from localities to regions and from regions to ever-broader territorial areas.” [From Urbanisation to Cities, p. 253]
Thus the people will have the final word on policy, which is the essence of self-government, and each citizen will have his or her turn to participate in the co-ordination of public affairs. In other words, the “legislative branch” of self-government will be the people themselves organised in their community assemblies and their confederal co-ordinating councils, with the “executive branch” (public officials) limited to implementing policy formulated by the legislative branch, that is, by the people.
Besides rotation of public officials, means to ensure the accountability of such officials to the people will include a wider use of elections and sortitions, open access to proceedings and records of “executive” activities by computer or direct inspection, the right of citizen assemblies to mandate delegates to higher-level confederal meetings, recall their officials, and revoke their decisions, and the creation of accountability boards, elected or selected by lot (as for jury duty), for each important administrative branch, from local to national.
Thus confederations of communes are required to co-ordinate joint activity and discuss common issues and interests. Confederation is also required to protect individual, community and social freedom. The current means of co-ordinating wide scale activity — centralism via the state — is a threat to freedom as, to quote Proudhon, “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, p. 59]
Moreover, “[t]he principle of political centralism is openly opposed to all laws of social progress and of natural evolution. It lies in the nature of things that every cultural advance is first achieved within a small group and only gradually finds adoption by society as a whole. Therefore, political decentralisation is the best guaranty for the unrestricted possibilities of new experiments. For such an environment each community is given the opportunity to carry through the things which it is capable of accomplishing itself without imposing them on others. Practical experimentation is the parent of ever development in society. So long as each distinct is capable of effecting the changes within its own sphere which its citizens deem necessary, the example of each becomes a fructifying influence on the other parts of the community since they will have the chance to weigh the advantages accruing from them without being forced to adopt them if they are not convinced of their usefulness. The result is that progressive communities serve the others as models, a result justified by the natural evolution of things.” [Rudolf Rocker, Pioneers of American Freedom, pp. 16-7]
The contrast with centralisation of the state could not be more clear. As Rocker argues, “[i]n a strongly centralised state, the situation is entirely reversed and the best system of representation can do nothing to change that. The representatives of a certain district may have the overwhelming majority of a certain district on his [or her] side, but in the legislative assembly of the central state, he [or she] will remain in the minority, for it lies in the nature of things that in such a body not the intellectually most active but the most backward districts represent the majority. Since the individual district has indeed the right to give expression of its opinion, but can effect no changes without the consent of the central government, the most progressive districts will be condemned to stagnate while the most backward districts will set the norm.” [Op. Cit., p. 17]
Little wonder anarchists have always stressed what Kropotkin termed “local action” and considered the libertarian social revolution as “proceed[ing] by proclaiming independent Communes which Communes will endeavour to accomplish the economic transformation within . . . their respective surroundings.” [Peter Kropotkin, Act For Yourselves, p. 43] Thus the advanced communities will inspire the rest to follow them by showing them a practical example of what is possible. Only decentralisation and confederation can promote the freedom and resulting social experimentation which will ensure social progress and make society a good place to live.
Moreover, confederation is required to maximise self-management. As Rocker explains, “[i]n a smaller community, it is far easier for individuals to observe the political scene and become acquainted with the issues which have to be resolved. This is quite impossible for a representative in a centralised government. Neither the single citizen nor his [or her] representative is completely or even approximately to supervise the huge clockwork of the central state machine. The deputy is forced daily to make decisions about things of which he [or she] has no personal knowledge and for the appraisal of which he must therefore depend on others [i.e. bureaucrats and lobbyists]. That such a system necessarily leads to serious errors and mistakes is self-evident. And since the citizen for the same reason is not able to inspect and criticise the conduct of his representative, the class of professional politicians is given added opportunity to fish in troubled waters.” [Op. Cit., p. 17-18]
In other words, confederations are required to protect society and the individual against the dangers of centralisation. As Bakunin stressed, there are two ways of organising society, “as it is today, from high to low and from the centre to circumference by means of enforced unity and concentration” and the way of the future, by federalism “starting with the free individual, the free association and the autonomous commune, from low to high and from circumference to centre, by means of free federation.” [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, p. 88] In other words, “the organisation of society from the bottom up.” [The Basic Bakunin, p. 131]
Thus confederations of participatory communities are required to co-ordinate joint activities, allow social experimentation and protect the distinctiveness, dignity, freedom and self-management of communities and so society as a whole. This is why “socialism is federalist” and “true federalism, the political organisation of socialism, will be attained only when these popular grass-roots institutions [namely, “communes, industrial and agricultural associations”] are organised in progressive stages from the bottom up.” [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 402]
This can only be worked out in practice. In general, it would be save to say that confederations would be needed on a wide scale, including in towns and cities. No village, town or city could be self-sufficient nor would desire to be — communication and links with other places are part and parcel of live and anarchists have no desire to retreat back into an isolated form of localism:
“No community can hope to achieve economic autarchy, nor should it try to do so. Economically, the wide range of resources that are needed to make many of our widely used goods preclude self-enclosed insularity and parochialism. Far from being a liability, this interdependence among communities and regions can well be regarded as an asset — culturally as well as politically . . . Divested of the cultural cross-fertilisation that is often a product of economic intercourse, the municipality tends to shrink into itself and disappear into its own civic privatism. Shared needs and resources imply the existence of sharing and, with sharing, communication, rejuvenation by new ideas, and a wider social horizon that yields a wider sensibility to new experiences.” [Murray Bookchin, From Urbanisation to Cities, p. 237]
This means that the scale and level of the confederations created by the communes will be varied and extensive. It would be hard to generalise about them, particularly as different confederations will exist for different tasks and interests. Moreover, any system of communes would start off based on the existing villages, towns and cities of capitalism. That is unavoidable and will, of course, help determine the initial scale and level of confederations.
It seems likely that the scale of the confederation will be dependent on the inhabited area in question. A village, for example, would be based on one assembly and (minimally) be part of a local confederation covering all the villages nearby. In turn, this local confederation would be part of a district confederation, and so on up to (ultimately) a continental and world scale. Needless to say, the higher the confederation the less often it would meet and the less it would have to consider in terms of issues to decide. On such a level, only the most general issues and decisions could be reached (in effect, only guidelines which the member confederations would apply as they saw fit).
In urban areas, the town or city would have to be broken down into confederations and these confederations would constitute the town or city assembly of delegates. Given a huge city like London, New York or Mexico City it would be impossible to organise in any other way. Smaller towns would probably be able to have simpler confederations. We must stress hear that few, if any, anarchists consider it desirable to have huge cities in a free society and one of the major tasks of social transformation will be to break the metropolis into smaller units, integrated with the local environment. However, a social revolution will take place in these vast metropolises and so we have to take them into account in our discussion.
Thus the issue of size would determine when a new level of confederation would be needed. A town or village of several thousand people could be organised around the basic level of the commune and it may be that a libertarian socialist society would probably form another level of confederation once this level has been reached. Such units of confederation would, as noted above, include urban districts within today’s large cities, small cities, and rural districts composed of several nearby towns. The next level of confederation would, we can imagine, be dependent on the number of delegates required. After a certain number, the confederation assembly may became difficult to manage, so implying that another level of confederation is required. This would, undoubtedly, be the base for determining the scale and level of confederation, ensuring that any confederal assembly can actually manage its activities and remain under the control of lower levels.
Combined with this consideration, we must also raise the issue of economies of scale. A given level of confederation may be required to make certain social and economic services efficient (we are thinking of economies of scale for such social needs as universities, hospitals, and cultural institutions). While every commune may have a doctor, nursery, local communal stores and small-scale workplaces, not all can have a university, hospital, factories and so forth. These would be organised on a wider level, so necessitating the appropriate confederation to exist to manage them.
However, face-to-face meetings of the whole population are impractical at this size. Therefore, the decision making body at this level would be the confederal council, which would consist of mandated, recallable, and rotating delegates from the neighbourhood assemblies. These delegates would co-ordinate policies which have been discussed and voted on by the neighbourhood assemblies, with the votes being summed across the district to determine district policy by majority rule. The issues to be discussed by these confederal meetings/assemblies would be proposed by local communes, the confederal council would collate these proposals and submit them to the other communes in the confederation for discussion. Thus the flow of decision making would be from the bottom up, with the “lowest” bodies having the most power, particularly the power to formulate, suggest, correct and, if need be, reject decisions made at “higher” levels in the confederation.
Ties between bioregions or larger territories based on the distribution of such things as geographically concentrated mineral deposits, climate dependent crops, and production facilities that are most efficient when concentrated in one area will unite communities confederally on the basis of common material needs as well as values. At the bioregional and higher levels of confederation, councils of mandated, recallable, and rotating delegates will co-ordinate policies at those levels, but such policies will still be subject to approval by the neighbourhood and community assemblies through their right to recall their delegates and revoke their decisions.
In the final analysis, libertarian socialism cannot function optimally — and indeed may be fatally undermined — unless the present system of competing nation-states is replaced by a co-operative system of decentralised bioregions of self-governing communities confederated on a global scale. For, if a libertarian socialist nation is forced to compete in the global market for scarce raw materials and hard cash with which to buy them, the problems of “petty-bourgeois co-operativism,” previously noted, will have merely been displaced to a higher level of organisation. That is, instead of individual co-operatives acting as collective capitalists and competing against each other in the national market for profits, raw materials, etc., the nation or community as a whole will become the “collective capitalist” and compete against other nations in the global capitalist market — a situation that is bound to reintroduce many problems, e.g. militarism, imperialism, and alienating/disempowering measures in the workplace, justified in the name of “efficiency” and “global competitiveness.”
To some extent such problems can be reduced in the revolutionary period by achieving self-sufficiency within bioregions as Kropotkin argued (see section I.3.8). This should be easier to achieve in a libertarian socialist economy as artificial needs are not manufactured by massive advertising campaigns of giant profit-seeking corporations. As a social revolution would, as Kropotkin predicted, suffer (initially) from isolation and disrupted trade patterns such a policy would have to be applied anyway and so interbioregional trade would be naturally be limited to other members of the libertarian socialist federation to a large degree. However, to eliminate the problem completely, anarchists envision a global council of bioregional delegates to co-ordinate global co-operation based on policies formulated and approved at the grassroots by the confederal principles outlined above. As noted above, most anarchists think that the “higher” the confederation, the more its decisions will be guidelines rather than anything else.
In summary, the size and scale of confederations will depend on practical considerations, based on what people found were optimal sizes for their neighbourhood assemblies and the needs of co-operation between them, towns, cities, regions and so on. We cannot, and have no wish, to predict the development of a free society. Therefore the scale and levels of confederation will be decided by those actually creating an anarchist world. All we can do is make a few suggestions of what seems likely.
Anarchists have little doubt that the confederal structure will be an efficient means of decision making and will not be bogged down in endless meetings. We have various reasons for thinking this.
Firstly, we doubt that a free society will spend all its time in assemblies or organising confederal conferences. Certain questions are more important than others and few anarchists desire to spend all their time in meetings. The aim of a free society is to allow individuals to express their desires and wants freely — they cannot do that if they are continually at meetings (or preparing for them). So while communal and confederal assemblies will play an important role in a free society, do not think that they will be occurring all the time or that anarchists desire to make meetings the focal point of individual life. Far from it!
Thus communal assemblies may occur, say, once a week, or fortnightly or monthly in order to discuss truly important issues. There would be no real desire to meet continuously to discuss every issue under the sun and few people would tolerate this occurring. This would mean that such meetings would current regularly and when important issues needed to be discussed, not continuously (although, if required, continuous assembly or daily meetings may have to be organised in emergency situations but this would be rare).
Secondly, it is extremely doubtful that a free people would desire waste vast amounts of time at such meetings. While important and essential, communal and confederal meetings would be functional in the extreme and not forums for hot air. It would be the case that those involved in such meetings would quickly make their feelings known to time wasters and those who like the sound of their own voices. Thus Cornelius Castoriadis:
“It might be claimed that the problem of numbers remains and that people never would be able to express themselves in a reasonable amount of time. This is not a valid argument. There would rarely be an assembly over twenty people where everyone would want to speak, for the very good reason that when there is something to be decided upon there are not an infinite number of options or an infinite number of arguments. In unhampered rank-and-file workers’ gatherings (convened, for instance, to decide on a strike) there have never been ‘too many’ speeches. The two or three fundamental opinions having been voiced, and various arguments exchanged, a decision is soon reached.
“The length of speeches, moreover, often varies inversely with the weight of their content. Russian leaders sometimes talk on for four hours at Party Congresses without saying anything . . . For an account of the laconicism of revolutionary assemblies, see Trotsky’s account of the Petrograd soviet of 1905 — or accounts of the meetings of factory representatives in Budapest in 1956.” [Political and Social Writings, vol. 2, pp. 144-5]
As we shall see below, this was definitely the case during the Spanish Revolution as well.
Thirdly, as these assemblies and congresses are concerned purely with joint activity and co-ordination, it is likely that they will not be called very often. Different associations, syndicates and co-operatives have a functional need for co-operation and so would meet more regularly and take action on practical activity which affects a specific section of a community or group of communities. Not every issue that a member of a community is interested in is necessarily best discussed at a meeting of all members of a community or at a confederal conference.
In other words, communal assemblies and conferences will have specific, well defined agendas, and so there is little danger of “politics” taking up everyone’s time. Hence, far from discussing abstract laws and pointless motions which no one actually knows much about, the issues discussed in these conferences will be on specific issues which are important to those involved. In addition, the standard procedure may be to elect a sub-group to investigate an issue and report back at a later stage with recommendations. The conference can change, accept, or reject any proposals.
As Kropotkin argued, anarchy would be based on “free agreement, by exchange of letters and proposals, and by congresses at which delegates met to discuss well specified points, and to come to an agreement about them, but not to make laws. After the congress was over, the delegates [would return] . . . not with a law, but with the draft of a contract to be accepted or rejected.” [Conquest of Bread, p. 131]
By reducing conferences to functional bodies based on concrete issues, the problems of endless discussions can be reduced, if not totally eliminated. In addition, as functional groups would exist outside of these communal confederations (for example, industrial collectives would organise conferences about their industry with invited participants from consumer groups), there would be a limited agenda in most communal get-togethers.
The most important issues would be to agree on the guidelines for industrial activity, communal investment (e.g. houses, hospitals, etc.) and overall co-ordination of large scale communal activities. In this way everyone would be part of the commonwealth, deciding on how resources would be used to maximise human well-being and ecological survival. The problems associated with “the tyranny of small decisions” would be overcome without undermining individual freedom. (In fact, a healthy community would enrich and develop individuality by encouraging independent and critical thought, social interaction, and empowering social institutions based on self-management).
Is such a system fantasy? Given that such a system has existed and worked at various times, we can safely argue that it is not. Obviously we cannot cover every example, so we point to just two — revolutionary Paris and Spain.
As Murray Bookchin points out, Paris “in the late eighteenth century was, by the standards of that time, one of the largest and economically most complex cities in Europe: its population approximated a million people . . . Yet in 1793, at the height of the French Revolution, the city was managed institutionally almost entirely by  citizen assemblies. . . and its affairs were co-ordinated by the Commune .. . and often, in fact, by the assemblies themselves, or sections as they were called, which established their own interconnections without recourse to the Commune.“ [Society and Nature, no. 5, p. 96]
Here is his account of how communal self-government worked in practice:
“What, then, were these little-know forty-eight sections of Paris . . .How were they organised? And how did they function?
“Ideologically, the sectionnaires (as their members were called) believed primarily in sovereignty of the people. This concept of popular sovereignty, as Albert Soboul observes, was for them ‘not an abstraction, but the concrete reality of the people united in sectional assemblies and exercising all their rights.’ It was in their eyes an inalienable right, or, as the section de la Cite declared in November 1792, ‘every man who assumes to have sovereignty [over others] will be regarded as a tyrant, usurper of public liberty and worthy of death.’
“Sovereignty, in effect, was to be enjoyed by all citizens, not pre-empted by ‘representatives’ . . . The radical democrats of 1793 thus assumed that every adult was, to one degree or another, competent to participate in management public affairs. Thus, each section . . . was structured around a face-to-face democracy: basically a general assembly of the people that formed the most important deliberative body of a section, and served as the incarnation of popular power in a given part of the city . . . each elected six deputies to the Commune, presumably for the pursue merely of co-ordinating all the sections in the city of Paris.
“Each section also had its own various administrative committees, whose members were also recruited from the general assembly.” [The Third Revolution, vol. 1, p. 319]
Little wonder Kropotkin argued that these “sections” showed “the principles of anarchism, expressed some years later in England by W. Godwin, . . . had their origin, not in theoretical speculations, but in the deeds of the Great French Revolution” [The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, p. 204]
Communal self-government was also practised, and on a far wider scale, in revolutionary Spain. All across Republican Spain, workers and peasants formed communes and federations of communes (see section I.8 for fuller details). As Gaston Leval summarises the experience:
“There was, in the organisation set in motion by the Spanish Revolution and by the libertarian movement, which was its mainspring, a structuring from the bottom to the top, which corresponds to a real federation and true democracy . . . the controlling and co-ordinating Comites, clearly indispensable, do not go outside the organisation that has chosen them, they remain in their midst, always controllable by and accessible to the members. If any individuals contradict by their actions their mandates, it is possible to call them to order, to reprimand them, to replace them. It is only by and in such a system that the ‘majority lays down the law.’
“The syndical assemblies were the expression and the practice of libertarian democracy, a democracy having nothing in common with the democracy of Athens where the citizens discussed and disputed for days on end on the Agora; where factions, clan rivalries, ambitions, personalities conflicted, where, in view of the social inequalities precious time was lost in interminable wrangles. Here a modern Aristophenes would have had no reason to write the equivalent of The Clouds.
“Normally those periodic meetings would not last more than a few hours. They dealt with concrete, precise subjects concretely and precisely. And all who had something to say could express themselves. The Comite presented the new problems that had arisen since the previous assembly, the results obtained by the application of such and such a resolution . . relations with other syndicates, production returns from the various workshops or factories. All this was the subject of reports and discussion. Then the assembly would nominate the commissions, the members of these commissions discussed between themselves what solutions to adopt, if there was disagreement, a majority report and a minority report would be prepared.
“This took place in all the syndicates throughout Spain, in all trades and all industries, in assemblies which, in Barcelona, from the very beginnings of our movement brought together hundreds or thousands of workers depending on the strength of the organisations. So much so that the awareness of the duties, responsibilities of each spread all the time to a determining and decisive degree. . .
“The practice of this democracy also extended to the agricultural regions . . . the decision to nominate a local management Comite for the villages was taken by general meetings of the inhabitants of villages, how the delegates in the different essential tasks which demanded an indispensable co-ordination of activities were proposed and elected by the whole assembled population. But it is worth adding and underlining that in all the collectivised villages and all the partially collectivised villages, in the 400 Collectives in Aragon, in the 900 in the Levante region, in the 300 in the Castilian region, to mention only the large groupings . . . the population was called together weekly, fortnightly or monthly and kept fully informed of everything concerning the commonweal.
“This writer was present at a number of these assemblies in Aragon, where the reports on the various questions making up the agenda allowed the inhabitants to know, to so understand, and to feel so mentally integrated in society, to so participate in the management of public affairs, in the responsibilities, that the recriminations, the tensions which always occur when the power of decision is entrusted to a few individuals, be they democratically elected without the possibility of objecting, did not happen there. The assemblies were public, the objections, the proposals publicly discussed, everybody being free, as in the syndical assemblies, to participate in the discussions, to criticise, propose, etc. Democracy extended to the whole of social life.” [Collectives in the Spanish Revolution, pp. 205-7]
These collectives organised federations embracing thousands of communes and workplaces, whole branches of industry, hundreds of thousands of people and whole regions of Spain.
In other words, it is possible. It has worked. With the massive improvements in communication technology it is even more viable than before. Whether or not we reach such a self-managed society depends on whether we desire to be free or not.
No. As we have seen in section B.2, a state can be defined both by its structure and its function. As far as structure is concerned, a state involves the politico-military and economic domination of a certain geographical territory by a ruling elite, based on the delegation of power into the hands of the few, resulting in hierarchy (centralised authority). As Kropotkin argued, “the word ‘State’ . . . should be reserved for those societies with the hierarchical system and centralisation.” [Ethics, p. 317f]
In a system of federated participatory communities, however, there is no ruling elite, and thus no hierarchy, because power is retained by the lowest-level units of confederation through their use of direct democracy and mandated, rotating, and recallable delegates to meetings of higher-level confederal bodies. This eliminates the problem in “representative” democratic systems of the delegation of power leading to the elected officials becoming isolated from and beyond the control of the mass of people who elected them. As Kropotkin pointed out, an anarchist society would make decisions by “means of congresses, composed of delegates, who discuss among themselves, and submit proposals, not laws, to their constituents”, and so is based on self-government, not representative government (i.e. statism). [The Conquest of Bread, p. 135]
In addition, in representative democracy, elected officials who must make decisions on a wide range of issues inevitably gather an unelected bureaucracy around them to aid in their decision making, and because of its control of information and its permanency, this bureaucracy soon has more power than the elected officials (who themselves have more power than the people). In the system we have sketched, policy proposals formulated by higher-level confederal bodies would often be presented to the grassroots political units for discussion and voting (though the grassroots units could also formulate policy proposals directly), and these higher-level bodies would often need to consult experts in formulating such proposals. But these experts would not be retained as a permanent bureaucracy, and all information provided by them would be available to the lower-level units to aid in their decision making, thus eliminating the control of information on which bureaucratic power is based.
Perhaps it will be objected that communal decision making is just a form of “statism” based on direct, as opposed to representative, democracy — “statist” because the individual is still be subject to the rules of the majority and so is not free. This objection, however, confuses statism with free agreement (i.e. co-operation). Since participatory communities, like productive syndicates, are voluntary associations, the decisions they make are based on self-assumed obligations (see section A.2.11 — “Why are most anarchists in favour of direct democracy?”), and dissenters can leave the association if they so desire. Thus communes are no more “statist” than the act of promising and keeping ones word.
In addition, in a free society, dissent and direct action can be used by minorities to press their case (or defend their freedom) as well as debate. As Carole Pateman argues, “[p]olitical disobedience is merely one possible expression of the active citizenship on which a self-managing democracy is based.” [The Problem of Political Obligation, p. 162] In this way, individual liberty can be protected in a communal system and society enriched by opposition, confrontation and dissent.
Without self-management and minority dissent, society would become an ideological cemetery which would stifle ideas and individuals as these thrives on discussion (“those who will be able to create in their mutual relations a movement and a life based on the principles of free understanding . . . will understand that variety, conflict even, is life and that uniformity is death“ [Kropotkin, Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 143]). Therefore it is likely that a society based on voluntary agreements and self-management would, out of interpersonal empathy and self-interest, create a society that encouraged individuality and respect for minorities.
Therefore, a commune’s participatory nature is the opposite of statism. April Carter, in Authority and Democracy agrees. She states that “commitment to direct democracy or anarchy in the socio-political sphere is incompatible with political authority” and that the “only authority that can exist in a direct democracy is the collective ‘authority’ vested in the body politic . . . it is doubtful if authority can be created by a group of equals who reach decisions be a process of mutual persuasion.” [p. 69 and p. 380] Which echoes, we must note, Proudhon’s comment that “the true meaning of the word ‘democracy'” was the “dismissal of government.” [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 1, p. 42] Bakunin argued that when the “whole people govern” then “there will be no one to be governed. It means that there will be no government, no State.” [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 287] Malatesta, decades later, made the same point — “government by everybody is no longer government in the authoritarian, historical and practical sense of the word.” [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, p. 38] And, of course, Kropotkin argued that by means of the directly democratic sections of the French Revolution the masses “practic[ed] what was to be described later as Direct Self-Government” and expressed “the principles of anarchism.” [The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, p. 200 and p. 204]
Anarchists assert that individuals and the institutions they create cannot be considered in isolation. Authoritarian institutions will create individuals who have a servile nature, who cannot govern themselves. Anarchists, therefore, consider it common sense that individuals, in order to be free, must have take part in determining the general agreements they make with their neighbours which give form to their communities. Otherwise, a free society could not exist and individuals would be subject to rules others make for them (following orders is hardly libertarian). Therefore, anarchists recognise the social nature of humanity and the fact any society based on contracts (like capitalism) will be marked by authority, injustice and inequality, not freedom. As Bookchin points out, “[t]o speak of ‘The Individual’ apart from its social roots is as meaningless as to speak of a society that contains no people or institutions.” [“Communalism: The Democratic Dimension of Anarchism”, Society and Nature no. 8, p. 15]
Society cannot be avoided and “[u]nless everyone is to be psychologically homogeneous and society’s interests so uniform in character that dissent is simply meaningless, there must be room for conflicting proposals, discussion, rational explication and majority decisions – in short, democracy.” [Bookchin, Op. Cit., pp. 15-16] Those who reject democracy in the name of liberty (such as many supporters of capitalism claim to do) usually also see the need for laws and hierarchical authority (particularly in the workplace). This is unsurprising, as such authority is the only means left by which collective activity can be co-ordinated if “democracy” (i.e. self-management) is rejected (usually as “statist”, which is ironic as the resulting institutions, such as a capitalist company, are far more statist than self-managed ones).
However, it should be noted that communities can expel individuals or groups of individuals who constantly hinder community decisions. As Malatesta argued, “for if it is unjust that the majority should oppress the minority, the contrary would be quite as unjust; and if the minority has a right to rebel, the majority has a right to defend itself . . . it is true that this solution is not completely satisfactory. The individuals put out of the association would be deprived of many social advantages, which an isolated person or group must do without, because they can only be procured by the co-operation of a great number of human beings. But what would you have? These malcontents cannot fairly demand that the wishes of many others should be sacrificed for their sakes.” [A Talk about Anarchist-Communism, p. 29]
Nevertheless, such occurrences would be rare (for reasons discussed in section I.5.6), and their possibility merely indicates that free association also means the freedom not to associate. This a very important freedom for both the majority and the minority, and must be defended. However, as an isolated life is impossible, the need for communal associations is essential. It is only by living together in a supportive community can individuality be encouraged and developed along with individual freedom. However, anarchists are aware that not everyone is a social animal and that there are times that people like to withdraw into their own personal space. Thus our support for free association and federalism along with solidarity, community and self-management.
Lastly, that these communities and confederations are not just states with new names in indicated by two more considerations. Firstly, in regard to the activities of the confederal conferences, it is clear that they would not be passing laws on personal behaviour or ethics, i.e. not legislating to restrict the liberty of those who live in these communities they represent. For example, a community is unlikely to pass laws outlawing homosexuality or censoring the press, for reasons discussed in the next section. Hence they would not be “law-making bodies” in the modern sense of the term, and thus not statist. Secondly, these confederations have no means to enforce their decisions. In other words, if a confederal congress makes a decision, it has no means to force people to act or not act in a certain way. We can imagine that there will be ethical reasons why participants will not act in ways to oppose joint activity — as they took part in the decision making process they would be considered childish if they reject the final decision because it did not go in their favour. Moreover, they would also have to face the reaction of those who also took part in the decision making process. It would be likely that those who ignored such decisions (or actively hindered them) would soon face non-violent direct action in the form of non-co-operation, shunning, boycotting and so on.
So, far from being new states by which one section of a community imposes its ethical standards on another, the anarchist commune is just a public forum. In this forum, issues of community interest (for example, management of the commons, control of communalised economic activity, and so forth) are discussed and policy agreed upon. In addition, interests beyond a local area are also discussed and delegates for confederal conferences are mandated with the wishes of the community. Hence, administration of things replaces government of people, with the community of communities existing to ensure that the interests of all are managed by all and that liberty, justice and equality are more than just ideals.
For these reasons, a libertarian-socialist society would not create a new state as far as structure goes. But what about in the area of function?
As noted in section B.2.1, the function of the state is to enable the ruling elite to exploit subordinate social strata, i.e. to derive an economic surplus from them, which it does by protecting certain economic monopolies from which the elite derives its wealth, and so its power. But this function is completely eliminated by the economic structure of anarchist society, which, by abolishing private property, makes it impossible for a privileged elite to form, let alone exploit “subordinate strata” (which will not exist, as no one is subordinate in power to anyone else). In other words, by placing the control of productive resources in the hands of the workers councils and community assemblies, every worker is given free access to the means of production that he or she needs to earn a living. Hence no one will be forced to pay usury (i.e. a use-fee) in the form of appropriated surplus value (profits) to an elite class that monopolises the means of production. In short, without private property, the state loses its reason for existence.
While the “tyranny of the majority” objection does contain an important point, it is often raised for self-serving reasons. This is because those who raised the issue (for example, creators of the 1789 US constitution like Hamilton and Madison) saw the “minority” to be protected as the rich. In other words, the objection is not opposed to majority tyranny as such (they have no objections when the majority support their right to their riches) but rather attempts of the majority to change their society to a fairer one. However, as noted, the objection to majority rule does contain a valid point and one which anarchists have addressed — namely, what about minority freedom within a self-managed society.
There is, of course, this danger in any society, be its decision making structure direct (anarchy) or indirect (by some form of government). Anarchists are at the forefront in expressing concern about it (see, for example, Emma Goldman’s classic essay “Minorities versus Majorities” in Anarchism and Other Essays). We are well aware that the mass, as long as the individuals within it do not free themselves, can be a dead-weight on others, resisting change and enforcing conformity. As Goldman argued, “even more than constituted authority, it is social uniformity and sameness that harass the individual the most.” [Red Emma Speaks, p. 93] Hence Malatesta’s comment that anarchists “have the special mission of being vigilant custodians of freedom, against all aspirants to power and against the possible tyranny of the majority.” [Life and Ideas, p. 161]
However, rather than draw elitist conclusions from this fact of life under capitalism and urge forms of government and organisation which restrict popular participation (and promote rule, and tyranny, by the few) — as classical liberals do — libertarians argue that only a process of self-liberation through struggle and participation can break up the mass into free, self-managing individuals. Moreover, we also argue that participation and self-management is the only way that majorities can come to see the point of minority ideas and for seeing the importance of protecting minority freedoms. This means that any attempt to restrict participation in the name of minority rights actually enforces the herd mentality, undermining minority and individual freedom rather than protecting it. As Carole Pateman argues:
“the evidence supports the arguments . . . that we do learn to participate by participating and that feelings of political efficacy are more likely to be developed in a participatory environment. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that experience of a participatory authority structure might also be effective in diminishing tendencies towards non-democratic attitudes in the individual.” [Participation and Democratic Theory, p. 105]
However, while there is cause for concern (and anarchists are at the forefront in expressing it), the “tyranny of the majority” objection fails to take note of the vast difference between direct and “representative” forms of democracy.
In the current system, as we pointed out in section B.5, voters are mere passive spectators of occasional, staged, and highly rehearsed debates among candidates pre-selected by the corporate elite, who pay for campaign expenses. More often the public is expected to choose simply on the basis of political ads and news sound bites. Once the choice is made, cumbersome and ineffective recall procedures insure that elected representatives can act more or less as they (or rather, their wealthy sponsors) please. The function, then, of the electorate in bourgeois “representative government” is ratification of “choices” that have been already made for them!
By contrast, in a direct, libertarian democracy, decisions are made following public discussion in community assemblies open to all. After decisions have been reached, outvoted minorities — even minorities of one — still have ample opportunity to present reasoned and persuasive counter-arguments to try to change the decision. This process of debate, disagreement, challenge, and counter-challenge, which goes on even after the defeated minority has temporarily acquiesced in the decision of the majority, is virtually absent in the representative system, where “tyranny of the majority” is truly a problem. In addition, minorities can secede from an association if the decision reached by it are truly offensive to them.
And let us not forget that in all likelihood, issues of personal conduct or activity will not be discussed in the neighbourhood assemblies. Why? Because we are talking about a society in which most people consider themselves to be unique, free individuals, who would thus recognise and act to protect the uniqueness and freedom of others. Unless people are indoctrinated by religion or some other form of ideology, they can be tolerant of others and their individuality. If this is not the case now, then it has more to do with the existence of authoritarian social relationships — relationships that will be dismantled under libertarian socialism — and the type of person they create rather than some innate human flaw.
Thus there will be vast areas of life in a libertarian socialist community which are none of other people’s business. Anarchists have always stressed the importance of personal space and “private” areas. Indeed, for Kropotkin, the failure of many “utopian” communities directly flowed from a lack personal space. One of the mistakes made by such “utopian” communities within capitalism was “the desire to manage the community after the model of a family, to make it ‘the great family.’ They lived all in the same house and were thus forced to continuously meet the same ‘brethren and sisters.’ It is already difficult often for two real brothers to live together in the same house, and family life is not always harmonious; so it was a fundamental error to impose on all the ‘great family’ instead of trying, on the contrary, to guarantee as much freedom and home life to each individual.” [Small Communal Experiments and Why they Fail, pp. 8-9]
Thus in an anarchist society, continual agreement on all issues is not desired. The members of a free society “need only agree as to some advantageous method of common work, and are free otherwise to live in their own way.” [Op. Cit., p. 22]
Which brings us to another key point. When anarchists talk of democratising or communalising the household or any other association, we do not mean that it should be stripped of its private status and become open to the “tyranny of the majority” or regulation by general voting in a single, universal public sphere. Rather, we mean that households and other relationships should take in libertarian characteristics and be consistent with the liberty of all its members. Thus a society based on self-management does not imply the destruction of private spheres of activity — it implies the extension of anarchist principles into all spheres of life, both private and public. It does not mean the subordination of the private by the public, or vice versa.
So, in other words, it is highly unlikely that the “tyranny of the majority” will exert itself where most rightly fear it — in their homes, how they act with friends, their personal space, how they act, and do on. As long as individual freedom and rights are protected, it is of little concern what people get up to (included the rights of children, who are also individuals and not the property of their parents). Direct democracy in anarchist theory is purely concerned with common resources and their use and management. It is highly unlikely that a free society would debate issues of personal behaviour or morality and instead would leave them to those directly affected by them — as it should be, as we all need personal space and experimentation to find the way of life that best suits us.
Today an authoritarian worldview, characterised by an inability to think beyond the categories of domination and submission, is imparted by conditioning in the family, schools, religious institutions, clubs, fraternities, the army, etc., and produces a type of personality that is intolerant of any individual or group perceived as threatening to the perpetuation of that worldview and its corresponding institutions and values. Thus, as Bakunin argues, “public opinion” is potentially intolerant “simply because hitherto this power has not been humanised itself; it has not been humanised because the social life of which it is ever the faithful expression is based . . . in the worship of divinity, not on respect for humanity; in authority, not on liberty; on privilege, not on equality; in the exploitation, not on the brotherhood, of men; on iniquity and falsehood, not on justice and truth. Consequently its real action, always in contradiction of the humanitarian theories which it professes, has constantly exercised a disastrous and depraving influence.” [God and the State, p. 43f] In other words, “if society is ever to become free, it will be so through liberated individuals, whose free efforts make society.” [Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays, p. 44]
In an anarchist society, however, a conscious effort will be made to dissolve the institutional and traditional sources of the authoritarian/submissive type of personality, and thus to free “public opinion” of its current potential for intolerance. In addition, it should be noted that as anarchists recognise that the practice of self-assumed political obligation implied in free association also implies the right to practice dissent and disobedience as well. As Carole Pateman notes, “[e]ven if it is impossible to be unjust to myself, I do not vote for myself alone, but alone with everyone else. Questions about injustice are always appropriate in political life, for there is no guarantee that participatory voting will actually result in decisions in accord with the principles of political morality.” [The Problem of Political Obligation, p. 160]
If an individual or group of individuals feel that a specific decision threatens their freedom (which is the basic principle of political morality in an anarchist society) they can (and must) act to defend that freedom. “The political practice of participatory voting rests in a collective self-consciousness about the meaning and implication of citizenship. The members of the political association understand that to vote is simultaneously to commit oneself, to commit one’s fellow citizens, and also to commit oneself to them in a mutual undertaking . . . a refusal to vote on a particular occasion indicates that the refusers believe . . . [that] the proposal . . . infringes the principle of political morality on which the political association is based . . A refusal to vote [or the use of direct action] could be seen as an appeal to the ‘sense of justice’ of their fellow citizens.” [Carole Pateman, Op. Cit., p. 161]
As they no longer “consent” to the decisions made by their community they can appeal to the “sense of justice” of their fellow citizens by direct action and indicate that a given decision may have impacts which the majority were not aware. Hence direct action and dissent is a key aspect of an anarchist society and help ensure against the tyranny of the majority. Anarchism rejects the “love it or leave it” attitude that marks classical liberalism as well as Rousseau (this aspect of his work being inconsistent with its foundations in participation).
This vision of self-assumed obligation, with its basis in individual liberty, indicates the basic flaw of Joseph Schumpeter’s argument against democracy as anything bar a political method of arriving at decisions (in his case who will be the leaders of a society). Schumpeter proposed the “mental experiment” of imagining a country which, democratically, persecuted Jews, witches and Christians (see his famous work Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy). He argues that we should not approve of these practices just because they have been decided upon by the democratic method and, therefore, democracy cannot be an end in itself.
However, such systematic persecution would conflict with the rules of procedure required if a country’s or community’s political method is to be called “democratic.” This is because, in order to be democratic, the minority must be in a position for its ideas to become the majority’s via argument and convincing the majority (and that requires freedom of discussion and association). A country or community in which the majority persecutes or represses a minority automatically ensures that the minority can never be in a position to become the majority (as the minority is barred by force from becoming so) or convince the majority of the errors of its way (even if it cannot become the majority physically, it can become so morally by convincing the majority to change its position). Schumpeter’s example utterly violates democratic principles and so cannot be squared with the rules of democratic procedure. Thus majority tyranny is an outrage against both democratic theory and individual liberty (unsurprisingly, as the former has its roots in the latter).
This argument applies with even more force to a self-managed community too and so any system in which the majority tyrannises over a minority is, by definition, not self-managed as one part of the community is excluded from convincing the other (“the enslavement of part of a nation denies the federal principal itself.” [P-J Proudhon, The Principle of Federation, p. 42f]). Thus individual freedom and minority rights are essential to direct democracy/self-management.
It should be stressed, however, that most anarchists do not think that the way to guard against possible tyranny by the majority is to resort to decision-making by consensus (where no action can be taken until every person in the group agrees) or a property system (based in contracts). Both consensus (see section A.2.12 — “Is consensus an alternative to direct democracy?”) and contracts (see section A.2.14 — “Why is voluntarism not enough?”) soon result in authoritarian social relationships developing in the name of “liberty.”
For example, decision making by consensus tends to eliminate the creative role of dissent and mutate into a system that pressures people into psychic and intellectual conformity — hardly a libertarian ideal. In the case of property and contract based systems, those with property have more power than those without, and so they soon determine what can and cannot be done — in other words, the “tyranny of the minority” and hierarchical authority. Both alternatives are deeply flawed.
Hence most anarchists have recognised that majority decision making, though not perfect, is the best way to reach decisions in a political system based on maximising individual (and so social) freedom. Direct democracy in grassroots confederal assemblies and workers’ councils ensures that decision making is “horizontal” in nature (i.e. between equals) and not hierarchical (i.e. governmental, between order giver and order taker). In other words, it ensures liberty.
As would be expected, no one would be forced to join a commune nor take part in its assemblies. To suggest otherwise would be contrary to anarchist principles. We have already indicated (in the last two sections) why the communes would not be likely to restrict individuals with new “laws.” Thus a commune would be a free society, in which individual liberty would be respected and encouraged.
However, what about individuals who live within the boundaries of a commune but decide not to join? For example, a local neighbourhood may include households that desire to associate and a few that do not (this is actually happened during the Spanish Revolution). What happens to the minority of dissenters?
Obviously individuals can leave to find communities more in line with their own concepts of right and wrong if they cannot convince their neighbours of the validity of their ideas. And, equally obviously, not everyone will want to leave an area they like. So we must discuss those who decide to not to find a more suitable community. Are the communal decisions binding on non-members? Obviously not. If an individual or family desire not to join a commune (for whatever reason), their freedoms must be respected. However, this also means that they cannot benefit from communal activity and resources (such a free housing, hospitals, and so forth) and, possibly, have to pay for their use. As long as they do not exploit or oppress others, an anarchist community would respect their decision. After all, as Malatesta argued, “free and voluntary communism is ironical if one has not the right and the possibility to live in a different regime, collectivist, mutualist, individualist — as one wishes, always on condition that there is no oppression or exploitation of others.” [Life and Ideas, p. 103]
Many who oppose anarchist self-management in the name of freedom often do so because they desire to oppress and exploit others. In other words, they oppose participatory communities because they (rightly) fear that this would restrict their ability to oppress, exploit and grow rich off the labour of others. This type of opposition can be seen from history, when rich elites, in the name of liberty, have replaced democratic forms of social decision making with representative or authoritarian ones (see section B.2.6). Regardless of what defenders of capitalism claim, “voluntary bilateral exchanges” affect third parties and can harm others indirectly. This can easily be seen from examples like concentrations of wealth which have effects across society, or crime in the local community, or the ecological impacts of consumption and production. This means that an anarchist society would be aware that inequality and so statism could develop again and take precautions against it. As Malatesta put it, some “seem almost to believe that after having brought down government and private property we would allow both to be quietly built up again, because of respect for the freedom of those who might feel the need to be rulers and property owners. A truly curious way of interpreting our ideas.” [Anarchy, p. 41]
So, it goes without saying that the minority, as in any society, will exist within the ethical norms of the surrounding society and they will be “forced to adhere” to them in the same sense that they are “forced to adhere” to not murdering people. Few people would say that forcing people not to commit murder is a restriction of their liberty. Therefore, while allowing the maximum of individual freedom of dissent, an anarchist community would still have to apply its ethical standards to those beyond that community. Individuals would not be allowed to murder, harm or enslave others and claim that they are allowed to do so because they are not part of the local community (see section I.5.8 on crime in an anarchist society).
Similarly, individuals would not be allowed to develop private property (as opposed to possession) simply because they wanted to. Such a “ban” on private property would not be a restriction on liberty simply because stopping the development of authority hardly counts as an authoritarian act (for an analogy, supporters of capitalism do not think that banning theft is a restriction of liberty and because this view is — currently — accepted by the majority, it is enforced on the minority). Even the word “ban” is wrong, as it is the would-be capitalist who is trying to ban freedom for others on their “property.” Members of a free society would simply refuse to recognise the claims of private property — they would simply ignore the would-be capitalist’s pretensions and “keep out” signs. Without a state, or hired thugs, to back up their claims, they would just end up looking silly. “Occupancy and use” (to use Tucker’s term) would be the limits of possession — and so property would become “that control of a thing by a person which will receive either social sanction, or else unanimous individual sanction, when the laws of social expediency shall have been fully discovered.” [B. Tucker, Instead of a Book, p. 131]
Tucker explains this system further:
“Suppose that all the municipalities have adopted the voluntary principle, and that compulsory taxation has been abolished. Now after this let us suppose that the Anarchistic view that occupancy and use should condition and limit landholding becomes the prevailing view. Evidently then these municipalities will proceed to formulate and enforce this view. What the formula will be no one can foresee. But continuing with our suppositions, we will say that they decide to protect no one in the possession of more than ten acres. In execution of this decision, they . . . notify all holders of more than ten acres within their limits that . . . they will cease to protect them in the possession of more than ten acres . . .” [The Individualist Anarchists, pp. 159-60]
A similar process would occur for housing, with tenants “would not be forced to pay [the landlord] rent, nor would [the landlord] be allowed to seize their property. The Anarchistic associations would look upon . . . tenants very much as they would look upon . . . guests.” [Op. Cit., p. 162]
Therefore anarchists support the maximum of experiments while ensuring that the social conditions that allow this experimentation are protected against concentrations of wealth and power. As Malatesta put it, “Anarchism involves all and only those forms of life that respect liberty and recognise that every person has an equal right to enjoy the good things of nature and the products of their own activity.” [The Anarchist Revolution, p. 14]
This means that Anarchists do not support the liberty of being a boss (anarchists will happily work with someone but not for someone). Of course, those who desire to create private property against the wishes of others expect those others to respect their wishes. So, when the would-be propertarians happily fence off their “property” and exclude others from it, could not these others remember these words from Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land, and act accordingly?
I saw a sign that said private property
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing
This land was made for you and me”
While happy to exclude others from “their” property, such owners seem more than happy to use the resources held in common by others. They are the ultimate “free riders,” desiring the benefits of society but rejecting the responsibilities that go with it. In the end, such “individualists” usually end up supporting the state (an institution they claim to hate) precisely because it is the only means by which private property and their “freedom” to exercise authority can be defended.
So, as a way to eliminate the problem of minorities seeking power and property for themselves, an anarchist revolution places social wealth (starting with the land) in the hands of all and promises to protect only those uses of it which are considered just by society as a whole. In other words, by recognising that “property” is a product of society, an anarchist society will ensure than an individual’s “property” is protected by his or her fellows when it is based purely upon actual occupancy and use. Thus attempts to transform minority dissent into, say, property rights would be fought by simply ignoring the “keep out” signs of property owned, but not used, by an individual or group.
Therefore, individuals are free not to associate, but their claims of “ownership” will be based around use rights, not property rights. Individuals will be protected by their fellows only in so far as what they claim to “own” is related to their ability to personally use said “property.” As Kropotkin argued, “when we see a peasant who is in possession of just the amount of land he can cultivate, we do not think it reasonable to turn him off his little farm. He exploits nobody, and nobody would have the right to interfere with his work. But if he possesses under the capitalist law more than be can cultivate himself, we consider that we must not give him the right of keeping that soil for himself, leaving it uncultivated when it might be cultivated by others, or of making other cultivate it for his benefit.” [Act for Yourselves, p. 104] Without a state to back up and protect property “rights,” we see that all rights are, in the end, what society considers to be fair (the difference between law and social custom is discussed in section I.7.3). What the state does is to impose “rights” which do not have such a basis (i.e. those that protect the property of the elite) or “rights” which have been corrupted by wealth and would have been changed because of this corruption had society been free to manage its own affairs.
In summary, individuals will be free not to join a participatory community, and hence free to place themselves outside its decisions and activities on most issues that do not apply to the fundamental ethical standards of a society. Hence individuals who desire to live outside of anarchist communities would be free to live as they see fit but would not be able to commit murder, rape, create private property or other activities that harmed individuals. It should be noted, moreover, that this does not mean that their possessions will be taken from them by “society” or that “society” will tell them what to do with their possessions. Freedom, in a complex world, means that such individuals will not be in a position to turn their possessions into property and thus recreate capitalism (for the distinction between “property” and “possessions,” see section B.3.1). This will not be done by “anarchist police” or by “banning” voluntary agreements, but purely by recognising that “property” is a social creation and by creating a social system that will encourage individuals to stand up for their rights and co-operate with each other.
For anarchists, “crime” can best be described as anti-social acts, or behaviour which harms someone else or which invades their personal space. Anarchists argue that the root cause for crime is not some perversity of human nature or “original sin,” but is due to the type of society by which people are moulded. For example, anarchists point out that by eliminating private property, crime could be reduced by about 90 percent, since about 90 percent of crime is currently motivated by evils stemming from private property such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and alienation. Moreover, by adopting anarchist methods of non-authoritarian child rearing and education, most of the remaining crimes could also be eliminated, because they are largely due to the anti-social, perverse, and cruel “secondary drives” that develop because of authoritarian, pleasure-negative child-rearing practices (See section J.6 — “What methods of child rearing do anarchists advocate?”)
“Crime”, therefore, cannot be divorced from the society within which it occurs. Society, in Emma Goldman’s words, gets the criminals it deserves. For example, anarchists do not think it unusual nor unexpected that crime exploded under the pro-free market capitalist regimes of Thatcher and Reagan. Crime, the most obvious symptom of social crisis, took 30 years to double in Britain (from 1 million incidents in 1950 to 2.2 million in 1979). However, between 1979 and 1992 the crime rate more than doubled, exceeding the 5 million mark in 1992. These 13 years were marked by a government firmly committed to the “free market” and “individual responsibility.” It was entirely predictable that the social disruption, atomisation of individuals, and increased poverty caused by freeing capitalism from social controls would rip society apart and increase criminal activity. Also unsurprisingly (from an anarchist viewpoint), under these pro-market governments we also saw a reduction in civil liberties, increased state centralisation, and the destruction of local government. As Malatesta put it, the classical liberalism which these governments represented could have had no other effect, for “the government’s powers of repression must perforce increase as free competition results in more discord and inequality.” [Anarchy, p. 46]
Hence the paradox of governments committed to “individual rights,” the “free market” and “getting the state off our backs” increasing state power and reducing rights while holding office during a crime explosion is no paradox at all. “The conjuncture of the rhetoric of individual freedom and a vast increase in state power,” argues Carole Pateman, “is not unexpected at a time when the influence of contract doctrine is extending into the last, most intimate nooks and crannies of social life. Taken to a conclusion, contract undermines the conditions of its own existence. Hobbes showed long ago that contract — all the way down — requires absolutism and the sword to keep war at bay.” [The Sexual Contract, p. 232]
Capitalism, and the contract theory on which it is built, will inevitably rip apart society. Capitalism is based upon a vision of humanity as isolated individuals with no connection other than that of money and contract. Such a vision cannot help but institutionalise anti-social acts. As Kropotkin argued “it is not love and not even sympathy upon which Society is based in mankind. It is the conscience — be it only at the stage of an instinct — of human solidarity. It is the unconscious recognition of the force that is borrowed by each man [and woman] from the practice of mutual aid; of the close dependency of every one’s happiness upon the happiness of all; and of the sense of justice, or equity, which brings the individual to consider the rights of every other individual as equal to his [or her] own.” [Mutual Aid, p. 16]
The social atomisation required and created by capitalism destroys the basic bonds of society – namely human solidarity – and hierarchy crushes the individuality required to understand that we share a common humanity with others and so understand why we must be ethical and respect others rights.
We should also point out that prisons have numerous negative affects on society as well as often re-enforcing criminal (i.e. anti-social) behaviour. Kropotkin originated the accurate description of prisons as “Universities of Crime” wherein the first-time criminal learns new techniques and have adapt to the prevailing ethical standards within them. Hence, prisons would have the effect of increasing the criminal tendencies of those sent there and so prove to be counter-productive. In addition, prisons do not affect the social conditions which promote many forms of crime.
We are not saying, however, that anarchists reject the concept of individual responsibility. While recognising that rape, for example, is the result of a social system which represses sexuality and is based on patriarchy (i.e. rape has more to do with power than sex), anarchists do not “sit back” and say “it’s society’s fault.” Individuals have to take responsibility for their own actions and recognise that consequences of those actions. Part of the current problem with “law codes” is that individuals have been deprived of the responsibility for developing their own ethical code, and so are less likely to develop “civilised” social standards (see section I.7.3).
Therefore, while anarchists reject the ideas of law and a specialised justice system, they are not blind to the fact that anti-social action may not totally disappear in a free society. Therefore, some sort of “court” system would still be necessary to deal with the remaining crimes and to adjudicate disputes between citizens.
These courts would function in one of two ways. One possibility is that the parties involved agree to hand their case to a third party. Then the “court” in question would be the arrangements made by those parties. The second possibility is when the parties cannot not agree (or if the victim was dead). Then the issue could be raised at a communal assembly and a “court” appointed to look into the issue. These “courts” would be independent from the commune, their independence strengthened by popular election instead of executive appointment of judges, by protecting the jury system of selection of random citizens by lot, and by informing jurors of their right to judge the law itself, according to their conscience, as well as the facts of a case. As Malatesta pointed out, “when differences were to arise between men [sic!], would not arbitration voluntarily accepted, or pressure of public opinion, be perhaps more likely to establish where the right lies than through an irresponsible magistrate which has the right to adjudicate on everything and everybody and is inevitably incompetent and therefore unjust?” [Anarchy, p. 43]
In the case of a “police force,” this would not exist either as a public or private specialised body or company. If a local community did consider that public safety required a body of people who could be called upon for help, we imagine that a new system would be created. Such a system would “not be entrusted to, as it is today, to a special, official body: all able-bodied inhabitants [of a commune] will be called upon to take turns in the security measures instituted by the commune.” [James Guillaume, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 371] This system would be based around a voluntary militia system, in which all members of the community could serve if they so desired. Those who served would not constitute a professional body; instead the service would be made up of local people who would join for short periods of time and be replaced if they abused their position. Hence the likelihood that a communal militia would become corrupted by power, like the current police force or a private security firm exercising a policing function, would be vastly reduced. Moreover, by accustoming a population to intervene in anti-social as part of the militia, they would be empowered to do so when not an active part of it, so reducing the need for its services even more.
Such a body would not have a monopoly on protecting others, but would simply be on call if others required it. It would no more be a monopoly of defence (i.e. a “police force”) than the current fire service is a monopoly. Individuals are not banned from putting out fires today because the fire service exists, similarly individuals will be free to help stop anti-social crime by themselves, or in association with others, in an anarchist society.
Of course there are anti-social acts which occur without witnesses and so the “guilty” party cannot be readily identified. If such acts did occur we can imagine an anarchist community taking two courses of action. The injured party may look into the facts themselves or appoint an agent to do so or, more likely, an ad hoc group would be elected at a community assembly to investigate specific crimes of this sort. Such a group would be given the necessary “authority” to investigate the crime and be subject to recall by the community if they start trying to abuse whatever authority they had. Once the investigating body thought it had enough evidence it would inform the community as well as the affected parties and then organise a court. Of course, a free society will produce different solutions to such problems, solutions no-one has considered yet and so these suggestions are just that, suggestions.
As is often stated, prevention is better than cure. This is as true of crime as of disease. In other words, crime is best fought by rooting out its causes as opposed to punishing those who act in response to these causes. For example, it is hardly surprising that a culture that promotes individual profit and consumerism would produce individuals who do not respect other people (or themselves) and see them as purely means to an end (usually increased consumption). And, like everything else in a capitalist system, such as honour and pride, conscience is also available at the right price — hardly an environment which encourages consideration for others, or even for oneself.
In addition, a society based on hierarchical authority will also tend to produce anti-social activity because the free development and expression it suppresses. Thus, irrational authority (which is often claimed to be the only cure for crime) actually helps produce it. As Emma Goldman argued, crime “is naught but misdirected energy. So long as every institution of today, economic, political, social, moral conspires to misdirect human energy into wrong channels; so long as most people are out of place doing things they hate to do, living a life they loathe to live, crime will be inevitable, and all the laws on the statues can only increase, but never do away with, crime” [Red Emma Speaks, p. 57]
Eric Fromm, decades latter, makes the same point:
“It would seem that the amount of destructiveness to be found in individuals is proportionate to the amount to which expansiveness of life is curtailed. By this we do not refer to individual frustrations of this or that instinctive desire but to the thwarting of the whole of life, the blockage of spontaneity of the growth and expression of man’s sensuous, emotional, and intellectual capacities. Life has an inner dynamism of its own; it tends to grow, to be expressed, to be lived . . . the drive for life and the drive for destruction are not mutually interdependent factors but are in a reversed interdependence. The more the drive towards life is thwarted, the stronger is the drive towards destruction; the more life is realised, the less is the strength of destructiveness. Destructiveness is the outcome of unlived life. Those individual and social conditions that make for suppression of life produce the passion for destruction that forms, so to speak, the reservoir from which particular hostile tendencies — either against others or against oneself — are nourished” [The Fear of Freedom, p. 158]
Therefore, by reorganising society so that it empowers everyone and actively encourages the use of all our intellectual, emotional and sensuous abilities, crime would soon cease to be the huge problem that it is now. As for the anti-social behaviour or clashes between individuals that might still exist in such a society, it would be dealt with in a system based on respect for the individual and a recognition of the social roots of the problem. Restraint would be kept to a minimum.
Anarchists think that public opinion and social pressure would be the main means of preventing anti-social acts in an anarchist society, with such actions as boycotting and ostracising used as powerful sanctions to convince those attempting them of the errors of their way. Extensive non-co-operation by neighbours, friends and work mates would be the best means of stopping acts which harmed others.
An anarchist system of justice, we should note, would have a lot to learn from aboriginal societies simply because they are examples of social order without the state. Indeed many of the ideas we consider as essential to justice today can be found in such societies. As Kropotkin argued, “when we imagine that we have made great advances in introducing, for instance, the jury, all we have done is to return to the institutions of the so-called ‘barbarians’ after having changed it to the advantage of the ruling classes.” [The State: Its Historic Role, p. 18]
Like aboriginal justice (as documented by Rupert Ross in Returning to the Teachings: Exploring Aboriginal Justice) anarchists contend that offenders should not be punished but justice achieved by the teaching and healing of all involved. Public condemnation of the wrongdoing would be a key aspect of this process, but the wrong doer would remain part of the community and so see the effects of their actions on others in terms of grief and pain caused. It would be likely that wrong doers would be expected to try to make amends for their act by community service or helping victims and their families.
So, from a practical viewpoint, almost all anarchists oppose prisons on both practical grounds (they do not work) and ethical grounds (“We know what prisons mean — they mean broken down body and spirit, degradation, consumption, insanity” Voltairine de Cleyre, quoted by Paul Avrich in An American Anarchist, p. 146]). The Makhnovists took the usual anarchist position on prisons:
“Prisons are the symbol of the servitude of the people, they are always built only to subjugate the people, the workers and peasants. . . Free people have no use for prisons. Wherever prisons exist, the people are not free. . . In keeping with this attitude, they [the Makhnovists] demolished prisons wherever they went.” [Peter Arshinov, The History of the Makhnovist Movement, p. 153]
With the exception of Benjamin Tucker, no major anarchist writer supported the institution. Few anarchists think that private prisons (like private policemen) are compatible with their notions of freedom. However, all anarchists are against the current “justice” system which seems to them to be organised around revenge and punishing effects and not fixing causes.
However, there are psychopaths and other people in any society who are too dangerous to be allowed to walk freely. Restraint in this case would be the only option and such people may have to be isolated from others for their own, and others, safety. Perhaps mental hospitals would be used, or an area quarantined for their use created (perhaps an island, for example). However, such cases (we hope) would be rare.
So instead of prisons and a legal code based on the concept of punishment and revenge, anarchists support the use of pubic opinion and pressure to stop anti-social acts and the need to therapeutically rehabilitate those who commit anti-social acts. As Kropotkin argued, “liberty, equality, and practical human sympathy are the most effective barriers we can oppose to the anti-social instinct of certain among us” and not a parasitic legal system. [The Anarchist Reader, p. 117]
Many express the idea that all forms of socialism would endanger freedom of speech, press, and so forth. The usual formulation of this argument is in relation to state socialism and goes as follows: if the state (or “society”) owned all the means of communication, then only the views which the government supported would get access to the media.
This is an important point and it needs to be addressed. However, before doing so, we should point out that under capitalism the major media are effectively controlled by the wealthy. As we argued in section D.3, the media are not the independent defenders of freedom that they like to portray themselves as. This is hardly surprising, since newspapers, television companies, and so forth are capitalist enterprises owned by the wealthy and with managing directors and editors who are also wealthy individuals with a vested interest in the status quo. Hence there are institutional factors which ensure that the “free press” reflects the interests of capitalist elites.
However, in democratic capitalist states there is little overt censorship. Radical and independent publishers can still print their papers and books without state intervention (although market forces ensure that this activity can be difficult and financially unrewarding). Under socialism, it is argued, because “society” owns the means of communication and production, this liberty will not exist. Instead, as can be seen from all examples of “actually existing socialism,” such liberty is crushed in favour of the government’s point of view.
As anarchism rejects the state, we can say that this danger does not exist under libertarian socialism. However, since social anarchists argue for the communalisation of production, could not restrictions on free speech still exist? We argue no, for three reasons.
Firstly, publishing houses, radio stations, and so on will be run by their workers directly. They will be supplied by other syndicates, with whom they will make agreements, and not by “central planning” officials, who would not exist. In other words, there is no bureaucracy of officials allocating (and so controlling) resources (and so the means of communication). Hence, anarchist self-management will ensure that there is a wide range of opinions in different magazines and papers. There would be community papers, radio stations, etc., and obviously they would play an increased role in a free society. But they would not be the only media. Associations, political parties, industrial syndicates, and so on would have their own media and/or would have access to the resources of communication workers’ syndicates, so ensuring that a wide range of opinions can be expressed.
Secondly, the “ultimate” power in a free society will be the individuals of which it is composed. This power will be expressed in communal and workplace assemblies that can recall delegates and revoke their decisions. It is doubtful that these assemblies would tolerate a set of would-be bureaucrats determining what they can or cannot read, see, or hear.
Thirdly, individuals in a free society would be interested in hearing different viewpoints and discussing them. This is the natural side-effect of critical thought (which self-management would encourage), and so they would have a vested interest in defending the widest possible access to different forms of media for different views. Having no vested interests to defend, a free society would hardly encourage or tolerate the censorship associated with the capitalist media (“I listen to criticism because I am greedy. I listen to criticism because I am selfish. I would not deny myself another’s insights” [The Right to be Greedy]).
Therefore, anarchism will increase freedom of speech in many important ways, particularly in the workplace (where it is currently denied under capitalism). This will be a natural result of a society based on maximising freedom and the desire to enjoy life.
We would also like to point out that during both the Spanish and Russian revolutions, freedom of speech was protected within anarchist areas.
For example, the Makhnovists in the Ukraine “fully applied the revolutionary principles of freedom of speech, of thought, of the Press, and of political association. In all the cities and towns occupied . . . Complete freedom of speech, Press, assembly, and association of any kind and for everyone was immediately proclaimed.” [Peter Arshinov, The History of the Makhnovist Movement, p. 153] This is confirmed by Michael Malet who notes that “[o]ne of the most remarkable achievements of the Makhnovists was to preserve a freedom of speech more extensive than any of their opponents.” [Nestor Makhno in the Russian Civil War, p. 175]
In revolutionary Spain republicans, liberals, communists, Trotskyites and many different anarchist groups all had freedom to express their views. Emma Goldman writes that “[o]n my first visit to Spain in September 1936, nothing surprised me so much as the amount of political freedom I found everywhere. True, it did not extend to Fascists . . . [but] everyone of the anti-Fascist front enjoyed political freedom which hardly existed in any of the so-called European democracies.” [Vision on Fire, p.147] This is confirmed in a host of other eye-witnesses, including George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia (in fact, it was the rise of the pro-capitalist republicans and communists that introduced censorship).
Both movements were fighting a life-and-death struggle against communist, fascist and pro-capitalist armies and so this defence of freedom of expression, given the circumstances, is particularly noteworthy.
Therefore, based upon both theory and practice, we can say that anarchism will not endanger freedom of expression. Indeed, by breaking up the capitalist oligopoly which currently exists and introducing workers’ self-management of the press, a far wider range of opinions will become available in a free society. Rather than reflect the interests of a wealthy elite, the media would reflect the interests of society as a whole and the individuals and groups within it.
Political parties and other interest groups will exist in an anarchist society as long as people feel the need to join them. They will not be “banned” in any way, and their members will have the same rights as everyone else. Individuals who are members of political parties or associations can take part in communal and other assemblies and try to convince others of the soundness of their ideas.
However, there is a key difference between such activity and politics under a capitalist democracy. This is because the elections to positions of responsibility in an anarchist society will not be based on party tickets nor will it involve the delegation of power. Emile Pouget’s description of the difference between the syndicalist trade union and elections drives this difference home:
“The constituent part of the trade union is the individual. Except that the union member is spared the depressing phenomenon manifest in democratic circles where, thanks to the veneration of universal suffrage, the trend is towards the crushing and diminution of the human personality. In a democratic setting, the elector can avail of his [or her] will only in order to perform an act of abdication: his role is to ‘award’ his ‘vote’ to the candidate whom he [or she] wishes to have as his [or her] ‘representative.’
“Affiliation to the trade union has no such implication . . . In joining the union, the worker merely enters into a contract — which he may at any time abjure — with comrades who are his equals in will and potential . . . In the union, say, should it come to the appointment of a trade union council to take charge of administrative matters, such ‘selection’ is not to be compared with ‘election’: the form of voting customarily employed in such circumstances is merely a means whereby the labour can be divided and is not accompanied by any delegation of authority. The strictly prescribed duties of the trade union council are merely administrative. The council performs the task entrusted to it, without ever overruling its principals, without supplanting them or acting in their place.
“The same might be said of all decisions reached in the union: all are restricted to a definite and specific act, whereas in democracy, election implies that the elected candidate has been issued by his [or her] elector with a carte blanche empowering him [or her] to decide and do as he [or she] pleases, in and on everything, without even the hindrance of the quite possibly contrary views of his [or her] principals, whose opposition, in any case, no matter how pronounced, is of no consequence until such time as the elected candidate’s mandate has run its course.
“So there cannot be any possible parallels, let alone confusion, between trade unions activity and participation in the disappointing chores of politics.” [No Gods, No Masters, vol. 2, pp. 67-68]
In other words, when individuals are elected to administrative posts they are elected to carry out their mandate, not to carry out their party’s programme. Of course, if the individuals in question had convinced their fellow workers and citizens that their programme was correct, then this mandate and the programme would be identical. However this is unlikely in practice. We would imagine that the decisions of collectives and communes would reflect the complex social interactions and diverse political opinions their members and of the various groupings within the association.
Hence anarchism will likely contain many different political groupings and ideas. The relative influence of these within collectives and communes would reflect the strength of their arguments and the relevance of their ideas, as would be expected in a free society. As Bakunin argued, “[t]he abolition of this mutual influence would be death. And when we vindicate the freedom of the masses, we are by no means suggesting the abolition of any of the natural influences that individuals or groups of individuals exert on them. What we want is the abolition of influences which are artificial, privileged, legal, official.” [quoted by Malatesta in Anarchy, p. 50]
It is only when representative government replaces self-management that political debate results in “elected dictatorship” and centralisation of power into the hands of one party which claims to speak for the whole of society, as if the latter had one mind.
Anarchists do not think that social life can be reduced to political and economic associations alone. Individuals have many different interests and desires which they must express in order to have a truly free and interesting life. Therefore an anarchist society will see the development of numerous voluntary associations and groups to express these interests. For example, there would be consumer groups, musical groups, scientific associations, art associations, clubs, housing co-operatives and associations, craft and hobby guilds, fan clubs, animal rights associations, groups based around sex, sexuality, creed and colour and so forth. Associations will be created for all human interests and activities.
As Kropotkin argued:
“He who wishes for a grand piano will enter the association of musical instrument makers. And by giving the association part of his half-days’ leisure, he will soon possess the piano of his dreams. If he is fond of astronomical studies he will join the association of astronomers. . . and he will have the telescope he desires by taking his share of the associated work. . .In short, the five or seven hours a day which each will have at his disposal, after having consecrated several hours to the production of necessities, would amply suffice to satisfy all longings for luxury, however varied. Thousands of associations would undertake to supply them.” [The Conquest of Bread, p. 120]
We can imagine, therefore, an anarchist society being based around associations and interest groups on every subject which fires the imagination of individuals and for which individuals want to meet in order to express and further their interests. Housing associations, for example, would exist to allow inhabitants to manage their local areas, design and maintain their homes and local parks and gardens. Animal rights and other interest groups would produce information on issues they consider important, trying to convince others of the errors of eating meat or whatever. Consumer groups would be in dialogue with syndicates about improving products and services, ensuring that syndicates produce what is required by consumers. Environment groups would exist to watch production and make sure that it is not creating damaging side effects and informing both syndicates and communes of their findings. Feminist, homosexual, bisexual and anti-racist groups would exist to put their ideas across, highlighting areas in which social hierarchies and prejudice still existed. All across society, people would be associating together to express themselves and convince others of their ideas on many different issues.
Hence in a anarchist society, free association would take on a stronger and more positive role than under capitalism. In this way, social life would take on many dimensions, and the individual would have the choice of thousands of societies to join to meet his or her interests or create new ones with other like-minded people. Anarchists would be the last to deny that there is more to life than work!
It depends on the type of anarchist society you are talking about. Different anarchists propose different solutions.
In an individualist-mutualist society, for example, health care and other public services would be provided by individuals or co-operatives on a pay-for-use basis. It would be likely that individuals or co-operatives/associations would subscribe to various insurance providers or enter into direct contracts with health care providers. Thus the system would be similar to privatised health care but without the profit margins as competition, it is hoped, would drive prices down to cost.
Other anarchists reject such a system. They are favour of socialising health care and other public services. They argue that a privatised system would only be able to meet the requirements of those who can afford to pay for it and so would be unjust and unfair. The need for medical attention is not dependent on income and so a civilised society would recognise this fact. Under capitalism, profit-maximising medical insurance sets premiums according to the risks of the insured getting ill or injured, with the riskiest may not being able to find insurance at any price. Private insurers shun entire industries, such as logging, as too dangerous for their profits due to the likelihood of accidents or illness. They review contracts regularly and drop people who get sick. Hardly a vision to inspire a free society or one compatible with equality and mutual respect.
Moreover, competition would lead to inefficiencies as prices would be inflated to pay for advertising, competition related administration costs, paying dividends to share-holders and so on. For example, in 1993, Canada’s health plans devoted 0.9% of spending to overhead, compared to U.S. figures of 3.2% for Medicare and 12% for private insurers. In addition, when Canada adopted its publicly financed system in 1971, it and the U.S. both spent just over 7% of GDP on health care. By 1990, the U.S. was up to 12.3%, verses Canada’s 9%.
As can be seen, social anarchists point to what happens under capitalism when discussing the benefits of a socialised system of health care in an anarchist society. Competition, they argue, harms health-care provision. According to Alfie Kohn:
“More hospitals and clinics are being run by for-profit corporations; many institutions, forced to battle for ‘customers,’ seem to value a skilled director of marketing more highly than a skilled caregiver. As in any other economic sector, the race for profits translates into pressure to reduce costs, and the easiest way to do it here is to cut back on services to unprofitable patients, that is, those who are more sick than rich . . .”
“The result: hospital costs are actually higher in areas where there is more competition for patients.” [Alfie Kohn, No Contest, p. 240]
As Robert Kuttner notes:
“The American health-care system is a tangle of inequity and inefficiency — and getting worse as private-market forces seek to rationalise it. A shift to a universal system of health coverage would cut this Gordian knot at a stroke. It would not only deliver the explicitly medical aspects of health more efficiently and fairly, but, by socialising costs of poor health, it would also create a powerful financial incentive for society as a whole to stress primary prevention. . . every nation with a universal system spends less of its GDP on health care than the United States . . . And nearly every other nation with a universal system has longer life spans from birth (though roughly equivalent life spans from adulthood) . . . most nations with universal systems also have greater patient satisfaction.
“The reasons . . . should be obvious. By their nature, universal systems spend less money on wasteful overhead, and more on primary prevention. Health-insurance overhead in the United States alone consumes about 1 percent of the GDP, compared to 0.1 percent in Canada. Though medical inflation is a problem everywhere, the universal systems have had far lower rates of cost inflation . . . In the years between 1980 and 1987, total health costs in the United States increased by 2.4 times the rate of GDP growth. In nations with universal systems, they increased far more slowly. The figures for Sweden, France, West Germany, and Britain were 1.2, 1.6, 1.8, and 1.7 percent, respectively . . .
[. . . ]
“Remarkably enough, the United States spends most money on health care, but has the fewest beds per thousand in population, the lowest admission rate, and the lowest occupancy rate — coupled with the highest daily cost, highest technology-intensiveness, and greatest number of employees per bed.” [Everything for Sale, pp. 155-6]
In 1993, the US paid 13.4% of its GDP towards health care, compared to 10% for Canada, 8.6% for Sweden and Germany, 6.6% for Britain and 6.8% for Japan. Only 40% of the US population was covered by public health care and over 35 million people, 14% of the population, went without health insurance for all of 1991, and about twice that many were uninsured for some period during the year. In terms of health indicators, the US people are not getting value for money. Life expectancy is higher in Canada, Sweden, Germany, Japan and Britain. The USA has the highest levels of infant mortality and is last in basic health indicators as well as having fewer doctors per 1,000 people than the OECD average. All in all, the US system is miles begin the universal systems of other countries.
Of course, it will be argued that the USA is not an anarchy and so comparisons are pointless. However, it seems strange that the more competitive system, the more privatised system, is less efficient and less fair than the universal systems. It also seems strange that defenders of competition happily use examples from “actually existing” capitalism to illustrate their politics but reject negative examples as being a product of an “impure” system. They want to have their cake and eat it to.
Therefore, most anarchists are in favour of a socialised and universal health-care system for both ethical and efficiency reasons. Needless to say, an anarchist system of socialised health care would differ in many ways to the current systems of universal health-care provided by the state.
Such a system of socialised health-care will be built from the bottom-up and based around the local commune. In a social anarchist society, “medical services . . . will be free of charge to all inhabitants of the commune. The doctors will not be like capitalists, trying to extract the greatest profit from their unfortunate patients. They will be employed by the commune and expected to treat all who need their services.” Moreover, prevention will play an important part, as “medical treatment is only the curative side of the science of health care; it is not enough to treat the sick, it is also necessary to prevent disease. That is the true function of hygiene.” [James Guillaume, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 371]
How would an anarchist health service work? It would be based on self-management, of course, with close links to the local commune and federations of communes. Each hospital or health centre would be autonomous but linked in a federation with the others, allowing resources to be shared as and when required while allowing the health service to adjust to local needs and requirements as quickly as possible.
The Spanish Revolution indicates how an anarchist health service would operate. In rural areas local doctors would usually join the village collective and provided their services like any other worker. Where local doctors were not available, “arrangements were made by the collectives for treatment of their members by hospitals in nearby localities. In a few cases, collectives themselves build hospitals; in many they acquired equipment and other things needed by their local physicians.” For example, the Monzon comercal (district) federation of collectives in Aragon established maintained a hospital in Binefar, the Casa de Salud Durruti. By April 1937 it had 40 beds, in sections which included general medicine, prophylaxis and gynaecology. It saw about 25 outpatients a day and was open to anyone in the 32 villages of the comarca. [Robert Alexander, The Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, vol. 1, p. 331 and pp. 366-7]
The socialisation of the health care took on a slightly different form in Catalonia but on the same libertarian principles. Gaston Leval provides us with an excellent summary:
“The socialisation of health services was one of the greatest achievements of the revolution. To appreciate the efforts of our comrades it must be borne in mind that the rehabilitated the health service in all of Catalonia in so short a time after July 19th. The revolution could count on the co-operation of a number of dedicated doctors whose ambition was not to accumulate wealth but to serve the afflicted and the underprivileged.
“The Health Workers’ Union was founded in September, 1936. In line with the tendency to unite all the different classifications, trades, and services serving a given industry, all health workers, from porters to doctors and administrators, were organised into one big union of health workers
[. . .]
“Our comrades laid the foundations of a new health service . . . The new medical service embraced all of Catalonia. It constituted a great apparatus whose parts were distributed according to different needs, all in accord with an overall plan. Catalonia was divided into nine zones . . . In turn, all the surrounding villages and towns were served from these centres.
“Distributed throughout Catalonia were twenty-seven towns with a total of thirty-sex health centres conducting services so thoroughly that every village, every hamlet, every isolated peasant in the mountains, every woman, every child, anywhere, received adequate, up-to-date medical care. In each of the nine zones there was a central syndicate and a Control Committee located in Barcelona. Every department was autonomous within its own sphere. But this autonomy was not synonymous with isolation. The Central Committee in Barcelona, chosen by all the sections, met once a week with one delegate from each section to deal with common problems and to implement the general plan. . .
“The people immediately benefited from the projects of the health syndicate. The syndicate managed all hospitals and clinics. Six hospitals were opened in Barcelona. . . Eight new sanitariums were installed in converted luxurious homes ideally situated amidst mountains and pine forests. It was no easy task to convert these homes into efficient hospitals with all new facilities. . .” [quoted by Sam Dolgoff, The Anarchist Collectives, pp. 99-100]
People were no longer required to pay for medical services. Each collective, if it could afford it, would pay a contribution to its health centre. Building and facilities were improved and modern equipment introduced. Like other self-managed industries, the health service was run at all levels by general assemblies of workers who elected delegates and hospital administration.
In the Levante, the CNT built upon its existing Sociedad de Socorros Mutuos de Levante (a health service institution founded by the union as a kind of mutual benefit society which had numerous doctors and specialists). During the revolution, the Mutua had 50 doctors and was available to all affiliated workers and their families.
Thus, all across Spain, the workers in the health service re-organised their industry in libertarian lines and in association with the local collective or commune and the unions of the CNT. As Gaston Leval summarises:
“Everywhere that we were able to study the towns and little cities transformed by the revolution, the hospitals, the clinics, the polyclincs and other health establishments have been municipalised, enlarged, modernised, put under the safekeeping of the collectivity. And where they didn’t exist, they were improvised. The socialisation of medicine was a work for the benefit of all.” [quoted by Robert Alexander, Op. Cit., p. 677]
We can expect a similar process to occur in the future anarchist society. Workers in the health industry will organise their workplaces, federate together to share resources and information, to formulate plans and improve the quality of service to the public. The communes and their federations, the syndicates and federations of syndicates will provide resources and effectively own the health system, ensuring access for all.
Similar systems would operate in other public services. For example, in education we expect the members of communes to organise a system of free schools. This can be seen from the Spanish revolution. Indeed, the Spanish anarchists organised Modern Schools before the outbreak of the revolution, with 50 to 100 schools in various parts funded by local anarchist groups and CNT unions. During the revolution everywhere across Spain, syndicates, collectives and federations of collectives formed and founded schools. Indeed, education “advanced at an unprecedented pace. Most of the partly or wholly socialised collectives and municipalities built at least one school. By 1938, for example, every collective in the Levant Federation had its own school.” [Gaston Leval, quoted by Sam Dolgoff, The Anarchist Collectives, p. 168] These schools aimed, to quote the CNT’s resolution on Libertarian Communism, to “help mould men with minds of their own — and let it be clear that when we use the word ‘men’ we use it in the generic sense — to which end it will be necessary for the teacher to cultivate every one of the child’s faculties so that the child may develop every one of its capacities to the full.” [quoted by Jose Periats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, p. 70] The principles of libertarian education, of encouraging freedom instead of authority in the school, was applied on vast scale (see section J.5.13 for more details on Modern Schools and libertarian education).
This educational revolution was not confined to collectives or children. For example, the Federacion Regional de Campesinos de Levante formed institutes in each of its five provinces. The first was set up in October 1937 in an old convent with 100 students. The Federation also set up two “universities” in Valencia and Madrid which taught a wide variety of agricultural subjects and combined learning with practical experience in an experimental form attached to each university. The Aragon collectives formed a similar specialised school in Binefar. The CNT was heavily involved in transforming education in Catalonia. In addition, the local federation of the CNT in Barcelona established a school to train women workers to replace male ones being taken into the army. The school was run by the anarchist-feminist group the Mujeres Libres. [Robert Alexander, Op. Cit., p. 406, p. 670 and pp. 665-8 and p. 670]
Ultimately, the public services that exist in a social anarchist society will be dependent on what members of that society desire. If, for example, a commune or federation of communes desires a system of communal health-care or schools then they will allocate resources to implement it. They will allocate the task of creating such a system to, say, a special commission based on volunteers from the interested parties such as the relevant syndicates, professional associations, consumer groups and so on. For example, for communal education a commission or working group would include delegates from the teachers union, from parent associations, from student unions and so on. The running of such a system would be based, like any other industry, on those who work in it. Functional self-management would be the rule, with doctors managing their work, nurses theirs and so on, while the general running of, say, a hospital would be based on a general assembly of all workers there who would elect and mandate delegates, the administration staff and decide the policy the hospital would follow. Needless to say, other interested parties would have a say, including patients in the health system and students in the education system.
Thus, as would be expected, public services would be organised by the public, organised in their syndicates and communes. They would be based on workers’ self-management of their daily work and of the system as a whole. Non-workers who took part in the system (patients, students) would not be ignored and would also place a role in providing essential feedback to assure quality control of services and to ensure that the service is responsive to users needs. The resources required to maintain and expand the system would be provided by the communes, syndicates and their federations. For the first time, public services would truly be public and not a statist system imposed upon the public from above.
Needless to say, any system of public services would not be imposed on those who did not desire it. They would be organised for and by members of the communes. Therefore, individuals who were not part of a local commune or syndicate would have to pay to gain access to the communal resources. However, it is unlikely that an anarchist society would be as barbaric as a capitalist one and refuse entry to cases who were ill and could not pay, nor turn away emergencies because they did not have enough money to pay. And just as other workers need not join a syndicate or commune, so doctors, teachers and so on could practice their trade outside the communal system as either individual artisans or as part of a co-operative. However, given the availability of free medical services it is doubtful they would grow rich doing so. Medicine, teaching and so on would revert back to what usually initially motivates people to take these up professions — the desire to help others and make a positive impact in peoples lives.
A common objection to anarchism is that an anarchist society will be vulnerable to be taken over by thugs or those who seek power. A similar argument is that a group without a leadership structure becomes open to charismatic leaders so anarchy would just lead to tyranny.
For anarchists, such arguments are strange. Society already is run by thugs and/or the off-spring of thugs. Kings were originally just successful thugs who succeeded in imposing their domination over a given territorial area. The modern state has evolved from the structure created to impose this domination. Similarly with property, with most legal titles to land being traced back to its violent seizure by thugs who then passed it on to their children who then sold it or gave it to their offspring. The origins of the current system in violence can be seen by the continued use of violence by the state and capitalists to enforce and protect their domination over society. When push comes to shove, the dominant class will happily re-discover their thug past and employ extreme violence to maintain their privileges. The descent of large parts of Europe into Fascism during the 1930s, or Pinochet’s coup in Chile in 1973 indicates how far they will go. As Peter Arshinov argued (in a slightly different context):
“Statists fear free people. They claim that without authority people will lose the anchor of sociability, will dissipate themselves, and will return to savagery. This is obviously rubbish. It is taken seriously by idlers, lovers of authority and of the labour of others, or by blind thinkers of bourgeois society. The liberation of the people in reality leads to the degeneration and return to savagery, not of the people, but of those who, thanks to power and privilege, live from the labour of the people’s arms and from the blood of the people’s veins . . . The liberation of the people leads to the savagery of those who live from its enslavement.” [The History of the Makhnovist Movement, p. 85]
Anarchists are not impressed with the argument that anarchy would be unable to stop thugs seizing power. It ignores the fact that we live in a society where the power-hungry already hold power. As an argument against anarchism it fails and is, in fact, an argument against capitalist and statist societies.
Moreover, it also ignores fact that people in an anarchist society would have gained their freedom by overthrowing every existing and would-be thug who had or desired power over others. They would have defended that freedom against those who desired to re-impose it. They would have organised themselves to manage their own affairs and, therefore, to abolish all hierarchical power. And we are to believe that these people, after struggling to become free, would quietly let a new set of thugs impose themselves? As Kropotkin argued:
“The only way in which a state of Anarchy can be obtained is for each man [or woman] who is oppressed to act as if he [or she] were at liberty, in defiance of all authority to the contrary . . . In practical fact, territorial extension is necessary to ensure permanency to any given individual revolution. In speaking of the Revolution, we signify the aggregate of so many successful individual and group revolts as will enable every person within the revolutionised territory to act in perfect freedom . . . without having to constantly dread the prevention or the vengeance of an opposing power upholding the former system . . . Under these circumstance it is obvious that any visible reprisal could and would be met by a resumption of the same revolutionary action on the part of the individuals or groups affected, and that the maintenance of a state of Anarchy in this manner would be far easier than the gaining of a state of Anarchy by the same methods and in the face of hitherto unshaken opposition . . . They have it in their power to apply a prompt check by boycotting such a person and refusing to help him with their labour or to willing supply him with any articles in their possession. They have it in their power to use force against him. They have these powers individually as well as collectively. Being either past rebels who have been inspired with the spirit of liberty, or else habituated to enjoy freedom from their infancy, they are hardly to rest passive in view of what they feel to be wrong.” [Kropotkin, Act for Yourselves, pp. 87-8]
Thus a free society would use direct action to resist the would-be ruler just as it had used direct action to free itself from existing rulers. An anarchist society would be organised in a way which would facilitate this direct action as it would be based on networks of solidarity and mutual aid. An injury to one is an injury to all and a would-be ruler would face a whole liberated society acting against him or her. Faced with the direct action of the population (which would express itself in non-co-operation, strikes, demonstrations, occupations, insurrections and so on) a would be power seeker would find it difficult to impose themselves. Unlike those accustomed to rulership in existing society, an anarchist people would be a society of rebels and so difficult to dominate and conquer.
Anarchists point to the example of the rise of Fascism in Italy, Spain and Germany to prove their point. In areas with strong anarchist movements the fascists were resisted most strongly. While in Germany Hitler took power with little or no opposition, in Italy and Spain the fascists had to fight long and hard to gain power. The anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist organisations fought the fascists tooth and nail, with some success before betrayal by the Republicans and Marxists. From this historical experience anarchists argue that an anarchist society would quickly and easily defeat would-be thugs as people would be used to practising direct action and self-management and would have no desire to stop practising them.
As for self-management resulting in “charismatic” leaders, well the logic is astounding. As if hierarchical structures are not based on leadership structures and do not require a charismatic leader! Such an argument is inherently self-contradictory — as well as ignoring the nature of modern society and its leadership structures. Rather than mass assemblies being dominated by leaders, it is the case that hierarchical structures are the natural breeding ground for dictators. All the great dictators the world have seen have come to the forefront in hierarchical organisations, not libertarian structured ones. Hitler, for example, did not come to power via a libertarian organisation. Rather he used a highly centralised and hierarchically organised party to take control of a centralised, hierarchical state. The very disempowerment of the population in capitalist society results in them looking to leaders to act for them and so “charismatic” leaders are a natural result. An anarchist society, by empowering all, would make it more difficult, not less, for a would-be leader to gain power — few people, if any, would be willing to sacrifice and negate themselves for the benefit of another.
As would be expected, given our comments above, anarchists think an anarchist society must defend itself against attempts to re-introduce the state or private property. The question of defence of an anarchist society is discussed in the next section and so we will not do so here.
Our discussion on the power hungry obviously relates to the more general the question of whether ethical behaviour be rewarded in an anarchist society. In other words, could an anarchist society be stable or would the unethical take over?
It is one of the most disturbing aspects of living in a world where the rush to acquire wealth is the single most important aspect of living is what happens to people who follow an ethical path in life.
Under capitalism, the ethical generally do not succeed as well as those stab their fellows in the back, those who cut corners, indulge in sharp business practises, drive competitors into the ground and live their lives with an eye on the bottom line but they do survive. Loyalty to a firm or a group, bending over backwards to provide a service, giving a helping hand to somebody in need, placing friendship above money, count for nothing when the bills come in. People who act ethically in a capitalist society are usually punished and penalised for their ethical, moral and principled behaviour. Indeed, the capitalist market rewards unethical behaviour as it generally reduces costs and so gives those who do it a competitive edge.
It is different in a free society. Anarchism is based on two principles of association, equal access to power and wealth. Everybody in an anarchist society irrespective of what they do, or who they are or what type of work they perform is entitled to share in society’s wealth. Whether a community survives or prospers depends on the combined efforts of the people in that community. Ethical behaviour would become the norm in an anarchist community; those people who act ethically would be rewarded by the standing they achieve in the community and by others being more than happy to work with and aid them. People who cut corners, try to exercise power over others, refuse to co-operate as equals or otherwise act in an unethical manner would lose their standing in an anarchist society. Their neighbours and work mates would refuse to co-operate with them (or reduce co-operation to a minimum) and take other forms of non-violent direct action to point out that certain forms of activity was inappropriate. They would discuss the issue with the unethical person and try to convince them of the errors of their way. In a society where the necessities are guaranteed, people would tend to act ethically because ethical behaviour raises an individuals profile and standing within such a community. Capitalism and ethical behaviour are mutually exclusive concepts; anarchism encourages and rewards ethical behaviour.
Therefore, as can be seen, anarchists argue that a free society would not have to fear would-be thugs, “charismatic” leaders or the unethical. An anarchist society would be based on the co-operation of free individuals. It is unlikely that they would tolerate such behaviour and would use their own direct action as well as social and economic organisations to combat it. Moreover, the nature of free co-operation would reward ethical behaviour as those who practice it would have it reciprocated by their fellows.
One last point. Some people seem to think that anarchism is about the powerful being appealed to not to oppress and dominate others. Far from it. Anarchism is about the oppressed and exploited refusing to let others dominate them. It is not an appeal to the “better side” of the boss or would-be boss; it is about the solidarity and direct action of those subject to a boss getting rid of the boss — whether the boss agrees to it or not! Once this is clearly understood the idea that an anarchist society is vulnerable to the power-hungry is clearly nonsense — anarchy is based on resisting power and so is, by its very nature, more resistant to would-be rulers than a hierarchical one.
Anarchists are well aware that an anarchist society will have to defend itself from both inside and outside attempts to re-impose capitalism and the state. Indeed, every revolutionary anarchist has argued that a revolution will have to defend itself.
Unfortunately, Marxists have consistently misrepresented anarchist ideas on this subject. Lenin, for example, argued that the “proletariat needs the state only temporarily. We do not at all disagree with the anarchists on the question of the abolition of the state as an aim. We maintain that, to achieve this aim, we must temporarily make use of the instruments, resources and methods of state power against the exploiters, just as the dictatorship of the oppressed class is temporarily necessary for the abolition of classes. Marx chooses the sharpest and clearest way of stating his position against the anarchists: after overthrowing the yoke of the capitalists, should workers ‘lay down their arms’ or use them against the capitalists in order to crush their resistance? But what is the systematic use of arms by one class against the other, if not a ‘transitory form’ of state.” [“The State and Revolution”, Essential Works of Lenin, p. 316]
Fortunately, as Murray Bookchin points out, anarchists are “not so naive as to believe anarchism could be established overnight. In imputing this notion to Bakunin, Marx and Engels wilfully distorted the Russian anarchist’s views. Nor did the anarchists . . . believe that the abolition of the state involved ‘laying down arms’ immediately after the revolution. . .” [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 213] Even a basic familiarity with the work of anarchist thinkers would make the reader aware that Bookchin is right. As we shall see, anarchists have consistently argued that a revolution and an anarchist society needs to be defended against those who would try and re-introduce hierarchy, domination, oppression and exploitation (even, as with Leninists, they call themselves “socialists”). As Malatesta argued in 1891:
“Many suppose that . . . anarchists, in the name of their principles, would wish to see that strange liberty respected which violates and destroys the freedom and life of others. They seem almost to believe that after having brought down government and private property we would allow both to be quietly built up again, because of a respect for the freedom of those who might feel the need to be rulers and property owners. A truly curious way of interpreting our ideas!” [Anarchy, p. 41]
Anarchists reject the idea that defending a revolution, or even the act of revolution itself, represents or requires a “state.” As Malatesta argued, the state “means the delegation of power, that is the abdication of initiative and sovereignty of all into the hands of a few.” [Op. Cit., p. 40] Luigi Fabbri stresses this when he argued that, for anarchists, “the essence of the state . . . [is] centralised power or to put it another way the coercive authority of which the state enjoys the monopoly, in that organisation of violence know as ‘government’; in the hierarchical despotism, juridical, police and military despotism that imposes laws on everyone.” [“Anarchy and ‘Scientific’ Communism”, in The Poverty of Statism, pp. 13-49, Albert Meltzer (ed.), pp. 24-5] Therefore the state is the delegation of power, the centralisation of authority into the hands of a few at the top of society rather than a means of defending a revolution against the expropriated ruling class. To confuse the defence of a revolution and the state is, therefore, a great mistake as it introduces an inequality of power into a so-called socialist society. In the words of Voline:
“All political power inevitably creates a privileged situation for the men who exercise it. Thus is violates, from the beginning, the equalitarian principle and strikes at the heart of the Social Revolution . . . [and] becomes the source of other privileges . . . power is compelled to create a bureaucratic and coercive apparatus indispensable to all authority . . . Thus it forms a new privileged caste, at first politically and later economically. . . It sows everywhere the seed of inequality and soon infects the whole social organism . . . It predisposes the masses to passivity, and all sprite and initiative is stifled by the very existence of power, in the extent to which it is exercised.” [The Unknown Revolution, p. 249]
Unsurprisingly, anarchists think a revolution should defend itself in the same way that it organises itself — from the bottom up, in a self-managed way. The means to defend an anarchist society or revolution are based around the organs of self-management that revolution creates. In the words of Bakunin:
“[T]he federative Alliance of all working men’s associations . . . constitute the Commune . . .. Commune will be organised by the standing federation of the Barricades and by the creation of a Revolutionary Communal Council composed of one or two delegates from each barricade . . . vested with plenary but accountable and removable mandates . . . all provinces, communes and associations . . . reorganising on revolutionary lines . . . [would] send . . . their representatives to an agreed meeting place . . . vested with similar mandates to constitute the federation of insurgent associations, communes and provinces . . . [which would] organise a revolutionary force capable of defeating reaction . . . it is the very fact of the expansion and organisation of the revolution for the purpose of self-defence among the insurgent areas that will bring about the triumph of the revolution. . .
“Since revolution everywhere must be created by the people, and supreme control must always belong to the people organised in a free federation of agricultural and industrial associations . . . organised from the bottom upwards by means of revolutionary delegation. . . “ [Michael Bakunin: Selected Writings, pp. 170-2]
Thus we have a dual framework of revolution. On the one hand, the federation of workers’ councils based on self-managed assemblies nominating mandated and accountable delegates. On the other, we have a federation of barricades, again based on self-management and mandated delegates, which actually defends the revolution against reaction. The success of the revolution depends on spreading it and organising joint self-defence. He stressed the importance of co-ordinating defence two years later, in 1870:
“[L]et us suppose . . . it is Paris that starts [the revolution] . . . Paris will naturally make haste to organise itself as best it can, in revolutionary style, after the workers have joined into associations and made a clean sweep of all the instruments of labour, every kind of capital and building; armed and organised by streets and quartiers, they will form the revolutionary federation of all the quartiers, the federative commune. . . All the French and foreign revolutionary communes will then send representatives to organise the necessary common services . . . and to organise common defence against the enemies of the Revolution, together with propaganda, the weapon of revolution, and practical revolutionary solidarity with friends in all countries against enemies in all countries.” [Op. Cit., p. 178-9]
As can be seen, the revolution not only abolishes the state by a free federation of workers associations, it also expropriates capital and ends wage labour. Thus the “political revolution is transformed into social revolution.” [Op. Cit., p. 171] Which, we must add, destroys another Marxist myth that claims that anarchists think, to quote Engels, that “the state is the chief evil, [and] it is above all the state which must be done away with and then capitalism will go to blazes,” in other words, the “abolition of the state” comes before the “social revolution.” [Marx and Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader p. 728] As can be clearly seen, anarchists consider the social revolution to be, at the same time, the abolition of the state along with the abolition of capitalism.
Therefore, Bakunin was well aware of the needs to defend a revolution after destroying the state and abolishing capitalism. It is clear that after a successful rising, the revolutionary population does not “lay down their arms” but rather organises itself in a federal to co-ordinate defence against reactionary areas which seek to destroy it.
Nor was Bakunin alone in this analysis. For example, we discover Errico Malatesta arguing that during a revolution we should “[a]rm all the population.” The revolution would have “armed the people so that it can resist any armed attempt by reaction to re-establish itself.” This revolution would involve “creation of a voluntary militia, without powers to interfere as militia in the life of the community, but only to deal with any armed attacks by the forces of reaction to re-establish themselves, or to resist outside intervention by countries as yet not in a state of revolution.” Like Bakunin, Malatesta stresses the importance of co-ordinating activity via free federations of workers’ associations — “the development of the revolution would be the task of volunteers, by all kinds of committees, local, intercommunal, regional and national congresses which would attend to the co-ordination of social activity,” the “[o]rganisation of social life by means of free association and federations of producers and consumers, created and modified according to the wishes of their members,” and so be “under the direct control of the people.” Again, like Bakunin, the revolution would abolish state and capital, and “the workers . . . [should] take possession of the factories . . . federate among themselves . . . the peasants should take over the land and the produce usurped by the landlords.” Ultimately, the “most powerful means for defending the revolution remains always that of taking away from the bourgeois the economic means on which their power rests, and of arming everybody (until such time as one will have managed to persuade everybody to throw away their arms as useless and dangerous toys), and of interesting the mass of the population in the victory of the revolution.” [Life and Ideas, p. 170, p. 165, p. 166, pp. 165-6, p. 184, p. 175, p. 165 and p. 173]
Malatesta stresses that a government is not required to defend a revolution:
“But, by all means, let us admit that the governments of the still unemancipated countries were to want to, and could, attempt to reduce free people to a state of slavery once again. Would this people require a government to defend itself? To wage war men are needed who have all the necessary geographical and mechanical knowledge, and above all large masses of the population willing to go and fight. A government can neither increase the abilities of the former nor the will and courage of the latter. And the experience of history teaches us that a people who really want to defend their own country are invincible: and in Italy everyone knows that before the corps of volunteers (anarchist formations) thrones topple, and regular armies composed of conscripts or mercenaries disappear.” [Anarchy, pp. 40-1]
The Spanish anarchist D. A. Santillan argued that the “local Council of Economy will assume the mission of defence and raise voluntary corps for guard duty and if need be, for combat” in the “cases of emergency or danger of a counter-revolution.” These Local Councils would be a federation of workplace councils and would be members of the Regional Council of the Economy which, like the Local Council, would be “constitute[d] by delegations or through assemblies.” [After the Revolution, p. 80 and pp. 82-83] Yet again we see the defence of the revolution based on the federation of workers’ councils and so directly controlled by the revolutionary population.
Lastly, we turn to the Spanish CNT’s 1936 resolution on Libertarian Communism. In this document is a section entitled “Defence of the Revolution” which argues:
“We acknowledge the necessity to defend the advances made through the revolution . . . So . . . the necessary steps will be taken to defend the new regime, whether against the perils of a foreign capitalist invasion . . . or against counter-revolution at home. It must be remembered that a standing army constitutes the greatest danger for the revolution, since its influence could lead to dictatorship, which would necessarily kill off the revolution. . .
“The people armed will be the best assurance against any attempt to restore the system destroyed from either within or without. . .
“Let each Commune have its weapons and means of defence . . . the people will mobilise rapidly to stand up to the enemy, returning to their workplaces as soon as they may have accomplished their mission of defence. . . .
“1. The disarming of capitalism implies the surrender of weaponry to the communes which be responsible for ensuring defensive means are effectively organised nationwide.
“2. In the international context, we shall have to mount an intensive propaganda drive among the proletariat of every country so that it may take an energetic protest, calling for sympathetic action against any attempted invasion by its respective government. At the same time, our Iberian Confederation of Autonomous Libertarian Communes will render material and moral assistance to all the world’s exploited so that these may free themselves forever from the monstrous control of capitalism and the State.” [quoted by Jose Peirats, The CNT in the Spanish Revolution, vol. 1, p. 110]
Therefore, an anarchist society defends itself in a non-statist fashion. Defence is organised in a libertarian manner, based on federations of free communes and workers’ councils and incorporating self-managed workers’ militias. This was exactly what the CNT-FAI did in 1936 to resist Franco’s fascists. The militia bodies that were actually formed by the CNT in the revolution were internally self-governing, not hierarchical. Each militia column was administered by its own “war committee,” made up of elected delegates, which in turn sent delegates to co-ordinate action on a specific front. Similarly, the Makhnovists during the Russian Revolution also organised in a democratic manner, subject to the decisions of the local workers’ councils and their congresses.
Thus Anarchist theory and practice indicate that defence of a revolution need not involve a hierarchical system like the Bolshevik Red Army where the election of officers, soldiers’ councils and self-governing assemblies were abolished by Trotsky in favour of officers appointed from above (see Trotsky’s article The Path of the Red Army in which he freely admits to abolishing the soldiers “organs of revolutionary self-government” the Soviets of Soldiers’ Deputies as well as “the system of election” of commanders by the soldiers themselves in favour of a Red Army “built from above” with appointed commanders).
As can be seen, the only armed force for the defence of the an anarchist society would be the voluntary, self-managed militia bodies organised by the free communes and federations of workers’ associations. The militias would be unified and co-ordinated by federations of communes while delegates from each militia unit would co-ordinate the actual fighting. In times of peace the militia members would be living and working among the rest of the populace, and, thus, they would tend to have the same outlook and interests as their fellow workers.
Instead of organising a new state, based on top-down command and hierarchical power, anarchists argue that a revolutionary people can build and co-ordinate a militia of their own and control the defence of their revolution directly and democratically, through their own organisations (such as unions, councils of delegates elected from the shop floor and community, and so on). Where they have had the chance, anarchists have done so, with remarkable success. Therefore, an anarchist society can be defended against attempts to re-impose hierarchy and bosses (old or new).
For more discussion of this issue, see section J.7.6 ( “How could an anarchist revolution defend itself?”)