An Anarchist FAQ - J.4 What trends in society aid anarchist activity?

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J.4 What trends in society aid anarchist activity?

In this section we will examine some modern trends which we regard as being potential openings for anarchists to organise. These trends are of a general nature, partly as a product of social struggle, partly as a response to economic and social crisis, partly involving people's attitudes to big government and big business partly in relation to the communications revolution we are currently living through, and so on. We do this because, as Kropotkin argued, the anarchist "studies human society as it is now and was in the past. . . He [or she] studies society and tries to discover its tendencies, past and present, its growing needs, intellectual and economical, and in his ideal he merely points out in which direction evolution goes." [Anarchism and Anarchist Communism, p. 24] In this section we highlight just a few of the tendencies in modern society which point in an anarchist direction.

Of course, looking at modern society we see multiple influences, changes which have certain positive aspects in some directions but negative ones in others. For example, the business-inspired attempts to decentralise or reduce (certain) functions of governments. In the abstract, such developments should be welcomed by anarchists for they lead to the reduction of government. In practice such a conclusion is deeply suspect simply because these developments are being pursued to increase the power and influence of business and capital and undermine working class power and autonomy. Similarly, increases in self-employment can be seen, in the abstract, as reducing wage slavery. However, if, in practice, this increase is due to corporations encouraging "independent" contractors to cut wages and worsen working conditions, increase job insecurity and undermine paying for health and other employee packages then is hardly a positive sign. Obviously increases in self-employment would be different if such an increase was the result of an increase in the number of co-operatives, for example.

Thus few anarchists celebrate many apparently "libertarian" developments as they are not the product of social movements and activism, but are the product of elite lobbying for private profit and power. Decreasing the power of the state in (certain) areas while leaving (or increasing) the power of capital is a retrograde step in most, if not all, ways. Needless to say, this "rolling back" of the state does not bring into question its role as defender of property and the interests of the capitalist class -- nor could it, as it is the ruling class who introduces and supports these developments.

As an example of these multiple influences, we can point to the economic crisis which has staggered on since 1973 in many Western countries. This crisis, when it initially appeared, lead to calls to reduce taxation (at least for the wealthy, in most countries the tax-burden was shifted even more onto the working class -- as was the case in Thatcher's Britain). In most countries, as a result, government "got off the back" of the wealthy (and got even more comfy on our back!). This (along with slower growth) helped to create declining revenue bases in the advanced capitalist nations has given central governments an excuse to cut social services, leaving a vacuum that regional and local governments have had to fill along with voluntary organisations, thus producing a tendency toward decentralisation that dovetails with anarchist ideals.

As Murray Bookchin points out, a sustainable ecological society must shift emphasis away from nation-states as the basic units of administration and focus instead on municipalities -- towns, villages, and human-scale cities. Interestingly, the ongoing dismantling of the welfare state is producing such a shift by itself. By forcing urban residents to fend for themselves more than ever before in meeting transportation, housing, social welfare, and other needs, the economic crisis is also forcing them to relearn the arts of teamwork, co-operation, and self-reliance (see his Remaking Society: Pathways to a Green Future, p. 183).

Of course the economic crisis also has a downside for anarchists. As hardships and dislocations continue to swell the ranks and increase the militancy of progressive social movements, the establishment is being provoked to use ever more authoritarian methods to maintain control (see D.9). As the crisis deepens over the next few decades, the reactionary tendencies of the state will be reinforced (particularly as the neo-liberal consensus helps atomise society via the market mechanism and the resulting destruction of community and human relationships). However, this is not inevitable. The future depends on our actions in the here and now. In this section of the FAQ we highlight some developments which do, or could, work to the advantage of anarchists. Many of these examples are from the US, but they apply equally to Britain and many other advanced industrial states.

In this section, we aim to discuss tendencies from below, not above -- tendencies which can truly "roll back" the state rather than reduce its functions purely to that of the armed thug of Capital. The tendencies we discuss here are not the be all nor end all of anarchist activism or tendencies. We discuss many of the more traditionally anarchist "openings" in section J.5 (such as industrial and community unionism, mutual credit, co-operatives, modern schools and so on) and so will not do so here. However, it is important to stress here that such "traditional" openings are not being downplayed -- indeed, much of what we discuss here can only become fully libertarian in combination with these more "traditional" forms of "anarchy in action."

For a lengthy discussion of anarchistic trends in society, we recommend Colin Ward's classic book Anarchy in Action. Ward's excellent book covers many areas in which anarchistic tendencies have been expressed, far more than we can cover here. The libertarian tendencies in society are many. No single work could hope to do them justice.

 

J.4.1 Why is social struggle a good sign?

Simply because it shows that people are unhappy with the existing society and, more importantly, are trying to change at least some part of it. It suggests that certain parts of the population have reflected on their situation and, potentially at least, seen that by their own actions they can influence and change it for the better.

Given that the ruling minority draws its strength of the acceptance and acquiescence of the majority, the fact that a part of that majority no longer accepts and acquiesces is a positive sign. After all, if the majority did not accept the status quo and acted to change it, the class and state system could not survive. Any hierarchical society survives because those at the bottom follow the orders of those above it. Social struggle suggests that some people are considering their own interests, thinking for themselves and saying "no" and this, by its very nature, is an important, indeed, the most important, tendency towards anarchism. It suggests that people are rejecting the old ideas which hold the system up, acting upon this rejection and creating new ways of doing thinks.

"Our social institutions," argues Alexander Berkman, "are founded on certain ideas; as long as the latter are generally believed, the institutions built upon them are safe. Government remains strong because people think political authority and legal compulsion necessary. Capitalism will continue as long as such an economic system is considered adequate and just. The weakening of the ideas which support the evil and oppressive present-day conditions means the ultimate breakdown of government and capitalism." [The ABC of Anarchism, p. xv]

Social struggle is the most obvious sign of this change of perspective, this change in ideas, this progress towards freedom.

Social struggle is expressed by direct action. We have discussed both social struggle and direct action before (in sections J.1 and J.2 respectively) and some readers may wonder why we are covering this again here. We do so for two reasons. Firstly, as we are discussing what trends in society help anarchist activity, it would be wrong not to highlight social struggle and direct action here. This is because these factors are key tendencies towards anarchism as anarchism will be created by people and social struggle is the means by which people create the new world in the shell of the old. Secondly, social struggle and direct action are key aspects of anarchist theory and we cannot truly present a picture of what anarchism is about without making clear what these are.

So social struggle is a good sign as it suggests that people are thinking for themselves, considering their own interests and working together collectively to change things for the better. As the French syndicalist Emile Pouget argues:

 

"Direct action . . . means that the working class, forever bridling at the existing state of affairs, expects nothing from outside people, powers or forces, but rather creates its own conditions of struggle and looks to itself for its methodology . . . Direct Action thus implies that the working class subscribes to notions of freedom and autonomy instead of genuflecting before the principle of authority. Now, it is thanks to this authority principle, the pivot of the modern world - democracy being its latest incarnation - that the human being, tied down by a thousand ropes, moral as well as material, is bereft of any opportunity to display will and initiative." [Direct Action]

Social struggle means that people come into opposition with the boss and other authorities such as the state and the dominant morality. This challenge to existing authorities generates two related processes: the tendency of those involved to begin taking over the direction of their own activities and the development of solidarity with each other. Firstly, in the course of a struggle, such as a strike, occupation, boycott, and so on, the ordinary life of people, in which they act under the constant direction of the bosses or state, ceases, and they have to think, act and co-ordinate their actions for themselves. This reinforces the expression towards autonomy that the initial refusal that lead to the struggle indicates. Thus struggle re-enforces the initial act of refusal and autonomy by forcing those involves to act for themselves. Secondly, in the process of struggle those involved learn the importance of solidarity, of working with others in a similar situation, in order to win. This means the building of links of support, of common interests, of organisation. The practical need for solidarity to help win the struggle is the basis for the solidarity required for a free society to be viable.

Therefore the real issue in social struggle is that it is an attempt by people to wrestle at least part of the power over their own lives away from the managers, state officials and so on who currently have it and exercise it themselves. This is, by its very nature, anarchistic and libertarian. Thus we find politicians and, of course, managers and property owners, often denouncing strikes and other forms of direct action. This is logical. As direct action challenges the real power-holders in society and because, if carried to its logical conclusion, it would have to replace them, social struggle and direct action can be considered in essence a revolutionary process.

Moreover, the very act of using direct action suggests a transformation within the people using it. "Direct action's very powers to fertilise," argues Pouget, "reside in such exercises in imbuing the individual with a sense of his own worth and in extolling such worth. It marshals human resourcefulness, tempers characters and focuses energies. It teaches self-confidence! And self-reliance! And self-mastery! And shifting for oneself!" Moreover, "direct action has an unmatched educational value: It teaches people to reflect, to make decisions and to act. It is characterised by a culture of autonomy, an exaltation of individuality and is a fillip to initiative, to which it is the leaven. And this superabundance of vitality and burgeoning of 'self' in no way conflicts with the economic fellowship that binds the workers one with another and far from being at odds with their common interests, it reconciles and bolsters these: the individual's independence and activity can only erupt into splendour and intensity by sending its roots deep into the fertile soil of common agreement." [Pouget, Op. Cit.]

Emma Goldman also recognised the transforming power of direct action. Anarchists, she argues, "believe with Stirner that man has as much liberty as he is willing to take. Anarchism therefore stands for direct action, the open defiance of, and resistance to, all laws and restrictions, economic, social and moral. But defiance and resistance are illegal. Therein lies the salvation of man. Everything illegal necessitates integrity, self-reliance, and courage. In short, it calls for free independent spirits. . ." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 61-2]

Social struggle is the beginning of a transformation of the people involved and their relationships to each other. While its external expression lies in contesting the power of existing authorities, its inner expression is the transformation of people from passive and isolated competitors into empowered, self-directing, self-governing co-operators. Moreover, this process widens considerable what people think is "possible." Through struggle, by collective action, the fact people can change things is driven home, that they have the power to govern themselves and the society they live in. Thus struggle can change people's conception of "what is possible" and encourage them to try and create a better world. As Kropotkin argued:

 

"since the times of the [first] International Working Men's Association, the anarchists have always advised taking an active part in those workers' organisations which carry on the direct struggle of labour against capital and its protector -- the State.

"Such a struggle, they say, . . . permits the worker to obtain some temporary improvements. . ., while it opens his [or her] eyes to the evil that is done by capitalism and the State. . . , and wakes up his thoughts concerning the possibility of organising consumption, production, and exchange without the intervention of the capitalist and the State." [Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 171]

In other words, social struggle has a radicalising and politicising effect, an effect which brings into a new light existing society and the possibilities of a better world ("direct action", in Pouget's words, "develops the feeling for human personality as well as the spirit of initiative . . . it shakes people out of their torpor and steers them to consciousness."). The practical need to unite and resist the boss also helps break down divisions within the working class. Those in struggle start to realise that they need each other to give them the power necessary to get improvements, to change things. Thus solidarity spreads and overcomes divisions between black and white, male and female, heterosexual and homosexual, trades, industries, nationalities and so on. The real need for solidarity to win the fight helps to undermine artificial divisions and show that there are only two groups in society, the oppressed and the oppressors.

Moreover, struggle as well as transforming those involved is also the basis for transforming society as a whole simply because, as well as producing transformed individuals, it also produces new forms of organisation, organisations created to co-ordinate their struggle and which can, potentially at least, become the framework of a libertarian socialist society.

Thus anarchists argue that social struggle opens the eyes of those involved to self-esteem and a sense of their own strength, and the groupings it forms at its prompting are living, vibrant associations where libertarian principles usually come to the fore. We find almost all struggles developing new forms of organisation, forms which are often based on direct democracy, federalism and decentralisation. If we look at every major revolution, we find people creating mass organisations such as workers' councils, factory committees, neighbourhood assemblies and so on as a means of taking back the power to govern their own lives, communities and workplaces. In this way social struggle and direct action lays the foundations for the future. By actively taking part in social life, people are drawn into creating new forms of organisation, new ways of doing things. In this way they educate themselves in participation, in self-government, in initiative and in asserting themselves. They begin to realise that the only alternative to management by others is self-management and organise to achieve thus.

Given that remaking society has to begin at the bottom, this finds its expression in direct action, individuals taking the initiative, building new, more libertarian forms of organisation and using the power they have just generated by collective action and organisation to change things by their own efforts. Social struggle is therefore a two way transformation -- the external transformation of society by the creation of new organisations and the changing of the power relations within it and the internal transformation of those who take part in the struggle. And because of this, social struggle, "[w]hatever may be the practical results of the struggle for immediate gains, the greatest value lies in the struggle itself. For thereby workers learn that the bosses interests are opposed to theirs and that they cannot improve their conditions, and much less emancipate themselves, except by uniting and becoming stronger than the bosses. If they succeed in getting what they demand, they will be better off . . . and immediately make greater demands and have greater needs. If they do not succeed they will be led to study the causes of their failure and recognise the need for closer unity and greater activism and they will in the end understand that to make their victory secure and definitive, it is necessary to destroy capitalism. The revolutionary cause, the cause of the moral elevation and emancipation of the workers must benefit by the fact that workers unite and struggle for their interests." [Errico Malatesta, Life and Ideas, p. 191]

Hence Nestor Makhno's comment that "[i]n fact, it is only through that struggle for freedom, equality and solidarity that you reach an understanding of anarchism." [The Struggle Against the State and other Essays, p. 71] The creation of an anarchist society is a process and social struggle is the key anarchistic tendency within society which anarchists look for, encourage and support. Its radicalising and transforming nature is the key to the growth of anarchist ideas, the creation of libertarian structures and alternatives within capitalism (structures which may, one day, replace capitalism and state) and the creation of anarchists and those sympathetic to anarchist ideas. Its importance cannot be underestimated!

 

J.4.2 Won't social struggle do more harm than good?

It is often argued that social struggle, by resisting the powerful and the wealthy, will just do more harm than good. Employers often use this approach in anti-union propaganda, for example, arguing that creating a union will force the company to close and move to less "militant" areas.

There is, of course, some truth in this. Yes, social struggle can lead to bosses moving to more compliant workforces -- but, of course, this also happens in periods lacking social struggle too! If we look at the down-sizing mania that gripped the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s, we see companies down-sizing tens of thousands of people during a period where unions were weak, workers scared about loosing their jobs and class struggle basically becoming mostly informal and "underground." Moreover, this argument actually indicates the need for anarchism. It is a damning indictment of any social system that it requires people to kow-tow to their masters otherwise they will suffer economic hardship. It boils down to the argument "do what you are told, otherwise you will regret it." Any system based on that maxim is an affront to human dignity!

It would, in a similar fashion, be easy to "prove" that slave rebellions are against the long term interests of the slaves. After all, by rebelling the slaves will face the anger of their masters. Only by submitting to their master can they avoid this fate and, perhaps, be rewarded by better conditions. Of course, the evil of slavery would continue but by submitting to it they can ensure their life can become better. Needless to say, any thinking and feeling person would quickly dismiss this reasoning as missing the point and being little more than apologetics for an evil social system that treated human beings as things. The same can be said for the argument that social struggles within capitalism do more harm than good. It betrays a slave mentality unfitting for human beings (although fitting for those who desire to live of the backs of workers or desire to serve those who do).

Moreover, this kind of argument ignores a few key points. Firstly, by resistance the conditions of the oppressed can be maintained or even improved. After all, if the boss knows that their decisions will be resisted they may be less inclined to impose speed-ups, longer hours and so on. If they know that their employees will agree to anything then there is every reason to expect them to impose all kinds of oppressions, just as a state will impose draconian laws if it knows that it can get away with it. History is full of examples of non-resistance producing greater evils in the long term and of resistance producing numerous important reforms and improvements (such as higher wages, shorter hours, the right to vote for working class people and women, freedom of speech, the end of slavery, trade union rights and so on).

So social struggle has been proven time and time again to gain successful reforms. For example, before the 8 hour day movement of 1886 in America, for example, most companies argued they could not introduce that reform without doing bust. However, after displaying a militant mood and conducting an extensive strike campaign, hundreds of thousands of workers discovered that their bosses had been lying and they got shorter hours. Indeed, the history of the labour movement shows what bosses say they can afford and the reforms workers can get via struggle are somewhat at odds. Given the asymmetry of information between workers and bosses, this is unsurprising. Workers can only guess at what is available and bosses like to keep their actual finances hidden. Even the threat of labour struggle can be enough to gain improvements. For example, Henry Ford's $5 day is often used as an example of capitalism rewarding good workers. However, this substantial pay increase was largely motivated by the unionisation drive by the Industrial Workers of the World among Ford workers in the summer of 1913 [Harry Braverman, Labour and Monopoly Capitalism, p. 144]. More recently, it was the mass non-payment campaign against the poll-tax in Britain during the late 1980s and early 1990s which helped ensure its defeat (and the 1990 poll-tax riot in London also helped and ensured that the New Zealand government did not introduce a similar scheme in their country too!). In the 1990s, France also saw the usefulness of direct action. Two successive prime ministers (Edouard Balladur and Alain Juppe) tried to impose large scale "reform" programmes that swiftly provoked mass demonstrations and general strikes amongst students, workers, farmers and others. Confronted by crippling disruptions, both governments gave in. Compared to the experience of, say Britain, France's tradition of direct action politics proved more effective in maintaining existing conditions or even improving on them.

Secondly, and in some ways more importantly, it ignores that by resistance those who take part can the social system they live in can be changed. This radicalising effect of social struggle can open new doors for those involved, liberate their minds, empower them and create the potential for deep social change. Without resistance to existing forms of authority a free society cannot be created as people adjust themselves to authoritarian structures and accept what is as the only possibility. By resisting, people transform and empower themselves, as well as transforming society. In addition, new possibilities can be seen (possibilities before dismissed as "utopian") and, via the organisation and action required to win reforms, the framework for these possibilities (i.e. of a new, libertarian, society) created. The transforming and empowering effect of social struggle is expressed well by the ex-IWW and UAW-CIO shop steward Nick DeGaetano in his experiences in the 1930s:

 

"the workers of my generation from the early days up to now had what you might call a labour insurrection in changing from a plain, humble, submissive creature into a man. The union made a man out of him. . . I am not talking about benefits . . . I am talking about the working conditions and how they affected the man in plant. . . Before they were submissive. Today they are men." [quoted in Industrial Democracy in America, Nelson Lichtenstein and Holwell John Harris (eds.), p. 204]

Other labour historians note the same radicalising process elsewhere (modern day activists could give more examples!):

"The contest [over wages and conditions] so pervaded social life that the ideology of acquisitive individualism, which explained and justified a society regulated by market mechanisms and propelled by the accumulation of capital, was challenged by an ideology of mutualism, rooted in working-class bondings and struggles. . . Contests over pennies on or off existing piece rates had ignited controversies over the nature and purpose of the American republic itself." [David Montgomery, The Fall of the House of Labour, p. 171]

This radicalising effect is far more dangerous to authoritarian structures than better pay, more liberal laws and so on as they need submissiveness to work. Little wonder that direct action is usually denounced as pointless or harmful by those in power or their spokespersons, for direct action will, taken to its logical conclusion, put them out of a job! Struggle, therefore, holds the possibility of a free society as well as of improvements in the here and now. It also changes the perspectives of those involved, creating new ideas and values to replace the ones of capitalism.

Thirdly, it ignores the fact that such arguments do not imply the end of social struggle and working class resistance and organisation, but rather its extension. If, for example, your boss argues that they will move to Mexico if you do not "shut up and put up" then the obvious solution is to make sure the workers in Mexico are also organised! Bakunin argued this basic point over one hundred years ago, and it is still true -- "in the long run the relatively tolerable position of workers in one country can be maintained only on condition that it be more or less the same in other countries." If, for example, workers in Mexico have worse wages and conditions than you do, these same conditions will be used against you as the "conditions of labour cannot get worse or better in any particular industry without immediately affecting the workers in other industries, and that workers of all trades are inter-linked with real and indissoluble ties of solidarity," ties which can be ignored only at your own peril. Ultimately, "in those countries the workers work longer hours for less pay; and the employers there can sell their products cheaper, successfully competing against conditions where workers working less earn more, and thus force the employers in the latter countries to cut wages and increase the hours of their workers." Bakunin's solution was to organise internationally, to stop this undercutting of conditions by solidarity between workers. As recent history shows, his argument was correct [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, pp. 306-7]. Thus it is not social struggle or militancy which is bad, just isolated militancy, struggle which ignores the ties of solidarity required to win, extent and keep reforms and improvements. In other words, our resistance must be as transnational as capitalism is.

The idea that social struggle and working class organisation are harmful was expressed constantly in the 1970s. If we look at the arguments of the right in the 1970s, we also find evidence that the "struggle does more harm than good" viewpoint is flawed. With the post-war Keynesian consensus crumbling, the "New Right" argued that trade unions (and strikes) hampered growth and that wealth redistribution (i.e. welfare schemes which returned some of the surplus value workers produced back into their own hands) hindered "wealth creation" (i.e. economic growth). Do not struggle over income, they argued, let the market decide and everyone will be better off.

This argument was dressed up in populist clothes. Thus we find the right-wing guru F.A. von Hayek arguing that, in the case of Britain, the "legalised powers of the unions have become the biggest obstacle to raising the standards of the working class as a whole. They are the chief cause of the unnecessarily big differences between the best- and worse-paid workers." He maintained that "the elite of the British working class. . . derive their relative advantages by keeping workers who are worse off from improving their position." Moreover, he "predict[ed] that the average worker's income would rise fastest in a country where relative wages are flexible, and where the exploitation of workers by monopolistic trade union organisations of specialised workers are effectively outlawed." ["1980s Unemployment and the Unions" reproduced in The Economic Decline of Modern Britain, p. 107, p. 108, p. 110]

Now, if von Hayek's claims were true we could expect that in the aftermath of Thatcher government's trade union reforms we would have seen: a rise in economic growth (usually considered as the means to improve living standards for workers by the right); a decrease in the differences between high and low paid workers; a reduction in the percentage of low paid workers as they improved their positions when freed from union "exploitation"; and that wages rise fastest in countries with the highest wage flexibility. Unfortunately for von Hayek, the actual trajectory of the British economy exposes his claims as nonsense.

Looking at each of his claims in turn we discover that rather than "exploit" other workers, trade unions are an essential means to shift income from capital to labour (which is way capital fights labour organisers tooth and nail). And, equally important, labour militancy aids all workers by providing a floor under which wages cannot drop (non-unionised/militant firms in the same industry or area have to offer similar programs to prevent unionisation and be able to hire workers) and by maintaining aggregate demand. This positive role of unions/militancy in aiding all workers can be seen by comparing Britain before and after Thatcher's von Hayek inspired trade union and labour market reforms.

As far as economic growth goes, there has been a steady fall since trade union reforms. In the "bad old days" of the 1970s, with its strikes and "militant unions" growth was 2.4% in Britain. It fell to 2% in the 1980s and fell again to 1.2% in the 1990s [Larry Elliot and Dan Atkinson, The Age of Insecurity, p. 236]. So the rate of "wealth creation" (economic growth) has steadily fallen as unions were "reformed" in line with von Hayek's ideology (and falling growth means that the living standards of the working class as a whole do not rise as fast as they did under the "exploitation" of the "monopolistic" trade unions). If we look at the differences between the highest and lowest paid workers, we find that rather than decrease, they have in fact shown "a dramatic widening out of the distribution with the best-workers doing much better" since Thatcher was elected in 1979 [Andrew Glyn and David Miliband (eds.), Paying for Inequality, p. 100]

Given that inequality has also increased, the condition of the average worker must have suffered. For example, Ian Gilmore states that "[i]n the 1980s, for the first time for fifty years. . . the poorer half of the population saw its share of total national income shirk." [Dancing with Dogma, p. 113] According to Noam Chomsky, "[d]uring the Thatcher decade, the income share of the bottom half of the population fell from one-third to one-fourth" and the between 1979 and 1992, the share of total income of the top 20% grew from 35% to 40% while that of the bottom 20% fell from 10% to 5%. In addition, the number of UK employees with weekly pay below the Council of Europe's "decency threshold" increased from 28.3% in 1979 to 37% in 1994 [World Orders, Old and New, p. 144, p. 145] Moreover, "[b]ack in the early 1960s, the heaviest concentration of incomes fell at 80-90 per cent of the mean. . . But by the early 1990s there had been a dramatic change, with the peak of the distribution falling at just 40-50 per cent of the mean. One-quarter of the population had incomes below half the average by the early 1990s as against 7 per cent in 1977 and 11 per cent in 1961. . ." [Elliot and Atkinson, Op. Cit., p. 235] "Overall," notes Takis Fotopoulos, "average incomes increased by 36 per cent during this period [1979-1991/2], but 70 per cent of the population had a below average increase in their income." [Towards an Inclusive Democracy, p. 113]

Looking at the claim that trade union members gained their "relative advantage by keeping workers who are worse off from improving their position" it would be fair to ask whether the percentage of workers in low-paid jobs decreased in Britain after the trade union reforms. In fact, the percentage of workers below the Low Pay Unit's definition of low pay (namely two-thirds of men's median earnings) increased -- from 16.8% in 1984 to 26.2% in 1991 for men, 44.8% to 44.9% for women. For manual workers it rose by 15% to 38.4%, and for women by 7.7% to 80.7% (for non-manual workers the figures were 5.4% rise to 13.7% for men and a 0.5% rise to 36.6%). If unions were gaining at the expense of the worse off, you would expect a decrease in the number in low pay, not an increase. [Paying for Inequality, p.102] An OECD study concluded that "[t]ypically, countries with high rates of collective bargaining and trade unionisation tend to have low incidence of low paid employment." [OECD Employment Outlook, 1996, p. 94]

Nor did unemployment fall after the trade union reforms. As Elliot and Atkinson point out, "[b]y the time Blair came to power [in 1997], unemployment in Britain was falling, although it still remained higher than it had been when the [the last Labour Government of] Callaghan left office in May 1979." [Op. Cit., p. 258] Von Hayek did argue that falls in unemployment would be "a slow process" but over 10 years of higher unemployment is moving at a snail's pace! And we must note that part of this fall in unemployment towards its 1970s level was due to Britain's labour force shrinking (and so, as the July 1997 Budget Statement correctly notes, "the lower 1990s peak [in unemployment] does not in itself provide convincing evidence of improved labour performance." [p. 77]).

As far as von Hayek's prediction on wage flexibility leading to the "average worker's income" rising fastest in a country where relative wages are flexible, it has been proved totally wrong. Between 1967 and 1971, real wages grew (on average) by 2.95% per year (nominal wages grew by 8.94%) [P. Armstrong, A. Glyn and John Harrison, Capitalism Since World War II, p.272]. In comparison, in the 1990s real wages grew by 1.1 per cent, according to a TUC press release entitled Productivity Record, how the UK compares released in March 1999.

Needless to say, these are different eras so it would also be useful to compare the UK (often praised as a flexible economy after Thatcher's "reforms") to France (considered far less flexible) in the 1990s. Here we find that the "flexible" UK is behind the "inflexible" France. Wages and benefits per worker rose by almost 1.2 per cent per year compared to 0.7% for the UK. France's GDP grew at a faster rate than Britain's, averaging 1.4 per cent per year, compared with 1.2 per cent. Worker productivity is also behind, since 1979 (Thatcher's arrival) Britain's worker productivity has been 1.9 per cent per year compared to France's 2.2 per cent [Seth Ackerman, "The Media Vote for Austerity", Extra!, September/October 1997]. And as Seth Ackerman also notes, "[w]hile France's dismal record of job creation is on permanent exhibit, it is never mentioned that Britain's is even more dismal." [Ibid.]

Moving further afield, we find von Hayek's prediction falsified yet again. If we look at the USA, frequently claimed as a model economy in terms of wage flexibility and union weakness, we discover that the real wages of the average worker has decreased since 1973 (the weekly and hourly earnings of US production and non-supervisory workers, which accounts for 80% of the US workforce, have fallen in real terms by 19.2% and 13.4% respectively [Economic Report of the President 1995, Table B-45]). If we look at figures from U.S. Bureau of the Census (Current Population Survey) we can see how increased flexibility has affected income:

 


Income Growth by Quintile
Quintile 1950-1978 1979-1993
Lowest 20% 138% -15%
2nd 20% 98 -7
3rd 20% 106 -3
4th 20% 111 5
Highest 20% 99 18

As can be seen, flexible wages and weaker unions have resulted in the direct opposite of von Hayek's predictions. Within the US itself, we discover that higher union density is associated with fewer workers earning around the minimum wage -- "the percentage of those earning around the minimum wage are both substantially higher in right-to-work states [i.e. those that pass anti-union laws] than overall and lower in high union density states that overall" and "in right-to-work states . . . wages have traditionally been lower." [Oren M. Levin-Waldman, The Minimum Wage and Regional Wage Structure] If unions did harm non-union workers, we would expect the opposite to occur. It does not. Of course, being utterly wrong has not dented his reputation with the right nor stopped him being quoted in arguments in favour of flexibility and free market reforms.

Moreover, the growth of the US economy has also slowed down as wage flexibility and market reform has increased (it was 4.4% in the 1960s, 3.2% in the 1970s, 2.8% in the 1980s and 1.9% in the first half of the 1990s [Larry Elliot and Dan Atkinson, The Age of Insecurity, p. 236]). In addition, inequality in the US has dramatically increased since the 1970s, with income and wealth growth in the 1980s going predominately to the top 20% (and, in fact, mostly to the top 1% of the population). The bottom 80% of the population saw their wealth grow by 1.2% and their income by 23.7% in the 1980s, while for the top 20% the respective figures were 98.2% and 66.3% (the figures for the top 1% were 61.6% and 38.9%, respectively). [Edward N. Wolff, "How the Pie is Sliced", The American Prospect, no. 22, Summer 1995]

Comparing the claims of von Hayek to what actually happened after trade union reform and the reduction of class struggle helps to suggest that the claims that social struggle is self-defeating are false (and probably self-serving, considering it is usually bosses and employer supported parties and economists who make these claims). A lack of social struggle has been correlated with low economic growth, stagnant (even declining) wages and the creation of purely paid service jobs to replace highly paid manufacturing ones. So while social struggle may make capital flee and other problems, lack of it is no guarantee of prosperity (quite the reverse, if the last quarter of the 20th century is anything to go by!). Indeed, a lack of social struggle will make bosses be more likely to cut wages, worsen working conditions and so on -- after all, they feel they can get away with it! Which brings home the fact that "to make their [the working class'] victory secure and definitive, it is necessary to destroy capitalism." [Errico Malatesta, Life and Ideas, p. 191]

Of course, no one can know that struggle will make things better. It is a guess; no one can predict the future. Not all struggles are successful and many can be very difficult. If the "military is a role model for the business world" (in the words of an ex-CEO of Hill & Knowlton Public Relations [quoted by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton in Toxic Sludge Is Good For You!, p. 47]), and it is, then any struggle against it and other concentrations of power may, and often is, difficult and dangerous at times. But, as Zapata once said, "better to die on your feet than live on your knees!" All we can say is that social struggle can and does improve things and, in terms of its successes and transforming effect on those involved, well worth the potential difficulties it can create. Moreover, without struggle there is little chance of creating a free society, dependent as it is on individuals who refuse to bow to authority and have the ability and desire to govern themselves. In addition, social struggle is always essential, not only to win improvements, but to keep them as well. In order to fully secure improvements you have to abolish capitalism and the state. Not to do so means that any reforms can and will be taken away (and if social struggle does not exist, they will be taken away sooner rather than later). Ultimately, most anarchists would argue that social struggle is not an option -- we either do it or we put up with the all the petty (and not so petty) impositions of authority. If we do not say "no" then the powers that be will walk all over us.

As the history of the last 20 years shows, a lack of social struggle is fully compatible with worsening conditions. Ultimately, if you want to be treated as a human being you have to stand up for your dignity -- and that means thinking and rebelling. As Bakunin often argued, human development is based on thought and rebellion (see God and the State). Without rebellion, without social struggle, humanity would stagnant beneath authority forever and never be in a position to be free. We would agree wholeheartedly with the Abolitionist Frederick Douglass:

 

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom and yet deprecate agitation are people who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. That struggle might be a moral one; it might be a physical one; it might be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will. People might not get all that they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get."

 

J.4.3 Are the new social movements a positive development for anarchists?

When assessing the revolutionary potential of our own era, we must note again that modern civilisation is under constant pressure from the potential catastrophes of social breakdown, ecological destruction, and proliferating weapons of mass destruction. These crises have drawn attention as never before to the inherently counter-evolutionary nature of the authoritarian paradigm, making more and more people aware that the human race is headed for extinction if it persists in outmoded forms of thought and behaviour. This awareness produces a favourable climate for the reception of new ideas, and thus an opening for radical educational efforts aimed at creating the mass transformation of consciousness which must take place alongside the creation of new liberatory institutions.

This receptiveness to new ideas has led to a number of new social movements in recent years. From the point of view of anarchism, the four most important of these are perhaps the feminist, ecology, peace, and social justice movements. Each of these movements contain a great deal of anarchist content, particularly insofar as they imply the need for decentralisation and direct democracy. Since we have already commented on the anarchist aspects of the ecology and feminist movements, here we will limit our remarks to the peace and social justice movements.

It is clear to many members of the peace movement that international disarmament, like the liberation of women, saving the planet's ecosystem, and preventing social breakdown, can never be attained without a shift of mass consciousness involving widespread rejection of hierarchy, which is based on the authoritarian principles of domination and exploitation. As C. George Bennello argued, "[s]ince peace involves the positive process of replacing violence by other means of settling conflict. . . it can be argued that some sort of institutional change is necessary. For if insurgency is satisfied with specific reform goals, and does not seek to transform the institutional structure of society by getting at its centralised make-up, the war system will probably not go away. This is really what we should mean by decentralising: making institutions serve human ends again by getting humans to be responsible at every level within them." [From the Ground Up, p. 31]

When pursued along gender, class, racial, ethnic, or national lines, these two principles are the primary causes of resentment, hatred, anger, and hostility, which often explode into individual or organised violence. Therefore, both domestic and international peace depend on decentralisation, i.e. dismantling hierarchies, thus replacing domination and exploitation by the anarchist principles of co-operation, sharing, and mutual aid.

But direct democracy is the other side of decentralisation. In order for an organisation to spread power horizontally rather than concentrating it at the apex of hierarchy, all of its members have to have an equal voice in making the decisions that affect them. Hence decentralisation implies direct democracy. So the peace movement implies anarchism, because world peace is impossible without both decentralisation and direct democracy. Moreover, "[s]o long as profits are tied to defence production, speaking truth to the elites involved is not likely to get very far" as "it is only within the boundaries of the profit system that the corporate elites would have any space to move." [Op. Cit., p. 34] Thus the peace movement implicitly contains a libertarian critique of both forms of the power system -- the political and economical.

In addition, certain of the practical aspects of the peace movement also suggest anarchistic elements. The use of non-violent direct action to protest against the war machine can only be viewed as a positive development by anarchists. Not only does it use effective, anarchistic methods of struggle it also radicalises those involved, making them more receptive to anarchist ideas and analysis (after all, as Benello correctly argues, the "anarchist perspective has an unparalleled relevance today because prevailing nuclear policies can be considered as an ultimate stage in the divergence between the interests of governments and their peoples . . . the implications when revealed serve to raise fundamental questions regarding the advisability of entrusting governments with questions of life and death. . . There is thus a pressing impetus to re-think the role, scale, and structure of national governments." [Op. Cit., p. 138]).

If we look at the implications of "nuclear free zones" we can detect anarchistic tendencies within them. A nuclear free zone involves a town or region declaring an end of its association with the nuclear military industrial complex. They prohibit the research, production, transportation and deployment of nuclear weapons as well as renouncing the right to be defended by nuclear power. This movement was popular in the 1980s, with many areas in Europe and the Pacific Basin declaring that they were nuclear free zones. As Benello points out, "[t]he development of campaigns for nuclear free zones suggests a strategy which can educate and radicalise local communities. Indeed, by extending the logic of the nuclear free zone idea, we can begin to flesh out a libertarian municipalist perspective which can help move our communities several steps towards autonomy from both the central government and the existing corporate system." While the later development of these initiatives did not have the radicalising effects that Benello hoped for, they did "represent a local initiative that does not depend on the federal government for action. Thus it is a step toward local empowerment. . . Steps that increase local autonomy change the power relations between the centre and its colonies. . . The nuclear free zone movement has a thrust which is clearly congruent with anarchist ideas. . . The same motives which go into the declaration of a nuclear free zone would dictate that in other areas where the state and the corporate systems services are dysfunctional and involve excessive costs, they should be dispensed with." [Op. Cit., p. 137, pp. 140-1]

The social justice movement is composed of people seeking fair and compassionate solutions to problems such as poverty, unemployment, economic exploitation, discrimination, poor housing, lack of health insurance, wealth and income inequalities, and the like. Such concerns have traditionally been associated with the left, especially with socialism and trade-unionism. Recently, however, many radicals have begun to perceive the limitations of both Marxist-Leninist and traditional trade-unionist solutions to social justice problems, particularly insofar as these solutions involve hierarchical organisations and authoritarian values.

Following the widespread disillusionment with statism and centrally planned economies generated by the failure of "Communism" in the ex-Soviet Union and Eastern European nations, many radicals, while retaining their commitment to social justice issues, have been searching for new approaches. And in doing so they've been drawn into alliances with ecologists, feminists, and members of the peace movement. (This has occurred particularly among the German Greens, many of whom are former Marxists. So far, however, few of the latter have declared themselves to be anarchists, as the logic of the ecology movement requires.)

It is not difficult to show that the major problems concerning the social justice movement can all be traced back to the hierarchy and domination. For, given the purpose of hierarchy, the highest priority of the elites who control the state is necessarily to maintain their own power and privileges, regardless of the suffering involved for subordinate classes.

Today, in the aftermath of 12 years of especially single-minded pursuit of this priority by two Republican administrations, the United States, for example, is reaping the grim harvest: armies of the homeless wandering the streets; social welfare budgets slashed to the bone as poverty, unemployment, and underemployment grow; sweatshops mushrooming in the large cities; over 43 million Americans without any health insurance; obscene wealth inequalities; and so on. This decay promises to accelerate in the US during the coming years, now that Republicans control both houses of Congress. Britain under the neo-liberal policies of Thatcher and Major has experienced a social deterioration similar to that in the US.

In short, social injustice is inherent in the exploitative functions of the state, which are made possible by the authoritarian form of state institutions and of the state-complex as a whole. Similarly, the authoritarian form of the corporation (and capitalist companies in general) gives rise to social injustice as unfair income differentials and wealth disparity between owners/management and labour.

Hence the success of the social justice movement, like that of the feminist, ecology, and peace movements, depends on dismantling hierarchies. This means not only that these movement all imply anarchism but that they are related in such a way that it's impossible to conceive one of them achieving its goals in isolation from any of the others.

To take just one example, let's consider the relationship between social justice and peace, which can be seen by examining a specific social justice issue: labour rights.

As Dimitrios Roussopoulos points out, the production of advanced weapons systems is highly profitable for capitalists, which is why more technologically complex and precise weapons keep getting built with government help (with the public paying the tab by way of rising taxes).

Now, we may reasonably argue that it's a fundamental human right to be able to choose freely whether or not one will personally contribute to the production of technologies that could lead to the extinction of the human race. Yet because of the authoritarian form of the capitalist corporation, rank-and-file workers have virtually no say in whether the companies for which they work will produce such technologies. (To the objection that workers can always quit if they don't like company policy, the reply is that they may not be able to find other work and therefore that the choice is not free but coerced.) Hence the only way that ordinary workers can obtain the right to be consulted on life-or-death company policies is to control the production process themselves, through self-management.

But we can't expect real self-management to emerge from the present labour relations system in which centralised unions bargain with employers for "concessions" but never for a dissolution of the authoritarian structure of the corporation. As Roussopoulos puts it, self-management, by definition, must be struggled for locally by workers themselves at the grassroots level:

 

"Production for need and use will not come from the employer. The owners of production in a capitalist society will never begin to take social priorities into account in the production process. The pursuit of ever greater profits is not compatible with social justice and responsibility." [Dissidence]

For these reasons, the peace and social justice movements are fundamentally linked through their shared need for a worker-controlled economy.

We should also note in this context that the impoverished ghetto environments in which the worst victims of social injustice are forced to live tends to desensitise them to human pain and suffering -- a situation that is advantageous for military recruiters, who are thereby able to increase the ranks of the armed forces with angry, brutalised, violence-prone individuals who need little or no extra conditioning to become the remorseless killers prized by the military command. Moreover, extreme poverty makes military service one of the few legal economic options open to such individuals. These considerations illustrate further links between the peace and social justice movements -- and between those movements and anarchism, which is the conceptual "glue" that can potentially unite all the new social movement in a single anti-authoritarian coalition.

 

J.4.4 What is the "economic structural crisis"?

There is an ongoing structural crisis in the global capitalist economy. Compared to the post-war "Golden Age" of 1950 to 1973, the period from 1974 has seen a continual worsening in economic performance in the West and for Japan. For example, growth is lower, unemployment is far higher, labour productivity lower as is investment. Average rates of unemployment in the major industrialised countries have risen sharply since 1973, especially after 1979. Unemployment "in the advanced capitalist countries (the 'Group of 7'. . .) increased by 56 per cent between 1973 and 1980 (from an average 3.4 per cent to 5.3 per cent of the labour force) and by another 50 per cent since then (from 5.3 per cent of the labour force in 1980 to 8.0 per cent in 19994)." [Takis Fotopoulos, Towards and Inclusive Democracy, p. 35] Job insecurity has increased (in the USA, for example, there is the most job insecurity since the depression of the 1930s [Op. Cit., p. 141]). In addition, both national economies and the international economy have become far less stable.

This crisis is not confined to the economy. It extends into the ecological and the social. "In recent years," point out Larry Elliot and Dan Atkinson, "some radical economics have tried to [create] . . . an all-embracing measure of well-being called the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare [ISEW] . . . In the 1950s and 1960s the ISEW rose in tandem with per capita GDP. It was a time not just of rising incomes, but of greater social equity, low crime, full employment and expanding welfare states. But from the mid-1970s onwards the two measures started to move apart. GDP per head continued its inexorable rise, but the ISEW start to decline as a result of lengthening dole queues, social exclusion, the explosion in crime, habitat loss, environmental degradation and the growth of environment- and stress-related illness. By the start of the 1990s, the ISEW was almost back to the levels at which it started in the early 1990s." [The Age of Insecurity, p. 248] Which indicates well our comments in section C.10, namely that economic factors cannot, and do not, indicate human happiness. However, here we discuss economic factors. This does not imply that the social and ecological crises are unimportant or are reducible to the economy. Far from it. We concentrate on the economic factor simply because this is the factor usually stressed by the establishment and it is useful to indicate the divergence of reality and hype we are currently being subjected to.

Ironically enough, as Robert Brenner points out, "as the neo-classical medicine has been administered in even stronger doses [since the 1960s], the economy has performed steadily less well. The 1970s were worse than the 1960s, the 1980s worse than the 1970s, and the 1990s have been worse than the 1980s." ["The Economics of Global Turbulence", New Left Review, no. 229, p. 236] This is ironic because during the crisis of Keynesianism in the 1970s the right argued that too much equality and democracy harmed the economy, and so us all in the long run (due to lower growth, sluggish investment and so on). However, after over a decade of pro-capitalist governments, rising inequality, increased freedom for capital and its owners and managers, the weakening of trade unions and so on, economic performance has become worse!

If we look at the USA in the 1990s (usually presented as an economy that "got it right") we find that the "cyclical upturn of the 1990s has, in terms of the main macro-economic indicators of growth -- output, investment, productivity, and real compensation -- has been even less dynamic than its relatively weak predecessors of the 1980s and the 1970s (not to mention those of the 1950s and 1960s)." [Op. Cit., p. 5] Of course, the economy is presented as a success because inequality is growing, the rich are getting richer and wealth is concentrating into fewer and fewer hands. For the rich and finance capital, it can be considered a "Golden Age" and so is presented as such by the media. Indeed, it is for this reason that it may be wrong to term this slow rot a "crisis" as it is hardly one for the ruling elite. Their share in social wealth, power and income has steadily increased over this period. For the majority it is undoubtedly a crisis (the term "silent depression" has been accurately used to describe this) but for those who run the system it has by no means been a crisis.

Indeed, the only countries which saw substantial and dynamic growth after 1973 where those which used state intervention to violate the eternal "laws" of neo-classical economics, namely the South East Asian countries (in this they followed the example of Japan which had used state intervention to grow at massive rates after the war). Of course, before the economic crisis of 1997, "free market" capitalists argued that these countries were classic examples of "free market" economies. For example, right-wing icon F.A von Hayek asserted that "South Korea and other newcomers" had "discovered the benefits of free markets" when, in fact, they had done nothing of the kind ["1980s Unemployment and the Unions" reproduced in The Economic Decline of Modern Britain, p. 113]. More recently, in 1995, the Heritage Foundation released its index of economic freedom. Four of the top seven countries were Asian, including Japan and Taiwan. All the Asian countries struggling just four years latter were qualified as "free." However, as Takis Fotopoulos argues, "it was not laissez-faire policies that induced their spectacular growth. As a number of studies have shown, the expansion of the Asian Tigers was based on massive state intervention that boosted their export sectors, by public policies involving not only heavy protectionism but even deliberate distortion of market prices to stimulate investment and trade." [Op. Cit., p. 115] After the crisis, the free-marketeers discovered the statism that had always been there and danced happily on the grave of what used to be called "the Asian miracle."

Such hypocrisy is truly sickening and smacks of a Stalinist/Orwellian desire to re-write history so as to appear always right. Moreover, such a cynical analysis actually undermines their own case for the wonders of the "free market." After all, until the crisis appeared, the world's investors -- which is to say "the market" -- saw nothing but blue skies ahead for these economies. They showed their faith by shoving billions into Asian equity markets, while foreign banks contentedly handed out billions in loans. If Asia's problems are systemic and the result of these countries' statist policies, then investors' failure to recognise this earlier is a blow against the market, not for it.

Still more perverse is that, even as the supporters of "free-market" capitalism conclude that history is rendering its verdict on the Asian model of capitalism, they seem to forget that until the recent crisis they themselves took great pains to deny that such a model existed. Until Asia fell apart, supporters of "free-market" capitalism happily held it up as proof that the only recipe for economic growth was open markets and non-intervention on the part of the state. Needless to say, this re-writing of history will be placed down the memory-hole, along with any other claims which have subsequently been proved utter nonsense.

So, as can be seen, the global economy has been marked by an increasing stagnation, the slowing down of growth, in the western economies (for example, the 1990s business upswing has been the weakest since the end of the Second World War). This is despite (or, more likely, because of) the free market reforms imposed and the deregulation of finance capital (we say "because of" simply because neo-classical economics argue that pro-market reforms would increase growth and improve the economy, but as we argued in section C such economics have little basis in reality and so their recommendations are hardly going to produce positive results). Of course as the ruling class have been doing well in this New World Order this underlying slowdown has been ignored and obviously

In recent years crisis (particularly financial crisis) has become increasingly visible, reflecting (finally) the underlying weakness of the global economy. This underlying weakness has been hidden by the speculator performance of the world's stock markets, whose performance, ironically enough, have helped create that weakness to begin with! As one expert on Wall Street argues, "Bond markets . . . hate economic strength . . . Stocks generally behave badly just as the real economy is at its strongest. . . Stocks thrive on a cool economy, and wither in a hot one." [Wall Street, p. 124] In other words, real economic weakness is reflected in financial strength.

Henwood also notes that "[w]hat might be called the rentier share of the corporate surplus -- dividends plus interest as a percentage of pre-tax profits and interest -- has risen sharply, from 20-30% in the 1950s to 60% in the 1990s." [Op. Cit., p. 73] This helps explain the stagnation which has afflicted the economies of the west. The rich have been placing more of their ever-expanding wealth in stocks, allowing this market to rise in the face of general economic torpor. Rather than being used for investment, surplus is being funnelled into the finance markets, markets which do concentrate wealth very successfully (retained earnings in the US have decreased as interest and dividend payments have increased [Brenner, Op. Cit., p. 210]). Given that "the US financial system performs dismally at its advertised task, that of efficiently directing society's savings towards their optimal investment pursuits. The system is stupefyingly expensive, gives terrible signals for the allocation of capital, and has surprisingly little to do with real investment." [Op. Cit., p. 3] As most investment comes from internal funds, the rise in the rentiers (those who derive their incomes from returns on capital) share of the surplus has meant less investment and so the stagnation of the economy. And the weakening economy has increased financial strength, which in turn leads to a weakening in the real economy. A viscous circle, and one reflected in the slowing of economic growth over the last 30 years.

In effect, especially since the end of the 1970s, has seen the increasing dominance of finance capital. This dominance has, in effect, created a market for government policies as finance capital has become increasingly global in nature. Governments must secure, protect and expand the field of profit-making for financial capital and transnational corporations, otherwise they will be punished by the global markets (i.e. finance capital). These policies have been at the expense of the underlying economy in general, and of the working class in particular:

 

"Rentier power was directed at labour, both organised and unorganised ranks of wage earners, because it regarded rising wages as a principal threat to the stable order. For obvious reasons, this goal was never stated very clearly, but financial markets understood the centrality of the struggle: protecting the value of their capital required the suppression of labour incomes." [William Greider, One World, Ready or Not, p. 302]

Of course, industrial capital also hates labour, so there is a basis of an alliance between the two sides of capital, even if they do disagree over the specifics of the economic policies implemented. Given that a key aspect of the neo-liberal reforms was the transformation of the labour market from a post-war sellers' market to a nineteenth century buyers' market, with its effects on factory discipline, wage claims and proneness to strike, industrial capital could not but be happy with its effects. Doug Henwood correctly argues that "Liberals and populists often search for potential allies among industrialists, reasoning that even if financial interests suffer in a boom, firms that trade in real, rather than fictitious, products would thrive when growth is strong. In general, industrialists are less sympathetic to these arguments. Employers in any industry like slack in the labour market; it makes for a pliant workforce, one unlikely to make demands or resist speedups." In addition, "many non-financial corporations have heavy financial interests." [Op. Cit., p. 123, p. 135]

Thus the general stagnation afflicting much of the world, a stagnation which has developed into crisis as the needs of finance have undermined the real economy which, ultimately, it is dependent upon. The contradiction between short term profits and long term survival inherent in capitalism strikes again.

Crisis, as we have noted above, has appeared in areas previously considered as strong economies and it has been spreading. An important aspect of this crisis is the tendency for productive capacity to outstrip effective demand (i.e. the tendency to over-invest relative to the available demand), which arises in large part from the imbalance between capitalists' need for a high rate of profit and their simultaneous need to ensure that workers have enough wealth and income so that they can keep buying the products on which those profits depend (see section C). Inequality has been increasing in the USA, which means that the economy faces as realisation crisis (see section C.7), a crisis which has so far been avoided by deepening debt for working people (debt levels more than doubled between the 1950s to the 1990s, from 25% to over 60%).

Over-investment has been magnified in the East-Asian Tigers as they were forced to open their economies to global finance. These economies, due to their intervention in the market (and repressive regimes against labour) ensured they were a more profitable place to invest than elsewhere. Capital flooded into the area, ensuring a relative over-investment was inevitable. As we argued in section C.7.2, crisis is possible simply due to the lack of information provided by the price mechanism -- economic agents can react in such a way that the collective result of individually rational decisions is irrational. Thus the desire to reap profits in the Tiger economies resulted in a squeeze in profits as the aggregate investment decisions resulted in over-investment, and so over-production and falling profits.

In effect, the South East Asian economies suffered from a problem termed the "fallacy of composition." When you are the first Asian export-driven economy, you are competing with high-cost Western producers and so your cheap workers, low taxes and lax environmental laws allow you to under-cut your competitors and make profits. However, as more tigers joined into the market, they end up competing against each other and so their profit margins would decrease towards their actual cost price rather than that of Western firms. With the decrease in profits, the capital that flowed into the region flowed back out, thus creating a crisis (and proving, incidentally, that free markets are destabilising and do not secure the best of all possible outcomes). Thus, the rentier regime, after weakening the Western economies, helped destabilise the Eastern ones too.

So, in the short-run, many large corporations and financial companies solved their profit problems by expanding production into "underdeveloped" countries so as to take advantage of the cheap labour there (and the state repression which ensured that cheapness) along with weaker environmental laws and lower taxes. Yet gradually they are running out of third-world populations to exploit. For the very process of "development" stimulated by the presence of Transnational Corporations in third-world nations increases competition and so, potentially, over-investment and, even more importantly, produces resistance in the form of unions, rebellions and so on, which tend to exert a downward pressure on the level of exploitation and profits (for example, in South Korea, labour' share in value-added increased from 23 to 30 per cent, in stark contrast to the USA, Germany and Japan, simply because Korean workers had rebelled and won new political freedoms).

This process reflects, in many ways, the rise of finance capital in the 1970s. In the 1950s and 1960s, existing industrialised nations experienced increased competition from the ex-Axis powers (namely Japan and Germany). As these nations re-industrialised, they placed increased pressure on the USA and other nations, reducing the global "degree of monopoly" and forcing them to compete with lower cost producers (which, needless to say, reduced the existing companies profits). In addition, full employment produced increasing resistance on the shop floor and in society as a whole (see section C.7.1), squeezing profits even more. Thus a combination of class struggle and global over-capacity resulted in the 1970s crisis. With the inability of the real economy, especially the manufacturing sector, to provide an adequate return, capital shifted into finance. In effect, it ran away from the success of working people asserting their rights at the point of production and elsewhere. This, combined with increased international competition from Japan and Germany, ensured the rise of finance capital, which in return ensured the current stagnationist tendencies in the economy (tendencies made worse by the rise of the Asian Tiger economies in the 1980s).

From the contradictions between finance capital and the real economy, between capitalists' need for profit and human needs, between over-capacity and demand, and others, there has emerged what appears to be a long-term trend toward permanent stagnation of the capitalist economy. This trend has been apparent for several decades, as evidenced by the continuous upward adjustment of the rate of unemployment officially considered to be "normal" or "acceptable" during those decades, and by other symptoms as well such as falling growth, lower rates of profit and so on.

This stagnation has recently become even more obvious by the development of crisis in many countries and the reactions of central banks trying to revive the real economies that have suffered under their rentier inspired policies. Whether this crisis will become worse is hard to say. The Western powers may act to protect the real economy by adopting the Keynesian policies they have tried to discredit over the last thirty years. However, whether such a bailout will succeed is difficult to tell and may just ensure continued stagnation rather than a real up-turn, if it has any effect at all.

Of course, a deep depression may solve the problem of over-capacity and over-investment in the world and lay the foundations of an up-turn. Such a strategy is, however, very dangerous due to working class resistance it could provoke, the deepness of the slump and the length it could last for. However, this, perhaps, has been the case in the USA in 1997-9 where over 20 years of one-sided class war may have paid off in terms of higher profits and profit rate. However, this may have more to do with the problems elsewhere in the world than a real economic change, in addition to rising consumer debt (there is now negative personal savings rate in the US), a worsening trade deficit and a stock market bubble. In addition, rising productivity has combined with stagnant wages to increase the return to capital and the profit rate (wages fell over much of the 1990s recovery and finally regained their pre-recession 1989 peak in 1999! Despite 8 years of economic growth, the typical worker is back only where they started at the peak of the last business cycle). This drop and slow growth of wages essentially accounts for the rising US profit rate, with the recent growth in real wages being hardly enough to make much of an impact (although it has made the US Federal Reserve increase interest rates to slow down even this increase, which re-enforces our argument that capitalist profits require unemployment and insecurity to maintain capitalist power at the point of production).

Such a situation reflects 1920s America (see section C.7.3 for details) which was also marked by rising inequality, a labour surplus and rising profits and suggests that the new US economy faces the same potential for a slump. This means that the US economy must face the danger of over-investment (relative to demand, of course) sooner or later, perhaps sooner due to the problems elsewhere in the world as a profits-lead growth economy is fragile as it is dependent on investment, luxury spending and working class debt to survive -- all of which are more unstable and vulnerable to shocks than workers' consumption.

Given the difficulties in predicting the future (and the fact that those who try are usually proven totally wrong!), we will not pretend to know it and leave our discussion at highlighting a few possibilities. One thing is true, however, and that is the working class will pay the price of any "solution" -- unless they organise and get rid of capitalism and the state. Ultimately, capitalism need profits to survive and such profits came from the fact that workers do not have economic liberty. Thus any "solution" within a capitalist framework means the increased oppression and exploitation of working people.

Faced with negative balance sheets during recessions, the upper strata occasionally panic and agree to some reforms, some distribution of wealth, which temporarily solves the short-run problem of stagnation by increasing demand and thus permits renewed expansion. However, this short-run solution means that the working class gradually makes economic and political gains, so that exploitation and oppression, and hence the rate of profit, tends to fall (as happened during the post-war Keynesian "Golden Age"). Faced with the dangers of, on the one hand, economic collapse and, on the other, increased working class power, the ruling class may not act until it is too late. So, on the basis that the current crisis may get worse and stagnation turn into depression, we will discuss why the "economic structural crisis" we have lived through for the later quarter of the 20th century (and its potential crisis) is important to social struggle in the next section.

 

J.4.5 Why is this "economic structural crisis" important to social struggle?

The "economic structural crisis" we out-lined in the last section has certain implications for anarchists and social struggle. Essentially, as C. George Benello argues, "[i]f economic conditions worsen. . . then we are likely to find an openness to alternatives which have not been thought of since the depression of the 1930s. . . It is important to plan for a possible economic crisis, since it is not only practical, but also can serve as a method of mobilising a community in creative ways." [From the Ground Up, p. 149]

In the face of economic stagnation and depression, attempts to improve the rate of exploitation (i.e. increase profits) by increasing the authority of the boss grow. In addition, more people find it harder to make ends meet, running up debts to survive, face homelessness if they are made unemployed, and so on. Such effects make exploitation ever more visible and tend to push oppressed strata together in movements that seek to mitigate, and even remove, their oppression. As the capitalist era has worn on, these strata have become increasingly able to rebel and gain substantial political and economic improvements, which have, in addition, lead to an increasingly willing to do so because of rising expectations (about what is possible) and frustration (about what actually is). This is why, since 1945, the world-wide "family" of progressive movements has grown "ever stronger, ever bolder, ever more diverse, ever more difficult to contain." [Immanuel Wallerstein, Geopolitics and Geoculture, p. 110] It is true that libertarians, the left and labour have suffered a temporary setback during the past few decades, but with increasing misery of the working class due to neo-liberal policies (and the "economic structural crisis" they create), it is only a matter of time before there is a resurgence of radicalism.

Anarchists will be in the forefront of this resurgence. For, with the discrediting of authoritarian state capitalism ("Communism") in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the anti-authoritarian faction of the left will increasingly be seen as its only credible one. Thus the ongoing structural crisis of the global capitalist economy, combined with the other developments springing from what Takis Fotopoulos calls (in his book Towards and Inclusive Democracy) a "multidimensional crisis" (which included economic, political, social, ecological and ideological aspects), could (potentially) lead over the next decade or two to a new international anti-authoritarian alliance linking together the new (and not so new) social movements in the West (feminism, the Green movement, rank-and-file labour militancy, etc.) with non-authoritarian liberation movements in the Third World and new anti-bureaucracy movements in formerly "communist" countries. However, this is only likely to happen if anarchists take the lead in promoting alternatives and working with the mass of the population. Ways in which anarchist can do this are discussed in some detail in section J.5.

Thus the "economic structural crisis" can aid social struggle by placing the contrast of "what is" with what "could be" in a clear light. Any crisis brings forth the contradictions in capitalism, between the production of use values (things people need) and of exchange value (capitalist profits), between capitalism's claims of being based on liberty and the authoritarianism associated with wage labour ("[t]he general evidence of repression poses an ancient contradiction for capitalism: while it claims to promote human freedom, it profits concretely from the denial of freedom, most especially freedom for the workers employed by capitalist enterprise" [William Greider, One World, Ready or Not, p. 388]) and so on. It shakes to the bone popular faith in capitalism's ability to "deliver the goods" and gets more and more people thinking about alternatives to a system that places profit above and before people and planet. The crisis also, by its very nature, encourages workers and other oppressed sections of the population to resist and fight back, which in turn generates collective organisation (such as unions or workplace-based assemblies and councils), solidarity and direct action -- in other words, collective self-help and the awareness that the problems of working class people can only be solved by themselves, by their own actions and organisations. The 1930s in the USA is a classic example of this process, with very militant struggles taking place in very difficult situations (see Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States or Jeremy Brecher's Strike! for details).

In other words, the "economic structural crisis" gives radicals a lot potential to get their message across, even if the overall environment may make success seem difficult in the extreme at times!

As well as encouraging workplace organisation due to the intensification of exploitation and authority provoked by the economic stagnant/depression, the "economic structural crisis" can encourage other forms of libertarian alternatives. For example, "the practical effect of finance capital's hegemony was to lock the advanced economies and their governments in a malignant spiral, restricting them to bad choices. Like bondholders in general, the new governing consensus explicitly assumed that faster economic growth was dangerous -- threatening to the stable financial order -- so nations were effectively blocked from measures that might reduce permanent unemployment or ameliorate the decline in wages. . . The reality of slow growth, in turn, drove the governments into their deepening indebtedness, since the disappointing growth inevitably undermined tax revenues while it expanded the public welfare costs. The rentier regime repeatedly instructed governments to reform their spending priorities -- that is, withdraw benefits from dependent citizens. . . " [Op. Cit., pp. 297-8]

Thus the "economic structural crisis" has resulted in the erosion of the welfare state (at least for the working class, for the elite, state aid is never far away). This development as potential libertarian possibilities. "The decline of the state," argues L. Gambone, "makes necessary a revitalisation of the notions of direct action and mutual aid. Without Mama State to do it for us, we must create our own social services through mutual aid societies." [Syndicalism in Myth and Reality, p. 12] As we argue in more depth in section J.5.16, such a movement of mutual aid has a long history in the working class and, as it is under our control, it cannot be withdrawn from us to enrich and empower the ruling class as state run systems have been. Thus the decline of state run social services could, potentially, see the rise of a network of self-managed, working class alternatives (equally, of course, it could see the end of all services to the most weak sections of our society -- which possibility comes about depends on what we do in the here and now. see section J.5.15 for an anarchist analysis of the welfare state).

Food Not Bombs! is an excellent example of practical libertarian alternatives being generated by the economic crisis we are facing. Food Not Bombs helps the homeless through the direct action of its members. It also involves the homeless in helping themselves. It is a community-based group which helps other people in the community who are needy by providing free food to those in need. FNB! also helps other Anarchist political projects and activities.

Food Not Bombs! serves free food in public places to dramatise the plight of the homeless, the callousness of the system and our capacity to solve social problems through our own actions without government or capitalism. The constant harassment of FNB! by the cops, middle classes and the government illustrates their callousness to the plight of the poor and the failure of their institutions to build a society which cares for people more than money and property (and arms, cops and prisons to protect them). The fact is that in the US many working and unemployed people have no feeling that they are entitled to basic human needs such as medicine, clothes, shelter, and food. Food Not Bombs! does encourage poor people to make these demands, does provide a space in which these demands can be voiced, and does help to breakdown the wall between hungry and not-hungry. The repression directed towards FNB! by local police forces and governments also demonstrates the effectiveness of their activity and the possibility that it may radicalise those who get involved with the organisation. Charity is obviously one thing, mutual aid is something else. FNB! as it is a politicised movement from below, based on solidarity, is not charity, because, in Kropotkin's words, charity "bears a character of inspiration from above, and, accordingly, implies a certain superiority of the giver upon the receiver" and hardly libertarian [Mutual Aid, p. 222].

The last example of how economic stagnation can generate libertarian tendencies can be seen from the fact that, "[h]istorically, at times of severe inflation or capital shortages, communities have been forced to rely on their own resources. During the Great Depression, many cities printed their own currency; this works to the extent that a community is able to maintain a viable internal economy which provides the necessities of life, independent of transactions with the outside." [C. George Benello, Op. Cit., p. 150]

These local currencies and economies can be used as the basis of a libertarian socialist economy. The currencies would be the basis of a mutual bank (see sections J.5.5 and J.5.6), providing interest-free loans to workers to form co-operatives and so build libertarian alternatives to capitalist firms. In addition, these local currencies could be labour-time based, eliminating the profits of capitalists by allowing workers to exchange the product of their labour with other workers. Moreover, "local exchange systems strength local communities by increasing their self-reliance, empowering community members, and helping to protect them from the excesses of the global market." [Frank Lindenfield, "Economics for Anarchists," Social Anarchism, no. 23, p. 24] In this way local self-managing communes could be created, communes that replace hierarchical, top-down, government with collective decision making of community affairs based on directly democratic community assemblies (see section J.5.1). These self-governing communities and economies could federate together to co-operate on a wider scale and so create a counter-power to that of state and capitalism.

This confederal system of self-managing communities could also protect jobs as the "globalisation of capital threatens local industries. A way has to be found to keep capital at home and so preserve the jobs and the communities that depend upon them. Protectionism is both undesirable and unworkable. But worker-ownership or workers' co-operatives are alternatives." [L. Gambone, Syndicalism in Myth and Reality, pp.12-13] Local communities could provide the necessary support structures which could protect co-operatives from the corrupting effects of working in the capitalist market (see section J.5.11). In this way, economic liberty (self-management) could replace capitalism (wage slavery) and show that anarchism is a practical alternative to the chaos and authoritarianism of capitalism, even if these examples are fragmentally and limited in nature.

However, these developments should not be taken in isolation of collective struggle in the workplace or community. It is in the class struggle that the real potential for anarchy is created. The work of such organisations as Food Not Bombs! and the creation of local currencies and co-operatives are supplementary to the important task of creating workplace and community organisations that can create effective resistance to both state and capitalists, resistance that can overthrow both (see sections J.5.2 and J.5.1 respectively). "Volunteer and service credit systems and alternative currencies by themselves may not be enough to replace the corporate capitalist system. Nevertheless, they can help build the economic strength of local currencies, empower local residents, and mitigate some of the consequences of poverty and unemployment. . . By the time a majority [of a community are involved it] will be well on its way to becoming a living embodiment of many anarchist ideals." [Frank Lindenfield, Op. Cit., p. 28] And such a community would be a great aid in any strike or other social struggle which is going on!

Therefore, the general economic crisis which we are facing has implications for social struggle and anarchist activism. It could be the basic of libertarian alternatives in our workplaces and communities, alternatives based on direct action, solidarity and self-management. These alternatives could include workplace and community unionism, co-operatives, mutual banks and other forms of anarchistic resistance to capitalism and the state. We discuss such alternatives in more detail in section J.5, and so do not do so here.

Before moving on to the next section, we must stress that we are not arguing that working class people need an economic crisis to force them into struggle. Such "objectivism" (i.e. the placing of tendencies towards socialism in the development of capitalism, of objective factors, rather than in the class struggle, i.e. subjective factors) is best left to orthodox Marxists and Leninists as it has authoritarian underpinnings (see section H). Rather we are aware that the class struggle, the subjective pressure on capitalism, is not independent of the conditions within which it takes place (and helped to create, we must add). Subjective revolt is always present under capitalism and, in the case of the 1970s crisis, played a role in creating it. Faced with an economic crisis we are indicating what we can do in response to it and how it could, potentially, generate libertarian tendencies within society. Economic crisis could, in other words, provoke social struggle, collective action and generate anarchic tendencies in society. Equally, it could cause apathy, rejection of collective struggle and, perhaps, the embracing of false "solutions" such as right-wing populism, Leninism, Fascism or right-wing "libertarianism." We cannot predict how the future will develop, but it is true that if we do nothing then, obviously, libertarian tendencies will not grow and develope.

 

J.4.6 What are implications of anti-government and anti-big business feelings?

According to a report in Newsweek ("The Good Life and its Discontents" Jan. 8, 1996), feelings of disappointment have devastated faith in government and big business. Here are the results of a survey in which which people were asked whether they had a "great deal of confidence" in various institutions:

 

  1966 1975 1985 1994
Congress 42% 13% 16% 8%
Executive Branch 41% 13% 15% 12%
The press 29% 26% 16% 13%
Major Companies 55% 19% 17% 19%

As can be seen, the public's faith in major companies plunged 36% over a 28-year period in the survey, an even worse vote of "no confidence" than that given to Congress (34%).

Some of the feelings of disappointment with government can be blamed on the anti-big-government rhetoric of conservatives and right-wing populists. But such rhetoric is of potential benefit to anarchists as well. Of course the Right would never dream of really dismantling the state, as is evident from the fact that government grew more bureaucratic and expensive under "conservative" administrations than ever before.

Needless to say, this "decentralist" element of right-wing rhetoric is a con. When a politician, economist or business "leader" argues that the government is too big, he is rarely thinking of the same government functions you are. You may be thinking of subsidies for tobacco farmers or defence firms and they are thinking about pollution controls. You may be thinking of reforming welfare for the better, while their idea is to dismantle the welfare state totally. Moreover, with their support for "family values", "wholesome" television, bans on abortion, and so on their victory would see an increased level of government intrusion in many personal spheres (as well as increased state support for the power of the boss over the worker, the landlord over the tenant and so on).

If you look at what the Right has done and is doing, rather than what it is saying, you quickly see the ridiculous of claims of right-wing "libertarianism" (as well as who is really in charge). Obstructing pollution and health regulations; defunding product safety laws; opening national parks to logging and mining, or closing them entirely; reducing taxes for the rich; eliminating the capital gains tax; allowing companies to fire striking workers; making it easier for big telecommunications companies to make money; limiting companies' liability for unsafe products-- the program here is obviously to help big business do what it wants without government interference, and to help the rich get richer. In other words, increased "freedom" for private power combined with a state whose role is to protect that "liberty."

Yet along with the pro-business, pro-private tyranny, racist, anti-feminist, and homophobic hogwash disseminated by right-wing radio propagandists and the business-backed media, important decentralist and anti-statist ideas are also being implanted in mass consciousness. These ideas, if consistently pursued and applied in all areas of life (the home, the community, the workplace), could lead to a revival of anarchism in the US -- but only if radicals take advantage of this opportunity to spread the message that capitalism is not genuinely anti-authoritarian (nor could it ever be), as a social system based on liberty must entail.

This does not mean that right-wing tendencies have anarchistic elements. Of course not. Nor does it mean that anarchist fortunes are somehow linked to the success of the right. Far from it (the reverse is actually the case). Similarly, the anti-big government propaganda of big business is hardly anarchistic. But it does have the advantage of placing certain ideas on the agenda, such as decentralisation. What anarchists try to do is point out the totally contradictory nature of such right-wing rhetoric. After all, the arguments against big government are equally applicable to big business and wage slavery. If people are capable of making their own decisions, then why should this capability be denied in the workplace? As Noam Chomsky points out, while there is a "leave it alone" and "do your own thing" current within society, it in fact "tells you that the propaganda system is working full-time, because there is no such ideology in the U.S. Business, for example, doesn't believe it. It has always insisted upon a powerful interventionist state to support its interests -- still does and always has -- back to the origins of American society. There's nothing individualistic about corporations. Those are big conglomerate institutions, essentially totalitarian in character, but hardly individualistic. Within them you're a cog in a big machine. There are few institutions in human society that have such strict hierarchy and top-down control as a business organisation. Nothing there about 'Don't tread on me.' You're being tread on all the time. The point of the ideology is to try to get other people, outside of the sectors of co-ordinated power, to fail to associate and enter into decision-making in the political arena themselves. The point is to atomise everyone else while leaving powerful sectors integrated and highly organised and of course dominating resources." He goes on to note that:

 

"There is a streak of independence and individuality in American culture which I think is a very good thing. This 'Don't tread on me' feeling is in many respects a healthy one. It's healthy up to the point where it atomises and keeps you from working together with other people. So it's got its healthy side and its negative side. It's the negative side that's emphasised naturally in the propaganda and indoctrination." [Keeping the Rabble in Line, pp. 279-80]

As the opinion polls above show, must people direct their dislike and distrust of institutions equally to Big Business, which shows that people are not stupid. However, the slight decrease in distrust for big business even after a period of massive business-lead class war, down-sizing and so on, is somewhat worrying. Unfortunately, as Gobbels was well aware, tell a lie often enough and people start to believe it. And given the funds available to big business, its influence in the media, its backing of "think-tanks," the use of Public Relations companies, the support of economic "science," its extensive advertising and so on, it says a lot for the common sense of people that so many people see big business for what it is. You simply cannot fool all the people all of the time!

However, these feelings can easily be turned into cynicism and a hopelessness that things can change for the better and than the individual can help change society. Or, even worse, they can be twisted into support for the right, authoritarian, populist or (so-called) "Libertarian"-Right. The job for anarchists is to combat this and help point the healthy distrust people have for government and business towards a real solution to societies problems, namely a decentralised, self-managed anarchist society.

 

J.4.7 What about the communications revolution?

Another important factor working in favour of anarchists is the existence of a sophisticated global communications network and a high degree of education and literacy among the populations of the core industrialised nations. Together these two developments make possible nearly instantaneous sharing and public dissemination of information by members of various progressive and radical movements all over the globe -- a phenomenon that tends to reduce the effectiveness of repression by central authorities. The electronic-media and personal-computer revolutions also make it more difficult for elitist groups to maintain their previous monopolies of knowledge. In short, the advent of the Information Age is potentially one of the most subversive variables in the modern equation.

Indeed the very existence of the Internet provides anarchists with a powerful argument that decentralised structures can function effectively in today's highly complex world. For the net has no centralised headquarters and is not subject to regulation by any centralised regulatory agency, yet it still manages to function quite effectively. Moreover, the net is also an effective way of anarchists and other radicals to communicate their ideas to others, share knowledge and work on common projects (such as this FAQ, for example) and co-ordinate activities and social struggle. By using the Internet, radicals can make their ideas accessible to people who otherwise would not come across anarchist ideas (obviously we are aware that the vast majority of people in the world do not have access to telephones, never mind computers, but computer access is increasing in many countries, making it available, via work, libraries, schools, universities, and so on to more and more working people). In addition, and far more important than anarchists putting their ideas across, the fact is that the net allows everyone with access to express themselves freely, to communicate with others and get access (by visiting webpages and joining mailing lists and newsgroups) and give access (by creating webpages and joining in with on-line arguments) to new ideas and viewpoints. This is very anarchistic as it allows people to express themselves and start to consider new ideas, ideas which may change how they think and act. Of course most people on the planet do not have a telephone, let alone a computer, but that does not undermine the fact that the internet is a medium in which people can communicate freely (at least until it is totally privatised, then it may prove to be more difficult as the net could become a giant shopping centre).

Of course there is no denying that the implications of improved communications and information technology are ambiguous, implying Big Brother as well the ability of progressive and radical movements to organise. However, the point is only that the information revolution in combination with the other new social developments we are considering could (but will not necessarily) contribute to a social paradigm shift. Obviously such a shift will not happen automatically. Indeed, it will not happen at all unless there is strong resistance to governmental attempts to limit public access to information technology (e.g. encryption programs) and censor citizens' communications.

How anarchists are very effectively using the Internet to co-ordinate struggles and spread information is discussed in section J.4.9.

This use of the Internet and computers to spread the anarchist message is ironic. The rapid improvement in price-performance ratios of computers, software, and other technology today seems to validate the faith in free markets. But to say that the information revolution proves the inevitable superiority of markets requires a monumental failure of short-term historical memory. After all, not just the Internet, but the computer sciences and computer industry represent a spectacular success of public investment. As late as the 1970s and early 1980s, according to Kenneth Flamm's 1988 book Creating the Computer, the federal government was paying for 40 percent of all computer-related research and probably 60 to 75 percent of basic research. Even such modern-seeming gadgets as video terminals, the light pen, the drawing tablet, and the mouse evolved from Pentagon-sponsored research in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Even software was not without state influence, with database software having its roots in US Air Force and Atomic Energy Commission projects, artificial intelligence in military contracts back in the 1950s and airline reservation systems in 1950s air-defence systems. More than half of IBM's Research and Development budget came from government contracts in the 1950s and 1960s.

The motivation was national security, but the result has been the creation of comparative advantage in information technology for the United States that private firms have happily exploited and extended. When the returns were uncertain and difficult to capture, private firms were unwilling to invest, and government played the decisive role. And not for want of trying, for key players in the military first tried to convince businesses and investment bankers that a new and potentially profitable business opportunity was presenting itself, but they did not succeed and it was only when the market expanded and the returns were more definite that the government receded. While the risks and development costs were socialised, the gains were privatised. All of which make claims that the market would have done it anyway highly unlikely.

Looking beyond state aid to the computer industry we discover a "do-it-yourself" (and so self-managed) culture which was essential to its development. The first personal computer, for example, was invented by amateurs who wanted to build their own cheap machines. The existence of a "gift" economy among these amateurs and hobbyists was a necessary precondition for the development of PCs. Without this free sharing of information and knowledge, the development of computers would have been hindered. In other words, socialistic relations between developers and within the working environment created the necessary conditions for the computer revolution. If this community had been marked by commercial relations, the chances are the necessary breakthroughs and knowledge would have remained monopolised by a few companies or individuals, so hindering the industry as a whole.

The first 20 years of the Internet's development was almost completely dependent on state aid -- such as the US military or the universities -- plus an anti-capitalist "gift economy" between hobbyists. Thus a combination of public funding and community based sharing helped create the framework of the Internet, a framework which is now being claimed as one of capitalism's greatest successes!

Encouragingly, this socialistic "gift economy" is still at the heart of computer/software development and the Internet. For example, the Free Software Foundation has developed the General Public Licence (GPL). GPL, also know as "copyleft", uses copyright to ensure that software remains free. Copyleft ensures that a piece of software is made available to everyone to use and modify as they desire. The only restriction is that any used or modified copyleft material must remain under copyleft, ensuring that others have the same rights as you did when you used the original code. It creates a commons which anyone may add to, but no one may subtract from. Placing software under GPL means that every contributor is assured that she, and all other uses, will be able to run, modify and redistribute the code indefinitely. Unlike commercial software, copyleft code ensures an increasing knowledge base from which individuals can draw from and, equally as important, contribute to. In this way everyone benefits as code can be improved by everyone, unlike commercial code.

Many will think that this essentially anarchistic system would be a failure. In fact, code developed in this way is far more reliable and sturdy than commercial software. Linux, for example, is a far superior operating system than DOS, for example, precisely because it draws on the collective experience, skill and knowledge of thousands of developers. Apache, the most popular web-server, is another freeware product and is acknowledged as the best available. While non-anarchists may be surprised, anarchists are not. Mutual aid and co-operation are beneficial in evolution of life, why not in the evolution of software?

For anarchists, this "gift economy" at the heart of the communications revolution is an important development. It shows the superiority of common development and the walls to innovation and decent products generated by property systems. We hope that such an economy will spread increasingly into the "real" world.

 

J.4.8 What is the significance of the accelerating rate of change and the information explosion?

As Philip Slater points out in A Dream Deferred, the cumbersomeness of authoritarian structures becomes more and more glaring as the rate of change speeds up. This is because all relevant information in authoritarian systems must be relayed to a central command before any decisions can be made, in contrast to decentralised systems where important decisions can be made by individuals and small autonomous groups responding immediately to new information. This means that decision making is slower in authoritarian structures, putting them at a disadvantage relative to more decentralised and democratic structures.

The failure of centrally planned state-capitalist ("Communist") economies due to overwhelming bureaucratic inertia provides an excellent illustration of the problem in question. Similarly, under private-property capitalism, small and relatively decentralised companies are generally more innovative and productive than large corporations with massive bureaucracies, which tend to be nearly as inflexible and inefficient as their "Communist" counterparts. In a world where the proliferation of information is accelerating at the same time that crucial economic and political decisions must be made ever more quickly, authoritarian structures are becoming increasingly maladaptive. As Slater notes, authoritarian systems simply cannot cope effectively with the information explosion, and for this reason more and more nations are realising they must either "democratise" or fall behind. He cites the epidemic of "democratisation" in Eastern Europe as well as popular pressure for democracy in Communist China as symptomatic of this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, Slater fails to note that the type of "democracy" to which he refers is ultimately a fraud (though better than state-capitalist totalitarianism), since the representative type of government at which it aims is a disguised form of political domination by the corporate rich. Nevertheless, the cumbersomeness of authoritarian structures on which he bases his argument is real enough, and it will continue to lend credibility to the anarchist argument that "representative" political structures embedded in a corporate-state complex of authoritarian institutions is very far from being either true democracy or an efficient way of organising society. Moreover, the critique of authoritarian structures is equally applicable to the workplace as capitalist companies are organised as mini-centrally planned states, with (official) power concentrated in the hands of bosses and managers. Any struggle for increased participation will inevitably take place in the workplace as well (as it has continually done so as long as wage slavery has existed).

 

J.4.9 What are Netwars?

Netwars refers to the use of the Internet by autonomous groups and social movements to co-ordinate action to influence and change society and fight government or business policy. This use of the Internet has steadily grown over the years, with a Rand corporation researcher, David Ronfeldt, arguing that this has become an important and powerful force (Rand is, and has been since it's creation in 1948, a private appendage of the military industrial complex). In other words, activism and activists power and influence has been fuelled by the advent of the information revolution. Through computer and communication networks, especially via the world-wide Internet, grassroots campaigns have flourished, and the most importantly, government elites have taken notice.

Ronfeldt specialises in issues of national security, especially in the areas of Latin American and the impact of new informational technologies. Ronfeldt and another colleague coined the term "netwar" a couple years ago in a Rand document entitled "Cyberwar is Coming!". "Netwars" are actions by autonomous groups -- especially advocacy groups and social movements -- that use informational networks to co-ordinate action to influence, change or fight government policy.

Ronfeldt's work became a flurry of discussion on the Internet in mid-March 1995 when Pacific News Service corespondent Joel Simon wrote an article about Ronfeldt's opinions on the influence of netwars on the political situation in Mexico after the Zapatista uprising. According to Simon, Ronfeldt holds that the work of social activists on the Internet has had a large influence -- helping to co-ordinate the large demonstrations in Mexico City in support of the Zapatistas and the proliferation of EZLN communiques across the world via computer networks. These actions, Ronfeldt argues, have allowed a network of groups that oppose the Mexican Government to muster an international response, often within hours of actions by it. In effect, this has forced the Mexican government to maintain the facade of nnegotiations with the EZLN and has on many occasions, actually stopped the army from just going in to Chiapas and brutally massacring the Zapatistas.

Given that Ronfeldt is an employee of the Rand Corporation (described by Paul Dickson, author of the book "Think Tanks", as the "first military think tank. . . undoubtedly the most powerful research organisation associated with the American military") his comments indicate that the U.S. government and it's military and intelligence wings are very interested in what the Left and anarchists are doing on the Internet. Given that they would not be interested in this if it was not effective, we can say that this use of the "Information Super-Highway" is a positive example of the use of technology in ways un-planned of by those who initially developed it (let us not forget that the Internet was originally funded by the U.S. government and military). While the internet is being hyped as the next big marketplace, it is being subverted by activists -- an example of anarchistic trends within society worrying the powers that be.

Ronfeldt argues that "the information revolution. . . disrupts and erodes the hierarchies around which institutions are normally designed. It diffuses and redistributes power, often to the benefit of what may be considered weaker, smaller actors." He continues, "multi-organisational networks consist of (often small) organisations or parts of institutions that have linked together to act jointly... making it possible for diverse, dispersed actors to communicate, consult, co-ordinate, and operate together across greater distances, and on the basis of more and better information than ever." He emphasises that "some of the heaviest users of the new communications networks and technologies are progressive, centre-left, and social activists... [who work on] human rights, peace, environmental, consumer, labour, immigration, racial and gender-based issues." In other words, social activists are on the cutting edge of the new and powerful "network" system of organising.

All governments, especially the U.S. government, have been extremely antagonistic to this idea of effective use of information, especially by the political Left and anarchists. The use of the Internet may facilitate another "crisis in democracy" (i.e. the development of real democracy rather than the phoney elite kind favoured by capitalism). To fight this possible use of the internet to combat the elite, Ronfeldt maintains that the lesson is clear: "institutions can be defeated by networks, and it may take networks to counter networks." He argues that if the U.S. government and/or military is to fight this ideological war properly with the intend of winning -- and he does specifically mention ideology -- it must completely reorganise itself, scrapping hierarchical organisation for a more autonomous and decentralised system: a network. In this way, he states, "we expect that. . . netwar may be uniquely suited to fighting non-state actors".

Ronfeldt's research and opinion should be flattering for the political Left. He is basically arguing that the efforts of activists on computers not only has been very effective or at least has the potential, but more importantly, argues that the only way to counter this work is to follow the lead of social activists. Ronfeldt emphasised in a personal correspondence that the "information revolution is also strengthening civil-society actors in many positive ways, and moreover that netwar is not necessarily a 'bad' thing that necessarily is a 'threat' to U.S. or other interests. It depends." At the same time, anarchists and other activists should understand the important implications of Ronfeldt's work: government elites are not only watching these actions (big surprise), but are also attempting to work against them.

This can be seen in many countries. For example, in 1995 a number of computer networks, so far confined to Europe, have been attacked or completely shut down. In Italy, members of the Carabinieri Anti-Crime Special Operations Group raided the homes of a number of activists -- many active in the anarchist movement. They confiscated journals, magazines, pamphlets, diaries, and video tapes. They also took their personal computers, one of which hosted "BITS Against the Empire", a node of Cybernet and Fidonet networks. The warrant ridiculously charged them for "association with intent to subvert the democratic order", carrying a penalty of 7 to 15 years imprisonment for a conviction.

In Britain, Terminal Boredom bulletin board system (BBS) in Scotland was shutdown by police in 1995 after the arrest of a hacker who was affiliated with the BBS. In the same year Spunk Press, the largest anarchist archive of published material catalogued on computer networks faced a media barrage in the UK press which has falsely accused them of working with known terrorists like the Red Army Faction of Germany, of providing recipes for making bombs and of co-ordinating the "disruption of schools, looting of shops and attacks on multinational firms." Articles by the computer trade magazine, Computing, and the Sunday Times, entitled "Anarchism Runs Riot on the Superhighway" and "Anarchists Use Computer Highway For Subversion" respectively, nearly lead one of the organisers of Spunk Press loosing his job after the firm he works for received bad publicity. According to the book Turning up the Heat: MI5 after that cold war by Lara O'Hara, one of the journalists who wrote the Sunday Times article has contacts with MI5 (the British equivalent of the FBI).

It is not coincidence that this attack has started first against anarchists and libertarian-socialists. They are currently one of the most organised political grouping on the Internet. Even Simon Hill, editor of Computing magazine, admits that "we have been amazed at the level of organisation of these... groups who have appeared on the Internet in a short amount of time". According to Ronfeldt's thesis, this makes perfect sense. Who best can exploit a system that "erodes hierarchy" and requires the co-ordination of decentralised, autonomous groups in co-operative actions than anarchists and libertarian-socialists?

These attacks may not be confined to anarchists for long. Indeed, many countries have attempted to control the internet, using a number of issues as a means to do so (such as "terrorism", pornography and so on). Government is not the only institution to notice the power of the Internet in the hands of activists. In America, the Washington Post ("Mexican Rebels Using a High-Tech Weapon; Internet Helps Rally Support", by Tod Robberson), Newsweek ("When Words are the Best Weapon: How the Rebels Use the Internet and Satellite TV", by Russell Watson) and even CNN have done stories about the importance of the Internet and network communication organisation with respect to the Zapatistas.

It is important to point out that the mainstream media is not interested in the information that circulates across the Internet. No, they are interested in sensationalising the activity, even demonising it. They correctly see that the "rebels" possess an incredibly powerful tool, but the media does not report on what they either are missing or omitting.

A good example of this powerful tool is the incredible speed and range at which information travels the Internet about events concerning Mexico and the Zapatistas. When Alexander Cockburn wrote an article exposing a Chase Manhattan Bank memo about Chiapas and the Zapatistas in Counterpunch, only a small number of people read it because it is only a newsletter with a limited readership. The memo, written by Riordan Roett, was very important because it argued that "the [Mexican] government will need to eliminate the Zapatistas to demonstrate their effective control of the national territory and of security policy". In other words, if the Mexican government wants investment from Chase, it will have to crush the Zapatistas. This information was relatively ineffective when just confined to print. But when it was uploaded to the Internet (via a large number of List-servers and the USENET), it suddenly reached a very large number of people. These people in turn co-ordinated protests against the U.S and Mexican governments and especially Chase Manhattan. Chase was eventually forced to attempt to distance itself from the Roett memo that it commissioned.

Anarchists and the Zapatistas is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Currently there are a myriad of social activist campaigns on the Internet. From local issues like the anti-Proposition 187 movement in California to a progressive college network campaign against the Republican "Contract [on] America," the network system of activism is not only working -- and working well as Ronfeldt admits -- but is growing. It is growing rapidly in numbers of people involved and growing in political and social effectiveness. There are many parallels between the current situation in Chiapas and the drawn out civil war in Guatemala, yet the Guatemalan military has been able to nearly kill without impunity while the Mexican military received a co-ordinated, international attack literally hours after they mobilise their troops. The reason is netwars are effective as Ronfeldt concedes, and when they are used they have been very influential.

It is clear than Rand, and possibly other wings of the establishment, are not only interested in what activists are doing on the Internet, but they think it is working. It is also clear that they are studying our activities and analysing our potential power. We should do the same, but obviously not from the perspective of inhibiting our work, but the opposite: how to further facilitate it. Also, we should turn the tables as it were. They are studying our behaviour and actions -- we should study theirs. As was outlined above, we should analyse their movements and attempt to anticipate attacks as much as possible.

As Ronfeldt argues repeatedly, the potential is there for us to be more effective. Information is getting out as is abundantly clear. But we can do better than just a co-ordination of raw information, which has been the majority of the "networking" so far on the Internet. To improve on the work that is being done, we should attempt to provide more -- especially in the area of in-depth analysis. Not just what we are doing and what the establishment is doing, but more to the point, we should attempt to co-ordinate the dissemination of solid analysis of important events. In this way members of the activist network will not only have the advantage of up-to-date information of events, but also a good background analysis of what each event means, politically, socially and/or economically as the case may be.

Thus Netwars are a good example of anarchistic trends within society, the use of communications technology (developed for the state and used by capitalism as a means to aid the selling process) has become a means of co-ordinating activity across the world in a libertarian fashion.

(This section of the FAQ is based on an article by Jason Wehling called "'NetWars' and Activists' Power on the Internet" which has appeared in issue 2 of Scottish Anarchist magazine as well as Z Magazine)