Let’s talk anarchy again.
I’ve still got plenty to read, and while it’s mostly been interesting ploughing through lengthy discussions of what the various factions within anarchism believe, I’m still hoping there’s a part coming up soon which explains just how the heck a society totally without authority is supposed to work.
But I’m sure I’ll get to that. Right now, I have a complaint about the way anarchism seems to sell its ideas.
One thing the FAQ is emphatic on is that people need to be persuaded to abandon authoritarian structures before anything can get done. You can’t impose anarchy on anyone, practically by definition, and if our authoritarian society collapsed tomorrow, another one not unlike it would arise in short order, because that’s just how most people still think the world needs to work.
Terrorism and violence are entirely antithetical to the anarchist cause for precisely this reason. As the title of a pamphlet once declared, you can’t blow up a social relationship.
So the thing to do to get people on your side, anarchists are told, is to spread the word. Partly by direct action – get involved in the kind of independent, voluntary, non-hierarchical organisations they’d like to see everywhere, or create some for yourselves – and partly by inspiring other people to think along similar lines. An anarchist society is only possible once a sizeable majority of the population want to do things that way.
The problem is, this often seems to involve a certain type of apologist rhetoric. I’ve complained before about hyperbolic capitalism-bashing, but the reasons we should support anarchy are often just as unconvincing.
Although anarchism in all forms is keen to distance itself from Marxism and communism, a lot of the same language is used which I’m familiar with from communist tracts. In either case, it’s asserted that I can never be free, as a worker, until I “own the means of production”, and can freely exchange the “product of my labour”.
But… I’m not sure I want to own the means of production. And I’m not sure I’d know what to do with the means of production if someone dropped them in my lap. I think I’d actually enjoy having someone take a lot of that stuff off my hands and let me focus on what actually interests me.
Possibly such things could be delegated (if that’s not too hierarchical a term) within an anarchist system, so that I can avoid getting bogged down in a load of administrative stuff without giving up my autonomy. But that’s not obvious from the way that the liberation of the common man is heralded as the most glorious and self-evidently desirable ideal.
I’m coming at this from the point of view of someone who doesn’t feel much like an oppressed proletarian being crushed underfoot by a tyrannical bourgeois capitalist elite. The spirit of revolution that so energised thousands of people in 1930s Spain seems unlikely to have the same effect on many reasonably well-off Westerners today. And it’d be a shame if I’d have to be suffering truly back-breaking oppression before I could be convinced that anarchy was a desirable alternative.