J.5.16 Are there any historical examples of collective self-help?

Yes, in all societies we see working people joining together to practice mutual aid and solidarity. These take many forms, such as trade and industrial unions, credit unions and friendly societies, co-operatives and so on, but the natural response of working class people to the injustices of capitalism was to practice collective “self-help” in order to improve their lives and protect their friends, communities and fellow workers.

Unfortunately, this “great tradition of working class self-help and mutual aid was written off, not just as irrelevant, but as an actual impediment, by the political and professional architects of the welfare state. . . The contribution that the recipients had to make to all this theoretical bounty was ignored as a mere embarrassment – apart, of course, for paying for it. . . The socialist ideal was rewritten as a world in which everyone was entitled to everything, but where nobody except the providers had any actual say about anything. We have been learning for years, in the anti-welfare backlash, what a vulnerable utopia that was.” [Colin Ward, Social Policy: an anarchist response, p. 3]

Ward terms this self-help (and self-managed) working class activity the “welfare road we failed to take.”

Indeed, anarchists would argue that self-help is the natural side effect of freedom. There is no possibility of radical social change unless people are free to decide for themselves what their problems are, where their interests lie and are free to organise for themselves what they want to do about them. Self-help is a natural expression of people taking control of their own lives and acting for themselves. Anyone who urges state action on behalf of people is no socialist and any one arguing against self-help as “bourgeois” is no anti-capitalist. It is somewhat ironic that it is the right who have monopolised the rhetoric of “self-help” and turned it into yet another ideological weapon against working class direct action and self-liberation (although, saying that, the right generally likes individualised self-help — given a strike or squatting or any other form of collective self-help movement they will be the first to denounce it):

“The political Left has, over the years, committed an enormous psychological error in allowing this king of language [“self-help”, “mutual aid”, “standing on your own two feet” and so on] to be appropriated by the political Right. If you look at the exhibitions of trade union banners from the last century, you will see slogans like Self Help embroidered all over them. It was those clever Fabians and academic Marxists who ridiculed out of existence the values by which ordinary citizens govern their own lives in favour of bureaucratic paternalising, leaving those values around to be picked up by their political opponents.” [Colin Ward, Talking Houses, p. 58]

We cannot be expected to provide an extensive list of working class collective self-help and social welfare activity here, all we can do is present an overview. For a discussion of working class self-help and co-operation through the centuries we can suggest no better source than Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid. Here we will (using other sources than Mutual Aid) indicate a few examples of collective welfare in action.

In the case of Britain, we find that the “newly created working class built up from nothing a vast network of social and economic initiatives based on self-help and mutual aid. The list is endless: friendly societies, building societies, sick clubs, coffin clubs, clothing clubs, up to enormous federated enterprises like the trade union movement and the Co-operative movement.” [Colin Ward, Social Policy: an anarchist response, p. 2]

The historian E.P. Thompson confirms this picture of a wide network of working class self-help organisations:

“Small tradesmen, artisans, labourers – all sought to insure themselves against sickness, unemployment, or funeral expenses through membership of . . . friendly societies.” These were “authentic evidence of independent working-class culture and institutions . . . out of which . . . trade unions grew, and in which trade union officers were trained.” Friendly societies “did not ‘proceed from’ an idea: both the ideas and institutions arose from a certain common experience . . . In the simple cellular structure of the friendly society, with its workaday ethos of mutual aid, we see many features which were reproduced in more sophisticated and complex form in trade unions, co-operatives, Hampden clubs, Political Unions, and Chartist lodges. . . Every kind of witness in the first half of the nineteenth century – clergymen, factory inspectors, Radical publicists – remarked upon the extent of mutual aid in the poorest districts. In times of emergency, unemployment, strikes, sickness, childbirth, then it was the poor who ‘helped every one his neighbour.'” [The Making of the English Working Class, p. 458, pp. 460-1, p. 462]

Taking the United States, Sam Dolgoff presents an excellent summary of similar self-help activities by the American working class:

“Long before the labour movement got corrupted and the state stepped in, the workers organised a network of co-operative institutions of all kinds: schools, summer camps for children and adults, homes for the aged, health and cultural centres, credit associations, fire, life, and health insurance, technical education, housing, etc.” [The American Labour Movement: A New Beginning, p. 74]

Dolgoff, like all anarchists, urges workers to “finance the establishment of independent co-operative societies of all types, which will respond adequately to their needs” and that such a movement “could constitute a realistic alternative to the horrendous abuses of the ‘establishment’ at a fraction of the cost.” [Op. Cit., p. 74, pp. 74-75]

In this way a network of self-managed, communal, welfare associations and co-operatives could be built — paid for, run by and run for working class people. Such a network could be initially build upon, and be an aspect of, the struggles of claimants, patients, tenants, and other users of the current welfare state (see last section).

The creation of such a co-operative, community-based, welfare system will not occur over night. Nor will it be easy. But it is possible, as history shows. And, of course, it will have its problems, but as Colin Ward notes, that “the standard argument against a localist and decentralised point of view, is that of universalism: an equal service to all citizens, which it is thought that central control achieves. The short answer to this is that it doesn’t!” [Colin Ward, Op. Cit., p. 6] He notes that richer areas generally get a better service from the welfare state than poorer ones, thus violating the claims of equal service. And a centralised system (be it state or private) will most likely allocate resources which reflect the interests and (lack of) knowledge of bureaucrats and experts, not on where they are best used or the needs of the users.

Anarchists are sure that a confederal network of mutual aid organisations and co-operatives, based upon local input and control, can overcome problems of localism far better than a centralised one — which, due to its lack of local input and participation will more likely encourage parochialism and indifference than a wider vision and solidarity. If you have no real say in what affects you, why should you be concerned with what affects others? Centralisation leads to disempowerment, which in turn leads to indifference, not solidarity. Rudolf Rocker reminds us of the evil effects of centralism when he writes:

“For the state centralisation is the appropriate form of organisation, since it aims at the greatest possible uniformity in social life for the maintenance of political and social equilibrium. But for a movement whose very existence depends on prompt action at any favourable moment and on the independent thought and action of its supporters, centralism could but be a curse by weakening its power of decision and systematically repressing all immediate action. If, for example, as was the case in Germany, every local strike had first to be approved by the Central, which was often hundreds of miles away and was not usually in a position to pass a correct judgement on the local conditions, one cannot wonder that the inertia of the apparatus of organisation renders a quick attack quite impossible, and there thus arises a state of affairs where the energetic and intellectually alert groups no longer serve as patterns for the less active, but are condemned by these to inactivity, inevitably bringing the whole movement to stagnation. Organisation is, after all, only a means to an end. When it becomes an end in itself, it kills the spirit and the vital initiative of its members and sets up that domination by mediocrity which is the characteristic of all bureaucracies.” [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 54]

And, as an example, he notes that while the highly centralised German labour movement “did not raise a finger to avert the catastrophe” of Hitler’s seizing power and “which in a few months beat their organisation completely to pieces” the exact opposite happened in Spain (“where Anarcho-Syndicalism had maintained its hold upon organised labour from the days of the First International”). There the anarcho-syndicalist C.N.T. “frustrated the criminal plans of Franco” and “by their heroic example spurred the Spanish workers and peasants to the battle.” Without the heroic resistance of the Anarcho-Syndicalist labour unions the Fascist reaction would have dominated the whole country in a matter of weeks. [Op. Cit., p. 53]

This is unsurprising, for what else is global action other than the product of thousands of local actions? Solidarity within our class is the flower that grows from the soil of our local self-activity, direct action and self-organisation. Unless we act and organise locally, any wider organisation and action will be hollow. Thus local organisation and empowerment is essential to create and maintain wider organisations and mutual aid.

To take another example of the benefits of a self-managed welfare system, we find that it “was a continual complaint of the authorities [in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century] that friendly societies allowed members to withdraw funds when on strike.” [E.P. Thompson, Op. Cit., p. 461f] The same complaints were voiced in Britain about the welfare state allowing strikers to claim benefit will on strike. The Conservative Government of the 1980s changed that by passing a law barring those in industrial dispute to claim benefits — and so removing a potential support for those in struggle. Such a restriction would have been far harder (if not impossible) to impose on a network of self-managed mutual aid co-operatives. And such institutions would have not become the plaything of central government financial policy as the welfare state and the taxes working class people have to pay have become.

All this means that anarchists reject totally the phoney choice between private and state capitalism we are usually offered. We reject both privatisation and nationalisation, both right and left wings (of capitalism). Neither state nor private health care are user-controlled — one is subject to the requirements of politics and the other places profits before people. As we have discussed the welfare state in the last section, it is worthwhile to quickly discuss privatised welfare and why most anarchists reject this option even more than state welfare.

Firstly, all forms of private healthcare/welfare has to pay dividends to capitalists, fund advertising, reduce costs to maximise profits by standardising the “caring” process – i.e. McDonaldisation – and so on, all of which inflates prices and produces substandard service across the industry as a whole. According to Alfie Kohn, the “[m]ore hospitals and clinics are being run by for-profit corporations; many institutions, forced to battle for ‘customers,’ seem to value a skilled director of marketing more highly than a skilled caregiver. As in any other economic sector, the race for profits translates into pressure to reduce costs, and the easiest way to do it here is to cut back on services to unprofitable patients, that is, those who are more sick than rich . . .” “The result: hospital costs are actually higher in areas where there is more competition for patients.” [Alfie Kohn, No Contest, p. 240] In the UK, attempts to introduce “market forces” into the National Health Service also lead to increased costs as well as inflating the services bureaucracy.

Looking at Chile, hyped by those who desire to privatise Social Security, we find similar disappointing results (well, disappointing for the working class at least, as we will see). Seemingly, Chile’s private system has achieved impressive average returns on investment. However, once commissions are factored in, the real return for individual workers is considerably lower. For example, although the average rate of return on funds from 1982 through 1986 was 15.9 percent, the real return after commissions was a mere 0.3 percent! Between 1991 and 1995, the pre-commission return was 12.9 percent, but with commissions it fell to 2.1 percent. According to Doug Henwood, the “competing mutual funds have vast sales forces, and the portfolio managers all have their vast fees. All in all, administrative costs . . . are almost 30% of revenues, compared to well under 1% for the U.S. Social Security system.” [Wall Street, p. 305] Although market competition was supposed to lower commissions in Chile, the private pension fund market is dominated by a handful of companies. These, according to economists Peter Diamond and Salvador Valdes-Prieto, form a “monopolistic competitive market” rather than a truly competitive one. A similar process seems to be taking place in Argentina, where commissions have remained around 3.5 percent of taxable salary. As argued in section C.4, such oligopolistic tendencies are inherent in capitalism and so this development is not unexpected.

Even if commission costs were lowered (perhaps by regulation), the impressive returns on capital seen between 1982 and 1995 (when the real annual return on investment averaged 12.7 percent) are likely not to be sustained. These average returns coincided with boom years in Chile, complemented by government’s high borrowing costs. Because of the debt crisis of the 1980s, Latin governments were paying double-digit real interest rates on their bonds — the main investment vehicle of social security funds. In effect, government was subsidising the “private” system by paying astronomical rates on government bonds.

Another failing of the system is that only a little over half of Chilean workers make regular social security contributions. While many believe that a private system would reduce evasion because workers have a greater incentive to contribute to their own personal retirement accounts, 43.4 percent of those affiliated with the new system in June of 1995 did not contribute regularly (see Stephen J. Kay, “The Chile Con: Privatizing Social Security in South America,” The American Prospect no. 33, July-August 1997, pp. 48-52 for details).

All in all, privatisation seems to be beneficial only to middle-men and capitalists, if Chile is anything to go by. As Henwood argues, while the “infusion of money” resulting from privatising social security “has done wonders for the Chilean stock market” “projections are that as many as half of future retirees will draw a poverty-level pension.” [Op. Cit., pp. 304-5]

So, anarchists reject private welfare as a con (and an even bigger one than state welfare). Instead we try to create real alternatives to hierarchy, be it state or capitalist, in the here and now which reflect our ideas of a free and just society. For, when it boils down to it, freedom cannot be given, only taken and this process of self-liberation is reflected in the alternatives we build to help win the class war.

The struggle against capitalism and statism requires that we build for the future (“the urge to destroy is a creative urge” – Bakunin) and, moreover, we should remember that “he who has no confidence in the creative capacity of the masses and in their capability to revolt doesn’t belong in the revolutionary movement. He should go to a monastery and get on his knees and start praying. Because he is no revolutionist. He is a son of a bitch.” [Sam Dolgoff, quoted by Ulrike Heider, Anarchism: left, right, and green, p. 12]


December 15, 2009 Posted by | kooperatifler vb modeller, ozyonetim, sistem karsitligi, somuru / tahakkum | Leave a comment

J.5.10 Why do anarchists support co-operatives?

J.5.10 Why do anarchists support co-operatives?

Support for co-operatives is a common feature in anarchist writings. Indeed, anarchist support for co-operatives is as old as use of the term anarchist to describe our ideas is. So why do anarchists support co-operatives? Basically it is because a co-operative is seen as an example of the future social organisation anarchists want in the present. As Bakunin argued, “the co-operative system. . . carries within it the germ of the future economic order.” [The Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 385]

Anarchists support all kinds of co-operatives – housing, food, credit unions and productive ones. All forms of co-operation are useful as they accustom their members to work together for their common benefit as well as ensuring extensive experience in managing their own affairs. As such, all forms of co-operatives are useful examples of self-management and anarchy in action (to some degree). However, here we will concentrate on productive co-operatives, i.e. workplace co-operatives. This is because workplace co-operatives, potentially, could replace the capitalist mode of production with one based upon associated, not wage, labour. As long as capitalism exists within industry and agriculture, no amount of other kinds of co-operatives will end that system. Capital and wealth accumulates by oppression and exploitation in the workplace, therefore as long as wage slavery exists anarchy will not.

Co-operatives are the “germ of the future” because of two facts. Firstly, co-operatives are based on one worker, one vote. In other words those who do the work manage the workplace within which they do it (i.e. they are based on workers’ self-management in some form). Thus co-operatives are an example of the “horizontal” directly democratic organisation that anarchists support and so are an example of “anarchy in action” (even if in an imperfect way) within the economy. In addition, they are an example of working class self-help and self-activity. Instead of relying on others to provide work, co-operatives show that production can be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of order takers.

Workplace co-operatives also present evidence of the viability of an anarchist “economy.” It is well established that co-operatives are usually more productive and efficient than their capitalist equivalents. This indicates that hierarchical workplaces are not required in order to produce useful goods and indeed can be harmful. Indeed, it also indicates that the capitalist market does not actually allocate resources efficiently (as we will discuss in section J.5.12). So why should co-operatives be more efficient?

Firstly there are the positive effects of increased liberty associated with co-operatives.

Co-operatives, by abolishing wage slavery, obviously increases the liberty of those who work in them. Members take an active part in the management of their working lives and so authoritarian social relations are replaced by libertarian ones. Unsurprisingly, this liberty also leads to an increase in productivity – just as wage labour is more productive than slavery, so associated labour is more productive than wage slavery. Little wonder Kropotkin argued that “the only guarantee not to be robbed of the fruits of your labour is to possess the instruments of labour. . . man really produces most when he works in freedom, when he has a certain choice in his occupations, when he has no overseer to impede him, and lastly, when he sees his work bringing profit to him and to others who work like him, but bringing in little to idlers.” [The Conquest of Bread, p. 145]

There are also the positive advantages associated with participation (i.e. self-management, liberty in other words). Within a self-managed, co-operative workplace, workers are directly involved in decision making and so these decisions are enriched by the skills, experiences and ideas of all members of the workplace. In the words of Colin Ward:

“You can be in authority, or you can be an authority, or you can have authority. The first derives from your rank in some chain of command, the second derives special knowledge, and the third from special wisdom. But knowledge and wisdom are not distributed in order of rank, and they are no one person’s monopoly in any undertaking. The fantastic inefficiency of any hierarchical organisation — any factory, office, university, warehouse or hospital — is the outcome of two almost invariable characteristics. One is that the knowledge and wisdom of the people at the bottom of the pyramid finds no place in the decision-making leadership hierarchy of the institution. Frequently it is devoted to making the institution work in spite of the formal leadership structure, or alternatively to sabotaging the ostensible function of the institution, because it is none of their choosing. The other is that they would rather not be there anyway: they are there through economic necessity rather than through identification with a common task which throws up its own shifting and functional leadership.”Perhaps the greatest crime of the industrial system is the way it systematically thwarts the investing genius of the majority of its workers.”

[Anarchy in Action, p. 41]

Also, as workers also own their place of work, they have an interest in developing the skills and abilities of their members and, obviously, this also means that there are few conflicts within the workplace. Unlike capitalist firms, there is no need for conflict between bosses and wage slaves over work loads, conditions or the division of value created between them. All these factors will increase the quality, quantity and efficiency of work and so increases efficient utilisation of available resources and facilities the introduction of new techniques and technologies.

Secondly, the increased efficiency of co-operatives results from the benefits associated with co-operation itself. Not only does co-operation increase the pool of knowledge and abilities available within the workplace and enriches that source by communication and interaction, it also ensures that the workforce are working together instead of competing and so wasting time and energy. As Alfie Kohn notes (in relation to investigations of in-firm co-operation):

“Dean Tjosvold of Simon Frazer. . .conducted [studies] at utility companies, manufacturing plants, engineering firms, and many other kinds of organisations. Over and over again, Tjosvold has found that ‘co-operation makes a work force motivated’ whereas ‘serious competition undermines co-ordination.’ . . . Meanwhile, the management guru. . . T. Edwards Demming, has declared that the practice of having employees compete against each other is ‘unfair [and] destructive. We cannot afford this nonsense any longer. . . [We need to] work together on company problems [but] annual rating of performance, incentive pay, [or] bonuses cannot live with team work. . . What takes the joy out of learning. . .[or out of] anything? Trying to be number one.'” [No Contest, p. 240]

(The question of co-operation and participation within capitalist firms will be discussed in section J.5.12).

Thirdly, there are the benefits associated with increased equality. Studies prove that business performance deteriorates when pay differentials become excessive. In a study of over 100 businesses (producing everything from kitchen appliances to truck axles), researchers found that the greater the wage gap between managers and workers, the lower their product’s quality. [Douglas Cowherd and David Levine, “Product Quality and Pay Equity,” Administrative Science Quarterly no. 37 (June 1992), pp. 302-30] Businesses with the greatest inequality were plagued with a high employee turnover rate. Study author David Levine said: “These organisations weren’t able to sustain a workplace of people with shared goals.” [quoted by John Byrne in “How high can CEO pay go?” Business Week, April 22, 1996]

(In fact, the negative effects of income inequality can be seen on a national level as well. Economists Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini conducted a thorough statistical analysis of historical inequality and growth, and found that nations with more equal incomes generally experience faster productive growth. [“Is Inequality Harmful for Growth?”, American Economic Review no. 84, June 1994, pp. 600-21] Numerous other studies have also confirmed their findings. Real life yet again disproves the assumptions of capitalism – inequality harms us all, even the capitalist economy which produces it).

This is to be expected. Workers, seeing an increasing amount of the value they create being monopolised by top managers and a wealthy elite and not re-invested into the company to secure their employment prospects, will hardly be inclined to put in that extra effort or care about the quality of their work. Managers who use the threat of unemployment to extract more effort from their workforce are creating a false economy. While they will postpone decreasing profits in the short term due to this adaptive strategy (and enrich themselves in the process) the pressures placed upon the system will bring a harsh long term effects – both in terms of economic crisis (as income becomes so skewed as to create realisation problems and the limits of adaptation are reached in the face of international competition) and social breakdown.

As would be imagined, co-operative workplaces tend to be more egalitarian than capitalist ones. This is because in capitalist firms, the incomes of top management must be justified (in practice) to a small number of individuals (namely, those shareholders with sizeable stock in the firm), who are usually quite wealthy and so not only have little to lose in granting huge salaries but are also predisposed to see top managers as being very much like themselves and so are entitled to comparable incomes. In contrast, the incomes of top management in worker controlled firms have to be justified to a workforce whose members experience the relationship between management incomes and their own directly and who, no doubt, are predisposed to see their top managers as being workers like themselves and accountable to them. Such an egalitarian atmosphere will have a positive impact on production and efficiency as workers will see that the value they create is not being accumulated by others but distributed according to work actually done (and not control over power). In the Mondragon co-operatives, for example, the maximum pay differential is 14 to 1 (increased from 3 to 1 in a response to outside pressures after much debate, with the actual maximum differential at 9 to 1) while (in the USA) the average CEO is paid over 140 times the average factory worker (up from 41 times in 1960).

Therefore, we see that co-operatives prove (to a greater or lesser extent) the advantages of (and interrelationship between) key anarchist principles such as liberty, equality, solidarity and self-management. Their application, whether all together or in part, has a positive impact on efficiency and work — and, as we will discuss in section J.5.12, the capitalist market actively blocks the spread of more efficient productive techniques instead of encouraging them. Even by its own standards, capitalism stands condemned – it does not encourage the efficient use of resources and actively places barriers in the development of human “resources.”

From all this its clear to see why co-operatives are supported by anarchists. We are “convinced that the co-operative could, potentially, replace capitalism and carries within it the seeds of economic emancipation. . . The workers learn from this precious experience how to organise and themselves conduct the economy without guardian angels, the state or their former employers.” [Michael Bakunin, Op. Cit., p. 399] Co-operatives give us a useful insight into the possibilities of a free, socialist, economy. Even within the hierarchical capitalist economy, co-operatives show us that a better future is possible and that production can be organised in a co-operative fashion and that by so doing we can reap the individual and social benefits of working together as equals.

However, this does not mean that all aspects of the co-operative movement find favour with anarchists. As Bakunin pointed out, “there are two kinds of co-operative: bourgeois co-operation, which tends to create a privileged class, a sort of new collective bourgeoisie organised into a stockholding society: and truly Socialist co-operation, the co-operation of the future which for this very reason is virtually impossible of realisation at present.” [Op. Cit., p. 385] In other words, while co-operatives are the germ of the future, in the present they are often limited by the capitalist environment they find themselves and narrow their vision to just surviving within the current system.

For most anarchists, the experience of co-operatives has proven without doubt that, however excellent in principle and useful in practice, if they are kept within the narrow circle of “bourgeois” existence they cannot become dominant and free the masses. This point is argued in Section J.5.11 and so will be ignored here. In order to fully develop, co-operatives must be part of a wider social movement which includes community and industrial unionism and the creation of a anarchistic social framework which can encourage “truly Socialist co-operation” and discourage “bourgeois co-operation.” As Murray Bookchin correctly argues, “[r]emoved from a libertarian municipalist [or other anarchist] context and movement focused on achieving revolutionary municipalist [or communalist] goals as a dual power against corporations and the state, food [and other forms of] co-ops are little more than benign enterprises that capitalism and the state can easily tolerate with no fear of challenge.” [Democracy and Nature no. 9, p. 175]

Therefore, while co-operatives are an important aspect of anarchist ideas and practice, they are not the be all or end all of our activity. Without a wider social movement which creates all (or at least most) of the future society in the shell of the old, co-operatives will never arrest the growth of capitalism or transcend the narrow horizons of the capitalist economy.

J.5.11 If workers really want self-management, why aren’t there more producer co-operatives?

Supporters of capitalism suggest that producer co-operatives would spring up spontaneously if workers really wanted them. Their argument is that co-operatives could be financed at first by “wealthy radicals” or by affluent workers pooling their resources to buy out existing capitalist firms; then, if such co-operatives were really economically viable and desired by workers, they would spread until eventually they undermined capitalism. They conclude that since this is not happening, it must be because workers’ self-management is either economically unfeasible or is not really attractive to workers or both (see, for example, Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 250-52).

David Schweickart has decisively answered this argument by showing that the reason there are not more producer co-operatives is structural:

“A worker-managed firm lacks an expansionary dynamic. When a capitalist enterprise is successful, the owner can increase her profits by reproducing her organisation on a larger scale. She lacks neither the means nor the motivation to expand. Not so with a worker-managed firm. Even if the workers have the means, they lack the incentive, because enterprise growth would bring in new workers with whom the increased proceeds would have to be shared. Co-operatives, even when prosperous, do not spontaneously grow. But if this is so, then each new co-operative venture (in a capitalist society) requires a new wealthy radical or a new group of affluent radical workers willing to experiment. Because such people doubtless are in short supply, it follows that the absence of a large and growing co-operative movement proves nothing about the viability of worker self-management, nor about the preferences of workers.” [Against Capitalism, p. 239]

There are other structural problems as well. For one thing, since their pay levels are set by members’ democratic vote, co-operatives tend to be more egalitarian in their income structure. But this means that in a capitalist environment, co-operatives are in constant danger of having their most skilled members hired away. Moreover, there is a difficulty in raising capital:

“Quite apart from ideological hostility (which may be significant), external investors will be reluctant to put their money into concerns over which they will have little or no control — which tends to be the case with a co-operative. Because co-operatives in a capitalist environment face special difficulties, and because they lack the inherent expansionary dynamic of a capitalist firm, it is hardy surprising that they are far from dominant.” [Ibid., p 240]

In addition, co-operatives face the negative externalities generated by a capitalist economy. The presence of wage labour and investment capital in the economy will tempt successful co-operatives to increase their flexibility to adjust to changes in market changes by hiring workers or issuing shares to attract new investment. In so doing, however, they may end up losing their identities as co-operatives by diluting ownership or by making the co-operative someone’s boss:

“To meet increased production, the producer co-operatives hired outside wage workers. This created a new class of workers who exploit and profit from the labour of their employees. And all this fosters a bourgeois mentality.” [Michael Bakunin, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 399]

Hence the pressures of working in a capitalist market may result in co-operatives pursuing activities which may result in short term gain or survival, but are sure to result in harm in the long run. Far from co-operatives slowly expanding within and changing a capitalist environment it is more likely that capitalist logic will expand into and change the co-operatives that work in it (this can be seen from the Mondragon co-operatives, where there has been a slight rise in the size of wage labour being used and the fact that the credit union, since 1992, has invested in non-co-operative firms). These externalities imposed upon isolated co-operatives within capitalism (which would not arise within a fully co-operative context) block local moves towards anarchism. The idea that co-operation will simply win out in competition within well developed capitalist economic systems is just wishful thinking. Just because a system is more liberatory and just does not mean it will survive in an authoritarian economic and social environment.

There are also cultural problems as well. As Jon Elster points out, it is a “truism, but an important one, that workers’ preferences are to a large extent shaped by their economic environment. Specifically, there is a tendency to adaptive preference formation, by which the actual mode of economic organisation comes to be perceived as superior to all others.” [“From Here to There”, in Socialism, p. 110] In other words, people view “what is” as given and feel no urge to change to “what could be.” In the context of creating alternatives within capitalism, this can have serious effects on the spread of alternatives and indicates the importance of anarchists encouraging the spirit of revolt to break down this mental apathy.

This acceptance of “what is” can be seen, to some degree, by some companies which meet the formal conditions for co-operatives, for example ESOP owned firms in the USA, but lack effective workers’ control. ESOP (Employee Stack Ownership Plans) firms enable a firms workforce to gain the majority of a companies shares but the unequal distribution of shares amongst employees prevents the great majority of workers from having any effective control or influence on decisions. Unlike real co-operatives (based on “one worker, one vote”) these firms are based on “one share, one vote” and so have more in common with capitalist firms than co-operatives.

Moreover, we have ignored such problems as natural barriers to entry into, and movement within, a market (which is faced by all firms) and the difficulties co-operatives can face in finding access to long term credit facilities required by them from capitalist banks (which would effect co-operatives more as short term pressures can result in their co-operative nature being diluted). As Tom Cahill notes, the “old co-ops [of the nineteenth century] also had the specific problem of . . . giving credit . . . [as well as] problems . . . of competition with price cutting capitalist firms, highlighting the inadequate reservoirs of the under-financed co-ops.” [“Co-operatives and Anarchism: A contemporary Perspective”, in For Anarchism, edited by Paul Goodway, p. 239]

In addition, the “return on capital is limited” in co-operatives [Tom Cahill, Op. Cit., p. 247] which means that investors are less-likely to invest in co-operatives, and so co-operatives will tend to suffer from a lack of investment. Which also suggests that Nozick’s argument that “don’t say that its against the class interest of investors to support the growth of some enterprise that if successful would end or diminish the investment system. Investors are not so altruistic. They act in personal and not their class interests” is false [Op. Cit., pp. 252-3]. Nozick is correct, to a degree — but given a choice between high returns from investments in capitalist firms and lower ones from co-operatives, the investor will select the former. This does not reflect the productivity or efficiency of the investment — quite the reverse! — it reflects the social function of wage labour in maximising profits and returns on capital (see next section for more on this). In other words, the personal interests of investors will generally support their class interests (unsurprisingly, as class interests are not independent of personal interests and will tend to reflect them!).

Tom Cahill outlines the investment problem when he writes that the “financial problem” is a major reason why co-operatives failed in the past, for “basically the unusual structure and aims of co-operatives have always caused problems for the dominant sources of capital. In general, the finance environment has been hostile to the emergence of the co-operative spirit. . .” And he also notes that they were “unable to devise structuring to maintain a boundary between those who work and those who own or control. . . It is understood that when outside investors were allowed to have power within the co-op structure, co-ops lost their distinctive qualities.” [Op. Cit., pp. 238-239] Meaning that even if co-operative do attract investors, the cost of so doing may be to transform the co-operatives into capitalist firms.

Thus, in spite of “empirical studies suggest[ing] that co-operatives are at least as productive as their capitalist counterparts,” with many having “an excellent record, superior to conventionally organised firms over a long period” [Jon Elster, Op. Cit., p. 96], co-operatives are more likely to adapt to capitalism than replace it and adopt capitalist principles of rationality in order to survive. All things being equal, co-operatives are more efficient than their capitalist counterparts – but when co-operatives compete in a capitalist economy, all things are not equal.

In spite of these structural and cultural problems, however, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of producer co-operatives in most Western countries in recent years. For example, Saul Estrin and Derek Jones report that co-operatives in the UK grew from 20 in 1975 to 1,600 by 1986; in France they increased from 500 to 1,500; and in Italy, some 7,000 new co-operatives came into existence between 1970 and 1982 [“Can Employee-owned Firms Survive?”, Working Paper Series, Department of Economics, Hamilton College (April, May, 1989)]. Italian co-operatives now number well over 20,000, many of them large and having many support structures as well (which aids their development by reducing their isolation and providing long term financial support lacking within the capitalist market).

We have already noted the success of the Mondragon co-operatives in Spain, which created a cluster of inter-locking co-operatives with its own credit union to provide long term financial support and commitment. Thus, in Europe at least, it appears that there is a rather “large and growing co-operative movement,” which gives the lie to Nozick’s and other supporters of capitalism arguments about co-operatives’ lack of economic viability and/or attractiveness to workers.

However, because co-operatives can survive in a capitalist economy it does not automatically mean that they shall replace that economy. Isolated co-operatives, as we argued above, will more likely adapt to capitalist realities than remain completely true to their co-operative promise. For most anarchists, therefore, co-operatives can reach their full potential only as part of a social movement aiming to change society. As part of a wider movement of community and workplace unionism, with mutualist banks to provide long terms financial support and commitment, co-operatives could be communalised into a network of solidarity and support that will reduce the problems of isolation and adaptation. Hence Bakunin:

“We hardly oppose the creation of co-operative associations; we find them necessary in many respects. . . they accustom the workers to organise, pursue, and manage their interests themselves, without interference either by bourgeois capital or by bourgeois control. . . [they must] above all [be] founded on the principle of solidarity and collectivity rather than on bourgeois exclusivity, then society will pass from its present situation to one of equality and justice without too many great upheavals.” [Op. Cit., p. 153]

Co-operation “will prosper, developing itself fully and freely, embracing all human industry, only when it is based on equality, when all capital . . . [and] the soil, belong to the people by right of collective property.” [Ibid.]

Until then, co-operatives will exist within capitalism but not replace it by market forces – only a social movement and collective action can fully secure their full development. As David Schweickart argues:

“Even if worker-managed firms are preferred by the vast majority, and even if they are more productive, a market initially dominated by capitalist firms may not select for them. The common-sense neo-classical dictum that only those things that best accord with people’s desires will survive the struggle of free competition has never been the whole truth with respect to anything; with respect to workplace organisation it is barely a half-truth.” [Op. Cit., p. 240]

This means that while anarchists support, create and encourage co-operatives within capitalism, they understand “the impossibility of putting into practice the co-operative system under the existing conditions of the predominance of bourgeois capital in the process of production and distribution of wealth.” Because of this, most anarchists stress the need for more combative organisations such as industrial and community unions and other bodies “formed,” to use Bakunin’s words, “for the organisation of toilers against the privileged world” in order to help bring about a free society. [Michael Bakunin, Op. Cit., p. 185]

J.5.12 If self-management is more efficient, surely capitalist firms will be forced to introduce it by the market?

While it may be admitted that co-operatives cannot reform capitalism away (see last section), many supporters of “free market” capitalism will claim that a laissez-faire system would see workers self-management spread within capitalism. This is because, as self-management is more efficient than wage slavery, those capitalist firms that introduce it will gain a competitive advantage, and so their competitors will be forced to introduce it or go bust. While not being true anarchistic production, it would (it is argued) be a very close approximation of it and so capitalism could reform itself naturally to get rid of (to a large degree) its authoritarian nature.

While such a notion seems plausible in theory, in practice it does not work. Free market capitalism places innumerable barriers to the spread of worker empowering structures within production, in spite (perhaps, as we will see, because) of their more efficient nature. This can be seen from the fact that while the increased efficiency associated with workers’ participation and self-management has attracted the attention of many capitalist firms, the few experiments conducted have failed to spread. This is due, essentially, to the nature of capitalist production and the social relationships it produces.

As we noted in section D.10, capitalist firms (particularly in the west) made a point of introducing technologies and management structures that aimed to deskill and disempower their workers. In this way, it was hoped to make the worker increasingly subject to “market discipline” (i.e. easier to train, so increasing the pool of workers available to replace any specific worker and so reducing workers power by increasing management’s power to fire them). Of course, what actually happens is that after a short period of time while management gained the upper hand, the workforce found newer and more effective ways to fight back and assert their productive power again. While for a short time the technological change worked, over the longer period the balance of forces changed, so forcing management to continually try to empower themselves at the expense of the workforce.

It is unsurprising that such attempts to reduce workers to order-takers fail. Workers’ experiences and help are required to ensure production actually happens at all. When workers carry out their orders strictly and faithfully (i.e. when they “work to rule”) production threatens to stop. So most capitalists are aware of the need to get workers to “co-operate” within the workplace to some degree. A few capitalist companies have gone further. Seeing the advantages of fully exploiting (and we do mean exploiting) the experience, skills, abilities and thoughts of their employers which the traditional authoritarian capitalist workplace denies them, some have introduced various schemes to “enrich” and “enlarge” work, increase “co-operation” between workers and their bosses. In other words, some capitalist firms have tried to encourage workers to “participate” in their own exploitation by introducing (in the words of Sam Dolgoff) “a modicum of influence, a strictly limited area of decision-making power, a voice – at best secondary – in the control of conditions of the workplace.” [The Anarchist Collectives, p. 81] The management and owners still have the power and still reap the majority of benefits from the productive activity of the workforce.

David Noble provides a good summary of the problems associated with experiments in workers’ self-management within capitalist firms:

“Participant in such programs can indeed be a liberating and exhilarating experience, awakening people to their own untapped potential and also to the real possibilities of collective worker control of production. As one manager described the former pilots [workers in a General Electric program]: ‘These people will never be the same again. They have seen that things can be different.’ But the excitement and enthusiasm engendered by such programs, as well as the heightened sense of commitment to a common purpose, can easily be used against the interests of the work force. First, that purpose is not really ‘common’ but is still determined by management alone, which continues to decide what will be produced, when, and where. Participation in production does not include participation in decisions on investment, which remains the prerogative of ownership. Thus participation is, in reality, just a variation of business as usual — taking orders — but one which encourages obedience in the name of co-operation.”Second, participation programs can contribute to the creation of an elite, and reduced, work force, with special privileges and more ‘co-operative’ attitudes toward management — thus at once undermining the adversary stance of unions and reducing membership . . .

“Thirds, such programs enable management to learn from workers — who are now encouraged by their co-operative spirit to share what they know — and, then, in Taylorist tradition, to use this knowledge against the workers. As one former pilot reflected, ‘They learned from the guys on the floor, got their knowledge about how to optimise the technology and then, once they had it, they eliminated the Pilot Program, put that knowledge into the machines, and got people without any knowledge to run them — on the Company’s terms and without adequate compensation. They kept all the gains for themselves.'” . . .

“Fourth, such programs could provide management with a way to circumvent union rules and grievance procedures or eliminate unions altogether. . .”

[Forces of Production, pp. 318-9]

Therefore, capitalist-introduced and supported “workers’ control” is very like the situation when a worker receives stock in the company they work for. If it goes some way toward redressing the gap between the value of that person’s labour, and the wage they receive for it, that in itself cannot be a totally bad thing (although, of course, this does not address the issue of workplace hierarchy and the social relations within the workplace itself). The real downside of this is the “carrot on a stick” enticement to work harder — if you work extra hard for the company, your stock will be worth more. Obviously, though, the bosses get rich off you, so the more you work, the richer they get, the more you are getting ripped off. It is a choice that anarchists feel many workers cannot afford to make — they need or at least want the money – but we believe that the stock does not work for many workers, who end up working harder, for less. After all, stocks do not represent all profits (large amounts of which end up in the hands of top management) nor are they divided just among those who labour. Moreover, workers may be less inclined to take direct action, for fear that they will damage the value of “their” company’s stock, and so they may find themselves putting up with longer, more intense work in worse conditions.

However, be that as it may, the results of such capitalist experiments in “workers’ control” are interesting and show why self-management will not spread by market forces (and they also bear direct relevance to the question of why real co-operatives are not widespread within capitalism — see last section).

According to one expert “[t]here is scarcely a study in the entire literature which fails to demonstrate that satisfaction in work is enhanced or. . .productivity increases occur from a genuine increase in worker’s decision-making power. Findings of such consistency, I submit, are rare in social research.” [Paul B. Lumberg, cited by Hebert Gintiz, “The nature of Labour Exchange and the Theory of Capitalist Production”, Radical Political Economy vol. 1, p. 252]

In spite of these findings, a “shift toward participatory relationships is scarcely apparent in capitalist production. . . [this is] not compatible with the neo-classical assertion as to the efficiency of the internal organisation of capitalist production.” [Herbert Gintz, Op. Cit., p. 252] Why is this the case?

Economist William Lazonick indicates the reason when he writes that “[m]any attempts at job enrichment and job enlargement in the first half of the 1970s resulted in the supply of more and better effort by workers. Yet many ‘successful’ experiments were cut short when the workers whose work had been enriched and enlarged began questioning traditional management prerogatives inherent in the existing hierarchical structure of the enterprise.” [Competitive Advantage on the Shop Floor, p. 282]

This is an important result, as it indicates that the ruling sections within capitalist firms have a vested interest in not introducing such schemes, even though they are more efficient methods of production. As can easily be imagined, managers have a clear incentive to resist participatory schemes (and David Schweickart notes, such resistance, “often bordering on sabotage, is well known and widely documented” [Against Capitalism, p. 229]). As an example of this, David Noble discusses a scheme (called the Pilot Program) ran by General Electric at Lynn, Massachusetts, USA in the late 1960s:

“After considerable conflict, GE introduced a quality of work life program . . . which gave workers much more control over the machines and the production process and eliminated foremen. Before long, by all indicators, the program was succeeding — machine use, output and product quality went up; scrap rate, machine downtime, worker absenteeism and turnover when down, and conflict on the floor dropped off considerably. Yet, little more than a year into the program — following a union demand that it be extended throughout the shop and into other GE locations — top management abolished the program out of fear of losing control over the workforce. Clearly, the company was willing to sacrifice gains in technical and economic efficiency in order to regain and insure management control.” [Progress Without People, p. 65f] 

However, it could be claimed that owners, being concerned by the bottom-line of profits, could force management to introduce participation. By this method, competitive market forces would ultimately prevail as individual owners, pursuing profits, reorganise production and participation spreads across the economy. Indeed, there are a few firms that have introduced such schemes, but there has been no tendency for them to spread. This contradicts “free market” capitalist economic theory which states that those firms which introduce more efficient techniques will prosper and competitive market forces will ensure that other firms will introduce the technique.

This is for three reasons.

Firstly, the fact is that within “free market” capitalism keeping (indeed strengthening) skills and power in the hands of the workers makes it harder for a capitalist firm to maximise profits (i.e. unpaid labour). It strengthens the power of workers, who can use that power to gain increased wages (i.e. reduce the amount of surplus value they produce for their bosses).

Workers’ control basically leads to a usurpation of capitalist prerogatives — including their share of revenues and their ability to extract more unpaid labour during the working day. While in the short run workers’ control may lead to higher productivity (and so may be toyed with), in the long run, it leads to difficulties for capitalists to maximise their profits. So, “given that profits depend on the integrity of the labour exchange, a strongly centralised structure of control not only serves the interests of the employer, but dictates a minute division of labour irrespective of considerations of productivity. For this reason, the evidence for the superior productivity of ‘workers control’ represents the most dramatic of anomalies to the neo-classical theory of the firm: worker control increases the effective amount of work elicited from each worker and improves the co-ordination of work activities, while increasing the solidarity and delegitimising the hierarchical structure of ultimate authority at its root; hence it threatens to increase the power of workers in the struggle over the share of total value.” [Hebert Gintz, Op. Cit., p. 264]

So, a workplace which had extensive workers participation would hardly see the workers agreeing to reduce their skill levels, take a pay cut or increase their pace of work simply to enhance the profits of capitalists. Simply put, profit maximisation is not equivalent to technological efficiency. By getting workers to work longer, more intensely or in more unpleasant conditions can increase profits but does not yield more output for the same inputs. Workers’ control would curtail capitalist means of enhancing profits by changing the quality and quantity of work. It is this requirement which also aids in understanding why capitalists will not support workers’ control — even though it is more efficient, it reduces the ability of capitalists to maximise profits by minimising labour costs. Moreover, demands to change the nature of workers’ inputs into the production process in order to maximise profits for capitalists would provoke a struggle over the time and intensity of work and over the share of value added going to workers, management and owners and so destroy the benefits of participation.

Thus power within the workplace plays a key role in explaining why workers’ control does not spread — it reduces the ability of bosses to extract more unpaid labour from workers.

The second reason is related to the first. It too is based on the power structure within the company but the power is related to control over the surplus produced by the workers rather than the ability to control how much surplus is produced in the first place (i.e. power over workers).

Hierarchical management is the way to ensure that profits are channelled into the hands of a few. By centralising power, the surplus value produced by workers can be distributed in a way which benefits those at the top (i.e. management and capitalists). Profit maximisation under capitalism means the maximum profits available for capitalists — not the maximum difference between selling price and cost as such. This difference explains the strange paradox of workers’ control experiments being successful but being cancelled by management. The paradox is easily explained once the hierarchical nature of capitalist production (i.e. of wage labour) is acknowledged. Workers’ control, by placing (some) power in the hands of workers, undermines the authority of management and, ultimately, their power to control the surplus produced by workers and allocate it as they see fit. Thus, while workers’ control does reduce costs, increase efficiency and productivity (i.e. maximise the difference between prices and costs) it (potentially) reduces profit maximisation by undermining the power (and so privileges) of management to allocate that surplus as they see fit.

Increased workers’ control reduces the capitalists potential to maximise their profits and so will be opposed by both management and owners. Indeed, it can be argued that hierarchical control of production exists solely to provide for the accumulation of capital in a few hands, not for efficiency or productivity (see Stephan A. Margin, “What do Bosses do? The Origins and Functions of Hierarchy in Capitalist Production”, Op. Cit., pp. 178-248). This is why profit maximisation does not entail efficiency and can actively work against it.

As David Noble argues, power is the key to understanding capitalism, not the drive for profits as such:

“In opting for control [over the increased efficiency of workers’ control] . . . management . . . knowingly and, it must be assumed, willingly, sacrificed profitable production. Hence [experiences such as] the Pilot Program [at GE] . . . illustrates not only the ultimate management priority of power over both production and profit within the firm, but also the larger contradiction between the preservation of private power and prerogatives, on the one hand, and the social goals of efficient, quality, and useful production, on the other . . .”It is a common confusion, especially on the part of those trained in or unduly influenced by formal economics (liberal and Marxist alike), that capitalism is a system of profit-motivated, efficient production. This is not true, nor has it ever been. If the drive to maximise profits, through private ownership and control over the process of production, it has never been the end of that development. The goal has always been domination (and the power and privileges that go with it) and the preservation of domination. There is little historical evidence to support the view that, in the final analysis, capitalists play by the rules of the economic game imagined by theorists. There is ample evidence to suggest, on the other hand, that when the goals of profit-making and efficient production fail to coincide with the requirements of continued dominance, capital will resort to more ancient means: legal, political, and, of need be, military. Always, behind all the careful accounting, lies the threat of force. This system of domination has been legitimated in the past by the ideological invention that private ownership of the means of production and the pursuit of profit via production are always ultimately beneficial to society. Capitalism delivers the goods, it is argued, better, more cheaply, and in larger quantity, and in so doing, fosters economic growth . . . The story of the Pilot Program — and it is but one among thousands like it in U.S. industry — raises troublesome questions about the adequacy of this mythology as a description of reality.”

[Forces of Production, pp. 321-2]

Hierarchical organisation (i.e. domination) is essential to ensure that profits are controlled by a few and can, therefore, be allocated by them in such a way to ensure their power and privileges. By undermining management authority, workers’ control undermines that power to maximise profits in a certain direction even though it increases “profits” (the difference between prices and costs) in the abstract. As workers’ control starts to extend (or management sees its potential to spread) into wider areas such as investment decisions, how to allocate the surplus (i.e. profits) between wages, investment, dividends, management pay and so on, then they will seek to end the project in order to ensure their power over both the workers and the surplus they, the workers, produce. In this they will be supported by those who actually own the company who obviously would not support a regime which will not ensure the maximum return on their investment. This maximum return would be endangered by workers’ control, even though it is technically more efficient, as control over the surplus rests with the workers and not a management elite with similar interests and aims as the owners — an egalitarian workplace would produce an egalitarian distribution of surplus, in other words (as proven by the experience of workers’ co-operatives). In the words of one participant of the GE workers’ control project — “If we’re all one, for manufacturing reasons, we must share in the fruits equitably, just like a co-op business.” [quoted by Noble, Op. Cit., p. 295] Such a possibility is one no owner would agree to.

Thirdly, to survive within the “free” market means to concentrate on the short term. Long terms benefits, although greater, are irrelevant. A free market requires profits now and so a firm is under considerable pressure to maximise short-term profits by market forces (a similar situation occurs when firms invest in “green” technology, see section E.5).

Participation requires trust, investment in people and technology and a willingness to share the increased value added that result from workers’ participation with the workers who made it possible. All these factors would eat into short term profits in order to return richer rewards in the future. Encouraging participation thus tends to increase long term gains at the expense of short-term ones (for it ensures that workers do not consider participation as a con, they must experience real benefits in terms of power, conditions and wage rises). For firms within a free market environment, they are under pressure from share-holders and their financiers for high returns as soon as possible. If a company does not produce high dividends then it will see its stock fall as shareholders move to those companies that do. Thus the market forces companies (and banks, who in turn loan over the short term to companies) to act in such ways as to maximise short term profits.

If faced with a competitor which is not making such investments (and which is investing directly into deskilling technology or intensifying work loads which lowers their costs) and so wins them market share, or a downturn in the business cycle which shrinks their profit margins and makes it difficult for the firm to meet its commitments to its financiers and workers, a company that intends to invest in people and trust will usually be rendered unable to do so. Faced with the option of empowering people in work or deskilling them and/or using the fear of unemployment to get workers to work harder and follow orders, capitalist firms have consistently chosen (and probably preferred) the latter option (as occurred in the 1970s).

Thus, workers’ control is unlikely to spread through capitalism because it entails a level of working class consciousness and power that is incompatible with capitalist control. In other words, “[i]f the hierarchical division of labour is necessary for the extraction of surplus value, then worker preferences for jobs threatening capitalist control will not be implemented.” [Hebert Gintiz, Op. Cit., p. 253] The reason why it is more efficient, ironically, ensures that a capitalist economy will not select it. The “free market” will discourage empowerment and democratic workplaces, at best reducing “co-operation” and “participation” to marginal issues (and management will still have the power of veto).

In addition, moves towards democratic workplaces within capitalism is an example of the system in conflict with itself — pursuing its objectives by methods which constantly defeat those same objectives. As Paul Carden argues, the “capitalist system can only maintain itself by trying to reduce workers into mere order-takers. . . At the same time the system can only function as long as this reduction is never achieved. . . [for] the system would soon grind to a halt. . . [However] capitalism constantly has to limit this participation (if it didn’t the workers would soon start deciding themselves and would show in practice now superfluous the ruling class really is).” [Revolution and Modern Capitalism, pp. 45-46]

The experience of the 1970s supports this thesis well. Thus “workers’ control” within a capitalist firm is a contradictory thing – too little power and it is meaningless, too much and workplace authority structures and short-term profits (i.e. capitalist share of value added) can be harmed. Attempts to make oppressed, exploited and alienated workers work if they were neither oppressed, exploited nor alienated will always fail.

For a firm to establish committed and participatory relations internally, it must have external supports – particularly with providers of finance (which is why co-operatives benefit from credit unions and co-operating together). The price mechanism proves self-defeating to create such supports and that is why we see “participation” more fully developed within Japanese and German firms (although it is still along way from fully democratic workplaces), who have strong, long term relationships with local banks and the state which provides them with the support required for such activities. As William Lazonick notes, Japanese industry had benefited from the state ensuring “access to inexpensive long-term finance, the sine qua non of innovating investment strategies” along with a host of other supports, such as protecting Japanese industry within their home markets so they could “develop and utilise their productive resources to the point where they could attain competitive advantage in international competition.” [Op. Cit., p. 305] The German state provides its industry with much of the same support.

Therefore, “participation” within capitalist firms will have little or no tendency to spread due to the “automatic” actions of market forces. In spite of such schemes being more efficient, capitalism will not select them because they empower workers and make it hard for capitalists to maximise their short term profits. Hence capitalism, by itself, will have no tendency to produce more libertarian organisational forms within industry. Those firms that do introduce such schemes will be the exception rather than the rule (and the schemes themselves will be marginal in most respects and subject to veto from above). For such schemes to spread, collective action is required (such as state intervention to create the right environment and support network or — from an anarchist point of view — union and community direct action).

However such schemes, as noted above, are just forms of self-exploitation, getting workers to help their robbers and so not a development anarchists seek to encourage. We have discussed this here just to be clear that, firstly, such forms of structural reforms are not self-management, as managers and owners still have the real power, and, secondly, even if such forms are somewhat liberatory, market forces will not select them (i.e. collective action would be required).

For anarchists “self-management is not a new form of mediation between workers and their bosses . . . [it] refers to the very process by which the workers themselves overthrow their managers and take on their own management and the management of production in their own workplace.” [Sam Dolgoff, Op. Cit., p. 81] Hence our support for co-operatives, unions and other self-managed structures created and organised from below by and for working class people.

December 15, 2009 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, kooperatifler vb modeller, ozyonetim, sistem karsitligi | Leave a comment

J.5.5 What forms of co-operative credit do anarchists support?

J.5.5 What forms of co-operative credit do anarchists support?

Anarchists tend to support must forms of co-operation, including those associated with credit and money. This co-operative credit/banking takes many forms, such as credit unions, LETS schemes and so on. In this section we discuss two main forms of co-operative credit, mutualism and LETS.

Mutualism is the name for the ideas associated with Proudhon and his Bank of the People. Essentially, it is a confederation of credit unions in which working class people pool their funds and savings. This allows credit to be arranged at cost, so increasing the options available to working people as well as abolishing interest on loans by making increasing amount of cheap credit available to working people. LETS stands for Local Exchange Trading Schemes and is a similar idea in many ways (and apparently discovered independently) — see Bringing the Economy Home from the Market by V.G. Dobson for a detailed discussion on LETS.

Both schemes revolve around creating an alternative form of currency and credit within capitalism in order to allow working class people to work outwith the capitalist money system by creating “labour notes” as a new circulating medium. In this way, it is hoped, workers would be able to improve their living and working conditions by having a source of community-based (very low interest) credit and so be less dependent on capitalists and the capitalist banking system. Some supporters of mutualism considered it as the ideal way of reforming capitalism away. By making credit available to the ordinary worker at very cheap rates, the end of wage slavery would soon occur as workers would work for themselves by either purchasing the necessary tools required for their work or, by their increased bargaining power within the economy, gain industrial democracy from the capitalists by buying them out.

Such ideas have had a long history within the socialist movement, originating in the British socialist movement in the early 19th century. Robert Owen and other Socialists active at the time considered the idea of labour notes and exchanges as a means of improving working class conditions within capitalism and as the means of reforming capitalism into a society of confederated, self-governing communities. Indeed, “Equitable Labour Exchanges” were “founded at London and Birmingham in 1832” with “Labour notes and the exchange of small products” [E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, p. 870] Apparently independently of these early attempts in England at what would later be called mutualism, P-J Proudhon arrived at the same ideas decades later in France. In his words, “The People’s Bank quite simply embodies the financial and economic aspects of the principle of modern democracy, that is, the sovereignty of the People, and of the republican motto, ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.'” [Selected Writings of P-J Proudhon, p. 75] Similarly, in the USA (partly as a result of Joshua Warren’s activities, who got the idea from Robert Owen) there was extensive discussion on labour notes, exchanges and free credit as a means of protecting workers from the evils of capitalism and ensuring their independence and freedom from wage slavery. When Proudhon’s works appeared in North America, the basic arguments were well known.

Therefore the idea that mutual banking using labour money as a means to improve working class living conditions, even, perhaps, to achieve industrial democracy, self-management and the end of capitalism has a long history in Socialist thought. Unfortunately this aspect of socialism became less important with the rise of Marxism (which called these early socialists “utopian”) attempts at such credit unions and alternative exchange schemes were generally replaced with attempts to build working class political parties. With the rise of Marxian social democracy, constructive socialistic experiments and collective working class self-help was replaced by working within the capitalist state. Fortunately, history has had the last laugh on Marxism with working class people yet again creating anew the ideas of Mutualism (as can be seen by the growth of LETS and other schemes of community money).

J.5.6 What are the key features of mutual credit schemes?

Mutualism, as noted in the last section, is a form of credit co-operation, in which individuals pull their resources together in order to benefit themselves as individuals and as part of a community. LETS is another form of mutualism which developed recently, and apparently developed independently (from its start in Canada, LETS has spread across the world and there are now hundreds of schemes involved hundreds of thousands of people). Mutual banks and LETS have the following key aspects:

    1) Co-operation: No-one owns the network. It is controlled by its members directly.
    2) Non-exploitative: No interest is charged on account balances or credit. At most administrative costs are charged, a result of it being commonly owned and managed.
    3) Consent: Nothing happens without it, there is no compulsion to trade.
    4) Money: They use their own type of money (traditionally called “labour-notes”) as a means of aiding “honest exchange”.

It is hoped, by organising credit, working class people will be able to work for themselves and slowly but surely replace capitalism with a co-operative system based upon self-management. While LETS schemes do not have such grand schemes, historically mutualism aimed at working within and transforming capitalism to socialism. At the very least, LETS schemes reduce the power and influence of banks and finance capital within society as mutualism ensures that working people have a viable alternative to such parasites.

This point is important, as the banking system and money is often considered “neutral” (particularly in capitalist economics). However, as Malatesta correctly argues, it would be “a mistake to believe . . . that the banks are, or are in the main, a means to facilitate exchange; they are a means to speculate on exchange and currencies, to invest capital and to make it produce interest, and to fulfil other typically capitalist operations.” [Life and Ideas, p. 100]

Within capitalism, money is still to a large degree a commodity which is more than a convenient measure of work done in the production of goods and services. As a commodity it can and does go anywhere in the world where it can get the best return for its owners, and so it tends to drain out of those communities that need it most. It is the means by which capitalists can buy the liberty of working people and get them to produce a surplus for them (wealth is, after all, “a power invested in certain individuals by the institutions of society, to compel others to labour for their benefit.” [William Godwin, The Anarchist Writings of William Godwin, p. 130]. From this consideration alone, working class control of credit and money is an important part of the class struggle as having access to alternative sources of credit can increase working class options and power.

Moreover, credit is also an important form of social control — people who have to pay their mortgage or visa bill are more pliable, less likely to strike or make other forms of political trouble. And, of course, credit expands the consumption of the masses in the face of stagnant or falling wages while allowing capitalists to profit from it. Indeed, there is a link between the rising debt burden on households in the 1980s and 1990s and the increasing concentration of wealth. This is “because of the decline in real hourly wages and the stagnation in household incomes, the middle and lower classes have borrowed to stay in place; they’ve borrowed from the very rich who have gotten richer. The rich need a place to earn interest on their surplus funds, and the rest of the population makes a juicy lending target.” [Doug Henwood, Wall Street, pp. 64-65]

Little wonder that the state (and the capitalists who run it) is so concerned to keep control of money in its own hands or the hands of its agents. With an increase in mutual credit, interest rates would drop, wealth would stay more in working class communities, and the social power of working people would increase (for people would be more likely to struggle for higher wages and better conditions — as the fear of debt repayments would be less).

Therefore, mutualism is an example of what could be termed “counter-economics”. By counter-economics we mean the creation of community-based credit unions that do not put their money into “Capital Markets” or into capitalist Banks. We mean finding ways for workers to control their own retirement funds. We mean finding ways of using money as a means of undermining capitalist power and control and supporting social struggle and change.

In this way working people are controlling more and more of the money supply and using it ways that will stop capital from using it to oppress and exploit the working class. An example of why this can be important can be seen from the results of the existing workers’ pension fund system. Currently workers pension funds are being used to invest in capitalist firms (particularly transnationals and other forms of Big Business) and these companies use the invested money to fund their activities. The idea is that by so investing, workers will receive an adequate pension in their old age.

However, the only people actually winning are bankers and big companies. Unsurprisingly, the managers of these pension fund companies are investing in those firms with the highest returns, which are usually those who are downsizing or extracting most surplus value from their workforce (which in turn forces other companies to follow the same strategies to get access to the available funds in order to survive).

Basically, if you are lending your money to be used to put your fellow worker out of work or increase the power of capital, then you are not only helping to make things harder for others like you, you are also helping making things worse for yourself. No person is an island, and increasing the clout of capital over the working class is going to affect you directly or indirectly. And, of course, it seems crazy to suggest that workers desire to experience insecurity, fear of downsizing and stagnating wages during their working lives in order to have slightly more money when they retire.

This highlights one of the tricks the capitalists are using against us, namely to get us to buy into the system through our fear of old age. Whether it is going into lifelong debt to buy a home or lending our money to capitalists, we are being encouraged to buy into something which we value more than what is right and wrong. This allows us to be more easily controlled by the government. We need to get away from living in fear and stop allowing ourselves to be deceived into behaving like “stakeholders” in Capitalistic and Plutocratic systems. As can be seen from the use of pension funds to buy out firms, increase the size of transnationals and downsize the workforce, such “stakeholding” amounts to trading in the present and the future while others benefit.

The real enemies are not working people who take part in such pension schemes. It is the people in power, those who manage the pension schemes and companies, who are trying to squeeze every last cent out of working people to finance higher profits and stock prices — which the unemployment and impoverishment of workers on a world-wide scale aids. They control the governments of the world. They are making the “rules” of the current system. Hence the importance of limiting the money they have available, of creating community-based credit unions and mutual risk insurance co-operatives to increase our control over our money and create our own, alternative, means of credit and exchange (as presented as mutualism) which can be used to empower ourselves, aid our struggles and create our own alternatives. Money, representing as it does the power of capital and the authority of the boss, is not “neutral” and control over it plays a role in the class struggle. We ignore such issues at our own peril.

>J.5.7 Do most anarchists think mutual credit is sufficient to abolish capitalism?

The short answer is no, they do not. While the Individualist Anarchists and Mutualists (followers of Proudhon) do think that mutual banking is the only sure way of abolishing capitalism, most anarchists do not see mutualism as an end in itself. Few think that capitalism can be reformed away in the manner assumed by Proudhon. Increased access to credit does not address the relations of production and market power which exist within the economy and so any move for financial transformation has to be part of a broader attack on all forms of capitalist social power in order to be both useful and effective (see section B.3.2 for more anarchist views on mutual credit and its uses). So, for most anarchists, it is only in combination with other forms of working class self-activity and self-management that mutualist institutions could play an important role in the class struggle.

By creating a network of mutual banks to aid in creating co-operatives, union organising drives, supporting strikes (either directly by gifts/loans or funding food and other co-operatives which could supply food and other essentials free or at a reduction), mutualism can be used as a means of helping build libertarian alternatives within the capitalist system. Such alternatives, while making life better under the current system, also can play a role in overcoming that system by being a means of aiding those in struggle make ends meet and providing alternative sources of income for black-listed or sacked workers. Thus Bakunin’s comments:

“let us co-operate in our common enterprise to make our lives a little bit more supportable and less difficult. Let us, wherever possible, establish producer-consumer co-operatives and mutual credit societies which, though under the present economic conditions they cannot in any real or adequate way free us, are nevertheless important inasmuch they train the workers in the practices of managing the economy and plant the precious seeds for the organisation of the future.” [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 173]

Therefore, while few anarchists think that mutualism would be enough in itself, it can play a role in the class struggle. As a compliment to direct action and workplace and community struggle and organisation, mutualism has an important role in working class self-liberation. For example, community unions (see section J.5.1) could create their own mutual banks and money which could be used to fund co-operatives and support strikes and other forms of social struggle. In this way a healthy communalised co-operative sector could develop within capitalism, overcoming the problems of isolation facing workplace co-operatives (see section J.5.11) as well as providing a firm framework of support for those in struggle.

Moreover, mutual banking can be a way of building upon and strengthening the anarchistic social relations within capitalism. For even under capitalism and statism, there exists extensive mutual aid and, indeed, anarchistic and communistic ways of living. For example, communistic arrangements exist within families, between friends and lovers and within anarchist organisations.

Mutual banking could be a means of creating a bridge between this alternative (gift) “economy” and capitalism. The mutualist alternative economy would help strength communities and bonds of trust between individuals, and this would increase the scope for increasing the scope of the communistic sector as more and more people help each other out without the medium of exchange – in other words, mutualism will help the gift economy that exists within capitalism to grow and develop.

J.5.8 What would a modern system of mutual banking look like?

The mutual banking ideas of Proudhon could be adapted to the conditions of modern society, as will be described in what follows. (Note: Proudhon is the definitive source on mutualism, but for those who don’t read French, there are the works of his American disciples, e.g. William B. Greene’s Mutual Banking, and Benjamin Tucker’s Instead of a Book by a Man Too Busy to Write One).

One scenario for an updated system of mutual banking would be for a community barter association to begin issuing an alternative currency accepted as money by all individuals within the system. This “currency” would not at first take the form of coins or bills, but would be circulated entirely through transactions involving the use of barter-cards, personal checks, and “e-money” transfers via modem/Internet. Let’s call this currency-issuing type of barter association a “mutual barter clearinghouse,” or just “clearinghouse” for short.

The clearinghouse would have a twofold mandate: first, to extend credit at cost to members; second, to manage the circulation of credit-money within the system, charging only a small service fee (probably one percent or less) which is sufficient to cover its costs of operation, including labour costs involved in issuing credit and keeping track of transactions, insuring itself against losses from uncollectable debts, and so forth.

The clearinghouse would be organised and function as follows. Members of the original barter association would be invited to become subscriber-members of the clearinghouse by pledging a certain amount of property as collateral. On the basis of this pledge, an account would be opened for the new member and credited with a sum of mutual dollars equivalent to some fraction of the assessed value of the property pledged. The new member would agree to repay this amount plus the service fee by a certain date. The mutual dollars in the new account could then be transferred through the clearinghouse by using a barter card, by writing a personal check, or by sending e-money via modem to the accounts of other members, who have agreed to receive mutual money in payment for all debts.

The opening of this sort of account is, of course, the same as taking out a “loan” in the sense that a commercial bank “lends” by extending credit to a borrower in return for a signed note pledging a certain amount of property as security. The crucial difference is that the clearinghouse does not purport to be “lending” a sum of money that it already has, as is fraudulently claimed by commercial banks. Instead it honestly admits that it is creating new money in the form of credit. New accounts can also be opened simply by telling the clearinghouse that one wants an account and then arranging with other people who already have balances to transfer mutual money into one’s account in exchange for goods or services.

Another form is that associated with LETS systems. In this a number of people get together to form an association. They create a unit of exchange (which is equal in value to a unit of the national currency usually), choose a name for it and offer each other goods and services priced in these units. These offers and wants are listed in a directory which is circulated periodically to members. Members decide who they wish to trade with and how much trading they wish to do. When a transaction is completed, this is acknowledged with a “cheque” made out by the buyer and given to the seller. These are passed on to the system accounts administration which keeps a record of all transactions and periodically sends members a statement of their accounts. The accounts administration is elected by, and accountable to, the membership and information about balances is available to all members.

Unlike the first system described, members do not have to present property as collateral. Members of a LETS scheme can go into “debt” without it, although “debt” is the wrong word as members are not so much going into debt as committing themselves to do some work within the system in the future and by so doing they are creating spending power. The willingness of members to incur such a commitment could be described as a service to the community as others are free to use the units so created to trade themselves. Indeed, the number of units in existence exactly matches the amount of real wealth being exchanged. The system only works if members are willing to spend and runs on trust and builds up trust as the system is used.

It is likely that a fully functioning mutual banking system would incorporate aspects of both these systems. The need for collateral may be used when members require very large loans while the LETS system of negative credit as a commitment to future work would be the normal function of the system. If the mutual bank agrees a maximum limit for negative balances, it may agree to take collateral for transactions that exceed this limit. However, it is obvious that any mutual banking system will find the best means of working in the circumstances it finds itself.

J.5.9 How does mutual credit work?

Let’s consider an example of how business would be transacted in the new system. There are two possibilities, depending on whether the mutual credit is based upon whether the creditor can provide collateral or not. we will take the case with collateral first.

Suppose that A, an organic farmer, pledges as collateral a certain plot of land that she owns and on which she wishes to build a house. The land is valued at, say, $40,000 in the capitalist market. By pledging the land, A is able to open a credit account at the clearinghouse for, say, $30,000 in mutual money (a ratio of 3/4). She does so knowing that there are many other members of the system who are carpenters, electricians, plumbers, hardware dealers, and so on who are willing to accept mutual dollars in payment for their products or services.

It’s easy to see why other subscriber-members, who have also obtained mutual credit and are therefore in debt to the clearinghouse for mutual dollars, would be willing to accept such dollars in return for their goods and services. For they need to collect mutual dollars to repay their debts. But why would someone who is not in debt for mutual dollars be willing to accept them as money?

To see why, let’s suppose that B, an underemployed carpenter, currently has no account at the clearinghouse but that he knows about the clearinghouse and the people who operate it. After examining its list of members and becoming familiar with the policies of the new organisation, he’s convinced that it does not extend credit frivolously to untrustworthy recipients who are likely to default. He also knows that if he contracts to do the carpentry on A’s new house and agrees to be paid for his work in mutual money, he’ll then be able to use it to buy groceries, clothes, car repairs, and other goods and services from various people in the community who already belong to the system.

Thus B will be willing, and perhaps even eager (especially if the economy is in recession and regular money is tight) to work for A and receive payment in mutual dollars. For he knows that if he is paid, say, $8,000 in mutual money for his labour on A’s house, this payment constitutes, in effect, 20 percent of a mortgage on her land, the value of which is represented by her mutual credit. B also understands that A has promised to repay this mortgage by producing new value — that is, by growing organic fruits and vegetables and selling them for mutual dollars to other members of the system — and that it is this promise to produce new wealth which gives her mutual credit its value as a medium of exchange.

To put this point slightly differently, A’s mutual credit can be thought of as a lien against goods or services which she has guaranteed to create in the future. As security of this guarantee, she agrees that if she is unable for some reason to fulfil her obligation, the land she has pledged will be sold for mutual dollars to other members. In this way, a value sufficient to cancel her debt (and probably then some) will be returned to the system. This provision insures that the clearinghouse is able to balance its books and gives members confidence that mutual money is sound.

It should be noticed that since new wealth is continually being created, the basis for new mutual credit is also being created at the same time. Thus, suppose that after A’s new house has been built, her daughter, C, along with a group of friends D, E, F, . . . , decide that they want to start a collectively owned and operated organic restaurant (which will incidentally benefit A, as an outlet for her produce), but that C and her friends do not have enough collateral to obtain a start-up loan. A, however, is willing to co-sign a note for them, pledging her new house (valued at say, $80,000) as security. On this basis, C and her partners are able to obtain $60,000 worth of mutual credit, which they then use to buy equipment, supplies, furniture, advertising, etc. and lease the building necessary to start their restaurant.

This example illustrates one way in which people without property are able to obtain credit in the new system. Another way — for those who cannot find (or perhaps don’t wish to ask) someone with property to co-sign for them — is to make a down payment and then use the property which is to be purchased on credit as security, as in the current method of obtaining a home or auto loan. With mutual credit, however, this form of financing can be used to purchase anything, including capital goods.

Which brings us to the case of an individual without means for providing collateral – say, for example A, the organic farmer, does not own the land she works. In such a case, A, who still desires work done, would contact other members of the mutual bank with the skills she requires. Those members with the appropriate skills and who agree to work with her commit themselves to do the required tasks. In return, A gives them a check in mutual dollars which is credited to their account and deducted from hers. She does not pay interest on this issue of credit and the sum only represents her willingness to do some work for other members of the bank at some future date.

The mutual bank does not have to worry about the negative balance, as this does not create a loss within the group as the minuses which have been incurred have already created wealth (pluses) within the system and it stays there. It is likely, of course, that the mutual bank would agree an upper limit on negative balances and require some form of collateral for credit greater than this limit, but for most exchanges this would be unlikely to be relevant.

It is important to remember that mutual dollars have no intrinsic value, since they can’t be redeemed (at the mutual bank) in gold or anything else. All they are promises of future labour. Thus, as Greene points out in his work on mutual banking, mutual dollars are “a mere medium for the facilitation of barter.” In this respect they are closely akin to the so-called “barter dollars” now being circulated by barter associations through the use of checks and barter cards. To be precise, then, we should refer to the units of mutual money as “mutual barter dollars.” But whereas ordinary barter dollars are created at the same time that a barter transaction occurs and are used to record the values exchanged in that transaction, mutual barter dollars are created before any actual barter transaction occurs and are intended to facilitate future barter transactions. This fact is important because it can be used as the basis for a legal argument that clearinghouses are essentially barter associations rather than banks, thrifts, or credit unions, and therefore should not be subject to the laws governing the latter institutions.

December 15, 2009 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, kooperatifler vb modeller, ozyonetim, sistem karsitligi | Leave a comment

J.5.14 What is Libertarian Municipalism?

In his article “Theses on Libertarian Municipalism” [in The Anarchist Papers, Black Rose Press, 1986], Murray Bookchin has proposed a non-parliamentary electoral strategy for anarchists. He has repeated this proposal in many of his later works, such as From Urbanisation to Cities and has made it — at least in the USA — one of the many alternatives anarchists are involved in. The main points of his argument are summarised below, followed by a brief commentary.

According to Bookchin, “the proletariat, as do all oppressed sectors of society, comes to life when it sheds its industrial habits in the free and spontaneous activity of communising, or taking part in the political life of the community.” In other words, Bookchin thinks that democratisation of local communities may be as strategically important, or perhaps more important, to anarchists than workplace struggles.

Since local politics is humanly scaled, Bookchin argues that it can be participatory rather than parliamentary. Or, as he puts it, “[t]he anarchic ideal of decentralised, stateless, collectively managed, and directly democratic communities — of confederated municipalities or ‘communes’ — speaks almost intuitively, and in the best works of Proudhon and Kropotkin, consciously, to the transforming role of libertarian municipalism as the framework of a liberatory society. . . “ He also points out that, historically, the city has been the principle countervailing force to imperial and national states, haunting them as a potential challenge to centralised power and continuing to do so today, as can be seen in the conflicts between national government and municipalities in many countries.

But, despite the libertarian potential of urban politics, “urbanisation” — the growth of the modern megalopolis as a vast wasteland of suburbs, shopping malls, industrial parks, and slums that foster political apathy and isolation in realms of alienated production and private consumption — is antithetical to the continued existence of those aspects of the city that might serve as the framework for a libertarian municipalism. “When urbanisation will have effaced city life so completely that the city no longer has its own identity, culture, and spaces for consociation, the bases for democracy — in whatever way the word in defined — will have disappeared and the question of revolutionary forms will be a shadow game of abstractions.”

Despite this danger, however, Bookchin thinks that a libertarian politics of local government is still possible, provided anarchists get their act together. “The Commune still lies buried in the city council; the sections still lie buried in the neighbourhood; the town meeting still lies buried in the township; confederal forms of municipal association still lie buried in regional networks of towns and cities.”

What would anarchists do electorally at the local level? Bookchin proposes that they change city and town charters to make political institutions participatory. “An organic politics based on such radical participatory forms of civic association does not exclude the right of anarchists to alter city and town charters such that they validate the existence of directly democratic institutions. And if this kind of activity brings anarchists into city councils, there is no reason why such a politics should be construed as parliamentary, particularly if it is confined to the civic level and is consciously posed against the state.”

In a latter essay, Bookchin argues that Libertarian Muncipalism “depends upon libertarian leftists running candidates at the local level, calling for the division of municipalities into wards, where popular assemblies can be created that bring people into full and direct participation in political life . . . municipalities would [then] confederate into a dual power to oppose the nation-state and ultimately dispense with it and with the economic forces that underpin statism as such.” [Democracy and Nature no. 9, p. 158] This would be part of a social wide transformation, whose “[m]inimal steps . . . include initiating Left Green municipalist movements that propose neighbourhood and town assemblies – even if they have only moral functions at first – and electing town and city councillors that advance the cause of these assemblies and other popular institutions. These minimal steps can lead step-by-step to the formation of confederal bodies. . . Civic banks to fund municipal enterprises and land purchases; the fostering of new ecologically-orientated enterprises that are owned by the community. . .” [From Urbanisation to Cities, p. 266]

Thus Bookchin sees Libertarian Muncipalism as a process by which the state can be undermined by using elections as the means of creating popular assemblies. Part of this process, he argues, would be the “municipalisation of property” which would “bring the economy as a whole into the orbit of the public sphere, where economic policy could be formulated by the entire community.” [Op. Cit. p. 235]

Bookchin considers Libertarian Muncipalism as the key means of creating an anarchist society, and argues that those anarchists who disagree with it are failing to take their politics seriously. “It is curious,” he notes, “that many anarchists who celebrate the existence of a ‘collectivised’ industrial enterprise, here and there, with considerable enthusiasm despite its emergence within a thoroughly bourgeois economic framework, can view a municipal politics that entails ‘elections’ of any kind with repugnance, even if such a politics is structured around neighbourhood assemblies, recallable deputies, radically democratic forms of accountability, and deeply rooted localist networks.” [“Theses on Libertarian Municipalism”]

In evaluating Bookchin’s proposal, several points come to mind.

Firstly, it is clear that Libertarian Muncipalism’s arguments in favour of community assemblies is important and cannot be ignored. Bookchin is right to note that, in the past, many anarchists placed far too much stress on workplace struggles and workers’ councils as the framework of a free society. Many of the really important issues that affect us cannot be reduced to workplace organisations, which by their very nature disenfranchise those who do not work in industry (such as housewives, the old, and so on). And, of course, there is far more to life than work and so any future society organised purely around workplace organisations is reproducing capitalism’s insane glorification of economic activity, at least to some degree. So, in this sense, Libertarian Muncipalism has a very valid point — a free society will be created and maintained within the community as well as in the workplace.

Secondly, Bookchin and other Libertarian Muncipalists are totally correct to argue that anarchists should work in their local communities. As noted in section J.5.1, many anarchists are doing just that and are being very successful as well. However, most anarchists reject the idea that using elections are a viable means of “struggle toward creating new civic institutions out of old ones (or replacing the old ones altogether).” [From Urbanisation to Cities, p. 267]

The most serious problem has to do with whether politics in most cities has already become too centralised, bureaucratic, inhumanly scaled, and dominated by capitalist interests to have any possibility of being taken over by anarchists running on platforms of participatory democratisation. Merely to pose the question seems enough to answer it. There is no such possibility in the vast majority of cities, and hence it would be a waste of time and energy for anarchists to support libertarian municipalist candidates in local elections — time and energy that could be more profitably spent in direct action. If the central governments are too bureaucratic and unresponsive to be used by Libertarian Municipalists, the same can be said of local ones too.

The counter-argument to this is that even if there is no chance of such candidates being elected, their standing for elections would serve a valuable educational function. The answer to this is: perhaps, but would it be more valuable than direct action? And would its educational value, if any, outweigh the disadvantages of electioneering mentioned in sections J.2.2 and J.2.4, such as the fact that voting ratifies the current system? Given the ability of major media to marginalise alternative candidates, we doubt that such campaigns would have enough educational value to outweigh these disadvantages. Moreover, being an anarchist does not make one immune to the corrupting effects of electioneering (as highlighted in section J.2.6). History is littered with radical, politically aware movements using elections and ending up becoming part of the system they aimed to transform. Most anarchists doubt that Libertarian Muncipalism will be any different — after all, it is the circumstances the parties find themselves in which are decisive, not the theory they hold (the social relations they face will transform the theory, not vice versa, in other words).

Lastly, most anarchists question the whole process on which Libertarian Muncipalism bases itself on. The idea of communes is a key one of anarchism and so strategies to create them in the here and now are important. However, to think that using alienated, representative institutions to abolish these institutions is mad. As the Italian activists (who organised a neighbourhood assembly by non-electoral means) argue, “[t]o accept power and to say that the others were acting in bad faith and that we would be better, would force non-anarchists towards direct democracy. We reject this logic and believe that organisations must come from the grassroots.” [“Community Organising in Southern Italy”, pp. 16-19, Black Flag no. 210, p. 18]

Thus Libertarian Municipalism reverses the process by which community assemblies will be created. Instead of anarchists using elections to build such bodies, they must work in their communities directly to create them (see section J.5.1 – “What is Community Unionism?” for more details). Using the catalyst of specific issues of local interest, anarchists could propose the creation of a community assembly to discuss the issues in question and organise action to solve them. Instead of a “confederal muncipalist movement run[ning] candidates for municipal councils with demands for the institution of public assemblies” [Murray Bookchin, Op. Cit., p. 229] anarchists should encourage people to create these institutions themselves and empower themselves by collective self-activity. As Kropotkin argued, “Laws can only follow the accomplished facts; and even if they do honestly follow them – which is usually not the case – a law remains a dead letter so long as there are not on the spot the living forces required for making the tendencies expressed in the law an accomplished fact.” [Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 171] Most anarchists, therefore, think it is far more important to create the “living forces” within our communities directly than waste energy in electioneering and the passing of laws creating or “legalising” community assemblies. In other words, community assemblies can only be created from the bottom up, by non-electoral means, a process which Libertarian Muncipalism confuses with electioneering.

So, while Libertarian Muncipalism does raise many important issues and correctly stresses the importance of community activity and self-management, its emphasis on electoral activity undercuts its liberatory promise. For most anarchists, community assemblies can only be created from below, by direct action, and (because of its electoral strategy) a Libertarian Municipalist movement will end up being transformed into a copy of the system it aims to abolish.

December 15, 2009 Posted by | kooperatifler vb modeller, ozyonetim, yerel yönetimler | Leave a comment

B.2.3 How does the ruling class maintain control of the state?

B.2.3 How does the ruling class maintain control of the state?

In some systems, it is obvious how economic dominant minorities control the state. In feudalism, for example, the land was owned by the feudal lords who exploited the peasantry directly. Economic and political power were merged into the same set of hands, the landlords. Absolutism saw the monarch bring the feudal lords under his power and the relative decentralised nature of feudalism was replaced by a centralised state.

It was this centralised state system which the raising bourgeoisie took as the model for their state. The King was replaced by a Parliament, which was initially elected on a limited suffrage. In this initial form of capitalist state, it is (again) obvious how the elite maintain control of the state machine. As the vote was based on having a minimum amount of property, the poor were effectively barred from having any (official) say in what the government did. This exclusion was theorised by philosophers like John Locke — the working masses were considered to be an object of state policy rather than part of the body of people (property owners) who nominated the government. In this perspective the state was like a joint-stock company. The owning class were the share-holders who nominated the broad of directors and the mass of the population were the workers who had no say in determining the management personnel and were expected to follow orders.

As would be expected, this system was mightily disliked by the majority who were subjected to it. Such a “classical liberal” regime was rule by an alien, despotic power, lacking popular legitimacy, and utterly unaccountable to the general population. It is quite evident that a government elected on a limited franchise could not be trusted to treat those who owned no real property with equal consideration. It was predictable that the ruling elite would use the state they controlled to further their own interests and to weaken potential resistance to their social, economic and political power. Which is precisely what they did do, while masking their power under the guise of “good governance” and “liberty.” Moreover, limited suffrage, like absolutism, was considered an affront to liberty and individual dignity by many of those subject to it.

Hence the call for universal suffrage and opposition to property qualifications for the franchise. For many radicals (including Marx and Engels) such a system would mean that the working classes would hold “political power” and, consequently, be in a position to end the class system once and for all. Anarchists were not convinced, arguing that “universal suffrage, considered in itself and applied in a society based on economic and social inequality, will be nothing but a swindle and snare for the people” and “the surest way to consolidate under the mantle of liberalism and justice the permanent domination of the people by the owning classes, to the detriment of popular liberty.” Consequently, anarchists denied that it “could be used by the people for the conquest of economic and social equality. It must always and necessarily be an instrument hostile to the people, one which supports the de facto dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.” [Bakunin, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 224]

Due to popular mass movements form below, the vote was won by the male working classes and, at a later stage, women. While the elite fought long and hard to retain their privileged position they were defeated. Sadly, the history of universal suffrage proven the anarchists right. Even allegedly “democratic” capitalist states are in effect dictatorships of the propertariat. The political history of modern times can be summarised by the rise of capitalist power, the rise, due to popular movements, of (representative) democracy and the continued success of the former to undermine and control the latter.

This is achieved by three main processes which combine to effectively deter democracy. These are the wealth barrier, the bureaucracy barrier and, lastly, the capital barrier. Each will be discussed in turn and all ensure that “representative democracy” remains an “organ of capitalist domination.” [Kropotkin, Words of a Rebel, p. 127]

The wealth barrier is the most obvious. It takes money to run for office. In 1976, the total spent on the US Presidential election was $66.9 million. In 1984, it was $103.6 million and in 1996 it was $239.9 million. At the dawn of the 21st century, these figures had increased yet again. 2000 saw $343.1 spent and 2004, $717.9 million. Most of this money was spent by the two main candidates. In 2000, Republican George Bush spent a massive $185,921,855 while his Democratic rival Al Gore spent only $120,031,205. Four years later, Bush spent $345,259,155 while John Kerry managed a mere $310,033,347.

Other election campaigns are also enormously expensive. In 2000, the average winning candidate for a seat in the US House of Representatives spent $816,000 while the average willing senator spent $7 million. Even local races require significant amounts of fundraising. One candidate for the Illinois House raised over $650,000 while another candidate for the Illinois Supreme Court raised $737,000. In the UK, similarly prohibitive amounts were spent. In the 2001 general election the Labour Party spent a total of �10,945,119, the Tories �12,751,813 and the Liberal Democrats (who came a distant third) just �1,361,377.

To get this sort of money, wealthy contributors need to be found and wooed, in other words promised that that their interests will be actively looked after. While, in theory, it is possible to raise large sums from small contributions in practice this is difficult. To raise $1 million you need to either convince 50 millionaires to give you $20,000 or 20,000 people to fork out $50. Given that for the elite $20,000 is pocket money, it is hardly surprising that politicians aim for winning over the few, not the many. Similarly with corporations and big business. It is far easier and more efficient in time and energy to concentrate on the wealthy few (whether individuals or companies).

It is obvious: whoever pays the piper calls the tune. And in capitalism, this means the wealthy and business. In the US corporate campaign donations and policy paybacks have reached unprecedented proportions. The vast majority of large campaign donations are, not surprisingly, from corporations. Most of the wealthy individuals who give large donations to the candidates are CEOs and corporate board members. And, just to be sure, many companies give to more than one party.

Unsurprisingly, corporations and the rich expect their investments to get a return. This can be seen from George W. Bush’s administration. His election campaigns were beholden to the energy industry (which has backed him since the beginning of his career as Governor of Texas). The disgraced corporation Enron (and its CEO Kenneth Lay) were among Bush’s largest contributors in 2000. Once in power, Bush backed numerous policies favourable to that industry (such as rolling back environmental regulation on a national level as he had done in Texas). His supporters in Wall Street were not surprised that Bush tried to privatise Social Security. Nor were the credit card companies when the Republicans tighten the noose on bankrupt people in 2005. By funding Bush, these corporations ensured that the government furthered their interests rather than the people who voted in the election.

This means that as a “consequence of the distribution of resources and decision-making power in the society at large . . . the political class and the cultural managers typically associate themselves with the sectors that dominate the private economy; they are either drawn directly from those sectors or expect to join them.” [Chomsky, Necessary Illusions, p. 23] This can be seen from George W. Bush’s quip at an elite fund-raising gala during the 2000 Presidential election: “This is an impressive crowd — the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites; I call you my base.” Unsurprisingly:

“In the real world, state policy is largely determined by those groups that command resources, ultimately by virtue of their ownership and management of the private economy or their status as wealthy professionals. The major decision-making positions in the Executive branch of the government are typically filled by representatives of major corporations, banks and investment firms, a few law firms that cater primarily to corporate interests and thus represent the broad interests of owners and managers rather than some parochial interest . . . The Legislative branch is more varied, but overwhelmingly, it is drawn from the business and professional classes.” [Chomsky, On Power and Ideology, pp. 116-7]


That is not the only tie between politics and business. Many politicians also have directorships in companies, interests in companies, shares, land and other forms of property income and so forth. Thus they are less like the majority of constituents they claim to represent and more like the wealthy few. Combine these outside earnings with a high salary (in the UK, MP’s are paid more than twice the national average) and politicians can be among the richest 1% of the population. Thus not only do we have a sharing of common interests the elite, the politicians are part of it. As such, they can hardly be said to be representative of the general public and are in a position of having a vested interest in legislation on property being voted on.

Some defend these second jobs and outside investments by saying that it keeps them in touch with the outside world and, consequently, makes them better politicians. That such an argument is spurious can be seen from the fact that such outside interests never involve working in McDonald’s flipping burgers or working on an assembly line. For some reason, no politician seeks to get a feeling for what life is like for the average person. Yet, in a sense, this argument does have a point. Such jobs and income do keep politicians in touch with the world of the elite rather than that of the masses and, as the task of the state is to protect elite interests, it cannot be denied that this sharing of interests and income with the elite can only aid that task!

Then there is the sad process by which politicians, once they leave politics, get jobs in the corporate hierarchy (particularly with the very companies they had previously claimed to regulate on behalf of the public). This was termed “the revolving door.” Incredibly, this has changed for the worse. Now the highest of government officials arrive directly from the executive offices of powerful corporations. Lobbyists are appointed to the jobs whose occupants they once vied to influence. Those who regulate and those supposed to be regulated have become almost indistinguishable.

Thus politicians and capitalists go hand in hand. Wealth selects them, funds them and gives them jobs and income when in office. Finally, once they finally leave politics, they are often given directorships and other jobs in the business world. Little wonder, then, that the capitalist class maintains control of the state.

That is not all. The wealth barrier operates indirectly to. This takes many forms. The most obvious is in the ability of corporations and the elite to lobby politicians. In the US, there is the pervasive power of Washington’s army of 24,000 registered lobbyists — and the influence of the corporate interests they represent. These lobbyists, whose job it is to convince politicians to vote in certain ways to further the interests of their corporate clients help shape the political agenda even further toward business interests than it already is. This Lobby industry is immense — and exclusively for big business and the elite. Wealth ensures that the equal opportunity to garner resources to share a perspective and influence the political progress is monopolised by the few: “where are the desperately needed countervailing lobbies to represent the interests of average citizens? Where are the millions of dollars acting in their interests? Alas, they are notably absent.” [Joel Bakan, The Corporation, p. 107]

However, it cannot be denied that it is up to the general population to vote for politicians. This is when the indirect impact of wealth kicks in, namely the role of the media and the Public Relations (PR) industry. As we discuss in section D.3, the modern media is dominated by big business and, unsurprisingly, reflects their interests. This means that the media has an important impact on how voters see parties and specific politicians and candidates. A radical party will, at best, be ignored by the capitalist press or, at worse, subject to smears and attacks. This will have a corresponding negative impact on their election prospects and will involve the affected party having to invest substantially more time, energy and resources in countering the negative media coverage. The PR industry has a similar effect, although that has the advantage of not having to bother with appearing to look factual or unbiased. Add to this the impact of elite and corporation funded “think tanks” and the political system is fatally skewed in favour of the capitalist class (also see section D.2).

In a nutshell:

“The business class dominates government through its ability to fund political campaigns, purchase high priced lobbyists and reward former officials with lucrative jobs . . . [Politicians] have become wholly dependent upon the same corporate dollars to pay for a new professional class of PR consultants, marketeers and social scientists who manage and promote causes and candidates in essentially the same manner that advertising campaigns sell cars, fashions, drugs and other wares.” [John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, Toxic Sludge is Good for You, p. 78]


That is the first barrier, the direct and indirect impact of wealth. This, in itself, is a powerful barrier to deter democracy and, as a consequence, it is usually sufficient in itself. Yet sometimes people see through the media distortions and vote for reformist, even radical, candidates. As we discuss in section J.2.6, anarchists argue that the net effect of running for office is a general de-radicalising of the party involved. Revolutionary parties become reformist, reformist parties end up maintaining capitalism and introducing polities the opposite of which they had promised. So while it is unlikely that a radical party could get elected and remain radical in the process, it is possible. If such a party did get into office, the remaining two barriers kicks in: the bureaucracy barrier and the capital barrier.

The existence of a state bureaucracy is a key feature in ensuring that the state remains the ruling class’s “policeman” and will be discussed in greater detail in section J.2.2 (Why do anarchists reject voting as a means for change?). Suffice to say, the politicians who are elected to office are at a disadvantage as regards the state bureaucracy. The latter is a permanent concentration of power while the former come and go. Consequently, they are in a position to tame any rebel government by means of bureaucratic inertia, distorting and hiding necessary information and pushing its own agenda onto the politicians who are in theory their bosses but in reality dependent on the bureaucracy. And, needless to say, if all else fails the state bureaucracy can play its final hand: the military coup.

This threat has been applied in many countries, most obviously in the developing world (with the aid of Western, usually US, imperialism). The coups in Iran (1953) and Chile (1973) are just two examples of this process. Yet the so-called developed world is not immune to it. The rise of fascism in Italy, Germany, Portugal and Spain can be considered as variations of a military coup (particularly the last one where fascism was imposed by the military). Wealthy business men funded para-military forces to break the back of the labour movement, forces formed by ex-military people. Even the New Deal in America was threatened by such a coup. [Joel Bakan, Op. Cit., pp. 86-95] While such regimes do protect the interests of capital and are, consequently, backed by it, they do hold problems for capitalism. This is because, as with the Absolutism which fostered capitalism in the first place, this kind of government can get ideas above its station This means that a military coup will only be used when the last barrier, the capital barrier, is used and fails.

The capital barrier is obviously related to the wealth barrier insofar as it relates to the power that great wealth produces. However, it is different in how it is applied. The wealth barrier restricts who gets into office, the capital barrier controls whoever does so. The capital barrier, in other words, are the economic forces that can be brought to bear on any government which is acting in ways disliked of by the capitalist class.

We see their power implied when the news report that changes in government, policies and law have been “welcomed by the markets.” As the richest 1% of households in America (about 2 million adults) owned 35% of the stock owned by individuals in 1992 — with the top 10% owning over 81% — we can see that the “opinion” of the markets actually means the power of the richest 1-5% of a countries population (and their finance experts), power derived from their control over investment and production. Given that the bottom 90% of the US population has a smaller share (23%) of all kinds of investable capital that the richest 1/2% (who own 29%), with stock ownership being even more concentrated (the top 5% holding 95% of all shares), its obvious why Doug Henwood argues that stock markets are “a way for the very rich as a class to own an economy’s productive capital stock as a whole,” are a source of “political power” and a way to have influence over government policy. [Wall Street: Class Racket]

The mechanism is simple enough. The ability of capital to disinvest (capital flight) and otherwise adversely impact the economy is a powerful weapon to keep the state as its servant. The companies and the elite can invest at home or abroad, speculate in currency markets and so forth. If a significant number of investors or corporations lose confidence in a government they will simply stop investing at home and move their funds abroad. At home, the general population feel the results as demand drops, layoffs increase and recession kicks in. As Noam Chomsky notes:

“In capitalist democracy, the interests that must be satisfied are those of capitalists; otherwise, there is no investment, no production, no work, no resources to be devoted, however marginally, to the needs of the general population.” [Turning the Tide, p. 233]


This ensures the elite control of government as government policies which private power finds unwelcome will quickly be reversed. The power which “business confidence” has over the political system ensures that democracy is subservient to big business. As summarised by Malatesta:

“Even with universal suffrage — we could well say even more so with universal suffrage — the government remained the bourgeoisie’s servant and gendarme. For were it to be otherwise with the government hinting that it might take up a hostile attitude, or that democracy could ever be anything but a pretence to deceive the people, the bourgeoisie, feeling its interests threatened, would by quick to react, and would use all the influence and force at its disposal, by reason of its wealth, to recall the government to its proper place as the bourgeoisie’s gendarme. [Anarchy, p. 23]


It is due to these barriers that the state remains an instrument of the capitalist class while being, in theory, a democracy. Thus the state machine remains a tool by which the few can enrich themselves at the expense of the many. This does not mean, of course, that the state is immune to popular pressure. Far from it. As indicated in the last section, direct action by the oppressed can and has forced the state to implement significant reforms. Similarly, the need to defend society against the negative effects of unregulated capitalism can also force through populist measures (particularly when the alternative may be worse than the allowing the reforms, i.e. revolution). The key is that such changes are not the natural function of the state.

So due to their economic assets, the elites whose incomes are derived from them — namely, finance capitalists, industrial capitalists, and landlords — are able to accumulate vast wealth from those whom they exploit. This stratifies society into a hierarchy of economic classes, with a huge disparity of wealth between the small property-owning elite at the top and the non-property-owning majority at the bottom. Then, because it takes enormous wealth to win elections and lobby or bribe legislators, the propertied elite are able to control the political process — and hence the state — through the “power of the purse.” In summary:

“No democracy has freed itself from the rule by the well-to-do anymore than it has freed itself from the division between the ruler and the ruled . . . at the very least, no democracy has jeopardised the role of business enterprise. Only the wealthy and well off can afford to launch viable campaigns for public office and to assume such positions. Change in government in a democracy is a circulation from one elite group to another.” [Harold Barclay, Op. Cit., p. 47]


In other words, elite control of politics through huge wealth disparities insures the continuation of such disparities and thus the continuation of elite control. In this way the crucial political decisions of those at the top are insulated from significant influence by those at the bottom. Finally, it should be noted that these barriers do not arise accidentally. They flow from the way the state is structured. By effectively disempowering the masses and centralising power into the hands of the few which make up the government, the very nature of the state ensures that it remains under elite control. This is why, from the start, the capitalist class has favoured centralisation. We discuss this in the next two sections.

(For more on the ruling elite and its relation to the state, see C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite [Oxford, 1956]; cf. Ralph Miliband, The State in Capitalist Society [Basic Books, 1969] and Divided Societies [Oxford, 1989]; G. William Domhoff, Who Rules America? [Prentice Hall, 1967]; and Who Rules America Now? A View for the ’80s [Touchstone, 1983]).<.p>

B.2.4 How does state centralisation affect freedom?

It is a common idea that voting every four or so years to elect the public face of a highly centralised and bureaucratic machine means that ordinary people control the state and, as a consequence, free. In reality, this is a false idea. In any system of centralised power the general population have little say in what affects them and, as a result, their freedom is extremely limited.

Obviously, to say that this idea is false does not imply that there is no difference between a liberal republic and a fascistic or monarchical state. Far from it. The vote is an important victory wrested from the powers that be. That, of course, is not to suggest that anarchists think that libertarian socialism is only possible after universal suffrage has been won or that it is achievable via it. Far from it. It is simply to point out that being able to pick your ruler is a step forward from having one imposed upon you. Moreover, those considered able to pick their ruler is, logically, also able to do without one.

However, while the people are proclaimed to be sovereign in a democratic state, in reality they alienate their power and hand over control of their affairs to a small minority. Liberty, in other words, is reduced to merely the possibility “to pick rulers” every four or five years and whose mandate (sic!) is “to legislate on any subject, and his decision will become law.” [Kropotkin, Words of a Rebel, p. 122 and p. 123]

In other words, representative democracy is not “liberty” nor “self-government.” It is about alienating power to a few people who then (mis)rule in your name. To imply it is anything else is nonsense. So while we get to pick a politician to govern in our name it does not follow that they represent those who voted for them in any meaningful sense. As shown time and time again, “representative” governments can happily ignore the opinions of the majority while, at the same time, verbally praising the “democracy” it is abusing (New Labour in the UK during the run up to the invasion of Iraq was a classic example of this). Given that politicians can do what they like for four or five years once elected, it is clear that popular control via the ballot box is hardly effective or even meaningful.

Indeed, such “democracy” almost always means electing politicians who say one thing in opposition and do the opposite once in office. Politicians who, at best, ignore their election manifesto when it suits them or, at worse, introduce the exact opposite. It is the kind of “democracy” in which people can protest in their hundreds of thousands against a policy only to see their “representative” government simply ignore them (while, at the same time, seeing their representatives bend over backward ensuring corporate profits and power while speaking platitudes to the electorate and their need to tighten their belts). At best it can be said that democratic governments tend to be less oppressive than others but it does not follow that this equates to liberty.

State centralisation is the means to ensure this situation and the debasement of freedom it implies.

All forms of hierarchy, even those in which the top officers are elected are marked by authoritarianism and centralism. Power is concentrated in the centre (or at the top), which means that society becomes “a heap of dust animated from without by a subordinating, centralist idea.” [P. J. Proudhon, quoted by Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia, p. 29] For, once elected, top officers can do as they please, and, as in all bureaucracies, many important decisions are made by non-elected staff. This means that the democratic state is a contradiction in terms:

“In the democratic state the election of rulers by alleged majority vote is a subterfuge which helps individuals to believe that they control the situation. They are selecting persons to do a task for them and they have no guarantee that it will be carried out as they desired. They are abdicating to these persons, granting them the right to impose their own wills by the threat of force. Electing individuals to public office is like being given a limited choice of your oppressors . . . Parliamentary democracies are essentially oligarchies in which the populace is led to believe that it delegates all its authority to members of parliament to do as they think best.” [Harold Barclay, Op. Cit., pp. 46-7]


The nature of centralisation places power into the hands of the few. Representative democracy is based on this delegation of power, with voters electing others to govern them. This cannot help but create a situation in which freedom is endangered — universal suffrage “does not prevent the formation of a body of politicians, privileged in fact though not in law, who, devoting themselves exclusively to the administration of the nation’s public affairs, end by becoming a sort of political aristocracy or oligarchy.” [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 240]

This should not come as a surprise, for to “create a state is to institutionalise power in a form of machine that exists apart from the people. It is to professionalise rule and policy making, to create a distinct interest (be it of bureaucrats, deputies, commissars, legislators, the military, the police, ad nauseam) that, however weak or however well-intentioned it may be at first, eventually takes on a corruptive power of its own.” [Murray Bookchin, “The Ecological Crisis, Socialism, and the need to remake society,” pp. 1-10, Society and Nature, vol. 2, no. 3, p. 7]

Centralism makes democracy meaningless, as political decision-making is given over to professional politicians in remote capitals. Lacking local autonomy, people are isolated from each other (atomised) by having no political forum where they can come together to discuss, debate, and decide among themselves the issues they consider important. Elections are not based on natural, decentralised groupings and thus cease to be relevant. The individual is just another “voter” in the mass, a political “constituent” and nothing more. The amorphous basis of modern, statist elections “aims at nothing less than to abolish political life in towns, communes and departments, and through this destruction of all municipal and regional autonomy to arrest the development of universal suffrage.” [Proudhon, quoted by Martin Buber, Op. Cit., p. 29]

Thus people are disempowered by the very structures that claim to allow them to express themselves. To quote Proudhon again, in the centralised state “the citizen divests himself of sovereignty, the town and the Department and province above it, absorbed by central authority, are no longer anything but agencies under direct ministerial control.” He continues:

“The Consequences soon make themselves felt: the citizen and the town are deprived of all dignity, the state’s depredations multiply, and the burden on the taxpayer increases in proportion. It is no longer the government that is made for the people; it is the people who are made for the government. Power invades everything, dominates everything, absorbs everything.” [The Principle of Federation, p. 59]


As intended, as isolated people are no threat to the powers that be. This process of marginalisation can be seen from American history, for example, when town meetings were replaced by elected bodies, with the citizens being placed in passive, spectator roles as mere “voters” (see next section). Being an atomised voter is hardly an ideal notion of “freedom,” despite the rhetoric of politicians about the virtues of a “free society” and “The Free World” — as if voting once every four or five years could ever be classed as “liberty” or even “democracy.”

Marginalisation of the people is the key control mechanism in the state and authoritarian organisations in general. Considering the European Community (EC), for example, we find that the “mechanism for decision-making between EC states leaves power in the hands of officials (from Interior ministries, police, immigration, customs and security services) through a myriad of working groups. Senior officials . . . play a critical role in ensuring agreements between the different state officials. The EC Summit meetings, comprising the 12 Prime Ministers, simply rubber-stamp the conclusions agreed by the Interior and Justice Ministers. It is only then, in this intergovernmental process, that parliaments and people are informed (and them only with the barest details).” [Tony Bunyon, Statewatching the New Europe, p. 39]

As well as economic pressures from elites, governments also face pressures within the state itself due to the bureaucracy that comes with centralism. There is a difference between the state and government. The state is the permanent collection of institutions that have entrenched power structures and interests. The government is made up of various politicians. It’s the institutions that have power in the state due to their permanence, not the representatives who come and go. As Clive Ponting (an ex-civil servant himself) indicates, “the function of a political system in any country . . . is to regulate, but not to alter radically, the existing economic structure and its linked power relationships. The great illusion of politics is that politicians have the ability to make whatever changes they like.” [quoted in Alternatives, no.5, p. 19]

Therefore, as well as marginalising the people, the state also ends up marginalising “our” representatives. As power rests not in the elected bodies, but in a bureaucracy, popular control becomes increasingly meaningless. As Bakunin pointed out, “liberty can be valid only when . . . [popular] control [of the state] is valid. On the contrary, where such control is fictitious, this freedom of the people likewise becomes a mere fiction.” [Op. Cit., p. 212] State centralisation ensures that popular control is meaningless.

This means that state centralism can become a serious source of danger to the liberty and well-being of most of the people under it. “The bourgeois republicans,” argued Bakunin, “do not yet grasp this simple truth, demonstrated by the experience of all times and in all lands, that every organised power standing above and over the people necessarily excludes the freedom of peoples. The political state has no other purpose than to protect and perpetuate the exploitation of the labour of the proletariat by the economically dominant classes, and in so doing the state places itself against the freedom of the people.” [Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 416]

Unsurprisingly, therefore, “whatever progress that has been made . . . on various issues, whatever things have been done for people, whatever human rights have been gained, have not been gained through the calm deliberations of Congress or the wisdom of presidents or the ingenious decisions of the Supreme Court. Whatever progress has been made . . . has come because of the actions of ordinary people, of citizens, of social movements. Not from the Constitution.” That document has been happily ignored by the official of the state when it suits them. An obvious example is the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, which “didn’t have any meaning until black people rose up in the 1950s and 1960s in the South in mass movements . . . They made whatever words there were in the Constitution and the 14th Amendment have some meaning for the first time.” [Howard Zinn, Failure to Quit, p. 69 and p. 73]

This is because the “fact that you have got a constitutional right doesn’t mean you’re going to get that right. Who has the power on the spot? The policeman on the street. The principal in the school. The employer on job. The Constitution does not cover private employment. In other words, the Constitution does not cover most of reality.” Thus our liberty is not determined by the laws of the state. Rather “the source and solution of our civil liberties problems are in the situations of every day . . . Our actual freedom is determined not by the Constitution or the Court, but by the power the policeman has over us on the street or that of the local judge behind him; by the authority of our employers; . . . by the welfare bureaucrats if we are poor; . . . by landlords if we are tenants.” Thus freedom and justice “are determined by power and money” rather than laws. This points to the importance of popular participation, of social movements, for what those do are “to create a countervailing power to the policeman with a club and a gun. That’s essentially what movements do: They create countervailing powers to counter the power which is much more important than what is written down in the Constitution or the laws.” [Zinn, Op. Cit., pp. 84-5, pp. 54-5 and p. 79]

It is precisely this kind of mass participation that centralisation kills. Under centralism, social concern and power are taken away from ordinary citizens and centralised in the hands of the few. This results in any formally guaranteed liberties being effectively ignored when people want to use them, if the powers at be so decide. Ultimately, isolated individuals facing the might of a centralised state machine are in a weak position. Which is way the state does what it can to undermine such popular movements and organisations (going so far as to violate its own laws to do so).

As should be obvious, by centralisation anarchists do not mean simply a territorial centralisation of power in a specific central location (such as in a nation state where power rests in a central government located in a specific place). We also mean the centralisation of power into a few hands. Thus we can have a system like feudalism which is territorially decentralised (i.e. made up on numerous feudal lords without a strong central state) while having power centralised in a few hands locally (i.e. power rests in the hands of the feudal lords, not in the general population). Or, to use another example, we can have a laissez-faire capitalist system which has a weak central authority but is made up of a multitude of autocratic workplaces. As such, getting rid of the central power (say the central state in capitalism or the monarch in absolutism) while retaining the local authoritarian institutions (say capitalist firms and feudal landlords) would not ensure freedom. Equally, the abolition of local authorities may simply result in the strengthening of central power and a corresponding weakening of freedom.

B.2.5 Who benefits from centralisation?

No social system would exist unless it benefited someone or some group. Centralisation, be it in the state or the company, is no different. In all cases, centralisation directly benefits those at the top, because it shelters them from those who are below, allowing the latter to be controlled and governed more effectively. Therefore, it is in the direct interests of bureaucrats and politicians to support centralism.

Under capitalism, however, various sections of the business class also support state centralism. This is the symbiotic relationship between capital and the state. As will be discussed later (in section F.8), the state played an important role in “nationalising” the market, i.e. forcing the “free market” onto society. By centralising power in the hands of representatives and so creating a state bureaucracy, ordinary people were disempowered and thus became less likely to interfere with the interests of the wealthy. “In a republic,” writes Bakunin, “the so-called people, the legal people, allegedly represented by the State, stifle and will keep on stifling the actual and living people” by “the bureaucratic world” for “the greater benefit of the privileged propertied classes as well as for its own benefit.” [Op. Cit., p. 211]

Examples of increased political centralisation being promoted by wealthy business interests by can be seen throughout the history of capitalism. “In revolutionary America, ‘the nature of city government came in for heated discussion,’ observes Merril Jensen . . . Town meetings . . . ‘had been a focal point of revolutionary activity’. The anti-democratic reaction that set in after the American revolution was marked by efforts to do away with town meeting government . . . Attempts by conservative elements were made to establish a ‘corporate form (of municipal government) whereby the towns would be governed by mayors and councils’ elected from urban wards . . . [T]he merchants ‘backed incorporation consistently in their efforts to escape town meetings.'” [Murray Bookchin, Towards an Ecological Society, p. 182]

Here we see local policy making being taken out of the hands of the many and centralised in the hands of the few (who are always the wealthy). France provides another example:

“The Government found. . .the folkmotes [of all households] ‘too noisy’, too disobedient, and in 1787, elected councils, composed of a mayor and three to six syndics, chosen among the wealthier peasants, were introduced instead.” [Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, pp. 185-186]


This was part of a general movement to disempower the working class by centralising decision making power into the hands of the few (as in the American revolution). Kropotkin indicates the process at work:

“[T]he middle classes, who had until then had sought the support of the people, in order to obtain constitutional laws and to dominate the higher nobility, were going, now that they had seen and felt the strength of the people, to do all they could to dominate the people, to disarm them and to drive them back into subjection. 

[. . .]

“[T]hey made haste to legislate in such a way that the political power which was slipping out of the hand of the Court should not fall into the hands of the people. Thus . . . [it was] proposed . . . to divide the French into two classes, of which one only, the active citizens, should take part in the government, whilst the other, comprising the great mass of the people under the name of passive citizens, should be deprived of all political rights . . . [T]he [National] Assembly divided France into departments . . . always maintaining the principle of excluding the poorer classes from the Government . . . [T]hey excluded from the primary assemblies the mass of the people . . . who could no longer take part in the primary assemblies, and accordingly had no right to nominate the electors [who chose representatives to the National Assembly], or the municipality, or any of the local authorities . . .

“And finally, the permanence of the electoral assemblies was interdicted. Once the middle-class governors were appointed, these assemblies were not to meet again. Once the middle-class governors were appointed, they must not be controlled too strictly. Soon the right even of petitioning and of passing resolutions was taken away — ‘Vote and hold your tongue!’

“As to the villages . . . the general assembly of the inhabitants . . . [to which] belonged the administration of the affairs of the commune . . . were forbidden by the . . . law. Henceforth only the well-to-do peasants, the active citizens, had the right to meet, once a year, to nominate the mayor and the municipality, composed of three or four middle-class men of the village.

“A similar municipal organisation was given to the towns. . .

“[Thus] the middle classes surrounded themselves with every precaution in order to keep the municipal power in the hands of the well-to-do members of the community.” [The Great French Revolution, vol. 1, pp. 179-186]


Thus centralisation aimed to take power away from the mass of the people and give it to the wealthy. The power of the people rested in popular assemblies, such as the “Sections” and “Districts” of Paris (expressing, in Kropotkin’s words, “the principles of anarchism” and “practising . . . Direct Self-Government” [Op. Cit., p. 204 and p. 203]) and village assemblies. However, the National Assembly “tried all it could to lessen the power of the districts . . . [and] put an end to those hotbeds of Revolution . . . [by allowing] active citizens only . . . to take part in the electoral and administrative assemblies.” [Op. Cit., p. 211] Thus the “central government was steadily endeavouring to subject the sections to its authority” with the state “seeking to centralise everything in its own hands . . . [I]ts depriving the popular organisations . . . all . . . administrative functions . . . and its subjecting them to its bureaucracy in police matters, meant the death of the sections.” [Op. Cit., vol. 2, p. 549 and p. 552]

As can be seen, both the French and American revolutions saw a similar process by which the wealthy centralised power into their own hands (volume one of Murray Bookchin’s The Third Revolution discusses the French and American revolutions in some detail). This ensured that working class people (i.e. the majority) were excluded from the decision making process and subject to the laws and power of a few. Which, of course, benefits the minority class whose representatives have that power. This was the rationale for the centralisation of power in every revolution. Whether it was the American, French or Russian, the centralisation of power was the means to exclude the many from participating in the decisions that affected them and their communities.

For example, the founding fathers of the American State were quite explicit on the need for centralisation for precisely this reason. For James Madison the key worry was when the “majority” gained control of “popular government” and was in a position to “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” Thus the “public good” escaped the “majority” nor was it, as you would think, what the public thought of as good (for some reason left unexplained, Madison considered the majority able to pick those who could identify the public good). To safeguard against this, he advocated a republic rather than a democracy in which the citizens “assemble and administer the government in person . . . have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property.” He, of course, took it for granted that “[t]hose who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society.” His schema was to ensure that private property was defended and, as a consequence, the interests of those who held protected. Hence the need for “the delegation of the government . . . to a small number of citizens elected by the rest.” This centralisation of power into a few hands locally was matched by a territorial centralisation for the same reason. Madison favoured “a large over a small republic” as a “rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it.” [contained in Voices of a People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove (eds.), pp. 109-113] This desire to have a formal democracy, where the masses are mere spectators of events rather than participants, is a recurring theme in capitalism (see the chapter “Force and Opinion” in Noam Chomsky’s Deterring Democracy for a good overview).

On the federal and state levels in the US after the Revolution, centralisation of power was encouraged, since “most of the makers of the Constitution had some direct economic interest in establishing a strong federal government.” Needless to say, while the rich elite were well represented in formulating the principles of the new order, four groups were not: “slaves, indentured servants, women, men without property.” Needless to say, the new state and its constitution did not reflect their interests. Given that these were the vast majority, “there was not only a positive need for strong central government to protect the large economic interests, but also immediate fear of rebellion by discontented farmers.” [Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, p. 90] The chief event was Shay’s Rebellion in western Massachusetts. There the new Constitution had raised property qualifications for voting and, therefore, no one could hold state office without being wealthy. The new state was formed to combat such rebellions, to protect the wealthy few against the many.

Moreover, state centralisation, the exclusion of popular participation, was essential to mould US society into one dominated by capitalism:

“In the thirty years leading up to the Civil War, the law was increasingly interpreted in the courts to suit capitalist development. Studying this, Morton Horwitz (The Transformation of American Law) points out that the English common-law was no longer holy when it stood in the way of business growth . . . Judgements for damages against businessmen were taken out of the hands of juries, which were unpredictable, and given to judges . . . The ancient idea of a fair price for goods gave way in the courts to the idea of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) . . . contract law was intended to discriminate against working people and for business . . . The pretence of the law was that a worker and a railroad made a contract with equal bargaining power . . . ‘The circle was completed; the law had come simply to ratify those forms of inequality that the market system had produced.'” [Zinn, Op. Cit., p. 234]


The US state was created on elitist liberal doctrine and actively aimed to reduce democratic tendencies (in the name of “individual liberty”). What happened in practice (unsurprisingly enough) was that the wealthy elite used the state to undermine popular culture and common right in favour of protecting and extending their own interests and power. In the process, US society was reformed in their own image:

“By the middle of the nineteenth century the legal system had been reshaped to the advantage of men of commerce and industry at the expense of farmers, workers, consumers, and other less powerful groups in society. . . it actively promoted a legal distribution of wealth against the weakest groups in society.” [Morton Horwitz, quoted by Zinn, Op. Cit., p. 235]


In more modern times, state centralisation and expansion has gone hand in glove with rapid industrialisation and the growth of business. As Edward Herman points out, “[t]o a great extent, it was the growth in business size and power that elicited the countervailing emergence of unions and the growth of government. Bigness beyond business was to a large extent a response to bigness in business.” [Corporate Control, Corporate Power, p. 188 — see also, Stephen Skowronek, Building A New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920] State centralisation was required to produce bigger, well-defined markets and was supported by business when it acted in their interests (i.e. as markets expanded, so did the state in order to standardise and enforce property laws and so on). On the other hand, this development towards “big government” created an environment in which big business could grow (often encouraged by the state by subsidies and protectionism – as would be expected when the state is run by the wealthy) as well as further removing state power from influence by the masses and placing it more firmly in the hands of the wealthy. It is little wonder we see such developments, for “[s]tructures of governance tend to coalesce around domestic power, in the last few centuries, economic power.” [Noam Chomsky, World Orders, Old and New, p. 178]

State centralisation makes it easier for business to control government, ensuring that it remains their puppet and to influence the political process. For example, the European Round Table (ERT) “an elite lobby group of . . . chairmen or chief executives of large multi-nationals based mainly in the EU . . . [with] 11 of the 20 largest European companies [with] combined sales [in 1991] . . . exceeding $500 billion, . . . approximately 60 per cent of EU industrial production,” makes much use of the EU. As two researchers who have studied this body note, the ERT “is adept at lobbying . . . so that many ERT proposals and ‘visions’ are mysteriously regurgitated in Commission summit documents.” The ERT “claims that the labour market should be more ‘flexible,’ arguing for more flexible hours, seasonal contracts, job sharing and part time work. In December 1993, seven years after the ERT made its suggestions [and after most states had agreed to the Maastricht Treaty and its “social chapter”], the European Commission published a white paper . . . [proposing] making labour markets in Europe more flexible.” [Doherty and Hoedeman, “Knights of the Road,” New Statesman, 4/11/94, p. 27]

The current talk of globalisation, NAFTA, and the Single European Market indicates an underlying transformation in which state growth follows the path cut by economic growth. Simply put, with the growth of transnational corporations and global finance markets, the bounds of the nation-state have been made economically redundant. As companies have expanded into multi-nationals, so the pressure has mounted for states to follow suit and rationalise their markets across “nations” by creating multi-state agreements and unions.

As Noam Chomsky notes, G7, the IMF, the World Bank and so forth are a “de facto world government,” and “the institutions of the transnational state largely serve other masters [than the people], as state power typically does; in this case the rising transnational corporations in the domains of finance and other services, manufacturing, media and communications.” [Op. Cit., p. 179]

As multi-nationals grow and develop, breaking through national boundaries, a corresponding growth in statism is required. Moreover, a “particularly valuable feature of the rising de facto governing institutions is their immunity from popular influence, even awareness. They operate in secret, creating a world subordinated to the needs of investors, with the public ‘put in its place’, the threat of democracy reduced” [Chomsky, Op. Cit., p. 178].

This does not mean that capitalists desire state centralisation for everything. Often, particularly for social issues, relative decentralisation is often preferred (i.e. power is given to local bureaucrats) in order to increase business control over them. By devolving control to local areas, the power which large corporations, investment firms and the like have over the local government increases proportionally. In addition, even middle-sized enterprise can join in and influence, constrain or directly control local policies and set one workforce against another. Private power can ensure that “freedom” is safe, their freedom.

No matter which set of bureaucrats are selected, the need to centralise social power, thus marginalising the population, is of prime importance to the business class. It is also important to remember that capitalist opposition to “big government” is often financial, as the state feeds off the available social surplus, so reducing the amount left for the market to distribute to the various capitals in competition.

In reality, what capitalists object to about “big government” is its spending on social programs designed to benefit the poor and working class, an “illegitimate” function which “wastes” part of the surplus that might go to capital (and also makes people less desperate and so less willing to work cheaply). Hence the constant push to reduce the state to its “classical” role as protector of private property and the system, and little else. Other than their specious quarrel with the welfare state, capitalists are the staunchest supports of government (and the “correct” form of state intervention, such as defence spending), as evidenced by the fact that funds can always be found to build more prisons and send troops abroad to advance ruling-class interests, even as politicians are crying that there is “no money” in the treasury for scholarships, national health care, or welfare for the poor.

State centralisation ensures that “as much as the equalitarian principles have been embodied in its political constitutions, it is the bourgeoisie that governs, and it is the people, the workers, peasants included, who obey the laws made by the bourgeoisie” who “has in fact if not by right the exclusive privilege of governing.” This means that “political equality . . . is only a puerile fiction, an utter lie.” It takes a great deal of faith to assume that the rich, “being so far removed from the people by the conditions of its economic and social existence” can “give expression in the government and in the laws, to the feelings, the ideas, and the will of the people.” Unsurprisingly, we find that “in legislation as well as in carrying on the government, the bourgeoisie is guided by its own interests and its own instincts without concerning itself much with the interests of the people.” So while “on election days even the proudest bourgeois who have any political ambitions are forced to court . . . The Sovereign People.” But on the “day after the elections every one goes back to their daily business” and the politicians are given carte blanche to rule in the name of the people they claim to represent.” [Bakunin, The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 218 and p. 219]

December 15, 2009 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, ozyonetim, somuru / tahakkum, totoliterlik / otoriterlik | Leave a comment

E.5 Can ethical consumerism stop the ecological crisis?

No. At best, it can have a limited impact in reducing environmental degradation and so postpone the ecological crisis. At worse, it could accelerate that crisis by creating new markets and thus increasing growth.

Before discussing why and just so there is no misunderstanding, we must stress that anarchists fully recognise that using recycled or renewable raw materials, reducing consumption and buying “ecologically friendly” products and technologies are very important. As such, we would be the last to denounce such a thing. But such measures are of very limited use as solutions to the ecological problems we face. At best they can only delay, not prevent, capitalism’s ultimate destruction of the planet’s ecological base.

Green consumerism is often the only thing capitalism has to offer in the face of mounting ecological destruction. Usually it boils down to nothing more than slick advertising campaigns by big corporate polluters to hype band-aid measures such as using a few recycled materials or contributing money to a wildlife fund, which are showcased as “concern for the environment” while off camera the pollution and devouring of non-renewable resources goes on. They also engage in “greenwashing”, in which companies lavishly fund PR campaigns to paint themselves “green” without altering their current polluting practices!

This means that apparently “green” companies and products actually are not. Many firms hire expensive Public Relations firms and produce advertisements to paint a false image of themselves as being ecologically friendly (i.e. perform “greenwashing”). This indicates a weakness of market economies — they hinder (even distort) the flow of information required for consumers to make informed decisions. The market does not provide enough information for consumers to determine whether a product is actually green or not — it just gives them a price supplemented by (often deliberately misleading) advertising designed to manipulate the consumer and present an appropriate corporate image. Consumers have to rely on other sources, many of which are minority journals and organisations and so difficult to find, to provide them with the accurate information required to countermand the power and persuasion of advertising and the work of PR experts. This helps explain why, for example, “large agribusiness firms are now attempting, like Soviet commissars, to stifle criticism of their policies” by means of “veggie libel laws.” These laws, which in 2001 had been passed in 13 American states (“backed by agribusiness”) “make it illegal to criticise agricultural commodities in a manner inconsistent with ‘reasonable’ scientific evidence. The whole concept of ‘veggie libel’ laws is probably unconstitutional; nevertheless, these laws remain on the books.” [Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, p. 266]

We should not discount the impact of PR experts in shaping the way people see the world or decide to consume. A lot of resources are poured into corporate Public Relations in order to present a green image. “In the perverse world of corporate public relations,” note critics John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, “propagandising and lobbying against environmental protection is called ‘environmental’ or ‘green’ PR. ‘Greenwashing’ is a more accurate pejorative now commonly used to describe the ways that polluters employ deceptive PR to falsely paint themselves an environmentally responsible public image . . . Today a virulent, pro-industry, anti-environmentalism is on the rise . . . PR experts . . . are waging and winning a war against environmentalists on behalf of corporate clients in the chemical, energy, food, automobile, forestry and mining industries.” A significant amount of cash is spent (an estimated $1 billion a year by the mid-1990s) “on the services of anti-environmental PR professionals and on ‘greenwashing’ their corporate image.” [Toxic Sludge is Good for You!, p. 125] See the chapter called “Silencing Spring” in Stauber’s and Rampton’s book Toxic Sludge is Good for You! for a good summary of this use of PR firms.

Even apparently ecologically friendly firms like “The Body Shop” can present a false image of what they do. For example, journalist Jon Entine investigated that company in 1994 and discovered that only a minuscule fraction of its ingredients came from Trade Not Aid (a program claimed to aid developing countries). Entine also discovered that the company also used many outdated, off-the-shelf product formulas filled with non-renewable petrochemicals as well as animal tested ingredients. When Entine contacted the company he received libel threats and it hired a PR company to combat his story. [Stauber and Rampton, Op. Cit., pp. 74-5] This highlights the dangers of looking to consumerism to solve ecological problems. As Entine argued:

“The Body Shop is a corporation with the privileges and power in society as all others. Like other corporations it makes products that are unsustainable, encourages consumerism, uses non-renewable materials, hires giant PR and law firms, and exaggerates its environment policies. If we are to become a sustainable society, it is crucial that we have institutions . . . that are truly sustainable. The Body Shop has deceived the public by trying to make us think that they are a lot further down the road to sustainability than they really are. We should . . . no longer . . . lionise the Body Shop and others who claim to be something they are not.” [quoted by Stauber and Rampton, Op. Cit., p. 76]

Even ignoring the distorting influence of advertising and corporate-paid PR, the fundamental issue remains of whether consumerism can actually fundamentally influence how business works. One environmental journalist puts the arguments well in his excellent book on “Fast Food” (from the industrialisation of farming, to the monopolisation of food processing, to the standardisation of food consumption it). As he puts corporations will “sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it. They will sell whatever sells at a profit.” [Eric Schlosser, Op. Cit., p. 269] He complements this position by suggesting various regulations and some role for trade unions.

Which, of course, is true. It is equally true that we are not forced to buy any specific product, which is why companies spend so much in convincing us to buy their products. Yet even ignoring the influence of advertising, it is unlikely that using the market will make capitalism nicer. Sadly, the market rewards the anti-social activities that Schlosser and other environmentalists chronicle. As he himself notes, the “low price of a fast food hamburger does not reflect its real cost . . . The profits of the fast food chains have been made possible by the losses imposed on the rest of society.” [Op. Cit., p. 261] This means that the idea that by using the market we can “reform” capitalism is flawed simply because even “good” companies have to make a profit and so will be tempted to cut costs, inflict them on third parties (such as workers, consumers and the planet). The most obvious form of such externalities is pollution. Such anti-social and anti-ecological behaviour makes perfect business sense as prices fall when costs are passed on to others in the form of externalities. Thus firms which employ debt-slaves in sweatshops while polluting the atmosphere in a third-world dictatorship will have lower costs and so prices than those employing unionised workers under eco-friendly regulations.

The amazing thing is that being concerned about such issues is considered as a flaw in economics. In fact, seeking the lowest price and ignoring the social and ecological impact of a product is “considered virtuousness” by the market and by economists for, as green economist E. F. Schumacher, pointed out “[i]f a buyer refused a good bargain because he suspected that the cheapness of the goods in question stemmed from exploitation or other despicable practices (except theft), he would be open to criticism of behaving ‘uneconomically’ which is viewed as nothing less than a fall from grace. Economists and others are wont to treat such eccentric behaviour with derision if not indignation. The religion of economics has its own code of ethics, and the First Commandment is to behave ‘economically.'” [Small is Beautiful, p. 30] And, of course, such a consumer would face numerous competitors who will happily take advantage of such activities.

Then there is the issue of how the market system hides much more information than it gives (a factor we will return to in section I.1.2). Under the price system, customers have no way of knowing the ecological (or social) impact of the products they buy. All they have is a price and that simply does not indicate how the product was produced and what costs were internalised in the final price and which were externalised. Such information, unsurprisingly, is usually supplied outside the market by ecological activists, unions, customer groups and so on. Then there is the misinformation provided by the companies themselves in their adverts and PR campaigns. The skilfully created media images of advertising can easily swamp the efforts of these voluntary groups to inform the public of the facts of the social and environmental costs of certain products. Besides, any company has the threat of court action to silence their critics as the cost in money, resources, energy and time to fight for free speech in court is an effective means to keep the public ignorant about the dark side of capitalism.

This works the other way too. Simply put, a company has no idea whether you not buying a product is based on ethical consumption decisions or whether it is due to simple dislike of the product. Unless there is an organised consumer boycott, i.e. a collective campaign, then the company really has no idea that it is being penalised for its anti-ecological and/or anti-social actions. Equally, corporations are so interlinked that it can make boycotts ineffective. For example, unless you happened to read the business section on the day McDonalds bought a sizeable share in Pret-a-Manger you would have no idea that going there instead of McDonalds would be swelling the formers profits.

Ultimately, the price mechanism does not provide enough information for the customer to make an informed decision about the impact of their purchase and, by reducing prices, actively rewards the behaviour Schlosser condemns. After all, what is now “organic” production was just the normal means of doing it. The pressures of the market, the price mechanism so often suggested as a tool for change, ensured the industrialisation of farming which so many now rightly condemn. By reducing costs, market demand increased for the cheaper products and these drove the other, more ecologically and socially sound, practices out of business.

Which feeds into the issue of effective demand and income limitations. The most obvious problem is that the market is not a consumer democracy as some people have more votes than others (in fact, the world’s richest people have more “votes” than the poorest billions, combined!). Those with the most “votes” (i.e. money) will hardly be interested in changing the economic system which placed them in that position. Similarly, those with the least “votes” will be more willing to buy ecologically destructive products simply to make ends meet rather than any real desire to do so. In addition, one individual’s decision not to buy something will easily be swamped by others seeking the best deal, i.e. the lowest prices, due to economic necessity or ignorance. Money (quantity) counts in the market, not values (quality).

Then there is the matter of sourcing of secondary products. After all, most products we consume are made up of a multitude of other goods and it is difficult, if not impossible, to know where these component parts come from. Thus we have no real way of knowing whether your latest computer has parts produced in sweatshops in third-world countries nor would a decision not to buy it be communicated that far back down the market chain (in fact, the company would not even know that you were even thinking about buying a product unless you used non-market means to inform them and then they may simply dismiss an individual as a crank).

So the notion that consumerism can be turned to pressurising companies is deeply flawed. This is not to suggest that we become unconcerned about how we spend our money. Far from it. Buying greener products rather than the standard one does have an impact. It just means being aware of the limitations of green consumerism, particularly as a means of changing the world. Rather, we must look to changing how goods are produced. This applies, of course, to shareholder democracy as well. Buying shares in a firm rarely results in an majority at the annual meetings nor, even if it did, does it allow an effective say in the day-to-day decisions management makes.

Thus green consumerism is hindered by the nature of the market — how the market reduces everything to price and so hides the information required to make truly informed decisions on what to consume. Moreover, it is capable of being used to further ecological damage by the use of PR to paint a false picture of the companies and their environmental activities. In this way, the general public think things are improving while the underlying problems remain (and, perhaps, get worse). Even assuming companies are honest and do minimise their environmental damage they cannot face the fundamental cause of the ecological crisis in the “grow-or-die” principle of capitalism (“green” firms need to make profits, accumulate capital and grow bigger), nor do they address the pernicious role of advertising or the lack of public control over production and investment under capitalism. Hence it is a totally inadequate solution.

As green Sharon Beder notes, green marketing aims at “increasing consumption, not reducing it. Many firms [seek] to capitalise on new markets created by rising environmental consciousness” with such trends prompting “a surge of advertisements and labels claiming environmental benefits. Green imagery was used to sell products, and caring for the environment became a marketing strategy” and was a “way of redirecting a willingness to spend less into a willingness to buy green products.” This means that firms can “expand their market share to include consumers that want green products. Since manufacturers still make environmentally damaging products and retailers still sell non-green products on shelves next to green ones, it is evident that green marketing is merely a way of expanding sales. If they were genuinely concerned to protect the environment they would replace the unsound products with sound ones, not just augment their existing lines.” Moreover, green marketing “does not necessarily mean green products, but false and misleading claims can be hard for consumers to detect” while the “most cynical marketers simply use environmental imagery to conjure up the impression that a product is good for the environment without making any real claims at all.” Ultimately, green consumerism “reduces people to consumers. Their power to influence society is reduced to their purchasing power.” It “does not deal with issues such as economic growth on a finite planet, the power of transnational corporations, and the way power is structured in our society.” [Global Spin, pp. 176-80]

Andrew Watson sums up green consumerism very eloquently as follows:

“green consumerism, which is largely a cynical attempt to maintain profit margins, does not challenge capital’s eco-cidal accumulation, but actually facilitates it by opening a new market. All products, no matter how ‘green’, cause some pollution, use some resources and energy, and cause some ecological disturbance. This would not matter in a society in which production was rationally planned, but in an exponentially expanding economy, production, however ‘green’, would eventually destroy the Earth’s environment. Ozone-friendly aerosols, for example, still use other harmful chemicals; create pollution in their manufacture, use and disposal; and use large amounts of resources and energy. Of course, up to now, the green pretensions of most companies have been exposed largely as presenting an acceptably green image, with little or no substance. The market is presented as the saviour of the environment. Environmental concern is commodified and transformed into ideological support for capitalism. Instead of raising awareness of the causes of the ecological crisis, green consumerism mystifies them. The solution is presented as an individual act rather than as the collective action of individuals struggling for social change. The corporations laugh all the way to the bank.” [From Green to Red, pp. 9-10]

“Ethical” consumerism, like “ethical” investment, is still based on profit making, the extraction of surplus value from others. This is hardly “ethical,” as it cannot challenge the inequality in exchange and power that lies at the heart of capitalism nor the authoritarian social relationships it creates. Therefore it cannot really undermine the ecologically destructive nature of capitalism.

In addition, since capitalism is a world system, companies can produce and sell their non-green and dangerous goods elsewhere. Many of the products and practices banned or boycotted in developed countries are sold and used in developing ones. For example, Agent Orange (used as to defoliate forests during the Vietnam War by the US) is used as an herbicide in the Third World, as is DDT. Agent Orange contains one of the most toxic compounds known to humanity and was responsible for thousands of deformed children in Vietnam. Ciba-Geigy continued to sell Enterovioform (a drug which caused blindness and paralysis in at least 10,000 Japanese users of it) in those countries that permitted it to do so. Many companies have moved to developing countries to escape the stricter pollution and labour laws in the developed countries.

Neither does green consumerism question why it should be the ruling elites within capitalism that decide what to produce and how to produce it. Since these elites are driven by profit considerations, if it is profitable to pollute, pollution will occur. Moreover, green consumerism does not challenge the (essential) capitalist principle of consumption for the sake of consumption, nor can it come to terms with the fact that “demand” is created, to a large degree, by “suppliers,” specifically by advertising agencies that use a host of techniques to manipulate public tastes, as well as using their financial clout to ensure that “negative” (i.e. truthful) stories about companies’ environmental records do not surface in the mainstream media.

Because ethical consumerism is based wholly on market solutions to the ecological crisis, it is incapable even of recognising a key root cause of that crisis, namely the atomising nature of capitalism and the social relationships it creates. Atomised individuals (“soloists”) cannot change the world, and “voting” on the market hardly reduces their atomisation. As Murray Bookchin argues, “[t]ragically, these millions [of “soloists”] have surrendered their social power, indeed, their very personalities, to politicians and bureaucrats who live in a nexus of obedience and command in which they are normally expected to play subordinate roles. Yet this is precisely the immediate cause of the ecological crisis of our time — a cause that has its historic roots in the market society that engulfs us.” [Toward an Ecological Society, p. 81] This means that fighting ecological destruction today must be a social movement rather than one of individual consumption decisions or personalistic transformation. These can go on without questioning the ecocidal drive of capitalism which “will insidiously simplify the biosphere (making due allowances for ‘wilderness’ reserves and theme parks), steadily reduce the organic to the inorganic and the complex to the simple, and convert soil into sand — all at the expense of the biosphere’s integrity and viability. The state will still be an ever-present means for keeping oppressed people at bay and will ‘manage’ whatever crises emerge as best it can. Ultimately, society will tend to become more and more authoritarian, public life will atrophy.” [Bookchin, “The Future of the Ecology Movement,” pp. 1-20, Which Way for the Ecology Movement?, p. 14]

All this is not to suggest that individual decisions on what to consume are irrelevant, far from it. Nor are consumer boycotts a waste of time. If organised into mass movements and linked to workplace struggle they can be very effective. It is simply to point out that individual actions, important as they are, are no solution to social problems. Thus Bookchin:

“The fact is that we are confronted by a thoroughly irrational social system, not simply by predatory individuals who can be won over to ecological ideas by moral arguments, psychotherapy, or even the challenges of a troubled public to their products and behaviour . . . One can only commend the individuals who by virtue of their consumption habits, recycling activities. and appeals for a new sensibility undertake public activities to stop ecological degradation. Each surely does his or her part. But it will require a much greater effort — and organised, clearly conscious, and forward-looking political movement — to meet the basic challenges posed by our aggressively anti-ecological society.”Yes, we as individuals should change our lifestyles as much as possible, but it is the utmost short-sightedness to believe that that is all or even primarily what we have to do. We need to restructure the entire society, even as we engage in lifestyle changes and single-issue struggles against pollution, nuclear power plants, the excessive use of fossil fuels, the destruction of soil, and so forth. We must have a coherent analysis of the deep-seated hierarchical relationships and systems of domination, as well as class relationships and economic exploitation, that degrade people as well as the environment.” [“The Ecological Crisis, Socialism, and the need to remake society,” pp. 1-10, Society and Nature, vol. 2, no. 3, p. 4]


Using the capitalist market to combat the effects produced by that same market is no alternative. Until capitalism and the state are dismantled, solutions like ethical consumerism will be about as effective as fighting a forest fire with a water pistol. Such solutions are doomed to failure because they promote individual responses to social problems, problems that by their very nature require collective action, and deal only with the symptoms, rather than focusing on the cause of the problem in the first place. Real change comes from collective struggle, not individual decisions within the market place which cannot combat the cancerous growth principle of the capitalist economy. As such, ethical consumerism does not break from the logic of capitalism and so is doomed to failure.

December 15, 2009 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, e-kitap, sistem karsitligi, tuketim karsitligi | 1 Comment

E.2 What do eco-anarchists propose instead of capitalism?

Given what eco-anarchists consider to be the root cause of our ecological problems (as discussed in the last section), it should come as no surprise that they think that the current ecological crisis can only be really solved by eliminating those root causes, namely by ending domination within humanity and creating an anarchist society. So here we will summarise the vision of the free society eco-anarchists advocate before discussing the limitations of various non-anarchist proposals to solve environmental problems in subsequent sections. 

However, before so doing it is important to stress that eco-anarchists consider it important to fight against ecological and social problems today. Like all anarchists, they argue for direct action and solidarity to struggle for improvements and reforms under the current system. This means that eco-anarchism “supports every effort to conserve the environment” in the here and now. The key difference between them and environmentalists is that eco-anarchists place such partial struggles within a larger context of changing society as a whole. The former is part of “waging a delaying action against the rampant destruction of the environment” the other is “a create movement to totally revolutionise the social relations of humans to each other and of humanity to nature.” [Murray Bookchin, Toward an Ecological Society, p. 43] This is one of the key differences between an ecological perspective and an environmental one (a difference discussed in section E.1.2). Finding ways to resist capitalism’s reduction of the living world to resources and commodities and its plunder of the planet, our resistance to specific aspects of an eco-cidal system, are merely a starting point in the critique of the whole system and of a wider struggle for a better society. As such, our outline of an ecological society (or ecotopia) is not meant to suggest an indifference to partial struggles and reforms within capitalism. It is simply to indicate why anarchists are confident that ending capitalism and the state will create the necessary preconditions for a free and ecologically viable society.

This perspective flows from the basic insight of eco-anarchism, namely that ecological problems are not separate from social ones. As we are part of nature, it means that how we interact and shape with it will be influenced by how we interact and shape ourselves. As Reclus put it “every people gives, so to speak, new clothing to the surrounding nature. By means of its fields and roads, by its dwelling and every manner of construction, by the way it arranges the trees and the landscape in general, the populace expresses the character of its own ideals. If it really has a feeling for beauty, it will make nature more beautiful. If, on the other hand, the great mass of humanity should remain as it is today, crude, egoistic and inauthentic, it will continue to mark the face of the earth with its wretched traces. Thus will the poet’s cry of desperation become a reality: ‘Where can I flee? Nature itself has become hideous.'” In order to transform how we interact with nature, we need to transform how we interact with each other. “Fortunately,” Reclus notes, “a complete alliance of the beautiful and the useful is possible.” [quoted by Clark and Martin (eds.) , Anarchy, Geography, Modernity, p. 125 and p. 28]

Over a century later, Murray Bookchin echoed this insight:

“The views advanced by anarchists were deliberately called social ecology to emphasise that major ecological problems have their roots in social problems — problems that go back to the very beginnings of patricentric culture itself. The rise of capitalism, with a law of life based on competition, capital accumulation, and limitless growth, brought these problems — ecological and social — to an acute point; indeed, one that was unprecedented in any prior epoch of human development. Capitalist society, by recycling the organise world into an increasingly inanimate, inorganic assemblage of commodities, was destined to simplify the biosphere, thereby cutting across the grain of natural evolution with its ages-long thrust towards differentiation and diversity.”To reverse this trend, capitalism had to be replaced by an ecological society based on non-hierarchical relationships, decentralised communities, eco-technologies like solar power, organic agriculture, and humanly scaled industries — in short, by face-to-face democratic forms of settlement economically and structurally tailored to the ecosystems in which they were located.” [Remaking Society, pp. 154-5] 


The vision of an ecological society rests on the obvious fact that people can have both positive and negative impacts on the environment. In current society, there are vast differences and antagonisms between privileged whites and people of colour, men and women, rich and poor, oppressor and oppressed. Remove those differences and antagonisms and our interactions with ourselves and nature change radically. In other words, there is a vast difference between free, non-hierarchical, class, and stateless societies on the one hand, and hierarchical, class-ridden, statist, and authoritarian ones and how they interact with the environment.

Given the nature of ecology, it should come as no surprise that social anarchists have been at the forefront of eco-anarchist theory and activism. It would be fair to say that most eco-anarchists, like most anarchists in general, envision an ecotopia based on communist-anarchist principles. This does not mean that individualist anarchists are indifferent to environmental issues, simply that most anarchists are unconvinced that such solutions will actually end the ecological crisis we face. Certain of the proposals in this section are applicable to individualist anarchism (for example, the arguments that co-operatives will produce less growth and be less likely to pollute). However, others are not. Most obviously, arguments in favour of common ownership and against the price mechanism are not applicable to the market based solutions of individualist anarchism. It should also be pointed out, that much of the eco-anarchist critique of capitalist approaches to ecological problems are also applicable to individualist and mutualist anarchism as well (particularly the former, as the latter does recognise the need to regulate the market). While certain aspects of capitalism would be removed in an individualist anarchism (such as massive inequalities of wealth, capitalist property rights as well as direct and indirect subsidies to big business), it is still has the informational problems associated with markets as well as a growth orientation.

Here we discuss the typical eco-anarchist view of a free ecological society, namely one rooted in social anarchist principles. Eco-anarchists, like all consistent anarchists advocate workers’ self-management of the economy as a necessary component of an ecologically sustainable society. This usually means society-wide ownership of the means of production and all productive enterprises self-managed by their workers (as described further in section I.3). This is a key aspect of making a truly ecological society. Most greens, even if they are not anarchists, recognise the pernicious ecological effects of the capitalist “grow or die” principle; but unless they are also anarchists, they usually fail to make the connection between that principle and the hierarchical form of the typical capitalist corporation. The capitalist firm, like the state, is centralised, top-down and autocratic. These are the opposite of what an ecological ethos would suggest. In contrast, eco-anarchists emphasise the need for socially owned and worker self-managed firms.

This vision of co-operative rather than hierarchical production is a common position for almost all anarchists. Communist and non-communist social anarchists, like mutualists and collectivists, propose co-operative workplaces but differ in how best to distribute the products produced. The former urge the abolition of money and sharing according to need while the latter see income related to work and surpluses are shared equally among all members. Both of these systems would produce workplaces which would be under far less pressure toward rapid expansion than the traditional capitalist firm (as individualist anarchism aims for the abolition of rent, profit and interest it, too, will have less expansive workplaces).

The slower growth rate of co-operatives has been documented in a number of studies, which show that in the traditional capitalist firm, owners’ and executives’ percentage share of profits greatly increases as more employees are added to the payroll. This is because the corporate hierarchy is designed to facilitate exploitation by funnelling a disproportionate share of the surplus value produced by workers to those at the top of the pyramid (see section C.2) Such a design gives ownership and management a very strong incentive to expand, since, other things being equal, their income rises with every new employee hired. [David Schweickart, Against Capitalism, pp. 153-4] Hence the hierarchical form of the capitalist corporation is one of the main causes of runaway growth as well as social inequality and the rise of big business and oligopoly in the so-called “free” market.

By contrast, in an equal-share worker co-operative, the addition of more members simply means more people with whom the available pie will have to be equally divided — a situation that immensely reduces the incentive to expand. Thus a libertarian-socialist economy will not be under the same pressure to grow. Moreover, when introducing technological innovations or facing declining decline for goods, a self-managed workplace would be more likely to increase leisure time among producers rather than increase workloads or reduce numbers of staff.

This means that rather than produce a few big firms, a worker-controlled economy would tend to create an economy with more small and medium sized workplaces. This would make integrating them into local communities and eco-systems far easier as well as making them more easily dependent on green sources of energy. Then there are the other ecological advantages to workers’ self-management beyond the relative lack of expansion of specific workplaces and the decentralisation this implies. These are explained well by market socialist David Schweickart:

“To the extent that emissions affect the workers directly on the job (as they often do), we can expect a self-managed firm to pollute less. Workers will control the technology; it will not be imposed on them from without.”To the extent that emissions affect the local community, they are likely to be less severe, for two reasons. Firstly, workers (unlike capitalist owners) will necessarily live nearby, and so the decision-makers will bear more of the environmental costs directly. Second . . . a self-managed firm will not be able to avoid local regulation by running away (or threatening to do so). The great stick that a capitalist firm holds over the head of a local community will be absent. Hence absent will be the macrophenomenon of various regions of the country trying to compete for firms by offering a ‘better business climate’ (i.e. fewer environmental restrictions).” [Op. Cit., p. 145] 


For an ecological society to work, it requires the active participation of those doing productive activity. They are often the first to be affected by industrial pollution and have the best knowledge of how to stop it happening. As such, workplace self-management is an essential requirement for a society which aims to life in harmony with its surrounds (and with itself, as a key aspect of social unfreedom would be eliminated in the form of wage slavery).

For these reasons, libertarian socialism based on producer co-operatives is essential for the type of economy necessary to solve the ecological crisis. These all feed directly into the green vision as “ecology points to the necessity of decentralisation, diversity in natural and social systems, human-scale technology, and an end to the exploitation of nature.” [John Clark, The Anarchist Moment, p. 115] This can only be achieved on a society which bases itself on workers’ self-management as this would facilitate the decentralisation of industries in ways which are harmonious with nature.

So far, all forms of social anarchism are in agreement. However, eco-anarchists tend to be communist-anarchists and oppose both mutualism and collectivism. This is because workers’ ownership and self-management places the workers of an enterprise in a position where they can become a particularistic interest within their community. This may lead to these firms acting purely in their own narrow interests and against the local community. They would be, in other words, outside of community input and be solely accountable to themselves. This could lead to a situation where they become “collective capitalists” with a common interest in expanding their enterprises, increasing their “profits” and even subjecting themselves to irrational practices to survive in the market (i.e., harming their own wider and long-term interests as market pressures have a distinct tendency to produce a race to the bottom — see section I.1.3 for more discussion). This leads most eco-anarchists to call for a confederal economy and society in which communities will be decentralised and freely give of their resources without the use of money.

As a natural compliment to workplace self-management, eco-anarchists propose communal self-management. So, although it may have appeared that we focus our attention on the economic aspects of the ecological crisis and its solution, this is not the case. It should always be kept in mind that all anarchists see that a complete solution to our many ecological and social problems must be multi-dimensional, addressing all aspects of the total system of hierarchy and domination. This means that only anarchism, with its emphasis on the elimination of authority in all areas of life, goes to the fundamental root of the ecological crisis.

The eco-anarchist argument for direct (participatory) democracy is that effective protection of the planet’s ecosystems requires that all people are able to take part at the grassroots level in decision-making that affects their environment, since they are more aware of their immediate eco-systems and more likely to favour stringent environmental safeguards than politicians, state bureaucrats and the large, polluting special interests that now dominate the “representative” system of government. Moreover, real change must come from below, not from above as this is the very source of the social and ecological problems that we face as it divests individuals, communities and society as a whole of their power, indeed right, to shape their own destinies as well as draining them of their material and “spiritual” resources (i.e., the thoughts, hopes and dreams of people).

Simply put, it should be hardly necessary to explore in any great depth the sound ecological and social reasons for decentralising decision making power to the grassroots of society, i.e. to the people who have to live with the decisions being reached. The decentralised nature of anarchism would mean that any new investments and proposed solutions to existing problems would be tailored to local conditions. Due to the mobility of capital, laws passed under capitalism to protect the environment have to be created and implemented by the central government to be effective. Yet the state, as discussed in section E.1, is a centralised structure unsuited to the task of collecting and processing the information and knowledge required to customise decisions to local ecological and social circumstances. This means that legislation, precisely due to its scope, cannot be finely tuned to local conditions (and so can generate local opposition, particularly if whipped up by corporate front organisations). In an eco-anarchist society, decentralisation would not have the threat of economic power hanging over it and so decisions would be reached which reflected the actual local needs of the population. As they would be unlikely to want to pollute themselves or their neighbours, eco-anarchists are confident that such local empowerment will produce a society which lives with, rather than upon, the environment.

Thus eco-communities (or eco-communes) are a key aspect of an ecotopia. Eco-communes, Bookchin argued, will be “networked confederally through ecosystems, bioregions, and biomes” and be “artistically tailored to their naturally surrounding. We can envision that their squares will be interlaced by streams, their places of assembly surrounded by groves, their physical contours respected and tastefully landscaped, their soils nurtured caringly to foster plant variety for ourselves, our domestic animals, and wherever possible the wildlife they may support on their fringes.” They would be decentralised and “scaled to human dimensions,” using recycling as well as integrating “solar, wind, hydraulic, and methane-producing installations into a highly variegated pattern for producing power. Agriculture, aquaculture, stockraising, and hunting would be regarded as crafts — an orientation that we hope would be extended as much as possible to the fabrication of use-values of nearly all kinds. The need to mass-produce goods in highly mechanised installations would be vastly diminished by the communities’ overwhelming emphasis on quality and permanence.” [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 444]

This means that local communities will generate social and economic policies tailored to their own unique ecological circumstances, in co-operation with others (it is important stress that eco-communes do not imply supporting local self-sufficiency and economic autarchy as values in themselves). Decisions that have regional impact are worked out by confederations of local assemblies, so that everybody affected by a decision can participate in making it. Such a system would be self-sufficient as workplace and community participation would foster creativity, spontaneity, responsibility, independence, and respect for individuality — the qualities needed for a self-management to function effectively. Just as hierarchy shapes those subject to it in negative ways, participation would shape us in positive ways which would strengthen our individuality and enrich our freedom and interaction with others and nature.

That is not all. The communal framework would also impact on how industry would develop. It would allow eco-technologies to be prioritised in terms of R&D and subsidised in terms of consumption. No more would green alternatives and eco-technologies be left unused simply because most people cannot afford to buy them nor would their development be under-funded simply because a capitalist sees little profit form it or a politician cannot see any benefit from it. It also means that the broad outlines of production are established at the community assembly level while they are implemented in practice by smaller collective bodies which also operate on an egalitarian, participatory, and democratic basis. Co-operative workplaces form an integral part of this process, having control over the production process and the best way to implement any general outlines.

It is for these reasons that anarchists argue that common ownership combined with a use-rights based system of possession is better for the environment as it allows everyone the right to take action to stop pollution, not simply those who are directly affected by it. As a framework for ecological ethics, the communal system envisioned by social anarchists would be far better than private property and markets in protecting the environment. This is because the pressures that markets exert on their members would not exist, as would the perverse incentives which reward anti-social and anti-ecological practices. Equally, the anti-ecological centralisation and hierarchy of the state would be ended and replaced with a participatory system which can take into account the needs of the local environment and utilise the local knowledge and information that both the state and capitalism suppresses.

Thus a genuine solution to the ecological crisis presupposes communes, i.e. participatory democracy in the social sphere. This is a transformation that would amount to a political revolution. However, as Bakunin continually emphasised, a political revolution of this nature cannot be envisioned without a socio-economic revolution based on workers’ self-management. This is because the daily experience of participatory decision-making, non-authoritarian modes of organisation, and personalistic human relationships would not survive if those values were denied during working hours. Moreover, as mentioned above, participatory communities would be hard pressed to survive the pressure that big business would subject them to.

Needless to say, the economic and social aspects of life cannot be considered in isolation. For example, the negative results of workplace hierarchy and its master-servant dynamic will hardly remain there. Given the amount of time that most people spend working, the political importance of turning it into a training ground for the development of libertarian values can scarcely be overstated. As history has demonstrated, political revolutions that are not based upon social changes and mass psychological transformation — that is, by a deconditioning from the master/slave attitudes absorbed from the current system — result only in the substitution of new ruling elites for the old ones (e.g. Lenin becoming the new “Tsar” and Communist Party aparatchiks becoming the new “aristocracy”). Therefore, besides having a slower growth rate, worker co-operatives with democratic self-management would lay the psychological foundations for the kind of directly democratic political system necessary to protect the biosphere. Thus “green” libertarian socialism is the only proposal radical enough to solve the ecological crisis.

Ecological crises become possible only within the context of social relations which weaken people’s capacities to fight an organised defence of the planet’s ecology and their own environment. This means that the restriction of participation in decision-making processes within hierarchical organisations such as the state and capitalism firms help create environmental along with social problems by denying those most affected by a problem the means of fixing it. Needless to say, hierarchy within the workplace is a prerequisite to accumulation and so growth while hierarchy within a community is a prerequisite to defend economic and social inequality as well as minority rule as the disempowered become indifferent to community and social issues they have little or no say in. Both combine to create the basis of our current ecological crisis and both need to be ended.

Ultimately, a free nature can only begin to emerge when we live in a fully participatory society which itself is free of oppression, domination and exploitation. Only then will we be able to rid ourselves of the idea of dominating nature and fulfil our potential as individuals and be a creative force in natural as well social evolution. That means replacing the current system with one based on freedom, equality and solidarity. Once this is achieved, “social life will yield a sensitive development of human and natural diversity, falling together into a well balanced harmonious whole. Ranging from community through region to entire continents, we will see a colourful differentiation of human groups and ecosystems, each developing its unique potentialities and exposing members of the community to a wide spectrum of economic, cultural and behavioural stimuli. Falling within our purview will be an exciting, often dramatic, variety of communal forms — here marked by architectural and industrial adaptations to semi-arid ecosystems, there to grasslands, elsewhere by adaptation to forested areas. We will witness a creative interplay between individual and group, community and environment, humanity and nature.” [Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism, p. 39]

So, to conclude, in place of capitalism eco-anarchists favour ecologically responsible forms of libertarian socialism, with an economy based on the principles of complementarily with nature; decentralisation (where possible and desirable) of large-scale industries, reskilling of workers, and a return to more artisan-like modes of production; the use of eco-technologies and ecologically friendly energy sources to create green products; the use of recycled and recyclable raw materials and renewable resources; the integration of town and country, industry and agriculture; the creation of self-managed eco-communities which exist in harmony with their surroundings; and self-managed workplaces responsive to the wishes of local community assemblies and labour councils in which decisions are made by direct democracy and co-ordinated (where appropriate and applicable) from the bottom-up in a free federation. Such a society would aim to develop the individuality and freedom of all its members in order to ensure that we end the domination of nature by humanity by ending domination within humanity itself.

This is the vision of a green society put forth by Murray Bookchin. To quote him:

“We must create an ecological society — not merely because such a society is desirable but because it is direly necessary. We must begin to live in order to survive. Such a society involves a fundamental reversal of all the trends that mark the historic development of capitalist technology and bourgeois society — the minute specialisation or machines and labour, the concentration of resources and people in gigantic industrial enterprises and urban entities, the stratification and bureaucratisation of life, the divorce of town from country, the objectification of nature and human beings. In my view, this sweeping reversal means that we must begin to decentralise our cities and establish entirely new eco-communities that are artistically moulded to the ecosystems in which they are located . . .”Such an eco-community . . . would heal the split between town and country, indeed, between mind and body by fusing intellectual with physical work, industry with agriculture in a rotation or diversification of vocational tasks. An eco-community would be supported by a new kind of technology — or eco-technology — one composed of flexible, versatile machinery whose productive applications would emphasise durability and quality . . .” [Toward an Ecological Society, pp. 68-9] 


Lastly, we need to quickly sketch out how anarchists see the change to an ecological society happening as there is little point having an aim if you have no idea how to achieve it.

As noted above, eco-anarchists (like all anarchists) do not counterpoise an ideal utopia to existing society but rather participate in current ecological struggles. Moreover, we see that struggle itself as the link between what is and what could be. This implies, at minimum, a two pronged strategy of neighbourhood movements and workplace organising as a means of both fighting and abolishing capitalism. These would work together, with the former targeting, say, the disposal of toxic wastes and the latter stopping the production of toxins in the first place. Only when workers are in a position to refuse to engage in destructive practices or produce destructive goods can lasting ecological change emerge. Unsurprisingly, modern anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists have been keen to stress the need for a green syndicalism which addresses ecological as well as economical exploitation. The ideas of community and industrial unionism are discussed in more detail in section J.5 along with other anarchist tactics for social change. Needless to say, such organisations would use direct action as their means of achieving their goals (see section J.2). It should be noted that some of Bookchin’s social ecologist followers advocate, like him, greens standing in local elections as a means to create a counter-power to the state. As we discuss in section J.5.14, this strategy (called Libertarian Municipalism) finds few supporters in the wider anarchist movement.

This strategy flows, of course, into the structures of an ecological society. As we discuss in section I.2.3, anarchists argue that the framework of a free society will be created in the process of fighting the existing one. Thus the structures of an eco-anarchist society (i.e. eco-communes and self-managed workplaces) will be created by fighting the ecocidal tendencies of the current system. In other words, like all anarchists eco-anarchists seek to create the new world while fighting the old one. This means what we do now is, however imperfect, an example of what we propose instead of capitalism. That means we act in an ecological fashion today in order to ensure that we can create an ecological society tomorrow.For more discussion of how an anarchist society would work, see section I. We will discuss the limitations of various proposed solutions to the environmental crisis in the following sections.

December 15, 2009 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, e-kitap, ekotopya heterotopya utopyalar, isyan, ozyonetim, sistem karsitligi, somuru / tahakkum | 2 Comments

E.1.2 What is the difference between environmentalism and ecology?

As we noted in section A.3.3, eco-anarchists contrast ecology with environmentalism. The difference is important as it suggests both a different analysis of where our ecological problems come from and the best way to solve them. As Bookchin put it: 

“By ‘environmentalism’ I propose to designate a mechanistic, instrumental outlook that sees nature as a passive habitat composed of ‘objects’ such as animals, plants, minerals, and the like that must merely be rendered more serviceable for human use . . . Within this context, very little of a social nature is spared from the environmentalist’s vocabulary: cities become ‘urban resources’ and their inhabitants ‘human resources’ . . . Environmentalism . . . tends to view the ecological project for attaining a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature as a truce rather than a lasting equilibrium. The ‘harmony’ of the environmentalist centres around the development of new techniques for plundering the natural world with minimal disruption of the human ‘habitat.’ Environmentalism does not question the most basic premise of the present society, notably, that humanity must dominant nature; rather, it seeks to facilitate than notion by developing techniques for diminishing the hazards caused by the reckless despoliation of the environment.” [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 86]

So eco-anarchists call the position of those who seek to reform capitalism and make it more green “environmentalism” rather than ecology. The reasons are obvious, as environmentalists “focus on specific issues like air and water pollution” while ignoring the social roots of the problems they are trying to solve. In other words, their outlook “rest[s] on an instrumental, almost engineering approach to solving ecological dislocations. To all appearances, they wanted to adapt the natural world to the needs of the existing society and its exploitative, capitalist imperatives by way of reforms that minimise harm to human health and well-being. The much-needed goals of formulating a project for radical social change and for cultivating a new sensibility toward the natural world tended to fall outside the orbit of their practical concerns.” Eco-anarchists, while supporting such partial structures, stress that “these problems originate in a hierarchical, class, and today, competitive capitalist system that nourishes a view of the natural world as a mere agglomeration of ‘resources’ for human production and consumption.” [Op. Cit., pp. 15-6]

This is the key. As environmentalism does not bring into question the underlying notion of the present society that man must dominate nature it cannot present anything other than short-term solutions for the various symptoms of the underlying problem. Moreover, as it does not question hierarchy, it simply adjusts itself to the status quo. Thus liberal environmentalism is so “hopelessly ineffectual” because “it takes the present social order for granted” and is mired in “the paralysing belief that a market society, privately owned property, and the present-day bureaucratic nation-state cannot be changed in any basic sense. Thus, it is the prevailing order that sets the terms of any ‘compromise’ or ‘trade-off'” and so “the natural world, including oppressed people, always loses something piece by piece, until everything is lost in the end. As long as liberal environmentalism is structured around the social status quo, property rights always prevail over public rights and power always prevails over powerlessness. Be it a forest, wetlands, or good agricultural soil, a ‘developer’ who owns any of these ‘resources’ usually sets the terms on which every negotiation occurs and ultimately succeeds in achieving the triumph of wealth over ecological considerations.” [Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 15]

This means that a truly ecological perspective seeks to end the situation where a few govern the many, not to make the few nicer. As Chomsky once noted on the issue of “corporate social responsibility”, he could not discuss the issue as such because he did “not accept some of its presuppositions, specifically with regard to the legitimacy of corporate power” as he did not see any “justification for concentration of private power” than “in the political domain.” Both would “act in a socially responsible way — as benevolent despots — when social strife, disorder, protest, etc., induce them to do so for their own benefit.” He stressed that in a capitalist society “socially responsible behaviour would be penalised quickly in that competitors, lacking such social responsibility, would supplant anyone so misguided as to be concerned with something other than private benefit.” This explains why real capitalist systems have always “been required to safeguard social existence in the face of the destructive forces of private capitalism” by means of “substantial state control.” However, the “central questions . . . are not addressed, but rather begged” when discussing corporate social responsibility. [Language and Politics, p. 275]

Ultimately, the key problem with liberal environmentalism (as with liberalism in general) is that it tends, by definition, to ignore class and hierarchy. The “we are all in this together” kind of message ignores that most of decisions that got us into our current ecological and social mess were made by the rich as they have control over resources and power structures (both private and public). It also suggests that getting us out of the mess must involve taking power and wealth back from the elite — if for no other reason because working class people do not, by themselves, have the resources to solve the problem.

Moreover, the fact is the ruling class do not inhabit quite the same polluted planet as everyone else. Their wealth protects them, to a large degree, to the problems that they themselves have created and which, in fact, they owe so much of that wealth to (little wonder, then, they deny there is a serious problem). They have access to a better quality of life, food and local environment (no toxic dumps and motorways are near their homes or holiday retreats). Of course, this is a short term protection but the fate of the planet is a long-term abstraction when compared to the immediate returns on one’s investments. So it is not true to say that all parts of the ruling class are in denial about the ecological problems. A few are aware but many more show utter hatred towards those who think the planet is more important than profits.

This means that such key environmentalist activities such as education and lobbying are unlikely to have much effect. While these may produce some improvements in terms of our environmental impact, it cannot stop the long-term destruction of our planet as the ecological crisis is systemic — and not a matter of misinformation, spiritual insensitivity, or lack of moral integrity. The present social illness lies not only in the outlook that pervades the present society; it lies above all in the very structure and law of life in the system itself, in its imperative, which no entrepreneur or corporation can ignore without facing destruction: growth, more growth, and still more growth.” [Murray Bookchin, “The Ecological Crisis, Socialism, and the need to remake society,” pp. 1-10, Society and Nature, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 2-3] This can only be ended by ending capitalism, not by appeals to consumers to buy eco-friendly products or to capitalists to provide them:

“Accumulation is determined not by the good or bad intentions of the individual bourgeois, but by the commodity relationship itself . . . It is not the perversity of the bourgeois that creates production for the sake of production, but the very market nexus over which he presides and to which he succumbs. . . . It requires a grotesque self-deception, or worse, an act of ideological social deception, to foster the belief that this society can undo its very law of life in response to ethical arguments or intellectual persuasion.” [Toward an Ecological Society, p. 66]

Sadly, much of what passes for the green movement is based on this kind of perspective. At worse, many environmentalists place their hopes on green consumerism and education. At best, they seek to create green parties to work within the state to pass appropriate regulations and laws. Neither option gets to the core of the problem, namely a system in which there are “oppressive human beings who literally own society and others who are owned by it. Until society can be reclaimed by an undivided humanity that will use its collective wisdom, cultural achievements, technological innovations, scientific knowledge, and innate creativity for its own benefit and for that of the natural world, all ecological problems will have their roots in social problems.” [Bookchin, Remaking Society, p. 39]

December 15, 2009 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, e-kitap, sistem karsitligi | Leave a comment

J.2 What is direct action?

Direct action, to use Rudolf Rocker’s words, is “every method of immediate warfare by the workers [or other sections of society] against their economic and political oppressors. Among these the outstanding are: the strike, in all its graduations from the simple wage struggle to the general strike; the boycott; sabotage in all its countless forms; [occupations and sit-down strikes;] anti-militarist propaganda, and in particularly critical cases,… armed resistance of the people for the protection of life and liberty.” [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 66]

Not that anarchists think that direct action is only applicable within the workplace. Far from it. Direct action must occur everywhere! So, in non-workplace situations, direct action includes rent strikes, consumer boycotts, occupations (which, of course, can include sit-in strikes by workers), eco-tage, individual and collective non-payment of taxes, blocking roads and holding up construction work of an anti-social nature and so forth. Also direct action, in a workplace setting, includes strikes and protests on social issues, not directly related to working conditions and pay. Such activity aims to ensure the “protection of the community against the most pernicious outgrowths of the present system. The social strike seeks to force upon the employers a responsibility to the public. Primarily it has in view the protection of the customers, of whom the workers themselves [and their families] constitute the great majority” [Op. Cit., p. 72]

Basically, direct action means that instead of getting someone else to act for you (e.g. a politician) you act for yourself. Its essential feature is an organised protest by ordinary people to make a change by their own efforts. Thus Voltairine De Cleyre’s excellent statement on this topic:

“Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist. Some thirty years ago I recall that the Salvation Army was vigorously practicing direct action in the maintenance of the freedom of its members to speak, assemble, and pray. Over and over they were arrested, fined, and imprisoned; but they kept right on singing, praying, and marching, till they finally compelled their persecutors to let them alone. The Industrial Workers [of the World] are now conducting the same fight, and have, in a number of cases, compelled the officials to let them alone by the same direct tactics.”Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.[Direct Action]

“Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle, and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist. Examples of such action are strikes and boycotts; many persons will recall the action of the housewives of New York who boycotted the butchers, and lowered the price of meat; at the present moment a butter boycott seems looming up, as a direct reply to the price-makers for butter.

“These actions are generally not due to any one’s reasoning overmuch on the respective merits of directness or indirectness, but are the spontaneous retorts of those who feel oppressed by a situation. In other words, all people are, most of the time, believers in the principle of direct action, and practicers of it. . .”

So direct action means acting for yourself against injustice and oppression. It can, sometimes, involve putting pressure on politicians or companies, for example, to ensure a change in an oppressive law or destructive practices. However, such appeals are direct action simply because they do not assume that the parties in question we will act for us – indeed the assumption is that change only occurs when we act to create it. Regardless of what the action is, “if such actions are to have the desired empowerment effect, they must be largely self-generated, rather than being devised and directed from above.” [Martha Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, p. 33]

So, in a nutshell, direct action is any form of activity which people themselves decide upon and organise themselves which is based on their own collective strength and does not involve getting intermediates to act for them. As such direct action is a natural expression of liberty, of self-government for “[d]irect action against the authority in the shop, direct action against the authority of the law, direct action against the invasive, meddlesome authority of our moral code, is the logical, consistent method of Anarchism.” [Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks, pp. 62-63] It is clear that by acting for yourself you are expressing the ability to govern yourself. Thus its a means by which people can take control of their own lives. It is a means of self-empowerment and self-liberation:

“Direct action meant that the goal of any and all these activities was to provide ways for people to get in touch with their own powers and capacities, to take back the power of naming themselves and their lives.” [Martha Ackelsberg, Op. Cit., p. 32]

In other words, anarchists reject the view that society is static and that people’s consciousness, values, ideas and ideals cannot be changed. Far from it and anarchists support direct action because it actively encourages the transformation of those who use it. Direct action is the means of creating a new consciousness, a means of self-liberation from the chains placed around our minds, emotions and spirits by hierarchy and oppression.

Because direct action is the expression of liberty, the powers that be are vitally concerned only when the oppressed use direct action to win its demands, for it is a method which is not easy or cheap to combat. Any hierarchical system is placed into danger when those at the bottom start to act for themselves and, historically, people have invariably gained more by acting directly than could have been won by playing ring around the rosy with indirect means.

Direct action tore the chains of open slavery from humanity. Over the centuries it has established individual rights and modified the life and death power of the master class. Direct action won political liberties such as the vote and free speech. Used fully, used wisely and well, direct action can forever end injustice and the mastery of humans by other humans.

In the sections that follow, we will indicate why anarchists are in favour of direct action and why they are against electioneering as a means of change.

J.2.1 Why do anarchists favour using direct action to change things?

Simply because it is effective and it has a radicalising impact on those who practice it. As it is based on people acting for themselves, it shatters the dependency and marginalisation created by hierarchy. As Murray Bookchin argues, “[w]hat is even more important about direct action is that it forms a decisive step toward recovering the personal power over social life that the centralised, over-bearing bureaucracies have usurped from the people . . . we not only gain a sense that we can control the course of social events again; we recover a new sense of selfhood and personality without which a truly free society, based in self-activity and self-management, is utterly impossible.” [Toward an Ecological Society, p. 47]

By acting for themselves, people gain a sense of their own power and abilities. This is essential if people are to run their own lives. As such, direct action is the means by which individuals empower themselves, to assert their individuality, to make themselves count as individuals. It is the opposite of hierarchy, within which individuals are told again and again that they are nothing, are insignificant and must dissolve themselves into a higher power (the state, the company, the party, the people, etc.) and feel proud in participating in the strength and glory of this higher power. Direct action, in contrast, is the means of asserting ones individual opinion, interests and happiness, of fighting against self-negation:

“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, for men who are men, and who have a bone in their back which you cannot pass your hand through.” [Emma Goldman, Red Emma Speaks, pp. 61-62]

In addition, because direct action is based around individuals solving their own problems, by their own action, it awakens those aspects of individuals crushed by hierarchy and oppression – such as initiative, solidarity, imagination, self-confidence and a sense of individual and collective power, that you do matter and count as an individual and that you, and others like you, can change the world. Direct Action is the means by which people can liberate themselves and educate themselves in the ways of and skills required for self-management and liberty. Hence:

“anarchists insisted that we learn to think and act for ourselves by joining together in organisations in which our experience, our perception and our activity can guide and make the change. Knowledge does not precede experience, it flows from it. . . People learn to be free only by exercising freedom. [As one Spanish Anarchist put it] ‘We are not going to find ourselves. . . with people ready-made for the future. . . Without continued exercise of their faculties, there will be no free people. . . The external revolution and the internal revolution presuppose one another, and they must be simultaneous in order to be successful.'” [Martha Ackelsberg, Free Women of Spain, pp. 32-33]

So direct action, to use Murray Bookchin’s words, is “the means whereby each individual awakens to the hidden powers within herself and himself, to a new sense of self-confidence and self-competence; it is the means whereby individuals take control of society directly.” [Op. Cit., p. 48]

In addition, direct action creates the need for new forms of social organisation. These new forms of organisation will be informed and shaped by the process of self-liberation, so be more anarchistic and based upon self-management. Direct action, as well as liberating individuals, can also create the free, self-managed organisations which can replace the current hierarchical ones. In other words, direct action helps create the new world in the shell of the old:

“direct action not only empowered those who participated in it, it also had effects on others. . . [including] exemplary action that attracted adherents by the power of the positive example it set. Contemporary examples. . . include food or day-care co-ops, collectively run businesses, sweat equity housing programmes, women’s self-help health collectives, urban squats or women’s peace camps [as well as traditional examples as industrial unions, social centres, etc.]. While such activities empower those who engage in them, they also demonstrate to others that non-hierarchical forms of organisation can and do exist – and that they can function effectively.” [Martha Ackelsberg, Op. Cit., p. 33]

Also, direct action such as strikes encourage and promote class consciousness and class solidarity. According to Kropotkin, “the strike develops the sentiment of solidarity” while for Bakunin it “is the beginnings of the social war of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. . . Strikes are a valuable instrument from two points of view. Firstly, they electrify the masses, invigorate their moral energy and awaken in them the feeling of the deep antagonism which exists between their interests and those of the bourgeoisie. . . secondly they help immensely to provoke and establish between the workers of all trades, localities and countries the consciousness and very fact of solidarity: a twofold action, both negative and positive, which tends to constitute directly the new world of the proletariat, opposing it almost in an absolute way to the bourgeois world.” [cited in Caroline Cahm, Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism 1872-1886, p. 256, pp. 216-217]

Direct action and the movements that used it (such as unionism) would be the means to develop the “revolutionary intelligence of the workers” and so ensure “emancipation through practice” (to use Bakunin’s words).

Direct action, therefore, helps to create anarchists and anarchist alternatives within capitalism and statism. As such, it plays an essential role in anarchist theory and activity. For anarchists, direct action “is not a ‘tactic’. . . it is a moral principle, an ideal, a sensibility. It should imbue every aspect of our lives and behaviour and outlook.” [Murray Bookchin, Op. Cit., p. 48]

December 15, 2009 Posted by | anti-kapitalizm, isyan, sistem karsitligi, somuru / tahakkum | Leave a comment


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