The Vision of Revolutionary Anarchism

  • Posted on: 29 December 2016
  • By: thecollective

From Anarkismo by Wayne Price

Under the title, "The Two Main Trends in Anarchism," a selection of my writings has been published in Greek. ΟΙ ΔΥΟ ΚΥΡΙΕΣ ΤΑΣΕΙΣ ΤΟΥ ΑΝΑΡΧΙΣΜΟΥ. The writings are taken from Anarkismo, except for the following, which was written originally for the new book. It focuses on the centrality of a vision of freedom, cooperation, and happiness in the program of anarchist-socialism.

There are many approaches to anarchism, but for me the central issue is the vision of an anti-authoritarian, stateless, classless, oppression-less, society. It is the vision of a world based on cooperation, participatory democracy, production for use rather than profit, free and equal association in all areas of life, and ecological balance with the natural world. It would involve networks and federations of self-managed workplaces, industries, communities, neighborhoods, and (so long as they are still needed) militia units (the armed people). These would be managed by direct, face-to-face, democracy—the self-organization of the people. To achieve this, people would organize under the principle of as much democratic decentralization as is practically possible and only as much centralization as is minimally necessary.

This does not mean the end of all social coordination or social defense, but the end of the state. The state is a bureaucratic-military-capitalist socially-alienated machine which is standing above the rest of society. There would be no more masses of professional police, military, politicians, judges, lobbyists, spies, prison guards, and bureaucrats, nor any of the capitalist businesses and semi-monopolies which support and are supported by the state. These are the principles and values of my vision of anarchism. They are consistent with the broad mainstream of the anarchist movement.

They are also consistent with the visions once held by millions of a past Edenic Golden Age, or of a future Messianic End Times when all oppression and sorrow will be gone and people will be free and equal. These myths fit the prehistorical truth that humans lived for tens of thousands of years in small, sell-governing, hunter-gatherer groups and agricultural villages, mostly cooperative and equal, without states, or classes, or markets. In a real sense the anarchist vision is of a spiral return to such a society, at a higher level of production—with guarantees of plenty for all and of sufficient leisure, in balance with the ecology.

As a vision, this is different from that of liberal capitalist democracy. Liberals and social democrats just want to expand the “good” parts of capitalist democracy while decreasing the “bad” parts. Gradually, a better world will supposedly come into existence. The liberals do not recognize that capitalism has its own limits. In particular, while most of today’s capitalist states claim to be “democratic,” the rulers make no such claim for their economy. The rationalization for the economic system is that it has a “free market.” Any attempt to “extend democracy” to the capitalist economy would mean taking away the wealth and power of those who own the corporations and business enterprises, large and small. It would mean giving the wealth and power to those who work for those capitalists and work in those enterprises. It would give wealth and power to those who buy the companies’ goods, consume their products, and pay taxes that subsidize their profits. To the corporate rich—the whole ruling class—this would seem like a terrible violation of all that was right and proper, the end of civilization, and a totalitarian attack on (their) freedom.

The capitalists and their agents and supporters would resist any such change—no matter how peaceful, gradual, and popular—tooth and claw, to the last drop of blood (theirs and the people’s). Their democratic (bourgeois-democratic, that is) state would turn out to be not so democratic after all, as they would use it to crush popular resistance (or they would replace it with a more authoritarian state to do the job).

Reforms and improvements for the people have been won and may yet still be won (and should be fought for)—especially in periods of relative prosperity and stability. But when things get bad and the economy goes downhill, the boss class will pull back its benefits, shut down its cooperation with the popular classes, and resist giving any more reforms. This is happening right now. Then the chances for expanding the democratic-liberal aspects of modern capitalism into a better society become virtually nil—without a revolution.

The anarchist vision both overlaps with and contradicts the Marxist tradition. In the mid-1800s, both anarchism and Marxism developed out of movements for democracy, socialism, and workers’ rights. Marxism, like anarchism, had a vision of a cooperative, democratic, society without classes or a state, ecologically balanced—won through the self-emancipation of the modern working class and its allies. Marx and Engels wrote very little about what communism might be like. Their comments are scattered throughout their works. But of what little they wrote, their goal was very close to that of anarchism.

Following in the footsteps of the early “utopian socialists” (Owen, Fourier, Cabet, etc.), both the original Marxists and the anarchists foresaw the end of the division of labor as developed under capitalism. In particular they rejected the division between order-givers and order-takers, between mental labor and manual labor. They saw the reorganization of technology and production in such a way as to expand the all-around potentialities of humans. They expected the end of the division between cities and countryside, between industry and agriculture. There would be a new ecological balance.

Having a vision of a libertarian, humanistic, communist society is not the same as having a blueprint of how such a society might work. The early “utopians” wrote detailed accounts of their visions. Marx predicted that a post-capitalist society would go through specific stages. It would first pay workers with labor-notes and later provide full communism (“From each according to their ability to each according to their needs.”) Anarchists, such as Kropotkin, were more likely to use detailed accounts not as blueprints but as heuristic examples of how their principles might be put into practice; for example, going directly to full communism. After Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta argued for an experimental and pluralistic approach to anarchism. He expected different communities, regions, nations, etc., to try out different ways of organizing non-capitalist, radically-democratic, societies, so long as there was no further exploitation.

Between Marx and the anarchists there were some important differences. Marx saw the state of capitalism as being replaced, not by a free federation, but by a new state of the working class and its allies. This workers’ state would be transitional, evolving into a non-coercive but still highly centralized “public authority.” And, while he was for a very democratic form of representative democracy, Marx and Engels did not at all see the need for decentralized, face-to-face, communal democracies at the root of a new society.

And they did not see a role for a moral vision of a new society. To Marx and Engels it was the material historical process which led to the ends of socialism and communism. They specifically rejected relying on the vision of the workers. The workers would fight for socialism because the workers would fight for socialism. The dialectical dynamics of capitalism would develop its internal contradictions. It would build giant capitalist enterprises with huge concentrations of workers and would heat up the class struggle between the workers and bosses. As a result, the workers would automatically develop class consciousness and self-organization, leading to the overthrow of capitalism. At no time, in their vast body of work, did Marx or Engels write that the workers and others should fight for socialism because it was right to do so, because socialism was good. (Undoubtedly, Marx and Engels were personally motivated by moral passions, but it was not part of their theoretical system.)

Although I am an anarchist, I agree that there are certain dynamics of capitalism, accurately analyzed by Marx, which push in the direction of socialism. These include the growth of industrial capitalism, the periodic and longterm crises of capitalism, and the development by capitalism of the international working class. But there are also countertrends, some of which were also discussed by Marx. There are certain stabilizing mechanisms within capitalism which can overcome short-term crises (at least for a while). Also, better-off workers are usually satisfied with the status quo. Worse-off workers may be beaten-down and demoralized. Whether and when these or other layers of the working class will rebel against capitalism cannot be known for sure. Socialist revolution is not “inevitable.”

The historical struggle for a better society is not something which happens to people—through historical processes external to them. It is something which people do—as they react to historical circumstances. Class conflict is not a mechanical clash of forces, but a conflict of wills. Socialism is not an inevitability; it is a possibility, which will happen only if enough people chose to make it happen.

Marxism went from a vision very close to anarchism to become a rationalization for totalitarian, mass-murdering, state capitalism—until the “Communist” states collapsed back into traditional capitalism. I have just touched on some of its essential weaknesses which contributed to this result (while interacting with objective pressures): its centralism, its “transitional” state, and its non-moral determinism.

I reject the moralistic method of starting from a set of values (which a good society should have) to work out a plan for what a good society should be. This was the classical method of the “utopians,” as well as the authors of “Parecon” (participatory economics) today. I also reject the mechanical conception of capitalism grinding out a new society, with a visionary consciousness playing little or no role. Such a view was dominant in Marxism (and, to an extent, in the work of the great anarchist Kropotkin). The split between these two views is based on a positivist split between values and facts. I do not accept this dichotomy. The struggle for a libertarian socialism, for anarchism, is both moral and based on social forces.

The Vision Could be Made Real

The vision of a free, democratic, and cooperative society is, then, rooted in the ancient visions of humanity. It is the culmination of the values raised by the greatest teachers, philosophers, and religious leaders. It extends the democratic rights proposed in the great bourgeois-democratic revolutions (the U.S. revolution, the French revolution, etc.) and expressed in the early programs of “utopian” socialism. Now these goals are able to be realized. In past revolutions, the people overthrew their old masters, but then most people had to go back to work if they were not all to starve. Only a few could be free to pursue science and mathematics, social coordination, managing waterworks, etc. Unlike pre-historical hunter-gatherer societies, there was just enough to support this non-producing elite (and its enforcers)—but there was never enough to provide plenty for all.

Now humans have the technology and productivity so that hard but necessary labor can be reduced to a minimum and shared by everyone. It is possible for most work to become an integration between creative, pleasurable, activities and useful labor, as crafts have sometimes been. Socialist communities can decide where to use automation, where to use small power machines, and where to work by hand. Contrary to its present development by centralized corporations and military states, industrial technology can be reorganized to support self-governing communities and industries. With modern means of communication, decentralized groupings could be coordinated from below. There can be enough leisure for everyone to go to meetings to make collective decisions, without taking up all their free time. People will be able to chose their life styles and activities; they will be able to decide themselves how to express their genders and sexualities.

However, because socialist revolution has been so delayed, this powerful technology also poses terrible threats. It is under a social system which developed in scarcity, which divided social wealth among competing capitalist firms, and divided the world among war-waging national states. It exists in a capitalist system which is driven to expand, to grow quantitatively, to accumulate ever more capital regardless of social or ecological costs.

The dangerous misuse of modern technology is clearest in the case of nuclear bombs. So far, the capitalist states have avoided nuclear wars. The rulers have feared the results, with good reason. Even a “small” nuclear war (or even a one-sided attack) not only creates local effects through huge blasts, but would throw into the atmosphere radioactive dust and debris, which would effect the whole world. It could cause a “nuclear winter,” blocking out sunlight for years over the whole earth, possibly destroying civilization or even all humanity (and other species).

This has not yet happened, even during the Cold War. But non-nuclear wars are continuing across the world, while atomic bombs still exist, they are spread more widely, and they are being updated. The world capitalist class cannot bring itself to get rid of them. It would only take one nuclear exchange, once, to possibly wipe us out. These states and this ruling class need to be disarmed by the working people of the world.

At the same time, the capitalist misuse of technology is causing ecological catastrophes. These include the loss of species, the pollution of the land, air, water, and food, and worst of all, global warming. In the here-and-now this causes extreme weather, of storms, floods, droughts, and fires. It is tending towards heat levels which humans and other organisms have never experienced as a steady condition. Whether our civilization can survive is an open question.

The problem is that capitalism needs to grow and accumulate, or it collapses. But the ecological world has the exact opposite need. It requires a steady, balanced, system not geared to growth—or at least not quantitative growth of expanded production; qualitative improvements and increased complexity are another matter. This is a deep contradiction. Our industrial civilization is built on the increasing use of fossil fuels—which are limited and nonrenewable, polluting, and cause global heating. Neither the oil companies nor the capitalist class as a whole will willingly end this grow-or-die system.

After World War II, the theorists of capitalism claimed that they had solved capitalism’s contradictions. There was to be eternal prosperity (at least in the industrialized—imperial—nations), with tamed business (boom-and-bust) cycles. They would do this through moderate government intervention in the economy (financial stimuli, tax and money manipulations). In fact the post-war prosperity lasted for almost thirty years.

Yet the deep crisis of capitalism during the Great Depression was only temporarily overcome. That required massive defeats of the world working class, the rise of Nazism and fascism, the rise of Stalinism, and the Second World War. This was followed by the reorganization of world imperialism (so that the U.S.A. became the main power), expanded military spending (on nuclear arms), the growth of world-spanning semi-monopolies, and the use of “cheap” oil and other natural resources (without paying for their eventual replacement). These forces provided for a new prosperity which lasted until the early 70s, when they ran out of steam.

Profits come from surplus value, which is nothing but the unpaid labor of the workers. (So says Marx, and I agree.) The very expansion of capitalist production means that there are ever more machines and raw materials being used, so that the labor force becomes a smaller proportion of what the capitalists pay for production (that is, while the number of workers may even expand, they are relatively fewer as compared to the even greater expansion of the non-human costs of production). This causes a relative drop in the amount of labor which may be used to make the produced commodities (and which determines their exchange value). Therefore there is a relatively smaller amount of unpaid (surplus) labor screwed out of the workers. The rate of profit declines for the overall set of capitalists. There are a range of counteracting forces which limit this fall in the rate of profit, described by Marx. But there continues to be a long-term tendency toward the fall of the profit rate.

This basic tendency has reached its long-term expression since about 1900, the beginning of what has been called “the epoch of capitalist decline.” Since about 1970, it has reasserted itself against the apparent post-war prosperity. A major symptom (and, in turn, a contributing cause) has been the expansion of giant corporations: monopolies, semi-monopolies, and oligopolies. Another symptom is the lack of funds to deal with the global warming crisis. Overall, there has been stagnation, under- and un-employment, pools of poverty even in rich countries, expanded inequality, uneven development of the poor nations, increased wars and international conflicts, the growth of financialization (investment in money and paper, rather than in real production), and attacks by the capitalists on the unions and on the working class’ standard of living. The evidence is that the overall economy will continue to decline, with moderate ups and downs, with further, and probably worse, crashes in the future—perhaps a depression worse than in the ‘thirties.

These predictions of capitalist decline are not based on some absolute knowledge, rooted in reading Marx’s Capital, or other sources. It is just the best evaluation of probable reality which I and others have been able to make.

Along with these looming catastrophes—nuclear war, global warming, economic crashes—are other evils of this system. Capitalism supports—and is supported by—a network of oppressions, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, national oppression, religious bigotry, and so on and on. It continues to be an ugly civilization, crushing the spirit and distorting human potentialities, causing suffering and sorrow in all sorts of ways.

The Alternative

So the vision of new world is possible. It is also necessary, if we chose to avoid military, ecological, and economic catastrophes, not to mention the continuing suffering caused by capitalism as it is. This is what Rosa Luxemburg meant by saying that the alternatives are “socialism or barbarism,” summarizing statements by Marx and Engels. It is why Murray Bookchin, focusing on the ecological situation, upgraded this to “anarchism or annihilation.”

This does not make socialism (anarchism, libertarian communism) inevitable. On the contrary, it means that capitalism has a dynamic which leads to greater and worse crises and catastrophes. As an economic system it is deeply flawed and irrational. It is highly unlikely (I will not say “impossible”) that it can pull out of its current extended crash-landing and return to a period of stability and relative prosperity. The last time it did this, from the late 1940s to 1970—1975, it was at the cost of a Great Depression, a World War, post-war spending on nuclear arms, and the vast use of fossil fuels. To revive itself, even for a time, would require something similar. It seems unlikely that the system could survive either another world war or a deepened misappropriation of the natural world.

But the people of the world—the working class and its allies among the oppressed—could choose to replace capitalism with libertarian socialism. That is, to make a revolution. While, to repeat, there are forces leading in that direction, this is ultimately a moral choice, made by mass movements of millions of oppressed and exploited humans. The evils of capitalism and its states and oppressive institutions can be rejected and the long-held visions of a new and better world can be created. This does not depend on mechanical historical processes but on moral choice and commitment.

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Comments

i just loooooove wayne's highly original (and never repetitive) writing. his left-anarchist theory and analysis is sooooo dynamic and fluid, growing and adapting as life goes on all around; never getting bogged down in the typical marxist framing of all of life.

he's a decent writer, and presents his ideas rather clearly. but god damn - those ideas never change, and it gets rather annoyingly repetitive to hear him state and re-state those ideas constantly.

I just loooooove how butthurt people get about Wayne's writing. How dare the guy be both clear and consistent in his writing? Why hasn't he adjusted his entire fucking worldview to reflect the latest anarcho-scenester trends? Who the fuck does he think he is?

I dunno, to me Wayne is just another generator of generic socialist text. Nothing to see here, no butthurt. The guy's annoying in a very similar way than Emile.. just keeps pushing his abstract rhetoric to a comment section/anarchist site. Coz you know same old drive for domination, and conquest.

Dickheads.

Seems a bit … dramatic to accuse Wayne Price of the drive for domination and conquest, not to mention he's demonstrated the capacity for an actual back-and-forth discussion here! Can't say the same for emile.

Doesn't offer a critique of industrialism (while the planet is dying under it), still the production modality (now the earth is a common commodity presumably) and an obscuring of the logic od democracy. Throw in some "participatory" or "decentralised" or what have you and voila!

Same as the above commenter: Coherent and clear writing, but the same old story...

Wayne's analysis has too much in common with a fourth-international style of understanding capitalism. I don't understand why, if you want to engage with marxists, you wouldn't engage with ones who aren't openly hostile towards anarchists. There's also too much affirmation of work which leads to some blinders in analyzing prole activity outside of formal strikes (I'm not suggesting that this means workers stealing from work or teenagers breaking a window is more interesting than a strike).

Doesn't he date back to the 4th international?

Apparently my critics and my friends agree that I am " a decent writer [who[ presents his ideas rather clearly. " Thanks But, my critics say, I never say anything new. Same old stuff about the evils of capitalism and the state, the virtues of a revolution to establish socialist anarchism. Ho hum.

I don't know if my critics read my last essay, "Not My President," or my essays on workers' democracy, or on the nature of the economic/ecological crisis, or other topics. I also don't know if it occurred to any of them that the essays are not written for died-in-the-wool hard-bitten dogmatic anarchists who have made up their minds already about the major issues of anarchism. Perhaps they are written for people a little more openminded and flexible, who don't have all the answers and are willing to consider a different point of view. Perhaps, even if my critics do not like my version of a statement of the anarchist vision, they might use it to inspire themselves to work out how they would "clearly" state their vision???

Only one critic actually remarks on the content of my essay (which is typical of commentators on anarchistnews.com). But this Anonymous critic either did not read the essay or did not understand my "clear" writing. He/she writes, "Doesn't offer a critique of industrialism." I count seven paragraphs in this brief essay which critique industrial capitalism. The essay discusses (briefly of course) an alternate use of technology under anarchism. It discusses the development, positive and negative, of industry under capitalism, and the danger it poses due to capitalism's drive to accumulate. I understand that A. may not agree with my perspective, but this sort of total failure to engage with another viewpoint is a real problem among many anarchists.

"Perhaps, even if my critics do not like my version of a statement of the anarchist vision, they might use it to inspire themselves to work out how they would "clearly" state their vision???"

Sorry Wayne, but that's asking a lot. Anarchists these days don't roll that way (certainly not here). For starters, clarity would make us "legible" to our enemies. Coherence would put us at risk of "ideology". Communicating with anybody outside your own sectarian grouposcule constitutes "mass politics" and caring about anything in the real world surely counts as "leftism". All of these things are morally wrong, and I know because I read a bunch of people reference some essays I never actually bothered to track down.

...if they were good enough for Marx and Engels, they're good enough for me!

Hello Wayne!

You asked for a critical engagement with your text, this is an attempt at that. I was one of the anon commenters and I think that you are absolutely right in the lack of engagement present in anarchist discourse. So I'll try to right my wrongs.
Bear in mind that English is my second language.

- - -

Your basic assessment seems to rest on a logic which I would sum up as a usurpation of political power, rather than its abolition. You decentralize the political power from the few (bourgeoisie) to the many. Implicit in this, and throughout your text, is the non-engagement and presumable neutrality of production, industry and democracy. What is of essence is who is in control of these institutions.

This view is blind to the co-evolution and co-dependence between the state and the logic of production and its later development into industry (scientific management of production) and democracy as a mode of participation in this project (as seen in the rise of the welfare state, popular democracy and the expanse of the middle class and the credit/debt society).

It presupposes and places the problem in the opposition of interest and conflict between competing social classes. As such, and as you yourself explicitly states, the argument is one of morale as your argument also presupposes that a change (revolution) in the power dynamic will amend the problems created by capitalism. But this is at best vague: The logical foundation of capitalism stands untouched, it is reduced to a moral question. You seem to merely collectivize production and industrialism (the commodification of nature).

As such, it seems like an inversion of the present categories – the emancipation of the proletariat – rather than its abolition.

When you say that “ Marx and Engels did not at all see the need for decentralized, face-to-face, communal democracies at the root of a new society “ you seem to base your vision of a new world on a stateless dictatorship of the proletariat, based on your explicit advocacy for a change of moral rather than the critique of the logical foundation and assumptions of our society. As you say “...they did not see a role for a moral vision of a new society”.
Are what you are saying a form of radical subjectivity? (This is meant as a genuine and not a rhetorical question).

And when you point out that “Marxism went from a vision very close to anarchism to become a rationalization for totalitarian, mass-murdering, state capitalism...” I wonder how you will avoid such a development in your society based on moral vision? It still rests on a collective understanding, a mass society with the creation of a moral pretext in which action are judged.

Even if you “reject the moralistic method of starting from a set of values” you are still doing just that, you are just changing the set of values. How else can you have a “moral vision of a new society”?

When you go into the material conditions which could offer us a supposed way out of this mess you show just how much morale is involved in your vision, as most of it seems little factual at all.

When you refer to past revolutions as being in a situation of scarcity and dependence on their masters you fail to see that little has changed as such to our present situation. If anything it has worsened. Urbanization has accelerated, land is degraded and made desert. There are less knowledge of subsistence skills, the landscape which is productive are so in as a commodity for industry. The forests are scientifically managed, the arable land are a chemical junky (ever tried growing vegetables in a mono-cultured grain field?), the rivers and streams empty. We are in a blackmail situation with complex technology and the industrial society where we are at the mercy of this mode of production, without it we would starve. That is hardly a situation of free association.

Further, the very same dependence on these complex technologies are what is killing earth. Even if you decentralize the modes of production, these modes of production are based on resource extraction, division of labor resulting in pollution.

It is not simply a “misuse” which leads to this situation. If the industrial revolution had never happened, then perhaps we could have made such a Bookchinite society, presently I can't see that as an option.

I would rather contest that we are in a situation where we need radical mitigation. We need to clean up, make good where we are able to. For this we could use complex technology, but to base our society on a less radical version of the logic which made the earth what it is to day is at best naive.

As a transitional phase I agree with your vision. But as long as it does not critically engage with the very logic behind our present condition then I would say that you are communizing the production of shackles.

Thanks to this Anonymous for grappling with the content of my essay. Given the brief nature of writing comments, perhaps, I am not sure I understand him or her. The commentator writes, "As a transitional phase I agree with your vision. But...it does not critically engage with the very logic behind our present condition...."

As I see it, I am rejecting the capitalist drive to accumulate, the commodification of everything in ever increasing amounts (the "law of value"). Without a drive to accumulate, we could have an alternate approach to technology and ecology (I wrote). We could decide to automate what we want, or to use small-scale machinery, or to use hand tools, or to just not do some things. That would be up to communes and regions, as they would decide how to organize themselves communally and freely. Instead of technology dominating people, people would dominate technology. This view is hardly unique to me--I learned it from Paul Goodman and Lewis Mumford, and later from Schumacher (Small is Beautiful).

I simply do not understand how this view is consistent with the logic of industrial capitalism. It seems to me to be the exact opposite. Unless one assumes that any use of machines whatsoever is bad? There we part company. But at least A. accepts my view as "a transitional phase."

As to whether I advocate a logic of power, as A. suggests, I recommend my discussion of anarchism and power at
http://www.anarkismo.net/article/2496?search_text=Wayne+Price

it doesn't matter whether one invests in power at the state level or in a federation of councils so long as those who do this suffer from the delusion that power is capable of determining desired results.

exercising power to further some 'well-reasoned plans' is futile since we live in a continually transforming relational space that is complex beyond anyone's understanding. eliminating saddam was an intervention into a relational complexity that was unknown and unknowable to the intervenors with 'the power' [the power to do what, shoot oneself in the foot?] and the intervention engendered all kinds of unanticipated 'externalities'.

so what is power? you haven't explained it in your essay that mentions power dozens of times.

we saw that one way of defining power is the ability to amass a military capability that could 'eliminate' a hostile regime, an unwanted political group or whatever, but what, exactly, does 'eliminate' mean and does it get you any closer to achieving a 'desired result'?

the successful elimination of saddam transformed the complex relational-social dynamic and helped to nurture the rise of ISIS.

if we lived in a world that was a collection of independent things separated by empty Euclidian space, then the power to eliminate things might be more useful. we could take all those we didn't like out and leave in those we like, kind of like the khmer rouge plan, but we live in world of complex interdependent relations where eliminating some of the strands in the web induces relational transformation that can't be known in advance, because of its complexity.

nevertheless, we can use power to 'eliminate' who we want to eliminate.

should we define 'power', then, as the ability to eliminate the things we don't like or keep them locked in prisons? because 'power' as we know it, is sure as hell NOT the ability to determine a desired future state.

maybe, just maybe, the objective of achieving a desired future state [since we live within a transforming relational continuum we are not in control of] is an unrealistic goal that is never going to be achieved by putting together a 'powerful' political 'movement'. how much more powerful would a movement have to be than the US to be able to achieve a desired future state of affairs?

so what's all the buzz about 'power'? you have used the word stem 'power' a lot in your essay ["confronting the question of power"] and you seem to imply that 'power' is a force that enables people to 'get what they want'.

the US has more power than any other nation. is that power getting them what they want? will that sort of power ever get them what they want? do they know what they want? of course, if you don't know where you are going, you can't get lost.

how about we stop talking about power as if it is something we all understand.

how about you telling us what we can get if we have 'power'. like, we know we can get fucked if we have power, but we don't want to have to keep a 24 by 7 watch for angry brothers who want to be there to celebrate our graduation from tenor to soprano.

we need to confront this question of power relative to how we would like to have things unfold. you say;

Our class and our allies among the oppressed should aim to get rid of the state and all other institutions of capitalism, and to take democratic power for ourselves."

how does 'taking power for ourselves' help us?

since most people assume that power is a useful thing to have, it may feel embarrassing to question whether it really is a useful thing to have.

for those too embarrassed to engage, here is a view on 'what's wrong with power'.

1. Christian Europe invented the concept of SUPREME EARTHLY POWER and called it 'sovereigntism'.

"The notion of “absolute, unlimited power held permanently in a single person or source, inalienable, indivisible, and original” is a definition of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God. This “God died around the time of Machiavelli…. Sovereignty was … His earthly replacement.” Walker, R. B. J. and Mendlovitz, Saul H. “Interrogating State Sovereignty.”

2. Like many indigenous anarchists, Middle East arabs (many of whom happened to be Muslims) believed in 'no earthly-Gods, no-earthly-Masters'; i.e. they rejected the concept of sovereign state leaders [earthly-Gods, earthly-Masters]

3. The power of sovereign state leaders is 'physical power' or 'earthly power' which can be used against earthly/physical opponents, so every time the spiritual belief in 'no-earthly-Gods', 'no earthly-Masters' is precipitated in a group like Al Qaida, ISIS, the al Nusra coalition of groups (Jund al-Aqsa, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, Khorasan group, Imam Bukhari Jamaat, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Jaish Muhammad, Muntasir Billah Brigade, Jamaat al-Murabitin) it becomes a target that gives traction to the physical power of the believers in 'earthly-Gods-and-earthly-Masters' [sovereigntists/statists] to come and eliminate it. Meanwhile, the earthly-Gods and Masters believer coalition of sovereign state leaders whose armies and citizens who have 'power' in the sense of materially/physically eliminating/incarcerating earthly material beings, once these physical groups committed to no-earthly-Gods-no-earthly-Masters showed themselves, could go to war to eliminate the groups they thought were the most serious PHYSICAL/EARTHLY threats. [remember how British military power in Helmand province in Afghanistan was stymied by Taliban].

4. One might say that the spiritual field of 'no-earthly-Gods, no-earthly-Masters is like a 'fourth dimension' or 'field of influence', sitting outside of three dimensional space, which keeps 'venting' through physical people as 'vents' or storm-cells that transmit influence from the purely relational realm which is non-local, non-visible and non-material, to the physical/material realm which is local, visible, material, ... but is like a gravity or electromagnetic field that is 'everywhere at the same time', though certainly a 'real' enough influence[i.e. it is a physical though immaterial influence].

5. The power in democracy is the 'earthly-Gods-and-Masters' believer-based power which operates under the umbrella of sovereigntist leaders and it is physical power that can be deployed to eliminate or incarcerate physical entities. However, it cannot touch the upstream source of these physical entities, the spiritual field of no-earthly-Gods-no-Earthly-masters which, like a funnel cloud, keeps sending down more 'vents' to resist the physical power of the believers in earthly-Gods-and-Masters.

6, Spanish anarchists have identified this limitation of physical power in their essay 'Nihilist Recuperation' which points to the futility of attacking the physical vents without being able to touch the 'funnel cloud' that is sending them down.

7. Indigenous anarchism [Islam or otherwise] is sourced at the spiritual level which relates to the material level in the manner that 'field' is primary [although non-local, non-visible and non-material] while 'matter' is 'appearances' [Schroedinger].

Bottom Line: Western society is a society of believers and followers of "earthly-Gods-and-earthly-Masters" which is try to use material/physical powers to fend off indigenous anarchists who are spiritually committed to 'no-earthly-Gods-no-earthly-Masters. Of course, in the indigenous aboriginal version of anarchism, the spiritual field is immanent in Nature and is not 'supernatural' as in Islam. This makes indigenous aboriginal anarchists less extreme since 'everyone is related' and there is no binary split between 'good' and 'evil' as in Islam. If everyone is a strand in one interdependent web-of-life, the goal is the cultivating, restoring and sustaining of balance in the interdependent eco-one-ness [transforming relational continuum], essentially restoring belief in 'no-material-Gods-and-no-material-Masters' rather than eliminating the believers in same.

That's why physical power wielded by believers-in-earthly-Gods-and-earthly-Masters can't cut it against the spiritual power of those committed to 'no-earthly-Gods-no-earthly-Masters.

You can't just choose when it comes to a technological ordering system. It's good that you are on board with the likes of Goodman. In practice though that would require a quartering down and away of today's technological systems. If you want to retain anything in today's modern world you will probably need some type of value form. It could be mutualist based as opposed to what we do now but you do need some value form to retain the perennial level of complexity that we have going right now. At the end of the day products need production, production needs some kind of manufacturing and manufacturing requires work. If you reconfigure a structure of production(as opposed to a situation of production) you are playing with the same problems once again. You could create a system preferable to this that has a lower level of compulsion, but compulsion it will be if you want to maintain modernity in any perennial structure of production form.

It may not be capitalism but it is still capital probably requiring some kind of naked state apparatus. There's no reason why the inherent problems of civilized production will not perniciously creep back in over time and generation. That said, I am also ok with your vision as a starting point.

I don't think of myself as an especially talented writer or thinker, so for any lack of clarity my comments might possess: sorry.

As to working towards a society along the lines of what Lewis Mumford, or for that matter Clifford Harper or the Bolo'Bolo envisioned are obviously a betterment as to our current situation.

But I think the apocalyptic narrative (the millennial roots of radicalism) is a great fallacy to continue. I think, and I would dare to say that this is both observable and actual, that the greatest danger (to use such a loaded term) we face is the re-figuring and continuation of capitalism (and its inherent logic). The not-so radical initiatives that are happening are in many instances ample proof of this. The socializing of certain aspects of the state through common initiatives, bio-economy, direct trade (cooperatives), the re-figuring of agriculture (small scale, direct trade) works within this logic. It is not a direct attack on the production modality, industrialism and the logic of capital (assigning of value to production). It is not a direct attack on the logic of the mass, nor governance of the many which still is governance, however benevolent it might appear.

And that is the counter revolutionary aspect of the workerist and programmatic approach. It is not a furthering of a critique of society (the social) beyond a restating of the more obvious critiques already on offer (the left spectrum). The “more democracy” (whatever that means) or simply to place one adjective or other in front of it stops short of offering a critique of democracy and the problems of the minority rule (Malatesta).

I would like to steal the idea of social insertion but drop the rank and file of the especifismo (ideological unity). We can work alongside and together with projects already happening, whether that be worker councils, community gardens, refugee centers etc.
But perhaps it would be timely if we established anarchism as a thing of itself, offer a sharper critique of our current situation and the relations (the social) we engage in. There is no need as I see it for a unity in theory as such, the basic premise of anarchism is quite simple after all. We can show solidarity in action and keep up a disruptive / dynamic practice which seeks to go beyond our current understandings. I suppose it is a wish for plurality or the multitude.

To simply stop short at “capitalism” and to suggest that this is the root of evil and to base oneself on a moralistic critique is as far as I can tell an abject failure. To base one self on populism and to think that we need to create the biggest party makes little sense to me.

To sum it up a little: To base anarchism on moralism and by extension a codified behavior is nothing but a disservice and would only make anarchism a edgy part of the more populistic projects currently happening.
The no form, no abiding of Zen Buddhism is a good inspiration to have, to make anarchism amorphous beyond its basic premise.

Oh come off it, you're a good writer and you explained beautifully what anarchism is in need of, so not "sorry" mkay!

One Anonymous person wrote, "Doesn't he date back to the 4th international?" Sure, Trotsky and I often met for tea and cookies to discuss the next tactic for the 4th International.

Seriously--if anyone is really interested-- as a teenager I became an anarchist-pacifist, much influenced by Paul Goodman. In college I was persuaded that this would not work and became an unorthodox Trotskyist, of the school which rejected Trotsky's theory that the Soviet Union under Stalin was a "degenerated workers' state." We thought it was state capitalist (and I still do). Eventually I and my friends came to reject Trotskyism as a whole, in favor of revolutionary anarchism. However I am still influenced by aspects of Marxism (which I critique briefly in the above essay)--not so much by Trotskyism as by libertarian/ultra-left/autonomous trends in Marxism.

Haha I'm sorry Wayne, that was me and I'm a jerk. You've always been a sport and attempted real, good-faith discussion here so in all seriousness, respect!

someone always dreams up a pure consciousness for us to convert to to give our flesh over to efficient use.

take that, sneer quoter!

if the goal is to get humans to believe they're homo economicus and identify with an economic system that they didn't have any part in creating, then that's been completed since 1975 with financialization, where systems were to be upheld at all times by all means. and that the earth is abstracted as a passive resource for this system.

at least being a 'consumer' i can turn off thinking about work for some hours a day and night. only, this is somewhat hard to do from all of the repetitive use joint pain the glorious experience of being jobbed, sent careening work has already given me at 30.

if, during sleep, i dream myself an aristocrat, is that counter-revolutionary?

like with capitalism, there's yet nothing to critically engage with a model of reality that is not reality (and it too cannot handle resulting externalities).

fuck the models. yes to directly experiencing life.

Anonymous criticizes me for wanted to "critically engage with a model of reality that is not reality....Fuck the models. Yes to directly experiencing life."

True, models are never reality. They are abstractions from reality. But, most people find models useful in understanding the underlying forces that make reality what it is. Such as the law of gravity, the theory of relativity, the theory of evolution, etc.

We are now in a very dangerous stage of history. We face the possibility, even probability, of ecological catastrophe, nuclear war, and/or economic collapse, not to mention fascism and race conflict. Readers of this site think that anarchism is the answer, but anarchism has failed to change society again and again. How shall anarchism prevail this time? What are the positive forces which can be mobilized to save the humans? How shall anarchists avoid past mistakes? How build on past successes?

These issues may not concern A., but they concern me and many other anarchists. They see the need for some models of social functioning, in order to fight more effectively for a better world. It is to them that my essays are addressed.

I think it should be remembered that the modern founding figureheads of anarchism/anarchy-Proudhon and Stirner-rejected revolution. Even though subsequent thinkers tried to shine what was essentially a turd, revolution has never really been anything other then change of power with potential creeping Jacobinism. Anarchy/Anarchism was founded on saying fuck you to the results of 1789. Nothing that has come since then has been all that different. Down with revolution(accept maybe quiet ones that are defined by insurrection and not the other way around) and up with insurrection.

Proudhon rejected revolution? Ummm....wot?

"In this account I shall endeavour as far as possible to adduce facts as proofs. And among facts I shall always choose the simplest and best known: this is the only method by which the Revolution, hitherto a prophetic vision, can become at last a reality"
- Pierre Joseph Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century

In the way that Bakunin would later embrace. He wasn't anti revolution(neither am I technically) but he was not drunk on the violent instrumentalist mode of revolution which ends up serving future states.

As I like to say I like my revolutions quiet and my insurrections loud.

So...he had a difference of opinion with bakunin? That's not a "rejection". And nobody cares how you like your revolutions.

but it is a rejection of the fetish of revolution. Between him and Stirner revolution is not something to make a big deal about.

Same here dude, I like my folk music quiet and my metal music loud, that's the way archetypal social interactive dynamics work.

Transformations are never "revolutionary" , nor do they have to be soft or loud..
The issues are ones of movement, experimentation, collaborations; developing intriguing
counter-intuitive "takes" on things; engaging in articulating interesting concepts that can construe
paths of activity as a praxis for that "clamor of be-ing" that we desire. A journey that
creates autonomous spaces, and places and times for loving . And caring. And sharing. Times for a Here and Now ; as well as for clearing the way for our worlds and our peoples in the Then an Later.
We need to develop a taste for change; a sense to invent Scenes and then zones of and for liberty.
Wherever, whenever, and any-which-way-we can. The More, the Merrier. With resolve and determination.

Both Sir Einzige and the following Anonymous insist that I am following the logic of capitalism. This is even though I advocate the total overthrow of capitalism and the state, the creation of a decentralized and cooperative system, and the re-organization of technology in a flexible, experimental, nonhierarchical, and ecological fashion. I have to admit that I simply do not understand their reasoning. This makes it difficult for me to respond.

Sir Einzige is against revolution but for "insurrection." Again, I have no idea what he is talking about. Similarly, A. is against "the apocalyptic narrative (the millennial roots of radicalism)" which sounds like he or she is against revolution. But how do they expect to completely transform capitalist society (including its technology) without a total revolution at some point?

Sir Einzige is correct about Proudhon, although it is often difficult to work through P.'s clashing statements. Overall, P. was a reformist and an opponent of revolution (as he opposed strikes and any struggle for women's rights). Today's non-revolutionary, gradualist, and nonviolent anarchists (such as David Graeber and apparently Sir Einzige) are following Proudhon's general perspective.

Thanks for trying Wayne. I can only speak for myself and not Ziggy, but your reading of my comments are at best curious. How you make a direct attack out to be peaceful I'm not sure. It has been explicitly stated that your vision as such is a betterment, no one is as far as I can tell disagreeing with this point.

What I am trying to point out is that unless you are willing to engage with a broader scope, that is some of our cultural inheritance if you will, then you are just offering what is already at sale (see my re-figuring of capitalistic society part). You are saying that what is needed is a decentralization of the institutions. This is what is (I think) generally agreed upon as a betterment. What is then needed (the insurrection part) is a continuing of the rift (for the lack of a better word), to also critique and attack the social (our way of relating). This is why moralism must be avoided and attacked as it is a prefiguring of the social.
.
I'm not sure whether you are being thick, not reading, unwilling to comprehend, or unwilling to critically engage with your own meta-narrative. You do not answer any of the questions regarding your explicit advocacy for a revolution based on a 'moralistic vision'. You do not answer the problem of the mass or popular governance. You do not answer how your mass movement based on a moral vision will be able to avoid the pitfalls of the marxist revolutions. Nor how this potential society which does not break with the production modality will avoid a recreation of capital, hence not a break with the LOGIC of capital: The abstract domination through the assignment of value to production.This is part of our cultural inheritance and is not merely the product of bourgeoisie domination. How will complex tech and industrial production be continued in an 'ecological' fashion? How will you solve the division of labor, resource colonialism, and the pollution involved in its production? You continue in the very western tradition of supposedly «making order out of chaos».

As to the millennial part: To advocate that we leave this view behind is NOT an advocacy for a gradualism of sorts, nor for non-violence. It is pointing out that moronic insistence on unity, whether that be in theory or action, should end. I suspect that this is also what Ziggy is trying to point out but I'm not entirely sure. That is the insurrectionary point: That we need a continuing tradition of revolt against all forms of oppression, that most likely our idea of revolution will also carry the seed for further oppression unless we are willing to continuously attack our own ideas and narratives. The Revolution™ is not some a single shift or break. Hence a multitude: We need plenty and recurring revolutions. Again that is why moralism must be avoided and not merely refigured (in your words “a new moral vision”).

So I agree with some of what you are saying, this is the part where you are clear and coherent. But then, as a friendly suggestion, please further your critique beyond the moralistic, programmatic and the workerist narrative. Or at least admit to, as you seem to be, to be unwilling to critically engage with it.

You know … I swear this trendy nihilist insistence of anti-moralism is so busy dismissing anything that could possibly be characterized as morality that a lot of folks have stopped bothering to look at which principles they're dismissing.

It's not that hard to separate a flexible set of anarchist principles from a code imposed by a dominant culture but both can be lazily dismissed as "moralism". My favourite example of this is the reductio ad absurdum of nihilist cheerleading for almost completely random, vaguely politicized attacks on "civilization". Both sides end up looking ridiculous, with the moralists saying "Why the hell would you just stab/shoot/bomb somebody who never did shit to you?!" and then getting denigrated as "weak" by armchair sociopaths who likely haven't killed anyone but obliquely identify with hardline militancy because of the power structures they rightly despise.

Maybe this is isn't even a real dichotomy and it's just lazy thinking ... collective bargaining and socialist values as general guidelines without any sort of coercion except in resistance to domination. What's the problem?

More importantly, why does Wayne have to answer for all the marxists ever? Why are you critiquing as if he's accountable for a revolution that isn't going to happen any time soon, based on the failings of different people in the past?

A rejection of moral or of moralism does not equate to nihilism. It is not “dismissing anything that could be possibly be characterized as morality” it is dismissing Wayne's insistence on moralism as the guiding compass. Accordingly it is not a dismissal of his principles, that has already been stated. And so forth...

And why should he answer for all the Marxist ever? Luckily, this is not what he is being asked to do neither. He is being asked how his moral revolution and his mass movement approach differs (and that is the key right there:differs) from the pitfalls of marxist revolutions.

Yeah but what kind of moralism are dismissing? And how do you distinguish it from his principles? One of the basic definitions of morality is "a set of principles" … sorry if I sound condescending but you opened with a bit of it yourself in your first sentence.

All good with being condescending, makes more fun.

The rejection of moralism is in its application. That is, once you make a certain set of principles or values general into a moral code (a reification) and then use that as the point of departure for a societal change.

I suppose that if moral is something personal and only pertaining to the person then that it is rather harmless. The problem, as I see it, is when you marry moral with the mass.

Presumably you mean in the theory because obviously Wayne isn't about to literally impose his morals on anyone. That's kind of my point: if someone is just suggesting a theory of some guiding moral principles and not applying coercion to anyone, or if the code includes the principle of never coercing anyone unless [blank] then yes, the only problem is application but how can he answer to specifics without context? Wouldn't you need to give an example?

No, not only in theory. I don't suppose Wayne is about to impose his morals,no. But he is advocating a movement based on morals, and I suppose that the moral would be to some extent plural even though he is advocating a moral from a specific narrative (the workerist).

So I would argue that it is both specific and within context: His approach to and advocacy for a societal change. Further, the meta-narrative of the mass movement and of his participatory democracy, etc. which gives his suggestions a specific trajectory.

And so whether the code includes to coerce or not is somewhat irrelevant. The ten commandments says that “thou shalt not kill” etc, but that ended up with applying this only to those included in the moral code or category (christians).

Coercion and/or the principle of not using it can't possibly be irrelevant to an anarchist IMHO. That's why online debates barely matter and activity in the real world is the only thing that does.

At least we agree on the online debates ;)

Einzige wouldn't recognize an insurrection if they were shooting cops in front of his house. He'd be dismissing the militants as "criminals" and panic-dialing 9-11 over and over.

Yet 9-11 agents would be having lotsa headaches at decoding his fluffy word salads as well as to understand what are those "leftards" he keeps yelling frantically about. More likely they'd be sending in first responders dressed in white lab coats...

It's capital and state as such that your logic still winds up with Wayne. Your program still requires a bureaucratic apparatus and surplus labor. Bottom up does not change this even if it might be preferable which is not a guarantee at all. Trying to do structured production without a value form is a potential disaster waiting to happen. When it comes to technology, if the processes of a given technology are already complicated then there is not changing that however bottom up you make things.

Insurrection-in the Stirner sense-and revolution are very different birds. Insurrection simply does not involve power or binary confrontation. To answer your question on transformation, you have to primarily transform yourself. If you can insulate and elevate yourself(and kind) from a given non preferable reality then you have done what is of primary importance. There is no historical example of an anarchic controlled explosion of civilized totality(which I don't think your even against to begin with) toward what could be called an authentic existence. The only examples we have are the temporal, singular and specific. Perhaps one may come but I am not holding my breath.

I'm not against revolution as such btw, I'm simply agnostic about what revolution brings. There is no historical example of a major revolution that does not involve power players and rearrangers. There was the peak period of the 60s in NA but that was more of a culture driven insurrection more along the lines of what Hakim Bey talks about. I don't consider myself a reformist either and Proudhon was certainly wrong about strikes. I support the strike to end all strikes(and work). Being non revolutionary does not mean non confrontational, it just means that confrontation is not drivel by binary based means/ends logic.

Yet another discussion on moral and ethical agency within the anarchist milieu, and the guilty complexes which exist between nihilists and narcissists who forever seem to brow-beat each-other over the topic.

While I would deny being a "moralist" (rigid, judgmental, and authoritarian--imposing my views on others), I do indeed insist on a moral vision as the heart of my view of anarchism (as my essay emphasizes). Is THIS what Sir Einzige and Anonymous mean by accusing me of following the logic of industrial capitalism?? I specifically counter this to the Marxist tradition, which rejects moral values in favor of an automatic, inevitabilist, and non-moral Historical Process. There is much in this Marxist analysis which is true (I think), but at its non-moral core it is a disaster. This is one of the major factors in leading Marxism to totalitarianism, I believe.

What do my critics want? (Since almost everyone is "anonymous," it is difficult to separate people out.) A constant re-evaluation of values is excellent. But a total rejection of values? Why then are we for anarchism? Why oppose industrial capitalism? Why go to the store for ice cream? Why do anything, let along struggle for a completely different society? Even if I thought that it was "inevitable" that the working class (almost all of us) will make a libertarian socialist revolution (which I do not), I would still have to ask, why should we be FOR this revolution, "inevitable" or not?

If this is what you regard as "moralism," then make the most of it.

What morals are are values with no allowance for individuated preferences combined with duty bound reified collectivity.

I'm with you on this one Wayne. Everywhere these days, you see these constant critiques of morality and much like with identity, some of it was definitely useful at some point but it's got serious diminishing returns. People seem to get a bit lost in the trees on the subject IMHO and it can be pretty disruptive to organizing efforts and leads to an obvious dead-end of a praxis, like you say. Why do anything?

Too much egoist, nihilism and you end up constantly having to rationalize why you bother with anything beyond survival and instant gratification. I'm not even arguing this point, I'm watching people just … shut themselves down like there's a bug in their code that they can't figure out how to fix.

" I'm watching people just … shut themselves down like there's a bug in their code that they can't figure out how to fix"

.-----Its just so much of a mess, just keep to yourself and enjoy what little pleasures you have and be grateful you are not starving to death or working a 80hr week in a sweat shop-----.

Its just so much of a mess, just keep to yourself and enjoy what little pleasures you have and be grateful you are not starving to death or working a 80hr week in a sweat shop.

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