Six Theses on Authority and Socialism: A Refusal to Suffer the Fools Who Think Anarchy is Socialism, or Vice Versa
Authority is the lifeblood of socialism, indeed of all the socialisms. The principle of authority, of command dominates the history of socialism from its first inception by Babeuf during the Directory right down through the various Marxist socialisms. While Marx and his ideas are clearly authoritarian, and hence fall outside the scope of these theses, it is the earlier variants of the socialist ideas that interest us. What of Marx’s forbears? The so-called Utopians and the various intentional communities in the United States? As will see, there has never been nor could there ever be a truly libertarian socialism—as freedom and socialism are derived from different bases and are fundamentally opposed, in theory as in fact.
With the fall of the Jacobin Republic and it’s replacement in rapid succession by the Thermidorian Reaction and the Directory those militants, primarily associated with the Revolutionary Commune began to rethink and rework the ideas first pushed onto the stage of history by Robespierre, Saint-Just during the earthshaking and terrible experience of The Year II. Among these ideologues was a former procurement officer from the Commune, Gracchus Babeuf. In developing his ideas he would evolve essentially the first group of professional revolutionaries, the Conspiracy of Equals, and simultaneously build the idea of the capture of power and the use of the nation-state to realize a socialist society—The Republic of Equals. Of course all this equality was meant to be created, maintained and enforced by the state. With a guaranteed breakfast and living quarters, however, who has need for freedom? Before he was guillotined, Babeuf had written to a friend,: "I believe that in some future day men will give thought again to the means of procuring for the human race the happiness which we have proposed for it." Unfortunately, this prediction proved to be correct. Bullseye.
Saint-Simon will appear next on the stage and his ideas stretch authority to new limits. He theorized that society, globally, would be divided into three great classes, the savants, the propertied, and the unpropertied. The savants would form the Council of Newton, which was to be made up of three mathematicians, three physicians, three chemists, three physiologists, three litterateurs, three painters and three musicians; and it was to occupy itself with devising new inventions and works of art for the general improvement of humanity. The actual power in Saint-Simon’s world community was to be yielded by the wealthy who have enough freedom to devote time and service to the state. This, in spite of any evidence to the contrary that the wealthy legislate in their own interests and against everyone else’s—Saint-Simon was certain that his socialism would produce a new human—devoted to service and without a shred of avarice or self-interest. After Saint-Simon’s death his disciples ran riot with a few of his ideas about religion with Prosper Enfantin declaring himself to be the son of the living God and a new Pope to boot. They fade rapidly into socialist history by the 1850s.
Fourier clearly fits into a lot of our ideas about human communities. As an example his idea that if enough people played, instead of worked, that society would operate in the best interest of all. The Situationists were fascinated by Fourier, and so should we be. Yet lurking on the far side of Fourier’s phalansterie system is a hierarchy even more bizarre and complex than Saint-Simon’s. Based loosely on the individual’s preferences for food, and the types of work they like, the clothes they wear—it must be stated that the phalansterie system is likely one of the most rigid, authoritarian community’s ever devised. In actual practice the various Fourierist experiments collapsed in part due the static and pre-defined work and diet routines—in spite of Horace Greeley’s cheerleading from New York.
Robert Owens interests only indirectly as his system was so personal that he never was able to find any setting that it could replicated. Yet, he does bring his ideas to the US, and that is critical to our understanding of early socialism—for it is here where we encounter the system that in effect is the exception that proves the rule in Josiah Warren’s Modern Times on Long Island, New York. Warren had been a member of Owen’s community in New Harmony, Indiana and he hated it. The work was routinized, it was hierarchical--nasty, and everyone was in everyone else’s business—good, solid socialism. So to counter this he formed the village of Modern Times. There were to be, as Warren announced, "no organization, no delegated power, no constitutions, no laws or by-laws," no "rules or regulations but such as each individual makes for himself and his own business; no officers, no prophets nor priests." If they had meetings, it was not for the purpose of agreeing on common plans, but merely "for friendly conversation," for music, for dancing or for "some other pleasant pastime." "Not even a single lecture upon the principles upon which we were acting" had ever "been given on the premises. It was not necessary; for, as a lady remarked, 'the subject once stated and understood, there is nothing left to talk about: all is action after that.' " In other words, an anarchy where the individual is sovereign—with nothing in common with socialism.
So what of the newest craze, so-called libertarian socialism? Given the history outlined above, and mixing in the various hyper-authoritarian Marxist socialisms is a libertarian socialism even possible? Even thinkable? And where are the theorists? Anytime a so-called libertarian socialist is asked to name a thinker that usually say Bakunin, Kropotkin or Goldman—in other words anarchists. It would help if someone, somewhere could name just one libertarian socialist theorist (who was not an anarchist) instead of the constant piggybacking of thinkers who in general loathed socialism. As anarchists we stand on ground that no one else of our tendency has seen for about 100 years. Our ideas are popular, there is praise for fighting fascists, and the growth of large commune-like experiments continues apace. To stop now and let our ideas be co-opted by our traditional enemies, those who have theorized hierarchical, nonsensical societies that strip freedom and refusal from the hands of individuals would do a terrible disservice to what may very well be a bright future—illuminated by individuals dreams and scores of Molotovs.