Tag Archives: Communism

Bakunin’s Simple Point: An Appeal to our Sincere Socialist and Communist Friends

14 Dec

The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 34 – June 2010

…[T]here are those who still insist in telling us that the conquest of powers in the State, by the people, will suffice to accomplish the social revolution! – that the old machine, the old organization, slowly developed in the course of history to crush freedom, to crush the individual, to establish oppression on a legal basis, to create monopolists, to lead minds astray by accustoming them to servitude – will lend itself perfectly to its new functions: that it will become the instrument, the framework for the germination of a new life, to found freedom and equality on economic bases, the destruction of monopolies, the awakening of society and towards the achievement of a future of freedom and equality!” Peter Kropotkin, The State: It’s Historic Role. 1896

Fewer than 150 years ago, we who today identify with various factions, including modern socialists, anarchists, marxists, trotskyists, and so on, were all socialists. While these divisions originated from a disagreement on how to achieve socialism, today our ideological chasms seem insurmountable because the word socialism no longer means what it once did.

Early socialists of all stripes sought a classless, stateless society, where individuals would be producing and distributing based on their ability; consuming based on their need; and living in cooperative, self-governing communities. Socialism, thus, was the ultimate victory of the united workers and oppressed: freedom (political and social liberty of individuals and groups) and equality (classlessness—equal access to necessities, opportunities, and participation in political decisions).

The First International split around 1872 between two ideas proclaiming different tactics to achieve socialism. Marx led those who believed a central political party could, either by seizing power in revolt or through elections, create a “workers’ government,” or a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” They thought the working class needed this government to build the new society, and that government would wither away, leaving autonomous communities to live and work cooperatively.

Mikhail Bakunin, a veteran of many early republican and socialist uprisings, allied with the second tendency, pointing out the fundamental flaw in this logic, a flaw Marx’s group stubbornly ignored: POWER CORRUPTS. This fact has been apparent as long as the few have wielded power over the many. Lord Acton wrote in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This statement does not spare the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Bakunin and others were skeptical that a workers’ “dictatorship” could dissolve itself, and they were soon known as anarchists for their belief that socialism should come, not from a government or party, but from a mass movement of people building the new world as they tore down the old one. Any government, they argued, even an alleged workers’ one, favors a higher class of people who hold political power. Regardless of earlier employment, they become nothing more than professional politicians and bureaucrats. They become authorities. As Bakunin correctly pointed out, those in power will fight to preserve that power. Government has been perpetuated and defended on this basis for thousands of years of poverty, war, and suffering.

Soon after this point was raised, Marx proved it. His power as ideological leader of the International was threatened by an idea with more merit. He used his power to preserve his power: he expelled Bakunin and the other anarchists.

Since that day, Bakunin’s simple point has been proven time and again, each time a communist or socialist party gains governmental power. From Russia to Vietnam, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea, no government claiming socialism as its goal has made concrete steps toward true socialism. Most take symbolic steps—nationalizing certain industries, equalizing pay, providing healthcare, and sometimes coercing people into inorganic, state-mandated communes—but the working class itself forced the best of these reforms on the government during the days of rebellion, only to see them stripped away by the state later.

In order to preserve their power, socialist authorities have changed the definition of the term socialism. They had to because when a state takes steps toward true socialism, it surrenders power and renders itself irrelevant. Thus, no self-proclaimed socialist or communist government has ever allowed self-governing, autonomous communes, or given industry to worker self-management, or taken any other steps toward dissolution. Conversely, during anarchist and other horizontal uprisings, workers have abolished money and property, collectivized workplaces and land, and redistributed political power to people’s popular assemblies. When workers demand these things of socialist governments or take them for themselves, the state brands them counterrevolutionaries, criminals, petite bourgeois, or terrorists, and heaps a host of lies on them. Socialist states have slandered, attacked, and killed some of the finest figures in the history of our struggles because like all rulers they are more concerned with preserving their power than creating a better world. The Bolsheviks were the first to prove this point, rounding up anarchists and other socialists, sending them to the gulags, deceiving and betraying autonomous revolutionary movements in Southern Ukraine and Siberia, and obliterating the sailors of Kronstadt. From China to Spain to Mexico, the evidence of such repression is written in blood.

Socialist governments move in the opposite direction of true socialism: toward increased centralization of industry, resources, and decision making—and thus toward hierarchy and less freedom. These governments, never moving toward Marxian dissolution, (that famous “withering away of the state”) only strengthen and consolidate power at every chance. Irrespective of their intentions, socialists in power behave so badly that socialism no longer retains its original meaning.

Today, socialism is known as a system with a strong, centralized government that may nationalize industries and provide increased social services, but will still participate in global capitalism and reproduce capitalist structures by maintaining distinctions between workers, managers, owners, politicians, and subjects. We should consider those who desire such a system socialists as much as we consider anarcho-capitalists anarchists, which is to say not at all. Hierarchy, as inherent to government as it is to capitalism, has no place in real socialism with its pillars of freedom and equality. Hierarchy must be combated like the plague, because it is a contagious disease not easily cured.

Perhaps if Marx were alive today, he would look at the last one hundred years and admit that he was wrong, recognizing that the best steps taken toward socialism were indeed taken by the masses in struggle and revolt to win freedom for themselves, and that the worst, most damaging actions taken to the detriment of socialism have been taken by the so-called socialists in power.

However, Marx is not here. He is dead, and the future of the movement is up to us, sisters and brothers. Our task is to reclaim the original meaning of socialism, and evaluate our historical failures and victories. If we want to win, we must struggle from within the class and not from in front of or above it. We should abandon the misguided attempts to create a socialist government; it has never come close to granting us true socialism and it never will.

This is not an appeal for socialists to proclaim themselves anarchists, because the word anarchism has been almost as badly slandered and twisted as socialism. This is a call to re-affirm the commitment to bringing socialism to life by uniting together within the viable strategy of anti-authoritarian and horizontal movement building. Our obligations to the past settled, we can be the same again—communists, socialists, and anarchists, ready to make the worst fears of Otto Von Bismarck come true, who said at the splitting of the First International, “the International is dead; but woe be to the crowned heads of Europe should red and black ever be reunited.”

If we are to accomplish this, our ultimate goal must be the original socialism of equality and freedom, not the socialism proclaimed by those who see the state as both the means and the ends, who wish to preserve the unnatural hierarchy of overseer over worker and party bureaucrat over person. Those gripped by the insurgent global trend of anti-authoritarianism will not lend their energies to the establishment of any government. Our generation of revolutionary workers will not be duped into lifting rulers up on our shoulders and into seats of power in the name of equality, as we have in the past. Bakunin’s simple point must be taken into account if we are to reach the final stage of socialism, because as he said, “Freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice and Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”

We must base our movements on daily practice because the ends always have and always will reflect the means. In other words, purporting to build socialism through a dictatorship will give us a dictatorship, just as building socialism through a horizontal movement of comrades, free and equal, will give us what all socialists avowedly want.

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What We Want, and How we are Going to get it.

12 Dec

 What We Want, and How we are Going to get it.

The Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement Newsletter, Issue # 25 – September 2009

 

 

The most common and valid criticism of anarchism is that it appears to lack a concrete and cohesive vision for the future. This criticism is valid, not because such a vision doesn’t exist, but because the modern anarchist movement has thus far failed to present it in a comprehensive way, simple enough to be widely understood and accepted, and penetrating enough to be endorsed by the majority of anarchists and like-minded people. Most of our writings that best achieve this are a hundred years old, and the language, though easily understood in that time, reads like Shakespeare to us today. Below is one attempt at such an introductory description of anarchism in today’s language.

 

What We Want

Anarchists strive for a society of freedom and equality for all. Of course, we must define these terms, as they are twisted and misused every day by politicians and other opportunists.

By freedom, we mean both political and social freedom. Communities and individuals must have the freedom to participate in all of the decisions, laws, and agreements that affect them. Anything short of this is at best a false democracy. Decisions should be made in public meetings and popular assemblies, using Direct Democracy, so that everyone has an equal voice. This way, communities free themselves from the oppression and illegitimate authority of government, who today make all of the decisions for us. The antithesis of political freedom is government, which has and always will be a tool of domination of a privileged minority over the rest of us. We aim to replace this ancient foundation of inequality with a grassroots network of autonomous, self-governing communities, unions, federations, and other associations.

The foundation of true freedom is mutual respect. We must have freedom of thought and desire, the freedom to love, to think, and to act. So long as our actions do not impede the freedom or well-being of others, our freedom will be anarchy. No individual is truly free without a supportive and open-minded community, and no community is ever free if it is not made of truly liberated individuals. Moreover, no one is truly free until everyone is free. We believe in freedom of women, queers, transgender people, people of color, immigrants, workers, and all others traditionally oppressed by the current order. Most importantly, we support their freedom to resist this oppression and to fight for their own freedom and equality.

Freedom founded on respect and solidarity, is what we define as anarchy. Freedom is an easy concept to grasp. We feel it burning in our guts. We know it is stifled and repressed by our current society, regardless of how free our politicians and bosses say we are.

By equality, we mean economic equality. By this we do not mean that everyone must be exactly alike or posses exactly the same things. We mean no human should be dominated by or have authority over another. To achieve economic equality is to eliminate class distinctions. Today, because there are two classes (and sometimes a middle class buffer) one massive class suffers the terrible struggle of poverty so that the other tiny class can live in leisure and luxury. This is how capitalism works.

Our economic motto is “Production by each according to their ability, and distribution to each according to their need.” Humanity produces far more than enough to provide for everyone. If our societies were to share (as an economic model) instead of hoarding greedily, if we were to hold all that we produced as common property within our communities, then we would completely eradicate poverty, homelessness, and hunger. Human society organized on such a model would naturally produce to meet the needs of the people within the society. People would work harder when there’s a shortage, trade and give to other communities when there is abundance, and share the leisure and creativity, bi-products of efficient productivity. Communities built on freedom and equality take care of their own.

We who work make everything, so we know the obstacle to economic equality isn’t our inability to produce enough for everyone. To realize this, we only have to look at the massive factories, the bountiful fields of crops, and our ever-advancing technologies, and then at the heaping mounds of food and clothes rotting in dumpsters, and at abandoned buildings and factories crumbling to the ground. The problem is our system of distribution and ownership, that is, capitalism, which is the antithesis of economic equality.

In capitalism, those who own – the factories, tools, means of transportation, hospitals, schools, and apartments – make an enormous profit off the rest of us. We work the machines, rent the homes, pay for transit to and from work, pay to buy food and feed our families, but then lose more money to terrible insurance companies and taxes paid to our useless government. We are the vast majority of humanity, but those that own do nothing else except accumulate wealth, which they use to buy more.

If everyone had their needs met, there would be no profit for those who owned. We wouldn’t pay them to be useless and lazy if we produced to meet our needs and shared. Thus, those that own also waste. Restaurants throw out food at the end of the day. Landlords keep apartments empty. Bosses keep their businesses understaffed. Developers keep plots vacant. All of this they do to create an artificial need for their ownership. In reality, we do not need bosses to own our time and lords to own the land. We need only to create and share.

We aim to abolish capitalism and all other economic models where people accumulate wealth and property to achieve leisure and power, or where money determines the value of anything important. We believe that there should be no private ownership, in that no individual should be allowed to hoard more than they need for their own private use. Likewise, no individual should be allowed to go hungry or homeless. Nearly every human contributes to society in some way or another, and thus, membership in human society should bring with it the guarantee of access to the necessities of life. The bulk of what we produce, things of necessity and leisure alike, should be brought to markets and storehouses both common and free, or otherwise freely shared between neighbors, coworkers, communities, industries, cities, and regions. In this way food, clothes, housing, and the tools of production should be available to all. In other words, we believe in economic communism or socialism, not the bastardized systems of government created by opportunists speaking wrongfully in those names to reproduce the inequality and repression of capitalism, monarchism, and other forms of governmental dominance. We mean socialism, or communism, in their original meanings, which we have described above.

So to recap: we fight for anarchy, a highly-organized political system of self-governing communities free of hierarchy and all forms of oppression, and for socialism, an economic model based on equality and sharing, as opposed to ownership, exploitation, and profit.

 

How we are going to get it.

 

Surely, some of those reading this are wondering how humans—who appear to be such a selfish breed—would care to work to provide enough for all instead of accumulating only for themselves and their closest loved ones. However, humans behave how they are socialized, and whole societies have, do, and will continue to live in ways drastically different than our hyper-competitive capitalist American nightmare. The best way for human society to survive has always been for everyone to work together, for the good of all. Even in our capitalist world, signs of this alternative are all around us. Societies, both human and animal, that cooperate instead of compete, ensure the highest quality of life for themselves.

People revolt when they learn of their domination by the rich class, sometimes in small ways and sometimes on a society-wide level. People learn better ways to live and they attempt to bring them to life. However, most revolutions humans have made so far have only replaced the old systems of inequality and exploitation with new ones. They didn’t win both freedom and equality, and one without the other creates neither. Most anarchist revolutions have been sabotaged by anarchists’ allies—generally, state-supporting communists—who in practice believed in equality and not freedom, as in the Ukraine and Spain.

Anarchy cannot exist anywhere unless the vast majority of people living there want it, because only they can create and maintain such a decentralized, organized system. This is why the first step to anarchy is educating and agitating for social revolution.

Social Revolution occurs first in the minds and spirits of revolutionary people, and then casts itself upon the physical landscapes of human habitats. To get to this point, anarchists need a massive education campaign. We need schools for raising free children, for teaching adults useful things, and for educating about successful struggle and political ideas. We need a vibrant community of thought, action, arts, music, traditions, and celebration that can become more powerful than the mother culture of capitalism. We need publications, plays, films, public art, and widespread propaganda for freedom and equality.

First, anarchists need to participate positively in the struggles occurring around us daily, not only as anarchists, but as neighbors, fellow workers, peers, lovers, and comrades. We need to participate in existing social change groups and create new ones where needed. These are the future associations of direct democracy, because they are the organized, active populace trying to create a better society today. We need to connect them to each other by pointing out common struggles and by organizing popular assemblies.

We need strong, well-organized anarchist groups, dedicated to the social revolution. We need to network, federate, and confederate our existing anarchist groups internationally, regionally, and locally, and through them build public programs, publications, festivals, campaigns, and more. These organizations exist today, but they must grow and become better connected. Improved communication and resource sharing will give anarchist groups needed support when they stand on the threshold of revolution, or when they face repression from the state. We will teach each other the vital skills needed to win revolutions and we will practice them.

Through our organizations, networks, and propaganda, we will agitate for social revolution, and participate in struggles that challenge the divide between oppressor and oppressed, always standing with the oppressed against the oppressor.

Physical Revolution occurs when the people seize the landscape of their communities and implement freedom and equality. This can theoretically occur gradually, but usually it comes from an explosion of social action. Workers seize their workshops and work for their communities instead of their bosses. Neighbors drive the landlords out and govern themselves, ignoring or expelling politicians. In the space created by these actions, the oppressed of all sorts stand up to their oppressors, and through their actions, make freedom and equality.

Anarchist groups may help in creating the conditions and social mindset for revolution, and when the people at large create the revolution, by accident, in reaction to some cataclysmic event, or by planned uprising, anarchist organizations must be prepared to help our neighbors take and operate the mass media to promote our ideas, occupy our jobs, and barricade our streets. We must call for popular assemblies, create moneyless markets, public storerooms, and other means of sharing. We must immediately make sure that the hungry are fed and the sick and wounded are cared for. We must tirelessly promote complete freedom and equality for all, and quickly organize the defense of our social gains.

We need to seize armories and arm the people, because those with power defend their power by force. We need volunteer militias and barricade networks to defend liberated territories from the police and the militaries of the state and their allies. Ideally, we will have infiltrated the military beforehand, or win large portions of the army over in some other way, as soldiers are workers, too, generally from working class communities. Militias and organizations may have to form larger volunteer columns of fighting people to win a war against the government. Because we will be out-gunned, our fighting tactics must rely on highly-mobile volunteer forces with superior knowledge of the territory, using the element of surprise, opportunistic ingenuity, and trickery at every turn. Fighting conventionally, we will lose, so we will have to be creative.

Theoretically, we would plan and launch simultaneous revolutions across the world, but this is unlikely. Regardless, our international organizations must be strong enough to participate forcefully and effectively to support those fighting for freedom and equality. We must flood revolutionary places with international volunteers (for fighting, cooking, healing, and all sorts of other vital support roles), supplies, weapons, money, ideas, and more. Our international allies should attack the mechanisms of the state’s war effort, stopping shipments and production of weapons. Our international organizations will help spread the Empire thin by engaging its forces and its allies with their own campaigns and actions.

If we succeed in creating a revolution in the United States, and in particular on the East Coast, the world will have a fighting chance at global revolution. By decapitating the head of the beast, we will create space for those occupied by the most sophisticated empire in the history of the world to rise up for their freedom, which in turn will help us to win here. Global freedom and equality will only come from a concerted, international effort to re-organize society with revolution, and a willingness to support such revolutions wherever they occur.