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(en) Anarchism versus Right-Wing 'Anti-Statism" article

From Jamal Hannah <jah@iww.org>
Date Sat, 9 Dec 2000 02:33:41 -0500 (EST)


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> From: Brian O. Sheppard <bakunin@anarcho.zzn.com>
Anarchism vs. Right-Wing 'Anti-Statism'

It is currently fashionable to claim to hate the government. One could say
it is the general, default position of most you talk to. But it is not
clear why this is so. While you might think a popular hatred of government
would mean the ranks of anarchists are swelling, it actually isn't the case.

ANARCHIST RHETORIC GONE MAINSTREAM

Over the past two decades something interesting has occurred that the
anarchist movement has yet to adequately address. Rhetoric is coming from
the mouths of politicians that a hundred years ago (if not more recently)
would have branded them as "anarchists" or as seditious traitors. Though
the politicians employing this type of rhetoric are most consistently
Republicans, "big government liberals" in the Democratic Party have also
been drawn to this style of speaking. 

The idea they are voicing is a simple one: government is bad. The bigger it
is, the worse it gets. The smaller we make it, the better for all. We don't
want government butting into our affairs, and we don't want government
regulating us right and left. And, unlike anarchists who in the 19th
century were saying essentially the same thing, the politicians who endorse
this view are not slaughtered en masse by the National Guard, or framed up
on anti-patriotic conspiracy charges, but are instead elected into that
institution they claim to hate - the government. 

Many are the politicians - sitting in the halls of congress and living a
life unknown to many working Americans - that claim to hate government.
They paint opponents as "big government insiders," and vow to get in office
to fight for you, the commoner, who has a distrust of all those cheating
politicians and of government in general. A huge amount of politicians ride
into office on campaigns with such themes as "eliminating government" or at
least "shrinking" it. "He wants to increase the size and the scope of the
federal government," George W. Bush said about Al Gore during his campaign
for President in the 2000 election. Vice President Al Gore countered, "I'm
for a smaller, smarter government that serves people better, but offers
real change." 

If both sides are honest and are in fact committed to shrinking government,
then this must mean we are tremendously close to living in a truly free,
stateless society where there is no government at all, right?

Well, no. In fact, just the opposite is occurring.

SELECTIVE SHRINKING, SELECTIVE EXPANSION

Politicians on the Right have co-opted a very long tradition of
anti-government sentiment and are using it, ironically, to boost themselves
into power and eliminate areas of government that benefit the poor. This is
occurring while they actually increase government in such areas as military
spending, prison spending, corporate welfare, the size of police forces,
and the like. In the twisted Ideology of the Right, hating that most
dastardly of all enemies, the Federal Government, means hating, in reality,
only certain, selective portions of it: the parts that interfere with the
untrammeled operations of private corporate power, the parts that provide
respite from wage slavery (such as Social Security or unemployment
insurance), the parts that help underprivileged kids go to college, etc.
This is what "big government" is to them. "Big government" somehow does not
include subsidies to the military industrial complex, subsidies to the
prison industry, bailouts to troubled mega-corporations, the banking
industry, or any of these things. These are conspicuously off the radar
screen of anyone who rails about the evils of "big government."

Now, historically, when anarchists spoke of eliminating government, it was
not a ploy to get into government and perpetuate the evil of it, as it
seems to be with our tough-talking Republicans. Hating government meant
hating tyranny and hating the authority of any other human to be able to
tell you what to do. Anarchists literally got killed for thinking this way.
"Hating government" now, however, seems to be code for hating things like
affirmative action or Medicaid. It doesn't seem to mean hating police
officers, hating war, or hating a defense budget that gets 50% of every tax
dollar. Somehow this extremely substantial part of government is let off
the hook (and is in many cases venerated). This is what constitutes "hating
government" in this era of doublethink - not hating government really, but
in fact loving its most brutal and violent side in the form of the military
and the police, the courts and the prisons, and disliking anything that has
to do with social spending.


HATE THE GOVERNMENT, LOVE YOUR COUNTRY

"I hate the government, but I love my country," is a sentiment you will
hear a lot amongst the Right these days. The idea seems to be that the
government up in Washington has become overrun with a politically correct,
neo-Socialist cabal that wants to punish the white man for his natural
success, and reward the failures of ethnic minorities, gays, radical
feminists, etc., through increased taxation upon him. This has led to many
"militias" being established by bitter people who feel that the USA is
dangerously off course, that it is no longer a land of the free and the
brave, but is in fact a virtual slave state at the beck and call of the
United Nations, wealthy Jews, rich politicians (usually Democrat), and the
like. 

The goal of the right wing militias and those who have similar ideas is not
to abolish authority, the tyranny of capital, or any other oppressive form,
but rather to simply get the USA back on the "right track." The American
system is not fundamentally flawed, they say - it is just that those at the
helm of the ship right now are steering it in an unpatriotic direction.
Hating the government as it exists now, then, is the best way to express
one's true patriotism.

In a 1995 interview conducted not too long after the bombing of a federal
building in Oklahoma City, MIT Professor Noam Chomsky summed up the
situation in these words: 

"[T]ake the angry white males who are maybe joining what they mistakenly
call militias, [but which are actually] paramilitary forces. These people
are angry. Most of them are high school graduates. They're people whose
incomes have dropped maybe 20% over the last fifteen years or so. They can
no longer do what they think is the right thing for them to do, provide for
their families. Maybe their wives have to go out and work. And maybe they
make more money than they do. Maybe the kids are running crazy because no
one's paying any attention to them. Their lives are falling apart. They're
angry. Who are they supposed to blame? You're not supposed to blame the
Fortune 500, because they're invisible. They have been taught for 50 years
now ... that all there is around is the government. If there's anything
going wrong, it's the government's fault. The government is somehow
something that is independent of external powers. So if your life is
falling apart, blame the government."

"There's a reason why attention is focused on the government as the source
of problems. It has a defect. It's potentially democratic. Private
corporations are not potentially democratic.... [The militia movement] is
not the kind of populism that says, 'Fine, let's take over the government
and use it as an instrument to undermine and destroy private power, which
has no right to exist.' Nobody is saying that. All that you're hearing is
that there's something bad about government, so let's blow up the federal
building."

Politicians advance their pro-corporate agenda by consciously manipulating
the popular discontent with the state of things. Public anger can be
channeled into a hatred of "big government programs" that big business
wants to see dismantled anyway. For example, private insurance corporations
would gladly step in and take over and administer the Social Security
system. It was not until workers began dying from starvation and holding
mass riots that anything like Social Security ever got established, and
ever since then it has been mercilessly targeted by corporations who see it
as a barrier to their ability to expand markets. In the logic of people on
the Right whose campaigns are funded by big insurance companies, Social
Security is a "big government program." So, hey, if you hate the
government, elect me, and I'll eliminate government - I'll hand it over to
private power. This is, in effect, all that anti-government sentiment means
to the Right - handing government functions over to democratically
unaccountable private tyrannies. This isn't eliminating government,
however. It is merely changing its nature.
	
Now, if a hatred of government were really a hatred of government, one
would expect to see police forces slashed, jails and prisons torn down,
laws that provide for the establishment of corporations eliminated, and
other things. This never occurs, because this is actually the part of the
State the "anti-government" Right wants strengthened. As of the year 2000,
more than 2 million Americans are in jail. At least 6.5 million are under
some form of correctional supervision nationwide. This means 1 out of every
32 citizens are under some form of direct government supervision. And this
means that the State is present in our daily lives to a degree unknown to
any previous generation. Where are the anti-government populists who will
rail against this? Answer: They are busy writing legislation to get "tough
on crime" and make sure even more prisons are built, even more drugs are
outlawed, even more money is given to law enforcement to increase the power
of the State, and worse. No one seems to see the irony here. Far from
wanting to eliminate the government, the Right wants to increase the powers
of the State and roll back whatever civil liberties we may have remaining,
and to abolish any sort of social safety nets that previous generations of
workers fought to achieve.

Writer Tim Wise commented, "Amazing isn't it, that the same folks who view
government so cynically when it comes to taxes, mail delivery, road
construction, education, or health care, and insist the state is incapable
of addressing these issues with equanimity and fairness, somehow find it
possible to believe this same state can dispense justice, and even the
ultimate punishment [of death], without a hint of impropriety, bias, or
error."

The ultimate goal of the Right is a strong police state. A merciless and
unforgiving state that punishes swiftly and surely. A State that rewards
patriotism and nationalism and punishes failure and disobedience. This
isn't eliminating the State. This is making the State ever more powerful.

THE APOLITICAL, 'SICK-OF-IT-ALL' VOTER WHO VOTES FOR THE RIGHT

It is hard to observe the profuse cynicism regarding the government, the
immediate skepticism regarding the integrity and sincerity of politicians,
and then watch people head to the polls to vote for them time and again,
and not think something is terribly amiss. It seems people claim to hate
the government as part of their public front of being irascible, skeptical,
iconoclastic thinkers. No one wants to feel like they are being "duped" by
politicians, apparently, so they claim that they distrust government
officials as a matter of necessity. They don't, however, want to do much
with their distrust in reality other than trudge back to the ballot box
every two or four years and repeat the same staid ritual of plugging in
their choice for one ruler or the next. And it seems in practice that those
who are teh most vocally cynical of Washington are in fact the ones who
vote for the most reactionary and extremist right wing candidates.

British fantasy and science fiction author Michael Moorcock commented on
this phenomenon: "My experience of science fiction fans at the conventions
which are held annually in a number of countries (mainly the US and
England) had taught me that those who attended were reactionary (claiming
to be 'apolitical' but somehow always happy to vote Tory and believe Colin
Jordan to 'have a point')." The Right has somehow managed to convince
people that if you hate politicians, you should vote for them. Somehow
politicians on the Right are not seen by many as "politicians" in the sense
that "politician" signifies someone who is by nature a fast-talking crook.
No, politicians on the Right are exempt from a critique of government or
politicians in general. Voting for them is not voting for a "politician" or
for "government."

The Democratic Party, traditionally seen as the party of big government
programs and of "tax and spend liberals," was compelled by the prevalence
of anti-government sentiment in the 90s to remake its image. And under "New
Democrats" like President Bill Clinton they swung to the right in adopting
the same sort of anti-government rhetoric while continuing to increase
prison populations, military spending, overseas intervention, and actually
build up State power. Nevertheless, in a 1996 speech to Ohio Democrats,
Clinton could boast, "I want a government that is smaller and less
bureaucratic. We have given you the smallest government, not the other
party ... in thirty years, and the biggest reduction in regulations."

THE SHAM OF RIGHT WING 'ANTI-STATISM'

It is clear that people are angry and dissatisfied with the way society
operates. The Right has simply succeeded in capturing this anger, reflected
it in their speeches, and has capitalized on it to boost themselves into
office. 'Okay,' they say to their constituents, 'we are in office now, and,
yes, we will eliminate government since it is an evil thing you have
elected us to combat. First up, we'll hand over increasing chunks of the
school system to private corporations.' This is what 'eliminating'
government amounts to - placing it into the hands of CEOs and wealthy
investors who can run it how they see fit, effectively removing it from the
arena of potential democratic accountability. In the meantime, the actual
power of the State is increased as the prisons swell and as the law clamps
down harder on petty criminals. With social safety nets eroding and
millions more falling into poverty, an expansion of the prison system
should be expected, as some method of dealing with all these 'superfluous'
people has to be found. And the prisons can be privatized, too.

Anarchists oppose the State because it is one of the principle expressions
of authority of man over man. Property in the means of production and in
the means of subsistence is likewise another authoritarian institution.
States exist to protect these institutions and thus they largely serve as a
defense mechanism for the rich against the poor. This does not mean workers
might not become so unruly as to force some form of seemingly charitable
concession from the State (like, say, OSHA), but in the end such
concessions are employed to defuse outright revolutionary fervor. A wealthy
man who owns vast amounts of land and who hates paying property taxes, and,
due to his soreness, comes to have an intense dislike of the government, is
not an anarchist. An anarchist is someone who recognizes that if it were
not for the State such a man would not be able to exclusively own land to
begin with, and would not be afforded legal protection (at public expense)
for keeping it. He thus would not be able to exercise despotic rights over
a given territory.

So it is that anarchists ultimately agree with the classical liberal
thinker Adam Smith - ironically held to be a great classical exponent of
laissez faire capitalism - when he says that 'Civil government, so far as
it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for
the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some
property against those who have none at all.' The right-wing
'anti-statists' who might otherwise venerate Smith cannot bring themselves
to admit this fact. While seeking to enable private power to run government
institutions more openly, they do not undermine the State's power but
merely make sure it fulfills its classical role.



------------------------------------------------------------------------

Brian Oliver Sheppard                         Industrial Union 450     
Industrial Workers of the World               ph: 1-877-871-7600 EXT. 776
x349393                                       fax: 1-877-871-7600 EXT. 776   
bsheppard@bari.iww.org
or bakunin@anarcho.zzn.com


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