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(en) DA #26 - Solidarity Federation - Abused beyond meaning?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 16 Apr 2003 09:21:38 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

The use and abuse of the f-word
This article may seem a little negative, and maybe it is,
but hey!, there are more positive ideas going on in this issue
and, every now and then, it is okay to be a
grumpy flump^(TM). Freedom - the theme of this issue of DA
is a much used and abused term. It's not just anarchosyndicalists,
anarchists and assorted libertarians who look
to freedom. Every political hue seems to have its own use for
the term.
It's a word that, let's face it, makes people sit up and say
'Sure! I want a bit of that', and assume that 'if they are for
freedom, they can't be half bad, I'll give
them my vote/subscription to the party/support'. Now, here's
the thing: if lots of people with widely varying positions are
using the word, this creates a problem as to
what they actually mean by 'freedom', and how the differing
definitions relate to what anarchosyndicalists mean when we
use the term.

Freedom from XY or Z
Part of the problem can be easily explained away (well, for
the sake of this article, everyone is asked to at least assume it
is easy). A common use of the word
'freedom' is its use as a positive against particular negatives:
what is really meant is 'freedom from XY or Z'. In most cases,
it is usually only the chosen self-defined
'decent' few who are going to be free from whatever is being
constructed as a threat at any given time, be it burglary, drug
addiction or bail hostels being opened next
door to 'ordinary, law-abiding' people. Actually, the 'freedom
from' usage is often more about defining those elements of
society who are deemed by the chattering classes
to be deserving or respectable against those who are not, than
it is about 'freedom to'.
Example: Read Culpa - editor of a would-be middle market
tabloid - will write an editorial about the absolutely appalling
breakdown of decent, law abiding social
values, and how decent upstanding nice people need freedom
from the degeneracy they see all around them. What they
mean is how horrible these people are, who are not like
me/ I don't understand them/don't want to understand
them/am scared I may actually be like them/ why don't we
ban/criminalise/demonise them, and lock them all up?
The Tory (both Labour & Conservative varieties) cry for
freedom - the freedom from fear of crime, is a fairly long
standing stalwart of the authoritarian and the
power/control hungry - whenever they need to appeal to the
masses. Want someone to give you power? Promise to make
their life safe from crime. No-one likes being burgled,
mugged or worse, and very few people imagine that they would
be the victim of a miscarriage of justice or a convenient
scapegoat in a public relations exercise. So people
are often happy, when politicians use scare tactics, to allow
them to increase their power and the power of the state (e.g.
recent Home Secretaries, Blunkett, Straw,
Howard, Clarke, Baker, etc.).
The catch is, however, that in order to achieve freedom
from fear of crime, the public have to agree to give up the
right to silence, legal aid, disclosure of
information by prosecutors, etc. If, as is currently popular with
the Government, they replace crime with the word terrorism,
then it seems we can waive any justification
by the State for what it does, and neither do we have any
protection from it. Now, there is no need to file charges, no
need to provide contact with the outside, or advice,
or legal representation, and no need for a pretence of justice,
let alone getting a fair trial. When they get bored, they might
release you, when they've had the fine media
coverage for ensuring public security, and your innocence is
yesterday's news and not remotely interesting.

Freedom from greed guilt
Another use/abuse of the term 'freedom' comes in disguise
as a positive, when in fact it is just a variation of 'freedom
from'. A lot of the time, politicians of right
wing Tory tendencies talk about freedom from the nanny
State. This is basically a ruse to allow themselves and their
mates to make as much money as possible without anyone
else coming in and imposing any humanity or other
'obstruction'. What they wish to be free from is anything that
might interfere with their 'rights' to screw as much out of
everything and everyone else as possible. Those who interfere
with this process by asking for such unreasonable things such
as not sacking people just because they are
pregnant, have the temerity to ask for a tiny share in the
profits they create in terms of a pay rise, become ill, want an
occasional holiday, a safer working environment,
reasonable flexibility in working hours, etc. are seen as an
affront to the 'freedom' of market enterprise. Unsurprisingly,
they never seem to see workers' rights to
self-organisation as an essential freedom.

Freedom from any wits at all
Away from the party politicians seeking votes, others
frequently look to the call of a freedom of some form or
another. Even the openly authoritarian fascists, nazis
and other far right thugs often seek what they call 'freedom'.
Admittedly, the far right's idea of 'freedom' is usually freedom
from whichever section of society they have
decided is hampering them in some way. This is the section
that they can lie about, spread misinformation about, and
twist the truth about enough to scare people, and play
on their worst prejudices, so that they - the 'freedom' fighters -
can then come in as saviours and take over for the glorious
future of whatever tin pot Führer they happen
to be following that month. The horrible part of it is, they are
good at actually getting some people to swallow this bullshit -
look at the demoralising successes of the
BNP over the last months in neglected, deprived working
class wards, where people are only too ready to be
manipulated into believing that all of their problems are down
to X, Y or Z.

Freedom from (bad) leaders
Moving on from the horror of the far right, groups on the
left frequently also frequently slip the word 'freedom' into
their everyday campaigns. Marxists, Leninists,
Stalinists, Trotskyists and assorted leftists are big on freedom
too, and again, it is usually freedom from some specific ill.
Much like mainstream politicians, their chief
solution appears to be to replace one set of leaders with
another - usually themselves in the shape of The Party.
It is true to say that many of the aims of the left's 'freedom
from' campaigns are laudable and frequently supported by
anarchists with certain reservations. That is
to say that the bit that is objectionable will be objectionable
to both the parties and to the anarchist, and they will often
come together to protest against such things.
However, the solutions will usually be starkly different - it not
being very libertarian to seek to replace one set of appalling
leaders with a hopefully nominally nicer
set. The many national liberation struggles, for example, were
all prime examples of freedom from XY or Z campaigns, where
anarchists have been and remain active in
campaigns against dictatorships, but do not campaign to
replace one dictatorship with another.
In addition to the usual use of the term 'freedom' by social
democratic (and worse) politicians, many on the left see as
their ultimate aim a form of libertarian
communism similar to that envisaged by libertarians. In
anarcho-syndicalism (and anarchism generally), the aims and
means are integral; it is not possible to build a
libertarian future by using authoritarian means. Quite how the
hierarchical structures of the left parties and then the party
state are supposed to lead to libertarian
communism is never made clear by them, simply because it is
a fallacy.
Those who tend to rise in hierarchical structures are those
best at manipulating such structures for their own ends rather
than for the social good - whatever their
initial intentions. Thus, those who seek power will gain it
ahead of those that do not. Moreover, those who seek power
most ruthlessly and with least morals and scruples
will be the most likely to gain it. So a party looking for power
has to be ruthless and without morals to gain and maintain
power (the goal being nothing, the movement
everything). The structure becomes based on the gain and
maintenance of power, and inconvenient things like ideals get
forced out - ever wonder what all the New Labour
types were learning in various lefty parties when younger?
Importantly, the operation of political structures that are
inherently hierarchical wipes out the possibility of
them ever achieving the freedom represented by living in a
peaceful, mutually respectful, co-operative and equally
resourced society.

Freedom from responsibility
Amongst the libertarian current, there are as many
interesting takes on 'freedom' as there are on 'anarchism'.
Freedom to do whatever you like is one of the most
frequently occurring 's/he doesn't get it, does s/he?'
misunderstandings. The unrestricted freedom to do whatever
you like whoever it affects is not freedom at all - it is
a childish tantrum at being stopped from hitting the nice
doggy with your stick. It is closely akin to the Tory ideal of
being free from the 'restrictions' that force
employers to treat workers as though they have rights. Human
beings are social creatures; we live in societies where we
interact with each other. If we are ever going to
get along, it has to be recognised that doing whatever,
whenever, without thought of the consequences to others, is
going to lead to a break-down of any happy coexistence
that can be found. An individualistic ideal of being free from
all forms of societal constraints is the opposite of real freedom
- and wipes out any chance of creating a
better society.

Freedom from everything - innit?
'Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose' - or
so the song goes. Yes, believe it or not, there are those who
really do believe that the ultimate freedom
is lack of shelter, family, possessions and other necessities.
There is a tendency - (no, really) - to romanticise about life on
the streets. You've got no home, no job, so
no worries, right? Well, if anybody who has ever claimed that
homelessness is the ultimate freedom, I'm here to tell you
that you couldn't be more wrong - finding food,
shelter, getting health treatment and staying away from
violence and threats are all pretty worrying, as anyone who has
ever lived on the streets will tell you. Just
because you have nothing that anyone could want from you,
doesn't mean that there's nothing that can be taken from you -
just ask the street children of various Latin
American cities who are pursued by the State death squads.
Having no material goods does not provide immunity from
fear, hunger and ultimately, violent death - and
certainly does not represent any recognisable definition of
'freedom' that I am familiar with.

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