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(en) Red & Black Revolution #7 - If you want to create Socialism - it must be based on Freedom by James O'Brien

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 21 Dec 2003 08:05:48 +0100 (CET)

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This article is based on a talk given at the debate about 'anarchism or
marxism?' at this year's Socialist Youth summer camp.
The terms socialism and communism are often associated with the
murderous dictatorships set up by the Bolsheviks in Russia and later
copied by their followers all over the world. Although these State
socialists talked of creating a free and equal communist society, their
authoritarian methods ensured that they ended up creating the
opposite, a totalitarian nightmare. Anarchists also seek to create
communism. But for us freedom plays a central role, not only in the
future society, but in how we try to get there. That is why, when we
talk of communism, we talk of libertarian communism.

Simply put, libertarian communism is where everybody has an equal
say in making decisions that affect them and where everybody is
assured of equal access to the benefits of society. It's summed up in
the old phrase "from each according to ability, to each according to

Liberty without socialism?

The shortcomings of liberty when one does not have the material
ability to participate in that liberty are obvious. What's the use of
being nominally free if you can't afford the healthcare to stay alive and
enjoy it? Socialism would ensure that everyone was free, not just the

Socialism without liberty?

Bakunin said, "Socialism without liberty would be brutality and
slavery." He was referring to the prospect of centralised state
socialism, specifically Marxism, which he foresaw would result in a
totalitarian society, one of the social sciences' more impressive
predictions. A society that doesn't allow the free development of
individuals is not worth fighting for.
Anarchist Socialism

Anarchists think that we should move to create socialism as soon as
the workers have taken over production. There isn't any reason to keep
the wage system after a revolution. As every product is a social
product - nobody produces anything in isolation any more - the
products themselves ought to be socialised. It's simply not possible to
ascertain the true social value of anyone's labour, and in truth not
worth the effort of finding out. Everybody's contribution matters. It
wouldn't matter how many surgeons we had, if we didn't have cleaners
ensuring a hygienic workplace. Both contribute to society. Why
discriminate in favour of one in the future society? It'll only preserve
the class nature of society

We should move immediately to a system of "to each according to
need". Probably this will involve rationing, but that's basically what
money does anyway, just in an unfair way. But all of this has to be a
voluntary act of the working class. The working class must implement
libertarian socialism themselves. If an attempt is made to impose
socialism from above by a state or a benevolent few, it'll prove just as
disastrous as it did in the Soviet Union. And socialism won't result

Power Versus Direct Action

If we create a society where a few have power over the rest, then the
hunger for power, which is a definite tendency in human nature, is
going to find an environment in which it can flourish. It doesn't matter
whether the elite few are the rich or whether they're the leaders of the
party. This is why anarchists place such emphasis on direct action. It
is the libertarian principle in action. Direct action isn't some fancy
stunt designed to gain publicity, as some Greens seem to think as they
lock themselves onto the gates of the Dáil for half an hour. It is about
acting directly, without appealing to intermediaries to act on your
behalf. It is the basis for true democracy, for direct democracy, Every
time you participate directly in taking a decision on issues you are
acting directly (discussion and deciding are forms of political action).

When we act for ourselves we learn useful lessons for the future as
well as influencing the present. If socialism is to be achieved, people
will need to have confidence in their own ability to run society. When
we organise something useful in the present we are training ourselves
for the future. Anarchism is about personal liberty. In order to act as a
free person you must make decisions and act for yourself. When you
are acting directly you are clearly not obeying the commands of a
leader. No doubt you will be influenced by some people's arguments
more than by others. But you are free to decide your own course of
action. Nobody is compelling you to do anything.

Under a governmental system, whether that be a representative
democracy or a dictatorship, the leaders have the authority to tell you
what to do. If you don't do it then you can expect retribution. You are
no longer capable of acting directly when there is a higher power
controlling your activity.
Collective Action

Direct action does not preclude collective action. In fact the opposite
is the case. Anarchists emphasise the need for collective action. This
isn't simply because it's more effective, which is obviously true, but
also because we are social beings whose freedom is not denied by
associating with our friends and colleagues, but rather enhanced when
it is a voluntary act.

It is when we are forced to associate that our freedom is denied. There
is a liberal myth, or rather a statist creation myth, that originally
humans lived as isolated individuals at war with each other (hence the
necessity for an entity above society to control it: the State). In fact
we are an intensely social species who become aware of ourselves as
individuals by interacting with our fellow human beings.

From the recognition of humans as social beings flows the anarchist
view on organisation. Organisation is essential. Pretty much all human
endeavour relies on organisation to some extent, and anarchists are
usually found to be acting through organisations of some sort whether
that be informal groupings which organise a Reclaim the Streets or a
more formal structure like Trade Unions or community campaigns. An
anarchist society will be highly organised, but it won't be a
hierarchical. We envisage that autonomous cities and industries will
federate together and co-ordinate their activities. With socialism there
won't be any competitive reason not to. With voluntary co-operation
there won't be any need for a centralised authority.

The question is not really one of organisation or not, but rather what
type of organisation: libertarian or authoritarian. By authoritarian I
mean the ability to enforce your will on another. Decisions are made
by a few which must be carried out by the rest. So private companies
and police forces are authoritarian. States are authoritarian to the

By libertarian I mean direct involvement in the decision making
process and actions which affect you. The right to federate is
balanced with the right to disassociate. I think that only libertarianism
which is permeated by a socialist mentality is viable, for the spirit of
cooperation and mutual aid is vital.

Anarchism is a realistic political ideology. We do realise that most
people have little interest in making a libertarian revolution next week.
Or that making one in the next few decades will be easy. Far from it,
anarchy being the most radical goal is going to encounter the greatest
resistance from the ruling class. Many are daunted by the task and
look for shortcuts, whether through the parliamentary route or via a
revolutionary coup d'etat.

But if we are serious about achieving anarchism, then we have to start
about it now. It isn't going to drop from the sky. The longer we wait to
begin acting for ourselves the longer it's going to be till we achieve our
aim. Also many people are used to letting others run society for them.
Sure they might get indignant over corruption or a particularly blatant
invasion of a third world country, but it's fair to say that their actual
involvement in changing anything is pretty low.

Although State socialist parties do talk about the need for direct
action, it appears to be another weapon in their armoury rather than
directly related to the end goal of libertarian communism. The whole
point of having a minority of brainy and benevolent leaders is that they
will do the difficult work for you. As such it follows that you yourself
don't need to change, to participate on an equal footing with everybody
else, to think about why we need socialism, you don't need to get
deeply involved in making it happen. This will be fatal for any
revolution because the new society will face tough times. But if people
have a good understanding of what they are fighting for and have made
a deep personal commitment to achieving it, it's unlikely that they are
going to let it go easily.
The State

Libertarian organising is incompatible with the State. What follows
only touches on some of the fundamental characteristics of a State.
Undoubtedly the State has modified itself in the last hundred years,
but its core functions remain the same. A State reserves the exclusive
right to wield force. By force I include the police forces, a courts
system, and of course an army for when things get especially difficult.
A State is always controlled by a select few. Note that the elite can
be either wealthy capitalists or party leaders.

The elite operates using a system of hierarchical authority; i.e. orders
are issued by the elite at the top of the hierarchy, which are followed
by those lower in the chain of command. This bureaucratic chain of
command is absolutely essential to any State, Bolshevik or Capitalist.
The institutions of the State are centralised and they attempt to
regulate the behaviour of the rest of society. This follows from the fact
that the State is a vehicle for the rule of a minority. As a minority
cannot hope to satisfy the wishes of all the people and the people
aren't going to submit without compulsion, it creates a huge
bureaucracy to implement the orders emanating from above and to
direct and control their behaviour as much as possible. Anarchists
claim that this bureaucracy becomes entrenched and a source of real

This is an issue of profound difference between us and Marxists.
Where as we wish to destroy this system of control and replace it
with directly democratic structures involving the whole population, we
would see the goal of the authoritarian socialist party as the capturing
of this bureaucratic power for itself. This is essentially what happened
in Russia. Supposedly the bureaucratic apparatus that is the State
would be used to introduce socialism. Anarchists are not only
skeptical that the new rulers of the State apparatus would suc - ceed
in introducing socialism, we are positively frightened that they would
introduce a totalitarian nightmare. Maybe seizing control of the
bureaucracy and its armed force is not the goal of rank and file
socialists but it's the likely result if you maintain or reestablish the
hierarchical structures.

Leninists might think that the problem is solved when they've got rid of
the people who ran the old State, but that really is of limited
importance. If the hierarchical patterns remain, the system remains
fundamentally unaltered. Class society remains. Only this time the
ruling class will be the privileged elite of the party who control the
bureaucratic structure.

It's true that the Russians faced a terrible time after 1918, with the
civil war and the toil it took on the urban working class. But there is
also the vital element of the Bolshevik party taking power for itself
and ruling over the population. Anarchists claim that this was a crucial
element in the failure of the revolution. In fact I consider it
counter-revolutionary. The revolution consists of the establishment of
factory committees, popular soviets, etc. The smashing of State power
in October was essential. The repair work that the Bolsheviks did on
the State after October was counter to the revolution, however much
they honestly believed otherwise. For example they rapidly moved to
counter the growing power of the grassroots factory committees by
insisting on State control of industry.

Given that it's the Marxist-Leninist goal to take control of the
bureaucratic structure that is the State, it's logical that present day
Marxists should use State structures to further their aims: Lenin said
that the working class ought to be prepared for revolution by Marxists
utilising the present State. Anarchists are opposed to the State and all
that the principle of authority demands. Therefore we can't utilise
State institutions, such as parliamentary elections to achieve our
ends. As the conduct of some anarchists during the Spanish Civil war
illustrates, anarchists are no more immune to the virus of power that
using State positions involves than anybody else. We advocate
instead building alternative movements which will pre-figure the type
of society we want.

We are not in favour of merely disbanding the State. We favour its
replacement with directly democratic institutions. The State has taken
on some socially necessary work such as the provision of health care.
We obviously aren't in favour of shutting down hospitals because we
dislike the Minister for Health and senior civil servants. Just as we
would disband private companies but not do away with production, we
would disband the State structure but keep the services. We advocate
that workers manage the health service in consultation with the
community. To repeat, necessary functions which are currently run by
the State will be run by democratic workers' councils which will
federate with each other not only because of a sense of mutual aid but
also out of self-interest. These workers' councils differ from a State
because they won't be under the control of a minority.
Party Rule?

Is it possible to have a dual structure of workers councils and a State
structure operating simultaneously? It's unlikely. Dual-power
situations are inherently unstable. The State is particularly unwilling to
accommodate a challenge to its authority. Rulers tend not to step
aside voluntarily and we'd be doubtful that a revolutionary socialist
party is going to make history in this regard.

The presence of a party assuming control of a revolutionary situation
must come at the expense of the activity of the class as a whole.
Either the class is in charge or the State is. This is most starkly
illustrated when the grassroots organs of the class (workers'
committees, community councils) come into conflict with the State.
What real power do the councils have if they can be over-ruled by the
State? What's the point of a State if the workers' councils can
over-rule it? The logical outcome of a party seizing the initiative in a
revolution is that the role of the class becomes redundant. Why be
active if the party can accomplish it for you? Why be active if the
party might arrest you for going against its policy?

Anarchists think that the creative capacities of the working class as a
whole far outweigh the capacities of a few individual leaders. It is our
view that a truly democratic society would be more efficient than it
currently is, simply because it would harness everybody's ability.
Planning the economy and society generally would be far more
efficient than it is now because it would include the views of
everybody. It would also be far more efficient than centralised State
planning, which tends to become messed up in useless,
self-perpetuating bureaucracy.

One reason that I personally am an anarchist is that I don't feel
confident that I know what's good for everybody. For example I'd be
clueless about the health sector. What's more I'd much rather leave it
to the people working there, to organise themselves in conjunction
with the local communities, than for it to be run by any small group.

The revolution will not be made by anarchists. The task is too complex
to be accomplished by a minority. We will of course participate,
advocating a libertarian direction. A free socialist society needs the
active participation of millions of people. And crucially that
participation can only happen voluntarily. Socialism cannot be imposed
on the people. It has to be a voluntary, organic process. It has to be a
libertarian process.

More information

* The thinking about anarchism index
* Anarchism and the left
* The anarchism website


This page is from Red & Black Revolution
(no 7, Winter 2003)
Print out a PDF file of Issue 7

Most recent Red and Black Revolution

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Workers Solidarity Movement

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