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(en) Ireland, The Workers Solidarity* # 85 - Thinking about anarchism - Liberty

Date Sun, 29 May 2005 09:44:59 +0300

It is often said that there are two types of liberty, positive liberty and
negative liberty, or, roughly, 'freedom to...' and 'freedom from...'
This, I believe, is a false and meaningless dichotomy. Liberty is a
word that does not describe two things; it describes one singular
thing, one single state of being. Liberty, like every word in every
language, is a word that has developed out of the need for people to
communicate. It is an idea that is in essence interpersonal, social.
As Mikhail Bakunin, one of the founding fathers of modern
anarchism, wrote "Man in isolation can have no liberty. Being free
for man means being acknowledged considered and treated as such
by another man, and by all the men around him. Liberty is
therefore not a feature of isolation, not of exclusion but rather of

This may at first seem to say nothing new to us about liberty; it
doesn't us give a definition of liberty that will be true and valid for
all eternity and it doesn't get us any closer to such a definition.
However it does remind us of a few things. It reminds us that,
contrary to what many people say, liberty is not a matter of being
free from people, nor is it a matter of being free to do whatever you
wish regardless of the effect that it might have on other people.
Liberty is only meaningful when we are free with people. Liberty
only makes sense when the freedom of one person does not
encroach upon the other but rather re-enforces it. Liberty is not like
a cake with only so many slices to go around. It is a human, living
thing that only exists in society as we create it; it is a social

Liberty only exists between equal human beings. Inequality implies
the hierarchical positioning of one human over another and, as
such, implies the subjugation of one to the other. Inequality creates
slavery; it is only in a society of equals that true liberty can breathe.
Capital's ideologues

Contrary to what many say, there is no conflict between liberty and
equality. The existence of one implies the necessary co-existence
of the other. It would only be possible to think otherwise if equality
was confused with equation or if it was thought that liberty referred
not to the whole human but only to aspects of him/her. Both these
mistakes are commonly made by Capital's ideologues. They believe
that equality only means either the equal subjugation of all to the
State or to Capital. As such, they find any autonomous expression
of individuality or difference a major threat to equality. Many then
believe themselves to be the great defenders of liberty by opposing
equality in favour of liberty!! But their understanding of liberty is
shallow and meaningless. Capitalist 'liberty' restricts and
suppresses the free unfettered self-development of the individual,
the free autonomous self-management of one's own affairs and the
freedom that comes with removing fear, state-violence and war
from the world. Capitalist 'liberty' does not include the free
interaction of individuals associating, federalising, networking and
socialising, free from hierarchy and free from the ever present fear
of unemployment that so many working class people feel.

No, capitalist 'liberty' refers simply to the freedom to own, to buy
and to sell property, people, labour, whatever. It demands the
existence of the State-machine to defend capitalist's property and
their right to do with it whatever they will. Their 'liberty' refers only
to the economic; it does not refer to the human as he/she exists in
Liberty & Society

We, on the other hand, as revolutionary libertarian socialists,
believe that humans cannot be divorced from society. Humans can
only be free in society. Far from fettering liberty, it is people's
sociality that sets them free.

Under capitalism, the social co-operation of humanity has set
much of humanity free from disease, famine and malnutrition. But
it is ironic that it is this same system that prevents this liberation
from being made universal. Capitalism has shown us that we can
free ourselves of the shackles that nature has put on us. It is high
time that we free ourselves from the shackles of capitalism.

by Oisin Mac Giollamoir

Further reading

Thinking about anarchism
* This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper
'Workers Solidarity'. We also provide PDF files of
ofhttp://struggle.ws/wsm/pdf.html all our
publications for you to print out and distribute locally

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