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(en) ZNet - Is Anarchism Suitable For Complex Societies - by Brian Oliver Shepphard

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Tue, 19 Aug 2003 15:47:23 +0200 (CEST)

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The charge has often been made that the
anarchist economic model is ill suited for complex
societies. The multi-faceted nature of advanced
industrial economies; their scope of operation and
breadth of distribution; the extensive refinement in
their division of labor - all these and more are held
up as examples of the labyrinth of problems that
nothing as "simplistic" as anarchism could ever
hope to address. Anarchism, according to many
modern critics, could only hope to work in limited,
small- scall economies. And even then, only

The primitivist sect of the American anarchist
movement actually seems to agree with this, and
advocates destroying what they call the "industrial
mega-machine," thereby returning to small,
localized, autonomous villages. This is completely
at odds with what the anarchist movement has
fought for traditionally.

American anarchist Sam Dolgoff stated that, far
from being ill suited for anarchism, "complex
societies necessitate" it. In "The Relevance of
Anarchism to Modern Society," he delved into the
subject by reaffirming that "the classical anarchists
always rejected the kind of 'simplicity' which
camouflages regimentation in favor of the natural
complexity which reflects the many faceted
richness and diversity of social and individual life."

Interestingly, in the introduction to Daniel
Guerin's Anarchism, Noam Chomsky states:
"[S]kepticism is in order when we hear that 'human
nature' or 'the demands of efficiency' or 'the
complexity of modern life' require this or that form
of oppression or autocratic rule."

Gabriel Jackson, award-winning historian and
author of The Spanish Revolution and the Civil War,
posits that the anarchists ruined Spain in 1936,
allowing fascism to triumph in that country in the
late 1930's. This was because the anarchist model
could not survive in a complex economy, he says.

To wit: "[T]he revolutionary tide began to ebb in
Catalonia [after] accumulating food and supply
problems, and the experience of administering
villages, frontier posts, and public utilities, had
rapidly shown the anarchists the unsuspected
complexity of modern society."

Complexity comes to the fore and foils the
anarchists, it seems, allowing Franco to sweep into

But Noam Chomsky, in his essay "Objectivity
and Liberal Scholarship" (one of his most anarchist
writings), writes, "In fact, 'the revolutionary tide
began to ebb in Catalonia' under the middle-class
attack led by the Communist party, not because of a
recognition of the 'complexity of modern
society.'"Furthermore, "Whereas Jackson attributes
the ebbing of the revolutionary tide to the discovery
of the unsuspected complexity of modern society,
Orwell's firsthand observations [in Homage to
Catalonia], like those of Borkenau, suggest a far
simpler explanation [namely, Communist
suppression]." Chomsky continues, "The
complexities of modern society that baffled and
confounded the unsuspecting anarchist workers of
Barcelona" seem not to exist; in fact, "[t]he
available records do not indicate that the problems
of administering villages or public utilities were
either 'unsuspected' or too complex for the
Catalonian workers - a remarkable and unsuspected

Indeed, Augustin Souchy, who, like Orwell, was
eye witness to the collectivization process, wrote
that "The collectivisation of the textile industry
shatters once and for all the legend that the workers
are incapable of administrating a great and complex
corporation." This observation was recorded in The
Anarchist Collectives, edited by Sam Dolgoff. Note
that Souchy refers to collectivization in the textile
industry, which was an advanced manufacturing
industry, and not a rural or small-scale operation.
This answers the claim that anarchist
administration can be successful only in small-scale
industry or non-industrial operations.

In his "The Relevance of Anarchism to Modern
Society," Dolgoff elaborates the point further by
citing Kropoktin's observation of English and
Scottish workers:

"[P]roduction and exchange represented an
undertaking so complicated that no government
(without establishing a cumbersome, inefficient,
bureaucratic dictatorship) would be able to organize
production if the workers themselves, through their
unions, did not do it in each branch of industry; for,
in all production there arises daily thousands of
difficulties that...no government can hope to
foresee.... Only the efforts of thousands of
intelligences working on problems can cooperate in
the developement of the new social system and find
solutions for the thousands of local needs."

Federalism, the coordination of voluntary bodies
of producers over vast regional or even global
spaces, was a principal aim of struggle for the
Spanish workers as well as other activists in other

A counter-question, however, is this: Is the
current free market system suitable for the
complexities of modern society?

In fact, the market system has itself created
much of the "complexity" of modern society. For
example, 30 different types of SUVs, many with
parts particular to each one, made by differing
plants, each requiring their own skilled production
and repair, adds a great deal to the complexity of
life. Do the benefits of this kind of "complexity"
outweigh the harm it causes? By contrast,
complexities of human need - health care, housing,
food, education, etc. - are not adequately addressed
by the market system. In this sense, the
state-subsidized market system of our era is
extremely ill suited to the complexity of not just
modern society, but of human beings.

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