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(en) US, Class Struggle, Green Anarchy magazine, and the Critique of Civilization

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 5 Nov 2004 10:09:10 +0100 (CET)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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The editors of Green Anarchy magazine invited NEFAC to send an article
for a special Fall issue on class struggle and their anti-civilization
analysis. I sent the following (my own contribution, not an official
expression of the federation). As they had to expect when they invited
the article, it is pro-class struggle but rejects the primitivist
(and primitive) position on civilization. Despite several attempts to
contact them, they never responded, never gave me (or other NEFACers)
the courtesy of writing, "We cannot use your article". Now they have
published their magazine without it, announcing that NEFAC sent them an
article--without saying that they INVITED us to do so--and condemning us
for trying to trick them into publishing something with our (not their)
politics (revolutionary class-struggle anarchism, that is). It is bad
enough that they rejected my article after inviting it, without telling
me. To pretend that they had not invited the article and to sneer at us
to boot, is simply disgusting. This shows a total lack of comradeliness
and even simple honesty. Liberals would be more honest.
I have copied the original piece onto the message. There may be difficuilty with the quotation marks
and apostrophes. Please let me know if it is too unclear.

member of the NYC Open City Collective of the Northeastern Federation of
Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC)

Supposedly we live in a highly civilized society, the best of all
possible worlds, with only minor problems. Yet the very survival of our
species, and the other species we live with, is in doubt. The ozone
layer is being destroyed, global warming is melting the ice caps and
flooding lowlands, species are dying out, the sea is becoming a fishless
chemical sewer, and the air, land, and food are poisoned. Our whole
society is based on the use of fossil fuels: for energy, for
transportation, for heat, for food (for pesticides and artificial
fertilizer), and for everything we use plastics for. Yet petroleum and
coal are nonrenewable, are polluting, and are causing global warming.
Meanwhile nuclear weapons are more widespread than during the Cold War
and the threat of a nuclear war continues, threatening a worldwide,
life-destroying, “nuclear winter.” Not surprisingly, some people
question the very value of “civilization.”
The relationship between class struggle and “civilization” will be
discussed here from the perspective of revolutionary, class-struggle,
pro-organizational, anarchism, in the tradition of anarcho-communism. We
need to begin by making a three-way comparison among “primitive” (early)
society, present-day society (urban-industrial, class-divided,
“civilization”), and the kind of future society which should be our goal.
Views on this topic of the anarchist Peter Kropotkin are expressed in
his Mutual Aid (orig. 1902), his essay, The State: Its Historic Role
(orig. 1897), and elsewhere. He saw history as a back-and-forth
dialectic between “two opposing tendencies.., the Roman and the popular,
the imperial and the federalist, the authoritarian and the libertarian.
And this is so, once more, on the eve of the social revolution” (The
State). He felt that the libertarian, federalist, popular, tendency was
predominant in the original clans or tribes and in the early
agricultural villages. These were societies without a state or classes,
where all men (and sometimes all women) participated in group councils,
where all men at least were armed instead of there being specialized
police or an army, where the animals and the land were held in common,
and human beings were equal individuals. He also thought that such
libertarian tendencies predominated in the medieval cities of the 11th
and 12th centuries at least. At their best, their craftsmen had a
creative, pleasurable, relation to their work, with plenty of leisure
(the women had less satisfaction in work and less free time). The
craftsmen associated in self-governing guilds. Guilds and neighborhoods
federated into the self-governing city itself. The cities federated in
leagues which crossed what would later be national boundaries. These
federalist associations were destroyed by internal weaknesses and by the
rising national monarchical states.

Unlike the Marxists, Kropotkin did not see history as an inevitable
series of stages. He speculated that, if the medieval cities had
survived longer, the industrial revolution might have begun earlier,
with better “ethical consequences” (Mutual Aid). In any case, he
believed that a new, anarcho-communist, society would include the best
traits of the pre-capitalist societies, along with modern technology:
“The current of mutual aid...flows...even now, and it seeks its way to
find out a new expression which would not be the State, nor the medieval
city, nor the village community of the barbarians, nor the savage clan,
but would proceed from all of them, and yet be superior to them in its
wider and more deeply humane conceptions” (Mutual Aid).
Karl Marx’s coworker, Frederick Engels, also saw the first peoples as
stateless, classless, cooperative, equalitarian, communal, and
self-governing. By contrast, he concluded, in his The Origin of the
Family, Private Property, and the State, “Civilization is founded on
the exploitation of one class by another class....Every step forward in
production is at the same time a step backward in the position of the
oppressed class, that is, of the great majority. Whatever benefits some
necessarily injures the others; every fresh emancipation of one class is
necessarily a new oppression for another class. The most striking proof
of this is provided by the introduction of machinery....” (While I am
not a Marxist, I think that there is much which anarchists can learn
from Marxism.)

Engels finished his book by quoting the anthropologist Lewis Henry
Morgan, “The next higher plane of society...will be a revival, in a
higher form, of the liberty, equality, and fraternity of the ancient
gentes [clans].”

In brief, then, both Kropotkin and Engels saw the (small-c) communist
society which was their goal as a revival of the classless, stateless,
cooperative, and equalitarian pre-capitalist societies, but at a higher
level of industrial productivity--history moving in a spiral fashion. Is
this possible?
Whether we think it is possible depends on our view of industrial
technology. There are essentially three views. One is the pro-technology
view, as held by liberals and most Marxists. A second is the
anti-technology view, as held by so-called primitivists and
anti-civilizationists. A third is the alternative technology view, which
is the view I am supporting.
The first, pro-technology, view is held by liberals and reformist
socialists (social democrats). They think that the evils of technology
could be contained with proper government regulation. Nuclear power
would be banned and the corporations would be forced to not pump poison
into the air, land, and water. Unfortunately, the history of government
regulation does not inspire confidence. Repeatedly big business has
taken over the regulatory process. The liberals do not understand that
the state is the capitalists’ institution. It is their state and serves
their interests. While regulation may have marginal victories, it is
only rolling back the tide, fighting the same battles over and over again.
The liberals and social democrats also do not understand that modern
technology was developed by capitalism, for capitalism. It serves as a
weapon in the class war, to undermine the position of the workers.
Driven by competition among the enterprises, and driven by a need to
hold down the working class, capitalism has a ferocious need to expand,
to grow, and to accumulate. A firm which does not grow will be beaten by
others which do. Corporate executives who do not lead their firms toward
growth, will be fired. Growth is only measured in money. It does not
matter to a capitalist company if it exterminates the whales. The
company can take the money it made and invest it in another industry
(logging redwoods, for example). Therefore the capitalists must use
technology in a way which is exploitative to the workers and destructive
to the environment. Not all the idealistic regulation in the world will
do more than modify this around the edges.
The Marxists claim that this can be changed if the bourgeois state is
overthrown and replaced with a new state, a “dictatorship of the
proletariat.” By taking over all the economy, they say, the new state
will introduce new, better, motivations. But in the states created by
Marxists, capital-labor relations still prevailed. Workers were still in
the factories and workshops, taking orders from bosses (the new,
bureaucratic, ruling class). Workers sold their ability to work--as the
commodity labor power--and were paid wages for their work. They produced
commodities which were sold on the market. They could only buy back a
portion of what they produced. Despite the social fiction of a planned
economy, in fact separate enterprises competed with each other on the
market, buying and selling; the plan was never really followed. The
system of the former Soviet Union was state capitalism. It too was
driven by internal competition, by international competition (military
and economic), and by class conflict. It too was forced to grow,
accumulate, and to exploit its workers and destroy its environment. Like
the pluralistic capitalism of the U.S., it developed technology for its
antihuman purposes, not for human need and ecological health.
The second, anti-technology, view is that of the “primitivists” and
anti-civilizationists. While its conclusions are different, its premises
are similar to those of the liberals. It sees the machine technology we
have as the only sort of machine technology there can be. It ignores the
role which capitalism has played in developing modern industrial
technology. If it were accepted that modern technology is the way it is
because of capitalism, then it might be seen that a non-capitalist
society could develop a different technology. The problem, it says, is
not capitalism or classes, it is the technology itself. Therefore, this
view says, we need to abandon technology, in some way to revive
hunter-gatherer or horticultural pre-industrial society (not even a
medieval-level of technology).
It has often been pointed out that such a revival of early
pre-techological society would result in the death of millions; I will
not go through the argument again. The disadvantages of abandoning
modern medicine have also been discussed. It has also been noted that
early humans lived in a condition of feast or famine--often living amid
natural plenty, but being vulnerable to changes in natural conditions
resulting in famine and suffering. Whether early humans lived better or
worse than modern humans has been fiercely debated; I agree with Engels
that, in capitalist civilization, “whatever benefits some, necessarily
injures the others.” We want a society which benefits everyone.
What has not been often enough said, however, is that modern technology
makes possible--possible--a society in which all individuals can
develop their full potentials. The roles of early human beings were
pretty limited. There was art and music of course; we would not be human
without them, although John Zerzan has criticized symbolic art as part
of humanity’s downhill slide. But they were still limited, although not
as limited as science and philosophy and other means of developing human
minds. There was, as yet, nothing as developed as the medieval
craftsmen. Even the crafts which existed were dominated by tradition
and, once created, limited in their development. Of course, this is
still true for most humans today, who are stunted in their creativity,
especially at work. But the development of technology makes possible a
society based on creativity, the unity of work and play, and unalienated
In any case, that society (early humans) developed into this society
(class-divided urban-industrial capitalism). To revive that society is
only to begin the cycle all over again. Something new is needed.
The third view is that of alternate technology (other terms used are
intermediate , convivial, humanistic, community, or liberatory
technology). People who have advocated such an approach include Ivan
Illich, Paul Goodman, Amory Lovins, Lewis Mumford (despite David
Watson’s attempt to make him out as a primitivist), E. F. Schumacher,
Karl Hess, Cornelius Castoriadis, and Murray Bookchin--and are
consistent with the ideas of Kropotkin. Despite political differences,
they agree that what exists as contemporary technology is not what has
to be. Different machines can be organized in different ways in a
different process of production and consumption.
Under capitalism, technology is developed in order to increase profits.
“Efficient” production is the best possible production of commodities
for money. Socialist anarchism would have different criteria for
efficiency. The goal would be to produce useful goods and services; to
provide secure, comfortable, leisure for all people; to maintain a
healthy and balanced ecology; and to develop the full potentialities of
the workers. By these criteria, modern technology is very inefficient.
The workers are stultified; their creativity cannot be drawn on to
improve productivity (industrial psychology has repeated shown that when
workers have a say in production, productivity increases). The ecology
is being destroyed but no one is responsible because pollution is an
“externality.” Yet “organic” farms have proved to be almost as
productive as chemically-laden factory farms, and a lot less destructive.
Ralph Borsodi, the decentralist, demonstrated in the ‘thirties that
centralized mass production was usually less efficient in terms of
productivity. Mass production required the shipping of raw materials to
the central site, the moving of many workers to and from their distant
homes, and then the shipping of the finished products over long
distances (not to mention the extra costs of packaging). If the costs of
transportation were included, mass production was usually less efficient
than small scale, local, production, using small powered machines. He
demonstrated this by comparing the labor costs of canned tomatoes made
on his homestead (small farm) to mass produced canned tomatoes (not to
mention the taste).
The anarchist Paul Goodman commented, “I do not believe that an advanced
technology necessarily involves what I have been describing:
concentrated management, bureaucracy, alienation of labor, and the
emasculation of practical reasoning to decision-making. Quite the
contrary, these are by and large inefficient, unexperimental,
uncritical, and discouraging to invention. I write this paragraph
because I have learned from experience that to point out structural
defects of the present social arrangements is at once to be called a
machine-breaker who wants to return to something called the Middle Ages.
This is again an example of mesmerized superstition” (“The
ineffectuality of some intelligent people,” Drawing the Line: A
Pamphlet). He discussed this topic further in Communitas (with
brother Percival) and in People or Personnel, and in other works.
Goodman and others have commented on the enormous flexibility of modern
technology. “For the first time in history, we have...a surplus
technology, a technology of free choice, that allows for the most widely
various community-arrangements and ways of life.....For almost every
item that men [Note] have invented or nature has bestowed, there are
alternate choices....We could centralize or decentralize, concentrate
population or scatter it. If we want to continue the trend away from the
country, we can do that; but if we want to combine town and country
values in an agrindustrial way of life, we can do that. In large areas
of our operation, we could go back to old-fashioned domestic industry
with perhaps even a gain in efficiency, for small power is everywhere
available, small machines are cheap and ingenuous, and there are easy
means to collect machined parts and centrally assemble them” (Goodman &
Goodman, Communitas, orig. 1947).
E. F. Schumacher began his alternate technology studies by trying to
help poorer, oppressed, peoples to industrialize in their own way, at
their own speed. Most economic aid goes to their national states, to
develop big projects with the latest technology, such as giant dams,
airports, government palaces, or improved weapons for the military.
Instead, Schumacher and his colleagues developed an “intermediate”
technology, to help people at the local level. Rather than encouraging
peasants to go from wooden plows to giant factory-in-the-field tractors,
they provided them with much improved steel plows, with better harnesses
for the oxen. Or they helped them get small tractors which could be
shared by a village. And so on. Then Schumacher and associates began to
apply this approach to the industrialized countries (the imperialist
oppressor states). They showed that here too, technology could be
developed which would be consistent with cooperative, worker-managed,
production. Schumacher is an admirer of the Guild Socialists, a British
tendency in the ‘twenties which was a reformist version of
anarcho-syndicalism. (Overall, see Schumacher’s famous Small is
Beautiful and George McRobie, Small is Possible.)
A free society could decide what technology to use and how much. This
would require collective decision-making and bottom-up democratic
economic planning. We would find alternate sources of energy and replace
all the uses we have for petroleum and coal with other methods. We would
try to make new technology which is as decentralized, as cooperative,
and as democratic as is possible.
People would decide what, if any, parts of the economy to automate
completely, what parts should use small powered machines for industrial
crafts, what parts should return to pre-industrial handwork, and what
parts to simply stop doing. Different industries would try different
technological mixes. It is unlikely that there is one best way to make
steel, to educate children, and to make wine. Similarly different
regions (of North America or of the world) would try out different
mixes. Different world regions have different cultures, different
histories, and different natural resources. They would try different things.
How does such an alternate, liberatory, technology approach relate to
class struggle? Engels has already been quoted as saying, “Civilization
is founded on the exploitation of one class by another class.” Since I
agree with this, I regard the struggle against “civilization” (the
capitalist “civilization” which we have) as the same thing as the class
struggle. It is capitalist class society which has developed technology
in this suicidal way. If it is to be replaced by a cooperative,
stateless, classless, society which uses technology in a sane way, then
there has to be a way to overturn industrial capitalism. There has to be
a lever. If the basis of this form of civilization is class
exploitation, then its overthrow is the class struggle--the class war,
the fight of the working class against the capitalist ruling class and
its state. One of the weaknesses of most anti-civilization thinking is
that it lacks a strategy. How will capitalist civilization be destroyed?
We class-struggle anarchists think that there is a force, the working
class, which is capable of overthrowing this society and smashing its state.
Believing in the importance of the class struggle does not mean a
blindness to other forms of oppression, such as the domination of men
over women, of European-Americans over People of Color, of the
imperialist states over the oppressed countries, or of heterosexuals
over Gay men, Lesbians, and Transgendered people. All these oppressions
are real and important. They overlap with, and interact with, capitalism
as such. (One theme of Engels’ The Origin... is the relationship
between the oppression of women and the rise of class society.) They
support each other and capitalism, and capitalism supports them. None of
them is automatically solved by the end of capitalism. Anarchism is
against all forms of oppression and domination. All must be faced and
dealt with, together.
However, such a multivaried and holistic evaluation of all forms of
domination does not deny that capitalism (the capital-labor
relationship) is also real and important. It is the way we produce and
consume goods and keep ourselves from starvation and the cold. It is how
most people spend most of their waking adult lives: working for wages,
taking orders from bosses. The workers bear the direct burden of
capitalism on their shoulders. They are the ones who are exploited.
Therefore they are central to the struggle to end exploitation.
This does not mean that it is guaranteed that the workers will become
revolutionary. They are certainly not revolutionary in North America
right now. But that is only to say that the North American people are
not revolutionary. Unlike Marxists, I do not believe that revolutionary
class consciousness is inevitable. There are, as Marx and Engels said,
forces which push in that direction, particularly capitalist
exploitation of the workers. But there are countervailing forces.
Better-off workers tend to be bought off. Worse-off workers tend to get
demoralized and beaten down. Which tendencies will win out? This is not
a matter of prediction but a commitment. We revolutionary anarchists are
doing our best to persuade our fellow workers that they should make an
anarchist revolution.
When and if the workers achieve a revolution, one of their first tasks
will be to reorganize productive technology. In particular they must
change the techniques which are geared to the split between the bosses
and the bossed, between mental and manual labor. Otherwise the same old
class divisions will be recreated, as they were in the Soviet Union.
Starting with existing technology, they must begin to make it
ecologically balanced, productive of useful goods, locally-oriented, and
conducive to a democratically self-managed process of production.
This view was developed by Cornelius Castoriadis, of the French
Socialism or Barbarism group. He went from Trotskyism to libertarian
Marxism (as a co-thinker of C.L.R. James), and then evolved out of
Marxism altogether, without ever calling himself an anarchist. He wrote
that, after a workers’ revolution, “a radical change in the relations of
the workers to work implies a radical change in the nature of the
instruments of production....A conveyor-belt socialism would be a
contradiction in terms, were it not a sinister mystification. This leads
directly to a repudiation of the basic characteristics of present-day
technology.” And, “self-management could neither consolidate itself nor
develop unless it entailed, immediately, a conscious transformation of
existing technology...so as to adapt this technology to the needs,
wishes, and wills of human beings both as producers and as consumers.”
In conclusion, the problem is not “civilization” in the abstract, as
it is class-divided (now capitalist) society. The working class should
dismantle this system and smash its state. Our goal should be a new
society (new “civilization”) which includes the best of pre-class and
pre-capitalist society, one which is stateless, classless, cooperative,
radically democratic, federative, and equalitarian. It would revive
these early social traits in the context of a higher productivity by a
new, humanly controlled and creative use of technology.
This class-struggle perspective may be denounced by anti-civilization
“post-left” theorists as the same old leftist working class stuff. Never
mind that our approach is completely opposed to the statist left or to
the program of state socialism! In Kropotkin’s words, “The anarchists,
in common with all socialists, of whom they constitute the left
wing,..consider the wage-system and capitalist production altogether as
an obstacle to progress” (“Anarchism,” orig. 1910, my italics). What is
the left? It is that part of society which is most in opposition to the
ruling class. We revolutionary class-struggle anarchists are the left of
the left, the very far left. We are far more on the left--in
opposition--than social democrats or Stalinists. They want to use the
existing state or start a new state--and maintain the capital-labor
relationship. We seek to end all classes, all oppressions, all states,
and all destruction of the ecological world.

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