The State, democracy & Anarchism

Dr Groove (
Fri, 22 Nov 1996 10:52:56 +0000

The State, Democracy and Anarchism

Breaking down concentrations of power

A thing that sets anarchists apart from all the other varieties
of socialists is our opposition to the state. Others believe that
the state can be entered into accommodations with, or even
that the state can sometimes be a positive force. Anarchists
believe that the influence of the state is always ultimately
destructive and that it is, by its nature, a barrier to the advance
of human freedom.


When we speak of the state, we do not mean the particular
government that is in power at the moment. The state is a
centralised hierarchic form of organisation, where decisions
are made by a (sometimes elected) few, and everyone else is
obliged to obey. The police, the prison system and the army
are all on hand to make sure that we do obey. There are other
organisations which mirror this top-down structure, but the
state stands apart in its claim to be the ultimate authority, and
in its readiness to use force to back up that claim.

The arguments about which came first, capitalism or the state,
are too long and involved (not to mention boring and
irrelevant) to get into here, suffice to say that we see the two
as being mutually supporting. Political parties need funding
from business to get into power, as well as support from the
media, owned in turn by rich businessmen.

Even after the election governments need some degree of
support from business to survive. For example, when a
Labour government, by no means revolutionary, was elected
in Britain in the 1974, there was a massive outflow of capital
from the country, which weakened that government


In return, government supports the rich, by lowering taxes on
the wealthy and on business profits (which means taxing us
more) and passing anti-union legislation, so that their profits
increase while our wages and working conditions lag behind.
Some governments are even worse.

The US government, in particular, has a long and
dishonourable history of installing puppet regimes who are
handsomely rewarded for letting US companies drain their
countries dry of all natural resources, while (sometimes
literally) killing off any opposition which arises. And, more
recently, there was the Gulf War, one lot of imperialist
powers fighting another belligerent power, all in the name of
..lower oil prices.

There isn't a one-to-one relationship between business and
the state, of course. Sometimes businessmen just get too
greedy, or the public get too angry about the cosy relationship
that exists between politicians and businessmen, so an
example is made of someone, to 'prove' that there isn't one
law for the rich and another for the rest of us. Meanwhile the
Larry Goodmans and his pals carry on ripping us off with the
government's approval.

Very occasionally the government will pass laws which
appear to run counter to the interests of the rich, the most
commonly cited example being the establishment of the social
welfare system, which cost money that could otherwise have
been used to 'support business'. But the welfare system
wasn't created as an act of generosity, or as the first instalment
in repaying us what we are owed.

It was a response to rising militancy and higher expectations
in the working class. It was a bribe to forestall bigger
demands, they gave us a slice of the cake to stop us from
taking it all. And even that is being taken away - the
generation that was promised care from the cradle to the
grave is the first to be hit by falling pensions and health care


The justification for this, of course, is that it is "democratic".
We get a chance to vote every four years, and so we are not
really being ruled over, our 'representatives' are only putting
into effect the "will of the people". But what sort of
democracy is this? How much influence do we really have
over the decisions taken by the government? Virtually none.
When it comes time to put our marks on the ballot paper,
what do we have to base our decisions on?

At least half of every party manifesto is identical to that of
every other party. Most of the rest is purely aspirational, stuff
that's supposed to look good but that the politicians know,
and we know, will never be acted on. The rest? Well, some of
it is going to be quietly dropped in the name of 'party unity',
more for the sake of agreeing a coalition with other parties,
leaving about 1% of a manifesto that might actually be taken
seriously (probably the bit you wished they'd dropped).

This 'democracy' can be seen in action today. The
overwhelming majority of householders are opposed to the
water charges, and tens of thousands have shown their
opposition by refusing to pay. But our 'representatives' in the
county councils are ignoring this clear expression of the will
of the people, even those who promised in the run-up to the
last election that they would not impose such charges.
Clearly, they are not following our orders, they are following
the party line, or their own interests, and so they are rulers,
not representatives.

As rulers, they make laws that intrude into every aspect of
our lives. The Public Order Act has been used to stop peaceful
anti-water charges demonstrations. The anti-strike
legislation, seeks to cripple almost any attempt we make to
improve our working conditions. It is calculated to destroy
any power and militancy the unions might have, leaving us
with nothing but state-sponsored national agreements which
tie our hands even tighter in return for vague promises and
minimal pay increases.

In England, every major city has close-circuit cameras
mounted throughout their centres, ending any idea of privacy
outside the confines of your own home - how long before
Ireland follows suit? After all, it's only in recent years that
we've managed to get the government out of our bedrooms,
finally changing the laws on homosexuality and
contraception - though we're still waiting for abortion rights,
despite winning a referendum!

As anarchists, we will have nothing to do with elections. We
choose not to be ruled, so we will not choose between rulers.
A candidate may be honest and well-intentioned (though that
would indeed be a rarity among politicians) but, if we voted
for him/her we would be handing over control of our own
lives to someone else.

By taking part in elections, we would be saying that they are a
fair way of choosing rulers, and, by extension, that it is okay to
be ruled. We will vote in elections when we are only
choosing representatives, i.e. people who are mandated to
vote exactly the way their electors want. The role of such such
representatives would be to carry out decisions made by their
electorate, not to make decisions over their heads. It would
also have to be case that they could be recalled if they break

By any means necessary?

Some would say that, at certain times, it is necessary to have a
state. They say that, although centralised power is usually a
bad thing, sometimes one must command and everyone else
obey. In Russia, for example, during the revolution of 1917,
the Bolsheviks took over central government, reintroduced
'traditional' practices in the army (differential treatment for
officers, pyramidal command structure with disobedience
punishable by court-martial, etc.), and closed down dissident
newspapers, independent trade unions and left-wing

Those who place themselves in the tradition of the
Bolsheviks - most non- anarchist socialists - argue that
though these things were regrettable, they would do them
again, if necessary. It says a lot about these people's idea of
socialism that they think freedom can be turned on and off
like a tap.

Statism, the belief that society needs to be ruled by one small
group, could be compared to sexism or racism in that both
believe one group of people is superior to another group.
What would our reaction be if we were told that, although
socialists naturally abhorred racism and sexism, it would be
necessary to confine women to the home, and black people to
ghettos, in the name of some greater cause? Would it be
enough to be assured that, in time, these restrictions would
'wither away'?


Would we be satisfied if told that, eventually, there would be
no need to treat huge numbers of people as second-class
citizens, and they could take their place in a free society? I
don't think I'm alone in finding the idea outrageous. What
kind of freedom can be based on the servitude of others?
Freedom is all or nothing - everyone or no-one.

For anarchists, freedom is not an optional extra, it cannot be
put on hold, or added in at a later stage. Democracy - real
democracy - must be a feature of the revolutionary change
from day one. This means decisions being made by those who
are directly affected by them - the simplest example being
workers in a factory deciding how their workplace should be

Of course, there will be a need for co-ordination and planning,
we are all interlinked, every decision we make having
repercussions for others. But we don't need one group of
people stepping in and telling us ("in our own best interests",
of course) what we should produce, what we should consume
and how we should live.

Instead, when there is a decision to be made by a large number
of people, each smaller group can discuss the issue
themselves, and, when they have a reached a decision, send
people to a delegate conference, where every group is
represented and a final decision can be made. The important
point is that these delegates do not speak for themselves, they
are under strict instructions to relay the views of the people
who sent them (not like today's situation where TDs and
councillors speak on behalf of their party leaders). Also, these
positions should be rotated. Everyone who wanted to could
have the opportunity to be a delegate to a conference, to make
sure no-one gets too attached to a position and tries to build a
personal powerbase.

This is democracy from below, the only democracy worthy of
the name. To some people, it may initially sound
unworkable, but that is because we have been taught from an
early age that we cannot organise things for ourselves, that we
always need someone else to tell us what to do. The fact is,
though, that it has worked, and it does work. The example of
Spain in 1936/37 shows that this form of organisation can
involve millions of people and still be more efficient than
capitalism. The example of today, where our TDs and our
employers - our rulers - ignore our every wish in the pursuit
of their own interests, shows that it is not just possible, it is
necessary. And it is because of this belief in real freedom that
anarchists will always and everywhere oppose the state.

Ray Cunningham

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