Friday, January 19, 2007

Total Liberty

TOTAL LIBERTY Winter 2006 is out. A fine English anarchist publication. In “The Strange Case of Kropotkin's Chair...” Christopher Draper explores the state of Britain's labour history museums and the various forms of anarchist iconography (including a Brighton city bus named after Peter Kropotkin!) Steve Cullen examines three different examples of free association overlooked in daily life, Nigel Meek goes after the chain stores, Yours truly outlines the world-wide rebirth of anarchism and Richard Hebden asks “Can There Be Such A Thing As A Christian Anarchist?” Joe Peacott spills the beans on Alaska in “The Last Frontier”. Book reviews and letters, 16 pages 1L (a bargain!) from 47 High St. Belper, Derby, DE56 1GF UK or

Friday, January 12, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson, anarchist philosopher, humorist, and essayist, is sadly no longer with us as of yesterday. He will be deeply missed by freedom-lovers everywhere. This information thanks to the Void

Robert Anton Wilson probably did more to popularize anarchism in the English speaking world than probably any other contemporary person. His humourous novels, the most famous of which was the Illuminatus Trilogy, co-authored with the late Bob Shea, as well as a series of other novels such as Cosmic Trigger were read by hundreds of thousands of people. Not only did he populate his books with anarchists, Wobblies and all sorts of other freedom-seeking folk, but he made the reader aware of their ideas. But he did not stop with anarchism as a political or social ideal, but created his own distinct anarchist philosophy based upon his study of Semantics, psychology and the functioning of the human brain. He did this at a time when most anarchists remained trapped within 19th Century philosophies and a minority rejected scientific rationalism altogether. Wilson avoided both New Age irrationalism and the vulgar rationalism of the pseudo-skeptic. In his anti-dogmatic and thus genuine scientific viewpoint, almost anything was possible, but possibility did not mean that an alleged phenomenon necessarily existed. Wilson was open to the Marvelous, to Freedom, yet did not dance off the edge of the cliff.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Marxism, Anarchism and the State

Larry, I fully agree that whatever mass enterprises exist need to be worker-controlled. But I still think there's a role for a proletarian state in the transition, which is where we probably differ. "Victor Serge" of Monuments Are For Pigeons Blog

Yes, Victor, we differ on this issue, but the real question is why and to what extent? Don't worry, I am not about to feed you the usual anarchist dogmas about Marxists.

I would like to make it clear, however, that while social anarchists are opposed to the state in any form, we are not opposed to organization. For social anarchists there is a major difference between the state and the form of organization during and immediately after the revolution. Kropotkin says it well;

On the other hand the State has also been confused with Government. Since there can be no State without government, it has sometimes been said that what one must aim at is the absence of government and not the abolition of the State. However, it seems to me that State and government are two concepts of a different order. The State idea means something quite different from the idea of government. It not only includes the existence of a power situated above society, but also of a territorial concentration as well as the concentration in the hands of a few of many functions in the life of societies. The State: Its Historic Role, Peter Kropotkin

Nor do we think we can leap to full-blown libertarian socialism in one bound without an intervening period of transition. The archetypal models for this transition are found with the Paris Commune and the workers councils in Russia and Germany. You would agree, no doubt, but might well say, "Yes, but the Paris Commune and the workers councils are EXAMPLES of the worker's state."

So what you call a workers' state, we call a workers' non-state? Is this a case of "You say tomato, I say tomahto?"

I believe that the root cause of the distinction between anarchists and marxists over the state or non-state nature of the transition lies in Hegelian philosophy. The anarchist describes the real, empirical, existing state, whereas Hegel is searching for the ontological essence of the state. For Hegel,

A multiplicity of human beings can only call itself a state if it be united for the common defense... of its property... state authority is basic, necessary, minimal. HEGEL'S THEORY OF THE MODERN STATE, Schlomo Avirneri 40, 47

For Hegel the state is not a particular thing, a structure, but exists in the unity of the universal and the particular, the universal being those common agreements and defense that people engage in, and the particular being civil society.(1) Hegel saw the Athenian polis as the "eternal model", and an "unsurpassed paradigm for a contemporary revolution." (2)

The flaw in Hegel's thinking should be obvious. By his reasoning, any non-statist Aboriginal tribe defending its territory and possessing a council which engages in common agreements is a state. Not a single contemporary social scientist would agree.

The Paris Commune and the workers councils existed to defend the revolution. In their direct democratic and assemblyist aspects they were modern versions of the polis. For Hegel, these revolutionary organizations would have been examples of a state. Marx and Engels undoubtedly got their ontological view of the state from studying Hegelian philosophy. One could leave the discussion at this point, but the question of state or no state during the transition in Marxist theory is a good deal more complicated.

Marx and Engels did not chain themselves in perpetuity to the Hegelian ontological concept of the state. The living practice of the working class seems to have changed their minds and they rejected the notion of a workers' state in favor of a workers' commune, structurally based upon the direct democratic Paris Commune.

The whole talk about the state should be dropped, especially since the Commune, which was no longer a state in the proper sense of the word. The "peoples state" has been thrown in our faces by the anarchists too long, although Marx...directly declare[d] that with the introduction of the socialist order of society the state will dissolve of itself and disappear. As, therefore, the "state" is only a transitional institution which is used in the struggle, in the revolution to hold down adversaries by force, it is pure nonsense to talk of a "free peoples state"... We would therefore propose to replace the word "state" everywhere by the word Gemeinenwesen (community) , a good old German word which can very well represent the French commune. Engels, Selected Correpondance p.336

Such a pity their followers didn't take them up on this!

1. Joachim Ritter, "Hegel and the French Revolution", p. 25

2. Georg Lukacs, "The Young Hegel", p 4.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Lies And Exaggeration

Cynics say that left and right are the same, both a bunch of liars. Not really true, I say. Yes, there are left-wingers who can be dishonest – usually while on their way to a career on the right, and there are some honest conservatives, but I am referring to the general tendency. You see, the right-winger starts off at a distinct disadvantage. Exploitation, oppression and imperialist wars really do exist and it becomes well neigh impossible to deny their existence. Furthermore, unless one goes all the way over to out and out fascism, exploitation, oppression and imperialism are decidedly a-moral. The corporate state system that the right winger loves and admires continually produces these amoral products, indeed, as the left will point out, is based upon them. All the left need do is report the facts of the situation, nothing else.

These facts place the right in the same position as a child caught with its hand in the cookie jar – blubbering a whole lot of weak excuses. In order to see themselves as moral, rightists have to disguise or white wash these facts. Not to do so means admitting the truth and then one would be forced to adjust one's practices accordingly. But disguising reality is not enough, in order to see oneself as morally superior, rightists must degrade and besmirch the left. The left has to be converted into a gruesome tapestry of monsters against which the whitewashed corporate system and its ideological standard bearers stand sharp and clear in all their virtuous finery.

To degrade the left it must lie. (It is hard otherwise to knock people who are against exploitation, oppression and war.) The right has systematically told lies about the left ever since the notion of right vs. left came to be 220 years ago. These lies are repeated from generation to generation, as though they lack sufficient imagination to create new ones. Sometimes the names are changed but the falsehood is the same. Pacifists in WW1 were called “pro-German”, in the Cold War, “communist” and in the Iraq war, “Saddam-lovers”. Often the lies are identical to the originals. The US women's emancipation movement of 1850 was sneered at as being a group of women who “want to be like men”, and are “unattractive and hence bitter against men.” I read this nonsense in the 1970's attacks on feminism. Unrest is still the work of “outside agitators” and counter-cultural groups all the way back to the 1840's Bohemians, are castigated as criminals, drug addicts and sex perverts. Some of the most courageous and ethical individuals are demonized. Victoria Woodhull, pioneer socialist and feminist was re-named “Mrs. Satan.” Emma Goldman, Gandhi, M.L. King all suffered at the hands of right-wing mud throwers during their time upon this earth. Those demonized today have names like Chavez, Sheehan, and Moore.

I have a personal recollection on the criminalization of leftists. Back in 1965, I was involved in a sit-down in front of the gates of the Comox Air Base as a protest against nuclear weapons. I knew one of the airmen and he criticized me for hanging out with nuts, commies and criminals and pointed at one person in our group. “See that guy there, he is a known criminal!” The person in question being Scott Lawrence, a Vancouver poet and one of the least criminal people on the planet.

And what about the left? Yes, a minority of the left, now almost extinct thankfully, did engage in systematic lies. These lies and vilification were not aimed at the right, but other leftists. Stalinists engaged in a campaign of slander and lies against the Trotskyists and anarchists that would turn Ann Coulter green with envy. They also engaged in a cover-up campaign for Stalin's monstrous crimes. Anyone who brought up the Ukrainian famine or the purges was attacked as a Gestapo agent. (Once again Ms. Coulter is green with envy) But the Stalinist Communist Party DID NOT lie about the dangers of fascism, lynching in the South, the need to support the workers against the Black Legion attacks etc. All the CP had to do was report the evils of the system.

However, the left has exaggerated, and may still do, for all I know. The great bout of exaggeration occurred in the early 1990's with “political correctness”. But the PC era seems to have passed, and indeed, its incidence was largely exaggerated by the right anyway. The left has no need to stretch the truth. The truth is horrible enough as it is.

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