Albert Answers Multi-part
Query about Anarchism

A multi-part question was posted to noam in chomskychat about anarchism and some related matters. I thought I would answer as well...since I found parts curious and others interesting, etc. I will take them as if they were addressed to me -- which they weren't -- I hope that is okay.


Q1. "You do not like when people ask about what they should do, because you do not obviously want to be a leader of a political movement..."

Actually, I don't mind being asked what folks should do any more than being asked anything else. I see nothing wrong in someone wanting advice from others about that, nor in someone feeling that due to having thought more on it or having different experiences, they have advice to give. I sometimes do feel that I can help, sometimes not.

There is a difference between imposing views and discussing them, hoping others will either accept or improve them. Obviously I prefer the latter and find the former, almost always, negative. 

And there is a difference between providing instructions or agendas from on high, so to speak, but keeping information and methods of thought and reasoning secret, and, instead, trying to help folks be able to draw their own conclusions and create their own agendas. Again, I prefer the latter and find the former, almost always, negative.



"But there is another question namely, how should you do. I am asking you to shortly comment on the tactical and organizational ideas of leninist, social democratic and anarchosyndicalist labor movements. What is good or bad about the organizational structure of leninists, anarchists and social democrats?"

There is much overlap and some critical difference. There is much debate inside each. For the question to be sensible it has to be about the basic differences, I think, so I will take it that way. 

Social Democrats overwhelmingly, whether from inclination or from lack of hope, assume the continuation of existing defining institutions and try to ameliorate pain within that expectation. They will often be quite progressive, on the side of short term justice, and can be as worthy and humane as anyone else, more so than most, often, differing only about prospects not about what would be just. But, due to accepting that existing defining relations are going to persist, they have no reason, even, to consider altering those, employing different relations in their own work, etc. It isn't even an issue. Thus, the institutional vehicles of Social Democrats will look at most marginally different than those of the system they are trying to ameliorate...

Leninists and Anarchists, in contrast, both also (if they aren't devoid of human sensibility) address short term problems realizing that the immediate gain will be in ameliorating current pain and suffering without, at least now, transcending existing defining institutions. BUT, these two approaches do have as their broader goal new institutions. Thus, they critique existing defining relations and they think about employing other relations in their work, advocating others, etc. For them fights in the short term are meant to be part of a process leading to fundamental changes in the longer term, rather than ONLY ends in themselves...and the methods they employ, rhetoric they use, and also organizational structures they adopt are accordingly chosen in that light.

Now, Leninists, in my view, are really a manifestation of the interests, culture, and aspirations of what I call the coordinator class--people with a relative monopoly on economic positions that are empowering, have power over others, etc. The aim of Leninism, as a result -- and often deviating from the specific aims of particular people in its movements, to be sure, which could be and often are much broader -- is to overcome capitalist institutions but in their place adopt coordinator institutions -- generally markets or central planning, social or state ownership, corporatist workplace organization, remuneration according to power or output (but not only effort and sacrifice), and authoritarian state structures led by one party. To these ends they employ something called democratic centralism, among other "tools" suited to their aims. 

Anarchists have, beyond wishing to ameliorate current injustices, aspirations for a state-less society with cooperative economics. Their visions are often very vague, at best -- but are always anti-authoritarian, at least in intent. Thus anarchists reject leninist organization because they see it as moving the left and society in an authoritarian direction.

For myself, I agree in this debate with the anarchists more than either of the other approaches, but begin to diverge from them when they (a) forget about dealing with current reality, (b) take a rejection of authoritarianism into a rejection of leadership or even of difference, (c) take a rejection of authoritarian state structures into a rejection of accomplishing national and regional political functions at all, (d) and fail to elaborate POSITIVE aspirations and structures, settling only on rejecting those they don't abide, for example, refusing to have goals, etc. as if to do so would be harmful. Not all anarchists do a-d, among other things, but many do...



Q2. You are for welfare state. This is unusual attitude for anarchist.

(Again, this was directed at Noam, but could have been at me...as with the other questions...)

I am not sure what you mean by "for the welfare state." As the final goal of humanity, no, I am not for the welfare state. In current conditions, as an offsetting power to corporate capital, however flawed, and as a means of restraining grotesque violence against various constituencies in society -- yes, I am for the welfare state and its better aspects, and for improving and enlarging those. Put my way, it seems to me to be against welfare, against government enforced health and safety standards, against affirmative action enforced by law, etc., is to diverge entirely from anything that can be remotely called leftist, or even caring...


Most anarchists, like George Woodcock, think that welfare state violates the freedom of individual.

Well, I don't know what Woodcock thinks...

Suppose a bunch of thugs are about to murder you and a police car rolls up and drives them off. Now, what are the police? Well, lots of things including an organized agent of the maintanence of power relations in society...but one thing they also are is a couple of guys who just saved your life. 

The state in a modern society like the U.S. plays many roles -- which includes maintaining and reproducing basic hierarchies of all sorts, including of course, its own. This is presumably why anarchists are anti-state.

But there is no point being mindless about it. The state also is a terrain on which constituencies can actually argue for and in certain instances win gains that make their lives better, curtailing worse injustices, perhaps even empowering folks. To support such programs and victories is not to support the state per se... Why must a leftist have only a one dimensional, barely that, comprehension of the world and a derivatively narrow attitude toward it?

Surely a serious anarchist -- meaning a person serious about bettering the lot of the suffering on the road to creating new institutions that remove the underlying causes of the suffering, is going to favor laws against child labor, or full employment acts, and on and on and on...no?

In the short run, before winning a new society, the state is often the vehicle through which victories will be manifest. To reject influencing or advocating anything to do with the state is to reject many avenues of positive change, therefore -- a very odd choice for someone concerned about justice.

Or take it to another realm. You work at some corporation. Should you not advocate a pay raise, better conditions, or other demands of the corporation because it entails saying you are for certain corporation policies and someone can then claim you are for corporations? Very odd....and quite parallel.

So a just and concerned person is going to be opposing the military and various other parts of the state while supporting and even trying to enlarge the aspects that defend or enhance -- returning to the class focus of your question -- the interests of workers. 

Even you did think so in 1970's. How have you become a defender of welfare state? Do you think there could be options for it? Is it not true that now when the welfare state is in crisis everywhere in the world, that the left should try to find alternatives for it and anarchism could play a part in this?

That leftists should try to conceive an alternative way of accomplishing political functions then current existing state structures and should argue on their behalf, I agree, would be a very good thing -- I haven't seen much of this from anarchists, by the way. That we should unrealisitcally think that such new sturctures are going to pop into existence overnight, however, so that we can ignore the existing terrain, I reject. 

The same holds re economics. I am a market abolitionist -- I think markets are horrendous. This is like an anarchist seeking the abolition of political authoritarianism, say. But I don't fool myself into thinking that I can ignore the existence of markets when thinking about what to do NOW. I must act in their context, seeking paths that better the lot of the suffering and also lead toward basic change. If I just say, implement participatory planning, I would be largely irrelevant... If I just say, ameriorate the ills of markets, I would be relevant, but not, I think, contributing to the needed longer-term project (nor even most effectively advocating immediate gains, but that is another matter). So one has to have both levels of focus in mind...

The same thing holds in the political realm. I think to not understand the reason why markets are abhorrent would make me a less able proponent of economic change -- and, similarly, to not understand what is wrong with political authoritarianism would make an anarchist a less able proponent of political change. But for me to be concerned only with eliminating markets, not with reforms that deal in the present with real conditions short of transcending markets (though also trying to forge a project aiming to a new future), would be utterly irresponsible -- academic or utopian, one might perhaps call it. And the same holds in the political realm.

More, I think for someone seeking economic justice to reject say economic functions (production, consumption, allocation) would be literally demented, utter nonsense. Instead one has to relaize that these economic functions are essential but the means by which they are accomplished need redefinition. In the same way, when an anarchist essentially says we don't need politics (which is what some say) -- we don't need adjudication, we don't need debate and agenda setting, we don't need means of national coordination -- I think it is nonsense. What they should be saying is we don't want authoritarian structures for accomplishing needed political functions, instead we want .... and then they ought to work to fill in that blank.



Q3  What you are proposing as a short term policy for left is actually the old program of the social democratic left. The social democratic parties have now abandoned these policies. What is you opinion about the "third way", "new middle", "new Labor" and other market orientated policies of the new social democracy?

An honest social democratic will often -- not always -- be on the side of justice and humanitarian aid for the suffering and to that extent any good leftist will agree with them. An anarchist or other leftist seeking a new way to organize society, however, will fight for immediate health care programs, say, or pay raises, or greater say over workplace organization, or a shorter workday, or whatever other reform (your questions were in context of labor, I think) in ways that try to raise consciousness differently than a social democrat would, and that try to form different kinds of vehicles for exerting further influence, and that try to embody future aspirations in the present differently.



Q4. What do you think about the role of intellectuals in furthering the cause of anarchism?

What is an intellectual? Do you mean someone who thinks? That would be everyone, and of course from among everyone many had better by furthering worthy causes...

Do you mean someone who is isolated from everything other than mental gymnastics? Well, such a person ought to try to involve themselves in more dimensions of life or they are very likely to lose touch with reality -- but, of course there are things they can do that would be positive, supposing that in their mental gymnastics they uncover facts people need to know, or produce concepts useful for change.

The big question is how can left labor or other movements operate so as to utilize insights and ideas and scenarios thought up by folks who have had time and conditions suitable to thinking things up, on the one hand, yet not elevate "intellectuals" to dominant positions and not embody "intellectuals'" values and lifestyles as central -- since such choices are likely to lead a movement into a coordinator class mentality and practice, not one that is working class oriented.

Should one try to do popular propaganda, with simple ideas, or to construct theory for a movement as marxist do in a way that is not so simple to understand?

If we want movements that are participatory than the populace has to be able to participate. This means people with lives to lead, pressures to deal with, jobs, families, time constraints. So, if in order to have an opinion in such movements, to be able to propose and to argue for an agenda, one has to master a highly technical rhetoric that would take years to master or to spend extensive time in quiet places like libraries cogitating before ever having an opinion about anything -- then such a movement will not have mass participation, only a mass that follows a few professional leaders. 

So the answer is that the ideas and information and visions and strategies of a social movement that is to be truly participatory must be of such a form as to be accessible to people with modest time for learning the tools and applying them. Luckily, social change is such that this is quite possible, in my view, in fact, one has to work hard to make things overly complex, which academics do, regrettably, partly by habit and partly to enhance their own stature.

Is there room for "scientific anarchism" and are the anarchists in a position where they could learn something from marxist social sciences?

There is room for sensible concepts and information which reveal valuable insights about reality and about what we aspire to and how we might reach it and which empower people to have their own opinions about all of these...and it should be rational -- tested, logical, and expressed as clearly and simply as possible, with as little need for learning new technical language as possible. More, it should even by its very nature act against the predictable types of bias that constituencies of the left are likely to harbor -- because it needs to be used in trying and demanding circumstances by real people under real pressures. 

As to being scientific -- what is the alternative? Being un-scientific?

Q5. Do you see any alternative for state socialism?

Do you mean do I advocate a system of central planning or markets plus social or state ownership as a goal. No. 

Do I think these have forms that are better and worse -- of course, yes. 

Do I think one of the better ones could become good enough for me to feel it was a worthy goal? No. 

Do I think, most interestingly, we can move from where we are to one of these types of aims and then move on from there as a sensible route forward...no. To put it vary succinctly, didn't we just see a massive experiment, ostensibly with that intent, which instead has come back to capitalism?

Anarchists have traditionally been interested in trade unions (syndicalism), co-operatives, free communities and so on. Do these form an alternative for statist socialism, or should anarchist only defend what you describe "short term goals", namely defending the social sector of state?

I think that they are very positive aims and there are others as well. I think a person seriously interested in removing authoritarianism from all sides of social life, to the degree possible -- a person we might agree to call an anarchist -- should certainly be interested in creating instances of future institutions in the present as well as winning reforms that move existing institutions in good directions, create space and empower left constituencies, etc. 

As to an alternative to statist socialism -- I would advocate participatory economics plus what I would perhaps call an anarchist state: that is, a set of non-authoritarian institutions to accomplish the valid and necessary political functions that a society entails. 

Q6. You have written lot about the "really existing capitalism" and its differences from the economical theory.

I do this less than noam, who you explicitly asked, but some, yes....

Do you think that there could be functioning markets, if all the faults of capitalism could corrected?

All the faults -- you mean, I guess, all the faults but markets and the problems they impose. So, we remove private ownership... and what else, even just confining ourselves to the economy?

Well, there are some problems about removing other faults...if we keep markets, we cannot remove the division of the populace into a coordinator class and a working class, with the former ruling -- as in what is called market socialism but is actually market coordinatorism. More, we can't remove remuneration according to output, or worse, power...and, for that matter, we can't remove misvaluation of most items in the economy not least their ecological impacts, nor can we remove devolution of personality into the worst kinds of egoism due to the nature of atomistic buying and selling in a market system, and so on.

Market allocation is, in my view, probably the single most destructive human creation and will be seen as such, or at least as utterly horrendous, sometime down the road, viewed more or less by children in that desirable future, for example, the way children view slavery now -- with incomprehension as to how people, even great and educated and humane people, could favor it.

What do you think about markets in general? Are the compatible with the ideals of socialism?

I think markets are an abomination...

If by socialism you mean the idea that people doing work should have say over it proportional to the effects on them, for example...and that people should be justly remunerated, and that institutions should promote solidarity rather than force folks to step on one another if they are to get ahead -- then, no, I don't think markets are compatible with the ideals of socialism. Rather I think markets are an institutional means of accomplishing economic allocation that is primarily serviceable to capitalists (if one has private ownership of the means of production) and primarily serviceable to coordinator class members (if one has social or state ownership).

But note, just because I abhor markets that doesn't mean I don't go to the store, or use a bank, or look at existing markets and see the need for demands that fall short of their abolition -- say demands about trade, or income redistribution, or work day length, and on and on...