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Lefter 88 ~ What anarchism means to me

August 31, 2017 by emweb


Some people feel they need to be told what do do. They relish the ‘strong leader’ regulating them and everything else. I really feel sorry for you – but I haven’t given up hope for you.

I have to admit what drew me to anarchism in the first place was Johnny Rotten singing “I am an anarchist” in the song Anarchy in the UK (1977). I was just getting into punk when I heard it. Curious, I went to the library and started reading all I could about anarchism, which led to my decades-long convictions.
First of all, I differentiate clearly between ‘anarchy’ and ‘anarchism’. To me, anarchy is what happens when a system collapses. It’s usually messy and destructive. Anarchism, though, is people getting along and doing mutually beneficial things without a system, by which I mean without an imposed system of ‘you must to this or that will happen to you’.

Anarchism as a political philosophy is really a product of the last 200 years, along with the rise of the left and the organisation of labour, but anarchism has more ancient antecedents – there are anarchist strands in what Confucius taught and, in the west, most notably early on, perhaps, in passages attributed to Jesus.
Famous anarchists like Kropotkin and Proudhon hobnobbed with Marx and his followers, but quickly began to raise concerns about the authoritarian strands in Marxism. This debate became acrimonious enough that once the communist factions gained a majority in the International, anarchists were banned – from this point on, the opposite factions of the left fought for precedence over the more moderate socialists between them; the socialists could be swayed ether way. While anarchists had some notable numbers and regional successes in the late 1800s and again between the two world wars of the 20th century, there were also many incidents of communists suppressing, banning and persecuting anarchists. (It’s hard to find anything like that even remotely going the other way, by the way, when anarchists held sway).

Every ‘communist’ system that lasted beyond a few years had dictatorships and a privileged class – even Cuba. Adherents of communism who refute this fact are 1/ historically demonstrably wrong and 2/ deluding themselves. If they believe communism is a fine principle, just abused by dictatorial types, that’s like saying ‘Christianity is a great idea, shame about what it’s been like for 2000 years in practice.’ Because the large-scale crimes perpetrated by organised Christian religious denominations are manifest. The facts point out a structural flaw that is too elemental to lead to any wholly successful, non-oppressive system.
In other words, when it came to the danger posed by the authoritarian strands identified in Marxism, Kropotkin and Proudhon were right.

Anarchism contains various strands of its own: Kropotkin (a Russian prince) was an anarcho-communist: he formulated a communism that didn’t require a dictator to run it.
Frenchman Proudhon, informed by the earlier (and British) Godwin, advocated anarcho-syndicalism, in which revolutionary industrial unionis formed cooperative interactions with other industry groups to look after themselves and their dependents. They would run their own production houses. In other words, Proudhon’s methods sat wholly outside capitalism. This is actually even more possible in the internet age than it ever was in the 1800s.

Enough of history. For a society to function without enforcement, it needs people who genuinely want to do well by each other. Most of us fit into this category at least several times a day. We almost all help people; assist people for nothing; offer support; work together for mutual benefit. Want a hand with that load? Shall I hold the door open? Want to talk about it? You don’t need to be told to be good.
The whole thing about rules is interesting to me. I’ve had people maintain that without rules, people would ‘all’ be murdering and stealing. Really, would you? Because I wouldn’t.

I’ve had people say ‘You must obey the laws’. Bullshit. We all choose every day which laws we break and which we don’t. We don’t kill people and steal because we don’t want to. Believe me, it doesn’t take long for circumstances to worsen enough that people will do either, no matter what the law says – otherwise we wouldn’t have a prison population. It’s not just bad genes and stupidity, as the entitled middle-aged white men Mike Hoskings of the world would have us believe. Besides, he’s a perfect example of what bad genes and stupidity and a high income can lead to. What leads to crime is usually all, or varying combinations of, poverty, desperation, drug dependency and ill-informed decisions/lack of information.

Practical anarchism is expediency. There are sets of systems in the world. We’re all aware of them. Don’t drive on the other side of the road? Of course not, you’ll crash. You’ll either hurt someone, or yourself, of both. But we will in a heartbeat to skirt a slip, or flooding. We choose to at that point, otherwise we’d still be sitting there waiting for instructions from an authority figure. We are not automatons.
I try to apply this kind of logic to every situation in every way. I have done for decades. I like to think I choose every rule I follow or don’t follow. You may think it’s fear of and/or respect for the police/judiciary/government/whatever, but in my case, it’s me, choosing.
This is a remarkably empowering philosophy (why not try it?). In my case it was inspired, strangely enough, by Nazi Germany: I decided at 15 to never be one of those people who could claim that pushing 100,000 people into gas chambers was OK because it was ‘just following orders’.

Like it or not, we currently live in systems we can do very little about. Sometimes every few years we get to add our tiny, almost inconsequential tick to a ballot. Many anarchists can’t bring themselves to do this – that’s their choice. I respect choice.
But as Winston Churchill quoted in the British House of Commons in 1947, “… It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” I agree with him on this. It’s very wise. Churchill was pointing out that all forms of government (institutions that have authority over people, however those institutions were arrived at) are bad, so yes, I agree. Democracy has usually been the least destructive to human life within those governance systems, true (it’s a different story when democracies go to war against each other, of course). And as I said, a single vote every few years (we get two in New Zealand: party and representative) is almost inconsequential.


So I vote.

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