Left-wing neo-conservatives (part two):

The mailed fist behind the

anti-authoritarian phrase

by Joseph Green

(CV #4, September 1995)


1. The mailed fist: Kind of like a war
2. The anti-authoritarian phrase
3. The marketplace and the environment
4. Ben's war on "recalcitrants" and "iconoclasts"
How production units cooperate
Strikes and boycotts
Censoring the press and cleaning up soap operas, the anti-authoritarian way
5. The anti-authoritarian phrase and history
Primitive communalism and the tribal ideal (5)
The origin of oppression
Appendix to part 2: A guide to Ben's society
As far as reeducating dissidents:
Censoring the mass media:
On denying needed goods to people:
Private ownership

. In part one of this article we saw that Ben's vision of "cooperative anarchy" based on independent and competing production units is an abandonment of communism in favor of neo-conservative marketplace ideas. And we pointed out that Ben was at a loss to describe how these independent and competing units ever cooperate with each other.

. In reply to this article, Ben wrote "Why is Joseph afraid of consciousness" (Seattle #76). One has to wade through most of this article until one gets to the key part, in which he tries once again to answer the question of how his "cooperative anarchy" ever manages to cooperate on anything. And there he gives out a few pearls on what his ideal anti-authoritarian society of the future looks like.

1. The mailed fist: Kind of like a war

. And it's a nightmare, where the normal methods of dealing with differences are the "reeducation" of "recalcitrants", the denial of needed goods to people to coerce them to give up their views, and the censoring of the mass media.(1) So long as it's all done informally by vigilantes, and not by a government, Ben praises it as a manifestation of "raising the public consciousness". So long as it is done by "bottom-up methods" and not "top-down methods", it's not just acceptable, but even laudable.

. This shows the mailed fist behind Ben's anti-authoritarian phrases. He promises freedom from coercion if only we eliminate all formal authority. But I had asked Ben how his "cooperative anarchy" decided what to do when there were disagreements. To have a vote would be to establish an authority binding on all, and Ben is against people being bound by anything. So how are differences settled? It turns out that when Ben tries to picture how differences are settled, he ends up with a dog-eat-dog system of might makes right.

. Ben describes how disagreements are settled as follows:

"the answer is kind of simple: the various sides fight it out. This would kind of be like a war. . . " (paragraph 113, Ben's emphasis)(2)

. In fact, it will be kind of like thousands upon thousands of wars--one for each decision, big or little, in which there is not unanimity. Only in Ben's anarchist imagination, these "wars" supposedly cause "little real destruction". We are just supposed to take his word for this. (3)

2. The anti-authoritarian phrase

. In his earlier work on "cooperative anarchy", Ben sought to present himself as a supporter of diversity and complexity. He stepped up his rhetoric in Seattle #76. He claims that, since I disagree with his anarchism, I am doubting the ability of the masses to decide activities "as simple as eating a meal or going to the bathroom." (paragraph 172) Ben insists he is waging the good fight against those who want to "tell people what to think" (Subhead between paragraphs 129 and 131). And on and on and on.

. But it turns out that Ben is only opposed to the government telling people what to think. He goes into loving detail on the correct way to apply coercion against people who disagree--he has obviously given it a lot of thought. Ben abuses the "recalcitrants" and "iconoclasts" of a future society with that same zeal with which he abuses me.

3. The marketplace and the environment

. Ben's anti-authoritarian phrases turn into their opposite because his ideal society is based on the marketplace.

. In Seattle #72, Ben said that the alternative to central planning was the competition and struggle between a multitude of independent "production units". But how would any coordination take place in this sea of anarchy? Under the subhead "Communist Competition", Ben gave his answer. He wanted to show the "other ways of involving the masses in the economic life of society" instead of having some type of planned economy. (Seattle #72, Paragraph 101)

. The example he gave was how would society decide between two different products. One was good environmentally, but "requires more labor" to produce. The other harms the environment of the people of Bangladesh.

. Ben proposed that how much of each product would be produced would be decided by "the decisions of the masses, as consumers.  .  . , as workers .  .  . and as shapers of public opinion. " This would "determine the proportion of the two competing products which accumulate to the consumers." Ben emphasized how important this method was to deal with the decisions in "an economy vastly more complex and sophisticated than the one-dimensional cartoon picture Mark has drawn up. . . " (Seattle #72, paragraph 102)

. This of course would be recognized instantly by any intelligent neo-conservative as a marketplace solution. It means if 55% of the people choose the better product, 45% of the poison would ravage Bangladesh. Even if 95% of the people choose the better product, 5% of the poison would ravage Bangladesh. Even 99% of the people choosing the better product would leave hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis to suffer the effects of poisoning.

. I pointed out that even in the U.S. things aren't always done that way. For example, lead-based house paints were eventually banned.

. How does Ben respond?(4)

4. Ben's war on "recalcitrants" and "iconoclasts"

. To begin with, this partisan of diversity and "independent, conflicting and parallel processes" suddenly discovers that everyone, unanimously, would choose the better product. Why, it's a no-brainer in his view, since who would want someone to be poisoned? Only a few "recalcitrants".

. Now Ben himself picked out this example to show how to handle decisions on complex matters. But it turns out that, for the society of "cooperative anarchy" to safeguard the environment, there must be unanimity.

. Naturally, therefore, Ben starts worrying about the problem of those who disagree with the proper decision. He calls them "recalcitrants" (they're generally called "dissidents", Ben). And he even speculates about how "dysfunctional" they are. Why, the task is to "expedite the disintegration and dispersal of the recalcitrant dysfunction". (paragraph 151, Ben's emphasis)

. This method of treating recalcitrants and iconoclasts as dysfunctional people was, in fact, one of the worst abuses of Soviet revisionism and Stalinism. Since Soviet society had supposedly entered the golden age, dissidents were considered mentally unbalanced and were subject to being locked up as nut cases. Ben--the arch-crusader against Stalinism--preserves this Stalinist crime for his future society. So long as it isn't done by a general authority, it's OK. It's just the people of the future displaying their high-minded desire to ensure the happiness and mental well-being of their neighbors.

. Moreover, Ben's preoccupation with stamping out recalcitrants and iconoclasts follows logically from his negation of any authority. A general authority, elected by all, could ban a product without having to tamper with the brains of dissidents. So long as the product wasn't produced, such a society could even welcome "iconoclasts" for raising questions and keeping everybody on their toes. But with Ben's marketplace solution, there must be complete unanimity or else some of the dangerous product will be produced. So there cannot be toleration of dissidents. Pressure must be put upon them. Ben, who promised that people will be allowed to make marketplace decisions as "consumers", has a Catch 22: if you make the wrong decision, you are a "dysfunctional" individual and a target of the new society.

How production units cooperate

. So much for the diversity Ben promised consumers. Now let's look at what happens at the workplace. Suppose the workers at two factories disagree about something. In that case, Ben would have them wage strikes and workplace actions against each other. They would try to prevent each other from getting necessary raw materials for their production. And they would recruit sections of each other's workforce to slowdown production from the inside. (Seattle #76, paragraphs 118-125) If you succeed in shutting down the other factory, you've won, says Ben.

. Note that Ben describes this and other coercive measures as the general method of resolving differences. He is not describing the period of revolutionary action against the old regime. He is not describing conflict in the transition period to a classless society. He is not describing a fight against racism or other vicious oppression. He is not describing what workers might do in a future society when for some reason other channels are closed. He is describing the routine and ordinary method by which workers will resolve any differences in the happy future of "cooperative anarchy".

. How do people in the good society, people who are highly educated, people who are consciously working for the good of all, people who are free from the harsh economic pressures of today, work together? How do they resolve differences? According to Ben, it's pressure tactics first and last.

. In Ben's view, for the workers to abide by a vote would be tyranny. But for workers to coerce each other is the anarchist heaven. Each production unit for itself and let the "recalcitrants" take the hindmost.

. So the difference between capitalism and "cooperative anarchy" is this: under capitalism, workers wage workplace actions against their exploiters; under "cooperative anarchy", they wage workplace actions against each other. Under capitalism, they wage war against oppression. Under "cooperative anarchy", they wage war against "recalcitrants" and "iconoclasts".

Strikes and boycotts

. Well, what do strikes and boycotts look like in a society which supposedly has no money? And note that Ben isn't interested in mere informational strikes to notify the public--he wants real strikes with teeth that force one's opponents to their knees.

. But how do you do stop "production units" in their track in a society without money? Ben's solution: you deny needed materials.

. However, in a society where everyone is highly educated and the division of labor is fading and there is material abundance, the shifting of production from one factory to another would often be quite easy. No problem. Ben takes care to inform us that in this society "restrictions on the use of information might be negotiated among production units" (paragraph 133).

. So there will be trade secrets. And they won't be regulated by society as a whole. After all, that would require some rules binding on all and hence it would be tyranny in Ben's eyes. Under feudalism, each little duchy and kingdom had its own tariffs and systems of weights and measures. Under "cooperative anarchy", each production unit will guard its own technical knowledge.

. What will be the result? If a group of people wants to be free from pressure, they will build duplicate factories and production units, so that they can't be blackmailed into submission. They will engage in a lot of duplicate research. This puts a whole new light on Ben's interest in "parallel processes". Every discovery will have to be repeated ten times--because no one will be able to rely on anyone else.

Censoring the press and cleaning up soap operas, the anti-authoritarian way

. But at least the society of "cooperative anarchy" will guarantee that everyone will be able to express their ideas publicly, right?

. Wrong! There is nothing binding in this society, not even the rule that others have the right to speak. Ben, in Seattle #76, describes how pressure will be used to censor the mass media and even to keep certain actors/actresses off the air. Part of the war of worker against worker will be the struggle to dominate the mass media.

. And Ben is not talking about some exceptional measures. He is not describing, say, the struggle against racist agitation or incitement to genocide. No. He is talking about "truly complex questions--like how to raise the general level of culture". (Paragraph 181) And in this same paragraph, the answer he gives is censoring the media, right down to "altering the ending of a soap opera". Ben envisages a busybody censorship that pokes its nose into the most minor matters!

. And, says Ben, just imagine the "debate" among the masses over sorting out what to censor! He rubs his hands with glee. Why, this debate "might not infrequently play as large or larger a role in raising the public consciousness as the outcome of a particular struggle itself." Debating what soap opera to ban might be even more important than whether the soap opera is banned, says Ben. But any real-life worker might well tell Ben and his guardians of soap opera morality: "get a life!"


. Now we can see the full hypocrisy of Ben's claim that he opposes

"the need for coercion of any sort, the need for a special body with powers above that of ordinary individuals, a special body that makes rules, law and regulations that others must obey, even when they disagree. . . " (paragraph 148)

. Social relations in Ben's ideal future society are deeply and totally oppressive. This "cooperative anarchy" is full of ways to make you obey, "even when you disagree".

. In fact, there are no guarantees for popular rights unless there are rules of behavior which must be obeyed by all. Ben to the contrary, these rules do not require a special coercive apparatus, unless the society as a whole is based on suppressing part of the population. Without these rules, might makes right--you only have the rights you can defend in a conflict that, Ben admits, resembles war. That's why Marxism lays stress on analyzing and fighting the economic and social relations that cause oppression, not on dreaming of the abolition of all authority.

5. The anti-authoritarian phrase and history

. For Ben however his future world of multiple wars is the realm of freedom and consciousness. He has a simple equation: oppression=state machine=formal authority.

. For Ben, all general authority is the same. The authority of a tyranny; the authority of a restricted bourgeois democracy with slavery and no vote for women and the poor; a broad bourgeois democracy with class oppression but where everyone has the vote; the revolutionary authority of a transitional state, which is breaking up the old oppressive social relations and paving the way for new ones; and the non-governmental authority of a classless society are all fundamentally the same in Ben's eyes. They're all authority. And this "authority" is the root of all evil. So he advocates a society without authority.

. Ben insists that there must be "no formal authority, no binding laws, no regulations that could not be disregarded by anyone who felt it was better and 'made more sense' to disagree with such regulations. " (Paragraph 68).

Primitive communalism and the tribal ideal (5)

. To make this conception seem reasonable, Ben implies that this is what existed under primitive communal, or tribal society. He says that his "cooperative anarchy" would work "by relying on conscious social planning, consensus, persuasion and the kind of respect attained by a tribal elder in primitive communal society. By relying on the individual and group decisions of the masses who . . . would figure out 'the right thing to do' without need for a special class of administrators." (paragraph 74, emph. in the original)

. Moreover, Ben says he has the same conception as Engels and moreover is waging "an epic struggle of Marxism against revisionism". (Paragraphs 1,2, 67,74) To prove it, he vaguely recalls that Engels said something somewhere about tribal society. (Paragraph 67) He writes that

. "There are a number of theoretical issues that might be related to this [how to reach consensus-JG] but the one that most strikes me involves a passage from Engels (probably in Origin of the Family) relating how the most lowly cop, in a modern society, possessed more formal authority than the respected elder in the primitive communal society--while at the same time the wise elder in such a primitive society might command far more real respect than the most fearsome dictator in a modern society. "(6)

. But the first thing that strikes the eye is that Engels' description of primitive communal society is nothing like Ben's "cooperative anarchy". The tribal society--at its best--really did reach consensus. Its members did not follow Ben's advice for how to settle differences and certainly did not wage struggles to starve each other out, to prevent each other from speaking at councils, etc. (Unlike Ben's idea of settling differences by something that resembled wars, tribal society reserved war for relations between tribes. ) The consensus in the tribe was based precisely on it not having competing production units, but a common economic life.

. Also, Ben to the contrary, the various tribal societies did not allow everyone to do whatever they pleased. They had their councils, chiefs, elected positions, and traditions for deciding the affairs of the tribe. They had binding rules for the conduct of tribal affairs, for relations between the sexes, for the production and distribution of food, etc., and their tribal decisions and tribal public opinion could not lightly be flouted.

. So it is one thing to note that tribal society was united by respect, not by state coercion; it is another to present it as lacking authority and institutions. The tribe didn't lack authority; it had authority on a totally different basis than that of a class-divided society. Meanwhile, on the other hand, Ben's "cooperative anarchy" doesn't seem to be united by respect. He describes a war of one against all. Such a means of settling issues--if applied within the tribe--would have horrified the tribe. And Ben's competing and independent production units would have appeared monstrous to primitive communal society.

. Engels points out that the division into classes--although brought about by economic progress--has nevertheless brought a host of disasters to humanity. He contrasts present-day "civilized" society to what the old tribal society was at its best. He described the dignity of the men and women under the old system, the strength of character of the people, bravery, etc. It seems to me that this is the dignity of people who never feared starvation so long as their society itself didn't starve.

. But he also pointed out that the denizens of this society had no sense of themselves aside from the tribe. They of course had personal inclinations, but they lacked the modern sense of individuality. (7) And the deep-felt tribal concern for others doesn't extend beyond the tribe; these tribes could wage wars of extreme cruelty against outsiders. The lack of existence in tribal socities of special repressive forces, such as armies and police departments, shouldn't be misunderstood. Separate armies didn't exist, but the tribe as a whole was the army.

. The future classless society will have something in common with this tribal society. Its members too will never fear starving or going without the necessities of life so long as the society as a whole is not starving. Its members too will have a dignity and self-respect that few harried and overworked common people have nowadays. But its members will have a diversity and sense of individuality and a wide knowledge different from the old tribal society. And the basis for this will be the very thing that many people fear will enslave humanity--the existence of large-scale production and modern technique.

The origin of oppression

. But for now let's return to the issue of special concern to Ben, that of authority.

. Ben, implying that Engels agrees with him, holds that oppression is based on the existence of the state and formal authority. Abolish the state and the special repressive force, and oppression will vanish. And the way to abolish "formal authority" is, after a revolution, to have independent "production units" which are in competition with each other and which clash in little mini-wars. Ben says that such an economic system will be possible--and it will be "cooperative" and not fall apart--because everyone but a few "recalcitrants" and "iconoclasts" will be very wise, the highest form of wealth. And this means that they will unanimously decide on the best thing to do.

. In fact, contrary to Ben, Engels says that oppression arose prior to the state due to the replacement of common production by the division of labor.

. The breaking up of the old communal economy (this breakup itself based on economic evolution under the old tribal system--such as the increase in productive technique and in population density) led to class division, oppression, subjugation of women, etc. All this arose before the state existed, although its intensification led eventually to the development of the state. Abolish--by social revolution--the fragmentation of the economy into separate interests; bring into being social relations in which the economy is run by all and for all; and the state will fall. And the ability to do this rests on modern economic development, first and foremost the development of large-scale production.

. Engels takes pains to show that the state is not an eternal institution, but one that arose at a certain point and will be abolished--but he never suggests that all authority will be abolished. Rather, authority will be transformed into a mere administration of things and of production and lose its political content.

. So here we have two quite distinct frameworks.

* Ben puts emphasis on the state and authority as the source of oppression. Engels puts emphasis on the economic basis of oppression. He traces the origin of oppression to social relations, and shows how these exploitative social relations give rise to the state.

* Ben puts forward independent and competing production units as the guarantee of freedom. Engels see them as the basis of oppressive capitalist relations, the basis of the capitalist state. Engels holds that overcoming a society based on competing interests and separate classes will be the cause for the future fall of the state.
* Ben sees the main role of the state, and its monstrous oppression of the people, in its administrative role. Engels sees the state as the tool which has cemented the domination of one class over another. Hence when the state falls, Engels sees administration remaining, albeit an administration of things, not a political administration of people. As he says:

"The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then ceases of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production. " (Anti-Dühring, Part III. Socialism. Part II. Theoretical. International Publishers edition, emph. added, p. 307)

* Ben puts emphasis on phrasemongering about consciousness. Engels shows how economic evolution provides the foundation upon which human consciousness develops.

. In brief, Ben has the anarchist interpretation of society, Engels the materialist view.

. The struggle of Marxism versus anarchism was debated long ago. But it is coming up once again. Ben's anarchist view fits in with the neo-conservative idea that "big government" is the only oppression. Let something be done privately for the profit of some production unit, the neo-conservatives say, and it will be done better.

. Naturally, the Republican neo-conservative only sees social measures as "big government", not big jails and big armies. (The Libertarian neo-conservative might take matters a few steps farther, and sometimes envision private armies.)Ben would abolish the whole government, but he would duplicate its repressive functions through vigilante action and the war of one against all. Every freedom which Ben seems to grant as he denounces government interference, he takes back as he describes how his social system works. Eliminate formal authority, says Ben, and everything--censorship, reeducation, suppressing iconoclasts, the war of one production unit against another--will be a manifestation of mass activity and mass consciousness. In this, Ben shows the influence of the neo-conservative ideology.

Appendix to part 2: A guide to Ben's society


. Some readers may have trouble believing that Ben really could be enamored with such a repressive society as "cooperative anarchy". So below are some more details from Ben's description in Seattle #76 of how his ideal society deals with differences.

As far as reeducating dissidents:

. In paragraph 149, Ben takes up my question of how would his "cooperative anarchy" deal with differences. But he rephrases it as follows: "Joseph raises the question of what is to be done with recalcitrant individuals." (Ben's emphasis). Actually I never used any such term as "recalcitrants", nor did I suggest that disagreements would be confined to a few individuals, or that disagreements would only come up in a transition period in which the society was being set up. I envisage diversity and disagreement as a component part of communist society, and I asked Ben how he would deal with it. Ben, confronted with the possibility of differences, says it's just a few sick individuals, and their existence is just a carry-over of the old society.

. Ben describes these dissidents very disrespectfully. He calls them "recalcitrant poisoners and abusers" for simply disagreeing with Ben on which product to choose from the shelves of a store or distribution center. (Paragraph 150). But on Ben's own supposition two different products were being offered for their use. The consumers, by their decision on which product to buy, were supposed to decide how much of each product to produce. But if they make the wrong decision, Ben calls them sick abusers.

. Indeed, in paragraph 154 he talks of the "severely polluted . . . mental-emotional environment" of the dissidents. Ben not only abuses me for disagreeing with him, he abuses the people of the future for daring to disagree with him.

. In paragraph 156 he talks of "help(ing) people 'clean up' their consciousness". That's nothing like telling people what to think, which he is so worried that I might do. Not at all. Perish the thought.

. In paragraph 159 he says that

"Ultimately it becomes vastly 'cheaper' to re-educate the recalcitrants than to fight them and suppress them constantly. "

Ben insists that no one in his society will ever be forced to "obey, even when they disagree". Oh no, they will simply be "suppressed" when they do what they want to do. Or they will be re-educated. Whatever is cheaper.

. In paragraph 160, talking about the recalcitrants, Ben says that

"the tendency would be for the toxic residue to tend toward zero--and the need for coercion would tend toward zero with it. "

This clarifies again that the recalcitrants would be subject to "coercion"--until that wonderful moment when everyone is unanimous about everything.

. In paragraph 161, Ben says that

"The 'recalcitrants' are in principle no different than the rest of us. They are only a little further along the bell-shaped curve of social dysfunction than everyone else".

So no one is too far away from being called dysfunctional, if they disagree with Ben.

Censoring the mass media:

. Ben claims that

"Joseph's logic would have us set up a 'Ministry of Culture' which would decide which items of culture were wholesome enough for mass consumption. Joseph's Ministry of Culture would doubtlessly coordinate its activities with the 'Ministry of Truth' which would ensure that no one could be deceived about politics or history. " (Paragraph 180)

. What an active imagination Ben has! Only it turns out that it's Ben who wants to censor the mass media to ensure that the masses aren't exposed to "social dysfunction" or "toxic residue" (his terms for differing ideas or for dissidents). In the very next paragraph, after raising the specter of the Ministry of Truth, Ben tells us that censorship is just wonderful when done by "the active participation of the masses themselves". There would be

"boycotts or labor actions against units that manufacture toxic culture".

. True, Ben boasts that

"the media will not be controlled by anyone . . . . Media workers . . . will write what they want, .  . . . Similarly consumers of media will read, listen to and participate in whatever they want. " (Paragraph 133)

. But almost fifty paragraphs later one learns that people will also censor what they want, harass actors/actresses as they wish, etc. The mailed fist keeps peeping out from behind the anti-authoritarian phrase.

. In fact, Ben is really fascinated by the details of censorship. Why, he tells us, perhaps the masses wouldn't simply stamp out the offending production unit but instead "might even organize to make a particular cultural product better via altering aspects of it". And Ben tells us that the censorship might reach as far as

"even something as minor as altering the ending of a soap opera or intervening to affect the selection of an actor or actress if for some reason they believe that important . . . " (paragraph 181)

On denying needed goods to people:

. Ben describes the methods by which one "production unit" might wage war against another in order to change their opinion. In paragraph 118 he speculates on how to bring an "iconoclast factory" to its knees (Ben regards "iconoclasts" are something bad, a "toxic residue" from the past). He talks of trying to persuade a section of the workers in the "iconoclast factory" to

"stage a labor action (possibly similar to a strike or a slowdown or at the least a dampening of enthusiasm) in order to put pressure on the rest of the workers to rethink their positions. "

So Ben's "cooperative anarchy" tries to incite discontent and sabotage production at "iconoclast" factories. If the factory persists in iconoclasm, it faces yet harsher measures. Ben specifies that the pressure on such factories includes persuading "other workers, not in the factory, to refrain from supporting the iconoclast factory. "

. Now, just what does it mean to "refrain from supporting" the iconoclasts? In paragraph 120 Ben writes that

"the factory's suppliers could refuse to supply the factory with the goods it needs to produce . . . . Hence the renegade factory would have to find other production units that would freely supply it with what it needs. If it can't--the renegade factory loses the struggle. Game over. It is shut down."

. But what if the "iconoclasts" find other suppliers? Then the "labor action" spreads to the suppliers through "strikes, slowdowns, boycotts". As Ben says, "And on and on it goes." The war would spread far beyond the original disputants, with each side "targeting or aiding their allies and enemies." (Paragraph 125)

. So production at an "iconoclast" factory will be sabotaged. The dissenting workers will be denied food to eat or raw materials for their factory. And eventually, they will lose the struggle, "game over", and be shut down. But, in Ben's view, that has nothing in common with forcing them to "obey, even when they disagree".

. Naturally, the result would be that each faction in the "cooperative anarchy" would have to be economically independent of others. "Production units" would have to form into giant networks, monopolies and alliances. The production unit with the most friends and allies (either voluntary allies or people who are simply scared of losing their suppliers) would be the most powerful. New workers would be carefully screened, to make sure that competing alliances weren't sending in organizers whose aim is to shut one's factory down. And if you want to be influential in this society, you should choose your profession to produce some vital product that others really need.

Private ownership

. Ben's description shows that each "production unit" actually owns (or can dispose of, it amounts to the same thing) the goods it produces. Despite Ben's assurance that there are "no commodities nor money to buy them with", in fact each individual or production unit retains control over the goods it possesses and the machinery and other means of production that it uses. That's why it is capable of denying these goods to other factories. But this means that each "production unit" actually owns both its own tools and factories, and the goods it produces.

. And so the "production unit" ends up trading with other production units to get what it needs. Thus, Ben to the contrary, the factories are actually producing commodities, something to trade with other factories and suppliers. There is a marketplace. And on this basis, the "cooperative anarchy" will soon give rise to money and then to credit, finance, speculation, "futures markets", etc.


(1) See the appendix for details on Ben's vision. (Return to text)

(2) Unless otherwise noted, paragraph references are always to Seattle #76, and the emphasis is always Ben's. (Text)

(3) Ben claims that there is no damage because "the main weapons in this war are public support and the support, consciousness and passion of workers and consumers. . . " But as we shall see, Ben describes a war of boycotts and strikes and infiltration, aiming to harass and shut down one's opponent. (Text)

(4) Ben is embarrassed by his own example of marketplace environmentalism. He originally raised it to show the superiority of his "cooperative anarchism". But after I pointed out that his example showed that "cooperative anarchism" couldn't protect the environment, he wanted to shuffle the issue under the rug. He whined that it is a bad example, saying "One of the ways that charlatans and demagogues operate is in how they pick examples. The key method here is to pack an example which is not representative of the phenomena that it is supposedly being chosen to represent. " (paragraph 176)

. So, somewhat desperate, Ben hints that environmental bans are horrible tyranny. Shades of Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress! He asks, didn't Joseph worry about what happens if only 10% of the people boycott a bad product? Does this mean, Ben slyly implies, that Joseph wants "a military or police force" to enforce the product ban against the will of 90% of the people?!!! (Paragraphs 139, 142)

. But I never suggested banning a product against the will of the people. It only takes a little thought to realize that even if relatively few people boycott a particular product, it is still possible that a majority might support a ban on that same product. Consider lead-based paint. If it was on the market, lead-based paint would still be used. But I don't see mass demonstrations in favor of lifting the ban. For that matter, a boycott of a harmful chemical is sometimes totally impossible until the manufacturers are compelled to disclose what's in their products. But under the rules of "cooperative anarchy", they can't be compelled to disclose this if they don't want to.

. Ben goes on to imply that Engels was against environmental bans. You see, in Ben's view, such bans always require a repressive apparatus to enforce, and he quotes Engels saying that future society won't have "a special repressive force". But in the same quote Engels says that the government will be replaced by "the administration of things and the direction of the process of production". Wouldn't that include removing harmful products from production? And why would the banning of lead-based paints require a repressive apparatus in a society which was not based on making profits? (Text)

(5) For the sake of simplicity, I am using the term "tribal society" for what Engels calls "gentile organization". Engels refers to the tribe, the gentes, the phratry and other institutions of ancient society. None of these institutions, other than the tribe, are well-known nowadays, and a term like "gentile society" might have an unintended religious ring (as the word "gens" or "gentes" means nothing to most people). Of course, the term "tribal society" isn't too good either, since who knows what idea this conjures up for most people and especially because different tribes and indigenous peoples were in vastly different stages of development. A careful reading of The origin of the Family, Private Property and the State would give one a more concrete idea of gentile or tribal society. (Text)

(6) The actual passage from Engels goes as follows:

. "Having public power and the right to levy taxes, the officials now stand, as organs of society, above society. The free, voluntary respect that was accorded to the organs of the gentile (clan) constitution does not satisfy them, even if they could gain it; being the vehicles of a power that is becoming alien to society, respect for them must be enforced by means of exceptional laws by virtue of which they enjoy special sanctity and inviolability. The shabbiest police servant in the civilized state has more 'authority' than all the organs of gentile society put together; but the most powerful prince and the greatest statesman, or general, or civilization may well envy the humblest gentile chief for the unstrained and undisputed respect that is paid to him. The one stands in the mist of society, the other is forced to attempt to represent something outside and above it. " (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Sect. IX. This passage is also quoted by Lenin in The State and Revolution, Ch. 1, Sec. 3)

. Ben cites this to say that the old tribal (gentile) society has no "formal authority". But the actual issue is that the authority of tribal society grew up out of and was backed by tribal opinion and based on it, while the authority of capitalist society stands outside and above the masses. Engels doesn't use the term "formal authority", but he describes the councils, chiefs, traditions, etc. of tribal society, which he calls the "gentile constitution". Engels shows that the way people administer their common affairs varies tremendously in different societies, that it varies qualitatively, while Ben repeatedly makes the absurd claim that there is no authority without the state. (Text)

(7) See The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State Ch. III "The Iroquois Gens" for moving passages on both the personal character of humanity "before class divisions arose" and on the limitations of their individuality, their "almost complete domination. . . by external nature", and that "the tribe, the gens and their institutions were sacred and inviolable, a superior power, instituted by nature [in their view], to which the individual remained absolutely subject in feeling, thought and deed. " (Text)

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Dec. 8, 2007.
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