Anarchism and the marketplace

(from Communist Voice #4, Sept. 15, 1996)


. Today "everyone" is against the government, even many politicians directing the huge government apparatus. From the Speaker of the House to anarchist revolutionaries, government interference has been identified as the source of the miseries of today.

. And indeed, isn't the world suffering from one war after another waged by chauvinist governments? Aren't there many tyrannies -- to say nothing of Republican would-be guardians of American morality -- that interfere mercilessly in the life of their subjects? Didn't the fake communist (actually state-capitalist) regimes have the state interfere with everything?

. True, the right-wing ranters actually want to reinforce the repressive presence of the government under the cover of anti-government rhetoric. They only want to remove the social benefits that the masses have fought for in the past, and the restrictions on the marketplace. The anarchist revolutionary, on the other hand, really wants to eliminate the government. Anarchism identifies the people's subjugation to a ruling class with government action. It holds that the problem is that everyone can't simply do what they choose. If we just eliminate the government, life would be better, and people would be free.

. Yet, a nagging question remains. Even if the government were eliminated, would oppression end? What about the power of the giant corporations? Some of them are as large and wealthy as many governments, and employ as many people. What about the power of the marketplace? Doesn't it ravage forests, pollute water, condemn tens and hundreds of millions of people to poverty and toil, as brutally as any government?

. The run-of-the-mill capitalist politicians say that an economy run by the marketplace and a variety of corporations bring freedom. On the other hand, the reformists and anarchists, who think they are saying something radically different, would replace the giant corporations and profiteers by communal or other small-scale enterprises. They hope thus to eliminate authority and hierarchy, since each enterprise is small and may even be run as a collective. Then, they think, there would be no oppression and no ruling class and maybe no authority. Well, they may envisage weak federations of local councils, but for them to think about this too much is to tread on the dread waters of politics.

. But when production is carried out by independent enterprises, whether communally owned or run by profiteers, this is not the basis of freedom, but ultimately it is the basis of oppression. It means that the various enterprises and workers are connected, not by any conscious plan, but by the rule of market forces, by the result of thousands of transactions among the little groups. And market forces inevitably give rise to a division of rich and poor, to monopoly, and to the oppression of the poor by the rich.

. So perhaps, however radical the anarchist ideology appears, it has something in common with the anti-government neo-conservative atmosphere of our time. However much it hopes to eliminate all coercion -- government or corporate -- its solutions are bound to the marketplace.It's no accident that one outright capitalist party, the Libertarian, is willing to flirt with anarchist phrases.It says it would remove all interference by the government in personal decisions, but it would subject the people even more to the marketplace than Newt Gingrich's "Contract on the Workers and Poor".

. Anarchism fails because it can't see that the economic basis of the government remains under small-scale production including that run by communal groups. So its denunciation of the state ends up as wishful thinking, or even worse, finds a reflection in the anti-government posturing which the right-wing and the Libertarians use as a cover for supporting the marketplace. It fails because it sees the individual or the small group as self-sufficient, while in fact only the collective action of the working masses -- the building of a proletarian party, the carrying out of revolutionary struggle, the collective running of the economy -- can overcome exploitation and provide a true basis for the flourishing of individuality and creativity. It fails because its failure to understand the relation of freedom to mass activity mirrors the capitalist ideology of each person for their self.

. Capitalist government is a monster, but it did not spring from the air. It expresses the interests of the ruling class. It is the division of society into hostile classes that results in oppression. This division into ruler and ruled, rich and poor, dominant nationality and oppressed nationality is based ultimately on an economic base. It is based on the fact that the productive forces of society are not run by society as a whole, but are dominated by a ruling class.

. The only way to overcome oppression is by eliminating the division of society into hostile classes. And this requires that the workers not recoil before, but take up the most powerful methods of political struggle in order to assault the domination of private ownership. They must rely on class organization and all-round mass struggle, political and economic and ideological. They must take over all production via revolution. At first, the new society requires a revolutionary government. Such a government will at long last be a tool of the majority of the people in their fight against exploitation by the few. It will help stamp out exploitation and bring the economy under the conscious control of all workers. But ultimately, as the economy is really run by all, everyone will be both a worker and an overseer of society's affairs, and so class division will come to an end. It is the end of class divisions that will bring the end of government and the whole political apparatus. Only in this way can there be a real and not illusory end of government and of politics.

. This whole process is what is called communist revolution. It does not build up a regime such as that in China and Cuba today and the late Soviet Union and Yugoslavia yesterday. It is the tragedy of this century that some of the most profound revolutionary movements the world has ever seen -- such as the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 -- were eventually undermined and collapsed. The best attempts to eliminate private ownership were subverted, Marxism-Leninism was abandoned, and state capitalist systems built up. The resulting regimes in those countries ended up representing the domination of a new capitalist elite. By way of contrast, true communist regimes are based on political and mass organizations and a state apparatus that rely on the initiative of the formerly downtrodden masses. Both the revolutions and the revisionist tragedies in these countries should be studied closely.

. But what of anarchism? It has never led the liberation movement anywhere but to a dead end, and it always will.

. Anarchism has had a disorganizing effect in the class struggle. It tends to see progress as everyone doing their own thing, rather than the masses rising up and consciously transforming the world. It tends to see organization and discipline and joint effort as a shackle on the individual, and it fails to see how they can be the agencies of liberation. The working people must join together to fight the bourgeoisie, and they must organize, organize, organize. A classless society will be impossible so long as the working people cannot run the economy in common. Anarchism's tendency to see all organization (especially political organization) as the enemy, as bad or worse than the vicious governmental authority of an exploitative ruling class, renders it useless as a theory of revolutionary liberation. But anarchism's hostility to party-building and solid class organization is something we will deal with in another issue. For the time being, we focus on the issue of the difference between the anarchist and communist view of future society.

. We begin in this issue a discussion of how neo-conservative influence is reflected in the left-wing. Today we study the misadventures of one group, the Revolutionary Socialist Study Group of Seattle, which broke up into two trends of thought: supporters of capitalist realism on one hand and anarchist dreamers on the other. We show how both sides of this split have abandoned communism: the "realistic" opponents of revolutionism, and the anarchist parody of revolutionism are both based on marketplace ideas.

-- Joseph Green


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