During my time of eight years on twitter I managed to amass 4,000 followers but I was acutely aware that a lot of the people who followed me on there had never heard of anarchism, they often followed me for my sense of humour or the football team i support and my politics were incidental. That said, a pattern emerged of the questions my posts would generate from joe public, many on the theme of how would things be different under anarchism. It’s common for people to ask when you are ripping the current system to bits, “so, what’s your alternative?” It is a natural question.
Problem is anarchism doesn’t really set out a manifesto of policies it mainly talks about HOW decisions should be made not what these decisions should be. It’s about the process not the outcome. Anarchism sees itself as a global social system to unite the whole world, it would be strange for it to try and guess what decisions eight billion people would collectively decide. That said, there are clearly things we can say about this new society, if only in what it wont be. Anarchism has many targets, authority, hierarchy, power and domination. Equality and freedom are big themes in anarchist literature and even make up the colours of the flags employed by anarchists, Red and Black. These stances taken by anarchists obviously lead us to be able to say at least something about how this system would operate. So let’s try do that.
Anarchism is what we call political-economy, it’s strange to modern eyes to see those two words used together as a single subject, we are encouraged to think of politics and economics to be separate things. This distinction is a modern phenomena however and has its roots in the call for universal suffrage. Until people started calling for the vote it was clear that economics and politics were the same thing, with the same actors. They were interlinked systems of power within society. Political economy was a single subject. Marx even wrote a book called “a critique of political economy” in the nineteenth century. When it became clear that the populace wanted to live under democracy where people elected their rulers, the rulers eventually agreed but ONLY in the realm politics, they separated economics off from this call for elections and accountability. They kept the most powerful of the two systems of power, economics, for themselves. There are no elections at work, you do not get to chose your managers and bosses, that only happens in the realm of politics and so the two subjects were divided up.
Professor Noam Chomsky calls life inside a capitalist company a private tyranny, its hard to disagree with that assessment. Capitalist companies have a strict hierarchy, which forms a pyramid, those at the top take the lions share of profits they also sit on the board and make decisions about how the entire capitalist enterprise functions. Those at the bottom receive orders and must follow them, they have no input into the higher levels of decision making. This is a totally fascistic power structure. The CEO is the fuhrer, the worker the volk. We spend an inordinately large part of our lives within our places of work and all this takes place under a fascistic system of power. Our working lives are lived under fascism, much more than they are lived under democratic structures.
Having studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at university I can say that anarchism is alone in taking on the big problem of the duality of humanity, whereas most political philosophies would chose between the social/individual dichotomy so for instance fascism and right wing political philosophies generally stress the importance of the individual at the expense of the idea of society, some even going as far as to say society doesn’t even exist. Left wing authoritarians, namely the Marxists stress the social aspects and think people should subsume their individuality for the social good.
Anarchism rejects this approach and recognises the duality of humanity as a single subject matter, it refuses to chose between this false dichotomy, anarchism sees these two aspects more as two sides of the same human coin we are BOTH individuals and social animals but as a way of finding what utilitarians might call the general will anarchism seeks a way to make decisions within society in the most democratic and egalitarian way possible so these problems can be decided by the largest group of people as possible. Democracy is a big theme for anarchists, but democracy comes in many forms, in fact we are told we live in democracies right now are we not?
The democracy the anarchist envisages is one that is called direct democracy, historically this was the first democratic system to appear, it is the purist form of democracy, this form of democracy contrasts itself with the democracy we have today which is called representative democracy. The two have similar features but are also very different. Direct democracy means we all as individual members of society make decisions that effect us instead of choosing others to make these decisions on our behalf. Under Anarchism we ourselves directly rule society, together.
To the anarchist the smallest political unit is the commune, this is seen as comprising of no more than a hundred and fifty people. This size is the accepted optimum group number where we can know all the members personally, also known as the Dunbar number. Interestingly its also the average number of friends on facebook and the maximum number of members of the Hamish community before they split.
So how does this direct democracy work? Well let’s take a concrete example and see how policy decisions would be made under anarchism. Let’s chose a policy issue that might be decided, lets say the age of consent. So within our commune we discuss the issue and lets say we decide aged 15 now if this was an issue we have previously decided would be decided at the commune level thats it, thats the policy. But lets say this is a regional issue and then we can see how all the levels fit together in this federated political system we call Anarchism.
So we can envisage where we need to make policy at regional or national or even at international level. Under anarchism we accept that these different levels of agreement would be necessary and we organise in such a way that these decisions are taken by everyone. So how does that work? OK, so the regional commune would be made up of delegates from each of the local communes (national communes would be made up of delegates from the regional communes, international from the national etc). So we discuss, we debate, we vote and we agree 15 should be the age of consent, so we then send a delegate to the regional commune to argue for what we have decided.
A delegate differs from the representatives we elect to higher levels of government today in a number of ways. First today in the U.K. when we vote we elect a party to office, the actual person who makes up the official posting is decided by the parties. Today an MP is not elected to represent the views of their constituents, firstly they are there to follow the whips of their party. The party whips tell MPs how to vote, not their constituents. Under anarchism these delegates would already know how to vote and what to argue after receiving their orders from the local commune. The Delegate has no place for personal opinions, they are there to follow the wishes of their commune and to report back to them. They are the link between the different levels and go back and forth between them. If for some reason the delegate started acting against the commune’s wishes then instant recall exists and they could easily be replaced by a simple vote.
So our delegate goes to the regional commune and argues for 15 years of age, now there’s a few things that could happen here. Let’s go through them. So the regional commune could agree with 15 and adopt that as their position. Fine, its accepted at local and regional level. No problems. They could argue it out and agree to some other age, lets say 16. Now our delegate just lost the vote at the regional commune, they would have to come back to the local commune and explain why the regional level made the decision it did. The local group would then have to vote on whether to accept the regional levels decision. Every decision taken at a higher level has to come back to the local commune where it needs to be ratified by a vote. Obviously this can go two ways, agree or disagree. If we agree fine, we adopt it. No problems. But if we disagree we can go back to the regional level and try to convince them to change their position. We can appeal.
This is where the issue of how decisions are arrived at under anarchism arises. Today we are expected to follow a 51% decision in democratic votes. Often called a simple majority. This however brings up what we call in political philosophy “the tyranny of the majority“ problem. Simply put a 51% majority could still be wrong and forcing 49% to submit is a bit fresh given the difference between the two is so small and we are talking about almost half of the population. We can think of examples where this majority position has been proven wrong on a global stage, think of Brexit here. During the First World War a majority of the Marxists in germany voted for war credits to fund the First World War, today most Marxists would say that this was a wrong decision and they should have used the war to weaken their own capitalist masters instead of taking sides in a capitalist war. During the miners strike in the U.K. Nottingham miners voted to end the strike, this was a wrong decision and proved to weaken the miners position yet it gained over 51% of the vote.
Anarchists reject this 51% tyranny and advocate for consensus decision making instead. Getting everyone to agree on a course of action is the ideal Anarchists are working towards here. This shouldn’t be misunderstood as getting everyone to agree to a position, it’s more subtle than that. What anarchists argue is that there are three positions on a vote, for, against and abstain. The aim of a locked decision making position is to move the against into the abstain column or the for to the abstain column so in the final analysis no one votes against the proposal. That’s consensus decision making. It was used within the occupy movement and many other activist and revolutionary movements have used this method of group decision making. Everyone gets a vote. We debate, we compromise but eventually we arrive at a position we can all agree to at least not be against.
This is important in showing what happens if our local commune can’t agree to not be against the regional decision to set the age of consent at 16. At this point our local commune would have to decide just how important this issue is to them, given that we are holding up everyone else in the community who have agreed to this position and want to move forward. We may decide that the age difference isn’t too much to bring the whole thing down and ultimately agree to not oppose it. Great. But it may be that we are still against it and can’t be persuaded. Remember the aim is to get everyone to either agree to the proposal or at least not oppose it and abstain.
We have options here. If we are deadlocked we could create a faction within the larger community which allows us to follow all the other rules but has an exception on this issue if the other communities agree to let us have this opt out. (Think of how some EU member countries opted out of using the euro.) They might not let us do this though and then we are faced with a huge decision, if we can’t agree to live by the same rules as the other members and that this difference is too much for us to continue to live with the others we could always as a last resort leave the collective all together and strike out on our own. Anarchism has no way of forcing people to do what they don’t want to do and we must respect their right to go alone. This of course would be the absolute last resort and could only occur over an issue of such importance that they are willing to break up the community. This wouldn’t happen that often if at all but anarchism is consistent in its desire for giving people freedom in how they live their lives and so it has to be an option.
So as we can see decision making processes that anarchism would follow can be identified, anarchism strives to respect the individuality and social needs of humanity and it doesn’t believe in force or coercion. Because of this it adopts absolute democracy and respects differences in its political system, to the point of stressing how varied life would be under anarchism and even as a last resort it respects members rights to secede from the group. Anarchism politically is direct democracy federated to higher levels by delegation.
From an anarchists analysis of the duality of human’s social and individual natures, the way we are social animals but still individuals also informs how anarchist look at economics. For an anarchist economics is simply the way a society creates and distributes the goods and services it requires. The political side of anarchism discussed above can be seen as being informed by the sanctity of the individual, the tyranny of the majority and their relation to the social. It is in the economics of anarchism where the social aspect is seen most prominently.
To anarchists one thing that flows from analysing humans as social animals is that equality is an inherent human quality stemming from their social nature. For the vast majority of humans existence we lived in tribal cultures, we were hunter gatherers. These societies are proto anarchist proto communist and that’s how we have lived for most of our time on earth. Looking at the individual vs social dichotomy as I’ve said anarchists see this as two faces of the same coin and they argue that naturally humans are socially egalitarians. When people meet for the first time they don’t decide who will give orders and who will be obeyed. What punishments there will be in their relationship. No, humans treat one another as equals. Humans are naturally cooperative, for societies to function people need to figure out how to work together. Kropotkin in his seminal work “mutual aid” shows how social animals work together cooperatively and achieve much more than the sum of their parts when they do so.
But again anarchists don’t say humans are only cooperative, again they don’t take a side between cooperation and competition as the natural way humans are. We accept humans are actually potentially both. Anarchists argue that yes we are potentially both but that when it comes to how we should create the world and provide for our members in our economic system, cooperation gives us more rewards. In a competitive system there in one winner and everyone else loses, think of the World Cup, one winner a long list of losers. In cooperation we all win together. Competition should be channeled into meaningless things like sports and not how we provide for one another. Anarchists believe that should be done collectively.
Most anarchists broadly accept Marx’s economic analysis of capitalism, Bakunin who was Marx’s nemesis in the first international, and it was their arguments that led to the international splitting into Marxist and Anarchist factions of communism, even still Bakunin was the first to translate Marx’s Capital into Russian. Anarchists agree capitalism is slavery, they agree capitalism is exploitation, they agree capitalism alienates workers. Anarchist and Marxist analysis are broadly similar, it is how we think we should react to this and what our short and long term aims are where we differ but as to what’s wrong with capitalism we are in total agreement.
Anarchists subscribe to the idea that the perfect economic system is based on the maxim “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” people put in what they can in the form of work and take out from the system what they need. That’s the only way to create and distribute societies needs and wants equally, this economic system as described is called communism. In order for humans to be equal in economic affairs anarchists agree that money must be done away with, money creates rich and poor, it creates classes and conflict. Whereas the invention of money was an advance at the time, when money was a intermediary between commodities it was innovative but then it became a commodity itself and its nature changed, money became a hinderance to human development. Doing away with money instantly makes us all equal, economically. Anarchists are communists, communism flows directly from the Anarchists’s principles of being for extreme freedom and extreme equality. Direct democracy is political freedom and communism is economic equality. Freedom and Equality, the two pillars of anarchism.
Anarchism would fundamentally change our society, we are talking about a complete social revolution here, politics, economics, culture would all change. Politically everyone would be equal, no one would be able to force anyone else to do anything, we would be truly free individuals in an egalitarian social system. Economically anarchism would do away with money, the economic life of the community would be under democratic control, people would contribute what they could and they could take out of the economy the things and services they want. This is anarchism.