A simple definition of Anarchism

ConversesAnarchism

Afegeix-te a LibraryThing per participar.

A simple definition of Anarchism

1leigonj
maig 25, 2020, 4:27pm

I might never get an answer to this, as no-one's posted on this group for 7 years or so, but a definition for Anarchism that I've recently come across is essentially a society without any formal hierarchical structure: it may well have hierarchies but they are entirely voluntary; there can be no compulsion whatsoever. Even a defined code of laws would be anathema to anarchism.

I've been told by some young radicals that communism (the end state) and anarchism 'are exactly the same thing', but they are, in fact, completely incompatible as communism, by definition, would have to maintain a system where private property is forbidden - through some sort of compulsion.

Whereas the ultimate goal of communism is equality, the ultimate and overriding goal of Anarchism is freedom.

Is this fair?

2elenchus
Editat: maig 25, 2020, 5:10pm

>1 leigonj: a definition for Anarchism ... is essentially a society without any formal hierarchical structure

In the spirit of sincere discussion, I'd ask why "formal" is conflated with "compulsory". I can imagine anarchical society with very formal hierarchies, yet which remain voluntary. The formality, in fact, could help preserve the individual anarchist's voluntary relations with the polity / with other individuals: the hierarchies are clear, they are public, each individual has a better opportunity to evaluate and decide whether or not to adhere to them.

By way of historical example, I point to traditional Diné (Navajo) society -- as I understand it, and to be clear I've never lived within or personally observed such. There are many others I suspect would be equally relevant examples, I've just read more of the Diné.

Taken another step, I'd similarly question the importance of any code of laws, and whether they are "defined" or not. Again, I can imagine anarchical society with and without such codes. The importance of individual voluntarism is not limited by the code so much as how it is enacted or manifest.

More relevant, I suggest, is when an individual decides against adhering to an hierarchy: what then? How does an anarchical society honor this, without dissolving?

3LolaWalser
maig 25, 2020, 6:07pm

>1 leigonj:

communism, by definition, would have to maintain a system where private property is forbidden - through some sort of compulsion.

Communism rejects private ownership of the means of production, not all and any private property.

4leigonj
maig 26, 2020, 2:02pm

Yes, I think you're right. I should have written compulsory.

And your question is basically at the centre of any criticism of anarchism, I'd imagine. At some point, someone of a post-modernist outlook would no doubt come along and ask why individuals are voluntarily submitting to their place within the social and economic system, suggesting that threats such as shaming and ostracization are no less real or binding than those of arrest, or firing. You think you have freedom, but you don't really.

On the subject of a code of laws, merely by existing it implies anyone within the geography to which it applies is subject to it. Of course, I can choose to subject myself to the laws of a town by living there, but upon committing a crime and being caught you have a bit of a conundrum: can I now just declare that I no longer accept the laws I've 'violated'?

5leigonj
maig 26, 2020, 2:10pm

I'm not sure that's true. At least, I'm not sure it could work. Perhaps I could own my own house - but what if I decide to build a cottage industry at home, making and selling whatever? Is there not a danger this breeds capitalists? What about if I buy other properties - presumably I can't make a profit by renting them out? Presumably I can't make a profit by selling mine either - in which case, did I really own it?

I've been trying to work out how communism might actually work successfully. My thinking was all people effectively rent or lease their homes. There would have to be some system of valuation wherein bigger homes in nicer areas do cost more to rent, and someone spending their income to improve a home gains some benefit from having done so, should they then move - perhaps gaining discount on the rent of their next home, and/or placing higher up the list when choosing from available properties.

6LolaWalser
maig 26, 2020, 5:38pm

>5 leigonj:

It's true that there was private property in general in communist countries--what sort and under what regulations, varied, in place and time. But in every communist country I know of people owned/might own shelter, vehicles, land, small businesses.

There would have to be some system of valuation wherein bigger homes in nicer areas do cost more to rent, and someone spending their income to improve a home gains some benefit from having done so, should they then move - perhaps gaining discount on the rent of their next home, and/or placing higher up the list when choosing from available properties.

Right--all of this is well known ground. There were more and less desirable towns, streets, flats, cheaper or more expensive hotels, stores etc. In Communist countries Communist ballerinas danced for audiences who had bought Communist tickets at varying cost--costing more for the centre mezzanine than the peanut gallery, costing more for the employed than the student--the same logic and practice, in this respect, as in any capitalist theatre supported by rich patrons' private means.

Well, good luck with your system-creation. I would only repeat my caveat about the futility of talking about communism in the abstract. There is very little to generalise about from the example of historical communist countries collectively. And even worse is being led by some theoretically-derived distillation of what "communism" is supposed to be.

My advice, if I may offer it, is always to start from your reality, your circumstances, your context, and define the problem and its solution in terms of practicalities.

7leigonj
Editat: maig 27, 2020, 5:40am

I should probably clarify that I'm not a communist; I'm more of a liberal in the British sense, and I'm pretty convinced that capitalism (well regulated, and with a good level of redistribution) is the best system we have. Also, when I'm talking about communism here, I'm referring to the end state: what I'm told by communists would be a purely democratic, stateless political-economic system, a system which has not yet existed anywhere. I'm simply trying to work out in my own head if such a system could work.

I think, if it were decentralised, it mostly could. If businesses were all in the model of co-ops, and democratically managed by the workers, they could work in a market, essentially, not all that dissimilar to the current one. As, effectively, they'd be commonly owned, they wouldn't be in direct competition with each other, except for labour: more successful co-ops could pay better wages and hire more people. Without rights to intellectual property or the like any co-op could take the innovations of another and begin putting them to use: if the organisational model of one is poor, it might simply copy another's. This way you might actually have a more efficient system overall - especially if there are some sort of restructuring organisations going around finding failing co-ops and working with them to improve. Capital allocation could be decided democratically. If a new factory, say, was proposed to be built, it could be put to a vote of people in the locality: the money and expertise might come from existing or newly formed co-ops who've made the proposal (perhaps drawing from a central pool of taxation).

This is where I think it all starts to fray, however. Given that co-ops aren't in capitalistic competition with each other, the need to make economically sensible decisions is largely removed (i.e. is this the best place to open my new factory?). I know this was a problem in centralised systems. Equally, bad decisions might be difficult for the market to punish: under capitalism the business eventually goes under; under communism, if there's some eternal right to a wage, even if one's co-op is hopeless, this might breed inefficiency throughout the system.

Another problem is debt. In a communist system, you can't have collateral. As a co-op, we don't own the premises we work on, meaning we can't sell it. It's the same for a home owner. As a result, no-one can give us a loan which if we fail to pay is redeemed through the sale of property. This is fine for individuals - you could still take out a loan to go on holiday this year, and repay it from you wage, and a simple credit system could prevent you ever borrowing more than you can afford - but in the case of co-ops which would essentially be able to dissolve themselves and constantly reform, which don't have any ultimate owner, it could lead to real problems. You would never have a crash like 2008, but you might well develop the type of problems it caused, where there's nowhere to turn for credit as all the lenders are lumbered with bad debt - and if there's no state as a lender of the last resort, you're stuck. Again, I know that debt has been a problem for some 'communist' countries.

Finally, perhaps even more fundamentally, is this idea of the workers owning the means of production, to which I've briefly alluded. I personally work in a warehouse. The company that owns the warehouse has dozens in Britain and hundreds more in other countries. Now, if this were a communist system, how is the notion of ownership divided up? Do I merely 'own' the warehouse I work in? Do I also own all the others of my company? Do I have a say in how the shops, the buses etc. around my warehouse are run - even though I don't work for any of them? Presumably I don't really 'own' any of them - essentially, they are without ownership - but I somehow have equal right over them, ultimately meaning that I have equal right to their output (which would come through my wage being drawn from the entire output of society, rather than my own co-op, perhaps narrowly increased if my co-op's or individual contributions are outsized). Also, I've been assuming that we as workers can, at any point, assert our right over the premises we work at, meaning that we are part of the larger chain of warehouses until the point when we decide we aren't, that we don't approve of the diktats coming from the head office and so declare independence (and because we're not in competition with each other, what would be the argument against this - except better performing warehouses might do this so as to average up their wages, say?). We could also opt-in to other co-ops.
I can't think of a way to implement the idea without it being completely arbitrary.

8elenchus
maig 27, 2020, 1:56pm

I haven't thought about this in detail for years, but these posts identify for me what I think is a central issue: our thinking is constrained by what we're used to in our current industrial economies, and many obstacles I might identify with communism are located more in my mind than by any objective constraints. Not all of them, but many.

I'm not qualified to point out which that applies to in >7 leigonj:, but I suspect it does apply to some.

An underlying idea that I relate to communism "in actual circumstances" is that the issue of scale is important. That is, the current economic system relies on global systems and efficiency. I suspect communism is best actualised at a smaller scale, and to my mind, that would be a good thing. It would be "less efficient" (globally), but that's another way of saying there would be more employment opportunities -- again, to my mind a good thing. The larger insight, for me, is that anyone looking to slot in a communist system where now is a capitalist system, is creating a straw man.

9LolaWalser
maig 27, 2020, 2:31pm

>7 leigonj:

I'm more of a liberal in the British sense, and I'm pretty convinced that capitalism (well regulated, and with a good level of redistribution) is the best system we have.

Not a good starting point when trying to invent communism. I don't mean this hostilely, but you should reckon first with your stated values not corresponding to communist values. Any "communist" system you devise you will judge a success or failure according to your lights, those of a pro-capitalist liberal. This is not only irrelevant to communists, but to the problems communism seeks to solve.

>8 elenchus:

I suspect communism is best actualised at a smaller scale, and to my mind, that would be a good thing.

You too seem to operate from a set of values that have nothing to do with the problems communism addresses. Efficiency? What does that even mean? Small scale, why?

On the contrary, I'd say that communism is the only solution for humanity and the planet.

10leigonj
Editat: maig 28, 2020, 11:13am

>9 LolaWalser:

Not a good starting point when trying to invent communism.

I disagree. If you really do think communism is the only solution for humanity and the planet, it's people like me you have to persuade. I'm obviously engaging with the question by choice.

I don't mean this hostilely, but you should reckon first with your stated values not corresponding to communist values. Any "communist" system you devise you will judge a success or failure according to your lights, those of a pro-capitalist liberal. This is not only irrelevant to communists, but to the problems communism seeks to solve.

I don't mean this in a hostile way either, but I'm of the thinking that there's nothing really in the way of a communist enacting communism - or socialism - right now, within the capitalist system. Those who are committed can transfer ownership of their properties to a collectively owned corporation, while retaining a permanent lease. All you really forgo is your right to inheritance. Set up businesses as co-ops, run them democratically. Everyone within the collective pays their income to a central pool, and then withdraws their a wage within certain defined limits, according to what they contribute, their cost of living. Anything left over can be used to buy out businesses and turn them into co-ops, make them part of movement, or buy up properties for members to live in (where they pay below market rates); all decisions made democratically.
You could probably start doing something like this even by yourself. You can formulate it any way you wish, find allies.

This is how you enact the revolution - not by the overthrow of the government, or system - but by proving there's another way, peaceful replacement of the capitalist mode of ownership, bringing people to you.

11leigonj
Editat: maig 28, 2020, 11:13am

>8 elenchus:

The capitalist system took hundreds of years to develop. I think communists really destroy themselves through this thinking that you have a revolution (of short duration) and then there's communism/ socialism - it would take generations of incremental change to bring about without chaos.

Anarchism would certainly have to be small scale, as far as I can imagine it anyway. How would you enact anarchism in a city the size of a million people, for example? How would people opt in and out of whatever voluntary systems there are? At least on the scale of small communes you can imagine people moving around, between one and the next, knowing all their neighbours and so how to live in accord with them. Communism, I think, could be a global system, but I'm sure in the real world you'd have regional variations. There would have to be some sort of mechanism for democratic decision making according to geography, depending on what kind of region is affected by a decision (you'd have complex questions, such as whether people in the locality have the right to build in the Amazon, or fish depleted populations, as these are now global property, for example), but I'm sure you could work that out.