How do we get there?

A certain spheniscid acquaintance has suggested that while he has little beef with anarchist communism as a hypothetical state of affairs, he is very concerned by the question of how we might get there, and worries that it will always involve some disreputable chap doing things of supreme disreputability.

Now the question of how we get from here to there has both a simple answer, and a much more difficult answer.

The simple answer is about different tendencies. Let’s call them the egalitarian and the authoritarian. When me and my friends decide where to go for dinner, our interactions are largely governed by the egalitarian tendency – none of us can claim any right to override the feelings of another, nobody can demand that another do what they don’t want to do. On the other hand, when a strict parent tells a 5-year-old child what they will do that day, the interaction is much more authoritarian – the child’s preferences, if they are even asked about or listened to, may well have no influence on what happens. Any situation will have some degree of both. (Similar remarks from a shoeless hobo are here, regarding the already-existing tendencies that communism seeks to build on).

So the simple answer to ‘how do we move towards anarchist communism?’ is that we suppress the authoritarian tendency and let the egalitarian tendency unfold itself fully.

To put things a little more concretely: at some point in which the existing authoritarian institutions of society are up in the air and can’t determine everything that’s happening on the ground, people gather together to decide what to do. Of they gather together – they live side-by-side, and they need to co-ordinate with each other, so they need to talk to each other.

These groups will naturally represent the egalitarian tendency to a great extent – we need everybody to sign up to our shared life, so we want to make sure each person has good reason to do so, so we can’t afford to ignore people’s wishes and then expect that they will still obey. When there are conflicts of interest, these need to be solved in the way that best induces both parties to remain ‘signed up’ to the arrangement.

This basic structure can of course be either totally un-institutionalised (as it might be if it sprang up overnight due to exceptional circumstances) or highely institutionalised (as it might be if it had been the basis of society for 50 years). But the same pressures can be felt in both cases: if you want everyone to play, make sure the game is to everyone’s liking, and give people as much opportunity as possible to play their own games.

What typically interferes is the authoritarian tendency. This can express itself both internally, through calls for the groups to set up a ‘state”, by which I mean a central minority with the distinctive and unshared right to deploy force and coercion (I don’t mean anything else, for those who delight in pushing ever further until they find something about which they can crow “ah! but now you’ve just postulated A STATE!”), and externally, through the tendency of marauding groups of men (gendered word used deliberately) to forcibly subjugate some population and establish ‘order’ and ‘security’ on their own terms.

Note that these two pressures, internal and external, are closely linked – the threat of force coming from one direction is a common rationale for subjugating oneself to a hierarchical ‘defender’ to protect you with their various tools of coercion. They are part of the same tendency.

EDIT: As I should have pointed out, groups are quite capable of seeking the subjugation, or even extermination, of other individuals or groups. This is a further manifestation of authoritarianism (or at least, it must become an organised hierarchy if it is to have any stability as a social system) which must be resisted.

So “all that is necessary” for the establishment of anarchist communism is for the egalitarian organisation of society, which is not some new dream but an already-existing tendency, to be able to develop itself without being disfigured by and subordinated to the authoritarian tendency. This is not impossible in principle – non-hierarchical groups can defend themselves. Examples include the anarchist armies in the Spanish and Russian civil wars.

But though it is possible, and in a sense ‘simple’, history demonstrates that it is not easy. It requires a great development of the egalitarian tendency, and a great development of people’s awareness and capacities, to suppress the authoritarian tendency. What conditions and what methods will provide that? This is the difficult question. It’s not one I have a really good answer to.

Marxism suggests a line of thought – the developing class-consciousness of the proletariat, the class which due to its economic position is most forced towards egalitarian rather than authoritarian forms of organisation. I don’t think that answer has lost its relevance, but I don’t think it’s the last word. Identifying which proletarians and where and how remains a key issue.

Another issue is the global system. At the moment, governments and businesses have much more international organisation than workers do. This organisation may spend much of its time dealing with their conflicts and disputes but it exists. The development of global proletarian institutions may be a precondition for anarchist communism.

But the issue that perhaps most intrigues me is feminism. The reason will perhaps be clear from the way that I’ve described the issue. If the goal is to resist the authoritarian tendency, then any system that actively reproduces this tendency within each individual is a key obstacle – perhaps in some respects the greatest one. Patriarchy, so feminist theory goes, is about, among other things, tying the individuals most intimate forms of pleasure and feelings of self-worth to the exercise of power, whether through the personal possession and exercise of that ‘phallic’ power, or through exciting and being the object of that power.

This is why feminism seems so crucial to me: understanding (and undermining) the psychosexual reproduction of hierarchy may be key to understanding (and undermining) all the more obvious ‘public’ institutions of hierarchy. But I also think more of the ‘scientific’ (so-called) mindset of Marxism would be useful to feminism – to stop it being an ahistorical, ‘utopian’ (in the derogatory Marxist sense) doctrine of what is bad and what we should protest about, and make it a strucural account of the functioning, evolution, and eventual downfall of the ‘economy of domination’, in politics, in economics, and in the individual.

18 Responses to “How do we get there?”

  1. Emperor Penguin Says:

    The Spheniscidae are concerned about the wanton brutality and deranged ideas of those who desire the destruction of the old society. They do not assume so readily that anarchist communists would not indulge in this. Disorganized groups are capable of mass violence and class oppression. Look at Russian peasants. Your whole premise is highly dubious.

  2. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    It’s a fair point that such things can happen – I’ve edited the post to recognise this. But I think the chances of change without megaviolence are best in the most non-hierarchical circumstances. I would suggest the the Milgram experiments, and the Stanford Prison Experiment, provide some small support for this view.

    I must ask though, since I’ve been on the defensive for a while, how you can support liberal democracy or constitutional monarchy after the 1st world war, which killed more people in four years than Stalin managed in thirty (if starvation counts then influenza counts)?

  3. Emperor Penguin Says:

    How can Spanish flu compare to a famine produced almost totally by state policies (in 1930-2) and mostly by state policies (1920-1). You may have noticed but the projected death toll from our impending dose of H5N1 or some such other strain is kinda grim. Same thing is true incidentally of the Spanish invasion of Mexico and Peru, most folks died of smallpox or whooping cough, a cause quite divorced from any actual oppression the ‘imperialists’ instituted.
    1st world war eh. But great wars are general to all states. So this is a pretty darn good argument for anarchism (if I didn’t think anarchy would produce some kind of hierachy anyway) but not specifically against liberal democracies and constitutional monarchies whereas I thought a great deal of the evidence I gave in previous posts was a specific indictment of revolutionary or totalitarian regimes.
    Still, something of a rubbish answer I fear on that last point. Mmh. It is very bemusing why both Anglo-Saxon powers reckoned they had to get involved in this particular piece of continental folly as well. Bloody Wilson. I might add that I don’t think the usual marxist argument for the cause of the war is really sound (although the right answer is perhaps more terrifying) unless you just mean to say shit wouldn’t happen in a communist utopia. I don’t think capitalism or imperialism were to blame although obviously the state system was.

  4. Emperor Penguin Says:

    On your point about feminism. I know nothing about this so I cannot really comment. I will make this tentative observation, though I wouldn’t want to push it too far. You appear to suggest that to build the new society we have to confront a fundamental aspect of the human experience here unto, something very deeply rooted in our social relations and moreover not really part of the consciousness of the masses, unlike resentment against bankers and bosses. It strikes that is it just this desire to radically remake mankind, to tear up all his long cherished notions and create in their place the new human being that I was talking about when I said revolutionary regimes desire to exert an unprecedented tyranny over the populace. The USSR and NK and the TR were and are uniquely repressive in their ambition to reforge humanity via the application of state power and revolutionary theory (I accept you don’t think you will need to use the former, I suspect you will) and this I think was the source of their great wickedness. So that is one reason to stand by liberalism (old sense). Now I accept all societies so far do have their modes of shaping human behaviour and controllong human thought (Chomsky’s theories and the like) but that the regimes I just mentioned were qualitatively different is I think stunningly clear.

  5. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    Re. flu, not the whole pandemic, obviously, but wars always provide good conditions for illness to spread, so some amount of the death toll should be linked with the general devastation and despoilage from the war.

    “great wars are general to all states”
    Perhaps it’s not worth much, but the Bolsheviks made a point of trying to get out of it, and agitated against it from the beginning, which not many people did.

    “not specifically against liberal democracies and constitutional monarchies whereas I thought a great deal of the evidence I gave in previous posts was a specific indictment of revolutionary or totalitarian regimes”
    Now see this is a framing issue. You insist on having one category for ‘revolutionary communists’ so that the Bolsheviks and their Black Army enemies can be attacked at once, and the outcome of Leninist strategies is an argument against everyone else anywhere near them.

    But I just as happily run together most modern state-governed private-ownership societies in one category and kill them all with one stone. You of course object, as I’ve been objecting – indeed, I might suggest that Marxism-Leninism has more in common with liberal democracy than it does with anarchist communism. In some respects it does. We disagree over what respects are important, and no doubt have ‘reasons’ for our differing positions.

    On the desire to ‘re-make’ humanity, I think you might have a point were it not for the conspicuous folly of trying to instil a lack of respect for force by force, or to instil critical thinking by indoctrination. Raising someone to be gentle and thoughtful can hardly be a recipe for ‘tyranny’, unless gentleness and thoughtfulness can be redefined by those in power to mean something else (like ‘thoughtfulness = agreeing with me’). Presumably you don’t regard critical thinking lessons in schools as Orwellian (pointless maybe)?

    There’s so many different ways of describing this very abstract idea of changing society to change people, and different metaphors sound very very different. ‘Re-moulding people’ has a suggestion of their passivity in the face of a forceful ‘moulder’. ‘Removing the impediments to personal growth’ sounds – well, it sounds like a Blair or Cameron speech. ‘Nurturing love’ sounds soppy and floral. Etc. I think it’s a mistake to roll everything that could fall under this designation together and judge it as one thing.

  6. Emperor Penguin Says:

    Spheniscidae contra inimicos hominis dicunt sed nunc in libris nostris laborare contendunt.

    My point about the re-moulding humanity thing was, as well as being a response to your feminism point, a comparision between liberal capitalist regimes (and to some extent old empires like the Ottomans and the Austro-Hungarians) and the great totalitarianisms, the vast majority of which were communist, in answer to your question of why I supported the former over the later despite WW1 etc. Granted you can change people’s habits and modes of thought in essentially benign ways.

    This whole Leninist strategies thing. It is correct to say Lenin wanted a hierachical party, willing to tolerate little descent in order to take power in a coup unlike the menshies who wanted to follow the path of scientific socialism. BUT Lenin appears to have believed Russian revolution was a good idea, at least in part because the workers elsewhere, in Germany and France (and maybe England) were ready to rise up once his party seized Moscow. The Bolsheviks did not conceive in their early days what their state would look like in ten years, Lenin raged against the growth of the party state and the bureacracy until the day he died, hoping it would wither away. So while the USSR crappiness may in part be attributable to Leninist strategy it is totally false to imagine the Bolsheviks tried consciously to create the horror we all know and love, it was caused by force of circumstance, by trial and error and the failure of their fondest hopes and dreams. They were banking on revolutions erupting in europe predicated on tactics substabtially less leninist than their own and they were surprised and disappointed.
    I not think anarchist armies in Russia are usually considered a success.

    Fortasse te meum amicum cras videbo.

  7. Emperor Penguin Says:

    Mmh, reading through that I feel the need to qualify what I mean. You seem to be saying the USSR and PRC and all the other glorious edens were the product of a conscious decision to plump for authoritarian statist communism. While this is of course true to an extent I am saying what happened happened to a large extent from necessity, i.e. it was impossible to defend the revolution and even begin to build a communist society without setting up another coercive apparatus. That the Bolsheviks did not plan at first to set up a big exploitative terror state is very clear and you will find it in all the histories. Pol Pot was different but Lenin was not as authoritarian in terms of intention as you think. I think there are reasons why this situation would be also true in an advanced industrial society, just as it was in backwards Russia and China. So I am not happy with your bad regimes = wrong headed leninist strategy argument.

  8. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    It is of course true that Lenin (and Trotsky etc. who I will treat as his appendages in this comment) was not deliberately setting out to create a one-party dictatorship – but nor was it entirely forced on him. I think he consciously chose strategies that included various quite authoritarian elements: the focus on the party (though seen as representing the class), the Cheka and red terror (though hoping it would only be an exceptional and temporary measure), etc. The hope was certainly that out of these authoritarian measures a fuller liberty would emerge – a prospect that was not impossible, but which now looking back seems unlikely to happen if the same things are tried again.

    He also, of course, anticipated the success of the German and other revolutions. Perhaps, if they had succeeded, they more mobilised and organised populations of those countries would have exerted sufficient force to hold the Party-state accountable – maybe it would have been no more oppressive than any other state, maybe it would have been genuine soviet-based democracy. I don’t know.

    But my impression and overall feeling is that these measures and priorities, though hardly malicious or cynical in their adoption, have shown themselves to lead, through the pressure of circumstances and forces beyond his control, to the results we have observed. This I see as discrediting those measures and priorities.

    “I not think anarchist armies in Russia are usually considered a success.”

    You may know more about the civil war than I do, but from my cursory knowledge they seemed to do fairly well (despite eventually losing, of course). The point I was making was mainly that anarchist armies need not be spectacular failures – a non-hierarchical army can win victories against conventional forces.

  9. apostate Says:

    On your point about feminism. I know nothing about this so I cannot really comment. I will make this tentative observation, though I wouldn’t want to push it too far. You appear to suggest that to build the new society we have to confront a fundamental aspect of the human experience here unto, something very deeply rooted in our social relations and moreover not really part of the consciousness of the masses, unlike resentment against bankers and bosses.

    You are forgetting that women are part of “the masses” and patriarchal oppression very much does form a part of our consciousness and we very much resent men’s abuses of us.

  10. Db0 Says:

    Just a few comments on what I read in the comments because I see a severe misrepresentation of the the Russian Revolution and a passive acceptance of propaganda.

    unlike the menshies who wanted to follow the path of scientific socialism.

    The rift between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks happened not because of silly disagreements such as these but because the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries next to them were compromising the February revolution, in effect handing it over to the bourgeoisie. This is the main reason why the Bolsheviks from a very small minority party in February took the power in October with the help of the vast majority of people.

    It is of course true that Lenin (and Trotsky etc. who I will treat as his appendages in this comment) was not deliberately setting out to create a one-party dictatorship – but nor was it entirely forced on him. I think he consciously chose strategies that included various quite authoritarian elements:

    You speak as if these were the only factors at play which determined that path of Russia. As if it was all perfectly calm and it was just Lenin’s policies that fucked things up or something, which is simply blatantly ignoring history. The were a huge civil war in between. There was invasion by Imperialist nations.
    When the vast majority of revolutionaries and the most conscious elements were killed in the Red Army it is much much easier for an opportunist such as Stalin to take power, which is indeed what happened.

    That is all.

  11. Emperor Penguin Says:

    Dbo. ‘Passive acceptance of propaganda.’ Oh for God’s sake man sort yourself out.

  12. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    “You speak as if these were the only factors at play…The were a huge civil war in between. There was invasion by Imperialist nations. When the vast majority of revolutionaries and the most conscious elements were killed in the Red Army”

    Actually, I said “these measures…have shown themselves to lead, through the pressure of circumstances and forces beyond his control, to the results we have observed.” I am consciously trying to take a middle course between treating Stalinism as the direct and sole responsibility of Bolshevik policy, which is of course mistaken, and treating it as an unavoidable happening that could not have been avoided, which I think lets the Bolsheviks off the hook too easy. Hence phrases like “nor was it entirely forced on him” – i.e. it was to an extent but his policies must bear some responsibility.

  13. Db0 Says:

    Oh for God’s sake man sort yourself out.

    That’s all you could find to comment on? No arguments then?

  14. Emperor Penguin Says:

    Well actually I meant your points were too banal for me to waste my time bothering with. But if I must. The disagreement over party organisation was the original reason for the split of the RSDP and that was a point germane to different visions of how the revolution should be brought about, by means roughly speaking more or less authoritarian which myself and Mr Warm-Fork were discussing. Obviously the Mensheviks supported the provisional government while Lenin consistently did not (although some Bolsheviks sided with the Mensheviks on this, i.e. Kamenev and Zinoviev) but this partly reflected different visions of how the reolution could take place. Lenin said leaders made revolutions so it was Ok ‘to go now,’ so to speak while the Mensheviks wanted to wait for more mass support.
    The Bolsheviks did not have the support of most of the population as the election carried out in Russia after the revolution proves. When he lost this Lenin refused to accept the results and abolished the democracy. Do some damn fact checking.
    I think bolshevik support had grown since Feb but the most popular party in Russia were the SRs who in fear of Lenin fled to Samarra on the Volga to resist the growing Bolshevik tyranny and on whom Lenin promptly unleashed the red army. Now this was the case because the SRs were a party more focused on agricultural issues which resonated a lot more in a largely peasant country. Lenin and the crew on the other hand hated peasants, lied to gain their support (which they never really achieved) and wrought mayhem all over the countryside in 1919 and 1920 effectively nationalising all peasant produce, banning free trade and waging war on the peasant communes. Happily Mr Warm-Fork’s anarchist armies (who were not really anarchists, just annoyed and highly patriachal peasants) fought a massive partisan campaign all over Russia and drove the Bolsheviks out of a good deal of the countryside with great brutality. Lenin realised the game was up if he didn’t do something and so, in the face of massive opposition in the CC and party congress, who were still slavering for peasant blood, he switched to the NEP. But this was always disliked and so when Stalin unleashed the Holodomor and the collectivization programmes this was but a continuation of the 1918-21 policy which was not adopted purely because of the war, as the party conrgess’s opposition to Lenin’s pragamtic retreat shows. The ONLY thing Stalin did differently from Lenin and the only way he differed from a lot of the Bolshie rank and file was that, as well as murdering loads of innocent workers, peasants, intellectuals and middle class folk he also murdered a load of fellow party members. This indeed was the substance of Nikita’s attack on him in the Twentieth party congress.
    As to your last comment, i.e. the death of the conscious elements, I think it is pure communist propaganda and that is why I said sort yourself out because this was a case of the kettle calling the raven black. If you have some evidence though by all means fire away.

  15. Db0 Says:

    Well colour me surprised, here I am expecting you to go out defending the Cadets and you turn around and support the Mensheviks. What, suddenly the socialists are better than the Liberals?

    In any case your whole argument is a red herring. I didn’t come here to argue that the Bolsheviks were perfect but rather to point out that some of your arguments are wrong and continues to be wrong when you argue for the Mensheviks who wanted “popular support from the masses”. They wanted no such thing. When the Masses were calling for an end to the war, the Mensheviks were agreeing to an offensive. When the peasants were calling for the redistribution of the land, the “focused on the agricultural issues” SR could only promise something in the indefinite future and then promise to the landlords that nothing would happen to their lands or profits. FFS, they couldn’t even abolish the Death Penalty in the army right.

    The Mensheviks and SR were nothing but betrayers of the February revolution. That is not to say that the Bolsheviks were perfect, but at least they were much closer to what the masses wanted, which is why popular support went steadfastly to them, even after the socialist’ heavy toll in the July days.

    As for my last comment about the death of the consious element, I don’t need to provide proof as it’s self evident. When you have the Red Army which is comprised mostly of revolutionaries who want to defend their revolution, this is obviously the more conscious elements, as the rest simply stay back twiddling their thumbs or wait for an opportunity (like Stalin). When they then suffer heavy losses, it then is obvious that these losses are from people who would support the libertarian and marxian aspect of the proletariat.

  16. Emperor Penguin Says:

    Well my friend, sorry to rain on your parade but the Bolsheviks did not have the support of most of the Russian people because the ‘could only promise something in the indefinite future’ SRs won the election. I see you didn’t answer this point. Many peasants perhaps realised the Bolsheviks were downright nefarious and that the promises of land distribution were totally opportunistic, which they were. Lenin never cared about the peasants except to enlist their support as cannon fodder. They did not want to vote for him and would have been insane if they did. Land was nationalised and given to useless city loafers to the peasants’ dismay as early as 1918.

    Lenin and Trotsky were just so opposed to the death penalty right.

    The Mensheviks thought a revolution could only happen in a country with a larger and more conscious industrial proletariat, as in Germany, France and England. I didn’t say they were trying to court mass support in 1917 only that they felt an overthrow of capitalism at that stage in Russia’s development could not work while Lenin said he could skip some of the Marxist historical process by staging a coup d’etat. I am not defending the Mensheviks. I think they were pricks. My issue here is a factual one.

    The Red army was a force of peasant conscripts with a smattering of workers. They get fed and get to bully peasants and maybe if they try to leave they will be shot. Sure, some really conscious revolutionaries were in the ranks but why would the ‘libertarian’ ones be more likely to die in the war. Truth is your argument is just wishful thinking as you don’t want to accept that Stalinism was not terribly different from the prior conduct and beliefs of the Bolshevik party.

    I do support liberals.

  17. SnowdropExplodes Says:

    First up, as a consensual BDSM practitioner, when I read this:

    If the goal is to resist the authoritarian tendency, then any system that actively reproduces this tendency within each individual is a key obstacle

    my immediate sense was “Oh no, another group who says people like me won’t exist after the Revolution”. **sigh**

  18. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    Nah, there can be kink post-revolution. On the (conspicuously true) assumption that liking to submit sexually needn’t mean liking to submit politically, nor the same with domination, BDSM doesn’t necessarily ‘reproduce’ authoritarianism in the sense of politically support it. Indeed if there were any connection it would probably imply more kink post-revolution so as to satisfy people when they have a hankering for some spa- for a bit of power-imbalance (a related post is here).


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