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.