Right and Left: Being ‘Anti-State’

Both right-libertarians (anarcho-capitalists, minarchists, ‘The Libertarian Party’ in various countries) and left-libertarians (anarchists of every other variety, libertarian socialists/communists, etc.) are ‘anti-state’. But notice:

Right-libertarians are generally least hostile to the state when it’s performing its ‘core functions’ (defending property rights, upholding the law, etc), and most hostile to it when it extends its activities to include providing public goods (like social security, safety regulations, healthcare, etc.)

Left-libertarians are generally least hostile to the state when it’s providing such public goods, and most hostile to it when it’s performing its ‘core functions’.

How Should Anarchists Fight a War?

A few thoughts on ‘anarchist warfare’ and ‘statist warfare’.

In normal wars (though to varying degrees), the contest is between two or more territory-controlling forces. The activity of ‘controlling’ territory is distinct from the activity of living there; the contending forces are thus distinct from the populations inhabiting the areas fought over (again, to varying degrees). Consequently, the inhabiting population tends to appear as a passive ‘background’, as what is ‘fought over’.

As long as this pattern is in place, I would call the conflict ‘statist’ regardless of whether it’s one ‘official’ state against another, one ‘rebel’ group against another, an established government against rebels, etc. The point is, insofar as the dynamic of the war divides the population in general from the contending forces, and makes one passive and the other active, the essential dynamics of statehood are in play.

So what would an anarchist war look like? The ideal (however closely it is or isn’t acheived) is that this division between warring force and local population not exist. That is, the ideal would be that the activity of ‘controlling’ territory be simply an aspect of living there; that local populations at each point be actively organised to maintain something like a ‘monopoly of violence’ in that area.

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Discussion between Bakunin, Marx, and Warm-Fork

I was reading this recently – it’s some extracts from a book by Bakunin (prominent Russian anarcho-communist) which Marx had written notes in (the online text, on libcom, unfortunately doesn’t distinguish between who’s saying what, but I think I’ve worked it out from context – who’s calling who an idiot, generally). The topic, as one might expect, is the ‘workers’ state’ and the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ (hereafter DOTP). It stimulated some thoughts in my brain, so I reproduce some of the exchanges, with my comments.

My sympathies are mixed – partly I agree with Bakunin, partly with Marx, and I think a lot of the time their exchange may be clouded by their rivalry and dislike of each other.

Bakunin: We have already stated our deep opposition to the theory of Lassalle and Marx, which recommends to the workers, if not as final ideal then at least as the next major aim — the foundation of a people’s state, which, as they have expressed it, will be none other than the proletariat organized as ruling class. The question arises, if the proletariat becomes the ruling class, over whom will it rule? It means that there will still remain another proletariat, which will be subject to this new domination, this new state.

Marx: It means that so long as the other classes, especially the capitalist class, still exists, so long as the proletariat struggles with it (for when it attains government power its enemies and the old organization of society have not yet vanished), it must employ forcible means, hence governmental means. It is itself still a class and the economic conditions from which the class struggle and the existence of classes derive have still not disappeared and must forcibly be either removed out of the way or transformed, this transformation process being forcibly hastened.

Warm-Fork: Is Bakunin denying that the proletariat is likely to have many enemies, even after the threshold of revolution has been passed? Surely not. Nor, presumably, is he denying that the proletariat will have to ‘struggle’ with them in some sense, nor that it will have to meet force with force, nor that it will have to organise itself for such purposes.

So the precise dispute is when Marx says “it must employ forcible means, hence governmental means”, about which Bakunin says “It means that there will still remain another proletariat, which will be subject to this new domination”. So what is meant by ‘governmental means’ – my instinctive definition would be ‘establishing a centralised apparatus for initiating physical force against not-immediately-violent targets’. It’s certainly a plausible allegation that this inevitably makes people other than the intended counter-revolutionaries vulnerable to such an apparatus.

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What’s a Revolutionary? What is the Left?

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the mainstream left and what defines it, what the familiar divide between these two gangs of politicians and their various hangers-on is all about.

But there’s a similar divide within that so-called ‘left’, a fairly familiar one between two sorts of statists. On the one hand, there’s those who put their hopes in the existing state, and try to find accomodation with it in various ways. On the other hand, there’s those who think this is hopeless, and want to replace that state with a new and completely different ‘revolutionary state’.

One suggests that the existing state is the legitimate expression of what ‘the electorate’ wants, the other suggests that their new-and-improved state will be the legitimate expression of what ‘the revolutionary proletariat’ wants.

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The Left, the Pseudoleft, and the State

Most of us have probably been in the situation of hearing some young or not so young student of politics, trying to tie together what they understand of politics in the following formula:

“being more left-wing means wanting the state to intervene more in society”

Conversely, being more right-wing means wanting a ‘small state’, and a society of people left to themselves.

Now, this formula is wrong, for various reasons which I’ll assume my readers are already aware of, but I think there’s an important element of truth to it. There is a systematic connection between the state and a certain sort of ‘left’.

In yesterday’s post I called this the ‘pseudoleft’, and described it as an attempt to compensate for the impotence that comes from the divide between the various holders of radical views and opinions, and the social forces capable of making them a reality, most obviously socialists and proletarians, between the do-gooders and well-wishers dreaming of a classless, co-operative society, and the classes of non-owners with the economic position that allows them to re-arrange society from the bottom up.

Now, we might suppose then that this would produce a lot of people who can see what’s wrong, who can see the problems and the unhappiness in class society, but who don’t know what to do about it. They may be confident of its eventual self-defeat in a century or so, but not patient or callous enough to just sit and wait. So what they’d really like would be an easy way to ‘paper over’ the cracks, to take problems as they appear and either solve them or conceal them or a mixture of both.

And guess what! That’s just what states do! That’s what ‘politics’ is: the place where conflicts appear and get resolved. And the state justifies itself, and makes itself functional, by being the mechanism that can enforce such ‘solutions’. If religion is ‘the heart of a heartless world’, the state is ‘the unity of a divided society’.

The result is that under normal (i.e. non-revolutionary conditions), people who notice that society is grossly unfair and a lot of people are being made very unhappy, naturally gravitate around the state. They write letters, they present petitions, they announce initiatives. They struggle and then eventually a politician of their camp gets into the position to deliver a rousing speech about how they will mend the world and help all the poor needy X’s, and they feel themselves to have scored a great victory. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the problems never seem to dry up.

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Who Won the Sexual Revolution? Patriarchy vs. Fratriarchy

The last century saw probably the greatest change in attitudes towards sex and gender in history. By its end, almost every government on earth officially declared the equal right of men and women to choose their own roles in life; at its start, almost none did. The idea of equality between men and women has gone from being a fringe position to being global received wisdom. The fact that those official declarations are often insincere, or that received wisdom is often substantially ignored, shouldn’t obscure the magnitude of this change; if the 19th century (or rather, 1789-1917) was a century of economic revolution, the 20th was a century of sexual revolution.

But what was that sexual revolution? Who made it? Who benefited? What does it leave still to do?

I don’t want to suggest that the answers I’m going to give are definitely true, or anywhere near complete. They’re in a way the drawing together of material I’ve already posted at various times into a comprehensive analysis.

In summary, I would argue that this grand sexual revolution was a revolution led by the sex-class of men without established and guaranteed access to sex, against the sex-class of men with it, in which the most class-conscious layers of the female sex-classes, led by feminists, played a crucial role, but were ultimately betrayed, just as the revolting peasantry and proletariat have been betrayed by the leaderships of the revolutions they’ve made.

This revolution replaced the old system of male dominance, characterised by the rule of older, family-heading men, with a new system of male dominance, characterised by the rule of younger, unattached men.

In a word – it replaced patriarchy with fratriarchy.

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The Family and the State: Banning the Burqa

The French government has announced plans to make the wearing of burqas or other face-coverings in France; a good discussion (and factual overview of different forms of islamic modesty-clothing) is here with the Apostate. I think this issue shows up a lot of interesting issues about authority, control, and power. I think the ban itself should be opposed, but different measures in a similar spirit might well be useful.

To start with some background – the view of statehood taken by class-struggle anarchists is in a way a combination of the qualified pro-statism of liberals and the unqualified anti-statism of anarcho-capitalists. Like anarcho-capitalists, the state is seen as an immoral force of violence and control; like liberals (going back to Hobbes, who is philosophically a liberal even if his politics are very authoritarian), it is also seen as a necessity to re-integrate and stabilise a conflict-ridden society always at risk of disintegration.

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Three Modalities of Oppression: trying to fit it all together

A few days ago I made some comments about relating different sorts of oppression to each other, and the subject is both very interesting and quite tricky. It occurred to me that matters might be illuminated if we distinguished different ‘modalities’ of oppression.

(‘Modality’ is perhaps an unnecessarily fancy word, it’s sort of like ‘types’ but I prefer the connotations)

It seems to me that there are three major modalities in which violence and conflict and exploitation are manifested: oppression in the imposition of identity, oppression as the essence of that identity, and oppression as a consequence of clashing identities. What do I mean by these phrases?

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Our government is almost non-existent. Except not.

So three EDIT: several, major UK cabinet ministers have resigned: yes, the government is flailing and weak, and will almost certainly lose the next election, we know.

An interesting comment was made, apparently, by Nick Clegg, who said that at the moment “we don’t have a government, we have a void”.

What he means of course is that our government isn’t pushing forward with any very effective ‘changes’ and doesn’t have a clear ‘plan’ of what it will do to ‘save’ us from whatever. Clearly the police, civil service, NHS, etc. are all operating the same as before without being held up and inconvenienced by the lack of sufficient cabinet ministers.

And if they were, it would still be odd to say there was simply a ‘void’: being incompetently ruled and not being are hardly the same thing (we don’t tell a very bad hairdresser: ‘you’re not cutting my hair, you’re doing nothing!’).

What significance does it really have if the government isn’t governing very much? The endless laws and iniatives and new ideas often gives a political commentator the sense that if the government isn’t doing something new, introducing a new law or changing an old one, then things will break down and we’ll all be doomed (it also conversely helps us to suppose that when they are doing so, they have a significant effect on how society fares, which they often don’t).

Of course it’s not surprising for politicians overestimate how important their job is. But it reminded me of something Heidegger said, in pointing out part of what distinguishes a person from any other object: as soon as a person is nothing more, they are nothing at all. That is, the only time when we are ‘finished’, without more plans, future intentions, a whole array of ‘more’, stretching out busily into the future, is when we are nothing at all, i.e. dead. To not reach out into the future is, for a person, equivalent to not even occupying the present.

So is it that, as well as politicians thinking their jobs are simply more important than they maybe are, they’re also influenced by a sense of ‘shared personhood’, that ‘the government’ should resemble a person, which implies that to exist at all it must be planning, executing, acting – for it to be at all it must be something more to come?

Perhaps. But as I said, the laws are still being upheld, applied, and interpreted even without the government. But then, would laws exist if they were not? That is, do we sometimes suppose that they sort of ‘sit there’, imputing a static solidity to them, and to the whole state apparatus, which obscures the fact that they are by nature people doing something? Is this the same point as the one in the last paragraph, or a different one?

Peace and Anarchy

I was at a discussion today on the prospects for world government and world peace. It’s an interesting topic, and I intend to tell you all what I think about it, without making that much of an effort to justify it.

So first off, what does world government mean? Is there a sense we can extract from it while dispensing with the ‘government’ bit?  Taking a relatively weak interpretation, it would mean standing and established procedures for making decisions and resolving disputes, all the way from the individual level to the world level. At the moment we have established procedures for making decisions up to the national level in many cases, but above that level chance, power, and the looming threat of megaviolence start to take over.

That doesn’t specify what those procedures are, except that they are such as can be part of a well-designed system, not orgies of senseless violence. It is consistent both with world government, extending the coercive and elite nature of current national procedures, and with an ‘anarchic’ world-wide federation. We might lump both together as ‘world order’.

Now in the abstract, I think there’s quite a compelling case that world order is a desirable thing. It’s main difference from the status qup would be to remove the possibility and threat of war international war, and to enable easier global economic planning, which is a necessity for environmental reasons if nothing else.

Now it might be thought that in practice, world government is more likely than world anarchy. But I think actually it’s the other way around. World government is extremely unlikely, because of how states work.

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