In our ongoing endeavour to translate Carlos Taibo’s Rethinking Anarchy: Direct Action, Self-Management, Autonomy (La Catarata, Madrid, 2013), what follows is “Chapter 5”. We have already translated and posted the “Prologue” and the “Chapter 1″ of this work (Click here), “Chapter 2″ (Click here), “Chapter 3″ (Click here) and “Chapter 4” (click here). And we hope to continue in what will be the complete translation of the book. In this way we hope to share with English readers the work of one of the most significant anarchist voices today in spain.
Chapter 5: Spaces of Autonomy and the New Society
Spaces of Autonomy
For a long time, I have defended the idea that the construction of autonomous spaces within which we proceed to apply game rules different from those imposed upon us should be the principal task for any movement that gives itself over to the effort of contesting capitalism from the double perspective of self-management and de-commodification and far from, obviously, any intention to compete with the system.
The choice that concerns me is as necessary, as it is honourable and feasible. Ultimately, it rests on the conviction that we must begin to construct, starting now, the society of tomorrow, with the twofold goal of urgently exiting capitalism and of outlinig structures of self-management from below, beyond salaried labour and commodities. For, as Landauer so well put it, following an argument that I have already attributed to him, “we are the State, and we will continue to be so as long as we have not created institutions that constitute a true community.” (1) It seems to me, furthermore, that these spaces, which logically must have a capacity of attraction and expansion, configure a much more realistic project than the one always proposed, today more modestly, by the examples of social democracy. When someone speaks to me of the necessity to create a public bank, I necessarily find myself asking how much time we have to wait before this latter becomes reality, especially since the proposal in question has obligatorily to pass, yet again, through the channel of political parties, parliaments and institutions. Is it more utopian to call for a generalised self-management than to demand a world government or a reform of the International Monetary Fund?
I can add – though it is not really necessary – that these spaces of autonomy of which I speak cannot be, in any way, isolated examples that merely embrace an individualistic and particularistic project; it is not a matter of creating, as Élisée Reclus had already signalled, or as Jacques Camatte would restate it a century later, small States. Their perspective must be, necessarily, and under the cover of an expansive affect, that of generalised self-management. Not only: their effectiveness cannot leave behind active, frontal contestation of the system, nor suppress the struggle with capital and the State. Rather they should promote a permanent insurrection in all areas, as many of the proposals for example of radical feminism certainly do. It should not be forgotten, in addition, that those who struggle from within these spaces have more often than not preserved forms of struggle of older traditions and, at leagues removed from the compromised labour unionism that manifests itself everywhere, work in organisations that have always been engaged in this conflict.
It’s a simple task to portray, even in summary fashion, some of the objectives that should flourish in autonomous spaces: to put an end to the division of labour, the mass worker, victim of repetitive work and the negative consequences of mechanisation; to recuperate knowledges in the process of disappearing; to restore consciousness of what autonomous work signifies, without hierarchies and instructions that come from above, and resuscitate the collective and collaborative dimension, in the face of current atomisation; to put an end to the hysteria of competition; to finish with the obsession of unrestrained consumption, to share work and address unemployment; to revalue and share domestic work, and lastly, to put an end to homo oeconomicus linked to the societies of necessity, and not with those of the gift.(2)
The Debate on Autonomy
The project that I now defend has obviously aroused criticisms that merit attention as well as responses. It has been said, rather quickly, and I believe against all reason, that it rests upon an implicit acceptance of the capitalist order. It is surprising that this is said by those who have chosen to assume the path of the two alternatives visible in the world of left: the legalist-parliamentarian and the putschist revolutionary. If in the first case the surprise is for obvious reasons, in the second it points to reasons that should also be surprising, that have to do with the blatant acceptance of the whole imaginary of power, of hierarchy, of the vanguard and of substitution. I don’t wish to annoy anyone when I emphasise that these two presumably alternative paths share far too many elements in common. In both, there is an absence of any reflection on power and alienation. In both is eluded the consideration of what power implies in all of its ambits: the family, school, work, science, technology, unionism and political parties. In both, the consequences of complex societies, industrialisation, urbanisation and de-ruralisation are ignored. In both is noticeable the commonly silent acceptance of growth, consumption and competition. In both, and lastly, the risk of imminent absorption by a system that in fact has never been abandoned is suspiciously evident. When these people smile before what they understand as the utopian naivety of those who would forge autonomous spaces, they would do better to revise their knowledge of history and remember how the first Christians succeeded on the edge of the Roman Empire, how the first incipient capitalist enterprises consolidated themselves in the face of absolutist states, or what were the successes, as well as the failures, of some socialists, the primitive – miss-designated utopian –, usually condemned to oblivion.
I am obliged to stress that if the discussion that I today return to is very old, today it has a relevance perhaps far greater to what it corresponded to in the past. It has at least in the eyes of those who consider that capitalism has entered a phase of terminal corrosion which, due to climate change, the depletion of primary energy resources, the continuing exploitation of the countries of the south, the disintegration of precarious safety nets and the desperate deployment of a new and obscene social Darwinism, places the collapse just around the corner. Before it, the response of the two aforementioned alternative paths seems unfortunately weak: if in some cases, little more is called for than the defence of Welfare States and a “social exit from the crisis” – or, what amounts to the same, and as I suggested before, an unreal and sordid return to 2007 –, in others, the illusion of a self-proclaimed vanguard, invested with the authority that a supposed social science justifies, that must decide for all under the protection of the aim to imitate fiascos, as with so many in the 20th century, finds its sustenance. In their failure, one and the other promote radical anti-capitalist claims which take no concern in documenting how the corresponding project will be carried out. In the end, and in the best of cases, they give rise to an active and respectable day to day struggle that is, however, of limited consequences.
I know very well that the horizon of autonomy, self-management and de-commodification does not magically resolve all of these problems. It is easy, for example, for many of the schemes of patriarchal society to persist. And one cannot dismiss the possibility that under those same schemes, that competition and the absence of solidarity, that a lingering respect for the rules of capitalism, are not reinforced. I limit myself to certifying that the horizon that I now defend moves us towards a plausible solution. I don’t even believe in what lies behind the apparent options, a discussion a thousand times repeated: that which is born of the question relative to whether we are so naïve as to conclude that our autonomous spaces will not be the object of the repressive wrath of capital and the State. We are not: we simply limit ourselves to asking our friends who recommend the legal-parliamentarian and revolutionary-putchist paths, what are the defences for their projects that they desire and are in a condition to mobilise, the more so when as things are going, one imagines that they will have nothing to defend. Are they more solid or credible than ours? Or will it be the case, in the end, and permit me this maliciousness, that those who throw themselves into the effort to repress autonomous spaces are those friends with who we today debate?
I leave to the end, in short, a dispute that is not without interest: that of whether the project of autonomy and the other two which I have here critically glossed are incompatible, or whether, on the contrary, they cannot find an accommodation. I will answer in a manner that is both quick and interested: if the major consequence of this accommodation is that it permits many to approach liberated spaces, then it is welcome. Yet I fear that we are speaking of diametrically distinct views about what social organisation is and about what emancipation presupposes. And I see myself with the obligation to emphasise that enormous flaw in the traditional left´s commitments that in no way smell of self-management, and even when the odour is detected, by contrast, hierarchies, representation and cabal reproductions of the world that we apparently claim to contest, are obvious. Even though no one has the magic solution to the problems, I am ever more convinced that there are those who have chosen to embrace the faster and more convincing path.
The Society of the Future
It would seem that those versions of anarchism that conceived of revolution as a moment in the course of which a well-defined human group – often identified with a social class – would rapidly subvert the existing rules and outline other new ones have lost ground. Even though this perspective acquired, with whatever nuances that we may conceive of, a kind of naturalness at certain moments in history, there are more than enough reasons to imagine different horizons, such as those linked to long processes of class struggle accompanied by the progressive gestation of spaces of autonomy, with the presence, as protagonists, of less compact human groups than those that appeared to lead many of the supposedly emancipatory rebellions of the past. In this respect, and by way of conclusion, there are many who consider that the old distinction between evolution and revolution has in the end lost any significance. It was Élisée Reclus who affirmed that revolutionary eruptions are an unequivocal part of a natural evolutionary process. Furthermore, even though some anarchists deny the existence of a transition phase, in the libertarian project it is not this which is common, but rather, the effort to emphasise that the characteristics of this phase should adjust themselves scrupulously to the condition of the final objective, something which then, logically, has to imply a certain weakening of the presumed transition phase. The effort in question is accompanied by the firm conviction that a revolution is the only salvation, but not because of a radical impetus or dogmatic stubbornness, but because of a simple relational logic.
I have already singled out that libertarian thought shows itself to be mistrustful of the rigour and the utility of pre-established theories and deterministic processes. Therefore, it gives no serious credit to the idea that today´s reality leads inexorably to libertarian communism or anything similar. It stresses over and over again, this yes, that equality cannot be created by means of instruments – singularly, the State – that embody by definition hierarchy and inequality. It is unthinkable that a free society should arise from the decision of a separate bureaucracy, carrier of special knowledges and virtues. At the heart of the majority of libertarian projects, furthermore, is evident the mark of proudhonian federalism, that is, the defence of a society articulated federally from below, in which, with the commune as the basic unit, decentralisation and self-management are procedures that permit counteracting the effects of the concentration of power and the decisions that arrive from above. Evidently, behind all of this, one can imagine the unequivocal defence of the complete autonomy of individuals and of institutions that conform to it, as a result of free and voluntary accords. The manual Basic Anarchism recalls that in the second half of the 19th century, “anarchists were called not only anti-authoritarians and revolutionary socialists, but also autonomists and federalists.” (3)
The revolution that the libertarians have in mind will be above all, in the end, a social revolution, and not a political revolution. “Our emancipation will not come except from a revolution that transforms the whole of daily life at the same time that it attacks political power and creates its own organs, by means of an insurrection that, combining a destructive and creative labour, brings down repressive apparatuses and puts in their place non-mercantile social relations, reaching the point of irreversibility, removing from beings and things their quality of commodities, undermining the bases of bourgeois and state power, changing structures and materials.” (Troploin) (4)
Fotopoulos and Albert
I will turn my attention to two more recent theorisations, modestly controversial, that interest themselves in what a libertarian society would be. I speak of those authored by Takis Fotopoulos and Michael Albert. (5) It is not a matter, as one can easily imagine, of closed conceptions. Those who would demand exhaustive proposals in economics, do they have any to offer? Perhaps, by chance, they propose the model of a market economy?
Fotopoulos’ perspective is based on a society that, grounded on free and voluntary decisions, never on imposition, allows for the taking of collective decisions, in contrast to the oligarchic politics of today. In this society, there will be no institutional structures that reflect unequal relations of power. Behind the abolition of hierarchical relations, and behind the cancelling of the primacy of experts, dominate formulas of election by lot, with full and permanent revocability, in such a way that representation will adjust itself to very strict norms, with clearly assigned duties. The assembly will be the principal organ of the different communities, coordinated through regional and confederal administrative councils, with delegates nominated with revocable mandates and subject to rotation.
In Fotopoulos’ view, democracy will also have to reach, inexorably, the economy, through communities that are self-sufficient to the greatest degree possible. Property will be collective – it will not belong to the workers of one factory or another –, as will be the resources, assigned in confederal and a solidarity based manner by means of decentralised formulas of planning. These will have at their centre the community, and not productive centres, with a view to satisfying general interests and avoiding criteria favoured by growth and efficiency. Fotopoulos points out that in this respect, cooperatives are not themselves spaces of full autonomy to the extent that they can be simply one more kind of business. More important is the dimension of integration and the aim of pre-figuring the future society on the basis of self-management, mutual aid and equality.
The model defended by Fotopoulos benefits from a notable decentralisation, linked with a commitment to smaller political communities, less bureaucratised and closer to people. Fotopoulos recalls that it cannot be a mere coincidence that there exists a relation between high levels of income and the reduced size of States: he notes, specifically, that at the beginning of the 1990’s, 27 of the 45 countries with less than 500,000 inhabitants, and 9 with less than 100,000, showed high levels of personal income. (6) The functioning of the small communities called for will be characterised by, lastly, an open, integral pluralism respectful of individual positions. In Fotopoulos’ eyes, the new technologies can cooperate in the mobilisation of formulas of direct democracy and confederal coordination.
Albert’s analysis, for its part, is more detailed than that of Fotopoulos in reference to the economic dimension of the model defended. I will limit myself here to signalling some of the fundamental principles that sustain it, which in fact are similar to those proposed by Fotopoulos. The centres of work, to begin with, should be the property of the citizens, workers and consumers, who will express their preferences through democratic councils present at all levels in a scenario of participatory planning. Elsewhere, the current division of labour and with it, sedimented hierarchies and repetitive tasks must be rejected. Remuneration will reflect the effort exercised, time invested and sacrifices assumed. The participatory economy postulated by Albert “represents a structure developed through the councils and the exchange of information, that make possible flexible agreements of libertarian planning permanently open to changes in the conditions and the preferences of consumers and workers.” (7) The proposal, of a visibly pragmatic character, has as its principle objective, liberation with respect to the economy, that is, the postulation of a society free of the economy, as and how it was contemplated by for example Malatesta.
- Quoted in Isabelle Fremeaux and John Jordan, Les sentiers de l’utopie. Paris: La Découverte, 2012, p. 364.
2. Naïma Benabdelali, quoted in VV AA: Construire l’autonomie, op.cit., p. 160.
3. VV AA (2010): Anarquismo básico. Madrid: FAL/CNT, p. 108.
4. Troploin, El timón y los remos. Perguntas y respuestas. Klinamen, s.l., 2012, p. 82.
5. Takis Fotopoulos, Per una democrazia globale. Milan: Elèuthera, 1999 (original title: Towards an Inclusive Democracy. London: Cassell, 1997; Michael Albert, Moving Forward. Program for a Participatory Economy. Edinburgh, Oakland, Baltimore: AK Press, 2001.
6. Luciano Lanza, quoted in Graham, op. cit., pp. 308-309.