When voting to change the guard, imaging anarchy

From The floodgates of anarchy, by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer

Is a free society possible?


Mutual aid is the over-riding principle in human existence. It is greater than that of class struggle, which is the result of impositions upon society. Faced with a child drowning, only those inculcated with the artificial pressures of capitalism will ask what profit he will gain by diving in. Only those coarsened by racially divisive propaganda will ask first about the ethnic origins of the child (one recalls Bessie Smith bleeding to death, refused admission to a “whites only” hospital). Only those who have succumbed to State conditioning will walk around plaintively asking, “What are they doing about it? Where are the police, the fire brigade, the coastguards? What do we pay our taxes for?”

Ordinary people practise mutual aid as a matter of course (the lifeboatmen, for instance), or at any rate recognise that deviations from it are a matter of shame. This is not the case with the conqueror. The Scottish crofters and the Irish peasants were evicted by fire. The nazi bureaucracy had their murder statistics neatly typed and filled. Shipowners let their men go to their deaths in leaking ships, until restrained by law from doing so. The clergy prayed for the souls of the burning heretics.

A society based upon mutual aid is natural to man. The society in which it is not practised is the unnatural one. Repressive institutions are imposed upon us. They need to be explained away. The free society should need no apologists. Those who query its practicability are saying that certain repressive institutions are essential. Most, however, would agree we could do without some of the organs of repression, though there may be disagreement about which of them are dispensable. The many repressive arms of the State include: —

The apparatus of government: The legislature; the judicature; the monarchy; the civil service; the armed forces; the police; the party (in totalitarian countries) or the party political set-up elsewhere.

The apparatus of persuasion: The Church (where it is part of the Establishment) although in a non-secular State it might be part of the apparatus of government; the Press and other methods of information; the educational system; the party in its persuasive role-all that we have, in fact, called “the neo-Church”.

The apparatus of economic exploitation: The monetary system; the banks; financial control; the stock exchange; management in industry.

Many political reformers wish to abolish some part of the unfree system. Republicans find the monarchy unnecessary. Secularists want to abolish the Church. Pacifists oppose the armed Forces. Communists object to the apparatus of economic exploitation, at least, when it is not based upon the State. Cromwell dispensed with the legislature. Hitler made the judicature a farce.

Anarchists are unique in wishing to abolish all these forces of repression, and the police force in particular. For the police (or the army in a police role) is the cornerstone of the State. Without it the debates at Westminster become as sterile as those of the Oxford Union, and less interesting.

One organ of the State can seldom do the work of another. The Church has acted as a civil service and even as a police force (Jesuit state of Paraguay). The monarchy has been judge and jury. The banks often control the means of production. But, on the other hand, the monarchy could hardly save us from foreign invasion if it did not have an army (though some of its admirers have believed otherwise). The stock exchange would find it hard to persuade us that we are a free and independent people, and the police force, without a Church, would find it very difficult to get us into Heaven.

It is true that government takes over the control of certain necessary social functions. It does not follow that only the State could assume such control. The postmen are “civil servants” only because the State makes them such. The railways were not always run by the State. They belonged to the capitalists, and could as easily have been run by the railroad workers. The police find our lost dogs but that is because the registers are kept at police stations, not post offices.

There was an old superstition that if the Church excommunicated a country, it underwent a terrible disaster. There were grounds for this belief. At that time, only by the blessing of the Church could one be married, buried, leave property, do business in safety, be educated, or tended whilst sick. So long as people believed in the Church, the curse worked. A country banned from the communion of believers found its Church-run hospitals closed, and nobody dared take them over for fear of hell-fire. There was no trust in business, since the clerics administered oaths, and without the magic ritual there could be no credit granted. Education ceased, for the clergy ran the schools. Children could still, surprisingly to some, be begotten, but as they could not be christened, they were barred from the community of believers. They spent their lives in dread. Unmarried parents could not leave their property to their illegitimate children, and unless the Church reopened could not be married.

We are wiser now. But we have replaced one superstition by another. The opponents of anarchism assure us that if we put government under a ban, there would be no education, for the State controls the schools. There would be no hospitals — where would the money come from? Nobody would work — who would pay their wages? “There would not be a virgin or a rupee between Calcutta and Peshawar,” the Anglo-Indians used smugly to assure those who would abolish the British Raj. For only the State prevented rape or robbery (a jest that savoured of bitter wit in nazi-occupied Europe).

But in reality, not the Church nor the State, but the people provide what the people have. If the people do not provide for themselves, the State cannot help them. It only appears to do so because it is in control. Those who have power may apportion work or regulate the standard of living, but this is part of the attack upon the people, not something undertaken on their behalf.

To consider whether the organs of repression are indispensable or not is the same as considering whether the enemy’s armaments are dispensable or not. They are essential to him if he is to conquer. We can find arguments against them. He will seek to justify them. We should be convinced of the necessity for their abolition. In these terms, a free society is one in which the enemy is deprived of his weapons, or in other words, one in which repressive institutions are abolished or circumvented so as to be made useless.

We have seen in our time that it does not matter if a church lingers on as a historic curiosity, or even as a living body. It will seek to transform itself into a non-repressive body once it no longer has power. Other formerly repressive institutions that have lost their power try to adjust to the realities of the situation. Capitalism is nowhere more triumphant than in the City of London, but quaint medieval relics persist with no power but snobbery. A society would not be less free because some of its citizens voluntarily got together and contributed to a State, which exacted obedience from them. But such a demonstration of loyalty to the past would become as obsolescent as celebrating the fertility rite around the maypole. The latter is more natural than queuing up to pay taxes and might the better be regarded.

In the atmosphere of freedom, when coercive institutions have been made powerless and unnecessary, and public opinion can no longer be manufactured, parties advocating a return to the need for power will come to suffer the fate of all socially irrelevant or romantically outmoded lost causes. Having passed through an inquisition, people do not willingly go back to it. The horrors of the past become incapable of credulity, and must be forcibly imposed if the State finds them necessary again. For people rush to defend their freedom when it is openly attacked. Only under accepted, historic conquest do they become apathetic, for they do not understand its nature and are persuaded to accept it as inevitable.

No doubt in the early stages of a revolution it would be necessary, within clubs similar to those of the French Revolution, to prepare to strike down those who would reintroduce repression. Political parties would not disappear overnight. What would disappear would be the domination of political life by parties. The removal of the sweets of office would help to eliminate the desire for office. The notion of king-sacrifice may not have been an idle superstition of primitive society. Certainly in the first years of a free society, those consciously libertarian would need to assert the defence of freedom by sacrificing those who would rule. But in the space of a lifetime, freedom would be as necessary as the air we breathe.

The notion of a free society is so attractive as to be generally acceptable to all who are not completely warped by authority, and especially by successive younger generations, whenever imposed ideals of duty and obedience have cracked because too great sacrifices were demanded in their name. Against these notions can be seen the alternative possibilities arising from indiscipline and disobedience such as the abolition of frontiers — fraternity between peoples, “one world, no government” — the absence of war and end of violence — the breaking down of artificial class barriers — sexual liberation — education without forced discipline — production for use, not profit.

Indeed, all this, whether labelled anarchism or not, may be accepted as a useful package ideal, that is to say, as a fiction. Expressed as art, drama or literature, it can startle the bourgeoisie or even lull them. Inevitably, anarchism is expressed in relation to art, drama, literature, music, just as religion, patriotism and the party creeds have been. But the fictional representation should not be mistaken for the real thing.

It is an easy approach to libertarian thinking to express the iniquitous violence of the State, and contrast it with the complete non-violence of a non-governmental society. Yet it is dishonest to show the goods without mentioning the price, and a free society can only come about through determined resistance. It is not only a question of overthrowing a ruling class, but making it abundantly clear that no rule may exist again. The aim of the free society is not the “rejection” of the repressive organs of the State. It is their abolition.

In the realm of fiction, a revolutionary role is played by the creative writer, artist, musician. In the appreciation of their rejection of State values, the student plays a revolutionary role. But as regards the real thing, we have to consider in terms of the clash within society between those who rule and those who are ruled. It is a clash that amounts to civil war whether one calls it so or not. It is necessary to abolish imposed conquest in the realm both of the mind and of the body.

The psychological results of defeat are shown by fawning upon the conqueror, seeking to assimilate with him, and regarding his values as the only true ones. Only rarely does it become active resistance. More often it is apathy. This is seen graphically illustrated in national conquest, but exists in exactly the same way in social conquest. It is this type of apathy in defeat that is combated by individual action leading to the restoration of self-confidence (as seen in the Paris attentats in the decade after the defeat of the Commune). To say that a free society is chimerical is to say that repressive institutions are essential, and therefore that defeat is inevitable. The argument is dear to the hearts of those who desire power, but wish to be loved while exercising it. They are only labouring “for our good” and not out of personal ambition. They would like us to have a non-competitive society, “but it won’t work”, and the only one that will work is one that lines their pockets. It would be pleasant to dispense with government, but “You have to keep some form of government (after all, liberty is not licence)” and they are reluctantly prepared to sacrifice themselves in providing it.

For us, no repressive institutions have value except to the conquering minority. We do not think that when they are all gone, we will get Utopia. We are not going to see Utopia in our generation. Utopia we conceive as the standard by which we measure our actions, and the goal we may reach. The free society for us is a stage on the way and is immediately capable of achievement. Some might say, using the ideal as a block to action, that first there must be a revolution in men’s minds before there could be a change in society. But to the revolutionary anarchist, the reverse is true. There must be a revolution in men’s minds, and if this can precede social change so much the better. Without the economic base of society being radically altered the revolution in men’s minds that will take us to Utopia will be impossible. For such a revolution would face not only the brute force of the State but also the means of persuasion as a method of oppression. It is a good excuse to the police to say that the only revolution we were contemplating at the moment was to achieve the free society within our minds. Jesus is said to have made some such similar excuse to the Roman soldiers, but revolutionaries have got a lot bolder since then.

The expropriation of industry is not a remote possibility. Even today, control is in the hands of the workers. It is this control which the technological revolution would wrest away and by dispossessing the productive classes, create a new tyranny. There is always a degree of encroachment of control by labour upon industry. There is, too, a firm point beyond which such encroachment cannot possibly go, without the industry closing or being taken over by the workers. The occupation of factories in time of social unrest is another firm point beyond which the workers cannot go, without taking over industry. Once they begin to work again, but with management locked out, it ceases to be a strike, and becomes a revolution.

Seeing the revolution as a break with State-dominated society, we cease to be admirers of “progress”, usually interpreted as the way things happen to have gone or the unchecked direction in which they are going. We look both backwards and forwards.

Backward, indeed, to the free city, with its guilds of craftsmen and groups of scholars, its folk-meeting and loose federal association. But forward to the use of technology in its proper place, at the service of man, with education helping to eradicate hatreds and not ingrain them. Backward to the natural countryside, the village not tarted up for stockbrokers to live in and the streams not polluted because of the need for profits. But forward to the liberation of the mind from the superstitions of the past, to the ending of sexual puritanism with the incursion of authority into the concerns of humanity. Backward to the society without rulers imposed by conquest. Forward to the society freed from the domination of government or the principle of exploitation. Backward to the workers’ councils of the Russian and German revolutions; the free communes of Spain, Ukrainia, Mexico; the occupation of the places of work in France and Italy; the earliest aims of the British shop stewards’ movement and the federalistic conceptions of the First International. Forward to the Utopia of William Morris, now well within the reach of man.

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