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Anarchism (1949)

If we start with the contrast between Anarchism and Socialism we can say that anarchists emphasise the moral factor: it is not so concerned with the inevitable line of development or with putting itself at the service of this line but with the revolt against inhuman or immoral conditions. Anarchist notions of morals are commonly crude though Proudhon does contend that the important thing is not welfare but freedom. But he has not much notion of freedom except as non-interference. What you find more often connected with Anarchism is altruism as exemplified in Kropotkin's mutual aid. Of course there is another anarchist trend found in people such as Stirner, where we find the emphasis on egoism and the rejection of the demands by which the uninstructed individual might allow himself to be bound. There is no vital distinction between egoism and altruism. Each upholds the doctrine of the welfare of the individual and consequently each is limited by the defects in the conception of welfare. It is true that Kropotkin's position is bound up with voluntary as against forced association but there is no essential connection between the rejection of the authoritarian state and altruism. In the case of Stirner (though he expresses himself egoistically) he is getting closer to a coherent view, e.g., his doctrine that ideals are illusions. He was ready to treat anything that was not an ego as unreal. His views along this line cannot be sustained. Marx argues that Stirner's view is a petty bourgeois one; it is no use the ego being urged to seize power, property, etc., because there is state organization which prevents it. The position would also be that only insofar as an ego was associated with some movement could it work out a system of ideas. However as far as it goes, the Stirner anarchism is stronger than the mutual aid variety.

There is no good ground for associating criticism of prevailing ideas with the proletariat. It has happened, of course, that a movement associated with the workers has made criticisms and has moved for freedom but there is no essential criticism here. If you look at the controversy between the Anarchists and the Marxists, you can say this: the Anarchists could treat themselves as part of the same movement only by sacrificing their distinctive contribution. The Marxists worked for a social overturn but any overturn establishes a regime of oppression. It is vital for the Anarchists to point that out. To some extent they have done that. The essential role of the revolutionary (says Nomad) is to be permanent opposition, not to set up a new State. But Nomad, in calling his article the “Tragedy of the Underdog” , shows that he has the altruistic notion. Your opposition comes mainly from people with some resources. The underdog is not an important social force.

Anarchism is distinguished by the rejection of the doctrine of the State. You find this line taken in Bakunin's God and State. He contends that the idea of God implies the abdication of human reason and justice. The State does exist and it is necessary to abolish it. In this case (as distinguished from the case of God) the Anarchist has to deal with the reality too (not merely the idea). Insofar as the Anarchist takes this line, insofar as he tries to reform society, he just creates another authority that he has to fight against. In such cases the Anarchist falls between two stools. For example, in Spain the Anarchists acknowledged that they had to transform the State preliminary to abolishing it. This weakened them because on the one hand they were shifting their ground and compromising; on the other hand they were taking an impossible objective.

Both the Socialists and the Anarchists believe that there are social inequalities that must be rectified. They don't realise that freedom flourishes to the extent that you don't have State interference even with those things you oppose. The Anarchists are coming round more and more to a planned society by their rejection of non-interference and this means more oppression. Laissez faire may allow evils but it also allows freedom to flourish. (The liberal notion is that the State prevents aggression—Trotsky describes Liberalism as Anarchism plus the police…) With regard to God, Bakunin's position is that if God existed it would be necessary to abolish him. But this is not consistent with the Anarchist libertarian position which would imply: if God existed it would he necessary not to abolish him but to deny his authority.

One essential criticism is to deny the existence of the people or the nation, i.e., as a unified interest. Along these lines you get parallel criticisms of God and the State. This would be the sound centre of Anarchism and we could quite easily call this position Anarchism. It is one feature of Anarchism as it has been historically and it is the only one worth preserving. What is commonly called the State is as much a metaphysical object as God—an imaginary sanction of certain institutions and arrangements. Anarchism means disbelief in the State—i.e., disbelief in the view that we owe any sort of allegiance to such powers. The only real revolution is a revolution in ideas—a revolution that is going on all the time, while you also, of course, have setbacks and losses. You have no regular sort of progress. You may find waves of criticism in connection with movements which have other objects. Even where they do achieve certain forms of social re-organisation they (these movements) are not revolutionary in a fundamental sense. As they come to power (achieve their objects), the revolution in ideas which has gone along with them finds itself more and more in opposition to them. In Proletarianism, you have counter-revolution. In Anarchism, you do at least have an ethical as contrasted with an economic revolution.

We see History as the continual fight against rule and government, against the sanctity that gathers round it. Against this you have the following line taken: whatever might be the evils of rule and government, they are less than the evils of absence of role and government. To this the Anarchist can easily reply that there will never be any large group or popular movement which does oppose rule or government. The Anarchist position must be a minority one and could not triumph. Besides, the Anarchist is not aiming at victory but at criticism. Of course there is the point that such critics (of Anarchism) do have exaggerated views of chaos. But that answer would be a lighter way of treating the matter than the view that the majority never will be brought to take the Anarchist position.

What have been called Proletarian ideas are really bourgeois ideas. The fundamental one is being better off. The only position that does throw aside bourgeois ideas is the Anarchist. This point can be connected with the sound line which links the Anarchist and the Artist. The Artist's unconventionality is sometimes a criticism of the Anarchist kind. You can, of course, have affectation in unconventionality. Even so, it is often an exaggeration of something that is important. Without the exaggeration we might not have the right thing. The Artist's outlook rejects Utilitarianism and so is really revolutionary. The working class movement, on the other hand, has come more and more bound up with bourgeois ideas. Of course you have had, at various stages, infiltration of ideas of freedom into the Proletarian movement during the last hundred years. But that movement in general and the Marxist position in particular has never been fundamentally close to freedom and is now far away from it. All talk of capitalism and its evils at the present time is a fake revolution—it no longer has any point as far as freedom of ideas is concerned. (The main evil at the present time is Socialism and, in particular, Marxism.) In the main, the Anarchists have not got beyond the rudiments. What they have to show is the extent to which Marxism is an ideology opposed to freedom and setting up new sanctities.


Mr Armstrong: Surely the bourgeois revolution (the overthrow of feudalism) was a movement towards emancipation.

Mr Ritchie: The bourgeois movement which overthrew feudalism introduced a new slavery more severe in regards to certain groups at least. Freedom is more intelligible in individualistic terms.

Mr Rose: There would be a certain ignorance of what a movement is. It is true that one way in which you can test freedoms in movements is to observe the function of the individual in them. But you still have the problems of the qualitative distinction of movements. When the modern Stalinist (or Socialist) has to face up to certain difficulties he refers to the future, treating the present as only a stage.

Mr McCallum: We would not regard the bourgeois overthrowing of the feudal as general emancipation. There was no slogan of general emancipation.

Mr Mackie: A consistent Utilitarian would reject the sanctity of the State but might accept the State and defend it on Utilitarian grounds. On the question of order being superior to chaos, Professor Anderson's arguments seem to show a certain conflict. He argued in the first place that you were not going to get chaos, that Anarchism is always going to be a minority so it doesn't matter. This involves an anti-Anarchist acceptance of social order. He argued in the second place, that the substitution of one order for another is not chaos. But this is a Socialist not an Anarchist position.

Mr Rose: You have to distinguish between being a master and being emancipated. It doesn't seem to me that in an oligarchical society you have more freedom than in a benevolent despotism. Sorel says at the beginning of the French Revolution you had a spontaneous movement characterised by sentiments of freedom, then rulers came to the front and the free character of the revolution was lost.

Mr A. Anderson: The suggestion was that the emancipation was of an intellectual character. There is confusion between the intellectual emancipation and the changing of certain conditions. It was insofar as they had this revolution of ideas that they were anarchical in the best sense. In that connection you could say to Mackie's point about Utilitarianism—insofar as it rejected the sanctity of the State it was anarchical. Marxism makes people see through particular States and Gods but not the State as such or God as such.

Mr Shineberg: There seem to be two different kinds of freedom—(a) seeing through illusions (b) carrying on untrammelled activity.

Mr Mackie: Do you always have this simple division between institutions and criticisms of institutions? One set of restrictions may check another set of restrictions. If the Anarchist is concerned simply with seeing through, there is no problem.

Mr Gibbons: Supporting something on Utilitarian grounds would be in opposition to seeing through it. Utilitarianism sets up its end as a sanctity. This notion of destroying sanctities would involve the rejection of Utilitarianism and the revolution of ideas would involve something on the social side as well. There are conditions even of the intellectual rejection of certain views.

Mr McCallum: One of the important things is the rejection of the notion of leadership. Anarchism, when it has been flourishing, has fought against leadership in the working class movement.

Miss R. Walker: Mr Mackie has been treating “seeing through” as a completed process. You have continual struggle. In the rejection of the notion of the State there is the question of publicity. A Utilitarian would hardly indulge in publicity against the sanctity of the State which he is supporting.

Prof. Anderson (in reply):

I don't think anarchism is anti-intellectual. For example, Stirner raises the question of the rejection of certain prevailing forms of human illusion or allegiances. Utilitarianism (as it existed) has had features of sanctification (apart from moralism—the doctrine of obligation)—a doctrine of a general interest which has a certain affinity with religion. Sanctity is one of the central features of this whole position. Exposure is not something that happens in a man's private thoughts. “Seeing through” takes place in connection and in a movement and in the course of a person's work. There is no doubt that States can interfere with freethinking. Periods of lesser or greater freethinking are correlated with periods of lesser and greater State interference. Your doctrine of non-interference is connected with distinct and independent traditions. (Non-interference is not a definition of freedom.) Anarchism shows up interferences and rejects philanthropy which is interference in one of its most damaging forms—it is one of the surest ways to destroy freedom, to destroy spontaneity. I identify freedom with the positive work done by an independent tradition and this flourishes in a condition of non-interference. In Utilitarianism you get the doctrine that there is no opposition of interests. In Utilitarianism you have a levelling out in the present: in Socialism it is referred to the future. Marxism did help some people to a pluralistic position but is not itself pluralistic. In treating any State as a class dictatorship, Marxism is taking a unitary view and a false one. Marx believes in a final unification which would be society's characteristic condition. When prevailing conceptions were Benthamite, Marxism was useful but now its own Benthamite features have become stronger. When I said that Anarchism could not produce chaos because it can't come to rule, I was simply stating a fact. Where is the overturn of Feudalism? This is Marxist melodramatic way of looking at things. There are overturnings of this and that going on all the time in the sense of social changes but there is no overthrow of a whole system. One thing you have to remember is that Marxism claims that Socialism is the final emancipation of mankind. In taking a pluralistic view of society you have to take a pluralistic view of movements themselves. And one movement can give openings to other movements not themselves directly connected with it. Shakespeare and others don't thereby become part of a bourgeois revolution. In England, you find the bourgeois revolution closely connected with Puritanism which has anti artistic features. Freedom exists in the gaps between the major movements. You won't find large movements with freedom as characters but the clash of large movements gives freedom a chance, e.g., Church and State.

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