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What Is The Anarchist Position? (1968)

Etymologically 'anarchy' just means 'without a ruler', however the anarchist poem has generally been that not only is such a society possible but that the state is a vehicle for exploitation and oppression. Can this position be justified?

  1. The state has service aspects, i.e. it performs specific social functions. The question here is whether a social function necessarily involves the idea of abstract, i.e. state power. The state is an abstract power because it has 'powers' which are not for a specific purpose (whether or not the state power is constitutionally limited the powers it has are of indefinite extent).

    Furthermore its 'powers' are not rooted in any free consensus as are, say, the powers of a sporting association.

  2. The state enforces a certain social consensus as law but this law is not made by the people but in its name. Thus the state inhibits social plurality - a pre-condition for individual freedom.

  3. Even if states are not automatically expansionary the existence of most governments seems to be connected with the "existence" of an internal or external threat - a threat to the state or ruling classes: States seem to have an indissoluble connection with war.

  4. Insofar as the state or government bureaucracy supports or maintains itself the organisation of industry into large hierarchical units - hierarchical in personnel rather than necessary function - the state is an instrument of exploitation regardless of whether it is capitalist or collectivist. In particular rewards go to authority rather than to competence or knowledge i.e. a decision may be in effect made by a specialist but it is promulgated by a bureaucrat (who gets more money). Although intermediaries appear necessary it seems that authoritarian bureaucratic organisations use many more than necessary and indeed have ones which are effectively not intermediaries.

    A boss is an apex: unless he contributes some special competence he is unnecessary.

Assuming that a minimal bureaucracy is set up to handle essential social functions won't this be connected with a hierarchical organisation of society and won't it too have abstract power?

  1. If we assume that, as in most countries, it is a closed bureaucracy then the public have no effective rights against it. A closed bureaucracy has no roots in local life and so cannot easily discern the needs of the community. Since 'bureaucracy' means the execution of formal rules the local existence of its operatives does not affect their performance except insofar as they pervert its operation and short-cut the red tape. Nor can the local community make direct (i.e. other than through the bureaucratic channels) representation to the policy-determining body. It follows that an efficient service bureaucracy would have to fuse with local bodies at the local level. Its lower rung would be community organisations rather than branch offices.

  2. A bureaucracy only gives the right of decision to a very few and the right to be heard to a slightly larger number. It is the special province of its bureaucrats even if it is not the weapon of a government. These will not be informed on all issues but they resent interference from outside and at most confer with the bureaucrats from other bureaucracies. Thus representation of interests wider than, purely local ones is also impaired. Thus there must be a channel for extra information - both statistics and demands - at all decision levels. There must be guaranteed access for social organisations and the right to form new interest groups able to be heard and to influence decisions.

  3. Finally even given this democratization the employees of the bureaucracy are also citizens and are likely from their position to have special information. Hence there is a duty to hear their views - i.e. the views of the ranks as opposed to the views of the higher levels - and to allow them access to even more information. There must be a vigorous organisation of the operatives with its own information system. The granting of the right of initiative and information to the operatives destroys the bureaucratic structure completely. What remains is a sort of union with links to other local organisations and unions. The performance of essential social functions does not need a bureaucratic organisation.

What of "revolutionary government?"

  1. While the bulk of the case against the state does not apply to "Provisional" governments, the argument against bureaucracy does with added strength. Because of its experience a bureaucratic organisation with a tradition is at least partially functional since it has usually had organic growth from a smaller unbureaucratic organisation. The attempt - as in Russia in 1918 - to create afresh a large bureaucracy with little social basis and with inexperienced operatives is certain to be dysfunctional. If one is created using the older operatives it will probably be the same bureaucracy (as the Russian ones tended to become.) Thus the service and social aspects of government should be built up from below by federations of local organs and interest groups creating their own administration and using elements from the old bureaucracies controlled from below if necessary.

  2. Certainly federal revolutionary bodies must exist to exchange views and information as well as to suggest policies to the public. But this is not a government. In a revolution - and almost by definition - the people act, actions are not made in their names. To exist a government needs to assimilate to itself the new social organisations and so distorts the growth of the popular revolutionary organs. Such a distorted growth is dysfunctional since the popular organs grow in response to public needs and demands.

The replacement of the independent sources of revolutionary power by the state government makes for compromise and provides a visible target for the counterrevolution. It also makes any mistake more serious since the revolutionary government by necessity considers itself beyond criticism and its power is incomparably greater than that of any individual revolutionary organ. On the other hand if all revolutionary organs have a social function there will not be the scope for violence to fellow revolutionaries or to anyone else. The tendency oft revolutionary government is towards the government of bureaucratic arrogance: government by propaganda, terror arid demagoguery. This course is not open to individual social-revolutionary organs.

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