“It was total anarchy!” doesn’t mean what you think it means

Anarchism symbol pre-VWow, yesterday’s entry really got away from me in length.  Sorry ‘bout that.  Internet reading needs be short, I understand.

So, as you may or may not know, I have recently set sail on my last voyage of concentrated learning.  At this level of education, I have read directly or through summaries most of the mainstream works that are considered canonical in terms of a solid liberal education.  There are gaps, of course.  The gaps are about half of what this Self-Doctorate course is about, the other half being an expansion into second tier works.  Of course, this doesn’t speak to how superficial or how deep my learning goes; after all, one could spend an entire lifetime of study just on the Bible and Shakespeare.

One of the topics outside the mainstream canon is Anarchism, which is treated by most as if it were a philosophy of madmen only.

The most fundamental lesson to take away from any study of anarchism is what anarchism actually means.  Pyotr Kropotkin says in his article “Anarchism” written for the Encyclopedia Britannica (1910) that the root of the word “anarchism” is from the Greek; his translation is “contrary to authority.”  Most people get anarchism wrong right from the beginning— they equate anarchism with chaos— as in the expression, “it was total anarchy!”  We know what people mean when they say this, but they’re actually not saying what they mean.  There are also those old jokes about anarchists; for instance:  How can anarchists organize when they don’t believe in order?  or, Isn’t an organization of anarchists a contradiction in terms?

The truth is, Anarchists are not against order.  They are against slavery.  They are against the idea that people must always live under fear and coercion.  And since the essence of the State is coercion, they are against the State.  This sounds radical –and well, it is—but perhaps not in the way most people would at first think.

You see, anarchism does not end at the demolition of the State— that is where it begins.  Anarchists don’t believe in the master-slave relationship or in a trickle-down society or in vital local decisions being made far away by virtual strangers.

What anarchists do believe in are voluntary associations.

Says Kropotkin of an anarchist economy:  “The voluntary associations which already now begin to cover all the fields of human activity would take a still greater extension so as to substitute themselves for the State in all its functions.”  These voluntary associations would provide for “all possible purposes:  production, consumption, and exchange;  communications, sanitary arrangements, education, mutual protection, defense of the territory, and so on.”

Kropotkin’s motivation is NOT efficiency; nevertheless, increased efficiency would naturally result under a system based on anarchist precepts.  This is due to the decentralization that an anarchist economy would facilitate.  Kropotkin believes that “true progress lies in the direction of decentralization, both territorial and functional, in the development of the spirit of local and personal initiative, and of the free federation from the simple to the compound.”

It is worth pausing here to point out that for Kropotkin, personal initiative will be the economic engine of an anarchist economy (“anarCHONomy?”), for “work will no longer appear a curse of fate.  It will become what it should be– the free exercise of ALL the faculties of man.”

Unlike under socialist schemes, people in an anarchist’s economy would directly benefit from the work they personally complete, so that initiative and responsibility would blossom.

Another huge benefit to the anarchist economy will be that workers will get to bring home more of the value they help create.  The worker will no longer have to subtract from his earnings excessive Rent to the Capitalist, high Interest to the Banker, or towering Taxes to the State.  Kropotkin calls these types of payouts “feudal obligations,” contending that though “the forms have changed” since the time of serfs and their feudal lords, “the relations have remained the same.”  In fact, says Kropotkin, the entire wage system “is born of slavery and serfdom imposed by force, and only wears a more modern garb.”

In my own economic philosophy, I contend that if workers could steadily bring home more of the value they create, we would all but see an end to the most extreme recessions.  I believe that most recessions stem from the fact that workers periodically get overburdened by their “feudal obligations.”   These feudal obligations (when taken together with the illegitimate appropriation of value by Capitalists) act as “leaks” to the workers’ income-expense stream.  Between the time that workers create their products and the time they turn around to buy them back, much of what should have been their income has leaked away, and they don’t have enough money to buy back their own goods!

This illegitimate expropriation of value that I speak of is a vast subject, covered partially in my recent “V for Vendetta” post.  Suffice it to say for now (in this already overly lengthy post— damn!)  that Kropotkin believes that the State is, indeed, guilty of vast redistribution of wealth— but in the opposite direction many would think.  He believes that the foundational rules imposed by the modern State create the conditions for capital to accumulate in few hands.  Kropotkin considers that Poverty is the primary cause of Wealth, that if there weren’t workers to exploit, then the Capitalist could not siphon off the value created by the worker because the worker simply would not be forced to allow it.  Kropotkin sees riches and poverty as two sides of the same evil coin, believing that underpay for some results in overpay for others.  “It was poverty that created the Capitalist,” he says.

I leave off Anarchism for now, with this version of that same idea to meditate upon… It is not wealth that creates the wealthy, but poverty.

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