Anarchism: Uniting Liberty With The Nobility Of Work


Anarchism is often misrepresented or misunderstood when it comes to its economic doctrines.  Mainline Anarchism, or Bakuninian Anarchism, walks the middle path between Robber Baron Capitalism on the extreme right, and Authoritarian Communism on the extreme left.

The most fundamental value in Anarchic economics is WORK.  Says Bakunin in The Revolutionary Catechism:  “Labor is the foundation of human dignity and morality.  For it was only by free and intelligent labor that man, overcoming his own bestiality, attained his humanity and sense of justice, changed his environment, and created the civilized world.”

Under an Anarchic system, “work must be the basis of all political rights,” he says, and “whoever wants to live in society must earn his living by his own labor or be treated as a parasite who is living on the labor of others.”

However for Anarchists, all the work in the world is of little benefit if a laborer has no political freedoms.  But true political freedom, states Bakunin, is impossible without economic freedom.  “Political equality will be possible only when there is social and economic equality.”  Otherwise, “so long as the immense majority of the populations are dispossessed of property, deprived of education, and condemned to political and social non-being” the average person can never hope to have the resources and leisure time necessary to actually partake in his or her theoretical freedoms.

Compared to the political and social systems to which humans are acclimated, the amount of REAL freedom in an Anarchic world might struck some as intimidating– even frightening.  And in fact, a heavy burden is placed on the shoulders of Anarchists to deliver a properly foundationed system– for a system unfairly set-up would result in unjust advantages being enjoyed by some while others would suffer unjustifiable disadvantages.  This risk is exacerbated by the fact that in a truly free society, there would be less interference by authoritarian regimes on economic outcomes, thus less opportunity for the society to check the greedy and tyrannical in their materialistic or egomaniacal pursuits.

Therefore, it is essential to Bakunin that the playing field for an Anarchic society be completely fair, and all opportunities equally shared, and that each and every individual possess the right and real means to achieve his or her full potential as a human being.

For this reason, mainline Anarchism rejects the validity of large personal inheritances.  After such unfair silver-spoon advantages are taken away, and “under the influence of education and of an egalitarian social organization,” Bakunin believes many of the other inequalities of modern-day society will naturally grow less and less.  Instead of great inheritances, Bakunin suggests that the spirit of the bequest (to pass on advantages to the next generation) could still be honored if the lands and treasures left behind by the deceased were to be used to educate and care for the children of the rising generation.

This sort of Equality is not a leveling down.  It is a lifting up.

“Equality does not imply the leveling of individual differences,” says Bakunin.  Anarchism has no desire to restrict “what a man may acquire by his own skill, productive energy, and thrift.”

[If you like this post so far, you may want to read my posts on famous Anarchist theorist, Pytor Kropotkin, starting with:  V for Vendetta… And A For Anarchism! ]

Bakunin believed that “the submission of Labor to Capital” has caused the emanation of great evil in the modern world, and been “the source of all political, moral, and material servitude.”  The benefits of wealth creation should not accrue to a single individual who has managed by lucky birth and position to secure for himself investments in Land or Capital.  Bakunin points out that most powerful men are not so different from the best men in any stratum of society; it is only that powerful men have been made powerful due to the– unearned– position in society they have been granted by inherited social or economic position.

Says Bakunin:  “Power resides less in men themselves then in the circumstances created for men of privilege by the organization of material goods.”

“The land, and all natural resources, are the common property of everyone,” says Bakunin.    The true source of wealth in human society is Work– again that great and noble Anarchic value.  “Only collective labor creates wealth,” Bakunin states in The Revolutionary Catechism.  Any just and competent system (be it economic, social, or political) must “render to Labor what is justly due Labor,” he says in Federalism, Socialism, And Anti-Theologism.

As long as a minority monopolizes the must lucrative positions in a Society, there will be exploitation.  But if those currently exploited were given the true share of the wealth they have earned, they could avail themselves of the “security, comfort, and leisure” necessary to improve themselves.  Once they have the prerequisites for self-improvement, says Bakunin in Federalism, Socialism, and Anti-Theologism, “believe me, they will educate themselves” [and] “they will create a grander, saner, and higher civilization than this.”

That is why, for Bakunin, the methods and outcomes of material distribution in a society are intricately bound-up with justice and the value of each human soul.  Bread riots are about more than the starvation of the body– deprivation translates practically into the starvation of the soul.  As Bakunin eloquently states it:  “The question of bread is the question of intellectual emancipation, liberty, and of humanity.”  

The idea that each child will start life with more or less the same advantages as every other child strikes some (usually the rich) not as justice, but as socialism.  But a level playing field is absolutely required for the Anarchic system to remain not only free but just.  True Liberty requires Equal Opportunity, just as equality cannot come at the expense of freedom and fairness.  Or as Bakunin puts it succinctly:  “Liberty without Socialism is privilege and injustice.  Socialism without Liberty is slavery and brutality.”

As much as Bakunin believed that every adult must earn his place in Society via Work, he also believed that Society has the responsibility to treat kindly and magnanimously the vulnerable ones among us.  In an Anarchic world, all children would be assured adequate food, clothing, shelter, education and care.  They would also be fully supported in their efforts to choose, and to prepare for, their eventual careers.  Of course, once an adolescent reaches adulthood and desires the freedom “to act as he deems best” for himself, he must then accept the adult responsibility to “live by his own labor.”

Also, says Bakunin, “the old, sick, and infirm will enjoy all political and social rights, and be bountifully supported at the expense of society.”

Some confuse this side of Anarchism with the outdated ideology of Marx or his Communist Party adherents.  In actuality, Bakunin detested Marx’s approach to reforms, saying that Marx got it completely backwards.  Marx believed that the political revolution must precede the social revolution, and that a relative few must seize and keep the centralized authority of the State and use it to impose their ideas upon the masses.

But Bakunin wisely contended that the revolutions must come in the reverse order:  the people must be prepared culturally and spiritually for the Revolution, or else it won’t stick, and the old ways –merely covered by a veneer “revolutionary in name only”– will again rise quickly to the surface, and the same authoritarian ways will continue to trample over the freedoms of the people, who have merely exchanged one master for another.

Freedom and Equality cannot be imposed on a people by a few revolutionary vanguards.  The imposition of a way of life pre-supposes a slave-mentality among the people.  A free people will invite– will demand– the political revolution once the revolution of their hearts and minds has occurred.  When the people are ready for the Revolution that brings true Freedom, nothing will stop its arrival.


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