LATE NEWS: July 2016: We're still here, but busy with day job, so no new Whinger Press pamphlets right now. But we are planning two more A6 size Whinger Press pamphlets before finishing with this project, and then we are planning on producing A5 pamphlets under a new publishing name. Copies of our A6 pocket pamphlet "Malatesta on Money", are still available. Contact us for a physical copy.
Also, we have reprinted a limited edition of Sam Dolgoff's "A Critique of Marxism" in A5 pamphlet form. Other Whinger Press pamphlets still available: "They Used to GIve Us Cakes- Grumbles of an xmas postal sorter", "The Worst of the Whinger"- Compilation of Reviews from the Whinger and elsewhere, "Freethought Notes" - taking a critical look at issues of freedom of belief and freedom of disbelief. Contact us for copies.
MICRO-REVIEW: What with the ongoing global economic “crisis”, including cuts in welfare, rent inflation, rising bills, unemployment and impoverishment, falling real wages for workers, together with the big anti-capitalist movements in response, too many people are rushing back to Marx believing “he’s proven right after all” and swooning uncritically over the first few chapters of Capital in student reading groups.
One possible antidote to this is Alan B Carter’s book "Marx; A Radical Critique". I know I keep boring folks by continually plugging this book, but despite its faults, and despite being dry and academic and a bit dated, I still think it is well worth trying to get hold of a copy. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any new updated edition. There ought to be one, I have a worn 1988 paperback edition. The book is an in-depth introduction to, and systematic critique of, Marx’s own writings. It criticizes Marx from a radical and green libertarian-communist viewpoint. It makes a strong libertarian socialist attempt at challenging the basic principles of Marxist thought and Hegelian-marxist philosophy, calling for alternative theoretical approaches. Marx; A Radical Critique, Alan B Carter, 1988, Wheatsheaf Books, ISBN 0710804490.
The following extract is reproduced from the introduction to our new WHINGER PRESS pamphlet “THE POCKET HODGSKIN QUOTE BOOK”, published March 2013:…. Thomas Hodgskin (1787–1869) was an English writer on political economy, and an early critic of capitalism. He was both a free trade anarchist, and a defender of the cause of labour and of radical workers’ associations and unions.
Originally from Chatham in Kent, Hodgskin joined the navy aged just 12. He rose in the ranks, but he ended up being court martialled and dismissed for indiscipline in 1812. This event prompted his first book, An Essay on Naval Discipline, published in 1813, which was a critique of military authoritarianism.
He went to Edinburgh University for three years, and returned to London in 1823 to work as a journalist. He was initially influenced by Jean Baptiste Say, as well as by other classical liberal political economists such as David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, who occupied a radical position in their time. His writing also appears to be influenced to a degree by romanticism and naturalism.
But Hodgskin went on to diverge from the utilitarian orthodoxy of Ricardo and Mill. Hodgskin supported the freedom of workers to organise, and he subversively used Ricardo’s Labour Theory of Value to make a denunciation of the appropriation of the most part of the value produced by labour in industrial capitalist production by the separate class of capital owners.
He published Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital in 1825, Popular Economy in 1827, and The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted in 1832. The title of Hodgskin’s book Labour Defended…. Was a jibe at Mill’s Commerce Defended. For the later so-called “vulgar” economists, who had no interest in criticising the system, Ricardo’s Labour Theory of Value, which admitted a relation between general exchange values (not the same as individual specific prices) of mass-reproducible goods (not rare items) and average quantities of general exchanged labour necessary for their production, was a bit too radically honest. It dangerously opened the door to a possible line of socialist attack. Hodgskin followed Ricardo in understanding profit and rent as deductions from a pool of exchange-value created by labour, and thus the livelihoods of capitalists, landlords and church [and state] could be seen as inversely related to the wages of labour.
Hodgskin’s libertarian “Ricardian socialism” is comparable in some aspects to the “mutualist” socialism of Proudhon, although Hodgskin was writing earlier than Proudhon. He rejected the proto-communism of Robert Owen. He was both a significant influence upon, and subsequently criticised for his heretical “market socialism” by, Karl Marx. But we don’t necessarily have to accept all of Marx’s attacks on Hodgskin.
In his Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital, Hodgskin argued that the interference of forms of domination and the state in free community distributions or in free community market exchanges (depending on relative levels of scarcity or abundance of various goods – there is never super-abundance of everything) on behalf of capitalist employers, was the main reason labour received less than its full product in wages. Hodgskin was one of the earliest writers to use the term “capitalism”. By “capitalism”, he meant a system of privilege in which the state enabled the owners of capital to draw monopoly returns on it, in the same sense that the feudal ruling class was able to draw monopoly returns on land.
For both Hodgskin and Marx, the mere existence of exchange and even private property were not sufficient conditions of “capitalism”. For example, an economic system in which independent workers, artisans, and peasants owned their means of production and exchanged their labour products, for example in self-regulated community markets, would not necessarily amount to “capitalism”. What is referred to as “capitalism” was a system in which markets and property not only existed, but in which workers did not own the means of production but were forced instead to depend on selling their labour to capitalist employers in exchange for basic wages.
The guiding principle from which Thomas Hodgskin started was that the history of the state has been a history of intervention in voluntary relations between human beings in order to benefit one at the expense of another. Without the intervention of the state, and various forms of domination and despotism, in the fields of free-interplay, free-distribution and/or free-exchange, then the “natural wage” of independent labour would tend to move towards its full product. At the same time, labour, as part of the community, would be in a position to decide on any particular distributions “according to need”.
Thomas Hodgskin, the greatest of the Ricardian Socialists, argued that the systemic exploitation of labour in his time rested heavily on the specific legal privileges of capitalists and landlords. His was a more radical version of Adam Smith’s principle that, when the government undertakes to regulate the relations of master and workers, it has the masters for its counsellors.
The process of the “exchange of non-equivalents” within the industrial capitalist factory system, whereby the dispossessed commodity-producing wage labourer is exploited by the industrial capitalist who extracts a surplus from their labour – part of which becomes profit to be invested in more exploitation, would not be able to continue on a large scale for any length of time without the continual interventions of domination and the state throughout the whole process, both outside and inside the factory. (This is despite the attempts to deny the role of domination in the process by Marx and Engels in “Anti-Duhring”, etc.)
Hodgskin’s description of things continues to have some relevance to today’s developments. The modern state bureaucracy has now grown and expanded into a huge monster. Even at the height of big Victorian state corporatism in a place like Britain in the 19th century, the state still represented not much more than about 7% or 8% of the “Gross Domestic Product” of the wider measured economy. No doubt this isn’t the only criteria that matters, but it is still revealing that today the state represents almost 50% of Britain’s GDP. And despite neoliberal rhetoric about “making the state smaller”, the state doesn’t seem to get much smaller. So many transactions today, whether in the field of labour, or commerce, or household consumption, are now heavily bureaucratically regulated, managed, controlled, and regressively taxed. Of course, this favours first the protected interests of state capital and private monopoly capital and big landlords… before protecting the interests of other capitals.
Today the mere mention of the word “market” will provoke howls of rage, with its associations with the domineering corporate and state capitalist economy rampaging and plundering around the world. But in different situations, the term “market” has sometimes referred to quite different things, such as village fayres, communitarian social trading, forms of “moral economy” based on both individual and collective bargaining and social guarantees,… Meanwhile today the so-called “market” economy half ends up being a toy of state bureaucracy. Heavily state-regulated and imposed “privatisations” and “neoliberal” economic “market” reforms and austerity don’t mean the bureaucratic state gets smaller. To the contrary, while state run services to the poor get cut, much of the time the state and the bureaucratic class seem to carry on getting bigger!
But forms of specialization in production, together with specialized forms of useful possession, and forms of barter exchange of non-abundant goods, have existed on and off in communities for thousands of years without automatically accumulating into predominant capital. Many communities, such as many late tribal communities, or many early medieval peasant communities, were quite strong enough in their social structures and customs to prevent them from doing so. Free cooperative associations of producers and their communities can continually peacefully intervene to counter any tendency to aggressive accumulation, and ensure everyone gets free access to land and resource etc. So called “capitalism” did not just spontaneously pop up as if by magic. Historically it was late medieval European states in crisis, forcefully organising “primitive accumulation” on a large scale (dispossessing people from the land, etc.), that ended up imposing capital as a predominant system.
In a future libertarian socialist environment, forms of specialization, possession, exchange, forms of costing and valuing, even alternative non-capitalist market mechanisms, could be used part of the time as subordinate tools. What matters is that such forms no longer rule over us and dominate most of our productive activity, but are used by free workers and producers, and their cooperatives and mutual associations, when it suits them to do so. And at the same time what matters is that everyone gets free access to some land and resource and means of production and means of life, while an important element of workers’ individual liberty is also respected.
In this context, distribution “according to need” and distribution “according to deed” do not have to be seen as mutually exclusive, but will both become part of a mutually complementary mix. Social production is never just one amorphous homogenous blob. There develops, particularly in mass urban technological society (which we do not reject), multiple considerations of specific needs within any supposed general need, together with the many specialised specific deeds needed to serve them. And specific deeds generate their own specific needs to fuel them and replenish them,… We are certainly opposed to the domination of wage labour in its current capitalist form. But, much that we respect them and enjoy their company, we would have to disagree with some of our puritan “communist” friends and argue that, even in a libertarian socialist situation, there will still sometimes be specific needs for labour to be paid. In opposition to puritan Marxist value-critics and ultra-communists, we would argue that the mere existence of some exchange and trading, and some comparative material costing, does not have to be demonised as some wicked evil original sin.
We would prefer heretical individualist libertarian socialisms to authoritarian and despotic-collectivist varieties of socialism, or absolutist communism. As big beard Bakunin once ranted: “Freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice. Socialism without Freedom is slavery and brutality.” And how do we get there?- not so much through one monolithic revolution with universal dictatorship as its outcome, but through an ongoing libertarian movement of many movements, and struggle of many struggles…..
Whinger Press 2013
From THE WHINGER number 8, Summer 2010....
REVIEW: ANARCHY by Errico Malatesta
New edition 2009, translated by Vernon Richards, Freedom Press. Available from Freedom Bookshop, in Angel Alley, 84b Whitechapel High St, London, E1, UK.(First published as L'Anarchia by Biblioteca dell'Assozione, London 1891)Review by Paul Petard:
I must admit that I have often wondered if the anarchists have chosen their name wisely or sensibly. Like the late 19th century socialist with anarchist sympathies Joseph Lane, for example, who published An Anti-Statist Communist Manifesto, I have sometimes thought it might be less frightening to describe oneself with a more positive sounding phrase such as "free communist" or maybe "libertarian socialist" or such like.
But the insurrectionary anarchist communist Errico Malatesta (1854-1932), a warm-hearted anarchist from southern Italy of widespread reputation and influence, had no such hang-ups. In his pamphlet of 1891 L'Anarchia he confidently and vigorously put the case for the positive adoption of the name anarchist, and for what the name represents. He argues:
"Those who say...that the anarchists have badly chosen their name because it is wrongly interpreted by the masses...are mistaken. The error does not come from the word but from the thing; and the difficulties anarchists face in their propaganda do not depend on the name they have taken, but on the fact that their concept clashes with all the public's long established prejudices on the function of government,..."
Malatesta points out that anarchists use the term in its original meaning; "the absence of government or authority". Rather than meaning disorder, Malatesta argues that it implies precisely social organisation. Such social organisation involves "the destruction of all political order based on authority, and the creation of a society of free and equal members based on a harmony of interests and the voluntary participation of everybody in carrying out social responsibilities.
"Hence the word had become adopted in Malatesta's time by a whole mass movement of struggle that considered such a social organisation of "complete freedom within complete solidarity" as both possible and desirable.
Much of Malatesta's writing consisted of short articles, gems of anarchist thought, each dealing with particular themes and subject areas. The nine "chapters" of Malatesta's Anarchy were first used in their English translation as a series of articles in the London anarchist periodical Freedom.
Chapters 1 and 2 are mainly introductory and deal with definitions and the meanings of terms, while raising polemical questions against authority and government. A harder political and economic critique starts in chapter 3 onwards. In fact much of the core argument of the pamphlet can be found summed up in chapter 3.
Authoritarian theoreticians will say that natural antagonisms of interests between people create the need for government and established authority, and that government is a necessary moderating influence in the social struggle. But, in chapter 3, Malatesta points out that "...one knows only too well that in social economy too often are theories invented to justify the facts, that is to defend privilege and make it palatable to those who are its victims." He then goes on to refute the authoritarian argument.
Malatesta starts by arguing that there are two basic ways of oppressing people, either directly by physical force, or indirectly by enslaving them by denying them free access to the means of life. The former method is at the root of political power, the latter method was the origin of economic exploitative forms of property. People can also be suppressed ideologically, by religion for example, but this tends to work as a result of political and economic privilege in the first place.
Malatesta then goes on to describe an historic process by which simple early despotism and elitist rule by brute force, which had originally established domination by destroying customs of solidarity in sparsely populated primitive societies, were themselves displaced by the growing domination of a more sophisticated economic exploiting class:
"Thus, in the shadow of power, for its own protection and support, often unbeknown to it, and for reasons beyond its control, private wealth, that is the owning class, is developed. And the latter, gradually concentrating in their hands the means of production,...end up by establishing their own power which,...always ends by more or less openly subjecting the political power,...and making it into its own gendarme."
Eventually the capitalist class demands that government should arise from its own ranks, and it seeks to overthrow older aristocratic forms of government and replace them with governments of their own democratic choosing: "Today, government, consisting of property owners and people dependent on them, is entirely at the disposal of the owners,..." And: "Even with universal suffrage...the government remained the bourgeoisie's servant and gendarme."
Maybe Malatesta's description of historical class development is a bit simplistic. It overlooks historic occasions when the older aristocratic power coopted economic activity into spreading its own political domination, such as the cooption of pirate merchant activity into serving the imperial aims of the aristocratic state. It also fails to anticipate the massive growth in the 20th century of a modern bureaucratic class, for example, that can just as well serve the interests of its own state-capitalist development instead of private capital.
Nonetheless Malatesta swiftly sweeps aside the theoretical justifications for government and gets straight to the point: "The basic function of government everywhere in all times,...is always that of oppressing and exploiting the masses, of defending the oppressors and the exploiters..."
Of course, as Malatesta freely admits, government cannot survive long without hiding behind a mask of usefulness. It directs the building of schools and hospitals, and takes over the running of many public services. But, insists Malatesta, it always does this in order to dominate, and defend its privileges and those of the class it represents.
When it comes to the conflict between workers and their industrial employers Malatesta states that; "...governments,...show a tendency to arbitrate in the dealings between master and workers: in this way they seek to sidetrack the workers' movement and, with a few deceptive reforms, to prevent the poor from taking for themselves what is their due,..."
Against the prevailing domination, hierarchy, and competition, Malatesta counterpoises the law of solidarity. The influence of Kropotkin's Mutual Aid is obvious when Malatesta argues that living beings have two ways of surviving: "One is by individual struggle against the elements and against other individuals..., the other is by mutual aid, by cooperation, which could also be described as association for the struggle,..."
The struggle for survival itself gives rise to the development of strong social feeling and cooperation among humans, which transforms human existence. Social life becomes the necessary environment for humans. Outside of social life humans cannot live properly. Other animals fight against nature or each other individually or in small groups. But human struggle, argues Malatesta, instead always tends to widen the human association. It tends towards overcoming all the external forces of nature by humanity and for humanity.
Within human societies the struggles between individuals grow into the struggles between associations, sometimes associations to defend the advantages of privileged minorities against the mass and against each other, and, increasingly with the solidarity and combinations of the workers, association to defend the interests of more and more of humanity.
"This [solidarity] is the goal towards which human evolution advances; it is the higher principle which resolves all existing antagonism,...and results in the freedom of each not being limited by, but complemented...in the freedom of others."
"Today the immense development of production,...the means of communication,...science, literature, businesses and even wars, all have drawn humankind ito an ever tighter single body whose constituent parts,...can only find fulfilment and freedom to develop through the well-being of the other constituent parts as well as of the whole."
According to Malatesta's anarchist communist argument, the doing away with government and property, and the triumph of solidarity in all human relations is where cooperation should ultimately lead.
Now at this point I might want to put this line of thinking to the test and ask some critical questions. Is there perhaps a danger here of conjuring up an overcrowded claustrophobic monosocietalism, where everyone is tied and bonded to each other all the time? Some of it might suggest a kind of stuffy kindergarten communism; all of humanity is drawn together into a universalist cult where freedom to seperate or diverge has disappeared. Does everyone want to live like that?
In reality both human "association" and human "struggle" develop in parallel. As Malatesta admits, although it is a struggle with nature and between individuals that first produces association, bigger and more complex human association will produce new levels of struggle. Different poles of human association will compete and conflict. Meanwhile more mouths need feeding, more food needs producing, and more land is needed for housing, so the conflict with nature reaches higher critical levels.
The more sophisticated and complex human association becomes the more the individuals are encouraged to develop specialized individual skills and abilities, requiring more separated and developed individual time and space, so they can make their necessary contributions to the developing society. Even in a post-capitalist environment, students of engineering or medicine for example, in order to demonstrate their degree of usefulness to community, might individually participate in competitive exams, etc.
There is no clear explanation as to how the mystical millenarian leap takes place from "struggle" and "association" developing in parallel, to one big universal solidarity permanently triumphing, and all struggle being totally resolved everywhere all the time. Neither in a warm-hearted romantic anarchist-communist narrative like Malatesta's, nor in the cold pseudo-scientific narrative of marxist-communism, with its imagined idealised "universal proletariat", is this mystical millenarian leap properly and satisfactorily explained.
Certainly humans have the ability to organise and intervene in their own relations to change particular systems, resist oppression and exploitation, and substantially reduce conflicts of interest and the harm they can produce. But can all conflicts and differences and seperations and competitions everywhere be permanently resolved by one big unified totalising "solidarity"? Would this even be desirable?
At this point a non-communist anarchist, such as an anarchist mutualist, or a non-communist syndicalist might play devil's advocate and argue that the development of certain degrees of specialisation, seperation, dynamic differences, individual semi-autonomy, and even certain forms of worker's property, simple exchange, and friendly competition, can be beneficial to communities.
In chapter 5 Malatesta rightly counters those state socialists who claim that once private property and the capitalist class are overthrown, government would need to continue as a benign regulator and protector of the interests of society as a whole:
"We can answer that in the first place it is not true that once the social conditions are changed the nature and role of government would change. Organ and function are inseperable terms... Put an army in a country in which there are neither reasons for, nor fear of, war, civil or external, and it will provoke war or,...it will collapse." And, "A government, that is a group of people entrusted with making the laws and empowered to use the collective power to oblige each individual to obey them, is already a privileged class..."
What does Malatesta have to say about strategies for overthrowing the system and abolishing government? Part of the time Malatesta appears to demand an instant insurrection with spontaneous informalism; instant revolutionary action to crush those who own social wealth, and put "everything at the disposal of everybody". He states: "We struggle for anarchy, and for socialism, because we believe that anarchy and socialism must be realised immediately,...in the revolutionary act we must drive government away, abolish property and entrust public services,...to the spontaneous, free,...efforts of all interested parties...
"However, he also expresses caution, and he admits there may be difficulties and drawbacks that will need sorting out. He freely admits: "We do not know whether anarchy and socialism will triumph when the next revolution takes place."
Malatesta's arguments and theories are not quite as simple as they might at first appear, and he is aware of some of the problems and contradictions. Under the insurrectionary and revolutionary rhetoric there is also a sense of realism. Over time Malatesta often re-worked his ideas.
As Vernon Richards, the writer of the introduction of this edition, points out, Malatesta argued that anarchism was only one of the forces operating in society, and the future would be the result of all the forces at work, not just one of them.
Malatesta asserts that even if the anarchists are defeated in the next revolution, and the parties of compromise triumph, the anarchists' work will not have been useless. The greater their intransigence in the revolutionary struggle the less property and government there will be in the new society. Malatesta ends his Anarchy by proclaiming: "And if today we fall without compromising we can be sure of victory tomorrow".
Rather than one big all-resolving instant insurrection, there is a suggestion here of a series of multiple insurrectionary struggles or revolts occuring in waves. Each wave wins gains and builds strength for the next wave. So despite the revolutionary rhetoric there is also a hint of a need for an ongoing period of transitional and transformational struggles. The ongoing anarchist tendency in struggles encourages a reduction in government and property.
In 1877, Malatesta, together with the anarchists Cafiero, Stepniak, and about thirty others, had tried the insurrectionist approach and started a rural insurrection in the Italian provence of Benevento. They succeeded in taking a few villages and burning much-hated tax registers. Their actions were met with some local enthusiasm, but after a few days they were arrested and held for 16 months. After this Malatesta was effectively hounded into exile for several years.
Later, in 1907, at the International Anarchist Congress of Amsterdam, Malatesta took a notable part in the debates around the strategy of anarcho-syndicalism, which was growing in popularity with many workers at the time. As a revolutionary anarchist he was not inherently against anarchist workers forming and joining unions, but he spoke critically against those libertarians who regarded syndicalism as an end in itself. The question as to how workers in an urbanising industrialising context should organise and struggle was not irrelevant to him as he spent many years in later life earning his living as an electrician.
Back in Italy, as well as being involved in the general strike and revolts during "Red Week" in 1914, Malatesta was also significantly involved just after the first world war in the workers' factory councils movement. This suggests he had developed some sympathy with the actions of the councillists in practise as being close to his own social revolutionary aims.
Malatesta regarded his essay Anarchy as the best thing he had ever written. Unlike previous editions of this text I've seen from Freedom Press, this new edition is produced in convenient "dinky" pocket size format, just slightly bigger than an A6 postcard. It comes with a slim spine and is about 60 pages. The price is five pounds! Which I think is a bit steep. You might have thought Freedom Press could be a little more socialist with their prices. Paul 2010
(This review of the latest edition of Colin Ward's "Anarchy in Action" apeared in THE WHINGER number 7, Fall 2008.)WARD IN ACTION
Review: Anarchy In Action, Colin Ward, Freedom Press (84b Whitechapel High St, London, E1 7QX, U.K.) New Edition 2008, ISBN 978-0-900384-20-2
Although it is an old anarchist favourite read by thousands, and has been an important influence to many anarcho-activists from the 70s onwards, I have never actually read Colin Ward's "Anarchy In Action" before. So I am reading and reviewing this new 2008 edition, conscious of the world as it is today, without being influenced by previous memories of having read it in the 70s or 80s. As a result I can discover for the first time how relevant Colin Ward's message might still be to our world right now.
Colin Ward argues that there are two basic historical approaches that lead to Anarchism as a conscious set of political ideas: "Anarchism as a political and social ideology has two separate origins. It can be seen as an ultimate derivative of liberalism or as a final end for socialism".
I think it would be fair to say Colin Ward himself comes a bit more from the "liberal" approach to anarchism. He was for many years involved with Freedom Press and the anarchist paper Freedom, which was often dismissed in the past by the more militant and class-struggle orientated Black Flag as "liberal".
I remember, particularly in the 1980s, the cold war rivalry that sometimes went on between Freedom and Black Flag. But the two claimed approaches to Anarchism, "liberalism" and "socialism", are in fact closely related. Modern ideas of socialism were very much a product of the evolving contradictions and developments of classical liberal ideas and the conditions that went with them. So we shouldn't just dismiss what Colin Ward has to say in his book.
Ward makes clear that "Anarchy In Action" is not about strategies for revolution and it is not about speculation on the way a future anarchist society would function. It concerns itself more with continual social struggles for self-organisation by ordinary people that sort of go on all the time. The book, as he puts it, "is simply an extended, updating footnote to Kropotkin's book Mutual Aid".
The core argument of "Anarchy In Action" is that an anarchist society, a society which organizes itself without authority is always in fact already in existence, although half hidden and buried under the weight of state and bureaucracy and capital. The book attempts in a readable way to bridge the gap between present realities and anarchist aspirations.
Ward uses a wide-ranging analysis drawing on many sources and examples. With chapters on a range of subject areas including education, urban planning, welfare, housing, the workplace, the family, and the environment, he demonstrates that the roots of anarchist practise lie very much in the way that people have always tended to organize themselves when left alone to do so. Ward talks from a 70s perspective, there is a significant emphasis as one might expect, on sociology, and he talks primarily but not exclusively from a british perspective. He wrote the book very much in the context of the wave of radical ferment and revolutionary optimism that followed on from the late 60s. The events of 1968, the general strike and student uprising in France, the Prague Spring, protests, riots and revolts in Mexico City, Rome, London, U.S. cities, and many other places all being an inspiration.
Looking back from today's perspective, it seems like Ward was almost still writing in an age of "innocence". His subsequent introduction to the book's second edition, 1982, only brings us up to the early days of the Thatcher regime.
Colin Ward talks a significant amount about workers' self-organisation, workers' control, and sometimes about class struggle. He touches briefly on some of the great workers' struggles in history. But he is not particularly concerned with class stereotypes and reductionist class positions, and he doesn't walk around wearing the ideological label of "class-struggle anarchist".
The first chapter, "Anarchy and State", gives a straightforward restatement of the classical anarchist criticism of government and the state, and then it outlines the historic division between anarchism and marxism. Marx, as Bakunin pointed out, wanted to achieve socialism through centralization and a despotic provisional government , with the state as sole owner of land and capital. Bakunin argued instead for the reconstruction of society from below upwards, by the free federation of all kinds of workers' associations liberated from the state.
Ward describes how by 1918 in Britain the Labour Party had already committed itself to a "socialism" based on the unlimited increase of the state's power in the form of the giant managerially-controlled public corporation. Elsewhere, when state socialism achieved power it created monopoly state capitalism with a veneer of social welfare.
Ward argues that the criticism of the state made by the 19th century anarchists increased in validity in the 20th century, the century of total war and the total state. Today, in the 21st century, we see state corporations openly operating hand in hand with private multinational corporations, imposed "privatization" and state power go together.
In opposition to the state Ward favours the approach of Gustave Landauer who said, "The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a... certain relationship between human beings... we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently."
I would argue that Landauer's approach does have some basis in social reality, but at the same time it is a bit weak. Even when masses of workers and people do make conscious attempts to contract other relationships and behave differently, it doesn't necessarily mean they have the strength to successfully break out, or that the state will fully wither away and just disappear as a result. The entrenched state also involves bureaucratic and despotic elites with stored up surplus power. There is no easy answer to this. In practise, squadism and instant-insurrectionism don't succeed in immediately ending the state either. The struggle is currently stuck in an ongoing "struggle of many struggles". As Landauer admits, there is no final struggle, only a series of partisan struggles on a variety of fronts.
War is the health of the state, and eventually the state will to find its perfect expression in total war. The weakening of the state and the strengthening of different modes of human behaviour is now essential argues Ward, but where do we begin? Obviously we don't begin by joining the state, or joining political parties. Instead, he argues, we have to build networks instead of pyramids.
The classical anarchist thinkers envisaged the whole social organisation woven from an extended network of individuals and groups, such as the commune or council as the territorial nucleus, and the syndicate or workers' council as the industrial unit. These units would federate as a fluid network of autonomous groups.
The second chapter puts forward the theory of "Spontaneous Order", and to illustrate he draws on real historic experiences of social revolutionary situations and the examples of working-class self organization they temporarily threw up, before a new hierarchical order had managed to impose itself in place of the previous one.
Ward describes the libertarian aspects involved in the uprising in Hungary in 1956, during the Prague spring 1968, and in part of the workers movement in Poland in 1980. Most importantly he returns to the Spanish revolution of 1936, and in particular he quotes the example of the village of Membrilla where the land was expropriated and the village collectivized by its own people; "Food, clothing, and tools were distributed equitably to the whole population... The necessities of life were distributed freely..." Here self-organisation breaks out, combined with a basic libertarian socialist agenda addressing the material needs of the community.
I think it is often the case that the strength of the spontaneous order in such examples will significantly depend on how self-ordered the community was beforehand while still struggling under the shadow of the authorities, the landlords, and capitalists. In the 1930s in many agrarian communities in Spain the domination of capital and state, although repressive, was still "formal" and "stand-off" and somewhat external. Internally the community itself was still likely to have a strong autonomous social fabric, together with a strong sense of solidarity, both of which it depended on for survival. When the state and bosses suddenly buzzed off, the vacuum could be filled with a flowering of the spontaneous order, self-organisation, and solidarity that was already there contained under repression.
A problem with a theory of spontaneous order today is that many communities, particularly in the developed world, are so penetrated by the state, and so subsumed and commodified under the predominant capitalist economy, that the social fabric of the community is shattered, fragmented, and broken up. In these circumstances, in a freak situation, if the authorities suddenly buzz off for a while, there is a danger of outbreaks of anti-social violence, spontaneous bullying and abuse, gang war, sectarianism, and so on. But nonetheless mutual aid will also emerge, and it will start to fight back.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 use a variety on non-anarchist sources, including material on some African tribal societies, to set out three key principles of anarchist organization: leaderless groups; diversity rather than unity; and federalist organizations without central authority. In reply to those who might say anarchism can only work for small isolated simple communities, Colin Ward is quite right to point out in chapter 4, "Harmony Through Complexity", that "Anarchy is a function, not of society's simplicity and lack of social organization, but of its complexity and multiplicity of social organizations."
From a hard "socialist" anarchist point of view, the "dodgy" bits in Anarchy In Action are perhaps to be found lurking somewhere in the pages of chapter 7 on housing, and also maybe later in chapter 12 about welfare. On housing, Ward starts by celebrating the big history of autonomous urban squatter settlements surrounding many big cities across the world. In the U.K. he looks at the big squatting movement in disused army camps in the 1940s, the radical revival of squatting in the 60s and 70s, and also mentions the cooperative housing movement. But he falls into an over-enthusiasm for private housing and the owner-occupier. This, together with his slagging-off of public housing, and his stereotyping of council tenants, is bound to provoke a few grumbles, particularly with today's crisis in both public and ordinary private housing.
In the chapter on welfare Ward points out that "there is an essential paradox in the fact that the state whose symbols are the policeman, the jailer, and the soldier, should have become the... organiser of social welfare." And he describes the failure of the big traditional Victorian welfare institutions, like the workhouse, the mental asylum, the orphanage, the care home, the old style hospitals, etc.
Meanwhile it is symptomatic of the 1970s flavour of the book that he optimistically sees claimants unions as an anarchic way forward in the community's struggle to transform the welfare state into a genuine welfare society. Today there are not many claimants unions, despite unemployment and benefit-dependency being far higher than in 1973. Many unemployed and claimants today are too weakened, fragmented, and demoralized to be able to commit time, energy, and enthusiasm to help running unemployed groups and claimants unions.
Sometimes the situation is not so much that we are weak because we are disorganized, but that we are disorganized because we are weak. Part of their role, like benefits advice and legal support has been hijacked by the growth in state welfare agencies anyway. In the introduction to the second edition Ward admits some of the issues he was raising were "unfashionable" and the original arguments had become "complicated" by the emergence of mass unemployment.
When we read the chapter on work and the demand for workers' control, we are struck by how the period in which Colin Ward was writing was such a different world from today. Then life for many in an industrial country like the U.K. was still dominated by mass centralized fordist production and manufacturing, which directly employed many millions. Writing later at the beginning of the eighties, with industries shutting down, unemployment rocketing, and power shifting to finance and the city, he was moved to comment, "This is the chapter which is most in need of bringing up to date."
It is not just that most of the factories have gone to the other side of the world, it is also that many of them have changed shape and been restructured. Much production has been dispersed, heavily automated, and is globally coordinated "just in time" by information technology.
Ward looks at the idea of being self-employed, being your own person, and setting up your own trade. This was quite a popular ambition of many workers in the seventies, and is still an inspiration for many today. But now we see technical "self-employment" being imposed on many by the economy and the state as a way of cutting employers' admin costs, or of massaging the unemployment figures. Many are now pushed to survive by "setting up trade" in the illegal economy, selling dodgy goods, or dealing in drugs! Is this what is meant by a "self-employed society"?
Ward shows how over the years in industry the idea of workers' control, whether in the form of guild socialism, cooperativism, syndicalism , workers councils or assemblies, has always tended to resurface. He also shows how there has always been a battle to co-opt parts of these ideas by the employers in the forms of "workers' participation", "joint management", "works councils", and so on. Today many "professional" workers are expected to take responsible control of their own work and self-manage their own exploitation, and be good self-motivated "team workers". There have always been debates around the notion of "workers' control"; control by which workers? of what production? and for the workers in the workplace alone or the wider community?
But then what do such questions mean in the harsh face of real history? What do demands and debates about workers' control of the mines mean, for example, if Thatcher and Co. have no hang-ups about shutting down the whole mining industry including profitable mines, and then smash up the miners' communities in the process? How do we keep the idea of "workers' control" meaningfully alive when only a smaller proportion of the population is involved in any meaningful productive work in the first place?
In my opinion, in the future, until there is super-abundance of all needs and resources, there will still be a transitional need part of the time for some social rationing involving some kind of social exchange with some self-managed "necessary" labour, such as half a day a week or whatever. Puritan ultra-leftists might not like this, it isn't perfect total communism, but then nothing ever is.
The closing chapter, "Anarchy and a Plausible Future", raises questions, already being asked at the end of the 60s, about environmental and resource limitations on the growth of the existing economic system eventually forcing dramatic change. But he points out: "Necessity may reduce the rate of resource-consumption but the powerful and privileged will hang on to their share... Power and privilege have never been known to abdicate. This is why anarchism is bound to be a call to revolution. But what kind of revolution?"
Ward returns to the Kropotkinite vision of "industry decentralized, and the competition for markets replaced by local production and consumption while people themselves alternate brain work and manual work." Then, in an odd but accidentally relevant political clanger (page 169), he suggests this was already being realized, at the time he was writing his book, in a political climate different to anarchism, in China! -Well not today it isn't!! If you wanted to sum up many of the traumatic social developments, industrial and economic restructuring, and neoliberal globalising that has affected us all in the last 30 years in one symbolic word, then it might well be; "China".
Colin Ward doesn't see anarchism developing in the context of immediate total social unanimity, but in the context of pluralist development; "So we don't have to worry about the boredom of utopia: we shan't get there." Meanwhile in the present he reminds us: "There are vast areas of capitalist societies which are not governed by capitalist principles,... you might even say that the only thing that makes life live-able in the capitalist world is the unacknowledged non-capitalist element within it,..."
As a book, "Anarchy In Action" makes a good "propaganda" tool because in a clear coherent lucid way it begins by telling people what they already know. The book illustrates the arguments for anarchism, not just from theories, but from actual examples of tendencies which already exist in peoples' lives and communities. "Anarchy In Action" is clearly a product of its time and place, the U.K. in the 1970s (my favourite decade), but the basic message of many of the chapters stands the test of time. It remains a good radical social-libertarian propaganda book, and it still beats some contemporary "anarcho-introduction" books. It will continue to have an influence, -even for people under 40!
Colin Ward is still very much alive and kicking today, and having only just read what he was thinking in the 1970s it leaves me itching to know what he thinks NOW, about de-industrialisation, , the illegal economy, the internet, carboot sales, ASBOs, post-modernism, mobile phones, freecycle, credit boom, credit crunch, the minimum wage, food riots, peak oil, global warming,... and all manner of subjects.... Paul, Summer 2008.