The Historical Background to Anarchism
It is not without interest that what might be called the anarchist approach goes back into antiquity; nor that there is an anarchism of sorts in the peasant movements that struggled against State oppression over the centuries. But the modern anarchist movement could not claim such precursors of revolt as its own more than the other modern working class theories. To trace the modern Anarchist movement we must look closer to our own times. While there existed libertarian and non-Statist and federalist groups, which were later termed anarchistic in retrospect, before the middle of the nineteenth century, it was only about then that they became what we now call Anarchists.
In particular, we may cite three philosophical precursors of Anarchism, Godwin, Proudhon, and perhaps Hegel. None of these was in fact an Anarchist, though Proudhon first used the word in its modern sense (taking it from the French Revolution, when it was first used politically and not entirely pejoratively). None of them engaged in Anarchist activity or struggle, and Proudhon engaged in parliamentary activity. One of the poorest, though ostensibly objective, books on Anarchism, Judge Eltzbacher’s Anarchism, describes Anarchism as a sort of hydra-headed theory some of which comes from Godwin or Proudhon or Stirner (another who never mentions anarchism), or Kropotkin, each a different variation on a theme. The book may be tossed aside as valueless except in its description of what these particular men thought. Proudhon did not write a programme for all time, nor did Kropotkin in his time write for a sect of Anarchists. But many other books written by academics are equally valueless: many professors have a view of anarchism based on the popular press. Anarchism is neither a mindless theory of destruction nor, despite some liberal-minded literary conceptions, is it hero-worship of people or institutions, however liberated they might be.
Godwin is the father of the Stateless Society movement, which diverged into three lines. One, that of the Anarchists (with which we will deal). Two, that of classic American Individualism, which included Thoreau and his school, sometimes thought of as anarchistic, but which equally gives rise to the ‘rugged individualism’ of modern ‘libertarian’ capitalism and to the pacifist cults of Tolstoy and Gandhi which have influenced the entire hippy cult. Individualism (applying to the capitalist and not the worker) has become a right-wing doctrine.
The second line of descent from Godwin is responsible for the ‘Pacifist Anarchist’ approach or the ‘Individualist Anarchist’ approach that differs radically from revolutionary anarchism in the first line of descent. It is sometimes too readily conceded that ‘this is, after all, anarchism’. Pacifist movements, and the Gandhian in particular, are usually totalitarian and impose authority (even if only by moral means); the school of Benjamin Tucker — by virtue of their individualism — accepted the need for police to break strikes so as to guarantee the employer’s ‘freedom’. All this school of so-called Individualists accept, at one time or another, the necessity of the police force, hence for Government, and the definition of anarchism is no Government.
The third school of descent from Godwin is simple liberalism, or conservative individualism.
Dealing here with the ‘first line of descent’ from Godwin, his idea of Stateless Society was introduced into the working class movement by Ambrose Cuddon (jun). His revolutionary internationalist and non-Statist socialism came along the late days of English Chartism. It was in sympathy with the French Proudhonians. Those who in Paris accepted Proudhon’s theory did not consider themselves Anarchists, but Republicans. They were for the most part self-employed artisans running their own productive businesses. The whole of French economy was geared both to the peasantry and to the artisan — this, the one-person business of printer, bookbinder, wagon and cart maker, blacksmith, dressmaker, goldsmith, diamond polisher, hat maker as distinct from the factory or farm worker of the time, who worked for an employer. Independent, individualistic and receiving no benefit from the State but the dubious privilege of paying taxes and fighting, they were at that time concerned to find out an economic method of survival and to withstand encroaching capitalism.
Marx described them as ‘petty bourgeois’, which had a different meaning in the nineteenth century. He justifiably claimed that these ‘petty bourgeois’ were not as disciplined as the then factory workers (he despised farm workers) and said that when they were forced into industry they did not faithfully follow the line laid down by a disciplined party from outside the class, but were independent of mind and troublesome to organisation imposed from above, their frustration often leading to violence. They moved to anarchism and through syndicalism spread it through the working class. (This claim is echoed by Marxists nowadays, when the term ‘petty bourgeois’ means something utterly different — solicitors and chartered accountants — and thus makes Marx’s quite sensible analysis sound utterly ridiculous.)
These French and English movements came together in the First International. The International Workingmen’s Association owed its existence to Marx, indirectly to Hegelian philosophy. But within the International, there was not only the ‘scientific socialism’ of Marx, but also Utopian Socialism, Blanquism (working-class republicanism), English Trade Unionism, German-authoritarian and opportunistic socialism, and Spanish, Swiss, and Italian stateless socialism, as well as national Republicanism and the various federalistic trends.
Bakunin was not the ‘father’ of anarchism, as often described. He was not an anarchist until later in life. He learned his federalism and socialism from the Swiss workers of the Jura, and gave expression to the ideas of the Godwinian and Proudhonian ‘federalists’, or non-State socialists. In many countries, Spain and Italy in particular, it was Bakunin’s criticism of the ideas of Marx that gave the federalist movement its definition. (While to Anarchists, Marx is of course “the villain of the piece” in the International, it must be granted that without Marx defining one form of socialism there would have been no clash, no Bakunin defining the opposite.)
There had grown up by 1869 a very noticeable trend within the International that was called ‘Bakuninist’ which was in one line from Godwin and another from Proudhon. When the Paris Commune exploded in the face of the International, it was the parting of the ways (though this was deferred a little longer and seemed to follow personal lines). From the non-Anarchists and Marxists knew by their different analyses and interpretations and actions during the Paris Commune, that they were separate.
All the same, for many years Anarchists continued to form part of the Socialist Movement that included Marxists and Social-Democrats. Marx had not succeeded in building a mass movement. The German socialist movement was more influenced by Lassalle; English socialism by reformist and Christian traditions of radical nonconformity. Only after Marx’s death, when Marxism was the official doctrine of German social-democracy, were Anarchists finally excluded from Socialist Internationals; social-democracy marched on to its own schism, that between English Liberalism on the one hand, and social-democracy on the other; and that between ‘majority’ Social-Democrats (Bolsheviks, actually never more than a minority) and reformism.
There were no such schisms at that time in the anarchist movement as such. Popular opinion made such figures as Tolstoy into (what he never claimed to be) an anarchist (he was not; neither in the normal sense of the words was he a Christian or a Pacifist, as popularly supposed, but his idolators always know better than he), but derived from the ‘second line’ of Godwinism like many other caricature-Anarchists. What we may call ‘mainstream’ anarchism was coherent and united, and was given body by the writings of a number of theoreticians, such as Peter Kropotkin.
After the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune, and repression in many parts of the world — notably Tsarist Russia, Anarchism passed into its well-known stage of individual terrorism. It fought back and survived and gave birth to (or was carried forward in) the revolutionary syndicalist movement which began in France. It lost ground after the First World War, because of the revival of patriotic feeling, the growth of reformist socialism, and the rise of fascism; and while it made a contribution to the Russian Revolution, it was defeated by the Bolshevik counterrevolution. It was seen in both resistance and in a constructive role in the Spanish Revolution of 1936.
By the time of the Second World War, Anarchism had been tried and tested in many revolutionary situations and labour struggles. Alternative forms had been tried and discarded; the German Revolution had introduced the idea of Workers Councils. The experience of the American IWW had shown the possibilities of industrial unionism and ‘how one can build the new society in the shell of the old’. In the ‘flint against flint’ argument against Marxist Communism, the lesson of what socialism without freedom meant in Russia, and the failure of reformist socialism everywhere, the anarchist doctrine was shaped.
There were never theoreticians of Anarchism as such, though it produced a number of theoreticians who discussed aspects of the philosophy. Anarchism has remained a creed that has been worked out in practice rather than from a philosophy. Very often, a bourgeois writer comes along and writes down what has already been worked out in practice by workers and peasants; he is attributed by bourgeois historians as being a leader, and by successive bourgeois writers (citing the bourgeois historians) as being one more case that proves the working class relies on bourgeois leadership.
More often, bourgeois academics borrow the name ‘Anarchism’ to give expression to their own liberal philosophies or, alternatively, picking up their cue from journalists, assorted objects of their dislike. For some professors and teachers, ‘Anarchism’ is anything from Tolstoyism to the IRA, from drug-taking to militant-trade unionism, from nationalism to bolshevism, from the hippy cult to Islamic fundamentalism, from the punk scene to violent resistance to almost anything! This is by no means an exaggeration but a sign of academic illiteracy, to be distinguished from journalists who in the 1960s obeyed a directive to call anything Marxist-Leninist that involved action as ‘Anarchist’ and anything Anarchist as ‘nationalist’.
Inalienable Tenets of Anarchism
That Mankind is Born Free
Our rights are inalienable. Each person born on the world is heir to all the preceding generations. The whole world is ours by right of birth alone. Duties imposed as obligations or ideals, such as patriotism, duty to the State, worship of God, submission to higher classes or authorities, respect for inherited privileges, are lies.
If Mankind is Born Free, Slavery is Murder
Nobody is fit to rule anybody else. It is not alleged that Mankind is perfect, or that merely through his/her natural goodness (or lack of same) he/she should (or should not) be permitted to rule. Rule as such causes abuse. There are no superpeople nor privileged classes who are above ‘imperfect Mankind’ and are capable or entitled to rule the rest of us. Submission to slavery means surrender of life.
As Slavery is Murder, so Property is Theft
The fact that Mankind cannot enter into his/her natural inheritance means that part of it has been taken from him or her, either by means of force (old, legalised conquest or robbery) or fraud (persuasion that the State or its servants or an inherited property-owning class is entitled to privilege). All present systems of ownership mean that some are deprived of the fruits of their labour. It is true that, in a competitive society, only the possession of independent means enables one to be free of the economy (that is what Proudhon meant when, addressing himself to the self-employed artisan, he said “property is liberty”, which seems at first sight a contradiction with his dictum that it was theft). But the principle of ownership, in that which concerns the community, is at the bottom of inequity.
If Property is Theft, Government is Tyranny
If we accept the principle of a socialised society, and abolish hereditary privilege and dominant classes, the State becomes unnecessary. If the State is retained, unnecessary Government becomes tyranny since the governing body has no other way to maintain its hold. “Liberty without socialism is exploitation: socialism without liberty is tyranny” (Bakunin).
If Government is Tyranny, Anarchy is Liberty
Those who use the word “Anarchy” to mean disorder or misrule are not incorrect. If they regard Government as necessary, if they think we could not live without Whitehall directing our affairs, if they think politicians are essential to our well-being and that we could not behave socially without police, they are right in assuming that Anarchy means the opposite to what Government guarantees. But those who have the reverse opinion, and consider Government to be tyranny, are right too in considering Anarchy, no Government, to be liberty. If Government is the maintenance of privilege and exploitation and inefficiency of distribution, then Anarchy is order.
The Class Struggle
Revolutionary Anarchism is based on the class struggle, though it is true that even the best of Anarchist writers, to avoid Marxist phraseology, may express it differently. It does not take the mechanistic view of the class struggle taken by Marx and Engels that only the industrial proletariat can achieve socialism, and that the inevitable and scientifically-predictable victory of this class represents the final victory. On the contrary: had anarchism been victorious in any period before 1914, it would have been a triumph for the poorer peasants and artisans, rather than among the industrial proletariat amongst whom the concept of anarchy was not widespread.
As we have said, Marxists accuse the Anarchists of being petty bourgeois. Using the term in its modern sense, it makes Marx look ridiculous. Marx was distinguishing between the bourgeois (with full rights of citizens as employers and merchants) and the minor citizens — i.e. self-employed workers). When Marx referred to the Anarchists being ‘petty bourgeois’ who when they were forced by monopoly capitalism and the breakdown of a peasant-type society into industry, and being therefore ‘frustrated’ and turning to violence, because they did not accept the discipline taken for granted by the industrial proletariat, he was expressing something that was happening, especially after the breaking up of the independent Communes of Paris and Barcelona, and the breakdown of the capitalist economy, in his day. But, with the change of meaning, to think of today’s Anarchists as frustrated bowler-hatted bank managers turning to violence because they have been forced into industry is straining one’s sense of the ridiculous.
Marx thought the industrial proletariat was not used to thinking for itself — not having the leisure or independence of the self-employed — and was therefore capable ‘of itself’ of a ‘trade union mentality, needing the leadership of an ‘educated class’ coming from outside, and presumably not being frustrated. This in his day was thought of as the scholars as an elite, in later times the students.
Marx certainly did not foresee the present day, when the students as a frustrated class, having absorbed the Marxist teachings, are being forced into monotonous jobs or unemployment and create the New Left with its own assumptions and preoccupations, but are clearly not a productive class. Any class may be revolutionary in its day and time; only a productive class may be libertarian in nature, because it does not need to exploit. The industrialisation of most Western countries meant that the industrial proletariat replaced the old ‘petty bourgeois’ class and what is left of them became capitalist instead of working class, because it had to expand and therefore employ in order to survive. But recent tendencies in some Western countries are tending to the displacement of the working class and certainly the divorcing of them from their productive role. Mining, shipbuilding, spinning, manufacturing industries, and whole towns are closed down and people are forced to into service jobs like car-park attendants or supermarket assistants which are not productive and so carry no industrial muscle.
When the industrial proletariat developed, the Anarchist movement developed into anarcho-syndicalism, something coming from the workers themselves, contrary to the idea that they needed a leadership from outside the class or could not think beyond the wage struggle. Anarcho-syndicalism is the organisation at places of work both to carry on the present struggle and eventually to take over the places of work. It would thus be more effective than the orthodox trade-union movement and at the same time be able to bypass a State-run economy in place of capitalism.
Neither Anarchism nor Marxism has ever idealised the working class (except sometimes by way of poetic licence in propaganda!) — this was a feature of the Christian Socialists. Nor was it ever suggested that they could not be reactionary, In fact, deprivation of education makes the poorer class on the whole the more resistant to change. It would be trying the reader’s patience too much to reiterate all the ‘working class are not angels’ statements purporting to refute that the working class could not run their own places of work. Only in heaven, so I am informed, will it be necessary for angels to take over the functions of management!
Organisation and Anarchism
Those belonging to or coming from authoritarian parties find it hard to accept that one can organise without ‘some form’ of Government. Therefore they conclude, and it is a general argument against Anarchism, that ‘Anarchists do not believe in organisation’. But Government is of people, organisation is of things.
There is a belief that Anarchists ‘break up other people’s organisations but are unable to build their own’, often expressed where dangerous, hierarchical, or useless organisations dominate and prevent libertarian ones being created. It can well be admitted that particular people in particular places have failed in the task of building Anarchist organisations but in many parts of the world they do exist
An organisation may be democratic or dictatorial, it may be authoritarian or libertarian, and there are many libertarian organisations, not necessarily anarchist, which prove that all organisation need not be run from the top downwards.
Many trade unions, particularly if successful, in order to keep their movement disciplined and an integral part of capitalist society, become (if they do not start so) authoritarian; but how many employers’ organisations impose similar discipline? If they do, their affiliates would walk out if it did not suit their interests. They must come to free agreement because some have the means to resist intimidation. Even when they resort to fascism to keep the workers down, the employers retain their own independence and financial power; Nazism goes too far for smaller capitalists in that after having crushed the workers it also limits, or even negates, the independence of the class that put it in power.
Only the most revolutionary unions of the world have ever learned how to keep the form of organisation of mass labour movements on an informal basis, with a minimum of central administration, and with every decision referred back to the workers on the shop floor.
The Role of an Anarchist in an Authoritarian Society
“The only place for a free man in a slave society is in prison,” said Thoreau (but he only spent a night there). It is a stirring affirmation but not one to live by, however true it is. The revolutionary must be prepared for persecution and prosecution, but only the masochist would welcome it. It must always remain an individual action and decision as to how far one can be consistent in one’s rebellion: it is not something that can be laid down. Anarchists have pioneered or participated in many forms of social rebellion and reconstruction, such as libertarian education, the formation of labour movements, collectivisation, individual direct action in its many forms and so on.
When advocating anarcho-syndicalist tactics, it is because social changes for the whole of society can only come about through a change of the economy. Individual action may serve some liberatory process, it’s true. Individuals, for example, may retire to a country commune, surround themselves with like-minded people and ignore the world so long as it overlooks them. They might certainly meanwhile live in a free economy if they could overcome certain basic problems, but it would not bring about social change.
This is not to decry individual action, far from it. Whole nations can live under dictatorship and sacrifice whole peoples one by one, and nobody will do anything about it until one individual comes along and cuts off the head of the hydra, in other words, kills the tyrant. But genocide can take place before the individual with the courage, ability, and luck required comes along.
In such cases, we see waiting for mass action as queuing up for the gas chamber (it can be literally so). We do not think “the proletariat can do no wrong” and most of all; by submission, it can. But organisation is strength. We advocate mass action because it is effective and because the proletariat has in its hands the means to destroy the old economy and build anew. The Free Society will come about through workers’ control councils taking over the places of work and by conscious destruction of the authoritarian structure. They can be built within unionisation of the work-forces of the present time.
When advocating workers’ control for the places of work, we differ from those who are only advocating a share of management or imagine there can be an encroachment upon managerial function by the workers within capitalism. Self-management within a capitalist society is a sizeable reform, and is occasionally attainable when the work-force is in a particularly strong position, or more often when the work is sufficiently hazardous to defy outside inspection. That is all it is, however, and is not to be confused with syndicalism, except in the sense that the syndicalist thinks the future society should be self-controlled. We want no authority supreme to that of the workers, not even one of their delegates.
This probably means breaking industry down into small units, and we accept this. We reject ‘nationalisation’ = State control.
It should not be (but unfortunately is) necessary to explain that there are, of course, ways of personal liberation other than class action, and in some cases these may be necessary lest one starve. But none of these can at present help to change society. The self-employed artisan no longer plays an important part as in Proudhon’s day (and perhaps this will be revived with a new society). One can get satisfaction working on one’s own, one may have to do so by economic necessity, but the means of changing society rest with those who are working in the basic economy.
Trends over recent years show the importance of the self-employed artisan. As major industries are decimated by the ruling class because no longer necessary to capitalism, a means of integrating those working outside mainstream capitalism will increasingly need to be found if we are to achieve change. It was the necessity of finding this in a previous reversal of capitalist trends that led to the original formation of anarcho-syndicalism.
The Anarchist as Rebel
It is not unknown for the individual Anarchist to fight on alone, putting forward his or her ideas in a hostile environment. There were many examples in the past of Anarchists struggling on alone, sometimes only one in the country. It is less the case at the present time when there are usually many people calling themselves Anarchists, though perhaps only one or two in a locality who really are so, and not just adopting the label to describe rebellion when young.
Anarchists in such circumstances may fight alone for the principle of Anarchism, but usually participate in other struggles, such as anti-militarism, anti-imperialism, anti-nationalism or solely within the content of the class struggle or they may form organisations of their own.
It is no part of the case for Anarchism to say that the profession of its ideas changes peoples’ character; or that the movement invites itself to be judged on anyone who happened to be around at any one time. Organisations they create may become reformist or authoritarian; people themselves may become corrupted by money or power. All we can say is that ultimately such corruption normally leads them to drop the name ‘Anarchist’, as standing in their way. If ever the term became ‘respectable’, no doubt we would have to choose a fresh one, equally connotative of libertarian rebellion — at present it can still stand as descriptive though increasingly misused.
In all organisations, personalities play a part and it may be that in different countries different schisms may occur. Some say that there are different types of Anarchism. Syndicalism, Communism, individualism, pacifism, have all been cited as such. This is not so. If one wishes to cause a schism, purely on personal reasons or because one wishes to become more quietist or reformist, it is no doubt convenient to pick a name as a ‘banner’. But in reality there are not different forms of Anarchism. Anarchist-Communism, in any definition (usually that of Kropotkin), means a method of socialism without Government, not a different style of anarchism. An alternative idea, called Anarchist-Collectivism, once favoured by Spanish Anarchists, was found in practice to be exactly the same. If one is going to have no rule from above, one cannot lay down a precise economic plan for the future, and Communism and collectivisation controlled from below upwards proved to be no different from each other, or from syndicalism, a permanent means of struggle toward the same goal.
Communism, in the sense used by Anarchists, is a society based on the community. Collectivism is a division of the commune into economic units. Unless the commune is very small — based upon the village — it has to be divided into smaller units, collectives, so that all can participate and not just their elected representatives. Otherwise it would merely be industrial democracy. While free Communism is an aim, syndicalism is a method of struggle. It is the union of workers within the industrial system attempting to transform it into a free Communistic society.
State Communism is not an alternative Communism to free Communism, but its opposite. It is the substitution of the State or the Party for the capitalist class. Communism is not necessarily Anarchist, even if it is not State Communism but the genuine authoritarian form of Communism (total State control without having degenerated into absolute power from above, or even governmental dominated socialisation). Syndicalism is not necessarily revolutionary and even revolutionary syndicalism (the idea that workers can seize places of work through factory organisation) need not be libertarian, as it can go hand-in-hand with the idea of a political party exercising political control. This is why we use the mouthful: anarcho-syndicalism. Workers control of production, community control from below, no Government from above.
Is pacifism a trend within Anarchism? Though phoney Anarchism contains a large streak of pacifism, being militant liberalism and renouncing any form of positive action for Anarchism, pacifism (implying extreme nonviolence, and not just anti-militarism) is authoritarian. The cult of extreme nonviolence always implies an elite, the Satyagrahi of Gandhi, for instance, who keeps everyone else in check either by force or by moral persuasion. The general history of the orthodox pacifist movements is that they attempt to dilute a revolutionary upsurge but come down on the side of force either in an imperialist war or by condoning aggressive actions by governments they support.
Both India and Israel were once the realisation of the pacifist ideals; the atom bomb was largely developed and created by nonviolent pacifists and by League of Nations enthusiasts; the Quakers as peace-loving citizens but commercial tyrants and colonialists are notorious. In recent times, many who rejected Anarchist actions of the Spanish Resistance (though claiming to be “nonviolent Anarchists”) had no difficulty late in supporting far more “violent” actions of different nationalist movements.
It is true to say that there are Anarchists who consider pacifism compatible with Anarchism in the sense that they advocate the use of non-violent methods though usually nowadays advocating this on the grounds of expediency or tactics rather than principle. But this should not be confused with the so-called “Tolstoyan Anarchism” (neither Tolstoyan or Anarchist). Tolstoy considered the Anarchists were right in everything but that they believed in revolution to achieve it. His idea of social change was “within one” (which is to say in the sky). He did not advocate nonviolent revolution, he urged nonresistance as a way of life compatible with Christian teaching though not practised as such.
One has to say also that this refers to pacifism in the Anglo-American sense, somewhat worse in Great Britain where the concept of legalised conscientious objection led to a dialogue between pacifism and the State. In countries where objection to military service remained a totally illegal act, the concept of pacifism is not necessarily extreme nonviolence.
Immediate Aims of the Anarchist
A “reformist” is not someone who brings about reforms (usually they do not, they divert attention to political manoeuvring): it is someone who can see no further than amelioration of certain parts of the system. It is necessary to agitate for the abolition of certain laws or for the immediate reform of some, but to idealise the agitation for reforms, or even the interests in reform of minorities or even whole communities, is reformist. This reformism has permeated the whole of what is now called the left wing. It creates new industries in the interests of aspiring bureaucrats allegedly guarding over minority interests, preventing people in those minorities from acting on their own behalf. This is noticeable even in women’s struggles which the left marginalises as if it were a minority issue.
Sometimes laws are more harmful than the offences they legislate against. No law is worth passing even to hope which are socially beneficial on the surface, since they are sure to be interpreted wrongly and are often used to bolster the private opinion of judges who carry them out. The old British custom of sentencing poorer classes to death for minor thefts above a small pecuniary value was not abolished by Parliament nor by the judges, but by the final refusal of juries to admit when forced to a guilty verdict that the goods were above that value.
The Anarchists can as individuals or in groups press for reforms but as Anarchists they seek to change minds and attitudes, not to pass laws. When minds are changed, laws become obsolete and, sooner or later, law enforcers are unable to operate them. Prohibition in America, the Poll Tax in Britain, are instances. At that point the law has to adapt itself to public opinion.
The Witchcraft Act remained on the statute books until some 40 years ago and it was enforced right up to the time of its abolition though the Public Prosecutor only dared to use a few of its clauses for fear of ridicule. It was abolished for political reasons but the equally ridiculous Blasphemy Act was retained, being unquestioned by Parliament until the agitation by Muslims that it was clearly unfair that one could be fined for offending Christianity while one could not be executed for offending Islam.
The ‘1381’ law was useful for squatters to persuade people they could occupy neglected buildings without offence, the odd thing being that the law did not exist. The myth was enough provided people believed in it.
One has to carry on a resistance to any and every form of tyranny. When governments use their privileges threatened, they drop the pretence of democracy and benevolence which most politicians prefer. Anarchists are forced to become what politicians describe them as: ‘agents of disorder’, though there is a lot more to Anarchism to that, and all ‘agents of disorder’ are not necessarily Anarchists.
A Marxist-Leninist would say, “Anarchists are able to bring about disorder but cannot seize power. Hence they are unable to make take advantage of the situations they create, and the bourgeoisie, regrouping its strength, turns to fascism”.
A Tory would say that Marxist-Leninists are Anarchists “because they wish to create Anarchy to create the conditions in which they would seize power”. Both are absurdities. Anarchists can, of course, “seize power” no less than anyone just as a teetotaler can get blind drunk, but they would hardly continue to merit the name. Anarchists in power would not necessarily be any better or worse than anyone else, and they might even be as bad as Communists or fascists. There is no limit of degradation to which power cannot bring anyone even with the loftiest principles. We would hope that being unprepared for power, they would be ineffective. Their task is not to “seize power” (those who use this term show that they seek personal power for themselves) but to abolish the bases of power. Power to all means power to nobody in particular.
If one leaves the wild beast of State power partially wounded, it becomes more ferocious than ever, a raging wild beast that will destroy or be destroyed. This is why Anarchists form organisations to bring about revolutionary change. The nature of Anarchism as an individualistic creed in the true sense has often caused many to say such organisations might well be left to ‘spontaneity’, ‘voluntary will’ and so on — in other words, there can be no organisation (except for propaganda only) until the entire community forms its own organisations. This is a recipe for a sort of armchair Anarchism which never gets off the ground, but at the same time with a point that cannot be ignored — until the whole community has control of its own organisations, such bodies cannot and should not take over the social and economic means of life.
It is shown by events that unity of resistance is needed against repression, that there must be united forms of action. Even when workers’ councils are formed, there may be representatives on them from political factions, united outside on party lines and able to put forward a united front within such councils and thus to dominate and ultimately destroy them. That is why we need an organised movement to destroy such efforts at totalitarianism. In some cases one may need the ultimate sanction of acts of individual terrorism to be used against leadership from within quite as much as that imposed from above. This form of specific terrorism has nothing in common with nationalist terrorism, which by its nature is as indiscriminate as State terrorism, for all that it is judged in a far harsher light. Anarchist terrorism is against individual despots, ruling or endeavouring to rule. Nationalist terrorism is a form of war against peoples. State terrorism is the abuse of power.
The Marxist-Leninists in time of revolution rely upon the formation of a Red Army. Under the control of one party, the “Red” Army is the old army under a red flag. We have seen many times how this can become a major instrument of repression, just as a nationalist army under a new flag can also become one, sometimes even before it attains power.
The very formation of an army to supersede workers’ militias will destroy the Revolution (Spain 1936). Che Guevara introduced a new romantic ideas of the Red Army as the advance guard of a peasants army — combining the spontaneity of a Makhnovista (Ukraine 1917) and Zapatista/Magonista (Mexican-Anarchistic) peasant army with the disciplined ideas of Party intellectuals. In such cases, after the initial enthusiasm carries through to victory, the disciplined leadership takes over; if it fails, the leaders run off elsewhere.
The self-defence notions of anarcho-syndicalists are that workers use arms in their own defence against the enemy at hand, and that the democratic notion of workers’ militias prevails. While there may be technical leadership, instruction and duties such as are at present in the hands of noncommissioned officers up to the rank of sergeant, there should be no officers whose job is to command, or lower-ranking NCOs to transmit the chain of command.
The idea of an armed people is derided by many so-called military and political experts, but only is used by workers in their own interests. If smaller nations use it successfully, they admit that a citizens’ army — that is to say, a nonprofessional one that can hang up its rifles and go back to work, coming out when called upon — is possible provided only that, as in the case of (say) Israel or South Africa, they obey nationalistic and aggressive policies from above. Providing they don’t maintain the force in international-class interests, the “experts” are prepared to admit the efficiency of such an army remaining democratically controlled within its own ranks.
How Will a Revolution Come About?
We do not know. When a revolutionary situation presents itself — as it did with the occupation of factories in France, 1936 and 1968; as it did in Spain, 1936 with the fascist uprising; or with the breakdown of the Russian Armies, 1917; or in many other times and places; we are ready for it or we are not (and usually not). Many times the workers are partially ready and leave the “wounded wild animal” of Statism fiercer than ever. It may be purely individual action that sets off the spark. But only if, at that period, there is a conscious movement towards a Free Society that throws off the shackles of the past, will that situation become a social revolution. The problem today that faces us is that half the world is prepared to rise almost at any opportune time, but have no military power to resist repression and no industrial muscle to sustain it. The other half of the world has such might, but no real desire to rise, being either bought off by capitalism or succumbing to persuasion.
Bringing About the New Society
What Constitutes an Authoritarian Society?
Exploitation — Manipulation — Suppression. The organs of repression consist of many arms of the State:
The Apparatus of Government: The legislature, the judicature, the monarchy, the Civil Service, the Armed Forces, the Police etc.
The Apparatus of Persuasion: The educational system, the media, including TV, radio and the press, the Church, and even forms of apparent dissent that in reality condition us to accept the present system — the parliamentary Opposition is the most obvious, but many other alternatives to the accepted system too, e.g., revolution presented as merely one in lifestyle or musical preference, academic teaching of Marxist-Leninism etc.
The Apparatus of Exploitation: The monetary system; financial control; the Banks; the Stock Exchange; individual, collective, and State employers; land ownership. Under capitalism there is no escaping this.
Most political reformers have some part of the unfree system they wish to abolish Republicans would abolish the monarchy, Secularists would abolish or disestablish the Church, Socialists would (or used to) wish to abolish the apparatus of exploitation; pacifists would abolish the Army. Anarchism is unique in wishing to abolish all. The only true definition of an Anarchist is one who wishes to believes it desirable to abolish all; who believe it possible to abolish all, the sooner the better; and who works to bring such abolition about.
There are many, usually on the left, who think it desirable but impossible, many on the right who think it only too probable but undesirable. Others may be sympathetic to Anarchism as both desirable and possible but refrain from action in its favour. To borrow a phrase from another part of the forest, they may be fellow travelers of Anarchism.
The Police are the cornerstone of the State (though sometimes, in extreme cases, the Government of the day needs to use the armed forces in lieu of, or in addition to the police — in some countries this has led to replacement or control of the Government by the army so long as the officers are tightly in control).
Only Anarchism believes in abolition of the Police, and this is the most hotly-disputed argument of Anarchism. Yet the police force as we know it is a comparatively modern phenomenon, fiercely resisted when introduced for reasons which have since been proved up to the hilt, such as the ability of the Police to introduce or bolster up a dictatorship, known indeed as a police state. Without control of the Police, debates at Westminster become as sterile of result as debates in the West Kensington Debating Society (and probably less interesting).
With German money, supplied by Helphand-Parvus, Lenin was able to return to Russia and pay Lettish mercenaries to act as Police. He was the only politician in a position to do so and in this way Bolshevik success was achieved. The Nazis in their turn created murder gangs that roamed the streets, which were tacitly tolerated by the Republican Police, but their victory came when they controlled the Police by legal means.
Can One Do Without the State?
It seems to be generally agreed that we can do without some organs of the State: can we do without them all, altogether? Some are admittedly useless, some decorative, some have impossible intentions, others are necessary for class rule, some may well be useful and carry out functions essential to any society.
One cannot do the work of another. If the monarchy has no Army it cannot save you from foreign invasion any more than the police will get you into heaven if you do not have a Church! Any commonsense codification of conduct would be better than the farrago of laws we have at present, which occupy both the lawyers and politicians, the one interpreting the apparent desires of the other.
It is true that the Government can and sometimes does take over certain necessary social functions, as do every organ of the State however repressive. The railways were not always run by the State but belonged to capitalists, and could equally in a future society belong to the workers. It would be foolish to say that if mines belonged to the State, that proves the State is necessary, or we would have no coal without it. The Army is often given socially necessary jobs, such as flood or earthquake relief; it is sometimes used as a scab labour force, such as in strikes; it is sometimes used as a police force. This is because the State does not want the breakup of a society that supports it.
Even the police at times fulfill some necessary functions — one goes to the police station to find lost dogs simply because it happens to be there and has taken over that function. It does not follow that we should never find lost dogs if there were no Police, and that we need to be clubbed over the head in times of social unrest so that old ladies can need not lose their dogs. For insurance purposes, all car owners report their lost or stolen cars to the Police, but it does not mean that the police force as such is indispensable.
Just as insurance companies would find some way of seeing they could not pay out on fraudulent claims if there were no police force, society would see to it that it could protect itself. Unfortunately, having a police force atrophies the ability of society to defend itself. People have lost all sense of social organisation and control. They can be put in terror by a few kids running wild, however young. The only reaction is to run to the Police, and the Police cannot cope.
There was an old superstition that if the Church excommunicated a country, it was under a terrible disaster. One could not be married, buried, leave property, do business in safety, be educated, be tended while sick, in a country which was excommunicated. The superstition was not an idle one, so long as people believed in the Church. If the country was banned from the communion of believers, the hospitals (run by the Church) were closed; there could be no trust in business (the clerics administered oaths and without them no promises need be kept); no education (they ran the schools); children could indeed be begotten (no way of preventing that by the Church!), but not christened, and were therefore barred from the community of believers and under a threat, as they thought, of eternal damnation, while unmarried parents could not leave property to their “illegitimate” children. The physical reality of Hell was not necessary to make excommunication effective. We are wiser now. But one superstition has been replaced by another. It has been transferred to belief in the State. If we were to reject Government there would be no education (for Government, national or local, controls the schools — with obvious exceptions), no hospitals (ditto), nobody could carry one working because the Government regulates its conduct, and so on. The truth all the time has been that not the Church and not the State but we the People have worked for everything we’ve got, and if we have not done so they have not provided for us. Even the privileged have been maintained by us not them.
The Money Myth
With the State myth comes a second myth — the money myth. The value of money is dependent on the strength of the State. When Governments collapse, their money is worthless. For years American crooks travelled Europe offering to change Confederate dollars, worth nothing since the Southern States had lost the Civil War, presenting them to unsuspecting Europeans as valid U.S. dollars — until they became collectors’ pieces and were worth more than several U.S. dollars! At that point the Federal Government utilised the original printing plants to publish Confederate dollars and gave them away with bubble-gum, lest their own currency became devalued.
When the Kaiser’s Germany collapsed, Imperial marks were useless. When the Spanish Republic was defeated, the banks simply canceled the value of its money. The story is endless. Yet according to a legend many still believe, the wealth of the country is to be found at Waterlow’s printing works. As the notes roll off the press, so our wealth is created, and if this ceased we should be impoverished! The banks have come up with an alternative in printing their own credit cards. Another alternative myth, now dated, was that the money printed had to correspond with a quantity of closely-guarded gold buried in a mysterious vault, after having been dug up under tight security from mines thousands of miles away. However, Governments have long since defaulted on the premises behind this myth (though they still continue the ritual). The newer governmental myth is that if too many notes are printed we shall have inflation which will make us all poor, so to prevent this we must be prepared to endure conditions of stringency and poverty, lose jobs and homes, or in other words become poor.
During the war, rationing of food and clothes meant that what counted was coupons, by which it was hoped to ensure there were fair shares of what was available. As the money system continued, a black market in commodities was inevitable, but rationing gave an idea of what State Socialism — without money — would be like. If there were too many coupons printed there would be no point in the scheme. Money is another form of rationing, by which one set of people get more than another. Wage struggles are fights to get a bigger slice of the cake. The wealthy are those who have first access to slicing the cake. But neither money nor coupons make any difference to the size of the cake, they are simply means of dealing with its distribution, whether fairly — or more likely — unfairly. So essential is money to the obtaining of goods in a State society, it sounds humorous to say money is a myth — “I don’t care if it’s mythical, give me more” — but myth it is.
Many worthy people believe if Lady X did not spend her money on a yacht, that money could somehow be transformed into an x-ray apparatus for the hospital. They do not understand, it would seem, that yacht builders cannot produce x-ray machines. Others think that those on National Assistance are supported by those at work — yet the margin of unemployment is essential to the State as a pitfall to make the incentives to work stick. Others believe there is a relation between their wages going up and the wages received by other people going down. In a competitive society, however, one gets what one is able to command.
The Myth of Taxation
There is a patent absurdity in supposing that those who work and produce are helped by those who profit from the system and do nothing. It is equally absurd to suppose that the rich help the poor by providing work or charity. As Brendan Behan commented to someone who pointed out how much the Guinness family had done for the poor people of Dublin — “It’s nothing compared to what the poor people of Dublin have done for the Guinness family”. Taxation perpetuates the myth that those with more money help those with less. Taxation grabs money out of the pockets of the less well-off even before they have a chance to look at it. The rich dress up their accounts by means of professional advisors. But aside from that, money does not create wealth, it is muscle, brain, and natural resources that do. Money is used to restrict the application of human endeavour. It is possible to print money, or arrange credit, when it is in the interests of money manipulators to do so. When they wish to go into recession, they do so by withdrawing money and credit. Recession is not a natural disaster like famine, drought, floods, or earthquakes though it is presented as such.
The Effect of Immigration
The large scale employer looking at greater profitability or the way to cut costs has several options open, the easiest and laziest being to cut wages. If the workers are well-organised they can resist this so there are two options open to the major capitalist. Either take the factories to where the cheap labour is or take the cheap labour to where the factories are. The first option entails great pollution, as a rule — not that they ever care about that — and in some cases they have to go into areas of political instability. It is cheaper to move the cheap labour.
Having thus encouraged immigration, wearing the financial hat as it were, the capitalist in the capacity of a right-wing politician, dons the political hat and denounces immigration. This has the advantage of setting worker against worker, fuelled by religious and/or racial antipathies which can persist for generations, and have the added bonus of inducing the worker to support the right wing electorally. It does the capitalist no harm to have a work force hated by those who surround them, or in fear of deportation if they step out of line. Nor does it harm the capitalist, in a political context, to have issues such as immigration replace the basic issue of the wage and monetary system. It only becomes harmful from that point of view when a fascist force such as Hitler’s gains such armed might that it can ignore the wishes of the capitalists which gave them that power and strives for its own superiority.
The Abolition of the Wage and Monetary Systems
“Socialism” has become so diffused a term today that it is used of almost any reformist or indeed positively counter-revolutionary movement that wishes to use the term and covers a multitude of ideas from liberalism to tyranny, but in reality the essentials of any socialistic theory are the abolition of the wage and monetary systems. This is because a genuine socialistic movement should be of the working class and intended for its own emancipation from wage slavery. The wage and monetary systems are the chains of that slavery that need to be broken.
Some modified form of wage or some means of exchange might be consistent with a free communistic society, especially among a post-revolutionary society accustomed to some form of labour-rewarding assessment, but the present form of monetary system is one in which money is not a servant (a means of exchange) but a boss in its own right. Wages are a means of denoting the position in society’s pecking order which a person is deemed to hold. It is not even fair as regards the assessment it makes. Such systems must be swept aside.
At present, as indicated above, the Government, or the effective controller which may in some cases be over the Government (the banks, for instance) assess the national wealth. A corresponding number of bank notes are printed, coin is struck, credits are granted to financial houses. According to the degree of efficiency or inefficiency of a current Government (which is the stuff of day-to-day press political sloganeering and need not concern us) the assessment, or budget may be correct or incorrect. According to his or her assessment, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be “generous” or “niggardly” in sharing out the national “cake” and apportioning our slices. But in reality salaries and wages are determined by social convention, tradition, Government patronage, economic competition, hereditary power, trade union bargaining, individual enterprise and wildcat strikes. According to their effectiveness, so is the “slice of cake” each receives. Those unable to use any of the pressures are simply left out of the reckoning and must be content with what is given them in order solely to survive. The “cake” is the same whatever the Government does about it.
Is Anarchism Compatible with Capitalism?
It is only possible to conceive of Anarchism in a form in which it is free, communistic, and offering no economic necessity for repression or countering it. Common sense shows that any capitalist society might dispense with a “State” (in the American sense of the word) but it could not dispense with organised Government, or a privatised form of it, if there were people amassing money and others working to amass it for them. The philosophy of “anarcho-capitalism” dreamed up by the “libertarian” New Right, has nothing to do with Anarchism as known by the Anarchist movement proper. It is a lie that covers an unpleasant reality in its way — such as National Socialism does in another. Patently unbridled capitalism, not even hampered by a reformist State, which has to put some limits on exploitation to prevent violent clashes in society, needs some force at its disposal to maintain class privileges, either from the State itself or from private Armies. What they believe in is in fact a limited State — that is, one in which the State has one function, to protect the ruling class, does not interfere with exploitation, and comes as cheap as possible for the ruling class. The idea also serves another purpose beyond its fulfillment — a moral justification for bourgeois consciences in avoiding taxes without feeling guilty about it — just as pacifism sometimes serves as an excuse for bourgeois consciences in avoiding danger without feeling guilty.
The history of collective control in a capitalist society is a pretty dismal one. There have been many attempts to bypass the system by forming “communities” which because they are less than the whole, real community, are bound in the end not to prosper. Cooperative societies no less than small businesses rarely withstand the pressure of monopoly capitalism. Collective farms — collective enterprises at which one works at less than the normal wage to for the sake of independence — like craft businesses, never quite get off the ground and it always comes down to the monopoly market. All could flourish if the system were free, but it is not.
Nevertheless, one can note that many communal products are equally available to all, either on payment of a fixed sum, or free. The highways are free — neither State nor capitalism has got round (yet) to making all roads toll roads to enter which one must pay (but they’ve got round to it on main motorways on the Continent). It would probably make no economic difference if the underground railway was also free, bearing in mind the cost of ticket collecting. Water used to be free — even when water rates came in one could draw as much as one liked from the tap. Now there are water meters, as if we were living in the Sahara where water has long been rationed. So far they have not got round to making us pay for air.
Anarchism presupposes that all these arguments based on economics are bunkum. Services which come naturally or are produced by the people should belong to the people.
Need There be a Transitional Society?
A transitional society to Anarchism isn’t necessary. The idea touted by Leninists was that the State would fade away after years of the harshest dictatorship — originally claimed to be only as much as was necessary to save the infant Soviet Republic but which lasted for seventy years until the people got fed up with it. All that faded away was people rash enough to want to go forward to free socialism. The prospect of ‘withering away of the State’ after years of strengthening it is illogical. Leninists justify this by saying the State is only that part of the State apparatus which favours the capitalist class by suppressing the working class. This might fade away (though it did not do so in the years of State Communism). What cannot fade away is the rest of the State apparatus, unless the State is destroyed root and branch.
The fact that a transitional society to Anarchism isn’t necessary does not necessarily mean there will not be one. Who can say? After all, changing attitudes to such matters as racial domination, sexual discrimination, religious orientation, conformity, and so on might be part of a transition to a Free Society already existing. There might be an occupation of the places of work without a conscious revolution, which in itself would be a transitional period.
One could even visualise a curious transitional period in which part of society was evolving to a new system and part was sticking to the old — with workers’ control coexisting with private capitalism in the market the way rigid old-time family styles coexist with free relationships in the same street. But clearly in the long run one or the other system would have to go. Capitalism could not exist if people could be free to choose the way they work without being compelled by conscription or necessity — therefore it would either need to reinforce its authority (possibly by fascist gangs, as during the occupation of the factories in Italy) or go under (which is the choice the Italian capitalists as a while, even though many had democratic viewpoints, were forced to take).
A Free Society
A society cannot be free unless not only are there no governmental restraints, but the essentials of life are free in that sense too.
It is true that if some products were in short supply, however free the society, access to them would have to be rationed by some means. It could be by ‘labour-value’ cards, by ordinary ‘fair rationing’, it might imply retention of a different monetary system (but not money as an ends in itself, in which money has a value beyond that of exchanging goods).
We cannot lay down the economics for a Free Society which by its nature is free to reject or accept anything it fancies. The authoritarian economist can do so (“so long as I, or my party, is in power, we will do this or that”).
An anarchist society is by definition a Free Society, but a Free Society is not necessarily Anarchist. It might fall short in several respects. Some failings might seriously limit its desirability. For instance, a Revolution carried out by men in a male-dominated society, might perpetuate sex discrimination, which would limit freedom and undermine the Revolution by leaving it possible for aggressive attitudes to be fostered. The liberal illusion that repressive forces must be tolerated which will ultimately wipe out all freedom — lest the right to dissent be imperilled — could well destroy the revolution.
A Free Society head to rid itself or repressive institutions and some might long last longer than others. The Church is one instance — yet religious beliefs, which continue under the most repressive and brutal dictatorships, could surely continue under No Government. Only those creeds which have not had their claws cut and demand suppression of other religions or unbelief, forced conversions or marriages, censorship by themselves and obedience to their own laws from those not wishing to do so, have anything to fear from an Anarchist Revolution.
The Employers Do Not Give Work
It is Primitive basic socialist thinking, to which Anarchism subscribes, that work is not something that is given by the employer. The employer may have the legal right to distribute work, but the wealth of a country is due to the workers and to natural resources, not to an employer or a State. They have the chance of preventing wealth being created.
It is the Anarchist case that fluctuations of the money market, inflation, recesssion, unemployment, as well as war, are artificially created and are not natural disasters like flood, famine, earthquake, drought — and as one knows nowadays, even some of these are created by abuse of natural resources.
It may be that in some technological society of the future, run by the State, in a sort of boss utopia, the working class will be displaced as a productive class. We see signs of that even today as large part of the economy are closed down as unprofitable and people uprooted. There is a technology, still in its infancy but making great strides, which will reduce us, as a productive class, to turners of switches and openers of the scientists’ doors; to secretaries and receptionists; to janitors and clerks; to domestic servants of the rich. Anarcho-syndicalsts think such a society must be resisted. They do not worship work as a fetish in itself but fight dehumanisation and alienation. In this they differ from some other Anarchists who think work has no purpose and who become state-dependent by conviction.
Objections to Anarchism
Whenever Anarchists attack present-day society, they touch on the fears and prejudices of average people who know that society is a jungle today and cannot visualise life without the safeguards needed in the jungle. When they hear of Anarchism they bring forward objections which are, in fact, criticisms of the present system they do not otherwise admit but think of as objections to a Free Society of the future.
They fear what is known in the Statist language as a “state of Anarchy” — they think murder, rape, robbery, violent attack would ensue if there were no Government to prevent it. And yet we all know that Government cannot, certainly does not., prevent it. One has only to pick up the papers to learn that it flourishes though Government is strong, and also where Government is weak, and more so perhaps where there are numerous bodies competing as to which is the Government and Government is said to have broken down. “A state of Anarchy” nowhere exists — in the sense there a society where there is no Government and not just a weak or divided Government.
The most a functioning Government can do is not prevention but punishment — when it finds out, sometimes wrongly or not at all — who the culprits are, its own methods of repressive action can cause far more damage than the original crimes — the “cure” is worse than the disease.
“What would you do without a police force?” Society would never tolerate murder, whether it had a police force or not. The institutionalisation of a body to look after crime means that it not only “looks after” crime and nourishes crime, but that the rest of society is absolved from doing so. The reasoning is that a murder next door is the State’s business, not mine! Responsibility for one’s neighbour is reduced in an authoritarian society, in which the State is solely responsible for our behaviour.
“Who will do the dirty work?”. This is a question society, not just the apologist for Anarchism, has to ask itself. There are dirty jobs which are socially unacceptable and poorly paid, so that nobody wants to do them. People have therefore been enslaved to do them, or there is competition in a market economy and the jobs become better paid (and therefore socially acceptable), or there is conscription for such jobs, whether by political direction or the pressures of unemployment. Sometimes the capitalist introduces immigration in the hope of cheap labour, thus putting off the problem for a generation or two. Or it can be that jobs don’t get done and, say, the streets aren’t swept anymore and so we get deluged with water shooting out from cars driven by graduate psychologists and step gingerly past refuse, clutching our theses on sociology.
What the State does in such circumstances seems to depend on political factors. What an Anarchist society would do could only be foretold by a clairvoyant. It is plain what it could not do — use force, since it would lack repressive machinery or the means of economic coercion. The question implies a criticism of prosperity and freedom, which bring problems in their train. Are we to reject prosperity and freedom for that reason?
“If the Anarchists do not seize power, and have superseded other forms of socialism that would, they objectively make way for fascism”. This allegation presupposes the dilution of anarchism with pacifism, for there is always, in any circumstances, one sure way of avoiding dictatorship, whether from the right, left, centre or within one’s own ranks, and that is by personal removal of the dictator. This only becomes a symbolic gesture when the dictator is in power with all the machinery of command-and-obey at the disposal of the head of State.
Anyone will seize power if given the opportunity. Anarchists do not claim to be a privileged elite and cannot truthfully assert they would be better able to resist the temptations of power, or to wield it more successfully, than anyone else.
Do Anarchists believe in leadership? They always deny they do, but undoubtedly many Anarchists have emerged as leaders, sometimes even of armies (like Buenaventura Durruti and Nestor Makhno) or of ideas, or of organisations. In any grouping some people do naturally “give a lead”, but this should not mean they are a class apart. What they always reject is responsibility for leadership. That means their supporters become blind followers and the leadership not one of example or originality but of unthinking acceptance.
Musical geniuses, artists, scientists can be of an “elite” without being elitist — there is no reason why excelling in certain spheres should make one better entitled to the world’s goods or more worthy of consideration in matters in which one does not have specialised consideration (the correspondence between Freud and Einstein in which they discuss whether war can be prevented is a classic example of futility — Einstein looking to Freud for a psychological lead in pacifism and Freud explaining it is in the nature of Man. In the end, scientists who were pacifists, or believers in the League of Nations enthusiasts, or — like Einstein — both, invented the atom bomb).
In the same way, people can work in an office without being bureaucrats: a bureaucrat is a person whose power is derived from the office they hold. Holding an office in an organisation can bring supreme power by being at the head of a chain of command-and-obey (as it did in the case of Joseph Stalin). In slang it is a term flung at anyone who happens to be efficient, which is far from being the same thing. v In the same way, no real Anarchist — as distinct from someone pretending to be or remain one — would agree to be part of an institutionalised leadership. Neither would an Anarchist wait for a lead, but give one. That is the mark of being an Anarchist, not a formal declaration of being one. What above all is the curse of leadership is not the curse of leadership, but agreement to being led blindly — not the faults of the shepherd but the meekness of the sheep. What would the crimes of Hitler have amounted to, had he had to carry them out by himself?
Can Public Opinion Itself be Authoritarian?
Yes. Even in a Free Society? Certainly. But this is not an argument against a Free Society, it is a reason why public opinion should not be molded by an outside force. There might well be a society controlled economically by the workers where prejudice against some minorities, or traditional family attitudes, or rules laid down by religions rooted in the past, might still exist. The society would be free in one respect only — economically.
But without any means of codifying prejudices; no repressive machinery against nonconformists; above all, no means of repression by persuasion when the media is controlled from above; public opinion can become superior to its prejudices. The majority is not automatically right. The manipulation of the idea of a majority is part of the Government technique.
One last objection is made against Anarchism, usually by those about to “come over” — Why disunity in the ranks of those who take up a similar position on many stands? Why cannot we be all one libertarian left? Why any divisions at all?
If we create councils of action — workers’ industrial proto-unions — as we intend to do given the chance and agreement of workers, even if as a first step we form social groups based upon industrial activity or support, obviously we are going to be united to others not only of the libertarian left, or indeed (in the case of workers’ councils) with people of reformist, reactionary, or authoritarian points of view. We mix with them in everyday life anyway. The expression of Anarchist views and attitudes does not make us hermits. Anarchist groups need to keep alive their identity, but only a party machine would make them into walls against meeting others outside.
It is certainly the curse of the present day that pseudo-Anarchists, whether liberal or “lifestylist”, create their own “ghettos” within a “left”, which has become itself a ghetto, in which acceptance of a package deal of ideas is obligatory. This endemic isolation, in the name of youth, sex, race, nationality, alternative culture, or whatever, has nothing to do with Anarchism though it has been wished on it by journalistic propaganda pressure.
The Marxist Criticism of Anarchism
The Marxist criticism of Anarchism is the first with which most people with a serious interest in politics come in contact. There follows from it the Marxist-Leninist critique and the Social-Democratic objections. vMarxist-Leninists, faced with Anarchism, find that by its nature it undermines all the suppositions basic to Marxism. Marxism was held out to be the basic working-class philosophy (a belief which has utterly ruined the working-class movement everywhere). It holds in theory that the industrial proletariat cannot owe its emancipation to anyone but themselves alone, It is hard to go back on that and say that the working class is not yet ready to dispense with authority placed over it by someone outside the class.
Marxism normally tries to refrain from criticising Anarchism as such — unless driven to doing so, when it exposes its own authoritarianism ( “how can the workers run the railways, for instance, without direction — that is to say, without authority?”) and concentrates its attack not on Anarchism, but on Anarchists. This is based on a double standard: Anarchists are held responsible for the thought and actions of all persons, live or dead, calling themselves Anarchists, even only temporarily, or persons referred to as Anarchists by others, even if they disagree, or whose actions could be held to be Anarchistic by non-Anarchists. even on a faulty premise, or are referred to by others as Anarchists. Marxists take responsibility for Marxists holding their particular party card at the time.
Marxism has — whether one agrees with it or not — a valid criticism of the Anarchists in asking how one can (now) dispense with political action — or whether one should throw away so vital a weapon. But this criticism varies between the schools of Marxism, since some have used it to justify complete participation in the whole capitalist power structure, while others talk vaguely only of “using Parliament as a platform”. Lenin recognised the shortcomings of Marxism in this respect and insisted that the anarchist workers could not be criticised for rejecting so Philistine a Marxism that it used political participation for its own sake and expected the capitalist state to let itself be voted out of existence peacefully. He therefore concentrated on another aspect, which Marx pioneered, viz. criticism of particular Anarchists, and this has dominated all Leninist thinking ever since.
No sane person believes that anarchy generates order. The idea that anarchy could be superior to government in some cases seems even more absurd.
Everyone from Thomas Hobbes to Adam Smith repeats the claim that societies need government to protect property and produce widespread cooperation. Even the most libertarian thinkers believe this is true. As Milton Friedman put it, “government is essential both as a forum for determining the ‘rules of the game’ and as an umpire to interpret and enforce the rules decided upon.”
Self-governance, however, might work better than you think. A small cadre of self-described “anarcho-capitalists” reject the anarchy-as-chaos “wisdom.” In the 20th century the most notable of these thinkers have been Murray Rothbard, who grounded his defense of anarchy in natural rights theory, and David Friedman, whose book, The Machinery of Freedom, provided the quintessential consequentialist defense of a purely private society.
Despite the important theoretical arguments in these and other anarcho-capitalist works, even among those familiar with them, most remain unconvinced. On the one hand, natural rights defenses of anarchy do not persuade consequentialists, such as economists, who see significant problems with anarchy’s ability to cope with cheating and violence.
On the other hand, most consequentialist defenses of anarchy are purely speculative. In forging responses to how a stateless society could cope with every conceivable contingency it might confront, anarchists often offer imaginative conjecture, in some cases bordering on science fiction.
Ironically, the case for anarchy derives its strength from empirical evidence, not theory.
Most of the world, for most of its history, has existed without effective governments. As noted economic historian Joel Mokyr points out, “In England,” for example, “there was not even a professional police force to protect private property” until the 19th century.
Large arenas of economic activity in the world remain anarchic, or nearly so, to this day. For example, there is no supranational sovereign with the authority to create formal international laws to regulate countries or to enforce such laws if they existed. Adding to international anarchy is the absence of state-made, supranational commercial law to enforce contracts between private international traders.
In large parts of the developing world governments are too weak or dysfunctional to perform even the most basic tasks, like securing the property rights of their citizens. According to the 2007 Failed States Index, governments in 129 countries are on or nearing the brink of collapse. Somalia has no central government at all.
Even in the developed world pockets of anarchy persist. The costliness of state enforcement, coupled with the fact that the state’s eye cannot be everywhere all the time, means that people cannot in many cases rely on government to protect their property or enforce their contracts even though, officially, a well-functioning state exists.
Despite these significant arenas of anarchy we do not observe perpetual world war in the absence of global government, shriveling international commerce in the absence of supranational commercial law, or even deteriorating standards of living in Somalia. On the contrary, peace overwhelmingly prevails between the world’s countries, international trade is flourishing, and Somali development has improved under statelessness.
If conventional wisdom is right then reality must be wrong. How can this be?
Empirical evidence, past and present, sheds light on how individuals under anarchy develop private institutional solutions to address the problems that statelessness presents. The guiding force behind these solutions is none other than Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Importantly, Smith’s principle applies not only to individuals’ activities in the context of well-functioning institutions, but also to their activities in the development of institutions themselves.
The Invisible Hook
One of the most striking examples of this comes from 17th and 18th-century pirates. In many ways pirate ships were like floating societies. And, like other societies, pirate ships confronted problems of theft of cheating. Since they were outlaws, pirates did not enjoy state protection. Government did not enforce employment agreements between pirates or other piratical “contracts,” nor did it prevent or punish theft between pirates, etc.
Notably, the anarchic environment that maritime bandits operated in did not lead them to simply throw up their hands and abandon the idea of their criminal enterprise. On the contrary, the prospect of mutual gains from organizing this enterprise provided pirates with the incentive to find private ways of securing cooperation and order.
Even by modern standards the institutions pirates devised for this purpose were remarkably sophisticated. Pirates created one of the earliest forms of written constitutions they called their “articles, which codified many of the rules that governed their ships, as well as punishments for rule breakers. These included rules specifying the division of booty, “laws” against theft, and even workman’s compensation insurance to support crew members injured in battle.
To apply punishments and resolve disputes between crew members, pirates created an office called the “quartermaster.” Crew members controlled quartermasters both through their articles, which prescribed the “laws” quartermasters could apply, and by democratically electing crew members to this office.
The office of the quartermaster allowed pirates to overcome another obstacle anarchy posed for their organization—restraining potentially abusive pirate captains. A captain endowed with unlimited authority would be able to prey on his crew, skimming booty, mistreating crew members, and so on. To check such abuse pirates initiated one of the earliest systems of divided power, which transferred authorities susceptible to captain abuse to the quartermaster instead. In conjunction with also democratically electing their captains, pirate checks and balances overcame the threat of captain predation.
This system of governance was entirely voluntary. Pirates drew up the articles governing their ships before taking voyage and required unanimous consent before sailing. Any prospective crew member who disliked the proposed rules was free to exit before sail was underway.
The pirates’ private system of governance worked extremely well. Inter-pirate conflict was rare, order was well maintained, and pirates regularly successfully cooperated, making them among the most effective organized criminal outfits in history.
Trading with Bandits
A common objection to anarchy is that without government the strong will plunder the weak. Indeed, perhaps the oldest, most well-accepted argument for the state is weaker individuals’ inability to prevent stronger ones from plundering them. How can self-governance alone prevent this?
Many mechanisms of self-governance rely on reputation to secure good conduct. It’s not difficult to see how reputation can in many cases prevent cheating even where government enforcement is not an option.
Imagine you go to a restaurant and order a $30 filet mignon. When your food arrives you take a bite and realize the restaurant has served you a $10 flank steak instead. The restaurant has defrauded you. You could take the owner to court; but then you realize that the simple time cost this will entail is not worth what you will recover even if you win. Although in principle government exists to adjudicate this matter, in practice it does not.
Your dining experience is a little slice of anarchy. Knowing this, restaurant owners should perpetually serve $10 flank steaks to customers who order filet mignon. Of course restaurants don’t do this. And the reason they don’t is because they realize that if they do, you’ll stop eating there and tell everyone you know to boycott the restaurant as well. Even without government, Smith’s “invisible hand” leads the restaurant to do the right thing.
Reputation-based mechanisms of self governance have a major hitch, however. They require the restaurant owner to not have the power to take your money from you against your will. If, for instance, you announce your boycott of the fraudulent restaurant, but the owner is sufficiently stronger than you and can use the threat of violence to extract “future business,” your threat of boycott is useless. Reputation breaks down.
In light of this problem many observers have concluded that anarchy is incapable of dealing with the problem of force. Fortunately, individuals under real conditions of anarchy who have actually faced such problems are more innovative than these observers.
A simple historical case from late pre-colonial Angola illustrates this well. In the late 19th century the coast of Angola was home to a flourishing export market that shipped African goods to Europe. On the one side of this market were European settlers who operated the export industry, and on the other side were African producers in the remote interior who harvested the goods required for export. Connecting these two groups were African middlemen who traveled to the interior to collect the goods and then carried them to the coast for export.
In the 19th century this region was for all intents and purposes anarchic. Although Europeans had settlements with European laws and interior African communities had their own, largely informal institutions of internal governance, there was no government to oversee the interactions between members of these groups or their interactions with the middlemen. The problem this created was that middlemen tended to be substantially stronger than interior producers, posing the threat of force described above. Why pay producers for goods if middlemen could use their superior strength to simply steal them instead?
Like with the pirates, instead of throwing in the towel and either accepting that they would be routinely plundered or stopping productive activities altogether, so that there would be nothing for middlemen to steal, African producers devised an institutional solution to the problem of force that allowed them to realize the benefits of trade with these bandits.
The institution they devised for this purpose was credit. The key to understanding how credit solved the problem of force and facilitated peaceful exchange is straightforward: you can’t steal goods that aren’t yet produced, but you can trade with them.
Here’s how the credit institution worked: Producers would not produce anything today but would instead wait for middlemen to arrive in their villages looking for goods to plunder. With nothing available to steal the middlemen had two options: return to the coast empty-handed after having made a trip to the interior, or make an agreement with producers to supply the goods they required on the basis of credit. In light of the costliness of their trip to the interior, middlemen frequently chose the latter
According to their credit arrangements, middlemen advanced payment to producers and agreed to return later to collect the goods they were owed. When they returned for this purpose all that was available for taking was what they were owed, so stealing was not an option. Instead, middlemen frequently renewed the credit agreement, which initiated a subsequent round of credit-based trade, and so on.
This simple arrangement performed two critical functions in allowing producers to overcome the threat of force that middlemen presented. First, it enabled them to avoid being plundered, as though they had not produced anything at all, but also to realize the gains from trade, as though middlemen did not pose a threat of violence. Second, it transformed producers in the eyes of middlemen from targets of banditry into valuable assets they had an interest in protecting. If middlemen wanted to be repaid they needed to ensure that their debtors remained alive and well enough to produce. This meant abstaining from violence against producers and protecting producers against the predation of others.
Better off Stateless
“Okay,” you might think. “So, historically there are some cases where anarchy seemed to work pretty well. But this doesn’t demonstrate that anarchy is ever actually superior to government.” True, but recent evidence from Somalia does.
From 1960, when Somalia gained its independence, until 1991, it was ruled by a socialist (though, officially, he later abandoned socialism) dictator named Mohamed Siad Barre. Barre’s policies and behavior looked a lot like the wealth-destroying, wildly corrupt, and highly predatory policies and behavior we observe in many other Sub-Saharan African countries today.
In 1991 a coup d’etat tumbled Barre’s regime. Unlike most coups, which replace one predatory government with another, this one replaced the old regime with nothing. Although there have been a few failed attempts at resurrecting government in Somalia, including the most recent one by the international community-backed “Transitional Federal Government,” for the last fifteen- plus years Somalia has been stateless.
This situation has caused a great deal of hand wringing among international observers who continually point to the severe poverty and other problems in the country. Somalia has thus become the “poster child” for government’s indispensability and evidence that anarchy leads to chaotic decline.
The great irony of these claims is that the data we have on anarchic Somalia point in exactly the opposite direction: namely, anarchy in Somalia has produced a higher level of welfare than government did.
In a recent study I compared Somali welfare under anarchy to welfare under government using all key development indicators for which data allowed comparison. According to the data, of the eighteen development indicators, fourteen show unambiguous improvement under anarchy. Life expectancy is higher today than was in the last years of government’s existence; infant mortality has improved twenty-four percent; maternal mortality has fallen over thirty percent; infants with low birth weight has fallen more than fifteen percentage points; access to health facilities has increased more than twenty-five percentage points; access to sanitation has risen eight percentage points; extreme poverty has plummeted nearly twenty percentage points; one year olds fully immunized for TB has grown nearly twenty percentage points, and for measles has increased ten; fatalities due to measles have dropped thirty percent; and the prevalence of TVs, radios, and telephones has jumped between three and twenty-five times.
As Tatiana Nenova and Tim Harford discuss in their World Bank brief, “Anarchy and Invention,” much of this development can be attributed to improvements in public goods provided better by Somalia’s anarchic private sector than by its former government.
Should we conclude from Somalia’s stateless improvement that it is a nice place to live? Of course not. But Somalia’s pre- and post-government performance highlights an important point about the desirability of anarchy. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is simply not true that any government is always superior to no government. If state predation goes unchecked, government may not only fail to add to social welfare, but can actually reduce welfare below its level under statelessness. Such was the case with Somalia’s government, which did more harm to its citizens than good.
Somalia is extremely poor and remains a country with incredible problems. But this does not demonstrate the desirability of government or the undesirability of anarchy, as many of those who advocate reintroducing government in Somalia pretend.
When thinking about the developing world we must be careful to avoid committing what economist Harold Demsetz called the “nirvana fallacy.” The nirvana fallacy involves ignoring real-world constraints that limit the menu of options (and thus outcomes) we have available to us. For instance, in a world in which I am as wealthy as Bill Gates, I might drive a Ferrari. Constrained by my actual income, however, I can only afford to drive a Subaru. Although I would of course prefer the Ferrari, it would be silly to conclude that I should drive a Ferrari because this is the better car. The fact that the Ferrari is superior is irrelevant; given the constraints I actually face, the Ferrari is not in my feasible choice set.
We can extend this example a step further. Imagine that I wrongly believe I should really be driving a Ferrari, and so I decide to try and do so. My budget constraints prevent me from buying a functional Ferrari. But I can afford a Ferrari with engine problems so severe it may explode when I drive it. So a Subaru and a “lemon” Ferrari are in my feasible choice set. If I purchase the “lemon” Ferrari, am I better off than if I had gone with the Subaru? Of course not. Given the choices actually allowed by my constraints I would be better off with the Subaru.
The same kind of reasoning applies to thinking about anarchy versus government in Somalia and the large part of the developing world that is teetering on state collapse. Although it is certainly reasonable to believe that a transparent, well-constrained, and highly-functional government, like the one we have in the United States, would improve Somali welfare beyond what it has experienced under anarchy, this does not mean that reintroducing government in Somalia would be better for Somalis.
Like all other choices, the choices we face in “selecting” governments are constrained. Unfortunately for most developing countries, the political choice set they face is far smaller than the political choice set more developed countries face. Historical features, such as clan tension, rampant corruption, territorial conflicts, and many others, which cannot be changed in the short run, severely restrict the kind of government countries like Somalia can reasonably expect to have if they have a government.
Sadly, well-functioning, well-constrained governments like the ones we observe in the U.S. and western Europe are not part of this choice set. Ultra-predatory, corrupt, and abusive governments, however, are. And so is anarchy. As Somalia’s experience illustrates, for many LDCs with these limited options anarchy may very well be the best feasible choice.
Anarchy, like all political-economic organizations, is riddled with problems. It is not clear that these problems are any more numerous or severe than those that plague governments, however. I have argued that anarchy works better than you think. In the face of obstacles that stand in the way of individuals’ ability to cooperate for mutual gain, individuals develop solutions to overcome these obstacles. This is as true in society ruled by government as one that exists without government. Where the state does not provide law, order, or the institutions required to produce these things, private institutions emerge to perform these roles instead.
My examples from above are not intended to suggest that these particular institutional solutions are generalizable or somehow suggest how other societies without government would evolve. On the contrary, there is no “blueprint” for how anarchy would or does work. This, in fact, is the whole point. Private institutional responses reflect the specific problems, times, places, and other conditions that give rise to them. In a different time and a different place with different people, even the same problem situation may be met differently under anarchy.
The unifying feature of my examples is the incentive individuals have to solve their problems. In this sense, the empirical evidence from anarchy only demonstrates that as long as there are unrealized gains to realize, people will find ways to realize them. Fortunately for anarchists, this “only” is considerable.
 And yet, upon simple reflection must certainly be true under some circumstances. Peter T. Leeson, “Efficient Anarchy,” Public Choice, 130 no. 1-2 (2007): 41-53. Online: http://www.peterleeson.com/Efficient_Anarchy.pdf
 Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962), p. 15.
 Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press, 1982); Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, (New York: Collier Books, 1973); David D. Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism, (New York: Arlington House, 1971).
 Joel Mokyr, “Mercantilism, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution,” mimeo, 2003, p. 18.
 Kenneth A. Oye, “Explaining Cooperation Under Anarchy: Hypothesis and Strategies,” in Kenneth A. Oye, ed., Cooperation Under Anarchy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp. 1-24. On the informal institutional solutions countries under international anarchy develop to help cope with this problem, see, Peter T. Leeson, “The Laws of Lawlessness,” mimeo. Online: http://www.peterleeson.com/Laws_of_Lawlessness.pdf
 Alain Plantey, “International Arbitration in a Changing World,” in A.J. van den Berg, ed., International Arbitration in a Changing World, (Deventer: Kluwer Law and Taxation Publishers, 1993), pp. 67-84.
 Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace, 2007 Failed States Index, 2007.
 Bruce Benson’s superlative research on the law merchant explains how private international commercial law and order support international trade. Bruce L. Benson, The Enterprise of Law: Justice without the State (San Francisco: Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, 1990). See also, Peter T. Leeson, “One More Time with Feeling: The Law Merchant, Arbitration, and International Trade,” Indian Journal of Economics and Business, Special Issue, (2007): 29-34. Online: http://www.peterleeson.com/One_More_Time_with_Feeling.pdf
 Peter T. Leeson, “An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization,” mimeo, 2007. Online: http://www.peterleeson.com/An-arrgh-chy.pdf
 Marcus Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-Maritime World 1700-1750, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
 Daniel B. Klein, ed., Reputation: Studies in the Voluntary Elicitation of Good Conduct, (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997).
 There are actually a few hitches. Another one is small, socially close populations. My research addresses anarchy’s ability to overcome this problem through alternative self-enforcing arrangements, such as social signaling, which people historically employed when confronted with this obstacle. Peter T. Leeson, “Social Distance and Self-Enforcing Exchange,” Journal of Legal Studies, forthcoming. Online: http://www.peterleeson.com/PSH.pdf; Peter T. Leeson, “Self-Enforcing Arrangements in African Political Economy,” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 57, no. 2 (2005): 241-244; Peter T. Leeson, “Cooperation and Conflict: Evidence on Self-Enforcing Arrangements and Socially Heterogeneous Groups,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 65, no. 4 (2005): 891-907. Online: http://www.peterleeson.com/Coop_and_Conflict_Link.pdf
 Peter T. Leeson, “Anarchy, Monopoly, and Predation,” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, 163, no. 3 (2007): 467-482. Online : http://www.peterleeson.com/Anarchy_Monopoly_and_Predation.pdf
 Peter T. Leeson, “Trading with Bandits,” Journal of Law and Economics, 50, no. 2 (2007): 303-321. Online: http://www.peterleeson.com/Trading_with_Bandits.pdf
 Peter T. Leeson, “Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse,” mimeo, 2007. Online: http://www.peterleeson.com/Better_Off_Stateless.pdf
 Tatiana Nenova and Tim Harford, “Anarchy and Invention,” Public Policy for the Private Sector, World Bank, Note no. 280, 2004. Online:
http://rru.worldbank.org/Documents/publicpolicyjournal/280-nenova-harford.pdf; Christopher J. Coyne, “Reconstructing Weak and Failed States: Foreign Intervention and the Nirvana Fallacy,” Foreign Policy Analysis, 2 (2006): 343-361. Online: http://www.ccoyne.com/FPA_-_Final.PDF; Peter D. Little, Somalia: Economy without State (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2003).
 Harold Demsetz, “Information and Efficiency: Another Viewpoint,” Journal of Law and Economics, 12, no. 1 (1969): 1-22; Coyne, “Reconstructing Weak and Failed States.”
 John Hasnas, “The Myth of the Rule of Law,” Wisconsin Law Review, (1995): 199-233.
Peter T. Leeson is the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Also from this issue
Anarchy Unbound, or: Why Self-Governance Works Better than You Think by Peter T. Leeson
Everybody seems to know we need government … But pirates didn’t! How did they manage without the state? In this issue’s thought-provoking lead essay, Peter T. Leeson, the BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at George Mason University, explores what pirate “constitutions,” credit institutions among 19th century African bandit traders, and the well-being of Somalians after the collapse of the Somalian state have to tell us about the possibility of practical anarchy. It works better than you think, Leeson concludes. “As long as there are unrealized gains to realize, people will find ways to realize them” — state or no state.
Anarchy Bound: Why Self-Government Is Less Widespread than It Should Be by Bruce L. Benson
Bruce L. Benson, author of The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, argues Peter Leeson’s defense of anarchy is too moderate. Governments in developed nations, Benson maintains, are not better than ordered anarchy. Drawing on Franz Oppenheimer’s classic account of the state as a protection racket, Benson argues that the state only seems necessary because it offers “solutions” to problems the state itself creates. Benson claims that even well-constrained states are essentially parasitic, leading him to conclude that “even when a relatively ‘good’ government exists, there still is way too much government and not nearly enough anarchy.”
The Limits of Self-Enforcing Agreements by Dani Rodrik
Harvard economist Dani Rodrik is willing to accept a number of steps in Peter Leeson’s argument for anarchy, “but [Leeson’s] bottom line … represents a huge leap of faith.” Citing the work of several important thinkers, Rodrik argues that “the problem with self-enforcing agreements is that they do not scale up.” Both theory and data show that complex, well-functioning social and economic systems require the enforcement of rules by government. “Those societies in which markets work best are the ones where the reach of the state is longer, not shorter.”
Anarchy From a Policy Perspective by Randall G. Holcombe
Florida State University economist Randall Holcombe argues that even if Leeson is right about anarchy, it doesn’t much matter. “Regardless of its merits,” Holcombe writes, “anarchy has no prospect as an actual policy option.” The bottom line is that government is popular in developed nations. Furthermore, anarchy may not be a “stable equilibrium,” in which case it might “coalesce into governments … potentially more oppressive and more destructive than those we see in prosperous areas today.” According to Holcombe, if we’re going to get a government anyway, the best approach to policy is to “make it smaller, less intrusive, and more libertarian,” not to make it go away.