s1OBSERVATIONS ON ANARCHY 63:
ANARCHISM, SOCIETY AND THE
Francis ellingham’s article in anarchy 63
, is extremely valuable and thought-
provoking, but it seems to me that much of his argument remains open to question. I think his attempt to make a key distinction between a society and an anarchist milieu
is unreal and can only be
sustained by giving to both words a very particular meaning, a meaning which is not contained in the general currency of either. It also leads him to adopt quite indefensible positions. To argue, for example that “society” before the Industrial Revolution
did not exist, or that “the Greeks
had no concept of, or word for, ‘society’,” is surely to narrow the word to apply simply to the very special phenomena that the Industrial Revolution has helped to create.
This distinction is not only unreal, it is unimportant, and has the unfortunate consequence of obscuring the major distinction that the Industrial Revolution has helped to create. This is not simply the greater size of the social unit (to which Francis Ellingham refers), but the greater scale of organisation. All <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: pre-industrial societies">pre-industrial societies had this much in common, they were small-scale and dominated by the nature of the relationships of their members. They were human-scale communities. Even the Roman Empire was, perforce, a large number of human-scale communities linked by a common rule and legal system. The reason for this emphasis on a human-scale was simple. In the absence of mechanical transport a community was restricted largely to the capacity of its members to reach most parts of it with a fair degree of facility on foot. A secondary factor was the very large degree of economic self-sufficiency that was practised.
After the Industrial Revolution the scale on which all operations of trade and government were conducted grew to enormous proportions. The change was not only quantitative, it was qualitative too, for these operations ceased to be human-scale they became machine-scale. Armed with the new powers of machines and machine methods of organisation and administration the forces operating here no longer do battle against the forces of freedom within the social order, that stage is long past. Today they are determining the very nature of the social order. This is why, despite the spread of ballot-box-mongering, there is less freedom in our societies today than there was 100, or even 200, years ago.
This is the major consequence of the growth of machine-scale societies and it seems clear that even if these societies do not succeed in destroying us altogether with the new ways of war that they have produced, they will achieve an even more disastrous diminution of freedom over the next 100 years.
A shopkeeper or trader in a human-scale community is a potential danger to freedom because he is always seeking to extend his scale of operations until they dominate and, at least in part, control the rest of the community. In such circumstances, however, this potential threat rarely becomes actual since the countervailing forces (other shopkeepers, the small scale of other fields of economic activity, the potency of a small-scale community’s moral code and so on) will act as an effective brake on his ambitions.
In a machine-
scale society this brake is removed. Rival traders are merged, taken over or simply driven to bankruptcy; the machine-
scale of the trader’s new operations is buttressed by a similar scale in other spheres, in banking, transport, government and so on; and as
for morality and such commands as “love thy neighbour”, which may be taken to be incompatible with his economic exploitation or subjugation, it is ignored. The new power is able to ignore it because the power of morality is a product of human relations within a human community. Under machine-
scale operations community is murdered and replaced by the mass. Since the members of a mass are no longer in a power-
relationship with each other and are merely instruments of a remote centre, they can have no moral relationships (for there is then no power of sanctions, ostracism and so on to enforce them). Men no longer devote the toil of their daily lives to the common good, they become subordinate and passive parts of the machine-
scale schemes of others for profit.
It is our own age, and one that has the temerity to attach to itself the label of progress, that singles out for its acclaim and reward not its artists or philosophers, or even its statesmen, but its grocers, its pork butchers, its purveyors or soap and butter substitutes.
It is instructive that Francis Ellingham shares the defect of much anarchist literature in refusing to grapple seriously with the problem of economic organisation. This is curious, for even Marx was merely acknowledging the obvious when he insisted on the key role of economics as a determinant social force. (He was surely wrong to insist it is the dominant social force, but that is another story.)
At one point Francis Ellingham declares that prior to the Industrial Revolution the state played no direct part in economic affairs. This is surely a slip of the pen, or has he ever consulted any of the standard texts on the history of the English wool trade, and the efforts of the state to regulate it in minutest detail? Has he never heard of the Tudor “Statute of Apprentices” and the numerous attempts made under the first Elizabeth, to go no further back, to regulate wages and prices? What does he suppose the Luddites were fighting for if not to retain these elements of economic paternalism in face of the powers of the new machine forces?
Does he know nothing of the same monarch’s role in financing the trading-cum-piracy activities of Drake and, later, of the new companies of Merchant Venturers? And at a time when the Church was an integral part of the state organisation and engrossing a major share of the community’s economic increment does he suppose all those vast and splendid cathedrals were built with a mixture of prayer, asceticism and the freewill offerings of the credulous?
This omission leads to a failure to recognise the basic cause of our current political dilemma. Owing to the vast scale of the forces employed it is now impossible for people at the base to control them, even if they should want to. A generation or so ago Robert Michels made the reason for this clear, although he omitted to spell out the mechanics of it. He pointed out that mass political parties (and it holds true of almost any mass organisation) have an inbuilt disposition towards oligarchic leadership. Anarchists, of course, start with this kind of assumption, but what are the mechanics?
As an organisation grows, decision-making is necessarily operated on a representational basis. The bigger the scale the more remote the representation and the more powerful the mechanism by which representatives are selected. In politics this is true at both the primary (party) stage of selecting a candidate, and at the secondary stage of a public election. As the scale continues to grow there comes a point where the power of the representative machinery, however organised, becomes greater than the power of the electorate. We are a long way past this stage today. What needs determining is just what form of social organisation we can have which is susceptible to the control of all the members of a given society.
Talk here of an “anarchist milieu” is hopelessly vague and impracticable, and certainly provides no kind of tangible alternative to which masses of bewildered and disillusioned people can turn.
Since the dominant aspect of our powerlessness is the sheer bigness of the scale of the forces confronting us, is it reasonable to suppose that the first requisite is small-scale forms of organisation which it is possible for us to control?
The commonest answer one is apt to receive to such a suggestion, is, “We can’t put the clock back”. One can only reply to this that if we can devise some form of social organisation which will reap the real benefits of technology without allowing machines and machine-scale operations to distort and pervert human needs we shall have made the most significant step towards social progress in the history of mankind.
s2It would require a linguistic philosopher
to analyse adequately the semantic morass that appeared in anarchy 63
. However, as my attempt to clear away some of the minor misconceptions that linger in anarchist theory has apparently resulted in a misunderstanding so profound as to make one despair of words as a means of communication, I would like to attempt to clear up some of the more obvious misunderstandings, and correct a couple of the more glaring misrepresentations, in Mr. Ellingham
A great deal of the confusion in Mr. Ellingham’s mind seems to stem from his use of the concept “society”. Now I grant that to some extent society is an analytical abstraction, and because of this any given definition is valid only to the extent that it is adequate for the task involved. Nevertheless within the context of social theory most peopple have some idea of society as a system of social interaction that recruited its members primarily by sexual reproduction. In writing Anarchism and Stateless Societies
I used the word as a concept denoting a group possessing four major characteristics: (a) definite territory; (b) sexual reproduction; (c) comprehensive culture; (d) independence. Thus when I said that without society the human animal cannot develop into a human being I was saying that the newborn infant must participate in an on-
going system of social interaction and that this system socialises the infant in terms of its culture. In this respect then Mr. Ellingham’s mind is as “socialised” as mine and
his use of the word as a pejorative adjective is totally meaningless in terms of the essay he is attacking.
Culture I took as “that complex whole which includes the knowledge, belief, art, morals, law custom and other capabilities acquired by man as a member of society”. But again this definition of Tylor’s is an abstraction, as culture and society are only separable analytically, they are in fact different ways of looking at the same thing. Thus when Mr. Ellingham accuses me of regarding culture and society as the same thing he is correct, but for quite the wrong reasons; I was making an analytical distinction but I was not claiming, as he appears to be doing, that the two can be separated empirically.
Mr. Ellingham’s confusion here arises (rather oddly as he accuses me of conceptual sloppiness and circular argument) because he takes his own idiosyncratic definition of society and by arguing backwards in time attempts to apply his conceptualisation to my arguments, while ignoring my usage. Such methodological errors even an agrarian utopian like Mr. Ellingham should avoid, as they lead him to make such highly risible statements as “Before the Industrial Revolution what we call society did not exist. …” Within my own usage of the term, what Mr. Ellingham calls a milieu, or community, are both societies and, in the same context, the phrase anarchist society is no more a contradiction in terms than is the phrase nation-state when discussing modern forms of political organisation in an industrial mass society. In fact Mr. Ellingham appears to use the term society for the concept that C. Wright Mills termed “mass society”. But this is only a type of society, or more accurately, the cultural aspect of a type of society; it is no more the only type of society than the state is the only political form in human history.
Mr. Ellingham also makes a rather odd use, or at least a use that bears no discernible relationship to mine, of the terms “social” and “sociate”. Any group of people interacting are involved in social relationships and the term “non-social milieu” insofar as it is used to describe a human group, as Ellingham does, is literally non-sense. By sociate I meant (it is difficult to discern what Ellingham inferred from the term), having some degree of understanding of social processes. It seems to me logical that human beings should have some knowledge of social processes and institutions if they are attempting to alter or abolish them, just as we expect a surgeon to have a knowledge of biology and anatomy. Social institutions are social facts and require social knowledge if they are to be altered in any desired direction. Otherwise the result is likely to be as disastrous as the various attempts to institute the millennium by revolution and insurrection have been. The purpose of my essay was, in its minor way, directed towards that very end, in that I was attempting to refute the idea that the abolition of the state could, on its own, bring about any kind of anarchist utopia.
It is at this point that the solipsistic
Mr. Ellingham totally misrepresents my argument—
when he attributes to me the statement that anarchism is “simply inadequate”. A slightly more careful perusal of the text would have shown him that what I actually said was that
a particular anarchist postulate, that the state was the prime reason for divisions in society and the main source of its inequalities (a perfectly reasonably theory at a certain point in the development of human knowledge) could no longer be regarded as valid in the light of our knowledge of the stateless societies that had also perpetuated these divisions. (Another advantage of being “sociate” as I used the term, is that we then avoid wasting our time barking up the wrong tree.)
Finally, I would argue that mere statelessness cannot be the anarchist goal, if only for the reasons stated above. I certainly do not conceive of anarchism as “essentially only a doctrine which rejects the state”. Anarchism is a rejection of the authority principle in human relationships and this subsumes the abolition of the state among many other factors. The development of a freely co-operative society will take a great deal of time, if only because for the majority of human beings the socialisation process involves an acceptance of the authority principle, but given the right social environment it would just as easily involve its rejection. And we stand much more chance of achieving such an environment, in which the individual could live anarchistically and happily by an understanding of social action than by making the blind leap into a mystic religiosity (by Hobbes out of Gautama Buddha) that Mr. Ellingham makes towards the end of his article.
s3Most of francis ellingham’s criticisms
of John Pilgrim
and Ian Vine
spring from a misinterpretation of their anarchy
articles, that old bugbear—
According to F.E., both J.P. and I.V. are “so-called anarchists” because they rate something higher than the individual, namely some concept of society into which the individual must fit or else. Now, there are anarchists (“anarchists” if you prefer it) who seem especially concerned with something called “society”, to which individuals have “duties” and which must always be the first consideration. Similarly there are anarchists (I used to be one) who set up blueprints for anarchy and believe that other people “should” work towards them and mould themselves (or be moulded) into the kind of person that would make the dream societies work. Examples are extreme pacifists, anarcho-syndicalists, technology worshippers (there will be automation, comrades) and extreme simple-lifers, a position F.E. himself once defended in <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: freedom">freedom although with sound arguments and not just emotional dogmatism.
However, neither J.P. nor I.V., either in their anarchy
articles or elsewhere, show the kind of “socialised outlook” that F.E. complains of although it would have been better if they had avoided the ambiguous word “society” with its implications of duties and obeisance and used instead “milieu”. In particular, I don’t regard I.V.’s view that mentally sick, violent people should be restrained (but not punished or despised) incompatible with anarchism. I.V.’s choice of words was perhaps a little unfortunate but unless F.E. believes
murderers and rapists should be left to carry on, his use of “brute force” and “sickening” to describe I.V.’s views seems silly.
F.E. also believes that the confusion caused by talking about “societies” and “states” when defining anarchism could be avoided by using the definition “the doctrine that every human being would do well to become—one who neither governs nor is governed; and who is not governed by himself—that is, by selfish cravings, fears, etc.” The definition is excellent as far as it goes but it doesn’t avoid the confusion. Try using it to someone who wants to learn about anarchism and ten to one their first question will include the words “state” or “society” thus the net result of F.E.’s definition that avoids these words is to postpone their use by about ten seconds.
Certainly “spontaneous” behaviour is anarchist behaviour (one sort anyway) and if enough people behaved like that there would be anarchy. But most people’s spontaneity has been warped by this crazy, authoritarian world. If the world has made one a nonentity or a compulsive bingo player then spontaneity for you is being a nonentity or playing bingo neither of which seem particularly anarchistic to me. F.E. should tell us how people can break free of the effects of upbringing, environment, etc., and become “fearless”, etc. So far as most people are at the moment spontaneity (other than spontaneous conformity) is not possible, this is a subject I hope to discuss in a future anarchy.
It is also true that whether anarchy will bring automation or simple life is idle conjecture. I feel intuitively, however, that automation and anarchy don’t mix and that as the world has set its sights on automation anarchism in the future will be largely concerned with keeping out of the way of the automation state.
s4I have just got round to reading Francis Ellingham
in anarchy 63
. How a writer of his ability can really believe such crazy nonsense is incomprehensible. As for Aristotle
, does it really matter whether or not he considered man to be a social animal? More apt surely is Bakunin
’s view of man as “not an isolated individual but a social being”. And again, “The individual is a product of Society. Without Society, man is nothing. All productive labour is, before all, social labour, production only being possible by the combination of the labour of past and present generations; there has never been any labour which could be called individual labour”.
The fallacy of spurious individualism is even more obvious today than it would have been to Bakunin. Can we imagine Ellingham’s milieu operating transcontinental railways, ocean liners or airways; or for that matter, the everyday production of the necessities of life. Why waste time (and space in anarchy) on such fantasy? I am aware that F.E. does not approve of technology and automation. I am sure that he would reject the necessity of air travel with scorn. But does he really think the time will come when these things will be no more? If so, his only hope is a tiny community on an unnoticed islet. His theories have no relevance to realities. To quote Bakunin again, “The concept of man as an isolated individual is a metaphysical and theological concept”. Individualists have no part in life today, if indeed they ever had. Their place is with the religious and mystical bodies with which they are related, to put into practice (if they can) the individual salvation they profess.
The true expression of the individual can only be when the conflict of economic interest, embodied in and essential to, the private ownership of the means of producing wealth is ended and common and social ownership with identity of interest substituted. That this necessitates social organisation is undoubted. This does not mean “one opinion” though as F.E. fears. On the contrary, the energies and mind would really be freed and the individual become sovereign as a result of being free economically. This is the way to the true individualism which can be attained by no other means. Nor is there any substance in the totalitarian objection. Governments exist for one purpose and one purpose only, the protection of private property. This is so even when the seemingly benevolent and “Welfare State” legislation in enacted, the necessary brake on the worst excesses of private ownership. With the passing of Authority which would have no place in a free community, there could be no restriction on liberty, Ian Vine notwithstanding. Unsocial acts are the direct result of unsocial conditions. There is no cure for such acts under private ownership, as centuries of legal oppression have proved. Nor would Ellingham’s ideas be more effective (if they could be put into practice) since they have no material basis. Like Ingersoll on the Heavenly Father, the anarchism and ideals of the Individualists are baseless shadow of a wistful human dream the baseless shadow of a wistful human dream.
s5Francis ellingham quotes out of context
a statement from John Pilgrim
by no means original to John—
(indeed almost axiomatic to most people), deduces something from this which does not follow, uses something like a Stalinist
amalgam to saddle John and those who agree with him with the pro-
prison views of Ian Vine
, chides John for someone else’s mistranslation from the Greek—
which in fact was not a mistranslation, though Ellingham repeats another common mistranslation later; and bases an article on this fallacy. If this were the best that individualists could do, even my low opinion of them would sink.
Without society the human animal cannot develop into a human being. This does not, to anyone with any knowledge of logic, necessarily mean that all forms of society are conducive to such development, and Ellingham if he has read John’s articles or those of any other “socialised”-thinking anarchists as he terms us, knows perfectly well that it is the contention of anarchist-communist revolutionaries, as of gradualists like John, that all authoritarianism in society inevitably corrupts human development. A short reference to Kropotkin or Malinowski would, incidentally, have given observed evidence for the axiom—more important to anarchists than Aristotle.
In point of fact, since I came into the anarchist movement I have
met some half-
dozen anarchists who are not insistent on the need to abolish prisons, one would have called herself an anarchist communist, I doubt if Ian Vine would do so, and four were definitely individualist anarchists, as of course was Benjamin Tucker
, who was prepared to retain hanging.
The Greek word politikon which, as Ellingham so rightly says, we must not assume is identical with our politics, is in fact the art of living in a polis. (A polis—a city—being in Greek times hardly larger than a modern village, or, if a megapolis, a market town.) Since neither the word urbanity, nor the word civilised (both with similar derivations), gives the meaning, while the word politics as we understand it is totally unrelated, it is perfectly accurate as a translation to render the word as social or sociate. I know of no other translation giving a comparably fair rendering of the term.
While we are on the subject, anarkhia did not mean absence of government, it meant a society or state which governed itself without archons, who were a curious sort of elected priest-king; and it would not have been thought incongruous for a Greek to say of a city that it was anarkhia and that it had a tyrannois, a self-made king. I did once come across a Greek term for the absence of government, but unfortunately forgot it, Akephalous (without head) is about as near as one can get.
Incidentally a stateless but also totalitarian society, besides being a contradiction in terms is not a Marxist ideal, any more than it is anarchist. Marx believed that to reach the stateless society one had first to pass through the totalitarian, but nowhere did he, or even Lenin, suggest that the two might co-exist.
There are several dozen other inaccuracies or errors of logic in Ellingham’s article, but I believe this is a fair cross-section and is adequate to demolish his argument.