3:THE MYTH OF ANARCHIST LIBERTARIANISM

3:THE MYTH OF ANARCHIST LIBERTARIANISM


ANOTHER RADICAL doctrine developed during the period of the 1830s-- anarchism. Anarchism is often considered to represent current of radical thought that is truly democratic and libertarian. It is hailed in some quarters as the only true political philosophy freedom. The reality is quite different. From its inception anarchism has been a profoundly anti-democratic doctrine. Indeed the two most important founders of anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Michael Bakunin, developed theories that were elitist and authoritarian to the core. While later anarchists may have abandoned some of the excesses' of their founding fathers their philosophy remains hostile to ideas of mass democracy and workers' power.

It is certainly true that anarchism developed in opposition to the growth of capitalist society. What's more, anarchist hostility to capitalism centered on defence of the liberty of the individual. But the liberty defended by the anarchists was not the freedom of the working class to make collectively a new society. Rather, anarchism defended the freedom of the small property owner--the shopkeeper, artisan and tradesman--against the encroachments of large-scale capitalist enterprise. Anarchism represented the anguished cry of the small property owner against the inevitable advance of capitalism. For that reason, it glorified values from the past: individual property, the patriarchal family, racism.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, widely proclaimed 'the father of anarchism', is a case in point. A printer by vocation, Proudhon strongly opposed the emergence of capitalism in France. But Proudhon's opposition to capitalism was largely backward-looking in character. He did not look forward to a new society founded upon communal property which would utilise the greatest inventions of the industrial revolution. Instead, Proudhon considered small, private property the basis of his utopia. His was a doctrine designed not for the emerging working class, but for the disappearing petit bourgeoisie of craftsmen, small traders and rich peasants. In fact Proudhon so feared the organised power of the developing working class that he went so far as to oppose trade unions and support police strike-breaking.

Worst still, he violently opposed democracy. 'All this democracy disgusts me', he wrote. And his notes for an ideal society involved the suppression of elections, of a free press, and of public meetings of more than 20 people. He looked forward to a 'general inquisition' and the condemnation of 'several million people' to forced labour. The masses, he wrote are 'only savages ... whom it is our duty to civilise, and without making them our sovereign.'

Consistent with this outlook, Proudhon supported nearly every backward- looking cause available to him. He was a rabid racist reserving his greatest hatred for Jews, whose 'extermination' he advocated. He opposed emancipation for the American blacks and backed the cause of the southern slave owners during the American Civil War. Likewise, he denounced women's liberation, writing that 'For woman liberty and well-being lie solely in marriage, in motherhood, in domestic duties ...'

George Lichtheim, in his book The Origins of Socialism, has written quite accurately that

     It is difficult to name a single author, alive or 
     dead, of whom Proudhon ever found anything good to 
     say. His other crochets included antisemitism, 
     Anglophobia, tolerance for slavery (he publicly 
     sided with the South during the American civil war),
     dislike of Germans, Italians, Poles--indeed of all 
     non-French nationalities--and a firmly patriarchal 
     view of family life ... After this it comes as no 
     surprise that he believed in inherent inequalities 
     among the races or that he regarded women as 
     inferior beings.

The Russian 'father of anarchism', Michael Bakunin, shared most of Proudhon's views. Indeed, Bakunin was fond of claiming to his fellow anarchists that 'Proudhon is the master of us all'. Bakunin shared his master's anti-semitism--he was convinced that the Jews had constructed an international conspiracy that included Karl Marx and the wealthy Rothschild family. He was a Great Russian chauvinist convinced that the Russians were ordained to lead humanity into anarchist utopia. And what that utopia might have looked like is hinted at by Bakunin's organisational methods, which were overwhelmingly elitist and authoritarian. As one historian has written of Bakunin,

     The International Brotherhood he founded in Naples
     in 1865-66 was as conspiratorial and dictatorial as 
     he could make it, for Bakunin's libertarianism 
     stopped short of the notion of permitting anyone to 
     contradict him. The Brotherhood was conceived on the
     Masonic model, with elaborate rituals, a hierarchy, 
     and a self-appointed directory consisting of Bakunin 
     and a few associates.

These characteristics of Bakunin and Proudhon were not mere quirks of personality. Their elitism, authoritarianism and support for backward- looking and narrow-minded causes are rooted in the very nature of anarchist doctrine.

Originating in the revolt of small property owners against the centralising and collectivising trends in capitalist development (the tendency to concentrate production in fewer and fewer large workplaces), anarchism has always been rooted in a hostility to democratic and collectivist practices. The early anarchists feared the organised power of the modern working class. To this day, most anarchists defend the 'liberty' of the private individual against the democratically made decisions of collective groups. Anarchist oppose even the most democratic forms of collective organisation of social life. As the Canadian anarchist writer George Woodcock explains: 'Even were democracy possible, the anarchist would still not support it ... Anarchists do not advocate political freedom. What they advocate is freedom from politics ...' That is to say, anarchists reject any decision-making process in which the majority of people democratically determine the policies they will support.

There is, however, another trend which is sometimes associated with anarchism. This is syndicalism. The syndicalist outlook does believe in collective working class action to change society. Syndicalists look to trade union action--such as general strikes--to overthrow capitalism. Although some syndicalist viewpoints share a superficial similarity with anarchism --particularly with its hostility to politics and political action--syndicalism is not truly a form of anarchism. By accepting the need for mass, collective action and decision-making, syndicalism is much superior to classical anarchism. However, by rejecting the idea of working class political action, syndicalism has never been able to give real direction to attempts by workers to change society.



CONTENTS: