Pluralism and Anarchism
A common objection to anarchist proposals is that they postulate society without the State, that is, anarchy in one of the two literal senses of the word. But men, it is objected, need to be governed. Such criticism may take a naive form, as when it is implied that but for the government we would all be murdered in our beds. We are to believe that it was to escape this fate that the citizens assembled and appointed some of their number to rule the rest, thus instituting the State.
But criticism of the anarchist postulate may take a sophisticated form, as in the writings of the Italian conservative, Gaetano Mosca. Mosca’s general theme, which he shares with a group of writers who sometimes go under the collective label of “Machiavellians”, is the perennial domination of majorities by minorities. Ruling minorities may come and go (Pareto: “History is a graveyard of aristocracies”), but always there are ruling minorities. This permanent feature of society is obscured, but not altered, by ideological slogans, such as “government by the people” and “majority rule”. Anarchism is powerless to abrogate this social law. In Mosca’s words:
“But suppose we assume that the anarchist hypothesis has come about in the fact, that the present type of social organization has been destroyed, that nations and governments have ceased to exist, and that standing armies, bureaucrats, parliaments and especially policeman and jails have been swept away. Unfortunately people would still have to live, and therefore use the land and other instruments of production. Unfortunately again, arms and weapons would still be there, and enterprising, courageous characters would be ready to use them in order to make others their servants or slaves. Given those elements, little social groups would at once form, and in them the many would toil while the few, armed and organized, would either be robbing them or protecting them from other robbers, but living on their toil in any event. In other words, we should be going back to the simple, primitive type of social organization in which each group of armed men is absolute master of some plot of ground and of those who cultivate it, so long as the group can conquer the plot of ground and hold it with its own strength” (The Ruling Class, 1939, p. 295).
Some of the writers advancing this general type of criticism, while calling into question the soundness of anarchist theories, manage to pay the anarchists what looks like a compliment. Thus, Robert Michels speaks of anarchism as “a movement on behalf of liberty, founded on the inalienable right of the human being over his own person” (Political parties, 1915, p. 360). George Molnar speaks of anarchism as “the only radical movement whose principal avowed concern was with freedom” (Libertarian Society’s Broadsheet, No. 30).
Now in examining the issues we must distinguish two notions, which it has been usual to confuse. We must separate the concept of anarchy, meaning society without the State, from the concept of free society, meaning society in which no group has any of its activities subjected to authority or coercion.
Resort to coercion and appeal to authority are standard means of trying to compel a person or group to conform to a course of action supported by the person or group resorting to coercion or appealing to authority. A coercive person or group uses or threatens violence in the attempt to compel conformity. An authoritarian person or group appeals to some authority, which is represented as requiring the course of action demanded by the authoritarian. The notion of sacredness is commonly annexed to authorities: their requirements are represented as being obligatory and their credentials as above inquiry. Authorities are of the most diverse kind. They may be definite, as when appeal is made to rights conferred by legal status or legal contract. They may be indefinite, as when appeal is made to the requirements of God or Freedom or National Interest or Working-Class Solidarity.
Appeals to authority are commonly made when the authoritarian is unable or unwilling to resort to coercion. His aim is to put you in a position where, if you do not comply with his demands, you will feel ill at ease with yourself, will feel guilty. His aim may also be to excite public animosity against you.
An inquiry into freedom in society can thus be rephrased as an inquiry into the operation of authority and coercion in society. An activity is free if not subjected to authoritarian or coercive restrictions. But an activity that is free in this sense may be repressive, that is, may be aimed at imposing authoritarian or coercive restrictions on others. Activities, therefore, may be assigned to one or other of four types: free and unrepressive, free and repressive, unfree and unrepressive. unfree and repressive. Scientific inquirers, brigands in de facto control of a region, domestic slaves and non-commissioned officers in the army might be taken, at least in certain circumstances, as respective examples of men involved in the four types of activity.
But in attending concretely to this or that social group, this or that social activity, this or that social interest, we must keep in mind the complexity of things. Coercive and authoritarian demands may be ineffectual, if not in the short then in the long term. Consider, for example, the attacks made by churchmen at various times on scientific inquiry, on “immorality” and, to take a current example, on government policy in Vietnam. The history of legislative attempts to repress drinking, adultery, robbery with violence and industrial strikes supports the same conclusion.
We are now in a position to continue the inquiry, in particular to ask whether anarchist social organization is, in fact, impracticable, as Mosca asserts, and whether the anarchists are really the party of freedom. The only sound approach is through the study of existent anarchies.
To the question, “Have there been anarchies?”, that is, societies without the State, an affirmative answer can be given. Anarchies are, or have been, common in Africa, North America, Melanesia, Australia and other parts of the world, in societies with primitive or peasant economies. Conquest and rule by outsiders has modified the political structures of these societies: either drastically, as when headmen, native chiefs, village councils and the like, endowed with coercive authority, have been created by the rulers; or superficially, as when a colonial administration, staffed only by outsiders, is superimposed on the indigenous anarchy.
The point about these societies is that they are free from governmental institutions, that is, there is no one group within them claiming and exercising authority to regulate the activities of all other groups, claiming and exercising monopoly on the use of violence in society. Yet in these societies disputes arise over marriages, land, movable property, ritual prerogatives and so on, and disputes are settled (sometimes) despite the political anarchy. In the course of the disputes the parties promote their conflicting demands by resort to coercion and appeal to authority. (For a study of the operation of these processes in a Stateless society, see L. R. Hiatt, Kinship and Conflict, 1965.) Several conclusions can be drawn from the primitive anarchies.
First, they show that anarchy is a workable political order. Mosca denied that, holding that a “successful” anarchist revolution would result in a reversion of society to what he took to be the “primitive type of social organization”, a multiplicity of petty Statelets tyrannized over by armed gangs. But the primitive anarchies known to us through anthropological inquiry are genuinely Stateless. Whether a Stateless society can be created by abolition of the State where it already exists is a separate question, and anthropology gives no answer to it.
Secondly, the primitive anarchies show that authority and coercion are processes independent of the State, which must be regarded as a particular social form through which they operate. Abolition of the State must, therefore, be distinguished from abolition of authority and coercion. Generalization about “quantities” of authority and coercion in Stateless, as opposed to State, societies, is impossible; at most sexual freedom in a particular society of one type could be contrasted with sexual freedom in a particular society of the other type, and similarly with other kinds of freedom.
Thirdly, the primitive anarchies show that anarchy, as a political order, is independent of general acceptance of some monolithic principle of behaviour, contrary to what some critics have asserted. This kind of assertion was advanced by George Orwell, for example, in his essay on Swift:
“This illustrates very well the totalitarian tendency which is explicit in the anarchist or pacifist vision of Society. In a Society in which there is no law, and in theory no compulsion, the only arbiter of behaviour is public opinion. But public opinion, because of the tremendous urge to conformity in gregarious animals, is less tolerant than any system of law, when human beings are governed by ‘thou shalt not’, the individual can practise a certain amount of eccentricity: when they are supposedly governed by ‘love’ or ‘reason’, he is under continuous pressure to make him behave and think in exactly the same way as everyone else” (Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays, 1950, pp. 71–72).
Fourthly, the anthropological evidence shows an association of political anarchy with simple economies, economies of the type we would call primitive or peasant. In these societies production is characteristically by small groups, whose members are often kin to each other. Such a group produces for its own needs, obtaining what it is unable or unwilling to produce by direct exchange with other groups of the same general type. A society with such a simple economy is admirably adapted to political anarchy. though not all societies with simple economies are anarchic. What would State authority give to these societies? Sometimes military protection, sometimes participation in a far more complex economy. But benefits are secured at a price: military protection is usually from other States, through taxation the State, in effect, compels its subjects to labour without pay, and State authority sanctions the co-existence of great wealth and great poverty. A State, one may say, has a vested interest in its subjects. The image of the shepherd and his flock is to the point, for what does a shepherd with his sheep if not fleece and devour them?
Now it can be objected that these societies, though anarchies, were unconsciously anarchist. Can anarchist movements institute anarchy where the State already exists? Anarchists would answer in the affirmative, pointing to the experience of Spain during the civil war. Their belief finds some confirmation in accounts given by eye-witnesses who were not of the anarchist persuasion, notably Orwell, Gerald Brenan, Franz Borkenau. The parts of Spain where anarchism was seen at its most impressive, from the point of view of actually instituting some sort of anarchy, were peasant districts which had long been impregnated with propaganda. To introduce anarchy all that had to be done was to drive out the representatives of the State. The basically anarchist peasant organization would then operate free from State-imposed restrictions. The special circumstances of the civil war gave the anarchists the opportunity of doing this, and an agrarian anarchism persisted in parts until the final victory of the fascist forces. Borkenau’s account of the Spanish worker and peasant, the man who proved himself such good anarchist material, is worth inspection. He argues that Bakuninist theories, when introduced in Spain during the closing decades of the nineteenth century, found conditions to which they were peculiarly appropriate, conditions which had existed since the eighteenth century. Notable among these were the great economic and cultural gap between upper and lower classes, the peasant propensity to violence and brigandage, the hostility to “progress”, especially “progress” in the form of capitalist enterprise, and the degeneration of the Catholic Church. The latter condition contributed to the anarchist movement becoming imbued with moral and religious fervour. Borkenau gives this vignette of the Spaniard:
“There is a profound difference, in the view of a primitive peasantry, between the man who breaks the solidarity of the peasant community itself by criminal acts and the man who, in seeking his own right against the rich and mighty by brigandage and murder, helps the common cause of the oppressed. The former, the thief or the murderer who has killed or robbed a peasant, would be unhesistatingly delivered to the police or given short shrift by those he had damaged. The latter will be protected by the poor, throughout his district ... The average Spanish peasant, would be unhesitatingly delivered to the police or given life and property characteristic of the well-policed countries of the West” (The Spanish Cockpit, 1963 ed., p. 15).
The anarchism which developed among such men was compatible with the exercise of authority and coercion, processes without which no large-scale social reconstruction could be effected. This should occasion no surprise, since the example of the primitive anarchies shows that authority and coercion are not to be identified exclusively with the State. What the Spanish anarchists aimed at was the abolition of the State and certain forms of activity upheld by State power (lawyer, moneylender, landlord, for example), which entailed driving out, and keeping out, representatives of the State, and instituting new social arrangements, The resort to coercion and appeal to authority implied in this would have been inconsistent with anarchy only if serving to create new groups which, masked by no-State slogans, claimed and exercised authority and power over all other groups. When this is kept in mind a new construction can be placed on the authoritarianism attributed to some of the leading anarchists, notably Bakunin, which need no longer necessarily be construed as aberrations.
To advert to the distinction between anarchy and free society: in the primitive world there is anarchy, but not free society, and in Spain anarchy was instituted, but not free society. It would be naive to expect authority and coercion to be abolished in civil war conditions, but in any case anarchy does not require their abolition. At the same time, it must be admitted that anarchists have often spoken as if what they wanted was the abolition of authority and coercion in all forms. Take Kropotkin in his Encyclopaedia Britannica article, for example:
”... harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being. In a society developed on these lines, the voluntary associations ... would ... substitute themselves for the State in all its functions.
“They would represent an interwoven network, composed of an infinite variety of groups and federations of all sizes and degrees ... for all possible purposes ... and ... for the satisfaction of an ever-increasing number of scientific, artistic, literary and social needs. Moreover, such a society would represent nothing immutable. On the contrary ... harmony would (it is contended) result from an ever-changing adjustment and readjustment of equilibrium between the multitude of forces and influences, and this adjustment would be the easier to obtain as none of the forces would enjoy a special protection from the State.
“If... society were organized on these principles, man would not be limited in the free exercise of his powers in productive work by a capitalist monopoly, maintained by the State; nor would he be limited in the exercise of his will by a fear of punishment, or by obedience toward individuals or metaphysical entities, which both lead to depression of initiative and servility of mind.”
Kropotkin is failing to unequivocally assert whether or not authority and coercion will operate as social processes. Much in the tone of his writing suggests that he is envisaging their disappearance, but then what is to be made of the groups for “mutual protection” and “defence of the territory”, which are listed among the “groups and federations of all sizes and degrees ,.. for all possible purposes”? Such groups are needed against internal and external enemies who presumably seek to determine the “ever-changing adjustment and readjustment of equilibrium” by systematic violence and deception, after the manner of the conquerors, criminals, etc., with whom history familiarizes us. The believer in a free society is in a dilemma, for the abolition of authority and coercion depends on the renunciation of these processes by all men. That Kropotkin envisaged this is implied by the reference to the freeing of the individual from “fear of punishment” and “obedience towards individuals or metaphysical entities’:. Taken seriously this would mean an abrogation even of moral authority. But as the social arrangements instituted by the believers in free society are liable to attack, some form of social defence (“mutual protection”, “defence of the territory”) is necessary, that is, coercion must be resorted to and authority appealed to, in order to maintain the free society.
Such are the problems of believers in free society, but anarchy is compatible with authority and coercion. Perhaps, then, a device would have to be borrowed from the communists and, on the analogy of the withering away of the State in the classless society prepared for by the dictatorship of the proletariat, anarchy would be conceived of as a transition period between the present and the free society. But to do that would be to make the free society what the classless society of the withered-away State is — a myth.
The anarchist doctrine perennially attracts a mixed bag of idealists, intellectuals, crackpots, visionaries, malcontents and individuals drifting on the fringe of law and conventional morality. In rare times and places the doctrine manages to sum up, to convey with a terseness wanting to other doctrines, the hatreds and aspirations of great numbers of men. Then, and only then, with the anarchist beliefs fusing with a mass movement, does the abolition of the State and the institution of anarchy become a possibility.
The Sydney libertarian position is sometimes summed up in the slogan, “anarchism, atheism, free love”, but this is an anarchism very different from the classical variety. In particular, libertarians reject as illusory the belief that the world as a whole can somehow be reconstructed after an anarchist or libertarian fashion. Instead, emphasis is placed on the carrying on of certain activities in the here and now, notably inquiry and free love, without entertainment of the hope that they will be generally accepted or that the world can be made safe for them. Thus libertarians accept, on the one hand, an empiricist and pluralistic philosophy and, on the other hand, an enmity to what are believed to be the forces of authority, as when Ian Bedford declares “ an abiding hatred of the State and of all forms of coercion ... temperamentally unable to stand the police” (The Red and Black, No. 1). It is this latter feature which, libertarians believe, establishes continuity between their position and that of the classical anarchists.Thus A. J. Baker refers to “the interest they have in struggling against authoritarian forces and ideas” (The Sydney Line, 1963, p. 27), asserting that libertarians “share the anti-authoritarian interests of classical anarchists” (ibid., p. 29).
Now it can be observed that libertarians are taking up activities which can and do exist independently. An empirical, pluralistic logic and social theory do not imply commitment to an anarchist — or what is thought to be an anarchist — position, as can be seen from the example of men whose influence on libertarian theory has been deep, notably John Anderson and Pareto.
It can further be observed that it is only in a special sense that anarchists can be regarded as anti-authoritarian. Confusion can easily arise here because (a) some anarchists have equivocally seemed to oppose all authority and coercion, as we have seen in the specific case of Kropotkin; and (b) anarchists have generally been opposed to what loosely may be termed “the authorities”, that is, the police, army, law courts, parliament and so on, and therefore have been anti-authoritarian in the restricted sense of “agin the authorities”. But libertarians would want to be anti-authoritarian in a wider way than that. The point here is that it is not easy to oppose unequivocally all authority and coercion and want the institution of new sets of social arrangements. This is a difficulty which revolutionary reformers cannot evade, as can be seen from critically reading the classical anarchists and other promoters of universal nostrums, for example, Wilhelm Reich (see George Molnar, Broadsheet, No. 39). A simple (not to say simple-minded) solution would be to adopt the policy of using authority and coercion to abolish authority and coercion, thus ushering in the free society, but logically this would be no better than the communist policy of class domination (by the proletariat) abolishing class domination. The assumptions underlying such solutions are that authority, coercion and class domination are acceptable if exercised “in the right way” by “the right people”, and that aims and policies do not change with changes in the relative social position of their proponents. That at least some anarchists have been alive to the falsity of these assumptions is shown by Michels:
“Nieuwenhuis, the veteran champion of anarchizing socialism with a frankly individualist tendency, showed on one occasion that he had a keen perception of the dangers which anarchism runs from all contact with practical life. At the Amsterdam congress of 1907, after the foundation of the new anarchist international, he raised a warning voice against the arguments of the Italian Errico Malatesta, an anarchist attached to the school of Bakunin. Malatesta, having dilated upon the strength of bourgeois society, declared that nothing would suit this society better than to be faced by unorganized masses of workers, and that for this reason it was essential to counter the powerful organization of the rich by a still more powerful organization of the poor. ‘Si tel est ta pende, cher ami,’ said Nieuwenhius to Malatesta,‘tu peux t’en aller tranquillement chez les socialistes. Ils ne disent pas autre chose.’ In the course of this first anarchist congress there were manifest, according to Nieuwenhuis, the symptoms of that diplomatic mentality which characterizes all the leaders of authoritarian parties” (Political Parties, 1915, pp. 360–61).
If the hope of a general abolition of authority and coercion is rejected as utopian, the question arises of the extent to which authority and coercion can be abolished from the lives of limited groups and their members. Libertarians profess anti-authoritarian interests or preferences, but the precise relation of these to the various activities engaged in by libertarians, whether individually or collectively, is unclear. In this context the complex interplay of social facts must be kept in mind: a group has activities which are participated in, to varying extents, by the group’s members and which we may speak of as the characteristic activities of the group, but members have “outside” activities, too, and the outside activities of some members may not be shared by other members. It must also be remembered that “authoritarian”, “contra-authoritarian”, “anti-authoritarian” and the like are not only terms in a system of social theory, but terms in a system of moral preferences (Cf. “progressive” and “reactionary” in communist terminology). Keeping these points in mind we are in a better position to appreciate some of the obscurities in the libertarian position. Investigation of the obscurities can begin by attending to a type of problem which evidently troubles some libertarians.
Thus Hiatt has suggested that:
”... it would seem the obvious thing for libertarians to think about playing off the authoritarians against one another. remember well the uneasiness caused at a libertarian conference some years ago when a certain gentleman asked whether the police would be called in if Frank Browne’s boys tried to break up the meeting” (The Sydney Line, 1963, p. 122).
The same type of question was raised by R. Poole, reviewing The Sydney Line in a student paper:
“Is, for instance, the action of a householder in refusing admission to a gatecrasher to a party, a display of individual preference, or is he making use of institutionalized property rights?” (Honi Soit, 30 June, 1964).
The answer to the reviewer’s question would surely be that such action would be both, since only individual preference makes you want to eject gatecrashers and only institutionalized property rights enable you to do so.
But what underlies these questions is the dilemma of the classical anarchists. You say you do not want to use authority and coercion, that in fact you want to abolish them, if not from the world, then from your own life. But in the meantime there are people who do appeal to authority and resort to coercion. Their actions affect you and your friends and the people you sympathize with. Unless mutually satisfactory arrangements can be arrived at with such people (assuming that their demands cannot simply be ignored, as is often the case), you must either submit to their demands, whatever the injury or cost, or resist, which means resorting to coercion or appealing to authority yourself. (Consider the position of the person framed by the police, as with Donald Rooum, whose adventures are described in Anarchy 36). But even in the mundane course of everyday life, wants are satisfied by entering into arrangements which exhibit coercive or authoritarian features, which impose restrictions, sanctioned by coercive authority, on the parties. Thus, accommodation is secured by some such means as entering into a landlord-tenant relation (compare the non-authoritarian way, which is to sleep all year round on park benches, on beaches and such places), and a livelihood is earned by some such means as entering into a master-servant relation, taking up crime or setting up in business (compare the non-authoritarian way, which is to beg and scavenge).
If some anarchists and libertarians are puzzled or embarrassed by the question of their relation to obvious facts, then the answer is to be traced to their feeling that it is somehow incumbent upon them to act consistently in a non-authoritarian or anti-authoritarian manner. This is of particular interest in the case of libertarians, since a feature of Anderson’s philosophy on which libertarians have drawn is a thorough-going criticism of the notion of obligation (see, for example, Baker, Libertarian, No. 1).
But the fact that at least some libertarian behaviour is inexplicable by “anti-authoritarian” interests or preferences cannot be completely ignored. One way in which this discrepancy is accounted for is by invoking the compromises required by the exigencies of life: there is a “hiatus between principle and practice” (Broadsheet, No. 20). We can catch an echo here of the ancient view that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. What needs to be stressed is that “practice” and “flesh” are terms concealing undisclosed principles or preferences. Itis an evasion of the issue to disclose some principles only and then to claim that aspects of behaviour inexplicable by the disclosed principles are the result of mysterious forces, such as “practice” and “flesh”. Just as one aim of social criticism is to expose the real interests lurking under cover of ideologies, just as one aim of psychoanalysis is to bring to light repressed motives, so we must look for undisclosed preferences, refusing to be brushed off with partial disclosures, just as we refuse to be satisfied with ideological and neurotic formations.
The question thus becomes: In what circumstances do anti-authoritarian (or any other) preferences operate, what activities give rise to them? The view to be taken here is that such preferences are summary statements of certain conditions required for the continuance of certain activities. Compare Anderson:
“In considering how there came to be mores in a community, we must start from the fact that community is a historical force or set of activities. Now there are relations of support and opposition between any activity whatever and others surrounding it; and likewise we can say that any historical thing has its characteristic ways of working, ways which are variously affected by its historical situation. To say, then, that a society exists is to say that it proceeds along certain lines and that there are conditions favourable and conditions unfavourable to its continuance. Thus, mores are, in the first instance, forms of social operation, the engendering of certain states of things and prevention of others. These may be called the demands or requirements of the society. But when the demands come to be formulated by members of the society (and this takes place through conflict among the demands of members), we have mores in the second instance — recognition of what is required and what is forbidden — we have especially the operation of taboo. So there develop from customary tasks and customary constraints the notions of right and wrong ... They (the mores, K.M.) are simply ways of working of that particularly community in its particular environment ... Customs, then, ways of social working, must exist if a society is to exist; but they are not to be understood in the ‘purposive’ fashion, and they raise, of themselves, no question of goodness. Also there is no question of a total social morality; it is seen that there are conflicting demands, conflicting activities, conflicting forms or organization, within the society” (Studies in Empirical Philosophy, 1962, pp. 242–43).
Taking this general view, we would expect to find that a group professing anti-authoritarian principles is a group having activities of a kind threatened by authority and coercion. This is the case with libertarians, since their interests include inquiry and “free love”. These activities are hedged and crowded in all societies by authoritarian and coercive restrictions, if not suffering outright repression. They perennially conflict with social groups interested in upholding false or uncritical beliefs or in applying monolithic principles, they perennially excite public animosity. Anti-authoritarian principles are summary statements, formulations, of certain conditions required for the continued existence of activities so threatened. But not all of the activities of a particular group are likely to need defence in this way and, even if they do, not all of the activities of all members of the group would. For that reason it is false and misleading to represent all one’s activities as conforming to anti-authoritarian requirements, as some libertarians seem to do. To represent one’s activities in that manner is to misrepresent them, is to make aspects of one’s behaviour inexplicable. It is as if the slogan “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were taken as a complete guide to American social life, or “liberty, equality, fraternity” to French social life. Such misrepresentations are particular instances of the general phenomenon of ideology (see, for example, Baker, Libertarian, No. 2), taking “ideology” in the original Marxist sense of “false consciousness”.
Inquiry into the social life of a complex society discloses an immense number of social groups, social activities, social interests, an immense diversity in these and a process of change which, at varying rates, all are undergoing. This plurality is recalcitrant to reduction to any monolithic principle (except when the terms of the principle are so vague that they can be made to cover any situation whatsoever), it defies organization by policies derived from any such principle. Acceptance of monolithic principles implies deception, including self-deception, and policies derived from such principles serve to advance particular interests by misrepresenting them as general interests. Deception and misrepresentation are not peculiar, as some believe, to conservative groups; they are features of the activity of radical groups, too.
It is in this complexity that part of the explanation must be sought for the misleading statements groups make about themselves. A group whose activities are threatened with authoritarian restriction or repression, for example, may signify its resolution in such activities by the formulation of anti-authoritarian preferences and, by a process which is familiar, come to believe that this abstract statement of its determination to continue with the threatened activities is applicable to all the activities of the group and its members. But if such anti-authoritarian preferences were deflated in statement, we would get something like this: We are interested in the activity of inquiry (or watever it is); this activity is of a kind that is perennially threatened by authoritarian restriction or repression; we therefore struggle against authority to the extent that authority endangers our activity.
Now two ways of conducting a struggle are (a) practising the activity, despite the authoritarian threats; and (b) developing a criticism of authoritarian arguments, as such, showing they misrepresent the facts, that they cloak the advancement of special interests and that the appeal to authority is logically fallacious. Both these ways of struggle are applicable when what is threatened is one’s inquiries or one’s sexual life. The danger is that what is true for certain activities will be mistakenly taken to be true for all activities of the group and its members. Critical scrutiny of libertarian publications suggests that libertarians have shown little sensitivity to this danger, they have been content to generalize from limited aspects of their behaviour to all aspects, thus misrepresenting (expressly or by implication) a part as the whole. This danger is also the rock on which much anarchist writing has been wrecked, with “freedom” being bandied about as if there could be freedom for everyone and everything, when the question is rather one of freedom for what activities of what groups.
Considerations of this sort help to explain the acceptance of the theory, which I believe to be false, of a causal relation between sexual and political repression. This theory, which is discussed at length in the writings of Reich (see, for example, The Sexual Revolution), has been taken up by libertarians (and other anarchists), but there is much in it that is obscure. Thus Molnar criticizes certain English anarchists for failure to lay “vigorous insistence on the connection between sexual and political repression” (Libertarian, No. 2), but fails to specify the nature of the connection he has in mind. The same failure is present in R. Pinkerton’s working out of the theme:
“Politically, the subordination of sexual enjoyment to reproduction and the application of the conception of sin to its in-dependent pursuit, are bound up with the maintenance of the authoritarian state ... Sexual docility goes along with docility to other kinds of authority and sexual repression may be a condition of social and political servility in general” (Libertarian, No. 1).
The writer appears to be making assertions about historical relations between social facts, yet on scrutiny it is had to determine just what he does assert, thanks to the vagueness of “are bound up with” and “may be”. Such expressions are resorted to by writers who want to maintain simultaneously that A is B and that A is not B.
In this contest the Nayars are of interest. Their sexual pattern is described by Hiatt:
“The young Nair girl, before puberty, is married to a nominal husband — a stranger. This marriage remains entirely formal and in three days is terminated by a divorce. The girl can now take as many lovers as she wishes. The lovers contribute to their mistress’s support by presents and money, but this establishes no hold over her. At any time she may dismiss a lover by returning his last gift. The virtue of the system is that it provides the maximum freedom for both men and women, for the lovers were as free as the woman to enter a number of liaisons simultaneously. The arrangement could be broken by either party at any time” (Broadsheet, No. 42).
But the Nayars comprise a caste, they are supported from land owned by them but worked by members of an inferior caste, the special occupation of Nayar men is military, and sexual relations outside the caste are, in general, visited with severe penalties if discovered! The sexual freedom this system allows to men and women must, therefore, be admitted to operate within a rigid framework of authoritarian coercion, in whose maintenance the Nayars, because of their military occupation, play an integral part. Thus, among the Nayars and subject to caste limits, sexual enjoyment is not subordinated to reproduction or subjected to conceptions of sin, and docility to the authoritarian caste system manages to exist without sexual docility. It may be added that sexual freedom of the Nayar kind is peculiar to their caste; such freedom is not a feature of the sexual lives of the members of other castes.
Inquiry is another activity whose relations of support and opposition are complex, for, on the one hand, inquiry is perennially liable to authoritarian restriction and, on the other hand, is inextricably associated with institutions whose continued existence requires them to share in wealth which can be accumulated only by authoritarian coercion. The place of institutions of learning and inquiry in a civilization characterized by great disparities of wealth maintained by State authority, was well understood by the classical anarchists. Kropotkin puts the matter succinctly into the mouth of a worker:
“Where then are those young men who have been educated at our expense? whom we have clothed and fed while they studied? for whom, with backs bent under heavy loads and with empty stomachs, we have built these houses, these academies, these museums? for whom, with pallid faces, we have printed those fine books we cannot even read” (An Appeal to the Young, 1948 ed., P· 13).
The same passionate sense of injustice drove Malatesta to demand that the intellectual recognize: “... the debt he has contracted in educating himself and cultivating his intellect which, in most cases, is at the expense of the children of those whose manual work has produced the means” (Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, 1965, p. 138).
It should be stressed that this recognition did not lead the anarchists into the Marxist error of denying the objectivity of scientific findings. Thus, Malatesta insisted that:
“The truth, science, is neither bourgeois nor proletarian, neither revolutionary nor conservative, and everybody can feel interested in its progress” (ibid., p. 140).
Much academic activity is mindless pedantry, much is vocationally directed, much is at the service of powerful social groups. But granted this, the interdependence of inquiry, taken in the sense of the operations of sceptical and catholic minds, with learning and research, must be insisted on, since the latter supplies the materials for the former. Inquiry cannot even begin to exist without learning and research and, where both are found, they mutually stimulate each other. But, as the anarchist understood, the universities and research institutions depend for their existence on apportionments of the accumulated wealth made possible by the hierarchial and authoritarian organization of society.
Inquiry, then, must be regarded as standing in a parasitic relation to official authority and coercion, but from this the conclusion cannot be drawn that inquiry should emasculate itself by submission to authoritarian demands. An inquirer who did that would cease to be an inquirer. We can put the matter alternatively by asserting that from the fact of interdependence no obligation can be derived. No question of logic or science can be settled by appeal to authority. The ideologies of social groups form part of the subject-matter of inquiry-and hence the attempts such groups make, always have made and always will make, to restrict inquiry.
In recognizing the complexity and diversity of social facts, in denying that this complexity and diversity can be coordinated according to a monolithic principle, such as Maximization of Pleasure, Resist not Evil, To Each According to his Need, Social Service or the like, we are taking a pluralistic view of society. This pluralistic view contains implications for the criticism of anarchist and libertarian positions. In particular, by directing attention to the plurality of social groups, social activities and social interests, it raises the question of what can be understood by the principles advanced by the adherents of such positions, whether the principles are intended to be extended over society as a whole, as in the case of the classical anarchists, or to operate only in the lives of “the happy few”, as in the case of the Sydney libertarians. Thus, it is asserted by and about the anarchists that they “stand for” freedom, that they are the party of freedom. It is asserted by and about the libertarians that they are anti-authoritarian. that they have anti-authoritarian interests and preferences, that they oppose authority (“permanent opposition”, “permanent protest”).
Now it is evident that these are misleading statements of aim or activity. The “freedom” that anarchists aim at calls for the restriction or repression of many social groups, activities and interests, which are to disappear so that “freedom” can triumph. But what is realistic in anarchist policies is not the abolition of authority and coercion, since these will evidently be operative during the period of restriction and repression, but the abolition of the State, at least in certain historical circumstances, of a rare and probably non-recurrent type (Spain during the 1930s, the Ukraine in the early post-Revolution years). Authority and coercion are independent of the State and, empirically, there is no evidence that they are increased or decreased by the presence or absence of the State. The State is simply a particular social form through which they operate at some times and places. From this it follows that, although abolition of authority and coercion would entail abolition of the State, abolition of the State would not entail abolition of authority and coercion. Anarchy, then, must be distinguished from free society: critical scrutiny of anarchist texts reveals that the anarchists have been equivocal on what they were aiming at.
“The “anti-authoritarianism” of libertarians is partial or selective, since, in fact, libertarians enter into situations exhibiting features which are authoritarian or coercive or both (landlord-tenant relations, master- servant relations, and so on). But the principles on which the selection is made are inexplicit. Libertarians make a point of “criticism”, including criticism of authority, and it is here that some of the responsibility for confusion is to be located, since there is a tendency to blur the distinction between vulgar and learned usages of the verb “to criticize”. In vulgar usage, to be critical of something is to be against that something; in learned usage, this is not the case: in saying that Edmund Wilson has criticized the novels of Henry James we are not saying that he is somehow opposed to, somehow against, the novels. To say, then, that you are critical of authority is to leave obscure the sense in which you are critical, it is to leave a conveniently fuzzy and obscure region in which you can hit to and fro, whether wittingly or unwittingly, between the two usages. The fact that libertarians enter voluntarily into authoritarian arrangements suggests that they are critical in the learned sense only, but as against that many libertarian statements assert, explicitly or by implication, that they are critical in the first sense. This ambiguity is parallel to the anarchist ambiguity as to the notions of anarchy and free society.
Pluralistic conceptions involve the rejection of the notion that there can be monolithic principles in accord with which all activities of all groups can be conducted. “Freedom” is a particular example of such a principle. But the same general view would seem to hold when it is a case of all the activities of a single group and its members. This leads to the rejection of “Anti-Authoritarianism”. when understood as such a principle.
To recognize social plurality is to recognize a variety of relations of support and opposition between a variety of activities engaged in by a variety of groups. These relations include restriction and repression by appeal to authority and resort to coercion. It is within this matrix that the meaning of demands for freedom and statements of anti- authoritarian preference is to be sought. Such a demand is a demand for the removal of a restriction or repression; such a statement of preference is a statement of resistance to restriction or repression. Freedom is not, therefore, a minority interest, since any group in respect of any activity may have occasion to demand freedom. But the activity for which freedom is demanded may be restrictive or repressive, as is the case with many political and religious demands. The fact of struggle and conflict between activities precludes any coherent advocacy of freedom for all activities of all groups. In this connection the people interested in certain activities may find themselves in opposition to servile ideologies which purport to draw up a “social balance sheet”, showing how all activities can be adjusted to each other, that is, regulated by powerful social groups, in such a way as to further “the interests of all”. We can cast the argument in alternative terms, saying that groups have activities, that activities exhibit regularities and require certain conditions for their continuance, and that a part of the regularities and requirements may come to be verbally expressed in rules, demands, preferences and the like which, like all verbal expressions, may be misleading. Anarchist and libertarian activities are not exceptional.
A feature of social life is the tendency of statements of demands and preferences to assume a life of their own, to swell out into ideologies, and one of the tasks of criticism is to deflate these monstrous growths. Illusions about freedom do not enjoy a privileged status, they are not above criticism.