Thursday, 24 April 2014

anarchist quotes on the state

Section B.

B.2 Why are anarchists against the state?



"The State is authority, domination, and force, organised by the property-owning and so-called enlightened classes against the masses . . . the State's domination . . . [ensures] that of the privileged classes who it solely represents." [The Basic Bakunin, p. 140]




"[T]he State . . . and Capitalism are facts and conceptions which we cannot separate from each other. In the course of history these institutions have developed, supporting and reinforcing each other.

"They are connected with each other -- not as mere accidental co-incidences. They are linked together by the links of cause and effect." [Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment, p. 94]

 As Malatesta put it, anarchists "have used the word State, and still do, to mean the sum total of the political, legislative, judiciary, military and financial institutions through which the management of their own affairs, the control over their personal behaviour, the responsibility for their personal safety, are taken away from the people and entrusted to others who, by usurpation or delegation, are vested with the power to make laws for everything and everybody, and to oblige the people to observe them, if need be, by the use of collective force." [Anarchy, p. 17]

He continues:

"For us, government [or the state] is made up of all the governors; and the governors . . . are those who have the power to make laws regulating inter-human relations and to see that they are carried out . . . [and] who have the power, to a greater or lesser degree, to make use of the social power, that is of the physical, intellectual and economic power of the whole community, in order to oblige everybody to carry out their wishes. And this power, in our opinion, constitutes the principle of government, of authority." [Op. Cit., p. 19]

Kropotkin presented a similar analysis, arguing that the state "not only includes the existence of a power situated above society, but also of a territorial concentration as well as the concentration in the hands of a few of many functions in the life of societies . . . A whole mechanism of legislation and of policing has to be developed in order to subject some classes to the domination of others." [The State: Its Historic Role, p. 10]


 For Bakunin, all states "are in essence only machines governing the masses from above, through . . . a privileged minority, allegedly knowing the genuine interests of the people better than the people themselves." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin,

 Murray Bookchin writes:

"Minimally, the State is a professional system of social coercion -- not merely a system of social administration as it is still naively regarded by the public and by many political theorists. The word 'professional' should be emphasised as much as the word 'coercion.' . . . It is only when coercion is institutionalised into a professional, systematic and organised form of social control -- that is, when people are plucked out of their everyday lives in a community and expected not only to 'administer' it but to do so with the backing of a monopoly of violence -- that we can properly speak of a State." [Remaking Society, p. 66]


"  anarchists reject the idea that the state is the same as society or that any grouping of human beings living and organised together is a state"


"the state is a specific way in which human affairs are organised in a given area, a way marked by certain institutions which, in turn, have certain characteristics. "

 anarchists argue that "the political regime . . . is always an expression of the economic regime which exists at the heart of society." This means that regardless of how the state changes, it "continues to be shaped by the economic system, of which it is always the expression and, at the same time, the consecration and the sustaining force." Needless to say, there is not always an exact match and sometimes "the political regime of a country finds itself lagging behind the economic changes that are taking place, and in that case it will abruptly be set aside and remodelled in a way appropriate to the economic regime that has been established." [Kropotkin, Words of a Rebel

As such, we can say that, for anarchists, the state is marked by three things:

    1) A "monopoly of violence" in a given territorial area;
    2) This violence having a "professional," institutional nature; and
    3) A hierarchical nature, centralisation of power and initiative into the hands of a few.

Of these three aspects, the last one (its centralised, hierarchical nature) is the most important simply because the concentration of power into the hands of the few ensures a division of society into government and governed (which necessitates the creation of a professional body to enforce that division). Hence we find Bakunin arguing that "[w]ith the State there must go also . . . all organisation of social life from the top downward, via legislation and government." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 242] In other words, "the people was not governing itself." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., p. 120]


"with the state there is always a hierarchical and status difference between rulers and ruled. Even if it is a democracy, where we suppose those who rule today are not rulers tomorrow, there are still differences in status. In a democratic system, only a tiny minority will ever have the opportunity to rule and these are invariably drawn from the elite." [Harold Barclay, The State, pp. 23-4]


Thus, the "essence of government" is that "it is a thing apart, developing its own interests" and so is "an institution existing for its own sake, preying upon the people, and teaching them whatever will tend to keep it secure in its seat." [Voltairine de Cleyre, The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader, p. 27 and p. 26] And so "despotism resides not so much in the form of the State or power as in the very principle of the State and political power." [Bakunin, Op. Cit., p. 211]


As the state is the delegation of power into the hands of the few, it is obviously based on hierarchy. This delegation of power results in the elected people becoming isolated from the mass of people who elected them and outside of their control (see section B.2.4). In addition, as those elected are given power over a host of different issues and told to decide upon them, a bureaucracy soon develops around them to aid in their decision-making and enforce those decisions once they have been reached. However, this bureaucracy, due to its control of information and its permanency, soon has more power than the elected officials. Therefore "a highly complex state machine . . . leads to the formation of a class especially concerned with state management, which, using its acquired experience, begins to deceive the rest for its personal advantage." [Kropotkin, Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution, p. 61] This means that those who serve the people's (so-called) servant have more power than those they serve, just as the politician has more power than those who elected him. All forms of state-like (i.e. hierarchical) organisations inevitably spawn a bureaucracy about them. This bureaucracy soon becomes the de facto focal point of power in the structure, regardless of the official rules.


This means, under the current system, the capitalists "need the state to legalise their methods of robbery, to protect the capitalist system." [Berkman, What is Anarchism?, p. 16] The state, as we discuss in section B.2.1, is the defender of private property (see section B.3 for a discussion of what anarchists mean by that term and how it differs from individual possessions).

This means that in capitalist states the mechanisms of state domination are controlled by and for a corporate elite (and hence the large corporations are often considered to belong to a wider "state-complex"). Indeed, as we discuss in more depth in section F.8, the "State has been, and still is, the main pillar and the creator, direct and indirect, of Capitalism and its powers over the masses." [Kropotkin, Evolution and Environment, p. 97] Section B.2.3 indicates how this is domination is achieved in a representative democracy.

However this does not mean anarchists think that the state is purely an instrument of economic class rule. As Malatesta argued, while "a special class (government) which, provided with the necessary means of repression, exists to legalise and protect the owning class from the demands of the workers . . . it uses the powers at its disposal to create privileges for itself and to subject, if it can, the owning class itself as well." [Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 183] Thus the state has interests of its own, distinct from and sometimes in opposition to the economic ruling elite. This means that both state and capitalism needs to be abolished, for the former is as much a distinct (and oppressive and exploitative) class as the former. This aspects of the state is discussed in section B.2.6.

As part of its role as defender of capitalism, the state is involved in not only in political domination but also in economic domination. This domination can take different forms, varying from simply maintaining capitalist property rights to actually owning workplaces and exploiting labour directly. Thus every state intervenes in the economy in some manner. While this is usually to favour the economically dominant, it can also occur try and mitigate the anti-social nature of the capitalist market and regulate its worse abuses. We discuss this aspect of the state in section B.2.2.
Needless to say, the characteristics which mark a state did not develop by chance. As we discuss in section H.3.7, anarchists have an evolutionary perspective on the state. This means that it has a hierarchical nature in order to facilitate the execution of its role, its function. As sections B.2.4 and B.2.5 indicate, the centralisation that marks a state is required to secure elite rule and was deliberately and actively created to do so. This means that states, by their very nature, are top-down institutions which centralise power into a few hands and, as a consequence, a state "with its traditions, its hierarchy, and its narrow nationalism" can "not be utilised as an instrument of emancipation." [Kropotkon, Evolution and Environment, p. 78] It is for this reason that anarchists aim to create a new form of social organisation and life, a decentralised one based on decision making from the bottom-up and the elimination of hierarchy.
Finally, we must point out that anarchists, while stressing what states have in common, do recognise that some forms of the state are better than others. Democracies, for example, tend to be less oppressive than dictatorships or monarchies. As such it would be false to conclude that anarchists, "in criticising the democratic government we thereby show our preference for the monarchy. We are firmly convinced that the most imperfect republic is a thousand times better than the most enlightened monarchy." [Bakunin, Bakunin on Anarchism, p. 144] However, this does not change the nature or role of the state. Indeed, what liberties we have are not dependent on the goodwill of the state but rather the result of people standing against it and exercising their autonomy. Left to itself, the state would soon turn the liberties and rights it says it defends into dead-laws -- things that look good in print but not practised in real life.
So in the rest of this section we will discuss the state, its role, its impact on a society's freedom and who benefits from its existence. Kropotkin's classic essay, The State: It's Historic Role is recommended for further reading on this subject. Harold Barclay's The State is a good overview of the origins of the state, how it has changed over the millenniums and the nature of the modern state.

The main function of the state is to guarantee the existing social relationships and their sources within a given society through centralised power and a monopoly of violence. To use Malatesta's words, the state is basically "the property owners' gendarme." This is because there are "two ways of oppressing men [and women]: either directly by brute force, by physical violence; or indirectly by denying them the means of life and thus reducing them to a state of surrender." The owning class, "gradually concentrating in their hands the means of production, the real sources of life, agriculture, industry, barter, etc., end up establishing their own power which, by reason of the superiority of its means . . . always ends by more or less openly subjecting the political power, which is the government, and making it into its own gendarme." [Op. Cit., p. 23, p. 21 and p. 22]
The state, therefore, is "the political expression of the economic structure" of society and, therefore, "the representative of the people who own or control the wealth of the community and the oppressor of the people who do the work which creates the wealth." [Nicholas Walter, About Anarchism, p. 37] It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the state is the extractive apparatus of society's parasites.
The state ensures the exploitative privileges of its ruling elite by protecting certain economic monopolies from which its members derive their wealth. The nature of these economic privileges varies over time. Under the current system, this means defending capitalist property rights (see section B.3.2). This service is referred to as "protecting private property" and is said to be one of the two main functions of the state, the other being to ensure that individuals are "secure in their persons." However, although this second aim is professed, in reality most state laws and institutions are concerned with the protection of property (for the anarchist definition of "property" see section B.3.1).
From this we may infer that references to the "security of persons," "crime prevention," etc., are mostly rationalisations of the state's existence and smokescreens for its perpetuation of elite power and privileges. This does not mean that the state does not address these issues. Of course it does, but, to quote Kropotkin, any "laws developed from the nucleus of customs useful to human communities . . . have been turned to account by rulers to sanctify their own domination." of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment." [Anarchism, p. 215]
Simply put, if the state "presented nothing but a collection of prescriptions serviceable to rulers, it would find some difficulty in insuring acceptance and obedience" and so the law reflects customs "essential to the very being of society" but these are "cleverly intermingled with usages imposed by the ruling caste and both claim equal respect from the crowd." Thus the state's laws have a "two-fold character." While its "origin is the desire of the ruling class to give permanence to customs imposed by themselves for their own advantage" it also passes into law "customs useful to society, customs which have no need of law to insure respect" -- unlike those "other customs useful only to rulers, injurious to the mass of the people, and maintained only by the fear of punishment." [Kropotkin, Op. Cit., pp. 205-6] To use an obvious example, we find the state using the defence of an individual's possessions as the rationale for imposing capitalist private property rights upon the general public and, consequently, defending the elite and the source of its wealth and power against those subject to it.
Moreover, even though the state does take a secondary interest in protecting the security of persons (particularly elite persons), the vast majority of crimes against persons are motivated by poverty and alienation due to state-supported exploitation and also by the desensitisation to violence created by the state's own violent methods of protecting private property. In other words, the state rationalises its existence by pointing to the social evils it itself helps to create (either directly or indirectly). Hence, anarchists maintain that without the state and the crime-engendering conditions to which it gives rise, it would be possible for decentralised, voluntary community associations to deal compassionately (not punitively) with the few incorrigibly violent people who might remain (see section I.5.8).

 

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