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Confessions of a Reluctant Anarchist by Michael Andoscia

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine an alternative to structured human endeavor and their hierarchical nature. Currently, I’m tapping on a keyboard linked with my laptop for a work that will be posted on the internet to be viewed by countless numbers of people. It’s hard to imagine how this could happen, how raw materials could be taken from the ground, synthesized into complex technologies that allow access to a global communications network, without the corresponding institutional structures. Could an anarchist utopia even create such a prospect? Without hierarchically organized human structures wouldn’t I be tapping my thoughts into lumps of clay using chips of wood? Isn’t there some value to these structures that allow us to exercise our minds and organize our actions in such a way that makes a nation state of hundreds of millions of people possible? And if there is value to this endeavor, as there undeniably is, isn’t accepting a certain amount of coercion and exploitation an acceptable cost of such benefits?

As a sociologist, I admit to a certain amount of awe and respect for the institutions created by men that have evolved to integrate vast nation-states into a global network of almost 7 billion people. As an anarchist, I understand the ultimate necessity of undermining every single one of these institutions until we develop flat, demotic systems through which everyone benefits and in which everyone contributes as free, inspired individuals. As a realist, I must come to terms with the world as it exists today with an eye toward reasonable steps in the interest of bringing to fruition a world that can be.

The problem is the bridge. What is the connective tissue between the world as it is and the anarchist dream of what it could be? This is where ideology is translated into action. The nature of that action may be inspired, but it also must be reasonable and humane. Any socio-historical analysis must conclude that there’s no measure that can be taken today that will bring about the revolutionary change requisite for a truly just, anarchistic world. The kind of structures necessary to bring such a revolutionary transformation would be, by necessity, oligarchical. Thus, the best-case scenario would be a transfer of power and elitism from our current capitalist political-economy to a new and yet unidentifiable oligarchy. Such a revolution would look much like state socialism that evolved from the Russian Revolution. Certainly, this would defeat the purpose of any such goals. In essence, this is Bakunin’s critique of Marxism. Unfortunately, Bakunin offers no real alternative to Marx’s dialectic.

To address this conundrum, a closer look at dialectical materialism is in order. For it’s likely that Bakunin’s critique of Marx falls short because it does not address the most obvious flaw. For novices, dialectical materialism posits that history is the result of inherent material conflict between an elite who control the factors of production and those who must sell their labor to the elite for survival. Marx identified a historical progression from a master/slave dialectic to a feudal lord/serf dialectic, to the modern bourgeois capitalist/labor economy. For Marx, the evolution of modern capitalism is a necessary step in a historical process that will ultimately lead to a stateless, communist society representing the end of history. According to Marx, industrial capitalism creates the necessary ingredients for the laboring proletariat to develop a class consciousness by which it collectively rises up against the bourgeoisie. The revolution will result in a “dictatorship of the proletariat” which would usher in a socialist interregnum in which the communist utopia would be constructed.

Bakunin realized that the more likely outcome is that the leaders of this revolution would constitute a new ruling class, which would design a new state in its own interest. According to Bakunin, there’s no reason to believe that this new state, this dictatorship of the proletariat, will be any less exploitive or power hungry than the capitalists. The later transformation of democratic soviets in post-revolutionary Russia into the totalitarian Soviet Union only proved Bakunin correct.

The problem may lie with the Marx’s theoretical leap along the dialectic from industrial capitalism to socialism to stateless and classless communism. First, there is no reason to believe that this transformation must be revolutionary. The transformation from master/slave to feudalism to capitalism, after all, was marked with transitions that took generations. Sure, there were some revolutions such as that which took down the estate system in France, but the driving forces of change were not revolutionary. They were evolutionary. Revolution was symptomatic of the evolutionary changes that were reshaping society, culture and politics.

The second theoretical leap is the assumption that socialism was the necessary next step in the process. We know that the kind of regional industrial capitalism Marx experienced as he was working on Kapital is very different from the global finance capitalism that we contend with today. Marx did not count on the rise of strong middle class that would act as a buffer between the bourgeois and the proletariat, that would make the proletariat see a very real possibility of achieving a bourgeois life even if getting rich was not within reach. He did not see progressive reforms that made capitalism more humane, more just, more equal and less exploitative. It’s clear that there is at least one more step between industrial capitalism and the revolution of the proletariat. There may be more. There may be five, ten, a hundred. And even if, one day, we are able to achieve our anarchist utopia, there’s no reason to believe that this would constitute the end of history. There may be steps after that... for better or for worse.

In the face of this theoretical musing, however, we must return to the contingencies of living in the real world, a corrupt world of power and wealth imbalances, of an exploitative economy and a politics corrupted by wealth. Yes, ours is a government that professes democratic pretensions while providing oligarchic rewards to the one percent. The question is, what do we do about it.

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